Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.9.17

My gardener has been extremely unmotivated these last few weeks as he comes to terms with the long stretch of hot dry weather which has settled down upon this corner of Pennsylvania.  Months and months of not needing to water and not having to concern himself with pampering transplants has spoiled him, and the last month of humid, buggy, unseasonable heat has him refusing to work.  As a result this week’s Tuesday view is not much changed from the last view, and other than the general air of decay setting in, there hasn’t been much of a fight put up against this end of season degeneration.

front border

Today’s Tuesday View.  Autumn is here.

The garden did get a good soaking this weekend when the latest hurricane leftovers blew through, but the humid dampness also brought the local gnat population to an electrified frenzy.  Lets hope it also electrifies the gardener since all we’ve gotten out of him in the last few weeks has been a 20 minute manic attack on a relatively innocent Rose of Sharon bush (Hibiscus syriacus ‘bluebird’).  It happened one overly warm afternoon, shortly after he was heard ranting something to the effect of  “look at all those friggin’ seed pods, no way I’m pulling up thousands of seedlings next spring”.  So out it came.

front border

Sometimes pretty blue flowers and inoffensive green leaves just aren’t enough.  The Rose of Sharon is out now, but unfortunately the branches, rootball, and garden cart still sit where the gardener left them over a week ago.  Not even the threat of a Tuesday View was enough to get him moving!

Fortunately there have been a few other autumn goings on which can distract us from the local labour’s laziness and sloth.  The fall bloomers are coming on in full force and the Monarch migration has reached its highpoint.

aster raydon's favorite

We are on the downside of the migration but Monarchs still keep fluttering on through.  Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ might not be the Monarch’s favorite but as far as asters go it’s mine.  It tolerates drought, needs nothing from me, and flowers for weeks.  

There are always a few dozen butterflies floating through the air, and as you stroll they take off and circle in a round, lazy pattern which makes you wonder how they ever manage to make it all the way to Mexico.  But they do, and although it’s still on the warm side they better get a move on it.  Frost is coming and the last nectar-filled flowers won’t be around forever.

pepper sedona sun

Some color at the midpoint of the bed.  An unknown purple mum from a years-past porch decoration and the cute little orange and yellow fruits of ‘Sedona Sun’ pepper.  Each year I like ornamental peppers more and more and who knows, maybe next next spring will turn into pepperpalooza!  

The last big hurrah of the front border will be the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) at the far end.  Most years the peak of pinkness hits only to be followed by a bleaching frost but this year my fingers are crossed for at least a few days of enjoyment.  I’ll try for a better photo next week with a little late afternoon sunshine but for now you’re stuck with a little of the grass with yet another Monarch perched in front.

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly surrounded by the colors of autumn.

So that wraps up this Tuesday’s view, and it also signifies the beginning of the end of the 2017 season.  You may have noticed that in spite of the heat I’m no longer quite as convinced that summer will never end, and I’m actually accepting that autumn is here.  I guess it was inevitable, and if you’d like to see what it looks like in other parts of the world give Cathy a visit at Words and Herbs to check up on a few other Tuesday Views.  I hear she is also admitting the season is winding down.

As always have a great week!

Visiting Jean

My friend Jean has an amazing garden which she’s been working on for years and she’s made it into a treasure trove of color and textures which flourish in spite of the thin mountainside soil she first started with.  I love a garden which you can walk through and experience and this garden fits that bill perfectly.

jeans pond

Yoga frog leads the class of froglets who follow along from the safety of the pond.

It’s a sheltered garden filled with the sounds of running water.  You enter the backyard though a shaded arbor at the end of a long drive which leads you through the large wooded lot.  What first grabs your attention when you step through the gate is the large pond carved into the mountainside.  It looks as if it’s always been there, a relaxing little nook left over from when the glaciers last scrubbed this part of Pennsylvania.

jeans pond

Looking out across from the house and main patio to the pond.  A natural stone path leads to a cozy seating area and fire pit, a clematis covered arch marks the path out into the garden beyond.

You have two choices here, explore the pond and gardens to your left or ignore the deck and patios (and inviting patio seating) surrounding the house and let the color of the slope to the right draw you in.  We usually choose the flowery slope 🙂

jeans garden

Jean’s garden is always magazine ready.  It’s got color, paths, destinations, focal points, vignettes… Here container plantings line the stone steps which take you to the upper garden.

I guess the upside to gardening on a thinly covered, rocky mountainside is that stone paths and walls are just an arm’s length away… assuming you’ve got a prybar and shovel at the end of that arm!  Over the years Jean has built up terraces and pickaxed out level planting areas to make room for her plant addiction and they really keep the garden interesting with their changes in elevation and solid structure.

jeans garden

Color galore with annual plantings and summer perennials.  Of course if there’s a nice bright phlox I have to include the picture 😉

The top of the slope has been kept open for sun and leveled to make room for all the summer color that fills this end of the garden.  On my last visit the dahlias were just starting to take off and I hope I wasn’t too pushy with my hints of how much I liked the colors and how well they’d look in my own garden!

Zinnias, calibrachoa, and of course dahlias.  This picture just doesn’t do the scale justice, the pot of purple fountain grass is probably about six feet up on a tower of container plantings.

Jean is just a little obsessed.  It’s hard for me to believe a gardener could be that way but she’s got plants all over, she’s got plant inventories, she’s involved in plant groups, she travels for plants, and she’s got about a million plans which are on the drawing board.  It’s always fun talking to her as her compulsively organized type A personality deconstructs gardening.

jeans dahlias

Even the plant supports are well thought out and complement the yellows, oranges, reds and purples of this section.

Beyond the sunny and bright center of the garden, pathways take you out into the more shaded woodland edges.  Hydrangeas abound and although I didn’t get any decent pictures of them individually, if you start looking you’ll see they show up nearly everywhere… and not just planted ones… believe it or not there are hundreds of hydrangea seedlings in any open spot of soil or gravel which gets a little sun.  What a thought to have to weed out handfuls of hydrangea!

jeans garden

Stone lined paths run throughout the garden and special shrubs and trees fill every available space.  Here the left side of the path is dominated by an eight foot tall planting of purple angelica (Angelica gigas ‘purpurea’).

If there’s one thing which Jean struggles with it’s the local vole population.  Deer are around as well but at least you can fence them out.  Voles are a curse.

jeans garden

The shadier planting still look great but at one time they were also filled with hostas.  Lots of them.

Soil additives, traps, caged plantings, containers, all are in use to wage war against the rodent hordes but as Jean likes to say, her stone walls and rock ledges are practically vole condos so it’s a continuous battle.

jeans garden

Round about the back a pathway has been planted up as a scented walkway.  On a previous visit the fragrance of oriental lilies filled the air, on my my last visit it’s been replaced by the scent of passionflowers and fragrant hostas.

Fortunately she’s holding her own and shows no signs of throwing in the trowel.  Score one more for Jean.

jeans garden

Shaded steps leading around to the fire pit.  I love how things fill in here, and you could plant a whole other garden with the dwarf goats beard, ferns, and other goodies which sprout up in the cracks.

I’ll leave you with one last pond photo as we return to the house.

jeans pond

Just the right amount of water lilies for interest and open water for light reflection.  I’m sure the Japanese maple is awesome in the fall but my favorite right now is the airy variegated moor grass Molinia caerulea ‘Variegata’).

As you exit the garden off the main patio you can’t help but notice how well Jean grows climbing nasturtium.  Although I love the leaves and flower colors, this is one plant I always struggle with.

jeans nasturtium

Nasturtium climbing the arch.  It looks so healthy!

And that takes us back to where we started.  I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did and it’s inspired me to make more paths and get more shrubs in the ground.  Structure.  That’s what I need… just like snowdrops are what Jean needs 😉

Thanks Jean!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 6.13.17

Welcome back!  That’s what I’m saying to myself as I get back to posting Cathy’s weekly view… after an *ahem* three week absence…

street border

This afternoon’s hot and muggy Tuesday view.  The iris are faded, summer has arrived, but the border is looking slightly less than interesting.

There are the usual being busy excuses, the typical computer broke problems, and of course home improvement projects which take on a life of their own, but today I’m more interested in letting you in on a little secret.  For as much as this might shock you, this blog is not as highly trafficked as the witty dialog and artistic photos might indicate.  Posts over the last few weeks have been down, and to be honest there’s not much pressure to post when your daily view count averages in the low 20’s.  As I think on it and ponder the reasons I’m starting to wonder if it’s the raw realness which is turning people off.

fading tulips

Although I’m completely distracted by the second, third, and fourth bloom stalks rising up from my precious red lupine, others might see faded iris stalks, yellowing tulips, overly vigorous weeds, and stray play equipment… I guess in an attempt to mend fences I should apologize for the mess 🙂

Maybe this upcoming week I can pretty things up and polish up on the blog’s readability.  Zinnia seedlings are just a seed packet away and the unusually reliable rains this spring should be very forgiving to late plantings.  In the meantime looking at the far end of the border should cheer someone up.

red hot poker kniphofia

I forgot which red hot poker (kniphofia) this is but I have yet to find one I don’t like.  Sure this one is over in something like two weeks, but I keep holding out hope I’ll find one with a longer season.  The rose is ‘William Baffin’ by the way.

‘William Baffin’ is taking over the end of the border and I’m just fine with that.  No disease problems, absolute hardiness, a nice 6 foot height, and even a little rebloom makes it a decent rose… but stronger fragrance would make it an awesome rose.  I bet all the better blogs have fragrant roses.

William baffin rose

‘William Baffin’ rose, hordes of fennel, and the first blades of the variegated Arundo donax grass coming up and swamping what used to be an iris patch back in May.

Who am I kidding?  Summer is finally here, the grass is a color other than its typical June brown, and there’s always a ton of new things to admire.  Maybe a little less admiring on my part and a little more work, but I’m quite pleased with (most of) the garden and even though I can’t go around the table asking cabinet members to tell me how amazing I am, at least I can look through older posts and hear myself remind myself how amazing I am.

The roses are coming on in the tropical bed as well. Plus three days of heat and humidity have done more for the cannas than three weeks of sitting in the cool dirt. Finally they’re sprouting.

So it’s an optimistic Tuesday view, and as long as I don’t dwell too long on all the other even more excellent blogs out there, I should be able to make it through the week without regretting the $3 a month which “Sorta Suburbia” demands.

Speaking of other more excellent blogs I’d like to mention and thank Cathy at Words and Herbs for her continued support of the Tuesday view.  She and other more excellent bloggers can be found there each week and come Tuesday it’s always a pleasure to see the seasons have progressed another week.  Enjoy!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 5.16.17

The spring bulbs are over.  It was up to 92F (33C) today and suddenly the feel of summer is in the air and there’s a new rush on planting and trimming and all the projects which were on the to-do list.  I wasn’t going to post this week, but with iris season fast approaching it’s probably better to at least look a little level-headed for another week or so before going completely off the deep end again with the next big flower flood.  Right now I think of this as the green phase, and with the lawn freshly cut and the beds not yet overrun with weedlings I think it looks springtime calm.

street border

Not much color.  Tulips have faded and been deadheaded but other than that it’s been a no-work week. 

I continue to border on sainthood as more and more days go by without any major plant purchases, but make no promises about the next week or two.  I do have to confess one moment of weakness though which happened a few weeks ago.  It was during pansy season so I don’t think it counts but I am concerned that I would have tried to hide it had I not been busted by a visiting blogger last week.  This plant really is an example of giving in to temptation.

lupine red rum

Lupine ‘Red Rum’.  Perfectly grown, budded, and the tag promised a color which easily breaks through my steeliest resolve.  I resisted also buying a purple, but this one was too tempting and even if it does die in another year or less I’m still sure having it here now makes me a better person.

Otherwise nothing else is putting on a show, even though a patch of ‘Gladiator’ alliums looks decent enough.

allium gladiator

Allium ‘Gladiator’ and a solitary bee.  People are worried about bee populations dropping but I feel like all bugs (other than gnats and mosquitos) are becoming scarcer. 

I shouldn’t go on too much in a post about nothing.  In an attempt to leave you with a bit of substance, here’s a flashback of last year’s Tuesday view, the tropical border.  The bed seems to have picked up a number of perennials and hopefully that’s not a problem now that it’s warm enough for the tropicals to go in again.

the tropical garden

With a fresh border of mulch the tropical garden is beginning to get its summer residents.  Oranges and yellow zinnias are the first to go in and I guess that means it will be another bright planting 😉 

The tropical bed didn’t take nearly as many zinnias as I thought so it looks like we’ll also have a nice orange theme when the extras go into the front street border.  I’m not sure how that will work out but as usual I’m not too concerned.

Thanks again to Kathy at Words and Herbs for hosting this weekly view, and please consider giving her blog a visit to see what others are talking about this week.  I hear she’s also dealing with the first warm spells of the year and it’s exciting to think summer is just around the corner…

Getting Roots in the Ground Again

2016/17 been a remarkably mild winter in this corner of Pennsylvania, and although February usually brings us some of our harshest cold and winter storms, this year it’s going out with a whimper.  For a few days I won’t complain but beyond that I can’t promise anything.  March has a history of big snow-dumps and hopefully if they do come they’re more picturesque than they are damaging, and hopefully this quirk of a winter is also not some dark prequel to an even worse global warming future.

Without a solid slate-cleaning this winter I’m a little lost heading into the 2017 gardening season.  It all still seems so ‘last year’ so I suppose I’ll use that as my excuse for not putting out the usual bored with the snow, don’t want to face the cold, winter time flashback posts, but let me at least try and get this one post out before I’m lost outside again searching for spring sprouts.  It goes back to 2002 when the ignorance of youth thought it would be a good idea to buy a house, lose a job, and get engaged all in the same two months.

dupont house

Our diamond in the rough.

Before I get too distracted with the story I want to point out that a normal first impression of our little valley usually dates it at around 20 years behind the rest of the country.  It’s a region who’s boom time began at the tail end of the 1700’s with the discovery of vast deposits of anthracite coal; the cleanest, hardest, and highest carbon coal out there, and the fuel which powered the economic and manufacturing development of this entire region.  For about 100 years we were riding high but it was a one horse show, and by the 1950’s the horse was definitely showing its age.  Deep mining had shifted to strip mining and the whole region went into a kind of long term hibernation of fleeing youth and aging residents.  Our house is an example of the ‘build it quick for housing’ phase and was probably built around 1910 as cheap two family housing for miners.  After decades of rough living it was probably worth our $24,000 purchase price.

garden renovation

100 years of history and the yard didn’t even have a peony or daffodil.  Gardening was confined to an overgrown privet hedge which looms to the right and a single mass of lilacs growing alongside a decaying shed.

I optimistically brought all the potted plants over from my former apartment balcony and then later watched them freeze as first the plumbing and then heat and finally electricity were pulled out and replaced.  In case it’s not obvious from the photos or purchase price the house was in horrible condition, so much so that when the realtor’s odd girlfriend took her small dog into the house and allowed it to pee on the kitchen doorjamb it barely raised an eyebrow.  I guess we were too distracted by the rotted floor boards, cobbled home repairs, and ‘evidence’ of vermin infestation.

new garden

That fall I planted daffodils, and in between gutting the house and piecing together scraps for a rabbit hutch, put in the first patch for gardening and trimmed back the near side of the privet. oh yeah, and actually transplanted grass so that I had at least one nice strip of lawn to walk on.

As I’m very fond of saying, ignorance is bliss, and for several months the economic realities of the newly unemployed demanded that I just “polish and put a shine on shit” and hopefully have a resale value once the journey was done, but a former girlfriend now fiancée had different ideas.

new garden

I have no idea why I had to have a waterlily even when I didn’t have a running toilet, but there it is.  Until the next dumpster arrives, what better use is there for a 1960’s avocado green bath tub? 

After several months of basement and utility renovations the friend who’s a contractor is traded in for the actual deal.  We’re into new territory now and although I can’t pay my labor in cases of beer anymore there is progress.  Unfortunately real contractors can’t be bothered with sensibly small attic dormers, they prefer “it’s cheaper to rip it down and build solid walls” and so we did.

dupont house

About a year later.  Might as well add a second floor while you’re at it. 

So here we were taking a two family home (which likely housed close to a dozen people at one time), tripling it in size, and making it just large enough for the two of us.

dupont house

Looks quaint and country, but keep in mind that a freight rail line runs just behind the trees, and only a few years ago a garbage truck collapsed into the road when an old mine shaft gave way.

Still unemployed, and now enrolled in school (again) the ballooning “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the kids”, pricetag finally scared me off the very addictive drug of contractor help.  With windows in and siding set to go on we cut the cord, buttoned up the exterior and moved into the basement… and found out what it is to live on love 🙂

dupont house

Building from the bottom up.  What were we thinking!?  In hindsight it’s hard to believe all of this was the product of me in the basement with a few sheets of graph paper and a lot of ‘yeah, I think I want another door here and window there… and oh, probably another bathroom’. 

Obviously there wasn’t all that much free time for gardening, but you know how it goes with all work and no play…

new garden

Of course there’s not much to the garden in October, but the privet has bounced back from its trim back and another bed is in.  Not really a garden design, but these beds take care of the pathetic grass which it replaced.  Please note the ever popular burn pit where most of the old house’s lumber was illegally burned.

Once we moved into the house the next three years are kind of foggy.  A full kitchen came first, a completed first floor, a new job, a master bedroom, a new baby, a completed second floor… finally an attic loft.  Slowly the garden inched along as well.

garden renovation

Behind the garage became a new garden spot where iris divisions were welcomed.  You can’t beat the generosity of other gardeners for filling in bare patches.

To know me is to know I have a slight leaning towards the tropical flair.  I love how you can get a massive show in just a few short weeks.

garden renovation

The usual leftovers and scraps which are my constant struggle.  Someday I’ll get them under control… or move to a new house 😉

The fun of a new garden is you have room for nearly everything and don’t yet have the baggage of too many beds gone to weeds, invasive plants, or “shouldn’t have put that there” issues.

tropical garden

I am a bit of a creature of habit.  Ten years later and I’m still growing all of these tropical and tropical looking goodies. -and I still like too much red

Another big plus for this house was that pretty much everything we did was a blessing -considering the property’s history of troublesome kids, giant rats, and overflowing trash piles.  Construction debris, dirt piles, unfinished projects, were all overlooked in this neighborhood where it’s not unusual for people to live and die in the house they were born in.

garden renovation

The front garden never really had time to come together.  I would have loved a small picket fence or something.

We were on a different track though.  Memories were built, lessons learned, and dreams ignited but when it came down to it this wasn’t more than a stepping stone.  Five years into it (just as the last big projects were finished) we decided to buy the house of my wife’s grandparents.  It was an unexpected decision based mostly on emotion, but in the long run we knew this would be short term.

garden renovation

A very helpful addition to the garden.  From the start he was practically an expert in finding worms and digging up new transplants.

So that spring I focused on grassing over a few beds, moving a ton of plants to the new house, and getting the house set to go on the market.

garden renovation

The new view out the back door.  I wish I had better pictures of the seating area carved out of the back slope, but as usual I was distracted by lounging out on the deck.

So that was what brought us to the new house.  In what has become our normal mode of operation for life changing events, that spring we were hit with a tsunami of the house selling in three days, a baby arriving a month early, a job lost, a car totaled, all made even more fun when you decide a few changes to the “new” house might be necessary… but we survived and it really puts the panic of a late frost or snapped iris stalk in perspective.

Don’t worry, we shall return to our normal garden updates next post.  I’ve just taken a look outside and the snowdrops are coming and the snow is melting and as soon as 2017 is off and running I won’t give a darn about years gone by until winter rolls around again.  Hopefully the weather is looking up for you as well!