A Few Things

I’m watching the weather radar with my fingers crossed for some rain tonight.  Its the typical summertime story for gardeners, where everyone else is hoping for another day of blue skies, while we’re sitting here hoping for a completely washed out day (or if it’s not too greedy, night, followed by a day perfect for weeding and planting but…).  Things are’t too bad, but there’s some heat on the way and without a little rain the garden will start complaining.  As it is the lushness has been sapped out of the lawn and the shade plantings are wilted, but to be honest I blame greedy maple roots for most of that.

summer garden flowers

It’s an oxeye daisy year in the front border.  Winter killed off much of the fennel, and the daisies appreciate the open real estate.  It’s not a fancy look, but still better than more yawn to mow.  

A few plants don’t mind, in fact prefer, the drier soils.  Here are a few of the more interesting things popping into bloom and looking quite good while they do it.  Thing one is this red Echium.

echium amoenum

Last year at the NARGS Ithaca plant sale I picked up an Echium russicum seedling and was a little unimpressed as it tried to flower amidst the lush chaos.  This year I’m loving its look in the sparseness of a drier flower bed.

The milkweeds always put on a decent show, and I wouldn’t complain if more show up, although one clump of the common milkweed is plenty… which of course doesn’t explain clumps two and three and four throughout the garden.

asclepias syriaca milkweed

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a weed not suitable for the cultivated garden.  I like the fragrance though, and don’t mind pulling up every sucker which pops up in a 20 foot radius… every week… After bloom finishes I’ll cut them back to about 1.5 feet and the new growth will attract the Monarch butterflies.

The purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurescens) is quite showy and quite a responsible flower border inhabitant.  This one hasn’t run around for me like it’s common cousin, and I actually may have to dig and divide it in order to spread it around.  That will be a new one for me and it makes me a little nervous since to get this one going took a few failed seed attempts and then quite some nursing along before the clump flowered for the first time.  Sadly I have yet to get a seedpod on this one.

asclepias purpurascens milkweed

Asclepias purpurascens, the purple milkweed.  Nice form and foliage and doesn’t mind a little bit of a dry spell, unlike it’s similarly colored swamp milkweed relative.

Another cool new thing in the purple color family is this knapweed.  I don’t like the most aggressive roadside-weedy ones, but this well-behaved perennial with the purple topped knobby buds is worth growing.  I was so excited to find it through Nan Ondra’s Hayefield Seeds.  If you haven’t already visited her site you should, the summer seeds are ripening and going on her list, and now is a great time to scatter them about for when the summer rains come  (they will either sprout now or wait until cooler weather returns).

centaurea atropurpurea

Centaurea atropurpurea, the purple knapweed.  Purple flowers poke up from scaly flower buds, and they’re quite popular with the bumble bees.

The knapweed seed was sown last summer and is blooming now, but the next plant has been inching along for at least 6 years.  Three small bulblets came in a ziplock bag with a note that they should be hardy for me, but I’ve heard that song before.  They were planted in a couple spots, one died the first winter but the rest slowly grew and grew until suddenly this week I had a flower stalk appear.  Honestly I was only just last week cursing the bulbs, because seriously I know it’s not the nicest garden but how long are we going to drag this out, and then all of a sudden a stalk and flower were there.  It’s my first blooming of the Orange River lily (Crinum Bulbispermum) and I’m not at all annoyed that it was the smaller bulb which bloomed and the larger bulb is still just sitting there pretending to be exotic.

crinum bulbispermum

Crinum bulbispermum, a plant which may need to be beaten with a water hose to induce blooming since that’s what our contractor did to it… and the un-beaten plant is still just foliage.  

Someone might remember I planted a few other, less-hardy Crinum lilies last summer, and shockingly they all survived with only some pitiful attempts at additional winter protection (I threw a bucket over them in January one cold night when I was feeling guilty about spending a bunch of money and not protecting them better).  Those bulbs are far less-likely to flower this summer since they all appear to have lost much of their bulbs to the cold, but maybe next winter will be different?  Maybe I’ll mulch and cover them and give them what they deserve?  Maybe…

crinum bulbispermum

The lighter blooms darkened up by the end of the day to the typical Crinum bulbispermum color.  I like them, even though I suspect they’ll be finished flowering by the end of the week.  These bulbs by the way receive no winter protection and have been perfectly hardy to just under zero Farenheit.

So is three as far as interesting things go here?  On to more mundane things.  I think I will give up and rip out the tomatoes poisoned by the herbicide-laced grass clippings mulch from next door.  They are all still sending up stunted, curled and twisted foliage and one plant is beginning to brown and die so I don’t think there’s much of a chance for any miraculous recovery.  New plants are in the next bed over and although I nervously mulched them with grass clippings from my own yard, they’re still doing fine, so I guess eventually there will be tomatoes for sauce this summer.

tomatoes herbicide damage

The sad, stunted tomatoes.  I haven’t noticed any damage in other plants, although some of the larkspur in this bed might be stunted, and thankfully the cabbage/cauliflower bed also looks fine in spite of getting the same mulch. 

I’m wondering if it would be weird to fertilize the lawn and water it just so I can mow it and bag the clippings to put down as mulch in the vegetable garden?  I guess it wouldn’t be much different than a hayfield that gets cut, and it’s still better than bagging the clippings to dump them in the trash, but maybe I should just work a little to keep the weeds down.  Nahhh.  Mulch is better, plus it conserves moisture and the earthworms eat it up and produce worm-manure all while aerating the beds with their worm-tunnels.  It would just mean more lawn mowing, which in theory I am against 😉

meadow garden

The meadow garden where mowing is still a no-no.  It’s drying out so tans are starting to show up.  There’s some rudbeckia opening, but the white is nearly all Erigeron anuus, the annual fleabane.  It’s an awesome weed for me and I let it grow wherever it wants, and I don’t think it’s greedy to hope for a blue or pink seedling to show up.

Tomorrow I’m repairing brickwork so that new siding for the addition can come right up to the old construction, where the bricks were pulled down.  I’m not a mason, so hopefully it turns out good enough that nobody notices my mistakes, but the reason I’m doing it is so I can move on to powerwashing the deck and moving deck pots into position.  Then I can re-do the drip lines and then hopefully no more hand watering the pots this summer.  It will be nice finally getting the deck clean and ready for summer since it’s been somewhat neglected with all the debris out there and the mess.  I sat out there on one of the chairs this afternoon and finally moved because a stupid wasp kept buzzing in my ear.  That’s when I noticed the other wasps and turned the pillow over to find the nest I was sitting on.  Hmmm.

It’s still not raining.  There are downpours to the East and downpours to the West but nothing here so I hope tonight’s not a bust.  In any case it’s still better than a February polar vortex 🙂

The Poisoned Earth

I’m not an organic gardener.  I sprinkle fertilizer around, spray for pernicious weeds, douse a bug here and there… I figure “progress” has to be good for something more than shorter winters and a warmer globe, plus I like cool things like antibiotics, vaccines, and diabetes and heart medicines.  Unfortunately, there are a few things which scare me and I’ve been thinking more and more on them lately.  The most recent is the death of this year’s tomato plants.

For all the neglected vegetables of the potager, sauce tomatoes are always in demand and always harvested.  The kids might throw cherry tomatoes around and play baseball with a zucchini but the paste tomatoes always find their way to the saucepan or freezer, and if it were up to me they’d all go towards pizza, not sauce, but now I’m getting distracted.  This year the plants went in early, the stakes before they were needed, all were watered, mulched, and looked great… for a little while.

I mulched with lawn clippings like I always do and within a few days the plants were dying.

2-4-D tomato damage herbicide

All the new growth on the tomatoes is coming out curled and stunted.  According to what I’ve seen online it’s classic 2-4-D herbicide damage and chances for recovery are zero.  

I take care of the lawn next door, and my mother in law always reminds me every year to put down grub killer and something for the weeds.  I usually “fib” and say sure and things are just fine, but this year the clover and dandelions were getting a little too obvious, so rather than explain how the stuff ‘doesn’t always work 100%’ got a bag of Scott’s weed and feed to spread around.  It worked for the most part, we’re back to a monotonous yawn and she seems happy.

cabbage and cauliflower

The cabbage and cauliflower bed doesn’t seem as sensitive and are growing well.  They likely absorbed the same poisons and now I have to consider the fact it’s part of the cabbage leaves and future cauliflower heads.

So that was the end of March.  Two months of growing and mowing and rains and I was desperate for some mulch in my earliest-ever and most-promising tomato bed.  My lawn is still sparse from bulldozer traffic so what the heck, it’s been months since the last illegal clover shriveled and died over there, so let me just use a mower bag full, what’s the harm…. and then the tomatoes went belly-up.  It scares me to think of that whole yard as still being toxic.

no mow may meadow garden

No-mow May is a month long break from all the chopping and edging and spraying and fertilizing of the lawn growing cult.  I love the way it looks.

Leaf miners are what started all this nervousness about chemicals settling into garden.  Years back I would lose most of my daffodils, snowdrops, snowflakes, amaryllis, and lycoris to narcissus bulb flies… that is used to until I started sprinkling grub killer around the bulbs.  The bulb flies disappeared and that was awesome but then one summer I realized how perfect all the leaves on my columbine (Aquilegia) were.  Perfect leaves on columbine is something I’ve never seen in this garden, they always end up with a bunch of leaf miner tunnels and it’s not perfect but not that big a deal either.  If I feel like it the foliage is trimmed back, and new growth returns quickly, but it was weird to not see them.

Columbine often seeds into areas where I planted daffodils and snowdrops.  The columbine takes up the grub killer and becomes poisonous enough to kill the leaf miners.  Whatever else sprouts there also becomes poisonous.  The leaves decay and the compost becomes poisonous.  Many people say the pollen and nectar of the flowers contains the poison and the bees suffer… and of course people love bees… but think of the crickets and katydids living in the shrubs which also share that soil, suddenly they’re as likely to die as the leaf miners are.

One bag of grub killer would last me for years since I used it so sparingly, but today it’s only columbine in the far reaches of the yard which ever show an occasional leaf miner.  They’re basically extinct in my yard.  Just imagine how a normal person would use a whole bag in a day, across their entire lawn, and from then on every grass blade, perennial plant, shrub, and tree in the yard becomes toxic to insects.  Think of how many neighbors use Lawn Doctors and Tru Greens, and I don’t think they use anything less-toxic than the unlicensed, off the shelf products we gardeners use.  No wonder insect populations are crashing.

no mow may meadow garden

A no-mow May meadow.  Hopefully this is a toxin-free buffet for both myself and the bugs.  I’ll resume regular mowing in August and then keep it up until fall.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.  I already have some much-smaller, far-less amazing tomato plants to plant in another unmulched bed, and so what if there aren’t any leaf miners.  I just hate to think of everything else we’re losing.

Hope you’re having a great week.  Happy June!

Start Your Engines!

Something odd got into me last week.  After what has probably been months of the usual laziness I started a few tasks.  Then I went on to new ones.  Before I knew it I was being productive, and although I feel more sore than accomplished, I do feel like I finally made a little headway.

front border rose aicha

I took a break on Sunday from porch cleaning to get a few photos.  Here’s the front border with the pale yellow, single blooms of the rose ‘Aicha’ mixed in with the blue of colombine (aquilegia)

This weekend I spent Friday digging trade plants and opening the pool, Saturday traveled on a gardening adventure, and then Sunday tried to make the yard more summer-friendly since it was awfully hot and that seemed the right thing to do.  Monday it was lawn mowing, trimming, watering… and I even started to pickaxe a few holes into the berm for more arborvitae plantings.  Finally today I finished the planting (just four bushes) but it felt like a major accomplishment since the hard-packed, rocky “soil” fought me all the way.

rose Aicha

‘Aicha’ is a beauty.  I hope she gets just a little taller so I can thread a small clematis through her for the ‘off’ season.

Tomorrow I’m home for a “Dr’s appointment”.  I’d also like to spend some time outside and see if I can get the vegetable garden moving, but we will see if new ambition beats the forecast heat.  In theory I could spend the day by the pool with just a few breaks to admire the iris, but for now I’m hoping ambition wins, since wouldn’t that be just terrible to waste a day off swimming and doing next to nothing?

iris historic sunol

The historic iris ‘Sunol’ (1933) growing in the foundation beds.  Usually it has a bronze flush to the falls, but perhaps that faded this year in the heat.  

Speaking of the lure of sloth, last summer I had hoped to reclaim some of the front border for more iris plantings but once things filled in it was a struggle to find open spots and as usual I resorted to edge planting.  Edge planting lets me shoehorn in a couple more plants along the outer fringes even if the outer fringe looks better empty.  If never looks that great having plants hanging off the edge of the bed like that, but when the place is filled that’s as good as it gets.

historic iris romeo

Historic iris ‘Romeo’ (1912) has a cool look to the falls which is different from the others I grow.  

So (again) the plan is to clear a few swathes where iris can go.  It’s been dry, which is good for bearded iris, but if the summer turns wet this gardener might be tempted to fill in with all kinds of annuals and various other showier things which are great in the fall… but are not iris.

historic iris elsinore

‘Elsinore’ (1932) is another somewhat unique historic iris which I like very much 🙂 

Regardless, I have faith that a few iris will again fill a sizeable chunk of the border.  I may have to resort to a few of the hardier ones which don’t mind some summer shade, but it needs to be done since a May without an overload of beaded iris is completely unacceptable.

historic iris indian chief

‘Indian Chief’ (1929) is not my favorite color, but the plants handle competition and some shade quite well, so of course it gets an invite.

So iris are on the to-do list… somewhere… and in the meantime I need to focus on planting and watering…. and weeding of course, but I think you know how I feel about a strong commitment to weed-free beds vs saving a few of the more interesting ones 🙂

scotch thistle

A big Scotch thistle(Onopordum acanthium) has come up in a spot reserved for phlox and snowdrops.  It’s as prickly as it looks and of course I love this (listed as noxious in several western states) weed.   

Even if the weeding doesn’t happen, hopefully I can at least show off a respectable vegetable-filled potager in another week or two.

perennial border

From a distance of greater than 20 feet, much of the garden doesn’t look bad.  I just wish it passed the five foot rule!

Wish me luck.  I’m already thinking that the best plan is to head to the nursery in the AM and start the day with new vegetable transplants… and likely a few more flowers…  Obviously deep down inside I know buying more plants doesn’t help the four new rose bushes, various overwintered tropicals, trays of sprouted seedlings, and the haul from last weekend’s rock garden society sale that are sitting on the driveway, but it’s more fun and I’m always up for that.

Hope you have a fun week 🙂

Rollin with Summer

August approaches, and with it come some of the best outdoor moments of the year.  I love how the garden comes together now, and how everything is just full of humming and buzzing and color.  It’s a treat each day, and my only complaint is how fast the days fly by.

front border

The front border on the last days of July.  Less annual color this year but still a few interesting things to check out each day.

We were away last week on vacation and missed some of the hottest days of the year, but that’s fine with me since it was plenty hot on the island we visited.  The heat here in Pennsylvania was tempered by a few downpours though, and even after a week of neglect the garden still looked fine.

mixed perennial border

I’m starting to wonder if I should try and tame the inner reaches of the front border.  This time of year it starts to look a little messy with self-sown rudbeckia, sunflowers, and phlox.

The fact that the garden carried on fine without me is a little insulting but when it’s messy to begin with I suppose a little more messy doesn’t show.  I’ll take that as one of the perks of having a far from perfect garden, but I did devote a Friday evening to mowing, and a Saturday morning to deadheading and weeding the front borders and I think it did make a difference.

squash seedlings

Neatness would be much improved if I would only stand up to the interesting little things that show up on their own, but I can’t, and although good design never called for a squash patch on the front lawn, it looks like that’s what we’re going to have.

Everything out front is about the same as it always is but I did notice one change.  There seem to be fewer wasps and bees this year, and more flies.  That of course could change in a week, but as I was staking the steely blue eryngium I didn’t have that usual fear-of-sting like I normally do, and I was surprised.

hydrangea limelight

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ with rudbeckia triloba, eryngium planum, and a few branches of willow ‘Golden Sunshine’.  Yes.  It’s messy here as well.

Hopefully the missing bees and wasps are just an annual blip in bug populations, but I halfway think it’s got something to do with all the bulldozing and construction that went on behind our house.  When they finished off the industrial park, a big chunk of rocky, scrubby, weedy, woodsy habitat was leveled off, and is now either mulched or turf and not at all interesting to anything other than woodchucks.

mixed perennial border

Sedum ‘Bon Bon’ is looking exceptionally nice between the blues and the yellows of the front foundation plantings.  Yes it’s messy here as well and I really need to edge and divide the blue fescue, but that’s not something I’m willing to give up pool time for.

Not to look forward to messiness, but I did go back there this weekend with a sprayer of roundup and an eye for anything particularly invasive.  The weeds and brush will return on their own, but I just want to make sure things like Japanese knotweed, crownvetch, bindweed, and poison ivy don’t gain the upper hand.  I guess you could say I’m a weed connoisseur.

But don’t let all this talk of weeds become too distracting.  I gave the front yard a once over and then did the backyard on Sunday.  Neither looks too bad now and I’ll post more photos shortly, but in the meantime I’m particularly happy with the hardy agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ which is slowly clumping up for me at the far end of the front border.  I think this is year three for it, and each spring when it comes back I’m always excited to see a few more shoots, and each summer when it blooms I’m wowed by the saturated color.

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ handled -5F last winter without a problem or any kind of protection.

So that’s it for now.  The heat of summer has things slowing down a bit, and as long as I don’t slow down as well there might be a chance of catching up on projects.  We’ll see.   There are two more trips planned and that’s always a lot more fun 🙂