Before the Freeze

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

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

tropical garden fall cleanup

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

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

building a garden pond

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

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

building a garden pond

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

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

building a garden pond

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

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

building a garden pond

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

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

autumn garden

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

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

autumn garden

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

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

verbascum leaves

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

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

autumn garden

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

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

cyclamen confusum

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

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

A Chrysanthemum Show

For several years it’s been on the list to visit a chrysanthemum show.  Not just any farmstand with fat bushelbaskets of mum color, but an official show with carefully trained displays complete with a bunch of different styles… foremost among them the single bloom monsters which I love above all others.  I don’t know much about mums, but I do know I needed to see a show.  Enter friend with suggestion to go to NYC 🙂

ny botanical garden kiku

Kiku: Spotlight on Tradition.  If the show has a name, it’s got to be official, right?  Cascading forms and bonsai trained Kiku (Japanese for chrysanthemum) greeted us as we entered the greenhouse display. 

We settled on a visit to the New York Botanical Garden.  Strangely enough, for someone with a mild plant obsession and who grew up less than 50 miles away, this would be my first visit to the NY Botanical, but better late than never, right?  Actually the truth is that the Bronx Zoo was always the winner when we were making our way to this part of the city.  Actually it still tends to win out, but at least now I can blame the kids.  I digress though.  We made it to the Gardens at a decent time and were pleased to find ourselves visiting on one of those blue-sky, crisp air mornings that are perfect for brisk walks through extensive botanical gardens.  I bet you didn’t even know that was a weather category, but for further reference it’s just a tad warmer than leaf-raking weather.

ny botanical garden kiku

Carefully trained and nurtured for months, the kiku display covers a range of styles and forms.

The actual display was a little smaller than I was expecting, probably due to greenhouse renovations and all the plant moving that goes with that, but the flowers were fascinating.  I like the big, full flowers best, but there were plenty others to catch the eye.  Actually enough caught my eye to get me thinking that maybe I need to dig a big part of the garden up and just plant it to all chrysanthemums.

ny botanical garden kiku

Class 11 brush and thistle chrysanthemum ‘Saga Nishiki’.  I believe there are 13 classes in all.  

Photographers were out in droves capturing flowers and fall foliage, and one person I spoke with was enthralled with the light… ‘the light is amazing’ she said, but for a point and shoot kind of photo-taker like myself the pictures on my camera leave much to be desired.  Hopefully the give a decent feel for the display.

ny botanical garden kiku

I was quite impressed by the garlands of chrysanthemum trained from side to side, but the towers of flowers on the right, and the various classes lined out on the left, kept me in this part of the greenhouse for quite a while.  

In case you’re wondering I did get to see plenty of the huge single blooms as well.  My tastes run to the gaudy end of the spectrum, so these big, fluffy things were just perfect.

ny botanical garden kiku

I believe these are of the regular incurve class of chrysanthemums.  I may have given a bloom or two a light squeeze, they’re so irresistibly full (my grandmother would have been appalled). 

Wait, how could I forget the spider form.  I love these as well… although I always wonder why the ring supports underneath are bright white and not a less obvious black or dark green…

ny botanical garden kiku

Spider perfection at the NY Botanical Garden

With the serious business out of the way it was time to wander the grounds and enjoy the beautiful fall weather.  Foliage was at its peak and beginning to wind down.

ny botanical garden autumn

Japanese maples never disappoint.

Early November is probably not the showiest month for flowers, but we did enjoy all the trails and vistas and well tended plantings, and it’s amazing to think our quiet afternoon happened within the city limits of a metropolis which millions call home.

ny botanical garden autumn

The light, the light… Inside the rock garden.

Although we weren’t able to find a single autumn flowering snowdrop we did catch the last of the Halloween displays and some of the other events going on in the park.

ny botanical garden autumn

Giant squash and warty gourds almost made up for the lack of snowdrops.  They’re so nice in fact that I’m actually considering planting my entire garden to squash and Indian corn next year.   

And then we arrived at the main greenhouses and I forgot all about squash and snowdrops.  The salvia were in bloom.

ny botanical garden autumn

Yellow Salvia madrensis, fuzzy purple Salvia leucantha, and probably the carmine bloom of salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ flowering in the Ladies Border.

Most of the fall blooming salvias arrive a little too late to show off in my PA garden, but here in the big city they flourish.

ny botanical garden autumn

Yellow pineapple sage (Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’) in the herb garden.  Mine is usually just opening its first flowers when frost crashes the party. 

So now I’m thinking I’ll plant the whole garden with salvias.  I could do worse.

ny botanical garden autumn

More Salvia madrensis alongside purple barberry and perennial sunflowers.  It was a beautiful day 🙂

And then our visit came to its end.  I didn’t want to admit it but my legs were kind of worn out from all the walking and when we sat down for a bite to eat neither of us were in a rush to get going again.  Perhaps we should have taken advantage of the trams circling the garden, but I’m sure there will be plenty of time to rest up when the winter season rolls in… which judging by the 10 day forecast will be sooner rather than later.

Have a great weekend!

Happy Halloween!

Surprise of surprises the month of October has passed and there still remains a general air of pleasantness and overall contentment with the autumn season.  Even as the wind and rain buffet trick-or-treaters, the gardener has yet to mention death, gloom or futility, in spite of light frosts and dropping leaves and various ghouls and other undead wandering the neighborhood.

autumn garden color

Fall color seems especially bright this year.  The view towards the tropical garden doesn’t really seem all that tropical anymore but it’s not bad at all in my opinion.

To be honest I’m not 100% sure a ghoul qualifies as undead but I am sure that the garden still has plenty of life in it.  Last weekend was excellent weather for outdoor labor and even this gardener got a few things done.  Mulching was probably the most rewarding job and being that I love mulching, and free mulch is even better, it was almost a struggle to wait until a respectable 9am before making the first run to the town’s free mulch pile.

hellebore garden

The new hellebore garden is finally fit to show.  Stepping stones have been leveled, mulch spread, and now all that’s missing is a nice blanket of leaves on top.  Nature will oblige I’m sure.

Free mulch around here isn’t the fanciest thing, but I’m still thrilled my friend Paula inspired me to go looking for it again.  I can head out, fill a couple buckets and an old trash can, and pull back into the garage in eleven minutes flat, which isn’t all that unreasonable and compares very favorably to the time I would have been sitting around “resting” anyway.  In all I made four runs, which quickly adds up to forty minutes, but since two of the trips included picking up or dropping off children I still think I’m not doing too bad.

autumn garden color

Orange is the color of the week.  Tonight’s wind and this weekend’s frost will change the picture but for now I love it.

Besides mulching and mowing, a few other things were checked off of the to-do list.  Stage one of tender plant triage includes cuttings of the most cool-weather sensitive things such as coleus, and that was completed a couple weeks ago.  Stage two is dragging all tender potted things closer to the garage and off the deck.  Stage three will be the end to procrastination, and means dragging them all in when frost threatens (Friday night), and then Stage four will be all the hardier things such as potted geraniums and rosemary which can handle a frost, but resent a freeze.  It’s kind of late for a hard frost this year, so I’ve been enjoying a nice drawn out process where things are a little less hectic, and a lot more organized.

tatarian aster jindai

Some late season blooms on the Tatarian aster ‘Jindai’.  A delay in a hard freeze means this slowpoke has had enough time to put on a nice show this year.

A beautiful fall, a relaxed pace in the garden, projects getting done.  It all still seems so remarkably positive that I almost hesitate to bring up a dark cloud, but it’s there nonetheless.  Deer have made my garden a regular stop on their nightly forays.  It’s not unusual for them to come through as they grow restless in the autumn, but this year they really seem to like what they’ve found.  The little piles of ‘pellets’ seem to tell me they’re spending quite some time here at night and the stripped leaves and beheaded chrysanthemums tell me what they’ve been doing.

autumn salvia

I love this tender salvia which went in as part of the autumn upgrade to these containers, but I also loved the purple oxalis that used to fill the front.  Stems are all that remain.

This gardener hopes they move on during the winter.  Maybe the colchicum flowers they ate will upset their tummies enough to make them wander off to greener pastures, or maybe the cyclamen flowers left a bad taste in their mouth… but I really suspect they just liked adding a bit of exotic flavor to the diet.  In any case you can probably guess who has been encouraging the neighborhood hunters to shoot local this year…

berm planting

There’s been some activity on the berm.  A close close look may reveal the small green sprays of new ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae as well as a few other tiny things.  In about 15 years maybe I’ll post another picture to see if it’s amounted to anything.

Don’t let a few deer nibbles give off the wrong impression.  It’s still a remarkable autumn and I’m quite pleased with the progress and with the garden… even if the days are becoming rudely short and time outside is becoming annoyingly limited.  With that in mind I’ll leave you with something exceptionally positive.

galanthus tilebarn jamie

The first snowdrops are up.  The fall blooming Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ looks fantastic amongst the autumn leaves, and it’s just one of a few which are in bloom this week.

The first of the little snowdrop treasures are too precious to run the risk of facing the elements outdoors, so of course they’ll have to face the risks of a fickle gardener indoors and hopefully that works out well.  A few fall and winter bloomers did survive outside last year but not enough to give me the confidence to gamble with these, so in another two or three weeks these will also migrate to the winter garden alongside other plants too special to give up.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy the company while we wait for the garden to thaw out again 🙂

Still Not the Worst

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

hardy chrysanthemum

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

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

hardy chrysanthemum

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

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

new garden beds

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

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

container bog garden

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

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

new garden beds

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

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

spruce on berm

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

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

fall perennial border

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

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

sunnyside up pokeweed

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

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

colchicum autumnale album plenum

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

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

bougainvillea hanging pot

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

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

Have a great week 🙂

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.

Keep Those Projects Rollin

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

maine portland headlight

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

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

lubec maine

Looking across the channel to Lubec, Maine.  

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

hellebore garden

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

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

bog container garden

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

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

tropical garden

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

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

front border

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

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

front border

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

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

Have a great week!

Rollin, Rollin

So now it’s August.  August fourth to be exact, and I’m not sure how we started into the month already when I only just realized July was ending, but here we are.  Weeding continues and with the front yard relatively under control it’s time to give the back some attention.  The potager is always ground zero for mayhem.

potager

The view from the potager up to the house.

From the right angle and with some nice morning light the potager looks like a flowery wonderland, but an actual visit would show plenty of weeds and needs.  Staking, deadheading, dividing… they’re all on the list somewhere, but weeding is all I really manage to get to.  In my new lower-the-maintenance kick I’m trying to think of better edging and maybe some raised beds and trellises but that’s a whole ‘nother lever and I don’t know if I can pull it off without someone else noticing that the closets still need new shelves and back in June in a moment of clarity that was chosen as the real summer project.

potager

Full disclosure.  The back garden really isn’t as flower-filled as you may think, and the berm is just too steep and too boring to mow… just so I can have more to mow.  So it sits covered in weeds (actually struggling and dried out smartweed for those who need to know) until I commit to planting something better there.

I was kind of inspired by how well the phlox were flowering and didn’t really mind all the hard labor out back.  There are a few seedlings which are nicely fragrant which I always appreciate, and in general quite a few have decided to flower instead of die, and for me and my phlox that’s a big step.

phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata with some hydrangea ‘Limelight’ in the back.  The hydrangea have grown faster than I thought they would, and this bed might need some rethinking.

I don’t grow the phlox well.  There’s always something they don’t like and I would guess that in any given year for the half that do well there’s another good half that look downright miserable.  I think they’d like a looser, more fertile soil with even moisture levels but that’s just not going to happen and they’ll just have to deal.

phlox paniculata

This pink seedling is my favorite this year.  It’s a pretty average color but up close I love the streaking… which of course doesn’t show too well in this photo.

I made it all the way to the ‘forgotten’ beds in the far back, which are less flower beds than they are just planted areas which I don’t mow.  The double tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium ‘Flore Pleno’) is back there and has finally opened up its congested and twisted blooms.  I never know for sure if I really like it or if it’s just too interesting to not grow, but I’m beginning to think I actually like it 😉

double tiger lily

The double tiger lily has been around since 1870 so of course I’ll need to keep it around.

I was about to tackle one of the worst of the ‘forgotten’ beds when I noticed someone else had moved in before me.  I treasure yellow garden spiders (Agriope aurantia) so when I saw this darling sitting in her web I decided enough was enough with the weeding and frost can level these things just as well as I can.

yellow garden spider

Yellow garden spider down in the weeds.  I can’t leave this darling exposed and homeless, so for the rest of the season this bed is officially a spider refuge.

I’ll regret letting this messy plot go to seed but in the long run I always opt for interesting over pretty so each afternoon I check out how well she’s respun her nest and weather she’s looking a little thin.  Every now and then a Japanese beetle gets flicked into her trap just to make sure she’s plenty plump by autumn.

cardinal flower lobelia

A few of my weeds turned into cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis).  They kind of make up for all the endless rain which gave them the soggy ground they enjoy.

Opting out of any more weeding really gave me a new lease on gardening.  Weeding the whole garden only to start weeding again is about as rewarding as mowing the lawn every time the lawn needs mowing, and it makes me feel like a dog chasing its tail except I’m not that into tails.  These never ending tasks just wear me down.  So the lawn is getting tall and the less noxious weeds are enjoying summer and I’m moving on to projects.  I finally decided to address the pile of flat rocks I had collected last fall and had been mowing around ever since.

building a bog garden

I don’t know how I moved that big rock back in the day, but last week with a lot of sweat and levering I finally moved it out from behind the grass.  Then I bulked up the stepping stone walk and settled on a spot for the bog garden.

For me projects make you feel like you’re actually making headway.  I want my garden to grow from year to year as well as season to season so changes always make me feel like that’s the case.  The reality is that the photos sometimes say it looked better in the before state, but where’s the fun in that?  Also I bought four new pitcher plants for like $15 on clearance so obviously I needed to invest hours of time and at least twice that much money in peat and sand just so they had a comfortable place to live.

hellebore garden

Leftover stones and a neighbor’s discarded bench were all the excuse needed to make a second new bed while the first new bed was happening.  Why not?

Someone might notice that adding beds to a garden that may already be too much might possibly be a move in the wrong direction but of course I don’t care.  Hobbies should be fun and you’d be amazed at how quickly a weed whacker and a pile of mulch can tame just about any mess.

devils trumpet datura

The rewards of messiness.  Devils trumpet seeded out in a cloud of volunteer fennel.  Not bad for a weedy snowdrop bed.

The bog is settling in and the bench now overlooks a patch of hellebores which have finally been moved out of the vegetable garden.  I would have taken and posted a photo but was so sweaty and disgusting the mosquitos even avoided me.  So much for the fun part of the hobby 😉