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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: June, 2008

POSTED: Monday, June 30, 2008, 10:16 AM
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The organic gardening workshop at Awbury Arboretum in Germantown on Saturday was terrific. Presenter Eva Monheim, who teaches at Temple Ambler, reminded us all that truth in advertising is as much a problem with "natural" and "organic" products as it is in any other area of American consumer life. Despite the hype, many of these products remain quite toxic, requiring that you wear goggles and gloves and keep pets and children away.

She also recommended compost as a good way to keep soil healthy. Lots of townships, and the city of Philadelphia, provide free compost (and wood chips) to residents. I think this is a wonderful idea. Gardeners have told me they load up every spring - one woman puts a tarp down in the back of her car and shovels the compost in.

Unfortunately, at least in Philadelphia, the Recycling Center in Fairmount Park, where you can get this nutrient-rich compost, is only open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. No evenings, no Saturdays, not even in prime planting season in spring.

virginia smith @ 10:16 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Monday, June 30, 2008, 9:59 AM
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Are you having an out-of-body experience lately with the weather forecasts? Almost every day we're told showers and thunderstorms are likely in the area. Friday night we got about 22 drops. Yesterday afternoon, maybe 15.

My colleague here at the paper, Tony Wood, is a learned student of weather. Despite my whining, he tells me June has not been an exceptionally dry month. It's been "slightly on the dry side," he says, with Philadelphia getting just 2.62 inches of rain in June, down .07 from the norm. May, on the other hand, was slightly damper than normal - 4.55 inches, a .66 increase.

No big deal, by the numbers. So how come my caryopteris looks so pathetic?

virginia smith @ 9:59 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Friday, June 27, 2008, 10:26 AM
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I should say PITCHFORK job ...

When Louise Mockaitis is wielding her pitchfork, stand back! I visited her this morning in the Spring Gardens community garden to watch her divide a clump of iris. Now I know this sounds terribly exciting but guess what. It was. Now I know how to do it. As they say on TV, priceless.

Louise has deep purple bearded iris that her sister in Elmira, N.Y., gave her. The rhizomes are at least a decade old. To get the most blooms and have the healthiest plants, they need to be divided every three years or so, Louise says. Using her pitchfork, she attacked the dry soil of her garden plot and skillfully upended a large clump.

virginia smith @ 10:26 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Thursday, June 26, 2008, 12:01 PM
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A reader called to ask about hummingbirds. What are the best things to plant to draw them to your garden? Anyone who's been blessed with a visit from these exquisite creatures knows that this is one of the most special things about having a diverse garden. It's quite easy to lure them and I'm happy to oblige.

Hummingbirds are constantly on the go but you won't find them hanging out much. They dash from flower to flower with unnerving energy and speed, much faster and flightier than the butterflies you also want to visit. Hummingbirds, believe it or not, can fly not just the normal way, but sideways and even backwards! And they've been called "glittering garments of the rainbow" for their irridiscent and colorful beauty.

So you definitely want these guys in your garden. And here's the neat thing: Hummingbirds and butterflies like many of the same plants. So if you plant wisely, your garden will be literally humming with activity.

virginia smith @ 12:01 PM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Thursday, June 26, 2008, 11:32 AM

Is it me, or are the squirrels this summer especially nasty? Every day they're digging in the flower beds, making holes the size of a fist and tossing mulch everywhere. If I didn't know better, I'd think the garden was home to prairie dogs.

The other day two birds were communing in the bird bath and a squirrel began stalking them. He looked like a cat about to pounce. When did this behavior show up in the DNA of a squirrel?

Maybe the shrinking economy has made them mean. Anger management classes could be in order.

virginia smith @ 11:32 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Thursday, June 26, 2008, 9:40 AM
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The free stuff here is KNOWLEDGE, and good for Awbury Arboretum for offering a free workshop about organic gardening. This is a topic that's very hot right now, and may I also add, one that's more nuanced than you might think. When all is said and done, I strongly believe organic is the way to go. But this is something we all need help with.

I plan to go to this workshop - on Saturday (6/28) from 10-11 a.m. at the arboretum, which is in Germantown. I first visited Awbury in very early spring and found it delightful. There is a sense of playfulness here that's really fun, a creative use of tree stumps and a hidden, walled garden that begged to be explored. So after the workshop, be sure to take a tour.

Here's the website for directions: www.awbury.org/

virginia smith @ 9:40 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Thursday, June 26, 2008, 9:13 AM
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Even in the garden, where I believe we are at our most authentic, we can be just as unconscious as we are elsewhere. This year in my garden, I suddenly realized, I've been gravitating toward yellow, a color I've always loved but until now has taken a back seat to purples and pinks. This is not by design exactly. It's a classic case of we like what we like and eventually it comes out.

I was struck this morning by the many patches of yellow that have already bloomed or are in full bloom right now: the bumpy - spectacular - spires of false lupine, the hardy yellow pansies, the new bits of yellow yarrow, the mound of evening primrose (known as sundrops) a neighbor shared last spring, the ever-taller sunflower cousins, and the 'Angelina' sedums blooming up and down the walkway.

Most of these are new. And do they cheer me up! I think this signals a new day in my garden, one infused with horticultural sunshine to complement the real thing. It changes the palette dramatically, perhaps a sign of growing confidence.  

virginia smith @ 9:13 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Wednesday, June 25, 2008, 3:52 PM
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As we start the summer of 2008, here's a photo to remind us of the incredible beauty of this season in the garden. It may not look like this in a few weeks, but this morning was one of the most beautiful yet. (Could be 'cause I've been watering every night.)

Now if we could just get some rain ... and I mean, real rain, not the wimpy washouts we've had over the last few weeks. Thunder, lightning and then nothing. No fair! We'd like a good soaking. Sunday's forecast looked promising. Forecasters were talking thunderstorms. We had not one drop.

Happy summer!

virginia smith @ 3:52 PM  Permalink | 0
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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