December Arrives

A stroll in the garden last Thursday reveled only one thing.  It’s boring.  Boring is probably not the worst thing since there have been tours which brought on anger, apathy, or disgust, but the tour did not bring on wonder or excitement, and for me that daily change or new surprise is what makes the yard so interesting.

cyclamen hederifolium foliage

The hardy cyclamen (this one is Cyclamen hederifolium) is pretty exciting now that the foliage is up, but I’ve seen it all before, and should really give a few of the cool new seedlings some room to develop.

I suppose I could find something to do and give the garden a scorched earth cleanup, rounding up every stray leaf and eliminating every dead and dried stalk, but that’s even more boring.  The birds will need something to pick through, and in January a few old seedheads holding the snow will give a little more interest to otherwise dull drifts.  So instead I cut and placed a few chicken wire cages to protect the most treasured shrubs from their annual bunny shearing.

rabbit shrub protection

Previously the rabbits around here were as lazy as I am, and if they had to even push aside a tuft of grass to get to a carrot they wouldn’t bother.  But now they’ve become empowered, and I have to protect things like this ‘Diane’ witch hazel with these attractive wire cages.

My friend Kathy was right.  Deer may not like witch hazels, but bunnies do, and if you’re thinking good for me to put this protection in place before any real damage occurs, you’re being excessively optimistic in regards to my laziness.  The new witch hazels should have been caged up weeks ago as more tender things in the garden dried up, but no, it wasn’t until the first one was nipped off at four inches that I figured it was time.  Fast forward another week when the second hazel was nipped to the ground that I finally got moving.

Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy'

One last succulent has earned its right to a winter spent inside.  After Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ survived a few heavy frosts and downright freezes I could no longer turn my back on the pot and into the garage it came.  I wonder just how hardy this thing really is?

I actually did find one bit of excitement while planting some not-really-wanted colchicums (they were supposed to be white… not pink).  The excitement wasn’t the tulip bulbs I sliced through when digging a hole, the excitement was a stray snowdrop in full bloom in a spot where I’ve only ever planted spring varieties.

fall snowdrop

A November snowdrop.  Two years after planting bulk Galanthus elwesii here, this one decides to beat the neighbors and open a few months and a whole season early.  I’ll be curious to see what it thinks next year.

Not to end on a down note, but this little November snowdrop is now encased (hopefully not entombed) in ice just waiting for the first larger snowfall of the season to happen.  I’d show pictures but would prefer to keep this a family friendly blog and will instead show a photo from the Thanksgiving trip which the impending storm cut short.

deer on Long Island

Deer along the beach of the Long Island Sound.  The wide open blue skies of the beach always recharge my outdoor batteries in a way the woodsy mountains and valleys of Pennsylvania don’t.

Things can’t be all that bad when you’re cozy inside and the weather happens on the other side of the window, so I can’t complain, but what ever storms come your way I hope they’re easy on your neck of the woods, and even if they’re snowy, I hope you have a great week!

Fall is in the air

The last couple days have been cooler, less humid and just plain pleasant to be outside in.  I’m not saying it’s fall weather, but it’s pretty close, and based on the dry, sad state of many plants in my garden I might say they’re ready for this summer to be over.  The front border has been on an IV drip of water and this life support intervention has kept it looking decent.  Having done a mid summer bed expansion here, and having added many annuals and tropicals, it kind of needs it in order to not become a dusty wasteland…. what a lovely contrast to the lawn which has not benefitted from any watering.late summer perennial border

sedum spectabileThe pink in front is a sedum which has been doing very well the last few years.  I always hated this color growing up, but this might be an improved version of regular sedum spectabile.  It was given to me without a name, but after surviving a transplant and division during 90 degree heat I guess I owe it a place.  Next year I’m hoping for an even fuller plant.

From the other direction more of the elephant ear, coleus, and cannas are visible.  The ‘hot biscuits’ amaranthus is blooming now and I like the brown seedheads…. it kind of gives a grainy farmland look here in suburbia.tropicals in a mixed flower border

selfsown sunflowersMy birdseed sunflowers are all doing well in spite of the lack of water and lack of attention.  The only drawback is their lack of pollen, and you can see the centers of the flowers are black, not pollen-yellow.  Pollen free is great for cut flowers but the bees are not thrilled.  A few come by for nectar, which I guess is enough to get them pollinated, but they’re not the busy centers of activity that the rest of the flowers are.

I’m just glad they’re hanging in there.  Sunflowers must be quite drought tolerant for an annual since this is how the rest of the bed looks….  I’ve given up on keeping it watered.drought in the garden

In the backyard, the dahlias are still getting water and even with me cutting nearly every bloom, they’re still giving a nice spot of color in front of the dead lawn.mixed dahlias for cutting

While it was still hot and humid I got around to mowing down the meadow.  I traded in my electric chopper for the day and borrowed my brother in law’s heftier gas powered lawnmower.  It made quick work of the crispy dried grass and wildflowers.  Typically I try to cut back the meadow earlier in the year, but with the hot, dry weather I really didn’t feel like doing anything at all, so it was only now that I found the motivation.  Because of my lack of enthusiasm everything got cut, there was no mowing around butterfly weed or native grasses, it all got the same treatment.  It was a good thing I finally got it done, because for some reason the colchicums have heard the call of autumn and begun to sprout.  How they come up through the dry, hard-packed, rock-like soil is anyone’s guess, and what triggers them to wake up is beyond me, but there they are.  Fresh blooms in a sea of dry crispiness.meadow colchicum

I wish there was some similar promise in this end of the yard.  The Annabelle hydrangeas were fantastic in the spring but now are just dying sticks.  They’ll recover if rain comes soon, but for now everything just skips over our little spot, or never even reaches the ground.drought in the garden

It could easily be worse, there are still a few green weeds in there, but Pennsylvania usually doesn’t go this long without rain.  On top of that it doesn’t help that most everywhere else on the east coast is at above average rainfall… but I have faith.  Right now Thursday is showing 100% chance of rain, and maybe this cooler weather is signaling a change in the weather.

Chanticleer (part 3 of 3)

Finally!  The last part of my Chanticleer visit.  I suspect I might have gone on a little too long over my visit, but I really did enjoy the trip and the gardens are just the type of plantings I like to see at this time of year.  Lush healthy tropical plants putting on their last big hurrah before the first frost cuts them down.  Plus I like to use this blog as a photo record of the year, and I’m sure these images will come in handy during the icy days of winter.

Here’s the last big stop of the tour, the terrace gardens surrounding the main Chanticleer house.  As usual it’s a dose of reality when I see plants from my own garden used to so much better effect.  The Japanese maple, variegated Pagoda dogwood “Golden Shadows”, blue ageratum and “limelight” four o’clock near the path…. all look a lot nicer here!chanticleer terrace gardenI’m sure a terrace of bluestone pathways and stone steps would help my garden design immensely, but even the bronze fennel, dahlias, and verbena bonariensis look dreamier and fresher here.  The blue of the spiky agave helps too…. hmmm I grow that as well.  It’s sitting under the deck in a broken clay pot, wishing it were at Chanticleer.chanticleer dahlias in bloom with japanese maple

The boxwood hedge which I’ve planted around my vegetable garden still needs several years before it reaches this immaculately trimmed state.  I like a nice boxwood edging, I think it’s worth the extra work of frequent trimming, and adds a nice touch of control to a bed that might otherwise look to be on the verge of messy.

chanticleer boxwood edged flower bed

chanticleer bed of nails solanumOnce my own boxwoods turn into a neat hedge I might start to refer to the vegetable garden as a ‘potager’.  Sounds so much more refined 🙂 .  But I might opt out on planting the prickly ‘bed of nails plant’ (solanum quitoense) in the potager.  Although it’s a near relative of eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, the spiny leaves might be better suited for a focal spot out front (I love the poky plants!)

‘Black Pearl’  ornamental peppers also look great right up against the hedge, and these could easily fit into my future potager.

chanticleer purple ornamental pepperIf you’re interested in reading a little more about these plants and some of the thoughts behind the plantings, check out this link at the Hardy Plant Society.  Jonathan Wright, the horticulturalist in charge of this part of the garden, wrote a great article on this area and some of the practices used to keep it looking at its peak from March into November.

Still in the terrace garden was something new that I liked.  An area formerly kept as a cut lawn had been turned over to a flowery meadow of fluffy little red amilias, red dahlias, and violet verbena boanariensis.  I wonder if this section will hold over to next year,  the grass was boring, but it did give a bit of a calm amidst all the overflowing beds.chanticleer red and violet meadow planting

The area around the house is absolutely crammed with treasures and accents.  These huge baskets have more in them than most average gardens.chanticleer hanging baskets

And of course there were plenty of seating areas surrounding the house.  A great place to stop for a needed break.chanticleer terrace seating

chanticleer chartreuse and yellow plantsWith reds and purples and bronzes dominating some of the other gardens, here the terrace garden leans towards yellows and yellow foliage.  I have a real weakness for this color lately and loved the mix.  Too bad I had no idea what half the plants were!  The best I can do is say the little vine here is probably canary creeper (Tropaeolum peregrinum) a relative of the nasturtiums.  It’s supposed to be easy from seed so maybe……

Back to red and purple.  The purplish upright dracaena is again one I have, and I will definitely copy this combo with the red leaved coleus.chanticleer red and purple plant combinations

chanticleer ae ae bananaI’m almost through my picture horde.

One more here for banana lovers.  I believe this is the infamous ‘Ae Ae’ variegated banana.  First found in Hawaii, it’s a little cranky to grow and therefore a little expensive to buy.  Established pups (offshoots of the mother plant) typically run $200-$300 and fraud runs rampant.  Don’t buy seeds and don’t buy from a shifty Georgia nursery is all I’ll say (not that I’ve ever considered it).  The leaves are really cool looking though and to have it flanking both sides of the main doorway…..

I’ll stick to my yellows and chartreuse.  Here’s a yellow leaved redbud, potted ‘mossy’ plants and a circle of raked gravel.  Very calming.chanticleer raked gravel entry

chanticleer blue seatsAnd so on to the exit.  No time to sit, but there was still ample color coordinated seating.  I bet someone has fun moving the seats about finding them the perfect spot, a good idea I think.  I should keep it in mind next time I’m moving stuff to bring the lawn mower through… not that my dead grass ever needs mowing.chanticleer seating

Out the front gate.  It’s a beautiful locale and I wouldn’t mind living closer, but I have to question whether our housing budget can handle the zipcode.  A quick real estate search of Wayne, Pa shows it to be a tad out of our budget.  Even with the sale of our current house, just the down payment  for properties running in the 1-5 million range would be an issue.  I guess we could lower our expectations, but I want the hayfield too. 🙂chanticleer neighborhood  Thanks for looking!

Hang in there Summer!

Cooler temperatures and earlier sunsets.  There’s no denying that summer is losing its grip, and with the kids starting school this week I guess it’s time to face reality.  Summer will not go on forever.  But delusion is a beautiful thing, and that’s what I’m sticking to, and for now at least I’ll focus on late August flowers….. not September.

The front border is hanging in there in spite of the dry weather, and my half hearted watering seems enough to keep it this side of parched crispy.  Agastache “Tutti Fruitti” (I think), Russian sage, and the seedheads of “Karl Foerster” feather reed grass carry the show.

agastache tutti fruitti drought tolerant plants

Further into the bed it gets a little messy, and I bet deadheading the butterfly bush would help, but in the meantime it’s all almost one big wave of buzzing, fluttering color.  Lower left is “Karley Rose” pennisetum, basically carefree but not as sturdy as “Karl Foerster”.  The Russian sage and butterfly bushes just keep going….'karley rose', 'pink delight' butterfly bush

From the street it looks a bit messy, but maybe it distracts people from the dead grass…. here’s ‘Royal Red’ Butterfly bush (Buddleia).  It’s a little thin this year for some reason, but I’m sure it will be back to normal next year.

buddleia 'royal red'

Also from the street, “Limelight” hydrangea paniculata.  Probably my favorite hydrangea, and it can get as big as it wants here.  The flowers start with a tinge of limey green, go white , and then blush with a bit of pink and red, and believe it or not the blooms are small this year (probably due to the dry summer).  Still there’s plenty of white flower overkill going on here!hydrangea "limelight"The extra water I give the hydrangea seems to be welcomed by its neighbors.  I love that this little milk thistle (Silybum marianumhas) sprouted up under the hydrangea.  milk thistleI don’t think it will amount to much this year, but maybe I’ll get lucky and have it overwinter and bloom.  Up till now I’ve only been successful with it as an annual.

If you’re bored, look up the history of milk thistle.  It’s been used medicinally for over 2,000 years and is still recommended today for the same liver disorders as it was in the middle ages.   Liver cancer, hepatitis, liver damage due to toxins…. mushroom poisioning….all this and it’s spiny with great foliage.  I love spiny!

The far end of the street border is still filling in.  I can always count on the no-name, purple leaved cannas to give a nice background, and the ‘Wendy’s Wish’ salvia looks good in front of them.  I tried a couple marigolds in here too this year, they’re still small, but are taking the dry heat without a single complaint.  One of the great things about annuals is the chance to do it all differently next year.  I’m not sure if the brown-orange color is one I’ll chose to repeat.purple canna with 'wendy's wish' salvia

A sad little Border

When we first moved here one of the priorities (among many others!) was to try and downplay the bright white vinyl fences which dominated either side of the yard.  Vinyl has its place, but to me a 6ft solid white wall just screams FENCE HERE! and I’d rather have a calmer yard.  So I started to screen.white vinyl privacy fence

For some reason I wanted a red garden in this spot, so I planted the closest thing I had which were reddish leaved and could possibly cover the fence, those being tall cannas and the ‘coppertina’ ninebark.  (The scarecrow of a plant toward the left is a seven sons tree  -Heptacodium miconioides- more on that later).  Over the last four years its become a dumping ground of red plants which refuse to flourish and other plants which needed homes.  This is what my “red” garden looks like today.rudbeckia and ninebarkThe first thing you might notice is the mess.  The second thing might be the lack of red.  I plan on working on both of these in the somewhat near future, but for now the stupid leaking preformed pond is just hanging over my head.  It disgusts me, so what better to do than ignore it and hope it learns its lesson.weedy flower bedWhile I wait for the pond to heal itself, the kids have take advantage of the neglect and frequently throw things in, stir the water, and use it to add magic to whatever messy dirt project they have going on.  It’s not helping but at least its motivated me to pull the pond shell out and set it aside until I can get myself moving.
My inspiration may have arrived.  Last fall while scrambling to find homes for a number of random seedling, I stuck in what I thought was a species foxglove (with yellow flowers) into the ‘used to be’ red border.  Unlike many of the other plants here, these seedlings did well, and to my surprise put out a bloom this week.  Look at what it turned out to be!lobelia cardinalis

Cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis)!  I’ve been trying for years to get a few going but the seed is like dust and my aftercare just doesn’t cut it.  This random mix up of seed has reminded me of my dream to have a red garden and refocused my vision!….. not really…. but how can I deny this brightest red of native wildflowers?  It’s time to get moving, before the golden rudbeckia ‘goldsturm’ take over. (btw none of these were planted, they all invited themselves in)rudbeckia and gold hostaTwo things I should start with.  The first is to add more dark leaved plants.  Ideally a dark hedge along the fence would be a nice backdrop, but I can’t think of anything better than the struggling variegated privet which is there now.  A darker background seems to really highlight the red and gold.rudbeckia, phlox, and ninebark

So the plan is to fix the pond, remove a few of the pinks and golds, think of a better background, and do some soil improvement/replanting so the red flowers already there really reach their potential….. in a spot with fewer washed out lavender flowers…red phlox and nora leigh

This blurry picture is a new-for-me annual/biennial/perennial which might have a place in the revamped border.  It’s standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), a southeastern native perennial which will likely be an annual here.  This looks like a perfect hummingbird plant and of course I love the color and the fluffy leaves.  I hope it reseeds, but if not there may be a few leftover seeds just in case.

Am I the last person to hear about this plant?  I’ve been looking for it for a couple years but had some trouble finding it.  Maybe now that it’s here it will stick around.Ipomopsis rubra

Early July update

I would have thought that by now my latest project would be complete.  I’m in the process of widening the flower bed that runs along the street, and even though it’s been humid, hot and rainy I still won’t admit it might have been a better idea to wait until fall.  So I’ll try to distract everyone from that thought with some pictures.

The phlox are here!  This picture is a week old, but it’s one of my newest colors so of course I’m excited about it.  The full name is phlox paniculata “Nicky” and it’s dark dark dark.  I had to prop it up a bit, but since this is year one I’m willing to give it another growing season before calling it a flopper.phlox paniculata nicky

You’ll see more phlox soon since they’re a favorite, but first here’s an underrated summer bloomer, hosta “blue cadet”.  I only have a few hostas, but I’d rate this one highly.  It’s old but always respectable and easy in sun or shade.  I like it here under the porch plantings and it does a good job of shading all the spring bulbs and hiding their dying foliage.  Note the edge on that lawn!  You don’t see that too often in my yard.hosta blue cadet In the backyard the addition of bird netting has saved some blueberries for the slower berry lovers.  This morning’s pickings were enough for a whole blueberry pancake!  Who knows, maybe in another year or two we’ll be able to put together a couple muffins.blueberries under bird netting

I guess I can put in a couple front border pictures.  Here’s the newly dug section.  The cannas are sprouting in the heat and the sedum doesn’t seem to care about being moved and divided on a 92F afternoon.new flower bedI made it almost to the halfway point.  The grass is getting turned under and I’m putting in whatever annuals are still homeless.  A few perennials are moving around too but it’s mostly iris clumps getting ripped out and divided and sedums finding a new spot.digging a new flower bedAt the rate I’m moving I should get to this end around Sept. 25th.  Then I’ll probably want to spread mulch over it all…. and weed first since by then I’m sure they will be all over.  Oh well, maybe someday I’ll get my act together.digging a new bed

Projects are always fun but the zucchini are blooming and that can mean only one thing.  All work will stop as we try and get rid of the extras.  I always plant four hills and I always end up with about four times what I need.  Who would ever trust that the little seeds I put in the ground would ever amount to anything?  But they do and now I’ll pay the price.   For this one hill I can count at least four and they’ll be ready in another day or two…. so get the recipes ready.yellow zuccini

Paper wasps!

We were off on holiday weekend visits for three days but to look at things outside you would think we’ve been gone a week!  It was hot, there were seedling casualties, but most stuff survived and the heat made a couple things explode into growth.

One thing that is growing is the paper wasp nest we found in the little dawn redwood.  paper wasp nestI’d rather it wasn’t so close to the sandbox but the kids want it to stay and I’m willing to see how that works out.  The kids are old enough to know better than to antagonize them, but I’m not so sure how that will hold up when the boys get together and hit an “I’m bored” moment….. Obviously I wouldn’t be doing this if there were any known sting allergies around.

The nest is only about four feet up, and I’m curious as to how these guys chose their nest site.  Out of all the bushes and trees around the yard they pick this one.  The one closest to the play area.  Go figure.  But it is interesting to watch them working on the nest, doing what paper wasps do.bald faced hornet

This can easily turn out to be one of those “that was stupid” posts…. time will tell.  Hopefully in the fall when this set of wasps die and they abandon the nest (they only use it one year) the next generation will pick a better spot.   In the meantime I hope they help themselves to as many caterpillars, bugs and spiders as they want, they can be a great beneficial insect, and I hope they’ll keep my kindness in mind when I absentmindedly bump the nest while mowing back there…. that should be funny to watch.