Monday, January 28, 2008

'Dear Friend and Gardener: Letters on Life and Gardening' by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd

The Garden Bloggers Book Club choice for December/January.
Host Carol at May Dreams Garden

I did read this book, just happens it was a couple of years ago. I wanted to reread at least a few chapters to refresh but left it until too late it seems. So memory must serve. This book is worth a read and another read when time serves. The gardeners are obviously real friends even though the format of the book in letters is pre-arranged. The visits to each others homes and get togethers are frequent. The over all tone is affectionate and personal,sometimes teasing and at others concerned. They know each others gardens and habits.

These people whose lives are immersed in gardening are interesting with their chatter about weather and plantings. An added bonus to the reader being that both Lloyd and Chatto have gardens open to the public and both are garden writers of note. So one hears of visitor encounters and maintenance worries. Life entails cooking what ever is ready and abundant in the garden and social forays off season when the gardens need not be supervised. Lloyd in particular seemed to know a great many in horticulture, including students looking to learn from the association with such a mentor. There are always awards to attend and fellow gardeners with which to hobnob.

While Lloyd's feisty character and bold opinions shine through all his writing it is Beth Chatto that I got to know through this book. I had heard little of her before this writing and was surprised to find an advocate of a more natural style of gardening. Her book 'The Gravel Garden' is very current with its premise of placing the right drought resistant plants into existing poor dry soils rather than amending and irrigating.
Beth Chatto's life seemed so ideal, a small private plant nursery, extensive gardens in which to experiment, her writing published even though never having much formal education in the field. Even a long standing marriage to a partner that shared her particular interest. The good life indeed.

Books of letters and communication between gardeners give us a look at some of the ways older gardeners accomplish their tasks. I was taken by the descriptions of how root vegetables are stored and greens were grown through the winter. Often young gardeners look to modern technology for answers when a green way already exists. We just need to see it with new eyes.

I look forward to reading what others have to say.

97 titles by Christopher Lloyd

Yes there is more than one Lloyd listed, but they all look interesting and this was the most extensive list of C. Lloyds garden books that I could find...LOL

Garden Pictures

Publications Beth Chatto

Garden Pictures

My Previous months Book Club entries...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lurie Garden Chicago - January

The ice skating rink in Millenium Park.

A few pictures of before the cut back at the Lurie garden. The sun was shining and the air was fairly still. With temperatures in the mid thirties, it was a great day to be outside.

Veronicastrum stands tall and dark against buff colored grass and blue sky,

with sunlight seeming to shine forth from the grass creating shadowy contrast in darker stands.

Light plate from the boardwalk.

Look at the sun behind this Little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium) , so pretty.

The meadow in the Light plate.

When ever a breeze would blow the grass would lift and sway.


The Dark Plate. Epimedium and a few ferns, undaunted by the winter so far.

Light playing in the Light Plate.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - January

There are many a garden blogger living in climates where blooms are possible out in the garden all year round. However, here in the Chicago area although we are bloomless the garden need not be totally bleak.
After our winter walk through check out Carol's
May Dreams Garden
for a look at the many January gardens in blogger land.

Of first interest to a habitat garden is overwintering wildlife. Amid the bark, seed heads,leaves and stems life has slowed to its barest minimum, waiting for longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures when full activity may return.

Hiding beneath a blanket of its own making strawberry plants seem never to go completely dormant.

Look how green the hobbit garden looks. It was protected by a covering of snow during most of Decembers cold. Now that the snow has melted I will be covering the hobbit roof with branches cut from what was our Christmas tree. It is a small area and the protection is to guard against drying winds and fluctuating temperatures. While all the plants have made it through several winters, they look better quicker in spring with a little intervention now .
Shrubs bring so much texture and color to a winter garden. Some with fine branching or evergreen leaves,

some bringing contrast to fences and fallen leaves, some hanging onto dried flowers or seeds. All providing perches for birds to search for hidden insects,berries and fallen seed.

This heuchera is showing new growth spurred by a few days of warmer temperatures. I have seen this in many warm spells with melting snow and sunshine. Over the next week the cold will return with a vengeance so rest awhile longer dear garden.

Hope to met up with you somewhere else along the tour.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Living with and getting to know... worms

This first picture is not of worms but a result of something I learned from Mary Appelhof's book
'Worms Eat My Garbage'. She said that egg shells can go into the bin. She pulverized them with a rolling pin. Hmmm, I can do that. It took just a couple of minutes to turn about 4 eggshells into this little mound of grit for the worms. Micro-organisms will decompose the shells and a bit of calcium carbonate in the finished product is the result.

Moisture if not properly handled can make for a yuck factor. But holes in the bottom of the bin for drainage was discouraged by the instructor during class. It tends to accumulate under the bin in whatever tray you have provided and become fouled, attracting flies. The moisture comes from condensation, softening food that have been added for the worms and the moistened bedding. One solution is a fresh layer of dry bedding on top to catch condensation. Twice,about once a month, I have added shredded newspaper which seems to work for now. Another solution is to add less food more often or if you have too much food waste for one bin to handle effectively,make an additional bin.
I found that pushing everything aside and adding fresh bedding in one corner all the way to the bottom when adding a new top layer,solved the minor moisture problem. I have not seen a single fruit fly and there has been no unpleasant odor.

All the literature says 3 to 6 months for the first harvest of worm castings. As you can see in the pictures everything seems to be in order. It has been about 10 weeks since first putting the worm bin to use.

When the top layer of bedding is lifted this is what you see. The original bedding and food added to this area has for the most part become unrecognizable. Another month maybe 6 weeks I should be able to decide how I want to go about that harvest from the options available.

Worms don't do the job alone. All the organisms present in compost are part of the process in a worm bin. But as Mary Applehof said, worm castings are a much richer product. I use small amounts on house plants with great result.

Make a worm bin

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

'The Humble Bee' F.W.L. Sladen

My favorite librarian came through again. This time with a copy of 'The Humble Bee' It's Life History and How To Domesticate It. What a treasure! Even though it is written about bumble bees (bombus and psithyrus) in England long ago ( published in 1912) there is so much about the day to day life of small hive bees. It is written in such a way as to endear the creatures as you go about trying to understand them.

Did you know that many bumble bee queens spend the cold months burrowed under ground or within moss bits or other garden debris ? Or that there are imitation bumble bees that lay their eggs in bumble bee nests leaving them to be raised by the host colony? And though bumble bees do not create great combs of honey that can be harvested by bee keepers,they do store little open pots of honey within the nest. Some for use by the queen and workers as they go about their work or to be fed (mixed with pollen) to growing larvae and some to be eaten after the queen's long solitary hibernation . Bumble bees are valued for their pollinating activity rather than honey production.

Life for a bumble bee is precarious, with damp causing illness and bad weather bringing death by starvation.The larvae of many flies and wasps and even a few moths eat the brood. Add mites, nematodes and small mammals like badgers,moles,weasels, shrew and field mice all after a bumble bee meal. It is a wonder very many bees make it from year to year.

Sladen studied the bumble bee by finding and taking many nests, mostly after a queen began to lay but before the adult workers emerged. Building an observation enclosure that would keep light from the nest and keep the bees contained, allowed him to lift the top of the nest and watch what happened inside. He saw the queen lay her eggs and then feed and nurture them until the first workers were able to take over those duties. He watched the queen effectively fight off predators and other queen bees. He recorded revolts and egg laying behavior by worker bees. He watched many nests fail and took note of conditions when nests grew large and strong. He helped out by taking workers from strong nests and adding them to slow weak ones, for the most part without problem. He also introduced alternate queens and studied the results. All fascinating work in which to participate .

The latter section of the book is filled with pictures and descriptions of many bee species, one of the first works of it's kind and maybe not of interest to north americans. But the rest of the book is certainly well written for the lay person that is interested in pollinators and also enjoys a good read. Sladens lifelong passion is clear and engaging. I recommend making the effort to find this excellent book.

I first read about 'The Humble Bee' at Patrick Roper's

The Square Metre

An excerpt from the introduction...
Clothed in a lovely coat of fur, she is the life of a gay garden as well as the modestly blooming wayside as she eagerly hums from flower to flower, diligently collecting nectar and pollen from the break to the close of day. Her methodical movements indicate the busy life she leads-a life as wonderful and interesting as that of the honey bee, about which so much has been written. Her load completed, she speeds away to her home. Here , in midsummer, dwells a populus and thriving colony of humble bees. The details of the way in which this busy community came into being, what sort of edifice the inhabitants have built,how they carry out their duties, and what eventually will become of them will be explained...

and about the end of an old queen...

In the case of B. pratorum, and probably of other species whose colonies end their existence in the height of summer, the aged queen often spends the evening of her life very pleasantly with her little band of worn-out workers. They sit together on two or three cells on the top of the ruined edifice, and make no attempt to rear any more brood. The exhausting work of bearing done, the queen’s body shrinks to its original size, and she becomes quite active and youthful-looking again. This well-earned rest lasts for about a week, and death, when at last it comes, brings with it no discomfort. One night, a little cooler than usual, finding her food supply exhausted, the queen grows torpid, as she has done many a time in the early part of her career; but on this occasion, her life-work finished, there is no awakening.