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The First Fall Clean Up Day

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At least the first major clean up. We have been puttering around doing little odd jobs, but today it begins in earnest. I have been researching the long term effects of using pine needles to mulch areas of the plant beds in the back of the house. Today I wanted to gather pine needles to create a winter bed over the rhododendrons and the azaleas. This analysis that I found a while back is what prompted me to look into pine needle mulching in certain areas. We certainly have enough pine needles.

carpet of pine needles

The leaves are just starting to come down. Add to that, the grass under the shrubs and around the raspberry bushes needs its final cutting of the year. We use a clear bag method to collect green material, brown material, and pine needles. Then, using the county rake and take program to be matched to a neighbor we divide the bags to use in our compost piles. Getting that right mix of browns and greens. This is our second year doing rake and take. We get enough from our trees to keep many compost piles going. If you want a way to see your leaves put to good use, consider contacting rake and take.

As for the rest of my clean up I went into my neglected garden to start pulling out the tomato cages, and to bag the tomato plants to take deep into the woods to leave them. They do not get into the compost bins, as they can spread disease from year to year. For example, from late blight. I hadn’t been out there for two weeks, and surprise, there were dozens of green tomatoes all over the garden.

I think I will put these away in a paper bag and let them get close to ripening, then make one last batch of green tomato pasta with pesto.

Tonight dinner will be fairly simple. Although we had to resort to plan B. I had intended to pop a chicken in the crockpot to cook while we were working outside. They don’t make them like they used to. The crockpot gave up the ghost. Would not let me program the temperature and turn on.

As soon as you let up on the button, the lights went out. And, you could not advance it to the longer low cooking times. Thankfully, I never gave up my original crockpot from my first apartment thirty some years ago. You know, one of these antiques.

So, I loaded it up with half a chicken in tomato garlic sauce, over collard greens and onions. Let it go, and soon dinner will be ready. This chicken is falling off the bone, and I started it at 10 am, directly from the freezer. The best way to cook chicken.

Now I need to find a good programmable replacement crockpot as ours gets lots of work making soups, stews and chili. This old one is too small to do brisket, or turkey, which we like to make also. I also like the programmable options not found on my original. I am glad I kept it around though, to save the day today. Off to dinner and to watch Monday night football.


The Garden After the Rain

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Besides the rhododendron, this is the time the trees and shrubs are the best present springtime brings us here in this area. We are graced with some mature, immensely beautiful specimens throughout our yard and garden. We spend the time to prune, feed and protect these lovely gifts of nature, and after today’s rain they are awesome.

The mock orange shrub out by the well is gearing up to blaze us with white and yellow flowers.

Mock Orange

The kousa dogwoods are blooming earlier than they usually do.

Kousa Blossoms

Although they make me nervous at the weight of the branches from the rain. We carefully prune them every year but they are growing like crazy because of all the rain the past year.

All of the plants are growing well due to the weather, a mild winter and enough rain.

The tangelo azalea. Fragile, delicate and so pretty.

Why I love living here in the spring time!

And so do my frogs, who jumped in the pond just as I snapped their picture, hidden under the lace maple.

Spring in West County! Ready to plant the veggies this weekend, and enjoying the flowers.

They’re Baackk!!

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The wild asparagus returns! After being MIA for two weeks, I noticed their presence today.

There are three spears at the moment. Two white ones and a larger green one. Maybe a few more will pop out before the weekend.

Plus, the mint is going nuts again, just in time for the Kentucky Derby. Sounds like a mint julep party Saturday night on the patio.

Anyone can grow mint. It is essentially a weed. Get a pot and put some in. The Howard County Farmer’s Markets open next week and there will be vendors selling plants. Mint is extremely easy to grow. I put it in iced tea, use it in salads and over veggies, like zucchini, and my personal favorite, watermelon, feta and mint salad. I leave the pots out all winter and every spring the mint comes back. DO NOT put in in the ground or it will spread like mad and take over your other plants.

As for the tomato plants, they are hanging out waiting until this weekend to be planted. I think we might be lucky and get them in the ground before Mother’s Day. So is the basil.

I did plant lavender, tarragon and marjoram today, along with some plugs of cutting flowers. The herb garden is filling in nicely. The ability to cut fresh herbs for dinner is so convenient, and they just add something special to meals. I also toss a few leaves on the grill while grilling to fill the air with the scent of herbs.

As for the non edibles out there, the rhododendron are blooming finally.

I am thrilled this year. Dozens of blooms instead of just a few. This is one of my two bushes. The other is behind the tree. For me, having flowers in bloom all spring and summer is a lovely backdrop while dining on the patio. Beats that view of the parking lot at most restaurants. 😉

The tangelo azalea finally bloomed.

This is the first of a number of blooms on this plant. It is my favorite azalea in the yard. And, it is fragile so I baby it every winter.

The markets open next week. There will be plant and flower vendors at every market. If you don’t want herbs, at least get a basket of loveliness to put outside of your home. The bees will thank you for it. Like our carpenter bees who are living under our deck. Pollinators help your garden. We can’t lose them from our environment.


Hoping the Weather Changes

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This crazy spring, full of frost warnings and heat waves, has done a number on the plants. At least many of them seem to have survived the changes and are still on their schedule to bloom. I still have the tomato plants inside though. And, the delicate herbs. The weather in West HoCo is just a little cooler than Ellicott City or Columbia. We also are at 630 feet above sea level, one of the higher points in the county with little asphalt to retain heat overnight, so we get more frost warnings.

The spring flowers keep blooming, despite the strange weather. I noticed yesterday that my candy stripe azaleas were beginning to pop open.

I have two of this variety, and though they are a little spindly, they really do add a nice touch of color to the yard. They bloom much later than the others, like my red varieties.

The tangelo azalea is much further behind, and should burst next week. This variety is closer to the rhododendrons in size. It is being dwarfed at the moment by a volunteer burning bush that I have to prune way back this fall. It is at least protecting it from wind and frost damage, though.

As for the rhododendrons, they are coming along nicely and will soon burst open. One lonely bloom has been the vanguard.

Another isn’t far behind. This year I have the most blooms on the two plants. There are dozens of them instead of the 6-8 on each plant that I got other years. I think all the rain last fall made them happy.

We bought our house in the winter and didn’t know until spring just how many plants and flowers we had and what varieties they were. Every April, May and June we have the luxury of blooming flowers and trees. I don’t really need to visit Brighton Dam for azaleas as we have beauty in our back yard.

What’s blooming now where you live?

Update on Brighton Dam Azalea Gardens

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Today on my way to Boarman’s, I detoured to see how the azaleas are doing.

I think they are pretty close to their peak right now. The gardens are absolutely lovely and today for 30 minutes, I was the only one there.

Well, except for our pollinating friends.

There are so many varieties there. I can’t pick my favorite but this one comes close. I love the yellow tint in the center of the flower.

Some of the flowers have fallen, the earlier blooming varietals. And, some haven’t even opened yet.

If you go during the week, you can have the entire picnic area to yourself.

Except for the workers down at the dam.

It is such a lovely spring day, this is the place to be.

The views from here are worth the drive out Brighton Dam Rd. They are open every day.


Brighton Dam Azalea Gardens

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The perfect place to spend Sunday afternoon. The azaleas are peaking early this year. There may not be much left in May.

We headed out to grab some food at Boarman’s including a couple of pulled pork sandwiches and iced tea to have a picnic and walk the gardens. Took along the cooler to put the rest of the groceries in, so we were consolidating shopping, dining and exercising.

The gardens were established when I was a very little girl. My parents brought us out here countless times to walk the five acres of gardens.

They are located on the Montgomery County side of the reservoir, and besides the gardens there is a rec area with picnic tables. On the rec area side is the only place you can have food, drink and pets. Most were just strolling, enjoying, taking pics like me, and just taking in the beauty of a spring day.

We found a few of our pollinating friends enjoying it too.

There are some very lovely specimens in colors other than the normal ones you see in azaleas, like this one, almost an apricot.

A few side paths were squeezed by the sheer size of the bushes, some of which are more than 50 years old.

We wandered for about an hour before returning to the car, just as things were beginning to get crowded. Go early or go during the week to avoid crowds.

This is one of our area’s best spring traditions and a fun day you can spend without paying anything. Take a picnic, wear your sneakers, bring your camera, and enjoy the flowers.