Planned Surprises

Saturday I suddenly found myself on the road to Ithaca NY.  It’s about a two hour drive from here and of course I have better things to do locally but wanted to see a few friends, and you know… there was a plant sale.  Just a small thing done among members of the Adirondack chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society, but they have some pretty cool plants and for just two or three dollars a piece all the plants (donated out of member gardens) find a new home that morning.  Of course I was more than happy to help out, and a couple alliums, ferns and a violet are now here in Pa with me and even better, all the extra daffodils I dug this summer are GONE… or at least most of them.  Stupid me thinks I should replant some of the smallest ones to give them a chance to grow out so they won’t be too small to give away?  Don’t ask.  My accounting brilliance is matched only by my business sense.

cornell botanic garden

Cornell Botanic Gardens.  It was nice to stop into a garden which I’m guessing has a couple feet of topsoil, annual mulches of compost, and just the right amount of watering to grow sickeningly well.  Here’s Hydrangea cumulonimbus mocking the approaching storm clouds. 

The plant sale was followed by a luncheon and I just want to say that in between garden talk there was an invite to a garden which I really wanted to see, but I actually opted out of going.  Weird, right?  I think it was a combo of poor sleep, impending bad weather, and an overall end-of-summer-I’m-sick-of-drought-my-garden-is-a-disaster malaise.  In hindsight I wish I’d gone, but at that moment I just wasn’t up to being social any longer so passed.  That was an actual unplanned surprise, since on the way up I had a conscious thought of the possibility of being invited somewhere, and how excellent that would be.  I hope I’m not actually getting old(er)!

carex muskingumensis little midge

I found this sedge to be far cooler than you would imagine a sedge could be.  Carex muskingumensis ‘Little Midge’ I believe, even though the label said ‘Little Midget’ which would also be fitting. Quite the geometry on this little guy.

Apparently I was still young enough to add one side trip to the trip by pulling into the parking lot of the Cornell Botanical Gardens.  I did want to see how their tropical plantings were coming along, but then surprised myself by liking the shade plantings even more.

Mukdenia rossii Crimson Fans

Mukdenia rossii ‘Crimson Fans’.  Seeing this was a first for me, and I always thought the red color was an autumnal, perfect storm, enhanced for catalogs, color effect, but here it is in late August doing its bright crimson thing as if it’s no big deal.  Very nice!

And then it was back home.  I pulled in at a suitably responsible and mature arrival time of 6pm, just in time to enjoy the evening light on the Lycoris.  If you want to talk about surprises the fact any of these are blooming would be the premier surprise since they did not look all that happy this spring, and baked-clay dry summers are not supposed to encourage good bloom with these temperamental divas.

lycoris x squamigera

The most common surprise lily, or Nekkid lady (Lycoris x squamigera), is blooming more than it’s ever bloomed before.  I heard they like derelict, neglected properties so perhaps the random construction debris and bits of trash I’ve thrown here are the secret to a good show.  

There’s actually a second magic lily surprising me this year.  I thought I was successfully killing off most of my plantings, but suddenly there’s an almost clump of Lycoris x incarnata flower stalks poking up between the squash leaves.  If only I knew what went right with this spot I’d repeat it with the other bulbs growing just inches away but worlds apart in flowering-power… as in they’re not flowering at all…  Perhaps they’ll also surprise me but I doubt it.  Someone might have already poked around and found several have lost their roots to some kind of rot, and even though they’re sometimes called magic lilies, I think a miracle is closer to what we need.

lycoris x incarnata

Lycoris x incarnata, aka the peppermint spider lily, is a hybrid of two other Lycoris species.  There are other forms, but this striped version is one of the more common garden forms.  I think it’s quite awesome this year.

These two Lycoris and a few others are the cold-hardy members of a bigger family of bulbs which do well in the warmer Southern states and aren’t all that uncommon down there.  Sadly they’re not hardy enough for this garden, but of course since I’m doing so well with the other ones, I also thought I’d try a few of the more tender types such as L. radiata, the red hurricane lily.  With a bar already set so low by their cousins, it’s not hard to imagine that just the fact they’re still alive counts as a fabulous success.

terrace garden

Other not-cold-hardy things filling space on the sand terrace.  With a timed drip irrigation system this at least is one part of the garden not miserable for rain.

I’ll take whatever fabulous successes I can get.  Today it rained, and although the 0.06″ is not the 0.50″ forecast, it should green up the crabgrass a bit and at least give me a day off from watering… assuming I still even water.  This weekend I almost moved from ‘trying to get a few things through’ to ‘maybe save a few perennials and shrubs so they come back next year’.  That’s basically giving up for the year, and with school ramping up again, and construction crawling along, and with money evaporating faster than the rain, it’s never sounded better… until you consider the alternatives.  Being stuck in front of the tv from now until snowdrop season or taking up a trowel and helping tile, or sitting through an entire football game?  I think even a bad day of looking at weeds and wilted plants has its bright spots and I think I can do it for a few more days.  Lycoris season is always full of surprises, and even if the surprise is in how disappointing they can be, the colchicums will be here soon and I can always count on them.

Have a great week, and may your garden get all the rain it needs 😉

Garbage Day

So it’s been hot and hasn’t rained more than half an inch here in the last three weeks.  My “garden” has always been a little more interesting than it is beautiful, and now with things wilting and dying left and right, on top of the construction debris and damage, my yard has officially entered the trash stage.  Visiting several beautiful gardens last weekend, filled with lush goodies, all artfully combined and arranged was a nice exercise, but did not help my opinion at all so earlier last week I decided to rip half of it out, mulch most of it, and try to save a few bits through the daily triage of going plant to plant with a water hose.

low water perennials

Lawn is not drought tolerant but rudbeckia and a few other things are.  At least not everything is brown.

Maybe we’ll get lucky tonight and the storms rolling through will drop some moisture, but it’s going to take a couple days straight to get anything into the hard-baked soil and that’s not going to happen.  Also the next week’s forecast is full of 90’s (32+C) so any rain tonight is more a teaser than relief.

low water perennials

With half the plants now ripped out, and a couple days of standing around with a water hose under my belt, the front border no longer shouts ‘save me!’  and instead just looks hot.

So plenty of people have it worse, and some people always have it worse, so please don’t feel the need to be nice and sympathetic when this kind of summer really isn’t that out of the ordinary for us.  There’s still plenty of recyclables in this trash pile, and always a few treasures to pick out, such as the orien-pet lily ‘Conca d’Or which dominates the front border this week.  I love everything about it this year, it’s huge, fragrant, creamy lemony, and as solid as a tree.

low water perennials

‘Conca d’Or’, perovskia, and some ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass doing just fine under the triage of ‘just in time’ watering.  

Now faced with a garden of mostly trash, more garden visits sounds like a good idea, right?  I think so, but little did I know how dangerous they can be.  Some friends and I traveled up into the far reaches of Northeastern Pennsylvania this weekend to visit a daylily farm and it was a bad thing…

lambertsons daylilies

A perfect, Idyllic, country view of the daylily sales-field at Lambertson’s Daylilies.  Mark it with a flag, pay, they’ll dig it and it’s yours… what a deadly temptation!

I’m not above taking one for the team, so when a visit to Lambertson’s Daylilys came up in conversation, I of course politely agreed.  “You hate daylilies” was mentioned, and that’s kind of extreme, but I can be nice and keep my thoughts to myself when opinions vary… and try not to relentlessly steamroll people with my beliefs and opinions just like all adults should… but I’m digressing… we met for breakfast and all of us headed out for a day at the farm.

lambertsons daylilies

Some of the display beds coming into bloom around the house.  No trash here! 

I bought one.  It’s planted and gets checked way too much each morning.  Today I cross-pollinated a few flowers and I’m already thinking about going back to see about picking another one… or possibly two… dammit…

growing daylilies

The mother in law’s garden bed and it also looks very non-trash.  I guess I’ll have to swipe a bit of this one and add it to my new daylily adventure.

When I returned home (filled with delicious ice cream because of course we had enough sense to stop at a dairy while in farm country) I put a critical eye towards the depressingly stunted tropical garden.  A daylily would look good in there.

low water perennials

Even with watering there’s little hope for this year’s tropical garden.  I’m far too lazy and cheap to water properly and the cannas are knee-high rather than chest height.

Seriously.  It’s the perfect spot for a daylily patch… bed… border… growing field  😉  The peak bloom will match pool season, and that’s when this sidewalk gets nearly all its traffic.

lambertsons daylilies

My selection out of the farm’s seedling patch.  At Lambertson’s the seedlings grow for a number of years, the under performers are culled out and most of the good ones are just sold as un-named seedlings.      

Tree lilies, daylilies… I’m sensing a theme for easing the pain of a better-for-the-pool-than-the-garden summer.  Waterlilies fit right into that.

pink water lily

The pond is thick with debris and whatever else washes in off the construction site, but the pink water lily has never grown as lush before.  The tadpoles are also doing well, and I guess a dirty pond is still better than no pond.

So it’s not all bad, unless you judge me for finally falling into the daylily trap.  I was doing so good…  in 20 years I think I never went over a total of five daylily plants, and no one needs to know about the other 30 years of my life and the rows of daylilies that still grow at my parent’s house.  I had put that behind me.

deck container plants

Not daylilies, just a couple hundred bricks which I chipped the mortar off and neatly stacked so that they can sit here for decades until I finally get around to doing something with them.  In the meantime I’ve camouflaged them with potted plants which I couldn’t be bothered to bring up onto the deck.  

It’s just one daylily.  Maybe it’s just the dry weather and heat that are getting to me.  Luckily plants other than lilies are still chugging along and even enjoying the weather.  All those geranium (pelargonium) cuttings from the winter garden are loving the dry, sunny days, and were a nice, cheap way to fill a bunch of planters.

deck container plants

Maybe a few too many geraniums on the deck.  

Another potted plant which has surprised me are the rhodohypoxis bulbs.  They’ve been blooming for over a month and I didn’t expect that at all.  In fact they’ve grown so well I might need to divide them soon, and don’t know if now or next spring would be the better time.

rodohypoxis

Some of the rhodohypoxis pots still doing well.  The large-flowered, pale pink ‘Pintado’ is by far my favorite.

Maybe I mentioned one other bulb which wasn’t doing as well as the rhodohypoxis (actually both are classified as corms, and not really bulbs).  Last winter I lost about half of the caladiums I was so excited about last year summer, but that doesn’t mean the ones which made it are pitiful.  A couple are awesome again, and since many are of the same sort I’ll be referring to them as some of the idiot-proof cultivars and think twice about trying new ones this year. -which is something I decided last night after closing an online order which was soooo tempting until I thought about the daylilies again-

growing caladiums

A few caladiums coming back to life now that temperatures have warmed.  I think a cold, wet spell last fall did a few of the others in, as well as not hot enough weather in June.

So that’s what’s been going on here for the last couple weeks.  It’s not bad at all but the garden really is trash, and only close editing and avoiding the majority of the yard has saved this post from becoming a complete downer.  There’s a new daylily though, and the pool is always refreshing, but don’t bother asking how the construction is going, and just for reference it’s midnight and the possibility for a good rain is dwindling with each hour.

All the best for those in really hot and dry weather patterns, and I hope you still all have a great week.  There’s always ice cream.

2021: Year of the Caladium

Maybe you missed it but I’m a little obsessed with some new caladiums this year.  They’re nothing particularly exotic, and I’m sure they would rather grow another zone or two south, but since the day they arrived in late April I’ve been gloating over all the tubers, looming over the planted pots, endlessly inspecting the first sprouts, anticipating every new leaf, and then agonizing over what to pot up together, what to pot up separately, how much sun is too much, how bad a chilly spell will be for them, how much they’ll grow during every stretch of hot weather… I’ve grown them before, but for some reason they are consuming me this year.  Who knows what happened.  I’m usually so rational with my plant decisions that this has really caught me off guard.  **90 second pause as I wait for lightning to strike me down**

growing caladiums

A few caladiums as well as other pots which are now off the driveway and moved into a new holding area.  This looks far more intentional than having all kinds of stray pots filling up the driveway waiting for homes.

So that went well.  It appears I will not be struck down for telling a little fib about frequent plant addictions, so let me just go ahead and tell a little story.  Back in late January I stumbled upon a caladium grower who sells mixed tubers by the pound.  Don’t ask why I was looking up caladium growers in January, but I was intrigued by the idea of ordering five pounds of caladiums with shipping for under $50 so I clicked yes.  They arrived in late April and I was thrilled.

caladium red flash

I believe this is ‘Red Flash’ a larger, good growing caladium which seems fine in full sun.

I waited until late May to pot them up.  Since they were mixed and I just couldn’t handle pots full of random colors all together, I potted each tuber up separately.  Five pounds came out to 78 pots in case you’re wondering, and once potted they were all lined out on the driveway to soak up the spring warmth with just a tiny bit of water to get them started.  And then the wait began.  A sprout here, one there, slowly they began to grow (really slowly it seemed) and every new leaf was an exciting surprise to see if it was something even more special than the last.  The rows of pots were starting to look like something.

growing caladiums

Ouch.  Halfway through setting the retaining wall blocks to hold the new bed I realized my level blocks did not match the sloping sidewalk and I’m absolutely annoyed with the way it looks.  Maybe some day I’ll redo it… maybe…

As different forms showed themselves they were grouped and potted up into whatever black plastic I could scrounge up.   For years I have been saving and storing every leftover pot from my own yard and the neighbors and now my moment to shine had finally arrived.  Ten of one size, fifteen of another, no problem!  I was feeling pretty rich even though absolutely no one appreciated my inspired foresight.  Someone (a pretty narrow-minded someone if I’m being honest) even said ‘Dad, you still have like a thousand more pots, do you really need them all?’ but of course genius is often misunderstood in its time, so I politely ignored the comment.

growing caladiums

Caladium ‘Pink Cloud?’ on the left with probably ‘Aaron’ as the white behind.

All the pots looked excellent on the driveway, but others suggested we use the driveway for cars so the caladium pots needed to move into their positions.  After putting four pots in place I came to the conclusion that there was nowhere else for the other 30 or 40 pots.  In January it was easy to say all the hostas and hellebores in the bed alongside the garage would be transplanted elsewhere, but in June when only one hellebore was gone it’s a different story.  Fortunately there was still grass on the other side of the walk.  It was a no-brainer to rip out the grass, throw in a few retaining wall blocks that the neighbor didn’t want, and then use sand from a recent sand delivery to level off a new bed.  Even though the new bed looks suspiciously like a big holding area for plants I didn’t really need in the first place, I like to think of it as the new sand terrace.  Of course I emphasize the second syllable of terrace to make it sound even fancier and French, and that of course is only natural in a garden which already boasts a potager.

caladium miss muffet

Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’ is amazing.  I wish it liked me more, but I suspect it would prefer a garden with more consistently warm weather and possibly a little more shade.

Having so many pots sounds silly, but genius foresight also ordered 100 drip emitters and some extra water tubing in May and now each pot is getting watered twice a day without the gardener lifting a finger (as if he even needed another excuse to be lazy) and the only real flaw in his plan is the nearly full sun exposure of the new bed and the part shade requirement for many of the caladiums…

growing caladiums

Maybe ‘Carolyn Whorton?’  An excellent grower here but also one who’s centers burn out in direct sun.

So for the last two weeks I’ve been shuffling sunburned caladiums into darker corners and moving up anything else which seems to tolerate more light.  It’s slightly concerning to see how many other plants have appeared out of nowhere to join the caladiums, but for some reason this year the gardener has been enjoying potting up things like clematis seedlings and ornamental peppers, and when this happens the few seed pots sown in March can rapidly become way more plants than anyone needs.

growing caladiums

One of the agonies of planting mixed caladiums is the possibility of a mixed pot.  Some might say that’s the whole point behind mixed tubers, but I thought I could get around it and this pot would be two of the same… but now as they grow on, the plant on the right has pink centers which burn, but the plant on the left seems more tolerant.  Are they different cultivars?  Will I ever know?

We will just ignore the ‘too many plants’ possibility and not think about all the extra pots this little project has generated.  Obviously I need to try and overwinter them all.  What a fiasco that will be, just imagine how much the gardener is going to complain about lugging all these in!

growing caladiums

I’ve just about given up on most IDs.  I wish they were like snowdrops or some other easy to identify plant, rather than something where earlier leaves are different than later leaves, sun and heat change the look, mature plants show more color…

Since I was running new drip lines I just went ahead and added in all the amaryllis (Hippeastrum) pots, as well as a bunch of other stuff.  It’s officially become a shady tropical garden and I quite like it as it wraps completely around the side and back of the garage.

potted shade garden

More goodies.  Actually only three pots of caladiums are new, the rest are all plants overwintered from last year… so I don’t want anyone thinking I’m still out there spending stimulus checks on new plants!

Not to keep going with bad ideas, but the amaryllis are finally getting some of the attention they’ve been missing for the last few years.  My fingers are crossed for many blooms this winter, but as of this minute I have no plans to add more, so at least that’s a plus 🙂

growing caladiums

Yeah I have no idea which caladiums these are.  To be honest the amaryllis were all misslabeled as well, so this really doesn’t do much for my need to organize.

So now for the other side of the story.  I didn’t just ‘happen to have’ a couple tons of sand and a pile of retaining wall blocks laying around, they were actually supposed to go towards a different idea.  I wanted to dig up the muddy lawn and replace it with a level sand path which is far less muddy and much more fun for kneeling on while admiring snowdrops.  Once the caladiums were situated the walk finally started… and of course didn’t get far since half the sand had already gone to a new bed and for topping off other areas which were short on sand (doesn’t everyone have endless sand needs?)

cardinal flower

I never realized how slanted the lawn was here until I actually took a level to it.  Good riddance!

Hopefully the path will work out.  It’s got a slight incline to it and hopefully that won’t be enough to wash out the sand with each rain, but if worse comes to worse I have ideas on that as well.  For now I have to tackle the curve of the path, and the fact that there are plants here as well which didn’t get moved in the spring.

shade garden path

More path building and slope filling.

Since we ended up in this side of the yard, we might as well take a look around.  Not much since this is such an ugly corner of the yard, but who can resist the latest Lycoris joke?  Not even twelve hours after posting that it didn’t look good for any more Lycoris flowers this summer, Lycoris chinensis (yellow surprise lily) surprised me with a flower stalk.  From nothing to full bloom in just a few days I think it’s pretty cool.  I’m so pleased I won’t even be petty and complain that there were two flower talks last year.  Nope, not at all.  Just enjoy it for what it is.

lycoris chinensis

Lycoris chinensis.  All is forgiven, I love these things!

You can look across the yard from here and see the potager.  If I remember correctly (it’s been a while), on a day when the sun actually comes out you can sit here in the shade of the maples and take a break before heading out into the heat and humidity of the full sun areas.  That’s a nice thing plus it’s kind of hidden back here.  The dog can usually find me soon enough, but you have to be foolish enough to answer before the kids figure out where you are.

garden view

The view across the garden.  That’s one of the industrial park buildings up on top of the slope.  The trees still have a ways to go.

And that’s where we are at.  More sand is scheduled to arrive tomorrow (assuming this past week of torrential rains hasn’t washed it all away) and the path should progress a little further.  It doesn’t look like much but shoveling and wheel-barrowing and tamping and leveling and measuring are all the little tedious tasks which take me forever.  I’m sure someone more motivated would finish in two or three days, but well…

sand path

For a while I doubted myself on the path idea, but now it’s growing on me.  The fam is still on the fence, but once it’s done I think they’ll give it their seal of approval as well.

So I’ve got caladiums and sand.  Life is good.  Other people measure their success by different measures but right now I’m feeling pretty rich.  I even found another clearance caladium tonight while cinderblock shopping and a $2 caladium always makes the hard labor better.

Hope you have a great week!

Catching Up On July

Guess who fell off the wagon last month?

This guy.

This was the year I had planned to inundate the worldwide web with post after post of questionable garden content peppered with somewhat bland comments and marginal quality photos, a complete year of quantity over quality.  It was a mass-media dream that had the potential to gain me at least five new subscribers and boost my stats by as much as a couple hundred views over 2020… and… anyway I’m not on track, and surprisingly it hasn’t made much of a difference in my life.  Surprising.  But I do want a record of this year’s gardening adventures (for better or worse), so let me get back on the ball and start with a flashback to last Wednesday’s (nearly a week and a half ago) return from seven days away at the beach.

garden after vacation

It was steamy hot and wet while we were away, and the garden jumped ahead to a new level of lushness… even if it is a little wooly and lacks color.

A garden abandoned for a week isn’t a big deal, but there were also two smaller trips before that, and quite a bit of other crap earlier in the month (it was honestly not a good time), so things weren’t set up very well to begin with, but it happens, and now looking back I have to say I’ve been shockingly busy for a change and I’m looking forward to showing nicer photos in the next post… but we’re not there yet 😉

silk road lily

‘Silk Road’ was frozen back and missed 2020, but lo and behold she is filling this end of the garden with beauty and fragrance as if last year never happened.  I think we would all like to do the same.

Since I suspect someone might be looking for ‘leaving the garden for a week or so in the summer’ advice, and wants a few tips for their own vacation away, now might be a good time to make this post useful with a list of what one should do before leaving.

cardoon flower

The cardoon is flowering alongside some more fragrant lilies(‘Leslie Woodriff’ in this case).  Just so you know, this picture does not do credit to the way the cardoon flowers glow.  I hope I can get a better photo this week.

Here’s my guidance for prepping the garden before you go away:

  1.  Do everything you were supposed to do in April, May, and June but you just never got to.
  2. Pick every last flower bud off the zucchini a few hours before you leave.
pond scum algae

I noticed a bit of algae before leaving, but it exploded while we were gone and is now even pushing the duckweed out and away.  It sure did clear up the water though!  Regardless I’m raking it out even if it is kind of interesting.  It’s some kind of filamentous algae although less fancy people will call it pond scum.

I’ll admit I only did #2 on that list, but still there were a few other highlights besides returning to pond scum.

mildewed phlox

The phlox which were moved to one of the shadier raised beds are not happy.  Mildew, floppiness, and I had really hoped for better in the “improved” site.  Fortunately the ones left in the old beds look healthier.

The mildew, weeds, and neglected plants didn’t happen in just a week (although it’s nice to have a vacation to blame), fortunately these are the before pictures and I’ve been busy since.  Much has been attended to… although all I did was ignore the mildew and hope for some miraculous rebirth of healthy foliage.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to just look forward to next year.

overgrown flower bed

The phlox are actually doing nicely in here, I just need to uncover them.  Seriously.  It’s really not as bad as it looks.

Phlox and a few other things did not like the heat and endless thunderstorms,  but a few things loved it.  The tropical plants are soaking it up and exploding into leafy lushness!

castor bean plant

This ‘Carmencita’ castor bean plant was just a little thing before we left, now it looms over just about everything.

And my first agapanthus seedling has flowered 🙂

hardy agapanthus

I was shocked to see this three year old agapanthus seedling put up a flower but here it is!  Now hopefully it clumps up and blooms freely every summer.  It spent last winter in the front bed unprotected, and fingers crossed it will continue to be completely hardy.

And I have a flower on my new Crinum!

crinum milk and wine

Crinum x herbertii, the ‘Milk and Wine’ lily could be this year’s most expensive annual (almost as much as a new snowdrop!)… or possibly an exciting new perennial that only needs a little winter protection?  We will find out.

Since this post has been all over anyway, I’d just like to finish with the latest caladium photo so everyone knows they’re still all alive and well.

starting caladiums

One by one I’m getting to see all the surprises my 5 pounds of mixed caladium tubers contains.  This isn’t my first year growing caladiums, but for some reason I’m obsessed with them this year.  

And that’s the after and before post all in one.  I’ll say it again, I’ve been busy and how often do you ever hear that from me, so hopefully I can get a few decent pictures this weekend and share the results.  Have a great weekend!

Some Like it Hot

I have to confess, I find white to be a little boring.  Much of that has to do with all the white vinyl fences and railing and trim which abounds in my part of town, and the competition it provides to any white flower which tries to do its own thing in my yard, but it’s also probably too tasteful for me.  Anyway, my garden is also mostly full sun, and unless it’s the moon shining down, white can become a glare, and any other colors cooled by white into pastels are also lost to the sun.  Hot colors on the other hand, can put up a fight.  Bright reds and golds, yellows and hot pinks, intense purples… these are the colors I love to see when I look out upon a yard baking in the afternoon sun, preferably from the other side of a window… comfortably cooled by air conditioning.

lucifer crocosmia

‘Lucifer’ crocosmia is red.  Very red. A you-can’t-ignore red.  I think I need a few other crocosmias…  

Today it was mostly hot, but it was absolutely humid and sometimes that’s worse.  I cut the grass, was drenched in sweat, but not much else happened and I was fine with leaving it at that.

foundation perennial bed

I finally like the front foundation beds.  The ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac is probably too chartreuse and too weedy for a respectable foundation planting but blue spruce and blue fescue are definitely suburbia approved.  

Even with the heat and humidity I did try and get the last of the weeding done.  That sounds good but of course I’ve already got to re-visit the weeds in the beds where I first started, and the rains aren’t slowing anything down other than the gardener.

yellow spider daylily

One of the few daylilies I have, a yellow spider daylily who’s name I can’t think of right now.  I think spiders and the more simple singles are my favorites, the ruffly explosions of color with ridges and teeth are more a curiosity to me than anything I need to grow. 

A slow gardener shouldn’t surprise anyone, and this one’s about ready to stop completely, call it a year and just sit back to watch things rather than try and exert any more control.  We’ll see.

rudbeckia verbena bonariensis

I’m always happy to see a few Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) pop up.  The surprise ones always do much better than any I try to plant on purpose, and they always put themselves amongst good companions, Verbena bonariensis and Lychnis coronaria in this case.

Actually with vacation season approaching the sitting back part will be even easier, and that’s usually when all control is lost.

rudbeckia maxima

Pulled weeds on the lawn, not as effective as I’d like sheets on the blueberries, and Rudbeckia maxima three days away from flopping.  For all my talk about weeding and control, this is the reality.  

The local wildlife seems to enjoy the messiness and I’m happy to see that, even if it means more and more baby bunnies eating the coreopsis while I watch.  Actually I was also enjoying watching all the bird activity until I realized it was the blueberries and gooseberries which were entertaining them.  I guess my netting problems are still not even close to being foolproof but no matter, who wants to pick all those delicious berries anyway?

On the down side the birds seem to really enjoy retiring to the bath apres dinner, so the pond is always a mess of splashing and berry vomit and whatever else comes out the other end so it’s not nearly as nice as some of the other amazing garden ponds I’ve seen.  Maybe someday a (clean) mountain creek plus koi pond will grace this garden but right now I’m absolutely thrilled with the dirty little sump which I call the pond, because in spite of the duckweed and murk I have something far better than koi.  I have tadpoles.  Finally.  Since building it I’ve been hoping “The Pond” would bring in a couple frogs or toads and this year in spite of a healthy population of mosquito devouring aquatic water beetles, eggs have survived and now tadpoles are sprouting legs.  I love it and in moments like this I realize what a nerd I am.

garden pond

The pond.  Probably the first part of the garden I check each day.

So I’m way off the ‘hot’ theme but whatever.  Let’s just wander out front again to see some of the amazing cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) which are just days from flowering.  These are much cooler than they are hot and each day I have to touch them just to verify again how solid and spiny they are.  I like them and I bet when they go to seed the goldfinches will also like them… even if these artichoke relatives are a little bigger than their usual thistle meals.

cardoon flower

Cardoons just about to flower, with a conveniently placed ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush (Cotinus) backdrop. 

If the goldfinches like thistle seed then the cyclamen must be making the ants happy.  Cyclamen purpurascens are showing up all around the base of our ant-infested cherry tree and I suspect the ants take the seeds in, nibble off the sugary coating, and then discard the seeds down the sides of the tree.  Works for me, I would have never considered planting them in such a dark, rooty location.

cyclamen purpurascens

Cyclamen purpurascens ringing the base of the weeping cherry.  They’re just starting their summer bloom season and soon a few new leaves should be up as well.

Back to the hot theme.  I’m not sure if I mentioned, but 2021 is the year of the caladium, and a five pound box of tubers from Caladiumbulbs4less (quite the subtle company name) have been potted up and are just loving the semi-tropical weather.  I love them almost as much as the tadpoles, and when the tadpoles sprout their legs and hop off to new frontiers at least I’ll have my caladiums.

starting caladiums

The driveway nursery is full of excitement as the mixed bulbs come up and show their colors.  I spend way too much time examining every new leaf, but someone’s got to.  

In case you’re wondering, five pounds of mixed caladiums is much more than this garden needs, but just about right for what this garden wants.  87 corms would be a pretty good guess of how many caladiums were planted, but I’m sure to actually repeatedly count them would be a little obsessive.  Obsessive would also be ordering mixed bulbs but then potting them all up individually so that later on you can plant all the similar forms together… and then running individual drip lines to all of them.  Amazing how obsessive can easily co-exist with lazy as long as you buy enough drip emitters, but it has to be done since cool weather and drying-out are the biggest dangers to an excellent 2021 caladiumfest.

Alocasia Dark Star

Another heat and humidity lover, Alocasia ‘Dark Star’ is starting to put weight on again after a really lean winter. 

I’m sure you’ll hear way too much about the year of the caladium so I’ll end it here, but I do enjoy seeing them revel in the warmer weather and nearly daily thunderstorms so I could really go on and on if I had to.  In any case it sure beats a drought.

Have a great week, hot or not.

It Could Be Worse

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

red onion harvest

The red onion harvest drying under the back porch overhang.

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

potager in September

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

fall shade garden

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

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

Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata' obedient plant

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

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

colchicum nancy lindsay

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

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

colchicum world champion's cup

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

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

tropical border

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

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

cannova mango

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

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

Saying Goodbye to August

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

self sown sunflowers

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

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

amaranthus hot biscuits

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

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

euphorbia marginata snow on the mountain

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

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

zinnia apricot profusion

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

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

senna alata candlestick plant

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

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

Pinus densiflora 'Burke's Red Variegated'

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

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

canna bengal tiger

Canna ‘Bengal Tiger’

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

canna australia

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

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

panicum seedling

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

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

jewelweed

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

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

august sunflower

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

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

august potager

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

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

salvia splendens

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

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

Have a great weekend!

Are you ready Noah?

Since Sunday we’ve been stuck in tropical weather pattern that’s been sending shower after shower of rain our way and the inches keep adding up.  I would guess we’re probably around four inches officially but it sure feels like a lot more, and although the sun has been in and out I can’t remember any dry stretches that have lasted longer than two or three hours over the last four days.  Right now the forecast says two more days and perhaps as many inches and to be honest I don’t mind it yet.

gooseberry tart

Sunday morning before the rain hit I ran out and finally picked a few gooseberries.  The daughter and I spent the first rainy afternoon cooking up a gooseberry tart, and I have to say it was delicious!

Noah never really mentions much about heat and humidity, but we sure have the humidity part.  I guess endless rain will do that, and until the molds and rots kick in most of the plants are taking it in stride.  The caladiums in particular seem very happy.  Two months ago while looking at their tiny, shriveled tubers I was sure my overwintering had done them in, but to my surprise they’ve risen from the dead and are actually growing well.  *accounting note.  I couldn’t resist buying two more at $3 a piece… I have a weak spot for clearance sales, even though I don’t need any more*

caladiums in pots

Lovely caladiums potted up in some very unattractive nursery pots.  This year I’ll focus on taking better care of them… even in September…  Next year I’ll think about improving the pot situation.

The worst thing we have to deal with is floppiness.  That’s not a bad tradeoff considering those closer to the river will be looking at flooding as all this water works its way to the sea.  Lets hope we can dodge that bullet and it’s less than expected.

gray garden

Gray plants and lots of rain don’t usually go well together.  It looks nice enough anyway, but all I can see is how well the thistly sea holly is doing, and how unsuccessful I was at removing all of it last summer.  Apparently even the smallest bit of root will resprout… 

In the meantime the garden appreciates too much water much more than too much drought.  It makes for squishy and sloppy garden tours but the plants just keep getting lusher and lusher.

lily caravan

The orienpet lily ‘Caravan’ is around six feet tall this year, but still risks being overtaken by the weedy little sunflowers which are being much more aggressive than I thought they’d be.

The orienpet lilies don’t seem to mind the weather.  Most of these oriental-trumpet hybrids are sturdy crosses that grow like weeds and don’t need staking.  They’re the ones often marketed by shady retailers as ‘tree lilies’ and some of the taller ones can easily push eight feet.

lily leslie woodriff

Lily ‘Leslie Woodriff’ doing well in the mess which lines the street.  I had trouble planting her since the soil is so thin in this spot (about five or six inches), but she doesn’t seem to mind at all.

I’m looking forward to see how the late summer garden develops with all this rain.  The cannas are kicking in, the annuals are bulking up, and even the vegetable garden looks promising.  Of course none of this matters more than my newest favorite plant, a candlestick bush seedling (Senna…or Cassia alata) which I started last winter.  I love its leaves 🙂

senna cassia alata

Senna alata aka Cassia alata, the candlestick bush.  It’s not hardy, gets too big, and can be invasive in the tropicals.  It probably won’t even flower before the frosts hit but I don’t care.  It’s a favorite anyway.

I don’t think a photo of the whole plant really shows off how big and cool the leaves are.

Here’s my hand for reference. I couldn’t quite manage getting a foot in there, but this leaf is probably about two of them long.

Let me end by apologizing to those who are spending this summer suffering through heat and drought.  If I could send some of this rain your way I would, but of course it never works out that way and I hope your turn comes soon.  All the best.

$6 for two irresistibly priced clearance caladiums

$744 total so far for the 2018 gardening year.

A Tropical Update

While we look to the tropics and wait to see what the latest hurricane brings I think a trip to the milder side is in order.  The Pennsylvania tropics are much calmer and even-keeled and if you ignore the heavy hand of winter’s approach I think it’s a nice enough retreat from everything else going on.

tropical garden

The tropical border this summer.  The steady rains were a plus but the cooler temperatures held many a hot-blooded plant back.

Even though things were in the ground earlier than ever this year the cool weather made for a slow start.  I even lost nearly all the dahlias when my “big patch of ’em” idea didn’t go well with the “all the water drains here” reality.  Losing plants to an excess of water is not something I’ve ever experienced here on this thin-soiled hilltop.  Fortunately there’s always a backup plan.

tropical garden

The striped leaves of ‘Bengal Tiger’ canna rank as one of my all time favorite plants.  To me they seem to go well with everything, especially the purple verbena bonariensis and surviving dahlias.

Verbena.  Verbena bonariensis is my backup plan for nearly every plant fiasco/disaster.  Any unmulched sunny spot quickly sprouts a few seedlings and all this gardener has to do is stand back.  If anything they need thinning since they  come up thick and look much better when each has some space of their own.

alcazar kniphofia

This might be my most promising red hot poker.  Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ has nice big spikes with just the right glow factor.  Last year there were only two flower stalks which faded in a week or two, but this year three flushes of flowerings kept the plant interesting for almost two months.  I hope it wasn’t a fluke!

I do tend to let things just happen.  Laziness and distraction can do that to a garden, and the far end of the tropical border is mostly foliage.

tropical garden

Leaves aren’t all that bad.  Having a spot where color is not entirely in your face is probably a good idea.

The mulch which I smothered this end of the bed with must have contained some leftover autumn decorations so the coleus I planted ended up being smothered by the climbing vines of Yugoslavian finger squash.  They seemed to love all the rain and vines slinked and slithered all through the back of the border.

yugoslavian finger squash

There’s something about the name ‘Yugoslavian finger squash’ which I think is funny.  Yugoslavian?  The finger?  Finger squash?  It’s like a teenage boy came up with the name and I guess it speaks volumes for my maturity level.   

So while we await our Finger squash decorating bonanza the rest of the border is busy with the bees and butterflies who take advantage of the color.

monarch on verbena

With any luck this year’s Monarch migration will be a big one, and I hope I left enough verbena to keep them around for a few days. 

I’m hoping things work out well for a big Monarch migration this autumn.  A few years ago there was a trifecta of beautiful weather, plenty of butterflies, and loads of verbena blossoms and walking through the fluttering garden was almost surreal.  Thinking back on it I really feel bad for those people who hire landscape companies, spray for any wildlife which gets too close, and then stare at lawn all summer.  Holy boring.

katydid

At three or four inches long Katydids are an insect you can have a conversation with.  People go on about bees and butterflies but these guys are my favorites… even if they do eat decent sized chunks out of the purple canna leaves.

The tropical garden is not boring.

tropical garden

Too much?  Stripes on stripes was not the plan but somehow ‘Tropicana’ ended up in front of ‘Cosmopolitan’ fountain grass.  It should look even more tasteful in another few weeks when the grass puts out its pink flower heads.

Hope a good weekend is had by all and a little boring can extend down to the areas in the path of hurricane Irma.  The tropics look much better when not ravaged by obscene winds.

1 Free seed + 6 years = 7 Attaboys

Some people say that seed starting is complicated or that it requires way too much patience but I’m going to disagree.  Patience is waiting for a 5 year old to tie their own shoes when you’re already late.  If you can make it through that without any permanent blood pressure spikes, you can start a seed.  It’s as simple as kindergarten math… assuming you’re not dealing with Common Core of course…

Six years ago I received some Eucomis seed from author Nancy Ondra.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, Nancy is the author of several excellent gardening books and also the force behind an amazing Pennsylvania garden showcased on her Hayefield blog, and the seed was part of an annual giveaway of curious and exotic seeds she had collected throughout the growing season.  Her act of generosity resulted in one tiny Eucomis seedling sprouting and then surviving years of on and off neglect to finally reach a size large enough to bloom.  I think it’s pretty cool.

eucomis Oakhurst seedling

A Eucomis seedling grown from a seed off Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’.  I believe that gives it the fancy name of Eucomis comosa ex Oakhurst…. I think.

Sure I could have just bought one along the way and saved a bunch of time but it’s not like I spent every day wishing it would grow just a little bit faster, you just enjoy it for what it is.  It’s not patience at all, it’s you looking forward to every spring when it sprouts up even bigger than the year before and then you every fall digging the bulb to see just how much more plump it’s become.  It sure doesn’t hurt that the dark leaves make for a very nice foliage accent in my summer planters.

eucomis Oakhurst seedling

Eucomis are also referred to as pineapple lilies.  They’ve got the same leafy bottom  plus the pineapple shaped flower which sprouts up is topped by a tuft of leaves, just like a real pineapple.

So thanks for the seeds Nan and now I’m off to the next pineapple lily adventure.  I hear they’re one of those odd plants which grow easily from leaf cuttings.  Just cut off a leaf, stick it in some soil, and new plant!  I’ll have to wait until next summer for the best chances but it sounds like I’ve got something to keep me entertained until 2022 😉