Some Like it Hot

I have to confess, I find white to be a little boring.  Much of that has to do with all the white vinyl fences and railing and trim which abounds in my part of town, and the competition it provides to any white flower which tries to do its own thing in my yard, but it’s also probably too tasteful for me.  Anyway, my garden is also mostly full sun, and unless it’s the moon shining down, white can become a glare, and any other colors cooled by white into pastels are also lost to the sun.  Hot colors on the other hand, can put up a fight.  Bright reds and golds, yellows and hot pinks, intense purples… these are the colors I love to see when I look out upon a yard baking in the afternoon sun, preferably from the other side of a window… comfortably cooled by air conditioning.

lucifer crocosmia

‘Lucifer’ crocosmia is red.  Very red. A you-can’t-ignore red.  I think I need a few other crocosmias…  

Today it was mostly hot, but it was absolutely humid and sometimes that’s worse.  I cut the grass, was drenched in sweat, but not much else happened and I was fine with leaving it at that.

foundation perennial bed

I finally like the front foundation beds.  The ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac is probably too chartreuse and too weedy for a respectable foundation planting but blue spruce and blue fescue are definitely suburbia approved.  

Even with the heat and humidity I did try and get the last of the weeding done.  That sounds good but of course I’ve already got to re-visit the weeds in the beds where I first started, and the rains aren’t slowing anything down other than the gardener.

yellow spider daylily

One of the few daylilies I have, a yellow spider daylily who’s name I can’t think of right now.  I think spiders and the more simple singles are my favorites, the ruffly explosions of color with ridges and teeth are more a curiosity to me than anything I need to grow. 

A slow gardener shouldn’t surprise anyone, and this one’s about ready to stop completely, call it a year and just sit back to watch things rather than try and exert any more control.  We’ll see.

rudbeckia verbena bonariensis

I’m always happy to see a few Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) pop up.  The surprise ones always do much better than any I try to plant on purpose, and they always put themselves amongst good companions, Verbena bonariensis and Lychnis coronaria in this case.

Actually with vacation season approaching the sitting back part will be even easier, and that’s usually when all control is lost.

rudbeckia maxima

Pulled weeds on the lawn, not as effective as I’d like sheets on the blueberries, and Rudbeckia maxima three days away from flopping.  For all my talk about weeding and control, this is the reality.  

The local wildlife seems to enjoy the messiness and I’m happy to see that, even if it means more and more baby bunnies eating the coreopsis while I watch.  Actually I was also enjoying watching all the bird activity until I realized it was the blueberries and gooseberries which were entertaining them.  I guess my netting problems are still not even close to being foolproof but no matter, who wants to pick all those delicious berries anyway?

On the down side the birds seem to really enjoy retiring to the bath apres dinner, so the pond is always a mess of splashing and berry vomit and whatever else comes out the other end so it’s not nearly as nice as some of the other amazing garden ponds I’ve seen.  Maybe someday a (clean) mountain creek plus koi pond will grace this garden but right now I’m absolutely thrilled with the dirty little sump which I call the pond, because in spite of the duckweed and murk I have something far better than koi.  I have tadpoles.  Finally.  Since building it I’ve been hoping “The Pond” would bring in a couple frogs or toads and this year in spite of a healthy population of mosquito devouring aquatic water beetles, eggs have survived and now tadpoles are sprouting legs.  I love it and in moments like this I realize what a nerd I am.

garden pond

The pond.  Probably the first part of the garden I check each day.

So I’m way off the ‘hot’ theme but whatever.  Let’s just wander out front again to see some of the amazing cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) which are just days from flowering.  These are much cooler than they are hot and each day I have to touch them just to verify again how solid and spiny they are.  I like them and I bet when they go to seed the goldfinches will also like them… even if these artichoke relatives are a little bigger than their usual thistle meals.

cardoon flower

Cardoons just about to flower, with a conveniently placed ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush (Cotinus) backdrop. 

If the goldfinches like thistle seed then the cyclamen must be making the ants happy.  Cyclamen purpurascens are showing up all around the base of our ant-infested cherry tree and I suspect the ants take the seeds in, nibble off the sugary coating, and then discard the seeds down the sides of the tree.  Works for me, I would have never considered planting them in such a dark, rooty location.

cyclamen purpurascens

Cyclamen purpurascens ringing the base of the weeping cherry.  They’re just starting their summer bloom season and soon a few new leaves should be up as well.

Back to the hot theme.  I’m not sure if I mentioned, but 2021 is the year of the caladium, and a five pound box of tubers from Caladiumbulbs4less (quite the subtle company name) have been potted up and are just loving the semi-tropical weather.  I love them almost as much as the tadpoles, and when the tadpoles sprout their legs and hop off to new frontiers at least I’ll have my caladiums.

starting caladiums

The driveway nursery is full of excitement as the mixed bulbs come up and show their colors.  I spend way too much time examining every new leaf, but someone’s got to.  

In case you’re wondering, five pounds of mixed caladiums is much more than this garden needs, but just about right for what this garden wants.  87 corms would be a pretty good guess of how many caladiums were planted, but I’m sure to actually repeatedly count them would be a little obsessive.  Obsessive would also be ordering mixed bulbs but then potting them all up individually so that later on you can plant all the similar forms together… and then running individual drip lines to all of them.  Amazing how obsessive can easily co-exist with lazy as long as you buy enough drip emitters, but it has to be done since cool weather and drying-out are the biggest dangers to an excellent 2021 caladiumfest.

Alocasia Dark Star

Another heat and humidity lover, Alocasia ‘Dark Star’ is starting to put weight on again after a really lean winter. 

I’m sure you’ll hear way too much about the year of the caladium so I’ll end it here, but I do enjoy seeing them revel in the warmer weather and nearly daily thunderstorms so I could really go on and on if I had to.  In any case it sure beats a drought.

Have a great week, hot or not.

White is a Cooling Color

A friend of mine seems able to pick a color of the day any day and then post a collage of blooms right out of the garden to celebrate.  Me on the other hand, I’m far from there but on a day like today when the garden bakes under a hot sun, anything which might lower the temperature is fair game.  They say adding white flowers to a garden can cool a hot palette but as I trudged around the garden in 97F(36C) afternoon sun I’m not sure it mattered.  We’ll give it a try though since the only truly cool white would have been snow, and it will take months of heat before I wish that on anyone 😉

stewartia flower

**full disclosure I took this photo a week ago and the blooms on the Stewartia are no longer this fresh looking, but to look at it now?  Ahhhhhhh 🙂

Heat and cicadas, that would have been a nicely mid-Atlantic June day, but as of yet I haven’t seen more than a few wings and munched torsos.  Maybe a road trip is due?  The younger child (now nearly a full month into her teens) says yes, and the first flowers of the Regal lily “smell like Longwood”.

lilium regale

These Regal lilies (Lilium regale) were mush from a late frost last year, and sat dormant from April on… but guess who returned from the dead this year!

I’d be happy with just a break from lawn mowing, and this heat should do the trick.  My neighbors are looking at mostly brown already since they’re more gung-ho about their grass knowing its place and it’s height, but here I give it a little more freedom as the temperatures rise and the sun beats down.  Longer grass withstands both the heat and drought better and recovers faster when the weather breaks, and I’m sure when that break comes and temperature drop with a rain shower or two there will be plenty of time for me to catch up on my love of lawn maintenance.

white clover lawn

A flurry of white across the lawn, thanks to the liberal growth of white clover.  A good bee plant most will say, but honestly there’s plenty of other stuff around which they also seem quite thrilled over.

I think cooling white counts even if it’s on the gray side.

mammillaria plumosa

I believe this is Mammillaria plumosa.  Each year it stretches a little further and now another pot will be required.  Any bigger and it won’t fit on the porch steps anymore.  

I was lukewarm to the dusty miller(Jacobaea maritima) which went in as an annual last summer but I quite like the bushier perennial version which returned this spring.  If the summer stays dry and the border doesn’t get too lush and crowded I think it will do well all season.

dusty miller flower

Unimpressive flowers on the dusty miller.  

Gray foliage but on a much less soft and felty side would be the Scotch thistle.  This will probably be the last photo of this weed which I subject you to, but fair warning: the Cardoon has yet to bloom, and that’s another weedy thistle which I think is just wonderful and I can’t hide my excitement over 🙂

scotch thistle

Scotch thistle against a cloudless sky.  I had to point up since this plant is well over my head by now.

Gray foliage doesn’t have much in the way of scent, but the Phlox paniculata is starting and that has an excellent summer fragrance.  I will avoid complaining about how ungrateful they seem this year, as they’re growing poorly enough that you wouldn’t suspect I transplanted and fertilized, but sometimes you have to give a favorite plant some leeway… unless of course it gets demoted to a former-favorite plant… that would be something which such an ungrateful plant might deserve but then who knows what July will bring.

midsummer white phlox

‘Midsummer White’ garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is the garden’s first tall phlox to flower.

Weeds and wildflowers are never ungrateful.  Overly enthusiastic maybe but you never have to beg them to grow.

erigeron annuus daisy fleabane

A favorite weed, daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) can usually be counted on to sprout up when needed. 

Sometimes you don’t even have to water them.  Actually watering weeds is a crazy idea… unless it’s fleabane or larkspur.  Both might be worth a little spray to get them over a hump.

white larkspur

It looks white, but here the larkspurs all tend to be an icy white with a drop of blue or gray in it.  Kind of a skim milk shade of white rather than titanium white.

Here I go talking about weeds again.  One more though.  Common yarrow has shown up in a few spots in the meadow and I wonder how these seeds find their way.

achillea millefolium common yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) laughs at heat and drought.  I think everything around it will shrivel up and die before you see anything more than a few leaves wilt.

White flowers in a dry meadow won’t cool anyone, but maybe the patch of variegated giant reed grass out front can help.  For months I’ve been saying someone ought to chop out some of the clump, since it really is too big, but it appears the message fell on deaf ears and it’s just as big (actually bigger) than last year.  Probably too big.  Alas.

verbena arundo donax

I’m not saying I judge my neighbors for not asking if I can spare a division, but the giant reed grass (Arundo donax ‘variegata’) is pretty awesome and only gets better as it climbs to 10 feet and more by the end of the season.

It’s way too hot to be out there in the blazing sun hacking inch thick, strong as steel grass rhizomes so that’s one more year for the grass to root in deeper and spread further.  Maybe next year, right?  Shade is a much better option.  White hydrangeas in a dappled shade both looks and sounds cool.

annabelle hydrangea

‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea arborescens is the hydrangea to grow if you want a foolproof every-year-its-a-show kind of hydrangea.  Newer hybrids?  Other species?  Help yourself, I’m just fine with this.

Hostas also make the shade even cooler and many people know this.  Some go to extremes.  I only dabble.

hosta montana aureomarginata

Hosta montana aureomarginata, an oldie but goodie in my opinion.  

There’s another kind of foliage plant which I plan on going overboard with this year.  Caladiums.  I forget how much I’ve already revealed about ‘2021 the year of the caladium’ but it’s going to be big.  Not the empty kind of ‘big’ or ‘huge’ or ‘better than you can imagine’ that politicians have promised in the past, but a big five pound box of mixed tubers which was potted up weeks ago and is now soaking up the heat and starting to grow.  As you know, it’s not often I get excited about a new plant, but waiting for each leaf to unfurl is like waiting for a new plant to unfurl a new leaf and I just can’t think of anything more exciting than that.

sprouting caladium

White… with a hint of pink… not that I’m counting but there are 79 caladiums potted up separately and sitting on the driveway waiting to take off into growth.  Summer garage access is overrated if you ask me and I’m sure it will be entirely worth it. 

So there you have it, the cooling effect of white.  I’m all excited about caladiums now but maybe the white helped calm someone else and take the edge off the heat for a minute and that’s a good thing.  That and air conditioning.  Or ice cream.  Or a tub of cool water… whatever it takes to get through this because as you may remember, something called July and August are still on the way and I don’t think you’re going to hear much of ‘boy it’s looking cool next month’ or ‘golly did that temperature drop’ as much as you’re going to hear ‘relentless’ and ‘not a break in sight’.

Or I’m just being pessimistic.  Order some caladium bulbs.  There’s still plenty of time and at least they love the heat even if you don’t.  And even if you’re anti-caladium I hope you have a great week 🙂

Taming the Potager

Reading broadens the mind, and I’ve read too many gardening books to remain satisfied with a plain old vegetable garden.  I of course have a potager, which (from what I’ve heard) is a vegetable garden but fancier, with vegetables but designed and mixed with flowers and supposedly a nicer place to sit around in than the dirt paths and rows of beans of your common vegetable garden.  Plus it’s a French word, and here in America anything with a french name is fancier.  Case in point: baguette vs ‘long loaf of bread’… fancier… and now I rest my case with just one argument, since neither my argument nor the fanciness of my potager will likely stand up to any in depth scrutiny 🙂

hollyhock rust

A stray hollyhock seedling in front of ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush (Cotinus).  Normally the bush is cut back but this year was left unpruned in order to smoke (bloom).

Just a few thoughts on Hollyhocks(Alcea) before we go to the potager.  I was hoping a few rust-resistant plants might show up as I try to mix in a few “rust-resistant” species, but so far no luck.  Rust is not a good look and of course I’m far too lazy to spray.

hollyhock rust

I thought this might be a yellow Alcea rugosa, and possibly less rusty, but the pink tint in the flowers and all the spotting and rusty lesions says otherwise.  I should rip it out now, but…

So I’m 99% sure that starting off with me sharing my disease problems is not the path to fancy, but I’m going to try and save this.  The best thing in the potager this week are the larkspur and oxeye daisies.

larkspur and daisies

Larkspur and daisies.  Not really fancy, but maybe ‘shabby chic’, and chic is right out of Paris.

Some people might point out that Larkspur and daisies are more abandoned farm field than they are high style, but right now I love them, and I’m not even going to mention they’re actually the result of not weeding rather than any planned style initiative.

larkspur and daisies

I meant to dig the alliums and tulips, but never quite got around to it.  Fortunately the largest prickly lettuce and mugwort were weeded out a few weeks ago 🙂

The actual efforts at design are much less impressive.  Roses and clematis to climb the ‘structure’ are still two or three years from breathtaking.

rose chevy chase

I suppose this will be a patriotic design, with the bright red ‘Chevy Chase'(a 1939 rambler rose) joining the misslabeled blue clematis and white daisies.  I’m expecting ten feet or more from Chevy, he should be a strong grower but sadly lacks any fragrance.

Any real potager needs a few vegetables, and so far lettuce and cole crops are the only things looking productive since the tomatoes and squash have only just gone in.

summer cabbage

I love cabbages and all their kin.  Earlier in the year the cabbage worms attacked, but after a little picking off, the worms have stayed away or found other hosts.  Un-nibbled leaves really look much better than the usual worm-riddled foliage.

So as usual I have an excuse for being late.  Rabbits made their nest in the middle of the tulip patch.  Somehow six cottontails had to grow up before I could dig the tulips.  I couldn’t transplant the chrysanthemums until the tulips were out, and then dahlias had to go into the bed where the chrysanthemums were.  I think following chrysanthemums with a dahlia planting is called crop rotation, and all the fanciest gardeners practice crop rotation.

dahlia seedlings

Nine ‘Bishop’s Children’ dahlia seedlings are all I got out of a packet of thirty seeds.  That’s a good thing, what would I do with thirty dahlia seedlings?

Some of the other tulip plantings were followed by tomatoes, and I’ll show them as well but they need a few weeks before they and the rest of the new potager plantings begin to look nice.  In the meantime I need pear advice.  Last year a late freeze killed off nearly every flower save three, this year every flower made it.  I have dozens and dozens of little pears and I need to know if I should drag out the ladder and thin them, or if they will naturally thin themselves.  To me the answer is already pretty obvious, but of course I’d love for someone with more experience to tell me I don’t have to thin them.

thinning pears

Little pears.  I already thinned the lower branches to just a few fruits.

It doesn’t look like a few French words will fool anyone, and those are pretty much all the highlights of the potager in mid June.  With the bubble burst, I might as well take you around the rest of the even less fancy parts of the back garden.

wildflower meadow

Weeds along the berm.  Year 1 was smartweed, year 2 was some mustard, year 3 is birds foot trefoil, daisies, and grass.  I think it looks best this year and I think some rose campion seed needs to be sprinkled in as well 🙂

Weeds along the back of the property and now an overgrown snowdrop bed.  Finally after years of tinkering this bed is becoming more stable and I think (a little)less weedy.

rain garden

Snowdrop bed, aka rain garden.  The roof runoff washes down the sand path and keeps this bed a little wetter than it used to be.  The plants seem to love it.

There’s so little design and zero fancy to this side of the yard.  As the years pass it’s becoming more of a snowdrop garden and the other plantings have to take second billing, even if they do occupy the ground for about 11 months compared to the 1 month of white.  Of course I cannot explain myself on this addiction.

blueberry

This year the blueberries will be protected.  I have netting, but all the fledgling birds who flock to the bushes are just too clumsy to avoid getting trapped, and I can’t untangle another body.  I’ll try some floating row cover material and hope that out of sight will save enough for pancakes at least.

Hopefully this end of the garden gets some attention this weekend.  It’s always the last job, and for as ‘finishing’ as that sounds it really only means I go right back to the start and begin it all again, this time with more weeding and less planting…

japanese iris

Even in a thicket of weeds this Japanese iris looks fancy.

Maybe on the next go around things will change.  All the weeds will go out, some thoughtful design will go in, some rough edges cleaned up?  I think not.  It’s firefly season and they love all the rough edges and I love having them light up the evening garden, and for as much as I’m tempted to weed-whack the berm or mow the meadow it’s not happening this month.  I’m sure I’ll get over it and it also wouldn’t hurt if I found something better to do 😉

Bonjour, and I hope you have a fancy week!

 

Enter Summer

Well well well.  The lull is over and with official summer starting in four more days I’m completely ready for days to last forever and I’m completely ok to never put on a real pair of pants again.  Sorry,  please forget that visual.  I’m thinking shorts and bathing suits and whatever else kind of clothing you would wear to the park, not the gray polyester blend  pants you’d  wear to meet your lawyer.  Lawyers should only be dealt with in the winter in my opinion.

mixed flower border

The front border is full of early summer color and a remarkably well-tended assortment of plants.

Following a bump in the road it looks like garden work is back on track around here.  Planting weather continues and I almost feel guilty about putting it to good use when so much of the country sits under stifling heat and relentless drought.  But trust me, if not doing work would mean relief for the hot and dry, you know I would do my part.

mixed flower border

I kind of missed the flowery peak of the roses, but there’s still plenty of color.  Also nice is how much those little spruce and juniper twigs have grown.  It seems just yesterday I had a four inch pot in hand looking at the spot where today a six foot white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’) stands.

Roses are still obsession du jour, and the greatest tragedy this summer will surely be that I was not able to get up to Ithaca’s ‘Der Rosenmeister‘ to see hundreds of roses in full bloom, filling beds and covering arbors and wafting their various fragrances across the garden as I secretly inventory all the ones I’d like to cram into my own little yard.    I guess there’s next year, but in a strange turn of events I’ve turned into a very not-patient person, and I want it all now.  I can still be understanding and wait for things like small children, tree seedlings, and dogs, but the cup of you-go-firstedness has run dry and my filter is breaking down as I age.  I guess you can start calling me Karen.

westerland rose

Here’s ‘Westerland’ again.  Today it’s my favorite rose.

I’m Karen with a spade, and many of the less inspiring plants in my life are paying the ultimate price.  “oh it’s a good doer’ might save it in your garden but here it’s good night and good bye unless I love it or unless it saves me from even more work.  I’m thinking groundcovers with that last one, ajuga may not be inspiring but it does fill in between the giant reed grass’s stalks and saves me from crawling through there looking for prickly poppy seedlings.

arundo donax

The giant reed grass (Arundo donax variegata) is on the love list, but the clump looks deceptively small in this photo.  I may trade in the spade for an axe on this one, the inch thick roots are not something I’m looking forward to, but the clump needs reducing.

Weeds and plantings I’ve tired of might sound bad, but overall I love the garden right now.  A thick wall of weeds won’t win a magazine cover, but honestly I’ve been looking at them (every day of course) and all it takes is one plant doing well in there for me to think ‘wow, that’s #@&^ing awesome’.

common milkweed

A weed I love, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), looking and smelling great this week.  Three tips: be prepared for it to spread, chop it down to two feet after bloom, and just yank up all the suckers without worrying about the roots below (you don’t even want to know).

So as usual I’m babbling about nonsense when I should be finishing this up and ferrying kids to a dental appointment.  More pictures, less blah.

strawberry mertonensis foxglove

More strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) appearing out of the mess.  These don’t mind the droughts and spider mite attacks which do in the common foxgloves. 

penstemon dark towers

More of the foundation plantings.  As you can see the blue fescue border has not been divided and replanted, and still has way too much thatch built up, but… 

rock garden

The former rock garden, now the colchicum bed.  I’ve resorted to roundup once or twice a year to keep the stone border clean and it’s actually working out very well.

Did I mention I needed more roses?  I do, and it might be time for more clematis as well.  Finally I have a few spots for them to climb up and show off rather than making them crawl around in the dirt… which is not the kind of treatment they deserve.

clematis ruutel

Clematis ‘Ruutel’ doesn’t get much taller than this, which normally wouldn’t thrill me, but the dark red color is still a win.

A friend of mine grows more clematis than she should and that’s probably why she’s such a good friend, so I’m sure if I mentioned cuttings… hmmmm.  That would sure help cool off the credit card from plant purchases.

clematis ville de lyon

Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ does get taller, and I always like flowers at eye level or above.

So the rest is just a mix of unconnected things which are interesting this week.  We could call it a four on Wednesday but of course that’s got zero ring to it 🙂

calycanthus aphrodite

Even in an overexposed photo Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ looks pretty good.  I never expected it to become so showy.

aralia sun king

Aralia ‘Sun King’ is still doing well in a cramped, too dry, unfertile, location.  Nine out of ten garden designers despise how I left the rose campion nearby.

martagon lily sunny morning

Further into the shade the martagon lilies are blooming.  ‘Sunny Morning’ had a string of bad years with late frosts and swampy soil but then for some reason decided to send up three flower stalks and look amazing.  I don’t get it.  She’s been dormant by July for at least the last two years so I suspect this is a swan’s song kind of show.

meadow garden

The meadow is developing behind the neighbor’s house.  Oddly it’s one of my favorite spots and has gone from pure turf to a mass of bird’s foot trefoil, other clovers, and a few daisies.  

So I have to stay focused.  I want to go on and on about the butterfly weed and rose campion that needs to be seeded into the meadow, and the merits of adding native penstemons but in a purple foliaged form… but the spring stuff still needs to get planted,  beans need to go into the ground, and daffodils dug and a million other things and there will be time to babble on about uncut  meadows in August.

Hope you’re enjoying all the too-much as much as I am.  Have a great week!

A Good Soak

A strange thing happened about two weeks ago.  Without any warning or cause, the gardener here snapped out of his lazy spell.  I think it started out of necessity, with plants that were purchase for next door… and weren’t all that cheap and had to be planted before the heat and forgotten waterings took their toll… but then it took on a life of its own.  Weeds were pulled, lawns edged, trees pruned, plants planted.  You’re probably  thinking to yourself ‘well of course, I’ve been doing that since March’, but here that hasn’t been the case.  Here neglect was creeping in.  Here they’re hoping this new gardener stays on and the place is brought back to halfway decent shape.

potager beds

The potager doesn’t look too impressive with its beds of yellowing tulip foliage, but the most rank weeds have finally been pulled and a few legitimate plantings have taken place.  There’s even a nice supply of lettuce coming in as a first harvest.

I’ve noticed that the gardener’s ambition rises and falls with the weather.  Last weekend was cold, and for as much as everyone else was full of complaints and misery, the gardener here was reinvigorated.  “How long have you been out there?  Your cheeks are freezing”  was the question, and “all day” was the response.  Even when the rain was pouring down the gardener was dragging out (way too many) stored bulbs, potting up (way too many) purchased caladiums, and starting (way too many) unnecessary seeds.  I think the gardener knows that there are few if any empty spots to plant, but he doesn’t seem to care.

potager beds

The nicer end of the potager where the gardener would often sit rather than work.  ‘Purple Splash’ is finally settling in and will hopefully scale the arbor, but as of this week the gardener still doesn’t like it.  He claims it’s very nice, but it’s not “beautiful”, and all roses should be beautiful or at least movingly fragrant.

Even if the gardener is getting some work done, he’s still just as easily distracted as ever.

calycanthus aphrodite

Calycanthus x ‘Aphrodite’ is more beautiful in a sculptural way than many roses, but like ‘Purple Splash’ also lacks a decent scent.  It looks like it should be wafting a fragrant cloud across the pepper and tomato plantings, but sadly the gardener smells nothing.

Roses have been a distraction, and even the lazy version of our gardener was spending a good amount of time planting the new ones and fussing over the older bushes.  He misses the scents of iris season, but now when the fruity fragrance of rose drifts by it’s not as bad.

rose westerland

‘Westerland’ is beautiful.  I love the color and am thrilled it see it settling in.

The gardener is hoping that 2021 will be his first exciting rose year since the small cuttings and bareroot plantings of the past two years are finally beginning to amount to something.  I’ve told the gardener that some regular fertilizing and water would do the roses wonders and probably have them topping arbors within a year, but the gardener is stubborn on top of lazy, and the roses are raised “tough”… which you probably know isn’t a thing, it’s just an excuse for them not growing as well as they could.

digitalis mertonensis

The first strawberry foxglove (Digitalis mertonensis) is the one that planted itself right on top of a snowdrop clump.  Foxgloves were one of my first plant fascinations btw.

Not to get distracted yet again but the foxgloves are coming, and although they don’t do well for me, even a poorly grown plant looks exceptional.

digitalis purpurea

The first common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) to survive to blooming in years has me excited, so of course I was crushed to see the wall of foxgloves a friend was enjoying this year… but if seeing nicer gardens is really discouraging I would have quit this years ago!

Of course one lone foxglove in bloom had me imagining all the amazing things the gardener could do with foxgloves so that brings me to the reason I’m enjoying rain while the rest of the country bakes under a bubble of heat.  I was distracted.  I was fantasizing about the latest offerings from the little Rhode Island Nursery known as Issima.  They had a common D. purpurea but with cool grayish foliage and a light fuzz to it, and I hemmed and hawed over D. purpurea ssp. heywoodii long enough that it sold out (which happens rather quickly to this ’boutique’ nursery) so of course I bought other stuff instead.

So I blame indecision for the reason this post has been in progress for four days now.  That and a party at our house for a dozen teen and pre-teen girls and of course other stuff.  There’s always other stuff and it’s usually good, but not always.

Hope your other stuff is good this week 🙂

Start Your Engines!

Something odd got into me last week.  After what has probably been months of the usual laziness I started a few tasks.  Then I went on to new ones.  Before I knew it I was being productive, and although I feel more sore than accomplished, I do feel like I finally made a little headway.

front border rose aicha

I took a break on Sunday from porch cleaning to get a few photos.  Here’s the front border with the pale yellow, single blooms of the rose ‘Aicha’ mixed in with the blue of colombine (aquilegia)

This weekend I spent Friday digging trade plants and opening the pool, Saturday traveled on a gardening adventure, and then Sunday tried to make the yard more summer-friendly since it was awfully hot and that seemed the right thing to do.  Monday it was lawn mowing, trimming, watering… and I even started to pickaxe a few holes into the berm for more arborvitae plantings.  Finally today I finished the planting (just four bushes) but it felt like a major accomplishment since the hard-packed, rocky “soil” fought me all the way.

rose Aicha

‘Aicha’ is a beauty.  I hope she gets just a little taller so I can thread a small clematis through her for the ‘off’ season.

Tomorrow I’m home for a “Dr’s appointment”.  I’d also like to spend some time outside and see if I can get the vegetable garden moving, but we will see if new ambition beats the forecast heat.  In theory I could spend the day by the pool with just a few breaks to admire the iris, but for now I’m hoping ambition wins, since wouldn’t that be just terrible to waste a day off swimming and doing next to nothing?

iris historic sunol

The historic iris ‘Sunol’ (1933) growing in the foundation beds.  Usually it has a bronze flush to the falls, but perhaps that faded this year in the heat.  

Speaking of the lure of sloth, last summer I had hoped to reclaim some of the front border for more iris plantings but once things filled in it was a struggle to find open spots and as usual I resorted to edge planting.  Edge planting lets me shoehorn in a couple more plants along the outer fringes even if the outer fringe looks better empty.  If never looks that great having plants hanging off the edge of the bed like that, but when the place is filled that’s as good as it gets.

historic iris romeo

Historic iris ‘Romeo’ (1912) has a cool look to the falls which is different from the others I grow.  

So (again) the plan is to clear a few swathes where iris can go.  It’s been dry, which is good for bearded iris, but if the summer turns wet this gardener might be tempted to fill in with all kinds of annuals and various other showier things which are great in the fall… but are not iris.

historic iris elsinore

‘Elsinore’ (1932) is another somewhat unique historic iris which I like very much 🙂 

Regardless, I have faith that a few iris will again fill a sizeable chunk of the border.  I may have to resort to a few of the hardier ones which don’t mind some summer shade, but it needs to be done since a May without an overload of beaded iris is completely unacceptable.

historic iris indian chief

‘Indian Chief’ (1929) is not my favorite color, but the plants handle competition and some shade quite well, so of course it gets an invite.

So iris are on the to-do list… somewhere… and in the meantime I need to focus on planting and watering…. and weeding of course, but I think you know how I feel about a strong commitment to weed-free beds vs saving a few of the more interesting ones 🙂

scotch thistle

A big Scotch thistle(Onopordum acanthium) has come up in a spot reserved for phlox and snowdrops.  It’s as prickly as it looks and of course I love this (listed as noxious in several western states) weed.   

Even if the weeding doesn’t happen, hopefully I can at least show off a respectable vegetable-filled potager in another week or two.

perennial border

From a distance of greater than 20 feet, much of the garden doesn’t look bad.  I just wish it passed the five foot rule!

Wish me luck.  I’m already thinking that the best plan is to head to the nursery in the AM and start the day with new vegetable transplants… and likely a few more flowers…  Obviously deep down inside I know buying more plants doesn’t help the four new rose bushes, various overwintered tropicals, trays of sprouted seedlings, and the haul from last weekend’s rock garden society sale that are sitting on the driveway, but it’s more fun and I’m always up for that.

Hope you have a fun week 🙂

Not too Early, Not too Late… Just Right?

Not this year.  I keep aiming to catch the local pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule) in peak bloom but it has yet to happen.  Last year I was too late and saw nothing but seed pods, and this year I was just a little too early.  But it was a nice Sunday morning out regardless, and I did catch a few in perfect condition.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

One pristine bloom in a spot which caught the morning light.

The Lady’s slipper patch is found in a state park about 25 minutes from my house, and if I’m being honest it’s not always my favorite spot to visit.  It’s got a kind of creepy vibe going, and I don’t think it would be first on the list of places to take the kids hiking.  I’m sure it’s all in my head though, but until I get a little way into the woods I’m just a bit on edge.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

A few more early birds

Pink lady’s slippers do not like the bacteria rich, worm infested, fertile soils of the typical garden plot and are notoriously difficult to cultivate on purpose, and instead are usually found in the undisturbed duff of native soils, high in acidity, high in fungus, and the places where decay takes years rather than a few day’s run through an earthworm’s belly.

***education alert -this post is loosely based on fact, I make most of this up as I go.  I am absolutely not a botanist or any thing close to a soil scientist***

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

More lady’s slippers just coming into bloom.

Oddly enough the park areas where these orchids seem to grow best are not pristine slices of pre-colonial North America, but rather ridges of mine tailings left undisturbed and unreclaimed for the past hundred years.  You could almost call it mine-scarred if not for the regenerated trees and return of native wildflowers, and I’m sure timing has everything to do with this.  Try this again today and I’m sure the only thing to sprout back would be a forest of Japanese knotweed mixed with crownvetch and barberry in the drier spots.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

This will be a nice show in another week or two.  

I often think about weird things.  Many people love to repeat how incredibly well adapted natives are to one area or another, and I usually just nod but deep down inside don’t really buy it.  I think it has more to do with first come, first served.  An area is disturbed, a seed gets lucky, and if the plant gets lucky it fills the area before anyone else shows up.  If nothing else big happens that’s that, regardless of how perfect or not it is for the spot.

pink ladys slipper Cypripedium acaule

A patch of pink lady’s slippers with some hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctiloba) creeping in.  In another 100 years I wonder if they’ll still both be living in harmony since around here the ferns can make a pretty dense carpet.

In any case I enjoyed the visit, and didn’t mind being early rather than having perfect timing.  Perfect timing would mean I’d have made my visit this upcoming weekend, and with the hot weather that’s rolled in I have no desire to take on any physical adventures… not until I get used to the change in weather at least.

Hope your week’s gone well.  Between track meets, gymnastics, and baseball practices, this week has flown by and there have been days when I didn’t even get my garden strolls in (*gasp*), but the schedule is changing and hopefully I can soon enjoy some of the big changes in the garden.  The heat has wilted the last tulips and dogwoods, and now the bearded iris and clematis are bursting open.  I need more of both of course, but have to plant a few other things before I’m allowed to buy anything new… unless it’s a rose…  I’m giving myself two (or three)rose permission slips, and it’s all part of a new adventure planned for the upcoming weekend 🙂

Enjoy!

Snowdropping 2021

I’ve heard them say it’s the bad trips, not the good, that you remember best, and over the years they become some of your best memories… so maybe someday this trip will rank more highly, but for now its chilly wetness ranks it closer to the bottom.  At one point my snowdropping buddy stated the day reminded her of the windy, frigid visits to upstate NY and the Temple Gardens open day, and she could be right.  In my defense our local forecast was decent, but I foolishly assumed it would be even milder and just as dry 100 miles South.  Silly me.

naturalized snowdrops

I would guess snowdrop adventures in the UK and EU are far less gritty than our adventures.  Tea and cake from what I’ve heard.  To satisfy that question, we didn’t find either.

As I was driving down my better sense knew this trip was too short-notice and not up to or normal standards, so I dropped the hint that I would be fine doing our traditional park visit alone, and Paula must have looked at the thermometer and thought ‘hallelujah!’

“Yes” she said, “That’s fine, maybe I’ll go next week”.

naturalized snowdflakes

The yellow of the winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis) was fading, but the snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) were just coming up.

The park we visit hasn’t changed in years, but this year I noticed some cleanup.  Brush removed, new paths, general cleaning up.  I’m glad to see some love going in, but also have to admit a little sadness.  Paths of bare earth cut through swathes of snowdrops and winter aconite means many bulbs were destroyed.  Decades of neglect built the show, I just hope a cleaner and neater future leaves a place for them and remembers the history of this plot.

eranthis

Bulbs are tenacious though.  A tree disaster happens, a scar opens, and still the yellow of winter aconite manages to sprout and bloom amongst the debris.

Ok so I really wasn’t all that sad and I did spend a good hour or so examining hundreds of flowers looking for something special so it was still an excellent visit, but the real star of my trip was Paula’s garden.  I swear there were twice as many blooms as I remembered.  I love when I pull up somewhere and get that stupid grin and start talking to myself about how cool it looks.  Sometimes I even do that with passengers onboard, and probably get concerned looks, but with each passing year I notice less and less, and care?  Not even 🙂

american snowdrop garden

The glow of ‘Jelena’ (Hamamelis ‘Jelena’) lights up and perfumes the highs while snowdrops and heucheras fill the lows.

It was so refreshing to see all the color filling a garden.  On the ride over I was desperately scanning the neighborhoods looking for anything but it was never much more than desolately neat lawns and mulch, or way more evergreens than even a cemetery would want.  Occasionally there were some snowdrops or a hellebore, so I guess there’s hope, but inspiring?  No…

american snowdrop garden

Paula has reached the point where nearly all the beds have snowdrops wedged in between the dormant perennials and mix of shrubbery.  She complained about too many seedlings.  I pretended to understand.

As usual we stood out in the cold examining every drop, commenting on how well it grew and where it was from.  There were also witch hazels, winter aconite, and snowflakes to discuss.  It’s great seeing a garden which comes alive while the rest of the neighborhood sits brown and dead.

american snowdrop garden

One of many hellebores.  The color stood out better in real life, I’m sure I yet again had some camera setting mis-adjusted.

By the time we slowly shuffled around the far end of the garden the icy drizzle had switched over to a rainy drizzle, and when I suggested it might be more polite to skip the other garden we had scheduled, Paula seemed fine with that.  We were both ready to warm up and dry out.  I even passed on an offer to dig one or two trades… tell me that’s not a sign!

american snowdrop garden

The last couple years of plantings line the side garden, each special variety socially distanced with only the occasional seedling breaking quarantine.

I guess I’m not as feverishly desperate as I used to be.  It’s still a thrill to go visiting but it’s more and more about the people, and then coming home is less and less of a let-down.  There are still a few (actually plenty) of snowdrop treasures I covet, but give me a sunny winter day with bunches of average white ones surrounding me really makes me feel as if I’ve arrived…. at least in MY mind 🙂

Have a great weekend, and let this be your **last warning** that pictures from my own garden are up next!

A Festival of Mums

Well I do feel guilty overposting when I don’t even take the time to respond to comments or visit other blogs, but there was a second part to my recent garden-day-out which just doesn’t fit into that post, and it’s just too good to not share (as opposed to some of the things I put on about my own garden!).  Our beautiful morning in the private garden of Charles Cresson was followed by an equally beautiful afternoon at the very public Longwood Gardens.  Of course we were late, so there were a few seconds of nervousness when we saw the crowded parking lot and the well-past admission time on our timed tickets, but all was well.  We cruised through a perfectly distanced and contact-free admission process and were exploring the grounds just minutes later.

longwood bell tower

Longwood’s  bell tower with fall color and some late afternoon sunshine.

The weather was still perfect, the grounds were perfect, the fall colors were perfect, the water was clear, fresh sod was laid, the paths were raked.  Longwood is an excellent autumn strolling garden, but to be honest I sometimes get a tiny bit bored.  I wasn’t in the mood to hike the meadow, I had seen miles and miles of autumn color on the drive down, and all the summer plantings were already out and replaced with uber-neat animal netting to protect the recent tulip plantings, or super tidy raked soil.  It all made me feel somewhat guilty for the unplanted bulbs and general mess at home, so our stroll was actually kinda short.

hamamelis virginiana 'Harvest Moon'

Hamamelis virginiana ‘Harvest Moon’ looking exceptional amongst late bloomers and autumn grasses.  It’s in full sun by the way, and I’ve noticed that even the wild ones which line my path to work bloom much heavier when in full sun.

My friend Paula was with me, and we both agreed that next year Longwood should call us and let us pick through their trash pile of discarded annuals and tropicals and help them get rid of some of that mess.  I’m sure my better half would have no problem with me coming home with a trunk full of things to pot up and keep inside all winter 🙂

Tetrapanax papyrifer

In the gardens behind the bell tower I saw a few big clumps of ricepaper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) which looked as if they had overwintered in the spot.  I love the leaf on this thing and have been trying to get one for years, even if it is a terrible spreader and some people are allergic to the fine hairs…

yellow ilex opaca

A very well-planned combination of yellow Amsonia hubrichtii foliage backed by a ripening crop of yellow berried American holly (Ilex opaca)

Of course you can’t judge me for thinking I have either the room or time to take in dozens of high maintenance and tender plants which are totally unreasonable for my garden.  It’s a much cheaper addiction than fancy shoes that don’t fit comfortably or a flat screen tv which is just too big for a room which sits you six feet away.  But I’m digressing.  We actually came to see the mums, and as we approached the conservatory things started to look promising.

longwood chrysanthemums

Wow 🙂 Hardy chrysanthemums grown as a basket on top (I think) raised high over a planter of the same.

Last year I visited the NY Botanical Garden to see their display and I loved it, but for all their variety and diverse forms and traditional training techniques, Longwood had less but more and went straight for the Wow.

longwood chrysanthemums

My favorite part, the explosion of yellow lining the path across the orangery.  Giant yellow chrysanthemums and a wall of yellow Salvia madrensis.   

If you’re still with me you may be wondering just how exactly you can “have less but more”, so let me try and explain myself.  There were fewer total varieties and forms, but hundreds of each.  I don’t know how you plan or find the room to grow and train hundreds (or even thousands!?) of mums to football size perfection, but apparently Longwood does.

longwood chrysanthemums

There was so much yellow here I wanted to roll in it.

The rest of the conservatories were just more wow.  I think the less I write the better, so here it is.

longwood fern conservatory

The exhibition hall, flooded with a film of reflective water and shaded by tree ferns.  The topiary are begonias and I don’t think I’ve ever liked begonias more.

longwood chrysanthemums

The ‘thousand bloom’ chrysanthemums.  A single plant grown and trained for a meticulously perfect show.  The one in back is absolutely huge.

longwood chrysanthemums

Maybe these were all the leftovers?  A merciful Longwood employee opened the one-way barrier and let me through when she saw me standing there mumbling ‘I need to go there, I need to go there’.  I loved it.  Maybe this was my favorite…

longwood chrysanthemums

If the yellow was too much there were plenty of yellow-free zones.

longwood chrysanthemums

Yeah there were a lot.  ‘Chrysanthemum Festival’ is a worthy title.

longwood chrysanthemums

And every single, last one was perfectly grown.  I suspect there’s still half a greenhouse worth of backups somewhere!

I enjoyed it.  If you’ve never been I recommend giving it a try, just know that the display comes down this weekend and the conservatories close until after Thanksgiving as they prep for Christmas, so that someday visit might have to wait until next year.

Keep your fingers crossed and faces masked in the meantime.  The kids are annoyed I didn’t take them along, and are anxious to see this year’s Christmas decorations, but with record COVID cases and rising deaths across the country and with rising numbers in Pennsylvania I don’t know how that will work out.  I’d say we can hope and pray for the best but seriously…  just wear the stupid mask and avoid the party at the bar and that will probably get us much further than some false hopes and empty prayers.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir here.  Stay healthy and have an excellent weekend and wish me luck as I finally consider my own messy garden and unplanted bulbs 🙂

More Fall

Who would have thought but this autumn continues to be a somewhat pleasant experience (pandemics notwithstanding), and we are enjoying a fairly warm October.  Warmth in October is nice.  People like warm fall days.  I on the other hand wouldn’t mind a little more cold.

autumn gourds

A hanging baskets was emptied to provide a spot for some of the gourd harvest.

Dried leaves and dead stalks, with pollen and fluff and dust blowing all over are not doing my sinuses any favors so my latest excuse for sleepy laziness is my allergies.  Even with a congested head and squinty eyes though, out in the garden is where I’d like to be and in spite of it all I did manage to get a few things done.  First of all I power washed.  When I told my mom how I’d power washed the birch trees, at first she couldn’t make sense of what I was saying, so I explained how they were looking a little dingy and algae-coated  and in need of a wash but that didn’t help.  ” I think I could have thought of better things to do” was her response, so I told her I washed the car afterwards and left out how I first cleaned the stone sides of the new coldframe and then we moved on to other topics.

whitespire birch

I apologize to every weekend warrior who will now feel the need to power wash their birch clumps, but they do look much nicer.

That took a lot out of me so I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around enjoying the glow of the fall foliage.

autumn foliage

From the right angle I can enjoy the fall color without seeing the dozens of potted plants which still need to come in…

The next few days didn’t see much more in the way of questionable productivity.  I’ve been obsessing about chrysanthemums after all, and how can you think of overwintering potted porch plants when there are mums in full autumnal splendor!?

hardy chrysanthemums

The chrysanthemum bed is now officially in full bloom.  Two beds would be nicer, but even one looks quite extravagant.

I don’t care about mums in May, but fortunately this year I still managed to plant these out and even added in a few seedlings which survived my springtime neglect.

hardy chrysanthemums

This pink seedling will be nice if it proves hardy.  Unfortunately the rest of this year’s crop is kinda boring.

The seedlings are fun, but the staking and fussing that went into caring for my last surviving football mum has really paid off.  All I do is stare at it and wish I had more.

hardy chrysanthemums

The amazing orange blooms of ‘Cheerleader’ tower over the others.

‘Cheerleader’ is about 3 or four feet tall even after an early spring pinching.  She requires strong wooden stakes and I even went as far as to disbud a few stems to see if the main flower would turn out nicer.  I think they did.  Hopefully next year I can repeat this.

chrysanthemum cheerleader

I did manage to cut a few for the house, but most are being enjoyed in situ.

While I contemplate a new career in raising fancy show chrysanthemums, and consider a roadtrip down to the Longwood chrysanthemum show (which goes until Nov 22),  I do want to point out a small project I did manage to finish up this week.  It’s a new raised bed, one made out of cement blocks and hopefully one which outlasts the wooden ones.

cinder block raised bed diy

Concrete blocks on end, the whole thing held together with metal strapping.  

Honestly I should have just stuck with the wooden theme, but I had an idea and that idea might be worth a try if it meant not having to replace every last bed in a dozen years.  In the meantime I just hope no one looks too closely at my credit card receipts and questions just how much was spent  on a 1/2″ steel strapping kit.  Let’s run a quick distraction with some nice photos of wonderful fall bulbs.

bessera elegans

A surprise flower on the non hardy Bessera elegans.  It’s just one more potful which has to still come in for the winter.

Just the fact the Bessera is alive is amazing and that it’s still sending up a bloom or two after flowering earlier in the summer is also a shock since I had given them up for dead months ago.  Actually it wasn’t so much giving up than it was throwing them into the furnace room back in the fall of 2018 and then just being too lazy to pull them out the next spring.  So they sat.  Bone dry.  For six months.  Then ten…. then twelve… then sixteen… Finally a year and a half later I went back there looking for emergency potting soil and found the pot.  I was shocked (and a little annoyed, since I really needed more potting soil) to find a pot full of perfectly healthy corms, no worse than the day I put them back there.  Out onto the sidewalk they went, and one April shower later they were all sprouting.

galanthus bursanus

A very elegant autumn blooming snowdrop (Galanthus bursanus). You can probably guess just how often I check on this newest pet.

The bessera is a summer bulb, but autumn snowdrops represent a new season, and by that I mean winter.  I love seeing them coming up and from now until next March it’s snowdrop season.  Sure it slows down a bit in January, but for the last few years that slowdown is only a few days and not the usual months long lockdown of cold and ice that we used to endure.  I guess a global climate disaster can have a bright side if you look hard enough.

galanthus peshmenii

Galanthus peshmenii? I believe not, if only because the “are you sure?” backup peshmenii I bought is living up to its reputation and slowly fading away while this one gets better each year.

Did I mention how much I paid for the latest snowdrops?  Of course not, and I won’t.  By now I know better than to put things like snowdrops on anything which produces a receipt.  Explaining away a 1/2″ steel strapping kit produces a bored look but when I try to justify the excitement over an expensive little bulb, all I get is that judgemental eye roll.

Have a great weekend, and for those who are curious I followed some tips for finding a backdoor to the old WordPress editor, and it’s made my blogging life tolerable once again.