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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Voles - Part Two

Hi Pat and all,

Here's what I learned about voles yesterday from an avid Hosta collector. Voles are voracious eaters in the spring. You can make poison balls to put down their holes. This is what you will need:

Heavy duty rubber gloves
Heavy duty plastic bags
Plastic container for mixing (that you can throw away)
Rat Poison in a bar form
Cheap Peanut Butter

Put the rat poison in a plastic bag and bang with a hammer or mallet until it is very crumbled. Mix crumbled poison together with cheap peanut butter.
Break off pieces and roll into balls like little meatballs.
Stuff balls into vole holes.

You can freeze the unused poison balls if you do not have children around and clearly mark the container.

Saftey precaution: Wear heavy duty rubber gloves at all times. Do not use any utensils that will later come in contact with food. Preferably work in an area that will not come in contact with food (garage? shed?) Dispose of any containers that were in contact with the poison.

Stan also told me that he has great luck in the fall with the clay pot/trap/peanut butter method that was in my previous post. When I explained my dilemma about taking voles out of the traps he told me that he disposes of the whole thing, trap & vole. Traps are sold cheap, in multiple packs at the supermarket.

Good luck and let me know your favorite way to eliminate voles!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Voles & The Queen of Backhanded Compliments

There is a woman I know from one of my garden clubs who is the "Queen of Backhanded Compliments". You know the kind, as a group of people tour your garden and wonder out loud at the beauty she steps up and says "oh yes, Melanie's garden is beautiful, for an amateur".

Yesterday I was granted a phone call from the "Queen of Backhanded Compliments". It's a wonder how this woman can know so much about everything there is to know. She's just a fountain full of knowledge and will gladly spill out and flood you with more information than you could possibly desire. In a highpitched, artificial voice (imagine Dame Edna with a nasally New York twang) the pearls of wisdom just come streaming out. Funny thing is most of the things she spouts are wrong! When talking to her in person, my favorite moment comes when she looks astonished that you didn't know the fact that she has just shared with you.

So here we were, talking about pets and I mentioned that ever since our cat died we've been noticing vole holes in the garden. I was promptly informed that she never has any voles in her garden because she incorporates daffodils with her daylilies. Did you know that Daffodils keep the voles away? Well, amazingly so, neither did I. As a matter of fact, I thought it was frittilaria that kept Moles away but no, I was wrong. All you have to do is plant lots and lots of daffodils around your daylilies and the voles won't come near them.

Imagine my surprise yesterday as I cleared the leaf debris around some emerging daffodils only to find a vole hole not more than 2 inches from the daffodil foliage. It turned out the ground was around those daffodils was riddled with vole holes, not unlike a piece of swiss cheese. Somebody should really educate those stupid voles.

Voles are little mice-like creatures that tunnel thoughout your garden and munch their way through the Hosta and Daylily roots all winter long. I've read of many different ways to rid your garden of these pests but have always found having cats was the best way. Another method that sounds reasonable is to put some peanut butter on a mouse trap, place it near the hole and cover both with an upside down clay flower pot. It seems to work for others but I just can't imagine removing the pot and finding a vole in the trap. What am I supposed to do with it then? Yuck! And what if the poor creature is not dead but only crippled. Or horror of horrors, you are in the garden and hear the trap snap? Nope, can't do that one.

How not to get rid of voles is something I'm an expert on. I thought I had it all figured out. Voles have several tunnel entrances and exits. My husband Don had a new leaf blower with an attachment that fit over the end. The attachment had a long pointed tip, kind of like an elongated funnel. Ok, I could place that long tip into one hole and turn on the blower. Surely the terrified vole would come running out of one of the exits. But what was I to do then? I knew my instinct would be to run in the other direction.

Ah Ha! At the time we had a wonderful cat named Olive who was a fantastic hunter. She had only missed this one spot in the garden. I could hold Olive under one arm and blast the hole with the leaf blower with the other arm. As soon as the vole popped up out of the exit I would release Olive and she would take care of the final extermination.

Ready...Set...Go.... On when the blower, Olive freaked out, clawed her way up my side, shoulder, neck and tried to perch on my head. I ran around the yard shrieking like a banshee and the vole never even popped up for a look. Stupid vole.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sproing!!! (well it ain't Spring yet)

A lone crocus, saffron gold, wide open to catch the sunrays brought such joy to my aching heart. Yesterday's walk-about hammered home an important fact. It ain't spring yet.

The constant melt and freeze of the left over snow on our gravel driveway created huge sheets of ice. Even in the afternoon when the ice has melted, the water has nowhere to go so it just re-freezes overnight.

Viola "Bowles Black" was a gift from a garden friend several years ago. A single plant in a 3" pot it now has seeded itself sporadically across a 4' patch of the garden. On New Years day when the temperatures were mild there were quite a few blooms on this sweetheart. Yesterday's blooms were so tiny and shriveled that one could almost see them shivering, yet, the promise is there.

The Hellebores are a wonder to me. Hellebore foetidus is so heavily laden with buds that it bows down under their weight. Another promise to come, blooms will be here as soon as Mother Nature gives smiles upon us and gifts us with some gentle winds. It's almost too good to be true when one considers the beauty of the Hellebore foliage through out the rest of the growing season.

Looking carefully beyond (and trying to ignore) the carpets of chickweed I was amazed at the tapestry of winter foliage. Oenothera, the common Evening primrose has the most beautiful burgundy winter foliage. The rosettes hug the ground and spill across harsh, frozen soil.

Grayish green, the Arabis albida "Snow cap" has clambered along the new stone walls braving any weather conditions thrown its way. Just beyond the Arabis, peeping out from the dingy snow the spiky glaucus blue of the Dianthus "Doris". "Doris" might not have been the prettiest Dianthus for sale at the nursery but my middle name is Doris so of course she had to come home with me.

Hamamelis "Arnold Promise" is another late winter wonder along with all the other fabulous witch hazels. My own shrub should be renamed 'Arnold's Punishment' as it has refused to bloom for the past two years. The punishment is well deserved as I forced it to live a miserable existence in its little gallon pot along side the shed for 3 years. Just up the road at my friend Gianna's house, "Arnold Promise" is about 15 feet tall, covered in the most glorious yellow blooms and their intoxicating scent welcomes you before you even cross the property line.

Back in the house, I find myself curled up on the sofa with a huge stack of gardening books next to me. In the dead of winter I can't get enough prose. Give me pages and pages of words to stoke the dreams of my mind. Now though I want photos. Tons and tons of pictures that are chock full of color.

The wait for spring is unbearable, a physical ache. Just a few days or weeks away, around some hidden corner, spring must be waiting for us.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Melanie's Old Country Garden

Hello World!

With a feeling similar to stepping out on a gangplank, I find myself here facing a blank page. Those of you who know me from various lists will agree that I do like to write down my thoughts. The rest of you hopefully will follow along and become new friends.

As the Title of my blog states, I am a gardener. Oh, that's not all, there's many things going on in my life but gardening is the passion that rules my heart and fills my senses with an indescribable joy. I could not ignore the other parts of my life, my husband Don, my girls Lauren and Emily, my wonderful Mom Carla and so many others. Yet, the main ingredient of this blog will always center around gardening.

It probably would have been smart of me to read a few other blogs before stepping into this endeavor but the need, the urge to write was too strong. Forgive me for any faux-paux that might be committed here.

Starting at the beginning would probably be a good idea. A quick overview wouldn't hurt either. I am a stay at home Mom who does quite a bit of garden lecturing, writing and photography as a small side business. Make that quite small, I'm happy if I earn enough money to fund this obsession of mine. With the need for hardscape in the garden, decks, wall stones and more, I hope to enlargen this business some day.

My garden is quite large for where we live. Here on the north shore of Long Island New York, we are surrounded by many typical surburban lots consisting of 1/4 to 1/3 acres. With luck, we found an area that still has some large parcels although many are being covered with new homes. Our own lot, is 1.3 acres. Roughly 130' wide and maybe 460' deep. Trees surround us, one neighbor has let her property go "natural", and the other side belongs to the town and is filled with wild Cherry Trees, Oaks, Maples and of course, the everpresent poison ivy.

It took two years of searching before we settled here in the summer of 1997. The house although quite charming, did not meet all of our "must have's" on the list but the large piece of property, plenty of full sun and inground sprinkler system was too good to pass up. Throw in the fact that there was a bathroom in the yard (called a Cabana by the real estate folks but more like a shed with a toilet) and there was no way we were going to walk away from this diamond in the rough.

The house was built in 1960, coincidently the same year as me :-) Modeled on an old Williamsburg Colonial, it has a wonderful stone facade, slate and oak floors, plaster walls and cast iron radiators. The old formica bathrooms though come nowhere near quaint or charming and I have to admit that they haven't been changed one bit. The gardens though... now there's where all the changes have happened.

1.3 acres, a paradise for a girl who grew up in Queens on a tiny postage stamp sized lot. I'm the first gardener to have moved into this house. The property most likely was a potato farm before this house was built here. Flat and not a tree around. The previous owners made the usual mistakes, foundation plantings that were not meant to stay low growing (yews and Rhododendrons), a smattering of Silver Maples that have become enormous and love to drop limbs here and there and the best feature of all, a Wisteria. Only problem was they had planted the Wisteria smack in the middle of the sunny 3/4 acre front lawn and proceded to treat it like a shrub. Continuosly cut back to a 3' height, it sent up many new shoots and was trimmed into the oddest ball shape. Luckily for me, they had moved a slip over to the side of the property and planted it at the base of a large telephone pole beside our driveway. With much judicious pruning from my husband Don, it now looks like a lovely tree and once it leafs out, people don't even realize that there is a telephone pole there.

At this point I don't know if I should continue with history or get into some real dirt. The real dirt, gardening is calling so strongly that I think the history will have to wait and get woven into this tapesty, my new blog, sometime in future posts.

Passion, Obsession, or what? I don't know if there is a word strong enough to describe the need to be in the garden. The obsession of a plant-a-holic, to have everything there is to be had growing in ones garden.

Up until recently I was a confirmed perennial plant freak. That's not to say that I'm no longer into perennials. Oh no, instead my passion has morphed and grown, kind of like the blob to encompase more, More, MORE of the plant world. Finally the realization that there is enough room here to go above and beyond perennials has sunk in. Last year shrubs were added like crazy, tropicals tried out in the many containers that are scattered about and thanks to two friends, even a tentative foray into the ornamental tree scene.

Collectoritis, that says it all. If I have a plant that I like and there are more types of it available, then I just must try others. More success only means more plants until I wonder at the array of growing material here. Daylily hybrids easily claim the top of the ladder. With about 600 different varieties, I just can't say no to another one. Hosta come next with just over 100 named plants. Sedum hold firmly to third place but from there the list gets misty. Close your eyes and throw a dart, your likely to hit a Heuchera, Pulmonaria, Nepeta, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Dicentra, or a dozen other collections.

The driveway here is shaped like an elongated letter S and runs about 270 feet long. The beginning is edged in natural boulders that came from when the house foundation was built. That area is shaded by Oaks and one cursed Maple so naturally the borders there are for shade plants that will tolerate dry conditions and roots.

Further down the driveway is full sun (or close to it) on one side and 1/2 day sun on the other side. The perennial borders there are about 120 feet long and range from 6 feet wide to 12 feet wide. That number will change as soon as the ground is ready to be rototilled!

Behind our house was a yard that was a source of embarresment for many years. With the worst landscaping plans possible, the previous owner put a huge rectangular pool smack in the middle of the 1/2 acre space. What more could he do wrong? How about an enormous cement patio around the pool, angled at the front end so it looks like a large battle ship. Still not convinced of the ugly factor? Add a brick patio on the back of the house shaped like the United States of America. Yup, it really looks just like that. There's a big round area for Texas, a jutting side for California, a lip around the Bilco basement door that makes a perfect Maine and a path to the cabana for Florida. To keep it all in perspective, the battleship concrete patio is sailing right into the Gulf of Mexico. Now use a brick that's not frost proof so it shatters and chips like crazy and surround the pool with a white chainlink fence and you might get the picture.

Last year was a huge milestone around here. With the larger part of the yard now fenced in, we finally cut the white chainlink fence out. The back half of the pool has a new huge bed that's walled with wall stone, complete with huge flat stone steps.

An old seedling bed behind the pool has been turned into an amazing semi-formal herb garden. The walkway covered with crushed shells collected from our beaches looks like fallen petals from flowering trees.

The compost heap was disguised with pier pilings that a local person was having ripped out of their new yard. They became the basis for a sweeping semi shade garden that is not dry but can actually be kept moist! The new plant material I can collect for there is mind boggling.

With hopes and dreams of adding another rock garden at the front end of the pool this spring, the urge to get out there and dig is almost unbearable. Yet, the snow is still on the ground and the ten day forecast doesn't have temperatures rising out of the 40's. So dreaming is still the only way to garden and writing here will hopefully be another.

The urge has actually become too stong, boots and a warm jacket are beckoning. Just imagine what might be waiting for me out there. Snowdrops, buds on the Hellebores, the intoxicating smell of the Witch Hazel, the call of the birds returning from South.... till later,