Same old story, dry again…..

The rains came, the grass greened, and all was well for a few weeks, but now it’s dry again.  I shouldn’t complain though since it hasn’t been hot enough to kill off anything, just a few wilting annuals and sad looking, dry dahlias.  Fortunately the perennials have deep enough roots to carry on, and overall the front yard doesn’t look too bad.

zinnias in a mixed border

The front border may be dry, but there’s still enough color and texture to keep things interesting.  I watered a little after taking these pictures…. the guilt of wilting zinnias and coleus was too much of a weight on my conscience.

When things go dry I start to lose interest.  The plants look sad and I hate watering, so my daily inspections just turn into bored sighs and a quick return to the porch furniture or air conditioning.  It’s a shame since so many things are still peaking and a little water would do a world of good for my thin quick-to-dry “topsoil”.

sedum spectabile brilliant

The sedums (maybe sedum spectabile “Brilliant”?) are in full bloom with bees galore, and help give some nice solid color to what otherwise might be too busy a planting.

I don’t like a planting that limps into autumn in a half dead state of decay.  I want something that hangs on until the last hard freeze forces things to come crashing down to an end.  In the front yard that means a mix of long season “lingerers”, late perennials, grasses of course, and plenty of planted and self sown annuals.

late season flower border

It’s mostly green in this border in June, but the color really revs up in September.   The yellow rudbeckias in bloom now came up as seedlings in June (when I finally got around to weeding and dividing and planting my way through this bed).

Occasionally some of the earlier perennials take a second bow.  This clump of delphiniums was great in June (for a few days before strong winds flattened them all), but now they’re back for some late season color.

rebloom on delphinium

Green grass, full borders, and rebloom on the delphinium.  The next storm will surely flatten them (again) but for now this corner by the garage is a nice welcome home.  This picture is looking out from the garage, across the walk to the front door, and on to the front border along the street.

The beds along the house are ok too, but much calmer.  This year I tried to limit the usual “too much color” look and stick with more gray and blue tones with some yellow of course.  The red coleus just happened…. you know I can’t go cold turkey when there is open soil and a few extra plants in my hands 🙂

ranch house foundation planting

The plants are a little spotty, but the overall effect is much calmer than last year…. even with a couple clumps of orange mums coming along 🙂

I guess a bright accent by the front door is sorta acceptable.  This almost became the year of the geranium considering how two pots overwintered became eight big plants when divided.  I really shouldn’t, but maybe I can just roll this pot into the garage and hope for the best when winter kicks in.  I’ve already got nearly a billion plants coming in so what’s one more pot?

potted geraniums

Potted geraniums, a perfect container plant for gardeners with a less than perfect watering record. Seeing the blue leadwort (ceratostigma) blooming reminds me that I wanted to try a few colchicums here.

So the front garden is aging gracefully and as long as a little rain comes our way it should still be a nice, colorful fall.  Seeing the pot full of geraniums reminds me of some developments this year which could now become an ugly problem.  My containers have been multiplying and it might be time for some plant confessions.

Thinking of next year yet?

I’m still in denial that summer is winding down.  Every sunny day and higher temperature reading gives me hope the warmth is still holding on, but eventually I’ll need to come to terms with winter’s approach.  My least favorite season is just about here and it’s time to shake off that summertime laziness and start making plans.

By least favorite season I mean fall.  I dread the fall shutdown that plants go through and the first frost.  Even  the fall foliage looks to me like death warmed over.  The best thing about fall is all the planting, and for hardy bulbs fall is the number one planting season.  Although I was lost in tulips this spring, it’s daffodils that I really like, and in order to convince you to get more too I dredged up a couple pictures from the good old days of spring.daffodil accent

‘Accent “(1960- the year this daff was registered) is a great daffodil, it has a medium pink cup (corona) surrounded by pure white petals (perianth).  The color is reliable, the plant is reliable, and it’s not too hard to find.  I like fancy things too, but reliable fills a garden every spring with beautiful blooms, and in this next (over exposed) picture “accent” is paired with another great, reliable one (and one of my real favorites) “Tahiti”(1956).

daffodil tahiti and accent

daffodil pink charmThere are thousands of named daffodils out there and thousands of ways to pick the best ones for your garden.  Picking up a bag at the box store is fine and inexpensive and a good starting point but if you begin to get serious take a look at the Wister Award winners.  It’s an American Daffodil Society award for outstanding garden daffodils and will give you a shopping list of the best daffodils for your garden.

Another good pink is “Pink Charm” (1977), it’s a little newer than “accent” and only just a bit different with more white in the cup, but for two years I’ve been impressed with the opening color and then the later blend of pink fading to white in the center.daffodil pink charm

“Passionale”(1956) is a strong growing older pink.  The flowers open with a yellowish tint to the cup which is common for these older varieties.  In daffodils, pink is a relatively new color for breeders, and it’s been a long journey to separate the color and strengthen it to a ‘real’ pink color.daffodil passionale

Daffodil breeders are always tinkering with their favorites but they generally fall into 13 divisions.  To take a look at some of the fanciest and newest examples of each division click here“Palmaries”(1973) falls into the split cup category.  It’s frillier and flouncier than what I usually like, but it has been doing well in my garden.daffodil palmaries

“Newcomer”(1992) has the saturated darker pink of a newer introduction.  It won’t be an easy daff to find but does show the long lasting pure colors of a modern daffodil.daffodil newcomer

“Sagitta”(2007) shows one of the newest combinations, yellow-pink.  This one will likely be a very popular daffodil, so far it’s been a great grower, multiplier, and bloomer for me and I love it.daffodil sagitta

But there’s nothing wrong with a yellow trumpet daffodil.  Since “King Alfred” was registered in 1899 new yellow daffodils continue to come out with stronger blooms, colors, and growth habits.  The true King Alfred is tough to find today since years of slapping the name onto any yellow daffodil has muddied the water, but with so many solid yellows such as “Primeur”(1978), how can you go wrong?daffodil primeur

daffodil peeping tomMy favorite group of daffodils are the cyclamineus types.  Daffodils in this group all share the reflexed petals and long trumpets of the original narcissus cyclamineus species.  “Peeping Tom” (1948) is on the top of my list, it’s an oldie but I love the long trumpet, wide flare and early bloom season.

Another one in this group that’s doing well for me is “Jetfire” (1966).  It’s a good grower with a little orange in the trumpet (more so in cooler springs) but it’s a little stubbier and shorter than “Peeping Tom”.daffodil jetfire

daffodil wisleyIf you can’t find “Peeping Tom” (I don’t see it in many catalogs any more) you could try out one of it’s children.  “Wisley”(2004) comes from the seeds of a Peeping Tom cross.  It’s new for me, but the flowers have a love-it or hate-it look that I’m still trying to figure out.

If you’re ever looking for daffodil info, Daff Seek pretty much has it all.  It’s the searchable database of the American Daffodil Society and has photos and information on most registered daffodils…. plus interesting tidbits such as daffodil lineage and breeding info.

My latest color craze has been the yellow red combo.  “Serola”(1986) is a great one that multiplies well, doesn’t fade in the sun, and is bright!daffodil serola

daffodil montego“Montego” (1968) has the same colors in a smaller rim of red.  I might have gone overboard with this color range in the last few years but I really do like them.  If you’re unsure where to start with your own daffodil quest, but ready to move past the generic offerings, start with  Brent and Becky’s.  Even if you end up ordering elsewhere, they probably offer the best selection of good varieties and don’t carry the duds.  Some of the best sources for bulk daffodils are Van Engelen and Colorblends.  Just be careful, before you know it you’ll be looking up the specialists such as Mitsch’s and Cherry Creek and really killing your gardening budget.

Ok one more yellow-red.  “Molten Lava” (1987) has slightly more subtle coloring, but still rich tones. daffodil molten lava

White never goes out of style and “Misty Glen” (1976) is a great daffodil in white.  Over 40 other registered daffodils trace their roots to this variety and it’s won many awards.  It’s one of the best daffodils.daffodil misty glen

daffodil excitementIf you still don’t feel the need to add more daffodils, here’s another try.  The small cupped daffodils such as “excitement” (2001) also come in all kinds of color combos just like the big guys.

Beyond the big and little cups and the trumpets there are still thousands of “other” daffodils out there.  They’re all just different expressions of the genus Narcissus.  The name daffodil is just a common name most people apply to the bigger trumpet sorts but it works for all of them.

Some of the other types have unique traits that can be traced back to one of the original narcissus species. “Geranium” (pre 1930) is a reliable, hardy tazetta type which shows the clustered blooms and fragrance of this of this group.  I might put this one on my top 10 best daffodil list, but with so many new types to distract me, I sometimes forget about the multiple award winners like Geranium. daffodil geranium

Paperwhites are a well known member of the tazetta group, they’re just not hardy enough to grow up in this part of Pennsylvania.  One that does suffer through is “Erlicheer” (pre 1951), it’s listed as a double but tazetta blood runs through it’s veins.  The problem for me with Erlicheer is its early sprouting habit anytime there’s a break in winter temperatures.  You can see how all the leaf tips have been burnt by cold snaps that came along after growth started.  Too much cold combined with too active growth will eventually kill these.  Sometimes erlicheer is sold as a “summer daffodil” because they don’t need the deep freeze of winter in order to bloom.  You can plant them in the spring, have summer flowers, but they’ll be back to normal spring flowering the following year.  daffodil erlicheer

I never meant for this to be such a long post, but daffodils are so easy to grow…… and I admit I’m slightly addicted.

Here’s an example of one of the poeticus types.  “Pentucket” (pre 1946) might be hard to find, but there are several look alikes out there.  Poeticus daffodils (the Poet narcissus) have been grown since ancient times and are most likely the daffodil referenced in Greek poetry and myth.  Today they are grown by the perfume industry for the narcissus oil they produce and apparently it’s one of the most popular fragrances…. oddly enough I don’t pick up much scent in these.

daffodil pentucket

daffodil baby boomer

So plan ahead for spring and get some more daffodils in the ground!  Even if it’s a dainty non-daff like “Baby Boomer” (pre 2008) they’re all equally easy to plant.  I find the easiest method to plant daffodils is to take out the big shovel, scoop out one or two shovel-fulls of dirt, dump the bulbs in, and cover.  You don’t need to set the bulbs correctly (although I usually do put them pointy side up) and your regular soil should be fine without improvements, just get them in the ground!

Good luck, and I’d love to hear how your bulb ordering and planting is going:)

Hang in there Summer!

Cooler temperatures and earlier sunsets.  There’s no denying that summer is losing its grip, and with the kids starting school this week I guess it’s time to face reality.  Summer will not go on forever.  But delusion is a beautiful thing, and that’s what I’m sticking to, and for now at least I’ll focus on late August flowers….. not September.

The front border is hanging in there in spite of the dry weather, and my half hearted watering seems enough to keep it this side of parched crispy.  Agastache “Tutti Fruitti” (I think), Russian sage, and the seedheads of “Karl Foerster” feather reed grass carry the show.

agastache tutti fruitti drought tolerant plants

Further into the bed it gets a little messy, and I bet deadheading the butterfly bush would help, but in the meantime it’s all almost one big wave of buzzing, fluttering color.  Lower left is “Karley Rose” pennisetum, basically carefree but not as sturdy as “Karl Foerster”.  The Russian sage and butterfly bushes just keep going….'karley rose', 'pink delight' butterfly bush

From the street it looks a bit messy, but maybe it distracts people from the dead grass…. here’s ‘Royal Red’ Butterfly bush (Buddleia).  It’s a little thin this year for some reason, but I’m sure it will be back to normal next year.

buddleia 'royal red'

Also from the street, “Limelight” hydrangea paniculata.  Probably my favorite hydrangea, and it can get as big as it wants here.  The flowers start with a tinge of limey green, go white , and then blush with a bit of pink and red, and believe it or not the blooms are small this year (probably due to the dry summer).  Still there’s plenty of white flower overkill going on here!hydrangea "limelight"The extra water I give the hydrangea seems to be welcomed by its neighbors.  I love that this little milk thistle (Silybum marianumhas) sprouted up under the hydrangea.  milk thistleI don’t think it will amount to much this year, but maybe I’ll get lucky and have it overwinter and bloom.  Up till now I’ve only been successful with it as an annual.

If you’re bored, look up the history of milk thistle.  It’s been used medicinally for over 2,000 years and is still recommended today for the same liver disorders as it was in the middle ages.   Liver cancer, hepatitis, liver damage due to toxins…. mushroom poisioning….all this and it’s spiny with great foliage.  I love spiny!

The far end of the street border is still filling in.  I can always count on the no-name, purple leaved cannas to give a nice background, and the ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia looks good in front of them.  I tried a couple marigolds in here too this year, they’re still small, but are taking the dry heat without a single complaint.  One of the great things about annuals is the chance to do it all differently next year.  I’m not sure if the brown-orange color is one I’ll chose to repeat.purple canna with 'wendy's wish' salvia

A sad little Border

When we first moved here one of the priorities (among many others!) was to try and downplay the bright white vinyl fences which dominated either side of the yard.  Vinyl has its place, but to me a 6ft solid white wall just screams FENCE HERE! and I’d rather have a calmer yard.  So I started to screen.white vinyl privacy fence

For some reason I wanted a red garden in this spot, so I planted the closest thing I had which were reddish leaved and could possibly cover the fence, those being tall cannas and the ‘coppertina’ ninebark.  (The scarecrow of a plant toward the left is a seven sons tree  -Heptacodium miconioides- more on that later).  Over the last four years its become a dumping ground of red plants which refuse to flourish and other plants which needed homes.  This is what my “red” garden looks like today.rudbeckia and ninebarkThe first thing you might notice is the mess.  The second thing might be the lack of red.  I plan on working on both of these in the somewhat near future, but for now the stupid leaking preformed pond is just hanging over my head.  It disgusts me, so what better to do than ignore it and hope it learns its lesson.weedy flower bedWhile I wait for the pond to heal itself, the kids have take advantage of the neglect and frequently throw things in, stir the water, and use it to add magic to whatever messy dirt project they have going on.  It’s not helping but at least its motivated me to pull the pond shell out and set it aside until I can get myself moving.
My inspiration may have arrived.  Last fall while scrambling to find homes for a number of random seedling, I stuck in what I thought was a species foxglove (with yellow flowers) into the ‘used to be’ red border.  Unlike many of the other plants here, these seedlings did well, and to my surprise put out a bloom this week.  Look at what it turned out to be!lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis)!  I’ve been trying for years to get a few going but the seed is like dust and my aftercare just doesn’t cut it.  This random mix up of seed has reminded me of my dream to have a red garden and refocused my vision!….. not really…. but how can I deny this brightest red of native wildflowers?  It’s time to get moving, before the golden rudbeckia ‘goldsturm’ take over. (btw none of these were planted, they all invited themselves in)rudbeckia and gold hostaTwo things I should start with.  The first is to add more dark leaved plants.  Ideally a dark hedge along the fence would be a nice backdrop, but I can’t think of anything better than the struggling variegated privet which is there now.  A darker background seems to really highlight the red and gold.rudbeckia, phlox, and ninebark

So the plan is to fix the pond, remove a few of the pinks and golds, think of a better background, and do some soil improvement/replanting so the red flowers already there really reach their potential….. in a spot with fewer washed out lavender flowers…red phlox and nora leigh

This blurry picture is a new-for-me annual/biennial/perennial which might have a place in the revamped border.  It’s standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), a southeastern native perennial which will likely be an annual here.  This looks like a perfect hummingbird plant and of course I love the color and the fluffy leaves.  I hope it reseeds, but if not there may be a few leftover seeds just in case.

Am I the last person to hear about this plant?  I’ve been looking for it for a couple years but had some trouble finding it.  Maybe now that it’s here it will stick around.Ipomopsis rubra

History in the Garden

Using the term history around here is a bit of a stretch.  History to me means centuries, not the fifty or so years that have passed since our house was built.  Fifty puts us into the outdated category as far as baby blue bathroom themes go, but it doesn’t exactly put us on the historical register.  The garden is even younger.  Fifty years ago five trees were planted, they did well but four were removed just before we bought the place…. and for fifty years the lawn was mown.  So I guess we have one pink dogwood, antique grass and not much else.

Since I can’t afford timeless stone walks and weathered brick walls I settle for the history behind plants.  In my opinion plants with a story behind them are worth growing just for that.  Passalong plants are those which are passed on from gardener to gardener and generation to generation.  “My grandmother gave it to me” vs “I bought it at Home Depot” I guess.  Iris pass on easy, and some of the historic iris even followed the settlers west as they looked for familiar plants to fill their farmyard gardens.  Maybe that’s what I was thinking when I brought these up from the old garden to plant out by the street.iris and alliums

iris flavescensThe pale yellow is “flavescens” which dates to 1813 and is indestructible.  Mine comes from the side of a highway and survives drought, mowing, weeds, salt…. but does much better in the garden.  Sometimes it gets beaten down by relentless gale strength winds (such as we had last weekend) but it always blooms, blooms long, and keeps decent foliage all season.

historic irisThe other iris, a mauve/violet with white standards (the top part) is from my mother’s garden.  It’s been there since they bought the house 40ish years ago and is a favorite.  Like many historic iris it has a strong grape scent which fills the yard (you can see the windblown flavescens in the background).

“Indian Chief” 1929, was given to me by a friend and is also out there.  It’s a well-known historic and shows up in cemeteries around here frequently since it welcomes neglect.  I sometimes find the darker ‘smokier?’ colored iris hard to show off in the garden and this is one of them.  If anyone has any suggestions on combining them I’d love to hear it.iris indian chiefiris color carnival“Color Carnival” 1949 is not a favorite of everyone.  I would describe it as a fleshy pink with purple veins and a tangerine beard.  My descriptions don’t always match the catalogs.

This batch came up when I used some not completely done compost in this bed.  A year of composting and the roots still made a comeback, not bad.

I got this iris as a kid.  It was growing in our neighbor’s yard against the wood fence.  Rather than outright ask for a bit I patiently pried apart the boards enough so that a single fan could grow through.  A year it did and at that point I felt comfortable digging it up and calling it my own.  It’s been following me around ever since.

“Rhages” 1934 was purchased.  No story.  It’s reliable and I like the speckling.  In iris talk the speckling around the petal edges is called plicata, sounds fancier that way.iris rhages

Of course iris do blues best of all.  This no ID comes from the same highway roadside as flavescens and is just as hardy.  Flowers aren’t too big or too ruffled or too deeply colored, they’re just clear and elegant.light blue iris

I guess that’s plenty of iris.  One last one is “Mme Chobaut” 1916 it’s growing out back in the meadow and could use a decent home.  Maybe this year. mme chobaut iris

In case you’re interested in older iris there’s HIPS, the historic iris preservation society.  It’s a great resource for info and for getting in touch with other old-iris lovers.  Members have an iris database to browse and a forum to post to.  There’s also an annual sale and quarterly magazine. 

I could easily be convinced to grow more of the modern iris, some of them are just amazing in their ruffled fluffery and colors, but I resist.  For now I’ll stick with the tried and true.  Plus this year the late freeze has killed most of their blooms.  Here’s an iris traded to me as “mesmerizer”, but it’s not.  Maybe it’s “Nordica”, another white but with orange beards. white iris

The one bloom looks ok but the other is stunted.  The freeze also damaged leaves and killed off most of the other stalks.  Such is gardening.  It’s like baseball, there’s always next year…. even though you hate to lose.

Camassia

The garden here always goes through a bit of a slump once the tulips begin to fade.  The iris haven’t kicked in yet and most of the late spring flowers aren’t doing a whole lot.  Bleeding hearts, columbine, and oriental poppies would all probably help out, but camassia is what looks the best right now.  I have two types, Camassia ‘Caerulea’ and ‘Blue Danube’.  One is supposed to have a rich lavender color and the other a dark blue…. but I can’t tell a difference between them.  One might be a few inches shorter but that could be soil or location or whatever.camassia 'blue danube'The yellow iris behind is ‘Elsa Sass’, a historic iris from 1939. It blooms early for me, but maybe that’s from being close to the house.

camassia 'Caerulea'Camassias are a bulb native to Northwestern North America and while I grow them in regular garden soil, they’re supposed to tolerate wet soils and clay soils.  Apparently they’re edible too, but I’ll pass for now.  This is the other clump, Camassia ‘Caerulea’.  I like both types well enough, blue is always welcome and they’ve never required any special care, but for me they don’t seem to bloom very long.  Just over a week seems about average, I’d much rather they held out for at least two.

Tulip Time!

There must be some Dutch in me because I’m a little wacky about tulips.  Not real bad, I don’t collect every kind and have them all over the place (my criteria for plant wackiness), but I’m always adding a few new ones…. and then I feel some kind of urge to tend them and multiply them and replant them.  It should end once this relatively new garden starts to fill up, but for now I can indulge that inner Dutch.

The rain and cold kept them shut for a while, but even then they looked nice (these are pictures from early last week).  Four years ago I bought this blend on clearance as a generic “darwin mix”… it was nearly all orange, so I threw in a couple pinks just beacause I had them.darwin tulips

"sweetheart" tulip "geranium daffodil

The “sweatheart” tulips were new this year, don’t know why I bought a lemon meringue colored tulip when I have so many daffodils in similar colors…..

Also new was the “Princely mix” from Van Engelen.  Not sure what’s in it, but again…. on clearance… can’t beat this color for around$15.  Plus I spread the other half of the box around the rest of the beds :)The random white peeling post is our attractive front light.  The less you see of that the better.

princely mix tulips

pink impression tulips“Pink Impression” (also new) is always a winner.  I’ve bought it before but have gotten other, similar tulips instead.  This looks to be the real thing  and the flowers are huge!

Tulips will last much longer in cool weather, but when a warm sunny day finally hits (like we had last week) the flowers open wide and you know it’s finally full, head-on spring.orange darwin tulips

I just go around on days like this and get nothing done.  It’s too tempting to just sit around, enjoy the sun and admire the season.  Since the vegetable garden is the easiest place to plant out your excess tulips, that’s where most end up.  I’ll regret this in a couple of weeks as I’m scratching my head looking for a spot to stick a tomato.  mixed darwin tulips

I don’t really cut too many for the house, most of the picking is done by the kids.  A couple end up at grandma’s, some get planted in the mulch, many get pulled apart and thrown, and random neighbors often get deliveries in exchange for an ice pop or cookie.tulip pickers

double early tulipsDaddy sometimes gets a flower, but much of his time is spent protecting the double tulips, since they seem to be particularly attractive to flower collectors.  The doubles have started to grow on me though.  Ever since I bought this mix of early doubles called “magic carpet”, I’m finding an excuse to keep them around (even though the singles are still so much more graceful).  To me the doubles look like huge fluffy wads of tissue paper…. but wow!  that’s some fluff!

temple of beauty tulipMy favorites might be the ones just coming into bloom now.  The late tulips seem to have the most subtle blends and nicest forms.  If you ignore the color clashes in this planting and just look at the color and almost lily shape of these fruity colored “Temple of Beauty” tulips, I think you might like them a little too, even with the crappy camera focus.

 

Tulip season is a little past peak now with the earliest ones already going by.  The pickers are still keeping busy and I’ll be busy too when I need to dig them all up out of the veggie garden.  That’s a job for June though,  May is for enjoying flowers.tulip picking