Annual is Not a Bad Word

Change for the changing seasons always brings an antsy-ness to this gardener, and autumn is one of the big ones.  An avalanche of pumpkin spice covers nearly everything and so many people are just done with the summer garden and all its weather-worn tiredness and spent seediness.  I’m with you.  I keep eyeing the mess and think I might just be better off wacking it all down and calling it a year.  It’s been months since the garden had that clean and controlled look when plants were bristling with anticipation, and I miss that, but still won’t give in just yet.  Obviously laziness plays a part, but others with more enthusiasm might want to hold off as well.  The waning garden has a purpose, and between the full seedheads providing food for birds, and the dried stalks protecting next year’s buds, there’s still something of interest out there.  Frost and snow sit more attractively on waving stalks than on dull mulch, and honestly as far as cleanup goes it’s easier to crunch dried stalks in March than it is to wrestle with sloppy, soggy, heavy messes in October.

But it looks dull.  and messy.  and like you gave up… Unless you planned for it of course, and planted something that carries on until the pumpkin spice gets shoved over by cranberries, and a more relaxed season begins.   For me annuals do the trick.

abelmoschus manihot

Abelmoschus manihot, an okra relative, soaked up the rain and humidity this summer and has never done better.  These first flowers in late August were just the start of the show.

Ok I said it.  I plant annuals.  Yes, they’re more work, but the right annuals can pretty much take care of themselves, and they don’t have to be the same dull mat of color all year that even the bees get bored with.  By their nature these plants just want to grow up and seize the day, filling as much space as possible with growth and flowers until whenever.  They don’t care about next year, just flowering and seeding.

abelmoschus manihot seedpod

The fuzzy okra-like seedpods on the abelmoschatus (aka sunset hibiscus) are cool as well.  Sure beats looking at spotty, diseased iris foliage (which is actually hidden behind the planting).

Late season annuals are my favorites.  Something like the sunset hibiscus (Abelmoschatus manihot) comes up strong in the heat and humidity and quickly becomes a 4-6 foot presence if it gets enough water and warmth.  Just as the perennial garden hits a late summer slump, the sunset hibiscus becomes a star, distracting you from the tired foliage of the June bloomers.  This plant was also one of the stars of the book Annuals for Connoisseurs, by Wayne Winterrrowd… which by the way is a fantastic bargain at under $5 used…

coleus in a border

Coleus, zinnias, salvia and Abelmoschatus in the front border

Ok, enough of me trying to sound intelligent and write coherently in what could be a useful post.  Here are some other annual plantings from around the garden which are distracting me from all the gloomy skies and ever shortening days of really late summer.  Coleus feature strongly.  Nearly all come from a handful of cuttings I stuck in a glass of water and kept on the windowsill all winter.  They look terribly pale and leggy by March but that’s when I pot them up and start growing them on under lights in the basement.  By May I have dozens to fill in around the garden.

annual flower bed

There were even enough leftovers this spring to branch out next door and fill in my neighbor’s mulch bed.  Coleus, cannas, and a nice little single marigold I call “stole a seed head while visiting Kimberley last summer”.

I guess technically a lot of what I’m calling annuals can actually be grown as perennials in warmer climates, so I don’t want to upset anyone who lives and dies by those definitions, but in my garden these plants identify as annuals so I’m going to respect that.

potted caladiums

The dogwood may be giving up and putting on some autumn color, but the potted caladiums are holding on a little longer until nighttime temperatures consistently drop below 60F.  That’s when their sadly limp selves get thrown pot and all into a warm, dry corner of the furnace room and sit there dry and dormant until next year.

A real annual which has come up well this year is Browallia americana.  In well watered spots of bare earth, close to where it grew last year, I keep an eye out for seedlings.  All that’s required is take care and not pull them out as weeds, and by late summer the reward is a 1-2 foot bush speckled with flowers a little bit towards the amethyst side of blue.

browillia americana

Browallia americana with just a few tasteful selected marigolds.

A sort-of annual for me which sometimes returns from the roots is the borderline weedy Datura metel (aka moonflower).  In good fertile soil it makes a large shrub which in the evening sports pure white, upward facing trumpet flowers.  Some people call them angel trumpets, but that’s incorrect.  Angels trumpet come from on high with downward facing blooms and are a different group of flowers (Brugmansia).  These flowers always come from below and Devil’s trumpet is more accurate.  You would think the more heavenly version would be more innocent, but both are extremely poisonous and there are deaths from this plant each year.  I remember my mother evicting them from the garden one summer when she found out.  I know she told us all how poisonous they were but still I was disappointed to lose them from the garden.  I’m surprised she hasn’t questioned my parenting skills since seeing it in bloom here, but I guess there are always plenty of other questionable goings on which take precedence.

datura metel

Devil’s trumpet (Datura metel) announcing an unwelcome arrival in the vegetable garden.

But there I go babbling again.  As long as we’re in the vegetable garden, let me celebrate the pumpkins which have come on strong now that the sunflower thicket has died off from some likely disease.  All this took were a handful of seeds ripped from the heart of last year’s halloween decorations.

pumpkin patch

Now that the sunflowers have died off it looks like the backup plan of pumpkins and glass gem corn might just work out.  I love pumpkins and gourds, maybe that’s all I’ll grow next year.

The deck plantings are almost all just annual plantings which aim for all season interest.  A drip irrigation system on a timer, a handful of slow release fertilizer, and this becomes one of my least-labor intensive parts of the garden… once it’s planted and set up of course…

prince tut papyrus

The ‘Prince Tut’ water garden is ok.  Goldfish have hopefully made a meal of any mosquitos, but a lack of fertilizer has left the papyrus healthy but a little yellowish in my opinion.

I tried for more foliage color this year but still ended up with a few curious flowers here and there.  The firecracker plant (cuphea) was a Proven Winners thing that I’ve heard good things about, and here it is three months later still looking good.

cuphea firecracker plant

Cuphea (firecracker plant) and some purple leaved oxalis.  Both have been nonstop color and trouble-free from the day they were planted.  

My popcorn plant (Senna… Cassia…  corymbosa)?  Still awesome 🙂  I was even able to get a few seeds to set, although it did seem to interfere with the flowering for a few weeks.

cassia popcorn plant

The yellow popcorn plant, coleus, purple fountain grass (pennesutum), oleander, and a bunch of other non-hardy stuff.

I’ve had that pink oleander for a few years now and was sure I killed it in the garage last winter.  It eventually managed to come back, but the sparse branches were just calling out for a vine to cover them up.  Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) to the rescue!

black eyed susan vine thunbergia

Black eyed Susan vine on the oleander.  I would agree with the label “cringe-worthy color combo”, so don’t go thinking I have some undiagnosed color blindness that you need to tiptoe around…

The containers at the back end of the deck have officially taken over.  The yellow coleus is my one new one for this year, the rest of the mess were just little overwintered sprigs and roots which I put out in May.

deck plantings coleus

The coleus really should have been pinched back a few more times.  They’re bushy enough, but even I can see they’re just a little too big.

Oh yeah.  The tropical garden.  Almost all just annual plantings, and almost all only just a little past peak now 🙂

elephant ears and canna

I didn’t think elephant ears could reach six feet tall but between nonstop rain and a good mulch of grass clippings they and the cannas do seem happy.  

So thankfully the garden is still filled with a few exciting things other than the new snowdrops I’ve been planting… oops, there I go mentioning snowdrops again…

Hope your weekend is filled with plenty of more interesting things to do rather than hauling off the tired remains of last summer.  If it is, next summer suck it up, plant some decent annuals, and enjoy the slow crumbling of summer into winter which others fondly refer to as autumn.  “Friends don’t let friends plant annuals” is only a guideline, I’m sure it refers to flats of wax begonias in one or two insipid colors and not to the range of much more exciting late season things that you have to remember next year.  I’ll try to remind you  😉

Deck Season

I’m about done with this gardening thing, it’s just so much work!

deck container planters

The deck awaits.  Cool drinks, evening sunsets, it all sounds so much better than slaving away in the garden.

We have yet to hit our traditional summertime combo of brutally high temperatures and endless rainless weeks, and for once it seems our climate has decided to make it easy on the garden and gardener.  The garden has been enjoying excellent growing weather and perfect transplanting conditions, and I think I’ve done more this year than ever to shape up the yard.  The deck has been no exception.  Overwintered tropicals came out of their garage storage earlier than ever and containers were put together way before the usual Memorial Day rush.  I like the way it came out this year (which was not the case last summer).

deck container planters

My biggest splurge this year, a blue sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) which I snapped up the minute I saw it.  I was hoping it would take over this whole corner of the deck but for now it’s more intent on sending out more and more of its beautiful flowers.  At least the self-sown petunias on the left make a nice color compliment.

In my opinion the whole point of annuals is you can try something completely different each year, enjoy an entire season of noncommittal color, and then count on winter to completely clean the slate for next season.  For the most part I started with a clean slate, but this year I tried to bring in a few new things rather than just sit in the rut I felt like I’d been settling in to.

deck container planters

Calibrachoas will always earn a spot in the deck containers because of their unending bloom.  As long as the tobacco budworms hold off on their late season attack and I get a little fertilizer on them, they’ll keep going like this for weeks!

My ‘ outside the box’ move didn’t last much longer than putting down the traditional purple fountain grasses and substituting with a couple new coleus.  Lots more foliage this year rather than flowers, but for the most part, since I overwinter so many plants, I’m bound to always be stuck in at least some part of the box.

deck container planters

If there was a color theme this year it was orange and purple… sort of… I’m never much good at sticking to a theme, plus I’m always far too easy on the self-sown annuals which show up, such as the pink petunias and red snapdragons in the back.

Cannas and coleus are back this year and doing great.  The coleus were all new purchases made to replace those I was too lazy to bring in last fall.  Lesson learned with that but now I’ll have to make all new decisions on which ones to take in when frost threatens.  Experience shows it will be all of them 🙂

deck container planters

The far corner of the deck.  The cannas are just starting, coleus are already too big, the Virginia creeper is creeping over from the other wall, and who would have thought I’d like white salvia?

Since May the plan has been to re-do some of the unfinished ends of the deck.  You know how the goes.  As of July 11th there’s been no action, which isn’t world ending, but it does mean I haven’t yet hooked up the drip lines which should go to each planted container.  The regular rains have been my savior but as things grow that won’t last.  I need to get things going!

deck container planters

A little bit of a mess here but the succulents and cacti are enjoying the regular rain.  Usually they get nothing but disrespect from me and are lucky to get a haphazard splash from the hose once a month… I wonder if I need a new cactus… I’ve been good all spring 🙂

By all estimates I have about another week left in me before I throw in the towel on whatever projects didn’t get done this year.  All work and no play is making me an extremely dull gardener and summer is too short for dullness.

Gotta go, weeds await!

The containers. Meh.

Planting the deck always starts out innocently enough but then degenerates into a huge project.  This year was no different in that respect, and to even get started with the ritual power washing all the winter debris of kid-play and kitchen remodel-scraps had to be dragged off first.

deck cleaning

The entire covered part of the deck is filled with debris and scaffolding in addition to the furniture and terracotta pots which need to be stored under cover for winter (they’ll crack if they freeze while still wet and filled with wet soil).  btw the dark gray object is the old kitchen sink, so even that is out here…

So hauling off trash is the first project, then the cleaning, then the decision that all the mishmash of geriatric plastic planters should match, so off for a paintbrush and some leftover paint.

painting plastic containers

No more black nursery pots, or old teal and faded gray, all the plastic was painted with my trusty mocha-tinted, all surface Sherwin Williams paint.

Our last frost date is around the 15th of May, but most planting jobs are usually procrastinated way beyond that.  This year the big deck planting was pushed off until June 8th, which meant a lot of sitting around for the earliest purchases but it also meant clearance sales were in full swing.

container planting

I tend to spread out while setting the deck up.  There’s a mess everywhere 🙂

So this is where the ‘meh’ comes in, and since the weather is kind of ‘meh’ today as well it might be the best day to discuss…  I usually go out with little to no idea or plan and as a result come home with whatever catches my eye.  Usually it works out, but this year I just feel like something’s missing.  Maybe I need yellow, maybe it’s the lack of sweet potato vines, maybe there’s too much red, maybe it’s the pink… I’m not much of a ‘pink’ person.

deck container plantings

One purple fountain grass is nice, three might have been overkill, still the rosemary enjoyed its division and replanting, and most other plantings are hanging in there.  You may notice my amaryllis bulbs tucked in here and there.  The strappy leaves don’t look half bad in my opinion.

I should be giving things a nice liquid feeding each week and part of the ‘meh’ might be that things are underfed.  A rich diet for these flashy annuals is what they thrive on, and upon thinking back it’s possible I’ve missed four out of the last five feedings.  As usual I’m my own worst enemy.

balcony flowers

I do like how the creepers, in this case cascading geraniums (pelargoniums), work their way through the railing.  They’re very popular with the hummingbirds even if the color might be a little too orangey for the companion plantings.

Some other disappointments have been the underperforming vines.  My three little babies, the Chilean Glory vines (Eccremocarpus scaber) did not take off as planned.  Apparently they are foolproof but this fool will challenge that label since my plants (nurtured along from tiny seedlings) made a go at it but then died off one by one.  I did get to see one single bloom cluster of amazing little orange lipstick tubes of color but that was it, and I think if I was brave enough to beat back the grasses, I would find my last glory vine has also passed over.  That’s too bad but I’m already excited to grow this plant again next year since I’m sure things will go differently even if I do everything exactly the same… but in the meantime at least my snapdragon vine (Asarina scandens) is coming along.

snapdragon vine Asarina Scandens

Snapdragon vine (Asarina Scandens) growing up into the purple fountain grass.  At least this one has been a forgiving grower and easy bloomer.

While many of the plantings leave me uninspired, a few things are doing great.  The oleander and overgrown spikes are back for another year and the canna ‘cannaova rose’ is again putting on a nice show.  The canna just hit a lull (probably lack of fertilizer induced) but I’m sure will return to glory shortly and I’ve divided last year’s roots up between a few spots so it’s likely you’ll see these showing up elsewhere as well.

dracenea spike

Those little dracaena spikes which show up in nearly every pre-made container planting seem to turn into something a little more interesting given a few years of growth.  My goal is to have a small grove of these some day soon 🙂

There are a few new things this year which did beat the ‘meh-ness’.  Gazania are a plant which although they don’t grow consistently for me, do look great when they feel like it.

annual gazania

The unusual colors of Gazania really don’t blend well with any look I’m going for but who cares, they just look cool when opened up for the sun. (just keep in mind that they close when the sun goes away…)

By the way I forgot about the elephant ears and the new crape myrtle, both of which are not ‘meh’.  The two are just soaking up the rain and heat and humidity and picking up where the petunias and million bells drop off, but before I begin to sound too positive let me point two things out.  First I have too much red, and since the obviously red myrtle was labeled purple I’m innocent there.  Second there’s a plant missing out of the small terra cotta pot in the front of the photo.  There’s a cute little b***ard chipmunk who decided it would be fun to end my three year relationship with a slowly growing clump of lithops (living stones).  After a few days searching I found the chewed up corpse under a nearby shrub.  Time will tell if the shriveled bits can recover, my only hope is that they were poisonous.

deck container plantings

Blood red crape myrtle and geraniums, pink ‘bubblegum’ petunias, elephant ear (Alocasia calidora?)… an ‘interesting’ look I suppose.

I still need to mention the digiplexis which just came into bloom this week.  It’s a inter-species cross between a foxglove (digitalis) and an Isoplexis (Canary Island foxglove) and when it first hit the market in 2012 it immediately went on to many ‘must have’ lists.  My must have list is always a few years behind but I was finally able to try it out this year when I found it for a reasonable price.

digiplexis

Digiplexis ‘Canary Berry?’.  It’s nice enough but I’m not overwhelmed yet.  It’s one of the foxgloves, and I love a nice foxglove, but this non-hardy version might be something left for those everything-grows-for-me San Francisco gardeners who have super mild winters and cool nights which bring on stronger colors.

So there’s good and not-so-good out there and to be honest no matter how it looks it always beats the deck in January.  January seems to keep all gardening outcomes in perspective and as I check things out every day and multiple times a day I’m still happy with it.  Now if only I could get out there and fertilize, but the lawn needs mowing too and I’m not doing both until things cool off a bit.

The garden of memory

I used to be a balcony gardener.  After a stint in Texas my next job took me back to the Northeast, and rather than commit to a house I opted for an apartment.  My choices were narrowed down to a roomy bachelor pad with an excellent nighttime view of the city lights or a smaller two bedroom apartment in a quiet residential area.  I chose the quiet life.  My choice was partly because it was half the rent, but mostly because of the small balcony which came off the kitchen and overlooked the side yard.  I knew I needed a spot in the sun but just wasn’t ready to buy and didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of someone else’s yard again.  Who would have thought my stay would last over three years, and who would have suspected I could fit so much more than just the grill and a few chairs.

balcony garden

Does a gardener live here?

By the third summer things were completely out of hand.  I tend to like fast growers and big leaves and none of those are a logical fit with a small balcony… but what the heck, I usually just grow things because I can and not for any well thought out plan or agenda.  A rooted cutting turns into a butterfly bush, a trip down south adds a banana, a clearance sale brings in a staghorn sumac.  Things add up quickly, but mercifully winter would usually wipe the slate clean.  Plants have a hard time overwintering on an exposed, second floor balcony.

pink caladium tropical plants

These caladiums went out for the summer and came in for the winter for three years straight without a problem.  Nine years since moving and I’ve killed more than I care to admit.

If there was any secret to how my garden grows it was the drip irrigation which snaked out from the laundry, slipped between sashes of the window, and clicked on every 8 hours and saved me from the boredom of daily watering.   With the automated watering my plants were also saved from the almost certain neglected death due to a weekend away at the shore, a week traveling for work, or that gardener’s nightmare of a two week midsummer vacation.  No returning home to fried and dead plants for me!

Strangely enough my landlord never questioned the green tsunami which overwhelmed my small balcony, and we all ended up becoming good friends.  Coincidence that he and his wife ran a landscaping business?  Who knows.

tropical container plants

One chair. I guess this did turn into my bachelor pad after all, and with just enough room for a seat this became my preferred spot for a summer book and a icy cold beverage.  There’s a grill in there as well, I guess it goes without saying that for a couple months each year it was out of service.

Eventually it became time to move on and the balcony garden was traded in for the next adventure.  There’s an actual yard involved in this one but as usual delusions of grandeur made for a bumpy road.  Live and learn I guess 🙂

Hope your winter is going well.  It’s set to get warmer again this weekend and with snow melting almost as fast as it came my spring fever will be worse than ever.  I’ve been sowing seeds again and a sensible person would have stopped this nonsense a few dozen packets ago.

Stop it with the autumn talk

Many people enjoy and claim they welcome the coming of autumn.   I want to make it clear that I do not, and although the last few days have been a little too hot and dry for my taste, I would much prefer the relief of a summertime cloudburst rather than any farewell to summer eulogy.  So I guess what I want is just a few more days of denial before I’m forced to admit the season is breaking down.

hardy chrysanthemums

The tomatoes of summer are still going strong even with their new neighbors the fall chrysanthemums.

After a promising start to the summer August went dry and for the past forty days we’ve barely cracked the 1/4 inch mark for rainfall.  With high temperatures, thin soil, drying winds, and full sun the life was sucked out of a garden which had been almost carefree at the start of the summer.  With a nice rain today we’ll see how fast things bounce back.  My guess is it will be a much faster turnaround than the last two summers when things REALLY dried out to a crisp.

fall vegetable gardening

One patch of watered soil ready for fall planting. Hopefully cool weather will soon allow for a few broccoli and cauliflower transplants.

In spite of the heat a few things still look nice.  The tropical garden got a few minutes with the hose, and that seems to have been enough to keep it from death.  I love the colors right now with the purple verbena bonariensis, dark red dahlias, and peach colored salvia splendens filling the bed.

salvia splendens van houttei peach

A little orange from ‘Tropicanna’ canna goes a long way in brightening up the late summer salvia, verbena and dahlias.

With the grass dried up to a crispy beige the stronger reds, oranges, and purples really stand out.  I don’t think a bed full of lavenders, whites, and pale pinks would be as eye catching…. which I’m going to say is a good thing, since in this world of gray and tan I can use as much eye catching and hold-on-to-life color as I can get!

dahlia mathew alan

End of summer color from dahlia ‘Mathew Alan’.  As usual the dahlias could use some dead heading.

Even up front a little bold color is a nice thing.  The border along the house foundation has a few spots of color from the ‘Masquerade’ peppers I planted out this spring.  The true type has purple peppers changing to yellow, orange, and red while a few oddball plants started right off with pale yellow and are now going through the same sunset effect.

pepper masquerade

‘Masquerade’ peppers from seed with all the fescue clumps I divided up this spring.  I finally like this bed… but we’ll see how I can mess it up next year 🙂

Along the street is another story.  Even with a few emergency waterings things look end of summer tired.

dry perennial border

To water or not to water, that is the question.  Obviously I chose the latter, but the ‘Karl Forster’ feather reed grass, sedums, and perovskia are still holding on.

I did give the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea a little soaking, but a few water lovers such as the ‘Golden sunshine’ willow will need a good bit of water before they look anything close to happy again.

dry perennial border

I think this border will need a little trimming out of dead things once the rains soak in.  No big deal though, a little fall cleanup will carry it on through the next few months.

There are still a few bright spots.  Even in the harsh midday sun kniphofia ‘Ember Glow’ looks nice.  It could be a little taller but the size actually works well with the peppers and coleus (please ignore the dead rudbeckias and dying zinnias).

kniphofia

Red hot poker (Kniphofia) with peppers and a surprisingly sun and drought resistant coleus.  I wasn’t sure if the poker would ever bloom this year but I guess it’s a later cultivar. 

Until the garden bounces back the best thing to do is spend more time in the shade, seated with cold beverage in hand.  I can ignore the weeds and dead lawn quite successfully on the back deck.

summer planters on the deck

This is a late summer view, not autumn.  I’ll keep that delusion up until the first frosts threaten!

Even with a good soaking the lawnmower will still likely be on vacation for another week or two.  I’m ok with that.  I hope the soil takes in the rain, the plants come back, and I can finally use something other than a pickaxe to dig a hole.  Maybe then I’ll start thinking about things like fall while I’m taking care of a little late summer transplanting and bulb planting 🙂

Legalizing pots

In hindsight I may have gone a bit too far, but last year when my better half suggested we could use a few more plants out on the deck I ran with it.  She’s not known for her appreciation of things chlorophyll so this was unprecedented, and I’m sure you could understand my enthusiasm for encouraging an interest.  For her I thought potted plants were a big no-no, and I’ve found this becomes an even stronger no-no when their planting and repotting takes place on the kitchen table… which is kind of close to the deck table… so perhaps this new interest in the deck plantings was the first step in easing the household ban on pots.

deck container plantings

A few of the planters which were put into service this year on the deck.  This photo might be two weeks old and it’s interesting to see where all the golf balls which I picked up out of the lawn today came from…

Before this garden I used to have quite a pot habit.  The small balcony of my apartment was filled and overflowing with any container I could find and any plant which I thought would be interesting to grow out there, and at one point I was a little worried all the extra weight on my second floor balcony might one day come crashing down.  But it didn’t, and I kept on happily planting until finally purchasing my first home.

wendys wish salvia

Coleus are perfect for containers, but I far prefer the sun-tolerant, slow to bloom, cutting grown plants rather than any strains from seed.  The salvia (Wendy’s Wish) is also doing well enough, but I suspect she would prefer a roomier root-run and not sit in a cramped pot.

When the deck was opened up to planting I scoured all corners of the yard and garage for any container which might still be able to hold a plant.  Many of the old plastic pots from my balcony days came out of retirement and were slid right in next to my pretentious Italian terra cotta and glazed ceramic.  I’ll see if I can do something about that next year, but this year most of the budget went to new potting soil.  Potting soil has been a sticky subject around here since most of them stink, but I found Jobe’s Organics Potting mix and love its price and quality.  It’s made with quality ingredients, it’s airy and loose, and it’s just what I wanted for filling large planters.

Ipomoea lobata

Slowly but surely the Spanish Flag vine (Ipomoea lobata) is beginning to drape the railing.  It had a late start since this was first a spring pansy planter, and they had to bloom out before I was allowed to squeeze in the vine and grass plant.  The blue salvia self sowed in from last year… thanks mother nature!

I have plenty of favorites which I either overwinter or buy, but this year’s big treat was the Cannova Rose canna which I bought already in bloom and already nearly bursting out of the pot it came in.  It’s only done better since, and if you ignore some leaf damage from Japanese beetles and a few sloppy spent blooms dropped on the deck, it’s my idea of a perfect summer container plant.  This canna is a seed strain and because of that should be virus free, also the breeder claims these plants have been selected to thrive in cooler temperatures, which is another plus for Northerners such as myself.

deck container plantings

Cannova Rose canna.  It keeps sending up new stalks and they keep on blooming.  Between it and its overgrown spike neighbor I don’t know which I like more… although I do like the spikes!

I lost a few of my older spikes (dracaena) last year to a surprise late freeze but I’ve got a few new ones growing along.  The little ones are all over in the spring but what I really like is when they put on a few year’s worth of growth and become these big grassy exclamation points.  They’re relatively easy to overwinter and my goal is a whole patch of them towering over the other plantings 🙂

lantana in container

I need to dig out the label for this lantana.  My daughter picked it out and I reluctantly added it to the cart as I thought about lantana failures in my past.  This one keeps blooming though and never looks bad.  I wish I could say the same for the ‘Troy’s Gold’ plectranthus on the right, it apparently does not like full sun here.

The one pink and gold and lavender corner is dominated by another favorite which I nearly left to die last fall.  In the late spring last year I picked up a clearance oleander, and this summer  it’s really come into its own.  Nonstop bloom on the single pink, but there’s a double in there as well, and that one is always a mess with few blooms open and always a few brown soggy spent flowers hanging from the branches.  I try to ignore it.

oleander in container

Oleander on the deck.  It’s been in bloom since June and I love the bright pink in front of the white railing.

As we go around the deck there’s another favorite which I always end up buying new each spring.  The purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is a pain to overwinter but worth adding new every year for its dark leaves and light airiness of the seedheads.  This year I put it with a new rose and although I paid way too much for the rose, and really questioned the decision to plant it on the deck (mostly due to all the blood it drew while planting), I love the effect.

grass in container with rose

Purple fountain grass with rose ‘Black Forest’, ‘zahara sunburst’ zinnias, and ‘double hot cherry’ zinnia.

Not to name too many favorites but sweet potato vines always show up in my planters.  Some years they cover the deck, some years they hang through the railing, regardless of where they grow I like them and I like them large.  There are dwarf types but for me I far prefer the far-ranging ones like chartreuse ‘Margarita’ or the dark purple ‘Blackie’.

deck container plantings

A scented geranium growing up, a ‘Margarita’ sweet potato hanging down, and New Guinea impatiens filling the pot.  Also making a showing is my newest banana ‘Bordelon’, two weeks in the pot and hopefully on the verge of some nice new leaves and rapid end of summer growth 🙂

I apologize for going on so long,  I’m going to try and be a little less wordy as we go around to the front door plantings.  They’re much less floral, but still a mess of color.

mixed foliage planting

The hellebore and variegated boxwood are in the ground, but everything else is potted…. not that you would know since the planters disappeared a few weeks ago.

I wish I could explain my thinking out front, but it was really just a matter of using up stray coleus cuttings and overwintered tropicals.

mixed foliage planting

This pink coleus is my problem child.  While all the rest are happy growing colorful foliage the pink one insists on forming flowers.  I just keep pinching them out, hoping someday the plant gets the message. 

This unknown to me creeping houseplant threatens to take over the pot as well as the porch.  I’ve had it for a few years now and love the way it bleaches to a bright yellow wherever the sun hits.  Unfortunately if the sun hits it too hard the leaves burn…

cane begonia

Every couple days the begonia needs to be dug out of a yellow landslide.  I suspect there’s at least three pots buried under all this.

The other side of the front entry is also a horticultural tsunami.  Vacationing amaryllis (hippeastrum), a few geraniums, and some on again off again gerber daisies are trying to fend off the looming sunflowers and an uninvited pumpkin.  Serves me right for letting the pumpkins rot on the front steps all last winter, but the new pumpkin forming is almost like a self renewing Halloween decoration!

container plants

The left side of the front entrance walk.  Nothing pretentious about this entry, it’s all a comfortable hodgepodge of color and texture (including mildewed pumpkin leaves).  The lighter, divided leaf is the old (1800) scented geranium ‘Lady Plymouth’.  Obviously I haven’t had it that long…

So after all of the mess at the entry our hanging porch planters are fairly plain.  The asparagus fern gets thrown in the garage each winter, nearly dies by April, and then springs to life once regular watering resumes.  It doesn’t drop faded flowers on the porch, doesn’t mind a week or two of forgotten waterings, and cost me about $1 a piece several years ago.  I appreciate all these strengths yet she who judges doesn’t like these pots at all.  Flowers would be nicer she says.

easy plants for hanging baskets

Asparagus fern, just the kind of hard to kill plant which survives under the shade of the porch, out of the reach of any saving drops of rain.

Now if I replaced the ferns what would I put there?  Maybe she means add more pots all around the porch, that’s probably what was implied, and that might be a good starting point for next year.  Come to think of it she did say she wouldn’t mind even more potted plants out back, and contrary to what I thought, she said it’s not too much back there on the deck.  This of course kind of encourages me to find out what too much is, and it’s these kinds of challenges which fuel your imagination in February.  I did still want to add a small eucalyptus tree after all, just a small one.

GBFD Finishing August

Yesterday was the 22nd, today the 23rd, and by the time this post is finished the date will probably flip on to the 24th, which will make me two full days late in joining Christina in the celebration of Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day.  I’m sure she’s fine with my tardiness but I’m also sure I didn’t want to miss this month’s opportunity to look past flowers and recognize all the contributions foliage makes in the garden.

squash climbing in garden

In the vegetable garden the broad leaves of late planted summer squash threaten to swamp their less edible neighbors. I love how fast they grow in the heat.

I’m a big fan of large leaves and whether they’re squash or cannas or elephant ears, the more enthusiastic a grower the better!  While some plants did not enjoy the recent spell of hot weather, a newer resident of the garden did.

Alocasia Borneo Giant

One of the larger elephant ears, Alocasia ‘Borneo Giant’, is finally putting out some more enthusiastic growth. The leaf is still barely larger than my hand but the giant part of the name gives me hope for the future!

Summer is when I really enjoy the potted plants on the deck.  Not only can they be enjoyed from the window, they can be enjoyed as you walk by, as you sit in a comfy seat, or from below.  It’s as if you’re multitasking your enjoyment!

coleus in deck planters

The rich foliage pattern of this coleus sometimes gets lost in a planting, but against the white railings the colors really come through.

Besides showcasing my favorite plants close up, the deck is also a great place to show off the little things which get lost out in the garden.

potted succulents

Little cacti and succulents which don’t mind a few missed waterings or weekend road trips.  They’re all foliage and make great deck plants… which look even better if the gardener finally repots them into roomier quarters (as I did this spring, although one of this bunch already needs a bigger home).

As I was walking about trying to focus on foliage, I realized this collection at the end of the deck steps doesn’t rely on a single flower to bring in the color.

deck planters

More succulents as well as ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus, ‘purple flash’ pepper, and my belovedly spiny porcupine tomato.

It’s really way past time to do a catch-up post on this year’s deck planters (and hopefully I can come clean soon) but there’s only so much time tonight, and there’s still plenty of other foliage to consider in the garden.  For as exciting as flowers and color are, sometimes the eye needs to rest on a little green.  For me chrysanthemums are a nearly indestructible planting for some of the hotter, dryer, tougher-to-fill spots which could use a soft mound of green.

chrysanthemum foliage

Usually the iris in the back has nothing but sad, browning and yellowing leaves, but this year the rain has been enough to keep it growing strong.  The chrysanthemum on the other hand looks respectable for the entire summer, even when the crabgrass gives up.

Dry sun is bad, but dry shade is worse, and this year I’ve been surprised at how well variegated obedient plant, (Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’) has done.  In moist soil it may spread a little too enthusiastically, but here it seems downright demure, and I wonder if the straight green type would be as restrained.

Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata'

Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’ lighting up the shade.  It’s a dry spot full of maple roots, but the foliage on this plant still looks great.

In my only bit of non-rooty shade I can always count on the calm contrasts of foliage form and color via evergreens and hostas.  Although things are beginning to get crowded here, I won’t mess with this planting until it starts to look desperate.

shade foliage border

Along the porch the hostas cover the spring bulb plantings and dwarf conifers shelter the porch without overwhelming it.  They’re all slow growing plants, but not too long ago I remember being able to easily plant between these shrubs.

The calm of the shade garden is always appreciated in summer, but in sunnier spots August means flowers, and I do try for plenty of that as well.  Even with all the flowers though, a good foliage background can make a world of difference.

cannas and dahlias

The rich red flowers of dahlia ‘Mathew Allen’ set off even brighter next to the solid mass of the red-leaved cannas.   

I’m all for the masses of flowers but you sometimes need a rest here and there and a mass of foliage can be just the ticket.  For next year I’m already nursing along a few new bananas and elephant ears and I think things will look a little different in this border.  If worse comes to worse though I can always replant sunflowers 🙂

cannas and sunflowers

More cannas trying to keep their chin up against the tide of sunflowers which still swirls around the tropical garden.  In my opinion this bed could have used a few more masses of foliage to balance out all the bloom. 

So there are some August musings on foliage from my neck of the woods.  If you’d like to dabble a little deeper give Creating my own garden of the Hesperides a visit.  Each month on the 22nd Christina provides the platform there to host a foliage review, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed by the foliage musings of bloggers from around the world!

GBFD September – out with the old

Each month Christina at Creating my own Garden of the Hesperides asks us to focus on the foliage backdrop which fills any garden display.  Christina has a subtle blend of foliage form and foliage color in her (usually) warm, sunny, and windswept Italian paradise.  My garden is not so subtle, and the (usually) reliable rains and humidity give me a completely different plant palette to work with.  With frost only a few days away (anytime from early to mid October) I wanted to take a last look at the gaudy tropicals and annuals before they become a soggy frozen mess…. and then in with the new season!

coleus 'limon blush'

Coleus ‘Limon Blush’ with a few late season delphiniums and cane begonia.

This might be the first year I didn’t buy any new coleus.  I wonder if I’m moving out of that phase….

yellow sun coleus

An unidentified yellow “sun” coleus. In full sun it bleaches to a pale yellow, in shade it will stay a chartreuse color.

It wasn’t too long ago that I filled the late winter windowsills with pots of rooted coleus cuttings.  From October to March the snow refuges would sit in a glass of water, but in early March I’d pot them up and start the production line of clipping off even the smallest shoot for rooting.  By May and June I’d have dozens of plants for the garden.

rooted coleus cuttings

Rooted coleus cuttings in June

It’s easy enough, but there’s only so much room for them to grow on and if my interests take me elsewhere….

coleus 'Alabama sunset'

Coleus ‘Alabama sunset’ and a dark leaved (something with Lava in the name) coleus which have been with me since the old house (8 years ago?)

I’m sure I’ll save plenty again, they’re no fuss, tolerate drying out and add such bright color….. it just depresses me a little thinking about taking cuttings and ending the season.  But for a few more weeks the foliage will continue to do a good job of creating patches of brightness in the borders.

IMG_4865

Without the aging sunflower stalks, the front foundation planting looks much neater. Coleus “Redhead” fits nicely into a color scheme which I’ll pretend was planted intentionally here, and mums and sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ echo the coleus and compliment the blue fescue.

I don’t know how this will go over, but I’m going to confess to being a coleus thief.  To the embarrassment and disgust of my wife I’ve been known to nip a cutting here and there when I linger too close to particularly nice municipal plantings.  I try to rationalize my way out of the theft by looking at the damage done by unwatched children and careless pedestrians, but I guess it’s theft nonetheless even if park employees have laughed at me for asking permission or have pulled off way more than I even wanted when aiding and abetting.  Just for the record I would never do this in a nursery!

yellow cutleaf coleus

I like to call this yellow cutleaf coleus “Entrance to Epcot”

There seems to be a heavy criminal theme to my posts lately.  I suppose that’s what happens when your workplace is closed for nearly a week as authorities mount a massive manhunt in the surrounding woods and residential areas.

coleus in pot

This coleus likes a little more shade than the others, although it can handle full sun too. I call it “Hershey Park”.

The subject of ownership of living things is a lot more than I want to get into in a foliage post, but I’ve seen plenty of tempers flare over the subject.  I hope my rare coleus clipping has never caused anything worse than additional branching of the plant, but I know the argument well which starts with “what if everyone did it…” and I know there are cases where nicked cuttings do cause damage.  I envy the people who live in such a simple black and white world.  I wonder if they return the piles of autumn leaves which blow into their yards each fall, or bring back the dead limbs which happen to fall over the fence.

rhus typhina 'tiger eyes'

The Virginia creeper and wild asters were ‘gifts’ from next door. I don’t think I’ll return them, they look nice here with the ‘tiger eyes’ sumac.

Next month will have a show of autumn colors and the coleus will be gone.  I’ll miss them but would never give up the changes in seasons.  Fortunately there will be plenty of perennials and shrubs to pick up the foliage-slack.

autumn color on Virginia creeper

The Virginia creeper was just starting to color on Saturday and this morning I see the color’s spread across the wall.

Some perennials which I’m looking forward to seeing change are my new-this-year heucheras.  The cooler nights are already bringing out new patterns on the leaves.

mixed heuchera planting

We will see who does the best in this mixed heuchera planting. The gaps are already widening as other plants (mainly primulas) die back or die out….

To round out the post, here’s the weedy iris bed which was the recipient of all that thick and rich (and smelly) lawn clipping mulch last week.  I’m going to try my best to plant nothing here until the weeds are under control…. except for a few daffodils and transplanted iris 🙂

Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ might be too tall a grass for here, but at 8 feet tall and several feet wide I’m not too keen on moving it. (plus I do like my tall plants!) -and notice the shop-vac. The gnats drive me nuts this time of year, and I get remarkable pleasure in sucking them out of the air with the vacuum!

Ok, moving along.  Here are the last bits of foliage which will be gone from the garden in another couple weeks.

alocasia "calidora"

Alocasia “calidora”… just when I was getting tired of lugging it in and out each spring it explodes into leafy greatness. This year I’ll just wheel it into the garage, stop watering, and clip off the dead leaves as they yellow.

…and another pot for the garage.  After suffering all winter and spring in their cramped clearance sale pots, this purple dracaena and fuzzy leaved succulent have finally found a home.  Hopefully they can handle each other’s watering requirements.

succulents and purple dracaena

I think the relief of actually being in a real pot has made this succulent happy enough to throw off a few blooms. I have the name somewhere, but love the foliage mix and bright flowers just as much without a name!

So that rounds out the end of summer foliage news.  Much is set to expire, but the colder weather should bring a whole new set of players.  If you can, take the time to visit Christina’s blog and check out what other bloggers around the world are finding in their own gardens.  Enjoy your Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day and have a great week!

Cook’s Treat!

A friend of mine likes to use the term “Cook’s Treat”.  I think he picked it up from Nigella Lawson’s cooking show, and likes to call out the phrase whenever he snaps up a particularly tasty leftover trimming or yummy browned crust.  The cook’s the one doing all the work, shouldn’t they get a break now and then?

Now my interpretation of “Cook’s Treat” is more like taking a swig of wine when I pass it to my wife for the shrimp scampi pan, so my version is a little different….. but why not try using it all over the place?  I’ve been tiling in the basement this summer, so how about a “tiler’s treat”?

new chocolate colored terra cotta pots

“Cook’s Treat” was called a few times on trips to the DIY store. Clearance sales, new pots, and irresistible plants all helped make lugging 75lb boxes of tile tolerable.

On yet another trip for mortar and grout I stopped in at a local store which specializes in liquidating odds and ends from other retailers.  Last year this store got in a load of pottery which included some chocolatey colored Italian terra cotta.  I carefully (and frugally) bought only two pots at that time.  On this visit I had my fingers crossed for an end of year sale, and almost let out an un-manly squeal when I saw 40% off.  Four more nice sized pots for just under $7 each and some $2.50 bags of potting soil came home.  The money I saved went towards an emergency nursery stop, and I picked up a dusty pink cape fuchsia (phygelius), purple aeonium, and a variegated hebe.  They were not on sale, but still a bargain compared to all the time and money spent on the stupid tile.

container plants for deck

You see deck flowers here, I see pots from last year and about five new pots which will all either have to come indoors or find some other safe spot for the winter.

New pots are becoming a problem.  The terra cotta and glazed ceramic that I hated when younger are now irresistible and I’m always bringing home another one or two.  I wish I had access to fancier ones (and could afford them) but for now the Depot and Lowes are nice and convenient.

blooming cactus

The cactus and succulent need a nice heavy pot to keep from tipping over, plus unlike plastic the terra cotta breathes, and even when overwatered the roots still get enough air to not mind.

Just how bad it’s become will only really show up in another few weeks when I need to find wintering spots for them all.  Even if I don’t bother and let the plants freeze and die, the clay pots can’t.  They’re porous and absorb water and when that water freezes and expands inside the clay it will likely crack the pots.

miscanthus in pots

The miscanthus divisions from this spring have grown huge, and although they are planted in red plastic pots which can be left out all winter without being damaged, the plants will die when winter hits.  In pots, exposed out on a deck, plants generally lose about two hardiness zones.

Not everything is in fancy terra cotta.  This pot features a struggling pitcher plant which is the focal point of my exciting new bog garden.  Although there were a lot of complaints when certain family members discovered their ‘favorite popcorn tub’ was the only container I could find without drain holes, I think it’s working out fine.  I just wanted to add that things would be much greener if it didn’t dry out completely when I took the kids on a long weekend visit to my parents.  Apparently someone here thought the weak rain we had would be enough to keep it alive…. regardless of the explicit watering instructions I left for this one little pot!

container bog with pitcher plant

Rather than bear the label of “too cheap to buy a real pot” I’d like to think of this as recycling, or upcycling one of the many disposable plastic things children generate.

….and there are still plenty of cyclamen in pots.  For as much as I try, new ones keep showing up!

hardy cyclamen sprouting in the fall

Aren’t they the coolest little things? The cyclamen in pots always seem to sprout earlier than the ones in the ground….. and no, I didn’t spend $12 dollars on the empty pot, it’s just a second label to remind me this one comes back in under lights for the winter.

Thankfully I don’t grow any colchicums in pots.  This is a new favorite from ‘Daffodils and More’ and makes a nice start to the season.

colchicum "Disraeli"

colchicum “Disraeli”

I’ll probably have to make a full disclosure of pot purchases soon enough.  This is only the tip of the iceberg.  Things will look much worse when I start staging them all together to bring them inside 🙂

Catching up with summer

I always admire other gardeners who seem to throw things together and they work out perfectly.  A list, a trip to a store or two,  a few hours of work, and voila!  You’re ready to relax and move on to something more entertaining.  My projects never, never,  ever work out like that.  I start something innocently enough and before you know it a budget is blown, there are walls missing from the house, or you’ve been for a visit to the emergency room.

refinishing a table

Wax on, wax off. This tabletop has seen better days.

So here’s this year’s deck saga.   You give it a good cleaning, plant up a few pots and warm up the grill for dinner, right?  Not in my lucky world.  As you get ready to pressure wash you notice the kid’s craft table is looking a bit worse for wear and really should be cleaned up before the next waterpaint session.  Out comes the sander and varnish.

Once the table is all spiffy, the pressure washing commences.  The clean looks great, but it makes you realize how abused and dirty the vinyl siding is under the covered portion of the deck.  So off it comes.  You’ve been wanting to replace it with wood paneling and now that the table is looking nice again…..

wood paneling for a covered porch

The succulents will look so much better when this is done… and the wasp nest is removed from the outlet box… and the rusted broken light fixture replaced….

The woodwork should only take a few days, but then I might as well paint the rocking chairs saved from the dumpster, and I need to plant a few of the annuals so they don’t die waiting for their deck planters.

painted porch siding

As long as you’re redoing the siding, a pair of ceiling fans sure would be nice….

calibrachoa seedlings

A pot crowded with calibrachoa seedlings. I’ve never had reseeding with these before so I’m curious to see how they turn out… these are just four spoonfuls of seedlings out of the hundreds that came up!

Not to change the subject (as if I could stay focused long enough to finish something anyway), while the renovation is going on I still need to get the annuals planted in the deck pots.  Of course this is the year everything reseeded.  One pot is full of blue salvia seedlings, another is packed with red snapdragons, and a third has hundreds of baby calibrachoa.  They all need moving off to find new homes.

Once the planters are vacant (mostly) I decide I really need some tall miscanthus in the big planters.  Mine hasn’t quite recovered from the winter, but a quick phone call finds a friend across town who can spare a few wedges out of his clump.  So off for that.

And the weeks go on.  Finally the porch and deck are finished and the new plantings are filling in.

covered porch with new wicker furniture

All set for fireworks viewing on the fourth of July, but all I could think about were the agaves and succulents in need of repotting.

I really like calibrachoa on the deck.  They bloom constantly and don’t get the little inchworms in the blooms like petunias do.  These were all purchased plants, luckily by the time I got to the nursery it was so late in the season they were all marked down!

deck planters

Calibrachoas filling in a few of the deck pots.

This year I plunked down the money for a nice mandevilla.  It’s not my favorite “Alice DuPont”, but after complete failure with Alice last year, it was time for a change, and this one is filling in nicely.  I suspect last year’s vine (purchased from a box store) had been chemically treated to bloom nicely in the pot.  It produced blooms all summer but never grew an inch (which defeated the purpose of growing a vine), and I suspect it’s from the blooming hormone cocktail it received before it got to me.

mandevilla vine on bamboo stakes

Mandevilla growing up bamboo stakes on the deck. White vinyl fencing and construction out back complete the picture 🙂

I managed to squeeze a bunch of the miscanthus into this pot, and although temperatures shot up to the 9o’s (32C) two days after its division the grass recovered nicely.  All the red was kind of a surprise though.   The snapdragons came in on their own (and all bloomed in reds) and the calibrachoa really clumped up, and the overall effect is growing on me.  I like it even more with the chartreuse leaves of the sweet potato.

red calibrachoa and snapdragons

Chartreuse sweet potato vine, red calibrachoa, miscanthus grass, and red snapdragons (with a little plug of blue scaveola).

I’m really glad I just left the snapdragon seedlings, they took off once the pots started getting regular water and feedings, and I love the color.   Now snapdragons are showing up in a second pot which was supposed to have just a single miscanthus in it.  I had pulled all the extra snapdragon seedlings out of it, but with determination like that I guess I’ll have to let them stay now.

red snapdragons in a container

Another gratuitous photo of red 🙂

Fortunately the succulent pots are more subdued.  They’re calming things down a bit as well as the other survivor from last summer, the rosemary.

pencil succulent on deck

I’m developing a little bit of a terracotta habit, I blame the cacti and succulents for it.

So finally I’m done cleaning the deck.  The covered part has become a nice little retreat made all the more cozy (in my opinion at least) by the Virginia creeper which has brought the garden up to the porch edges.  Maybe next year I’ll work out some kind of trellising system so that the creeper can climb higher and then hang down as a sort of curtain.  I like the idea, but that’s another project!

 

porch with virginia creper

The view o the porch from the garden. The creeper was never planned, but once it started growing up I welcomed it. With access from both the top and bottom it’s easy to keep an eye on it.

Now I just have to decide what to do with the geraniums.  All the time at the DIY store and I figured I might as well pick up a few new pots….. and then find some dark chocolate paint to tone down the orange…. and then divide up all the overwintered geraniums (and maybe add a new one or two) to fill the pots.  And come to think of it I should probably finish off those steps too, and the deck supports would look a lot nicer wrapped in brick…..

potted geraniums

Why am I collecting geraniums? They overwintered a bit too well from last year and who am I to hold that against them.

I hope your summer projects are coming along at a faster pace than mine do!  With the way they move I tend to think nothing gets finished around here, so as the temperatures rise I might take a break and do a few recaps to see where things are going.