Front border update

Looking back on the weather, I believe I picked the hottest days of the year to do my digging, transplanting and bed expanding.  It’s cooled a bit recently but the strong sun and spotty rain combined with my thin skin of topsoil have left things a little tired looking.  Crispy tan grass dominates the yard, but here and there is some fresh color to keep me motivated.

Here’s how the new transplants are doing.  The ‘Tropicanna’ cannas love the heat and don’t look bad next to the airy fennel that’s trying to take over the mailbox.  It’s been cut back a bunch due to the huge numbers of pollinating wasps drawn in to the flowers… no one needs a mailbox that buzzes.flower border along street

The street side of the border isn’t nearly as well kempt as the freshly weeded, freshly planted house side, but it looks interesting with a lively mix of Russian sage (perovskia), sedum, and lamb’s ears (stachys ‘Helen von Stein’) with all kinds of self-sown volunteers such as phlox.drought tolerant street planting

I’ve been busy re-taming this border after returning from our recent Florida vacation.  Ten days of living the suburban dream of Disney and a tropical beach in late July, it doesn’t get any more relaxing than that.  Pulling crabgrass in the blazing August sun (without a million other people) was a refreshing return.

The annual coleus and zinnia seedlings liked the heat and it also brought out blooms on the butterfly bushes and ‘Limelight’ hydrangea.

annuals mixed in perennial border

I love the hydrangea, it’s getting to be on the big side but I’m all for big plants in the garden.  ‘Limelight’ is a type of hydrangea paniculata, a group that blooms in late summer (usually white or pinkish), tolerates dryer soils, welcomes full sun and flowers reliably each year.  It blooms on new growth, so you could take a chainsaw to the thing in spring and still get a mass of blooms later in the year.  ‘Limelight’ has a nice greenish tint to the new blooms and has stems strong enough to keep the heavy flower heads from flopping.021Another all-summer bloomer is rose of Sharon (althea syriacus), they laugh at heat and drought and are nearly impossible to kill.  They have some well known faults, and two of the biggest are it’s late leafing out and it’s enthusiastic reseeding habits, but I grow it anyway.  ‘althea blue birdDiana’ is a sterile white cultivar and an awesome plant, but with all the white vinyl around here I can only fit in so many bright white flowers, so the one I grow is ‘Blue Bird’. ‘Blue Bird’ earned its spot because of the trouble free blue color of its blooms.  I don’t think it’s as showy as some of the others but the color is worth a little seeding around.  Every now and then I think it has a little look of weediness to it, and even though in my garden this isn’t a noticeable fault, in some more refined plantings this might stick out.  I guess  that’s a cross better gardeners are meant to bear.

Drought tolerance is something that everything in this street border has to deal with.  Perovskia, self-sown gloriosa daisies (rudbeckia), and ornamental grasses all take it in stride.  It’s a little messy, but right now I think the color holds up well to the bright sun and higher temperatures…. no room for pastels here…. The purple ‘Laura’ phlox gets extra water now and then, it handles a little dry weather and heat, but complains the whole time.rudbeckia and russian sage

‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass doesn’t complain about anything.  A haircut in the spring is all the maintenance it needs and if you like the grassy look this is what it gives you all summer, fall, and winter.  Doesn’t reseed, doesn’t need fertilizer, looks good all year…….I’m a fan.karl foerster feather eed grass

‘Karley Rose’ fountain grass is another good one.  It can get floppy after a rain, and doesn’t hold the good looks through the winter like Karl does, but makes a nice accent. karley rose fountain grass

Hopefully the annuals planted last month will fill in and make an accent before frost.  The newest plantings look more like a late May picture than an intro to August, but such is procrastination.  At least I’ll have a few empty spots to shoehorn spring bulbs into once that planting season starts. 🙂cannas in a mixed border

Best wishes for your August garden!

Annabelle

It was a dry spring, but based on the weather pattern we’re in now it won’t be a dry summer.  That’s fine with me since I hate watering, but others with different summer plans will disagree.  I took advantage of a break in the rain today and finally cut the grass.  Pretty much everything is lush and thick due to the extra water and the hydrangeas are no exception.

I grow “Annabelle” in a couple places around the yard but here at the edge of the orchard is the plant that seems happiest.annabelle hydrangea

I think this plant came from a small shoot I felt bad for and stuck into the ground while planting daffodils.  It does well amongst the weeds and always puts on a great show with these volleyball sized bloom clusters.  “Annabelle” is one of the arborescens type hydrangeas.  Hydrangea arborescens is the species and it’s a different species than the less hardy florist hydrangeas (the blue/pink or purple ones), oakleaf hydrangeas, and the late summer h. paniculata (the big white or pinkish late summer bloomers).  They’re native around here and are commonly found along creeks and streams, just in a little more modest bloom form.  annabelle hydrangea“Invincibelle spirit” (pink) and “incrediball” are also arborescens types that have recently come out, but the first has a pink color that I’m not crazy over and the second just hasn’t found its way into my garden yet (it’s supposed to be less floppy).  Arborescens hydrangeas are easy and reliable bloomers.  I cut mine back completely in the spring and that’s about all I do and still get a great show.  Water is about the only thing they might ask for.  Mine are in full sun and in years of less regular rain the plants wilt, die back, and the blooms get crispy edges due to my neglect.

“Annabelle” has been around for a while.  She was found back in 1910 in the wilds outside of Anna Illinois by Harriet Kirkpatrick, and it was her and her sister Amy that brought the original plant into their garden.  After decades of passing along from gardener to gardener “Annabelle” hit the big time in 1962 when she was introduced to the nursery trade.  She’s still a great garden plant.  This is a larger clump that slowly spreads a bit each year via short runners.  If I had a big yard with a little shade I think I’d have to spread these out to fill in a huge swath of white.annabelle hydrangea

My best weed

My garden lacks sophistication.  There’s little if any structure, the planting schemes are weak, it’s usually a mess, and I have plenty of weeds.  To help get around these faults I’ve taken to accepting volunteer help in designing the beds and plantings.  What this means is I avoid a lot of unnecessary work by letting things self sow and keeping most of these volunteer seedlings as “design elements” instead of admitting they’re unplanned weeds.  Oxeye daisies are one of these and they do a great job filling every little gap anywhere they can.  I don’t mind.oxeye daisy

Between the daisies, fennel and verbena bonariensis I could keep this border filled all year without lifting a finger, but even I would have to admit it’s more of a highway wayside look than a garden.  I’ll need to pull most of these this week as I work through the bed thinning overgrowth and then adding a few annuals and tropicals for summer color.

Daisies are even easier in the no-man’s land between the industrial park and our development.  Rather than keeping a tame suburban lawn here I’ve opted for a meadow of rough wildflowers and waving grasses.  The grasses are slowly establishing but the daisies filled in the first year.meadow daisies

Rather than beating this area into submission every week, I let it go until July or so and then give it a cut to spread seeds and wack back the less-preferred sumac and golden rod.  With a mown path for more civilized access this is a popular area for the kids and their friends.  Many bouquets find their way out of this weed patch and onto our kitchen windowsill, and the grasshoppers and bunnies are just as popular….. unfortunately they also eventually find their way out of the meadow.meadow grass

To my surprise this meadow area is not as popular with the grownups.  It’s become a tradition each spring to engage in the ‘cutting of the weeds’ argument and then take the day long vow of silence that follows.  But for now the grass and daisies stay and the wildlife rejoices.

History in the Garden

Using the term history around here is a bit of a stretch.  History to me means centuries, not the fifty or so years that have passed since our house was built.  Fifty puts us into the outdated category as far as baby blue bathroom themes go, but it doesn’t exactly put us on the historical register.  The garden is even younger.  Fifty years ago five trees were planted, they did well but four were removed just before we bought the place…. and for fifty years the lawn was mown.  So I guess we have one pink dogwood, antique grass and not much else.

Since I can’t afford timeless stone walks and weathered brick walls I settle for the history behind plants.  In my opinion plants with a story behind them are worth growing just for that.  Passalong plants are those which are passed on from gardener to gardener and generation to generation.  “My grandmother gave it to me” vs “I bought it at Home Depot” I guess.  Iris pass on easy, and some of the historic iris even followed the settlers west as they looked for familiar plants to fill their farmyard gardens.  Maybe that’s what I was thinking when I brought these up from the old garden to plant out by the street.iris and alliums

iris flavescensThe pale yellow is “flavescens” which dates to 1813 and is indestructible.  Mine comes from the side of a highway and survives drought, mowing, weeds, salt…. but does much better in the garden.  Sometimes it gets beaten down by relentless gale strength winds (such as we had last weekend) but it always blooms, blooms long, and keeps decent foliage all season.

historic irisThe other iris, a mauve/violet with white standards (the top part) is from my mother’s garden.  It’s been there since they bought the house 40ish years ago and is a favorite.  Like many historic iris it has a strong grape scent which fills the yard (you can see the windblown flavescens in the background).

“Indian Chief” 1929, was given to me by a friend and is also out there.  It’s a well-known historic and shows up in cemeteries around here frequently since it welcomes neglect.  I sometimes find the darker ‘smokier?’ colored iris hard to show off in the garden and this is one of them.  If anyone has any suggestions on combining them I’d love to hear it.iris indian chiefiris color carnival“Color Carnival” 1949 is not a favorite of everyone.  I would describe it as a fleshy pink with purple veins and a tangerine beard.  My descriptions don’t always match the catalogs.

This batch came up when I used some not completely done compost in this bed.  A year of composting and the roots still made a comeback, not bad.

I got this iris as a kid.  It was growing in our neighbor’s yard against the wood fence.  Rather than outright ask for a bit I patiently pried apart the boards enough so that a single fan could grow through.  A year it did and at that point I felt comfortable digging it up and calling it my own.  It’s been following me around ever since.

“Rhages” 1934 was purchased.  No story.  It’s reliable and I like the speckling.  In iris talk the speckling around the petal edges is called plicata, sounds fancier that way.iris rhages

Of course iris do blues best of all.  This no ID comes from the same highway roadside as flavescens and is just as hardy.  Flowers aren’t too big or too ruffled or too deeply colored, they’re just clear and elegant.light blue iris

I guess that’s plenty of iris.  One last one is “Mme Chobaut” 1916 it’s growing out back in the meadow and could use a decent home.  Maybe this year. mme chobaut iris

In case you’re interested in older iris there’s HIPS, the historic iris preservation society.  It’s a great resource for info and for getting in touch with other old-iris lovers.  Members have an iris database to browse and a forum to post to.  There’s also an annual sale and quarterly magazine. 

I could easily be convinced to grow more of the modern iris, some of them are just amazing in their ruffled fluffery and colors, but I resist.  For now I’ll stick with the tried and true.  Plus this year the late freeze has killed most of their blooms.  Here’s an iris traded to me as “mesmerizer”, but it’s not.  Maybe it’s “Nordica”, another white but with orange beards. white iris

The one bloom looks ok but the other is stunted.  The freeze also damaged leaves and killed off most of the other stalks.  Such is gardening.  It’s like baseball, there’s always next year…. even though you hate to lose.