red flannel pantry

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Archive for the category “gardening”

flora, fauna and fabric in LA


My husband, Daughter #2 and I visited Los Angeles last weekend and had a fabulous time. D#2 and I had never been there before, so traveling from our freezing temps to sunny and unseasonably warm (even for there) southern California was a bit surreal. At Griffith Observatory we spied this little hummer buzzing around plantings at the base of the Astronomers Monument. I think it was an Anna’s hummingbird. See the dusting of pollen on her beak?


Also at Griffith Observatory, this wee hummingbird paused long enough for me to snap a quick photo. My guess is that it was a black-chinned hummingbird. Like the other, she also had a pollen smudge on her beak.


While at Venice Beach, we visited with fauna of the domestic variety at Small World Books, a quiet intellectual haven in all of the craziness. Conan is the resident cat librarian; he gladly assumed a studied casual pose for us Midwestern tourists.


The Getty Center stunned us with its gardens and architecture (we bow down to you, Richard Meier).


It felt like we were at Starfleet Academy.


On our last day there, my husband and daughter indulged me in visiting Sew Modern. We arrived before official opening hours, but the door was propped open because some renovation work inside the store was in progress. The owners kindly welcomed us in and let me prowl around while I wished I had a huge empty suitcase to cram full of fabric.


However, showing a great deal of restraint, I walked out with only these lovely pieces.

cardinal in repose


This little cardinal was resting in the river birch outside my kitchen window. We planted the birch this summer, and the birds now like pausing here before they swoop over to the feeders.

canna babies


We worked on garden chores today. My husband cut back and dug up the canna rhizomes so they could be stored over the winter. Last spring, he planted one box full of canna clumps; this afternoon, he dug up three boxes full! I guess they were in a happy place and feeling prolific. Once they dry out a little, we will store the boxes in the garage till spring. We plan to share them at our garden swap party in May. One of my grandfather’s pet peeves was oxymorons (eg, “jumbo shrimp”); this situation reminds me of one that drove him crazy but seems appropriate: free gift!

seed saving for prairie restoration


Friends are working to restore some of their farmland to prairie. Over the summer it was exciting to watch the barbed-wire fences come down, the fields controlled-burned and seeded, and the native grasses emerge. They plan to seed again in December with little bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, and side oats grama as well as native wildflowers. Here’s where I am making a small contribution.


In my suburban garden, I have tried to incorporate native species to attract butterflies and hummingbirds: coneflowers, blazing star, milkweed, coreopsis. And although it’s not native and considered a weed by many, Queen Anne’s lace is a key player. This plant is tricky: an annual with a long taproot, it’s hard to transplant so is best grown from seed.


In late September, once the seed heads were dry, I collected several envelopes full of Queen Anne’s lace seed. This seed is a marvel of evolutionary design. Look at all of those little spines–perfect for hitching a ride on a passerby, hanging onto the blade of an established plant and staking a claim in the soil.


I also gathered seed from my stand of blazing star (Liatris spicata). You can tell by this seed’s inverted umbrella design that it relies on the wind for dispersal.


And I collected seed from two varieties of milkweed: swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata–pink flowers) and blood flower (Asclepias curassavica–red-orange flowers). Like the blazing star seed, this seed has wispy tendrils to catch the wind, with the seedhead acting as a parachutist.

I saved the seed in envelopes and stored them the garage. I just gave the last of the seeds I collected to my friends to add to their seed mix. I look forward to seeing their bit of prairie take root and grow.

Enriching the Earth
To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die.  I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and of various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark.  I am slowly falling
into the fund of things.  And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass.  It is the mind’s service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth.  And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.

Wendell Berry (from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry)

planting buckeyes


When we were at Grinnell College a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I collected buckeyes from a huge tree on campus (you can read about it here). After reading as much as we could find online about planting buckeyes, we decided to give it a try. The most important advice was an admonition: do not let the buckeyes dry out before planting them–we hope we didn’t wait too long. Because buckeye trees have long tap roots, we used the deepest pots we could find in the shed. They need well-drained soil, so I mixed about 3 parts topsoil and 1 part sand. Their germination rate is only about 50%–kind of long odds for this gardener!–and the guidelines regarding planting depth were inconsistent. We decided to plant three buckeyes per pot at about 2 to 3 inches depth.


Several websites mentioned how rodents like to dig up buckeyes. Since the squirrels are fond of doing their own landscape designs in my pots, we cut chicken wire and put it over the top–that ought to do the trick.


I am unsure now where to keep the pots: by the back door, which faces northeast and is in shade most of the day? Or by the front door, which faces south and gets several hours of sun? I plan to throw some leaf mulch on top to protect them. In the spring we will see if our efforts were fruitful.

pumpkins and a wicked weed


As is our family tradition, we went to Rombachs Farms to pick pumpkins last weekend. Many families made the pilgrimage that sunny Saturday, towing wagons, pushing strollers, and taking photos of ruddy-cheeked children among the pumpkins.


We enjoyed walking through the demonstration gardens. The sunflowers were drooping, looking penitent. Most everything had gone to seed–cotton, okra, broom straw–but the bees were still at work among the pumpkins.


In the pumpkin fields we noticed these low-rise plants with purple, squash-like blossoms.


They looked innocent enough, but the seed pods had a menacing appearance.


When we got home, I did some research and learned that, indeed, it is a wicked plant: Datura stramonium, aka Jimson weed, a member of the nightshade family. The name Jimson weed is an elided version of its original moniker: Jamestown weed. Amy Stewart, in Wicked Plants, explains that some of the first settlers of Jamestown Island in Virginia ate this weed and died horrible deaths. Seventy years later, the survivors and their offspring, remembering the effects of ingesting this plant, fed it to unsuspecting British soldiers when the soldiers arrived to deal with Bacon’s Rebellion. According to Stewart, “the British soldiers did not die, but they did go crazy for eleven days, temporarily giving the colonists the upper hand.” The seeds and the leaves can induce hallucinations, fevers and seizures and cause death.

There’s a scary Halloween story for you!

good-luck buckeyes in Grinnell

While in Iowa last weekend for meetings at Grinnell College, my husband and I took a walk on the east side of campus. When we attended Grinnell in the 1980s, this part of campus was undeveloped; the only building east of the railroad tracks on this block was the health center, a nondescript, low-slung brick building. Now a new row of dorms lines East Street.

We admired the way the architect oriented these dorms in relation to those on North Campus: when you stand in the arch between Rawson and Gates Halls and look east, you can see clear through the arch in Rose Hall down 9th Street to the park on Penrose. The sightline seems endless.


For a moment we puzzled about this bend in the loggia–when everything else is so linear, why the curve here? We looked to the east and realized why.


A giant yellow buckeye tree (Aesculus flava) stands between Lazier Hall and Kershaw Hall. My husband was delighted at the find. Compared to the Ohio buckeye, the yellow buckeye tree is much taller and the leathery husk on the fruit is smooth versus the Ohio buckeye’s spiny, warty husk. The name “buckeye” describes the nut’s appearance, which is said to resemble a male deer’s eye. I checked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, and I found this particular tree on their Big Trees of Iowa list. At last measure, it was 74 feet tall, with a 9-foot, 3-inch trunk circumference.


Buckeyes littered the ground and we gathered up as many as we could carry. As my father-in-law and our friend Mary Kate have told us, buckeyes are good-luck charms. When they were kids, they would carry them in their pockets for good luck and rub them on their noses to shine them up. My husband remembers there being another buckeye tree outside the college bookstore. During the fall, he would pocket buckeyes on his way to class. Sadly, that tree is gone.


We brought the buckeyes home, intending only to display them. However, when we showed our find to Daughter #2, she asked, “Why don’t you try to grow a tree?” I am always up for a gardening challenge! The germination rate is only 50%, so I think I will plant several in pots and leave the pots outdoors for the winter, watering occasionally. We’ll see if anything emerges in the spring.

paper lanterns


Last fall my friend, Jackie, admired my arrangements of Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi), both on stems in a vase and the seed pods displayed in a glass pumpkin jar.

Since I didn’t get my act together for her birthday this summer, yesterday, as a belated birthday present, I gave Jackie a jar of Chinese lanterns I collected. They make a lovely fall decoration and keep for several years.


I cut them from their stems, set them on a rack in the garage, and let them dry for a couple of weeks. I am a sucker for their vivid orange hue and delicate papery husks. Be warned, however: this plant is highly invasive. Accept divisions at your own risk!

good night, sweet prince

photo (34)

This weekend I put the garden to bed. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures cooler. I picked the rest of the tomatoes (even the green ones) and a load of peppers.

photo (29)

As I began to remove the tomato plants, out popped Mr. Toad. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of months. I think I woke him.

photo (30)

He shimmied into the soil and pretended to watch me work. What he really was doing was settling down to return to his nap.

photo (32)

Ever so slowly he sank deeper into the garden until I glanced back one more time and he was gone. We’ll meet again in the spring.

lion’s tail


Every spring I visit my favorite nursery, where my friend, Anne, works. As a knowledgeable gardener who enjoys indulging my garden experimentation, she points out a few unfamiliar plants that she promises will deliver. This year she steered me to a plain Jane in the herb section called lion’s tail, Leonotis leonurus. I tended to it all summer, and it has finally rewarded me with these incredible blooms. Its tubular flowers are attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds.


The blooms emerge from these spikey balls. Being a South African native, it is considered an annual here. It’s a member of the mint family and is supposed to have all sorts of medicinal qualities, hence its herbal/pharmacologic classification. Given my fondness for orange, lion’s tail a new favorite. Thanks, Anne!

Post Navigation

Butterfly Gardening

Learn how to attract butterflies to your garden

It's Not Work, It's Gardening!

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

twin fibers

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

NW Quilted Cat

Longarm Quilting, Patterns, Foundation Paper Piecing Teacher

Momotaro Makes

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Snoop's Theatre Thoughts

A longtime fan's look at theatre in St. Louis, MO and Beyond

Momoe's Cupboard

Low Budget Meals and Ideas

Wedding Dress Blue

Quilting and other things I love in this colorful world

Sew Me

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room


creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Letter from Mekelle

Lewis and Helen's Adventures in Ethiopia

Just Jude

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Entropy Always Wins


Creative Endeavours

Sew Mama Sew

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room


Smile! You’re at the best site ever

Elven Garden Quilts

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Christine Doyle

Freelance Editor + Passionate Crafter

Sew Kind Of Wonderful

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Darlington Delights

Welcome to Darlington

The Simple Seamstress

Adventures into the great unsewn.

K&S Design Girls

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room


OPQuilt: Quilts & Textiles