Thursday, May 29, 2008

Muguet des bois

May brings masses of lilies of the valley along the back of my little yard. How can you not love such simple blossoms? Even when dressed up in a bubbly goblet, they are the definition of innocence.

Their fresh-smelling scent recalls the drugstore perfume, "Muguet des Bois," that was our summertime spritz back when we wished we all could be California girls. Maybe those memories are why I don't mind the chore of weeding out stray lilies from the lawn years later.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mish-mash Memorial Day

It was a glorious long weekend for donning an old pair of tennis shoes, scruffy jeans and tee-shirt, and floppy hat, and for getting dirty in the garden. The siren call of sunshine, breezes, and mild temperatures beckoned every morning.

The mallow seeds that were started in a milk jug hot-house in early February finally departed the security of their recycled plastic home. Five small seedlings were transplanted into the raingarden next to a row of wet-footed Siberian irises, "Butter and Sugar."

Dahlias were planted in every spare corner. I am still feeling my way along this branch of esoteric knowledge . . . in the hopes of one day being sufficiently enlightened to successfully over-winter tubers. This spring's planting approach, however, involved nursery-bought tubers, a deep hole, a shovelful of peat moss, and a handful of bone meal for each tuber. Behind this curve of diminutive "Hawera" daffodils, a line of stakes anticipates the dahlias' emergence. In the old side bed and along the back of the house, other stakes mark subterranean dahlias.

I decided to wait to tease apart the various plant pairings that were thrown together in advance of French drain construction last fall. I am hoping for some serendipitous combinations, but so far, it's pretty much just a mish-mash, a mixed bag, of plants grouped together in haste. As glorious as they are though, some plants, like this robust iris, bully their their more self-effacing neighbors. Others, tucked behind taller cultivars, are lost in the shuffle.

One bed along the back of the house was amended with bonus dahlias "Raz-Ma-Taz" and "Rae Ann's Peach," helenium "Kanaria," red- and bronze-flowering snapdragons from the Rocket Series, and an unrepentantly vulgar purple Salvia splendens. Hard to believe that this mish-mash was actually planned. Hopefully, it will all harmonize in late August.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The green, green grass of home

Okay, here is why the notion of lawns has been lingering in my mind of late.

Last autumn, we had a French drain dug along the back of the house. At one end, it ran along the side of the house to empty into a dry well; along the other side, it connected to the town's sewer system. A lot of ground was torn up.

After the heavy machinery left, we raked and leveled and sowed seed. However, at the end of the winter, the ground had settled to an ankle-twisting unevenness and only a few clumps of grass were evident in a light spread of green. Mostly, we were growing mud.

So earlier this month, my husband undertook the arduous labor of laying sod.

He forked, tilled, raked, spread, rolled, unrolled, pinned, and watered. He enlisted some super help from my sister-in-law's landscape gardening company. And how great does this new lawn look? Really, really great!

And how does it feel? Delicious!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tudor Place, Washington, DC

At some point soon, I'll return to my own back quarter acre, but again this past weekend found me far from home. In the meantime, a sneak preview of the season was afforded by a trip to a warmer hardiness zone, namely, to the zone 7-8 Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC.

As my husband has said of the green thumbs in our nation's capital, "People down here really love their gardens." They do. And it shows.

During a few free hours, I paid a visit to Tudor Place, an early 19th-century neoclassical house set on 5 1/2 acres deep in Georgetown. The bracingly austere rear facade overlooks a series of tightly constructed outdoor rooms.

These acres combine all those evocative components of Southern gardens: the gravel paths that crunch underfoot, the heady scent of boxwood, the irrational exuberance of azaleas (sadly, now past their prime) . . .

. . . and then there are lawns, real lawns, lovely sweeps and strokes of pure green that set off the plantings along their borders.

Lawns are currently consuming an unusually large portion of my psychic space, as I'll explore further in a later post. The Tudor House lawns are inspirational.

Flanking the central path is a rose garden edged with low boxwood plantings. Perhaps echoing the Meissen collection inside the house, the roses are in sugary porcelain shades of pink and ivory--except for this very congenial Bourbon cultivar, "Variegata di Bologna."

Okay, it was all inspirational.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Denver Botanic Garden

Since recent garden tasks are a repeat of my last blog entry--it's the time of year when one flower bed after another is enlarged, cleaned, edged, and top-dressed--I thought that I'd flash back to last weekend's visit to the Denver Botanic Garden.

My flight from Boston arrived in the midst of late spring snow flurries and, at the Botanic Garden, the flowering trees were whipping up a blooming snow storm of their own, with weeping crabapple . . .

eastern redbud . . .

and . . . a glorious grey-barked, red-leaved, white-flowered chokecherry, Prunus virginiana "Canada Red," I believe.

Part of my cultivar confusion derived from a lack of familiarity with mountain botany, but part came also from the erratic labeling practice at the DBG. Many plants had no labels, a few had multiple labels, and some labels were just plain wrong. I know from many hours spent among them in another time and place that, despite their labels reading "Papever," these fantastical fritillaries Fritillaria meleagris cannot be confused with poppies.

And what, for instance, is this silken-haired beauty?

In the rock garden and alpine garden, I was totally lost, despite a graveled path to lead me along my way.

By the time that I arrived at the greenhouses, I completely abandoned any pretense of looking for labels, referring to my map, and writing down names. A good idea, too, as the plant life there assumed bizarrely imaginative forms.

Even an unfurling banana tree leaf seemed somewhat unnatural. Why is every part of this plant vaguely obscene?

The centerpiece was this anthropomorphic epiphyte-draped tree, looking like a recreationally-drugged fugitive from Birnam forest.

Not much horticultural inspiration to be found . . . but lots of wonderment.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Merry May Day

Perfect conditions for gardening today: sunny, breezy, don't-break-a-sweat weather and all creation surging with greenery and growth. The old side bed was expanded--make way for dahlias--cleaned and edged. Still need to top-dress around the phlox, peonies, Siberian irises, and astilbe with composted cow manure.

And here's the most regal obstacle to dahlia planting. "Princess Irene" is enjoying a great bloom. She's not a very tall tulip, but that blend of orange and purple, especially against a background of maroon peony foliage, is commanding.

The coup d'etat will be delayed until the Princess' charms fade. Isn't that always the way?