Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Wild Weather

The forecast was for rain this weekend and I was looking forward to working in the greenhouse. I love working in the greenhouse when it rains. I love the warm humidity and growing plants. I love the sound of rain gently drumming on the roof and sides.

While the predictions were for heavy rain and possible flooding, I’m quite certain that there was no mention of gale force winds. Working in the greenhouse yesterday felt like being in a Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie. The wind howled. The plastic covering flapped. The supports bent. Water flooded in under the doors. And then the lights went out. Queue the dramatic music.

It was late afternoon and good time to go home. My usual 20 minute ride turned into a 45 minute odyssey as I desperately tried to find a road into Middlesex that wasn’t flooded. I finally ended up driving to Dunellen and then taking Rte 28 west into Middlesex. I live on that side of town and knew that it wouldn’t be flooded.

Then it was a quick dinner and shower and, you guessed it, off to work for my final nightshift. I gave myself an hour to get there knowing that Rte 22 regularly floods in the area of Scotch Plains. I managed to get as far as Watchung before being detoured off of 22. The traffic was heavy so I went the other way up the mountain to Rte 78.

Rte 78 has a posted speed limit of 65 mph. New Jersey drivers consider speed limits as minimum speeds, rather than maximum speeds, so you can imagine my surprise to find the traffic crawling along at 40 mph. The driving rain made visibility almost nil. I exited in Summit and inched my way back down the mountain through gushing streams of water and downed tree branches, arriving at my office in Westfield exactly 59 minutes after leaving my house.

Then it was hours of listening to the building groan in the wind while worrying about my basement. Water had begun to seep in as I was leaving. I have a sump pump, but if the water comes in too fast, it overwhelms the sump pump which then shuts down and I’m forced to bail until I can get ahead of it and get the sump pump working again. My concern was that I wouldn’t be home all night and if the sump pump shut down, my basement would flood. My furnace and hot water heater are elevated a few inches off the floor but much more rain than that was expected. Plus what was coming off the mountain.

For those of you who don’t live in New Jersey, Middlesex is located at the foot of the Watchung Mountains. Rain and melting snow drain straight down the mountain and into my basement. Hence my familiarity with sump pumps and bailing. And, no, I wasn’t told about this when I bought the house. In fact, there were people living in the basement when I bought it so how was I supposed to know that the basement regularly gets water in it?

Thanks to the time change, I left work an hour early. Which was negated by the hour it took me to get home. Rte 22 was still blocked, so it was back up to Rte 78 and then creep down the mountain through gushing streams of water and downed tree branches. I arrived home to the beautiful sound of the sump pump still doggedly working away.

Not much sleep today. I was up every two hours, checking on the basement. So far, so good. But I think it’s time to move. Thanks to global warming, there will be more and more severe storms. I’m tired of losing sleep and bailing out my basement.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

The calendar may say it’s still winter, but my garden is started to burst into spring. These cheerful crocus greeted me this morning when I came home from work.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I came, I Saw, I Bought

I skipped my annual tradition this year of buying something at the NJ flower show that had nothing to do with gardening. I did this for two reasons. First, because I was eager to get home and watch the Olympics, I had very little time to spend in the vendor area. More importantly, I had fallen in love with the African violet with the variegated foliage and I knew that there is always a vendor at the Philly show who sells African violets.

A and I were too exhausted after touring the Philly show to tour the entire vendor area, so we confined ourselves to seeking out that African violet vendor and A’s favorite seed source, Landreth Seeds.

I am deeply ignorant when it comes to African violets and so had no idea that there were several kinds with variegated foliage. A helped me choose one. When it grows up, it will have white flowers with yellow around the center. So much prettier than the plain purple one I saw at the NJ flower show.

Friday, March 5, 2010

You Be The Judge

It appears that the same people who judged the NJ flower show, moved on to judge the Philly show. Let’s see if you can guess which of the following was awarded the coveted blue ribbon:

Entry #1

Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

If you thought that Entry #2 was the first place winner, then you should consider a career in flower show judging.

Are you up for another round? Try these arrangements:

Entry #1


Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

Number 4, of course. That was too easy.

But, seriously. A single spray of orchids? Heck, even I could do that. Just buy an orchid plant at Home Depot, spray paint some sticks from my yard and wow the judges at the flower show.

Easy peasy.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Philadelphia Flower Show

This post is my personal opinion only. It in no way reflects the views of Rutgers Gardens or any of its staff. I am not a spokesperson for Rutgers Gardens.

A and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Flower Show today. It was more spectacular than last year. How spectacular? I set a new personal record of 687 photos. Most trips, I average 300 – 400 photos.

Photos of the Day

I just love the light in that photo.

A and I noticed two trends this year: orchids and azaleas. Everywhere we looked, orchids and azaleas. I enjoyed the orchids. They have such a variety of shapes and colors.

The azaleas, on the other hand, got very old, very fast.

I continue to be fascinated by the fact that the display gardens are arranged around entire buildings.

You will note the azaleas.

There are some animals that look great made of flowers.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the elephant has a pedicure.

Some animals shouldn’t be made of flowers. Like lobsters:

As long as we are on the subject of things that should never, ever happen:

Tulips used as pond plants

Ikebana wall hangings

A pointed out this little anomaly.

The theme for the table settings was something about First Dates. She noticed that the flower arrangements are set on laptops. Which caused us to wonder who brings a laptop on a date? What are they doing, Tweeting the date to their friends? Updating their Facebook pages?

As long as we are wondering about stuff, any guesses as to how this tree was transported to the convention center?

I love the trunk but how do you move it?

I did see some really neat stuff.

Like this dish garden.

And these Birds of Paradise

I’ve never been able to have bird houses because the squirrels would chew them up.

Maybe I should try this?

My favorite dog park topiary:

Love the dachshund.

The frog was less successful

And this was just what I needed after a long, snowy winter:

Miles of daffodils.

You can see most of my photos (Flickr choked on about ten of them), the good, the bad and the blurry, on Flickr.

Tomorrow, we’ll play a couple of rounds of “You Be The Judge”.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Small Budget Gardener

I bought my first house 25 years ago. It was an old Victorian in dire need of renovation. The yard was in even worse shape. Previously a rental, the landlord had paved part of the backyard with gravel to create a parking lot. The rest of the yard was a jumble of vines including poison ivy. I was literally starting with nothing. I didn’t even own any garden tools.

Over the next ten years, I tamed the yard. It was a period of trial and error, finding the best tools for the job, finding plants and seeds, learning to compost and most importantly, finally learning to identify poison ivy to which I am horribly allergic. That experience shaped the frugal gardener that I am now.

I wish I had had this book when I bought that house. It would have saved me a lot of time, energy and especially money. Maureen Gilmer has written one of the best how-tos I have ever read. Page after page, I found myself nodding in agreement. Following her clear step by step instructions, anyone can create a wonderful garden with a minimal outlay of money.

There are so many things that I love about this book. She tells the reader what tools to buy, and more importantly, what tools not to buy. She demystifies composting. She makes clear that organic gardening is not just better for the environment but is actually cheaper than using commercial fertilizers. Best of all, she not only tells you what materials you need, she also tells you where to find them. She talks about yard art, drip irrigation, propagation, seed starting and cold frames, all using free or recycled materials.

I only have two small quibbles with the material. She devotes an entire chapter to online sources for tools, plants and seeds, all of which are reputable dealers. What she neglects to mention are the many seed swap sites, that are also well-known and reputable, where you can trade your excess seeds for the seeds you desire for the cost of postage.

I admire the amount of space she devotes to improving and maintaining the health of your soil but she doesn’t go into the no-till method which is thought to be even better for your soil. It also saves you the cost of buying or renting a rototiller.

These are only minor omissions. I agree with everything she says and have field tested many of her ideas myself. I would recommend this book to both newbie gardeners and more experienced gardeners who are looking for ways to save money.