August 29, 2011


The quiet this morning after the storm is complete.  Tropical storm Irene roared directly over us here in west central Connecticut, dumped oceans of rain on us, blew about, and departed.

This morning the sun came out, a few birds chirped tentatively, and the hummingbirds buzzed me gratefully when I re-hung the feeders.

There has been much flooding in the state, there are downed trees, and my relatives a few towns over have no power.  But all are safe, and here in my garden there is no damage. 

I have soggy ground, splayed annuals, and the silver maple on the back hill fell apart as silver maples do in any kind of weather, but the fallen limbs did no real harm.  I'll have to clean it up, though. 

It has certainly been a few weeks of natural oddities.  The earthquake in the east was one.  The tropical storm here was another. 

And while I was away in New Mexico it was stormy and wet there, a real oddity for the dry southwest.

We had rumbly thunderstorms that got snagged in the mountains of Santa Fe and gave us a couple evening's entertainment watching the lightning from safe inside.  The rain was steady and heavy, and out there that means flash floods.  We could not get to dinner one night as downtown Santa Fe was flooded.

But after the storms, all was stillness and quiet, and our trip was a delight.  Six of us in a beautiful house in the mountains.  Six of us shopping Indian Market, eating our way through New Mexico, attending an opera (a first for me, I'm such a rube), and cruising the art galleries of Santa Fe as if we could afford anything in them.

Most of Indian Market featured the work of southwest native craftsmen and artists.
Antique, vintage, or newly fashioned, the turquoise was exquisite
But I was pleased to see that Best of Show in the juried artwork was from an eastern craftsman, a member of Maine's Passamaquoddy.
Best of show basketry was Passamaquoddy

Photos are from
Santa Fe Indian Market 2011 - Photo Memories

Teri Greeves, Kiowa artist, was a highlight.  Her beaded wall hangings, immense and engrossing, each with a fully developed story behind them, were featured at the Shiprock gallery.  A flat photo of the hangings, as I've posted here, does not begin to show you the intensity of the light-catching beads, satiny fabric and textile richness of this art.  The hangings were nine feet long, huge and vivid.  Mrs. Obama is a fan of her work, and has gifted Teri's beaded handbags to heads of state.

Her beaded cuffs wound up on the wrists of two of our party.  Alas, my wrist went home naked. 

The market was immense, the exhibitors were friendly and chatty, the wares were beautifully made and expensive (I mean really pricey) and the artwork could take you weeks to appreciate.  We just sampled. 

We wandered, we ogled, we bought some stuff for our families back home, we went back to our mountain house and drank wine while looking at the mountains.  Half of our group did not know the other half before we arrived, and it was so pleasant to learn about each other and make new friends in this beautiful setting.

Thunder and flash floods, earthquakes, tropical storms, even Faust at the opera.  All manner of strange experiences for me. 

I pray for those that were badly affected in the storms.  I know I am lucky to be so unscathed, my garden intact, and everyone I love safe in the stillness after the storm. 

August 18, 2011

Off For A While

Gone for a little while.

Off to visit New Mexico.

Back at the end of August.

See you then . . .

August 15, 2011

Cardinal Flower

This is one of my favorite summer perennials, and our resident hummingbirds agree. 

It is Lobelia cardinalis.  Cardinal flower.  You can see why it is called that --- the red is intense.  The hummingbirds exhaust themselves zipping from stem to stem to feed, over and over.

There is a cultivar called 'Ruby Slippers' that is a deep wine color.

The color was too dark and saturated to be seen from far away, it just disappeared.  So I moved it to the patio wall where I see it up close and can marvel at the velvety rich hue.

But the cardinal red species is an eye popper even from far away in my back garden.  I need more of these to make a bigger impact, but they are hard to locate at local garden centers.  No one carries them, although the center I went to last week will order them for me.  My small stand isn't big enough to divide yet.

They want full sun and very moist, wet soil.  Mine get some late shade under a large maple, but they do see the sun most of the day.  The area of the back garden where I have them planted is damp, but when hot dry summer bakes the soil, I water the cardinal flowers frequently.

I don't know why local centers don't have them in stock routinely.  Lobelia cardinalis is the kind of plant that would tempt anyone shopping for color, tall structure and hummingbird magnets in their gardens.

August 14, 2011

Afternoon on the River

An August afternoon on the Connecticut River:

Do any local readers know where on the river this is?

August 10, 2011

Becky's Cup Plant

Dug out of the ground in Kentucky.

Transported to Missouri in a plastic shopping bag.

Zapped by TSA x-rays and carried on the airplane.  Stuffed under the seat for the flight to New England.

Planted in the ground in Connecticut.

A little bit of the midwest prairie blooming in my garden. 

It is a cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum.  I tried to grow them from seeds that we collected on a visit to a restored prairie in Wisconsin a few summers ago, but they didn't take.  Then Becky dug one up from her garden in Kentucky and brought it to me when we met in St. Louis in May.  A bumpy journey by car and plane for the sad little seedling, and I wasn't sure it would take.  But it did.

Not the 8 foot tall tower that the prairie produces, this cup plant is about 5 feet tall in my New England garden.  It rises tall and straight above the blooming clethra, kind of an odd combination from vastly different native habitats, but it's my garden and I can plant things that don't go together.

You can see why it is called cup plant: rain collects in the stem joints and makes a pool.  A little cup of refreshment for the bees that swarm around the yellow blooms.  Birds will drink from it too.

It's a fun plant: oddly out of place, sunnily happy, a drinking fountain of a plant, and it came from a friend's garden far away.  I wonder if it tells the nearby clethra tales about the long car ride and plane trip it took to get here, and the sights it saw along the way?

August 7, 2011

A Visit With The Shy Ones

It's high summer, August.  Humid, noisy with cicadas and birds.  I had a little visit a few days ago, before today's heavy rain, with the quieter plants that are spending the summer in my garden.  The shy ones.

Such as the candy lilies.  I had no success with them for the first few years, and thought I had lost them all.  Well, hello!

They are popping up everywhere this year.  The seedpods that formed in the first few years quietly settled into the soil, and these tiny little lily flowers on flat green scapes have established in places I did not plant them.  The twisty wrapped petals you see above turn into the most interesting seedpods with glistening black berries in late summer.

They are shy, awkward plants, too tall, with flowers that are too small at the top.  They must be staked, which I never get around to, so they get gawky and flop.  But when I notice, as I did on this visit, I tie them upright and see their funny leopard spotted faces.

Candy lilies are X Pardancanda norrisii (X means two genera mixed: Belamcanda chinensis, which is blackberry lily, crossed with Pardanthopsis dichotoma, a kind of iris).  I also planted a wine tipped gold color candy lily called 'Sangria', but it disappeared after the first winter and never came back.

But wait.  Look.  It's 'Sangria', returned this year to my garden all on its own.  Where was this reclusive one for the past two years?

Coleus 'Chocolate Drop' quietly spreads under a Japanese maple.  I took cuttings of this coleus and wintered them in pots in my living room all last season, pinching off the leggy tops.  Pinch pinch pinch, all winter long.  I put the scraggly cuttings under the maple in the very back of the garden in spring, and then forgot about them while I tended to spring bloomers and flashy flowers in the summer garden. Well, look at the coleus now.  It has formed a wide patch of spreading foliage.

'Chocolate Drop' is a lacy, speckled coleus with small leaves, not so gaudy and bold as the big red cousins I recently plopped in among them.  It plays well with others, spreading out rather than shooting up.  I like the reserved shape and the coloration a lot; it is redder in a bit of shade, greener where there is more dappled sunlight.

Here's a shy, demure one: Anemone 'Robustissima'.  I like the silvery fat buds almost better than the rose-like blush pink bloom.  The bee disagrees with that opinion, however.

This whole plant is unassuming, just growing in a nice mound of grape-leaved green foliage at the corner of the patio as I pass it on the way to water the big summer bloomers and thirsty annuals.  Then one day there she was, whispering a delicate sliver and pink "hi there".

And the small grasses want to say hello.  Not the big tall panicums and miscanthus that have shouted and waved most of the summer, but the little ones like Feather Reed Grass 'Karl Foerster' with its sunlit reedy plumes, and a fuzzy headed pennisetum tucked under other plants along the walk (it's 'Little Bunny' I think).  The small grasses aren't showy, but they add shine to things around them.

I enjoyed visiting with the shy ones, and taking notice of them among all the other rampant activity going on in the summer garden.

August 4, 2011

500 Days of Blueberries

Debbie at A Garden of Possibilities ran a drawing recently on her blog, and I won. 

She wrote a great profile of Vaccinium corymbosum, the blueberry bush.  The giveaway was a copy of A Gardener's Guide to Blueberries from Fall Creek Nursery.

This is so perfect.  The guide is in the mail, on its way to save the faltering relationship between a gardener and her blueberries. 

My relationship with four 'Northblue' vaccinium corymbosum plants has been up and down.  This may help me save it.

Did you see the movie 500 Days of Summer?  It's not about gardening in the heat and sun.  It's a gimmicky boy meets girl romance with a girl named Summer and at the end after the sad breakup he meets another girl named Autumn.  Intensely gimmicky. Cute. The whole film is full of visual tricks and ploys, but the movie is actually entertaining.

One film stunt is several minutes of split screen running two narratives side by side.  One side is titled "Expectation" and the other is "Reality".   Same scenes, different takes.

Well, I have 500 Days of Blueberries running in my garden.  Expectation and Reality are at odds.  Here is the split screen tale of my troubled relationship with the blueberries I am growing:

Luscious fruit.  Abundant berries.  Deep blue round treasures dusted in a soft blush.  If you net them against the critters, you can have blueberries on your cereal each morning in July.

I did, I did. . . . I got blueberries the first three years, and the picture below proves it.  But this year, despite lots of flowers, I did not get any fruits.  None. They simply flowered this spring, and then the flowers fell off.
My harvest, July 2009
The best explanation is a cold snap and wet period right at the time of pollination, followed by very hot and dry conditions.  Just the wrong timing for the pollinators.  You think?  Could that be?  Will they fruit next year? 

Brilliant fall color.  Red, eye popping autumn foliage.

Nah.  Each year the foliage got a leaf spot problem and dropped early.  I never got any fall color.  Last year I sprayed with Neem, and did get some rusty red action going, but the leaves dropped off before the feathery amsonias behind them turned their lovely yellow color.
Not much color, and no contrast with the amsonias
I try to limit overhead watering, which could cause leaf spot.  I'm not sure what else to do.  I've seen the colors that vaccinium plants can achieve, and mine is not there.

Expectation and reality.  Unrequited love.  All playing out in a garden plot next to the house.

My plants are in acid soil, a must for blueberries.  My soil is naturally slightly acid, and when these were planted I added a ton of peat moss.  'Northblue' is fully self fertile, so they do not need other blueberry plants around to flower and fruit. They are well watered, which their shallow roots need.  They do bloom, they grow, and during the early summer the plants look good, a nice clean green filler in between the taller amsonias and some groundcover geraniums.

But the late season leaf problems and the lack of any fruit this year eliminate two of the reasons for growing blueberries.  Such expectations.  Such disappointment.

The guide I won in the drawing is therefore timely for me.  I need to see if I can save this fractured relationship with a plant I really want to love but can't seem to be happy with.

Thanks, Debbie.

August 1, 2011

Is This a Mistake?

On the first of each month Joene sponsors GOOPs --- gardening oops, where we can share mistakes in design and plant stewardship.  I have posted my blunders, and freely admitted in each one that I have erred. 

But this time I am not sure if I have made a gardening oops or not.  Have I?

These are knockout roses.  Rosa 'Radrazz'.  Not the fine specimens that rose connoisseurs value, but easy care, garden staples.  The foliage is disease free with an interesting shiny maroon tint when it first emerges.

They bloom all summer, although this year mine took a month off between the end of June and the end of July.   They are reblooming again now, though. 

Planting knockout roses is not necessarily an "oops" --- I am fine with common, workhorse plants in my garden.

But I can't decide if I like these or not.  Too bright.  Not a good deep red, not a cheerful cherry, just an indeterminate mid red color and gaudy.  The masses of blooms cover these plants so profusely they look artificial, steroidal.

I planted three and they have grown into a big stand at the top of the driveway.  Noticeable from the street, a good screen from behind, and a color statement.

But.  I think they are a mistake.

The foliage of the smokebush planted next to them is a subtle purple in spring, and becomes a mixed gray-blue / rust-red color in summer.  It has a translucent blush on the leaves that doesn't go with the saturated high color of the roses.  The medicine red of the roses simply makes the smokebush look brown.

On the other side is a dwarf globe blue spruce.  The powdery silver of the spruce next to the glare of the roses is off as well. 

Isolated blooms, with soft white creeping thyme below, can be nice enough.

But the whole effect is too much.  Even the camera thinks so, and burps loudly when trying to capture this pepto shade.

What do you think?  A garden oops?

Margaret Roach's rose from A Way to Garden
I want to take them out (gasp).  Replace them with a softer tinted Rosa glauca that has blue-gray foliage to complement the globe blue spruce, and subtler pink single roses that won't scream at the smokebush nearby.  Margaret Roach has a nice profile of rosa glauca in her garden.  They only bloom once, briefly, in June, but the foliage is soft and subtly complex, with reddish tones early in the season.

Would you do it?  Would you call my stand of knockout roses a design mistake and take out healthy robust plants just because they're too extroverted and they don't match anything?