Tag Archives: gardening

Transforming Otters and Traveling Trees

The terra cotta otter planter that survived many winters in Ballard didn't do so well at our new place, so now she's garden art.
The terra cotta otter planter that survived many winters in Ballard didn’t do so well at our new place, so now she’s garden art.
As autumn settles in, I’ve been taking care of winterizing tasks, which included transplanting some thing from our planters to other locations. Living in an apartment, we don’t have quite as much winterizing to do as some people, but there is still work to do. Fans and the a/c unit get taken down and put away, for instance. I put away some of the summer clothes and pull out warmer clothes. Our wooden folding table out on the veranda (our third-story deck) needs to be rubbed down with oil (I used butcher block oil and butcher block conditioner) to keep it waterproof for another year. The grill needs to be cleaned and covered. Things like that.

This year that also meant that a tree need to be transported. Not long after we moved to this place last year, I noticed an unfamiliar plant growing in the very smallest of the flower pots that used to sit on our porch at the old place. Once the leaves reached full size, I identified it as a Turkish Filbert (also know as a Eurasian Hazel), which is a relative of the American Hazel from which we get hazelnuts. In our old neighborhood one house up the street from us had a Turkish Filbert in the front yard, and I was used to seeing the distinctive filbert seed pods on the sidewalk each fall. I realized that the neighborhood squirrel had buried one of those seeds in my flowerpot.

Over the years we’d lived there, I was used to finding rotted peanuts and the occasional chestnut in the flowerpots whenever I put in new spot color flowers. This was the first time, as far as I know, that the squirrel gave us a filbert. And it was the first time one of the nuts buried in our flowerpots sprouted.

I took it as a sign that a squirrel god wanted us to grow the tree, and had thought I might be able to keep it going in a planter for a few years before needing to find it a forever home. It only grew to about 8 inches tall during our first summer, after all. Of course, it was also in the tiniest flowerpot I owned at the time.

A final time measuring the height of the filbert before send it to its new home.
A final time measuring the height of the filbert before send it to its new home.
After it’s 9 leaves turned yellow and fell off last year, I transplanted the entire contents of the pot into a larger planter–one of four large ones I got to grow the irises I had salvaged from the flower bed we’d been allowed to use at the old place. I should have realized that the bigger planter, having a lot more room for roots, would mean that the tree would grow a lot faster in its second summer.

The filbert in its new home.
The filbert in its new home.
Fortunately, our friend Jeri Lynn was amenable to trying the filbert in her new yard, so we had planned this fall to move it.

Before we got to that point, I had other work to do with the planters. Another of the pots that had come with us from the old place was this very cute terra cotta planter int he shape of a sea otter. I’d been growing pansies and violas and dianthus and similar annual flowers in it for years sitting either on our concrete porch at the old place, or sometimes on the concrete walkway or sitting in one of the flower beds.

Since the structure I call our veranda is a deck sticking out the side of an apartment building, and there are neighbors with their own decks below us, all of my flower pots and such are either completely contained, or they have catch basins under them, to prevent overflow from watering sending muddy water down on the neighbors. I’d found a gorgeous, ocean-colored glazed dish that was big enough for the otter and left the otter in the dish over the winter. I didn’t think about how, during the rainiest part of the winter, this meant that the otter was sitting in at least an inch of water. Which means that the potting soil inside the otter was constantly 100% waterlogged. So when temperatures dropped below freezing, the otter was broken. Badly broken. So broken that in the spring I couldn’t get water to stay in the potting soil long enough to sustain the flowers.

My husband found me a new otter planter, which I have now placed in the glazed dish on little lifts that keep the pot above any water in the dish.

But what to do with the old otter? I couldn’t bring myself to putting it in the trash. So I suggested to my husband (who is slightly less sentimental than me) that he should wait until sometime I was gone, and he could dispose of the otter, and I could pretend she has swum away.

When I mentioned this on line, our friend Katrina asked why I couldn’t transform the otter into art by burying it in a large planter, so the otters head and forepaws (which are still mostly intact) was visible above the soil, and plant a bunch more of the irises around it, so it looked like the otter was in a bed of seaweed.

Which was absolutely brilliant.

I finally found a planter that would work, and I did exactly that a couple of weeks ago. The irises you can see in the photo above came out of the planter with the filbert. I planted 9 iris rhizomes in that planter with the tree, and by the end of summer I had 18 iris plants in the planter (the other three planters didn’t double, but all of the planters had at least some new irises by the fall). So I dug up about of third of them from the end furthest from the tree (figuring their roots were less likely to be tangled with the tree’s root), and put them in the new planter.

Saturday night, after our monthly writers’ meeting, we carried the planter down to our friend Matt’s truck, and he transported it to Jeri Lynn’s. Then on Sunday I drove up, helped them transplant the filbert and the remaining irises, then took the planter back home.

There, I filled the planter with all the remaining unplanted rhizomes (there were a lot of irises at the old place), and covered them with potting soil. It’s a lot denser that I’d packed them in any of the planters last year, but I figure they’ve been sitting in a box for two growing seasons, and a lot of them probably aren’t viable.

Don’t get me wrong, every one of them might sprout and I have dozens of irises coming up in that planter next year. And I won’t mind a bit!

I just hope that some of the irises in the other planters actually bloom next year. I assumed that this year they were in a recovery mode from being dug up in the spring, rather than fall as you’re supposed to, and so on.

Wish me luck!

Vegetables in the dirt, part 2

Copyright 2014 Gene Breshears
I put two fuchsias and two petunias in each hanging basket.
After spending Saturday evening with the tomatoes, I needed to get the rest of the flowers I’d picked up planted. We have a number of pots that sit on the steps of our porch, and I try to keep flowers in them. I haven’t done a good job of keeping care of them this year, so the pots had the dead remains for last falls flowers in them.

I’ve also, for several years, had two hanging baskets that I usually put fuchsias into. A lot of the stores with garden centers in our region have a push with fuchsias at the beginning of April, so if I head to one of them in the first weekend or so of that month, I can find dozens of different varieties of fuchsia to choose from. Since I didn’t get to that until June this year, I had exactly two varieties to choose from, one that results in blooms that have dark purple centers and red exteriors, and the other has white centers with pink exteriors. There also weren’t very many of each.
Continue reading Vegetables in the dirt, part 2

Vegetables in the dirt, part 1

Copyright 2014 Gene Breshears.
The amazing thing is how many other purple garden ornaments from the store I was able to resist buying.
I am very late this year dealing with the yard. Now, we don’t have much of a yard, and I’m only responsible for a tiny fraction of it. Because we live in the front unit of a triplex, and the landlady pays someone to mow the lawn and trim the hedges, the only thing I take care of are two flower beds. One is about six feet long and three feet wide in front of the house, and the other is about 14 feet long and maybe a foot and a half wide along the driveway.

Since the people who mow the lawn don’t do weeds, I also go around the lawn with my weed weasel from time to time. The weed tool is one of those things with spikes that impale the root of the weed below the ground, so you yank out the weed and leave a little hole maybe 2 inches wide and 3 inches deep. After I pull a bunch of weeds, I go around with a bag of grass seed and a bag of potting soil. I drop a big pinch of seeds in the hole, then fill it with potting soil.

Continue reading Vegetables in the dirt, part 1

Growing vegetables in the dirt

“Because I’m an old Southern woman and we’re supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don’t ask me those questions. I don’t know why, I don’t make the rules!” —Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux, Steel Magnolias

I’m not really from the south. The small town where I was born (and where Dad had grown up, and several of my grandparents lived) was in the northwest corner of Colorado, but oil had been discovered there just before the Great Depression. When certain foreign powers suddenly needed to buy a lot of oil during the 1930s, the quickest way to get oil flowing out (and money flowing in) was to hire and move a whole bunch of experienced but out-of-work oil workers from the south. A few decades later, by the time I was born, nearly ever single person who lived in the town was either from the south, or their parents were. Even though my dad’s work caused us to move around between lots of small towns in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah throughout my grade school years, our attendance of Southern Baptist Churches kept me in a sort of virtual south throughout.

Of course people who grew up in and live in all parts of the world grow vegetables in their yards. Yet, I can’t help but feel that the reason the last few years I have felt the need to at least grow a few tomato plants in containers, is because of the “rule” which the character in Steel Magnolias states. Even when I casually mention it, I don’t say “I’m growing a few tomato plants in containers.” No, what comes out of my mouth, if I don’t stop myself, is a drawl that sounds just like my Dad or Grandpa, “I got a couple tomatuhs growin’.”

When I was a kid, because we moved around a lot, we seldom had a vegetable garden of our own. But I spent at least part of every summer staying with either my grandparents or great-grandparents, and usually got drafted to help with theirs. Living in the city most of my adult life, I haven’t usually had a yard of my own to turn part of it over to growing vegetables. My gardening skills are spotty, at best, therefore.

In our current place, there is a small yard shared with the other households in our building. With the landlady’s permission, I’ve been planting flowers in two small beds in addition to several planters on the porch and a couple of hanging pots.

I started two years ago with one tomato. I had a large plastic pot that I had previously house a rubber tree indoors for many years. At the urging of a friend the previous year I’d tried to grow scallions in it, to no avail. I had a better luck with the tomato, getting about a handful of cherry tomatoes a week for the latter half of the summer and early fall. I spent a lot of time worrying about what the overnight temperatures were in the late spring and summer, moving the pot up against the brick house in the evening if I thought it would be too cool over night, then back out where they could get full sun during the day.

Last year I bought two more containers. I had two different breeds of cherry tomatoes and one grape tomato. I didn’t fret so much about temperatures in the beginning of the growing season. There was one point when we had a lot of sunny days, where I overdid it with the watering—when you over water, tomatoes start splitting open on the plant. I did not get three times as many tomatoes as the previous year. And the least productive plant was the grape tomato.

Just starting to produce!
Just starting to produce!
So this year I’m trying one cherry tomato, an heirloom yellow tomato that is supposed to produce small round 7-ish ounce tomatoes, and another that’s supposed to produce slighty smaller red oblong tomatoes. All three have started to flower, but only the cherry has started to show any fruit.

I’m looking forward to eating some fresh tomatoes. Three plants is probably our limit, since Michael doesn’t like tomatoes. I would have liked to get a few more than I did last year, but don’t want to get to the point where I’m needing to give a lot away.

Of course, I do get a craving for my grandma’s green tomato relish from time to time. Unfortunately I never learned her recipe, so if I did find myself with a bunch of green tomatoes, I’d be trying someone else’s recipe. And I’m not likely to have enough to experiment much if I did. So I probably ought not to think about that.

Of course, you only need a few small green tomatoes to fry up a mess of fried green tomatoes. And I know exactly how to make those.

Now that’s a taste of the south that I could really go for.