Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Should I Even Bother?

Why am I posting a picture of some scraggly-looking Pelargoniums? Well, this is my first attempt at overwintering and I wanted to share my progress. I seem to have overcome the worm infestation (you can still see a little of the Dipel powder I hit the plants and worms with). I fed the plants about a month ago and they put out quite a bit of growth. This is the sunniest spot in my basement and the plants, though a bit spindly, seem reasonably happy. Every so often, I do check if they need water and I rotate the plants 90 degrees.

In other basement news, I've started to think about my little seedling nursery. I put together this comically delicate worktable, made out of an old door and some scrap wood. I bought two different kinds of 4 foot flourescents (cool and warm spectrum), as suggested by some helpful Home Depot guy. I also bought a timer this year (instead of mostly forgetting to turn off the lights at night like I did last year) and another shop light fixture (I'm doubling my seedling capacity!). Combined with an old fan, I hope to have the makings of a seedling factory. I've already ordered and received some seeds from Pinetree Gardens, so despite the winter gloom, the gardening will begin again pretty soon!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Not about Gardening

Sorry for the major digression, but since the weather has hit freezing here in coastal Massachusetts, I have to find other ways to pass my time (other than cleaning my dirty house). So here's my latest project - Grandma's old buffet. I took the circa 1960s buffet (believe me, not an antique), made out of veneer and fiberboard, sanded it a bit, added casters, painted it black, coated the top with polycrylic, and voila, newish looking buffet. It took a couple of hours, but brought the old girl back to life for a few more years.

I also painted an old, extremely heavy, mirror black and hung it using this French Cleat/Walldog screw system. Can I just say, these screws were awesome! I've been futzing around with wall anchors for my plaster walls, but these things just went right into the wall and actually seemed to stay there. Miracle!


Thursday, October 23, 2008


In my quest to prove to my husband that I can save money by growing plants from seed, I split and potted up about 10 Pelargonium plants (zonal geranium) that I had started from seed last Winter. I found a home for them near a sunny window in the basement, and hoped for the best. (Here's information about keeping your Pelargonium's alive until Spring i.e. overwintering).

Some people don't really like Pelargoniums, but I think I'm a fan out of nostalgia; my grandparents always grew them in a pot on their patio, next to a statue of St. Francis. They are pretty drought tolerant and they were really easy to grow from seed, so I'm not giving up on them.

However, I may have to -- I went to check on them in the basement, to see if they were alive or needed water. To my dismay, they were clearly being eaten. There were little holes in the leaves, or sometimes entire leaves eaten to the stem. On closer scrutiny, I was thoroughly grossed out to discover little green worms were the culprits. Some were tiny, others were more than an inch long. I picked off as many as I could find, and went about researching if my plants were goners.

After some googling, my suspicion is that the worms are cabbage loopers. I did buy some Dipel Dust (an organic bacterial insecticide, which kills the worms), and I'm hoping it will do the trick. It's possible I have Tobacco Budworm, a common Pelargonium/Geranium pest, but the worms weren't reddish or brownish, and the Dipel might work on them too.

Wish me Luck!


P.S. Why is there so much confusion over Geranium's? If I refer to them as Pelargoniums, no one has any idea what I'm talking about, but Geranium is actually the scientific name for a Cranesbill. Which are much more rare (though awesome)...

Photo credit: Extension Entomology, Texas A&M University

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Even Less Mowing!

Why, you may be wondering, have I posted a pic of some grass, a pile of compost, and some scraggly looking plants? In fact, you are witnessing the birth of my newest plan, tentatively titled, "The Hedgey Strip." As part of the plan, I spent the last few glorious October days expanding the strip of earth that borders the fence in an effort to bring some sort of organization to the chaos that has been reigning thus far in the Side-yard.

You see, the yard has this gentle slope and anything I have planted near the fence is at eye-level and provides little privacy. You can sort of see the slope from this angle, and the reason why I might want to have more privacy (and it's not to hide the kid's toys, Maria). The only way I can think to solve this problem (besides ripping out the existing fence and adding one that's 2 feet taller) is by planting further up the slope in certain areas. In the early summer, I bought a bunch of tall grasses to make sort of a hedge, but I haven't been happy with the results. The grasses have done fine, but they have a tendency to get beat up by the winds that wip up the street and hit my corner lot. So now I've expanded 75% of the bed (for more flowers, of course) and I'm researching/contemplating what kind of plants to fill it in with. Whatever I plant has to be pretty wind resistant, take full sun, kind of erect (since I don't want anything flopping onto the turf that borders the bed), and pretty too. This problem may take a while to solve, but luckily I have all Winter to ruminate! -- I'm trying to accentuate the postive aspects of the upcoming season.

I leave you with this picture of Frog-gardener, the mascot for my yard. He's bedding down for the Winter, surrounded by Siberian Iris and Columbine, dreaming of Spring. I probably won't be posting much as it gets colder, so Happy Fall!

Friday, September 26, 2008

There's a Fungus Among Us

My hostas look horrible right now. I think I have found the culprit; anthracnose!

Apparently it's becoming a problem for formerly indescrutable hostas, attributable to the humid, rainless weather. I probably won't do anything about the ugliness other than clip off the leaves and rake them up, but I'm thinking my hosta nursery in the backyard may need some major TLC. It's overcrowded, there's no edging. It's an eyesore even without the anthracnose. I better add it to my "To Do List."


Monday, September 22, 2008

Shout Out to Swampscott!

I just wanted to thank everyone that has strolled by my yard and given me compliments on the flowers...this year was a real turning point for me in terms of figuring out how I want the garden to look and all the support has been gratifying. Maybe it's Swampscott, or just my little neighborhood, but I've met the most laid back and supportive people since starting to work on the yard. So thanks for your appreciation!

It's late September, but several of my plants are still chugging away, and I've included a few pix of my favorites.

Above is the Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) I started from seed this winter. There are a few more seedlings around the yard, but this plant was the only one that bloomed. I'm hoping the others make it through the Winter.

Would you believe this Boltonia (Snowbank) is actually growing in partial shade? Yup, totally awewsome. And finally, the Caryopteris (Caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy' ) is blooming! Why so excited? It didn't bloom last year and I was pretty much giving up hope for this year, but then I noticed the most beautiful, delicate little blue-ish purple lovelies on my favorite shrub.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lessons from Hanna

Last night the remnants of Hanna blew in, dumping a few inches of (well-needed) rain. Upon inspection of the garden however, I learned a few things about big herbaceous perennials. For one thing, my sunflowers did not hold up well. The majority were either pummeled to awkward 90 degree angles or snapped entirely. My Boltonia didn't stand up to the rains well either (literally). They flopped over and needed staking to get them a bit more upright.

Not total tragedies, but I learned a lot. Next year, I will definitely cut back the Boltonia in June so that they are shorter and bushier. A few sources recommend doing so, but I wanted to see how they would look without any meddling. They are very top heavy and leggy, and succumbed to the rains, so I see the value in shortening them for sure now.

Taking a peek in the back-yard, I was happily surprised to find another showing of Clematis 'HF Young'. I bought this plant early in the Spring and it has done surprisingly well. It hasn't been a prolific bloomer, only 1 or 2 flowers at a time, but this is the third time this summer it has set blooms, so its turned into a nice repeater.


P.S. I leave you with a pic of my gardener's feet, post shower. I really need to wear boots.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Powdery Mildew - Aack!

Despite all the glowing reviews I find about Echinacea, they too can suffer from a multitude of diseases. My sis asked me to research why her glamorous orangey/red Echinacea had black leaves and some powdery gunk on the leaves. My peony is also suffering from a similiar malady.

So after a bit of research, I found out that the recent weather is the perfect condition for mildew. How can that be? You might ask...it hasn't rained in at least two weeks. It has been sunny and gorgeous. Ah, hah! There you have it! These are actually the perfect conditions. Powdery mildew likes hot and humid conditions, with little rain. Rain or wind would blow it off. Apparently the only cure is to dunk the plants in fungicides or just cut the whole plant down to the ground (be sure to dispose of the infected stems/leaves and wash off your cutters).

I opted to cut away the peony stalks. They won't bloom anyway and I hope will make it back next year. At least this is happening at the end of summer, rather than at the beginning!

Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Extension

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Want This Man as a Neighbor

Despite doing a boat load of work in my yard, I'm posting today about someone else! The dude with the cukes lives in Lynn and has a garden so awesome that he gets a write-up in The Daily Item of Lynn (an awesome source for local gossip). The yards on my street are all pretty small and except for a few pots of tomatos, I don't see much vegetable gardening. Ed sounds like a pretty interesting guy, picking beans from his 3rd floor window, using water from rain barrels, and I especially like his way to keep weeds down.

Another article I stumbled across that's worth a mention, is the story of a man in Lynn whose chickens were confiscated/removed by the city. If you read the comments to the article, there seem to be two camps; chickens are awesome and chickens do not belong in back-yards. I for one would love chickens, but have serious space limitations. Not to mention the fact that my dogs might like to eat the chickens.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Heart Annuals

Above is a shot of my Cosmos, grown from Seed Mat (courtesy of BloomingBulb.com) that has wound itself through Boltonia, with Perovskia (Russian Sage) and Pardancanda (Candy Lily) in the background. With the sunflowers in bloom (see below), the Impatiens, Pelargonium and Alyssum chugging away, and the biennials growing well (Hollyhock, Columbine, Digitalis), I'm pretty happy with my attempts at growing seeds, my annuals in particular. There's something to be said for a plant that can grow to over 9 feet, bloom for weeks and weeks, and cost next to nothing to grow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Work, work, work

Here's an "after" shot of the yard with the Landscaper mostly done. I think he promised to come back and put in some grass seed, but I'm kinda holding my breath. Joe (DiPietro) did manage to find me some more rocks and created a new flower bed where the Yew once was. I'm totally psyched with how everything has turned out...

I added another page to my website, a "To Do List," page. I can't say this was an original idea. Another garden blogger (I can't remember which one, my bad) suggested gardeners keep such a list to keep track of projects that need to get done. Brilliant idea, because it helps me prioritize, which my ADHD brain really needs help doing.

Today, I did a bit of work in the backyard. I'm having some trouble eradicating this Japanese Knotweed stuff. It's so invasive that people actually eat it as a means of controlling its growth. I pulled out a few new shoots (a daily chore of mine), and cursed the gardener that introduced this stuff to North America.

I also moved a bunch of stuff around, including the Variegated Hydrangea in the picture above, and potted up some Hosta for my sister's hillside anti-erosion project. My Hosta's look terrible. I think the slugs are happy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bringing in the Big Guns!

Woo hoo! The image above is actually an improvment! What you are looking at is the former site of my Yew Stump and Dead Lilac Stump/Mound/Jungle. I called in the pros (Joseph DiPietro of Swampscott MA) and for a fee I got hime to remove the dreaded stumps. I am now a proponent of hiring professionals. It took them about an hour to do what would of taken my husband and I days and possibly the health of our marriage.

Now I just have to figure out what to put in the stumps' place!


Friday, August 8, 2008

My First Goldfinch

I can't believe I actually managed to snap this shot of a Goldfinch snacking on some of my Sunflowers! I had to find my camera, then pry open the screen on my kitchen window, then figure out how to use the zoom feature on my camera... I got one picture in before the little fella skooted off. Awesome!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

On Sale!

Woo hoo! I just got some ridiculously good deals on plants! I know it's not polite to talk about the cashola, but I can't resist; Stella d'Oros for $2.50, perennial oregeno and thyme for $5.00 (big pots too). I have to give a shout out to Highland Gardens (on Highland Avenue). I have never bought plants from there b/c I find them a little pricey, but there was a ton of stuff on sale and the lady running the show was super helpful and really friendly to my 3-year old. They do have a really nice selection of shrubs and trees. I was longingly gazing at the Climbing Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma), which is a plant that's on my Wish List.

The herbs were from a company called, "Sarah's Super Herbs," which had nice tags and a good website. The plants were really healthy-looking and large too. I'll definitely keep my eyes peeled for more of her stuff.

In other news, I finally plunked down the credit for some Lily bulbs from Old House Gardens. I really wanted 'Black Beauty' bulbs, which I have been lusting after for a while, but they have a $30 minimum so I also bought 'Rubrum.' I looked for Black Beauties in a bunch of places, narrowing it down to VanEngelen/Scheepers (50.00 /35.00 minimum) -- the best prices by far, but I've been warned they often subsitute. Carroll Gardens had them for a ridiculous amount of money (1 bulb for $11). Bluestone has a small selection of lilies at very good prices, but they weren't offering Black Beauty. Also, if Old House doesn't have the bulbs you want, you can opt for a credit + 10% instead of a subsitution, so I thought that was the best way to go). So wish me luck! Thanks for the pic from Carroll Gardens...


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Seed Love

I won't go into it here, but I created the very first draft of a new page on my website about my experiences starting plants from seed. It's called, "Starting from Seed." I know,I know I'm very creative. I pretty much just wrote about my experiences, which I probably should have done here, but oh well... I think when I have more time, I'll really put some time into making it more useful, maybe with some pictures of my grow light set up and flats, but until then, dear reader, you're stuck with what's there. And just so this blog post isn't completely boring, the picture below is of the Pelargonium (Geranium) that I grew from seed. I don't usually like red, which didn't render very well in the photo, but the color really is making me rethink that whole anti-red flower thing.


Holy Sunflowers, Batman!

This Christmas I received some sunflower seeds from my little sis, planted them with little thought around the stump of my old yew bush and pretty much forgot about them. How could I have known they would totally steal the show in my garden this summer? This whopper is about 9 feet tall, and about 16 inches in diameter, and they just light up my yard. Neighbors
stop and stare. Grandma's point them out to their delighted grandkids. They've been a real joy and a fitting Christmas gift.

Other things that have been a surprising delight are the blooms on this Hyndrangea macrophylla (cultivar unknown). I got this sucker last year. It didn't bloom, then got some kind of gray fungus. After much research, I moved it to a sunnier spot and stopped watering it, the leaves started to get scorched and wither. I was not pleased. I pretty much gave up and left it to the dog's yard (see below), which is on the North side of the house, getting morning light only. I also can't reach it well with my hose, so gets watered only a little. And then whatever is back there gets trampled by the pups, but 'lo and behold, the loveliest little pink blossoms emerged just a few days ago. I'm in love again!

Just as I was going around the yard, snapping pics, my husband pointed out my dogs sitting under the Forsythia in the backyard. They looked really sweet. It's rare to get them near each other, relaxing outside. I, of course, missed the moment because, Shadow, the black dog, stood up, but I was glad to see them enjoying the garden too.


Sunday, July 20, 2008


There were several plant emergencies to be dealt with today...some of my Echinacea were seriously wilting, major weed advances, yellowing and overcrowded seedlings, flopping Cosmos. Yikes! I could go on for pages...

So I clipped back the Echinacea (I hope it recovers; it was one of my first successful plant purchases), weeded about 2 bags worth of nasties, moved my Digitalis and Echinacea seedlings (that I had started from seed under grow lights this February), moved more light tolerant plants to the spot along my driveway that turned out to be full-sun, not partial shade, split the Dianthus, then planted a few Hosta that I had potted up last fall into bare spots that were weed hotspots (until I can afford something better). I also planted a new Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' along the driveway.

Along with all that busy work, I was mucho excited to find a baby Lavender ('Munstead') seedling that must have grown from seed from its parent. It was practically growing into the asphalt along the front bed. I moved it to a better locale (but don't have high hopes).

I'm definitely starting to have the mid-summer blues though. A lot of my early summer stuff is starting to fade, and I really don't have too much late summer plants to look forward to (I'm counting on the Boltonia to perk me up). Makes me think I should buy a few Asters or Lilies (I've been lusting over 'Black Beauty' bulbs from Old House Gardens, but have yet to plunk down the MC).

There are a few high points though; the Rose 'Yellow Carpetflower' is chugging away, and the Phlox, Platycodons, and Perovskia are all in full-bloom.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Daylilies and Blogs

Where to begin...so much to write about and only two hands...first off, my awesome sister just started her own blog (inspired by moi) and it's already one of my new favorites. It's called "GrowinginPepperell," and she writes about gardening, mulch, husbands, and children.

And, oh yes, the Daylilies have begun blooming (though the Stellas have been at it for a while. I believe the picture above is of Hemerocallis 'To Janet.' I'm still waiting on the pinks, 'Chorus Line' and 'Strawberry Candy'.

Did you know there's a Daylily society? I didn't, but googled "daylily" because I wasn't sure if it had one or two "l's" and got a link to the American Hemerocallis Society. Cool.

In other news, I have begun a smallish (5x3) raised-bed project, intending to grow some tomatos and basil out there. It's also a handy place to plunk chunks of sod. This fall I'll throw some compost on top and maybe some topsoil. Visions of heirlooms tomatos are dancing in my head. Building it was actually pretty easy and cheap (about $30, not including price of dirt and compost).

Coincidentally, in the foreground is Amy Stewart's "Flower Confidential," which I borrowed from the library. It's really interesting and a good, fast read (my favorite). Makes me want to request organic, fair trade roses, from my husband next Valentines (or better yet, I can use it as an excuse to buy my own rose bushes).

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What is the plural form of 'Iris'?

Is it "Irises" or "Irisi" or is it just "Iris" (like fish)? The reason I ask is that my lovely big sis split her Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) and Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica) and gifted me with quite a few extra (yay)! I had to sneak out yesterday morning to get them into the ground (and find a place for them).

I am super excited because...I was complaining to my Mom that though my garden looks great now, it looked really terrible in early June after the tulips and crocus (crocusi?) had bloomed; really green, and scraggly...she mentioned that I needed Iris, and now I will have them. I hope.

In other news, I fought another battle against the Japanese Knotweed. The war began last year when I decided to tackle the mess growing along my fence in the backyard, and discovered that when I cut down the nasty stuff, it grew back in like...10 more places. Today I'm hoping the strategy of going over to my neighbor's side of the fence (with his permission, of course) and digging up some largish clumps will turn the tide.


P.S. my Sweet Pea is blooming!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Despite promises to refrain from purchasing more flowers, I had an hour to kill the other day and peeked in at Kane's Flower World. Big mistake...roses were on sale and I got the loveliest little Pink Knockout rose. The color repeats in my Dianthus, Phlox, and Coneflower, so for the sake of harmony, I haaaad to buy it.

I also snagged a couple Perovskia (Russian Sage) because these are impossible to find and have been one of my most dependable plants. In order to accomodate the rose bush, I had to expand the front bed a little bit and moved a few things around. I still haven't figured out this whole "planting in drifts" thing (mostly because I don't have enough plants to create a drift), but I think it has something to do with making the plants look like they're blending into one another rather than lined up like soldiers.

Many thanks for the kind words of support from neighbors and pedestrians. People have been really complimentary of my work and I have to admit, I like the praise!


Friday, June 20, 2008

Oooh! Farmer's Markets

I was just catching up on reading and I found an article about the neighboring town's farmer's market starting up for the season! This reminded me of when I used to go to the Hoboken Farmer's Market. It was a strange site; young yuppies in business suits hauling home bags of leeks and strawberries. I always felt a bit overwhelmed by all the selection and rather wilted-looking retailers. Despite these misgivings, I have some noble plans to haunt the local markets, in search of the perfect tomato (which might inspire me to actually grow my own).

This actually reminds me of a bizarre and kind of disgusting story... My sister, who has a magic green thumb, lives in Pepperell, MA and has access to town mulch from the sewer treatment plant (it's best not to ask too many questions). She gets ungodly amounts of this stuff for ridiculously cheap, and grows some gorgeous flowers in her front lawn. One day, she noticed a curious weed growing out front, and thought it looked suspicously like a corn stalk. Rather than pulling the weed, she decided to let it grow (it's foliage was pretty, in her mind), and lo, and behold, it turned out to be corn! Needless to say, I always wear gloves when I help her out in the yard.


Moving to Blogger and my Yard is Bloooming!

In an attempt to make this site a bit more interactive, I've decided to link Swampgardener up to a blog -- in affect my journal is now a blog that people can comment on. I will continue to update the plants page and other pages I have built, and will comment here when I do!

So I have been totally negligent about adding pictures...because everything is starting to bloom and it is soooo much better than last year. I'm not exactly digital camera proficient, and really need to practice a bit when I get some time. Here's picture of my coreopsis starting to bloom.

The other day I had an epiphany and decided that my side-yard will now be called my Garden, and will be completely taken over my plants and raised beds. I was out there mowing and weed wacking and just thought, "wouldn't this work be so much better if it involved planting flowers?"

I know this is a terrible segue, but I also wanted to comment on the fact that a bunch of the plants I started from seed this winter are actually doing pretty well. I had a few close calls, but it looks like the Alyssum, Sunflowers, Sweet Pea, Echinacea, Pelargonium, Nasturtium, Digitalis, and Columbine are all going to survive the summer! Now I've totally gotten the seed bug...


Welcome to Swampgardener

Two years ago I moved to Swampscott, MA (Zone 6a) and decided my yard looked like a disorganized mess. So I started digging up lawn and planting a few flowers and shrubs. It's still a disorganized mess, but now it's my garden!

I've had limited success finding information about gardening in Massachusetts. I've found great stuff in many places, but I can't find other novice home gardeners dealing with my conditions all in one place (small yard, pollution, winters, ocean breezes, clay, dogs, and kids). So I thought I might start a site talking about my trials and errors (mostly errors), and maybe help some new gardeners out one day.

I also want to start keeping a document (a journal) of the things I've done for my own record-keeping. I'm starting to have trouble remembering what I planted where, so for the sake of my own sanity, thought I should start writing it down.

My apologies if you thought this site has anything to do with gardening in a swamp. Though here's a picture of a frog in my garden, attempting to disguise my sump hose and gas pipe.