Catching up with summer

I always admire other gardeners who seem to throw things together and they work out perfectly.  A list, a trip to a store or two,  a few hours of work, and voila!  You’re ready to relax and move on to something more entertaining.  My projects never, never,  ever work out like that.  I start something innocently enough and before you know it a budget is blown, there are walls missing from the house, or you’ve been for a visit to the emergency room.

refinishing a table

Wax on, wax off. This tabletop has seen better days.

So here’s this year’s deck saga.   You give it a good cleaning, plant up a few pots and warm up the grill for dinner, right?  Not in my lucky world.  As you get ready to pressure wash you notice the kid’s craft table is looking a bit worse for wear and really should be cleaned up before the next waterpaint session.  Out comes the sander and varnish.

Once the table is all spiffy, the pressure washing commences.  The clean looks great, but it makes you realize how abused and dirty the vinyl siding is under the covered portion of the deck.  So off it comes.  You’ve been wanting to replace it with wood paneling and now that the table is looking nice again…..

wood paneling for a covered porch

The succulents will look so much better when this is done… and the wasp nest is removed from the outlet box… and the rusted broken light fixture replaced….

The woodwork should only take a few days, but then I might as well paint the rocking chairs saved from the dumpster, and I need to plant a few of the annuals so they don’t die waiting for their deck planters.

painted porch siding

As long as you’re redoing the siding, a pair of ceiling fans sure would be nice….

calibrachoa seedlings

A pot crowded with calibrachoa seedlings. I’ve never had reseeding with these before so I’m curious to see how they turn out… these are just four spoonfuls of seedlings out of the hundreds that came up!

Not to change the subject (as if I could stay focused long enough to finish something anyway), while the renovation is going on I still need to get the annuals planted in the deck pots.  Of course this is the year everything reseeded.  One pot is full of blue salvia seedlings, another is packed with red snapdragons, and a third has hundreds of baby calibrachoa.  They all need moving off to find new homes.

Once the planters are vacant (mostly) I decide I really need some tall miscanthus in the big planters.  Mine hasn’t quite recovered from the winter, but a quick phone call finds a friend across town who can spare a few wedges out of his clump.  So off for that.

And the weeks go on.  Finally the porch and deck are finished and the new plantings are filling in.

covered porch with new wicker furniture

All set for fireworks viewing on the fourth of July, but all I could think about were the agaves and succulents in need of repotting.

I really like calibrachoa on the deck.  They bloom constantly and don’t get the little inchworms in the blooms like petunias do.  These were all purchased plants, luckily by the time I got to the nursery it was so late in the season they were all marked down!

deck planters

Calibrachoas filling in a few of the deck pots.

This year I plunked down the money for a nice mandevilla.  It’s not my favorite “Alice DuPont”, but after complete failure with Alice last year, it was time for a change, and this one is filling in nicely.  I suspect last year’s vine (purchased from a box store) had been chemically treated to bloom nicely in the pot.  It produced blooms all summer but never grew an inch (which defeated the purpose of growing a vine), and I suspect it’s from the blooming hormone cocktail it received before it got to me.

mandevilla vine on bamboo stakes

Mandevilla growing up bamboo stakes on the deck. White vinyl fencing and construction out back complete the picture 🙂

I managed to squeeze a bunch of the miscanthus into this pot, and although temperatures shot up to the 9o’s (32C) two days after its division the grass recovered nicely.  All the red was kind of a surprise though.   The snapdragons came in on their own (and all bloomed in reds) and the calibrachoa really clumped up, and the overall effect is growing on me.  I like it even more with the chartreuse leaves of the sweet potato.

red calibrachoa and snapdragons

Chartreuse sweet potato vine, red calibrachoa, miscanthus grass, and red snapdragons (with a little plug of blue scaveola).

I’m really glad I just left the snapdragon seedlings, they took off once the pots started getting regular water and feedings, and I love the color.   Now snapdragons are showing up in a second pot which was supposed to have just a single miscanthus in it.  I had pulled all the extra snapdragon seedlings out of it, but with determination like that I guess I’ll have to let them stay now.

red snapdragons in a container

Another gratuitous photo of red 🙂

Fortunately the succulent pots are more subdued.  They’re calming things down a bit as well as the other survivor from last summer, the rosemary.

pencil succulent on deck

I’m developing a little bit of a terracotta habit, I blame the cacti and succulents for it.

So finally I’m done cleaning the deck.  The covered part has become a nice little retreat made all the more cozy (in my opinion at least) by the Virginia creeper which has brought the garden up to the porch edges.  Maybe next year I’ll work out some kind of trellising system so that the creeper can climb higher and then hang down as a sort of curtain.  I like the idea, but that’s another project!


porch with virginia creper

The view o the porch from the garden. The creeper was never planned, but once it started growing up I welcomed it. With access from both the top and bottom it’s easy to keep an eye on it.

Now I just have to decide what to do with the geraniums.  All the time at the DIY store and I figured I might as well pick up a few new pots….. and then find some dark chocolate paint to tone down the orange…. and then divide up all the overwintered geraniums (and maybe add a new one or two) to fill the pots.  And come to think of it I should probably finish off those steps too, and the deck supports would look a lot nicer wrapped in brick…..

potted geraniums

Why am I collecting geraniums? They overwintered a bit too well from last year and who am I to hold that against them.

I hope your summer projects are coming along at a faster pace than mine do!  With the way they move I tend to think nothing gets finished around here, so as the temperatures rise I might take a break and do a few recaps to see where things are going.

Welcome to Fall

Now that autumn is here I have officially given up on watering the garden.  The cooler temperatures are not as deadly as the summertime heat, and the rain we had a week ago should be enough to keep things alive.  So things are on their own for a while.

Most of the vegetable garden is done anyway.  Yesterday I let the kids pick the pumpkins and decorate the porch for Halloween.pumpkin patch

red wing onion harvestThe ‘Red Wing’ onions were also harvested as well as the last of the eggplant.  This pretty much finishes up the garden for the year (with the exception of a few peppers and a single brussel sprout plant).  It’s a shame the dry weather sapped all my enthusiasm for a fall planting, the idea of a fresh lettuce harvest right about now sounds very nice.

Despite the end of regular watering, the dahlias continue to put out flowers and carry on.  But they are beginning to look tired, and anytime the sun gets strong the leaves wilt.  Just about everything looks tired.dahlias in the vegetable garden

sunset colored dahliaThe only dahlia that actually looks better now is this one.  I need to look up the name, but the color that looked awful in July shines in autumn.

In case you haven’t already picked up on it, the vegetable garden tends to become a flower garden as the season progresses.  Any gap in the plantings quickly fills with self sown verbena, Persicaria orientalis, and amaranthus ‘hot biscuits’.  The amaranthus has a weedy look that not everyone appreciates, but I like it, and have been very generous with spreading the seedlings throughout the yard.  At this time the seedheads seem to glow in the autumn sun.the late summer vegetable garden

"phoenix" the fig returned from the ashesThe glow of autumn light is a signal to start thinking about protecting the tender plants for winter.  My fig has had a troubled season.  It spent the winter in the dark of the garage and began sprouting in January.  The sprouts dried off by March but then a few pots of water brought some new shoots for April.  By May I decided to use its pot for other, healthier looking plants, and while the fig waited for a new home (perched with rootball exposed on a spare saucer) it died again, this time I thought for good… on to the compost pile it went.  But like cats, apparently figs have several lives.  Around July I noticed a few sprouts coming up out of the compost and upon investigation found the fig root ball to be the source.  Finally it was given a decent home, and it’s grown this year without any resentment.  Now what to do this winter…..

red Dipladenia with pansiesAlso needing a winter home are the tropicals on the deck.  Even though I only paid three dollars for this red dipladenia, I can’t let it die!  So either the dipladenia or the pansies will need to be repotted and brought in.  I would have never thought of this combo, but pansy seeds do their own thing.

I don’t even want to think about the rest of the non-hardy deck plants.  They’re growing and blooming and doing well in general even though I never got around to any of the summertime repotting or transplanting I had planned.blooming succulents on deck

 The geranium should hang on in the dark of the garage, maybe the rosemary, but I’ll need someplace warmer for the coleus.early fall planters on the deck

Fortunately the tropical garden survives the winter by seed or stored tuber.  No windowsills needed for this end of the themed tropical garden

the freshly turned compost pile…and I’m finally getting some work done instead of just sipping drinks in the shade.  The compost pile was turned and a bonanza of “god enough” compost was found underneath.  It’s as dry as a bone in the pile, so I’m surprised there was any decay going on at all, but the plants will love it and I’m grateful for any scraps I find.  the question will be “who gets it?”

Actually there’s no question, my favorite new bulbs always get the scarce compost.  Here’s the newest bed in the back of the meadow.  A privet hedge (luckily privet isn’t invasive here) is planned for along the fence, and a snowdrop (galanthus) bed will get its start here.  I’ll bore you with the varieties next spring but for now here’s a picture of my usual low work (ie lazy) bed bed for snowdrops (galanthus)A couple inches of topsoil from elsewhere in the garden is spread out, bulbs are pressed down into the raked surface, a few inches of compost is used to top off and cover.  The compost I used has a good amount of soil mixed in, but if it was more organic I’d cover the bulbs with a layer of garden soil too.  They should be just fine here, and I’ll give them a good mulch of chopped autumn leaves once they come down.

I celebrate fall with bulb planting, I love getting the bulbs nestled down into the earth for next spring, I just wish the soil wasn’t so unfriendly and dry.

A Few Good Weeds

Somewhere way back I remember reading a comment on one of the fancier English gardens,  it went something like this- “Even the compost pile was filled with treasures”.  I took this to mean there were so many good things growing that even the cast-offs thrown onto the heap would have been worth keeping in most other plots.  Too much of a good thing is not a problem in my garden, the compost overflows with crabgrass and thistles, bittercress and prickly lettuce, but I may be turning a corner.  The birdfeeder is a big sunflower seed spreader, and rarely can I bring myself to pull out any of these weeds.sunflower

Maybe right next to the front door wasn’t a good spot (last year) but for the most part they pick pretty good spots to settle down.  Here a few squeezed in between the butterfly bushes and rose of Sharon. blue rose sharon

I’m always surprised by the range that shows up.  This year I’m playing host to dark centers, yellow centers, golden flowers, brownish tones, and even one of the huge 1ft across monters.  The ones here in front of the house have a bit of a rusty ring around the bloom, and give some needed height to the recently renovated foundation bed….. the rudbeckia underneath also crashed the party.  I’ll be the first to admit they look better there than anything I would have thought up!self sown sunflower

The most entertaining part of having sunflowers is still to come.  Goldfinches love the seed and fly by every day now to check out how they’re doing.  Once the seed are ripe we’ll have front row seats to the daily acrobatics of the little yellow parents and their greenish kids.

Rudbeckia are another plant that seeds about enough to end up on the compost pile.  My fancy attempt at a red border was ruined by this invasion of gold.  As usual it looks better with the surprise…. not sure about the pink phlox though… didn’t plant that either, but even if the color clashes it still looks better than crabgrass.rudbeckia goldsturm

The vegetable garden can always use a good weeding.  Persicaria orientale gets pulled each spring by the bucketful but a few always stay.  It’s not a small plant and can easily top seven feet in good soil.  ‘Kiss me over the garden gate’ is another name for it and I can picture this heirloom plant hanging over picket fences back in the day.rudbeckia goldsturm persicariaAnother garden invader is this ‘hopi red’ amaranth.  I’m a sucker for colored leaves and couldn’t bring myself to pull this one from the middle of a row of leeks.amaranthus hopi dye

‘Hopi Dye’ is supposed to be the darkest red amaranth around and even though I grow it for the looks its real claim to fame is as a dye plant.  This patch survived a harsh May weeding and is a little further along.  You can see how it matures and I love the dark foliage and fluffy blooms, and I love the fact it grows like a……. (weed?).amaranthus hopi dyeIn all honesty the tropical bed is really just one big weed patch.  That’s my excuse for the maybe-not-the -best color combos such as scarlet salvia and peachy pink dahlias.  I’m hoping the big green sprout in the front turns out to be a ‘Hot Biscuits” amarathus,  but there’s a strong possibility it and a few others are just well grown examples of pigweed (another amaranthus).  I guess that just goes to show what a fine line there is between weed and wildflower.

Other selfsown weeds in this bed are the red salvias, purple verbena bonariensis, and all the leafy purple amaranthus in the center of the bed.  This one I believe is called summer poinsettia or Joeseph’s Coat.  As the summer goes on it will sprout hot pink center leaves that should really add to this tasteful composition.amaranthus hot biscuits

I have a soft spot for the spiniest of plants, and it’s quite often that my spot gets a painful poke from growing stuff like this purple malevolence.   Solanum atropurpureum is an potato/tomato relative and the dark spines just look cool.  Guess what?  It’s easy to grow, as is the white flowered mirabilis longiflora growing next to it.  Luckily the mirabilis has no spines, it’s just kind of sticky and only blooms in the afternoon….. hence the common name four O’clock.purple malevolence solanum

I’ll end this with one of my favorite (real) weeds.  Bull thistle is all weed and if it wasn’t for my strange obsession with weedy spiny plants it would be a goner…. but…. it’s not that hard to kill, it only spreads by seed (unlike some really noxious thistles) and it’s really popular with wildlife.  I leave the ones that sprout up along the yard edges.bull thistle

Besides loving sunflowers, goldfinches love thistle seed.  They love it enough that the German name for goldfinch is distelfink or thistle-finch.  Around here you’ll often see the distelfink image show up on Pennsylvania Dutch artwork as a symbol of happiness and good fortune, and I’m not going to mess with that.  There will always be room for a thistle or two, just watch your soft spot!bull thistle