Monthly Archives: May 2009

Corking-up containers

wine cork collection

wine cork collection

During a social occasion a few years back, my husband and I noticed a wine cork wreath hanging on a friend’s wall, made completely of corks saved from bottles our hosts had enjoyed.  Clever … and since I can be handy with a glue gun, we started saving our wine corks thinking I might eventually create our own wreath of wine memories.

As time progressed we stacked up a pretty sizeable collection.  But, as the saying goes, hell is paved with good intentions.  In other words, being handy with a glue gun does not mean I take time to actually use the glue gun.  So how does this relate to gardening?  Well, my plant junkie brain came up with a solution to reuse our ever-increasing wine cork collection – no glue gun involved.

You know those really large outdoor planters … the ones that will throw your back out if you try to lift them without the assistance of a fork lift?  A good way to minimize the heft of these containers – and save some bucks on potting mix – is to fill the lower third with a light-weight non-soil material.  Many gardeners use Styrofoam – in solid chunk or packing peanut form – but clean-up at the end of the outdoor planting season is a pain if you intend to separate the non-compostable Styrofoam from the compostable soil and plant material.  Either tiny pieces of broken Styrofoam mixes with the soil or you have to deal with tons of soggy, dirty peanuts.  Even plastic-bagged packing peanuts make for a messy clean up.

Instead, I turned to our wine cork collection.  Cork is light weight, does not absorb too much water, and does not spoil the soil.  Twelve-inch pots only need one layer of corks, while larger pots can handle a layer up to about a third of their depth.  At the end of the outdoor growing season I dump my planter contents – corks and all – into the compost pile.  In the spring and summer, when I screen my compost for various uses, it’s easy to pick out the corks – they do not compost down in one season – and reserve them for reuse.

Cork is a natural material of limited supply, so reusing or recycling cork makes good environmental sense. If my cork reusing method is too daunting a process, then consider recycling your wine corks – West Coast readers might find ReCork America a useful resource.  More craft oriented?  See 5 more ways to reuse wine corks or for crafty moms, Crafty Reuse: Ten Projects for Old Wine Corks.  Alternately, chopped up wine corks – not their plastic cousins – can be composted, but in my case this chore would likely end up in my “good intentions” pile.

 If none of these ideas float your boat, check out the cork-creativity of someone with access to lots of wine corks.

Or, let me know if you’re any good at using a glue gun … I still have a decent supply of saved corks waiting for a chance at wreathdom.  Any other ideas?

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Filed under Gardening, General, Techniques

Focus on Flowers: quick iris bouquet

Iris bouquet.  Photo: Ralph Chappell Photography

Iris bouquet. Photo: Ralph Chappell Photography

A threatened hail storm had me scrambling to pick a few iris last weekend.  This simple bouquet consists of three Siberian iris and one reblooming iris offset by a few greens.  Bouquets don’t have to be elaborate to be beautiful.

Of course the photographer – my favorite – played a significant role in capturing the essence of these flowers.

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Filed under Focus on Flowers, Perennials & Annuals

Shabby-chic nesting

I love the look of hanging wire baskets filled with seasonal blooms … to the point that I use these baskets during all seasons.  During spring and summer these baskets hold blooming plants.  In autumn, I replace spent plants, but retain the liners and fill the baskets with gourds.  For winter they hold pine cones and evergreen sprigs, and catch seeds that fall from the suet feeders I hang over the tops of the baskets – this keeps seed from falling into my perennial beds.  Smaller birds feed from the seed drops, but their daily pecking severely frays the basket liners so that by spring the liners can look pretty shabby.  This year, my admitted tardiness in replacing the frayed liners brought an unexpected benefit … tattered basket liners seem to be just the thing female birds look for when building their nests.  I like to think of my oversight created an avian shabby-chic depot.

Female Baltimore Oriole? collecting nesting material

Female Baltimore Oriole? collecting nesting material

I first noticed lady robins filling their beaks with coir strands as their men-in-waiting chest-butted for control over the front yard feeding ground.  Then I spotted a pair of house finches harvesting coir fibers in their nest building pursuits.  I was ready to remove the unsightly coir when I caught a glimpse of a female Baltimore Oriole – at least I think this shaky photo is a female Baltimore Oriole … they don’t pose well for photos.  She too pecked and tugged at the coir threads, carting them beak-full by beak-full, to an as yet unidentified location high in a neighboring tree. 

female goldfinch grabbing nesting material

female goldfinch grabbing nesting material

A female goldfinch flew in for her share of the nest-building supplies as soon as the oriole vacated – and she proved to be a better model.

birds like basket liners - old or new - as nesting material

birds like basket liners - old or new - as nesting material

Watching these feathered feats has been as visually pleasing as peeking out at the neighboring basket of pansies, plus following the birds’ direction of flight helped identify their nesting locales. 

Robin eggs that hatched two days later

Robin eggs that hatched two days later

One robin built in the rhododendron next to my front porch which allows observation of her brood from an adjacent window.  I quickly grabbed this shot of her eggs while she was out feeding.  They have since hatched into pretty active little chirpers.

Knowing my tardiness helped my feathered neighbors’ home-building plans has given me a good excuse to further procrastinate with my own container planting plans.  Maybe I can even procrastinate until annuals go on sale?  Now, if only I can spot that oriole nest hanging high in a neighboring tree …

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Filed under Creatures, Gardening, Techniques

My Sister’s Columbine

my sister's columbine

my sister's columbine

One of the better aspects of gardening comes from sharing seeds and plants, especially when the plants bring to mind thoughts of a loved one far away.  This happens in my gardens every spring when my columbine bloom.  You see, they are not really my columbine … the seeds originated in my sister’s northern California gardens.  Now my sister’s columbine have firmly established themselves under my care.

columbine bed

columbine bed

Their main base is under a large oak tree where they share a shady, stone-walled bed with ivy, Japanese fern, a few violets and lily-of-the-valley, and a handful of early daffodils.  Each spring, the pale-pink blossoms of my sister’s columbine draw my attention away from the computer screen and toward their home outside my office window.  As the flowers sway in the breeze I’m reminded that as long as my sister and I share our love of gardening, we will never be far apart.

potted white penstemon flowers grace a gargoyle

potted white penstemon flowers grace a gargoyle

This year I dug up a few columbine volunteers for transplanting elsewhere.  But rather than moving them to a more permanent home right away, I potted a couple of plants to brighten our shady back door.  Digging up ‘extra’ perennials and using them as potted deck, patio, and porch plants – as in the photo above where potted white penstemon offset and soften a gargoyle statue – is an economical way to extend your garden dollar.  It not only helps to thin established perennials, but using them as potted plants brings aspects of the garden within closer view.  As long as you have used care to dig up the root ball, or in the case of columbine the long feeder root, and keep the pots watered, most perennials can easily be transplanted to an in-ground spot once the blossoms have passed.

I usually have numerous potted perennials – purple coneflower, penstemon, lamb’s ear, thyme, mint, and bee balm to name a few – laying in wait on my porch or deck.  Sometimes I’ll sink these wayward plants – pot and all – into the ground to temporarily fill in a newly planted area.  Other times I keep them in an inconspicuous spot until I pick their new home.  Often I share them with friends and neighbors.

columbine

columbine

I may share some of my potted sister’s columbine, or just tuck them into a new shady spot at the back of the house, but as long as they are in bloom I’ll keep them close, so every time I enter and exit my house I have my sister saying hello.

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Filed under Gardening, General, Seasons, Techniques

Remember …

WWII Memorial and Washington Monument

WWII Memorial and Washington Monument

 … and give thanks.

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Chives – in vinegar form

Chives

Chives

 

Remember how Morticia Addams ceremoniously cut the rose blossoms off of her rose bushes?  Well, much to the objection of the many bees and other pollinating insects attracted to chive flowers, I do the same with fully opened chive blossoms. It’s not that I dislike chive blossoms, au contraire … Tish, you spoke French! … it’s that I love the flavor of chive vinegar, and without chive blossoms, vinegar is just vinegar.

To make chive vinegar, you first need a stash of attractive glass jars with corked or screw-on lids – our passion for homemade margaritas insures I have ample cork-topped Patron tequila bottles like the one in the photo below – but you can purchase fancy glass, cork-topped jars at many kitchen supply stores.  Just be sure to use glass jars (non-reactive to vinegar) and the openings are wide enough to accept the flowers without crushing them.

Chive vinegar after 2 days

Chive vinegar after 2 days

 

The Morticia Addams act comes next.  After morning dew has dried – when herbs are freshest – snap fully opened chive blossom off their stalks (in the photo above, the largest blossoms are ready for harvest).  Avoid those with browning tinges of browning on the individual florets, as these are past prime.rop about a cup or so of blossoms to a clean jar, and fill the jars with clear or cider vinegar.  Sit the jars out of direct sunlight – where you can watch the vinegar take on the color of the chives.

 

 

 

Chive vinegar - strained

Chive vinegar - strained

Over the next months, the vinegar will take on a chive flavor.  When ready to use, pour the flavored vinegar through a paper towel or coffee filter lined funnel to strain out the chive blossoms.  It will look similar to the jar at the right.

Make enough chive vinegar for winter use and to share with family and friends.  This concoction adds a distinct flavor to any recipe calling for regular vinegar, such as homemade salad dressing, vegetable marinade, and warm potato salad.  For the most tender and moist roasted chicken, pour one cup of chive vinegar over a small chicken and a few garlic cloves, sprinkle the chicken with your choice of dried herb (thyme, basil, rosemary), cover, and bake until done.

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Filed under Edibles, Gardening, Herb Highlights

taking a brief break

Hi all … I’m taking a break to rest my eye after laser treatments for a detached retina. Will post again by Monday.  SUNDAY UPDATE:  Here’s a word of advice that has nothing to do with gardening, but everything to do with seeing.  If you find newly formed black spots or threads – fondly refered to as floaters – in your vision, or develop flashes in one or both eyes … SEE the EYE DOCTOR.  It could very well be a detached retina, which is an eye emergency.  If caught early, as in my case, you may be lucky enough to only have an in-office laser treatment – what my hubby called “having my eye welded.”  If the detachment goes beyond a small area, or you have a decreased field of vision – which, thankfully, I did not – you may only have to recoup for a couple of days.  The bottom line?  Vision changes, especially those that happen over a short period of time,  should be checked out immediately.  I sure am happy I caught my emergency quickly.

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