Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Design Your Very Own Halloween Garden

This just in, dear readers - ghastly gardens are all the rage this time of year!  I know what you're thinking: how can I design my very own spooky garden space?  Well, never fear!  Here are some tips to make your garden into a fabulously ominous space that no one will want to go into!

The first tip when designing a garden is to decide what the 'bones' of the garden are going to be.

photo source - Wikipedia
Er, uh, wrong type of bones (though a skeleton would make for some wonderfully dreadful garden art...) 

I was actually referring to the large, permanent plantings that give structure to the garden, such as trees and shrubs.  In your Halloween garden, you definitely want trees that give the most unwelcoming impression possible.

Chorisia speciosa (pictured above) is a delightful tree for your very own spooky retreat.  Trees that twist and gnarl are also acceptable - bonus points if the ones in your garden look like the evil trees from 'Wizard of Oz'!

For those of you in the Northeast that just lost a bunch of trees in the storm, you are in luck - nothing says 'Stay Away' better than a snarled bunch of downed trees littering up the yard!

In selecting shrubs for your creepy garden, think thorns.  Buckthorns, Roses (blood-red, of course!), Flowering Quince, and Ocotillo are but a few of the options available.

the fabulously razor-sharp thorns of Ocotillo
If those look too friendly for your taste, one can always use a nice, prickly cactus.  In fact, a whole yard full of cacti would be spectacularly spooky - and the neighborhood children's worse nightmare!

After you have found the most dreadful trees and shrubs possible, it is time to work on the next layer of your extra-special, gruesome garden - flowers.  I particularly like those that look like eyeballs.

 Actaea pachypoda,  Acmella oleracea
Other plants to keep an eye out for in nurseries or along the roadside include thorny or prickly weeds, carnivorous plants, and anything that looks remotely weird or foreboding.

When designing your one-of-a-kind, spooky garden, do not neglect the house.  One of the best ways to get a neglected, abandoned feel to your property is to plant a monstrous vine right next to the house.

Monster vine eating a building
You will know that you have succeeded if it is impossible to find the front door.  Up north, Boston ivy will easily grow into a monstrous vine.  For those of you who live in the Southeast, there is reason to rejoice - you can now get your Kudzu in either plain or variegated.

'Sherman's Revenge' Kudzu
- brought to you by Plant Delight's Nursery
Now, of course, if you really want a terrifying yard for Halloween, you could just drape everything with Poison Ivy..

I hope these tips have helped you in planning your very own ghastly garden space!  Have a happy Halloween, and enjoy watching all those kids try to get through your now fabulously menacing front yard to trick-or-treat!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

When It Is Time to Take Down the Bird Feeder

The end of the summer was a troubling time for me and the Red House Garden bird community.  We had a sick bird.

my sick House Finch
I noticed that this little House Finch constantly stayed on the bird feeder.  Its eyes were swollen, and it didn't even notice me at one point when I was right next to the bird feeder - it had House Finch Eye Disease.

House Finch Eye Disease, sometimes called Mycoplasma Conjunctivitis, is a respiratory infection where the eyes of infected birds become swollen, red, and crusted over.  Birds can recover from the infection, but the mortality rate is quite high from starvation or predation as these birds cannot see very well.

House Finch Eye Disease was first noticed in 1994 near Washington D.C. and can now be found all along the East coast.  It affects mainly House Finches, though it has also been found in other birds in the same family, such as Goldfinches, Purple Finches, and Evening Grosbeaks.

the House finch scratching its eyes against the roof gutter.
House Finches are not native to the Eastern U.S. - they are from the West coast.  All of our House Finches here in the East are actually descended from a small group of House Finches (or 'Hollywood Finches' as they were known back then) that were released in Long Island by bird dealers back in the 1940's when it became illegal to keep and sell them.

Hence our Eastern House Finches are all inbred and genetically inferior - and thus more susceptible to this disease.

So what to do about my little sick House Finch?  I didn't want it to infect the other finches at the bird feeder.  I tried disinfecting the bird feeder every day and limiting the amount of time it was up, but the sick bird still hung around the bird feeder quite a bit.  And when I thought I spotted another House Finch that had swollen eyes a couple days later, I knew it was time - I had to take down the bird feeder and let the birds disperse.

House Finch Eye Disease has taken its toll
The sick House Finch was looking even worse by then - I do hope it survived, but more likely Nature took its course.  At least with it being late summer, food was readily available for all the other birds that often stopped at my feeder.  (And despite what my squirrels say, I'm sure they are finding some food around as well!)

It is recommended that the feeders stay down for at least two weeks when there is disease going around.  I've had them down for over a month now as I've been too busy to put them back up, but soon I'll hang them back up for the fall migrating birds and for my winter residents.

 And hopefully by then all my birds will be healthy and clear-eyed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012









Hey, we got a weird message from Squirrel Headquarters - have any of you squirrels been sending the humans messages asking for nuts?

Uhh, noooo, it must have been Mrs. Red House!

Mrs. Red House is on vacation this weekend.

Uhhh... it was probably the birds, yeah, the birds..

look innocent, look innocent, look innocent...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nearly Naked Abelias and Other Blooms

It's October, and the weather is still deciding whether or not it wants to get cold.  Either way, the plants are appreciating the fact that it is no longer blisteringly hot outside!

part of the front garden
My Abelias are blooming profusely.  You wouldn't know it though, since my kids have seen fit to pick off almost every single little white flower from the stems.  That takes some kind of dedication (I'm just not sure what kind!)  Thankfully, the pretty reddish sepals have been left unplundered for winter.

a nearly naked Abelia
They should work on picking their own flowers, as their wildflower garden is an overflowing riot of rainbow colors, just like they wanted it.  I guess it's more fun to pick Mommy's flowers..

the kids' garden, spilling over with blooms
A fair number of things are re-blooming now that the weather is cooler, such as the 'Jackmanii' Clematis and Rudbeckias in the front garden and my roses in the back.  The roses are known by the kids as 'those pokey bushes' so these blooms are safe!

Rosa 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'
My seemingly ever-blooming 'Santana' Butterfly Bush is still going strong, earning thanks from the butterflies passing through.  The bush has turned into a monster, with most of the blooms too high for the little tykes to get into!

Monarch on 'Santana' Butterfly Bush
My new Nepeta 'Limelight' is blooming, but I don't think anyone really grows it for it's blooms, do you?  I took this picture on a cloudy day so the colors are a little muted, but believe me, the foliage practically glows.

my kids probably wouldn't even notice the blooms on this Nepeta 'Limelight'
It's fall, so of course the mums must pretty themselves up! 

But I must admit, as soon as there was the slightest chill in the air, it was pansies that I just had to get.

I adore the little viola ones, even though you have to see them up close to truly appreciate them.

Bonus points for whiskers!  

They should last all through the fall and into the spring,

at least, as long as my kids don't notice them...

For what's blooming in other gardens across the world, visit Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!

Friday, October 12, 2012

10 Reasons You Should NOT grow a Vegetable Garden

1. To build your garden you will need to acquire good dirt, which might lead to the horrifying realization that good dirt includes such things as cow 'manure' and worm 'castings' - which are really just different names for animal 'poop'.

2. You will find that your children will want to 'help' plant and water the garden.  This might will lead to dirty and unkempt children.

3. Your children might want to go outside more often to 'help' with the gardening and picking of vegetables.  You may have to go outside as well in order to supervise, which might will lead to a shattered image of the gardening experience as being quiet and tranquil. 

4. Each morning, you will have to go out in the fresh air and water said garden, though thankfully only in good weather.

5. Your kids will enjoy fresh vegetables so much that after summer they won't want to eat the ones you bought in plastic packaging at the store anymore.

6. Your success in growing vegetables might lead to boasting, and we all know that pride goes before a fall, usually over that hose you left laying next to the garden.

7. You might end up with so many vegetables that you will experience the feeling of being overwhelmed, which could possibly lead to depression.

8. In order to deal with the abundance of vegetables, you might have to go to the effort of talking nice with the neighbors in order to pressure them into taking these unwanted vegetables.

9. If the abundance of vegetables is too great, you might even have to take the time to learn new skills such as freezing or even canning.  This is a gateway to hippie-like tendencies. 

10. Growing fresh vegetables will lead to the eating of more fresh vegetables, which can lower consumption of other delicious foods such as baked goods, desserts, and bacon.  Ah, thank goodness my veggie garden is now pretty much over for the season, and the holidays are on their way...  

What, here in North Carolina you can grow a cool-season vegetable garden too?  Nnooooooo!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Toad Lilies - a Whole Lot of Weird Going On

When Mr. Red House first saw a picture of a Toad Lily, his comment was 'Weird.'  And I rather agree with him.

  They have beautiful but weird-looking flowers, they have a weird name, and there is possibly an even weirder story behind how they became to be known as 'Toad Liles'.

Some say that they are called 'Toad Lilies' due the spotted flowers, which makes sense...

..but others say that these little flowers got their name when a 'Stone-age' tribe in the Philippines that was 'discovered' in the 1970's was shown rubbing juice from this plant all over their hand and arms before going to catch frogs to eat (as a supposed attractant for frogs).  

This was part of what is now known as the Tasaday hoax, where a man named Manuel Elizalde, Jr. (advisor to the president of the Philippines) had a primitive local group (the Tasaday people) dress up and act even more primitively so that he could claim that he had found a 'Stone-age' tribe. 

The tribe was documented by National Geographic, and a book was even written about it (The Gentle Tasaday) before it was finally discovered that it was a hoax contrived by Elizalde (who reportedly made off with quite a lot of money from the foundation that was set up to protect the Tasaday).

Toad Lilies and Toad Lily juice doesn't really attract frogs or toads either - that part was a hoax as well.
Weird, huh?

These little flowers are native to parts of Asia, such as the Himalayas, China, Japan, and, of course, the Philippines.  They grow naturally along the edges of woodlands, preferring shade and rich, moist soil.  You might want to plant them somewhere where you can see the diminutive blooms close up!

Well, however weird their name or story, Toad Lilies are an exotically beautiful addition for a late-blooming shade garden!

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