September 28, 2011


I know it is supposed to be Wordless Wednesday, but this scene left me not just without descriptive words, but entirely and totally speechless when I wandered out to the meadow today.  I didn't plant any of this.  It is the unmowed, untended, wild area that abuts my yard.  We don't even own this strip of meadow.

Nature made this sunny garden of white wood asters and purple New England wild asters, goldenrod, and a short orange sunflower that looks like a zinnia.

It is not just a single clump out back.  We are surrounded by this show.  Here's what I see standing in the backyard looking west --- you can just see the mowed edge of the tended yard on the left.

Here's what I see looking east where the meadow spills out to the road.  Grasses and asters and goldenrod spread all along the back of the yard in all directions.

I plant and tend and fuss, and Jim mows and clips and edges in the "garden" part of our outdoor world.  And then, all around the perimeter of our lot nature wordlessly and effortlessly shows us what a real garden looks like. 

I am speechless.

September 27, 2011

We Are Still Pleased

I can't believe I can still be delighted by a walk around my house on a morning at the very beginning of fall.

I've seen this garden over and over this season, weeded it endlessly, walked it repeatedly, fussed over it and spent far too much time looking at and critiquing it.  

And then a foggy September morning lights up the sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) outside my bedroom window and I see it anew.

Then I noticed the three Japanese forest grasses, Hakonechloa macra 'Beni Kaze', that I originally planted into the ground beneath a Japanese maple last year.

But rabbits kept eating them to the ground, so in frustration, I yanked out the stubby remains, plunked them into three separate plastic pots and left them on the front porch.  The rabbits gave up and I forgot about them.

But when I finally noticed them this year, I was pleased.  They looked nice and full enough to stage going up the front steps, and they are now ridiculously funny mopheaded greeters at the front door.

I love the pipecleaner spires of Persicaria affinis 'Dimity', or Himalayan fleeceflower.  It's a low groundcover and well behaved.  It's always there, carpeting the lowest level of my garden, intimidating weeds and spreading itself about a bit.  I like it all summer.  I still like it.

I planted a new clematis that will provide some vertical activity on an empty brick wall.  The clematis needs something to climb on, so I stuck a flimsy metal trellis in the ground to wait for next season's foliage to claim it and tear it down.  It surprised me how much I like the bare trellis by itself.  The copper sun, blending into the brick, is a pleasant little touch, and I almost don't want the vine to cover it.  Should I leave it as a bare trellis and put the clematis somewhere else?

Even the hints that my summer garden is going by are pleasing.  There is soft pink sedum 'Autumn Joy' blooming and flopping at the front of this fading garden.  There is a frosty colored purple sage nestling next to the sedum.  Blowsy nepeta lazes on the right, too big and loose to look perky any more.  The itea virginica in the middle is turning slightly reddish, and will be on fire in a few weeks.

Even after a long summer, even when things are fading, I must say:
      . . . . .we are still pleased.

September 22, 2011

This is the Time

This is the time of year when the hummingbirds drink the feeder dry in three days.

This is the time of year my butterfly bush is alive with orange and black visitors.

My butterfly bush is an unusual yellow one.  It is Buddleia weyeriana 'Honeycomb' and the panicles are clear yellow with orange throats, creating a sunny, warm, golden effect.  Like all butterfly bushes it is rangy, but it doesn't seem to want to get as big as some of the old garden standbys.  And it isn't as wildly flowery as the old varieties, but I like its delicate color and more refined flowering a bit better.

I have a magenta purple butterfly bush too.  It is the new dwarf one, 'Blue Chip', that really stays low and tidy.  The butterflies visit, but not in the major swarms that make the air above 'Honeycomb' electric.  It truly grows no more than two feet high and barely three feet wide.

This is the time of year when the winterberry hollies, Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite', announce they are open for business.  I've always wanted to see these red berries against white snow, but they never last that long.  They are gone before the first snowfall.

This is the time of year when my weeds become very sorry and promise not to do any of those things again.

Soon the butterflies will go and the hummers will depart.  The foliage in this garden will turn vivid colors before it too disappears.  Even the regretful weeds will go away.

And I am taking off as well, headed out to Denver to see my son.  But I'll be back very soon, it's just a short visit.  When I get back the butterflies and hummers may already be gone. 

It's time.

September 20, 2011

What Does It Really Look Like?

Look at the complex mix of pinks and purples and creams in this hydrangea bud.  Wouldn't you like to know what emerges when this opens up? 
It's Hydrangea serrata 'Bluebird'.  The lacecap bloom of this mountain hydrangea could be a beautifully mixed cocktail of color just as the tight buds are.  Or it could open all pinky rose and mauve.  Maybe it will be more blue as the name suggests, perhaps with a ring of clear white flowers surrounding the center.

I wouldn't know.  The deer get here before the buds open and decapitate the shrub.  The whole thing. 

Would you know where in my garden to find this delightful pea-like flower?  Isn't that a classy combination of rich magenta and white?
This color combination robes every inch of a bush clover.  It's Lespedeza 'Edo-Shibori', and unlike other big rangy bush clovers, this cultivar stays a manageable size overall.

But from a distance you wouldn't know what these flowers really look like.  They are so tiny, covering the shrub profusely in September, but the magenta and white flowers are invisible.  The shrub has its charms, arching and waving in the breeze rather beautifully, but the blooms are itty bitty and washed out.  I just don't know what the flowers look like until I get up very close.
The deer leave this lespedeza alone.  A friend says his bush clover is eaten to the ground --- twigs, branches, flowers and leaves, the whole thing.

But not in my garden.  The deer here are too busy with my hydrangeas to bother with the bush clover.  I guess I should be thankful for that.

And here is a little surprise: a delicate autumn crocus has popped up under a caryopteris shrub.

Cyndy from Gardening Asylum dug some from her old garden before she moved her whole asylum south this summer, and I stuck them in the ground in my garden.  Talk about wondering what it looks like!  Autumn crocus disappears all summer.  There is no foliage, nothing to let you know you planted anything.  Then, just when you are wondering if it's there and what it might ever look like, it pops up as sweet as can be.

September 16, 2011

September Charmers

September brings some very pretty plants into bloom.  We wait all summer for these charmers, and then suddenly they're here and summer is over.

I love caryopteris, or Blue Mist shrub.  It is incredibly easy to grow, takes no care, and brings out its jewel toned fuzzy blooms in early fall.  The whole plant swarms with drunken bees the size of small mammals all day long.
this whole plant was from a single stem cutting I took from another plant last year

the color is truly gem-like, a clear amethyst

It is very easy to propagate.  You just take a stem off and stick it in the ground, basically.
So I did that, and now I have Blue Mist shrubs in several spots around the garden.

another stem cutting, and I got this entire plant in one season

I also planted a gold leaved variety called 'Worcester's Gold'.  The foliage is quite yellow all summer, but when the light amethyst blooms come out in September, the leaves are more light green than gold, thankfully.  Even so, it's a combination that is a little bright.
'Worcester's Gold' is bright --- great from a far, a little jarring up close

Another fall charmer is chelone obliqua, or turtlehead.  It is supposed to bloom much earlier in the summer, in July and August, but the deer strip the buds and the poor plant doesn't bloom.
at long last, delayed blooms in fall

Finally, in September, when the deer have moved on to other snacks (their dining schedules are a mystery to me), turtlehead gets to show off its delicate pink furled flowers.

My turtlehead plants are at the back of the garden and are hidden.  Taller plants in front block any view of them from the patio, and I have to go around to the back of the garden to see them.  I'll move them this fall to a spot where I can actually see these charmers.

Perhaps if they are closer to the house the deer will leave them alone in early summer and they will bloom earlier (yeah, right, the deer would come up the stairs and into my kitchen if the door was open).

Then there are all the frothy tall sedums and the pretty pink fall anemones, and dusty rose hydrangeas that open in September and look so soft.

truly immortal, a re-blooming iris

And here's a return visit from spring --- iris 'Immortality'.

What a nice surprise to see this pristine white iris rebloom in the fall garden.  The buds are a strange powdery steel blue color, but the iris opens clear white.  'Immortality' will bloom well into October.

This month is bittersweet, knowing that summer has ended, school is back in session and winter is coming.

But I am charmed by the plants that shine in September to keep the end of the season at bay for just a while longer.

September 14, 2011

Project Completed

A grandchild's hand prints found a home

Here's an update on the project at my sister's condo.  It's done.

In my prior post here you saw the design challenge that she gave me:

Plant two small shady strips of garden beds along the fences, do something with bare dirt in the dark corners under a deck, and dress the whole patio up.

Here's what I did.

Under the deck:
Lots of rocks and some steppers are the base for a fountain urn.  The water in the urn is hard to photograph, but it is bubbling up from the center and smoothly sliding back down the outside of the urn.  It has a very quiet burble.
It turns out bubbling water is fun for a 3 year old to play in, and it's just the right height.
In the photo the area looks a little spare.  But I have to say it seems fuller when you are there.  There is the sound of the water, the intensity of the blue ceramic container, the Zen-like vibe under the twisted old rhododendron, and clinking windchimes that her older granddaughters made years ago --- it works and fills the space. 

On the other side, this corner under the deck is where the meters, the A/C and the littlest grandkid's toys live.  We called it a day and just put some rocks down to cover bare dirt.
Not much to be done here.
The A/C unit will be replaced soon, so we decided not to fence it in or hide it behind a tall trellis screen.  It just is.

The long narrow bed along the fence:
I dug up yellowroot -- Xanthorhiza simplicissima -- from my garden and it will colonize to make a leafy groundcover that completely covers this narrow strip.  It digs up and divides easily; any clump of roots will take.
The yellowroot looks scraggly now but will fill in to make a mounding shrubby carpet

My sister found a hollow stump in a firewood pile nearby, and decided it would make an ideal planter.
The hollow core was perfectly sized for a pot

At the end of the row of yellowroot I put in a clematis.  It is the old purple standby, Jackmanii Superba, and next year there will be flowers.  Abundant and vivid.  That is, if it can take as much shade as this side of the fence gets.  It's supposed to do okay in some shade, and this spot only gets an hour or two of sun at the height of mid-day, and bright shade the rest of the day.
Clematis Jackmaii Superba will outgrow this trellis
So I strung wire on supports to help it crawl along the top of the fence
And this is what it will look like along the fence.  I can't wait.  (Image from Brushwood Nursery)

I found a big heavy rock nearby and schlepped it to the corner, where I draped a Japanese Forest Grass over it, Hakonechloa macra.  It's the gold leaved one and it pops as you approach the patio. 
Why are rocks so heavy?  This one doesn't look big, but it was.  And heavy.

Between the exuberant purple clematis climbing up, the quiet green groundcover spreading below, the rustic stump, and the cascade of bright fountain grass, I think we got a nice thing going in this skinny strip of garden.

The raised bed:
On the other side two shrubs will add structure and heft in this slightly wider bed --- a Hinoki falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Draht') and a dense pyramid of a boxwood (Buxus 'Green Mountain').  When they get larger they will add height and fill the blank fence wall.  Both can take shade.  They don't do much to hide the A/C unit, but a hanging plant tower helps with that. 
The falsecypress and boxwood will grow to provide screening and substance here.

And didn't we find another hollow stump to use as a second planter for this bed.
I think my sister is most pleased with her idea to use these found stumps.  They're perfect.

The falsecypress and boxwood are underplanted with salvaged hostas and heucheras that were in this garden to begin with.  They'll fill in.  Already they look a little happier to have so much compost and such nice companions in their bed.  They'll plump up by next year.

50 crocuses are sleeping in the soil waiting for spring.  A fall anemone called 'September Charm' fills the corner near the hostas and will have delicate pink blooms.  It will eventually overtake the hollow log planter, so we will move the stump when it does.

I added astilbes and  glossy bergenias from my garden, and my sister added the cherished round plaster casts of her grandchildrens' handprints.
I love the fat glossy leaves of bergenia, called Pigsqueak.

Some more golden Hakone grass at the corner of the raised bed, and we have a garden.
The fountainy grass will soften the corner and flow over the slope

I know this doesn't look like much to you professional landscapers, but it was hard work for this aging 60 something gardener.  The rocks.  The rocks.  Who knew it would take so many bags of pond pebbles from Home Depot?  We made four trips after I woefully underestimated the quantity needed for those small spaces under the deck.
Grass seed in front will soon sprout, and so will furniture, and granddaughters playing on the patio

Jim was a tremendous help, he wrecked his back assisting with this installation, and did much of the heavy work.  My sister?  I think she is pleased with the whole design.

And me?  I had so much fun.  Call me if you want your garden revamped.  I know how many rocks it will take now.

September 11, 2011

They're Not Cooperating

Some plants in my garden are just not cooperating with my vision for them.  I have such plans.  But they don't do what I want.

Despite the fact that everything I have planted is getting way too big and engulfing the house and neighboring plants, my beautiful Rose of Sharon is not reaching upward to grace the window of my dining room.  Instead, she is getting wider and fuller.  Just not taller.
Hibiscus syriacus 'White Chiffon' blooms and grows fuller
But after 3 years she still barely reaches the window
I dream of a vase shaped, tall Rose of Sharon filling half the view here.  I got a shrubby round ball instead that lurks just under the window.

Then there's the trio of paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera) that define our property.  They have never looked good.  In the wild they are iconic New England woodland trees, graceful, glowing yellow in fall, and startling in their white barked nakedness in winter.

But in my yard they don't cooperate.  Because they are growing in nice garden soil and not rocky woodlands, mine put on too much foliage in spring.  They leaf out, look good, and then when warm summer temps hit, they can't support all those leaves.

In spring they grow too many leaves to support in summer
So they self prune to conserve water.  They are also getting a leaf spot problem that is browning the leaves and making them drop prematurely in August.

By Labor Day they become denuded without coloring up for fall.  Not at all what I was planning for the fall garden.
This is how sad they looked in August
The birches at Labor Day.  This is not what I want to see for fall color

I wish I had planted a trio of river birches (Betula nigra) instead of the paper birches.  I do have several river birches in other spots, and they are just as beautiful --- the bark is shaggy and peeling, not white.  They grow fast, stay lovely all summer and cooperate so much better than the paper birches do.  A very accommodating tree.
One of the thriving river birches.  Much better choice.

My black and blue sage (Salvia guaranitica) was completely uncooperative, in fact stubborn to a fault this year.  Drove me batty.  It wintered over in a pot on my unheated porch, and this spring it leafed back out and grew beautifully, but completely refused to bloom all summer.  Refused.  Just didn't put out a single bud, just lots and lots of green foliage.
Do you see any buds?
Last week I ditched it and bought a great big blooming new one at Lowe's.
New Salvia guaranitica.  Blooming.  So there.
There's a clematis that flowered very sparsely this year and didn't even bother to put out much foliage and never clothed the black steel pyramid next to the sages.  That was not my plan, why did the clematis think it was?  So all summer I simply had an empty metal pyramid by the patio wall.  Structural interest, okay, but not my original design.

Really, the entire garden in early September is looking great.  I shouldn't complain.  In fact, I'm pleased overall.  But I had plans for a couple of these trees and shrubs and perennials that they just didn't seem to understand.

There's always one or two in every group I guess.