Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bent but not broken...

Have you ever watched a movie where so many rotten things happened to the main character that you were either laughing or cringing? That pretty much describes the week I've had....  I just haven't gotten to the laughing part yet. It will come. It always does.

I spent almost the entire weekend in the garden. I finished my transplanting, took down two small trees, redug all the trenches between the grass and the gardens, and started lightly mulching all the new plantings. I'm sore but exhilarated. Hard work always clears my head.

Do you grow impatiens in your garden? I usually grow them in pots but last summer I stuck a few in the ground in between the columbine. They were beautiful and carefree, and even though they didn't attract any wildlife, they did attract me, and that was enough.

This past winter DC and northern VA were walloped with two massive blizzards. In a normal winter we may get a few inches of snow but anything more is unusual. So when Snowmageddon aka Snowpocalypse hit, delivering almost 7 feet of snow in less than a month, I figured my impatiens were goners.


This is the view from my front porch. The stick in the distance is my mailbox. Most of the snow melted between storms. 








Each storm brought about 3 ft of snow plus another foot or so inbetween the storms, just to keep things interesting. When I lived in upstate NY near the Canadian border, heavy snowfall was a regular part of winter and the snowplows cruised the roads daily. When I lived in North and South Dakota, snow and subzero temps were typical. During Snowpocalypse, the entire area shut down completely, including  many government offices.

So imagine my surprise this summer when a patch of impatiens popped up in the garden, not too far from the original cluster. I hadn't expected the seeds to survive such a snowy winter and was thrilled and comforted to see their pink faces brightening the shade. I spent the weekend thinking about the impatiens and other plants that sprouted with such vigor this past spring. They could have floundered and died, but didn't. They survived and so will I. :0)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A different kind of flower...

Today was not a day for gardening. Unaware of the how the day would unfold, I slipped into the garden early this morning and wandered lazily through the dog run, eyeing my beds. I pulled out soaker hoses that need to be rearranged, scattered seeds from dry seedheads, and checked on new transplants. The plans for the day were simple: breakfast, shower, attend daughters soccer game, work in the garden. Several plants are still blooming and I was looking forward to enjoying their color as I finished my transplanting.




















This lantana grows in front of one of our rain barrels. It's an effective and inexpensive disguise. A giant Prague viburnum grows to the left and red rock roses grow in the front and bloom in early summer. 













We've had a few nights in the 40's but these are still blooming. Hooray! They're perennial in tropical areas but are annuals here.




















My dogwood is in completel denial about the impending winter weather and has decided to only let a small branch of leaves change colors. If it were a child, it would have taken its toys and gone home by now. Maybe if it stays green, the cold weather will go away!!





















This blue clematis has decided to celebrate fall by blooming just one more time. Planted in a moist sunny spot, this will be completely covered in flowers in early summer.

Instead of gardening today, I spent the afternoon/evening in the ER with my daughter. One teenage girl running at high speed + a very determined goalie + the hard ground = a nasty collision, a CT scan, lots of xrays and a concussion. Instead of  tending my garden outside this weekend, I'll be tending the slightly-broken-but-will-mend flower asleep upstairs. She is the ultimate perennial. Even if you mow her down, she comes right back!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

From start to finish

NOTE: I fixed the broken photo links, but if they're still not showing up, please let me know!!

I don't really know how to describe today. It started off simply, like the soft opening notes of a beautiful piece of music. Strong coffee, blue sky, easy weather, wonderful friendship. I puttered around the garden as a friend took pictures, our conversation comfortable. We chatted, she photographed, I dug and transplanted. All was well and we marveled at the monarch caterpillar I had discovered Friday hanging so sturdily from the underside of a leaf of white gooseneck loosestrife.






It's thick body curled into a J, I watched and waited for something to happen but nothing did. It just hung there, its schedule oblivious to my desire. I sighed and wandered back toward my shovel, hours of work ahead. I found the caterpillar comforting, its new body soon to form the wings that would carry it aloft, and replace in the migration the bodyless monarch had I found near the dogwood on Friday.



As the afternoon drifted by, I stayed close to the bed of loosestrife. I had too much, it's eager roots shooting through the soil like jets poised for flight. They raced between the milkweed and suffocated the phlox. I dug, and stopped, dug and stopped, afraid of disturbing the caterpillar but too fascinated to leave. The caterpillar ignored me and I returned to wandering, the dogwood garden waiting patiently as I puttered between pots of plants and bags of plump bare roots. I grabbed a armful of plants and wandered back toward the loosestrife. And then I stopped completely. Hanging from a stem of phlox that had been bare twenty minutes before was a monarch butterfly, fresh from its chrysalis.


If you look to the very far left in the middle of this photo, you can see the caterpillar.


Its wings bright like stained glass, it was motionless. I gasped and ran to find my camera. I ran back quietly, hopping through the grass like a rabbit. The butterfly slowly made its way to the top of the stem and began to open and close its wings.


 



















This picture shows the butterfly right before it flew to the crepe myrtle while the caterpillar contiues to hang from the loosestrife leaf.


I had never been so close to a monarch before. The garden was quiet, the dogs asleep in the sun. I continued to take pictures and the butterfly continued to ignore me. I backed up into the grass and it slowly climbed to the top of the stem, opened its wings and took flight to the nearest branch. 
 






I was so close to the monarch I could have touched it. It continued to open and close its wings to warm itself and dry its wings.




Suddenly the garden erupted in sound, like the crashing symbals and thundering drums of a crescendo. I spun around as my dogs raced along the garden bed by the trumpet creeper and through the dog run, barking in fury. Fat and grey, the squirrel escaped through the fence and across the neighbors yard. Lucy, the most bumbling of my beasties, continued running towards the deutzia and I turned back to the butterfly. It was gone. As I headed across the yard, Lucy came trotting by, her mouth full, her head low. Too small to be a squirrel and too big to be a mouse, I stared at her in confusion as she slowly edged towards the dog run. "Lucy!" I called, my tone strong and demanding. She stopped and her mouth popped open. A small sparrow fell to the grass, it's eyes blinking, its body shaking from the frantic beating of its heart, its head hanging at an odd angle. I stopped and picked up the small bird. I couldn't move. It lay in my glove looking at me, blinking, quivering, silent. Softly laying the sparrow in a patch of anemones outside the gate, safe from the dogs, I stood and watched it shake in rhythm to its heart. It was painful to watch and I turned away. Death came slowly to the sparrow, the shaking giving way to twitching and then stillness.

From a butterflies first flight to a sparrows last, I had seen so much. I carried the dead bird to the woods near my house and covered it in brush. The garden was quiet, the music subdued. My garden is a concerto, an opera, a symphony but I am not the conductor. I am an usher, privy to the performance but not a part of it. I seat plants where they'll be happy, I keep everything organized, and then sit back and enjoy, even during the sad parts.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Buckeye Bonanza and Garden Freebies

NOTE: Pictures have been added!

Every spring and fall, I spend every spare moment in the garden, composting, rearranging plants, finding spots for seedlings, weeding, etc. My methodical mental planning of where I want all the plants to go borders on the absurd, since I always change my mind mid-dig. Every spring and fall I stand back and survey my domain, smug in my satisfaction that this year my garden will achieve a sense of perfection and splendor found only in novels and movies. I sigh, deep and happily, knowing that all my hard work will pay off. Cloaked in fabulosity, my garden slides sweetly into night, and I sleep in bliss.

Fast forward to mid-July: It's brutally hot, hasn't rained in weeks, the rain barrels are empty, and my garden is crispy to the touch. I move slowly through the yard in fear of creating so much friction I spontaneaously combust and burn down the whole damn thing. I turn on the hose to saturate the brittle soil and the folks at the city water co. smile in delight.

Every summer, I water, pinch, weed, deadhead and water some more. But that's all. I do not believe in micromanaging Mother Nature and I let my garden drift into barely controlled chaos. The plants tumble into each other and either thrive or die. I wander the garden and take mental notes of who's happy and who's not. I am a tough love gardener and plants that are quite determined to die, despite my care, are yanked unceremoniously from the soil. In the past year I've created a new category of Plants That Don't Contribute to supplement the two most popular, Dead and Alive. Plants That Don't Contribue are the equivalent of botanical placeholders. They're green and alive but don't attract wildlife, or are green and barely alive and have begun to irritate me. Placement in the last category is a guaranteed one-way ticket out of my garden.
























'Chocolate' eupatorium was first given to me as a seedling from a friend. I never dead head it to make sure I always have seedlings to pass on. Here it grows next to a 'Purple Dome' aster.

That's where Terri comes in. Why garden in just one yard when you can vicariously garden in two? Astilbe, japanese anemones I can never keep watered enough, and ibiris growing in too much shade, an extra 'Blue Fortune' agastache to ensure a summer of butterflies, coreopsis, eupatorium 'Chocolate' and obediant plant seedlings that have come together, organized and threatened to take over the garden are all headed to her house. She's thrilled and dreaming of a garden. I'm thrilled to be helping her with one.

About two years ago I planted perennial snapdragons on the premise that they would attract buckeye butterfly caterpillars. Last summer the plants grew thick and strong but I never saw any caterpillars or even buckeye butterflies.












This picture was taken in late spring. The snaps are growing near lavender, rose campion, and orange milkweed. The black wrought iron fence to the left forms part of the dog run. This cultivar is called Dulcinea's Heart.



Perennial snapdragons are similar to some salvias in that they need to be cut back by half, without mercy or remorse, in order to continue their seasonal careers as garden wonders. I knew I needed to cut them back, but I hesitated, not wanting to lose any of the beautiful flowers. Stick them in a little vase and bring them inside? Sigh... this didn't occur to me. My hesitation finally gave way to absolute amnesia and by the time I remembered to cut them back, they had split down the middle from the weight of their beauty and looked pathetic, the stems too close to the ground, the plant almost prostrate in its utter squashedness. I was angry at myself and convinced that, once again, my snaps wouldn't make it into the butterfly buffet. 

Yesterday, when I should have been running errands like a responsible adult, I was wandering the garden, testing out my new Felco's and pruning the trumpet creeper. When I finally headed to my car, a bit dirtier than when I started, I noticed a small greyish caterpillar clinging tightly to my jeans. I scooped it up and ran inside. Flipping through my butterfly book, I suddenly stopped at the caterpillar page. In full color before me lay a picture of a buckeye butterfly caterpillar that matched the small creature in my palm. I scanned the text, nervous I would put it back in the wrong plant. Back into the garden I ran, screeching to a halt in front of the dry, ragged snaps. The leaves were covered in caterpillars of every size. They roamed the branches, oblivious to the plants faded beauty.  I stopped counting at 12 and ran back into the house, jumping up and down as my 15 year old watched me and laughed. And cloaked in fabulosity, my garden slid sweetly into night.  

A buckeye butterfly caterpillar in the snapdragons. I also found them in the verbena bonariensis, which is pictured below. They seem really spikey but were so soft and vulnerable in my hand.