I am a lover of horticulture, gardening and the environment. At age 8, I sent away for a package of Zinnia seeds for 10 cents and I've been hooked ever since. After 25 years of being self-employed, I retired. That only lasted 4 years and I now work in a water conservation program: I buy grass from homeowners who are willing to convert to desert landscaping and lose that thirsty green stuff. I pursue what interests me and you can blame my sister for getting me into this blogging thing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Football widow

I admit it, I'm unAmerican. I hate football. My husband loves football. It's only August and the games have already started at least 3 nights a week. The season lasts interminably. I have to watch TV alone, relegated to the bedroom. I looked up the schedule for the NFL. There's like 15 games a weekend!

It all started when I was a freshman in high school and I was in the marching band. We played at half time at every home game. It wasn't so bad in September but by the end of the season, we were freezing. Who wants to sit outside in a thin band uniform holding an ice cold French horn? After 4 years of that, I made a life long decision that I would never attend another football game.

My luck, I married a frustrated football player. He was such a skinny thing in high school that the coach never let him play in a game. So he enjoys this sport vicariously. Often our son in Houston calls and they watch the game together. How's that for father-son bonding?

I'm just grumbling because I didn't want to spend the evening watching my husband watch football on TV. There is only one thing that could get me to watch a game.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Bloggers needed

On the 5th anniversary of 9/11, I volunteered to write a tribute about Catherine A. Nardella, in memory, on the 5th anniversary of her death at the World Trade Center. This is a project started by Bloggers to honor the innocent victims of that awful day... They are trying to have each person honored by a blogger on their website.
You can sign up here.

For more information about this project:

There is information attached to the names of the 2996 people who died that day. You will be assigned a name at random. It will take a couple of hours to research the various links and write your tribute. Last time I checked, they still needed 1000 bloggers to sign up to write a tribute. I was blogger 1996.

I hope we never forgot this crime against so many innocent people. I want to honor the life of Catherine A. Nardella so her family will know she has not been forgotten.

If you are inclined, sign up today.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Pond

One aspect of my garden I haven’t written about is my pond. This is the 6th pond I have built and I’ve learned from every single one. A pond adds such a peaceful aspect to your garden. If you have a waterfall, the sound of running water is so peaceful. Relaxing next to your pond is an ideal spot to read a book.

Funny how I got started with this hobby. About 15 years ago, I got an assignment to photograph a magazine article about a man who built ponds as a hobby. This particular man had cut a hole in his driveway and built a pond in it. I had to meet this guy, how strange was that? Well, we became fast friends at our first meeting and we’re still friends to this day. He still has the pond in the driveway along with 3 other ponds in his yard. He actually put a new door into his garage on the alley side so he could put his car in the garage.

Bob, my pond friend, had started a pond club and invited me and my husband to a meeting. Well, I thought, I’ll get a chance to meet others who have built ponds. I was a big time gardener but had never thought about a water garden. I thought it was pretty neat, some of these folks built some pretty elaborate ponds. Everyone kept asking when we were going to build a pond. They all said everyone built their first pond too small. I could fix that. One night about 8 PM, I laid the hose on the lawn in a shape I later realized looked like a molar. We started digging. And digging, and digging. We put out lights and the neighbors came over to help dig. It was like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Eventually we ended up with a 1900-gallon pond. I timed how long it took to fill a 5-gallon pail, and then extrapolated the amount of time it took to fill the pail. The first time around I bought some kind of plastic liner that didn’t hold up worth a damn. It only lasted about a year. What a chore to move all the rocks and get a rubber liner installed. It’s called Pond Gard and its made by Firestone. All the good advice from my new friends at the pond club was a big help. Once a month we shared experiences and problems.

One thing led to another and I built another pond in my own yard. Then other people wanted me to build a pond for them. Never let it be said that ignorance stopped me. I was a problem solver and I could do anything. I built 3 more ponds of various sizes. So we eventually moved to Nevada and then the fun began. We have really rocky soil here and a pick is our favorite garden tool. My husband started digging with a pick and shovel. We sifted all the rocks out of the soil he dug. There were lots of rocks and since there was no house next door, we threw them over the wall. It took him 3 months of picking and sifting to dig a 6-foot by 12-foot hole that was 44 inches deep. He said it was his grave. Actually, we later learned about electric jackhammers and could have done this in a day with a couple of laborers. So now we had this huge hole, and it stayed empty for about 4 years until we managed to get all our sons here at one time. We lined the hole with carpet padding. Remember all the rocks, I was afraid it would puncture the liner. We bought a piece of EPDM, the Pond Gard, and it was too heavy for us to handle. It took all 5 of us to handle this monster-sized piece of rubber.

Finally, we situated it in the hole, folded it so the liner was as flat as possible, and put some water in it. But even I admitted this was not working. I finally broke down and hired Chris, a pond builder, (that's him in the white T-shirt) and he helped us finish the project. We bought river rock, large smooth rocks and lined the entire pond. Chris installed a skimmer box and a waterfall box. We added water and turned on the pump. The first pump I bought only pumped 900 gallons an hour and we didn’t get much sound from the waterfall. I would fix that by buying a 2300 hundred gallon an hour pump. Great sound from that puppy. It took a 2-inch line to send the water to the top of the waterfall. I bought plants, I bought gold fish and filled it with water. Finally we had a pond.

I have 3 water lilies, miniature cattails, some black taro and parrots feather. The water lilies are Attraction (a red), Gonnere (a gorgeous double white) and Charlene Strawn (a yellow). I used a pallet of petrified wood I found at a supply yard for the edge stones. The dozen feeder fish have grown multiple generations of babies. I never feed the fish, they spawn until they reach the limit of their food supply. You create a biosystem in your pond, just like nature creates. It's so hot here that algae really thrives. When your water gets enough cover from the leaves of the lilies, the algae mostly disappears. Algae doesn’t grow in the shade. I was disappointed to find out it is too hot here to grow lotus. I grew it in Indiana and loved it. I never got many flowers a year from it but when it did bloom, it was spectacular. Every time we try to tweak Mother Nature, it’s a challenge to see if it works. I’ve become very pragmatic, if a plant does well, it stays. If something doesn’t thrive, it’s out of here. I am a crazed plant collector but I don’t have an emotional attachment to all of the plants in the yard, just 99 and 44/100th % of them. The last photo is how the pond looks today. You can see how big the blue Mexican fan palms have grown. It's our little oasis in the desert.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tomato Contest

I have to enter Dr. Charles tomato contest as the worst tomatoes ever. These are so pathetic, meager and shriveled, you can barely call them tomatoes. First picture shows my volunteer plants, cherry tomatoes barely as big as your thumb nail. The 10 tomatoes plants we planted dried up yielding about 3 tomatoes before their demise.

Next we have the plum tomato, barely reminiscent of the plum tomatoes we grew in Indiana. Of course there we had real dirt and real rain. Here we build raised beds and bring in "garden mix" soil. We add worm compost, mulch and whatever with really poor results.

Here is one of my two tomatillos. I admit I have had better luck with these in past years. I usually have good luck with peppers and onions, so I can whip up a batch of salsa. Of course by the time the tomatillos are ready, I'm buying cilantro at the grocery store. Looking at the pictures of the glorious tomatoes grown by other bloggers, I am envious.
Here are my two early morning companions in the garden, my Canaan dogs, Tova and Simcha. They check the perimeter of the yard every morning to make sure nothing has invaded "their" territory. I'm always embarrassed when they bark at dogs being walked by their owners past our house at 5:30 AM. I know the neighbors must hate it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Cog in the Wheel

I'm a little cog in a big wheel. All my years of living have given me the experience to do what I do really well. I serendipitously found a job two years ago that uses all my skills. Since I live in the desert where water is a precious commodity, my job is to help people save water. I love to talk. I love to talk about gardening. I get paid to talk about my favorite subject all day. I get to influence how people approach the conversion of their water thirsty yards into beautiful conservation-conscious water smart landscapes. I am very passionate about what I do. This is my perfect job.

This is how I got here. We had lived and worked in the same place all our lives. 10 years ago, I decided it was time for a new life, we should retire to the sun. All our kids had graduated from college and moved to warm climates. What the heck were we doing shoveling snow?

Talk about culture shock, garden shock, isolation shock. The first few months were very lonely. I was a Master Gardener in Indiana so I signed up for the Master Gardener program in Nevada. I was back in my element. I had new friends whose eyes didn't glaze over when I wanted to talk about plants. People from that class 10 years ago are my friends today. I started volunteering to work at the Demonstration Gardens, helping give programs at schools, guiding school children on tours of the gardens, presenting afterschool workshops. I've always thought that you don't know what will motivate a child to become interested in something. Give them the opportunity to experience as much of life as possible. All along the way, I was learning as much as I taught. I took a botany class called Plants of the Southwest Deserts, I worked at horticulture conferences. Anyone I met who worked in horticulture was bound to have me asking if I could visit. I helped out at a revegetation project at a gold mine in California, visited a grower of ornamental grasses in Pomona. 5 friends and I went on an Elderhostel trip to Big Sur to study the flora. We visited 5 botanic gardens as well as the Hearst Castle to see the wonderful grounds. Death Valley became a yearly field trip to see the wildflowers in the spring. I was on a roll. When a botanic garden for Las Vegas became a plan, I participated in plant surveys to harvest native plants for the Las Vegas Springs Preserve. I was soaking up knowledge like a sponge.

After 4 years of retirement, it was no longer fun. I got a job, as an office manager, it was fine. I met a lot of nice people. After 3 years business slowed down and half the staff was laid off. So I was on the street, looking to do something interesting. One Saturday, I was volunteering at the gardens and asked my friend who was the education director to let me know if she heard about any opportunities. She said they were looking for people to work on the Water Smart Landscaping program. I knew about that, I had done the conversion at my house about 4 years earlier. This was right up my alley.

I was hired, the only senior citizen I might add. I get a lot of kidding about my age, those young whippersnappers all give me the business. I've been doing my job for over 2 years now and I couldn't be happier. I think I am influencing what is happening in the Las Vegas Valley one person at a time and I want to do a good job. On average, I speak to around 4 people a day, that's 20 people a week and 1000 people a year. I have more than 4 appointments in a day but some folks aren't home and some folks aren't too interested. So I've had a chance to give information to about 2000 people since I started this job. That's a pretty good number I think. When a letter from a customer comes in praising my help, I know I've done my job well. I am a happy camper. What can be better than that?