Fighting Japanese Beetles

 Japanese beetles making a meal out of a Rose of Sharon flower in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Japanese beetles making a meal out of a Rose of Sharon flower in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Fighting Japanese Beetles

I was meandering through my garden at sunset when I spotted the beautiful iridescent green spots on a milkweed. Juvenile Japanese beetles, starting to hatch from last year’s buried grubs. For the next 6 weeks, it will be a battle between these wily bugs and I.

The 3/8th of an inch hard shell beetles are eating machines, devouring more than 200 plant species. Once they turn from grubs into beetles, they set off a scent that says "let's party" to other Japanese beetles, yet another reason why you shouldn’t crush the bugs, no matter how tempting.

If you don't see them, you'll know you have them when your plant leaves turn into lace.

 Leaves turned to lace is a sure sign of Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Leaves turned to lace is a sure sign of Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Prior to the beetle's accidental introduction into the United States, the Japanese beetle was found only on the islands of Japan, isolated by water and kept in check by its natural enemies. The beetles entered the country as grubs in soil on Japanese iris roots. By 1920, eradication programs were dropped; the beetle proved to be too prolific a breeder.

One of the popular options to eliminate these voracious bugs is Japanese beetle traps, which I don’t recommend. Those are basically pheromone-laced paper bags that attract Japanese beetles. The challenge is the bags don’t catch all of them so having more Japanese beetles in your garden means more potential grubs to hatch out next year.

If you insist on using Japanese beetle traps, make sure you place them at the edge of your property and down wind.

What has worked very well for me over the years is dropping them in a can of soapy water early morning, while they are still sluggish. I pop the soapy water-filled coffee can underneath the plant branches, then shake them. The bugs fall into the water without my touching them.

 Soapy water in an old coffee can quickly dispatches Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Soapy water in an old coffee can quickly dispatches Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

According to University of Missouri Extension Service, Pyrethrins and Spinosad are effective and non-toxic sprays to try to manage Japanese beetles.

For a long term solution, my brother in Virginia has treated his lawn with milky spores. He has dozens of crepe myrtles, one of Japanese beetles favorite munchies. According to him, Japanese beetle grubs eat the spores; get sick; die and, in the process, release more milky spores. It can take several years to eliminate the Japanese beetles, not counting whether your

Neighbors have treated their lawns.

Believe it or not, there are plants Japanese beetles avoid. The typical kind of plant that will help to drive away Japanese beetles will be strong smelling and may taste badly to the insect. Some plants that deter Japanese beetles include many herbs such as garlic, rue, tansy, catnip and chives. Other Japanese beetle deterrent plants include white chrysanthemums, leeks, onions, marigolds, white geraniums and larkspur.

There are also plants that Japanese beetles skip or only munch on towards the end of their season. I assume these are just not tasty plants: begonias, caladiums, common lilacs, common pear, tulip tree, flowering dogwood, forsythia, hydrangea, hickory, magnolia, persimmon and most oak trees.

Ok, time to soap up and start picking off those pesky bugs!

Charlotte

The Beauty of Iris

 Several friends have posted that this color iris was also their Mom's favorite. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Several friends have posted that this color iris was also their Mom's favorite. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Beauty of Iris

I blame Mom for my fascination with Iris. These blue iris were her favorite, a North American version of the orchids that grew wild in our backyard trees in Brazil.

When we lived in southern Illinois in an old farm house, she had several beds of iris off to the side of our driveway. It was our job as kids to keep those beds weeded, something that was hit and miss some years depending on what other activities took up our after school time.

I loved weeding those Iris beds. There was something cathartic about pulling out plants that didn't belong and standing back to see my work. In those days I didn't know what the unwelcome plants were, I just knew Mom would not be happy until all of the funny green tufts of green growth were out of her precious Irises.

It's one of the reasons why I started to carry these Iris throws. The applique fabric iris are lovely against the white cotton back drop and so quickly bring a garden vibe into any room.

When a gardening friend heard about my love of iris, he brought me a few new starts last year. Another gardening friend shared a supply of white ones so now I have more than Mom's iris keeping me company in my garden.

 White and yellow iris were added last year courtesy of a couple of friends. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

White and yellow iris were added last year courtesy of a couple of friends. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

 My peach bearded iris have bloomed in this spot for years. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My peach bearded iris have bloomed in this spot for years. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

 This iris was a surprise bloom this year, love the color combination. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This iris was a surprise bloom this year, love the color combination. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Over the years, as I moved from one house to the next, Mom's irises were dug up and moved with me. I didn't always plant them in the best conditions so it could take a couple of years before I had them in the right light and soil conditions to bloom.

It doesn't take much. They like sun but will bloom in partial shade. They don't want to be wet and need to be planted so the root rhizomes sit on top of the soil while the roots are covered.

 One of Mom's irises bloomed this year along my cedar fence. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of Mom's irises bloomed this year along my cedar fence. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This spring, Mom's bluish/purple Irises made a lovely showing, giving me the opportunity to mark them so once blooming is over, I can group them back together in one color blocked flower bed.

The best time to move Iris is June through September. The shallow-rooted plants need a little time to settle into their new growing spot. Add a little compost to enrich the soil and mulch after planting.

 Mom's irises in another spot blooming along with peonies and columbine. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Mom's irises in another spot blooming along with peonies and columbine. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Mom's irises bloomed this year, along with my peonies, on Mother's Day. Suppose that's a sign?

I like to think that's my mother, who loved my garden, saying from Heaven she approves.

Charlotte

June Gardening Chores

 Blackberries ripen in June around the same time as mulberries. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Blackberries ripen in June around the same time as mulberries. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

June Gardening Chores

It was a record-breaking long spring so why not a record-breaking summer. This year it seems we went straight to summer from winter with no spring in between. Anyone else have any kind of spring?

There’s still time this month to try to catch up on some chores and plant, June traditionally is our wettest month of the year.

1.         Plant a new supply of vegetables every 2 weeks to give yourself a new crop through the season. Early spring crops are done but there is still time for tomatoes, green peppers, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, pumpkins and annual herbs.

2.       Keep asparagus beds weeded and let the green top ferns grow until they go brown; do not cut.

3.        When mulching, leave 2-4 inches clear from the plant stem and the mulch ring no larger than 5 inches deep. More than that and you are smothering the plant itself.

4.        Leave spring bulb greenery to die off naturally. I gently remove the yellow leaves if they bug me and plant summer perennials to cover them in the meantime.

5.         Japanese beetles show up this month so hand pick and drop in a bucket of water with a few drops of dishwashing soap to drown them. Pick early in the morning when they are sluggish. Also treat your lawn with nematodes and milky spores, both will gradually help eliminate grubs. Add geraniums and tansies to your flower beds, they are natural Japanese beetle repellants.

6.         Trim lilacs immediately after they end flowering so growth the rest of this year will provide blooms next year.

7.         Get flower pots planted. Water the soil first, let drain, then add your flowers for better adjustment.

8.         Plant annual flower seeds such as zinnias, sunflowers, forget-me-nots, cosmos, marigolds and herbs. Some herbs can be moved inside later for winter use.

10.       When planting wildflowers, mark the beds where seeds have been added. Some wildflowers may take 2 years to germinate.

11.       For those of you with grass, don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass down at one time.  For spots where grass doesn’t grow, plant flowers.

 Native flowers such as coneflowers start to bloom this month and continue until fall frost. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Native flowers such as coneflowers start to bloom this month and continue until fall frost. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

12.       When adding perennials, focus on native plants. Once established, they will require less water and care than non-natives and they will be food for native pollinators.

13.        Pinch mums once a week to encourage them to grow bushy for fall flowering. I take the pinched off pieces, gently push them into the ground and encourage more plants to grow.

14.        Feed roses and other plants compost to give them a good source of energy. Roses should be fed once a month. A quick pick me up is to dig your banana peels, egg shells and coffee grounds in around roses.

15.         Take photos of your garden. Use the same photo spots you used in spring so you can see the changes from one season to the next.

16.         Also make sure to have a nice seating area in your garden so you can stop and smell the flowers!

Charlotte

 

Tomato Trouble

 This tomato is definitely in trouble for several reasons! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This tomato is definitely in trouble for several reasons! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Tomato Trouble

Several readers are having trouble getting tomato seeds started this year and for good reason. Not only has it been record cold but we have jumped from winter to summer with little spring in between.

Tomatoes are very close to my heart. I wrote a speech in high school about tomatoes first name, “love apples.” They are actually fruits re-categorized as vegetables to work around a 19th Century import tax.

There are several factors that can cause trouble with tomatoes, starting with seedlings that die off. The condition is called “damping off” and covers several possible fungi that can kill off seedlings. Start again with brand new potting soil use  a washed or new container. Add crushed egg shells in bottom before adding more soil to ward off blossom end rot, which is caused in the fruit by a calcium deficiency. Keep the pot in a window for warmth and away from drafts. Water with a spray bottle so you don’t over-water.

The second problem is flowers that drop. There are several reasons tomatoes drop their flowers, starting with the impact of record high temperatures. Tomatoes, like most flowering plants, go into survival mode if temperatures are above 90F for five or more days in a row.

Plant survival mode means most systems are shut down, including pollen production. It’s why a plant may seem to die in hot weather and yet reappear the following year. As long as the roots can pull through, most plants will survive.

Tied to temperature is high humidity. Humidity that is too high prevents pollen from sticking to the stigma once it is released. Without pollen, there are no pollinators and without pollinators, there are no flowers that produce tomatoes.

 These cherry tomatoes grew over winter inside my house, the last of my winter crop. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These cherry tomatoes grew over winter inside my house, the last of my winter crop. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

In addition to weather conditions, tomatoes need pollinators such as native bumblebees. These little hoodlums of the bee world literally shake the tomato plant, releasing pollen all over the stigma and themselves. When high temperatures shut down pollen production, they also put bees out of business.

As they grow, make sure tomato plants don’t get too much nitrogen fertilizer. A balanced plant meal requires nitrogen for growth, phosphorous for moving energy through the plant, and potassium for stress tolerance.  Our Ozark soil can provide nitrogen but the other two fertilizer elements usually need a boost.

The other delicate part of raising tomatoes is watering. Tomato roots in open ground can grow to 5 feet deep. Tomatoes even grown in containers prefer to be evenly moist so with temperatures, and humidity, either at record levels or varying widely, requires careful monitoring.

Plant herbs with your tomatoes. The herbs will help detract bugs. Basil is the number one herb for tomatoes, but other herbs compliment tomatoes as well: bay, chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon and thyme. 

I have sunken plastic bottles with holes in pots keeping my tomatoes company so that I can better keep the roots moist. I also use a paint stick propped into the side and moved over an inch to check how wet the soil is before I water.

And that speech about tomatoes I gave in high school?

I got an A. I suspect it would have been an A+ if I had not eaten the display.

Charlotte

 

Visiting New York Hostas

 My sister-in-law's visiting New York hostas have established themselves well in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My sister-in-law's visiting New York hostas have established themselves well in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Visiting New York Hostas

I was talking to family and heard my sister-in-law say she missed seeing her New York hostas. I can understand why. These used to grace crape myrtle trees in her front yard in Virginia, the varigated leaves a nice contrast against the grey crape myrtle trunks.

Variegated hostas have white, cream or yellow in their leaves that may look like solid patterns, blotches or stripes. ‘Marginate’ variegation is when variegation occurs on the margin of the hosta’s leaves. ‘Medio variegation’ is when variegation is in the center of the hosta’s leaves.

According to the American Hosta Society members' rankings, in 2008 variegated hostas made up 8 of the top 10 and 17 of the top 25 hostas. 

Turns out the varigated hostas with white centers can be touchy to grow. Without enough sunlight, white-centered hostas lack chlorophyll in the main portion of the leaf. In more sun, the green portion of the leaf can often produce the extra food needed for the hosta to thrive.

Some white variegation hostas can tolerate full sun without burning. Generally, a hosta with thicker leaves can tolerate more intense light.  White variegated hostas with thin leaves should be restricted to partial shade, bright shade, or early morning or evening sun to look their best. Direct sun exposure is often too intense for the white variegated hostas and may cause them to burn or turn brown, which isn’t harmful but can certainly make the plant unsightly. 

I don't have all of them, I just hand-carried a dozen or so home when I flew back from a short visit. I also had daffodil bulbs and some crape myrtle starts in hand but the hostas travelled in my carry-on, their leaves waving in the airport as I hopped the flights.

When I first planted them in a shady part of my garden, they were bedraggled and looking a bit tired, somewhat akin to being munched on by deer. Deer love to eat hostas so I would not have been surprised to see my visitors nibbled on. So far only rabbits have made a little visit to the flower bed.

Here they are now, looking brand new and quite happy on their little Missouri vacation!

 The varigated leaves add a lot of interest to these visiting New York hostas. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The varigated leaves add a lot of interest to these visiting New York hostas. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

They will remain in this lovely shady flower bed until my sister-in-law wants them back. I will only be too glad to personally deliver them!

Charlotte

Tulip Types and Varieties

 Parrot tulips bloom among double pink tulips in the Bluebird Gardens retaining wall. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Parrot tulips bloom among double pink tulips in the Bluebird Gardens retaining wall. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Tulip Types and Varieties

Did you know tulips are edible? As members of the lily family, they're also related to onions, which may explain the first part. Although I rarely hear anyone promote tulips for a meal, they do make for a lovely addition to any dish assuming no chemicals have been applied to them as they were growing.

One other interesting thing about tulips. If you have them planted in a bulb garden, watch the flowers follow the sun by literally moving in the dish. They will also do that as cut flowers in a flower vase.

According to the National Garden Bureau, tulips say “spring” like no other flowers. Their "vivid, paint-box colors are a feast for winter-weary eyes" and I couldn't agree more. Who doesn't think of spring when they see tulips in bloom??

These members of the lily family typically grow a single stem and flower from teardrop-shaped bulbs that are planted in fall for spring flowers. Tulip bulbs require a dormancy period with cool, winter-like temperatures for several weeks. During this time, the bulbs sprout roots and the embryonic leaves and flowers inside the bulb begin to develop.

Tulips are native to southern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and Asia. Works of art depicting their distinctive shape date back to the 10th century. They have been cultivated in earnest for at least 400 years including generating the short-lived "tulipmania" in the 1600s where collectors were spending literally fortunes to possess one tulip bulb.

By leveraging the tulip’s natural tendency toward diversity, generations of breeders and tulip collectors have produced a mind-boggling array of flower forms, heights, colors and bloom times. Today, Holland produces most of the world’s annual tulip crop, which exceeds 4 billion bulbs annually.

 My garden frog is unimpressed but I love the double yellow tulips blooming. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My garden frog is unimpressed but I love the double yellow tulips blooming. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Basic Tulip Types and Varieties

There are more than 150 species of tulips with over 3,000 different varieties and are classified into Divisions by type. The tulip names include links to a variety of suppliers so you can see the actual tulip varieties.

Division 1: Single Early. Medium size blossoms with a classic tulip shape. Short, sturdy stems with an overall height of 10-14," often fragrant. FlairPurple PrinceBestseller, Apricot Beauty

Division 2: Double Early. Extra petals give these flowers a full look. Shorter than most other tulips, most are about 12” tall. Lovely cut flowers. AbbaMonsellaFoxtrotMonte Orange

Division 3: Triumph. This class offers the widest range of tulip colors. Triumphs are midseason bloomers and stand 15 to 20”. Barcelona, BastogneJimmyPrincess IreneRonaldo

Division 4: Darwin Hybrid. Strong plants with large flowers. Bulbs often return and bloom for several years. Mid-Spring. 22” tall. Ad RemApricot ImpressionBanja LukaPink Impression

Division 5: Single Late. Tall, egg-shaped flowers are large and long-lasting. Regal presence in the landscape. Heat tolerant. 22” tall. La CourtineMentonDordogneViolet Beauty

Division 6: Lily-Flowered. Long, narrow cups with pointed petals that flare out at the top. Excellent for cutting. 12-20” tall. Elegant LadyMarilynMerlotPieter de LeurSapporo

Division 7: Fringed. The top edge of each petal is whiskered and often slightly paler in color. Bloom time is mid to late spring. Overall height 20”. CarouselFancy FrillsLambadaRed Wing

Division 8: Viridiflora. Streaks of green give these tulips a distinctive look. Most cultivars bloom mid to late spring. Long-lasting cut flowers. 20” tall. Groenland, Spring GreenFlaming Spring GreenArtist

Division 9: Rembrandt. Petals display exotic markings and color breaks and resemble the tulips in 17th-century paintings. 20-24” tall. Rembrandt Mix

Division 10: Parrot. Ruffled, puckered and fringed petals twist as they mature. Excellent cut flowers. Heights vary from 14-22”. Black ParrotEstella RijnveldSilver ParrotTexas Flame

Division 11: Double Late. Plush, peony-like flowers are long-lasting in the garden or in a vase. Many cultivars are fragrant. 15-22” tall. I planted several Angelique this fall because those are supposed to be very fragrant.  AngeliqueCarnaval De NiceUpstarYellow Pomponette

Division 12: Kaufmanniana. Early bloomers with a tall, narrow cup and pointed petals. Blossoms open out flat in the sun. 8-10” tall.  Johann Strauss, Scarlet Baby, StresaHeart’s Delight

Division 13: Fosteriana. Also known as Emperor tulips. Big flowers are  4-5” tall and open wide on sunny days. Early spring. 18” tall. Albert HeijnOrange EmperorPurissimaRed Emperor

Division 14: Greigii. Decorative foliage adds to the appeal of these flowers. Some cultivars have two to four flowers per stem. 12” tall. Mary AnnQuebecRed Riding HoodToronto

Division 15: Species. Wild or wild-like cultivars with relatively small flowers on slender stems. Good naturalizers. 4-10” tall. Lilac WonderLady JanePeppermint Stick

Division 16: Multiflowering. Sometimes called “bouquet” tulips. Three to five flowers per stem extends bloom time and impact. 14-20” tall. Candy ClubFlaming Club

As members of the lily family, tulips are also relatives to onions.

Charlotte

Where to Find Missouri Gardener Magazine

 Missouri Gardener Magazine now available at Walmart Garden Center check out. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins at Rolla, MO store.)

Missouri Gardener Magazine now available at Walmart Garden Center check out. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins at Rolla, MO store.)

Where to Find Missouri Gardener Magazine

Every time a garden feature I've written is published in Missouri Gardener Magazine, I try to find at least one outlet where the story subject can find copies of the magazine. It was easier said that done.

For many years, the only local source for this wonderful gardening magazine was local book stores. 

Now the bi-monthly glossy magazine is available through Walmart stores in their garden center section. I stumbled upon this development as I was checking out in my regular haunt, our local garden center. There on the check out counter, taking up space for where I was placing my sale plants was a pile of the magazines.

When I queried the clerk, she said she was told the chain is now carrying the magazine, a wonderful development for gardeners looking for Missouri and regional-specific gardening information.

In addition to interesting garden features, the magazine has regional updates from University of Missouri Extension horticultural experts, something we no longer can easily access since those positions are no longer available at the county level. Although books by gardeners like Jerry Berry are interesting - he was the master gardener who made a name for himself concocting gardening mixtures from beer mixed in with other kitchen products - the advice in this magazine is more reliable.

If you don't want to buy individual magazines, you can also subscribe to have it mailed to you, an annual subscription is $19.95 per year. No, I don't get a cut on the subscriptions, I'm happy to be associated with a gardening magazine that provides good advice and pertinent information.

 These were the events for fall 2017, what do you know is scheduled for this fall? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These were the events for fall 2017, what do you know is scheduled for this fall? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

You don't see me listed?

Leaf back to the back, every issue features a calendar of upcoming gardening events that I collect and edit, it's a great way to get a sneak peek at what is coming up. I'm collecting September-October 2018 events so if you have something to share, email me by May 25. Thanks!

Charlotte

May Gardening Chores

 f you want more daffodils, don’t cut off the fading flowers, the green round heads are full of seeds that will scatter and form more daffodil bulbs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

f you want more daffodils, don’t cut off the fading flowers, the green round heads are full of seeds that will scatter and form more daffodil bulbs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

May Gardening Chores

How does it feel to have lived through Missouri’s coldest spring in recorded history going back to 1893, this past spring? Or maybe I should say this attempt at spring still or whenever it finally arrives.

I had mixed feelings wondering what this meant in terms of forage for my honeybees and what gardening chores I would have to double-up on in May on my limestone hillside garden in USDA Hardiness zone 5B.

The good news is that the soil should finally be warming up enough this month for seeds to sprout, even if some crops like corn and wheat may be a few weeks behind their usual growing schedule. Where I live in mid-Missouri, the last frost date is usually Mother’s Day, which this year is May 13.

If your spring crops didn’t make it, try again; there still should be time for at least one sowing of lettuce, spinach and radish seeds.

There is always a good time to plant onions, I grow several crops throughout the growing season. Onion sets planted around roses make good bug deterrents and are fun to harvest as long as you remember to leave a couple on bug patrol.

 Give tree seedlings a long drink of water before planting into their permanent garden location. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Give tree seedlings a long drink of water before planting into their permanent garden location. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The forecast is that we will have a wet May so take the opportunity to get tree seedlings planted. This is also a good time to divide and move perennials. Be careful of disturbing newly emerging, self-sowing annuals, learn to distinguish the sprouts of bachelor buttons and other carefree annuals so you don’t disturb them.

Mark daffodils you want to dig up and move later this fall.

As daffodils and tulips continue to fade, don’t mow the leaves down with the lawn mower until they turn yellow or the bulbs will gradually become smaller and you will not have any more blooms next spring. Leave the leaves so the bulbs can recharge.

See ants on your blooming peonies? Gently shake them off if you want to bring cut flowers inside, otherwise leave them alone. The ants help the flower buds open.

If you don’t compost, this is a good month to start. Place a small grocery bag in your freezer and add kitchen scraps. When full, take outside and bury in a garden corner. As you get into the habit of saving kitchen scraps, it will be easier to then make your own compost area or buy one, then start adding leaves and grass clippings to the kitchen scraps, some water, and mix. After a few weeks, you will have black compost ready to add to your flowerbeds.

Summer plants started inside in containers can start to spend a few hours a day outside on warm, sunny days before you transplant them into your outside garden.

Shop for natives to add for mid to late summer flowers. Good choices include Purple Coneflowers, Black eyed Susan, Salvias and any plants with low water requirements.

If you don’t have grass planted, plant clover instead. If you do, consider how to minimize the golf course-look greenery and add more varieties of blooming flowers through the growing season.

Did I mention take time to enjoy the beauty of the May flowers like iris, peonies and roses??

Charlotte

                                                                                                                                                          

 

Do Cotton Sheets Save Fruit Buds?

 These are my dwarf fruit trees covered in fleece and cotton sheets during our last cold spell.

These are my dwarf fruit trees covered in fleece and cotton sheets during our last cold spell.

Do Cotton Sheets Work to Safe Fruit Buds?

This last cold spell was four days long. I didn't know at the time it was also part of the coldest spring in Missouri's recorded history. I have been trying different materials to see which ones work the best to protect my fruit tree flowers from getting nipped during this late winter freezes. 

Over the years I have tried bird seed bags, corn bags, a variety of blankets and settled on cotton - sheets, pillow cases and lightweight fleece blankets. I will cover them with plastic bags if rain is in the forecast but without a chance of precipitation its all about keeping the flowers from getting blasted.

After four days, I wasn't sure if they had been covered for too long or not so as soon as there was sunshine and temperatures in the evening over freezing, off came the sheets.

 My uncovered dwarf fruit tree flowers are none worse the wear for being covered in cotton.

My uncovered dwarf fruit tree flowers are none worse the wear for being covered in cotton.

After giving the dwarf fruit trees a few hours to enjoy the sun, I went back to check to see how the covered flowers were doing.

These are dwarf patio peach trees.

 Dwarf patio peach trees made it through this last freeze covered in cotton pillow cases.

Dwarf patio peach trees made it through this last freeze covered in cotton pillow cases.

One of my favorite spring-blooming dwarf fruit tree is the apricot, the vibrant pink color is just lovely.

 My lovely dwarf apricot required two sheets to give it full coverage from the last freeze.

My lovely dwarf apricot required two sheets to give it full coverage from the last freeze.

As I was heading back to the front of the house, I saw honeybees visiting the recently uncovered blooms.

 One of my honeybees visits the dwarf patio peach tree blossoms saved by cotton sheets.

One of my honeybees visits the dwarf patio peach tree blossoms saved by cotton sheets.

That made all of the effort to cover up the trees worthwhile!

Charlotte

The Dirt on Soil

 Leaves are a good soil additive, helping to keep soil from packing too densely, especially Missouri clay. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Leaves are a good soil additive, helping to keep soil from packing too densely, especially Missouri clay. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Dirt on Soil

 

Did you know there are more microorganisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on earth? Soil is an amazing recycling operation, a constant re-combining of minerals and decaying plants and animals.

An average soil sample is 45 percent minerals, 25 percent water, 25 percent air, and five percent organic matter. Different-sized mineral particles, such as sand, silt, and clay, give soil its texture.

How fast water interacts, or doesn’t interact with those mineral particles, determines how well different plant varieties can pull the nutrition they need. Then there are the good soil organisms and the bad ones that, once out of balance, can turn soil communities into infertile landscapes.

To find out what kind of soil you have, you can do a quick soil test at home:

1. Fill a quart jar one-third full with topsoil and add water until the jar is almost full. Screw on the lid and shake the mixture until all the clumps of soil have dissolved.

2. Set the jar on a windowsill and watch as the larger particles begin to sink to the bottom. In a minute or two, the sand portion of the soil will have settled to the jar bottom. Mark the level of sand on the jar side. A colored magic marker will work, you can wash it off later.

3. Leave the jar undisturbed for several hours. The finer silt particles will gradually settle.

4. Leave the jar overnight. The next layer above the silt will be clay. Mark the thickness of that layer. On top of the clay should be a thin layer of organic matter. Some of this organic matter may still be floating in the water. In fact, the jar should be murky and full of floating organic sediments. If not, you probably need to add organic matter to improve the soil's fertility and structure.

Not sure what you are seeing? I can understand, sometimes it all looks like a big muddy blob. Take a good look until your eyes can distinguish between colors. Give up? Ok, but don’t toss it down the sink, pour it on a flower bed, there is another way.

 One of the easiest soil amendments for flower beds is to add weathered wood chips. The wood chips break down into added organic matter and, once in decomposed form, are a wonderful planting medium for many plants. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of the easiest soil amendments for flower beds is to add weathered wood chips. The wood chips break down into added organic matter and, once in decomposed form, are a wonderful planting medium for many plants. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Collect about 6 scoops or 1.5 cups of soil from 6-8 points from a good 4-6 inches below ground from around your garden in a plastic bag and take it down to your local University of Missouri Extension Office. For $15, they will send the samples off to a lab. In a couple of weeks, you will get a very detailed analysis back with a detailed report of your soil including ph levels and recommendations of what you need to do, if any, to improve your soil.

The report will also help guide you in what you can plant in your soil conditions and how to amend your soil for optimum garden growing conditions.

Take your time with whatever you do, most soil amendments take time.

Charlotte

 

Saving Fruit Buds From Freeze

 Lightweight blankets, sheets and cotton pillow cases cover my flowering fruit trees early April.

Lightweight blankets, sheets and cotton pillow cases cover my flowering fruit trees early April.

Saving Fruit Buds From Freeze

Hopefully it's the last snow of the year but the forecast was ill-timed. Some of my dwarf fruit trees were flowering, their pink buds and round little posies threatened by the below freezing temperatures.

Over the years, I have covered them with a number of different textiles to see which ones work the best against frost and freezing temperatures. As long as it doesn't rain, cotton sheets, pillow cases and lightweight fleece blankets and coats seem to protect them the best without causing damage as they are unwrapped later.

If there is wet precipitation, then adding something over to shield the cotton helps. Bird seed bags, corn bags and plastic dry cleaning bags have helped to keep the cotton from adding weight to the branches.

These dwarf fruit trees have been covered for three days against the cold. Hopefully they will get unwrapped in another day or so and the flowers will warm up enough to entice the bees with freshly-produced nectar. I'm sure the bees will be happy to be out of their hives as well!

Charlotte

 

April Gardening Chores

 Prune lilacs immediately after blooming or you may be cutting off next year's flowers.

Prune lilacs immediately after blooming or you may be cutting off next year's flowers.

April Gardening Chores

There’s so much growing in mid-Missouri, where I live in USDA Hardiness zone 5b, I love taking my walks to see what’s popped up or getting ready to bloom, and what may be visiting my garden. Haven't seen rabbits yet but they will soon be checking out the greenery, too!

Clean out composters and add to flower beds and fruit trees. Mix with existing soil for now; you will mulch this later. Leave a good bucket of finished compost as starter for the next compost batch and start adding leaves, grass clippings if you have them, kitchen scraps and water. Don’t forget to mix.

Prune lilacs immediately after they bloom. If you wait until later in the season, you will be cutting off next year’s blooms.

Continue to sow lettuce, spinach and radish seeds every 10 days or so for fresh spring salads in your round foot garden. I would call it my pot garden but that leads you to believe I am growing something completely different. Call it your garden in pots, if you prefer.

If you like to grow peas, this is the last month to plant sugar snap peas and snow peas, they prefer cooler weather conditions. To keep their roots happy, mulch with cardboard to keep them cool, then add a layer of wood chips.

As daffodils and tulips continue to grow and bloom, sprinkle compost around them to keep the bulbs well fed. As the flowers fade, remove them by snipping off the flower heads. Leave the greenery until it turns yellow; the green leaves help the bulbs store energy for next season’s blooms. Don’t mow the leaves down with the lawn mower until they turn yellow or the bulbs will gradually become smaller and you will not have any more blooms next spring.

If you have a vegetable garden area, this is a good time to add cardboard to kill off any growth prior to summer planting. Don't till, the prevailing thought now is that tilling damages the soil ecosystem. Kill the plants you don’t want, make holes to plant the ones you do, or make trenches to plant seeds, and cover. Easy peasy. Who doesn’t like easy gardening??

 Pot gardens work just as well to grow onions, lettuce, spinach and other spring crops.

Pot gardens work just as well to grow onions, lettuce, spinach and other spring crops.

Start your summer plants inside in containers you can transplant outside later; tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini.

Don’t forget companion plants to reduce crop damage; basil is a good bug deterrent for a lot of plants and grows easily from seed.

Plant for pollinators as well. I love zinnias and so do butterflies and bees. Native plants such as New England Asters, yarrow and purple coneflowers are good choices for pollinators because they have long blooming seasons. For another good annual, try sunflower seeds. Birds will love the seeds in the fall.

Enjoy the beauty of Missouri’s native trees, these usually bloom this month, redbuds and dogwoods. Better yet, plant a few more native trees along with compact dwarf fruit trees. Although planting native flowers is still good for pollinators, trees provide better, and more reliable, pollen sources for bees. The smaller fruit trees are good pollen sources as well and, when pollinated by bees, will also give you easily accessible fruit to pick.

Charlotte

Signs of Spring

 'Tete a Tete' miniature daffodils blooming at the corner of one of my hillside flower beds.

'Tete a Tete' miniature daffodils blooming at the corner of one of my hillside flower beds.

Signs of Spring

When I think of spring, I imagine two favorite signs now connected by a thoughtful gift from an East coast colleague that shows up with the first early spring flowers.

We had worked together a few years back. When we were on breaks or sharing a meal, we enjoyed comparing notes about our very different gardens.

His was an east coast, meticulous garden inspired by formality and precision. He had clipped topiary Boxwoods, manicured Weeping Willows and dramatic Drooping Cherry trees. I used to tell him his garden sounded just a tad sad based on his description, did he have anything with more of a happy sounding name planted anywhere?

By comparison, my Missouri limestone hillside garden was a riot of easy to grow native redbuds, dogwoods and compact fruit trees sprinkled with anything that bloomed throughout the growing season, even weeds. No grass to mow. Ponds, lots of birdhouses, bird baths, benches, butterflies and bees, “quite a busy place” he used to say. And frogs. Lots of frogs, all shapes and sizes but my favorites were the spring frogs.

Frogs, he would say, as if the concept was brand new to him. I gathered nothing went into his garden without advance permission.

 A Missouri spring peeper frog resting on my back ladder between making joyful noises.

A Missouri spring peeper frog resting on my back ladder between making joyful noises.

Little frogs called spring peepers, I would add. Tiny grey frogs with a big presence, they make a resounding noise on the first warm spring-like day, everyone knows just when that is, at times it is in the middle of winter. The sun will come out, the day will warm up and so will the frogs. One won’t be able to hear one’s thoughts for the racket it’s quite special.

We would go on with our official business and when talk turned back to gardens, the conversation would come back around to the little frogs, which apparently they don’t have on the East coast. Or if the do, they must sing much more quietly in his garden.

So what do these little frogs do, he once asked.

Well, I said, giving it due consideration. They swim in the water in my empty flower pots. They hang out in my rain barrel. They sit under plants. They suction cup themselves to my windows and drive my cats crazy.

I mean, do frogs have jobs, he asked.

Why yes, I said. They eat bugs.

And peep?

Yes, they peep, usually in spring, when daffodils much larger than they are bloom.

(I didn't say it was scintillating conversation, now, did I.)

Another time I showed him a picture of one of my frogs. I have a couple living in a rain barrel. I wanted him to see what they looked like just in case he found any on his property. He nodded once he took in their size and coloring.

So when I opened the box of miniature daffodils with his return address, I knew exactly why he sent them. They were for the spring peepers, teeny tiny daffodils for the small frogs he knew I had in my garden.

Welcome spring!

Charlotte

Good Garden Visitors

 Opossums are good garden visitors, they keep ticks and snake populations in check.

Opossums are good garden visitors, they keep ticks and snake populations in check.

Good Garden Visitors

As spring pops up, it’s time to welcome good garden visitors and set aside pesticides and insecticides. Although I understand those are used because they are conveniently available, most home gardeners do more harm than good. Let’s look at more environmentally friendly, and less costly, alternatives:

Birdhouses. Besides being fun to make and even more fun to add to a garden, birdhouses provide shelter to a variety of attractive garden visitors. Some birds feed larvae and caterpillars to their young and by doing so provide bug control. These homes are also good shelters for paper wasps, which are good pollinators for fruit trees. Having alternative housing also keeps paper wasps away from your house doors and windows.

Birdbaths. Add rocks and sticks to provide safe landing spots for small insects and keep the areas filled with water, especially when there are dry periods.

Provide other water areas with shallow dishes, pebble areas and sand for butterflies and other smaller insects. All living creatures need water.

Toad houses. Use old broken ceramic pots turned upside down as long as there is a space underneath that creates a cool spot for a toad to sit in. Toads like cool, damp spots and will eat more than their share of destructive insects.

Hover flies are 3/8 to 3/4 of an inch long with black and yellow stripes. Some people call hover flies sweat bees since the flies enjoy a little tasty drink of sweat periodically. However, hover flies don't sting and actually can't sting even if they had the urge. Hover fly young are ravenous predators of garden pests such as aphids, thrips and small caterpillars. The adult hover flies do not eat other insects but feed on nectar and pollen

 Rehabilitate well-used bird houses by adding new holes and wire to be able to rehang them.

Rehabilitate well-used bird houses by adding new holes and wire to be able to rehang them.

Plant a variety of flowers. Many predators and parasites feed on pollen and nectar or use flowers to supplement their food supply if they run low on pests. To attract the good bugs, also called beneficial bugs, add plants in the carrot family and mustard family. Use plenty of plants with small flowers such as sweet alyssum, dill, fennel, garlic chives, coriander, cilantro and white lace flower, cultivated version of Queen Anne's Lace. Other popular plants for good bugs include: blanket flower, coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, tansy, yarrow, goldenrod, sunflowers, yellow alyssum, sweet clover, buckwheat and hairy vetch. Let a few of the broccoli plants go to flower.

Plan a season of bloom. Gardeners enjoy having flowers all season as much as the beneficial insects.

Include some permanent hardscapes such as stone paths and decorative rock. These attract lizards, part of nature’s garbage patrol. Lizards consume dead insects.

Don’t be too rushed to escort that opossum off your property. Opossums eat fruits, snakes, insects, snails, slugs, eggs, mice, rats, fish, frogs, crayfish, and carrion. They are immune to Missouri venomous snakes and, through grooming, get rid of a lot of ticks. They are also nocturnal so if you don't want to cross paths, start taking your garbage out first thing in the morning.

Charlotte

Bird Bath Benches

 This is my mother's old garden bench now close to her old garden bird bath.

This is my mother's old garden bench now close to her old garden bird bath.

Bird Bath Benches

We often seem to spend extra time locating the perfect spot for bird baths but do we even consider a nearby seating area?

I was pondering this question as I finished weeding a part of my garden where my mother's garden items are now settled in. One is a bird bath I finally was able to plug up so that it holds water and my returning Robins enjoy using for bathing. Many of the Robins are descendants of the original 12 or so I raised by hand and released; Robins, as many songbirds will do,  return to their fledging spots to raise their young.

My closest bench used to be across the driveway, too far away to quietly sit and watch the birds splashing. Once the bird bath was fixed, I moved my mother's old bench closer so that anyone could settle down and watch the show in the bird bath.

That's one of the great delights of having a certified wildlife garden, there is always something going on if one only takes the time to slow down long enough to observe. Now the bench reminds me to slow down and take it all in.

Charlotte

 

June Gardening Chores

 My herbs, tomatoes, peppers and yes, a banana plant on my back deck garden.

My herbs, tomatoes, peppers and yes, a banana plant on my back deck garden.

June Gardening Chores

Behind in gardening chores? So am I. It’s been such a wet spring, it’s hard to get anything in the ground, let alone much mowed. The plants sure have taken advantage of all of the moisture. And just think, June is traditionally our wettest month of the year.

Since our spring season is getting extended with our rapidly changing climate, there is still time to get some late spring chores done:

1.     Japanese beetles show up this month so hand pick and drop in a bucket of water with soap. Also treat your lawn with nematodes and milky spores, both will gradually help eliminate grubs.

2.     Trim lilacs now so growth the rest of this year will provide blooms next year.

3.     Get your flower pots planted. Water the soil first, let drain, then add your flowers for better adjustment.

4.     When planting vegetables, plant a new supply every 2 weeks to give yourself a new crop through the season.

5.     Keep your asparagus bed weeded and let the green top ferns grow until they go brown, do not cut.

6.     As rain stops, make sure to water deeply in the root zone. Don’t sprinkle on leaves, that’s a waste of water and does nothing for your plants.

7.     Pinch mums weekly through July 4th to keep them bushy and delay bloom until fall.

8.     Leave spring bulb greenery to die off naturally. I gently remove the yellow leaves if they bug me and plant summer perennials to cover them in the meantime.

9.     Plant annual flower seeds, such as zinnias, sunflowers, forget-me-nots, cosmos, marigolds and herbs.

10.  Mulch your vegetables, even those growing in pots. Shredded leaves, shredded paper and torn cardboard all work under dried grass and leaves.

 This dill and purslane volunteered from last year. Gardening doesn't get much easier than that!

This dill and purslane volunteered from last year. Gardening doesn't get much easier than that!

11.  When mulching, leave 2-4 inches clear from the plant stem and the mulch ring no larger than 5 inches deep. More than that and you are smothering the plant itself.

12.  Check for dead limbs and remove before they fall on someone.

13.  When planting wildflowers, mark the beds where seeds have been added. Some wildflowers may take 2 years to germinate.

14.  Add bird baths for interest and a bird water source. Birds will help keep unwanted insects down.

15.  Feed roses and other plants compost to give them a good source of energy.

16.  For those of you with grass, don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass down at one time.

17.  When making new flower beds, use cardboard boxes to kill off unwanted plants. Add shredded leaves, grass clippings, mulch to get the bed ready for fall planting.

18.  Take photos of your garden. Use the same photo spots you used in spring so you can see the changes from one season to the next.

19.  When adding perennials, focus on native plants. Once established, they will require less water and care than non-natives and Missouri has a lovely array of native plants to choose from.

20. Make sure to have a seating area in a cool garden spot so you can sit down and enjoy all of the work you have invested in your garden.

Charlotte

Hummer Time

 This is one of my inside cats supervising the hummingbird feeder out of the window to my deck. This cat in particular takes her supervisory duties very seriously and lets me know whenever there is a hummingbird at the feeder.

This is one of my inside cats supervising the hummingbird feeder out of the window to my deck. This cat in particular takes her supervisory duties very seriously and lets me know whenever there is a hummingbird at the feeder.

Hummer Time

With all of the other spring signs several weeks early this year, I decided to put out my hummingbird feeders a few weeks early and turns out, I was just in time.

Hummingbirds winter over in Central and South America, migrating back north for our spring and summer while the southern hemisphere goes into its winter season. As they migrate north, the male hummingbirds are the first to show up at backyard feeders. They are the scouts, checking out food and nesting areas for the incoming females.

This year, I had one ruby-throated hummingbird at the feeder off my deck the first day I put out the feeder.

How Hummingbirds Migrate

The story of how hummingbirds make this trip is amazing. During migration, a hummingbird's heart beats up to 1,260 times a minute, and its wings flap 15 to 80 times a second.

They fly alone, often on the same path they have flown earlier in their life, and they fly low, just above tree tops or water. Flying low allows the birds to see, and stop at, food supplies along the way. They are also experts at using tail winds to help reach their destination faster. Research indicates a hummingbird can travel as much as 23 miles in one day.

 A good hummingbird feeder has feeding slots that are flush with the surface. That way the feeder can easily be cleaned with an old toothbrush and hot water. Do not use detergent when cleaning a hummingbird feeder, a little bleach in water will remove any mold growing inside the container. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A good hummingbird feeder has feeding slots that are flush with the surface. That way the feeder can easily be cleaned with an old toothbrush and hot water. Do not use detergent when cleaning a hummingbird feeder, a little bleach in water will remove any mold growing inside the container. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Hummingbird Homemade Sugar Syrup

You can help feed hummingbirds with a simple solution of sugar water. I make my sugar syrup one part sugar, 4 parts water. Mix the sugar in hot water out of the tap until the sugar dissolves completely. You don’t want to boil the water unless you boil, then let it cool off because boiled water can be too hot.

Once cooled, I store the sugar water in the refrigerator and only fill the hummingbird feeders halfway so the sugar water doesn’t spoil. Then change the sugar water every week or so; more often in warmer weather.

When cleaning out the hummingbird feeders, don’t use soap or any other cleaning agent or you may find the hummingbirds won’t use the hummingbird feeder.

To keep mine clean, I rinse out with hot water and a give it a good scrubbing, then add a little dab of bleach in the water to remove any leftover mold and rinse well.

There was a nursery rhyme where I grew up in Brazil about hummingbirds getting rides on the backs of geese. I was at a conference of biologists many years ago listening to one present his theory of how those tiny birds make the long trek across the Gulf of Mexico. After basically saying they couldn’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how hummingbirds fly across that long expanse of water without food, I mentioned the nursery rhyme and asked if there was any possibility that those two species worked together.

The scientist said no, they knew the hummingbirds made it across the Gulf of Mexico because they found their little exhausted bodies along the shoreline.

The voice of an old gruffy, well-respected biologist came from the back. “That’s where the geese dump them.”

Charlotte

Finding First Strawberries

 Can you see the first strawberries? I have strawberry plants as border plants at Bluebird Gardens.

Can you see the first strawberries? I have strawberry plants as border plants at Bluebird Gardens.

Finding First Strawberries

For many years I have used strawberry plants as border plants.

It started when I found a patch of wild strawberries and didn't want to mow them over. Once transplanted into my garden, I kept them as border plants so I could easily find them.

When my brother sent me strawberry plants for a birthday, I also planted those as border plants. There is something enticing about planting something edible along flower bed borders, the anticipation of finding something delicious along my garden walks still thrills me every time I think about the possibilities.

As strawberry season approaches, I start looking through my flower borders for the first strawberries of the season. Easier said than done because my resident turtle population also has their eyes on those berries. One day they are there, the next completely gone so I try not to get my hopes up about finding a delicious treat.

For several years, I even had strawberries planted in a raised bed thinking that would discourage slow-moving visitors. Instead, I found a turtle pulling itself up over the raised bed border to get to the ripening strawberries!

These strawberry plants are day neutral so they should fruit several times this year.

 Not sure the front strawberries will make it but that one in the back...

Not sure the front strawberries will make it but that one in the back...

Strawberries require rich soil so I add compost every fall around the plants so they have enough time to absorb the nutrients before fruiting. I'm sure the turtles appreciate the extra effort!

Charlotte

Blackberry Winter

 Blackberries in bloom at Bluebird Gardens, these are growing over one of my compost areas.

Blackberries in bloom at Bluebird Gardens, these are growing over one of my compost areas.

Blackberry Winter

Blackberries have been a favorite addition to my garden. Although wild blackberries grow abundantly through mid-Missouri, these are thornless ones so I have them growing where I can easily access them once the fruit is ripe enough.

After a very mild winter and earlier than usual spring - I had tulips blooming mid-February - these blackberry vines started blooming about a month earlier than in the past. The sign of the flowers is also a trigger for beekeepers to track the nectar and pollen honeybees are bringing in. And in the Missouri Ozarks, they are also a warning that we may still have one last cold spell before warm weather settles in.

It's called a Blackberry Winter, and we are currently enjoying a few days of this last nippy hurrah before summer settles in for good. During this cold snap, temperatures in the evenings hover around the mid 40s while daytime temperatures are sweater-cool mornings.

An office colleague introduced me to the term many years ago, when she explained we couldn't go on our regular morning break walk because it was too cold. She also referred to a cold snap in April as a "dogwood winter," the cold snaps coordinating with the blooming trees.

As our climate continues to rapidly change, I wonder if these cold snaps will disappear. Weather in the midwest is forecast to have milder winters with longer spring and fall seasons.

 Blackberry promises, blackberry fruit still green but ripening in the sun.

Blackberry promises, blackberry fruit still green but ripening in the sun.

It's a nice respite from spending the days in the garden pulling weeds and hauling mulch. And then there are the ripe blackberries to look forward to picking!

Charlotte

Tip Toe Through The Tulips

 My first tulips in a couple of decades are blooming, and I can't get enough of seeing them!

My first tulips in a couple of decades are blooming, and I can't get enough of seeing them!

Tip Toe Through The Tulips

For years I would pass by those bags of tulip bulbs and remind myself there was no point in feeding the beautiful flowers to my resident deer. This past fall, I splurged on a couple of bags of mixed color tulips after the flower beds attached to my driveway retaining wall were finished. I make bulb gardens out of tulips bulbs most years but its not the same as having the bulbs blooming in the garden for weeks in spring.

Designed to be practical as well as beautiful, the driveway retaining wall includes three levels of flower beds, each adding greenery as well as stability to the wall holding up the curved road into my property.

We actually followed the design of the old railroad tie retaining wall, adding a flower bed at the bottom where the tulips are now blooming.

 My builder was proud of his work until he showed photos to a couple of people who wondered why the walls are so short.

Why would you want taller walls, I said, this way we can easily see the flowers in bloom. If the wall was taller, you couldn't see much blooming and it would all feel hemmed in. Who wants to look at tulips half way up?

Most people are used to taller walls, he said, and they don't get the flat stones at the top.

 One view of the tulips blooming in the flower bed that is part of my driveway retaining wall.

One view of the tulips blooming in the flower bed that is part of my driveway retaining wall.

I like the flat stones. I can sit on the edge of the flower beds and enjoy the flowers, then I can also easily reach over and do some trimming, or add mulch. Or better yet, easily plant something. When I'm through, I can cut through the flower bed by walking on the flat stones from one side to the other. I can pretend, I said, that I was tip toeing through the tulips.

 The view from the other side of the driveway retaining wall, tulips are pretty from both ends.

The view from the other side of the driveway retaining wall, tulips are pretty from both ends.

He just shook his head and smiled. My builder knows there is no such thing in my world as having too many flower beds.

And if that doesn't satisfy the people looking at the photos and wondering why someone wants flat stone walls, I said with a twinkle in my eye, just tell them your client is a goat. 

Charlotte