Monday, August 25, 2014

Pocketful of Sunshine

The shade is winning and I'm tired of it. The joe pye weed (eupatorium) looks like a shepherds crook as it bends towards the sun and the cup plant (silphium) is down right Seussian. When I planted them a zillion years ago their spots were open and sunny. Fast forward to right now and there is little sun to be had. But all that shade has met its end.

Say hello to my little friend!

I positioned myself in the shady dog run and began sawing away. I like the coolness the shade brings to my garden but dislike its tendency to block the sun. While I know that's contradictory, I don't care. The only way to make peace with all this leafery is to cut out the high branches that block the most sun while leaving others that provide manageable shade. 

Truly sad silphium

and its partner in misery, Joe Pye Weed

These skinny branches supported a wide canopy. A few swipes of the Shade Blaster and they were history.

Small plastic dinosaurs say it best.


Opening up the canopy created more light for the entire area. Deam's rudbeckia thrive in the dry partial shade in this little corner along with 'Blades of Sun' snowberry and a 'Cool Splash' diervilla.

This is actually on a tiny slope that allows the 'Cool Splash' more moisture than the rudbeckia. Native diervilla rivularis and diervilla lonicera grow well here, too. A rusty metal cat tail marks the tiny white turtle head plants (chelone glabra) growing in the bog. They will eventually grow to be 4 feet tall. Shasta daisies grow in the very front.

A pocketful of sunshine was just what my garden needed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

You're Not From Around Here, Are You?

I've given up thinking I have my garden figured out. It's a schizophrenic beauty with more moods than a hormonal teenager. I'm convinced when plants just disappear that they've been shown the gate in the middle of the night only to be replaced by someone more to her liking.

I wander my garden daily and recently noticed a new plant squished in next to the phlox. I'm not sure who got the ax to make room for the newest addition, but I had nothing to do with it.

I didn't plant this and none of my neighbors grow it, either.

Who is the new guy?

Heliopsis 'Summer Nights'

Heliopsis 'Summer Nights' has moved in next door to my phlox. With his long dark legs and golden auburn good looks, my plants have excellent taste. As for his name, I'm not even going to ask since my phlox 'David' and 'Laura' are the proud parents of a pink baby I've named 'Summer Fling'. Maybe all these warm balmy nights have left my plants in the mood for some summer lovin'. But if I end up with a phlox/heliopsis hybrid, there might be some explaining to do.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Amazingly Underwhelming

I've decided to start a revolution. Nothing too big, mind you, just a small take over of the plant labeling industry. I'm tired of plants labeled "partial shade" and "moist, well drained soil". I need absolute, bare bones honesty. They won't always be fun to read and could send smaller nurseries into financial collapse, but at least I'll always know what I'm getting myself into.

All orchids will be labeled "Don't buy this plant. It will die." while my trumpet vine should have been marked with a bold WD - "This plant strives for world domination while refusing to bloom." As for my 'River Mist' sea oats a simple "This plant hates you. Walk away" would have sufficed. Instead, I fell for its variegated charms and promised it the moist, well drained soil it so coyly asked for.

The 'River Mist' sea oats are growing between the spigelia and the fence full of thornless blackberries next to the crepe myrtle. They are due north of the iris. Finding Waldo would be easier than finding them in this picture.

Despite being redesigned last year, this shady corner suffers a severe case of  BGB - Big Green Blobness. When the spigellia are in bloom, its spectacular. But the rest of the summer it's about as interesting as watching paint dry. The 'River Mist' sea oats were supposed to add height, light, and interest to a spot next to the crepe myrtle. Aren't they fabulous?

This damn plant is the same size it was three years ago. It stubbornly, steadfastly, absolutely refuses to grow. As a matter of fact, it may even be smaller than it was when I bought it. It has been watered, fertilized with worm poo, bat crap, and composted leaves. It has been ignored and then pampered in a futile attempt to unlock its secrets to growth.

It just will NOT grow. Had I known this when I bought it, I would have left it behind.

I had to stand in the garden and look down to take this picture. It was supposed to be three feet tall. Instead, it tops out at about 12 inches.


Unless you're able to impart the secret to growing these to the three foot height promised on the label, they're headed for my fall plant swap. But what should I replace them with? This spot is too shady for variegated phlox or joe pye weed and too dry for many other shade loving perennials. 

As for the trumpet vine, it finally decided to bloom.

Orange trumpet vine

** I'm having camera issues, so all pix were taken with my cell phone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Snapshot

Every summer I live by one simple rule: do nothing. With school dominating my life from mid-August to mid-June, I spend my summer days in teacher rehab - I go to bed the same day I woke up, I don't grade anything, and read books written for adults. It's fantastic.

My garden is designed to be a summer garden because that's when I'm home to enjoy it. Grab a drink and pull up a chair.

The sunny border near the rain garden is a pollinator paradise. Hummingbirds go crazy for the red silene regia 'Prairie Fire'.

The dogs all hang out under the cherry tree.

This phlox is the love child of 'David' and possibly 'Laura' but no one's talking. It has purple stems and petals with ragged edges.

Let me know if you'd like seeds. It's about three feet tall.

A bit of shade under the trumpet vine

Mix and match monarda

One of the screens in an upstairs window fell out so I was able to take a picture of the sunny side and rain garden.

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and native mountain mint (pycnanthemum muticum)  love afternoon shade.

The boss

 Annual rudbeckia hirta collapsed into the tansy during a storm and decided they liked it so much they stayed. 

Insect on the dalea

My 'Abraham Darby' roses were slow to perk up this summer but have finally decided to grow and bloom.

Pitcher pot of of purple basil

Zinnias and white balloon flowers next to the variegated oregano I bought at Joy Creek.

Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers. I grew them all from seed. Seedlings don't argue, whine, or ask if they have homework.

My blue mist flowers and 'Monck' asters have already started blooming.

The view out the kitchen window.

Adios! I have a hot date with that hammock.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Garden Logic

I've decided that gardeners have a totally different version of logic than everyone else. Or maybe it's just me. What makes sense to me rarely makes sense to anyone else. My neighborhood once advertised a baby sale. I called the community manager and asked if twins were buy one, get one free. She didn't think it was funny.

After recently spending three days in Portland, Oregon wandering through fabulous gardens, I decided I needed to make a few changes to my own. Would I wait til fall to transplant, prune, and redesign part of my shade garden? Of course not. While that might have made sense to the rest of the world, it made no sense to me. 

I was tired of my boring shady bed and of the big green blob that my garden had become. I wanted to fix it and I wanted to fix it now. It didn't matter that it was raining and that the best time to transplant anything is the spring and fall. As a matter of fact, by doing it all in the rain, I wouldn't have to water. Now that makes perfect sense.

Before the rain started, I should have taken pictures for the perfect Before/After post. But I didn't. I just ran outside, ripped out plants, cut down branches, and grabbed my shovel.


Out came the overused kalimeris, the storm damaged salvia, and the hidden white pot filling the spot I couldn't find a shrub for. Hellebore were moved, and variegated columbine put in their place. Years of planning and overanalyzing my dry shade had helped me create a shade garden full of thriving plants but it was boring, as in stuck in an elevator with a taxonomist boring. 

Fix No. 1

This area had previously housed a big white pot because I couldn't find any variegated shrubs that would thrive in dry shade. So I just filled the spot with a pot and called it a day. But after removing several branches, my shady spot became bright enough for a callicarpa 'Duet'. This variegated beauty berry attracts wildlife and can tolerate mild drought. 

 Variegated foliage will keep a shade garden from looking like a plant cave.

I hadn't planned on moving the pot here but I couldn't budge it any further. I added a variegated sweet potato vine and some coleus. I needed color and interest but didn't want anything too bright.

Coleus doesn't actually like dry shade but I don't mind giving it a little extra water. It's a cheap solution while I decide how to brighten this area.

Fix No. 2

Redesigned last fall, I love the shady parts of my garden but need more color, zip, pizzazz. I pulled out some kalimeris, a tough perennial that thrives in dry bright shade and is overused in my garden, and a mystery euphorbia that goes dormant every summer.

A moist, mild summer had left the soil loose and cooperative so I moved some hellebore to make room for purple heuchera, coleus, and 'Leprechaun's Gold' variegated columbine. It will take another year or two for this area to fill in.

I love this!

These coleus were root bound and dried out but thriving - my favorite combination. I like a plant that laughs at adversity.

A homemade iron plant stake that marks the mouth of the soaker hose. 

Fix No. 3

Zinnias, tansy, and black eyed susans (rudbeckia hirta) grow well in hot, bright sun. A cypress vine is climbing the bird house.

Summer in the DC area can be unpredictable and stormy. The last couple of storms brought high winds that kept breaking branches  off my salvia 'Maraschino'. Tired of the carnage I moved the salvia to my sunny bed and replaced it with an ornamental grass, miscanthus 'Little Zebra'.

I redesign this area every spring as I look for plants that will block the curtain and can withstand high winds. I think I might replace the zinnias this fall with another 'Little Zebra'.

Is that a curtain on the outside of the window? Why, yes it is! Made from mildew resistant marine cloth, it absorbs the intense afternoon heat and solves the problem of reflected heat frying my plants. The miscanthus, which was slightly crispy when I bought it, will eventually block most of the view of the curtain.