Sunday, January 30, 2011

The life


Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

10 gardening chores to do in January

That's right, it is the middle of January - wet, cold and even snowy at times - but I've come up with a list of at least 10 things you can do now if you have a severe case of cabin fever. Of course, for the outdoor activities you might have to wait for a decent day but one will come. That is one of the nicer things about gardening in Alabama - no matter how nasty the weather gets, there will be a more pleasant day just around the corner. You can bet on that!

1) Planning & Ordering - I received my first seed catalog the day after Christmas and they have been arriving steadily since. I love these catalogs - what gardener doesn't? - and they really get you excited about spring. Now is the perfect time to plan a garden. If you haven't discovered the joys of mail-order, I urge you to order something. I find it thrilling to get a live plant in the mail (but then again, I'm a very odd person, but I have heard other people say it so I know I'm not alone!) Some of my favorite mail-order companies are ForestFarm, Chamblee's Roses, Song Sparrow Nursery and Lazy S Farm Nursery. You simply can't find the wide selections in a local nursery that you do from these places. The only drawback these days is the exorbitant shipping prices. I admit they have curtailed my mail-order spending habits quite a bit but I try to treat myself to as least one plant from some of my favorite nurseries.

2) Planting - Do you have daffodils that you forgot to plant in December? If so, plant them as soon as possible. I'm always planting daffodils in January. As long as the bulbs are still firm, they are good and they will come up in the spring - they may not bloom like they would if planted earlier, but they will there for next year.

This is also an excellent time to plant trees and shrubs. The ground can be very wet in January but if you can find a dry time to do it, get them in the ground. The roots will begin to grow during the remainder of the winter and they will get a head start on the stressful heat and drought of summer.

3) Clean up planting beds and reapply mulch. This is what I did a few weeks ago. I was driving through a sub-division and saw a tremendous mountain of pine needles right there on the street. I have a confession to make - pine needles get me very excited. I was back in a flash with my rake to get them before the street department did. Seriously, who would throw away pine needles??? The mind reels.

If weather permits, beds can also be prepared for plants, including vegetables. Cover crops, planted in the fall, can be turned under.

4) Clean and sharpen tools. Okay, I'm not good at doing this. But this is a good time to do it!

5) Caring for our feathered friends. Winter is a stressful time for wildlife and this includes birds. Providing well-stocked bird feeders is a must and even more important is providing water. I bought a heating element to go in our bird bath so the birds can be assured a water source even in freezing weather. This is also a good time to clean bird feeders.

6) Apply dormant oils. If you have bugs or diseases in your garden and you want to get a head start, consider applying dormant oil (also known as horticultural oil) especially to roses, broadleaf evergreens and fruit trees. The oils are effective and ecologically friendly. They work by smothering the insects that are hiding out for the winter. Do not apply when temperatures are below freezing and apply when temperatures will be above freezing for at least 24 hours.

7) Take dormant cuttings of shrubs and roses. Cuttings can be taken, rooted and placed in a sheltered location, away for winds and sun. They should root by early spring.

8) Prune fruit trees. A subject I know little about but there are several neglected apple trees on my mother's property that needs attention. I'm doing my research and I'll keep you posted.

9) Start seeds indoors. If you have a large basement or a similar place, you can set up lights and start your vegetable and flower seeds indoors and have them ready in time to plant in the spring.

10) Start a gardening journal or better yet, a blog! - I can't stress the importance of record keeping. A journal can be very rewarding and full of useful information to you in the future. And if you'd rather do it online and publicly, start a blog. Take photos of everything. In years to come, you will look at your older photos and be amazed at how things have changed!

11 Okay, I lied, 11 chores to do. I just thought of one more chore that I do more than anything else in January - transplanting. This is a good time to move plants, especially roses. Check out my link for details.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Experimenting with night photography

We are still snowed in and I'm not complaining. The hardest part is trying to decide what to do - do I want to work on a website, bake, watch a movie or read? Decisions, decisions. I love being cooped up like this. The light inside the house from the bright snow reflecting from outside is so wonderful. It gives me such a comforting and peaceful feeling.

Last night, I took some photos out the window using really long exposures. Here are the results.

This photo was taken from the dining room window. I think this Japanese Maple (Booskoop Glory) is one of the most beautiful trees in the garden when covered with snow.

Looking out another dining room window, this one facing north, is the little garden underneath a Yoshino Cherry tree where I have an urn fountain. That is a dentist's office across the street from us.

Another window, another room, still looking north. Our little vegetable garden is to the left and the urn fountain garden is to the right.

Below, this photo was taken looking out the front glass storm door. The vine hanging from above is Jackson Vine (Smilax smallii) and the conifer directly ahead is Colorado Blue Spruce. The lumps on each side, in front of the mailbox, are the lion statues. The shadows are from a street light.

I had to step out on the front stoop to get this shot, looking across the front garden toward the street light. The tree on the right is a Heritage River Birch and the tree to the left is an October Glory Maple.

I really appreciate the comments about my photography but of course, I'm never satisfied. I have a question for people who use Blogger. I find that after I make my postings, my photos are not as crisp and sharp as they are beforehand. Does anyone know why this is and what to do about it? I don't upload my photos from Blogger but put them on my server and link to them that way. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Monday, January 10, 2011

8 inches of the white stuff

It started snowing last night around 8:30 and the ground was covered in a matter of minutes. We stayed up until almost 11:30, walking around to window to window looking out at it. The glow from the street lights and the reflections were so pretty. It was still snowing heavily when we went to bed and I don't know when it stopped. We measured 8" this morning.

A shot of the street in front of our house -

Michael by the front gate -

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick is so pretty in the snow -

The garden wall -

The chandelier -

The pergola -

It is interesting how high the snow piled up on objects -

Enjoy it while it lasts!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, January 7, 2011

Spinach Dip

Michael's aunt and cousin from Mississippi and our friend Joann from Memphis will be here this weekend for their annual hair appointments so I've been in the kitchen.

This is our favorite dip (sooo addictive) and it is simple to do (just a lot of chopping). This recipe comes from the Knorr's Vegetable Soup Mix box. It calls for 1 cup of mayonnaise in addition to the sour cream but we prefer just the sour cream so we use all sour cream and it is delicious. I also think fresh spinach is much better than the frozen spinach. It is great served with Hawaiian Bread or just crackers.

1 package (10 oz.) baby spinach, chopped or 1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 container (16 oz.) sour cream
1 cup Mayonnaise (or sour cream)
1 package Knorr® Vegetable recipe mix
1 can (8 oz.) water chestnuts, drained and chopped
3 green onions, chopped (optional)

Combine all ingredients and chill about 2 hours.

Now is that easy or what? I sense of game of Mexican Train coming on!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

It is sunny and cold today as I sit here watching the birds outside the window and contemplate an article assignment that is due in 5 days. Perhaps my New Year's resolution should be to stop procrastinating and get things done. I don't know, I think I might work better under pressure. :) The photo above is actually from 2007. We've already had some snow this winter and I'm sure we have more on the way in 2011.

I hope everyone had a nice New Year's Eve and Day. We were actually awake this year to see it in (unheard of, we are rather unexciting homebodies). We invited a few friends over for some chili and a game of Mexican Train dominoes and we had a great time. We toasted the New Year in with thunderstorms brewing outside as we had a quick sip of champagne and some kisses before getting back to our game.

Resolutions? I'm not making any this year. I'm hoping that we have a great gardening year and better weather this year. And please - no drought! I don't have any major projects in mind for the garden. I will be sharing some of my blog postings with Alabama Gardener magazine this year (as soon as I have the link for that, I will pass it along). I am also determined to update my regular website (A Southern Garden) as I have neglected it this year.

In the meantime, I wish all of you out there peace, health and happiness for 2011!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy