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.

Legalizing pots

In hindsight I may have gone a bit too far, but last year when my better half suggested we could use a few more plants out on the deck I ran with it.  She’s not known for her appreciation of things chlorophyll so this was unprecedented, and I’m sure you could understand my enthusiasm for encouraging an interest.  For her I thought potted plants were a big no-no, and I’ve found this becomes an even stronger no-no when their planting and repotting takes place on the kitchen table… which is kind of close to the deck table… so perhaps this new interest in the deck plantings was the first step in easing the household ban on pots.

deck container plantings

A few of the planters which were put into service this year on the deck.  This photo might be two weeks old and it’s interesting to see where all the golf balls which I picked up out of the lawn today came from…

Before this garden I used to have quite a pot habit.  The small balcony of my apartment was filled and overflowing with any container I could find and any plant which I thought would be interesting to grow out there, and at one point I was a little worried all the extra weight on my second floor balcony might one day come crashing down.  But it didn’t, and I kept on happily planting until finally purchasing my first home.

wendys wish salvia

Coleus are perfect for containers, but I far prefer the sun-tolerant, slow to bloom, cutting grown plants rather than any strains from seed.  The salvia (Wendy’s Wish) is also doing well enough, but I suspect she would prefer a roomier root-run and not sit in a cramped pot.

When the deck was opened up to planting I scoured all corners of the yard and garage for any container which might still be able to hold a plant.  Many of the old plastic pots from my balcony days came out of retirement and were slid right in next to my pretentious Italian terra cotta and glazed ceramic.  I’ll see if I can do something about that next year, but this year most of the budget went to new potting soil.  Potting soil has been a sticky subject around here since most of them stink, but I found Jobe’s Organics Potting mix and love its price and quality.  It’s made with quality ingredients, it’s airy and loose, and it’s just what I wanted for filling large planters.

Ipomoea lobata

Slowly but surely the Spanish Flag vine (Ipomoea lobata) is beginning to drape the railing.  It had a late start since this was first a spring pansy planter, and they had to bloom out before I was allowed to squeeze in the vine and grass plant.  The blue salvia self sowed in from last year… thanks mother nature!

I have plenty of favorites which I either overwinter or buy, but this year’s big treat was the Cannova Rose canna which I bought already in bloom and already nearly bursting out of the pot it came in.  It’s only done better since, and if you ignore some leaf damage from Japanese beetles and a few sloppy spent blooms dropped on the deck, it’s my idea of a perfect summer container plant.  This canna is a seed strain and because of that should be virus free, also the breeder claims these plants have been selected to thrive in cooler temperatures, which is another plus for Northerners such as myself.

deck container plantings

Cannova Rose canna.  It keeps sending up new stalks and they keep on blooming.  Between it and its overgrown spike neighbor I don’t know which I like more… although I do like the spikes!

I lost a few of my older spikes (dracaena) last year to a surprise late freeze but I’ve got a few new ones growing along.  The little ones are all over in the spring but what I really like is when they put on a few year’s worth of growth and become these big grassy exclamation points.  They’re relatively easy to overwinter and my goal is a whole patch of them towering over the other plantings 🙂

lantana in container

I need to dig out the label for this lantana.  My daughter picked it out and I reluctantly added it to the cart as I thought about lantana failures in my past.  This one keeps blooming though and never looks bad.  I wish I could say the same for the ‘Troy’s Gold’ plectranthus on the right, it apparently does not like full sun here.

The one pink and gold and lavender corner is dominated by another favorite which I nearly left to die last fall.  In the late spring last year I picked up a clearance oleander, and this summer  it’s really come into its own.  Nonstop bloom on the single pink, but there’s a double in there as well, and that one is always a mess with few blooms open and always a few brown soggy spent flowers hanging from the branches.  I try to ignore it.

oleander in container

Oleander on the deck.  It’s been in bloom since June and I love the bright pink in front of the white railing.

As we go around the deck there’s another favorite which I always end up buying new each spring.  The purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) is a pain to overwinter but worth adding new every year for its dark leaves and light airiness of the seedheads.  This year I put it with a new rose and although I paid way too much for the rose, and really questioned the decision to plant it on the deck (mostly due to all the blood it drew while planting), I love the effect.

grass in container with rose

Purple fountain grass with rose ‘Black Forest’, ‘zahara sunburst’ zinnias, and ‘double hot cherry’ zinnia.

Not to name too many favorites but sweet potato vines always show up in my planters.  Some years they cover the deck, some years they hang through the railing, regardless of where they grow I like them and I like them large.  There are dwarf types but for me I far prefer the far-ranging ones like chartreuse ‘Margarita’ or the dark purple ‘Blackie’.

deck container plantings

A scented geranium growing up, a ‘Margarita’ sweet potato hanging down, and New Guinea impatiens filling the pot.  Also making a showing is my newest banana ‘Bordelon’, two weeks in the pot and hopefully on the verge of some nice new leaves and rapid end of summer growth 🙂

I apologize for going on so long,  I’m going to try and be a little less wordy as we go around to the front door plantings.  They’re much less floral, but still a mess of color.

mixed foliage planting

The hellebore and variegated boxwood are in the ground, but everything else is potted…. not that you would know since the planters disappeared a few weeks ago.

I wish I could explain my thinking out front, but it was really just a matter of using up stray coleus cuttings and overwintered tropicals.

mixed foliage planting

This pink coleus is my problem child.  While all the rest are happy growing colorful foliage the pink one insists on forming flowers.  I just keep pinching them out, hoping someday the plant gets the message. 

This unknown to me creeping houseplant threatens to take over the pot as well as the porch.  I’ve had it for a few years now and love the way it bleaches to a bright yellow wherever the sun hits.  Unfortunately if the sun hits it too hard the leaves burn…

cane begonia

Every couple days the begonia needs to be dug out of a yellow landslide.  I suspect there’s at least three pots buried under all this.

The other side of the front entry is also a horticultural tsunami.  Vacationing amaryllis (hippeastrum), a few geraniums, and some on again off again gerber daisies are trying to fend off the looming sunflowers and an uninvited pumpkin.  Serves me right for letting the pumpkins rot on the front steps all last winter, but the new pumpkin forming is almost like a self renewing Halloween decoration!

container plants

The left side of the front entrance walk.  Nothing pretentious about this entry, it’s all a comfortable hodgepodge of color and texture (including mildewed pumpkin leaves).  The lighter, divided leaf is the old (1800) scented geranium ‘Lady Plymouth’.  Obviously I haven’t had it that long…

So after all of the mess at the entry our hanging porch planters are fairly plain.  The asparagus fern gets thrown in the garage each winter, nearly dies by April, and then springs to life once regular watering resumes.  It doesn’t drop faded flowers on the porch, doesn’t mind a week or two of forgotten waterings, and cost me about $1 a piece several years ago.  I appreciate all these strengths yet she who judges doesn’t like these pots at all.  Flowers would be nicer she says.

easy plants for hanging baskets

Asparagus fern, just the kind of hard to kill plant which survives under the shade of the porch, out of the reach of any saving drops of rain.

Now if I replaced the ferns what would I put there?  Maybe she means add more pots all around the porch, that’s probably what was implied, and that might be a good starting point for next year.  Come to think of it she did say she wouldn’t mind even more potted plants out back, and contrary to what I thought, she said it’s not too much back there on the deck.  This of course kind of encourages me to find out what too much is, and it’s these kinds of challenges which fuel your imagination in February.  I did still want to add a small eucalyptus tree after all, just a small one.

GBFD Finishing August

Yesterday was the 22nd, today the 23rd, and by the time this post is finished the date will probably flip on to the 24th, which will make me two full days late in joining Christina in the celebration of Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day.  I’m sure she’s fine with my tardiness but I’m also sure I didn’t want to miss this month’s opportunity to look past flowers and recognize all the contributions foliage makes in the garden.

squash climbing in garden

In the vegetable garden the broad leaves of late planted summer squash threaten to swamp their less edible neighbors. I love how fast they grow in the heat.

I’m a big fan of large leaves and whether they’re squash or cannas or elephant ears, the more enthusiastic a grower the better!  While some plants did not enjoy the recent spell of hot weather, a newer resident of the garden did.

Alocasia Borneo Giant

One of the larger elephant ears, Alocasia ‘Borneo Giant’, is finally putting out some more enthusiastic growth. The leaf is still barely larger than my hand but the giant part of the name gives me hope for the future!

Summer is when I really enjoy the potted plants on the deck.  Not only can they be enjoyed from the window, they can be enjoyed as you walk by, as you sit in a comfy seat, or from below.  It’s as if you’re multitasking your enjoyment!

coleus in deck planters

The rich foliage pattern of this coleus sometimes gets lost in a planting, but against the white railings the colors really come through.

Besides showcasing my favorite plants close up, the deck is also a great place to show off the little things which get lost out in the garden.

potted succulents

Little cacti and succulents which don’t mind a few missed waterings or weekend road trips.  They’re all foliage and make great deck plants… which look even better if the gardener finally repots them into roomier quarters (as I did this spring, although one of this bunch already needs a bigger home).

As I was walking about trying to focus on foliage, I realized this collection at the end of the deck steps doesn’t rely on a single flower to bring in the color.

deck planters

More succulents as well as ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus, ‘purple flash’ pepper, and my belovedly spiny porcupine tomato.

It’s really way past time to do a catch-up post on this year’s deck planters (and hopefully I can come clean soon) but there’s only so much time tonight, and there’s still plenty of other foliage to consider in the garden.  For as exciting as flowers and color are, sometimes the eye needs to rest on a little green.  For me chrysanthemums are a nearly indestructible planting for some of the hotter, dryer, tougher-to-fill spots which could use a soft mound of green.

chrysanthemum foliage

Usually the iris in the back has nothing but sad, browning and yellowing leaves, but this year the rain has been enough to keep it growing strong.  The chrysanthemum on the other hand looks respectable for the entire summer, even when the crabgrass gives up.

Dry sun is bad, but dry shade is worse, and this year I’ve been surprised at how well variegated obedient plant, (Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’) has done.  In moist soil it may spread a little too enthusiastically, but here it seems downright demure, and I wonder if the straight green type would be as restrained.

Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata'

Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’ lighting up the shade.  It’s a dry spot full of maple roots, but the foliage on this plant still looks great.

In my only bit of non-rooty shade I can always count on the calm contrasts of foliage form and color via evergreens and hostas.  Although things are beginning to get crowded here, I won’t mess with this planting until it starts to look desperate.

shade foliage border

Along the porch the hostas cover the spring bulb plantings and dwarf conifers shelter the porch without overwhelming it.  They’re all slow growing plants, but not too long ago I remember being able to easily plant between these shrubs.

The calm of the shade garden is always appreciated in summer, but in sunnier spots August means flowers, and I do try for plenty of that as well.  Even with all the flowers though, a good foliage background can make a world of difference.

cannas and dahlias

The rich red flowers of dahlia ‘Mathew Allen’ set off even brighter next to the solid mass of the red-leaved cannas.   

I’m all for the masses of flowers but you sometimes need a rest here and there and a mass of foliage can be just the ticket.  For next year I’m already nursing along a few new bananas and elephant ears and I think things will look a little different in this border.  If worse comes to worse though I can always replant sunflowers 🙂

cannas and sunflowers

More cannas trying to keep their chin up against the tide of sunflowers which still swirls around the tropical garden.  In my opinion this bed could have used a few more masses of foliage to balance out all the bloom. 

So there are some August musings on foliage from my neck of the woods.  If you’d like to dabble a little deeper give Creating my own garden of the Hesperides a visit.  Each month on the 22nd Christina provides the platform there to host a foliage review, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed by the foliage musings of bloggers from around the world!

Hanging out on the Deck

The deck planters are starting to look good. The tropicals love the heat and the annuals have settled in. Last year I had some big grasses in the three main planters, but the winter was too much and they didn’t make it,  so this year I returned to my roots and stuffed the pots full with my favorite all summer plantings.
‘Tropicana’ canna, black sweet potatoes, million bells, and a New Guinea impatient fill this pot. Some ‘red rocket’ snapdragons fill in the back. I’ve never done the snapdragons before but right now they look great….. We’ll see how they last in the heat.
deck planter with cannas
For some reason red was the color of choice this year. Usually I don’t buy most of the plantings and just use over wintered stuff, but this year I treated myself to a nursery run. 33% off helps and if you buy it all on one day I guess a red mood will give you red plantings.
This one has similar plants with the cannas replaced by a nice new coleus and burgundy fountain grass in the center.
deck container plantings
The aloe pot here was overwintered, but the red blooms on the dipladenia are new. Not to rub it in but I think I found it for about $2 at a local greenhouse clearance and I hope to overwinter it for next year.
red dipladenia on deck
Here’s a new coleus, overwintered geranium, and a pot of blue fanflower/red celosia combo. The celosia is ‘new look’ celosia and I really like the bright flowers and dark foliage.
coleus on deck
Herbs have a spot too; parsley, rosemary and a pot of annual vinca for color.
herbs in containers
Here’s one pot that I’m not yet thrilled with. It should have a pink ‘Alice Dupont’ mandevilla climbing up the bamboo stakes, but for some reason she won’t grow…. She blooms well, but won’t grow. It was an impulse buy at a box store and looked great, but is no bigger today than it was the day I brought it home. I can’t help but wonder if it was treated with something to trigger blooming at the expense of new growth. Does anyone have an opinion on that?
There’s a chartreuse sweet potato that may step up and take over, and also an ‘Australia’ canna coming in…. But I really like mandevillas 🙂
Oh and a big basil that’s just about worn out its welcome. I never thought it would take off like that.
madevilla on deck
So that’s the news from the deck. I’ve been away for about a week so things have hopefully grown some since, but I’m pleased with the results so far. Yes, a little yellow might have brightened things up a bit, but my planting are always a little impulsive, so each year turns out a little different. Who knows, maybe next year all the grass will be back, or cannas will take over, we’ll see!

When all resolve is lost

There were already  a couple strikes against me.  It was the first weekend in June, there was finally some steady rain to get things growing, most of my growlight seedlings are in the ground, I prepped the deck planters…… and then the kiss of death, a 33% off sale at my favorite greenhouse, Kettel’s Greenhouse in Falls Pa (check the link to their facebook page for current info).  With the exception of shrubs and trees, they grow all their stuff on site in their own greenhouses.  When it’s gone it’s gone, so waiting for the clearance sale is a little risky if you need something specific, but that’s not me….. plus I was already there once in April 🙂 ….  Here’s what I got for under $40.deck plantersApparently I was in a red mood yesterday.  A little yellow would have been a good idea, but so goes the moment.  Celosia ‘new look’, new guinea impatiens, and snapdragons are going to be new this year but the rest are planter standards.  Usually I don’t get this much but the prices were great, the plants looked perfect, and I was rewarding myself for surviving a morning full of surprise furniture moving and bedroom painting.
I think I’m in denial over all the coleus cuttings, canna roots, and other overwintered goodies that also need to come out and get planted.  I’ll figure it out soon enough.  In the meantime there’s a nice Christmas display happening on the deck steps.  Overwintered amaryllis and recovering asparagus fern.  Happy holidays!overwintered amaryllis