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Saturday, June 30, 2012

This One's For You!

Flax (Linum 'Appar') is a tough, heat resistant perennial that grows near my rain garden.

I was recently awarded the Lovely Blog award from Helene at Graphicality UK. Thanks!! I'm supposed to pass it on to ten other bloggers and reveal seven random facts about myself. But I couldn't create a list of only ten blogs so to every blog listed on my blogroll, congrats! You are lovely, too!

Hungry bumblebee on the monarda

1.  I am the U turn queen! Getting lost doesn't frustrate me and I'm convinced most directional mistakes can be resolved by backtracking. I once U-turned my way through Maine. I do not have a GPS but I do have an MAP that I'm fairly good at reading.


2. I am energetic and easy going. A crazy storm ripped through my corner of the world last night, destroying our patio umbrella and smashing my tomato plant, but at least my garden is well watered. I don't have a tree in the middle of my living room right now, so no complaints here.

Argh! I found the tomato cage at the bottom of the basement stairs. 
I'm so thankful the stem didn't break.

I tied the remaining stems to the red and yellow supports with a piece cut from a plastic newspaper delivery bag since I can't find my plant ties. I'm hoping that will help it survive the next storm.

I was able to find all the tomatoes that had blown off the plant. These are Heatmaster tomatoes. They were bred to resist disease and thrive in hot, humid environments. I just hope they taste good. 

3. I'm currently reading Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros. I like books that allow me to immerse myself in a world wholly different than my own.

Broken dahlia stem
Do you think it will grow another branch and still bloom in the fall?

4.  I'm a total pacifist until I feel like slapping someone. That's not to say that I just walk around randomly slapping people. But when I see someone doing something truly insane, such as texting while driving, I just want to slap 'em silly.

This frog has doubled in size since moving in to the frog pond below and is quite tolerant of  our photo sessions.

5. I just turned 43, my son is 20, and my daughter is 17. My son leaves soon for Army boot camp and has chosen to become a combat medic. My father was a Navy medic in VietNam so the career choice was bittersweet for me.

This honeybee was upside down in the trumpet vine flowers. If you look closely, you can see all the pollen on its legs.

6. I recently saw the Dave Matthews Band in concert. It was wonderful!

Agastache, 'Westerland' rose, and verbena nonariensis

7. I do not have a SmartPhone, IPad, IPod, Tablet, or 3D TV. I have one TV, an old school CD player, and a cell phone that randomly turns itself on and off.

Early morning garden
The sedum and I are grateful the hammock didn't blow into the garden like it did earlier this week.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Outsmarting the Sun: Dealing With Reflected Heat

Every year as I plan my container garden, I agonize over what to put directly in front of my kitchen window. It isn't a matter of feeling overwhelmed with the choices but of survival. My house faces east and my back patio bakes in full direct afternoon sun.

Blue Daze is a tough trailing plant that does well in full sun and dry conditions. 

The intensity of the sun is magnified by a concrete 'stone' patio, vinyl siding, and reflected heat from my windows. All windows reflect heat but because mine have been treated with a film to reduce the amount of heat entering the house, the amount of light, which plants receive as heat, is greater. On a 90 degree day like today, the plants in front of the window receive light at temps of 100 degrees or more. It's like being fried by a laser beam. Despite daily watering, the signs of heat stress are unmistakable: reduced growth, burned leaves, wilting.

Pulling dry leaves off the salvia is a daily chore, despite the ridiculous amounts of water it receives.

They spend the entire afternoon wilting from the intense reflected heat.

I thought I had solved this problem last fall when I transplanted a squished 'Maraschino' salvia out of the garden and into a big pot on the patio. I thought the salvia would be tough enough to handle the Window of  Death and I could watch hummingbirds feed on its nectar. As long as the temperature didn't rise much above 83, the salvia was happy. But it's June in Virginia and the temps this weekend are supposed to be over 100. Tired of being broiled every afternoon, the plants struck back and left their warning by the coffee pot.
Gunning the engine to drown out the frenzied thumping of my heart, I headed to the closest coffee shop and began to brainstorm a solution.

1. Fantasy: Move the salvia to a more sheltered spot, buy another giant pot, a jumbo bag of potting soil, and a huge clump of ornamental grass. Reality: In addition to being expensive, positioning a stand of razor sharp grass so close to the door seemed hazardous, considering the sudden lock picking abilities of the salvia.

2. Fantasy: Buy a silk plant that looks like a giant clump of ornamental grass. Reality: In addition to looking hideous, it would probably spontaneously combust. Burning the house down is NOT a solution.

Gulping my espresso, I considered the extreme. It seemed crazy, but that is often my specialty. If I didn't act soon, my container garden, safety, and sanity would be at risk. I looked around nervously, tightened my belt, and crushed my paper cup into an angry ball. "I'm at a coffee shop in my bathrobe, for cryin' out loud!", I growled. Sanity was no longer an issue.


Armed with a hammer, an awl, and cup hooks, I pounded, screwed, and hung my weirdness out for all to see. Standing on the patio, surveying my work, I looked around and yelled, "I love my red salvia, globe thistle, and dahlias more than I love convention, tradition, or anything resembling normalcy."  Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and fortunately, my neighbors weren't home.

Using an old tension rod, cup hooks, and an unused curtain made of thick, dark green fabric

I hung the curtain on the outside of my kitchen window to help stop the reflected heat that was frying my plants. It can easily be removed. 

Within 30 minutes, the plants had stopped wilting and the patio felt cooler. I can still see the hummers from the other windows. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sometimes I Just Get Lucky

Outside my kitchen door stands two massive Rose of Sharon shrubs. I wish I could tell you how I methodically researched them and amended the soil with guano hand harvested from the Woolly Siberian Snow Rat to have created such incredible growth, but I can't. Eight years ago I saw them at a local garden center, went home and Googled 'rose of sharon', decided they probably wouldn't die, and then drove back and bought them. I planted them in soil amended with store bought compost and that was it. Eight years later, I'm still not sure why they're so huge. I guess I just got lucky.

Pollinators of all types can be found visiting the flowers. Even hummingbirds seek them out. 

They do an excellent job of shading the back of the house, which receives afternoon sun. Plumbago, heart leaf asters, and white geraniums function as a shade loving ground cover beneath its branches. A pink rose and 'Laura' phlox grow near the rain barrel.

They reach almost to the second story.

A pink clematis grows along its branches.

The flowers open pink but fade to blue as they age.

Hundreds of double flowers will cover the shrub for the next several weeks.

With the red ring in the center, they look like little hibiscus. 

 Every fall after they've dropped their leaves, I dump an entire 40 lb bag of composted leaves (Leaf Gro) at the base of each shrub. If I remember, I also give them several cup fulls of Plant Tone, an organic fertilizer. When my worm bins are full and I still have extra kitchen scraps, I throw them behind the shrubs to decompose. One of my dogs occasionally liberates a funky apple and gives it a proper burial in the garden.

I only prune them if I find crossed branches or if the interior becomes too dense. Last winter I discovered a few branches had lifted the shingles on the fireplace bump out, so out they came. 

 Thinning out the interior every couple of years allows for more light to penetrate the heart of the shrub. It also helps create increased branching so that I don't end up with a shrub that's only leafy on the exterior but bare and twiggy on the interior. Right now the interior has a few open spots, but that's okay. The Rose of Sharon is a vigorous grower that will create new branches that will bloom next summer.

When I lay on my couch and look out the window, I feel like I'm in a tree house.

Summer 2011

Growing Conditions: Morning shade and afternoon sun
  • Thrives in peripheral reflected light from the surrounding patio.
  • I think this must be a fairly moist spot because I rarely have to water the shrubs, although the surrounding plants get thirsty. The area directly under its branches is dry and shady. The soil is well draining.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Hello, Summer!

Shasta daisies and tall red 'I don't know their name' daylilies

Small 'Little Business' daylily

These trumpet lilies are over 6 feet tall! Heliopsis and 'Coral Reef' monarda grow in the background.

Pastel zinnias and'Ava' agastache grow in containers near the blue and pink blossoms of the Rose of Sharon.

 Red and fuschia monarda
I like their synchronized clashing. It feels exuberant to me.

A much calmer grouping of kalimeris, sedum, 'Sun Queen' veronica, and slightly squished linnaria near a native ash tree.

Red maltese cross (Lychinis) and variegated Painter's Palette grow near a thriving clump of toad lilies.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Big Chop: Summer Pruning for Spring Flowers

Every June I celebrate the end of the school year with my annual prune-a-thon. All the insanity involved with being a public school teacher with 165 students vanishes as I chop away at my spring blooming shrubs. It's cathartic and rejuvenating. My stress and frustration dissipate as I cut away the unnecessary growth, revealing the heart of the shrub, and priming it for the summer growth that guarantees spring flowers. I cut the year away and use the summer to recover, much like my shrubs. By the time they're full of new growth, so am I.

If I don't prune the  shrubs, I won't have any flowers. 

Sweetspire 'Little Henry' is native to Virginia and grows well in a moist corner of my garden. Long, honey scented flowers cover the shrub every spring, attracting bees and other pollinators.

The flowers form on the branches that grew last summer. Wood that grew during the summer of 2011 developed the flower buds that bloomed during spring 2012. Flowers only grow on last season's wood.

Here's the sweetspire this week before I pruned it. It was completely finished blooming and had started to grow new branches.

Every seed pod needed to be removed. I want the shrub to put its energy into creating new growth, not setting seed.

Three sweetspire grow in my dogwood garden. They are suckering shrubs that are very easy to grow in moist soil. If left unpruned, they'll stop blooming and will crowd out neighboring plants. This one is putting the squeeze on a nearby campanula.

Here's the same sweetspire before being pruned. It needs to be reduced to about one third of its original size. 

After being pruned

 The campanula and milkweed now have more room and greater exposure to sunlight. Pruning the shrub also gives me a chance to pull out any suckers and cut away broken or dead branches.

 The brown stems are several years old. The green stems growing off the brown stems are last years growth. This is the growth that produced flowers this spring. 

 The smooth green stems are recent growth that will produce flower buds this year. The buds will bloom next spring.

I cut the branches on an angle near growth buds.

Slender deutzia is an extremely easy old fashioned shrub that requires minimal care. This cultivar is called 'Pink a Boo'.

These flowers all developed on branches that grew last summer. If I don't cut it back so it can grow more branches, I won't have any flowers next spring.

I look forward to this lush display every year.

After blooming but before being pruned

After I pruned the deutzia, they looked like plucked chickens. I cut out all the growth from last year and shortened the new growth to keep the size and shape of the shrubs consistent.
 After pruning them, I gave each shrub about two heaping cups of Espoma Plant Tone mixed with Dr. Earth's Flower fertilizer, and then watered deeply. This fall I will cover the base of the deutzia and sweetspire, both of which are deciduous, with a big pile of compost. Winter rains will work it into the soil. Next spring, the shrubs will be covered with flowers.

Post-pruning carnage

 The branches from the back of the shrub were thrown down the basement steps. I didn't have anywhere else to put them!

I've attached a handy link that provides excellent advice on when to prune flowering shrubs. This is geared towards southern gardens so you may need to adjust the schedule to accommodate climatic differences.