Keep it Classy

You may think that a couple raised beds and an obsession for snowdrops would practically guarantee refined taste and a Martha Stewart garden visit, but as of this evening both have yet to happen.  Sometimes I think neither will happen and then I start wondering if maybe it’s just a problem with the gardener, and his complete lack of class and good taste.  So be it.  I like orange, I like cannas and dahlias,  I like marigolds, and above all I love too much when a little less would have been much more respectable.

french marigold

French marigolds reseeded from last year.  I hear they’re less ‘out’ than they used to be but ‘classy’?  Maybe not yet.

I don’t have the patience or writing skills to really go into why one flower is classy while another is crass, but over the years I’ve picked up on the judgements of my betters and at this highpoint of summer realize that my garden definitely veers towards the trailer park style rather than waterfront estate.

chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemums can be fancy I suppose, just look at the formal displays in the far East style, but as flowers go I think of them as a modern carnation, the flower bouquet you buy when roses and lilies are too expensive.  btw I hate this color, but a friend loves it, so I trust her taste and keep it!

I suppose if you decorate your estate with gobs of full flower chrysanthemums in themed color displays they’re fancy, or if you stick with the truly perennial types which put out sprays of color in late fall you’re good, but my chrysanthemums are mostly the feral offspring of whomever managed to survive the winter.   To me they’re an interesting bunch though, even if the colors aren’t anything extraordinary.  The earliest ones are starting to bloom now, which is far too early and reeks of autumn, but I hope they’re just enthusiastic and can keep this going at least through September.

chrysanthemum

A larger flowered chrysanthemum which showed up under a rosebush one summer.  I’m looking forward to seeing what its seedlings look like in bloom in another two or three weeks.

Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a weed of waste places and abandoned gardens.  Obviously it does well here and obviously it’s not high class, so I always leave a few to grow and flower.  Birds are supposed to like the seeds (although I’ve never seen a bird on it) and I like the way the flowers pop open each day, so this native biennial is ok in my book.  Now if only I could motivate myself to seed out the fancier versions I found last winter.  Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ offers dark stems with tangerine flowers overlaid in rose, while the large yellow blooms of Oenothera glazioviana pop open in under a minute as the sun goes down… it’s worth a party, or so I’ve been told.

evening primrose

Oenothera biennis, the common primrose, with a few other classy weeds such as Persicaria orientalis and the golden, too-loud, Rudbeckia fulgens.

Phlox come with an excellent pedigree and are grown in some of the best gardens.  And then they get here.  A few years back I decided to treat my self to a few selections from the ‘Sweet Summer’ series, and a few years forward they’re all dead except for two.  Actually make that one.  ‘Sweet Summer Festival’ would never fully open her blooms and was yanked a few weeks ago and sent to the compost pile.  She came with excellent references, and I thought she would grow out of it but maybe it was some weird tissue culture issue… or she just hated it here and couldn’t be bothered with hiding her disgust.

phlox sweet summer fantasy

Phlox ‘Sweet Summer Fantasy’ looking slightly less fabulous than the pictures had lead me to believe.  “Large flowers, strong upright habit with clean foliage and good branching”…

I was looking at the trash I call a phlox bed today and really gave some consideration to offering up my garden as an extreme test location for new phlox varieties.  I think a new plant would really have to jump through some hoops to do well here, and if anyone out there wants to send me a bunch of free plants for evaluation I’m completely on board… and just to throw it out there even if the plant doesn’t do completely well it doesn’t mean I can’t write a glowing review… I mean integrity is kind of a vague concept these days, and free plants really do hold a lot of sway in this garden.

Aristolochia fimbriata

Aristolochia fimbriata (the white veined Dutchman’s pipe) is actually a very classy little treasure, and look at the little pipe it’s putting out!  downside though, perhaps I should have looked at its mature height and spread before planting it at the base of a six foot trellis.

I always thought of Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) as a trashy plant.  We had it round the garden growing up and my mother would always complain over its leafless stems in May when everything else had already sprung to life, and then I would always complain about the carpet of seedlings which would fill the weed bucket under every bush.  Should I even mention the slimy faded flowers which would litter the ground for two months in late summer?  They were always guaranteed to squish up between your toes, and even better if a slug had come out to take a bite before your foot landed on it all.

rose of sharon white chiffon

‘White Chiffon’ rose of sharon hasn’t reseeded too badly, and when all else fails white flowers always add distinction.

I have to say I like the new rose of sharons.  ‘White Chiffon’ is a smaller version of ‘Diana’ with a little extra fluff in the center of each flower (I still prefer the single ‘Diana’), and if for once I can refrain from accidentally cutting down the bush during spring cleanup I think she’ll be an excellent addition to the garden… unlike the amazingly colored but prolifically seeding ‘Bluebird’ who was shovel pruned.

rose of sharon ruffled satin

Rose of sharon ‘Ruffled Satin’.  I have not seen a single seedling under this one, and to my eye you might even get away with saying this plant looks refined?

I guess the mallow family is often pointed at for weediness and gaudiness, and I’m not sure where the latest court ruling stands at for classiness, but if you move away from shrubby hibiscus to the perennial version it’s really got to be a gray area.  Some of the newest forms are just amazing, but they have all the oversized flowers and inappropriately bright colors of something less refined.  I would grow all of them, but just can’t deal with the ravages of the hibiscus sawfly which eat their foliage to shreds each summer so there’s only one left, and some years he does ok, and other years I just turn away.

hibiscus turn of the century

An ok year for hibiscus ‘Turn of the Century’.  I love it, but it’s a far cry from the five foot shrub covered with blooms which this plant is capable of.

Ok, enough with all this concern over tackiness.  If you look at the last hibiscus photo you might notice a classier plant in the backgound, the chartreuse leaved, 2020 Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year, Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.  This cool thing doesn’t seem to mind a crushing late freeze, mid summer drought, and rooty shade, and although its two foot height in my garden does not compare well to the 4-6 feet it is typically quoted as, it’s still a wonderful presence.  The plant is a great introduction by plantsman/hunter/explorer Barry Yinger who spotted it atop a Japanese department store in the garden center.  So much easier than bushwacking up a Chinese river valley and climbing cliffsides looking for new plants, but I’m sure that was on the list as well.

Hosta yingerii

Of course when I saw the name I knew I had to try the seeds for Hosta yingerii, and here they are several years later.  

Plant nuts will remember Barry Yinger’s Asiatica Nursery which was an outlet for introducing hundreds of exotic and obscure plants into the American horticultural world, and even if you don’t know it, your garden is probably richer for it.  Even my little plot has a few (hopefully) hardy camellias which are just a few degrees of separation from Mr Yinger collecting seeds under armed escort within sight of the North Korean mainland.  A cool connection me thinks.

Not to swing this around and make it all about me, but I did meet Barry Yinger once.  Not to brag but it was at one of the first Galanthus Galas, and he was off in a side room breaking for lunch when I decided to take my chance.  “Is this where the restrooms are?” was my icebreaker, “No, they’re the next doorway” was his response, and I was on my way.  I don’t think he remembers.

Obviously my classiness is only eclipsed by my social skills, so let me abruptly end this post and wish you all a great week!

Imma Savage

The weather is hot, the weather (was) dry and the gardener spent a three day weekend spreading mulch. He was not lazy. He showed no mercy. Sentiment was shed like a stream of sweat as plants were moved, underperformers were whacked, and all the mistakes and shortcomings of 2020 were buried under a fresh brown frosting of shredded bark mulch.

Edged and mulched, the front yard looks very... neat.
Edged and mulched, the front yard looks very… neat. Not bad considering the lawn has only been cut once in five weeks.

There was actually more involved than just three days of hard labor. The weekend before I had the gardener start ripping out and chopping down anything which didn’t please me, stunted things, dried up things, things which were just too crowded and taking up too much space. A few runs were made for free township compost, and the most promising plantings got some pre-game mulch to hold the moisture and give a good shot of nutrients going prior to the big event.

Along the street there’s no towering wall of sunflowers this year. Even the purple coneflowers were stunted and about half were pulled due to the lack of rain. Thinning, some compost and watering, and then a coat of bark mulch really made a difference.

Transplanting annuals in 90+ (33C) heat should be frowned upon, but since the gardener was not smiling anyway it seemed appropriate. The zinnias and verbena survived.

About two wheelbarrows full of fennel left the front border, plus a bunch of other dried stalks from June. Now I can almost see the stunted cannas and butterfly bushes.

I have to admit I’ve been watering the zinnias and a few other things for the last few weeks. It’s been worth it, and since I’ve been informed on exactly how much the water bill has gone up, I can tell you exactly how much it’s been worth. No doubt it will be worth even more next month when an even higher water bill surprises the mailbox.

Agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ has earned its regular watering. Perfect foliage and at least three weeks of this strong blue color is quite awesome, and I hope no one is tiring of seeing this same plant every year.

When I went to order the mulch, my mulch guy said “that’s a lot of mulch”. He was right of course and the price was not so I cut back to the smaller truck and still had plenty. Several areas remain which could have used a coating, but as I filled the last load into the wheelbarrow I was thanking my mulch guy again and again for saving me from myself.

Around the side of the house and into the backyard. Moisture from the neighbor seeps down through the tropical garden and from a distance it looks almost lush 🙂

Mulching in August is probably a stupid move, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from my gardener. It takes forever for him to work mulch in between plants, and of course things need clearing out, pruning, and edging and all that adds to the work involved. On the plus side, there’s less mulch needed since a full flowerbed usually doesn’t need mulch extending any more than a foot or so in from from the edge. Less mulch means less money and I think you know where I stand on that.

Most of the best gardens boast classic topiary in one form or another. Obviously we would expect no less here in almost suburbia.

The potager did not need mulch, but that of course did not spare the vegetables from my savagery. Potatoes were dug, onions harvested, and another few tons of zucchini were brought into the house for processing and gifting. A woodchuck was trapped. The trap was brought over to the car for a trip elsewhere. The woodchuck escaped… fortunately just before the trap was placed in the car…

Cabbage transplants are in although this family rarely eats cabbage. Perhaps the woodchuck will return and take care of that, just like he took care of the broccoli (leafless stalks, lower left corner) and parsley (leafless stalks alongside orange marigolds).

I took my woodchuck frustrations out on the boxwood. Even in my most savage moments there’s a calm satisfaction in seeing an unruly hedge go from wooly to neat, and although the zen of trimming with expensive hand shears is extremely overrated, I did survive.

The potager is too neat. Trimmed hedges are nice, but I think it needs more jungle so perhaps this week’s rain will do the trick.

As the gardener continued to mulch past the potager he could feel his will to live slowly begin to fade. Fortunately the pile of mulch remaining in the driveway was also fading, and with just a few more edges to do that works out just fine. More mulch might have tempted me to just bury the entire shade garden and put it out of its misery since the weak little rain showers which almost kept the lawn green never penetrate the red maple canopy which shades this area.

Everything looks wilted and sad, but for the most part nothing ever dies. Of course it never really looks good either, but…

Dry beds and dry mulch did have the advantage of being easy to clear, and easy to shovel and spread, but the dust was terrible. Normally I’d just put on one of my dust masks, but since the mulch was in the front yard I didn’t want the neighbors seeing and thinking I don’t support our leader, so I suffered my way through and tried to cough it all up later.

Dry but neat.

So the job is now done. We are expecting around two inches of rain today as the remnants of Isaias pass through and the view will likely change, but at least the mulch should look even nicer as plants (hopefully) burst back into life. The gardener will need a few days to rest up and rehydrate as well, so that works out… although there are still bags and bags of daffodils to go through and cyclamen need repotting.

Fortunately it never ends. Have a great week!

A Lot of Work

There’s little question as to how I feel about hard work, and this is always the time of year when I start to wonder if it will ever end.  Between the pests and pestilence that try to take over every time your back is turned, to the weeds that spring with almost an unholy vigor out of any unmonitored patch of soil, to the searing heat that jacks up the water bill, I just don’t understand those people who smile wistfully and claim to just “love gardening”.  They’re probably the same people who put on a sunhat and white shorts, grab a pair of teal garden gloves and a cute little English trowel, and then head out to the parterre to plant a tray of nemesia while birds are singing and a fountain sprays in the background.

verbascum hybrid

The no-work mullein out front has topped 9 feet and greets each morning with a fresh show of buttery yellow flowers.  I love it, the bees love it, and sadly the mullein moths love it as well, and have darkened and nibbled a few of the stalks.

Here it’s a different story.  Covered in bits of green weed wacking debris, with dirt up my arms and half blind from the sweat that kept running into my eyes, I was wondering if the sore muscles and frequent blood donations were worth it.  Someone came by and said “you’re filthy don’t even think of going into the house like that, I just cleaned the floor”, so there I sat dripping even more sweat -since it’s also a billion degrees out- trying to make a little sense of it.

porch planters

Smarter people just sit on the porch and enjoy the morning light.  The porch is easy, plants get dragged out from the winter garden in the spring, and just need a little watering every now and then.

I have nothing against sunhats and teal garden gloves, it’s clearly jealousy, but I can’t help wondering why I keep doing this to myself year in and year out.

perennial seedlings

July is wrapping up so it’s probably time to finally plant the last of the (even more) perennial seedlings which seemed necessary in February.

…and then it’s a beautiful morning and the light is perfect and the house is quiet and I love it all… well almost all, the front border along the street is too dry and I’m kind of giving up on that, but all that other bother of lugging plants in and out, and dividing and moving and planting, and digging and hauling and weeding and mulching and watering… well you get the picture, I guess it’s worth it.

deck planters

Things lugged out onto the deck are hitting their summer stride.  As usual it’s a bit of a mess, but I love filling the whole place with way too much.

The deck is a safe zone although you wouldn’t think it.  I can go out there and just take it all in since the bulk of the work is done in May and June and then it’s smooth sailing until October.  Drip irrigation and time release fertilizer make my coffee in the morning and a drink at night much more pleasing than dragging a hose around  and feeling guilty about letting them dry out once again.

deck planters

I DID NOT like ‘Canary Wings’ the first time I saw it, but this spring two of these relatively new begonias jumped onto my cart.  Studies show I’m a sucker for anything with yellow leaves.  

The biggest success this year has been ‘Alice DuPont’, a mandevilla vine which has survived two winters with me so far and has finally found a place where she can show off her amazingness in a way that does credit.  She’s come a long way from the pot of brown sticks which exited the garage in May.

The far corner of the deck.  Hopefully the rickety trellis of old miscanthus stalks can carry Alice through the summer.  

I’ve added a few new things this year but nothing too exciting.  The fruity colors of the lantana and purple angelonia are perfect, but as usual I fell for petunias and calibrachoa again, and after a strong start to the summer they’re already looking a little tired.

jewels of opar

Jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum) came up in the soil of a gifted plant, and yay for surprises!  It’s like a pink baby’s breath, and although it doesn’t wow like Alice it’s good to also have plenty of flowers which don’t yell nonstop.  

Something else will take over for the petunias.  Nothing in this garden is ever one and done, and it’s the changes throughout the season which keep me interested.  Maybe by September even Alice will bore me!

mandevilla alice dupont

Just kidding Alice, you’ll never bore me.

When things come together you really forget all the grumbling about digging and storing cannas and replanting tropicals each year.  While the heat is sucking the life out of the perennials of June, the southerners and tropicals are stepping up. #summerstrong!

cannanova rose

Cannas by the street were supposed to be complemented by an airy froth of purple verbena… but then a clowncar of marigolds pulled up and unloaded all the orange.  But I really can’t complain about volunteers, so of course they stayed.

Even the tropical garden is back on the love-it list.  A lack of rain is stunting a few things, but you’d never know it, and even the sunflowers are welcomed back… although I did pull dozens in May…

tropical garden

The tropical bed looks less tropical and more just bright annuals this year.  Still nice to look at as you walk next door for a dip in the pool.

Admittedly I’ve allowed a few more perennials into the tropical garden this year.  That’s one less thing to worry about and I’m sure I’ll find something else to overdo elsewhere in the garden.  Right now as potatoes and onions come out of the potager I’m fighting the urge to fill the beds with a succession crop of flowers, or use the space for excess perennial seedlings.  One year, that’s the goal I have for keeping the new beds in vegetable production rather than turning them over to flowers again, and we will see 🙂

morning sunflower

Sunflowers on a Sunday morning.  It may be hot and dry, but it takes a lot before sunflowers  complain.

Hope you’re enjoying the fruits of your labor, and even if the weeds are starting to win there’s always plenty of good out there.

Have a great week!

A Project For the Pandemic

I’m extremely lucky.  Both my wife and I are able to work from home, while this health crisis spreads across the land and attacks our healthcare system, and our children are home here with us.  Our immediate family can afford to do the same.  Only a few of our closer friends are on the front lines as healthcare providers, and the area we live in has yards, streets to walk, and woods to wander.  I wish it were the same for everyone.

pulsatilla vulgaris

The first pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) opens.  I love their furry sweaters and the saturated color the cool weather brings on.

It’s not though, and the beautiful, early spring is a bit surreal alongside the news headlines and overall concern.  So we stick to home and the garden.

corydalis solida seedlings

Blue Scilla siberica and the red tones of Corydalis solida seedlings have officially taken over the front foundation beds.

Working from home frees up about two hours worth of commute each day, and with lunch and breaks it easily adds up to an extra three hours of spare time each weekday.  Sometimes I even stretch my lunch a little, but please don’t tell.

potager remodel

The potager is getting raised beds.  The old edging is coming out and the new layout is being planned.  I have no idea where all the soil to fill raised beds will come from but I’m sure something will work out.

After an ordering fiasco and delivery disaster the wood for the beds has arrived.  Normally I’d make a thousand trips to piecemeal and nickel and dime the entire project, but for once I planned a bit and will hopefully have most of what I need.  We will see.  As projects go it’s fairly simple and straightforward except for two things.  (1) The site is not all that level, and (2) Thousands of plants are in the way.

flower bulb bed

The zucchini and gooseberry bed…. but then underplant the berries with colchicums.  Edge the beds with chrysanthemums.  Tulips came in with the compost.  Daffodils will die down before the zucchini needs room.  The rose is so small… oh I need a spot for these snowdrops…

Common sense would say dig it all under and buy a few new bulbs in the fall.  This was considered, and then considered again, but of course by Thursday I decided to save as much as I can.  How can I dig under tulips just a few weeks away from blooming?  Things are now being moved if possible, or just plain potted up with hopes for a miracle in space becoming available.

spring bulb border

The front border starting to look less sloppy and more flowery.

The potager is going to be a mess for a while so I’ll leave you off with a view of the front street border.  The mowed up debris of last year is starting to become less noticeable as spring bulbs come up green and burst into flower.  Surely some good must come of this.

Have a great week, and all the best.

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 😉

You Call That A Cleanup?

So here we are in late January and winter still hasn’t put up much of a fight.  I fought the urge last time and took the Christmas lights down instead, but this weekend’s rain and above freezing weather was too much and it broke me down.  The snowdrops are coming up all over the front foundation beds and of course I need to see them clearly… plus the ski season stinks.

late winter garden cleanup

This is the after picture, and is probably as good as cleanup gets for this bed.  The keenest eyes may spot a few snowdrops 🙂 

I have a tendency to do my spring cleanups early but this winter you barely know if it’s a really late fall job or if this already qualifies as spring.  Time will tell.  One thing you can be sure of is that my need to tidy up every last stray leaf and twig has evaporated as I get older.  Older and wiser maybe?  The leaves disappear quickly as new sprouts come up and hide them, and they’re small enough that they break down into the soil again before summer is too far along.  If they were bigger and tougher leaves like oak or sycamore I’d rake them off and run over them with the mower before throwing them back on the beds, but they’re not and that makes for a quick tidying up.  The twigs and stems and cut back hellebore leaves were carted off to the back yard,  I didn’t want to attract too much attention running them through the mower in January since I just recently made fun of my neighbor for doing the same.

overwintering lettuce

Verbena bonariensis and lettuce seedlings, both surviving the cold just fine.  It will be interesting to see what all makes it through the winter this year… assuming we don’t get slammed in March.

Maybe I’ll run all the trimmings through the mower in February.  The ten day forecast shows a dip in to the teens and then another warming trend through Groundhog Day and beyond, so early February doesn’t look any more promising for snowy slopes than January was.  I’ll try to cope 😉

December Arrives

A stroll in the garden last Thursday reveled only one thing.  It’s boring.  Boring is probably not the worst thing since there have been tours which brought on anger, apathy, or disgust, but the tour did not bring on wonder or excitement, and for me that daily change or new surprise is what makes the yard so interesting.

cyclamen hederifolium foliage

The hardy cyclamen (this one is Cyclamen hederifolium) is pretty exciting now that the foliage is up, but I’ve seen it all before, and should really give a few of the cool new seedlings some room to develop.

I suppose I could find something to do and give the garden a scorched earth cleanup, rounding up every stray leaf and eliminating every dead and dried stalk, but that’s even more boring.  The birds will need something to pick through, and in January a few old seedheads holding the snow will give a little more interest to otherwise dull drifts.  So instead I cut and placed a few chicken wire cages to protect the most treasured shrubs from their annual bunny shearing.

rabbit shrub protection

Previously the rabbits around here were as lazy as I am, and if they had to even push aside a tuft of grass to get to a carrot they wouldn’t bother.  But now they’ve become empowered, and I have to protect things like this ‘Diane’ witch hazel with these attractive wire cages.

My friend Kathy was right.  Deer may not like witch hazels, but bunnies do, and if you’re thinking good for me to put this protection in place before any real damage occurs, you’re being excessively optimistic in regards to my laziness.  The new witch hazels should have been caged up weeks ago as more tender things in the garden dried up, but no, it wasn’t until the first one was nipped off at four inches that I figured it was time.  Fast forward another week when the second hazel was nipped to the ground that I finally got moving.

Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy'

One last succulent has earned its right to a winter spent inside.  After Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ survived a few heavy frosts and downright freezes I could no longer turn my back on the pot and into the garage it came.  I wonder just how hardy this thing really is?

I actually did find one bit of excitement while planting some not-really-wanted colchicums (they were supposed to be white… not pink).  The excitement wasn’t the tulip bulbs I sliced through when digging a hole, the excitement was a stray snowdrop in full bloom in a spot where I’ve only ever planted spring varieties.

fall snowdrop

A November snowdrop.  Two years after planting bulk Galanthus elwesii here, this one decides to beat the neighbors and open a few months and a whole season early.  I’ll be curious to see what it thinks next year.

Not to end on a down note, but this little November snowdrop is now encased (hopefully not entombed) in ice just waiting for the first larger snowfall of the season to happen.  I’d show pictures but would prefer to keep this a family friendly blog and will instead show a photo from the Thanksgiving trip which the impending storm cut short.

deer on Long Island

Deer along the beach of the Long Island Sound.  The wide open blue skies of the beach always recharge my outdoor batteries in a way the woodsy mountains and valleys of Pennsylvania don’t.

Things can’t be all that bad when you’re cozy inside and the weather happens on the other side of the window, so I can’t complain, but what ever storms come your way I hope they’re easy on your neck of the woods, and even if they’re snowy, I hope you have a great week!

It Could Be Worse

Things have entered ‘don’t care’ mode around here.  The gnats are swarming, the days are warm, the soil is dry, and the nights are cool enough that everyone (plants and gardener included) is thinking about wrapping things up for the year and calling it autumn.

red onion harvest

The red onion harvest drying under the back porch overhang.

I make no secret of the fact I dislike autumn.  Letting go of the growing season is tough and I try to put it off for as long as possible, but for some reason this year it’s a little different.  This year I’m almost looking forward to a few autumnal things, and I barely mind seeing summer  2019 fade into the the history books.

potager in September

The potager has made its annual transition into an over the hill, flower filled and vegetable-free weedy mess.  I love it, and I love all the late season bugs, bees and butterflies.Fall has suddenly become an easier transition, and I think it’s got a lot to do with my super formal program of planting more things that reach their peak after summer takes a step back.  In case you don’t know, my ‘super formal program’ translates into going to the nursery each week in autumn and planting whatever looks nice.

fall shade garden

The strong carmine color of what’s left of aster ‘Alma Potschke’ is the only reason I grow this plant.  To me most of the asters don’t seem to bloom for any great length of time and I’ve actually gotten rid of a few… or I just resent the fact they grow well all along the highways yet struggle in my garden beds.

One fall-bloomer which I don’t ever give enough credit to is the variegated obedient plant which has been bravely plodding along for a few years now in the dry, rooty shade of the north end of the yard.  I was given a warning when my friend dropped it off, but apparently the spot where it’s been planted is so terrible it hasn’t even considered trying to spread.

Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata' obedient plant

Variegated obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’) bringing a little color to the shade garden.

Other plants giving fall color now are the colchicums.  The earliest ones are in full stride, but the mid-season ones are starting up now as well.  The heat rushes them along, but they’re still a welcome flush of fresh color amongst all the other fading and yellowing summer things.

colchicum nancy lindsay

Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ just outside the smothering leaves of a verbascum seedling.  Nancy is one of the most reliable colchicums I grow, and quite the looker as well.

A newer colchicum is ‘World Champion’s Cup’ which is officially the largest flowering colchicum in the garden.  Although the photo doesn’t do the size justice, the blooms probably span six inches when open in the sun, and of course I love it.

colchicum world champion's cup

Colchicum ‘World Champion’s Cup’.  Not many blooms yet, but if size matters then this is the colchicum for you.  The heat seems to have bleached parts of the flower, but that’s a big improvement compared to what the skunks did to them last year. 

Fall blooming bulbs aside, the tropical garden is earning its keep as the season winds down.  It looks lush enough but it also looks like my complaining last year about digging so many roots and tubers fell on deaf ears.  In another month when non-hardy things get cut back and stuffed into winter storage I’m not sure who or what I’ll be complaining about, but I’m sure it will be quite vocal.  Only the gnats will be listening though, and their fake concern will only be a cover used to get close enough for an ear canal dive or yet another stealth attack to the legs.

tropical border

As usual the pathway is nearly impassable due to plants growing just as big as they were supposed to.  That doesn’t matter though.  What I get a kick out of is the huge goldenrod growing up past the kitchen window of the person who obsesses about dandelions and crabgrass in the lawn.  

I can’t take in all the cannas.  I already thought I had too many and then planted seeds for even more, and of course they grew even better than they should have.  As seed grown plants they’re all a little bit different, so now the struggle is deciding which of my babies is so wonderfully different that I need to dig it as well.  Obviously one of the things I’ll be complaining about this fall is my own lack of common sense.

cannova mango

Cannova ‘Mango’ seedlings.  Do I save the shorter ones… the ones with a more mango color… the heaviest bloomers… 

Common sense also will not apply to the elephant ears.  I suspect the tubers will weigh in at close to a ton, and someone said they might want to try one next spring so obviously I should dig another hundred just in case they want more.  It should be fun, but I’m not sure if this is really what people who claim to enjoy autumn do to enjoy the season.

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.

Ready For My Closeup

I’m finally back in the garden after missing three of the last four weeks due to work commitments, and it feels good.  All the guilt and regret is washed away (both trips were sort-of voluntary) and I’m pleased to see the plants have mostly fared fine without me.  That’s a good thing of course, even if it does cut my ego down a bit to see how well things did without me there giving them a daily once-over but sometimes if you love something you have to set it free… Good enough in theory, but here the weeds really took advantage of the freedom and over the next few days (ok, weeks) I hope to address that.  In the meantime closeups work, and they’re so much nicer than the other set of photos which were going to show all the challenges and struggles ahead in this weedy garden.

iris roys repeater

Iris ‘Roy’s Repeater’, one of the interspecies cross iris which I’ve been mildly obsessing over for a couple years now.  Maybe I still have room for another three or four…. I do like the pale yellow ones 🙂

I got in Friday night so it wasn’t until Saturday morning that the tour happened.  Then it was coffee on the porch and a lot of thinking.  Needless to say I was in no rush to get working and even less of a rush to do the important things first.  That is unless you think staking the delphiniums is the most important thing which needs doing, because that’s were I started.  It was light work, just right for getting into the swing of things and getting the nails dirty again.  Funny how the most noticeable thing about being away for two weeks is that your nails get normal-person clean.

delphinium

The first of the delphiniums, staked just in the nick of time.

After staking I weeded along the front porch.  That’s kind of cheating as well since the bed is so full few weeds stand a chance, but it was a start, and now at least I can sit out there without a heavy conscience.

rosa rubrifolia

The spring foliage of Rosa rubrifolia is nice enough that the flowers don’t even matter… which is a good thing since they’re so tiny.

With a little weeding under my belt I gave a little more thought to what needed to be done next.  I decided the best thing for me to do was go to the nursery.  It’s been a while and I didn’t want them to worry.  Plus if I do get around to weeding it’s a terrible idea to leave all those empty spots, they’ll only grow more unwanted weeds.  Better to fill the gaps with new plants.

hydrangea strawberry sundae

Hydrangea ‘Strawberry Sundae’ is coming on very well this year and I like how the red stems look against the ‘William Baffin’ rose… which is a blooming beast this year!

I spent way too long at the nursery and if you’re counting I may have spent way too much money as well.  It wasn’t easy but I’m trying to stick with my new self-improvement plan which includes me being a force of social change.  I wasn’t buying all those plants for myself, I was buying them to support my local nursery.  I was buying them to build up the little guy, to keep dreams alive, to encourage someone to have a nursery yard full of obscure interesting plants ready for me to buy whenever I need a plant fix!  I could have been weeding my own garden but instead I chose to go out and help make the world a better place.  You’re welcome.

nursery run

I may have said I don’t need any more plants with yellow foliage.  That was foolish.  I still needed a yellow fountain grass, ‘Lumen Gold’ to be precise. 

The plants were crammed in right after lunch.  Well actually there was a pool visit first and a lot of child throwing as well, but fortunately there was still enough energy left to scrape a shallow hole and bury a few root balls.  I’ve decided that plants need to realize quickly that it won’t be an easy ride around here, so tough-love planting is the new rule.  I do take care to break up the root balls as much as possible though.  The sooner those roots get out of their potting soil, and into their new soil the better.

blueberries

The blueberries look promising.

So that was Saturday.  Sunday was father’s day and weeding was again pushed on to the back burner, but because someone also has a new ‘all purchased plants must be planted within three days’ policy it wasn’t a complete day of rest.  I spent a good two hours setting up the deck containers.  That sounds busy, but if you’ve ever watched it’s more moving plants and considering than it is planting.  I’m never really happy when it’s done, but once things grow in it always ends up looking good enough.

lonicera sempervirens

The honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) has been entertaining the hummingbirds for a few weeks now.  Aphids can be a problem but I just ignore them and the distorted growth (lower right) they produce.

I spent the rest of Sunday puttering.  I was happy to see plenty of bugs but little plant damage, and I like to pretend there’s some kind of good and bad balance thing going on but experience shows it’s not likely to stay that way all summer.

stinging nettle

Stinging nettle has been tolerated and even encouraged in the back reaches of the yard.  The stinging thing is relatively harmless and cool, but even better is when the leaves start folding up around the red admiral caterpillars which this plant supports.  

One animal which always surprises me are the garter snakes which have moved into the arborvitae next to the porch.  There are two, and surprisingly enough they enjoy draping themselves across the branches and catching the morning sun when things are cool.  Not everyone agrees they’re good company but I like them.

baby praying mantis

I was hoping to get a photo of one of the snakes but found this praying mantis instead.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a tiny one before.

The rabbits and an on again off again woodchuck are other wildlife which are making themselves known, but there’s one native wildflower which is really announcing itself this year.  Jewelweed (Impatients capensis) loves the regular rain and its juicy little stems are showing up everywhere.

clematis ruutel

Clematis ‘Ruutel’ rising up from a sea of jewelweed.  Easy enough to remove, but there are other plants anxious to get out from under their shadow.  

I think that’s enough from me.  The on again, off again drizzle suggested I call it quits for garden work and I was fine with that.  Taking pictures is much easier than weeding anyway.

quaking aspen leaf

Quaking aspen out in the meadow.

golden hops

Golden hops looking for some support to scramble on up… someone should probably address that.

hypericum albury purple

Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’ living up to the name.  

dracocephalum

I know the lavender colored flower is a Dracocephalum but the cactus has grown over the label and I’m just not curious enough about the exact species to brave the spines.  

thalictrum rochebrunianum

I love Thalictrum rochebrunianum.  The foliage is cool enough, but with the dark stems and their waxy coating it’s just a work of art.

sunflower seedlings

So much for weeding out these sunflower seedlings…

verbascum atrovilaceum

Verbascum atroviolaceum is a small floppy verbascum which only flowers in the morning and isn’t all that showy, but of course I think it’s cool.

front street border

The border along the street is just doing its own thing this year.  We may run a purge but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it…. says the gardener who will end up trying to fix it.

oxeye daisy

One of my favorite weeds is the Oxeye daisy, this one complete with a colorful inchworm.

pokeweed sunnyside up

Growing native plants is a noble cause, but once you start planting cultivars things get iffy.  I pull out plenty of the regular pokeweed, but apparently ‘Sunnyside Up’ has now entered the local gene pool… and is too pretty to pull 🙂

penstemon digitalis dark towers

The foundation planting has exploded into June color, and I’m wondering if these might not be the perfect meadow flowers to plant across the berm.  Penstemon digitalis ‘Dark Towers’ with Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ and Oxeye daisy again.

allium narcissiflorum

Allium narcissiflorum with a red carpet rose in the background.  I like this little onion!

anthemis tinctoria

Anthemis tinctoria with rose campion and more daisies.

common milkweed asclepias syriaca

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) trying to take over the world (or at least the front foundation bed).

So that’s it from here.  Maybe it’s messy, maybe I’m not getting much done, maybe the weather is a little cool, but as long as you remind yourself it’s not January it’s all good 🙂

Have a great week!