Around the Garden

Despite the heat, September finds my garden well. First off: the barrel pond. I had no idea water plants grew so fast. The water lettuce keeps multiplying, and multiplying. It is having sooo much sex in that water. I have to remove some every few days, to keep it from blanketing the entire surface. I got sick of throwing so much away (at Armstrong, they cost $4 per tiny plant), so I bought a bowl-shaped pot just for water lettuce. It’s nice, but soon they grew to cover that too. Now my compost bin is filling up with the stuff (P.S., I bought a compost bin. Hooray!)

Even the water hyacinth, which was once a small thing, has become ginormous. The water lily I planted at the bottom now has several pads floating at the top. With the fountain pump going, and all the plant life, the water stays crystal clear. Currently the pond is supporting three large goldfish and a few small minnows. I named the goldfish after rivers I’ve enjoyed: Seine, Huangpu, and Snake. They’re happy goldfish, I’d like to think. And they eat out of my hand.

As for the rest of the garden, I’ve recently come to appreciate the importance of mulching. With the triple digit heat, it goes a long way to retain moisture in the soil, keeping the surface from drying up so fast, and it keeps down weeds.  Also, it looks great with the right mulch. Here’s a few photos of my plants:

This mantis likes to practice its forms high up in the blueberry bush. It’s always there, staring at me as I water.

Check out this moth. It’s huge! Look at that tongue! Where did it come from? When did my backyard become some kind of freaky jungle where moths of this size hang out? I found it struggling on the patio one night and, like a good paparazzi, took a photo at its most vulnerable moment. Eventually, after thoroughly depriving the creature its dignity with my flashing camera, I flipped it over and sent it on its way.

Oh, and here’s Sam in a bucket.

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Barrel Pond – Part 2

I  have the blood of ten goldfish on my hands. Remember that plastic barrel I put in (and since removed) to collect water from the roof? I had stocked it with goldfish — too many goldfish really, for fear of breeding mosquitos in the stagnant water. Well, all the goldfish died in the span of about a week. Every morning, another corpse or two was found bobbing on the surface.

I was an idiot, of course. The water was runoff from the air-conditioning unit, no doubt riddled with chemical elements, chlorine and who knows what else, all toxic to fish.

Figuring this all out through internet research and a couple books was a factor in my wanting a barrel pond in the first place. A couple weeks ago I knew nothing about the ecology of ponds. Now, I know lots.

Two weeks in, the pond seems to have become its own little ecosystem. The water lettuce I added must have included “travelers” as I have several small water snails clinging to the sides. Other tiny organisms are swimming about. The water lily I planted at the bottom has begun to sprout. Eventually it will reach the surface, with floating pads and blooms. I also got some horsetail rush sitting just below the water surface. I planted it in a plastic mesh basket, elevated with bricks, lined with burlap, and covered with pebbles to keep the soil from clouding the pond. The pump and plants should keep everything oxygenated. I’ve been testing the water with indicator strips and it’s currently ideal for goldfish. This time no more than a few. And they better live.

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Barrel Pond – Part 1

Did you know you can make an attractive pond out of a half whiskey barrel? I did not… until recently when I was mulling the idea of starting a water garden. I don’t have the expertise, nor the time committment to make a larger garden pond. But the internet kindly suggested this lower-scale option and the two of us agreed this was a good idea.

The ingredients are pretty basic: a half barrel and some pvc liner to start, stapled just below the rim, then cut away.

I then put down some concrete blocks (for height) and added amendments to the soil for planting. Also put in a fountain kit with a filter to keep the water oxygenated and clear.

Finally, I added wicker fencing (to obscure the concrete), some pavers for a path, ornamental grasses, and clover around the path. The clover I transplanted from the front yard planter, where it grows in abundance. As of this writing, however, it isn’t doing too well and I may need to replant and/or seed.

To keep the soil moist around the grasses, I rerouted the run-off from the air conditioning directly to the plants via some tubing, bypassing the collection barrel. It was filling too fast and developing a lot of scum. Essentially I cut out the middle-man, now that I have a place for the water to go. Maybe I’ll find another use for that barrel later on.

Next post: water plants.

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I had thought for a while what kind of plant I wanted to put in front of the newly painted shed. Something to dissipate the whiteness, for sure, but what? I was strongly considering honeysuckle on a trellis, but was concerned how it would look when not in bloom. Not all viney plants can stay consistently green and lush.

Then my sister Vanessa, far away in the orient, requested I plant some bamboo. Lightbulb. Bamboo is evergreen, does well in SoCal (according to a recently purchased gardening book) and is lovely to boot. So it was decided.  Finding the right bamboo? Not so easy. The kind at Home Depot looked pretty sad. Unfortunately a lot of Home Depot plants look sad. The trick is to buy the plants that have been recently delivered, before the Home Depot employees have had the chance to properly neglect them.

San Gabriel Nursery had an entire row of potted bamboo in a several varieties, but the stalks were already way too tall. No chance of getting those things home. A garden center in Covina carried only a handful of plants, but were also much too far along. I finally found what I was looking for at the Armstrong in Glendora. The Golden Bamboo there was pretty expensive, but in the end, worth it I think.

Golden Bamboo is a spreading (rather than clumping) variety, so once established it will shoot up all over. I’m not too concerned about that since bamboo is essentially just grass and can be controlled as one would a lawn. The stalks are relatively thin at present, but will thicken as it ages.

Now the white, white shed has been toned down by golden green leaves and red mulch. I like it.

And in that little corner of the garden, other exciting things are in the works…

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The Silver Lines

My melons are ripe and plump and ready for enjoying. And no, that statement is not at all dirty. I am not a woman.

Silver Lines are a hybrid melon, yellow in color, with vertical white (or silvery) lines.  I don’t think they’re usually sold in grocery stores, with perhaps the exception of asian supermarkets. I found my plant at a local nursery. It was small and non-threatening, and I thought “why not?”, totally clueless of how aggressively the thing would grow.

But grow it did, and now that many melons have been harvested, it gives my garden a sense of summer bounty. Silver Lines have a thin skin, like a cucumber, which I’ve found is best removed with a peeler. Inside the seeds come away with a quick scoop of a spoon.

The taste is interesting: almost a cross between a honeydew, a pear, and a cantaloupe, tho not quite as sweet as any of them. I’m eating one as I write this. My tastebuds approve.


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The Dining Set

Now that the far back patio is free of junk and ugly, I’ve set out to make it a pleasant, useable space. First things first: a dining set. After much research, I found a good deal on Sears’ website. Of course the thing came in roughly 3000 pieces, all individually bubble wrapped. I swear, it took me more time to unwrap the thing than to assemble it (and it took a few hours to assemble).

But, all said and done, it’s been a great addition to the yard. I’ve had a few meals outside when the kids have been over, and (with the bench) there’s plenty of seating for everyone. Now to find the right barbecue….

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Late July

Time for another garden update. Some things are thriving, others are… let’s just say they went to live with the giant cactus in the sky. (RIP Hydrangeas. 2011-2011.)

As far as the still-alive plants go, the Coleus has gone from dinky little sprouts to full-on foliage. Colorful and delightful, they are.

The “topsy-turvy” planters are pretty much spent, so I’ve removed them. They were stingy with the tomatoes and produced a total of 2 peppers, both which could have entered a vegetable freak-show. Maybe growing things upside down isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The melons completely took over their planter and choked out their pepper neighbors with a gleeful alacrity. The peppers had never managed to go from flower to fruit except for this tiny yellow one. So I tore them out to let the melons spread. And boy have they spread.

They’re getting quite large. As of now, about 6 are nearing maturity. I’ve never tasted Silver Line melons before, so I’m looking forward to cracking one open.

The grapes are spreading slowly along their trellis. They’ve only produced one bunch. But it was a tasty bunch.

The blueberry bush, which used to pop out little blue treats every day, is pouting or something. There are tiny berries occasionally, but not much else. I need to figure out what’s wrong. The grape tomatoes, on the other hand, are constantly filling my stomach. So good to eat them fresh and not pay for the grocery store tubs.

And, oh look: a garden pixie. Maybe she’ll bring me luck (or more likely eat all the grape tomatoes when I’m not looking.)

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