Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My (big) mistake

Selecting an unfamilar plant from the pages of a catalogue or nursery shelf is like going on a blind date. Sure, you can find out a little about your new acquaintance--dimensions (height and width), advertised habits (spreads aggressively or forms neat mounds), colors of various features (leaves, flowers, stems)--and maybe you even have a photograph to scrutinize. But examining vital statistics at arm's length and inviting your date to move in are dangerously different levels of commitment. And after roots have reached down through the soil, you might discover a surprising change of personality.

Case in point . . . my (big) mistake. A large-leafed hollyhock 'Nigra' (Alcea rosea), sitting awkwardly between a sedum "Autumn Joy," Siberian iris "King of Kings," and a peony from SF's Vermont homestead, looks out of place at this ladies' tea party. And can you believe that I initially planted three of these? The other two died. Meanwhile, this fellow is headed towards relationship termination. Hopefully, he won't spoil my longstanding romance with the adjacent larkspur on the way out.

My idea here was to re-create the line of hollyhocks that ran along the white picket fence of my childhood home. Those hollyhocks grew a long time ago and plant stock must have been greatly enhanced since then.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In bloom

Weather changes moods. Here's what is blooming in the garden today.

Robust yellow and white irises. How great to have a sister-in-law with her own landscaping company and a willingness to share plant divisions!

The line of spirea is at its most extravagent, as its boughs bend and tussle with blooms.

Rhododendron "Lodestar"

While in the woodland garden, there is a scattering of phlox divaracata that followed me north from Chevy Chase . . .

. . . a stand of our state flower, the mayapple . . . . . . and even a few jacks-in-the pulpit.

Monday, May 29, 2006

(Mother) Nature abhores a vacuum

Two years ago, I put in a small bed along the side property line. Today, it is bursting with irises, columbines, phlox panticulata "David," shasta daisies, nepeta, lady's mantle, and ladybells.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I finished double digging another small bed on the opposite side of the property. Its 3 x 10 foot dimensions consumed about 6 cubic feet of peat moss, 40 pounds of sand, and 200 pounds of composted cow manure. Thank goodness for my iPod and a 15-year-old boy eager to earn a few dollars doing yardwork!

The idea was that this bed would be a holding pen for plants displaced from other locations (such as the back of the house during the ever-distant kitchen renovation). However, after an exhilarating trip to the nursery and a brutal review of divisions received from family members, I managed to more than fill every available inch. Yes, I found myself in negative space.

For the record, the following plants made the cut: three lirope from CMF in Hunt Valley, two vintage ("Grandmother's Garden") and one modern ("McKana Hybrid") purple columbines, three yellow digitalis, three "Gold Tiara" hostas, three astilbe "Rheinland," and four no-name bearded iris from SW in Lancaster. In a year or so, this bed should be a blend of purples, pinks, yellows, and greens. Or the spirea blooming this time along the back will have proved to be too much visual competition, this bed will go all hosta, and I'll be looking for another spot to dig.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Chaos theory

Along the back property line runs rampant a tumble of sweet woodruff, ferns, and lilies-of-the valley. Two weeks ago, the front of this bed was lit up with masses of "Mount Hood" daffodils. A row of tall evergreens wade through the chaotic greenery.

When I look at my neighbor's carefully spaced hostas surrounded by a sea of mulch, this bed makes me feel disoriented and somewhat dishevelled. But maybe I'm just dizzy from imagining what could be planted in that unused space over the hedge.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


The bearded irises are just coming into bloom. The no-name yellow variety, a gift last year from TRH, is all muscle. Its standards and falls look like they've been dosed with steroids. A single stalk takes command of its corner of the garden. More delicate are the striped violet falls of another no-name.