Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Propagation Station

One thing I like to do is play around with different plants to see if I can get new plants to grow from cuttings.  I just haven't had time to set up an "official" propagation station here, or even buy rooting hormone.  I just work with easy plants, and experiment.

Succulents can be rooted easily without using hormones.  I just pinch off a stem, clear off the leaves, and slide it into moist dirt.

I make sure the dirt never dries out and that the sedum gets lots of sunshine.  The leaves will put down roots in no time.  Each new root, of course, makes a new plant. 

I've been doing it for a while.  These sedum stems rooted and can be separated out into little pots.  They'll spread nicely.

Spider plants can be propagated this way, and any succulents, like the string of pearls cutting I took from my mother's huge plant last year.  My little plant has grown, and now I'm starting new ones. 

I've started dividing larger plants, too, to get smaller ones.  I'm experimenting on easy ones, like catnip.

Lay plant out...

Shake off dirt, and slice in half through root...

Plant each half and see what happens.  If you fail, well, catnip is cheap.  If you succeed, you've found another way to successfully increase your home garden at no cost.  In my little catnip experiment, one side is thriving, while the other side still looks a little limp.  We'll see what happens!

I'm getting a lot of free propagation outside.  The Helleborus are going to seed.

Many went to seed earlier in the spring, so I have thousands of tiny new Helleborus plants coming up!  Am I going to thin and spread them like a madwoman?  You bet!

By the way, Helleborus plants themselves can be divided in the spring after blooming! 

Iris plants are coming up along the side driveway.  I believe that irises can be divided every other year, so I'm going to take a gamble and divide them this year, after they bloom!

Flowering bushes with long "arms" like spirea and forsythia are really easy to propagate.  I was really pleased to see 3 forsythia bushes in the back yard, and I'll be increasing them by the layering method.

Just slice off a bit of the outer bark on the "arm" you want to root.  Pin it to the soil with a rock and make sure it gets water.  Do this in the spring and it will probably have roots by fall.  You can cut it from the parent plant and pot it, or just leave it there all winter and cut/replant in the spring. 

I haven't yet moved to trying to propagate small trees, like dogwoods.  We have five or six dogwood trees here, in various stages of growth.  The one by the side driveway is the furthest along...just about ready to open up.

Many of the azaleas have opened up, but there are huge groups of them that are still just starting to bud out.

We have pure white...

Light pink...

Hot pink...

And a pink and white marbled azalea.

Two interesting things I've noticed.  One:  azaleas last WEEKS in bouquets - weeks!  Just remember to change the water regularly.  Two:  One of our big groups of azalea bushes is out front, and it has both pink and white azaleas growing from the same bush.

I learned that this can be done with roses, camillias, and many other flowering bushes through a process called grafting.  Grafting is adding a bit of root or stem from one variety onto another variety.  Some people do this to get continual blooms:  the original variety stops blooming, but the newly grafted variety can bloom for another month.  Others do this for just an extra bit of color.

My white camillia bush...

...also produces beautifully pink marbled flowers, too, because that variety was grafted on at some point.

These have been blooming steadily, but I'm impatiently waiting for other things to bloom.

This might be butterfly bushes, per the landscaping plans, and should produce masses of flowers.

We have Liriope edgings all around.  They're supposed to send up purple flower spikes in the spring.  I see the remnants of last year's spikes...nothing yet for this year.

We have five gardenia bushes, too.  One year I planted gardenias in Indianapolis.  I loved the dark, waxy leaves and the fragrant white flowers.  Despite (or because of) my tender care, it didn't survive long.  These don't appear to be budding out...but I hope they will.

I realize that I've been doing a lot of "clicking" and not a lot of "knitting" and "stirring", but I'm so inspired by new growth in the spring that it's hard to focus on other things.  However, I promise to have both a knitting project and some sort of recipe next week.

Until then!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

a turtle hurdle

Yesterday, I was idly looking outside when I noticed some unusual movement.  I saw something small streaking across the water of the pond, leaving a trail of ripples in its wake.  In a flash, I was at the window with the binoculars.  At first, I thought it was some strange aquatic bird, but once I adjusted the lenses I saw immediately that it was a beaver.  We'd heard from the prior homeowners that our pond contained beavers, but I'd never seen one.  However, I'd definitely seen evidence.

Look at this tree:

...and this one:

We have to be careful with our pond-side trees, because these, unfortunately, are done for.  Their phloem has been removed...that thin layer that transports sugar and the other benefits of photosynthesis from the leaves to the roots.  They'll slowly die, and then will need to be removed.  Todd and I will need to protect the accessible parts of the remaining trees from these industrious little fellows!

Most of our trees are fine, thankfully.  I was walking there today, by the water's edge, instead of doing my work...but it's such a beautiful day.

I am nearly positive that the little patch of green on the left side of the photo is a group of flags, which should send up flowers in the next month.  I'll have to keep an eye on it to see if I'm right. 

I spotted some decidedly lumpy logs on the other side of the pond.  Turtles!

Judging by the pronounced beaks and whip-like tails, these are snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina).  The serpentina of their latin name refers to their neck, which is unusually long and snake-like.  I learned as a young child to leave snapping turtles alone, because they had grumpy dispositions and did not hesitate to use their long, limber necks and fearsome beaks to fasten on to the nearest child.  I've learned, though, that like most things in nature, they just wish to be left alone and don't bite if unprovoked.

Decidedly gentler in nature are these yellow-bellied sliders (Trachemys scripta scripta).  Their yellow-streaked necks, legs, and undersides of shells make them easy to identify. 

Sigh...one day I'll get that high-quality zoom lens!  Until then, you'll have to imagine those identifying yellow streaks.

I was absolutely delighted to see a row of them clustered on a half-submerged log.

Look how they're piling up on each other to fit as many turtles as possible onto the log, to take advantage of the sun!  I was so pleased as I watched them turning their heads and occasionally readjusting their perches.  I had to smile, thinking of a passage from Susan Allen Toth's My Love Affair With England.  She described a badger-viewing trip with an enthusiastic local:  "Mr. Fursdon was completely caught up in their antics. 'Oh, golly,' he said with pleasure.  'What a party they're having!'"  Now, a turtle party is definitely more sedate than a badger party, but at that moment, I knew exactly how Mr. Fursdon felt.

I reluctantly left the turtles to their sunbathing and did a little more exploring of the property.  We've had continually green ferns throughout the winter, but I was happy to see that our previously crumpled holly ferns have smoothed out and become lush and green.

They're putting up stalks, which unfurl into shiny new fern fronds.

I've been watching these vines, which are staked up around the house.   They appeared dead, but many vines are dormant in the winter.

Look!  New growth!

As soon as I saw the seedhead, I knew they were clematis vines.

As Mr. Fursdon would say:  Oh, golly!

Todd and I worked in this area over the weekend.  The vines had formed great mats over the brick and were tearing into the mortar.

It grew into the window screens with long, grasping fingers.

Look, underneath those vines is a window box!

Later this spring, I will plant pale pink climbing roses by the window, the most fragrant variety I can find.  The three azalea bushes will bloom white, and it will be a cozy place, indeed, to sit on a bench and watch the birds.

Now for the most part, of course, I must wait to see what comes up on the property before doing my own digging and planting.  But some plants are just not negotiable.  For example, I must have columbines. 

 I've felt a strange pang recently, thinking of my old garden in Indianapolis.  Right now, the columbines would have leafed out and would be getting ready to put up pale green stalks.  The hydrangea branches would have firm, small leaves at regular intervals.  My lilacs - oh, my lilacs! - would have tight, compact buds that would lighten and swell before bursting open into sweet-smelling purple clusters.  Soon, the tentative red peony stalks will be breaking through the dirt. 

I'm trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, not to think of it.  I'm concentrating on reproducing parts of that garden here.  I found a bag of columbine seeds, harvested from my plants in 2012.  Before I can plant them, though, they must be cold-stratified.  That is, I must mimic the experience of winter dormancy.  Without this, they likely will not grow.

I sprinkled them on a wet paper towel...

...and wrapped them up in a baggy.  It will be in the refrigerator for two weeks, and then I'll try to sprout them.

Some of our neighbors dropped off tulips recently...

...so I baked a large batch of chocolate chip cookies as a thank you.  I am definitely like Andy from The Office in that regard (link: do not test my politeness.) - I'm always anxious to return the favor! 

Quickly snapped before packing...

The cookies are a spin on the famous New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, which involves refrigerating the dough for up to 72 hours before baking.  That lengthened the time before gift reciprocation, which caused a bit of stress, but I felt happy as I delivered the cookies today.

This recipe creates cookies with a crispy exterior and a soft interior.  I'm a soft-all-the-way-through sort of girl, so it wasn't my favorite recipe, but it was rich and buttery.  You can find the original recipe at Smitten Kitchen.

I hope you're enjoying a bit of spring - or at least the promise of it - in your neck of the woods!

Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm Lichen This

Ever since the weather's improved, Todd and I have been thinking about finding a new place to hike.  We miss Eagle Creek in Indianapolis...it was a huge, beautiful park with many different trails, and we never got tired of hiking there.  Unfortunately, there are only 2 parks within 30 minutes of our new house, and they're both small and sedate.  Driving an hour will take us to the Blue Ridge Mountains, though.  We found an interesting trail called the Foothill Trail that begins in Oconee State Park.  We decided to give it a try.

Once we reached the park and started hiking, I was surprised at the lack of vegetation.  At this time of year, I was expecting some early woodland flora, but the trail mainly held remnants of last year.

Dried leaves...

Dried grasses...

...and old pine cones.

It was a nice walk, though. 

 We saw many different types of trees and observed the interesting barks...

The path was leaf-covered, but under the leaves we saw lots of small, flat stones.

We took a closer look.  The stones were sparkly and reminded us a bit of mica.

There was some green.  These plants were sprouting up everywhere, en masse.  They reminded me of wild ginger but weren't quite the same. 

Ferns were growing...

A few branches were leafing out...

Small starts of trees were showing, too.

But my very favorite discovery?  Large patches of moss and lichen.  Now, although they may seem like the same thing, they're very different.  Lichen is a fungus, while moss is a plant.  They're both beautiful in their own way, of course. 

I used to think that moss was green and lichen wasn't, but of course there are many varieties of green lichen, like this fruticose lichen:

This shag moss is a nice shade of green...and reminds me of shag carpet!

 I love when moss sends up stalks.  Their tips contain spores, which help the moss spread more easily.  They look like tiny alien landscapes, I think.

Lichen spikes too.  When I saw these pale grey lichen spikes, I named them "corpse fingers".  Now, I know I'm addicted to The Walking Dead, but looking at them, doesn't the name seem appropriate?

I did some research, though, and found out that they have an even cooler name than "corpse fingers":  Lipstick Powderhorn.  When I moved on to the next patch of lichen and saw a more mature group, I saw why.

The ends of the stalks look like they've sprouted big, red lips.  So cool!!!

Since the weather's been turning warmer, I've changed my baking a bit to be more season-appropriate.  What says spring like lemons?  I bought a bag of lemons at the grocery store and decided to make lemon curd...especially since I found a microwave version.  Now, I'm not a baking snob and I'm all for workable shortcuts.  I've been making my pudding in the microwave for years.  Last year, when I was gnashing my teeth over a coconut cream custard that would not gel on the stove top, it was a virtual lightning bolt to discover that I could skip the stove top and go straight to the microwave.  It gelled instantly, of course.  Even with this knowledge, I've never thought about making microwave curd.  I was skeptical when I found the recipe.  But...it worked! 

Microwave Lemon Curd
modified slightly from allrecipes.com

3/4 cup of lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter, melted

Whisk the sugar and the eggs together, and then stir the rest in.  Microwave in one-minute intervals, stirring after each, until mixture thickens slightly.

Now, some people reported that their mixture thickened after two minutes.  It took about 8 intervals before I noticed a slight thickening, and I was sure the curd was ruined.  I decided to go ahead and refrigerate it, though, just in case.  Miraculously, the curd firmed up nicely.

I baked a quick, 'rustic' batch of scones...

...and made the best, brightest snack I've had in a long time.  It was amazing...I 'curd' you not!  (Too far?)

It is absolutely delicious and so easy to make.  I hope you'll give it a try this week!