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Friday, May 24, 2013

Frogless and Slightly on Fire

Before you continue reading, there are a few things you should know about me:

1. I am an absurdly optimistic person. I am convinced, even when I shouldn't be, that everything will work out okay.

2. However, having had my share of disasters, I'm a big believer in back up plans.

3. It rarely occurs to me to give up. It's possible, I suppose, that I'm a bit crazy, but so what? Life's more fun that way.

4. I often ignore the little voice telling me not to talk to strangers and will strike up a conversation with almost anybody.

In fall 2011, inspired by Sweetbay's pumpless, filterless frog puddle, my son and I installed a frog pond made from two 17 gallon farm grade muck buckets. Dug into the driest shade in my garden, I was convinced it would support wildlife without needing a pump or filter, neither of which were options. I stuffed it full of the floating oxygenator, hornwort, and several aquatic plants. I added frogs from a friends yard and guppies to control the mosquitos. Then I waited. The frogs left, the plants took over, and the guppies died. Worried I was cooking up West Nile virus, I added mosquito dunks and waited again, convinced the frogs would return. They never did.

When no frog spawn filled the pond this spring, I cleaned it out, replaced the frozen hornwort, and added tadpoles from a rural garden center. I was so happy to have a pond full of future frogs, I danced ridiculously around the house singing, "I have tadpoles! I have tadpoles!", horrifying my family and scaring the dogs. But when the tadpoles disappeared within a few days, I knew there was a problem. Worried about the oxygen level in the water, I anxiously filled a small vial with pond water and dropped in a few chemicals. To support life water needs to contain 6- 8 ppm of dissolved oxygen. How much oxygen did my water contain? Zero, zilch, nothing, nada. My much loved frog pond was a stinky stew of frog death.

Furious and convinced my oxygen tablets were too old to be useful, I stomped into the house and began making phone calls. Several businesses later, I was connected to a man who was an expert at aquatic gardening and owned a pond company.

HIM; No, they do not carry dissolved oxygen test kits. I was the only person who has ever asked for one.
HIM: Hornworts ability to oxygenate a pond is limited.  ME: Really?
HIM: Did I have a pump or filter? ME: No ( I could hear him sighing on the other end before explaining the affects of ammonia build up in my pond.)
HIM: Could I install one? ME: No, the outlet was on the other side of the garden.
HIM: How about a solar oxygenator? ME: My pond is in the shade HIM: Laughter

What do you mean I need sun to run a solar pump?

At this point I should have realized my pond was a disaster and all the water needed to be removed. Frustrated and hungry, I began researching solar oxygenators while taking out my fury on a dish of hummus and a pile of pita chips.  Finally having  found one that was reasonably priced, I stomped back out to the garden to measure the distance between the frog pond and the lone patch of sunshine that could fuel a solar cell only to discover the cord from the oxygenator to the sunny spot would be too short.

At this point, I could have given up. I'd already convinced myself a pumpless pond was a brilliant idea, seen it fail, and then chatted up a total stranger in my attempts to learn why it had become a black hole of death. But I didn't. It just didn't occur to me. Instead I took out the biggest rocks, filled the buckets with potting soil and decided to turn my frog pond into a bog garden.

Five happy lobelia

Lobelia siphlitica is also known as Great Blue Lobelia and is native to swamps and lowlands of the east coast. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.

How much potting soil would I need? I had no idea. How boggy should the bog be? I don't know that, either. If I'd made it too dry, I'd take out some soil. It it was too wet, I'd add some soil.

A large clump of shasta daisies grows in front of the pond turned bog garden. Once they bloom and are cut back the lobelia will give this area some much needed height. Diervilla, rudbeckia, veronica, daylilies, phlox, and monarda also fill this bed. The dog run is between the garden and the fence.

After a bit of research I filled my bog with native lobelia siphlitica, which was amazingly available on the cheap at my local Lowe's.  I slid the lobelia in the quagmire and headed into the house. By the end of the day I'd also almost burned dinner and briefly set myself on fire, but I didn't care. I now had a bog garden. It was time to happy dance.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Not Quite Wordless Wednesday

The Sunny Side Garden 

Persian cornflower (centarea dealbata)

Penstemon 'Prarie Twilight' 

This picture was taken while standing under the trumpet vine.

'Westerland' rose

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Rainy Day Ramble

The geums have begun to bloom. Their ruffly petals remind of Spanish flamenco dresses.

Siberian iris 'Caesar's Brother'

'Johnson's Blue' geraniums, Siberian iris, and tradescantia grow near a large 'Little Henry' sweetspire (background). The sweetspire foliage will grow greener as it matures. By the time it blooms, it will be dark green.

Self-seeded tradescantia
This popped up this spring next to a clump of blue and white tradescantias. I think it may be the result of cross pollination.

The annual anemone take over in my dry shade garden

These are beautiful thugs. After they bloom, I pull them up by the handfuls to keep them in check. They always rebound vigorously by the following spring. 

Campanula 'Pink Octopus' 

'Pink Octopus' grows alongside a bigroot geranium and 'Goldsturm' rudbeckia

My Westerland climbing roses are blooming!

'Night Owl' climbing rose shares a fence with 'Westerland'.

'Night Owl' climbing rose

'Abraham Darby' lounging in the loosestrife foliage. I grow loosestrife in a pot to keep it from taking over the garden.

Native clematis crispa has bell shaped flowers with thick curved petals and blooms all summer.

It dies to the ground every winter so you never have to worry about how to prune it..

A very easy clematis to grow, it loves moist, rich soil and partial shade. The deutzia in the background is covered with buds.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Measure of Small Things

"Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."

 - David Mitchell Cloud Atlas

I stand on my porch and watch, waiting, partially hidden. Cars speed by, eyes forward, hands gripping the wheel. They rarely slow as they near the turn and seem blind to the cascade of blue tumbling down the porch column and into the hollies. I imagine they see my garden as I see sports statistics, a confusing array of digits betrayed into a meaningless blob by the angles and lines that form the numbers. 

I did not have to let the clematis grow. It would have been easier to rip it from the hard soil and simply let the  shrubs fill the space. The pocket of soil between the porch and walkway is heavy and dry, the soil rolling into  a ball before crumbling at the edges. Rich with foliage every spring, the vine hung like kindling by summer, so many small twigs and desiccated leaves to remind me of my folly. Water poured at its base ran in rivulets towards the hollies and onto the walkway, if it was even poured at all and I began to wonder why I refused to let it die. Its beauty was that of youth, ephemeral and seductive, but quickly turned hard, like a bitter wife with nothing to offer.     

It was a small thing to build the compost dam that held the water and to tell myself that the effort wouldn't be wasted. Supple green shoots shot from the base, twining around the older canes and onto the support netting. It was an even smaller thought to add the soaker hose, a quick bing in the daily chorus that occupies my brain. 

A car slows briefly and I see the drivers gaze stop at the clematis. I want to knock on her window and explain that my garden is a gift of beauty, requiring nothing more than a glance, but I don't. I stand frozen, watching as she drives away. It would have been easy to dig up the clematis, heave it into the trash with my other plant failures, and ignore my role in its death. I do not owe my neighborhood flowers but it is all I can offer.  

'President' clematis

Clematis grow best in moist, rich soil with morning sun and afternoon shade. These pictures make the flowers look purple because of the lighting, but they are actually a very intense blue. A mason bee house is hung above the clematis. Mason bees are stingless native bees that can pollinate more plants than honey bees.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Everything That's Right

A rain garden full of rain

and very happy plants

A pond full of tadpoles

Enjoying a funny movie that's actually about gardening!
(Thanks to Rob at the excellent blog, The British Gardener, for recommending it!)

A plate of yum

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Hola From the Casa

Hola, hi, bonjour!
  Have you come see to see the garden? Awesome! 

Woodland anemones (anemone sylvestris

This area is officially known as the Yuck side, since it houses the air conditioning units and utility meters. I redesigned it last fall and interplanted asiatic lilies between the bleeding heart roots so that once the bleeding heart - that's one giant plant! - goes dormant, there will be something to fill the space.

I recently added a deutzia 'Nikko' to the space in front of the bleeding heart.

Cowslip primrose is one of my favorite spring flowers. I love how simple they are.

These usually go dormant by late summer but are reliable spring bloomers.

This pink clematis is the first clematis to bloom of the season. 
I can't remember their name!

They grow along a metal watering can birdhouse in the shade of a massive wall of Prague viburnums.

A view into the garden

The dogwood tree was just starting to leaf out in this picture, which is from last week.

These just finished their peak bloom. Prague viburnum is a super tough evergreen shrub that helps keep the side of our house cool and provides excellent shelter for birds.

When blooming en masse, they are lightly fragrant.

Steller Pink dogwood.

Euphorbia and anemones under the crepe myrtle

A view into the garden from the other side

I extended the rain garden over spring break and not all of it is visible in this photo. 
A giant trumpet vine grows along the fence.

A new gourd birdhouse purchased this morning from a local farmers market. The artist can be reached at

My garden includes as many plants that attract butterflies as I can possibly squeeze in. Most aren't made of metal. Sweetspire 'Little Henry', heliopsis, phlox, and caryopteris grow in this bed.

My new 'Peach Sorbet' blueberry bushes have beautiful foliage that changes color as the temperature fluctuates. Most excellent!