Tuesday View: The Street Border

It appears this garden and most of the East Coast are still going over one more speedbump on the road to spring.  Today we welcomed a little over two feet of snow into the garden, and I suspect it will be a bit before (a) the kids return to school, and (b) I need to fertilize the lawn.

march snowstorm

I might be early on this decision but I’m considering this as the 2017 Tuesday view.  Under all the snow is the mixed plantings of the street border, a name I came up with all by myself based on the fact it’s a border and it runs along the street 😉 

Some might say 2017 has been off to a rough start, and they might be right, but I’m going to try and think about other things such as Cathy’s Tuesday View and consider the border along the street as my entry for this year.  Posting every week might be a stretch, but maybe showing this view once every other week will be do-able.  We’ll see.

march snowstorm

Two feet of March snow is excellent fort building material and the front yard is a battleground of trenches and tunnels… plus buried snowdrops and crocus. 

Right now the view doesn’t really matter though.  People are still digging out and cars and trucks are being pulled out (as our evening walk down to the main street demonstrated) and we just have to deal with that first.  The forecast ahead is cold, but the sun when it comes out will be strong, and hopefully there’s something left to look forward to when all this snow melts… since the snowdrops have already given up on spring.

He Giveth and Taketh Away

I guess it was fun while it lasted and I guess you can already see where this is going, but after a balmy stretch of record breaking warmth our week of unusual February weather has come to an end with a bang.  It’s bizarre weather for a Pennsylvania winter and almost has me believing those crybaby liberal scientists who keep trying to push the idea of global warming on us.  Luckily I ran into CarlB380 on some online political forum and he set me straight by explaining it’s just some normal variations in our global weather cycles.  I heard the Chinese are behind it as well, so everyone just needs to relax.

galanthus diggory

Galanthus ‘Diggory’ sure looks better when you’re not freezing your butt off.

I have to confess that the Chinese may not be entirely to blame.  This year I insisted on buying new snowpants for the kids since they were predicting a wetter than usual La Nina winter.  Foolishly enough I thought that bonanza would come in the form of snow.  Lots of snow means we would finally take advantage of the ski resort just 15 minutes away and all hit the slopes together to shake off rust and learn new skills.  That didn’t happen.  The only rust shook off was from the rake I used to clean out the front street border… not that the rake had much time to rust-up in our three week winter.

early front border

It will take a few more years before those specks of yellow in the center become a sheet of brigh yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), but it will happen soon enough.  You may also notice the bed has crept to the right another few feet…

I admit I’m practically drowning in galanthomania (snowdrop love) these last few days, but in the interest of retaining my last few readers I’ll try and limit myself to just a few.  Feel my struggle though.  Although last year’s hail, heat, and arctic plunge devastated the season, it appears they loved the damp and drawn out spring which followed all that mess.  This year they are coming up bigger than ever, with double stalks where I’ve never seen double stalks, and bulbs which have quadrupled in number… all that and a 70F (21C) sun soaked afternoon to sit on the lawn and admire them.  Wow.

galanthus magnet

Last year’s plunge into  frigid cold and winds withered the blooms and foliage on this bunch of ‘Magnet’.  This spring it’s bigger than ever!

New favorites have settled in as well, and it’s nice to see what a few years can do to the lonely and sometimes lost single flowers of new snowdrop plantings.  Here are two newer favorites, Galanthus ‘Kildare’ and ‘Erway’.

galanthus kildare erway

‘Kildare’ is a nice green tipped snowdrop out of Ireland while ‘Erway’ to the right has an interesting olive colored, oddly helmet-shaped ovary on top.

Now for the bad news though.  A strong cold front had been working its way across the continent and by mid Saturday afternoon reached this end of Pennsylvania.  During the first wave, golfball sized hail rained down out of the sky and a tornado spawned just two miles up the road.

giant hailstones

In what might not have been one of my smarter moves I ran out to the street to bring the car up into the garage… too late to save it from a few dents in the hood, but fortunately my head avoided the same fate.

We were safe from the tornado, and although huge, the hailstones were short lived and only a few came down per square foot.  Impressive enough on its own, but then the second wave hit.  Strong winds, pea and marble sized hail, drenching downpour, and the frightening sound of hail smashing the roof and windows.  Oh yeah, thunder and lightning as well, and in a few minutes the garden went from an early blossom of spring to a freakish mid summer smack-down.

before and after hail

Galanthus ‘viridapice’ with a few winter aconite and hardy Cyclamen coum…  before and after.

All the early snowdrops are history and I’m crossing my fingers for the few late ones which were still trying to catch up with the weather.  Easy come easy go I guess.

before and after hail

Goodbye ‘Bill Bishop’ and ‘Primrose Warburg’.  See you in another 12 months.

Btw I’m a little impressed with myself over the merged photos.  I’m sure this is old news for anyone even marginally computer literate, but just in case you’re interested it was done here>  IMGonline

To wrap up my new-found computer savviness I’m throwing in a few videos as well.  Here’s the second part of the storm as it really hit its stride.

…and a little later as the storm winds up.  My tech skills only go so far, so unfortunately it’s been filmed in the narrow ‘portrait’ orientation, but hopefully this doesn’t kill my chances of breaking the record 23 views which my last video racked up.

We will see where this winter takes us next.  I’m hoping it’s to spring but wherever it goes the ride is always an exciting one and always one which reminds me how grateful I am that I don’t rely on the weather for my livelihood.  -and please don’t feel bad for the lost flowers,  I’m sure they’ll be back stronger than ever next spring and after soaking them up completely for the last few days I think I’ll be fine until the next page of spring unfolds!

Agriculture in Suburbia

This post was mostly finished last weekend but for some reason I never got around to publishing.  I wish I had a good excuse, but it might have just been one of those Sunday evening get ready for the workweek make lunches and clean the kids off from the weekend kind of things.  In any case here it is and to be honest I have little idea what I was talking about back then with all the design comments and self reflection.  Sometimes I really wonder where this stuff comes from, but regardless the pictures have me thinking of last June when the garden looked ready to die so let me just start off with a photo from then 🙂

dormant lawn

The beauty of the  garden in June.  Roadside daisies and dead grass.  Fortunately the rains came back in August, but not until all July passed and I reached the “wordless Wednesday: I hate gardening” stage.

It’s always nice to hear compliments about your garden, and I am one who by reflex nearly always shrugs them off or dismisses them.  I’m sure there’s some childhood trauma involved which has long been forgotten, but it’s my way and it’s a rare day when I can just accept with a thank you.  Now I’m not saying I get a lot of compliments, but I do get a comment every now and then about a nice design touch or a combination which actually worked out.  Those are the compliments I always downplay since I rarely (unless I’m doing it subconsciously) put a whole lot of thought into what goes where.  With few exceptions my design process revolves around having a new favorite plant in hand and then desperately needing a spot in which to cram it.  Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t.

front street border

The front border in mid September.  If I had to put a name to this year’s design theory it might be something like ‘neglected agricultural’.

The front border along the street may not look brilliant, but it does look colorful, and with five months of winter breathing down my neck colorful is perfect.  Colorful and agricultural I suppose, since this years feature plant seems to be ‘Hot Biscuits’ amaranthus and in my opinion it either looks sort of farmyard weedy or like a particularly bright sorghum crop.  Ornamental or not I just can’t look away.  It’s big and bright and grainy and between it and the wheat-like feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) and the sugarcane-like giant reed (Arundo Donax) I feel like it’s almost harvest time out there.

front street border

The view from the street side.  The purple perovskia has seeded around a bit and put out a few runners, the purple coneflowers as well, but I’ve done essentially nothing here since March and I kind of like that.

I owe this year’s crop of ‘Hot Biscuits’ to my friend Paula who surprised me one afternoon with a packet of seeds in the mailbox.  I had grown it before and ended up losing it, but fortunately she had a few seeds to spare and sent them my way.  That was last year, and I efficiently killed all the seedlings which sprouted, but this year was a different story and I ended up with a few clumps of healthy seedlings.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Just the first of many amaranthus close-ups which will pepper this post.  No one could plan this combo since I’m sure it violates numerous design principles, but I just love it.

The amaranthus shows up here and there all along the border, which is probably a good thing since even the simplest design theorist will tell you it repeats and unifies a theme.  Repetition is important since this bed frequently suffers from “I always start from the driveway end and use up all the best plants there” syndrome.  The far end of the bed gets less weeding, less watering, less tending… it basically gets less of everything, so carrying the amaranthus theme all the way through helps hide the sparseness of the neglected end.

wine zinnia

Here in the preferred end of the bed are well tended seedlings of Benary’s Giant wine zinnias and the pink gomphrena ‘fireworks’.  These were the seedlings I was most excited about this year, so in they went first 🙂

I did have a few too many zinnias this spring so was pretty generous about placing them in the border, but when the Brenary’s Giant scarlet began to open next to the pink gomphrena I immediately cringed.  For about a week I thought it looked awful but now I quite like it.  It reminded me of the first time I saw pictures of some of the late Christopher Lloyd’s magenta and pink plantings at Great Dixter.  They also bothered me at first and I think my first thought was “grow up Chris and plant some lavender and white and pink instead of that mess”… but look at me now.

scarlet zinnia fireworks gomphrena

Scarlet zinnia with ‘fireworks’ gomphrena.  Am I suffering from retinal fatigue or does it actually look nice together?

Maybe the green lawn and the parchment color of the feather reed grass tames it a bit but between this and the orange of the amaranthus I’m just plain pleased.

scarlet zinnia karl forester grass

A very technicolor look with the yellow of the ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac across the lawn.

Here’s another amaranthus photo-bomb.

hot biscuits amaranthus

Looking down towards the ‘less interesting’ end of the border.

Ok. One last amaranthus photo.

hot biscuits amaranthus

From the neglected, far end of the border, more amaranthus 🙂

You may have noticed a bright golden patch of marigolds in the border.  The fall smack dab in the middle of my newfound love for the most offensively bright colors and I’m not sure I can resist planting a whole border of them next year.  I had to smuggle these seeds out of my stingy older brother’s garden last year and was lucky that a few sprouted and survived July’s dry spell.  He’s been letting them reseed for a couple years now and they still come up in a good range of colors on relatively short and large flowered plants.

marigolds tagetes

A few marigolds putting on a nice end of summer show.  More might be nicer, and by more I mean a whole border.

What to plant them with?  I think they’ll go at the far end of the border, alongside the bright gold of a juniper, but other than that I have no plans.  Should I back them up with some darker foliage plants?

img_3082

Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) in front and pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ towards the back. With the ‘Limelight’ hydrangea it all looks very calm and refined, but I think a nice border of marigolds will give it a good jolt of color!

We will see what happens.  There’s a good chance it will all come down to whatever seeds sprout the best next spring, but in the meantime it’s nice to dream about having a more plan-comes-together kind of garden.  That is until the snowdrops bloom.  Once that happens my brain goes to mush and I’m lucky if I get anything planted 😉

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 front border among other things

It stopped raining long enough this afternoon for me to get out there and do some watering.  The deluge of nearly 1/10 of an inch did little more than dampen the top layer of mulch and cancel a Little League game, but it was enough to cool things down at least.  Maybe it also gave the pestering hordes of gnats a nice drink as well, God only knows they must be getting tired of sipping my blood and sweat all month.  Here’s how the lawn out front looked yesterday morning.

dormant lawn

Needless to say I don’t bother watering the lawn.  I feel like watering the lawn is a gateway drug to bagging clippings, spraying for weeds, thatching, aerating, spraying for grubs… all those tedious chores which would ruin this vacation from mowing.  On the down side it looks like crap until the rains come back.

I hope my crabbiness about the weather doesn’t come on too thick.   Weatherwise I feel like I’m riding one of those shoddy, barely-passed-inspection carnival rides where you get thrown back and forth between burning and freezing, drought and flood, and all you want is Dramamine and a Tylenol when it comes to a stop.  Maybe today’s misting and this week’s milder temperatures will improve my outlook.  I think it will, especially when there are flowers toughing it out and cheering me up.

linaria purpurea

A new one this year is Linaria purpurea (toadflax), a hopefully hardy and long blooming airy perennial which was seeded out last year. The seed was supposed to be for ‘Canon Went’, a pink version, but only one or two stalks came true. No big deal as I like it just fine in the regular lilac-blue color.

I’ve done next to nothing on the front border since mulching it with shredded leaves in March… and weeding and deadheading once in May.  That’s great because it still looks decent enough, but not so great since I like to add a few patches of hard working annuals and tropicals in there to brighten up the summer months.  This pattern of neglect isn’t way out of the ordinary though, so even if it’s getting late for annuals I’m 99% sure that if I finally get it planted there will still be a decent show… but I’m not doing the same for the foundation bed.  It’s so dry the majority of the perennials are wilted and dying and I have no desire to even look at it long enough to even consider carving out a few watered spots for annuals.  The blue fescue border was de-seeded last weekend and in general it looks good enough, so I’ll leave it at that.

blue fescue border

I pulled off all the fescue seed heads and the foundation planting will just have to stay like this for the summer… although I may have to airlift out a few hellebores.  They look terrible all flat and yellowing and it may be time to find them a spot in the backyard with a little shade.

It’s curious to me how some years an odd balance tips and suddenly your most reliable standards vanish.  This year the front border is missing the hordes of rudbeckia which dominated last summer and in their place is a nice wash of rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).  Many people look down on this old fashioned, reseeding, short-lived perennial, but I love it for its tolerance of droughty soils, its soft gray foliage, and its cheerfully bright flowers.  It’s a perfect compliment to the nearly-a-weed white of the oxeye daisies.

allium seedheads

The front border from the near end.  This perspective is perfect for avoiding all the gaps and holes which become apparent when the border is admired head on 🙂

My absolute favorite right now isn’t even a flower though, its the dried round seedheads of allium ‘Pinball Wizard’.  Big fluffy spheres which seem to float above the border are just perfect this year and I’m planning on lifting the bulbs this week to spread them out a bit (the original single bulb has split into four now and I don’t want it to have any overcrowding issues.

lychnis coronaria rose campion

Rose campion, oxeye daisies, and another view of my lovely allium seed heads.  Might as well enjoy the dried stalks since everything else seems to be on its way to drying up completely as well.

Once you move towards the far end of the border things go downhill fast.  Everything in this border gets done from the near end to the far, and unless I’m making a strong effort to be fair, all the good plants, best mulch, nicest compost, most delicate pampering…. all that happens at the one end and rarely carries all the way through to the other side.  I’m pretty sure that the most obvious solution to this problem is to make the border wider again.  More room, more plants, more excitement… the natural choice when faced with a border which might already be a little too much work 🙂

late June perennial border

If I can get a shovel down into the rock hard lawn I could easily bring this border out another foot or two without interfering with third base (which is usually located right next to the chartreuse leaves of the ‘Golden Sunshine’ willow).  I’ll just need to plant something which can handle a few missed kickballs and base overruns.  

Digging will have to wait until August at earliest.  Who knows what there will be left to plant in August, but we’re approaching phlox season and no bed digging is worth the risk of interfering with flowering phlox enjoyment.  Just today one of my new ones opened and it is so amazing I’m sure you’ll see it here shortly.  Wow is all I can say, and to be honest I haven’t been this completely excited about a new flower since at least last week.

the potager in June

The potager in June with its freshly mulched beds, newly concrete-reinforced rebar archway, and the first bright reds and pinks of tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  There are even a few vegetables planted (although the boxwood still needs trimming).

With all the work I’ve done recently in weeding and trimming you might be able to tell I’m now trying to catch up on the blogging.  Well, blogging and watering of course… but please bear with me as sore muscles recover indoors and I throw out a bunch of posts in what might be too little time, and please feel free to skip commenting or even ‘liking’ since I’d hate to wear out my welcome!

Enjoy your week and I’ll be back Thursday to join up with Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday Feature.  Maybe I’ll even feature the new phlox, although saying that pretty much guarantees a woodchuck or deer attack tonight…