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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Everything That's Right: After the Storm

1. My family and I are safe and sound. Hurricane Sandy has left my garden very well watered. Thanks a million for all your support. :o)

2. None of the trees that fell landed on my house or property and we never lost power.

3. We spent part of yesterday watching the movie Grease so we could sing about Sandy.

4. Sweet Sandy spent the day with us while my garden soaked up the rain.

5. But by early evening, Bad Sandy had arrived!

6. Carrot cake made everything better.

7. So did watching movies with two teenage girls in the hammock that had been moved into the basement from the backyard.

8. The dogs slept through everything.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Underwater Gardening

 This might be the last post from Casa Mariposa, as we know it. According to local news agencies and the National Weather service, Hurricane Sandy will be making landfall on Monday and my area will be taking a direct hit.

Dubbed a "Frankenstorm", it has the potential to cause massive power outages, snap trees, and flood my basement. I'm armed with flashlights, water, and a homemade carrot cake made from my purple carrots.

My garden may look quite different in my next post.

Fortunately, reel mowers and shrub clippers all work underwater. I guess I won't need sunscreen anymore but shark repellent might be a wise investment.

Note to Self: Do not water the garden. Mother Nature will be doing it for you!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Everything That's Right

 Harvesting giant sweet potatoes and finally growing carrots longer than my finger 

Finding a spot for the pink clematis that needed to be moved
(It's been pruned hard and planted next to the fence post so that my neighbor and I can both enjoy it.)

Sheffield Pink mums

Good friends who understand why yelling and cussing at rocks is necessary when digging a huge hole for a rose you never thought you'd move.

My Sceptre d'Isle rose needed more sun so I thought I'd just pop it out of the ground and move it into a sunnier spot. But the roots went down almost 2 feet and took me almost 3 hours to excavate and replant. It was dark by the time I finished filling each hole but it's done. All is well.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Clueless at the Casa: How Star Trek Saved My Garden

Late Summer 2011

I stood in my backyard, my garden struggling against the grass border, and scowled. Beds full of lush, healthy plants merged tentatively with bare patches, the dessicated remains of 'drought resistant' perennials, and oddly designed groupings. I walked slowly along the grass, dragging myself from bed to bed.  Maraschino red flowers screamed against the fuchsia of rose campion and I turned away. Salvia scrambled over its neighbors, suffocating expensive plants in a carpet of purple fluff, while soft orange agastache, overly shaded and desperate for sun, collapsed onto the plants in front. The garden was a study in contrasts and the ugly parts were screamingly obvious. White loosestrife had taken over an entire bed and needed to be pulled out root by root. If the garden had been a dating site, Total Hot Mess would have been pathetically flirting with Manicured and Polished.

Bright pink rose campion looks truly hideous planted next to red 'Maraschino' salvia. Next time, I'll garden with my eyes open.

I planted the campion in a semi-circle around the red salvia because I wasn't paying attention. Note to Self: Drifting into La La Land while transplanting can have disastrous consequences.

Frustration rising, I could feel my emotions begin to boil. I breathed deeply but it was no use. Angry and overwhelmed, I headed for the house, my clogs and hat thrown in a heap on the patio. Something was off and I didn't know how to fix it. Images of other gardens pulsed through my brain and I wanted to know how they were so beautiful. What artistic epiphany drove the gardener to create such exquisite designs? Flopping onto the couch, I curled into myself and simmered. Analytical, lively, and curious by nature, I didn't want to compete with the gardeners I admired, I simply wanted to know their secrets. My family wisely avoided me while my dogs huddled close.

This bed was a complete mess. A ring of overgrown shasta daisies, a clump of almost dead linaria, and a scattering of miserable groundcover plants as well as undermulched soaker hoses were painful to look at.

This entire area was redesigned.

This bed had been completely taken over by white loosestrife, a beautiful but highly invasive plant. The day lily, dwarf heliopsis, and phlox were miserable in the dry partial shade. The loosestrife had already been cut to the ground in this picture and was waiting to be dug up.

Too emotionally tied to the labor and expense of my garden mistakes, I needed an impartial judge to help me identify the strengths and weaknesses of my designs, but no names popped to mind. Restless and covered in dog fur, I got up, went back outside, and began pacing.

Verbena bonariensis had taken over this bed and crowded out numerous plants. It was thinned heavily. The compost tomato should have been moved to a pot. 

These plants were all too close and had to be moved further away from each other once I began transplanting.

Weeknights at my house as a kid were spent watching TV with my dad. A quiet, awkward man, he was as devoted to the crew of Star Trek as he was to his family. I would slide onto the couch after dinner and we'd sometimes discuss my day. All problems could be solved by internalizing the lessons of Star Trek. Never be the fourth person in the transporter, always listen to Bones, take a few risks like Capt. Kirk, and never doubt  Mr. Spock. As unemotional as a rock, Spock analyzed every situation with unflagging accuracy and honesty. My father would punctuate the theme music with an enthusiastic "You tell'em, Spock!" with nearly every episode. Focusing on the attractive parts of the garden while ignoring the rest, I had my answer. I needed Mr Spock.

The Spock mind meld.

Rejuvenated and optimistic, I headed back inside and got to work. I went back to the garden pictures that had seemed so unachievable and asked myself what I liked about them. Emotional statements such as "They're fabulous" were off limits while I focused on the different parts that were the most appealing. I loved the fullness of one and the color harmony of another. I broke each photo down into likes and dislikes until I had a cohesive idea of what I wished my garden looked like. Keeping my emotions in check, I went back outside and forced myself to look at worst of my mistakes.

The wine cups (callirhoe) were removed completely since they were suffocating the surrounding plants. 

Since I couldn't teleport Spock to my garden, I had to do my human best to channel his unflinching honesty and contextual precision. Once again I outlawed emotional statements such as "My garden sucks and was designed by drunk space weasels." Instead, I focused on making pure observations such as 'Rose campion and the agastache do bloom at the same time and the color combination is jarring.  The coneflowers and asters are unhappy because the soil level is too low due to erosion, etc." I mentally broke my garden into a grid and like a field scientist analyzed it chunk by chunk. I stopped trying to convince myself that my cheap soaker hoses would make dry soil moist and began to acknowledge that my trees were only getting bigger, thus creating more shade annually.

I wandered the garden silently for an hour, my brain bursting with ideas. I had a ton of work ahead of me but finally knew how to fix my mess. Buoyed by a successful redesign I'd completed the previous spring, I felt confident and determined.  I closed my eyes and wished I could slide onto the couch next to my dad, Star Trek blaring through the cheap speakers. I would snuggle next to his thick shoulder and describe my day. I hadn't been the fourth person in a transporter and Bones was no where to be found, but I'd taken a risk like Capt Kirk and hadn't doubted Spock.

Captain Kirk and Mr Spock
Live Long and Prosper!

 I filled one of my driest beds with aster ericoides, variegated sedum, sea oats, and Solomon's Seal, all of which thrive in dry partial shade.

All of the loosestrife was removed and this bed was redesigned. A few phlox seedlings popped up but were moved this fall to a moister spot. More work was done on this bed recently and I think I've finally found the winning combination. Pycnanthemum muticum (Native mountain mint) and rudbeckia grow well here.

The red salvia 'Maraschino' was moved to a pot, the agastche was given growing room, and much of the campion was given to a friend. I still have a clump that I'm not sure what I want to do with.

I dug up the ring of daisies and put a teensy frog pond into the empty space. I filled the surrounding area with heuchera, amsonia 'Blue Ice', 'Rotkugel' oregano, and low growing veronica. 

I added fragrant white 'Sunday Gloves' day lilies to a bed with too much pink.

Part of the redesigned dry shade garden.

This spot is super dry so I just added a decorative urn instead of sentencing another plant to death here. The frog pond and daisies are on the other side of the pink 'Red Fox' veronica. 

I took out more grass to leave a mulch border between the garden and the lawn. I use the 'eyeball' method which doesn't always result in a very straight line. :o) 

This is the bed that had been taken over by loosestrife, looking through the crepe myrtles and into the rest of the garden.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Feeling Sunny

Nadedza of Nadezda's Northern Garden recently honored me with the Sunshine Award. Thanks! Instead of selecting just a few fellow bloggers to pass it on to, I'd like to send it to everyone on my blogroll. You're fabulous! Once bestowed, the blogger is asked to reveal 7 facts about themselves. Here goes:

1. I'm a very open, easy going person who tends to say what I feel. This actually gets me into trouble sometimes!

'Purple Dome' asters 

2. I grew up watching Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, MASH, and The Benny Hill Show with my dad which resulted in a fear of wearing red in a transporter, the knowledge that aliens carrying the book To Serve Man are planning to eat me, and a naughty sense of humor.

3. I love Irish music.

'Bluebird' asters

4. My favorite author is Geraldine Brooks. I've read People of the Book, March, and Year of Wonders.

5. One of my favorite places in nearby DC is the Reading Room in the Library of Congress. I have a researchers pass so I can go in and read. I think all libraries should be this beautiful!

The Reading Room at the Library of Congress

6. I think laughter, wine, and time spent with wonderful people is the best medicine.

7. Before becoming a teacher, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent/writer. But I didn't want to spend any time in war zones. I really just wanted to get paid to go to Tahiti and then write about it.

As long as that hammock is big enough for me and James Bond, it's all good.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Annual Makeover: Creating a Front Yard Butterfly Garden

The landscaping in my front yard is a constant work in progress. Personally, I'm a bit tired of this. After nine years in my house, I want a front garden that looks established and settled. Instead it's become a revolving door of shrubs, perennials, and annuals as I try to determine what can tolerate one moist spot, a heat island, and a long strip of bone dry clay.

Completely ignoring the fact that I don't live in Italy, I find it highly irritating that my front yard doesn't resemble the gardens at Ninfa.

Last January I decided to deepen the beds in the front and stuff them with bulbs. With winter on hiatus, I took advantage of a bulb sale at a local garden center and packed the bed with 260 daffodils and Dutch iris. The bulbs came up late and bloomed at strange times but were more cheerful than a long bed of nothing.

You'll have to take my word for it that this bed is full of bulbs since I forgot to take a picture of them.

To fill in the long empty bed once the bulbs were done blooming, I filled it with annual vinca and lantana. I had also added orange milkweed and dalea to the bed last fall to see how well they would do.

The lantana attracted pollinators but the vinca didn't. However, I loved how colorful and cheap it was.

This bed didn't fill in until the middle of July, which was really frustrating. A cool, wet spring kept the vinca plants small and the constant rain turned many yellow. For about 6 weeks this bed was full of dying bulb foliage and tiny plants. It looked pathetic and drove me crazy!

Orange milkweed, host plant for monarch butterfly caterpillars, thrive in the hot, dry soil.

There are stepping stones tucked between the plants since we always take a shortcut across the garden instead of using the walkway.

Dalea is a native prairie wildflower that grows well in heat and drought.

I loved the way this bed looked once it filled in but wanted to fill it with perennials that would grow as the bulb foliage died, covering it up.

Taking my cues from the healthy milkweed and dalea, I decided to turn this strip into a butterfly garden. I pulled out all the annuals and added 'Carradonna' salvia, 'Rose Queen' salvia, 'Star Cluster' coreopsis, nepeta, 'Sunshine Superman' coreopsis, and more orange milkweed and dalea. I've linked the pictures to the nurseries I purchased them from. 

'Sunshine Superman' coreopsis seedlings came from the garden.

Nepeta seedlings, variety unknown, came from the garden, too. Nepeta has soft greyish leaves and small purple flowers. It grows well in enriched garden soil as well as dry soil and loves full sun. Both of these pictures are from late Spring 2012.

I actually purchased these locally in August for only $5 a pot and have been babysitting them for the past two months. 


According to the Bluestone Perennials website, these flowers develop a purple eye and a purple edge in cool weather. 

I planted all the perennials today. The green sticks mark all the fall blooming bulbs that have started to grow but haven't popped through the mulch yet. They also mark places where I planted dormant orange milkweed. The nepeta seedlings were planted near the light post. They look a bit wretched right now but have healthy roots and new growth. The 'Star Cluster' coreopsis is in the middle of the bed, with the salvias in groups along the edges.

There are two clumps of orange milkweed at each end of the garden next to the large main group of 'Star cluster' coreopsis. Salvia, coreopsis, dalea, milkweed, and nepeta are all tough, drought resistant plants that attract pollinators. I'm sure I'll need to tweak this bed a bit next fall but I'm excited to have tough plants in place to cover up all the bulb foliage. If it snows this winter, we can pile up the snow from the walkway over the perennials without having to worry about smashing any shrubs.

Details :

This bed is about 15 ft long and 5 feet deep. It faces east and receives full sun until mid-afternoon.

Salvia 'Carradonna' - 12
Salvia 'Rose Queen' - 10
Orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) - 10 new plants
Coreopsis 'Star Cluster' - 5
Coreopsis 'Sunshine Superman' seedlings - 3
Dalea seedlings - 5
Nepeta seedlings - 2