More Fall

Who would have thought but this autumn continues to be a somewhat pleasant experience (pandemics notwithstanding), and we are enjoying a fairly warm October.  Warmth in October is nice.  People like warm fall days.  I on the other hand wouldn’t mind a little more cold.

autumn gourds

A hanging baskets was emptied to provide a spot for some of the gourd harvest.

Dried leaves and dead stalks, with pollen and fluff and dust blowing all over are not doing my sinuses any favors so my latest excuse for sleepy laziness is my allergies.  Even with a congested head and squinty eyes though, out in the garden is where I’d like to be and in spite of it all I did manage to get a few things done.  First of all I power washed.  When I told my mom how I’d power washed the birch trees, at first she couldn’t make sense of what I was saying, so I explained how they were looking a little dingy and algae-coated  and in need of a wash but that didn’t help.  ” I think I could have thought of better things to do” was her response, so I told her I washed the car afterwards and left out how I first cleaned the stone sides of the new coldframe and then we moved on to other topics.

whitespire birch

I apologize to every weekend warrior who will now feel the need to power wash their birch clumps, but they do look much nicer.

That took a lot out of me so I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around enjoying the glow of the fall foliage.

autumn foliage

From the right angle I can enjoy the fall color without seeing the dozens of potted plants which still need to come in…

The next few days didn’t see much more in the way of questionable productivity.  I’ve been obsessing about chrysanthemums after all, and how can you think of overwintering potted porch plants when there are mums in full autumnal splendor!?

hardy chrysanthemums

The chrysanthemum bed is now officially in full bloom.  Two beds would be nicer, but even one looks quite extravagant.

I don’t care about mums in May, but fortunately this year I still managed to plant these out and even added in a few seedlings which survived my springtime neglect.

hardy chrysanthemums

This pink seedling will be nice if it proves hardy.  Unfortunately the rest of this year’s crop is kinda boring.

The seedlings are fun, but the staking and fussing that went into caring for my last surviving football mum has really paid off.  All I do is stare at it and wish I had more.

hardy chrysanthemums

The amazing orange blooms of ‘Cheerleader’ tower over the others.

‘Cheerleader’ is about 3 or four feet tall even after an early spring pinching.  She requires strong wooden stakes and I even went as far as to disbud a few stems to see if the main flower would turn out nicer.  I think they did.  Hopefully next year I can repeat this.

chrysanthemum cheerleader

I did manage to cut a few for the house, but most are being enjoyed in situ.

While I contemplate a new career in raising fancy show chrysanthemums, and consider a roadtrip down to the Longwood chrysanthemum show (which goes until Nov 22),  I do want to point out a small project I did manage to finish up this week.  It’s a new raised bed, one made out of cement blocks and hopefully one which outlasts the wooden ones.

cinder block raised bed diy

Concrete blocks on end, the whole thing held together with metal strapping.  

Honestly I should have just stuck with the wooden theme, but I had an idea and that idea might be worth a try if it meant not having to replace every last bed in a dozen years.  In the meantime I just hope no one looks too closely at my credit card receipts and questions just how much was spent  on a 1/2″ steel strapping kit.  Let’s run a quick distraction with some nice photos of wonderful fall bulbs.

bessera elegans

A surprise flower on the non hardy Bessera elegans.  It’s just one more potful which has to still come in for the winter.

Just the fact the Bessera is alive is amazing and that it’s still sending up a bloom or two after flowering earlier in the summer is also a shock since I had given them up for dead months ago.  Actually it wasn’t so much giving up than it was throwing them into the furnace room back in the fall of 2018 and then just being too lazy to pull them out the next spring.  So they sat.  Bone dry.  For six months.  Then ten…. then twelve… then sixteen… Finally a year and a half later I went back there looking for emergency potting soil and found the pot.  I was shocked (and a little annoyed, since I really needed more potting soil) to find a pot full of perfectly healthy corms, no worse than the day I put them back there.  Out onto the sidewalk they went, and one April shower later they were all sprouting.

galanthus bursanus

A very elegant autumn blooming snowdrop (Galanthus bursanus). You can probably guess just how often I check on this newest pet.

The bessera is a summer bulb, but autumn snowdrops represent a new season, and by that I mean winter.  I love seeing them coming up and from now until next March it’s snowdrop season.  Sure it slows down a bit in January, but for the last few years that slowdown is only a few days and not the usual months long lockdown of cold and ice that we used to endure.  I guess a global climate disaster can have a bright side if you look hard enough.

galanthus peshmenii

Galanthus peshmenii? I believe not, if only because the “are you sure?” backup peshmenii I bought is living up to its reputation and slowly fading away while this one gets better each year.

Did I mention how much I paid for the latest snowdrops?  Of course not, and I won’t.  By now I know better than to put things like snowdrops on anything which produces a receipt.  Explaining away a 1/2″ steel strapping kit produces a bored look but when I try to justify the excitement over an expensive little bulb, all I get is that judgemental eye roll.

Have a great weekend, and for those who are curious I followed some tips for finding a backdoor to the old WordPress editor, and it’s made my blogging life tolerable once again.

Keep it Classy

You may think that a couple raised beds and an obsession for snowdrops would practically guarantee refined taste and a Martha Stewart garden visit, but as of this evening both have yet to happen.  Sometimes I think neither will happen and then I start wondering if maybe it’s just a problem with the gardener, and his complete lack of class and good taste.  So be it.  I like orange, I like cannas and dahlias,  I like marigolds, and above all I love too much when a little less would have been much more respectable.

french marigold

French marigolds reseeded from last year.  I hear they’re less ‘out’ than they used to be but ‘classy’?  Maybe not yet.

I don’t have the patience or writing skills to really go into why one flower is classy while another is crass, but over the years I’ve picked up on the judgements of my betters and at this highpoint of summer realize that my garden definitely veers towards the trailer park style rather than waterfront estate.

chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemums can be fancy I suppose, just look at the formal displays in the far East style, but as flowers go I think of them as a modern carnation, the flower bouquet you buy when roses and lilies are too expensive.  btw I hate this color, but a friend loves it, so I trust her taste and keep it!

I suppose if you decorate your estate with gobs of full flower chrysanthemums in themed color displays they’re fancy, or if you stick with the truly perennial types which put out sprays of color in late fall you’re good, but my chrysanthemums are mostly the feral offspring of whomever managed to survive the winter.   To me they’re an interesting bunch though, even if the colors aren’t anything extraordinary.  The earliest ones are starting to bloom now, which is far too early and reeks of autumn, but I hope they’re just enthusiastic and can keep this going at least through September.

chrysanthemum

A larger flowered chrysanthemum which showed up under a rosebush one summer.  I’m looking forward to seeing what its seedlings look like in bloom in another two or three weeks.

Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a weed of waste places and abandoned gardens.  Obviously it does well here and obviously it’s not high class, so I always leave a few to grow and flower.  Birds are supposed to like the seeds (although I’ve never seen a bird on it) and I like the way the flowers pop open each day, so this native biennial is ok in my book.  Now if only I could motivate myself to seed out the fancier versions I found last winter.  Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ offers dark stems with tangerine flowers overlaid in rose, while the large yellow blooms of Oenothera glazioviana pop open in under a minute as the sun goes down… it’s worth a party, or so I’ve been told.

evening primrose

Oenothera biennis, the common primrose, with a few other classy weeds such as Persicaria orientalis and the golden, too-loud, Rudbeckia fulgens.

Phlox come with an excellent pedigree and are grown in some of the best gardens.  And then they get here.  A few years back I decided to treat my self to a few selections from the ‘Sweet Summer’ series, and a few years forward they’re all dead except for two.  Actually make that one.  ‘Sweet Summer Festival’ would never fully open her blooms and was yanked a few weeks ago and sent to the compost pile.  She came with excellent references, and I thought she would grow out of it but maybe it was some weird tissue culture issue… or she just hated it here and couldn’t be bothered with hiding her disgust.

phlox sweet summer fantasy

Phlox ‘Sweet Summer Fantasy’ looking slightly less fabulous than the pictures had lead me to believe.  “Large flowers, strong upright habit with clean foliage and good branching”…

I was looking at the trash I call a phlox bed today and really gave some consideration to offering up my garden as an extreme test location for new phlox varieties.  I think a new plant would really have to jump through some hoops to do well here, and if anyone out there wants to send me a bunch of free plants for evaluation I’m completely on board… and just to throw it out there even if the plant doesn’t do completely well it doesn’t mean I can’t write a glowing review… I mean integrity is kind of a vague concept these days, and free plants really do hold a lot of sway in this garden.

Aristolochia fimbriata

Aristolochia fimbriata (the white veined Dutchman’s pipe) is actually a very classy little treasure, and look at the little pipe it’s putting out!  downside though, perhaps I should have looked at its mature height and spread before planting it at the base of a six foot trellis.

I always thought of Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) as a trashy plant.  We had it round the garden growing up and my mother would always complain over its leafless stems in May when everything else had already sprung to life, and then I would always complain about the carpet of seedlings which would fill the weed bucket under every bush.  Should I even mention the slimy faded flowers which would litter the ground for two months in late summer?  They were always guaranteed to squish up between your toes, and even better if a slug had come out to take a bite before your foot landed on it all.

rose of sharon white chiffon

‘White Chiffon’ rose of sharon hasn’t reseeded too badly, and when all else fails white flowers always add distinction.

I have to say I like the new rose of sharons.  ‘White Chiffon’ is a smaller version of ‘Diana’ with a little extra fluff in the center of each flower (I still prefer the single ‘Diana’), and if for once I can refrain from accidentally cutting down the bush during spring cleanup I think she’ll be an excellent addition to the garden… unlike the amazingly colored but prolifically seeding ‘Bluebird’ who was shovel pruned.

rose of sharon ruffled satin

Rose of sharon ‘Ruffled Satin’.  I have not seen a single seedling under this one, and to my eye you might even get away with saying this plant looks refined?

I guess the mallow family is often pointed at for weediness and gaudiness, and I’m not sure where the latest court ruling stands at for classiness, but if you move away from shrubby hibiscus to the perennial version it’s really got to be a gray area.  Some of the newest forms are just amazing, but they have all the oversized flowers and inappropriately bright colors of something less refined.  I would grow all of them, but just can’t deal with the ravages of the hibiscus sawfly which eat their foliage to shreds each summer so there’s only one left, and some years he does ok, and other years I just turn away.

hibiscus turn of the century

An ok year for hibiscus ‘Turn of the Century’.  I love it, but it’s a far cry from the five foot shrub covered with blooms which this plant is capable of.

Ok, enough with all this concern over tackiness.  If you look at the last hibiscus photo you might notice a classier plant in the backgound, the chartreuse leaved, 2020 Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year, Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.  This cool thing doesn’t seem to mind a crushing late freeze, mid summer drought, and rooty shade, and although its two foot height in my garden does not compare well to the 4-6 feet it is typically quoted as, it’s still a wonderful presence.  The plant is a great introduction by plantsman/hunter/explorer Barry Yinger who spotted it atop a Japanese department store in the garden center.  So much easier than bushwacking up a Chinese river valley and climbing cliffsides looking for new plants, but I’m sure that was on the list as well.

Hosta yingerii

Of course when I saw the name I knew I had to try the seeds for Hosta yingerii, and here they are several years later.  

Plant nuts will remember Barry Yinger’s Asiatica Nursery which was an outlet for introducing hundreds of exotic and obscure plants into the American horticultural world, and even if you don’t know it, your garden is probably richer for it.  Even my little plot has a few (hopefully) hardy camellias which are just a few degrees of separation from Mr Yinger collecting seeds under armed escort within sight of the North Korean mainland.  A cool connection me thinks.

Not to swing this around and make it all about me, but I did meet Barry Yinger once.  Not to brag but it was at one of the first Galanthus Galas, and he was off in a side room breaking for lunch when I decided to take my chance.  “Is this where the restrooms are?” was my icebreaker, “No, they’re the next doorway” was his response, and I was on my way.  I don’t think he remembers.

Obviously my classiness is only eclipsed by my social skills, so let me abruptly end this post and wish you all a great week!

A Chrysanthemum Show

For several years it’s been on the list to visit a chrysanthemum show.  Not just any farmstand with fat bushelbaskets of mum color, but an official show with carefully trained displays complete with a bunch of different styles… foremost among them the single bloom monsters which I love above all others.  I don’t know much about mums, but I do know I needed to see a show.  Enter friend with suggestion to go to NYC 🙂

ny botanical garden kiku

Kiku: Spotlight on Tradition.  If the show has a name, it’s got to be official, right?  Cascading forms and bonsai trained Kiku (Japanese for chrysanthemum) greeted us as we entered the greenhouse display. 

We settled on a visit to the New York Botanical Garden.  Strangely enough, for someone with a mild plant obsession and who grew up less than 50 miles away, this would be my first visit to the NY Botanical, but better late than never, right?  Actually the truth is that the Bronx Zoo was always the winner when we were making our way to this part of the city.  Actually it still tends to win out, but at least now I can blame the kids.  I digress though.  We made it to the Gardens at a decent time and were pleased to find ourselves visiting on one of those blue-sky, crisp air mornings that are perfect for brisk walks through extensive botanical gardens.  I bet you didn’t even know that was a weather category, but for further reference it’s just a tad warmer than leaf-raking weather.

ny botanical garden kiku

Carefully trained and nurtured for months, the kiku display covers a range of styles and forms.

The actual display was a little smaller than I was expecting, probably due to greenhouse renovations and all the plant moving that goes with that, but the flowers were fascinating.  I like the big, full flowers best, but there were plenty others to catch the eye.  Actually enough caught my eye to get me thinking that maybe I need to dig a big part of the garden up and just plant it to all chrysanthemums.

ny botanical garden kiku

Class 11 brush and thistle chrysanthemum ‘Saga Nishiki’.  I believe there are 13 classes in all.  

Photographers were out in droves capturing flowers and fall foliage, and one person I spoke with was enthralled with the light… ‘the light is amazing’ she said, but for a point and shoot kind of photo-taker like myself the pictures on my camera leave much to be desired.  Hopefully the give a decent feel for the display.

ny botanical garden kiku

I was quite impressed by the garlands of chrysanthemum trained from side to side, but the towers of flowers on the right, and the various classes lined out on the left, kept me in this part of the greenhouse for quite a while.  

In case you’re wondering I did get to see plenty of the huge single blooms as well.  My tastes run to the gaudy end of the spectrum, so these big, fluffy things were just perfect.

ny botanical garden kiku

I believe these are of the regular incurve class of chrysanthemums.  I may have given a bloom or two a light squeeze, they’re so irresistibly full (my grandmother would have been appalled). 

Wait, how could I forget the spider form.  I love these as well… although I always wonder why the ring supports underneath are bright white and not a less obvious black or dark green…

ny botanical garden kiku

Spider perfection at the NY Botanical Garden

With the serious business out of the way it was time to wander the grounds and enjoy the beautiful fall weather.  Foliage was at its peak and beginning to wind down.

ny botanical garden autumn

Japanese maples never disappoint.

Early November is probably not the showiest month for flowers, but we did enjoy all the trails and vistas and well tended plantings, and it’s amazing to think our quiet afternoon happened within the city limits of a metropolis which millions call home.

ny botanical garden autumn

The light, the light… Inside the rock garden.

Although we weren’t able to find a single autumn flowering snowdrop we did catch the last of the Halloween displays and some of the other events going on in the park.

ny botanical garden autumn

Giant squash and warty gourds almost made up for the lack of snowdrops.  They’re so nice in fact that I’m actually considering planting my entire garden to squash and Indian corn next year.   

And then we arrived at the main greenhouses and I forgot all about squash and snowdrops.  The salvia were in bloom.

ny botanical garden autumn

Yellow Salvia madrensis, fuzzy purple Salvia leucantha, and probably the carmine bloom of salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ flowering in the Ladies Border.

Most of the fall blooming salvias arrive a little too late to show off in my PA garden, but here in the big city they flourish.

ny botanical garden autumn

Yellow pineapple sage (Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’) in the herb garden.  Mine is usually just opening its first flowers when frost crashes the party. 

So now I’m thinking I’ll plant the whole garden with salvias.  I could do worse.

ny botanical garden autumn

More Salvia madrensis alongside purple barberry and perennial sunflowers.  It was a beautiful day 🙂

And then our visit came to its end.  I didn’t want to admit it but my legs were kind of worn out from all the walking and when we sat down for a bite to eat neither of us were in a rush to get going again.  Perhaps we should have taken advantage of the trams circling the garden, but I’m sure there will be plenty of time to rest up when the winter season rolls in… which judging by the 10 day forecast will be sooner rather than later.

Have a great weekend!

Still Not the Worst

Ok, so I think I have to admit I’m halfway liking fall this year.  Those who know me are shocked.  I’m shocked, but to be honest the weather has been decent, there’s been free time to work in the garden, and just enough rain has come down to make planting and projects a pleasure, so it’s kind of an ideal autumn.  Gnats though, that’s one thing I can complain about.  They’re all over, but as long as I keep my head covered and don’t sit around too much it’s still tolerable… usually… until they get so thick I inhale a few, and then I’m done and back in the house.

hardy chrysanthemum

‘Pink Cadillac’ chrysanthemum just starting in the front border alongside some floppy little bluestem and perovskia.

Once the clouds of bugs thin a little, I sneak out a different door and try for a few more minutes in the garden.  October is chrysanthemums, and surprisingly enough a few have survived all the summertime neglect to now look bright and fresh in an otherwise tired looking garden.  One of these years I will really give them the springtime attention they deserve, but they don’t seem to be pining away waiting for me to come through for them, and look good anyway.  I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

hardy chrysanthemum

A nice orange chrysanthemum which was discovered after the Rosa glauca was cut back mid summer.  It’s been blooming for at least a month and the flowers get to be almost four inches across, so I’m good with that!

Although I’ve been enjoying the finale of the garden more than usual this year, I’ve also managed to squeeze in some actual work and projects.  One such project has been building up some of the flower beds which drowned last year in the endless rain we had.  A load of topsoil was ordered and delivered, and slowly found its way around the house and into the backyard, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, and will hopefully help in keeping plants up and out of the swamp… just in case we ever end up in another repeating loop of rainstorm after rainstorm after flood.

new garden beds

Drowned hydrangeas and rhododendrons are gone, and this bed’s been raised about two or three inches.  Also a nice walk out of salvaged stones makes this bed look promising again.

Although I am entirely against hard labor, at least the delivered topsoil is root and rock-free and easy to dig… as long as it’s only slightly wet, and hasn’t crusted yet or turned into rock solid dirt clods.  Hopefully it makes for easy planting and good growing next year with a minimum of weeds, but experience suggests otherwise and I should probably get a plan together as far as mulching and groundcovers.

container bog garden

The bog garden is looking quite nice now that the pitchers have grown a little and some spagnum moss has been moved in.  Now if I only knew what to do with it for the winter.

I had planned on ordering a load of shredded bark mulch to follow up on the topsoil, but yesterday discovered my source is closed for the season.  Easy come easy go I guess, and I’ve taken that as a sign to not bother, save the money, and instead find something else (preferably free) to cover up the newly bare and exposed real estate for the winter.  My friend Paula mentioned her frequent trips for free township compost and that sounded like an excellent plan.  A little research on my part and I discovered there may be free compost available from my town as well,  and maybe just maybe I can squeeze a few loads into the back of my less than three month old suv without making a muddy mess.  We’ll see.  It’s about time I broke it in anyway.

new garden beds

The topsoil ran out and so did the gardener, so this is how I left things.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the energy to redo the stone path and set the last of my stones… but I still need more soil to raise the bed and all of that is gone…

Oh and by the way in between dirt moving and stone setting, I weed wacked the entire industrial park berm.  Ok so it took three days and it was before the dirt was delivered, but I’m glad it’s done and I have to admit it does look nicer… even if I almost broke a leg a couple times as I lost my footing or tried to reach just a little too far down the slope…

spruce on berm

The berm stretching back from my mother in law’s to the end of my yard.  The spruce are at least ten feet tall, so it’s a big area and a lot of work to clear.  Imagine my two word response when someone said “I wish you would have done that all summer”.

The boring neatness of a cut berm is far less interesting than the front yard, so it’s out there that I go to enjoy some color.  We had a bit of frost last Saturday, but overall it’s still fairly colorful with a few late bloomers and a bunch of lingerers.

fall perennial border

After ten years a few of my conifers have finally grown big enough to become noticeable.  Oh my gosh this might qualify as winter interest!

The lingerers are mostly annuals and dahlias holding on until frost, and the late bloomers are mostly mums and asters, but there is one star which always makes me happy to see.  ‘Sunnyside Up’ pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) has been lighting up the street side of the border all summer and as I found out this past week has been stirring up the neighborhood as well.  While cleaning the last of the dirt from the driveway a neighbor stopped by to tell me about the ‘invasive’ he saw growing out there.  “Those weeds are all over my backyard” he started with, and then continued to go on about how they spread and how fast they grew, but not much further before I cut him off with the offer of another beer.  Problem solved.

sunnyside up pokeweed

At this time of year I love the red stems and purple berries alongside the yellow foliage of “Sunnyside Up” pokeweed.  I get a little thrill every time the mockingbird swoops down to snatch another berry or two and spread the joy of this lovely native far and wide.  As long as you’re going to have pokeweed might as well have a lovely yellow leaved strain.

Once the subject changed I didn’t even mention the masses of mugwort and the forest of bradford pear seedlings which lined the road behind him.  Or the bittersweet which went from just a sprig to a tree-strangling mass in five years… or the Japanese knotweed, stiltgrass, honeysuckle, garlic mustard in the woods… or the purple loosestrife growing in his foundation beds.  Hmmmmm.  Plenty for another post.  We should enjoy just a few more autumn flowers instead 🙂

colchicum autumnale album plenum

One of the last of the colchicums, C. autumnale album plenum.  Just as a note I’ve tried to refrain from posting too many colchicum photos this year, so fair warning that 2020 will be a rebound year.

I’m thinking the reason I’m finally enjoying autumn is the new ‘I don’t care’ attitude which has developed out of my previous ‘because I can’ attitude.  At first it was actually a little hard to leave the lawn uncut and let weeds grow, but unless it was really necessary I let a bunch of the tedious labor slide this year in favor of stuff I’d still be enjoying years from now.  New shrubs.  New beds.  New paths.  Lower maintenance plantings.  Simplification.  Last year to keep the garden perfect meant continuous mowing, trimming, and weeding that went around the yard and then started all over as soon as it was done.  Thats no fun, and it’s also only appreciated by myself.  So I let it go.

hardy cyclamen

The hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium) alongside the driveway are flowering well this fall.  About half rotted out from the rain last year, but the survivors seem to have recovered and are seeding about.

Or… maybe I’ve just reached critical mass for fall flowers and this is the first year in three that every day doesn’t start with gloomy, rainy grayness, but I think it’s the flowers.  Better get to the nursery this afternoon to make sure I haven’t missed any fall blooming plants that can still go in 🙂

bougainvillea hanging pot

My bougainvillea has greeted cooler weather with a second flush of flowers.  The colors scream summer, but the blooms are welcome regardless even if they do look a little out of place in October.

Or maybe I’m overthinking all of this.  The truth is I have new snowdrops, and some are already sprouting and in bloom and that makes me think of spring.  I love spring.  Maybe all this talk of autumn is really just a very very early spring.

Have a great week 🙂

Let it Grow, Let it Grow, Let it Grow

I really can’t complain about too much for the 2019 gardening season.  Actually I really don’t have much to say at all about the 2019 season other than I still seem to be in my gardening funk.  Last year all the gloom and rain did me in, but so far this year I haven’t been able to shake it (in spite of marginally less downpours and fewer rained out weekends).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still out in the garden any chance I get to check on what’s new and what’s grown, but overall it just seems like a lot of work to me.  Maybe I’ll just end up taking a sabbatical this summer and see what fall brings.

What doesn’t help at all is that my work schedule has been really interfering with my garden time.  May is a busy time to get planting and staking and I was stuck in Michigan for a week.  June is a time to weed and watch things fill in and I’m stuck in Missouri for two weeks.  Fortunately things should clear up by next week and garden projects can get going… or things can not get going.  We’ll see.

At least I got back from Michigan in time to see the last of the iris in bloom and pull out some of the biggest weeds.  Bigger weeds are much easier to find and pull when they get to the two foot stage, so I guess that’s a plus.

street front border

The front street border is well on its way to becoming the usual thicket with shrubs starting to crowd out the perennials.  One of my favorites is the yellow ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Aurea’) in the back.

In the weekend before I left again I tried to triage my way through the garden, chopping what I could, pulling what I should, and planting anything that wouldn’t survive two weeks of neglect (the family is completely unreliable when it comes to watering and such).  To be honest I was more than a little sore as I stepped out of the car at the airport Sunday night.  I lived though, and hopefully when I return this weekend it doesn’t look too much worse than when these last pictures were taken.

Let’s continue the farewell garden tour along the front foundation bed.  Here the plantings are mostly lower maintenance and that’s a great thing this year.

ranch foundation planting

The blue fescue border has come back enough to look acceptable (but a better gardener would probably still dig and divide the clumps to freshen them up).  As the plantings settle in here, I’ve finally reached the point were I don’t not like the colors in this bed.

I am a little excited about one of the things in the front.  The sweet william seedlings I’ve been nursing along for three years have finally bloomed, and although they’re much too dark to be showy I think they’re absolutely cool.

dianthus sooty

Dianthus barbatus ‘Sooty’, a dark red selection of the old fashioned biennial sweet william.

We’ll skip the just-planted-the-day-before-I-left-again tropical garden and go right over to the back of the yard.  Here the weeds and grass seedlings have covered up the mud and muck of all the construction and we can finally just stare at our row of wind tossed Norway spruce.  There will be plenty of time later to complain about how dull and lifeless the new barrier is, but for now I’ll just stick to complaining about how much more grass there is to mow back there.  At least the chainlink fence is gone and the area looks neat…  maybe too neat… how boring…

berm planting

You’re looking at all the fill I was planning on using to level my own backyard.  It’s all been covered nicely and seeded to lawn and I don’t think my mother in law would appreciate me bulldozering a few yards of it over into my low spots now, so guess who is out of luck…

With the completion of the berm we have far less dust and noise and lights streaming into our yard.  Those are all pluses which I need to remind myself of as I contemplate a fast-growing barrier of evergreens sapping the light and view from our back yard.  But it does look neat and tidy I guess…

ninebark physocarpus opulifolius diablo

More ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’) in bloom.  I love the foliage and shape of these shrubs, and if the garden was bigger I’d add a few more.  Hmmmm, maybe the berm could use a couple 🙂

Iris are about the only other thing worth noting in the back.  Last year’s swampy soil killed off nearly all the modern hybrids, but the older cultivars just kept doing what they do, and have me considering devoting more real estate to iris again.

historic iris

The historic iris (these are mostly from the 40’s and 50’s) held on while their modern neighbors turned to mush.  Obviously a better spot with improved drainage would be another option, but I like the less is more approach 😉

I guess it’s only been a few years since the last time I decided to devote more property to iris.  Things go like that around here, but unfortunately in between planting passions other amazing ideas come up and things get crammed in all over.

historic iris darius

This was a decent iris spot a few years ago but plant a shrub or two, some colchicums, some climbers, build a support for the climbers, and before you know it the iris are struggling along in the shade.

Replanting a few iris this summer should be do-able even if it means time away from the pool and a little kick in the butt motivation.  Deep down inside I know it will be worth it next June when they crowd the borders with brilliant color.

Now if I can only first manage to get the deck planters planted.

ornithogalum dubium

The last bits from under the growlights.  There was an abyssmal lack of seeds sown this winter, but for some reason I needed the orange Ornithogalum dubium bulbs, a dozen canna seedlings, and one cool little pink and white alstroemeria seedling that looks dissapointingly similar to her parent.

Who am I kidding.  Instead of planting the deck containers I took another round through the garden to make sure nothing new happened without me.  The sweetshrub is giving me its first year of decent bloom and I think the flowers are particularly cool.

calycanthus aphrodite

A hybrid sweetshrub (Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’).  A scent would be nice, but for now the flowers are just fine.

If worse comes to worse I’ll just spend this summer wandering the garden, smelling flowers, and contemplating the life cycle of weeds.  New plants are still going to be added, that’s a given, but maybe there’s just going to be a lot more mulch this year.  I like mulch so.  Mulching can be very zen 🙂

Autumn. It Could Be Worse.

I’m ok with summer being over.  Not excited, but ok with it, and I guess that’s good enough since neither myself nor anyone else can do much about it anyway.  Fall follows summer and that’s just the way things roll here in NE Pennsylvania.  At least we have butterflies this year, and in this garden the butterflies have been the highlight of every garden stroll.

Monarch on zinnia

Monarch butterfly on a zinnia in the potager.

People enjoy talking about how beneficial butterflies are and I’m not going to argue with them but if you think about it they’re right up there with cabbageworms and tomato hornworms in terms of caterpillar crawling and plant eating.  They don’t do all that much to benefit the gardener, but they’re just so darn pretty to look at.

monarch mantis attack

A handful of butterfly parts.  Not a good sign for the butterfly lover since no butterfly sheds its wings willingly.

If you want to consider a beneficial insect the praying mantis might come to mind.  Maybe.  Not since the garden of Eden has all life pleasantly revolved around working purely for mankind and the praying mantis is definitely a New Testament kind of creature.  Its instinct is to kill and eat (not necessarily in that order) anything from bees to grasshoppers to butterflies and it doesn’t matter if the gardener would prefer the later to stick around (uneaten) for pollination purposes.  Scattered butterfly wings under your flowers is a good sign of a fat mantis above.

praying mantis

The guilty party lurking amongst the flowers of a chrysanthemum.

The chrysanthemums are only second party to the carnage.  It’s not their fault they’re so attractive right now right as the Monarchs are moving through.

seedling chrysanthemum

Some seedling chrysanthemums from a few weeks ago.  

I couldn’t care less about chrysanthemums in April, but now as everything else is calling it quits I wish I had an entire border of them.  I bet I say that every fall but your guess is as good as mine as to if it will ever happen.  So far the one thing I have managed to get done is collect, and grow (and kill) quite a few different mums and fortunately manage to have a few nice ones left to flower each fall.

chrysanthemum centerpiece

Chrysanthemum ‘Centerpiece’.  Perfectly hardy for me and an interesting flower form, but she always insists on starting the season in August, way before I’m ready to look at mums.

What I really want is some of the big “football” types, ideally the obscenely large, overfussed, and overfertilized types which show up in the better greenhouse displays at this time of year.  There’s about a zero percent chance of that happening but it doesn’t stop me from hoping that someday, something close to a miracle will take place, and one of my larger flowered types will do the impossible.  For now I’m just happy I found (mailordered from Mums of Minnesota) a few ‘footballs’ hardy enough to overwinter here without me jumping through hoops… or even just jumping anywhere… I’m still feeling seasonally lazy.

football mums

A few football mums which survived two months of potbound abuse and then a way too late planting.  I like them all but the pale yellow ‘Mellow Moon’ at center is my favorite.

Although I’ve been ordering and labeling and trying to keep mum names straight, I’m much less snobby about the chrysanthemums than other plants such as say… um… snowdrops.  My barren soil seems to make an excellent seedbed for mums and I try not to rip them all out during those frantic days of May.

seedling chrysanthemum

I planted ‘Dolliette’, the smaller quilled flower in the back, but the others including the pink are just surprise seedlings which popped up around her.

I welcome the seedlings, I welcome the fussier ones, but I also welcome any leftover autumn decorations found on our or the neighbor’s porch.  Most of these disposable greenhouse mums don’t make it through the winter, but a few surprise us with green life in the spring.

garden mums

These leftover porch decorations have been here for a while, surviving drought, disease, and neglect.  This spring I moved a few of my favorites next door to ease the monotony of mulch and I’m quite pleased with the result.

The mums and Monarchs may be stealing the show but the beautiful weather sure doesn’t hurt either.  Our gardener did make an effort last week to mow and trim and between that and the greening lawn I think he may eventually snap out of his autumn doldrums, but when temperatures are so comfortable and the lighting is so relaxed I don’t see much hope in the way of any major garden projects being started.

autumn flower border

The front border with some nice autumnal light.  The brown amaranthus dead center really does detract from the view, but….

I’m fine with enjoying the weekend while the weather is still on our side.  There’s always next week to start fall cleanup and if it doesn’t happen…. maybe the winter winds might do just fine on their own.  As long as I dig up the dahlias and cannas before December, that’s the kind of timetable I have in mind.  Have a great weekend!

The Efficiency of Factory Farming

Apparently it’s September.  Every time I look at the calendar it kind of surprises me that the year can fly by so quickly but really?  September?  It’s becoming harder and harder to convince myself that summer won’t end.

potager flowers

The view of the vegetable garden (aka Potager) in early September.

Many people consider September to be an autumn month.  I’m going to assume you know where I stand on that theory.  I bet those same people consider the vegetable garden to be the most appropriate place for growing vegetables,  and not a catch-all spot for all the flowers and shrubs which couldn’t fit into the regular borders and beds.   Neat, productive, raised beds bursting with produce are nice enough, but at this time of year I love the flowery, seedy look of a vegetable garden gone wild, even with all the overgrowth, bugs, and mildew 🙂

canna cannova rose

A sign of the season.  The bold colors say summer but the seed pods and overgrown vines say autumn.  A big spiderweb even sets it up for a halloween look.  In case you’re wondering these are some ‘Cannova Rose’ seedlings which I started this spring just to see how they turn out.  I think it was a success!

There were a few things which did manage to come out of the potager which were worth eating.  Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and loads of zucchini  all somehow managed to find enough room to produce a harvest, as well as a meager crop of onions.  The onions looked so promising in April, but I think they just wanted more sun.

birdfood sunflowers

I was so close to wasting this space on corn.  Instead I bought a few ears at the farmstand and filled the bed with sunflower seedlings which were weeded out from other parts of the garden.  ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranths seedlings became a convenient complement to the sunflowers when I forgot to weed them out after the garlic was harvested.

Now the garden is mostly given over to the annuals which I rip out so religiously in May, but always seem to overlook in June.  The verbena, persicaria, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums quickly take advantage of the opening and I’m always happy to see them thrive.

colchicum x agrippinum

Of course there had to be a few bulbs in here and there as well.  When I crawled in under the sunflowers I found the colchicum x agrippinum patch in full bloom.  I’m a big fan of these late summer bloomers.

I do have plenty of flowering things which were planted on purpose as well.  The colchicums (autumn crocus, naked ladies, meadow saffron) are looking great right now and I can’t help but show a few pictures.  Actually I’m sure you’ll see more pictures in a later post.  For some reason the vegetable beds are where I’ve planted most of them, and even though the companion plantings are haphazard, the flowers themselves are very convenient to admire when planted out this way.

colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum surrounded by mildewed phlox and verbena.  A fresh flower in the middle of all that decay is always such a treat.

Although I planted a few bulbs on purpose (if you can call it that when you’re wandering around with a plant and a trowel and no forethought to where it would go when you bought it) those plants are in the minority.  The most spectacular things invited themselves.

potager flowers

The marigold border and a gifted zinnia were the plan (thanks Kimberley!) and the peppers were the purpose, but the perfection came from self sown verbenas and the intense blue of Browallia americana. 

Up until June I pull out every last ‘Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate’ seedling (Persicaria orientalis).  Their 6+ feet of rapid, vigorous growth tends to intimidate the lettuce but eventually a few are overlooked and before I know it I’m ducking under the dangling chains of dark pink flowers every time I do the garden rounds.

kiss me over the garden gate

Persicaria orientalis towering over the failed onion bed.  For the record purslane and crabgrass had more to do with the underwhelming onion harvest than one too many flower seedlings 😉

The last thing to thrill me in the veggie patch are chrysanthemums.  I love how they and the colchicums wrap up summer around here.

potager flowers

I’m starting to sound like a broken record with the seeding out thing (assuming people still remember what broken records sound like) but even this chrysanthemum came on its own.  I guess that’s what barren soil and general neglect can do… plus the weeding out of nastier things of course.  I love the color and big flowers 🙂  

The back beds of the potager have the worst soil and get the least attention.  During most summers even the weeds struggle to take root since the soil crusts up and most seedlings can’t even get a root down before they die… except for quack grass (similar to couch grass).  I spent a few sweat filled summer afternoons tracing back grass roots and sifting soil, trying to get every last shoot.  Of course I didn’t but at least it’s one battle in this war where I took the upper hand.

hardy garden chrysanthemum

This is the chrysanthemum which started it all.  A seed exchange packet of “collected from ‘Innocence'” survived drought and flood and freeze and still looks great.  It does need a Chelsea chop in June to control floppiness, but that’s all. 

My neighbor put in some excellently neat and tidy raised beds this spring which grew some beautiful beets and salad and armloads of other produce.  His vegetables know their place and his flowers are neatly nestled into orderly mulch beds which surround the house.  My wife was very impressed. I have to admit I liked it as well but just don’t know if I can give up this spontaneous jungle.  Time will tell.

My apologies for not having shown any vegetables in this vegetable garden update.

Those boring chrysanthemums again.

It’s a rainy and dark October afternoon and you need a light on inside to do just about everything except nap.  This wasn’t my plan but then dark skies and October thunderstorms aren’t easy to plan for in general.  Better to just get on the computer and look at a few photos from earlier in the month, and it seems like all the earlier photos center on those most under appreciated of autumn flowers, the chrysanthemums.

chrysanthemum seedling

A nice seedling of one of the cushion mums.  Not much form or grace to it but the cantalopy orange with just a tint of pink looks good in the failed beds of the vegetable garden. 

I happen to like chrysanthemums.  More so now than in March but even if it’s a seasonal love I think they deserve more respect than that of a disposable pot of color which usually ends up in the trash on the weekend after Thanksgiving.  They’ve earned it after all, 600+ years of cultivation in Eastern Asia with a reputation for happiness and royalty shouldn’t just fade away the minute Walmart offers them at 3 for $10.  Take a look here at the National Chrysanthemum Society’s webpage for a brief overview of their history.

chrysanthemum centerpiece

Chrysanthemum ‘Centerpiece’ on the left with a similar looking seedling to the right.  Just a little bit of difference separates the two but I bet a chrysanthemum breeder would twitch at the inferiority of the other. 

I would guess if there’s one single thing which defeats the Chrysanthemum’s reputation it’s the lack of hardiness of all those late season purchases.  Gardening amateurs and experts alike often wonder why their attempts at overwintering these perennials routinely fail and why they’re left with a dead plant come springtime, and to keep my story short (and match my limited attention span), it’s because they just aren’t hardy.  They were bred for color and shape and reliable bloom and overwintering ease just didn’t factor in.

chrysanthemum seedling

A butterscotch colored seedling… or is it pumpkin colored… either way it’s a nice dose of color.

I suppose this all brings me to the point of this post.  I’ve been ‘dabbling’ in the hardier chrysanthemum sorts, the kinds which look great, grow without a care, and overwinter without a problem, and I’ve found it’s easier than you’d think.  As an added bonus they seem to like my poor soils and frequent droughts, and the bare patches of my beds will usually sprout a few mystery seedlings each spring to keep me guessing as to what surprises are coming along each fall.  A few online sources offer hardier types but I’ve been getting most of mine through Faribault Growers and their Mums of Minnesota offerings.

chrysanthemum Bristol white

Chrysanthemum ‘Bristol white’ in front (not a favorite since hard freezes will brown the tender centers) with a few interesting seedlings behind.

The mums I’ve been getting have had little trouble with winters here (z6a) but every now and then give up due to frost heaving or a late spring freeze (about half my plants unexpectedly died this year when an arctic front rolled through in late March after growth had started…).  They’re still not as surefire hardy as the Korean mum types (developed using the hardily named Chrysanthemum sibiricum) but they’re shorter and bushier and have more of a variety of flower colors and forms and it’s just what I need to distract me from the changing leaf colors and dying annuals of autumn.

chrysanthemum seedling

Another seedling.  The singles seem to be more popular with the pollinators, I’m just impressed that these survived a summer of neglect and drought and poor soil here at the base of a yew hedge.

I believe one of the more popular Mums of Minnesota introductions have been the Mammoth mum series.  They’re spreading, hardy perennials and just massive mounds of color when in bloom, but for as much as it pains me to say I have to classify them as a little boring.  They do great next door in my MIL’s mulch beds (which honestly are even more boring without the mums), but for as far as a plant to get excited about…. they’re not.  Luckily they know a little trick, and that’s their promiscuous selfsowing and all the little surprises they leave in the monotonous spread of shredded wood mulch.

mammoth mum seedlings

Momma plant (‘Red Daisy’) fills the upper left of the view, her mongrel offspring fill in along the bottom and up the right.  As you can see they don’t come anywhere near to ‘true’ from seed and there are even a few well-doubled flowers showing up.

Next year I may try and find a spot to plant out a bunch of the seedlings and see what greatness they amount to but I warn you not to hold your breath on that one.  It’s hard to get excited about mum in April and even harder to find enough open spots to fill with something that doesn’t pay off until October.

chrysanthemum mellow moon

This might be my favorite.  Chrysanthemum ‘mellow moon’ has these large, softly colored flowers which make great cut flowers but as you can see the clump’s been invaded by an odd yet attractive pink daisy seedling.  Hopefully next spring I can separate them out since I don’t want to crowd out the moon. 

chrysanthemum seedling

Another seedling, this one a complete dwarf.  I wonder how better soil conditions will change this plant, since this dry part of the bed is far better suited to cacti.

The whole mum clan seems pretty easy from seed and it’s always fun to see what shows up.  My last few photos are of a seedling which came from the HPS seed exchange and although they’re nothing like their ‘Innocence’ parent (a pale pink single which blushes pink with age) they’re indestructible through winter cold and summer drought.  Their only flaw is either the need for staking, or a harsh chop back in early July to control floppiness.

chrysanthemum innocence

A seedling of chrysanthemum ‘Innocence’

If you noticed the previous picture has about half a dozen ailanthus webworm moths wandering the flowers.  It’s an oddly colored little thing and I was hoping for something rarer and possibly native when I first spotted them… but as it is with most insects around here, if there are more than enough, chances are it’s not native.

ailanthus moth

Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea).  A unique look in my opinion.

I’ll leave you with another one of the large flowered mums which seems quite content in my less than ideal garden conditions.  I had taken at least two or three pictures before I realized the flower was looking back at me.

chrysanthemum gold country

Chrysanthemum ‘Gold Country’ with someone else who might be interested in pollinating moths and such. 

Hope you had a great weekend, gloomy rain or not, and hopefully there’s a spell of nice planting weather coming up so I can finish up all the unfinished gardening work of 2016… or not.  There will be plenty of time for gardening ambition in February 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.19.16

I’m a day late in joining Cathy for the Tuesday view, but I think it’s just that time of year when things begin to unravel and go to seed so hopefully my tardiness will be forgiven.  Here it is!

tuesday view tropical plants

Autumn comes to the tropical garden

The view looks remarkably similar to last week’s with just a few more hints of autumn color in the background and a few more tints of brown in the front.  We had a slight frost last Monday and again on Friday but for the most part the garden is intact.

alocasia x portora

The tender new leaves of alocasia x portora took the low temperatures very seriously while the dahlias just shrugged them right off.  Serves me right for not bringing this elephant ear in earlier. 

Last week’s lows have been followed by a few warm days but I think the damage has already been done.  Most tropicals get all miffy once nighttime temperatures drop below 50 and I guess it’s time to start thinking seriously about bringing them in.

colocasia esculenta tropical storm

My newest elephant ear, colocasia esculenta ‘tropical storm’  is gaining back a little strength following a run in with spider mites.  I ended up snipping off all the foliage to get rid of them, now it’s a matter of hoping for the best over winter.

Even with some of the largest leaves showing a little frost damage, the cooler nights seem to intensify and brighten the last of the autumn colors.

knockout rose pennesitum

‘Knockout’ rose seems to get even brighter as the thermometer drops.  It’s a nice mix with the season long color of the Verbena bonariensis.

Although I made a good effort of removing most of the chrysanthemums from this bed, I did leave ‘Carousel’ for some late season color.  The plan was for it to carry on after frost blackened most of the other color in this bed, but here it is joining in as just another supporting player.  I like it for the long stems and late blooms which last into November but tolerate it for it’s floppy stalks and necessary June pinching.
chrysanthemum carousel

Chrysanthemum ‘Carousel’ opening up as one of the last floral events of the 2016 tropical border. 

‘Carousel’ is pretty much the only thing left to anticipate in the border, everything else is just finger crossing for additional days without frost.  We are into a slight Indian summer of warm, hazy days following our earlier run-in with cold, but even that is somewhat irritating as I like the cooler weather for transplanting, bulb planting, and fall foliage enjoying…. not that I’m complaining too much about having a few last drink nights out on the porch sans jacket 🙂

autumn dahlias border

Looking up towards the back end.  I love that all 6 feet of that annoyingly bright white vinyl fence is now hidden behind an interesting wall of greens and flowers.  And I love that I still have plenty of dahlias!

So here’s to another Tuesday view where the tropics are still green!  Long live summer and all the best for your upcoming week 🙂

Tuesday View: The Tropics 10.04.16

The nights have taken a turn towards cool here and for the first time it feels like the tropical bed is showing signs of autumn.  The winding down of the season is ok by me, but my fingers are crossed we don’t have a repeat of last year when a single 23F (-5C) night in mid October crushed all hopes for a mellow end to the season.  Frost is inevitable, but a brutal freeze?  Unnecessary.

Tuesday view tropicalismo

The Tuesday view on this first week of October

This Tuesday as I again join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs, I’d like to also give a nod to Eliza and copy her idea of showing a flashback to the earlier days of this season.  Everything looked so cute and tiny back in this last week of June.

 

Tropical garden

The first Tuesday view.  A few perennials making a show, but the only annuals visible are a flat of small orange zinnias, freshly planted out of their six-packs. 

Things have grown since then and one of my favorite growers has been the annual burning bush (Kochia scoparia).  One by one the individual plants in the seedling clumps I planted out are starting to color and I have to admit I like the look, even though the plants will go brown once they pass their peak of redness.

 

kochia scoparia

I love all these colors but last week the kochia at the lowest right of the clump was just at its peak.  Only seven days later and it has browned, so I hope the rest of the clump doesn’t follow as quickly. 

Sneaking up alongside the kochia is a new chrysanthemum seedling.  I evicted nearly all the mums from this bed earlier in the year, but I guess this one was small enough to miss.

self sown chrysanthemum

Not the greatest photo of it but a nice enough self-sown mum with small spoon shaped yellow petals.

Slightly less impressive are the late season flowers of ‘white frosted’ Japanese thistle.  There’s not much to them, and some might mention the word “weedy”, but I’m hoping for seeds since the spring variegation on these is great and my only other plant of this perennial thistle died during our relentless May rains.

'White Frosted' Japanese thistle (Cirsium japonicum).

The less than impressive flowers of ‘White Frosted’ Japanese thistle (Cirsium japonicum). 

There’s nothing less than impressive about the cannas and dahlias.  I know I constantly show the same combos, but….

canna Bengal tiger dahlia Mathew alen

Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ looking as variegated as ever alongside the deep red flowers of dahlia ‘Mathew Alen’.  The purple cloud of Verbena bonariensis has been going strong all summer.

The path up through the center takes a little maneuvering to get through.  The purple leaved cannas have pushed most everything out of their way, and the dahlias now sprawl across the path.

dahlias in the garden

Dahlias and verbena up through the middle of the tropical garden.

The resident hummingbirds headed south a few weeks ago and with the exception of a few last stragglers migrating through the flowers have been left to the sleepy bumble bees of autumn.  Monarch butterflies still stop in here and there, but it’s getting pretty quiet as things cool off.

dahlia sylvia

Dahlia Sylvia seems to make a nice spot for a bumblebee’s afternoon nap.

Sleepy bumblebees kind of sum up how I feel about the garden these days.  Maybe it’s allergies or lack of a good night’s sleep, but if you had to put me in camp grasshopper or camp ant I think I’m more of a grasshopper.  I’ll enjoy the sun and last bits of warmth while they last, and just have to hope for the best when the axe of winter falls.