Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Good morning, evening primrose!

What is better than a serendipitous plant discovery?  Maybe receiving a gift of that serendipitous plant discovery!

Evening primrose (Oenothera sp.) in the morning

Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) has been on my wish list for years.  Although this American native appears variously as plants tall and short, lovers of damp or dry soils, and with blooms of white, pink, and even blue, my heart was set on a finding a well-behaved specimen that approximated the wild yellow-flowering version.

So how happy was I that last Independence Day weekend my sister-in-law offered a few seedlings of the sunny yellow specimens from her Maine coastal cottage garden in gratitude for a morning of weeding?

Pulling weeds, Harpswell, July 2015

Of the four seedlings that I transplanted, only the one best situated survived our winter. In bloom, it lights up a semi-sunny, well-drained bed.

While this nameless charmer might be a member of the genus Oenothera, I'm not sure of either species or variety. I'm guessing Oenothera fruticosa by reference to its size, leaf shape, soil preference, and sunny disposition. My only regret is that, despite the name, this evening primrose's yellow flowers are usually folding up by the time that I get home.

Closing up for the night

Monday, June 13, 2016

Compost challenges and cures

Throughout the winter and spring, we've dumped banana peels, kohlrabi parings, and melon rinds into our compost bin. What's the result of such environmentally-friendly diligence? Have we been rewarded with the gardener's black gold: crumbly, fine-textured, and earth-scented compost? Sadly, no. Instead, I have a pile of slimy, wet, malodorous muck. It looks and smells like . . .  yes, that's right. You don't want this stinky, sticky stuff on your skin, on your clothes, or in your garden.

What to do? The solution is simple. The green/brown or nitrogen/carbon balance of my compost pile is out of whack.  The recipe should be 1/3 nitrogen to 2/3 carbon but, during the cold months when green nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps rapidly accumulate, that ratio is difficult to meet.  To redress the situation, I need to add carbon-rich, absorbent materials. I use whatever I have at hand:
  • Shredded paper towels and newspaper (no glossy inserts or magazines!)
  • Dried grass clippings or lawn thatch
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Shredded leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Dryer lint
Shredded paper towels
To re-charge the process of decay, it's important to aerate the compost. A handled edging tool is great for slicing down into the pile, twisting, and lifting. Once lightened up, a spading fork does the job just fine. Turning over the pile mixes up the carbon and nitrogen components, encourages the growth of bacteria, and provides a good upper body work-out. 

Well-mixed and warming up
I'm not a big fan of dumping unfinished household compost on garden beds--why have the smell of raw sewage compete with that of roses and lilacs?--but it can be done. Since adding a few loads of carbon materials last week, this pile is percolating. I'm hoping that by the time that fall top-dressing rolls around, my compost will be cured.

Self-sowing cantaloupe seedling peaking out of the bin.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Garden goal roll 2016

My garden goal roll is more than just a "To Do" list.  Yes, this checklist is very definitely the way that I remember what needs doing when, but it also serves as my electronic diary, where I can record what worked and what didn't.  Sometimes that thing that didn't work is me: my personal rate of success in meeting my tasks is about 40%.  Thankfully, Mother Nature performs to a higher standard.

Rhododendon "Lodestar"


Dust peonies with copper fungicide to limit blight. Done 3/31/2016.  Re-apply in June.

Top-dress spring-flowering bulbs with 3-5-3 when the leaf-tips emerge.  Done 3/27/2016.

Prune and clean up shrubs damaged by winter snows.

Shape "New Dawn" rose canes. Done 5/15/2015. And figure out a support structure.

Weed and move lambs ear to new back bed.

Feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone.

Dose "New Dawn" rose with 1/2 cup of Epsom salts in 2 cups water.

Trim "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle back.


Plant dahlias. Three Rose Toscano tubers planted at back bed against house on 6/5/2016.  Three Kelsey Radiance and one Kelsey Kristie dahlias planted in old side bed on 6/5/2016.  Two Uptown Girl tubers planted together at back bed against house on 6/12/2016. One Lights Out tuber planted in old side bed on 6/12/2016.

That stuff that you didn't get to last month?  Do it now.

Top-dress beds with composted cow manure throughout month.

Review spring bulb performance.  What needs to be replaced or amplified? Need +/- 20 tall purple alliums for back bed against house and +/- 200 miniature fuchsia alliums for beds along front walk.


Move potted amaryllis bulbs outdoors and feed regularly with liquid fertilizer.

Broadcast 5-10-5 fertilizer over flower beds and toss Holly-Tone on pachysandra and front foundation plantings on 6/12/2016.

Edge garden beds.

Prune into shape front foundation plantings and yews along side property line. Yews will be pruned by neighbor's landscaper. Privet hedge along property line cut back hard to 1' on 6/4/2016.
Scratch 1 1/4 cups of RoseTone around the roots of "New Dawn" climbing rose now monthly through the summer; be sure to stop feeding by August 15 in order to prevent developing new growth that will not have time to harden off before fall temperatures drop. First feeding 6/5/2016.

After flowering, shear Amsonia hubrichtii by 1/3 of its height to promote better form.
When it is 3 feet tall, cut Joe pye weed "Gateway" back to half its height to encourage dense growth. Done 6/5/2016.

Stake dahlias when the tubers are planted and again and again as they grow. Stop dahlias by pinching stem back to four pairs of leaves. 
Pinch back shasta daisies to 6". Or just get rid of them?

And stake, stake, stake!


After flowering, prune the "New Dawn" climbing rose. 

Prune back 50-80% of "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle after bloom is over.

Late August/Early September

Separate Siberian irises to left of kitchen door (Eric the Red).

Time to order spring bulbs! 
*   Indoor at least 25 paperwhite narcissus bulbs and 2 amaryllis bulbs
*   Outdoor: See above!

Columbus Day

Plant spring bulbs.
Dig in bone meal around peonies.

Lightly feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone.

Move potted amaryllis bulbs indoors and chill in refrigerator.

Veterans Day

Top-dress beds with composted cow manure.

Late December

Start planning plant purchases for 2017.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Spring uncertainties

I'm thinking of Robert Frost's "A Prayer for Spring" on this early April day:

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Pansies and tulips last week . . .

Because with the uncertainties of a New England spring, it's difficult to look beyond what blows in with the next change of weather.  Thoughts of harvest are very far away on this snowy day.

The same, today

Friday, April 01, 2016

Weeding weather

When spring starts to shift gears, the siren song of the garden becomes irresistible.  The temperature rises, the days lengthen, and dirt finds its way under one's fingernails. I think that the scent of turned earth--petrichor perfume--is just as hard-wired to happiness as the smell of baking bread, Chanel No. 5, or freshly-mown grass.

As soon as the soil warms, early spring is a great time to weed.  The plants that need to be removed can be easily pulled, and the ones that need to stay haven't yet ensnared weeds in their roots or secreted them in their foliage.

Sprouts from left to right, top to bottom: sedum, monarda, stachya, marsh marigold/moss/grass, dicentra, lovage, mystery, sedum, iris reticulata

This spring, I have two major weeding campaigns to conduct: (1) a recently added beebalm (Monarda "Pink Lace") has exposed its mint family breeding by aggressively and indiscriminately spreading the heck all over the place and, (2) over the years, numerous lambs' ears plants (Stachys byzantina) have quietly colonized older stands of Siberian irises. I have new homes staked out for these runaways.  As they say, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, and I look forward to magically transforming these beebalm and lambs' ears plants from bad to good.

And then, there is just the garden-variety weeding: cleaning out mosses, grass, and ground ivy from the rain garden, edging beds, and yanking clumps of oxalis, purslane, and celandine. No redemption there.