August 31, 2012

A Place of Safety

Are you tired?  Need a rest?

The sturdy pink pom pom of a late summer zinnia is the perfect landing spot for tired flitterers and flutterers.  On a sunny afternoon, it served as a way station for butterflies, hummingbirds, and the occasional tired bee, heavy with pollen from the nearby amethyst caryopteris blooms.

It's a good place. A quiet place to sit and watch. A place of safety if you are small.

And it tastes good too. There are so many nearby flowers full of late season nectar.  But this pink zinnia is refreshing and it's right here, so why not?

This is good stuff too, but it does requite some work.

Sometimes you just have to find a flat sturdy place and take a load off.

I did not take these pictures. Jim snapped them while I was napping on the porch, resting in my own place of safety, vaguely aware of the camera clicking outside as I dozed.

Tomorrow is the first of the month, and that usually means I post a "gardening oops" along with Joene, but this time, nah. There's too much summer still going on out there and I have many more naps to take. I have mistakes to tell you about, but they'll wait.

Have a safe Labor Day weekend.


August 27, 2012

Fickle Plants

I'm feeling betrayed. Some garden areas are not performing, and things need to be fixed.

The first example is a strip of creeping thyme -- Thymus serpyllum 'Alba' -- that holds back a sharp little rise at the top of the driveway. The thyme has rotted out in the middle and looks terrible.

It was a stunner in 2010 when 12 plugs spread out beautifully over the little berm and bloomed. The fragrance of the crushed foliage was delightful, the draping white flowered sweeps were lovely under the roses and I congratulated myself.  Well done.

It never looked that good again. Brownish, dry stems and dead material appeared and spread, worse each year.

I think I need to cut out the whole area, put in a low one foot high retaining wall of dry stacked stones to hold back the raised soil at the top of the drive, and be done with the thyme.  How I loved it originally, though, before it betrayed me.

I'm not happy with two plumbago plants this year (Plumbago auriculata). They were so pleasing last summer, growing into tall towers that bloomed in light blue phlox-like clusters all summer, forming an arch. They had no support other than flimsy bamboo stakes, and this is what they looked like.

This year I planted two new plumbagos (they are not hardy for me, I need to plant them as annuals), and they have done nothing, despite having these great twig towers to climb up.

Here they are in August, with nothing to show.  They are healthy and green, and they even have a few blue blooms, but have not reached any height and can barely be seen inside the twig towers.  Orange nasturtiums threaten them from below.

I think this relationship is doomed, and next year I'll forgo plumbagos and just let the climbing nasturtiums have their way with the towers.

I'm completely unsatisfied with the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) this year. I received several clumps from a neighbor (who "had so much, please take some") and I knew enough not to put it in the garden, where they overtake everything. There was a reason why she had so much in her garden.

They went into pots and were great last year.

The arching white spires of gooseneck loosestrife are interesting and pretty, but the golden fall color was a real surprise, very nice, especially in pots.

But this year they have produced no white flowers at all, and are sitting in their pots doing nothing except being green.  Are they too crowded in there?  They are aggressive spreaders and maybe the pots stunt them. Should I simply put them in the garden and hope they don't take over?

Could that save my relationship with this plant or will I regret it?

As a new gardener I was pretty smug about my lovely creeping thyme, my tall towers of plumbago, and the exuberant potted loosestrife, all wonderful examples of my burgeoning gardening expertise.  I formed strong attachments to these successful plants, and was sure they liked me too.

Not this year.  Damn fickle plants.


August 23, 2012

Strange and Wonderful

Last week I was in Denver, and spent one delightful, cool, sunny morning walking the Denver Botanic Garden.  That was where I saw a strange and wonderful honeysuckle that I simply must have in my garden.

What, you say?  That old classic?  You went all the way to Colorado and came home enamored with a honeysuckle?

Well, this one stopped me in my tracks. It is Lonicera reticulata 'Kintzley's Ghost'.

                                   Denver Botanic Garden   (Landscape Architect Jocelyn H. Chilvers)

Flat white discs covered a small vine, and although they appeared green tinged in the shade of the pergola, in the light the round bracts looked like a eucalyptus, very powdery silver, and arranged stiffly up and down the trailing vine stems.

I came home and did some research on this grape honeysuckle, and found this great write up by the Dirt Diva, Mary Ann Newcomer at Gardens of the Wild Wild West.

She says it all -- the color of the perfectly round discs is eerie, and a real addition to the night garden. It gets no aphids (unlike Lonicera sempervirens), it grows robustly in part shade or sun and it is covered with yellow tubular honeysuckle flowers in spring.

After the flowers, the silver dollar sized bracts turn white and keep their shimmery pale color all summer.

Yep, I gotta have this.

High Country Gardens has it.

The plant was first found by William Kintzley in the 1880s at Iowa State University greenhouses. Over the years he propagated it and gave plants away to family, but it was never introduced into the nursery trade. In 2001 a nurseryman in Ft. Collins, Colorado spotted it growing in the yard of a family member as he drove down the street, and he stopped to knock on the door and ask what it was.

That was how this special honeysuckle became available.  It's relatively new to gardeners, but was an old family heirloom, grown and treasured in Kintzley family gardens for over 100 years.

How strange and wonderful.
from Sugar Creek Gardens

August 16, 2012

August Break

Off for a while.

Back soon.

August 15, 2012

A Simple Fix

The edge of the garden that borders the patio walk bothered me all summer. It was too wavy, snaky and odd. Bad job.

I kept thinking I would wait until cooler weather to get the edger out, cut away the sod, and form a better curve. It only needed a small amount of sod removed but I HATE SOD REMOVAL. It's definitely a cool weather project.  I hate digging out lawn. I'd rather weed or wrestle invasive vines. Wait until fall, I said.

But I could stand it no longer.

On a hot afternoon after lunch one day, in the middle of summer with the mid day sun beating down and the humidity approaching jungle saturation levels, I grabbed the edger and did the job.

It took twenty minutes. The groundcover clumps of ajuga 'Chocolate Chip' need to spread out a bit to fill the bare mulch, and the grass looks a little trodden where I was working, but it looks much better.

Why did I wait all summer to do this? It was such a simple fix.


August 12, 2012

A Big Fat Thief

Lately I have had to fill the hummingbird feeder every two or three days. It is being drained dry.

Jim caught this little hummer having breakfast earlier this summer

I see the little ruby throated hummers, both the male with his red collar and the plainer female, at the feeder many times a day, all day long, but I was amazed at how much they were consuming this summer.

In other years they fed often, but the sugar water lasted a week or more.  I would refill it every 5 days to freshen it, but the feeder was never empty when I did.

Why were they consuming so much this year?

Then I saw the culprit. A downy woodpecker has been monopolizing the sugar feeder.

Look what my neighbor caught one recent morning

This picture was taken by my neighbor at her feeder next door. I suspect the woodpecker that she caught on camera is the very same one that is draining my feeder.

How does he even get at the sugar water? My neighbor's feeder and mine both have the yellow plastic baffles that only allow the tiny, long tongue of a hummingbird to get in there. I usually flap about and scare the big fat woodpecker away when I see him, so I haven't studied how he gets at the sugar water.

Have you seen woodpeckers feed at hummingbird stations before?

What a thief.

August 10, 2012

Garden TV

I had a strong bias against bush clover (Lespedeza), and did not want it in my garden.  It can be a wildly confused shrub and it can grow to immense size. A neighbor offered me one from her garden and I said no, no, no.

But I am glad I overcame my prejudice against this plant, because I found one that is smaller, tidier, and really interesting. It is Lespedeza 'Edo Shibori'.

It is an arching shrub that is about three feet high and wide. It's a bright medium green, especially in contrast to the dark green vibunum and a pale bluish little zenobia to its left. Groundcover persicaria sends up little fuzzy pink spikes right below it.

What makes this small bush clover a standout is that the flexible stems bounce. They don't just catch the breeze and wave, they positively bounce and flail about.

I took a very amateur video of it on one humid afternoon when there was just the slightest hot breeze. You can watch it here if you don't comment on my videography skills.

This plant moves.  The slightest breath of air and lespedeza gets all excited.  It is in direct line of sight from where I sit on the porch, and I never tire of watching it.

Even a still shot usually captures the foliage whipping about.

It is all greenery and movement for most of the summer.  The magenta and white flowers don't show up until very late summer.  They are tiny and inconspicuous, but they cover the arching stems completely. To see how pretty they are you need to get very close.

In winter lespedeza dies back completely. It regrows from the ground up each season, so in early spring there is nothing to look at.

But in summer this shrub entertains.  We all enjoy looking at our gardens, but how often do they actually do anything?  Grasses may wave about a bit and leaves flutter, but this shrub brings kinetic energy into the view and you can't stop watching it.  Garden TV.  

I'm so glad I found this plant, and I am proud I overcame any prejudices I had about growing bush clover --- at least the small 'Edo Shibori' cultivar. 

August 6, 2012

Look Who's Taller Than Me Now

It was 1995 and I was in church with my sons. The oldest, 15 at the time, was next to me, and when we stood up he annoyed me mightily by standing on the kneeler. At his age he could at least give me 45 minutes in church without goofing off. A little respect.

"Get down" I hissed at him standing there towering over me.

"I'm not standing on anything" he said. I looked over, and he wasn't.

Without my noticing, without my ever seeing it happen, he had grown taller than me. A lot taller, just like that.

How did that happen so abruptly? I saw him every day, knew his physical form.

In my defense, at 15 his lanky body was either sprawled out or draped over something most of the time and I never actually saw him standing up, so how could a mother know? At home his most frequent position was hunched over, rooting in the lower depths of the refrigerator, which occupied him for long stretches.  So that day in church startled me.

I had that same startled double take this summer looking out at a small tree that has been in my view every day for six years.  Every day I see the black gum sapling (Nyssa sylvatica, or tupelo) out by the dry creek bed and I have gotten used to its dwarfy little shape.

For years it looked like this, with a missing leader and funny shape. It was my height, but with the flat top I could look right over it when I stood by the creek bed

I got used to it.  It just looked like that and never seemed to get any bigger. I trussed the branches in the center and put tension on one to force it upright, hoping it would form a leader, and that gave it an awkward pointy bit in the middle, but no real height.

Then one day this July I looked out toward the creek bed and the tupelo wasn't there any more. Gone, overnight.

Disappeared from my garden, and in its place a shapely black gum twice the size of the little one was standing by the creek bed.  Upright, pyramidal, and doubled in height.

Look who's taller than me now.

August 3, 2012

And Summer Sails On

Summer drifts along and some areas of the garden are getting tired. The gardener is too. But there are some sights here that are still really nice.

Boltonia 'Jim Crockett' continues to be a happy camper.  It has bloomed for weeks now.

Nasturtiums are still climbing into the inkberry hollies.

Bottlebrush buckeyes still bloom even though the leaves are a little scorched.

The purple intensity of 'Forest Pansy' redbud is finally washing out a little, 
but looks kind of jewel-like now.

Nothing washed out about the clear intense red of lobelia cardinalis.

'Chiffon' Rose of Sharon is awash in frilly blooms.

Geraniums bloom on and on.  They haven't stopped all summer.

Black eyed Susans, daisies, and a pink fall anemone murmur among themselves
on a hot afternoon.

But isn't it too early for the anemone?

It's Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima' and it blooms in early fall. This is, I think, mid summer.

Yes, it is still mid summer, I'm sure.

It's hot and I am tired.

A nap perhaps, on the shaded porch, as summer sails on.


August 1, 2012

Repeat Offenses

It is time to tell you about a gardening oops, a mistake made in the garden.

Joene makes us do this on the first of the month, and you can read about more Gardening Oops, on her blog. 

This time, instead of telling you about one major gaffe, I'll simply list the recurring garden mistakes I make all the time.  Over and over.

I'm a repeat offender.

1. I always mix up pansies and petunias.  I know which is which, I do.  And I know one likes cooler weather and the other does well in the heat.  It's the names that confuse me.  The petunias are okay with this, they are easy going plants, but the fussy violas are so picky about what I call them.

2. I never get 'Black & Blue' sage to bloom.  All I ever get is foliage.  Salvia guaranitica is supposed to get fuller with pinching (could you resist pinching something called 'black & blue' every time you walk by?)  But my actions do not produce fuller, well branched bloomers.  I apparently remove all the flower buds.  My neighbor does not cut hers back at all and her plants bloom early and often and tauntingly.

Yet I do it every time I try to grow salvia guaranitica, which has been three years in a row now, and I never get the deep royal blue spikes.  I pinch the flowers off.  Oops.

This one was bought already in flower.  That's the only way I can get blooms.

3. I keep my bench organized, I clean up after I am done potting petunias (or wait, are those pansies?), I have a hook or a location for every tool, but somehow I always leave my gloves and pruners out on the bench when it rains.   The gloves and pruners get musty and rusty and eventually quite ruined.  Oops.

So I got a watertight plastic tub with a snap lid to put gloves and pruners in, to keep them handy and dry, right on my bench.  But because I leave the lid open, the gloves and pruners now sit in a tub of standing water after each rain.  This did not turn out to improve the problems with sogginess or rust very much.

What disturbs me about these repeat mistakes is that I am surprised each and every time I make them.  Truly gobsmacked, amazed each time.  What, I left the lid open last night?  And it rained?  Oh crap, did I just pinch the flowers off?  Again?

And I know what these pink flowers are, but what the heck are they called?