Into Summer

This might be the driest this garden has been in about four years and that’s ok.  Warm and dry means the lawn stops growing, and unless I’m being really obsessive about clover flowers,  I can just leave it unmown for a week or two and it doesn’t look much worse for the neglect.  Obviously my vote is always for less work, and the few bees which forage the lawn seem happy with this arrangement as well, but I do notice that none of the other lawns look as nicely “decorated” with flowers.  Again, that’s ok.  It’s dry, but not too dry, and although a few wilted things here and there tug at my conscience as I walk by, it’s not enough to bring me down.  When things go crispy that’s when I start mumbling and luckily we’re not there yet.

front border

The front border is again being dominated by the more drought tolerant plants.  No jungle this year.

Weeding has been a breeze with less water around.  I just hit the sheets of verbena and fennel with the hoe once and most dried up in the sun the next day.  The prickly lettuce is stunted, the crabgrass is anemic.  It’s kind of quiet out there.

kniphofia caulescens

A few years old from seed, kniphofia caulescens is finally putting on a nice show this year.  I love the color and shape, but they pass so quickly so I’m pleased there are still a few more stalks on the way.

There was a decent scattering of clouds yesterday morning so I hurried out to see if I could get a few photos before the glare of the sun returned.  My photo skills are like that and I don’t think I’ll ever amount to anything more than a point and shooter, so I just wait for overcast moments and then take as many as I can.  Funny how I always seem to end up admiring the weeds more than anything else.

scotch thistle

Yes, I still love thistles.  These approve of the drier soil and the stunted sunflowers. (Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium

So I’ve recently gone on and on about my mullein and I’ll spare you from that for a few more days, but there are some nice thistles around the yard and I’m thinking I need more again.  Obviously they’re easy to grow, so a good choice for me, but other weeds are also doing well.

sunny side up pokeweed

The fresh chartreuse of ‘Sunny Side Up’ pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) coming up strong in the front border.  I apologize to those of you who are tired of seeing this amazing plant yet again.

Just for liability reasons, let it be known milkweed should never be planted in a perennial border.  It will spread all over and you’ll regret it.

milkweed perennial

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) spreading throughout the border and welcoming guests to the front porch.  It’s a few days away from blooming and I’m looking forward to enjoying the scent as it drifts through the air.  Maybe I’ll pull a few shoots after the bloom ends… maybe…

I wonder if any of my neighbors realize just how many of the plants here are considered weeds.  A parent came by to pick up a child and said the yard looked nice and it seemed like I had quite a few unusual things growing.  That could be good or bad, but I chose good, and hoped she didn’t notice afterwards that the daisies are remarkably similar to the ones all along the highway and filling every vacant lot along the way.  I suspect nothing was noticed.  Actually my mother in law asked me later that day if she should plant a few in a problem spot behind the house.  Not a bad idea I said, but then shot myself in the foot when I pointed out the dried remains of all the daisies she sprayed with roundup the week before.  She told me to forget it, she’ll see what they have at Lowes…

sand garden paths

Something else.  Sand.  A couple tons of it.

Having several tons of sand sitting in your driveway can go a long way towards distracting people from the fact you’re growing a lot of weeds.  It’s a big pile and that hasn’t changed much since it was delivered Monday, but I’m quite happy about it, and the sand has me feeling rich because (1) there’s so much of it and (2) it’s soooo nice and clean and gritty, and (3) it’s part of the finishing touches for the potager reboot.


Here’s where we’re at.  It looks terrible but I’m blessed with the gift of seeing things how I want them to be rather than what they really look like.  Give me another week or two and maybe I can explain my “vision” 🙂

In spite of how it looks, the potager has been on the receiving end of most of the attention and fussing that the gardener has been passing out this year.  Everything else has been forced to tough it out sans water, but the veggies are  weedfree and irrigated, and I even had to drag in seating so I could just sit and admire the new space.  Sadly this enthusiasm doesn’t extend past the raised beds, and if you look just two feet over, all the promise of a bed filled with poppies and garden phlox is yellowing as it awaits moisture.

breadseed poppies

A little water would have gone a long way towards making this bed a showplace…. but it didn’t happen and the ‘Patty’s Plum’ poppies are starting to dry up just when they should be covered in flowers.

Sorry poppies, you’ll have to set your seeds and hope for better year in 2021.  I hear that’s a common sentiment.  In the meantime, other plants are ahead of the game and have already gone through some funny business in regards to seed setting.  The yellow foxgloves (Digitalis grandiflora) took advantage of some lazy deadheading and then some lazy weeding and have formed a nice patch of seedlings where there was but one yellow foxglove last year.  A curious thing happened though.  I believe Mrs. Yellow Foxglove has not been faithful to Mr. Yellow Foxglove and instead has been entertaining Mr. Rusty Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) from down the street.  The proof is in the shading, and I’m sure the delivery room was quite the agitated place as Mrs. F tried to explained all the rusty children to her equally pale husband.

digitalis grandiflora ferruginea

Yellow foxglove in the back with various hybrids in front.  I don’t think it’s uncommon for foxgloves to cross like this and of course I like the diversity it adds to the garden. 

Another blooming surprise is taking place on the swingset.  The native Dutchman’s pipe (Aristochola macrophylla) has taken off this spring and is full of the curious little pipes which this vine family is named for.  They’re not the showiest things and I think the only reason my attention was drawn that way was through the overheard conversation between my daughter and a friend about the plant taking over her playset.  I think it’s just fine but apparently they think it’s a little too much, so I guess some day soon I’ll be giving it a trim.  Maybe.  Probably later rather than sooner since right now I’m quite pleased with all the big felty leaves hanging all over the place.  No surprise there since the species name macrophylla means just that, big leaves.

aristolochia macrophylla

The oddly shaped flowers of the Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)

The Dutchman’s Pipe family is quite the group with annual and tropical members and even more bizarre flowers being the rule rather than the exception.  The tropical Pelican flower (Aristolochia gigantea) is the gigantea version, complete with face-sized fleshy looking flowers.  Very cool to see… and look at that, it’s available online for a click… but let’s stop there before I get into trouble.  There’s another native macrophylla in the yard this year, a magnolia in this case.

magnolia macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla, the Southeast US ‘bigleaf’ magnolia… planted way too close to the house of course.

Three or four years from a seed, this magnolia has recovered from a late spring freeze and is now enthusiastically putting out a few of the huge leaves this species is famous for.  Famous might be an overstatement, but I love it, and right now while it’s still below eye level and looking all cool I’m not even thinking about its mature height or its very inappropriate placement.

magnolia macrophylla

Big hand on big leaf.  The underside of these leaves also have a cool fuzz, and in the fall they dry and curl and the fuzz is even better, and they’re still big, and….

There’s a more dwarf form of the bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla ssp. Ashei) that would surely have been a more sensible choice for this garden, but again I digress.  Let’s just abruptly end here since after all these photos were taken the sky became even darker, thunder began to rumble, and we enjoyed a nice summer downpour… which oddly enough was just a few days too early to destroy the delphinium show.

pseudata okagami

Also unaffected by the storm were the pseudata iris (Iris pseudacorus x ensata ‘Okagami’).

So the ground is refreshed and now the lawn needs mowing, vines needs trimming, the weeds will erupt, the sand is heavier, and the bugs have been energized.  Actually it’s pretty awesome even with all the additional work, so let me go and get busy out there before the sunshine and pool distract.  Hope it’s a beautiful weekend where you’re at as well.

25 comments on “Into Summer

  1. Tim C says:

    that was a fun tour, and I envy your sand pile, although not so much moving it.

    • bittster says:

      The sand is so nice and easy to shovel. It’s almost a pleasure if you ignore the sun beating down on you with humidity swirling around…
      In the future I might skip the “topsoil” purchases and just top my beds off with the sand and work with that. Sand beds are a thing now, and I’m absolutely fine with that!

  2. March Picker says:

    Ah, to read that weeding’s been a breeze for you! Not here due to our wet spring! So much to take in with this post. I especially like your foxgloves and that glowing pokeweed. Have a good week!

    • bittster says:

      I may need to post a retraction. Our one rainstorm followed by tropical heat has re-energized the crabgrass and many of the other annual weeds. Overnight it feels like several beds have become impenetrable thickets!

  3. pbmgarden says:

    Everything is looking marvelous. Love the front border.

  4. Lisa Lindquist says:

    I love the look of your revamped potager! Can’t wait for the next “installment”!

  5. I tried that pokeweed but it didn’t make it through the winter. That potager is looking awesome.

  6. Everything is looking gorgeous but I am especially smitten with the foxglove infidelity and the Iris/daisy combo. Hope we can all stand the suspense as you built your potager and use all that sand. Since it took my husband 10 years to build his Tea House, I know good projects can’t be rushed!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, if my simple project takes ten years I’m in trouble!… although I am thinking about a summer house 🙂
      This is such a nice time of year when everything is still so fresh and new. It hasn’t been too dry or too wet and all the plagues of summer (ignoring the main plague) haven’t had a chance to take hold yet. It’s best to just enjoy it, even if theres still sand in the driveway lol

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    I’m envious of your thunder shower, we desperately need rain.
    Your new potager is looking great with that impressive arbor. Do you need sand because you have clay soil?
    I like your foxglove crosses, a nice apricot blend. The Japanese iris are beautiful, love that blaze.
    I think most of us have learned the hard way that common milkweed is a bit of a thug. I have a field patch that is increasing exponentially every year. Great for monarchs, but I think I’ll be deadheading them from now on. A. incarnata and A. tuberosa play much better with others in the garden, but the monarchs seem to favor the common variety.

    • bittster says:

      I still have enough energy to chase after the milkweed shoots, so I don’t really mind it, but it’s absolutely a spreader. I find them easy to pull though if you let them get a little bigger, but can only imagine the root network that sits underground! I’ve had sprouts come up in the lawn 10-15 feet away from the mother plant…
      I hope you had a little rain. We’ve been getting dribs and drabs but just not what we need to bring everything back to happy. The weeds like it though, and wherever there’s unmulched soil they’re starting to explode, which is basically a worst case scenario since I’m watering because there’s not enough rain, but there’s just enough rain that I’m weeding as well (or at least should be).
      I’m trying out the sand as a mulch between the beds. My hope is easy weeding, solid footing, and no mowing. Wish me luck because I could just be making the perfect seedbed, but at least I can just dig it all in as a soil amendment when it fails. The topsoil they spread when the house was built is pretty heavy and could use some sand anyway.
      Have a great week!

  8. Cathy says:

    I really enjoyed this post Frank. The potager is going to look amazing with the structure in the centre. All the hard work will pay off . The weeding can wait too. I am fortunate enough to have a few friends with little knowledge of plants, so when they do visit I could easily sell a weed as an exotiic seedling… Love those big leaves on the Dutchman‘s Pipe – what a weird plant! I have never seen one before. Hope you have time to relax in your garden this weekend too, and not just work. 😃

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Cathy. I haven’t been out there since last weekend but just finished up a two week training class last Friday so I hope to have more time than I need next week! It was online at home rather than out of state, but hours in front of the computer followed by a few hours of homework did not make me want to do anything more than relax when I had the chance to go outside.
      Non gardening friends are always fun. You show them a plant you’ve struggled for years to grow and all they comment on is the orange daylilies and weeds in the lawn!

  9. Another fun post, Frank. You make me feel so much less guilty — I have a lawn full of clover and nurture ‘weeds’ when I like how they look, too. My photography skills are the same as yours, also. I have tried to master my camera to no avail, so I just set it on auto and wait for a cloudy day. BTW — for some reason not much milkweed has returned here this year. I wonder why? Enjoy the summer! P.x

    • bittster says:

      I’m glad to have some company in the point and shoot crowd. Most things I can research my way through, but the camera? Absolutely not. You must be taking plenty though since the ones you do put up are fantastic!
      Oddly enough, here the common milkweed seems a little picky about where it grows, and takes a few years to establish. I think the soil is just too thin.
      If I could tell you how many weeds I’ve nurtured over the years thinking they might be something nice, you’d have a nice long laugh. Finally I’m starting to get better, but there’s plenty of stuff that should have been pulled way earlier than it was!

  10. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a cute little Dutchman’s Pipe. My milkweed is planted on the property line. Of course it is creeping into the neighbors lawn. UGH… I will probably hear about that. Your ‘vision’ is looking pretty good even now. It is good that you have a sitting spot to take advantage of your potager project. Enjoy summer.

    • bittster says:

      I think my sitting spot is the best part of any of my projects!
      Milkweed is so easy to control in the lawn. One mow and you’re good again, so I think your neighbor should be able to find something much better to complain about!
      We had some rain yesterday and the temperatures aren’t too bad yet. I think I will try and check a few things off the to-do list and then have a nice long sit. I think about these days all winter so better to enjoy them and ignore the weeds 🙂

  11. It all looks great, Frank! I have a fair amount of those vacant lot daisies, too–I’ll pull them up after they’re done blooming, and next year, there will still be plenty more. The foxgloves are gorgeous, but I can’t believe you allow that kind of activity in your yard when there are children present! The Dutchman’s Pipe is great! Leave it on the playset and tell the kids to pretend it’s a fort, LOL! I have never had luck getting milkweed to grow in my gardens. The fact that there’s not much of it around our road should have clued me in that there’s something here it doesn’t like.

    • bittster says:

      I just said the same thing to Pam! The milkweed took years to settle in and only seems to like a few spots around here. I think it’s the crappy soil of course.
      The foxgloves were very discrete, so I don’t think the kids suspected a thing lol
      When do we get to hear a little more about the deck project? I hope for Tom’s sake you’re just paying someone. I like projects so much better when you just come home and there’s been progress, rather than coming home to face the guilt of no progress. I’ve been enjoying your return to blogging. I can’t wait to get my own Kousa growing here 🙂

  12. Shame, shame on Mrs. Yellow Foxglove. I did the same thing with the common milkweed. Now I’m mowing it in the lawn. Should have known better. A weed is a situational category. I think your garden looks great, weeds and all.

    • bittster says:

      I find anything, even a weedy garden, is better than no garden…. assuming it’s not filled with garlic mustard and knotweed… that might require an intervention.
      I still find the milkweed easy to pull. There might be miles of roots underground, but up top it just takes a few minutes to tame the beast.

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