Saturday, December 31, 2005

Soybeans glow in the dark.

I just discovered Pruned, a blog about landscape architecture. Check out bioluminscent soybeans (and no, they're not GMOs) and more here:


For You Crafty Folks

Speaking of cool magazines (which we were, not long ago), I love MAKE, a magazine about making crazy things. Many of them are technology-oriented (like hacking your car's computer so you can unlock the doors from your PC), but lots are decidedly un-technical, like making your own yarn or soap. Soapmaking is usually a holiday tradition for me, but it hasn't happened so far this year...hmmm...still a possibility...

MAKE: Blog

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

LA Gardeners: Edible Estates Needs You

Ready to rip out your lawn? Here's your chance:

gardenlab / edible estates:

"The next regional prototype in the Edible Estates series will be established in Los Angeles in spring 2006 and become the basis for an exhibition the following autumn. We are currently seeking the skilled, eager and adventurous occupants of one conventional American house on a typical street of endless sprawling lawns. These L.A. citizens should be brave enough to break this toxic uniformity, by having their entire front lawn removed and replaced by an edible landscape. As role models they will then proudly devote themselves to the indefinite cultivation of fruits, vegetables, grains and herbs for all neighbors and car traffic to see. This once hostile front yard will become the southwest regional prototype for the Edible Estates series. We will work in collaboration to create the layout, design and plant specifications. All costs associated with establishing the garden for the first season will be covered. If you or someone you know of would be interested you will find the complete list of parameters and specifications here and then contact us at info(at)"

Monday, December 19, 2005


A new e-zine for gardeners, courtesy of Jane Perrone. The intro begins:

"Welcome to fork, the magazine for gardeners with balls. Even if you are a lady. If you’re sick of quite liking a nice bit of dirt or some fresh veg, but being called an old git for it, then we’ll sort you out. Don’t you worry."

Sounds like my kind of people! Could you hurry up and get another issue out, please, and then go to print as soon as possible, and get distributed in the US?


Fork / Issue one

Thursday, December 15, 2005

All I Want for Christmas...

The results are in. A surprising number of you want gloves, and something to get them dirty with. I have always insisted that a truckload of muck is the best gift for a gardener. Non-gardeners think I'm kidding. Seriously, people, we want manure for Christmas. Compost. Mulch. Worm castings.

Many people mentioned gift certificates, but that's not exactly in the spirit of the thing as far as I'm concerned. Why don't we all just wire money to each other's banks and be done with it?

So: here's my annual plea (or is it a perennial plea?) to give small, useful, inexpensive, and—best of all—living, breathing gifts this holiday season. You might think that we gardeners are very picky about our gardening implements, or that we probably have everything we need, but you would be wrong.

This time of year, gardeners are feeling a little deprived. We’re itching to get out and do something in the garden. Give us a little packet of seeds or a couple of bulbs and we’ll sit there on Christmas morning (or whatever your designated gift-giving holiday may be), oblivious to the mounds of wrapping paper and the unopened gifts around us, fingering those seeds, humming a little to ourselves, scheming about the next opportunity to get outdoors and get something in the ground. Oh, the garden, we’re thinking. It’s time to get back to that. Thanks for reminding us.

Gardening gloves: I know I’ve been ranting about gloves a lot lately, but judging from the mail I’ve been getting, I’m not alone in my quest for a pair of gloves that fits and that doesn’t fall apart. I know that buying gloves for someone else seems like a dicey proposition, but there’s something very warm and intimate in the idea that someone cared enough about the well-being of my frostbitten, mud-soaked, thorn-scratched hands to want to protect them. Garden gloves don’t come in a wide range of sizes—that’s part of the problem—so you’ve only got to get in the ballpark in terms of size.

Garden gift shops and nurseries carry Foxgloves, which are lovely little close-fitting fabric gloves in very hip colors. They’re nice for someone who just wants to keep the dirt off their hands but isn’t going to be out tearing the garden apart for days on end. I’ve become a recent convert to Atlas coated gloves. They come in a variety of thicknesses, arm lengths, and coatings to keep water and even thorns out. They even make a “pond” glove for taking care of water features or wet areas.

Gloves range in price from five to twenty dollars; there are pricier options, but I have yet to see them last any longer than the cheap ones. If you’re not sure what to get, they’re inexpensive enough that you can probably buy a few pair.

Seeds, Bulbs, Plants: You can’t go wrong here. Really, don’t worry about buying a gardener the wrong plant. He or she will find a place for it, no matter what it is. Most nurseries carry three or four interesting lines of seeds. You can get ten packets for about twenty-five bucks; pick an assortment of whatever herbs, flowers, or vegetables most remind you of the person or their garden. Or if you know someone who has a passion for a particular plant, find as many seed varieties as you can. For instance, sweet peas, poppies, sunflowers, tomatoes, and basil all come in such a wide range of verities that you could probably put together a dozen of each.

It’s not too late to find spring-blooming bulbs on sale, either. Tulips, hyacinths, and paperwhite narcissus can all be forced indoors, and you can pair the bulbs with a pot or a vase. Amaryllis bulbs are an extravagance that gardeners might not allow themselves—you’d be amazed at how luxurious it feels to own one ten-dollar bulb.

Plants are a great idea too—try a potted lavender, an orchid, or a winter-blooming heather. And if you happen to know that the gardener in your life is passionate about fruit trees, berry vines, or roses, it’s bareroot season. (A bareroot plant, for the uninitiated, is a dormant bunch of roots that isn’t even sold in a pot. You just fish around in a sort of raised bed of damp, mossy, dirty stuff and pull out one that looks good.) Keep the roots damp and wrapped in earth and newspaper until it’s time to plant them; if you can figure out how to pull that off and still make it look good under the tree, extra points for you.

Make it personal: My latest, grandest idea for gardeners is to show off their garden for the work of art it is by making something for them at a place like Cafe Press. Just click on “make your own stuff” and get to work. All you need is a photograph (or a drawing, or a painting, or a slogan) in one of the many computer file formats they accept, and you can upload an image and have it printed on a T-shirt, a calendar, a mug, or almost any kind of merchandise you can think of. And if you’re feeling very entrepreneurial, you can even list your stuff for sale on CafePress’s website and make a buck or two every time somebody places an order. I've got "Worm Hugger" t-shirts for sale here. offers a similar service; if you have a lot of photographs of the garden in its summer glory, consider putting them all together in a hardcover, coffee-table size book for around thirty bucks. Gardens, after all, are ephemeral things, glorious one day and faded the next. Keeping them alive through winter, if only in memory, might be the best thing you can do for a gardener.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Deck the Halls!

Many thanks to Jane Perrone for turning me on to Jonathan Briggs' mistletoe diary. If you're a mistletoe man, you're busy this time of year, so we're lucky when he makes the time to write:

"Still v busy - lots of mistletoe stuff going on - mostly media and other enquiries - and too tired to report it all just now. Apols to those who've not yet had replies to emails."

Apol accepted, Jonathan. Proceed with your mistletoeing.

Mistletoe Diary 2005

Which reminds me of a funny little story from last year. The big insect-related holiday story of the year came from Saginaw, Michigan, where a receptionist named Marianne Luth unpacked her new artificial Christmas tree and noticed a line of tiny bugs—brown fir longhorned beetles, to be precise—scurrying across the carpet. Turns out that the tree, which was made in China, featured a trunk covered in real bark, and the real bark was infested with real bark beetles.

Marianne had the good sense to return the tree to Ace Hardware and notify the Michigan Department of Agriculture. State officials laid the blame squarely with the Department of Homeland Security, which is short about 400 agriculture inspectors. As a result of this shortage, some evildoers—mostly of the six-legged variety—were able to slip past our borders. Marianne took it all in stride, pointing out that she got a tree with free moving ornaments.

I cut down my own blue spruce on a tree farm last year, and it came with moving ornaments, too: Diabrotica beetles, also known as spotted cucumber beetles. Like Marianne, I didn’t get alarmed. After all, cucumber beetles aren’t so bad. All they do is destroy cucumbers, melons, squash, beans, corn, and roses, and spread bacteria wilt. Oh, and they’re extraordinarily difficult to control organically. So what’s all the fuss about? Besides, they’re light green with black spots, and that makes them so adorable.

It was all I could do to keep from Napalming our living room. What was I thinking, bringing a live tree in the house? My garden will harbor Diabrotica beetles until the day I die. I’m screwed, Marianne, and so are you.

So much for Christmas cheer. Now I’ve started to eye all holiday greenery with suspicion, if not outright contempt. That wreath I bought at the hardware story had spiders in it. The poinsettia is harboring whitefly. And the mistletoe? That’s a pest all by itself. Since when did kissing under a vascular plant parasite become romantic?

Well, since about the sixteenth century, as it turns out, but gardeners in those days can be forgiven for failing to understand host-parasite relationships. We, on the other hand, have no such excuse. Broad-leaf mistletoes like Phoradendron macrophyllum can suck the life right out of a tree by sprouting in the bark, forcing its root-like structures into the trunk, and living off the water and nutrients that the tree needs for its own survival. A mature mistletoe plant can grow to the size of small shrub, and all the while the tree it’s feeding on gets smaller and weaker. Now, there’s a metaphor for romance. Go ahead, sneak a kiss. I dare you.

Mistletoe makes itself at home in any number of common trees: Alder, birch, maple, walnut, oak. There’s even a dwarf variety, Arceuthobium spp., that plagues pines, firs, and other evergreens. Apparently the commercial possibilities of a mistletoe-infested Christmas tree are lost on forest rangers in the Sierras; they seem more concerned with eradicating the parasite than exploiting its market potential. (By the way, if you want to get rid of mistletoe, cut early and often. Get it out of the trees and throw it away. It’s not a very sophisticated strategy, but it’s all we’ve got.)

There’s a charming old Victorian tradition involving a man plucking a berry from a sprig of mistletoe and presenting it to his intended before he claims his kiss. The berry-producing mistletoes, it might interest you to know, are all female. There are also male mistletoes, which produce pollen, but no one is much interested in those.

Although the notion of a berry-laden female sounds more charming than a male that drops pollen all over the rug in the hallway, the fact is that the females aren’t very well-behaved either. Some dwarf mistletoes wait until they are ready to reproduce, then the berries erupt so forcefully that they hurl seeds 30 to 40 feet in every direction. Abominable behavior, but it’s about what I’ve come to expect from Christmas greenery.

This year, maybe we’ll get a fake tree. The aluminum kind. Just imagine how festive the green Diabrotica beetles will look against all that shiny silver foil.

How I Love the Brits

I am one of you, I really am. Scott and I often talk of returning to our ancestral homeland (let's see--he's German and Dutch, and I'm a hodgepodge of Irish, German, French and Scottish.) We feel that our people tried our luck in the US and it worked out all right until quite recently, when our fellow hodgepodgers re-elected someone and then regretted it.

So can we come back? Would the EU consider some sort of amnesty program for apologetic Americans? We promise to behave.

Just read this brilliant thing from the Times:

"Lethargy is probably seeping through your alcohol-poisoned veins as the sun struggles to heave itself above the horizon at this time of year. Fight the urge to cling to the fireside. GET OUT AND VISIT GARDENS or your brain will seize up with a patina of moss and liverworts. And you will have no inspiration to offer your own garden when it struggles into life next year."

YES! I am with you!

Times Online Garden Log:

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

You call this a tree?

It's plastic, it's pre-lit, and oh yeah, it's black. Like those dead trees we all loved as children.

Happy holidays, folks.

John Lewis - 6ft Pre-Lit Christmas Tree, Black

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What Would You Do With This Gnome?

Endless thanks and praises to Angela at Sacramento Gardening for--er--digging this one up.

So just imagine. You creep downstairs on Christmas morning. The coffee is brewing, Perry Como is crooning on the stereo. The presents are piled high, and your family is all around you, everyone in their pajamas, all of you remarkably good-humored considering the early hour, not to mention all the egg nog you consumed the night before.

You reach for a good-sized package with nice heft and rip off the paper. Inside you find your very own George Bush Garden Gnome.

How thoughtful of your family! How understanding they are! How considerate of your needs!

But what to do with your gnome? What, dear readers, would you do with a George Bush Garden Gnome if you had one?

My ideas:

Put him in the chicken coop and let four girls named after previous inhabitants of his house (Eleanor, Abigail, Dolley and Bess) pick at him.

Take him to the compost pile and bury him up to his neck in worms and muck, on the theory that he got us into a can o worms, so he should know what it's like to be in one himself.

Set him out in the quagmire that is my blackberry thicket, and wait for him to announce a plan for getting out.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

So Much For That

Remember gardening? Remember when we used to go outside and plant things and pull weeds and look at bugs and turn the compost pile? It was fun, wasn't it?

I went outside this morning to let the chickens out and it was surpisingly sunny and warm. The ground was completely soaked (Winter in Humboldt County means rain, rain, and more rain), but in a few hours, I thought, things would dry out a bit and maybe I could actually do something in the garden. Like pull a few weeds, just enough to make space for little plants that are getting buried. Or make some cuttings of salvia and stick them in the ground to root over winter. Some modest little activity like that. Just wait a few hours. Wait for some of the water to evaporate off the plants so I don't get completely soaked.

So I went upstairs and while I was sitting here at my computer, I heard it. That familiar sound. Rain on the roof. (see view from attic window, pictured here) So romantic in the middle of a hot, dry summer, but so tiresome in December.

Never mind. I didn't want to garden anyway. I'll garden next year. That's fine. Really. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 01, 2005

What do you want?

I'm doing my annual column about gifts for gardeners. What do you want for Christmas, gardeners? Give me some ideas and I'll post the column here when it's done.