Back to Work

The rain last week did wonders for the garden and it’s become as lush as last year.  Lush is sometimes code for overgrown, so I spent some productive time trimming and weeding this weekend and I’m happy to say it appears to have paid off.  With pictures taken at precisely the right moment, from just the right angle, within hours after the lawn was mowed and edged, the yard finally looks nice.  I guess it’s about time considering we’re about four months into the growing season.

street border

The lawn cut and edged.  It looks almost parklike, just ignore the yellow spots… the kids were playing with a metal detector and searching for treasure in the turf…

I’ll try not to dwell on all the flaws I see.  The front border has much less color from annuals this year because of beetle attacks and a dry spell, but there’s enough which has come along regardless.  From the street side it’s really filled in, the usual perennials and random sunflower make a nice barrier between us and the road.

street border

The border does its own thing along the street with just an occasional whacking back when things get out of hand.

From the lawn side there’s also a good amount of perennial color, but not as much as I’d like.  I do prefer my plantings on the brighter side  🙂

street border

This picture is 100% showing off the lawn.  It’s a rare day when a well watered, green, freshly cut, neatly edged, lawn shows up on this blog.

Speaking of too much color, it’s not an official policy but in general I don’t have many daylilies in the garden.  I don’t like the way the leaves on so many of them look all beat up by the end of the year and for that reason got rid of most of them.  That may be a-changin’ though.  I spotted this one next door and there’s a good chance I may rationalize an emergency dividing, so I can sneak a few pieces over onto my side of the property line.

orange and pink daylily

Orange and pink.  This might be just what my border needs… or it might be one more piece of evidence in the case against any good taste in my garden.

I’ll have to be sure I don’t give in to the temptation of bringing a few bright daylilies into the tropical border.  It’s supposed to be all big leaves and bright colors thanks to explosive, non-hardy southern plants, not steady reliable things like daylilies.

tropical garden

A late start means the dahlias are only just now starting to flower, plus an unusually lazy May meant three or four were all that ever got planted.  Maybe less will be more this year…

The top part of the tropical border is again nearly overwhelmed by 8 foot tall sunflowers among other things.  This year I thought for sure I’d have the upper hand after pulling nearly all of them up but of course with more space the remaining plants grew even bigger.  I guess I could have worse problems.

tropical garden

At least the elephant ears look tropical.

The lawn isn’t the only thing enjoying some maintenance love.  I pulled out the hedge clippers and started doing a little trimming and was able to re-meatball all the lumps of yew along the house.  I don’t completely mind trimming hedges, but rounding off the same yews every year just to have the same yews rounded off every year seems incredibly pointless, so by the time I got to the big one at the end I was more than a little bored.  We’ll have to see where this ends up.

yew topiary

Maybe I can call my yew balls ‘topiary’ now.  Of course I have yet to clean up the trimmings or get a ladder to reach the top…

Out back the potager is particularly lush.  I’ve been relentlessly pulling sunflower, verbena, persicaria, and amaranth seedlings but plenty remain.  Through July I still pretend to be the one in charge, but by August I lose the urge.  From here on things will be getting messier and messier, with all kinds of halfway attractive flowers sprouting up and taking over as the phlox fade or the vegetables are picked.

potager vegetables

It’s phlox season, and each day far too much time is spent checking them out.

I do like my phlox, but experience has shown they don’t like me.  The list of named varieties which have perished in this garden is pretty embarrassing, so of course we won’t talk much about that, and hopefully more observant readers won’t notice that I again spent a decent amount of money on new ones earlier this spring.  They’re not dead yet which is a good sign I think.

phlox paniculata

A mix of seedling and named varieties of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  To my eye gold and pink do not mix well… in fact I hate the mix… but I need marigolds and I need phlox, so there you go.

From further away the phlox look colorful at least.  Close up the foliage looks abused and there are plenty of other issues, but the flowers keep coming, and it makes me wonder if they think this is their last hurrah before they kick the bucket.  I hope not, but I’m not going to fool myself into thinking they like it here.

potager vegetables

I feel like it’s a requirement to grow marigolds in your vegetable garden, even if it’s so fancy that you call it a potager.  Sorry about the white buckets littering the view, but this photo is to prove that there really are vegetables in here.

One last phlox photo.  I wonder if they’d like me more if I dug up a whole new bed and devoted it to even more phlox and more new phlox?  A few more reds would be nice and how much room do a few tomatoes need anyway?

I definitely need more phlox, and I also won’t rule out bigger clumps of the good ones like this white seedling. They’re native plants by the way, so maybe this is helping make America great again.

I’m sure by September I’ll be wishing for fewer phlox and more colchicums.  Maybe.  Hopefully it’s not chrysanthemums though since I’m this close to yanking most of them out in spite of the fact I needed bunches of them just a few years ago.  I hope not everyone is as fickle as I am.

Happy August and have a great week!

Down on the farm

Late August is bathing us in heat this year and the steady rains have brought on the harvest.  We modestly refer to our garden as “the farm” or “potager” and this is the time of year when it shines.  Produce begins to trickle in and suddenly there’s a little more interest in the backyard.

harvest from the garden

The picnic table is the place to be for drying off and cleaning up before the kitchen.  Garlic, potatoes, and the first of the onions started the month off.

Eggplant and peppers have been going out, onions are always popular, tomatoes are on their way, and beans are yet to come.  The harvest is late due to planter’s procrastination but who out there hasn’t ever fallen behind?  At this time of year even I fix up a plate of veggies, and they aren’t even deep fried 🙂

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I grow red cabbage just for the looks, but there’s a good chance these heads will disappear soon and show up again later as rotkraut.  Fine by me, but in the meantime they look nice with the verbena, eggplant, and marigolds.

I admire a neat garden with raised, raked beds and straight rows of perfect plantings, but that’s nowhere even close to my garden.  The potager is tumbledown mix of flowers, crops, and all kinds of odds and ends that found an open spot of soil and made it their home.  Phlox are never turned away, and earlier in the month they started their summertime concerto and the music still plays on through the heat.  For this I consider myself lucky,  since earlier in the spring between spidermites and drought I got the feeling it would be a down year for the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).

phlox paniculata dorffreude

Phlox paniculata ‘Dorffreude’ (Karl Foerster introduction, 1939) making a good argument that newer isn’t always better.

The phlox make me happy, but the other flowers which add to the non-agricultural chaos also make me smile, and the tall Verbena bonariensis leads the way with their bee and butterfly attracting bloom heads.

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Now’s the time when the verbena becomes too attractive to pull.  It’s a fair trade-off since the flowers draw in nearly every passing butterfly.

One area of responsible neatness is the boxwood hedge which edges the two forward sides of the garden.  After three years the small plants have finally begun to look nearly respectable.  To celebrate this milestone I spent way too much money on what I hope will be a set of premium hedge shears.  The electric trimmer has been shelved and I took the quieter, more contemplative path of manual trimming.  For me it’s relaxing and I think I’m one of the few who actually enjoys this job.

training boxwood hedge

Slowly the boxwood hedge fills in.  I can still remember the summer day way back when me, a bucket of boxwood clippings,  a few trays of potting mix, and a couple beers started this all.

Besides boxwood and phlox, chrysanthemums (ok, new name dendranthema) are starting to make a serious play for potager real estate.  This spring I added even more of the larger flowered football types, trying to stick with anything which might be hardy through the winter.  I’d try to explain this growing obsession with mums but honestly after just admitting I enjoy hedge trimming I’m not sure there’s much I can say to defend this last quirk.

hardy football mum

Hardy (hopefully) football mum.  If the mood strikes next year I may even try disbudding a few of these to see if I can force all the plant’s energy into one single, perfectly large, perfectly perfect, bloom.

Dahlias.  I like dahlias.  I think I’ve already confessed to that.  Of course a late planting gives late flowers, and you know me and late.

moonlight dahlia

Dahlia ‘Moonstruck’.  This is its third year and it has yet to let me down, although I suspect it carries a virus which causes the leaves to yellow and die way too early in the season.

Sometimes late isn’t anyone’s fault.  For the second year in a row I’ve had these gladiolus bulbs overwinter in the open garden.  Against better advice I even transplanted them in June and look at that, the clump still managed to send up two bloom stalks.  If this keeps up I’ll need to divide the clumps next year since the other clump is up to 8 flower stalks!

winter hardy gladiolus

Just your average hellebore-gladiolus-rudbeckia-tomato planting.  I don’t think you’ll find this combo anywhere else… probably for good reason 🙂

But procrastination does have its down side.  Although the persicaria and rudbeckia have never looked better next to the potager, the light green ‘turf’ in the bed is 100% weeds…. and this is still supposed to be a red border, which rudbeckia is not.  Also the trellis never received a solid footing, and was never officially planted.  I guess that’s what the plans for next season are made of!

persicaria red border

persicaria red border

Enjoy your own harvest, whether it be fruits or flowers, contentment or excitement.  The season is here and as long as the heat doesn’t kill you first you can shelve these moments away in your mind for those dark days in January.

 

(Almost) In a Vase on Monday

This afternoon I dutifully plucked my choices, prepared to plunk them in a vase, and was told in no uncertain terms to remove the flowers from the house.  Who is this woman I married who cannot tolerate the scent of garden phlox!?  Allergies and a lack of any thoughtfulness were brought up but by that time I had already scurried back outside.  So with camera in one hand and bouquet in the other, my vase is quite open to interpretation this week.

tall phlox seedlings

Late blooming garden phlox, all seedlings found scattered here and there throughout the garden beds.

I hope it’s not considered offensive to have a Monday vase without a vase, but Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden who hosts this weekly effort seems to be all for stepping outside the box now and then, so I don’t think there will be any hard feelings.  Plus, when you consider my arranging efforts are usually not far removed from throwing everything down on a table anyway, even with a vase it’s not likely things would have improved much!

self sown phlox

I actually ripped out the two plants on the right a year ago, but apparently they came back from the roots. I’m glad they did, and I should show them a little more respect from now on.

Hopefully the flowers speak for themselves.  These are all unnamed garden phlox seedlings (phlox paniculata) that were looking nice scattered around the garden.  So often I read the repeated advice that phlox should be deadheaded, don’t allow seedlings to grow, and if you do all sorts of chaos will ensue… but I suspect this is yet another bit of garden advice regurgitated yet never tested by the speaker.   Sure if you grow your own phlox seedlings, the plants may not be as excellent as the parents, but I just want to say mine have reseeded, the original plants are fine, many of the seedlings are attractive, and no zombie apocalypse has descended down upon my garden.  If you only have room for one phlox, by all means get a guaranteed color, but if you have a little room to experiment, give it a go.  The surprise can be nice and if not there’s always the compost pile.

Have a great week, and if you’re interested in seeing what other gardeners are doing with real vases give Cathy a visit over at her blog!

Phantastic Flox

I’ll try not to go on too long.  Phlox paniculata is one of my favorite flowers and it’s blooming now, and although my garden doesn’t give the best conditions for amazing phlox (rich soil, even moisture, maybe some afternoon shade) it gives me good enough phlox.  Phlox (along with snowdrops and cyclamen)  have always been among my favorites, and now that I have the room I might as well indulge myself.  Here are a couple that are making me happy right now 🙂

phlox nicky and laura

From the left it’s ‘Laura’, darker ‘Nicky’, and random pink and white seedlings.

I will grow just about any phlox I can get my hands on but should really start to show a little self control…. or not.  I love working in the vegetable patch when the breeze has that nice spicy phlox perfume on it.  The hummingbirds and butterflies seem to appreciate it too.

phlox seedling

This white phlox seedling is one of my favorites, nothing really special, but it’s so reliable. The pink is also a seedling and I like the color but it doesn’t bloom as long as some of the others. I keep it mostly for the odd darker centered leaves… which look slightly diseased when I think on it, but it’s all mine so it’s special.

I know all the books say to deadhead and rip out stray seedlings which sprout since they will overrun your better named phlox, but I’m a little funny about just accepting what people tell me…. plus I’m curious to see if they’ll really all turn out as ugly as the books say (I do still read books btw).  Last year this one was a little congested and washed out,  I almost tossed it and now I’m glad I didn’t.  The cooler weather this summer has brought out some nicer color, and a leaner diet has left it with neater flower heads and I’m again seeing some of the qualities that made me single it out in the first place.  I love the height too, it’s close to five feet.

tall garden phlox

No-name phlox, still nice with it’s white centers and a color that just about matches the verbena bonariensis behind it.

Nearly all my phlox look a little sickly due to a dry spring and summer which really brought on the spider mites.  Spraying them off with the water hose and a little fertilizer seems to have discouraged the mites but the damage remains in the form of yellowed and spotty leaves.  Strangely enough my variegated ‘Nora Leigh’ has the nicest leaves of all, which surprises me since variegated plants are always supposed to be a little weaker compared to the regular version.

phlox nora leigh

Green grass would be a nicer backdrop for the foliage of ‘Nora Leigh’ but I guess the neighboring fig leaves will have to do.

I’ve been obsessing a bit on the darker colored varieties.  ‘Starfire’ is supposed to be especially bright and I think that’s what this is.  I don’t know how the mite damaged leaves can support all the bloom it has but they do and I’m glad for it.

phlox paniculata seedlings

‘Starfire’ (maybe?) is definitely bright and probably shouldn’t be right next to white, but it happens. I’m thinking next year it deserves an extra serving of compost for this wonderful performance in the face of adversity.

I’ve been adding new ones here and there.  This spring I ordered a nice batch from Perennial Pleasures up in Vermont and was generally pleased with the plants I received.  One died a few days after I got it, but I didn’t even bother complaining since I was so happy to have finally found a place which has such an awesome selection of phlox online.  Hmmm, I wonder if another order this fall would be too soon 🙂

phlox blue paradise

Phlox ‘blue paradise’ is a new one and it’s of the kind that change their color throughout the day. Cool mornings give a rich blue shade which fades to violet as the day heats up.

My local nursery is pretty good about having a few new phlox each year so they tend to follow me home whenever I make a visit.  Here’s ‘Blushing Shortwood’ which joined me last summer… and then spent most of the year sitting in its pot on the driveway.  I’m glad to see it hasn’t held this against me.

phlox blushing shortwood

Phlox ‘blushing shortwood’ with it’s nicely bicolored blooms. The pink seems to fade as the thermometer rises but it’s still a nice flower.

I have a few others but don’t want to overdo it so I’ll stop here.  There’s always next year to do it again, and maybe by then I will have turned the entire tropical garden into a phlox field.  Now there’s an idea 🙂

Have a great week!

Laura is a great phlox.

It’s been a tough summer but “Laura” is still holding her own.  If you can ignore the  photo quality long enough, I hope you’ll see her still blooming away into September while ‘barsixty’ (coral flame) towards the front is just a shriveled brown mess.  The freshness might not be with “Laura” any more but at least she’s doing her part to keep the color going  Two months and counting is a good job considering I’ve done nothing other than water enough to keep the poor thing from wilting too badly.  I’m officially going to name Laura my best phlox paniculata 🙂phlox Laura

Tending the Phlox

The tall garden phlox (phlox paniculata) is coming into full bloom around here and I’m pleased.  This smugness comes from the fact that last year I replanted several favorites into a new bed which had been dug over properly, composted, mulched, and then protected from bunnies in the spring.  Sometimes effort is rewarded and this time it was, in the form of healthy, strong blooming phlox.phlox paniculata

A better gardener would have blended them into a well thought out perennial border, mixing the colors with interesting foliage and varied forms…. but I’m not there yet.  Plus I like my phlox in heavy doses.  Overkill some might say.

Barsixty (coral flame is the trademarked name) is first in line.  I really shouldn’t not like it but there are a few little annoying things that get to me.  I think it’s too short, this is the first year it looks nice (after a couple dud years), and the edges of the blooms curl up a bit.  For many gardens, the ~16inch height is perfect and the curling adds interest, so it’s got a place in my garden… but I’m just saying I like other phlox more!coral flame phlox

I love “Laura”, it’s about two feet tall (which I still think is on the short side) but she always puts on a great show and looks good for weeks.  Here Laura is in the front with phlox “Nicky” towards the back.  Nicky is a little darker and booms a few days earlier.  (This section has been picked over by the kids, the big dark flowers are too tempting for little flower pluckers.)phlox laura and nicky

I’m kind of a snob with other plants but not with phlox.  Having named phlox is great for knowing what you have (and not buying the same plant twice!) but it doesn’t guarantee a nice plant in the garden.  I think this white is great, but it’s just a stray seedling that came up a couple years ago.  It’s about three feet tall and although pure white is always perfect, I like the way this one has small dots of red at the bloom center and a reddish blush on each bloom stem.  phlox seedling

I took this picture yesterday when the clump really hit full bloom.phlox paniculata clump

This one I don’t know the name for,  I think it might be “starfire” but can’t say for sure.  The color is great (if you like the reds!) and I like how the foliage and stems have a darker tint to them.  It’s a little floppy though…..  maybe starfire phlox

I need more of the clear pinks.  Here is “Bright Eyes” which I got just last fall, it came as a rootbound 4″ potted plant and will probably need one more growing season before it takes off.  I love the packed flower heads but they tend to hold onto dead flowers.  “Franz Schubert” is just starting to the left.  It’s another one in need of more settling in time.phlox bright eyes franz schubert

This white seedling may still earn itself a spot in the phlox bed.  It’s a short early blooming seedling which opens with a pink flush and later fades to pure white.  We’ll see if it gets moved in the fall…..pink blush phloxPhlox do well in pretty much the same conditions as any other garden flower.  Even moisture, fertile soil, sun to light shade and you should be able to make them happy.  In the spring I do nothing more than cut the old stems down and then come summer the only other thing I do is admire the flowers.  For many gardeners powdery mildew is a problem, and I wish I had some brilliant solution but I don’t.  Mildew is just not much of a problem in my yard, probably because it’s a real open, breezy location near the top of a hill.  The air movement likely helps but I can’t say for sure since as we speak the monarda plants are covered in mildew and they’re just a few feet away.

My most annoying phlox growing problem is the spider mite attacks.  They build up under the leaves and suck and suck until the leaves start to look speckled and yellow.  Spraying the undersides of the leaves seems to help wash them away but the best defense seems to be consistent moisture and plenty of compost and fertilizer.  Dry spring weather, warm breezes (which keeps away the mildew) and stressed plants seem to just call the mites in from all around.

Another problem I’ve had (which made me leave all the phlox behind the last time I moved) are eelworms.  They’re tiny worms which live in the stems and buds of infected plants.  They cause the stems to distort and ruin the nice big flower heads of a healthy plant.  The only solution I’ve heard of is to grow new plants from root cuttings, destroy all the old ones and find a new spot to grow phlox….. or move.

I just want to end by saying I need more phlox.  I think I’ve kind of run through all the local sources and have what most mailorder sources offer, but I know there are more great phlox out there!  I may have found a source at Perennial Pleasures, a Vermont nursery that specializes in heirloom plants and also has dozens of phlox varieties available.  I’ve heard good things about them and it’s very likely an autumn order will show up at my doorstep.