12 December 2007

this and that . . .

Just cleaning up a bunch of papers that have gotten way out of control. Am filing all my plant and seed catalogs (and I have a ton now since I sent away for a truckload of them in October) in a magazine holder and putting it by the bed in preparation for late-night browsing this winter.

In the flurry of organizing I came across an index card with the words “Brunnera Langtrees” written on it and did not want to lose track of the name. It is the beautiful forget-me-not-like flower under the lilacs in the spring: Brunnera macrophylla “Langtrees,” and I know that if I don’t type the name here, I’ll be wondering about it next spring.

I knew this particular plant was Brunnera or Siberian bugloss or false forget-me-not, but I didn’t know which kind, because all I ever saw online or in catalogs was ever-more-fancy types with all-white leaves or double rows of white spots on the leaves or whatever, and not my relatively plain variety with leaves that look like they’ve been sprinkled with white paint. So one day I image-Googled “Brunnera” and then clicked on each photo my search retrieved until I found one that had leaves that looked like mine. Simple as pie, and something that wouldn’t have been possible to do, what, ten years ago?!?

Now it is written down for eternity. Here.

And back to the papers.

12 November 2007

to autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
—John Keats (1795–1821)

Photos, top to bottom: (1) B took this through the living room curtains at 1547 in Schenectady on 21 October; (2) pumpkins (and a gourd) that B and Alan bought in Vermont the weekend after Columbus Day; (3) late zinnias, a little worse for the wear of autumn's chill, but probably more beautiful because of it; (4) Indian corn that now dresses up the back door; (5) Happy Halloween! B carved this little guy at the office and then brought him home on Halloween night; (6) sunset in Greenwich Village on 2 November, looking toward the Hudson.

08 September 2007

buttermilk biscuits

So humid here today. Did some good work outside, but took it really easy, as the air was so close. B spent the day reading A Separate Peace, with Dale at his side.

For a late mini lunch I made buttermilk biscuits that B and I ate with sorghum and some blackberries from the garden. Mmm.

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1 stick butter
2/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet. Put the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in a bowl and whisk together. Cut stick of butter into four or five pieces, and work it into the flour mixture until it resembles cornmeal (I just rub the butter and the flour together with my fingers). Pour in the buttermilk and stir until combined (I use a rubber spatula to do this). Put scoopfuls of the batter onto the cookie sheet (as if you're making large drop cookies; I get nine or ten biscuits out of this recipe). Bake in the preheated oven for 15–20 minutes until done.

(If you don't have buttermilk, leave out the baking soda and increase the baking powder to 4 teaspoons; use milk for the liquid.)

Freeze any you don't eat now. When you want one, wrap it in foil and heat it up in the oven for a few minutes.

You might snip some herbs into the dough, too. Tarragon, rosemary, you name it.

03 September 2007

what works II

Shasta daisy against purple smoke bush.

the first bit

I bought a pot of Clematis paniculata (also called Clematis terniflora) over at Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont, last week and was going to plant it to climb up a tripod I was going to construct of ash saplings. Well, I looked at the ash saplings I had piled in the orchard, grown over as they are with weeds, with the thinnest lengths, of course, at the bottom of the pile, and it was all just too much to contemplate last night.

I thought, You really have to get this in the ground before you go back to the city for the week. And then looking at the slope, Hmmm, won't sweet autumn clematis climb along the ground as well as it would up a trellis?

So I cleared a ten-foot swath in the jungle that is the slope and nestled the clematis in a nice deep hole. I subsequently read that when one plants clematis, one should locate the crown about two inches below the soil line, so this morning I dug up the rootball and replanted it. Then for decorative effect, I set an old plow attachment down next to it. I envision the clematis trailing decoratively over it, and, I hope, eventually covering it.

If it takes, it will be a tangle of green that bursts into soft white bloom at the end of summer.

02 September 2007

update on morning glories

All is well: The morning glories are unfurling.

wish list

We have a hedge of beautiful peonies in the garden courtesy of G, the previous owner. I don't know what variety they are, but they're pink and fragrant and huge. However, as I was leafing through the White Flower Farm Fall 2007 catalog a few days ago, there on page 65 was a picture of Paeonia “Fairy’s Petticoat,” which is a stunner. Pink infused with gold! Sold out for the season, unfortunately, but, oh, what a beautiful peony! (image from Klehm’s)

rose feeding

For the record, I fed the roses in August, even though I didn't post about it. I'm planning on moving the two sadly abused David Austin roses today to a sunnier clime, at which point I will feed them and the "Joseph's Coat" rose in the chicken coop.

the barn through the seasons

I'm quite frankly amazed at the difference in the landscape surrounding the barn between the middle of May and early September. I didn't remember how bare the trees were in May, or at least the fact that they hadn't leafed out completely by that point didn't seem like such a big deal. But now I think: May?! And only the beginnings of leaves?

the coop

Scott, who mows our lawn, asked me whether the plants we have in the chicken coop are wild. Are we trying to tame them, seeing as how we've caged them up? I thought that was funny.

two months' difference

What a difference two months makes: I'm still sitting here drinking my coffee and eating my oatmeal, but this morning I'm also wearing two shirts and a hooded sweatshirt in an attempt to warm up a bit before I go outside and begin the day. I'm awake; just freezing! The temperature went down to 48 degrees last night. Wow.

And how odd. The morning glories haven't opened yet. Normally they're the first spot of color I see when I come downstairs in the morning. Poor little hummingbird is vainly attempting to dip into yesterday's spent blossoms. Plenty of buds look as if they should be open, but they're shut tight for the time being.

01 September 2007

what works (and what doesn't)

Know why my two David Austin roses aren't growing very well? They're being shaded by about a jillion huge plants around them! This doesn't work.

Verbena bonariensis shooting through Boltonia asteroides "Pink Beauty." Definitely works.

Cleome here and cleome there. Doesn't work. Plant them in one clump.

The aforementioned V. bonariensis sort of coming up wherever it wants to. Doesn't work. However, I think a long line of it in the peony bed such that it forms a purple hedge in late summer might work very well.

Phlox paniculata "David" in the back of the perennial bed behind all the giant, wild-type pink phlox. Can't see "David" well. Doesn't work. Must move it to in front of the pink phlox.

Oriental poppies in the middle of the perennial bed. Even when the foliage is brand new, it looks somewhat dry and unattractive. Once the poppies have bloomed (and they are spectacular) the plants go dormant for the summer, and I am left with, first, clumps of dying foliage and, second, a huge hole in the border. Doesn't work. Planning on moving the poppies to the back of the bed, where they'll be the tallest plants in June by a longshot. And easier to cover up with something else once the blooms are gone.

More to come.

slope

Our friend Alan was up last weekend, and he and I surveyed the slope and discussed possibilities. He doesn't much like goldenrod or daylilies, both of which to me are like old friends. So, of course, he suggested I get rid of a good chunk of the goldenrod I've let grow over the past few years over at the southern part of the slope. We'll see. He is now back in the city, but he called yesterday and left a message saying that he'd been thinking and had some ideas he wanted to bounce off of me.

On the possibility list so far are 15-foot-or-so drifts of the following:
What seem to be working right now are the blackberries (we've actually picked a bowlful so far, and more are on the way), the Helianthus "Lemon Queen" (which is colonizing the steepest part of the slope), the Rosa rugosa, and (sorry, Alan) the goldenrod. My goal is to have thick coverage, interesting shapes, and enough order so that I don't feel embarrassed when I look at the slope.

Alan made some good points:
  • I seem completely overwhelmed by it all
  • I can take it slowly; no one is forcing me to do everything at once
  • If I find that an idea isn't working, I can change my mind and move plants around
Now I know all of this, but it was a revelation to hear someone else say it.

full day of weeding

Up early this morning, and out to weed! B cleaned out a few of his beds so he could plant some beets and lettuces for fall. I started on the north side of the house and worked my way around, snapping off old hosta blossoms and teasing weeds out by the basketful. Things look much cleaner now.

06 August 2007

'morning

As I said, we had guests during July! This meant that B and I had to actually sit down and plan meals. We've got the lunch and dinner thang down for the moment, but what's for breakfast? Normally, we're pretty low-key on this front: just coffee, oatmeal, or, for a change, Pillsbury orange sweet rolls (growing up, we had these every Christmas morning). When family and friends are visiting, however, something a little more special is in order. As you will see, these recipes are definitely not low-calorie, and they are really, really good. "Serves" information is approximate, of course. How do they come up with that anyway?

Swedish Baked Pancake
(serves 4)

4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Melt butter in ovenproof skillet. Whisk eggs, flour, and milk together in small bowl. Pour into skillet on top of melted butter and bake for 15-20 minutes. Pancake will puff up beautifully and brown nicely on the bottom (although it may not be brown on top). Cut into four wedges and serve with syrup or confectioners sugar and jam.
(from an excellent Web site to which I used to belong and probably should still belong, cheapskatemonthly.com, but originally probably from an article in The New York Times)

Pecan Waffles with Sautéed Bananas and Cinnamon Honey
(serves 8–10; actually, if you double the recipe, it serves 8–10 maybe)

Keep in mind that these waffles will cook a little bit faster than a flour waffle because of the honey in the batter. If you don’t have a waffle iron, try using the batter for pancakes. Top with toasted chopped pecans, if desired.

Waffles
2 cups unsalted raw pecans
4 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the waffle iron
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt

Sautéed bananas
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon coconut oil or vegetable oil
3 very ripe bananas, sliced
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat a waffle iron according to the manufacturer’s directions. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. In a food processor, pulverize the pecans until finely ground. Add the eggs, butter, honey, vanilla, baking soda, and salt, and blend well. Grease the waffle iron with oil or butter (I used a pastry brush to brush a little vegetable oil on the iron). Add 1/4 cup batter and cook for a few minutes, until golden brown. Set cooked waffles right on the oven rack to crisp up and keep warm while you cook more.

For the bananas, melt the butter with the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bananas and cook for about 6 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Set aside. Mix the honey and cinnamon until well blended.

To serve, place the waffles on warmed plates, top with the bananas and honey, and serve.
(from a great cookbook recommended by my friend Gina at the office: Kendall Conrad's Eat Well, Feel Well, a collection of recipes geared toward people on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet)

Baked French Toast
(serves 12)

French toast
1 (1 pound) loaf French bread, cut diagonally in 1-inch slices
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Topping
3/4 cup butter
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup (or maple syrup)

Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish. Arrange the slices of bread in the bottom. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, and cinnamon. Pour over bread slices, cover, and refrigerate overnight. (You may end up with more liquid than you need or the pan will accept; the last time I made this I cut down on the milk and half and half somewhat.)

The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn or maple syrup and heat until bubbling. Pour over bread and egg mixture. Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes.
(from allrecipes.com)

01 August 2007

phlox 'n' roses

Alan, you put me to shame! Your roof garden looks beautiful in mid-July. Herewith a photo of Phlox paniculata "David" and a variety that might well be "Blue Paradise" behind it, along with a lovely pink rose whose name I will also have to confirm with Alan.*

To me, the gentle scent of phlox in bloom is the smell of summer. Drowsy. Dusty. "Honey, pour me a Coke, and I'll tell you a story."

On our drives into Salem every Saturday morning to pick up our mail, we pass a small white house with a side garden that must be 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. It's jammed full of every imaginable color of phlox—and only phlox—which is a beautiful sight. But can you imagine how powerful the scent of all those massed flowers must be?

And now a fuzzy shot of one of Alan's Lilium "Casa Blanca." Those red stamens! That orange pollen! Honestly, the combination of those two colors against the white petals is quite something, isn't it?



And then Alan's Helianthus "Lemon Queen." Remember the slip it was on 12 June? Here it is on 11 July, which is when I took all three of these pictures. What a monster! I'll post a photo of the first bloom, and then another when it's in full bloom.

. . . You'll see. It will be cuh-ray-zy.

* I asked Alan about the other phlox and the rose. He says he bought both from Jackson & Perkins. The phlox is Phlox paniculata "Jessica," although I searched and couldn't find mention of "Jessica" online, although I did find a lilac-colored "Miss Jessica." I wonder if they're the same variety? The rose is a variety called "Pink Simplicity."

31 July 2007

back at 'em

July is on the books as the busiest month of the summer so far. We had weekend guests beginning 5 July when Stephanie, B's friend from work, spent two wonderful days with us. Then my sister and her family dropped by to deliver some family furniture the next weekend. B's niece and her husband visited the next. And then last weekend, three friends from New York City drove up and treated us to a day at the races at Saratoga, including the Whitney Handicap, the result of which (it was won by Lawyer Ron) made our friend Martha very happy indeed. What a ball!

We didn't get a whole lot accomplished on the gardening front, as you can imagine, but it's clear that B and I must have done some pretty fancy weeding early on, because the beds are still looking good. Flowers are a-blooming, we’ve eaten our first tomatoes from B’s vegetable garden, and the potatoes are about ready to be dug. Actually, B dug a few volunteers on Sunday that we will eat this week.

* * *

On the Fourth of July, I woke up early, dragged bags of old leaves from the basement bulkhead where I’d lugged them last fall (to insulate the water line between the well and pump), dumped them out onto the ground, and went at them with the lawnmower. I’d read about doing this in a book called Notes from the Garden: Reflections and Observations of an Organic Gardener, by Henry Homeyer. Great book. It’s a series of short essays on all subjects related to gardening in zones 3–5. It’s organized by month (a device I really like) and is full of useful advice as well as interviews with other organic gardeners.

When Homeyer visits Sydney Eddison (who wrote another book I love, The Self-Taught Gardener), he says, “I nearly swooned when I put my hands in the soil. . . . There had been no rain in six weeks, yet beneath a layer of leaf mulch the soil was dark, fluffy, and slightly moist. It looked good enough to eat with a little vanilla ice cream. Really.”

Turns out that Eddison’s husband rakes the leaves in the fall, runs over them with the lawnmower, and then bags them up for the winter. In the spring Mrs. Eddison spreads a three-inch layer of leaf salad over her gardens, and as they break down, they enrich the soil. Homeyer writes: “Earthworms love to munch on them, breaking them down and moving around this nourishment for plants.” Imagine a family of earthworms frolicking in the leaves and then dragging them underground to eat. I like this image.

When one runs a lawnmower over a pile of dried leaves, one expects a little compacting action. I had 12 bags of leaves to use. To the left is a picture of the contents of one of these bags, pre-mowing.

I didn’t bargain on the volume reducing quite as much as it did, however (Wow! See picture at left.), so I wasn’t able to spread a three-inch layer over the flower beds. I did manage to cover all the exposed soil, though.

Earthworms: Rejoice, for your munching is nigh.

This fall I’m going to start raking early. I may even climb the trees and coax the leaves off with a stick so that I can have more to use in the gardens next year.

Send all your extra leaves to me.

03 July 2007

feeding time

Just checking in. Okay, so I dug in more rose food today (3 July). Are the roses benefiting in a way that I can actually see? Not so certain of that yet.

02 July 2007

edge effect (with apologies to meresy_g)

Today was edging day. Things look better with an edge, don't you think? Up early, oatmeal and coffee and a shower, and then at 'em!

The peony bed is beautiful almost as is, but I have been frustrated with it because it seems so weedy all the time, and the non-peony plants are too close to the edge . . . Solution: A nice solid edge behind which no weeds will be allowed, and wide enough to allow some extra plantings. So edge I did, and then unpacked the three blue fescue (Festuca cinerea "Elijah's Blue") that Alan gave me because he wants the pots for other purposes.

These three plants didn't come back after the winter as quickly or as nicely as Alan expected. He wondered whether they could be potbound, but that just didn't seem to be the case; the roots weren't coming out of the bottom of the pot. Did they simply not overwinter as well as normal? Alan didn't know, and neither did I. So he slipped the plants from their pots, put them in plastic garbage bags, and I loaded them into the back of our car Butch and drove them up to Pleasant Hill. After I edged the garden, I thought a few little "sea urchins" would look nice at the end of the bed, so I got 'em out of the bag and began to see what I could do to save them.

First on the list was taking care of the dead leaves. One I cut back hard, so it looks a little like I planted a Marine in the ground; his blond crewcut poking out of the top of the hole. The other two I manhandled a bit, raking out the old leaves with my fingers.

Then I investigated a little further and discovered that the three were, in fact, completely potbound. What looks like a nice dirty old rootball is actually a mass of roots on roots that have covered the shards of pottery placed in the bottom of the pot to help with drainage.

So I teased the roots from around the shards and dug my hands into the rootball to aerate it a bit. Finally, I replanted the three tired little plants, digging lots of compost into the bottom of the planting holes, and watered them deeply.

It took me a while to figure out exactly how to position them. You'd think I'd have no trouble planting three of the same kind of grass. But they look like such social creatures that I wanted to group them conversationally. Actually, the way it ended up, two are having a nice little chat, and the third is coming around the corner to join them. Or maybe he's a little standoffish. I can't tell which.


In the course of widening the bed and digging nice deep holes for the blue fescue, I uncovered some mammoth rocks, one of which I left in the bed for a little added visual interest (you can see a hint of it around on the right, behind the fescue with the crewcut. (meresy_g's edge effect blog is here)

27 June 2007

night lights


These days the trip back to the city feels much longer than the trip north . . .

salad days

We've been taking a basket full of greens from B's garden every weekend. In B's opinion lettuce is almost as satisfying a crop as potatoes. This past Saturday we also ate turnips and peas from the garden.

papilio polyxenes

Man, what a dirty thumbnail. But what a beautiful Black Swallowtail larva!

endless summer

On the way back to Pleasant Hill from the lake house, B and I stopped off at Brookside Nursery in Ballston Spa to buy two "Endless Summer" hydrangeas for either side of the front door, an anniversary present from each of us to the other. I planted them on Sunday afternoon—positioned them carefully, dug nice deep holes to which I added compost, sprinkled some aluminum sulfate on the soil surface and scratched it in (on the recommendation of someone at the nursery), and then watered the two plants deeply. Here's the one on the south side of the front porch. Looks nice!

All is well, right? Well . . .

The one on the south side of the porch looks absolutely fine, not like his brother on the north side, unfortunately, who has lots of brown leaves, but seems otherwise all right. My first thought was that perhaps the bush on the north side is getting more sun, but that seems unlikely, as the two are planted about ten feet apart and get approximately the same amount of morning sunlight. Then I read around a bit on the Web about aluminum sulfate, which will burn if inadvertently sprinkled onto foliage. I'm usually pretty careful about things like that, so it seems unlikely to me that I apparently sprinkled it with abandon on the one and not the other, but one never knows, does one?

saga of the docka

Two Saturdays ago, B (who's taking the picture), Dale (on the dock), and I met up with my brother C and his dog, Paddy (on the shore), and my parents at their lake house to engage in the age-old, annual struggle with the dock, which must be moved in and out of the lake as the water level falls and rises. C, Dad, and Mom had, the week before, begun to position it, but after seven hours of fighting a heavy wind decided to regroup.

So on Saturday, 16 June, we gathered at the water's edge, come-along, pliers, and hammer in hand, to move the dock and the two connectors into place. The wind waited to blow until after we'd wrestled the pieces into the water and cotter-pinned them together, and then it puffed only enough to dry our barely moist brows. Actually, it was a perfect day. As is our wont, B and I forgot to pack our bathing suits, so we contented ourselves with dunking our feet in the water, the temperature of which was ideal.

Dale, who does not like the water . . . yet, was nevertheless, let us say, convinced to test it a few times. To be honest, though, he was much more interested in the chipmunks and squirrels whistling and chattering at him all morning.

14 June 2007

eleven years!


O you whom I often and silently come where you are, that I may be with you;

As I walk by your side, or sit near, or remain in the same room with you,

Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing within me.

—Walt Whitman

13 June 2007

what a difference a day (or two weeks) makes . . .

. . . a better angle and less intense sunlight doesn't hurt either.

12 June 2007

helianthus on the move

Our friend Alan saw a picture of Helianthus "Lemon Queen" on our computer a few weeks back and asked whether he might have a bit of it for his rooftop garden. I dug some from one of our rapidly proliferating clumps and potted it up for him. Took the time to cut back the leaves to minimize stress on the plant, which B thinks is needless mutilation, but I think does the plant good by minimizing stress on it (I also nip back annuals when I plant them out, which causes B great agony). Alan potted it up, has been keeping a close eye on it, and called last Thursday to say that it's sending out lots of new leaves and seems to be settling in very well and would I like to come and see it?

I dropped my stuff at home after work, grabbed my camera, and headed for Alan's, where I took some pictures of the Helianthus and other plants he's growing on the roof of his apartment building. It's a remarkable garden; and all the more so for the fact that Alan has lugged pots, soil, and plants up six flights of stairs to create it.

Alan loves roses and has lots that bloom in May and June, including this rambler, which is called "America." In addition, he has a number of pots of "Zephirine Drouhin," a light pink Bourbon rose that has an intense fragrance during the day. Unfortunately, I never get a good whiff of it as most of my visits to Alan's garden occur in the evenings.

Near the "America" rose above are three pots of this gorgeous lavender. I don't know the name of the particular variety, but the color is every bit as intense as the picture indicates.

Here's the Helianthus, which looks pretty darn happy in its new home on the sunny roof. I can't wait to see how it does. If Alan pays as much attention to it as he does to all of his other plants, it will do very well indeed. Hope it blooms for him this summer.

Alan's friend Z is an aficionado of Alan's efforts on the roof. In the lower right you can see a few of the eight pots of "Yours Truly" geraniums that Alan trekked in from Yonkers. The rose in the foreground is "Jeanne Lajoie," a miniature double pink rose. Very pretty.

Ah! Eryngium "Sapphire Blue." Alan bought his last year at the same time I bought mine. Mine has had a slow start, though, because I planted it at the back of the perennial border, and it was partially shaded for most of the summer. Alan's is in full sun, of course, and is already beginning to bloom. I'm blown away by how strange and wonderful the blue bracts look.

Alan also grows vegetables and herbs. The year before last he grew wheat and corn. Yes, that's right: wheat and corn. Quite a sight on a roof in Greenwich Village. This year he's growing tomatoes. Here's a flower on one of his "Brandywine" plants. We plant tomatoes, too, and B loves all the heirloom varieties like "Brandywine," "Green Zebra," and so forth, but in zone 4 these old varieties don't begin to ripen until late August or September, right around the time the first frost occurs! I exaggerate a little, but . . . only a little.

Finally, a shy Alan hanging out under the grape arbor. Amazing garden, eh?

peegee hydrangea: r.i.p.

Well, it's June, and the PeeGee hydrangea has not leafed out.

I guess I girdled it with the weed-whacker last year (casualty #2 from the weed-whacker). The branches are all dried out . . . no leaves . . . the bark all around the bottom is gone. It almost looks like it was chewed off. Hmmm. Is it possible that perhaps I didn't weed-whack it? Perhaps maybe some small animal like a vole girdled it over the winter? Do voles girdle PeeGee hydrangeas? Can you believe I managed to work the words "vole," "girdle," and "PeeGee" into a five-word sentence that actually makes sense?

At any rate (with apologies to Monty Python), this PeeGee is no more. It has ceased to be. It's kicked the bucket. It's shuffled off its mortal coil. This is an ex-PeeGee.

I mourn the PeeGee.

* * *

Now, moving on, what to put in its place? B suggests a nice new lilac. I'm wondering about an old-fashioned bridal-wreath spirea. I know there are about a hundred more interesting bushes we could plant, but we do love the old things.

06 June 2007

dame's rocket . . .

. . . in bloom under the lilacs.

05 June 2007

flowers this weekend

We had some friends over for lunch on Sunday afternoon, so before they arrived, B went out to cut a few flowers for the table. We're at that awkward time between the daffodils/tulips and the early summer blooms, or so we thought. Lots of tufts of greenery, not many flowers yet. As I say, B went out with a pair of scissors to see what he could find. Some nice lupine is in bloom, always gorgeous, and the bearded iris in the peony bed are also out. I asked B not to cut the iris, though, because there are so few blossoms, and when the first fades, the next one is only about two inches down the stem, and if you cut the one, you cut them all, and blah blah. B was kind enough to indulge me, but he did find some wild-looking ones in front of the stone wall near the L&S slope. So this is what he put together. The flowers look nice, but I think the way he arranged them is extra-fine. There's the lupine, of course, and the iris, but then also a stray geranium, some Nepeta "Walker's Low," a "Joseph's Coat" rose (to the right), a little honeysuckle ringing the bottom, and then Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), which looks somewhat like garden phlox, but whose flowers have four petals (instead of five) and which blooms in May and June instead of in high summer. Mr. Robinson called it false phlox. It's blooming everywhere in Washington County right now.

31 May 2007

rounding it off revisited

Before I forget, here's a picture of the new kitchen garden. Nice arc, eh? And this weekend I'm going to edge the far end, so that it curves gently into the perennial bed. B and I are very pleased with the way this garden is turning out.

the veggie garden

B's vegetable garden is looking wonderful from any angle. All of the potatoes are up, the peas are starting to climb the wire fencing (after he disentangles them from the onions growing directly in front of them), the tomatoes are nestled deep in the center bed (only five plants total this year, down from a record 20 plants last year), and B's been sowing successive patches of lettuce, so we'll be eating salad from the garden for a while yet.

Potatoes, tomatoes, yellow squash, Delicata squash, watermelons, turnips, mesclun, arugula, cilantro, onions, peas, green beans, one zucchini plant only, I know I've forgotten something . . .

Dale, our green bean– and lettuce-loving dog, looks pleased (if a little distracted by something on the far end of the barn) with the way things are turning out.

progress?

Okay, so not perfection, but I am making some progress, though perhaps not as much as I've imagined. Nothing like a digital photograph to keep me honest. I just found a picture from two years ago (30 May 2005):


And here's a picture I took 28 May 2007:


Hmmmmmmmmmm. Well, still lots of bare earth, but there are certainly more plants now, and they seem to be growing up happily, dead-looking bronze leaves in the foreground notwithstanding . . .

This is a learning experience, that's for sure. I know it looks better. I know there's more interest. I know I like the garden more now than I did two years ago. But this picture looks like, yeesh, this is a garden?

blue-eyed grass


My friend P in Clifton Park says this is pretty much her favorite flower. For some reason it often doesn't live through the winter in her garden, so almost every year she has to go out and buy some. She loves it because it's so cheerful looking and small, only about six inches top to bottom. The Latin is Sisyrinchium angustifolium. "Angustifolium" refers to the narrowness of the leaves, "folium" for leaf, and "angusti" for narrow, I guess? I've got two clumps at the edge of the perennial bed, and they haven't spread much, if at all. If they do, I'll give a division to P. It's a member of the iris family, which you might surmise if you lie on the ground and focus in nice and close, like I did to take this picture.

At the other end of the garden was a nice fat clump of perennial flax. I wish I had a picture of it, but, sadly, it died this spring. I don't know why. Maybe it was killed off over the winter, and the green I thought I saw in April was left over from last fall. What I love best about this plant, genus Linum, is that the clear blue flowers lose their petals every evening, so for a period of about a month there are piles of blue petals sprinkled around the plants. It's low, too, though not as low as the blue-eyed grass. If I can locate some plants this spring, I'll definitely make room for it again.

rose checklist

Fed our three rose bushes on Memorial Day, Monday, 28 May. Will feed them once a month through the summer, if I follow the directions on the Rose-tone® package.

Two of the bushes are very pretty David Austin roses (one is definitely "Abraham Darby," and the other, I think, is "Graham Thomas"), but they've never seemed to really settle in and grow for us. So we bought a bag of fertilizer for them this past weekend, have weeded and mulched the ground around them, and are going to pay lots of attention this year to them in the hope that they will begin to flourish. Up to this point we've been lucky they've only languished and not simply given up the ghost.

We have a climbing "Joseph's Coat" rose in the chicken coop, and it seems to be doing pretty well, but we hope we can encourage it to do even better!

So that's the first mark on the checklist: 28 May rose feeding.

22 May 2007

rounding it off

A little background: B observed last fall that we weren't spending a whole lot of time on the south side of the house admiring the flowers in the perennial garden. I mean, we have a nice bench there and some pretty scenery, but we always are more likely to open up the back door and take a drink and a book out to the chairs on the patio (aside: "patio" is too fancy a word for the cement slab behind the house, but anyway, maybe someday we'll do something about that) than we are to settle in for a nice, relaxing break near the perennial garden. Because we spend so much time on the patio and because the location affords an excellent view of trees and sky but nothing closer in, B thought it would be nice to have a little garden within arm's reach, possibly planted with some kitchen herbs so that we wouldn't have to trek out to the vegetable garden every time we wanted some rosemary or thyme for cooking . . .

So, two weekends ago while B was out, I marked off a nice large arc connecting the corner of the patio with the side garden (I sprinkled flour on the ground to delineate the arc). When B returned, I showed the outline to him, and he thought maybe it was a little large for right now; after all, we would have to fill it with plants. So I brought it in a bit, dug and raked it, and then B planted some herbs he'd bought for it. Looked pretty, but one side of the arc I drew was a little flat, so B modified the shape a bit, and I dug it out. In the process of digging we uncovered a flagstone path that cuts through the middle of the garden, a happy occurrence.

We are very pleased with our work. The garden embraces the patio, softening its edge somewhat, and it leads the eye beyond the patio and around the house to the larger bed beyond. We didn't really think about that aspect of the "design," but, of course, a nice rounded shape is inviting. Planted so far in our new garden are comfrey, dill, echinacea, monarda, flat-leaved parsley, rosemary, thyme, lemon thyme, French tarragon, lemon verbena, and (though it's not an herb or useful medicinal, it was already there and we hated to move it) helenium.

This is yours truly on Sunday afternoon planting the dill. Dale is watching a tennis ball on the lawn, hoping upon hope that it will be thrown for him to chase.



It was.

back of the bed

The front of the perennial bed is looking mighty fine. Lots of interesting foliage, some repetition of color and form, nice-sized clumps of foliage so far. The back, however, is barren. I need some tall interest, so am, of course, considering a grass, maybe baptisia, and then B went and suggested that I move some of my Helianthus "Lemon Queen" to the border. I think that's a great idea, so will likely cut some off the clump growing on the L&S slope and move it on down this weekend.

Here's what the flowers on the Helianthus looked like two years ago, when we had it outside the front door (we subsequently moved it to the L&S slope when we realized we couldn't really sit on the front porch from July through August on account of all the bees buzzing around the blossoms):

This plant is a monster at about eight feet tall, but it is so pretty. The color of the flowers is pure and pale-ish; not overpowering at all. B gets a gold star and a big bunch of Helianthus "Lemon Queen" for that idea.

21 May 2007

they're up!

The Allium moly are up! Thin little leaves, thinner even than chives, are poking their way out of the ground. I am very excited by this.

Didn't get a chance to take any pictures of them, because on Saturday while it rained we cleaned house in anticipation of out-of-town guests next weekend, and when the sun peeked out on Sunday afternoon, we worked hard to finish cutting and planting the new herb bed. Moved a bunch of plants from the L&S slope, so now we can weedwhack/mow a portion of it to neaten it up . . .

16 May 2007

pictures from last weekend

Three Shasta daisy "Alaska" plants with three rosemary plants waiting to be planted; the daisies in the perennial bed, and the rosemary in our new kitchen garden (pictures to come next weekend).

What has happened to poor PeeGee hydrangea? He's not leafing out yet. I seem to remember that he takes a while, so I will be patient . . .

Next are the last of the daffodils. These are a particularly lush little bunch of multi-stemmed, very fragrant daffodils. They're B's favorites. I'd post the picture of B giving them the thumb's up, but he would nix the idea, I'm pretty certain.

In addition to the dandelions in the lawn (mentioned below), we have violets galore. As an experiment last summer and because we were looking for places not to mow, we stopped mowing a section of the lawn behind the chicken coop, and within a few weeks we had some low-growing purple-tinged grass whose name I do not know, Queen Anne's lace, milkweed, and other wildflowers. Maybe this year I'll get around to identifying all of them.

Dale is enjoying something an awful lot. Is it flora or fauna? Or is he simply doing what we'd be doing if we gave physical expression to the emotions a beautiful day excites in us? Good dog!

Finally, the crabapples are in bloom! (B's first memory: Sitting in a crabapple tree in May, watching his dad unload a truckful of chairs from the primary Sunday School room of the Baptist church where he was preacher. The chairs were set up on the front lawn for B's third birthday party.)