Fall

So here I am, finally forced to use the new block editor for WordPress. I don’t like it. Everything is adrift in a sea of white and I can’t fix how the photos and captions are displayed. There is no desire in me to be a web designer, I just want to post a couple pictures and write a few comments and since I’m struggling with that I’ll just assume it’s too smart for me.

Feather reed grass along the street. Things are looking autumnal.

I just want to complain. I don’t like it. I want menus and boxes and structure, not symbols and icons and dots that I somehow have to know to click on… or double click on… or whatever alt hold and click combo I’m supposed to just know or remember or whatever.

The front border from the other side. I’m quite pleased, but this is all the beginning of the end, as things color up, dry up, and die off…

Why the heck does everything need to be in stupid blocks!? I don’t like it. I just want it to be intuitive and let me write and I can throw in a picture whenever I want. Now I have to add a stupid photo block and then start a paragraph block and then go on to the next block. I seriously had less trouble editing html code than I do with this cloud of one size fits all.

chrysopsis Heterotheca villosa ruth baumgardner
Heterotheca(aka Chrysopsis) villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’. Still glowing brightly from the end of the front border.

I’ll stop now. I don’t like it. Maybe what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but that’s not exactly the kind of win-win scenario I strive for either so… on to the fall garden. It’s here. It’s winding down. Still colorful, but fading fast. All the smarter plants are packing it in for the winter they know is coming, but the foolish tropicals are still carrying on like there’s always a tomorrow.

dahlia happy single flame
Dahlia happy single flame. This one always seems at its best during the last weeks of fall.

The tropicals were saved at the last minute by some rain and an almost-but-not quite-frost. The rain was just in time, but late September would have been tragically early for a frost date. Only a few things were touched though so I’ll count my blessings, especially since others North and South of us were not as lucky.

white cactus dahlia
The last big hurrah for dahlias and the red rose ‘Black Forest’ isn’t doing too bad either.

I’m enjoying the final flowers, but I’m afraid sometimes the impression is that everything is an overflowing wonder of color and interest in this garden. Angles and cropping make a big difference. The photo above vs the photo below shows how the full clump of big white dahlias looks much thinner and poorly staked from a different angle.

autumn dahlia garden
Things look a lot gappier from the back. Honestly everything is too close to the path and a mess, but at this time of year who really cares? I’m just enjoying the color.

The lack of big tropicals in the tropical border this year bothered me for a little bit, but I’m not going to miss all the canna root digging and elephant ear lugging that normally happens in October. It still looks fake-tropical lush with grasses and pokeweed, but my big plant of happiness is the non-tropical ‘Michigan hardy’ cardoon seedling which will hopefully prove to be more hardy than previous seedlings. It’s become a monster and I wonder if I’ll ever hope that winter takes this one out like it has all my others.

hardy cardoon
This is another really nice camera angle. All year I hated how this combo worked (or didn’t work), but here at just the right angle the cardoon is nestled in perfectly between grasses, pokeweed and dahlias.

I reeeeaaaallly like the cardoon although again it’s one of those spiny, pokey, too-big, weedy looking, things that takes up all the room that a peony could shine in, but… let’s just move on. The potager still looks respectable even if a few too many ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranthus were allowed to grow in all the wrong places.

the potager pergola
Parts of the potager are still neat and weed free. Let’s hope I can keep this up for a second year!

We’re still picking a few things such as eggplant and tomatoes but for me the chrysanthemums and gourds are so much more entertaining. Now that fall transplanting season is upon us it will take resolve of steel to keep from filling all the beds with tulips and transplants of everything which would likely do better in more cultivated soil.

diy pergola
The raised beds are nice, but my favorite spot is the pergola. Already I’m wondering what to do with the four corners next year!

A bed or two of phlox, multiple beds filled with tulips, a few for chrysanthemums, maybe just a few coleus here and there 🙂

hardy chrysanthemums
Last year annual salvia dominated, this year the dry weather stunted the salvia seedlings and left an opening for mums and verbena.

Just is case you’re wondering how my feelings towards the new editor are going… I don’t like it…. but what I do like are colchicums. And just typing the word immediately lowered my blood pressure a bit and made the three days I’ve been screwing around with this post seem just a little less wasted.

colchicum flowers
The last of the colchicum with a leaner sister of the big lusty cardoon that’s growing in the tropical bed. I think this is mostly ‘Nancy Lindsay’ and maybe ‘Lilac Wonder’?

I really try to avoid showing the same plant again and again, but the dry, cool weather has the colchicums lasting and lasting. So here again is my group of C. speciosum giganteum group.

colchicum speciosum gigantea group
Colchicum giganteum still looking good after two weeks.

And although my friend Cathy grows this one much better than I do, Colchicum autumnale album plenum is slowly spreading into a small clump that will hopefully some day become a small drift of white.

colchicum autumnale album plenum
Colchicum autumnale album plenum

And one more. C. speciosum ‘Atrorubens’ came up pale but has now darkened down to a rich color which bleeds onto the stem almost to the ground.

colchicum speciosum atrorubens
Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’

Oh and one other announcement. After about ten years of holding onto an old shower door, two years of thinking I should use it for a coldframe, and four weekends of staring and planning and considering, the coldframe is finally done. “What took so long?” you ask… well I don’t know. I’ve just been lazy.

diy coldframe
It took forever for me to figure out how to use the hoarded door, wood scraps, and salvaged pink marble to build… but once the last screw was in it took me about 15 minutes to fill it with plants.

In case you’re wondering, the door slides flat in order to cover the plants, it’s just folded up right now to enjoy the sun and breezes of autumn… and since I look at it multiple times a day, I might as well leave it open anyway. I like it. I’m happy it’s done, and with that albatross off my neck I’m free to do more fun-erer things until the next simple project weighs me down.

homegrown gourd harvest
As soon as I finished basking in the glow of a project done, and congratulated myself one last time, it was time to harvest the gourds. An excellent haul me thinks!

I noticed the pink marble of the coldframe isn’t quite as pink as it could be and what’s the sense of a marble coldframe if everyone doesn’t realize it’s marble? I worry that garden tours will pass by and think it’s just fieldstone or any old stone block or something, and that could be embarrassing… especially after they’ve experienced the fancy that is our potager. Perhaps this weekend’s to-do list will have to start with some powerwashing. I’m sure in the grand scheme of gardening tasks which I neglect, powerwashing the blocks under a crusty little coldframe is the most effective use of my gardening energies. On a side note, it’s obvious why I could never do this professionally.

new england aster alma
“Alma Potschke” New England aster along the runoff path for the gutters. I should call it the ‘rain garden’, that has a nicer ring to it.

Honestly there are so many more important things to do, such as replanting a couple hundred daffodils or bringing in dozens of potted plants or doing all the other fall prep, but I suspect I’ll start the weekend off with powerwashing. Ok, full honesty means that I also looked at the birch trees and decided they should be whiter and cleaner as well. If you never see another photo with the birch trees in it you’ll know how that went.

Hope your weekend turns out more productive, but even if it’s not have a great one! -btw I think I survived the new editor…

Let’s Pretend

They say summer ended last weekend and we’re now into fall.  I saw pumpkins on porches and people buying chrysanthemums and I thought I’d be ok with a switch in seasons but apparently I’m not.  Regular rains have made the garden green again, and although it wasn’t enough to penetrate the maple foliage and give relief to my dry shade, nothing really looks like it’s at death’s door, so it’s unfathomable for me to understand why anyone could wish for it all to be on it’s way out.  I love summer.  I love the longest days of the year and warm nights filled with crickets.  I love saying it’s too hot, and then sitting around for an hour instead of working.  I don’t want it to end.

front border

An oddly neat and green scene.  I’ll call it the Covid effect meets moisture laden tropical storm systems.

Today after getting home from work we closed the pool.  My mother in law can’t wait to get the cover back on as soon as Labor Day is over, and I’m surprised she hasn’t already yanked all the New Guinea impatients out of the planters and tarped all the porch furniture as well.  I don’t get it.  I’ll milk this weather for at least another month and a half and then hope for two, since in my opinion winters are far too long around here to rush this warm weather out the door.  Still, no amount of sarcasm or complaints of sweatiness and hot forecasts could change her mind.

front border

It may not look it, but along the street is also exceptionally neat, considering the usual sunflower and fennel overgrowth.

So in her mind summer is dead, but I disagree.  My garden seems to peak towards the end of August, and then lingers through September with all the bright colors of summer keeping it hot and vibrant in spite of the fact you can’t cool off in the pool any more.

rudbeckia triloba prairie glow

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ may be a little stunted from July’s dry spell, but it’s still an excellent show in the depths of the front border. 

I deadheaded butterfly bushes and whacked back fennel last weekend, and the garden looks pretty good again.  I highly recommend plenty of late bloomers to keep things from going to heck once August rolls around.

buddleia royal red

One of the older butterfly bushes, Buddleia ‘Royal Red’ has a nice height and grace that many of the newer hybrids lack.  Yes, I know it’s not really red.

Even if you can’t keep things in full bloom, there are always grasses.  They look good on their own right, but also do a good job covering up the less than impressive June and July bloomers.

ornamental grass border

Along the street, Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’, ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass, and russian sage (Perovskia) have enjoyed the drier weather and lack of towering sunflowers… plus I ripped out a ton of echinacea and mountain mint.

I guess late summer grasses are a seasonal look.

geranium rozanne

Geranium ‘Rozanne’.  I’m about ten years late in raving about how nice it is, but it is.

When everything dried out I thought this would be the year I replant bearded iris all over again, but only a few went in before the rains returned.  Maybe next year I’ll be more firm.  Come to think of it the Arundo donax grass at the end really has become a little overwhelming, and groundcover junipers?  So boring when a big patch of iris in bloom could give me some inspiration (says the person who will be grateful in January when the juniper is green).

front border

I like certain dead and dying things, but not until November!  Much was chopped back and I think the less is more look works out alright…  although my neighbors would laugh if I tried to convince them this is a “spare” look 🙂

New iris or not, the front border looks ok but the tropical border isn’t even close to calling it quits.  I was hating it in spring, and cut way back on the spring planting here, but it’s still plenty of too much.  Maybe not tropical, maybe more just a mess of annual color, but just think of how much more tolerable it makes the September Slide.

tropical border

The cannas are practically dwarfed this year, but a few other things enjoyed the drier soil.

Honestly I can’t believe I made it through all the work of prepping, planting, staking, mulching, deadheading, weeding… but I did.  Most of it was just a matter of putting my phone down for a while and getting off my lazy….

Tsuki-Yori-No-Shisha Dahlia

A gift last year, this year I’ve finally given ‘Tsuki-Yori-No-Shisha’ the care and attention this dahlia deserves.

I’m down to just a few dahlias and it’s so much less work.  Thinking about more is a terrible idea and so hopefully I get at least one more year of freedom before another bout of weakness in February strikes.

cactus dahlia

I do like this peach cactus dahlia.  Others have come and gone, but this one is probably pushing fourteen years with me. 

Dahlias, cannas, elephant ears, bananas…  I never know when the addiction will flare up again.

dahlia mathew alan

Dahlia ‘Mathew Alan’.  As you may have noticed I have a weakness for the cactus style.

For now I won’t even worry about digging or cooling night-time temps or shorter days.  I’ll just enjoy it while it’s here and maybe start thinking about autumn in another month.

salvia splendens

A very subtle, peach colored Salvia splendens.  Growing from seeds can always leave you with surprises.

Have a great week!  The weather here promises to get hotter again tomorrow before cooling off for the weekend.  Not cool enough to make me think closing the pool was a good idea, but at least cool enough to sit in the sun and do nothing rather than sit in the shade 😉

Imma Savage

The weather is hot, the weather (was) dry and the gardener spent a three day weekend spreading mulch. He was not lazy. He showed no mercy. Sentiment was shed like a stream of sweat as plants were moved, underperformers were whacked, and all the mistakes and shortcomings of 2020 were buried under a fresh brown frosting of shredded bark mulch.

Edged and mulched, the front yard looks very... neat.
Edged and mulched, the front yard looks very… neat. Not bad considering the lawn has only been cut once in five weeks.

There was actually more involved than just three days of hard labor. The weekend before I had the gardener start ripping out and chopping down anything which didn’t please me, stunted things, dried up things, things which were just too crowded and taking up too much space. A few runs were made for free township compost, and the most promising plantings got some pre-game mulch to hold the moisture and give a good shot of nutrients going prior to the big event.

Along the street there’s no towering wall of sunflowers this year. Even the purple coneflowers were stunted and about half were pulled due to the lack of rain. Thinning, some compost and watering, and then a coat of bark mulch really made a difference.

Transplanting annuals in 90+ (33C) heat should be frowned upon, but since the gardener was not smiling anyway it seemed appropriate. The zinnias and verbena survived.

About two wheelbarrows full of fennel left the front border, plus a bunch of other dried stalks from June. Now I can almost see the stunted cannas and butterfly bushes.

I have to admit I’ve been watering the zinnias and a few other things for the last few weeks. It’s been worth it, and since I’ve been informed on exactly how much the water bill has gone up, I can tell you exactly how much it’s been worth. No doubt it will be worth even more next month when an even higher water bill surprises the mailbox.

Agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ has earned its regular watering. Perfect foliage and at least three weeks of this strong blue color is quite awesome, and I hope no one is tiring of seeing this same plant every year.

When I went to order the mulch, my mulch guy said “that’s a lot of mulch”. He was right of course and the price was not so I cut back to the smaller truck and still had plenty. Several areas remain which could have used a coating, but as I filled the last load into the wheelbarrow I was thanking my mulch guy again and again for saving me from myself.

Around the side of the house and into the backyard. Moisture from the neighbor seeps down through the tropical garden and from a distance it looks almost lush 🙂

Mulching in August is probably a stupid move, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from my gardener. It takes forever for him to work mulch in between plants, and of course things need clearing out, pruning, and edging and all that adds to the work involved. On the plus side, there’s less mulch needed since a full flowerbed usually doesn’t need mulch extending any more than a foot or so in from from the edge. Less mulch means less money and I think you know where I stand on that.

Most of the best gardens boast classic topiary in one form or another. Obviously we would expect no less here in almost suburbia.

The potager did not need mulch, but that of course did not spare the vegetables from my savagery. Potatoes were dug, onions harvested, and another few tons of zucchini were brought into the house for processing and gifting. A woodchuck was trapped. The trap was brought over to the car for a trip elsewhere. The woodchuck escaped… fortunately just before the trap was placed in the car…

Cabbage transplants are in although this family rarely eats cabbage. Perhaps the woodchuck will return and take care of that, just like he took care of the broccoli (leafless stalks, lower left corner) and parsley (leafless stalks alongside orange marigolds).

I took my woodchuck frustrations out on the boxwood. Even in my most savage moments there’s a calm satisfaction in seeing an unruly hedge go from wooly to neat, and although the zen of trimming with expensive hand shears is extremely overrated, I did survive.

The potager is too neat. Trimmed hedges are nice, but I think it needs more jungle so perhaps this week’s rain will do the trick.

As the gardener continued to mulch past the potager he could feel his will to live slowly begin to fade. Fortunately the pile of mulch remaining in the driveway was also fading, and with just a few more edges to do that works out just fine. More mulch might have tempted me to just bury the entire shade garden and put it out of its misery since the weak little rain showers which almost kept the lawn green never penetrate the red maple canopy which shades this area.

Everything looks wilted and sad, but for the most part nothing ever dies. Of course it never really looks good either, but…

Dry beds and dry mulch did have the advantage of being easy to clear, and easy to shovel and spread, but the dust was terrible. Normally I’d just put on one of my dust masks, but since the mulch was in the front yard I didn’t want the neighbors seeing and thinking I don’t support our leader, so I suffered my way through and tried to cough it all up later.

Dry but neat.

So the job is now done. We are expecting around two inches of rain today as the remnants of Isaias pass through and the view will likely change, but at least the mulch should look even nicer as plants (hopefully) burst back into life. The gardener will need a few days to rest up and rehydrate as well, so that works out… although there are still bags and bags of daffodils to go through and cyclamen need repotting.

Fortunately it never ends. Have a great week!

Curb Un-Appeal

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

front street border

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

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

Cirsium eriophorum woolly thistle

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

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

foundation perennials

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

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

drying daffodil bulbs

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

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

common milkweed syriaca

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

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

purple milkweed purpurascens

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

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

verbena bonariensis

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

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

Have a great weekend!

Into Summer

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

front border

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

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

kniphofia caulescens

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

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

scotch thistle

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

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

sunny side up pokeweed

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

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

milkweed perennial

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

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

sand garden paths

Something else.  Sand.  A couple tons of it.

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

potager

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

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

breadseed poppies

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

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

digitalis grandiflora ferruginea

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

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

aristolochia macrophylla

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

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

magnolia macrophylla

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

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

magnolia macrophylla

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

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

pseudata okagami

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

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

Sorta Spring

If you like a long drawn out spring, this one is for you.  So far this season I only complained once about weather that was too warm, and even that was only ‘outdoor gardening without breaking a sweat warm’, which is much cooler than ‘sitting on the porch doing nothing but sipping a cold drink’ warm.  There have been no windy blasts of 80-90F weather which wilt the daffodils in hours and skip the garden straight to summer… followed by a freeze which has the gardener throwing his hands in the air… and for that I’m grateful.  There was snow though.  I started edging and weeding the front border and had to cut it short because of all the snow showers.  Not so much for me or the plants, but the neighbors already talk, and as I went in to get a hat I thought I better just call it quits instead.

spring bulb garden

Making my way down the border.  No leaf mulch was drug out of the woods this spring, and holy crap are there a lot of seedlings coming up.  It might be easiest to just go with a fennel/verbena bonariensis theme this year. 

I didn’t really mind the precipitation, but working out there in the chilly wet and mud makes me think I might as well garden in the UK or Pacific Northwest, and that’s weather for plants and not what a gardener needs.  The upcoming forecast shows better weather on the way, so I’m sure the weeds can wait another day or two.

Here’s a question.  Dead or alive?  The pots for the front walk were dragged back into position and one still contains a bit of one of those trendy brown sedges from New Zealand.  ‘Red Rooster’ I think.  I didn’t think it would be hardy so assume it died over the winter, but maybe not?  It only looks marginally more dead than it did last year, so I’ve left it in place and added some of the extra tulips which I shouldn’t have bought last fall, said I wouldn’t buy, didn’t need, but got anyway.

tulips in planters

Dead sedge?  Who knows.  

After weeks at home, my daughter must be pretty bored since she offered to help with the planting.  I was glad for the company.  The tulips we planted were supposed to be gifts, but since travel to NY is off for the foreseeable future, these were planted, two were dropped off on local porches, and the rest were dug in by the driveway.  It will work out.

muscari seedlings

The most amazing grape hyacinths (muscari) I’ve ever grown.  They look just like any other dime a dozen muscari, but since they were grown from seed (intentionally), they’re super amazing.

For my daughter digging and planting were entertaining, but trying to explain why the seed grown muscari were so much better than the nearly identical muscari which I deadhead and weed out, was pushing the garden thing too far.  Even she must know that muscari are cheap and easy to buy and come in nicer forms than these, but c’mon!  How cool is it that one of them even has a little white top!?

muscari seedlings

Maybe I’ll divide out this clump, they seem to have a little more variety, and I’d like to see how the one with the white does on its own.  

Of course grape hyacinth from seed is easy, in fact many people complain they’re weedy, but as I go through the garden and divide and transplant I do find a few more special things.  My seedlings of the Asian spicebush (Lindera glauca v. salicifolia) are doing well.  I’d like to use them as a hedge, but need a few more, and in the meantime have potted these up while they wait for their planting site to happen.  They’re still holding onto the dried foliage from last year, a plant habit which I used to hate, but on this plant it just all seems more excellent.

lindera glauca salicifolia

Lindera glauca v. salicifolia seedlings potted up and hopefully ready to spend at least a year under my questionable care.

Transplanting has happened, pruning has happened, bed building has happened, but not much weeding yet.  Still in spite of the weedy mess, I just have to show some of my favorite spring iris foliage.

gerald darby iris

I’ve shown the purple spring foliage of iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ before, but some of the pseudata iris can also put on a show, in this case a bright springtime yellow flush of new leaves.  I think the cool weather helps.   

I’ve moved on to weeding not because the potager is finished, but because my better half has banned me from running to the store to get the lumber I think I need to finish.  The first veggies can still be planted, but I’ll wait until it looks slightly better before sharing another photo.  In the meantime if you remember I mentioned one slightly warmer day.  That one day encouraged me to sit around in the shade, and while sitting around, the guilt of laziness encouraged me to weed and clean the little moss bed I’m trying to grow.  Yes it doesn’t look like much, in fact this is what other people end up when they do nothing, but I of course am pleased.

moss garden

A bit of moss in a shady corner.  Ruined terra cotta and a few tree trimmings to camouflage the drainpipe and I think it looks ok.  I wonder if tiny hepaticas could survive here.  hmmmmm. 

So that’s it from here.  I think the cloudy gloom will lift in another few hours and although it’s still a little wet to do anything serious, I’m sure I can find something interesting to “think about” outside.  I hope your spring is also going well.

A Few Words

We are wrapping up our fourth week here since entering quarantine and the garden is still surprisingly unkempt and disorganized.  The gardener likes to suggest it’s because he’s busy double timing as a common core math teacher to a 6th grader, and in spite of holding a minor in Mathematics it’s a daily struggle, but it’s also been pointed out that the gardener spends a lot of time “thinking”, and often that thinking is interpreted as “just sitting around”.  Obviously sitting around does not get jobs done.

chiondoxa

Chiondoxa continues to spread.  These are all clones off a bulb moved years ago, and seem to be waiting for a partner to set seed, but each time weeds are pulled or the gardener thinks the spot is empty and tries to plant something else there, a few bulbs get moved a little further.

The gardener has been thinking the weather has been great, and the gardener has been thinking the sky is bluer than normal, and the gardener has been thinking it’s nice to have time to sit in the springtime sun without some desperate need to get just one spring chore done before dark.  But the gardener has also been wondering if there have always been so many snakes in the yard.

garden snake garter

One of the garden’s garter snakes reading a snowdrop label.  It’s ‘Three Ships’ Mrs Snake.

I do like the snakes.  One chilly morning I came across three little balls of snake out in the morning sun and I was surprised.  A good surprise though, not the EeeAhhhugh Oh! surprise you get when one of these slithery serpents zips away from your reaching hand or approaching step.  I think there’s something primordial in our natural fear of snakes, and I don’t entirely trust a person who just shrugs them off.  Pick them up, fine, handle them, fine, you can think your way through that, but when one zips across your path you better jump a little.

raised beds potager

The raised beds are coming together in the potager.   It’s going to be very neat I suspect.  I hope I don’t miss the late summer mayhem of overgrowth and decay, but who’s to say that won’t happen anyway.

It’s been taking forever it seems to get the raised beds built.  There are a number of plants to move or pot up, but I really do blame the gardener.  Not to dwell on the snakes, but work was called off entirely the other day when rustling in the boxwood hedge turned out to be an inappropriately writhing ball of snake procreation…. with an embarrassingly plural number of participants… it was watched for longer than it should have been, but it was interesting to see and of course if that’s what they need to do amongst the daffodils then lets just call off work for the afternoon to give them some privacy.

daffodil glaston

The cool days and cooler nights are bringing out the richest colors in many of the narcissus clumps.  Here’s the daffodil ‘Glaston’, looking luscious and tropical with its fruity cup colors.

So rather than work hard, the gardener looks at daffodils.

daffodil beersheba

Daffodil ‘Beersheba’, a pre 1923 daffodil (according to Daffseek) and nearly 100 years later, still a wonderful thing to have flowering.

Honestly the daffodils here have been tortured by poor drainage and neglect recently, and the show is not nearly as impressive as in other years, but the fewer words on that the better.  What does warrant a few more words are the corydalis.  They’ve enjoyed the cool weather as well and still look great.  Mostly.  Rabbits gave most if the ones in back a haircut, so….

corydalis solida

Corydalis solida, some named.  The pink in front is the highly acclaimed ‘Gunite’, while the darker red in back is ‘Milda’.

I do like poking through all the corydalis seedlings.  Some are great and plenty are nice, and there’s not that pressure you get with snowdrops to pick out and consider naming every next great thing.  I guess corydalis don’t offer the same wild diversity that snowdrops hold 😉

corydalis solida vanessa

Even with all the nice seedlings, I’m still willing to try a few new named ones here and there.  This new one was described as having exquisite “sky-blue lips and white spurs”… and I suppose that’s possible.

Of course why stop at a good thing?  If you can killed expensive named forms, why not try knocking off a few harder to find species?  These next two prefer summer-dry, Russian steppe/rocky woodland type environs.  The gardener isn’t sure if he should be insulted that the garden contains these types of planting areas, or pleased that the garden has made these happy for a third year, but in any case each spring could easily be their last.

corydalis schanginii ssp. ainae

Corydalis schanginii ssp. ainae growing well in the same conditions that favorTaraxacum officinale.  Apparently much of my garden is well suited to Taraxacum officinale.

Many gardeners crave blue corydalis.  I’ve discovered a knack for killing blue corydalis.  It’s kind of silly knack considering how easy blue scilla are, and hyacinths, and grape hyacinths, but if you know a perfectly perfect flower also comes in various blue shades, of course you need that color, and this gardener is no different.

corydalis fumariifolia

The first blue corydalis to last more than a spring or two (and not look completely miserable while doing it) Corydalis fumariifolia might even be expanding its reach.  I could use another clone.  Maybe seeds could happen with cross pollination…

Lets get back to easier things.  A few words for the front border as daffodil season hits its stride.

spring bulbs

Perhaps spring flowers can distract the neighbors from a shoddy cleanup and an un-edged and un-weeded front border.  Seriously, what does that gardener even do around here?

As I think on it (there he goes again not really doing anything measurable), the gardener spends way too much time on nonsense.  To mention a few words on the front border we could say ‘hyacinths and daffodils are easy and they look great’, but there goes the gardener again poking around and making things complicated.  Amongst all the daffodil color he’s most excited to see a few purple leaved moneyplants (Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’) finally showing a good amount of purple.  It was hard yanking the all green seedlings which used to rule, but over the years they are finally as purple as the strain should be.

Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’

Those are not weeds, they’re the much anticipated purple leaves of Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’.

I’ll leave you with even fewer words.  Hellebores are up.

hellebore

A nice picotee yellow seedling.

Another year without a late freeze and they’re all looking good.

hellebore

‘Golden Lotus’ and ‘Peppermint Ice’ with a mess of less showy things.

Hope this post finds you well.  Snow squalls are keeping the gardener inside today so rather than clean the bathrooms he’s blogging, but in spite of that he still gets fed three times a day.  Not bad.

A Touch of Spring

Early February is not spring but the plants don’t seem to know, and even if the weather has drifted cooler since these photos were taken, it’s still an unusually mild “winter”.

pale yellow eranthis hyemalis

The first winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) have opened.  These are a pale yellow version which is always a bit earlier than the straight species.

Although the days are getting noticeably longer we’re still just barely into the upswing of winter.  It takes a while to shift from cooling to warming and these should still be some of the coldest days of the winter, but they’re not, and the weird season has some plants behaving oddly.  Some are ahead, some are unconvinced, and others still think it’s fall.

galanthus elwesii green tip

Up and blooming earlier than ever, these giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) are showing a bit of green on tips which have never shown green before.  In 14 years of growing this one, I think I would have noticed.

In the end it’s out of my control so no sense in too much hand wringing.  Saturday morning I threw on a sweatshirt, pulled out the hedge trimmers, chopped down and raked out the front bed, mowed it all up, threw it back on to the bed and called it ready to go for 2020.  Spring cleanup before getting any advice from the groundhog is unprecedented but the spring bulbs do need a clean slate to show off against!

perennial bed cleanup

Not the neatest look, but by May it will look fine and I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other things to do now that spring cleanup here is complete! 

It was a slow start.  A head cold had me second guessing the work, and the weeks of couch sitting didn’t exactly have me feeling any younger, but it was nice to finally burn off a few Christmas cookies.  That and there were snowdrops to enjoy 🙂

 

galanthus godfrey owens

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’ is usually up and blooming during our first warm spell.  It’s a favorite of course.

So now begins the usual forecast watching which has me worrying about every ice storm and polar blast which could stomp these early joys.  Fingers crossed it’s not the usual flower frying blast in March and instead is a gentle and gradual warming that encourages the most amazing show of spring bloom that we have ever experienced.  One can hope.  If all else fails I’d like just one sunny dry perfect day to enjoy the drops.  Having it happen on a Saturday wouldn’t hurt either 😉

Keep Those Projects Rollin

It sounded like a plan, kick all that midsummer apathy to the curb and really focus on getting some of those garden-changing projects done… but then I realized life is short and vacations are more memorable than a new bog garden, so vacation it was 🙂

maine portland headlight

One of Maine’s most photographed lighthouses, Portland Head Light.  After WWII, my uncle was stationed at neighboring Fort Williams so we’ve been visiting this site for a good 40 years now.  It’s always picture-perfect. 

We did a pitstop in lower Maine and then headed to the Canadian border and Campobello Island.  Five days of being outside, wearing sweatshirts, cooking on a campstove, and enjoying the scenery.  The kids and I enjoyed it… the wife again chose to stay home, close to electricity, wifi and central air 🙂

lubec maine

Looking across the channel to Lubec, Maine.  

These trips of course pass too quickly, so now it’s back to contemplating the maturing season and the back to school fliers.  I dislike both so lets instead look at how the latest projects have progressed.  You could probably guess that no one picked up a shovel to finish things off while I was gone.

hellebore garden

The new hellebore garden.  Mid August is not a good time to transplant hellebores, I believe after blooming is recommended, but after years of saying they needed to be moved if the mood strikes better to act on it. 

The new shade garden is already filled with hellebores.  I nearly died of heat stroke and probably lost about three pounds of water weight digging them out of the full sun spot in the potager and moving them, but the plants seem just fine in spite of the heat.  I wish I could say the same for the shovel I used to dig them.  Hellebore roots are strong, and apparently that strength is more than what was left in the shovel’s handle, so a new one was the first post-vacation gardening purchase.  Fortunately the bog garden construction required no tool-sacrifices.

bog container garden

Ok so the new bog garden is far, far, less impressive than a handful of transplanted hellebores, but I’m quite pleased with it.  Of course the most interesting pitcher plant is already half dead but the rest look promising and I’d still like to find some moss to add.  The pitcher plants were left potted so they’d be above the highest water level, but there’s absolutely no reason for the log.  I just thought it was a nice thing to add.

So maybe the projects aren’t rolling along as much as the calendar says they should.  Maybe it will happen this week… although the weather says otherwise… or maybe not.  You can’t follow a relaxing vacation filled with cool, foggy ocean breezes with a jump right back into the hot dog days of August.  You have to ease your way back, and for me I was happy enough to get the lawn mowed again and edged, especially since to do so involved first replacing the lawnmower blade due to a violent run-in with a hidden rock.

tropical garden

Looking past the tropical garden into the backyard.  The green of the lawn is misleading considering nearly all of it is weeds and annual crabgrass. 

Of course I took all these pictures prior to any work being done.  Even a single day away from the garden needs to be followed up with a thorough garden tour 🙂

front border

It’s only been a week but with plenty of rain and some serious heat things have grown quite a bit.  To my surprise no one has questioned the milkweed sprouts growing in the lawn or the gourds creeping in from the sides.  Even when I mowed, I mowed around them.  I like lawn, but a few interesting weeds are always an improvement!

All over things are exploding with color.  Again the sunflowers have taken over, and again I love it.  I’m always surprised by how well they elbow their way in, even with all the bird snacking and weed smothering mulch.  I tried ripping a bunch from the tropical border and the potager but as you can see I’m about as good at that as I am at finishing projects 😉

front border

The front border at its peak.  Even after skimping on this spring’s annual plantings it’s still managed to come together. 

I’m thinking about ordering topsoil and more mulch in order to finish the bed expansion which happened when the bog was planted.  It just makes sense to shovel and move tons of stuff when the humidity shoots up to one billion percent and the forecast calls for a nice little spell of heat.  If worse comes to worse I’ll just let it block the garage for a few weeks until the guilt overcomes me, and if I’m really lucky the sweaty mess of it all will make me almost relieved to see summer winding down.  Maybe.  I doubt it though.

Have a great week!

Rollin with Summer

August approaches, and with it come some of the best outdoor moments of the year.  I love how the garden comes together now, and how everything is just full of humming and buzzing and color.  It’s a treat each day, and my only complaint is how fast the days fly by.

front border

The front border on the last days of July.  Less annual color this year but still a few interesting things to check out each day.

We were away last week on vacation and missed some of the hottest days of the year, but that’s fine with me since it was plenty hot on the island we visited.  The heat here in Pennsylvania was tempered by a few downpours though, and even after a week of neglect the garden still looked fine.

mixed perennial border

I’m starting to wonder if I should try and tame the inner reaches of the front border.  This time of year it starts to look a little messy with self-sown rudbeckia, sunflowers, and phlox.

The fact that the garden carried on fine without me is a little insulting but when it’s messy to begin with I suppose a little more messy doesn’t show.  I’ll take that as one of the perks of having a far from perfect garden, but I did devote a Friday evening to mowing, and a Saturday morning to deadheading and weeding the front borders and I think it did make a difference.

squash seedlings

Neatness would be much improved if I would only stand up to the interesting little things that show up on their own, but I can’t, and although good design never called for a squash patch on the front lawn, it looks like that’s what we’re going to have.

Everything out front is about the same as it always is but I did notice one change.  There seem to be fewer wasps and bees this year, and more flies.  That of course could change in a week, but as I was staking the steely blue eryngium I didn’t have that usual fear-of-sting like I normally do, and I was surprised.

hydrangea limelight

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ with rudbeckia triloba, eryngium planum, and a few branches of willow ‘Golden Sunshine’.  Yes.  It’s messy here as well.

Hopefully the missing bees and wasps are just an annual blip in bug populations, but I halfway think it’s got something to do with all the bulldozing and construction that went on behind our house.  When they finished off the industrial park, a big chunk of rocky, scrubby, weedy, woodsy habitat was leveled off, and is now either mulched or turf and not at all interesting to anything other than woodchucks.

mixed perennial border

Sedum ‘Bon Bon’ is looking exceptionally nice between the blues and the yellows of the front foundation plantings.  Yes it’s messy here as well and I really need to edge and divide the blue fescue, but that’s not something I’m willing to give up pool time for.

Not to look forward to messiness, but I did go back there this weekend with a sprayer of roundup and an eye for anything particularly invasive.  The weeds and brush will return on their own, but I just want to make sure things like Japanese knotweed, crownvetch, bindweed, and poison ivy don’t gain the upper hand.  I guess you could say I’m a weed connoisseur.

But don’t let all this talk of weeds become too distracting.  I gave the front yard a once over and then did the backyard on Sunday.  Neither looks too bad now and I’ll post more photos shortly, but in the meantime I’m particularly happy with the hardy agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ which is slowly clumping up for me at the far end of the front border.  I think this is year three for it, and each spring when it comes back I’m always excited to see a few more shoots, and each summer when it blooms I’m wowed by the saturated color.

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ handled -5F last winter without a problem or any kind of protection.

So that’s it for now.  The heat of summer has things slowing down a bit, and as long as I don’t slow down as well there might be a chance of catching up on projects.  We’ll see.   There are two more trips planned and that’s always a lot more fun 🙂