A Good Soak

A strange thing happened about two weeks ago.  Without any warning or cause, the gardener here snapped out of his lazy spell.  I think it started out of necessity, with plants that were purchase for next door… and weren’t all that cheap and had to be planted before the heat and forgotten waterings took their toll… but then it took on a life of its own.  Weeds were pulled, lawns edged, trees pruned, plants planted.  You’re probably  thinking to yourself ‘well of course, I’ve been doing that since March’, but here that hasn’t been the case.  Here neglect was creeping in.  Here they’re hoping this new gardener stays on and the place is brought back to halfway decent shape.

potager beds

The potager doesn’t look too impressive with its beds of yellowing tulip foliage, but the most rank weeds have finally been pulled and a few legitimate plantings have taken place.  There’s even a nice supply of lettuce coming in as a first harvest.

I’ve noticed that the gardener’s ambition rises and falls with the weather.  Last weekend was cold, and for as much as everyone else was full of complaints and misery, the gardener here was reinvigorated.  “How long have you been out there?  Your cheeks are freezing”  was the question, and “all day” was the response.  Even when the rain was pouring down the gardener was dragging out (way too many) stored bulbs, potting up (way too many) purchased caladiums, and starting (way too many) unnecessary seeds.  I think the gardener knows that there are few if any empty spots to plant, but he doesn’t seem to care.

potager beds

The nicer end of the potager where the gardener would often sit rather than work.  ‘Purple Splash’ is finally settling in and will hopefully scale the arbor, but as of this week the gardener still doesn’t like it.  He claims it’s very nice, but it’s not “beautiful”, and all roses should be beautiful or at least movingly fragrant.

Even if the gardener is getting some work done, he’s still just as easily distracted as ever.

calycanthus aphrodite

Calycanthus x ‘Aphrodite’ is more beautiful in a sculptural way than many roses, but like ‘Purple Splash’ also lacks a decent scent.  It looks like it should be wafting a fragrant cloud across the pepper and tomato plantings, but sadly the gardener smells nothing.

Roses have been a distraction, and even the lazy version of our gardener was spending a good amount of time planting the new ones and fussing over the older bushes.  He misses the scents of iris season, but now when the fruity fragrance of rose drifts by it’s not as bad.

rose westerland

‘Westerland’ is beautiful.  I love the color and am thrilled it see it settling in.

The gardener is hoping that 2021 will be his first exciting rose year since the small cuttings and bareroot plantings of the past two years are finally beginning to amount to something.  I’ve told the gardener that some regular fertilizing and water would do the roses wonders and probably have them topping arbors within a year, but the gardener is stubborn on top of lazy, and the roses are raised “tough”… which you probably know isn’t a thing, it’s just an excuse for them not growing as well as they could.

digitalis mertonensis

The first strawberry foxglove (Digitalis mertonensis) is the one that planted itself right on top of a snowdrop clump.  Foxgloves were one of my first plant fascinations btw.

Not to get distracted yet again but the foxgloves are coming, and although they don’t do well for me, even a poorly grown plant looks exceptional.

digitalis purpurea

The first common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) to survive to blooming in years has me excited, so of course I was crushed to see the wall of foxgloves a friend was enjoying this year… but if seeing nicer gardens is really discouraging I would have quit this years ago!

Of course one lone foxglove in bloom had me imagining all the amazing things the gardener could do with foxgloves so that brings me to the reason I’m enjoying rain while the rest of the country bakes under a bubble of heat.  I was distracted.  I was fantasizing about the latest offerings from the little Rhode Island Nursery known as Issima.  They had a common D. purpurea but with cool grayish foliage and a light fuzz to it, and I hemmed and hawed over D. purpurea ssp. heywoodii long enough that it sold out (which happens rather quickly to this ’boutique’ nursery) so of course I bought other stuff instead.

So I blame indecision for the reason this post has been in progress for four days now.  That and a party at our house for a dozen teen and pre-teen girls and of course other stuff.  There’s always other stuff and it’s usually good, but not always.

Hope your other stuff is good this week 🙂

Start Your Engines!

Something odd got into me last week.  After what has probably been months of the usual laziness I started a few tasks.  Then I went on to new ones.  Before I knew it I was being productive, and although I feel more sore than accomplished, I do feel like I finally made a little headway.

front border rose aicha

I took a break on Sunday from porch cleaning to get a few photos.  Here’s the front border with the pale yellow, single blooms of the rose ‘Aicha’ mixed in with the blue of colombine (aquilegia)

This weekend I spent Friday digging trade plants and opening the pool, Saturday traveled on a gardening adventure, and then Sunday tried to make the yard more summer-friendly since it was awfully hot and that seemed the right thing to do.  Monday it was lawn mowing, trimming, watering… and I even started to pickaxe a few holes into the berm for more arborvitae plantings.  Finally today I finished the planting (just four bushes) but it felt like a major accomplishment since the hard-packed, rocky “soil” fought me all the way.

rose Aicha

‘Aicha’ is a beauty.  I hope she gets just a little taller so I can thread a small clematis through her for the ‘off’ season.

Tomorrow I’m home for a “Dr’s appointment”.  I’d also like to spend some time outside and see if I can get the vegetable garden moving, but we will see if new ambition beats the forecast heat.  In theory I could spend the day by the pool with just a few breaks to admire the iris, but for now I’m hoping ambition wins, since wouldn’t that be just terrible to waste a day off swimming and doing next to nothing?

iris historic sunol

The historic iris ‘Sunol’ (1933) growing in the foundation beds.  Usually it has a bronze flush to the falls, but perhaps that faded this year in the heat.  

Speaking of the lure of sloth, last summer I had hoped to reclaim some of the front border for more iris plantings but once things filled in it was a struggle to find open spots and as usual I resorted to edge planting.  Edge planting lets me shoehorn in a couple more plants along the outer fringes even if the outer fringe looks better empty.  If never looks that great having plants hanging off the edge of the bed like that, but when the place is filled that’s as good as it gets.

historic iris romeo

Historic iris ‘Romeo’ (1912) has a cool look to the falls which is different from the others I grow.  

So (again) the plan is to clear a few swathes where iris can go.  It’s been dry, which is good for bearded iris, but if the summer turns wet this gardener might be tempted to fill in with all kinds of annuals and various other showier things which are great in the fall… but are not iris.

historic iris elsinore

‘Elsinore’ (1932) is another somewhat unique historic iris which I like very much 🙂 

Regardless, I have faith that a few iris will again fill a sizeable chunk of the border.  I may have to resort to a few of the hardier ones which don’t mind some summer shade, but it needs to be done since a May without an overload of beaded iris is completely unacceptable.

historic iris indian chief

‘Indian Chief’ (1929) is not my favorite color, but the plants handle competition and some shade quite well, so of course it gets an invite.

So iris are on the to-do list… somewhere… and in the meantime I need to focus on planting and watering…. and weeding of course, but I think you know how I feel about a strong commitment to weed-free beds vs saving a few of the more interesting ones 🙂

scotch thistle

A big Scotch thistle(Onopordum acanthium) has come up in a spot reserved for phlox and snowdrops.  It’s as prickly as it looks and of course I love this (listed as noxious in several western states) weed.   

Even if the weeding doesn’t happen, hopefully I can at least show off a respectable vegetable-filled potager in another week or two.

perennial border

From a distance of greater than 20 feet, much of the garden doesn’t look bad.  I just wish it passed the five foot rule!

Wish me luck.  I’m already thinking that the best plan is to head to the nursery in the AM and start the day with new vegetable transplants… and likely a few more flowers…  Obviously deep down inside I know buying more plants doesn’t help the four new rose bushes, various overwintered tropicals, trays of sprouted seedlings, and the haul from last weekend’s rock garden society sale that are sitting on the driveway, but it’s more fun and I’m always up for that.

Hope you have a fun week 🙂

And Then It Was Summer

Well now it’s official, the first roses are in bloom.

rose john cabot

Rose, possibly ‘John Cabot’, opening up at the far end of the front border.

I don’t think anyone out there dislikes roses.  They might not like growing them, but to dislike them or harbor worse opinions seems out of the question and even borderline suspicious to me.  There are a few roses around here but I’ve tried to hold back.  Rose Rosette Disease is in the wild roses all around us, and I’d hate to see it jump into the garden and decimate any big plantings I might end up putting in.  Unless they’re irresistibly fragrant of course.  The workhorses I have right now are barely fragrant, and at the start fo each summer I always give a little thought to adding something with a fierce perfume.  This year I’m thinking rugosas, and we’ll see if I can hold strong or not.

lupine red rum

A surprising return from last year, ‘Red Rum’ lupine.  I still think it’s amazing and of course want more.

The front border along the street is still riding high with the last of the iris and alliums and a returning lupine star from last year.  I was sure the lupine would would be a one and done wonder but here it is in year two looking even better.  Between the lupine and some new allium schubertii I’m really pleased how it looks.  Usually the iris are followed by a lull, but not this year!

allium schubertii

A closer look at Allium schubertii.  Not super showy, but definitely super cool.

You may have heard it mentioned that someone here is going through an iris phase.  It’s true, and I guess it’s been building for longer than I’d care to admit.  Two years ago ‘Bayberry Candle’ was added, and this year I’m seeing how a flower which is not bright nor flashy, can still be rich and amazing.

iris bayberry candle

Iris ‘Bayberry Candle’ (1966)

It’s possible there have been other iris as well.  ‘Gerald Darby’ was showing off his purple foliage earlier in the year and now has sent up several purple tinged flower stalks topped with several elegant (purple of course) flowers.

iris gerald darby

Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ in bloom.

These later iris are part of what I call the ‘water iris’ group.  That term would likely make a more knowledgable iris grower cringe, but for me it’s one of the beardless iris which do well enough in occasionally soggy, and my always clayish soil, even to the point of sitting in water.  I put the invasive yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) in this group, and although it’s a little too sloppy for me I do have the brown veined ‘Berlin Tiger’ version which will hopefully not seed around and spread as much as the standard variety.  This one has the distinction of being one of my most expensive iris, since even though the original plant was free from a friend (thanks Kathy!) I may have been tempted to search out similar varieties, order them from far away, and then add other things just to round out a decent order…. and I’m still thinking I should add a few more this summer…

iris berlin tiger

The finely veined flowers of iris ‘Berlin Tiger’ are pretty darn interesting.

Moving out of the iris world it’s also peony season.  On the plus side my garden is too small and this gardener is too fickle to invest in bunches and bunches of these.  I’m counting that as a good thing since if it weren’t set up that way I’m sure I could devote quite a few beds to these opulent flowers and surely I’d go overboard.

peony Do Tell

Peony ‘Do Tell’ wallowing in a weedy side bed.  I hope you believe that it’s been cleaned up since this photo was taken 😉

At this time of year the gardener is spending most of his time weeding and mowing, but what he really needs to do is finish planting.  Last weekend overwintered bulbs went into the tropical garden, and in an attempt to buy some time from the weeds the lawn clippings were collected and spread around as a mulch.

the tropical garden

Not the most attractive soil cover, but it sure beats an ocean of verbena and prickly lettuce seedlings.  In a few weeks you hopefully won’t even notice it under all the new growth.

I do prefer thick perennial plantings as a way of crowding out weeds rather than the trouble of mulching and cultivating, but a full bed in June doesn’t leave much room for all those annuals I’d like to still add.  Hopefully this doesn’t become a regret in August.

allium nigrum amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia hubrichtii in front with its oddly icy colored pale blue flowers, and Allium nigrum rising up in the center.  I’ve been warned that the allium will be impossible to get rid of, so I pretend to be happy with its multiplying and just let it be.  

Maybe I will whack a few things back today and sneak a few castor beans and cannas in.  I also have a few orange marigolds which should really class things up, so maybe this weekend…  In the meantime here’s one more picture of my little darling ‘Red Rum’ lupine, I honestly look at this plant a million times a day.

lupine red rum

One last view of ‘Red Rum’.  The color is exciting, just try to avoid spelling the name backwards.

All the best for this weekend.  Hopefully you are either well into it or have already had an excellent time of it, I know I plan to 🙂

I just have to avoid the temptation of nursery hopping this weekend… in the hopes of finding some fragrant rugosa roses.  We’ll see.

Tuesday View: The Tropics 09.27.16

Of course it’s late, and of course I’ve left this to the last minute, but I’d really like to join in with Cathy at Words and Herbs and get my Tuesday view up on time.  I can’t be a day late with everything 🙂

tuesday view tropical plants

The last Tuesday view of September

Cathy’s view has hints of autumn this week and I believe the same is happening here.  The last two nights have been into the chilly zone, and friends North of here have had their first frosts.  In the mountains, the maples are beginning to show color this week and if I can hope for anything it’s that there will be for another two or three weeks before the first frost hits here.  It’s been a good run though, and I really can’t complain.

canna x ehemanii

My little Canna x ehemanii surprised me with a bloom this summer, hopefully I can overwinter it and have twice as big a plant next year.

Color is at a peak this week and most everything is doing its best to flower and seed out before the final axe of winter falls.  It’s a tropical garden after all, and there’s no long kiss goodnight.  The first frost means it’s over.

roses and dahlias

My unknown peachy dahlia with ‘Black Forest’ rose, ‘fireworks’ gomphrena, and peach colored salvia splendens.  Even though the light wasn’t too good for this photo the colors still just explode. 

So I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and enjoy each day.  Winter is too long to not soak up every last minute of summer (and this borrowed summer) while we still can.  Have a great week!

Tuesday View: The Tropics 7.11.16

This week I was a little late in the day with my photo so it’s full of artsy backlighting.  A good effect for soft lighting, but not the best to see what’s going on in a Tuesday view.


The tropical garden at about 7 in the afternoon.

One thing which you will likely notice is the pile of grass trimmings and the wheelbarrow.  It was a busy afternoon in the bed and much of this was the result of the bed’s new designation as the Tuesday view.  Who would have suspected joining in with this meme would be the motivation needed to buckle down and make some of the changes I’ve been thinking about for the past few years?

rose 'black forest'

Not exactly tropical, but the color of the rose ‘black forest’ is hot enough to fit right in.  This is already its second flush of bloom and other than a few holes chewed into the leaves (most likely from some annoying beetle) it’s almost perfect.  Last year this plant was potted on the deck, still great but much younger and smaller.

Change one: The variegated miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’ had too much of a head start on the new plantings so I went ahead and cut it down to about a foot high.  We will see how this works out since I’ve never tried it before, but it’s grass right?  I suspect just like a scalped lawn it will send up plenty of new shoots, and in the meantime the cannas and dahlias will be able to grow upwards in peace and lay claim to their own airspace.

newly planted musa basjoo

Change two:  A newly planted banana (Musa basjoo) has replaced the peony which was just taking up space here… and mildewing.  When sunflowers grew up and covered it in years past there was no reason for it to bother me, but now it does so out it went.  I’ve never composted a peony, it seems absolutely criminal and I’m not sure I should be confessing, but there you go.  I yanked a few salvia as well.

We were gone for four days last week and the garden nearly dried out and died due to the heat.  Rumor has it rain fell, but of course all the big storms avoided us.  When I returned to see the pathetic state of my plants I first cursed, then cursed some more, and then decided to mow everything down and give up for the year, but after watering that evening and then the next day visiting my favorite nursery (Perennial Point), things seemed less bleak.  They had awesome bananas and elephant ears and a bunch of other stuff and in my weakened state two new bananas came home with me (plus a new fern and red hot poker).

Kochia Scoparia

Kochia Scoparia is a new one for me.  The common names are burning bush and summer cypress and I suspect I will like it, but for now keep in mind it’s listed as a noxious weed in several Midwestern states.

I didn’t need the bananas, but I did need the bananas, especially after seeing how well they have done for my brother in his zone 7 LI, NY garden.  In case you’re wondering, Musa basjoo is likely the hardiest banana, and although I won’t get into all the logistics of me being the one to give him the plants in the first place, and him being completely deaf to all hints at how much I wanted one and which one could he spare… I now have one again and promise to mulch it well EVERY winter so it doesn’t die off again.

long term weed killer

The rest of the zinnias are doing well, but I suspect my MIL was again a little heavy-handed with the weed killer here since it’s a dead spot which seems to stunt all life.  She has an unexplained attraction to any herbicide which says ‘controls weeds for months’, and this in turn stunts and kills anything planted in the treated area or anything planted near the runoff area… for months.

So here we are again, all over the place on what should be a simple post.  I promise to get less wordy once we get through this planting and intro phase but for now I can’t help it.  Just be grateful you’re not stuck here on a visit and I’m really going on and on!

lythrum salicaria purple loosestrife

Now what do I do with this?  The flower stalks of a Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) have appeared in the back part of this bed and I like it.  The problem is it’s a terrible invasive in this part of the country, but only in wetlands and my garden is far from being a wetland.

If you’d like to join in the Tuesday view, Cathy at Words and Herbs follows her own view each week and I’m sure she’d welcome the company.  It’s a great way to track changes through the season and apparently it can even motivate some of the less motivated gardeners into tackling a few things on the to-do list!

Rose ‘Livin Easy’

I took full advantage of the cool, generally overcast weather this weekend, and put some solid workdays into the garden.  The deck is cleaned, the pots are planted and the tomatoes are finally planted.  It’s nothing to look at yet, but fortunately this rose is.  It’s ‘Livin Easy’ and although it may not be the newest thing out there and it might not be a color everyone loves, I still think it’s a knockout.

rose livin easy

Oxeye daisies and rose ‘Livin Easy’. Orange isn’t a color everyone loves, but I do.

Some people say it has a fragrance, but it’s not strong enough for my nose.  Even with a lack of fragrance the disease resistant foliage and summer long bloom make up for this fault, and I do nothing other than trim off a few dead branches in the spring and off she goes.  I’m sure fertilizer and more concerned care would do wonders, but I like the way it has become nearly overwhelmed in a sea of daisies.  A real gardener would have probably ripped them out ages ago.

Love hurts

My prickly eryngiums are finally blooming, and to be honest I was a little disappointed by how underwhelming they were.  They gave me the longest wait ever, recently started to color up, and are finally looking cool.  Pollinators of all kinds love them, and these black and white wasps in particular swarm the plants from sunup to sundown.

pollinators on eryngium

The eryngium is very popular with the pollinators small and large.

They’re not as poky as you might think (although falling into a bed of lettuce would be the wiser choice), the more painful thing these plants offer is a nice wasp bite.  Most of the seedlings are a pale silvery color, but a few patches are showing an attractive blue tint.


A few of the eryngium plants are showing off a nice blue tint. I like them, but will be on the lookout for too many seedlings.

Being a lover of all plants which walk the border between spiny farmyard weed and interesting garden plant, I of course love these, but my disappointment comes from the expectation that these would be the famous “Miss Willmott’s Ghost”.  Miss Ellen Willmott was a fascinating gardener, and the strain of eryngium that bears her name should be a stouter plant with wider silvery bracts.  Mine are thinner and tall enough to risk flopping.

small flowered eryngium

These plants are biennials and although they’ll need replacing each year you shouldn’t complain about a plant that blooms itself to death.

While I was struggling to get a decent picture I came to the conclusion this is a real photographer’s plant, with it’s airy blooms, subtle coloring, and busy bug guests. A real photographer could do wonders with it!

I’m sure I’ll get the real ghost someday, but in the meantime there’s no shortage of spiny, dangerous plants in the flowerbeds.  Ptilostemon diacantha is another biennial thistle which I’m totally in love with.  This one’s a real killer though with sharp spines that don’t give up tennis balls easily.

ptilostemon diacantha

Ptilostemon diacantha with nicely lined leaves and spines that feel as sharp as they look.

Sure the spines keep you on your toes, but there are plenty of other thorns out there in the garden.  Can you say rosebush?  Find me a rose grower who never sat down with a box of bandages after wrestling with a wayward climber and I’ll show you a gardener who has a checkbook healthy enough to hire out all the crappy jobs 😉

rose livin' easy

Gratuitous rose photo from earlier in the month. It’s “Livin’ Easy” and I never see blackspot or fungus on it. If it weren’t for the “Knockout” tidal wave sweeping the country I’m sure this would be a much more popular rose…. even with all those nasty sharp thorns 🙂

Here’s my newest little baby.  I finally had success with the cirsium japonicum “white frosted” seeds which I’ve been trying each winter.  They’re everything I love in a plant, variegated foliage, mild spine-age, bold colored thistle blooms (I hope)….. it’s even a perennial (hopefully not an invasive one).  There will surely be plenty of gushingly over the top praise put onto this little plant in the future!

cirsium japonicum white frosted

One of the cutest baby pictures ever of cirsium japonicum “white frosted”.  I hope it grows up to be just as attractive an adult.

The wild bull thistles are blooming around the fringes of the garden and I’ll spare you from those photos.  Weeding will be a gloved affair, but can I just say the pollinators love them and the goldfinches will be thrilled?  Have a great end of the week 🙂

Mid June Color

I’ve been feeling a little insecure about the garden.  It looks ok in spots, but there’s just not much that I consider worth posting.  I’m trying, and I think I’m making a little headway in weeding and planting, but it’s still a mess.  Apparently that leaves me with two choices, either put off posting or post the ugly.  I’m going with the second.  Maybe if I had more skills I could do a couple flower closeups, but my photography just isn’t there so as a result you’re left with weedy, unmulched, undeadheaded garden scenes….. Enjoy!

Here’s “William Baffin” (I believe), a climbing rose that hasn’t yet begun to climb.  It has started suckering though, and I was surprised and pleased to see the suckers blooming as well, and in the same color!  The variegated grass in back is Arundo Donax “variegata”, an awesome bold grass that should reach at least 10 feet by frost.  Because of the size it’s not for everyone and before you get too attached I want you to know it doesn’t keep this color all season.  It tends to “green-out” once heat and drought kick in.rose william baffin

“Blue Hill” salvia.  Nothing fancy about this one.  I call it a parking lot plant since it shows up all over the place, but my snobbery hasn’t pulled it out yet.  Looks like my snobbery also has yet to pull out the horseweed and old iris stalks that frame this picture.  (but give me credit for cropping out the dead dogwood which is right next to this)salvia blue hill

Another parking lot plant, I think it might be a “red carpet” rose, blooming away.  I tried not to show too much of the suffering yucca transplant growing to the front but couldn’t get it all out.  This is an old planting in the newly expanded front bed and hopefully one day I’ll be confident enough to show it off.  I’m back and forth on the colors here and can’t seem to work out what’s nicest in front of the brick.  So far red, yellows and gray are showing up most but I’m still not sure it’s a good look.rose red carpet

This is where I’m focusing right now.  The bed along the street needs a once over to get rid of old iris stalks, rip out overcrowded perennials, plant a couple annual patches, and hopefully get a layer of mulch….. oh and also widen the bed another foot or two 🙂June perennial border

It’s hard to see in the grainy photo, but there’s about a billion fennel seedlings that need to come up.  They’re nice and airy and I like a couple but enough is enough.