The Perfect Lawn

The rain outside is knocking the last petals off the tulips and surely bringing new life to weed seedlings all over, but I won’t let that bother me… yet… Instead I’d like to show you around a cemetery which I like to swing by on the way home from work.  Don’t be concerned, it’s not a fascination with death which brings me here, it’s the naturalized blanket of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) which weaves through the grass and flowers at this time of year.

naturalized phlox subulata

Phlox subulata (I’m assuming) seeding and creeping through the cemetery grounds.

I have no idea if the phlox here were planted originally or came in on their own, but the church financed lawn care hasn’t been intense enough to wipe out the spread of wildflowers between the gravestones.  I also believe a kind soul is in charge of the mowing since I saw signs of a recent cut, but only a few patches of the thicker grass were mown and the best flower patches were spared the blade.

naturalized phlox subulata

I’m just guessing, but suspect the churchyard has been in place here for around 150 years.

Over the decades ‘mildly maintained’ graveyards have a way of picking up flowers and when I have the chance I often give them a looking over for spring flowers, iris plantings, and the occasional rose bush.  Someday I hope to find that snowdrop filled meadow, but so far…

naturalized phlox subulata

The phlox were probably planted originally, but since then have seeded about to form an interesting mix of colors and flower forms.

Phlox subulata is a plant native to the Northeastern part of this country, and occasionally I also see it growing in rocky outcroppings or gravely roadsides, but never as thickly as it does in graveyards.  It’s not a shade plant, so probably as the East coast has grown up in trees or been improved with bluegrass turf, cut and sprayed to golf course quality, this sun loving phlox has been squeezed out and into much smaller locales.

naturalized phlox subulata

A paler section of the colony.

Of course creeping phlox is still growing all over, in foundations plantings and mulch beds everywhere, and in my own childhood garden I’m pretty sure a big chunk of every summer was spent weeding grass blades out of my mother’s phlox planting.  As you know though, a grass-free planting of creeping phlox is pretty much impossible.

naturalized phlox subulata

Phlox mixing it up with pussytoes (Antennaria sp), another short wildflower which used to keep lawns everywhere from becoming yawns.

Why fight it then?  Just plant your phlox right in the grass ūüôā

Easier said than done though.  Most lawns are too fertile and the grass and other more common weeds like creeping charlie, dandelions, and white clover will dominate.  *My own lawn is an excellent example of this…

naturalized phlox subulata

Phlox with a few bluet (Houstonia) alongside.  There were a couple more patches of bluets and various violets as well, but the phlox seemed much happier here.

I think more lawns used to be like this.  If you travel the older parts of town the lawns are often flecked with all kinds of flowers, both native and introduced, and I think it’s a much more interesting look than the hyped-up green swards which dominate suburbia.

naturalized phlox subulata

Naturalized Phlox subulata

So I hope this little trip to the churchyard was enjoyable.  Benign neglect can be a great thing and I may keep this in mind as I consider the ‘wildflowers’ which the rain has brought up throughout my own garden.

Have a great week, and a happy mother’s day to all the moms!

A Case of the Lazies

You would think that with all the hand sanitizer, distancing, staying at home, and hand washing, that there would have a sterile cloud surrounding me, but somehow I’ve still managed to catch a case of the lazies.¬† What a surprise, right?¬† I’ve never really shown much immunity, so all it really takes is a cloud across the sun, a temperature slightly too cool, or a day with a nice breeze to trigger a relapse.¬† I guess that happened.¬† My wife will tell me I should have worn a coat.¬† My son will ask if I want another donut.¬† It’s easy to see the struggle.

autumn perennial border

The front border as we roll into October. Heterotheca villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’ is the yellow daisy in front.¬†¬†

A coffee and a donut make for a nice morning stroll around the garden.¬† Fancy people do scones and jam, but scones are crumbly, and I’d hate to waste a trail of jammy crumbles behind me as I take in the dewy garden.¬† As I walk, the dew and change to fall colors make it really obvious summer is over and I’m surprisingly ok with that.¬† The garden right now is a mix of summer lingerers and autumn bloomers, and although I spent last weekend leveling my mother inlaw’s garden and putting nails in the coffin of her 2020 season, here it’s a different story.¬† Cool things like the Heterotheca villosa are only now just coming into full flower.¬† This plant was shared with me a few years back by Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening fame, and it’s a native daisy which I cut back by half each June to keep bushy.¬† From what I’ve heard, ‘Ruth Baumgardner’ is named after a past president of the Perennial Plant Association, and was selected as a shorter form of the species, but that’s still relatively tall, hence the early summer chop.

red hot poker

Lingering rebloom on the red hot poker.  The bright color looks as good now as it did in July

If I weren’t so under the weather with my laziness I would be taking advantage of the more relaxed pace of pre-October and building that coldframe I’ve been mulling over for the last three weekends.¬† Unlike the last four years that I’ve been thinking about it,¬† this is the year it has to happen.¬† I’ve already lined up a few plants to go in (all my projects are usually the result of me painting myself into a corner plantwise), pulled out materials, piled them into the garage (where the car can’t go until this in done…), and now I just have to commit to a design.¬† ***spoiler alert** it’s based on an old shower door and leftover 2x4s so don’t set your hopes too high…

colchicum lilac wonder

Admiring colchicums is an excellent lazy day activity.¬† Here’s ‘Lilac Wonder’ flopping its way through the blue of leadwort.

Even just talking about a future coldframe has me exhausted, so let’s take one more look around the garden. The mums are coming, the colchicum are here, and in spite of a slight touch of disgustingly early frost, the garden still looks nice.

colchicum border

The former rock garden turned colchicum bed has been overrun with chrysanthemum seedlings.¬† Not for the worse though.¬† Colchicum ‘Innocence’ still found enough of an opening to show off.

A few early chrysanthemums.¬† I’ve killed off many (honestly it’s closer to most) of the larger flowered ones, but they’re my favorites.¬† Someday I dream of fussing and nurturing them enough to have those big show-worthy blooms, but this year just getting them staked them was a big first step.

chrysanthemum cheerleader

I believe this is ‘Cheerleader’.¬† Even under less than perfect conditions he tops out at 3+feet and requires some kind of support.

With the chrysanthemums starting in the potager I was happy to see that even with all the new beds and strict paths, there was still a nice crescendo of late summer chaos.¬† Verbena bonariensis and ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranthus still found their loopholes and there’s more than just dried tomato vines and over the hill zucchini filling the beds.

autumn potager

An overgrown mess is what I expect in October.¬† Fall veggies would be nice too, but there’s always the farmstand for that.

One veggie which I do want to show off is the sword bean (Canavalia gladiata) which has managed to grow up the pergola and put out a few pods in spite of the shortening days.¬† I admit to checking it every day as the foot long pods get fatter and fatter, and if anyone gets even remotely close to the potager I insist on showing them off.¬† At the suggestion of a friend I usually do it with a little “argh, these be my sword beans, argh”, but the magic of my humor is often met with an uncomfortably¬† blank stare.

sword bean

The sword bean.¬† It’s grown as a vegetable through India and SE Asia but I’m not sure if it’s edible here in Umrika.¬†¬†

Now colchicums.¬† I looked and saw only three pictures were posted on this blog last year, so you’re welcome, but even after I killed half the ones I transplanted during the potager construction (leaving them out to dry in 97F full sun was not really as good an idea as I thought), there are still a few nice ones to show.

colchicum the giant

Colchicum ‘The Giant’.¬† I think this is the real thing, and it’s worth it to find.

The cooler, dry weather has made for an excellent season.

colchicum sparticus

Colchicum ‘Sparticus’ was too pale for me at first, but as the single bulb has turned into a bunching of blooms I’ve become a fan

colchicum harlekijn

Colchicum ‘Harlekijn’.¬† Love it or hate it you have to admit it’s unusual.

colchicum zephyr

Colchicum ‘Zephyr’.¬† The nerd in me enjoys this gathering of Cotinus, Colchicum, and Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus).¬† That’s a lot of Cs.

colchicum cilicium

Colchicum cilicium.¬† Maybe Colchicum cilicium ‘Purpureum’ according to the most recent buzz, but regardless I really like this little guy.¬†

colchicum giganteum

Colchicum giganteum… another one which might be getting a more correct naming of Colchicum speciosum giganteum group.

colchicum lawn

‘Lilac Wonder’ in the lawn between the swingset and trampoline.¬† I wonder if the kids will ever question why there were so many poisonous plants so close to their play areas…. although I like to think of the whole garden as their play area.¬†

colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum (I don’t think it’s ‘The Giant’) in need of dividing.¬† A whole border filled with these might not be a terrible idea… hmmmm…

I’m surprised by how many colchicums this garden has acquired.¬† I blame thoughtful friends and the evils of social networking, but seriously if a yard full of colchicum is the worst viral pictures bring on then I’m all for it.¬† Unfortunately that’s not always the case.¬† In the meantime I’m looking for more, and I’m also obsessing about a new book.¬† Colchicum: The Complete Guide has recently come out as the definitive guide on species and many cultivars and I keep thinking what’s a full on obsession without a guidebook to follow?¬† It’s item number one on the Christmas list ūüėČ

Summer Heats Up

Our cool, extended spring is only a memory today as another hot and humid day gets added to the list of hot and humid days.¬† Southerners will laugh at our complaints over what we call humidity and the Southwest will laugh at what we call hot, but we’re a little delicate here in the Northeast and if you can just give us our moment…

lilium canadense

Lilium canadense in bloom.  A North American native which used to be more common, back when deer were fewer and lily beetles were still across the sea.

The Canada lilies are having their moment.¬† They’re shorter than in previous years but they’re also sturdier, and I think the leaner living of a dry spring has really paid off, since the flowering is just as heavy and even more prolific than last year.¬† They’re officially my favorite lily, and I may need to start a few more seedlings, preferably in some dark red shades!

lilium canadense

Morning shade and a downspout keeps this bed damp enough to please the lilies.¬† I watered as well since I think they’re worth it.

The heat is one thing but it’s the dry weather that slowly wears me down.¬† I find watering to be a tediously boring job and the blackflies buzzing around my head and diving into my ears and nostrils immediately defeats the zen of sprinkling water.

yellow spider daylily

It’s daylily season as well.¬† Daylilies lack the distinction of snowdrops so I just can’t tell which are which.¬† This one I just call “the yellow spider” although I’m sure if pressed I could dig a label up somewhere.

The baked flower beds go a long way in making me feel guilty.¬† Hardened soil is no fun to weed… so I don’t… and I can only tell the wilted flowers relief is coming so many times before I even stop believing.¬† Fortunately the wilder parts of the garden are still doing fine.¬† The meadow is actually fairly green thanks to the shade cast by the aspen sprouts which have now become small saplings, and that’s a fair tradeoff for all the sun they steal from what should be a full-sun meadow.

the meadow

Butterfly weed and rudbeckia have taken over for the fading daisies.

Even though the meadow looks halfway decent I might go ahead and give it an early mowing this year.¬† My wife will be thrilled, she hates it this year just as much as she does every year but her happiness aside what I really want are the seedheads.¬† The berm could use some better grass and more daisy seeds, and if I bag the mowings they’ll be perfect for spreading around.

digitalis ferruginea gigantea

Digitalis ferruginea gigantea… I think… all my different foxgloves seem to look alike, but this one stands out as excellent, and it shrugs off drought, and I wonder how a few seeds of this would do on the berm.

The mowing of the meadow may still be weeks off.¬† Summer weather has a way of dragging things out and in all honesty weeding and mulching should happen first.¬† Maybe I’ll just rip a bunch of stuff out just so I don’t have to see it wilting, and then sit around all summer considering what new things could go there in the fall.¬† I could do a good part of my considering from either the pool or the porch, so that’s another plus.

kniphofia

One of the new kniphofia I planted last summer.  wilted or not I love it, and it has me wondering if I can divide it this fall and have an even bigger patch next year!

Don’t let my complaining fool you, it’s not all bad.¬† I haven’t had to mow the lawn in weeks and last weekend the remains of the sand pile has finally left the driveway.¬† Some progress has been made and maybe it’s about time I formally introduce the new potager.¬† It’s very neat and tidy and my wife just loves it, but I’m missing some of the weedy overload of the old beds.¬† July has just started and August is yet to come so it’s still early, and August has a way of encouraging weedy overload and tropical storms, so all is not lost.

Have a great weekend!

Suddenly June

The deck was cleaned and ready just after Memorial day.¬† Considering how much extra time I supposedly have that isn’t much different than a “normal” year… and by normal I mean getting all the summer stuff up and running a week or two or three after everyone else does.¬† Things just run late here, and I’m starting to see that maybe it’s more than just basic laziness.¬† Maybe it’s laziness plus plain-old slow thats effecting how things run around here.

front border

I did manage to do a front border cleanup of old tulip foliage and baby weeds, and at least that part of the garden looks promising.

Slow is just fine with me.¬† A more generous person might say I’m not, and that I just overthink things, but unless your idea of overthinking includes an ADD journey of the mind then I don’t think it’s that either.¬† Maybe it’s something else…. someone else accused me of being a perfectionist, but that’s clearly not what’s going on either and I gave a little laugh when they said it.¬† One look around the garden really settles that point.

iris demi deuil

Iris ‘Demi Deuil’, an old, smaller iris with a cool pattern to it.

The garden is only now coming back into rights after the cold spell we went through in May.¬† Iris season has been disappointing with many freeze-deformed and aborted flower stalks and blooms, and only a few of the amazing clumps which usually celebrate the finishing up of spring.¬† Two years of excessively wet summers didn’t help as plants were rotting left and right, but I know they’ll be back.¬† The bigger uncertainty is how many more I need for next year in order to fill this emotional void.¬† I suspect there is some transplanting and dividing in store… maybe a few new ones as well ūüėČ

allium nigrum pink jewel

A new allium this year, A.nigrum ‘Pink Jewel’.¬† The white, straight species is so reliable I thought it was time to try one of the pinks.¬† So far my impression is lukewarm but I’ll give it time.

Although thoughts of dividing the iris have already sprung up, there’s so much more to do first.¬† Tulips and daffodils need digging, snowdrop seeds need sowing, weeding is endless, and the lawn always needs another cut.¬† I should mulch as well, plus the potager re-design needs finishing up before the growing season rolls over into 2021.¬† I should really give an update on that, but just a few more finishing touches before I bare my soul on that one.¬† In the meantime at least the foundation beds are¬† taking care of themselves…

foundation planting

The relaxed and overfilled foundation bed is completely unlike what a front foundation planting “should” be, but there are too many interesting plants out there to waste time on yew meatballs and few azaleas in a sea of mulch.

What might be the most anticipated plant of the year (possibly only by me) is the huge self-sown verbascum sitting right there in front of the house.¬† It’s a weed.¬† I know.¬† But also so lush and promising, and I’m hoping it’s something just a little fancier than the regular run of the mill mulleins.¬† I’ve let both grow here in the past, so it’s a crap shoot as far as seeing which one this will be, but it’s huge, so I love it.

johnny jump ups

Johnny jump ups trying to outgrow the mullein.

What I don’t love is weeding and planting the tropical garden.¬† In a no-excuses gardening year I’m stuck weeding it properly and not doing the old throw-it-all-in-and-eventually-it-will-all-look-ok planting method.¬† I don’t like it.¬† It’s work, and I think the tropical bed’s days are numbered.¬† We will see, but as of today a swath of sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) which was slated to be removed, has been left, and although I never planted it there, leaving it in place sure is easier and a spot of low maintenance doesn’t sound bad today… even if that means a much smaller spot of the tropics.

tropical garden planting

The tropical garden in progress.¬† Who doesn’t like a hit of bright color on their way to enjoy a day at the pool next door?

There will be other things to keep me occupied.  Right now for some strange reason the wild back of the yard is my favorite spot to be occupied.  I barely lift a finger there but love to watch the bugs and birds and see what all can happen on its own.

tent caterpillar

Tent caterpillars used to disgust me but once lily beetles, gypsy moths, and Japanese beetles moved in, these little tents of silk barely register.  Maybe the birds will enjoy a snack, the apples off this tree are overrated, and there are still leaves on the tree, so it seems everyone wins a little when they stay.

I spent some of the first quarantine days digging various tree seedlings and shrub transplants into the berm that stands between us and the new Industrial park behind our house.¬† They don’t look like much at all but in a few years…. maybe….you never know how well these things will do.¬† In the meantime they’re alive, and some of the rooted rhododendron branches which I butchered off their mother in April are actually alive enough to bloom.¬† Alongside the clovers and mustards and daisies it’s quite the show, but I’m not sure everyone around here prefers lively flowers over neatly mown embankments.¬† Let them mow it themselves I say.

the berm

I’m endlessly fascinated by these new weedy little meadows alongside the berm.¬† I don’t think it’s normal to be this obsessed, but who cares?¬† So what if I get overly excited for a new weed showing up or a new wildflower opening, I think it’s grand, and all I have to do to enjoy it is mow a few walking paths.

I hate to leave you off talking about weeds, but after being covered in smartweed last year the berm has now transitioned over to all kinds of clover and grass.¬† I don’t know what triggered the change but I suspect there was some fertilizer spread when they first seeded the slope, and now that its run out the smartweed is not happy.

aesculus pavia

Hopefully the red buckeye (aesculus pavia) can tolerate the full sun and dry soil of the berm.¬† I’d like to see it expand into a nice sized shrubby tree.

So I could talk for a while about the types of grass, the relative attractiveness of their seed heads, the spreading daisies, the annoying crownvetch and mugwort which I still need to eliminate, the rudbeckia yet to come, and all the topsoil building which is taking place, but I’ll spare you.¬† My fingers are sore from weeding and sanding and chiseling mortar and the typing isn’t helping much so you’re off the hook and I’ll just wish you a happy Sunday.

Moving at the Speed of Stopped

Spring would be nice but it’s snowing again, and it’s hard to look normal trimming back dead perennials and grasses in a white-out so even I will be staying indoors this morning.¬† I suppose spring will make it eventually, it usually does, but in the meantime looking at snowy snowdrops while my toes are freezing has lost its magic.¬† Whatever.

galanthus nothing special

Most of the snowdrops have recovered from being buried in snow for two weeks.¬† This is ‘Nothing Special’ for those who need to know.

As the snow continues to accumulate now might be the perfect time to confess a few more gardening purchases.¬† Let me start by first congratulating myself on not ordering any hardy camellias from Camellia Forest Nursery.¬† They are extremely reasonable in price and I was already excited about them through speaking with Charles Cresson and having several of my own seedlings survive last winter’s cold.¬† Right now I’m not buying any, but you never know what will happen if this cold lasts.

I’ve spent some money on far more reasonable purchases.¬† $4.88 for some water soluble plant food and $22 for a new pair of long handled loppers to help in the spring cleanup.¬† The fertilizer is for some of the potted bulbs in the winter garden and the loppers are to replace a pair which disappeared last summer.¬† Really I should really charge the loppers to the ‘child care’ fund but there’s also a possibility I’ve thrown them onto the compost pile again, so for now it’s a garden charge.

A not-so-reasonable purchase was $14 for rabbit repellant.¬† The snow crocus were true to their name and emerged right as the last snow melted so as usual the rabbits are excited and hungry for something other than¬†blueberry buds and dwarf conifer shoots.¬† I don’t mind losing a few flowers but based on the math of over a thousand bulbs planted I would think leaving a half dozen or so might be a reasonable expectation… unless you’re a rabbit.¬† One day of blooms were enjoyed and then another snowstorm appeared to have neutralized the repellant.¬† My meadow is once again bare.

crocus in lawn

A few crocus out back in the meadow.¬† There are still a bunch of late ones coming along, but once the rabbits find them they don’t stop.

So I don’t think that’s too bad.¬† $41 to add to the tally and for the most part it’s all gardening essentials.¬† The local garden center opens again next week so I’m already accepting the fact some pansies and a hellebore will follow me home, but for right now responsibility is the name of the game.¬† Good for me ūüôā

$5 fertilizer
$22 new loppers
$14 two days worth of rabbit repellant
(oops)$95 worth of obscure Japanese Solomon’s Seals from Michael Vaughn via Facebook
(oops)$79 worth of unnecessary, uncommon and therefore expensive things from Odyssey Bulbs

$547 total so far for the 2018 gardening year.

 

Done With Autumn….

Well that lasted about a week.¬† I miss summer and wish autumn would get on with it.¬† Yesterday was beautiful, but today it’s colder and rainy, and I’m sure the wind is pulling down all the autumn foliage just as it finally colors up here in the valley.¬† Here are a few spots in the garden, maybe when I look back in January the cold and ice will put it all in perspective.

The back deck in autumn

Frost is forecast for tomorrow night nearly everything still needs to come in.  Sadly enough I have less than 24 hours left to procrastinate. 

I spent most of Saturday just wasting time.¬† The weather was nearly perfect and the schedule was open, but 90% of the day was spent watching grass blow in the wind or birds picking through seed heads and nearly no time time was spent productively.¬† If we had to separate into ants and grasshoppers, I’d be all grasshopper this weekend.

October in the potager

The potager is all ready to fall apart for winter with everything dying back and going to seed.  Peppers were harvested, the rest is on its own now.

I guess I did mow the lawn on Friday.¬† It didn’t really need it but the mower made quick work of stray twigs and leaves which were starting to pile up and with the mower set to mulch it was not much of a commitment at all.¬† Also it kind of chopped up the turf clods which lay all around the back yard courtesy of Mr. Skunk.¬† Someone suggested I replace and tamp down all the clods before mowing… I gave him the look and said he was more than welcome to do that in his own yard.¬† Here we prefer to thank the skunks for their free grub removal and turf aeration services and let winter work apart the clods.

the meadow in autumn

Back behind the swingset, the meadow looks downright respectable again after a few mowings.  

Mowing the lawn takes a little longer these days now that the meadow area is back on the weekly cut plan.¬† To those who thought the tall grass was a reservoir of dangerous ticks and snakes and spiders this comes as a relief, but to me it’s all just part of getting the turf ready for next year’s show of spring bulbs and early summer wildflowers.¬† It will sprout up again just fine next spring, and ironically enough the most dangerous thing back there still remains within inches of the swing.¬† The bright red seed pods you see belong to the castor bean plant(Ricinus communis), and as you may know the beans are the source of the poison ricin.¬† Smaller children would need to be watched, but based on what a struggle vegetable eating is in this house I’m pretty confident my own kids won’t be picking beans up out of the dirt and eating them any time soon.

The tropical garden

The tropical garden just before the frost.  Not as lush as last year but the grasses are still a good 8+ feet tall, and overshadow the not-quite-as-tall-as-last-year cannas.

I may not have done much in most of the garden but at least I did pay some attention to the rock garden.¬† It still doesn’t have any rocks but at least the yews are trimmed.¬† Weird that out of all the things to do this time of year I’d be trimming up little yew meatballs, but there you have it, Saturday’s big job.¬† Here’s a photo from a few years ago to give you an idea of where we came from.

overgrown yew hedge

Every spring… trim the yews… I finally got so bored with it I let them go, but after a few years the neighbors started talking.

Two years ago I trimmed the yews back to within a few inches of the ground.¬† It was either that or remove them completely, but after the struggle of taking a single one out (so the electrician could rework the electric service), I suddenly warmed up to the idea of keeping them.¬† So now I have little yew nuggets along the foundation and an empty south-facing mulch bed which seems perfect for rock garden plants.¬† I’ve already filled most of it and it’s a constant battle to keep from doubling the size of the bed.

the rock garden

The rock garden.¬† You may see a single rock to the far right but for the life of me I don’t know how the name started.¬† -Btw the pine is Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.¬† I love it.¬†

Eventually I’ll need to get moving if I really want to be serious about gardening again next year.¬† Beds need cleaning, plants need saving, things need transplanting.¬† There’s always plenty to do but in the back of my mind I keep figuring that cold indoor days are coming and I should take advantage of the last warm days.¬† That probably means doing things, but a little soaking it up doesn’t hurt either.

porch decorations for autumn

We will see how this handles a little frost.¬† All together I think I found about 20 of the odd little Yugoslavian finger squash once I started looking around out back, and between those and a few mums I think we’re decorated.

Tomorrow I’ll be running around.¬† Or not.¬† Most of the geraniums, amaryllis, and cordyline spikes can handle a little frost and should be ok for another week or so, so I guess it all comes down to seeing how long I can postpone the inevitable.

overwinter geraniums

Geraniums (pelargoniums) lined up and ready to come in.  Between these and a few cuttings already under lights I think I can give any geranium-loving granny a good run for her money.    

Frost will come, the garden will go to bed, and the dreams of spring will start.¬† I’m sure there are still plenty of perfect days to come but for now I’m dreading the end, and even worse when the clocks fall back next weekend.¬† I wonder if it’s too early to start thinking about snowdrops.

… haha, who am I kidding, I’ve already been obsessing about them for the last month!

Have a great week, and maybe you can find something pleasant in the soft light, beautiful colors, and crisp air of autumn ūüėČ

Thursday’s Feature: Colchicums!

As one considers the winding down of summer and the general decay of the growing season… as I suppose one should on this first day of autumn… there do seem to be a few positive notes which make the changing of the seasons more bearable.¬† While other things die or flee in response to cooler temperatures and weakened sunshine, a few plants spring to life, and if you count yourself among the optimists you could almost¬†consider this to be the start of a new growing season with flushes of new foliage for the cooler weather, healthy¬†root growth¬†and spring buds forming below ground,¬†and the first of the autumn flowers.¬† “Good for you” I say since I am not a lover¬†of¬†fall and its¬†frosty death, but even I will admit colchicums make it easier to¬†cope, and the fresh blooms at this time of year make¬†it all seem a little less final.

With those cheery thoughts in mind I’m again joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her¬†Thursday Feature, and the flowers of the autumn crocus or naked ladies (Colchicums) are what stand out in my garden this week.

colchicum nancy lindsay

A reliable Colchicum with smaller flowers and colored flower stems, Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ would be on the short list of favorites.

As a good blogger I should take this opportunity to discuss the various details of researched growing¬†conditions and also cover the finer points of colchicum cultivation but as you may have already guessed from previous posts I bore easily and tend to laziness, so to be honest I’d recommend getting that book learnin’ elsewhere.¬† I’m more of a stick it in the ground and see if it grows kind of guy, so if you don’t mind, click on >this link< and you’ll find a few of Kathy’s posts over at Cold Climate Gardening which should do very nicely to fill the¬†void I leave.¬† She’s like a crazy cat lady of colchicums,¬†and¬†in addition to¬†growing, showing, sharing, and speaking on colchicums, she also does an excellent job of putting that information online.¬† She’s also a wonderful person, so I hope¬†she finds neither ‘crazy’ nor ‘cat lady’ offensive since I would hate to offend her good nature.

colchicum innocence

Colchicum run a range of pink shades from dark to light, but the odd white form really lights up an autumn bed.¬† Here’s Colchicum ‘Innocence’.¬† Decent sized blooms, slight pink tint when you look for it, and a good grower.

Better sources of information aside, I guess I should mention some of the barest essentials of Colchicums.  They bloom bare, without foliage, hence the common name of naked ladies.  Their bloom shape resembles that of crocus, hence the name autumn crocus -although they share no family relation whatsoever.  Of course being unrelated to crocus is not the worst thing since wildlife love the crocus around here yet completely avoid the poisonous parts of colchicums.

In the early spring, colchicums quickly grow leafy, hosta-like foliage but then yellow and disappear once the weather heats up.  Decent, well drained soil, sun or part shade (the more sun in spring the better), and hope for the best.

colchicum foliage

Spring species tulips and the springtime foliage of colchicums growing in the lawn.

With their fall blooms, colchicum are a bit of an oddity when compared to the regular spring and summer flowers of most bulb catalogs.¬† Maybe this is why they seem expensive when compared to the mass produced spring bulbs, but don’t let it fool you.¬† They¬†might require some special¬†handling and storing, but overall ¬†it’s an easy group to grow.¬† If I have one bit of advice which may be helpful it’s to plant shallowly in heavy soils.¬† The flowers seem to struggle when sprouting up out of hard-packed soil, and if they can’t make it up chances are the spring foliage won’t make it either, and your special new bulb will die.¬† Cover loosely I say, and if the bulbs (actually corms btw) are already flowering, do not cover the flowers with dirt and expect them to rise up out of the soil.¬† The flowers, and foliage as well, seem to take advantage of the old, dried floral tubes and follow these paths up out of the soil.¬† When newly planted, the tunnels from last year no longer exist, so to get around this plant shallowly and cover with some mulch¬†once flowering is finished and you should be in good shape.

colchicum lilac wonder

Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in grass.¬† If planting in lawns, be prepared to hold back on mowing until the foliage has yellowed off.¬† I like a field of gone-to-seed¬†grass swaying in the breeze in June.¬† You may not.

Over the last two years I’ve been adding colchicums to the meadow garden, and so far have been pleased enough to want to add more this fall.¬† I’m hoping they do well enough amongst the root completion of the grass and so far so good on that.¬† Another plus is I prefer the flowers when set off by the green grass, even though in most years this area usually has more of a brown grass look to it.

colchicum lilac wonder

More Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in the meadow garden. This is my favorite colchicum right now, it really does well here.

colchicum in meadow grass

A more sparse planting of an unknown colchicum.¬† This one will sulk if the spring is too short or dry, or isn’t exactly to¬†its liking.¬†¬†I’d blame the lawn, but¬†the¬†same lack of blooming happens¬†in my flower beds as well.

I’m going to wrap it up here since although I can stare at and talk colchicums for hours in the garden,¬†I am way past the limits of my attention span here at the computer.¬† But before¬†ending I have to show Colchicum x aggripinum and the remarkable pattern of its blooms.¬†¬†Many colchicums show tessellation in their¬†flowers and¬†of the ones I grow this one shows it best.

colchicum x aggripinum

The smaller, shorter foliage and flowers of colchicum x aggripinum still show up very well in the garden.¬† This clump liked being divided last summer, but didn’t like the late freeze and short spring we had, so I hope it fills in better next year.

colchicum x aggripinum

Tessellation on a flower of colchicum x aggripinum.  I love this patterning.

If you’ve made it this far I¬†might as well apologize while¬†I still have your attention.¬† There are¬†still a few weeks left in the colchicum season¬†and¬†it’s very likely you’ll see more of them¬†at¬†some point or another as I try to work my way through this otherwise miserable new season.¬† In the meantime though, please consider giving Kimberley a visit to see what she and others are posting about this Thursday.¬† Perhaps they have a higher opinion of autumn.

One word…. Dichelostemma

I inherited my mother’s habit of randomly picking up and trying out¬†just about any odd, looks-like-it-might-be-nice bulb that shows up in the garden center’s bins.¬†¬†Together we’ve failed at freesia, ranunculus, ixia… but every now and then something gives a surprise, and lately it’s been Dichelostemma.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Dichelostemma ‘Pink Diamond’ out in the meadow garden

The first one which made its way into the garden was a selected form of the naturally occurring hybrid ‘Pink Diamond’.¬† I¬†love the totally tubular pink flowers and the waxy thickness of the blooms and was surprised it actually grew since the bulbs came via a November closeout sale, and late planting into a cold, wet clayish soil is typically not a recipe for success for drought tolerant bulbs from the western reaches of North America.¬† But they came up fine the next spring and when the wiry flower stalks matured to¬†bright pink¬†clusters of bloom in June I was¬†hooked.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Daisies and Dichelostemma in front of a worse for wear Queen of the Prairie.  The Queen still presides over the back forty, but between acidic rainfall and wayward groundhog nibbling her reign may soon be coming to an end.

‘Pink Diamond’ may or may not become a permanent resident in the meadow.¬† The first planting returned to bloom the second year but has not¬†put up flowers¬†in the third.¬† I blame rabbits for nibbling too much of the spring foliage, but¬†we will see what happens next year, as this spring with all the new crocus flowers to chose from the rabbits didn’t quite get to the¬†Dichelostemma foliage before moving on to freshly planted lettuce and broccoli in the vegetable garden.

The ‘other’ Dichelostemma (D. congestum) has been going strong though, putting up its beautiful lilac-purple flower clusters for¬†three years now… in spite of also being nibbled.

dichelostemma congestum

Dichelostemma congestum has the¬†common name of fork toothed Ookow.¬† When you get tired of introducing guests to your dichelostemma I’m sure switching to the common name will clear things up.¬†

I love how these plants look among the weeds and grass of the meadow.¬† I can imagine this isn’t entirely unlike their native habitat¬†in the Western edges of the¬†continent and from a gardeners point of view the yellowing foliage is completely disguised by the surrounding greenery.¬† Not to get distracted, but I wonder how alliums would work out back here since¬†many of those also share the trick of letting their foliage go to pot just as the blooms reach their peak.

Dichelostemma ida-maia is my last of the D’s and I suppose ‘firecracker plant’ is a decent common name for this one…. although it’s no Ookow.

dichelostemma ida-maia

Dichelostemma ida-maia.¬† The shape and color of this flower has ‘hummingbird plant’ written all over it.

Besides adding more ‘Pink Diamond’ last fall, I also put in a few D. ida-maia… in spite of my thoughts that I wouldn’t like them.¬† I was completely wrong in my lack of enthusiasm.¬† The sad anemic version I saw a few years ago is nothing like the group I now have swaying in the dappled light amongst the grass.¬† I’m far too greedy a collector to commit large spaces to a single plant but I¬†would have no problem adding another hundred or¬†two (versus the 10 I started with) to this end of the meadow, which is entirely do-able since these small bulb are¬†relatively cheap even when not on clearance.

dichelostemma ida-maia

I trimmed up the lower limbs of the aspen and love the Rocky Mountain glade effect it has given.¬† Add a Western NA native Dichelostemma ida-maia and we may be on to something here ūüėČ

I’m not sure what the hardiness on these plants (both species and their hybrid daughter) is.¬† To be honest I didn’t think they would make it through their first careless planting (really careless… cold November fingers so one shovel swipe into the turf, dump bag contents into hole and¬†stomp sod clod down again on top), but they did survive, and it was a winter where our lows reached -6F (-21C) with a solidly frozen soil for months.¬† So they’re at least that hardy, and I think the extreme summer dryness of the meadow also helps them¬†return¬†in spite of¬†any issues with¬†poorly drained, wet¬†winter soils.

Dichelostemma.¬† Think about it.¬† I think they’re pretty cool.

Spring keeps rolling along

As it is with most things here, the gardener is not exactly on schedule with his gardening.¬† He’s not exactly on schedule with many things, but the late freeze and the discouraging damage it did to¬†so many¬†spring greens has left him slightly unmotivated.¬† Then the relentless rain and cold damp brought on rot, and now dry weather is bringing spider mites to the phlox.¬† So the gardener will restart his spring in mid May and deal with the mites.¬† He’ll also accept that many projects will again not happen, and will¬†just clear his conscience and move on.¬† Iris are beginning to bloom after all, and once the iris start to fill the flowerbeds with¬†color and perfume it’s hard to hold onto a black mood.

narcissus keats

One of¬†my last daffodils to open, narcissus ‘Keats’ was voted ‘ugliest thing to bloom’ by¬†a¬†more serious daffodil friend.¬† I’m always one to love the underdog.¬†

One minor project (which seems to be the only¬†project type¬†I’m capable of tackling this spring) which was finally taken care of was the long suffering heuchera plantings.¬† A few summers ago I dipped my toes into the hybrid heuchera world and since then they’ve been suffering along in my garden.¬† My planting beds get too dry, my shade isn’t as high and dappled as they’d like, and my soil is too heavy for their roots but I try nonetheless.¬† They still have plenty of filling in to do but if you saw the before picture I’m sure you’d agree¬†this is an improvement.¬†¬†Unfortunately the tan lawn clipping mulch doesn’t do much to set the foliage off, but it’s better than weeds I suppose.

transplant and divide heuchera

The woody stems of the heuchera clumps were dug up, ripped apart and carelessly stuffed back in to the re-dug bed and the plants actually look much happier after their tough love treatment.    

As summer heat settles down on the garden this holiday weekend, I just wanted to celebrate the meadow and a few of the newer plantings which did well this spring.  Number one on the list were the tulip clusiana bulbs which planted into the turf.  They looked perfect out there and I hope they return just as nicely next spring.

tulipa clusiana

Tulip clusiana (I think they were a named variety but I’ll need to dig out the tag) were scattered around in the meadow garden.¬† I will be extremely happy if they settle in here!

A few Anemone blanda look nice in the shadier parts of the lawn.  I tried throwing them around in several of the outer edges of the garden and then promptly forgot until little sparkles of blue started showing up here and there.  My goal for this one is to recreate the neglected show which used to pop up each spring around my first apartment in upstate NY.  If this plant can naturalize around a ramshackle college boarding house I think it stands half a chance here.

blue anemone blanda

Blue Anemone blanda in the “lawn”.¬†

Muscari is practically a weed everywhere so I added a few of those as well.¬† The flowers on these grape hyacinths were nice enough but now I keep looking at the seed heads with their kind-of aqua tint.¬† I wonder if it was the cooler temperatures or if they’ll always have this attractive look…. or is it just me that thinks they look cool?

muscari seed pods

Seed heads on the grape hyacinths (Muscari).¬† In other parts of the garden I clip them off to limit their seeding around, but here I’ll risk it ūüôā

Most of the bulbs were brought in as bulbs, but if you know me you know¬†there are¬†a few seeds coming along as well.¬† My little gravel covered pots are bursting with new plants this spring and even though the last freeze did a few things in the majority seemed to enjoy our mild winter.¬† I’m always a¬†bit surprised anything will grow up through gravel, but in some pots even the tiniest of seedlings make a crowded moss of new green sprouts…. which will soon desperately need thinning!

hypericum albury purple

Hundreds of Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’ seedlings sprouting in the center pot. Realistically I need about two.

With new seedlings coming along each spring there are always new surprises as youngsters open their first blooms.¬† A couple years ago I thought I’d dabble in a few species anemones and see how they do in the meadow, and although¬†I’m not sure they’re all correctly labeled, for now I’m just enjoying them for whatever they are.

aneomone caroliniana

Not Anemone caroliniana?  Pretty regardless, and it looks like it might be able to hold its own if I move it out into the thinner areas of grass.  

One seedling which has a positive ID is this cool little Japanese Jack-in-the-pulpit or snow¬†rice-cake plant (Arisaema sikokianum).¬† I was surprised to see¬†any of these three year old seedlings flower, and although the actual flower is definitely on the small side¬†for this species they say size doesn’t matter in these things and I’ll just keep admiring¬†the fancy little bloom.

arisaema sikokianum

Arisaema sikokianum.¬† Although my picture doesn’t do it justice, I hope you can appreciate the mottled foliage and bright contrasts of this flower.¬†

So that’s the basic update.¬† I promise this will be the last time I moan about freezes and such, but I can’t promise some other weather event won’t¬†come along shortly¬†to take its place.¬† Whatever happens it’s a great iris weekend and I’m sure¬†I’ll be going on about that next¬†ūüôā

Snowdrops part II

By now I’m going to guess several of you know I have a “thing” for snowdrops.¬† It’s a lonely thing since my nearest fellow snowdrop lover lives miles and miles away, but it’s a thing and like all things you just have to deal with it.¬† With that said I will forgive anyone who glosses over this post since not everyone will ‘get’ this thing, and many will not even want to appear as encouraging this thing, but that’s fine.¬† Once the daffodils open I’ll move on and we can again comfortably ignore my little secret until next year.

Luckily for you the season is practically over in my garden (so this will not drag on for the weeks which it normally does)¬†¬†and here’s only just the briefest¬†summary of a few of my favorites¬†from this year’s snowdrop season.¬† We will begin with¬†a new one, ‘Daphne’s Scissors’, which came via Carolyn’s Shade Gardens¬†last spring.

galanthus daphnes scissors

Galanthus ‘Daphnes Scissors’, an early bloomer with me and early enough to open at the same time as the winter aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis).

‘Blonde Inge’ sometimes gives trouble as far as her blonde highlights go, but this year there’s a nice touch of yellow to the insides of her flowers.¬† This is her third year in the garden and she seems to be settling in nicely.

galanthus blonde inge

Galanthus ‘Blonde Inge’, the covergirl for Naomi Slade’s great little book “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops” which I had the pleasure of reading this winter.

I’m trying to stick to snowdrops which don’t all fall under the same old same old category…¬†this is still a stretch since green-white-yellow is the¬†slightly limiting range which we’re always working with, but to the obsessed even the plain old white and green can be something special ūüôā

galanthus straffan

Galanthus ‘Straffan’, an oldie but goodie which has been gracing the gardens of snowdrop lovers since 1858.¬† This is year three for my plant and I’m quite pleased to see its graceful upright blooms multiplying.¬† Maybe someday I’ll be up to the hundreds you see in other gardens ūüôā

Galanthus ‘MoretonMills’ was the first expensive snowdrop I splurged on.¬† I won’t say how much I paid but it was a ridiculous amount for such a tiny little thing and each spring I hold my breath until it sprouts.¬† Fortunately it’s one of my favorites and is also beginning to multiply.

galanthus moreton mills

Galanthus ‘Moreton Mills’, a poculiform snowdrop where the three inner petals are as long as the three outer petals.¬† If this plant breaks the four inch barrier I’d call it a growth spurt.

As a variation on the green and white theme, here’s one which is more green and green and white ūüôā

galanthus kildare

I love this one, it’s Galanthus ‘Kildare’ doing very well in its second year in the garden.¬† The blooms are huge. (relatively speaking of course!)

Another of my very favorites is ‘Primrose Warburg’.¬† It’s been doing very well here and is actually becoming what I could optimistically call a clump.¬† The downside to collecting unusual little bulbs is that you must often start with just one and to be completely honest a single snowdrop, no matter how special, does not exactly put on a major show in the garden.

galanthus primrose warburg

Galanthus ‘Primrose Warburg’.¬† Even those who yawn at the sight of snowdrops will acknowledge the bright yellow differences on this one ūüôā

I’ll leave you with my lovely little golden snowdrop patch, and repeat that the snowdrop season is essentially over here.¬† It was a weird one, and for me it was a lame one with harsh late freezes damaging many of the blooms¬†followed by¬†a warm couple days which wilted the rest.¬† Add a few days out of town for work and¬†snowdrops which came up before my schedule allowed¬†me to fully admire them…. well enough said.¬† At¬†least I was able to enjoy a few crocus.

natuaralized crocus

All the crocus came up nicely in the meadow garden and even the rabbits couldn’t keep up with them all.¬† Luckily mother nature and global warming stepped in and wiped them all out with back to back hailstorms.¬† Oh El Nino, you’re really having your fun this year.

The crocus season felt like it lasted three days.  They burst up and bloomed and then the weather did them in.

dutch crocus

A few of those fat hybrid Dutch crocus growing by the front steps.  To get really nice clumps it helps to dig them up and spread them around every three of four years.  Forgetting where they are and accidently digging them up in June is my method of choice.    

Fortunately there’s still plenty of spring left since it’s only just the end of March.¬† A cold spell last week slowed everything right back down, but the first weeks of April look remarkably mild and I’m sure there will be plenty of things sprouting up and blooming and helping me ease¬†my snowdrop hangover.¬† Don’t get your hopes up too much though, I did visit another snowdrop garden last weekend and have one more white and green post yet to come.

If I don’t speak with you before¬†Sunday, have a great¬†Easter!