Monday, November 16, 2009

Some Unexpected Fall Sights

Except for a few cold weeks early in October, we've had a really mild November, and some of my plants are still trying to bloom their little hearts out. Every one of my roses were in bloom these last two weeks and even my Nikko Blue Hydrangea bloomed a bit (though the above buds were knocked back this week).

Weirdly enough, I've had a ton of these little Jalapeno peppers ripening these past few weeks (I made Turkey chili again this week), even though the other pepper (sweet banana) plant I bought was totally killed by the cold. So thumbs up to jalapenos! These are super hardy plants.

Another surprise and delight has been this sweet pea plant, which I sowed way too late in the spring. I totally forgot about them, and lo and behold I got this one plant growing on my fence. I really like sweet peas, but I'm still scratching my head a bit about where they should go and when exactly I should plant them. I had pretty much thought I was going to forgo planting them next year, but this one pops up and now I'm in love again.

As I was raking up my sidewalk today, I looked around and everything is pretty much brown and going dormant. The air is a bit more still and the sun is hanging lower on the horizon, making 1:00 PM, feel a bit more like sundown. In some ways, its my favorite time of the year because it makes me appreciate all the energy that went into getting to this point, and gives me a chance to rest a bit from the usual gardening chores. At this point, I'm pretty psyched to hang up the weed wacker, stow away my pruners, and actually enjoy having pretty nails again.

On to the seed catalogs!



Saturday, October 24, 2009

If I had to Pick a Favorite

Rosa 'Belinda's Dream'

As the days get shorter and colder, I start to think more about how I want the garden to look next year, than do any actual working in the garden. In thinking about what I would do differently, what I want more of, etc..., one thing really strikes me; the success of roses in my garden.

Rosa 'Flower carpet Yellow'

When I first started out, I was really nervous about Roses; everyone said they were finicky about sun and soil, prone to mold and disease, but none of those things have really played a role so far. Maybe I've been lucky in my choices, but I have noticed a lot of roses growing in Swampscott, from the ubiquitous Rosa Rugosa along the shore at my favorite beach, to my neighbor's humungous noisette that blooms in the Spring. Maybe they like the shore climate, with its near constant wind, short Spring, long Fall, snowy, but relatively mild Winter temperatures (rarely does it get below 20 or 25 here). Or maybe I'm super lucky to have a very sunny corner lot, that gets full sun for over 10 hours during the summer.

Grandma's Rose on October 22!

Beyond the aesthetics of roses (which far more talented and poetic writers than I, have rhapsodized about), they have some wonderful characteristics that have made them my favorite:

1) After the first season (once they've developed a taproot), they are virtually drought tolerant (my Knockout and Flowercarpet roses are a testament to this).

2) The shrub roses totally stand up to wind! I have a windy corner, and many of my flowers just don't do well with all the wind (i.e. they all fall over). My roses probably do better because of the wind (less chance for mold to take hold).

3) Many varieties bloom for three seasons! I've been enjoying blooms since June, and it's October and almost all my roses are still blooming. For me, gardening is about the flowers, and to see a few buds lighting up a scraggly corner just makes my day.

4) Okay, I will mention the aesthetics. Roses are gorgeous! They come in a ton of colors, and a single flower goes through many changes while it blooms, so it's like you get three or four flowers out of one.

Rosa 'Sunflare' when it first starts to open.

Sunflare once its fully open.

Whatever the reason roses do well in my little garden, I'm thankful!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Claiming the Hellstrip

We live on a busy corner, surrounded by about 100 feet of sidewalk and that lovely weed-filled strip along the road, frequently called, a "hellstrip." I believe the term was coined because the strip of land and scrub gets blasted with fiery summer sun, foot traffic, and loads of salty slush (here in 4-season land). I've pretty much avoided the 'strip, but my sister recently pointed out that it looks "scraggly," and I had to agree. It didn't look so bad before, but now that my front garden looks so phenomenal, the hellstrip's general state of neglect is glaringly obvious.

The "hellstrip" in all its glory.

So yesterday, I made my first attempt at beautifying, and planted some excess Rudbeckia. I was actually pretty stunned at how easily the weeds lifted up, and I was even more surprised by the state of the soil. I expected rock-solid clay, as I have in most of my yard, but I was happy to find some nice crumbly loam, with several little earthworms (and a few grubs). I'm not sure if I'm officially "permitted" to plant in this space, but I figure the town can't be too bothered by some not-so tall flowers in place of the weeds, especially since there are other hellstrip offenders directly across from the town hall.

Besides that little work I did, I've been pretty much leaving the garden alone. I'm pretty amazed at how much is still in bloom, especially the roses.

Like, this Christopher Marlowe rose I bought a week or two ago (above). It's continuing to put out buds, and I love how this rose starts orangey and pink, and then has tons of petals, and eventually looking like an old-fashioned cabbage rose.

My old standby Pink Knockout rose has bloomed again and looks particularly lovely against the insane mass of Boltonia.

Even my Grandmother's rose has started blooming again, and just looks phenomenal when it first breaks bud. I'm not sure if it has a virus, or if its natural, but up close, the petals have hints of white and darker pink veins.

Besides the roses, there are a few more happy surprises.

Like these miniature Shasta Daisies, which have bloomed for the third time this year!

Even my Nepeata 'Six Hills Giant' is putting out new blooms, and IMHO, the Staychis looks fantabulous!

Oscar seems to be enjoying the garden too.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Plans for Next Year

The late summer/early fall front garden.

The garden has begun its Fall decline, with things looking more rusty, brown, or golden yellow. So I'm starting to take stock and think about next year.

For one thing, I will absolutely be planting more Dahlia's. My one purple Dahlia I got from Home Depot has been such a surprise and a delight that I can't wait to try more. I like plants that require little care and bloom for a long time. The Dahlia totally fits the bill.

The oft photographed pale purple Dahlia,
continuing to bloom its little heart out.

I took a trip to Lowe's for some compost to dump on a few patches of dirt that were rather too clay-like for my comfort, and came across a huge rose sale... so of course I walked out of there with three bags of composted manure and a new rose bush, a rather leggy-looking Christopher Marlowe (a David Austin shrub rose) for a wopping $5 (which my husband still felt was too much money, because in his words, "would you have bought that rose anyway? So now you just spent $5 more than you would have if there hadn't been a sale.").

Rosa 'Christopher Marlowe'

In all honesty, I really was thinking of buying another rose bush or two (add roses to my list of garden addictions) in the Spring. My front/side yard is like the Sahara and roses seem to really like the 10+ hours of sun I get during summer. So I was going to buy another rose, and I was lucky enough to find a cheap one that I liked; Rosa 'Christopher Marlowe'. In my opinion, this is a truly slutty rose; it has tons of petals, buds that are pink with shades of orange and yellow, a lovely scent, and it reblooms. I mean how could I resist that for five dollars? The photo above really doesn't do it justice (the link sort of does).

Common culinary sage (Salvia officinalis).

For next year, more plants from seed. I had lots of success with sage, love-in-a-mist, echinops, sunflower, and allyssum (not to mention the tomatoes, basil, and cilantro). The sage in the picture above, I grew from seed this Spring. I think this plant might actually be a clump of three individual plants, but still, this baby got huge in just two seasons. Plenty for stuffing the turkey. Truly easy to grow, high germination. Not to mention that the sage is really pretty. I'm thinking about spreading it in a few more places as an edger, but first I'll wait to see how it does over the Winter.

Last lesson - mulch! I didn't mulch the garden this year and have grown to regret it. I wanted to see how many of my plants would self sow. Hah! A ton of plants did self sow. They're called weeds and most of my summer was spent weeding. Never again.


It's Grass Season!

Karl Foerster Grass in full fall glory.

Ornamental grass that is. Ever since we inherited a clump of Maiden Grass at our first home in St. Louis, I have been in love with ornamental grasses. They are virtually care free, and they bring movement and sound into the garden. Despite warning about requiring lots of room, I try to plunk 'em down all over the place in my .08 acre lot. My love affair is helped a bit by the fact that Kane's Flower World sells 4-inch pots for $5, pretty much all season. I've planted various Miscanthi and even a giant Ravenna grass (which I gave away to my sister, who has a much larger yard). In the last three years of growing, I've started to learn a thing or two.

Miscanthus 'Gracillimus' looking quite airy.

1) You absolutely cannot move most of these grasses (warm season) until they start growing. If you move them while dormant, they die. I've learned this through trial and error (mostly error).

2) I have mostly planted varieties of Miscanthus (there are about 8 million), and have had best luck with two kinds, Variegated Miscanthus (Miscanthus 'Variegatus'), sometimes called Japanese Silver Grass and Zebra Grass (Miscanthus 'Zebrinus'). A strong third place finisher is Miscanthus 'Gracillimus.' I've found that all three hold their form really well, even when battered by some tough winds (especially Zebrinus).

3) If you want them to bloom, don't move them! I have a horrible habit (shared by many gardeners, I hear) of moving my plants around constantly. Few of my grasses bloom because I tend to move them at least once, if not twice during the summer. I finally let the Karl Foster grass (seen above) stay in one place, and they've rewarded me with lovely golden blooms.

4) Alone (as in not in a hedge grouping), the grasses look best in corners, towards the back of the border, with plants with more nondescript foliage. My favorite pairings of grasses, are with roses, dahlias, cone flowers, and Shasta Daisies. There's something about the narrow blade of the grasses that make a great canvas for the bold flowers and more blah foliage of those plants. So if you have a tall flower, with splindly stems, pair them with some Miscanthus. Actually, scratch that, you can pair grasses with anything with a broader leaf.

Red Double Knock-out Rose looking lovely
paired with Miscanthus 'Variegatus'

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Tomato Report

Yummy, cherry tomatoes!

My first attempts at growing tomatoes was, in the final analysis, quite successful. I probably harvested about 30lbs of tomatoes, and have been enjoying them for several weeks, both the indeterminate/vining variety and the determinate/bush variety.

Lessons Learned:

Stay away from Bonnie/Walmart seedlings. Not even getting into the whole blight issue, the large vining tomato seedlings I bought produced large, watery, mealy, pretty tasteless tomatoes. From three seedlings, I got lots of them, and they were quite large too, but in the end, just not much better than anything in the grocery store, and good for only sandwiches and hamburgers, not much else, which kind of defeats the purpose of trying to grow them.

Grow tomatoes from seed.
I got my seeds from Pinetree Gardens. I planted about 6 seedlings, and just got tons of beatiful, delicious, cherry tomatoes. I gave away batches to neighbors and family members and got raves. I started the seedling early, on a windowsill in peat pots, probably in mid to late February, got nearly 100% germination, and repotted them into 4-inch pots. I also cut back side shoots pretty religiously. My seedlings were quite large when I planted them around memorial day. I think next year, I will try doing the tomatoes in batches, so that I have an early batch and a later batch, to extend the harvest.

Companion planting works (I think).
Along with my tomatoes, I also planted some very stinky basil, marigold, and nasturtium. The basil supposedly keeps away certain kinds of insects because of their powerful scent, the marigolds deliver some kind of chemical to the soil which keeps away nematodes, and the nasturtium attracts aphids and other bad bugs, keeping them away from the veggies. I can certainly vouch for the aphid attracting power of the nasturium, and the stinkiness of the basil. As for the marigold, it was just nice to have some flowers, interspersed among the tomatoes. Next year, I will definitely be trying more basil (so yummy), and nasturtium (prettier than the marigolds in my opinion).

Pretty, but tasteless.

Not all Tomatoes are Alike.
Last year, I had no idea there were two main kinds of tomato plants, indeterminate, i.e. they keep growing indefinitely, until the cold kills them, and they are usually viney or sprawling, and determinate i.e. they grow to a certain size, flower, and produce one major harvest. I tried both kinds, and found that neither exactly sticks hard and fast to the rules. My determinate or bush variety did continue to flower after its first major flowering period, and the indeterminate definitely slow down quite a bit as they weather grew cooler towards the end of the summer, and since the fruits are larger, they take much longer to ripen than the smaller variety.

Oh, one last thing, determinates tend to grow smaller, more grape or cherry-like tomatoes, and are better for containers. However, I grew them in raised beds and containers, and they definitely performed much better in the raised beds than in the containers. We're talking leaps and bounds, or pounds and pounds better!

Next order of business -- on the to the veggie seed catalogs!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not Buying a Plant Because of Its Flowers?....pshaw!

My first, but hopefully, not my last Dahlia.

I read a recent blog posting on GardenRant that linked to a list of garden "hard truths" and one of the truths sort of bugged me, stuck in my craw, if you will.

"Flowers, from a design standpoint, are non-essential--throw pillow equivalents. It’s foliage that makes the garden. Or, as a former Sunset garden writer once put it, 'Buying a plant for its flowers is like choosing a wife for her bonnet.' "

I have heard this advice/truth before and its always bothered me. It seems to me that it seems to imply that "real" gardeners don't care about flowers, short-lived and fragile -- they just take away from the true stars of the garden -- the foliage. I know there are Hosta collectors out there, and people go ape for rare types of conifers, but I couldn't imagine a garden that didn't have flowers. I can imagine visiting such a garden once, but not returning to it. So in defense of the lowly flower, I will supply these photos as a rejection of this "hard truth."

I supposed the foliage is lovely on these California Poppies and Nigella damascena, but I wouldn't have planted the seeds if they didn't have these delicate and delightful flowers

My new favorite rose is this Belinda's Dream. It reblooms, it smells nice. I can offer no comment on its foliage.

This Carefree Spririt Rose is all about the flowers, contantly, non-stop. I supposed you could argue that the rose is great not because of its flowers, but because it is drought tolerant and disease resistant, but I think the flowers are really nice.

This Strawberry Candy Daylily is a repeat bloomer and drought tolerant, but I just think its pretty.

My floribunda rose, "Sun flare" does has terrific foliage, but I certainly wouldn't care about it, if it didn't have the most lovely yellow buds throughout the summer.

Two of my favorite plants, Lavender (Munstead variety) and Yarrow (Achillea). Both have that gray, spidery foliage that is popular these days, but I love the combination of the flowers, the soft purple spikes with the contrasting white umbrels.

Everyone seems to be putting down the lowly Rudbeckia (brown-eyed Susan), but it blooms for over a month, is drought tolerant, and the yellow contrasts with almost everything in my pink and purple garden, especially this Flowercarpet rose (a line of roses I am totally in love with).

I think the Rudbeckia also works well with my Rubrum Lily, which has the most wonderful scent, and blooms for quite a while.

I did buy this Caryopteris divaricata for its foliage, but I love how it provides a framework for the Cosmos to weave through. So I do admit readily, there are qualities to plants besides their flowers you should absolutely consider, like drought-tolerance, length of bloom, disease resistance, and whether a plant's form/foliage/color will complement its plant neighbors. Considering how a plant will look after its lost is flowers, perhaps should be emphasized more, but buying a plant just for its foliage seems to be missing the point a bit.


List of Plants:
Purple Dahlia
Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-Mist)
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Rosa 'Belinda's Dream'
Rosa 'Sun flare'
Rosa 'Carefree Spirit'
Rosa 'Flowercarpet Pink Supreme'
Caryopteris divaricata 'Snow Fairy'
Lilium speciosum Rubrum (Red Species Lily, Rubrum Lily)
Cosmos bipinnatus (Cosmos, Mexican Aster)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Brown-eyed Susan)
Hemerocallis 'Strawberry Candy' (Daylily)
Lavender angustifolia 'Munstead' (English Lavender)
Achillea sibirica (Siberian Yarrow)

Friday, August 14, 2009

No Blight...Yet

As many New Englanders already know, this has been a terrible year for tomatoes; endless rain, overcast days, cool nights, and a horrible strain of late blight that came early. So far, knock on wood, my tomatoes seem OK. I started some from seed (determinate/bush variety) and bought some seedlings (indeterminate/vining). Both kinds seem blight free.


I'm a little more worried about the cucumbers, which do seem to have developed a mildew. I got several beautiful cukes early this year, but the newer flowers and fruits seem to be blackening.

Today was pretty sunny, so things seem better, but I'm still not convinced about this whole veggie thing. It's just too stressful! But the tomatoes are pretty much better than anything the grocery has to offer...and Basil is about the easiest thing to grow and tastes good in everything (now that I've figured out that they need to be harvested constantly for best growth), and I'm not a big cucumber eater, but they were really crispy.

So I'm thinking next year, I'm going to look for cucumber and tomato varieties that are resistant to the more common fungi. I suppose this means I'm going to keep "farming.'


P.S. Garden Rant already did a piece on late blight, so here's their much more informed take on the topic.

List of Links
Cornell U, Agric Dept: Late Blight on tomato
Salem News: Late blight hits farm tomatoes
Garden Rant: Some thoughts on late blight

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Garden in August

Despite all the rain, or perhaps because of it, the garden is looking particularly floriferous (is that a word?) and abundant these days. I'm sure it won't last too much longer, so I captured a few moments of the garden at its summer peak.

Here's the front-left:


My son made me buy this Dahlia plant when I was browsing the seed aisle -- his instructions were, "I want the big one." He rarely shows an interest in what I plant, so I went along with him. I dubiously planted the tuber in the Spring and pretty much forgot about it, until I noticed this lovely flower this week. What a surprise! Now I'm totally in love with Dahlia's and can't wait to try some more.

Another happy surprise was the Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-Mist). I sprinkled some seeds this Spring, and hoped for the best. It's now growing around my Belinda's Dream Rose, and I just love it. You can't tell from the pictures, but the Nigella petals actually turn a lovely periwinkle blue as they ripen.

Here's the Nigella in close-up. Isn't the common name perfect?


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Late Afternoon in July

Yesterday was a truly memorably beautiful day; no clouds (a rarity this summer), no mugginess, and gentle sea breezes. After a perfect beach day, I took a survey of the garden and was happy with a few things I found.

Like my bush tomatoes are starting to ripen:

And the bush cukes are just going nuts. They don't seem to mind the wet weather:

Many of my flowers are really peaking or beginning their decline, but there were a few standouts.

Like these hemerocallis (daylily) that I saved from the %50-off rack at Home Depot:

Or this Belinda's Dream Rose that I ordered from Antique Rose Emporium -- it's supposed to be just about the perfect rose (its an Earthkind rose -- drought and disease resistant, and a repeat bloomer, with the classic, cupped bloom form). I planted it this June, and its beginning its second bloom of the summer.

Many of my hydrangeas are beginning to decline, but are still lovely. Like this Nikko Blue Hydrangea that I feel is making a nice pairing with my variegated dogwood (Cornus alba 'Ivory Halo').

I got this Alpenglow Hydrangea last year, a sale item from Bluestone Perennials. It came in a 4-inch pot and is now about 2ft x 2ft. I love how the electric pink has mellowed to a softer, mauvey pink.

I caught Auggie, frequently known as the Devil Dog, taking a breather under my Japanese Dappled Willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki' ). Belying his nature, he looks rather sweet and cuddly.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My First Lily! (and other stuff)

The Lily above is Black Beauty. I ordered these from Old House Gardens, and so far, I'm delighted with how they've come up. They're eventually supposed to grow to between 5 and 7 feet tall! Though currently, they have only reached about 2 and 1/2 feet. Everyone says that Lilies are eaten by the Lily Leaf-eater Beetle (rather appropriately named), so I'll be on the look-out, but so far, so good.

My Double Red Knockout Rose continues to delight:

And here's my new favorite Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Variegata'):

I was actually pretty shocked that this Hydrangea bloomed; most garden sites suggest that the buds freeze higher in zones higher than 7. I'm in 6b here in Swampscott, but the shrub is on the North side of the house, tucked up against a very warm PVC fence.

The Gaura have gone crazy this year. I actually cut them back earlier in June because they were starting to flop over:


P.S. The pic below is for Maria -- this is the Hardy Pampas Grass (aka Ravenna Grass) I'm thinking about tearing it out. It's a Monster!