Color Implosion

•May 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday, while I was at work, some great things happened in the garden.

_DSC3113My bearded iris, the one I call Ruth’s Purple, bloomed.  Last year, she did her thing rather later than she should have…a month behind schedule.

_DSC3125This year, she not only bloomed on schedule with other irises in the area, but instead of just one I’ve got four other irises that are sporting swelling buds.  In addition to three more of Ruth’s Purples, I’ve got another iris that I rescued from my partner’s parents house.  It was last October after his mother’s funeral and we stopped at the house in Long Island before heading to the apartment in the city for shiva.  In the front of the house there is a patch of irises and one of them had become dislodged from the rest and was sitting on the cement path.  I quickly picked it up and put it in a bag to try and rescue it.  Despite not doing anything last year except turn brown, and spending most of the spring looking dormant, this one tuber has a bud on it that’s trying to put on a show.  So I’m waiting to see what color it wants to be before I give it a name.

Additionally, Snow Queen is crowning the fence with two of her buds.

_DSC3149Even with a pretty decent camera, the flower is a little bit difficult to photograph on a cloudy day.  The petals are nicely textured and veined, coursing through with various shades of white to a pale lavender.

_DSC3155In this photo a loyal subject has come to court.  From what I’ve been told, in the past clematises have never done too well here.  Snow Queen and the other clematises seem to be doing surprisingly well.  Belle of Woking looks a little sparse, which was one of the clematises that seemed to die on the vine last year (as did Ville de Lyon).  But Ville de Lyon, Fireworks, and Snow Queen look like they are going to put on nice shows this year.  I almost feel bad for so hastily spade pruning Jackmanii and that other clematis whose name I can’t remember.


It’s like that game show

•May 12, 2009 • 1 Comment

Over the weekend I purchased, assembled, and started using a tumbling composter. I had an old trash can that I was formerly using to compost stuff.  It was well worn and scraped at the bottom, which was probably providing decent oxygen in the beginning.  But it was difficult to turn the compost and it seemed that nothing really got cooking. I’ve also got two cages of leaf debris made from ‘turkey wire’ – which is like chicken wire, but bigger – that I’d like to get all composted before the autumn leaf harvest.

Assembling the composter was the easy part.  I had most of the tools required, except for the 3/4″ socket for the ratcheting wrench and the second adult (who was still sleeping at 7am on Saturday).  I had my iPhone blasting Strauss’ Capriccio in my ear and was quite surprised that the overture was starting again as I was finishing up the assembly process. But it was all done, except for the part that involved the 3/4″ socket.


It wasn’t until Sunday evening, after getting home from work, that I finally tightened the final bolts with an improvised 3/4″ using something that fit and something else that also fit.  I dumped the leaf debris and compostables from the trash can into the composter and gave it a spin.  I felt like I should have been standing next to Drew Carey or Bob Barker, but instead of spinning for the closest to a dollar without going over, I was tumbling for black gold.

I’m a little new to composting, so I felt the need to do a little research.  It’s complicated!  Measuring so many parts this to so many parts of that is a lot of math for my feeble little brain.  I’ve got leaf debris, egg shells, and spent coffee grinds, as well as various kitchen compostables, assorted non-weedy yard debris, and shredded paper.  I added grass clippings to the mix yesterday for the first time, as well as some potting soil one of last years planters.

Now, it’s time for me to just cross my fingers and continue tumbling for no whammies! But the whammies were on a different game show, I think…

Foto Friday

•May 8, 2009 • 3 Comments

It rained almost non-stop since Sunday … nevermind that my garden is all greens and buds. But yesterday, it let up just enough for me to get this photo in.


three Snow Queen clematis buds

And then, whilst packing my camera bag to take some pictures at the Temple Ambler Campus gardens, I heard a clap of thunder followed by a mini-storm.  Maybe I’ll get out with the camera today…

On problems and solutions

•May 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Poorly Sited Beds

Every gardener has one.  They’re like that drunken relative that you only see at family get-togethers where there’s copious amounts of food and even copiouser amounts of booze.  My poorly sited bed is situated in the corner where the in-law apartment meets the rest of the house.  What makes it poorly sited isn’t the fact that it’s in a corner, or even the fact that it doesn’t get as much sun as I would like it to get.  Last year, before I knew any better, I had the ideation of planting my Glamis Castle rose there.  Incidentally, I planted the rose elsewhere with a bit more sun, and the little bastard still died on me!  The problem with this bed is directly related to the fact that there’s an air conditioner sticking out of the wall about two-and-a-half-feet above the bed.  Yes, in theory we could move the damn AC, but that would leave a big hole in the wall as well as a dining room and living room that will be unbearably tepid during the summer.  My solution was to plant a weed in that bed.  No, that isn’t to say that I filled the bed with dandelions and purple dead nettle, or clover and crabgrass.  That was already thriving there to begin with!  I instead filled the bed with the common – spreads like the plague – day lilies.


As you can see from the photo, I packed those little suckers in…and I packed them in tight.  All I can say is Goddess bless the poor unfortunate weed that will try to germinate and set up camp in this bed.  I figured that these day lilies would be great for the spot since they are the only thing (aside from dandelions and crabgrass, and bamboo) that you can spray with Weed-B-Gone or Ortho or battery acid and still have them multiply like wild.


No, not impatiens, those lovely annuals often used as filler while the perennials are mustering up the courage to put on some serious growth.  I’m talking about my penchant for wanting to spade prune everything that doesn’t put on a show-stopping performance.  I already eradicated my garden of two clematis, as they failed to sprout on my schedule. The two remaining from that batch are putting on a nice hefty bit of growth this year, even despite my unwillingness to prune them as I should have.  Last year I almost spade pruned William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Falstaff.  And no, I don’t find it a coincidence that they’re all English Roses.


This was Bill last year.  It was a midsummer nightmare!  I ordered it as a bareroot seedling from Heirloom Roses.  From my limited knowledge, roses were temperamental yes…but also fast growers!  But this is certainly not what I expected.  The brown edges on the leaves are damage from the early June heat wave, the heat wave that killed Glamis Castle.  I was all prepared to chuck Shakespeare into the yard waste receptacle.  In my eyes, it was a pathetic excuse for a rose! Its bloom early in the month (yes, it was only one flower) was pathetic, and browned quicker than it blew out.  But then it put on some serious growth, particularly as the summer began to wane on into fall.

dsc02194So, now the plant that was barely bigger than the plant marker used to denote its burial plot, is now roughly the same size as the container grown Europeana that I planted last year.  Yes, there are irises hidden somewhere behind the rose, and the Stella de Oros in front look like they might not stand a chance once Bill get’s into his third and fourth years.  It’s buds are numbering well into the double digits, which is a major improvement from its one solitary paltry budlet from last year.

Then there was Christopher Marlowe.

baby-marloweHe was planted late, and refused to do anything.  He leafed out nicely, but then seemed to die back.  I tried to research some info on the rose to see if it usually performed so horribly.  I found nothing aside from a picture or two.  It wasn’t until autumn that I discovered that the poet was a new introduction for 2009.  Costco must have gotten this one by mistake.  The runt of the litter.


It grew maybe to two feet, most of it lanky canes with leaves that some yard varmit seemed to find delectible.  When it did bloom – those two flushes of the most underwhelming spectacle of color that I could have imagined – the flowers were mostly unimpressive.  The first bloom was sad – maybe two or three flowers that didn’t live up to the photo on the packaging.  The second was a little better, as it showed a hint of the splendor that the packaging seemed to promise.  And yes, I held onto the picture from the packaging just to remind me that I shouldn’t spade prune it just yet.

This year, Marlowe was among the last roses to leaf out.  Once he finally decided to put on some leafy growth I got down to his level and threatened him.  I gave him until tax day to start looking pretty or else.  Yes, I routinely threaten my plants, and some of them respond very well to these threats.  I meant business, and I’m sure that the poet remembered the fate of Jackmanii quite well.  So he grew, and grew, and grew, and began to sprout buds.

dsc02215He’s just over a year old, and celebrated his birthday with a nice little monsoon.  So, I’ve got particularly high expectations of this one.  It’s the only small leafed rose in my growing collection.  And even without the flowers, it’s a nice contrast to it’s neighbor roses: Olympiad and Knockout.

Falstaff, instead of pruning him by the roots, I transplanted him from his formerly too-shady home to a severely more sunny spot.  Falstaff is still a little spindly, with no buds yet to speak of, but I’ll give this one a little more time to absorb the severity of the fatwa placed upon him.  Unlike Salmon Rushdie, he won’t get away alive.

Poor Soil

Okay, there’s poor soil and then there’s destitute soil.  In the unamended parts it’s a tough clay, lacking only in a salty taste and vibrant coloring.  How can a garden grow in Play-Doh?  First, I try as I might to put something nice in the soil.  Leaf mold, diatomaceous earth, compost, whatever I can find to soften up the ground.  Last year, my issue was that the area by the neighbor fence was bone dry.  I could water it for an hour or more until the plants were standing in puddles of water.  15 minutes later, the area was dry as a bone.  This had nothing to do with the excellent drainage, but it was completely dependent upon the excellent slope and run off.  Nevertheless, Crown Princess Margareta and Don Juan grew!  On the other hand, the cannas never bloomed, the gladioli definitely looked dehydrated, and the dahlias were a sickly bunch.  This year, I have Scentimental roses growing where the tender perennials failed to thrive.  I placed them in a slightly raised bed with soil that had been removed and fortified with everything except over-proof whiskey.

Then we got several days of rain, with enough of a break between for it to rain some more.  I hope that Scentimental is elevated enough that their little feet are remaining moist but not swimming.  The two Crown Princesses that I planted over the weekend seem to be nicely situated, as does their big sister and that climbing rogue, Don Juan.  But it’s the day lilies and hydrangea that I have severe concerns for.

dsc02236I hope that the hydr in hydrangea is indicative of their affinity for water, as they’re soaking in it…Madge.  Falstaff never had an issue with sitting in standing water last year, but I put my Alpengluhen in the same spot and they swim. Fortunately this is only a temporary spot for them…

Nosey Neighbors

There was nothing that I could do about this one.

dsc02204It seems that I’ve got a dandelion growing up in the midst of my rose campion.  I’ve been just pulling the buds off as they appear, as I’m afraid to paint the leaves of the dandelion with any herbicides.  But what does one do when a perfectly viable perennial is playing host to an insidious parasite of a weed?

On the other hand, this one was my fault.

dsc02201I’m just not one of those gardeners who can keep track of where my bulbs are planted.  Incidentally, I’m missing one of my asiatic lilies, which is possibly planted under the rose or got smashed in the process of me transplanting Olympiad to her current spot.  Whoopsie!

FotoPhriday: Photo of the Week

•May 1, 2009 • 1 Comment

So, I’m starting something new.  Every Friday I’ll post my favorite photo of the week.  Except for those transition weeks, and through the late fall and winter, most of the photos will come from my garden.  So to start this off, I’m going to introduce the dogwood tree that lives in the front bed.

Dogwood Blossom

Last year, this tree refused to bloom.  The star magnolia did it’s thing.  The lilacs did their thing.  But this tree refused to do anything but put on a few leaves.  I could understand if it was a young tree, but it has to be at least 10 years in that spot.  So, this winter, as I was doing some clean up, I threatened it.  I said “if you don’t bloom this year, you’re going the way of the buddleia that lived 15 feet away.”  I’m sure the dogwood doesn’t know that the white butterfly bush is actually living happily by the neighbor fence, but I’m glad that our little talk helped.

Beauty and the Beast

•April 27, 2009 • 2 Comments

April is bustin’ out all over!  Of course, that’s a mixed bag of sorts.  I have daffodils still budding and blooming, new tulips, forget-me-nots, and the dogwood.  The roses and Russian sage are still leafing out, the ferns and hostas are beginning to unfurl, the monarda, yarrow, and sundrops are forming nice dense patches.  But, at the same time, the stinging nettle has made a return after a year hiatus, as well as the garlic mustard, and a few other unidentified invasive vegetative matter.

We have beauty:

dsc01703This is one of the Bleeding Hearts that I purchased last year.  This is also the only one that decided to survive.  It’s surrounded by a sea of just-blooming forget-me-not.  I love it! I hate that it’s so small, but despite the one raceme of pendulous flowers it’s still putting on a nice show.  I’m thinking more dicentra for next year: another Bleeding Heart or two, and maybe a pair of Dutchman’s Breeches.

And we have beasts (no, we have BEASTS):

dsc01682This little bastard was found lurking next to the patio by the pool.  I think it’s a dandelion.  The foliage looks very dandelion-esque, as do the buds.  But I suspect it more of a freak of nature than anything else. One tap root, 15+ buds, and that tall center stem is sporting three – yes, THREE buds!  Needless to say, I kill him…yes, I kill him good!  Unfortunately, my day will be spent tending to my grandfather’s backyard and flower beds.  But come Thursday, I’m launching a massive assault on all of the evasive invasive plant matter that’s attempting to gain a foothold on the various parts of my garden and lawn/dirt patch.

Spring Color

•April 20, 2009 • 2 Comments


If it weren’t for the weeds, there would be absolutely no spring color in the garden.  The border of the front bed is teeming with squill, chinodoxia, anemone, crocus and various daffodils. This makes for a lovely mix of whites, yellows, blues, and purples.  Slightly further back there are tulips in red (which have not bloomed yet), red and yellow (which have bloomed) and pink (which also have not bloomed yet).  If it weren’t for last years forget-me-nots freely reseeding, and the extra seed that I scattered, the front bed would be mostly dirt with a few dashes of color and bullet shaped crowns.

The back beds, on the other hand, are very sparse on spring color.  Yes, there are daffodils – the descendants of the hearty ones that survived my unwitting assault with the weed-be-gone.  Today’s header photo is of some of the daffodils that are sharing the bed with my Sixteen Candles rose.  The back beds would be a terribly pitiful sight if it weren’t for the varied foliage adding colored interest.  This is much appreciated in the sundrops, coneflower, and bee balm…but I’ve got to do some researching to find out why my Sixteen Candles has a few leaves in various shades of yellow.

So, it goes without saying that I failed Spring Garden Design 101.  And it’s understandable.  My gardening is mostly based on fear!  I fear that if I plant too much stuff they will attempt to over power and crowd out my roses (which will be another post on how I failed Summer Garden Design 101).  I fear that I will have to endure the sight of fading foliage for too long while I wait for the next season’s stuff to fill in.  I fear that I’ll run out of room to purchase next year’s plants.

Tulips are a thing that I just love!  The the tulips that I currently have in the front bed are heirlooms inherited from the property’s previous planters.  A good number of them still continue to bloom and seem to multiply, but there are still a large number of donkey ears flopped about in the front bed growing blind year after year.  Many gardeners treat tulips as annuals – plant them in the fall, compost them in the spring after they’ve bloomed, rinse and repeat.   That can be expensive, and – more importantly – time consuming.  Of course the colors and forms that I’d like aren’t available in the reliably blooming and naturalizing varieties.  Note to self: get over it!

Hyacinths are also another flower that I just adore!  Until this year they’ve never performed with any reliability.  Those remnants of left over Easter flower pots insisted on blooming with their nodding little bells numbering in the single digits.  And no, they aren’t the Spanish Bluebells – they bloom next month.  But the hyacinths were so amazing this year that I cut all of the purple ones and put them in vases with daffodils. Now I’ve got some pink hyacinths blooming on the far side of the berm, which are screaming to get tossed into a vase with some tulips!

So, in my second spring of playing close attention, I’m developing a better gardener’s voice and learning that it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that spring! ( I payed attention three springs ago, but only enough to see that the deer ate all of the tulips.)  Tulips, hyacinths, more varied daffodils, crown imperial, and the et ceteras that scream spring and warming temperatures.  So stay tuned, just in case the blog changes from The Grass is Brown to The Shopping List is Growing.