Into Summer

This might be the driest this garden has been in about four years and that’s ok.  Warm and dry means the lawn stops growing, and unless I’m being really obsessive about clover flowers,  I can just leave it unmown for a week or two and it doesn’t look much worse for the neglect.  Obviously my vote is always for less work, and the few bees which forage the lawn seem happy with this arrangement as well, but I do notice that none of the other lawns look as nicely “decorated” with flowers.  Again, that’s ok.  It’s dry, but not too dry, and although a few wilted things here and there tug at my conscience as I walk by, it’s not enough to bring me down.  When things go crispy that’s when I start mumbling and luckily we’re not there yet.

front border

The front border is again being dominated by the more drought tolerant plants.  No jungle this year.

Weeding has been a breeze with less water around.  I just hit the sheets of verbena and fennel with the hoe once and most dried up in the sun the next day.  The prickly lettuce is stunted, the crabgrass is anemic.  It’s kind of quiet out there.

kniphofia caulescens

A few years old from seed, kniphofia caulescens is finally putting on a nice show this year.  I love the color and shape, but they pass so quickly so I’m pleased there are still a few more stalks on the way.

There was a decent scattering of clouds yesterday morning so I hurried out to see if I could get a few photos before the glare of the sun returned.  My photo skills are like that and I don’t think I’ll ever amount to anything more than a point and shooter, so I just wait for overcast moments and then take as many as I can.  Funny how I always seem to end up admiring the weeds more than anything else.

scotch thistle

Yes, I still love thistles.  These approve of the drier soil and the stunted sunflowers. (Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium

So I’ve recently gone on and on about my mullein and I’ll spare you from that for a few more days, but there are some nice thistles around the yard and I’m thinking I need more again.  Obviously they’re easy to grow, so a good choice for me, but other weeds are also doing well.

sunny side up pokeweed

The fresh chartreuse of ‘Sunny Side Up’ pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) coming up strong in the front border.  I apologize to those of you who are tired of seeing this amazing plant yet again.

Just for liability reasons, let it be known milkweed should never be planted in a perennial border.  It will spread all over and you’ll regret it.

milkweed perennial

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) spreading throughout the border and welcoming guests to the front porch.  It’s a few days away from blooming and I’m looking forward to enjoying the scent as it drifts through the air.  Maybe I’ll pull a few shoots after the bloom ends… maybe…

I wonder if any of my neighbors realize just how many of the plants here are considered weeds.  A parent came by to pick up a child and said the yard looked nice and it seemed like I had quite a few unusual things growing.  That could be good or bad, but I chose good, and hoped she didn’t notice afterwards that the daisies are remarkably similar to the ones all along the highway and filling every vacant lot along the way.  I suspect nothing was noticed.  Actually my mother in law asked me later that day if she should plant a few in a problem spot behind the house.  Not a bad idea I said, but then shot myself in the foot when I pointed out the dried remains of all the daisies she sprayed with roundup the week before.  She told me to forget it, she’ll see what they have at Lowes…

sand garden paths

Something else.  Sand.  A couple tons of it.

Having several tons of sand sitting in your driveway can go a long way towards distracting people from the fact you’re growing a lot of weeds.  It’s a big pile and that hasn’t changed much since it was delivered Monday, but I’m quite happy about it, and the sand has me feeling rich because (1) there’s so much of it and (2) it’s soooo nice and clean and gritty, and (3) it’s part of the finishing touches for the potager reboot.

potager

Here’s where we’re at.  It looks terrible but I’m blessed with the gift of seeing things how I want them to be rather than what they really look like.  Give me another week or two and maybe I can explain my “vision” 🙂

In spite of how it looks, the potager has been on the receiving end of most of the attention and fussing that the gardener has been passing out this year.  Everything else has been forced to tough it out sans water, but the veggies are  weedfree and irrigated, and I even had to drag in seating so I could just sit and admire the new space.  Sadly this enthusiasm doesn’t extend past the raised beds, and if you look just two feet over, all the promise of a bed filled with poppies and garden phlox is yellowing as it awaits moisture.

breadseed poppies

A little water would have gone a long way towards making this bed a showplace…. but it didn’t happen and the ‘Patty’s Plum’ poppies are starting to dry up just when they should be covered in flowers.

Sorry poppies, you’ll have to set your seeds and hope for better year in 2021.  I hear that’s a common sentiment.  In the meantime, other plants are ahead of the game and have already gone through some funny business in regards to seed setting.  The yellow foxgloves (Digitalis grandiflora) took advantage of some lazy deadheading and then some lazy weeding and have formed a nice patch of seedlings where there was but one yellow foxglove last year.  A curious thing happened though.  I believe Mrs. Yellow Foxglove has not been faithful to Mr. Yellow Foxglove and instead has been entertaining Mr. Rusty Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) from down the street.  The proof is in the shading, and I’m sure the delivery room was quite the agitated place as Mrs. F tried to explained all the rusty children to her equally pale husband.

digitalis grandiflora ferruginea

Yellow foxglove in the back with various hybrids in front.  I don’t think it’s uncommon for foxgloves to cross like this and of course I like the diversity it adds to the garden. 

Another blooming surprise is taking place on the swingset.  The native Dutchman’s pipe (Aristochola macrophylla) has taken off this spring and is full of the curious little pipes which this vine family is named for.  They’re not the showiest things and I think the only reason my attention was drawn that way was through the overheard conversation between my daughter and a friend about the plant taking over her playset.  I think it’s just fine but apparently they think it’s a little too much, so I guess some day soon I’ll be giving it a trim.  Maybe.  Probably later rather than sooner since right now I’m quite pleased with all the big felty leaves hanging all over the place.  No surprise there since the species name macrophylla means just that, big leaves.

aristolochia macrophylla

The oddly shaped flowers of the Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)

The Dutchman’s Pipe family is quite the group with annual and tropical members and even more bizarre flowers being the rule rather than the exception.  The tropical Pelican flower (Aristolochia gigantea) is the gigantea version, complete with face-sized fleshy looking flowers.  Very cool to see… and look at that, it’s available online for a click… but let’s stop there before I get into trouble.  There’s another native macrophylla in the yard this year, a magnolia in this case.

magnolia macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla, the Southeast US ‘bigleaf’ magnolia… planted way too close to the house of course.

Three or four years from a seed, this magnolia has recovered from a late spring freeze and is now enthusiastically putting out a few of the huge leaves this species is famous for.  Famous might be an overstatement, but I love it, and right now while it’s still below eye level and looking all cool I’m not even thinking about its mature height or its very inappropriate placement.

magnolia macrophylla

Big hand on big leaf.  The underside of these leaves also have a cool fuzz, and in the fall they dry and curl and the fuzz is even better, and they’re still big, and….

There’s a more dwarf form of the bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla ssp. Ashei) that would surely have been a more sensible choice for this garden, but again I digress.  Let’s just abruptly end here since after all these photos were taken the sky became even darker, thunder began to rumble, and we enjoyed a nice summer downpour… which oddly enough was just a few days too early to destroy the delphinium show.

pseudata okagami

Also unaffected by the storm were the pseudata iris (Iris pseudacorus x ensata ‘Okagami’).

So the ground is refreshed and now the lawn needs mowing, vines needs trimming, the weeds will erupt, the sand is heavier, and the bugs have been energized.  Actually it’s pretty awesome even with all the additional work, so let me go and get busy out there before the sunshine and pool distract.  Hope it’s a beautiful weekend where you’re at as well.

A Down Day

I don’t know how non-gardeners do it.  Today was a sloppy, sleety, chilly day and after just a few hours of being cooped indoors I’m almost ready to try doing the taxes on my own.  We are hunkering down for our second week at home and although the yard doesn’t look much better for it, at least the open air and sunshine was a nice distraction.  One day inside and I can’t imagine what the rest of our neighbors do to fill the time.  I wonder if they even know the birds are singing and the buds are bursting in spite of the messy weather.

pussy willow

Pussy willow just starting

Things weren’t perfect before, but it was good enough with a coat on and decent mudding shoes, and considering it was still mid March I consider that to be excellent.  The sunshine and warmth ended the snowdrops but there’s always more on the way.

'Tête à Tête' daffodil

The first daffodils are coloring the front beds a springtime gold.  ‘Tête à Tête’ in front, ‘Tweety Bird’ towards the street. 

Corydalis solida and the first daffodils are leading the next flush, and in spite of the snow they’re a sign of real spring.

Tweety bird daffodil

‘Tweety Bird’ is my favorite early daffodil.  It handles the weather well and I love the form.

Maybe a down day is a good thing.  I’ve been pruning, trimming, transplanting, and fixing and after being inside for winter and work, I’m a little short of the normal gardening endurance levels.  Nothing a little a dose of Tylenol can’t fix 😉

corydalis purple bird

Corydalis solida ‘Purple Bird’.  Many of the named corydalis just abruptly disappear in this garden, but their many seedlings are often just as good (or dare I say better?)

I won’t bore you with the less than impressive transplants and prunings.  Most are just balls of mud in new positions which only I will notice, but one thing which may be noticeable is that plans are afoot.

potager

The work never strays far from a convenient rest spot.  It’s always good to reflect on any progress.

The plans are the byproduct of too much sitting around and thinking, and when it gets bad the gardener decides change for change’s sake might sound like progress, so giddy up!

So wood has been ordered for the construction of raised beds.  Someone here thinks the vegetable component of the potager will be much more productive if the beds are raised… I think planting fewer flowers might help… we will see.  In any case I’m sure it will turn into much more work than it should be, and take far longer.  That makes sense since it’s already cost more than we’ll ever make back in fresh produce.  In any case, have a productive and healthy week!

The Efficiency of Factory Farming

Apparently it’s September.  Every time I look at the calendar it kind of surprises me that the year can fly by so quickly but really?  September?  It’s becoming harder and harder to convince myself that summer won’t end.

potager flowers

The view of the vegetable garden (aka Potager) in early September.

Many people consider September to be an autumn month.  I’m going to assume you know where I stand on that theory.  I bet those same people consider the vegetable garden to be the most appropriate place for growing vegetables,  and not a catch-all spot for all the flowers and shrubs which couldn’t fit into the regular borders and beds.   Neat, productive, raised beds bursting with produce are nice enough, but at this time of year I love the flowery, seedy look of a vegetable garden gone wild, even with all the overgrowth, bugs, and mildew 🙂

canna cannova rose

A sign of the season.  The bold colors say summer but the seed pods and overgrown vines say autumn.  A big spiderweb even sets it up for a halloween look.  In case you’re wondering these are some ‘Cannova Rose’ seedlings which I started this spring just to see how they turn out.  I think it was a success!

There were a few things which did manage to come out of the potager which were worth eating.  Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and loads of zucchini  all somehow managed to find enough room to produce a harvest, as well as a meager crop of onions.  The onions looked so promising in April, but I think they just wanted more sun.

birdfood sunflowers

I was so close to wasting this space on corn.  Instead I bought a few ears at the farmstand and filled the bed with sunflower seedlings which were weeded out from other parts of the garden.  ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranths seedlings became a convenient complement to the sunflowers when I forgot to weed them out after the garlic was harvested.

Now the garden is mostly given over to the annuals which I rip out so religiously in May, but always seem to overlook in June.  The verbena, persicaria, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums quickly take advantage of the opening and I’m always happy to see them thrive.

colchicum x agrippinum

Of course there had to be a few bulbs in here and there as well.  When I crawled in under the sunflowers I found the colchicum x agrippinum patch in full bloom.  I’m a big fan of these late summer bloomers.

I do have plenty of flowering things which were planted on purpose as well.  The colchicums (autumn crocus, naked ladies, meadow saffron) are looking great right now and I can’t help but show a few pictures.  Actually I’m sure you’ll see more pictures in a later post.  For some reason the vegetable beds are where I’ve planted most of them, and even though the companion plantings are haphazard, the flowers themselves are very convenient to admire when planted out this way.

colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum surrounded by mildewed phlox and verbena.  A fresh flower in the middle of all that decay is always such a treat.

Although I planted a few bulbs on purpose (if you can call it that when you’re wandering around with a plant and a trowel and no forethought to where it would go when you bought it) those plants are in the minority.  The most spectacular things invited themselves.

potager flowers

The marigold border and a gifted zinnia were the plan (thanks Kimberley!) and the peppers were the purpose, but the perfection came from self sown verbenas and the intense blue of Browallia americana. 

Up until June I pull out every last ‘Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate’ seedling (Persicaria orientalis).  Their 6+ feet of rapid, vigorous growth tends to intimidate the lettuce but eventually a few are overlooked and before I know it I’m ducking under the dangling chains of dark pink flowers every time I do the garden rounds.

kiss me over the garden gate

Persicaria orientalis towering over the failed onion bed.  For the record purslane and crabgrass had more to do with the underwhelming onion harvest than one too many flower seedlings 😉

The last thing to thrill me in the veggie patch are chrysanthemums.  I love how they and the colchicums wrap up summer around here.

potager flowers

I’m starting to sound like a broken record with the seeding out thing (assuming people still remember what broken records sound like) but even this chrysanthemum came on its own.  I guess that’s what barren soil and general neglect can do… plus the weeding out of nastier things of course.  I love the color and big flowers 🙂  

The back beds of the potager have the worst soil and get the least attention.  During most summers even the weeds struggle to take root since the soil crusts up and most seedlings can’t even get a root down before they die… except for quack grass (similar to couch grass).  I spent a few sweat filled summer afternoons tracing back grass roots and sifting soil, trying to get every last shoot.  Of course I didn’t but at least it’s one battle in this war where I took the upper hand.

hardy garden chrysanthemum

This is the chrysanthemum which started it all.  A seed exchange packet of “collected from ‘Innocence'” survived drought and flood and freeze and still looks great.  It does need a Chelsea chop in June to control floppiness, but that’s all. 

My neighbor put in some excellently neat and tidy raised beds this spring which grew some beautiful beets and salad and armloads of other produce.  His vegetables know their place and his flowers are neatly nestled into orderly mulch beds which surround the house.  My wife was very impressed. I have to admit I liked it as well but just don’t know if I can give up this spontaneous jungle.  Time will tell.

My apologies for not having shown any vegetables in this vegetable garden update.

Thursday’s Feature: The Three Cousins

The story of the three sisters of native American agriculture (corn-squash-beans) is a story which goes hand in hand with almost any elementary school lesson on the Pilgrims or Thanksgiving.  Northeastern tribes of Native Americans commonly grew the three crops together in the same mound, and as the corn grew up and the stalks provided support for the twining beans, the squash filled in along the ground and together the three crops coexisted peacefully, each filling their own niche.

This spring I rebuilt the rebar arbor which marks the entrance to the vegetable garden and this summer three vines are working their way up and over the arch.  They don’t coexist quite as peacefully as the three sisters and they’re far less useful in the kitchen, but I like them well enough anyway and even if they never make an appearance on the back of a Sacagawea coin I guess we can say they’re close enough to be called cousins at least.  The three cousins are Cypress vine, Love in a Puff, and Red Noodle bean, and all I can think of is how great common names can be 🙂

rebar arbor

After struggling for four years with an arbor that fell over each spring, I finally put in the effort to set the base in concrete.  The jury is still out on whether it will survive this spring thaw or not any better, but since the jury is still also going back and forth between rustic and ugly, survival may not matter either way.  

There are many a more floriferous trio for a trellis, but for some reason I love the mixes of foliage, flowers, and fruit of these three cousins.  The bright scarlet flowers of the cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) sparkle alongside its soft ferny foliage and contrast nicely with the puffy green globes of love in a puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum)  and the dark red pods of the red noodle beans (Vigna unguiculata… aka asparagus bean… aka yardlong beans).

red noodle bean flower

The pale lavender flowers of the red noodle bean only open in the morning but they look just right mixed in with the ferny cypress vine foliage.

I wish I could take credit for this combo, but in all honesty I saw it a few years ago on Nan Ondra’s blog.  As it is with these things a single picture got stuck in my head and then over the next several years the radar stayed tuned in to find seed for the three components.

cypress vine, red noodle bean

The red “noodles” of the asparagus bean stretch anywhere from a foot and a half to nearly two feet.  The arbor is starting to look pretty cool with all these red beans dangling down.

Right now I think it’s the noodle beans stealing the show and I wish I had a few better photos, but the ones from this afternoon just didn’t make the cut and then the daylight called it quits on me.

red noodle bean

I think the beans are cool, but the hummingbirds much prefer the cypress vine flowers.

As I think further on it each of the three cousins also provides something more than just looking pretty.  The beans are edible (and some say have an excellent taste if picked small), the hummingbirds love the cypress vine, and the kids love picking and popping the puffs.  It is a useful trio and it’s likely they’ll show up here for many a year to come… if only because (with the exception of the beans) I haven’t planted a thing on this trellis for three years and there are still more than enough seedlings each spring to fill the ranks.

So there they are, the three cousins as my feature for Kimberley’s Thursday Feature meme, and although they are technically three entries it’s nearly impossible to separate them so I think I’m good to go.  If you think you’re good to go might I suggest a visit to Kimberley’s blog?  She encourages us to look around each week and find something which grabs our attention in the garden and it’s always interesting whether you’re just visiting or joining right in.

Too much money

Some complaints will never get you any sympathy, and to complain that tulips are coming up and blooming in all sorts of odd places probably ranks right up there.  Truth be told it’s not a problem, but when every batch of compost seems to hold a new crop of bulbs, the spring planting in the parterre becomes a little more complicated.

tulips in the vegetable garden

Once again the vegetable garden is a complicated mess of far too many flowers and far too few edibles.

For all my failures in the garden, tulips seem to be one plant which enjoys the poorly draining, heavy soil of the flower beds.  It’s a surprise to see this considering many references suggest a loamy, free draining soil for your best chances at success, and even then it’s a safer bet to treat tulips as one or two year treat.  Fortunately no one has whispered this little secret into the ears of my bulbs and they keep coming back and multiplying.

tulips in the vegetable garden

Having a few tulips in the way is just the excuse I need to skip digging too deeply when it comes to planting the spring vegetables. 

I think I do know the secret though.  The soil may be heavy but it’s also thin and dries out relatively quickly once the heat of summer settles in, and if I do manage to drag my lazy self away from the pool to water it’s never a solid deep watering, it’s always a guilty stand around with a hose until things look less dead kind of triage.  I can’t imagine much of the water ever penetrates deeper than two or three inches and for this the heavy soil works to an advantage.  My tulips like a hot, dry summer similar to their ancestral haunts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and most years (unfortunately) this is what my garden resembles.

tulips in the vegetable garden

Tulips in the onions, tulips in the lettuce.  I try to replant stray bulbs closer to the edges, but there are always more little bulblets in the compost or stray bulbs dug around in the soil.

When I was more ambitious I used to fill several of the beds each fall and then dig them again in June after the foliage died down.  It was a glorious spring explosion but one bad experience soured me to the whole deal and I ended up tossing hundreds of fat promising bulbs.  They really do need a good drying out over the summer and when mine all molded up and rotted one damp August I put a stop to the project.  But…. I can’t promise it won’t happen again some day 🙂

lettuce self sown seedlings

If all goes well this batch of tulip leaves should put out two or three blooms next year.  Not bad for a weed, and if you notice there are more weeds in the lawn, in this case lettuce seedlings from last years neglected plantings.

So to sum it up my tulips don’t mind a nice heavy fertile soil while they’re growing, the just need to follow it up with a warm dry summer rest.  Planting them in a spot which dries out and doesn’t get summertime irrigation is one option, actually digging them up and storing them in a hot, dry, ventilated area until fall planting is another.  Just be prepared to have more tulips than you know what to do with since most tulips will at least double in number every growing season.

double early tulip

Leftover Easter flowers from two or three years ago.  Let them bloom and grow as long as possible in their pot and then stick them into some out of the way spot, preferably one where they will not be overrun with bearded iris 🙂

Although most people recommend species tulips and Darwin types for the best chance at perennializing,  I don’t notice that much of a difference between the types.  Give them all a try is my advice, but for best results regardless of type you will have to dig and divide the bulbs every three or four years  when they begin to get crowded.

perennial Darwin hybrid tulips

A few stray tulips snuck in with the compost for this new snowdrop bed.  With snowdrop season long gone I’m quite happy to see the tulips flowering in a carpet of my favorite annual weed, purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum). 

Alas, even plants relatively happy with their homes do not always lead perfect lives.  The tulip season may be a little sparse next year for two reasons, both of which revolve around the weather.  The first is our harsh April freeze which damaged many of the buds and much of the blooms for this year’s show.  That in itself could be tolerable, but in the weeks since the weather has remained damp and cool, and many of the damaged plants are now falling victim to gray mold (Botrytis).  Botrytis is bad news and seems to stick around for a few years even after better weather returns.  I’m wondering how many of the affected plants will be going on to tulip heaven…

tulip virus candy apple

Not to go on and on about this late freeze, but here’s yet another example of damaged foliage and stunted blooms.  To top it off I also suspect virus in the streaked blossoms of what should really be a solid colored flower. 

All is not lost though.   I still love tulips and would grow a few even if they only made it a year or so before falling victim to whatever tragedies visit my garden next.

tulip marit

Tulip ‘Marit’ is a favorite this year.  I don’t remember such round flowers last year but the shape and color this year really won me over. 

In the meantime I will keep my fingers crossed.  I far prefer being spoiled for choice as far as tulips go, and if it means working around a few bulbs here and there that’s fine with me.

tulip pink impression

Tulip ‘pink impression’ in the front border.  They’re huge and pink and although battered by the weather they’re still the crowning glory of the border.

Have a great Sunday and happy mother’s day to the moms!

A lull in the storm

I promise this is the last time I will complain about the brutal freeze which ended our growing season.  I’ll also not mention the weeks of warm weather which followed, and I won’t show a picture of the dahlias which are resprouting due to some misguided notion that winter came and went.  Instead I’ll focus on the mellow colors of autumn which are slowly winding the year down, and I’ll just enjoy the warm lull we’ve been having until winter returns again in earnest.

the front border in autumn

The front border is about as tidy as it will get prior to winter.  Whatever’s left will hopefully hold the snow nicely and keep things interesting until spring returns.  The golfinches approve of the leftover coneflower and sunflower stalks.  

Last weekend I finished up the last of the leaves and tried to wrap up the last of the fall planting and weeding.  I have to admit I like the way the gardens open up and empty out this time of year, and I love the way the fall rains have left a lush green lawn to set off the emptying flower beds.

Muhlenbergia capillaris pink backlight

Earlier in October the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)  finally came through and put out the airy pink flowerheads which look so nice in the low autumn light.

Three years after transplanting, my pink muhly grass has finally bothered to bloom.  I’ve come to accept that I’m just too far North to enjoy this plant.  It looked pathetic until August, finally put out enough leaves to look alive by September, and then for 12 days in October it impressed with it’s pink seedheads…. and then was promptly browned out by the first freeze.  The effect is still nice enough, but I wouldn’t have minded a few more weeks of the pink.

pink muhly grass after a freeze

Pink muhly grass after a freeze.  Still nice, but not the amazing, glowing pink you look for in this plant.   

I’m going to give the cultivar ‘Fast Forward’ a try next year.  It’s supposed to be a good month or so earlier than the straight species and also shorter and more compact… although for me the larger size would have been preferable.  I’ve actually already got my hands on one but since it was a small plant and just planted last week I’m not too confident it will make it through the winter.  Fall is not the time to plant anything borderline hardy or more of a warm season grower…. speaking of probably not making it through the winter, my cardoon seedling is really starting to put out some nice leaves.  The freeze didn’t bother it, but as a zone 7 plant I’m really hoping for some serious El Nino luck in getting this thing through the winter.  Any protection suggestions are more than welcome!

young cardoon plant

If this cardoon plant makes it until next year I’ll be thrilled.  Bigger leaves with artichoke-like fluorescent purple flowers would be the highlight of 2016 I’m sure 🙂

Something which will have no problems this winter is the Virginia creeper.  This year brought on a good crop of the grape-like fruits, and I’m sure they’ll be sprouting up all over as a gift from the birds…. just like this plant was.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) minus it’s bright red fall color, but still interesting with its raisin like fruit.

The rest of the garden is clearing out.  Leaves are mulched, the vegetable garden is tucked in, and there’s already interest in spring flowers.  I love how good hellebores look at this time of year, they love the cool temperatures and extra moisture and if all goes well this spring I may have my best hellebore show yet.

hellebores ready for winter

Hellebore seedlings showing promise for next year.  Hopefully we’ll see a few blooms next year since these are supposedly yellow seedlings and haven’t yet shown their true colors.

Back towards the meadow garden things are just waiting for snow.  I’m glad I left a bunch of the little bluestem since it’s gone through such a nice color change from green to yellows to reds to tans now.  With the rest of the yard mowed, it keeps things somewhat interesting back there.  Something I’m not too glad I left is the littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) seedling which showed up among the phlox.  I’ve been ignoring it for years, but at six feet I think it’s time to make a decision.  The mother plant is so popular with the bees and so fragrant I just hate to weed it out…. but a second linden is one more than this yard needs.

autumn cleanup in the vegetable garden

Mid November in the vegetable garden.  Yet again the phlox have not been divided, and there’s a huge linden tree weed, but at least I’m getting some mulched leaves down to save on next year’s bed prep.

There’s little chance of dealing with the linden this fall.  It would do fine with a transplant at this time of year, but with 14 pounds of crocus and daffodils sitting in the living room I have other things calling for my attention.  I should have no problem getting a few in tomorrow… unless I first deal with the dozens of daffodils and tulips which I already had from this summer’s bed renovation.

Whoever said November was a time for gardeners to kick back and relax obviously didn’t procrastinate planting spring bulbs nor succumb to early clearance sales.  Hopefully your autumn is much more relaxing 🙂

Make way for Monarchs

The last few weeks are bringing the Monarch butterflies in.  They usually miss my plot on their springtime crawl North, but during their escape to the South they come right through.  It’s good timing too as it comes about four or five weeks after I’ve given up completely on the vegetable garden and the selfsown Verbena bonariensis have taken over.  Last week they were all over the place feeding and fluttering and during the one day of perfect conditions I counted at least 20 in there at one time.  They don’t stay long, but walking the paths and having the large orange butterflies lifting up and floating around you on a warm autumn day is a wonderful experience.

verbena bonariensis

An airy purple haze of Verbena bonariensis will spring up wherever I leave an unmulched spot of soil.

The verbena is clearly a favorite, but other flowers also fill the menu.  I don’t think of double dahlias as wildlife-friendly but maybe the color brings in even more dinner guests.  I at least think they look great.

dahlia sandra

Not a Monarch but still a welcome visitor, this fritillary is taking a break on dahlia ‘Sandra’.

My dahlias are not quite where I’d want them to be this year.  I’d blame the rains of July but in reality it’s the neglect of August and September which really did them in.  Fortunately with some good lighting and a few verbena screening and distracting they still look nice.

dahlias and verbena

Dahlias and verbena in the morning light.

I like that the flowers take over in autumn, and I like that the combinations and players change each year as I gain or lose interest in one thing or another.  This year ‘Tiger cub’ corn is back.  The seed was a gift from Nan Ondra of Hayefield and I love the variegation but I’m afraid it won’t have time to ripen any seed this fall unless things stay warm late.  My fingers are crossed.  I love how the bright leaves of the corn go with the bright colors of the red gomphrena and orange marigolds.  Word is marigolds are supposed to be a no-no in classy gardens,  but I still love their carefree color and I like them even better knowing they’re another gifted plant, this time from Kimberley of  Cosmos and Cleome.

tiger cub ornamental corn

I did start out with cauliflower here in the spring, but then rather than replant with a fall crop I put in a few ‘QIS red’ gomphrena seedling, a few ‘Tiger cub’ corn kernels, and a few coleus for good measure.

I like this autumn mess.  Lettuce would be nice too but it’s just been too hot and dry and I just don’t have the ambition to start plants in a shaded spot for transplanting.  Plus I can always pick it up at the market… unlike butterflies, those I need the flowers for.

verbena bonariensis cypress vine Ipomoea quamoclit

In a few spots ‘love in a puff’ and the red blooms of cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) thread their way through the verbena stems.  These little surprises make me smile.

Here’s another little surprise which I could fill a whole photo album with.  This spring I finally seeded out a few Spanish flag vines (Ipomoea lobata), and although they never sprouted in their seedling pots, they did once I threw the leftover soil into the garden.  It’s a late bloomer and like many in the morning glory family it can be a little rambunctious, but in this spot it’s perfect.  The spent broccoli seed stalks (I suspect I’ll be weeding out tons of broccoli weedlings next spring)  and verbena stalks provide just enough support and when a bed to the left opened up after the potato harvest the vines moved right in.  I couldn’t have planned the color coordination with the chrysanthemums any better.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Ipomoea lobata (Spanish flag) vining through verbena stalks, broccoli stems, and some of my favorite orange chrysanthemums. 

The colors of this planting are the perfect match to my daughter’s favorite orange ice pops… please don’t question why she was eating this while the morning light was still so fresh.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Color echoes in an ice pop.

I’m not a pink and grey pastel kind of guy so this bold mix of orange and purple really tickles my color bone.  Throw in a few hot pink persicarias in front of the dark foliage of the ‘Coppertina’ ninebark (Physocarpus) and I’m more than happy.  I just regret that my photo skills weren’t enough to capture it all together in one shot.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

More orange and purple in the fall garden.

Another thing I regret is that the flag vine planted on the deck has turned out to be a much less vibrantly colored plant from a more refined end of the gene pool.  When my seeds seemed destined to fail I snapped up a potful found at my favorite nursery.  It’s still a very nice thing, and I’ve even grown a paler yellow version before, but I can’t help wish they all had the darker stems and bolder orange of their more common cousin.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

A paler version of Spanish flag grappling through some pennisetum on the deck.  The whiter blooms and lighter foliage are nice enough, but I need darker colors to hold up to the white railing.

Bold and less bold are still just fine and it really revs up the autumn season around here.  With temperatures finally cooling off and a good soaking rain last night fall is officially in full swing here and I guess I’m going to have to finally give up on my whining about the loss of summer.  It’s about time I’m sure, and to cheer myself up I think I’m going to get into chrysanthemums next post.  Have a great weekend 🙂

Down on the farm

Late August is bathing us in heat this year and the steady rains have brought on the harvest.  We modestly refer to our garden as “the farm” or “potager” and this is the time of year when it shines.  Produce begins to trickle in and suddenly there’s a little more interest in the backyard.

harvest from the garden

The picnic table is the place to be for drying off and cleaning up before the kitchen.  Garlic, potatoes, and the first of the onions started the month off.

Eggplant and peppers have been going out, onions are always popular, tomatoes are on their way, and beans are yet to come.  The harvest is late due to planter’s procrastination but who out there hasn’t ever fallen behind?  At this time of year even I fix up a plate of veggies, and they aren’t even deep fried 🙂

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I grow red cabbage just for the looks, but there’s a good chance these heads will disappear soon and show up again later as rotkraut.  Fine by me, but in the meantime they look nice with the verbena, eggplant, and marigolds.

I admire a neat garden with raised, raked beds and straight rows of perfect plantings, but that’s nowhere even close to my garden.  The potager is tumbledown mix of flowers, crops, and all kinds of odds and ends that found an open spot of soil and made it their home.  Phlox are never turned away, and earlier in the month they started their summertime concerto and the music still plays on through the heat.  For this I consider myself lucky,  since earlier in the spring between spidermites and drought I got the feeling it would be a down year for the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).

phlox paniculata dorffreude

Phlox paniculata ‘Dorffreude’ (Karl Foerster introduction, 1939) making a good argument that newer isn’t always better.

The phlox make me happy, but the other flowers which add to the non-agricultural chaos also make me smile, and the tall Verbena bonariensis leads the way with their bee and butterfly attracting bloom heads.

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Now’s the time when the verbena becomes too attractive to pull.  It’s a fair trade-off since the flowers draw in nearly every passing butterfly.

One area of responsible neatness is the boxwood hedge which edges the two forward sides of the garden.  After three years the small plants have finally begun to look nearly respectable.  To celebrate this milestone I spent way too much money on what I hope will be a set of premium hedge shears.  The electric trimmer has been shelved and I took the quieter, more contemplative path of manual trimming.  For me it’s relaxing and I think I’m one of the few who actually enjoys this job.

training boxwood hedge

Slowly the boxwood hedge fills in.  I can still remember the summer day way back when me, a bucket of boxwood clippings,  a few trays of potting mix, and a couple beers started this all.

Besides boxwood and phlox, chrysanthemums (ok, new name dendranthema) are starting to make a serious play for potager real estate.  This spring I added even more of the larger flowered football types, trying to stick with anything which might be hardy through the winter.  I’d try to explain this growing obsession with mums but honestly after just admitting I enjoy hedge trimming I’m not sure there’s much I can say to defend this last quirk.

hardy football mum

Hardy (hopefully) football mum.  If the mood strikes next year I may even try disbudding a few of these to see if I can force all the plant’s energy into one single, perfectly large, perfectly perfect, bloom.

Dahlias.  I like dahlias.  I think I’ve already confessed to that.  Of course a late planting gives late flowers, and you know me and late.

moonlight dahlia

Dahlia ‘Moonstruck’.  This is its third year and it has yet to let me down, although I suspect it carries a virus which causes the leaves to yellow and die way too early in the season.

Sometimes late isn’t anyone’s fault.  For the second year in a row I’ve had these gladiolus bulbs overwinter in the open garden.  Against better advice I even transplanted them in June and look at that, the clump still managed to send up two bloom stalks.  If this keeps up I’ll need to divide the clumps next year since the other clump is up to 8 flower stalks!

winter hardy gladiolus

Just your average hellebore-gladiolus-rudbeckia-tomato planting.  I don’t think you’ll find this combo anywhere else… probably for good reason 🙂

But procrastination does have its down side.  Although the persicaria and rudbeckia have never looked better next to the potager, the light green ‘turf’ in the bed is 100% weeds…. and this is still supposed to be a red border, which rudbeckia is not.  Also the trellis never received a solid footing, and was never officially planted.  I guess that’s what the plans for next season are made of!

persicaria red border

persicaria red border

Enjoy your own harvest, whether it be fruits or flowers, contentment or excitement.  The season is here and as long as the heat doesn’t kill you first you can shelve these moments away in your mind for those dark days in January.

 

Check one corner off

There were a few cool days last week and I was able to drag myself out into the garden and give the vegetable beds a once over (in spite of the dry soil and high pollen counts).  I think it looks as good as it gets, and with all the unintentional flowers it may be fancy enough to call a “potager”, as Annette from Annette’s Garden once called it.  I like the name and it’s stuck.  It has just enough Continental refinement to make me laugh a little when I look at the plastic fencing, weedy sumacs, chainlink and neighboring industrial park!

the potager vegetable garden

The potager with neatly edged beds and way too much disorganization.  By now the warm weather vegetables should already be in but with last week’s frost I’m kind of grateful for my procrastination.

The work always goes faster with a good helper or two, but studies have shown that nine year old boys don’t typically fall into that category.  Still the company is welcome.

kids in the garden

A few edible things are starting to fill the beds but I’m always proudest of the fancy pink marble edging which line the plots.  In a former life the stone accented the front of the house, but now it helps edge the beds.  The look has been called “deep south cemetery” and I’m sure that’s a compliment. 

Ok, so even freshly weeded it’s still kind of messy, but I’m far too proud of the crisp edge along the lawn and the freshly mulched boxwood to let that keep me from posting a photo.  Our little Queen of the Prairie” must agree.  She overlooks the potager but has seen better days as the weather continues to eat away at her plaster self.  Might be time to start hitting the estate sales to find a successor.

boxwood edging vegetable beds

A very rarefied boxwood edging lines the outer perimeter and I think it really elevates the standing of my hodgepodge of plants.  Hopefully I can enjoy it for a few years now that it’s finally growing in, especially since  so many European and New England gardeners are facing multiple boxwood problems … blight, caterpillars, ugh.

The iris are at their peak.  I should really evict them but never do.

iris in the vegetable beds

Seems like for every iris clump I remove a few new ones pop up.  The compost usually brings in a few but the gardener also tends to feel bad for spare plants and ends up putting the innocent little fans in here and there.

I don’t know what to say about this clump.  Two years ago I dumped them here when I needed their real estate for a tomato planting.  I never replanted them but apparently they don’t care.  Two years in an iris bed with no bloom, two years of being tossed to the side and they look great.  Go figure.

historic bearded iris

Their identities are probably lost, but I think the apricot-pink to the right is ‘Jean Guymer’.

It’s not all flowers, there are a few cool weather vegetables braving the up and down temperatures.  Broccoli, lettuce, potatoes, and garlic all look promising, but here the tomato seedlings still all need to be weeded out.  If I knew what they were I’d keep them, but I already have more than enough.  They’ll stay for a few days longer to keep the ground covered since I don’t want mud splattering up into the yummy little lettuce rosettes when I water.

lettuce mervielle quatre seasons matina sweet

Two favorite lettuces, the never bitter ‘Matina Sweet’ and the darker ‘Mervielle de Quatre Saisons’… which should get a delicious tender green heart in a few more days.

The heat was too much for the arugula.  The flowers are nice enough though, and I won’t mind weeding this one out for salads if it goes to seed.

arugula bolting to seed

Chives in bloom and arugula bolting as the weather gets warm.  Time to plant the summer crops!

Even with the weeding and watering there’s still a ton to do.  Some tulips and daffodils will hopefully start coming out this weekend and that should open up room for beans and squash.  It may still be May but I’m going to say summer is here, and the next big project will be summer annuals.  Even though the plantlets are anxious to get out from under the growlights, I hope to tackle one last big weed patch adjacent to the potager before all my energy is lost.  It’s the on again off again red border/ pond bed, and hopefully in the next few weeks there will be some progress there as well.

eliminating weeds from perennial bed

All kinds of weeds filling the red border.  I resorted to roundup along the fence and that’s the only reason it’s not a sea of campanula glomerata.

Wish me luck.  We had a good rainstorm come through this afternoon and everything seems to be letting out a big sigh of relieve (including my water meter).  Facing next week’s high temperatures with a still-dry garden was not something I was looking forward to, so I’m thrilled!

mumble mumble mulch

Spring is here and I love it.  It means work of course, and for me it’s hard to hit just the right balance of sitting around and actually doing something, but I try my best.  One problem which always haunts me is that I’m the type who (again while sitting around) usually gets tons of unnecessary projects in his head, starts them, and then moves on before they’re done.  Fortunately I’m not much bothered by this, but someone else here is, and sometimes decides to be helpful and remind me of the obvious…. but most of the time that person doesn’t notice unplanted chrysanthemum collections or realize it’s been years since the boxwood cuttings should have been planted out, so it all works out fine.  How can it not when rain and rainbows and warm sunshine have brought out the daffodils?

double rainbow over the garden

Double rainbow over the ‘potager’.  A beautiful sight if you can tune out the industrial park and white vinylrama next door 🙂

I’ve been relentlessly mulching.  It started innocently enough with a load of mulched leaves hauled out of the woods, but then exploded from there.  My neighbors were so generous last autumn with several heaps of nicely chopped leaves and grass clippings that I couldn’t stop lugging them back to the garden.  The entire front bed got a nice layer and I would have kept going but of course ran through all the available bounty.

cheap leaf mulched perennial beds

The front perennial bed all nestled in with a nice mulch of chopped leaves.  The earthworms will munch them all down by the end of  summer but for now they should go a long way in keeping the weed seedlings down.  Did I mention it was all free?

As if that wasn’t enough, for some reason when finished I got it in my head to crack open the wallet and order a load of shredded bark mulch to finish off the yard.  With most of the front already covered I felt finishing with a little purchased mulch might be something the budget could handle, so $290 later I was mulling over another new heap in the driveway.  It seemed a steep price to me but judging from the other $1,000 plus order slips hanging next to mine I guess I’m being downright frugal.  Also, mulch is a gardening expense the boss never criticizes, so now it just needs to be spread.  More on that later, daffodils first!

narcissus tahiti daffodil

Always a favorite, ‘Tahiti’ is an awesome daffodil.  Sorry if you’re not a fan of doubles, but this one never fails, and the yellow petals seem to glow with an orange shade which I love.

I’m stuck on orange lately.  The daffodil ‘Serola’ tops the list this year.

daffodil narcissus serola

Narcissus ‘Serola’ with the first of the tulips opening behind.  When I divide this bed (hopefully this June) I’ll need to put these out in the front garden to brighten things up even more!

My whining about space in the vegetable garden is entirely due to my weakness for spring bulbs and the abundance of open space left when vegetables finally give up the ghost in September.  It’s so easy to just pop a few bulbs in here and there 🙂

daffodils in the vegetable garden

It’s so much easier to line a few daffs out in the vegetable patch than it is to decide on a spot in the open garden!  I’ll just plant a few pumpkins or squash over them in July to make it look respectable again. (fyi it’s bouncy house season so please ignore the deflated mess in the background) 

One more orange.  ‘Kedron’ has a color which stands out very well…. if you’re into colors that stand out very well 🙂

daffodil narcissus kedron

Narcissus ‘Kedron’.  Notice the empty spaces nearby.  Not everyone does well here and I just don’t have the patience to nurse unhappy plants along, so while ‘Kedron’ takes off the others just fade away…

Although the vegetables complain, bulbs in general seem to like my lazy (or complete lack) of an efficient watering ethic.  Tulips in particular like the open, sunny, fertile soil, and unless I weed them out (which I could never do) most clump up and bloom.  Even if I do pull a few of the smaller bulbs they just end up in the compost anyway so get spread throughout the garden a few months later when I take and spread the barely rotted goodness.

tulips and double hellebore

Yet another plant which needs to find a permanent home outside of the vegetable patch.  This double hellebore seedling is taking up prime bean and pepper real estate.

Believe it or not I’m making progress with my bulb issues.  When I was younger and carefree I used to plant out patches of whatever tulips I had on hand and then dig them up again in June just in time to clear the beds for tomato planting.  It was insanely beautiful (to me at least) and I can’t rule out this happening again.

mixed darwin tulips

Tulips blooming in the vegetable garden (spring 2013). These would all be dug, dried, and stored while the warm season veggies occupied the same beds.

Maybe my bulbaholism isn’t getting any better.  Maybe it’s just migrating.  I planted these fritillaria imperialis bulbs out in the meadow late last fall (clearance bulbs) and can’t wait to see how they do.  If I get one decent spring out of them I’ll be thrilled, but in my heart I want them to settle in… even if they do look slightly out of place in the short turf.  Hopefully they enjoy the dry summertime baking this spot receives, and the grass should come up soon enough to hide the yellowing foliage.

growing fritillaria imperialis

My ‘meadow’ is in danger of becoming a bulb field.  The fritillaria imperialis don’t look entirely happy yet, but I have my fingers crossed they’ll at least bloom and then maybe return next spring?

Out front I may have a few bulbs as well.  Early spring is when I love the front beds the most.

spring bulbs front entry

Tulips and daffodils where snowdrops ruled just a few weeks ago.  I should have taken this picture today since I mulched yesterday afternoon, but after all the work I was ready to just sit and relax!

I better wrap this post up.  Now that mulch sits in the middle of the driveway I’ve got plenty to do even from the non-gardening viewpoint.  And it’s not the fastest process since mulch needs to be worked in between sprouts and edges need to be tidied up…. and actually a bigger problem is that I’m coming up with all kinds of bed enlargements and side projects while I dilly-dally on finishing the main project.  I promised to trim back the yews along the side of the house, and this golden arborvitae just happened to show up in the lawn between us and the neighbor.  As long as I’m mulching, might as well create a nice big bed around it 😉

new perennial bed

new perennial bed

Let me get out there then.  Good luck on all your own spring projects, may they progress more quickly than my own!