Suddenly June

The deck was cleaned and ready just after Memorial day.  Considering how much extra time I supposedly have that isn’t much different than a “normal” year… and by normal I mean getting all the summer stuff up and running a week or two or three after everyone else does.  Things just run late here, and I’m starting to see that maybe it’s more than just basic laziness.  Maybe it’s laziness plus plain-old slow thats effecting how things run around here.

front border

I did manage to do a front border cleanup of old tulip foliage and baby weeds, and at least that part of the garden looks promising.

Slow is just fine with me.  A more generous person might say I’m not, and that I just overthink things, but unless your idea of overthinking includes an ADD journey of the mind then I don’t think it’s that either.  Maybe it’s something else…. someone else accused me of being a perfectionist, but that’s clearly not what’s going on either and I gave a little laugh when they said it.  One look around the garden really settles that point.

iris demi deuil

Iris ‘Demi Deuil’, an old, smaller iris with a cool pattern to it.

The garden is only now coming back into rights after the cold spell we went through in May.  Iris season has been disappointing with many freeze-deformed and aborted flower stalks and blooms, and only a few of the amazing clumps which usually celebrate the finishing up of spring.  Two years of excessively wet summers didn’t help as plants were rotting left and right, but I know they’ll be back.  The bigger uncertainty is how many more I need for next year in order to fill this emotional void.  I suspect there is some transplanting and dividing in store… maybe a few new ones as well 😉

allium nigrum pink jewel

A new allium this year, A.nigrum ‘Pink Jewel’.  The white, straight species is so reliable I thought it was time to try one of the pinks.  So far my impression is lukewarm but I’ll give it time.

Although thoughts of dividing the iris have already sprung up, there’s so much more to do first.  Tulips and daffodils need digging, snowdrop seeds need sowing, weeding is endless, and the lawn always needs another cut.  I should mulch as well, plus the potager re-design needs finishing up before the growing season rolls over into 2021.  I should really give an update on that, but just a few more finishing touches before I bare my soul on that one.  In the meantime at least the foundation beds are  taking care of themselves…

foundation planting

The relaxed and overfilled foundation bed is completely unlike what a front foundation planting “should” be, but there are too many interesting plants out there to waste time on yew meatballs and few azaleas in a sea of mulch.

What might be the most anticipated plant of the year (possibly only by me) is the huge self-sown verbascum sitting right there in front of the house.  It’s a weed.  I know.  But also so lush and promising, and I’m hoping it’s something just a little fancier than the regular run of the mill mulleins.  I’ve let both grow here in the past, so it’s a crap shoot as far as seeing which one this will be, but it’s huge, so I love it.

johnny jump ups

Johnny jump ups trying to outgrow the mullein.

What I don’t love is weeding and planting the tropical garden.  In a no-excuses gardening year I’m stuck weeding it properly and not doing the old throw-it-all-in-and-eventually-it-will-all-look-ok planting method.  I don’t like it.  It’s work, and I think the tropical bed’s days are numbered.  We will see, but as of today a swath of sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa) which was slated to be removed, has been left, and although I never planted it there, leaving it in place sure is easier and a spot of low maintenance doesn’t sound bad today… even if that means a much smaller spot of the tropics.

tropical garden planting

The tropical garden in progress.  Who doesn’t like a hit of bright color on their way to enjoy a day at the pool next door?

There will be other things to keep me occupied.  Right now for some strange reason the wild back of the yard is my favorite spot to be occupied.  I barely lift a finger there but love to watch the bugs and birds and see what all can happen on its own.

tent caterpillar

Tent caterpillars used to disgust me but once lily beetles, gypsy moths, and Japanese beetles moved in, these little tents of silk barely register.  Maybe the birds will enjoy a snack, the apples off this tree are overrated, and there are still leaves on the tree, so it seems everyone wins a little when they stay.

I spent some of the first quarantine days digging various tree seedlings and shrub transplants into the berm that stands between us and the new Industrial park behind our house.  They don’t look like much at all but in a few years…. maybe….you never know how well these things will do.  In the meantime they’re alive, and some of the rooted rhododendron branches which I butchered off their mother in April are actually alive enough to bloom.  Alongside the clovers and mustards and daisies it’s quite the show, but I’m not sure everyone around here prefers lively flowers over neatly mown embankments.  Let them mow it themselves I say.

the berm

I’m endlessly fascinated by these new weedy little meadows alongside the berm.  I don’t think it’s normal to be this obsessed, but who cares?  So what if I get overly excited for a new weed showing up or a new wildflower opening, I think it’s grand, and all I have to do to enjoy it is mow a few walking paths.

I hate to leave you off talking about weeds, but after being covered in smartweed last year the berm has now transitioned over to all kinds of clover and grass.  I don’t know what triggered the change but I suspect there was some fertilizer spread when they first seeded the slope, and now that its run out the smartweed is not happy.

aesculus pavia

Hopefully the red buckeye (aesculus pavia) can tolerate the full sun and dry soil of the berm.  I’d like to see it expand into a nice sized shrubby tree.

So I could talk for a while about the types of grass, the relative attractiveness of their seed heads, the spreading daisies, the annoying crownvetch and mugwort which I still need to eliminate, the rudbeckia yet to come, and all the topsoil building which is taking place, but I’ll spare you.  My fingers are sore from weeding and sanding and chiseling mortar and the typing isn’t helping much so you’re off the hook and I’ll just wish you a happy Sunday.

Innocent until proven guilty

Last week the usual garden inspection turned up a massacre in the broccoli patch.  My luck had run out and the rabbits had finally found the tender lettuce and cole crops… just when they were finally settling in.  All the tender lush growth from the cool, damp weather has been nipped back, and I’m left with these leafless stalks.

deer damage on broccoli

The day before yesterday would have been the perfect time to fence off the vegetable garden….

What a setback!  Of course it’s my own fault since even with the local stray cats, rabbits are still in and out of the garden, but I like to think the bunnies won’t take advantage of me and a nibble here and there is no big deal….. so I didn’t bother with a fence.  That of course changed, and the fence is up again.

fence for vegetables

A little chicken wire to keep the bunnies out. Rabbits around here tend to be lazy, so a weak fence or even a few brushy twigs will keep them off my delicious ‘Matina Sweet’ lettuce.

Something was different though.  The onslaught of damage was pretty severe for a stray rabbit finding a tender bit of broccoli, and the lettuce and cauliflower were also sampled.  That’s a lot of nibbling for one or two rabbits on one or two nights.  I began to wonder if a groundhog had returned….. a little plant leveling, bulldozing, little garden pig, who eats everything in sight…. but no, the damage wasn’t that bad.

I found my answer the next morning.  Two young bucks were on the other side of the fence plotting their return.  I knew they were around -three weeks ago a doe bounded over the fence while the kids and I were playing back there- but now I know they’re moving in.  Deer are something I don’t want.  Where are all the hunters when you need them?

deer and the vegetable garden

Barbarians at the gate

Figures they would go straight for the broccoli and lettuce, they’re two of the only vegetables I actually eat.  Why couldn’t they start with the chard?

bright lights swiss chard

Rumor has it vegetables make for healthy eating. I like to think of these unpicked and uneaten ‘bright lights’ swiss chard as being good food for the soul.

We’re not exactly country around here, but we do have our share of wildlife drama.  Snakes and toads come and go, bugs abound, and all kinds of birds stop by to eat and drink and sometimes set up house.  I finally found the tiny field sparrow nest (or at least I think that’s what they are) in the small blue spruce by the sandbox.  Two chicks have hatched and it amuses me that they spring to life begging for food the second I tap the nest.

field sparrow nest

I’m not a good nest finder, and the only reason I found this one (after three tries -and the spruce is barely three feet around!) is that I noticed a female cowbird staking out the bush.  Cowbirds will sneak in and remove an egg from an unguarded nest and replace it with one of their own, and this is what they did here.  When I found the nest there were two white speckled eggs alongside the three blue speckled.  I may or may not have removed the cowbird eggs.

cowbird egg

Cowbirds are a native species and as such are protected under the Migratory Bird Act, so tampering with their eggs would be illegal…. but I also may at times roll through stop signs and push the speed limit, so I’m not sure where this puts me on the spectrum of criminal activity.  All I’ll add is that cowbird chicks will usually outgrow their nestmates and end up displacing them, so I’m glad these parents won’t be stuffing food into a chick which grows to be twice their size.

Another thing which borders on illegal is the number of weeds and out of control plantings in this wanna-be iris border.  It’s almost criminal how the campanula took over and the daisies moved in…. not to mention the clover.

iris with campanula and daisies

Still on the to-do list is the iris bed. I think it needs a complete overhaul to get rid of the beautiful purple campanula glomerata which has taken over. The only legitimate planting here is the yellow variegated iris which is still just barely hanging on.

The iris bed is just one of many yet-to-be-done projects.  I’m still getting the last of the seedling out from under the glow lights in the garage, and the overwintered geraniums are still sitting outside the garage, making quite the colorful accent on the driveway 🙂

overwintered geraniums and vegetable seedlings

All in due time they say, but I suspect due time might have passed along with the summer solstice.  Instead of humming along, the garden is still taking form.  Someday I hope to have things together but I suspect I just might not be that kind of gardener.  It would help if a simple planting up of the deck pots didn’t turn into a table refinishing, light fixture replacing, porch chair repainting, trim rebuilding… .kind of project, but such is life!

Enjoy the first days of summer 🙂

Enough with the bugs!

So I’m bored with the garden, ok?

Until we get some decent rain most things are at a standstill…. except for the bugs.  They’re going full tilt and doing what bugs do (which is eat and multiply).  The grasshoppers are moving in off the dead grass of the meadow and taking advantage of the lush, watered parts of the garden.  I can do without a plague of these suckers, and fortunately they don’t seem to do too much damage.  I just pick them off and toss them on their way.grasshopper on zinnia

Katydids always show up on the purple leaved cannas.  I’m not sure if it’s just that the holes are more obvious on these big leaves, but I always seem to find one here.  If you look carefully you’ll see a second one further back, to the lower right.  These guys (actually this one might be a female) get their names from the “Ka-ty-did, she-didn’t, she-did” song they sing at night.  It’s one of the summer sounds I always look forward to.  If you want to see something even cooler, look up “pink katydid” and you’ll see some uncommon color forms of this already far too pettable insect.katydid on canna leaf

Believe it or not these things can fly too, and between their cool leaf shape, summertime song, and impressive size, I really don’t mind them eating as much canna leaves as they want.  Plus the kids love to play with these slow moving gentle giants.  I love having all this life going on in the garden and it’s the number one reason I avoid spraying whenever I can.katydid

The bugs don’t always have it that easy….. A big bug makes for a big meal and besides all the birds that search the garden each morning, these yellow garden spiders wouldn’t mind making a meal out of a fat bumble bee or grasshopper.  Judging by it’s plumpness I’d say the living is easy right now.     yellow garden spider

As you can see the phlox is still holding on, and I’ll try to show a couple flowers next time instead of continuing this parade of creepy crawlies.  But just look at the size of that spider!  Oh, and also notice the white zigzag “writing” on the web above and below the spider.  These orb spiders are sometimes called writing spiders, and I think the pattern is supposed to keep birds from flying into and ruining their webs…. Flowers next time, I promise.

Wild Kingdom

It’s confirmed.  Our little patch of Pennsylvania which hasn’t had decent rain since mid July, sits in the middle of a rain-garden of Eden.  In the last few weeks we’ve traveled out on each of the points of the compass and in each direction the lawns are lush and green and the roadsides are bursting with flowers.  But not here.  The lawn hasn’t needed mowing since the second week of July and the less popular plantings are dried and hanging with drought.  Such goes our summer.  Still I prefer this to the icy blast of winter, and I’ll take it.  I’ll just slow down the pace, stare at the brown lawn, and continue to drag around the hose.

The watered areas of the yard seem to be drawing in more than their share of wildlife this summer.  Besides drought, we’re experiencing a plague of frogs this season.  Gray tree frogs both large and small are showing up all over, particularly around the house.gray tree frogs

Before grilling the bbq gets a once over, and before moving furniture a quick look around helps prevent an ugly accident.  Raising the deck umbrella is always fun, since the plopping down of a frog or two on the table and umbrella-raiser is always a possibility and refreshing shock.gray tree frog

I like the frogs but never really thought I’d have to add “sweep frog-poop off deck” to the pre-party to-do list.

This year’s babies seem to prefer the large leaves of amaranthus  and corn, and in the baby-green phase they fit in pretty good.baby gray tree frog

Another surprise this year is the bumper crop of snakes showing up.  Our plague of snakes is fortunately of the garter snake variety and because of that, non-poisonous and small (two pluses), but there’s always a shock to seeing a snake slither away from the path or slide behind a step.  A different kind of shock than having a frog drop on your shoulder, but a surprise still.

Here’s a shaky shot of one that was calmly hunting through the plantings just off the front porch.  I didn’t know they were such good climbers of shrubbery, maybe I’d still rather not know that fact.garter snake in bush

Drought, Frogs, snakes…. I think we’re still far clear of repeating the 10 plagues of Egypt, but we do have a lot of gnats this summer, and we did get a number of flies when a garbage bag stayed around too long.

Next: bees and wasps.  This is paper wasp nest #3 on this year’s list of evicted wasp nests, it was brought to my attention one evening by the screaming of a stung five year old playing in the playhouse where they set up shop.  I’ve never had a large wasp nest in the garden until this year, so I’m not sure what’s brought on all these new neighbors, but at least I now know none of my kids nor the neighborhood kids are allergic.  They’ve all been tested as well as a few kids who were over for a birthday party last week.paper wasp nest

One day I’m going to try and figure out what all the bumblebees are.  The kids call them “fat bees” to group them away from “skinny bees” and “paper wasps”.  I still don’t follow their logic on the skinny bees, but it might be time for me to go a little more scientific and figure out all these black and yellow fatties.bumblebee on phlox

bee on thistleThe bumblebees are interesting to watch.  On most of the flowers they “cheat” since their mouth parts are too “fat” to fit into the flower openings (hey, maybe the kids are on to something!)  On phlox for example, they stab a hole into the base and suck out the nectar without returning the favor of pollination to the bloom.  They seem to do this with a lot of plants such as butterfly bush, agastache, salvia… it’s actually a little annoying since on flowers such as the salvia and butterfly bush, they push in their mouths with enough force that they rip open the entire side.  The split flowers brown and fall off and I’m left with nothing colorful.  Oh well, at least they’re not stinging everyone.  I guess they’re more suited for open flowers such as hibiscus and sunflowers, or flat topped flowers like thistle.

Butterflies have been late to the party.  I’ve only just seen my first Monarch this week, and other types have been scarce all year.  But it looks like they’re working on it.  Here’s a Black Swallowtail on the potted parsley.  There’s something about these guys that I always like, and they’re more than welcome to a share of the herbs.black swallowtail larvae