Sunday, October 28, 2007

BB-ID-LB L/W, etc.

Hitting the seasonal finish line just before the first frost, in comes my cryptic dahlia. So that's what "BB-ID-LB L/W" looks like.

While it may be charming up close and personal in a photograph, this dahlia is rather underwhelming in real life. And not just because the plant put out only one bud . . . which waited until the end of October to open. (Such a sorry performance may be the consequence of where it was stuck in the garden and not indicative of its true habit.) No, it's just that it's one of a number of lilac flowers that tie up this season: New England asters (Aster novae-angliae), hardy mums, Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum), etc. Aren't there enough of them already?

Today's cool clear weather was perfect for re-setting a cobblestone border and filling a bare bed with 80 grape hyacinths, 100 Tulip dasystemon, 100 Tulip "Apricot Impression," and 20 Tulip "Black Parrot." I dug a trench along the length of the bed, scrabbled in handfuls of Bulb-Tone, set in the bulbs, laid down 1' x 3' lengths of chicken wire, and then back-filled.

Much more to do, but with newly sown grass sprouting and most of the bulbs planted, this is a good place to be at the end of October.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Poetic intention

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

. . . to the ridiculous

Where to begin reconstruction of this barren landscape? Here's how the wasteland looked at the beginning of the weekend . . .

And here's how it looked at the close . . .

What's different? Anything? Nothing? Okay, this is going a lot slower than I had imagined.

My limited accomplishments:

1. Clumps of displaced lambs ear and Siberian iris were divided and re-planted.

2. The blue flag irises were re-planted. My wee wetlands have resisted the hydrological seduction of the new French drain. The water-filled footprints here promise more room in which to expand my knowledge of wetland plants.

3. Exactly 35 bulbs were planted. Only 745 left to go.

4. Some cobblestones were laid along the border of the bed. Additional stones are needed as a number went missing in action. For a former archaeologist, my lines are not very straight or level. I can live with that.

5. The would-be lawn was limed, fertilized, seeded and raked. Then I walked all over it, watched birds nip up seed from it, and hoped that rain might just visit it. Despite the current agitations of some anti-lawn types, I find that a stretch of green grass is essential to visually defining trees, bushes, and flowers. And I like to have a place to set up lawn furniture.

At least these guys are cheerful!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dumbarton Oaks, the sublime

A weekend trip down to Washington afforded the happy opportunity to visit my very most favorite garden, Dumbarton Oaks.

These ten acres, designed by Beatrix Farrand, are magically inventive. Around every corner and over every wall, views are alternately concealed and revealed.

Deep inside a bamboo grove, a faun plays his pipes.

Inset zodiac signs pin down the corners of the almost hidden Star Garden.

And boxwood-lined paths lead up and down the terraced hillside.

I have many fond non-gardening memories of Saturday afternoons spent exploring the grounds with my brothers and of school day afternoons playing hooky down in Lovers' Lane. Quite revelatory however to see this garden through older, less distracted, eyes. None of the plants are marked, so the visitor retains the impression of a private garden rather than an arboretum.

The rose garden is frothing with leggy canes, many topped with fresh foliage and full blooms.

The center of this "garden room" is stuffed with hybrid teas, almost 1,000 according to the official record. Along the edge, a sunny border of Rosa multiflora ramblers turns the corner into a line of shade-loving anemones so well matched in color and size that at first glance they look like a single variety. What a clever sleight of hand!

None of that tidy style of gardening with each isolated plant adrift in a sea of mulch here. At DO, the garden beds are solid masses of form and color. The herbaceous border is a crashing wave of tall asters and mums.

This radiant yellow border reminds me of J.M.W. Turner's later luminous paintings, seen the previous day at the National Gallery of Art. Even the ripe pears hanging from the enclosing trees visually connect.

Towards the bottom of the hill are the very stylish tool sheds and lines of potted plants in the holding bed. Inspiration to this beleaguered field hand.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Columbus Day weekend

Perhaps it's a good thing that pre-existing obligations and inclement weather conspired to keep me out of the garden for much of this long weekend.

Upheaval, heavy machinery, and yellow tape are everywhere. The bed slated for bulb-planting now holds displaced Siberian and blue flag irises and lambs' ears.

A few beds still muster a block of end of season color.

Elsewhere, a final head of Phlox panticulata struggles on . . .

. . . and ladybells Adenophora confusa sends up a half-hearted stalk.

Dead-heading, weeding, and pulling out overgrown plants were the main order of business this weekend. How many bearded irises were found under the sprawling foliage of catmint and daisies!

The weather is definitely turning towards autumn. Almost every open flower on this dahlia had a blitzed bee stumbling over its pollen-rich surface. Last call!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The prevailing form of chaos

And I was concerned about the yellow color of a patch of grass yesterday? Oh, to enjoy the luxury of fretting about such minor discontents.

Excavation for the French drain began today.

The crew kindly moved all the plants that were in the way of heavy machinery. It promises to be a most unusual gardening weekend! I can ignore the chaos along the house and turn towards to the uphill beds that are safely out of reach of backhoes and Bobcats, or I can jump the yellow DANGER tape in order to try to create order among the disorder . . . or both.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yesterday's world, redux

Who would think that a plain pile of dirt could be such a comforting sight?

This heap of soil next to the house may look like absolutely nothing--no plants, no flowers, no edging even--but it's really one of my best garden beds. Yesterday, it was a gaping hole. My (self-proclaimed) personal superhero back-filled it overnight. This morning, it's a patch of earth waiting to receive spring bulbs. The off-color grass, which was under a tarp, should green up in a week or two. Superhero guy will give the sweet pea trellis a fresh coat of stain before it's re-erected in one corner of the bed this spring. Thanks, VPS!

Coming soon: Mr. French's French drain.