It Could Be Worse

Things have entered ‘don’t care’ mode around here.  The gnats are swarming, the days are warm, the soil is dry, and the nights are cool enough that everyone (plants and gardener included) is thinking about wrapping things up for the year and calling it autumn.

red onion harvest

The red onion harvest drying under the back porch overhang.

I make no secret of the fact I dislike autumn.  Letting go of the growing season is tough and I try to put it off for as long as possible, but for some reason this year it’s a little different.  This year I’m almost looking forward to a few autumnal things, and I barely mind seeing summer  2019 fade into the the history books.

potager in September

The potager has made its annual transition into an over the hill, flower filled and vegetable-free weedy mess.  I love it, and I love all the late season bugs, bees and butterflies.Fall has suddenly become an easier transition, and I think it’s got a lot to do with my super formal program of planting more things that reach their peak after summer takes a step back.  In case you don’t know, my ‘super formal program’ translates into going to the nursery each week in autumn and planting whatever looks nice.

fall shade garden

The strong carmine color of what’s left of aster ‘Alma Potschke’ is the only reason I grow this plant.  To me most of the asters don’t seem to bloom for any great length of time and I’ve actually gotten rid of a few… or I just resent the fact they grow well all along the highways yet struggle in my garden beds.

One fall-bloomer which I don’t ever give enough credit to is the variegated obedient plant which has been bravely plodding along for a few years now in the dry, rooty shade of the north end of the yard.  I was given a warning when my friend dropped it off, but apparently the spot where it’s been planted is so terrible it hasn’t even considered trying to spread.

Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata' obedient plant

Variegated obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’) bringing a little color to the shade garden.

Other plants giving fall color now are the colchicums.  The earliest ones are in full stride, but the mid-season ones are starting up now as well.  The heat rushes them along, but they’re still a welcome flush of fresh color amongst all the other fading and yellowing summer things.

colchicum nancy lindsay

Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ just outside the smothering leaves of a verbascum seedling.  Nancy is one of the most reliable colchicums I grow, and quite the looker as well.

A newer colchicum is ‘World Champion’s Cup’ which is officially the largest flowering colchicum in the garden.  Although the photo doesn’t do the size justice, the blooms probably span six inches when open in the sun, and of course I love it.

colchicum world champion's cup

Colchicum ‘World Champion’s Cup’.  Not many blooms yet, but if size matters then this is the colchicum for you.  The heat seems to have bleached parts of the flower, but that’s a big improvement compared to what the skunks did to them last year. 

Fall blooming bulbs aside, the tropical garden is earning its keep as the season winds down.  It looks lush enough but it also looks like my complaining last year about digging so many roots and tubers fell on deaf ears.  In another month when non-hardy things get cut back and stuffed into winter storage I’m not sure who or what I’ll be complaining about, but I’m sure it will be quite vocal.  Only the gnats will be listening though, and their fake concern will only be a cover used to get close enough for an ear canal dive or yet another stealth attack to the legs.

tropical border

As usual the pathway is nearly impassable due to plants growing just as big as they were supposed to.  That doesn’t matter though.  What I get a kick out of is the huge goldenrod growing up past the kitchen window of the person who obsesses about dandelions and crabgrass in the lawn.  

I can’t take in all the cannas.  I already thought I had too many and then planted seeds for even more, and of course they grew even better than they should have.  As seed grown plants they’re all a little bit different, so now the struggle is deciding which of my babies is so wonderfully different that I need to dig it as well.  Obviously one of the things I’ll be complaining about this fall is my own lack of common sense.

cannova mango

Cannova ‘Mango’ seedlings.  Do I save the shorter ones… the ones with a more mango color… the heaviest bloomers… 

Common sense also will not apply to the elephant ears.  I suspect the tubers will weigh in at close to a ton, and someone said they might want to try one next spring so obviously I should dig another hundred just in case they want more.  It should be fun, but I’m not sure if this is really what people who claim to enjoy autumn do to enjoy the season.

Laboring for Labor Day

Welcome to September.  September is that wonderful time of the year when summer begins to die and the joy of millions of children is crushed as they head back to school.  Some people look forward to the end of summer and the roundup of children but I do not.  Still as the days get shorter and nighttime temperatures drop it’s time to seriously start the winter denial that comes hand in hand with cooler weather.  Summer will last forever, right?

Two consecutive soggy summers have put an end to my dreams of an ultra-drought tolerant cactus garden. Of course the expensive fancy ones all died away, leaving only the generic yellow, and then twenty minutes of pulling spines from my wrist pushed me towards getting rid of that one as well.

Optimistic readers will wonder how all the projects have come along on this Labor Day weekend.  Realistic readers already know.  In my defense the topsoil which was ordered three weeks ago is still “too wet” to be delivered, and having  that would have helped but I’m sure something else could have been worked out.  In the meantime I’m fine waiting 🙂

monarch enclosure

The monarch caterpillars have been evicted from the kitchen counter and are now on ‘vacation’ under a screen enclosure on the front lawn.  I knew those milkweed sprouts I’ve been mowing around would come in handy!

So since the official projects have been waylaid, a new project has been started.  It was time to weed the rockless rockgarden, so as long as that’s going on why not line it with rocks, pull up the remains of the cactus, trim whatever is left, and then decide that it would be better as a colchicum garden?  Ok.  So that was done instead, and although the bed was entirely rock-free as a rockgarden, it now has plenty of rocks as a cholchicum garden.  If all works out pictures shall follow during colchicum season.

In the meantime here are a few videos I took Saturday morning before any work began.  It’s a seedy, weedy, ragged lawn video, but it does give an honest view of the front and back gardens.  Pictures always make this place look better, video tells the true story and explains why there’s not a waiting list for tours 😉

I apologize for the grainy quality of the video.  I thought my phone would do a better job, but between shoddy uploading and poor cinematic quality the graininess is the least of its problems 🙂 . Here are some cleansing closeup still shots of the garden to bring us back to the way I wish it all looked!

tropicana canna

In the tropical garden, the light on ‘Tropicana’ is one of the less tasteful joys of the August garden.

The tropical garden is into its lush phase.

bengal tiger canna

I can never get enough of ‘Bengal Tiger’s foliage.  

The front yard is still fairly colorful and moderately well maintained.

dahlia happy single flame

Dahlia ‘Happy Single Flame’ has me debating adding more dahlias again.  For now I’m resisting, since all the complaining from digging them and the cannas last fall is still fresh in my memory.  

The front yard looks nice enough but the photos fail to capture the constant chatter of goldfinch families as they feed on the sunflower seeds.  One poor father in particular comes by with his four extremely demanding children and I don’t know how he deals with the never ending begging.  That and the frequent hummingbird divebombs keep things pretty animated.

molina skyracer

The grasses have been putting on a show lately.  As Molina ‘Skyracer’ catches the light and wind, it makes a nice veil to my lovely orange marigolds across the driveway, and mildewy gourds takingover the lawn.

coreopsis and salvia

I hadn’t been “feeling” annuals this spring, but fortunately a few salvia and verbena returned here anyway.  The pink coreopsis was planted though, if it makes it through the winter and looks this nice again next year I’ll be pleasantly surprised!

I did finally mow the lawn and give things a once over.  Here’s a glimpse of the nicer end of the former rockgarden.  My hope is that the rocks help with keeping weeds and the lawn at bay… my not-hope is that the rock edging will just make weeding more difficult as grass gets in between all the gaps.

variegated red pine

New colchicum garden to the left, my favorite variegated red pine front and center.  I’m always happy when a few purple verbena bonariensis come up next to it. 

Other parts of the garden are hopeless as far as weeding goes.  Along the deck I just gave up and call it a native plant bed.  Virginia creeper covers the brick and threatens to take over every time my back is turned, while red cardinal flower is trying to hold its ground against the invasion of jewelweed.  Native sweetspire (Clethra) is in there as well as is the ‘Tiger Eyes’ form of staghorn sumac.  I guess if you really stretch it, the peach dahlia is a native to the Americas as well… you’d just have to go back a couple decades in breeding and head south a couple thousand miles.

cardinal flower

The deck surroundings in need of some lovin’.  Obsessive weeders my be twitching to see this, but it’s very popular with the bumblebees and hummingbirds.

If you watched the first video you might have noticed the huge plumes of weedy seed heads which practically block the view from the front porch.  They were gone-to-seed lettuce which had filled the front planters and which should have been pulled months ago… but no one complained so I just let them be and wondered to myself just how few people notice anything I do here.  But enough was enough, so I pulled them up, transplanted all the lettuce seedlings (bonus!) for the fall garden, and filled the pots up with some new things!

autumn planters

The front walk looks a little better freshened up.  The purple oxalis was already there, but I splurged on some red nemesia, blue salvia, and one of those dead-looking grassy sedges which for some reason I had to have.  I like it 🙂 

And then that’s it from here.  It’s a three day weekend, so maybe a little more will get done, but with the rain that’s coming down and the barbecue which is being prepared I doubt it.  I’m fine with that though and I hope the coming week brings you nothing but fine as well.

General Seediness

The humidity and heat are gone, only to be replaced by on again off again sunshine alongside a repeating dose of rain.  Yay.  I won’t even try and convince myself summer is holding on.  The calendar says fall and I guess the garden is saying it as well this year.

weedy vegetable garden

The potager is now an overgrown seedy mess of lingering flowers and floppy overgrowth.

We had company for a week and then I had the pleasure of entertaining a head cold for the following weekend, so if the general decay of the season wasn’t enough then the two weeks of neglect probably did the trick.  A few things did happen though, so I guess any attempt by the gardener to keep his head above water is a plus.

amaranthus hopi dye

The hedge was trimmed.  As usual I love it, and of course it’s inspired me to edge and mulch as well.

Before I get too rushed in putting this post out, I suppose some mention of this years budget ambitions should be noted.  Weeding was becoming torture so a few bags of mulch were purchased.  I find mulching to be slightly addicting so the first load was followed by another, and then another.  All said approximately $44 dollars of very cheap and questionably dyed hardwood mulch was purchased, and to be honest I feel really good about my broken resolve.

mulched snowdrop bed

A weeded, edged and mulched snowdrop bed.  Grass clippings cover the interior, purchased mulch rings the edge.  The left side is still a work in progress…

While mulching I came across a few colchicum corms and remembered offering extras to some friends last fall.  As it is with these things a quick online search for proper names and spellings led me to distraction and also to a few coveted colchicums which I’d been hoping to get elsewhere.  For just $63 and a mouse click I didn’t have to worry about elsewhere anymore.

colchicum nancy lindsay

A good example of general neglect.  Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ bravely flowering over a carpet of weedy sedum and other sprouting nasties.

While I’m baring my plant buying soul (with the exception of snowdrop purchases of course) I might as well admit that general colchicum excitement led me to a second purchase, this time  from Daffodils and More.  I have sworn off new daffodils this fall, but obviously the “More” part was a problem, and in this case it amounted to $65 more.

limelight hydrangea fall color

Nice pink highlights on ‘Limelight’ hydrangea this fall.  They may be floppy from all the rain, but at least they’re not heat blasted and brown.

I haven’t been entirely innocent in the plant department either.  Most of the summer passed far too quickly to spend time at the nursery, but my foggy memory does recall going over on a gift certificate (the amount of which does NOT count) by about $38 and then returning a few days later to spend another $18.  Those plants may or may not have all been planted, but I have to say it would be stupid to buy them and HAVE to have them and then let them sit next to the garage for weeks unplanted.

mammoth mum seedlings

Each fall I’m fascinated by the variety of mum seedlings which have arisen from the double red ‘Mammoth’ mum towards the back.  Each spring I forget about mums and never get around to separating these out.

If I do admit to neglecting full price purchases on the driveway for weeks, I probably shouldn’t suggest that I went back for a 40% off sale and spent another $49.  Just in case that happened though I’m going to add it to this year’s tally and not mention that more pots have joined the driveway crew.

tropical border in fall

The overflowing tropical border.  The Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodium) is in full bloom and has put on quite some height over the last few years.

Speaking of pots I bought a nice ceramic one on clearance for $15.  Like everything else I didn’t need it but maybe I will, so better to just bring it home.

migrating monarchs

The Monarchs have surprised me with an early appearance.  They’re enjoying the flowers of the Seven Sons Tree, you can almost make out the namesake flower buds which have a number one son bud surrounded by six more sons.

That might be it on budget confessions.  Over the last few weeks I’ve probably forgotten a few receipts here and there, but in my opinion a quickly fading memory is one of the greatest benefits of the aging process.  Perhaps in hindsight writing it all down wan’t the best thought out of plans.  Better to throw in a distraction such as one of my fantastically edited cinematic masterpieces which I call “All the Monarchs which swarmed the Heptacodium last week”.

I loved watching all the Monarchs.  My parents were in and marveled at all the bugs and butterflies which they just don’t see any more in their more suburban lot.  I hope it’s just a one season anomaly for them, but when you hear the stories of disappearing bees and bugs, and vanishing bird populations, and crashing amphibian numbers, you can really worry.  As the afternoon rolled into an amazing sunset, we watched the lingering insects wander off and several bats move in to swoop and ambush the careless, while all the nighttime crickets and katydids started to ratchet up their chorus.  It wasn’t bad at all.

sunset in PA

September sunset on the deck.

The Monarchs have been just like the weather.  They swarmed the yard and then disappeared.  A few came back.  More came back.  They disappeared.  Today there are dozens again and the temperatures and humidity make it feel like we’re in the South again.  Who knows?  At least it keeps me off the streets 😉

$63 for a questionable colchicum purchase
$65 for a quality colchicum purchase
$38 for additional unnecessary plants
$18 for two more unnecessary plants
$49 for clearance plants which also unnecessary, yet irresistible
$15 for a ceramic pot which made the trip to the box store worth it

$992 total so far for the 2018 gardening year.

Saying Goodbye to August

September is here and to be honest there aren’t a whole lot of nice things I can say about the month.  September means fall is close, and I dread watching the garden shut down for the winter.  You wouldn’t guess it from the thermometer, since last week was up into the 90’s again, but the sun is setting noticeably earlier and the mornings are much more dewy than any self respecting July morning would be.

self sown sunflowers

The sunflowers along the street keep a steady stream of birds flying across the yard.  Between ripe coneflower seeds and juicy sunflowers there’s plenty for them to munch on.

I managed to make a tour of the garden Wednesday evening after the worst of the heat had passed and since it was far too hot to actually do anything else I at least managed to take a few pictures in between waving off gnats and swatting at mosquitos.  That was no small feat considering the mosquitos these last few weeks are the worst of the season, with a thirst for blood unparalleled outside of a salt-marsh, swampland or the great North.  They like coming in straight for the face, and as a wearer of glasses I’ve never had to slap at myself so many times while struggling to keep dirty fingers from knocking the glasses right off my face.

amaranthus hot biscuits

The front border in the evening light.  I’m pleased to have amaranthus ‘Hot Biscuits’ return from last year’s seed, I always like it when it catches the last of the day’s light.  Poor hydrangea ‘Limelight’, he’s had a bit of a flop with all the rain…  

With all the rain we’ve had this year, the front border and most of the garden in general looks very similar to last year’s extravaganza.  I would apologize ahead of time for showing the same old plants again and again, but I’m pretty sure that’s just overestimating how closely anyone other than myself follows this blog.  So in addition to the sunflowers and amaranthus, here’s another perennial annual which keeps coming back, snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata).

euphorbia marginata snow on the mountain

Snow-on-the-mountain is putting out its bright white bracts to coincide with the opening of its tiny white flowers at the center.  These always seem to find a perfect spot to place themselves.  

Other annuals took a little more work to get started.  The coleus and ‘profusion’ zinnias were planted out in the spring and fussed over for a few weeks before they came into their own.  I tried to step outside of my little box by trying some ‘profusion apricot’ zinnias, but really just spent the whole summer missing my usual orange or hot pink zinnias 🙂

zinnia apricot profusion

Zinnia ‘profusion apricot’ looking ok once it’s out of the bright sun…. In full, hot, blazing sun it looks a little washed out though.

I have no cardoon this summer.  I miss it.  After nursing a potted cardoon along all winter in the garage, and carefully keeping it in the Goldilocks zone of not-too-hot, not-too-cold temperatures while the weather outside came and went, I promptly sent it to its death once it went back in the ground.  Too much rain and probably too much freeze one night did it in, but at least my candlestick plant (Senna alata, aka Cassia alata) has come along to fill the void.

senna alata candlestick plant

At five feet and counting there are still no signs of flowers on the candlestick plant.  It will be stupid of me to try and overwinter this thing, but studies show….

For as much as I love the foliage on the candlestick plant, I really shouldn’t thumb my nose at the other leaves in this garden.  On the way back towards the tropical garden my Charlie Brown Christmas tree is finally looking a little better now that this year’s new growth has replaced the scorched brown needles from last winter.

Pinus densiflora 'Burke's Red Variegated'

Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  It’s a big name for a little tree, but I like the ‘character’ this tortured little thing is developing.  Unless it dies… then less character and more growth would have been a better thing.

Can I show off the tropical garden one more time?  The cannas are fantastic this summer.  A few in the back have been stunted by some I’m-sure-they-won’t-get-too-big sunflowers, but the rest have really enjoyed the steady rain and generous heat and humidity.  Yellow striped ‘Bengal Tiger’ is my absolute favorite.

canna bengal tiger

Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’

Coming in a close second are the deliciously dark and glossy leaves of canna ‘Australia’.  I’ve grown this one for years and it’s never looked this nice before, and it kind of makes me regret all the years I’ve been doing this plant wrong… and then I look back at it again and I’m just happy 🙂

canna australia

Canna ‘Australia’ with a mess of just about everything else.

As usual the tropical garden has become an eruption of growth but unfortunately this year it’s about as far as I get when it comes to maintenance in this part of the garden.  Out of curiosity I let the neatly upright switchgrass (Panicum ‘Northwind’) seed out along the border just to see what turned up.  Turns out a mess is what showed up.  The seedlings are beautiful and graceful, but just too big and broad compared to mom.  I’m thinking they’ll disappear this weekend, but my to-do list always has a way of evaporating when I actually get out there.

panicum seedling

A froth of switchgrass where a neat little heuchera planting used to be.  It would really be a shame to toss them all…

I’m not saying I have a tendency to let things get out of hand, but what used to be neatly mown weeds and grass under the deck has turned into a mass of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).  I like jewelweed.  Something about it makes it seem so harmless even when it’s pushing five feet and has covered up every other weed in the bed.  Maybe the fact it’s a native wildflower that wins me over, or the cool exploding seed pods or itch-relieving sap the plant produces, whatever it is I don’t miss wrestling the mower around to get under the deck.

jewelweed

Jewelweed filling in under the deck.  It does fill the space nicely, and its small orange flowers are popular with the local hummingbirds. 

Harmless giants seem to be a dime a dozen out back.  Throughout the potager (looming over the last few vegetables) are more yellow sunflowers plus the dark garnet of ‘Hopi Dye’ amaranthus.  pink kiss me over the garden gate (Persicaria orientalis) dangles down from 8 foot plants, and annual vines creep all over.

august sunflower

One sunflower managed to place its main stalk perfectly inside the wire of the trellis.  I wish more of my plants self-staked.  

The potager really only has a few peppers, zucchini, and eggplant remaining.  The tomatoes are just a thicket of foliar diseases and a halfway decent patch of celery has rotted away from too much rain.  Fortunately there’s always verbena bonariensis.  It’s filled in many of the vacant spots, and I hope come September and October the Monarch butterflies find it to their liking.  Last year was an excellent butterfly year for us, and I think this year’s migration may be even better!

august potager

The garden rarely makes it into September this lush.  Green all over, and much of it isn’t even weeds!

One last thing to mention, if only because I think it’s a cool thing.  The salvia splendens seeds  started in spring were supposed to be a dark purple just like the purples who’s seed I’ve been saving and who’s seed I’ve been sowing.  Every now and then one comes up a less interesting, paler color which I get rid of, but this year one showed up with a little more red, maybe a garnet color if you want to call it that.  I’ll have to save seeds of course.

salvia splendens

Salvia splendens plants in purple and a slightly shorter plant with garnet flowers.  They’re late bloomers and I look forward to having them come along at this time of year.

Seed saving and bulbs, I guess they’re the next big cycle in the year of the garden even though I’ll try and put them off as long as possible.  It may be September and there might be pumpkin spice showing up all over the place but I’m not giving up on summer until at least the leaves start dropping and I’ve got a windshield to scrape.  Yes it’s denial.  I’ll think about facing fall in October and to be honest that’s still plenty of fall for me.

Have a great weekend!

Where is Summer Going!?

It’s entirely possible that everyone shares this same gripe, but I feel summer has been flying by this year.  Even more so than usual.  The days go faster, the schedule seems busier, and all I want to do is slow the calendar down.  I don’t even want to talk about autumn, but those back to school sales are in full swing, and I saw plenty of plasticky orange and yellow fall decorations lining the shelves of the local mart, just waiting for the summer haters to open their wallets.

In the meantime here’s a quick, picture heavy run-through of the garden in high summer.  It’s my favorite time of the year out there.

standing cypress

Annual standing cypress has seeded in nicely anywhere the mulch used to be and brings some bright red to the border.

These photos were taken over the weekend, and it was just the beginning of our latest round of gully ripping downpours that hail from the tropics.  Monday I think we topped another three inches and unfortunately that does not bode well for the lower lying areas.

monarch on rudbeckia

Monarch on Rudbeckia triloba.

The plants seem fine though.  Everything is lush and vibrant and other than a little floppiness and extra height it sure beats dealing with another year of soil-cracking drought.

pale sunflower

A pale sunflower out along the street.  I always love them against the feather reed grass.

Even with the dampness and humidity it’s much more pleasant to dig in freshly-watered soil than it is to pickax your way through a dry and dusty crust.  With some time on my hands and a little too much ‘exuberance’ in the front border I did some editing.  You barely notice the vacancies.

garden overhaul

Nothing like a big dig project on a 90F degree day.

Of course the weeds have been a nonstop battle.  I finally broke down and bought a few bags of mulch in hopes of clearing out a spot in back… which is definitely out of control.  Needless to say it is still out of control, but I used the mulch to neaten up a couple edges in front and that made me even happier.  Maybe I’ll crack open the wallet again for a few more bags.  It’s slightly addicting.

senna alata annual

My “other” popcorn plant, actually a candlestick plant (Senna alata aka cassia) showing off some of its cool leaves.

In the meantime I just love all the color and the busyness of bees, and bugs, and hummingbirds and goldfinches zipping around from sunup to sundown.

cannova rose

‘Cannova Rose’ highlighting the front border.

Mulching is rewarding, but for the most part for me this part of the year is more a matter of counting your losses, writing them off, and enjoying the successes.  I was hoping last year would be my last caladium year, but apparently the obsession continues.  They are one plant which has been thoroughly enjoying the rain and humidity and who am I to turn my back on such happy plants?

potted caladiums

The caladiums are just happy doing their own thing in a patch of shade.

Something I don’t want to talk about too much are the two new daylilies which have shown up.  Apparently people like these things, so who am I to not give them another chance?

blue fescue border

Finally, a neat foundation planting and a new daylily.  Brighter is better in my opinion 🙂

As I was working through the foundation beds (finally), it occurred to me that many of my weed problems might have something to do with me.  Every week or two I rip out a couple more milkweed shoots as they try and take over the entire front yard.  Maybe the ‘weed’ part of their name could have been a tip-off but hey, they showed up on their own and the butterflies like them so I figured what’s the harm in leaving a few.  I frequently see eggs being laid but as of yet no caterpillars, and I wonder if that’s the down side to having all those bees and other pollinators flying around.  I think they might be adding a little protein to their nectar diets.

milkweed in the garden

Milkweed in popping up around the garden.  The record so far is 15 feet out into the middle of the lawn!

Around back there is definitely a need for some mulching attention.  Your best bet is to ignore that, and just look at how nicely the jungle is spreading.

canna bengal tiger

Looking over the tropics into the backyard.  The cannas are starting to really take off is spite of the crowded planting conditions.

As usual there are too many sunflowers, but eventually the cannas and other stuff force their way through and it’s all good.

canna australia

Canna ‘Australia’ has never looked better.  I love the shiny darkness of the leaves and it’s lush growth this summer.

I can only imagine what shenanigans are going on in the interior of the bed.

canna red russian

The cannas in back have barely made it to six feet.  I blame the sunflowers of course!

Once you reach the backyard it’s practically a wild kingdom.  The potager is now on its own and the selfsowing annuals will take over as I make a weak attempt to save a few vegetables.  Eight foot sunflowers and persicaria (kiss me over the garden gate) leave little room for a bean plant.

potager garden

The potager is on its own now.  I just try and get the mower through and call it a success if I do.

There are a few things though.  Peppers and eggplants are coming along, but the tomatoes look as if the rain has done them in.

growing bell peppers

It’s been a good year for peppers!

I forgot the zucchini.  There’s some of that in the way back.

lilium formosanum

The lilies (Lilium formosanum) are starting out back.  They’re always a sign that summer is edging past its peak.

Beyond that is just weeds.  The meadow needs mowing, and the shade beds are just sitting there (and I’m all for just sitting there) but eventually I hope to whack it back before it all goes to seed.  Cool weather can be an inspiration, so we will see if that can snap me out of enjoyment mode and knock me back into taming it for next year mode 🙂

succulent cuttings

Garden visitors are all offered as many succulents as they want.  Apparently I haven’t been getting enough visitors!

In the meantime enjoy August.  I suspect it will go even faster than July!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 9.26.17

It’s time once again to check in with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the Tuesday view.  The word this week is hot, and plants are wilting under the dry sun as temperatures rise to 90F (32C) and above for the last few days.  This would have been welcome in August, and even tolerated earlier in September, but now it’s just tiresome.

front border

Dry heat at this time of year saps all my enthusiasm.  Plants are wilting, the lawn is browning, and even though there are likely another three or so weeks to go until frost, I’m ready to let it all go.

The plants seem ready to let it go as well.  The summer crowd is moving on and the flowers and grasses of autumn are doing their best to pull together for a finale.

Korean feather reed

Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) looks great with the fading hydrangea flowers but I find this grass too invasive to keep.  Even if I cut the seedheads there will still be some seedlings next spring… some of which I always end up leaving…

Even as the perennials fade, the half-hardy cannas and verbena bonariensis are still putting on a decent show.  I should really water a little, it would be the least I could do for them after all their hard work this year.

kochia burning bush

The canna ‘cannova rose’ would probably be flowering more if I deadheaded, but… they still look fine.  Here the burning bush (Kochia) is finally doing its thing for a few days before drying up in the heat.

There is one surprise though.  Last fall I bought a ‘hardy’ agapanthus which I didn’t dare leave outside.  It overwintered dormant on a cold windowsill and then went into the bed in May.  I can’t believe my small plant has flowered!

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘blue yonder’ is supposedly hardy from zone 5-10.  I know people have had success in 5, but I’m still not convinced it will make it for me.  I’ll have to let you know next April.

The other surprise has been the butterfly hordes which have come to the garden this past week.  Dozens of painted ladies showed up a few days ago and it seems like other butterflies are showing up as well.  Maybe it’s a migration or maybe it’s just the weather drying up the surrounding and forcing them to move on for their nectar.  Either way it’s exciting to see all the butterflies surround you as they lift up off the flowers as you pass by.

painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly on the Verbena bonariensis.  They’re all over, but not all are as photogenic as this one.

I’m still waiting for more Monarchs though.  Today there were maybe a half dozen moving through but I’ve heard reports of many more North of here.  Not too long ago we had a fall like that, with dozens floating through the air, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much and I’m just glad to see the ones we’re getting.

migrating monarch butterflies

Monarchs love the verbena as well, and their orange and black wings look great with the lavender-purple.

So maybe this dry heat is good for something after all.  Maybe it’s the perfect weather for butterflies on the move and will make their migration even more successful.  I’ll tell myself that as I stand in the heat with a water hose, cursing the stupid gnats and dreaming of snowdrops.  Is it too soon for that?

Colchicums!

I’m finally ready to admit it’s fall and then what happens?  The rains stop, the thermometer rises, and we’re right into the middle of a stinkin’ heat wave.  I would have loved this at the start of the month when the pool was still open, but now it’s just making the gnats hungry and me grumpy.  Fortunately it’s colchicum season and between that and the chrysanthemums things look somewhat refreshing around here (provided you only go out in the morning or near sunset!)

colchicum bornmuelleri

Colchicums, aka autumn crocus, aka naked ladies, are a nice way to ring in the change of seasons with something fresh.  Out of the hard, dry ground come these unlikely flowers, all eager to show off such as this favorite, Colchicum speciosum ssp. bornmuelleri

I’ve written about colchicums before so I don’t want to rehash the same old info I always give out, but the short summary version for the autumn blooming types is… leafy clumps of hosta-like leaves in the spring fade away in May, and various shades of pink through white crocus-like flowers appear without anything else (naked!) in late summer and early autumn.  I like them well enough 🙂

colchicum in lawn

Before things got too hot the colchicums in the meadow area were coming up nicely.  They seem to be settling in well but if you look towards the back you’ll see another planting which is much sparser.

The trick to growing colchicums is to find a spot where the spring foliage won’t bother you as it dies back in early summer, yet the spot is open enough so you can see the flowers as they come up later in the year.  For a while I had them all by themselves in a bed which was too dry for anything else, but as they’ve multiplied I’ve had to plant them outside my comfort zone and actually try and come up with decent companion plantings and landscape uses.

colchicum in ground cover

I’ve shown them in the blue plumbago Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) ground cover before.  It’s not for everyone but I don’t think it’s the worst combination I’ve ever put together.

The plantings which have pleased me the most are the ones in ground covers rather than plain old mulch or bare soil.  Sedums make a nice carpet and I have it in my head to try a lot more like this.  Hopefully some of that will happen!

colchicum autumnale album

Colchicum autumnale album with and without a nice creeping sedum blanket.  I think the ones surrounded by green are far nicer.

Unlike most bulbs which move best while dormant, colchicums also give you the option of procrastinating until bloom time and then having the much more enjoyable experience of digging and planting bulbs (actually corms if you’re going to get technical, and even then people will debate you) in full bloom and moving them to the exact spot you want to see them flower.

dividing colchicum

Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ lifted and divided at the start of September.  The roots are just starting but if you’re careful no harm is done.

You really want to make sure they’re in a spot where you won’t miss the flowers.  The big, bright ones are unavoidable but the smaller more detailed blooms are also worth your attention.  Checkering, or tessellation, is something extra special and worth a closer look.

colchicum tessellation

The dainty and early flowering Colchicum x aggripinum.  Tessellation on the newly opened flowers of this hybrid is really something.

This flower also does doubles.  I’m not the type of gardener who will drop any single just to pick up the double version, but these have their own charms… well maybe not charm since they’re so fat and double and pink, but they do pack a punch.  I think of paper flowers when I see these, I don’t think it would too hard to replicate them in pink crepe paper if the need arose.

colchicum waterlily

colchicum waterlily

Who am I kidding?  I love the double as much as any of the others, and if we’re being honest I really wouldn’t mind adding another couple new ones even if it was only to have another couple new ones.  Just for the record I saw a few really tempting ones at my favorite local nursery, Perennial Point, and I did not buy one.  Yes, I’m patting myself on the back.

colchicum byzantium

I think I like them in the lawn best of all (C. byzantium)

I may be working through collecting issues with these bulbs, but there’s someone else out there who’s clearly gone over the edge.  Her name is Kathy Purdy and if you’re a follower of Cold Climate Gardening you already know she has one of the largest colchicum collections around and will be opening her upstate New York garden this fall for the first time to show them off.  I’m in, and if you’re interested >click here< to visit her blog for the details.  Have a great week!