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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Snapshot

Every summer I live by one simple rule: do nothing. With school dominating my life from mid-August to mid-June, I spend my summer days in teacher rehab - I go to bed the same day I woke up, I don't grade anything, and read books written for adults. It's fantastic.

My garden is designed to be a summer garden because that's when I'm home to enjoy it. Grab a drink and pull up a chair.

The sunny border near the rain garden is a pollinator paradise. Hummingbirds go crazy for the red silene regia 'Prairie Fire'.

The dogs all hang out under the cherry tree.

This phlox is the love child of 'David' and possibly 'Laura' but no one's talking. It has purple stems and petals with ragged edges.

Let me know if you'd like seeds. It's about three feet tall.

A bit of shade under the trumpet vine

Mix and match monarda

One of the screens in an upstairs window fell out so I was able to take a picture of the sunny side and rain garden.

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and native mountain mint (pycnanthemum muticum)  love afternoon shade.

The boss

 Annual rudbeckia hirta collapsed into the tansy during a storm and decided they liked it so much they stayed. 

Insect on the dalea

My 'Abraham Darby' roses were slow to perk up this summer but have finally decided to grow and bloom.

Pitcher pot of of purple basil

Zinnias and white balloon flowers next to the variegated oregano I bought at Joy Creek.

Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers. I grew them all from seed. Seedlings don't argue, whine, or ask if they have homework.

My blue mist flowers and 'Monck' asters have already started blooming.

The view out the kitchen window.

Adios! I have a hot date with that hammock.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Garden Logic

I've decided that gardeners have a totally different version of logic than everyone else. Or maybe it's just me. What makes sense to me rarely makes sense to anyone else. My neighborhood once advertised a baby sale. I called the community manager and asked if twins were buy one, get one free. She didn't think it was funny.

After recently spending three days in Portland, Oregon wandering through fabulous gardens, I decided I needed to make a few changes to my own. Would I wait til fall to transplant, prune, and redesign part of my shade garden? Of course not. While that might have made sense to the rest of the world, it made no sense to me. 

I was tired of my boring shady bed and of the big green blob that my garden had become. I wanted to fix it and I wanted to fix it now. It didn't matter that it was raining and that the best time to transplant anything is the spring and fall. As a matter of fact, by doing it all in the rain, I wouldn't have to water. Now that makes perfect sense.

Before the rain started, I should have taken pictures for the perfect Before/After post. But I didn't. I just ran outside, ripped out plants, cut down branches, and grabbed my shovel.


Out came the overused kalimeris, the storm damaged salvia, and the hidden white pot filling the spot I couldn't find a shrub for. Hellebore were moved, and variegated columbine put in their place. Years of planning and overanalyzing my dry shade had helped me create a shade garden full of thriving plants but it was boring, as in stuck in an elevator with a taxonomist boring. 

Fix No. 1

This area had previously housed a big white pot because I couldn't find any variegated shrubs that would thrive in dry shade. So I just filled the spot with a pot and called it a day. But after removing several branches, my shady spot became bright enough for a callicarpa 'Duet'. This variegated beauty berry attracts wildlife and can tolerate mild drought. 

 Variegated foliage will keep a shade garden from looking like a plant cave.

I hadn't planned on moving the pot here but I couldn't budge it any further. I added a variegated sweet potato vine and some coleus. I needed color and interest but didn't want anything too bright.

Coleus doesn't actually like dry shade but I don't mind giving it a little extra water. It's a cheap solution while I decide how to brighten this area.

Fix No. 2

Redesigned last fall, I love the shady parts of my garden but need more color, zip, pizzazz. I pulled out some kalimeris, a tough perennial that thrives in dry bright shade and is overused in my garden, and a mystery euphorbia that goes dormant every summer.

A moist, mild summer had left the soil loose and cooperative so I moved some hellebore to make room for purple heuchera, coleus, and 'Leprechaun's Gold' variegated columbine. It will take another year or two for this area to fill in.

I love this!

These coleus were root bound and dried out but thriving - my favorite combination. I like a plant that laughs at adversity.

A homemade iron plant stake that marks the mouth of the soaker hose. 

Fix No. 3

Zinnias, tansy, and black eyed susans (rudbeckia hirta) grow well in hot, bright sun. A cypress vine is climbing the bird house.

Summer in the DC area can be unpredictable and stormy. The last couple of storms brought high winds that kept breaking branches  off my salvia 'Maraschino'. Tired of the carnage I moved the salvia to my sunny bed and replaced it with an ornamental grass, miscanthus 'Little Zebra'.

I redesign this area every spring as I look for plants that will block the curtain and can withstand high winds. I think I might replace the zinnias this fall with another 'Little Zebra'.

Is that a curtain on the outside of the window? Why, yes it is! Made from mildew resistant marine cloth, it absorbs the intense afternoon heat and solves the problem of reflected heat frying my plants. The miscanthus, which was slightly crispy when I bought it, will eventually block most of the view of the curtain. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Explanations Needed

What do you say when you are embraced by a stranger on the street or when you meet someone for the first time only to feel as if you've known them forever? You don't have to say anything. If you're a blogger, your smile will do it for you.

The Welcoming Committee 

I spent the past weekend in Portland, Oregon at my first Blogger Fling. I could say it was a party or at least the mother of all garden tours but it was really a homecoming. Finally meeting the people whose blogs I follow was incredible. But to be able to share my passion with brilliant, funny gardeners of all ages was truly amazing. It was fabulous. It was every adjective you can think of that describes what makes you happy.

Private garden in Portland, Oregon

I love this screen!

I started blogging four years ago as a way to share my garden pictures with family but soon realized I had joined a rich community of knowledge and support. I no longer felt defeated when plants died, were peed on by the dogs, accidentally weed whacked by my husband, or stepped on by kids. When the only words I could use to describe some of my garden designs were 'completely craptastic', other bloggers were there to remind me to start over, keep going, and be thankful I didn't have deer, raccoons, or psychotic neighbors.

Private garden in Portland, Oregon

One of my favorite gardens 

Garden blogging isn't a contest. It's a community of people who understand the need to research 'plants for dry shade' at 3 am because you can't sleep and the irresistability of your favorite perennial. The Portland Fling combined 80 garden bloggers with entry into some of the coolest gardens I've ever seen. But I didn't bother comparing my garden to the ones we saw. Gardening is the magical combination of art and science and my suburban garden is my studio and lab.

I arrived in Portland curious but left inspired. Designed around the needs of a family, my garden doesn't feature expensive art or a secret waterfall. But thanks to three days of touring and non-stop garden talk, it now has a few less tree branches, a new variegated shrub and ornamental grass, three purple heuchera, and six brightly colored coleus. Buoyed by the vibrantly colored foliage combos that filled my camera, I pulled out the plants I didn't like and didn't wait til  fall to make much needed changes.

Portland is a cool, quirky city with a thriving garden culture. The DC area is not. Chemically addicted lawns and polite, boring shrubs rule. If our garden culture were live theater, it would consist of a short, one act play where nothing happens. But since I can't change my address, I've decided to change my perspective and dig deeper into the small gardening community I'm already a part of. Would I have made these changes prior to the Fling? Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Something From Nothing: The Big Daddy Redo

I once saw a garden that had been decorated with a beautiful mirror to make the narrow space seem larger. Clever and effective, I admired the creativity of the gardener but wondered what parts I would choose to reflect if I added one to mine. Would I angle it carefully to hide everything I didn't like or would I be brave enough to show it all? Even without the glass and frame, every garden is a mirror that reflects the priorities of the gardener. I didn't need a reflective reminder to show me that parts of mine were a mess.

Spring 2013

The side of my house visible from the street used to be called the Yuck Side. It's claims to fame were several utilities, a huge rain barrel, and a massive bleeding heart named Fred.

Summer 2012

Every summer when Fred went dormant, a huge gaping hole was left in an already ugly bed. Busy with 5 dogs, two teenagers, and a teaching career, I didn't have time to deal with the mess. As long as I avoided the side of my house, I never had to look at it.

Summer 2012

But if my goal was to show my neighborhood that a beautiful garden could be created without using chemicals, this bed was a heckler to my well polished rants. Why would anyone listen to anything I had to say if I couldn't even fix this disaster?

 Summer 2012
I assembled this wooden screen from plywood that I painted and embellished with decorative cabinet knobs and my favorite Dr. Seuss quote. The thyme was supposed to cascade over the top but it died, instead.

Frustrated and needing an outlet, I poured my anger and disappointment into an art project. If I couldn't fix the problem, I'd find an artistic way to cover it up while I worked out a real solution. The screen was a personal challenge. Would I really make it and then stick pictures of it on the Internet? If I could pour my energy into something purely decorative and slightly weird, surely I could figure out a way to create a beautiful bed from a hideous mess.

So I did.

Summer 2012

This bed was full of weeds, ragged anemones that only looked good in the spring, persicaria (Painter's Palette), and an assortment of oddballs I couldn't find a home for in the main garden.

July 2014

While my screen served to horrify and confuse, I began to research and plan. Starting in fall 2012, I widened the bed and added a couple hundred pounds of compost. I interplanted the bleeding heart with summer blooming Asiatic lilies to add interest when Fred had gone dormant. Secured to decorative metal stakes, they grow up through the bleeding heart foliage and help hide the utility boxes.

I thought these were going to be a deep pinkish red.

Added this spring, the handmade stakes from Battle Hill Forge are as beautiful as the lilies.

I put the stakes in place once the lilies broke dormancy. 

'Buttered Popcorn' day lilies and phlox were added to help hide the rain barrel we call the Big Daddy.

Delta Dawn and Laura phlox

White mist flower, maltese cross (lychnis chalcedonica), Painter's Palette (persicaria virgniana), and more day lilies grow easily here. The maltese cross and the phlox clash but I don't mind. They're on opposite sides of the rain barrel so it's no big deal. At least not to me.

A newly added birdhouse

I decided to fight fire with fire and added native obedient plant to the weedy area next to the air conditioning units.  It overtook the weeds and has filled the space completely.

August 2013

It blooms in late summer and is a pollinator magnet.

Fall blooming 'Starman' geraniums and white mist flower grow in front of the rain barrel.

Toad lilies from a friend fill this area in the fall.

To protect my newest variegated toad lily from the rabbits, I covered it with a mesh colander. The colander provides light while keeping it safe.

This owl reminds me to keep the newly planted scutellaria (Downy skullcap) moist.

As for all those knobs, I found a blacksmith on Etsy who made me twisted iron rods with holes in them. I used a little Dremel saw to cut off the extra metal rod sticking out the back of the knob and secured them into the metal poles with  waterproof adhesive. I now have 18 one-of-a-kind plant stakes.

I used them to mark any spot that needs special attention.

These were very easy to make.

I even used them along with a few wrapped iron rods to create a little barrier so my honeysuckle vine isn't chopped by the lawn mower.

I used the fox knob to scare off the rabbits. I think it's working.

In the end, I created a bed just like me: quirky and resolute. Renamed the Big Daddy Garden it's my own mirror to remind me what a little weirdness and a lot of determination can accomplish. Instead of hiding my mess and pretending it isn't there, I'd rather just fix it. It's not as easy but it feels a lot better.