Just finished drawing the printable garden calendar page for April. I’m having a wonderful time creating this little project, and I’ve met gardeners from all over the world as they email to ask for the free pdf files. My 12-month calendar series is free for the asking — just send me a note with your email address and the pages will magically appear in your inbox. Now, on to May…
…and just in time for spring planting, here’s my first printable garden calendar page. (I’ll have April ready to post in a few days.) This is my little gift to the world, and I will gladly send a pdf file, as each new page is completed, to anyone who asks. March is ready for you this very minute, so drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org . Enjoy!
‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard, with its crinkled leaves and richly colored stems, is almost as much fun to draw as it is to eat. This year, instead of the traditional pot of New Year collards simmering on the stove, our first supper of 2012 was a chard and feta pie, incorporating ingredients from our winter garden. I love chard’s delicate spinach flavor and its prolific growing habit — plus, those lovely leaves are packed with Vitamins A, K, C and protein. And did I mention that fairies like it, as well?
This little drawing is colored pencil on acid-free vellum cardstock. Brilliant white with a smooth surface and a little more heft than drawing paper, premium cardstock makes a terrific sketching medium. Try it — you’ll be pleased.
I started with just my black-and-white graphite sketch of a young fairy and his mouse friend, printed it on vellum paper in archival ink… then I added multiple layers of rich colored pencil by hand, so that the finished image is a one-of-a kind original. In thanks to readers of The Illustrated Garden blog, I will make 20 of these artworks available for $40 apiece… each signed, numbered and matted in an acid-free 8×10 inch mat. I’ll also provide free shipping anywhere in the United States.
Oh! And one more thing… each piece of fairy art will come with a packet of heirloom herb or vegetable seeds from my garden, tucked inside a hand-embellished seed package. Email me to order.
Ahhh… Cooler temperatures are finally here, and the front-yard garden is thriving in the absence of oppressive heat and hungry insects. Broccoli and cabbages line the front walk, hemmed with a few multiplier onions and some sprawling purple petunias at one end. This bed was created in a single early October afternoon, by double-digging the existing topsoil with a spade and then hoeing in a two-inch layer of clean, crumbly black mushroom compost. (I use mushroom compost because human sewage sludge — delicately referred to as “biosolids” in the federal regulations that allow it to be lumped in as compost and sold to unsuspecting gardeners — is frequently lurking in commercial bagged manure products. Ewwww.)
At the far end, some Brussels sprouts snuggle up to a row of romaine lettuce. Next week, when the romaine is harvested, I’ll fill in their little slice of real estate with some yellow globe onions. After several years of large-scale gardening, I really love working on a more intimate scale… planting and transplanting just a few square feet at a time provides a constant parade of assorted produce. I probably need to exercise more self-control in this area, though. Does anyone really need nine varieties of lettuce? Salads, anyone?
Some of the aforementioned lettuces are in the “baby bed” next to the driveway. I set out seedlings very close together and they grew in a leafy mound that can be gradually eaten as the baby lettuces are thinned out, allowing the remaining plants to reach full size. These little fellows are Tango Early Oakleaf, Lolla Rosa and Red Sails, all from Good Scents Herbs and Flowers in Robertsdale, Alabama. In other beds are Deer Tongue, Arugula and Tom Thumb.
Gypsy sweet peppers, Buttercrunch lettuce, more Oakleaf, onions and giant mutant basil share one raised bed. Each bed is 4×4 and 10 inches high, filled with equal parts peat moss, mushroom compost and vermiculite. I use pine needles for mulch. Thanks to a trio of towering longleaf pines overhanging the yard, mulch falls conveniently out of the sky every day.
Meanwhile, the newer raised bed is home to Red Bor kale, Swiss chard, and some upwardly mobile heirloom snap peas on a scrounged-bamboo-and-Zip-tie trellis.
My backyard is small, and only a few precious spots receive the full sun that herb plants crave. Some of the sunniest real estate is a skinny strip against the south side of a storage shed. The peppermint in the background, doing its level best to climb out of a wooden crate, sprouted from a single cutting in August.
A pocket garden at one end of the shed has snap peas, bulb fennel, cardoon and a few leftover lettuces. And that protective fence embracing all the backyard plantings — the hardware store refers to it as rabbit wire, but it’s beagle wire to me.
Despite years and years spent in Girl Scouts, I never mastered the art of knot tying. Sheepshank, bowline, fisherman’s hitch — no matter which one I attempted, the end result was always something that resembled a very large, critically injured spider. So this week, when I needed a bamboo trellis along one end of a raised bed, I tried to think of ways to avoid lashing anything together.
The solution? Nylon zip ties, officially known as cable ties. They are durable, weatherproof, and can last for years. They are also cheap — around $3 for a package of 50 — and if you can’t find them in your local hardware store, you can get them at Amazon. (The traditional material for this purpose, waxed twine, starts around $10 per roll and requires six feet of twine for each knot.) I used 8″ black ties, which fit nicely around thumb-thick stalks of bamboo with a couple of inches left over to pull tight and snip off. They look like this:
One more tip: be sure to have your bamboo beagle-tested for strength and durability.
It’s been fun drawing the handiwork of a mockingbird architect. We take them for granted now, since they are so plentiful, but in the nineteenth century there was a thriving commercial mockingbird trade that nearly resulted in the bird’s disappearance in parts of the United States. Admired for their musical repertoire — a male mockingbird may learn 200 songs during his lifetime — they were popular cage birds, bringing as much as $50 apiece in northeastern cities.
(Although my neighborhood is often awash in mockingbird song, I appreciate these busy birds for another reason: they love the taste of tomato hornworms and patrol my vegetable patch every afternoon.)