Keep it Classy

You may think that a couple raised beds and an obsession for snowdrops would practically guarantee refined taste and a Martha Stewart garden visit, but as of this evening both have yet to happen.  Sometimes I think neither will happen and then I start wondering if maybe it’s just a problem with the gardener, and his complete lack of class and good taste.  So be it.  I like orange, I like cannas and dahlias,  I like marigolds, and above all I love too much when a little less would have been much more respectable.

french marigold

French marigolds reseeded from last year.  I hear they’re less ‘out’ than they used to be but ‘classy’?  Maybe not yet.

I don’t have the patience or writing skills to really go into why one flower is classy while another is crass, but over the years I’ve picked up on the judgements of my betters and at this highpoint of summer realize that my garden definitely veers towards the trailer park style rather than waterfront estate.

chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemums can be fancy I suppose, just look at the formal displays in the far East style, but as flowers go I think of them as a modern carnation, the flower bouquet you buy when roses and lilies are too expensive.  btw I hate this color, but a friend loves it, so I trust her taste and keep it!

I suppose if you decorate your estate with gobs of full flower chrysanthemums in themed color displays they’re fancy, or if you stick with the truly perennial types which put out sprays of color in late fall you’re good, but my chrysanthemums are mostly the feral offspring of whomever managed to survive the winter.   To me they’re an interesting bunch though, even if the colors aren’t anything extraordinary.  The earliest ones are starting to bloom now, which is far too early and reeks of autumn, but I hope they’re just enthusiastic and can keep this going at least through September.

chrysanthemum

A larger flowered chrysanthemum which showed up under a rosebush one summer.  I’m looking forward to seeing what its seedlings look like in bloom in another two or three weeks.

Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a weed of waste places and abandoned gardens.  Obviously it does well here and obviously it’s not high class, so I always leave a few to grow and flower.  Birds are supposed to like the seeds (although I’ve never seen a bird on it) and I like the way the flowers pop open each day, so this native biennial is ok in my book.  Now if only I could motivate myself to seed out the fancier versions I found last winter.  Oenothera versicolor ‘Sunset Boulevard’ offers dark stems with tangerine flowers overlaid in rose, while the large yellow blooms of Oenothera glazioviana pop open in under a minute as the sun goes down… it’s worth a party, or so I’ve been told.

evening primrose

Oenothera biennis, the common primrose, with a few other classy weeds such as Persicaria orientalis and the golden, too-loud, Rudbeckia fulgens.

Phlox come with an excellent pedigree and are grown in some of the best gardens.  And then they get here.  A few years back I decided to treat my self to a few selections from the ‘Sweet Summer’ series, and a few years forward they’re all dead except for two.  Actually make that one.  ‘Sweet Summer Festival’ would never fully open her blooms and was yanked a few weeks ago and sent to the compost pile.  She came with excellent references, and I thought she would grow out of it but maybe it was some weird tissue culture issue… or she just hated it here and couldn’t be bothered with hiding her disgust.

phlox sweet summer fantasy

Phlox ‘Sweet Summer Fantasy’ looking slightly less fabulous than the pictures had lead me to believe.  “Large flowers, strong upright habit with clean foliage and good branching”…

I was looking at the trash I call a phlox bed today and really gave some consideration to offering up my garden as an extreme test location for new phlox varieties.  I think a new plant would really have to jump through some hoops to do well here, and if anyone out there wants to send me a bunch of free plants for evaluation I’m completely on board… and just to throw it out there even if the plant doesn’t do completely well it doesn’t mean I can’t write a glowing review… I mean integrity is kind of a vague concept these days, and free plants really do hold a lot of sway in this garden.

Aristolochia fimbriata

Aristolochia fimbriata (the white veined Dutchman’s pipe) is actually a very classy little treasure, and look at the little pipe it’s putting out!  downside though, perhaps I should have looked at its mature height and spread before planting it at the base of a six foot trellis.

I always thought of Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) as a trashy plant.  We had it round the garden growing up and my mother would always complain over its leafless stems in May when everything else had already sprung to life, and then I would always complain about the carpet of seedlings which would fill the weed bucket under every bush.  Should I even mention the slimy faded flowers which would litter the ground for two months in late summer?  They were always guaranteed to squish up between your toes, and even better if a slug had come out to take a bite before your foot landed on it all.

rose of sharon white chiffon

‘White Chiffon’ rose of sharon hasn’t reseeded too badly, and when all else fails white flowers always add distinction.

I have to say I like the new rose of sharons.  ‘White Chiffon’ is a smaller version of ‘Diana’ with a little extra fluff in the center of each flower (I still prefer the single ‘Diana’), and if for once I can refrain from accidentally cutting down the bush during spring cleanup I think she’ll be an excellent addition to the garden… unlike the amazingly colored but prolifically seeding ‘Bluebird’ who was shovel pruned.

rose of sharon ruffled satin

Rose of sharon ‘Ruffled Satin’.  I have not seen a single seedling under this one, and to my eye you might even get away with saying this plant looks refined?

I guess the mallow family is often pointed at for weediness and gaudiness, and I’m not sure where the latest court ruling stands at for classiness, but if you move away from shrubby hibiscus to the perennial version it’s really got to be a gray area.  Some of the newest forms are just amazing, but they have all the oversized flowers and inappropriately bright colors of something less refined.  I would grow all of them, but just can’t deal with the ravages of the hibiscus sawfly which eat their foliage to shreds each summer so there’s only one left, and some years he does ok, and other years I just turn away.

hibiscus turn of the century

An ok year for hibiscus ‘Turn of the Century’.  I love it, but it’s a far cry from the five foot shrub covered with blooms which this plant is capable of.

Ok, enough with all this concern over tackiness.  If you look at the last hibiscus photo you might notice a classier plant in the backgound, the chartreuse leaved, 2020 Perennial Plant Association’s plant of the year, Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.  This cool thing doesn’t seem to mind a crushing late freeze, mid summer drought, and rooty shade, and although its two foot height in my garden does not compare well to the 4-6 feet it is typically quoted as, it’s still a wonderful presence.  The plant is a great introduction by plantsman/hunter/explorer Barry Yinger who spotted it atop a Japanese department store in the garden center.  So much easier than bushwacking up a Chinese river valley and climbing cliffsides looking for new plants, but I’m sure that was on the list as well.

Hosta yingerii

Of course when I saw the name I knew I had to try the seeds for Hosta yingerii, and here they are several years later.  

Plant nuts will remember Barry Yinger’s Asiatica Nursery which was an outlet for introducing hundreds of exotic and obscure plants into the American horticultural world, and even if you don’t know it, your garden is probably richer for it.  Even my little plot has a few (hopefully) hardy camellias which are just a few degrees of separation from Mr Yinger collecting seeds under armed escort within sight of the North Korean mainland.  A cool connection me thinks.

Not to swing this around and make it all about me, but I did meet Barry Yinger once.  Not to brag but it was at one of the first Galanthus Galas, and he was off in a side room breaking for lunch when I decided to take my chance.  “Is this where the restrooms are?” was my icebreaker, “No, they’re the next doorway” was his response, and I was on my way.  I don’t think he remembers.

Obviously my classiness is only eclipsed by my social skills, so let me abruptly end this post and wish you all a great week!

Into Summer

This might be the driest this garden has been in about four years and that’s ok.  Warm and dry means the lawn stops growing, and unless I’m being really obsessive about clover flowers,  I can just leave it unmown for a week or two and it doesn’t look much worse for the neglect.  Obviously my vote is always for less work, and the few bees which forage the lawn seem happy with this arrangement as well, but I do notice that none of the other lawns look as nicely “decorated” with flowers.  Again, that’s ok.  It’s dry, but not too dry, and although a few wilted things here and there tug at my conscience as I walk by, it’s not enough to bring me down.  When things go crispy that’s when I start mumbling and luckily we’re not there yet.

front border

The front border is again being dominated by the more drought tolerant plants.  No jungle this year.

Weeding has been a breeze with less water around.  I just hit the sheets of verbena and fennel with the hoe once and most dried up in the sun the next day.  The prickly lettuce is stunted, the crabgrass is anemic.  It’s kind of quiet out there.

kniphofia caulescens

A few years old from seed, kniphofia caulescens is finally putting on a nice show this year.  I love the color and shape, but they pass so quickly so I’m pleased there are still a few more stalks on the way.

There was a decent scattering of clouds yesterday morning so I hurried out to see if I could get a few photos before the glare of the sun returned.  My photo skills are like that and I don’t think I’ll ever amount to anything more than a point and shooter, so I just wait for overcast moments and then take as many as I can.  Funny how I always seem to end up admiring the weeds more than anything else.

scotch thistle

Yes, I still love thistles.  These approve of the drier soil and the stunted sunflowers. (Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium

So I’ve recently gone on and on about my mullein and I’ll spare you from that for a few more days, but there are some nice thistles around the yard and I’m thinking I need more again.  Obviously they’re easy to grow, so a good choice for me, but other weeds are also doing well.

sunny side up pokeweed

The fresh chartreuse of ‘Sunny Side Up’ pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) coming up strong in the front border.  I apologize to those of you who are tired of seeing this amazing plant yet again.

Just for liability reasons, let it be known milkweed should never be planted in a perennial border.  It will spread all over and you’ll regret it.

milkweed perennial

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) spreading throughout the border and welcoming guests to the front porch.  It’s a few days away from blooming and I’m looking forward to enjoying the scent as it drifts through the air.  Maybe I’ll pull a few shoots after the bloom ends… maybe…

I wonder if any of my neighbors realize just how many of the plants here are considered weeds.  A parent came by to pick up a child and said the yard looked nice and it seemed like I had quite a few unusual things growing.  That could be good or bad, but I chose good, and hoped she didn’t notice afterwards that the daisies are remarkably similar to the ones all along the highway and filling every vacant lot along the way.  I suspect nothing was noticed.  Actually my mother in law asked me later that day if she should plant a few in a problem spot behind the house.  Not a bad idea I said, but then shot myself in the foot when I pointed out the dried remains of all the daisies she sprayed with roundup the week before.  She told me to forget it, she’ll see what they have at Lowes…

sand garden paths

Something else.  Sand.  A couple tons of it.

Having several tons of sand sitting in your driveway can go a long way towards distracting people from the fact you’re growing a lot of weeds.  It’s a big pile and that hasn’t changed much since it was delivered Monday, but I’m quite happy about it, and the sand has me feeling rich because (1) there’s so much of it and (2) it’s soooo nice and clean and gritty, and (3) it’s part of the finishing touches for the potager reboot.

potager

Here’s where we’re at.  It looks terrible but I’m blessed with the gift of seeing things how I want them to be rather than what they really look like.  Give me another week or two and maybe I can explain my “vision” 🙂

In spite of how it looks, the potager has been on the receiving end of most of the attention and fussing that the gardener has been passing out this year.  Everything else has been forced to tough it out sans water, but the veggies are  weedfree and irrigated, and I even had to drag in seating so I could just sit and admire the new space.  Sadly this enthusiasm doesn’t extend past the raised beds, and if you look just two feet over, all the promise of a bed filled with poppies and garden phlox is yellowing as it awaits moisture.

breadseed poppies

A little water would have gone a long way towards making this bed a showplace…. but it didn’t happen and the ‘Patty’s Plum’ poppies are starting to dry up just when they should be covered in flowers.

Sorry poppies, you’ll have to set your seeds and hope for better year in 2021.  I hear that’s a common sentiment.  In the meantime, other plants are ahead of the game and have already gone through some funny business in regards to seed setting.  The yellow foxgloves (Digitalis grandiflora) took advantage of some lazy deadheading and then some lazy weeding and have formed a nice patch of seedlings where there was but one yellow foxglove last year.  A curious thing happened though.  I believe Mrs. Yellow Foxglove has not been faithful to Mr. Yellow Foxglove and instead has been entertaining Mr. Rusty Foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) from down the street.  The proof is in the shading, and I’m sure the delivery room was quite the agitated place as Mrs. F tried to explained all the rusty children to her equally pale husband.

digitalis grandiflora ferruginea

Yellow foxglove in the back with various hybrids in front.  I don’t think it’s uncommon for foxgloves to cross like this and of course I like the diversity it adds to the garden. 

Another blooming surprise is taking place on the swingset.  The native Dutchman’s pipe (Aristochola macrophylla) has taken off this spring and is full of the curious little pipes which this vine family is named for.  They’re not the showiest things and I think the only reason my attention was drawn that way was through the overheard conversation between my daughter and a friend about the plant taking over her playset.  I think it’s just fine but apparently they think it’s a little too much, so I guess some day soon I’ll be giving it a trim.  Maybe.  Probably later rather than sooner since right now I’m quite pleased with all the big felty leaves hanging all over the place.  No surprise there since the species name macrophylla means just that, big leaves.

aristolochia macrophylla

The oddly shaped flowers of the Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)

The Dutchman’s Pipe family is quite the group with annual and tropical members and even more bizarre flowers being the rule rather than the exception.  The tropical Pelican flower (Aristolochia gigantea) is the gigantea version, complete with face-sized fleshy looking flowers.  Very cool to see… and look at that, it’s available online for a click… but let’s stop there before I get into trouble.  There’s another native macrophylla in the yard this year, a magnolia in this case.

magnolia macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla, the Southeast US ‘bigleaf’ magnolia… planted way too close to the house of course.

Three or four years from a seed, this magnolia has recovered from a late spring freeze and is now enthusiastically putting out a few of the huge leaves this species is famous for.  Famous might be an overstatement, but I love it, and right now while it’s still below eye level and looking all cool I’m not even thinking about its mature height or its very inappropriate placement.

magnolia macrophylla

Big hand on big leaf.  The underside of these leaves also have a cool fuzz, and in the fall they dry and curl and the fuzz is even better, and they’re still big, and….

There’s a more dwarf form of the bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla ssp. Ashei) that would surely have been a more sensible choice for this garden, but again I digress.  Let’s just abruptly end here since after all these photos were taken the sky became even darker, thunder began to rumble, and we enjoyed a nice summer downpour… which oddly enough was just a few days too early to destroy the delphinium show.

pseudata okagami

Also unaffected by the storm were the pseudata iris (Iris pseudacorus x ensata ‘Okagami’).

So the ground is refreshed and now the lawn needs mowing, vines needs trimming, the weeds will erupt, the sand is heavier, and the bugs have been energized.  Actually it’s pretty awesome even with all the additional work, so let me go and get busy out there before the sunshine and pool distract.  Hope it’s a beautiful weekend where you’re at as well.

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.

I Like Tulips :)

There’s a freeze and awfully cold precipitation on the way, but the sun was out this morning and the tulips in the front border are at their peak.  Whatever route the weather takes this Friday I think we’ll be ok… as long as I don’t think too long about all the fresh lily stalks and iris blooms that won’t easily shrug off real cold temperatures.

tulip border

Out front the tulips are quite nice this year.

Whatever.  I have a long established belief that protecting outdoor plants from outdoor weather is a lot of work, and I have an even longer established belief that more work=bad, so if you do that math for that one you can easily see that the plants here won’t be protected.  Better to just enjoy the sun and admire tulips.

tulip marit

‘Marit’ is a favorite of mine.  There are a lot of favorites, but right now she’s on top.

So I don’t know why the tulips do so well here.  Obviously deer and other vermin aren’t a problem, but beyond that they last for years with little attention from me, and I hear it from many others that this is not typical for most gardeners.

tulip border

Four years ago I planted the ‘Incendiary Mix’ from Van Engelen and they’re still going strong.  

Most of the books would say this is probably not a good spot for tulips.  The ground is heavy and thin, doesn’t drain well, and all kinds of other things grow over the tulips from June on.  I think what they do like is the full sun and the compost and leaves which I (usually) mulch with in early spring.  Also it’s fairly open and breezy which keeps moisture from sitting on the plants.  The tulips do start to dwindle when they get overcrowded, but… well honestly they usually just end up dwindling…  A better gardener would dig and divide when the foliage yellows, but who has time for that!?  Plus a new bag of tulips in October really won’t break the bank.

front border

Honestly.  I deadheaded daffs and cut the grass, but only after I enjoyed the tulips and took pictures.  Here’s the view from the mailbox.

All is not bliss in this tulip world.  ‘Tulip fire’ is a fungal disease which is better or worse depending on how wet the spring is.  It spots the foliage and scars the flowers, but from ten feet it’s easy enough to ignore.  ‘Tulip breaking virus’ is also here, and it shows up as colorful streaks on a normally solid bloom.  Three years after first noticing it I’m still hemming and hawing about pulling and tossing the infected bulbs, and as the years pass they still fascinate me too much to destroy.

tulip virus

Tulip breaking virus on a solid orange tulip.  I can see why the red and yellow streaks could cause a mania.

Some tulips just carry the genetics for streaking.  I’m not sure how one tells the difference, but according to the seller, ‘Spryng Break’ is a genetic sport and not virused, and last fall it was just what I needed to top off a bulk snowdrop order.  Actually I didn’t need them at all.  At 50 bulbs for $15 I just couldn’t resist.

tulip spryng break

‘Spryng Break’ fully open, flanking the front porch, and highlighting my beautiful little deadsedge .

I keep coming back to the tulips along the street though.  In the backyard digging and moving have not done the tulips well, but out front they are excellent.

tulip perennial border

A driver actually slowed down the other day and when I looked up to see who it was they said they were just admiring the flowers.  Lucky them, if it weren’t for social distancing I would have made them get out and take a tour.

The tulips this year are giving me bad thoughts.  The raised bed construction in the potager is nearly complete, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to use all those beds for just some vegetables that you could easily pick up at the farmer’s market…. without struggling for weeks to fight off bunnies and birds and bugs… so I’m thinking they would make nice tulips beds.  Maybe.  Just one.  Or two.  The tulips do need dividing after all.

The Purge

The late daffodils are still rounding out the season, but I can’t wait any longer.  While their blooms are still fresh in my mind I’ve gone around and done a daffodil inventory, and then let loose with the first round of narciss-icide.  I’m down to a baker’s dozen times ten, which I don’t think is excessive at all.  The second assault will start in June, when I dig the crowded clumps and only save as many as I *need* for replanting.

Three more buckets filled.  The survivors look nervous, but I told them they were safe for now.

It looks ruthless and sort of is, but when a bulb or two slowly turns into a foot wide, congested clump, something needs to be done.  Actually something should have been done a few years ago, but better late than never, right?  Let me know if you’re interested in any,  I still feel the slightest twinge of guilt tossing perfectly fine daffodils just because.

daffodil geranium

A happier view of daffodils.  ‘Geranium’ in the front border alongside some moneyplant (Lunaria annua’).  It was beautiful on Sunday and the flowers glowed.

Now I’ll wait until the foliage begins to yellow, about six weeks after bloom, dig the clumps, dry off the bulbs, hang in mesh bags, and then replant this autumn.  Hopefully by then I will still have enough empty spaces to put them all back in to!

Have a great week 🙂

Sorta Spring

If you like a long drawn out spring, this one is for you.  So far this season I only complained once about weather that was too warm, and even that was only ‘outdoor gardening without breaking a sweat warm’, which is much cooler than ‘sitting on the porch doing nothing but sipping a cold drink’ warm.  There have been no windy blasts of 80-90F weather which wilt the daffodils in hours and skip the garden straight to summer… followed by a freeze which has the gardener throwing his hands in the air… and for that I’m grateful.  There was snow though.  I started edging and weeding the front border and had to cut it short because of all the snow showers.  Not so much for me or the plants, but the neighbors already talk, and as I went in to get a hat I thought I better just call it quits instead.

spring bulb garden

Making my way down the border.  No leaf mulch was drug out of the woods this spring, and holy crap are there a lot of seedlings coming up.  It might be easiest to just go with a fennel/verbena bonariensis theme this year. 

I didn’t really mind the precipitation, but working out there in the chilly wet and mud makes me think I might as well garden in the UK or Pacific Northwest, and that’s weather for plants and not what a gardener needs.  The upcoming forecast shows better weather on the way, so I’m sure the weeds can wait another day or two.

Here’s a question.  Dead or alive?  The pots for the front walk were dragged back into position and one still contains a bit of one of those trendy brown sedges from New Zealand.  ‘Red Rooster’ I think.  I didn’t think it would be hardy so assume it died over the winter, but maybe not?  It only looks marginally more dead than it did last year, so I’ve left it in place and added some of the extra tulips which I shouldn’t have bought last fall, said I wouldn’t buy, didn’t need, but got anyway.

tulips in planters

Dead sedge?  Who knows.  

After weeks at home, my daughter must be pretty bored since she offered to help with the planting.  I was glad for the company.  The tulips we planted were supposed to be gifts, but since travel to NY is off for the foreseeable future, these were planted, two were dropped off on local porches, and the rest were dug in by the driveway.  It will work out.

muscari seedlings

The most amazing grape hyacinths (muscari) I’ve ever grown.  They look just like any other dime a dozen muscari, but since they were grown from seed (intentionally), they’re super amazing.

For my daughter digging and planting were entertaining, but trying to explain why the seed grown muscari were so much better than the nearly identical muscari which I deadhead and weed out, was pushing the garden thing too far.  Even she must know that muscari are cheap and easy to buy and come in nicer forms than these, but c’mon!  How cool is it that one of them even has a little white top!?

muscari seedlings

Maybe I’ll divide out this clump, they seem to have a little more variety, and I’d like to see how the one with the white does on its own.  

Of course grape hyacinth from seed is easy, in fact many people complain they’re weedy, but as I go through the garden and divide and transplant I do find a few more special things.  My seedlings of the Asian spicebush (Lindera glauca v. salicifolia) are doing well.  I’d like to use them as a hedge, but need a few more, and in the meantime have potted these up while they wait for their planting site to happen.  They’re still holding onto the dried foliage from last year, a plant habit which I used to hate, but on this plant it just all seems more excellent.

lindera glauca salicifolia

Lindera glauca v. salicifolia seedlings potted up and hopefully ready to spend at least a year under my questionable care.

Transplanting has happened, pruning has happened, bed building has happened, but not much weeding yet.  Still in spite of the weedy mess, I just have to show some of my favorite spring iris foliage.

gerald darby iris

I’ve shown the purple spring foliage of iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ before, but some of the pseudata iris can also put on a show, in this case a bright springtime yellow flush of new leaves.  I think the cool weather helps.   

I’ve moved on to weeding not because the potager is finished, but because my better half has banned me from running to the store to get the lumber I think I need to finish.  The first veggies can still be planted, but I’ll wait until it looks slightly better before sharing another photo.  In the meantime if you remember I mentioned one slightly warmer day.  That one day encouraged me to sit around in the shade, and while sitting around, the guilt of laziness encouraged me to weed and clean the little moss bed I’m trying to grow.  Yes it doesn’t look like much, in fact this is what other people end up when they do nothing, but I of course am pleased.

moss garden

A bit of moss in a shady corner.  Ruined terra cotta and a few tree trimmings to camouflage the drainpipe and I think it looks ok.  I wonder if tiny hepaticas could survive here.  hmmmmm. 

So that’s it from here.  I think the cloudy gloom will lift in another few hours and although it’s still a little wet to do anything serious, I’m sure I can find something interesting to “think about” outside.  I hope your spring is also going well.

A Few Words

We are wrapping up our fourth week here since entering quarantine and the garden is still surprisingly unkempt and disorganized.  The gardener likes to suggest it’s because he’s busy double timing as a common core math teacher to a 6th grader, and in spite of holding a minor in Mathematics it’s a daily struggle, but it’s also been pointed out that the gardener spends a lot of time “thinking”, and often that thinking is interpreted as “just sitting around”.  Obviously sitting around does not get jobs done.

chiondoxa

Chiondoxa continues to spread.  These are all clones off a bulb moved years ago, and seem to be waiting for a partner to set seed, but each time weeds are pulled or the gardener thinks the spot is empty and tries to plant something else there, a few bulbs get moved a little further.

The gardener has been thinking the weather has been great, and the gardener has been thinking the sky is bluer than normal, and the gardener has been thinking it’s nice to have time to sit in the springtime sun without some desperate need to get just one spring chore done before dark.  But the gardener has also been wondering if there have always been so many snakes in the yard.

garden snake garter

One of the garden’s garter snakes reading a snowdrop label.  It’s ‘Three Ships’ Mrs Snake.

I do like the snakes.  One chilly morning I came across three little balls of snake out in the morning sun and I was surprised.  A good surprise though, not the EeeAhhhugh Oh! surprise you get when one of these slithery serpents zips away from your reaching hand or approaching step.  I think there’s something primordial in our natural fear of snakes, and I don’t entirely trust a person who just shrugs them off.  Pick them up, fine, handle them, fine, you can think your way through that, but when one zips across your path you better jump a little.

raised beds potager

The raised beds are coming together in the potager.   It’s going to be very neat I suspect.  I hope I don’t miss the late summer mayhem of overgrowth and decay, but who’s to say that won’t happen anyway.

It’s been taking forever it seems to get the raised beds built.  There are a number of plants to move or pot up, but I really do blame the gardener.  Not to dwell on the snakes, but work was called off entirely the other day when rustling in the boxwood hedge turned out to be an inappropriately writhing ball of snake procreation…. with an embarrassingly plural number of participants… it was watched for longer than it should have been, but it was interesting to see and of course if that’s what they need to do amongst the daffodils then lets just call off work for the afternoon to give them some privacy.

daffodil glaston

The cool days and cooler nights are bringing out the richest colors in many of the narcissus clumps.  Here’s the daffodil ‘Glaston’, looking luscious and tropical with its fruity cup colors.

So rather than work hard, the gardener looks at daffodils.

daffodil beersheba

Daffodil ‘Beersheba’, a pre 1923 daffodil (according to Daffseek) and nearly 100 years later, still a wonderful thing to have flowering.

Honestly the daffodils here have been tortured by poor drainage and neglect recently, and the show is not nearly as impressive as in other years, but the fewer words on that the better.  What does warrant a few more words are the corydalis.  They’ve enjoyed the cool weather as well and still look great.  Mostly.  Rabbits gave most if the ones in back a haircut, so….

corydalis solida

Corydalis solida, some named.  The pink in front is the highly acclaimed ‘Gunite’, while the darker red in back is ‘Milda’.

I do like poking through all the corydalis seedlings.  Some are great and plenty are nice, and there’s not that pressure you get with snowdrops to pick out and consider naming every next great thing.  I guess corydalis don’t offer the same wild diversity that snowdrops hold 😉

corydalis solida vanessa

Even with all the nice seedlings, I’m still willing to try a few new named ones here and there.  This new one was described as having exquisite “sky-blue lips and white spurs”… and I suppose that’s possible.

Of course why stop at a good thing?  If you can killed expensive named forms, why not try knocking off a few harder to find species?  These next two prefer summer-dry, Russian steppe/rocky woodland type environs.  The gardener isn’t sure if he should be insulted that the garden contains these types of planting areas, or pleased that the garden has made these happy for a third year, but in any case each spring could easily be their last.

corydalis schanginii ssp. ainae

Corydalis schanginii ssp. ainae growing well in the same conditions that favorTaraxacum officinale.  Apparently much of my garden is well suited to Taraxacum officinale.

Many gardeners crave blue corydalis.  I’ve discovered a knack for killing blue corydalis.  It’s kind of silly knack considering how easy blue scilla are, and hyacinths, and grape hyacinths, but if you know a perfectly perfect flower also comes in various blue shades, of course you need that color, and this gardener is no different.

corydalis fumariifolia

The first blue corydalis to last more than a spring or two (and not look completely miserable while doing it) Corydalis fumariifolia might even be expanding its reach.  I could use another clone.  Maybe seeds could happen with cross pollination…

Lets get back to easier things.  A few words for the front border as daffodil season hits its stride.

spring bulbs

Perhaps spring flowers can distract the neighbors from a shoddy cleanup and an un-edged and un-weeded front border.  Seriously, what does that gardener even do around here?

As I think on it (there he goes again not really doing anything measurable), the gardener spends way too much time on nonsense.  To mention a few words on the front border we could say ‘hyacinths and daffodils are easy and they look great’, but there goes the gardener again poking around and making things complicated.  Amongst all the daffodil color he’s most excited to see a few purple leaved moneyplants (Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’) finally showing a good amount of purple.  It was hard yanking the all green seedlings which used to rule, but over the years they are finally as purple as the strain should be.

Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’

Those are not weeds, they’re the much anticipated purple leaves of Lunaria annua ‘Rosemary Verey’.

I’ll leave you with even fewer words.  Hellebores are up.

hellebore

A nice picotee yellow seedling.

Another year without a late freeze and they’re all looking good.

hellebore

‘Golden Lotus’ and ‘Peppermint Ice’ with a mess of less showy things.

Hope this post finds you well.  Snow squalls are keeping the gardener inside today so rather than clean the bathrooms he’s blogging, but in spite of that he still gets fed three times a day.  Not bad.

A Project For the Pandemic

I’m extremely lucky.  Both my wife and I are able to work from home, while this health crisis spreads across the land and attacks our healthcare system, and our children are home here with us.  Our immediate family can afford to do the same.  Only a few of our closer friends are on the front lines as healthcare providers, and the area we live in has yards, streets to walk, and woods to wander.  I wish it were the same for everyone.

pulsatilla vulgaris

The first pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) opens.  I love their furry sweaters and the saturated color the cool weather brings on.

It’s not though, and the beautiful, early spring is a bit surreal alongside the news headlines and overall concern.  So we stick to home and the garden.

corydalis solida seedlings

Blue Scilla siberica and the red tones of Corydalis solida seedlings have officially taken over the front foundation beds.

Working from home frees up about two hours worth of commute each day, and with lunch and breaks it easily adds up to an extra three hours of spare time each weekday.  Sometimes I even stretch my lunch a little, but please don’t tell.

potager remodel

The potager is getting raised beds.  The old edging is coming out and the new layout is being planned.  I have no idea where all the soil to fill raised beds will come from but I’m sure something will work out.

After an ordering fiasco and delivery disaster the wood for the beds has arrived.  Normally I’d make a thousand trips to piecemeal and nickel and dime the entire project, but for once I planned a bit and will hopefully have most of what I need.  We will see.  As projects go it’s fairly simple and straightforward except for two things.  (1) The site is not all that level, and (2) Thousands of plants are in the way.

flower bulb bed

The zucchini and gooseberry bed…. but then underplant the berries with colchicums.  Edge the beds with chrysanthemums.  Tulips came in with the compost.  Daffodils will die down before the zucchini needs room.  The rose is so small… oh I need a spot for these snowdrops…

Common sense would say dig it all under and buy a few new bulbs in the fall.  This was considered, and then considered again, but of course by Thursday I decided to save as much as I can.  How can I dig under tulips just a few weeks away from blooming?  Things are now being moved if possible, or just plain potted up with hopes for a miracle in space becoming available.

spring bulb border

The front border starting to look less sloppy and more flowery.

The potager is going to be a mess for a while so I’ll leave you off with a view of the front street border.  The mowed up debris of last year is starting to become less noticeable as spring bulbs come up green and burst into flower.  Surely some good must come of this.

Have a great week, and all the best.

A Down Day

I don’t know how non-gardeners do it.  Today was a sloppy, sleety, chilly day and after just a few hours of being cooped indoors I’m almost ready to try doing the taxes on my own.  We are hunkering down for our second week at home and although the yard doesn’t look much better for it, at least the open air and sunshine was a nice distraction.  One day inside and I can’t imagine what the rest of our neighbors do to fill the time.  I wonder if they even know the birds are singing and the buds are bursting in spite of the messy weather.

pussy willow

Pussy willow just starting

Things weren’t perfect before, but it was good enough with a coat on and decent mudding shoes, and considering it was still mid March I consider that to be excellent.  The sunshine and warmth ended the snowdrops but there’s always more on the way.

'Tête à Tête' daffodil

The first daffodils are coloring the front beds a springtime gold.  ‘Tête à Tête’ in front, ‘Tweety Bird’ towards the street. 

Corydalis solida and the first daffodils are leading the next flush, and in spite of the snow they’re a sign of real spring.

Tweety bird daffodil

‘Tweety Bird’ is my favorite early daffodil.  It handles the weather well and I love the form.

Maybe a down day is a good thing.  I’ve been pruning, trimming, transplanting, and fixing and after being inside for winter and work, I’m a little short of the normal gardening endurance levels.  Nothing a little a dose of Tylenol can’t fix 😉

corydalis purple bird

Corydalis solida ‘Purple Bird’.  Many of the named corydalis just abruptly disappear in this garden, but their many seedlings are often just as good (or dare I say better?)

I won’t bore you with the less than impressive transplants and prunings.  Most are just balls of mud in new positions which only I will notice, but one thing which may be noticeable is that plans are afoot.

potager

The work never strays far from a convenient rest spot.  It’s always good to reflect on any progress.

The plans are the byproduct of too much sitting around and thinking, and when it gets bad the gardener decides change for change’s sake might sound like progress, so giddy up!

So wood has been ordered for the construction of raised beds.  Someone here thinks the vegetable component of the potager will be much more productive if the beds are raised… I think planting fewer flowers might help… we will see.  In any case I’m sure it will turn into much more work than it should be, and take far longer.  That makes sense since it’s already cost more than we’ll ever make back in fresh produce.  In any case, have a productive and healthy week!

Panic Buying

We stocked up on a few things during our last trip to the store, things like chocolate chips, cheese, and icecream, all the essentials you’d need to live on cookies and pizza for the next few weeks, but we were happy enough to skip the toilet paper aisle.  My wife has been hoarding toilet paper since before it was cool, so even with the current demand for paper products we still have at least a month before we need to crack open the paper towel vault.  We all have our panic point though, and mine was warming weather and a lack of any decently sized camellias in the garden, so Friday order, Wednesday ship, and Thursday a sigh of relief.

“Hardy” camellias from Camellia Forest Nursery.  Huge plants, awesome quality… much better than I could ever have imagined!

Panic buying is not based in rational thought, and camellias are not hardy in my zone, but… I’ve been dabbling with a few seedlings.  They’ve survived.  I spoke with Charles Cresson who grows many camellias in his Swarthmore Pa garden.  He suggested I look into the Korean forms of Camellia japonica.  Things were researched, plants were purchased 🙂

When I say camellias are not hardy in my area I mean to say most camellias are not hardy here.  Charles knows a thing or two about camellias, and has been growing them for decades a zone or two south of here, and he pointed me towards the Camellia japonica genetics collected by Barry Yinger in the late 70’s to early 90’s from islands off the Korean Peninsula.  To hear the story of seed collecting under armed escort within sight of North Korea sounds like quite the adventure, but the more restrained Morris Arboretum version is available here.  I’ve heard the hardiest of the seedlings have survived -29F.

So we will see.  Obviously I don’t know where they will be planted.  The two magnolias don’t have a home either, but it’s good to be prepared.