Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Best Way to Buy Delphinium

Note to self:  not the $4 short version available.  Wait and buy the $8 kind.  The short ones are getting et by slugs and they are not really doing anything.  The tall ones are dreamy, to wit:

Doesn't that Otto Luykens cherry laurel look nice in the background?  I'm attempting to grow some delph from seed in my boxed bed... will let you know what success I have.  They're not really perennial for me here, something gets 'em.  Maybe the heat, maybe not enough sun where I have them.

I am plotting about my back yard.  So many wonderful spaces in my neighborhood, so many great shrubs, trees, and plants.  My current plot involves taking about 2/3 of my back yard to make a garden room with curved borders, and then beyond that the "hidden" more functional space, potager-style, with narrow raised beds bordered by a fence with raspberries, blueberries, asparagus, cutting flowers, etc.  The slope of the yard has been confounding me but I think I need to just find a way!

Wandered the nursery this morning-- I needed it.  It's a gorgeous, present-from-God kind of day, after some painful events, and it was healing to look at Hypericum Hidcote and the tempting new hydrangeas.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Garden Problems

Too many thoughts streaking through my 45 year old brain like falling stars, leaving no trace.  When I'm gardening I'm thinking about children and to do lists and relationships and did I call so and so?  So let's see if I can recap for future information what I noticed in the garden this morning:

  • It looks prettier this year than usual-- :)
  • Some yellow leaves-- new Limelights, Monarda.  Carefree Wonder is a bit pallid.  Do I need fertilizer?  Iron?  Does rain (we've had lots) wash iron out of the soil?
  • Noticing many more slugs since I started using cardboard to prevent weeds.  I don't mind a few holey leaves, just noticing.  Will I have to d/c the cardboard at some point?
  • Need a good sunny space to put the tiny seedling peonies I have hopefully tucked everywhere and anywhere.
  • Wonder if I should move the Heritage rose, which has never accomplished much, to a sunnier location.  I read that it can act as a climber-- on the fence maybe?
  • I so want a berry garden.  Should this be done with raised beds?
  • A raised bed full of peonies for cutting would be gratifying.
  • Still not heard back from landscaper guy about new beds.
  • Which new beds should be shrub intensive, so as to diminish work.  Much weeding today.
  • Toyed around with planting Drift roses or spirea or perennials around the new planted area with the holly and Limelights.  Worried this would distract from the effect of the Limelights-- I want to see them bloom before deciding.  Plus, they'll get big and the other stuff will get crowded out.
  • My Walking on Sunshine rose which I transplanted looks peaky.  Does it need fertilizer?  Not enough sun?  
  • I need some kind of hoop or twine and stake arrangement for the mock orange and peonies in back.
  • Lots of things need dividing.  Hosta, daylilies, daisies, Siberian iris.
  • Need to take note of new perennial plantings so I can track them at least to the point of noticing when they disappear.  Didn't I have a--?  New today:  a pinkish-violet salvia between the two roses in the walkway garden.
  • OMG, need an arbor or a stone wall with battlements to keep back the New Dawn.  It is a pity to cut off flourishing disease free canes, but it is a positive hazard.  If we put an arch there that might provide something resembling safe passage on the walkway.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spring Table Flowers

My sister in law is coming, so it was necessary to spend my Ashcombe's gift certificate on something wonderful for the table.  My husband built it with a hole and a shelf-- you can put the matching center piece in and have an unbroken table, or you can put flowers or herbs in the center.  I wanted something wildflowery I could add to the garden later-- picked species delphinium (it is species, isn't it?), coreopsis Jethro Tull, some fantastic looking penstemon whose tag fell out, and a May Night salvia.  Those are my new Kmart bistro chairs and I spray painted the ancient wicker and added Kmart cushions, so we are moderately spiffed around here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Help on the Way?

A friend has a neighbor with a lovely, interesting, leafy yard.  Turns out he's a landscaper.  We met at a party and he came yesterday to give us some thoughts about our sloped, weedy, bald-as-an-egg back yard.  He can help me with cutting beds along the back fence to reduce the mowing and raise the leafy, twiggy, sheltered, birdy factor.  Fingers crossed I can afford the help.  I am emboldened by my modest success on the side, but 100 feet of fenceline x 8 or 10 feet depth represents a lot of cardboard.

This shows my bit of garden in May-- Monarda thriving as ever, Jupiter's Beard and catmint well-behaved and reliable.  The pink Knock Out rose is huge.  I cut it back but it may just be too big for that space.  The Heritage is rather daunted there... never really amounted to much, though the blossoms are so wonderful.

Yes, that's a dogwood more or less inadvertently underplanted with Shasta Daisies (Becky).  I know, I know.

I need to think what annuals I want to tuck in... I put in some tall snaps already.  I'm thinking Profusion Zinnias at the edge and blue salvia scattered through the middle, maybe some pinks and whites too.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Saturday the Best of Men built an enclosure for the AC unit so it doesn't get away.  At the moment said enclosure is drawing too much attention, but I plan to address that with plant material in a manner which I hope will become clear to me in time.  Here is what I did with my little spade and the intermittent help of my strapping spouse and equally strapping youth:



That's the Golden Raindrops crab that is 6 feet from the house.  You can't tell here, but there are no major limbs (yet) facing the house.  So maybe I'll get away with it.  Stranger things have happened.  At some point I want the bed to be quite full with shrubs, but I don't want to go too crazy with perennials until that time arrives.  Maintenance is an issue.  Some of the mulch has cardboard under it.  My exterminator guy (mice) told me not to put it close to the house.  So it's mostly a couple feet back.  What do people do about weeds right up against the foundation, short of noxious sprays?  I use Roundup sparingly but I don't care for Monsanto, so am open to ideas.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Put to Bed

Thinking up post titles involves some atrocities.

I FINISHED the South bed.  Apart from mulching and edging and possibly some more hollies underplanting the tree I selected which is....

... a Golden Raindrops crab.  (Ducking and hiding.)  I am not fond of tree selection.  In theory it is cool, reasoned, and orderly process.  In practice either I wait until fall, when I seem to be looking at scratch-n-dent trees, or I do it in the frenetic 6 weeks of spring when the nurseries are packed, things are selling out like mad, I have to throw a burlap bag over the head of a nursery employee to get help, and stress has triggered my sympathetic nervous system such that my pulse is actually faster trying to capture and take home a tree.  When I do select a tree (wait, I read about this one... nice small fruits easy for birds to eat... the nursery manager likes this one... right shape...bloom color I wanted... spread is a couple feet too wide, can't I fudge that?... nice size tree... hey, good price!)

I do a lot of reading about gardens, my current hyperfocus.  I know this is not how you're supposed to pick a tree.  But I snag the tree and come home and then read about how the spread is too wide and it's susceptible to fireblight and you know, you really shouldn't plant a tree that close to the house...

Large men helped me install this tree (I didn't have to pay them, I have two on the premises).  12-15 spread, 6 feet from the house.  Yes, I can do the math.  We can call it "Larkspur's Folly."  It has hollies under it in what I fondly hope will be an attractive underplanted effect*.

I was so thrilled with the new bed, the first we've put in since we built the house five years ago, that I lured my husband out on a blanket to come sit next to it.  I will take pictures but without the mental & physical calorie expenditure of this fraught process, it won't look like much to an outsider.

But to me, it's lovely.

*Unless the hollies die because, as observed in the Penn State Extension Service publication on broadleaf evergreens, which I tracked down and read, they fry from a Southern exposure to winter sun.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

In Which I Rock

I started out stymied.  It all seemed too hard-- damn hose wouldn't unhook so I could use it to outline beds, the graph paper plan looked bad when I did outline it (with electrical cord because hose, unhooked by attentive spouse with a pliers, kept knotting and twisting unhelpfully).  But I reminded myself how uncritical I am (always a plus, for this sort of project) and how you never learn anything unless you get some experience at it.

Lots of fascinating crawly stuff under those rocks
Little girls (at $5 each) helped me lift the leftover rocks from an earlier wall project out of the way .  Once the cardboard and landscaping fabric was lifted, the soil looked reasonably bare.  I adjusted the bed outline based on what I saw rather than my graph paper model. The beds had to be wider than projected, so I scalped them with the mower, and that helped me see and like the outline better.  I hauled planting mix and bags of compost and put the Limelights in on 5' centers.

Beds outlined, more or less
Now all that remains is figuring out the area by the AC unit.  I don't know if I can put a small tree that close (five or six feet from the house).   I want to put a tree-form serviceberry Autumn Brilliance there, with a canopy which I am perfectly well aware gets to a 15' spread at least.  I'll see what the nursery says.  There may not be a suitable tree.
May have to develop an Alternate Plan.

Anyway, I want to underplant there with the hollies.  I moved my Walking on Sunshine rose to the fence by the gate.  This will be a nice, sunny, amended bed and who knows, some other things might get tucked in, though I want to keep it pleasingly simple.  We'll see how I do with that.

Limelights planted
What remains?

-- get a tree or a suitable substitute
-- plant hollies on 3' centers, buy another if needed
-- cover remaining turf areas with cardboard
-- order mulch and mulch all
-- rejoice!  Be excited!  Can't wait to get a line of fat, nodding Limelight blooms this summer!  Whoopie!

Hoogendorn Hollies-- aren't they pretty?


Ha-- I think I finally figured out how to get Picasa to rotate properly.  I exported this one after making changes, let's see if it holds or if I am giving up for now.

This is my conception for the back fence.  More or less.  Based on what's out there already .  The crab (tiny), Green Giant arborvitae (thriving), witch hazels (steady growers), Limelight hydrangea and serviceberry Autumn Brilliance are all out there now.  I need to level the ground by the fence if possible, expand the beds, and underplant with some lovely  easy shrubs.  I want a birdy, leafy, twiggy place of shelter back there.  Someday perhaps we can do the retaining wall.

Today I am girding my loins to go out there, cold as it is, and dig that bed on the side.  Gonna do it.  That's me.  Right now.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pixelated Gardening

I bought my shrubs and compost last weekend... was pondering mulch when the canopy at Walmart became ominously dark (feel the need to point out that the shrubs and compost were bought from my Local Independent Nursery, though I admit to looking for scrumptious bargains at Walmart which I did not find any of).  Pouring down rain.  Good practice for my 16 year old learning to drive, but not so good for digging my new bed.  I'm probably off the hook for a while... hope my Limelights and my hollies will be okay till then.

Meanwhile, I was listening to garden podcasts and got lured into trying computer gardening, so much less work than the real kind.  I checked out the Better Homes and Gardens free garden planner and it is quite fun.  Very easy to use, has sort of a sketchy, shaped quality that lets you sorta kinda visualize what you have in mind.  It has specific plant materials but not the ones I'm using... no problem; the shapes and sizes are roughly similar.

So to the right you see my idea of a row of Limelights, a narrow tree, boxwoods, cedar trellis for the AC unit, and some sort of white blooming tall thing on the left side of the bed to pick up the Limelight theme.  Some underplanting with perennials or little shrubs.

Here's the link.  You have to sign in but it's free.  Have fun!

Saturday, April 21, 2012


So this is the bed I'm working on.  I made a plan-- for some reason it takes me ages to get to the process of measuring and drawing and making the little movable circles.  I keep airily thinking I can wing it.  Then I tried Photoshopping it, or a like attempt in Powerpoint, and the result looked silly.  Which may be the actual final result.  But it looked extra silly Photoshopped.

Against all wisdom and previous firm intentions, I decided that I am willing to risk holly (Ilex crenata Hoogendorne, actually) despite the Southern exposure.  I like it, the nursery lady assured me it would be okay, I have a year's guarantee, and some landscapes around here seem to pull it off.  So I will arm myself with Wiltpruf and hope.

I researched Limelights further and decided I can keep them from spreading beyond six foot bounds with bold pruning.  I researched small trees intensively, bit my nails, fretted, and called the nursery about amenchelier laveis, which supposedly has a 10 foot spread.  They don't have it, but are going to look for it for me.  I bought many bags of compost and planned to buy mulch until I realized I was looking at like, 30 bags.  So I think the nice man with a truck is going to be coming by.

So here's my little plan-- 11 feet deep, 40 feet long.  Hollies kinda clustering around the AC unit.  I am going to ask DH to make me a lattice to shield it better.  Above that perhaps a small flowering tree-- I like the serviceberry because they're native, pretty, and have a kind of lacy light-filtering canopy.  I think.  Three Limelight hydrangea as you come forward towards the front of the house.  Perhaps some sort of tuck in small shrubs or big perennials.  I am flirting with the idea of a tree-form hydrangea on the fence side of the AC unit as found here.  I looked at knockout roses but I'm still looking.  Too big for the leftover space, maybe.  And there are other luscious things-- caryopteris, catmint.

As a plan I'm pretty sure it's flawed, but I'm eager to try it.  Apart from the tree, everything else can be moved.  And it looks like I'll have time to think about it, because our solid month of sunshine has developed into what looks like a solid week of rain.  I'll be gardening on paper for now.
My Plan, which I can't seem to get right way up.  Bummer.


I'm like my youngest daughter a few years ago learning to ride a bike.  Mad as a hornet, and determined to do it.  I just want some nice things along my South foundation and I keep mulling and researching and fussing and looking and plotting, and I can't seem to pull it off.  I hate planting Wrong Things.  I know, I should turn it over to someone else, but I want to do it myself.

So I guess I'll have to deal with some mistakes.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Southern Exposure

I spent many hours that could well have gone elsewhere reading up on shrubs.  The Penn State  publication on broad-leaved evergreens has scared me off of my favorites, boxwood or a boxwoody holly, for that side of the house.  There's yellow siding and brick and merciless sun and I'm pretty sure they'd fry in the winter.  I looked at yew and juniper and tough evergreens but they are not wonderful enough, at least not in my limited imagination.  So now I am thinking paniculata hydrangeas-- Limelight, which I adore, or maybe a Tardiva.  I would like to put in a pocket of Dutch iris because I've read they like dry, hot, neglected conditions, which I'm confident I can provide back there.  I keep squinting at the Knock-out roses, thinking I might tuck one in there.  Gardeners seem to be wary of these, or apologetic.  I think it's because they're a little like those cheerful tasteless plastic flowers people put in their window boxes-- they bloom endlessly with healthy foliage and there is no remembering that you have to prune in months with no R in them.  Too easy... must be a trap!

In other news, I pulled the trigger on two viburnum (Cayuga) for the East foundation.  I love them excessively.

The single-flowered kerria has been great this year:

I also bought some foxglove, delphinium, and tall snaps for the walkway garden.  And I met a landscape guy at a party.  He's a friend's neighbor, with a tiny yard wonderfully planted.  I can't do retaining walls or anything big, but maybe I can afford some help putting beds along the fence in the back yard.  I hate mowing and I want my back yard to be leafy and structural and intoxicating.  We're a long way from that.

As a bonus--bluebells on the Appalachian Trail:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Urgent Note to Self

* I need more Angelique tulips for cutting next year.
* Birkwood Viburnum five years later finally paying for its keep.  Gorgeous, airy, sweetsmelling blooms.  Could use two more.
* I missed mulch delivery from the township.  Again.  So this is something that has to be set up in March.  Breast beating and tearing of garments.  I plan to marshal every laundry basket and every child I have and bring  some back the hard way.

After a weird warm winter and hot early spring, things have cooled off to "normal", or more specifically the 50s and 60s.  So all these things forced into bloom are holding their blooms, knock wood.  So, so, so beautiful.

Spent the morning tentatively pruning (even after listening to the wonderful A Way to Garden podcasts, still don't know what I'm doing).  I am finding that I talk to the shrub when I'm pruning.  Mostly apologizing.  "I'm not sure this is right, but..."  I have learned not to do this in my other life as a nurse.  Also cleanup, and the entertaining game, "What happened to my---?" I really don't mind this game, so long as I have some stuff reappear that I remember-- in the back bed with the sideways apple tree, there's Siberian iris, chives (lots of chives), mint (don't ask), peonies (yay!), echinacea, a rose (Abraham Darby I think) and a mock orange.  No lavender though.  I planted three different kinds of lavender, they were all happy for the summer, now poof, gone.  That's where I put lots of zinnia anyway, so the butterflies can amuse themselves all day between that and the massive buddelia with which, I am happy to report, my husband gloved up and did battle.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Want to Do This

I can't buy all the things I want, especially delphinium and foxglove and heliotrope.  Don't do great growing them from seed in the ground. If I had a nice bench like this outside, I could easily recognize what I have and they'd be ground-ready, versus what I do under lights.

Speaking of lights, so far I have had luck with lupin, heliotrope, penstemon, dwarf hollyhock, sweetpeas.  Not so much luck with delphs and hollyhock for some reason.  First attempt at winter sowing-- jury is still out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Our church is planning a community garden.  I sent them four pages of notes.  Meanwhile we have actual farmers in our congregation who have been making a living at it for generations, so I'm not sure that my contributions are going to be that valuable.  But it's okay, 'cause I'm psyched.  Now I want one at home.  Correction, I've always wanted one at home, except for the fact that all my level ground in is front and I am not brave enough to rip up the front lawn.  But I can still dream:

And also:

Not forgetting:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ground Covers vs Mulch

The former are more expensive, but so much more entertaining.  Two suggestions from M Roach of A Way to Garden podcast (such great, tranquil listening when you're stuck in the car or doing dishes):  bigroot geranium and epimedium.  She also loves hellebores, but that is a little too elite for my zip code.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Just Did It

Our house is five years old.  I have two lovely landscape plans from different talented designers.  Lack of money and the slope in the back has thwarted me thus far.  Do I have an excuse for my barren sideyard?  No I do not.

Yesterday, on a very warm March day, I lured my 16 year old daughter who is old enough to have an interest in such things.  We outlined the projected bed with hose, broke down cardboard boxes and laid them within the outline, put landscape fabric down and weighted the whole thing with rocks.  My 10 year came out and helped us with the rocks and the watering.  So after five years of gnashing my teeth, an hour and a half got us this far:

Now comes more plotting.  What luscious things will go in this south-facing bed?  That's a viburnum (Birkwood I think?) and a yellow rose my dad bought me at Hershey Gardens whose name is failing me, and further down the way there is a stack of unused stone (hm!), an AC compressor (ugh!) and a lilac my DH got me for Mother's Day a couple of years ago.  I have some peony roots and a single bearded iris to go in here somewhere.  I'm thinking Shrubs!  With an exclamation point!  Yay!!!

Today was another warm day.  Creepy warm, 70s, but I'll take it, and anyway, it's not like I have a choice.  It was so peaceful and placid out there with the birds chirping soothingly.  Pruning the New Dawn was not so placid.  Most of my roses are reasonably well-behaved but the New Dawn I optimistically planted in a very narrow space by a highly traveled walkway is waiting for its chance to scratch your eyes out .  It was me against it.  NB:  Foxgloves while awesome gloves are useless against climbing rose teeth, er, thorns.  Be advised.

I also tackled the hulking buddeleia.  Started tackling it.  Lost interest after a while.  I'll get back to ya, buddeleia.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The limit I'm thinking of is $5,000.  That's what it would cost to get a stacked stone retaining wall in my sloped backyard.  Instead I went back to grad school.  Do I, at times, question this ordering of priorities?  Yes!  But for today we'll let it stand, and figure out what can be accomplished without the $5,000 or the wall.

This is my bit of garden by the side of the porch from a couple of years ago:

There.  That's for encouragement.  I don't have a pic from last year.  Things get much bigger.  Today it's supposed be 60 degrees in our Zone 6 town, I'm planning to go out there and hack some stuff.