Saturday, May 29, 2010

Suddenly this summer

Except that we’re still in May. I’m not sure that the reason my roses are opening a bit early (as far as I can tell from reviewing former posts) is totally due to the recent high temps—it could be that an early April dose of organic amendments did the job.

In any case, here they are and here we are, thrown into that hurry up phase of late spring when everything has to happen instantly. Pots, hanging baskets, and gaps in beds all have to be filled; weeds eliminated; fountain set up; pond cleaned; and any lingering problems dealt with. I have piles of empty pots and flats everywhere, the result of a feverish week of planting.

It’s time to stop and smell the roses, but I’m not quite ready. Shown here are the gigantic yellow climber behind the garage and a close-up of Abraham Darby.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reclaiming a garden, part I

On Monday, I did a step-by-step prep and planting of a small semi-shade garden for a colleague of mine who has recently bought a house in a neighborhood near mine. What we did has been thoroughly documented in the form of two videos that will soon appear on the Troy-Bilt website. I’ll talk about the whole video process in another post—it really deserves its own story.

In the meantime, I have been looking at my pictures of the small bed, and I like it, as far as it goes. The previous owner built some raised beds edged with natural stone, which have become overgrown with violas, vincas, and just-plain-weeds. Kevin (shown above) cleared one of them and then on Monday I dumped some compost on the bed and worked it up as best as I could with the TB cultivator. Kevin’s house, like mine, is surrounded by Norway maples. I had always wondered if a cultivator might help get through root-choked beds, and it does, pretty much. I don't think I've ever seen tree roots as tough and ubiquitous as Norways. And I don't think you can hurt the tree by attacking the roots either. I think it encourages them.

Then we dug and planted. I chose some plants that I think will stand up to shade and root competition—they do on my, very similar property. We planted hakonechloa grass, maroon heucheras, some hellebores, a pieris, tiarella, brunnera, cimifuga, and some annuals for extra color. It was a hot day, so we mulched and watered well.

Though the plants will look much better when they fill out, and provide dramatic foliage interest for this very green space, I can’t help but admire the previous violas (above), now in their flowering season. They’re lush and full even if they are self-spreading semi-weeds left to take over. I’ll be back to check up on the garden periodically to see how things are doing. They’ll need to water often—now that it seems mid-80 daily temps are the late spring norm around here. What's up with that?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Glad to see you, On Point listeners!

Delightful. That is the best word to describe today’s talk with Tom Ashbrook and Sydney Eddison on NPR’s On Point. I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in their discussion of gardening and what it says about you. Eddison’s book, Gardening for a Lifetime, is a refreshing change from the usual garden porn. The book has small drawings instead of lush color plates and—from beginning to end—it is honest, straightforward talk from an expert gardener who is figuring out how to keep gardening on the same two acres without physical injury or exhaustion.

I have some things in common with Eddison, actually, though our properties could not be more different. She has a large country garden in Connecticut, but she does do a lot of shade and woodland gardening and loves many of the same plants I do. We do differ on a couple things: she loves Autumn Joy sedum (I have a strange and unreasonable dislike of this) and primroses—which I find pretty, but can’t afford the space for plants that are unattractive in summer. We agree, however, that age or other vicissitudes will not stop us from gardening.

If you missed the talk, you can listen to it archived here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The waters of May

Everyone wants to be outside in this season, including these kids who are learning how to sail in the river outside the Buffalo Yacht Club. The garden centers are bustling, and it seems like the selection is getting better and better each year. Apparently, obscure native plants are the new exotics, so in my continual quest for novelty, that’s what I’m now buying. It’s not quite the same reason others buy natives.

So, on to my most belated Bloom Day post ever! Blah, blah, brunnera, blah, tulips, blah, bergenia, pulmonaria, etc. You know it all. There are, however, a few plants that capture my imagination every year, and some of them are the most common ones. Some of them are not, like the tulip acuminata above. I've had to replant it a couple times; it’s not terribly persistent. But it’s worth it (above). And if it will bloom, the blooms do last much longer than the usual species.

I also love my ground cover at this time. It is so fresh-looking; sometimes by the end of July it can get tired-looking—I must remember to cut it back some before that. I also love how it mingles. The gallium is by far the strongest, followed by the ivy, followed by the lamium.

The dicentra flowers are at their freshest pink. As Christopher Lloyd has observed, the continual blooming comes with a trade-off: flowers that do not begin to compare with the traditional bleeding heart. But I think the vigorous foliage is well worth it.

Next month I’ll be talking about roses. And so it goes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bring on the wild

It’s not that I’m trying to turn my garden back into whatever it may have looked like when all of Western New York was virgin forest. No. That would be impossible—and undesirable. But there are a few native plants particular to WNY that I’ve always really liked, and one of them is the ubiquitous podophyllum peltatum, commonly known as Mayapple. You still see this everywhere in the area, though not as much as before the rural areas surrounding the city were developed. Now, you’re more likely to encounter it in spots like the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge (above), where it is protected. I’ve always liked the leaf form and, as native ground covers go, you could do worse.

A few weeks back I bought some pots of this as well as hepatica at a local nursery, where I was thrilled to see they had a sizable display of many other native plants. These were the real deal, ungussied up by pictures of birds and butterflies and fancy packages. (They also didn’t have the fancy prices of the native lines that some growers are putting out.) Not that I don’t think marketing is a good idea, overall; the distinctive packaging will be needed by many consumers who otherwise might overlook these.

I have a small area by the side of the house that is quite shady; I’m trying to turn it into a mini-woodland. So far it has martagons, lilies of the valley, sweet woodruff, ferns, hosta, bloodroot, tiarella, and a few others. In a few years, I hope to see a sizable colony of mayapples here.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

On with the show, part II

Don’t worry, there won’t be a part three! Though there are some species tulips yet to come, and hybrids yet to mature, I think the bulb show is at its peak. I’m realizing now just how many species tulips it takes to create a real burst of color. It’s a lot. And I still have gaps.

The t. orphanidea flava (above) are new this year—from John Scheepers, they look suspiciously like those sold as t. whittallii from Brent & Becky’s Hmmm. Another newcomer is the t. kolpakowskiana (below, at right). It’s a lot like t. clusiana “Mary Jane”, but taller and bigger. There are some no-shows: the humilis alba coerulea oculata (I should have known better) and maybe some of the varieties I’ve planted in past years are returning with less fervor. That’s why I always plant more, every year. If you want tulips, you have to do that. End of story.

My very first hybrid mix buy (almost ten years ago) was the Cool Out from Colorblends, and I’ve returned to it this year. Though it does not accord with the orangish theme going on elsewhere, it is lovely with the violets. Though I don’t remember violets and hybrid tulips coinciding this much before. It’s the new earliness. Sadly, the new earliness means the Queen of the Night and the White Triumphator in this mix are shorter; I’d rather have them more willowy. But perhaps they’ll get a bit taller.

Soon the show will be over, and I’ll have to figure out an all-summer solution for the color in the front yard. But for the next couple weeks, I’ll be happy—and I’m planning to add even more species tulips for next season.