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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Holding Back the Ocean

Honeybee in a trumpet creeper flower

It is not a small thing to love a child. She sits on the bed's edge as she bends to pack her trunks for college, boxes and bags surrounding her like hounds, eager to do her bidding. I lean against the wall, the carpet like sand under my toes and I feel my legs loosen and shift. Conversation swells between us but my breath surges in ragged gulps, my chest tight, aching. I do not feel old enough to have one child headed to war and another to college. We discuss her brother's deployment in small, careful words, always coming back to easier thoughts such as sheets and towels. My emotions tumble and grind before sifting to pieces at my feet. Tears well but do not fall and I realize with exquisite clarity that I do not know what to feel. I am proud of  his choice but terrified of his options. It is not a small thing to love a child. She pauses in her packing and pulls me close.

I kneel in the garden, my knees thick with mulch and pull. Sliding my fingers down the supple vines, I slowly find the base and begin to yank. Thick white roots pop and snap beneath me as I dig through the soil, my fingers blackened and rough. Trumpet creeper shoots poke from between the plants, the tender vines disguised by rain rich growth. The vines crash and break against the garden's edge, receding only when pulled. I do not regret planting the trumpet creeper and admire the tenacity of a plant with a plan of its own. She will leave as will he, a final contingent in an unwinnable war. I slowly stand and let the shoots roll from my hands. Grass laps at my ankles like the tides and I head back inside to help her pack.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Everything That's Right

Swallowtails in the cup plant (silphium perfoliatum)

 Fat, glossy chipmunks who pose for the camera, even if I'm suspicious about what their cheeks are stuffed with.

Replacing boring plants with colorful zinnias

Sempervivum (hens and chicks) flowers

Finding mason bees on a plant that I didn't expect to bloom and had no idea attracted pollinators!

Blackberry lily flowers on a plant I grew from seed

phlox, rudbeckia, and coneflowers

Loving my garden

'White Swan' coneflowers, pink coneflowers, and 'Sun Queen' veronica

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Plant Lab

I have a secret: I may be a science teacher but I'm not a scientist and I find this bothersome. Of course just the idea of me in a lab conjures up images of broken glass, equipment in flames, and maybe if I'm really lucky, several small explosions. 

In order to satisfy my desire for experimentation, I refer to my container garden as Pottersville - The Plant Lab. Sometimes the results are beautiful. But sometimes they aren't.

Many of my ideas fall into this category.

I have yet to figure out what I've done to make this 'Georgia Peach' heuchera so miserable. It's currently lurking near the deutzia in hopes of achieving the perfect sun/shade combo. It's coming out of the pot this fall and going into the ground.

Scientific Observation: My plant looks like a nuclear fallout survivor.
Scientific Conclusion: Whatever I'm doing, just stop, and prepare for revenge.

Scientific Observation: Happy sedum
Scientific Conclusion: Do not come near this plant. It's fine without me. 

Scientific Observation: Unhappy sedum
Scientific Conclusion: It didn't like our cool, wet early summer and may be pot bound. Or may look bad out of pure spite. Hard to tell.

Scientific Observation: If I barely even touch this weird plant, the stems break off. I can't tell if it's happy, unhappy, or just messing with my head.
Scientific Conclusion: I'm leaving it alone.

Scientific Observation: This 'Sour Grapes' penstemon stopped blooming in the garden and looked weird in its pot last summer. I moved it to a bigger pot with less fertile soil and it looks better, but still hasn't bloomed.
Scientific Conclusion: I am more stubborn than my penstemon and I will wait with ninja-like patience for it to bloom.

My Plant Lab often features lots of perennials that have been stuffed into pots while I learn how to make them happy or decide if I want to keep them. I stuck some homeless 'Stella D'Oro' daylilies in a pot with double white balloon flowers, hoping they'd bloom at the same time. Of course, they didn't and I can't stand how blah this pot is. If this planting were food, it would be cold meatloaf. Ick. 

Scientific Observation: I love the balloon flowers but am tired of the daylilies.
Scientific Conclusion: They might both go into the main garden this fall while I stick something more colorful in this pot.

Scientific Observation: Pretty, but will be prettier in the garden.
Scientific Conclusion: Stick something more colorful in this pot. Think drag queens, darling, not tea cozies.

Scientific Observation: This 'Major Wheeler' honeysuckle looks cool growing out of this pot.
Scientific Conclusion: Leave it alone but keep it pruned to maintain its shape.

Scientific Observation: This liatris spicata was floppy in the garden and is almost as floppy in the pot. I'm tired of floppy. I want it more erect.
Scientific Conclusion: Maybe it needs more sun. Maybe it's just a flopper. But maybe it needs a hot date to help it along. 

My pot of pink and white gomphrena with 'Blue Daze' evoluvus is one of my favorites.

Scientific Observation: The contrast of the gomphrena against the soft feathery cosmos makes me happy.
Scientific Conclusion: Plant this again next year. 

Scientific Observation: The basil is fabulous.
Scientific Conclusion: Grow basil in this pot every year until you die. 

Scientific Observation: It is possible to grow dwarf hydrangeas on my porch steps, especially when I remember to water them.
Scientific Conclusion: Remember to water them!

Scientific Observation: My 'Peach Sorbet' blueberry is thriving in this pot.
Scientific Conclusion: Don't take it out of this pot. Ever.

Scientific Observation: Happy sedum 
Scientific Conclusion: Your other sedum hates you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not Quite Wordless Wednesday

 There are some plants in the garden that simply defy explanation.

The extra rain this summer has convinced the most xeric plant in my garden 

to sprout buds

and bloom.

Sempervivums, also known as hens and chicks, are easier to grow than a dandelion.

I think they look like space aliens.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Upside of Excess

This has been a surprising summer. Wait... That sounds odd. Let me try again... I'm not surprised it's summer. I'm just surprised at all the daily weirdness. Frogs and chipmunks, creatures new to my garden, have moved in and made themselves at home.  A leaky spigot has gone from needing a plumber to hosting nightly frog parties. As for the chipmunk, I've convinced him never to leave by dumping piles of sunflower seeds outside his burrow. I may regret that.

But the strangest of all has been the rain. Tons of it.  We had twice as much rain in June as normal and July has started out a bit soggy. I'm ecstatic I don't need to water my garden but several diseases have begun an insidious invasion and a few plants have actually begun to rot. The gaura? A squishy, rotten mess. The purple sedum I can't remember the name of? Slightly miserable but hanging on.

I came home from a trip to discover a storm had knocked over my Rose of Sharon, one of my favorite plants, and it had stayed that way all week. 

Because so much time had passed the branches wouldn't pop back to their original shape and had to be cut. I should have just decapitated the whole shrub to make it even but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

I only cut off what I absolutely had to and left the rest so the pollinators and I could enjoy the flowers. It looks absurd, but realizing I was going to have to butcher my favorite shrub almost made me ill. An empty birds nest lies among the debris.

This picture was taken from the dog run and shows the Rose of Sharon after having the heaviest branches cut. I'll prune it again this winter. Monarda are blooming near the ash tree.

Kalimeris and monarda that I've convinced to grow in partial shade

But what the rain has done is make everything grow, grow, grow! 

Self seeded phlox in the Dogwood garden

Trumpet lilies, monarda, and coneflowers in the Dogwood garden
The lilies are intensely fragrant. There's heliopsis in the background but the bunnies ate most of it so it's hard to see.

'Minnie Pearl' daylilies

I redesigned the Yuck Side last fall and used perennials collected from around the garden to help disguise the rain barrel. My collapsible Big Daddy rain barrel holds 156 gallons of water and fills up quickly in heavy storms. Purple pole beans have started climbing the metal arbor but since you can't see them in the picture, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Red Maltese Cross, no name toad lilies from a friend, and self seeded Painter's Palette grow easily here. 

 'I Lost the Tag' yellow daylilies with 'Laura' and 'Delta Dawn' phlox

Zinnias, marguerites (anthemis 'Susanna Mitchell), tricolor salvia, and an 'Abraham D'Arby' rose grow in containers. These zinnias were supposed to be pink but I love how cherry red they are. 

'Dark Ponticum' monarda and native mountain mint grow in the bright shade under my crepe myrtles.

Coneflowers in the Founding Flowers garden. There's a big empty space where the rain claimed a rue.

Peacock lilies near the agastache 'Blue Fortune' and knautia
The agastache has just started to bloom but will continue until frost. Both agastache and knautia are pollinator magnets.

This sign says it all!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pool Shark School of Surprise Attack

I have a sneaky suspicion that my garden is not all it appears to be. To the untrained eye it's a colorful jumble of flowers, shrubs, and short fat dogs. But to the warren of rabbits snug in their earthen burrows beneath my neighbors foundation, it is the feast that fuels midnight parties, where I suspect the horny hares are quite busy going at it like, well... rabbits. I'm starting to worry that the main thing growing in my garden is simply more rabbits. I don't like this. I don't like this at all.

Do you see the huge swath of bright yellow heliopsis behind the purple monarda? Yeah, me neither. What I do see are a few flowers to the left and right while the middle remains woefully empty. Why is that? Bunnies!

The entire middle of this patch of heliopsis was devoured by the fat bastards. Apparently, my metal butterfly wasn't fierce enough to scare them away. 
Note to Self: buy scarier garden art.

Please tell me that's all they ate!

When not busy devouring unsuspecting gardens or canoodling in the dark, those ravenous rabbits have been attending the Pool Shark School of Surprise Attack. Heliopsis? Mostly devoured but will be back to finish the job. Dalea? Delicious. Malva 'Zebrina'? C'est Magnifique! Cypress vine? Pole Beans? Excellent with a splash of lemon, please.

But it is the demise of the asters that has me the angriest. How dare they eat my asters after I worked so hard to stuff them into plant supports? You can kiss my asster, you fuzzy,  garden-munching, furball screwing, 'Hey, look how cute I am' pests! Out, out, out of my garden!

The neighborhood rabbits have eaten so much of my garden I doubt they even look like bunnies anymore. I should probably be on the lookout for a herd of hippos instead.