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.


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.)

13 May 2007

saturday, 12 may 2007

Sunday morning at 7:15 am. I've got a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal beside me. Pretty cool outside and in right now: 48.5 degrees and 60.8 degrees. We've turned the furnace down to around 50 and will leave it there. I can't imagine that we'll be getting any more really cold weather . . .

Scott came yesterday afternoon to mow for the first time. I mowed the lawn for most of the summer of 2006, after Worden, our friend and lawn mower whom we inherited from G&N, died in the early spring. I thought mowing the lawn would be a relaxing, meditative experience. And it was, for the first two or three times I did it. However, mowing was eating up most of every weekend, and when I finished I didn't have much energy left for anything else. So at the end of the summer we found a new lawn person, or rather he found us, and he's more thorough than I ever was, and when he finishes, the lawn looks smashing.

So we went from lush to manicured yesterday afternoon, in about three hours. Not bad at all.

B reminded me to notice how beautiful all of the dandelions looked yesterday morning, and they surely do. I think Scott mowed them all away, because there aren't any visible this morning. I'm sure they'll be back by next week.

A few random observations from our wanderings on the hill:
  • The tree hydrangea hasn't leafed out yet. I can't imagine it died over the winter, or that my early spring pruning pruned off all the living material, but we'll see. I'm a little worried.
  • Out of nowhere we now have rose-breasted grosbeaks (six males and one female at one time on the ground underneath the feeders; reminder to put some sunflower seed on the ground), an indigo bunting, and a Baltimore oriole. I spied the oriole in the orchard yesterday morning. I heard birdsong I'd never heard before, so I stopped what I was doing (dragging branches to the brush pile) and watched the trees nearby until I saw a beautiful orange and black bird.
  • Don't trust the fact that the label on the "Goodwin Creek" lavender says it's perennial: Perennial where? I put three nice plants in the ground last summer and hoped they would make it through the winter. Seems they didn't, so I Googled "Goodwin Creek" and "Lavender" yesterday and found out that it's reliably winter hardy from Zone 7 south. Kind of wish the nursery folk hadn't put it out with the perennials. Well, live and learn: If a plant label doesn't have a zone marked on it, I should wait to buy it until I've done my research.
  • Based on what the deer did to one of our junipers this past winter, I am rethinking planting the L&S slope with creeping juniper. Might work closer in to Salem, at the house where I originally saw it, but maybe there are fewer deer there. At any rate, the Rosa rugosa is coming back in, the Helianthus "Lemon Queen" is sprouting, and maybe we'll just mow the rest of the slope this summer while we think more on it. We've decided we're not going to try to plant a perennial garden on the slope, so that's good. The only problem with waiting on doing something with the slope is that the back of the house is what people see first when they drive up. It would be nice to have it look somewhat finished.
  • We've reached the end of clearing the orchard for now. The undergrowth is really coming in, the trees are leafing out; best to put away the chipper until October. Yesterday it also began chewing the branches instead of chipping them, so I think we need to have the blade sharpened or replaced, and possibly the belt replaced, too.
  • The Hosta "Blue Angel" under the ancient maples is up! I was a little worried, because all of the other hostas we have elsewhere began showing signs of life weeks ago. I waited to weed the bed under the maples until I could determine definitively whether the hosta had pooped out or been eaten by something else; as soon as I saw that it was up, I weeded the bed, and it's looking good. I'm going to spread some old leaves as mulch to help keep the weeds down and hold the moisture in.
  • No signs yet of the Allium moly, although my friend Gina who gardens in Brooklyn says hers are up. Go, Gina!
  • The crabapples are blooming, the apple trees are beginning to bloom, and the lilacs are coming along. If we don't have another frost, we'll have lilacs this year (last year was the first year we had blossoms since we bought Pleasant Hill; the other years they've been nipped by late frosts).
  • Potatoes are up in B's vegetable garden!
  • Finally got around to cutting back the Siberian iris by the garage so the new growth won't be pushing through old leaves.
B drove to town to do some errands yesterday afternoon at around the time Scott showed up to mow, but before he left he asked me to ask Scott to take a look at the growth in the orchard and estimate whether he could give it a mowing. So when Scott had finished up the front and back lawns and the grass between the house and the barn, I asked him about the orchard. He thought his mower could handle it, as the growth wasn't too thick yet, so away he went. He did a wonderful job, so we may ask him to mow it every other time he's here. Stay tuned.

We have a new pair of loppers with a lifetime guarantee as well as a pair of bypass pruners from a company called Corona. Kyle at the hardware store told B they're the ones he uses at home, and that if we have any trouble with them, we should bring them right back. Is there anything better than a lifetime guarantee from the manufacturer coupled with a personal guarantee from the store owner? Salem Hardware is the BEST.

I've been savoring A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd. I love their writing style, and I love the fact that they mention so many plants by name that work in their Zone 4 garden. I borrowed the book from the library about three weeks ago and am renewing it as many times as I can. I don't want to take it back! I think I'll be looking for a copy to buy.

08 May 2007

shooting fish in a barrel . . . er . . . daffodils in a bucket?

This was definitely peak weekend for most of the daffodils. Don't they look like they're enjoying the view? I waited until the sun was low in the western sky on Saturday before venturing forth with the camera. Getting a pretty picture of a flower with this nice light behind it is like shooting fish in a barrel; it is almost too easy.

Over the past few years we've been buying daffodils 100 at a time from WFF. G&N had, of course, planted loads of bulbs before we ever got in on the game, so now we're enjoying the impact of our combined efforts. I'd like to begin bringing in some later-blooming varieties so that we can extend the show by a few more weeks. I think Narcissus poeticus are later blooming, right? Hmmmm. And they smell great, too.

On Sunday afternoon, we cut a bunch of daffodils to take back with us to NYC. Last night, Alan came over for a visit and left with a coffee can full of flowers. He took just a few at first, and I said "Take more!" and so he took a few more, and B said, "Don't you like our daffodils?" and he took some more, and finally we just pointed out the ones we thought he should take. He left with a nice bunch, and we still are lousy with daffodils . . .

By the time B and I get back to Pleasant Hill on Friday, most of the ones that are so beautiful now will be drying up, and the leaves will be busy photosynthesizing . . . And that's the only downside of daffodils: enduring the ripening foliage, which tends to hang around until mid-July or so. But they are beautiful.

Here's a picture of the larch at the bottom of the driveway. He's needling out prettily, isn't he? This is our third larch tree in that spot (number 1 met with an untimely weed-whacked end; number 2 died of thirst; number 3 is a charm, we hope).

When I was in high school, I did lawnwork for a retired engineer who was one of the most interesting people I've ever met. I worked for Mr. Robinson through middle and high school; mowed his lawn and weeded his gardens in the spring, summer, and fall, and then shoveled his sidewalks and driveway in the winter. He had very specific ideas as to how he wanted things done. When I planted his dahlia tubers, I was instructed to dig a hole, mix in a spadeful of compost and a sprinkle of bonemeal, and then set the tubers on top. His wildflower garden, he told me, had been laid out "mathematically." I don't know whether he meant he had planted wildflowers in a certain pattern, or whether he had decided upon a particular mathematical shape for that portion of his yard. He had a compost pile that I turned for him on the first of June, the first of July, and the first of August. His perennial border radiated from a metal stake set at the back of it to which he attached a chain that he used to delineate arcs. One arc for phlox, one arc for cut-and-come-again zinnias, one arc for petunias, and so forth.

He also had a larch tree at the turnaround in his driveway. That tree made quite an impression on me. It looked like a pine tree out of a storybook. Straight and tall with drooping branches and fine needles that turned gold in the fall. When B and I landed in Salem, the first tree we planted was larch number 1. Number 3 (ahem) has made it through one full year. I hope he continues to prosper.

And finally, the hydrangea at the end of the peony bed. It's been so overgrown! I love hydrangeas as much as the next guy, but this one was a little out of control. I discovered last year that it was spreading by underground suckers and gradually nudging out the irises growing next to it. So I started at the bottom and worked my way around and up, pruning back the suckers and cutting away all the dead wood. I've had some bad pruning experiences in the past, so I was a little nervous, but I think I did a pretty good job! I can't wait to see how it leafs out.

05 May 2007

saturday, 5 may 2007

Today we cleared, chipped, and planted. B and I started out early chipping up piles of branches that B has cleared from the old orchard. Here's a photo of the pile of chips we made. The orchard is looking loads better now.

Three weeks ago I found two ticks on my back after I'd been working outside all day. I'm somewhat paranoid about Lyme disease (I know a few people who've had it; even a mild case can be alarming), so now we are making sure we spray our legs and pants with Off and then reapplying throughout the day. This evening: Not a single tick. Wear your insect repellent!

At around two o'clock, after we'd been chipping for about four hours, B and I took a lunch break and drove to the Burger Den. And what an expensive lunch it was: Two cheeseburgers through the garden, two orders of onion rings, and two milkshakes: $26.85!? Of course, I'm the guy who still thinks that a pair of sneakers should cost no more than $20.00. Still and all . . .

After lunch, we stopped at a nursery nearby and bought two Nepeta "Walker's Low," which I will plant tomorrow. "Walker's Low" is the 2007 Perennial Plant of the Year, according to the Perennial Plant Association.

Starting at around 3:30, I worked on the thicket. The first picture here is the thicket before I got to work. The second is of a garden cart full of branches to be chipped (I filled the garden cart twice with old branches that had been piled in the orchard and eventually overrun with grapevines and raspberries; hence the thicket). The third is the used-to-be thicket. We've been meaning to get this cleaned up since 2004; what a relief to have finally gotten to it! Branches that can be chipped have been chipped, and the raspberry and grapevine branches are in a big bag to be taken to the dump. I realize I could just chip them up, too, but they seem so scarily prolific to me; I feel like a chip of a raspberry vine could turn into a whole new plant if left alone for a moment. Paranoid? Me? Surely you jest. I am a little irrational when it comes to these twiny things, I guess.

So tonight I'm tired, B's tired, and so is Dale, who we think has a cold. He's been sneezing and wheezing all day. If he doesn't seem better in the next few days, we'll take him to the vet. While B and I worked outside all day, Dale slept inside. However, when it was time to plant the Allium moly, I took him with me down near the road. Here he is watching cars while I plant the bulbs (don't worry, he's on a leash):

And finally, the Allium moly going into the ground. The instructions from McC&Z said to plant each bulb four inches deep. I poked holes into the earth and dropped a few bulbs into each. The whole area is about three feet square. I'm hoping these will spread.

Newsflash from B's vegetable garden: Peas are up, mesclun is up, turnips are up, onions are coming up, arugula is up. The potatoes, cilantro, and sweet peas are taking their time. In addition, the daffodils are out, the tamarack is needling (photos later). Spring is here!