Agriculture in Suburbia

This post was mostly finished last weekend but for some reason I never got around to publishing.  I wish I had a good excuse, but it might have just been one of those Sunday evening get ready for the workweek make lunches and clean the kids off from the weekend kind of things.  In any case here it is and to be honest I have little idea what I was talking about back then with all the design comments and self reflection.  Sometimes I really wonder where this stuff comes from, but regardless the pictures have me thinking of last June when the garden looked ready to die so let me just start off with a photo from then 🙂

dormant lawn

The beauty of the  garden in June.  Roadside daisies and dead grass.  Fortunately the rains came back in August, but not until all July passed and I reached the “wordless Wednesday: I hate gardening” stage.

It’s always nice to hear compliments about your garden, and I am one who by reflex nearly always shrugs them off or dismisses them.  I’m sure there’s some childhood trauma involved which has long been forgotten, but it’s my way and it’s a rare day when I can just accept with a thank you.  Now I’m not saying I get a lot of compliments, but I do get a comment every now and then about a nice design touch or a combination which actually worked out.  Those are the compliments I always downplay since I rarely (unless I’m doing it subconsciously) put a whole lot of thought into what goes where.  With few exceptions my design process revolves around having a new favorite plant in hand and then desperately needing a spot in which to cram it.  Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.

front street border

The front border in mid September.  If I had to put a name to this year’s design theory it might be something like ‘neglected agricultural’.

The front border along the street may not look brilliant, but it does look colorful, and with five months of winter breathing down my neck colorful is perfect.  Colorful and agricultural I suppose, since this years feature plant seems to be ‘Hot Biscuits’ amaranthus and in my opinion it either looks sort of farmyard weedy or like a particularly bright sorghum crop.  Ornamental or not I just can’t look away.  It’s big and bright and grainy and between it and the wheat-like feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) and the sugarcane-like giant reed (Arundo Donax) I feel like it’s almost harvest time out there.

front street border

The view from the street side.  The purple perovskia has seeded around a bit and put out a few runners, the purple coneflowers as well, but I’ve done essentially nothing here since March and I kind of like that.

I owe this year’s crop of ‘Hot Biscuits’ to my friend Paula who surprised me one afternoon with a packet of seeds in the mailbox.  I had grown it before and ended up losing it, but fortunately she had a few seeds to spare and sent them my way.  That was last year, and I efficiently killed all the seedlings which sprouted, but this year was a different story and I ended up with a few clumps of healthy seedlings.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Just the first of many amaranthus close-ups which will pepper this post.  No one could plan this combo since I’m sure it violates numerous design principles, but I just love it.

The amaranthus shows up here and there all along the border, which is probably a good thing since even the simplest design theorist will tell you it repeats and unifies a theme.  Repetition is important since this bed frequently suffers from “I always start from the driveway end and use up all the best plants there” syndrome.  The far end of the bed gets less weeding, less watering, less tending… it basically gets less of everything, so carrying the amaranthus theme all the way through helps hide the sparseness of the neglected end.

wine zinnia

Here in the preferred end of the bed are well tended seedlings of Benary’s Giant wine zinnias and the pink gomphrena ‘fireworks’.  These were the seedlings I was most excited about this year, so in they went first 🙂

I did have a few too many zinnias this spring so was pretty generous about placing them in the border, but when the Brenary’s Giant scarlet began to open next to the pink gomphrena I immediately cringed.  For about a week I thought it looked awful but now I quite like it.  It reminded me of the first time I saw pictures of some of the late Christopher Lloyd’s magenta and pink plantings at Great Dixter.  They also bothered me at first and I think my first thought was “grow up Chris and plant some lavender and white and pink instead of that mess”… but look at me now.

scarlet zinnia fireworks gomphrena

Scarlet zinnia with ‘fireworks’ gomphrena.  Am I suffering from retinal fatigue or does it actually look nice together?

Maybe the green lawn and the parchment color of the feather reed grass tames it a bit but between this and the orange of the amaranthus I’m just plain pleased.

scarlet zinnia karl forester grass

A very technicolor look with the yellow of the ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac across the lawn.

Here’s another amaranthus photo-bomb.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Looking down towards the ‘less interesting’ end of the border.

Ok. One last amaranthus photo.

hot biscuits amaranthus

From the neglected, far end of the border, more amaranthus 🙂

You may have noticed a bright golden patch of marigolds in the border.  The fall smack dab in the middle of my newfound love for the most offensively bright colors and I’m not sure I can resist planting a whole border of them next year.  I had to smuggle these seeds out of my stingy older brother’s garden last year and was lucky that a few sprouted and survived July’s dry spell.  He’s been letting them reseed for a couple years now and they still come up in a good range of colors on relatively short and large flowered plants.

marigolds tagetes

A few marigolds putting on a nice end of summer show.  More might be nicer, and by more I mean a whole border.

What to plant them with?  I think they’ll go at the far end of the border, alongside the bright gold of a juniper, but other than that I have no plans.  Should I back them up with some darker foliage plants?


Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) in front and pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ towards the back. With the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea it all looks very calm and refined, but I think a nice border of marigolds will give it a good jolt of color!

We will see what happens.  There’s a good chance it will all come down to whatever seeds sprout the best next spring, but in the meantime it’s nice to dream about having a more plan-comes-together kind of garden.  That is until the snowdrops bloom.  Once that happens my brain goes to mush and I’m lucky if I get anything planted 😉

18 comments on “Agriculture in Suburbia

  1. johnvic8 says:

    Please accept my compliment concerning your lovely garden. You have obviously put in a lot of thought and a lot of work. It’s terirffic!

  2. I think you should do with marigolds as you did with Hot Biscuits this year. (I can give this advice because I know you will forget it by next spring.) And violet or blue flowers (as in Centaurea cyanus Blue Boy) look really well with orange and gold. But yes, when push comes to shove, it’s a matter of where it will fit. I keep forgetting I can take something out to make room for something I like better. In the beginning of my new garden I planted a whole bunch of placeholder plants (Geranium macrorrhizum, violas allowed to run amok) and I have to remind myself that they can come out whenever necessary.

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m going to remember that suggestion now!
      Yesterday afternoon I pulled out a few plants which just didn’t thrill me. They were nice enough, but I guess they were also meant as just placeholders. Sometimes a complete overhaul is a good thing, but I’m still far from getting that done… I can’t even get control of the weeds, let alone re-think whole areas. Maybe next year! I’m sure next year will be better 🙂

  3. Yes, go with a full border of marigolds! You won’t regret it. I promise! You’ll be especially happy with them at this time of year! They’re bright, but not gaudy.

    I think what makes the pink gomphrena and scarlet zinnias work together is the inclusion of so many other colors in the bed. Not sure I’d like it so well if it were just red and pink together! Yellow is a great balancer, in my humble opinion.

    That little vignette with the amaranthus, grass, and Russian sage is the very picture of autumn!

    BTW, I’m venturing out into ornamental grass territory–just put in some Fescue (‘Elijah Blue’) and a couple Schizachryium ‘Blaze’ in the Terrace Garden! Popped a couple Moonbeam Coreopsis behind the Fescue.

    • bittster says:

      Yes, the mix must have something to do with it, that and I do have plenty of yellow foliage mixed in there…. some might say too much 😉 Plus I think it helps when things go in as blocks of color and then the mess happens between that.
      Good for you on the grasses! Some of my favorite perennials are grasses and I have to restrain myself so the entire yard doesn’t become a meadow garden. Miscanthus are on the way out though. I’m a little tired of trimming them down in the spring and dealing with the sharp leaf edges. Cleaning the other grasses doesn’t bother me as much, and the ‘Karl Foester’ is practically a joy!

  4. Chloris says:

    I temember last year being bowled over by your late summer garden. Whilst other people’ s gardens are winding down, yours is an explosion of colour. I love it. I am definitely going to look out for that Amaranthus ‘ Hot Biscuits’.

    • bittster says:

      Well thanks Chloris! It is a bit of a gamble though since the dahlias and zinnias will turn to mush with the first frost, unlike the hardier things such as asters. But I enjoy the last hurrah and it seems to fit in well with my autumn-denial…. although I admit I am already thinking about the snowdrops.

  5. Eliza Waters says:

    I think your front border is fabulous. I have a garden by the driveway that is full of what I call ‘Mexican’ colors, like all the brightly colored houses and plants you see there. Bright sunlight handles all that color well. ‘Hot Biscuits’ looks great with the perovskia and calamagrostis. Some folks might not care for pink and red or orange together, but since it is your garden, you get first picks!

    • bittster says:

      Well that’s one thing I can safely say, that I’m really not concerned about what other folks think! But then on the other hand most people who come by here don’t notice more than just a lot of color, and that’s fine too.
      You’re right about the bright colors doing well in the full sun. The others tend to fade into the background, still important, but without the bold colors I think it would be too boring for the location.

  6. Christina says:

    I like the clashes, and like you I didn’t when I first saw Great Dixter! Our tastes change and I think that is good.

    • bittster says:

      oh good, I knew I couldn’t be the only one!
      I used to love all things purple foliaged, but now have moved on to yellow. If you had said I’d ever have my fill of purple I would have laughed, so I guess tastes can change a lot!

  7. Cathy says:

    That scarlet and pink is fabulous – even if you do require sunglasses to look at it for long! 😉 Seriously though, I love colours that supposedly clash, like yellow and pink, or pink and orange etc. I have to admit I don’t like Amaranthus of any description though, and your description of them as ‘farmyard weedy’ hits the nail on the head. But that driveway border is great. I love that last photo too… a bright pink aster like my ‘Alma Pötschke’ would look good in that border! 😉

    • bittster says:

      I’m glad someone admitted to not liking the amaranthus! For the first few weeks of their lives they look exactly like some of the biggest barnyard weeds we can grow and I’m always a little concerned They really are just a weed… which has happened a few times 🙂
      Funny you should mention ‘Alma Potschke’, I just picked up a pot last weekend and planted it in the one spot which might possibly be moist enough to keep it happy. I love the deep rose-pink color but my garden is not kind to asters, especially ones which do not enjoy drying out. I’ll need to make sure the bottom half is covered since I’m sure it will have plenty of browned and shriveled leaves by the time bloom season rolls around.

  8. Thanks for the kudos Bittster…guess what – my ‘Hot Biscuits’ went astray and I need more seeds!

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