Monday, November 30, 2009

Awed by Blotanical

I just read an interesting post by Deborah of Deb's garden that reflected some of my own experiences in starting a garden blog and discovering Blotanical.

During my childhood in the fifties and sixties in suburban Minnesota, my mother initially had some apple trees and a small vegetable plot I helped out in. Such plots slowly disappeared in our suburb, and my father's attitude of "why go to all that work if you can buy everything conveniently frozen" was probably typical for the time. Soon our suburb looked like others all over the country: expanses of green lawn with a few solitary trees and some shrubs in a retaining wall in front of the entrance.

Years later I ended up making my life in Germany, where vegetable and flower gardening are widespread. Here I became reacquainted with the custom of kitchen gardens - still very much alive all over Europe. Many people own a garden plot somewhere, not necessarily at their dwelling, sometimes located in organized garden colonies (known in Britain as allotments, in Germany as Kleingärten or Schrebergärten). If you bring up the topic of gardening here, the most unlikely people will start talking shop with you about onions and tomatoes, roses and peonies.

About to retire and inspired by the garden culture surrounding me, I acquired an allotment garden last summer. In previous phases of life with a demanding job, three children, a long commute, etc., there had been no room for anything like gardening. My new found passion for gardening soon led to a desire to document it and share what I was doing with friends and family. Since I knew something about the internet and computers from years of using them at work, a blog seemed a logical choice.

While browsing the internet for similar gardening blogs, I not only discovered that I was by no means the first to come up with this idea, but that there was a huge network of garden blogs called Blotanical out there, in which hundreds (or maybe even a thousand?) garden blogs have found a platform for exchanging information, getting acquainted, and reading and commenting on each other's blogs.

If you join Blotanical, you get your own "plot" where you can point to your blog, name other bloggers you like (known as "faving" a blog), award points to blog posts you've liked (known as "picking" a post), send messages to other members, search their huge base of blogs in various ways including map-based, and just generally move around in a world of friendly gardeners.

Blotanical has a system of awarding points that can eventually lead to a higher status (from "Patron Blotanist" up to "Guru Blotanist"), which in turn gives you more participation privileges in the Blotanical world.

One thing I haven't been able to find on the Blotanical website, though, is background on how it started and who maintains it. It would be nice if there was an "about" or "mission" tab on the homepage. I know there's someone named Stuart Robinson from Australia who is apparently the webmaster in addition to running his own gardening blog. Thanks to him and whoever else is responsible in the background, many bloggers like me have found a community of the like-minded that is always fun to visit and where people are always supportive and friendly. Do take a look if you're interested in gardening or garden blogging. You will discover gardens on every tillable continent on earth.

Proud of getting my simple blog up and running at all, I was, however, somewhat daunted by the other bloggers at Blotanical. There are LOTS of bloggers there who:
  • write excellently, some are even professional writers
  • must be IT specialists on the side, since their blogs are technically perfect
  • take gorgeous photos, have tasteful attractive layout
  • are master gardeners, landscape planners, or garden architects
  • even if hobby gardeners, are highly skilled and knowledgeable
  • manage to hold down jobs; maintain imaginative, labor-intensive gardens; and write frequent blog posts
  • keep up communication with and regularly read the blogs of many other bloggers.
I've found much to admire there. So although I may never make it to Guru Blotanist, I will continue to enjoy the Blotanical community and have already revised my fixed notion that Americans have lawns, but not gardens.

And because there was no photo in this post, here's one of some appealing mushrooms I found in our garden one damp fall morning last week (please click to enlarge). I had wanted to mow that patch of grass, but couldn't bring myself to!

Monday, November 23, 2009

What could be worse than slugs? Bean weevils!

Now that fall is upon us and the garden is pretty much ready for winter, I decided to tackle our large harvest of dried wax beans in order to remove the dried beans from the seed casings. We acquired the allotment garden at the end of July, and the large plot of wax bush beans our predecessors had planted were already overripe and no longer edible as green beans. So upon the advice of a dear elderly experienced gardener, I left the beans on the plants until they were thoroughly dry. She had said that after harvesting I should spread them on newspaper to further dry, up to the point where the pods were stiff and crackling. So that's what I did.

Then one dreary evening (it's already dark here in Germany by 5 p.m.) I settled in and began to remove the seeds.

The beans were quite pretty, shiny white with black markings. Still, my husband suggested we cook up a batch as bean soup to see if they really tasted good as dried beans before shelling the whole two bucketfuls. 

When I washed a bowlful, I noticed an insect or two rising to the surface of the water without thinking much of it. After all they were organically grown beans from the garden. But after I had soaked them for a while and they had somewhat expanded in size, I noticed that every single bean seemed to have a small round hole in it. I took one out, cut it open, and inside there was a tiny live beetle! It turned out there was a beetle in every single bean! Not a worm - a beetle. Being soaked for a few hours hadn't phased them. Horrified, I dumped the entire lot onto the compost without thinking to grab my camera and get a photo.

After researching on the internet I discovered that they must have been bean weevils. I found a great picture  of them on a Danish website by searching for the Latin name Callosobruchus maculatusAfter discovering that the website had German and English versions, it turned out to be a website run by people who have a mail order business for poisonous dart frogs, geckos, and other terrarium animals they breed themselves. So why do they have such a professional photo of bean weevils on their site?? Because they raise them, too, as food for the frogs! Here's the picture, at a later stage than my beans were:

The creatures have an interesting life cycle, spending almost their entire life inside of the bean they call home. They crawl out to mate and lay eggs on the beans, and the hatched larva then chew their way in where they pupate. So will we now have trouble growing beans without using insecticides, which we are determined not to do?

 If anyone has advice on this I'd be grateful. I've been trying to psych myself into liking our slugs (see my post on snail whispering), but I don't think I can get close to a bean weevil. Maybe I'll get in touch with those Danes about a business proposition!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Proud to be an Honest Scrap

After being offline for a while I am proud to report that I have been awarded the title "Honest Scrap" by a fellow garden blogger, Deborah at Kilbourne Grove (do look at her great Green Theatre blog). I am delighted and thank Deborah for this distinction! The admiration is mutual.
Although despite intensive googling I haven't been able to discover exactly what this award means or where it came from, it does include some clear duties that I will gladly comply with. Some might think that Duty 4 has some similarity to chain letters, but it doesn't promise you true love or ten thousand postcards, and instead may make you aware of or even connect you up with some bloggers you weren't familiar with before.

Here are the duties:

Duty 1: Brag about the award (which I'm hopefully fulfilling by writing this blog post on it.
Duty 2: Link back to Deborah (see above and below)
Duty 3: Write ten honest things about yourself (see below)
Duty 4: Pass on the award to 7 fellow bloggers you admire.

So here goes. Duty 3, ten things about me:
  1. I have curly hair which was the bane of my youth and which I haven't grown to accept until middle age. My teenage daughter (also curly) has the great fortune to have been born in the age of electric hair flatteners, so needn't resort to the ironing board, as I used to.
  2. I sometimes wish I had become an elementary school teacher.
  3. Gardening has turned out to be a completely unexpected passion of mine.
  4. For about ten years I've had an outline for a murder mystery on my PC. Any day now...
  5. I never miss the Sunday night crime series on German TV ("Tatort").
  6. A few years ago I got interested in my family's genealogy and discovered that some of my forebears may have been Mennonites who fled Europe in the 17th century for Pennsylvania.
  7. My favorite vacation activity is doing long-distance cycling along Germany's many river routes (except now I have to stay home and tend my garden, see #3).
  8. I have two sisters who live in San Francisco.
  9. I've gone jogging with the same three women every Saturday for 18 years.
  10. I am also an avid figure skating fan. Would anyone like to go to the European Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, with me in January?
And now for Duty 4, passing on the award. This award has been spreading like wildfire, and not surprisingly, just about every garden blogger I'd like to give it to has already been awarded it! But I'll name them anyhow. Since I don't know that many bloggers, this list is going to have to grow with time.  I'll start with these wonderful blogs:
  1. Green Theatre, Deborah's gardening blog about Kilbourne Grove. There aren't that many of us out there that love clear, geometrical shapes and straight lines in their gardens!
  2. Lou Murray's Green World. I've been enjoying this garden blog from a gardener in Southern California, far away both in kilometers and in terms of gardening conditions from where I am - but that's what makes the web so wonderful.
  3. Elephant's Eye. A South African blog I've recently discovered with gorgeous photos.
  4. Autumn Belle at My Nice Garden. Another blog I've become familiar with through Blotanical, a website where you can find all of these blogs and hundreds more, united by a common love of gardening.
  5. Garden of Eaden,  Simon's very informative website with an ecological slant.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trip to Vienna, a few gardens

Just back from a long weekend in Vienna, I have at least found a few garden-related things to post, despite the cold, damp November weather there.

The first place we visited was Belvedere Castle, which possesses a vast formal garden with floral patterns formed only by boxwood, grass, and colored gravel. The view from ground level is not very spectacular (see above, click any photo to enlarge), but the view that the prince had from his upstairs chambers reveals more.

Way down at the other end of the gardens, beyond the high-hedged mazes and around to the side of the Lower Belvedere, we discovered another formal garden (with some modern sculptures) enclosed by a wall covered by vines in breathtaking fall colors, I think Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata Veitchii).

Speaking of Boston Ivy, we also encountered some growing from a small window planter - had never seen that before!

More on the level of my own modest boxwood hedging efforts (see my post), I was delighted to discover the garden in the back of the last house that Haydn lived in, from 1797 until his death in 1808. It's easy to imagine that it still looks the way it did back in Haydn's day. You can rent an audiophone and listen to "Die Schöpfung" while sitting on a bench in this garden. This last great work of his was composed in this house. I highly recommend a visit there if you're interested in Haydn and life in Vienna in his day.

We also visited the Vienna Central Cemetery, the second largest in all of Europe and resting place of Beethoven, Strauss, Schubert and many other inhabitants of that city, great and humble. The entire cemetery is laid out like a formal, symmetrical garden, with the Art Nouveau chapel and the mausoleum of all of Austria's presidents as centerpiece.

It's a beautiful place. I found the old Jewish section the most beautiful of all, and the fall colors made a wonderful backdrop to the lushly overgrown gravestones.

OK, this is completely off-topic, but I can't resist. Instead of posting pictures of any of the usual touristy things to do in Vienna, here are two pictures of the most beautiful public lavatories I've ever encountered. They are underground in the area between St. Stephen's Cathedral and the Hofburg, with the kind of stairs leading down to them that would not be confidence-inspiring in most European cities. But I braved it, to discover highly polished wood, beautiful tiling, and for each guest an immaculate personal booth with toilet, sink, soap and towels. There was an attendant on duty, and the whole thing cost 50 cents. I sent my husband down to the men's - same story.