Rollin, Rollin

So now it’s August.  August fourth to be exact, and I’m not sure how we started into the month already when I only just realized July was ending, but here we are.  Weeding continues and with the front yard relatively under control it’s time to give the back some attention.  The potager is always ground zero for mayhem.

potager

The view from the potager up to the house.

From the right angle and with some nice morning light the potager looks like a flowery wonderland, but an actual visit would show plenty of weeds and needs.  Staking, deadheading, dividing… they’re all on the list somewhere, but weeding is all I really manage to get to.  In my new lower-the-maintenance kick I’m trying to think of better edging and maybe some raised beds and trellises but that’s a whole ‘nother lever and I don’t know if I can pull it off without someone else noticing that the closets still need new shelves and back in June in a moment of clarity that was chosen as the real summer project.

potager

Full disclosure.  The back garden really isn’t as flower-filled as you may think, and the berm is just too steep and too boring to mow… just so I can have more to mow.  So it sits covered in weeds (actually struggling and dried out smartweed for those who need to know) until I commit to planting something better there.

I was kind of inspired by how well the phlox were flowering and didn’t really mind all the hard labor out back.  There are a few seedlings which are nicely fragrant which I always appreciate, and in general quite a few have decided to flower instead of die, and for me and my phlox that’s a big step.

phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata with some hydrangea ‘Limelight’ in the back.  The hydrangea have grown faster than I thought they would, and this bed might need some rethinking.

I don’t grow the phlox well.  There’s always something they don’t like and I would guess that in any given year for the half that do well there’s another good half that look downright miserable.  I think they’d like a looser, more fertile soil with even moisture levels but that’s just not going to happen and they’ll just have to deal.

phlox paniculata

This pink seedling is my favorite this year.  It’s a pretty average color but up close I love the streaking… which of course doesn’t show too well in this photo.

I made it all the way to the ‘forgotten’ beds in the far back, which are less flower beds than they are just planted areas which I don’t mow.  The double tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium ‘Flore Pleno’) is back there and has finally opened up its congested and twisted blooms.  I never know for sure if I really like it or if it’s just too interesting to not grow, but I’m beginning to think I actually like it 😉

double tiger lily

The double tiger lily has been around since 1870 so of course I’ll need to keep it around.

I was about to tackle one of the worst of the ‘forgotten’ beds when I noticed someone else had moved in before me.  I treasure yellow garden spiders (Agriope aurantia) so when I saw this darling sitting in her web I decided enough was enough with the weeding and frost can level these things just as well as I can.

yellow garden spider

Yellow garden spider down in the weeds.  I can’t leave this darling exposed and homeless, so for the rest of the season this bed is officially a spider refuge.

I’ll regret letting this messy plot go to seed but in the long run I always opt for interesting over pretty so each afternoon I check out how well she’s respun her nest and weather she’s looking a little thin.  Every now and then a Japanese beetle gets flicked into her trap just to make sure she’s plenty plump by autumn.

cardinal flower lobelia

A few of my weeds turned into cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis).  They kind of make up for all the endless rain which gave them the soggy ground they enjoy.

Opting out of any more weeding really gave me a new lease on gardening.  Weeding the whole garden only to start weeding again is about as rewarding as mowing the lawn every time the lawn needs mowing, and it makes me feel like a dog chasing its tail except I’m not that into tails.  These never ending tasks just wear me down.  So the lawn is getting tall and the less noxious weeds are enjoying summer and I’m moving on to projects.  I finally decided to address the pile of flat rocks I had collected last fall and had been mowing around ever since.

building a bog garden

I don’t know how I moved that big rock back in the day, but last week with a lot of sweat and levering I finally moved it out from behind the grass.  Then I bulked up the stepping stone walk and settled on a spot for the bog garden.

For me projects make you feel like you’re actually making headway.  I want my garden to grow from year to year as well as season to season so changes always make me feel like that’s the case.  The reality is that the photos sometimes say it looked better in the before state, but where’s the fun in that?  Also I bought four new pitcher plants for like $15 on clearance so obviously I needed to invest hours of time and at least twice that much money in peat and sand just so they had a comfortable place to live.

hellebore garden

Leftover stones and a neighbor’s discarded bench were all the excuse needed to make a second new bed while the first new bed was happening.  Why not?

Someone might notice that adding beds to a garden that may already be too much might possibly be a move in the wrong direction but of course I don’t care.  Hobbies should be fun and you’d be amazed at how quickly a weed whacker and a pile of mulch can tame just about any mess.

devils trumpet datura

The rewards of messiness.  Devils trumpet seeded out in a cloud of volunteer fennel.  Not bad for a weedy snowdrop bed.

The bog is settling in and the bench now overlooks a patch of hellebores which have finally been moved out of the vegetable garden.  I would have taken and posted a photo but was so sweaty and disgusting the mosquitos even avoided me.  So much for the fun part of the hobby 😉

During and After

Summer vacations and gardens gone wild are two things that seem to come up regularly each year, and I’ve noticed many of the better bloggers will do posts on preparing your garden for a longer absence.  Here’s my two cents.  Do everything you know you should have done already but have been putting off, and then go enjoy yourself.

pandora animal kingdom

Florida in July is not enjoyment.  The kids seem to like it but my only moment of ‘not bad’ was seeing the new Pandora section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Cycads, fantail palms, tree ferns, massive rock outcroppings on what used to be flat sand…

It was as hot up in Pennsylvania as it was in sweltering Orlando but fortunately a well timed rainstorm kept everything relatively happy.  My plants are used to hit and miss attention so one more week wasn’t all that big a deal.

deck containers

The deck containers would have fried without watering, but an automatic drip system makes them almost carefree, even with a full sun baking each afternoon.   

I guess I can just pick up where I left off.

weedy garden

These are my new phlox.  Only the most adept word-find champion would be able to find any phlox in this mess, but trust me I managed to dig them out yesterday afternoon 🙂

For some reason this year seems like so much more work than any other.   I suspect it’s the result of my cheap nature and the way it’s keeping me from buying a nice, luxuriantly rich, delivery of shredded bark mulch (and its lovely weed smothering qualities), but it could be anything.  My deepest fear is that I may in fact be getting old, and I may in fact have a more ‘intense’ garden than I should.  My daughter informed me last week that all I do is look at plants or go on the computer and look at plants and maybe she’s not all that far off.  I kind of pointed out that I also brought her to her friend’s, picked up her brother from somewhere else, went to the store, met mom for lunch, picked her back up, went for ice cream with her….

potager

The potager in need of a grooming and a hedge trim.  Growing vegetables might be the most time consuming component of the garden… even if you’ve only got my word to go on when it comes to there being any actual vegetables in there.

So now I’m working through the garden one more time to get it presentable.  Throwing lawn clippings down as a mulch is helping, here and there the weeds might be slowing down, and overall the flowers are trying to make a go at it.  At least the bugs (both good and bad and indifferent) don’t seem to mind a little ‘woolliness’.

swallowtail on phlox

I’d like to think this beautiful yellow swallowtail is the child of one that was hanging around the garden a few weeks ago.  I like that there is so much life sharing my garden. 

Some of the woolliness comes from my weakness for self-seeders.  With phlox season ramping up there’s the excitement of new seedlings which snuck in while I wasn’t looking, and the surprises that come with new faces.

phlox paniculata

It takes plenty of diligence (maybe more than I have) to keep your phlox colors pure.  This may look like the same clump but it’s actually ‘Cabot Pink’ in the back right half and a stray seedling to the front left.  Slightly different petals and a tiny bit shorter, but the real giveaway comes on cool mornings when the seedling takes on a blue tint.

The phlox might look nice but they’ve been giving me trouble this year, even with decent rains and halfway decent care.  Spider mites are swarming and the usual sprays of water and fertilizing haven’t done the trick.  For as much as I like tall garden phlox, they really only tolerate me.  Maybe someday I’ll make them happy.

weedy garden

My failed poppy patch.  You may be able to spot a few purple blooms in there but for the most part it’s weeds which seemed to have sprung up overnight.  Hopefully I can get at this today before the rain hits.

Relatively speaking the front border is doing much better than the back.  It’s not nearly as colorful as last year, but it’s far less work than the potager, and only needs a strong beating back every now and then to keep looking decent.  Last year I expanded it out as much as two or three feet and worried about what to do with the space.  This year the perennials have rolled in and I barely have a few spots for annuals.  Hmmmm.  Ten minutes after saying I want less work I’m considering ripping out perennials to make more room for annuals.

front border

I feel like the border is dull this year.  The coleus I usually count on for foliage color have been brutalized by beetles and other less interesting things are trying to take over their space.

Don’t worry.  This should be the last post where I whine about how much work gardening is, and go on way too long with the woe is me theme.  It’s really not that bad and since I took these pictures I’m nearly all the way around the yard with the straightening up.  Plus there’s plenty of stuff to admire while I’m trudging on 🙂

lilium silk road

‘Silk Road’ might be my favorite lily.  It fills this whole end of the border with fragrance, doesn’t need staking, and gets better each year even in a terrible spot.  My dream for the future is that it becomes a clump of several bulbs and adds another two or three feet in height!

Enjoy your weekend, the weather here has been excellent for time in the garden and in spite of my daughter’s harsh assessment I’m still planning to do a lot out there today.

Gratuitous phlox

I don’t have nearly as many of the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) as I’d like.  The photos are misleading without the big picture so here’s the big picture with a wider view of the potager (complete with freshly trimmed hedge).  A couple (4) in the front bed, and a dozen or so in the back bed is not a lot of phlox.

garden phlox

Mid July and most of the garden phlox are nearing their peak.  Can I call them a favorite flower?  I feel like I do that to something new every other week.

We’re just going from one phlox to the next here.  No commitment.

phlox dorffreude

Phlox ‘dorffreude’… I think that roughly translates to town’s joy?

A few cooler nights have deepened some of the colors and although I don’t know the names for several of these it doesn’t matter as far as enjoying them goes.

phlox paniculata seedling

This random seedling gets a pink tint when the temperatures drop.

But the dry weather has them all a little miserable, and unless they get watered every few days the leaves and flowers wilt and the spider mites procreate.

phlox paniculata seedling

Another random seedling which opens pink and then fades.  Note how bushy the plants are… that’s thanks to this year’s frequent deer, woodchuck, and rabbit nibbling.

The next few days promise more dry, clear skies with temperatures into the 90’s (32+C) and the garden will be on its own as we go off traveling.

phlox nicky laura

The dark purple ‘Nicky’, starry eyed ‘Laura’ and an unknown salmony red passed on from a friend.  A threesome of color.

Of course there’s always the pretty yet troubled one.  Phlox ‘Brigadier’ has a great reddish color yet doesn’t bloom well, is losing stems, is a magnet for mites, and resents every dry spell… but I can usually just get her a drink and she’s ready to go.

phlox brigadier cabots pink

Phlox ‘Brigadier’ with ‘Cabot’s Pink’ in the back.

I guess when you’re jumping from one phlox to the next you’re bound to run into problems but I’ll admit I’m a phlox addict and don’t really want to change.  When I was out at the nursery last week there were about six new ones which I had a chance at and they all looked like a fun time (even if I already have a few waiting at home) but I said no.  It will be a hard enough time staying faithful this winter when it’s just me and the computer and the great online phlox source, Perennial Pleasures.  They’re like a Craigslist for hooking up with new phlox and I’m sure I’ll click on something I shouldn’t.

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.