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Tangled Branches: Cultivated

happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Homegrown Tomatoes

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes, what would life be without homegrown tomatoes? Can't get that song out of my head. I just put in 5 tomato plants yesterday. That may be a record number here. This year, I think, they're even more illegal than last year, because there's more of them and they're in the ground instead of a pot. I dug up a new bed in my last good sunny spot, which happens to be along the property line on the southeast side of the house - not within the homeowners' association guidelines for vegetable gardens. Now, since a good part of this bed is going to contain flowers, I say this is not a vegetable garden, but a flower garden that happens to have a few tomato plants in it (and peppers, and basil).

As I'm typing this, one very bold rabbit is eating clover in the lawn not 10 feet away from me. Just leave the newly planted stuff alone, OK?

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Up in the Air

Yesterday, while working on the garden, I happened to look up and see a very unusual aircraft.

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Friday, May 19, 2006


The house renovation project is back underway, and seriously disrupting my thinking (again), but there's a couple of garden things too interesting to pass unremarked.

Yesterday's NY Times Home and Garden section had a front page article about the iris lady. I guess her address is Herndon, but it's one of those places that used to be in the country and is now in the suburbs - right on the Reston Parkway/Lawyers Road/West Ox Road (Lawyers Road at that point). According to the article, Mrs. Thomas began selling irises in 1974 after her husband died. I used to drive by that way quite often before the Fairfax Co. Parkway was built, and wondered about all the irises. I assumed it was just somebody's favorite flower and a hobby that got out of hand. Now she's 84 years old, and has been offered gazillions of dollars for the property, but is still holding out and hoping that somebody will look after her garden when she's gone.


I escaped to my own garden for several hours on Wednesday. After I did all the digging I could stand, I pulled up some violets that were becoming obnoxious. They're at the back of the lot, well mulched by oak leaves. As I got toward the middle of the clump, one of the oak leaves started to move on its own. Hmmmmm, maybe not an oak, a polyphemus moth. I was separated from my camera by dropcloths and ladders and paint, so I just watched it a while. It's body was massive - much bigger than your average butterfly - it looks far too heavy to fly. It didn't seem inclined to go anywhere, so I put it under another clump of violets, and moved on to another task.


Hummingbirds have been daily garden visitors since I put the up hummingbird feeder, but I was pleased to see that they're also getting nectar from the flowers. I've seen them at the Cupheas and lately at the sage (Salvia officinalis). I plan to have more to say about the Cupheas later - I've assembled a collection of them this year.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Spring Birds Update

I've seen a few new yard birds in the last several days - Gray Catbirds (at least 2, maybe 3), a Wood Thrush, and a Swainson's Thrush. Both thrushes were new today, but the catbirds have been around for a week or so. The yellow-rumped warblers are still here, but I haven't seen any other warblers.

I realized that I was not entirely correct when I said earlier that I hadn't seen any spring migrants except yellow-rumped warblers. I completely forgot about the grackles, blue jays, brown-headed cowbirds, robins, etc.

Still looking for warblers...

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Joy of Seeds

Latest infatuation: Mimulus x hybridus.

My first Mimulus from seed has just started to bloom. What a cool plant! The family (Scrophulariaceae) resemblance is there - the flowers look something like a wilder, more open, more tropical, snapdragon. But like its snapdragon cousins, it's supposed to fizzle in the heat of summer. Oops, check that, I just looked at GRIN and Mimulus is now in the family Phrymaceae, and Antirrhinum (snapdragons) are now in the family Plantaginaceae. Which is strange, because earlier I was thinking how much the Mimulus leaves remind me of the lawn weed Plantain. Those wacky taxonomists - who hands out research grants to them so thay can make life difficult for gardeners? Where was I? Oh yes, the Mimulus flowers are very attractive. The one that opened is a very pale yellow with burgundy blotches. My seed packet is mixed colors so I can't wait to see what the others look like. I just read that there are many named varieties of Mimulus x hybridus (see the end of this page), but I only recall seeing mixed colors in seed catalogs.

I got back into seed-starting by accident. The last few years have seen me taking the easy way out - buying lots of new trendy annuals and arranging them into mixed containers. But this year, not wanting to spend much money on plants, while spending a lot of time staring at a computer screen, I found myself visiting the websites of seed merchants. And then I found myself with a large pile of seed packets. Some of them are old habits - coleus, cosmos, coriander, basil, tomatoes, peppers, portulaca. Some represent the triumph of marketing - Zinnia 'Zowie! Yellow Flame', Nicotiana 'Perfume Deep Purple', Coriander 'Delfino'. And some, such as Mimulus, are wild stabs in the dark.

Since beginning this post (3 days ago!), I've learned of one issue with Mimulus. The flowers only last one day. But they fall off cleanly while they are still in good condition and if you pick them up and float them in a bowl of water, they'll last another couple of days.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Humming(and other)birds

We took a few days off last week to decompress at our favorite beach. The seedling plants survived here surprisingly well, maybe because it was so darn cold (at least it was where we were). Anyhow, yesterday around 3:30 PM I put up the hummingbird feeder and by 7:30 PM saw our first dinner guest. Actually, both DH and I thought we saw a hummer or two in the days before we left, but I didn't want to put the feeder up until I could be home to clean it every other day.

The yellow-rumped warblers are looking very sharp in their breeding feathers, but I haven't seen any other spring migrants yet. I'll keep looking...

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