Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Step by step

In between the seasonal garden variety activities of dead-heading, staking, and weeding, larger landscaping tasks loom. Laying the French drain along the back and sides of the house necessitated removal and (months and months later) the reconstruction of a stone retaining wall along the front. We had the adjacent front steps and driveway retaining walls rebuilt several years ago.

With all that stonework finished, an opportunity is now presented to rethink the plantings around the front steps. At present, narrow beds of white-flowering periwinkle Vinca minor "Alba" line the front walk. Short alliums--yellow Allium moly "Jeannine" and pink Allium osttrowskianum--are planted throughout.

Pink-flowering Thymus serpyllum Coccineus happily rings the dry, infertile areas edging the wall.

In order to postpone serious decision-making until the summer heat passes, I have followed the cheap-and-dirty route of softwood cuttings. I clipped lengths of the nearby periwinkle, dusted the trimmed stems with a rooting hormone, and slipped each cutting deep into a hole. Lots of rain recently may just give these slips a chance of survival.

These little sprigs of green don't quite look like a ground cover, but they're better than a drab expanse of mulch or a patch of mud. And in the time that they buy me, I can start to build up the beds flanking the front stairs, step by step. The first step is periwinkle . . . then what? I'll be treading slowly!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mock orange

Why is mock orange associated with weddings? Is it because these blooms appear at the same time as do June brides? The plant's evocative scientific name, Philadelphus virginalis? The sweetly demure scent of the flower? Perhaps it's because every photograph of mock orange, like every bride, is by definition beautiful.

Here, pairs of individual flowers, like bridesmaids in broad-brimmed hats, process along a bough.

Along our property line, my neighbor and I share two mock orange bushes. When properly pruned--which this one should be after it finishes flowering--their arched branches form a loose fountain of white flowers. Every year after the blooms have passed, a third of the older wood should be cut out at the base. Between all the other late spring pruning demanded byother shrubs around here, I'm happy if I can tend to a third of that third.

If only there were more of them! What I like least about mock orange is the brevity of their bloom period: only two or so weeks. A short-lived honeymoon, for sure.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

Exponential explosion: 3 Days of Rain + (90 Degrees + Sunshine) = Peoniesn

The math is simple. Hot weather following wet days results in an overnight explosion of peony blooms.

After interminable lingering, with the slow march of time marked by the meandering of ants over the buds, all the flowers fully opened. Instantly. It happened so quickly that there was no time even to clip a few flowers for a bouquet. This year, the show is outdoors.

Because peonies seem to be such old-fashioned flowers--and rightly so, given the longevity of single plants--I follow some old-fashioned guidance for their care.

The 1947 edition of Roy E. Biles' "The Complete Book of Garden Magic" strikes just the right tone, even if we suburbanites can no longer burn our wilted peony foliage.

This is the rare book that combines useful information, strong narrative voice, and charming illustrations. It gets the math.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Raingarden in action

Showers over the past few days have put the raingarden through its paces. The verdict? It works. At this early stage, it may not look like much--a little trench of muck holding rather ungraceful lines of irises, marsh marigolds Caltha palustris, mallows, and a scattering of black-eyed Susans Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii "Goldsturm"--but there is greenery, growth, and even a few flowers.

These Siberian irises "Butter and Sugar" are lighting up one end. They were the more plebian but who-cares-because-they're-blooming substitution for the exotic but oh-so-unavailable-from-any-nursery "Aichi no Kagayaki" cross of Iris pseudacorus x Iris ensata that I had planned on planting.

Another eco-system joins the little patches of meadow and woodland in my backyard.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Weeds, never and forever

Pulling wayward lilies of the valley out of the lawn reminds me that a weed is commonly defined as any plant in the wrong location.

Some plants, though, I just can't consider to be weeds. Ever. The pristine blossoms of star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum give it a free ride where ever it wants to go. Even smack dab in the middle of the lawn is perfectly okay.

Same goes for woodland phlox, jack-in-the-pulpit, and mayflower.

On the other hand, Japanese knotweed Polygonum cuspidatum is never welcome, any time or any place. After almost two years of battling this beast, I have practically eradicated all vestiges along the side property line. And, I am proud to say, without the assistance of herbicides--all natural, hand-pulled goodness. A few weak shoots poke up every few days, but nothing that can't be corrected by a gentle tug.

So I am happily too late to take advantage of these Japanese knotweed recipes offered by the New England Wild Flower Society

What is more primal than physically consuming your enemy? Bet these recipes taste delicious!