Sunday, September 27, 2009

A perfectly good tomato plant I won’t miss at all

In better days, the tomato leaves were somewhat attractive.

At first I was excited when a small heirloom tomato plant purchased on a whim began to bear small yellow tomatoes a couple months back. Then I was impressed when the thing grew to about 9 feet and produced several ponderous branches, all loaded with fruit. Then I became annoyed when it dominated most of the bed it was in, hiding a rose bush (the lovely David Austin Charlotte), and leaning all over my Black Knight buddleia.

The tomatoes are fine, but not nearly as good as what I can buy at our local farmers’ market, where I am not restricted to yellow, orange, green, or red, but can buy a rainbow of great-tasting, locally-grown tomatoes. So, having put up with this monstrous thing for a while, today I ignored all the little maturing maters hanging in bunches all up and down its length and pulled the whole thing out, including its 4 stakes. Easy enough—not much of a root system there. I stuffed it into the compost bin, and the whole garden seemed to breath a sigh of relief.

No edibles here, now that it’s gone.

Now, you can see my new panicum Ruby Ribbons (not ruby yet), the new Charlotte buds, and the whole bed looks airier. I cut down the rudbeckia Herbstsonne too for good measure. Aahhhh!

I don’t need to grow tomatoes. Let that be a lesson to me. However, I am considering some ornamental peppers next year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thank heaven for little ponds

In many ways, a pond, no matter how small, escapes the peaks and valleys of the usual WNY garden season. It always looks pretty fresh, providing you can keep the leaves out of it. The plants thrive throughout the summer, especially my favorite, papyrus, which is still sending out new stalks. This year I’m trying pickerel for the first time, and really liking it, while, as I’ve posted, my water lily has finally bloomed. Water hyacinths are nice surface plants, but multiply just a bit too rapidly and can clog things up—they’re not great for a small water feature like mine.

This is obvious, but it must be stated because it is the most astounding benefit of water gardening: you do not need to water. Something slightly less obvious: water plants can be fertilized. There are sticks made especially for them or you can use Jobes, pushed well in.

There are so many ways in which a water feature repays whatever effort and cash it cost. The sound provides a backdrop at all times, making your garden seem more idyllic than it is. You don’t have to have fish, but they’re fun. However, they do insert an element of trauma, if your pond is not deep enough for them to stay in it all year. I’ve finally found a winter home for my goldfish—cheap as they were, they’ve fattened up nicely, and I’d hate to just let them freeze. Or any of the sordid alternatives.

We’ll close the pond when it gets too cold to enjoy it; the non-hardy plants will be saved over (though without much success, I fear) and the hardy ones will winter over in the bottom. As for the fish, fingers crossed, my friend’s 20 gallon tank will provide a safe harbor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A shrubbery!

Ask not for whom the bell tolls; I can assure you it tolls for 3 rhododendrons, installed at considerable expense as part of a front garden redo about 5 years ago. Try as I may, these shrubs simply will not thrive. They’re not terrible; they’re just not great. The picture above shows them in flower; you can see the discolored leaves and the fact that the branches are not as fleshed out with leaves as they should be. It’s too bad; the flowers are very nice, and long-lasting.

So I brought in my favorite garden consultant, the fabulous Sally Cunningham from Lockwoods, a local nursery, and she recommended leucothoe Rainbow (above), an evergreen with variegated leathery leaves and white flowers in spring. They’ll be going in Sunday. They’ll be a bit puny at first, especially when compared to the full-grown shrubs on either side of them, but if all goes well, they’ll fill out. The wall behind them is not an eyesore in great need of covering, so that helps.

I wonder if I’m becoming a shrub person. My interest in them has grown, especially in hydrangea, viburnum, and another newbie to my garden: pieris japonica.

BTW, If you’re wondering why I don’t have a Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post today, I do: it’s here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A walk around the late summer garden with no close-ups

It does look a bit ratty in places, but overall, I’m … satisfied with the mid-September garden. But this isn’t the time to be satisfied. Like my friend Sally says, this is the time to give your garden a cold hard look, to figure out what’s really needed, now that the excitement of the floral fireworks has dissipated in large part.

Though we’re always giving our gardens a cold hard look. We’re always agonizing about all the flaws and problems. So why should today be any different?

Starting in the front, the presence of a surface network of maple and cherry roots is not likely to change. I am, however, replacing the rhododendrons with some different shrubs. My advisor and I are working on the choices now. Otherwise, my main problem is a mixed bed of shade perennials (not shown) that is a bit too mixed and needs some strong structural elements.

On the sides, all is well. Many of my friends think I should vary the monoculture of hostas and ferns I have on one side of this walkway, but I like them, so there. The hydrangeas, rhododendron, and perennials on the other side are doing very well.

I love this little strip near the side door. I feel like I can put anything there: perennials, annuals, herbs, bulbs, whatever. And let the best plant win in this tiny space.

In the sunny bed, it’s still mellow yellow, with heliopsis and rudbckia hanging on. I have pretty much decided that I will move the Herbstsonne to the back, probably in spring, not now. Lots of lily bulbs to cram in here in a month or so.

Can I just say that I love the pond, and especially now that I have these fish. I won them in a Canal Fest contest. But what to do over the winter? The pond is not deep enough. Dilemma.

In the back, we are again faced with a garden plot defined by a tree and its roots. But here is a slight second bloom on the viburnum. I never saw that before.

Finally, should I rethink all the containers? Should I fill each with just one plant? Something to consider.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Size matters

In my small patio garden, I need things to be either literally big or big in terms of impact. I have seen small dainty gardens with neat little mounds of foliage and flowers (strangely, these gardens often include a tiny patch of turf) and I have not been impressed. Not for me.

No. Tall is good, wide is good, and spectacular is preferred. Of course, I don’t have success with as much giant-sized stuff as I’d like. Large-flowered dahlias and big hibiscus don’t seem to get enough sun, and sunflowers never do well. But I can grow tall lilies, big-headed hydrangeas, other tall perennials, and lots of vines. And, with the various degrees of shade that fall almost everywhere, I depend on foliage plants. With big, big leaves.

Many of these are tropical or semi-tropical (meaning they’ll overwinter in Texas but not here). Two pics up, you see some alocasia that grow nicely inside for seven months and then go into the ground in June. There are also many types of colacasia (also shown) that I have varying success getting through the winter. One that I got from Plant Delights, the giganteum, will continue growing inside, but not all of these will.

The musa (banana plant) also has to be hauled up to the plant room in October, where it will continue to produce leaves, though slowly.

And there are some rather exotic looking hardy perennials that will give impressive foliage (without being hostas), like this boehmeria I got from Plant Delights last year. It’s about six feet tall and has strange little stringy white flowers—if that term even applies—hanging off it.

Many gardeners know the lesson of foliage. I’ve come to value it not just for the interest it brings when a plant’s flowers are gone, but even more on plants I grow for foliage alone.