Visiting Jean

My friend Jean has an amazing garden which she’s been working on for years and she’s made it into a treasure trove of color and textures which flourish in spite of the thin mountainside soil she first started with.  I love a garden which you can walk through and experience and this garden fits that bill perfectly.

jeans pond

Yoga frog leads the class of froglets who follow along from the safety of the pond.

It’s a sheltered garden filled with the sounds of running water.  You enter the backyard though a shaded arbor at the end of a long drive which leads you through the large wooded lot.  What first grabs your attention when you step through the gate is the large pond carved into the mountainside.  It looks as if it’s always been there, a relaxing little nook left over from when the glaciers last scrubbed this part of Pennsylvania.

jeans pond

Looking out across from the house and main patio to the pond.  A natural stone path leads to a cozy seating area and fire pit, a clematis covered arch marks the path out into the garden beyond.

You have two choices here, explore the pond and gardens to your left or ignore the deck and patios (and inviting patio seating) surrounding the house and let the color of the slope to the right draw you in.  We usually choose the flowery slope 🙂

jeans garden

Jean’s garden is always magazine ready.  It’s got color, paths, destinations, focal points, vignettes… Here container plantings line the stone steps which take you to the upper garden.

I guess the upside to gardening on a thinly covered, rocky mountainside is that stone paths and walls are just an arm’s length away… assuming you’ve got a prybar and shovel at the end of that arm!  Over the years Jean has built up terraces and pickaxed out level planting areas to make room for her plant addiction and they really keep the garden interesting with their changes in elevation and solid structure.

jeans garden

Color galore with annual plantings and summer perennials.  Of course if there’s a nice bright phlox I have to include the picture 😉

The top of the slope has been kept open for sun and leveled to make room for all the summer color that fills this end of the garden.  On my last visit the dahlias were just starting to take off and I hope I wasn’t too pushy with my hints of how much I liked the colors and how well they’d look in my own garden!

Zinnias, calibrachoa, and of course dahlias.  This picture just doesn’t do the scale justice, the pot of purple fountain grass is probably about six feet up on a tower of container plantings.

Jean is just a little obsessed.  It’s hard for me to believe a gardener could be that way but she’s got plants all over, she’s got plant inventories, she’s involved in plant groups, she travels for plants, and she’s got about a million plans which are on the drawing board.  It’s always fun talking to her as her compulsively organized type A personality deconstructs gardening.

jeans dahlias

Even the plant supports are well thought out and complement the yellows, oranges, reds and purples of this section.

Beyond the sunny and bright center of the garden, pathways take you out into the more shaded woodland edges.  Hydrangeas abound and although I didn’t get any decent pictures of them individually, if you start looking you’ll see they show up nearly everywhere… and not just planted ones… believe it or not there are hundreds of hydrangea seedlings in any open spot of soil or gravel which gets a little sun.  What a thought to have to weed out handfuls of hydrangea!

jeans garden

Stone lined paths run throughout the garden and special shrubs and trees fill every available space.  Here the left side of the path is dominated by an eight foot tall planting of purple angelica (Angelica gigas ‘purpurea’).

If there’s one thing which Jean struggles with it’s the local vole population.  Deer are around as well but at least you can fence them out.  Voles are a curse.

jeans garden

The shadier planting still look great but at one time they were also filled with hostas.  Lots of them.

Soil additives, traps, caged plantings, containers, all are in use to wage war against the rodent hordes but as Jean likes to say, her stone walls and rock ledges are practically vole condos so it’s a continuous battle.

jeans garden

Round about the back a pathway has been planted up as a scented walkway.  On a previous visit the fragrance of oriental lilies filled the air, on my my last visit it’s been replaced by the scent of passionflowers and fragrant hostas.

Fortunately she’s holding her own and shows no signs of throwing in the trowel.  Score one more for Jean.

jeans garden

Shaded steps leading around to the fire pit.  I love how things fill in here, and you could plant a whole other garden with the dwarf goats beard, ferns, and other goodies which sprout up in the cracks.

I’ll leave you with one last pond photo as we return to the house.

jeans pond

Just the right amount of water lilies for interest and open water for light reflection.  I’m sure the Japanese maple is awesome in the fall but my favorite right now is the airy variegated moor grass Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’).

As you exit the garden off the main patio you can’t help but notice how well Jean grows climbing nasturtium.  Although I love the leaves and flower colors, this is one plant I always struggle with.

jeans nasturtium

Nasturtium climbing the arch.  It looks so healthy!

And that takes us back to where we started.  I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did and it’s inspired me to make more paths and get more shrubs in the ground.  Structure.  That’s what I need… just like snowdrops are what Jean needs 😉

Thanks Jean!

Winter might be on its way

I have to think of what to do with my lovely lotus.  The sun came up this morning and its small container-pond had a skim of ice on it from last night’s cold snap, the low having been about 27F (-3C).  I think I’ll leave just enough water in the container to cover the roots and place the whole thing in the coldest (yet unfrozen) corner of the garage.  If I can find a few loose tubers I might put them in a Ziploc baggie with some wet sphagnum moss and leave it in the vegetable drawer of the spare fridge as a backup plan.

lotus in container winter

There’s no illusion of an Indian Summer once ice starts forming on open water.

Even in death the dried leaves still repel beads of water, and when frozen they look even cooler (pun intended).  I really hope this plant can tolerate my poorly planned and half thought out overwintering plans!

frozen water droplets on lotus leaf

A cold, calm night, and everything just froze as is. Winter is a’comin!

I’m glad I got these pictures this morning since I haven’t had a chance to be out in the garden much lately.  The time change has me leaving in the dark and coming home in the dark, and eight cuttings growing under a shop light doesn’t quite satisfy my gardening appetite.  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have some time, since today was a bust with birthday parties, to-do lists, and grocery runs….. I just have to be careful online tonight, I’m obsessing over my yard’s lack of conifers 🙂 Wish me luck!

Plant of the year 2014

I know people have been on the edge of their seats waiting for this post, so to end the secrecy, stop the speculation, and quell the rumors I’m finally pulling back the curtain and reveling this year’s number one plant.  Bearing the title of “Plant of the year” is not an accolade to be taken lightly, and although last year’s winner promptly died after receiving this distinction (from overwatering, a common curse for too fast and furious a rise in fame), I’m hoping the 2014 champion carries the torch a little longer.  Without further ado, the co-winners for 2014 are my little lotus seedlings from way back in April.

4/27 Lotus seeds sprouting

4/27 Like some creepy alien stretching after being awoken from inside its space pod, the seed sends out a green shoot.

The seeds were one of those random things hastily tacked onto a HPS seed exchange order.  “I can pick as many as twenty packets” is dangerous in December, and while the snow was flying, the irresistible tagline of “Flower color is a surprise! Worshipped by people around the world, the sacred lotus is a true showstopper” overcomes all lack of experience and lack of suitable growing conditions.

Three large marble sized seeds came, sat around, and on 4/15 were planted unceremonially onto some sand at the bottom of an empty margarine tub.    Before going in, the seeds were scarified by rubbing against a file just enough to break through the dark outer coating.  Two inches of water on top and then under the lights and onto the heat mat they went.

“Grower must have patience” was the other thing I glossed over on the listing, and although this is usually code for guaranteed failure, things moved fast this time, and in just over a week the seed shell split and a little green arm started to reach out of the pod.  The margarine tub was already too small, so sprouting seeds were potted up into regular potting soil, covered with grit (to keep everything from floating away) and their new and improved water bucket went back under the grow light.

5/1Lotus seeds potted up

5/1 Thirty days after seeds were sown the Lotus seedlings already needed more room and deeper water.

I’m still surprised anything sprouted in the first place, let alone grew.  Lotus seed can sit for a loooooong time without doing a thing.  According to Wikipedia, they are the third oldest viable seed ever found, with seed recovered from a dry lakebed in China sprouting after 1,300 years of dormancy.  I’m glad I didn’t have to wait that long.  They sprouted fast and then grew fast.  A leaf came first, which for a water plant makes sense since who needs roots to search out water when you’re surrounded by it?  The stem looked ready to reach up through a couple of feet of water to reach a surface, but in my little bucket it was forced to twist and kink as it adapted to the cramped quarters.

5/23 first leaves on lotus seedlings

5/23 Four weeks after sowing, the bucket went outside onto the cold driveway.  The first leaf was quickly followed by a second and now the seeds were also sending out roots and a small rhizome began creeping out of the seed shell.

Once things outside heated up, the lotus (along with algae) really took off.  In just a week leaves expanded, new shoots came up and the plants really seemed excited to have some actual sunlight.

6/4 young lotus seedlings

6/4 The lotus seedlings are soaking up the warmth and sun.

As the seedlings kept growing, my lack of even the smallest water garden was starting to become apparent.  No matter and no worries, there’s a sizeable pot ghetto that forms on the driveway each spring, and what’s one more plant in need of a home?

6/25 Lotus growing in a bucket

6/25 Three weeks later and we reach a milestone with the first two aerial leaves. All lotus leaves shed water, and even the least plant-interested child loves playing with drops on the green pads.

Just recently I finally did my little lotus proud by plugging up an unused planter and moving them on up to a bigger apartment on the east side.  They had been sulking for most of July since I think they used up the nutrients in their little starter pots, but after visiting four stores I finally found the plant tabs I wanted and in they went.  Growth is back on track!

8/12 Lotus in a container

8/12 The little guys in a tub on the “patio”.  They don’t look much bigger here, but their former home was about half the size of the nearby blue planter.

So my lotus plants are now officially the plant of the year, and although the pressures of marketing, plant appearances and market demand which come with this distinction could be overwhelming, I think my seedlings can handle it.  I just hope they can handle winter when it comes….. we’ll see.

Hope you’re enjoying your own plant of the year, and special thanks to Aquascapes Unlimited, a Pennsylvania aquatic plant nursery and consulting firm (who have a great website with an exceptional aquatic plant database), for donating seeds last winter to the Mid Atlantic HPS seed exchange and through them to me!

January Thaw

This is a post only a gardener could love…. and even at that it would need to be a gardener stuck in the cold and gray of a Northern January.  Only a cabin fever gardener would care about the first tiny green sprout of a snowdrop coming up among the freezer-burnt hellebore foliage.first snowdrop sprouts

Just a few days after temperatures dropped to -6F (-21C), the warmth has returned, the ground is thawing and I’m back outside poking for the first signs of spring.  The snowdrops (galanthus elwesii) seemed way too early but then after checking last year’s notes I saw the first was open January 31st last year, and I suppose we’re right on schedule.  Using this as a clue I checked the seed pots and saw minute sprouts there.  Yay!  These little babies might have to come in under the lights, a pot like this is something I might have to check every day!  **btw there are two tiny sprouts, just in case you can’t see them 🙂galanthus elwesii seedlings

Elsewhere in the garden some of the snowdrops (also galanthus elwesii) forced under lights last year are also ready for the new season.  I keep throwing more mulch on them to slow them down, but they insist on coming up and facing the frigid ice and blowing snow unprotected.galanthus elwessi sproutsI wish I cold post a couple witch hazel blooms, but mine is refusing to bloom this year.  It does that, going on and off depending on its mood.  So in a desperate bid for anything interesting, here are a few colchicum sprouts already showing.  Colchicum are another plant that insists on worrying me with a too-early showing.colchicum sprouts in the winterOne plant that did not appear to enjoy the polar vortex is this cyclamen coum.  The warm front that preceded the artic blast melted off all our snow cover and these little guys were forced to endure the straight on winds without any windbreaks or mulch cover.  I’m hoping the dark shriveled green of the leaves is not a sign of death…..frozen cyclamen coum foliageTo leave off on a good note this hellebore “HGC Silvermoon” is only showing the typical winter foliage damage.  It’s in a full sun position but was engulfed by a neighboring catmint plant during the summer.  The plant doesn’t seem to care and I’m looking forward to a nice show soon (now that I can see it again!) hellebore HGC silvermoonSo that’s it from here.  Not much, but it’s always nice to be able to get out there for a look around during the daylight hours.  It gives me time to contemplate failed projects such as the leaking pond shell, the hole of which is holding more water than when the pond liner was in there.  In my head I will fix it and end up happy….. right now it just annoys me whenever I pass.pond liner failBut it’s nice to be outside doing something other than shoveling snow.  There’s still a month at least before any thoughts of spring become legitimate, so I need to take it easy.  Another good cold snap would do well to cool this spring fever off, but I’m worried about what more indoor computer time would do.  Right now the budget is blown for spring and it has a lot to do with that easy click that brings plant goodies right to your door….. there’s still a long way to go, and I hope you’re doing better than I’ve been!

Project finale

There was no more delaying, and I finally got the apple tree in the ground.  I had to since Sunday it went into the bucket to re-hydrate, and Monday it needed to be planted.  Plus I had practically all day to get it done since Monday I stayed home for a dr’s appointment.   Still I wasted most of the morning, spent three hours waiting for my appointment, and only got into tree planting somewhere around 5pm.  Good thing the weather stayed nice.apple tree plantingThat’s the tree there with the little bit of yellow tape near the base.  I mulched it with a bucket of compost and then topped that with chopped leaves from the early spring bed cleanups.  I think it will do well here and it’s already made a big impression for this little corner of the yard.  The apple twig has me calling this “the orchard” now instead of “the meadow”.  This is the back part of the yard where I don’t mow until about late July or so in order for all the weedy little flowers to get a chance to bloom.  The kids enjoy it but not everyone here thinks as highly of the meadow as I do.  The annual mowing usually takes place right after some big argument over snakes and ticks and spiders.

The last thing done to finish up the tree planting was to cut down two small aspen trees.  I let weed trees (sumac and aspen) sprout up in the meadow and then “edit” them out when I get tired of them.  They’re a nice screen along the ugly chain link fence while young, but I have no plans to leave any.  A quick zip through the roots with my handy reciprocating saw and they’re gone.  I guess I could have reached for the fancy pruning saw, but (1) this one’s a power tool and (2) for the cost of the $3 blade I shamelessly cut through dirt, rocks, and roots and don’t care what I do to the blade.  Come to think of it, lots of pruning gets done with this saw.  I even use it to cut wedge divisions out of ornamental grass clumps.  Sure beats digging.

The pond is in and getting it’s leak test.preformed pond installation

It still looks mighty ugly but hopefully I can blend it in somehow.  I think the shape is called natural, but there’s nothing natural about the way it sits all plastic and stiff in the hole.  But the birds don’t care,  I barely walked 15 feet to get a rake and the birds were sneaking in for a bath.  Looks like it’s going to be popular.  It’s already popular with the kids, but all they seem to want to do is throw things in.  Rocks, dirt, and tools are all fair game.

yellow primroseAlso there’s been a death.  My daughter informed me that “Matthew” is dead at the bottom of the pool.  Don’t ask me how an earthworm  climbed the walls and got in there, but one did.

Do you like the little yellow clump of primroses blooming in the shovel danger zone?  I hope they survive since I have a bad record with these.  This is an older heirloom type given to me by a friend and promises to be a little tougher.

daffodil "pistachio"My current favorite daffodil (Pistachio) is open and just about every other daffodil is just waiting for some sun ….. also the kid’s pea plantings are starting to sprout.

pea sproutsGood thing I finally got the apple tree into the ground.  As I came up to the front door to call it a day I found the second part of my mailorder shipment.  For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to order 7 lilac bushes, a nice assortment of different colors and sizes.  Whatever I was thinking last month, looks like I have a new project this month.  Plus mulch.  Plus did I mention I ordered dahlia roots too?

 

How not to do a project, part deux

Sunday rolls around and I’m not even sure what the weekend project is…. or was.  I think it had something to do with that box of bareroot apple tree that’s been sitting on the porch for two days now.  Bareroot plantings should be taken care of asap, first step is to plump up the roots again by sitting them in a bucket overnight, I think 24 hours is sorta the max for soaking, you don’t want to drown them.  When planting, the only special thing to remember is to spread out the roots and work the soil back in between.  A little dirt, water it in, a little more dirt, water in.  It’s better to keep the root flare high rather than deep, you can always add soil or mulch around the base later if needed.  Don’t bother mixing anything into the planting hole, if your soil is horrible, plant even higher and mulch well with compost and those nutrients will work their way down to the roots, just like they do in every forest on the planet.  You may think it’s cruel not to try and improve the soil for your baby, but look around.  If you can see other trees growing then your tree should be fine too…. unless those other trees are swamp cypress… you might have a drainage issue then.

pansies and lettuceSo with a sense of urgency to get my tree (and 3 gooseberries too!) into the ground I got the coffe brewed and sat down at the computer….. breakfast followed and then some Lego villages had to be built.  Then a friend stopped by.  Six hours later, a run to the local nursery (to drop off $40), and this is where I’m at.  It’s pansy season after all and buying pansies, shaking off winter, and supporting my local nursery are tradition in these parts.  The apple tree is still not planted but it’s Sunday after all, and things shouldn’t happen too fast on a day of rest.

spring pansy potIt’s more fun to plant pansies than dig holes for dormant apple trees, and you shouldn’t pick-axe pond holes on a day of rest, so I drug out the planters for my new purchases and got them planted.  Again it’s not that easy.  All the fancy pots already have stuff in them.  It’s stuff like rubber trees and fig bushes that need repotting too, so that all came out to make room for the pansies.  Did I mention I bought lettuce?  I was embarrased to  even think of my own seedlings when I saw the lettuce plants for sale.  My reasoning was if I can get at least 215 servings of salad off these plants, they should pay for themselves.

lettuce container gardenThe back deck got a little spring too.  I should have powerwashed off last year’s stains first, but that’s another project and right now I’m too busy planting trees.

Tomorrow maybe I can actually get one in the ground.  The rest of Sunday was spent taking the kids (my two plus another three) for a walk in the woods and down to the railroad tracks.  They then insisted on seeing the drug house that burned down on Saturday.  Funny how these things never get mentioned in most tree planting tutorials.

Around 9pm I snuck out and opened the tree box.  Everything is soaking and has to be planted Monday before it drowns.  I should have no problem getting to it since the only other thing going on is repairing the pond hole.

Regarding the pond hole, I made the mistake of leaving the shovels out next to the dirt piles,  and after two hours of worm hunts, “climbing the pile”, and playing with the pick-axe, most of the dirt is back in the hole or thrown into the pond liner.  A little more work for me, but at least most of the local earthworms (and a couple of grubs) have been given names.

How not to do a project

Garden projects are usually pretty straight forward, you got dirt and you got stuff that goes either in or on it.  Sometimes it gets elaborate with fancy structures, but for the most part we’re all just farmers scratching out a hole and putting in a seed.  This weekend was good weather for that with temperatures perfectly positioned between numb finger lows and dripping sweat highs….. good work weather, and the plan was to order mulch, top a couple beds off, and make my suburban beds sparkle with neatness and weed-free goodness.  Except the mulch wouldn’t be in until next Wednesday.  Normally that would have wrecked the weekend project,but trust me there’s always a backup, and this one came in the form of a long narrow box which greeted me at the door Friday afternoon, a box containing my NEW!”liberty” apple! and three bareroot gooseberry bushes.  New project: plant fruit garden.

I should have prepped things Friday but it was rainy and cold.  Plus I was tired, crabby, lazy…. you name it…..  better to get a good night’s rest and then tackle these things in the morning.  So first thing Saturday I got right to it.  First I wasted about an hour on the computer (always necessary).  Then those little guys that live here woke up and it was coloring and cutting, then I was required to admire about 10 thousand crayon butterflies and angry birds, then the little people started crying for breakfast.  One wanted bacon, one wanted french toast., one wanted to help crack the eggs, one insisted on buttering all the toast… then of course the fifth wave of cleanup… thousands of little bits of cut paper, but I did have to congratulate myself this time for not suggesting the paints.

Planting fruit trees always sounds easier in the books, and they never mention the crayon part.  It was about midafternoon before I finally got around to taking a look at the box… but there was still something haunting me.  Shovel in hand I stared at the stupid pre-formed pond that I dragged out of the woods last year.  It was basically a project that never worked out for my brother in law and somewhere along the line I became convinced it would work out better for me.  Early photo records go back to June of last year when I first began mowing around it.  mandevilla on deck railingGenerally speaking I hate pre-formed ponds.  I have no idea why I need to put it to use, especially since I have a brand new liner that’s been sitting in the garage just waiting for the last decade for a hole to line.  Why do I have to use this ugly, leaky piece of tossed-aside trash?  I don’t know, but I digress…. we’re planting trees here.

So I grabbed the shovel again and started digging the hole for the pond.digging a hole for preform pond liner

The first couple inches were no problem.  It’s the clay-ish topsoil that was spread when the house was built 40-ish years ago.  The gravelly, shale filled, hard pack underneath is always where my digging ends.  Rather than pick-axe my way through and finish the job, I took a break and proceeded to patch up the cracks  that had formed in three of the liner corners.  Turns out that an upside down pond insert sitting around in your yard for nearly a year is a magnet for small children to climb on and jump upon.  Jumping on them cracks the liner.  So long story short I patched the corners and started with the pick axe again, only this time with mittens because all my fingers were glued together during the patching process.

There’s a plastic chair next to the project site.  Any good project needs “thinking time” to sit back and review your progress, and I had already spent a lot of the afternoon in this position.  Things probably would have gone much better if there was more progress to review, but pick-axing holes sucks.  Plus for the past two years I’ve celebrated each spring with a nice hospital stay due to A-fib relapses, so maybe this would be a good time to call it a day.  Off to the recliner I went for more “thinking time” and to regroup for Sunday.  The tree is still in the box, but at least there were no 16 year old sons here, slipping feet off brakes and running F-250 pickup trucks into garage corners.   Spending a Sunday tree planting is much less work than the fun my neighbor will have putting the corner of his house back onto it’s foundation.