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.