Curb Un-Appeal

A few weeks ago I was next door talking to my neighbor.  The iris were in bloom and he’s got a few clumps of a rich purple iris in his front yard (‘Lent A Williamson’ is the ID I gave them although I’m sure he doesn’t care) which were putting on an excellent display.  A car slowly pulled by and after a polite wave the driver opened the window to say “I love your iris, I drive this way just to see them”.  I bit my tongue.  After a couple seconds passed, my neighbor realized the compliment was directed towards him, and said thanks.  He looked at me.  It just about killed me, I have iris too.

front street border

The house from the street.  I believe one of the first rules of curb appeal is to compliment, not block, the house.  Also large thistles should not become focal points.

We got a good laugh about it once she left.  I do like to show off my most exciting plants, but I realize they’re not to everyone’s taste, and the “overflowing” look of the plantings is focused more on the plants than the setting of the house.  Even the 12 year old said she doesn’t like it when it all gets so big, but when I mentioned moving out she gave me her pre-teen eye-roll of disgust… which I’m sure will only develop more as she finishes up middle school.

Cirsium eriophorum woolly thistle

More thistles around the corner.  Cirsium eriophorum is the European woolly thistle, and I just came up with the brilliant idea of pulling a few coneflowers out from along the street and planting the newest batch of seedlings there.

Before selling our previous house I spent a few weeks ripping things out and simplifying plantings.  If I ever cared to impress the neighbors or list this property I’d surely repeat the process here.  Lots of mulch, a clear view of the house, and sheared foundation shrubbery would put an appropriately sterile stamp of conformity onto the real estate head shot, and I’m sure it would scare fewer people away.

foundation perennials

Look at that mullein, it’s a keeper!  Eight feet tall and counting, the blooms are opening nice and large and I’m hoping it keeps going all summer.  The mullein, along with poorly trimmed and poorly placed trees and shrubbery, all add to the screen that blocks the curb view of our house.  

Just to be clear there is no talk of moving.  We have to stay at least 30 more years in order to reach the point of break-even on all the lumber purchased for the potager re-do.  For the accountants out there we finally went over the hump and added about $6.75 to the plus column for the salads we’ve picked in the last few days, and $6 worth of cauliflower as well.  Those were some exciting first harvests, so obviously we’re not going to dwell on the $89 which went into the liability column for a new hose and additional lumber.

drying daffodil bulbs

Delphinium in bloom are often enough of a distraction to keep people from noticing the bags of drying colchicum and narcissus bulbs lined out along the front porch.  **please note the snow shovel was just put there recently and hasn’t been sitting there since last winter**

So even if you can look past the unpruned, questionable design, and overlook the stray bags of bulbs and garden tools, there’s still always that massive pile of sand blocking the driveway.  “You’re always busy doing something” was the polite way another neighbor dealt with that topic.

common milkweed syriaca

The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by the front door is in full bloom.  I’ll cut it back by half once it’s done flowering, not just to keep it neat, but also to invite the Monarchs to lay their eggs on the new growth that sprouts up.

A myopic view of things lets me enjoy things anyway, and in my opinion when everything else is going to heck there’s always plenty of little things to be thrilled with.  Like milkweeds.  They’re much more interesting than people give them credit for, and far more useful in the garden than just caterpillar fodder.  This week I have a new one in bloom… finally… after years of trying seeds and nursing seedlings.

purple milkweed purpurascens

Asclesias purpurascens, the descriptively named ‘purple milkweed’.  This one’s been tricky for me and maybe that’s just because it refuses to put up with the abuse and neglect which I leave it to.  I love the dark color though, and did water a little after seeing its leaves curling up from the dry.

I hope the purple milkweed continues to grow in spite of this shift to drier summer weather.  There was brief consideration given to trying it out in a new spot but after reading online that it can be hard to get established it’s staying put.  I’ve killed it in other spots already so why rush.

verbena bonariensis

The first of the Verbena bonariensis filling in.  The verbena is a great drought tolerant filler for years like this, and I might transplant a few out for color in August.  

There are plenty of other things to do rather than kill off new milkweeds.  I spent Friday night weeding and “editing” the front border and was planning on finishing today but surprisingly enough there’s been some rain and it’s now too humid and sticky to work.  The rain only took the edge off the dry soil and refueled the gnats but it was a good excuse to go for icecream instead.  I don’t think that’s a bad tradeoff.

Have a great weekend!

Primula Sieboldii

I guess it always starts innocently enough.  A friend tells you about a plant, you see a couple pictures of the plant, and before you know it a few seeds get ordered or a plant gets boxed up and something is in the mail headed for you.  You didn’t get carried away yet but sometimes things just happen.  This spring Primula sieboldii just happened, and of course you can’t place the blame on this gardener.

primula sieboldii

Primula sieboldii and a few other things in the spring garden.

I’m going to blame the American Primula Society and the endless rain.  Primula in themselves are a nice enough group of plants and as a rule they do like ground which is typically damper than this garden normally provides.  When a few survived our normally droughty summers I thought whatever, let me try and kill a few more.  That’s when the Primula Society seed exchange stepped in.  Some of the best seed in the world is practically given away and who am I to say no to that?

primula sieboldii

The basic form for Primula sieboldii in shades of pink.

Each winter a few more batches of Primula seedlings would get started.  It was almost too easy.  A pot of soil topped off with a thin layer of chicken grit with Primula sieboldii seed sprinkled on top.  Put outside.  Winter snow and ice and sleet and more ice and sleet and… well you get the idea, seedlings appear in spring.  Once large enough to handle, better gardeners would prick out seedlings and grow them on during the summer, but some people have been known to leave them in their seedling pots all season and then desperately cram them into a hole before leaving on a vacation and still have reasonable success.  They will bloom the following spring.

primula sieboldii

Interesting seed will produce interesting flower forms.  A darker reverse with fringed and cut petals can be one nice result.

As you may suspect, Primula sieboldii is not the most difficult thing to grow.  They are a plant of open woodlands and damp meadows through Eastern Siberia, Korea, and Japan and if you match those conditions that’s good enough.  Cooler summers will allow more sun as long as the soil stays moist, but if your soil goes dry in the summer they’ll probably just go dormant (as mine often do) and reappear in the spring.  I think fall or early spring are the recommended times for division, and a fertile, heavier soil is preferred.

primula sieboldii

Primula seedlings were not the only things hastily crammed into this bed, it also doubles as a snowdrop bed and triples as a species lily bed, so maybe it’s about time these babies got a little more room.  I love the seedling variations. 

Mine are due for division and a little more room.  I have a few favorites that I’d like to see flourishing, and they can’t really do that where they are now.  Surely that’s not my fault as all this unexpected rain really has caused them to explode into growth, but I expect some planning and foresight could have avoided this predicament.

primula sieboldii

I do like the fringed ones.  Right now I’m on the lookout for a pure white, but even with a touch of pink they’re pretty cool.

A more disciplined and ruthless gardener would rouge out the plainer forms, but more than likely I’ll just replant them all, see what turns up, and then maybe steel my soul enough to make those tough decisions later.

primula sieboldii

A nice lilac shade of Primula sieboldii

I do have a favorite.  Frilly and pink is not my usual calling, but it’s found a place in Primula sieboldii, and ‘Frilly Pink forms’ is officially my nicest seedling.

primula sieboldii

I think the subtle color streaks and finely cut petals are just perfect in this one.

I’d go outside and see if a few new ones are open but of course it’s raining again and there are Mothers Day breakfasts to be made.  Hopefully the weeds don’t mind yet another stay of execution.

Have a great week!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 8.15.17

It’s time once again to join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs for her weekly take on the Tuesday view.  I’ve missed a week with traveling but the rains have not, and 2017 continues to be a marvelously well watered and well behaved summer.

front border

The front border continues to fill in and color up as summer progresses.  The sunflowers are now in charge.

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago I wasn’t sure what exactly would be filling in the new sections of this bed.  People said it would all come together but I had my doubts.  Fortunately it did, and I’m very pleased with the results.

front border

Although they haven’t been in bloom very long there are already enough sunflower seeds to start bringing in the goldfinches.  I love that they find so much to feed on in my garden and their bright yellow feathers and constant chatter are always welcome.

Most of the filling in of the border relies on seeds, cuttings and divisions.  I bring that up now because someone mentioned surprise at how my wife is so good about me spending so much money on the garden.  At the time I just laughed it off, but as I thought a little further on it, it occurred to me that they might think I actually do spend a lot of money.  The short response is that I don’t. Excluding any snowdrops which may or may not have found their way into the border, I probably spent $60 on plants (for this bed) this year.  This includes $20 for my amazingly cool new variegated comfrey, $15 for an impulse-buy-lupine, $6 for a salvia, maybe $5 each for a new mail order butterfly bush and agastache, and I guess $9 for a few six packs of zinnia seedlings… although I bet it was closer to $6…

standing cypress ipomoea

A few unmulched spots of the older bed have sprouted a nice crop of the bright scarlet wands of standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra).  I would call self-seeding plants such as these ‘free’ volunteers, and the price tag of $0 needs no spousal pre-approval.

The bulk of this border either comes from established perennials which were already in place, or the divisions, cuttings, or seedlings of things I already had on hand.

front border

The depths of the bed interior are now a hopeless mess of colorful annuals mixed with reliable, veteran perennials.  I haven’t even tried to get back there, the only attention it’s received has been a handful of fertilizer I threw in the general direction of the canna.  

Although my border does not do much in supporting the local nursery industry, it does seem to draw in the bugs.

monarch

A healthy, well fed monarch butterfly.  I wonder if I’ll see any fresh new ones this week as my former caterpillars should be about ready to emerge. ($0 for these butterfly bushes -cuttings off mom’s bush, $0 for the rudbeckia -grown from ‘stolen’ seeds) 

I sometimes just can’t believe how many bees, butterflies, and other insects can be found winging their way through this garden.  It makes me sad for my neighbors and their dull seas of lawn.

cannova rose

From the left, $0 for the sea holly which was grown from seed exchange seeds, $0 for the overwintered ‘cannova rose’ canna.  Free verbena bonariensis seedlings which were transplanted in, and free coleus grown from cuttings.

I’m at a loss as to how I can explain the importance of bugs to my less interested neighbors.  I’m thinking about the life happening all around me and they’re debating a bug bomb which could kill off all the pesky mosquitos and gnats from their entire yard.  A dead yard.  What a fun place to be…

purple salvia splendens

For $0 I found a few salvia splendens seedlings sprouting in the tropical bed, potted them up, got them going, and then planted them back out.  I was hoping for purple but the salmon color which was also there last year would have been fine… even though I really wanted the purple 🙂

So it looks like the bugs will keep this area as a ‘safe zone’ for a few more years yet.  I guess I could do better with more and more bug-friendly plantings, but for now this works for me.

front border

My $0 monster cardoon.  Grown from some seed exchange seeds it’s done better than I had hoped.  I can’t even remember the other two seedlings which were planted just behind it.

I’m out of buggy commentary and financially responsible planting advice.  Lets just take a look at the bed’s far end.

front border

My second favorite view.  $0 for Self seeded verbena bonariensis, $0 for coleus cutting, $0 for cannas. 

And one last look at a nearby bed 🙂

caladium

This spring I ripped everything out from around this dogwood.  The hostas went to a good home but nothing else other than mulch came back in to replace them… until now.  My caladiums finally have a summer home!

Enjoy the week and as usual thanks go out to Cathy for hosting each Tuesday!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 8.1.17

It’s been a busy week so far with a return from traveling and now a busy afternoon prepping for something new… an open garden!  I’ve been toiling away all afternoon and just had to join up with Cathy at Words and Herbs for her Tuesday view even though the garden itself hasn’t changed much.  The neatness is what I had to show off, it doesn’t happen much that the garden is surrounded with such a green, trim lawn with crisp, freshly cut edges.

front border

Plants are deadheaded, the lawn is mown, edges are clean, and walks are swept!

As far as open gardens go I think I’m making it sound like much more than it really is.  It’s a mid-week visit by the local garden group, the Back Mountain Bloomers, and I don’t expect much more than a dozen or so people.  Numbers like that probably make other open day veterans chuckle but for me it’s some serious pressure.  It’s rare that my garden is visited by anyone with more than just a passing interest in plants, so hopefully they don’t judge my “in progress” areas with too critical an eye 🙂

front border

Holy neatness… and the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea isn’t looking too bad either.

There’s a good chance I brought this on myself.  After a less than subtle post titled “Come Visit”, and several other comments such as “stop by if you’re in the area” and “so when are you coming?”, I think people felt obligated.  I’m fine with that and hopefully can corner at least one or two people to talk way too long to about plants with.  Now I just have to hatch a plan to trick someone from Philly or upstate NY to drop by, since I’m sure I can bore them for hours since they won’t have as easy an escape as the locals do!

front border

Along the street I’m a little surprised by how all the fennel seedlings have exploded into bloom.  It’s one big airy thicket of licorice scented bee feeders and I should probably trim it back a bit before the mailwoman starts clutching an Epipen each time she needs to deliver a letter.

In the meantime let me introduce you to a few of the newest arrivals on the scene.  The first is an uber cool Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ which is blooming from seeds started last year.  I love it.  Thank you to Chanticleer Gardens since it’s entirely possible a seed head from one of their plants found its way into a pocket on my last visit.

rudbeckia triloba prairie glow

Unlike the more common yellow/black centered Rudbeckia triloba, ‘Prairie Glow’ has varying degrees of a rusty orange with just the faintest hints of yellow at the tips of the petals.  These are a little over five feet tall so it’s more than capable of holding it’s own in the depths of the border.

The second is ‘Strawberry Vanilla’ hydrangea.  White panicles of bloom and a pink tint which will hopefully deepen as the flowers age are what make this one special.  I have it on good advice that this will only get more impressive over the years, so it’s another plant I’m pleased with this week.

midsummer border

Everything was glowing in the evening light.  The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas in the background have faded green, ‘Strawberry Vanilla’ is still a bright white with a touch of pink, and canna ‘Cannova rose’ and Verbena bonariensis really add a lot of color.

I think in the front yard there will be a few things worth seeing this week, so hopefully it’s enough to keep a gaggle of gardeners interested for at least a little while.  The tropical garden is looking decent as well but beyond that things get a little iffy.  Wish me luck that by the time people are walking past the pot ghetto they’ll be focused more on lunch plans than the unplanted chrysanthemum cuttings.

Agriculture in Suburbia

This post was mostly finished last weekend but for some reason I never got around to publishing.  I wish I had a good excuse, but it might have just been one of those Sunday evening get ready for the workweek make lunches and clean the kids off from the weekend kind of things.  In any case here it is and to be honest I have little idea what I was talking about back then with all the design comments and self reflection.  Sometimes I really wonder where this stuff comes from, but regardless the pictures have me thinking of last June when the garden looked ready to die so let me just start off with a photo from then 🙂

dormant lawn

The beauty of the  garden in June.  Roadside daisies and dead grass.  Fortunately the rains came back in August, but not until all July passed and I reached the “wordless Wednesday: I hate gardening” stage.

It’s always nice to hear compliments about your garden, and I am one who by reflex nearly always shrugs them off or dismisses them.  I’m sure there’s some childhood trauma involved which has long been forgotten, but it’s my way and it’s a rare day when I can just accept with a thank you.  Now I’m not saying I get a lot of compliments, but I do get a comment every now and then about a nice design touch or a combination which actually worked out.  Those are the compliments I always downplay since I rarely (unless I’m doing it subconsciously) put a whole lot of thought into what goes where.  With few exceptions my design process revolves around having a new favorite plant in hand and then desperately needing a spot in which to cram it.  Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.

front street border

The front border in mid September.  If I had to put a name to this year’s design theory it might be something like ‘neglected agricultural’.

The front border along the street may not look brilliant, but it does look colorful, and with five months of winter breathing down my neck colorful is perfect.  Colorful and agricultural I suppose, since this years feature plant seems to be ‘Hot Biscuits’ amaranthus and in my opinion it either looks sort of farmyard weedy or like a particularly bright sorghum crop.  Ornamental or not I just can’t look away.  It’s big and bright and grainy and between it and the wheat-like feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) and the sugarcane-like giant reed (Arundo Donax) I feel like it’s almost harvest time out there.

front street border

The view from the street side.  The purple perovskia has seeded around a bit and put out a few runners, the purple coneflowers as well, but I’ve done essentially nothing here since March and I kind of like that.

I owe this year’s crop of ‘Hot Biscuits’ to my friend Paula who surprised me one afternoon with a packet of seeds in the mailbox.  I had grown it before and ended up losing it, but fortunately she had a few seeds to spare and sent them my way.  That was last year, and I efficiently killed all the seedlings which sprouted, but this year was a different story and I ended up with a few clumps of healthy seedlings.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Just the first of many amaranthus close-ups which will pepper this post.  No one could plan this combo since I’m sure it violates numerous design principles, but I just love it.

The amaranthus shows up here and there all along the border, which is probably a good thing since even the simplest design theorist will tell you it repeats and unifies a theme.  Repetition is important since this bed frequently suffers from “I always start from the driveway end and use up all the best plants there” syndrome.  The far end of the bed gets less weeding, less watering, less tending… it basically gets less of everything, so carrying the amaranthus theme all the way through helps hide the sparseness of the neglected end.

wine zinnia

Here in the preferred end of the bed are well tended seedlings of Benary’s Giant wine zinnias and the pink gomphrena ‘fireworks’.  These were the seedlings I was most excited about this year, so in they went first 🙂

I did have a few too many zinnias this spring so was pretty generous about placing them in the border, but when the Brenary’s Giant scarlet began to open next to the pink gomphrena I immediately cringed.  For about a week I thought it looked awful but now I quite like it.  It reminded me of the first time I saw pictures of some of the late Christopher Lloyd’s magenta and pink plantings at Great Dixter.  They also bothered me at first and I think my first thought was “grow up Chris and plant some lavender and white and pink instead of that mess”… but look at me now.

scarlet zinnia fireworks gomphrena

Scarlet zinnia with ‘fireworks’ gomphrena.  Am I suffering from retinal fatigue or does it actually look nice together?

Maybe the green lawn and the parchment color of the feather reed grass tames it a bit but between this and the orange of the amaranthus I’m just plain pleased.

scarlet zinnia karl forester grass

A very technicolor look with the yellow of the ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac across the lawn.

Here’s another amaranthus photo-bomb.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Looking down towards the ‘less interesting’ end of the border.

Ok. One last amaranthus photo.

hot biscuits amaranthus

From the neglected, far end of the border, more amaranthus 🙂

You may have noticed a bright golden patch of marigolds in the border.  The fall smack dab in the middle of my newfound love for the most offensively bright colors and I’m not sure I can resist planting a whole border of them next year.  I had to smuggle these seeds out of my stingy older brother’s garden last year and was lucky that a few sprouted and survived July’s dry spell.  He’s been letting them reseed for a couple years now and they still come up in a good range of colors on relatively short and large flowered plants.

marigolds tagetes

A few marigolds putting on a nice end of summer show.  More might be nicer, and by more I mean a whole border.

What to plant them with?  I think they’ll go at the far end of the border, alongside the bright gold of a juniper, but other than that I have no plans.  Should I back them up with some darker foliage plants?

img_3082

Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) in front and pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ towards the back. With the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea it all looks very calm and refined, but I think a nice border of marigolds will give it a good jolt of color!

We will see what happens.  There’s a good chance it will all come down to whatever seeds sprout the best next spring, but in the meantime it’s nice to dream about having a more plan-comes-together kind of garden.  That is until the snowdrops bloom.  Once that happens my brain goes to mush and I’m lucky if I get anything planted 😉

Introducing ‘Blue Spot’

In a brutal world where a person were limited to growing just two plants, I’d chose snowdrops and phlox.  Snowdrops have an awfully long ‘down’ season, but phlox carry on through the summer and if you can assume that this cruel two-plants-only world doesn’t have any other issues going on, I think phlox season would keep me pretty happy.  The phlox family is an attractive family to begin with, but today I’m talking tall garden phlox, Phlox paniculata.  Purists would call them North American native plants, but native flower is not something I think of when they burst into bloom, and as phlox season ramps up around here I can’t picture these hybrids fooling anyone into adding them into their patriotic natives only planting schemes.

phlox paniculata

phlox paniculata in the ‘Potager’… formerly known as the vegetable garden.

I’m stretching things with the native part as I know most people are not putting these plants in as part of a program to make America great again, and are rather planting natives for their attractions and benefits to native pollinators and wildlife, so I guess if I have a point here (since as usual I’m all over the place this morning) it’s that these were once wildflowers but now fit right in with the fancy delphiniums and chrysanthemums.

phlox salmon beauty

Phlox ‘Salmon Beauty’ (1940’s intro).  Sorry about the dried up grass in the background, but this phlox is just glowing today.  

There’s a real risk that the phlox will slowly take over the potager completely and leave me with zero space for actual vegetables, but that’s a chance I’ll take.  It’s not the idea spot for them since the relentless sun and drying winds invite pests such as spider mites in, but as long as I keep them fairly well watered and make sure their diet is complete (they enjoy a rich soil), the phlox do well enough.

phlox cabot pink

Phlox ‘Cabot Pink’.  Several of the phlox I grow are heirlooms from the pre-WWII era when Europe (which included England back then) was putting out some of the best phlox varieties yet seen.  “Cabot Pink’ may or may not be one of these as its name d after the Cabot Vermont town in which it’s been passed around, and may or may not be the original name. 

Like I said, although “the phlox do well enough” here, not everyone is completely happy.  The 1990 Piet Oudolf introduction ‘Blue Paradise’ has yet to take off.  Flowering is no problem with even the most pathetic stalk blooming, but it’s been floppy and mildewy and just plain miserable in its spot (everything which it’s supposed to not be).  Of course I’m to blame since it seems to take off for everyone else, but maybe this fall I can move it and find just the right location to cheer him up.

phlox blue paradise

The “blue” morning color of phlox ‘Blue Paradise’.  The color changes with time of day and temperature which is cool, but so far I haven’t been able to change his slumping nature and unenthusiastic growth rate.  Here he is flopped over onto the boxwood hedge, which is the only thing keeping him up out of the dirt.  

Ok, so here’s my latest favorite phlox.  It’s ‘Blue Spot’, a newer introduction which for some reason I can’t seem to find any information on just now.  For some reason 2008 introduction by way of a Connecticut nursery comes to mind, but I’ll likely have to update that when I figure it out.  This plant came to my garden last fall by way of Perennial Pleasures Nursery, a Vermont nursery which has the best phlox offerings I’ve seen, and fortunately also does mailorder!

phlox blue spot

Phlox ‘Blue Spot’

My plant still needs some growing to do, but in spite of multiple woodchuck grazings, it’s managed to put up a few flower stalks.  I love the bluish swirls and I think it gets this pattern from another favorite, ‘Blushing Shortwood’ which may or may not be a parent (again… top of my head).

phlox blue spot

A closeup.  In my mixed up world of color naming, I’m calling this a blueberry stain on a white background.

I look forward to seeing this one clump up and hopefully avoid another run-in with the local wildlife.  So far my theory of letting weeds grow up around it to hide it from attack has been working, but that has its downsides as well… we will see, just like you will likely see plenty more phlox photos as the season rolls on.  We still have all of July and August you know!

Have a great weekend, and a happy and safe Fourth of July.

Thursday’s Feature: Delphinium

This Thursday it’s all about flowers.  For as much as I love throwing in questionable photos of borderline weedy plants or offensively tacky color clashes, even I have to brag a little now and then when something goes right.  The tall hybrid delphiniums don’t like my garden or me but this one seems to have resigned itself to its fate and has come to an agreement with my garden.  It’s beautiful and although I can take little credit for that at least the pictures are pretty.

purple delphinium

Purple delphinium

Four years ago it was love at first sight when I came across a little pot with a fat plant and a solid stem just starting to sprout up into a bloom stalk.  I thought to myself “even I can’t screw this up, and it’s going to be amazing”, so onto the cart it went and the rest is history.

purple delphinium

Another view 🙂

These tall delphinium hybrids love a perfectly rich soil in a sheltered spot with steady moisture and shelter from the worst of the weather.  They do better in cooler, fairer climates and don’t like drought, heat, humidity, storms, drying winds, children playing, large pets, neglect, stray hoses, clumsy gardeners… essentially everything that my garden represents… but this one carries on.  2016 has been a lean year for it since I’m trying something new (less fertilizer and no staking) but the show is still nice enough.

purple delphinium

A wider view of the clump shows smaller bloom heads and yellowing lower leaves which resulted from a leaner diet, but I also haven’t staked the flowers and they are holding up reasonably well to the wind.

But you don’t care about lean, anemic delphinium plants.  A Thursday feature is fun so here are photos from last year when the fertilizer was flowing and the party really took off!

purple delphinium

Sorry about the bicycle in the background….

This one clump which survives (trust me I’ve killed my fair share of these) is on a slope in morning sun near the hose… which means it gets a sprinkle whenever the water goes on.

purple delphinium

…and oops about the sign.

-but prepare yourself for heartbreak if you give these a try.  Three out of four years a storm cell will pummel your garden just as the delphinium reaches its peak, and little in the way of staking will help the heavy blooms.  On the plus side they make an excellent cut flower (if you have room for two to three foot flower stalks in your arrangement), but on the down side it’s depressing to say the least.

purple delphinium

Delphiniums after the storm.

Few things are fun without a little effort and risk, so give them a try and see where you end up.  While I go on to ponder the possibilities of growing these in a classy walled garden with the perfect soil, you may want to check out a few other feature plants to fill your Thursday.  Kimberley of Cosmos and Cleome hosts each week so give her blog a visit to see what she and others have featured this week.

Enjoy!

 

The front border among other things

It stopped raining long enough this afternoon for me to get out there and do some watering.  The deluge of nearly 1/10 of an inch did little more than dampen the top layer of mulch and cancel a Little League game, but it was enough to cool things down at least.  Maybe it also gave the pestering hordes of gnats a nice drink as well, God only knows they must be getting tired of sipping my blood and sweat all month.  Here’s how the lawn out front looked yesterday morning.

dormant lawn

Needless to say I don’t bother watering the lawn.  I feel like watering the lawn is a gateway drug to bagging clippings, spraying for weeds, thatching, aerating, spraying for grubs… all those tedious chores which would ruin this vacation from mowing.  On the down side it looks like crap until the rains come back.

I hope my crabbiness about the weather doesn’t come on too thick.   Weatherwise I feel like I’m riding one of those shoddy, barely-passed-inspection carnival rides where you get thrown back and forth between burning and freezing, drought and flood, and all you want is Dramamine and a Tylenol when it comes to a stop.  Maybe today’s misting and this week’s milder temperatures will improve my outlook.  I think it will, especially when there are flowers toughing it out and cheering me up.

linaria purpurea

A new one this year is Linaria purpurea (toadflax), a hopefully hardy and long blooming airy perennial which was seeded out last year. The seed was supposed to be for ‘Canon Went’, a pink version, but only one or two stalks came true. No big deal as I like it just fine in the regular lilac-blue color.

I’ve done next to nothing on the front border since mulching it with shredded leaves in March… and weeding and deadheading once in May.  That’s great because it still looks decent enough, but not so great since I like to add a few patches of hard working annuals and tropicals in there to brighten up the summer months.  This pattern of neglect isn’t way out of the ordinary though, so even if it’s getting late for annuals I’m 99% sure that if I finally get it planted there will still be a decent show… but I’m not doing the same for the foundation bed.  It’s so dry the majority of the perennials are wilted and dying and I have no desire to even look at it long enough to even consider carving out a few watered spots for annuals.  The blue fescue border was de-seeded last weekend and in general it looks good enough, so I’ll leave it at that.

blue fescue border

I pulled off all the fescue seed heads and the foundation planting will just have to stay like this for the summer… although I may have to airlift out a few hellebores.  They look terrible all flat and yellowing and it may be time to find them a spot in the backyard with a little shade.

It’s curious to me how some years an odd balance tips and suddenly your most reliable standards vanish.  This year the front border is missing the hordes of rudbeckia which dominated last summer and in their place is a nice wash of rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).  Many people look down on this old fashioned, reseeding, short-lived perennial, but I love it for its tolerance of droughty soils, its soft gray foliage, and its cheerfully bright flowers.  It’s a perfect compliment to the nearly-a-weed white of the oxeye daisies.

allium seedheads

The front border from the near end.  This perspective is perfect for avoiding all the gaps and holes which become apparent when the border is admired head on 🙂

My absolute favorite right now isn’t even a flower though, its the dried round seedheads of allium ‘Pinball Wizard’.  Big fluffy spheres which seem to float above the border are just perfect this year and I’m planning on lifting the bulbs this week to spread them out a bit (the original single bulb has split into four now and I don’t want it to have any overcrowding issues.

lychnis coronaria rose campion

Rose campion, oxeye daisies, and another view of my lovely allium seed heads.  Might as well enjoy the dried stalks since everything else seems to be on its way to drying up completely as well.

Once you move towards the far end of the border things go downhill fast.  Everything in this border gets done from the near end to the far, and unless I’m making a strong effort to be fair, all the good plants, best mulch, nicest compost, most delicate pampering…. all that happens at the one end and rarely carries all the way through to the other side.  I’m pretty sure that the most obvious solution to this problem is to make the border wider again.  More room, more plants, more excitement… the natural choice when faced with a border which might already be a little too much work 🙂

late June perennial border

If I can get a shovel down into the rock hard lawn I could easily bring this border out another foot or two without interfering with third base (which is usually located right next to the chartreuse leaves of the ‘Golden Sunshine’ willow).  I’ll just need to plant something which can handle a few missed kickballs and base overruns.  

Digging will have to wait until August at earliest.  Who knows what there will be left to plant in August, but we’re approaching phlox season and no bed digging is worth the risk of interfering with flowering phlox enjoyment.  Just today one of my new ones opened and it is so amazing I’m sure you’ll see it here shortly.  Wow is all I can say, and to be honest I haven’t been this completely excited about a new flower since at least last week.

the potager in June

The potager in June with its freshly mulched beds, newly concrete-reinforced rebar archway, and the first bright reds and pinks of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  There are even a few vegetables planted (although the boxwood still needs trimming).

With all the work I’ve done recently in weeding and trimming you might be able to tell I’m now trying to catch up on the blogging.  Well, blogging and watering of course… but please bear with me as sore muscles recover indoors and I throw out a bunch of posts in what might be too little time, and please feel free to skip commenting or even ‘liking’ since I’d hate to wear out my welcome!

Enjoy your week and I’ll be back Thursday to join up with Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday Feature.  Maybe I’ll even feature the new phlox, although saying that pretty much guarantees a woodchuck or deer attack tonight…

Stop it with the autumn talk

Many people enjoy and claim they welcome the coming of autumn.   I want to make it clear that I do not, and although the last few days have been a little too hot and dry for my taste, I would much prefer the relief of a summertime cloudburst rather than any farewell to summer eulogy.  So I guess what I want is just a few more days of denial before I’m forced to admit the season is breaking down.

hardy chrysanthemums

The tomatoes of summer are still going strong even with their new neighbors the fall chrysanthemums.

After a promising start to the summer August went dry and for the past forty days we’ve barely cracked the 1/4 inch mark for rainfall.  With high temperatures, thin soil, drying winds, and full sun the life was sucked out of a garden which had been almost carefree at the start of the summer.  With a nice rain today we’ll see how fast things bounce back.  My guess is it will be a much faster turnaround than the last two summers when things REALLY dried out to a crisp.

fall vegetable gardening

One patch of watered soil ready for fall planting. Hopefully cool weather will soon allow for a few broccoli and cauliflower transplants.

In spite of the heat a few things still look nice.  The tropical garden got a few minutes with the hose, and that seems to have been enough to keep it from death.  I love the colors right now with the purple verbena bonariensis, dark red dahlias, and peach colored salvia splendens filling the bed.

salvia splendens van houttei peach

A little orange from ‘Tropicanna’ canna goes a long way in brightening up the late summer salvia, verbena and dahlias.

With the grass dried up to a crispy beige the stronger reds, oranges, and purples really stand out.  I don’t think a bed full of lavenders, whites, and pale pinks would be as eye catching…. which I’m going to say is a good thing, since in this world of gray and tan I can use as much eye catching and hold-on-to-life color as I can get!

dahlia mathew alan

End of summer color from dahlia ‘Mathew Alan’.  As usual the dahlias could use some dead heading.

Even up front a little bold color is a nice thing.  The border along the house foundation has a few spots of color from the ‘Masquerade’ peppers I planted out this spring.  The true type has purple peppers changing to yellow, orange, and red while a few oddball plants started right off with pale yellow and are now going through the same sunset effect.

pepper masquerade

‘Masquerade’ peppers from seed with all the fescue clumps I divided up this spring.  I finally like this bed… but we’ll see how I can mess it up next year 🙂

Along the street is another story.  Even with a few emergency waterings things look end of summer tired.

dry perennial border

To water or not to water, that is the question.  Obviously I chose the latter, but the ‘Karl Forster’ feather reed grass, sedums, and perovskia are still holding on.

I did give the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea a little soaking, but a few water lovers such as the ‘Golden sunshine’ willow will need a good bit of water before they look anything close to happy again.

dry perennial border

I think this border will need a little trimming out of dead things once the rains soak in.  No big deal though, a little fall cleanup will carry it on through the next few months.

There are still a few bright spots.  Even in the harsh midday sun kniphofia ‘Ember Glow’ looks nice.  It could be a little taller but the size actually works well with the peppers and coleus (please ignore the dead rudbeckias and dying zinnias).

kniphofia

Red hot poker (Kniphofia) with peppers and a surprisingly sun and drought resistant coleus.  I wasn’t sure if the poker would ever bloom this year but I guess it’s a later cultivar. 

Until the garden bounces back the best thing to do is spend more time in the shade, seated with cold beverage in hand.  I can ignore the weeds and dead lawn quite successfully on the back deck.

summer planters on the deck

This is a late summer view, not autumn.  I’ll keep that delusion up until the first frosts threaten!

Even with a good soaking the lawnmower will still likely be on vacation for another week or two.  I’m ok with that.  I hope the soil takes in the rain, the plants come back, and I can finally use something other than a pickaxe to dig a hole.  Maybe then I’ll start thinking about things like fall while I’m taking care of a little late summer transplanting and bulb planting 🙂

Hello Susan

My intention this spring was to keep the front yard a little more organized and really put my foot down against the reseeders which took over last summer….. but then the rest of the world happened and just like many good intentions my organization theme fell to the wayside.  This year rudbeckias took over.

gloriosa daisies rudbeckia

Rudbeckias, black eyed Susans, gloriosa daisies, whatever you want to call them these rudbeckia hirta hybrids really bring gold to the front border.  Fyi this is as far along the bed as the edging and mulching got this spring.  You can see my spade handle just where I left it about two months ago 🙂 

For as much as I like the softer yellows, and for as summery a tint golden yellow is, bright gold is probably one of my least favorite flower colors.  The golden takeover of the front garden really goes against any design theory I have for this bed and I suppose if I were of the more controlling type it would cause me a little mental turmoil but I think I’m ok with the brightness.  It helps bring a little sun to what’s so far been a pretty wet and ‘pearly’ summer.

rudbeckia hirta gloriosa daisy perennial bed

The front border with plenty of rudbeckias.  I was firm with seedlings of amaranth, standing cypress, and oxeye daisies but this year the black eyed Susans slipped by.

A casual passerby might think things look well under control and maybe even close to well tended, but just inside the bed turmoil reigns.  Here the inner section was supposed to be a restful patch of dark leaves canna…. which it’s not… because too many ‘good enough’ plants came up and the gardener just didn’t have the heart to pull them out.  It worked out for the best though, the variety of green centered and brown eyed rudbeckia which grew is a nice tradeoff (as long as you can continue to ignore the unplanted cannas sitting on the driveway).

mixed annual rudbeckia plantings

Mixed shades of selfsown rudbeckia seedlings. 

There used to be a greater variety of darker shades mixed in with the straight gold daisies but over the last few years I’ve tended to pull the browned eyed versions.  They seem more prone to mildew in my garden and rather than look at that I just pull them and send them to the compost before their seed ripens.

mixed perennial border

A more ‘refined’ view of the border.  Less is surely more with these bright colors but to be honest the patches where the rudbeckia grows and blooms thickest are the patches which make me smile 🙂

A week or two ago would have been a good time to seed out a few zinnias to fill in for when I get tired of the fading rudbeckias but all the rain seems to have drowned my seedling tray, so we’ll see what happens now.  Fortunately there are always volunteers willing to step up.  Here are a few sunflowers coming along (in a totally inappropriate spot) and I know a few verbena bonariensis seedlings could be found elsewhere.

sunflower seedlings

The future sunflower patch.  Goldfinches have already been stopping by but they’ve got a few more weeks to wait before this seed factory starts up.

The entire border hasn’t been given over to gold.  Here’s a now classic combination of Perovskia, Echinacea, and ‘Karl Foerster” feather reed grass made famous back in the ’90s by the Washington DC based design team of Oehme, Van Sweden.  They were one of the pioneers in publicizing the ‘New American’ prairie style planting style which moved American design away from lawns and English style gardens to a more relaxed look filled with lower maintenance swaths of color and forms which sway in the summer breeze.

Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting

My Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting of ‘Karl Foerster’ grass, coneflowers, and Russian sage.

Coneflowers also anchor the far end of the bed, and the golden rudbeckias haven’t quite conquered this far down the line.

morning light perennial border

This end of the border is were my enthusiasm for weeding and maintenance always wears a little thin.  As long as the lawn stays mowed and the edges get trimmed I think the weeds and lack of deadheading aren’t quite so noticeable.

The black eyes Susans which grow in this front border are nearly all the tetraploid version of America’s native Rudbeckia hirta, and for plant geeks such as myself the history of these plants is one of those cool wintertime stories which make gardening just that much more interesting.  A version of the story can be found by clicking here, but the short summertime summary involves Dr. Blakeslee of Massachusetts’s Smith College treating seed of the native rudbeckia with the genetics altering chemical colchicine and doubling their chromosome count.  Eventually David Burpee got a hold of the new race of flowers and set his company to work refining and selecting for more colors and forms, and in 1957 introduced the plants as we know them today.  The tetraploid version is bright and big and bold, but the normal diploid Rudbeckia hirta still has its fans for its daintier, summertime wildflower look.

rudbeckia hirta quilled petals

A straight Rudbeckia hirta which showed up in the back garden.  I like the spoon shaped petals on this one and hopefully can save a few seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta comes in two basic forms, the regular and the larger tetraploid version.  They’re both short lived perennials which may bloom the first year or may die after blooming, depending on their mood, but they’re both far from troublesome.  Don’t get this Susan mixed up with the truly perennial, clump forming Rudbeckia fulgida which is just starting to come into bloom now.  This one (usually grown as the ‘Goldsturm’ version, another Oehm,Van Sweden favorite as well as Karl Foerster introduction) is another indestructible rudbeckia but for me it’s just too much of a perennial commitment to gold 🙂

rudbeckia hirta light yellow

Another wild rudbeckia hirta which I’m keeping an eye on out back.  It’s a lighter yellow shade with a spidery inward curl to the petals (which often shows up in the darker ones as well).  I like it! 

So there you have it, the glory of gloriosa daisies in the garden of a gardener who doesn’t like gold.  Some will surely point out that I’m in gold loving denial, but daisies and gold are completely common and unrefined and I’m going to try and claim it was against my will and better taste that they took over this summer.  Either that or I just don’t care what good taste and garden trends dictate!

Enjoy summer 🙂