Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.31.17

Happy Halloween!  In between trick-or-treaters and going out with the kids there’s still enough time today to join Cathy at Word and Herbs and celebrate one of the last Tuesday views of the 2017 season.  We dodged our potential frost last night, so I guess today’s view would count as a treat 😉

front border

The low autumn light smooths out a lot of the wrinkles and age spots of this elderly border.  A good rain sure didn’t hurt either!

Part of me wants to get to tidying up the border, but logical sense tells me to wait a few more weeks.  Right now everything is still solid and wet and a lot bulkier than it will be after a good freeze or two, so waiting a bit will make the work much easier.  Plus it still looks decent, especially since the haggard and rough looking sunflowers were cut down and hauled off.

cardoon

The perennials are drying up but the non-hardy canna and cardoon are still full of life!

In the end it shouldn’t be all that much work.  I’ll dig a few canna roots, cut down a few frosted annuals, and chop down the messiest of the grasses.  The rest will stay as “winter interest”, partly because it really is more interesting than bare ground in December, but also because that gives it all winter to fall apart (and hopefully blow away into someone else’s yard or the woods!)

front border

Not bad for the last day of October, trust me it usually doesn’t look this nice.

There are only a few other plants which look interesting in the close-up.  Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ has never been this pink before, I think it’s thanks to the steady rains which kept it hydrated all summer.  We did get three weeks of hot and dry, which browned the south side of the each panicle, but overall they’re still attractive.

autumn limelight hydrangea

Drought and heat-stressed brown is the normal fall color for these, I’ve got to say I much prefer the pink!

The muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is also finishing the year off in pink.  A normal year has frost bleaching the color just as it begins to flower, but for the second year in a row we’re in luck.  Like most grasses it’s the perfect thing to have backlit with some nice, soft, autumn light, but on the other hand a smarter gardener would have already found something equally as fluffy which is a little better suited to growing in this northern garden.

muhly grass

Pink muhly grass with just a little backlighting.  

So that’s where we are as we step over into November.  The summer annuals have all thrown in the towel but there’s still enough left to keep things interesting for a few more days.  Bulbs will be the last question of the year.  Right now I say no, but clearance sales have a way of twisting my arm and you never know.  In the meantime have a great week!

Done With Autumn….

Well that lasted about a week.  I miss summer and wish autumn would get on with it.  Yesterday was beautiful, but today it’s colder and rainy, and I’m sure the wind is pulling down all the autumn foliage just as it finally colors up here in the valley.  Here are a few spots in the garden, maybe when I look back in January the cold and ice will put it all in perspective.

The back deck in autumn

Frost is forecast for tomorrow night nearly everything still needs to come in.  Sadly enough I have less than 24 hours left to procrastinate. 

I spent most of Saturday just wasting time.  The weather was nearly perfect and the schedule was open, but 90% of the day was spent watching grass blow in the wind or birds picking through seed heads and nearly no time time was spent productively.  If we had to separate into ants and grasshoppers, I’d be all grasshopper this weekend.

October in the potager

The potager is all ready to fall apart for winter with everything dying back and going to seed.  Peppers were harvested, the rest is on its own now.

I guess I did mow the lawn on Friday.  It didn’t really need it but the mower made quick work of stray twigs and leaves which were starting to pile up and with the mower set to mulch it was not much of a commitment at all.  Also it kind of chopped up the turf clods which lay all around the back yard courtesy of Mr. Skunk.  Someone suggested I replace and tamp down all the clods before mowing… I gave him the look and said he was more than welcome to do that in his own yard.  Here we prefer to thank the skunks for their free grub removal and turf aeration services and let winter work apart the clods.

the meadow in autumn

Back behind the swingset, the meadow looks downright respectable again after a few mowings.  

Mowing the lawn takes a little longer these days now that the meadow area is back on the weekly cut plan.  To those who thought the tall grass was a reservoir of dangerous ticks and snakes and spiders this comes as a relief, but to me it’s all just part of getting the turf ready for next year’s show of spring bulbs and early summer wildflowers.  It will sprout up again just fine next spring, and ironically enough the most dangerous thing back there still remains within inches of the swing.  The bright red seed pods you see belong to the castor bean plant(Ricinus communis), and as you may know the beans are the source of the poison ricin.  Smaller children would need to be watched, but based on what a struggle vegetable eating is in this house I’m pretty confident my own kids won’t be picking beans up out of the dirt and eating them any time soon.

The tropical garden

The tropical garden just before the frost.  Not as lush as last year but the grasses are still a good 8+ feet tall, and overshadow the not-quite-as-tall-as-last-year cannas.

I may not have done much in most of the garden but at least I did pay some attention to the rock garden.  It still doesn’t have any rocks but at least the yews are trimmed.  Weird that out of all the things to do this time of year I’d be trimming up little yew meatballs, but there you have it, Saturday’s big job.  Here’s a photo from a few years ago to give you an idea of where we came from.

overgrown yew hedge

Every spring… trim the yews… I finally got so bored with it I let them go, but after a few years the neighbors started talking.

Two years ago I trimmed the yews back to within a few inches of the ground.  It was either that or remove them completely, but after the struggle of taking a single one out (so the electrician could rework the electric service), I suddenly warmed up to the idea of keeping them.  So now I have little yew nuggets along the foundation and an empty south-facing mulch bed which seems perfect for rock garden plants.  I’ve already filled most of it and it’s a constant battle to keep from doubling the size of the bed.

the rock garden

The rock garden.  You may see a single rock to the far right but for the life of me I don’t know how the name started.  -Btw the pine is Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  I love it. 

Eventually I’ll need to get moving if I really want to be serious about gardening again next year.  Beds need cleaning, plants need saving, things need transplanting.  There’s always plenty to do but in the back of my mind I keep figuring that cold indoor days are coming and I should take advantage of the last warm days.  That probably means doing things, but a little soaking it up doesn’t hurt either.

porch decorations for autumn

We will see how this handles a little frost.  All together I think I found about 20 of the odd little Yugoslavian finger squash once I started looking around out back, and between those and a few mums I think we’re decorated.

Tomorrow I’ll be running around.  Or not.  Most of the geraniums, amaryllis, and cordyline spikes can handle a little frost and should be ok for another week or so, so I guess it all comes down to seeing how long I can postpone the inevitable.

overwinter geraniums

Geraniums (pelargoniums) lined up and ready to come in.  Between these and a few cuttings already under lights I think I can give any geranium-loving granny a good run for her money.    

Frost will come, the garden will go to bed, and the dreams of spring will start.  I’m sure there are still plenty of perfect days to come but for now I’m dreading the end, and even worse when the clocks fall back next weekend.  I wonder if it’s too early to start thinking about snowdrops.

… haha, who am I kidding, I’ve already been obsessing about them for the last month!

Have a great week, and maybe you can find something pleasant in the soft light, beautiful colors, and crisp air of autumn 😉

Tuesday View: The Front Border 9.26.17

It’s time once again to check in with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the Tuesday view.  The word this week is hot, and plants are wilting under the dry sun as temperatures rise to 90F (32C) and above for the last few days.  This would have been welcome in August, and even tolerated earlier in September, but now it’s just tiresome.

front border

Dry heat at this time of year saps all my enthusiasm.  Plants are wilting, the lawn is browning, and even though there are likely another three or so weeks to go until frost, I’m ready to let it all go.

The plants seem ready to let it go as well.  The summer crowd is moving on and the flowers and grasses of autumn are doing their best to pull together for a finale.

Korean feather reed

Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) looks great with the fading hydrangea flowers but I find this grass too invasive to keep.  Even if I cut the seedheads there will still be some seedlings next spring… some of which I always end up leaving…

Even as the perennials fade, the half-hardy cannas and verbena bonariensis are still putting on a decent show.  I should really water a little, it would be the least I could do for them after all their hard work this year.

kochia burning bush

The canna ‘cannova rose’ would probably be flowering more if I deadheaded, but… they still look fine.  Here the burning bush (Kochia) is finally doing its thing for a few days before drying up in the heat.

There is one surprise though.  Last fall I bought a ‘hardy’ agapanthus which I didn’t dare leave outside.  It overwintered dormant on a cold windowsill and then went into the bed in May.  I can’t believe my small plant has flowered!

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘blue yonder’ is supposedly hardy from zone 5-10.  I know people have had success in 5, but I’m still not convinced it will make it for me.  I’ll have to let you know next April.

The other surprise has been the butterfly hordes which have come to the garden this past week.  Dozens of painted ladies showed up a few days ago and it seems like other butterflies are showing up as well.  Maybe it’s a migration or maybe it’s just the weather drying up the surrounding and forcing them to move on for their nectar.  Either way it’s exciting to see all the butterflies surround you as they lift up off the flowers as you pass by.

painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly on the Verbena bonariensis.  They’re all over, but not all are as photogenic as this one.

I’m still waiting for more Monarchs though.  Today there were maybe a half dozen moving through but I’ve heard reports of many more North of here.  Not too long ago we had a fall like that, with dozens floating through the air, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much and I’m just glad to see the ones we’re getting.

migrating monarch butterflies

Monarchs love the verbena as well, and their orange and black wings look great with the lavender-purple.

So maybe this dry heat is good for something after all.  Maybe it’s the perfect weather for butterflies on the move and will make their migration even more successful.  I’ll tell myself that as I stand in the heat with a water hose, cursing the stupid gnats and dreaming of snowdrops.  Is it too soon for that?

A Tropical Update

While we look to the tropics and wait to see what the latest hurricane brings I think a trip to the milder side is in order.  The Pennsylvania tropics are much calmer and even-keeled and if you ignore the heavy hand of winter’s approach I think it’s a nice enough retreat from everything else going on.

tropical garden

The tropical border this summer.  The steady rains were a plus but the cooler temperatures held many a hot-blooded plant back.

Even though things were in the ground earlier than ever this year the cool weather made for a slow start.  I even lost nearly all the dahlias when my “big patch of ’em” idea didn’t go well with the “all the water drains here” reality.  Losing plants to an excess of water is not something I’ve ever experienced here on this thin-soiled hilltop.  Fortunately there’s always a backup plan.

tropical garden

The striped leaves of ‘Bengal Tiger’ canna rank as one of my all time favorite plants.  To me they seem to go well with everything, especially the purple verbena bonariensis and surviving dahlias.

Verbena.  Verbena bonariensis is my backup plan for nearly every plant fiasco/disaster.  Any unmulched sunny spot quickly sprouts a few seedlings and all this gardener has to do is stand back.  If anything they need thinning since they  come up thick and look much better when each has some space of their own.

alcazar kniphofia

This might be my most promising red hot poker.  Kniphofia ‘Alcazar’ has nice big spikes with just the right glow factor.  Last year there were only two flower stalks which faded in a week or two, but this year three flushes of flowerings kept the plant interesting for almost two months.  I hope it wasn’t a fluke!

I do tend to let things just happen.  Laziness and distraction can do that to a garden, and the far end of the tropical border is mostly foliage.

tropical garden

Leaves aren’t all that bad.  Having a spot where color is not entirely in your face is probably a good idea.

The mulch which I smothered this end of the bed with must have contained some leftover autumn decorations so the coleus I planted ended up being smothered by the climbing vines of Yugoslavian finger squash.  They seemed to love all the rain and vines slinked and slithered all through the back of the border.

yugoslavian finger squash

There’s something about the name ‘Yugoslavian finger squash’ which I think is funny.  Yugoslavian?  The finger?  Finger squash?  It’s like a teenage boy came up with the name and I guess it speaks volumes for my maturity level.   

So while we await our Finger squash decorating bonanza the rest of the border is busy with the bees and butterflies who take advantage of the color.

monarch on verbena

With any luck this year’s Monarch migration will be a big one, and I hope I left enough verbena to keep them around for a few days. 

I’m hoping things work out well for a big Monarch migration this autumn.  A few years ago there was a trifecta of beautiful weather, plenty of butterflies, and loads of verbena blossoms and walking through the fluttering garden was almost surreal.  Thinking back on it I really feel bad for those people who hire landscape companies, spray for any wildlife which gets too close, and then stare at lawn all summer.  Holy boring.

katydid

At three or four inches long Katydids are an insect you can have a conversation with.  People go on about bees and butterflies but these guys are my favorites… even if they do eat decent sized chunks out of the purple canna leaves.

The tropical garden is not boring.

tropical garden

Too much?  Stripes on stripes was not the plan but somehow ‘Tropicana’ ended up in front of ‘Cosmopolitan’ fountain grass.  It should look even more tasteful in another few weeks when the grass puts out its pink flower heads.

Hope a good weekend is had by all and a little boring can extend down to the areas in the path of hurricane Irma.  The tropics look much better when not ravaged by obscene winds.

2017 Summer Bucket List: The Fountains of Longwood Gardens

The buzz had been building for 2 years as the fountains of Longwood Gardens underwent a massive, 90 million renovation behind the curtain of construction walls and ‘do not enter’ signs.  You kind of got used to it.  For years the fountain area had been my least liked section of Longwood and as far as I was concerned it was only an area to walk around and avoid while you explored other more exciting sections.  Sometimes a fountain went off.  Ok nice.  I almost felt a little sorry for Pierre du Pont if this was all his obsessive passion for fountains could put together.  Plus I hated all the rows of pathetic Norway Maples which lined the area.  Like I said, it wasn’t a favorite.

Holy crap has that changed.  The restored fountains were reopened this past May and if you happen to have the chance to see them I think you’ll agree they’re friggin’ awesome!  The grounds have been rebuilt into something which could compete with an European palatial spread, but the fountains are something all to themselves and have to be experienced in person.

longwood gardens

Looking in to the heart of the five acre main fountain gardens.  The sounds of water surround you.

Before I get too in to it I just want to mention my kids came along, and a 9 and 11 year old who are more interested in gymnastics and tag were not the best visiting companions, but I decided to take one for the team and hope a little of the experience sinks in.  They love the Christmas show… but strolling and looking at plants… not so much.

longwood gardens

The Orangery in its summer finery.  Throughout the greenhouses things are always perfect regardless of the season, and I question the soul of anyone who isn’t a little amazed the first time they enter.    

We stopped for ice-cream first.  It’s a two hour drive for us so that’s the least I could do for my surprisingly well behaved travel companions, and as they finished that off and played in the children’s section (which I’m glad to see they haven’t yet outgrown) and then toured the indoor gardens, it was at least an hour before I got the first “I’m bored”.

longwood gardens

An awesome canna inside the Orangery.  I loved it and I wanted it, but unfortunately couldn’t find the name.  Perhaps it’s one of the many cannas which have been raised and hybridized in one of Longwood’s many research and breeding programs. 

We tried to move quick.  Maybe getting there at 3 O’clock was indeed a little early considering all the kids wanted was a light show… but the plants, the plants 😉

longwood gardens

There’s water all over.  This was just one of the many fountains of the children’s garden.

The water garden was an interesting diversion.  This is always my favorite spot and I was glad the kids seemed somewhat interested in the water lilies and massive Victoria Lilies which fill the pools.

longwood gardens

The giant pads were approaching five and six feet in diameter, and have a reputation of being able to support babies and small children with their buoyant structure.

I of course always have to touch the nasty spines even though I’m well aware of how sharp they are.  The undersides of the pads and outer coverings of the flower buds are all well defended with this barrier.

longwood gardens

It’s thought the raised lips of the pads prevents them from growing on top of one another, and the two notches on the rim allow rainwater to escape.

While I was trying to explain just how awesome these plants were, the kids were absolutely distracted by the small mosquito fish which filled each pond section.  For the next 20 minutes all they wanted to do was catch one…. or two… or a bigger one… or one more… or just one more…

longwood gardens

Got one.

Fortunately the Longwood employees were very pleasant about the kids harassing their mosquito fish.  They explained how the fish control the mosquito larva and added a few things about nearby plants as well, but overall just let the kids enjoy a little wet fun.  I’m sure this will be the memory they keep from this area even though I tried my darnedest to explain the Longwood history of hybridizing these Victoria lilies and their fragrant, night blooming, beetle pollinated, flowers and… well this is where they caught fish.

longwood gardens

The giant victorias are nice enough, but these day and night blooming tropical waterlilies aren’t too shabby either, and their bright colors and fancy foliage could keep you here hours just exploring the variety.

I made another attempt to visit every single highlight of the gardens but was quickly derailed by another “I’m bored”.  The gardening bug definitely either skips a generation or is a recessive gene since my two are nearly completely empty of any chlorophyll.  We sat for a while playing with cameras and looking at pictures and then headed over for dinner instead.

longwood gardens

Round about 6pm the gardens started to fill up.  It was a ‘pop up’ Luminaries weekend, and thousands of candles were laid out across the lawns and lined up along pathways, and one by one the individual candles were being lit. 

As dusk began to fall the luminaries were being lit throughout the gardens.  Our visit just happened to coincide with a surprise luminary weekend where thousands of luminaries ‘pop up’ throughout the gardens.  While the boy focused on trying to blow out a candle without being caught, we did manage to see at least a few of the best garden areas.  A favorite is the long border which shades from white to yellow to gold…

longwood gardens

One of my favorite rudbeckias, ‘prairie sun’.

…to red to pinks…

longwood gardens

Pink zinnias, canna, and crape myrtle.

…to purples to blues…

longwood gardens

Cleome, ageratum, dahlias, and I think vitex.  The dark purple bushes in the back are a very cool non-hardy euphorbia which I always look for but never find on sale. 

and the crowds continued to drift in…

longwood gardens

Blankets and chairs setting up for the show, even though it was still at least an hour to go.

Once the sun set and the lights came on things really started to get amazing.

longwood gardens

Food stands, wine and beer stands, fancy dining… Longwood at night has become quite the date night location.  

We headed out one more time to see the lanterns at full effect.

longwood gardens

One of the main lawns covered with a spiral of luminaries.  Getting lost amongst the lanterns is the perfect excuse to hold hands 😉

I hope my random point and shoot photography gives you some idea of how cool Longwood is at night.  People whisper.  It’s really captivating.

longwood gardens

Candlelight from the luminaries, soft lighting for the plants, and in many spots the sweet fragrance of night scented flowers such as these angel trumpets (Brugmansia).

There really were a lot of candles.  I think the gardens would be nice enough on any night, but I’m glad we had the chance to see the luminaries as well.  Rumor has it quite a few other people also got the chance to see the show.  I noticed on their website that most nights ended up being sold out…. so even on a regular weekend make sure you have your tickets purchased before you head down.

longwood gardens

I think of Luminaries as a Southern Christmastime tradition, but here in the North I’ve got to say summer nights work out much better.

Once we got through the luminaries it was finally time for the 9:15 fountain show.  The show was epic with music, lights, sounds, and fountains spouting everywhere.  From what I hear the highest can shoot up to 175 feet (53m) into the air and when you’re watching or wandering through the show, it absolutely surrounds you.

My daughter’s favorite…. pink. She insisted on many photos to catch the pinkness.

We settled into the upper area where the largest fountains are located and it was amazing to be surrounded by all the noise and water.  Even with the highlights right there in front of you, you still had to keep looking around to catch the parts of the show up closer to the main viewing area.  There were spouting columns of flames after all!

longwood gardens

Lights, fountains, and FLAMES!  

The fountains were impressive enough during the day, but the show at night was truly epic.  Who would have thought that water shot into the air could be so entertaining… well, who other than Pierre du Pont I guess 🙂

longwood gardens

It was really cool.

Seven hours later we were finally on the road back home.  I barely got to see half the things I wanted to but it was still a great visit and the kids are already talking about a Christmas return.  I can do that, and hopefully we can make it there the day after Thanksgiving again since it worked out great crowd-wise and traffic-wise last year.  The fountain shows go on until September 30th and then I think it’s all about chrysanthemums then for the fall season.  The chrysanthemum show is supposed to be exceptional as well, full of horticultural wonders and floral amazement, and it’s also still on my bucket list to visit that as well… but I think I’ll do that one on my own 😉

Tuesday View: The Front Border 7.25.17

As we join Cathy at Words and Herbs for this week’s Tuesday View, we see it’s rained again… and continues to rain.  Non gardeners are complaining, but just look at that green lushness!

front border

Pink coneflowers (echinacea) and the mauve cloud of Russian sage (perovskia) bring the most flower color, but the first sunflowers are opening and that should bring big changes!

I kind of forgot how things get a little out of control in this border during the summer.  The annuals start to pick up steam and I do prefer plants which you don’t always have to bend over to examine, so things are stacked in favor of disorder.

front border

The far end of the border is taking on the colors of ‘Limelight’ hydrangea and variegated giant reed grass (Arundo donax).  Both are 6 feet and climbing 🙂

I like it well enough and hope it keeps getting better.  There are problems of course but for the most part the rain keeps washing them away (except for the slugs of course), and when the sun comes out I swear things have grown by another inch.

rainbow

There’s always hope after the rain.

I’m just sitting back and enjoying it.  Over the weekend I sat in a nice clean garage and watched the latest downpour coming down on the driveway.  That was pretty much it and it reminded me of all the reasons summer is awesome.

Have a great week!

 

Tuesday View: The Street Border

It appears this garden and most of the East Coast are still going over one more speedbump on the road to spring.  Today we welcomed a little over two feet of snow into the garden, and I suspect it will be a bit before (a) the kids return to school, and (b) I need to fertilize the lawn.

march snowstorm

I might be early on this decision but I’m considering this as the 2017 Tuesday view.  Under all the snow is the mixed plantings of the street border, a name I came up with all by myself based on the fact it’s a border and it runs along the street 😉 

Some might say 2017 has been off to a rough start, and they might be right, but I’m going to try and think about other things such as Cathy’s Tuesday View and consider the border along the street as my entry for this year.  Posting every week might be a stretch, but maybe showing this view once every other week will be do-able.  We’ll see.

march snowstorm

Two feet of March snow is excellent fort building material and the front yard is a battleground of trenches and tunnels… plus buried snowdrops and crocus. 

Right now the view doesn’t really matter though.  People are still digging out and cars and trucks are being pulled out (as our evening walk down to the main street demonstrated) and we just have to deal with that first.  The forecast ahead is cold, but the sun when it comes out will be strong, and hopefully there’s something left to look forward to when all this snow melts… since the snowdrops have already given up on spring.