Tuesday View: The Front Border 8.28.17

Monday was the first day back to school for the kids and that officially means late summer.  A few haters will point out that it actually means autumn, but no.  Summer won’t give up so easily and I won’t give up on summer… even if there was a slight nip in the air this morning 😦

The front border doesn’t look autumnal at all, and this week as we join the vacationing Cathy at Words and Herbs for the Tuesday view it’s all about sunflowers!

front border

The front border this Tuesday.

The sunflowers seem to know there’s still plenty of time to flower and set seed before the axe falls.  They’re really nice right now and between the bright flowers they already hold enough partly-ripe seedheads to bring in a steady stream of goldfinches.


This is my current computer screen background.  Sunflowers and ‘Australia’ canna, all looking even better with the beige stalks of ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass as a screen.

As usual I’m not looking forward to fall.  I’ll stay in denial for weeks and then sometime in early October bite the bullet and make the transition from late summer to fall.  Even my blog categories show this bias and I had to laugh a few weeks ago when I noticed all the other seasons are broken down into ‘early spring’, ‘spring’, and ‘late spring’, but fall is just ‘fall’.  I guess that helps get through it just a little bit faster.

Molina skyracer

Halfway down the border, Molina ‘skyracer’ is one sign of late summer.  It’s a great plant for the edge of the border where its height doesn’t block anything yet breaks up the monotony of shorter plantings.  A ‘see through’ is what people call it.

Besides grasses going to seed there are some other sure signs that summer is ripening.  The neat little lumpy sedums are blooming.

sedum brilliant

I think this is sedum ‘brilliant’, given to me by a friend years ago and carelessly unlabeled because I was sure I’d remember the variety.  From the minute the buds swell in the spring to the minute I cut down the dried stalks so the swelling buds can grow it’s an attractive thing.

But the annuals won’t give up for at least another month.  Even the zinnias which have been going since May are still looking good.

painted lady butterfly

A painted lady butterfly getting her fill off the ground cover zinnias.  This might be ‘Zahara something’ but as usual…

I’ll leave you with yet another photo of the end of the border.  These ‘Cannova Rose’ cannas with the purple Verbena bonariensis have me convinced I’m the most amazing garden designer who ever planted a canna or paired a color.  Be prepared to see this photo one more time when the yellowing kochia plant does its burning bush routine.

cannova rose canna

Coleus, ‘Cannova Rose’ canna, Verbena, kochia, and a few orange ‘Zahara’ zinnias.  Not bad for a bunch of leftover cuttings, tubers, and self sown seedlings… and a six-pack of zinnias 😉

Do give Cathy a visit to see how other views are developing this Tuesday, and it’s not too late to join with your own!  You probably have a good four weeks before autumn really insists on arriving, and only until that happens will it officially be too late.  Obviously when autumn does get here no-one is going to want to see pictures of fall foliage and asters, so what’s the point of starting then, might as well wait until you can post snowy photos 🙂

Have a great late summer week!

Spare the rod

My nemesis the sunflower.

bird seed sunflowers

Self sown sunflowers from birdseed backed up by variegated giant reed grass (Arundo donax ‘gold chain’).

Harmless and full of promise is how they appear in the spring, now two months later they’re acting more like closing time at the bar.  Sloppy drunks hang all over one another, sprawl across the beds, and smother the other sober little plants which have yet to grow.  If it weren’t for their summertime good looks and the goldfinches they pull in I would compost them all!

sunflower bloom birdseed

Future birdfood.

It doesn’t take many sunflower seedlings to overtake a bed and between the extra mulching and copious rainfall they’ve had everything they needed to explode.  It’s like a lovely tsunami of sun looming over the plantings.

flower border sunflowers

The sunflowers do look pretty with the purple verbena bonariensis, striped leaves of ‘tropicanna’ canna, and the first of the peach colored salvia splendens.

From the top of the bed it still looks pretty but only after I cut down two of the sunflower trees and chopped the rest back in order to clear the pool path again.

tropicals with annuals border

The tropical border looking colorful, but as usual not very tropical.

The inner depths of the tropical bed are beyond reach, I’ll have to wait for frost before I can get in there again.  Fortunately it’s well mulched and doesn’t need much of anything for most of the summer, so as long as the cannas and reed grass don’t get completely swamped I guess I can turn the other cheek and let chaos rule.

arundo donax gold chain with sunflowers

There’s a giant thistle in there as well, I see a steady trail of goldfinches flying in and out feasting on the seed.

Really.  Next year will be the year when this whole mess gets back under control.  The sunflowers will have to go as well as the chrysanthemums which never did get moved like they were supposed to.  In spite of the overwhelming agricultural look of the sunflowers (and I have to admit I really love the show right now) there are a few tropical highlights which have flickered on.  The cannas may not be as big as in years past, but I would never go without them.

healthy canna tropicana

Healthy ‘Tropicanna’ canna leaves in a sea of green with only a touch of gold.

They’ve still got a good two months of growing before frost threatens and hopefully everything will still have plenty of time to fill in.  While other parts of the garden might be taking on a weary look this time of year, these tropicals are just going from good to better, and it’s not just the cannas.  The dahlias are beginning to come on as well.  The flowers are what I’m waiting for, but on a few the foliage show is even better.

dahlia happy single flame

Dahlia ‘happy single flame’ with the dark purple spires of ‘Lighthouse purple’ salvia behind.  I wish those salvia were just a tiny bit taller, right now this low planting looks closer to Victorian bedding than tropicalismo!

Although the foliage is fantastic, I wish I could say the same for the blooms of dahlia ‘happy single flame’.  They  don’t last long and never really make the ‘wow’ impression most of the other dahlias do.  The color is great though and I’ll try to hold on to this one for another year or two, even as the others bloom their heads off in comparison.

dahlia happy single flame

Peak bloom on dahlia ‘happy single flame’.

One plant which I had high hopes for but is now slightly underwhelming is the Brazilian button.  New this year from the HPS Mid Atlantic seed exchange, the buttons are nice enough but there could be more flowering at one time and most importantly have a color less like the verbena which I already have filling in all over.  You just don’t notice them in the mix.

Centratherum punctatum Brazilian button

Brazilian button (Centratherum punctatum)

But I’m being too negative.  The sunflowers are awesome and the patch is full of flowery interest, and whenever I get the chance I sit (with a drink preferably) and watch the comings and goings of the goldfinches, hummingbirds, and bees.

pink salvia splendens

The pink salvia splendens are only now starting to flower having spent most of the summer putting on weight.  The large leafy bushes should put on a great show for me and the hummingbirds.

I’m sure there will be more to come from the tropical garden, and if I can only keep a firm hand next year it might even look tropical-ish as well.  Right now I’m just happy enough it’s mulched and weeded from the topside all the way down to the low end.  Last year the low end was pathetic with its drought crisped annuals and struggling heucheras (is that the correct plural for heuchera?)  This year it’s much improved and I can see this becoming a nice transition to the pond garden…. once I get a non-leaky pond in!

panicum northwind in garden

Next year the new divisions will fill in and there should be a wall of panicum ‘northwind’  separating the tropics on the left from the heucheras and pond garden on the right.  

In the photo above you can barely make out the blue mist of Browallia Americana hovering above the hosta.  It’s an easy enough annual (native to Central and South America and across the Caribbean isles) and each year I like it’s nearly true-blue flowers even more.  Too bad I can’t get the camera to agree on the color, it always washes it out to a violet.

browallia americana

Browallia americana

So summer is still in full swing here, and for someone who prefers to ignore the calendar there’s not even a hint of the season winding down yet.  I like this sense of denial and will hang on to it for as long as I can…. but if pushed I will admit to thinking about next year already.  Ok, so I don’t even need a push.  I stumbled upon a summer sale at the nursery and took home a cool little banana plant.  It’s been a couple years since my banana growing days but I can feel the itch again and who knows what this means for next year’s plantings 🙂

Taking a bite out of Crime

Since moving here six-ish years ago the garden has been growing by fits and starts.  There wasn’t much more than grass and foundation plantings here  -so beds were promptly carved out of lawn- but it’s possible I bit off a little more than I could chew.  Now don’t get me wrong, in my opinion restraint is something better saved for the day after your funeral (and for plant orders edited after you review your checkbook balance), and I don’t regret anything…. but I think it is time to finish chewing.

So here comes the story.

my backyard is a meadow

Spring 2008 was when we moved in. I really couldn’t see the point of cutting all that grass, so to the joy of my new neighbors (also inlaws btw) I left it to grow as meadow.  The uncut grass  went over really well (I think).  This was when ‘the queen of the prairie’ got her name, she was in the house as an estate sale leftover, but now you can barely make her out in the grass to the left.

After 40 years of wooded seclusion, the company owning the land behind our house chose the year after we moved in to begin construction on a new industrial park.  Trees were promptly cut down and bulldozers moved in.

kids love bulldozers

Kids love bulldozers. The previous fall was when I dumped dirt, planted daffodils, and the bed in question was born.

Don’t get teary eyed over the trees and earthmoving, bulldozers weren’t the worst thing that could happen to this land.  We’re talking about mine scarred land covered with tailings from the coal mines and a massive culm bank.  Industrial decay can be cool in photos, but less so in your own backyard.

construction site as my view

Another good thing about construction were the nice rocks salvaged from the site. Too bad my back gave out before I could lug up even more.

Fast forward to this summer and things have grown back up… too bad weeds have also grown up, and it’s downright criminal what the bed has become.

Annabelle hydrangea

The “Annabelle” hydrangea was just a homeless cutting. Four years later and it’s too nice to remove, but as for everything else?

Now is probably a good time to remind you of my blog’s subtitle “More than you ever wanted to know about my garden”.  I think we’ve reached that point, and to keep it short and sum it up;  July -about 50 clumps of daffodils dug, sunflower seeds planted, heavy grass clipping mulch applied.

sunflower seedlings

Better late than never, a planting of sunflower seedlings coming along on August 11th. Some rain would help since I hate dragging the hose out to this bed.

Finally to wrap things up the sunflowers are blooming and I’m trying to keep on top of the weeds.  A smarter person would have covered the whole bed with newspaper or cardboard, mulched over that, or sprayed for the weeds but I’m going to try and pull them as they show up.  Wish me luck.

late summer sunflower patch

It’s not the worst thing to have a few late season annuals. They seem to know enough to get a move on it and are blooming at a shorter height (a mere five feet)

The bees may not be impressed by them, but a few fully double sunflowers give it a nice Van Gogh feel.

double sunflower

This double sunflower looks fluffy enough to use as a pillow.

I just need to resist planting things here until the last of the weeds are killed off.  That won’t happen, but maybe I can at least keep it to a minimum 🙂

In a vase on Monday

Surprisingly enough I’ve made the Monday vase twice in a row, unheard of!

sunflowers from birdseed

Not a bad group of sunflowers, all volunteers from the birdfeeder.

The sunflowers inspired me, and their carefree summer spirit made it easy as pie to put this arrangement together.  After they were in place I was told they needed some other vase, and the red didn’t look good, but “don’t push me” is what I said!  I added the blue wine bottle,  I guess I was feeling very primary with all the sunflower yellow.

I didn’t do much fussing over them and I think they look fine, but I noticed this evening they had done a little of their own arranging, and heads were lifted and there was less of the droopy down facing that you see here.  It’s kind of like a vase of tulips in that they keep growing and twisting to get into a better position.  This should have come as no surprise from a flower that keeps turning its head to face the sun.

sunflower bloom

The birds have been enjoying the seedheads outside for weeks, I guess it’s time for me to enjoy a few myself indoors.

You would think a bunch of volunteer sunflowers grown from seed out of the feeder would all just run the range of yellow, yellow, yellow, but there is some variation in these.  They’re taller and shorter, branched higher and lower, longer petals, shorter, quilled petals, darker centers, pale yellow, splash of brown, deep golden… it’s quite the surprise.

sunflowers in a vase

Different colors and sizes, nothing real fancy, but nice surprises none the less.

I feel like I splurged in cutting these all for a few days in the house, but I’m sure more will come.  The patch still has plenty to look forward to and even a steady stream of goldfinches can’t eat them all.

black oil sunflowers

Sunflowers at sunset. They’ve officially taken over.

So that’s my Monday vase.  I may jump back in here and there to fill a vase, but work is gearing up again and the shorter days really kill my gardening vibe.  The vases are fun though and if you’re interested in joining I’m sure Cathy at Rambling in the Garden would be happy to have you.  Thanks for hosting Cathy!

A summertime stroll with a couple surprises

I think I’ve been pretty good this summer keeping up with the garden.  Usually I have so many more weed patches and unplanted pots, but this year  things look a little better.  I know, I know…. prep soil first, have a plan, buy new plant with a spot in mind, don’t plant more than you can take care of, keep low maintainence in mind….  but that’s not how I roll 🙂

I finally cut, bent, and put together the rebar arbor I’ve pictured in my head for the last two years.  Last summer it was a single span, this year I doubled it for more stability and wired in a few cross braces.  I really should throw a little concrete around the base…. but I’ll wait till it blows over this autumn before I learn that lesson (again).

rebar garden arbor

Arbor going into the vegetable garden. The rebar alone looked a little bare, so I went out back and ripped down a few grape vines to bulk it up, and give the vines a little something to hold on to.

Since we’re in the vegetable garden, here’s the early garlic harvest.  This is the first year I managed to plant it properly (in October), and I’m pleased.  I’m even more pleased since these were stray, sprouting cloves I found in the bottom of the vegetable crisper which were planted out rather than thrown away.

garlic harvest

Garlic harvest. The ones I actually bought from the garden center specifically for planting are a later variety and yet to be harvested.

Last winter was one of the coldest, snowiest ones I’ve experienced living here, so you can imagine my surprise to find some gladiolus overwintered.  I vaguely remember there being a few thin little wisps of gladiolus leaves here last summer (I must have missed some of the tiny cormlets when the mother bulbs were lifted) but never gave them much thought.  This year they’re back, and voila, the little things surprised me even more by blooming!

phlox 'bright eyes'

Not only was the gladiolus a surprise, but the color coordination with the phlox, verbena and pole bean blooms is better than anything I could plan!

I only finished laying out and digging up the vegetable garden last summer, prior to that it was lawn and a holding bed for some of the plants brought up from the old house.  One of those plants was a wisteria vine, and when I moved it the remaining roots put up a couple suckers.  Surprise again when one of the suckers actually put out a bloom!

wisteria summer bloom

Not many gardeners are avant-garde enough to combine sweet corn with wisteria, and the fact that I’m considering building another arbor or tuteur in order for this guy to stay here says a lot about the haphazard design of my garden.

It surprises me that I would actually post a photo of this mess.  It’s the unfinished steps to the deck, and it’s were I like to sit with a drink thinking about all the tasks I should be finishing up instead.

tropicals in containers

Tropicals in pots, geraniums on the steps, and plenty of weeds. I actually did trim them all back yesterday but I’m sure they’ll have rebounded by the time I take another picture.

From the steps I get a good view of the vegetable patch -I like to call it the farm 🙂 , and the sunflower patch.  Last week I noticed this quilled version in with the others.  The rolled up petals are different enough to be interesting.

quilled sunflower blooms

In the center is the quilled version of the regular sunflowers. The flowers are nice enough, but it’s the coming and going of the goldfinches and sparrows that keeps things busy around here… as well as the angry little hummingbird who tries to chase everyone away.

I’m getting the feeling yellow is a little passé as far as being a fashionable color -if it ever was- but I clearly have a problem with “acquiring” yellow leaved plants.  “Isla Gold” Tansy is one of my favorites with its finely cut foliage and drought tolerance.

isla gold tansy with bon bon sedum

‘Isla Gold’ Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) in front of ‘Bon Bon’ sedum. Don’t let the stupid name throw you off, the sedum is also a great plant.

Around the house in the front yard I finally gave up on the way-too-dry-and-hard-to-water spot by the lamppost.  I trimmed the ‘Tiger Eyes’ staghorn sumac back to the ground and let it and its suckers fill in the bed.  Too much yellow?  I don’t think so, and I no longer have to water this spot.

tiger eye sumac

I hope the plant police don’t find me. ‘Tiger Eyes’ cutleaf sumac (Rhus typhina “Bailtiger”) is a patent protected plant, and here it is propagating itself without corporate approval.

Another weedy spot has been the front street border.  I should probably do something about this since it’s a slightly prominent location which everyone who passes sees… but I’m a little bored with it right now.  Maybe once this bright red standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) blooms and some of the other annuals take off I’ll like it again.  I wish I had some nice mulch for it though.  I’m constantly jealous of compost rich gardeners and the ones who flaunt their piles of aged leaf mould,  and I think I’m close to breaking down and raiding the yard waste dumped by my neighbors in the nearby woods.  I’m sure my mother in law will be horribly embarrassed.

selfseeding annuals

More golden yellow in the form of rudbeckias, this time tastefully paired with red standing cypress -which almost has a touch of orange in the blooms. If people complain I’ll remind them the ipomopsis is a southeast native plant and hummingbird friendly, hopefully that will distract them from judging my trailer park color combos too harshly.

“Blue Satin” -or maybe ‘Blue Bird’, I forget- rose of sharon (hibiscus syriacus) always looks a little out of place or a little weedy to me, but the color is interesting and it just laughs off drought and abuse.  The white variety “Diana” (a sterile variety) still needs to be acquired, I keep forgetting to take a cutting of my mother’s bush in NY.

blue satin hibiscus

As close to blue as you get in rose of Sharon, “Blue Satin” is a cool color but reseeds freely, and the seedlings though nice enough are all more purplish.

You can’t help but notice the big clump of arundo donax ‘variegata’ (variegated giant reed) growing at the end of the bed.  Wow,  I love it.  It will easily reach 10+ feet by autumn and if frost holds off we’ll even see the seed plumes.  This variety will begin the season with a crisp white/green variegation, mellow to yellow around now, and then go green as soon as temperatures peak for the summer.  It’s invasive down south, so keep that in mind, but the huge clumps I used to see down in Texas were quite impressive.

arundo donax variegata

Still bright, this clump should ‘green out’ in the next few weeks if temps go up… the cool summer has kept it brighter for longer than usual.

A few pennisetum “Karley Rose” divisions (also patented, so please don’t tell anyone I split my clump) are still gaining momentum here amongst the black eyed susans.  They would have done better without all the company but I just couldn’t rip out the daisies.  I’m sure by next year the grass will just muscle it’s way through and form a big clump to hopefully balance out the big hydrangea.

karley rose pennisetum with black eyed susans

Pennesitum ‘Karley Rose’, rudbeckia hirta seedlings, and erynginum in the shadow of the almost blooming ‘Limelight’ hydrangea.

I’ll end with a non yellow.  Verbena bonariensis is starting to open up all over the borders and I wish I had more!  Serves me right for having ripped so much out this spring.

verbena bonariensis

Finally something to balance out all the yellow, but is that a prickly thistle coming up through the middle of the clump!? Who missed that weed?

You might notice in the last picture that there’s a mild green tint to the lawn.  I’m afraid I’ve gone over to the dark side, and have begun to water the lawn.  The brown straw mat I looked at all last July and August was just too depressing, and if I can just get it to the next thunderstorm (tonight I hope), things should stay green for at least another week or two.  Honestly I only ran the sprinkler one day, and the back lawn is responsibly dead….. but I may or may not have also fertilized the day before I watered…. sometimes even good people stray.

Have a great week!

The garden formerly known as tropical

There’s a spot in my yard (actually most of it inches over into my Mother in Law’s yard) where I like to indulge in a little of the tropics.  Last year it was full of cannas, sweet potatoes, and other warm weather friends, but this year it seems to have lost some of that bold tropical flair.  As usual it’s my own fault, and as usual it’s a long story, so I’ll try to keep it short.  It all begins in April when mulch was purchased for next door, and a willing volunteer was needed to spread it.  I foolishly agreed, but the deal was to add a couple tons of topsoil (I said I needed it to fill in along a sidewalk).  “I’ll spread all your mulch if you buy me even more stuff which needs spreading”.  Let me just say I run a hard bargain.

new flower bed

Look at that three inch drop from the sidewalk into the tropical bed. Clearly an ankle twisting lawsuit in the making!

So the mulch was spread, perennials divided, shrubs trimmed, weeds pulled…. the deal kept getting better and better it seems, but then it came down to the heap of topsoil sitting in the driveway.  I used a few wheelbarrows to raise the soil along the walk and was still left with plenty.  Finally my plan was coming together hah hah hah.  I’m pretty sure I mentioned I might use the topsoil to expand the bed a bit, so that’s what I went ahead and did 🙂

digging a new perennial bed

Line the edge with a hose, cut in and dig out the edge, smother the grass with about two inches of topsoil… wow did I hate mowing this sloped little patch of sickly grass!

No one said a word about the tripled in size, very empty bed.  I think people around here may be a little wary about asking questions for fear I will plant up a field of dandelions or something.  Some people have said I’m stubborn and criticism may tend to encourage me even more.  I like to think of it as proving a point 😉

fresh soil in flower bed

A huge empty garden bed in May. What could possibly make a gardener happier (other than a few loads of compost mixed in)?

The last bits of mulch made the bed a little more suburban-friendly and a few paver scraps thrown down along the center made an acceptable shortcut for the kids.  Then on to the real fun!  Canna and dahlia roots were lugged out and planted, and that was well enough, but then trouble started brewing.  A box filled with a dozen or so rooted chrysanthemum cuttings showed up at the door.  I can check on them constantly if they’re right along the edge of the new bed, so that’s where they went.  Don’t ask me why I needed a box of chrysanthemums, February is a tough month.

new flower bed

Somehow random perennials invaded the tropical border, that and chrysanthemums….

Then of course I tried to make the front yard more respectable by not having sunflowers all throughout the foundation plantings.  Out they came and into the new bed they went.  I have a serious problem in trying to show any kind of resolve against sunflower seedlings, they’re all summer and sunshine and it seems borderline criminal to pull them as weeds.

peony "do Tell"

Peony “Do Tell” can’t seriously expect to be the only plant using this spot of sun all year. The sunflowers should take over by July and the peony will just hang out in their shade until next year…. that’s the theory at least.

Things still look awfully barren but until the heat of summer hits it’s all kind of just biding its time.  Looking over from my yard you can see the bit of slope which made me hate mowing this spot.  Plus I’m not all that crazy about lawn to begin with *yawn* ….. it’s only really good for walking around on while checking the plants out!

side view

Year two of “I should give the table another coat of pain” -June 10th

My grass just doesn’t have the strength to come up through the soil (southerners may have a different experience), and even without soil improvement the new plants are still doing well as they feed off the decaying lawn underneath.  A month later and things are looking better.  The cannas still give a tropical look, but all the sunflowers are giving more of a neglected-agriculture vibe!

cannas, grasses, and sunflowers

July 13th, about a month later and the cannas are up, the sunflowers are growing, and I still keep looking at the bare dirt wishing for some compost or mulch to cover it up with.

As the sunflowers come into bloom they’re pretty and cheerful… but they’re not the tropics.

sunflower bed

It looks lush and green, so I should be happy. Also it’s not the color disaster I grew here last year, another reason to be pleased!

Besides it being a non-tropical border, a few other problems are coming to light.  The first is that some of the chrysanthemums relentlessly insist on setting buds and blooming for summer instead of fall.  I think I failed to pinch them back enough when planting them out in the spring, but I just don’t have the heart to do it now.

mums blooming too early

Chrysanthemums blooming in July, hopefully they’ll be on the correct schedule next year…. but they’ll need dividing by then, so I have no idea where to put them all!

To me a more insidious problem is the sunflower blooms.  When the first flower opened I cringed.  They’re completely pollen free, and because of that they don’t offer much to pollinators, and even worse they don’t set seed as well as the normal types.  I thought for sure since they were selfsown from last year’s plants that they should be normal functioning sunflowers but that’s not the case.  These all appear to carry the pollen-free gene, a gene which I’m sure came from the birdfeed seed.  I’m not big on all the seed conspiracies, but this looks like a genetic insurance policy that keeps farmers coming back to the seed supplier each year, and keeps them from replanting their own crop.  Good for a seed seller but not so good for me and all my now genetically tainted sunflowers.

pollen free sunflower with bee

Not much here for the bees.

Luckily there’s a small patch of sunflowers out front which still grow normally.  Once these started blooming I noticed a few seeds starting to form in the other patch (I guess a little pollen goes a long way throughout the garden!).  I need to make sure I get my seedlings from this area next year.

wild sunflower

This sunflower looks like it’s full of tasty seeds, not full of empty husks like over in the other patch.

The sunflowers look pretty enough, but all I see are the black soulless eyes of the walking dead…. ok maybe not that bad, but they lack the busy bees and bugs that usually do laps around the big open pollen filled flowers.  The goldfinches have also been very insulting as they touch down to check on the seed supply and come up empty.  Hopefully pollen from the front yard will work it’s way back here to at least make the birds happy.  Just in case, I planted a patch of heirloom sunflowers in the now completely dug up daffodil patch.  They’ll be late, but they’ll have pollen, and I think they’ll still make it before frost.

selfsown sunflowers

Sunflowers coming on strong.

I’m still holding out for a few tropical effects.  One castor bean seed came up and is now taking off, and “tropicanna” canna is looking healthy.  Also if I have nothing better to do this week, a few coleus and sweet potato cuttings can fill in one or two of the still empty spots, and maybe by late August ‘tropicalismo’ will revisit this bed once again.

castor bean with tropicanna canna

Castor bean “carmencita” and a few over-fed “Tropicana” cannas. The cannas seem to get much brighter colors when grown on the lean side, or with just a little 10-10-10 fertilizer. This batch has a lot of green in them due to higher nitrogen, probably from some miracle grow.

I don’t know if they say tropical to everyone, but dahlias never fail to bring brightness.  This peachy pink with yellow cactus flower makes me think of some overdone tropical drink.  Yummy!

pink and yellow cactus dahlia

Unknown dahlia which I keep saving from year to year. This spring I tried to show some restraint with them since last season planting a dozen or so might have been overkill 🙂

One plant I still need to plant out more of is verbena bonariensis.  In almost all my other beds it can be counted on to show up and make a play for taking over any open spot, here in the new soil it hasn’t had a chance to seed in yet.  Any transplants made this time of year will shrug off the shock of moving quickly and should be blooming up a purple storm in no time at all so I better get moving.

arundo donax "gold chain"

The grassy tropicalish leaves of arundo donax “gold chain” make a great mix with the sunflowers and verbena. I might have to plant this combo on purpose next year to make sure it happens again!

The tall old fashioned red leaved cannas always make me happy.  They’re super easy to overwinter, never look ratty, and always grow as fast as the fertilizer and water will take them.  The small reddish blooms which come later in the season aren’t much to talk about, but the hummingbirds love them.

red russian canna

Maybe canna “red Russian”? We call them Polish cannas after the old Polish woman who years ago gave the first ones to a friend of mine.

So that’s the latest from the ex-tropical bed.   It may still heat up as the season progresses, but for now it’s decidedly temperate and might remain so for a while.  No amaranthus or salvia seedlings showed, and this spring was a bust as far as all the seeds I started, so many of the brightest colors from last year are hushed.  For now I’ll have to keep satisfied with my little bit of the tropics in containers.

tropicals in containers

A couple real tropicals planted in containers where I can best keep an eye on them.

Not to go on any longer than I already have, but those weak little pots of tropicalismo surrounded by weeds and dead grass aren’t just a bad planter arrangement.  To me they’re the accent on a new gavel terrace backed by a low stone wall.  Maybe a fire pit.  I think one of the reasons my garden looks the way it does is because I have a bit too much vision, but we’ll see.  I do tend to work backwards and always find the plants first…. who cares if the seating area is still a little “in development”?

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