Birding from the Car


What on earth is this mess? Actually it’s a bunch of weeds almost obscuring a garden near the restrooms in Elizabeth Park.

The Park clearly needs more volunteers. But actually, perhaps not. While I was sitting in y car waiting to meet a friend, I was watching this weedy patch and the goldfinch were just loving it! They didn’t even seem to care that I was snapping photographs, or that folks were driving in the parking lot.

In fact the only thing that seemed to drive them away was when folks–some with excitable children–started to queue up for the bathrooms.


The “fluff” from these flowers is what they were after. As you may know, goldfinch are late nesters. I suspect they may have been lining their nests with these seed puffs. The fact that there was a seed at the end of the “fluff” almost seemed to be an inconvenience. The finches seemed to be wiping the seeds in the study stems of these weeds in an attempt to knock it off. Apparently, it is not tasty–at least not to the goldfinch.

So next time you a have few minutes to wait, sit quietly in your car. It makes a great “birding blind.” You never know what you’ll see!

If You Can’t Beat It, Eat It?

Foraging has come back into vogue (if indeed it every went out of style) and one of the “trendiest” plants to eat is the invasive plant garlic mustard (alliaria petiolata). I started to read about this just about the time I started my blog in 2010 and it has now exploded online with recipes for garlic mustard pesto (most commonly) and garlic mustard horseradish made from the roots of the plant (most recently. The plant has a long tap root so I can see that it would be good for this).

I have been in a somewhat winning battle with garlic mustard on my property–I just about think I have it all and the stuff comes roaring back from somewhere. I was shocked to find a patch this large when I went to take my photos! But that’s why it’s an invasive, right? Still, I have knocked it back substantially from when I first realized that it was running amok on our property and I now try to keep at least the second year (flowering) plants ripped out so that they don’t create more plants. My neighbors do not do the same which is why I fear I can’t completely eradicate it (that, and the fact that I don’t dig up all the first year rosettes, meaning I will have plants every year for many years).


Garlic mustard is a bienniel, meaning the first year it forms a harmless looking little rosette. You can easily overlook it. These are the rosettes. Just perfect for pesto. I think this patch formed when we removed a bunch of invasive brambles last year. So we traded one invasive for another, apparently.


The following year it sends up a flower stalk  and then flowers and sets seed. That’s when it’s most important to get it out, if you’re only going to do it once and do it before it goes to seed! This is the flower stalk. Luckily I didn’t find too many of these.

But if you’re going to make pesto, why not get the tender, first year rosettes and save the trouble of letting the plant flower at all?

And since this is a gardening blog, not a cooking one, I will let you all seek the recipes for pesto and horse radish out there on the web. I haven’t tried any myself so I can’t recommend one. Just make sure, whatever you do, that you have properly identified the plant (as always) and that it hasn’t been sprayed with anything. Then enjoy!

The Right Tool Makes Everything Better

After an extremely dry 15 months, we had some rain the first week of May. It didn’t help the plants along as much as I would have hoped. Of course, what it did help along were the weeds.

Even without the rain, I think the weeds would have been sprouting. Our last two summers were very dry and yet there were still weeds. Perhaps the weeding wasn’t quite as much of a chore as it would normally be in a year with an average amount of rainfall but weeds will always be with us.


That’s why it’s important to stay ahead of them and it’s important to have the correct tools. One of the best tools I ever invested in was something called a Cape Cod Weeder. You can see it here in a “before” photo with weeds in the crack of my slate walkway.


And here is the result–weeds removed from two of the cracks of the walkway.  This tool is fabulous because it can get into narrow spots that a lot of other tools, like my beloved Cobrahead™ weeder, can’t for example.


The Cobrahead™ will make quick work of a patch of weeds like this: just a fast slice under the soil and these weeds are gone. I just lift them away with a minimum of soil disruption. And that’s the key: the less the soil is disrupted the better because the more the soil is disrupted the more you risk bringing new weed seeds to the surface and the more you risk ruining all the “good stuff” you have done with your soil. You don’t want to disrupt your beneficial bacteria and nematodes or earthworms.

So the right tool for the job makes everything faster, easier and better.  And weeding becomes something that might even be enjoyable–or at least not something to dread. And never something for herbicides!

A Great New Weed Book

book cover

Long time readers know that I’m a weed geek and a bug geek. I like to know what’s eating my plants–or even what’s walking around near them–and what’s coming up in the garden, or even along the roadsides (which can be a challenge at 65 mph!)

So I was delighted when the University of Chicago Press came out with Weeds of North America in paperback last year–and a hefty paperback it is at almost 700 pages (656 to be exact!).

It is head and shoulders better than my current weed book, Weeds of the Northeast, which was difficult to use if you weren’t scientific. I used to just enjoy flipping through the various weed families and I familiarized myself with the weeds so that I could pretty much find what I wanted without using the tedious charts up front to find what I needed.

In fact, one of the two star comments on Amazon about this new book gave it low marks because it didn’t show the weeds in all stages of growth or some such silliness. I can’t think of a plant book in any genre that shows plants of any sort–annuals, perennials, trees, whatever–in all stages of growth. How on earth could any book do such a thing? If one really needs such hand holding, pluck the weed and take it to a garden center or cooperative extension for ID—you have no business trying to do it yourself!

I review a lot of books and in my reviews I am careful to note when books are not for beginners. I think, perhaps, that sort of thing is the disconnect that the two star reviewer experienced when she purchased the book on Amazon. But as wonderful as Amazon is for selection, sometimes it pays to go to a bookstore to buy books! If you can’t see and touch the books you are buying, how do you know that they suit your needs? I find that this is particularly true for gardening books. I buy very few on Amazon, in fact, unless I am sure that they will suit me (I did buy this one despite that review).

This book is not perhaps for the beginning weed warrior–no real weed book is except perhaps Good Weed, Bad Weed from St. Lynn’s Press or even some of the simplified weed ID cards.

Most weed books break weeds down into their families–the rose family, the iris family and so on–and then go one to identify the “bad” actors in those families. Those unfamiliar with this approach are always shocked to see common garden plants that have “escaped” from cultivation, as we say, but  we need to remember that “weeds” in one part of the country can be perfectly well-behaved plants in another (just take a look at the invasive plant lists).

Again, if you don’t know what weed “family” your weed might fall into, it could be a bit difficult to find what you’re looking for. But the photographs are stellar so that if you have a good look at your weed, it should not be difficult to find it in the book.



Wordless Wednesday

goldenrod and boneset

Are you sneezing this time of year? Are you still blaming this?

So many folks think they are allergic to goldenrod. It’s a natural enough assumption. This time of year, allergies are rampant and folks are miserable. And what do we see? We see this lovely yellow wildflower everywhere. That’s what we must be allergic to.

That’s actually a pretty pernicious urban myth

But here’s the real culprit–and it’s not really so lovely.

giant ragweed

This horrible mess is giant ragweed.  There’s also lesser ragweed (and for all I know, more varieties, but only two grow by me.) And no, this is not, my property. I don’t permit ragweed to grow on my property. But it’s very nearby to me. And as the pollen flies…..

Interestingly enough, as I was taking this photo, there were tiny little asters mixed in with the ragweed. Bees were all over the asters.  Not one bee was on the ragweed so as far as I can see, it doesn’t help wildlife.

So next time you’re sneezing, don’t blame the goldenrod.

A Great Tool For Weeding and More

Grandpa's Weeder

This tool recently made the Monrovia newsletter for a great tool for weeding. As you can tell by the slightly rusty hinge on ours and the weathered handle, we were ahead on the curve–we’re into our second or third year of use already. It’s the Spoiler’s favorite tool for weeding because he doesn’t have to bend over to weed!

As organic gardeners, of course we weed out dandelions and other larger weeds by hand. That can get pretty arduous, particularly in drought (or weedy) years. This tool helps a lot. Here’s how you use it.

positioning the weeder

Obviously the two prongs go down on either side of the offending weed. Right now the Spoiler is working on plantain.

grabbing the weed

To remove the weed in the prongs, you rock the tool back on that flat bar and it just levers right up out of the ground, roots and all! Obviously my camera focused on the lovely weeds still remaining in our lawn and not the one in the grip of the tool but it’s easy to see the weed and roots held there.

But that’s not all this tool is good for! I’m not sure anyone else has my unique situation but lots of folks have self-sown plants–I know we all do. And they’re a blessing.


Ignore the weeds–I have lovely little grottos of ferns self-sown all over my property. When they self sow into the beds, I let them be to colonize. When they self-sow out here, in sort of a “no gardener’s” land between my perennial bed and some pines, I sort of leave them be until I or someone else needs them. I have dug lots of these to give to neighbors and friends, and I’ll periodically transplant them into my own beds and borders to fill gaps. But I’m not going to do it in a year when we’re having so little rain, of course! Nature is taking care of these better than I can.

transplanted fern

But in case you were wondering–Grampa’s Weeder does a lovely job of lifting these as well. I put this one into a container with some little hosta seedlings, also transplanted from the lawn, that I’m growing on for shady spots in the garden–and for transplanting when the rains come back!

Wordless Wednesday–When is a Yellow Ray Flower Not a Dandelion?

hawkweed flower

It was such a windy day when I took this photo that the only way to get a fairly decent shot was to pick the flower, sandwich it in the boards of a picnic table and get the shot. I’m sure no one minds that I picked a weed.

This is a dandelion mimic, a plant called a hawkweed. Even the Spoiler asked my why I was taking a photo of a dandelion. Every summer we go through the same thing. I bend down to look at this plant and he calls it a dandelion. I say no, and he won’t believe me until I come up with some leaves to prove him wrong. The leaves are smooth and slightly rounded—-but they are definitely not dandelion leaves.

hawkweed leaves

Here is the plant where I picked the flower. Again, if you weren’t paying close attention, you’d easily say “Oh, dandelion.” But as you can see from that multi-flowering stem, not so. There’s already another multi-budded stem coming up on it in the lower right foreground. It blends nicely with the grass so it might be a little hard to see.

Mind you, hawkweed is probably a bigger a problem than dandelions, as this post from Washington state would have you believe.  They are a minor problem here–probably our cold winters.  As is true with most invasives, invasives can run rampant in some climates and only be mild problems in others.

Weed Triage or Knowing Your Weed Biology

Weedy area

Isn’t that a lovely sight? It’s an area of “weeds” mixed with some self-sown natives and even some goldenrod under a magnolia that I have. I’ve ignored it all summer because, quite frankly the weeds aren’t that bad and the “wildflowers” are out competing them.

But after an email “conversation” with a lovely garden club program director a few weeks back in which I assured her that she could let her weeds go a week or two without harm and she received a nasty note from, of all things, a church sponsored community garden (really, how uncharitable to ask someone to weed in a heat wave! I’m appalled!), I thought I had better talk about some basic weed biology.

The note from her community garden director said that if my advice was taken, all the weeds would have gone to seed. Now clearly I’m not there. I can’t see what kind of weeds are in her garden. But if you look at the weeds in the above photo, the only bud in sight is the bud on my magnolia.

Even the oxalis (the little clover-like weeds) aren’t budded or in flower. And no flowers means no seeds. That’s basic biology, folks. You can’t have weeds seeds, without flowers, plain and simple.

What I have coming up in this photo are the first year’s shoots of young poke weed. That’s a perennial weed with a very deep tap root. It won’t begin to flower until next year, if it flowers at all in this deep shade cast by the magnolia. So you can see why I’m not running down there with my weeder. Particularly since it’s been so dry, this weed, with its root, will not come out right now. If we get some rain later this season, I’ll give it a try. Otherwise, it’s here to stay.

The oxalis I will pull out because I don’t want that going to seed. One plant can set 60,000 seeds–and that’s not a misprint. We have that all over the property–as does everyone else. It comes in even in plants from the garden center. I find it in my house plants all winter. It’s not going away any time soon. I’ll just do my best to pull up the ones with flowers on them before they make their little seed pods.

The other thing in this photo–pointy green leaves with serrated edges–is a wildflower as well. It’s not particularly pretty . It just makes a tiny white flower and apparently it’s toxic to livestock. But since we have no livestock and the pollinators like it, it can stay. It’s called ageratina altissima, or white snake root and it’s a native so of course I’m not going to remove it.


Who Planted This?


Whenever I drive around and see stands of this plant by the roadside, I always wish I could stop the car and get photos. This is one of my all-time favorite plants. Never mind that most people consider it a noxious weed that grows in roadside ditches. I find it just beautiful, with its huge stalks of yellow flowers that open slowly over a period of weeks.

You can see that this was probably bird planted. It’s in a little weedy area that’s a bit of a no-man’s land on the edge of my wildlife garden and my neighbor’s lawn. I try to weed out the truly bad stuff that appears there–ragweed and the invasives–but I can see in the photo that there’s some bittersweet (for a change) sneaking up in there. I’ll have to try to whack it back.  Getting it all out is near impossible.

Ditto for the Virginia Creeper in the area. I don’t even try because that’s a great bird plant. I just try to keep it from running amok through the garden.

This plant is a verbascum, although don’t ask me variety. There’s a second coming up right behind it which makes me sure it was bird-planted. I learned in Colorado that the call it Miner’s Tallow because they would use the stalks for “candles.” And we think mining is a tough occupation today!

Herbalists will boil and strain the leaves (which are felty) and use them for coughs and bronchitis.  And I’ve heard tell that campers will improvise and use the leaves as toilet tissue. Talk about tough! Whew!

I believe I will just enjoy the flowers in the garden and by the roadside, thank you very much!


And You Ask Why I Don’t Mulch

I’m notorious for not mulching. I’m so notorious that people now come to me and say, “Please help. My husband wants me to mulch. Talk him out of it.”

So, with the thought that a picture is worth 1,000 words, here are a few photos.unspecified fungus

All of these photos were taken from our gardens at work where our landscaper used high quality pine bark mulch. This is some unspecified fungus on the mulch. It’s a slime mold that one the water hit it, has broken open to release its spores. Fuligo septica is the botanical name for this one. Just plain ugly is what it really is!

dog vomit fungus

Here’s some of the fungus that affectionately goes by the name “dog vomit.” Mind you, we’re in a drought situation so it’s not as if the mulch is moist.


Here are some mushrooms coming up.

mulch with weeds

And for those of you who think that mulch keeps weeds at bay? Sorry, not so much. Here’s the evidence.

So if I’m going to have to weed anyway, I’d just as soon not have to do it around all the extra fungus in the garden. But that’s just me. As I always say, if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a very boring world!