Sunday, May 2, 2010

Plants, galore! Plus a tasty plant-based lunch.

This weekend, the husband and I tackled our first major yard-related project! Just weeding has been a significant task - after the rain and wind of the winter, it took us a bit of time to clear out our back yard. One of the great things about our house is all of the flower beds! Practically every perimeter is garden. That means a lot of work, and it will eventually mean a lot of satisfaction.

Here's the before picture of our cute little ranch house in Sacramento:

We had to start from the beginning and learn how to prep the soil, select plants, fertilize, and actually get those suckers in the ground. The extent of my pre-existing knowledge of gardening came from two sources: one, my dad was a big gardener in my youth - I learned something about the variety of plants from him (apparently through osmosis!); two, we had lovely rose bushes at our last house, a rental with a mow-and-blow gardener, and I learned exclusively the basics of rose care so I could keep them alive and somewhat healthy. I am still surprised at my own ability to retain plant identification info - wandering through the nursery or flipping through my Western Gardener book, I'll see plants from my past that were hovering at the edge of my gardening subconscious (oh yeah, I remember gaillardia!!). But knowing the names of plants will only get you so far! There is so much other vital information to know before you can pop it in the ground.
These are the before pictures - anybody know what the spidery fern-like plant is in the front? Well, it's gone now!

On Friday, we headed to Lowe's to pick up some gardening supplies, mostly tools. We brought home a shovel, a "clawhand" (is this a hand-held tiller?), another trowel, a transplantor (slightly leaner trowel), a garden rake, a soil testing kit, and an outdoor extension cord for the leafblower.
Saturday was a big day. First we tested our soil with the little kit - the bed where we were going to plant gardenias was about a 6, which is acidic (7 is neutral, below 7 is alkaline). Slightly acidic is good for the gardenias, so we were happy, but we determined that the soil was lacking in other basic nutrients (no big surprise there!). Then we headed to the nursery for plants, compost/organic material, and fertilizer. We had a minor setback - they only had hybrid calla lilies, which die back to the ground over the winter, and I had planned for common callas, which are evergreen. I compromised by taking home a couple of the hybrids in a pretty fuchsia color and special ordering the common callas, which won't be available for another week or two. Then we trucked it all home and the fun began.

We ripped out all of the old plants in the front of the house, leaving only the somewhat sickly bird of paradise next to the door. Everything else had to go - that included a crazy spidery fern-like plant, some overgrown shrubby thing, geraniums, and some mystery bushes with berries and little red flowers. The latter didn't weather our winter freeze too well - they were brittle and woody, with the leaves only recently beginning to fill back in. The husband tackled the monstrous spider-alien plant - it had an extensive root system peppered with icky sac pods. Ew.
In some major news, I have almost conquered my overwhelming fear of worms. I do, however, have to wear gloves to add a layer of protection between myself and the offenders.

After digging out the plants, we worked on the soil for a bit, digging it up and breaking up all the clumps, then working in firmulch (the organic matter - ours included bat guano and chicken manure!! I bet our dogs were intoxicated by the lovely scents) and a basic fertilizer with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.

The next morning, we got the plants positioned where we wanted them - and then we planted!

Here's the after!

Here I am, after getting that first plant into the ground:

And the gardenias! (They will get a lot taller.)

Here's the side of the house now - the plants look a little mini, but I think they will fill in as they grow. We put in dwarf blue agapanthus and hybrid callas.

It was almost exhilarating to see the benefits of our hard work. The learning curve is a little steep, but now that we know the basics, I think we are going to make great strides in our yard. Now we just need to learn enough not to kill the plants that we've got. They are in the ground - what next? I should have read farther in the book ...

Here's what we had for lunch on Saturday - great fuel before we put our shovels in the ground. I ran 5 miles Saturday morning, followed by yogurt and cereal, so I needed something substantial before I tackled the yard.

A salad with CSA box mixed greens, almonds, carrots, green onions, cranberries, and cheese, topped with Amy's low-fat honey mustard dressing. Plus a "too-no-fish" open-faced sandwich!

This is such a delightful and unique sandwich! It's like a vegetarian version of tuna fish, or maybe a deconstructed hummus?

Here's how you make it:

Drain one can of chickpeas and mash with a potato masher or fork. Add a couple tablespoons of mayo/miracle whip to taste, as well as mustard to taste (I used both yellow and dijon, probably a teaspoon of each), plus sliced green onions (or chives), a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a pinch or two of smoked paprika or cayenne.

Serve on freshly toasted bread and devour. So yummy!


  1. How's the green thumb? Are your plants now growing like Jack's beanstalk?

    How fun!!!!


  2. Looks favorite plants and great for Sacramento!

  3. I think the plants look pretty happy so far! My co-worker has a VERY green thumb, and she suggested that I get a B vitamin fertilizer to help the roots get established. I think we are going to try it! Keep your fingers crossed for our little plants.