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 🙂

The sputtering tropics

Again I’m trying to recapture the tropical gardens of years past, but again I’m falling short.  The fault is entirely my own though and I know that, but in NE Pennsylvania tropical plantings mean around six months of empty planting area and I just don’t have enough self control to keep them perennial and bulb-free.  Really… in October how bad can it be to slip in an extra daffodil or lily?

liberty hyde bailey lily

First year blooms on ‘Liberty Hyde Bailey’.  Photo credits for this artistic shot go to the wife,  to tell the truth I wasn’t so sure she even knew where the garden was, let alone was interested in taking any pictures 😉

To my credit serious mulching with every scrap of mulched leaves and any garden debris I could send through the mower has substantially reduced last year’s problem.  The problem was that this bed was overrun with sunflowers, and if we ignore the fact that the gardener himself was responsible with planting them we can pretend that only having a half dozen or so of the plants this year is an improvement.  Still a few self seeded anyway and hopefully this more manageable patch won’t again overshadow the ‘tropical’ look with ‘overgrown agricultural’.  -and for the record I did rip out at least another dozen healthy sunflower seedlings, and nearly drove myself to drink over the guilt (but after a hard day of work what gardener doesn’t deserve a cool drink?)

saving money on mulch

A few sunflowers coming up but hopefully enough bright color and big leaves to make it look tropical.  I only had enough bark mulch for the outer edge, the rest is lawn clippings.

Mulching has been an obsession lately.  I raided the neighborhood woods again and brought home a few wheelbarrows of stinky dumped grass clippings which I used to cover the inner reaches of the bed.  It was just in time to smother tons of baby weeds but most importantly the rotting grass was a solid dose of fertilizer for all the little goodies coming up.  Within a few days everything turned a lush green and started putting out new growth.  It was amazing what a difference the grass made and I’m sure the earthworms are pleased as well.  In order to keep it more presentable I robbed some leftover wood mulch from next door and tidied up the edges of the bed with a few shovelfuls of that.  It’s the dyed mulch which I’m not crazy about, but it being free really appealed to my budget sense.

mulch and paver pathway

I also leveled and set the mismatched stone and paver bits which pave the shortcut between our yard and grandma’s pool.  It looks halfway decent now and is much less of an ankle twister.

Even with plants in and mulch applied, the bed is still not out of the woods.  There’s always a problem child or two.  First it’s the chrysanthemums which I planted and meant to transplant once spring rolled around.  That didn’t happen and to add insult to injury they are coming into bloom now…. just when I don’t need fall color.

mammoth yellow quill chrysanthemum

‘Mammoth yellow quill’ chrysanthemum looking good in July.  I guess next year I’ll pinch in May and try to delay bloom, mums in September would have been nicer!

Another problem are the two cannas I bought.  They were from a reputable online nursery and were listed as showing no signs of virus, but the first leaves tell a different story.  A refund is already on my account but I really wanted to add a healthy canna ‘Musifolia’ and ‘Pretoria’ to the bed.  the leaf streaking and yellowing/browning patches are sure signs of canna virus so these have regrettably been thrown to the trash.

canna virus

These leaves should have a lush, solid green, but instead are showing the streaks and mottling of canna virus.

As usual the third problem child is me.  How could I pull out this lusty little bull thistle?

bull thistle in garden

An excellent example of a weed.  The goldfinches will appreciate the seed heads of this thistle, and surprisingly enough I don’t get many seedlings even when I let them grow.  They seem to need open soil to sprout which is not easy to find around here.

As the tropical garden puts on some weight and gets ready for August I’m going to see if my tidying and weeding streak can finally extend next door to the not-so-red-border.  It needs the help, but so far all I’ve managed is the start of an access path which will circle around through the back of the border.  I’ve been eliminating the weedy campanulas and moving out other plants but still have a long way to go.

a new path into the flower beds

The start of a new path through the back of the red border.  Unfortunately that was as far as my free mulch would take me….

What is summer without a few projects?  Hopefully my neighbors will oblige me with more grass clippings, maybe temperatures will stay low, and maybe I can blaze a path through the thicket which is beginning to take over.  I won’t even mention the water filled hole which has formed where the pond used to be.  All the rain we had has made this area into a soggy mess!

hemerocallis altisima and raspberry wine monarda

Topping out at around 5 and a half feet, this daylily (hemerocallis altisima) looks cool with the dark blooms of ‘Raspberry Wine’ monarda and a few other leftovers from back when this bed was loved.  The tall grass (Miscanthus giganteus) is thriving on all the extra rain and is at least two feet over the neighbor’s six foot privacy fence. 

I guess it’s a start, and time will tell if it’s also an end.  With two weeks of vacation coming up and plenty of weekend trips in between, I may just sit back and enjoy summer rather than sweat out another bed re-do.  The wooliness doesn’t seem to bother anyone other than myself and digging is always more pleasant in September!

Refueled and ready to go

I got a good dose of the tropics last Saturday.  The Mid Atlantic group of the Hardy Plant Society organized a tour of the Michael Bowell garden down near Philadelphia.  Michael is the owner of Create-a-Scene, a florist/indoor-outdoor landscaping/container planting/nursery owning/seasonal decorating service which is well known around the country, and in addition to the business Michael is both a long-time Philadelphia Flower Show fixture and an in-demand speaker on all sorts of plant topics.  My intro may be somewhat lacking and vague but hopefully the garden pictures tell a better story.

michael Bowell create a scene

Not your average porch plantings, this one comes with a ton of tropicals, fancy pottery, and random art. The hanging baskets are filled with what I think are those odd tropical pitchers (nepanthes) which end each leaf with a bug-unfriendly pitcher trap.

The focus of the visit was Michael’s extensive (addictive maybe?) collection of tropical plants which are arranged throughout the gardens.  All of them out for the summer and then in for the winter, and even with Michael’s four greenhouses the task seems overwhelming.  Plus on top of that it’s not just a handful of coleus and a potted mandevilla, it’s all kinds of species and families and rare cultivars….

michael Bowell garden

The sheltered side garden of Michael Bowell’s garden. Art, ponds, fountains, arbors, pergolas, and plants… lots of plants. I think most of this garden around the house is mobile and the plants will soon be trimmed and the pots moved back under shelter.

This autumn garden visit by the HPS seems to be an annual tradition and is the setting for an informal cutting swap of whatever members bring along.  The icing on the cake however was Michael’s generosity with his own cuttings.  As long as care was taken, members were allowed to take cuttings of any particularly irresistible plants they came across along the way.  I tried to show restraint but then as soon as the formal tour ended I had to run around one last time to snip a few begonia, geranium, and coleus cuttings.  I’ll let you know how I make out 🙂

michael Bowell create a scene

I felt like it was a garden that almost required entertaining. Seating areas and enclosed spaces really defined the different parts of the garden.

For as interesting as I found the garden, it took me a few minutes to work through my anger issues before I could really enjoy the garden visit.  I was a little irritated with that the powers that be for sending rain showers on the one morning I wanted to do an outdoor tour.  Nearly three months without any serious rain and there we were driving an hour and a half through steady rainfall and then later dodging puddles and soggy lawn.  Luckily we only dealt with one brief shower during the tour and then clear skies thereafter (of course my own garden received nothing more than a light drizzle all day).

lacebark pine pinus bungeana

I think I should finally get myself a lacebark pine (pinus bungeana). My garden is short on evergreens and I love this bark. It’s a clumsy looking tree though and might need quite a bit of pruning and training….

My pictures really don’t do the garden justice and the recent downpour had plenty of autumn leaves falling down on everything, but I hope you can get a good impression of the plants and plantings.  My impression of it all has inspired me to evict the sunflowers and bring the tropical garden back to its full gaudy lushness next year!

michael Bowell garden

I resisted taking any flowering maple (abutilon) cuttings since I have no faith in my ability to overwinter them…. but this tall, red veined flower was delicious and when it showed up in front of a purple ornamental grass I knew I’d need something similar next year!

The tour doesn’t end with the garden, Michael is also an expert on orchids and has a couple greenhouses set up to entertain this passion.  Oh and did I mention the two story high greenhouse which abuts the house?

michael Bowell garden

How cool is an outdoor deck enclosed by the greenhouse? A dinner out on the deck in January amongst the tree ferns and palms sounds like a good antidote to snow.

The garden is a treasure chest of ideas and creativity.  To me it seems like someone came up with an idea and then ran with it, whether that meant carving out a new garden, training a new plant, or scaling a 60 foot tree to hang a little sculpture.  Most of the sculpture is metal and neon art by Simple and it’s hung throughout the gardens.  I bet it gives off an awesome atmosphere at night when all lit up.

michael Bowell garden

I think this is my first garden tour where an invite was extended to go out through a window onto the roof (future enclosed sunporch) in order to get a nice overview of the gardens. An in-training weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum) dominates and encloses the far end of the garden.

Oh and dogs, fish, parrots, and poultry also share the garden.  What better construction to place at the end of the vegetable garden than a poultry house?

michael Bowell garden

A real beauty or plain ugly? Regardless of your opinion I’m sure this display would melt the heart of any turkey hen.

The majority of my photos were out of focus, overexposed poo-poo, so I’ve got nothing on the vegetable and fruit gardens, but let me slip in one last picture which shows some of the main tropical beds.  These included several areas of full and lush plantings, stuffed with all sorts of exotic goodies… I thought they were perfect 🙂

michael Bowell garden

I need to give my own variegated miscanthus more room next year to develop, and definitely put it close to some dark leaved cannas and elephant ears. Cool.

All this tropical inspiration gives me plenty of ideas for next year.  I think it’s time again to pack a bed full of completely unreasonable, inappropriate, overblown leaves and flowers.  I’ll ignore the amount of work it takes until it’s too late and see what happens.

These are the dreams which will keep me going until we finally get some nice rains and good planting weather.  I’m sick of this dry, dusty crust that passes for soil and it’s a shame to be thinking next summer when I should be excited about tulip planting and perennial dividing.  I’m sure it will come soon enough though!

End of Summer for the (not quite)Tropical Bed

Today surprised me with a completely free afternoon.  There was plenty I should have done, but nothing I had to do, so I spent all afternoon in the garden.  I actually worked too!  Usually when it’s dry and it’s warm I tend to just sit around, but the grass was due for a cutting and one thing lead to another and before I knew it I was sore and sweaty and satisfied.  The following pictures have little to do with anything that got done, but they’re more interesting than edged lawn and mulched beds!

heptacodium blooming

At the very end of the former tropical garden the heptacodium is actually looking good for once with a decent shape and nice blooms.

The sunflowers which took over the tropical bed are looking a little worse for wear but I’ll leave them till spring since they’re visited daily by several families of goldfinches and other songbirds.  Dahlias, cannas and now mums are picking up the slack, and if I get just the right angle without the dying sunflowers everything still looks fresh and lush.

mammoth mums

At the top end of the tropical bed this clump of ‘mammoth mums’ adds to the already-too-much-color theme. L-R the mums are bronze, pink, coral, red, and yellow quill. They’re colorful and great growers, but nothing exciting.

I broke down and ran the sprinkler out front again.  The grass was curling up and I can’t deal with brown lawn in September.  I’m letting the vegetables dry up but the lawn and perennials out front need to stay green for a little while longer or it will all be too depressing.  I also watered some in the back, the tropical beds are so dry most of the water just runs off, but I hope it’s enough for a few of the surviving treasures.

pink salvia splendens

I would call this one of 2014’s treasures. It’s a pink salvia splendens grown from seed. The only one to sprout and the first one I’ve grown that didn’t turn out to be another red when it bloomed. I have my fingers crossed for seed!

One of the happiest finds of the day (and one that only a gardener could even come close to understanding) was that I found where a neighbor’s been dumping lawn clippings in the woods.  I lugged back about four wheelbarrows full of clippings and spread them out around the bed I’m slowly reclaiming from bellflower and other weeds.  This should go a long way in bringing in the earthworms and smothering the last sprouts, and my fingers are crossed that this same neighbor will also dump nicely shredded autumn leaves in the same spot.  What a bonanza that would be 🙂

red zinnias with ninebark

Red zinnias are bright enough to distract you from the other tired perennials and vigorous weeds. This area is just past the tropical bed and I cling to the hope that someday it will be a red garden. So far these zinnias are the only plant which has worked out -even though I almost quit the watering this week!

With all the new mulch and (I hope) smothered weeds I feel like for once things are almost under control in the garden.  I still hope there will be at least one more nice load of grass clippings to feed  the tropical border but the fact that there are no four foot weeds is a first here for this time of year.  Now if we could just get some rain then maybe I could get some transplanting started!

sun sugar tomatoes

The tomatoes are one thing that did get away from me. I froze a bunch of nicely prepared San Marzanos last week, but these “Sun Sugar” tomatoes are too much of a good thing. They look nice though.

While taking the tomato picture I was surprised to find a cicada clinging to the trellis.  I love cicadas and this closeup was a treat for someone who usually only hears them.

cicada

cicada

With all these beds under control the smart thing would be to regroup….. but Santa Rosa Gardens has a great fall sale (plus 10% more off with the code FALL10), I want to place a Lily Garden order for lilies, there are a few shrubs which are tempting me at Lazy S’s Farms, and my favorite local nursery has an open house (and sales I’m sure) this Saturday.  Plus I have a snowdrop order to pay.  My checkbook is saying no but I keep disagreeing with it. Oh what to do, what to do…..

A Hawaiian Shirt

Normally I try to give this flower bed a little respect, calling it the tropical bed instead of just “the mess”, but for whatever reason this year it really is a mess.  The usual tropicals went to fill up new bed space this spring and I didn’t save enough goodies for here, plus it was planted late too…. (more excuses)…. and about half the plants are volunteers that just came up on their own, so it’s a patchwork of screaming colors.

Red salvia is loved by the hummingbirds, but the color really asserts itself.  Some people have poo-pooed this pairing with the violet verbena as too “bleech”, but I think it could have been worse.red salvia and verbena bonariensis  The bigger view shows the weediness of the planting…..

annual flower garden

I suppose I could have ripped out the amaranthus plants that came up (they’re the tall leafy stalks) and the squirrel ravaged sunflower is no beauty…. and the white buddleia in front of the white fence…. I could go on and on….

But it’s bright and colorful and it was meant to be vibrant.  Next year I’m hoping to add a little green to calm it down and going back to more cannas to make it a little more “solid”.  The white will be moved out.red annuals

The “summer poinsettia”  is actually starting to grow on me, it’s the dark purple leaf which is developing the red tops.  I like its lushness and maybe if I can just find some good neighbors it will really make a statement…. not that it’s keeping quiet now 🙂