Archive | Nature RSS feed for this section


5 Feb

bee and lavender

Whether you are an urban farmscaper, a gardener, a small farmer, or maybe a garden gazer, you will have had encounters with many insects, including bees. I came to know the bees by way of playing in the plants. While busy harvesting, I would ever so gently swish them aside to retrieve my prize without worries of being stung. They were more interested in the flowers anyway and I needed the bees there to get their pollination work done to improve the fruit set on my plants.

Lots of Bees in the Garden = More Food on my Plate

If you haven’t already heard about the decline in our pollinator population then you must be from another planet. That is not what I am writing about, but I need to give a little background. This is a worldwide problem and includes honey bees as well as native pollinators such as bumble bees, mason bees, wasps, flies, butterflies and beetles. There are many more pollinator and beneficial insects than harmful insects. Home gardeners have been conditioned over many years that bugs are bad and that our gardens should be insect free. Chemicals have been created to kill harmful insects, but these chemicals are causing problems for all insects, mainly neonicotinoids.

Gardeners have also been encouraged to plant plants which attract beneficial insects to the garden, but then when purchased from some garden centers, the plants have been found to have been treated with neonicotinoids by the growers. This could be something as simple as a treated seed up to a spray or drench used as a foliar spray. For a downloadable report visit the Xerces Society, I want to attract bees to my garden, but not to poison them. I would recommend starting your own plants from seeds. Don’t know how to start seeds? Learn how from many of the other posts on this blog. Recent research has also discovered that there is a plant virus that is linked to increased bee deaths

Bee on

Last year I was a bee apprentice where I learned about beekeeping with other women. The year was spent learning about the honey bee, Apis mellifera, a social bee, which we are most familiar with because they produce yummy honey. If you haven’t heard by now, one in every three mouthfuls of food is contributed to the pollination efforts primarily of the honey bee. If bees are gone, so are almonds, apples, blueberries, asparagus, cherries, avocados and broccoli just to name a few. Oh, and honey. How could I forget that? I encountered and dealt with mites, a different problem affecting these bees, using chemical free methods. The more I learned the more I thought I should become a bee keeper. This is what I thought I should do because I needed to have more bees in my garden to make sure the flowers were pollinated.

Fewer Bees in the Garden = Less Food on my Plate

Pollinator insects are in trouble. What can I do to help? This question kept me up some nights. How many bee hives should I have? What else do I need to learn about bees to help them? Should I become an entomologist and research bees? Then it dawned on me. I was already doing what should be done. I am an urban farmscaper, and I grow plants. I have been planting plants to attract pollinators, providing them with nectar and pollen; in return, they pollinate my plants. But the most important thing I do is that I grow my plants in a sustainable, earth friendly way, providing the pollinators that visit my garden with “clean chemical free” plants. This is something that is simple and that anyone can do. If everyone would think, Beescaping; providing pollinators with chemical free plants to forage upon, then as urban farmscapers, we can start to make a difference. There are many plants that are loved by bees and other pollinating insects. If you have ever been running through a chemical free lawn that included clover and stepped on a bee, you will recall that plant first. When selecting seeds, think about plants that flower during every season so there is plenty of nectar throughout the year.

My Favorite Plants for Beescaping

  • Mints, any and all, this is a bee’s favorite plant to forage upon. This includes all plants in this family, basil, peppermint, agastache, oregano, lavender, sages etc.
  • Borage. Not only will bees visit, but you can harvest the flowers and use in your salad. Visually stunning and adds a slight cucumber flavor.
  • Thyme. Thymol is a natural insecticide used to treat honey bees encountering mite problems, so why not add it to your garden and let the bees bring it to the hive naturally.
  • Cosmos, a wonderful annual ranging in colors from white, to light pink, to a deep pink. It also makes a great cut flower. Select an heirloom variety to collect seeds after the seed heads dry on the plant.
  • Culvers Root, Veronicastrum virginicum is a plant native to Michigan and found throughout the Eastern United States. I have never seen so many bees on these spikes of white flowers. The buzzing was so loud, I could hear them from a distance more than 20 feet away. It’s somewhat attractive in the garden as a filler type plant, growing about 4 feet tall. Long early, midsummer bloomer.
  • Cup Plant, Silphium perfolatum is another plant native to Michigan and found throughout the Eastern United States. This plant is huge, over 6 feet, so make sure you give it room in the back of your garden border maybe? The yellow flowers are always covered with bees. Water is collected where the leaves meet the stem creating small “cups”. Prolific seed producer, just warning you. Plants to share with friends the following year.
  • Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia spp. was host to bees and monarch butterflies this past summer. In fact, now that I think of it, this is the only plant I saw the monarchs on. They are also in decline, so planting this large (another 6 footer when conditions are right) bright orange annual will bring color and food all summer to late fall.
Early spring Crocus

Early spring Crocus

The Stranger’s Garden

21 Apr

The Gardener didn’t pay any attention as the Stranger exited the front door of the neighboring home.  New to town, it was the only neighbor the Gardener hadn’t met.  Other than the occasional person that mowed the long turf, rarely was there anyone outside. The postage stamp lots in the historic neighborhood were filled with mature trees and shrubbery, creating more privacy between the yards.  The birds chirped and the squirrels were scurrying about.  With dirt stained hands, the Gardener steadied the handle and forced the spade deep into the soil with the thickly-soled leather boot.  There were ancient roots intertwined tightly throughout which would surely suffocate anything new planted there.  The Gardener moved into the grey 1940’s two-story home five months ago,  but this was the first time the weather cooperated along with time allowing the Gardener to get out and remove the old overgrown landscape.  A month prior the overgrown mass was sprayed with herbicide, creating less curb appeal to the front of the house.

 Before Front Side

“Excuse me.  Hello?  Hello!”

The Gardener’s brain tuned into the faint voice of the Stranger who was walking toward the edge of the grassy property line.  The Stranger was short with gray hair, polyester pants, an over sweater, and corrective shoes.  The Gardener’s dog began to bark at the Stranger whose voice could hardly be heard.

“Quiet!  Shhh!  It’s okay.  Sit.” The black dog obeyed sitting quietly while watching the Stranger step cautiously across the lawn toward the Gardener.

“Hi, I thought I should introduce myself to you since I am the one that sold you the house.”

“Hello!  What a pleasure to meet you.  I love the house.  It has been so well taken care of.”

The Stranger pointed at the browning leafy landscape with an arthritic finger and bulging eyes.  “Oh my!  Did this all die or was it done intentionally?”

“Um. It was intentional.”  Oh my God!  How am I going to explain this?  What a horrible landscape the front yard had.  So overgrown and ugly.  I had to kill it all.

Somewhat distracted, the Stranger pointed again with the same arthritic finger toward an arbor further back in the front yard.  “What is that purple flower on that vine over there?  It’s so big and beautiful!  I have never seen anything like it.” 

“It’s a Purple Hyacinth Bean.  It’s really starting to show off right now with the cooler nights coming on.  There’s nothing out there blooming like this right now.  It’s not an edible bean though.  Well, I guess you could eat it, but it is grown more for ornamental purposes.  Would you like to take a closer look?” Why am I so polite?  The last thing I need to do is walk closer to that side of the house where I cut down the tree.  Too many people keep asking me why I cut down that tree.  I don’t’ need to tell this person that I couldn’t stand the sight of it and how the flowers smelled like moth balls.  The tree was probably planted ten years or more ago.  Maybe this Stranger planted it and in a day I tore it down.

With arms crossed and a stern look, the Stranger boasted, “First tell me what you are going to do in the front.  What is your big plan? ”

“Well, I am removing the groundcover, along with the few overgrown shrubs, and then I can plant a few boxwood at the front of the porch entrance, and a redbud tree, you know, with the small purple flowers that bloom along the stem in the spring, oh, um, and I think some annuals surrounding the bottom of the tree, like impatiens, oh! I found some impatiens tags in the planter box and thought to myself that must have been something that you used to plant there in the planter, which is cracking, so I was taking out a few bricks to repair it before it fell down, but then decided that since I have it almost all tore down, I won’t put it back up, so I will plant some flowering shrubs in its place under the window, and then a few annuals for color again here.” What is my plan?  Gee whiz, I don’t know my plan other than having to kill everything so I can have a clean slate, then I can figure it out, I just need to stop rambling on and on to this person.  Wait a minute, I know!  “Since this is the front yard, I am going to create a more formal landscape!  That is what I am doing.” The Gardener spoke out loudly as if to present the grandest landscape plan of them all.

“Ah. I see.  I am not a gardener; my sister is the master gardener.” The Stranger stood with arms folded and a nodding head. “I had the dirt replaced twice in this garden because there was something wrong with it.  I won’t tell you who brought me the first dirt.  I had to have it all taken out.  Nothing would grow.  I would water and water, but nothing would grow.  So what about over there, the purple what?”

“Purple Hyacinth Bean.  You plant it from seed, and it grows into this beautiful large vine that produces this beautiful flower in September right before the frost comes.”  I can’t believe I am about to say it, but again I feel compelled to walk the stranger over to the plant.

They both walk to the side of the yard to a culinary garden.

September Garden

“Oh my!  Look at these tomato plants!  They are so big!  Oh!  Peppers?  Are those peppers?”


“Well this is interesting, different, but interesting.  Oh and look here, squash?  Very nice, very nice.”

“The leaves are a little too purple on this bean plant, and I am not getting any flowers on the pineapple sage, so I am thinking that they are lacking something nutritionally.”

“Oh I see.  Like what?  What are they lacking?”

“I haven’t tested the soil, but with these symptoms I am thinking Phosphorus.”

“Ahh, add bone meal.” The Stranger slowly nodded and had somewhat of a smile.  What?  Not everyone knows that bone meal is a source of phosphorus.  I thought this stranger wasn’t much of a gardener?   

The smile left the Stranger’s face.  “What happened to the tree that was here?  In the space behind the purple bean?” 

Oh gee, the dreaded question.  The Gardener looks at the ground, unable to make eye contact with the Stranger.  “I had to cut it down.” There wasn’t anything wrong with the tree, but, it shaded almost all of the space. “This is the only area in the yard that can get any sun, and since I grow a lot of vegetables and herbs, I had to cut down the tree to create this sunlit patch.”

Nothing else was said.  The heavy silence was awkward.  The Stranger gazed over the space, as if looking for something else that wasn’t there, and then quickly changed the subject.

“Did you take out all of the carpet?”

“Yep.  We finished the wood floors.  They are beautiful.”

“I remember my mother always polishing the floors.”  The Stranger’s voice quieted.

“Would you like to come in and see them?  The house is a little messy, but you are more than welcome to come in.”  Again, why did I invite this stranger into MY house.  Especially since it is not as clean as it was when I moved in. 

“I don’t want to impose.  I pick up my cousin every Sunday for church,” pointing to the neighboring house, “I’ll stop by again.  In the mean time, I will be watching what you do out here in the front.”  As the Stranger began to walk back to the property line the Gardener noticed the gray Ford Taurus parked in the street in front of the neighboring house.  I’ve seen that car before, driving slowly past the house.  That’s who it is.  Gray house, gray car.

“I’ll keep watching.  I’m curious to see what you do.” The Stranger called out while waving.

Haunted by the visit, the Gardener continued to remove the rooted mass and decaying plant material.  What will I do here?  How could I have gone and killed everything that someone else had tried for so many years to grow?  This is my house now, but why don’t I feel like this garden is mine?  Formal landscape?  What am I thinking?  I am not formal.

With bare hands buried deep into the cool musty soil, the final steps are taken to remove all green life from the front landscape.  I know now, I need to create an inviting landscape, one that welcomes any stranger to this home, filled with colorful flowers and native plants that should be growing in this garden for bees, butterflies and insects, and using methods that benefit the creatures living in the soil.  The earth will never be owned by me, or anyone else.  It is shared by us all, for a moment in our time.  I will just tend the soil for now, garden how I feel is best, until I am gone and the next gardener comes to do what they want to do. 

bee and lavender

March Mornings

10 Mar

chickadeeChick-a-dee dee dee.  Chick-a-dee dee dee.”  This is the sound I hear on the day I can sleep in. Outside my window, a repeating call. The mornings are lighter, and the noises are different…..My mind wanders as I fall in and out of consciousness…are these the sounds of migrating birds?  Or maybe a mating call of a familiar bird that has changed its tune for the season….. I’m not a morning person, and it was nice to wake up early enough to listen to nature. “Whooo, who-who.   Whoooo, who-who.”  A dove sings it’s softly spoken song. Daylight savings time has started. I don’t understand why we do this. Someone please help me. I don’t know what the real time is. Just when I have no problem waking up in the morning, we have to move our clocks forward an hour. Now I will struggle again to wake up and rush to work on time. Why can’t we live by the sun? Like the plants and animals. They seem to do just fine without looking at the clock. What tells them to start growing or traveling to and fro? So my friend tells me “the good news is that our evenings will be lighter later.” It still doesn’t help with the struggles of waking up an hour earlier. Can I just lie in bed a little longer? The ground is frozen anyway. I attempt to pull the blanket up around my neck to get a few more minutes in, but the dog has positioned herself like a rock on the blanket at my feet preventing me from doing so……….Longer days ahead mean more time to work in the garden after I get home from my day job. I have attended enough garden education, garden shows, done enough garden reading and planning, it’s time to get outside and get my hands dirty. Oh geez, there’s still a foot of snow in some places, and if I see any soil, it is frozen solid. I would need a pick to break it apart. I need to make sure my low tunnels are ready so I can sow spinach and arugula seeds, and transplant the onions I sowed a few weeks ago…….I didn’t plant anything in the fall, maybe this year I will……. Once the snow melts and I can work the soil, in go the peas. I think that I will give the peas a little jump by planting them in a low tunnel to get them started…… Hmmm. Is my garden plan done? Maybe I should get out of bed and make sure. I need to look at my seed sowing calendar. When am I starting peppers? Is it this week? I think there is one more garden show coming up………..I think it’s raining.  Almost spring, try to stay calm.

My Favorite Urban Farmscaper Gifts

25 Nov

Seriously, haven’t you heard enough about cyber Monday and all the deals that could be out there?  Well, I have…except for the deals I find for my gardening friends! The holiday season is upon us and  honestly, I won’t tolerate another gift that is marketed to gardeners that really has no useful purpose.  Like a Chia Pet for example.  I love plants, and love growing them, but have no desire to have a terra cotta bust of Homer Simpson with chia hair!    So, with that, here are some of my favorites with the links to these awesome gardening products on Amazon  as well as suggested gifts for gardeners.  When you click on a picture it will take you straight to the product.  Don’t forget to come back to My Urban Farmscape!

Happy shopping!  Remember, click on the pic to  send you to Amazon, or a link  like the one here for all of the Cyber Monday Deals.    Shop Amazon – Cyber Monday Deals Week

My Favorite Urban Farmscaper Gifts!

The Ultimate Urban Farmscaper’s Gift!  Why not have it all in this compact space.  A raised bed with an optional greenhouse to extend your gardening season.  A great idea for a senior or  Farmscaper who has everything…except this!







I love  this Jewel Coldframe that I mentioned in an earlier post and use at My Urban Farmscape to extend the season.  When you aren’t using it in the garden, it can be broken down for easy storage.

This Earth Box below is great for those of you with little space and with little time tending to garden chores.  Maybe you didn’t find the time, or forgot to water last year?  A perfect gift for the busy Urban Farmscaper.

Some of my favorite pruners to use in the garden for harvesting as well as in the kitchen for cutting fresh herbs.

For indoor growing and seed starting, supplemental lights are a must have.  For quality and compact sizes, here are two of my favorites.

For the garden photographer the right kind of lens or camera can really help to capture the tiny life living in the garden.

Books for Urban Farmscapers that love to grow food in small spaces, and even for those growing in not so small spaces.

Books for preserving and cooking food you grow or buy at the farmers markets.  Great gifts for someone that is trying to eat local and seasonally.

Magazine subscriptions that are full of useful information about gardening, cooking and homesteading.  I keep every issue of mine for reference.

Garden fun and games for farmscapers of all ages and for the future farmscapers.

Indoor Urban Farmscaping  for someone who may have limited indoor growing space.

Make sure you click the pic to go to Amazon! 

Happy Holidays!

Patti and the My Urban Farmscapers Team

My Urban Farmscape was Nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award!

28 Oct


I was nominated by photographer and blogger,  

Thanks Kristen!

So, if you’re not familiar with this award, here are the details……

To accept this award:

1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you.

2. Paste the award image on your blog.

3. Tell 7 facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other blogs that you would like to give the award to.

5. Contact the bloggers that you have chosen and let them know about the award.

Here are 7 facts about myself:

  1. Formost and above all, I am a wife, a mom and a grandma.  My family is my life.
  2. I have other interests besides gardening, really!  Writing, photography of course, and I love to sew, quilt and craft.
  3. I have two dogs that rule the house
  4. Besides writing about gardening, I work full time as a university greenhouse manager and am the curator of a botanical garden.
  5. I DO NOT like to eat anything in the brassicaceae family.  You might already know this.
  6. Cheesecake is my favorite dessert.
  7. Mary Oliver is my favorite poet.

Here are the 15 blogs that I am nominating in no particular order.  Check ’em out.

  1. Memoirs From Behind the Chair
  2. Swier Family Farm
  3. The Soulsby Farm
  4. Diary of a Small Town Earth Muffin
  5. Patterns of Nature
  6. Grow Where You’re Planted
  7. Soul Food Sister
  8. Richert Images
  9. Danny’s Kitchen
  10. Boozed & Infused
  11. May Dreams Gardens
  12. Late Blooming Entrpreneurs
  13. Pleiades 513
  14. Our French Garden
  15. Jeremy Gradney

Magical Lavender Wands

24 Jun

One of my favorite plants is  lavender, Lavandula sp.  I love the way the foliage is a shade of grey-green, the purple flower spikes, but most of all, its delightful fragrance.  It’s easy to understand why it has been such a popular herb for cleaning as well as perfumes since medieval times.  In recent years, chefs have been using lavender flowers to add a bit of its floral notes to culinary delights such as lemonade, cookies, as well as more savory dishes.

I live in zone 5, which is good for growing both English lavender varieties, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’.  I have My Urban Farmscape bordered with Munstead.  It’s nice to smell it as I brush up against it while weeding.  I can harvest and dry the flowers to use for cooking or crafts.  I sometimes put the dried flowers in fabric bags and place them in my drawers.

English Lavender at My Urban Farmscape

One thing that I like to do is to make lavender wands.  These date back prior to the Victorian era.  It is a simple way of preserving the flowers and stems and can be as decorative as I like.  When they dry, the flowers are tucked inside the satin ribbon-stem weave, and with a quick roll between my hands, the most wonderful fragrance is released.  The best variety for making lavender wands is Lavandula x intermedia ‘Provence’ because it has such long stems and the oil content is so high.  It grows well in zone 6 and up.  So I wondered, what if I planted Provence in a garden tucked away in a little warmer microclimate, maybe I could grow this. I tried and have had been growing Provence for two years. Maybe luck. 

Top = Provence Bottom = Munstead

To make lavender wands, regardless of the variety you have, just follow these simple steps:

Harvest the lavender flowers at their peak, just as the lower petals start to open.  Do this in the early afternoon on a sunny day which will allow the flowers to be dry from any overnight dew or moisture from earlier rains.

Cut the stems as long as you can, and count out an odd number.  I used 21 for this lavender wand.  For Hidcote or Munstead, I would use a smaller number of stems or you will end up with a really fat wand, like a lollipop.

Line up the flowers so that the bottoms of the flower stalk line up.  Wrap the stems just below the flowers with a satin type craft ribbon that is ¼” wide.  You can use any color.  I like to be traditional and use purple.  Tie the ribbon in a knot tightly.  Leave a tail about 6” long, and don’t cut the rest of the ribbon from the spool just yet.  This is the part you will weave in and out of the stems.

Flip upside down and while holding the bunched flowers, start to fold the stems down over the flowers until they are all folded over them.  Keep the ribbon tail inside with the flowers.

Taking your ribbon still connected to the spool, start to weave over and under each stem, creating a basket weave.  Once you get to the third row it will get easier.

Once you have woven the ribbon to the end of the flowers, and the stems meet each other, tie the piece that was left as the tail and the piece that is still connected to the spool and tie into a knot then into a bow.  Cut the ribbon from the spool and even up the ends of both pieces.

Now you can do with them what you please.  Tuck them away to add a pleasant smell in your drawers, give them as gifts, or wave them in the air to cast friendly magical spells over your garden.  I just like to leave them out decoratively around my house  and as I pass them by, I give them a roll between my hands and am quickly transported to that summer day when I sat on the porch while making them.

%d bloggers like this: