The containers. Meh.

Planting the deck always starts out innocently enough but then degenerates into a huge project.  This year was no different in that respect, and to even get started with the ritual power washing all the winter debris of kid-play and kitchen remodel-scraps had to be dragged off first.

deck cleaning

The entire covered part of the deck is filled with debris and scaffolding in addition to the furniture and terracotta pots which need to be stored under cover for winter (they’ll crack if they freeze while still wet and filled with wet soil).  btw the dark gray object is the old kitchen sink, so even that is out here…

So hauling off trash is the first project, then the cleaning, then the decision that all the mishmash of geriatric plastic planters should match, so off for a paintbrush and some leftover paint.

painting plastic containers

No more black nursery pots, or old teal and faded gray, all the plastic was painted with my trusty mocha-tinted, all surface Sherwin Williams paint.

Our last frost date is around the 15th of May, but most planting jobs are usually procrastinated way beyond that.  This year the big deck planting was pushed off until June 8th, which meant a lot of sitting around for the earliest purchases but it also meant clearance sales were in full swing.

container planting

I tend to spread out while setting the deck up.  There’s a mess everywhere 🙂

So this is where the ‘meh’ comes in, and since the weather is kind of ‘meh’ today as well it might be the best day to discuss…  I usually go out with little to no idea or plan and as a result come home with whatever catches my eye.  Usually it works out, but this year I just feel like something’s missing.  Maybe I need yellow, maybe it’s the lack of sweet potato vines, maybe there’s too much red, maybe it’s the pink… I’m not much of a ‘pink’ person.

deck container plantings

One purple fountain grass is nice, three might have been overkill, still the rosemary enjoyed its division and replanting, and most other plantings are hanging in there.  You may notice my amaryllis bulbs tucked in here and there.  The strappy leaves don’t look half bad in my opinion.

I should be giving things a nice liquid feeding each week and part of the ‘meh’ might be that things are underfed.  A rich diet for these flashy annuals is what they thrive on, and upon thinking back it’s possible I’ve missed four out of the last five feedings.  As usual I’m my own worst enemy.

balcony flowers

I do like how the creepers, in this case cascading geraniums (pelargoniums), work their way through the railing.  They’re very popular with the hummingbirds even if the color might be a little too orangey for the companion plantings.

Some other disappointments have been the underperforming vines.  My three little babies, the Chilean Glory vines (Eccremocarpus scaber) did not take off as planned.  Apparently they are foolproof but this fool will challenge that label since my plants (nurtured along from tiny seedlings) made a go at it but then died off one by one.  I did get to see one single bloom cluster of amazing little orange lipstick tubes of color but that was it, and I think if I was brave enough to beat back the grasses, I would find my last glory vine has also passed over.  That’s too bad but I’m already excited to grow this plant again next year since I’m sure things will go differently even if I do everything exactly the same… but in the meantime at least my snapdragon vine (Asarina scandens) is coming along.

snapdragon vine Asarina Scandens

Snapdragon vine (Asarina Scandens) growing up into the purple fountain grass.  At least this one has been a forgiving grower and easy bloomer.

While many of the plantings leave me uninspired, a few things are doing great.  The oleander and overgrown spikes are back for another year and the canna ‘cannaova rose’ is again putting on a nice show.  The canna just hit a lull (probably lack of fertilizer induced) but I’m sure will return to glory shortly and I’ve divided last year’s roots up between a few spots so it’s likely you’ll see these showing up elsewhere as well.

dracenea spike

Those little dracaena spikes which show up in nearly every pre-made container planting seem to turn into something a little more interesting given a few years of growth.  My goal is to have a small grove of these some day soon 🙂

There are a few new things this year which did beat the ‘meh-ness’.  Gazania are a plant which although they don’t grow consistently for me, do look great when they feel like it.

annual gazania

The unusual colors of Gazania really don’t blend well with any look I’m going for but who cares, they just look cool when opened up for the sun. (just keep in mind that they close when the sun goes away…)

By the way I forgot about the elephant ears and the new crape myrtle, both of which are not ‘meh’.  The two are just soaking up the rain and heat and humidity and picking up where the petunias and million bells drop off, but before I begin to sound too positive let me point two things out.  First I have too much red, and since the obviously red myrtle was labeled purple I’m innocent there.  Second there’s a plant missing out of the small terra cotta pot in the front of the photo.  There’s a cute little b***ard chipmunk who decided it would be fun to end my three year relationship with a slowly growing clump of lithops (living stones).  After a few days searching I found the chewed up corpse under a nearby shrub.  Time will tell if the shriveled bits can recover, my only hope is that they were poisonous.

deck container plantings

Blood red crape myrtle and geraniums, pink ‘bubblegum’ petunias, elephant ear (Alocasia calidora?)… an ‘interesting’ look I suppose.

I still need to mention the digiplexis which just came into bloom this week.  It’s a inter-species cross between a foxglove (digitalis) and an Isoplexis (Canary Island foxglove) and when it first hit the market in 2012 it immediately went on to many ‘must have’ lists.  My must have list is always a few years behind but I was finally able to try it out this year when I found it for a reasonable price.

digiplexis

Digiplexis ‘Canary Berry?’.  It’s nice enough but I’m not overwhelmed yet.  It’s one of the foxgloves, and I love a nice foxglove, but this non-hardy version might be something left for those everything-grows-for-me San Francisco gardeners who have super mild winters and cool nights which bring on stronger colors.

So there’s good and not-so-good out there and to be honest no matter how it looks it always beats the deck in January.  January seems to keep all gardening outcomes in perspective and as I check things out every day and multiple times a day I’m still happy with it.  Now if only I could get out there and fertilize, but the lawn needs mowing too and I’m not doing both until things cool off a bit.

The garden of memory

I used to be a balcony gardener.  After a stint in Texas my next job took me back to the Northeast, and rather than commit to a house I opted for an apartment.  My choices were narrowed down to a roomy bachelor pad with an excellent nighttime view of the city lights or a smaller two bedroom apartment in a quiet residential area.  I chose the quiet life.  My choice was partly because it was half the rent, but mostly because of the small balcony which came off the kitchen and overlooked the side yard.  I knew I needed a spot in the sun but just wasn’t ready to buy and didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of someone else’s yard again.  Who would have thought my stay would last over three years, and who would have suspected I could fit so much more than just the grill and a few chairs.

balcony garden

Does a gardener live here?

By the third summer things were completely out of hand.  I tend to like fast growers and big leaves and none of those are a logical fit with a small balcony… but what the heck, I usually just grow things because I can and not for any well thought out plan or agenda.  A rooted cutting turns into a butterfly bush, a trip down south adds a banana, a clearance sale brings in a staghorn sumac.  Things add up quickly, but mercifully winter would usually wipe the slate clean.  Plants have a hard time overwintering on an exposed, second floor balcony.

pink caladium tropical plants

These caladiums went out for the summer and came in for the winter for three years straight without a problem.  Nine years since moving and I’ve killed more than I care to admit.

If there was any secret to how my garden grows it was the drip irrigation which snaked out from the laundry, slipped between sashes of the window, and clicked on every 8 hours and saved me from the boredom of daily watering.   With the automated watering my plants were also saved from the almost certain neglected death due to a weekend away at the shore, a week traveling for work, or that gardener’s nightmare of a two week midsummer vacation.  No returning home to fried and dead plants for me!

Strangely enough my landlord never questioned the green tsunami which overwhelmed my small balcony, and we all ended up becoming good friends.  Coincidence that he and his wife ran a landscaping business?  Who knows.

tropical container plants

One chair. I guess this did turn into my bachelor pad after all, and with just enough room for a seat this became my preferred spot for a summer book and a icy cold beverage.  There’s a grill in there as well, I guess it goes without saying that for a couple months each year it was out of service.

Eventually it became time to move on and the balcony garden was traded in for the next adventure.  There’s an actual yard involved in this one but as usual delusions of grandeur made for a bumpy road.  Live and learn I guess 🙂

Hope your winter is going well.  It’s set to get warmer again this weekend and with snow melting almost as fast as it came my spring fever will be worse than ever.  I’ve been sowing seeds again and a sensible person would have stopped this nonsense a few dozen packets ago.

Catching up with summer

I always admire other gardeners who seem to throw things together and they work out perfectly.  A list, a trip to a store or two,  a few hours of work, and voila!  You’re ready to relax and move on to something more entertaining.  My projects never, never,  ever work out like that.  I start something innocently enough and before you know it a budget is blown, there are walls missing from the house, or you’ve been for a visit to the emergency room.

refinishing a table

Wax on, wax off. This tabletop has seen better days.

So here’s this year’s deck saga.   You give it a good cleaning, plant up a few pots and warm up the grill for dinner, right?  Not in my lucky world.  As you get ready to pressure wash you notice the kid’s craft table is looking a bit worse for wear and really should be cleaned up before the next waterpaint session.  Out comes the sander and varnish.

Once the table is all spiffy, the pressure washing commences.  The clean looks great, but it makes you realize how abused and dirty the vinyl siding is under the covered portion of the deck.  So off it comes.  You’ve been wanting to replace it with wood paneling and now that the table is looking nice again…..

wood paneling for a covered porch

The succulents will look so much better when this is done… and the wasp nest is removed from the outlet box… and the rusted broken light fixture replaced….

The woodwork should only take a few days, but then I might as well paint the rocking chairs saved from the dumpster, and I need to plant a few of the annuals so they don’t die waiting for their deck planters.

painted porch siding

As long as you’re redoing the siding, a pair of ceiling fans sure would be nice….

calibrachoa seedlings

A pot crowded with calibrachoa seedlings. I’ve never had reseeding with these before so I’m curious to see how they turn out… these are just four spoonfuls of seedlings out of the hundreds that came up!

Not to change the subject (as if I could stay focused long enough to finish something anyway), while the renovation is going on I still need to get the annuals planted in the deck pots.  Of course this is the year everything reseeded.  One pot is full of blue salvia seedlings, another is packed with red snapdragons, and a third has hundreds of baby calibrachoa.  They all need moving off to find new homes.

Once the planters are vacant (mostly) I decide I really need some tall miscanthus in the big planters.  Mine hasn’t quite recovered from the winter, but a quick phone call finds a friend across town who can spare a few wedges out of his clump.  So off for that.

And the weeks go on.  Finally the porch and deck are finished and the new plantings are filling in.

covered porch with new wicker furniture

All set for fireworks viewing on the fourth of July, but all I could think about were the agaves and succulents in need of repotting.

I really like calibrachoa on the deck.  They bloom constantly and don’t get the little inchworms in the blooms like petunias do.  These were all purchased plants, luckily by the time I got to the nursery it was so late in the season they were all marked down!

deck planters

Calibrachoas filling in a few of the deck pots.

This year I plunked down the money for a nice mandevilla.  It’s not my favorite “Alice DuPont”, but after complete failure with Alice last year, it was time for a change, and this one is filling in nicely.  I suspect last year’s vine (purchased from a box store) had been chemically treated to bloom nicely in the pot.  It produced blooms all summer but never grew an inch (which defeated the purpose of growing a vine), and I suspect it’s from the blooming hormone cocktail it received before it got to me.

mandevilla vine on bamboo stakes

Mandevilla growing up bamboo stakes on the deck. White vinyl fencing and construction out back complete the picture 🙂

I managed to squeeze a bunch of the miscanthus into this pot, and although temperatures shot up to the 9o’s (32C) two days after its division the grass recovered nicely.  All the red was kind of a surprise though.   The snapdragons came in on their own (and all bloomed in reds) and the calibrachoa really clumped up, and the overall effect is growing on me.  I like it even more with the chartreuse leaves of the sweet potato.

red calibrachoa and snapdragons

Chartreuse sweet potato vine, red calibrachoa, miscanthus grass, and red snapdragons (with a little plug of blue scaveola).

I’m really glad I just left the snapdragon seedlings, they took off once the pots started getting regular water and feedings, and I love the color.   Now snapdragons are showing up in a second pot which was supposed to have just a single miscanthus in it.  I had pulled all the extra snapdragon seedlings out of it, but with determination like that I guess I’ll have to let them stay now.

red snapdragons in a container

Another gratuitous photo of red 🙂

Fortunately the succulent pots are more subdued.  They’re calming things down a bit as well as the other survivor from last summer, the rosemary.

pencil succulent on deck

I’m developing a little bit of a terracotta habit, I blame the cacti and succulents for it.

So finally I’m done cleaning the deck.  The covered part has become a nice little retreat made all the more cozy (in my opinion at least) by the Virginia creeper which has brought the garden up to the porch edges.  Maybe next year I’ll work out some kind of trellising system so that the creeper can climb higher and then hang down as a sort of curtain.  I like the idea, but that’s another project!

 

porch with virginia creper

The view o the porch from the garden. The creeper was never planned, but once it started growing up I welcomed it. With access from both the top and bottom it’s easy to keep an eye on it.

Now I just have to decide what to do with the geraniums.  All the time at the DIY store and I figured I might as well pick up a few new pots….. and then find some dark chocolate paint to tone down the orange…. and then divide up all the overwintered geraniums (and maybe add a new one or two) to fill the pots.  And come to think of it I should probably finish off those steps too, and the deck supports would look a lot nicer wrapped in brick…..

potted geraniums

Why am I collecting geraniums? They overwintered a bit too well from last year and who am I to hold that against them.

I hope your summer projects are coming along at a faster pace than mine do!  With the way they move I tend to think nothing gets finished around here, so as the temperatures rise I might take a break and do a few recaps to see where things are going.

How not to do a project, part deux

Sunday rolls around and I’m not even sure what the weekend project is…. or was.  I think it had something to do with that box of bareroot apple tree that’s been sitting on the porch for two days now.  Bareroot plantings should be taken care of asap, first step is to plump up the roots again by sitting them in a bucket overnight, I think 24 hours is sorta the max for soaking, you don’t want to drown them.  When planting, the only special thing to remember is to spread out the roots and work the soil back in between.  A little dirt, water it in, a little more dirt, water in.  It’s better to keep the root flare high rather than deep, you can always add soil or mulch around the base later if needed.  Don’t bother mixing anything into the planting hole, if your soil is horrible, plant even higher and mulch well with compost and those nutrients will work their way down to the roots, just like they do in every forest on the planet.  You may think it’s cruel not to try and improve the soil for your baby, but look around.  If you can see other trees growing then your tree should be fine too…. unless those other trees are swamp cypress… you might have a drainage issue then.

pansies and lettuceSo with a sense of urgency to get my tree (and 3 gooseberries too!) into the ground I got the coffe brewed and sat down at the computer….. breakfast followed and then some Lego villages had to be built.  Then a friend stopped by.  Six hours later, a run to the local nursery (to drop off $40), and this is where I’m at.  It’s pansy season after all and buying pansies, shaking off winter, and supporting my local nursery are tradition in these parts.  The apple tree is still not planted but it’s Sunday after all, and things shouldn’t happen too fast on a day of rest.

spring pansy potIt’s more fun to plant pansies than dig holes for dormant apple trees, and you shouldn’t pick-axe pond holes on a day of rest, so I drug out the planters for my new purchases and got them planted.  Again it’s not that easy.  All the fancy pots already have stuff in them.  It’s stuff like rubber trees and fig bushes that need repotting too, so that all came out to make room for the pansies.  Did I mention I bought lettuce?  I was embarrased to  even think of my own seedlings when I saw the lettuce plants for sale.  My reasoning was if I can get at least 215 servings of salad off these plants, they should pay for themselves.

lettuce container gardenThe back deck got a little spring too.  I should have powerwashed off last year’s stains first, but that’s another project and right now I’m too busy planting trees.

Tomorrow maybe I can actually get one in the ground.  The rest of Sunday was spent taking the kids (my two plus another three) for a walk in the woods and down to the railroad tracks.  They then insisted on seeing the drug house that burned down on Saturday.  Funny how these things never get mentioned in most tree planting tutorials.

Around 9pm I snuck out and opened the tree box.  Everything is soaking and has to be planted Monday before it drowns.  I should have no problem getting to it since the only other thing going on is repairing the pond hole.

Regarding the pond hole, I made the mistake of leaving the shovels out next to the dirt piles,  and after two hours of worm hunts, “climbing the pile”, and playing with the pick-axe, most of the dirt is back in the hole or thrown into the pond liner.  A little more work for me, but at least most of the local earthworms (and a couple of grubs) have been given names.