Once Again, Summer

I’m going to start off with a little bragging.  These old things?  They just grow like weeds each spring and there’s no big secret behind them.

delphinium

Another stellar delphinium season.  Ample rains, just enough fertilizer, in-the-nick-of-time staking with no major weather events, and the stars have again aligned for a decent show.

I’m going to take another year of wonderful delphiniums because history shows that this won’t always be the case.  Actually they’re just one strong wind away from being decimated so let me show off while I can.  They look great from a seated position on the front porch.

Actually I haven’t been as lazy as usual and the garden is showing some signs of attempted control.  The delphiniums were staked at a decent time and are now shamelessly showboating, but there are plenty of other early summer workhorses and tiny treasures who are enjoying their rescue from the weed tsunami.

allium cernuum nodding onion

The nodding onion (Allium cernuum) is a sturdy enough native allium which doesn’t mind a crowded spot… unlike some of its more delicate cousins.

Oddly enough the potager benefited from a good amount of attention this past weekend as well, which is odd because usually this is one of the last spots to feel the love.  The weeds were still plenty big when pulled, but a couple of the beds also received a nice top dressing of compost which should do wonders for the thin soil.  As you can see there’s even less room for vegetables this season.

june potager

Regal lilies (Lilium regale) are just beginning alongside the first phlox, and if you look super carefully you may notice the foliage of a few onions.  Actually there’s celery as well, so I guess this flowery area still has enough vegetables to qualify as a potager 🙂

Rainy neglect did manage to take its toll on several areas, and a little work did go into providing triage for these plants.  Phlox paniculata always has some complaint here and surprisingly I think it’s annoyed with all the rain we had.  Here in one of the soggier beds we’re establishing some intensive care for all the powdery mildew and general stuntedness.  That sounds promising but in reality all it amounts to is ripping out everything but the phlox and then shoveling some compost around and hoping for the best.  I may be weeding and shoveling and finally getting a few things done, but I’m still far too lazy to spray anything.

phlox mildew

Phlox in poor condition is just asking for powdery mildew problems.  Hopefully some delicious compost and a nice mulch of lawn clippings can give this guy a good leg up, I’ll let you know if it works well enough to turn the mildew tide.

I’m also far too lazy to deal with another budding problem.  When the wall was built the fence between us and the industrial park was removed, and although I’m quite pleased we don’t have to look at the old chainlink, apparently it did provide a nice line of defense between us and the hordes of groundhogs on the other side.  That’s gone now and the woodchucks just stroll right in whenever the mood strikes.

woodchuck in the garden

So far the woodchucks have been ok with just nibbling clover and the lushest of the lawn weeds.  I’ve already bought a trap for the day this changes…

So as the manicured lawns of the industrial park pump out groundhogs and Canadian geese and my own garden struggles with weeds… and the gardener struggles with a relatively small pile of mulch in the driveway, I’ll continue to enjoy these first few blissful days of summer.  A little mildew on the phlox is nothing compared to where things usually go so you can bet I’ll take this while it lasts.  In the meantime here’s something from the latest obsession file, the first season of flowers on my “eyeshadow” iris 🙂

pseudata iris okagami

Pseudata iris ‘Okagami’.  Pseudata are a relatively new iris form resulting from crossing two species, the yellow flag (I. pseudacorus) with Japanese iris (I. ensata).  Many of the hybrids display a strongly outlined “eye” on the falls, hence the term “eyeshadow” iris.

Hope Friday finds you well and here’s to a great weekend.

-and don’t forget… if you’re near the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre PA area, tomorrow is the big day for the Back Mountain Garden Tour!  A day of touring local gardens starts promptly at 9am and all proceeds go towards supporting the Anthracite Scenic Trails Association.  Hope to see you there 🙂

The Vortex of Gloom

Vortex of gloom might be slightly dramatic, but the endlessly overcast days really seem to be extending far beyond the usual April showers.  Last I checked it’s May and this nonsense should have been all worked out a week ago.

perennial tulips

‘Pink Impression’ tulips doing well along the street, even though the shrubby dogwoods are beginning to take over.

No matter.  The ground has still not degenerated into the slimy muck of last year’s endless monsoon so there’s still hope… but considering the growing season is only just off to a start, there better still be hope!

perennial tulips

Tulips are one of my favorite flowers.  The form can be so elegant, and the colors and patterns so intricate.

I didn’t know what to expect this year as far as the tulips go.  For the past two springs I’ve been dealing with the fungal infection called tulip fire, and when I say ‘dealing with’ I hope you understand I mean more of an emotional coping rather than any kind of actual physical activity.  This lazy gardener did go around and pick off many of the most infected leaves (spotting and distortion) and dug a couple hundred bulbs to thin and replant in the fall, but as far as sprays and other more sure-fire solutions… meh.

The carpet of corydalis is disappearing under the next wave of plants.  They next wave would probably look better dry and not-windswept, but you get the idea.

All in all it’s not a bad show.  The earlier part of April was dry which helped, thinned out clumps probably helped, and since it’s a soil-borne pathogen I think mulching helped as well.  Add to that my insanely strong resolve last fall and the fact that I didn’t add a single new tulip (in spite of clearance sales, flash sales, and glossy catalogs galore) and there might have been a good enough combination of culture and luck that things worked out.  Now if we can only avoid a fungal fueling month of dreary, wet weather there might be some hope for next year as well.

perennial tulips

I’m not sure how I like smoky rich tones of ‘Muvota’, but they might look really cool in a more elegant garden as opposed to my 8-pack Crayola colors garden.

To be honest the ten day forecast does not look good.  For now we’ll just have to enjoy the raindrops and lack of watering chores and look forward to the jungle which shall rise over the next few weeks.  Hopefully it won’t all be weeds.

perennial tulips

My tulip plantings are a mess and I’m fine with that.  Smarter gardeners would pull them each summer and enjoy a cleaner palette of new color-coordinated bulbs planted each fall…. 

perennial tulips

This almost looks planned.  I could dig them after the foliage dies back, thin out the smaller bulbs, replant in the fall as a mix, and it would probably look even better next year… but that does sound like a lot of work considering new bulbs can be bought for under $10. 

As far as useful information in a blog post goes, again I apologize for not providing any, so here’s one bit of selection advice.  Most of the early doubles and parrot tulips don’t appreciate day after day of heavy rains and overly rude winds, so if you garden anywhere that weather happens you should expect these to get floppy.

perennial tulips

More advice:  Don’t plant your new snowdrop bed over where you ‘thought’ you dug up all the tulips, and while we’re at it don’t throw spare bulbs in the compost and then use the compost before it’s done.  

You may have guessed by my tone that it’s still too damp this Saturday morning to get out in the garden, but to be honest it’s still all pretty awesome.  I love spring, rain and rot and everything!

blueberry flowers

Wherever the blueberries have outgrown the reach of the local bunny population, the branches are full of flowers.  Advice alert:  you should do better than me, put a little fencing around in the fall and all of your bushes might flower as nicely. 

Primrose are on the way.  Many are still a little too insulted to grow well in my miserable soil, but a few hardier souls are thrilling me to bits.

primula veris

Primula veris, the cowslip, doesn’t mind a little summer drought and rooty shade.  Gardeners in better soils might even accuse it of weediness.

The last two rainy years have almost tricked me into thinking I can grow a bunch of shade loving things such as native woodland wildflowers, but I won’t fall for that.  The ones I have can enjoy the moisture while it lasts, but let me say it now… I WILL NOT BUY ANY TRILLIUMS.

magnolia macrophylla

My amazing bigleaf Magnolia (M. macrophylla) seedling.  Individual leaves can range from 1-3 feet in length and hold the title for largest simple leaf of any native N. American plant.  Sadly a few hours after this photo was taken a surprise freeze shriveled this foliage, but new ones are on the way!

Come to think of it I shouldn’t buy any new plants, but who seriously expects that?  If there are any promise I can keep this year it’s to actually buy more.  Someone chilled me to the core by mentioning my favorite nursery was actually considering closing after a terrible season last year.  It was a landslide of personal tragedies that can effect any small, locally owned business where the employees are more a family than a work-force, but combined with the bad weather and its influence on outdoor sales, things start to add up and seem overwhelming.  I don’t pretend to know all the circumstances, but I do know I can buy more plants!  Fair warning that rain of shine I’ll be scheduling plenty of visits to Perennial Point this season.  Once a week sounds like a decent start, and after spending a billion dollars to take a couple kids to a movie and buy a few drinks and popcorn, I think a minimum budget of $20 $30 a week is very reasonable 😉

arisaema sikokianum

Arisaema sikokianum looking a bit rain-battered, but still impossibly white inside.

I’ll cram the new plants in wherever they fit.  I’m never happy with where I put stuff anyway, so why should I always stress over it, and unless I suddenly become gifted with the powers of good-design sense, it should all work out anyway.  Case in point and also Advice Alert:  Move/remove small tree seedlings that sprout too close to the house and you won’t be faced with having to deal with big tree seedlings that have sprouted too close to the house.  If the tree wasn’t there you also wouldn’t have to feel guilty about cutting it down, but on the other hand (and sort of trying to get to the point), it doesn’t seem to matter anyway.  The gardener mentioned that he has to remove it.  The boss stated that she likes it.  The boy claims he likes seeing it out his window.  The tree remarked with some enthusiastic blooms.  The boss restated that she likes it.  Case closed.

dogwood seedling

I didn’t get authorization to trim the evergreen down a few years ago and there words exchanged, so when the dogwood appeared and also grew too big, I figured I’d mention the deed before doing the deed.  It’s staying… but I wonder what will happen when the little Japanese maple seedling at the bottom right of the photo becomes large enough to get noticed 🙂

That’s it from here.  It’s still gloomy, but I’m pretty sure the front porch step is dry enough for sitting with a second cup of coffee, and the birds seem happy enough and the tulips still glow.  I’m sure within a few minutes I’ll be wandering about and the neighbors will again wonder how I can spend so much time looking at dirt, but I’d like to suggest I’m now looking at weeds as well.

allium karataviense red and pink giant

New this year, Allium karataviense ‘Red and Pink Giant’.  I love it already!

I guess I do have to deal with the weeds.  Looking only does so much.

muscari and blue fescue

I think I said all the blue fescue grass needs dividing and replanting…. but not now, it looks so nice with the grape hyacinths (Muscari).

Have a great weekend!

Hola Spring

Spring arrived last week, and from the looks of it she’s in a rush.  A couple warm days, a gentle rain, and we’re off!

berm plantings

‘Just a bit’ of pruning on the seven sons tree (Heptacodium) turned into a few trunks being removed, but the real point of this is the finished berm and trees which now shield us from the Industrial park.

I had to quickly finish up the last of the cleanup -which turned into more of a leave in situ/ call it natural mulch/ kind of thing- but I did try to get in a few projects.  One of them was an attempt at addressing the cankers which always seem to show up on the Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides).  From what I’ve read this plant seems to be prone to them, and my options are (1)ignore them and hope they don’t completely girdle the branch (2)cut them out whenever they show up, or (3)get rid of the whole thing.  For those keeping track, I’ve moved on to option 2.

heptacodium canker seven sons

Eventually these canker infections will grow enough to encircle the entire branch, cutting off the flow of nutrients and the trunk will die off.  Hopefully cutting them out will help control them…

Fortunately my pruning activities are nothing compared to the curly willow my friend has to deal with.  The almost-bomb cyclone weather system which pummeled the midwest earlier in the week also brought fierce winds, rain, and hail to our little valley.

wind damage

I feel somewhat responsible.  About a dozen years ago I offered a potful of rooted cuttings which were graciously accepted.  Curly willow grows fast though.

rain forecast

The weather forecast for this Easter weekend.

Not to dwell on the weather but any gardener worth his or her salt tends to dwell on the weather and I of course am no exception.  At the risk of appearing to complain I just want to point out that my holiday break perfectly matches the multi-day rain event which will be April-showering the Northeast this weekend.  Also if you are curious as to what part of the Northeast plays host to my garden, it’s just about dead center to the red outline which highlights this weekend’s heaviest rain forecasts.

Still, too much rain always beats drought, so I’ll just hope for the best and just enjoy the flowers which are coming up all over!

perennials and spring bulbs

A week ago it was corydalis, now the daffodils and hyacinth are taking center stage.  btw, Hyacinths don’t appreciate high winds so fortunately the ones here were only just coming up when the wind hit.

I can complain about a lot of things, but the spring bulbs along the street are not one of them.  All I do is cover up last year’s debris with a mulch of chopped leaves and then wait for things to come up.  It’s been a couple years since I last added new daffodils or hyacinths but I think this year a few can use some dividing.  Of course I’ll spread them out some more!

hyacinth woodstock

I think this is ‘Woodstock’.  I love those dark stems and saturated color.  Beetroot red is often used in descriptions, and I think that’s right on the mark.

narcissus red devon

‘Red Devon’ (which is looking less washed out this year) with ‘Tweety Bird’ in back and a few pale ‘Pistachio’ here and there.  ‘Pistachio’ is an absolute favorite in case you’re wondering. 

narcissus barret browning

‘Barret Browning’ (pre-1945) is an oldie but goodie.  

I have a few grape hyacinths out there as well.  I avoid letting them go to seed, but of course when I saw seeds offered I had to try them.  Go figure.  I think they’re extra special of course, since I spent three years growing them on to blooming size, but I won’t be offended if you think they look just like any other muscari which you can buy for pennies a bulb.

muscari seedlings

Muscari seedlings along the front walk.  I believe these were planted as ‘Mt Hood’ but of course don’t show anything close to the icy blue color and pale tip of the parent.  

I see that the rain outside has stopped for a bit, so let me find my boots and take a slog around the garden.

perennials and spring bulbs

A view down along the street border.  From the side and angled just perfectly it looks packed with spring color, and that’s the view I’d like to leave you with.

Enjoy your weekend and have a blessed Easter and Passover.

Corydalis and then Some

Warmer weather has finally reached NE Pennsylvania and within days buds are swelling, sprouts are showing, and the earliest spring bloomers are putting large swathes of color into beds which have spent the last few months exploring black and white themes.  Finally I can take those nice leisurely garden tours and not have to harass the same old snowdrop shoots every few hours, looking to see if they’ve changed at all.  New things are coming on faster than I can keep up with and all I can say is it’s great 🙂

corydalis solida

Sitting on the front porch step is my favorite way to take in the front garden.  Right next to the step is where I plant many of my smaller treasures, but in the past couple years the pinks and mauves of Corydalis solida seedlings have started to crowd out just about everything else.

Depending on what the thermometer does we’re just a few days away from bunches of hyacinths and the earliest masses of daffodils, but for the moment Corydalis solida dominates the front garden.

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ spreading out along the street border.  It’s a lot more pink than I prefer but after months of brown and snow who cares.

I’d have to look, but it’s only been a few years since I planted about 15 tubers each of pink ‘Beth Evans’ and redder ‘George Baker’, and from there on they’ve exploded across the garden.  They seem to enjoy the better-drained garden beds, in particular spots where other perennials will come up and cover them after they go dormant in a few weeks.  Restraint is not something I think of when these come up, and if you’re of the type who prefer a more ordered garden I would highly recommend avoiding them.  Corydalis solida does its own thing and if they’re happy in your soil you’ll have them showing up everywhere.

corydalis solida

A weak attempt at adding named varieties has left me with just one survivor… and possibly a bunch of just-as-good seedlings.  Keeping named plantings “pure” requires much more diligence than I chose to pursue so of course I just let them go.

In a few days all this color will fade away and the plants will quickly ripen seed and shrivel away to disappear underground for another 11 months.  If I’m on top of things (which has NOT been the case so far this year) I’ll dig a few of the more crowded clumps and tuck them in to all kinds of new territory… or just do it accidentally in August when I dig up a shovel full of the little round yellowish tubers.  In the meantime here are two other surprises from the earliest of spring garden.

primula denticulata drumstick

Drumstick primrose (Primula denticulata) were a steal off the late fall clearance rack.  I have no idea if they’ll last more than a year, but right now I’m thrilled by how early they are and lucky I was to find such well-grown plants. -Thanks Perennial Point!

Near the shelter of the house the hyacinth have started.  This wimpy, washed out pink is my most exciting hyacinth ever since it’s the first to flower of a bunch of seedlings off the clump to the left.  Six or seven years is all it took which sounds terrible but since I never did a thing for them other than leave them alone it hasn’t been bad at all.

hyacinth seedling

Pink.  My favorite color.  Still it’s my firstborn hyacinth and I love it, and look forward to seeing how it develops over the next few years.

So that’s it.  Spring is exploding so that’s really not even close to what’s going on, but like you I’d also rather be in the garden versus on the computer so off I go!  Hopefully after missing most of yesterday for all kinds of events, and today for more events (and plenty of rain in the afternoon), something valid gets done in the garden before the work week returns, but you never know.  I’m fine with just sitting around taking it all in.  Plus, as I discovered yesterday, parts of the compost pile are still frozen so I guess we’re still just starting.

I love the start.  Have a great week!

Winter Disinterest

After what seems like the longest stretch of gloomy weather ever in all recorded time, the sun finally came out.  The cold came along with it, and that’s probably related, but it was worth it to see all that brightness again.  Walking across a frozen lawn with the sun on my face is something I’d been missing for the last few months as I’ve been more used to shuffling in order to keep from slipping in the muddy mess I’ve been calling a yard.  The sun also lifted some of the gloom and anxiety of all the earth-moving thats still going on behind the house.

industrial park

The lights of the industrial park seem to have caused a little state of emergency down at town hall, and apparently the mayor has declared that a wall must be built.  So far the wall is completely ineffective in stopping the lights, but we now have a big beautiful wall of dirt and of course that must be a great thing.  

Before this post turns into what looks like just another ‘woe is me’ update I want to say again I’m over it, and whatever happens happens.  I just want all this mess to be done so I can go back to tending my little plot in peace, and if that doesn’t work out we can always move.  In the meantime I’ll keep myself busy with regular runs into the construction zone to steal even more interesting rocks for the garden 🙂

garden stones

One of the dump trucks was rich in a bunch of relatively flat pieces of Pennsylvania bluestone.  You can never have enough stepping stones so of course I was pleased.  

This afternoon I was inspired by the sunshine and upgraded the little stone accents in the front foundation plantings with some heftier rocks.  It was easy enough to roll them around on the frozen soil, but the problem will come later when some planting I forgot all about sprouts up right where I dropped a 100 pound rock.

garden stones

I’ll move the rocks some once spring arrives, but in the meantime I already like being able to jump from stone to stone rather than step on every important sprout that I forget is there.

Those who like to point out the obvious will note that I should have used stepping stones rather than boulders if I was going to use them as stepping stones.  I’d say that’s a good point.

galanthus three ships

If you notice the big white bucket in the middle of the foundation plantings, and think you’re doing me a favor in cleaning it up, you’ll notice instead two foolishly early snowdrops sheltered underneath.  Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ usually set sails for Christmas, but here in the cold north the end of January is more likely, and I for one am relieved I haven’t killed them yet.

Honestly I was a little bored as I wandered about in the sun.  You can only haul so many rocks, I wasn’t dressed warmly enough to just sit in the sun, and even for me it’s still too early for any serious cleanup so pruning was about all I could think of.  I stood for maybe twenty minutes clipping dead leaves off the witch hazel.  The flower buds were just starting to open and although clipping individual dead leaves off a bush in January is possibly the most pointless thing to do, I did it.

-well actually I only did about half the bush before I got tired of it…

witch hazel pallida

Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’) just starting to open in the warm sun.

When you consider the usual barks and foliage that pass for winter interest in the northern zones I don’t get quite as excited as many gardeners do.  I appreciate them, but I’m more of a flower kind of guy, and the fact that I was able find a few blooms here in NE Pennsylvania in almost the middle of January, while temperatures hovered at just below freezing,  it made me pretty happy.

Of course a greenhouse would probably make me happy too, but for now I’m going to stick with adding more witch hazels.  Have a great week.

Shock and Awe

As is my luck, just a few months after moving in it was announced construction would begin on an industrial park behind the new house.  Worse things could happen since the barren acreage was home to little else than mine tailings and stunted birch, but it was open land and I still prefer open land to warehouses and truck parking.  In any case all the trees were gone within a few months.

construction site as my view

Baby pictures of a garden.  The two green shrubs would go on to become the aspen which now dominate the meadow garden, and the wisp of chartreuse surrounded by a mulch ring is now a 20 foot high dawn redwood.

I still miss the large white oak which sat directly behind our yard but over the intervening years new saplings and seedlings have come up to protect us from whatever eyesore progress put in our way.  “Things will be fine” I told my neighbors as we trudged along through the bulldozing, blasting, dumping, uncertainty, and endless windblown dirt as the on again off again construction continued…. for eight years….

summer potager

Last summer’s view, with a respectable wall of trees coming up to shield us from the construction.

Earlier this month the final addition to our end of the park was completed, and the lights went on and the trucks moved in.  The neighbors complained.  The township was involved.  Agreements were reached.  I knew nothing.  One evening I got the text that “they cut down all the trees” and that night when I got home it was quite the shock to find the industrial park had moved right in to our kitchen.

industrial park lights

Looking out onto the deck.  Adios sunsets.

We have a new view now, the scene off the deck just isn’t quite as sorta suburbia as it used to be.  The trees and scrub are gone and with the fence down we’re just a few steps away from barbed wire, chainlink, and tractor trailers.

industrial park construction

I guess it’s better than a highway next door, or a power plant or something…

The tree removal is part of what the industrial park has agreed to do in order to block the light and noise of the development.  The trees came down, dirt is going in and new trees will be planted. I have faith that it will all work out but for now I miss the aspen and sumac and all the other surprises (and nuisances) which had shown up on their own.  They, as well as milkweed and coneflowers and a bunch of other interesting things are now buried under about eight feet of fill.

industrial park construction

The pines which were almost blocking the lights have already been moved to behind my house where they now mostly just block the mountain view.  At least they’re far enough back and not looming right over the fence.  

Word is that over the next few weeks several 30ft Norway spruce will be lifted from another site via giant tree spade and trucked down to take up new homes between us and the lights.  They’re not my favorite tree but beggars can’t be choosers and hopefully they’ll be planted far enough away that they don’t suck up 100% of the winter light which comes from that direction.

industrial park construction

Just a few weeks ago I was back here admiring how well the aspen had returned and planning the work I still needed to do.  Now it’s all changed, tons of dirt has been dumped, and this is where “we’re going to plant a forest”.  

The quote I’m going with has been “you don’t want to see us and we don’t want to see you”, and I’m hoping that works out to be the case.  I liked the wide open but maybe a nearby forest won’t be the worst thing, and in any case finally being done with all the uncertainty of what the future holds might be a relief after all these years.  Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving

The thermometer sits at 13F (-10C) this morning and the low for tonight is forecast to be 7F(-14C).  Of course it’s much warmer on this side of the windowpane, and even if I took off my cozy sweatshirt I’d still be comfortable so I guess there’s plenty of reasons to be thankful.  Even last weekend’s snowfall was just a minor inconvenience, although it came as a surprise and the fall decorations look a little out of place now.

October snowfall

Admiring the mums one week, shoveling snow the next.  So much for gardening!

All garden projects are on hold, and things like cleaning playrooms and painting bedrooms and moving furniture are back on the list, for which I’m 100% excited for.  It would be a shame for the weather to just keep me inside, stuck on a couch and eating and drinking all day…

October snowfall

The snowdrop walk next to the unshoveled driveway.  If you look closely you’ll notice the neighbors have cleared driveways and walks.  This year the kids discovered that other people will give them money in exchange for snow shoveling, unlike their father who thinks he should get an ‘all those times I took you to the Chinese buffet’ discount.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today I wish you all the best for a wonderful day.  In spite of all the complaining about weather and time, pests and circumstance, I realized I’ve been blessed with more than I deserve.   Fire, famine, war and walls are in the news each morning and today I’m Thankful my biggest complaint is the temperature.