Let's Get Dirty

A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.

Send stories and pictures of your horticultural adventures to letsgetdirty@gjsentinel.com.

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I hate grass

By Penny Stine
Monday, February 21, 2011

We have this no-man’s land out in front of our house:

Technically, it’s not our property. Our property ends at the fence. But it’s in front of our house, our mailbox and our irrigation cistern are out there, so we’ve always tried to take care of it. The first few years we lived in our house, we mowed the grass and weeds. Then I decided to reclaim it for flowers and anything that was prettier than mowed weeds.

I scattered a wildflower seed packet about seven years ago, which was beautiful the first year. Some of the wildflowers (like the cosmos, the sunflowers and something that looks like orange calendula) have come back every year. I’ve also planted strawberries, a rose bush, penstemon, oregano, purple mallow, borage, thyme, iris, yarrow and columbine.

It should be beautiful in the summer. Except I didn’t kill the grass before I ever started. So now every year, I try to figure out a way to kill the grass so you can actually see all the cool things growing out there. Every year I fail.
Last year, I spent the better part of three weekends on my hands and knees in the early spring pulling grass out by hand. The root system was a long, tangled, tenacious rope that wasn’t about to go quietly into the night.

The area looked good for maybe a month. Then the grass returned. By then, I was busy with my real garden, so I ignored the wildflower area and hoped the giant sunflowers and cosmos would intimidate the grass.

No such luck. As you can see, the grass thrived. Once again, I’m going to get out there (maybe this weekend) and cut down all the dead stuff and try to come up with a plan to kill the grass this season. I’m at a loss.

Any suggestions?


Planting the greenhouse in the living room

By Penny Stine
Thursday, February 17, 2011

It may not officially be spring or planting time yet, but I’ve started my greenhouse in the living room. Last Saturday, I got five different types of pepper seeds started, as well as some lavender and coral bells.

Last year was my first year to try and start everything from seed rather than buying plants at the nursery. It was a good learning experience, which is a nice way of saying that I killed lots of baby plants.

Because I was a newbie to the process, I went to a Saturday morning seedling starter class at Bookcliff Gardens. In class, Dennis Hill said one of the worst things a gardener can do is start seeds too early. Plants get spindly and leggy before the weather’s nice enough to plant them outdoors. So I dutifully waited until St. Patrick’s Day to start my seeds. That gave them eight weeks to be big enough to transplant.

I learned from trial and error (but mostly error) that eight weeks isn’t long enough for peppers or lavender. A lot of my seedlings didn’t survive in the garden. I felt like such a mean and cruel person for planting such itty-bitty plants and expecting them to survive. In fact, eight weeks wasn’t really enough for the tomatoes, herbs or flowers, either.

Perhaps under the ideal growing conditions of a professional nursery, eight weeks is good. Under the less-than-ideal conditions of my living room, I decided to give most of the pepper 12 weeks (although I’m planning on starting a few more peppers as well as some herbs this weekend, which will give them 11 weeks). I’ll probably give the tomatoes and flowers a good 10 weeks.
Even though I just planted them on Saturday, a couple of the Munstead Lavender plants have already sprouted. Yay! Time to do the happy dance, as my gardening buddy, Jan, says. I know from last year that they grow very slowly, so I’m not worried about them getting spindly.

What’s been the experience of everyone else?



Bless your pea-picking heart

By Carol Clark
Monday, February 14, 2011

While roses are one of the most beautiful flowers they are a little over done at Valentine's Day. Valentine roses are not always the freshest, but they are always the most expensive.

Here are some beautiful heart shaped alternatives that would be fun to give or receive from your loved ones.

Bleeding Hearts























... and random other heart-shaped flowers and vines: 



















"Do all things with love."
    -Og Mandino









Sarcopetalum harveyanum which means "fleshy petals":


Why garden?  To eat, of course

By Penny Stine
Friday, February 11, 2011

For all gardenophiles out there (did I just coin a word or is there some other word out there that means lover of all things dirty, green and growing?), this is a tough stretch. Just when we hoped we were headed for an early spring, we got snow and freezing temps. Our gardens are buried under snow (again!) and we all breathe weary, heavy sighs.

Yes, yes, I know... things are a lot worse elsewhere and here in western Colorado, we have no reason to whine and complain when Chicago's been buried multiple times this winter, but dang it, my garden had sprouts two weeks ago! I haven’t checked them since this latest bout of winter. Perhaps on Sunday, I’ll have enough nerve to see if they’ve survived. 

In the meantime, I was craving soup the other day, but had only a few minutes when I was home at lunch to put something together in my crock-pot. I consulted a crock-pot cookbook and found a recipe for winter tomato soup – and it recommended using home-canned tomatoes. It was simple, had few ingredients and quick to throw together so I could get back to work. 

I left the cookbook at home, but as near as I can remember it:

½ C butter
2 onions
1 jar home canned tomatoes
1 tbsp sugar (I used less than half that amount)
½ C dry vermouth or dry white wine (I didn’t have either, so I substituted cooking sherry)
1 tsp dried tarragon
sour cream

Chop the onions and sauté them in the butter for 10 – 15 minutes. Toss everything else in the crock-pot on low. Add onions when they’re soft and cook 6 ½ hours on low. Puree in a food processor or use a hand-held blender. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream.


Six and a half hours later… My crock-pot got overzealous and half the volume had evaporated, so I added milk and a couple tbsp of flax meal to thicken it (and to give it a boost of Omega-3). I used a hand-held blender to turn it into a cream soup. It was delicious, even though I forgot to serve it with sour cream. It was a great way to enjoy those delicious garden tomatoes in February without needing to turn them into a complete sauce, add some meat, cook some pasta... etc, etc.

Next time, I’m going to make sure I have dry vermouth rather than cooking wine, I think it will be truly fab. I may also ditch the tarragon and go for thyme or rosemary instead. Since I’m assuming that anyone reading this blog also has a ready supply of home-canned tomatoes, I wanted to pass it on.


On poetry and peonies

By Laurena Mayne Davis
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The gloriously reclusive poet rarely ventured from her family’s Amherst, Mass., home, but when Emily Dickinson wasn’t peering out her bedroom window, she was reveling in the garden.

"I was always attached to mud," she wrote.

The New York Botanical Garden re-created a 19th century New England garden in honor of Dickinson: Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers.

National Public Radio reported on it last spring. Go here  for the story in audio and print and for a photo gallery from the garden.

Think statuesque dianthus, speckled foxglove and spicy dianthus. And just as Dickinson tucked poems into nosegays as gifts, some 30 of her poems are sprinkled on plaques among the garden's trees and flowers.

To discern Dickinson’s preferred plantings, representatives with the botanical garden pored over her letters and poems for botanical mentions. Dandelions were included, too, because Dickinson said she thought of herself more as a dandelion.

Maybe so, but with her pen, even the humblest subjects bloom.

NATURE rarer uses yellow
Than another hue;
Saves she all of that for sunsets,—
Prodigal of blue,

Spending scarlet like a woman,
Yellow she affords
Only scantly and selectly,
Like a lover’s words.

— Emily Dickinson

Page 111 of 133


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