White is a Cooling Color

A friend of mine seems able to pick a color of the day any day and then post a collage of blooms right out of the garden to celebrate.  Me on the other hand, I’m far from there but on a day like today when the garden bakes under a hot sun, anything which might lower the temperature is fair game.  They say adding white flowers to a garden can cool a hot palette but as I trudged around the garden in 97F(36C) afternoon sun I’m not sure it mattered.  We’ll give it a try though since the only truly cool white would have been snow, and it will take months of heat before I wish that on anyone 😉

stewartia flower

**full disclosure I took this photo a week ago and the blooms on the Stewartia are no longer this fresh looking, but to look at it now?  Ahhhhhhh 🙂

Heat and cicadas, that would have been a nicely mid-Atlantic June day, but as of yet I haven’t seen more than a few wings and munched torsos.  Maybe a road trip is due?  The younger child (now nearly a full month into her teens) says yes, and the first flowers of the Regal lily “smell like Longwood”.

lilium regale

These Regal lilies (Lilium regale) were mush from a late frost last year, and sat dormant from April on… but guess who returned from the dead this year!

I’d be happy with just a break from lawn mowing, and this heat should do the trick.  My neighbors are looking at mostly brown already since they’re more gung-ho about their grass knowing its place and it’s height, but here I give it a little more freedom as the temperatures rise and the sun beats down.  Longer grass withstands both the heat and drought better and recovers faster when the weather breaks, and I’m sure when that break comes and temperature drop with a rain shower or two there will be plenty of time for me to catch up on my love of lawn maintenance.

white clover lawn

A flurry of white across the lawn, thanks to the liberal growth of white clover.  A good bee plant most will say, but honestly there’s plenty of other stuff around which they also seem quite thrilled over.

I think cooling white counts even if it’s on the gray side.

mammillaria plumosa

I believe this is Mammillaria plumosa.  Each year it stretches a little further and now another pot will be required.  Any bigger and it won’t fit on the porch steps anymore.  

I was lukewarm to the dusty miller(Jacobaea maritima) which went in as an annual last summer but I quite like the bushier perennial version which returned this spring.  If the summer stays dry and the border doesn’t get too lush and crowded I think it will do well all season.

dusty miller flower

Unimpressive flowers on the dusty miller.  

Gray foliage but on a much less soft and felty side would be the Scotch thistle.  This will probably be the last photo of this weed which I subject you to, but fair warning: the Cardoon has yet to bloom, and that’s another weedy thistle which I think is just wonderful and I can’t hide my excitement over 🙂

scotch thistle

Scotch thistle against a cloudless sky.  I had to point up since this plant is well over my head by now.

Gray foliage doesn’t have much in the way of scent, but the Phlox paniculata is starting and that has an excellent summer fragrance.  I will avoid complaining about how ungrateful they seem this year, as they’re growing poorly enough that you wouldn’t suspect I transplanted and fertilized, but sometimes you have to give a favorite plant some leeway… unless of course it gets demoted to a former-favorite plant… that would be something which such an ungrateful plant might deserve but then who knows what July will bring.

midsummer white phlox

‘Midsummer White’ garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is the garden’s first tall phlox to flower.

Weeds and wildflowers are never ungrateful.  Overly enthusiastic maybe but you never have to beg them to grow.

erigeron annuus daisy fleabane

A favorite weed, daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) can usually be counted on to sprout up when needed. 

Sometimes you don’t even have to water them.  Actually watering weeds is a crazy idea… unless it’s fleabane or larkspur.  Both might be worth a little spray to get them over a hump.

white larkspur

It looks white, but here the larkspurs all tend to be an icy white with a drop of blue or gray in it.  Kind of a skim milk shade of white rather than titanium white.

Here I go talking about weeds again.  One more though.  Common yarrow has shown up in a few spots in the meadow and I wonder how these seeds find their way.

achillea millefolium common yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) laughs at heat and drought.  I think everything around it will shrivel up and die before you see anything more than a few leaves wilt.

White flowers in a dry meadow won’t cool anyone, but maybe the patch of variegated giant reed grass out front can help.  For months I’ve been saying someone ought to chop out some of the clump, since it really is too big, but it appears the message fell on deaf ears and it’s just as big (actually bigger) than last year.  Probably too big.  Alas.

verbena arundo donax

I’m not saying I judge my neighbors for not asking if I can spare a division, but the giant reed grass (Arundo donax ‘variegata’) is pretty awesome and only gets better as it climbs to 10 feet and more by the end of the season.

It’s way too hot to be out there in the blazing sun hacking inch thick, strong as steel grass rhizomes so that’s one more year for the grass to root in deeper and spread further.  Maybe next year, right?  Shade is a much better option.  White hydrangeas in a dappled shade both looks and sounds cool.

annabelle hydrangea

‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea arborescens is the hydrangea to grow if you want a foolproof every-year-its-a-show kind of hydrangea.  Newer hybrids?  Other species?  Help yourself, I’m just fine with this.

Hostas also make the shade even cooler and many people know this.  Some go to extremes.  I only dabble.

hosta montana aureomarginata

Hosta montana aureomarginata, an oldie but goodie in my opinion.  

There’s another kind of foliage plant which I plan on going overboard with this year.  Caladiums.  I forget how much I’ve already revealed about ‘2021 the year of the caladium’ but it’s going to be big.  Not the empty kind of ‘big’ or ‘huge’ or ‘better than you can imagine’ that politicians have promised in the past, but a big five pound box of mixed tubers which was potted up weeks ago and is now soaking up the heat and starting to grow.  As you know, it’s not often I get excited about a new plant, but waiting for each leaf to unfurl is like waiting for a new plant to unfurl a new leaf and I just can’t think of anything more exciting than that.

sprouting caladium

White… with a hint of pink… not that I’m counting but there are 79 caladiums potted up separately and sitting on the driveway waiting to take off into growth.  Summer garage access is overrated if you ask me and I’m sure it will be entirely worth it. 

So there you have it, the cooling effect of white.  I’m all excited about caladiums now but maybe the white helped calm someone else and take the edge off the heat for a minute and that’s a good thing.  That and air conditioning.  Or ice cream.  Or a tub of cool water… whatever it takes to get through this because as you may remember, something called July and August are still on the way and I don’t think you’re going to hear much of ‘boy it’s looking cool next month’ or ‘golly did that temperature drop’ as much as you’re going to hear ‘relentless’ and ‘not a break in sight’.

Or I’m just being pessimistic.  Order some caladium bulbs.  There’s still plenty of time and at least they love the heat even if you don’t.  And even if you’re anti-caladium I hope you have a great week 🙂

Taming the Potager

Reading broadens the mind, and I’ve read too many gardening books to remain satisfied with a plain old vegetable garden.  I of course have a potager, which (from what I’ve heard) is a vegetable garden but fancier, with vegetables but designed and mixed with flowers and supposedly a nicer place to sit around in than the dirt paths and rows of beans of your common vegetable garden.  Plus it’s a French word, and here in America anything with a french name is fancier.  Case in point: baguette vs ‘long loaf of bread’… fancier… and now I rest my case with just one argument, since neither my argument nor the fanciness of my potager will likely stand up to any in depth scrutiny 🙂

hollyhock rust

A stray hollyhock seedling in front of ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush (Cotinus).  Normally the bush is cut back but this year was left unpruned in order to smoke (bloom).

Just a few thoughts on Hollyhocks(Alcea) before we go to the potager.  I was hoping a few rust-resistant plants might show up as I try to mix in a few “rust-resistant” species, but so far no luck.  Rust is not a good look and of course I’m far too lazy to spray.

hollyhock rust

I thought this might be a yellow Alcea rugosa, and possibly less rusty, but the pink tint in the flowers and all the spotting and rusty lesions says otherwise.  I should rip it out now, but…

So I’m 99% sure that starting off with me sharing my disease problems is not the path to fancy, but I’m going to try and save this.  The best thing in the potager this week are the larkspur and oxeye daisies.

larkspur and daisies

Larkspur and daisies.  Not really fancy, but maybe ‘shabby chic’, and chic is right out of Paris.

Some people might point out that Larkspur and daisies are more abandoned farm field than they are high style, but right now I love them, and I’m not even going to mention they’re actually the result of not weeding rather than any planned style initiative.

larkspur and daisies

I meant to dig the alliums and tulips, but never quite got around to it.  Fortunately the largest prickly lettuce and mugwort were weeded out a few weeks ago 🙂

The actual efforts at design are much less impressive.  Roses and clematis to climb the ‘structure’ are still two or three years from breathtaking.

rose chevy chase

I suppose this will be a patriotic design, with the bright red ‘Chevy Chase'(a 1939 rambler rose) joining the misslabeled blue clematis and white daisies.  I’m expecting ten feet or more from Chevy, he should be a strong grower but sadly lacks any fragrance.

Any real potager needs a few vegetables, and so far lettuce and cole crops are the only things looking productive since the tomatoes and squash have only just gone in.

summer cabbage

I love cabbages and all their kin.  Earlier in the year the cabbage worms attacked, but after a little picking off, the worms have stayed away or found other hosts.  Un-nibbled leaves really look much better than the usual worm-riddled foliage.

So as usual I have an excuse for being late.  Rabbits made their nest in the middle of the tulip patch.  Somehow six cottontails had to grow up before I could dig the tulips.  I couldn’t transplant the chrysanthemums until the tulips were out, and then dahlias had to go into the bed where the chrysanthemums were.  I think following chrysanthemums with a dahlia planting is called crop rotation, and all the fanciest gardeners practice crop rotation.

dahlia seedlings

Nine ‘Bishop’s Children’ dahlia seedlings are all I got out of a packet of thirty seeds.  That’s a good thing, what would I do with thirty dahlia seedlings?

Some of the other tulip plantings were followed by tomatoes, and I’ll show them as well but they need a few weeks before they and the rest of the new potager plantings begin to look nice.  In the meantime I need pear advice.  Last year a late freeze killed off nearly every flower save three, this year every flower made it.  I have dozens and dozens of little pears and I need to know if I should drag out the ladder and thin them, or if they will naturally thin themselves.  To me the answer is already pretty obvious, but of course I’d love for someone with more experience to tell me I don’t have to thin them.

thinning pears

Little pears.  I already thinned the lower branches to just a few fruits.

It doesn’t look like a few French words will fool anyone, and those are pretty much all the highlights of the potager in mid June.  With the bubble burst, I might as well take you around the rest of the even less fancy parts of the back garden.

wildflower meadow

Weeds along the berm.  Year 1 was smartweed, year 2 was some mustard, year 3 is birds foot trefoil, daisies, and grass.  I think it looks best this year and I think some rose campion seed needs to be sprinkled in as well 🙂

Weeds along the back of the property and now an overgrown snowdrop bed.  Finally after years of tinkering this bed is becoming more stable and I think (a little)less weedy.

rain garden

Snowdrop bed, aka rain garden.  The roof runoff washes down the sand path and keeps this bed a little wetter than it used to be.  The plants seem to love it.

There’s so little design and zero fancy to this side of the yard.  As the years pass it’s becoming more of a snowdrop garden and the other plantings have to take second billing, even if they do occupy the ground for about 11 months compared to the 1 month of white.  Of course I cannot explain myself on this addiction.

blueberry

This year the blueberries will be protected.  I have netting, but all the fledgling birds who flock to the bushes are just too clumsy to avoid getting trapped, and I can’t untangle another body.  I’ll try some floating row cover material and hope that out of sight will save enough for pancakes at least.

Hopefully this end of the garden gets some attention this weekend.  It’s always the last job, and for as ‘finishing’ as that sounds it really only means I go right back to the start and begin it all again, this time with more weeding and less planting…

japanese iris

Even in a thicket of weeds this Japanese iris looks fancy.

Maybe on the next go around things will change.  All the weeds will go out, some thoughtful design will go in, some rough edges cleaned up?  I think not.  It’s firefly season and they love all the rough edges and I love having them light up the evening garden, and for as much as I’m tempted to weed-whack the berm or mow the meadow it’s not happening this month.  I’m sure I’ll get over it and it also wouldn’t hurt if I found something better to do 😉

Bonjour, and I hope you have a fancy week!

 

Enter Summer

Well well well.  The lull is over and with official summer starting in four more days I’m completely ready for days to last forever and I’m completely ok to never put on a real pair of pants again.  Sorry,  please forget that visual.  I’m thinking shorts and bathing suits and whatever else kind of clothing you would wear to the park, not the gray polyester blend  pants you’d  wear to meet your lawyer.  Lawyers should only be dealt with in the winter in my opinion.

mixed flower border

The front border is full of early summer color and a remarkably well-tended assortment of plants.

Following a bump in the road it looks like garden work is back on track around here.  Planting weather continues and I almost feel guilty about putting it to good use when so much of the country sits under stifling heat and relentless drought.  But trust me, if not doing work would mean relief for the hot and dry, you know I would do my part.

mixed flower border

I kind of missed the flowery peak of the roses, but there’s still plenty of color.  Also nice is how much those little spruce and juniper twigs have grown.  It seems just yesterday I had a four inch pot in hand looking at the spot where today a six foot white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’) stands.

Roses are still obsession du jour, and the greatest tragedy this summer will surely be that I was not able to get up to Ithaca’s ‘Der Rosenmeister‘ to see hundreds of roses in full bloom, filling beds and covering arbors and wafting their various fragrances across the garden as I secretly inventory all the ones I’d like to cram into my own little yard.    I guess there’s next year, but in a strange turn of events I’ve turned into a very not-patient person, and I want it all now.  I can still be understanding and wait for things like small children, tree seedlings, and dogs, but the cup of you-go-firstedness has run dry and my filter is breaking down as I age.  I guess you can start calling me Karen.

westerland rose

Here’s ‘Westerland’ again.  Today it’s my favorite rose.

I’m Karen with a spade, and many of the less inspiring plants in my life are paying the ultimate price.  “oh it’s a good doer’ might save it in your garden but here it’s good night and good bye unless I love it or unless it saves me from even more work.  I’m thinking groundcovers with that last one, ajuga may not be inspiring but it does fill in between the giant reed grass’s stalks and saves me from crawling through there looking for prickly poppy seedlings.

arundo donax

The giant reed grass (Arundo donax variegata) is on the love list, but the clump looks deceptively small in this photo.  I may trade in the spade for an axe on this one, the inch thick roots are not something I’m looking forward to, but the clump needs reducing.

Weeds and plantings I’ve tired of might sound bad, but overall I love the garden right now.  A thick wall of weeds won’t win a magazine cover, but honestly I’ve been looking at them (every day of course) and all it takes is one plant doing well in there for me to think ‘wow, that’s #@&^ing awesome’.

common milkweed

A weed I love, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), looking and smelling great this week.  Three tips: be prepared for it to spread, chop it down to two feet after bloom, and just yank up all the suckers without worrying about the roots below (you don’t even want to know).

So as usual I’m babbling about nonsense when I should be finishing this up and ferrying kids to a dental appointment.  More pictures, less blah.

strawberry mertonensis foxglove

More strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) appearing out of the mess.  These don’t mind the droughts and spider mite attacks which do in the common foxgloves. 

penstemon dark towers

More of the foundation plantings.  As you can see the blue fescue border has not been divided and replanted, and still has way too much thatch built up, but… 

rock garden

The former rock garden, now the colchicum bed.  I’ve resorted to roundup once or twice a year to keep the stone border clean and it’s actually working out very well.

Did I mention I needed more roses?  I do, and it might be time for more clematis as well.  Finally I have a few spots for them to climb up and show off rather than making them crawl around in the dirt… which is not the kind of treatment they deserve.

clematis ruutel

Clematis ‘Ruutel’ doesn’t get much taller than this, which normally wouldn’t thrill me, but the dark red color is still a win.

A friend of mine grows more clematis than she should and that’s probably why she’s such a good friend, so I’m sure if I mentioned cuttings… hmmmm.  That would sure help cool off the credit card from plant purchases.

clematis ville de lyon

Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ does get taller, and I always like flowers at eye level or above.

So the rest is just a mix of unconnected things which are interesting this week.  We could call it a four on Wednesday but of course that’s got zero ring to it 🙂

calycanthus aphrodite

Even in an overexposed photo Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ looks pretty good.  I never expected it to become so showy.

aralia sun king

Aralia ‘Sun King’ is still doing well in a cramped, too dry, unfertile, location.  Nine out of ten garden designers despise how I left the rose campion nearby.

martagon lily sunny morning

Further into the shade the martagon lilies are blooming.  ‘Sunny Morning’ had a string of bad years with late frosts and swampy soil but then for some reason decided to send up three flower stalks and look amazing.  I don’t get it.  She’s been dormant by July for at least the last two years so I suspect this is a swan’s song kind of show.

meadow garden

The meadow is developing behind the neighbor’s house.  Oddly it’s one of my favorite spots and has gone from pure turf to a mass of bird’s foot trefoil, other clovers, and a few daisies.  

So I have to stay focused.  I want to go on and on about the butterfly weed and rose campion that needs to be seeded into the meadow, and the merits of adding native penstemons but in a purple foliaged form… but the spring stuff still needs to get planted,  beans need to go into the ground, and daffodils dug and a million other things and there will be time to babble on about uncut  meadows in August.

Hope you’re enjoying all the too-much as much as I am.  Have a great week!

The Potager 2.0

When the pandemic first came to our shores and we were faced with a surprise vacation and then a transition to work at home, the non-commuting lifestyle left me with what seemed like a mountain of extra time to spend in the garden.  ‘Let me get some building materials delivered’ I said, and ‘build a few raised beds’ I thought.  The boss gave her approval and things began to move.  Slowly.  A thousand things had to be moved first, plans needed to come together, but I think it’s finally at a point where I can show it off a bit, if only to get it over with rather than build some unwarranted, over-blown hype.

raised beds

The front entrance to the potager.  A slight downward slope ends at the pergola, the beds are leveled into the slope, and the blocks will hopefully help with keeping the lawn edge neat just in case we get enough rain for it to grow again.

The first dilemma was choosing lumber.  As usual I went with cheap and selected eight foot pressure treated 2x4s, but it wasn’t all that easy. Naturally rot resistant cedar or redwood would have been nice, larger boards would have been nicer, but the costs were way higher than I was comfortable with so it was a compromise between expensive all natural, or cheaper with a vague possibility of copper leaching… well I say that but actually the compromise was lower the cost or it’s not going to happen…

Overall I hope to get at least ten years out of the wood because although it’s pressure treated it’s not rated for ground contact.  Eventually it will rot, but the treatment should give at least a few years more than untreated, and funny story… the pandemic caused a pressure treated lumber shortage, so we will see exactly how much faster au naturel rots, since all I could find for the last two beds was untreated wood.

raised beds

The view from the trampoline.  We are into the annual zucchini tsunami and each morning a few more line up on the counter.  Someday I hope to level this bottom part of the garden.  The beds are built level but the grass paths still need some fill to bring them up. 

Besides being cheap with materials,  I also got a little greedy with the bed space vs path width.  Between beds is about two feet, and even if it were wider there was still no way (add laziness to the growing list of personal faults) that I was going to wrestle a lawnmower between each bed.  Enter the wonderfully gritty sand pile.  I knew I didn’t want lawn, wood chips need replacing (and why add organic matter to your paths when it should be going onto your beds?), bare landscape fabric is ugly (and violates my no new plastic policy), so I wanted it to be something inorganic and long lasting (and yet again, cheap).  So I grabbed my face mask and was off to the quarry to look at stone dust, crusher run, and sand.  Surprisingly the sand looked perfect.  It was sharp enough to pack down well for a solid footing, and coarse enough (up to about 1/8″ particles) to not wash away in a heavy rain.  So far I love it, and in the future I might even get sand to top off beds rather than buying ‘topsoil’ that turns to rock the minute it dries.

raised beds

I removed the grass from a few of the pathways and used the turf to fill the beds.  Sand paths will hopefully be low maintenance with great drainage, and if worse comes to worse I can just dig them over and replant grass.

Cinder blocks are also cheap, and at about $1.20 a piece I lugged a few carloads home to use as edging and to form a little paved area under the pergola.  So far I like it.  It’s an honest concrete look rather than concrete pavers trying to pass off as something fancier.  Of course stone would have been another nice permanent edging but again spending a bunch of money was not part of my pandemic response.

With the beds built and the lawn edged and sand down on the paths I was super surprised to see that I still had leftover sand.  I tried to calculate for extra sand for an additional pathway up alongside the fence, but to actually have a plan that worked out was a little bit of a surprise.  After years of collecting and lugging random stones I could finally use them to line a sand trail that gives access to the back of the pond.

garden pond

Finishing the pond is still on the to-do list but for now I think it looks good enough.  The shallow end is in constant use as a birdbath, so it’s really more of a watering hole than a pond…

The pond path is surprisingly popular with the kids and our little garden bunny.  I’ve caught both zipping back and forth, and in the morning there are all kinds of footprints in the sand.

sand path

Pond path’s entrance.  Yes those are mostly weeds.  Weeding went onto the back burner as I lugged load after load of lumber, blocks, and sand.  

To sum it all up I love the new beds and I feel like there’s so much more useable space with it set up this way.  I have a total of eleven 4×8 beds and for now it’s all vegetables and I’m trying not to give in to the temptation of planting flowers… except for the one bed which I gave over to chrysanthemums… but my resolve may dissolve since I still need room for phlox and tulips.  At least I’m trying to be firm with the usual sunflowers and verbena bonariensis seedlings.  -for the record I’m not sure why I needed a bed of chrysanthemum, but after years of neglecting them and abusing them in horribly weedy, infertile, and dry sites, I thought it was about time to do them right.  We will see.

rain garden

Yes, more weeds.  The weeds exploded with last week’s rain and this bed was the next one to need attention.

With everything under control in the potager, there was still enough sand to upgrade the dirt ditch of the rain garden with another nice, stone-lined, sand path.  If you recall, last summer this area received a small paved area and path with all the leftover flat stones liberated from the industrial park construction.  It was nice, but I didn’t like the dirt gully which channeled the runoff, and when I don’t like something I kind of neglect it, and when you neglect a garden the weeds send out an alert, and when they all show up to answer the call things go downhill fast.  The weeds are out now, the sand is down, and although I’m short on rocks along the one side, the other doesn’t look bad at all.  We will see how it holds up.  If you look closely at the paving joints you might notice the joints are neatly filled with sand rather than dirt, and both of those are a pain to keep weed free when all you have is this narrow joint that the roots can hold onto.  Truth is I threw some leftover polymeric sand in there, and when you wet the sand the polymer sets up and solidifies it.  I don’t know how it will hold up but hopefully I’ll get at least a few years of no-weeds-in-the joints enjoyment.  The weeds will be fine elsewhere though, so if you’re worried don’t be.

rain garden

Another step forward I hope.  Mulch would be nice now.

That’s where we’re at going into the weekend.  The weather forecast is promising another heat wave so I’m not worried about mowing, but watering will be on my mind.  I don’t like watering but it does beat lugging cinderblocks and digging turf so I’ll keep the complaining to a minimum.

Traditionally I usually meet the hottest days of summer with a pile of mulch in the driveway.  Hmmm.  I hope you have a more relaxing weekend 😉

Summer Heats Up

Our cool, extended spring is only a memory today as another hot and humid day gets added to the list of hot and humid days.  Southerners will laugh at our complaints over what we call humidity and the Southwest will laugh at what we call hot, but we’re a little delicate here in the Northeast and if you can just give us our moment…

lilium canadense

Lilium canadense in bloom.  A North American native which used to be more common, back when deer were fewer and lily beetles were still across the sea.

The Canada lilies are having their moment.  They’re shorter than in previous years but they’re also sturdier, and I think the leaner living of a dry spring has really paid off, since the flowering is just as heavy and even more prolific than last year.  They’re officially my favorite lily, and I may need to start a few more seedlings, preferably in some dark red shades!

lilium canadense

Morning shade and a downspout keeps this bed damp enough to please the lilies.  I watered as well since I think they’re worth it.

The heat is one thing but it’s the dry weather that slowly wears me down.  I find watering to be a tediously boring job and the blackflies buzzing around my head and diving into my ears and nostrils immediately defeats the zen of sprinkling water.

yellow spider daylily

It’s daylily season as well.  Daylilies lack the distinction of snowdrops so I just can’t tell which are which.  This one I just call “the yellow spider” although I’m sure if pressed I could dig a label up somewhere.

The baked flower beds go a long way in making me feel guilty.  Hardened soil is no fun to weed… so I don’t… and I can only tell the wilted flowers relief is coming so many times before I even stop believing.  Fortunately the wilder parts of the garden are still doing fine.  The meadow is actually fairly green thanks to the shade cast by the aspen sprouts which have now become small saplings, and that’s a fair tradeoff for all the sun they steal from what should be a full-sun meadow.

the meadow

Butterfly weed and rudbeckia have taken over for the fading daisies.

Even though the meadow looks halfway decent I might go ahead and give it an early mowing this year.  My wife will be thrilled, she hates it this year just as much as she does every year but her happiness aside what I really want are the seedheads.  The berm could use some better grass and more daisy seeds, and if I bag the mowings they’ll be perfect for spreading around.

digitalis ferruginea gigantea

Digitalis ferruginea gigantea… I think… all my different foxgloves seem to look alike, but this one stands out as excellent, and it shrugs off drought, and I wonder how a few seeds of this would do on the berm.

The mowing of the meadow may still be weeks off.  Summer weather has a way of dragging things out and in all honesty weeding and mulching should happen first.  Maybe I’ll just rip a bunch of stuff out just so I don’t have to see it wilting, and then sit around all summer considering what new things could go there in the fall.  I could do a good part of my considering from either the pool or the porch, so that’s another plus.

kniphofia

One of the new kniphofia I planted last summer.  wilted or not I love it, and it has me wondering if I can divide it this fall and have an even bigger patch next year!

Don’t let my complaining fool you, it’s not all bad.  I haven’t had to mow the lawn in weeks and last weekend the remains of the sand pile has finally left the driveway.  Some progress has been made and maybe it’s about time I formally introduce the new potager.  It’s very neat and tidy and my wife just loves it, but I’m missing some of the weedy overload of the old beds.  July has just started and August is yet to come so it’s still early, and August has a way of encouraging weedy overload and tropical storms, so all is not lost.

Have a great weekend!

Curb Un-Appeal

A few weeks ago I was next door talking to my neighbor.  The iris were in bloom and he’s got a few clumps of a rich purple iris in his front yard (‘Lent A Williamson’ is the ID I gave them although I’m sure he doesn’t care) which were putting on an excellent display.  A car slowly pulled by and after a polite wave the driver opened the window to say “I love your iris, I drive this way just to see them”.  I bit my tongue.  After a couple seconds passed, my neighbor realized the compliment was directed towards him, and said thanks.  He looked at me.  It just about killed me, I have iris too.

front street border

The house from the street.  I believe one of the first rules of curb appeal is to compliment, not block, the house.  Also large thistles should not become focal points.

We got a good laugh about it once she left.  I do like to show off my most exciting plants, but I realize they’re not to everyone’s taste, and the “overflowing” look of the plantings is focused more on the plants than the setting of the house.  Even the 12 year old said she doesn’t like it when it all gets so big, but when I mentioned moving out she gave me her pre-teen eye-roll of disgust… which I’m sure will only develop more as she finishes up middle school.

Cirsium eriophorum woolly thistle

More thistles around the corner.  Cirsium eriophorum is the European woolly thistle, and I just came up with the brilliant idea of pulling a few coneflowers out from along the street and planting the newest batch of seedlings there.

Before selling our previous house I spent a few weeks ripping things out and simplifying plantings.  If I ever cared to impress the neighbors or list this property I’d surely repeat the process here.  Lots of mulch, a clear view of the house, and sheared foundation shrubbery would put an appropriately sterile stamp of conformity onto the real estate head shot, and I’m sure it would scare fewer people away.

foundation perennials

Look at that mullein, it’s a keeper!  Eight feet tall and counting, the blooms are opening nice and large and I’m hoping it keeps going all summer.  The mullein, along with poorly trimmed and poorly placed trees and shrubbery, all add to the screen that blocks the curb view of our house.  

Just to be clear there is no talk of moving.  We have to stay at least 30 more years in order to reach the point of break-even on all the lumber purchased for the potager re-do.  For the accountants out there we finally went over the hump and added about $6.75 to the plus column for the salads we’ve picked in the last few days, and $6 worth of cauliflower as well.  Those were some exciting first harvests, so obviously we’re not going to dwell on the $89 which went into the liability column for a new hose and additional lumber.

drying daffodil bulbs

Delphinium in bloom are often enough of a distraction to keep people from noticing the bags of drying colchicum and narcissus bulbs lined out along the front porch.  **please note the snow shovel was just put there recently and hasn’t been sitting there since last winter**

So even if you can look past the unpruned, questionable design, and overlook the stray bags of bulbs and garden tools, there’s still always that massive pile of sand blocking the driveway.  “You’re always busy doing something” was the polite way another neighbor dealt with that topic.

common milkweed syriaca

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by the front door is in full bloom.  I’ll cut it back by half once it’s done flowering, not just to keep it neat, but also to invite the Monarchs to lay their eggs on the new growth that sprouts up.

A myopic view of things lets me enjoy things anyway, and in my opinion when everything else is going to heck there’s always plenty of little things to be thrilled with.  Like milkweeds.  They’re much more interesting than people give them credit for, and far more useful in the garden than just caterpillar fodder.  This week I have a new one in bloom… finally… after years of trying seeds and nursing seedlings.

purple milkweed purpurascens

Asclesias purpurascens, the descriptively named ‘purple milkweed’.  This one’s been tricky for me and maybe that’s just because it refuses to put up with the abuse and neglect which I leave it to.  I love the dark color though, and did water a little after seeing its leaves curling up from the dry.

I hope the purple milkweed continues to grow in spite of this shift to drier summer weather.  There was brief consideration given to trying it out in a new spot but after reading online that it can be hard to get established it’s staying put.  I’ve killed it in other spots already so why rush.

verbena bonariensis

The first of the Verbena bonariensis filling in.  The verbena is a great drought tolerant filler for years like this, and I might transplant a few out for color in August.  

There are plenty of other things to do rather than kill off new milkweeds.  I spent Friday night weeding and “editing” the front border and was planning on finishing today but surprisingly enough there’s been some rain and it’s now too humid and sticky to work.  The rain only took the edge off the dry soil and refueled the gnats but it was a good excuse to go for icecream instead.  I don’t think that’s a bad tradeoff.

Have a great weekend!

Into Summer

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

front border

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

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

kniphofia caulescens

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

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

scotch thistle

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

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

sunny side up pokeweed

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

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

milkweed perennial

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

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

sand garden paths

Something else.  Sand.  A couple tons of it.

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

potager

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

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

breadseed poppies

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

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

digitalis grandiflora ferruginea

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

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

aristolochia macrophylla

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

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

magnolia macrophylla

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

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

magnolia macrophylla

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

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

pseudata okagami

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

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

Three Things

Summer is flying by way too fast and fewer and fewer things are getting done.  I wonder where the time goes but then remember that afternoon nap which got away from me and then the hour spent just sitting on the porch ‘looking’, and things kind of all come together.  Summer is the lazy person’s nirvana.

Still a few things get done here and there.  Mulching is one thing which happened, and although it was a half load with more planned for later, it made a world of difference even if most of it is just a foot wide strip edging the beds.

front perennial border

Even with a ruthless hand the purple coneflowers (Echinacea) still seed all over.  I’m fine with that of course, although I did yank a few in the way of my mulching and edging.

Mulching would have gone much faster but even a lazy gardener can be a greedy gardener.  Beds were expanded, some enough so that the expansion was remarked upon by the housemates.  I just explained that the re-edging of the beds was necessary and left it at that.  New mulch is always appreciated, so the latest land grab was quickly forgotten.

kniphofia alcazar

Grandma’s pool path has been cleaned up, and kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ is still sending up fresh pokers.  I’ve shovel-pruned a few varieties which just don’t flower long enough, but ‘Alcazar’ has been a winner.  

A second thing of note is lily season.  They’re doing great this year and although I’d prefer them towering over the other plants I guess they’re not bad at all considering how thin the soil is that they’re growing in.

lily silk road tree lily

‘Silk Road’ gets better every year.  Very fragrant, love the color, and she’s no trouble at all. 

A few shovel-fulls of compost might be in order for these ladies since they really get no attention otherwise.  The only time they caused me any concern was in April when a late freeze damaged a few of the earliest ones.  Most of my favorites survived but a few froze back enough to call it a year.  Hopefully they’ll be back next spring.

lily leslie woodriff

Lily ‘Leslie Woodriff’ is just off to the left.  I may have to find a new home for this one since she just doesn’t seem to show off well with her companions.  That’s part of it, but truth be told I just wanted to show off the rusty foxgloves and dill 🙂 

Just a few more…

lily conca d'or

Lily ‘Conca d’Or’ is absolutely wow this week.  I snapped a potful up on clearance last summer, and this just shows how well the local nursery cares for their stock, even when past prime.

And one more.  Lilium lancifolium, the old fashioned tiger lily.  I think I read somewhere the garden version is a sterile triploid version and that sounds believable since it never sets seed, but this is the one most likely to be found in old gardens and around abandoned homesteads so it seems to be doing just fine as is.  Notice the round little dark bulbils which this lily produces where leaf meets stem.  They’re super easy to pluck off and pot up, and in just two or three years you’ll have a brand new tiger lily colony.  Be careful though.  They have a reputation as a Typhoid Mary of the lily world and are said to carry all kinds of viruses which aphids can spread to their more refined cousins.  Of course I rarely listen to good advice and grow them anyway.  They always remind me of summers in Maine and my aunt’s old farmhouse garden and I guess I’ll risk the others for that.

tiger lily lancifolium

Lilium lancifolium the tiger lily.  

I also got a hold of the double tiger lily last summer.  Beautiful or atrocious is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s just a few days behind the single so you’ll have to wait.

Off to a third thing.  The phlox are in bloom and as usual they don’t compare to the very first year I prepped a bed and planted them out, but also as usual I’m willing to forgive many of the flaws in one of my favorite flowers.  The fragrance of phlox is another summer farmhouse memory so when they’re in bloom out back even I can be convinced to grab a trowel and pruner and do a little weeding and straightening up just to be around them.

potager phlox paniculata

The potager nearly always looks a mess but to me I’m quite happy puttering around looking for surprises… and vegetables… every now and then it produces an onion or something, just enough to retain the ‘potager’ name 🙂

And maybe a fourth thing.  The Russian hollyhock (Alcea rugosa) has captured my imagination as easily as their homeland captured the last election.  The color is a soft yellow which goes with everything, the plants top out at a decent 6-7 feet, and best of all there’s still no rust to be seen on the leaves.  In the front yard the current crop of regular hollyhock seedlings are peppered with orange spots and yellowing leaves, but back here it’s still a clean slate.  I hope it stays that way.

alcea rugosa russian hollyhock

Alcea rugosa, the Russian hollyhock.  My fingers are crossed for plenty of seeds since I want to plant this thing all over.  Please ignore the Japanes beetle nibblings which have ruined some of the show…

So that’s it from here.  Hope your summer is rolling along just as nicely as mine (although maybe at a slower pace) and you’re enjoying the sunny bliss of the season.  It may all seem carefree wonder but don’t forget to give some consideration to the cooler parts of the year and by that I mean snowdrop season of course.  Edgewood Gardens should be putting out a snowdrop list soon and I have no other choice but to wait patiently until it comes to my inbox.  There’s already been a species list for the real fanatics (which I won’t answer yes or no to on ordering from) but the named drops list should be in the works as well.  When it comes out I like to think of it as Christmas in July, and as it stands right now I’m sure I’ve been very good this year 😉

Another Round With the Bloomers

Last Saturday was a big day, it marked the 9th Tour of the Back Mountain Gardens, held every other year here in this neck of Pennsylvania.  It’s one of the biggest gardening events for the area and over the years has raised in excess of $100,000 for the Anthracite Scenic Trails Association as well as entertaining and inspiring gardeners galore as they nose around some of the best local gardens on the ‘backside’ of our valley’s western mountains.

As usual we had a great time, the weather was perfect for touring, the event was flawlessly organized, vendors and presentations were both interesting and entertaining, and of course all the gardens were great!

backmountain garden tour

Our first stop, a decidedly formal garden with a grand entry.

Because of non-gardening things and a possible Emergency room visit, we were a little pressed for time, so right out of the gate made an executive decision to visit the newly opened Back Mountain Bloomers Trailhead and Judith and David Rimple Loop Trail at some other time.  Our first official gardentour stop became the ‘Fit For a Wedding’ estate.  Besides wowing visitors with an elegant entry and classic landscaping throughout, this venue also provided the setting for the club’s horticultural exhibits which filled the back patios with wedding themed arrangements and displays.

backmountain garden tour

I loved the porches.  There was a different one for each beverage of the day, all complete with comfy seating and a beautiful view.  The white-themed planters and baskets were perfect as well, and the climbing hydrangea coming up from below couldn’t have looked nicer.  

A spacious lawn with woodland views all around made for a nice setting of pool and gazebo.  If asked, I would suggest having my lunch out here.

backmountain garden tour

The climbing clematis were perfect but the hydrangea were being a little lazy, just like most of the blue hydrangeas grown around here.  A sea of white ‘Annabelle’ or one of the blue lacecap hydrangeas would have been awesome!

There was a lot more to this garden, peony plantings, roses, specimen trees, but our tour was a little off and we were a little rushed so much was missed, but we did get to stroll around front and admire the color and fountains of the front garden.

backmountain garden tour

A soothing spot with the sound of water.  

The second stop on our tour brought us to the old Pinebrook Grove picnic pavillion, now transformed into a spacious home and entertaining area complete with a kitchen large enough to fit ten along the breakfast bar and a living space which looked party-ready.  Outside, the massive patio was ready for summer parties and poolside lounging.

backmountain garden tour

Just a small bit of the patio.  Of course since I was distracted by the garden I only vaguely remember a swimming pool and more umbrellas and seating than one could imagine, but they were there as well.

I was told that most of this landscape was designed and built by the homeowner’s family.  Not bad at all!

backmountain garden tour

Of course I loved the pond.  It was a perfect centerpiece to the yard and I wouldn’t mind dipping my feet into the crystal clear water.  I bet it’s very popular with the smaller garden visitors as well.

Our next stop took us to a shady garden ’embellished’ by nature and structured with over 40 year’s worth of stonewall building and earth moving.  The home sat perfectly on the shaded lot, and woodland plants came right up to the house in a way that makes you think of songbirds and bunnies and everything summery.

backmountain garden tour

A stone raven greets visitors at the front entrance.

The homeowners of this property are the energy behind ‘Embellish’, a Dallas, PA home-gift-antiques store which is one of our must visit stops during the holiday season.  In addition to an open garden the doors to the home were open as well, and I’d like to think it doesn’t always look so put together and cozy but it probably does.

backmountain garden tour

A corner of the living room set up for the tour, but the rest of the house looked just as everyday amazing.

Leaving the house, the garden had a real cool and calming feel as well.  Open enough for a breeze, yet planted up enough so that you know you’re part of the garden.  Plus plenty of stone walls and a firepit are win-wins in my book.

backmountain garden tour

Spiderwort and ‘Invincibelle’ hydrangea,  both looking perfectly fresh in the dappled shade.

backmountain garden tour

Just your average garden shed.  Perfectly painted to match the house, plus a nice mossy path out front.

Leaving the ‘Embellished’ garden we headed out to the ‘Labor of Love’ garden… with a strong emphasis on the labor part, as evidenced by the stonework which greets visitors at the front.

backmountain garden tour

Stone steps and tiers of retaining walls tame the slope along the street.  I can only imagine the hours of labor which went into fitting these walls together, since they’re nothing like the thrown-together walls you often see.

The hardscape and paths and “rooms” of this garden were one thing, but the plantings were also at another level.  This looked like a garden where the owner was suffering from a little bit of a plant obsession, and every inch of the yard had something special going on, in spite of the homeowner’s claim that the garden was more of a ‘Hard Rock Deer Cafe’.

backmountain garden tour

The sunny front terraces were overflowing with a mix of small rockgarden plants, all kinds of sedums, and spots of annual color here and there.  ‘Tapestry of plants’ would be a good description for all the low-growing treasures in this bed.

The back garden was equally as obsessive.  Perfect grass paths brought you from area to area and the whole garden stretched out below the overlooking decks and patio.

backmountain garden tour

Full sun vegetables and flowers sat up by the deck, with beds of all kinds of shrubs and trees filling the lower areas.  There was quite a slope to the backyard as well, but the layout of grass paths made it very relaxed.

I felt quite at home in the back.  There were a bunch of things with yellow and chartreuse foliage and I do have a bias towards anything with a lighter leaf, so in my opinion it was brilliant 😉

backmountain garden tour

Shady beds in back, again filled with all sort of goodies.  Everything seemed quite happy and in perfect condition.  

This garden gave me hope.  There were photos of an empty lawn with just a few bushes in the early days and now to see plants everywhere and a garden surrounding the house means that the same could happen here.  My new excuse will be it’s coming along and if you can just imagine it in thirty more years….

But then I noticed the stone work which was going up onto the foundation, and had already been finished across the front and up the chimney of the house and I realized this was a much more ambitious soul.

backmountain garden tour

Looking up towards the shaded side garden and patio.

Off to the next stop, this one being a ‘garden getaway’ of ponds and waterfalls, pools and patios, and an outdoor kitchen  large enough to accommodate all the people who are sure to show up.

backmountain garden tour

Right off the house is a shaded patio surrounded by running water and restful scenery.  This would definitely be my favorite spot to relax.

Again in this garden I heard that the homeowner was responsible for much of the work.  Again I felt just a little inadequate looking around at the landscaping and focal points.  It really made for a nice garden retreat and I was more than a little tempted to outstay my welcome and ask what’s for dinner.

backmountain garden tour

There were quite a few nice containers planted up for summer.  There was one really nice planter filled with shades of blue which I regret missing out on photographing.

Here’s one last photo of the patio.  I almost left this out since I know someone here will mention that our own outdoor area lacks a grilling/smoking/kitchen facility and will ask why that’s the case.

backmountain garden tour

Not too shabby.  I was also a little envious of the big green egg sitting at the far end of the kitchen… just waiting to cook up something delicious.

So that rounded out this year’s tour.  There was still one more garden which we regrettably had to cut out of our circuit since we were on an unfortunately tight schedule, and we had to rush past too many of the displays, but overall it was a great day with tons of friendly people and helpful hosts and wonderful locations.  Even the rain held off long enough to make the day even more successful.

Thanks to all the Garden Bloomers who put countless hours into preparing for this day.  I know they don’t want to even think about it but I’m already looking forward to the next tour which will mark the 20 year milestone for this event.  It will be exceptional I’m sure.

Have a great week!

Happy Fourth!

Summer is here and so is that wonderful humidity and heat.  Oddly enough we’ve also been getting rain-free days, and when I think back to last week there were actually a number of absolutely beautiful days, which I swear did not exist last year.  Suddenly I  love gardening again and even though I actually had to water a few things (for the first time in months) things are generally pretty good.  I’m thinking today’s Independence day celebrations should be quite excellent, even if we don’t have tanks rumbling along in the local parade or fighter jets buzzing the church picnics.

bougainvillea hanging basket

Welcome to the festivities, and welcome to the bougainvillea hanging basket which was irresistibly priced at a local greenhouse this spring. 

Yesterday evening the yard cleanup was as far as it was going to get, and the light was low, so I was able to get a few decent pictures taken before retiring to the porch with a cold drink and ceiling fan.

digitalis ferruginea

I think these spikes are the curious spires of the rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) which have been biding their time for three years before actually blooming.  I also think they will pass on after blooming so we’ll see about any reseeding for next year.

There’s a lot of altitude this summer with tall plants reaching for the sky.  The rusty foxgloves are topping out at just under six feet which is not bad at all since I do like wandering around with my plants rather than looking down at them.

digitalis ferruginea

Digitalis ferruginea?  I planted a couple different kinds of foxgloves a few years ago, and to my un-botanical eye many look quite similar.

Usually the fuzzy leaved verbascums (mullein) are my high altitude stars but this year I have a Canada lily (Lilium canadense) which has taken it upon itself to reach for the sky.  Before slouching back down to my height, it was measuring in at just over the seven foot mark, and it wouldn’t have been the worst idea to tie in a stake to keep it up there.

canada lily lilium canadense

Lilium canadense, a native to the Eastern woodlands of N . America, and probably something that would be more common if there were less deer.

Last year this fellow was barely half the height with just two or three blooms, but this is a lily which loves steady moisture, and trust me it had moisture galore last year.

canada lily lilium canadense

Love the speckled insides, and the flowers are bringing some nice floral fireworks up to deck height.

A sibling of this plant just a few feet away has decided to focus on multiplying, and although the stalks are only about half the height there are quite a few little sprouts coming up here and there around the main plants.

canada lily lilium canadense

This one has slouched into the arms of a cutleaf sumac.  I think these are some pretty elegant flowers, but honestly, can you think of any unattractive lily?

Other robust plants around the garden include some soft yellow hollyhocks which I’m hoping can avoid the rust attacks which did in last year’s planting.  I think this is Alcea rugosa, the Russian hollyhock, and although the color is limited to yellow it’s hopefully a start in finding a hollyhock which can grow and bloom in this garden without losing every last leaf to a rusty mess of diseased foliage.  Word is there are other rust-resistant forms out there, and I think it’s not the worst idea to give a few more a try 🙂

alcea rugosa russian hollyhock

The Russian hollyhock (Alcea rugosa… I think).  A little yellowing on the leaf tips, so it’s not entirely happy, but at least it still has leaves which wasn’t the case last year.

Things are still pretty short in the tropical garden but at least I finally have it planted, edged, and mulched (and mostly weeded).  The mulch is all lawn clippings raided from the piles dumped in the woods so today it’s kind of smelly, but hopefully that fades away as it dries out a bit.  The cannas and elephant ears love this mulch.  Between the heat and the nutrients which wash out of the grass they should really take off now… assuming my neighbors haven’t overdone it with the weed killer which could be hitchiking in with the clippings (although I don’t think they’ve been spreading anything around lately).

early summer garden

Mostly edged and mulched, and this part of my lawn is obviously not heavy on the weedkiller.  There’s more than enough clover, and if you could eat the clover little bunny please do so and give my scrubby birch a break from the nibbling (the birch is the clump of well-pruned leaves to the right of the rose, now covered with chicken wire). 

I may try and tackle a little more mulching and weeding this morning before it gets too hot and sweaty and the pool lures me away.  We’ll see.  In the meantime I know for sure I’ll be admiring the Regal lilies which are flowering fantastically this week, and are filling the whole backyard with that slightly overpowering scent of summer.

lilium regale

A good year for lilies.  Lilium regale and the first of the garden phlox in the potager.

I like the lilies.  They’re remarkably easy and fast from seeds and these are just the ones which survived a late frost earlier in the year.  If all would have gone according to plan there would have been about twice as many, but hopefully next year the ones which froze to mush will return.  Plans may be overrated anyway.  None of the plans included the dark purple ‘Lauren’s Grape’ opium poppy which reseeded from last year’s far more pathetic plantings, and if the plan to dig up tulips worked out I’m sure these would have been lost.

lilium regale

The potager in early July.  A little neglected, but holding up regardless with lilies, phlox and poppies.

So if you have plans to enjoy the holiday I hope they work out well, and if they don’t I hope things come together even better, and if today is just Thursday rather than a holiday, well then the weekend is approaching for you as well.  In any case here’s to a beautiful day!