Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Monarda and Mommy Brain

I can’t remember the names of plants anymore. A few weeks ago, someone asked me what daylily that was in my garden and I had to make something up (I said, “Uh, High School Lipstick?” and they bought it). Don’t worry too much about me, there’s nothing wrong that a time machine wouldn’t help, not that I’d use it. 

I seem to suffer from an affliction called “Mommy Brain”. Basically, I lost my mind when I had that kid and it hasn’t come back. 
Maybe it’s like when you have a kid, you give them half your brain and half your heart. Then they have a brain and a half and a heart and a half and you’re left staggering in the corner trying to cope and still think of the word “oatmeal”.

Thinking I was losing my mind, I read a million articles about Mommy Brain and I make sure I go to therapy monthly so I keep it 100. My therapist promises to tell me if and when I’m even stupider. The great thing is that reading and talking to adults is the antidote to Mommy Brain, however they are also the hardest things to do. Here’s me: “No shit, I did 18 loads of laundry yesterday. Have you seen the most recent Paw Patrol? Isn’t it great that after 35 years of being creepy, Lady Elaine Fairchild is in a loving, stable relationship?” These conversations do not make for brain calisthenics over brunch.

I’m sure that currently spending 89% of my life talking to a kid* is to blame for my inability to speak to adults without getting stumped on normal, everyday words or my complete lack of focus for reading anything depthier than a shampoo bottle. Working from home probably doesn't help, either. Some articles **point to the cause of Mommy Brain as increased estrogen leftover from when all that obstetrical stuff went down years ago***, which means I’ve only got, what, 10 more years or so to go in that game. So 10 more years of losing my car keys, 10 more years of translating conversations spoken in English, back into English. Can’t wait to enter the CRONE ZONE!
Pre-Hazel, remembering plant names and having a rockin’ garden was the center of my universe, a real point of pride, and then I created a new center of my universe (with an assist from my husband). Now gardening just something I do when possible, as a luxury or treat. I used to walk my garden each morning, noticing growth and new blooms, now I notice growth and new blooms on my only child each morning, in the 5 minutes after she wakes up and is all smiley and sweet, before she starts whining. The garden pales to her needs and love, although it’s a lot less sassy and pees on me less. It’s a staggering change. It’s been 5 years and I’m not adjusting fast enough. Not that I would change a single thing...

Someone asked me which Monarda this was and all I could come up with was "Uh, red one"

*To be fair, her vocabulary is on point, but she’s still just five.

**I’ve read some articles that say that if my Mommy Brain has lasted this long, I’m doing something wrong. I should pull back, live more mindfully...basically get out in the garden more.
***I saved this particular article but now I can't find it (wah wahhhh)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Return of the Terrarium

Eight years ago, I blogged about my search for a vintage globe-shaped terrarium like my parents had when I was little. For more than EIGHT long years, I searched for one of these things,and I found some, but usually for about $225.

I only wanted to spend about $75, of course. I'm a thrift shopper and my sense of value is catawampus. It's so catawampus it's like my idea of what things should cost is permanently wasted on champagne from Target and dancing on a table.

After so many years, I started to accept moving out of my price range. I started embracing the fact that this endeavor was gonna cost me $200, or more.I had already worked through the other steps of vintage-terrarium-price-acceptance, denial, anger, Ebay custom searches and depression, so it was time. Now, Dan is always willing to pay to get things right, he likes nice things and thinks part if their niceness is what you pay, but hearing me give up and be ready to pay out the nose must have shocked him into action. 

Because he found me a terrarium. He was so stoked that he called me, everyone knows not to call me unless it's something HUGE. "Can you drive to Fort Wayne tomorrow?"

That's a 3 hour drive plus a time zone change. It's not totally abnormal around here to drive that far for renowned pancakes or a $6 Clematis. 

Me:"Why? I really can't drive to Ft. Wayne tomorrow, but oddly I'm speaking about 30 miles from there next week"

He tells me why:
It's $35 and 3 hours away! So he calls the people with the terrarium to offer to Paypal them the $35 right now and... will they hold it for a week? That is our proposed scheme. Of course they could say "no", they could take our money and sell it to someone else anyways, there's a world of messed-up that we are willing to enter at this point. 

Pretty much the worst thing that could happen is that they realize these crazies are willing to drive 3 hours (plus a time zone change) to get this thing, do some research and jack up the price. That would be un-Midwestern of them. 

But that doesn't happen.

They say that of course they would be willing to hold it for us for a week, they are wholesome Midwesterners, like myself, except they won't be home. They are going on a 2-week vacation. 

Yes, they are going on vacation. 
But they are flying out of Midway, approximately 14 minutes from MY HOUSE. 
AAAAAND they are willing to bring it with them from Ft. Wayne, Indiana and rendezvous with us near HERE!


And yes, it's not as white as it used to be and there's a crack that's completely impossible to discern while it's planted up. But, it's MINE!
Want to see how I finished it??
Live moss, a few tiny ferns and a early 2000s toy Yoda that I used to have glued onto the dashboard of my Toyota (get it??).

Like it?? Was it worth the $35?

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?