Memorial Day Weekend gardening

Weather-wise, this weekend was a real mixed bag, nearly 90 degrees on Saturday plunging to the 50s on Sunday. We are safe from freezing by now, knock on wood, and the plants seem to be weathering the weather. Once again, the alphabetical approach:

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Calibrochoa and celosia

Annuals: The marigolds I planted from seed are flowering now – miraculous! I got a calibrochoa and some celosia too. Last year I had some lobelia and verbena and poppies, which I loved. Perennials make more sense in terms of money and time, but a few annuals are so nice for their bright colors.

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Magnolia grown from seed

Berries: We got to eat one beautifully red strawberry, but that brings the score to Humans: 1, Squirrels/birds: 1+????? I’m going to have to put netting around the berries if we want to eat any more this year. The raspberries and blueberries are developing too, but not ripe yet.

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Our lone, delicious strawberry

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Raspberries: if the birds get ’em all, let the record show…they existed

Coral bells: New! I read in the garden catalog that they have colorful foliage and do well in part shade, so I got one each of three varieties to plant in the back yard, between the daylilies and the hellebore.

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Daylilies, coral bells, dusty miller (from last year, improbably), hellebore

Herbs: The rosemary in the ground had been thriving, but then suddenly sort of shriveled and shrunk and wilted/dried up. I got another one and put it in a pot. Got some parsley, too. Basil is in with the tomatoes, still on the small side, but looking healthy for the most part.

Peas: The sweet peas never did emerge, but the Wando shelling peas are growing. None have quite latched onto the teepee yet, but they are sending out little tendrils…

Sunflowers: The seeds I planted in the ground sprouted and were looking good and healthy, but they have disappeared. Critters!

Tomatoes: Mine that I started from seed are much smaller than the ones in the nursery now, but I’m hoping they’ll catch up.

Wildflowers: The wildflower mix has sprouted! I can’t tell what everything will be yet, but it’s nice to have a little mystery in the garden.

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Lily of the valley (I think) in a found wooden box planter

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What we’ve read so far, 2 years 7 months

Stack of picture books

We are hooked on picture books. Exhibit A: friends’ kids know that our house is the one where we read at the table. Exhibit B: when we found a bookshelf on the street and brought it home, we immediately filled all four shelves with library books.

This month I brought home a trio of penguin books: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo (illustrated by David Small), Penguin by Polly Dunbar (of Flyaway Katie), and perhaps the most (in)famous penguin picture book of all, And Tango Makes Three.

Picture books on green bookshelfWe’re also delving into some more nonfiction with Kevin McCloskey’s “giggle and learn” books for Toon. They’re full of fun facts and great humor; we’ve enjoyed The Real Poop on Pigeons in the past, and now we have Snails Are Just My Speed! and Something’s Fishy.

She loves all of Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama books, as well as Roly Poly Pangolin and Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too. (Funny note about Roly Poly Pangolin: she checked this out with her dad one day while I was at work, and when she asked me to read it when I got home, I thought she was just pronouncing “penguin” oddly, like Benedict Cumberbatch. Nope! Pangolins are real animals.)

We also like Pout Pout Fish a lot, and Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t), which has – let’s be fancy – an in-text citation to Shrek (the book, not the movie).

The newest books from Brendan Wenzel (Hello Hello) and Mo Willems (A Busy Creature’s Day Eating) have also been hits – the latter made my mom laugh out loud twice the first time she read it, which is no small thing.

My former co-worker suggested Neither by Airlie Anderson, which we all like. In the Land of This and That, a creature hatches which is neither this nor that. Excluded, it leaves for “elsewhere” and finds the Land of All.

Lastly, as the bedtime routine sometimes drags a little later than the grown-ups would like (first she doesn’t want to get in the bath…then she doesn’t want to get out of the bath…then she wants one more story…), we’ve been reading poems from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. The perfect length for a “one more” compromise, or for resetting a grumpy mood any time of the day. I like the one about the early bird and the worm; she likes “Pancakes.” Llama Llama Red Pajama and Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue (illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski) are also bedtime favorites.

Previously: What we’ve read so far, two and a half

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Spring garden, mid-May

There are beginning to be a lot of plants to keep track of, so here’s an alphabetical update!

Strawberry

Blueberry

Berries: Both the blueberry and raspberry bushes are thriving in their barrels! They are full and green, and the blueberry bush is full of little white flowers. The strawberry plants – both in the hanging planters and the pot – have white flowers and green berries.

Daffodils and narcissus: These came up beautifully! It was nice to have some early color in the garden. And gratifying to see that they are indeed of zero interest to rabbits and squirrels.

Dogwood trees: We don’t have one, but there are so many in our neighborhood, and they are all gorgeous right now. As a rule I don’t like pink, but for these I make an exception. (“They don’t look like dogs!” -toddler)

Dogwood

Herbs: Last year’s lavender, rosemary, sage, and allium survived the winter and are thriving. I got a new mint plant, and it is growing so enthusiastically in its pot that I didn’t feel bad harvesting some recently for recipes.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle: Seems to be doing very well, and has grown some nice yellow flowers. I’m hoping it will take over the back fence.

Hyacinth, grape: These got nibbled pretty much to death thanks to the urban wildlife. Also, I cannot explain to the toddler in a way she will understand that they are not, in fact, grapes.

Marigolds: The ones I bought are doing well, and the ones I grew from seed are coming along – a couple in with the strawberries, and three or four in the raised bed. It might have been too much to hope that they would deter squirrels, though.

Peas: The sweet peas have yet to emerge, and I’m losing hope, but the shelling peas are growing ambitiously. I gave some of the seedlings away to friends, and I still have more than I know what to do with.

Phlox

Phlox: My five plants from last year are a nice bright green but have yet to flower. My mom got me two more, one purple and one pink. Maybe mine are just late bloomers? Or not getting enough sun…

Pumpkins: Not sure if these plants are going to make it. They were ambitious in their seed tray, but struggling outside. They’re under a neighbor’s tree, so they probably have too much shade, plus stuff falling on them all the time, and it’s rocky soil…we’ll see.

Sunflowers: I started some seeds in pots, and these are growing upward in a leggy fashion (lots of stem, few leaves). I just planted some more directly in the ground outside, and am waiting to see if they’ll grow, or get dug up by squirrels. Pests. I’m trying two varieties, one that may grow to 4-5′ and one “dwarf” that is expected to be 18-24″.

Tulip

The lone tulip that bloomed. Beheaded less than a day after this photo.

Tomatoes: All of the varieties I started indoors resulted in healthy seedlings – more than I could plant! I’ve moved several into the raised bed (Glacier, Chocolate Cherry, and Sun Gold), planted a few in last year’s buckets, gave some (Glacier and Ace 55) to friends, and still have more.

Tulips: Every single one has been beheaded. SQUIRRELS.

Wildflowers: I planted a “bring home the butterflies” mix this past week, which was a little later than they should have gone in, and it’s too early to tell if they’ll sprout yet or not. Fingers crossed!

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Taste of spring

Last fall I started a cookbook club at the library where I worked, and it was a success – so much so that a co-worker decided to keep it running when I went to work elsewhere. I’ve continued to attend as a regular participant, and it’s been a great way to try lots of new recipes from different cookbooks. (The group meets every other month, and cooks from a different book each meeting; the potluck style means everyone gets to try as many recipes as there are attendees at that month’s gathering, usually between 15-20.)

Fresh mint from the porchAt the most recent group, we read/cooked from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I made pureed beets with Greek yogurt and za’atar, which came out well. After tasting some other dishes, I copied several of the recipes down to try at home, and have since made the turkey & zucchini meatballs/burgers (with green onion, mint, and cumin), a yogurt/cucumber/mint condiment, butternut squash hummus, and tahini cookies. It’s been refreshing to have some ingredients and flavors that are different from our usual rotation.

What else have we been up to in the kitchen lately? Baking, of course. I made black & white cookies from Martha Stewart’s Cookies. They were fine, but the dough was more like batter than dough; I could scoop tablespoons, but not roll them, so the cookies weren’t perfectly round, but they tasted good. I made our family’s birthday cake recipe again for my mom’s birthday, and I’ve been making the English Muffin Toasting Bread from King Arthur Flour almost every week.

What are your favorite seasonal recipes for spring?

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Sprouts and sprouts

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Violets

A beautiful day! On our neighborhood walks, there’s always a new plant or flower to look at; today we saw yellow dandelions, lots of daffodils, some tulips, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, and violets.

The barrels of berries remained more or less unbothered by critters overnight, but I’m planning to add some cedar mulch soon – to prevent weeds, hold in moisture, and add a little acidity.

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Raspberry

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Blueberry

The seedlings in peat trays at a south-facing window seemed to have stalled, so I transplanted some tomatoes and marigolds into four-inch pots and some basil into a rectangular planter. I also dared, slightly ahead of schedule, to plant the pumpkin seedlings outside. They won’t get as much sun as they’d like, but the tomatoes and berries are my priority. For now I’m hoping we won’t have a late frost…

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Pumpkin patch, with daffodils (right) and struggling grape hyacinth (front)

I planted the honeysuckle right in the middle of the back fence. It’s already the tallest thing there – there are some daylilies to one side and some herbs to the other, but there’s not a lot of height in the back yard yet so I hope it grows up and out.

Last year’s three abbotswood shrubs have come back really nicely and have plenty of green. When they bloom, they have small pale yellow flowers.

 

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Abbotswood shrub

 

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Marigolds

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And we’re back…and it’s spring!

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Jean skirt, front.

My new sewing machine is wonderful! I got it at a local shop that offers one-on-one lessons for free if you get your machine there, so I was able to learn the basics right away, and I’ve already completed my jean skirt project (just in time for some springlike weather) and started making some fabric cards.

The latter were inspired by an archivist friend of mine; we’re pen pals and she always sends her letters on the most interesting “stationery.” Part of her most recent letter came on a card that was fabric on one side and paper on the other, sewn together at the edges (and, I suspect, with some type of adhesive between). My first two attempts – without adhesive, using a double stitch – were a bit wrinkly. The second two were marginally better – I used PVA glue, which I had from bookmaking, and tried a different stitch – but there is still room for improvement.

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Fabric card, black and white polka dots with blue thread

Spring garden update: the indoor seeds (basil, tomato, pumpkin, marigold) are still doing well, with the addition of some seed starter mix to the peat trays. Outside, my daffodils have just popped, and other bulbs are emerging as well – tulips, grape hyacinth (muscari), and narcissus. (The tulips look a little munched, thanks to the backyard bunnies, but I think at least some will survive.)

IMG_20180427_131817We found barrel-type planters for berries – last year’s “Raspberry Shortcake” thornless raspberry, which I transplanted from a 12″ terra cotta pot, and a new “Peach Sorbet” blueberry bush, which I brought home today. I was able to (trans)plant this morning while the weather was still gorgeous, and didn’t have to water because it rained this afternoon. I ran out of time to plant the honeysuckle vine, but that gives me a little more time to decide where it should go, because option #1 turned out to have a giant tree root about 8 inches down.

Around the neighborhood, snowdrops and crocuses have come and gone, daffodils are up, forsythia is blooming, and I’ve seen a few hyacinths in the past few days.

It’s still too early to move the seedlings outside or plant the strawberries, marigolds (good for repelling critters and bugs), and mint I got today…but soon.

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Daffodils and tulips

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Daffodils

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New blueberry bush

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Raspberry bush (need to prune dead canes)

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“Appletini” mint

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What we’ve read so far, two and a half

I regularly have nearly thirty library books checked out on my card, and more of them are picture books than not. Below is a sample stack of ten, including some favorites (There Might Be Lobsters; Some Bugs). Often I choose books based on reviews, other librarians’ recommendations, or new books by known author/illustrators, but serendipity plays a role: for example, Ben found Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? because he was looking for Bob Shea books, and so we discovered Susan Shea.

Stack of ten library books

L likes to pick books from the paperback bins at the library (there are a lot of Arthur books there), and she still loves Maisy. She can identify every letter of the alphabet now, as long as it’s in uppercase and a reasonably clear font – elaborate serifs can trip her up. But she can spell out most titles and words, which is so exciting!

A few other books she’s liked a lot recently:

  • The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman was a million times better than I expected it to be. (True, my expectations for overtly religious-themed books are low, but this one is absolutely fabulous.) It’s funny, full of Yiddish, perfect for relatives to read aloud at the holiday, and I love the slight, fresh twist at the end.
  • Do Cows Meow? by Selina Soon is a simple lift-the-flap book that one of the children’s librarians I admire most recommended, so I brought it home. It’s bright and engaging and has storytime star quality written all over it.
  • Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker by Jessica Ahlberg is a wonderful peek at many classic fairy tales – older kids, who are more familiar with them all (Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) will enjoy it too, and it has clever cutout elements.
  • Speaking of “The Three Little Pigs,” Huff & Puff by Claudie Rueda is a non-traumatic retelling of the tale, perfect for storytime for the little ones.
  • When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes explains spring to those too young to remember the previous year’s change of seasons. I especially like the line “[Spring] changes its mind a lot,” accompanied by a picture of a daffodil under snow.
  • Flyaway Katie by Polly Dunbar is delightful – another one I’ll be using at storytime as well as at home. It’ll brighten up any day you’re feeling gray.Book cover of Henry & Leo
  • Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski is magical. This came to us by way of a friend, who found it in a bookstore remainder bin, and we promptly bought another copy to gift to someone else. “I guess we can never really know what makes one particular toy more special than another…” but Leo is definitely special.
  • Likewise, Journey, Quest, and Return by Aaron Becker, which I’ve loved since first laying eyes on Journey, are a trio of wordless picture books that tap into the essence of childhood fantasy: a Harold And the Purple Crayon-esque entry into another world, full of adventure, imagination, importance, and wonder.

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