A Garden of Rusty Things Redux

Some background. As a young girl, I daydreamed about making things in the world perfect. I aimed for straightness, evenness, symmetry, and uniformity. No doubt about it, my ideal was a matchy-matchy universe.

I like to think I’ve outgrown that striving for balanced proportion. But no, my ideal garden is the parterre. In fact, one of the attractions of our property was its flatness, a main consideration in designing a parterre garden.

It soon became obvious that a parterre was not in the cards, at least not in this lifetime. Flat land, yes, but overrun by weeds and scrubby trees. When it rains, our backyard turns into a swamp. When it doesn’t rain, the ground develops wide cracks.

Given the money, time, and energy to design and build the hardscape to support a parterre, I’d be set. Sadly, those are the three things I don’t have.

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Add to these deficits the fact that I have absolutely no sense of design. I did what I could by edging the newly planted trees – brick in the front, rubber in the back. (All thanks to Jim’s expertise.)

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Still. Last year, in an effort to overcome my striving for the perfect yard, I decided on a garden of rusty things. Jim started me off with the old 500-gallon gas tank – we no longer have to drive into Kansas City every weekday and no longer need that much gas.

Followed by an old car frame, partway buried in ground and up on its side. The car frame wouldn’t stay straight in the ground thanks to our prairie winds. Now added to its imperfection is the bar running from the gas tank to the frame. Jim is infinitely inventive!

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Then I saw a picture of this amazing archway covered with yellow roses and purple clematis. The photo was in a flower catalog where things are always perfect. I turned the page…

And then, while trolling one of the big box stores, I found the exact climbing yellow rose offered in that catalog. I could not resist. Stumbling over a pot of Happy Jack clematis sealed the deal.

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“How are we going to mow this?” Jim asked. Oh yes, I forgot Kansas weeds. My solution was to encircle the area very much like we’ve done with the trees, using plenteous mulch. And while I went shopping yesterday, the good elves got the job done. (Thank you, Jim!)

Couldn’t resist the star. Jim figured out how to hang it so it doesn’t blow in the wind.

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Maybe I’ll put coleus and an ornamental grass in the old stainless steel sink. Too bad it isn’t one of the cool enamel ones. I have an old, rusty wagon that will tart it up some more.

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Here it is – so far – a garden of rusty things and some plants, mulch, and edging. I can still daydream about my parterre…

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After the Storm

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The sweet gum tree reflected on the barn wall after a rain storm. Such a luxury to have the time to notice things like dancing shadows!

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Looks like it will be another strange weather year. Too little, then too much rain. Too warm, then too cold. Wonder what that will mean in the garden.

I’m thinking of planting more sugar snap peas while it’s still cool.

A Woman’s Prerogative

Last July, I posted about Harvesting Herbs. Back then, I thought it would be cool to have a small herb garden near my kitchen (near the door to the deck, actually). I had a huge crop of herbs but as winter closed in, the herb garden became an odiferous tangle.

“What’s that smell?” Jim would ask. And I’d reply, “Oh, that’s patchouli.” Or, “Oh, that’s thyme, or the last of the rosemary, or I’m not quite sure…”

And when I say tangle, I mean it. Just clearing the annuals out of that plot took three days!

So this year, I changed my mind.

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After clearing everything except the thyme, I planted two nine bark shrubs (Physocarpus) and an oak leaf hydrangea (Ruby Slipper). This year surrounded by nine geraniums, orange and white.

I decided to put down a weed preventer since I wasn’t eating out of this garden anymore. Amazing things to be learned from a pesticide label. The commercials on TV say “Just sprinkle.” Uh no. Not quite that easy. First, this weed preventer is toxic to humans and animals. Protective gear is in order. Sprinkle on TOP of the mulch when the plants are DRY and then water in immediately.

Who knew?

My message for this week is the same as last week’s – read your pesticide label! As for the changing garden design, well, that’s my womanly prerogative.

Time Passes

I put my head down in early March, preparing for NaNoWriMo Camp and just today looked at the calendar. Only to discover I had arrived at the end of April. Time passes quickly!

Plenty going on in the garden. Asparagus season is rolling to a close. A ten-year old viburnum that never flowers has decided to flower.

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Jim has started the annual rebuilding of the garden wall. With Juno looking on. Love that my dogs garden with us!

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We planted two new trees, a Forest Pansy Redbud and a Red Oak. It looks like this will be a drier spring than normal, so I’m committed to hauling water hose and buckets for my baby trees.

So despite time’s fly-by, spring has been productive with only one stumble. One of our neighbors down the road rented the field behind ours and brought out a huge sprayer to cover the weeds with … what? I think 2, 4-D but I don’t know for sure. Certainly he wasn’t fertilizing those weeds?

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But he is in shirt sleeves, wearing no protective gear, so I wonder if he read the label. Assuming it was an herbicide. I walked out and stood menacingly, arms akimbo. Did he stop to tell me what he was doing? He did not! Lucky for us, our garden is quite a distance away, so I hope we didn’t get any overspray on the asparagus or garlic or baby sugar snap peas.

As a cautionary note, if you are using a pesticide, pull the label out and read the entire thing. You’ll find lots of amazing information there, including what protective gear you need and whether the target area is safe for children and pets.

I’ve marked my calendar for another Blog next week. Hopefully time won’t get away from me again!

Pick Up Sticks

As a youngster growing up in New Jersey, I got to weed trees and pick up branches off the ground. I have no fond memories of picking up sticks. A hard-on-the-back, boring task, it ranked as one of my least favorite jobs.

So imagine my dismay when I saw, after a couple weeks of 20-40 MPH winds here in Kansas, that our yard was littered with sticks. The job is even more hard-on-the-back than I remembered, and it continues to be my least favorite thing to do in the garden. Honestly, I’d rather weed.

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I have only myself to blame. I wanted trees. I planted trees. And they have grown large enough to lose branches. Although, to be honest, some of these sticks were pruned, not picked up.

And while we were outside today in this wonderful 50 plus degree weather (it’s February in Kansas, folks), I decided to water. We have had neither rain nor snow for several weeks. It’s time.

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I just wrote an article for The Republic’s spring home special section on planting trees, which I think is coming out sometime in March or April. Here’s the bit on watering. “For the first year, trees need about 10 gallons of water every week. This takes some juggling with the weather. If it hasn’t rain or hasn’t rained enough, we use five gallon buckets with a hole punched in the bottom. This guarantees that every tree gets the right amount of water. The gradual flow – it takes about 20 minutes for the bucket to empty – aids absorption. After the first growing season, water every 10 to 14 days as needed.”

The interesting bit is that watering in winter, as long as the daytime temperature is above freezing, won’t hurt the tree even if the nighttime temperature drops below 32 degrees.

Once watering was done, it was back to picking up sticks again. Although here’s a conundrum. This branch is stuck way high up in the tree.

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Here’s a shot of the tree to give you a sense of just how high it is.

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I keep waiting for the wind to knock it out, but I think it’s tangled in the other branches. Darn. I need a bucket truck to get it down.

Middle of February – two hours of yard work – and I’m exhausted. Better start getting in shape for the spring season.

Runaway Dogs

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Gardening with dogs is a challenge. Gardening with Loki (the Vizsla) and Juno (the Black Lab) has turned into my worst nightmare. They see me dig and they want to dig too. They see me pull weeds and they don’t understand why they can’t tear out flowers. They steal my small tools, want to sit on my kneeling pad, and in general make themselves giant nuisances.

But okay. I can deal.

Back when we moved in, Jim installed an invisible fence around three acres of our property. We trained our ‘then’ dogs by walking the perimeter with them and teaching them ‘watch it’ when they got too close to the boundary. When Loki and Juno came to us as pups, we trained them the same way. For the past five years, we left them outside, absolutely certain that they would stay in the yard. Other dogs came to visit. Our dogs did not break bounds.

Until this year.

“Where’s Loki?” became our favorite question. Chasing cars, running with the horses across the street, playing in our next-door-neighbor’s field, chasing squirrels and rabbits and birds.
We put up flags along the fence line. We walked the perimeter with them – again. We yelled “Watch it!” No good.

Finally, Jim (and sometimes I) had to go outside with them all the time. Even then, they’d sit at the very edge of the fence line, looking longingly off into the distance, turning every so often to see if Jim was still there and still watching.

It looked like we would always have to keep our eyes on those two!

One stormy day, Jim started talking about building a dog run from the garage door to the workshop. Not a big area, but a costly project. I started talking about walking the dogs like everyone else – on a leash. A bit weird in the country but it would keep them from going totally wild.

Finally, we agreed on a large kennel, one that we could move around the yard for sun or shade depending on the season. Combined with ‘watching’ them while they ran outside, giving them a playpen was the only way to keep them from running off.

And shhhhh – here’s my secret. I plan to keep them kenneled while I garden.

Cream Puffs

Channel surfing a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto the Kids Baking Championship on Food Network. Since I first started watching the Great British Baking Show, I’ve felt the urge to improve my baking skills.

One skill I never thought of adding was pate a choux (pronounced pat-a-shoe), the dough used to make cream puffs. Easier by far to simply buy frozen puffs in the store – something I never do because, frankly, I don’t think in terms of eating puff anything.

But the Kids Baking Championship challenged me to learn this new, intermediate baking skill. I mean, if 10 and 11 year old kiddos can make puff pastry, I should be able to make it too.

The recipe came from everywhere. The ingredients are easy to remember: 1 cup of water. 1 stick of butter. 1 cup of flour. 1 cup of eggs. 1 pinch of salt.

Really? One cup of eggs? Turns out, this means four eggs.

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The water, butter, and salt goes into a pot, brought to a rolling boil at medium high temperature. Remove from heat, then add the flour all at once. Stir, stir, stir until the flour is incorporated. Put the pot back on the heat for about a minute, still stirring, to let some of the moisture out of the dough.

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Let the dough cool somewhat so the eggs don’t scramble when you add them. I stuck my (clean) finger in the dough and figured if was safe to add the eggs as long as the dough didn’t feel hot. It was warm.

I beat the eggs into the flour, butter, and water mixture one at a time, using my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. (I imagine a hand mixer will also work). The result should be a glossy, thick dough that slowly drops off your beaters.

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Pipe into two inch rounds on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone pad. Brush with an egg wash (one egg, one Tbsp. water) to keep the edges and points of the rounds from burning.

Bake in a pre-heated 425 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 degrees and back about another 15 to 20 minutes.

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I remembered from watching both shows that some contestants didn’t cook their puffs long enough. I may have erred on the other side. These looked a bit overdone to me.

Cool on racks. Meanwhile, put together your filling. I used whipped cream (2 cups cream, 1 Tbsp.sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla). When the puffs are cool, poke a hole in the bottom of each one and fill with your filling. You’ll need to use a pastry bag for this, which is more difficult than it looks. Again, I was thinking about those ten-year olds. Although I have to admit, Jim was curious and decided that my fumble-fingers needed help. Thank you, Jim!

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How’d they taste? Really, pretty bland. Since this was a first (maybe only) attempt, I kept things very basic. On my way around the Internet to find the recipe, I did see some yummy-sounding savory fillings (think cheese and mushroom) and some livelier sweet fillings (think lemon curd).

Meanwhile, the ones I made this morning might be improved by dipping them in chocolate ganache. Maybe next time…