Time for a haircut

As you may know there’s a small section of lawn out back which I let go over the summer.  It’s what I call the meadow, and the goal is to have a spot where I can play around with a few bulbs in the lawn and also give the crickets and bunnies a spot to kick back in.

meadow garden

Over the last six years wildflowers such as rudbeckias and goldenrod have moved in and (to me at least) the meadow is an interesting place.

I love the meadow in early summer when the grasses go to seed and daisies spot the amber waves, but now it’s starting to look tired, and I have to remember what the plan is here.  Although the native little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is beginning to invade and I like it elsewhere in the yard, it’s not a prairie I want here so in late August I finally mow.

meadow garden

Little bluestem with a mix of rudbeckia and other wildflowers (weeds?).  I love the look, but it’s time to move on.

Tuesday evening I went through.  The crickets dug into the turf and hid, the rabbits ran off, and the katydids and mantis were old enough to fly to safety.  I’m not completely committed though, I left a few patches of bluestem and mowed around some butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) since I was too weak to enforce my “it all just gets mowed” program.  Maybe next year.

cutting a meadow

The meadow returned to respectability…. and boredom.

It looks neat again which is a relief to the better half, and the midyear trim actually seems to encourage the earlier bloomers such as daisies and rudbeckia, and discourages the goldenrod.

cutting a meadow

I don’t know if it looks better cut, but tall grass is a no-no in suburbia, so I’m sure the neighbors are somewhat relieved.  They’re probably itching to finish things off with a string trim and weed-b-gone 🙂

So I’m back to the mowing routine for this area, but only for another two or so weeks until the colchicums begin to sprout.  They look better blooming in shorter grass, and if truth be told I do have a bias towards doing what it takes to keep them happy.

Have a great weekend!

June. Rained out.

Don’t get me wrong,  I’m not complaining about the rain, but this kind of weather would have been much more welcome in April or May when things were going brown and shriveling up.  Still I love it.  It’s perfect for the procrastinating planter and the person who hates to lug the hose from plant to plant (that would be me), and by now even the grass has put on a green color once again!

gerbera daisies planter

Green grass makes any color look acceptable.   I’m finding that gerber daisies are one of my wife’s favorite plants, so on the rare occasion she comes to the nursery who am I to say no?

The rain is also not a problem bloom-destroying-wise since my garden seems to wade through a lull at this time of year.  There are plenty of blooms which could be gracing my beds right now but I just don’t have many of them in the ground.  My garden peaks closer to the midpoint of summer and beyond, and I’m fine with the extra wait since this time of year is when I always seem to be ironing out the last plantings and thinking through all the projects which may still happen… such as widening the front border (again).

mixed perennial border

Up near the house the blue of the ornamental fescue fills in an earlier expansion of the foundation bed, here closer to the street you can’t even make out the extra foot or so I added to this bed, so it barely counts as a project.

Sometimes with your nose to the wheel day in and day out you forget that there’s plenty of good coming together while you slave away at the not-so-good.  Here if the viewing angle is just right, the front street border looks fairly well put together.  A thick mulch of shredded leaves, a nice edge of shredded bark, and removal of nearly half of everything in the bed gives it an ‘under control’ look for at least one month this year.  A clean bed edging always helps,  but expanding another foot into the lawn really gave some breathing room… I should remember to enforce this rule next year as everything seeds and spreads out into the newly open space!

June perennial border

The front street border this morning.  The dark magenta lychnis coronaria and white oxeye daisies are essentially weeds, but if there are just a few I guess it’s socially acceptable.

A plant which spreads out wherever and whenever it wants is my trusty giant reed grass (Arundo Donax ‘variegata’).  I smile and make excuses for it when people comment about its possibly too-large size, but deep down I’m proud of it.  I won’t even bat an eye when it consumes the iris and other plantings around it 🙂

arundo donax variegata

Arundo donax ‘variegata’ overcoming the far end of the street border. 

Another spreader is the ‘Tiger eyes’ sumac which sits in a couple spots around the yard.  For me yellow leaved and chartreuse plants are an addiction and I am constantly in need of reminding of the fine line between a few accents and the way-too-much stage, but the tiger takes care of this on his own.  He (actually a she since this clone of cutleaf sumacs produces the colorful red female seed heads when mature) will pepper your beds with small yellow shoots here and there and I suppose someday take over the world, but for now I just pull the innocent little shoots.

drought tolerant perennials

Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ is putting up the first of many fluffy pink seedheads.  They’re always dancing about in the wind and keeping things lively.  Maybe a few clumps closer to the light pole would look nice next to the bright mess of ‘Tiger Eyes’ which surrounds it right now.

For some reason this spring the kids have been coming along on nursery runs.  I suspect they have some hidden agenda which includes a stop at the Dollar Store but regardless I’m going to enjoy their company while it lasts.  Both insist on helping pick their own plants and sometimes even want to plant.

lychnis coronaria

Bright magenta Lychnis coronaria faced down with a few sunpatients.  The girl insisted on putting labels front and center, I couldn’t quite get out the reason for it.  Also I couldn’t talk her out of the magenta-orange combo.  This might have to be replanted once she moves on to other things.

The front borders are looking pretty good right now but there are also a few nice surprises out back amongst the weeds.  One of my favorites is the first blooms on this strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis).  It’s been a struggle getting this one to bloom since the harsh winters seem to do a number on the crowns, but this year a few made it, and I finally get to see the strawberry-ish blooms on the relatively short stalks.

digitalis mertonensis strawberry foxglove

A cross-species hybrid of two foxgloves, the strawberry foxglove should be slightly more perennial than the regular type, and hopefully come true from seed as well. 

Another spike out in the garden (I like my spiky bloomers) is this verbascum which hitch-hiked in with a gift plant.  You know a plant (in this case a shrub dogwood) is coming from a good garden when two special plants tag along on the root ball.  This verbascum (maybe V. chaixii?) is blooming nicely now, and follows up some nice scilla blooms which flowered in spring.  It was only the dogwood I wanted, but surprises are always fun as well!

verbascum chaixii

Verbascum blooming amongst the sunflower seedlings which I didn’t have the resolve to rip up….. and yes that’s a huge thistle in front of the fence.  I like them, please don’t judge me.

Some would call the uninvited sunflower seedlings weeds, many would call the verbascum the same, and many more would immediately rip out the thistle, but I have a more laissez faire approach to the less invasive of the volunteers.  I let plenty of things go, but oddly enough this year the beautiful purple campanula glomerata is what I’m ripping out.  I’m trying to reclaim the red border, and it’s the campanula which has made a takeover play.  Enough is enough so a few weeks ago roundup was sprayed and it’s only a few pretty stalks which remain.  I’ll hand pull these and hopefully with a little summertime vigilance will be able to clear this plant out.

campanula glomerata with clematis

Once the campanula was beaten back I realized there are a few really nice plants in this bed.  Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ is one of my favorites and it deserves much more than the hardscrabble life of a vine left to struggle along the ground…. but it does look even better with the campanula blooms :/ 

Another borderline weedy area is the meadow.  Last summer’s dry spell weakened the lawn turf so much that it barely had the strength to send up bloom stalks this spring.  That’s a shame since I love the look of the tall grass waving in the wind and enjoy watching the bunnies work their way through each morning filling up on seedheads.  But the lazy gardener needs to take these things in stride (I could have made the effort to water last year) and realize the daisies and butterfly weed show up much better in the more open meadow.

meadow planting asclepias tuberosa

The meadow garden with some particularly drought tolerant butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  Depending on my mood and the weather this area will be mown down in late summer to neaten things up keep the taller plants from dominating.

The butterflies are enjoying the meadow, but everything else is focused on the linden blooms (Tilia europaea I think).  The tree buzzes with honey and bumble bees, flies, beetles, wasps, and a load of other things which I can’t even identify, and the scent is fantastic and fills the yard with a soft flowery honey aroma.  It’s a decent size tree and I can’t even imagine the number of insects which fill its branches.  If only I could follow the bees home and get a cut of the honey they’re making from all this.

linden blooms tilia basswood

June is when the linden tree is in its glory. 

Another plant which does its own thing without me raising a finger is my trusty hydrangea ‘Annabelle’.  New hydrangeas will come and go, but I can’t think of a reason good enough to cut this one loose.  It can flop, but in the spring it’s cut back completely and between lean living and full sun it holds up well enough.  If I had the room I’d do a mass of these, maybe under a grove of white birches, but here all I have room for is a few scattered along the edge of the yard.  Obviously I love the chartreuse of the opening blooms best of all since the next best thing to chartreuse foliage is a chartreuse bloom!

hydrangea annabelle

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’.  You can count on this one to bloom every year.

I’ve seen some photos of the newest ‘Annabelle’ siblings and they’re an amazing range or pinks to near reds in addition to the never out of style whites, so I would surely have to add one or two, but I think I’ll always have room for good old ‘Annabelle’.  Speaking of room, it’s still a never ending seed starting and cutting taking rollercoaster here and for some reason I still start more.  Hopefully I’ll be patting myself on the back when these late marigolds and amaranthus come into bloom and everything else is looking a bit tired!

seedlings sown in summer

Still sowing seeds and taking cuttings well into June.  They grow so fast at this time of year, I should have fresh flowers in no time at all!

I better get this posted, it’s been a work in progress since the weekend, not because there’s any amazing content in this post, but because I’m stealing minutes from birthday parties, baseball games, and pool time and would rather sneak in a trip to the nursery than sit at the computer 🙂  But lazy summer days are coming and things should ease up shortly, until then may you enjoy summer as much as I do!

The meadow in June

Last summer ended up being awfully dry in my neck of Pennsylvania, and as a result the grass in the meadow (or orchard if the apple tree ever takes off) took quite a beating.  Parts are so stunted this year you can barely tell it’s been uncut since spring.  This kind of defeats my dream of amber waves of grass rising and falling in the breeze, but it works out great for the new summer bulbs I dibbled around into the turf last fall.  I experimented with a few triteleia and dichelostemma, and although I didn’t expect much out of them after the cold and wet winter, they survived and are now showing off nicely amongst the sparse grass.

triteleia ixioides starlight

The thin grass leaves plenty of room for short bulbs such as triteleia ixioides “starlight”.  It’s not a great picture since it doesn’t show any of the soft yellow of this flower, but it’s the best I could manage!

I needed some bulbs which the rabbits wouldn’t decimate (unlike the crocus) and these have worked out well so far.  I have my fingers crossed they’ll return next year, but for now I’m happy with them.  I think my favorite is this dichelostemma ‘pink diamond’ a natural hybrid from somewhere out of the western end of North America, and hopefully a good match for my dry-as-a-bone-in-summer meadow.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Dichelostemma “pink diamond”, the tubular pink blooms look almost waxy and rise up above the grass while the grass covers up its yellowing leaves.

Sumac and aspen are constantly making a bid to take over the meadow, so I need to get in there and snap them off.  Too bad the lazy little bunnies can’t do me a favor and chew these plants down.  It would finally give the blueberries a break.

dichelostemma pink diamond

The bright color of the “pink diamond” blooms really stand out in the meadow.  Good thing too since last year’s drought was also rough on rudbeckia and daisy seedlings.

Dichelostemma congestum was another treat.  It’s got a clear, bright blue color and also stands out well in the grass.  Hopefully this is another bulb that will settle in and call the meadow home.

dichelostemma congestum

Dichelostemma congestum looking nice up against the only patch of decent grass.

If I trust my seed skills I could try collecting a few and nursing them along for more of these little bulbs, but honestly I think they’re better off falling to the ground and fending for themselves.

dichelostemma congestum

If the butterfly weed was just a little quicker I could have a nice mix of bright orange to go with the daisies and dichelostemma. Summer’s the time for bright combos, right?

So that’s it for the meadow in June.  The butterfly weed is coming along and should make for a colorful intro into July and I’m glad to have a few interesting things back there.  Sure beats the half dead lawn I used to waste my time cutting each week!

Fall is in the air

The last couple days have been cooler, less humid and just plain pleasant to be outside in.  I’m not saying it’s fall weather, but it’s pretty close, and based on the dry, sad state of many plants in my garden I might say they’re ready for this summer to be over.  The front border has been on an IV drip of water and this life support intervention has kept it looking decent.  Having done a mid summer bed expansion here, and having added many annuals and tropicals, it kind of needs it in order to not become a dusty wasteland…. what a lovely contrast to the lawn which has not benefitted from any watering.late summer perennial border

sedum spectabileThe pink in front is a sedum which has been doing very well the last few years.  I always hated this color growing up, but this might be an improved version of regular sedum spectabile.  It was given to me without a name, but after surviving a transplant and division during 90 degree heat I guess I owe it a place.  Next year I’m hoping for an even fuller plant.

From the other direction more of the elephant ear, coleus, and cannas are visible.  The ‘hot biscuits’ amaranthus is blooming now and I like the brown seedheads…. it kind of gives a grainy farmland look here in suburbia.tropicals in a mixed flower border

selfsown sunflowersMy birdseed sunflowers are all doing well in spite of the lack of water and lack of attention.  The only drawback is their lack of pollen, and you can see the centers of the flowers are black, not pollen-yellow.  Pollen free is great for cut flowers but the bees are not thrilled.  A few come by for nectar, which I guess is enough to get them pollinated, but they’re not the busy centers of activity that the rest of the flowers are.

I’m just glad they’re hanging in there.  Sunflowers must be quite drought tolerant for an annual since this is how the rest of the bed looks….  I’ve given up on keeping it watered.drought in the garden

In the backyard, the dahlias are still getting water and even with me cutting nearly every bloom, they’re still giving a nice spot of color in front of the dead lawn.mixed dahlias for cutting

While it was still hot and humid I got around to mowing down the meadow.  I traded in my electric chopper for the day and borrowed my brother in law’s heftier gas powered lawnmower.  It made quick work of the crispy dried grass and wildflowers.  Typically I try to cut back the meadow earlier in the year, but with the hot, dry weather I really didn’t feel like doing anything at all, so it was only now that I found the motivation.  Because of my lack of enthusiasm everything got cut, there was no mowing around butterfly weed or native grasses, it all got the same treatment.  It was a good thing I finally got it done, because for some reason the colchicums have heard the call of autumn and begun to sprout.  How they come up through the dry, hard-packed, rock-like soil is anyone’s guess, and what triggers them to wake up is beyond me, but there they are.  Fresh blooms in a sea of dry crispiness.meadow colchicum

I wish there was some similar promise in this end of the yard.  The Annabelle hydrangeas were fantastic in the spring but now are just dying sticks.  They’ll recover if rain comes soon, but for now everything just skips over our little spot, or never even reaches the ground.drought in the garden

It could easily be worse, there are still a few green weeds in there, but Pennsylvania usually doesn’t go this long without rain.  On top of that it doesn’t help that most everywhere else on the east coast is at above average rainfall… but I have faith.  Right now Thursday is showing 100% chance of rain, and maybe this cooler weather is signaling a change in the weather.

Life on the Prairie

I’m still working on the street border cleanup and expansion.  Normally I would have called it quits as far as digging and transplanting go but with all the rain and overcast days I’m just trying to get  a little more done before the lazy days of summer kick in.  Today the humidity almost killed me but I did manage to push myself and got a little further.  An update is on its way but in the meantime here are a few pictures of another part of the yard.

The far reaches of the yard are left to themselves for most of the year.  I love the wild look but that opinion is not held by everyone who lives here or who peers over the fence.  It will get a rough mowing around the end of July but for now it’s full of wildflowers and bugs and butterflies and bunnies.  I was so pleased with myself for getting all the paths mown I figured I’d take a couple pictures.mown path in meadow

This is the area behind my mother in Law’s house.  It’s a no-man’s land between her fence and the new fence surrounding the new industrial park.  About five years ago this was just bare earth but over the years I’ve seeded in some grass, thrown down some daisy and rudbeckia seed and just kept it mowed (early spring and mid summer) to keep the worst of the weeds from taking over.  Here’s the five year picture.  In the front you can see where I spread the lawn clippings I collected from another part of lawn that had gone to seed.  planting a meadow

wild rudbeckiaThe worst weeds back there are creeping blackberries, Canada goldenrod, and queen anne’s lace.  I think I pulled most of the QA Lace (too invasive) but the blackberries are giving me trouble.  The kids call them “pokies” and I hate the way the runners grab your leg and razor wire a cut right in the sensitive part of your ankle.  I hate them and remember hating them myself as a kid when one got me out in the woods.

Asclepias tuberosaThe wild black eyed susans are blooming now as well as some late oxeye daisies.  Both of these are welcome and I’ve been trying to add some other interesting stuff to keep them company.  The late summer mowing should encourage the early blooming grass to fill in, but I’ve been planting out some butterfly weed seedlings (Asclepsias tuberosa).  The first to reach blooming size is flowering this year, I hope others follow.meadow planting

The chainlink fence went up last year and has cut me off from half the meadow.  There’s a possibility a gate will magically appear in the fence and I’ll again be able to give this a mow.  I’d like to be able to control what grows in back here and don’t want trees too big and too close to the fence.

Back on our side of the fence there’s a second half of the meadow called the ‘orchard’.  I planted an apple tree there this spring, hence the lofty renaming.  The grass in this section is thicker since part was already turfgrass before I started letting in all the daisies.black eyed susan meadow

With the paths mowed and the edges neat I think the meadow has a nice look.  It’s popular with the younger crowd for important activities such as daisy collecting and grasshopper catching.  It’s also a great place for firefly chasing, and since July is firefly season there was a lot of path running as the kids tried to catch as many as they could.meadow planting

I’ll end with a look across from the vegetable garden to the meadow…. I mean orchard…… If you look carefully through the crooked tomato trellis you might catch a glimpse of ‘the queen of the prairie’.  She guards the entrance to the orchard and admires the overgrown lawn.  Some say she’s just an old plaster statue that wouldn’t sell at an estate sale.  I say she’s our queen.meadow garden

garden statueNow back to digging says the queen.

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.