The Foundation Planting

Our latest arctic blast has got me going through old pictures, and I found a few that have been sitting around for a while.  They’re all about the bed along the front of the house, and they all relate to a redesign I attempted this past spring.  Let me know what you think!

The house we live in now was built by my wife’s grandparents in the late 1950’s, and is probably still considered stylish by many.  Unfortunately we don’t share that retro-Italianate taste in ranches and set about to change things up while remodeling.  This was our front view circa spring 2009, not long after we moved in.retro landscapingThe combination of toddler, new baby, and home renovations is a fun mix, and outside changes were mostly put onto the back burner,  but that summer I did manage to get out the salmon colored edging and covered the colorful red bark mulch with a more natural shade.  I’m not saying it looked better, but at least it’s a little less sterile looking.Summer 2009If I was forced to give an answer I would probably say I hate the orangey color of our brick.  We’re stuck with it though, and since there’s not much of a design flair in me the collector gene took over, and all the cuttings and divisions I collected easily found a home in the vacant mulch beds.  By 2011 the mess was spreading and in an attempt to reign in the disorder I consulted with the ‘can’t beat em join em” theory.  I tried to embrace the orange by entering into a red phase.  I figured if I planted an even brighter scarlet then perhaps it would be bright enough to distract viewers from the orange brick…. or maybe I was trying to offend the neighbors, I don’t know- but I would like to challenge anyone out there to show me an example of red salvia used tastefully 🙂Late August 2011

Maybe Secretly I delighted in reds and chartreuse, and I think I still do….. just not in the front bed highlighting the orange brick.  This lovely combo has been saved and moved to the tropical bed to face down the already-overwhelmingly tasteful white vinyl privacy fencing there…. I’m not sure it looks much better there, but at least I’m sparing the neighbors from this assault of color. (fyi the hummingbirds loved it)the landscape's red phase

Now what to do?  The next year I had no enthusiasm for the bed without my lovely coleus and salvia.  A few perennials filled in to give it a fuller look, but it still lacks something.  The blue spruce was getting too big for under the window, and the Chamaecyparis too tall….. and I was getting tired of trimming the silly pompom juniper. Fall 2012So late that fall I laid out a bed expansion.  Truth be told I over estimated the space available for tulips, so after lining out the new border I dug tulips in all around in the lawn and then left the grass for spring removal.  Dec 2012That spring as the tulips came up through the overturned sod, I finished digging under the rest of the grass.digging under the turf

Moving the spruce was no picnic, and I almost thought it would die (considering how many roots I cut) but I think it will be much better off in the new position, and give a nice anchor to the end of the bed.  Fortunately for me, just when the shrub moving started to get too back-breaking, a buddy stopped by to help.a friend stops by

Soooo, here’s the finished product.  I moved a small paperbark maple over a few feet to be included in the bed, lined it with blues fescue divisions, and placed three tiny holly bushes where the spruce was.  Against all other urges I tried to limit the plant choices and plant in groups.  The curve is a little odd, but I’ll work on that during the next expansion 😉the "finished" product

With mulch applied and tulips blooming, it didn’t look half bad, but to be honest I still didn’t like it.  (one of the reasons you rarely see pictures of this border)foundation planting with tulips

I do like the yucca “color guard”.  It and the blue fescue seem to be a nice fit for this border.yucca colorguard with blue fescueBlues, yellows , and greens seem to complement the house better than all the loud mixed up flower colors.  For a couple weeks I didn’t mind this look, even as the tulip foliage yellowed and died off.  But then boredom and excess plants struck, and I was back to my old ways of sneaking in a few new plants here and there. dying foliage of tulips

Red cabbage wasn’t the worst color to add, but maybe it was just a little inappropriate for a front yard foundation planting.  Coleus crept in again, and the sunflower seedlings looked so innocent in the early summer…. but the lavender with the yucca and blue fescue kept it respectable.red cabbage in the border

Sunflower explosion.  Still better than my red experiment, but not yet the look I was going for.  midsummer abundance

Maybe annuals are just not a good choice for this bed.  I’ll rethink it next year and maybe skip the dahlias too 🙂   For now I’ll use the excuse that they distract you from the too-small hollies planted under the window…. better to be distracted than to be downright bored I think….  By the way those hollies better get growing, I want them nice and big and prickly by the time my little daughter starts to consider things like sneaking out a window or meeting some Romeo who comes by throwing pebbles.too much color again

The border last month (before winter and winter boredom hit).December 2013

Four things:  bigger plants, get rid of the grasses, remove the tall evergreen, and stick to a mellow color palette…. and of course expand the bed just a few more feet 🙂  Any other suggestions?  I know there will be some good ones and I’m looking forward to hearing them as well as hearing some more criticism.  I can take it, and I’m hoping it will get me back on the path that leads to me finally liking this bed!

Hang in there Summer!

Cooler temperatures and earlier sunsets.  There’s no denying that summer is losing its grip, and with the kids starting school this week I guess it’s time to face reality.  Summer will not go on forever.  But delusion is a beautiful thing, and that’s what I’m sticking to, and for now at least I’ll focus on late August flowers….. not September.

The front border is hanging in there in spite of the dry weather, and my half hearted watering seems enough to keep it this side of parched crispy.  Agastache “Tutti Fruitti” (I think), Russian sage, and the seedheads of “Karl Foerster” feather reed grass carry the show.

august perennials

Further into the bed it gets a little messy, and I bet deadheading the butterfly bush would help, but in the meantime it’s all almost one big wave of buzzing, fluttering color.  Lower left is “Karley Rose” pennisetum, basically carefree but not as sturdy as “Karl Foerster”.  The Russian sage and butterfly bushes just keep going….august perennials

From the street it looks a bit messy, but maybe it distracts people from the dead grass…. here’s ‘Royal Red’ Butterfly bush (Buddleia).  It’s a little thin this year for some reason, but I’m sure it will be back to normal next year.

august perennials

Also from the street, “Limelight” hydrangea paniculata.  Probably my favorite hydrangea, and it can get as big as it wants here.  The flowers start with a tinge of limey green, go white , and then blush with a bit of pink and red, and believe it or not the blooms are small this year (probably due to the dry summer).  Still there’s plenty of white flower overkill going on here!august perennialsThe extra water I give the hydrangea seems to be welcomed by its neighbors.  I love that this little milk thistle (Silybum marianumhas) sprouted up under the hydrangea.  august perennialsI don’t think it will amount to much this year, but maybe I’ll get lucky and have it overwinter and bloom.  Up till now I’ve only been successful with it as an annual.

If you’re bored, look up the history of milk thistle.  It’s been used medicinally for over 2,000 years and is still recommended today for the same liver disorders as it was in the middle ages.   Liver cancer, hepatitis, liver damage due to toxins…. mushroom poisioning….all this and it’s spiny with great foliage.  I love spiny!

The far end of the street border is still filling in.  I can always count on the no-name, purple leaved cannas to give a nice background, and the ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia looks good in front of them.  I tried a couple marigolds in here too this year, they’re still small, but are taking the dry heat without a single complaint.  One of the great things about annuals is the chance to do it all differently next year.  I’m not sure if the brown-orange color is one I’ll chose to repeat.august perennials

Front border update

Looking back on the weather, I believe I picked the hottest days of the year to do my digging, transplanting and bed expanding.  It’s cooled a bit recently but the strong sun and spotty rain combined with my thin skin of topsoil have left things a little tired looking.  Crispy tan grass dominates the yard, but here and there is some fresh color to keep me motivated.

Here’s how the new transplants are doing.  The ‘Tropicanna’ cannas love the heat and don’t look bad next to the airy fennel that’s trying to take over the mailbox.  It’s been cut back a bunch due to the huge numbers of pollinating wasps drawn in to the flowers… no one needs a mailbox that buzzes.august perennial border

The street side of the border isn’t nearly as well kempt as the freshly weeded, freshly planted house side, but it looks interesting with a lively mix of Russian sage (perovskia), sedum, and lamb’s ears (stachys ‘Helen von Stein’) with all kinds of self-sown volunteers such as phlox.august perennial border

I’ve been busy re-taming this border after returning from our recent Florida vacation.  Ten days of living the suburban dream of Disney and a tropical beach in late July, it doesn’t get any more relaxing than that.  Pulling crabgrass in the blazing August sun (without a million other people) was a refreshing return.

The annual coleus and zinnia seedlings liked the heat and it also brought out blooms on the butterfly bushes and ‘Limelight’ hydrangea.

august perennial border

I love the hydrangea, it’s getting to be on the big side but I’m all for big plants in the garden.  ‘Limelight’ is a type of hydrangea paniculata, a group that blooms in late summer (usually white or pinkish), tolerates dryer soils, welcomes full sun and flowers reliably each year.  It blooms on new growth, so you could take a chainsaw to the thing in spring and still get a mass of blooms later in the year.  ‘Limelight’ has a nice greenish tint to the new blooms and has stems strong enough to keep the heavy flower heads from flopping.august perennial borderAnother all-summer bloomer is rose of Sharon (althea syriacus), they laugh at heat and drought and are nearly impossible to kill.  They have some well known faults, and two of the biggest are it’s late leafing out and it’s enthusiastic reseeding habits, but I grow it anyway.  ‘august perennial borderDiana’ is a sterile white cultivar and an awesome plant, but with all the white vinyl around here I can only fit in so many bright white flowers, so the one I grow is ‘Blue Bird’. ‘Blue Bird’ earned its spot because of the trouble free blue color of its blooms.  I don’t think it’s as showy as some of the others but the color is worth a little seeding around.  Every now and then I think it has a little look of weediness to it, and even though in my garden this isn’t a noticeable fault, in some more refined plantings this might stick out.  I guess  that’s a cross better gardeners are meant to bear.

Drought tolerance is something that everything in this street border has to deal with.  Perovskia, self-sown gloriosa daisies (rudbeckia), and ornamental grasses all take it in stride.  It’s a little messy, but right now I think the color holds up well to the bright sun and higher temperatures…. no room for pastels here…. The purple ‘Laura’ phlox gets extra water now and then, it handles a little dry weather and heat, but complains the whole time.august perennial border

‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass doesn’t complain about anything.  A haircut in the spring is all the maintenance it needs and if you like the grassy look this is what it gives you all summer, fall, and winter.  Doesn’t reseed, doesn’t need fertilizer, looks good all year…….I’m a fan.august perennial border

‘Karley Rose’ fountain grass is another good one.  It can get floppy after a rain, and doesn’t hold the good looks through the winter like Karl does, but makes a nice accent. august perennial border

Hopefully the annuals planted last month will fill in and make an accent before frost.  The newest plantings look more like a late May picture than an intro to August, but such is procrastination.  At least I’ll have a few empty spots to shoehorn spring bulbs into once that planting season starts. 🙂august perennial border

Best wishes for your August garden!

Annabelle

It was a dry spring, but based on the weather pattern we’re in now it won’t be a dry summer.  That’s fine with me since I hate watering, but others with different summer plans will disagree.  I took advantage of a break in the rain today and finally cut the grass.  Pretty much everything is lush and thick due to the extra water and the hydrangeas are no exception.

I grow “Annabelle” in a couple places around the yard but here at the edge of the orchard is the plant that seems happiest.hydragea annabelle

I think this plant came from a small shoot I felt bad for and stuck into the ground while planting daffodils.  It does well amongst the weeds and always puts on a great show with these volleyball sized bloom clusters.  “Annabelle” is one of the arborescens type hydrangeas.  Hydrangea arborescens is the species and it’s a different species than the less hardy florist hydrangeas (the blue/pink or purple ones), oakleaf hydrangeas, and the late summer h. paniculata (the big white or pinkish late summer bloomers).  They’re native around here and are commonly found along creeks and streams, just in a little more modest bloom form.  hydragea annabelle“Invincibelle spirit” (pink) and “incrediball” are also arborescens types that have recently come out, but the first has a pink color that I’m not crazy over and the second just hasn’t found its way into my garden yet (it’s supposed to be less floppy).  Arborescens hydrangeas are easy and reliable bloomers.  I cut mine back completely in the spring and that’s about all I do and still get a great show.  Water is about the only thing they might ask for.  Mine are in full sun and in years of less regular rain the plants wilt, die back, and the blooms get crispy edges due to my neglect.

“Annabelle” has been around for a while.  She was found back in 1910 in the wilds outside of Anna Illinois by Harriet Kirkpatrick, and it was her and her sister Amy that brought the original plant into their garden.  After decades of passing along from gardener to gardener “Annabelle” hit the big time in 1962 when she was introduced to the nursery trade.  She’s still a great garden plant.  This is a larger clump that slowly spreads a bit each year via short runners.  If I had a big yard with a little shade I think I’d have to spread these out to fill in a huge swath of white.hydragea annabelle