Friday, February 27, 2009


Another new annual for me this year will be Bunny Tail grass aka Lagurus ovatus. Again, I love the common name, very descriptive and charming.

This grass forms low growing (under 24-inch) , rounded clumps. It self seeds but is not invasive. The flowers produced July through September are remarkably like the white tails of little rabbits. This is a hardy annual so sow outdoors about 3 weeks before last average frost date or in late summer. Indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost.

I think this will make a very charming and unusual addition to my perennial borders. Sharon at Garden Web plants Bunny Tails as fillers in pots. See her lovely photo here.

Photo left from the University of Illinois extension. They advise planting in full sun, drought tolerant. Roots rot in damp soil.

Like my previous post on Love in a Mist, Bunny Tail flowers are very useful in fall and winter dried arrangements. Crafters take note, these would be so cute on wreaths.

Photo right from Chiltern Seeds. Chiltern has a dwarf form growing only 8-inches tall. It would be perfect for the front of a sunny border. If I hadn't already bought the taller variety, I'd try this one.

Here is a seed packet from Botanical Interests. They say "Fun for kids, wonderful for flower arrangements. Adds a touch of whimsy and texture to the garden. Dried foliage is attractive in winter. Winner of the Quality Mark Award from Fleuroselect in 1993.

Love in a mist

I decided to post about some of the new plants I plan to add to my garden this year. By new I mean new for me. Hope anyone who has grown these plants will leave a comment with any tips you might have.

(Image at left from Thompson-Morgan Seeds)

This post will be about the annual Love in a Mist which also goes by the much less romantic name Nigella damascena. Isn't Love in a Mist a romantic name. So many of the old English names are wonderfully descriptive. Names like Love In A Mist, Bleeding Heart, Johnny Jump Up, Morning Glory, Sweet William. They usually describe the plant's best features. The botanical name Nigella means 'black seed'. (How very picturesque are botanical names:(

Anyway my research tells me this aptly named flower lends an airy gracefulness to the garden. It produces misty pastel blooms surrounded by a web of thready bracts. The blooms age into interesting seed pods good for winter arrangements. Direct sow in a sunny spot where the plants will grow because they resent transplanting. They are drought tolerant which is an excellent recommendation. Don't plant them in an area that stays damp. Since future generations self sow I should continue to enjoy these for years. Love in a Mist does not like the heat of late summer and will probably stop blooming sometime in late July.

(Photo courtesy the British Botanical Gardens)

Tina at IN THE GARDEN was kind enough to share seeds with me. (Thank you Tina.) She says Love in a Mist is a favorite of hers and very easy to grow from seed. Click on the link to view seedlings in Tina's garden. This is a hardy annual which may sprout from self sown seed in late summer or early fall. The young plants tolerate the winter conditions and have a head start the following spring.

If you need a little more enabling, please take a look at this photo from

This photo of a seed packet shows the various colors.

I'm really looking forward to photographing these blooms. They have such an ethereal appearance.

Please let me know if you've grown these. I'd love to hear anything you have to say about them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Alfalfa an effective organic fertilizer

Many years ago I read an article published by a commercial hosta grower. This grower had been part of a study researching the use of alfalfa applied to plants, primarily in the form of a tea. The results of the study were amazing. Plants fertilized with a dilute alfalfa tea were dramatically larger (by weight).

Of course I found this intriguing so I began to search for more data. It seemed that rose growers had been using it for years too and enjoying success in the form of more basal breaks and increased flower production.

Alfalfa meal ( N: 3 P: 2 K: 2 ) contains many useful trace elements but the main reason it is so effective is triacontanol, a growth stimulant. Triacontanol is the substance responsible for larger and faster developing plants. Not to change the subject but if growth stimulants sound awfully familiar to you, there are a lot of different kinds in the news recently. Alex Rodriguez just admitted his success as an athlete was due to taking muscle growth stimulants. President Obama is thinking money is the best growth stimulant and is planning to test that theory on our ailing economy. And of course men are still hoping for a hair growth stimulant.

Baseball, hair and the economy aside, I've used alfalfa for years in my garden and have been very pleased with the results. I broadcast alfalfa meal or pellets over the entire garden in April, June and September. I also apply it in the form of tea to individual plants twice per month. Here is the recipe I use to brew tea. I fill a very sturdy thirty-five gallon trash can with water and add ten to twelve cups of alfalfa pellets or alfalfa meal. (On a smaller scale, start with a 5-gallon bucket of water and add one or two cups of alfalfa meal.) Let steep for three to seven days stirring frequently. Allow to settle and dip out the tea applying one to three gallons on individual plants. The remaining sludge can be applied directly to the garden or left in the trash can and more water added. Be warned, the longer I allow the tea to steep the more odor it gives off. After a week in hot weather the tea has a definite odor of decomposing vegetation. It's fairly easy for me to ignore the smell because I've also made horse manure teas which are much stinkier altho very effective.

I have considered the discussion about folier application of organic teas. It may be beneficial but it does leave a cloudy residue on leaves. Some people add other organic concoctions such as fish meal, Milorganite, compost, coffee grounds, cotton seed meal, etc to the alfalfa tea. Be careful if you add things. While weak organic teas almost never cause burning in plants the addition of other substances could.

My theory on the use of organic teas and fertilizers is as follows: First I don't worry about the harmful chemicals and salts left in the soil and in our water supply. No concern about fertilizer run off polluting rivers and lakes. No chance of over fertilization burning or killing plants. Less plant disease caused by the stress of commercial fertilizer. Decreased need for excess watering. Most important, my cats, dogs and visitors can walk anywhere in my garden and not worry about poisonous chemical fertilizers.

I buy alfalfa meal at my local feed dealer. It's only about $10 for 50-pounds if bought as horse feed (be sure no salt has been added). Smaller quantities are now sold in garden shops but they are more expensive. The meal form looks better applied directly to the garden. Pellets work as well but after the first rain they don't look very attractive.

(Alfalfa meal looks very natural when spread over the garden)

I begin application in early April so it has time to decompose and give plants that necessary boost they need to get off to a good start.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spent the weekend digging out from under another six inches of snow. Winter weary northerners shoveled driveways, searched for buried cars, and negotiated icy roads. This morning we woke up to a zero degree temperature reading and another struggle to don heavy coats, woolen scarves, fleece lined boots and insulated gloves. Walking from house to car is the equivalent of a ten minute workout with weights.

It will be April before we see signs of spring in northern Illinois. Not early April, that's when we usually get one of our heaviest snowfalls. By mid April temperatures will moderate and the rains will begin. Spring will be here in April.

My featured guest blogger:

Hello everyone, I'm Toby. You may recognize me from previous blogs. This is my reward for being a good cat all week. I wasn't perfect, She tells me, but I'm much better. Yesterday for instance this idea of tearing up a magazine just popped into my head. She took away the magazine and told me that wasn't allowed. I saw Her put the magazine on the counter but did I grab it the minute Her back was turned? No, I tried to make a good impression.

There are so many rules. No walking on the counters, no jumping on the tables, no eating the dried flowers, no chewing on shoe laces, and on and on... Who could remember all those rules?

Somehow She knows what I've done even if She didn't see me do it. How does She know? I have to give that some thought. There must be a way to make Her believe it was one of the old cats or maybe that silly dog.

I remember where that magazine is.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Counting birds and a very naughty cat

Last weekend Cornell University encouraged everyone to count the birds in their back yard. The information gives researchers a 'picture' of the number of birds of each species and where they are. Here are a few of the birds that were counted in my yard.

A white breasted nuthatch.

A mourning dove. Don't they look like they are wearing blue eye shadow?

A colorful collection of redpolls and gold finches.

A handsome house finch.

I also counted cardinals, blue jays, tree sparrows, dark eyed juncos, several downey woodpeckers, a hairy woodpecker, a red bellied woodpecker, a starling, and many little chickadees.

Now for something non-bird related.

This is the poster boy for Bad Catitude, Toby the Terrible Tabby.

And this is his work.

My oh-so-warm and comfy slippers.

Why in the world did he decide to de-wool them?

Nothing is safe from this devious little wrecking machine;)

Is this the face of a cat who is sorry? No, he looks kind of smug to me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An other kind of cherry and another kind of search engine

First of all, something that will probably interest gardeners. Mr Brown Thumb has tweaked the Google search engine to give us gardeners better search results. For anyone who gets frustrated because commercial sites hog all Google's resources, try this simple alternative. I've used it several times and was please it gave me many alternatives to my searches using the basic Google engine. My Brown Thumb personally reviewed gardening sites and ranked them based on useful information about plants and other related topics. Google for Gardeners can be found by clicking the link.

I added Google for Gardeners to my Google home page by clicking on 'add stuff'' on the upper right of the Google page. When the 'add gadget' page appeared I typed the word gardeners into the search box.

Thank you Mr Brown Thumb for giving us this tool to expand our knowledge and become better gardeners;)


My second topic is about some research on new plants I plan to add to my garden this spring.

Recently I went to a seminar on gardening in my area. One of our TV weathermen, who lectures on bee keeping and gardening, was talking about his recent gardening experiences. Somehow the conversation turned to ground cherries. He told me he loves ground cherry pie and I admitted although I remember hearing about them, I'd never eaten the fruit.

After doing a little research, I decided to add them to my garden next spring.

If you're not familiar with ground cherries or cape gooseberries (
Physalis peruviana), this is what I learned. They are a member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes and peppers. In appearance they look much like their close relative the decorative Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi). The fruit is firm with a refreshing flavor sometimes likened to a combination of strawberries, pineapples and tomatoes. The plants are 1-3 feet in height and more upright than a tomato plant. They are grown as annuals in the colder northern zones and perennials in warmer areas.

Usually started from seed they grow and bloom quickly. Once they begin blooming they continue until frost so you will have a long season of fruiting. They require full sun and aren't particular about soil. Keep watered during development and then cut back on water as the fruit matures. You can judge the ripeness as the husk turns brown. Many people wait until the fruit falls from the bush judging this to be the perfect stage for eating. Just remember the birds will be watching too so don't leave them out there very long;)

Ground cherries can be a little bland when eaten raw but make excellent additions to salads, salsa, jams and jellies, and are most often treated like other fruits in pies, cakes and muffins. It is reported this fruit was a favorite of the Amish and Mennonites and I found many of their recipes for ground cherry pie.

Searching google I collected dozens of recipes including cupcakes and
tiny pies in muffin tins,
fruit drinks, custard, and turnovers.

(Photo courtesy Veseys who sells seed)

A simple Amish recipe for pie.

  • 2-1/2 cups ground cherries
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 (9 inch) pie shell
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Wash ground cherries and place in unbaked pie shell. Mix brown sugar and 1 tablespoon flour and sprinkle over cherries. Sprinkle water over top. Mix together 3 tablespoons flour and 3 tablespoons sugar. Cut butter in until crumbly. Top cherry mixture with crumbs.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and continue to bake for 25 minutes until crumbs are golden brown.

Reimer Seeds has seed for sale as does Solan Seeds and Veseys who also have yummy pie recipes. Remember the leaves and stems of the plant may be poisonous. Be careful, especially if you are starting seeds inside (8-weeks before last expected frost). You wouldn't want a child or kitty munching on the seedlings.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Skywatch and a Valentine wish

Another Skywatch Friday (which really takes place on Thrusday which doesn't make much sense but that's the way it's done).

The lane leading to my farm looks unfamiliar and eerie. Trees and fence posts loom up like islands in the mist and then disappear.

What better Skywatch photo than one with the sky sitting on the frozen ground. A heavy snowpack cooling the saturated air combined to create a recipe for very low clouds.

Click on the logo to be transported to the Skywatch site.

Now, on to brighter things. Valentine's day is Saturday so I want to wish you all a wonderful Valentines day. May you enjoy romance, good friends and excellent chocolate;)

This is the heirloom rose Paul Neyron-- a hybrid perpetual. It's 7-inch, fragrant blooms were the darlings of Victorian gardeners. Modern rose growers don't seem to appreciate it but it's one of my favorites. I wish I could give each and every one of my blogging frineds a bloom for Valentine's Day.

If you would like to try growing Paul in your garden, I found several bagged and bare root at Home Depot. Get him planted very early, as soon as the ground is dry enough to dig a hole.

I was looking at vintage valentines and came across lots of those little cheap cutouts cards. When I was in grade school we all exchanged these cards with our teacher and classmates.

Someone's Mom would bring pink frosted cupcakes and pink lemonade to school. For the last hour or so of class we would have a Valentine party. I wish I would have kept those little cards.

Does anyone else remember way back then? I wonder if kids still do that?

Below is a gruesome Valentine card (saved for some reason by the Maine Historical Society). You gotta love these sentiments. It was no doubt written by a man expressing his ideas of how and unmarried woman should feel.

The printing reads:

Behold my broken heart, by affliction torn.
I am pointed out by the finger of scorn.

Pray come and marry me if you can,

For I know I am longing for a man.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Indulge your cat

First I'd like to apologize. This time of the year is a busy one for accountants and I'm finding it hard to visit my favorite blogs everyday. Things will slow down soon ( I hope) and I will be back on schedule.

Miserable weather here. Not much to photograph and share with everyone. You all know animals are my first passion. I visited a local small business that manufactures cat trees. After looking at his, I spent a few minutes online with google and discovered that there are some very unique examples available. Some would surely make your cat believe he's been transported back to the jungles;)

Available in Woodstock, Illinois from Cat Tree Kingdom:

What cat wouldn't love these?

Kittens would go crazy on this tree from Great Lakes Cat Furniture in Grand Rapids.

Take a look at this jungle room from Cloud 9

This is a comfy looking tree from Hidden Hollow.

(All photos courtesy of the linked websites)

I could go on but it may be boring some of you. Anyway, I wanted to give you all plenty of time to save up your dollars--one of these would make a great Christmas gift for your own kitty;)

Monday, February 2, 2009


Do cats dream? It certainly looks like it. Their whiskers twitch, paws flex, sometimes they make chattering sounds. Are those really the outward signs of dreaming? This is something that fascinated me so I did some reading on the subject. I don't always agree with the conclusions of 'experts' in animal behavior but in this case their findings seem logical to me.

Scientists say cats and dogs do dream. They have studied sleeping animals and find they experience the same REM stage of brain activity that people do. While people dream about every 90 minutes, cats dream more often about every 25 minutes.

What are they dreaming? That is a question scientists can't answer with complete certainty. They know (or think they know) that cats and dogs don't have the ability to imagine or fantasize. They do have remarkable memories of past events. Based on that, scientists speculate the dreams are a series of 'pictures' from the animal's past. Possibly something that has made a lasting impression like chasing and pouncing on prey.

Next time I watch my sleeping cats waiving paws and twitching whiskers I will wonder about what past events they may be reliving in their dreams.

Tolkien must have been a cat lover (so many poets and artists are). I was surprised to find he had written a poem about dreaming cats;)


a poem by J. R. R. Tolkien

The fat cat on the mat

may seem to dream

of nice mice that suffice

for him, or cream;

But he free, maybe,

walks in thought

unbowed, proud,

where loud

roared and fought

his kin, lean and slim,

or deep in den

In the East

feasted on beasts

and tender men.

The giant lion with iron claw in paw,

and huge ruthless tooth

in gory jaw;

the pard dark-starred,

fleet upon feet,

that oft soft from aloft

leaps upon his meat

where woods loom in gloom--

far now they be,

fierce and free,

and tamed is he;

but fat cat on the mat

kept as a pet

he does not forget.