The Give and Take

So spring is here.  Maybe not spring for non-gardeners, because I have yet to see the flipflops and tank tops come out, but for a couple hours Wednesday they could have and that’s promising.  Of course we’re not out of the woods yet, but each day the light is longer, and each afternoon the sun shines stronger, and every day there’s something new sprouting up in the garden.

corydalis solida

My favorite patch of Corydalis solida.  They started as named forms, but with seedlings popping up all over I’m less and less confident and less concerned each spring as to who is who.

The last two afternoons have been warm enough to almost feel hot (up to 78F Wednesday) and that can be a shock three days after snowflurries were flying, but so far the plants are taking it in stride.  A few more days of this and things will all begin to fade and droop, but so far we’re not there, and so far the forecast looks promising for a return to digging and planting weather as opposed to porch sitting and iced beverages.

seedling hyacinths

Being a little on the odd side, I always look forward to this very uninteresting patch of hyacinths flowering.  They’re mostly seedlings of the bulbs I moved out a few years back, but I love the slight variations which have shown up from the original pink planting.

The rainy, colder weather in early April (without any more brutal arctic blasts) has made for an excellent hellebore season.  I’m again telling myself I need more of them and have been out there counseling last year’s batch of seedlings to grow faster.

hellebore flowers

Some nice yellow seedling which hold their flowers outwards a little more.  There’s a picotee seedling in there as well, which is nice, but it hangs its flowers much more.

There are some amazing newer forms of hellebores out there these days, and they’re so much easier to find than just a few years back.  That doesn’t mean I’ve gotten my hands on them yet, but at least there’s a chance.

hellebore flowers

A plant of ‘Onyx Odyssey’ not being very showy but being very cool with its glowering attitude.

My biggest problem with new additions is convincing myself that a few older ones need to go.  Sometimes it’s too easy to get attached to plants just because…

hellebore flowers

A nice springtime blend of colors on these seedlings.  I don’t think there’s much hope they’ll ever be divided even though they should have been divided…

Ok, for the most part I don’t get too attached to plants, even the annoying ones which you fuss over for years and then they still don’t amount to much.  Maybe if I keep telling myself that I can finally pull those washed out, muddy colored hellebores on the side of the garage.

hellebore flowers

Nothing muddy or washed out here.  These are doubles from the Winter Gem series.

I won’t even bore you with the less exciting hellebores.  They’re actually pretty nice, but when you need space you need space!

hellebore flowers

More seedlings.  These qualify as ‘nice’.

Somewhere else in the garden is short on space and that’s the winter garden.  A couple weeks ago I tossed all the succulents out from under the growlights and into the cold, as well as a few other things which don’t mind flirting with 32 degrees and a little frost.  The amaryllis can handle a mild frost, and it’s about time they stopped overcrowding my indoor space.

hardening off plants

It’s still about a month until our last frost date so I’ll be quite busy if another freeze rolls in, but a few flurries?  a bitter wind?  These plants will just have to get over it.

If worse comes to worst I’ll throw a sheet over them for a night or two, and if worst comes to tragedy it will free up a few pots and I just won’t tell anyone that I killed yet another batch of plants 😉

coldframe overwintering

The cold frame, ahem ‘Sand Plunge’, did an excellent job last winter, and even my Sabal minor palm seedlings overwintered with just a few burnt leaf tips.  

I wish I could say the garden, yard, and house have all emerged from construction projects as well as they’ve survived the winter.  Progress is slow and our ‘guy’ is just a two person crew with other jobs always coming up.

garden construction

The massive piles of soil are off about half the lawn, and I was able to dig up and rake off all the stones and fill which would have smothered the grass.  You can see it’s a little yellow and lumpy, but at least I can roll a mower across and not throw up a rock every couple inches.

Sometimes the other jobs come up as little surprises here.  Last fall just a small slice of the front garden had to be moved for the work to get started, and now last week just a little more ended up in the cross hairs.  “We have to figure out what’s gong on with that sewer line” is how it all started.

garden construction

A lot of dirt can come out of just two small, but really deep, holes.

“Wow that’s weird, the line has to be here somewhere”

garden construction

Maybe you can make out the top of a ten foot ladder to the far left of this photo.

My only request was to be careful around the little weeping spruce, and since the excavator liked the small magnolia he tried to save that as well… but apparently bunches of tulips and daffodils, roses, iris, hellebores and clematis, do not make the ‘save’ list.  Oh well.  As I was watching the excavator rip up the quite hefty root ball of the rose ‘William Baffin’, and saw the teeth of the scoop slice through the iron roots of the giant reed grass I thought better him than I.

garden construction

The next afternoon.  More soil scraping, rock raking, wheelbarrowing, and lawn uncovering and it doesn’t look nearly as bad.  

Hmmm.  What can I replant there?  I suspect enough things will come up that I really don’t have to even consider adding anything, but it might be good to get new plants just in case.

Actually my new budgeting theory calls for a plant tax on all major construction expenses.  Kind of like a cost of doing business, and here’s how it works.  $2,000 for a new bathroom vanity?  A 5% plant tax means $100 bucks goes over to the gardening budget, and I think that’s a very reasonable rate.  Between the new vanity and the sewer repairs I was able to visit three nurseries over the past week and added a bunch of plants I have neither the time nor space for.  It was fun and I don’t even care if they don’t all get planted.  It’s kind of like not finishing your dinner when you go out to eat I guess.  Sure you paid for the side of fries, but why get all guilt ridden when they go cold and you just send them to the trash?  At least unnecessary plants can be enjoyed on the driveway for a few months until they finally dry out one too many times 😉

It wouldn’t be the first time.  Just enjoy spring, we’ve earned it!

Four Days in February

It’s still winter here but the days are lengthening and the sun feels stronger.  I’m pretty sure the cold won’t last forever but to hear some people talk it’s absolutely brutal, and the whole winter has been an endless cycle of cold and wind and grey, and they can’t wait for things to warm up again.  Sometimes when I’m feeling brave I’ll ask if that means you’ll be able to finally complain about the heat, but those days are rare and lately I just say yeah, it’s a tough life we lead.

skiing in NEPA

Day 1: Sunday outside in the miserable cold.  Child on right, friend on left.

Sunday was cold, but on Monday it warmed up enough for at least one person in the neighborhood happy, and that guy didn’t even hide in the muddy, bulldozed backyard, he proudly trimmed and mowed and pruned in the front yard in spite of the odd looks and obvious hints that it was still 100% winter.  Actually 100% winter meant the ground was completely frozen and dead stalks broke nicely at their frozen base, bulbs were still asleep and safe from clumsy footsteps, and most importantly there was no mud.  Did I mention there’s plenty of that out back?

winter garden cleanup

Day 2:  Monday early afternoon.  Mow it all down with the hedge trimmers.

It might be too early to do all this cleanup but guess who doesn’t care.  I’m sick of the mess and there are snowdrops on the horizon, and I want those coming up without all the debris of last year making them look sad.  Chopped leaves- ok, last year’s dead stalks and freeze dried hellebore foliage- no.  Everything was hacked down with the hedge clippers and then raked onto the lawn for a mulching with the mower.  Into a mulch bag it goes and I think it looks far better.  A final tidy once March gets moving should set everything up until June 🙂

winter garden cleanup

Day2:  Late afternoon and I think it looks all ready for the earliest spring bulbs.  I just have to keep an eye on the construction trucks so they keep the ruts to a minimum… hahahaha

Day 3 was all rain.  Warm and rain.  For as much as the sun melted the snow, it barely softened the frozen soil, but the rain did and it brought on the first snowdrops up by the house.

american snowdrops

Day 4:  I snuck out of work early and caught the last light for a few photos.  Amazing what a sheltered location and just a few warm days can bring. 

So the warmth won’t last but the urge to grow will, and when cold slips back tomorrow these flowers will lay down for a week or so and then come back strong once spring gets a little more determined.  Out back a few things are also making an effort and that’s nice to see but if I were of the complaining sort I might be tempted to mention how our ski days are numbered.  Oh well.  We shall assume there is always a next year.

galanthus rosemary burnham

Day 4:  ‘Rosemary Burnham’ is all rich greens as she first comes up.  There will be fading over the next few days, but right now she’s perfect.

Hopefully your week is going without complaint, and as a warning to forestall any further complaint risks, let this be your first warning that way too many snowdrops will soon flood this blog.  You might have another week, so enjoy!

Black Friday

Around here Black Friday is a retail extravaganza where stores surge into profitability and rabid consumerism launches the ship that is called holiday shopping.  Personally I’m not much of a shopper. Instead of hitting the stores I stayed home to investigate the white lines and marks which have appeared on specific parts of the property.

garden construction

A line comes in from the street. to the left is the front border, to the right is about ten feet until the edge of our property…

Staying home sounds peaceful.  Black Friday sounds harmless.  Unfortunately on this black Friday I was the grim reaper of plantings which needed to leave the path of construction to come.

garden construction

Trucks will need to come up on this side of the yard.  A hydrangea, witch hazel, and clematis still need to come out as I’d like to save them.

It happens.  Someone here is very excited about this all and keeps talking about the joys of having a full countertop, walk in closet, room to sit in a bedroom… but someone else is less excited.

garden construction

The writing says ‘Dig Area’.  For years I’ve tried to empty out the dig area and avoid any ‘just for a few months’ plantings.  

The lack of excitement is more for the bills to come rather than the plants to go.  Only a few things will be really missed, and although it seems ruthless to slash and burn so viciously I just keep reminding myself of things like ‘it was just a free packet of seeds which sprouted’ or ‘I found it on clearance for five dollars, rather than ‘that was 13 years ago, 13 years is a lot of growing’.

garden construction

The fothergilla is still hanging on to a few brilliant leaves, and the stewartia always has a beautiful hue to its trunk this time of year.

The stewartia had a bumper crop of seedlings this spring.  I still have some time left.  The new bathroom will be a nice change.

Enjoy your weekend.

The Fall of Autumn

Supposedly autumn began weeks ago and summer is a distant memory, and in theory I understand that, but with shorts weather popping in here and there and with a sweaty lawn mowing afternoon it was easy to pretend we’re closer to July than we are to Christmas.  That is until the last week and a half.  Frosts have arrived and even a good freeze on a few nights, and it’s become hard to keep thinking autumn will be here forever and winter’s not creeping up on the horizon.  Usually that in itself will spin me into despair over the loss of summer and the slow decay of annual life and the death of almost everything green… but I’m still kind of ok this year.  The chrysanthemums were rained out but the snowdrops are starting, the fall foliage was kind of drab but the tulips are going in, and between houseplants under lights and amaryllis bulbs filled with promise it’s only the occasional dreary day which gives me the blahs.

glass gem corn

I picked the last of the glass gem corn as the potager beds begin to clear out.  The surprise of unhusking is something I never tire of and for next year I wonder if planting only pink or green or lavender seed would be a thing to try. 

Trust me we’ve had a good share of dreary days, but sun as well, and if the sun can just keep trying for a few more weeks I think I’ll be able to get the bulbs in and the garden put to bed before the snow starts flying…. Assuming that happens…  Lately winters have become North Carolina mild and I’m already planning things like pruning in December and mulching in January rather than shoveling snow.

conifer pruning

A freshly pruned Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris, probably ‘nana on a high graft) looking neater, if not better, than it did before.

As the post-Covid schedule revs back up weekends are becoming more gymnastics and basketball and less sit in the garden all day thinking about what kind-of really-should ought-to-be done, rather than what comes first.  Of course I know what I should do, and of course I don’t always do it.  Case in point is the overly shaded, kind of overgrown, dwarf Scotch Pine along the porch.  It’s been that way for years and could be pruned pretty much anytime other than last Sunday, but after finishing a coffee and looking at it for one minute too long I started with that.  45 minuted spent crawling around underneath pruning out dead-wood and sawing down stubs and making the tree look arguably neater was probably not even on a to-do list but now it’s done.  Tulips are not planted, but this tree that I don’t even like all that much looks neater which is also probably good.

fall perennial border

Other things did happen last weekend.  A bunch of frozen mess was pruned down and thrown onto the lawn.  The it was all mowed up.  I think it looks very well kept and there’s also a nice pile of mulch which will be used elsewhere.

I often get into the mood where nothing’s good enough and everything’s an overgrown mess.  Sunday that happened again and now there’s one less clump of variegated maiden grass (Miscanthus ‘Dixieland’) in the garden.  I loved it but two wet years had it spending October and November as a floppy mess and instead of pruning the top I just pruned the roots instead.  Maybe it will be missed… but to be honest I’ve already got a few other things planted around it which could use more room so there’s a good chance whatever hole is left is already filled.  Such is the curse of the shoehorn/wedge-it-in planter.

fall perennial border

A five foot tall, five foot wide, white and green grass is missing.  I don’t even think anyone noticed.

In case you’re wondering, all the pots are accounted for and all the last tender tropicals are safely under cover for the winter, and for one of the first times ever this gardener didn’t have to jump up out of bed when he realized a freezing forecast was coming and there were still pots to drag in.  He can now think about all the cannas in need of digging and daffodils in need of a new home.  I guess that at least keeps him out of the bars.

autumn snowdrop galanthus

A fall snowdrop.  Galanthus reginae-olgae always blooms in the autumn as we head for winter and the new snowdrop season begins.  You could maybe say I’m excited about that…

So there it is.  The first snowdrop photo of the 2021/22 season and before anyone complains I want to add they’ve been blooming for weeks and I haven’t even mentioned them more than once or twice.  That will change of course, so fair warning 😉

planting tulips

I finally ripped out those disgusting dahlias.  Good riddance.  Tulips (probably way too many for a vegetable garden) are going in and a good mulch from the front lawn with chopped annuals and frosted perennials included is going on top.  

I think snowdrops in bloom are a big part of my rehabilitated views on autumn.  The fall season still doesn’t break into the top three of the favorite seasons list, but with colchicums and then chrysanthemums, and asters and cyclamen, and now snowdrops, things are much less gloomy and gray than they used to be.

Hope your autumn is more snowdrops and less gloomy as well, have a great week!

A Taste of Autumn

Yesterday was forecast to be a gloomy day of rain, with strong winds and a good chance of thundershowers, but the morning surprised me with scattered sun and a breeze almost strong enough to blow away the swarms of blackflies and keep the mosquitos grounded.  It was nice.  It was warm.  I took some pictures and actually did a few things rather than sit inside, and then when the rain and wind did finally come through it happily matched afternoon break time, so win-win!

autumn perennial border

Thinking the weekend would be lost to rain and cold, the lawn was mowed and even edged Friday afternoon.  What a guilt-free way to greet Saturday morning.

Now I’m not going to promise I did anything important or essential, but I did do a few things which have been haunting me like moving Lycoris bulbs and repotting some plants for winter.  Now if that gets you thinking this is a good time for moving Lycoris bulbs, think twice.  It’s probably not, and summer dormancy is probably better, but they’re moved now and that’s something which didn’t happen in August.

autumn porch display

I still love the pumpkins and finally found a use for the peppers which have been sitting on the side of the house all summer.  The coleus also look perfect, but that will change quickly as nighttime temperatures begin to drop.

Beyond that I just spent the morning enjoying the autumn garden.

autumn perennial border

Some lingering annuals and autumn colors on the hydrangea.

The breeze from the approaching cold front must have been carrying a few Monarch stragglers, since every now and then I would disturb a bunch hidden amongst the flowers.  They were all hungry and focused on feeding, not like the lazy floating through the air which the earlier crew was doing a few weeks ago.

monarch garden

I’m glad I deadheaded the buddleia a few weeks ago since it’s brought on one last flush of flowers for these late Monarchs.

I think there were enough flowers for a little rest-stop but with the clock ticking all the Monarchs were gone by early afternoon, riding the winds in front of the approaching rain.  Safe travels!

autumn perennial border

It’s chrysanthemum time, and I love all of them except maybe this buff “peach?” colored one.  Is it the brown grass behind or the hot pink in front, I don’t know, but something is off with these colors. 

On another note, a few years ago a box or two of Minnesota-hardy mums came to this garden and did exceptionally well in spite of neglect and poor planting locations.  During dry summers their seedlings would spread freely and this gardener was quite pleased with some of the results.  Only about four of the original plants survive but only about two of the lost ones are missed, so in spite of the money spent this gardener feels like he made out better than he usually does.

hardy chrysanthemums

Maybe not the nicest color, but I do like the more unusual flower forms of many of the seedlings.

I guess this is where I say mums make nice porch pots and I’ve bought my share of tight pots of perfectly budded plants, and then enjoyed them completely until they dried out one time too many.  If they’re hardy enough they will also do well in the garden, making a nice lump of color for a few weeks anywhere between August and October depending on the cultivar.

hardy chrysanthemums

This orange and gold seedling is nice enough to keep for another year… maybe the pink as well, but I already have a few others which are similar.

My confession is I find them kind of boring.  They’re very neat and uniform, but I like flowers that sway in the wind.  I like to see the bees working through them and plants which keep putting up more buds with larger flowers and unusual petal types.  Once again the dream of a perfect garden with ribbons and pools of fall color falls to the wayside in favor of ‘interesting’.  Oh well 🙂

hardy chrysanthemums

‘Cheerleader’ is the last of the hardy football mums.  I might have to try one more time to get some more which will tolerate my on again off again plant care program because this one is friggin awesome!

Let me just add that ‘interesting’ isn’t always as beautiful as the perfect pots from the nursery.

hardy chrysanthemums

One of my favorite colors are the white with a pale yellow centered ones.  Awesome color, but don’t look too closely at the foliage.

I transplanted all of these in June and chopped them back to sticks and worried a little that they would recover.  They did, but then the endless rains of August brought on overly lush growth which ended up nurturing disease and killing off much of the foliage and blooms.  A note for the better gardener is that chrysanthemums appreciate good air circulation and full sun, and dislike a crowded bed with overhanging sunflowers and milkweed.

hardy chrysanthemums

By now some of the plants are completely leafless.  Some are fine.  A real ‘breeder’ would probably yank all the defective ones…

Of course there’s little chance I’ll address the disease problems.  I’m more of a thoughts and prayers kind of gardener, not one who acts on these things, so maybe next year will be better.  On the other hand I will rip out a few of the ones which don’t thrill me, since new seedlings are much more fun than seeing all the same ones returning next year 😉

hardy chrysanthemums

In another bed this ‘cafe au lait’ color is something I like.  Hopefully this one proves hardy.

Here’s just one more which I like.

hardy chrysanthemums

Pink with interesting petals, but possibly weak stems?  I’ll see today how it fared through yesterday’s rain and wind.

Hopefully no one is overly impressed with my seed-growing adventures.  To put it in perspective there are often seedlings which just show up on their own, and are often much nicer than anything I nurture.

hardy chrysanthemums

Just like that a seedling appears.  Of course I’ll keep it, but maybe move it to a spot which isn’t soaking wet all winter… 

…and don’t think I’m too good for buying and saving a few potted mums and seeing if they survive to bloom another year…

hardy chrysanthemums

Hmmm.  Has the leftover sand been sitting in the driveway since August?  Someone better move it before that same someone accidentally tries to run a snowblower through it in December.

Speaking of surviving for another year, the pots are starting to migrate closer to the garage and their winter housing.  The new bed on the side of the garage has been perfect for keeping things off the driveway… sort of… as I realize there are half a dozen fairly large pots sitting alongside the sand pile…

overwintering tropicals

I suspect this cold front will push all the caladiums into dormancy.  They’ll probably go into the garage first so they can stay out of the rain as they die down.

So that’s the mid October update.  Chrysanthemums and the wait for the first frost pretty much sum it up and given the ten day forecast both will be around until at least the end of the month.  I’m fine with that and I won’t even mention those other things which are starting to preoccupy my every other plant thought.  The first ones are starting to sprout and of course new bulbs have been planted.

Have a great week 🙂

A First Day of Autumn Tour

Who says you can’t change your ways?  I know a guy who’s been passionately anti-autumn for decades, and has actually been know to get hostile and crabby, short-tempered and moody as the day length shortens and a cool crispness taints the summertime air.  That person is changing.  He might even have said “Fall isn’t all that bad”, and smiled at a dewy morning lawn and a river valley full of mist as he sat on the back deck and had already sipped through at least half his morning coffee.  Prior to the coffee he was still kind of luke-warm about the change in season, but at least he was out there enjoying it rather than mumbling about the frigid ten day forecast.

fall fruit on dogwood

Ripe berries and a touch of autumn colors on the dogwood

“Maybe it will kill some of the mosquitoes” was the delusional hope

autumn perennial border

The front border is looking exceptionally neat and well-groomed

No, the mosquitoes aren’t going anywhere, but fortunately they weren’t completely rabid the weekend before last when the local garden club, the Backmountain Bloomers, paid a visit to the Sorta Suburbia gardens.

autumn perennial border

‘Bengal Tiger’ cannas with the yellow daisies of Heterotheca villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’.  I like this plant more and more every year.

I was absolutely thrilled that the club came by, and even more thrilled that a few more showed up than I had expected.  A muggy, buggy, September afternoon isn’t exactly prime garden visiting season so even a group of four felt-bad-for-you-so-we-came visitors would have been something special.  There were more visitors than that, so I hope I didn’t come across as too desperately excited 🙂 (I don’t often get visitors you know)

hyacinth bean pods

Purple hyacinth bean (Dolichos lablab) seedpods in the front border.  I threw a few seedlings in amongst the fennel forest, and I think they looked nice enough.

So that was the big excitement.  It was a nice balance to the insane cursing and swatting I experience every other day as I try to beat back the bugs and not catch West Nile while everyone else is getting Covid.  That would be just about right, I’m never any good at following the trends.

disraeli cilicium colchicum

Colchicum cilicicum and some Colchicum ‘Disraeli’ coming up nicely through a few floppy chrysanthemums

With all that said, the garden does look nice.  There’s been enough (actually way more than enough) rain and I really gave the garden a once over of weeding and trimming.  Plus now there are more fall-bloomers than ever, and it’s really given me something to look forward to as everything else crumbles and dies prior to winter’s kiss of death… -ok i said I didn’t hate fall as much as I used to, I never went as far as to say I actually liked it-

colchicum autumn herald

Colchicum ‘Autumn Herald’ coming up through the creeping thyme.

Colchicums are a big part of what’s become good about fall.  The earliest ones help distract me from the earlier and earlier sunsets, and then I have the mid and late season ones to look forward to.  Right now the Mid season ones are just hitting their stride.

colchicum glory of heemstede

Colchicum ‘Glory of Heemstede’ according to my label… love the darker color and checkering!

Let me just share a couple pictures and talk less 😉

colchicum Jochem hof

Colchicum ‘Jochem Hof’ is the name I have for this one.  For some reason colchicum names and IDs are notoriously muddled, and even a good source may give you a misnamed bulb.

colchicum faberge silver

‘Faberge Silver’ is a newer variety with a nice blend of white and pink

colchicum nancy lindsay

‘Nancy Lindsay’ is a favorite and also a great grower here.  I have a few bigger patches of it and still feel like I could use more 🙂

colchicum world's champion cup

‘World’s Champion Cup’ has large goblets of bloom, often with a white highlight.

Colchicums aside (for just a minute), the backyard was also looking decent in its late summer colors.

autumn perennial border

The edge of the tropical bed always looks good with a few cannas, but for the most part it’s been neglected this year.  What a shame considering how lush it could have been with all the rain (as demonstrated by the lush green of the lawn)

The potager was also looking nice, even if it was mostly out of control.  Ten foot tall Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Persicaria orientalis) has a way of demanding attention, and although no one asked for seeds, I guess in MY garden they liked it.

autumn potager garden

The pergola has almost disappeared under the vines and overgrowth of September

I of course liked showing off the castor beans and complaining about my dumpy seed-grown dahlias.  The black eyed susan vine was also something to be admired, but maybe my visitors know there are cooler colors out there, so plain old orange wasn’t so impressive.

autumn potager garden

My hiding spot in the now mosquito-infested potager.  Hopefully with long sleeve weather approaching I can safely hang out here again without losing a pint of blood.

Thankfully no one asked the awkward question of why there weren’t more vegetables.

japanese morning glory

The Japanese morning glory Ipomea nil ‘Fuji no Murasaki’ has reseeded mildly enough that it doesn’t scare me like regular morning glories.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

One last part of the garden which I was proud to show off was the nearly completed sand path which now runs around the back side of the house.  I think my visitors might have appreciated it more if it weren’t so overgrown, but if they only knew what a muddy mess this path was just three weeks ago I think they would have been more appreciative of this solid and dry passage.

sand garden path

The finished path.  There’s still plans afoot for this end so we will see…

My friend Lisa asked about the sand, and in the nicest way I think she was trying to figure out what if any thought process there was behind this decision.  Sand is nice at the beach, but anyone who has slogged a couple hundred feet through it knows there might be better path options out there, so let me point out this is the crushed sand usually used as a paver base, and it actually packs down fairly well as a path.  When I went to check out the ‘crusher run’ which is a rougher mix often used for paths, I saw this and thought it might be worth a try.  So far so good I think.  It has a nice clean look and is mostly crushed Pennsylvania bluestone so I like the mellow color as well.

sand garden path

Recycled retaining wall blocks on the right, recycled composite decking as an edging on the left.

Even with a bit of a slope there were no washouts after our six inches in two days rain event.

sand garden path

You can see some of the slope here.  The grass looks crappier than usual because I had to raise the lawn about four inches to meet the edge.  I’ve been filling in this part of the yard for years to bring it up.

Actually there was more erosion in the caladium sand bed than there was in the sloped walkway.  I suspect there was just an extreme amount of runoff from the concrete, so hopefully that’s a one time deal.

caladium in containers

It’s still ‘Year of the Caladium’ along this side of the house 

Here’s yet another gratuitous caladium picture.  They haven’t liked the cold spell we had, and then all the rain didn’t help, but they’re still awesome 🙂

caladium in containers

Mixed caladiums in need of a winter home.

Cooler weather had me thinking about what to do with the caladiums and also where to go with all the other pots which have accumulated around the garden.  I started to hear an echo in my head of ‘Oh, that just goes into the garage over winter’ because I think I said it dozens of times as an answer to wintering over questions.  It started to make me wonder…

deck planter mandevilla

‘Alice DuPont’ still looks great.  In general most of the deck still looks decent, and I really don’t need fall to come by.

So will it really all fit into the garage?  A quick count of pots quickly went over 100, and that wasn’t even counting anything under six inches or anything on the deck.  That’s a lot of overwintering, and that’s almost even stressful, and when I deal with stress I take cuttings.  So on Sunday I added another two flats full of little potted cuttings to bring in.  Maybe they won’t all make it.  Maybe I’ll find some kind of other space… doubtful… but with a suspicious box on the porch this afternoon and vague memories of bulb orders, I think a few pots of caladium tubers are the least of my worries.

Have a great week 😉

Back in Business

It’s been almost two weeks since we came back from vacation and you’re about to hear something you don’t often hear on this blog.  I was busy.  Seriously.  For about five days straight I put in a good four or five hours of work in, either here or in my Mother in Law’s yard.  Back in the good old days work could have gone on from dawn to dusk, but today it’s a different story and that’s about as long as I want to work.  Still it makes a huge difference.

front border

The front border has loved all the rain.  It would have been the ideal year to pull all the fennel and plant a mass of zinnias and cannas (as the plan was) but… there’s always something else.

Before you’re too impressed by this flurry of motivation I think it’s important to come clean on one of my fairly well-guarded secrets.  Not really a secret I guess,  but there’s a reason I can spend a bunch of hours in the garden, day after day, and still manage to get up and get going the next morning.  I’m a high school science teacher, and with a summer vacation from the middle of June until late August I can still be fairly lazy even with a couple hours of breaking a sweat in the garden 😉

front border

From the other end of the front border… at just the right angle… things look amazing.  The main flush of summer color is beginning!

So now I hope the confession of my profession has not darkened your opinion of this blog or this gardener.  It’s always a mix of reactions ranging from ‘you’ve got the life’ to ‘God bless you’ so I never know where people’s opinions lie until the truth is out.  All I’m really sure of is that most of my powering away in the garden is probably a response to the hours I spend each morning working on a horrible class which I need to finish this summer.  It’s really not that bad but in addition to being naturally lazy, I am also a terrible student with a passionate hatred towards online learning, and after nearly a year and a half of online learning I think my cup runneth over.

cardoon cynara cardunculus

Gratuitous photo of a cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) flower.  I love them, they’re stiff and spiny and of course stupid me needs to touch them nearly every day to get a painful reminder.

Enough whining, here’s an update on a slightly more in control potager, although slightly more in control is completely false.  It’s weeded.  There are a few vegetables, but most of the left side is a thicket of eight to nine foot tall persicaria and sunflowers.  I have to duck and crawl to get through the paths but secretly I think it’s kind of awesome.  The only down side is that the majority of the sunflowers are pollen free and as a result there has not been a good seed set.  As I sit hidden in my potager thicket I can hear the goldfinches chattering their complaints as they pick and pick looking for some seed that has actually plumped up and been pollinated.  Fortunately in the past few days I’ve noticed a few plants with pollen have opened their first blooms and that should be enough for the bees to spread around and get things going.

potager

As usual the potager has become overrun with flowers, and the vegetables have become scarce.  If anyone asks I just tell them the endless rain rotted things and if I’m lucky they accept that and pick up a few beans from the farmstand 🙂  

A big part of the potager purge was removing old bloomed-out larkspur and poppy stalks, and all the other volunteers which were nice enough until they weren’t.  Fortunately there’s always something else, and although the new phlox bed has become a complete failure, the old phlox bed is filled with the usual stars.

phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata, Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ and some silly chrysanthemums who think August is an ok month to flower.  Here the plan was remove phlox, plant hydrangeas… but as you can see I never got around to moving the phlox.  Oh well.

I’m never sure just how much of my babbling is memorable, but just in case you missed me repeating myself the first twenty times, tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) are a favorite of mine.

phlox paniculata

A nice bright phlox seedling which I’ve already set aside because I like the color.  Honestly, I don’t think I could rule out the possibility that some time in the future a whole section of the yard gets dug up just to plant phlox.

Although I do love phlox they don’t always feel the same way towards me.  Last week I mentioned that the entire bed which I cleared out and devoted to a few favorites is today just a swirling vat of mildew and spider mites and whatever else likes to kill phlox.  Some of the plants are literally about to die and it’s kind of embarrassing that a native Northeastern American wildflower can’t be bothered to grow here.  Figures, since just yesterday I saw a beautiful clump of pale pink phlox growing inches away from a busy road and in the yard of a house which could have passed as abandoned but probably wasn’t.  Maybe my phlox patch needs some road salt and the occasional roadkill thrown on… that’s an idea I guess.

phlox paniculata

Another phlox seedling similar to ‘Laura’ but another foot or two taller, and that’s ‘Blushing Shortwood’ behind and to the left. Blushing Shortwood is an excellent phlox btw 🙂

This week’s cooler temperatures has really brought out the color on the phlox, if you only consider the ones which haven’t decided to die yet.  There’s a nice pink flush on some of the whites, the white center stars are bright and not faded away, and the stronger colors aren’t washed out by the heat.  There’s also a good spicy fragrance to many of them.

phlox paniculata

One of my favorite phlox seedlings.  I need a big patch of this one.

Now I’m really thinking about turning more lawn under to make room for a big phlox patch.  I think I’d like that.  A lot.  Hmmmm.  Unless they all decide they should die on me, but in that case I’d just plant daffodils between them.  Rumor has it I already ordered more daffodils than I should have, so I’ll need the room anyway since my daffodil purchases were based on an assumption I would dig up and give away some of the too-many I already have.  My bad.

growing caladiums

Caladium update.  I finished potting them up.  I’m still obsessed.

I need to check myself.  There are two new raspberry plants sitting out on the driveway, fresh off the clearance rack and waiting to start a raspberry patch goodness know where, but apparently in my garden even though I have no idea.  All I know is I love raspberries just like I love phlox and caladiums and daffodils and hydrangeas and all the other stuff which always comes before there’s a plan.  Maybe plans are overrated, and that’s just what I’m telling myself… mostly as an excuse since I also have a vague suspicion there are new snowdrops waiting to be planted.  It’s been months since snowdrops have been mentioned here but sadly that obsession is still burning bright and you only have another two or three months before someone starts bringing that up again on a weekly basis.

All in good time.  Hope your week is going well 🙂

 

Enter Summer

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

mixed flower border

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

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

mixed flower border

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

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

westerland rose

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

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

arundo donax

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

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

common milkweed

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

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

strawberry mertonensis foxglove

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

penstemon dark towers

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

rock garden

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

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

clematis ruutel

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

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

clematis ville de lyon

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

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

calycanthus aphrodite

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

aralia sun king

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

martagon lily sunny morning

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

meadow garden

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

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

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

Start Your Engines!

Something odd got into me last week.  After what has probably been months of the usual laziness I started a few tasks.  Then I went on to new ones.  Before I knew it I was being productive, and although I feel more sore than accomplished, I do feel like I finally made a little headway.

front border rose aicha

I took a break on Sunday from porch cleaning to get a few photos.  Here’s the front border with the pale yellow, single blooms of the rose ‘Aicha’ mixed in with the blue of colombine (aquilegia)

This weekend I spent Friday digging trade plants and opening the pool, Saturday traveled on a gardening adventure, and then Sunday tried to make the yard more summer-friendly since it was awfully hot and that seemed the right thing to do.  Monday it was lawn mowing, trimming, watering… and I even started to pickaxe a few holes into the berm for more arborvitae plantings.  Finally today I finished the planting (just four bushes) but it felt like a major accomplishment since the hard-packed, rocky “soil” fought me all the way.

rose Aicha

‘Aicha’ is a beauty.  I hope she gets just a little taller so I can thread a small clematis through her for the ‘off’ season.

Tomorrow I’m home for a “Dr’s appointment”.  I’d also like to spend some time outside and see if I can get the vegetable garden moving, but we will see if new ambition beats the forecast heat.  In theory I could spend the day by the pool with just a few breaks to admire the iris, but for now I’m hoping ambition wins, since wouldn’t that be just terrible to waste a day off swimming and doing next to nothing?

iris historic sunol

The historic iris ‘Sunol’ (1933) growing in the foundation beds.  Usually it has a bronze flush to the falls, but perhaps that faded this year in the heat.  

Speaking of the lure of sloth, last summer I had hoped to reclaim some of the front border for more iris plantings but once things filled in it was a struggle to find open spots and as usual I resorted to edge planting.  Edge planting lets me shoehorn in a couple more plants along the outer fringes even if the outer fringe looks better empty.  If never looks that great having plants hanging off the edge of the bed like that, but when the place is filled that’s as good as it gets.

historic iris romeo

Historic iris ‘Romeo’ (1912) has a cool look to the falls which is different from the others I grow.  

So (again) the plan is to clear a few swathes where iris can go.  It’s been dry, which is good for bearded iris, but if the summer turns wet this gardener might be tempted to fill in with all kinds of annuals and various other showier things which are great in the fall… but are not iris.

historic iris elsinore

‘Elsinore’ (1932) is another somewhat unique historic iris which I like very much 🙂 

Regardless, I have faith that a few iris will again fill a sizeable chunk of the border.  I may have to resort to a few of the hardier ones which don’t mind some summer shade, but it needs to be done since a May without an overload of beaded iris is completely unacceptable.

historic iris indian chief

‘Indian Chief’ (1929) is not my favorite color, but the plants handle competition and some shade quite well, so of course it gets an invite.

So iris are on the to-do list… somewhere… and in the meantime I need to focus on planting and watering…. and weeding of course, but I think you know how I feel about a strong commitment to weed-free beds vs saving a few of the more interesting ones 🙂

scotch thistle

A big Scotch thistle(Onopordum acanthium) has come up in a spot reserved for phlox and snowdrops.  It’s as prickly as it looks and of course I love this (listed as noxious in several western states) weed.   

Even if the weeding doesn’t happen, hopefully I can at least show off a respectable vegetable-filled potager in another week or two.

perennial border

From a distance of greater than 20 feet, much of the garden doesn’t look bad.  I just wish it passed the five foot rule!

Wish me luck.  I’m already thinking that the best plan is to head to the nursery in the AM and start the day with new vegetable transplants… and likely a few more flowers…  Obviously deep down inside I know buying more plants doesn’t help the four new rose bushes, various overwintered tropicals, trays of sprouted seedlings, and the haul from last weekend’s rock garden society sale that are sitting on the driveway, but it’s more fun and I’m always up for that.

Hope you have a fun week 🙂

A May Lull

A cool and rainy week with a busy schedule have kept me out of the garden for a few days.  By that I mean there were enough weather and work excuses to avoid any real work, since even a rainy day does not cancel the daily garden tour.  In other gardens the lilacs overhang azaleas, with dogwoods and redbuds shading the lawn, and banks of rhododendrons exploding in color… but I’ve only a few dogwoods and little of the others, so here the spring crescendo of tulips is followed by a slight lull of green.

foundation perennials

The blue camassia are a flash in the pan here and only seem to flower for a week or so.  It’s a nice show, but the blue columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) is just as nice and lasts longer so I may (again) try and dig all the camassia to get rid of them.  This time I’ll try and get all the bulbs…

Right now there may be a lull in the flowering, but after several months of white and brown, green is still an excellent color, and with its various shades and shapes, and the surprise of variegation and chartreuse or purple tints, even a green lull makes for a nice show and it should really be enough.

aquilegia vulgaris

Blue columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) was originally found in the woods behind the house, and rescued when the bulldozers came.  It’s not native and fancier colors and forms exist, but I like it well enough.

Most people can stick with well enough, but I admit to a short attention span and fickleness so of course I want other things to follow up as the tulips fade and the bearded iris are yet to come.  The columbine is good, and usually moneyplant (Lunaria annua) fills in with a nice purple, but I think I need more alliums.

perennial bed

Tulips and daffs have all been deadheaded and are disappearing under the next wave of growth but just the columbine and a few moneyplants  (it’s a down year for this biennial) are in bloom.  The blue is nice, but note the bold little ‘Candy Corn’ spirea in front.   I can’t believe I planted it, usually spirea disgust me, but this one is so offensively bright there was no resisting.

Back in the day the budget was much tighter, and a few flowering onions always seemed to be just too much when a big bag of tulips could be had for the same price.  Today it’s a different story.  A couple new alliums are just pennies once you’ve paid off the monthly gymnastics bill and bought a couple pricey snowdrops.

allium gladiator

Allium ‘Gladiator’ was my first big allium.  I was hoping for bigger, but tall is good too!  Over the last 15 years one bulb has become many.

So I will see what happens.  The problem is settling on just two or three rather than a dozen, and I of course will be looking for suggestions from my friends.  I already have a few leads 😉

allium gladiator

‘Gladiator’ is also doing well in the potager.  Phlox and other perennials are coming up just in time to (mostly)cover the allium’s yellowing leaves.

Yeah, the yellowing leaves.  Just as the flowers open and draw a little attention, the foliage starts dying back to compete with the show.  Trimming them back or hiding them in a border are two options for better gardeners.

allium gladiator

The green centers are cool.

The yellowing allium foliage can be a deal breaker for some, but here it barely registers.  I run a messy garden and fortunately some delusion of diamond in the rough or some bizarrely inflated ego syndrome allows me to still share photos online.  I should be embarrassed most of the time, but luckily it’s a rare day that I see some perfect garden photo and suddenly question my entire gardening hobby (as well as the public settings on this blog).

raised bed vegetable

The mountain of snowball bush (Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’) is probably the only perfect thing about the potager right now.  It should be weeded.  And planted.  And tended.  One of these days…

Ah, whatever.  Let’s finish with a disclaimer on the potager.  The raised beds are excellent, the sand paths are perfect, the whole idea of the potager is much better than the usual mess, but it’s still just a mess.  “It’s not you, it’s me” I tell the garden and I suspect the garden understands.  My weaknesses is a love of interesting, and it’s just too interesting to see if the resprouting cabbage stumps from last year will form heads or if the missed potatoes from last year will amount to anything.  Good thing no one expects this garden to feed a family.

raised bed vegetable

A few parsley seedlings went into this bed, but I’m still working myself up to weeding out all the rest.  Besides obvious weeds there’s a nice clump of lettuce, many tomato seedlings… random hellebores…

So what did I do today?  Clear a bed and plant beans?  No, of course not.  I was working in the front border dividing tulip clumps.  Just for the record, it’s too early to divide tulips.  The foliage should be yellowing and it’s not but whatever.  Dig up a clump, shake and pick out the smaller bulbs, and replant.  No careful soil improvement, no watering in and I guess we will see what comes of it.  Smarter gardeners would have pulled them all and tossed them after flowering, it’s just a few dollars to replace them, but I don’t think it will surprise anyone if I admit my gardening is more of an ADD drifting through ideas rather than a focused plan with a to-do list.  Reinventing the wheel has always been a passion of mine.

Have a great week, and I hope it includes plenty of plant-time 🙂