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!

Curb Un-Appeal

A few weeks ago I was next door talking to my neighbor.  The iris were in bloom and he’s got a few clumps of a rich purple iris in his front yard (‘Lent A Williamson’ is the ID I gave them although I’m sure he doesn’t care) which were putting on an excellent display.  A car slowly pulled by and after a polite wave the driver opened the window to say “I love your iris, I drive this way just to see them”.  I bit my tongue.  After a couple seconds passed, my neighbor realized the compliment was directed towards him, and said thanks.  He looked at me.  It just about killed me, I have iris too.

front street border

The house from the street.  I believe one of the first rules of curb appeal is to compliment, not block, the house.  Also large thistles should not become focal points.

We got a good laugh about it once she left.  I do like to show off my most exciting plants, but I realize they’re not to everyone’s taste, and the “overflowing” look of the plantings is focused more on the plants than the setting of the house.  Even the 12 year old said she doesn’t like it when it all gets so big, but when I mentioned moving out she gave me her pre-teen eye-roll of disgust… which I’m sure will only develop more as she finishes up middle school.

Cirsium eriophorum woolly thistle

More thistles around the corner.  Cirsium eriophorum is the European woolly thistle, and I just came up with the brilliant idea of pulling a few coneflowers out from along the street and planting the newest batch of seedlings there.

Before selling our previous house I spent a few weeks ripping things out and simplifying plantings.  If I ever cared to impress the neighbors or list this property I’d surely repeat the process here.  Lots of mulch, a clear view of the house, and sheared foundation shrubbery would put an appropriately sterile stamp of conformity onto the real estate head shot, and I’m sure it would scare fewer people away.

foundation perennials

Look at that mullein, it’s a keeper!  Eight feet tall and counting, the blooms are opening nice and large and I’m hoping it keeps going all summer.  The mullein, along with poorly trimmed and poorly placed trees and shrubbery, all add to the screen that blocks the curb view of our house.  

Just to be clear there is no talk of moving.  We have to stay at least 30 more years in order to reach the point of break-even on all the lumber purchased for the potager re-do.  For the accountants out there we finally went over the hump and added about $6.75 to the plus column for the salads we’ve picked in the last few days, and $6 worth of cauliflower as well.  Those were some exciting first harvests, so obviously we’re not going to dwell on the $89 which went into the liability column for a new hose and additional lumber.

drying daffodil bulbs

Delphinium in bloom are often enough of a distraction to keep people from noticing the bags of drying colchicum and narcissus bulbs lined out along the front porch.  **please note the snow shovel was just put there recently and hasn’t been sitting there since last winter**

So even if you can look past the unpruned, questionable design, and overlook the stray bags of bulbs and garden tools, there’s still always that massive pile of sand blocking the driveway.  “You’re always busy doing something” was the polite way another neighbor dealt with that topic.

common milkweed syriaca

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by the front door is in full bloom.  I’ll cut it back by half once it’s done flowering, not just to keep it neat, but also to invite the Monarchs to lay their eggs on the new growth that sprouts up.

A myopic view of things lets me enjoy things anyway, and in my opinion when everything else is going to heck there’s always plenty of little things to be thrilled with.  Like milkweeds.  They’re much more interesting than people give them credit for, and far more useful in the garden than just caterpillar fodder.  This week I have a new one in bloom… finally… after years of trying seeds and nursing seedlings.

purple milkweed purpurascens

Asclesias purpurascens, the descriptively named ‘purple milkweed’.  This one’s been tricky for me and maybe that’s just because it refuses to put up with the abuse and neglect which I leave it to.  I love the dark color though, and did water a little after seeing its leaves curling up from the dry.

I hope the purple milkweed continues to grow in spite of this shift to drier summer weather.  There was brief consideration given to trying it out in a new spot but after reading online that it can be hard to get established it’s staying put.  I’ve killed it in other spots already so why rush.

verbena bonariensis

The first of the Verbena bonariensis filling in.  The verbena is a great drought tolerant filler for years like this, and I might transplant a few out for color in August.  

There are plenty of other things to do rather than kill off new milkweeds.  I spent Friday night weeding and “editing” the front border and was planning on finishing today but surprisingly enough there’s been some rain and it’s now too humid and sticky to work.  The rain only took the edge off the dry soil and refueled the gnats but it was a good excuse to go for icecream instead.  I don’t think that’s a bad tradeoff.

Have a great weekend!

Into Summer

This might be the driest this garden has been in about four years and that’s ok.  Warm and dry means the lawn stops growing, and unless I’m being really obsessive about clover flowers,  I can just leave it unmown for a week or two and it doesn’t look much worse for the neglect.  Obviously my vote is always for less work, and the few bees which forage the lawn seem happy with this arrangement as well, but I do notice that none of the other lawns look as nicely “decorated” with flowers.  Again, that’s ok.  It’s dry, but not too dry, and although a few wilted things here and there tug at my conscience as I walk by, it’s not enough to bring me down.  When things go crispy that’s when I start mumbling and luckily we’re not there yet.

front border

The front border is again being dominated by the more drought tolerant plants.  No jungle this year.

Weeding has been a breeze with less water around.  I just hit the sheets of verbena and fennel with the hoe once and most dried up in the sun the next day.  The prickly lettuce is stunted, the crabgrass is anemic.  It’s kind of quiet out there.

kniphofia caulescens

A few years old from seed, kniphofia caulescens is finally putting on a nice show this year.  I love the color and shape, but they pass so quickly so I’m pleased there are still a few more stalks on the way.

There was a decent scattering of clouds yesterday morning so I hurried out to see if I could get a few photos before the glare of the sun returned.  My photo skills are like that and I don’t think I’ll ever amount to anything more than a point and shooter, so I just wait for overcast moments and then take as many as I can.  Funny how I always seem to end up admiring the weeds more than anything else.

scotch thistle

Yes, I still love thistles.  These approve of the drier soil and the stunted sunflowers. (Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium

So I’ve recently gone on and on about my mullein and I’ll spare you from that for a few more days, but there are some nice thistles around the yard and I’m thinking I need more again.  Obviously they’re easy to grow, so a good choice for me, but other weeds are also doing well.

sunny side up pokeweed

The fresh chartreuse of ‘Sunny Side Up’ pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) coming up strong in the front border.  I apologize to those of you who are tired of seeing this amazing plant yet again.

Just for liability reasons, let it be known milkweed should never be planted in a perennial border.  It will spread all over and you’ll regret it.

milkweed perennial

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) spreading throughout the border and welcoming guests to the front porch.  It’s a few days away from blooming and I’m looking forward to enjoying the scent as it drifts through the air.  Maybe I’ll pull a few shoots after the bloom ends… maybe…

I wonder if any of my neighbors realize just how many of the plants here are considered weeds.  A parent came by to pick up a child and said the yard looked nice and it seemed like I had quite a few unusual things growing.  That could be good or bad, but I chose good, and hoped she didn’t notice afterwards that the daisies are remarkably similar to the ones all along the highway and filling every vacant lot along the way.  I suspect nothing was noticed.  Actually my mother in law asked me later that day if she should plant a few in a problem spot behind the house.  Not a bad idea I said, but then shot myself in the foot when I pointed out the dried remains of all the daisies she sprayed with roundup the week before.  She told me to forget it, she’ll see what they have at Lowes…

sand garden paths

Something else.  Sand.  A couple tons of it.

Having several tons of sand sitting in your driveway can go a long way towards distracting people from the fact you’re growing a lot of weeds.  It’s a big pile and that hasn’t changed much since it was delivered Monday, but I’m quite happy about it, and the sand has me feeling rich because (1) there’s so much of it and (2) it’s soooo nice and clean and gritty, and (3) it’s part of the finishing touches for the potager reboot.

potager

Here’s where we’re at.  It looks terrible but I’m blessed with the gift of seeing things how I want them to be rather than what they really look like.  Give me another week or two and maybe I can explain my “vision” 🙂

In spite of how it looks, the potager has been on the receiving end of most of the attention and fussing that the gardener has been passing out this year.  Everything else has been forced to tough it out sans water, but the veggies are  weedfree and irrigated, and I even had to drag in seating so I could just sit and admire the new space.  Sadly this enthusiasm doesn’t extend past the raised beds, and if you look just two feet over, all the promise of a bed filled with poppies and garden phlox is yellowing as it awaits moisture.

breadseed poppies

A little water would have gone a long way towards making this bed a showplace…. but it didn’t happen and the ‘Patty’s Plum’ poppies are starting to dry up just when they should be covered in flowers.

Sorry poppies, you’ll have to set your seeds and hope for better year in 2021.  I hear that’s a common sentiment.  In the meantime, other plants are ahead of the game and have already gone through some funny business in regards to seed setting.  The yellow foxgloves (Digitalis grandiflora) took advantage of some lazy deadheading and then some lazy weeding and have formed a nice patch of seedlings where there was but one yellow foxglove last year.  A curious thing happened though.  I believe Mrs. Yellow Foxglove has not been faithful to Mr. Yellow Foxglove and instead has been entertaining Mr. Rusty Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) from down the street.  The proof is in the shading, and I’m sure the delivery room was quite the agitated place as Mrs. F tried to explained all the rusty children to her equally pale husband.

digitalis grandiflora ferruginea

Yellow foxglove in the back with various hybrids in front.  I don’t think it’s uncommon for foxgloves to cross like this and of course I like the diversity it adds to the garden. 

Another blooming surprise is taking place on the swingset.  The native Dutchman’s pipe (Aristochola macrophylla) has taken off this spring and is full of the curious little pipes which this vine family is named for.  They’re not the showiest things and I think the only reason my attention was drawn that way was through the overheard conversation between my daughter and a friend about the plant taking over her playset.  I think it’s just fine but apparently they think it’s a little too much, so I guess some day soon I’ll be giving it a trim.  Maybe.  Probably later rather than sooner since right now I’m quite pleased with all the big felty leaves hanging all over the place.  No surprise there since the species name macrophylla means just that, big leaves.

aristolochia macrophylla

The oddly shaped flowers of the Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)

The Dutchman’s Pipe family is quite the group with annual and tropical members and even more bizarre flowers being the rule rather than the exception.  The tropical Pelican flower (Aristolochia gigantea) is the gigantea version, complete with face-sized fleshy looking flowers.  Very cool to see… and look at that, it’s available online for a click… but let’s stop there before I get into trouble.  There’s another native macrophylla in the yard this year, a magnolia in this case.

magnolia macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla, the Southeast US ‘bigleaf’ magnolia… planted way too close to the house of course.

Three or four years from a seed, this magnolia has recovered from a late spring freeze and is now enthusiastically putting out a few of the huge leaves this species is famous for.  Famous might be an overstatement, but I love it, and right now while it’s still below eye level and looking all cool I’m not even thinking about its mature height or its very inappropriate placement.

magnolia macrophylla

Big hand on big leaf.  The underside of these leaves also have a cool fuzz, and in the fall they dry and curl and the fuzz is even better, and they’re still big, and….

There’s a more dwarf form of the bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla ssp. Ashei) that would surely have been a more sensible choice for this garden, but again I digress.  Let’s just abruptly end here since after all these photos were taken the sky became even darker, thunder began to rumble, and we enjoyed a nice summer downpour… which oddly enough was just a few days too early to destroy the delphinium show.

pseudata okagami

Also unaffected by the storm were the pseudata iris (Iris pseudacorus x ensata ‘Okagami’).

So the ground is refreshed and now the lawn needs mowing, vines needs trimming, the weeds will erupt, the sand is heavier, and the bugs have been energized.  Actually it’s pretty awesome even with all the additional work, so let me go and get busy out there before the sunshine and pool distract.  Hope it’s a beautiful weekend where you’re at as well.

An Executive Summary for May

  • Lockdown continues
  • Working from home keeps us surprisingly busy considering we’re home all day
  • Laziness could still be a factor in things not getting done
allium gladiator

The Potager Pandemic Project is progressing at a pitifully poor pace.  I will not share pictures until it looks a little better (Allium ‘Gladiator’)

  • Multiple harsh, late, freezes did in another year of wisteria blooms and damaged many early risers
  • Spring continues regardless
primula sieboldii

Surprisingly, Primula sieboldii continue to do well in a damp, part shade location.  I divided and moved a few in early spring and they haven’t complained a bit. 

  • I still love you spring
primula sieboldii

A range of seedling Primula sieboldii.  I’m pleased with how well they’ve done, obviously they’re not that hard to grow!

  • iris have been delayed and disfigured by the cold
  • lilacs have not
father fiala lilac

A selection of lilac flowers, mostly Father Fiala hybrids and older varieties.  

  • Older lilacs with names such as ‘Atheline Wilbur’, ‘Paul Thirion’, and ‘Marie Frances’ roll off the tongue in a way that ‘Bloomerang Dark Purple’ and ‘Pinky Winky’ never will
  • Have a wonderful week

Before the Freeze

Looking out the kitchen window this Saturday morning the sunshine is beautiful, and to be honest it was similar yesterday and I even enjoyed the ride to work because of the brilliant light.  I wish we could start late every Friday, if only for the chance to remember what it’s like to have sunshine lighting the way to work rather than headlights, but it’s a rare treat this time of year.  I won’t say it’s unlikely to happen again until February or March, but those familiar with the calendar and seasonal changes in day-length might already suspect that.

In spite of the sunshine there is still a bit of lingering snow from Monday’s Arctic plunge.  Cold weather does that, and it’s been cold.  I briefly considered a few snowy photos, but with only an inch or two it wasn’t enough to cover up all the garden’s flaws so rather lets go back to last weekend when the last bulbs and newly purchased shrubs and tree seedlings and clearance perennials and surprise plant packages and whatever else went in to the ground and the last half-hardy pots and tubers and bulbs and cuttings and offsets came indoors in one last, desperate weekend of procrastination comeuppance.

tropical garden fall cleanup

The cannas have left the garden.  As part of my “new” laziness I’ve used hedge shears to chop up the canna tops and left everything in situ after the roots were dug and brought in.  It looks better than before and that’s my new gardening mantra for my 50’s.

No one wants to see the mess all the tuber filled tubs and overflowing shelves of plants have created indoors so let me instead celebrate a major garden milestone.  I hesitate a bit to share, because a story comes to mind which Chloris at The Blooming Garden related not so long ago, but I don’t think people hold me to as high a standard so I think I’m safe.  My foggy memory seems to recall Chloris mentioning some surprise over several negative comments given regarding a newly completed project she had revealed.  I expect and perhaps deserve a few less than enthusiastic observations, but her projects are always a little crazy and over the top and turn into amazing spaces, so the fact readers were able to find flaws surprised me but it gave me pause none the less.  Just for the record, I know my reveal still faces an uphill battle.  A lukewarm reception is expected.

building a garden pond

Several years of neglect have left the leaky garden pond as an overgrown sludge-filled pit of lost toys and random garden waste.

I don’t have enough time to bring you up to date on what a failure this part of the “garden” has been.  A more optimistic time would be 2013 when this pit was first dug, but looking back at the post(s) even then the title should have been a clue for where this would end up. >Here’s a link<  Needless to say a timely article by my friend Pam at Pam’s English Cottage Garden on fall pond building reminded me that a decade is a long time to look at a muddy failure.

building a garden pond

Deep but small meant cinder blocks for three of the four sides. Pond fabric went down first to cushion the liner.

In all I’m not sure why it took so long.  The hole was already there and I didn’t really have the ambition to make it much bigger… plus the liner I had on hand… for years (oh my God that’s a whole other story) wasn’t much bigger than the hole, so it was just a matter of reshaping things and getting the blocks in.

building a garden pond

Liner, second layer of pond fabric, position a few rocks and layer in some bags of gravel, and it already looks 90% better.

Construction began about a month ago but then it sat for a few weeks until I could figure out the edging.  The back has a bit of a gravelly, sloped beach, but the sides and front are steep and unnaturally squared.  I browsed around but eventually called a landscaper friend who hooked me up with some scrap and leftover stone stair treads.  He said the thicker cut would look good, and he was right.  I love it!

building a garden pond

Done for the winter.  I’ll likely take up all the sides, re-level and cut the stone for a proper fit next spring but for now I’m happy with it.  Various footprints have already shown it to be quite popular with all the most destructive wildlife.   

So in my usual tradition I’ve almost finished another project and have convinced myself that I’ll finish the rest at a future date.  I may not have learned that lesson yet, but I did learn one interesting thing about my garden, that being the reasons behind my less than stellar drainage.  I had assumed the layer of shale fill that surprises the shovel four to six inches down is what keeps the yard a mudpit after it rains, but surprisingly if you chip and pick your way through that, bedrock lies another six inches below.  So much for the inground pool plans, and hence the reason for the pond being slightly elevated.

autumn garden

Some last flickers of fall color.  Each passing season brings a little more winter interest.

The garden has been neglected sine last weekend.  I’d like to haul a little more compost in for some last minute mulching, but all I’ve really done is order an unnecessary amount of clearance bulbs which now need to get in the ground before the frosts really set in.  Maybe I’ll just hope for a warm December.

autumn garden

Looking towards the foundation.  For some reason I really like the dried tan of the asian spicebush (Lindera glauca v. salicifolia).  Thoughts?

In any case blowing off Saturday blogging and gardening and journeying down to Philly to enjoy some fall snowdrops doesn’t help my case at all.  Maybe today I’ll find some motivation to get all the new jobs done.

verbascum leaves

A fat verbascum has found a niche in the foundation bed.  I love verbascum in general but I hope this one is something more interesting than the plain roadside version.  We’ll see next year.

Motivation through the week hasn’t even brought me outside.  Late nights and cold weather can do that, but at least things look halfway decent for the winter, even if all I do is take a glance while pulling in to the driveway.

autumn garden

Amsonia hubrichtii next to the mailbox is showing some of the fall color it’s known for and the frozen miscanthus has fluffed up nicely.  I’ll still need to chop down the miscanthus, it makes a mess when it crumbles and blows all over in February.

Another thing which may look halfway decent for the winter is the indoor winter garden.  In a rare bout of preparedness I did a summertime cleaning of the room and when things started trickling indoors they actually had a place to go this year.  I’m excited for it and have already spent a night in there picking pots clean, arranging plants, repotting a few things… all the unnecessary things which define the slower pace of puttering indoors.

cyclamen confusum

Cyclamen confusum indoor under lights.  It should be hardy but of course having it indoors is more fun, especially when you want to visit at night.

As soon as this posts I’m off to secure another batch of mulch.  It’s now Sunday morning but hopefully late enough that Godless doesn’t come to mind when I’m seen filling tubs with compost behind the town hall building.  I promise this will be the last of it, and it really needs to be since I should be addressing the tray of new cyclamen which may have followed me home from yesterday’s Philly trip.  There will be more on that later, so for now let’s focus on the money I saved by not shipping directly and at least I didn’t buy any more snowdrops.

Still Not the Worst

Ok, so I think I have to admit I’m halfway liking fall this year.  Those who know me are shocked.  I’m shocked, but to be honest the weather has been decent, there’s been free time to work in the garden, and just enough rain has come down to make planting and projects a pleasure, so it’s kind of an ideal autumn.  Gnats though, that’s one thing I can complain about.  They’re all over, but as long as I keep my head covered and don’t sit around too much it’s still tolerable… usually… until they get so thick I inhale a few, and then I’m done and back in the house.

hardy chrysanthemum

‘Pink Cadillac’ chrysanthemum just starting in the front border alongside some floppy little bluestem and perovskia.

Once the clouds of bugs thin a little, I sneak out a different door and try for a few more minutes in the garden.  October is chrysanthemums, and surprisingly enough a few have survived all the summertime neglect to now look bright and fresh in an otherwise tired looking garden.  One of these years I will really give them the springtime attention they deserve, but they don’t seem to be pining away waiting for me to come through for them, and look good anyway.  I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

hardy chrysanthemum

A nice orange chrysanthemum which was discovered after the Rosa glauca was cut back mid summer.  It’s been blooming for at least a month and the flowers get to be almost four inches across, so I’m good with that!

Although I’ve been enjoying the finale of the garden more than usual this year, I’ve also managed to squeeze in some actual work and projects.  One such project has been building up some of the flower beds which drowned last year in the endless rain we had.  A load of topsoil was ordered and delivered, and slowly found its way around the house and into the backyard, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, and will hopefully help in keeping plants up and out of the swamp… just in case we ever end up in another repeating loop of rainstorm after rainstorm after flood.

new garden beds

Drowned hydrangeas and rhododendrons are gone, and this bed’s been raised about two or three inches.  Also a nice walk out of salvaged stones makes this bed look promising again.

Although I am entirely against hard labor, at least the delivered topsoil is root and rock-free and easy to dig… as long as it’s only slightly wet, and hasn’t crusted yet or turned into rock solid dirt clods.  Hopefully it makes for easy planting and good growing next year with a minimum of weeds, but experience suggests otherwise and I should probably get a plan together as far as mulching and groundcovers.

container bog garden

The bog garden is looking quite nice now that the pitchers have grown a little and some spagnum moss has been moved in.  Now if I only knew what to do with it for the winter.

I had planned on ordering a load of shredded bark mulch to follow up on the topsoil, but yesterday discovered my source is closed for the season.  Easy come easy go I guess, and I’ve taken that as a sign to not bother, save the money, and instead find something else (preferably free) to cover up the newly bare and exposed real estate for the winter.  My friend Paula mentioned her frequent trips for free township compost and that sounded like an excellent plan.  A little research on my part and I discovered there may be free compost available from my town as well,  and maybe just maybe I can squeeze a few loads into the back of my less than three month old suv without making a muddy mess.  We’ll see.  It’s about time I broke it in anyway.

new garden beds

The topsoil ran out and so did the gardener, so this is how I left things.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the energy to redo the stone path and set the last of my stones… but I still need more soil to raise the bed and all of that is gone…

Oh and by the way in between dirt moving and stone setting, I weed wacked the entire industrial park berm.  Ok so it took three days and it was before the dirt was delivered, but I’m glad it’s done and I have to admit it does look nicer… even if I almost broke a leg a couple times as I lost my footing or tried to reach just a little too far down the slope…

spruce on berm

The berm stretching back from my mother in law’s to the end of my yard.  The spruce are at least ten feet tall, so it’s a big area and a lot of work to clear.  Imagine my two word response when someone said “I wish you would have done that all summer”.

The boring neatness of a cut berm is far less interesting than the front yard, so it’s out there that I go to enjoy some color.  We had a bit of frost last Saturday, but overall it’s still fairly colorful with a few late bloomers and a bunch of lingerers.

fall perennial border

After ten years a few of my conifers have finally grown big enough to become noticeable.  Oh my gosh this might qualify as winter interest!

The lingerers are mostly annuals and dahlias holding on until frost, and the late bloomers are mostly mums and asters, but there is one star which always makes me happy to see.  ‘Sunnyside Up’ pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) has been lighting up the street side of the border all summer and as I found out this past week has been stirring up the neighborhood as well.  While cleaning the last of the dirt from the driveway a neighbor stopped by to tell me about the ‘invasive’ he saw growing out there.  “Those weeds are all over my backyard” he started with, and then continued to go on about how they spread and how fast they grew, but not much further before I cut him off with the offer of another beer.  Problem solved.

sunnyside up pokeweed

At this time of year I love the red stems and purple berries alongside the yellow foliage of “Sunnyside Up” pokeweed.  I get a little thrill every time the mockingbird swoops down to snatch another berry or two and spread the joy of this lovely native far and wide.  As long as you’re going to have pokeweed might as well have a lovely yellow leaved strain.

Once the subject changed I didn’t even mention the masses of mugwort and the forest of bradford pear seedlings which lined the road behind him.  Or the bittersweet which went from just a sprig to a tree-strangling mass in five years… or the Japanese knotweed, stiltgrass, honeysuckle, garlic mustard in the woods… or the purple loosestrife growing in his foundation beds.  Hmmmmm.  Plenty for another post.  We should enjoy just a few more autumn flowers instead 🙂

colchicum autumnale album plenum

One of the last of the colchicums, C. autumnale album plenum.  Just as a note I’ve tried to refrain from posting too many colchicum photos this year, so fair warning that 2020 will be a rebound year.

I’m thinking the reason I’m finally enjoying autumn is the new ‘I don’t care’ attitude which has developed out of my previous ‘because I can’ attitude.  At first it was actually a little hard to leave the lawn uncut and let weeds grow, but unless it was really necessary I let a bunch of the tedious labor slide this year in favor of stuff I’d still be enjoying years from now.  New shrubs.  New beds.  New paths.  Lower maintenance plantings.  Simplification.  Last year to keep the garden perfect meant continuous mowing, trimming, and weeding that went around the yard and then started all over as soon as it was done.  Thats no fun, and it’s also only appreciated by myself.  So I let it go.

hardy cyclamen

The hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium) alongside the driveway are flowering well this fall.  About half rotted out from the rain last year, but the survivors seem to have recovered and are seeding about.

Or… maybe I’ve just reached critical mass for fall flowers and this is the first year in three that every day doesn’t start with gloomy, rainy grayness, but I think it’s the flowers.  Better get to the nursery this afternoon to make sure I haven’t missed any fall blooming plants that can still go in 🙂

bougainvillea hanging pot

My bougainvillea has greeted cooler weather with a second flush of flowers.  The colors scream summer, but the blooms are welcome regardless even if they do look a little out of place in October.

Or maybe I’m overthinking all of this.  The truth is I have new snowdrops, and some are already sprouting and in bloom and that makes me think of spring.  I love spring.  Maybe all this talk of autumn is really just a very very early spring.

Have a great week 🙂

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.

Keep Those Projects Rollin

It sounded like a plan, kick all that midsummer apathy to the curb and really focus on getting some of those garden-changing projects done… but then I realized life is short and vacations are more memorable than a new bog garden, so vacation it was 🙂

maine portland headlight

One of Maine’s most photographed lighthouses, Portland Head Light.  After WWII, my uncle was stationed at neighboring Fort Williams so we’ve been visiting this site for a good 40 years now.  It’s always picture-perfect. 

We did a pitstop in lower Maine and then headed to the Canadian border and Campobello Island.  Five days of being outside, wearing sweatshirts, cooking on a campstove, and enjoying the scenery.  The kids and I enjoyed it… the wife again chose to stay home, close to electricity, wifi and central air 🙂

lubec maine

Looking across the channel to Lubec, Maine.  

These trips of course pass too quickly, so now it’s back to contemplating the maturing season and the back to school fliers.  I dislike both so lets instead look at how the latest projects have progressed.  You could probably guess that no one picked up a shovel to finish things off while I was gone.

hellebore garden

The new hellebore garden.  Mid August is not a good time to transplant hellebores, I believe after blooming is recommended, but after years of saying they needed to be moved if the mood strikes better to act on it. 

The new shade garden is already filled with hellebores.  I nearly died of heat stroke and probably lost about three pounds of water weight digging them out of the full sun spot in the potager and moving them, but the plants seem just fine in spite of the heat.  I wish I could say the same for the shovel I used to dig them.  Hellebore roots are strong, and apparently that strength is more than what was left in the shovel’s handle, so a new one was the first post-vacation gardening purchase.  Fortunately the bog garden construction required no tool-sacrifices.

bog container garden

Ok so the new bog garden is far, far, less impressive than a handful of transplanted hellebores, but I’m quite pleased with it.  Of course the most interesting pitcher plant is already half dead but the rest look promising and I’d still like to find some moss to add.  The pitcher plants were left potted so they’d be above the highest water level, but there’s absolutely no reason for the log.  I just thought it was a nice thing to add.

So maybe the projects aren’t rolling along as much as the calendar says they should.  Maybe it will happen this week… although the weather says otherwise… or maybe not.  You can’t follow a relaxing vacation filled with cool, foggy ocean breezes with a jump right back into the hot dog days of August.  You have to ease your way back, and for me I was happy enough to get the lawn mowed again and edged, especially since to do so involved first replacing the lawnmower blade due to a violent run-in with a hidden rock.

tropical garden

Looking past the tropical garden into the backyard.  The green of the lawn is misleading considering nearly all of it is weeds and annual crabgrass. 

Of course I took all these pictures prior to any work being done.  Even a single day away from the garden needs to be followed up with a thorough garden tour 🙂

front border

It’s only been a week but with plenty of rain and some serious heat things have grown quite a bit.  To my surprise no one has questioned the milkweed sprouts growing in the lawn or the gourds creeping in from the sides.  Even when I mowed, I mowed around them.  I like lawn, but a few interesting weeds are always an improvement!

All over things are exploding with color.  Again the sunflowers have taken over, and again I love it.  I’m always surprised by how well they elbow their way in, even with all the bird snacking and weed smothering mulch.  I tried ripping a bunch from the tropical border and the potager but as you can see I’m about as good at that as I am at finishing projects 😉

front border

The front border at its peak.  Even after skimping on this spring’s annual plantings it’s still managed to come together. 

I’m thinking about ordering topsoil and more mulch in order to finish the bed expansion which happened when the bog was planted.  It just makes sense to shovel and move tons of stuff when the humidity shoots up to one billion percent and the forecast calls for a nice little spell of heat.  If worse comes to worse I’ll just let it block the garage for a few weeks until the guilt overcomes me, and if I’m really lucky the sweaty mess of it all will make me almost relieved to see summer winding down.  Maybe.  I doubt it though.

Have a great week!

Rollin with Summer

August approaches, and with it come some of the best outdoor moments of the year.  I love how the garden comes together now, and how everything is just full of humming and buzzing and color.  It’s a treat each day, and my only complaint is how fast the days fly by.

front border

The front border on the last days of July.  Less annual color this year but still a few interesting things to check out each day.

We were away last week on vacation and missed some of the hottest days of the year, but that’s fine with me since it was plenty hot on the island we visited.  The heat here in Pennsylvania was tempered by a few downpours though, and even after a week of neglect the garden still looked fine.

mixed perennial border

I’m starting to wonder if I should try and tame the inner reaches of the front border.  This time of year it starts to look a little messy with self-sown rudbeckia, sunflowers, and phlox.

The fact that the garden carried on fine without me is a little insulting but when it’s messy to begin with I suppose a little more messy doesn’t show.  I’ll take that as one of the perks of having a far from perfect garden, but I did devote a Friday evening to mowing, and a Saturday morning to deadheading and weeding the front borders and I think it did make a difference.

squash seedlings

Neatness would be much improved if I would only stand up to the interesting little things that show up on their own, but I can’t, and although good design never called for a squash patch on the front lawn, it looks like that’s what we’re going to have.

Everything out front is about the same as it always is but I did notice one change.  There seem to be fewer wasps and bees this year, and more flies.  That of course could change in a week, but as I was staking the steely blue eryngium I didn’t have that usual fear-of-sting like I normally do, and I was surprised.

hydrangea limelight

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ with rudbeckia triloba, eryngium planum, and a few branches of willow ‘Golden Sunshine’.  Yes.  It’s messy here as well.

Hopefully the missing bees and wasps are just an annual blip in bug populations, but I halfway think it’s got something to do with all the bulldozing and construction that went on behind our house.  When they finished off the industrial park, a big chunk of rocky, scrubby, weedy, woodsy habitat was leveled off, and is now either mulched or turf and not at all interesting to anything other than woodchucks.

mixed perennial border

Sedum ‘Bon Bon’ is looking exceptionally nice between the blues and the yellows of the front foundation plantings.  Yes it’s messy here as well and I really need to edge and divide the blue fescue, but that’s not something I’m willing to give up pool time for.

Not to look forward to messiness, but I did go back there this weekend with a sprayer of roundup and an eye for anything particularly invasive.  The weeds and brush will return on their own, but I just want to make sure things like Japanese knotweed, crownvetch, bindweed, and poison ivy don’t gain the upper hand.  I guess you could say I’m a weed connoisseur.

But don’t let all this talk of weeds become too distracting.  I gave the front yard a once over and then did the backyard on Sunday.  Neither looks too bad now and I’ll post more photos shortly, but in the meantime I’m particularly happy with the hardy agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ which is slowly clumping up for me at the far end of the front border.  I think this is year three for it, and each spring when it comes back I’m always excited to see a few more shoots, and each summer when it blooms I’m wowed by the saturated color.

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ handled -5F last winter without a problem or any kind of protection.

So that’s it for now.  The heat of summer has things slowing down a bit, and as long as I don’t slow down as well there might be a chance of catching up on projects.  We’ll see.   There are two more trips planned and that’s always a lot more fun 🙂

Three Things

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

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

front perennial border

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

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

kniphofia alcazar

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

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

lily silk road tree lily

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

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

lily leslie woodriff

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

Just a few more…

lily conca d'or

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

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

tiger lily lancifolium

Lilium lancifolium the tiger lily.  

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

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

potager phlox paniculata

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

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

alcea rugosa russian hollyhock

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

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