Back in Business

It’s been almost two weeks since we came back from vacation and you’re about to hear something you don’t often hear on this blog.  I was busy.  Seriously.  For about five days straight I put in a good four or five hours of work in, either here or in my Mother in Law’s yard.  Back in the good old days work could have gone on from dawn to dusk, but today it’s a different story and that’s about as long as I want to work.  Still it makes a huge difference.

front border

The front border has loved all the rain.  It would have been the ideal year to pull all the fennel and plant a mass of zinnias and cannas (as the plan was) but… there’s always something else.

Before you’re too impressed by this flurry of motivation I think it’s important to come clean on one of my fairly well-guarded secrets.  Not really a secret I guess,  but there’s a reason I can spend a bunch of hours in the garden, day after day, and still manage to get up and get going the next morning.  I’m a high school science teacher, and with a summer vacation from the middle of June until late August I can still be fairly lazy even with a couple hours of breaking a sweat in the garden 😉

front border

From the other end of the front border… at just the right angle… things look amazing.  The main flush of summer color is beginning!

So now I hope the confession of my profession has not darkened your opinion of this blog or this gardener.  It’s always a mix of reactions ranging from ‘you’ve got the life’ to ‘God bless you’ so I never know where people’s opinions lie until the truth is out.  All I’m really sure of is that most of my powering away in the garden is probably a response to the hours I spend each morning working on a horrible class which I need to finish this summer.  It’s really not that bad but in addition to being naturally lazy, I am also a terrible student with a passionate hatred towards online learning, and after nearly a year and a half of online learning I think my cup runneth over.

cardoon cynara cardunculus

Gratuitous photo of a cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) flower.  I love them, they’re stiff and spiny and of course stupid me needs to touch them nearly every day to get a painful reminder.

Enough whining, here’s an update on a slightly more in control potager, although slightly more in control is completely false.  It’s weeded.  There are a few vegetables, but most of the left side is a thicket of eight to nine foot tall persicaria and sunflowers.  I have to duck and crawl to get through the paths but secretly I think it’s kind of awesome.  The only down side is that the majority of the sunflowers are pollen free and as a result there has not been a good seed set.  As I sit hidden in my potager thicket I can hear the goldfinches chattering their complaints as they pick and pick looking for some seed that has actually plumped up and been pollinated.  Fortunately in the past few days I’ve noticed a few plants with pollen have opened their first blooms and that should be enough for the bees to spread around and get things going.


As usual the potager has become overrun with flowers, and the vegetables have become scarce.  If anyone asks I just tell them the endless rain rotted things and if I’m lucky they accept that and pick up a few beans from the farmstand 🙂  

A big part of the potager purge was removing old bloomed-out larkspur and poppy stalks, and all the other volunteers which were nice enough until they weren’t.  Fortunately there’s always something else, and although the new phlox bed has become a complete failure, the old phlox bed is filled with the usual stars.

phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata, Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ and some silly chrysanthemums who think August is an ok month to flower.  Here the plan was remove phlox, plant hydrangeas… but as you can see I never got around to moving the phlox.  Oh well.

I’m never sure just how much of my babbling is memorable, but just in case you missed me repeating myself the first twenty times, tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) are a favorite of mine.

phlox paniculata

A nice bright phlox seedling which I’ve already set aside because I like the color.  Honestly, I don’t think I could rule out the possibility that some time in the future a whole section of the yard gets dug up just to plant phlox.

Although I do love phlox they don’t always feel the same way towards me.  Last week I mentioned that the entire bed which I cleared out and devoted to a few favorites is today just a swirling vat of mildew and spider mites and whatever else likes to kill phlox.  Some of the plants are literally about to die and it’s kind of embarrassing that a native Northeastern American wildflower can’t be bothered to grow here.  Figures, since just yesterday I saw a beautiful clump of pale pink phlox growing inches away from a busy road and in the yard of a house which could have passed as abandoned but probably wasn’t.  Maybe my phlox patch needs some road salt and the occasional roadkill thrown on… that’s an idea I guess.

phlox paniculata

Another phlox seedling similar to ‘Laura’ but another foot or two taller, and that’s ‘Blushing Shortwood’ behind and to the left. Blushing Shortwood is an excellent phlox btw 🙂

This week’s cooler temperatures has really brought out the color on the phlox, if you only consider the ones which haven’t decided to die yet.  There’s a nice pink flush on some of the whites, the white center stars are bright and not faded away, and the stronger colors aren’t washed out by the heat.  There’s also a good spicy fragrance to many of them.

phlox paniculata

One of my favorite phlox seedlings.  I need a big patch of this one.

Now I’m really thinking about turning more lawn under to make room for a big phlox patch.  I think I’d like that.  A lot.  Hmmmm.  Unless they all decide they should die on me, but in that case I’d just plant daffodils between them.  Rumor has it I already ordered more daffodils than I should have, so I’ll need the room anyway since my daffodil purchases were based on an assumption I would dig up and give away some of the too-many I already have.  My bad.

growing caladiums

Caladium update.  I finished potting them up.  I’m still obsessed.

I need to check myself.  There are two new raspberry plants sitting out on the driveway, fresh off the clearance rack and waiting to start a raspberry patch goodness know where, but apparently in my garden even though I have no idea.  All I know is I love raspberries just like I love phlox and caladiums and daffodils and hydrangeas and all the other stuff which always comes before there’s a plan.  Maybe plans are overrated, and that’s just what I’m telling myself… mostly as an excuse since I also have a vague suspicion there are new snowdrops waiting to be planted.  It’s been months since snowdrops have been mentioned here but sadly that obsession is still burning bright and you only have another two or three months before someone starts bringing that up again on a weekly basis.

All in good time.  Hope your week is going well 🙂


19 comments on “Back in Business

  1. swesely says:

    I used to live across the alley from a lady whose entire back yard (city lot – about 40′ wide) was a phlox garden. It was so pretty!

    • bittster says:

      That sounds fantastic. I love when people pick a passion and run with it, and I believe someday I’ll have many more phlox again. I just need to figure out what I’m doing wrong with that one bed!

  2. Pauline says:

    I am so impressed with your gardens, front and back! I feel for you being a teacher in these strange times, my daughter teaches reading recovery to children who have slipped through the net and can’t read. As well as teaching the children, most of her time is teaching the teachers her methods. Like you, most of her work has been done on line for the past 18 months with her working from home and I know how exhausted she is. Love the phlox, they are something I haven’t tried here, maybe I should!

    • bittster says:

      I feel for your daughter, I can’t imagine how hard this has been for teachers who work with the younger children. My own kids are good students, yet when I watched them “in class” one day it was a real eyeopener to see what goes on on the other side. The teacher was speaking but on this side the tv was on, a friend was on facetime, and a youtube video was playing… and then in my son’s room he was playing a video game as well. That did not go over well 😉
      It’s hard enough to keep the little one’s attention in person.
      Let’s hope for a nearly normal year this fall.

  3. pbmgarden says:

    Frank, your gardens are thrilling–looking wonderful at every turn. Keep doing what you’re doing!
    I love phlox but gave up on them after deer chomped them so much. But that was years ago, we have a fence, so how to get them by the rabbits! Do you plant phlox from seeds or buy plants? One more question–does your Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ get a lot of sun? I’ve killed one and would love to try again. Good luck wrapping up that class you’re taking and enjoy the rest of summer vacation.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks 🙂
      Rabbits are an odd thing in my garden. I have several but most of the time I see them in the grass eating some of the many weeds, particularly clover and dandelion bloom stalks. They rarely bother with the other plants.
      *except* there’s one bed in front between the driveway and my bil’s house. Last year a rose was constantly nibbled, and this year a poor gomphrena and kale plant are reduced to twigs every time they try and grow a little. I think I have one angry bunny…
      I started with named phlox but most of them have died out. I always let the seedlings grow but you have to be ruthless pulling out the less interesting ones or else they’ll take over. ‘Laura’ seems to be a very good mother, I always get a few nice ones around her.
      ‘Limelight’ is in full sun but it’s the one thing out there that I have to keep watered when things get hot and dry. I actually have a few seedlings which came up a couple years ago. They’re just starting to flower now and they’re also beautiful. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the newer Hydrangea paniculata types, the old ones were too floppy but these seem much better.

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Every teacher I know has felt like they have been through hell with online teaching. I am sure the students feel the same way. I hope this year is more normal and productive for you in your teaching and garden.
    Your garden looks great despite your claim to laziness. I somehow don’t believe a word of that. Your garden looks good. We all have spells of laziness. I am about to come out of the depths of laziness. ha… The garden always waits for ones attempts to make it my way. ha…
    Your potager looks smart with that hedge of boxwood to set the mood.
    Phlox is one of my favorites too. I don’t have much of it because I have too much shade for them.
    My two Caladiums, Kathleen and Carolyn Wharton, are growing so good this year. My best attempt to grow them ever. It looks like one of yours is the Carolyn Wharton. The one with the deep red veins, pink middle and dark green outer edges. I just hope I can over winter them. I don’t usually have much luck with that. I always forget about them the next spring. Maybe if you talk about yours I will remember mine. 😉
    Enjoy the last of your free time.

    • bittster says:

      Online teaching is not for me. But I did have a number of students who loved it. Some quotes were ‘easiest year ever’, ‘I love sleeping all day’, ‘Google is better than learning’… so I don’t think they loved it for the level of engagement, but they did love it…
      My latest bout of laziness seems to be over and I did get a lot done out there today. I made a new bed, but I’m hoping I didn’t make a new headache since much of the new bed building revolves around caladiums. It looks nice today though and I’ll worry about everything else later lol.
      I think you’re right, Carolyn Wharton looks like a match! I really like that one. I think it’s not a fan of full sun though, I have two that are looking a little sun scorched, so I moved them to a shadier spot. I have more sunnier spots than I do shade so I’m in the process of figuring out which are ‘sun-proof’ and which need shade. It will be musical pots until October I suspect 😉
      A few years ago I hit a lull and didn’t want to bother with any of my overwintered caladiums. A whole year passed and I finally took a look and would you believe a few still looked like they could sprout? Of course I still dragged my feet and they all died, but at least I know they can handle a good amount of abuse.

  5. I love that you have to duck to get through some of the paths. The fennel looks fine and you’ve already got cannas somewhere else. I like phlox, too, and someone on the road out of Ithaca to here grows a big patch like you describe. I always look for it, but can never spot it (while driving a car) unless it’s in bloom. Which is something to consider: a bed of nothing but phlox doesn’t look like much when the phlox isn’t in bloom. Do you cut any phlox for the house? I find the scent is more noticeable in a vase. You should cut some to put by your computer. It will make the online learning a bit more pleasant.

    • bittster says:

      I think some phlox next to the computer is a great idea!
      There are always so many ideas which never amount to anything, and that’s probably a good thing. Sometimes I really have to ask myself ‘why!?’
      This year I’m potting everything up. It’s a container explosion and I can’t imagine it can go on much further…. actually I bought 2 packs of 50 drip emitters so I guess 100 pots is my limit. Needless to say there is no plan for October. I haven’t given a thought to anything past summer.

  6. It looks fantastic!! Now you have motivated me to do some extra weeding this evening for sure. I also have to get started playing Musical Plants, beginning with the irises. And just this morning I noticed that one of my five surviving Phlox ‘David’ has decided to turn brown and croak (I assume) seemingly overnight. It looked okay three days ago… 😦 By the way, my daughter-in-law is a middle school music teacher and so I totally get where you’re coming from in terms of both time and public opinion. Especially hereabouts where 70% of our crazy high property taxes goes to the school district, so many people blame the “overpaid teachers” for their tax bill. Lots of resentment and finger-pointing where it isn’t really deserved. Yes, our teachers and police are paid very well here, but they also do two of the most important jobs there are. 🙂

    • bittster says:

      Ugh. My phlox will do that, just go brown stalk by stalk and look completely terrible if not completely dead. I suspect it’s bacterial and has to do with uneven watering but…
      Yeah… school taxes… It’s insane how high some districts go, and I suspect much of the money goes to places other than salaries. I know at our school the administration building is very well staffed, and the salaries are quite comfortable, but if you want to talk about moneymakers, the for-profit charter schools can really rake it in and it’s all taxpayer funded. A friend of mine worked for a shadier local one and was actually eligible for public assistance while there.
      I do love working with the kids though. It’s such a difference from my days in industry but worth it.

  7. Eliza Waters says:

    How great that you have the summer off to putter in the garden. My mom was a school teacher and loved her summer breaks.
    Weeding goes a long way to improving the feeling we get as we stroll around. I get panicky this time of year as they start to set seed and I think of the super mess that will ensue next spring.
    I, too, love phlox, such a great plant to take us through August. Every spring I pledge to spray them weekly with fungicide, but rarely get more than the first spraying done before everything else gets in the way. With the rain, mine are raging white with mildew. I keep thinking about buying mildew resistant varieties, and yanking out the rest, but that hasn’t happened. At the very least, I need to thin them out so they can get more airflow.
    ‘Limelight’ is looking fine and the caladiums are looking amazing… they’ve grown a lot just since your last post.
    Enjoy your last few weeks of ‘freedom!’

    • bittster says:

      You know what’s funny? I rarely, if ever, pull a weed during my garden tours. I’ll look at them and cringe at how big they’re getting, but never want to put down my drink lol.
      I think I might have tried spraying milk once to combat the mildew but I couldn’t tell if it worked, and then figured there were more rewarding things I could do with my time (as long as no one questions exactly what I consider more rewarding lol). I’m not sure how much thinning helps, but it does make the clump look neater, and yes on ripping out the mildewy ones. A friend gave me some which were nice enough, but insanely mildewy and I had to toss them after two years.
      That said, there must be something else I’m doing wrong because the one bed has everything doing poorly.
      Oh I am such a miserable person at the end of August. I really enjoy the summer 🙂

  8. Cathy says:

    Wow, and I thought MY sunflowers were tall! Yours are amazing! Love the phlox…. after seeing yours last year I got tempted to try growing it here, and although it has been a rather damp year it still hasn’t got mildew!!! (Okay, haven’t checked today after more heavy showers this morning!) Mine is supposed to be the nearest to blue you can get, and it is distinctly purple. 😉 I didn’t say so last time, but I do love the Caladiums too. You have a lovely collection in so many shades. 😃 I passed one of those gorgeous hydrangeas this morning and started wondering where I could plant one… expanding one of my beds would be feasible, but I hate digging up grass!
    I used to teach too, and got used to the envy of friends when I had my long summer holidays. The fact that a lot of my other holidays and weekends were spent marking papers and homework are irrelevant… So make the most of your last few weeks off Frank!

    • bittster says:

      I think my sunflowers are a little ‘stretched’ this year from all the cloudy days, but they are absolutely taller than usual! I just hope they can hold up to the rest of the summer.
      Mildew on phlox is such a mystery for me. Some years nothing, other years terrible, regardless of the rain or no rain. I think I just need to find a perfect spot. It sounds like you found an excellent spot for yours, I think you will be mildew free all season!
      Ugh. Just the thought of late nights grading and putting lessons together… No matter how much I prepare there’s always something which derails the plans, but it does keep me on my toes.
      Still, I really enjoy my summers 😉

  9. I loved it when I rented apartments in old houses and there was always Phlox growing, along with Black-eyed Susans. Last year I planted Phlox for the first time in years and am loving it. I always think your garden looks neat and under control because of those nice cut edges along the grass. I taught art in an elementary school from 1969 to 1972 in the burbs outside of Rochester, NY. There was money, we had a great principal and the kids were mostly from two-parent families. It was a dream job. It was also the hardest job I’ve ever had. You’ll get no complaints from me because I totally understand what it takes to be a teacher at any level. Alas our former hideous gov, Scott Walker, broke the public sector unions in Wisconsin in 2010/11, resulting in a terrible loss of quality teachers. Harmed our public schools and they haven’t recovered yet.

    • bittster says:

      heh heh, you’ve uncovered my main strategy to keeping things neat looking, just trim the edges and no one notices past that… well that and cut the lawn, a rough field does not set off a perennial bed 🙂
      When kids ask me if teaching is better than my last job, I always say ‘it’s different’. I used to be able to grab a coffee and skip a meeting to get things done if needed, but now the bell rings and it’s go time. I’m trying to sip my coffee, finish previewing a youtube video, accept homework assignments, write a pass to guidance, and hear a story about someone’s cat all at the same time… while watching the one kid in the back who likes to throw erasers before class starts…
      Yeah, Scott Walker. I’m not the biggest fan of unions, but they’re not the problem. If I didn’t have some sort of job security I would not be a teacher.

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