Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dude and Billy: My Gardening Buddies

I'm never lonely when I'm gardening because I have my buddies nearby: Dude, a miniature horse, and Billy, a pigmy goat. The cottage garden is next to the large paddock and the kitchen garden shares a fence with their pasture. They stand by the fence that is closest to where I am working hoping I'll toss a tasty weed their way.

Please don't offend Dude by calling him a pony because, although pony-like in appearance, miniature horses are nevertheless small horses. Dude is 28 inches high. My mother bought him as my retirement gift when he was seven years old, more than 10 years ago. Dude is a triple registered miniature stallion with the registered name Amaretto's Top Dude. A very calm, friendly animal, you can do just about anything with him. His features aren't as refined as some miniature horses, but Dude is all about 'cute.'

Dude was seven years old when we first saw him.

As long as H.H. can remember there were horses at Astolat Farm -- he and his sister rode palominos when they were growing up here. Dude arrived when there were no other animals, therefore we were afraid that as an only child he would be lonely, especially as there were other minis at his previous home. H.H. found a pigmy goat to keep Dude company. Unfortunately, no one told Billy that pigmy goats are supposed to stay tiny like Dude. Billy just 'growed like Topsy.' It's hard to believe, looking at him now, what a cute little kid he was.

Billy came to Astolat a couple of months after Dude

Dude didn't take kindly to Billy at first, fearing he would take his food. When we put Billy in the stall, the horse pushed him (gently with  his nose) out of the stable and into the snow. This was repeated each time we returned the goat to the stall. We put a wooden crate in there as a place where Billy could go for safety. Eventually, Dude accepted him.

With the crate lid closed, Billy feels safe inside. He still squeezes into it today.

Billy began to follow Dude everywhere; now they are inseparable. We're sure Billy thinks Dude is his mother.

We always say we keep animals for the grandchildren but, unfortunately, because of allergies they don't spend too much time with them. We've had fun though, like the horse-themed birthday party I gave when Dude was ten years old. We invited all Dude's best friends including our grandchildren, our nephew and the children who come with their mother to deliver hay. They arrived with gifts of horse treats and carrots. The children played games like 'pin the tail on the mini horse' -- actually a picture of a donkey, but they used their imaginations. H.H. put a saddle over a hay bale and they took turns pretending to ride horse. They whacked a horse pinata hanging from the catalpa tree and scrambled for the candy that fell out. H.H. set up the old gramophone and a vinyl record of Western songs for musical chairs on the lawn. I served a birthday cake with a picture of horses and (Pocono) mountains. The writing on the cake said, "Happy 10th Birthday, Dude" and when H.H. picked it up from the bakery they asked, "Who is Dude?" When he told them Dude was his wife's miniature horse I'm sure they thought we were mad.

Dude enjoyed his tenth birthday party.
Grandson on one of his visits to the farm taking Dude for a walk

One summer, two young white tailed deer spent their days on our property. I sprayed and sprayed all my plants with repellent and they did very little damage. The fawns grazed the lawn with Dude.

They smelled the repellent and didn't eat the shrub ...
... instead they dined with Dude on grass.

Waiting at the paddock fence for me to throw some weeds to them.

Dude and Billy like to romp and play, although now they are older (Dude will be 18 this year and Billy will be 11) they don't cavort as often. When they do chase each other around the paddock they tire more easily and then need a nap.

I told them they looked ridiculous but they didn't care.

Each fall Dude begins to develop a thick winter coat to protect him from the cold to come. He likes to roll in the fall leaves -- especially when I have just groomed him.

Leaves in your mane, Dude?

Here they're eating second-cut orchard hay which is their preference when they are not in the pasture.

Billy loves corn cobs. Actually he eats most anything.

Billy is considered old for a goat now, but Dude should have several more years ahead of him. We talk about getting a baby goat soon so that Dude wont be alone when Billy dies. We are not sure how a third animal will fit in though -- Dude and Billy might gang up on the poor little thing. Our vet thinks we should give it a try. Maybe we will visit 'Last Chance Ranch' a farm animal rescue place near here and see if they have any goats.

 With Dude and Billy I'm never lonely when I'm gardening. Do you have a special gardening buddy?

Pamela x

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Thursday, January 14, 2016


Winter arrived at last. It wasn't much of a snowfall with hardly enough accumulation to measure.
Out of the bosom of the air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Snowflakes poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The temperature dropped to single digits on the Fahrenheit scale. I welcomed the snowflakes but not the cold. Braving the frigid wind to take an early morning walk around the garden, I see that nothing is blooming and the frogs in the pond have decided to hibernate at last. It's at this time of year that I appreciate the evergreens in my landscape. I planted my favorite, the weeping Norway spruce, Picea abies Pendula, in May 2013. This little beauty looks lovely in every season with its dramatic form, dark green needles, and a pendulous growth habit. I am choosing this miniature evergreen tree for January's 'False Bay Dozen' hosted by Diana at Elephant's Eye on False Bay in South Africa.

Weeping Norway spruce, Picea abies Pendula, first winter.
Candles of New Growth in Early Spring

Weeping Norway spruce's first year.

The height of the tree is determined by the height of its stake. It grows more bushy each year, but provides little needed shade for the pond. We planted a zebra grass for shadiness. The grass and the tree provide contrast in texture, color and shape.

Late spring 2015
Summer 2015

The plumes of the zebra grass provide winter interest, but the plant is becoming messy now, so I asked H.H. to cut it down. We are procrastinators, so he will probably wait until the springtime, and that's OK, as long as he does it before its new growth reaches four inches or so.

Plumes of zebra grass against yesterday's blue sky.

Foliage comes into its own in the stark winter landscape, especially the verdure of evergreens. I am linking with Pam at Digging for her 'Foliage Follow Up' on the 16th of the month.

Silvery Russian sage outlined against a biota shrub.

Green vinca leaves under the snow at the base of the hitching post.

January sparkles.
January's bold.
January huffs and puffs.
January's cold.

Author unknown. 

The kitchen garden sleeps.
The fairies need to shovel snow from their front door.

No flowers in my garden, but indoors a lovely surprise: the amaryllis bloomed late, proving that Carol at May Dreams Gardens is right when she says you can have flowers every month of the year. I am linking with Carol for 'Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day' on the 15th.

Amaryllis 'Red Lion'

I was hoping for more blossoms, but I'll take these two beauties.

Please visit Diana's, Pam's and Carol's blogs. My thanks to these three gardening friends for hosting great monthly memes.

Snowflakes are flurrying and the temperature is below freezing, so I'm hunkering down in front of the fire for the rest of the day. It's seed catalog season -- one of my favorite seasons of the year!

Pamela x

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

The FUNdamentals of Gardening

Because I was a late bloomer, not gardening until after retirement, I didn't pass on my passion to my children. But I hope that at least one of my grandchildren will discover the joy of growing things. To this end, during my Christmas visit to my son's family in Arizona, I helped my 12 year old grandson, Anthony, plant a small vegetable garden in a container. One advantage of the desert climate is the extended gardening period. In December and January it is possible to grow cool-weather crops, while being careful to cover them if frost is forecast.

My grandson gathered his supplies: a self-watering container (I bought him a gardening kit for Christmas), potting medium, plants, tools, etc. Earlier, we went to the garden center where he picked out some vegetable plants, a herb and a flower. We also purchased peat-based potting medium. Following the instructions that came with the kit, Anthony began by moistening the potting soil, then pouring it into the container.

He filled the box to a couple of inches from the top. He added a layer of dolomite (included in the kit) and mixed it into the top two inches of soil.

He sprinkled dolomite evenly over the potting medium.

My budding gardener added moist potting medium over the dolomite up to the rim of the container. He made a two inch channel down the middle where he would place fertilizer. We used all organic supplies.

Anthony poured organic fertilizer into a center channel...
 ... then mounded the fertilizer channel with potting soil.

After mounding more moist potting medium over the line of fertilizer and filling the box to the top, he added the plastic mulch that came with the kit. He placed the plastic mulch with its black side up; the other side is white for hot weather. Then we carefully cut holes in the plastic mulch for the plants: he planted two lettuces, three broccoli, one basil and a pretty cyclamen that he chose for its lovely bloom. We purchased too many vegetables for a small planter, so he gave the extra lettuce to his pet guinea pigs.

Cyclamen and basil planted through holes cut in the plastic mulch.
Back row: lettuce, cyclamen, basil, lettuce. Front row: three broccoli.

 (Please forgive the quality of the pictures: I used my iPhone and at a time of day when the light was all wrong.)

Anthony wheeled the planter to a sunny spot on the patio.

His final task was to add water through the tube in the corner of the self-watering kit. He told me he enjoyed planting his garden and couldn't wait for his first harvest.

When gardening with children catch them young, if possible, and start small: you do not need a perfect plot of land to create learning opportunities. I believe, however, it is important to give the child genuine tools. I gave Anthony an adult's trowel shaped especially for container gardens and a serious pair of gardening gloves. I originally bought packets of seeds, and Anthony wanted to sow the carrots, but because they germinate slowly and produce tiny, slow-growing seedlings, I decided starter plants would be more suitable, especially as I wouldn't be there to help with thinning and encouragement.

Anthony made important decisions about what to plant and where to locate his garden. I focused on the basics:
  • the best spot to place the garden
  • great soil
  • spacing
  • water requirements
  • feeding requirements.
I hope Anthony thought learning the FUNdamentals of gardening was indeed fun! I loved spending that time with him, creating wonderful memories.
I came to gardening very late in life, but my love of horticulture stems more from the inspiration of my childhood than from any other factor. I recall the heady smell of wallflowers in my grandmother's spring border as I 'helped' my grandfather tend his veggie garden. Mother allowed me to pick crocosmia (she called it monbretia) from her flower garden. I would mix the spikes with cardinal flowers and phlox and carry them to school for my teacher. Because of that memory, I grow crocosmia in my cottage garden today. I loved to pick tomatoes in Dad's greenhouse and watch as he pruned his beautiful roses.  I thank my parents and grandparents for their inspiration.

Do you have someone to thank for inspiring you, dear gardening friends?

Happy New Year!

Prickly pear cactus in my PA garden

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