Sunday, April 10, 2011

nature's own

Hey everyone! First off, thanks for participating in the head count from the last entry. It occurred to me after the fact that given the purpose of the poll, I probably should have just made the two choices "Yes" and "Yes," because obviously, if you live in Hawaii, you're not going to come to New York for a book event (nor would I--in fact, if I lived in Hawaii, I probably would never leave to go anywhere, ever).  But as an inexact headcount, the poll was more than adequate. Thank you all so much, and I hope (hope!) I will have an event to tell you about soon, at a nice venue in which to meet you all and thank you in person.

Oh, and I should address this one too: someone pointed out that Step I of the USMLE is usually taken around May or June. (I know it seems impossible to those of you entrenched in this process right now, but I actually can't remember in the slightest what month I took any of the three USMLEs, just like I couldn't remember what month Match Day was a few years after the fact. Believe me, once you pass them and place into a residency program, their significance in your mind will drop exponentially.)  Anyway, I'm not even talking about the possibility of this event in specific, I just wanted to say: it's OK to not study for a few hours once in a while. In fact, it's good for you.  So at least once a week, go out to dinner, see a movie, play frisbee in the park with some friends. Your poor, overstuffed brain will thank you for it later, I promise, even if you have to put off for another day memorizing the difference between the different types of MEN syndrome.

(For some reason, that's one fact that sticks with me, that before I took Step I I really thought that knowing the different types of MEN syndrome was going to make or break me.  I'm not really sure why I thought that, all I know is that I memorized the shit out of MEN syndromes and I never got asked about it on any standardized test, ever.)

* * *

One of the things that really drew us to our new house was the backyard. The people that lived here before us (and not doubt, the people before them) were obviously into gardening, and it really shows. It's not a big yard, and it's not a flat yard, but it's all planned and planted and, now that we're officially in the thick of Spring, incredibly lush. Joe and I live in fear that, now that the house is our responsibility, we're going to totally screw it up. TOO MUCH PRESSURE.

Most of the foliage is of the flowering, ornamental variety, and before we moved in we told the kids that once we got moved in, we'd plant something edible, because that's some good clean family fun right there.  So today, we made good on our promise, got a few things from the local plantatorium and shoved them into the ground.  Hopefully they will survive, because in the face of all this verdant growth, it's going to be really embarrassing if they don't.

We planted we little strawberry plants (shown in the first two pictures), two blueberry plants (above), and some tomatoes and peppers.  So anyway--we'll see!  My gardening experience is strictly limited to planter boxes on our balcony in New York, but those flowers didn't die (immediately), so I figure these plants here have an even better chance, because, you know, nature and stuff.

Despite the look of the pictures, our backyard is basically full sun for most of the day, so that's helpful for the photosynthesis and whatnot.  But if anyone has any more detailed advice on how to keep these plants in decent shape, I'd love to hear it.  Do we need to do something to keep woodland critters out and away from our imminently delicious edibles?  Oh, and if there's anything else that's reasonably easy to plant and maintain, let us know, and maybe we'll shove some of those in the ground too.  I mean, if we can find any room back there.  Or maybe we can reclaim some of the planting space from all that ivy, because it's getting a little out of control.


  1. Anonymous3:28 PM

    See if you can find your local Master Gardener's group . . . probably through agriculture extension office . . . possibly as an arm of Ga Tech. Finding a master gardener to mentor you may be a great way to learn about keeping that yard beautiful. Also, at the ag. office, you should have a horticulture agent who can help you.

  2. Heheh. Glad to see my man is not the only one to own 'frontal butt' pants!

    (Couldn't help myself...posted a photo of same on my blog today).

    Wish I could come to your book signing in NY. Sadly, the Atlantic ocean makes attending it a bit more than 3hs off USMLE studying. Have a great time!

  3. Anonymous3:34 PM

    I have a garden that came planted with pretty shrubberies, and I find hauling away the sheer amount of biomass they put out is a truly daunting task. (I'm in MA, so I have a considerably shorter growing season.)

    Which is to say, yes, you can avoid pruning them for a while, but every time you put it off a year, the job is that much bigger the next year. You will be happier if you can find a spot where you can discretely dump a couple of cubic yards of clippings to let them decompose on site, since bagging them takes longer than cutting them.

    I also tend to blister my hands after less than an hour of clipping. So yeah, look up a general pruning guide (some things want lots of branches cut back, other things want you to cut off 1/4 of the branches at ground level every year), and buy yourself a couple of pairs of clippers, keep them sharp and lubricated, and don't fall behind.

  4. Anonymous3:42 PM

    I've found hiring a professional arborist to come prune my trees always feels like it's bargain, compared to other home maintenance tasks.

    You look to have enough shade trees there that it's worth having an arborist come out every few years and do maintenance pruning - it's cheaper that way than waiting until a storm knocks down branches, and have to hire in a hurry and pay for rush work. Also, I would expect the canopy to fill and shade out everything below it, if you let that happen.

    Mine seems to be happy to show up and give a detailed cost estimate, for free. I think they like customers who aren't all "I hate trees make them go away for me."

  5. I hope the NY book event comes through!

    I can't believe that yard! It's gorgeous!

    My Mom and Grandmother always planted herbs and veggies in raised planters. You can control the soil make up and all that. Plus it might be a fun thing for Cal and Mack to build a box, plant seeds and then help tend to it. I have really fond memories of summer gardening.

  6. That ivy is probably there because of the grade (though it may not be as steep as it looks). Was probably too hard to mow and it serves as a groundcover to keep that from washing out when it rains. Ivy is tough to kill - especially in the south.

    Is there a flatter area that gets sun?

  7. Anonymous4:24 PM

    You are truly lucky to have 'inherited' this yard. From the photos I see, it is very low maintenance. All it will require is trimming the ivy to keep it where you want it, prune a little azalea right after they bloom, and making sure that everything gets the basic usual ( water, fertilizer prn). It looks like someone committed 'crepe murder' on your crepe myrtle... one of my pet peeves. Teach the boys how to help you weed, and you are on your way. And good luck with the fruits and veggies... I have a feeling you will be battling the squirrels and other local varmintry for the produce!

  8. Anonymous4:25 PM

    Just a friendly warning/reminder to Cooper's mom: tomato leaves and stems are toxic to dogs.

  9. It's so beautiful! Very different to backyards in this part of the world!

  10. Ooh, did not know that about dogs and tomato plants! Thanks! Though Cooper is very well supervised in the yard at present (we're worried she's going to dig something up) it's good to know for the future in case when she gets more free reign.

    Is the crepe myrtle the tree that they pruned all the branches off of before we moved in? I have seen this all around Atlanta--do those trees require such extreme pruning every season? When we came in I thought it was sick or something.

  11. Anonymous4:59 PM

    Yes, the crepe myrtle is that beautiful specimen tree that folks like to torture every year. When left alone, they have such beautiful structure and bark. They will flower more when pruned back like yours, but I have never thought that the maybe 20% more flowers were worth the really unattractive wintertime appearance. Another trick to help with blooming is to cut off the dead seed pods that they create right after they finish blooming and they will create more flowers again. If you want to keep them short and stumpy... then prune away. Otherwise leave them be :-)

  12. Anonymous5:37 PM

    Zucchini and raspberries are really easy and low-maintenance backyard plants. The yellow raspberries are the best - very sweet and not sour. Just be careful with the thorns.
    - Another (Canadian) Michelle

  13. Anonymous5:50 PM

    to have a garden backyard like that would probably cost millions in manhattan.

  14. Whoa, those are great photos....that back yard looks like the Masters on TV....that georgia clay must really be good for veggie life.

  15. Damnit. My comment didn't go through and I'm too lazy to type out the whole thing again. Outline:

    1. Get soaker hose. Easy to install, eco-friendly, saves $ on water bills, saves you from going outside in hawthawthawt mosquito land.

    2. Get cherry tomatoes, preferably a variety like Sweet Millions, which grows like a beast, and the kids will love picking. Tomatoes need lots of air to keep from getting diseased, so plant them somewhere that they won't be cramped.

    3. Get a weed whacker for that ivy.

  16. Anonymous7:05 PM

    Ivy? I'm so, so sorry.

    Plan on it taking over everything, hard work ripping it out, repeat.

    People who plant ivy must love spending time doing yardwork.

  17. Anonymous8:03 PM

    Have a knowledgeable gardener in your area go through the yard with you to point out any plants that have poisonous berries or leaves. Kids like to try anything - not all plants are good for them! My mother found this out the hard way when her children tried eating rhubarb leaves. We all survived, but it was a good lesson for all of us.

  18. Your yard is so gorgeous! And I love when Coops makes an appearance. Good luck with the yard. I have no advice to offer you about pruning, but regarding animals eating your plants, you can buy things like coyote urine to scare off critters. Never used, not sure how well it works, but could be something to look into.

  19. Anonymous10:10 PM

    Try planting green beans or yellow squash. They are very low maintenance and my kids love to pick them. Birds always get most of my blueberries and strawberries.

  20. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Don't plant any blackberries or raspberries!!! They will overtake your yard. If you want those, then put them in a half wine barrel to keep them controlled. They send suckers out underground. Also do NOT plant any mint in the ground. It too will take over your entire yard.

    Yes, the crape myrtle tree has been whacked. As the previous commenter noted, it does not need to be pruned so severely. I prune mine only enough to keep it off the roof since it is adjacent to my house. It appears that it is an understory tree in your yard, so keeping it lower in height may be desirable.

    It's possible, but hard to tell, that the shrub to the left of the railroad tie stairway may be a rhododendron. Both the azaleas and the rhodie as well as the blueberries will like acidic soil.

    The strawberries may get munched by snails and slugs. There is a product called Sluggo (also goes by other names), it is iron phosphate, which works well. It is safe to use on edible food. Don't use other snail abatement products around the plants you'd like to eat.

    (who gardens in CA, a much different climate)

  21. I purchased a home in Florida that has a back yard covered in ivy. I got rid of it as it was a haven for snakes and other vermon. Sodded the yard and mowed it every other week.

    Easy edible?? Try herbs!! i always have basil and chives wherever I go. Easy to maintain and hard to kill, plus so yummy in just about everything.

    Cook anything and chop up some fresh herbs to sprinkle atop the dish and it makes you look like you actually put some effort in your cooking (when you probably just thawed it our 10 minutes earlier).

  22. Yeah ivy. 1. Snake pit. 2. You cannot ever, ever get rid of it.

    Gorgeous yard. I think the East/South is a lot greener than where I know.

  23. Anonymous10:39 AM

    I would very strongly recommend a yard service. That's a pretty low maintenance yard, but it's still going to be a few solid hours of work a month to keep it looking that good. This is something where a few hundred bucks every once in a while to someone with a crew, the tools, and a truck to haul crap away will be so, so worth it. You guys could do it yourselves, easily, but you will miss the time and your kids are too young for it really to be a family activity ... also, as a family activity, it's kind of boring and sucky, except for the part about the sharp tools and putting people's eyes out. That part's pretty exciting.

    Yard service, at least for the first year. See what needs to be done, and make decisions going from there.

    Also, seconding CardioNP - blackberries/raspberries will take everything over and be prickly besides. Someone in the neighborhood will have them, and will be thrilled to have your kids picking them. Let someone else deal with the hassle.

  24. biscuitx12:00 PM

    Echo the Ivy = snake pit. This year is especially bad for snakes and ivy, and consequently, for dogs in ivy. ( I cannot cite the source for this, I think it was local ajc?)
    Also as much as my heart would like to give credit to GaTech for all good things, it's UGA in Athens that is the AG school and the Extension Service. Also is a fount of good info. But yeah, with your schedules, yard service and their expertise the first year. Oh! and don't let the ivy go up the tree trunks! all the best,

  25. If you have a problem with slugs, you can pour about 2" of beer into a dish and put it in your garden. The slugs will crawl in and drown.

  26. Anonymous1:03 PM

    Yard service is a must! you can still set aside a small area to develop with the kids. A spot to grow and/or kill the plants of your choosing, but leave the rest to professionals. This way you can still get your hands dirty and maintain a lovely green space. A win-win situation!

  27. Anonymous2:24 PM

    Fruit (tomatoes and berries) need lotsa sun. Do you have that?

    Blueberries will love the acidic soil you got going on there. I agree that you should find a friend who knows what needs what to take a walk with you around the yard to introduce you to your plants.

  28. Anonymous2:24 AM

    Your yard is so beautiful. I did not read all these comments so someone else may have mentioned this but make sure you put cages around your tomato plants. They are a couple dollars each and you place them over your plants right after planting. The tomatoes will grow inside the cage and not fall over and basically be ruined if they then lay on the ground.

  29. okay, i realize this is not consistent with everyone's experiences, but i just took the peds endocrine in-training exam and EVERY OTHER QUESTION was on MEN syndrome! or at least, it seemed that way.

  30. I disagree re raspberries, blackberries and mint!
    Raspberries are wonderful! They are also good burglar deterrents - well they scratch a bit, so are good for a wall. Nothing beats wandering out to the back fence and having a raspberry or two. Or three...

    The key is to prune them properly - raspberries flower from second growth. If you do that, then lots ofyummy goodness!

    Also, what's not to love about having lots of mint! Or Coriander (goes to seed, so needs replanting each year)

  31. Ok, as a southerner, I have to warn you...the blueberries may not thrive. I think our nights are too warm (this is what my grandmother from Ohio told me when I called her after mine died here in Memphis). But it's worth a shot. Tomatoes, SQUASH, and ZUCCHINI all thrive in our heat, if you remember to keep them watered (which I usually forget...)

  32. Very nice photos! Which camera is it?