Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.9.17

My gardener has been extremely unmotivated these last few weeks as he comes to terms with the long stretch of hot dry weather which has settled down upon this corner of Pennsylvania.  Months and months of not needing to water and not having to concern himself with pampering transplants has spoiled him, and the last month of humid, buggy, unseasonable heat has him refusing to work.  As a result this week’s Tuesday view is not much changed from the last view, and other than the general air of decay setting in, there hasn’t been much of a fight put up against this end of season degeneration.

front border

Today’s Tuesday View.  Autumn is here.

The garden did get a good soaking this weekend when the latest hurricane leftovers blew through, but the humid dampness also brought the local gnat population to an electrified frenzy.  Lets hope it also electrifies the gardener since all we’ve gotten out of him in the last few weeks has been a 20 minute manic attack on a relatively innocent Rose of Sharon bush (Hibiscus syriacus ‘bluebird’).  It happened one overly warm afternoon, shortly after he was heard ranting something to the effect of  “look at all those friggin’ seed pods, no way I’m pulling up thousands of seedlings next spring”.  So out it came.

front border

Sometimes pretty blue flowers and inoffensive green leaves just aren’t enough.  The Rose of Sharon is out now, but unfortunately the branches, rootball, and garden cart still sit where the gardener left them over a week ago.  Not even the threat of a Tuesday View was enough to get him moving!

Fortunately there have been a few other autumn goings on which can distract us from the local labour’s laziness and sloth.  The fall bloomers are coming on in full force and the Monarch migration has reached its highpoint.

aster raydon's favorite

We are on the downside of the migration but Monarchs still keep fluttering on through.  Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ might not be the Monarch’s favorite but as far as asters go it’s mine.  It tolerates drought, needs nothing from me, and flowers for weeks.  

There are always a few dozen butterflies floating through the air, and as you stroll they take off and circle in a round, lazy pattern which makes you wonder how they ever manage to make it all the way to Mexico.  But they do, and although it’s still on the warm side they better get a move on it.  Frost is coming and the last nectar-filled flowers won’t be around forever.

pepper sedona sun

Some color at the midpoint of the bed.  An unknown purple mum from a years-past porch decoration and the cute little orange and yellow fruits of ‘Sedona Sun’ pepper.  Each year I like ornamental peppers more and more and who knows, maybe next next spring will turn into pepperpalooza!  

The last big hurrah of the front border will be the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) at the far end.  Most years the peak of pinkness hits only to be followed by a bleaching frost but this year my fingers are crossed for at least a few days of enjoyment.  I’ll try for a better photo next week with a little late afternoon sunshine but for now you’re stuck with a little of the grass with yet another Monarch perched in front.

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly surrounded by the colors of autumn.

So that wraps up this Tuesday’s view, and it also signifies the beginning of the end of the 2017 season.  You may have noticed that in spite of the heat I’m no longer quite as convinced that summer will never end, and I’m actually accepting that autumn is here.  I guess it was inevitable, and if you’d like to see what it looks like in other parts of the world give Cathy a visit at Words and Herbs to check up on a few other Tuesday Views.  I hear she is also admitting the season is winding down.

As always have a great week!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 9.26.17

It’s time once again to check in with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the Tuesday view.  The word this week is hot, and plants are wilting under the dry sun as temperatures rise to 90F (32C) and above for the last few days.  This would have been welcome in August, and even tolerated earlier in September, but now it’s just tiresome.

front border

Dry heat at this time of year saps all my enthusiasm.  Plants are wilting, the lawn is browning, and even though there are likely another three or so weeks to go until frost, I’m ready to let it all go.

The plants seem ready to let it go as well.  The summer crowd is moving on and the flowers and grasses of autumn are doing their best to pull together for a finale.

Korean feather reed

Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) looks great with the fading hydrangea flowers but I find this grass too invasive to keep.  Even if I cut the seedheads there will still be some seedlings next spring… some of which I always end up leaving…

Even as the perennials fade, the half-hardy cannas and verbena bonariensis are still putting on a decent show.  I should really water a little, it would be the least I could do for them after all their hard work this year.

kochia burning bush

The canna ‘cannova rose’ would probably be flowering more if I deadheaded, but… they still look fine.  Here the burning bush (Kochia) is finally doing its thing for a few days before drying up in the heat.

There is one surprise though.  Last fall I bought a ‘hardy’ agapanthus which I didn’t dare leave outside.  It overwintered dormant on a cold windowsill and then went into the bed in May.  I can’t believe my small plant has flowered!

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘blue yonder’ is supposedly hardy from zone 5-10.  I know people have had success in 5, but I’m still not convinced it will make it for me.  I’ll have to let you know next April.

The other surprise has been the butterfly hordes which have come to the garden this past week.  Dozens of painted ladies showed up a few days ago and it seems like other butterflies are showing up as well.  Maybe it’s a migration or maybe it’s just the weather drying up the surrounding and forcing them to move on for their nectar.  Either way it’s exciting to see all the butterflies surround you as they lift up off the flowers as you pass by.

painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly on the Verbena bonariensis.  They’re all over, but not all are as photogenic as this one.

I’m still waiting for more Monarchs though.  Today there were maybe a half dozen moving through but I’ve heard reports of many more North of here.  Not too long ago we had a fall like that, with dozens floating through the air, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much and I’m just glad to see the ones we’re getting.

migrating monarch butterflies

Monarchs love the verbena as well, and their orange and black wings look great with the lavender-purple.

So maybe this dry heat is good for something after all.  Maybe it’s the perfect weather for butterflies on the move and will make their migration even more successful.  I’ll tell myself that as I stand in the heat with a water hose, cursing the stupid gnats and dreaming of snowdrops.  Is it too soon for that?

Colchicums!

I’m finally ready to admit it’s fall and then what happens?  The rains stop, the thermometer rises, and we’re right into the middle of a stinkin’ heat wave.  I would have loved this at the start of the month when the pool was still open, but now it’s just making the gnats hungry and me grumpy.  Fortunately it’s colchicum season and between that and the chrysanthemums things look somewhat refreshing around here (provided you only go out in the morning or near sunset!)

colchicum bornmuelleri

Colchicums, aka autumn crocus, aka naked ladies, are a nice way to ring in the change of seasons with something fresh.  Out of the hard, dry ground come these unlikely flowers, all eager to show off such as this favorite, Colchicum speciosum ssp. bornmuelleri

I’ve written about colchicums before so I don’t want to rehash the same old info I always give out, but the short summary version for the autumn blooming types is… leafy clumps of hosta-like leaves in the spring fade away in May, and various shades of pink through white crocus-like flowers appear without anything else (naked!) in late summer and early autumn.  I like them well enough 🙂

colchicum in lawn

Before things got too hot the colchicums in the meadow area were coming up nicely.  They seem to be settling in well but if you look towards the back you’ll see another planting which is much sparser.

The trick to growing colchicums is to find a spot where the spring foliage won’t bother you as it dies back in early summer, yet the spot is open enough so you can see the flowers as they come up later in the year.  For a while I had them all by themselves in a bed which was too dry for anything else, but as they’ve multiplied I’ve had to plant them outside my comfort zone and actually try and come up with decent companion plantings and landscape uses.

colchicum in ground cover

I’ve shown them in the blue plumbago Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) ground cover before.  It’s not for everyone but I don’t think it’s the worst combination I’ve ever put together.

The plantings which have pleased me the most are the ones in ground covers rather than plain old mulch or bare soil.  Sedums make a nice carpet and I have it in my head to try a lot more like this.  Hopefully some of that will happen!

colchicum autumnale album

Colchicum autumnale album with and without a nice creeping sedum blanket.  I think the ones surrounded by green are far nicer.

Unlike most bulbs which move best while dormant, colchicums also give you the option of procrastinating until bloom time and then having the much more enjoyable experience of digging and planting bulbs (actually corms if you’re going to get technical, and even then people will debate you) in full bloom and moving them to the exact spot you want to see them flower.

dividing colchicum

Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ lifted and divided at the start of September.  The roots are just starting but if you’re careful no harm is done.

You really want to make sure they’re in a spot where you won’t miss the flowers.  The big, bright ones are unavoidable but the smaller more detailed blooms are also worth your attention.  Checkering, or tessellation, is something extra special and worth a closer look.

colchicum tessellation

The dainty and early flowering Colchicum x aggripinum.  Tessellation on the newly opened flowers of this hybrid is really something.

This flower also does doubles.  I’m not the type of gardener who will drop any single just to pick up the double version, but these have their own charms… well maybe not charm since they’re so fat and double and pink, but they do pack a punch.  I think of paper flowers when I see these, I don’t think it would too hard to replicate them in pink crepe paper if the need arose.

colchicum waterlily

colchicum waterlily

Who am I kidding?  I love the double as much as any of the others, and if we’re being honest I really wouldn’t mind adding another couple new ones even if it was only to have another couple new ones.  Just for the record I saw a few really tempting ones at my favorite local nursery, Perennial Point, and I did not buy one.  Yes, I’m patting myself on the back.

colchicum byzantium

I think I like them in the lawn best of all (C. byzantium)

I may be working through collecting issues with these bulbs, but there’s someone else out there who’s clearly gone over the edge.  Her name is Kathy Purdy and if you’re a follower of Cold Climate Gardening you already know she has one of the largest colchicum collections around and will be opening her upstate New York garden this fall for the first time to show them off.  I’m in, and if you’re interested >click here< to visit her blog for the details.  Have a great week!

The Efficiency of Factory Farming

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

potager flowers

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

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

canna cannova rose

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

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

birdfood sunflowers

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

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

colchicum x agrippinum

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

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

colchicum speciosum

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

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

potager flowers

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

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

kiss me over the garden gate

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

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

potager flowers

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

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

hardy garden chrysanthemum

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

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

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

Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.22.16

Following the first hard frost, the tropical view has continued to spiral downwards into the reality of its temperate latitude.  Our first significant snowfall came on Saturday night and although snow at this time of year is not unheard of, the long warm autumn and the fact Saturday topped out at 65F (18C) left me in a bit of a shock when I woke up to the white.

Tuesday view snow

I guess it might finally be time to dig the dahlias and cannas. 

The frosted annuals and browned cannas are still standing just where they were three weeks ago, and although the mess may look like complete apathy has set in the reality is I’ve been quite busy.  There’s been a good amount of earth moving and bed building on top of the required leaf cleanup and bulb planting and I feel pretty good about spring, I just want warmth to return for a few more weeks so I can finish digging and planting.

But if the weather doesn’t change I’ll get over it.  No one’s life has ever crumbled over a few unraked leaves or frozen dahlias and as long as there are plenty of snowdrops in April I’ll be fine.  There’s always next year 🙂

Our Days Are Numbered

There’s an impending air of doom hanging over the garden, and the threat of next week taints everything.  The Cubs winning the World Series was likely the first sign of the apocalypse and now I can only imagine what next Wednesday could bring.  Our current stretch of warm weather has me even more nervous since as we know from high school science, freezing is an exothermic process and on the chance that Hell has indeed frozen over science would predict that things up here on the surface would warm up as a result.  I’ve never hoped for a cold snap more, even if it means losing the last of the autumn flowers.

late chrysanthemum

The latest of my seedling chrysanthemums.  This one’s not as hardy as the rest but does well enough up near the foundation.

The last of the autumn leaves are really hanging on in the warmth.  This red maples along the fence is always my favorite with its sunset blend of reds, oranges, and yellows.  As the days go on it will hopefully fade to pale yellow with red highlights before finally covering the lawn with a carpet of next year’s mulch and compost.

maple fall foliage

For most of the year I resent the greedy water stealing roots of this pesky red maple (Acer rubrum), but for a few days in autumn I forgive it and soak up every glowing minute of its final foliage show.

Closer to the ground the earliest (or latest, depending on your perspective) bulbs are beginning to show signs of growth.  My absolute favorite right this moment is the fall blooming snowdrop a friend of mine brought back for me from Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  I love a plant with a story and this one has a good one.  Its full name is Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose and to be honest I love writing that one out.  It’s the nerdy Latin way of describing a fall blooming snowdrop with a single green mark that comes to me via Montrose Gardens.  This one and its thousands of sisters are all the descendants of a handful of bulbs Mrs. Goodwin purchased decades ago at a local hardware store.  They say the rest is history, but in this case it’s a history which required years of division and transplanting as the bulbs were slowly spread across her acres of woodland.  The bulbs now make an unparalleled show each autumn around Thanksgiving and I wouldn’t rule out some day making the eight hour trip to see it in person.  Such are the dreams of the obsessed, but if you’d like more information have a look at this NY Times article on a visit to the gardens, and also consider looking up Nancy Goodwin’s book “Montrose: Life in a Garden” for a monthly chronicle of the gardens.  She was also a big fan of the Cyclamen family and grows thousands of them as well.  That’s my kind of gardener.

fall galanthus elwesii monostctus

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose.  Yeah.

Besides fall blooming snowdrops, there was also an October surprise here when my two auricula primrose insisted on sending up a few autumn flower stalks.  I’d rather they waited until spring since the flowers don’t look nearly as big or nice as the could, but my hope is they really liked their repotting and are only just ramping up to an even more amazing show in March under the growlights…. unless they’re planning on dying, which is always another possibility for plants in my care.

primula auricula

A pair of primula.  Primula auricula hybrids to be exact.  The yellow had bloomed before but this is the first flower for the brownish one, and I’m pleased with the color.

Some other final color in the garden is the Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydons Favorite’.  It waits until the very end of the season and carries it out with a clear lavender blue color and attractive dark eyes as the flowers fade.  I should really give it a little more room and respect next year, and not let it suffer all summer crowded and untended while the summer annuals steal the show.

Aster oblongifolius 'Raydons Favorite'

Amidst the mildew decay of fading peony foliage and frosted zinnias, Aster ‘Raydons Favorite’ offers up fresh color for this part of the border.  I think more would be a good idea.

I can’t do a late fall post without slipping in a cyclamen or two.  They’re sending out more and more of their beautiful foliage and while other parts of the garden are fading, these go from strength to strength.  I may have to talk to John Lonsdale about adding a few new ones since you can never have too many of these treasures and he always seems to have a few special ones for sale at Edgewood Gardens.

cyclamen hederifolium

The hardy Cyclamen hederifolium starts flowering without foliage in late summer.  I love it even more when the leaves begin to come up and there are still plenty of blooms to accent them.

The range of foliage types in Cyclamen hederifolium is really outstanding.  The dainty and distinct flowers are almost more of an afterthought.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

For the moment I may have resisted adding any new Cyclamen but don’t be under the false impression I’ve resisted all the other goodies which can be found during fall planting season… or even better found during autumn clearance sales.  For some reason I found the Santa Rosa clearance sale (still going on btw, and don’t miss out on the additional 20% off coupon code) and discovered I needed more grasses and a trio of carnivorous pitcher plants.  Who knew?

Sarracenia from santa rosa gardens

Three new bog plants (Sarracenia) for the bog I don’t have.  Hopefully I can keep them happy elsewhere since they’re so absolutely cool with their sinister insect trapping pitchers.

As I go on and on about new plants I won’t even mention the tulips which need planting, the daffodils which need replanting, and the projects which need finishing before the bottom drops out of this pleasant autumn weather.  Let’s hope that’s the only thing which the bottom drops out of this week.

Have a good one!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 11.1.16

As you can see from this Tuesday’s view, the weather forecast was correct and Tuesday night we received our first strong frost.  One night and the tropical summer was over… but for this part of PA the last week of October is a late frost date, so there are no complaints from this end.  It was a great year!

tuesday view tropical plants

No denying fall is here now.  The cannas are browned, the dahlias are blackened, yet even at the end of the season there’s still some color left.

You wouldn’t guess it but I did spend a few minutes cleaning up.  The mildewed Verbena bonariensis had been bothering me so those were cut down, and a few large blackened salvias and coleus were taken out as well.  For the most part though the rest will come out this weekend (I hope) as I dig canna and dahlia roots and pack them away for the winter, but I have to say even with less color it’s still kind of interesting.  I’m discovering things here and there which have been overshadowed by the annuals for the past three months.

chrysanthemum carousel

A bit tousled by this weekend’s thunderstorm, chrysanthemum ‘Carousel’ is still holding up to the cooler nights.  The green nicotina is also doing well, but the surprise was the fat clump of Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima… recently renamed though) which was hiding under the verbena I pulled.

Today I did go ahead and plant a few leftover snowdrops in the tropical bed.  The idea of early spring snowdrops sounds nice enough, but I’m pretty sure it will prove to be a bad idea come July when I want to replant all the summer visitors in the same spot.  “Oh well” I say.  Summer is a long time off and spring flowers are more fun to think of.

So as the season winds down here I’d again like to thank Cathy at Words and Herbs for hosting the Tuesday view each week.  It’s been a nice run but I believe winter has most of us calling it quits for the season and our thoughts are turning inside and towards the holidays.  Not a bad idea at all, but I might still have another week or two in me, if only to prove that I really did dig up and store all those fantastic roots and bulbs for next year!