Sunday, July 27, 2008

Separating bearded irises

Late July is the perfect time to separate bearded irises.

Especially when the clump is growing so tightly that the rhizomes are clambering up on top of one another.

Oh, and also when an iris borer is seen wriggling out of a slimed rhizome. The sight of that fat little pink grub yesterday afternoon had me in the garden by 9:00 this morning, lifting clumps, rinsing off the dirt, soaking the rhizomes in a 1:9 bleach:water solution,

trimming off old roots, drying the cleaned plants,

and replanting.

Oh yes, and how many more iris borers had I found when I threw in the trowel six hours later? Exactly zero.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


At this point in the summer, the garden is moving from the heavy blooms of late spring to what I hope will be the equally heavy blooms of late summer. However, in the lull before dahlias, joe pye weed, and anemones burst forth, I'm enjoying foliage. A few flowers are indeed in bloom--just to make all that green look even better (and to distract from hail damage and powdery mildew)--but mostly it's all about shapes and surfaces around here.

In the old side bed, here's the verdant array, running clockwise from the upper right: Garden phlox Phlox paniculata "David," ladybells Adenophora confusa, shasta daisies, peonies, tickseed Coreopsis verticillata "Moonbeam," lamb's ear Stachys byzantina, and blue star Amsonia hubrichtii.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Of baby birds and their mothers

Every year, I fill up a big bowl with various low growing succulents, like this Sedum spurium "Fuldaglut," and every fall I transplant them to a spare corner of the garden to over-winter. Come spring, these succulents don't look like much, but after returning them to their bowl and providing a few months of motherly care, they make quite an acceptable centerpiece for our table outdoors.

Hen and chicks, Sempervivum sp., is very happy in this company. Every year, it shoots out bunches of little offsets, like those to the right of the picture below.

Mature plants send up a column topped with tiny spectacular flowers. This current display of little stars marks the grand finale. As the blooms fade, so will the mother hen.

Today, I discovered that we have another family of baby birds in the back yard. This nest of robin chicks, spotted while cleaning gutters, is tucked up in the rose arbor outside the kitchen door. I'm hoping that the mother bird plans to be around for awhile.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The accidental vegetable gardener

Except for the occasional pot of herbs, I am determinedly not a vegetable gardener. Oh, there was a time, many years ago, when I tolerated a few tomato plants, but I soon enough decided that I'd much rather have the visual enjoyment of flowers to the culinary pleasure of fresh vegetables. I'm happy to support our local farmers' market.

But, the other morning as I was weeding along this bed of daylilies, I discovered that I was a vegetable gardener after all.

Well, a vegetable gardener of very modest inclinations. The compost bin at the end of the daylily bed had sprouted a tomato plant.

A wayward tomato seed from our kitchen refuse managed to keep its roots wet, warm, and well nourished inside while it sent a sprawl of stalks out through a slit in the side in the bin.

This tomato plant has even set a few blossoms. Will staking be the next step? And, then, perhaps, fresh tomatoes?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Life is supposed to be a balance, isn't it, between the horizontal and the vertical? That's what keeps you centered, on an even keel, fifty-fifty, whatever.

Perhaps, but I love garden beds with verticality. Maybe I'm just too darned lazy to bend over for a closer look. Or maybe I appreciate that eye-lifting up-to-the-top line. Vertical elements are everywhere in my garden: here, the leaves of irises and the shafts of flowering foxglove.

In some beds, verticality may not be so obvious.

However, these tall stems of ladybells Adenophora confusa are slipped among the shasta daisies. Some years the ladybells create quite a stand of blue blossoms, but this summer they pop up, a stem here and a stem there, from a flat-topped sea of white and yellow daisies.

Early July brings masses of my favorite verticals: self-sowing larkspur in shades of blue and pink . . .

. . . and this biennial oh-so-mildly yellow foxglove Digitalis ambigua.

If I could, I would grow the pumped-up versions of larkspur and foxgloves, those huge stalks of Digitalis purpurea and the club-like cultivars of delphinium that beat you over the head for attention.

But I can't, so when looking for verticality with vigor, I have to settle for annual snapdragons. And I'm not complaining.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Fire(works) and ice

This holiday weekend was a time to enjoy a few fireworks at night.

And, during the day, it was an opportunity to clean up after a ferocious mid-week hailstorm. Larkspur, daisies, and astilbes were beaten down. Tender begonia, coleus, peony, and amaryllis leaves were shredded. Ice covered the ground and filled this container of succulent sedums.

The leathery leaves of this hosta were so trashed that I chopped them off.

There may not be many blooms from these plants but perhaps there will be some fresh growth.

And by today, with a little clipping and trimming, those sedums were again celebrating summer sparkle.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Love we the warmth and light of tropic lands

This corner of the blogosphere has been quiet over the past week, as I've been living off the grid and far outside the reach of the internet. Here's the little corner of Honduras in which, for the fourth summer, I was participating in a water and construction project.

That tropical sun can burn scorchingly bright. Local flowers ignite their own fiery replies. This is no country for pastel hues and delicate habits: flowers here demand attention and, when they are as colorful and frothy as the blossoms of this acacia tree, they get it.

Some familiar plants are in their element in this tropic land: canna lilies,

bougainvillea, known locally as NapoleĆ³n,

and even a deep purple dahlia bud.

This year, I asked for the names of unfamiliar flowers. Some, like this vibrant mountain vine, are considered too unremarkable for comment. ("We call that 'mountain vine.'" Thanks.) Others are known by their all-too-graphic similarities with parts of human anatomy. (One answer that I received embarrassed me right out of further questioning for an entire day.)

You can't translate our post-war suburban notion of garden into this rural landscape. The front yards are packed dirt, swept clean. No mowed lawns or clipped foundation plantings here. Nevertheless, some folks have incorporated plants into their homes, like this bed of canna lilies, the pots of verbena, and the green fringe twining along the roof line.

Meantime, subsistence farming. like these rows of beans among the mango trees and banana plants, goes on all around.

Stewardship of the landscape is a part of daily life, even if it is not immediately apparent to those of us whose gardening standards are framed, consciously or unconsciously, by photographs in glossy magazines and visits to arboretums. So I was delighted to have my horticultural preconceptions challenged by the sight of this cooperative nursery, filled with tidy rows of acacia, pine, papaya, and coaba tree seedlings, at the farm of a local elder. These little plants were on their way to reforestation and residential landscaping projects. Guess that bright light helped me to see things differently!