Back to Work

The rain last week did wonders for the garden and it’s become as lush as last year.  Lush is sometimes code for overgrown, so I spent some productive time trimming and weeding this weekend and I’m happy to say it appears to have paid off.  With pictures taken at precisely the right moment, from just the right angle, within hours after the lawn was mowed and edged, the yard finally looks nice.  I guess it’s about time considering we’re about four months into the growing season.

street border

The lawn cut and edged.  It looks almost parklike, just ignore the yellow spots… the kids were playing with a metal detector and searching for treasure in the turf…

I’ll try not to dwell on all the flaws I see.  The front border has much less color from annuals this year because of beetle attacks and a dry spell, but there’s enough which has come along regardless.  From the street side it’s really filled in, the usual perennials and random sunflower make a nice barrier between us and the road.

street border

The border does its own thing along the street with just an occasional whacking back when things get out of hand.

From the lawn side there’s also a good amount of perennial color, but not as much as I’d like.  I do prefer my plantings on the brighter side  🙂

street border

This picture is 100% showing off the lawn.  It’s a rare day when a well watered, green, freshly cut, neatly edged, lawn shows up on this blog.

Speaking of too much color, it’s not an official policy but in general I don’t have many daylilies in the garden.  I don’t like the way the leaves on so many of them look all beat up by the end of the year and for that reason got rid of most of them.  That may be a-changin’ though.  I spotted this one next door and there’s a good chance I may rationalize an emergency dividing, so I can sneak a few pieces over onto my side of the property line.

orange and pink daylily

Orange and pink.  This might be just what my border needs… or it might be one more piece of evidence in the case against any good taste in my garden.

I’ll have to be sure I don’t give in to the temptation of bringing a few bright daylilies into the tropical border.  It’s supposed to be all big leaves and bright colors thanks to explosive, non-hardy southern plants, not steady reliable things like daylilies.

tropical garden

A late start means the dahlias are only just now starting to flower, plus an unusually lazy May meant three or four were all that ever got planted.  Maybe less will be more this year…

The top part of the tropical border is again nearly overwhelmed by 8 foot tall sunflowers among other things.  This year I thought for sure I’d have the upper hand after pulling nearly all of them up but of course with more space the remaining plants grew even bigger.  I guess I could have worse problems.

tropical garden

At least the elephant ears look tropical.

The lawn isn’t the only thing enjoying some maintenance love.  I pulled out the hedge clippers and started doing a little trimming and was able to re-meatball all the lumps of yew along the house.  I don’t completely mind trimming hedges, but rounding off the same yews every year just to have the same yews rounded off every year seems incredibly pointless, so by the time I got to the big one at the end I was more than a little bored.  We’ll have to see where this ends up.

yew topiary

Maybe I can call my yew balls ‘topiary’ now.  Of course I have yet to clean up the trimmings or get a ladder to reach the top…

Out back the potager is particularly lush.  I’ve been relentlessly pulling sunflower, verbena, persicaria, and amaranth seedlings but plenty remain.  Through July I still pretend to be the one in charge, but by August I lose the urge.  From here on things will be getting messier and messier, with all kinds of halfway attractive flowers sprouting up and taking over as the phlox fade or the vegetables are picked.

potager vegetables

It’s phlox season, and each day far too much time is spent checking them out.

I do like my phlox, but experience has shown they don’t like me.  The list of named varieties which have perished in this garden is pretty embarrassing, so of course we won’t talk much about that, and hopefully more observant readers won’t notice that I again spent a decent amount of money on new ones earlier this spring.  They’re not dead yet which is a good sign I think.

phlox paniculata

A mix of seedling and named varieties of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  To my eye gold and pink do not mix well… in fact I hate the mix… but I need marigolds and I need phlox, so there you go.

From further away the phlox look colorful at least.  Close up the foliage looks abused and there are plenty of other issues, but the flowers keep coming, and it makes me wonder if they think this is their last hurrah before they kick the bucket.  I hope not, but I’m not going to fool myself into thinking they like it here.

potager vegetables

I feel like it’s a requirement to grow marigolds in your vegetable garden, even if it’s so fancy that you call it a potager.  Sorry about the white buckets littering the view, but this photo is to prove that there really are vegetables in here.

One last phlox photo.  I wonder if they’d like me more if I dug up a whole new bed and devoted it to even more phlox and more new phlox?  A few more reds would be nice and how much room do a few tomatoes need anyway?

I definitely need more phlox, and I also won’t rule out bigger clumps of the good ones like this white seedling. They’re native plants by the way, so maybe this is helping make America great again.

I’m sure by September I’ll be wishing for fewer phlox and more colchicums.  Maybe.  Hopefully it’s not chrysanthemums though since I’m this close to yanking most of them out in spite of the fact I needed bunches of them just a few years ago.  I hope not everyone is as fickle as I am.

Happy August and have a great week!

Around Back

It’s been a wonderful spring with reliable rain, even temperatures, and no extreme weather.  This is enough to spoil a gardener and make him forget the usual drought and plague which usual hit about this time of year.  Delphinium would be my poster child for weather gone wrong, and in a normal year would lay in a storm beaten heap well before the end of June.

delphinium

The delphinium this year have been exceptional.  Even though this photo is a few days old they’re still gracing this corner of the porch with two foot long trusses of (still upright) bloom.

So I couldn’t help but gloat a little over the delphinium, but the real point to this post is to show a little of the backyard and hopefully impress someone with how busy I’ve been.  There’s a whole other garden back there and sometimes my limited attention span never makes it past the Tuesday view of the front street border 😉

rosa Black Forest

First stop is the tropical garden alongside the South side of the house.  Our neighbor has stopped commenting about the “black, dead eyes’ which she sees every time she looks out the kitchen window.  I’m guessing she’s either finally lost her soul to the Queen of the Prairie statue or she’s too distracted by the overwhelming awesomeness of the ‘Black Forest’ rose.

Once into the back yard the most prominent feature is the kid’s play set.  It may look romantically functional in photos, but in reality it’s become too weak and shaky, and not quite what 9 and 11 year olds look for in outdoor entertainment.

old playset

Nine years of noble service but at this point I’m worried a kid will come crashing down through a weak floorboard.

An executive decision was made to retire the play set.

old playset

The end of an era.  I remember opening the carton on the day we bought it and thinking, mmmm all cedar… some day this is going to make a cozy bonfire… I guess that day has finally come.

Between ripping down the old set and figuring out what to do with the site, several weeks passed.  Another executive decision determined that the budding gymnast needed a bar to do acrobatics off of, so off to the internet.  In the meantime summer came.

stewartia

The stewartia tree is fantastic this year and surprisingly enough the native bumblebees are as thrilled with this Japanese (or Korean, or Chinese… not really sure) tree’s flowers as I am.  You can see a bumblebee butt sticking out of the middle flower.

While working out the swing project (which as expected became much more complicated than it should have been) I also tried to triage the vegetable garden and back flower beds.  For as wet and cool as the spring was, the phlox came up terrible this year.  Spider mites, stunted plants, missing clumps…  I blame miserable soil prep and last summer’s drought, but who knows.  I did finally fertilize, and things appear to be turning, but as I realize once again how great they should be, I kind of regret not taking better care of them.

phlox blue spot

Phlox ‘blue spot’ is one which did get a little extra care.  I couldn’t ignore this one, I just moved it onto the list of favorite phlox… which isn’t as impressive as you’d think since it includes almost all the phlox I have!

Even though the phlox patch (aka vegetable garden, aka potager) is really just an overdone example of gardening gone wrong, it only takes one amazing flower to make it all right.  Some Regal lily (Lilium regale) seedlings from a few years back are big enough to flower and I love them.  The flowers are nice enough in themselves but in addition to color, they perfume the entire potager with a heavy scent of summer which reminds me of gardenias and the tropics.  Too much for an enclosed place, but in the late afternoon, out in the garden, perfect.

regale lily

Regal Lily in full bloom.  I would qualify them as ‘easy’ from seed, just as easy as all the other “volunteers” which fill the bed.  A less generous eye would say lily in a weed-patch but as long as the weeds flower…

While the garden slowly comes together, the new swing set also rises.  An idea comes to mind, no real reason why it shouldn’t work, new parts, wrong parts, returned parts, and a whole lot of sweaty digging while the price tag goes up and up.

pipe swing set

An industrial swing which can even handle the occasional daring adults.  Once it all came together it wasn’t that bad, the real work was removing the gravel, filling with dirt and sod dug from elsewhere, and of course digging a new planting bed 🙂

As the old swing went down, the annual ‘cut that damn grass it looks horrible and it’s full of ticks and don’t you care about the children’ discussion took place.  In an attempt to distract naysayers and define the area I nearly killed myself moving a few mini boulders over to define the edge of the meadow.  I like it and of course think it looks even better, but as for other opinions… I’ll let you know as soon as we’re back on speaking terms.

meadow flowers

End of June meadow.  Daisies ending, rudbeckia and butterfly weed coming on strong, but I’m not sure if the aspen saplings will stay or go.   

To be honest bugs do abound in the meadow.  There are fireflies, butterflies, crickets and bees galore, as well as visitors of the cottontail type.

eastern cottontail rabbit

Eastern cottontail rabbit.  They do damage, but over the season it’s still much less than a single deer or woodchuck could do in one night.  I have a soft spot for the bunnies, and have been known to carry on conversations with them, so I guess their company is worth the beheaded broccoli and mowed down lettuce.

While I was trying to figure out how the old swing set could so quickly collapse and be outgrown, it’s beginning to sink in that it’s the actual years which are ticking away.  It’s already been nine years since we moved to this house.

backyard view

A backyard view.  Nine years ago only lawn spread across the yard and up to the house.    

But you really can’t do anything other than enjoy the ride.  We now have a cute little swing set for relaxing afternoon entertainment and it will hopefully provide many years of fun.

pipe swing set

It took them all of ten minutes to figure out how much more fun jumping is compared to more sedate back and forth swinging.  As of tonight no bones have been broken so let’s hope that luck holds.

The pond is next.  It’s been a ball-trapping, mud-slopping, weed-filled pit for more years than I care to admit, and is absolutely overdue for a detox.  Every year I say the same, but I hope that once the potager is weeded, and the new swingset bed planted, and a truckload of bark mulch spread, and daffodils dug, and out-of-control compost pile reclaimed… I think then I’ll start on the pond.  Maybe.

Have a great week!

Getting Roots in the Ground Again

2016/17 been a remarkably mild winter in this corner of Pennsylvania, and although February usually brings us some of our harshest cold and winter storms, this year it’s going out with a whimper.  For a few days I won’t complain but beyond that I can’t promise anything.  March has a history of big snow-dumps and hopefully if they do come they’re more picturesque than they are damaging, and hopefully this quirk of a winter is also not some dark prequel to an even worse global warming future.

Without a solid slate-cleaning this winter I’m a little lost heading into the 2017 gardening season.  It all still seems so ‘last year’ so I suppose I’ll use that as my excuse for not putting out the usual bored with the snow, don’t want to face the cold, winter time flashback posts, but let me at least try and get this one post out before I’m lost outside again searching for spring sprouts.  It goes back to 2002 when the ignorance of youth thought it would be a good idea to buy a house, lose a job, and get engaged all in the same two months.

dupont house

Our diamond in the rough.

Before I get too distracted with the story I want to point out that a normal first impression of our little valley usually dates it at around 20 years behind the rest of the country.  It’s a region who’s boom time began at the tail end of the 1700’s with the discovery of vast deposits of anthracite coal; the cleanest, hardest, and highest carbon coal out there, and the fuel which powered the economic and manufacturing development of this entire region.  For about 100 years we were riding high but it was a one horse show, and by the 1950’s the horse was definitely showing its age.  Deep mining had shifted to strip mining and the whole region went into a kind of long term hibernation of fleeing youth and aging residents.  Our house is an example of the ‘build it quick for housing’ phase and was probably built around 1910 as cheap two family housing for miners.  After decades of rough living it was probably worth our $24,000 purchase price.

garden renovation

100 years of history and the yard didn’t even have a peony or daffodil.  Gardening was confined to an overgrown privet hedge which looms to the right and a single mass of lilacs growing alongside a decaying shed.

I optimistically brought all the potted plants over from my former apartment balcony and then later watched them freeze as first the plumbing and then heat and finally electricity were pulled out and replaced.  In case it’s not obvious from the photos or purchase price the house was in horrible condition, so much so that when the realtor’s odd girlfriend took her small dog into the house and allowed it to pee on the kitchen doorjamb it barely raised an eyebrow.  I guess we were too distracted by the rotted floor boards, cobbled home repairs, and ‘evidence’ of vermin infestation.

new garden

That fall I planted daffodils, and in between gutting the house and piecing together scraps for a rabbit hutch, put in the first patch for gardening and trimmed back the near side of the privet. oh yeah, and actually transplanted grass so that I had at least one nice strip of lawn to walk on.

As I’m very fond of saying, ignorance is bliss, and for several months the economic realities of the newly unemployed demanded that I just “polish and put a shine on shit” and hopefully have a resale value once the journey was done, but a former girlfriend now fiancée had different ideas.

new garden

I have no idea why I had to have a waterlily even when I didn’t have a running toilet, but there it is.  Until the next dumpster arrives, what better use is there for a 1960’s avocado green bath tub? 

After several months of basement and utility renovations the friend who’s a contractor is traded in for the actual deal.  We’re into new territory now and although I can’t pay my labor in cases of beer anymore there is progress.  Unfortunately real contractors can’t be bothered with sensibly small attic dormers, they prefer “it’s cheaper to rip it down and build solid walls” and so we did.

dupont house

About a year later.  Might as well add a second floor while you’re at it. 

So here we were taking a two family home (which likely housed close to a dozen people at one time), tripling it in size, and making it just large enough for the two of us.

dupont house

Looks quaint and country, but keep in mind that a freight rail line runs just behind the trees, and only a few years ago a garbage truck collapsed into the road when an old mine shaft gave way.

Still unemployed, and now enrolled in school (again) the ballooning “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the kids”, pricetag finally scared me off the very addictive drug of contractor help.  With windows in and siding set to go on we cut the cord, buttoned up the exterior and moved into the basement… and found out what it is to live on love 🙂

dupont house

Building from the bottom up.  What were we thinking!?  In hindsight it’s hard to believe all of this was the product of me in the basement with a few sheets of graph paper and a lot of ‘yeah, I think I want another door here and window there… and oh, probably another bathroom’. 

Obviously there wasn’t all that much free time for gardening, but you know how it goes with all work and no play…

new garden

Of course there’s not much to the garden in October, but the privet has bounced back from its trim back and another bed is in.  Not really a garden design, but these beds take care of the pathetic grass which it replaced.  Please note the ever popular burn pit where most of the old house’s lumber was illegally burned.

Once we moved into the house the next three years are kind of foggy.  A full kitchen came first, a completed first floor, a new job, a master bedroom, a new baby, a completed second floor… finally an attic loft.  Slowly the garden inched along as well.

garden renovation

Behind the garage became a new garden spot where iris divisions were welcomed.  You can’t beat the generosity of other gardeners for filling in bare patches.

To know me is to know I have a slight leaning towards the tropical flair.  I love how you can get a massive show in just a few short weeks.

garden renovation

The usual leftovers and scraps which are my constant struggle.  Someday I’ll get them under control… or move to a new house 😉

The fun of a new garden is you have room for nearly everything and don’t yet have the baggage of too many beds gone to weeds, invasive plants, or “shouldn’t have put that there” issues.

tropical garden

I am a bit of a creature of habit.  Ten years later and I’m still growing all of these tropical and tropical looking goodies. -and I still like too much red

Another big plus for this house was that pretty much everything we did was a blessing -considering the property’s history of troublesome kids, giant rats, and overflowing trash piles.  Construction debris, dirt piles, unfinished projects, were all overlooked in this neighborhood where it’s not unusual for people to live and die in the house they were born in.

garden renovation

The front garden never really had time to come together.  I would have loved a small picket fence or something.

We were on a different track though.  Memories were built, lessons learned, and dreams ignited but when it came down to it this wasn’t more than a stepping stone.  Five years into it (just as the last big projects were finished) we decided to buy the house of my wife’s grandparents.  It was an unexpected decision based mostly on emotion, but in the long run we knew this would be short term.

garden renovation

A very helpful addition to the garden.  From the start he was practically an expert in finding worms and digging up new transplants.

So that spring I focused on grassing over a few beds, moving a ton of plants to the new house, and getting the house set to go on the market.

garden renovation

The new view out the back door.  I wish I had better pictures of the seating area carved out of the back slope, but as usual I was distracted by lounging out on the deck.

So that was what brought us to the new house.  In what has become our normal mode of operation for life changing events, that spring we were hit with a tsunami of the house selling in three days, a baby arriving a month early, a job lost, a car totaled, all made even more fun when you decide a few changes to the “new” house might be necessary… but we survived and it really puts the panic of a late frost or snapped iris stalk in perspective.

Don’t worry, we shall return to our normal garden updates next post.  I’ve just taken a look outside and the snowdrops are coming and the snow is melting and as soon as 2017 is off and running I won’t give a darn about years gone by until winter rolls around again.  Hopefully the weather is looking up for you as well!

Gratuitous phlox

I don’t have nearly as many of the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) as I’d like.  The photos are misleading without the big picture so here’s the big picture with a wider view of the potager (complete with freshly trimmed hedge).  A couple (4) in the front bed, and a dozen or so in the back bed is not a lot of phlox.

garden phlox

Mid July and most of the garden phlox are nearing their peak.  Can I call them a favorite flower?  I feel like I do that to something new every other week.

We’re just going from one phlox to the next here.  No commitment.

phlox dorffreude

Phlox ‘dorffreude’… I think that roughly translates to town’s joy?

A few cooler nights have deepened some of the colors and although I don’t know the names for several of these it doesn’t matter as far as enjoying them goes.

phlox paniculata seedling

This random seedling gets a pink tint when the temperatures drop.

But the dry weather has them all a little miserable, and unless they get watered every few days the leaves and flowers wilt and the spider mites procreate.

phlox paniculata seedling

Another random seedling which opens pink and then fades.  Note how bushy the plants are… that’s thanks to this year’s frequent deer, woodchuck, and rabbit nibbling.

The next few days promise more dry, clear skies with temperatures into the 90’s (32+C) and the garden will be on its own as we go off traveling.

phlox nicky laura

The dark purple ‘Nicky’, starry eyed ‘Laura’ and an unknown salmony red passed on from a friend.  A threesome of color.

Of course there’s always the pretty yet troubled one.  Phlox ‘Brigadier’ has a great reddish color yet doesn’t bloom well, is losing stems, is a magnet for mites, and resents every dry spell… but I can usually just get her a drink and she’s ready to go.

phlox brigadier cabots pink

Phlox ‘Brigadier’ with ‘Cabot’s Pink’ in the back.

I guess when you’re jumping from one phlox to the next you’re bound to run into problems but I’ll admit I’m a phlox addict and don’t really want to change.  When I was out at the nursery last week there were about six new ones which I had a chance at and they all looked like a fun time (even if I already have a few waiting at home) but I said no.  It will be a hard enough time staying faithful this winter when it’s just me and the computer and the great online phlox source, Perennial Pleasures.  They’re like a Craigslist for hooking up with new phlox and I’m sure I’ll click on something I shouldn’t.

The front border among other things

It stopped raining long enough this afternoon for me to get out there and do some watering.  The deluge of nearly 1/10 of an inch did little more than dampen the top layer of mulch and cancel a Little League game, but it was enough to cool things down at least.  Maybe it also gave the pestering hordes of gnats a nice drink as well, God only knows they must be getting tired of sipping my blood and sweat all month.  Here’s how the lawn out front looked yesterday morning.

dormant lawn

Needless to say I don’t bother watering the lawn.  I feel like watering the lawn is a gateway drug to bagging clippings, spraying for weeds, thatching, aerating, spraying for grubs… all those tedious chores which would ruin this vacation from mowing.  On the down side it looks like crap until the rains come back.

I hope my crabbiness about the weather doesn’t come on too thick.   Weatherwise I feel like I’m riding one of those shoddy, barely-passed-inspection carnival rides where you get thrown back and forth between burning and freezing, drought and flood, and all you want is Dramamine and a Tylenol when it comes to a stop.  Maybe today’s misting and this week’s milder temperatures will improve my outlook.  I think it will, especially when there are flowers toughing it out and cheering me up.

linaria purpurea

A new one this year is Linaria purpurea (toadflax), a hopefully hardy and long blooming airy perennial which was seeded out last year. The seed was supposed to be for ‘Canon Went’, a pink version, but only one or two stalks came true. No big deal as I like it just fine in the regular lilac-blue color.

I’ve done next to nothing on the front border since mulching it with shredded leaves in March… and weeding and deadheading once in May.  That’s great because it still looks decent enough, but not so great since I like to add a few patches of hard working annuals and tropicals in there to brighten up the summer months.  This pattern of neglect isn’t way out of the ordinary though, so even if it’s getting late for annuals I’m 99% sure that if I finally get it planted there will still be a decent show… but I’m not doing the same for the foundation bed.  It’s so dry the majority of the perennials are wilted and dying and I have no desire to even look at it long enough to even consider carving out a few watered spots for annuals.  The blue fescue border was de-seeded last weekend and in general it looks good enough, so I’ll leave it at that.

blue fescue border

I pulled off all the fescue seed heads and the foundation planting will just have to stay like this for the summer… although I may have to airlift out a few hellebores.  They look terrible all flat and yellowing and it may be time to find them a spot in the backyard with a little shade.

It’s curious to me how some years an odd balance tips and suddenly your most reliable standards vanish.  This year the front border is missing the hordes of rudbeckia which dominated last summer and in their place is a nice wash of rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).  Many people look down on this old fashioned, reseeding, short-lived perennial, but I love it for its tolerance of droughty soils, its soft gray foliage, and its cheerfully bright flowers.  It’s a perfect compliment to the nearly-a-weed white of the oxeye daisies.

allium seedheads

The front border from the near end.  This perspective is perfect for avoiding all the gaps and holes which become apparent when the border is admired head on 🙂

My absolute favorite right now isn’t even a flower though, its the dried round seedheads of allium ‘Pinball Wizard’.  Big fluffy spheres which seem to float above the border are just perfect this year and I’m planning on lifting the bulbs this week to spread them out a bit (the original single bulb has split into four now and I don’t want it to have any overcrowding issues.

lychnis coronaria rose campion

Rose campion, oxeye daisies, and another view of my lovely allium seed heads.  Might as well enjoy the dried stalks since everything else seems to be on its way to drying up completely as well.

Once you move towards the far end of the border things go downhill fast.  Everything in this border gets done from the near end to the far, and unless I’m making a strong effort to be fair, all the good plants, best mulch, nicest compost, most delicate pampering…. all that happens at the one end and rarely carries all the way through to the other side.  I’m pretty sure that the most obvious solution to this problem is to make the border wider again.  More room, more plants, more excitement… the natural choice when faced with a border which might already be a little too much work 🙂

late June perennial border

If I can get a shovel down into the rock hard lawn I could easily bring this border out another foot or two without interfering with third base (which is usually located right next to the chartreuse leaves of the ‘Golden Sunshine’ willow).  I’ll just need to plant something which can handle a few missed kickballs and base overruns.  

Digging will have to wait until August at earliest.  Who knows what there will be left to plant in August, but we’re approaching phlox season and no bed digging is worth the risk of interfering with flowering phlox enjoyment.  Just today one of my new ones opened and it is so amazing I’m sure you’ll see it here shortly.  Wow is all I can say, and to be honest I haven’t been this completely excited about a new flower since at least last week.

the potager in June

The potager in June with its freshly mulched beds, newly concrete-reinforced rebar archway, and the first bright reds and pinks of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  There are even a few vegetables planted (although the boxwood still needs trimming).

With all the work I’ve done recently in weeding and trimming you might be able to tell I’m now trying to catch up on the blogging.  Well, blogging and watering of course… but please bear with me as sore muscles recover indoors and I throw out a bunch of posts in what might be too little time, and please feel free to skip commenting or even ‘liking’ since I’d hate to wear out my welcome!

Enjoy your week and I’ll be back Thursday to join up with Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday Feature.  Maybe I’ll even feature the new phlox, although saying that pretty much guarantees a woodchuck or deer attack tonight…

Goodbye 2015

All the random wandering around the garden with camera in hand have surely raised an eyebrow or two in my neighborhood and I’m sure neighbors question how I can focus on so many things without stopping for even one selfie.  For the last month though I wonder if anyone has noticed how normal things have been?  For whatever reason I’ve been just fine looking and not photographing and as a result there’s next to no record of October to blog about.  So it’s been quiet around here.  Lets see if we can change that, and let’s see if the last of the chrysanthemums will do the trick!

chrysanthemums

A mix of winter hardy chrysanthemums blooming in the garden this month. I have their names somewhere but that’s a job for next spring’s transplanting, when I’m sure I’ll be able to tell one dried stem from the next… (although I do know ‘Dolliette’ is the bicolor in the center)

The last few years have seen an unexpected interest in one of the least interesting plants I grow.  Pots of disposable mums fill every grocery and DYI store and farmstand at this time of year and the rounded blobs of color shouldn’t really do anything for my gardening passion…. but they do, and I’m not really sure where this came from.  As usual I blame the internet.

hardy mums

A weather weary white chrysanthemum next to a few reds. Between fresh and faded flowers you wouldn’t guess all five of the oranges and red flowers come from the same plant.

It started innocently enough with trying to overwinter a few of the seasonal color pots which we came across at various nurseries and farmstands, and it grew from there.  I wanted to give something more reliable (and interesting) a try and found Mums of Minnesota and their University of Minnesota introductions.  If it grows in Minnesota it should work here, right?

chrysanthemum in the garden

Chrysanthemums taking over the vegetable garden.

Besides spending the last couple years adding named mums to the garden I also grew on a few seedlings.  It’s surprising how nice a mum you can get from a few old seedheads, and they’re fast and easy!

chrysanthemum from seed

A few chrysanthemum from seed, early and late bloomers, tall and short.

So far they’ve been overwintering well with no effort on my part, but some are far hardier than others.  One of the hardiest are the seedlings of ‘Innocence’ which I grew from HPS seed exchange seeds.  They do need trimming in July to control height (or staking… if you’re into that kind of stuff) but otherwise they’re carefree.

chrysanthemum innocence

Seedling of chrysanthemum ‘innocence’. Most are pink and white but this year I found my first “ugly” seedling, a small orange which you can see at the lower right of this photo. It’s already found a place on the compost pile.

Some of the odd petal forms even show up in the seedlings.  I like this unusual mix of orange with just a touch of pink on this spoon shaped petal.  We’ll see how this one looks next year with a little more room.

chrysanthemum from seed

An interesting self-sown chrysanthemum seedling.

Besides loving the surprises of new seedlings I’ve also become smitten by the fat football types.  I was surprised by their hardiness last year and of course had to add a few more this spring, and even though they were rudely crammed into the edges of the vegetable garden they’ve still put on a halfway decent show.

football chrysanthemums

A few football chrysanthemums in the vegetable garden.

This is the time of year when preparations begin for next year, and although a harsh, early freeze put an end to much of the garden’s chrysanthemum show I’m still excited about these newest additions and am already looking forward to next season.  According to the grower’s website some of these will put out 5+ inch blooms if properly cared for and disbudded, and even though this also means staking I might just give it a try next year.  A couple potfuls of big football mums might be just the thing our front porch needs 🙂

Down on the farm

Late August is bathing us in heat this year and the steady rains have brought on the harvest.  We modestly refer to our garden as “the farm” or “potager” and this is the time of year when it shines.  Produce begins to trickle in and suddenly there’s a little more interest in the backyard.

harvest from the garden

The picnic table is the place to be for drying off and cleaning up before the kitchen.  Garlic, potatoes, and the first of the onions started the month off.

Eggplant and peppers have been going out, onions are always popular, tomatoes are on their way, and beans are yet to come.  The harvest is late due to planter’s procrastination but who out there hasn’t ever fallen behind?  At this time of year even I fix up a plate of veggies, and they aren’t even deep fried 🙂

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I grow red cabbage just for the looks, but there’s a good chance these heads will disappear soon and show up again later as rotkraut.  Fine by me, but in the meantime they look nice with the verbena, eggplant, and marigolds.

I admire a neat garden with raised, raked beds and straight rows of perfect plantings, but that’s nowhere even close to my garden.  The potager is tumbledown mix of flowers, crops, and all kinds of odds and ends that found an open spot of soil and made it their home.  Phlox are never turned away, and earlier in the month they started their summertime concerto and the music still plays on through the heat.  For this I consider myself lucky,  since earlier in the spring between spidermites and drought I got the feeling it would be a down year for the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).

phlox paniculata dorffreude

Phlox paniculata ‘Dorffreude’ (Karl Foerster introduction, 1939) making a good argument that newer isn’t always better.

The phlox make me happy, but the other flowers which add to the non-agricultural chaos also make me smile, and the tall Verbena bonariensis leads the way with their bee and butterfly attracting bloom heads.

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Now’s the time when the verbena becomes too attractive to pull.  It’s a fair trade-off since the flowers draw in nearly every passing butterfly.

One area of responsible neatness is the boxwood hedge which edges the two forward sides of the garden.  After three years the small plants have finally begun to look nearly respectable.  To celebrate this milestone I spent way too much money on what I hope will be a set of premium hedge shears.  The electric trimmer has been shelved and I took the quieter, more contemplative path of manual trimming.  For me it’s relaxing and I think I’m one of the few who actually enjoys this job.

training boxwood hedge

Slowly the boxwood hedge fills in.  I can still remember the summer day way back when me, a bucket of boxwood clippings,  a few trays of potting mix, and a couple beers started this all.

Besides boxwood and phlox, chrysanthemums (ok, new name dendranthema) are starting to make a serious play for potager real estate.  This spring I added even more of the larger flowered football types, trying to stick with anything which might be hardy through the winter.  I’d try to explain this growing obsession with mums but honestly after just admitting I enjoy hedge trimming I’m not sure there’s much I can say to defend this last quirk.

hardy football mum

Hardy (hopefully) football mum.  If the mood strikes next year I may even try disbudding a few of these to see if I can force all the plant’s energy into one single, perfectly large, perfectly perfect, bloom.

Dahlias.  I like dahlias.  I think I’ve already confessed to that.  Of course a late planting gives late flowers, and you know me and late.

moonlight dahlia

Dahlia ‘Moonstruck’.  This is its third year and it has yet to let me down, although I suspect it carries a virus which causes the leaves to yellow and die way too early in the season.

Sometimes late isn’t anyone’s fault.  For the second year in a row I’ve had these gladiolus bulbs overwinter in the open garden.  Against better advice I even transplanted them in June and look at that, the clump still managed to send up two bloom stalks.  If this keeps up I’ll need to divide the clumps next year since the other clump is up to 8 flower stalks!

winter hardy gladiolus

Just your average hellebore-gladiolus-rudbeckia-tomato planting.  I don’t think you’ll find this combo anywhere else… probably for good reason 🙂

But procrastination does have its down side.  Although the persicaria and rudbeckia have never looked better next to the potager, the light green ‘turf’ in the bed is 100% weeds…. and this is still supposed to be a red border, which rudbeckia is not.  Also the trellis never received a solid footing, and was never officially planted.  I guess that’s what the plans for next season are made of!

persicaria red border

persicaria red border

Enjoy your own harvest, whether it be fruits or flowers, contentment or excitement.  The season is here and as long as the heat doesn’t kill you first you can shelve these moments away in your mind for those dark days in January.