Slow Learner

I’m not very good at saying no to volunteer plants.  Volunteer plants of course are the ones which just step forward to fill spots that you didn’t even know were spots until they volunteered to fill them.  I guess they’re generous little things which just want to give…  plus they’re free… and require no labor or attention… and that’s probably also a big plus in my book.  Some people might say the word ‘weeds’ right now, and I say bite your tongue.  If you can call sunflowers and foxgloves weeds, well then you’re probably a little higher class than this blog usually attracts and I suggest clicking on your way before you hold me liable for the time I’m about to waste.

galanthus bed

A clump of snowdrops (Bill Bishop if you really have to know) in a photo from last January. Note the tiny rounded leaves in the center of the sprouts. Soooooo innocent looking….

galanthus bed

One year later. A big fat rosette of foxglove foliage right where a snowdrop clump wishes to emerge. Please let’s overlook the many autumn leaves scattered about, and the as-yet untrimmed muscari foliage.

Ok, good.  Now  that  we’ve ‘weeded out’  a certain  type  of  reader, I  just want  to reassure anyone who’s left that you’re entirely high class, but of the type who just is and not the type who only thinks they are.  I suspect you all have soft spots for foxgloves and that brings me to today’s dilemma.  It’s not just any foxglove, it’s the especially special strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) and of course it’s right on top of ‘Bill Bishop’ and we all know that’s not going to work out.

galanthus bed

There he is. Bill is happily sprouting up right exactly where he should be.

Normally  a few  stray  foxgloves  don’t  even come close to causing a problem.  Any other year they’re just a crumbly mess of winter killed foliage by the time the snowdrops arrive, and with just a little brushing aside all is well.  This year things are different, and I might have to try a midwinter transplant because obviously I can’t just rip out this trooper, no matter how free she is.

It goes without saying that had I been attentive and moved the seedling last summer none of this would have been a problem.  Sort of like had I been more attentive and less lazy for the last seven years maybe my WordPress disk space wouldn’t have reached 99% full with only just the few photos which I’ve uploaded over the years.  Hmmm.  I should have read the memo a few years ago when I first reached my limit and had to purchase a blogger plan rather than enjoy free access, but noooo, let me put it off a little more.  Apparently re-sizing photos is a kind of important thing, which I’m sure everyone else knows but it just seemed like so much extra work at the time… and obviously I’m not one to embrace extra work.

So with a nice snow squall covering up the ground and ending any thoughts of transplanting, I’ve headed indoors and have committed to shrinking my digital footprint.  So far I’ve spent hours editing posts, reloading re-sized photos and then deleting the old.  Of course it’s my own fault.  Ignorance is bliss, but what kind of stupid thinks a 4.2MB (4200KB) cabbage photo would be necessary when a 143KB  will do?  I’m up to September 2013 in case anyone is wondering.

cyclamen coum

While on the subject of time-wasting, I reorganized my Cyclamen coum seedlings to see how close seedlings from the mother plant resemble each other. These were all from a purple with mostly green leaves in case you’re wondering.

Every now and then even the most committed data processor needs a break, so with short days, early nights, and plenty of here and there snow, the winter garden has again become my man cave and  I’m obsessing about Cyclamen again.

Cyclamen rhodium ssp peloponnesiacum

Cyclamen rhodium ssp. peloponnesiacum is a treasure I picked up at last year’s Galanthus Gala. It might be hardy, but that would mean not seeing these awesome leaves all winter, and why risk that!?

I thought I was good, and all last summer I was fully impressed with myself for having more cyclamen than ever before, but then the cold weather hit and maybe I do need more.  I would have had more, but some stinkin’ mouse family robbed me of nearly all last year’s ripening seed pods, in a way that I didn’t even know the pods were hollowed out until I turned one and saw the bottoms all nibbled out.  “Stinkin’ mouse” isn’t really the term I used, but since only the classiest readers remain I’ll try to keep it civil.

Fortunately I know a guy.  A little back and forth with Dr. Lonsdale over at Edgewood Gardens and two new and extremely exciting cyclamen have found their way here.  Plus a hellebore!

purple flush cyclamen

Two Cyclamen hederifolium with a faint flush of pink towards the center. Also hard to see is the variegation in the Hellebore niger seedling to the right, but it has it and I can’t wait for it to settle in to the garden this spring.

Another area I need to make more effort in is my indoor fertilizing regime.  The new additions from Edgewood are so well rooted they put all my plants to shame.  Dr Lonsdale has told me before to switch to something more specialized like a tomato fertilizer or anything with a lower first number (Nitrogen) but this blockhead will need a little more hammering, so one step at a time.

In the meantime, again let me say I’m pretty excited about the new additions.  The cyclamen are cool, but the hellebore will probably rank as one of the rarest things in my garden.  Take a look at a picture or two of >mature plants< and I think you’ll agree this little year old seedling is going to grow into something special.

Not as special as re-sizing thousands of photos and editing hundreds of posts, but close I’m sure.  Have a great week!

Christmas Spirit

On Sunday Pennsylvania goes back to some of the restrictions we saw back in March.  Lockdown is how some would call it but inconvenient seems like a better descriptor… unless your livelyhood is again at stake… Restaurants are back to take-out only and indoor entertainment venues and community activities are cancelled.  Stores are limited to 50% capacity.  It’s like lockdown lite and I guess that’s all you can get away with when so much of our state government is determined to fight for our freedoms even while hundreds of residents die each day from a virus they insist isn’t that bad.  But you know this.  You read the news, and those who are being safe are being safe and those who aren’t just won’t believe the stove is hot until they touch it.

longwood christmas

The Orangery, one of Longwood’s main conservatories.  This was all yellow chrysanthemums and a wall of yellow Salvia madrensis just a few days before we visited.

Longwood’s greenhouses are considered indoor entertaiment, and as such will now be closed throughout the holidays, but fortunately we were able to get down there on our usual Sunday after Thanksgiving visit.  The tickets were reserved a week in advance, and even though by the time the day arrived everything was sold out we were still happy to find the place nearly empty.  I believe ticket sales had been cut down to about 25% normal capacity, so from our first step out of the car, through the entrance, to the grounds, through our meal, through the greenhouse, back to our car we barely touched a cleaned surface or moved within six feet of another visitor.  I felt entirely safe, but keep in mind I also believe in the 5 seconds rule so your results may vary.

longwood christmas

Under the cover of Australian tree ferns, two ribbons of poinsettia surround a line of fountains running down the center of the exhibition hall.

As usual the decorations were perfect.  Swathes of holiday flowers, stylish ornaments, perfect lighting, and all the special touches we look for on our visits.  Even the kids were impressed although I suspect they’re both into the stage where much of what their dad does embarrasses them, and forcing them to pose as they opened the bathroom door probably didn’t help.  My bad, but I consider the conservatory bathrooms to be one of the underrated highlights of any Longwood visit.  Lushly planted green walls surround the spacious private powder rooms, and even if you’re not inspired to take a picture you’ll probably never again want to settle for a drafty stall.

longwood christmas

I don’t think she’s smiling under the mask but whatever,  I’m sure these assignments build character.

I’ve only got a few more decent pictures since most of the time we just enjoyed the visit, but Longwood has been posting quite a few photos online this year and pretty much all of them are better anyway so let me suggest their website, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever media you prefer.  Also I recommend their drone flight through the greenhouses video which really shows off the inside decorations.  It’s almost as good as being there.

longwood christmas

I always drag the kids through the greenhouses once during the daylight hours… much better to see all the plants that way 🙂

Both inside and out, the best show starts as daylight fades.  Lights are everywhere and decorations sparkle and it’s nearly impossible to take in all the fantastic detail.

longwood christmas

Just imagine inventorying and storing all the ornaments every year.  

There’s always a nightime hush after dark.  A nice spiked or unspiked hot chocolate makes an excellent strolling companion, maybe not so much for our visit though since it was so warm we barely even needed our coats.

longwood christmas

Everything a-sparkle and a-glow.  If this scene doesn’t please Santa I don’t know what will.

longwood christmas

Each decorated tree was better than the last.

After our final cruise around the greenhouse we did one more lap around the grounds.  We caught all the outdoor lights, visited a few bonfires, and took in one final fountain show.

longwood christmas

The main fountain show is shut down for the winter but the theatre fountains are still a show. 

So we had a great visit.  You should go as well, but maybe not this year since besides being mostly sold out, the greenhouses are shut down until Jan 4th the earliest.  Put it on your list though, and then stay safe so that everyone’s still around next year to check it off.

All the best, and if you didn’t do it before watch the drone video!

Out With The Old

Let me start with getting one thing off my chest.  The daffodils are still unplanted.  There, that was easy.

The weather was beautiful last weekend so we decorated for Christmas, we hung a ridiculous number of lights, and we (and I’m leaning more towards the less plural I on this one) cleaned up most of the basement of all the nonsense and clutter that kids can accumulate.  Then in the midst of a pandemic we drove to Longwood to enjoy the Christmas display.  Of course there will be judgements on safety but for now we’re all still healthy and it’s the weather which has taken a turn towards the worse.   On a miserable afternoon I’d rather rush out and capture a few last joys of the 2020 garden season rather than actually do something productive.  Maybe tomorrow will be different…

hardy fall camellia ashtons supreme

‘Ashton’s Supreme’ is growing in a pot and has already moved into the garage for the next few nights.  It may be hardy, and someday I may put it to the test, but for now I’d rather he avoid the frosts and snow.

I’m excited to see my only fall blooming camellia opening up a few flowers before it gets too cold.  It’s one thing enjoying them for a few hours in another garden, but to have one of your own to really drown in for as long as you want… and then to make excuses to go out and see every few hours… well that’s a whole different story.  Currently the plan has ‘Ashton’s Supreme’ spending the coldest months in the winter garden, staying potted, and then some day moving to the open garden when either (1)he gets too big or (2)global warming shifts me just one more zone South.  Obviously there’s also a good chance that (3)the gardener kills Ashton,  but for just $30 from Camellia Forest Nursery I’m already thrilled with how far I’ve come.

container bog garden

The question of the bog garden.  Shelter in place or quarantine elsewhere?

I’m also somewhat thrilled over how the bog garden’s pitcher plants have recovered from some questionable overwinering techniques from last year.  Someone just picked up an old saucepan from the sandbox, lifted the pitchers from the bog and put them in the pan, and then placed the whole embarrassment next to the compost pile under a few sheltering branches.   They lived, but this year I’m not sure if I shouldn’t try something different.  Or just do nothing.  Nothing is pretty easy, and it’s been working for the daffodils so far.

jack and the beanstalk bean

The sword beans (Canavalia gladiata) have been picked and brought into the garage to hopefully ripen the seeds.  Maybe I’ll get lucky, but maybe I won’t since they’re still mighty green.

Last year seemed much more full of November projects and plenty which bridged over into December, but this year I’m quite fine with calling a time, nailing a lid on 2020, and announcing the start of the 2021 gardening season.  Hello snowdrops is what I’m going to say next, and of course I’m excited!

elwesii monostictus hiemalis motrose

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus ‘Hiemalis Group’ ex. Montrose.  An appropriately big name for what is commonly referred to as the giant snowdrop (in this case a fall blooming version).

Mani over at the Miserable Gardener has observed that the guy he lives with takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in rattling off the name of this first snowdrop of my new year.  I’ve begun to enjoy it now as well, and although I may still need to tweek quotes and capitalizations to be completely proper I’m not going to let ignorance stand in my way.  Ignorance seems to be very ‘in’ these days so I might as well call it what I want, right? -who am I kidding… I can’t stand ignorance, so please correct me if you can.

galanthus three ships

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ is leaving port earlier than ever and holding the possibility of an open bloom by Christmas.  That would be a first, and of course I would be thrilled.

Let me close by saying this last photo has me most excited.  I keep thinking this snowdrop phase will pass but as of yet not luck.  Once in the summer of 2019 there was a point when I almost said I wasn’t thinking about snowdrops, and then just a few months ago I turned down the offer of a bulb or two because “I had too many other plants needing attention”, but now I’m back to obsessed.  ‘Three Ships’ looks healthier than ever and honestly for a flower which blooms here in January, anything better than dead is quite an achievement in my opinion.

Let the season begin!

November Gardening Tasks

Every now and then it occurs to me that this blog should be more…. useful?… and as I was sitting there with a nice cozy blanket watching Gardener’s World I noticed the weekly ‘things to do in the garden’ segment, and thought to myself what an easy idea to steal.  So let me start by saying you’re welcome and just jump right in.

november perennial border

Not much to see along the street anymore but I try to leave a few things uncut to keep it from looking too desolate.

My first thoughts in the morning went to the dozens of unplanted daffodils and perennial seedlings which have been sitting around for weeks, so…

1.  Stand by the back door with a cup of coffee and imagine how nice it will all look someday when things finally grow or plants finally get moved.  After 20 minutes you may prefer to lean on the other side of the door and imagine changes to the other side of the view.  Keep in mind you might want to do this first thing in the morning since it’s easier to ignore a messy room and far less possible to be “redirected” when there’s no one else there.

amsonia autumn color

Most of the fall colors have faded to blah, but the Amsonia is finally showing some of the yellow it’s supposed to show each year.  Fyi mine rarely does this.

2.  Sit down at the computer since it’s still not all that warm out and look up plants on the internet.  Look up other plants, look at other people’s plants, think about how those plants would look in your garden, think how you can fit them all in and then search out who has them for sale.  Stop just short of ordering them, there’s plenty of time for that in January…. unless it’s a clearance sale on bulbs of course.  Order those and don’t even think about the unplanted ones in the garage.

zone 6 hardy cardoon

My best cardoon did not appreciate the recent 24F night.  I’m still hoping it proves hardy this winter. 

3.  Make a second cup of coffee and go outside.  If it’s warm enough in the sun make sure you take advantage with a little more sitting, otherwise shuffle around the garden and look at every single plant especially the ones which look the same as yesterday.  Don’t put your coffee down to do anything, you’ll forget where you left it.

potager

The potager is looking quite neat with mulched beds and some of the frosted veggies removed.  Just looking at it hurts my lazy bone, and I’m honestly not sure who did all this work.

4.  Return the empty coffee cup to the kitchen.  When you do remember to cross these tasks off your list since having a list and crossing things off is super important when organizing.  Sometimes I do more than just cross out, I completely black out the task since it’s done and over.  No one needs to judge your past, just make sure they see you’re accomplishing things and then redirect them to the future.

fall crop cabbage

A few cabbages yet to be harvested.  Don’t lose your nerve and rush out in the dark to pick the biggest one after everything’s been freezing for the last day and a half, since frozen cabbage stems are dangerously hard to cut while holding a flashlight and watching a dog.

5.  Grab the planting trowel and head out to plant some bulbs.  As you pass the witch hazel, stop and spend at least half an hour picking off the yellowed leaves so that they don’t sit on it all winter and then interfere with the flowers as they open in January.  When you’re almost done give up and wander off to look for the trowel.

lycoris in zone 6

Lycoris radiata and Lycoris houdyshelii, both not likely to do more than just survive in this zone (if I’m lucky) and both kind of expensive to experiment with but there they are.

6.  Forget you were looking for the trowel when you pass the camellia.  See if the buds have grown any (they haven’t) since the last time you looked and then check the 10 day forecast to see when you next have to drag the pot into the garage for the night.  Pull a few other things out of the garage again since the weather looks nice and they can use a few more days of sun before the long, dark winter.

cyclamen coum in pots

In and out the Cyclamen coum go as I try to get them as much sun and fresh air before committing them permanently to the winter garden.  Hmmmmm.  I thought I had so many, but now I see it’s not nearly enough.

7.  Look at the unplanted bulbs and then decide to mow the lawn.  Sure with a self-propelling mower it’s basically the same as the back and forth wandering you were doing before, but no one accuses you of doing nothing when you’re mowing the lawn, plus there were a few new leaves on it and better to capture them for mulch before they blow off to the neighbor’s.

8.  Clean out the garage.  Just kidding.  It’s far too late in the day and you should always have something left on the list for next time.  Plus something really ambitious like this as a leftover will really make all the darkened out ‘finished’ tasks even more impressive.

So there you have it.  Hopefully this was amazingly useful and helped organize your time somewhat and gets you ready for the upcoming week and approaching holiday.  Follow me for more awesome tips but don’t expect those bulbs to get in the ground anytime soon.  I suspect there will be demands for Christmas lights and absolutely no one wants to hear about unplanted daffodils after returning from  a Longwood Christmas so Christmas lights it is.  Have a great week.

A Festival of Mums

Well I do feel guilty overposting when I don’t even take the time to respond to comments or visit other blogs, but there was a second part to my recent garden-day-out which just doesn’t fit into that post, and it’s just too good to not share (as opposed to some of the things I put on about my own garden!).  Our beautiful morning in the private garden of Charles Cresson was followed by an equally beautiful afternoon at the very public Longwood Gardens.  Of course we were late, so there were a few seconds of nervousness when we saw the crowded parking lot and the well-past admission time on our timed tickets, but all was well.  We cruised through a perfectly distanced and contact-free admission process and were exploring the grounds just minutes later.

longwood bell tower

Longwood’s  bell tower with fall color and some late afternoon sunshine.

The weather was still perfect, the grounds were perfect, the fall colors were perfect, the water was clear, fresh sod was laid, the paths were raked.  Longwood is an excellent autumn strolling garden, but to be honest I sometimes get a tiny bit bored.  I wasn’t in the mood to hike the meadow, I had seen miles and miles of autumn color on the drive down, and all the summer plantings were already out and replaced with uber-neat animal netting to protect the recent tulip plantings, or super tidy raked soil.  It all made me feel somewhat guilty for the unplanted bulbs and general mess at home, so our stroll was actually kinda short.

hamamelis virginiana 'Harvest Moon'

Hamamelis virginiana ‘Harvest Moon’ looking exceptional amongst late bloomers and autumn grasses.  It’s in full sun by the way, and I’ve noticed that even the wild ones which line my path to work bloom much heavier when in full sun.

My friend Paula was with me, and we both agreed that next year Longwood should call us and let us pick through their trash pile of discarded annuals and tropicals and help them get rid of some of that mess.  I’m sure my better half would have no problem with me coming home with a trunk full of things to pot up and keep inside all winter 🙂

Tetrapanax papyrifer

In the gardens behind the bell tower I saw a few big clumps of ricepaper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) which looked as if they had overwintered in the spot.  I love the leaf on this thing and have been trying to get one for years, even if it is a terrible spreader and some people are allergic to the fine hairs…

yellow ilex opaca

A very well-planned combination of yellow Amsonia hubrichtii foliage backed by a ripening crop of yellow berried American holly (Ilex opaca)

Of course you can’t judge me for thinking I have either the room or time to take in dozens of high maintenance and tender plants which are totally unreasonable for my garden.  It’s a much cheaper addiction than fancy shoes that don’t fit comfortably or a flat screen tv which is just too big for a room which sits you six feet away.  But I’m digressing.  We actually came to see the mums, and as we approached the conservatory things started to look promising.

longwood chrysanthemums

Wow 🙂 Hardy chrysanthemums grown as a basket on top (I think) raised high over a planter of the same.

Last year I visited the NY Botanical Garden to see their display and I loved it, but for all their variety and diverse forms and traditional training techniques, Longwood had less but more and went straight for the Wow.

longwood chrysanthemums

My favorite part, the explosion of yellow lining the path across the orangery.  Giant yellow chrysanthemums and a wall of yellow Salvia madrensis.   

If you’re still with me you may be wondering just how exactly you can “have less but more”, so let me try and explain myself.  There were fewer total varieties and forms, but hundreds of each.  I don’t know how you plan or find the room to grow and train hundreds (or even thousands!?) of mums to football size perfection, but apparently Longwood does.

longwood chrysanthemums

There was so much yellow here I wanted to roll in it.

The rest of the conservatories were just more wow.  I think the less I write the better, so here it is.

longwood fern conservatory

The exhibition hall, flooded with a film of reflective water and shaded by tree ferns.  The topiary are begonias and I don’t think I’ve ever liked begonias more.

longwood chrysanthemums

The ‘thousand bloom’ chrysanthemums.  A single plant grown and trained for a meticulously perfect show.  The one in back is absolutely huge.

longwood chrysanthemums

Maybe these were all the leftovers?  A merciful Longwood employee opened the one-way barrier and let me through when she saw me standing there mumbling ‘I need to go there, I need to go there’.  I loved it.  Maybe this was my favorite…

longwood chrysanthemums

If the yellow was too much there were plenty of yellow-free zones.

longwood chrysanthemums

Yeah there were a lot.  ‘Chrysanthemum Festival’ is a worthy title.

longwood chrysanthemums

And every single, last one was perfectly grown.  I suspect there’s still half a greenhouse worth of backups somewhere!

I enjoyed it.  If you’ve never been I recommend giving it a try, just know that the display comes down this weekend and the conservatories close until after Thanksgiving as they prep for Christmas, so that someday visit might have to wait until next year.

Keep your fingers crossed and faces masked in the meantime.  The kids are annoyed I didn’t take them along, and are anxious to see this year’s Christmas decorations, but with record COVID cases and rising deaths across the country and with rising numbers in Pennsylvania I don’t know how that will work out.  I’d say we can hope and pray for the best but seriously…  just wear the stupid mask and avoid the party at the bar and that will probably get us much further than some false hopes and empty prayers.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir here.  Stay healthy and have an excellent weekend and wish me luck as I finally consider my own messy garden and unplanted bulbs 🙂

Hedgleigh Spring

Garden visits have been sparse this year, but being outdoors in the warm sunshine with a fresh breeze is probably one of the safer pursuits these days, and as we approach the more confining months of winter it might be best to stretch the legs one more time before the season of long nights settles in.  I had heard that hardy, autumn blooming camellias were a thing down in the suburbs of Philly, so when a stretch of beautiful autumn weather presented itself I knew I needed to check it out.  An offer had been made last spring and my fingers were crossed that offer still stood.  It did, and the offer was just as gracious as before and a few days later I was heading South to one of the most highly regarded private gardens of the Philadelphia area.

hedleigh spring

Cressons have been tending the land of Hedgleigh Spring since before Charles’ grandfather built the house over 100 years ago.  I’m going to guess the mountain of ‘dwarf’ cutleaf maple alongside the house probably dates just as far back.

November is not typically a month reserved for garden visits, but this beautifully orchestrated collector’s garden has something for every month of the year.  While other gardens are down to a pot of mums alongside the front door, Hedgleigh Spring offers decades worth of collecting, growing and hybridizing fall(and spring) blooming camellias, and melding them into a landscape already full of exceptional autumn interest.  Beautiful weather helped as well.  Blue skies, balmy temperatures and dozens of fall blooming camellias at their peak made for an excellent garden tour.

needle palm

It’s a good sign when mature needle palms and witch hazels grace the streetside plantings.

We started out front of course, and for as hard as I tried (and I really thought I was doing great) I missed the names of most of what I was really interested in.  My apologies, but if you really need more info I’m sure I can find it out for you.  One of the highlights of the tour was the extensive background information for each plant, each cross, the typical growth habit, care, pruning hints… and names… everything had a name, but you can blame this visitor for losing it.

ackerman hybrid camellia

‘Winter’s Rose’.  A beautiful flower on a dwarf plant,  but I do remember Charles warning me that it’s usually too late a bloomer to put on a good show, and all those unopened buds will probably freeze off during the winter.

I did make a special effort to keep my ears open for anything which might possibly have the magical combination of early fall bloom and enough hardiness to possibly offer a show in my much colder garden.  It’s a foolish idea since decades later I can still remember how all the “hardy” camellias I saw planted around a much warmer Long Island faded away, but…. whatever.  Charles put it in a much more promising tone.  He said it would be interesting to see someone “trialing” these crosses in a much colder climate.  I’ll keep that in mind for when a brutal winter comes along and crushes my delusions with a zone 6a reality.

hedleigh spring

An un-named tall, fast growing C. oleifera x C. sasanqua ‘Cleopatra’ cross with plenty of buds and a long bloom season that starts early enough to beat the cold.

Although I saw many which I’d like to try I was reminded that most fall bloomers are not bud hardy and once winter sets in, any unopened buds will be lost.  For my zone, a well thought out selection would be something not only hardy, but a plant which starts blooming early, has plenty of buds, and doesn’t show damage too strongly even if it does get hit with a few early freezes.

hardy camellia

A beautiful large-flowered semi double which was just too nice to leave out.  It’s one of Charles’ un-named hybrids, a ‘Snowflurry’ x ‘Moon Festival’ cross, which has been hardy, but perhaps not unique enough to name?  It looked perfect for our visit, but Charles warned that it would be a less-promising choice since the blooms are usually later.

Some siting ideas which were shared involved avoiding the sunny warm spot which you would think is a good idea for borderline hardy plants.  I’m told full winter sun on cold, frozen leaves will dehydrate and kill.  Better to site in a winter shaded or afternoon sunny spot.

hedleigh spring

The warm nook of a Southern exposure can keep other borderline hardy plants quite happy.  Flowering gingers in need of division, loropetalum, Fatsia, and plenty of southern bulbs.  Plus orange mums, ‘Dixter Orange’ if you’re curious.

Or just hope for the best.  Creeping fig is something I’ve only seen on inside walls, and never imagined it would survive for decades on the outside, but there it was.

hedleigh spring

Creeping fig (Ficus pumila ‘minima’) alongside ‘Buttercup’ english ivy.  The fig gets frozen back each winter which is probably a good thing, but each summer it’s back.

Obviously not everything can be hardy so it was no surprise there were plenty of potted treasures which come in each winter.  One of them, a zone 8 ‘Moon Festival’ camellia, was just opening its 6 inch crepe textured blooms right on time for our visit.  The cool thing about this one is that years back it had been crossed with a hardier plant and only now two of the seedlings of the cross were showing their first flowers.  One in particular held on to the large form and wrinkled texture, so of course it will be something interesting to watch as it grows and develops.

camellia moon festival

Camellia ‘Moon Festival’ in a pot on the back patio.

And there were more.  A particular standout was ‘Autumn Spirit’ with a deep pink color and a fairly formal double form.  Out in the open in full bloom with the blue skies and changing foliage colors around it, it was quite the show.  This might be one I risk up here in the tundra, it would be worth it.

camellia autumn spirit

Camellia ‘Autumn Spirit’

Hardiness isn’t the only hurdle.  Bad gardening also has to be dealt with, and when I saw this beautiful bank of ‘Snow Flurry’ I had to confess I’d killed mine this spring when we flipped into drought and I flipped into late spring apathy and didn’t water in time.  I may need to try again.

camellia snow flurry

More like a whiteout, camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ was at its peak, covered in flowers from top to bottom and ringed in a puddle of spent petals.

camellia snow flurry

Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ against the autumn sky.

Before I go on too long, I want to point out again that there was so much more to see than just dozens and dozens of camellias.  There were beautifully mature oak and bald cypress trees, banks of azaleas and hollies, southern and deciduous magnolias, perennial borders, fern gardens, woodland plantings, a vegetable and berry garden, rock garden, pond, and lots of bulbs.  Over the years Charles has made a name for himself in the bulb world and often gives talks and leads classes at Longwood and other locales in the area.

hedleigh spring

Of course fall blooming (Galanthus regiae-olgae) would catch my eye, but also notice the self sown camellia seedling and the pink flowering form of tea (Camellia sinensis) just off to the right.

My fingers are crossed that someday I can make it back for the spring bulbs, but on this visit it was all about a garden that looks good in its fall colors.

hedleigh spring

Mature trees surround the property, and of course I loved the hardy palms (Sabal minor ‘McCurtain).

Besides all the plants, the nerd in me was particularly excited to finally see the signature curved picket fence (91 ft long in case you’re wondering) which backs  a similarly curved perennial border, which blends in to mirrored rose beds on each side, and which finishes up with raised borders banked with stone (shown above with the palms).  For as much a collection of plants this garden is, it’s still focused on landscape design and plant combinations, with each one growing in a spot that shows it off well.

hedleigh spring

With foliage slightly singed by frost, Canna x ehemanii adds hot pink and tropical foliage to a border heavy on the warm colors of salvia and other bold summer plantings.

Actually things showed off well throughout the garden.

chrysanthemum gethsemane moonlight

Chrysanthemum ‘Gethsemane Moonlight’

Sorry but I do have to mention one more camellia.  Charles donates dozens and dozens of seed varieties each year to (among other places) the Hardy Plant Society, Mid Atlantic group seed exchange.  Over the years I’ve tried quite a few, and as we wandered the gardens it was fun to see the parents of many of my plants.  Camellia ‘Survivor’ was named after surviving a cold snap which many others did not, and it’s one of the parents of seedlings here in my own garden.  Hopefully the now 18 inch seedling growing here will someday also show off those hardy genes, and give this gardener a fall flower or two.

hardy camellia survivor

Camellia ‘Survivor’.  Charles actually encouraged me to reach up into the small tree and take a few ripe seed pods.  I tried to act like it was no big deal and even shared a few with the others.

And then the tour started to wrap up.  We heard car doors slamming as another group arrived, but fortunately there were still a few minutes for one last dash out back to the creek which runs through the back end of the property.  Yes, there’s even a creek… and a small wet meadow area…

hedleigh spring

Cypress knees holding one bank while recycled concrete from a sidewalk redo hems in the other side.  I was surprised to hear that this innocently clear and calm creek can burst up over its banks by several feet in a good storm.

So that was it.  We had already stayed way too long but even on the way back to our cars there were things we had somehow missed the first time through.

crocus speciosus

There were hundreds of Crocus speciosus in the front yard, but a surprise bunch in back caught the light perfectly.  I have to try this one again, mine were never this nice.

It was a great morning and besides seeing a lot, I also learned quite a bit.  Thanks again to Charles for all the time he spent with us, if we were pests in any way he never let on, and hopefully when he mentioned how the meadow along the creek was just filled with early bloomers he meant that we should see it some day!

More Fall

Who would have thought but this autumn continues to be a somewhat pleasant experience (pandemics notwithstanding), and we are enjoying a fairly warm October.  Warmth in October is nice.  People like warm fall days.  I on the other hand wouldn’t mind a little more cold.

autumn gourds

A hanging baskets was emptied to provide a spot for some of the gourd harvest.

Dried leaves and dead stalks, with pollen and fluff and dust blowing all over are not doing my sinuses any favors so my latest excuse for sleepy laziness is my allergies.  Even with a congested head and squinty eyes though, out in the garden is where I’d like to be and in spite of it all I did manage to get a few things done.  First of all I power washed.  When I told my mom how I’d power washed the birch trees, at first she couldn’t make sense of what I was saying, so I explained how they were looking a little dingy and algae-coated  and in need of a wash but that didn’t help.  ” I think I could have thought of better things to do” was her response, so I told her I washed the car afterwards and left out how I first cleaned the stone sides of the new coldframe and then we moved on to other topics.

whitespire birch

I apologize to every weekend warrior who will now feel the need to power wash their birch clumps, but they do look much nicer.

That took a lot out of me so I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around enjoying the glow of the fall foliage.

autumn foliage

From the right angle I can enjoy the fall color without seeing the dozens of potted plants which still need to come in…

The next few days didn’t see much more in the way of questionable productivity.  I’ve been obsessing about chrysanthemums after all, and how can you think of overwintering potted porch plants when there are mums in full autumnal splendor!?

hardy chrysanthemums

The chrysanthemum bed is now officially in full bloom.  Two beds would be nicer, but even one looks quite extravagant.

I don’t care about mums in May, but fortunately this year I still managed to plant these out and even added in a few seedlings which survived my springtime neglect.

hardy chrysanthemums

This pink seedling will be nice if it proves hardy.  Unfortunately the rest of this year’s crop is kinda boring.

The seedlings are fun, but the staking and fussing that went into caring for my last surviving football mum has really paid off.  All I do is stare at it and wish I had more.

hardy chrysanthemums

The amazing orange blooms of ‘Cheerleader’ tower over the others.

‘Cheerleader’ is about 3 or four feet tall even after an early spring pinching.  She requires strong wooden stakes and I even went as far as to disbud a few stems to see if the main flower would turn out nicer.  I think they did.  Hopefully next year I can repeat this.

chrysanthemum cheerleader

I did manage to cut a few for the house, but most are being enjoyed in situ.

While I contemplate a new career in raising fancy show chrysanthemums, and consider a roadtrip down to the Longwood chrysanthemum show (which goes until Nov 22),  I do want to point out a small project I did manage to finish up this week.  It’s a new raised bed, one made out of cement blocks and hopefully one which outlasts the wooden ones.

cinder block raised bed diy

Concrete blocks on end, the whole thing held together with metal strapping.  

Honestly I should have just stuck with the wooden theme, but I had an idea and that idea might be worth a try if it meant not having to replace every last bed in a dozen years.  In the meantime I just hope no one looks too closely at my credit card receipts and questions just how much was spent  on a 1/2″ steel strapping kit.  Let’s run a quick distraction with some nice photos of wonderful fall bulbs.

bessera elegans

A surprise flower on the non hardy Bessera elegans.  It’s just one more potful which has to still come in for the winter.

Just the fact the Bessera is alive is amazing and that it’s still sending up a bloom or two after flowering earlier in the summer is also a shock since I had given them up for dead months ago.  Actually it wasn’t so much giving up than it was throwing them into the furnace room back in the fall of 2018 and then just being too lazy to pull them out the next spring.  So they sat.  Bone dry.  For six months.  Then ten…. then twelve… then sixteen… Finally a year and a half later I went back there looking for emergency potting soil and found the pot.  I was shocked (and a little annoyed, since I really needed more potting soil) to find a pot full of perfectly healthy corms, no worse than the day I put them back there.  Out onto the sidewalk they went, and one April shower later they were all sprouting.

galanthus bursanus

A very elegant autumn blooming snowdrop (Galanthus bursanus). You can probably guess just how often I check on this newest pet.

The bessera is a summer bulb, but autumn snowdrops represent a new season, and by that I mean winter.  I love seeing them coming up and from now until next March it’s snowdrop season.  Sure it slows down a bit in January, but for the last few years that slowdown is only a few days and not the usual months long lockdown of cold and ice that we used to endure.  I guess a global climate disaster can have a bright side if you look hard enough.

galanthus peshmenii

Galanthus peshmenii? I believe not, if only because the “are you sure?” backup peshmenii I bought is living up to its reputation and slowly fading away while this one gets better each year.

Did I mention how much I paid for the latest snowdrops?  Of course not, and I won’t.  By now I know better than to put things like snowdrops on anything which produces a receipt.  Explaining away a 1/2″ steel strapping kit produces a bored look but when I try to justify the excitement over an expensive little bulb, all I get is that judgemental eye roll.

Have a great weekend, and for those who are curious I followed some tips for finding a backdoor to the old WordPress editor, and it’s made my blogging life tolerable once again.

Fall

So here I am, finally forced to use the new block editor for WordPress. I don’t like it. Everything is adrift in a sea of white and I can’t fix how the photos and captions are displayed. There is no desire in me to be a web designer, I just want to post a couple pictures and write a few comments and since I’m struggling with that I’ll just assume it’s too smart for me.

Feather reed grass along the street. Things are looking autumnal.

I just want to complain. I don’t like it. I want menus and boxes and structure, not symbols and icons and dots that I somehow have to know to click on… or double click on… or whatever alt hold and click combo I’m supposed to just know or remember or whatever.

The front border from the other side. I’m quite pleased, but this is all the beginning of the end, as things color up, dry up, and die off…

Why the heck does everything need to be in stupid blocks!? I don’t like it. I just want it to be intuitive and let me write and I can throw in a picture whenever I want. Now I have to add a stupid photo block and then start a paragraph block and then go on to the next block. I seriously had less trouble editing html code than I do with this cloud of one size fits all.

chrysopsis Heterotheca villosa ruth baumgardner
Heterotheca(aka Chrysopsis) villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’. Still glowing brightly from the end of the front border.

I’ll stop now. I don’t like it. Maybe what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but that’s not exactly the kind of win-win scenario I strive for either so… on to the fall garden. It’s here. It’s winding down. Still colorful, but fading fast. All the smarter plants are packing it in for the winter they know is coming, but the foolish tropicals are still carrying on like there’s always a tomorrow.

dahlia happy single flame
Dahlia happy single flame. This one always seems at its best during the last weeks of fall.

The tropicals were saved at the last minute by some rain and an almost-but-not quite-frost. The rain was just in time, but late September would have been tragically early for a frost date. Only a few things were touched though so I’ll count my blessings, especially since others North and South of us were not as lucky.

white cactus dahlia
The last big hurrah for dahlias and the red rose ‘Black Forest’ isn’t doing too bad either.

I’m enjoying the final flowers, but I’m afraid sometimes the impression is that everything is an overflowing wonder of color and interest in this garden. Angles and cropping make a big difference. The photo above vs the photo below shows how the full clump of big white dahlias looks much thinner and poorly staked from a different angle.

autumn dahlia garden
Things look a lot gappier from the back. Honestly everything is too close to the path and a mess, but at this time of year who really cares? I’m just enjoying the color.

The lack of big tropicals in the tropical border this year bothered me for a little bit, but I’m not going to miss all the canna root digging and elephant ear lugging that normally happens in October. It still looks fake-tropical lush with grasses and pokeweed, but my big plant of happiness is the non-tropical ‘Michigan hardy’ cardoon seedling which will hopefully prove to be more hardy than previous seedlings. It’s become a monster and I wonder if I’ll ever hope that winter takes this one out like it has all my others.

hardy cardoon
This is another really nice camera angle. All year I hated how this combo worked (or didn’t work), but here at just the right angle the cardoon is nestled in perfectly between grasses, pokeweed and dahlias.

I reeeeaaaallly like the cardoon although again it’s one of those spiny, pokey, too-big, weedy looking, things that takes up all the room that a peony could shine in, but… let’s just move on. The potager still looks respectable even if a few too many ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranthus were allowed to grow in all the wrong places.

the potager pergola
Parts of the potager are still neat and weed free. Let’s hope I can keep this up for a second year!

We’re still picking a few things such as eggplant and tomatoes but for me the chrysanthemums and gourds are so much more entertaining. Now that fall transplanting season is upon us it will take resolve of steel to keep from filling all the beds with tulips and transplants of everything which would likely do better in more cultivated soil.

diy pergola
The raised beds are nice, but my favorite spot is the pergola. Already I’m wondering what to do with the four corners next year!

A bed or two of phlox, multiple beds filled with tulips, a few for chrysanthemums, maybe just a few coleus here and there 🙂

hardy chrysanthemums
Last year annual salvia dominated, this year the dry weather stunted the salvia seedlings and left an opening for mums and verbena.

Just is case you’re wondering how my feelings towards the new editor are going… I don’t like it…. but what I do like are colchicums. And just typing the word immediately lowered my blood pressure a bit and made the three days I’ve been screwing around with this post seem just a little less wasted.

colchicum flowers
The last of the colchicum with a leaner sister of the big lusty cardoon that’s growing in the tropical bed. I think this is mostly ‘Nancy Lindsay’ and maybe ‘Lilac Wonder’?

I really try to avoid showing the same plant again and again, but the dry, cool weather has the colchicums lasting and lasting. So here again is my group of C. speciosum giganteum group.

colchicum speciosum gigantea group
Colchicum giganteum still looking good after two weeks.

And although my friend Cathy grows this one much better than I do, Colchicum autumnale album plenum is slowly spreading into a small clump that will hopefully some day become a small drift of white.

colchicum autumnale album plenum
Colchicum autumnale album plenum

And one more. C. speciosum ‘Atrorubens’ came up pale but has now darkened down to a rich color which bleeds onto the stem almost to the ground.

colchicum speciosum atrorubens
Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’

Oh and one other announcement. After about ten years of holding onto an old shower door, two years of thinking I should use it for a coldframe, and four weekends of staring and planning and considering, the coldframe is finally done. “What took so long?” you ask… well I don’t know. I’ve just been lazy.

diy coldframe
It took forever for me to figure out how to use the hoarded door, wood scraps, and salvaged pink marble to build… but once the last screw was in it took me about 15 minutes to fill it with plants.

In case you’re wondering, the door slides flat in order to cover the plants, it’s just folded up right now to enjoy the sun and breezes of autumn… and since I look at it multiple times a day, I might as well leave it open anyway. I like it. I’m happy it’s done, and with that albatross off my neck I’m free to do more fun-erer things until the next simple project weighs me down.

homegrown gourd harvest
As soon as I finished basking in the glow of a project done, and congratulated myself one last time, it was time to harvest the gourds. An excellent haul me thinks!

I noticed the pink marble of the coldframe isn’t quite as pink as it could be and what’s the sense of a marble coldframe if everyone doesn’t realize it’s marble? I worry that garden tours will pass by and think it’s just fieldstone or any old stone block or something, and that could be embarrassing… especially after they’ve experienced the fancy that is our potager. Perhaps this weekend’s to-do list will have to start with some powerwashing. I’m sure in the grand scheme of gardening tasks which I neglect, powerwashing the blocks under a crusty little coldframe is the most effective use of my gardening energies. On a side note, it’s obvious why I could never do this professionally.

new england aster alma
“Alma Potschke” New England aster along the runoff path for the gutters. I should call it the ‘rain garden’, that has a nicer ring to it.

Honestly there are so many more important things to do, such as replanting a couple hundred daffodils or bringing in dozens of potted plants or doing all the other fall prep, but I suspect I’ll start the weekend off with powerwashing. Ok, full honesty means that I also looked at the birch trees and decided they should be whiter and cleaner as well. If you never see another photo with the birch trees in it you’ll know how that went.

Hope your weekend turns out more productive, but even if it’s not have a great one! -btw I think I survived the new editor…

Keep it Classy

You may think that a couple raised beds and an obsession for snowdrops would practically guarantee refined taste and a Martha Stewart garden visit, but as of this evening both have yet to happen.  Sometimes I think neither will happen and then I start wondering if maybe it’s just a problem with the gardener, and his complete lack of class and good taste.  So be it.  I like orange, I like cannas and dahlias,  I like marigolds, and above all I love too much when a little less would have been much more respectable.

french marigold

French marigolds reseeded from last year.  I hear they’re less ‘out’ than they used to be but ‘classy’?  Maybe not yet.

I don’t have the patience or writing skills to really go into why one flower is classy while another is crass, but over the years I’ve picked up on the judgements of my betters and at this highpoint of summer realize that my garden definitely veers towards the trailer park style rather than waterfront estate.

chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemums can be fancy I suppose, just look at the formal displays in the far East style, but as flowers go I think of them as a modern carnation, the flower bouquet you buy when roses and lilies are too expensive.  btw I hate this color, but a friend loves it, so I trust her taste and keep it!

I suppose if you decorate your estate with gobs of full flower chrysanthemums in themed color displays they’re fancy, or if you stick with the truly perennial types which put out sprays of color in late fall you’re good, but my chrysanthemums are mostly the feral offspring of whomever managed to survive the winter.   To me they’re an interesting bunch though, even if the colors aren’t anything extraordinary.  The earliest ones are starting to bloom now, which is far too early and reeks of autumn, but I hope they’re just enthusiastic and can keep this going at least through September.

chrysanthemum

A larger flowered chrysanthemum which showed up under a rosebush one summer.  I’m looking forward to seeing what its seedlings look like in bloom in another two or three weeks.

Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a weed of waste places and abandoned gardens.  Obviously it does well here and obviously it’s not high class, so I always leave a few to grow and flower.  Birds are supposed to like the seeds (although I’ve never seen a bird on it) and I like the way the flowers pop open each day, so this native biennial is ok in my book.  Now if only I could motivate myself to seed out the fancier versions I found last winter.  Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ offers dark stems with tangerine flowers overlaid in rose, while the large yellow blooms of Oenothera glazioviana pop open in under a minute as the sun goes down… it’s worth a party, or so I’ve been told.

evening primrose

Oenothera biennis, the common primrose, with a few other classy weeds such as Persicaria orientalis and the golden, too-loud, Rudbeckia fulgens.

Phlox come with an excellent pedigree and are grown in some of the best gardens.  And then they get here.  A few years back I decided to treat my self to a few selections from the ‘Sweet Summer’ series, and a few years forward they’re all dead except for two.  Actually make that one.  ‘Sweet Summer Festival’ would never fully open her blooms and was yanked a few weeks ago and sent to the compost pile.  She came with excellent references, and I thought she would grow out of it but maybe it was some weird tissue culture issue… or she just hated it here and couldn’t be bothered with hiding her disgust.

phlox sweet summer fantasy

Phlox ‘Sweet Summer Fantasy’ looking slightly less fabulous than the pictures had lead me to believe.  “Large flowers, strong upright habit with clean foliage and good branching”…

I was looking at the trash I call a phlox bed today and really gave some consideration to offering up my garden as an extreme test location for new phlox varieties.  I think a new plant would really have to jump through some hoops to do well here, and if anyone out there wants to send me a bunch of free plants for evaluation I’m completely on board… and just to throw it out there even if the plant doesn’t do completely well it doesn’t mean I can’t write a glowing review… I mean integrity is kind of a vague concept these days, and free plants really do hold a lot of sway in this garden.

Aristolochia fimbriata

Aristolochia fimbriata (the white veined Dutchman’s pipe) is actually a very classy little treasure, and look at the little pipe it’s putting out!  downside though, perhaps I should have looked at its mature height and spread before planting it at the base of a six foot trellis.

I always thought of Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) as a trashy plant.  We had it round the garden growing up and my mother would always complain over its leafless stems in May when everything else had already sprung to life, and then I would always complain about the carpet of seedlings which would fill the weed bucket under every bush.  Should I even mention the slimy faded flowers which would litter the ground for two months in late summer?  They were always guaranteed to squish up between your toes, and even better if a slug had come out to take a bite before your foot landed on it all.

rose of sharon white chiffon

‘White Chiffon’ rose of sharon hasn’t reseeded too badly, and when all else fails white flowers always add distinction.

I have to say I like the new rose of sharons.  ‘White Chiffon’ is a smaller version of ‘Diana’ with a little extra fluff in the center of each flower (I still prefer the single ‘Diana’), and if for once I can refrain from accidentally cutting down the bush during spring cleanup I think she’ll be an excellent addition to the garden… unlike the amazingly colored but prolifically seeding ‘Bluebird’ who was shovel pruned.

rose of sharon ruffled satin

Rose of sharon ‘Ruffled Satin’.  I have not seen a single seedling under this one, and to my eye you might even get away with saying this plant looks refined?

I guess the mallow family is often pointed at for weediness and gaudiness, and I’m not sure where the latest court ruling stands at for classiness, but if you move away from shrubby hibiscus to the perennial version it’s really got to be a gray area.  Some of the newest forms are just amazing, but they have all the oversized flowers and inappropriately bright colors of something less refined.  I would grow all of them, but just can’t deal with the ravages of the hibiscus sawfly which eat their foliage to shreds each summer so there’s only one left, and some years he does ok, and other years I just turn away.

hibiscus turn of the century

An ok year for hibiscus ‘Turn of the Century’.  I love it, but it’s a far cry from the five foot shrub covered with blooms which this plant is capable of.

Ok, enough with all this concern over tackiness.  If you look at the last hibiscus photo you might notice a classier plant in the backgound, the chartreuse leaved, 2020 Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year, Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.  This cool thing doesn’t seem to mind a crushing late freeze, mid summer drought, and rooty shade, and although its two foot height in my garden does not compare well to the 4-6 feet it is typically quoted as, it’s still a wonderful presence.  The plant is a great introduction by plantsman/hunter/explorer Barry Yinger who spotted it atop a Japanese department store in the garden center.  So much easier than bushwacking up a Chinese river valley and climbing cliffsides looking for new plants, but I’m sure that was on the list as well.

Hosta yingerii

Of course when I saw the name I knew I had to try the seeds for Hosta yingerii, and here they are several years later.  

Plant nuts will remember Barry Yinger’s Asiatica Nursery which was an outlet for introducing hundreds of exotic and obscure plants into the American horticultural world, and even if you don’t know it, your garden is probably richer for it.  Even my little plot has a few (hopefully) hardy camellias which are just a few degrees of separation from Mr Yinger collecting seeds under armed escort within sight of the North Korean mainland.  A cool connection me thinks.

Not to swing this around and make it all about me, but I did meet Barry Yinger once.  Not to brag but it was at one of the first Galanthus Galas, and he was off in a side room breaking for lunch when I decided to take my chance.  “Is this where the restrooms are?” was my icebreaker, “No, they’re the next doorway” was his response, and I was on my way.  I don’t think he remembers.

Obviously my classiness is only eclipsed by my social skills, so let me abruptly end this post and wish you all a great week!

The Potager 2.0

When the pandemic first came to our shores and we were faced with a surprise vacation and then a transition to work at home, the non-commuting lifestyle left me with what seemed like a mountain of extra time to spend in the garden.  ‘Let me get some building materials delivered’ I said, and ‘build a few raised beds’ I thought.  The boss gave her approval and things began to move.  Slowly.  A thousand things had to be moved first, plans needed to come together, but I think it’s finally at a point where I can show it off a bit, if only to get it over with rather than build some unwarranted, over-blown hype.

raised beds

The front entrance to the potager.  A slight downward slope ends at the pergola, the beds are leveled into the slope, and the blocks will hopefully help with keeping the lawn edge neat just in case we get enough rain for it to grow again.

The first dilemma was choosing lumber.  As usual I went with cheap and selected eight foot pressure treated 2x4s, but it wasn’t all that easy. Naturally rot resistant cedar or redwood would have been nice, larger boards would have been nicer, but the costs were way higher than I was comfortable with so it was a compromise between expensive all natural, or cheaper with a vague possibility of copper leaching… well I say that but actually the compromise was lower the cost or it’s not going to happen…

Overall I hope to get at least ten years out of the wood because although it’s pressure treated it’s not rated for ground contact.  Eventually it will rot, but the treatment should give at least a few years more than untreated, and funny story… the pandemic caused a pressure treated lumber shortage, so we will see exactly how much faster au naturel rots, since all I could find for the last two beds was untreated wood.

raised beds

The view from the trampoline.  We are into the annual zucchini tsunami and each morning a few more line up on the counter.  Someday I hope to level this bottom part of the garden.  The beds are built level but the grass paths still need some fill to bring them up. 

Besides being cheap with materials,  I also got a little greedy with the bed space vs path width.  Between beds is about two feet, and even if it were wider there was still no way (add laziness to the growing list of personal faults) that I was going to wrestle a lawnmower between each bed.  Enter the wonderfully gritty sand pile.  I knew I didn’t want lawn, wood chips need replacing (and why add organic matter to your paths when it should be going onto your beds?), bare landscape fabric is ugly (and violates my no new plastic policy), so I wanted it to be something inorganic and long lasting (and yet again, cheap).  So I grabbed my face mask and was off to the quarry to look at stone dust, crusher run, and sand.  Surprisingly the sand looked perfect.  It was sharp enough to pack down well for a solid footing, and coarse enough (up to about 1/8″ particles) to not wash away in a heavy rain.  So far I love it, and in the future I might even get sand to top off beds rather than buying ‘topsoil’ that turns to rock the minute it dries.

raised beds

I removed the grass from a few of the pathways and used the turf to fill the beds.  Sand paths will hopefully be low maintenance with great drainage, and if worse comes to worse I can just dig them over and replant grass.

Cinder blocks are also cheap, and at about $1.20 a piece I lugged a few carloads home to use as edging and to form a little paved area under the pergola.  So far I like it.  It’s an honest concrete look rather than concrete pavers trying to pass off as something fancier.  Of course stone would have been another nice permanent edging but again spending a bunch of money was not part of my pandemic response.

With the beds built and the lawn edged and sand down on the paths I was super surprised to see that I still had leftover sand.  I tried to calculate for extra sand for an additional pathway up alongside the fence, but to actually have a plan that worked out was a little bit of a surprise.  After years of collecting and lugging random stones I could finally use them to line a sand trail that gives access to the back of the pond.

garden pond

Finishing the pond is still on the to-do list but for now I think it looks good enough.  The shallow end is in constant use as a birdbath, so it’s really more of a watering hole than a pond…

The pond path is surprisingly popular with the kids and our little garden bunny.  I’ve caught both zipping back and forth, and in the morning there are all kinds of footprints in the sand.

sand path

Pond path’s entrance.  Yes those are mostly weeds.  Weeding went onto the back burner as I lugged load after load of lumber, blocks, and sand.  

To sum it all up I love the new beds and I feel like there’s so much more useable space with it set up this way.  I have a total of eleven 4×8 beds and for now it’s all vegetables and I’m trying not to give in to the temptation of planting flowers… except for the one bed which I gave over to chrysanthemums… but my resolve may dissolve since I still need room for phlox and tulips.  At least I’m trying to be firm with the usual sunflowers and verbena bonariensis seedlings.  -for the record I’m not sure why I needed a bed of chrysanthemum, but after years of neglecting them and abusing them in horribly weedy, infertile, and dry sites, I thought it was about time to do them right.  We will see.

rain garden

Yes, more weeds.  The weeds exploded with last week’s rain and this bed was the next one to need attention.

With everything under control in the potager, there was still enough sand to upgrade the dirt ditch of the rain garden with another nice, stone-lined, sand path.  If you recall, last summer this area received a small paved area and path with all the leftover flat stones liberated from the industrial park construction.  It was nice, but I didn’t like the dirt gully which channeled the runoff, and when I don’t like something I kind of neglect it, and when you neglect a garden the weeds send out an alert, and when they all show up to answer the call things go downhill fast.  The weeds are out now, the sand is down, and although I’m short on rocks along the one side, the other doesn’t look bad at all.  We will see how it holds up.  If you look closely at the paving joints you might notice the joints are neatly filled with sand rather than dirt, and both of those are a pain to keep weed free when all you have is this narrow joint that the roots can hold onto.  Truth is I threw some leftover polymeric sand in there, and when you wet the sand the polymer sets up and solidifies it.  I don’t know how it will hold up but hopefully I’ll get at least a few years of no-weeds-in-the joints enjoyment.  The weeds will be fine elsewhere though, so if you’re worried don’t be.

rain garden

Another step forward I hope.  Mulch would be nice now.

That’s where we’re at going into the weekend.  The weather forecast is promising another heat wave so I’m not worried about mowing, but watering will be on my mind.  I don’t like watering but it does beat lugging cinderblocks and digging turf so I’ll keep the complaining to a minimum.

Traditionally I usually meet the hottest days of summer with a pile of mulch in the driveway.  Hmmm.  I hope you have a more relaxing weekend 😉