Sunday, May 15, 2016

Putting A Ring On It

When I go speak to a group of gardeners, I talk about bowling balls, glitter as a mulch, toilets as planters, how to let dandelions grow to feed the bees and 15 foot-tall garden gnomes. I speak of very little that would give someone a reason to trust my honest opinion on anything other than where to find the nearest junk yard. Yet, inevitably, the first question I get asked is what fertilizer I recommend. Perhaps they know I'm so full of, uh, manure, that I might know a thing or two about it?

My status with fertilizers, until now, has been "it's complicated". I've used whatever organic fertilizers I could find easily, mostly at the Big Boxes, and a few more hard-to-find, multi-step products too, but nothing I could be "in a relationship with". Now I'm loving on Healthy Grow fertilizers for these reasons:
1. I love the story of a first-grade teacher turning the act of showing kids how chicks hatch into sustainable, big deal, organic egg operation. This guy seems to have wanted to do the right thing at every turn and now runs a OMRI listed, certified humane, self-sustaining chicken operation. The chicken poop that is the by-product of the egg producing operation is a perfect organic fertilizer.
2. I've actually been buying eggs from this producer for years, not knowing that they took this thing FULL CIRCLE into the fertilizer biz. That's a feel good if ever there was one. I buy these eggs that are a little more expensive because I want to do the right thing, now I'm composting their egg cartons and egg shells AND using their products to make my plants GET HUGGGE!
3. I can get this stuff shipped via Amazon. And as I always say, "Always buy local... or Amazon".
4. For me, this is a local thing. They are Illinois based and I'll jump all over something that is based in the Midwest.
5. In few weeks I've been using this stuff, I've seen great results, so far in containers and on my seedlings. The results have been good enough that I've buzzed through many of the samples Healthy Grow has sent me and I've bought more on my own. So this post is sponsored/not sponsored. I'm thrilled to put my money where my mouth is. Get it? Because I'm going to eat the food I'm growing in my garden!

6. I've always wanted chickens, so I could harness their poop for fertilizing purposes, but we have a ton of coyotes here (the one we see most often is named "Blueberry, according to Hazel) and I just see heartbreak in it. This eliminates a lot of the heartbreak.
7. They have worm castings in a big ol' bag. Which, since I murdered my red wigglers in 2012, I'm relieved to find in a method that's non-murdery.

I've passed up a lot of opportunities to work with companies in the past. I'm stoked to watch my garden grow on this stuff this summer and, oh yes, you'll be hearing more about it!

 You can find out more about it here, yo.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Put A Shrub In It

Everyone does summer containers but it's not so common to see small trees and shrubs used in containers. I'm not sure why, since you can put a tree or shrub in your containers for the summer, then get them into the ground before it gets too cold and then you...
 A) can use them for your containers again the next year
B) You have more trees and shrubs in your yard

As I don't like to repeat myself much,as I don't like to repeat myself much,  I shoot for things that can be reused in my yard someplace. Last year I used a super sexy Black Diamond Crepe Myrtle in my pot right next to my front door. I loved the proportions of using a shrub in back of all the annuals, PLUS the dark foliage of this particular plant really lit things UPPPPP!

Scale is important when using shrubs in containers. I like the way almost all shrubs look in a pot with other plants clustered around, but you might not want to use a plant that's more than twice as tall that the other plants in the pot. You want it to look like a happy combination, not 2 separate thoughts in a pot, like some kind of nightmare hi/lo bridesmaid dress. It can be hard to line up all the plants at the garden center to see how they'll look together, since the shrub is most likely in a pot much larger than it's new playmates.

I always admire how they use trees and shrubs in the containers when I visit the Morton Arboretum. No kidding, right?? It's kinda their job but I really think they do it STELLARLY. (Turns out, that's not a word. Should be)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Take My Tomato, Please!

Tomatoes are the raison d'etre for gardeners. No debating it.

But still--I don't lovvvvvvve tomatoes, or growing them, honestly.
I'd never eat one like an apple, but I do enjoy a nice BLT (facon or real bacon, your choice), or a little mozzarella and basil and I'm in. I make salsa so potent that the grade of tomato isn't even important. I don't see myself having the time to can or even freeze anything while my Hazelnut is young... Plus tomato plants get so dang HUGE and they take over by the end of summer, tomato hornworms are so gross and sometimes the fruit splits before I can make use of them. Still, I grew about 10 kinds last year and totally enjoyed handing brown paper sandwich bags full of them to people I like.
laundry baskets do it all
this was a volunteer
a day's harvest

Here's my top 4 from 2015:

1. Pork Chop- I will not mince words, this is the holy grail of tomatoes, especially if you like yellow ones, which I do. I'm pretty much obsessed with yellow tomatoes. They lack mellowness, much like myself. This one is sweet, bright but not too acidic. Also, like myself.
Everything about this tomato is exciting. It ripens overnight, after an unholy long wait. You will think there's no way that thing will ever, ever ripen and then... It's like when Beyonce drops an album or video out of the blue. Yes. It's just like that.
the first Pork Chop
Pork Chop gets so large and orangey-yellow that Hazel calls them pumpkins. You can, and should, get the seeds here
bringing tomatoes to an unsuspecting winner

that spider totally ate those tomatoes up, in their entirety

slice me!

2. Rapunzel- I knew the sales photos were too good to be true, but they weren't too far off! This is a new tomato, great for containers and... this tomato is unstoppable. It kept going after a frost, after a few frosts, in fact. And, yesterday, when I went to clean out the containers I grew them in last year? There are still fruit that look mostly fine laying around the pot. What the what??
Rapunzel and friends growing in a vintage toy box

Of everything I grew, this was most frequented by hornworms , but the parasitic wasps were RIGHT THERE, on top of their shizz.
Hornworm, entertaining guests
They were standard grape tomatoes. Nothing amazing about the taste, just gorgeous and tough...uh, much like myself.
I'd grow these again, but I wouldn't go so far as to start them myself. If I saw some starts someplace, I'd buy them in a heartbeat. If you want to try them, you can find the seeds here.

3. Tiny Tim- This12" tall cherry tomato should be sold on it's lush blue-green foliage and the fact that it's more shade tolerant than the rest of the crew, but it isn't. Who cares how it tastes? It's beautiful, works great in containers (it really is tiny!) and works places it shouldn't be able to. A great tomato to start too many seeds of so you can share with friends. Get it here.
Tiny Tim & Nasturtiums

4. Garden Peach- This fuzzy, peach-colored tomato should be grown just to confuse people. Bonus: It was BY FAR the earliest tomato in my garden. And, as first tomatoes go, it was delicious. I didn't get a ton because I seem to have planted them in a dead zone. Nothing I planted in that new bed flourished, but it kept on going. A trait which I admire... Get it here.  
Garden Peach- you can't really see the fuzz, but it was there!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 Winter Pots, Wreaths and Weirdness

I'm always a Last Minute Sally but I'm pretty ambitions about my seasonal switch-outs and that shit takes time, good weather and money. Rarely do I have all of those in my pocket. 
This year, we went from renters of this suburban mid-century ranch, to owners of the same falling-down money pit. Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way. So, now that we could, we cut down the overgrown, original foundation shrubbery and I haven't gotten the old landscape timbers and RED LAVA ROCK cleaned up yet, let alone have my new plan-of-attack planted yet, so the house looks a bit raw so I really wanted some jazzy-ass pots to distract the eye. I really wanted to go mid-century, but that quickly bled into 1000 ideas and looks and things I wanted to use and re-use. So, here we go!
I started mid-century: I ballasted old birch logs with sand and gravel, topped them with aqua aquarium gravel and glued eye hooks into the tops of the rotting logs. I bought fuzzy, green yarn that reminded me of the 70s and tied it onto the eye hooks and the other ends got tied into handmade wreaths with LED battery operated fairy lights. I LOVVVVE them.

A square wreath with slimy slugs, left over from out nut-free Halloween goodie bags. I tied them on with fishing line.
Of note: Yes, those are florescent light bulbs

Of note: Glass ornaments in the tennis ball caddie. A really stupid gamble!
I bought this bell wall hanging thing at HomeGoods for $30 (on clearance). It was a metallic coppery brass so I spray painted it and used it as a wreath frame


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

If You Try These Autumn Leaves-Themed Mad Libs, You Won't Believe What Happens Next!*

*I'm still playing with click bait titles, as one example doesn't really make a scientific study. Right?

What's your attitude toward the leaves on the ground this time of year? Nature's gift or scourge of suburbia, try these Mad Libs to uncover your TRUE FEELINGS!

1. Fallen leaves are __________ and should be __________.

2. This time of year, I put all my leaves in ____________ and they all get ________.

3. If I don't rake up all my leaves, my neighbors will ____________.

4. Leaves are Mother Nature's _______________.

5. I have to buy ____________ to ________ my fallen leaves in.

Here are my answers, do not read any farther is you do not like salty or very weird language. 
1. Fallen leaves are _good as gold___ and should be _left alone or composted, or brought up to bed so you can roll around in them, all night long___.

2. This time of year, I put all my leaves in _my pants____ and they all get _real tickle-y_______.

3. If I don't rake up all my leaves, my neighbors will __probably shit on my lawn__________.

4. Leaves are Mother Nature's _hand-knit leg warmers for my garden________.

ALTERNATE 4. As if I was my neighbors... 4. Leaves are Mother Nature's ___used feminine hygiene products and are filthy and offensive and must be hauled away immediately______.

5. I have to buy _a flesh-colored unitard____ to __jump  around in___ my fallen leaves in.

PLEASE, PLEASE add your answers to the Kiss My Aster Facebook page. Because I think you will make me blow hot apple cider out my nose with your answers!

Monday, November 02, 2015

Use This One Weird Trick to Put your Garden to Bed for Winter*

*The title is meant to be like those ridiculous click-bait ones. I'll let you know if it works...

I have one weird trick that will get your garden ready for winter quicker than you can say "Great British Baking Show". Are you ready for it?

1. Don't do anything to your garden and just sit and eat effing caramel corn on your goddamn sofa.

What kind of a barbarian would clear-cut this shit and give Mutha Naytcha a Brazilian? WTF? It's still gorgeous to look at, it gives birds seed to munch on, insects and others a place to hide out for a few months. WHY?? I just don't get it.

If I had cut down my tomatoes when everyone else was, I wouldn't still be getting flipping tomatoes in November! Irises rebloom now, sometimes. My Dahlias still look great, against all odds! How crappy would you feel if you cut it all down and then some serious El Nino shit happened and we never really got winter. 

I can remember, back when I was a North Shore horticulturist, being forced at gun point to cut back a customer's Nepeta in October. It was looking bushy and gorgeous and had a tinge of fall color and it just seemed so wrong! But when cleaning up a customers yard, they expect sanitization. I don't get why anyone that knows what they are doing feels the need for sanitization. You're not saving time in the spring because every kind of evil is still going to blow into your beds over the winter. Leaving everything up might actually cut down on riffraff that comes in. Like garden bouncers.
  • You have something with powdery mildew or some other toxic bullshit you should have nipped months ago. You need to pick up those leaves or whatever and throw them away (not compost them) because you could just incubate more powdery mildew all winter long. 

  • You have seed heads that are just going to make so many plants that you don't know what to do. Well, you knew what you were doing when you planted that Bronze Fennel in the first place, Amanda. No sense crying about it now. Accept the rainforest of fennel you've created and move on. 

With all the time yo save from not being a garden busybody, try volunteering to help people or maybe get a Netflix account.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss.

Hazel peed the bed the last 3 nights. I take that back, she peed the bed 3 nights ago and again 2 nights ago... She then got accustomed to peeing the bed and was up at 5:30 this morning AS IF she HAD peed the bed, but she hadn't. It's been 3 rough pre-dawns. We are both a little ragged.

Since we were up early we hit the gym together, early. She had a melt down because the little cafe in the gym wasn't open. A serious one.She has a strawberry smoothie habit and she wasn't going to be getting her fix today. I had to haul her out of the gym, kicking and screaming, further extending my workout.

Then we are home and it's only 10am and it feels like 2pm. I ask her would she like to go plant a load of lovely, odd-ball bulbs from John Scheepers and she said she would like that.

I should have known from the weird laugh that we were on the precipice of Very Bad Things, but I had bulbs to get in the ground. Isn't that always the way it goes down?
She helped plant the Muscari and it was great. I used it as a way to teach subtraction and I was glowing with that Momular feeling we are all striving for. "Oh, I am beautifying my life and my yard and also teaching my child math. Naturally!"She grabbed the correct marking stick on the first try, prompting me to coo "Hazel, did you learn to read? You are AMAZING!"

I dug holes while she dropped the bulbs in. She also added chatter. The SAME chatter. Over and over.
"Mommm. What's deez root things?"
"Roots, honey"
"What's deez root things?"

When planting the last selection (the sexy Allium 'Forelock') she just lost it. I showed her the place I was gonna dig and she started up, sobbing, "THAT IS NOT WHERE I WANT THEM. YOU ARE GOING TO KILL THEM. HOW COULD YOU? THAT IS NOT THE RIGHT PLACE. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING."

Holy shit.
I got enough of that when I worked in Landscaping for the Wealthy.

20 minutes of quiet with a coloring book and she's back to lovely. We both are.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over

I woke up to this email
It's a nice warning for a gardener to get, even if the forecast is already changing to a less dire one.  If you think you could benefit from a warning like this, you can get it by using the app IFTTT and this recipe. I've been using this for over a year now and I really like it.

Now that I am properly warned, what am I gonna do about it? Well, I'm feeling very lazy but I'm not ready to say goodbye. The first thing I'll do it make sure everything is deeply watered, because even though that sounds like utter malarkey it totally helps things not freeze. 
Also? I'm taking photos of EVERYTHING. It may be the last photo I get of that plant for 2015. 
Then I will get out the Star Wars sheets and figure out what I can cover and what I'm ready ditch. It's probably time to kiss all the tomatoes goodbye, although it hurts like a papercut with lime juice in it. I will probably try to prolong some of the dahlias though, especially because I've had a miserable dahlia year and some of them are just starting to crank.  Once I get past this weekend, the weather is quite lovely, so whatever I work on saving... It'll be worth it! 

I'll also be bringing in houseplants, succulents and any tropicals I think I can overwinter. Which, I think, should be none if I base my decision making in any sort of reality.  I have an old wood ironing board that gets popped into place and the bulk of plants that come in sit on that all winter, arm-wrestling for sun all winter and then die right before the weather gets nice enough to bring them back out. Basically, winter is just like the Olympics for my vacuum cleaner. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Bubble Guppy in a Specimen Jar. What Could Go Wrong?

Dan is in Key West for a friend's birthday, so it's a girls' weekend over here.Just me and my 4-year-old, Hazel. I had an invite to attend The Niche Lab's grand opening party and I figured, since Hazel checked it out and totally enjoyed the lab last week when I dropped off some terrariums, she would enjoy going to the party. 
She lasted 20 minutes.Tops. 

When we dropped by last week, Hazel was in LOVE with all the human anatomical charts and models that decorate the place. She especially loved the specimen jars that held frogs, hedgehogs, chipmunks and kangaroos hearts. She's braver than I am, at 4. 

The shop's owner, Mickey, was great at explaining the jars to Hazel. And during the few days between our first visit and the party, she talked about the jars non-stop.

On Saturday night, right before the party, Hazel decided to make a special specimen jar as a gift for Mickey. Hazel loves Mickey. Hazel wanted to chose a toy from her toy room and shove it in a baby food jar, fill it with water and give it to Mickey at the party. It was then that Hazel was paralyzed by the idea of actually giving one of her toys away (are all 4-year-olds toy misers?) and she had a total meltdown. She was so excited to make and give this thing and freaked out by loss at the same time. It was a massive freak out. We could have filled that jar with tears.
She finally decided on putting Gil from Bubble Guppies in the jar, after trying to jam a white horse into a jar for a few minutes. I was surprised but pleased at the resolution. Hell, I'm happy to get rid of toys any way I can. 

We shoved him in a jar and filled it with water. Get in the car, cruise downtown and go to the party. 

She was sooooo excited to give her specimen jar with the Merboy in it. But once she did, she totally tweaked out on emotions again and I had to stop her from stealing the jar back. 


Here is Hazel asking questions about specimen jars. As Mickey tells her a rabbit is in that jar, Hazel says "you mean a DEAD rabbit". Repeat for every animal.

The Niche Lab is at 3328 W North Ave, Chicago and offers classes to kids and adults in subjects like slime making and taxidermy. I am teaching terrarium class and they have some terrariums I made for sale in their rad shop. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Pretty, Seedy,Edible I Can't Live Without (but I'll NEVER have to try because... did I mention SEEDY?)

I first learned to love Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) as an annual. I love the way it defies texture and color rules. It's neon chartreuse and barely pink. Or is it the other way around? It takes up space but doesn't, with it's airy stalks, minute long blooms and long lasting, alien-like seed balls. It's smoke-like and modern. It has presence but also movement. Ah, it's a rare thing, a plant that does many things and is good at all of them.
Talinum paniculatum's airy wands make this photo look weird from a distance

Plus, it seeds out all over the place. Last week I brought some in for a bouquet and I though "oh great, now I'll have it growing out of the crevices in the kitchen floor". It is THAT seedy.
Jewels of Opar- getting clearer now!

How bad can it be, this beautiful plant that seeds out absolutely anywhere, since it's leaves are a terrific addition to salads? It's free, beautiful, food. That can't be bad in my book.
Especially rad if mixed with red leaved lettuces, if you ask me.
There's a flower bud and a few seed heads

It tastes a lot like a leaf. You can take that definition to the bank.

You know what else you can take to the bank? Or maybe the post office? Send me a SASE to Kiss My Aster PO box 194 Palos Park IL 60464 and I'll send you some seeds for this plant. One seed pod per envelope, but it's enough! That's how I got this big bed of them! One seed pod.
I can only keep this up as long as they are out there so let's say this offer expired at the end of September, 2015. Ok?

Thursday, July 09, 2015

New Plant: Kaveri Lily

The fine folks at Longfield Gardens sent me a few of these 'Kaveri' hybrid lily bulbs to try. I almost said "no" because I'm not that into lilies, honestly, but the color and height intrigued me. So they sent them, I stuck them in the ground and LOW AND BEHOLD... I did not expect to love them this much. 
I took these photos with my iPhone so you can imagine what they are like IRL!
The color: Ok, I don't even know how to describe it other than.... It does not look like it IS those colors. It looks like someone has painted these Cheetos/Flaming Hot Cheetos colors onto white bisque porcelain lilies. There's a light coming from within them that's like, whoa. Way better than I expected and I am in LOVE with the color. It looks especially awesome with this black Elderberry and golden Hops all around it. 
I find the name 'Kaveri' hard to remember, so I just remember KABOOM and VERY!

The scent: Since it's a hybrid Lily, it does have a really great smell. Not gaggy like Stargazer. yeah, I know, you LOVVVE how Stargazer smells. 

The height: Advertised at 3'-4', mine is just over 2'. I'm bummed by this, only because I put them someplace that needed a 4' plant. But of course, it could reach that next year. The weather here has been dark and rainy so they really haven't had the best start in life. 
If you stare too long, you may get hypnotized and start thinking you're a chicken. Or something. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pants off! Plants off!

I don't do a lot of landscaping installs, although I like to design them and micromanage them to the end. Sometimes I do an install, here and there, if it's something I think I can hack.

Recently I thought I could hack an install for a customer I've worked for for years setting up new planters at a new residence. It was really, really raining the day I set for the install. I was already there with all these plants, a local garden center had delivered 75 bags of compost (way too much compost, but that's another story) and I was determined to get the work done. However, I didn't realize that all the terraces were on different floors and that accessing each was difficult. One was through a very narrow gangway. How narrow? Amanda-width plus 3 inches. The other terrace was up 2 flights of stairs. And all this wet, heavy soil needs to get to these terraces, in the rain.

Now, I'm dressed for rain in SuperBirkie clogs and a pair of "work jeans" that will not require tugging up every 39 seconds and a tunic-length or short dress-like t-shirt. I had a steady relationship with these jeans and I trusted them. The SuperBirkie clogs were very troubling carrying the wet bags of soil up the stairs but I could manage. And it just kept raining and I kept on trucking through. It was noted that I was very zen about the whole thing.

And then, the sun comes out. YAY! And I keep dragging bags of soil upstairs to fill all these planters until I just totally lose my mind. Like a switch being flipped, I am so uncomfortable I cannot think and I'm just all about how totally uncomfortable I am. I'm so uncomfortable I cannot breathe or think. The jeans are shrinking like Shrinky Dinks and I'm pretty sure I'm going to die from it. My brain is a buzz of severe discomfort, and it's all about my jeans.

I know what you're thinking, but I'm usually pretty tough. I swear.

So, I text the customer that I'm going to have to go because I'm losing my mind over my pants. And she's like "um,ok" and I look at all the work I have left and I think about getting in the car for the 90 minute drive home, sitting in those pants and I...

Take my pants off and Finish. That. Gig. 

Wearing no pants. 
Only after I removed them did I realize the surveillance cameras everywhere. I seriously didn't care, anyways. So, now I'm finished with the job and I walk out to my car wearing no jeans, sat in 2 hours of traffic (no pants) and walked into my daughter's preschool and picked her up wearing nooooooo pannnnnnnnnttts.

A few weeks go by and I did another install and, since the pants-off episode I have bought some seriously kick ass work pants from Duluth Trading and I'm pretty sure I'm never going to have to take my pants off to finish a gig again. But just in case? I brought a nice caftan for the car ride home

Friday, June 05, 2015

Raising the Pink Flag

A long time ago, when I lived in Chicago's Avondale 'hood, there was a woman that had a "famous" native front yard and absolutely no grass. Famous/notorious, take your pick. Half the neighborhood thought it was gorgeous and half thought it was a rat-inducing nightmare. I liked it, but was consistently annoyed by the white landscape flag marking each and every plant. Also, she wore a black bathing suit to work in her garden every day and she looked like Mrs Claus. Those things were not annoying, just totally worth mentioning, for some reason. 

So, fast forward 10 years and I've got every damn plant in my yard marked with a hot pink flag. 

Here's the deal, I'm eliminating my lawn and I keep plopping plants in and moving things around and I'm just not ready to commit to mulch/woodchips yet. In the meantime I'm doing a lot of string-trimming and I have a guy that mows my lawn so I want to be sure no plant gets the guillotine. I have a sea of flipping pink flags, I can't even believe myself. 

So, this morning I'm walking out the door to take Hazel to school and there's a young man in a hard hat and safety vest standing there. Weird. He asks me if all those pink flags are mine, because he has a work order from AT&T to remove all the pink marking flags from a neighborhood project that took place over the winter. 
Glad I was home. Almost. Can you imagine AT&T ever marking a dozen cabbages??? 
Actually, sure. I could. 
I could also imagine them pulling all my damn flags. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Plant of Last Week: Dame's Rocket

I just spent a week winding through the weird back roads of Wisconsin and this plant, Hesperis matronalis, ruled the roadsides. You can call her Dame's Rocket. She screams at you to notice her in ditches and roadsides in bitchin' shades of neon violet. Invasive? Maybe. Depends on where you live so none of your sass.
1. Smells great
2. Butterflies and bees love it
3. I can't get over the color/height for this time of year

So, yes, it's a crazy reseeder. So be the boss, deadhead or pull the whole plant, or stand back with your hands up. I sprinkled 30000000 Hesperis seeds on the borders of this property when we moved in and not one plant came up. I think this plant, like so many sloppy reseeders I have known, likes to have some say in the matter. Much like a toddler. So start one plant from seed, plant that and then you'll have a purple army.

Hesperis matronalis

Hesperis matronalis

Is it a Phlox? No. It's in the cabbage family. Weird right? Totally not a Phlox.

Is it Lunaria annua? No, but gosh, they look a lot a like. The big differnce in my book is the "money", obvi. Also a crazy reseeder and blooming RIGHT NOW. I wonder if they could be friends?
Lunaria annua