The sputtering tropics

Again I’m trying to recapture the tropical gardens of years past, but again I’m falling short.  The fault is entirely my own though and I know that, but in NE Pennsylvania tropical plantings mean around six months of empty planting area and I just don’t have enough self control to keep them perennial and bulb-free.  Really… in October how bad can it be to slip in an extra daffodil or lily?

liberty hyde bailey lily

First year blooms on ‘Liberty Hyde Bailey’.  Photo credits for this artistic shot go to the wife,  to tell the truth I wasn’t so sure she even knew where the garden was, let alone was interested in taking any pictures 😉

To my credit serious mulching with every scrap of mulched leaves and any garden debris I could send through the mower has substantially reduced last year’s problem.  The problem was that this bed was overrun with sunflowers, and if we ignore the fact that the gardener himself was responsible with planting them we can pretend that only having a half dozen or so of the plants this year is an improvement.  Still a few self seeded anyway and hopefully this more manageable patch won’t again overshadow the ‘tropical’ look with ‘overgrown agricultural’.  -and for the record I did rip out at least another dozen healthy sunflower seedlings, and nearly drove myself to drink over the guilt (but after a hard day of work what gardener doesn’t deserve a cool drink?)

saving money on mulch

A few sunflowers coming up but hopefully enough bright color and big leaves to make it look tropical.  I only had enough bark mulch for the outer edge, the rest is lawn clippings.

Mulching has been an obsession lately.  I raided the neighborhood woods again and brought home a few wheelbarrows of stinky dumped grass clippings which I used to cover the inner reaches of the bed.  It was just in time to smother tons of baby weeds but most importantly the rotting grass was a solid dose of fertilizer for all the little goodies coming up.  Within a few days everything turned a lush green and started putting out new growth.  It was amazing what a difference the grass made and I’m sure the earthworms are pleased as well.  In order to keep it more presentable I robbed some leftover wood mulch from next door and tidied up the edges of the bed with a few shovelfuls of that.  It’s the dyed mulch which I’m not crazy about, but it being free really appealed to my budget sense.

mulch and paver pathway

I also leveled and set the mismatched stone and paver bits which pave the shortcut between our yard and grandma’s pool.  It looks halfway decent now and is much less of an ankle twister.

Even with plants in and mulch applied, the bed is still not out of the woods.  There’s always a problem child or two.  First it’s the chrysanthemums which I planted and meant to transplant once spring rolled around.  That didn’t happen and to add insult to injury they are coming into bloom now…. just when I don’t need fall color.

mammoth yellow quill chrysanthemum

‘Mammoth yellow quill’ chrysanthemum looking good in July.  I guess next year I’ll pinch in May and try to delay bloom, mums in September would have been nicer!

Another problem are the two cannas I bought.  They were from a reputable online nursery and were listed as showing no signs of virus, but the first leaves tell a different story.  A refund is already on my account but I really wanted to add a healthy canna ‘Musifolia’ and ‘Pretoria’ to the bed.  the leaf streaking and yellowing/browning patches are sure signs of canna virus so these have regrettably been thrown to the trash.

canna virus

These leaves should have a lush, solid green, but instead are showing the streaks and mottling of canna virus.

As usual the third problem child is me.  How could I pull out this lusty little bull thistle?

bull thistle in garden

An excellent example of a weed.  The goldfinches will appreciate the seed heads of this thistle, and surprisingly enough I don’t get many seedlings even when I let them grow.  They seem to need open soil to sprout which is not easy to find around here.

As the tropical garden puts on some weight and gets ready for August I’m going to see if my tidying and weeding streak can finally extend next door to the not-so-red-border.  It needs the help, but so far all I’ve managed is the start of an access path which will circle around through the back of the border.  I’ve been eliminating the weedy campanulas and moving out other plants but still have a long way to go.

a new path into the flower beds

The start of a new path through the back of the red border.  Unfortunately that was as far as my free mulch would take me….

What is summer without a few projects?  Hopefully my neighbors will oblige me with more grass clippings, maybe temperatures will stay low, and maybe I can blaze a path through the thicket which is beginning to take over.  I won’t even mention the water filled hole which has formed where the pond used to be.  All the rain we had has made this area into a soggy mess!

hemerocallis altisima and raspberry wine monarda

Topping out at around 5 and a half feet, this daylily (hemerocallis altisima) looks cool with the dark blooms of ‘Raspberry Wine’ monarda and a few other leftovers from back when this bed was loved.  The tall grass (Miscanthus giganteus) is thriving on all the extra rain and is at least two feet over the neighbor’s six foot privacy fence. 

I guess it’s a start, and time will tell if it’s also an end.  With two weeks of vacation coming up and plenty of weekend trips in between, I may just sit back and enjoy summer rather than sweat out another bed re-do.  The wooliness doesn’t seem to bother anyone other than myself and digging is always more pleasant in September!

23 comments on “The sputtering tropics

  1. Pauline says:

    Love your really tall hemerocallis, it looks really good against its dark background. I must mulch more to try and keep weeds down, it would save on a lot of work, you are doing really well with yours, you are an inspiration!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, you would have to look at a few other weedy corners of the garden before you want to call me an inspiration!
      Mulch is the only thing which saves me from a tidal wave of weed seedlings, but just as a warning a friend of mine did have problems with an autumn mulch sheltering voles and mice… Not a good thing when tulip bulbs are involved!

  2. Christina says:

    Your post speaks volumes of High Summer! It must be so hard with your short window of when things can be planted, weeded, mulched etc. then there’s the whole point of the garden – sitting back and enjoying it! Have a great summer Frank. Btw that tall Hemerocallis is rather special, I’ve never seen one as tall as that.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Christina, I do like the hemerocallis as well. Did I mention it’s a night bloomer? On an overcast day the new blooms open while the previous night’s flowers are still open. It’s a nice show!
      It is hard cramming everything into the season and now is the time of year when I come to the realization some ideas just won’t happen. Just this afternoon I was looking at the front border and decided it will remain half expanded until fall at least. I should put away the shovel and buckets which have been sitting there for at least three weeks. That was the last time I found a little time to work there!

  3. I’ve always been tempted to create a separate small Tropical Garden (even as addicted to pastels as I am!) but have always been deterred by penchant for “investment plants”, i.e. perennials and shrubs rather than tender bulbs. Good idea about the ‘combination’ mulch — my budget is still reeling from the installation of the triple-shredded and shredded cedar. :-/ Any mosquito problems emanating from the waterfilled hole..?? I am their #1 favorite menu item. 😦

    • bittster says:

      It seems like there are Mosquitos emanating from every puddle and water-filled bit of trash throughout the neighborhood. It also doesn’t help that a neighbor has a half filled pool siting stagnant as an aquatic insect refuge. But I haven’t seen many Mosquitos in the pit. Maybe they prefer small pots and saucers to the possibly predator filled temporary wetland. It’s on the list though… same as it was last year :/
      Think about the tropical garden. It really livens up the place after the rest of the garden starts to look tired. I’m sure I could put together a starter package for you!

  4. johnvic8 says:

    It always seems better to build new garden beds (or remake older ones) in the fall. A lot less perspiration, and there’s always football to watch when the back starts aching…again.

    • bittster says:

      Yeah the back thing does get annoying. I feel like I go through more Tylenol than any decent hobby should require!
      I can never sit through a whole game I always end up sitting somewhere in the yard just planning the things I’ll never get to!

  5. mattb325 says:

    That hemerocallis is a beauty, I’ve not seen one quite that tall before. Completing the niggling projects makes such a difference to the planting efforts – that garden looks great!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Matt! I’ve been trying to check off more and more of those little things which tend to get ignored. It really does make a big difference.
      The hemerocallis is actually from seed and was much easier than you would think!

  6. Wow, that’s a tall daylily! Nice, also. Love the orange lily. Great little shortcut bed. I think you are wise to put off the projects until September. August is too hot for really hard work.

    • bittster says:

      The only way I get anything accomplished in the heat is to wear the bathing suit and make frequent runs next door to jump in the pool! If it weren’t for that I’d be spending a lot more time inside or in a lawn chair with a drink!

  7. Deborah Banks says:

    I too love the tall hemerocallis. I’d love to be on the short list for divisions from that someday. Be careful with your thistle. It is NOT true that it needs open soil to sprout. It comes up here amid really tough field grasses with no effort at all.

    • bittster says:

      Ugh. I may have to cut my thistle love affair short after all. Maybe I’ve just been lucky the last few years… Or maybe all the other weeds just provide too much competition!
      Luckily it’s not Canadian thistle. No offense to Canada but that one’s a real noxious pest!
      -and of course you’re first on the list 🙂
      Oh and also thanks for the comment!

  8. I’m so disappointed I didn’t get to plant the cannas you gave me! Maybe they’ll still be good next year? The elephant ear is doing great–two new leaves.
    As far as mulch goes, I repeat the offer of leaves! We have a huge pile!

    Silly chrysanthemum! I pinch mine back until July 4 to keep them from blooming too early.

    Things are looking good in your yard, Frank! Enjoy your vacation!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks, I am enjoying the vacation!
      Next year I’ll add chrysanthemum pinching to the to-do list. On top of the early bloomers there are a few clumps which are already setting buds and I’d rather they do it just a little later!
      Don’t feel bad about the cannas, there will be as many as you want next spring so toss the roots out into the woods and move on. I’ll be doing the same with the ones which are actually sprouting on the driveway. I looked and it’s just too much bother to find them a home now that everything else is coming on…. I have weeding to do!

  9. Eek. Canna virus! Not something I’ve encountered yet but hey, give me time. Sunflower ‘weeds’ aren’t a problem I’ve had before either – mine tend to be Verbena bonariensis. Dave

    • bittster says:

      My entire vegetable garden would become a sheet of verbena if I were to let it go…. Hmmm now that’s a though. I would do it but I just can’t shake that farmer mentality which requires me to plant something “useful” amongst all the flowers.
      I have to say though your verbena are looking good, even more so alongside the bishop. -Now that’s an even better idea, a whole packet of bishops children seedlings spotted throughout a mass of verbena. I need more room 🙂

  10. Alain says:

    Like the others I am impressed with your Altissima hemerocallis. Your garden still looks fresh in the heat of summer.

    • bittster says:

      Procrastination sometimes has its benefits, in this case the late-garden is now coming into its peak whereas earlier plantings are beginning to look tired.
      -But on the other hand it will still be a few weeks before I’m enjoying zucchini and beans!

  11. All that work will improve the soil and your digging. Your garden looks great and is the prettiest it has even been. The work is paying off, even if you are getting the “materials” free from the neighborhood. Those clippings and wood are put to great use. I never saw such tall day lilies. I am amazed to see them standing unless you have not been having the winds we were getting. All my tall plants were downed. Day lilies too. So you are vacationing too in a few weeks. Mid August I am passing down your way on my first vacation of summer. It has been a busy year for me too and I could not get away to PA when I usually do.

    • bittster says:

      Yes, we’re in and out during the summer and away for now so I’m thinking about beach time and dinner plans and less so tomato staking and deadheading 🙂
      Believe it or not the daylilies have no problem staying upright. They’re a species so the blooms are smaller, and I guess they’re maybe just sturdier in general but I haven’t had a problem yet even with a few storms which have decimated other plants.
      You’re right about the soil, it is getting better, but it’s still not great. I’m glad though that I can get a shovel in during July and it’s not a rock-hard patch of concrete. All the little roto-tilling earthworms coming in to feed on the clippings and leaves really break up the soil nicely!
      I hope you have another great vacation this year. It’s always nice to get away and catch up with friends. Stop by if you’re in the area!

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