Fall

So here I am, finally forced to use the new block editor for WordPress. I don’t like it. Everything is adrift in a sea of white and I can’t fix how the photos and captions are displayed. There is no desire in me to be a web designer, I just want to post a couple pictures and write a few comments and since I’m struggling with that I’ll just assume it’s too smart for me.

Feather reed grass along the street. Things are looking autumnal.

I just want to complain. I don’t like it. I want menus and boxes and structure, not symbols and icons and dots that I somehow have to know to click on… or double click on… or whatever alt hold and click combo I’m supposed to just know or remember or whatever.

The front border from the other side. I’m quite pleased, but this is all the beginning of the end, as things color up, dry up, and die off…

Why the heck does everything need to be in stupid blocks!? I don’t like it. I just want it to be intuitive and let me write and I can throw in a picture whenever I want. Now I have to add a stupid photo block and then start a paragraph block and then go on to the next block. I seriously had less trouble editing html code than I do with this cloud of one size fits all.

chrysopsis Heterotheca villosa ruth baumgardner
Heterotheca(aka Chrysopsis) villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’. Still glowing brightly from the end of the front border.

I’ll stop now. I don’t like it. Maybe what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, but that’s not exactly the kind of win-win scenario I strive for either so… on to the fall garden. It’s here. It’s winding down. Still colorful, but fading fast. All the smarter plants are packing it in for the winter they know is coming, but the foolish tropicals are still carrying on like there’s always a tomorrow.

dahlia happy single flame
Dahlia happy single flame. This one always seems at its best during the last weeks of fall.

The tropicals were saved at the last minute by some rain and an almost-but-not quite-frost. The rain was just in time, but late September would have been tragically early for a frost date. Only a few things were touched though so I’ll count my blessings, especially since others North and South of us were not as lucky.

white cactus dahlia
The last big hurrah for dahlias and the red rose ‘Black Forest’ isn’t doing too bad either.

I’m enjoying the final flowers, but I’m afraid sometimes the impression is that everything is an overflowing wonder of color and interest in this garden. Angles and cropping make a big difference. The photo above vs the photo below shows how the full clump of big white dahlias looks much thinner and poorly staked from a different angle.

autumn dahlia garden
Things look a lot gappier from the back. Honestly everything is too close to the path and a mess, but at this time of year who really cares? I’m just enjoying the color.

The lack of big tropicals in the tropical border this year bothered me for a little bit, but I’m not going to miss all the canna root digging and elephant ear lugging that normally happens in October. It still looks fake-tropical lush with grasses and pokeweed, but my big plant of happiness is the non-tropical ‘Michigan hardy’ cardoon seedling which will hopefully prove to be more hardy than previous seedlings. It’s become a monster and I wonder if I’ll ever hope that winter takes this one out like it has all my others.

hardy cardoon
This is another really nice camera angle. All year I hated how this combo worked (or didn’t work), but here at just the right angle the cardoon is nestled in perfectly between grasses, pokeweed and dahlias.

I reeeeaaaallly like the cardoon although again it’s one of those spiny, pokey, too-big, weedy looking, things that takes up all the room that a peony could shine in, but… let’s just move on. The potager still looks respectable even if a few too many ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranthus were allowed to grow in all the wrong places.

the potager pergola
Parts of the potager are still neat and weed free. Let’s hope I can keep this up for a second year!

We’re still picking a few things such as eggplant and tomatoes but for me the chrysanthemums and gourds are so much more entertaining. Now that fall transplanting season is upon us it will take resolve of steel to keep from filling all the beds with tulips and transplants of everything which would likely do better in more cultivated soil.

diy pergola
The raised beds are nice, but my favorite spot is the pergola. Already I’m wondering what to do with the four corners next year!

A bed or two of phlox, multiple beds filled with tulips, a few for chrysanthemums, maybe just a few coleus here and there 🙂

hardy chrysanthemums
Last year annual salvia dominated, this year the dry weather stunted the salvia seedlings and left an opening for mums and verbena.

Just is case you’re wondering how my feelings towards the new editor are going… I don’t like it…. but what I do like are colchicums. And just typing the word immediately lowered my blood pressure a bit and made the three days I’ve been screwing around with this post seem just a little less wasted.

colchicum flowers
The last of the colchicum with a leaner sister of the big lusty cardoon that’s growing in the tropical bed. I think this is mostly ‘Nancy Lindsay’ and maybe ‘Lilac Wonder’?

I really try to avoid showing the same plant again and again, but the dry, cool weather has the colchicums lasting and lasting. So here again is my group of C. speciosum giganteum group.

colchicum speciosum gigantea group
Colchicum giganteum still looking good after two weeks.

And although my friend Cathy grows this one much better than I do, Colchicum autumnale album plenum is slowly spreading into a small clump that will hopefully some day become a small drift of white.

colchicum autumnale album plenum
Colchicum autumnale album plenum

And one more. C. speciosum ‘Atrorubens’ came up pale but has now darkened down to a rich color which bleeds onto the stem almost to the ground.

colchicum speciosum atrorubens
Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’

Oh and one other announcement. After about ten years of holding onto an old shower door, two years of thinking I should use it for a coldframe, and four weekends of staring and planning and considering, the coldframe is finally done. “What took so long?” you ask… well I don’t know. I’ve just been lazy.

diy coldframe
It took forever for me to figure out how to use the hoarded door, wood scraps, and salvaged pink marble to build… but once the last screw was in it took me about 15 minutes to fill it with plants.

In case you’re wondering, the door slides flat in order to cover the plants, it’s just folded up right now to enjoy the sun and breezes of autumn… and since I look at it multiple times a day, I might as well leave it open anyway. I like it. I’m happy it’s done, and with that albatross off my neck I’m free to do more fun-erer things until the next simple project weighs me down.

homegrown gourd harvest
As soon as I finished basking in the glow of a project done, and congratulated myself one last time, it was time to harvest the gourds. An excellent haul me thinks!

I noticed the pink marble of the coldframe isn’t quite as pink as it could be and what’s the sense of a marble coldframe if everyone doesn’t realize it’s marble? I worry that garden tours will pass by and think it’s just fieldstone or any old stone block or something, and that could be embarrassing… especially after they’ve experienced the fancy that is our potager. Perhaps this weekend’s to-do list will have to start with some powerwashing. I’m sure in the grand scheme of gardening tasks which I neglect, powerwashing the blocks under a crusty little coldframe is the most effective use of my gardening energies. On a side note, it’s obvious why I could never do this professionally.

new england aster alma
“Alma Potschke” New England aster along the runoff path for the gutters. I should call it the ‘rain garden’, that has a nicer ring to it.

Honestly there are so many more important things to do, such as replanting a couple hundred daffodils or bringing in dozens of potted plants or doing all the other fall prep, but I suspect I’ll start the weekend off with powerwashing. Ok, full honesty means that I also looked at the birch trees and decided they should be whiter and cleaner as well. If you never see another photo with the birch trees in it you’ll know how that went.

Hope your weekend turns out more productive, but even if it’s not have a great one! -btw I think I survived the new editor…

A Case of the Lazies

You would think that with all the hand sanitizer, distancing, staying at home, and hand washing, that there would have a sterile cloud surrounding me, but somehow I’ve still managed to catch a case of the lazies.  What a surprise, right?  I’ve never really shown much immunity, so all it really takes is a cloud across the sun, a temperature slightly too cool, or a day with a nice breeze to trigger a relapse.  I guess that happened.  My wife will tell me I should have worn a coat.  My son will ask if I want another donut.  It’s easy to see the struggle.

autumn perennial border

The front border as we roll into October. Heterotheca villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’ is the yellow daisy in front.  

A coffee and a donut make for a nice morning stroll around the garden.  Fancy people do scones and jam, but scones are crumbly, and I’d hate to waste a trail of jammy crumbles behind me as I take in the dewy garden.  As I walk, the dew and change to fall colors make it really obvious summer is over and I’m surprisingly ok with that.  The garden right now is a mix of summer lingerers and autumn bloomers, and although I spent last weekend leveling my mother inlaw’s garden and putting nails in the coffin of her 2020 season, here it’s a different story.  Cool things like the Heterotheca villosa are only now just coming into full flower.  This plant was shared with me a few years back by Kathy Purdy of Cold Climate Gardening fame, and it’s a native daisy which I cut back by half each June to keep bushy.  From what I’ve heard, ‘Ruth Baumgardner’ is named after a past president of the Perennial Plant Association, and was selected as a shorter form of the species, but that’s still relatively tall, hence the early summer chop.

red hot poker

Lingering rebloom on the red hot poker.  The bright color looks as good now as it did in July

If I weren’t so under the weather with my laziness I would be taking advantage of the more relaxed pace of pre-October and building that coldframe I’ve been mulling over for the last three weekends.  Unlike the last four years that I’ve been thinking about it,  this is the year it has to happen.  I’ve already lined up a few plants to go in (all my projects are usually the result of me painting myself into a corner plantwise), pulled out materials, piled them into the garage (where the car can’t go until this in done…), and now I just have to commit to a design.  ***spoiler alert** it’s based on an old shower door and leftover 2x4s so don’t set your hopes too high…

colchicum lilac wonder

Admiring colchicums is an excellent lazy day activity.  Here’s ‘Lilac Wonder’ flopping its way through the blue of leadwort.

Even just talking about a future coldframe has me exhausted, so let’s take one more look around the garden. The mums are coming, the colchicum are here, and in spite of a slight touch of disgustingly early frost, the garden still looks nice.

colchicum border

The former rock garden turned colchicum bed has been overrun with chrysanthemum seedlings.  Not for the worse though.  Colchicum ‘Innocence’ still found enough of an opening to show off.

A few early chrysanthemums.  I’ve killed off many (honestly it’s closer to most) of the larger flowered ones, but they’re my favorites.  Someday I dream of fussing and nurturing them enough to have those big show-worthy blooms, but this year just getting them staked them was a big first step.

chrysanthemum cheerleader

I believe this is ‘Cheerleader’.  Even under less than perfect conditions he tops out at 3+feet and requires some kind of support.

With the chrysanthemums starting in the potager I was happy to see that even with all the new beds and strict paths, there was still a nice crescendo of late summer chaos.  Verbena bonariensis and ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranthus still found their loopholes and there’s more than just dried tomato vines and over the hill zucchini filling the beds.

autumn potager

An overgrown mess is what I expect in October.  Fall veggies would be nice too, but there’s always the farmstand for that.

One veggie which I do want to show off is the sword bean (Canavalia gladiata) which has managed to grow up the pergola and put out a few pods in spite of the shortening days.  I admit to checking it every day as the foot long pods get fatter and fatter, and if anyone gets even remotely close to the potager I insist on showing them off.  At the suggestion of a friend I usually do it with a little “argh, these be my sword beans, argh”, but the magic of my humor is often met with an uncomfortably  blank stare.

sword bean

The sword bean.  It’s grown as a vegetable through India and SE Asia but I’m not sure if it’s edible here in Umrika.  

Now colchicums.  I looked and saw only three pictures were posted on this blog last year, so you’re welcome, but even after I killed half the ones I transplanted during the potager construction (leaving them out to dry in 97F full sun was not really as good an idea as I thought), there are still a few nice ones to show.

colchicum the giant

Colchicum ‘The Giant’.  I think this is the real thing, and it’s worth it to find.

The cooler, dry weather has made for an excellent season.

colchicum sparticus

Colchicum ‘Sparticus’ was too pale for me at first, but as the single bulb has turned into a bunching of blooms I’ve become a fan

colchicum harlekijn

Colchicum ‘Harlekijn’.  Love it or hate it you have to admit it’s unusual.

colchicum zephyr

Colchicum ‘Zephyr’.  The nerd in me enjoys this gathering of Cotinus, Colchicum, and Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus).  That’s a lot of Cs.

colchicum cilicium

Colchicum cilicium.  Maybe Colchicum cilicium ‘Purpureum’ according to the most recent buzz, but regardless I really like this little guy. 

colchicum giganteum

Colchicum giganteum… another one which might be getting a more correct naming of Colchicum speciosum giganteum group.

colchicum lawn

‘Lilac Wonder’ in the lawn between the swingset and trampoline.  I wonder if the kids will ever question why there were so many poisonous plants so close to their play areas…. although I like to think of the whole garden as their play area. 

colchicum speciosum

Colchicum speciosum (I don’t think it’s ‘The Giant’) in need of dividing.  A whole border filled with these might not be a terrible idea… hmmmm…

I’m surprised by how many colchicums this garden has acquired.  I blame thoughtful friends and the evils of social networking, but seriously if a yard full of colchicum is the worst viral pictures bring on then I’m all for it.  Unfortunately that’s not always the case.  In the meantime I’m looking for more, and I’m also obsessing about a new book.  Colchicum: The Complete Guide has recently come out as the definitive guide on species and many cultivars and I keep thinking what’s a full on obsession without a guidebook to follow?  It’s item number one on the Christmas list 😉

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.