Curb Un-Appeal

A few weeks ago I was next door talking to my neighbor.  The iris were in bloom and he’s got a few clumps of a rich purple iris in his front yard (‘Lent A Williamson’ is the ID I gave them although I’m sure he doesn’t care) which were putting on an excellent display.  A car slowly pulled by and after a polite wave the driver opened the window to say “I love your iris, I drive this way just to see them”.  I bit my tongue.  After a couple seconds passed, my neighbor realized the compliment was directed towards him, and said thanks.  He looked at me.  It just about killed me, I have iris too.

front street border

The house from the street.  I believe one of the first rules of curb appeal is to compliment, not block, the house.  Also large thistles should not become focal points.

We got a good laugh about it once she left.  I do like to show off my most exciting plants, but I realize they’re not to everyone’s taste, and the “overflowing” look of the plantings is focused more on the plants than the setting of the house.  Even the 12 year old said she doesn’t like it when it all gets so big, but when I mentioned moving out she gave me her pre-teen eye-roll of disgust… which I’m sure will only develop more as she finishes up middle school.

Cirsium eriophorum woolly thistle

More thistles around the corner.  Cirsium eriophorum is the European woolly thistle, and I just came up with the brilliant idea of pulling a few coneflowers out from along the street and planting the newest batch of seedlings there.

Before selling our previous house I spent a few weeks ripping things out and simplifying plantings.  If I ever cared to impress the neighbors or list this property I’d surely repeat the process here.  Lots of mulch, a clear view of the house, and sheared foundation shrubbery would put an appropriately sterile stamp of conformity onto the real estate head shot, and I’m sure it would scare fewer people away.

foundation perennials

Look at that mullein, it’s a keeper!  Eight feet tall and counting, the blooms are opening nice and large and I’m hoping it keeps going all summer.  The mullein, along with poorly trimmed and poorly placed trees and shrubbery, all add to the screen that blocks the curb view of our house.  

Just to be clear there is no talk of moving.  We have to stay at least 30 more years in order to reach the point of break-even on all the lumber purchased for the potager re-do.  For the accountants out there we finally went over the hump and added about $6.75 to the plus column for the salads we’ve picked in the last few days, and $6 worth of cauliflower as well.  Those were some exciting first harvests, so obviously we’re not going to dwell on the $89 which went into the liability column for a new hose and additional lumber.

drying daffodil bulbs

Delphinium in bloom are often enough of a distraction to keep people from noticing the bags of drying colchicum and narcissus bulbs lined out along the front porch.  **please note the snow shovel was just put there recently and hasn’t been sitting there since last winter**

So even if you can look past the unpruned, questionable design, and overlook the stray bags of bulbs and garden tools, there’s still always that massive pile of sand blocking the driveway.  “You’re always busy doing something” was the polite way another neighbor dealt with that topic.

common milkweed syriaca

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by the front door is in full bloom.  I’ll cut it back by half once it’s done flowering, not just to keep it neat, but also to invite the Monarchs to lay their eggs on the new growth that sprouts up.

A myopic view of things lets me enjoy things anyway, and in my opinion when everything else is going to heck there’s always plenty of little things to be thrilled with.  Like milkweeds.  They’re much more interesting than people give them credit for, and far more useful in the garden than just caterpillar fodder.  This week I have a new one in bloom… finally… after years of trying seeds and nursing seedlings.

purple milkweed purpurascens

Asclesias purpurascens, the descriptively named ‘purple milkweed’.  This one’s been tricky for me and maybe that’s just because it refuses to put up with the abuse and neglect which I leave it to.  I love the dark color though, and did water a little after seeing its leaves curling up from the dry.

I hope the purple milkweed continues to grow in spite of this shift to drier summer weather.  There was brief consideration given to trying it out in a new spot but after reading online that it can be hard to get established it’s staying put.  I’ve killed it in other spots already so why rush.

verbena bonariensis

The first of the Verbena bonariensis filling in.  The verbena is a great drought tolerant filler for years like this, and I might transplant a few out for color in August.  

There are plenty of other things to do rather than kill off new milkweeds.  I spent Friday night weeding and “editing” the front border and was planning on finishing today but surprisingly enough there’s been some rain and it’s now too humid and sticky to work.  The rain only took the edge off the dry soil and refueled the gnats but it was a good excuse to go for icecream instead.  I don’t think that’s a bad tradeoff.

Have a great weekend!

Suddenly June

The deck was cleaned and ready just after Memorial day.  Considering how much extra time I supposedly have that isn’t much different than a “normal” year… and by normal I mean getting all the summer stuff up and running a week or two or three after everyone else does.  Things just run late here, and I’m starting to see that maybe it’s more than just basic laziness.  Maybe it’s laziness plus plain-old slow thats effecting how things run around here.

front border

I did manage to do a front border cleanup of old tulip foliage and baby weeds, and at least that part of the garden looks promising.

Slow is just fine with me.  A more generous person might say I’m not, and that I just overthink things, but unless your idea of overthinking includes an ADD journey of the mind then I don’t think it’s that either.  Maybe it’s something else…. someone else accused me of being a perfectionist, but that’s clearly not what’s going on either and I gave a little laugh when they said it.  One look around the garden really settles that point.

iris demi deuil

Iris ‘Demi Deuil’, an old, smaller iris with a cool pattern to it.

The garden is only now coming back into rights after the cold spell we went through in May.  Iris season has been disappointing with many freeze-deformed and aborted flower stalks and blooms, and only a few of the amazing clumps which usually celebrate the finishing up of spring.  Two years of excessively wet summers didn’t help as plants were rotting left and right, but I know they’ll be back.  The bigger uncertainty is how many more I need for next year in order to fill this emotional void.  I suspect there is some transplanting and dividing in store… maybe a few new ones as well 😉

allium nigrum pink jewel

A new allium this year, A.nigrum ‘Pink Jewel’.  The white, straight species is so reliable I thought it was time to try one of the pinks.  So far my impression is lukewarm but I’ll give it time.

Although thoughts of dividing the iris have already sprung up, there’s so much more to do first.  Tulips and daffodils need digging, snowdrop seeds need sowing, weeding is endless, and the lawn always needs another cut.  I should mulch as well, plus the potager re-design needs finishing up before the growing season rolls over into 2021.  I should really give an update on that, but just a few more finishing touches before I bare my soul on that one.  In the meantime at least the foundation beds are  taking care of themselves…

foundation planting

The relaxed and overfilled foundation bed is completely unlike what a front foundation planting “should” be, but there are too many interesting plants out there to waste time on yew meatballs and few azaleas in a sea of mulch.

What might be the most anticipated plant of the year (possibly only by me) is the huge self-sown verbascum sitting right there in front of the house.  It’s a weed.  I know.  But also so lush and promising, and I’m hoping it’s something just a little fancier than the regular run of the mill mulleins.  I’ve let both grow here in the past, so it’s a crap shoot as far as seeing which one this will be, but it’s huge, so I love it.

johnny jump ups

Johnny jump ups trying to outgrow the mullein.

What I don’t love is weeding and planting the tropical garden.  In a no-excuses gardening year I’m stuck weeding it properly and not doing the old throw-it-all-in-and-eventually-it-will-all-look-ok planting method.  I don’t like it.  It’s work, and I think the tropical bed’s days are numbered.  We will see, but as of today a swath of sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) which was slated to be removed, has been left, and although I never planted it there, leaving it in place sure is easier and a spot of low maintenance doesn’t sound bad today… even if that means a much smaller spot of the tropics.

tropical garden planting

The tropical garden in progress.  Who doesn’t like a hit of bright color on their way to enjoy a day at the pool next door?

There will be other things to keep me occupied.  Right now for some strange reason the wild back of the yard is my favorite spot to be occupied.  I barely lift a finger there but love to watch the bugs and birds and see what all can happen on its own.

tent caterpillar

Tent caterpillars used to disgust me but once lily beetles, gypsy moths, and Japanese beetles moved in, these little tents of silk barely register.  Maybe the birds will enjoy a snack, the apples off this tree are overrated, and there are still leaves on the tree, so it seems everyone wins a little when they stay.

I spent some of the first quarantine days digging various tree seedlings and shrub transplants into the berm that stands between us and the new Industrial park behind our house.  They don’t look like much at all but in a few years…. maybe….you never know how well these things will do.  In the meantime they’re alive, and some of the rooted rhododendron branches which I butchered off their mother in April are actually alive enough to bloom.  Alongside the clovers and mustards and daisies it’s quite the show, but I’m not sure everyone around here prefers lively flowers over neatly mown embankments.  Let them mow it themselves I say.

the berm

I’m endlessly fascinated by these new weedy little meadows alongside the berm.  I don’t think it’s normal to be this obsessed, but who cares?  So what if I get overly excited for a new weed showing up or a new wildflower opening, I think it’s grand, and all I have to do to enjoy it is mow a few walking paths.

I hate to leave you off talking about weeds, but after being covered in smartweed last year the berm has now transitioned over to all kinds of clover and grass.  I don’t know what triggered the change but I suspect there was some fertilizer spread when they first seeded the slope, and now that its run out the smartweed is not happy.

aesculus pavia

Hopefully the red buckeye (aesculus pavia) can tolerate the full sun and dry soil of the berm.  I’d like to see it expand into a nice sized shrubby tree.

So I could talk for a while about the types of grass, the relative attractiveness of their seed heads, the spreading daisies, the annoying crownvetch and mugwort which I still need to eliminate, the rudbeckia yet to come, and all the topsoil building which is taking place, but I’ll spare you.  My fingers are sore from weeding and sanding and chiseling mortar and the typing isn’t helping much so you’re off the hook and I’ll just wish you a happy Sunday.

Sorta Spring

If you like a long drawn out spring, this one is for you.  So far this season I only complained once about weather that was too warm, and even that was only ‘outdoor gardening without breaking a sweat warm’, which is much cooler than ‘sitting on the porch doing nothing but sipping a cold drink’ warm.  There have been no windy blasts of 80-90F weather which wilt the daffodils in hours and skip the garden straight to summer… followed by a freeze which has the gardener throwing his hands in the air… and for that I’m grateful.  There was snow though.  I started edging and weeding the front border and had to cut it short because of all the snow showers.  Not so much for me or the plants, but the neighbors already talk, and as I went in to get a hat I thought I better just call it quits instead.

spring bulb garden

Making my way down the border.  No leaf mulch was drug out of the woods this spring, and holy crap are there a lot of seedlings coming up.  It might be easiest to just go with a fennel/verbena bonariensis theme this year. 

I didn’t really mind the precipitation, but working out there in the chilly wet and mud makes me think I might as well garden in the UK or Pacific Northwest, and that’s weather for plants and not what a gardener needs.  The upcoming forecast shows better weather on the way, so I’m sure the weeds can wait another day or two.

Here’s a question.  Dead or alive?  The pots for the front walk were dragged back into position and one still contains a bit of one of those trendy brown sedges from New Zealand.  ‘Red Rooster’ I think.  I didn’t think it would be hardy so assume it died over the winter, but maybe not?  It only looks marginally more dead than it did last year, so I’ve left it in place and added some of the extra tulips which I shouldn’t have bought last fall, said I wouldn’t buy, didn’t need, but got anyway.

tulips in planters

Dead sedge?  Who knows.  

After weeks at home, my daughter must be pretty bored since she offered to help with the planting.  I was glad for the company.  The tulips we planted were supposed to be gifts, but since travel to NY is off for the foreseeable future, these were planted, two were dropped off on local porches, and the rest were dug in by the driveway.  It will work out.

muscari seedlings

The most amazing grape hyacinths (muscari) I’ve ever grown.  They look just like any other dime a dozen muscari, but since they were grown from seed (intentionally), they’re super amazing.

For my daughter digging and planting were entertaining, but trying to explain why the seed grown muscari were so much better than the nearly identical muscari which I deadhead and weed out, was pushing the garden thing too far.  Even she must know that muscari are cheap and easy to buy and come in nicer forms than these, but c’mon!  How cool is it that one of them even has a little white top!?

muscari seedlings

Maybe I’ll divide out this clump, they seem to have a little more variety, and I’d like to see how the one with the white does on its own.  

Of course grape hyacinth from seed is easy, in fact many people complain they’re weedy, but as I go through the garden and divide and transplant I do find a few more special things.  My seedlings of the Asian spicebush (Lindera glauca v. salicifolia) are doing well.  I’d like to use them as a hedge, but need a few more, and in the meantime have potted these up while they wait for their planting site to happen.  They’re still holding onto the dried foliage from last year, a plant habit which I used to hate, but on this plant it just all seems more excellent.

lindera glauca salicifolia

Lindera glauca v. salicifolia seedlings potted up and hopefully ready to spend at least a year under my questionable care.

Transplanting has happened, pruning has happened, bed building has happened, but not much weeding yet.  Still in spite of the weedy mess, I just have to show some of my favorite spring iris foliage.

gerald darby iris

I’ve shown the purple spring foliage of iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ before, but some of the pseudata iris can also put on a show, in this case a bright springtime yellow flush of new leaves.  I think the cool weather helps.   

I’ve moved on to weeding not because the potager is finished, but because my better half has banned me from running to the store to get the lumber I think I need to finish.  The first veggies can still be planted, but I’ll wait until it looks slightly better before sharing another photo.  In the meantime if you remember I mentioned one slightly warmer day.  That one day encouraged me to sit around in the shade, and while sitting around, the guilt of laziness encouraged me to weed and clean the little moss bed I’m trying to grow.  Yes it doesn’t look like much, in fact this is what other people end up when they do nothing, but I of course am pleased.

moss garden

A bit of moss in a shady corner.  Ruined terra cotta and a few tree trimmings to camouflage the drainpipe and I think it looks ok.  I wonder if tiny hepaticas could survive here.  hmmmmm. 

So that’s it from here.  I think the cloudy gloom will lift in another few hours and although it’s still a little wet to do anything serious, I’m sure I can find something interesting to “think about” outside.  I hope your spring is also going well.

A Few Words

We are wrapping up our fourth week here since entering quarantine and the garden is still surprisingly unkempt and disorganized.  The gardener likes to suggest it’s because he’s busy double timing as a common core math teacher to a 6th grader, and in spite of holding a minor in Mathematics it’s a daily struggle, but it’s also been pointed out that the gardener spends a lot of time “thinking”, and often that thinking is interpreted as “just sitting around”.  Obviously sitting around does not get jobs done.

chiondoxa

Chiondoxa continues to spread.  These are all clones off a bulb moved years ago, and seem to be waiting for a partner to set seed, but each time weeds are pulled or the gardener thinks the spot is empty and tries to plant something else there, a few bulbs get moved a little further.

The gardener has been thinking the weather has been great, and the gardener has been thinking the sky is bluer than normal, and the gardener has been thinking it’s nice to have time to sit in the springtime sun without some desperate need to get just one spring chore done before dark.  But the gardener has also been wondering if there have always been so many snakes in the yard.

garden snake garter

One of the garden’s garter snakes reading a snowdrop label.  It’s ‘Three Ships’ Mrs Snake.

I do like the snakes.  One chilly morning I came across three little balls of snake out in the morning sun and I was surprised.  A good surprise though, not the EeeAhhhugh Oh! surprise you get when one of these slithery serpents zips away from your reaching hand or approaching step.  I think there’s something primordial in our natural fear of snakes, and I don’t entirely trust a person who just shrugs them off.  Pick them up, fine, handle them, fine, you can think your way through that, but when one zips across your path you better jump a little.

raised beds potager

The raised beds are coming together in the potager.   It’s going to be very neat I suspect.  I hope I don’t miss the late summer mayhem of overgrowth and decay, but who’s to say that won’t happen anyway.

It’s been taking forever it seems to get the raised beds built.  There are a number of plants to move or pot up, but I really do blame the gardener.  Not to dwell on the snakes, but work was called off entirely the other day when rustling in the boxwood hedge turned out to be an inappropriately writhing ball of snake procreation…. with an embarrassingly plural number of participants… it was watched for longer than it should have been, but it was interesting to see and of course if that’s what they need to do amongst the daffodils then lets just call off work for the afternoon to give them some privacy.

daffodil glaston

The cool days and cooler nights are bringing out the richest colors in many of the narcissus clumps.  Here’s the daffodil ‘Glaston’, looking luscious and tropical with its fruity cup colors.

So rather than work hard, the gardener looks at daffodils.

daffodil beersheba

Daffodil ‘Beersheba’, a pre 1923 daffodil (according to Daffseek) and nearly 100 years later, still a wonderful thing to have flowering.

Honestly the daffodils here have been tortured by poor drainage and neglect recently, and the show is not nearly as impressive as in other years, but the fewer words on that the better.  What does warrant a few more words are the corydalis.  They’ve enjoyed the cool weather as well and still look great.  Mostly.  Rabbits gave most if the ones in back a haircut, so….

corydalis solida

Corydalis solida, some named.  The pink in front is the highly acclaimed ‘Gunite’, while the darker red in back is ‘Milda’.

I do like poking through all the corydalis seedlings.  Some are great and plenty are nice, and there’s not that pressure you get with snowdrops to pick out and consider naming every next great thing.  I guess corydalis don’t offer the same wild diversity that snowdrops hold 😉

corydalis solida vanessa

Even with all the nice seedlings, I’m still willing to try a few new named ones here and there.  This new one was described as having exquisite “sky-blue lips and white spurs”… and I suppose that’s possible.

Of course why stop at a good thing?  If you can killed expensive named forms, why not try knocking off a few harder to find species?  These next two prefer summer-dry, Russian steppe/rocky woodland type environs.  The gardener isn’t sure if he should be insulted that the garden contains these types of planting areas, or pleased that the garden has made these happy for a third year, but in any case each spring could easily be their last.

corydalis schanginii ssp. ainae

Corydalis schanginii ssp. ainae growing well in the same conditions that favorTaraxacum officinale.  Apparently much of my garden is well suited to Taraxacum officinale.

Many gardeners crave blue corydalis.  I’ve discovered a knack for killing blue corydalis.  It’s kind of silly knack considering how easy blue scilla are, and hyacinths, and grape hyacinths, but if you know a perfectly perfect flower also comes in various blue shades, of course you need that color, and this gardener is no different.

corydalis fumariifolia

The first blue corydalis to last more than a spring or two (and not look completely miserable while doing it) Corydalis fumariifolia might even be expanding its reach.  I could use another clone.  Maybe seeds could happen with cross pollination…

Lets get back to easier things.  A few words for the front border as daffodil season hits its stride.

spring bulbs

Perhaps spring flowers can distract the neighbors from a shoddy cleanup and an un-edged and un-weeded front border.  Seriously, what does that gardener even do around here?

As I think on it (there he goes again not really doing anything measurable), the gardener spends way too much time on nonsense.  To mention a few words on the front border we could say ‘hyacinths and daffodils are easy and they look great’, but there goes the gardener again poking around and making things complicated.  Amongst all the daffodil color he’s most excited to see a few purple leaved moneyplants (Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’) finally showing a good amount of purple.  It was hard yanking the all green seedlings which used to rule, but over the years they are finally as purple as the strain should be.

Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’

Those are not weeds, they’re the much anticipated purple leaves of Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’.

I’ll leave you with even fewer words.  Hellebores are up.

hellebore

A nice picotee yellow seedling.

Another year without a late freeze and they’re all looking good.

hellebore

‘Golden Lotus’ and ‘Peppermint Ice’ with a mess of less showy things.

Hope this post finds you well.  Snow squalls are keeping the gardener inside today so rather than clean the bathrooms he’s blogging, but in spite of that he still gets fed three times a day.  Not bad.

A Down Day

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

pussy willow

Pussy willow just starting

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

'Tête à Tête' daffodil

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

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

Tweety bird daffodil

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

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

corydalis purple bird

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

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

potager

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

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

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

A New Season

Last weekend was David Culp’s Galanthus Gala.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and the flood of friends and early season plants and rare goodies that filled the Downingtown Friends Meetinghouse were a treat as the new garden season begins to rev up.  What a difference a few days makes.  I’m sure you see the news so I won’t rehash, but I just want to wish all my friends the best and hope they stay healthy and safe.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum doing better than ever thanks to the relatively mild winter.  Over the last year about half the plantings here disappeared as a result of wet and rot, but this cyclamen is spectacular.

In just a few days spring has arrived and fortunately it’s a white fever which has infected this gardener.  Eleven years of planting and tending is finally starting to pay off, and the tiny handfuls of begged bulbs and lonely singletons are becoming puddles and pools.  I finally have hope that there will one day be a sheet of snowdrop white in this garden, maybe not a California King sheet, but possibly a twin, and that’s excellent enough for me.

nivalis x elwesii

My first handful of snowdrops is up for some more division this year.  I believe it’s a nivalis x elwesii cross.

The non-winter has been a new experience, with some things up early and others holding back.  Restraint payed off for those who held back, since there were a couple harsh nights in February, but for the most part the garden has escaped the usual damage associated with gambling on a winter garden in zone 6.

freeze damage snowdrop

Some drops had their tender stems turn to mush when temperatures dropped into the single digits, but over the years I’m learning who these tender drops are, and am moving them to more sheltered spots.

With the right attitude the good always outweighs the bad, and I like to think there’s a lot of good.  New snowdrops are good, and I can’t believe I have ‘E.A. Bowles’ in the garden this year.  I love it.  When I first saw this drop five years ago on a visit to Hitch Lyman’s Temple Garden,  I thought for sure it would be many years before I would have a chance at it, but here it is.

galanthus ea bowles

‘E.A. Bowles’, a pure white snowdrop which has replaced the three short inners with another set of pure white outers.

So now I shall continue with way more snowdrop pictures than good company should have to endure.  You are more than welcome to scroll down to the end and I won’t take a bit of offense  🙂

galanthus moortown

Another newer to me drop, galanthus ‘moortown’.  Thumbs up for me on these big blooms with a strong mark that bleeds up.

Only a few drops here can claim to be new and exciting.  They might seem that way to me but fancier people will turn their noses up at the plain white and green things I’m obsessing about.  No problem I say.  Social distancing is so much easier around here when your day revolves around tiny green markings on a tiny white flower.

galanthus alans long ovary

I’m not sure who Alan is, but here’s galanthus ‘Alan’s Long Ovary’ looking nice with a growing clump of ‘Winifrede Mathias’ in the background.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, let me again clearly state that my garden is not as impressive as closeups and heavily cropped photos might imply.  Snowdrops are tiny, and one drop does not a garden make, so I think I still have plenty of time to consider charter bus parking and garden visitor handouts.

american snowdrop garden

A blank lawn is slowly giving way to planting beds and a garden design.  This is the bulk of my snowdrop garden, and notice that the glare of white is still far from overwhelming.

Even without visitors it’s a fun obsession.  It makes the next few weeks less painful as we shelter in place and face the waiting game.

galanthus kew green

A late galanthus ‘Kew Green’ backed up by an early hellebore.  I like when the drops open alongside other spring color.

Hopefully the garden is enough to wear me out and keep me safe from online plant shopping.  February has already seen magnolia and “hardy” camellia purchases and there’s no plans to where any of it will go, so if we stop there it’s probably a good thing.

galanthus greenish

A souvenir snowdrop from another Temple Gardens visit, galanthus ‘Greenish’.  It was beautiful in the gardens and I was thrilled to see it for sale at the exit.

There’s plenty to do without adding anything new, so let me remind myself of that.

rabbit crocus

Rocks thrown down for a new (and yet unfinished) bed edging have kept the rabbits away from the crocus they normally destroy.  I wonder if I can expand on this idea…

Moving plants comes first.  In the earliest days of spring I can pop stuff up and plop it elsewhere without water or worry and that’s perfect for the laziest of gardeners.  Today I shall finish the snowdrops and begin shrubs… according to the plan I never follow…

galanthus sutton courtney

One of my favorites, galanthus ‘Sutton Courtney’ with a few tommy crocus behind.  Fyi the snowdrops still looked nice a few hours later after the bunnies ate all the crocus.

Hope these days treat you well and you’re able to find your own retreat in the garden.

A Touch of Spring

Early February is not spring but the plants don’t seem to know, and even if the weather has drifted cooler since these photos were taken, it’s still an unusually mild “winter”.

pale yellow eranthis hyemalis

The first winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) have opened.  These are a pale yellow version which is always a bit earlier than the straight species.

Although the days are getting noticeably longer we’re still just barely into the upswing of winter.  It takes a while to shift from cooling to warming and these should still be some of the coldest days of the winter, but they’re not, and the weird season has some plants behaving oddly.  Some are ahead, some are unconvinced, and others still think it’s fall.

galanthus elwesii green tip

Up and blooming earlier than ever, these giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) are showing a bit of green on tips which have never shown green before.  In 14 years of growing this one, I think I would have noticed.

In the end it’s out of my control so no sense in too much hand wringing.  Saturday morning I threw on a sweatshirt, pulled out the hedge trimmers, chopped down and raked out the front bed, mowed it all up, threw it back on to the bed and called it ready to go for 2020.  Spring cleanup before getting any advice from the groundhog is unprecedented but the spring bulbs do need a clean slate to show off against!

perennial bed cleanup

Not the neatest look, but by May it will look fine and I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other things to do now that spring cleanup here is complete! 

It was a slow start.  A head cold had me second guessing the work, and the weeks of couch sitting didn’t exactly have me feeling any younger, but it was nice to finally burn off a few Christmas cookies.  That and there were snowdrops to enjoy 🙂

 

galanthus godfrey owens

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’ is usually up and blooming during our first warm spell.  It’s a favorite of course.

So now begins the usual forecast watching which has me worrying about every ice storm and polar blast which could stomp these early joys.  Fingers crossed it’s not the usual flower frying blast in March and instead is a gentle and gradual warming that encourages the most amazing show of spring bloom that we have ever experienced.  One can hope.  If all else fails I’d like just one sunny dry perfect day to enjoy the drops.  Having it happen on a Saturday wouldn’t hurt either 😉

Still Not the Worst

Ok, so I think I have to admit I’m halfway liking fall this year.  Those who know me are shocked.  I’m shocked, but to be honest the weather has been decent, there’s been free time to work in the garden, and just enough rain has come down to make planting and projects a pleasure, so it’s kind of an ideal autumn.  Gnats though, that’s one thing I can complain about.  They’re all over, but as long as I keep my head covered and don’t sit around too much it’s still tolerable… usually… until they get so thick I inhale a few, and then I’m done and back in the house.

hardy chrysanthemum

‘Pink Cadillac’ chrysanthemum just starting in the front border alongside some floppy little bluestem and perovskia.

Once the clouds of bugs thin a little, I sneak out a different door and try for a few more minutes in the garden.  October is chrysanthemums, and surprisingly enough a few have survived all the summertime neglect to now look bright and fresh in an otherwise tired looking garden.  One of these years I will really give them the springtime attention they deserve, but they don’t seem to be pining away waiting for me to come through for them, and look good anyway.  I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

hardy chrysanthemum

A nice orange chrysanthemum which was discovered after the Rosa glauca was cut back mid summer.  It’s been blooming for at least a month and the flowers get to be almost four inches across, so I’m good with that!

Although I’ve been enjoying the finale of the garden more than usual this year, I’ve also managed to squeeze in some actual work and projects.  One such project has been building up some of the flower beds which drowned last year in the endless rain we had.  A load of topsoil was ordered and delivered, and slowly found its way around the house and into the backyard, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow, and will hopefully help in keeping plants up and out of the swamp… just in case we ever end up in another repeating loop of rainstorm after rainstorm after flood.

new garden beds

Drowned hydrangeas and rhododendrons are gone, and this bed’s been raised about two or three inches.  Also a nice walk out of salvaged stones makes this bed look promising again.

Although I am entirely against hard labor, at least the delivered topsoil is root and rock-free and easy to dig… as long as it’s only slightly wet, and hasn’t crusted yet or turned into rock solid dirt clods.  Hopefully it makes for easy planting and good growing next year with a minimum of weeds, but experience suggests otherwise and I should probably get a plan together as far as mulching and groundcovers.

container bog garden

The bog garden is looking quite nice now that the pitchers have grown a little and some spagnum moss has been moved in.  Now if I only knew what to do with it for the winter.

I had planned on ordering a load of shredded bark mulch to follow up on the topsoil, but yesterday discovered my source is closed for the season.  Easy come easy go I guess, and I’ve taken that as a sign to not bother, save the money, and instead find something else (preferably free) to cover up the newly bare and exposed real estate for the winter.  My friend Paula mentioned her frequent trips for free township compost and that sounded like an excellent plan.  A little research on my part and I discovered there may be free compost available from my town as well,  and maybe just maybe I can squeeze a few loads into the back of my less than three month old suv without making a muddy mess.  We’ll see.  It’s about time I broke it in anyway.

new garden beds

The topsoil ran out and so did the gardener, so this is how I left things.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the energy to redo the stone path and set the last of my stones… but I still need more soil to raise the bed and all of that is gone…

Oh and by the way in between dirt moving and stone setting, I weed wacked the entire industrial park berm.  Ok so it took three days and it was before the dirt was delivered, but I’m glad it’s done and I have to admit it does look nicer… even if I almost broke a leg a couple times as I lost my footing or tried to reach just a little too far down the slope…

spruce on berm

The berm stretching back from my mother in law’s to the end of my yard.  The spruce are at least ten feet tall, so it’s a big area and a lot of work to clear.  Imagine my two word response when someone said “I wish you would have done that all summer”.

The boring neatness of a cut berm is far less interesting than the front yard, so it’s out there that I go to enjoy some color.  We had a bit of frost last Saturday, but overall it’s still fairly colorful with a few late bloomers and a bunch of lingerers.

fall perennial border

After ten years a few of my conifers have finally grown big enough to become noticeable.  Oh my gosh this might qualify as winter interest!

The lingerers are mostly annuals and dahlias holding on until frost, and the late bloomers are mostly mums and asters, but there is one star which always makes me happy to see.  ‘Sunnyside Up’ pokeberry (Phytolacca americana) has been lighting up the street side of the border all summer and as I found out this past week has been stirring up the neighborhood as well.  While cleaning the last of the dirt from the driveway a neighbor stopped by to tell me about the ‘invasive’ he saw growing out there.  “Those weeds are all over my backyard” he started with, and then continued to go on about how they spread and how fast they grew, but not much further before I cut him off with the offer of another beer.  Problem solved.

sunnyside up pokeweed

At this time of year I love the red stems and purple berries alongside the yellow foliage of “Sunnyside Up” pokeweed.  I get a little thrill every time the mockingbird swoops down to snatch another berry or two and spread the joy of this lovely native far and wide.  As long as you’re going to have pokeweed might as well have a lovely yellow leaved strain.

Once the subject changed I didn’t even mention the masses of mugwort and the forest of bradford pear seedlings which lined the road behind him.  Or the bittersweet which went from just a sprig to a tree-strangling mass in five years… or the Japanese knotweed, stiltgrass, honeysuckle, garlic mustard in the woods… or the purple loosestrife growing in his foundation beds.  Hmmmmm.  Plenty for another post.  We should enjoy just a few more autumn flowers instead 🙂

colchicum autumnale album plenum

One of the last of the colchicums, C. autumnale album plenum.  Just as a note I’ve tried to refrain from posting too many colchicum photos this year, so fair warning that 2020 will be a rebound year.

I’m thinking the reason I’m finally enjoying autumn is the new ‘I don’t care’ attitude which has developed out of my previous ‘because I can’ attitude.  At first it was actually a little hard to leave the lawn uncut and let weeds grow, but unless it was really necessary I let a bunch of the tedious labor slide this year in favor of stuff I’d still be enjoying years from now.  New shrubs.  New beds.  New paths.  Lower maintenance plantings.  Simplification.  Last year to keep the garden perfect meant continuous mowing, trimming, and weeding that went around the yard and then started all over as soon as it was done.  Thats no fun, and it’s also only appreciated by myself.  So I let it go.

hardy cyclamen

The hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium) alongside the driveway are flowering well this fall.  About half rotted out from the rain last year, but the survivors seem to have recovered and are seeding about.

Or… maybe I’ve just reached critical mass for fall flowers and this is the first year in three that every day doesn’t start with gloomy, rainy grayness, but I think it’s the flowers.  Better get to the nursery this afternoon to make sure I haven’t missed any fall blooming plants that can still go in 🙂

bougainvillea hanging pot

My bougainvillea has greeted cooler weather with a second flush of flowers.  The colors scream summer, but the blooms are welcome regardless even if they do look a little out of place in October.

Or maybe I’m overthinking all of this.  The truth is I have new snowdrops, and some are already sprouting and in bloom and that makes me think of spring.  I love spring.  Maybe all this talk of autumn is really just a very very early spring.

Have a great week 🙂

Laboring for Labor Day

Welcome to September.  September is that wonderful time of the year when summer begins to die and the joy of millions of children is crushed as they head back to school.  Some people look forward to the end of summer and the roundup of children but I do not.  Still as the days get shorter and nighttime temperatures drop it’s time to seriously start the winter denial that comes hand in hand with cooler weather.  Summer will last forever, right?

Two consecutive soggy summers have put an end to my dreams of an ultra-drought tolerant cactus garden. Of course the expensive fancy ones all died away, leaving only the generic yellow, and then twenty minutes of pulling spines from my wrist pushed me towards getting rid of that one as well.

Optimistic readers will wonder how all the projects have come along on this Labor Day weekend.  Realistic readers already know.  In my defense the topsoil which was ordered three weeks ago is still “too wet” to be delivered, and having  that would have helped but I’m sure something else could have been worked out.  In the meantime I’m fine waiting 🙂

monarch enclosure

The monarch caterpillars have been evicted from the kitchen counter and are now on ‘vacation’ under a screen enclosure on the front lawn.  I knew those milkweed sprouts I’ve been mowing around would come in handy!

So since the official projects have been waylaid, a new project has been started.  It was time to weed the rockless rockgarden, so as long as that’s going on why not line it with rocks, pull up the remains of the cactus, trim whatever is left, and then decide that it would be better as a colchicum garden?  Ok.  So that was done instead, and although the bed was entirely rock-free as a rockgarden, it now has plenty of rocks as a cholchicum garden.  If all works out pictures shall follow during colchicum season.

In the meantime here are a few videos I took Saturday morning before any work began.  It’s a seedy, weedy, ragged lawn video, but it does give an honest view of the front and back gardens.  Pictures always make this place look better, video tells the true story and explains why there’s not a waiting list for tours 😉

I apologize for the grainy quality of the video.  I thought my phone would do a better job, but between shoddy uploading and poor cinematic quality the graininess is the least of its problems 🙂 . Here are some cleansing closeup still shots of the garden to bring us back to the way I wish it all looked!

tropicana canna

In the tropical garden, the light on ‘Tropicana’ is one of the less tasteful joys of the August garden.

The tropical garden is into its lush phase.

bengal tiger canna

I can never get enough of ‘Bengal Tiger’s foliage.  

The front yard is still fairly colorful and moderately well maintained.

dahlia happy single flame

Dahlia ‘Happy Single Flame’ has me debating adding more dahlias again.  For now I’m resisting, since all the complaining from digging them and the cannas last fall is still fresh in my memory.  

The front yard looks nice enough but the photos fail to capture the constant chatter of goldfinch families as they feed on the sunflower seeds.  One poor father in particular comes by with his four extremely demanding children and I don’t know how he deals with the never ending begging.  That and the frequent hummingbird divebombs keep things pretty animated.

molina skyracer

The grasses have been putting on a show lately.  As Molina ‘Skyracer’ catches the light and wind, it makes a nice veil to my lovely orange marigolds across the driveway, and mildewy gourds takingover the lawn.

coreopsis and salvia

I hadn’t been “feeling” annuals this spring, but fortunately a few salvia and verbena returned here anyway.  The pink coreopsis was planted though, if it makes it through the winter and looks this nice again next year I’ll be pleasantly surprised!

I did finally mow the lawn and give things a once over.  Here’s a glimpse of the nicer end of the former rockgarden.  My hope is that the rocks help with keeping weeds and the lawn at bay… my not-hope is that the rock edging will just make weeding more difficult as grass gets in between all the gaps.

variegated red pine

New colchicum garden to the left, my favorite variegated red pine front and center.  I’m always happy when a few purple verbena bonariensis come up next to it. 

Other parts of the garden are hopeless as far as weeding goes.  Along the deck I just gave up and call it a native plant bed.  Virginia creeper covers the brick and threatens to take over every time my back is turned, while red cardinal flower is trying to hold its ground against the invasion of jewelweed.  Native sweetspire (Clethra) is in there as well as is the ‘Tiger Eyes’ form of staghorn sumac.  I guess if you really stretch it, the peach dahlia is a native to the Americas as well… you’d just have to go back a couple decades in breeding and head south a couple thousand miles.

cardinal flower

The deck surroundings in need of some lovin’.  Obsessive weeders my be twitching to see this, but it’s very popular with the bumblebees and hummingbirds.

If you watched the first video you might have noticed the huge plumes of weedy seed heads which practically block the view from the front porch.  They were gone-to-seed lettuce which had filled the front planters and which should have been pulled months ago… but no one complained so I just let them be and wondered to myself just how few people notice anything I do here.  But enough was enough, so I pulled them up, transplanted all the lettuce seedlings (bonus!) for the fall garden, and filled the pots up with some new things!

autumn planters

The front walk looks a little better freshened up.  The purple oxalis was already there, but I splurged on some red nemesia, blue salvia, and one of those dead-looking grassy sedges which for some reason I had to have.  I like it 🙂 

And then that’s it from here.  It’s a three day weekend, so maybe a little more will get done, but with the rain that’s coming down and the barbecue which is being prepared I doubt it.  I’m fine with that though and I hope the coming week brings you nothing but fine as well.

Keep Those Projects Rollin

It sounded like a plan, kick all that midsummer apathy to the curb and really focus on getting some of those garden-changing projects done… but then I realized life is short and vacations are more memorable than a new bog garden, so vacation it was 🙂

maine portland headlight

One of Maine’s most photographed lighthouses, Portland Head Light.  After WWII, my uncle was stationed at neighboring Fort Williams so we’ve been visiting this site for a good 40 years now.  It’s always picture-perfect. 

We did a pitstop in lower Maine and then headed to the Canadian border and Campobello Island.  Five days of being outside, wearing sweatshirts, cooking on a campstove, and enjoying the scenery.  The kids and I enjoyed it… the wife again chose to stay home, close to electricity, wifi and central air 🙂

lubec maine

Looking across the channel to Lubec, Maine.  

These trips of course pass too quickly, so now it’s back to contemplating the maturing season and the back to school fliers.  I dislike both so lets instead look at how the latest projects have progressed.  You could probably guess that no one picked up a shovel to finish things off while I was gone.

hellebore garden

The new hellebore garden.  Mid August is not a good time to transplant hellebores, I believe after blooming is recommended, but after years of saying they needed to be moved if the mood strikes better to act on it. 

The new shade garden is already filled with hellebores.  I nearly died of heat stroke and probably lost about three pounds of water weight digging them out of the full sun spot in the potager and moving them, but the plants seem just fine in spite of the heat.  I wish I could say the same for the shovel I used to dig them.  Hellebore roots are strong, and apparently that strength is more than what was left in the shovel’s handle, so a new one was the first post-vacation gardening purchase.  Fortunately the bog garden construction required no tool-sacrifices.

bog container garden

Ok so the new bog garden is far, far, less impressive than a handful of transplanted hellebores, but I’m quite pleased with it.  Of course the most interesting pitcher plant is already half dead but the rest look promising and I’d still like to find some moss to add.  The pitcher plants were left potted so they’d be above the highest water level, but there’s absolutely no reason for the log.  I just thought it was a nice thing to add.

So maybe the projects aren’t rolling along as much as the calendar says they should.  Maybe it will happen this week… although the weather says otherwise… or maybe not.  You can’t follow a relaxing vacation filled with cool, foggy ocean breezes with a jump right back into the hot dog days of August.  You have to ease your way back, and for me I was happy enough to get the lawn mowed again and edged, especially since to do so involved first replacing the lawnmower blade due to a violent run-in with a hidden rock.

tropical garden

Looking past the tropical garden into the backyard.  The green of the lawn is misleading considering nearly all of it is weeds and annual crabgrass. 

Of course I took all these pictures prior to any work being done.  Even a single day away from the garden needs to be followed up with a thorough garden tour 🙂

front border

It’s only been a week but with plenty of rain and some serious heat things have grown quite a bit.  To my surprise no one has questioned the milkweed sprouts growing in the lawn or the gourds creeping in from the sides.  Even when I mowed, I mowed around them.  I like lawn, but a few interesting weeds are always an improvement!

All over things are exploding with color.  Again the sunflowers have taken over, and again I love it.  I’m always surprised by how well they elbow their way in, even with all the bird snacking and weed smothering mulch.  I tried ripping a bunch from the tropical border and the potager but as you can see I’m about as good at that as I am at finishing projects 😉

front border

The front border at its peak.  Even after skimping on this spring’s annual plantings it’s still managed to come together. 

I’m thinking about ordering topsoil and more mulch in order to finish the bed expansion which happened when the bog was planted.  It just makes sense to shovel and move tons of stuff when the humidity shoots up to one billion percent and the forecast calls for a nice little spell of heat.  If worse comes to worse I’ll just let it block the garage for a few weeks until the guilt overcomes me, and if I’m really lucky the sweaty mess of it all will make me almost relieved to see summer winding down.  Maybe.  I doubt it though.

Have a great week!