January 29, 2012

Two Years Ago


Two years ago I came across this cartoon of downcast, repentant weedflowers by doodler and daydreamer Andre Jordan of A Beautiful Revolution, and it tickled me.

Yes, I said . . . my own weeds have looked so sorry at times, and they always promise not to do those terrible things in my garden any more.

My weedflowers are so full of regret that sometimes I must forgive them.

It was two years ago on January 30, 2010 that I began this blog.

I have amused myself with it, have learned a lot, and continue to find more things to write about than I ever thought possible.

Thanks for reading.  And remember that your weeds don't really mean to annoy you so much.  They mostly can't help it.

(Margaret Roach features a doodle by Andre about gardening every week on her blog A Way to Garden.)

January 26, 2012

The Corrections - 2nd Installment

This is the second installment in a list of corrective actions that I must take in 2012 in my gardens.  It's starting to overwhelm me.  All the work. 

A Correction: I must do something about the front walk.

I liked it a couple years ago when the green buns of chamaecyparis and the little shrub itea and the pretty winter-flowering heath all worked together, and there were tulips and flowering onions in spring.  But even then the horizontal overwhelmed the vertical in this strip and I knew it.

In 2010 a family of voles came to the same conclusion, and helped me out by removing every single shrub and bulb, from the roots up.  They destroyed all living plants in this strip.  In 2011 I had to start over.
Originally there were tulips . . .
. . .  followed by globe onions and rosy garlic and yellow allium moly to welcome you along the walk. . . .
. . .and originally I liked the fall colors and textures.  But the voles and I agreed it was all too horizontal.

In 2011 almost everything was removed.  I stuck in zinnias and irises and gaura from other parts of the garden and it looked chaotic.  I was not happy with it.  In 2012 I must make changes.
Not happy with this last summer.
  • The Correction: dig it all up and start over.
  • Degree of Difficulty: not too bad, the soil is loose and crumbly and the space is small.  But what to plant?

Another Project:  I must prepare for a garden tour.

On July 15, 2012 visitors from the New England Wildflower Society are coming to my garden, to study it during a two hour guided tour conducted by Ellen Sousa, who will be demonstrating how to create wildlife habitat even if you live in a development in the suburbs with covenants and homeowner restrictions.

I am a little stunned I said yes.

Hypericum androsaemum 'Albury Purple' (St. Johnswort) in my garden. Not native. Invasive in fact.

I must mulch, edge, remove non-performers, add color, move the struggling plants and re-plant in the gaps.  Widen, amend and prune.  Find abandoned tools and put them away.  Fertilize.  Chop back as much of the bittersweet as I can reach.

I must decide what to do about the most egregious non-natives (hypericum, should I keep it?)  Get everything in the newer gardens to grow two seasons' worth of foliage.  Replant all of the tree saplings I lost on the back hill, or at least a dozen of them.  Remove dead things.

Weed.  Thin out the bunchy stuff.  Plant up the bare places.  Redecorate the compost dump.  Water everything since it will be hot and dry and 100 degrees then.

  • The Correction: hide until the visitors go away. 
  • Degree of Difficulty: daunting.

January 24, 2012

Be Warned

It is every bit as addicting as they said it was.  I am hooked.

I don't tweet, I dislike facebook although I am on it, and I have no patience for all this social networking sharing stuff. 

And then I joined Pinterest.  Yikes.

Endless arrays of pictures and ideas.  Easy, so easy to grab something from the internet and "pin" to idea boards.  Or grab it from someone else's idea board.  It's like a big menu of Tumblr blogs, but organized into topics and set up so you can see everyone's and they can see yours easily.

There is constant endorphin gratification as pretty photos slide by, and creative projects ping in my mind.  Instant reward as "re-pins" and "likes" validate my tastes.  It's like blog comments only more fleeting.

It's ephemeral, visually rich, quick, and it opens all kinds of creative possibilities.  I am losing big portions of my day to it.

There are wonderful garden photos all over Pinterest.  Plants, designs, hardscapes, tools, inventive projects, check it out.  Then go look at the home design and fashion and oh my god the food ideas.

You can see whether anyone enjoys your blog photos, by checking if they pin them to their idea boards.  Type pinterest.com/source/your blog url.com into your browser and it shows you any of your photos that people have discovered and grabbed, and who they are.

(Pinterest always includes the link back to your blog with credit.)

So go sign up.

It's free.  You have to go through a weird invitation process that takes a couple days, and there's a waiting list (huh?), and you have to sign up with a facebook or twitter id, which is kind of annoying.

But be warned.  I did not believe it could be so addicting.

January 21, 2012

Salad Bowl

This wide, shallow bowl is my favorite container planter.

It is big, 26 inches across, and it is light, made from fiberglass and sand blended together.  I can lift it, empty or filled with potting soil.

Even though it is fiberglass, it has a rough texture and mossy patina that gives it an aged look of old concrete.  Nicer than hypertufa, but nowhere near as cheap.

It did not come with drainage holes so I had to spend an afternoon with Jim's drill and the biggest bit in the case, drilling holes in the bottom.  Why would an expensive plant container not have drainage holes?

Originally I put a rosemary plant in the bowl, so that I could bring it into the closed porch for winter, protecting it from cold and wind outside.

The rosemary plant is Rosmarinus officinalis 'Madeline Hill', which is one of the hardiest, surviving temperatures down to 0 degrees F. (-18 C.), if you can imagine, but it is still a Mediterranean sub shrub that doesn't like winter wind.

I loved the look of the rosemary in the bowl, sharing the edges of the container with an ornamental oregano Origanum "Kent Beauty'.  Loved it.  But you know where this is going . . . . the rosemary got too big, and the oregano did too.

They outgrew the container, and I could barely lift the bowl to bring it in each winter, it was so heavy.  It was time to plant Madeline Hill outside in the garden, let her hunker down in the cold of winter and see how she would do.

The rosemary looked good after transplant this summer.  She can billow and bulk up out there, as rosemary should. 
Madeline Hill transplanted well
It is January now, and we finally have a little snow cover after a month of wind and sun.  Temperatures this month hit 6 degrees F. one night (-14 C.).  She still looks good, but the real test will be how this plant actually looks in March.
Madeline soldiering on in the dead of winter

The Kent Beauty oregano has also been planted out in the garden, but it's a zone 6 plant, quite tender, so I don't expect to see it next spring, but you never know, right?

Now . . . what to plant in the bowl?  Annuals, I think.  Not large permanent things like a big shrub this time. 

Violas or pansies would be lovely, and make a big statement, especially against the neutral cement color of the pot.  A whole bowlful of these beauties, filling the entire big container, would make me happy.  But kind of predictable.  I've done pansy containers before. 

I might plant a trio of lettuces instead, using green and red leaf varieties, to get foliage contrast and salad fixings to boot.

Lettuce is often used as bedding plants, massed for great color effect.  I could do a mini mass in this container and keep it on the deck outside the kitchen door.  (Do you think it would be safe from rabbits so close to the house, in a container, elevated on a deck?)

Whiteflower Farm has a trio of lettuces that are ornamental and edible and would look nice massed together in the bowl, but any combination of several lettuces would work.

I don't like fussy container constructions with spillers, fillers and thrillers.  My containers are usually just one plant or two, and I like to keep things simple.

And what could be simpler than a big bowl of lettuce on the deck?  Or more convenient for dinner? 

January 17, 2012

The Corrections - 1st Installment

In 2012 I must do some corrective gardening. 

First, I must move the blueberries (vaccinium corymbosum 'Northblue').  They were so small when planted, and the three amsonias behind them were tidy things (Amsonia tabernaemontana).

But as nature intended, the amsonias put on serious size in the third year, and the blueberries bulked up and we had a territory dispute.

They are fine in the spring before the amsonias emerge.  They get sunlight, they leaf out and bloom beautifully, but by late spring they are completely overcome.  The blueberries get shaded and crowded, and the amsonias collapse over them in wet weather.

The foliage gets fungal spot diseases.  Blueberries like moist soil but not wet leaves, and certainly not wet leaves from being smothered.  Because they are struggling they defoliate early, and I never see the glorious red color in fall that is their hallmark.  I must move them.
The first fall the spindly blueberries and tidy amsonias got along uneasily, but ok.

The following summer the looming amsonias were plotting a takeover.  

  • The Correction: dig up the blueberry plants in spring and put all four along the sunny, open edge of the new gravel garden. They'll move well, as they are shallow rooted and still small shrubs.
  • Degree of Difficulty: easy
The mid level in there between the amsonias and the geraniums is where the blueberries are struggling.  I'll take them out and this corner will be full and fine with just the geraniums at the foot of the amsonias, don't you think?

Second, I must move the yellowroot groundcover (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) that is being overtaken by huge spruce trees along the berm.  Who knew that Colorado spruces would become such huge trees?  I mean, I knew, but who knew it would happen in my lifetime?

The yellowroot plants have spread from six small plugs in 2007.  They send out runners and cover ground enthusiastically.  The runners are easy to dig and divide, so I have helped them along by digging and re-planting as they spread.  Now they are too close to the hollies and spruces behind.  I must move them.
The yellowroot groundcover shrubs are crowding the lowest branches of the spruces and hollies.
I wish these could just walk themselves forward 3 feet.  I hate digging out sod.
  • The Correction: dig out more lawn in front of the berm, maybe another three feet out from the edge?  Will that be far enough?  Four feet?  Then dig up every last yellowroot shrub and sucker and reposition them further out in front of the berm.
  • Degree of Difficulty: not hard but tedious.  This is a very long line of plants, but they do dig up easily and root easily.  Removing three feet of lawn along the whole edge will be the hard part.  I hate removing sod.

Third, I must move my beloved sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum). It's a really interesting tree, small and narrow and perfect as a focal point near a patio.  But it is very, very, very slow growing, or else mine is just not thriving even though it looks ok.

What I need at this spot near the patio is shade.  This is the west edge of the patio and the sun bakes the entire area with no relief in summer.  Umbrellas and arbors and structures haven't worked there in any way that is satisfactory.

The sourwood is a pretty little thing, almost more of a tall shrub, but it offers no shade at all, and won't for many years.  I think I should move it.
I love this little tree, but it's more decorative than shady.
In fall sourwood is a stunner.
  • The Correction: dig up the sourwood and re-plant it near the new gravel garden.  Then put in a fast growing, shade-producing, big, leafy river birch next to the patio.  I even have one, a four foot tall sapling that needs a home.  In two years I will have plenty of shade on a summer day.
  • Degree of Difficulty: yikes!  Digging up the sourwood has me nervous.  It is a finicky tree, the roots don't like disturbance, and even though it is too small to shade anything, it is as tall as I am and has been in the ground for five years.  Can I do this?  Should I do this?  Why would I think about doing this?
Planting the river birch next to the patio will be easy.

This is just the first installment in a longer list of things that need to be moved, corrected, and altered in my garden in 2012.  I have all winter to plan, and a full season to anticipate how the heck I am going to get all these things done.  I'm exhausted already.

Stay tuned for the second installment of corrections to be made.

January 13, 2012


Ouch.  Does it hurt?
We put it off too long, but we finally had surgery here.

In 2010 winter snow split a beautiful weeping Japanese maple 'Crimson Queen' right down the middle and I thought it was lost.

But it wasn't.  Temporary splints and traction were put in place --- a clamp, some plastic rope tied to provide tension --- and the two halves of the little maple came back together and held.

The clamp was temporary until I could do some tree surgery with a permanent bolt.

But you know how that goes.  I got busy, the tree leafed out and I did not remove the clamp or ties.  I didn't do anything, and it looked great all summer, hiding the yellow clamp and plastic ties under its beautiful leaves.  A full year went by.

You can't tell this tree is trussed together with hardware

Because the clamp presses in on the outer layer that transports nutrients up and down the trunk, it can impede the tree's function.  And sure enough, when we finally got to it last week and removed the now rusted clamp, there were severe indentations in the bark.  I should never have left the clamp on all year.

Jim put plenty of wood glue deep in the center of the split, all the way down, and then drilled the hole and inserted a 4 inch stainless steel bolt.  It was awkward work from underneath the low, dense canopy, but he got it done.
Lots of glue and a 4" bolt.  (There is plenty of glue in the top of the wound above the bolt too)
Last year - You can see how severe the original injury was

I enjoy updates like this.  Last winter I thought I had lost this tree.  This winter it seems to be okay.

Over time the bolt will be incorporated into the growing tissue as the trunk increases in size, but it will hold the two halves together as that happens.

Even though I waited a full year, I believe the surgery was a success.

January 9, 2012

Pink Barns

Flowering tobacco in my garden - Nicotiana alata

When you think of tobacco plantations you think of Virginia or North Carolina.  You don't think of tobacco as a New England crop.

What comes to mind in New England are images of apples and pumpkins and maple syrup and colonial herb gardens, but not agri-business crops like tobacco.  But in the years I was growing up in north central Connecticut, tobacco farming was a big industry.

Tobacco plantations covered a lot of land in the Connecticut River valley, and the landscape of my childhood in the 1950s and 60s was dotted with long drying sheds that had hinged siding which could be opened outward to allow the air to circulate as the harvested leaves were dried.
Tobacco sheds have historic preservation status now in Connecticut

The sheds on one local farm have been re-purposed and painted a lovely (?) shade of pink.  Every time I drive by, I am amused. The sign says "Rose Farm" but I don't think they are raising hybrid teas.  I think the farm is named for the color of its outbuildings.
On a farm in Suffield, CT a dozen former tobacco sheds have been updated, upgraded, and painted pink

When I was a teenager, the local summer employment was working tobacco, and it was hot, dirty, awful work, but almost the only wages available to unskilled kids.  Girls and boys both, although the girls got to work in the sheds rather than in the fields.
Copyright information The Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford

It was that kind of work that brought earlier generations up from the south to work on the Connecticut tobacco farms.

"During the summers of 1944 and 1947, Martin Luther King, Jr. spent time harvesting tobacco in Connecticut. He was one of many African American men recruited by summer work programs administered through southern colleges and high schools, which were designed to ease the dearth of labor brought about by World War II.  King's recently published letters reveal the impact his time in Connecticut had on his life.  For the first time, he experienced a society in which he could worship, eat, and travel in the company of whites as an equal. King later wrote that beginning in that summer, 'I felt an inescapable urge to serve society... a sense of responsibility which I could not escape.' "  
     --- from Cora Murray and Mary Donohue, Connecticut Historic Preservation and Museum Division

Density of tobacco farms in 1942

Native populations were growing tobacco - Nicotiana tabacum - when the first settlers arrived in the Connecticut River valley in the 1630s.  By 1700 it was being exported to Europe, and in the 1800s the valley was growing cigar wrapper leaf to compete with Sumatran exports.   By the 1900s there were huge consolidated plantations being run as petty dynasties, with migrant labor issues, competitive tensions and enough grist for a Claudette Colbert movie (see the classic "Parrish".  Really, you must rent it.)

Growers discovered that the labor intensive process of growing the plant in shade, under yards and yards of cheesecloth, produced a high quality leaf that was prized for the outside wrappers of cigars.  An early photo shows how the white shade netting appeared as big lakes from afar.

Copyright information The Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford
From my childhood I remember the billowy netting, suspended from a forest of poles that held up acres of cloth to shade the plants below. Shade tents were everywhere, becoming just so much background around our towns and neighborhoods.
Poles and netting, early in the season

By summer the cloth bulged with 9 foot plants straining against the cloth

In high school my best friend's Dad was a tobacco executive for Consolidated Cigar and he was cool.  We were filled with the romance and intrigue of "Parrish" (Really, you must rent this classic movie right now).  What would we think of him now?  You sell tobacco??

My own Dad was cool --- he was a pilot for an aircraft engine company.  He came from the midwest, and told stories of being disoriented when he began flying in Connecticut, because the shade cloth that stretched over miles of fields below looked like rippling water.  He thought he was flying over lakes that he could not locate on his charts.  Can you imagine what google earth would have shown back then?

Those miles of shade tobacco tents are long gone.  There are only 2,000 acres left in cultivation here now, just a smidgen of the tobacco plantations of 50 years ago. 

For years I resisted planting flowering tobacco in my garden, because it sounded like growing soybeans.  It was an agricultural crop in my experience, not an ornamental flower.

I'm glad I finally did plant it, for the delicate flowers and the heavenly sweet scent.  And for the associations.

My garden plant is Nicotiana alata and not N. tabacum, and my garden is a former cow pasture, not an old tobacco farm. But the leaves of my flowering tobacco are so reminiscent of those big monster cigar wrapper plants pushing their stalks up against their cloth ceilings.  I never smoked, and I certainly never smoked cigars, but the sight of a tobacco plant brings on such memories.

It is one of those garden plants that evokes associations and reminiscence.  It is planted around my patio, where I can smell its fragrance up close at night, when I am most likely to be remembering things.

The sight of an aging shed falling in on itself in the distance brings on memories too. 

Even the ones now spiffed up and painted pink.

January 7, 2012

Is This Supposed to Happen?

It's January.  It's been cold.  A few nights ago it got down to 8 degrees F (- 13 C).  But mostly this season it's been above normal for winter, and it's unsettling.

The tulips are coming up.  Is this supposed to happen in January?

The unheated porch, where I store dormant plants for the winter, has been 30 degrees F at night and in the 40s in the daytime, sometimes up in the 50s in this warmer than normal winter.  I know because I keep a thermometer out there and check it.  When I looked yesterday, I saw green nubs coming up through the soil.

Last fall I planted tulips in pots, having given up on using them in the ground, where they are dinner for so many garden visitors.

I put the pots on the unheated porch and now, in January they are sprouting.

I planted six 'Spring Green' (white with green markings) in the center of each pot, and surrounded those with twelve 'Groenland' (pink with strong green markings).  I crowded them together to mass them, then topped the pot with several inches of potting mix.

These are viridiflora tulips, with blooms that are streaked with green, which I think is a soft and interesting take on the bold colors that tulips can sport.

'Spring Green'
I am no bulb expert.  My experience with tulips is limited mostly to planting them in fall and regretting them in spring when they don't show up.

Perhaps I planted too early?  My journal shows I planted up these pots on September 30.  Too soon?

Perhaps they needed to be deeper?  I covered them with several inches of potting soil, but it is loose and crumbly and maybe they needed to be a good 8 to 10 inches deep?

Bulb growers out there -- what should I do?

I left the pots outside originally but the very wet fall drowned them and I thought the bulbs would rot in their perpetually soggy pots, so they came into the unheated porch.
Should I cover the pots to keep them in the dark and hope they don't sprout further?  Put them back outside where it is consistently 10 degrees colder?

Leave them alone and enjoy tulips on the porch at Valentine's Day?

The times I tried to grow tulips in the ground, they got eaten and never came up.  Now, planted in pots, they are coming up in early January.  My next experiment may be to buy hand painted silk tulips --- if I can just find any with green markings.

January 3, 2012

A Design Quiz

Casa Mariposa posted a survey to help determine whether your garden has any good bones or not.  It was amusing and eye-opening, and I had to take it myself. 

Here's how I fared:
  • a permanent structure with decorative/architectural appeal     +10 points
    • but it's in your neighbors yard     -5 points
 Yep, I got a shed and it's a beauty but it is in my neighbor's yard, sigh.  (Net 5 points)
not mine

  • large trees     +10 points
Yes, I do have large trees around me, just not any in my yard.  I see this big silver maple from my window (do I get the full 10 points for this?)
a borrowed view of a large tree

  • shrubs/trees taller than you are     + 10 points
Well, my doublefile viburnum 'Shasta' reached 5 foot 6 inches in height last spring, and it is now an inch taller than I am.  (I get 10 points)
Doublefile viburnum getting taller each year

  • little trees/shrubs with lots of potential     +5 points
I think these have potential.  In 60 years I will also get points for large trees.  (I get 5 points for this, but will double that as I have planted over 100 little trees/shrubs around here.  I'm interpreting the scoring)
they'll grow

  • meandering paths     +10 points
    • a path trampled through the grass by the dog     -5 points
Yes, I have a path, but it's not meandering.  It's straight, but then disappears around the corner.  (So I'll substitute "curving" for "meandering" and give myself 10 points)
not winding, but it's a path and it goes somewhere

  • stonework     +10 points
    • a pile of stone you might do something with eventually     -5 points
Definitely.  It was a pile of stones I dug up around the property before it was a dry creekbed. (10 points for this, and I'd like extra points for doing the work myself)
a lotta dug-up rocks went into this streambed

  • dogs, cats, chickens, etc all of which are full of bones   +5 points
No, we do not have pets in our garden.  The two Siamese cats are indoor animals and are quite bony in their old age now, but the deer, bobcat, weasels, mice and other outdoor wildlife aren't "mine", really.  They think the garden is theirs, though.  I'm forgoing any points on this one.

  • attractive gate/fence     +10 points
    • but it's held together by a bungee cord     -5 points
I don't have a gate or fence, but I really want one at the entrance to a new garden I just put in.   Can I get points for wishful plans?

  • bird houses and bird baths     +10 points
Oh yes, of course. (Easy 10 points)
Naturally we have homes for the birds

  • a pond or water feature     +10 points
Not sure.  Does a dry creekbed qualify as a pond or water feature if fish live in it?  (I'm giving myself 10 points anyway.)
Trout swimming upstream in my dry creekbed

  • a container pond     +5 points
I'm going to have to count the birdbath as a container pond.  It's a structure that contains water.  (5 points, no arguing)
Container pond of sorts

  • a patio or deck     +10 points
 Yes, a patio and a deck.  Double credit for having both.  (20 points awarded)
We got both.

  • evergreens     +10 points
    • a can of green spray paint and red plastic berries     -5 points
Yeah, I have evergreens, all kinds from dwarf to massive.  Real ones!  (Another easy 10 points)
spruces and hollies and good bones

Thanks, Casa Mariposa, for a fun romp through my garden with an eye toward its structure.

With some interpretation of the points, I scored pretty high (you have to go to her blog post to see the scoring!)

We are mighty pleased.