Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bulb choices, the slightly political version

Bulb selection continues. To help assess which varieties of tulips, irises, and daffodils partner best, I pull together image files from suppliers' on-line catalogues. This spring, a sloping side bed should sport these bulbs, courtesy of John Scheepers.

As I was busily dragging and dropping--and wondering how folks made these visual comparisons back before computers--I recollected the wonderful bulb books that my mother used. These were 5 x 8-inch ring binders with each page illustrating a different bulb. The paper was heavy and glossy, the colors were saturated, and the names were exotic ("Queen of the Night," "Princess Irene," "Trevithian"). Even for a kid, this was intriguing stuff.

You could open the binder, remove pages, and lay them out like playing cards next to each other, bundling together "Cheerfulness," "Sweetness," and "Tete a Tete" into a friendly group, or spicing up the scene with a dash of "Adonis."

A big box of the bulb books arrived at our house every spring. Sales of the featured bulbs supported my mother's college alumnae association. She was a tireless volunteer: many an evening she'd sit at the kitchen table, telephone to ear, as she extolled the virtues of these bulbs to her garden club colleagues. She'd drive from house to house, dropping off and picking up bulb books and, a month later, delivering bulb orders. My mother must have been pretty darn good at the gentle art of persuasion--she was a native Washingtonian, after all--because her alumnae association rewarded her efforts with a Dutch trip to enjoy the gardens at Keukenhof, the Aalsmeer flower auction, and Haarlem flower parade. Here she is, in April 1976, posing with two equally elegant companions in the Castle Garden at Keukenhof.

I'll side-step the obvious political observation about the skills and capabilities of alumnae from Southern women's colleges. My mother would have dodged it, too. And then gone out to work in her garden.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Equinox excogitations

With an end to summer this weekend, all the mistakes that earlier in the season had been disguised by foliage and flowers came clear. While piling on compost, edging garden beds, and pulling weeds, there was ample opportunity to ponder--and pull out--my mistakes.

This dahlia, "Shadow Cat," promised to be tall, thrilling, and satisfy my current color fixation. Well, yes, it was all of those things. Too bad the deep color disappeared against a hedge of dark yews. What a waste!

And speaking of black holes, this witch hazel struggles on, decked with tattered and yellowing leaves, in a location that to date has swallowed a sequence of apple, weeping cherry, and dogwood trees. Some killing karma at that spot. Ground too damp? Not wet enough? Maybe this witch hazel will manage to brave the winter. A stay of execution until the spring, I say!

Perhaps because of the heavy rain throughout spring and summer, plants grew taller than expected . . . and then they flopped over. I couldn't stake these cosmos and heleniums well enough to prevent them from looking like dishelved drunks at the end of a long, liquid evening. Party's over for these guys. I transplanted a peony where the cosmos had been and stuck a division of Phlox paniculata "David" in place of the helenium.

What did I learn? Nothing complicated. Just don't make the same mistakes in the future. Profoundly utilitarian.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Under my 'Skin

Back in the spring, I thought that I was planting a garden in hues of apricot, dark red, and blue. Wrong. Little did I know that I am actually wild about all plants burgundy and yellow. And believe me, it goes much, much deeper than a crush on the coleus and Helenium "Dakota Gold" blooming away on my blog header.

To begin with, there is a container of Lysimachia "Outback Sunset" and Calibrachoa "Superbells Red" (above) and "Midi Mariana" dahlias and coleus "Florida Sun Splash" (below) posted on my back step.

In the same range of colors, this "Raz-Ma-Taz" dahlia shows off in front of a curtain of very tall yellow Helenium.

But my favorite example--my favorite dahlia this summer and maybe my favorite dahlia ever--is this oh-so-perfect "Normandy Painted Pearl." It floats like a luminous waterlily, tethered only by a delicate purple stem. It's so tall--about six feet--that looking up at the blooms, I feel somewhat like I'm under water. The petals shade from lemon to rose.

So, good doctor, what explains my subconscious obsession with burgundy and gold? Yearning to relive the color palette of 60's? Channeling the local high school team colors? Or, no, those of my hometown football players, the Washington Redskins. Hmmmm . . .

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Where we were, where we are

About a year ago, one corner of the yard was a slough of despair . . . and muck . . . and untapped opportunities . . .

Progress has been made, but the pilgrimage continues.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A nutty nest

This weekend's storms turned out to be underwhelming--not that I'm complaining, Mother Nature, you hear--so there were several sunny hours to be enjoyed out in the garden.

My New Dawn climber was way, way past its mid-summer pruning. In fact, some folks recommend not pruning this late in the season, in order to prevent the growth of tender shoots. But I think that a trimmed and tied up rose over-winters just fine--and poses less risk of personal harm from wind-whipped canes.

I had delayed taking to this climbing rose with ladder and clippers in deference to the family of robins nesting at the top of the arbor. And, also, pruning is difficult to do when there is still a spattering of flowers in bud and in bloom. This cultivar continues to throw off just enough flowers for it to be touted as "ever blooming."

Even though the robins disappeared in mid-August--flying out under the radar--imagine the cognitive dissonance when, peeking into their empty nest, I saw something small, green, and egg-shaped.

A butternut. Crazy! A squirrel must have scaled the arbor, negotiated the thorny branches, and cached the butternut for winter. Talk about squirreling something away! The butternut is still there, even after the pruning, should anyone need a snack.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Battening down the hatches

Like much of the East Coast, our weekend weather forecast up here in New England anticipates heavy rains, flash floods, and strong winds. Battening down the garden necessitated a few busy hours. Annuals were deadheaded with the hope that a good drenching rain might spur another flush of flowers. Blossoms that would likely not withstand rough weather were collected. As if an excuse was needed to gather these dahlias!

Some indoor time was used to drink a cup of Cafe El Indio and place a fall bulb order: single early tulips (Princess Irene, Purple Prince, and Beauty Queen), hyacinths (Gypsy Queen, Pink Pearl, and L'Innocence), paperwhites (Ziva), and irises (I. danfordiae).

A good way to weather the storm!