Open Thread: Sunday Morning Garden Chat

I have a yard where the oak leaves I didn’t get around to raking last fall no longer disguise the fact that the spring grass already needs mowing, a panoply of raised beds & containers that need to be cleaned out/reassembled/adapted for soaker hoses (Eastern Massachusetts is already in a drought and they say it won’t get better soon), and a bad case of the where-do-I-starts when I try balancing my available effort versus the work required if the neighbors aren’t going to petition to have this place declared an un-attractive nuisance. I’m starting to wonder if there’s a local cadre of “guerrilla gardeners” who might mistake this place for an abandoned lot…

“Let’s throw some bombs,” a young woman calls out, waterproof floral purse swinging on her shoulder and Laura Ingalls braids flying behind her as a band of 25 followers cheer, “Cool!”
They rush toward a drab vacant lot in Shaw. Some climb up onto the back of a truck to get better aim at their target. But these bombers aren’t likely to appear on any terrorist list or even get arrested. They’re throwing “seed bombs,” golf-ball-size lumps of mud packed with wildflower seeds, clay and a little bit of compost and water, which they just learned to make at a free seed-bombing workshop for Washington’s guerrilla gardeners.
The benign bombing is part of a larger phenomenon known as activist gardening that is taking off this spring in cities such as Portland, Detroit, Baltimore and the District, where young urbanites are redefining the seemingly fusty pastime as a tool for social change. This is civil disobedience with a twist: Vegetable patches and sunflower gardens planted on decrepit medians and in derelict lots in an effort to beautify inner-city eyesores or grow healthful food in neighborhoods with limited access to fresh food.
“Guerrilla gardening is urban gardening and food justice. It’s just this really cool mix,” says Emmy Gran, 25, who is teaching seed-bombing in a floppy sun hat at a recent Saturday morning workshop in the courtyard of Old City Green, a gardening store in Shaw. “But it’s controversial, too. If you see an abandoned, neglected lot and you decide to do something about it by planting vegetables and herbs, are you an occupier? It’s kind of radical, in some ways.”…

Tell me about your gardens, or your garden plans. I need some incentive to at least assemble the waist-high planter and seed some of the mesclun mixes I bought after the last time I asked you guys for gardening advice…

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48 replies
  1. 1
    Dork says:

    In my world, “planting some seed” means something tooooooootally different than gardening.

  2. 2
    Cathy W says:

    I’ve started a bunch of tomato seeds. I’m told I needn’t have wasted my time because I didn’t have an appropriate light source and the seedlings got “leggy” and will never grow properly. Grr.

    On the bright side the house I’m moving into has a bunch of strawberry plants, and either garlic or onions. And weeds, of course.

  3. 3
    chopper says:

    planted a bit more at the community garden yesterday. so far i have some broccoli, red kale, beets, carrots, turnips etc.

    so warm this spring in NYC i’m putting in tomatoes this week which is 2 weeks early.

    fixed the compost bin and planted a patch of mammoth sunflowers.

  4. 4
    Starfish says:

    Interestingly enough, I live in Baltimore, and someone just asked for resources (red clay and seeds) to help children make seed bombs for Earth Day.

  5. 5
    Cathy W says:

    …and it occurs to me that given that my source for the horrors of leggy tomato seedlings was some stranger on the internet, I should go see what other strangers on the internet have to say about the problem, and it turns out I’ll be okay as long as I plant them deeply (like, buried up to the top set of leaves). I can do that! That’s good advice with tomato transplants anyways.

  6. 6
    JPL says:

    There’s a large tree in my front yard that is shady. A limited budget does not allow me to buy dozens of hosta plants so I’m going to try some bare root plants. It will be a few years before it fills in but the difference in cost is considerable. I’ve already planted some purple leaf coral bells so I’m hoping the color contrast will work. Wish me luck.

  7. 7
    the fugitive uterus says:

    i’m not the best gardner in the world, not yet anyway. but i am really into posthole digging right now. planted 8 baby azaleas already. it is incredibly cathartic and i was surprised my arms weren’t killing me afterward, but i did do warmups with the posthole digger beforehand.

    someday i hope to be as good as my dad, i hope i will be at least half as good before he goes.

    anyway, i learned over the past few years that baby shrubs are best and do better, also much cheaper! – also you need to dig a damned big enough hole so get a friggin posthole digger. but you have to at least try and make mistakes in order to learn.

  8. 8

    a nice post to wake up to!

  9. 9
    the fugitive uterus says:

    @JPL: have you thought about pachysandra?

    i read that they do well in shade and i am thinking about rooting some and plant them at the base of one of the huge trees we have in the communal yard. but then it depends on where you live as to whether it will do well, i guess. anyway, i prefer them over hosta, i think they are beautiful and do well in spreading quickly.

    how to grow

    oh and they produce pretty little white flowers (in the fall, i think)

    a couple more pics

  10. 10
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Still trying to master alchemy…. Turn dirt into soil. Last year it was 8 p/u loads of compost from the local compost facility for 3-4 inches of coverage. This year 4 loads of composted manure from a JeffCo horse farm and 5 loads of compost from STL (the local facility was a victim of small town budget cuts) for the 4″ of coverage. Hopefully next year will be the last time this is a yearly penance.

  11. 11
    the fugitive uterus says:

    oh, and sorry to interject something OT and gross into this otherwise pleasant morning thread but from comments from previous thread about Romney’s Mad Men “hotness” factor, but i must know if this is true or snark

    @muddy: Remember the magazine cover with the Cheney crotch shot? When was that?

    is it really true? if so, i thank God i did not see that.

  12. 12
    Linda says:

    I have some tomato seedlings that need to go into bigger containers–still too risky to plant outside in northern Ohio. They are Arkansas Travelers, a pink heirloom. I got the year-old seeds from a seed swap. My lawn has 2 mowings under its belt already, and is ready for a third.

  13. 13
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Unexpectedly returned to work this week and managed to kill nearly every seedling I had started thru neglect. Only the tomatoes and tomatillos survived. This too is a yearly ritual for me as I continue to find new and ingenious ways to kill my starters.

    On the other hand, the mild winter left my herb garden primed and ready to explode with growth and it did. I have to trim it back just to restore a little balance.

    Unfortunately, the mild winter also left the ticks primed and ready for some extreme blood sucking events.

  14. 14
    gravie says:

    I’m trying to get my gardens in shape after six months of neglect while simultaneously doing the landscape edging I’ve been wanting to do for years. Several tons of landscape rock that were delivered last fall are starting to dwindle and it’s starting to look pretty good but — yikes! It is time-consuming, hard labor.

  15. 15
    becca says:

    We put two raised beds in our front yard. An L-shaped bed on a sunny corner with three black bamboo tepees for pole beans and a broken concrete terrace on the slope to the sidewalk to hold lemon cuke mounds. Another raised bed runs the shady side for herbs and lettuces. Also terraced under our glorious crape myrtle with old pavers we dug up from the back. Planted creeping penny, ajuga and some other ground covers.

    Side yard for toms, eggplant , etc on one side and zinnias and sunflowers on the the other.

    Backyard will be a cornfield.

    I think that about does it.

  16. 16
    El Cid says:

    Peoples’ Parks for everyone.

  17. 17
    bemused says:

    The NYT fluff article on Breitbart from earlier thread was disgusting. With standards like this, a kid glove treatment of Mel Gibson will be next.

    Gardening outside isn’t happening here any time soon….possible 2 inches of snow forecast for today.

  18. 18
    Munira says:

    I’m just back in Quebec after 3 months in Calif. and Wash. State. Loved the community gardens in Oakland. I took seeds from my squash plants and distributed them to everyone I know. Now i’m trying not to be overwhelmed by everything there is to do here. Today I intend to prune the pear trees before they blossom and plant some seeds inside to be transplanted later – tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons, celery – don’t know what else yet Happy gardening.

  19. 19
    gelfling545 says:

    @Cathy W: I’ve had luck in the past by planting “leggy” tomato plants a bit deeper. It seems they are one of the few plants that will develop roots along the stem when planted that way. Very few people I know have perfect light conditions but many have success starting tomatoes from seed. I don’t do it anymore because I only need a few plants now and besides, the cats try to sleep in the seed trays.

  20. 20
    Emily says:

    Read “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,” by Novella Carpenter. She ended up with a huge squat garden in Oakland, CA, complete with pigs, rabbits and poultry, along with all the usual vegetables, and most of this stuff on the vacant lot next door.

  21. 21
    El Cid says:

    @bemused: Don’t quite think so. Mel Gibson attacks Jews. The leadership of the New York Times is primarily Jewish.

  22. 22
    bemused says:

    I hadn’t started any seeds yet but plan to do that today. We have a couple of young kitties that I know will be totally fixated on the process. Anything new going on gets their attention immediately. I bought a couple of 4-shelf seed starting shelf units with plastic zip up covers. I can shoo them away from my seedling trays during the day and then zip the cover shut over night. At least, that’s the plan. Fingers crossed.

  23. 23
    Linda says:

    @Emily: That’s been one of my favorite books of the last few years. A great read about one’s relationship with food, local food, food animals, etc., with none of the usual preachiness.

  24. 24
    Ol'Froth says:

    I use the square foot method, and I just finished constructing a 3×3 raised bed for my two year old. We’re headed to the garden center this afternoon to buy pansies and marigolds, and later we’ll plant bush beans and maybe some beets in it.

  25. 25
    kay says:

    @Cathy W:

    I’d say buy the light. They’re 15 dollars or so and you can just prop either end of the light hood with bricks. Add a brick when the seedlings grow, then take it apart and put it away in May.

    If you end up getting hooked on starting seeds (which is fun, both starting them and buying the seed from catalogues) you’ll end up buyng the

    I use a heating pad, too, just an ordinary one, nit the rubber one growers use. Put the tray with the seeded flats on it and the seeds germinate faster, if they’re plants that like warm soil. If they don’t like warm soil, you can direct-seed them in cold soil outside anyway.

    Now you need a light AND a heating pad, right, and you’re probably sorry you asked :)

  26. 26
    kay says:

    I’m just continuing my 15 year quest to grow sweet peas.
    This year, I’m putting them in a raised bed, which won’t make a bit of difference because the problem is summer is too hot and too early, but they’re my favorite flower and I can’t move to a climate more to their liking just to grow sweet peas successfully.
    I’ll get 25 flowers, and then they’ll burn to a crisp.

  27. 27
    brendancalling says:

    I am concerned about the fact that we have had precious few April showers here in southeastern PA.

    The hops are in year five or six, and already taller than I am (they sprouted 3 weeks ago). The garlic is doing well. We had lettuce in the cold frame over the winter, which has gone to seed: in another week or so we can plangt those seeds. Same with a couple of turnips and kale plants that have been going since last year or the year before. Beets and kale are planted, beans and squash in the back bed. Two huge piles of compost (and we’re buying one of those spinners). When I stop procrastinating, I’m digging up the awful front lawn and replacing it with mulch and a few ornamental plants: no more mowing.

  28. 28

    After building several raised garden beds, and growing mators in large containers, all for 7 or 8 years, I decided to quit the gardening thing.

    As it was becoming increasingly clear not to mention embarrassing, to be consistently outsmarted by a bunch of cud chewing Mule deer. That normally, about the time for some veg bounty to be earned, the diabolical fuckers would figure out how to get through my layers of protection with fencing and other brane farts to deer proof the greenery, and one morning I would wake there would be nothing, NOTHING, as they would raid and denude every living thing. The end for me came when they enlisted their fawns to squeeze through a crack in my defenses and et all of my bush beans. Last straw, end of the line, and I surrendered, threw in the towel, and humbly saluted my ungulate masters.

  29. 29
    Svensker says:

    @Cathy W:
    I wouldn’t give up on the tomato seedlings. Keep them growing as best you can in the brightest light you can. Harden them off outside as soon as you can, as well. When you plant them out, put the root at the level you want and bury the long stem under dirt — the stem will put out rootlets giving the little guys some extra strength. Compost tea frequently and they should catch up just fine.

  30. 30
    jharp says:

    @Cathy W:

    Nonsense. Just baby them and plant them deep and they will do fine.

  31. 31
    Svensker says:


    I LOVED that book. Very inspirational! Also, funny.

  32. 32
    kim walker says:

    @kay: I love sweet peas too! Have you tried planting seeds in late fall to come up extra early in the spring? I found that a light colored mulch and/or planting in part shade will help them survive the heat(they like to have their feet cool). By part shade, I mean only morning sun or only afternoon/evening sun or under a tree dappled sun.

  33. 33
    jharp says:

    I got a very slow start this year. Very slow.

    But, I have 3 pepper plants that I dug up and wintered inside that are already producing.

    And my horseradish is coming in nicely. (wintered in my garage)

  34. 34
    CatHairEverywhere says:

    My tomato and pepper plants are doing well, despite the freak hailstorm and torrential rain we had the other day. The same storm flooded my flowerbeds, so the zinnia, cosmos and sunflower seeds all washed away. I plan to plant more today. I also need to pull my sugar snap peas and start green beans. It’s supposed to be 70 and sunny today, but still looks overcast.

    This years tomatoes are: Pineapple, Sweet 100, Snowberry, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Tangerine, Ananas Noire, Arkansas Traveler, Black Krim and something else I’ve forgotten. (grass it too wet to go out and look right now) I have an assortment of colored bell peppers, regular and mild jalapenos, lemon cucumbers and Japanese cucumbers.

  35. 35
    Jennifer says:

    Just another plug here for the Purple Cherokee heirloom tomatoes. If you’ve never grown them, give them a try this year – you won’t believe how great they are (not pretty, but great tasting).

  36. 36
    jnfr says:

    Well, after whining about the lack of garden threads, I have to admit that not much is growing here yet either. Won’t plant the main crops for another month at least. Nothing but spinach and lettuce, which is nice enough but nothing to brag about.

    The bindweed is up and thriving already though, as always. Nothing stops the bindweed.

    I am amusing myself on random days by digging out the railroad ties around one perennial bed. Those suckers are incredible heavy, and they’re everywhere in my yard. Apparently they were all the rage when this house was built (’70s). I hate them.

    Thanks for the thread, AL!

  37. 37
    Davebo says:

    I have a teak bench, table and two chairs. While you can certainly oil them I don’t do a thing to them.

    They grey naturally and I find that it looks good. Or perhaps I’m just too lazy to oil it. I did once early on but it didn’t seem to last very long.

    This year I only have a lime and Meyer lemon tree. Oddly in the past the lime tree put out tons of limes but I never got a single lemon. This year the opposite is true, which is OK because I gave up drinking alcohol so I really don’t need as many limes.

  38. 38
    peej says:

    I just purchased 6 bags of organic potting soil and will probably get 4 more next weekend. I have a small back yard, but have to plant my veggies in containers due to the sunlight patterns (shines nicely on my cement patio, but not as well on the grassy areas). I haven’t planted anything for the past 2 years, so I’m going to have to clean out the planters. The tomato plants arrive at the end of April, beginning of May!

  39. 39
    Petorado says:

    This is the year long waits are starting to pay off. A peach tree I started from a pit set fruit for the first time. Had the first asparagus after letting its roots grow out for three years. Looking to see if the grape vines I started from pips obtained from wine country grapes finally set fruit as well.

    Otherwise, second planting of lettuce in the dirt, warm weather seed starts doing nicely, rainbows of tulips brightening the neighborhood, and the mint is begging to go swimming in a mojito.

  40. 40
    Starfish says:

    @the fugitive uterus: Oh yes, it did happen. Here is a poor version of the picture.

  41. 41
    Starfish says:

    @the fugitive uterus: Oh yes, it did happen. Here is a poor version of the picture.

  42. 42
    rageahol says:

    i’ve been hearing about this “movement” for some time, but it always made me a little bit nervous.

    it’s not like urban areas (like Baltimore) dont have contamination problems (lead, etc).

    flowers, sure. random edible plants in vacant lots, i’m not so sure about.

  43. 43
    Kristine says:

    I left for vacation the end of March with seed tray seedlings ranging from a couple of inches in height to Just Getting Started. Returned 10 days later to find the St Pierre (one of the Italian varieties from Seeds From Italy) had taken over the tray. Two of seedlings were well over 4 inches tall, so yesterday I moved them to 16-oz cups, along with one Red Pear Sel. Franchi (another Italian seed), an Arkansas Traveler and a Black Cherry (more for encouragement as their size doesn’t compare), and two Italian Sweet Basil (also from Italy). The earliest I have ever planted seedlings is, iirc, the second week of May. At the rate they’re going, the St Pierres will need to be moved to larger quarters before that.

    I did use a heating pad under the seed tray, but the seeds in the middle still either lagged behind or didn’t sprout at all. All around the perimeter, though, seedlings popped up.

    I had to have my lawn mowed while I was gone. The landscape folks are already getting calls. It’s unheard of for far NE Illinois lawns to need mowing in early April. Mine could already use a second pass. Hydrangeas are leafing. Crabapples are blooming.

    We were way behind on rain for the month, but made up for it in a few hours last night. 2.5 inches around here. Supposed to hit the 70s today. I can see the grass growing.

  44. 44
    the fugitive uterus says:

    @Starfish: oh wow, Cheney has an armadillo in his trousers?

    even if it’s just some sort of photographic aberration, time for some eye and brain bleach. but first i need to crawl upstairs and pray to the porcelain god for a while.

  45. 45
    opie jeanne says:

    Pulling weeds and clearing the raised beds, cursing the impolite neighbor who pointed out the bumper crop of dandelions and laughed at us. It’s some sort of dishonor to have them, apparently.

    We are eating the last of the carrots from last year. We left them in the ground and they are like sugar. One variety performed really well here, so I may only plant that one this year: Nantes Coreless.

    The soil is still a bit cold just outside Seattle. Yesterday I planted seeds for carrots, chives, radishes, and spinach, the second of three dwarf cherry trees, and continued to pull weeds in the raised beds we built last year. I planted mesclun in three pots just outside the back door and some of the tomatillo seeds I saved from last year are in 4″ pots on the front patio. Today I’m planting beet seeds and more carrots, maybe some more spinach and mesclun.

    We added a long narrow raised bed outside the kitchen door so that we don’t have to trek across the lawn to the North Forty when it’s raining. So far that bed has a clump of thyme and a clump of parsley in it, but it’s 8′ long so it will get a planting of carrots and beets and more mesclun.

    There are 8 small pots of heather sitting on the walkway, waiting to be planted. I don’t know when I’ll get to them because today is the last day of sunshine (haven’t seen it yet) for a while.

  46. 46
    Kay says:

    @kim walker:

    I love sweet peas too! Have you tried planting seeds in late fall to come up extra early in the spring? I found that a light colored mulch and/or planting in part shade will help them survive the heat(they like to have their feet cool). By part shade, I mean only morning sun or only afternoon/evening sun or under a tree dappled sun.

    I have tried that, but I think our fall is too inconsistent for that. It hasn’t worked, anyway.

    I will work on the “feet cool” thing, though. I have a Christmas tree that I can cut up and use to cool feet :)

    Either that or move to Seattle for cool-weather flowers, which is too eccentric, even for me.

  47. 47
    greenergood says:

    @opie jeanne: regarding carrots, planted a variety called ‘Purple Haze’ last year – didn’t do well, but our summer (in Scotland) was crap. Where you are will probably do better. They’re purple on the outside and orange on the inside, and obviously bred by a Jimi H. fan! Also too, discovered plant purple sprouting broccoli in your flower bed – it’s pretty, and doesn’t produce till spring. Meanwhile you can dig over the vegetable patch bit in early spring without over-wintering vegetable plants getting in the way.

  48. 48
    Vickie Feminist says:

    on around@JPL: ask around on local garden listserves in your area because often gardeners have extra hostas they are willing to share.

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