February

So much for keeping to a regular schedule of blog posts this year.  January was off to a good start, but then it got cold and snowy, and I don’t do well when cold and snow separate me from my plants… unless of course it’s to hit a tropical beach or indulgent ski resort… but we all know how that’s been going this year.

snow yorkie

Biscuit the Yorkie loves the snow, especially when the foot or so of compacted old snow is covered with a couple inches of delicious new snow.  

So February has been a nothing month.  Nothing much gets done, there’s not much moving (other than for food), and no one seems to care.  We just watch the snow storms roll through and vaguely consider the damage that heaps of snow and ice are doing to the roof, and wonder just how big an icicle needs to be before it rips the gutter off.

ice dam

Ice dams edge the entire roof.  Snow is piled high, it gets wet as the up-roof sections melt a bit, and then freezes to form a solid 10 inch wall of ice atop the gutter.  Of course with the gutter blocked the next melt will just run off the edge forming (in this case tiny) icicles.    

Sunday actually lived up to its name, with a clear sky and almost above freezing temperatures I made my first trek into the yard in about three weeks.  There really wasn’t anything to see (anything good that is) but I did dig out one of buckets covering snowdrops and was thrilled to see them also enjoying the bright change in weather.

snowdrop protection

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ still looking great, assuming I’m willing to trudge out and dig her up each time I visit.

Although many will complain about the snow, you won’t hear me gripe about it until March when we get hit by some nasty blizzard or Nor’easter which crushes all the new sprouts and ruins all the earliest spring flowers.  Fortunately this year, in spite of a warm January, most everything was still far enough back that all this cold has done is make it wait.  When it melts I expect a grand explosion of spring, and that’s always exciting.

rabbit winter damage

A foot or two of compacted snow isn’t all good things.   The rabbits can’t get to their food and end up eating just about anything which makes it above the snow line.  

Maybe that spring explosion will be enough to save the leafless hollies and camellias, and skeletal spruces which I just bought and planted… thinking they would be just fine and out of reach in the raised beds of the potager…  I fenced a bunch of things back in December, but in the past these have been safe, so obviously why would I over do it?

winter sunset

winter sunset

Even with all the clamor over snow and bitter cold and an arctic vortex or two, reality says this winter is still warmer than average, with only seven or eight nights actually below average, and not by much.  Even the most impaired statistician will tell you that for an average to be average about half the temps will be above and half below… give or take a few extremes… and we are far from that even if it sure seems like a winter out of the ‘olden’ days.

garden journal

A quick flashback to my garden journals of the ’80s tells me that we are actually about right in line with the spring of ’87.  That might sound reassuring, but these are actually from when I lived on Long Island, which is now considered a balmy zone 7, so…  we are actually way ahead.   

Reading a thermometer and checking a weather report really only take at most five minutes, so it’s been a struggle to fill the rest of the weekend with nothingness.  Even the winter garden is boring me so in a valiant attempt to beat the stupor I checked up on any drip irrigation fittings I might need.  Yes I need to order more, maybe 100 1/2 gph emitters will be enough for all the caladium bulbs I ordered.  Yes, I need to pot them up individually so that I can separate all the colors and then arrange them and rearrange them through the summer.  Yes, I know that’s excessive.

drip irrigation containers

Drip irrigation fittings and parts.  For all of ten minutes I considered a post on the subject, but then… the stupor again descended.  

One thing I have managed this winter is reading.  Three new books top the pile, and they’re all excellent.  ‘Some Snowdrops’ is a beautiful dreambook of how I imagine snowdrop season will be like, ‘A Year at Brandywine Cottage’ gets me excited about every plant and every season (and unfortunately every recipe has me wandering into the kitchen hungry), and ‘Colchicum’ has me doubting every label in my little colchicum bed.

winter garden reading

Winter reading for the gardener.

A little wandering, a little dreaming, a little reading, that’s actually a pretty banner weekend (or more honestly, month) for me.  Even in mid February the sun already seems March strong, and I don’t think I’m the only one thinking that.  The best thing I noticed on Sunday was that birdsong is back, and in spite of the snow, birds were vociferously carving up the neighborhood into new territories for spring.

winter bird feeder

… until Monday, and another six inches of snow…

So it’s not spring yet, but things are looking up.  Tomorrow will be warm, Thursday will be warmer.  It will take a while for the snow and ice to melt, so I’ve got a few more days to be lazy, but the next few days look promising!

sleepy pup

Snow can wear you out.

Have a great week!

Winter Rages?

The next three weeks are typically when winter throws its worst at us.  The average low dips down to around 18F (-7C) at night, and then climbs to 34F (1C) in the day, depending on all kinds of things of course, and the long nights and short days don’t set the garden up for much of anything.  That’s a normal year.  Besides all the other more obvious ups and downs, the weather last year was not normal, and in fact was one of our hottest years on record.  12 days in and 2021 isn’t looking to be the culture and climate shift everyone was hoping for.  Actually it looks a lot more like December 37, 2020.

galanthus elwesii montrose

This gardener prefers to use stylish and unobtrusive 5 gallon buckets to protect the earliest snowdrops from the coldest winds and heaviest snows of winter.  Here’s ‘Potter’s Prelude’ uncovered to enjoy the next few days of mild weather.

For a minute I’ll ignore the past and just enjoy this mild weather which draws these snowdrops up out of the ground.  Most of what’s flowering now would be fall bloomers in a milder climate but here they usually dawdle enough that flowering happens in winter, which should be fun, but for many the weather is just too much and the flowers (and foliage) end up destroyed.  Viva la global warming!  These days I have snowdrops blooming all winter… until we get a plunge in February of course, and then even with buckets galore, things still look like someone named Winter trampled through the beds with some heavy cleated snow boots on.

galanthus elwesii potters prelude

I moved a fall blooming Galanthus elwesii ssp monostictus hiemelis group ex Montrose (catch breath*) to a warmer spot to hopefully bring on earlier blooming, but it didn’t.  Still it seems much happier here and has been in bloom over a month!

I’ve been trying to find a perfect spot to make life easier on these little treasures.  It’s worked in a few cases but some still aren’t happy regardless of where I have them growing.  When the cold comes the flowers burn and the foliage dies back.  Some struggle afterwards, some go to the light, but I do have one who just shrugs it off.  ‘Three Ships’ (Galanthus plicatus ‘Three Ships’) has never shown a bit of damage in spite of ice and snow and cold.  He’s never made it into bloom for Christmas, which is the trick he’s best known for, but he is a snowdrop who choses to grow and flower just as the weather is at it’s worst and for that holds place as one of my favorites.

galanthus three ships

Today’s sunshine and just barely above freezing air temperatures have brought out ‘Three Ships’.

For the first few years I assumed the cold would do this little nut in.  What sane snowdrop would grow more as the temperatures dropped further?  Tender shoots and sub zero weather should not mix, but one shoot became two, two became four, and rather than die, ‘Three Ships’ is becoming a clump.

galanthus three ships

Not just a hardy snowdrop, but also a beautiful snowdrop.  Heavy textured, rounded blooms with soft green inner markings.  I love the ridges and the way the flowers puff out in the sun.

So right now the snowdrops are loving it.  It’s like winter in the North Carolina mountains, and although some more cold and snow would make for better skiing, I don’t mind mediocre skiing on Monday followed by snowdrops on Tuesday.

Be safe and have a great week!

Winter Arrives?

With the calendar turning over for the official start of a new year, I had the opportunity to see my blogging stats as a year end summary.  I usually expect a disappointing show but how exciting to see that for the first time since 2016 my visitors and views have actually increased!  I’ll still point out that there was far more interest in this blog five years ago than there is today, but I guess any move to the plus side is worth celebrating, and I think my first move will be to show off these numbers to my bank account.  It’s been slacking in the numbers department as well, and this might be just the inspiration it’s been waiting for.

mulched vegetable beds

A former vegetable bed has filled with hydrangeas and other things more colorful than vegetables.  Now a messy mulch of leaves looks suspiciously like the cover for a future snowdrop bed.  Hmmmm.

My concerns over declining views are matched only by my race to improve them.  In the last four years I’ve done nothing.  That could be part of it, but at least the weather was beautiful last Saturday and I was able to do something outside and actually weeded a few spots and spread a little mulch.  Not bad for January, and I think I’m as set as I will be for the earliest spring bloomers, some of which have mistaken sunny days in the 50’s for the end of an extremely short winter.

Mrs Macnamara

Mrs Macnamara is an early riser, but unfortunately this weather tricks her into being too early.  In the five years she’s been here her early blooms have been destroyed five times, and I have yet to see her flowers open and look their best.  

History does not bode well for an extremely short winter in this garden.  A review of last year shows various things up and nearly in flower the first week of January… and then also shows the wilted, frozen mush of snowdrops and hellebores by the end of February.  I doubt there’s a gardener out there who doesn’t know this same story.

winter hellebore foliage

I would have removed the hellebore foliage but prefer to mow it all up, and honestly the lawnmower deserves at least a few days off for winter so I’ll wait.

I guess there’s no easy way out.  A more mature and sensible gardener would just not grow the plants ill suited to their garden.  That’s a good idea, and you of course should do that even if I won’t.

winter hellebore

On the advice of a better gardener I’ve started trimming the old foliage off my hellebores at anytime from late December on.  Tender, easily damaged shoots seem to show up whether the leaves are removed or not.

I apologize for speaking of warm sun while showing gloomy snow and sleet but one of the blog stats which stood out for me was that this blogger used to post twice as much.  Because Saturday was a beautiful, busy day and no photos were taken, I was forced to go out Sunday into the sleet for something to blog about.  Quantity over quality is my new mantra and we will see if more frequent posts will be the secret to overwhelming my site counter and bringing on that lucrative movie deal I’m still hoping for.

Or spring.  I won’t mind if more frequent posts bring on spring 🙂

Out With The Old

Let me start with getting one thing off my chest.  The daffodils are still unplanted.  There, that was easy.

The weather was beautiful last weekend so we decorated for Christmas, we hung a ridiculous number of lights, and we (and I’m leaning more towards the less plural I on this one) cleaned up most of the basement of all the nonsense and clutter that kids can accumulate.  Then in the midst of a pandemic we drove to Longwood to enjoy the Christmas display.  Of course there will be judgements on safety but for now we’re all still healthy and it’s the weather which has taken a turn towards the worse.   On a miserable afternoon I’d rather rush out and capture a few last joys of the 2020 garden season rather than actually do something productive.  Maybe tomorrow will be different…

hardy fall camellia ashtons supreme

‘Ashton’s Supreme’ is growing in a pot and has already moved into the garage for the next few nights.  It may be hardy, and someday I may put it to the test, but for now I’d rather he avoid the frosts and snow.

I’m excited to see my only fall blooming camellia opening up a few flowers before it gets too cold.  It’s one thing enjoying them for a few hours in another garden, but to have one of your own to really drown in for as long as you want… and then to make excuses to go out and see every few hours… well that’s a whole different story.  Currently the plan has ‘Ashton’s Supreme’ spending the coldest months in the winter garden, staying potted, and then some day moving to the open garden when either (1)he gets too big or (2)global warming shifts me just one more zone South.  Obviously there’s also a good chance that (3)the gardener kills Ashton,  but for just $30 from Camellia Forest Nursery I’m already thrilled with how far I’ve come.

container bog garden

The question of the bog garden.  Shelter in place or quarantine elsewhere?

I’m also somewhat thrilled over how the bog garden’s pitcher plants have recovered from some questionable overwinering techniques from last year.  Someone just picked up an old saucepan from the sandbox, lifted the pitchers from the bog and put them in the pan, and then placed the whole embarrassment next to the compost pile under a few sheltering branches.   They lived, but this year I’m not sure if I shouldn’t try something different.  Or just do nothing.  Nothing is pretty easy, and it’s been working for the daffodils so far.

jack and the beanstalk bean

The sword beans (Canavalia gladiata) have been picked and brought into the garage to hopefully ripen the seeds.  Maybe I’ll get lucky, but maybe I won’t since they’re still mighty green.

Last year seemed much more full of November projects and plenty which bridged over into December, but this year I’m quite fine with calling a time, nailing a lid on 2020, and announcing the start of the 2021 gardening season.  Hello snowdrops is what I’m going to say next, and of course I’m excited!

elwesii monostictus hiemalis motrose

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus ‘Hiemalis Group’ ex. Montrose.  An appropriately big name for what is commonly referred to as the giant snowdrop (in this case a fall blooming version).

Mani over at the Miserable Gardener has observed that the guy he lives with takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in rattling off the name of this first snowdrop of my new year.  I’ve begun to enjoy it now as well, and although I may still need to tweek quotes and capitalizations to be completely proper I’m not going to let ignorance stand in my way.  Ignorance seems to be very ‘in’ these days so I might as well call it what I want, right? -who am I kidding… I can’t stand ignorance, so please correct me if you can.

galanthus three ships

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ is leaving port earlier than ever and holding the possibility of an open bloom by Christmas.  That would be a first, and of course I would be thrilled.

Let me close by saying this last photo has me most excited.  I keep thinking this snowdrop phase will pass but as of yet not luck.  Once in the summer of 2019 there was a point when I almost said I wasn’t thinking about snowdrops, and then just a few months ago I turned down the offer of a bulb or two because “I had too many other plants needing attention”, but now I’m back to obsessed.  ‘Three Ships’ looks healthier than ever and honestly for a flower which blooms here in January, anything better than dead is quite an achievement in my opinion.

Let the season begin!

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…

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!