15 July 2010

new garden: a little before and after

Just for comparison's sake, the new garden planned, dug, and planted.

26 September 2009

11 November 2009

6 April 2010

23 May 2010

10 July 2010

Wish I could figure out what's going on with the color on the camera. Excuse it, please.

14 July 2010

ready for some sun in nova scotia

My friend Nancy at Leaping Greenly has just written a very funny poem about her plants this summer. Here it is so that you might also chuckle along with me (and her) about the crappy weather in Nova Scotia currently. Nancy, things will get better soon!

Enjoy Nancy's Ode to the (Crappy) Weather

13 July 2010

that old mountain dew

. . . well, maybe at some point it was full of moonshine. Now this whiskey barrel is filled with annuals and a young vine. B and I spent more than we should have, no doubt, on it this spring, to make a home for a new Clematis montana 'Mayleen' and the aforementioned annuals (lobelia, heliotrope, euphorbia 'Diamond Frost,' and petunia-y and daisy-like flowers whose names I cannot remember right now).

The plan is to build a ladder trellis against the thin chimney at the back of the house. The clematis will eventually climb that and cover the chimney with a gazillion light purple blossoms in the spring. This will liven things up certainly. I'd like to add another clematis or two to the mix at some point, but first the trellis needs to be built.

12 July 2010

we've been crossbreedin'!

Hosta macrophylla 'Endless Tinkering.' Brand new variety, folks. Not exactly deer-resistant, but possibly deer-addling. If you like hostas and you like hydrangeas, well, why aren't you adding this to your shopping cart? Note: Planting this variety in full sun will result in purplish-blue leaves and deeply ribbed flowers.

Trademark pending: Definitely not your mama's hosta (or, for that matter, your pap's peegee)

09 July 2010

worry for naught

Tried to make up a lyric to the tune of "I'm a little teapot," beginning with "I'm a little worry-wart." About as cute as a rat with a fuzzy tail, right? (Wait! That's a squirrel, right? Hey now, that is cute!)

Anyway, there I am sitting at my desk in the city all week, wringing my hands, envisioning every last plant in the garden burnt to a crisp with all of the heat we've been having. I mean, I'm reading people's blogs and everyone is out all day long watering and watering and running their wells dry to keep their plants from drooping, and there I am in NYC just worrying my head off.

And when we left the city this afternoon, we're driving up the Palisades Parkway, and B says, "Wow, look how dry the grass is. When did that happen?" and all I'm seeing in my mind is Pleasant Hill become the Valley of the Shadow of Death, with acres and acres of brown foliage and trees that have stripped down to their branches because it's SO DARN HOT.

We arrive. I park the car at the top of the driveway, fling open the door, and run to my dahlias and the new columbines and the little oak-leaf hydrangea that has surely succumbed because its root system is no larger than my pinky.

All are fine. Absolutely fine. So are all of the tomatoes, squash, and string beans, and even the lettuce looks great, for crying out loud.

We've since watered the potted plants on the patio (don't worry, they were fine, too), and the soil in the whiskey barrel was still a little moist, truth to tell (we watered it anyway). And with some thunderstorms coming through overnight and into the morning, it seems the rest of the garden will get watered soon, too.

I think I will stop worrying now.

first garlic!

Anyone pulling their first garlic?

Yip yip!

08 July 2010

weediness by the road

I've been considering the large roughly oval flower bed that surrounds an old maple down near the road. In the spring it's filled with daffodils, and in years past we've been more or less successful planting zinnias, marigolds, and cushion mums (expensive!) in it to provide some summer and fall color. The problem is that because the bed is much larger than it looks, it can easily hold 60 zinnia plants (a challenge to start that many), and we'd have to buy about 30 cushion mums every fall to make any sort of statement at all (and we're not Rockefellers). And having to plan this bed every year, effectively starting from scratch, is sort of beyond me at this particular juncture.

A few years back I thought about and then bought and planted in that bed some fall-blooming perennial asters. I figured, hey, there are tons of varieties available, they would be pretty from early September on, and, once they got established, no more plant buying needed (for that bed). I bought and planted a few, and, well, they're pretty in September and October, but kind of boring in May, June, July, and August (aster foliage isn't that glamorous). I haven't been dividing them (or weeding), so the nine little plants have remained nine little plants and, to be truthful, are kind of spindly, because about a third of the bed gets only a little sun (old maple tree, remember?), and the sunny part gets covered over with weeds. Which choke the asters. Poor asters.

The ones I planted (and that I intended to move into the autumn garden up by the house earlier this spring, but never did) are 'Hella Lacey,' 'Alert,' and 'October Skies.' The first is tall and light purple, the second is short and purple-red, and the third is short and light blue. Pretty, eh? And come to think of it, some enormous clumps of these guys would look gorgeous in the fall. And I could add 'Bluebird' and 'Lady in Black' to the mix. That would stop traffic.

But emphasis on "enormous clumps," which means I have to divide and divide and divide again what I already have.

But what about the rest of the bed? Asters, asters, and more asters: hmmm, kind of boring (see above).

And then over the past few days it hit me: daylilies. Not the fancy Frankenstein ones that look like a science project gone awry, but more traditional-looking ones. Maybe not ditch lilies since we see them all over the place this time of year, but possibly lemon lilies to start the show in spring and then some other yellow and gold ones through the summer, with an occasional red one thrown in to stir the pot. The virtue of daylilies is that I already have some I can use, their foliage is thick and would help hide the ripening daffodil foliage, they will bloom in half-sun (maybe not as profusely as they do in full sun, but I can forgive that), and if I choose some additional varieties carefully, it's likely I could have bloom from May through September to take attention away from the aforementioned weedy aster leaves.

So another project begins. And I think this might be a good plan.

07 July 2010

sunny days

Heat wave began in earnest on Monday, 5 July. We watered things pretty deeply before we left for the city on Monday evening, but we aren't back at the house until Friday evening, for crying out loud. Those plants will have to make do without us for another two days. It's been hot in the country, but not as hot as here in the city, thankfully, so all shall be well, I hope.

And maybe we've had a thunderstorm or two . . .

tired foliage

Scott, who takes care of our lawn, told me that he will mow the yellowing daffodil foliage down near the road this week. From May on, he leaves that part of the lawn unmowed at my request, because I want those daffodil leaves to soak up as much sunlight as they can. The only problem is that I usually let them ripen until way into August, at which point the lawn is almost beyond reclaiming.

Finally, it all becomes too much, and to save Scott the trouble of having to mow and remow the area, I find myself crawling around on my hands and knees muttering to myself on a humid August afternoon, tidying things up with a rusty pair of grass shears.

This year I am happy to say that I was a little more on the ball. In May, after the last daffodil had bloomed, I looked ahead six weeks and circled 5 July on my calendar, at which point I called Scott and told him I wanted him to mow the old daffodils away in early July. Good for me for thinking ahead, and good for Scott for remembering. Seriously.

In the meantime, the daffodil foliage near the house, in the peony bed, on the long and steep slope, and against the stone wall is also near ripened, which means I will be busy this weekend cutting it back. Every year I feel like I should wait until the leaves are completely dead instead of half yellow and half green (which is why the flower beds look bedraggled until August), but this year I think I might risk everlasting damnation by cutting them back before they're completely crisp. How much can a half-dead leaf photosynthesize anyway? But how much will it compromise the health of the bulb next spring? Maybe the answer is not much.

On to the Oriental poppy dilemma. Well, it's the same dilemma. We have amazingly healthy Oriental poppies. So healthy, in fact, that I can dig them up, break the taproots, transplant them, and have two poppies for the price of one: the transplant and the plant that sprouts from the taproot left behind, bless its heart. What I don't love, again, is the way the amazingly robust foliage smothers everything within three feet of it in May, dies back in June, and leaves a gigantic hole in the garden in July. What to do? What to do?

It's easy to find plants I like. Well, I like pretty much every plant, so that's sort of a dumb statement. It's the working out of these details that frustrates me. The solution here is to leave enough space between the poppies and neighboring plants and put them in a spot where we won't notice the hole they leave when they die back in June, preferably in a spot we won't see very much of. This is easier said than done. But I might have just the spot: We have a beautiful stand of red and pink lupines behind a row of peonies in a part of the garden that faces the road. The lupines are pretty much on top of the peonies right now, which might argue for widening that bed a bit, moving the lupines out and farther apart, and then interspersing the poppies. I imagine a group of poppies and lupines would look smashing from far away (the road) in May, and from the other side, the peonies could do a lot worse than bloom pink against the red and pink of the poppies and lupine. Nice. Dilemma solved?

But what to do about all that daffodil foliage? Sigh.

06 July 2010

gladiolus 'Atom'

Last year, Old House Gardens included three corms of a cute little glad called 'Atom' with my order. I was instructed to share these with a friend in order to encourage said friend to order some tubers or bulbs from Old House Gardens for him or herself. But did I? Not on your life. I planted those babies, I did, and got some gorgeous flowers for my selfishness.

'Atom' blossoms are red-red with a thin white edge. The plants are smaller than the gladiolus with which I am familiar (and, to be honest, not very fond of). I dug the corms last fall, discovered that the three had miraculously turned into six, chortled with delight at this occurrence, bagged them and hung them in the laundry room, and then forgot about them until this past weekend, when I cracked the corms apart and could have shared half of them with a friend . . .

dahlia update

Okay, so all of the tubers I plopped into the ground in mid-June are leafing out and growing like mad in this heat. I swear one of the plants shot up about five inches this past weekend alone. Not quite time yet to tie them to their stakes, but they are really leaping. Makes my crazy little heart glad.

The five dahlia plants I ordered from Corralitos Gardens, on the other hand, are budding and ready to pop. I honestly think that 'Florinoor' will be in bloom this coming weekend. Can't. Wait. Pictures to come, promise.

my favorite view (so far) of the expanded garden

I'm amazed at how quickly plants are filling in and how settled the new garden is looking just a few months after we dug it. Here's a shady little nook near the house where B planted a few coleus. Some comfrey to the left and an old hosta in the distance. The frilly stuff is bronze fennel. The coleus will fill in as the summer progresses (if they don't succumb to the heat this week), but their size now is just right to my eyes, and I like the way the other plants are arranged them like protectors.

flowers for the fourth

Some nice 'Montgomery' astilbe, a variety of shasta daisy that Alan gave me this spring and that I divided and planted in the new garden, a little platycodon, a sprig of smelly heliotrope tucked in at the bottom, and a few hosta leaves to round it out. A little red, white, and blue for the day, eh?

15 June 2010

late to the gate, but oh well

After a relatively chaotic spring, I finally planted the dahlia tubers on Sunday. No potting up in April or May, no careful monitoring of growth, no anxiety other than, "Oh my gosh, here it is June and I still haven't planted the dahlia tubers!"

I am inspired by Mr. Robinson, my gardening mentor, whose approach was to wait until after Memorial Day and then set the tubers on a trowel-full of compost and a sprinkling of bone meal. I'm also inspired by the fact that the dahlias I plant are not the dinner-plate-size blossomed ones I used to plant, which means that the flowers actually have a shot at developing and opening before the first frost. And finally, all the tubers had nice shoots emerging from them already, so I know they want to grow.

Well, they're late in the ground is all. What are you gonna do?

These are in addition to the five new dahlias I ordered from Corralitos Gardens and planted out about three weeks ago in the extension to the perennial bed. We've had so much drizzly, damp, cool weather recently that I'm just happy those guys haven't succumbed to depression and wasted away, like the basil I planted nearby seems to be considering. Sad little basil.

14 May 2010


Via Andrew Sullivan's blog is this meditation from the Guardian on English bluebells by Adam Nicolson, grandson of Vita Sackville-West. I think we might be hard-pressed to have acres of English bluebells (Hyacinthoides nonscripta) in our woods (they're hardy in zones 6–7, according to Old House Gardens). Maybe we could establish instead a little woods full of Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica; hardy in zones 5–8).

You walk out of the field, into the shade of the wood, where the new leaves of the chestnuts and beeches are emerging, and the first thing that hits you is the scent of the bluebells. It is a waft of sweetness on the wind. You sigh it in. There are no sharp notes in it, no sophistication, just honey on honey, straight from the jar.

Then, beyond that sweetness, the drifts, rivers and lakes of the blue itself, one layer after another, mysteriously hazy in its density, sliding off into the shadows of the wood like a vision of what a wood could or should be. Here and there, visible from miles away, are one or two very pale, even white ones, but most of the flowers occupy that strange and shifting middle ground between lilac and blue, an uncertainty in them as if there were a mild, electric flickering on the screen in front of you. You never see that in photographs, where bluebells so often seem to have lost their allure, but if you lie down in a wood and look closely at the flower head, it becomes clear.

A few images here: http://www.english-country-garden.com/flowers/bluebell.htm

26 April 2010

desirable plants this year

A small list. Very small list.

Want . . .
  • Agastache 'Blue Fortune': If Sydney Eddison calls this one of her favorite plants, then it's one of my favorite plants, too. I've noticed some agastache blooming, I think, near the subway I take to work, and I love the look, as well as well as the aromatic foliage.
  • Amsonia hubrichtii: Again with Sydney Eddison! Actually, the thready foliage of this plant turns gold in the fall and would be a nice echo of the fall gold of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)
  • Aster laevis 'Bluebird': Love asters, and this one is a beautiful sky blue.
  • Aster lateriflorus 'Lady in Black': Dark foliage and light purple flowers.
  • Baptisia 'Purple Haze': To round out the triumvirate of baptisia I am planting. Just planted 'Carolina Moonlight' last week.
  • Hydrangea quercifolia: This is one of those shrubs I've been wanting to grow for ever, and I keep not getting my hands on it.
  • Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster': Alan wanted to relieve himself of two very overgrown pots of this grass that I have been cogitating on for years. I will divide the contents of each crowded pot into four plants apiece, so I will have eight (count 'em) EIGHT plants! Thank you, Alan!

07 April 2010

signs of the season

Earth egg.


New garden.

06 April 2010

ordered from corralitos gardens

Phew. (Does anyone say that anymore?) Lucky to have thought to myself this evening, "Now what was that beautiful dahlia that Kris at Blithewold photographed last year . . . ?" So I went back to the post I wrote so that I could remember the details (it worked!), clicked on the Corralitos Gardens link, and was astounded to see that I had until only 10 April to place my order. Also somewhat surprised to see that the minimum order is $30, but . . . oh, well! It's spring!

So here's the order, chosen with an eye to having them populate a nice large swathe of the new flower bed this summer (all images swiped from the Corralitos Gardens Web site):

The one that started it all: Kris's 'Florinoor' (slightly dark foliage, anemone form, 2.5' tall, 4" blooms),

'Florinoor' will look positively staid paired with 'Honka' (how was this name chosen?! orchid form, 2.5' tall, 4" blooms).

I haven't grown a cactus form yet, and I love the color of 'Smooth Operator' (dark foliage; semi-cactus form; 2.5' tall, 5" blooms).

I'm betting 'Alpen X' will look even more astonishing face to face (very early blooming, formal decorative, 3' tall, 6" blooms)

And finally, because the color and form of 'Golden Cloud' make me think, "Ahhhhhh" (waterlily form, 4' tall, 5" blooms). Really: "Ahhhhhh."

04 April 2010

i got me flowers

Happy Easter! B and I woke to find that the first daffodils are in bloom on Pleasant Hill. We took a small bunch to my parents in celebration of the day and were surprised to see that almost none are in bloom yet in Schenectady, in spite of the fact that Schenectady is a solid zone 5 and we in Washington County are zone 4ish/5ish.

In addition to the yellow daffodils, we also have some gorgeous blue squill blooming, and the various and sundry bulbs I planted in the lawn last fall are beginning to bloom, too (Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica and Scilla bifolia 'Rosea').

B remarked to me that he thought it seemed sort of early for daffodils, so when we came home this evening, I looked at past years' observations. Sure enough, in 2009 I posted a photograph of the first squill blooming on 15 April, and the first daffodils I noted were in bloom on 12 April. In 2008, I noted the first daffodils in bloom on 19 April; the week before (12 April), the squill and daffodils were up but not yet blooming.

In 2007, I noted the first sprouts on the daylilies, phlox, sedum, and peonies on 23 April. With the exception of the peonies, all of the above were definitely poking their noses into the warm sunlight as of yesterday, 3 April.

I'm thrilled and also a little spooked: I've got to get busy in the gardens!

28 March 2010

autumn garden plan with plants

All right then. So, based on what I have already and with minimal purchases to be made, I’ve laid out a basic plan for what will go where. (I’m going to need a solid plan to prevent me from slipping into bad habits—“Here’s a plant; there's a spot: Perfect!”). I wonder whether this looks feasible or just like a big mess. If anyone is watching, I’d appreciate feedback.

I think I have a reasonable balance of vertical and rounded shapes, with more interest added in foliage color and shape. When autumn hits, I think the grasses in the back will provide a nice backdrop for the asters and sedums in front. Good old Stachys lanata will wend its way along the front with clumps of ‘Elijah’s Blue’ fescue poking up through.

So much to consider.

21 March 2010

hope in tangible form

For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

from "Atalanta in Calydon" by A. C. Swinburne

I know we will have another cold spell and no doubt more snow before spring settles in for good, but what a sweet foretaste yesterday was.

Spent about an hour cleaning up the lilac grove, which was roughly pruned by our heavy snows this winter. Now I must cut up the branches I removed from the old lilacs. I'm saving that for next weekend.

Spent a half hour relocating the clods of earth scraped up by Gene's plow as he cleared the driveway through the winter. Rain and time will settle them back in.

Then spent about two hours (the reward!) bagging up old peony leaves (should have done this last fall, but . . . oh, well!) and cutting back the broomstraw that was miscanthus and aster and sedum and raking out old leaves from the garden. Labeled all the plants I could locate with the same kind of marker (zinc tags) so that I can see at a glance where everything is. All in preparation for the great migration that will occur as I dig the new bed and rethink where things belong.

Later in the afternoon B and I drove to Hudson Falls to our favorite nursery so we could drink in the smell of sun and earth in the greenhouses where the owner is starting snapdragons and marigolds and pansies. Seeing all of these little plants sending up their first leaves is, as B says, "Hope in tangible form."

Note to self: Pine tree we would love to see growing at Pleasant Hill (after seeing a mature specimen growing at the nursery): Pinus parviflora "Tempelhof"

03 March 2010

poem for wednesday

Pine Forest
by Gabriela Mistral

Let us go now into the forest.
Trees will pass by your face,
and I will stop and offer you to them,
but they cannot bend down.
The night watches over its creatures,
except for the pine trees that never change:
the old wounded springs that spring
blessed gum, eternal afternoons.
If they could, the trees would lift you
and carry you from valley to valley,
and you would pass from arm to arm,
a child running from father to father.

Bosque del pino

Ahora entremos el bosque.
Los árboles pasarán por su cara,
y les pararé y ofreceré,
pero no pueden doblarse abajo.
Los relojes de la noche sobre sus criaturas,
a excepción de los árboles del pino que nunca cambian:
los viejos resortes heridos que sueltan
bendijeron la goma, tardes eternas.
Si podrían, los árboles le levantarían
y le llevarían del valle al valle,
y usted pasaría del brazo al brazo,
niño que funciona de padre al padre.

22 January 2010

plans for “old” perennial bed

Grasses, I think, and baptisia (for spring color and summer foliage), and asters/boltonia (for fall color), cotinus, and sedum. This is to be the autumn garden, after all.

Rule to live by? “I place plants based on the color and shape of their leaves. Color of bloom is secondary” (from the Renegade Gardener)

Inventory: Grass
1 Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light”: large plant, several years old
1 Miscanthus sinensis “Purpurascens”: new as of 2009
1 Miscanthus sinensis “Zebrinus”: new as of 2009
1 Panicum virgatum “Shenandoah”: new as of 2008
To buy? Calamagrostis “Karl Foerster”

Inventory: Baptisia
1 Baptisia australis: good-sized clump
To buy? Baptisia “Purple Smoke,” Baptisia “Twilight Prairieblues”

Recommended by the Garden Professors:
  • Baptisia x 'Twilite Prairieblues' is a cross between B. australis (our PPA winner) and B. sphaerocarpa—a shrubby, tough little guy with yellow flowers. This fortuitous romance yielded quite a jaw-dropping color combination of dusky violet with a yellow keel petal.
  • Now take a gander at B. 'Solar Flare'—a "complex hybrid, probably open-pollinated" of B. alba (white-flowered), B. tinctoria (yellow-flowered), and B. australis. This is what can happen when a whole bunch of species and hybrids are planted close together (cocktails and/or bees are usually involved).
Inventory: Aster/Boltonia
Aster novae-angliae “September Ruby”: tall
Aster novae-angliae “Hella Lacey”: tall, move from near road
Aster novi-belgii “Alert”: short, move from near road
3 Aster oblongifolius “October Skies”: short, move from near road
3 Boltonia asteroides “Pink Beauty”
To buy? Aster laevis “Bluebird,” Aster lateriflorus “Lady in Black,” Boltonia asteroides “Snowbank”

Inventory: Cotinus
1 Cotinus coggyria “Royal Purple”
To buy? Cotinus coggyria “Golden Spirit”

Inventory: Sedum
3 Sedum spectabile “Autumn Joy”
2 variegated sedums that have never done very well for me
To buy? Sedum spectabile “Matrona,” Sedum spectabile “Stardust,” Sedum “Autumn Fire”

11 January 2010

a year in two minutes

I'm a sucker for things like this. Eirik Solheim in Norway set up his video camera in such a way that he was able to capture snippets of action over the course of a year from the exact same position and then combine them into a two-minute-long meditation. This is really well done.

06 January 2010

“starflake” on barn from road

The starflake has become somewhat of a landmark for us. We see it as we career our way to the top of the driveway (need to spread a little more sand on the slippery parts, that’s for sure). It’s the first thing I look for when I get out of bed. B uses it as a meditation point in the mornings when he does his reading. And then, thanks to the spotlight, it’s the last thing I see before I turn out the light and go to sleep.

It’s a real focal point. It’s large. It’s different from anything around it.

This is useful information.