Bonafide Farm

Happy progress in the streetside garden

May 20th, 2014 § 2

This spring, the garden I’ve been most impressed with is the one I have spent the least amount of time thinking about and fussing over. Isn’t that the way it is with so many things—just set the ball rolling, get out of the way and wait to be unexpectedly amazed?


The strip of garden that runs along the east side of the house was an afterthought in many ways, even though it is the garden closest to the road and should be a showpiece. When the house was built I threw some shrubs in to hold the soil on the bank—a few doublefile viburnums and some dwarf oakleaf hydrangeas, two of my favorite shrubs. Then last year I extended the garden by building the rock wall, and added some gift irises and a few more little plants as I bought them. Because there are no evergreens it looks pretty bare in winter, but this spring the bank erupted in what turned out, this year, to be a quite nice combination of bloom, leaf shape, and color variation. It’s a very old-fashioned feeling garden, with classic plants that one might find around Grandma’s country cottage.

The first to bloom are the the daffodils in late winter, and I am happy to see that their decaying foliage will soon be hid by the new growth coming in on the shrubs, just as it should be. I particularly love the variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’) at lower right, below, with its white bell-like blooms and sturdy foliage that remains attractive all season.


The front corner is anchored by these nice catmints (Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’), new last year, that continue the lavender bloom color begun by the iris.


The viburnums have finished their bloom, and the irises are soon to say goodbye. I have a few peonies, planted last spring to test if they liked this location, that are budding now. I will see how they look when they bloom, and if I like the effect I will add more peonies to continue the colorful blooms a few more weeks. That should take me until hydrangea time…but after that I will have to figure out what to add to maintain interest here through the dog days of summer until the hydrangeas change into their red leafed costumes for a fall display.


Next fall I will divide the Solomon’s Seal to spread bits of it through the whole garden, and to move it more forward of the shrubs. If I can find something low and pretty all season (maybe some kind of Ajuga, which has purple blooms at the same time as the iris?) to go right along the top of the rock wall, this will really shape up nicely—almost as if I planned it!

And then just when it looks awesome there’s a good chance the shrubs will have grown too large and it will be time to pull them out and start over!

As a way of explaining some of my happiness with this garden’s progress, check out what it looked like just a bit more than a year ago:


Seeing this photo it’s clear to me that I did the right thing by extending the garden to lessen the slope away from the house, which was making it hard to keep enough water on the shrubs to make them happy, and all the plants responded really well to the back-fill addition of forest-dug compost and a thick blanket of mulch. The border is deep enough (10 feet) that I am able to enjoy the show from inside the house, looking out through the windows, which is an aspect that is so enjoyable but that few consider when creating foundation plantings.


June 1st, 2013 § 0

In late March I stayed with my friend Todd in Arlington, Va. Todd is a former neighbor, and I first spoke to him as I walked past his rented house on Barton Street toward the Metro. Todd was sitting outside on the front porch, reading the paper. I complimented him on the beautiful irises growing rampant in his front yard, which is how I earned his nickname of “Iris” before he knew my real name.

A while later Todd and I got to know each other more and became friends. He’s even made the trek down to visit me at Bonafide Farm. I very much appreciate his humor and intellectual curiosity as well as his willingness to pitch in with nonglamorous labor such as driving me to the airport and and helping me move. Which involved Todd carrying about a hundred heavy book boxes, one on each shoulder, two at a time out of my third-floor apartment—a sight and a kindness I won’t forget!

Well, this latest visit was no exception, as we dug an entire bed of irises and daffodils out of his back yard. These are old beds that were planted sometime before Todd moved into the property by someone who obviously loved gardening. It was hard to tell how old the beds were, but the irises had completely filled them with exposed rhizomes growing up and over the brick edges. Definitely good candidates for division!

Though Todd has been living in Barton Manor for many, many years, one day he will have to move out and the property will succumb to the new development that’s overtaking the Clarendon area. Todd wants to make sure every last useful piece of the house and yard, living and not, is salvaged before the demolition begins. Which is how I came home with this:


Those contractors’ bags were full of soil and plants. They were so heavy I had to call in reinforcements just to get them out of the truck. Thank goodness for the tractor!


It took me an entire day to get these irises and daffodils planted in the beds around the house, below. By the end I was running out of spaces to put them, so I stuck a few clumps of daffodils around the giant oak tree at the wood line.


To my surprise the daffodils, which were in bud when we dug them, went ahead and bloomed as though their relocation had never happened. I was very thrilled to see that some of them are a fascinating type that bloom with a yellow corona (the center cup part) that then fades to a peachy pink as the blossom ages. Very cool!


I totally didn’t expect it, given the late transplanting, but several of the irises also bloomed as though nothing had happened. I guess they like their new home.


I am very grateful to Todd for his gift and glad to see a bit of Barton Manor live on at Bonafide Farm. Seeing these plants remind me not only of my years spent living in the city but also of my good friend.

The hatching

August 26th, 2012 § 2

I never finished the story begun in early June, in which broody Iris got her wish to sit upon a clutch of eggs.

That they were guinea eggs was no matter. She settled herself into her cardboard nestbox inside Tucker’s old puppy crate and hardly moved for almost a month. I’d lift her off the nest to get her to eat a few seeds. She’d take an occasional drink. Her comb and wattles grew pale from dehydration and lack of food. She sat tight.

And then on June 23 I went into the garage and saw this:


A wee little guinea keet, still wet from the egg! And there were more!


And one was still hatching. I set up vigil in the garage along with Tucker and my mom and we waited for hours, watching this keet being born.


Neither my mom nor I had ever watched a bird hatch, and it was one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen. Iris and even the sibling keets pecked at the shell, helping to free the baby. And did you know that birds have umbilical cords? They do—little tiny dark threads that look like a piece of hair.


It soon became clear that the keets were too small to be contained in the dog crate. I placed an emergency call to Dad, and he delivered a couple of wonderful ready-made coops from Tractor Supply. Thanks, Dad! I am very grateful that this event happened on a Saturday when I was home. Otherwise I would have missed the show but more importantly the baby keets would have fled the dog crate and no doubt met an unfortunate end in the garage.

Here you can see the egg tooth on the upper beak of this keet. The egg tooth helps a baby bird break out of the shell, and it disappears soon after birth.


When it seemed as though all hatching was complete, I moved the family into their new coop, under watchful supervision.



And Mama Iris got to work teaching her babies how to eat and drink.


Ten out of the thirteen eggs I’d placed under Iris hatched. The last keet to hatch had something wrong with it, and it was never able to properly stand. After a day of watching it suffer and slowly starve, I euthanized it. So I had nine baby keets—not bad for rather unscientifically collecting eggs and storing them in my guest room closet for a week! Next, the keets grow up!

Back in business

January 30th, 2012 § 0

A few weeks ago the hens, Lilac and Iris, started laying eggs again. I’d expected them to take a much longer winter break, but they had other plans. I am surprised by how short they rested, but I am pleased—not only because of their eggs but also because it means the light is returning and spring is on its way.


And Lilac is back in a big way—laying huge dark brown eggs that span all four fingers when I hold them in my palm. Though her eggs aren’t supersized, Iris is no slouch with her contribution, which are definitely graded large.


Just out of curiosity I compared my hens’ eggs, on the right, to eggs from the famous Polyface chickens (the two light eggs on the left), which I bought to tide me through the dark days when Lilac and Iris were resting. Though they don’t live in fancy chicken tractors or have a famous farmer for their owner, I think my girls stack up pretty well.

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