A Good Soak

A strange thing happened about two weeks ago.  Without any warning or cause, the gardener here snapped out of his lazy spell.  I think it started out of necessity, with plants that were purchase for next door… and weren’t all that cheap and had to be planted before the heat and forgotten waterings took their toll… but then it took on a life of its own.  Weeds were pulled, lawns edged, trees pruned, plants planted.  You’re probably  thinking to yourself ‘well of course, I’ve been doing that since March’, but here that hasn’t been the case.  Here neglect was creeping in.  Here they’re hoping this new gardener stays on and the place is brought back to halfway decent shape.

potager beds

The potager doesn’t look too impressive with its beds of yellowing tulip foliage, but the most rank weeds have finally been pulled and a few legitimate plantings have taken place.  There’s even a nice supply of lettuce coming in as a first harvest.

I’ve noticed that the gardener’s ambition rises and falls with the weather.  Last weekend was cold, and for as much as everyone else was full of complaints and misery, the gardener here was reinvigorated.  “How long have you been out there?  Your cheeks are freezing”  was the question, and “all day” was the response.  Even when the rain was pouring down the gardener was dragging out (way too many) stored bulbs, potting up (way too many) purchased caladiums, and starting (way too many) unnecessary seeds.  I think the gardener knows that there are few if any empty spots to plant, but he doesn’t seem to care.

potager beds

The nicer end of the potager where the gardener would often sit rather than work.  ‘Purple Splash’ is finally settling in and will hopefully scale the arbor, but as of this week the gardener still doesn’t like it.  He claims it’s very nice, but it’s not “beautiful”, and all roses should be beautiful or at least movingly fragrant.

Even if the gardener is getting some work done, he’s still just as easily distracted as ever.

calycanthus aphrodite

Calycanthus x ‘Aphrodite’ is more beautiful in a sculptural way than many roses, but like ‘Purple Splash’ also lacks a decent scent.  It looks like it should be wafting a fragrant cloud across the pepper and tomato plantings, but sadly the gardener smells nothing.

Roses have been a distraction, and even the lazy version of our gardener was spending a good amount of time planting the new ones and fussing over the older bushes.  He misses the scents of iris season, but now when the fruity fragrance of rose drifts by it’s not as bad.

rose westerland

‘Westerland’ is beautiful.  I love the color and am thrilled it see it settling in.

The gardener is hoping that 2021 will be his first exciting rose year since the small cuttings and bareroot plantings of the past two years are finally beginning to amount to something.  I’ve told the gardener that some regular fertilizing and water would do the roses wonders and probably have them topping arbors within a year, but the gardener is stubborn on top of lazy, and the roses are raised “tough”… which you probably know isn’t a thing, it’s just an excuse for them not growing as well as they could.

digitalis mertonensis

The first strawberry foxglove (Digitalis mertonensis) is the one that planted itself right on top of a snowdrop clump.  Foxgloves were one of my first plant fascinations btw.

Not to get distracted yet again but the foxgloves are coming, and although they don’t do well for me, even a poorly grown plant looks exceptional.

digitalis purpurea

The first common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) to survive to blooming in years has me excited, so of course I was crushed to see the wall of foxgloves a friend was enjoying this year… but if seeing nicer gardens is really discouraging I would have quit this years ago!

Of course one lone foxglove in bloom had me imagining all the amazing things the gardener could do with foxgloves so that brings me to the reason I’m enjoying rain while the rest of the country bakes under a bubble of heat.  I was distracted.  I was fantasizing about the latest offerings from the little Rhode Island Nursery known as Issima.  They had a common D. purpurea but with cool grayish foliage and a light fuzz to it, and I hemmed and hawed over D. purpurea ssp. heywoodii long enough that it sold out (which happens rather quickly to this ’boutique’ nursery) so of course I bought other stuff instead.

So I blame indecision for the reason this post has been in progress for four days now.  That and a party at our house for a dozen teen and pre-teen girls and of course other stuff.  There’s always other stuff and it’s usually good, but not always.

Hope your other stuff is good this week 🙂

A Day of Rock Gardening

Last weekend my friend Kathy of Cold Climate Gardening talked me into a plant sale.  No offense to her salesmanship, but it wasn’t the toughest sell considering I’ve been itching to get back to town ever since my first ‘Ithaca Spring Garden Fair and Plant Sale’ two years ago.  Covid you know… so I’ve been saying pass, but then Kathy told me about the spring plant sale of the Adirondack Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society.  It’s a members only thing, just a few people donating, buying and selling, but it sounded perfect.  Big deal that I wasn’t a member(yet) and it’s an over two hour drive, plus it’s a whole Saturday away from a garden which I should be weeding… and I already had plenty of unplanted things… but you know as well as I do that once the gardening gauntlet is thrown down it must be accepted, so of course I said yes.

It was a beautiful morning and the drive was a perfect trip up the Susquehanna river valley and then across the rolling dairy hills East of Cayuga lake to the plant sale.  The sale was fun.  Members (which now included me) were given numbers and each person had a chance to visit the sale tables and pick up a favorite.  After a couple rounds of this the tables were opened to everyone, and one by one they emptied.  There was more of course.  While this was going on plant talk was every where, an auction was lined up, a free table was filled and cleaned out… members introduced their favorite plants which they thought ought to be selling better, and at one point someone just stood on a bench and invited everyone over to visit their garden afterwards 🙂 I like these people, and this also brings me to one of the big selling points for me doing the drive and joining the chapter.  Garden visits.  I had heard that a local rock gardener had offered to open their garden after the sale, for members to visit.  It’s a garden I had read about and seen pictures of, and I knew it was a must-see garden.  Wow, was that the truth!

ithaca rock garden

A hillside was being excavated to expose the bedrock

Some of the epic rock gardens of Europe are heaps of stone built up to create mini-Matterhorns out of flat cow pasture.  This garden is not that.  Here a pair of inspired gardeners found a plot of land where they knew they could carve the earth down to bedrock, and then build a rock garden up that follows the natural cut of the ravine.  It’s actually quite a crazy idea, but awesome to see.

ithaca rock garden

One of the newest additions, a bridge now spans the gap between rocky outcroppings.

Of course these pictures don’t do the scale of the garden justice.  Massive boulders were being moved and placed in a way which looked as if the glaciers did all the heavy lifting thousands of years back.  Unearthing the bedrock sounds easier with the help of heavy machinery, but then consider the care which has to be taken to not gouge the naturally weathered walls and boulders as they’re being uncovered.  All the fine uncovering had to be done with hand… and then moved by hand…

ithaca rock garden

The earthworks from even further back.  All of this was uncovered, and much of it moved into a more effective place or position, even the larger slabs of stone.  Behind where this photo was taken there’s even more excavation.

One of the chapter members mentioned that the owners were back and forth about opening the garden.  ‘It’s not a garden, it’s a construction site’ is more or less what I got as the reasoning, but only half of that is true.  It’s an awesome construction site, but it’s also an amazing garden, and I think it’s even more amazing when you can see what went in to all the plantings.

ithaca rock garden

Plantings tumble down the slope, this one built up with tufa stone, a porous rock light and airy enough to allow plant roots to penetrate.

This is the first real rock garden I’ve ever visited so I can’t say much about the plants other than they looked perfectly happy.

ithaca rock garden

Rocks overhanging a small pool.  Tufa stone allows for plants to be ‘set’ directly into drilled holes.  Eventually the plants spread out on their own as the roots find their own paths into the rock.

ithaca rock garden

Oh, and just a big crevice garden for all those things which love a deep root run between stones.  Yellow delosperma and a yellow leaved teucrium (which I just happened to pick up at the plant sale!)

ithaca rock garden

Some of the plantings were really amazing

ithaca rock garden

Even a hosta!  -but I really love the yellow leaved saxifrage (maybe saxifraga ‘Cloth of Gold’?)

As I worked my way down the paths through the rock gardens, and headed closer to the house, I reached the patio area.  Here the garden hosts had set up a dining area with snacks and beverages and plenty of wine.  From what I hear this generosity was all part of a master plan to “loosen lips” and get the honest impressions of their visitors with an eye towards improvements and new ideas.  Sadly, I believe the wine was just wasted on me 🙂

ithaca rock garden

Bonsai and trough gardens.

The trough gardens were particularly interesting, and not just because of the mini landscapes planted in them.  In the past these gardeners have hosted trough making workshops in the garden as well as publishing articles on the process, and I was excited to see that the troughs look excellent in person.  Excellent enough that I think I’ll give one a go this summer and see how it turns out!

ithaca rock garden

Some of the troughs were quite complex.

Wine and snacks have a way of gathering people, so at the patio I stopped and took in a few of the conversations.  Someone asked me how I liked the top part of the gardens and I said ‘Top?  There’s also a bottom?’ …and yes, there’s a whole other part to the garden.

ithaca rock garden

Below the rock garden a natural seep provides flowing water for the bottom part of the gardens.

As you come around a few more boulders you find yourself at the bottom of the ravine, where a mass of Primula japonica fill the low spots.  They were just starting their peak bloom, it was excellent.

ithaca rock garden

A path runs back and forth along the stream.

ithaca rock garden

Masses of Primula japonica

ithaca rock garden

The stream heads out to the lake.  You would never guess a downpour had this garden nearly flooded a few days prior to the opening.

There were more woodland plants, azaleas, rhododendrons, and tree peonies but of course I can’t show everything, so I’ll leave off with one last overview of the upper garden as viewed from the house.  As you can see ‘dwarf’ conifers are also an interest.

ithaca rock garden

A view from the other side.  You can see some of the deer fencing, obviously the hooved beasts have no respect for such a special place.

So this garden was amazing, but who would I be if I turned down another garden tour invite?  I headed a few miles further to the impromptu open garden which had been announced at the sale, and here I was able to enjoy huge beds filled with lush perennials all grown to perfection.  I’m afraid I derailed plenty of my host’s Saturday afternoon gardening plans since it was already kind of late, but she still gave me the full tour!

ithaca rock garden

Tree peonies were at their moment of perfection.

There were cool plants everywhere, and they were all so well grown that I tried to avoid all honesty about my own garden when asked.  My big regret though is that I didn’t take more pictures.  It’s almost criminal that there are no photos of the red horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea ‘Ft. McNair’) which was in full flower over one of the back beds.

ithaca rock garden

Alliums, Aquilegia, and peony were at their peak but I could see that the show had started months ago with spring bulbs, and will continue for months more with all the other later perennials.

ithaca rock garden

Wow.

So I’m also not even mentioning the shade gardens, the small arboretum of special trees, the field of dahlia tubers I was preventing her from planting… It was another fascinating garden and I have to say that the best thing about this day was meeting person after person who were so crazy about plants that it made me feel entirely sane.  What a group!

I rushed out of this stop with a new friend (and even more plants in my hands) and headed for my last stop.  It was already about dinnertime when I rolled into my friend Leon’s driveway but he didn’t seem too annoyed with me.  He knew I’d be late and still led me around the grounds of Der Rosenmeister Nursery and tolerated question after question.  I didn’t have time for a single picture.  I bought three roses.  I’m going back in a few weeks to see the hundreds of roses in full bloom, and it is guaranteed to be another great trip and I’m sure you’ll hear all about it 🙂

Hope you enjoyed this adventure !

Start Your Engines!

Something odd got into me last week.  After what has probably been months of the usual laziness I started a few tasks.  Then I went on to new ones.  Before I knew it I was being productive, and although I feel more sore than accomplished, I do feel like I finally made a little headway.

front border rose aicha

I took a break on Sunday from porch cleaning to get a few photos.  Here’s the front border with the pale yellow, single blooms of the rose ‘Aicha’ mixed in with the blue of colombine (aquilegia)

This weekend I spent Friday digging trade plants and opening the pool, Saturday traveled on a gardening adventure, and then Sunday tried to make the yard more summer-friendly since it was awfully hot and that seemed the right thing to do.  Monday it was lawn mowing, trimming, watering… and I even started to pickaxe a few holes into the berm for more arborvitae plantings.  Finally today I finished the planting (just four bushes) but it felt like a major accomplishment since the hard-packed, rocky “soil” fought me all the way.

rose Aicha

‘Aicha’ is a beauty.  I hope she gets just a little taller so I can thread a small clematis through her for the ‘off’ season.

Tomorrow I’m home for a “Dr’s appointment”.  I’d also like to spend some time outside and see if I can get the vegetable garden moving, but we will see if new ambition beats the forecast heat.  In theory I could spend the day by the pool with just a few breaks to admire the iris, but for now I’m hoping ambition wins, since wouldn’t that be just terrible to waste a day off swimming and doing next to nothing?

iris historic sunol

The historic iris ‘Sunol’ (1933) growing in the foundation beds.  Usually it has a bronze flush to the falls, but perhaps that faded this year in the heat.  

Speaking of the lure of sloth, last summer I had hoped to reclaim some of the front border for more iris plantings but once things filled in it was a struggle to find open spots and as usual I resorted to edge planting.  Edge planting lets me shoehorn in a couple more plants along the outer fringes even if the outer fringe looks better empty.  If never looks that great having plants hanging off the edge of the bed like that, but when the place is filled that’s as good as it gets.

historic iris romeo

Historic iris ‘Romeo’ (1912) has a cool look to the falls which is different from the others I grow.  

So (again) the plan is to clear a few swathes where iris can go.  It’s been dry, which is good for bearded iris, but if the summer turns wet this gardener might be tempted to fill in with all kinds of annuals and various other showier things which are great in the fall… but are not iris.

historic iris elsinore

‘Elsinore’ (1932) is another somewhat unique historic iris which I like very much 🙂 

Regardless, I have faith that a few iris will again fill a sizeable chunk of the border.  I may have to resort to a few of the hardier ones which don’t mind some summer shade, but it needs to be done since a May without an overload of beaded iris is completely unacceptable.

historic iris indian chief

‘Indian Chief’ (1929) is not my favorite color, but the plants handle competition and some shade quite well, so of course it gets an invite.

So iris are on the to-do list… somewhere… and in the meantime I need to focus on planting and watering…. and weeding of course, but I think you know how I feel about a strong commitment to weed-free beds vs saving a few of the more interesting ones 🙂

scotch thistle

A big Scotch thistle(Onopordum acanthium) has come up in a spot reserved for phlox and snowdrops.  It’s as prickly as it looks and of course I love this (listed as noxious in several western states) weed.   

Even if the weeding doesn’t happen, hopefully I can at least show off a respectable vegetable-filled potager in another week or two.

perennial border

From a distance of greater than 20 feet, much of the garden doesn’t look bad.  I just wish it passed the five foot rule!

Wish me luck.  I’m already thinking that the best plan is to head to the nursery in the AM and start the day with new vegetable transplants… and likely a few more flowers…  Obviously deep down inside I know buying more plants doesn’t help the four new rose bushes, various overwintered tropicals, trays of sprouted seedlings, and the haul from last weekend’s rock garden society sale that are sitting on the driveway, but it’s more fun and I’m always up for that.

Hope you have a fun week 🙂

Not too Early, Not too Late… Just Right?

Not this year.  I keep aiming to catch the local pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in peak bloom but it has yet to happen.  Last year I was too late and saw nothing but seed pods, and this year I was just a little too early.  But it was a nice Sunday morning out regardless, and I did catch a few in perfect condition.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

One pristine bloom in a spot which caught the morning light.

The Lady’s slipper patch is found in a state park about 25 minutes from my house, and if I’m being honest it’s not always my favorite spot to visit.  It’s got a kind of creepy vibe going, and I don’t think it would be first on the list of places to take the kids hiking.  I’m sure it’s all in my head though, but until I get a little way into the woods I’m just a bit on edge.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

A few more early birds

Pink lady’s slippers do not like the bacteria rich, worm infested, fertile soils of the typical garden plot and are notoriously difficult to cultivate on purpose, and instead are usually found in the undisturbed duff of native soils, high in acidity, high in fungus, and the places where decay takes years rather than a few day’s run through an earthworm’s belly.

***education alert -this post is loosely based on fact, I make most of this up as I go.  I am absolutely not a botanist or any thing close to a soil scientist***

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

More lady’s slippers just coming into bloom.

Oddly enough the park areas where these orchids seem to grow best are not pristine slices of pre-colonial North America, but rather ridges of mine tailings left undisturbed and unreclaimed for the past hundred years.  You could almost call it mine-scarred if not for the regenerated trees and return of native wildflowers, and I’m sure timing has everything to do with this.  Try this again today and I’m sure the only thing to sprout back would be a forest of Japanese knotweed mixed with crownvetch and barberry in the drier spots.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

This will be a nice show in another week or two.  

I often think about weird things.  Many people love to repeat how incredibly well adapted natives are to one area or another, and I usually just nod but deep down inside don’t really buy it.  I think it has more to do with first come, first served.  An area is disturbed, a seed gets lucky, and if the plant gets lucky it fills the area before anyone else shows up.  If nothing else big happens that’s that, regardless of how perfect or not it is for the spot.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

A patch of pink lady’s slippers with some hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctiloba) creeping in.  In another 100 years I wonder if they’ll still both be living in harmony since around here the ferns can make a pretty dense carpet.

In any case I enjoyed the visit, and didn’t mind being early rather than having perfect timing.  Perfect timing would mean I’d have made my visit this upcoming weekend, and with the hot weather that’s rolled in I have no desire to take on any physical adventures… not until I get used to the change in weather at least.

Hope your week’s gone well.  Between track meets, gymnastics, and baseball practices, this week has flown by and there have been days when I didn’t even get my garden strolls in (*gasp*), but the schedule is changing and hopefully I can soon enjoy some of the big changes in the garden.  The heat has wilted the last tulips and dogwoods, and now the bearded iris and clematis are bursting open.  I need more of both of course, but have to plant a few other things before I’m allowed to buy anything new… unless it’s a rose…  I’m giving myself two (or three)rose permission slips, and it’s all part of a new adventure planned for the upcoming weekend 🙂

Enjoy!

A May Lull

A cool and rainy week with a busy schedule have kept me out of the garden for a few days.  By that I mean there were enough weather and work excuses to avoid any real work, since even a rainy day does not cancel the daily garden tour.  In other gardens the lilacs overhang azaleas, with dogwoods and redbuds shading the lawn, and banks of rhododendrons exploding in color… but I’ve only a few dogwoods and little of the others, so here the spring crescendo of tulips is followed by a slight lull of green.

foundation perennials

The blue camassia are a flash in the pan here and only seem to flower for a week or so.  It’s a nice show, but the blue columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) is just as nice and lasts longer so I may (again) try and dig all the camassia to get rid of them.  This time I’ll try and get all the bulbs…

Right now there may be a lull in the flowering, but after several months of white and brown, green is still an excellent color, and with its various shades and shapes, and the surprise of variegation and chartreuse or purple tints, even a green lull makes for a nice show and it should really be enough.

aquilegia vulgaris

Blue columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) was originally found in the woods behind the house, and rescued when the bulldozers came.  It’s not native and fancier colors and forms exist, but I like it well enough.

Most people can stick with well enough, but I admit to a short attention span and fickleness so of course I want other things to follow up as the tulips fade and the bearded iris are yet to come.  The columbine is good, and usually moneyplant (Lunaria annua) fills in with a nice purple, but I think I need more alliums.

perennial bed

Tulips and daffs have all been deadheaded and are disappearing under the next wave of growth but just the columbine and a few moneyplants  (it’s a down year for this biennial) are in bloom.  The blue is nice, but note the bold little ‘Candy Corn’ spirea in front.   I can’t believe I planted it, usually spirea disgust me, but this one is so offensively bright there was no resisting.

Back in the day the budget was much tighter, and a few flowering onions always seemed to be just too much when a big bag of tulips could be had for the same price.  Today it’s a different story.  A couple new alliums are just pennies once you’ve paid off the monthly gymnastics bill and bought a couple pricey snowdrops.

allium gladiator

Allium ‘Gladiator’ was my first big allium.  I was hoping for bigger, but tall is good too!  Over the last 15 years one bulb has become many.

So I will see what happens.  The problem is settling on just two or three rather than a dozen, and I of course will be looking for suggestions from my friends.  I already have a few leads 😉

allium gladiator

‘Gladiator’ is also doing well in the potager.  Phlox and other perennials are coming up just in time to (mostly)cover the allium’s yellowing leaves.

Yeah, the yellowing leaves.  Just as the flowers open and draw a little attention, the foliage starts dying back to compete with the show.  Trimming them back or hiding them in a border are two options for better gardeners.

allium gladiator

The green centers are cool.

The yellowing allium foliage can be a deal breaker for some, but here it barely registers.  I run a messy garden and fortunately some delusion of diamond in the rough or some bizarrely inflated ego syndrome allows me to still share photos online.  I should be embarrassed most of the time, but luckily it’s a rare day that I see some perfect garden photo and suddenly question my entire gardening hobby (as well as the public settings on this blog).

raised bed vegetable

The mountain of snowball bush (Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’) is probably the only perfect thing about the potager right now.  It should be weeded.  And planted.  And tended.  One of these days…

Ah, whatever.  Let’s finish with a disclaimer on the potager.  The raised beds are excellent, the sand paths are perfect, the whole idea of the potager is much better than the usual mess, but it’s still just a mess.  “It’s not you, it’s me” I tell the garden and I suspect the garden understands.  My weaknesses is a love of interesting, and it’s just too interesting to see if the resprouting cabbage stumps from last year will form heads or if the missed potatoes from last year will amount to anything.  Good thing no one expects this garden to feed a family.

raised bed vegetable

A few parsley seedlings went into this bed, but I’m still working myself up to weeding out all the rest.  Besides obvious weeds there’s a nice clump of lettuce, many tomato seedlings… random hellebores…

So what did I do today?  Clear a bed and plant beans?  No, of course not.  I was working in the front border dividing tulip clumps.  Just for the record, it’s too early to divide tulips.  The foliage should be yellowing and it’s not but whatever.  Dig up a clump, shake and pick out the smaller bulbs, and replant.  No careful soil improvement, no watering in and I guess we will see what comes of it.  Smarter gardeners would have pulled them all and tossed them after flowering, it’s just a few dollars to replace them, but I don’t think it will surprise anyone if I admit my gardening is more of an ADD drifting through ideas rather than a focused plan with a to-do list.  Reinventing the wheel has always been a passion of mine.

Have a great week, and I hope it includes plenty of plant-time 🙂

The Perfect Lawn

The rain outside is knocking the last petals off the tulips and surely bringing new life to weed seedlings all over, but I won’t let that bother me… yet… Instead I’d like to show you around a cemetery which I like to swing by on the way home from work.  Don’t be concerned, it’s not a fascination with death which brings me here, it’s the naturalized blanket of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) which weaves through the grass and flowers at this time of year.

naturalized phlox subulata

Phlox subulata (I’m assuming) seeding and creeping through the cemetery grounds.

I have no idea if the phlox here were planted originally or came in on their own, but the church financed lawn care hasn’t been intense enough to wipe out the spread of wildflowers between the gravestones.  I also believe a kind soul is in charge of the mowing since I saw signs of a recent cut, but only a few patches of the thicker grass were mown and the best flower patches were spared the blade.

naturalized phlox subulata

I’m just guessing, but suspect the churchyard has been in place here for around 150 years.

Over the decades ‘mildly maintained’ graveyards have a way of picking up flowers and when I have the chance I often give them a looking over for spring flowers, iris plantings, and the occasional rose bush.  Someday I hope to find that snowdrop filled meadow, but so far…

naturalized phlox subulata

The phlox were probably planted originally, but since then have seeded about to form an interesting mix of colors and flower forms.

Phlox subulata is a plant native to the Northeastern part of this country, and occasionally I also see it growing in rocky outcroppings or gravely roadsides, but never as thickly as it does in graveyards.  It’s not a shade plant, so probably as the East coast has grown up in trees or been improved with bluegrass turf, cut and sprayed to golf course quality, this sun loving phlox has been squeezed out and into much smaller locales.

naturalized phlox subulata

A paler section of the colony.

Of course creeping phlox is still growing all over, in foundations plantings and mulch beds everywhere, and in my own childhood garden I’m pretty sure a big chunk of every summer was spent weeding grass blades out of my mother’s phlox planting.  As you know though, a grass-free planting of creeping phlox is pretty much impossible.

naturalized phlox subulata

Phlox mixing it up with pussytoes (Antennaria sp), another short wildflower which used to keep lawns everywhere from becoming yawns.

Why fight it then?  Just plant your phlox right in the grass 🙂

Easier said than done though.  Most lawns are too fertile and the grass and other more common weeds like creeping charlie, dandelions, and white clover will dominate.  *My own lawn is an excellent example of this…

naturalized phlox subulata

Phlox with a few bluet (Houstonia) alongside.  There were a couple more patches of bluets and various violets as well, but the phlox seemed much happier here.

I think more lawns used to be like this.  If you travel the older parts of town the lawns are often flecked with all kinds of flowers, both native and introduced, and I think it’s a much more interesting look than the hyped-up green swards which dominate suburbia.

naturalized phlox subulata

Naturalized Phlox subulata

So I hope this little trip to the churchyard was enjoyable.  Benign neglect can be a great thing and I may keep this in mind as I consider the ‘wildflowers’ which the rain has brought up throughout my own garden.

Have a great week, and a happy mother’s day to all the moms!

Out of the Blue

Seriously.  If anyone has ever considered abducting me, all it would take is a white van and the promise of a plant inside.  What!?  You have a variegated clematis in there?  Move over, let me see…

Within days of starting a conversation about bulbs with a new online friend, I was convinced Crinum lilies were missing from my life and I needed a few.  A week later a (quite heavy) box from Jenks Farmer shows up on my porch and I’m tearing up the garden making room for a bulb or three.

Jenks Farmer crinum

The Crinum bulbs which showed up were huge.  I was so excited I made sure every vaguely disinterested family member had an opportunity to admire them and hear a little about them.  They seemed very grateful.

It’s not easy just squeezing a cantaloupe sized bulb which needs several square foot of space, into a fairly full perennial border, but I no longer even pretend to worry about it.

foundation perennials

Realistically, four square feet of space would be a good start for planting a small crinum.  Obviously this bed has quite a few four foot gaps which need filling 😉

I worry about stupid things instead.  There were a few grassy threads of something which looked like allium seedlings in the spot where the one crinum should have gone.  I’d really like them to be allium seedlings, but they’re too small to risk moving so of course I planted the $40 crinum in a second best spot crammed between a hellebore and penstemon in a spot which was unavailable until I moved the 90 pound “landscape” stone out of the way.  I thought this was the best option rather than risk anything happening to the six or seven tiny weeds which maybe have a 15% chance of become amazing alliums in another half decade or so…

foundation perennials

Crinum powellii album nestled into its new home.  It might be an expensive annual this far North, but the bulb is huge and if all goes well maybe a single flower stalk will grace the garden before winter smashes all my dreams of global warming granted hardiness.

Let me just mention the alliums quickly. They’re three bulbs of Allium karataviense ‘red and pink hybrids’, and even at 50% off during a late November clearance sale, they were still kind of costly.  Not snowdrop-costly but still kind of pricey when you consider they’re basically just onions with an ego.  Of course they’re too self-important to bother splitting and multiplying, but maybe those seedlings are a start.

allium karataviense red

I think their broad, water-repelling foliage is very cool in itself, but the flowers aren’t too shabby either.  I suspect these are hybrids based on Allium karataviense ssp henrikii, but that’s only if you really want to make your onions sound fancy.

I’m going to apologize now for going on and on about tulips again.  A short post mentioning some new crinum bulbs was the plan, but then I got tulips on my brain again, and well…

tulips and dogwood

The hot colored tulips mark the last stage of the front border’s spring flush.  It will face a short lull now as (I hope) the summer bloomers come along, but for now it’s awesome.  Also please note it’s been an excellent dogwood year 🙂

In case you haven’t noticed, my garden follows manias, and I’m sensing another tulip mania coming on.  Bulbs will be dug, moved, stored, replanted… and hopefully next year there will be even more tulip excitement!  Unless of course some epimedium thing or bearded iris obsession develops, you never know.  Sometimes I like to consider how nice this garden could look if the gardener would only focus and organize, but obviously that hasn’t happened and instead I always opt for “interesting”, even if it’s only interesting for me 🙂

black tulip

I think black tulips are interesting.  The gray leaves of Scotch thistle are also interesting, as well as the weedy yellow roadside mustard behind them.  I think I should let the mustard go to seed and check those out for spiciness, that might also be pretty interesting!

Awesome is also a good option.  Some of the tulips rate pretty high on the awesomeness index.

tulip happy generation

No idea on the name of these luscious cherry with orange flowers, but they rate awesome.  The white with red flames behind aren’t too bad either, they came in a mix and I believe they’re the tulip ‘Happy Generation’.

The one new tulip purchase for this year were the antique ‘broken’ tulips purchased through Old House Gardens.  If they return next year I’m sure you’ll see too much of them, but for this year the five single bulbs I planted are more of an obsession rather than an amazing landscape show.  An obsession because of the beautiful, virus-induced patterning and its connection to the raging tulipmania of the 17th century, and just plain interesting because of the great age of these cultivars.  The ones planted this year range in age from one to three hundred years old!

virus broken tulips

The solid color of these tulips has been ‘broken’ by a virus they carry.  I shall keep them away from other tulips (and true lilies) and hope for the best.

As I was considering how old the tulips were I kinda felt a little old myself.  There I was admiring the nice blue mat of what I think is Polemonium reptans and I realized I’ve been tending this plant in some way or another for over forty years.  It was growing in the garden of my parent’s house 51 years ago when they bought it and it’s one of the first things I realized I could move and divide and not end up killing.

polemonium reptans

I don’t know if this is plain old Polemonium reptans or some selection or some other species or hybrid, but it just keeps chugging along year after year.  Never sets a single seed, but slowly creeps along.

Things that I can’t kill are good to have.  They say Crinum lilies are next to impossible to kill so that’s promising, but any idiot knows that winters here are cold, and considering that I know winters here are cold, that may explain my decision to plant them…

primula sieboldii

It’s been pouring rain today.  I made a point of photographing the primula sieboldii yesterday as a memory of what they looked like before they drowned.

So as usual we will see where these questionable decisions lead.  Container crinums would likely be a smarter choice but then I would have to find a big enough container and that might be even more trouble than dealing with the loss of yet another borderline plant.  In any case if I hedge my bets with a bunch more tulip plantings this fall I’ll have plenty to keep me happy in case the other stuff fails, so obviously my apparent madness is actually a well devised plan of attack.

Hahahaha, sure it is. Have a great week, and remember to stay away from those white vans, even if they say they’re full of rare violets and hosta  😉

Spring!!!

This is the time of year when I like to complain about how terrible my allergies are.  The burning eyes and runny nose and sneezing… they’re really not all that bad but it’s the only season when I have something to blame my general laziness on.  It’s not aimless sloth, it’s dust and pollen.  I’m a victim I shout but then someone suggests I come in out of the polleny wind and clean the basement.  As if.

spring shade garden

A few primrose have not only survived, but have even prospered in the dry shade which has suddenly appeared in parts of the garden.  I swear I just planted those trees a year or two ago.

Saturday was actually a pretty busy day around here and things were weeded, mowed, pruned, and a few things were actually transplanted.  That’s good but in the sprit of easing into ‘hard labor season’ the gardener took Sunday off and photographed a few things.  The photo shoot was followed by much sitting around, and then the week since has been much of the same.

lathyrus vernus

More shade treasures, Lathyrus vernus was mowed by rabbits in March, but fenced in April.  This spring vetchling could have been nicer but at least a few flower buds survived.

My excuse the past two days has been heat.  79F yesterday and 84F today.  The warmth was such a shock today I almost started an inside cleaning frenzy before coming to my senses.  Fortunately things didn’t have to go that far since the house is again super neat with both kids home all day in a return to online learning.  I’m sure every parent recognizes the sarcasm dripping off every word in that last sentence.

lathyrus vernus

The pink form of Lathyrus vernus, ‘alboroseus’, was fenced before the rabbits got to it.  Anyone else would recognize that fencing should be done each spring but I like to surprise myself anew each year.

So now I’m trying to burst on past this wall of laziness and at least get a blog post up.  My garden has a springtime peak as the tulips and dogwoods come into bloom, and I’m absolutely ready to devote hours to just wandering around admiring bloom after bloom.  It’s similar to snowdrop season except there’s more than one color and I don’t have to crawl around on my hands and knees.

double daffodil

Some of last years divided and replanted daffodils, this one a nameless double which looks similar to ‘Tahiti’ but just a bit more yellow and slightly smaller.

The daffodils are really in full swing and the Darwin tulips and other early season tulips are opening to join them.  I know I brag about it all the time but this mostly exposed and summer-dry garden seems to be just what these tulips enjoy.

spring bulb garden

This is what the snowdrop bed degenerates into as other things come up.  The daffodils are intentional but only the reddish ‘Spryng Break’ tulips were planted, the rest came in via compost or squirrels.

The vegetable garden had been a major tulip stronghold, since every batch of compost and every turning of the beds seemed to spread them a little further, but last year’s raised bed project cleaned that up a little.  Many bulbs were collected, flowering plants potted up, and some were just lifted to new spots, but I did try to reduce the numbers…

growing tulips

The front bed is filled with bulbs collected during construction.  For some reason I hate the color mix and every day I am just minutes away from pulling the short purple and white tulips and tossing them…  it may still happen.   The back bed just needs emptying out… way too much yellow 🙂

Once the flowers are over and the foliage yellows, the bed above will be lifted, dried, stored, and replanted in the fall.  The flowers are sparse and small this year, but next year they’ll be fine again having spent the whole spring growing rather than suffering a mid April move.  I just need to get a few more pinks into the mix and get rid of the dumpy little purples.

growing tulips

I probably planted these tulips as well.  I probably even thought it was a good spot and I wouldn’t need the room for more brocolli and lettuce tranplants.

Although the raised beds… I mean ‘Parterre’… is having a down tulip year I still think tulips are a far better idea than just planting more cabbage.  More leftover and stray bulbs were planted in the concrete bed and (1) they did fine in a kinda exposed bed and (2) prove I need more red as well!  I can honestly see a day when the entire parterre is filled with tulips 🙂

growing tulips

I gave away some ‘Spryng Break’ bulbs but these were deemed “too small” to pawn off on unsuspecting gardeners so they were replanted.  Now of course I’ll have even more and still not know what to do with them all… but I do know they’ll have to be planted next to something other than the short and moody burgundy ‘Muvato’ now behind it.  

Yes.  I do like tulips.  Tulips and only the occasional deer make for a wonderful spring and I don’t know what I’ll do if the deer start making a habit of visiting.

growing tulips

The fine red outline of this Darwin hybrid will slowly bleed into the flower until it becomes completely orange.  I love it but have just too many of this one.

A lack of deer does not mean complete bliss.  Some parts of the garden are plagued by tulip fire, which infects the foliage and blooms and makes overcrowded and damp bunches turn to mush.  Th parterre re-dig helped immeasurably as did mulch and thinning, and this year I’ve been spraying with Neem oil and between that and a drier spring it all seems to be helping.  A better gardener would destroy the infected plants and not replant for five or so years but…

growing tulips

Some tulips seem more susceptible to tulip fire.  This orange late tulip has practically melted away while ‘Pretty Princess’ seems untouched.  

I could really go on and on about tulips but I’m just about blogged out for the night and I’m sure you’ll be fine without my babbling.  I’ll just leave you with some tulipomania from the front yard.

spring bulb garden

Tulip ‘Pink Impression’ on the left, and a few not-pink impression on the right.  All are excellent.

tulip burning heart

Tulip ‘Burning Heart’.  A big beauty who keeps coming back just as huge as they were in year one.

spring bulb garden

The star magnolia is finished but I think this end of the front border still looks decent.  It could use a few more tulips of course, and more daffodils won’t hurt either!

spring bulb garden

Tulip ‘Beauty of Spring’ anchors the other end of the front bed.  The red on this one will also spread as the flower ages.  With all the yellow daffodils I don’t know why I needed more yellow tulips, but there they are.

Fun fact.  As I was double checking the name on ‘Spring Beauty’ I came across an online site using an older picture of my clump to sell their wares.  I wonder if this entitles me to some kind of site discount…

Anyway it’s bedtime, so I hope these past few days also have you out enjoying the garden and reveling in the explosion of color called spring.  Perhaps it’s not spring in your neck of the woods, and in that case I hope there’s plenty of other joys to discover this week, in any case the key word is ‘enjoy’ 🙂

The Night Before Spring

This afternoon the cold front which has been sweeping across the country reached this end of Pennsylvania, and temperatures have been dropping since.  Once again I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt and right now I’m considering wearing it to bed.  The chilly thing got old real quick when the snow flurries started flying again.

magnolia ann

Magnolia ‘Ann’ is a common and relatively cheap variety, and this afternoon it’s amazingly special and perfect and I’d still grow it even if every yard had one.  I’m hoping tonight’s freeze doesn’t end this.

I’m 95% sure all the wisteria buds were fried by our last freeze, so this current one isn’t even cold enough to make me nervous.  I was eyeing the tomato seedlings which sprouted on their own, and was thinking about using them for a big tomato sauce planting this summer but I guess tonight will decide how that ends up.  A different gardener would have their seedings already growing indoors and nearly ready to plant out but this gardener is a little more go with the flow.  He’s even too lazy to dig up a couple trowel-fulls to shelter in the garage, and in fact he thought a better use of time would be to browse daffodil offerings online and place orders.  Hmmmm.

narcissus beersheba

A few of the daffodils thinned and re-planted last summer, narcissus ‘Beersheba’ on the right and ‘not-Indian Maid’ on the left.  How annoying that after years of growing, one online check and I find ‘Indian Maid’ is a supposed to be a multi-flowering jonquilla, and not a single bloom large cup….

I was sort of aggressive last year with bed building and daffodil thinning.  I don’t regret it, but I do miss them all slouching around the back of the vegetable plot and moving on from the earlies to the lates, even if they did make me feel guilty for their neglected growing conditions.  One plus to less tomatoes is that it opens a whole raised bed to fill with new daffodil varieties.  So far I know there will be at least eight and of course planting season is still six months away so anything could happen.

narcissus stella

Narcissus ‘Stella’ is a newer one for me, and I’m shocked by how much I love the old fashioned pre-1869 look of wavy petals and nodding blooms.   

Even with a three year moratorium on new daff and tulip purchases, they trickle in anyway.  Gifts, surprises, impulse buys, they slip across the border and I complain about where to put them, not having room, and whining about not giving the ones here already the care they deserve, but within a few years they settle in and make the garden a richer place.  Sure there’s a point in caring for what I have, but honestly it’s been years, and if I was really serious about taking care of what I have…

narcissus high society

Narcissus ‘High Society’ in the front beds.  A well respected variety which just never thrilled me, and as ‘the cull’ continues I’ll need to re-home a bunch of these.  

Part of my problem is (1)I like smaller clumps, and (2) I’m sloppy and always dropping a bulb or two in some spot where it takes off and forms yet another clump.

narcissus jetfire

Don’t know how ‘Jetfire’ and ‘maybe Bravoure’ ended up here, but both are doing well in a spot I thought was too shady for nice daffodils.  Actually the colors are stronger and fade less out of the sun, so maybe more of the orange and red cups here is a good plan?

Years ago I made the “mistake” of dumping a couple hundred moldy and rotten tulips on the compost pile, only to find them coming up all over the yard in every spot where a little compost was meant to help.  Last year I was determined to not let a single daffodil repeat that fiasco.  Extras and the unwanted were dug right after and during bloom, and after sitting out in the sun and rain in five gallon buckets I eventually dumped the stinky mess into black plastic bags which sat out in the 90F sun for another few weeks.  Finally I dragged the bags behind the compost pile where various wild animals proceeded to rip through the plastic and root through the mess looking for all the tasty worms and maggots which were feeding on all the decay.  Half rotted bulbs were scattered all over, and obviously these tortured and neglected bulbs thrown around and never planted grew just fine and even flowered this spring.  Also somewhat obviously, many of the cared-for bulbs which were dried and stored and sorted somewhat properly, ended up molding or rotting.  Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

daffodil transplanting

Growing right where the skunk or raccoon left them, like an idiot I’m looking at these and thinking they’re so nice I should really plant them out and re-think tossing them.  Every day I have to fight the urge to sabotage my grand ‘thinning the herd’ daffodil project…

Must. Stay. Strong.

daffodil accent

‘Accent’ was divided a few years ago and is looking good.  

I am liking how the divided bulbs are looking, and really need to keep going.  Rather than review splayed and floppy clumps of crowded bulbs flattened by a windy day I’m enjoying sturdier plantings where the individual blooms can be appreciated more.

daffodil firebird

Daffodil ‘Firebird’

I’m serious though, I have to keep strong.  Even bulbs divided just yesterday were actually last divided five or six years ago and it’s time to give them a little attention again.  I feel bad being ruthless with such giving plants, but…

daffodil garden

More clumps in need of thinning.  

So that’s a pretty elaborate story to cover my latest daffodil purchase, and to be honest I’m pretty sure no one but myself would notice that there are any fewer flowers in the yard compared to last year.  What they will notice though, and I’m sure share a few comments on is when they see me wandering around the yard in October with a concerned and confused look on my face and a couple bags of “even more” bulbs in my hands.  I could get defensive, but I’ll just say you don’t even know my struggle.  Tulips are still on a no-buy list and you can’t have too many tulips, even if they sprout up out of your compost.

flaming purissima tulip

‘Flaming Purissima’, a genetically streaked tulip, as opposed to the virus-streaked tulips of the past.

I’m possibly more excited about tulip season than I am about daffodils.  A few antique ‘broken’ tulips slipped in while no one was looking and I’m anxious to see them bloom.

tulip breaking virus

The virus which causes the streaked flowers of ‘broken’ tulips is also showing in the leaves.  I didn’t think growing a virused tulip would bother me but it’s all I see when I do the rounds.

Tulip season will be awesome.  I know this weather is just a blip in the spring arsenal but I do feel for the people suffering through serious snow and magnolia frying temperatures, and I hope they sail through it somewhat unscathed.  Regardless tomorrow we start climbing back up into civilized temperatures and I’m sure we’ll be complaining about heat soon enough.

All the best!

Untitled

Spring has taken an odd turn here.  The weather has been fantastic and there’s been time to spend in the garden but I have absolutely no interest in doing anything.  Maybe it’s the lull effect.  Snowdrop season come on so fast and was over so quickly, it was hard to keep that high going.  Then the warm days were followed by two nights of hard freeze which singed the corydalis and melted half the hyacinths, but oddly spared the magnolia buds.  This has become the norm lately, but for some reason the freeze-damaged flowers have me a little bored, and the return to warm days has me hesitant about starting too much transplanting.  Fortunately the front garden looks ok with some spring daffodils, and my little twig of a magnolia cutting has grown into something which finally shows off.

magnolia stellata

Magnolia stellata, probably ‘Royal Star’ anchoring the far end of the front border.  You can see the mother plant from which this plant came from to the right of the neighbor’s house.  

I’m 87% sure last week’s freeze again killed all the barely pea-sized wisteria buds, but the almost open magnolias are fine.  Go figure.

magnolia stellata

This year the flowers have a flush of pink to them, but that will fade to white in a couple days.

Right now, with a nice cover of shredded leaves, the front border seems optimistically weed-free, so even if there is transplanting and thinning to do I can still pretend it’s all under control for a few weeks longer.  A gardener with more foresight and enthusiasm would probably scuffle through the mulch with a hoe now, before the onslaught of seedlings put down roots, but…

daffodil tweety bird

The daffodil ‘Tweety Bird’ flopped a little for the 21F night but has bounced back without a second thought.  I’d say it’s one of my absolute favorites.

As I said, the hyacinths are probably the one bulb which took the biggest freeze-hit.  Some are fine, but many either melted or suffered freeze damage to the flowers.  Of course with all this pessimism running through my veins all I see are frosted flowers, even though I know I’m the only one to see it.

freeze damage hyacinth

It saddens me to see the damage on ‘Woodstock’, but maybe a lost year of flowering will just mean a bigger show next year!

The hyacinths usually lead the garden into full daffodil season, which is also normally a big thing, but last year’s purge of the narcissus beds has left a noticeably smaller show in the back yard.  Again, I’m the only one who notices these things, but I do miss them.

hellebore hgc silvermoon

Maybe “MORE!!!” is the solution I’m looking for.  I could divide up the hellebore ‘HGC Silvermoon’ and spread hyacinths all over… and then wonder how I ended up with so much pink 🙂

Actually the daffodils will be back next year, they just need a year to settle in and bulk up, but what I still want to celebrate is my first self-sown daffodil!

daffodil seedling

‘Holland Sensation'(supposedly) on the left, and a nearly identical seedling to the right.

I had been watching the daffodil seedlings for a few years and of course had all these amazing possibilities in my head, so it was a little bit of a surprise to see a nearly identical child show up.  It’s going to be interesting to see what the others turn out to be since there are quite a few ringing the mother clump… all about a daffodil stem’s length away from the seed source.

tulip bed

Tulips will be next.

Honestly there are still plenty of daffodils to come.  They’re later than normal from the digging and drying and storing process, but there will still be enough.  Tulips on the other hand, there are never enough tulips!  I replanted some of the ones I dug last year, but they were stunted from the ‘in the green’ transplanting process so only about half will bloom this year.  But that’s not a bad thing since the transplanted tulips are showing perfect foliage, and that’s not been the case recently.  The foliage is usually scarred with the pocks and streaks of the tulip fire fungus, and the tulips I didn’t get around to moving are again showing this kind of damage.  I considered fungal sprays, but they all sounded so toxic I was going to just try digging these as well until I saw Neem oil spray.  An organic option which doesn’t sound too eco-toxic so I’m going to give that a try on top of moving them.  I’m not 100% sure when is best to spray, and I’ve never used it before, so please let me know if you have any suggestions.

garden pond

Cleaning up the pond.  Of course the pump broke halfway through.  

Since we ended up on the repulsive subject of tulip fire, let me just stay with the theme and say that pond cleanup is also repulsive and probably the most disgusting part of spring cleanup.  There was a slimy layer of rotten leaves coating everything, with a robust algae population and who-knows-what-else ecosystem of muck.  Even with gloves it would be super-gross, but of course I was too lazy to go find them, so into the unknown my fingers went.  The best part though was when the dog found something delicious in all that muck to chew on.  What a disgusting little beast.  Yuck.

So sorry about that segway into grossness.  It’s probably just a symptom of my dark mood which will evaporate just as quickly as the first tulips open.  In the meantime I wish you all a wonderful and safe week!