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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Newbies

Newbie - (noun - American slang) Anyone new at something

Every spring and fall I add new plants to the garden. Beds are enlarged, container plantings, which feature many perennials,  are rearranged, and empty spots filled. This spring I'm expanding my rain garden and adding a few more containers. Here's a list of the Newbies for 2013.

** I've linked the photos to the online nurseries I purchased them from.  Just click on the name of the plant to visit the nursery. All pictures are from Google images, except the euphorbia, which never went dormant.

Spring Planting


Aster 'Dream of Beauty'

I'm a sucker for asters and spend large amounts of time trying to figure out how to add more of them to my garden. They're easy to grow, bloom in the fall, and attract loads of butterflies. I'm adding this little beauty to an area near my rain garden.

Campanula 'Pink Octopus'

I love how weird these flowers are. They remind me of ribbons.  I've finally found a spot for them near a patch of euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'.

Dayliliy (Hemerocalis) 'Star Dream'

I've lost track of all the multiple cultivars of yellow day lilies I have. But I've decided to add more anyway simply because they make me happy. 'Star Dream' are fragrant and are headed for a pot near my back door so I can enjoy the fragrance. These were purchased from the ultra-fabulous Lazy S's Farm Nursery. All of their day lilies are currently 50% off. These were only $5.

Wallflowers 'Wenlock Beauty'

These are another fragrant plant headed for a pot near my back door. I've heard these need absolutely perfect drainage to stay alive so I'm going to mix some growers grit or tiny pea gravel into the potting soil. I'm not sure if they'll overwinter, but it's not really a big deal. If I love them, I'll buy them again. If they turn out to be duds, then I have a new vacancy to fill! It's all good.

Shrubs (all purchased locally)

Blueberry 'Peach Sorbet' and 'Jelly Bean'

Peach Sorbet

I saw this at a trade show and fell in love! It was all I could do not to grab the entire pot and run out the door.  Ok, I couldn't even lift the pot, but so what. I stood there and drooled like a baby, anyway. This dwarf blueberry was bred to spend its life in a container within snacking distance of my kitchen. It has gorgeous fall color and is self-pollinating, meaning it doesn't have to get funky with another blueberry to make baby berries.   

Jelly Bean

But just to make sure my plants are loaded with berries, I'm going to add this tiny round cultivar named 'Jelly Bean' to the patio party. Both 'Peach Sorbet' and 'Jelly Bean' are carried by Monrovia and should be easily available if your local garden center carries Monrovia plants. They might be able to order it for you. 

CityLine Hydrangea 'Venice'

I had to pull up my hydrangeas last year because they were growing in a heat island full of leaf scorching reflected heat. They are currently thriving in the shade at a friends house while I remain hydrangea-less. Discovering these dwarf cultivars finally brought an end to all my moaning and groaning. 'Venice' is the shortest cultivar, topping out at about 2 ft. It's also headed to a pot in partial shade.

Added in fall 2012


Garlic chives (Allium tomentosum) (seeds)

I tossed some garlic chive seeds into a spot that also has daffodils and day lilies in an attempt to add more fall flowers to my front garden. If nothing pops up this spring, I'll just throw out some more. I saw huge clumps of garlic chives at Dunbarton Oaks in DC that were covered in pollinators and thought I'd give them a try.

Coreopsis 'Star Cluster'

Last fall I added a butterfly garden along my walkway to the front garden. Five chunks of 'Star Cluster' coreopsis were used to form the main spine of the bed. Coreopsis is a tough plant that takes full sun and hot weather without whining or wilting as long as you give them good drainage. A soggy coreopsis is a dead coreopsis.

Coreopsis 'Full Moon' (purchased locally)

These are a soft yellow I thought would compliment the creamy white of 'Star Cluster'. Coreopsis are perfect plants for gardeners whose soil resembles the surface of Mars rather than the pages of a lush magazine. Don't give them too much fertilizer, either, or you'll have tons of foliage but few flowers.

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' (purchased locally)

I added these last fall after spotting them at my local garden center. Known for their ability to withstand hot, dry partial shade, it's really hard to kill a euphorbia. I love their pinkish variegated leaves. My clump has yet to go dormant and has been a bright spot in an otherwise brown, sleepy garden. The unfabulous picture above is from November. My euphorbia have developed redder leaves as it's gotten colder and are really pretty. For the guys - they're NOT pretty! They are interesting and distinctive.

Lily 'Red Hot'

I added these lilies to a difficult spot on the side of my house known as the Yuck side. I redesigned the entire area last fall and planted these around a massive bleeding heart that goes dormant every summer, leaving me with a huge bare spot. These are tall and highly fragrant. The company I ordered them from said to plant them sideways to avoid rotting during excessively wet weather, so I gave it a try. Of course, now I want several feet of snow so I can test that theory.

Monarda 'Dark Ponticum'

I have no will power when it comes to monarda. I don't even try to resist them. I just don't see the point. 'Dark Ponticum' thrives in dryish soil, is mildew resistant, and has incredible purple flowers. The clumps I planted took off and are already poking up leaves through the soggy mulch. Monarda are amazing at attracting hummingbirds. The more monarda you have, the better your chances of filling your garden with these neurotic, territorial little birds. If possible, plant monarda in patches around the garden so you can watch the hummers chase each other from patch to patch.

Oenathera fremontii 'Shimmer' Evening primrose

High Country Gardens is an amazing nursery that recently closed its retail greenhouses but is keeping its online business alive. I love how thin this foliage is and thought the contrast against the round flowers was striking. These bloom in late spring, attract butterflies, and are great for hot, dry spots.  I really hope I don't think these are grass when they come up in the spring and then pull them out...

'Caradonna'  salvia

'Caradonna' is planted in the same bed as the coreopsis and 'Rose Queen'. Salvia thrive in hot, dry conditions that would cripple many other plants. My front butterfly garden is also my Hell Strip and was packed with colorful perennials that would look great, attract pollinators, and need a minimum amount of water. If you pinch back your salvia, you have a fuller and more flower packed plant. All types of salvia attract butterflies.

'Rose Queen' salvia ('Rose Queen' purchased locally)

I purchased 10 pots of 'Rose Queen' salvia last August when I saw them for $5 a pot at a local big box store. Where they immediately tucked into the soil, mulched, and watered until they settled in? Nope. I plopped them onto a steaming hot corner of my patio and watered them every couple of days for two months so they didn't fry in the heat. Did they curl up and die or cuss at me as I passed? Nope. They grew and held on just fine. Salvia are the biker babes of the plant world - tough, colorful, and able to thrive in difficult spots.

Plants that died but I want to grow again

Columbine 'Denver's Gold

My 'Denvers Gold' wouldn't have died if I hadn't hacked its root ball into tiny pieces. I don't recall specifically planting a 'Denver's Gold' cultivar but a giant yellow columbine starting growing several years ago at the very front of a garden bed. This columbine bloomed from spring until our first frost. Tired of not being able to see the plants behind it, I decided to dig it up and move it. Unbeknownst to me, its root ball was snuggly growing underneath the patio and short of removing part of my patio, it wasn't coming out without a fight. While cruising the endless offerings at Lazy S, I discovered a columbine exactly like the one I dug up. This time it's going into the middle of the bed, instead of the very front. I miss having columbine blooms in October.

'Tikki Torch' coneflowers

This picture was taken in June 2011 when my 'Tikki Torch' coneflowers were still quite alive. What I didn't know then was they need perfect drainage to avoid rotting. Hasta la vista, Tikki! Last fall I added several to a large pot, which is my favorite solution for any plant with drainage issues. I've successfully overwintered cone flowers in pots before so I'm hoping they pull through. Maybe I"ll stick little paper umbrellas in the soil and chat them up while wearing a hideous Hawaiian shirt if I think they need encouragement.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Greater Than One

I do not know when it began. Perhaps it has always been so. I bend to dig the earth, gloves loose on my small, square hands and imagine them passing. I do not look up for there is nothing to see. I thrust the trowel deep, the staccato jabbing of my arms matched only by the movement of my breath. I close my eyes and force myself to stop.

It is easy to conjure my father from twig and dust, harder so my mother. Conversations never held whisper through my mind, a restless wind both soothing and savage. I glance right and want to see his shoes, scuffed sneakers below jeans and a t-shirt. "Looks good, kid" but the words don't come. The air hangs empty, no tender sentiments to slip into the small places in my heart so I say them myself. But they rattle and thump and I close my ears to their hollow applause.

Grief grows cold over time while memories take root. They flourish and thrive, branches in full leaf, flowers rich with scent only you can smell. Dormant climbing rose canes stand erect before me and I pause before I cut. Closing my eyes, I reach for his voice, confident and measured. "Which one are you going to cut first?" he asks. I grab the tangled branch carefully as I explain my plan. I imagine us working in tandem as I fumble with the string and pruners. His thick fingers pin the canes to the wooden fence as I work quickly to avoid the thorns.

I stand back to view my work. The canes rest horizontally to the wooden slats, the strings too long and poorly tied. Smashed plants, winter grey against the cold soil, lie stiff under fallen thread. I am tired of missing them. Death comes often to my small, fractured family and my garden reminds me of more than it should. Heavy with memory, my shoulders slump and I slide onto the damp earth, grey Virginia sky erased by the dry blue of a California summer. Roses thrive in the tiny garden as ignored zucchini grow to foolish lengths. She bustles by, short and plump and always humming. I bend to touch her and can feel my shoulders relax in her soft embrace. "How'd you get so tall?" she teases. "Such a Swede."

I count the months till my roses bloom and breathe deep the musk of grass and rain. Solace swells and blooms, comfort found in petal and leaf.

David Austin's Jude the Obscure and William Shakespeare 2000 roses from my garden.

Monday, January 21, 2013

After Party Clean Up

Last January (2012) I posted a list of all the new plants I'd added to the garden in a post called Welcome to the Party. With the high tomorrow expected to be about 25 degrees here, the garden party is over.  Here's an update describing how they all fared. If a plant isn't accompanied by a photo, it either died before I took the picture or I just forgot.

Ornamental Grasses

Northern Sea Oats

Sea Oats and Solomon's Seal grow in the same bed. The Solomon's Seal grows in front of the sea oats.

These were so successful, I added two more clumps to another bed with too much dry shade. They were absolutely effortless to grow.

Variegated Northern Sea Oats

 I had originally placed them near an 'Etoile Violet' clematis but they needed more moisture. I like their new location better.

These grew less vigorously than their non-striped cousins but that's ok. Most perennials don't do much the first year, anyway. I ended up moving them to a moister spot near a big patch of spigellia.


Campanula 'Summertime Blues'

Easy to grow in dryish soil, they were a big success.

Liatris ligustylis (Meadow Blazing Star)

This blossom was still emerging. The flowers remind me of sea anemones.

I killed these. Big sigh.... I put them in soil that was too heavy and they rotted. But I was so determined to grow these because of their ability to attract monarchs, that when I found several healthy plants at the garden center, I grabbed them and potted them up. It was a success! Hooray! They have become permanent residents of my container garden.

 Dracocephalum 'Fuji Blue'

These died, too, which is odd, because I've grown them for years and they're a super tough plant. I have no idea why. This one's a mystery. I'm blaming their disappearance on radioactive space weasels. These pests are often the culprits in all garden disasters.

Xanthoriza simplicissima (Yellowroot)

These are hanging on. They are planted under a massive viburnum trilobum and have to fight for nutrients and  water. Fortunately, they're in a moist spot and I baby them a bit. I think they're going to be worth the wait.

Chrysoganum 'Allen Bush' and 'Pierre'

Chrysoganum, also known as Green and Gold, has yellow flowers and grows alongside amsonia 'Blue Ice'. I have quite a bit of it throughout the garden.

Allen Bush and Pierre sounds like a cheesy band to me. But luckily, these two are strong performers. They aren't quite as drought tolerant as advertised but as long as they're given a bit of extra water when it's too hot and dry, they're fine. I'm very glad I added them.

Smilacina racemosa (Solomon's Plume)

I killed these, too. At least I think I did. There's a possibility they'll pull a Lazarus and come back from the dead, but I'm not holding my breath. They didn't receive as much moisture as they needed so the fault is all mine.

Porteranthus stipulatus (Western Indian Physic)

I love these! They are tough and beautiful, which is a winning combination. They came up early in the spring and only needed a little bit of extra water during heat waves.

Polygonatum odoratum (Variegated Solomon's Seal)

These are such easy plants, I added several more to the garden. The more shade they receive, the greener and more variegated their leaves. If they're planted in too much sun, they bleach out. I ended up moving a clump into a shadier spot this fall. These are super easy and have pretty little bell shaped flowers in the spring. Their roots look like big ugly toes, which cracks me up.

'Sunday Gloves' daylily

This was another big success. The creamy white flowers are huge and smell wonderful.

Hostas 'Twilight' and 'Grand Marquee'

I planted these in a spot that was way too dry and they struggled all summer. Oops! But the Soaker Hose Super Highway came to the rescue so I think they'll be much happier next summer.

Rubus pentalobus (Creeping Bramble)

Potted birdhouses are my favorite way to fill difficult areas. This bramble was much happier than the ones in too much sun.

This is a tough vine that I tortured all summer by giving them too much sun and not enough water. They enjoy afternoon shade and a weekly watering. They're great for containers but after the soil settles, add a bit of compost to the empty space between the plant and the soil for better performance.

Lespedeza yakushima 'Bicolor'

I'm in awe that this little beauty didn't die last summer. I planted them in my garden's version of the Sahara desert and they survived out of either sheer will or spite. I haven't decided. Of course, it was never my intention for them to die, I was just a bit brain dead when I planted them there. Last fall, I moved them into a partially shady, moist but well drained area and they literally shot their stems up as if they were singing 'Hallelujah!' I immediately felt guilty for not planting them there in the first place.

Aquatic Plants for the Muck Bucket Frog Pond

Oenanthe javanica 'Flamingo' (Variegated water celery)

This plant should be renamed Ghengis kahnus.

Dear Frog, I miss you! Come back!

This plant is a thug!! Oy! It turned my teensy pond into its own personal water supply and nearly killed everything else. Even my frog left, which really upset me. I pulled it up by the arm loads this fall. It's escaped into the dry soil around the pond, but so be it. The total lack of moisture should keep it contained.

Equisetum scirpoides (Dwarf Horsetail Rush)

Safe in their pot, these survived the water celery invasion. They're not a super spectacular plant, but I think they're cool.

Lobelia cardinalis 'Fried Green Tomatoes'

This needed way more light than my pond has to offer so they spent all summer growing sideways. They would be great in a hole-less ceramic container that can be kept moist. Easy, tough plant.


Peggy Martin

Easy and vigorous, I'm looking forward to having them trained along my fence for my neighbor and I to enjoy.

Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure is strongly fragrant.

Poor Jude suffered severe blackspot this summer but it put out a ton of growth anyway. Once I removed the roses that were were the source of the breakout, it improved. The flowers are gorgeous!

Graham Thomas

This climber tripled in growth! It was a good lesson for me in how well a rose responds to ample water. I am a total sucker for beautiful yellow roses.

Shrubs That Don't Seem Like Shrubs

Lespedeza thunbergii 'Spring Grove'

This is an unfabulous picture of a fabulous plant.

This is an interesting plant because it closes its leaves during the mid-afternoon and then opens them again in the early evening. It's a fall bloomer, which is a bonus. Tough and easy with beautiful flowers.


Belladonna lilies 'Fred Meyer Whites' 

These were a total bust. Argh! They put out lots of foliage over the winter, but never grew any flowers. I think my soil might be too heavy. I haven't given up on them yet, though, since they're teasing me with winter foliage as I write.

Friday, January 18, 2013


When my days are done I will not go down in the annals of history. I will not have cured cancer, brought peace to the middle East, or stopped global warming. I reconciled myself a long time ago to living life on a much smaller scale.

Honeybees love the sweetspire 'Little Henry' shrubs.

I began to garden over 18 years ago. Tired of the bare, scrubby yard of our military housing, I longed for color and a needed a diversion from spending the day with a two year old. I wanted to garden as organically as possible, but aside from tilling cut grass into the vegetable garden and burning my plants with manure, I didn't know how. I accepted the necessity of chemicals as readily as gloves on a cold day. The organic offerings at our base exchange or local Wal-Mart were slim to none, so I chose what looked the least ominous and hoped for the best.

As my gardens grew larger and my skills deepened, my perspective changed and I began to see my garden as a habitat, whole and encompassing. It wasn't just a collection of pretty flowers and a bird bath, but home to the bluebirds who nested in the same spot every year, generations of butterflies, and a pit stop for migratory birds. My world was suddenly larger and my choices had become littleHUGE. Choosing to fertilize the lawn or gardens with chemicals or organics was a little decision, but the impact was huge.

A swallowtail butterfly caterpillar munches away on the curly parsley.

Some of the decisions I made were so small, I can't remember making them. The extra curly parsley fed dozens of caterpillars, the bronze fennel hosted legions of beneficial insects, and the rose of sharon, freed from the pesticide used to control Japanese beetles, sang with life, it's boughs lush with song birds and  honey bees. Of all those decisions, only the choice to replace the pesticide with milky spore was significant. The others evaporated as quickly as they formed, leaving only a cognitive shadow to remind me of my plans.

A monarch fresh from its chrysalis rests on the phlox.

As my garden became more organic, the impact of littleHUGE sang, flapped, fluttered, and hopped in front of me daily.  Seeing the garden as an ecosystem that lived or died based on little decisions I made was transformative  According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an estimated 67 million birds a year die from pesticide contamination by eating poisoned insects. The weight of this information was overpowering and I refused to be a contributor. I couldn't save 67 million birds, but I could create a haven for those who stopped by. I could simply be as littleHUGE as possible.

This was originally posted in Feb 2011. My garden has become 100% organic, including our lawn. I am participating in the Grow Your Blog meme.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Just 10

I was recently asked by a couple different bloggers to answer a set of 11 specific questions. But since each blogger asked me different questions, I've decided to just answer my own.

1. Are you as goofy and enthusiastic in person as you are in your blog?

Yes, although I can also be very quiet and contemplative at times. My need to think things through is balanced by a tendency towards absolute spontaneity. I even surprise myself, sometimes. I tend to be fairly open and transparent emotionally. People always know where they stand with me. I'm a big believer in second chances. Last I checked, no one was perfect. 

2. If you weren't a teacher, what career would you choose?

I love teaching so much I can't really imagine being anything else, but I like to dream about being a dancer. I dance in the hallways at work sometimes and recently called an emergency team meeting on a difficult day so we could all shake our booties to Weird Al Yankovic's White and Nerdy. It was a wonderful stress buster. But the idea of being a travel writer is also appealing as is working with landscape designers to help create gardens geared towards children. There would be a lot of funky plants that are fun to touch, smell good, or have unusual flowers.

3.  If you could make one major change to your garden, what would it be?

I'd make the garden several acres larger (impossible!) and add a large pond and more shrubs. I'd also have a large vegetable patch. I like to day dream about having my smarty pants gardening friends over to help me design the new space. I'd repay their kindness with dinner, wine, and the knowledge that if they ever needed my help in their garden, they could guarantee I'd be there. I'd probably hug them when they left. I can be a bit lovey. 

This picture is from Google images. I wish my garden looked like this!

4.  Why did it take you 10 years to graduate from college?

Because life kept intervening. My first college major was Partying and I was a model student, maintaining  straight A's for two years. My second major was I Don't Know What I Want to Be When I Grow Up So I'll Just Take Random Courses. My third major was education and I finally graduated with high grades from the University of North Dakota. By the time I received my diploma, 10 years after starting college, I was married, had two kids, and had attended one community college and three universities. My husband had deployed to war and we'd moved five times. I just refused to give up on earning my degree.

5. Is it true you don't like the popular book 50 Shades of Grey?

Absolutely! I found 50 Shades of Grey so poorly written and ridiculous I told my book club I was going to compost it. I thought all the creative sex in the book might actually motivate my worms to make more baby worms. The plot was contrived and the characters unbelievable. I thought the male character, Christian, was really creepy. I have no plans to see the movie.

6. What do I do in my spare time besides garden?

I love to bake, read, travel, and spend time with my friends. My family is quite small and very scattered so my friends, even those in the blogosphere, are tremendously important to me. I've had some of the same friends for 15 years. 
I bake cookies on a weekly basis but also love to make home made pies, cakes, etc. My neighbors and coworkers are frequent recipients of baked goods. I've even given cookies to very surprised but happy delivery drivers at the holidays. 
I am currently reading Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. As for travel, I have trips to England and, if I'm really lucky, Austria and Spain, in the future. I'm hoping to attend the Italian garden tour trip with Beth from Plant Postings next summer.  

7. Tell us something about you that might be surprising.

Hmm... I love fashion and have a lot of shoes! But I also love spending the weekend in my pajamas.

I don't normally wear boots with my pajamas, but I thought I would just for you!

8. Why do you have so many dogs?

Because they're awesome! I am fascinated by the emphathic nature of dogs. They absorb our emotions and reflect them back to us. I love working with timid or fearful dogs. In order to change the way they respond to me, I had to change the way I responded to them. I was forced to set my own perceptions aside to see the situation as they saw it, even if it meant seeing myself in a negative light. The same approach can be applied to working with children, especially young children.

Lucy is a beagle/basset/Labrador mix who spent her first year living as a stray. She was scheduled to be euthanized at a high-kill rural shelter before being rescued by the no-kill shelter Friends of Homeless Animals, where I volunteered as a dog walker.  She's still a bit shy at first but is tremendously happy and confident. She's one of the silliest, most affectionate dogs I've ever had.

9. What frustrates you about gardening?

I am always frustrated at how quickly people give up and declare themselves inept at gardening. Gardening teaches patience and perseverance but the payoff is enormous. I also wish plants, pots, etc weren't so expensive. I'm frustrated at how few people in my area garden as seriously as I do. I also can't stand it when plant tags give misleading or vague information.

I don't know who created this Google Images garden. But if they can do it, I can do it.

10. Ok - last one: What impossible thing do you wish you could do?

I wish I could figure out a way to convince God and gravity that after a mammogram, a woman's breasts should bounce back perkier than they were before being smashed flat by a giant machine. We'd all be lined up for our daily mammograms and no cancer would go undetected.

My grandmother and mom both died of breast cancer. My mom was only 58.