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!

Once Again, Summer

I’m going to start off with a little bragging.  These old things?  They just grow like weeds each spring and there’s no big secret behind them.

delphinium

Another stellar delphinium season.  Ample rains, just enough fertilizer, in-the-nick-of-time staking with no major weather events, and the stars have again aligned for a decent show.

I’m going to take another year of wonderful delphiniums because history shows that this won’t always be the case.  Actually they’re just one strong wind away from being decimated so let me show off while I can.  They look great from a seated position on the front porch.

Actually I haven’t been as lazy as usual and the garden is showing some signs of attempted control.  The delphiniums were staked at a decent time and are now shamelessly showboating, but there are plenty of other early summer workhorses and tiny treasures who are enjoying their rescue from the weed tsunami.

allium cernuum nodding onion

The nodding onion (Allium cernuum) is a sturdy enough native allium which doesn’t mind a crowded spot… unlike some of its more delicate cousins.

Oddly enough the potager benefited from a good amount of attention this past weekend as well, which is odd because usually this is one of the last spots to feel the love.  The weeds were still plenty big when pulled, but a couple of the beds also received a nice top dressing of compost which should do wonders for the thin soil.  As you can see there’s even less room for vegetables this season.

june potager

Regal lilies (Lilium regale) are just beginning alongside the first phlox, and if you look super carefully you may notice the foliage of a few onions.  Actually there’s celery as well, so I guess this flowery area still has enough vegetables to qualify as a potager 🙂

Rainy neglect did manage to take its toll on several areas, and a little work did go into providing triage for these plants.  Phlox paniculata always has some complaint here and surprisingly I think it’s annoyed with all the rain we had.  Here in one of the soggier beds we’re establishing some intensive care for all the powdery mildew and general stuntedness.  That sounds promising but in reality all it amounts to is ripping out everything but the phlox and then shoveling some compost around and hoping for the best.  I may be weeding and shoveling and finally getting a few things done, but I’m still far too lazy to spray anything.

phlox mildew

Phlox in poor condition is just asking for powdery mildew problems.  Hopefully some delicious compost and a nice mulch of lawn clippings can give this guy a good leg up, I’ll let you know if it works well enough to turn the mildew tide.

I’m also far too lazy to deal with another budding problem.  When the wall was built the fence between us and the industrial park was removed, and although I’m quite pleased we don’t have to look at the old chainlink, apparently it did provide a nice line of defense between us and the hordes of groundhogs on the other side.  That’s gone now and the woodchucks just stroll right in whenever the mood strikes.

woodchuck in the garden

So far the woodchucks have been ok with just nibbling clover and the lushest of the lawn weeds.  I’ve already bought a trap for the day this changes…

So as the manicured lawns of the industrial park pump out groundhogs and Canadian geese and my own garden struggles with weeds… and the gardener struggles with a relatively small pile of mulch in the driveway, I’ll continue to enjoy these first few blissful days of summer.  A little mildew on the phlox is nothing compared to where things usually go so you can bet I’ll take this while it lasts.  In the meantime here’s something from the latest obsession file, the first season of flowers on my “eyeshadow” iris 🙂

pseudata iris okagami

Pseudata iris ‘Okagami’.  Pseudata are a relatively new iris form resulting from crossing two species, the yellow flag (I. pseudacorus) with Japanese iris (I. ensata).  Many of the hybrids display a strongly outlined “eye” on the falls, hence the term “eyeshadow” iris.

Hope Friday finds you well and here’s to a great weekend.

-and don’t forget… if you’re near the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre PA area, tomorrow is the big day for the Back Mountain Garden Tour!  A day of touring local gardens starts promptly at 9am and all proceeds go towards supporting the Anthracite Scenic Trails Association.  Hope to see you there 🙂

Ready For My Closeup

I’m finally back in the garden after missing three of the last four weeks due to work commitments, and it feels good.  All the guilt and regret is washed away (both trips were sort-of voluntary) and I’m pleased to see the plants have mostly fared fine without me.  That’s a good thing of course, even if it does cut my ego down a bit to see how well things did without me there giving them a daily once-over but sometimes if you love something you have to set it free… Good enough in theory, but here the weeds really took advantage of the freedom and over the next few days (ok, weeks) I hope to address that.  In the meantime closeups work, and they’re so much nicer than the other set of photos which were going to show all the challenges and struggles ahead in this weedy garden.

iris roys repeater

Iris ‘Roy’s Repeater’, one of the interspecies cross iris which I’ve been mildly obsessing over for a couple years now.  Maybe I still have room for another three or four…. I do like the pale yellow ones 🙂

I got in Friday night so it wasn’t until Saturday morning that the tour happened.  Then it was coffee on the porch and a lot of thinking.  Needless to say I was in no rush to get working and even less of a rush to do the important things first.  That is unless you think staking the delphiniums is the most important thing which needs doing, because that’s were I started.  It was light work, just right for getting into the swing of things and getting the nails dirty again.  Funny how the most noticeable thing about being away for two weeks is that your nails get normal-person clean.

delphinium

The first of the delphiniums, staked just in the nick of time.

After staking I weeded along the front porch.  That’s kind of cheating as well since the bed is so full few weeds stand a chance, but it was a start, and now at least I can sit out there without a heavy conscience.

rosa rubrifolia

The spring foliage of Rosa rubrifolia is nice enough that the flowers don’t even matter… which is a good thing since they’re so tiny.

With a little weeding under my belt I gave a little more thought to what needed to be done next.  I decided the best thing for me to do was go to the nursery.  It’s been a while and I didn’t want them to worry.  Plus if I do get around to weeding it’s a terrible idea to leave all those empty spots, they’ll only grow more unwanted weeds.  Better to fill the gaps with new plants.

hydrangea strawberry sundae

Hydrangea ‘Strawberry Sundae’ is coming on very well this year and I like how the red stems look against the ‘William Baffin’ rose… which is a blooming beast this year!

I spent way too long at the nursery and if you’re counting I may have spent way too much money as well.  It wasn’t easy but I’m trying to stick with my new self-improvement plan which includes me being a force of social change.  I wasn’t buying all those plants for myself, I was buying them to support my local nursery.  I was buying them to build up the little guy, to keep dreams alive, to encourage someone to have a nursery yard full of obscure interesting plants ready for me to buy whenever I need a plant fix!  I could have been weeding my own garden but instead I chose to go out and help make the world a better place.  You’re welcome.

nursery run

I may have said I don’t need any more plants with yellow foliage.  That was foolish.  I still needed a yellow fountain grass, ‘Lumen Gold’ to be precise. 

The plants were crammed in right after lunch.  Well actually there was a pool visit first and a lot of child throwing as well, but fortunately there was still enough energy left to scrape a shallow hole and bury a few root balls.  I’ve decided that plants need to realize quickly that it won’t be an easy ride around here, so tough-love planting is the new rule.  I do take care to break up the root balls as much as possible though.  The sooner those roots get out of their potting soil, and into their new soil the better.

blueberries

The blueberries look promising.

So that was Saturday.  Sunday was father’s day and weeding was again pushed on to the back burner, but because someone also has a new ‘all purchased plants must be planted within three days’ policy it wasn’t a complete day of rest.  I spent a good two hours setting up the deck containers.  That sounds busy, but if you’ve ever watched it’s more moving plants and considering than it is planting.  I’m never really happy when it’s done, but once things grow in it always ends up looking good enough.

lonicera sempervirens

The honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) has been entertaining the hummingbirds for a few weeks now.  Aphids can be a problem but I just ignore them and the distorted growth (lower right) they produce.

I spent the rest of Sunday puttering.  I was happy to see plenty of bugs but little plant damage, and I like to pretend there’s some kind of good and bad balance thing going on but experience shows it’s not likely to stay that way all summer.

stinging nettle

Stinging nettle has been tolerated and even encouraged in the back reaches of the yard.  The stinging thing is relatively harmless and cool, but even better is when the leaves start folding up around the red admiral caterpillars which this plant supports.  

One animal which always surprises me are the garter snakes which have moved into the arborvitae next to the porch.  There are two, and surprisingly enough they enjoy draping themselves across the branches and catching the morning sun when things are cool.  Not everyone agrees they’re good company but I like them.

baby praying mantis

I was hoping to get a photo of one of the snakes but found this praying mantis instead.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a tiny one before.

The rabbits and an on again off again woodchuck are other wildlife which are making themselves known, but there’s one native wildflower which is really announcing itself this year.  Jewelweed (Impatients capensis) loves the regular rain and its juicy little stems are showing up everywhere.

clematis ruutel

Clematis ‘Ruutel’ rising up from a sea of jewelweed.  Easy enough to remove, but there are other plants anxious to get out from under their shadow.  

I think that’s enough from me.  The on again, off again drizzle suggested I call it quits for garden work and I was fine with that.  Taking pictures is much easier than weeding anyway.

quaking aspen leaf

Quaking aspen out in the meadow.

golden hops

Golden hops looking for some support to scramble on up… someone should probably address that.

hypericum albury purple

Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’ living up to the name.  

dracocephalum

I know the lavender colored flower is a Dracocephalum but the cactus has grown over the label and I’m just not curious enough about the exact species to brave the spines.  

thalictrum rochebrunianum

I love Thalictrum rochebrunianum.  The foliage is cool enough, but with the dark stems and their waxy coating it’s just a work of art.

sunflower seedlings

So much for weeding out these sunflower seedlings…

verbascum atrovilaceum

Verbascum atroviolaceum is a small floppy verbascum which only flowers in the morning and isn’t all that showy, but of course I think it’s cool.

front street border

The border along the street is just doing its own thing this year.  We may run a purge but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it…. says the gardener who will end up trying to fix it.

oxeye daisy

One of my favorite weeds is the Oxeye daisy, this one complete with a colorful inchworm.

pokeweed sunnyside up

Growing native plants is a noble cause, but once you start planting cultivars things get iffy.  I pull out plenty of the regular pokeweed, but apparently ‘Sunnyside Up’ has now entered the local gene pool… and is too pretty to pull 🙂

penstemon digitalis dark towers

The foundation planting has exploded into June color, and I’m wondering if these might not be the perfect meadow flowers to plant across the berm.  Penstemon digitalis ‘Dark Towers’ with Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ and Oxeye daisy again.

allium narcissiflorum

Allium narcissiflorum with a red carpet rose in the background.  I like this little onion!

anthemis tinctoria

Anthemis tinctoria with rose campion and more daisies.

common milkweed asclepias syriaca

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) trying to take over the world (or at least the front foundation bed).

So that’s it from here.  Maybe it’s messy, maybe I’m not getting much done, maybe the weather is a little cool, but as long as you remind yourself it’s not January it’s all good 🙂

Have a great week!

Let it Grow, Let it Grow, Let it Grow

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

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

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

street front border

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

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

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

ranch foundation planting

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

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

dianthus sooty

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

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

berm planting

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

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

ninebark physocarpus opulifolius diablo

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

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

historic iris

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

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

historic iris darius

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

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

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

ornithogalum dubium

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

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

calycanthus aphrodite

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

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