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Summer Weather Observations 2011 – Can You Say HOT?

As part of the July Newsletter Summer Weather Challenge, we looked back to the Summer Series Weather Observation Challenge from last year.

Roses Summer
Our roses love the heat and this is our Disneyland Rose…sweet fragrance.

July weather is always hot but this year we have had alternating weeks of HOT and then cooling off to the 80’s. It makes for a nice mix of summer weather. The garden likes the heat but once the temperatures heat up we need to water our garden everyday. We don’t get much in the way of rain in the months of July and August and our heat does not bring any humidity with it.

Mullein Summer
The mullein this year is really TALL.

The nights are cool so we can expect to have cool breezes sometime in the night that are our natural air conditioning. We do most of our cooking outdoors this time of year, either on the grill or our outdoor oven. This keeps the kitchen cooler and we don’t have to run the a/c.

Front Yard Butterfly Bush and Yarrow Summer
The yarrow, lavender, and butterfly bushes are full of bees.

We decided to complete these two activities from last year’s challenge:

  • 1. Use some of your outdoor time to take temperature readings on your thermometer at sunrise (or early morning), noon, and then again at sunset. Record these temperatures, making comparisons. You can also use your outdoor time to use the suggested observations using your senses as noted in the box above.
  • 2. Get up early and watch the sunrise. Note the place where the sunrises by observing something on the horizon such as a tree, a building, a mountain, or something else that can serve as a landmark for the sunrise. Do the same thing at sundown, finding a landmark to note.

Here are our statistics.
6 AM 59 degrees and 76% humidity
Noon 74 degrees and 52% humidity
4 PM 83 degrees and 32% humidity

Sunrise at 5:53 AM and Sunset at 8:25 PM

Don’t forget to make your own Summer Weather Observations and submit your entry to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival.

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Front Yard Remodel Update July 2011

3 28 11 Front Yard (5)

Front Yard March 28, 2011

Front Yard Summer

Front Yard July 20, 2011

Wow! Can you believe how much the plants have grown and filled in the space? It is amazing to see a garden come alive….from your ideas, to paper, to real life.

I love gardening.

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Planning a Garden and Watching it Grow

6 27 11 Garden Potted Hydrangeas

So as I walked through my garden this week I realized that having a garden is like watching an awakening of a new life. When we plant a seed, we know in our head that it will produce a particular kind of plant. After a period of time we know that it will grow into a flower or veggie. But have you stopped lately to consider just why it does that? That life comes from somewhere…it is not mere mechanics. I choose to give all the glory to the Master Gardener in heaven. Here are some of His creations that have come to life in my yard.

6 27 11 Sage

Sometimes I choose a plant because of its color, sometimes its fragrance, and sometimes its texture. My new Sage has it all…another bee loving plant in our remodeled frontyard. I love this plant and I hope it continues to grow right where it is in the middle of my walk-way plantings.

6 27 11 Red Hot Poker

This plant is Mr. A’s favorite and he asked if we could add it to the front yard when we were planning the new beds. This Red Hot Poker is a favorite of the hummingbirds. I actually thought it was dead this past winter because it didn’t look at all like it had any life left in it but here it is….glorious. You can see my English Lavender in the background as it is bursting with blossoms and bees.

6 27 11 Grapes on the Vine

Our grapes coming along strong. In fact, we had to cut them back already because they were overwhelming the corner of the garden where we sit in their shade. We have a couple varieties planted but I am pretty sure these are the Thompson seedless…good eating grapes.

6 27 11 Garden Sunflowers

Sunflowers by the dozens are all starting to form in our bee garden. Wake up sunflowers!

6 27 11 Tomatoes

Tomatoes are green but hold the promise of being sweet juicy morsels soon.

6 27 11 Pumpkins!

Pumpkins in the Three Sisters Garden are growing by the minute. We had a few days of hot hot weather and they loved it. I am thrilled they are looking so great!

6 27 11 Coneflowers

We have coneflowers that are almost taller than I am this year.I think the buds are almost as pretty as the flowers but the bees are waiting on the real thing.

6 27 11 Green Beans on the Pole
Our pole beans are holding on tight and climbing towards the summer sky. I swear I put the poles in and the next day they were already half way up….I need to do a time lapse. My morning glories are doing the same thing out in the other garden.

6 27 11 Butterfly Bush Purple

The Butterfly bush is going to be in full bloom soon. We planted three new bushes this year and I love the graceful way they grow. I am not a tidy gardener so it is fine with me that they sort of grow as they wish. My garden this year is by far the most free-flowing of all gardens. I decided it is more fun not to try to control everything.

6 27 11 Garden Hydrangeas

One last hydrangea image….especially for my hydrangea loving friend Tricia.

Hope you enjoyed your stroll through our gardens this week. We had two inches of rain last night so I am glad that I got out and took the photos a few days ago. We never get that much rain in June so it continues to be an unusual year here in Northern California.

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Garden Focus: Bees, Birds, and Color….with Veggies Too

Hummingbird Feeder and Potted Plants
Flowers in Pots Attract the Bees and Hummingbirds…Easy to Maintain

My goals this year for our garden are a little different than those in the recent past. I usually focus on growing veggies and accent with flowers. This year I am going to be a rebel and do the exact opposite. I am growing color and accenting with edibles. I am hoping for more of an “artist’s garden” this year, providing a space to sit with watercolors and colored pencils and oil pastels on those long hot summer afternoons. Sometimes a garden is more than just for growing food, healing and refreshing us with its beauty and vitality. Of course, you can really call it a “bee garden” since the focus has been on flowers that will attract bees, birds, and/or butterflies.

Our deck usually has some herbs and a few veggies in pots, keeping them close for the dinner time crunch. It is a great plan and I will do the same this year with two tomatoes and some basil.

5 7 11 Hummingbirds (2)
We have had a lot of hummingbird traffic at our two feeders as well as the colorful flowers.

I am keeping just a few flowers on the deck and most of them will be to try to entice the hummingbirds up to the feeders. Red geraniums, bright daisies, and a hummingbird favorite lantana or two. I started my zinnia seeds and much to my surprise I found a pot full of milkweed growing already over in the corner. Seeds and seedlings are all tucked in ready to go. We are planning on studying our geraniums along with the Handbook of Nature Study (Lesson #163) this summer.

Back in the main veggie garden I am going to be growing pole beans…Kentucky Wonders. I am dreaming of the green towers of vines and the never-ending picking that will come as the summer progresses.

Bee Balm
Lots and lots of Bee Balm growing in the butterfly garden.

What will be missing are many of the water thirsty plants that I usually have that yield very little in proportion to the effort like bell peppers.I have lots of great plants that are well established that will give color without a lot of work.

Flower Box - Coneflowers Daisies
These are coneflowers, chrysanthemums, and daisies from last year. I will fill in the empty spots with seeds.

The boxes this year are filled in with coneflowers and zinnias, dahlias and daisies. The bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are going to be having a party all summer long out there. I love having a cutting garden to fill oodles of vases indoors.

New Garden - WIP
We ended up transplanting a few daylilies to the front of the box and the rest is waiting for me to come finish planting the sunflower seeds. Thunderstorm rolled in this day and I had to give up.

My new garden space is coming together and the seeds are almost all in the ground. We had a composting problem and somehow a load was dumped in the garden space with un-composted rotten potatoes so we are sifting through again to get those out before planting the Three Sisters Garden (pumpkins, corn, and beans). The pumpkins, corn, and sunflowers will also be part of our summer nature study using the Handbook of Nature Study.

Garden 5 6 11 Zucchini
Happy Squash.

I have four zucchini seedlings happily growing in their new spot and the sunflowers are all showing signs of sprouting as the garden comes alive.

Garden Front Yard 5 6 11 (20)
Looks a little different than the last time…now the lavender is the predominant plant, along with the blooming dogwood.

I am hoping that I don’t regret our decision to shift our garden focus this year but as with anything we can always change things back next year. We have a wonderful Farmer’s Market in our town where we can put our hands on any veggies we decide we need. Still eating healthy and with local produce….an important goal in our family.

That is this week’s garden update… week hopefully I will share our Three Sisters Garden.

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Front Yard Remodel: Removing the Lawn – Spring Season

Last year we decided to relandscape the frontyard to get rid of the lawn. Our city raised the water and sewer rates extremely high (over double) and it just didn’t seem right to keep that green lawn year-round anymore. I had myself convinced long ago to make the change to a less water thirsty landscape but my husband loved his green grass. He changed his mind after the first $$$ water bill we received.

Here is what our yard looked like in August 2010.

Front Yard Summer 2010

At first we were just going to slowly remove parts of the lawn and plant natives and drought resistant shrubs. This was the first attempt at our remodel, planting more lavender and sage.

8 29 10  Excavator Work

Soon though, my husband got motivated and decided to excavate some terraces with a friend’s heavy equipment. This meant building a block wall and then eventually a walkway made with pavers. This was a huge learning experience and we didn’t always enjoy the process but we did like the way it looked. It meant removing a messy magnolia tree from the yard but we replaced it with a dogwood. This was late August 2010.

Frontyard remodel 9 4 10

The planting part is always fun and makes it feel like you are making progress.I don’t know how we would have accomplished this huge project without the help of all the children. My daughter is the paver expert and came to help us make all the curves and cuts just right. The boys were lots of help in moving plants around, helping to find just the right arrangement. This was September 4, 2010.

10 4 10  (2)

This was on October 4, 2010. Amanda and her dad are building the upper walkway that goes around to the side of our house. I use this walkway now to come from the backyard to the front when I fill the birdfeeders.

Front yard remodel 11 5 10 (3)

We had a mild autumn so we were able to finish most of our plans before the bad weather hit. This was taken November 5, 2010. We were installing a birdfeeding station…a total and complete success and the birds have been visiting every day since then.

3 28 11 Front Yard (2)

This was taken on March 28, 2011. The yellow daffodils really perked up the yard and we decided that we made a great choice in paver color.

We did have to totally replace our front deck in the process because of rotted wood. This was the only part of the project that we hired someone to help us with since it meant removing the entrance to our house and reworking the stairs. My husband’s friend is a contractor and he had the job done in a day.

3 28 11 Front Yard (5)

The grasses we planted in the autumn did not make it through the winter. We decided to replace them with yarrow. You can see the dogwood tree here in this image..we are eagerly waiting for it to bloom and get some leaves. My dear husband gathered some granite boulders from a friend’s land and brought them home for some added interest to the front walk. I am hoping to get one more big one if the opportunity arises.

4 26 11 frontyard remodel (1)

Here we are today on April 26, 2011. The daffodils are done and the lavender is coming alive with purple. My favorite part of the yard right now is the California lilac that is blooming on either side of the deck stairs.

4 26 11 frontyard  (6)

You can see it better in this image.

We have put a lot of hard work into this project and it continues to evolve as the seasons go by. We are anxious to see how it looks as the plants grow and the trees get leaves.

One last quick change we are making is to paint the shutters on the front of the house brown. You can see in the images above that we have one set painted. We were thinking we wanted them to be red but they ended up looking pink instead. My husband then found this brown and I think it is going to be a good match to tie into the deck and the yard. (They were white and blended in too much to the yellow of our house.) I am not sure about the front door color now…it is a nice shade of green but it may end up painted a nice brown as well.

We are now totally drought resistant in the frontyard. I am hoping we can get by with one really good watering a week, depending on the weather.

List of plants:
California lilac
Moonshine yarrow
Spanish and English lavender
Smoke tree
Dogwood tree
California poppies (not blooming yet)
Red Hot Poker
Sage – can’t remember the varieties
Day lilies – Stella Oro (these are planted amongst the daffodils)
Butterfly bush – purple and white
Blackberry vines – left these since they grow between our house and the neighbors
Crepe myrtles – two colors
Agapanthus (left from previous landscaping-waiting to see how they grow with little watering)
Heavenly bamboo (left from previous landscaping-also seeing how this goes)
Adding a redbud (have a coupon that I will use this weekend)

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Creating a Bee Habitat Garden – Suggestions and Ideas

We are starting to build our new garden area to replace a huge portion of our backyard lawn area. It has been a dream of mine to take the water-hungry lawn out and replace it with color and attractive plants for birds, bees, and butterflies. My husband and I finally agreed on a plan and we started a week or so ago to build the first two garden boxes from recycled blocks that came out of our frontyard remodel last fall. We are on a limited budget for this project so we are reusing materials we have on hand and it is going to be a long range plan to add more as we have time and money. We did end up purchasing and hauling in a yard of garden soil that we added some of our homemade compost to so we could fill up our boxes. We didn’t use the complete yard of soil in the boxes but used the balance to top off our vegetable garden boxes and fill two pots for patio tomatoes.

4 18 11 New Lavender
Here is the first square which will anchor the whole project. We found some lavender on sale at Home Depot and we added four plants…..bees no extra charge. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that there are bees on these blossoms every day, at all times of the day.

4 11 Dandelions
We also have loads of bees in the dandelions over on the other end of the yard. I counted quite a number of bees in the yellow blossoms as I sat and enjoyed their cheerfulness one afternoon. My husband is not convinced to keep the dandelions and wants to pull them up. I asked him to wait a bit and then he can mow them over.

4 11 New Boxes with Lawn
Mr. B is my garden helper these days and we enjoy spending time outdoors together.

The larger box is going to hold my sunflowers and zinnias. I am including the Lemon Sunflowers in this box as part of the Great Sunflower Project. I was reading on their website about their change this year and they have added quite a number of other flowers to the project so you can count bees in your area.

If you want to check it out, click over and read on their website but it looks like you can count bees on include Bee balm, Cosmos, Rosemary, Tickseed, and Purple coneflower.

The two brown piles of leaf compost that you can see in the image above are going to become part of another bee garden that we may get to this year. The link will take you to Renee’s Garden where she has collaborated with the Great Sunflower Project on a list of bee attractive plants for your garden.

The only other part we are planning on planting this spring is the Three Sisters Garden that will be a long row parallel to the sidewalk just behind where my son is working in the image above. The Three Sisters are pumpkins, corn, and beans that you plant as companions. I am excited just thinking about this part of the garden!!!

I am anxious to add in a few things as we have time and the weather warms up. My husband keeps telling me he doesn’t see my vision for the yard but I told him to have faith and see what evolves. At the bottom of the post are the seeds that I am planting in the new larger box if you are interested.

That is what we accomplished this week in our new garden project but here are a few of our on-going bee/butterfly/hummingbird habitat garden projects that are a work in progress.

4 18 11 Butterfly Garden with notes
We have been working on this section of the garden for a few years now and it is filling in and growing more beautiful with each passing season.

4 18 11 New Moonshine Yarrow
In our front yard we added some Moonshine Yarrow….this has become another favorite of the bees this spring. I am anxious to see how it grows over the summer since it says it needs very little water.

New Yard Art - Metal Butterfly and Rocks

I have to share my new yard art piece that my dear husband found for me. It is a metal butterfly balanced on top of a pole with river rocks stacked. It is the perfect piece for our front yard. I love the way it moves in the slightest breeze and is a great addition to the look of the front yard. I decided it is all about movement…the grasses, the forsythia, the butterfly bushes, and now the sculpture.

I have enjoyed reading all the entries over on Jami’s blog An Oregon Cottage as part of her Tuesday Garden Party. Welcome to all who have clicked over to read my entry!
I welcome all readers to subscribe to my blog…see the sidebar for a place to enter your email.

Jami’s Tuesday Garden Party meme is open from Tuesday to Thursday so there is still time for you to jump in and participate!

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Nature Study by “Natural Methods”

12 3 10 birds and trees (10)

I really, really meant to post a mini-Challenge today for us all to complete this week but the day is over and here I am sitting at my computer wondering what happened to my good intentions.

So I will share a quote and some photos from my day instead, perhaps it will inspire you to get outdoors this week and have an adventure you can share with me.

“Nature Study is natural study, that is, studying by natural methods. It is intellectual, physical and moral development by and through purposeful action and reaction upon environment, guided, so far as need by, by the teacher…..Information comes from Nature Study, and that or enjoyment, usually both, may be what the child seeks; but from the teacher’s point of view the vitally important part of the lesson is the series of activities put forth by the child.”

The Nature Study Course, by John Dearness. 1905.

I have been thinking about this idea for a couple of weeks now and it is poking at my heart. I tend to guide too much and insert my thinking too much when we are observing and researching things we come across in our outdoor life. So maybe not having a mini-challenge is the challenge this week. Spend time outdoors with my boys, reacting to our outdoor setting, allowing them room to put in some effort…..another challenge for me.

Here are some photos from my day to round out this first Friday in December post.

12 3 10 birds and trees (11)
Brown leaves falling on my new rock garden…it makes for a wonderful scene from my front window.

12 3 10 birds and trees (13)
Plenty of leaves clinging to the big tree in the side yard.

Autumn red…should be a Crayola Crayon color.

12 3 10 birds and trees (2)
The birches with their bright yellow leaves stand out brilliantly against the dreary autumn sky.

12 3 10 birds and trees (26)
View from under the deck…with some green leaves on the vine. My husband’s metal butterfly sculpture makes a great silhouette don’t you think? I love the little curly-q’s on the vine that you can see now that much of the foliage has fallen off. Looks like doodles and I may just have to doodle them into my nature journal.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and spend some time outdoors with your children. I just checked our weather forecast and it says cloudy/showers for the whole weekend. Sigh.

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November Sunny Afternoon

Fall Trees

We had a glorious day yesterday in our part of the world. I heard it was in the 70’s! We took advantage of the weather and spent time working on our frontyard remodel project. Our sweet gums are starting to become a riot of color, turning red and orange overnight.

Almost Finished Front Yard
We are getting very close to being finished. I know I keep promising a post sharing what we have done but I want to wait until the project is completed before tackling that post. We put down weed block because we were already getting some grass sprouting with our last rains. The rocks are a work in progress….we keep rearranging them as we finish the planting.

New Pathway
I think this is the last of the hardscape going in which is a path up to my faucet and around to the backyard. I will be planting bulbs around the edges of the blocks as soon as they arrive in the mail.

Leaf on the Steps
The leaves are falling gently and this one landed on the step… the yellow contrast with the blue/green tiles.

Bird Feeder Station
The birds were loving the idea that they are getting a new feeding station. The red/orange bush on the left is our new smoke tree and Mr. A is planting rosemary around the base of the pole.

Sparrows in the Garden 2
Here is one bird that I was able to catch in mid-song the other day in the backyard.

Sparrows in the Garden 1
They enjoy the sunshine as much as we do I think.

This morning we woke up to rain….pouring rain. I am sitting inside with my cup of coffee and shopping for seeds. I know that nothing perks me up more than thinking and planning for the next summer’s garden. We are hoping to finish the front yard and turn our attention to a whole new garden project in the backyard. I am going to be concentrating on flowers and colors so my garden will be filled with lots of things to draw and paint.

Where is my favorite online source for flower seeds? Renee’s Garden of course! I dare you to pop over there and not feel better even just looking at her front page. What is on my shopping list? Zinnias, sunflowers, dahlias, hollyhocks, and California poppies. I want color!

Oh, I want to share something else I have been meaning to write about on this blog. I have recently started reading and receiving the Herbal Roots Zine.

If you haven’t seen Kristine’s web page or seen any of her monthly zines, I highly recommend them as a great way to incorporate nature study into your month. This month she is featuring sage which happens to be something new we planted in our front yard…two different kinds. I now know a lot more about this very interesting plant. I will write a review of one of the issues soon so stay tuned for that.

That is the news from my world. Hope you are having a great autumn weekend and are doing some weather observations for this week’s challenge.

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Butterfly Beauty

Butterfly in the tree 2

Over the last few weeks we have seen lots of these beautiful butterflies in our garden.

It is a California Sister or Adelpha californica which is found in oak habitats. These butterflies are not shy and they will flutter right around your head, swooping down to tease you. Today when we were watching another California Sister, a bird tried to fly down and catch it but we learned how *fast* these butterflies can move if they have to!

Our front yard has quite a few butterflies this month since we added several new butterfly attractive plants during our remodel. I will soon share a post with all the updates.

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Garden Update-September 6th 2010

8 31 10 Garlic chive blossoms
I have been neglecting my garden. I confess it and I admit it. The herbs are going to blossom and then seed because I am not cutting them regularly. (These are garlic chives.)

8 31 10 strawberries again
My strawberry patch turned brown because of lack of water but here it is coming back to life after two weeks of daily attention.

8 5 10 Blooming Pink Cactus
Okay…is this the prettiest little pink flower ever? I filled a couple of empty pots up with some sort of succulents from Home Depot at the beginning of the summer. I did not realize when I got this one that it would have these pretty flowers come the August heat. Gorgeous. There were about ten flowers blooming at a time on each of the plants. Wish I could remember what kind of plant this is and I would give it to all my friends. I will have to check Home Depot next time I am there.

Lemon sunflower (3)
Our sunflowers this year were quite disappointing. They bloomed for a day or two and then immediately turned brown and shriveled up. After last year’s bumper crop, we felt like we hardly had any at all to count bees on for the Great Sunflower Project. This is the Lemon Sunflower which I have come to love for its big yellow petals.

We are still picking tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini from our garden but nearly as many as normal. The squirrels are eating or dropping all the walnuts from the tree and making a huge mess. I have already started my fall garden clean-up which is very early for us.

Our attention has been in our front yard, remodeling to remove the water thirsty grass and replacing it with plants that need less water. We removed a tree and put in a retaining wall while we were at it.

Here is the before photo:
Frontyard remodel taking the tree down

Here is where we are now:
Frontyard remodel 9 4 10

We are hoping to finish the basics and fill in with plants and pavers as we have time and money. My husband and the boys are doing all the work themselves. I will write up some future entries with exactly the process we have worked through to get where we are in the remodel.

That wraps up this garden update. There is always something to do and something to plan for the garden isn’t there?