Spring keeps rolling along

As it is with most things here, the gardener is not exactly on schedule with his gardening.  He’s not exactly on schedule with many things, but the late freeze and the discouraging damage it did to so many spring greens has left him slightly unmotivated.  Then the relentless rain and cold damp brought on rot, and now dry weather is bringing spider mites to the phlox.  So the gardener will restart his spring in mid May and deal with the mites.  He’ll also accept that many projects will again not happen, and will just clear his conscience and move on.  Iris are beginning to bloom after all, and once the iris start to fill the flowerbeds with color and perfume it’s hard to hold onto a black mood.

narcissus keats

One of my last daffodils to open, narcissus ‘Keats’ was voted ‘ugliest thing to bloom’ by a more serious daffodil friend.  I’m always one to love the underdog. 

One minor project (which seems to be the only project type I’m capable of tackling this spring) which was finally taken care of was the long suffering heuchera plantings.  A few summers ago I dipped my toes into the hybrid heuchera world and since then they’ve been suffering along in my garden.  My planting beds get too dry, my shade isn’t as high and dappled as they’d like, and my soil is too heavy for their roots but I try nonetheless.  They still have plenty of filling in to do but if you saw the before picture I’m sure you’d agree this is an improvement.  Unfortunately the tan lawn clipping mulch doesn’t do much to set the foliage off, but it’s better than weeds I suppose.

transplant and divide heuchera

The woody stems of the heuchera clumps were dug up, ripped apart and carelessly stuffed back in to the re-dug bed and the plants actually look much happier after their tough love treatment.    

As summer heat settles down on the garden this holiday weekend, I just wanted to celebrate the meadow and a few of the newer plantings which did well this spring.  Number one on the list were the tulip clusiana bulbs which planted into the turf.  They looked perfect out there and I hope they return just as nicely next spring.

tulipa clusiana

Tulip clusiana (I think they were a named variety but I’ll need to dig out the tag) were scattered around in the meadow garden.  I will be extremely happy if they settle in here!

A few Anemone blanda look nice in the shadier parts of the lawn.  I tried throwing them around in several of the outer edges of the garden and then promptly forgot until little sparkles of blue started showing up here and there.  My goal for this one is to recreate the neglected show which used to pop up each spring around my first apartment in upstate NY.  If this plant can naturalize around a ramshackle college boarding house I think it stands half a chance here.

blue anemone blanda

Blue Anemone blanda in the “lawn”. 

Muscari is practically a weed everywhere so I added a few of those as well.  The flowers on these grape hyacinths were nice enough but now I keep looking at the seed heads with their kind-of aqua tint.  I wonder if it was the cooler temperatures or if they’ll always have this attractive look…. or is it just me that thinks they look cool?

muscari seed pods

Seed heads on the grape hyacinths (Muscari).  In other parts of the garden I clip them off to limit their seeding around, but here I’ll risk it 🙂

Most of the bulbs were brought in as bulbs, but if you know me you know there are a few seeds coming along as well.  My little gravel covered pots are bursting with new plants this spring and even though the last freeze did a few things in the majority seemed to enjoy our mild winter.  I’m always a bit surprised anything will grow up through gravel, but in some pots even the tiniest of seedlings make a crowded moss of new green sprouts…. which will soon desperately need thinning!

hypericum albury purple

Hundreds of Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’ seedlings sprouting in the center pot. Realistically I need about two.

With new seedlings coming along each spring there are always new surprises as youngsters open their first blooms.  A couple years ago I thought I’d dabble in a few species anemones and see how they do in the meadow, and although I’m not sure they’re all correctly labeled, for now I’m just enjoying them for whatever they are.

aneomone caroliniana

Not Anemone caroliniana?  Pretty regardless, and it looks like it might be able to hold its own if I move it out into the thinner areas of grass.  

One seedling which has a positive ID is this cool little Japanese Jack-in-the-pulpit or snow rice-cake plant (Arisaema sikokianum).  I was surprised to see any of these three year old seedlings flower, and although the actual flower is definitely on the small side for this species they say size doesn’t matter in these things and I’ll just keep admiring the fancy little bloom.

arisaema sikokianum

Arisaema sikokianum.  Although my picture doesn’t do it justice, I hope you can appreciate the mottled foliage and bright contrasts of this flower. 

So that’s the basic update.  I promise this will be the last time I moan about freezes and such, but I can’t promise some other weather event won’t come along shortly to take its place.  Whatever happens it’s a great iris weekend and I’m sure I’ll be going on about that next 🙂

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

Paper wasps!

We were off on holiday weekend visits for three days but to look at things outside you would think we’ve been gone a week!  It was hot, there were seedling casualties, but most stuff survived and the heat made a couple things explode into growth.

One thing that is growing is the paper wasp nest we found in the little dawn redwood.  paper wasp nestI’d rather it wasn’t so close to the sandbox but the kids want it to stay and I’m willing to see how that works out.  The kids are old enough to know better than to antagonize them, but I’m not so sure how that will hold up when the boys get together and hit an “I’m bored” moment….. Obviously I wouldn’t be doing this if there were any known sting allergies around.

The nest is only about four feet up, and I’m curious as to how these guys chose their nest site.  Out of all the bushes and trees around the yard they pick this one.  The one closest to the play area.  Go figure.  But it is interesting to watch them working on the nest, doing what paper wasps do.bald faced hornet

This can easily turn out to be one of those “that was stupid” posts…. time will tell.  Hopefully in the fall when this set of wasps die and they abandon the nest (they only use it one year) the next generation will pick a better spot.   In the meantime I hope they help themselves to as many caterpillars, bugs and spiders as they want, they can be a great beneficial insect, and I hope they’ll keep my kindness in mind when I absentmindedly bump the nest while mowing back there…. that should be funny to watch.

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.

New bird sighting

common redpollThese have probably been to the feeder before, but yesterday after a closer look I saw we had a small flock of redpolls sampling the sunflowerseed.  Cool,  I’ve never seen one before.   It’s a bird of the tundra and boreal forest, so not exactly a hopeful sign for spring, but a new bird is always something.  They were followed later in the day by a swarm of starlings searching out grubs and worms in the lawn and then a flock of grackles eating the cracked corn.  Even though grackles are listed as year round residents here I only notice them in the spring.  With that in mind I’ll count them as a sign of warmer weather.
Indoors I planted the next bunch of seed.  These were the 4-6 weeks before frost bunch and although I’m on the late side once things go outside they will hopefully catch up.