That Wasn’t Smart 8.0

In hindsight this is the time of year when winter interest should take center stage, and the addition of conifers to the winter garden is probably the best way to keep the yard attractive during the bleakest of winter months.  I’ve heard that and have seen it in print as well, and even the most reluctant gardener will throw a few evergreens around the house as the first step in crafting an attractive landscape.   The message is out, and the majority of houses around here have a sensible foundation planting filled with neatly trimmed yews and junipers and whatever else can snuggle up to the house for year round appeal.

foundation border

Our own slightly less neat foundation plantings, with respectable holly, juniper, and chamaecyparis plantings lined up along the foundation. 

Why this gardener would chose December to remove a large juniper from a prominent front-of-the-house location is foolish enough, but to replace it with a small ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Amber Jubilee) is over into the not so smart category.  Reliable evergreen replaced with small clump of deciduous twigs… maybe you can understand that ‘uh-oh’ feeling I had as I stood there holding the saw and staring at a pile of juniper branches.

foundation border

If you look closely you might be able to see the newest addition to this foundation planting.  It’s right there at the center of the gaping hole which was created when the juniper was removed. 

In all honesty I never liked the juniper.  It made me itch and bored me and even though there were a thousand better things which I could be doing I suddenly needed to plant that ninebark at that minute even though I was right in the middle of putting up the Christmas lights.  As long as we’re opening up here, the Christmas lights were turning into a whole other project in themselves.

Christmas porch decoration

A Longwood inspired twig archway with lights.  Lots of lights.  

The reason I had the saw out in the first place was because I needed to take a walk in the woods and cut down and drag back enough birch trees to make a decent arch leading onto the porch.  I’m pretty sure a twig archway was what our holiday decorations have been lacking.

Speaking of things lacking, this blog has been lacking a snowdrop photo for months and since so many of you have been asking how the snowdrops are doing I guess it’s time to jump back into that world.  Here’s a batch of fall bloomers which my friend Paula shared with me a couple years ago.  They’re out on the driveway for this photo but have since moved into the garage in anticipation for the approaching cold… lows for next week show numbers around 10F (-12C) and that’s just not appropriate for such an innocent little flower… or for the box of tulip bulbs which just showed up on the doorstep this afternoon.

fall snowdrops

Fall blooming giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) with a nice green pattern to the inners.  

If pushed I’d have to admit that no one has actually asked about the snowdrops, but I’m sure they were wondering and I didn’t want to rudely ignore that.

Now I’m off to check out something I can’t even ignore for a minute.  Pamela at Pam’s English Garden has put up the post detailing her own recent visit to Longwood Gardens.  I knew she was there within a few days of my own visit and I’ve been looking forward to seeing her own impressions of the decorations.  I hope she doesn’t point out a bunch of cool things which I missed!

A Longwood Christmas

A few years ago we almost gave up on holiday visits to Longwood Gardens.  We’re lingerers after all and the crowds and hustle bustle of hundreds of visitors can put a lot of pressure on ‘that guy’ who’s holding up the line because he wants to give all the gardenia flowers a sniff.  We kept at it though because for as nice as Christmas and good cheer are, a few whiffs of the tropics can also go a long way bringing some jolly to a cold winter night… and these are the long nights and stressful days which can really use some tropical relief.

longwood christmas

The orangery decked out for the holidays.  Warmth, humidity, and sunshine made the display even better.

Who would have thought the answer to our crowded visits could be as simple as going on a less crowded day?  For the second year in a row we visited on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Christmas diehards that might be inappropriately early, but for us it’s been working perfectly.  The weather was beautiful and we nearly had the place to ourselves (relatively speaking of course).

longwood christmas

This year the apples are back, this time keeping company with thousands of floating red cranberries.

The conservatories are always perfectly decorated with the colors and sounds of the season.  I think my favorite part this year was the bright sunshine streaming in through the glass when we first arrived.  Walking through the doors and into the sunny, humid warmth was an instant escape from weeks of static and dry skin.

longwood christmas

Walls of windows, tree ferns, and fountains… I could get used to this 🙂

Flowers, greenery, and holiday decorations.  You can imagine I took plenty of pictures but since they’re not snowdrop photos I’ll spare you from the bulk of it.  Click >here< for last Christmas or >here< for last summer if you need more, or better yet visit the Longwood website for the real stuff!

longwood christmas

My favorite view this year, a courtyard scene off the back of the music room.

Since the kids ditched us this year there was plenty of time to admire the boring flowers without anyone tugging a coat sleeve.  Longwood always has orchids and I suddenly had the time to admire them… although I’m still far from being an orchid person (mostly due to their habit of dying on me).

I won’t go on and on about every conservatory flower but I did find something which I thought was even more special than their regular.  In one of the back greenhouse passages was a display of a few of their ‘on trial’ poinsettia, and I thought is was an interesting glimpse into some of the variety which this humble plant from Central America has been bred into.  This is also where I met some of the ‘golden’ poinsettias which carry names such as ‘Autumn Leaves, and ‘Gold Rush’, and came in colors more traditionally associated with the end of summer.  What do you think?  At least there’s no blue dye or glitter in sight!

…and then night fell.  We grabbed a bite to eat, toured the grounds, enjoyed the fountains (not the main fountains, they’re off for the winter), took in some Christmas songs around the organ, warmed up around the fire, and then closed the place down with one last tour of the conservatory.  It was holiday-magical in the late evening, with most visitors having already headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

A Longwood Christmas with a French feel.  The symmetry and apple-cranberry patterns surrounded by box are chateau parterre inspired.

Then we were the ones headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

The stroll back out to the car.  A two hour drive home awaits 😉

As usual we enjoyed our visit, and it must have been somewhat inspiring since I spent a few hours this weekend out in the cold putting up our own lights.  So far the reviews have been less than flattering, and there’s no talk of admission tickets, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you decide to make your way to Longwood this year for the displays be sure to buy your tickets online before you go, just to make sure they’re available.  Also if you want to take in a quieter visit, try to avoid Saturdays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Those might be the nights when you’re better off hitting the eggnog at home.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.31.17

Happy Halloween!  In between trick-or-treaters and going out with the kids there’s still enough time today to join Cathy at Word and Herbs and celebrate one of the last Tuesday views of the 2017 season.  We dodged our potential frost last night, so I guess today’s view would count as a treat 😉

front border

The low autumn light smooths out a lot of the wrinkles and age spots of this elderly border.  A good rain sure didn’t hurt either!

Part of me wants to get to tidying up the border, but logical sense tells me to wait a few more weeks.  Right now everything is still solid and wet and a lot bulkier than it will be after a good freeze or two, so waiting a bit will make the work much easier.  Plus it still looks decent, especially since the haggard and rough looking sunflowers were cut down and hauled off.

cardoon

The perennials are drying up but the non-hardy canna and cardoon are still full of life!

In the end it shouldn’t be all that much work.  I’ll dig a few canna roots, cut down a few frosted annuals, and chop down the messiest of the grasses.  The rest will stay as “winter interest”, partly because it really is more interesting than bare ground in December, but also because that gives it all winter to fall apart (and hopefully blow away into someone else’s yard or the woods!)

front border

Not bad for the last day of October, trust me it usually doesn’t look this nice.

There are only a few other plants which look interesting in the close-up.  Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ has never been this pink before, I think it’s thanks to the steady rains which kept it hydrated all summer.  We did get three weeks of hot and dry, which browned the south side of the each panicle, but overall they’re still attractive.

autumn limelight hydrangea

Drought and heat-stressed brown is the normal fall color for these, I’ve got to say I much prefer the pink!

The muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is also finishing the year off in pink.  A normal year has frost bleaching the color just as it begins to flower, but for the second year in a row we’re in luck.  Like most grasses it’s the perfect thing to have backlit with some nice, soft, autumn light, but on the other hand a smarter gardener would have already found something equally as fluffy which is a little better suited to growing in this northern garden.

muhly grass

Pink muhly grass with just a little backlighting.  

So that’s where we are as we step over into November.  The summer annuals have all thrown in the towel but there’s still enough left to keep things interesting for a few more days.  Bulbs will be the last question of the year.  Right now I say no, but clearance sales have a way of twisting my arm and you never know.  In the meantime have a great week!

Done With Autumn….

Well that lasted about a week.  I miss summer and wish autumn would get on with it.  Yesterday was beautiful, but today it’s colder and rainy, and I’m sure the wind is pulling down all the autumn foliage just as it finally colors up here in the valley.  Here are a few spots in the garden, maybe when I look back in January the cold and ice will put it all in perspective.

The back deck in autumn

Frost is forecast for tomorrow night nearly everything still needs to come in.  Sadly enough I have less than 24 hours left to procrastinate. 

I spent most of Saturday just wasting time.  The weather was nearly perfect and the schedule was open, but 90% of the day was spent watching grass blow in the wind or birds picking through seed heads and nearly no time time was spent productively.  If we had to separate into ants and grasshoppers, I’d be all grasshopper this weekend.

October in the potager

The potager is all ready to fall apart for winter with everything dying back and going to seed.  Peppers were harvested, the rest is on its own now.

I guess I did mow the lawn on Friday.  It didn’t really need it but the mower made quick work of stray twigs and leaves which were starting to pile up and with the mower set to mulch it was not much of a commitment at all.  Also it kind of chopped up the turf clods which lay all around the back yard courtesy of Mr. Skunk.  Someone suggested I replace and tamp down all the clods before mowing… I gave him the look and said he was more than welcome to do that in his own yard.  Here we prefer to thank the skunks for their free grub removal and turf aeration services and let winter work apart the clods.

the meadow in autumn

Back behind the swingset, the meadow looks downright respectable again after a few mowings.  

Mowing the lawn takes a little longer these days now that the meadow area is back on the weekly cut plan.  To those who thought the tall grass was a reservoir of dangerous ticks and snakes and spiders this comes as a relief, but to me it’s all just part of getting the turf ready for next year’s show of spring bulbs and early summer wildflowers.  It will sprout up again just fine next spring, and ironically enough the most dangerous thing back there still remains within inches of the swing.  The bright red seed pods you see belong to the castor bean plant(Ricinus communis), and as you may know the beans are the source of the poison ricin.  Smaller children would need to be watched, but based on what a struggle vegetable eating is in this house I’m pretty confident my own kids won’t be picking beans up out of the dirt and eating them any time soon.

The tropical garden

The tropical garden just before the frost.  Not as lush as last year but the grasses are still a good 8+ feet tall, and overshadow the not-quite-as-tall-as-last-year cannas.

I may not have done much in most of the garden but at least I did pay some attention to the rock garden.  It still doesn’t have any rocks but at least the yews are trimmed.  Weird that out of all the things to do this time of year I’d be trimming up little yew meatballs, but there you have it, Saturday’s big job.  Here’s a photo from a few years ago to give you an idea of where we came from.

overgrown yew hedge

Every spring… trim the yews… I finally got so bored with it I let them go, but after a few years the neighbors started talking.

Two years ago I trimmed the yews back to within a few inches of the ground.  It was either that or remove them completely, but after the struggle of taking a single one out (so the electrician could rework the electric service), I suddenly warmed up to the idea of keeping them.  So now I have little yew nuggets along the foundation and an empty south-facing mulch bed which seems perfect for rock garden plants.  I’ve already filled most of it and it’s a constant battle to keep from doubling the size of the bed.

the rock garden

The rock garden.  You may see a single rock to the far right but for the life of me I don’t know how the name started.  -Btw the pine is Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  I love it. 

Eventually I’ll need to get moving if I really want to be serious about gardening again next year.  Beds need cleaning, plants need saving, things need transplanting.  There’s always plenty to do but in the back of my mind I keep figuring that cold indoor days are coming and I should take advantage of the last warm days.  That probably means doing things, but a little soaking it up doesn’t hurt either.

porch decorations for autumn

We will see how this handles a little frost.  All together I think I found about 20 of the odd little Yugoslavian finger squash once I started looking around out back, and between those and a few mums I think we’re decorated.

Tomorrow I’ll be running around.  Or not.  Most of the geraniums, amaryllis, and cordyline spikes can handle a little frost and should be ok for another week or so, so I guess it all comes down to seeing how long I can postpone the inevitable.

overwinter geraniums

Geraniums (pelargoniums) lined up and ready to come in.  Between these and a few cuttings already under lights I think I can give any geranium-loving granny a good run for her money.    

Frost will come, the garden will go to bed, and the dreams of spring will start.  I’m sure there are still plenty of perfect days to come but for now I’m dreading the end, and even worse when the clocks fall back next weekend.  I wonder if it’s too early to start thinking about snowdrops.

… haha, who am I kidding, I’ve already been obsessing about them for the last month!

Have a great week, and maybe you can find something pleasant in the soft light, beautiful colors, and crisp air of autumn 😉

The Efficiency of Factory Farming

Apparently it’s September.  Every time I look at the calendar it kind of surprises me that the year can fly by so quickly but really?  September?  It’s becoming harder and harder to convince myself that summer won’t end.

potager flowers

The view of the vegetable garden (aka Potager) in early September.

Many people consider September to be an autumn month.  I’m going to assume you know where I stand on that theory.  I bet those same people consider the vegetable garden to be the most appropriate place for growing vegetables,  and not a catch-all spot for all the flowers and shrubs which couldn’t fit into the regular borders and beds.   Neat, productive, raised beds bursting with produce are nice enough, but at this time of year I love the flowery, seedy look of a vegetable garden gone wild, even with all the overgrowth, bugs, and mildew 🙂

canna cannova rose

A sign of the season.  The bold colors say summer but the seed pods and overgrown vines say autumn.  A big spiderweb even sets it up for a halloween look.  In case you’re wondering these are some ‘Cannova Rose’ seedlings which I started this spring just to see how they turn out.  I think it was a success!

There were a few things which did manage to come out of the potager which were worth eating.  Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, beans, and loads of zucchini  all somehow managed to find enough room to produce a harvest, as well as a meager crop of onions.  The onions looked so promising in April, but I think they just wanted more sun.

birdfood sunflowers

I was so close to wasting this space on corn.  Instead I bought a few ears at the farmstand and filled the bed with sunflower seedlings which were weeded out from other parts of the garden.  ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranths seedlings became a convenient complement to the sunflowers when I forgot to weed them out after the garlic was harvested.

Now the garden is mostly given over to the annuals which I rip out so religiously in May, but always seem to overlook in June.  The verbena, persicaria, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums quickly take advantage of the opening and I’m always happy to see them thrive.

colchicum x agrippinum

Of course there had to be a few bulbs in here and there as well.  When I crawled in under the sunflowers I found the colchicum x agrippinum patch in full bloom.  I’m a big fan of these late summer bloomers.

I do have plenty of flowering things which were planted on purpose as well.  The colchicums (autumn crocus, naked ladies, meadow saffron) are looking great right now and I can’t help but show a few pictures.  Actually I’m sure you’ll see more pictures in a later post.  For some reason the vegetable beds are where I’ve planted most of them, and even though the companion plantings are haphazard, the flowers themselves are very convenient to admire when planted out this way.

colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum surrounded by mildewed phlox and verbena.  A fresh flower in the middle of all that decay is always such a treat.

Although I planted a few bulbs on purpose (if you can call it that when you’re wandering around with a plant and a trowel and no forethought to where it would go when you bought it) those plants are in the minority.  The most spectacular things invited themselves.

potager flowers

The marigold border and a gifted zinnia were the plan (thanks Kimberley!) and the peppers were the purpose, but the perfection came from self sown verbenas and the intense blue of Browallia americana. 

Up until June I pull out every last ‘Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate’ seedling (Persicaria orientalis).  Their 6+ feet of rapid, vigorous growth tends to intimidate the lettuce but eventually a few are overlooked and before I know it I’m ducking under the dangling chains of dark pink flowers every time I do the garden rounds.

kiss me over the garden gate

Persicaria orientalis towering over the failed onion bed.  For the record purslane and crabgrass had more to do with the underwhelming onion harvest than one too many flower seedlings 😉

The last thing to thrill me in the veggie patch are chrysanthemums.  I love how they and the colchicums wrap up summer around here.

potager flowers

I’m starting to sound like a broken record with the seeding out thing (assuming people still remember what broken records sound like) but even this chrysanthemum came on its own.  I guess that’s what barren soil and general neglect can do… plus the weeding out of nastier things of course.  I love the color and big flowers 🙂  

The back beds of the potager have the worst soil and get the least attention.  During most summers even the weeds struggle to take root since the soil crusts up and most seedlings can’t even get a root down before they die… except for quack grass (similar to couch grass).  I spent a few sweat filled summer afternoons tracing back grass roots and sifting soil, trying to get every last shoot.  Of course I didn’t but at least it’s one battle in this war where I took the upper hand.

hardy garden chrysanthemum

This is the chrysanthemum which started it all.  A seed exchange packet of “collected from ‘Innocence'” survived drought and flood and freeze and still looks great.  It does need a Chelsea chop in June to control floppiness, but that’s all. 

My neighbor put in some excellently neat and tidy raised beds this spring which grew some beautiful beets and salad and armloads of other produce.  His vegetables know their place and his flowers are neatly nestled into orderly mulch beds which surround the house.  My wife was very impressed. I have to admit I liked it as well but just don’t know if I can give up this spontaneous jungle.  Time will tell.

My apologies for not having shown any vegetables in this vegetable garden update.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 9.12.17

Of course I could go on and on about the Tuesday view this week, but free time has been in short supply lately.  The kids are back into their routine and there seems to be an endless parade of games and practices and parties and very little time for anything else… unless you count Sunday afternoon.  It was a beautiful afternoon and a big chunk of time was set aside to just soak up the sun and enjoy the last days of summer.  Some gardeners can’t sit still when there’s work to do.  I’m not one of them.

front border

The Tuesday View of the front border. Things are starting to feel the season but I’m counting on a long fade into autumn.

Even though the gnats are terrible I must have spent a good couple hours here and there in protected locations just taking it all in.  Usually ‘taking it in’ included a drink or snack or just sitting and staring but I made sure to slow down and enjoy.  If you want to think of it as being careful that would be more polite than considering it lazy.  You never know what next week will bring so it’s always safer to enjoy things while they’re here.

front border

A view from the side.  It’s not often that the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea blushes pink for me but the cool nights and consistent moisture seem to be working.  SO much nicer than dried up brown…

There are still a few things to come for autumn but we’re almost at the end of the Tuesday road.  Chrysanthemums and asters are maybe another week or two and then after that it’s cleanup and frost.  Ouch.  It hurts to even say the F word.

kniphofia burning embers

I was surprised by this red hot poker the first year it bloomed.  I wasn’t expecting it so late in the season but there it is every September.  This is last week’s photo of kniphofia ‘Burning Embers’, and it’s a plant which would probably appreciate some more breathing room, but you get what you get.

So this week it’s a calm and mellow contribution to Cathy’s Tuesday View.  The weather here and the time of year seem to demand it but if you’d like to visit with a few other more industrious gardeners give Words and Herbs a visit and see what Cathy and others are up to as they track their Tuesdays throughout the year.  Have a good one!

1 Free seed + 6 years = 7 Attaboys

Some people say that seed starting is complicated or that it requires way too much patience but I’m going to disagree.  Patience is waiting for a 5 year old to tie their own shoes when you’re already late.  If you can make it through that without any permanent blood pressure spikes, you can start a seed.  It’s as simple as kindergarten math… assuming you’re not dealing with Common Core of course…

Six years ago I received some Eucomis seed from author Nancy Ondra.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, Nancy is the author of several excellent gardening books and also the force behind an amazing Pennsylvania garden showcased on her Hayefield blog, and the seed was part of an annual giveaway of curious and exotic seeds she had collected throughout the growing season.  Her act of generosity resulted in one tiny Eucomis seedling sprouting and then surviving years of on and off neglect to finally reach a size large enough to bloom.  I think it’s pretty cool.

eucomis Oakhurst seedling

A Eucomis seedling grown from a seed off Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’.  I believe that gives it the fancy name of Eucomis comosa ex Oakhurst…. I think.

Sure I could have just bought one along the way and saved a bunch of time but it’s not like I spent every day wishing it would grow just a little bit faster, you just enjoy it for what it is.  It’s not patience at all, it’s you looking forward to every spring when it sprouts up even bigger than the year before and then you every fall digging the bulb to see just how much more plump it’s become.  It sure doesn’t hurt that the dark leaves make for a very nice foliage accent in my summer planters.

eucomis Oakhurst seedling

Eucomis are also referred to as pineapple lilies.  They’ve got the same leafy bottom  plus the pineapple shaped flower which sprouts up is topped by a tuft of leaves, just like a real pineapple.

So thanks for the seeds Nan and now I’m off to the next pineapple lily adventure.  I hear they’re one of those odd plants which grow easily from leaf cuttings.  Just cut off a leaf, stick it in some soil, and new plant!  I’ll have to wait until next summer for the best chances but it sounds like I’ve got something to keep me entertained until 2022 😉