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 🙂

Three Things

Summer is flying by way too fast and fewer and fewer things are getting done.  I wonder where the time goes but then remember that afternoon nap which got away from me and then the hour spent just sitting on the porch ‘looking’, and things kind of all come together.  Summer is the lazy person’s nirvana.

Still a few things get done here and there.  Mulching is one thing which happened, and although it was a half load with more planned for later, it made a world of difference even if most of it is just a foot wide strip edging the beds.

front perennial border

Even with a ruthless hand the purple coneflowers (Echinacea) still seed all over.  I’m fine with that of course, although I did yank a few in the way of my mulching and edging.

Mulching would have gone much faster but even a lazy gardener can be a greedy gardener.  Beds were expanded, some enough so that the expansion was remarked upon by the housemates.  I just explained that the re-edging of the beds was necessary and left it at that.  New mulch is always appreciated, so the latest land grab was quickly forgotten.

kniphofia alcazar

Grandma’s pool path has been cleaned up, and kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ is still sending up fresh pokers.  I’ve shovel-pruned a few varieties which just don’t flower long enough, but ‘Alcazar’ has been a winner.  

A second thing of note is lily season.  They’re doing great this year and although I’d prefer them towering over the other plants I guess they’re not bad at all considering how thin the soil is that they’re growing in.

lily silk road tree lily

‘Silk Road’ gets better every year.  Very fragrant, love the color, and she’s no trouble at all. 

A few shovel-fulls of compost might be in order for these ladies since they really get no attention otherwise.  The only time they caused me any concern was in April when a late freeze damaged a few of the earliest ones.  Most of my favorites survived but a few froze back enough to call it a year.  Hopefully they’ll be back next spring.

lily leslie woodriff

Lily ‘Leslie Woodriff’ is just off to the left.  I may have to find a new home for this one since she just doesn’t seem to show off well with her companions.  That’s part of it, but truth be told I just wanted to show off the rusty foxgloves and dill 🙂 

Just a few more…

lily conca d'or

Lily ‘Conca d’Or’ is absolutely wow this week.  I snapped a potful up on clearance last summer, and this just shows how well the local nursery cares for their stock, even when past prime.

And one more.  Lilium lancifolium, the old fashioned tiger lily.  I think I read somewhere the garden version is a sterile triploid version and that sounds believable since it never sets seed, but this is the one most likely to be found in old gardens and around abandoned homesteads so it seems to be doing just fine as is.  Notice the round little dark bulbils which this lily produces where leaf meets stem.  They’re super easy to pluck off and pot up, and in just two or three years you’ll have a brand new tiger lily colony.  Be careful though.  They have a reputation as a Typhoid Mary of the lily world and are said to carry all kinds of viruses which aphids can spread to their more refined cousins.  Of course I rarely listen to good advice and grow them anyway.  They always remind me of summers in Maine and my aunt’s old farmhouse garden and I guess I’ll risk the others for that.

tiger lily lancifolium

Lilium lancifolium the tiger lily.  

I also got a hold of the double tiger lily last summer.  Beautiful or atrocious is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s just a few days behind the single so you’ll have to wait.

Off to a third thing.  The phlox are in bloom and as usual they don’t compare to the very first year I prepped a bed and planted them out, but also as usual I’m willing to forgive many of the flaws in one of my favorite flowers.  The fragrance of phlox is another summer farmhouse memory so when they’re in bloom out back even I can be convinced to grab a trowel and pruner and do a little weeding and straightening up just to be around them.

potager phlox paniculata

The potager nearly always looks a mess but to me I’m quite happy puttering around looking for surprises… and vegetables… every now and then it produces an onion or something, just enough to retain the ‘potager’ name 🙂

And maybe a fourth thing.  The Russian hollyhock (Alcea rugosa) has captured my imagination as easily as their homeland captured the last election.  The color is a soft yellow which goes with everything, the plants top out at a decent 6-7 feet, and best of all there’s still no rust to be seen on the leaves.  In the front yard the current crop of regular hollyhock seedlings are peppered with orange spots and yellowing leaves, but back here it’s still a clean slate.  I hope it stays that way.

alcea rugosa russian hollyhock

Alcea rugosa, the Russian hollyhock.  My fingers are crossed for plenty of seeds since I want to plant this thing all over.  Please ignore the Japanes beetle nibblings which have ruined some of the show…

So that’s it from here.  Hope your summer is rolling along just as nicely as mine (although maybe at a slower pace) and you’re enjoying the sunny bliss of the season.  It may all seem carefree wonder but don’t forget to give some consideration to the cooler parts of the year and by that I mean snowdrop season of course.  Edgewood Gardens should be putting out a snowdrop list soon and I have no other choice but to wait patiently until it comes to my inbox.  There’s already been a species list for the real fanatics (which I won’t answer yes or no to on ordering from) but the named drops list should be in the works as well.  When it comes out I like to think of it as Christmas in July, and as it stands right now I’m sure I’ve been very good this year 😉

Ready For My Closeup

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

iris roys repeater

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

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

delphinium

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

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

rosa rubrifolia

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

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

hydrangea strawberry sundae

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

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

nursery run

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

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

blueberries

The blueberries look promising.

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

lonicera sempervirens

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

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

stinging nettle

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

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

baby praying mantis

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

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

clematis ruutel

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

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

quaking aspen leaf

Quaking aspen out in the meadow.

golden hops

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

hypericum albury purple

Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’ living up to the name.  

dracocephalum

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

thalictrum rochebrunianum

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

sunflower seedlings

So much for weeding out these sunflower seedlings…

verbascum atrovilaceum

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

front street border

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

oxeye daisy

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

pokeweed sunnyside up

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

penstemon digitalis dark towers

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

allium narcissiflorum

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

anthemis tinctoria

Anthemis tinctoria with rose campion and more daisies.

common milkweed asclepias syriaca

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

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

Have a great week!

Hola Spring

Spring arrived last week, and from the looks of it she’s in a rush.  A couple warm days, a gentle rain, and we’re off!

berm plantings

‘Just a bit’ of pruning on the seven sons tree (Heptacodium) turned into a few trunks being removed, but the real point of this is the finished berm and trees which now shield us from the Industrial park.

I had to quickly finish up the last of the cleanup -which turned into more of a leave in situ/ call it natural mulch/ kind of thing- but I did try to get in a few projects.  One of them was an attempt at addressing the cankers which always seem to show up on the Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides).  From what I’ve read this plant seems to be prone to them, and my options are (1)ignore them and hope they don’t completely girdle the branch (2)cut them out whenever they show up, or (3)get rid of the whole thing.  For those keeping track, I’ve moved on to option 2.

heptacodium canker seven sons

Eventually these canker infections will grow enough to encircle the entire branch, cutting off the flow of nutrients and the trunk will die off.  Hopefully cutting them out will help control them…

Fortunately my pruning activities are nothing compared to the curly willow my friend has to deal with.  The almost-bomb cyclone weather system which pummeled the midwest earlier in the week also brought fierce winds, rain, and hail to our little valley.

wind damage

I feel somewhat responsible.  About a dozen years ago I offered a potful of rooted cuttings which were graciously accepted.  Curly willow grows fast though.

rain forecast

The weather forecast for this Easter weekend.

Not to dwell on the weather but any gardener worth his or her salt tends to dwell on the weather and I of course am no exception.  At the risk of appearing to complain I just want to point out that my holiday break perfectly matches the multi-day rain event which will be April-showering the Northeast this weekend.  Also if you are curious as to what part of the Northeast plays host to my garden, it’s just about dead center to the red outline which highlights this weekend’s heaviest rain forecasts.

Still, too much rain always beats drought, so I’ll just hope for the best and just enjoy the flowers which are coming up all over!

perennials and spring bulbs

A week ago it was corydalis, now the daffodils and hyacinth are taking center stage.  btw, Hyacinths don’t appreciate high winds so fortunately the ones here were only just coming up when the wind hit.

I can complain about a lot of things, but the spring bulbs along the street are not one of them.  All I do is cover up last year’s debris with a mulch of chopped leaves and then wait for things to come up.  It’s been a couple years since I last added new daffodils or hyacinths but I think this year a few can use some dividing.  Of course I’ll spread them out some more!

hyacinth woodstock

I think this is ‘Woodstock’.  I love those dark stems and saturated color.  Beetroot red is often used in descriptions, and I think that’s right on the mark.

narcissus red devon

‘Red Devon’ (which is looking less washed out this year) with ‘Tweety Bird’ in back and a few pale ‘Pistachio’ here and there.  ‘Pistachio’ is an absolute favorite in case you’re wondering. 

narcissus barret browning

‘Barret Browning’ (pre-1945) is an oldie but goodie.  

I have a few grape hyacinths out there as well.  I avoid letting them go to seed, but of course when I saw seeds offered I had to try them.  Go figure.  I think they’re extra special of course, since I spent three years growing them on to blooming size, but I won’t be offended if you think they look just like any other muscari which you can buy for pennies a bulb.

muscari seedlings

Muscari seedlings along the front walk.  I believe these were planted as ‘Mt Hood’ but of course don’t show anything close to the icy blue color and pale tip of the parent.  

I see that the rain outside has stopped for a bit, so let me find my boots and take a slog around the garden.

perennials and spring bulbs

A view down along the street border.  From the side and angled just perfectly it looks packed with spring color, and that’s the view I’d like to leave you with.

Enjoy your weekend and have a blessed Easter and Passover.