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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Not Just a Blahg

Do you know Lee May? I don't really know him but I feel like I do. He is a garden blogger with a kind, gentle wit and an appreciation for simple, natural forms. We shared a love of rocks, writing, and fearless pruning.

Lee May has died of cancer after a very short illness and when I read his last post I burst into tears, thick, shocked drops that filled my eyes. How can I cry for someone I don't know? Because blogs aren't truly about the garden but the gardener. When you get to know the blogger, you also get to know the gardener and you are an easy lot to love.

To leave a message for his family, please visit his blog at Lee May's Gardening Life.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Curtain Call

If every gardening season were like an opera then fall must be the final act. The soft overture of spring gives way to the intensity of summer before finally bowing to the curtain call of early winter. My gardening for the year is done.

Plants have been pulled, divided, composted, swapped, ordered, planted, transplanted, and then transplanted again.

Salvia koyame is a tough fall blooming salvia that thrives in dry shade and only grows about a foot tall. I added several more to my dry shady beds.

Rudbeckia fulgida seedlings growing in the middle of other plants were transplanted into better spots. The rudbeckia were quite peeved to have been moved but the other plants were thrilled.   

This seedling was so happy I decided to just design around it 
and let it stay in its spot.

Beds have been redesigned and photos marked to identify new plants. 

The 'Rozanne' geraniums have been blooming since spring.

Hundreds of pounds of compost has been lugged into the garden to amend soil that was weeded and mulched. 

(When I added this photo, Google/Blogger spontaneously added the frame and softened the edges.)

Spending every spare minute outside allowed me the pleasure of watching monarchs migrate through my garden.

The rain garden has been extended and more rocks lifted, heaved, and hauled. 

There are almost 1,000 lbs of rocks in this river bed but they weren't hauled all at once. 
Creating the rain garden was a two year project.

Any theatrical production in my garden would have to be a comedy.

 In the southeast, California poppy seeds grow well when seeded in the fall. I mixed these all together and scattered them over my front butterfly garden.

Seeds were saved, shared, and sown.

35 fragrant peony tulips were planted in pots near my back door, including Creme Upstar, pictured above. 120 tulips were planted in empty spots in my container garden. 

150  bulbs have been planted

Every time I opened the gate, it dug into the soil and the dogs would turn the divots into big holes. So I dug up the grass, laid flagstones, and planted Corsican mint between the stones.

Problem areas were fixed with old flagstones. 

Homegrown carrots ended up in a homemade cake and 
a plate of cookies was exchanged for permission to prune a neighbor's tree.

My neighbors ash tree shaded this bed too much and the 'Bluebird' asters grew weird from lack of sunlight. Too much shade caused weak, spiky growth. 

Holes dug by the dogs were filled and filled, and filled. When they redug them, I refilled them so they dug them again so I refilled them....

Baby - Not guilty

Lucy - Guilty

Scout - Guilty and trying to hide from the evidence.

Genie - Very Guilty

I know how you feel, frog.


This is my last post for 2014 but I'll be back January 1, 2015.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Bad Bad Thing

I did a bad bad thing and I'm not sorry. I did it on purpose, an impulse that felt so right despite being absolutely wrong. You could say I was seduced but I think not. I chose to be bad.

I planted mint straight into the garden.

I slipped it into a sweet spot at the base of the white balloon flowers and didn't look back. I have no regrets. It will thrive and mingle, slyly caressing the petals and leaves of the surrounding plants but offering its true heart only to the bees.

 A few quick tugs will keep that Romeo in place and I'll just wink as I walk by. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cutting Your Losses

I am tired of my clematis. It hangs from the trellis, brown and skeletal, a single bloom punctuating the white column behind it. Lush and covered with flowers in June, its desiccated remains a stark taunt to the voluptuousness of summer. I look away and force thoughts of June blue but can feel the irritation rising. I just want it to go away. My flow chart brain kicks into gear and I create a plan to amend the soil, build a berm, and gently prune away old wood but it feels incomplete and I keep spiraling back to square one. I'm tired of my clematis because it's miserable. Amending, berming, and gently pruning won't accomplish anything.

'The President' clematis in spring 2013

A slight tug on the thin stems and they snap free. I continue to pull, curving stems falling around my feet. For every decision I analyze and ponder, there are those that are spontaneous and irrevocably decisive. It wasn't enough that I had decided to pull out the dead wood. I wanted to pull out all the wood - dead or alive. I really just wanted to prune the whole damn thing to the ground and start over. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on.

Spring 2014

I should have stopped to grab my camera and take a variety of wretched photos showing the old thick stems curling through each other like a ball of snakes but I didn't. I was too busy chopping every single stem straight to the ground and pulling out wood so rotten it shrugged from the earth with a careless sigh. When that wasn't enough, I slipped into the small space between the patio and the shrubs and dug it up and replanted it. I needed new stems, straight and strong to hold the heavy blooms I knew would come. 


Cutting the vine to the ground helped me reposition and repair the damaged soaker hose. Fixing a torn soaker hose is very cheap and easy. This was ripped in two places which explained why I always had a wet driveway and a dry clematis.

Clematis are much tougher than they look. I wasn't able to remove every root but this rootball is big enough that it will grow back and be just fine.

My 'President' clematis competes with a row of Japanese hollies for moisture and nutrients in a dry spot between the walkway and the patio. Planted too close to the house in compacted soil, keeping it happy in the summer is a challenge. I moved it away from the wall and amended the soil with about 50 lbs of compost. I created a berm stabilized with rocks to keep the soil from eroding. Soaker hoses circle the newly planted vine.

I stuck the last clematis bloom in a vase with some zinnias. On a Windowsill on Tuesday is as close as I get to the meme In a Vase on Monday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Odd Man Out

The plant sits in the pot, leaves tight against the soil, and I stand and stare. There is no perfect spot, no patch of earth in need of a jolt of reddish orange so it waits while I consider my options. I should find a spot, stuff it in, and be done with it. But I don't.

I am methodical in the garden, quiet, and reflective. My impulses are saved for time spent with friends who don't mind bawdy jokes and conversations ripe with honest observations and sly innuendo. But when I garden I plan, analyze, research. Plants are rarely moved without thought to where they will go and comparisons made of one location to another. But this one went no further than a pot.

Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) in sunnier times with Painter's Palette (Persicaria virginiana) and toadlilies. I offered it at my annual plant swap but was relieved when no one took it.

Decisions are harder when you respect a plant. I could have composted it, pawned it off on my neighbor, or just left it to die. But I didn't. Every perfect spot has become less perfect as my garden becomes shadier. But it blooms and then blooms again, fighting for sun, so I love it even more. The realization that I am the problem not the plant hits like a sucker punch to the gut and I'm humbled from the shock of it. I don't need a perfect spot. I don't care if it clashes, gaudy and bright against the subtle blues of the asters and silvery white of the veronica. Tall, gangly, and always slightly out of place, it makes me happy so it stays. I dig a hole, stuff it in and am done.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mostly Wordless Wednesday

It's so easy to make me happy: a bit of sun, a garden I love, and a stack of books.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Just a Ramble...

My fall garden always surprises me. This is ridiculous since I'm the one that planted everything. I shouldn't be caught off guard by how much is blooming but I am. I get so busy with the start of the school year that I lose track of what's happening and stand on my patio in my pajamas come Saturday, amazed at it all.  

These little 'Dream of Beauty' asters were advertised as needing the ever elusive 'Moist but well drained soil'. However, when I gave them the closest thing to it I could, they almost died. They want to be hot and dry. 

Monarch on the verbena bonariensis

I've had numerous Monarchs in my garden this year

and five fat little caterpillars munching on the milkweed.

These tiny 'Snow Flurry' asters are cast iron tough. Any plant that can handle being stepped on by me and peed on by my four dogs is a keeper.

They are super low growers that can handle dry, bright partial shade.

Native white wood asters (eurybia divaricatus) grow through the variegated 'Autumn Charm' sedum. Both grow well in dry, bright partial shade, too. The wood asters are floppers and leaners so if you don't want them lying on the ground, let them ramble over a cooperative companion.

Northern sea oats, Solomon's Seal, sedum, blue stemmed solidago (solidago caesia), and asters in the shade garden.

 Yellow annual begonias thrived in this shady urn next to the massive Rose of Sharon. I always thought these were fussy plants but they were easy easy easy.

More white wood asters grow through blue plumbago under the Rose of Sharon. Both of these are outrageously tough plants, which is a requirement for staying in my garden. I have a strict "No Whining and No Divas" rule.

 'Piglet' pennisetum and blue mist flower

Blue mist flower grows every where in my garden, especially in the moist, sunny beds along the rain garden. It spreads quickly and I end up ripping it out by the handfuls every fall to keep it from taking over. But it's so pretty I always leave more than I pull.

Native Short's asters are another fall bloomer that grow well in dry, bright partial shade. These quickly grew to be almost four feet tall. They might need to be renamed. 

These soft yellow zinnias were supposed to be three feet tall but never got the memo and are five feet tall instead. Overachievers.

'Serenade' Japanese anemones need less water than most anemones, which automatically gives them the coveted designation of Super Fabulous Plant of Amazingness.

I recently extended the sunny side garden by a few feet in depth. Since my dogs can't resist freshly turned soil or compost, I covered the extension with straw to help minimize the amount of soil they track into the house. Fall rains will help this area settle and the straw will decompose. After I've redesigned part of this bed, thinned out all the seedlings, and filled in the new areas, I'll mulch over the straw to keep the plants from heaving this winter.  I still need to remove the sod by the river bed.

I'm going to extend this area by another foot, but that's as far as I can go. My dogs have an invisible path that takes them from the patio to the dog run, where they chase squirrels and bark at birds. If I move the garden into their path, they'll just run everything over.

I have a huge container garden that I've been working on for years to get just right. This area becomes a wind tunnel during summer storms and everything I've ever planted there has been smashed or knocked sideways. But the miscanthus 'Little Zebra' has held up so well, I'm adding another one. Plastic tulips were the only other option.

This is a mid-sized lespedeza that I cut back every year. If we have a snowy winter, I can pile this spot outside my garage with snow without having to worry about crushing my plants. This plant was only 8 inches tall in March. It looks like a giant pink octopus but I find that charming.

I love how cool these flowers are.

Is that more blue mist flower?

 'Matrona' sedum and knautia with even more blue mist flower in the background

I planted this fragrant 'Fair Rosamond' clematis this spring and it finally bloomed.

And now for something completely different.... white mist flowers!

Fall blooming 'Starman' geraniums grow alongside blue and white mist flowers. Actually, half the garden grows alongside blue mist flowers.

In a plant smackdown, native obedient plant would smother blue mist flowers and leave them screaming for mercy. This plant will gladly take over your garden but the pollinators love it so I give it room to run.

Seed grown gomphrena without a blue mist flower in sight.