Getting Roots in the Ground Again

2016/17 been a remarkably mild winter in this corner of Pennsylvania, and although February usually brings us some of our harshest cold and winter storms, this year it’s going out with a whimper.  For a few days I won’t complain but beyond that I can’t promise anything.  March has a history of big snow-dumps and hopefully if they do come they’re more picturesque than they are damaging, and hopefully this quirk of a winter is also not some dark prequel to an even worse global warming future.

Without a solid slate-cleaning this winter I’m a little lost heading into the 2017 gardening season.  It all still seems so ‘last year’ so I suppose I’ll use that as my excuse for not putting out the usual bored with the snow, don’t want to face the cold, winter time flashback posts, but let me at least try and get this one post out before I’m lost outside again searching for spring sprouts.  It goes back to 2002 when the ignorance of youth thought it would be a good idea to buy a house, lose a job, and get engaged all in the same two months.

dupont house

Our diamond in the rough.

Before I get too distracted with the story I want to point out that a normal first impression of our little valley usually dates it at around 20 years behind the rest of the country.  It’s a region who’s boom time began at the tail end of the 1700’s with the discovery of vast deposits of anthracite coal; the cleanest, hardest, and highest carbon coal out there, and the fuel which powered the economic and manufacturing development of this entire region.  For about 100 years we were riding high but it was a one horse show, and by the 1950’s the horse was definitely showing its age.  Deep mining had shifted to strip mining and the whole region went into a kind of long term hibernation of fleeing youth and aging residents.  Our house is an example of the ‘build it quick for housing’ phase and was probably built around 1910 as cheap two family housing for miners.  After decades of rough living it was probably worth our $24,000 purchase price.

garden renovation

100 years of history and the yard didn’t even have a peony or daffodil.  Gardening was confined to an overgrown privet hedge which looms to the right and a single mass of lilacs growing alongside a decaying shed.

I optimistically brought all the potted plants over from my former apartment balcony and then later watched them freeze as first the plumbing and then heat and finally electricity were pulled out and replaced.  In case it’s not obvious from the photos or purchase price the house was in horrible condition, so much so that when the realtor’s odd girlfriend took her small dog into the house and allowed it to pee on the kitchen doorjamb it barely raised an eyebrow.  I guess we were too distracted by the rotted floor boards, cobbled home repairs, and ‘evidence’ of vermin infestation.

new garden

That fall I planted daffodils, and in between gutting the house and piecing together scraps for a rabbit hutch, put in the first patch for gardening and trimmed back the near side of the privet. oh yeah, and actually transplanted grass so that I had at least one nice strip of lawn to walk on.

As I’m very fond of saying, ignorance is bliss, and for several months the economic realities of the newly unemployed demanded that I just “polish and put a shine on shit” and hopefully have a resale value once the journey was done, but a former girlfriend now fiancée had different ideas.

new garden

I have no idea why I had to have a waterlily even when I didn’t have a running toilet, but there it is.  Until the next dumpster arrives, what better use is there for a 1960’s avocado green bath tub? 

After several months of basement and utility renovations the friend who’s a contractor is traded in for the actual deal.  We’re into new territory now and although I can’t pay my labor in cases of beer anymore there is progress.  Unfortunately real contractors can’t be bothered with sensibly small attic dormers, they prefer “it’s cheaper to rip it down and build solid walls” and so we did.

dupont house

About a year later.  Might as well add a second floor while you’re at it. 

So here we were taking a two family home (which likely housed close to a dozen people at one time), tripling it in size, and making it just large enough for the two of us.

dupont house

Looks quaint and country, but keep in mind that a freight rail line runs just behind the trees, and only a few years ago a garbage truck collapsed into the road when an old mine shaft gave way.

Still unemployed, and now enrolled in school (again) the ballooning “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the kids”, pricetag finally scared me off the very addictive drug of contractor help.  With windows in and siding set to go on we cut the cord, buttoned up the exterior and moved into the basement… and found out what it is to live on love 🙂

dupont house

Building from the bottom up.  What were we thinking!?  In hindsight it’s hard to believe all of this was the product of me in the basement with a few sheets of graph paper and a lot of ‘yeah, I think I want another door here and window there… and oh, probably another bathroom’. 

Obviously there wasn’t all that much free time for gardening, but you know how it goes with all work and no play…

new garden

Of course there’s not much to the garden in October, but the privet has bounced back from its trim back and another bed is in.  Not really a garden design, but these beds take care of the pathetic grass which it replaced.  Please note the ever popular burn pit where most of the old house’s lumber was illegally burned.

Once we moved into the house the next three years are kind of foggy.  A full kitchen came first, a completed first floor, a new job, a master bedroom, a new baby, a completed second floor… finally an attic loft.  Slowly the garden inched along as well.

garden renovation

Behind the garage became a new garden spot where iris divisions were welcomed.  You can’t beat the generosity of other gardeners for filling in bare patches.

To know me is to know I have a slight leaning towards the tropical flair.  I love how you can get a massive show in just a few short weeks.

garden renovation

The usual leftovers and scraps which are my constant struggle.  Someday I’ll get them under control… or move to a new house 😉

The fun of a new garden is you have room for nearly everything and don’t yet have the baggage of too many beds gone to weeds, invasive plants, or “shouldn’t have put that there” issues.

tropical garden

I am a bit of a creature of habit.  Ten years later and I’m still growing all of these tropical and tropical looking goodies. -and I still like too much red

Another big plus for this house was that pretty much everything we did was a blessing -considering the property’s history of troublesome kids, giant rats, and overflowing trash piles.  Construction debris, dirt piles, unfinished projects, were all overlooked in this neighborhood where it’s not unusual for people to live and die in the house they were born in.

garden renovation

The front garden never really had time to come together.  I would have loved a small picket fence or something.

We were on a different track though.  Memories were built, lessons learned, and dreams ignited but when it came down to it this wasn’t more than a stepping stone.  Five years into it (just as the last big projects were finished) we decided to buy the house of my wife’s grandparents.  It was an unexpected decision based mostly on emotion, but in the long run we knew this would be short term.

garden renovation

A very helpful addition to the garden.  From the start he was practically an expert in finding worms and digging up new transplants.

So that spring I focused on grassing over a few beds, moving a ton of plants to the new house, and getting the house set to go on the market.

garden renovation

The new view out the back door.  I wish I had better pictures of the seating area carved out of the back slope, but as usual I was distracted by lounging out on the deck.

So that was what brought us to the new house.  In what has become our normal mode of operation for life changing events, that spring we were hit with a tsunami of the house selling in three days, a baby arriving a month early, a job lost, a car totaled, all made even more fun when you decide a few changes to the “new” house might be necessary… but we survived and it really puts the panic of a late frost or snapped iris stalk in perspective.

Don’t worry, we shall return to our normal garden updates next post.  I’ve just taken a look outside and the snowdrops are coming and the snow is melting and as soon as 2017 is off and running I won’t give a darn about years gone by until winter rolls around again.  Hopefully the weather is looking up for you as well!

Make way for Monarchs

The last few weeks are bringing the Monarch butterflies in.  They usually miss my plot on their springtime crawl North, but during their escape to the South they come right through.  It’s good timing too as it comes about four or five weeks after I’ve given up completely on the vegetable garden and the selfsown Verbena bonariensis have taken over.  Last week they were all over the place feeding and fluttering and during the one day of perfect conditions I counted at least 20 in there at one time.  They don’t stay long, but walking the paths and having the large orange butterflies lifting up and floating around you on a warm autumn day is a wonderful experience.

verbena bonariensis

An airy purple haze of Verbena bonariensis will spring up wherever I leave an unmulched spot of soil.

The verbena is clearly a favorite, but other flowers also fill the menu.  I don’t think of double dahlias as wildlife-friendly but maybe the color brings in even more dinner guests.  I at least think they look great.

dahlia sandra

Not a Monarch but still a welcome visitor, this fritillary is taking a break on dahlia ‘Sandra’.

My dahlias are not quite where I’d want them to be this year.  I’d blame the rains of July but in reality it’s the neglect of August and September which really did them in.  Fortunately with some good lighting and a few verbena screening and distracting they still look nice.

dahlias and verbena

Dahlias and verbena in the morning light.

I like that the flowers take over in autumn, and I like that the combinations and players change each year as I gain or lose interest in one thing or another.  This year ‘Tiger cub’ corn is back.  The seed was a gift from Nan Ondra of Hayefield and I love the variegation but I’m afraid it won’t have time to ripen any seed this fall unless things stay warm late.  My fingers are crossed.  I love how the bright leaves of the corn go with the bright colors of the red gomphrena and orange marigolds.  Word is marigolds are supposed to be a no-no in classy gardens,  but I still love their carefree color and I like them even better knowing they’re another gifted plant, this time from Kimberley of  Cosmos and Cleome.

tiger cub ornamental corn

I did start out with cauliflower here in the spring, but then rather than replant with a fall crop I put in a few ‘QIS red’ gomphrena seedling, a few ‘Tiger cub’ corn kernels, and a few coleus for good measure.

I like this autumn mess.  Lettuce would be nice too but it’s just been too hot and dry and I just don’t have the ambition to start plants in a shaded spot for transplanting.  Plus I can always pick it up at the market… unlike butterflies, those I need the flowers for.

verbena bonariensis cypress vine Ipomoea quamoclit

In a few spots ‘love in a puff’ and the red blooms of cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) thread their way through the verbena stems.  These little surprises make me smile.

Here’s another little surprise which I could fill a whole photo album with.  This spring I finally seeded out a few Spanish flag vines (Ipomoea lobata), and although they never sprouted in their seedling pots, they did once I threw the leftover soil into the garden.  It’s a late bloomer and like many in the morning glory family it can be a little rambunctious, but in this spot it’s perfect.  The spent broccoli seed stalks (I suspect I’ll be weeding out tons of broccoli weedlings next spring)  and verbena stalks provide just enough support and when a bed to the left opened up after the potato harvest the vines moved right in.  I couldn’t have planned the color coordination with the chrysanthemums any better.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Ipomoea lobata (Spanish flag) vining through verbena stalks, broccoli stems, and some of my favorite orange chrysanthemums. 

The colors of this planting are the perfect match to my daughter’s favorite orange ice pops… please don’t question why she was eating this while the morning light was still so fresh.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Color echoes in an ice pop.

I’m not a pink and grey pastel kind of guy so this bold mix of orange and purple really tickles my color bone.  Throw in a few hot pink persicarias in front of the dark foliage of the ‘Coppertina’ ninebark (Physocarpus) and I’m more than happy.  I just regret that my photo skills weren’t enough to capture it all together in one shot.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

More orange and purple in the fall garden.

Another thing I regret is that the flag vine planted on the deck has turned out to be a much less vibrantly colored plant from a more refined end of the gene pool.  When my seeds seemed destined to fail I snapped up a potful found at my favorite nursery.  It’s still a very nice thing, and I’ve even grown a paler yellow version before, but I can’t help wish they all had the darker stems and bolder orange of their more common cousin.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

A paler version of Spanish flag grappling through some pennisetum on the deck.  The whiter blooms and lighter foliage are nice enough, but I need darker colors to hold up to the white railing.

Bold and less bold are still just fine and it really revs up the autumn season around here.  With temperatures finally cooling off and a good soaking rain last night fall is officially in full swing here and I guess I’m going to have to finally give up on my whining about the loss of summer.  It’s about time I’m sure, and to cheer myself up I think I’m going to get into chrysanthemums next post.  Have a great weekend 🙂

A hot day in Philly

The calendar is beginning to insist that all things summer will soon come to an end, so when a free day presented itself I made my best to take advantage of the last weeks of warmth.  A quick call to a friend near Phillidelphia and I was on my way to one of my favorite gardens, Chanticleer.  As usual the visit did not disappoint, and despite a mental note to just enjoy the visit I did break down at the end and went a little camera happy.  Hopefully I can show some restraint with the length of this post even if I couldn’t with the camera.

chanticleer red border

Red and purple as you come around the house. Coleus ‘redhead’ and the awesome canna x ehemanii… rounded out with a few random bananas.

I like to stroll around pretending this is my own estate, and if by chance if I do win millions (I’ve given up on earning them through hard work, marriage, or genius) I feel like this is the kind of garden I’d create.

chanticleer container plantings

Many exotic and unusual container plants are scattered around the house and terraces. All appear perfectly grown and cared for.

The tropical plantings around the house are some of my favorite plantings, although even away from the house a random banana or elephant ear may turn up (Chanticleer refers to itself as a ‘pleasure garden’… so I guess anything goes!)

teacup garden chanticleer

This year’s teacup garden plantings. Fiddlehead figs and canna ‘Ermine?’, plus many others.

I’m guessing on almost all the IDs since the gardens are for enjoyment and inspirations and not so much for the down to earth realities of botanical labeling, but there are plant lists available both in the gardens and online.  I apologize for being too distracted to look while there and far too lazy now to look them up online.

papyrus chanticleer

Potted dwarf giant papyrus. I love the pot in pot planting with a ‘groundcover’ of duckweed, and I’d love to imitate, but… no pot and no dwarf giant papyrus.  Maybe the plain old giant papyrus will work,  at least that’s finally become easy to find in the spring.

I can feel the banana itch coming back.  I was given one and bought another this summer….

chanticleer tropicalismo

Canna x ehemanii, various bananas, red and purple dahlias, and a few tall salvia splendens varieties.

…and how can you not like dahlias at this time of year.

chanticleer mixed border

A respectable boxwood border holding back a wave of visitors from the south.

On a hot day the dry, full sun, gravel garden was not the place to linger… but we did, and while sweat beaded we enjoyed the waterwise plantings and the mix of dryland perennials and tropical cactus and succulents.

chanticleer gravel garden

I think the yucca rostrada (hardiest of the trunk forming yuccas) stays here year round, but I’m not sure of the agave.  I do know I wouldn’t want to be the one to lift it come autumn.

All the rain earlier in the year probably helped most things, but some I’m sure didn’t appreciate the reminder they were in Pennsylvania and not Southern California.

artichoke bloom

Artichoke blooms?  Not the best leaf-wise, but the color of the flowers almost glowed in the heat.

Or South Africa…

chanticleer kniphofia

Kniphofia (a species I’m guessing) along the dry slope.  I love this plant family, but never get decent flowers on the ones I’m growing.

The bulk of the grounds around the house are open grass and trees, and this was the beginning of the colchicum season.

chanticleer naturalized colchicums

Some of the colchicums just beginning to bloom in the lawn at Chanticleer.  Form what I’ve heard there are many more to come.

And then there were the pond gardens…

chanticleer koi

Chanticleer koi

With lotus and water lilies.

chanticleer lotus bud

One of many lotus flowers.  My photos never do the blooms justice.

And then there was the cutting garden.  My favorite canna ‘Bengal Tiger’ (Pretoria) was the star, and in my opinion everything looks better when it’s next to this beauty.

chanticleer canna pretoria

The cutting garden.  Summer annuals, dahlias and cannas were at their peak.

It’s just pictures from here on.

chanticleer cosmos

Cosmos and dahlias with canna leaves.

chanticleer cutting garden

The beds threaten to swamp you in a tsunami of plants.  Still to come were all the hardy sunflowers and other native prairie plants which filled the inner portions of the bed.

dahlias chanticleer

Dahlia with gomphrena ‘fireworks’ (I think)

dahlias chanticleer

Dahlias again (it’s the season!) plus more awesome canna leaves. I think the ferny foliage belongs to the SE native dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium).

dahlias chanticleer

Nice right?

chanticleer summer flowers

Summer zinnas and cosmos. Who says fall is near?

I didn’t realize it’s been two years since I last visited (click here to see that very pintrest-popular post), and I’m glad to have had the chance to do it again.  The gardens are on a scale that really seems approachable, yet aren’t filled with how-to beds or dull bedding.  It’s really a place where you can enjoy the art of gardening,  and if you get the chance I would absolutely recommend a visit, but for those further afield there’s also hope.  September 23rd marks the release date for a new Timber Press book on the gardens and I for one am looking forward to it.  It has an excellent pedigree across publisher, author, and photographer and what I’m most looking forward to are the interviews with each area gardener.  I saw them at work during our visit but was a little too shy to bother them with an endless gushing of praise or question after question.  Hopefully the new book will pacify me. 🙂

Thanks for meeting me there Paula, and I wish everyone a great week!

GBFD Finishing August

Yesterday was the 22nd, today the 23rd, and by the time this post is finished the date will probably flip on to the 24th, which will make me two full days late in joining Christina in the celebration of Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day.  I’m sure she’s fine with my tardiness but I’m also sure I didn’t want to miss this month’s opportunity to look past flowers and recognize all the contributions foliage makes in the garden.

squash climbing in garden

In the vegetable garden the broad leaves of late planted summer squash threaten to swamp their less edible neighbors. I love how fast they grow in the heat.

I’m a big fan of large leaves and whether they’re squash or cannas or elephant ears, the more enthusiastic a grower the better!  While some plants did not enjoy the recent spell of hot weather, a newer resident of the garden did.

Alocasia Borneo Giant

One of the larger elephant ears, Alocasia ‘Borneo Giant’, is finally putting out some more enthusiastic growth. The leaf is still barely larger than my hand but the giant part of the name gives me hope for the future!

Summer is when I really enjoy the potted plants on the deck.  Not only can they be enjoyed from the window, they can be enjoyed as you walk by, as you sit in a comfy seat, or from below.  It’s as if you’re multitasking your enjoyment!

coleus in deck planters

The rich foliage pattern of this coleus sometimes gets lost in a planting, but against the white railings the colors really come through.

Besides showcasing my favorite plants close up, the deck is also a great place to show off the little things which get lost out in the garden.

potted succulents

Little cacti and succulents which don’t mind a few missed waterings or weekend road trips.  They’re all foliage and make great deck plants… which look even better if the gardener finally repots them into roomier quarters (as I did this spring, although one of this bunch already needs a bigger home).

As I was walking about trying to focus on foliage, I realized this collection at the end of the deck steps doesn’t rely on a single flower to bring in the color.

deck planters

More succulents as well as ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus, ‘purple flash’ pepper, and my belovedly spiny porcupine tomato.

It’s really way past time to do a catch-up post on this year’s deck planters (and hopefully I can come clean soon) but there’s only so much time tonight, and there’s still plenty of other foliage to consider in the garden.  For as exciting as flowers and color are, sometimes the eye needs to rest on a little green.  For me chrysanthemums are a nearly indestructible planting for some of the hotter, dryer, tougher-to-fill spots which could use a soft mound of green.

chrysanthemum foliage

Usually the iris in the back has nothing but sad, browning and yellowing leaves, but this year the rain has been enough to keep it growing strong.  The chrysanthemum on the other hand looks respectable for the entire summer, even when the crabgrass gives up.

Dry sun is bad, but dry shade is worse, and this year I’ve been surprised at how well variegated obedient plant, (Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’) has done.  In moist soil it may spread a little too enthusiastically, but here it seems downright demure, and I wonder if the straight green type would be as restrained.

Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata'

Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’ lighting up the shade.  It’s a dry spot full of maple roots, but the foliage on this plant still looks great.

In my only bit of non-rooty shade I can always count on the calm contrasts of foliage form and color via evergreens and hostas.  Although things are beginning to get crowded here, I won’t mess with this planting until it starts to look desperate.

shade foliage border

Along the porch the hostas cover the spring bulb plantings and dwarf conifers shelter the porch without overwhelming it.  They’re all slow growing plants, but not too long ago I remember being able to easily plant between these shrubs.

The calm of the shade garden is always appreciated in summer, but in sunnier spots August means flowers, and I do try for plenty of that as well.  Even with all the flowers though, a good foliage background can make a world of difference.

cannas and dahlias

The rich red flowers of dahlia ‘Mathew Allen’ set off even brighter next to the solid mass of the red-leaved cannas.   

I’m all for the masses of flowers but you sometimes need a rest here and there and a mass of foliage can be just the ticket.  For next year I’m already nursing along a few new bananas and elephant ears and I think things will look a little different in this border.  If worse comes to worse though I can always replant sunflowers 🙂

cannas and sunflowers

More cannas trying to keep their chin up against the tide of sunflowers which still swirls around the tropical garden.  In my opinion this bed could have used a few more masses of foliage to balance out all the bloom. 

So there are some August musings on foliage from my neck of the woods.  If you’d like to dabble a little deeper give Creating my own garden of the Hesperides a visit.  Each month on the 22nd Christina provides the platform there to host a foliage review, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed by the foliage musings of bloggers from around the world!

Color for the neighbors

It’s a small slice of suburbia in which I live.  There’s nothing I consider a city nearby, yet faced by the acres of surrounding forest I guess we do huddle a bit on the outskirts of a sorta urban area in a sorta subdivision…. but even with the lack of a hustle bustle and heavy traffic, I do like to have a little shelter from the street and a little color for the neighbors.  Not exactly ‘curb appeal’, a term which makes me cringe when applied to any property not listed for sale, but it’s definitely colorful and whether the neighbors like it or not (they never really say, although I’m sure they talk) it does liven the block up for the half dozen neighbors and dog walkers which actually come by this way.

rudbeckia and butterfly bush buddleia

Butterfly bush (buddleia ‘Royal Red’ and ‘Pink Delight’) are now joining the black eyed Susans which have taken over the border.  The bearded iris which dominated in June are all nearly overgrown by this time of year!

Usually this border holds a lot more late summer and autumn color.  Annuals such as zinnias castor beans, and tender perennials such as cannas and dahlias, pick up at the end of the year just as the summer perennials are beginning to look a little tired. It’s a different story this year though, as things got away from the gardener and the rudbeckias took over.

august flower border

There’s nothing subtle about golden rudbeckias, but they do match the brightness of the sun.  At this point of the year I don’t even mind the formerly ‘too bright’ orange and pink sunpatients my daughter planted along the front.

And again I won’t complain.  I love the color, it looks great from the front porch, and I’ll deal with the ‘going to seed’ phase when its time comes.  Right now I’m just amazed we’ve had enough rain to keep the grass green all summer (although the actual work of mowing all this green grass is less than amazing).

beautiful front yard

The beds do look better framed by green grass.  Not bad considering the last two years were both marked by hot, dry, completely dormant (surely dead looking) turf patches…. for three entire months…

You may remember I mulched this bed completely with barely decayed, shredded leaves this spring.  It’s worked wonders for the soil quality and number of weeds, but it also greatly reduced the number of self seeders which normally fill the bed.  Purple Verbena bonarensis and the brilliant red Ipomopsis rubra (standing cypress) are sparse this year, but Euphorbia marginata (snow on the mountain) has not missed a beat.  Even after ruthless weeding there are still plenty of the cool white bracts showing up throughout the border and I can see how this native of the west has naturalized itself all across most of the US and Canada.

euphorbia snow on the mountain

The white streaked leaves of snow on the mountain form around the tiny flowers and eventually form a large ‘tree’ of white.

The snow on the mountain will look good until fall, but several of the earlier bloomers might not.  The bright magenta blooms of Lychnis Coronaria are long gone, but I can’t bring myself to pull up the nicely branched gray spent flower stalks.  I like them and as far as I’m concerned they can stay as long as they want.

Karl Foerster feather reed lychnis coronaria

Even gone to seed some things still look good.  I’ll never get tired of ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass in the seedy stage, but this year even the Lychnis coronaria plants in front still look good.  Must be all the rain.

A backup plan isn’t the worst idea.  In my head these leftover cannas were going to go into carefully prepared spots throughout the front border.  They’ve been sitting on the driveway unplanted since April and just go to show how hardy some plants can be.

canna sprouting late

A clump of roots dumped on the concrete and still managing to grow.  A better gardener would cut their losses and move on… I’m still imagining they’ll get planted before frost 🙂

The canna were intended as a replacement for this ‘Blue Bird’ rose of Sharon.  I’ve come to the conclusion I just don’t like it and want it out…. no real reason, just something about it bugs me…

rose of Sharon blue bird seedlings

The blue flowers are the original ‘Blue Bird’ Rose of Sharon plant, the pink are up and coming seedlings.  My question of whether or not they come true from seeds was answered by a no, and I’m glad to now know for sure!  btw- the big leaf in front is Angelica gigas, a plant which I’m hoping will be *very* cool!

A plant which does NOT bug me is hydrangea ‘Limelight’.  Right now it’s just going from lime to pure white and it’s a mountain of soft flower heads and I admire it every day.  Personally I feel like the plant doesn’t like me, since it always seems just a little short of water and lacking just a little bit of fertilizer but apparently it doesn’t hold that against me and blooms reliably each summer.  The bush is up to about six feet now and I should really take a few cuttings to try it in a better location and see what it’s really capable of!

hydrangea limelight

Hydrangea ‘limelight’ hanging over into the street.

Something that didn’t need a better location are all the sunflowers which returned.  Here’s a 5+ foot tall plant which somehow managed to grow out of a less than 1/2 inch crack in the concrete edging along the street.

sunflower growing in crack

Sometimes you can’t hold a good plant down. 

The hydrangea isn’t all for the benefit of the neighbors, I see plenty of it from the house as well and its mature size does a good job in balancing out the masses of gold and the large clump of variegated giant reed grass (arundo) at the border’s end.  Have I mentioned my love for this grass?  It’s listed as invasive in the deep south, but up here in the cold North its vigor is just enough to make it exciting.

mixed perennial border

The street border from the far end.  Golden rudbeckias still dominate but I’m fine with that 🙂

You may have noticed the fluffy white seedheads of one of this years favorite plants (although I may be alone in my favor for this spiny, poky almost-weed).  The lackluster mauve, bottlebrush blooms of the Ptilostemon diacantha were nothing to go ga-ga over, but the seed heads are interesting enough and you can still make out some of that awesome foliage as it slowly dies off.  I’m going to make a point of collecting these in a few days since the thistle seedheads look suspiciously weedy.

Ptilostemon diacantha seed heads

Ptilostemon diacantha.  The name is a mouthful and I far prefer the name suggested by Linda B.  “Ghost thistle” sounds almost friendly!

So that’s the front border.  It takes a little bit of work to get it cleaned up in the spring, I’m always looking for ways to ‘tweek’ the plantings, but for the most part when the perennials take over (like they did this year) it’s one of the lower maintainence areas in the yard.  A smarter person would stick with this plan, but I’m already considering removals and bulking up the annuals again.  Annuals are a lot of work 🙂

One “maybe” problem could be in the colors.  My weakness for yellow foliage is really showing and adding a few darker shades might not be the worst idea.  Hmmm, maybe I can replace the invasive burning bush with a nice purple smokebush?  Something to consider….

yellow foliage in the garden

Lots of yellow.  I think all the best gardens are avoiding yellow these days….

From the front border we’ll go to the foundation plantings.  They’ve taken off a bit as well!

Hello Susan

My intention this spring was to keep the front yard a little more organized and really put my foot down against the reseeders which took over last summer….. but then the rest of the world happened and just like many good intentions my organization theme fell to the wayside.  This year rudbeckias took over.

gloriosa daisies rudbeckia

Rudbeckias, black eyed Susans, gloriosa daisies, whatever you want to call them these rudbeckia hirta hybrids really bring gold to the front border.  Fyi this is as far along the bed as the edging and mulching got this spring.  You can see my spade handle just where I left it about two months ago 🙂 

For as much as I like the softer yellows, and for as summery a tint golden yellow is, bright gold is probably one of my least favorite flower colors.  The golden takeover of the front garden really goes against any design theory I have for this bed and I suppose if I were of the more controlling type it would cause me a little mental turmoil but I think I’m ok with the brightness.  It helps bring a little sun to what’s so far been a pretty wet and ‘pearly’ summer.

rudbeckia hirta gloriosa daisy perennial bed

The front border with plenty of rudbeckias.  I was firm with seedlings of amaranth, standing cypress, and oxeye daisies but this year the black eyed Susans slipped by.

A casual passerby might think things look well under control and maybe even close to well tended, but just inside the bed turmoil reigns.  Here the inner section was supposed to be a restful patch of dark leaves canna…. which it’s not… because too many ‘good enough’ plants came up and the gardener just didn’t have the heart to pull them out.  It worked out for the best though, the variety of green centered and brown eyed rudbeckia which grew is a nice tradeoff (as long as you can continue to ignore the unplanted cannas sitting on the driveway).

mixed annual rudbeckia plantings

Mixed shades of selfsown rudbeckia seedlings. 

There used to be a greater variety of darker shades mixed in with the straight gold daisies but over the last few years I’ve tended to pull the browned eyed versions.  They seem more prone to mildew in my garden and rather than look at that I just pull them and send them to the compost before their seed ripens.

mixed perennial border

A more ‘refined’ view of the border.  Less is surely more with these bright colors but to be honest the patches where the rudbeckia grows and blooms thickest are the patches which make me smile 🙂

A week or two ago would have been a good time to seed out a few zinnias to fill in for when I get tired of the fading rudbeckias but all the rain seems to have drowned my seedling tray, so we’ll see what happens now.  Fortunately there are always volunteers willing to step up.  Here are a few sunflowers coming along (in a totally inappropriate spot) and I know a few verbena bonariensis seedlings could be found elsewhere.

sunflower seedlings

The future sunflower patch.  Goldfinches have already been stopping by but they’ve got a few more weeks to wait before this seed factory starts up.

The entire border hasn’t been given over to gold.  Here’s a now classic combination of Perovskia, Echinacea, and ‘Karl Foerster” feather reed grass made famous back in the ’90s by the Washington DC based design team of Oehme, Van Sweden.  They were one of the pioneers in publicizing the ‘New American’ prairie style planting style which moved American design away from lawns and English style gardens to a more relaxed look filled with lower maintenance swaths of color and forms which sway in the summer breeze.

Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting

My Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting of ‘Karl Foerster’ grass, coneflowers, and Russian sage.

Coneflowers also anchor the far end of the bed, and the golden rudbeckias haven’t quite conquered this far down the line.

morning light perennial border

This end of the border is were my enthusiasm for weeding and maintenance always wears a little thin.  As long as the lawn stays mowed and the edges get trimmed I think the weeds and lack of deadheading aren’t quite so noticeable.

The black eyes Susans which grow in this front border are nearly all the tetraploid version of America’s native Rudbeckia hirta, and for plant geeks such as myself the history of these plants is one of those cool wintertime stories which make gardening just that much more interesting.  A version of the story can be found by clicking here, but the short summertime summary involves Dr. Blakeslee of Massachusetts’s Smith College treating seed of the native rudbeckia with the genetics altering chemical colchicine and doubling their chromosome count.  Eventually David Burpee got a hold of the new race of flowers and set his company to work refining and selecting for more colors and forms, and in 1957 introduced the plants as we know them today.  The tetraploid version is bright and big and bold, but the normal diploid Rudbeckia hirta still has its fans for its daintier, summertime wildflower look.

rudbeckia hirta quilled petals

A straight Rudbeckia hirta which showed up in the back garden.  I like the spoon shaped petals on this one and hopefully can save a few seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta comes in two basic forms, the regular and the larger tetraploid version.  They’re both short lived perennials which may bloom the first year or may die after blooming, depending on their mood, but they’re both far from troublesome.  Don’t get this Susan mixed up with the truly perennial, clump forming Rudbeckia fulgida which is just starting to come into bloom now.  This one (usually grown as the ‘Goldsturm’ version, another Oehm,Van Sweden favorite as well as Karl Foerster introduction) is another indestructible rudbeckia but for me it’s just too much of a perennial commitment to gold 🙂

rudbeckia hirta light yellow

Another wild rudbeckia hirta which I’m keeping an eye on out back.  It’s a lighter yellow shade with a spidery inward curl to the petals (which often shows up in the darker ones as well).  I like it! 

So there you have it, the glory of gloriosa daisies in the garden of a gardener who doesn’t like gold.  Some will surely point out that I’m in gold loving denial, but daisies and gold are completely common and unrefined and I’m going to try and claim it was against my will and better taste that they took over this summer.  Either that or I just don’t care what good taste and garden trends dictate!

Enjoy summer 🙂

June. Rained out.

Don’t get me wrong,  I’m not complaining about the rain, but this kind of weather would have been much more welcome in April or May when things were going brown and shriveling up.  Still I love it.  It’s perfect for the procrastinating planter and the person who hates to lug the hose from plant to plant (that would be me), and by now even the grass has put on a green color once again!

gerbera daisies planter

Green grass makes any color look acceptable.   I’m finding that gerber daisies are one of my wife’s favorite plants, so on the rare occasion she comes to the nursery who am I to say no?

The rain is also not a problem bloom-destroying-wise since my garden seems to wade through a lull at this time of year.  There are plenty of blooms which could be gracing my beds right now but I just don’t have many of them in the ground.  My garden peaks closer to the midpoint of summer and beyond, and I’m fine with the extra wait since this time of year is when I always seem to be ironing out the last plantings and thinking through all the projects which may still happen… such as widening the front border (again).

mixed perennial border

Up near the house the blue of the ornamental fescue fills in an earlier expansion of the foundation bed, here closer to the street you can’t even make out the extra foot or so I added to this bed, so it barely counts as a project.

Sometimes with your nose to the wheel day in and day out you forget that there’s plenty of good coming together while you slave away at the not-so-good.  Here if the viewing angle is just right, the front street border looks fairly well put together.  A thick mulch of shredded leaves, a nice edge of shredded bark, and removal of nearly half of everything in the bed gives it an ‘under control’ look for at least one month this year.  A clean bed edging always helps,  but expanding another foot into the lawn really gave some breathing room… I should remember to enforce this rule next year as everything seeds and spreads out into the newly open space!

June perennial border

The front street border this morning.  The dark magenta lychnis coronaria and white oxeye daisies are essentially weeds, but if there are just a few I guess it’s socially acceptable.

A plant which spreads out wherever and whenever it wants is my trusty giant reed grass (Arundo Donax ‘variegata’).  I smile and make excuses for it when people comment about its possibly too-large size, but deep down I’m proud of it.  I won’t even bat an eye when it consumes the iris and other plantings around it 🙂

arundo donax variegata

Arundo donax ‘variegata’ overcoming the far end of the street border. 

Another spreader is the ‘Tiger eyes’ sumac which sits in a couple spots around the yard.  For me yellow leaved and chartreuse plants are an addiction and I am constantly in need of reminding of the fine line between a few accents and the way-too-much stage, but the tiger takes care of this on his own.  He (actually a she since this clone of cutleaf sumacs produces the colorful red female seed heads when mature) will pepper your beds with small yellow shoots here and there and I suppose someday take over the world, but for now I just pull the innocent little shoots.

drought tolerant perennials

Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ is putting up the first of many fluffy pink seedheads.  They’re always dancing about in the wind and keeping things lively.  Maybe a few clumps closer to the light pole would look nice next to the bright mess of ‘Tiger Eyes’ which surrounds it right now.

For some reason this spring the kids have been coming along on nursery runs.  I suspect they have some hidden agenda which includes a stop at the Dollar Store but regardless I’m going to enjoy their company while it lasts.  Both insist on helping pick their own plants and sometimes even want to plant.

lychnis coronaria

Bright magenta Lychnis coronaria faced down with a few sunpatients.  The girl insisted on putting labels front and center, I couldn’t quite get out the reason for it.  Also I couldn’t talk her out of the magenta-orange combo.  This might have to be replanted once she moves on to other things.

The front borders are looking pretty good right now but there are also a few nice surprises out back amongst the weeds.  One of my favorites is the first blooms on this strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis).  It’s been a struggle getting this one to bloom since the harsh winters seem to do a number on the crowns, but this year a few made it, and I finally get to see the strawberry-ish blooms on the relatively short stalks.

digitalis mertonensis strawberry foxglove

A cross-species hybrid of two foxgloves, the strawberry foxglove should be slightly more perennial than the regular type, and hopefully come true from seed as well. 

Another spike out in the garden (I like my spiky bloomers) is this verbascum which hitch-hiked in with a gift plant.  You know a plant (in this case a shrub dogwood) is coming from a good garden when two special plants tag along on the root ball.  This verbascum (maybe V. chaixii?) is blooming nicely now, and follows up some nice scilla blooms which flowered in spring.  It was only the dogwood I wanted, but surprises are always fun as well!

verbascum chaixii

Verbascum blooming amongst the sunflower seedlings which I didn’t have the resolve to rip up….. and yes that’s a huge thistle in front of the fence.  I like them, please don’t judge me.

Some would call the uninvited sunflower seedlings weeds, many would call the verbascum the same, and many more would immediately rip out the thistle, but I have a more laissez faire approach to the less invasive of the volunteers.  I let plenty of things go, but oddly enough this year the beautiful purple campanula glomerata is what I’m ripping out.  I’m trying to reclaim the red border, and it’s the campanula which has made a takeover play.  Enough is enough so a few weeks ago roundup was sprayed and it’s only a few pretty stalks which remain.  I’ll hand pull these and hopefully with a little summertime vigilance will be able to clear this plant out.

campanula glomerata with clematis

Once the campanula was beaten back I realized there are a few really nice plants in this bed.  Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ is one of my favorites and it deserves much more than the hardscrabble life of a vine left to struggle along the ground…. but it does look even better with the campanula blooms :/ 

Another borderline weedy area is the meadow.  Last summer’s dry spell weakened the lawn turf so much that it barely had the strength to send up bloom stalks this spring.  That’s a shame since I love the look of the tall grass waving in the wind and enjoy watching the bunnies work their way through each morning filling up on seedheads.  But the lazy gardener needs to take these things in stride (I could have made the effort to water last year) and realize the daisies and butterfly weed show up much better in the more open meadow.

meadow planting asclepias tuberosa

The meadow garden with some particularly drought tolerant butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  Depending on my mood and the weather this area will be mown down in late summer to neaten things up keep the taller plants from dominating.

The butterflies are enjoying the meadow, but everything else is focused on the linden blooms (Tilia europaea I think).  The tree buzzes with honey and bumble bees, flies, beetles, wasps, and a load of other things which I can’t even identify, and the scent is fantastic and fills the yard with a soft flowery honey aroma.  It’s a decent size tree and I can’t even imagine the number of insects which fill its branches.  If only I could follow the bees home and get a cut of the honey they’re making from all this.

linden blooms tilia basswood

June is when the linden tree is in its glory. 

Another plant which does its own thing without me raising a finger is my trusty hydrangea ‘Annabelle’.  New hydrangeas will come and go, but I can’t think of a reason good enough to cut this one loose.  It can flop, but in the spring it’s cut back completely and between lean living and full sun it holds up well enough.  If I had the room I’d do a mass of these, maybe under a grove of white birches, but here all I have room for is a few scattered along the edge of the yard.  Obviously I love the chartreuse of the opening blooms best of all since the next best thing to chartreuse foliage is a chartreuse bloom!

hydrangea annabelle

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’.  You can count on this one to bloom every year.

I’ve seen some photos of the newest ‘Annabelle’ siblings and they’re an amazing range or pinks to near reds in addition to the never out of style whites, so I would surely have to add one or two, but I think I’ll always have room for good old ‘Annabelle’.  Speaking of room, it’s still a never ending seed starting and cutting taking rollercoaster here and for some reason I still start more.  Hopefully I’ll be patting myself on the back when these late marigolds and amaranthus come into bloom and everything else is looking a bit tired!

seedlings sown in summer

Still sowing seeds and taking cuttings well into June.  They grow so fast at this time of year, I should have fresh flowers in no time at all!

I better get this posted, it’s been a work in progress since the weekend, not because there’s any amazing content in this post, but because I’m stealing minutes from birthday parties, baseball games, and pool time and would rather sneak in a trip to the nursery than sit at the computer 🙂  But lazy summer days are coming and things should ease up shortly, until then may you enjoy summer as much as I do!