Bits and Pieces

There’s a forecast for snow tomorrow, and in this little slice of near-suburbia things are absolutely not ready.  The gardener has been in more of a Netflix mood rather than a slaving out in the elements mood and as a result things are more behind than usual.  ‘No big deal’ he says as he dips his hand in yet another vat of overly buttered popcorn, and that pretty much sums up the last few days… except for the weekend.  It was sunny yet cold, and after weeks of gloom the sun was a nice change.

ranch house landscape

Just a few more days and out with the pumpkins and in with the boughs of holly.  Fyi I’m thinking of moving the arborvitae… any thoughts on that?

In between re-acquainting myself with a rain-free garden and doing all the fall cleanup in just two days I did a little poking around and tried to find a few things of interest in an otherwise dying garden.

Polystichum polyblepharum 'Japanese Tassel Fern'

Evergreen ferns look even nicer set off by the yellowed hosta foliage.  This is the Japanese Tassel fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, and one of my favorites.  Thick brown fur covers the newly emerging fronds, and the plant as a whole is much sturdier than you might think.

There are a few last flowers, but many didn’t hold up well to the relentless rain.  The chrysanthemums are mostly washed out with the exception of a single stray seedling which snuggles up against the porch.  I tolerate its sloppiness all year and then finally reap the rewards in November when its flowers open to signal the end of the season.

late blooming chrysanthemum

My last chrysanthemum.  

Out along the street the front border got a clearing out so that the earliest spring flowers can have an open stage for whenever the first warm spell hits.  Of course that’s code for ‘I planted more snowdrops here’, but snowdrop season comes on fast and I want to be sure I’m prepared for that at least!

leaf mulch perennial bed

The interior of the bed has been cleared out and a Rolls Royce layer of leaf mulch put down.  They’re the shredded Japanese maple leaves from next door, mixed up with a good amount of lawn clippings which should be delicious for the earthworms.  

Although I did do some clearing out, the bulk of my fall cleanup is just removing anything which looks overly messy, and then running the leaves over with the mower and tossing the shreddings into select beds.  Whatever is left I can just refer to as winter interest and eventually get it come springtime.

abelmoschus seed pod

Although it was one of the first plants to go when temperatures dropped, the dead stalks of the abelmoschus still look great with their fuzzy seedpods.

Honestly if I had the opportunity I would want about double the amount of leaves that I collect each fall off the lawns.  Some would go into the compost, but most just gets thrown back as a winter blanket for empty vegetable beds and sleeping perennial plantings.  As it is I still end up volunteering to clean out my Bil’s backyard and then robbing the woods for whatever’s been dumped back there.  It’s sad how I covet my neighbor’s fallen leaves.

Lindera glauca var. salicifolia

An Asian spicebush, Lindera glauca var. salicifolia was named as my friend’s favorite shrub and I’d have to agree.  The seedlings she shared with me are finally coming along and I love the late season glow of their foliage.

It’s not all about dead leaves though.  Snowdrop talk will come up more and more now that the weather is turning cold.  This season I am eagerly awaiting the opening of my new snowdrop walk, and based on all the buzz already surrounding it I’m sure it will be an excellent new springtime adventure.

snowdrop walk

Just in case it’s not obvious the new snowdrop walk enters between the chrysanthemums and carries you across the bed.  Most people will need to crawl if they wish to avoid a cherry branch to the forehead, but you’ll be down low looking at them anyway so why bother with a whole bunch of head-room?

In the meantime, a few hardy cyclamen line the snowdrop walk.  Cyclamen hederifolium is sending up its winter foliage now and the last flowers look even better against the beautifully patterned leaves.

cyclamen hederifolium

It appears I’ve lost a few older cyclamen plants this summer, most likely due to all the rain, but there are still plenty left surviving and multiplying.

With the snowdrop walk all prepped and waiting, it’s time to turn towards the next on again off again project.

quaking aspen bark

The land beyond the fence.  Years back, before the fence went up, I used to mow around a few little quaking aspen sprouts.  They’ve grown since, and are now sporting some attractively bright bark color.  

You may remember that my MiL lives next door, and that a few years back I was able to get a bunch of fill dumped behind her house.  In the years since, I’ve managed to level and plant the half closest to her fence, but the other half still needs grading and moving.  After losing all hope of someone coming and doing the job in a day or two with all the right machinery, I’ve finally decided it will be me who digs and grades and moves all the dirt that remains.  My guess is that the rest of my life will be spent digging back here, but I already have a shovel and the dirt is free, so what have I got to lose?

grading fill

Left side graded and planted to grass, right side still to be done.  While I’m at it someone’s mentioned they’d like a screen of evergreens planted, so why not add that to the list as well….

I’ll be using the dirt to fill in some of the low spots in my own yard.  It’s terrible soil and a ridiculous amount of work but I find I can only watch Netflix for so long before boredom sets in, and I do like earthmoving projects.  S we’ll see how it goes.  Maybe I can just rename this part of the yard ‘the gym’ and spend all the saved money on other more exciting things.  Now what would that be….  snowdrops perhaps?  😉

Must. Make. Post.

The endless gloom of this year’s weather cycle has finally started to get to me.  Even in a good year I’m not the most enthusiastic garden worker, but when the overcast and rainy days come one after another, and the ground is in a constant state of squish, I really don’t feel like much of anything.  Good thing it’s finally the natural time of fading decay that others fondly refer to as autumn.  I guess I can let it all slide without a guilty conscience and then hope that the winter winds do my cleanup for me 🙂

street border in autumn

To be honest I did go along the street border and do a little cleaning up of dead things and overly lush grass growth.  I feel like the dogwood seedlings have colored up exceptionally this autumn!

A lack of life giving sunshine and constant moisture must favor a colorful death process because whatever the endless rain hasn’t moulded up is showing a wonderful range of pinks and purples.  Usually the hydrangeas go straight to brown, but this year even ‘Limelight’ has taken on a bright pink hue.

limelight hydrangea autumn

The colors of autumn with a promise of spring in the tight buds of next year’s dogwood blooms.

Frost has taken down the bright annuals out front, but asters, grasses and plenty of yellow foliage remain.

front border autumn

‘Golden Sunshine’ willow makes a nice yellow accent alongside the pinks and purples.  It’s really enjoyed the rainy summer and one in the back yard has probably put on a good ten feet of growth this summer.  All of the willows will be cut back to the ground this winter.

All the tropicals which earned a spot indoors have come into the garage, but my one potted candlestick bush (Senna alata) still gets dragged outside for warmer spells.  It’s managed to put out a few weak flowers and of course I’m thrilled to get it this far.  Maybe I can cut it back and overwinter the plant indoors, but I’ve killed enough plants over the years that I don’t have all that much hope of pulling that off.

candlestick bush senna

Candlestick bush soaking up the last of the above freezing weather.  

While we’re over by the garage I can’t help but think that the ‘Green Giant’ thuja is going to need some attention one of these winters.  It’s a big tree and I’ve got it planted ten feet from the garage and maybe four feet from the walk.  When I planted it ten years ago the plan was for a quick screen from the house next door, and it’s done a great job, but trimming is not something I want to deal with every year.  Even with a ladder I can only safely reach about halfway up so I’m considering either leaving them go for the next five or ten years, or topping them and giving them one harsh trim and see what happens.  A review of previous experience leans heavily towards doing nothing for the next ten years and then suddenly cutting them to the ground one morning when I need a spot to plant my latest, newest, most amazing plant.  We’ll see.

green giant hedge

I have to confess a love for arborvitaes.  They’re common and maybe even overplanted, but I love them.  Here are my ‘Green Giants’ growing just like they should, planted in a spot where perhaps they shouldn’t.  

Following the confession of poor planting decisions here are a few autumn colors to distract.

fall color Syneilesis aconitifolia

The shredded umbrella plant (Syneilesis aconitifolia) coloring up for the fall.

Following this weekend’s rain I’m sure leaf cleanup will need to begin.  I know I claimed to be considering waiting for the winter winds to take care of them all, but I’m far to greedy to give up the leaf mulch.  A few rounds with the lawnmower should get me enough to mulch some of my most special plantings.

autumn color

The compost pile is there to the right, the full wheelbarrow just ten feet to the left…. am I really that lazy that I couldn’t just make it all the way?

More fall color to distract.

fall color stewartia

Stewartia is always a star for fall color, especially when not coming off months of drought.  

Not to change the subject too much, but just as my wonderful teepee of spanish flag vine (Mina aka Ipomoea lobata) was finally coming into bloom, the temperatures dropped just enough to frost the bulk of it, so here’s a single sad photo of all that’s left, rather than a ten foot high pyramid of celabratory oranges and reds.  Fortunately some snapdragon vine (Asarina scandens) held up to the cold with their cool little purple flowers, and some chrysanthemum followed along behind, also pretending to be climbers.  I may just skip the flag next year and go all snapdragon.

fall flowers asarina

The last lingering flowers in the ‘vegetable’ patch. 

Here’s one last treat.

galanthus peshmenii

Galanthus peshmenii, new this year and my first attempt at growing a fall blooming snowdrop outdoors.

So that’s it from this end of Pennsylvania.  I saw a dash of sunshine just a few minutes ago but just the fact it’s stopped raining is a big step forward in my opinion.  Let’s hope at least one day this weekend offers the garden and the gardener a chance to dry out and get something productive done.  All the best!

Annual is Not a Bad Word

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

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

abelmoschus manihot

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

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

abelmoschus manihot seedpod

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

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

coleus in a border

Coleus, zinnias, salvia and Abelmoschatus in the front border

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

annual flower bed

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

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

potted caladiums

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

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

browillia americana

Browallia americana with just a few tasteful selected marigolds.

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

datura metel

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

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

pumpkin patch

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

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

prince tut papyrus

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

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

cuphea firecracker plant

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

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

cassia popcorn plant

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

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

black eyed susan vine thunbergia

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

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

deck plantings coleus

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

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

elephant ears and canna

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye to August

September is here and to be honest there aren’t a whole lot of nice things I can say about the month.  September means fall is close, and I dread watching the garden shut down for the winter.  You wouldn’t guess it from the thermometer, since last week was up into the 90’s again, but the sun is setting noticeably earlier and the mornings are much more dewy than any self respecting July morning would be.

self sown sunflowers

The sunflowers along the street keep a steady stream of birds flying across the yard.  Between ripe coneflower seeds and juicy sunflowers there’s plenty for them to munch on.

I managed to make a tour of the garden Wednesday evening after the worst of the heat had passed and since it was far too hot to actually do anything else I at least managed to take a few pictures in between waving off gnats and swatting at mosquitos.  That was no small feat considering the mosquitos these last few weeks are the worst of the season, with a thirst for blood unparalleled outside of a salt-marsh, swampland or the great North.  They like coming in straight for the face, and as a wearer of glasses I’ve never had to slap at myself so many times while struggling to keep dirty fingers from knocking the glasses right off my face.

amaranthus hot biscuits

The front border in the evening light.  I’m pleased to have amaranthus ‘Hot Biscuits’ return from last year’s seed, I always like it when it catches the last of the day’s light.  Poor hydrangea ‘Limelight’, he’s had a bit of a flop with all the rain…  

With all the rain we’ve had this year, the front border and most of the garden in general looks very similar to last year’s extravaganza.  I would apologize ahead of time for showing the same old plants again and again, but I’m pretty sure that’s just overestimating how closely anyone other than myself follows this blog.  So in addition to the sunflowers and amaranthus, here’s another perennial annual which keeps coming back, snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata).

euphorbia marginata snow on the mountain

Snow-on-the-mountain is putting out its bright white bracts to coincide with the opening of its tiny white flowers at the center.  These always seem to find a perfect spot to place themselves.  

Other annuals took a little more work to get started.  The coleus and ‘profusion’ zinnias were planted out in the spring and fussed over for a few weeks before they came into their own.  I tried to step outside of my little box by trying some ‘profusion apricot’ zinnias, but really just spent the whole summer missing my usual orange or hot pink zinnias 🙂

zinnia apricot profusion

Zinnia ‘profusion apricot’ looking ok once it’s out of the bright sun…. In full, hot, blazing sun it looks a little washed out though.

I have no cardoon this summer.  I miss it.  After nursing a potted cardoon along all winter in the garage, and carefully keeping it in the Goldilocks zone of not-too-hot, not-too-cold temperatures while the weather outside came and went, I promptly sent it to its death once it went back in the ground.  Too much rain and probably too much freeze one night did it in, but at least my candlestick plant (Senna alata, aka Cassia alata) has come along to fill the void.

senna alata candlestick plant

At five feet and counting there are still no signs of flowers on the candlestick plant.  It will be stupid of me to try and overwinter this thing, but studies show….

For as much as I love the foliage on the candlestick plant, I really shouldn’t thumb my nose at the other leaves in this garden.  On the way back towards the tropical garden my Charlie Brown Christmas tree is finally looking a little better now that this year’s new growth has replaced the scorched brown needles from last winter.

Pinus densiflora 'Burke's Red Variegated'

Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  It’s a big name for a little tree, but I like the ‘character’ this tortured little thing is developing.  Unless it dies… then less character and more growth would have been a better thing.

Can I show off the tropical garden one more time?  The cannas are fantastic this summer.  A few in the back have been stunted by some I’m-sure-they-won’t-get-too-big sunflowers, but the rest have really enjoyed the steady rain and generous heat and humidity.  Yellow striped ‘Bengal Tiger’ is my absolute favorite.

canna bengal tiger

Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’

Coming in a close second are the deliciously dark and glossy leaves of canna ‘Australia’.  I’ve grown this one for years and it’s never looked this nice before, and it kind of makes me regret all the years I’ve been doing this plant wrong… and then I look back at it again and I’m just happy 🙂

canna australia

Canna ‘Australia’ with a mess of just about everything else.

As usual the tropical garden has become an eruption of growth but unfortunately this year it’s about as far as I get when it comes to maintenance in this part of the garden.  Out of curiosity I let the neatly upright switchgrass (Panicum ‘Northwind’) seed out along the border just to see what turned up.  Turns out a mess is what showed up.  The seedlings are beautiful and graceful, but just too big and broad compared to mom.  I’m thinking they’ll disappear this weekend, but my to-do list always has a way of evaporating when I actually get out there.

panicum seedling

A froth of switchgrass where a neat little heuchera planting used to be.  It would really be a shame to toss them all…

I’m not saying I have a tendency to let things get out of hand, but what used to be neatly mown weeds and grass under the deck has turned into a mass of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).  I like jewelweed.  Something about it makes it seem so harmless even when it’s pushing five feet and has covered up every other weed in the bed.  Maybe the fact it’s a native wildflower that wins me over, or the cool exploding seed pods or itch-relieving sap the plant produces, whatever it is I don’t miss wrestling the mower around to get under the deck.

jewelweed

Jewelweed filling in under the deck.  It does fill the space nicely, and its small orange flowers are popular with the local hummingbirds. 

Harmless giants seem to be a dime a dozen out back.  Throughout the potager (looming over the last few vegetables) are more yellow sunflowers plus the dark garnet of ‘Hopi Dye’ amaranthus.  pink kiss me over the garden gate (Persicaria orientalis) dangles down from 8 foot plants, and annual vines creep all over.

august sunflower

One sunflower managed to place its main stalk perfectly inside the wire of the trellis.  I wish more of my plants self-staked.  

The potager really only has a few peppers, zucchini, and eggplant remaining.  The tomatoes are just a thicket of foliar diseases and a halfway decent patch of celery has rotted away from too much rain.  Fortunately there’s always verbena bonariensis.  It’s filled in many of the vacant spots, and I hope come September and October the Monarch butterflies find it to their liking.  Last year was an excellent butterfly year for us, and I think this year’s migration may be even better!

august potager

The garden rarely makes it into September this lush.  Green all over, and much of it isn’t even weeds!

One last thing to mention, if only because I think it’s a cool thing.  The salvia splendens seeds  started in spring were supposed to be a dark purple just like the purples who’s seed I’ve been saving and who’s seed I’ve been sowing.  Every now and then one comes up a less interesting, paler color which I get rid of, but this year one showed up with a little more red, maybe a garnet color if you want to call it that.  I’ll have to save seeds of course.

salvia splendens

Salvia splendens plants in purple and a slightly shorter plant with garnet flowers.  They’re late bloomers and I look forward to having them come along at this time of year.

Seed saving and bulbs, I guess they’re the next big cycle in the year of the garden even though I’ll try and put them off as long as possible.  It may be September and there might be pumpkin spice showing up all over the place but I’m not giving up on summer until at least the leaves start dropping and I’ve got a windshield to scrape.  Yes it’s denial.  I’ll think about facing fall in October and to be honest that’s still plenty of fall for me.

Have a great weekend!

Where is Summer Going!?

It’s entirely possible that everyone shares this same gripe, but I feel summer has been flying by this year.  Even more so than usual.  The days go faster, the schedule seems busier, and all I want to do is slow the calendar down.  I don’t even want to talk about autumn, but those back to school sales are in full swing, and I saw plenty of plasticky orange and yellow fall decorations lining the shelves of the local mart, just waiting for the summer haters to open their wallets.

In the meantime here’s a quick, picture heavy run-through of the garden in high summer.  It’s my favorite time of the year out there.

standing cypress

Annual standing cypress has seeded in nicely anywhere the mulch used to be and brings some bright red to the border.

These photos were taken over the weekend, and it was just the beginning of our latest round of gully ripping downpours that hail from the tropics.  Monday I think we topped another three inches and unfortunately that does not bode well for the lower lying areas.

monarch on rudbeckia

Monarch on Rudbeckia triloba.

The plants seem fine though.  Everything is lush and vibrant and other than a little floppiness and extra height it sure beats dealing with another year of soil-cracking drought.

pale sunflower

A pale sunflower out along the street.  I always love them against the feather reed grass.

Even with the dampness and humidity it’s much more pleasant to dig in freshly-watered soil than it is to pickax your way through a dry and dusty crust.  With some time on my hands and a little too much ‘exuberance’ in the front border I did some editing.  You barely notice the vacancies.

garden overhaul

Nothing like a big dig project on a 90F degree day.

Of course the weeds have been a nonstop battle.  I finally broke down and bought a few bags of mulch in hopes of clearing out a spot in back… which is definitely out of control.  Needless to say it is still out of control, but I used the mulch to neaten up a couple edges in front and that made me even happier.  Maybe I’ll crack open the wallet again for a few more bags.  It’s slightly addicting.

senna alata annual

My “other” popcorn plant, actually a candlestick plant (Senna alata aka cassia) showing off some of its cool leaves.

In the meantime I just love all the color and the busyness of bees, and bugs, and hummingbirds and goldfinches zipping around from sunup to sundown.

cannova rose

‘Cannova Rose’ highlighting the front border.

Mulching is rewarding, but for the most part for me this part of the year is more a matter of counting your losses, writing them off, and enjoying the successes.  I was hoping last year would be my last caladium year, but apparently the obsession continues.  They are one plant which has been thoroughly enjoying the rain and humidity and who am I to turn my back on such happy plants?

potted caladiums

The caladiums are just happy doing their own thing in a patch of shade.

Something I don’t want to talk about too much are the two new daylilies which have shown up.  Apparently people like these things, so who am I to not give them another chance?

blue fescue border

Finally, a neat foundation planting and a new daylily.  Brighter is better in my opinion 🙂

As I was working through the foundation beds (finally), it occurred to me that many of my weed problems might have something to do with me.  Every week or two I rip out a couple more milkweed shoots as they try and take over the entire front yard.  Maybe the ‘weed’ part of their name could have been a tip-off but hey, they showed up on their own and the butterflies like them so I figured what’s the harm in leaving a few.  I frequently see eggs being laid but as of yet no caterpillars, and I wonder if that’s the down side to having all those bees and other pollinators flying around.  I think they might be adding a little protein to their nectar diets.

milkweed in the garden

Milkweed in popping up around the garden.  The record so far is 15 feet out into the middle of the lawn!

Around back there is definitely a need for some mulching attention.  Your best bet is to ignore that, and just look at how nicely the jungle is spreading.

canna bengal tiger

Looking over the tropics into the backyard.  The cannas are starting to really take off is spite of the crowded planting conditions.

As usual there are too many sunflowers, but eventually the cannas and other stuff force their way through and it’s all good.

canna australia

Canna ‘Australia’ has never looked better.  I love the shiny darkness of the leaves and it’s lush growth this summer.

I can only imagine what shenanigans are going on in the interior of the bed.

canna red russian

The cannas in back have barely made it to six feet.  I blame the sunflowers of course!

Once you reach the backyard it’s practically a wild kingdom.  The potager is now on its own and the selfsowing annuals will take over as I make a weak attempt to save a few vegetables.  Eight foot sunflowers and persicaria (kiss me over the garden gate) leave little room for a bean plant.

potager garden

The potager is on its own now.  I just try and get the mower through and call it a success if I do.

There are a few things though.  Peppers and eggplants are coming along, but the tomatoes look as if the rain has done them in.

growing bell peppers

It’s been a good year for peppers!

I forgot the zucchini.  There’s some of that in the way back.

lilium formosanum

The lilies (Lilium formosanum) are starting out back.  They’re always a sign that summer is edging past its peak.

Beyond that is just weeds.  The meadow needs mowing, and the shade beds are just sitting there (and I’m all for just sitting there) but eventually I hope to whack it back before it all goes to seed.  Cool weather can be an inspiration, so we will see if that can snap me out of enjoyment mode and knock me back into taming it for next year mode 🙂

succulent cuttings

Garden visitors are all offered as many succulents as they want.  Apparently I haven’t been getting enough visitors!

In the meantime enjoy August.  I suspect it will go even faster than July!

A Tropical Update

While we look to the tropics and wait to see what the latest hurricane brings I think a trip to the milder side is in order.  The Pennsylvania tropics are much calmer and even-keeled and if you ignore the heavy hand of winter’s approach I think it’s a nice enough retreat from everything else going on.

tropical garden

The tropical border this summer.  The steady rains were a plus but the cooler temperatures held many a hot-blooded plant back.

Even though things were in the ground earlier than ever this year the cool weather made for a slow start.  I even lost nearly all the dahlias when my “big patch of ’em” idea didn’t go well with the “all the water drains here” reality.  Losing plants to an excess of water is not something I’ve ever experienced here on this thin-soiled hilltop.  Fortunately there’s always a backup plan.

tropical garden

The striped leaves of ‘Bengal Tiger’ canna rank as one of my all time favorite plants.  To me they seem to go well with everything, especially the purple verbena bonariensis and surviving dahlias.

Verbena.  Verbena bonariensis is my backup plan for nearly every plant fiasco/disaster.  Any unmulched sunny spot quickly sprouts a few seedlings and all this gardener has to do is stand back.  If anything they need thinning since they  come up thick and look much better when each has some space of their own.

alcazar kniphofia

This might be my most promising red hot poker.  Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ has nice big spikes with just the right glow factor.  Last year there were only two flower stalks which faded in a week or two, but this year three flushes of flowerings kept the plant interesting for almost two months.  I hope it wasn’t a fluke!

I do tend to let things just happen.  Laziness and distraction can do that to a garden, and the far end of the tropical border is mostly foliage.

tropical garden

Leaves aren’t all that bad.  Having a spot where color is not entirely in your face is probably a good idea.

The mulch which I smothered this end of the bed with must have contained some leftover autumn decorations so the coleus I planted ended up being smothered by the climbing vines of Yugoslavian finger squash.  They seemed to love all the rain and vines slinked and slithered all through the back of the border.

yugoslavian finger squash

There’s something about the name ‘Yugoslavian finger squash’ which I think is funny.  Yugoslavian?  The finger?  Finger squash?  It’s like a teenage boy came up with the name and I guess it speaks volumes for my maturity level.   

So while we await our Finger squash decorating bonanza the rest of the border is busy with the bees and butterflies who take advantage of the color.

monarch on verbena

With any luck this year’s Monarch migration will be a big one, and I hope I left enough verbena to keep them around for a few days. 

I’m hoping things work out well for a big Monarch migration this autumn.  A few years ago there was a trifecta of beautiful weather, plenty of butterflies, and loads of verbena blossoms and walking through the fluttering garden was almost surreal.  Thinking back on it I really feel bad for those people who hire landscape companies, spray for any wildlife which gets too close, and then stare at lawn all summer.  Holy boring.

katydid

At three or four inches long Katydids are an insect you can have a conversation with.  People go on about bees and butterflies but these guys are my favorites… even if they do eat decent sized chunks out of the purple canna leaves.

The tropical garden is not boring.

tropical garden

Too much?  Stripes on stripes was not the plan but somehow ‘Tropicana’ ended up in front of ‘Cosmopolitan’ fountain grass.  It should look even more tasteful in another few weeks when the grass puts out its pink flower heads.

Hope a good weekend is had by all and a little boring can extend down to the areas in the path of hurricane Irma.  The tropics look much better when not ravaged by obscene winds.

Because I Can

I admire blogs which are helpful, inspiring or just plain a joy to look at, but I think mine has a different ‘mission statement’ or raison d’être.  It’s all about me, and trust me sometimes I feel like I’m all over the place so it’s not always a pretty picture.  With the gardening season well on its way to the halfway point  I sometimes step back and ask myself what the heck got into my head when I started this or that “project”.  Thankfully the thought usually flickers away almost as quickly as it came, but someone (Chloris actually, though I doubt she remembers) said the reason I do it is because I can.  It all came together with that and although I still can’t make sense out of half of it, at least I now have a legitimate answer… and of course I’m going to run with it.

All these deep thoughts came out a little more during the recent garden tour which took place here.  Don’t get me wrong, it all went well and everyone was wonderful about it and I loved that someone other than myself was excited to see the garden, but I did find myself explaining (or even making excuses) a lot.   What I probably could have done was just answer with “because I can”.  The reason I’m a compulsive plant multiplier and divider is…. well… because I can 😉

propagating perennials

A bit of root came off my newest treasure, the variegated comfrey ‘Axminster Gold’, and within a few weeks I have a new plant.  Come to think of it I must have stuck a twig of my ‘Golden Sunshine’ willow into the ground here as well since I also see a bit of it now growing to the right of the comfrey.

I’m always pinching cuttings, scattering seed, or spading out little divisions of the plants which you can never have too many of.  Just last week I realized the coleus pots on the deck were getting a little too big for early August and gave them all a trim.  Suddenly there’s a bucket full of cuttings…

coleus cuttings

I’ve got dozens of coleus planted throughout the garden this year but almost all came from just four bushy plants I picked up this spring.  I looked for well branched plants, took as many cuttings as I could, and voila!  A couple flats of free coleus to plant around the garden.

I didn’t even bother to root the latest batch of coleus cuttings, they were just stuck right into the soil wherever things looked a little sparse.  No special prep, just maybe remove a leaf or two at the base and stick them in.  Watering would be helpful, but you’d be surprised how long these can survive rootless, even in the hot sun for days.

Multiplying your annuals is easy enough but how about something like a hardy cyclamen?  I often get self sown seedlings but this year there seemed to be even more of the curiously coiled seed pods than usual.  I’ll have to collect them of course and plant them out, even though I already have a good number.  And the reason for this?  #becauseIcan

cyclamen seeds

Cyclamen hederifolium seed pods bursting as they ripen.  Looks like I’ll need to prep a new seed bed for a couple thousand more cyclamen seedlings.  Oh well, it’s #becauseIcan

Maybe I can convince myself to give a few of the seeds away but lets talk about snowdrops (once again) for just one minute.

galanthus bulbs

The bulbs I ordered online through Cornovium arrived, plus (quite a few) traded bulbs.  How many different snowdrops does one person need, surely not dozens, so why do it? #becauseIcan

I have seedling magnolias and seedling camellias.  Neither of them are likely to be hardy over the years, so why grow them? #becauseIcan

limelight hydrangea cutting

I have a beautiful ‘Limelight’ hydrangea growing out front, but now three cuttings have appeared in the vegetable garden.  They’ve done very well this year with huge panicles of flowers over a foot across, but I don’t need them and have no clue as to where they’ll go.  Why start them in the first place? #becauseIcan 

To further prove that I just don’t learn I took a few more hydrangea cuttings this weekend.  Looks like I just want to be prepared in case everything else gets ripped up and I decide to plant masses of hydrangeas all over.  For the record it’s very easy to do, now’s an excellent time to do it, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to a few cold beverages on a Sunday afternoon.  As a brief effort to keep this blog somewhat useful and mildly educational here’s how I do it.

shrub cuttings

About a six inch ‘Goldilocks’ shoot (i.e. not too young not too mature), scrape a little bark off the bottom inch, dip in rooting powder, make a hole in a pot of sand, place cutting into hole, water.  

I don’t think anyone came here today to make softwood shrub and tree cuttings, but if you do try it,  make sure the sand is what you’d call a ‘sharp’ sand.  It feels coarse, is freely draining, and usually easy to find as bagged playground sand (NOT masonry sand which is too fine).

softwood cuttings

Butterfly bushes, hydrangeas, arborvitae… all of them are easy to root shrubs and all of them unnecessary.  I don’t bother covering them, but you could.  I don’t water them everyday but you could (mine will be lucky to get rained on).  They do need to be in a fully shaded spot though, no avoiding that.

So while I ponder the locations for another fifty or eighty new shrubs (#becauseIcan), have a look at some other equally cute little babies.

monarch eggs

Ok, Monarch butterfly eggs are not cute, but they will be!  I saw the mother lingering around the milkweed and lo and behold I was able to lift a few eggs and bring them in onto the windowsill.

I’d love to bring my little babies into the house, but the boss said I can’t, and when I asked why not she said becauseIcan’t, and we will wisely drop the argument, take the eggs, and return to the garage.

caterpillar enclosure

A few old screens, some wood cut up for ends, random leftover screws to hold it together and just like that, a butterfly (well actually caterpillar) enclosure.  Someone made a comment to the effect of ‘did you seriously stain and varnish the wood for your bugs?’ and I responded with ‘yes, yes I did.’ (while I whispered #becauseIcan)

In the meantime the eggs have hatched, the caterpillars grown, and I’ve now placed them outside to find their own spot to hang their chrysalis.  With any luck there will be fresh new monarchs floating around the garden in another few days.

monarch caterpillar

Gardeners are always complaining about one thing or another eating their plants, and here I am encouraging it.  You of course guessed it… #becauseIcan

I’m afraid it may already be too late for me to quit while I’m ahead but here’s one last adventure.  Somehow I’ve accumulated quite a few caladiums, and somehow I’ve been able to overwinter them, and somehow I’ve grown attached to them.  I didn’t see this coming at all, but that doesn’t seem to matter.  This spring (well actually early summer since apparently I was too busy doing other equally pointless things), I potted up all the roots individually because I didn’t want them mixed up anymore.

caladium

A couple years worth of clearance rack purchases and random odds and ends picked up here and there.  I think they’re awesome even if they might not be the most tasteful plants.  

This weekend I sorted them out and potted them all up again into bigger containers with each container holding just one leaf type.  The OCD amongst us will also see that rather than searching out all orange pots like last time, this time I went with all the leftover black nursery pots which litter the back of my garage… mostly because that’s all I have left.  It seems so much more controlled and I was so pleased with myself that I went immediately to my favorite local nursery to look for more.  Perennial Point came through and I decided I was worth not one but two new leaf types.  It even got better when at checkout I was told that annuals were on sale, buy one get one, and suddenly I was paying $7.50 for the pair instead of the $15 full price… or not.  I of course was already set on buying two, so did the most reasonable thing and went back to select the other two I wanted as my ‘get ones’.

caladium

Why buy even more caladiums after saying I ”have too many’ in April? #becauseIcan!

And that brings me to where we’re at.  I should really take up some less compulsive hobby like marathon running or fantasy football, but I’m stuck with this.  Fortunately the kids are still young and don’t think anything’s wrong and my wife has a remarkably high tolerance for me.  She was even out in the yard this weekend and asked what something was.  I think it’s so cute when she pretends to be interested 😉

So have a great week and if anyone out there understands hashtags let me know.  A friend uses them all the time and I just thought it might be time to step up my game. #youknowit #becauseIcan