Not a bad morning.

It’s beautiful out this morning and I can’t even see problems in the garden.  The lawn is relatively under control, some staking and weeding was done yesterday, the soil is damp enough that watering is not an issue, and other than some chipmunk issues the wildlife of the garden is behaving in an entirely picturesque and harmless manner.  This feeling may fade quickly but while it lasts I’ll just sip my coffee quietly and hope the kids don’t find me.

datura metel

Datura metel.  I expected an annual but this one re-appeared out of nowhere once the rains came and the soil heated up.  It’s doing so much better than last year.

The light is often perfect in my garden but my photos rarely show this.  Even with a better half who loves expensive electronics and insisted on a fancy camera there’s still a skill component missing and I often look at what shows up on the computer screen and wonder what happened.  Fortunately this morning things just came together and it’s as good as it’s going to get.

IMG_2548

Light and shadows on a Datura flower. Even a few dew drops to make it glisten.

Last fall a friend gave me a few seedheads of what is probably Gomphrena ‘fireworks’.  It’s supposed to be in the same species as the regular globe gomphrena (G. globosa) but I don’t see it, and even though it loves the same heat and full sun, the flowers are more like yellow tipped pink brushes rather than tight globes.

gomphrena fireworks

Gomphrena ‘fireworks?’ in the morning light.  Easy from seed (needs warmth and bright light) and loves the heat.

Another annual which catches the light perfectly is amaranthus ‘Hot Biscuits’.  Practically a weed, it just shot up when the rain started falling and the humidity shot up.  This is another one which came via friend…. thanks Paula!

amaranthus hot biscuits

Amaranthus ‘hot biscuits’ in the front border.

I would have laughed if you told me I’d ever grow (and like) a brown flower but here it is.

amaranthus hot biscuits

A nice late summer show of amaranthus coming up among the butterfly bushes (Buddleia)

I do buy a few seeds here and there and zinnias are one which I like to keep in good supply.  Brenary’s Giants ‘Lime’ does NOT show well in the garden but it’s just too interesting to leave out.

Benary’s Giants lime zinnia

Benary’s Giants ‘lime’ zinnia from Fedco Seed.  I bet a good designer could do great things with this color… but me, not so much.  I think it’s cool regardless.

The birds and bees get the credit for this sunflower as well as whatever religious deity you believe protected it from my weed bucket.  I swore up and down I would not allow sunflowers in the tropical bed but there you have it.

double sunflower

A little doubling and a darkly rich center, I’m quite pleased to have this sunflower sharing space with the cannas and bananas.

The Formosa lilies (Lilium formosum) were stunted by weeks of drought back in the no-man’s land which I tend to ignore, but are still forgiving enough to fill the garden with their sweet summer perfume.

lilium formosum

Lilium formosum.  For some reason I thought planting them where they’d grow up into the branches of a pear tree would be a good idea… but then again why would I think my little seedlings would ever amount to anything?

The meadow got its mowing just in time.  The first colchicum blooms were beheaded, but now the others can come up nicely in the short (and for once green) grass.

cochicum in lawn

cochicum in lawn

Back in July we didn’t even remember what rain looked like.  Then something happened.  August was warm and humid with perfectly spaced rain showers and this blessing from above even resurrected (most) of the phlox bed.  If you look closely the damage is still there, but on a beautiful Sunday morning it’s easy to see past that.

garden phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata in the late August light.

Please click on “I hate gardening” to see what this bed looked like a month ago.  You could call the change miraculous and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.

garden phlox paniculata

Just in time for Monarch migration, the garden phlox and Verbena bonariensis are again filled with flowers and this bed is a very busy place.

I do love my phlox.

garden phlox paniculata

Back from the dead, random phlox paniculata seedlings.

Have a great Sunday and all the best for the upcoming week.  I’m going back outside now and suspect nothing will get done other than a second cup of coffee.

Thursday’s Feature: Cardinal Flower

It must be the week for scarlet since I see that Kimberley, our host for the Thursday Feature, has also featured something equally bright this week from her garden.  Her choice is bee balm (Monarda), but the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) also gives a bright punch of red to the late summer garden.

cardinal flower

My own slightly undernourished cardinal flower. 

Cardinal flower is a native North American wildflower and its color and flower shape are tailored to attracting hummingbirds.  Red is a color for bringing in these small winged pollinators, and one can see how its bee pollinated cousin, great lobelia (L. siphilicata),  would have shorter blooms and a more bee-friendly blue coloring.  Both are easy in the garden and thrive in a moist, fertile soil in either a sunny or part shade location.  If your garden is well suited to these beauties, the blue version has even been known to border on weedy with its self-seeding ways, but to be honest I can’t imagine them being any trouble at all to just remove.  Keep in mind though that the summers in my garden can usually fry and dry even some of the hardiest members of the plant kingdom so I might not be the best judge on if a moisture loving plant is weedy!

chanticleer red seat

Color coordinated seating alongside a nice patch of cardinal flower at Chanticleer.

The straight species of L cardinalis is an excellent flower even straight out of the forest, but over the years hybrids and selections have broadened the range of cardinal flower available to gardeners.  Darker foliage is always a popular look, as well as pink and purple hybrids with the great lobelia.  They’re all equally easy to grow when given the moisture they need but in my experience the hybrids are no where near as hardy as the straight species(zone 7 versus zone 3).  Still I showed no hesitation when I saw this maroon leaved plant for sale this spring.  Even as a likely annual it’s worth the money I spent on it… although honestly I expected the flowers to be denser.

cardinal flower

A dark foliaged Lobelia cardinalis in bloom on the deck.  I’m not totally sure I’ve ever seen the hummers on this one, and I wonder if some nectar production was opted out of when they selected for dark leaves.

I’d love to have a bunch of these scattered throughout the garden but there are only a few spots where I can keep an eye on them often enough to keep them from drying out completely.  That’s just me though, if you have a reliably damp spot or even poorly drained spot which kills off many other plants, I would jump on the chance to try out a few cardinal flowers.  They may even self-seed and you can imagine the show if that happens.

Give them a try and also give Kimberley a visit to see what other late bloomers are featured this week.  It’s the downside of the summer, and a fresh and new bloomer at this time of year is always welcome.

 

GBFD August ’16

They say better late than never, but according to that theory just about everything I do should be better… and I know that’s not the case, so I’ll let you be the judge.

I’ve let a few too many of Christina’s Garden Blogger Foliage Days pass by without a decent post, and that’s a shame since I really enjoy her prodding us to take a monthly step back to look past all the flowers.  The flash of flowers often catches the eye and as a result foliage often fades into the periphery of subconscious thought, so on the 22nd of each month it’s not the worst idea to look around and consider what the leafiness of your garden is doing for the bigger picture.

lasagna garden bed

The bed-which-I-can’t-decide-what-to-do-with just before we left on our camping trip.

I showed the above picture just a few days ago and although I knew there were a few weeds sprouting I just didn’t get to them before we left.  Let me just insert here that this is not going to be the “decent post” which GBFD deserved this month because it’s a post on only one type of foliage, and that’s the quick growing green of crabgrass and other uninvited leafy pests.

weedy flower bed crabgrass

The same bed exactly one week later.  A bounty of rain, heat, and sunshine plus a fertile soil (the dumping spot for our rabbit’s used bedding) have greened up everything.  Even the clover and creeping Charlie have filled in any last remaining dead patches in the “lawn”.

I spent a recent afternoon clearing out all the lush growth.  The bed is empty again but this time I stuck a few stray cuttings here and there and with a little luck perhaps I’ll have some more varied foliage for September’s GBFD.  At the very least it might give the weeds a little competition since apparently there’s not much slowing them down now.

Thanks for humoring me with this ‘foliage’ post and if you haven’t already been over please consider giving Christina a visit to see what others have done this month with their posts.  You won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday View: The Tropics 8.23.16

It’s another Tuesday and although I missed last week due to a quick summer jaunt up to the mountains of New Hampshire, this week I’m back to joining in with Cathy at Words and Herbs in order to look at the weekly progress of the tropical border.  Heat, humidity, regular rain showers, and strong summer sunshine in between have brought on an explosion of late summer growth and the purple leaved cannas now dominate the bed.

tuesday view

Purple leaved canna indica, maybe ‘purpurea’ or ‘red stripe’ or ‘Russian red’… I don’t really know since they were given to me years ago as just plain old canna… have now topped off at around 8-9 feet.

You’ll probably notice the small red blooms the cannas have put out.  They’re nice enough as a little decoration up top but hardly enough reason to grow these plants.  It’s all about the foliage and it’s looking particularly good on this deliciously cool and clear, breezy summer day.

canna indica purpurea Russian red

Canna indica ‘purpurea?’ blooms against the bright blue of a clear summer sky.  A very popular flower with the hummingbirds.

Have I referenced “summer” enough yet?  I’m hoping that if I keep saying the word it will hang on forever, and we’ll never have to deal with the cold little deaths called autumn and winter.  Surely it’s a part of life here in Pennsylvania, but I don’t mind if it holds off for another two months at least.

coleus Alabama sunset

I need to add more coleus to the bed next year.  As things grow so does the shade, and this coleus (maybe ‘Alabama Sunset’)  fills in nicely rather than fading away like some of the zinnias.

There’s a whole back half to the bed which has been blocked off by the main clump of canna.  It’s a little messy but hopefully in the next few weeks a dahlia or two can break through and add a little color as other things begin to fade out.

tropicalismo

Is ‘Tropical Weed Patch’ a look?  If I can only think of a better name maybe it will catch on but in the meantime you may notice the salvia ‘Caradonna’ which constantly annoys me is still exactly where its always been.  Sometimes things don’t move too fast around here :) 

With such a mess of randomness there’s bound to be a surprise here and there, and sometimes that surprise even turns out to be a nice one.  This week it was the salvia which has just come into bloom.  My favorite version of the stout, too-red, gas-station salvias (Salvia splendens) are the ones which don’t look like they’d end up in a gas station planting at all.   They’re the tall and lanky ones which are sometimes referred to as Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttii’ and up until now I’ve only succeeded with a peach colored one.  But last year I did have a short purple bedding type nearby, and apparently things happened at night and lo and behold this year one of their children is a tall, lanky purple.

purple salvia bloom

At about three feet tall this purple salvia bloom has all the grace and style which its shorter cousins lack.  Even better was that I found this as a self-sown seedling and was lucky enough to nurse it on to blooming size.  This makes me wonder as to what the other seedlings will look like.  

I’ve shown it before but have to show one more photo of the castor bean.  The bright seed pods look perfect amongst the purple foliage.

castor bean carmencita

The spiky red (and remember poisonous as well) seed heads of castor bean ‘carmencita’

This afternoon the sun hit the back corner of the bed perfectly.  You don’t even notice the weeds when the light is like this.

tropicalismo

Verbena bonariensis is the workhorse of this bed and although it threatens to swamp everything else here it’s still worth any bit of trouble it causes. 

At this time of year it’s easy to ignore any maintainence and just enjoy the plants as they slide on into autumn, but dahlias are yet to come and dahlias need staking.  Two weeks ago would have been the best time to do this but things happen and when things happen the dahlias fall over.  It will require twice as much time to carefully put them back up and some might just stay where they lie.  It will be more of a groundcover look, but with the way they are stretching away from the canna’s shadow nearly all the plants have verticality issues which might not be worth fighting.

panicum northwind

There are dahlias in them thar purple verbena, but for now lets just focus on the panicum ‘Northwind’ which is turning into a tight fountain of frothy seed-heads.

Dahlias will hopefully be staked tomorrow… or Thursday.  Weekend at the latest.  It’s so nice right now with green grass, butterflies, and flowers who wants to stake stuff?  Plus I needed to tackle a hedge of crabgrass which sprouted overnight in one of the other beds, it’s an embarrassing mess, but at least it’s green and green is so much nicer than the dead brown which surrounded me last month.

Mess or not I hope you enjoyed the view and if you’d like give Cathy a visit and see what this week has brought to her garden and others.  It’s  a nice way to keep tabs on things over the season and it’s also a great way to get things staked and weeded.  Shame is a great motivator and even if it means I have to stake with one hand and take pictures with the other, the job will get done long before I even consider publically admitting that the twine has defeated me🙂

A quick August walkabout

Although the air practically drips humidity and the the nights are muggy it’s still nothing compared to summers South of the Mason Dixon line.  Plus it’s only been a few days, and it’s actually rained regularly for three weeks now and I do love a nice summer thunderstorm so I’m fine with all of it.  What a relief from the relentless dry which haunted me all of June and July (and still haunts much of the East Coast) and what a change the gardens have gone through as they try to get all the growing in which didn’t happen during the first half of summer.

front street border

I think I show this view every summer as the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea comes into bloom along the street.  It’s an awesome plant.

Here’s a quick tour of the good and bad which summer has brought to the rest of the garden… and by ‘rest’ I mean the part which I practically gave up on when the rains stopped.

limelight hydrangea

Ok so I did give this bush some water when it began to wilt and yellow. How could I risk missing these blooms!

Along the street the plants are on their own and most handle drought with style.

front street border

‘Karley Rose’ fountain grass, ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass and perovskia. The purple coneflowers didn’t make it this year and their blooms just dried up and wilted without extra watering.

The grasses really are reliable, but without a doubt ‘Karl Foerster’ is my favorite.  I think I’ve gone on about it enough in the past but please excuse just one more picture.

sunflowers and feather reed grass

Sunflowers have a knack for putting themselves in just the right spot. If I could do a mass planting of this combo with sunflowers, perovskia and Karl I would do it without a second thought.

A few of the annuals planted in June have responded to the rain and are now looking like they want to live after all.

purple zinnia

Not sure if my color choices are really on point with the annuals this year, but a zinnia looks great anywhere.

A three year old ‘Dixieland’ miscanthus has finally put its roots down and taken off.  Me and variegation are always friends so obviously there was a good chance the two of us would hit it off… and we have🙂

sedum brilliant and dixieland miscanthus

‘Dixieland’ is a dwarf miscanthus which generally goes against my love of giant plants, but for this one I’ll be glad to avoid the floppiness of its variegated big brother, and for the mailman’s sake this size is far less intimidating.

Things start to go downhill as you look to the house.

sumac tiger eyes

Someday I’ll grow up and realize ‘Tiger Eyes’ staghorn sumac is too aggressive a spreader for smaller planting areas and too informal a look for foundation plantings, but that realization may still be decades off.

Once you walk past the tropical bed and head out back it becomes project after project.

lasagna garden bed

Weeds are once again exploding in the bed-which-I-can’t-decide-what-to-do-with. Iris bed fell through, veggie bed fell through, dahlia bed fell through… and still it sits.

At least when it was dry the crabgrass wasn’t a problem.

crabgrass weed

Most of the iris and daffodils have been dug but just enough remain that I can’t really move on with this bed either.  Plus without a lawn worth mowing I don’t have any mulch to smother the crabgrass with and its spontaneous regeneration will make for a horrible mess in another week.  But on the bright side I do see the rabbits here all the time nibbling.

The return of rain has brought a sort of second spring to some parts of the garden.

magnolia rebloom ann

Magnolia ‘Ann’ was yellowing, wilted and dropping leaves and must have been headed towards dormancy, but the rains brought on a flush of excitement in the form of summer blooms.

Even though all the fancier phlox in full sun fried, the phlox ‘weeds’ which I allowed to selfseed in this bed were saved by the shadow of the house.  There’s nothing which I like about this bed although my wife “loves!” the grassy clump of Panicum ‘cloud nine’ in the center.  I’ve tried mowing everything down and creating a dull bed o’mulch but the minute I turn my head it’s all back.

self seeded phlox

Blech. Golden yellow with washed out pink in front of the orangey brick of the house. Someone has plans to add a master bedroom to this end of the house and although someone else firmly disagrees, that opinion is usually crushed over time just like anything else which could be planted in the meantime.

To give a final dose of reality to this mess of a post here’s a photo of the roughly graded fill which has been dumped next door and which has also been added to my project list.  It sounded like a good idea when my neighbor offered to just keep going with his own fill project, but now I’m faced with digging and raking and seeding.  The plan is for a new meadow garden but it sure is an inviting bit of real estate there behind the MIL’s house.  Sunflowers would do well there I’m sure, but for now I feel like I’m in a prison chain gang as I break up the fill with a pick so I can shovel it over into the low spots.

graded fill

My yard used to go across all at nearly the same level, but now the grade has been raised several feet. I wonder how much I could raise my own yard… hmmm.

So I guess if there’s any point to this post it’s that my garden looks much nicer in a cropped closeup rather than the big picture, and that your own garden is probably much nicer than you give it credit for.  Don’t feel bad for me though, I’m quite happy in my interesting mess and I (sometimes) do enjoy the journey more than the finished product.  Plus we’re off for a few days next week camping so that’s always fun🙂

Have a great week!

 

The containers. Meh.

Planting the deck always starts out innocently enough but then degenerates into a huge project.  This year was no different in that respect, and to even get started with the ritual power washing all the winter debris of kid-play and kitchen remodel-scraps had to be dragged off first.

deck cleaning

The entire covered part of the deck is filled with debris and scaffolding in addition to the furniture and terracotta pots which need to be stored under cover for winter (they’ll crack if they freeze while still wet and filled with wet soil).  btw the dark gray object is the old kitchen sink, so even that is out here…

So hauling off trash is the first project, then the cleaning, then the decision that all the mishmash of geriatric plastic planters should match, so off for a paintbrush and some leftover paint.

painting plastic containers

No more black nursery pots, or old teal and faded gray, all the plastic was painted with my trusty mocha-tinted, all surface Sherwin Williams paint.

Our last frost date is around the 15th of May, but most planting jobs are usually procrastinated way beyond that.  This year the big deck planting was pushed off until June 8th, which meant a lot of sitting around for the earliest purchases but it also meant clearance sales were in full swing.

container planting

I tend to spread out while setting the deck up.  There’s a mess everywhere🙂

So this is where the ‘meh’ comes in, and since the weather is kind of ‘meh’ today as well it might be the best day to discuss…  I usually go out with little to no idea or plan and as a result come home with whatever catches my eye.  Usually it works out, but this year I just feel like something’s missing.  Maybe I need yellow, maybe it’s the lack of sweet potato vines, maybe there’s too much red, maybe it’s the pink… I’m not much of a ‘pink’ person.

deck container plantings

One purple fountain grass is nice, three might have been overkill, still the rosemary enjoyed its division and replanting, and most other plantings are hanging in there.  You may notice my amaryllis bulbs tucked in here and there.  The strappy leaves don’t look half bad in my opinion.

I should be giving things a nice liquid feeding each week and part of the ‘meh’ might be that things are underfed.  A rich diet for these flashy annuals is what they thrive on, and upon thinking back it’s possible I’ve missed four out of the last five feedings.  As usual I’m my own worst enemy.

balcony flowers

I do like how the creepers, in this case cascading geraniums (pelargoniums), work their way through the railing.  They’re very popular with the hummingbirds even if the color might be a little too orangey for the companion plantings.

Some other disappointments have been the underperforming vines.  My three little babies, the Chilean Glory vines (Eccremocarpus scaber) did not take off as planned.  Apparently they are foolproof but this fool will challenge that label since my plants (nurtured along from tiny seedlings) made a go at it but then died off one by one.  I did get to see one single bloom cluster of amazing little orange lipstick tubes of color but that was it, and I think if I was brave enough to beat back the grasses, I would find my last glory vine has also passed over.  That’s too bad but I’m already excited to grow this plant again next year since I’m sure things will go differently even if I do everything exactly the same… but in the meantime at least my snapdragon vine (Asarina scandens) is coming along.

snapdragon vine Asarina Scandens

Snapdragon vine (Asarina Scandens) growing up into the purple fountain grass.  At least this one has been a forgiving grower and easy bloomer.

While many of the plantings leave me uninspired, a few things are doing great.  The oleander and overgrown spikes are back for another year and the canna ‘cannaova rose’ is again putting on a nice show.  The canna just hit a lull (probably lack of fertilizer induced) but I’m sure will return to glory shortly and I’ve divided last year’s roots up between a few spots so it’s likely you’ll see these showing up elsewhere as well.

dracenea spike

Those little dracaena spikes which show up in nearly every pre-made container planting seem to turn into something a little more interesting given a few years of growth.  My goal is to have a small grove of these some day soon🙂

There are a few new things this year which did beat the ‘meh-ness’.  Gazania are a plant which although they don’t grow consistently for me, do look great when they feel like it.

annual gazania

The unusual colors of Gazania really don’t blend well with any look I’m going for but who cares, they just look cool when opened up for the sun. (just keep in mind that they close when the sun goes away…)

By the way I forgot about the elephant ears and the new crape myrtle, both of which are not ‘meh’.  The two are just soaking up the rain and heat and humidity and picking up where the petunias and million bells drop off, but before I begin to sound too positive let me point two things out.  First I have too much red, and since the obviously red myrtle was labeled purple I’m innocent there.  Second there’s a plant missing out of the small terra cotta pot in the front of the photo.  There’s a cute little b***ard chipmunk who decided it would be fun to end my three year relationship with a slowly growing clump of lithops (living stones).  After a few days searching I found the chewed up corpse under a nearby shrub.  Time will tell if the shriveled bits can recover, my only hope is that they were poisonous.

deck container plantings

Blood red crape myrtle and geraniums, pink ‘bubblegum’ petunias, elephant ear (Alocasia calidora?)… an ‘interesting’ look I suppose.

I still need to mention the digiplexis which just came into bloom this week.  It’s a inter-species cross between a foxglove (digitalis) and an Isoplexis (Canary Island foxglove) and when it first hit the market in 2012 it immediately went on to many ‘must have’ lists.  My must have list is always a few years behind but I was finally able to try it out this year when I found it for a reasonable price.

digiplexis

Digiplexis ‘Canary Berry?’.  It’s nice enough but I’m not overwhelmed yet.  It’s one of the foxgloves, and I love a nice foxglove, but this non-hardy version might be something left for those everything-grows-for-me San Francisco gardeners who have super mild winters and cool nights which bring on stronger colors.

So there’s good and not-so-good out there and to be honest no matter how it looks it always beats the deck in January.  January seems to keep all gardening outcomes in perspective and as I check things out every day and multiple times a day I’m still happy with it.  Now if only I could get out there and fertilize, but the lawn needs mowing too and I’m not doing both until things cool off a bit.

Thursday’s Feature: Eucomis ‘Freckles’

Eucomis ‘Freckles’ sounds more like a health condition than a cool plant, but I can assure you when it grows on you there’s no need for a doctor’s visit.  Mine was an impulse buy a few years ago and the fact it’s still with me should say something about its ease of growing.  Dormant and dry in a frost free spot for the winter, plant outside when it gets warm.  It forms a bulb, it likes it sunny, and it does just fine in regular garden soil.

Eucomis Freckles

Eucomis ‘Freckles’ in a pot on top of another pot. I can water both at the same time which is so much more efficient than single pots🙂

I don’t think anyone can accuse me of overcomplicating this post with over-the-top growing instructions but it really is that easy to grow.  ‘Freckles’ is a hybrid version of the Eucomis species E. vandermerwei and as you might guess from the flower heads these plants are part of the group commonly referred to as pineapple lilies.  I keep mine potted, but you don’t have to, they grow just fine in the open garden.  ‘Freckles’ is a little on the small size and would likely get lost in the mess around here but someday the open garden might be worth a try, since rumor has it these are much hardier than you might think.  Some reports even have them overwintering with no problem up into zone 6.

As a regular reader might guess I’ve got a few seedlings coming along as well since they’re relatively easy from seed.  I’ll spare you the pictures but there’s a good chance you’ll see more and more pineapple lilies in the years to come🙂

So there you have it, a short and sweet Thursday’s feature.  Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome hosts each week and it’s always nice to focus on one of the plants making you happiest each week.