Color for the neighbors

It’s a small slice of suburbia in which I live.  There’s nothing I consider a city nearby, yet faced by the acres of surrounding forest I guess we do huddle a bit on the outskirts of a sorta urban area in a sorta subdivision…. but even with the lack of a hustle bustle and heavy traffic, I do like to have a little shelter from the street and a little color for the neighbors.  Not exactly ‘curb appeal’, a term which makes me cringe when applied to any property not listed for sale, but it’s definitely colorful and whether the neighbors like it or not (they never really say, although I’m sure they talk) it does liven the block up for the half dozen neighbors and dog walkers which actually come by this way.

rudbeckia and butterfly bush buddleia

Butterfly bush (buddleia ‘Royal Red’ and ‘Pink Delight’) are now joining the black eyed Susans which have taken over the border.  The bearded iris which dominated in June are all nearly overgrown by this time of year!

Usually this border holds a lot more late summer and autumn color.  Annuals such as zinnias castor beans, and tender perennials such as cannas and dahlias, pick up at the end of the year just as the summer perennials are beginning to look a little tired. It’s a different story this year though, as things got away from the gardener and the rudbeckias took over.

august flower border

There’s nothing subtle about golden rudbeckias, but they do match the brightness of the sun.  At this point of the year I don’t even mind the formerly ‘too bright’ orange and pink sunpatients my daughter planted along the front.

And again I won’t complain.  I love the color, it looks great from the front porch, and I’ll deal with the ‘going to seed’ phase when its time comes.  Right now I’m just amazed we’ve had enough rain to keep the grass green all summer (although the actual work of mowing all this green grass is less than amazing).

beautiful front yard

The beds do look better framed by green grass.  Not bad considering the last two years were both marked by hot, dry, completely dormant (surely dead looking) turf patches…. for three entire months…

You may remember I mulched this bed completely with barely decayed, shredded leaves this spring.  It’s worked wonders for the soil quality and number of weeds, but it also greatly reduced the number of self seeders which normally fill the bed.  Purple Verbena bonarensis and the brilliant red Ipomopsis rubra (standing cypress) are sparse this year, but Euphorbia marginata (snow on the mountain) has not missed a beat.  Even after ruthless weeding there are still plenty of the cool white bracts showing up throughout the border and I can see how this native of the west has naturalized itself all across most of the US and Canada.

euphorbia snow on the mountain

The white streaked leaves of snow on the mountain form around the tiny flowers and eventually form a large ‘tree’ of white.

The snow on the mountain will look good until fall, but several of the earlier bloomers might not.  The bright magenta blooms of Lychnis Coronaria are long gone, but I can’t bring myself to pull up the nicely branched gray spent flower stalks.  I like them and as far as I’m concerned they can stay as long as they want.

Karl Foerster feather reed lychnis coronaria

Even gone to seed some things still look good.  I’ll never get tired of ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass in the seedy stage, but this year even the Lychnis coronaria plants in front still look good.  Must be all the rain.

A backup plan isn’t the worst idea.  In my head these leftover cannas were going to go into carefully prepared spots throughout the front border.  They’ve been sitting on the driveway unplanted since April and just go to show how hardy some plants can be.

canna sprouting late

A clump of roots dumped on the concrete and still managing to grow.  A better gardener would cut their losses and move on… I’m still imagining they’ll get planted before frost 🙂

The canna were intended as a replacement for this ‘Blue Bird’ rose of Sharon.  I’ve come to the conclusion I just don’t like it and want it out…. no real reason, just something about it bugs me…

rose of Sharon blue bird seedlings

The blue flowers are the original ‘Blue Bird’ Rose of Sharon plant, the pink are up and coming seedlings.  My question of whether or not they come true from seeds was answered by a no, and I’m glad to now know for sure!  btw- the big leaf in front is Angelica gigas, a plant which I’m hoping will be *very* cool!

A plant which does NOT bug me is hydrangea ‘Limelight’.  Right now it’s just going from lime to pure white and it’s a mountain of soft flower heads and I admire it every day.  Personally I feel like the plant doesn’t like me, since it always seems just a little short of water and lacking just a little bit of fertilizer but apparently it doesn’t hold that against me and blooms reliably each summer.  The bush is up to about six feet now and I should really take a few cuttings to try it in a better location and see what it’s really capable of!

hydrangea limelight

Hydrangea ‘limelight’ hanging over into the street.

Something that didn’t need a better location are all the sunflowers which returned.  Here’s a 5+ foot tall plant which somehow managed to grow out of a less than 1/2 inch crack in the concrete edging along the street.

sunflower growing in crack

Sometimes you can’t hold a good plant down. 

The hydrangea isn’t all for the benefit of the neighbors, I see plenty of it from the house as well and its mature size does a good job in balancing out the masses of gold and the large clump of variegated giant reed grass (arundo) at the border’s end.  Have I mentioned my love for this grass?  It’s listed as invasive in the deep south, but up here in the cold North its vigor is just enough to make it exciting.

mixed perennial border

The street border from the far end.  Golden rudbeckias still dominate but I’m fine with that 🙂

You may have noticed the fluffy white seedheads of one of this years favorite plants (although I may be alone in my favor for this spiny, poky almost-weed).  The lackluster mauve, bottlebrush blooms of the Ptilostemon diacantha were nothing to go ga-ga over, but the seed heads are interesting enough and you can still make out some of that awesome foliage as it slowly dies off.  I’m going to make a point of collecting these in a few days since the thistle seedheads look suspiciously weedy.

Ptilostemon diacantha seed heads

Ptilostemon diacantha.  The name is a mouthful and I far prefer the name suggested by Linda B.  “Ghost thistle” sounds almost friendly!

So that’s the front border.  It takes a little bit of work to get it cleaned up in the spring, I’m always looking for ways to ‘tweek’ the plantings, but for the most part when the perennials take over (like they did this year) it’s one of the lower maintainence areas in the yard.  A smarter person would stick with this plan, but I’m already considering removals and bulking up the annuals again.  Annuals are a lot of work 🙂

One “maybe” problem could be in the colors.  My weakness for yellow foliage is really showing and adding a few darker shades might not be the worst idea.  Hmmm, maybe I can replace the invasive burning bush with a nice purple smokebush?  Something to consider….

yellow foliage in the garden

Lots of yellow.  I think all the best gardens are avoiding yellow these days….

From the front border we’ll go to the foundation plantings.  They’ve taken off a bit as well!

25 comments on “Color for the neighbors

  1. Annette says:

    Your borders look stunning, Frank. I particularly like the Buddleja border. Pink and yellow are usually difficult but you’ve picked exactly the right tones. That Euphorbia is very pretty and sprang out at me right away. I’ve a weak spot for them in spite of their tendancy to make themselves very much at home but then again, you can easily pull them out. Your neighbours must be so pleased when they pass your garden – it must be one of the best around. Happy weekend!

    • bittster says:

      I usually cringe a little when the pink buddleia opens up next to the rudbeckias, pink and yellow is not one of my favorite combos, but luckily I have a few of the darker colors as well, so I suppose you can overlook the pink one!
      I can’t pass up on a new euphorbia, fortunately for my wallet most are not hardy here 🙂 They always seem so eager to grow and I love the patterns of their growth and blooms.
      I can’t say if my garden is the best. I’m sure many of the neighbors prefer a few yew and junipers over a mass of flowers and insect life!

  2. rebecca says:

    How I’d like to see it in person! Your beds are just FULL of beauty. And I like those pink Adirondack chairs!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Rebecca and you’re more than welcome to stop by!
      I’m worried about the future of my chairs…. they started out orange and have been fading and becoming more and more brittle each season, I’m afraid their days might be numbered.

  3. Frank all I can say is wow….we have similar surrounds as we are a subdivision in the middle of a wild area…and we have so many similar plants that get away from us….my sunflowers find those small spots too. I absolutely adore the lush beauty of your beds and grass. You gave me an idea to use our leaf and grass clippings in fall to mulch the front beds. Oh and I would be delighted at seeing your gardens and tell you so….my neighbors think me crazy to do all the work but they like it…although I rarely hear anyone say anything.

    • bittster says:

      Every now and then someone stops to tell me how much work it must be or asks me about a particular plant, and once a neighbor did stop by while thinning iris to ask if I would be ripping them all out. She said she hoped not since she really enjoyed the color in spring… so I guess there’s someone who likes it!
      Just be careful with the mulch, last winter a friend put down a nice cover of shredded leaves and the mice and voles had a field day with her tulips. I’m going to stick with spring mulching if bulbs and perennials are involved!

  4. Clearly, I need to make a trip down to see this in person! I love all that color! The only thing that would make it better would be some self-seeded Cosmos, and Cleome! Ha! And I can’t believe how well the Cannas are growing on just concrete! I think you’ve gotten more rain than we have. An awful lot of storms have skirted to our north and south, and we’ve had barely a sprinkle. I feel like my hose is running constantly!

    • bittster says:

      The highlands are always welcome here 🙂
      Cosmos and cleome…. now why didn’t I think of that!?
      I think we have had more rain. This will be a first that the rain hasn’t skirted us every time it comes through, but the last two days have seen parts of the lawn curl up and brown and a few plants begin to wilt. My soil is so thin it doesn’t take long….

  5. mattb325 says:

    I think the borders are lovely – and your neighbours are very fortunate to be able to enjoy such a colourful display! I really like the yellow tones in your garden and I’m never sure why they are often avoided – when blended the way you have they are just delightful 🙂

  6. Your borders are just outstanding. I love the Buddleia with Rudbeckia, and also the Karl Foerster with Lychnis and Rudbeckia – brilliant. And you may be tired of your Rose of Sharon, but your picture made me thinking of adding one or two to to my borders.

    • bittster says:

      The butterflies are really starting to show up on the buddleia, even some Monarchs, so this is my favorite time of year!
      I love the white rose of Sharon ‘Diana’ but the others just seed all over. Also the spent blooms seem to hang on just a little longer than they should… and it’s late to leaf out…. obviously I’m the wrong person to ask!

  7. Alain says:

    Your late summer beds are beautiful – so much still in bloom.
    As for the cannas I would not have believed it. The same thing happened to me but with irises. However they were on grass and worked their way into it, not on concrete!

    • bittster says:

      I’ve also experienced unplanted iris thrown on to the dirt… three years of no blooms and then one year of being tossed to the wayside and voila! Maybe that says something about planting them high.
      I’ve ben seeing comments about summer winding down…. not here! I hope to have plenty in bloom and coming along for another month at least before the fall bloomers kick in.

  8. Chloris says:

    Your August garden is stunning as I remember it was last year too.So much colour, your lucky neighbours, what a treat for them. All that much really paid off, everything is bursting with health and vigour.

  9. Curb appeal is a term I think works, even if it is applied to selling a property. Houses either have it or they don’t. I think the dog walkers all stop and admire your front gardens.

    • bittster says:

      My problem with “curb appeal” is when people drone on about it to no end. I like to think it’s the beauty inside that counts, not just the first impression, and the beauty includes the view from your porch and the life in the garden.
      A sweeping lawn with a few accent trees would probably increase my home’s curb appeal, but I’d never step foot in it. I’d come home from work, pull into the garage, go inside and write a check to the lawn service before clicking on the tv for the night.

      • I did a post recently on creating stellar curb appeal and not one property had a sweeping lawn or only a few mature trees. But I have to admit that the sweeping lawn is a good foil for an especially beautiful example of architecture. A “gardener” likely would not like this landscape, so my examples looked at curb appeal with paint and plants. I think you are looking at personal taste not curb appeal. We all have our preferences. The view from the porch is important too. A porch adds character and that is curb appeal.

      • bittster says:

        I just re-read your post on curb appeal. This is a link: just in case others want to take a look, so many amazing properties, but I really had other things to do this afternoon, and spent way too much time looking at your old posts!
        Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you need a boring garden to have curb appeal, what bothers me probably comes from too much time spent watching home improvement shows, and the over and over statement of working on curb appeal=making the house visible from the street, ripping out mature plantings, mulch, and add a lollipop tree or two. It’s a cookie cutter approach that I think takes a lot of the imagination and discovery out of gardening. I love many a house which is barely visible from the street, it has to do with the points you mention in your post on making the entrance inviting, even if it means a fence, gate or hedge blocking the way. I guess my definition of curb appeal has more to do with a realtor’s listing photo than with how nice a front entrance might be… maybe they’re the same, but for me there’s a difference.

      • Thank you for further explanation. I guess curb appeal means something different to designers than it means to realtors. I don’t watch those HGTV shows because I feel they promote bad design many times. But that is relative too. Some people are very satisfied with the bland and ordinary, crazy, outrageous or ill-thought-out.

      • bittster says:

        Thanks for humoring me as well. My idea of curb appeal probably isn’t the most well-formed idea, but I agree realtors might take it to mean something completely different. As for the shows they are entertaining but not always inspiring.

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