August 27, 2013

Proud Weeds

The first time I saw this doodle by Andre, I cracked up. The weeds were very sorry. They promised not to do it again.

It so perfectly captured the remorse of the weeds in my garden. Those downcast faces, those shifting stems . . .

My own weeds hang their heads, they are forever sorry, and they really, really promise not to be so bad ever again.


Every year they get worse.

Do these weeds look apologetic to you?

No they don't. They look happy and thriving and proud to be weeds. Queen Anne's Lace does not look anything but regal and queenly and definitely not remorseful.

Timothy grass is tall and noble and has a certain reserve.

But goldenrod has no elegance. The forests of giant six foot tall goldenrod that explode in August are anything but demure. They tower over all, lordly and loud.

Other tall weeds have established their territories -- stands of milkweed built like fire towers and thistle that could support cell phone antennas.

Feverfew waving about over everything, showing off its delicate daisy-like flowers.

Bindweed wraps around anything upright, mostly the other weeds. Its frilly blooms do not look at all contrite. Not at all.

A big stand of pale curlytop knotweed (persicaria) is blatantly faking being a garden plant, growing as it is at the edge of the lawn.

And of course the ragweed and purple loosestrife do not even pretend. They own the space.

These proud, unapologetic plants are in the unmowed area that surrounds my yard. I have an agreement with most of them. If they will stay out of my gardens, I will let them grow as they wish in the surrounding area and call it a meadow.

They like that. They don't always like being called weeds.

But when they make a play for my garden beds, which they do all the time, I make sure they are very, very sorry about that kind of behavior.

August 22, 2013

The Porch Reveal

Here it is -- our back porch remodeling is finished and it came out great.

The space is small and narrow, 14 feet long by 7 feet wide, right off the kitchen. It had vinyl siding on the walls and a cement floor. The windows were too high to see out into the yard when sitting down, which made it feel like being in a railroad car.

I tried to make it more inviting than a freight car by putting lots of plants around. In the cold months I put tender plants there to overwinter. But with all that junk out there and with the utilitarian look, it was a storage closet off the kitchen more than a porch. Just a place to put stuff.

Now, with deeper windows, stained wood beadboard on the walls and ceiling, and a beautiful brick floor, it is no longer a storage area. It's a room. A sunroom / sitting porch.

I don't have to cram plants in there to hide anything, and that makes it more open and inviting.

The brick floor is rich and textured, and quite dark. It's actually 2 x 8 brick tiles, Datile Union Square in Courtyard Red. Beadboard wood on the kneewall and ceiling and around the large windows has a natural stain, which is a light color to contrast with the dark brick.

The room flows into the kitchen, through the sliding glass doors. It really does feel like a sunroom off the kitchen.

The big plus is that I can sit on the porch now and see out into the garden. The outdoors comes in, making not only the porch seem bigger, but the view from inside the house more expansive too.

The new windows are 18 inches lower. The newly installed windows are on the left, compared to the old ones still on the right, in this photo taken during the remodeling. A drop of less than two feet made all the difference.

Before, I was able to see just the top of the 'White Chiffon' Rose of Sharon outside the window. Now its pretty blooms come right inside. The hummingbird visits the flowers in the morning and doesn't realize I'm right there through the screen.

This small area is tucked into a corner of the house. From the outside it doesn't look like much of a porch, but the new windows do give it a nicer look even though the space did not change.

Morning light streams in, so it is my favorite place for coffee early in the day. By afternoon it is completely shaded and cool on a hot day. The rustic couch is surprisingly nap worthy.

There are some subtle things that made a big improvement. The original cement floor was a step down from the kitchen. That doesn't seem like anything, but the sunken feeling made it feel like you were stepping down into an area that was not part of the house.

The new brick floor is now level with the interior of the house and it makes the area flow much better.

Another subtle change: the old windows had no sills. The new windows have a shallow sill above the knee wall. It's a small difference that looks much dressier. It means I can put a jar of Jane's hydrangea blossoms by the window, and I found Becky's forged metal HF Bar boot ornament and propped it on the ledge. Good memories.

And the hot air balloonists in the copper balloon who have followed me from my first apartment in 1971 to every place I have lived, are now drifting overhead, looking out the transom and throwing things down on me where I sit.

Naughty ones.

The work was done by Linn Taylor Remodeling. 
He did a fantastic job.  Jim and I stained the walls and ceiling, and painted the white window trim, but all of the tear down, installation, tile work, and finish carpentry was done professionally by Linn.
Why didn't we do this years ago? 

August 21, 2013


It's my birthday today.

When I was a kid I disliked having a summer birthday since my friends were all away at summer camp or visiting relatives and I thought if they were around I would surely have a party with 50 people and it would be so awesome. If only.

Now I like having a late August birthday. All the prettiest flowers show up and the party is grander than any I could stage.

Even the roses and clematis that faded after June have come back now to help me celebrate. They are reblooming. Not as profusely, but beautiful and delicate.

The dahlias are a little tattered now, but they have hung around blooming all summer long, just so they would not miss my special day.

And what is a birthday without fireworks? The cardinal flowers timed it so they would go off fiery red just in time for this day.

Except for the fact that I'm getting older, it's a grand day.

You know he loves you when he gets you awesome power garden tools for your birthday:

August 16, 2013

Different Worlds

I am back from visiting other worlds. It felt like that -- to go from my green, leafy suburban garden in the forested east to the dry brown vastness of the west is like going to another planet entirely.

Not only have both of my sons settled in landscapes so different from where they grew up, they both live now in completely urban settings, one in downtown Denver and the other in L.A. To go from my quiet, secluded enclave to their vibrant, crowded city lives is head spinning.

In Colorado the sky and horizon and mountains along the front range are humbling. This was the scene from Red Rocks Amphitheater the night we went to a concert there.

In Los Angeles it's the outsized scale and bustle and flash and artificiality that overwhelm.

I loved every minute of my time with both of them in worlds so strange!

As I mentioned in prior posts, I had a lead on getting a 'Kintzley's Ghost' honeysuckle to replace the plant that was mis-marked and came up as a trumpet honeysuckle despite its label.

And I got it. We drove up to Fort Collins, 45 minutes north of Denver, to the nursery that introduced Dr. Kintzley's unusual vine, and I saw beautiful large pots of them. No mislabeling here; I can see for myself the leaf shape and the whitish round bracts forming.

But putting a plant that size in my carry on bag was not an option. So this is what I brought home, stuffed in my computer bag, x-rayed by TSA and no worse for it all.

I can't wait to get this little plant going in my garden (after I figure out what to do with the very nice but unplanned-for red trumpet honeysuckle.)

When I returned home and reoriented to the greenery and lushness, I was surprised at how the garden had exploded in just the week I was gone. Black eyed Susans filled in, late season panicle hydrangeas are blooming, and the pretty pink fall anemone has towering flower stalks now.

Even a row of marigolds in little pots lined up at the edge of the gravel area grew. They have been blooming all summer, but in their little containers they were small and tidy. Now they are suddenly big and fat.

The 'White Chiffon' Rose of Sharon outside the porch is blooming, and for the first time I can see it through the windows. The porch remodeling proceeded apace while I was gone, and now taller windows have been installed. I am liking this development as much as the new blooming specimens in the garden.

It's always nice to go away and come back.

August 9, 2013

Future Posts

I'll be gone for a while. You'll have to take your morning coffee without me.

Meanwhile, there are a couple irons in the fire.

Jim will be here supervising the contractors who are remodeling our porch.

Yes! They are here. They have already torn out the vinyl siding and plastic trim that the builders had installed, and new taller windows have been been put in.

In this rough state, torn up and unfinished, the porch already looks so much better.

While I am gone there will be decorating decisions about the wood wall paneling and the layout of the brick floor. But, as I said, Jim is in charge, so no worries.

There will be a future "Before & After" post coming up.

Another exciting development: I found a source to replace the 'Kintzley's Ghost' honeysuckle that was mislabeled when I bought it, and came up as an entirely different plant. A nursery in Ft. Collins, Colorado has it, both one gallon and two gallon plants. Yes, I want one.

So I'll go out there and pick one up.

You know, of course, that I live in Connecticut. But no worries. I am headed out to Colorado on a trip to see my youngest son and he has already agreed to take me up to Ft. Collins one afternoon to hunt down my plant.

There will be a future post coming up about scoring just the plant I want 2,000 miles away.

My trip will finish with a visit to see my oldest son in L.A. These are all exciting developments, and I can barely contain myself.

So, bye for now. I'll be gone, but there is a lot happening.


August 5, 2013

We Are Amused

I chuckled with Sarah at Galloping Horse Garden when she posted that the grasses she bought while dormant were not the grasses she thought she was getting. Totally different plants emerged in her garden that were completely unlike what she had hunted for and thought she found. The labels were just wrong and her excitement at getting just what she wanted was squashed.

And I giggled at the experience Heather at Just A Girl With a Hammer had with horrible service from the now defunct High Country Gardens. She ordered plants from the company that acquired the closed nursery, and received a shipment so utterly messed up it was hilarious.

Now both of those things have happened to me. A different plant than I wanted has emerged from a mislabled order I got from High Country Gardens. Badump.

Before they closed and were bought out, High Country Gardens offered the wonderfully interesting Lonicera reticulata 'Kintzley's Ghost'.  I saw this unusual honeysuckle vine growing at the botanic garden in Denver and absolutely had to have it. Had to.

It has yellow flowers and silvery bracts that give it a ghostly eucalyptus look. I wrote about it here. I saw a mature, bushy, silvery one on a garden tour this summer and loved it.

I got excited this spring as the vine I had planted last fall started climbing the trellis, and seemed to be thriving, although I assumed the leaf pattern was still immature since no bracts or rounded leaves were forming yet.

Then it bloomed. Red trumpets. No yellow starbursts and no rounded bracts.

This is not 'Kintzley's Ghost.' It is a trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens. The plant from High Country Gardens was mislabeled.

Trumpet honeysuckle is a nice enough climber but it is not what I anticipated, and not what I ordered or paid for. I don't like the tangerine red blooms next to the deep red foliage of a nearby Japanese maple. It will grow to 15 feet, rather than the 8 to 10 feet of Kintzley's Ghost, and this trellis won't support it.

High Country Gardens is gone now, and based on Heather's experience with a much more scrambled order from their successors, there is no way to fix this mix up.

I don't think I want to "live with it", although surprises in a garden can turn out to be happy developments. Sarah might be leaning toward living with her mislabled grasses as a better alternative than what she first wanted, perhaps.

But I'm not. I really wanted a Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle on this trellis, and I think I will start looking for another source for one.

Sarah and Heather both made me laugh at their bewilderment over random wrong labels and wacky order shipments, so I am going to laugh this off too.

We are amused.

But we are most definitely not pleased.

August 1, 2013

A Brown Mess

I knew that creeping thyme had a reputation for melting out in humid weather, leaving brown patches. But most of what I read simply said "dig out the brown areas, fill with a little gravel for sharpest drainage and it will spread and fill in".

Oops. Not.

This is the first of the month, and Joene encourages us to share garden mistakes, or GOOPs. Check out her blog for more.

I planted Thymus serpyllum 'Alba' on a little raised mound that edged our driveway pavers.

I fell in love with it. It spread quickly, held back the soil from sliding down the little rise, and it turned out to be pretty in bloom.

It was fragrant when I walked on the edges or knelt to tend the plants nearby. The tiny white blooms went on for weeks, and then after it bloomed it stayed dense and green, even into winter.

The natural draping effect over the pavers was exactly the right look.

This worked out perfectly until it didn't.

After the first year or two it started to melt out during the heat of summer, and no amount of patching it could recreate the dense mat.

I fussed with it constantly, adding gravel and replanting divisions, which were easy to dig up and move. But all that tinkering was a lot of work to get a groundcover that looked so bad.

Usually when a plant is not performing, I quickly replace it and try something else. With this patch of thyme, I kept trying and trying for several years, and it kept getting worse.

I did not want to give up on it. In addition to the easy-breezy advice that all I needed was a little gravel in the bare spots and it would recover, I simply loved the look of it when it was healthy.

My mind's eye only saw the pretty, fragrant, thick carpet of thyme, even when reality showed me a brown mess that I couldn't repair. I stuck with it, hoping all would work out when damp summer weather passed, but each year has increasingly proved that Thymus serpyllum in this spot is an oops.

This fall I will dig it all up. It is another one of my unhappy experiments with plants that need sharp drainage and dry soil, like lavender and rosemary and other Mediterranean plants that do not like New England very much, even when I labor to give them the conditions they want.

I need suggestions for a fairly dense and low ground cover that will hold back the rise, keep weeds out and frame the stepping stones by the gate. It is south facing, hot and sunny, and gets bright reflection from the driveway.