A Few Things

I’m watching the weather radar with my fingers crossed for some rain tonight.  Its the typical summertime story for gardeners, where everyone else is hoping for another day of blue skies, while we’re sitting here hoping for a completely washed out day (or if it’s not too greedy, night, followed by a day perfect for weeding and planting but…).  Things are’t too bad, but there’s some heat on the way and without a little rain the garden will start complaining.  As it is the lushness has been sapped out of the lawn and the shade plantings are wilted, but to be honest I blame greedy maple roots for most of that.

summer garden flowers

It’s an oxeye daisy year in the front border.  Winter killed off much of the fennel, and the daisies appreciate the open real estate.  It’s not a fancy look, but still better than more yawn to mow.  

A few plants don’t mind, in fact prefer, the drier soils.  Here are a few of the more interesting things popping into bloom and looking quite good while they do it.  Thing one is this red Echium.

echium amoenum

Last year at the NARGS Ithaca plant sale I picked up an Echium russicum seedling and was a little unimpressed as it tried to flower amidst the lush chaos.  This year I’m loving its look in the sparseness of a drier flower bed.

The milkweeds always put on a decent show, and I wouldn’t complain if more show up, although one clump of the common milkweed is plenty… which of course doesn’t explain clumps two and three and four throughout the garden.

asclepias syriaca milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a weed not suitable for the cultivated garden.  I like the fragrance though, and don’t mind pulling up every sucker which pops up in a 20 foot radius… every week… After bloom finishes I’ll cut them back to about 1.5 feet and the new growth will attract the Monarch butterflies.

The purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurescens) is quite showy and quite a responsible flower border inhabitant.  This one hasn’t run around for me like it’s common cousin, and I actually may have to dig and divide it in order to spread it around.  That will be a new one for me and it makes me a little nervous since to get this one going took a few failed seed attempts and then quite some nursing along before the clump flowered for the first time.  Sadly I have yet to get a seedpod on this one.

asclepias purpurascens milkweed

Asclepias purpurascens, the purple milkweed.  Nice form and foliage and doesn’t mind a little bit of a dry spell, unlike it’s similarly colored swamp milkweed relative.

Another cool new thing in the purple color family is this knapweed.  I don’t like the most aggressive roadside-weedy ones, but this well-behaved perennial with the purple topped knobby buds is worth growing.  I was so excited to find it through Nan Ondra’s Hayefield Seeds.  If you haven’t already visited her site you should, the summer seeds are ripening and going on her list, and now is a great time to scatter them about for when the summer rains come  (they will either sprout now or wait until cooler weather returns).

centaurea atropurpurea

Centaurea atropurpurea, the purple knapweed.  Purple flowers poke up from scaly flower buds, and they’re quite popular with the bumble bees.

The knapweed seed was sown last summer and is blooming now, but the next plant has been inching along for at least 6 years.  Three small bulblets came in a ziplock bag with a note that they should be hardy for me, but I’ve heard that song before.  They were planted in a couple spots, one died the first winter but the rest slowly grew and grew until suddenly this week I had a flower stalk appear.  Honestly I was only just last week cursing the bulbs, because seriously I know it’s not the nicest garden but how long are we going to drag this out, and then all of a sudden a stalk and flower were there.  It’s my first blooming of the Orange River lily (Crinum Bulbispermum) and I’m not at all annoyed that it was the smaller bulb which bloomed and the larger bulb is still just sitting there pretending to be exotic.

crinum bulbispermum

Crinum bulbispermum, a plant which may need to be beaten with a water hose to induce blooming since that’s what our contractor did to it… and the un-beaten plant is still just foliage.  

Someone might remember I planted a few other, less-hardy Crinum lilies last summer, and shockingly they all survived with only some pitiful attempts at additional winter protection (I threw a bucket over them in January one cold night when I was feeling guilty about spending a bunch of money and not protecting them better).  Those bulbs are far less-likely to flower this summer since they all appear to have lost much of their bulbs to the cold, but maybe next winter will be different?  Maybe I’ll mulch and cover them and give them what they deserve?  Maybe…

crinum bulbispermum

The lighter blooms darkened up by the end of the day to the typical Crinum bulbispermum color.  I like them, even though I suspect they’ll be finished flowering by the end of the week.  These bulbs by the way receive no winter protection and have been perfectly hardy to just under zero Farenheit.

So is three as far as interesting things go here?  On to more mundane things.  I think I will give up and rip out the tomatoes poisoned by the herbicide-laced grass clippings mulch from next door.  They are all still sending up stunted, curled and twisted foliage and one plant is beginning to brown and die so I don’t think there’s much of a chance for any miraculous recovery.  New plants are in the next bed over and although I nervously mulched them with grass clippings from my own yard, they’re still doing fine, so I guess eventually there will be tomatoes for sauce this summer.

tomatoes herbicide damage

The sad, stunted tomatoes.  I haven’t noticed any damage in other plants, although some of the larkspur in this bed might be stunted, and thankfully the cabbage/cauliflower bed also looks fine in spite of getting the same mulch. 

I’m wondering if it would be weird to fertilize the lawn and water it just so I can mow it and bag the clippings to put down as mulch in the vegetable garden?  I guess it wouldn’t be much different than a hayfield that gets cut, and it’s still better than bagging the clippings to dump them in the trash, but maybe I should just work a little to keep the weeds down.  Nahhh.  Mulch is better, plus it conserves moisture and the earthworms eat it up and produce worm-manure all while aerating the beds with their worm-tunnels.  It would just mean more lawn mowing, which in theory I am against 😉

meadow garden

The meadow garden where mowing is still a no-no.  It’s drying out so tans are starting to show up.  There’s some rudbeckia opening, but the white is nearly all Erigeron anuus, the annual fleabane.  It’s an awesome weed for me and I let it grow wherever it wants, and I don’t think it’s greedy to hope for a blue or pink seedling to show up.

Tomorrow I’m repairing brickwork so that new siding for the addition can come right up to the old construction, where the bricks were pulled down.  I’m not a mason, so hopefully it turns out good enough that nobody notices my mistakes, but the reason I’m doing it is so I can move on to powerwashing the deck and moving deck pots into position.  Then I can re-do the drip lines and then hopefully no more hand watering the pots this summer.  It will be nice finally getting the deck clean and ready for summer since it’s been somewhat neglected with all the debris out there and the mess.  I sat out there on one of the chairs this afternoon and finally moved because a stupid wasp kept buzzing in my ear.  That’s when I noticed the other wasps and turned the pillow over to find the nest I was sitting on.  Hmmm.

It’s still not raining.  There are downpours to the East and downpours to the West but nothing here so I hope tonight’s not a bust.  In any case it’s still better than a February polar vortex 🙂

Rocking Ithaca with NARGS

Last Tuesday I made the trip up to Ithaca, New York to put in my time as a volunteer for the plant sale being held for the annual general meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS).  It’s an easy two hour drive for me and although you wouldn’t be the first person to question a two hour drive just to work a plant sale, I did it anyway and thought it was an excellent way to splurge on gas money!

Mom:  “It sounds nice, and don’t volunteers get all kinds of free things?”

Me:  “They gave me a hat”

Mom:  “Oh… >pause<… how’s the construction going?”

I arrived an hour early in order to make a quick run-through of the Cornell Botanic Gardens and the Robison Herb Garden.  The weather was perfect, the gardens well-tended, and I even learned a few things.

cornell botanic garden

‘These flowers were thought to grow in Paradise’ which after my own shoddy online research seems to refer to the sweet william version, but I’d rather think they meant Dianthus plumarias and that’s whats growing in my garden and thats clearly evidence I’m creating Paradise next to my garage.  Boom.

So I learned my garden is a tin version of Paradise and I also learned that I need to grow Good-King-Henry.  If one plant can create Paradise, maybe another can post an invite to a household elf named Heinz.  Hopefully Heinz can help out with the dishes or something, and not be a mischievous troublemaker since we already have a dog for that.

cornell botanic garden

I believe I would be a good caretaker of Heinz’s plant.

Maybe I didn’t learn quite as much as I should have from the herb garden, but sometimes people only hear what they want and of course I’m no exception.  I did make it to the plant sale though, and I think I was somewhat helpful although for much of the afternoon I just kept running through a list of plants I wanted and then keeping my eye on people who seemed a little too interested in those same plants.  I tried to be sociable but mostly bothered the vendors and other volunteers.  Some new plant heroes are Ted Hildebrant of Coldwater Pond Nursery (Coldwater might have been the “Oh yeah, I’m there” clincher for luring me to the sale) from where I added three new witch hazels but not a variegated hydrangea paniculata or a variegated horse chestnut or red chestnut or hardy fuschia or… there were many temptations… There was also Karen Perkins of Garden Visions Epimediums who chose two epimediums which will be perfect for me, but hopefully not too perfect that I need more and more varieties…. and then there was Karma Glos of Kingbird Farm who I probably bothered the most.  She had porcupine tomato seedlings and that’s all it took.  In addition to the porcupine a few other seedlings joined my box and it was fun finding all those weird things which most people aren’t willing to take a risk on growing and selling.  Those and a passionflower vine.  Apparently I needed to pick one of those up at a rock garden plant sale so I did 😉

Yeah the sale was fun, but I could see myself getting into one of these get-togethers if the chance comes up again.  The garden visits and excursions sounded and looked awesome, and the evening presentations sounded great.  Attendees looked like ‘my people’ and I regret not talking to more of them.  Maybe next time.

dead red sedge

Don’t try digging in your dead sedge for the winter if it’s in a clay pot.  The pot will still break.

Once home again it’s been a week of get the garden in order and do all the planting most people finished by Memorial Day, starting with my lovely little dead sedge.  If the last five years have taught me anything it’s that doubling down works and deny deny deny.  My sedge is not dead it only looks that way, and now I’m dividing and repotting it so I can make a nice mass display of what I believe is a still-living plant of ‘Red Rooster’ leather leaf sedge.  It’s beautiful.  It’s a sedge more beautiful than any other and everyone is going to want one and now I have five of them.

dead red sedge

Division was a brutal process, I hope they don’t die… any more than they already have.

Speaking of dead things, one plant which I forgot about on the day my front yard was bulldozed has chosen life rather than the great unknown.

witch hazel graft

Hammamelis ‘Angelly’, a clear yellow witch hazel which might be back to beautiful in another 13 years if I’m lucky.  I’ll wait 🙂 

And a surprise flower amongst the amaryllis pots…

double amaryllis

Better late than never, I do like how this *forgot the name*(edit: on good authority we will label it ‘Dancing Queen’) double amaryllis looks blooming in June.  All the rest look a little Christmassy and out of place, but this one fits right in!

There has been a lot of progress this week.  The gardener was mostly focused and had nearly all week to get things cleaned up and ready for summer.  The driveway can hold a car again and hopefully the cannas and other things appreciate their return to soil and will soon explode into growth.  I have high hopes.

All the best for a good Sunday and excellent week!

Summer Arrives

It finally feels like summer here with warm sunny days, an end to school bus traffic, and summer parties running full force.  These are those lazy, endless days which you remember from when you were a kid but think you grew out of.  Work is a pain, there are all those responsibilities, but I say forget it and take the summer back.  Spend a day in the hammock doing nothing and then read half a book somewhere the breeze is blowing.  Maybe a good thunderstorm will be enough to wash the car, and hopefully someone gets the hint and orders some pizza.  A sick day is not out of the question, and the lawn mowing can wait another couple days 🙂

sumac tiger eyes

The fresh new growth of summer always looks great, even if there’s about twice as much growing in this foundation bed than there needs to be.  I’m starting to wonder just how big a dwarf blue spruce can get.    

I talk a good talk but there is still A LOT I’d like to get done before we click on the automatic watering systems and head to a beach or the mountains.  Tulips were dug last weekend, new tomatoes planted, lawns mowed and edged… many other things planted, weeded, mulched, tidied up… it needs it after I was away for a week for work and then completely unmotivated for another week as I nearly overdosed on painkillers while a toothache worked its way out.  I’ve recovered from both but surprisingly while the gardener was down for the count, the two teens here didn’t jump in and trim and edge and weed and water like I’d been hoping they would.

penstemon digitalis red

I was always luke-warm to the ‘Husker Red’ version of penstemon digitalis, but I really like the pink flowered forms.  I believe this is ‘Dark Towers’.

Honestly I’d rather not share my garden.  I’m tickled when they show an interest, but other than plant a few beans or pick a few onions I’d rather not give over a whole bed to their experiments.  I’m sure I would if asked, but the bad parent in me wants it all to myself.

penstemon digitalis red

I think this was Penstemon digitalis ‘Pocahontas’ but I’ve let it seed throughout the bed and may not care 100% about keeping the patch pure anymore!  

The kids find enough to keep occupied even without having a vegetable garden to weed.  Someday I suspect this general disinterest will change and someone might have a plant question, so to prepare for that day I’ll keep expanding things here so that when the time comes I might have an extra snowdrop or clematis to share 😉

clematis hf young

The pergola is one step closer to a cloak of vines.  The climbing roses were upset by the cold winter, but the clematis seems just fine.  I suspect this is ‘HF Young’ although I didn’t buy it as such.

I have been dabbling in a few things.  the kids may not want to experiment but I’m fine with it.  One of the best things is that my little Lilium pumilum is alive and flowering.  When I looked up the spelling on this thing it was a little insulting to see it referred to as ‘one of the easiest lilies to grow’.  Easy I guess if you don’t keep pulling it as a weed or mulching over it or building a raised bed over it and forgetting where it was.  That would probably help, but since it keeps coming back and flowered in just two or three years after seeds were sown, I guess you could call it easy.

lilium pumilum coral lily

The coral lily (Lilium pumilum) with its glossy scarlet turks-cap flowers.  Seeds would be a nice thing so maybe if I can avoid yanking the plant out after bloom I could raise a whole patch. 

Lilies and clematis and penstemon are nice but it’s the little pots of rhodohypoxis which are thrilling me right now.  Unlike the monkey poxis of central Africa, the Rhodohypoxis of southern Africa are a small corm which sends up pink or white flowers which look as if they were made of paper by a ten year old.  They’ll flower into summer and maybe again here and there late summer, depending on the mood.

rhodohypoxis

I think the hairy leaves are almost as interesting as the exceptionally modest flower.  No curvy pistils and turgid stamens on display here.

They’re not hardy enough for the open garden so mine are all potted, but my less than expert ‘throw them all in the cool but not freezing garage and then put them out again in late March’ method of care seemed to work out all right.  A few rotted though, and I’m not sure if they were too cool and wet in March or if they dried out too much over the winter.  I suspect maybe I put them out too early, but in my defense I thought they were sick of the dry winter and would like the cool rain bringing them out of dormancy… maybe…

rhodohypoxis

Rhodohypoxis baurii ‘Pintado’.  I believe this is my favorite.

As you may suspect there are a few other things which came out of the garage these last few weeks.  The winter garden plants are slowly finding homes, the pots of caladiums and pineapple lilies and whatever else overwintered in a pot are hopefully resprouting, and the bags of cannas and dahlias have been thrown open and watered as they await planting.  My driveway is the definition of a ‘pot ghetto’ and I cringe every time I see Monty pull out a perfectly stored dahlia clump and pot it up in his greenhouse and then contrast that with my trashbags on the concrete.  Hmmm.

the pot ghetto

The driveway probably shouldn’t look like this but give me one more week and maybe there will be noticeable progress.  

I could really use some more unsuspecting garden pals who would believe me when I say they need a crate full of dahlias and cannas.  I thought better safe than sorry when I dug them, but now I’m wondering how safe I thought I needed to be.  Surely there’s plenty of room for them, right?

magnolia society seedlings

I don’t need more plants but of course I was exceptionally excited to see a few sprouts in the magnolia seed pots.  They’re so small I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to find room for these, and even better that only four seedlings are up.  Two would be more than I need.  

Only a fool would complain about a lack of planting space and then join a plant society devoted to trees, even if those trees are magnolias and magnolias are super awesome and wait, there’s a seed exchange and I can order bunches of seed?  Sadly even I can’t justify more than a year or two of magnolia seed starting…

magnolia macrophylla

It was just a little seed…. but five years later Magnolia macrophylla is doing great in a completely inappropriate spot.  Largest simple leaf and flower of any native North American plant.  Who could resist?

Seriously though, if we could justify building a ridiculous addition onto our already reasonable home, why can’t I also have a few more magnolias than I need?  Maybe shade gardening isn’t all that bad.

the tropical garden

The tropical garden is looking more Crayola than Caribbean but at least it’s not the disaster it was last week.  Besides weeding I finally trimmed out all the dead winter-kill from the ‘Black Forest’ rose and the ‘Golden Sunshine’ willow in back.  Both are awesome.

We will see of course.  This garden has a 50/50 chance of going completely off the rails at any moment, and I still can’t believe there’s no garden police pulling me over for too many new bulbs or unplanted seedlings.  Hmm.  I hadn’t even thought of those.  Oh well.  At least it’s not a garage full of assault rifles, I guess I could have have exercised my American freedoms in that direction just as easily, so too many plants crammed in too few spots is still not the worst thing.

Have a great week!  I’m off tomorrow to volunteer at the American Rock Garden Society’s annual general meeting in Ithaca NY.  Someone thought it would be a good idea to have me help out at the plant sale and I’m sure they’re right, but personally I think it’s a terrible idea.  They might as well of put me in charge of ice cream scooping or m&m counting, or had me test to see if the Nutella is fresh.  Whatever.  I’ll do my best and make sure my wallet is stuffed full and the back of the car is empty.  Any receipts will hopefully blow out the window on the way home and if someone asks they were all leftovers.  Wish me luck 😉

The Poisoned Earth

I’m not an organic gardener.  I sprinkle fertilizer around, spray for pernicious weeds, douse a bug here and there… I figure “progress” has to be good for something more than shorter winters and a warmer globe, plus I like cool things like antibiotics, vaccines, and diabetes and heart medicines.  Unfortunately, there are a few things which scare me and I’ve been thinking more and more on them lately.  The most recent is the death of this year’s tomato plants.

For all the neglected vegetables of the potager, sauce tomatoes are always in demand and always harvested.  The kids might throw cherry tomatoes around and play baseball with a zucchini but the paste tomatoes always find their way to the saucepan or freezer, and if it were up to me they’d all go towards pizza, not sauce, but now I’m getting distracted.  This year the plants went in early, the stakes before they were needed, all were watered, mulched, and looked great… for a little while.

I mulched with lawn clippings like I always do and within a few days the plants were dying.

2-4-D tomato damage herbicide

All the new growth on the tomatoes is coming out curled and stunted.  According to what I’ve seen online it’s classic 2-4-D herbicide damage and chances for recovery are zero.  

I take care of the lawn next door, and my mother in law always reminds me every year to put down grub killer and something for the weeds.  I usually “fib” and say sure and things are just fine, but this year the clover and dandelions were getting a little too obvious, so rather than explain how the stuff ‘doesn’t always work 100%’ got a bag of Scott’s weed and feed to spread around.  It worked for the most part, we’re back to a monotonous yawn and she seems happy.

cabbage and cauliflower

The cabbage and cauliflower bed doesn’t seem as sensitive and are growing well.  They likely absorbed the same poisons and now I have to consider the fact it’s part of the cabbage leaves and future cauliflower heads.

So that was the end of March.  Two months of growing and mowing and rains and I was desperate for some mulch in my earliest-ever and most-promising tomato bed.  My lawn is still sparse from bulldozer traffic so what the heck, it’s been months since the last illegal clover shriveled and died over there, so let me just use a mower bag full, what’s the harm…. and then the tomatoes went belly-up.  It scares me to think of that whole yard as still being toxic.

no mow may meadow garden

No-mow May is a month long break from all the chopping and edging and spraying and fertilizing of the lawn growing cult.  I love the way it looks.

Leaf miners are what started all this nervousness about chemicals settling into garden.  Years back I would lose most of my daffodils, snowdrops, snowflakes, amaryllis, and lycoris to narcissus bulb flies… that is used to until I started sprinkling grub killer around the bulbs.  The bulb flies disappeared and that was awesome but then one summer I realized how perfect all the leaves on my columbine (Aquilegia) were.  Perfect leaves on columbine is something I’ve never seen in this garden, they always end up with a bunch of leaf miner tunnels and it’s not perfect but not that big a deal either.  If I feel like it the foliage is trimmed back, and new growth returns quickly, but it was weird to not see them.

Columbine often seeds into areas where I planted daffodils and snowdrops.  The columbine takes up the grub killer and becomes poisonous enough to kill the leaf miners.  Whatever else sprouts there also becomes poisonous.  The leaves decay and the compost becomes poisonous.  Many people say the pollen and nectar of the flowers contains the poison and the bees suffer… and of course people love bees… but think of the crickets and katydids living in the shrubs which also share that soil, suddenly they’re as likely to die as the leaf miners are.

One bag of grub killer would last me for years since I used it so sparingly, but today it’s only columbine in the far reaches of the yard which ever show an occasional leaf miner.  They’re basically extinct in my yard.  Just imagine how a normal person would use a whole bag in a day, across their entire lawn, and from then on every grass blade, perennial plant, shrub, and tree in the yard becomes toxic to insects.  Think of how many neighbors use Lawn Doctors and Tru Greens, and I don’t think they use anything less-toxic than the unlicensed, off the shelf products we gardeners use.  No wonder insect populations are crashing.

no mow may meadow garden

A no-mow May meadow.  Hopefully this is a toxin-free buffet for both myself and the bugs.  I’ll resume regular mowing in August and then keep it up until fall.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.  I already have some much-smaller, far-less amazing tomato plants to plant in another unmulched bed, and so what if there aren’t any leaf miners.  I just hate to think of everything else we’re losing.

Hope you’re having a great week.  Happy June!

May I say Amazing?

As we approach the end of May I’m pretty sure things couldn’t be better.  There was a moment (actually quite a few) when I was sitting in the backyard, looked about and thought to myself, ‘wow, this is friggin awesome’.  It wasn’t just one thing or another, it was the warm breeze, the scent of iris blooms, birds chirping, the wind rustling fresh foliage, flowers here and there, it was all that and it just feels great after months of seemingly endless cold.

may perennial border

Three warm days and a few rain showers ended tulip season and moved the garden into it’s blue phase with iris and aquilegia.

To be completely honest there were a few days in there when the heat was almost bad enough to say something mildly bad about too much heat, but then a quick sit in the shade fixed things.  With enough rain and sun you can almost hear things growing, and I like that.

may perennial border

When they were bulldozing the coal wastelands to build the industrial park behind our house I came across and saved two columbine plants (Aquilegia vulgaris) by digging and bringing them into the garden.  Ten years later they’ve self-sown everywhere, creating a nice blue haze.

There used to be a lull in flowers between the last tulips and first iris and roses, but by carefully buying too many plants each year for the last few years I’ve ended up filling that gap.  I shall try to keep up that effort and see what else wonderful results from overplanting.  Maybe it’s the secret to thicker hair or longer life, you never know, better to err on the side of caution since I think I saw something once about a lack of new plants being linked to excessive weight gain and cognitive decline.  Be careful is all I’m saying.

asphodeline lutea kings spear

The yellow of King’s Spear (Asphodeline lutea) is back after a couple years of too much rabbit nibbling and columbine crowding.  I like the spikes of bloom and will try and give it a little more space again.

This talk of new plants has me a little worried because work and a pile of mulch to spread has kept me too busy for my usual nursery runs.  I did manage to finish off the front yard mulching, but after bailing out eight or nine bucket of water out of the basement Saturday I told my contractor he owed me another load of mulch.  He agreed.  A new roof is nice, but when all the water is now directed to a spot just above the basement door, and the gutter is missing, and you can see water flowing into the house it can be discouraging.  Good thing mulch makes me happy.

may perennial border

All the early corydalis and scillas are yellowed and gone and with new mulch spread it looks almost suburbian neat in this garden.

Plenty of other things make me happy as well, and since many of the plenty are things which bloom in May, even the latest round of water in the house can’t dampen my spirits.

amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia hubrichtii is care-free in full sun and only needs a wack back to half it’s height in June to keep it from sprawling everywhere.

Even though the rain doesn’t need to fall in downpours of one or two inches it’s still worth it to have a green lawn in May rather than the beginning of drought.  Everything seems happier after a good soak, provided there’s some sun and warmth afterwards… rather than endless damp and grey.

may perennial border

With all the other blue a new blue lupine was probably unnecessary, but I wanted something to go with the red one… and of course now the red one’s not flowering…

You may be wondering how the construction is going if all this rain and water is still getting into the house, and I wish I could say we’re almost there, but we’re not.  Things are crawling along but with a contractor who is often a one or two man show, crawling is as good as it gets.  Good thing we like him and it’s always (eventually) a job well done 🙂

picea glauca pendula

With much of this end of the border bulldozed down, the weeping white spruce (Picea glauca pendula) has a chance to get the space he deserves.  Maybe the fresh mulch will keep the bulldozer from coming back!

So bit by bit I try to bring back the parts of the garden ‘touched’ by construction.  Areas are looking better but the pond was one spot I’d given up on.  There are large rocks and nearly a foot of dirt which have fallen in, but just last week everything changed.  I heard frogs singing, and then I heard more.  In the muddy, murky waters I see many frog eggs and suspect this corner of PA will soon see a tree frog population explosion.  I’m already trying to figure out what I can feed them with since I can’t imagine there’s enough whatever in this pond to feed so many future tadpoles.

garden pond tadpoles

There are hundreds of frog eggs in here, and those are just the surface ones which I can easily see!

So if all goes well this summer shall again see an abundance of baby gray tree frogs entering the garden.  Perhaps that will make up for the missing garter snakes.

garden dry stack stone wall

The stone wall is about as good as it gets.  In a moment of brilliance all the potted succulents ended up on top of the wall rather than on the deck steps.  I think I like it but it’s hard to level a pot on such ramshackle construction.

For all the rocks which came up out of the construction hole, I’m a little disappointed by how short a rock wall I was able to build.  People who garden on rocky sites are likely rolling their eyes and saying we have plenty, come get a few, but nearly all my rocks are covered by shale and fill and would require a little quarrying to get to them.  Hmmm.  I’ve heard of people who have done as much and according to my book, if someone else has tried it maybe it’s not so crazy.  Maybe I could start a ‘small backhoe campaign’ and start talking about backhoes enough that eventually someone will say ‘just get the stupid thing if that will shut you up’.  That could be fun 🙂

garden dry stack stone wall

The new wall makes a nice divider between the lawn and the meadow… otherwise known as where I mow regularly and where I don’t… 

Having a backhoe BEFORE I moved several tons of rock by hand would have been a smarter move, but if the early settlers were able to clear a field by hand and build miles of wall I think I should be able to handle a few feet.

outdoor summer succulents

The succulents will spend all summer out here, unwatered for the most part and maybe here and there a splash of liquid fertilizer will land in their pots.  Also maybe I’ll pot up another dozen or so other succulents I happen to have laying around.  If 20 pots look nice wouldn’t 30 look nicer?

So what other silliness has been going on around here… the entire winter garden is out of the house but bags of canna roots and pots of caladium corms are still waiting their turn.  Many of the deck planters have been planted and overall it’s nearly all overwintered things and not much new.  That’s good for the budget but at the moment the repotted mandevilla vine looks like a whole lot of dead, and not quite the highlight of any summer display, so maybe it will still be a few weeks before I share photos of that.

garden potager

The potager is remarkably under control for May.  Garlic and onions are growing, tomatoes have been planted, and I suspect there’s another bunny nest in the tulips.  Baby bunnies are too cute to resent.  I will tell them to keep away from the lettuce.

In some parts of the garden I think I’m overcompensating for the construction destruction.  The guilt of bulldozed and buried plants has me trying to make other areas extra-neat as I try to balance those out with areas I’ve abandoned.

chives album schoenoprasum ‘Forescate

btw chives (Allium schoenoprasum) might be my latest, latest, latest obsession.  Here’s pink ‘Forescate’ with white ‘Album’ behind.  I might have a lead on a darker variety and when I pair those with the regular lavender sort I think it will be quite nice.  Oddly I can’t rememebr the last time I ate a chive, but whatever.

Speaking of abandoned areas, the snowdrop beds are all on that list.  Maybe I’ll weed and divide things this summer, or maybe not.  These days I can call it a wild garden and don’t think anyone will judge me too harshly, plus it’s always going to be much more interesting than mulchbeds and lawn, even though 90% of my neighbors would much prefer mulchbeds and lawn rather than the excessive plantings which find their home here (the other 10% are undecided).

weedy garden

Weeds amongst the snowdrops.  A few nice things but I really need to remove the mugwort and powerwash that birch trunk!

Honestly sometimes I’m undecided if all these questionable plants and sweaty labor are changing things here for the better, but when the tadpoles come I will know they are.  Actually every new thing which comes up has me convinced it’s all for the better… except maybe poison ivy seedlings.  I can do without those.

Enjoy these last days of May, they pass far too quickly!

The Late Tulips

I don’t think I have to tell anyone this is busy time of year, but I will and with that apologize for a lack of blog browsing (and blog posting which is also slacking but far less noticed) and all the other things I’ve been cutting out of my life as I spend way too much time looking at plants and wondering about plants and thinking about plants and just enjoying nice weather… all while also being required to go to work every day.  Golly.

tulip green river

Tulip ‘Green River’ is late and cool and amazing, but also unattractive and not-showy… depending on your eye.  

Work plus construction plus a guilty contractor who offered to deliver a load of mulch as a peace offering for delays.  Mulch to calm the waters?  You bet!  It worked, and now I’m entirely distracted by weeding and mulching and staying cool in the sudden warmth and… there’s always so much going on at this time of year it’s like Mother Nature’s manic stage and I’m just as wired trying to keep up.

pink florida dogwood

Not mulched but maybe next week?  

I took these pictures yesterday evening and have just a few minutes to post them before heading out for the weekend.  Thankfully that may prevent me from going on as much as usual but I just wanted to take one last look at the tulips before the heat and wind send them back to bulbs for another year.

perennial tulips

Fresh mulch and tulips.  That’s a first, usually mulch isn’t spread until the heat of July and I must admit it looks great  -just ignore the barren borderlands where bulldozers and backhoes dwell.

Sad isn’t it?  That they pass so quickly?  Maybe, but for the slightly off-kilter amongst us there’s still the exciting time when bulbs are dug and the gardener can see just how many more tulips will grace the garden next spring!  What’s more fun than sifting through tray after tray of fat tulip bulbs and thinking about next season already? -said no one… or maybe just one person who is currently deep into a tulip obsession…

perennial tulips

The curling blooms will drop in the wind tomorrow, and given the forecast the rest might only last another week or so.  Still, today they look great.

Obviously if I’m staring at tulips in between spreading mulch there’s not much else getting done.  The rains and the heat are bringing on the first tidal wave of weeds.

perennial tulips

I did dig and straighten out the boxwood hedge.  It looks fine, and even better if a weedy tulip or two somehow find their way in.

Plenty of leaf mulch has kept down a good number of weeds, but this week I noticed potato sprouts and amaranthus and again I’m trying to tell myself to put on the big boy pants and take control of the garden with a little more direction and focus.

tulip absalon insulinde

The broken tulips of last year are back, but were in a bad spot for tulips and are much smaller and barely multiplied.  They’re also still awesome though, and I couldn’t resist including a photo.  I believe that’s ‘Absalon’ in the center between ‘Insulinde’ and ‘Black and White’. 

Most of the potager beds are ok, but only if you ignore the latest bunny nest amongst the tulips and the one bed where the mulch ran out.

tulip muvota

The smoky colored tulip ‘Muvota’ has to sit away from the brighter colors in order to show well.  That doesn’t mean it has to suffer the company of weeds, but…

As you may know, some weeds are much appreciated in this “garden”.

variegated lunaria money plant

The white flowered, variegated money plant (Lunaria annua) is one of my favorite plants.  I might need to leave more weedy spots for it to spread into.

Of course not all weeds are appreciated to the same extent.  Each year I ask myself if all the bumblebees and hummingbirds are worth the swamp of jewelweed seedlings which I need to pull each spring.  So far they are, but my patience does have its limits.

primula sieboldii

Jewelweed seedlings are nearly overrunning the primrose bed and a few need to come out so that I feel less guilty when I look at the Primula sieboldii patch.  They really deserve more respect.

I’m still not sure Primula sieboldii is getting what it wants from me.  For some it seems to grow like a weed, but here it seems to want frequent dividing and a little room to spread… both of which will be lacking during this year of construction and garden reclaiming.

primula sieboldii

I love the variety of flower forms from these American Primrose Society seeds.  If things here get bad it’s such a relief to be able to get another packet or two from the society’s seed exchange to replace these little treasures.

Primrose and daffodils.  Besides the tulips these two are carrying me through to iris season and then summer.  My Qdaff and PHS daffodils purchases might be some of the best squandering of Covid relief money that I’ve seen in the past two years.

daffodil magic step

‘Magic Step’ in the low afternoon light of a beautiful day.

New daffodils and a stretch of cool weather have really brought out the colors this spring and it’s let me fulfill one little check off the bucket list.  Many of my new daffodils are recent hybrids from the breeding work of Dr Reed of Michigan, and are some of his best work in bringing oranges and reds into larger cups and trumpet forms.  The other yay is ordering a few bulbs from the work of the late Grant E. Mitsch and his daughter and her husband, the Havens, out of their farm in Oregon.  Back in the day I used to put together wish lists from their coffee table quality catalog and then never order.  Their catalog was about all I could afford, but of course that was then and this is now 🙂

daffodil cherrygardens

In my opinion ‘Cherrygardens’ is kinda awesome.  

Not all my daffodil experiments were an amazing success though.

daffodil little dorr

‘Little Dorr’ is a huge, heavy, outstanding bloom, but…. has a little bit of a taste for dirt…

The rest are all cool though, and hopefully next year will be just as good.

daffodil american classic

‘American Classic’ has all the shading and straight cup that I like.  

daffodil bobbysoxer ‘Bobbysoxer’ is also the nicest little thing, here attractively paired with my beloved New Zealand dead sedge which I suspect is still alive but you never know.

So that’s it from here.  A weekend away and I’m sure the garden will not wait, so I expect summer upon my return.  Maybe the mulch will spread itself and the weeds will leave to come looking for me.  Or not, either way it doesn’t matter, spring is still awesome.

Have a great weekend!

Bragging Again

The weather has finally warmed up enough here to get things growing, and as usual it’s the tulips and daffodils which are my absolute favorites.  They’re not at all subtle and I think that’s needed in order to distract from the raw construction of other parts of the garden.

growing tulips

The border along the street is looking good with a nice show of returning tulips.  Some have been in place for over five years and are way overdue for dividing.

Tulips and daffodils are a weakness of mine and it may surprise some that I’ve been on a strict diet for the last two or three years and haven’t allowed myself to buy any new bulbs until I take better care of what’s here.  Crowded clumps need dividing in order to show off best and in the case of tulips a string of late freezes and excessively damp springs have brought on some serious plagues of tulip fire botrytis.  Fortunately it only takes a few nice flowers in order for me to completely ignore a thousand other issues!

tulip marit

‘Marit’ might be in the top five of favorite tulips.  The colors, shape, and size are just amazing to my eye. 

This year drier weather has also been helpful in keeping the botrytis down.  Between that and some Neem oil spraying last spring things are looking much improved this spring.  I’m also ruthlessly ripping out infected shoots and thinning the foliage on still overcrowded clumps.  We will see what ‘thinning the foliage’ does to next year’s flowers since obviously the bulbs need the foliage to grow new bulbs, but a few less bulbs might not be the worst thing either.

growing tulips

I’m not sure you can tell that these tulips have been thinned.  The one clump of orange was missed, but the others were all dug in late May(?) far earlier than they should have been, and immediately replanted after pulling off and tossing all the smaller bulbs.  I’m hoping the show next spring is again solid with color.

I’m pretty sure only the gardener will notice if there are a ‘few less’ bulbs next year.  Exponential growth means a hundred tulips can become three hundred in just a year, so better to revel in the luxury of me doing the thinning rather than disease or *gulp* deer or other vermin doing it for me.  Thank goodness the deer still avoid my garden.

growing tulips

An overcrowded daffodil patch.  Sadly this is a newer replant where I thought I was leaving room, but really wasn’t as I tried to pack too many bulbs into too small a bed…

At least deer don’t eat daffodils.  Someday the backup plan might be daffodils and a fenced in potager if worse comes to worst.

narcissus firebird

An airy little ‘Firebird’.  

I don’t know if anyone remembers but ‘The Purge’ took place two springs ago, and daffodils were downsized to just under 150 varieties and that still sounds generous, but I miss them.

narcissus tahiti

‘Tahiti’ will never be downsized.  Even as a double in a garden where doubles are under-appreciated, it’s a favorite.

A new bed of daffodils would likely help.  I think it’s worth a shot at least 😉

narcissus coral light

‘Coral Light’ also made the cut and looks excellent with some room to show off.  If only I could do more of this planting-with-reasonable-spacing thing I think I’d be alright and things would look much better.

Where would this bed go?  Who knows but it would probably involve less lawn and that’s also a good thing… unless someone wants a badminton net strung up and doesn’t want to avoid jumping over daffodil clumps…

narcissus Mrs R O Backhouse

The bulbs of ‘Mrs R O Backhouse’ did not look great after the purge, and I was worried, but many of these older varieties bounce back quickly.

‘The Purge’ reached a highpoint two years ago during the potager rebuild, and a couple daffodil plantings had to make way for the construction of raised beds.  Sadly since then I’ve found that I don’t like the way the daffodils look in the raised beds, so that’s a new space problem, and even worse I love growing tulips in the raised beds.  The digging and replanting seems to really help with controlling the tulip fire botrytis and I can spend hours each week just going back and forth looking to see how much they’ve grown each day, and what new surprise has opened up.  Sometimes I really have to wonder where they come from when it’s a flower I don’t remember ever planting or it’s one I haven’t seen in years!

growing tulips

I tried to keep two beds open for tomatoes, beans, and zucchini plantings this month.  Next year all bets are off and the whole thing might be tulips.   

Actually here’s a confession.  Last fall I did add 10 new bulbs of ‘Shirley’ and ‘Pink Impression’, so this bulb diet I’m on isn’t all abstinence and cutting back.  Maybe it should have been though, since both varieties were mislabeled.

tulip not shirley

This is not the tulip ‘Shirley’ but still nice, and for a clearance bulb I can’t complain.  The real ‘Shirley’ has more of an inky purple stain that spreads down from the edges as the flower ages, and of course I still need to get that one again…  and keep this one now…

A friend with excellent taste in tulips pulls hers each year after bloom and usually I say no thanks, but this year I already put in a save request.  I’m also looking through bulb catalogs.  I’m also excited about how fat and vigorous this year’s crop of bulbs should be.  I fear ‘The Purge’ shall be followed by ‘The Splurge’ and tomatoes will end up in pots on the deck next year… and I’m 100% fine with that! -until someone else here overrules me 😉

growing tulips

The view from my in-potager seating area.  When the sun shines and the flowers open wide there’s not much getting done around here.

Usually the saved bulbs end up as mixes since it’s (1) easier and (2) it’s easier.  Plus the gardener always misses a bunch of bulbs when digging, stray bulbs get dropped and returned to the wrong box, and the gardener is a little disorganized in general.  He tries though.  A solid patch of his favorite is always worth marking and digging separately.

growing tulips

I think this streaked orange is ‘Beauty of Apeldoorn’ and I wouldn’t mind a solid bunch of it, as well as the yellow behind which might be ‘Big Smile’ which is plain and yellow, and I have plenty of yellow, but it’s also excellent and I love it.

Don’t worry, there’s a good chance none of that will ever happen.  Just getting the bulbs dug will be work enough and trust me the gardener isn’t one to go out looking for extra work.

growing tulips

Most of the tulips here come from generic Darwin Hybrid mixes, and often they turn out to be something else, but I believe the large reddish orange with yellow edges is the Darwin hybrid ‘Apledoorn Elite’ and it makes up a big part of the mix.  

I bet a few complementary perennials would also look nice, but all we’ve got is purple deadnettle and a few self-sown clumps of bleeding hearts.  There’s much to be said for careful weeding.

growing tulips

One year bleeding heart seed somehow ended up in the compost and they came up all over.  Works for me I said!

Enough with the tulips, just one last photo on how much they multiply.  I came across this picture from two years ago of all the ones which were dug and saved during the potager upheaval.

growing tulips

The potager tulips all descend from these few saved bunches.  A few of the reds were added later as leftovers from the planters out front, but the nerd in me sees the baby pictures of ‘Red Emperor’ and ‘Apledoorn Elite’ just waiting to go back into the ground and explode!

Ok, one last confession.  I may have mentioned I did buy a few new daffodils last fall since I had been so good during ‘The Purge’ and made so many adult decisions about how many was enough and how many was too much.  They were all one or two bulb purchases from either QDaffs or PHS daffs and were more meant to support small growers and importers, and entirely not because I really needed them… but that sham is now falling apart.  I was either sent more bulbs than I ordered or the quality was so obscenely excellent that one bulb really amounted to three normal bulbs, and now there are enough and they’re so awesome that more would be even better.  Oh the cruelty of it all.

narcissus bernardino hyperbole

An older variety, ‘Bernardino’ with a newer variety, ‘Hyperbole’ behind it.  Both are outstanding.

Fortunately I haven’t clicked on any new orders.  Actually I think it’s downright irresponsible to even allow us to order more daffs while it’s still peak season here, and I kind of feel like I’m being targeted for my weaknesses… but on second thought I may be just fine with that.

narcissus red passion rocoza

‘Red Passion’ in front with ‘Rocoza’ behind.  To a daffodilista that’s what red looks like, just like peach is often called pink, but whatever, I always enjoy the enthusiasm of the plant-obsessed.  

So we will see if anything new is ordered.  I’m leaning towards responsibility and frugality, and more adult decisions which consider available space and appropriate choices, but when you come home from work on a Friday excited for the weekend only to find it’s raining inside the bathroom nearly as much as outside, your resolve weakens.  Plus there’s always that gardening budget just bursting with revenue from the new plant tax.  Construction is still as expensive as ever but when this genius decided to put a plant tax on all building costs it’s been a huge windfall for my plant budget.  This must be how the big oil companies feel when gas prices surge and then stay there… except that’s also my money vanishing… and it’s surely not being spent on plants…

In any case have a great weekend.  It’s still raining here (although the extra shower in the bathroom has stopped) but at least the rain has kept me from staring at flowers all morning.  Enjoy!

Spring?

Last Sunday was fantastic.  There was sunshine and warmth, and coffee on the porch, and then here was a nice stroll to look at plants.  Then there was more looking and some sitting and then a little more looking.  I believe things were actually growing as I watched and that’s a nice change from the chilly standstill that the last few days have had us at… and the snow… but nearly all of that melted when the warmer weather rolled in.  Eventually I even did a little work!

garden hellebores

This spring has been good for the hellebores… except I probably have too many and I probably have even more seedlings coming along so I probably should open up a few new spots and not plant other things there since I’m opening them up for future hellebore seedlings…  

I’ve been a little down on the garden due to gloomy weather and construction debris, but just a couple hours of short sleeve gardening with spring flowers opening had me flying high again.  My weedy, disheveled potager with a few tulips close to opening had me imagining the grandeur of Keukenhof right here in my own backyard, but now the reality of another gloomy day has brought me back down to earth.  I think it will be nice enough, but things could still use a bit of work here.

anemone x lipsiensis

Anemone x lipsiensis is a cute little spring bloomer.  I bought a little root the same year a friend gave me a piece and I assumed they’d be the same thing but they’re not.  Now I need to decide if the smaller, paler clone on the left is different enough from the one on the right to bother separating.  

I think a breakthrough was finally making a move on the poor little boxwood hedge which was upended when construction fill had to be shuttled from the foundation hole to the low spot in the back of the yard.  My jelly ‘topsoil’ was squeezed to the side by the weight of the backhoe, and when it squished over it took the hedge with it.  Part of me wanted to rip it out and rethink things but then the other part decided it would be worth digging out and straightening up.  So… the hedge along the potager will be dug and returned to its upright position.

boxwood hedge

My sad and abused boxwood hedge.  All winter it’s been nearly pushed over and I’ve been back and forth on what to do.

The hedge across from it is a different story.  It’s also riding a wave of squishy topsoil and I think that wave is about to crash.

boxwood hedge

The even sadder and more abused neighboring boxwood hedge.  Maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

Come to think of it I’m not all that happy with the swingset in the middle of the yard anymore either.  The kids don’t use it all that much and when they do they’re not toddlers I need to keep an eye on, rather they’re teens who wouldn’t mind hiding with their friends somewhere off to the side.  Hmmmm.  And don’t even get me started on the trampoline.

garden pond

Construction has not been kind to the pond.  It’s a muddy mess which fills with runoff, but the waterlily is returning and I see duckweed bits floating about so all is not dead.

Maybe changes are afoot.  It’s not surprising that poorly planned projects of five and ten years ago need updating, and the sad truth will be that their replacements will likely be just as hasty and poorly planned.  Obviously I’m one of those people who needs to learn everything the hard way.

build stone wall

A pile of rocks might as well become a wall so as to not look so much like a pile of save-them-somewhere rocks.

Don’t think that my whole beautiful weekend was filled with the joys of stone moving and hedge lifting, there was also the fun moment when a small jackhammer showed up so that “if I wanted to start taking out the concrete patio section and digging out new basement stairs” I could.  Lucky me!

double daffodil mertensis bluebell

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) can be floppy and messy and rapidly die down when the weather gets warm, but I’m determined to get a few settled into the garden.    

So even when my day of rest was topped off with three hours of jack hammering and digging I still thought it was a fantastic weekend.  The weather was beautiful and I even snuck in a quick hike and garden center run with the daughter.  She got it into her head to trim Grandma’s spiral evergreens, pull weeds, and also wanted to plant a few flowers, so needless to say I was thrilled to hear her speaking my language and found the time to look at plants with her 😉

daffodil jetfire

‘Jetfire’ is a nice little daffodil that looks all yellow most years… until a cold spring comes our way.  Then the trumpet burns orange just like it likely does every year in more reliably dismal climates.

All this is still a lot of raw construction talk and torn up earth, so hopefully the next batch of photos will be more pleasing and flowerful.  I think it will be.  The daffodils are beginning and with tulips right behind them I’ll be thrilled, even if the sun is lost and gloomy weather returns.  You can’t hold spring back forever.

daffodil tweety bird

This year the yellow trumpet daffodil ‘Tweety Bird’ holds the record for longest bloom.  A full month after first opening, it still looks exceptional, and it doesn’t hurt that this small trumpet flower form might be my very favorite daffodil form.

daffodil high society

‘High Society’ just barely missed the bulldozer blade.  It’s such a highly regarded, good grower, and I can’t think of a single reason to justify my luke-warm opinion of this plant. 

Hope the garden did well for you this weekend.  I feel recharged and can’t wait to get back out there, especially if it’s heavier on the sit and look side than it is jack hammering and stone hauling 😉

Have a great week!

The Give and Take

So spring is here.  Maybe not spring for non-gardeners, because I have yet to see the flipflops and tank tops come out, but for a couple hours Wednesday they could have and that’s promising.  Of course we’re not out of the woods yet, but each day the light is longer, and each afternoon the sun shines stronger, and every day there’s something new sprouting up in the garden.

corydalis solida

My favorite patch of Corydalis solida.  They started as named forms, but with seedlings popping up all over I’m less and less confident and less concerned each spring as to who is who.

The last two afternoons have been warm enough to almost feel hot (up to 78F Wednesday) and that can be a shock three days after snowflurries were flying, but so far the plants are taking it in stride.  A few more days of this and things will all begin to fade and droop, but so far we’re not there, and so far the forecast looks promising for a return to digging and planting weather as opposed to porch sitting and iced beverages.

seedling hyacinths

Being a little on the odd side, I always look forward to this very uninteresting patch of hyacinths flowering.  They’re mostly seedlings of the bulbs I moved out a few years back, but I love the slight variations which have shown up from the original pink planting.

The rainy, colder weather in early April (without any more brutal arctic blasts) has made for an excellent hellebore season.  I’m again telling myself I need more of them and have been out there counseling last year’s batch of seedlings to grow faster.

hellebore flowers

Some nice yellow seedling which hold their flowers outwards a little more.  There’s a picotee seedling in there as well, which is nice, but it hangs its flowers much more.

There are some amazing newer forms of hellebores out there these days, and they’re so much easier to find than just a few years back.  That doesn’t mean I’ve gotten my hands on them yet, but at least there’s a chance.

hellebore flowers

A plant of ‘Onyx Odyssey’ not being very showy but being very cool with its glowering attitude.

My biggest problem with new additions is convincing myself that a few older ones need to go.  Sometimes it’s too easy to get attached to plants just because…

hellebore flowers

A nice springtime blend of colors on these seedlings.  I don’t think there’s much hope they’ll ever be divided even though they should have been divided…

Ok, for the most part I don’t get too attached to plants, even the annoying ones which you fuss over for years and then they still don’t amount to much.  Maybe if I keep telling myself that I can finally pull those washed out, muddy colored hellebores on the side of the garage.

hellebore flowers

Nothing muddy or washed out here.  These are doubles from the Winter Gem series.

I won’t even bore you with the less exciting hellebores.  They’re actually pretty nice, but when you need space you need space!

hellebore flowers

More seedlings.  These qualify as ‘nice’.

Somewhere else in the garden is short on space and that’s the winter garden.  A couple weeks ago I tossed all the succulents out from under the growlights and into the cold, as well as a few other things which don’t mind flirting with 32 degrees and a little frost.  The amaryllis can handle a mild frost, and it’s about time they stopped overcrowding my indoor space.

hardening off plants

It’s still about a month until our last frost date so I’ll be quite busy if another freeze rolls in, but a few flurries?  a bitter wind?  These plants will just have to get over it.

If worse comes to worst I’ll throw a sheet over them for a night or two, and if worst comes to tragedy it will free up a few pots and I just won’t tell anyone that I killed yet another batch of plants 😉

coldframe overwintering

The cold frame, ahem ‘Sand Plunge’, did an excellent job last winter, and even my Sabal minor palm seedlings overwintered with just a few burnt leaf tips.  

I wish I could say the garden, yard, and house have all emerged from construction projects as well as they’ve survived the winter.  Progress is slow and our ‘guy’ is just a two person crew with other jobs always coming up.

garden construction

The massive piles of soil are off about half the lawn, and I was able to dig up and rake off all the stones and fill which would have smothered the grass.  You can see it’s a little yellow and lumpy, but at least I can roll a mower across and not throw up a rock every couple inches.

Sometimes the other jobs come up as little surprises here.  Last fall just a small slice of the front garden had to be moved for the work to get started, and now last week just a little more ended up in the cross hairs.  “We have to figure out what’s gong on with that sewer line” is how it all started.

garden construction

A lot of dirt can come out of just two small, but really deep, holes.

“Wow that’s weird, the line has to be here somewhere”

garden construction

Maybe you can make out the top of a ten foot ladder to the far left of this photo.

My only request was to be careful around the little weeping spruce, and since the excavator liked the small magnolia he tried to save that as well… but apparently bunches of tulips and daffodils, roses, iris, hellebores and clematis, do not make the ‘save’ list.  Oh well.  As I was watching the excavator rip up the quite hefty root ball of the rose ‘William Baffin’, and saw the teeth of the scoop slice through the iron roots of the giant reed grass I thought better him than I.

garden construction

The next afternoon.  More soil scraping, rock raking, wheelbarrowing, and lawn uncovering and it doesn’t look nearly as bad.  

Hmmm.  What can I replant there?  I suspect enough things will come up that I really don’t have to even consider adding anything, but it might be good to get new plants just in case.

Actually my new budgeting theory calls for a plant tax on all major construction expenses.  Kind of like a cost of doing business, and here’s how it works.  $2,000 for a new bathroom vanity?  A 5% plant tax means $100 bucks goes over to the gardening budget, and I think that’s a very reasonable rate.  Between the new vanity and the sewer repairs I was able to visit three nurseries over the past week and added a bunch of plants I have neither the time nor space for.  It was fun and I don’t even care if they don’t all get planted.  It’s kind of like not finishing your dinner when you go out to eat I guess.  Sure you paid for the side of fries, but why get all guilt ridden when they go cold and you just send them to the trash?  At least unnecessary plants can be enjoyed on the driveway for a few months until they finally dry out one too many times 😉

It wouldn’t be the first time.  Just enjoy spring, we’ve earned it!

An End Before the Start

Yesterday I made a point of getting outside for a few pictures before whatever happens happened.  Those of you who’ve visited this blog ever probably know that this gardener has more than a passing fancy for snowdrops, and sadly this year the season has passed in a blur with other things and weather taking priority over the hope for idle days in the sunshine crawling from snowdrop clump to snowdrop clump.  Instead I was out at night with a flashlight, out in the rain, or wind, or cold, and none of those scenarios make for good picture taking.  It happens, it could be worse, and with several clumps disappearing or dwindling this year I guess it was as good a season as any to have fly by.  Next year will be perfect I’m sure!

galanthus flore peno

A grainy, just before dark photo of the ‘White Trash’ bed from about a week ago.  Galanthus ‘flore peno’ and other “common”, “messy”, and “no special merit” snowdrops fill this bed, and it’s one of my favorite plantings.  

We won’t dwell on the weather of course.  If a gardener ever hopes to enjoy their snowdrops in this area they need to be prepared for a season which goes from an early spring thaw one week, to frigid temps and snow and ice the next, to overly warm shorts and T-shirt weather for five days, back to snow and a hard freeze.  I can always stay inside, but the snowdrops can’t and sometimes end up a little beaten down.

galanthus nivalis

A nice galanthus nivalis with just the tiniest green mark inside.  Someday I hope to find an albino, but for now this one keeps me happy.

So here’s where the survivors are at.  For you’re sake I’ll try to write less and photo more 😉

galanthus cordelia

Galanthus ‘Cordelia’ a little sloppy yet hanging on and Cardamine quinquefolia just starting with its pink flowers.  A few people have lodged complaints about the cardamine’s spreading ways but it looks like I’ll have to learn the hard way.

galanthus imbolc

I can never speak poorly of big flowers on a non-floppy plant.  ‘Imbolc’ is representing and hopefully hangs on for a while during our cold spell.

galanthus erway

Galanthus ‘Erway’ has a nice paleness this spring which is fairly normal but not always this pronounced. 

galanthus moortown

I think I show galanthus ‘Moortown’ each spring.  He’s such a hefty brute.

green poc sharlockii galanthus

My thoughts are always mixed on anything from sharlockii blood, but this one has turned out nice.  A Belgium drop with lots of green and inner petals almost as long as the outers.  

Please don’t even fall for my woe is me comments on this year’s season.  Even a bad one is still better than the suffering my non-snowdropping neighbors are enduring.  I see them washing cars and trying to liven up a dead yard with a few plastic Easter eggs and realize that my yard has been bursting with bulbs for the last month and more, and the garden year is already off to a good start.  Missing the snowdrops is as much my own fault for not being independently wealthy as it is the cruel ups and down of the weather, and maybe a few less garden visits and ski trips would have also helped.  I’ll try to work on that… maybe…

eranthis gothenburg

A doubled winter aconite (Eranthis ‘Gothenburg’) flowering for the first time after two other years of ‘no thanks’.  Please don’t die now is my reply.  In this garden new and hard to find winter aconites like to die the year after finally looking nice.

So now I have nothing to look forward to except hundreds of spring bulbs and sprouting perennials and wave after wave of new color every day!  Sure there will be a few hiccups along the way, but still I can’t even imagine things being bad enough to make washing the car a decent alternative.

minor spring bulbs

More bulbs popping up.  The unspellable Scilla mischtschenkoana doesn’t ask for much but does fade quickly in anything warmer than sweater weather. 

I don’t know how people manage self restraint around all the small ‘minor’ bulbs which could fill their gardens.  I mean I do, but there are so many tempting crocus and bulb forming iris and corydalis that I really can’t judge anyone who ends up with a bed devoted to species tulips or spring blooming colchicums.

minor spring bulbs

I vaguely remember these not blooming and me digging and dividing the clump.  For a couple days they’ll be amazing and then the next great thing will roll along and I won’t even bother to dig out a label for an ID.

Even for someone who is the definition of restraint, things can build up.  If I had any backbone whatsoever I’d mow down seedlings, dig bulblets, divide crowded clumps, and just toss the excess but I’m like one of those people who grew up poor and then for a lifetime can’t throw out a decent pair of shoes or nice cardboard box, or even throw out the last six Easter eggs even though you did manage to eat at least two dozen of the ones the kids dyed.  Waste is a sin, and who wastes corydalis seedlings?

Hyacinths, corydalis, crocus, and winter aconite were never planted here.  I wouldn’t even know where to start if I tried to return this to the original species peonies, single snowdrop, and Muscari azureum (both white and blue forms!)

Before I leave the subject of restraint, here’s a link to an International Rock Gardener article on >the many species and forms of winter aconite (Eranthis)<.  I’m not tempted, but perhaps others will enjoy looking at all the different variations you can plant in addition to the not-common-at-all yellow.

minor spring bulbs

I have no plans to show restraint towards witch hazels.  They will be crowded and poorly grown but Hamamelis ‘Aphrodite’ needs more company.

I do need more spring snowflakes (Lecojum vernum).  I consider them the messy big brother of snowdrops but they come in yellows and doubles and I’m forced to live with just the species form and that’s been making me sad.  Not sad enough to go wash the car, but sad enough to wistfully search for other forms which exist but are separated from me by an ocean and at least seven time zones.  I don’t think adding two or three new ones would count as a lack of restraint, it’s definitely more of a widening your horizons kind of thing.

leucojum vernum

The straight form of the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum, not the summer snowflake L. aestivum, that’s different!).  

Unlike most bulbs, Leucojum actually enjoy a poorly drained soil which doesn’t dry out and will suffer in a drier spot.  Think riverbanks and wet meadows, and if you find a spot they like you might as well plant a few snake’s head fritallaries (F. meleagris) since they also like that same mucky kind of spot.

leucojum vernum

A nice pure white form I found a few years back.  It’s a nice thing and nicely complements the “yellow tipped” ones behind them… if only they would stay yellow…

And again I’m going on too long.  Let’s just photo along and get through hellebores and the current weather.

yellow hellebore

The first hellebores are starting.  A couple nice yellow seedlings.

anemone hellebore

A surprise anemone form hellebore seedling.  I was hoping for a double, but this might even be better.

garden construction

Construction continues. Maybe today I’ll bundle up and try and dig out the snowflakes and hostas which probably won’t come up through the two feet of excavated fill, but then I’ll look at the rocks and dirt in the pond and feel guilty about not addressing that. 

Yesterday it wasn’t raining and snowing too much (just like last Sunday which was the only other time I’ve been out during the day lately) so I spent a few hours scraping fill off the lawn and hoping that at least half the yard can be sort-of back to normal for the year.  For what it’s worth “scraping fill off the lawn” means shoveling wheel barrow after wheel barrow of hard-packed rock and dirt and then trying to find the old turf underneath and then exposing enough with a rake so that it comes back to life.  I suspect in another week or two it will be mostly smothered and dead so that’s why I’m trying now.  In spite of the biting wind… and on again off again rain showers…. and frequent snow squalls….

spring bulbs in snow

The snow stopped melting and the light was fading, so the lawn is as good as it’s going to be.  

spring bulbs in snow

I might not like it, but most of the garden doesn’t mind a little snow and sleet this time of year.  We will see what happens tonight though.  It’s supposed to be frigid again.  

hardy cyclamen

Back in the day I never even imagined I’d have bunches of hardy spring cyclamen here in the mountains of Pennsylvania but then they happened 🙂

I might look at the pond this afternoon.  We will see.  The winter garden might be a nicer option with its somewhat warm temperature and lack of an icy wind and gloomy skies.  It’s a jungle and I need to trim it back which of course means cuttings since I can’t waste a single shoot.  Obviously these will be cuttings I do not need.

growing under lights

A patriotic blend of geraniums, oxalis, and streptocarpella.  The blue streptocarpella is much too large.

growing under lights

Cuttings galore and I think I should chop everything first and then see how much I can use afterwards.  Right now I’m not sure if the water I throw on this thicket even hits the pots underneath.  

growing under lights

The amaryllis have been nice.  This is a seedling a friend gave me and I might need a big pot of it, even though it multiplies like a pair of miss-sexed hamsters.

growing under lights

I’m going to have way too many geranium cuttings.  What to do, what to do…

barnhaven primrose seedlings

…and the primrose seedlings have come along nicely.  I can sit at my little table contemplating seed orders all the while enjoying the promise of spring and an occasional wiff of primula fragrance.  

So that’s where things are at and I’m hoping for a few less-busy weeks to come.  In the meantime thanks for sticking it out and if you’re relieved over the missing snowdrops don’t get your hopes up too much.  Cooler weather means the season may stretch out the further north you go and I still haven’t ruled out northern snowdrop visits 😉

Have a great, restrained, week!