20 April 2011


I've been slowly getting rid of grass to mow in our yard - replacing it with some other landscaping.  We've got a narrow strip of grass along one side of our driveway that I've been wanting to replace with a groundcover, like ajuga, for a long time.  We have a few plants in our yard and I got a few from the plant swap last fall.  Amy Dabbs, a Clemson Extension agent, brought some last time and I she said she had more if I wanted more.  Instead of getting it from her, I was hoping she would bring some more to the next swap.  Unfortunately there wan't much there this last time.

The next day on craigslist, someone posted that they were getting rid of theirs, free for whoever wanted it.  I went expecting to get all of their ajuga, but another person showed up to get some as well.  It didn't matter, because they had enough to go around.

This ajuga is not the compact variety that we have in our yard, but it was free all the same.  It's got large, floppy leaves and, at this point, a tall, almost two-foot, flower stalk.  I couldn't plant it that afternoon, but I planned to get out there first thing in the morning.  I managed to get the grass dug up and the hundreds of ajuga plants in the ground by lunchtime.  I've spent almost every day since watering them, making sure they don't die - it has been fairly warm during the past couple of weeks.  It doesn't help that it's getting more sun than I expected, especially since they like a little more shade.  If I can get them adjusted to their new environment, I'll be doing fine.  Wish me luck!

11 April 2011

2011 Park Circle Spring Plant Swap

Plants I took to the swap
When I first started going to plant swaps, I tried to take as much as I could, because I knew I would be coming home with a lot more.  I even started propagating plants specifically for the swap.  I don't feel like I have that kind of time now, but I do try to take as much as I can.  Leading up to this weekend's swap, I had picked up a few plants from people's trash that I repotted, divided or nursed back to health; I had a number of plants from the previous swap that I never did anything with; and I had some plants from the yard that were volunteers or extras that I felt like I could part with.

Neglected Irises
On Saturday morning, as soon as I could see outside, I started gathering plants for the swap.  I put the obvious ones in a pile and then I started looking around the yard.  I had some Narcissus that I dug up who-knows-when that grew and flowered, just sitting next to the house.  I pulled up half of those.  While I was at it, I pulled up a couple of irises that had rooted where I dropped them.  I unpotted a couple of small cactuses that I had gotten from a previous swap.  Doing that reminded me of another cactus growing near our back fence where I had discarded a piece years ago.  When I went to trim the cactus out front, I saw some canna that I didn't really want, so I put those in my growing pile.  While looking for more plants, I found a couple of pine trees in an untended area of the yard as well as a couple of volunteer root beer plants.  After all of that, I was ready for the swap.

I mentioned before that I usually come home with a lot of plants - that used to be the case in the beginning, but not so much now.  I have to say I'm more particular these days.  This swap I had specific plants I was looking for - ferns, hostas and anything else for a shade garden, ajuga and other groundcovers, and possibly some hardy succulents.  I didn't find much of anything matching that description at the swap.  I saw maybe five ferns, a few pots of ajuga, a few hostas and five or six fairly large hardy succulents.  After perusing the several hundred plants, I decided my must-have first plant was the Agave attenuata, a hardy succulent with variegated leaves - it would be a good addition to my desert garden.  (I didn't want to be greedy, but there was another hardy succulent next to the one I had claimed, that I was planning to get next if no one did, but, alas, someone did!)  My next plant was going to be a hosta, but they were all gone, so I got some ajuga.  During the third round I got the last, sad-looking holly fern.  After three or four rounds, we got to grab two plants, so I started getting pots of this Japanese herb that Scott and Fred brought.  I'll use it as a groundcover like the ajuga.

By this point I was at a loss for what I wanted.  On more than one occasion, I would survey the remaining plants, identify my first choice, and when Darren gave the signal, I couldn't find the plant.  Obviously someone beat me to it.  I picked up a few more plants, but I didn't take all the leftovers like I once would have.

Plants I brought home from the swap
I am happy with what we brought home.  I've already planted the agave and the fern is ready for the shade garden and I have a number of plants I need to learn about.  I made a few contacts as well - the woman who brought the hostas gave me her number and said I could come and get lots more hostas from her anytime.  And the man who brought the large succulents has more he wants to get rid of.  Apparently there's another plant swap at the Elliotborough Community Garden this Saturday at 1pm - I'm not going to be able to go, but Robin's going, so I'll have to put together some plants for her to take.  The fun never ends!

07 April 2011

Green Roof Science Fair Project

When Ella wanted to study green roofs for science fair project, I thought it was an interesting idea.  When it became necessary to build a green roof (or two), I said sure.  That was the first of my mistakes on the road to completing the green roof project - "Rainwater retention in green roof systems."

I knew I was winging it in my plans to build mock-ups of two green roofs, but I thought I had a really good idea and it was cheap.  I had a plan to build a chicken coop out of pallets later this year, so I thought I would test them out, while using them to build a couple of green roofs.

I ended up finding some free pallets and I had some various pieces of wood stashed in the garage for a future project, so I thought I was set.  Then I found out we needed four roofs, a flat green roof, a 40 degree green roof, a traditional flat roof and a 40 degree traditional roof.  The traditional roofs were the easy part - a piece of plywood on a pallet for support, and we even had a pile of shingles in the garage to put on one of them.  Working with the pallets was not what I expected.  I thought I would be able to take them apart fairly easily, but this was not the case.  I practically had to destroy the slats just to get them off the frame.  I kept slats on one side and reinforced it with some plywood.  I lined the pallets with plastic and landscape fabric to keep the soil from washing away.  I got most of this accomplished in a day, and then we got to work on other logistics, like what kind of soil, plants and how to set them up.  We ended up mounting them on our fence - it saved energy by only having to build supports on one side and we were able to adjust their angles as needed.  Once they were up, we attached gutters for rainwater collection.  We found really good soil at Lowe's - it was a lightweight, moisture-retaining mix that was similar to what we had read about in green roof literature.  We also found a variety of sedum from local nurseries and free from craigslist.  After planting those, we were ready for the science to begin.

It only rained a few times between when we built the roofs until the data was due.  Another factor we should have considered was the weather - winter was not the best time to do this.  In warmer weather, the plants would grow and spread and cover the roof, giving more accurate measurements of rainwater retention - and I probably would have built the roofs differently.  But it is done - it is over. and Ella's grade wasn't horrible, despite all of the project's flaws.

The roofs have been sitting there for the last couple of months, waiting to be dismantled.  I broke down the traditional roofs and put them on the street a while back, but I hadn't tackled the green roofs yet.  I finally got to those a little over a week ago.  I planned to plant them in our desert garden, but I thought some would look good in pots as well.  Most of our succulents that were on the porch died back in December - they weren't hardy and I forgot to bring them in on some of the colder nights.  These are hardy sedum and will do well all year long.

I pulled up the aloe that had died and I amended the soil in the desert garden with the mix I used on the green roofs to give it better drainage.  I had a lot of sedum in it when I first planted it and most of it died - I think it was too wet and didn't drain very well.  I'm hoping the soil mix I added will prevent that this time.  Most of the sedum is planted in the desert garden and I hope it thrives.  We'll have to wait and see.

For a slideshow of the Green Roof Science Fair Project, click here

06 April 2011

Goodbye, Magnolia Tree

When we bought our house there was a large Magnolia tree behind our garage.  I thought the area had potential, but there wasn't much we could do with it at the time.  I raked leaves for a while, but It was pointless as they never kept falling.  There was also a lot of running bamboo, and enough leaf litter that I was afraid to walk back there, not knowing what was underneath.

Eventually I decided to try to kill the bamboo by cutting it down and smothering it with old carpet.  While dealing with the bamboo, I had to wade through the leaves and I was surprised what I found.  It's not very interesting in hindsight, but,  it was the first time I had walked back there.  The area was a lot larger than I thought and there were a lot of nandina plants as well.  I tried to dig them up, but the ground was so full of roots, from the Magnolia and the bamboo, that I could never get a shovel in the ground.

Just after Thanksgiving, a few large limbs fell into our neighbor's yard.  They didn't hit anything, but it was an ominous sign - is this tree dying?  Will more limbs fall?  This ended up being a long, drawn out process.  We called the city to find out about permits etc. and they sent an arborist to look at the tree and the he gave his approval to take it down.  I got a permit for the work - the only thing left was to find a tree company.

Our neighbors recommended a company that did work for their church and had given them a good price.  We had no idea how much this would cost, but we wanted it to cost less than $1000.  Someone from that company came and gave us an estimate of $1550.  It was definitely more than we wanted to pay.  We tried to get recommendations from other neighbors, but no one had any - we had no other plan than to pick 5 names from the yellow pages and get estimates from them.  The next people we called quoted us $850 without grinding the stump, because his stump grinder was broken.  Another company gave us an estimate of $1850 - it was not looking good.  We started thinking we couldn't afford to have the tree removed, so we got quotes to trim it as well.  Most of these were between $600 and $800.  Finally we got a quote that sounded too good to be true - a guy came and quoted us $675 for everything.  Once we got a price we liked, Robin asked me if still wanted to cut it down or just trim it - I said, "for $675, I wanted it gone!"  She thought the price seemed too low and called to get more information from him, including references.  When she called them, they said they felt the same way about his price, but he did a good job.

He came with a couple of guys on Monday afternoon and, in about three hours, they had removed the whole tree, with the exception of several trunk pieces and the stump.  He came back Wednesday afternoon and loaded the large pieces onto his trailer and used the stump grinder to finish the job.

Now that the tree is gone, I need to get back there and clean up a few limbs, leaves and a little bamboo - and level out the wood chips left over from the stump grinding.  Once that is done, it's probably going to be the site for our new chicken coop.

03 April 2011

Summer Vegetable Garden

Flowering Purple Majesty Potatoes
Our vegetable garden is coming along nicely these days.  I'm close to adding another bed, and adding a composting pile - also, I just added trellises that I really like.  Since my seed starting didn't go as planned this year, I needed to go out and buy a few plants.

I went to Lowe's this morning with the intention of buying squash, pepper and tomato plants and watermelon seeds, and came home with:

Crookneck Squash
Better Boy Tomatoes
Red Bell Peppers
Sweet Banana Peppers
Crimson Sweet Watermelons

To me, the cost can really add up when buying vegetable plants.  I try to find the best deal by looking at the price and the number of seedlings in the pack.  A number of 4-packs, for example, will have more than one per section.  It might not be the best idea to divide these plants, but it's worth trying.  There were nine tomato plants in the 4-pack that I bought this morning.  I divided the tomato plants and planted the three largest ones in the garden, stripping off lower branches and planting them deeper, to encourage a better root structure.  I also potted the other six and I'll either leave them in pots or plant them in the garden at a later date.  I put the plants next to one of my new trellises, hoping to use it to support the tomatoes as they grow.

I got 5 banana peppers, but I had a hard time finding bell peppers.  I looked for a long time and only found green ones - I finally found individual pots of red bell peppers instead of multi-packs.  I bought two pots of those which got me 4 plants.  I had planned to put the squash in the same bed, but after planting the peppers, there wasn't enough room - knowing how big the squash plants will get.  I had plans to devote a whole field to corn - when I say "field", I really mean a 4 x 8 bed  - but I needed more room to plant the squash.  I almost have a "3 Sisters" garden going on there.

Before I went to Lowe's, I planned to buy watermelon seeds - they were cheap and I have all summer, right?  So, when I was looking at all of the vegetable plants, I ran across watermelons.  There were a couple of different varieties - one would grow 20 pound fruit or the other, Crimson Sweet, would grow to about 10 pounds.  I chose the Crimson Sweet variety for a couple of reasons - I grew it last year and it is a recommended variety of the Clemson Extension, and I plan to trellis these plants.  I don't know how well this will work, but I thought I might have better luck with smaller fruit than trying to support 20 pound watermelons on a trellis.

Wish me luck and hopefully this season will be great!