Let’s Pretend

They say summer ended last weekend and we’re now into fall.  I saw pumpkins on porches and people buying chrysanthemums and I thought I’d be ok with a switch in seasons but apparently I’m not.  Regular rains have made the garden green again, and although it wasn’t enough to penetrate the maple foliage and give relief to my dry shade, nothing really looks like it’s at death’s door, so it’s unfathomable for me to understand why anyone could wish for it all to be on it’s way out.  I love summer.  I love the longest days of the year and warm nights filled with crickets.  I love saying it’s too hot, and then sitting around for an hour instead of working.  I don’t want it to end.

front border

An oddly neat and green scene.  I’ll call it the Covid effect meets moisture laden tropical storm systems.

Today after getting home from work we closed the pool.  My mother in law can’t wait to get the cover back on as soon as Labor Day is over, and I’m surprised she hasn’t already yanked all the New Guinea impatients out of the planters and tarped all the porch furniture as well.  I don’t get it.  I’ll milk this weather for at least another month and a half and then hope for two, since in my opinion winters are far too long around here to rush this warm weather out the door.  Still, no amount of sarcasm or complaints of sweatiness and hot forecasts could change her mind.

front border

It may not look it, but along the street is also exceptionally neat, considering the usual sunflower and fennel overgrowth.

So in her mind summer is dead, but I disagree.  My garden seems to peak towards the end of August, and then lingers through September with all the bright colors of summer keeping it hot and vibrant in spite of the fact you can’t cool off in the pool any more.

rudbeckia triloba prairie glow

Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ may be a little stunted from July’s dry spell, but it’s still an excellent show in the depths of the front border. 

I deadheaded butterfly bushes and whacked back fennel last weekend, and the garden looks pretty good again.  I highly recommend plenty of late bloomers to keep things from going to heck once August rolls around.

buddleia royal red

One of the older butterfly bushes, Buddleia ‘Royal Red’ has a nice height and grace that many of the newer hybrids lack.  Yes, I know it’s not really red.

Even if you can’t keep things in full bloom, there are always grasses.  They look good on their own right, but also do a good job covering up the less than impressive June and July bloomers.

ornamental grass border

Along the street, Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’, ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass, and russian sage (Perovskia) have enjoyed the drier weather and lack of towering sunflowers… plus I ripped out a ton of echinacea and mountain mint.

I guess late summer grasses are a seasonal look.

geranium rozanne

Geranium ‘Rozanne’.  I’m about ten years late in raving about how nice it is, but it is.

When everything dried out I thought this would be the year I replant bearded iris all over again, but only a few went in before the rains returned.  Maybe next year I’ll be more firm.  Come to think of it the Arundo donax grass at the end really has become a little overwhelming, and groundcover junipers?  So boring when a big patch of iris in bloom could give me some inspiration (says the person who will be grateful in January when the juniper is green).

front border

I like certain dead and dying things, but not until November!  Much was chopped back and I think the less is more look works out alright…  although my neighbors would laugh if I tried to convince them this is a “spare” look 🙂

New iris or not, the front border looks ok but the tropical border isn’t even close to calling it quits.  I was hating it in spring, and cut way back on the spring planting here, but it’s still plenty of too much.  Maybe not tropical, maybe more just a mess of annual color, but just think of how much more tolerable it makes the September Slide.

tropical border

The cannas are practically dwarfed this year, but a few other things enjoyed the drier soil.

Honestly I can’t believe I made it through all the work of prepping, planting, staking, mulching, deadheading, weeding… but I did.  Most of it was just a matter of putting my phone down for a while and getting off my lazy….

Tsuki-Yori-No-Shisha Dahlia

A gift last year, this year I’ve finally given ‘Tsuki-Yori-No-Shisha’ the care and attention this dahlia deserves.

I’m down to just a few dahlias and it’s so much less work.  Thinking about more is a terrible idea and so hopefully I get at least one more year of freedom before another bout of weakness in February strikes.

cactus dahlia

I do like this peach cactus dahlia.  Others have come and gone, but this one is probably pushing fourteen years with me. 

Dahlias, cannas, elephant ears, bananas…  I never know when the addiction will flare up again.

dahlia mathew alan

Dahlia ‘Mathew Alan’.  As you may have noticed I have a weakness for the cactus style.

For now I won’t even worry about digging or cooling night-time temps or shorter days.  I’ll just enjoy it while it’s here and maybe start thinking about autumn in another month.

salvia splendens

A very subtle, peach colored Salvia splendens.  Growing from seeds can always leave you with surprises.

Have a great week!  The weather here promises to get hotter again tomorrow before cooling off for the weekend.  Not cool enough to make me think closing the pool was a good idea, but at least cool enough to sit in the sun and do nothing rather than sit in the shade 😉

Around and About

August always goes too fast and this exceptional year is no exception.  I blame the puppy.  Hours are spent entertaining and attending to little Biscuit’s whims, and even though I’m sure everyone in the household can hear his 4:30am whimpering, it is only the gardener who fumbles for his glasses and stumbles to the door to let him out.  We enjoy the sunrise together but the conversation is entirely one sided and repetitive.  “Go potty, go potty…. go potty”.  Eventually the gardener gives up and heads inside for his coffee, and it’s usually then that the message clicks, and the paper towels and wet vac come out.

biscuit the yorkie

Stubborn little Biscuit the Yorkie

Hydrangeas are much more reliable.  Even in a sleep-starved state the gardener recognizes how foolproof Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ is, and as long as it gets some water, a springtime trim, and full sun, the show is always on for August.

limelight hydrangea

Limelight hydrangea along the street.  The rain from hurricane Isaias has everything looking much fresher.

Weeds are a problem when the mulch is thin but you never know what else will pop up on the bare earth.  I have no idea what a hydrangea seed looks like, but apparently they happen, and if you ignore weeding long enough they can grow up and turn into something nice.  They’re entirely in the wrong spot which is not as nice, but I’m sure the gardener will be right on that and have it moved within the next decade or two.

limelight hydrangea seedling

With so much green this seedling has to be a child of Limelight.  Three years is all it took, and trust me, even with the neat mulch and greening crabgrass this part of the border is not typically well cared for and these still succeeded!

Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens bloom every year here on the new wood which grows each summer.  The colors are limited to whites and pinks but considering it’s been so long since I’ve seen a flower on the big mophead hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) I don’t even remember blues and purples and miss them about as much as I miss unicorns and rational government.   Maybe reliable and the tried and true are boring, but there’s only so long you can listen to how great blue hydrangeas are before you realize it’s all just hot air.

annabelle hydrangea green

I planted ‘Annabelle’ next door and love it all summer, even now in its all-green phase.  My MIL prefers the mophead hydrangeas so that’s what is growing to the right.  She claims its flowers are blue although I’ve never seen the proof.

Speaking of next door, for some reason the redone potager construction has gained me the kind of street credit which the rest of the garden never did.  Out of nowhere there have been landscaping questions and design ideas for next door, all of which will hopefully include pulling out one of the green mounds of hydrangea and not that much extra work for me…. hahahahahaha,  that was fun to write but I know it won’t be the case.  The conversations also include filling in the pool and “putting one in your own yard because it’s just too much upkeep for me”.  We will see.

potager pergola

The potager is still relatively restrained for August.  Vegetables are still visible and a few unwatered pots of succulents hopefully class it up a little… even if all I did was take two pots off the deck and drop them right into the blue planters.

I hope it’s understood that a pool will never go where the potager beds stand.  The vegetables and flowers may not be as refreshing as the deep end of a pool but they’re still inspiring in other ways and probably less work.  If we actually ate more vegetables that would probably help, but even if all the tomatoes become pizza and all the zucchini gets deep fried that’s a start I guess.

vegetable garden paths

So far so good for the sand paths.  I probably rake them more than I need to, and I’m sure next year they’ll make awesome seed beds for weeds, but today they look great, and I’ll just take today.

Since the potager is under decent control I figured it was still hot enough to clear up the mess I refer to as the compost pile.  Moving mulch in the heat is fun, but moving compost adds all kinds of spiders, worms, and centipedes into the mix so in some ways it’s even better.  My new policy on all things gardening is to do less, so for the compost pile this means putting less on via hiding pulled weeds and trimmings under plants, throwing anything you can onto the lawn and (eventually) mowing it up, and also using one of the raised beds in the potager as a dump for all the local trimmings and waste.  Eventually the plan for the raised bed is to coat the debris with some soil from another bed and just plant on top of that.  If you want to be fancy I think it’s called sheet composting or hugelkultur, but I’ll just call it a saved trip from across the yard and to the official compost.

compost area

A much tidier compost area.  I won’t dare show the before photo but just consider that I found a bench, several pots, and a few sections of fence under the mess so it was definitely past time for a cleanup. 

I don’t know if you noticed, but outside the compost area is a new planting of nekkid ladies, aka surprise lilies, aka Lycoris squamigeria.  They were previously in the potager and after 10 years I would guess I’ve seen all of three flowers come up, so I think they like the new spot.  All this in spite of the March transplanting after their foliage had already started to come up.  Usually they hate transplanting and out of principle don’t even come up the next year, but six stalks in the one group and two more in another and I’m thrilled.  I think they also like the deeper soil and summer shade here as well.

lycoris squamigera

Lycoris squamigera looking perfectly fresh in the middle of August.

I’m hoping the other Lycoris I planted last year do nearly as good as these.  They were from an excellent source, perfectly packed, and looked freshly dug but still wouldn’t humor me with a single bloom last summer.  At least they sprouted this spring to prove they’re not dead, but I wouldn’t mind a few flowers on top of that… especially since other gardeners are already showing off their plantings in full amazing bloom.

lycoris sanginea

The orange surprise lily, Lycoris sanginea. 

So besides finding surprise lilies in the compost area I also found some surprise pots, all nicely filled with potting soil and ready to be planted.  The next step was obvious… well maybe not so obvious.  In spite of the magic going on I’d had enough of the bugs and heat and humidity, so it was into the relatively cooler winter garden and its dozens of neglected cyclamen and snowdrop pots.  I repotted.

repotted cyclamen

The cyclamen have multiplied and are ready for fall while a few cuttings were stuck into a few pots.  Look closely and you’ll see my dead New Zealand sedge.  Honestly I still can’t be sure if it’s dead or not so I’m not sure how that qualifies as ornamental… but you know… 

Adding pots to a garden which already has plenty of pots sounds a lot like just adding work, but it’s really not.  In a bit of foresight two years ago I bought enough fittings for a second drip irrigation setup.  Last year I found an irrigation timer on clearance.  Last week I put it all together and opened up the whole side of the house for shade containers.  Hmmmmmm 🙂

brugmansia miners claim

The dripline came just in time for Brugmansia ‘Miner’s Claim’.  The dead stick from last year has finally put on enough growth to need regular watering in order to continue looking uber awesome.  I don’t even care if I ever see another lame pink flower on this thing… although I won’t complain.  

Shade containers will be a new thing and I’m sure I’ll be complaining about them by the fall.  I’m going to start nosing around for free brugmansia cuttings immediately either by gift or stealth, so let this be your fair warning when I invite myself over for a garden tour.  Under the cover of social distancing I’ll try to behave myself but I make no guarantees, only after the fact confessions.

camellia ashtons supreme

Oh look.  There’s already a potted camellia ‘Ashton’s Supreme’ ready to move into the new container garden.  I think these are flower buds forming for the autumn so of course I’m super excited it’s forming flowers under my care rather than dying. 

Besides being a poor garden guest I’m also starting to go on too long so let me wrap things up.  Elephant ear from edge of Florida parking lot.  A weed down there but here it barely survives each winter, even when I try to pamper the tiniest bits of life indoors under lights.  Sometimes I’ve resorted to dumping out the remains and hoping the water and heat of summer bring some life back to the tiniest bit of living root, and so far it’s worked, but I dread the winter when I finally lose this treasure.

elephant ear

Someone is loving the heat and a steady IV drip of miracle grow and water this summer.  I just potted up another offset for the new shade garden.

This potted elephant ear (I’m not sure of the exact species so lmk if you have an idea) looks deceptively tame in the photo, so let me assure you it’s pretty big.

elephant ear

I love the wrinkles and swirls of green in each leaf.  At four feet long I still expect them to get a little bigger still before frost.

Oddly enough I didn’t even plant the tubers of the regular elephant ears because… well because I’m fickle.  These are bigger and less floppy, so I guess that’s the reason.

deck planters

The sun containers.  Watered via timer every 12 hours and all I have to do is sit with a coffee in the morning, and an adult bev in the evening.  I hate watering so this is the only thing which keeps them going.

Don’t let an empty compost bin and a few repotted plants give you the impression I’m just a flurry of activity and hard labor.  I’m not.  It’s been two weeks since my last post and there’s only so long you can cruise on the high of a mulch job completed, so this is probably the least I could do.  Oh, I also mowed the lawn.  Go me.  At least there’s been no pressure to do nonsense like painting or new closet shelves.  The dog has been a handy distraction for things like that since I wouldn’t want to wake the little beast with hammering and stuff.

Hope you have 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!

The Potager 2.0

When the pandemic first came to our shores and we were faced with a surprise vacation and then a transition to work at home, the non-commuting lifestyle left me with what seemed like a mountain of extra time to spend in the garden.  ‘Let me get some building materials delivered’ I said, and ‘build a few raised beds’ I thought.  The boss gave her approval and things began to move.  Slowly.  A thousand things had to be moved first, plans needed to come together, but I think it’s finally at a point where I can show it off a bit, if only to get it over with rather than build some unwarranted, over-blown hype.

raised beds

The front entrance to the potager.  A slight downward slope ends at the pergola, the beds are leveled into the slope, and the blocks will hopefully help with keeping the lawn edge neat just in case we get enough rain for it to grow again.

The first dilemma was choosing lumber.  As usual I went with cheap and selected eight foot pressure treated 2x4s, but it wasn’t all that easy. Naturally rot resistant cedar or redwood would have been nice, larger boards would have been nicer, but the costs were way higher than I was comfortable with so it was a compromise between expensive all natural, or cheaper with a vague possibility of copper leaching… well I say that but actually the compromise was lower the cost or it’s not going to happen…

Overall I hope to get at least ten years out of the wood because although it’s pressure treated it’s not rated for ground contact.  Eventually it will rot, but the treatment should give at least a few years more than untreated, and funny story… the pandemic caused a pressure treated lumber shortage, so we will see exactly how much faster au naturel rots, since all I could find for the last two beds was untreated wood.

raised beds

The view from the trampoline.  We are into the annual zucchini tsunami and each morning a few more line up on the counter.  Someday I hope to level this bottom part of the garden.  The beds are built level but the grass paths still need some fill to bring them up. 

Besides being cheap with materials,  I also got a little greedy with the bed space vs path width.  Between beds is about two feet, and even if it were wider there was still no way (add laziness to the growing list of personal faults) that I was going to wrestle a lawnmower between each bed.  Enter the wonderfully gritty sand pile.  I knew I didn’t want lawn, wood chips need replacing (and why add organic matter to your paths when it should be going onto your beds?), bare landscape fabric is ugly (and violates my no new plastic policy), so I wanted it to be something inorganic and long lasting (and yet again, cheap).  So I grabbed my face mask and was off to the quarry to look at stone dust, crusher run, and sand.  Surprisingly the sand looked perfect.  It was sharp enough to pack down well for a solid footing, and coarse enough (up to about 1/8″ particles) to not wash away in a heavy rain.  So far I love it, and in the future I might even get sand to top off beds rather than buying ‘topsoil’ that turns to rock the minute it dries.

raised beds

I removed the grass from a few of the pathways and used the turf to fill the beds.  Sand paths will hopefully be low maintenance with great drainage, and if worse comes to worse I can just dig them over and replant grass.

Cinder blocks are also cheap, and at about $1.20 a piece I lugged a few carloads home to use as edging and to form a little paved area under the pergola.  So far I like it.  It’s an honest concrete look rather than concrete pavers trying to pass off as something fancier.  Of course stone would have been another nice permanent edging but again spending a bunch of money was not part of my pandemic response.

With the beds built and the lawn edged and sand down on the paths I was super surprised to see that I still had leftover sand.  I tried to calculate for extra sand for an additional pathway up alongside the fence, but to actually have a plan that worked out was a little bit of a surprise.  After years of collecting and lugging random stones I could finally use them to line a sand trail that gives access to the back of the pond.

garden pond

Finishing the pond is still on the to-do list but for now I think it looks good enough.  The shallow end is in constant use as a birdbath, so it’s really more of a watering hole than a pond…

The pond path is surprisingly popular with the kids and our little garden bunny.  I’ve caught both zipping back and forth, and in the morning there are all kinds of footprints in the sand.

sand path

Pond path’s entrance.  Yes those are mostly weeds.  Weeding went onto the back burner as I lugged load after load of lumber, blocks, and sand.  

To sum it all up I love the new beds and I feel like there’s so much more useable space with it set up this way.  I have a total of eleven 4×8 beds and for now it’s all vegetables and I’m trying not to give in to the temptation of planting flowers… except for the one bed which I gave over to chrysanthemums… but my resolve may dissolve since I still need room for phlox and tulips.  At least I’m trying to be firm with the usual sunflowers and verbena bonariensis seedlings.  -for the record I’m not sure why I needed a bed of chrysanthemum, but after years of neglecting them and abusing them in horribly weedy, infertile, and dry sites, I thought it was about time to do them right.  We will see.

rain garden

Yes, more weeds.  The weeds exploded with last week’s rain and this bed was the next one to need attention.

With everything under control in the potager, there was still enough sand to upgrade the dirt ditch of the rain garden with another nice, stone-lined, sand path.  If you recall, last summer this area received a small paved area and path with all the leftover flat stones liberated from the industrial park construction.  It was nice, but I didn’t like the dirt gully which channeled the runoff, and when I don’t like something I kind of neglect it, and when you neglect a garden the weeds send out an alert, and when they all show up to answer the call things go downhill fast.  The weeds are out now, the sand is down, and although I’m short on rocks along the one side, the other doesn’t look bad at all.  We will see how it holds up.  If you look closely at the paving joints you might notice the joints are neatly filled with sand rather than dirt, and both of those are a pain to keep weed free when all you have is this narrow joint that the roots can hold onto.  Truth is I threw some leftover polymeric sand in there, and when you wet the sand the polymer sets up and solidifies it.  I don’t know how it will hold up but hopefully I’ll get at least a few years of no-weeds-in-the joints enjoyment.  The weeds will be fine elsewhere though, so if you’re worried don’t be.

rain garden

Another step forward I hope.  Mulch would be nice now.

That’s where we’re at going into the weekend.  The weather forecast is promising another heat wave so I’m not worried about mowing, but watering will be on my mind.  I don’t like watering but it does beat lugging cinderblocks and digging turf so I’ll keep the complaining to a minimum.

Traditionally I usually meet the hottest days of summer with a pile of mulch in the driveway.  Hmmm.  I hope you have a more relaxing weekend 😉

Summer Heats Up

Our cool, extended spring is only a memory today as another hot and humid day gets added to the list of hot and humid days.  Southerners will laugh at our complaints over what we call humidity and the Southwest will laugh at what we call hot, but we’re a little delicate here in the Northeast and if you can just give us our moment…

lilium canadense

Lilium canadense in bloom.  A North American native which used to be more common, back when deer were fewer and lily beetles were still across the sea.

The Canada lilies are having their moment.  They’re shorter than in previous years but they’re also sturdier, and I think the leaner living of a dry spring has really paid off, since the flowering is just as heavy and even more prolific than last year.  They’re officially my favorite lily, and I may need to start a few more seedlings, preferably in some dark red shades!

lilium canadense

Morning shade and a downspout keeps this bed damp enough to please the lilies.  I watered as well since I think they’re worth it.

The heat is one thing but it’s the dry weather that slowly wears me down.  I find watering to be a tediously boring job and the blackflies buzzing around my head and diving into my ears and nostrils immediately defeats the zen of sprinkling water.

yellow spider daylily

It’s daylily season as well.  Daylilies lack the distinction of snowdrops so I just can’t tell which are which.  This one I just call “the yellow spider” although I’m sure if pressed I could dig a label up somewhere.

The baked flower beds go a long way in making me feel guilty.  Hardened soil is no fun to weed… so I don’t… and I can only tell the wilted flowers relief is coming so many times before I even stop believing.  Fortunately the wilder parts of the garden are still doing fine.  The meadow is actually fairly green thanks to the shade cast by the aspen sprouts which have now become small saplings, and that’s a fair tradeoff for all the sun they steal from what should be a full-sun meadow.

the meadow

Butterfly weed and rudbeckia have taken over for the fading daisies.

Even though the meadow looks halfway decent I might go ahead and give it an early mowing this year.  My wife will be thrilled, she hates it this year just as much as she does every year but her happiness aside what I really want are the seedheads.  The berm could use some better grass and more daisy seeds, and if I bag the mowings they’ll be perfect for spreading around.

digitalis ferruginea gigantea

Digitalis ferruginea gigantea… I think… all my different foxgloves seem to look alike, but this one stands out as excellent, and it shrugs off drought, and I wonder how a few seeds of this would do on the berm.

The mowing of the meadow may still be weeks off.  Summer weather has a way of dragging things out and in all honesty weeding and mulching should happen first.  Maybe I’ll just rip a bunch of stuff out just so I don’t have to see it wilting, and then sit around all summer considering what new things could go there in the fall.  I could do a good part of my considering from either the pool or the porch, so that’s another plus.

kniphofia

One of the new kniphofia I planted last summer.  wilted or not I love it, and it has me wondering if I can divide it this fall and have an even bigger patch next year!

Don’t let my complaining fool you, it’s not all bad.  I haven’t had to mow the lawn in weeks and last weekend the remains of the sand pile has finally left the driveway.  Some progress has been made and maybe it’s about time I formally introduce the new potager.  It’s very neat and tidy and my wife just loves it, but I’m missing some of the weedy overload of the old beds.  July has just started and August is yet to come so it’s still early, and August has a way of encouraging weedy overload and tropical storms, so all is not lost.

Have a great weekend!

Curb Un-Appeal

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

front street border

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

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

Cirsium eriophorum woolly thistle

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

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

foundation perennials

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

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

drying daffodil bulbs

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

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

common milkweed syriaca

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

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

purple milkweed purpurascens

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

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

verbena bonariensis

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

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

Have a great weekend!

A Bit of Botanizing

After twenty years in the state of Pennsylvania I suppose it’s time to recognize that I might be settling in for a longer haul.  A job originally brought me here but my wife grew up in the area and now as my kids become older they’re about at that point where they will forever wear that label of being ‘from here’.  So I guess it’s time to start learning the lay of the land.  The lay of the local land that is, not the hours long journeys, just the trips up the street and into the woods.  This morning was beautiful, I had a few hours free, I knew a place where lady slipper orchids grow.

tadpole puddle

A dirt road puddle with some tadpoles.

It was too late for the lady slipper orchids so I headed up into the mountains looking for mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).  Too early for them.  No problem.  I took the long way home and stopped to explore a clearcut area.  I had planned on going a little further and making this a plant tour, but a few tadpoles stranded in a mudpuddle on the road distracted me.  The pond I filled last fall is still disgustingly empty of amphibians, so in a bid to rescue the from their rapidly evaporating home (and bring tadpoles to suburbia) I picked up some roadside trash and began filling it with tadpoles.

tadpole rescue

Tadpole rescue.  About two dozen came home in my cup holder.

On the way out I also managed to find a few plants worth photographing.  They’re not lady slippers, but Pixterbloom Azalea (Rhododenron periclymenoides… I think) are nice enough as well.  My research to identify them came up with the word “common” but that shouldn’t matter.  They’re amazing, and the color and form are perfect, and for all the work I do in the garden these plants just spring up on their own and it’s a little humbling.

R. periclymenoides

Pinxterboom Azalea? (R. periclymenoides) doing well in a damp area.  They had a nice sweet fragrance, and the scent carried quite a distance.

The azaleas seemed to be enjoying the full sun of the recently cleared area.  I know people love trees and trees do a lot to bail us out of our global warming future, but some sunlight on the ground is good too and these plants seem to appreciate it.

R. periclymenoides

For a minute I thought of coming back for seed and starting a few at home but then laughed at my delusional ambition.  Enjoying them in the mountains will be just fine.

There’s another park I haven’t been to in a while that has been doing some burns in order to increase the plant diversity.  Maybe I should add that visit to the to-do list.

R. periclymenoides

The beautiful day was almost as nice as the azaleas.  It’s good to know these things still go on year after year in spite of us.

So it was an entirely unsuccessful botanizing trip.  Maybe I’ll catch the lady slippers next year and the mountain laurel in a few weeks, but in the meantime I have tadpoles to watch.  That’s not bad either, and it’s a good distraction from the endless daffodil digging and trudging around the garden with a water hose… rain would be nice just about now.

Have a great week.  Mine has started out just fine, but I can’t help but laugh at the fact that no one questioned me about being gone for hours and returning with a dirty cup full of tadpoles.

Time For a Few Daffs

There was a time when I had a lot of daffodils.  I’m working on that.  It’s not because a lot of daffodils is a bad thing, it’s because they do need a little care here and there and this gardener has been slacking in that regard.  So in an attempt to mend my ways I’ve been culling the herd lately, trying really hard to convince myself that I don’t need hundreds of varieties and that maybe just one hundred might be enough.  I have to do it fast and without much thought.  No composting either.  I tried that with the tulips and it just ended up with tulips everywhere the compost was spread.

daffodil williamsburg red devon

‘Williamsburg’ and ‘Red Devon’, two keepers.

My garden just isn’t big enough to do daffodils the way I’d like to do them.  I want big clumps full of flowers but how many of those can you fit in without crowding the masses of snowdrops also planned?  Something has got to give.  When a friend first led me (willingly of course) into the world of yellow fever I thought I’d just try a few to see what I really liked and what did well here, and then just back off… and I suppose that time has come.

daffodil curlew

‘Curlew’ doing well along the street and ushering in the late season daffodils.

Two endlessly rainy summers and some garden drainage issues helped immeasurably.  At least half the clumps out back have disappeared completely, which to me says they were more prone to basal rot anyway… maybe… so no need to replace those.  Today I plan to go out, ID a few clumps which have lost their tags, and then shovel prune a few more.  Even after starting this process last year I just want to reassure you that I still have and will have plenty.

daffodil cassata

‘Cassata’ looking exceptionally orange this spring, thanks again to the cool weather.

I find that once they’re gone there are only a few I ever miss.  Not a big problem.  The other reason gardeners are usually so generous with their plants is for just that reason, a friend can always pass a piece back when you need it.

daffodil dress circle

‘Dress Circle’ is a favorite.  It’s always done well here, crowded or not.

So here are a few keepers.  They also need digging of course, but I’ll save that for June when they’re dormant and I can divide and replant.

daffodil kedron

‘Kedron’ has an overall orange tint that I really like.  It’s one of the few affordable versions of this color combo.

daffodil mrs ro Backhouse

One of the first “pinks”, ‘Mrs RO Backhouse’ needs some photoshopping these days to keep up with the newer pink varieties, but she’s a keeper anyway and always reminds me of the friend who gifted her to me.

daffodil modern art

‘Modern Art’ is frillier than I prefer, but my friend Tim just loves all these overdone daffodils so I’ll keep it to show, just in case he ever visits 😉

daffodil american heritage

I think this daffodil is ‘American Heritage’ although it came to me misslabeled.  It will look cooler as the cup fades to more of a pink… and also a better spot with better soil and more space won’t hurt either…

daffodil coral light

An unknown but still loved double daffodil next to ‘Coral Light’.  Of course both of these are right in the middle of one of the new yet-to-be raised beds.

daffodil altruist

‘Montego’ looking nice as the shrubby dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ spreads through it.  I’d consider digging this one, but the dogwood is all in there and… I would dig it to toss, it’s just too “leafy” for my taste.

… and of course there are two other things I just can’t not share.  Primroses are loving the cool wet.

primula auricula

I’m still disproportionately proud of the primula auricula which has yet to be killed.  I did grow them from seed after all.

And a first bloom on a purchase from Edgewood gardens.  Two years after buying a tiny pot of gravel, the little root inside has developed into an amazing Paeonia daurica.  I love it.

paeonia daurica

Ok, so I already loved the foliage on this when it was smaller, but now that it’s big enough to bloom… even better.  I may rip out a hosta or two to make more room for it 🙂

So even with freezing mornings and snow squalls rolling through there’s still plenty to be enjoyed in the garden.  Work?  Sure.  But if this is what I can get by being lazy, imagine how amazing things will look after a little care and attention.

Who am I kidding.  Two years of drought or some other new pestilence on the horizon will surely turn everything back on to its other ear and we’ll be back to square one again.  It’s a fun distraction though, and I hope this week you’re enjoying your own garden distractions as well.  The cold will end.

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 😉