Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The case of the invisible wisteria

I got all excited last year when, finally, the wisteria bloomed after five years in the ground, all the while growing a thicker and thicker trunk and spreading more and more roots through its limited bed. I had expected this masterful behavior, but was willing to tolerate it for the flowers. I do love wisteria.

When I saw (and smelled) the plethora of blossoms that have appeared this year, it was difficult to be feel joy. The thing is, my wisteria is totally invisible to the naked (or clothed) eye. Sure, there are ample flowers, but to see them you have to walk through a narrow garden passage, under the overhanging branches, and look up. Voila.

It is not clear what I've done wrong here. Should the spring pruning be more rigorous? Is this a type that doesn't flower until after the branches have fully leafed out? Normally you see the flowers before the leaves, but that's not what is happening here.

I have no answer to this, but plan to look up different cultivars and see what might be the issue. In the meantime, I'll enjoy them however I can.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I give you … the pond!

Although the pond was officially started and completed on Thursday, it took until Saturday afternoon to get it into a state where I would even want to photograph it. My husband came back from a conference in Paris, and was taken aback, no, shocked, no, horrified by the final size of the thing. From the tip of the waterfall to the end of the stone covering the filter, it is ten feet and now takes up two thirds of the bed it occupies. Also, the waterfall wasn't covered properly, it needed plants, and—maybe a couple fish would be nice.

So we had the obliging Brian back over and he made a few adjustments that, minor as they are, allowed me to get a few more perennials around the edges. We then proceeded to a local nursery specializing in water gardens and bought some interesting water plants (opening up a whole new world of cultivars for me).

After a few hours of planting and rearranging, this is as good as we can get it for now. The sealant between some of the rocks has to mature from yellow to green/brown, the plants need to grow and the ecosystem has to mature, but we're OK with watching this develop (checking every a.m. so see if the fish lived through the night).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Purple flowers for Ron

My view on color in the garden: you need a lot of it. So I don't think much about coordinating plantings by color; the main thing for me is coordinating bloom times and including plenty of long-blooming annuals.

I do however have the greatest respect for those who do consider such niceties. I guess Vita Sackville-West is one of the most famous with her moon garden. Then, at the Jekyll-designed portion of Hestercombe a few summers back, we saw a wonderful formal arrangement of blue and white:

Do I consider myself capable of such an effect? I do not. But sometimes these happy combinations seem to simultaneously happen in nature, and I'm sure there is a reason for it. Many late spring flowers (like my purple aquilegia above) seem to have made an agreement to appear in soft, cool colors: pale pinks, purples, blues, and whites. At least all the ones I have come out in those shades. It almost seems a shame to impose my raucous purchases of bright lantana, diascia, osteospermum, and variegated coleus on this tranquil scene. Soon, however, the hardy geraniums, aquilegias, and sweet woodruffs will be done and it will be time for the yellows, oranges, and reds of summer.

In the meantime, I salute my friend Ron, who is planning an all-purple scheme for his front garden. I knew you'd like this aquilegia, Ron, and also, below, here's an annual more in the blue-violet range: torenia. Something you may want to consider.

On the pond front, a few finishing touches remain before I can unveil the completed installation, so here's another in-progress shot from yesterday.

Gotta love those pond guys!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pond in progress

Two trucks worth of pond guys came this morning; by afternoon it will be finished. I hastily (having spent the previous evening drinking mojitos with friends in the garden rather than moving plants) moved all the plants about an hour before they came, but I think that's best. They will spend as little time out of the ground as possible. (Mojitos are an excellent way to use up whatever mint you might have coming up here and there.)

If I had sat down and thought about it, I could not have come up with a worse time to move these early summer-blooming perennials, but they're all quite sturdy, even aggressive, and he's leaving me some space so some of them can encircle the pond.
It will be fun to rearrange them; it will give me a opportunity to actually think about where I am putting plants. That would be new.

So by 4 p.m. or so (maybe earlier), this (below) will become …

Sunday, May 20, 2007

24 hours, $250 plus and counting

Although I love mail order, it's really just foreplay. The true orgy of plant consumption starts now, when the nurseries are finally—and almost fully—stocked. Today, after giving a brief talk about Garden Walk (salvaged by a brilliant slide show, thanks to Jim), I stopped at our new city garden center, Urban Roots. There wasn't much of what I really needed (their heirloom annuals are coming in later) but I picked up some stuff for Allentown planters and some lilium hybrids annoyingly and wrongly called "tiger lilies." (That has to be one of the more confusing common names; I've seen both hemerocallis and lilium called this, with the word tigrinium thrown in occasionally.) I think they're actually either Black Beauty or Scheherazade orienpet hybrids.

Then off to the Botanical Gardens, where their glorious yearly plant sale was in full swing. Two sets of cannas, a buddleia, 2 palms, and some semi-double impatiens later, I got home in time for the delivery of 6 flats of homegrown annuals for the public planters.

Finally, I topped it all off with some fabulous hanging baskets from Niagara Produce, a store on the way to suburbanesque Lockport, where so many backyards, including the party I attended, have these:

It's always disheartening how these purchases seem to disappear into beds and planters, and how many other trips are still necessary to finish the job. Notice, too, how I've taken the practice of using non-native plants to extremes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To a fellow devotee of the dirt: Happy birthday!

Sentimental musings are not in my line, but I think most who read this blog would admit that no one gardens alone. This post is dedicated to my best friend and closest gardening buddy, Cheryl (at left), who, unbelievably and contrary to all physical evidence, turns 50 today.

Ever since I moved into the GWI property, my gardening endeavors have often been undertaken in Cheryl’s company, especially shopping. In the spring of 2000, we bought tree peony plants together, and although I like the color of mine slightly better, I have to admit that hers is more floriferous. She has more sun.

At first, Cheryl was wary of roses because of all the spraying—she tries to maintain an organic garden. I bought her this Carefree Wonder maybe five years ago and it’s doing great, better than any of mine. Again, she has more sun.

But my favorite things in Cheryl’s garden are not the showy chorus-girl flowers like the peonies and roses. I greatly admire her sense of plant design, especially in this shady area in the back, largely made up of ferns, hosta, ligularia, and other restful foliage-centric perennials. This border may be changing after a recent tree loss. (Uh oh, here comes the sun again!)

Over the past eight years or so, Cheryl and I have collaborated on many garden-related activities, including:
—visits to local garden shows.
—trips to the Botanical Gardens to test our photography skills.
—many, many, many shopping expeditions.
—exhaustive research and development consultations over drinks.
—and, finally, a collaboration on the recent Garden Walk Buffalo book, which I edited and wrote and for which she co-produced an accompanying DVD.

I am asking all my colleagues in gardening to raise a glass of champagne to Cheryl, a talented artist and gardener, a wonderful friend, and a spectacular woman all-round. (You were going to have some anyway, right?!)

And, Cheryl—please get broadband access so you can read this post!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The spring invasion

I'm sure many can understand the love/hate dynamic when it comes to plants like the one shown above. These flowers are one of the most delightful sights of spring for me. Very few others form such a beautiful carpet at this time of year—indeed, at any time of year. In a couple weeks, though, I'll be pulling these out wherever I see them, except from the dreaded easeway space, where pretty much anything that will grow is welcome. The best part of it is that the violets will come up just the same next spring, no matter how many I think I'm pulling out.

Sweet woodruff is another such aggressor; it's jumped over a brick wall, and is now the dominant plant in one of my side spaces. Then there is the lamium cultivar—perhaps some sort of reversion—that has pink flowers from spring through fall. It seeds almost everywhere, which is fine with me. It's easy to pull out, if needed. In fact my mantra with the editing the magazine works here—always easier to subtract than to add.

I'd rather be fighting with invasives—which isn't hard in a small space like mine—than coaxing fussy plants to thrive. I love trying new plants, but in the meantime, I know I have a backdrop of various hardy geraniums, dicentra, lamium, gallium, and ferns that will fill in any barren space in no time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Taken by surprise

It was around 80 today as I took a last despairing look at the unweeded garden plots and litter of unfilled containers in the back garden, and trudged off to a 6 p.m. meeting. Up front, the cherry tree seems to have burst into bloom overnight and some of the tulips are already falling over. What happened to the erythronium? I'm suspecting that the buds were killed by a late freeze.

This year, the early spring flowers and corresponding dormant gardening period were skipped entirely; I now find myself in early summer mode, and with way, way too much to do.

Global warming? Inattention? Who knows? All I know is that I'll be in huge trouble if I don't take the weekend to get this garden into order, not to mention dig out and reconfigure all the plants needed for pond space.

In the meantime, however, I did manage to get the jasmine and gardenia outside. The jasmine is in full bloom; I must find time to sit outside and enjoy it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

And so the saga continues …

Over the past few weeks, the proposed site for the pond has seen a lot of changes, as perennials flourish and the climbing hydrangea puts out its buds. So, too, has the pond discussion ebbed and flowed as our two finalist designers presented their estimates and plans.

I wish I could say that all discussions have gone smoothly, and that the two prospective pond owners are as one in their ideas. Unfortunately that is not exactly the case. The English Gardener team came in with a novel and ambitious plan to connect two planting beds with a runnel of water that would flow from one pool to another. It would echo the curving shape of the flagstones, which come from the front in a narrow path, then widen around the house, then narrow again as they travel around the garage to the alley. So the runnel would have flowed from the fern/hosta bed to the mixed perennial/climber bed, along the side of the neighbor’s house.

Would have. Because it ain’t happening. I was more enthusiastic about it than my husband; he raises many objections, from the space it would take in what is now a pots/seating area to the flashy nature of the design. So, looking for common ground, it seems that we’d both accept a natural-looking, traditional pond/waterfall set-up, though I do hope that some drama can be added. Brian of Innovative Landscapes, who pretty much designs as he goes (not a sketcher), is our chosen designer. He’s a very enthusiastic pond guy, and loves building them. He’ll be doing it later in May, and now I need to find out which plants I have to move.

I tried to reproduce the sketch for the runnel with hideous results. But I may scan it in and add it later. Above is the bed where the pond will be placed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Incoming is here

So this is what they really look like! Not bad, I say, having received many shipments of live plants where are least one or two were broken, rotten, or just plain dead. I asked for an earlier delivery of these than I should have, because I've found that's necessary when ordering from higher zones (in this case, Connecticut). Better to keep them inside for a few days than receive them when they've been in their pots a bit too long. I might even plant the ones that go into containers now, and place them outside when it's time.

They sent a freebie: columbine leprechaun gold (aquilegia vulgaris vervaeneana), called that not for its purple flowers but for its variegated foliage. Otherwise, all the plants are as ordered, and in very good shape.

The season has officially started: plenty of perennials are coming up, and a few early tulips. Sunday, a beautiful day, we drove along a rural route lined with cobblestone houses from the mid-19th century, the roadside ablaze with forsythia, most of which was mercifully unshaped into boxes or whatever. I would never have this shrub myself, but I admire it elsewhere.

And we saw this carved tree stump along the way.