Monday, December 07, 2009

Snow roses

Finally, winter has arrived. Our first snow storm of the season iced these late-blooming "New Dawn" roses.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Goalroll, 2010

Running a garden goalroll was tremendously helpful over the past season: it reminded me when and where to transplant summersweet Clethra ainfolia, jogged my memory about adding a few Astilbe x rosea "Peach Blossom," and let me know that I never did get around to organizing the bearded irises. Next year, I promise, next year! Roll on, 2010.

When the forsythia blooms

Continue to prune front foundation plantings, especially rhododendron and little-leaf hollies.

Prune clethra to remove deadwood and shape.

Rejuvenate privet hedge by cutting to < 1 foot high and topdressing. On-going Edge garden beds.

After the forsythia blooms

Expand the new side bed to join more fluidly with the raingarden.

May or June

√ June 15: after flowering, shear Amsonia hubrichtii by 1/3 of its height to promote better form

√ When it is 3 feet tall, cut the joe pye weed "Gateway" back to half its height to encourage dense growth. May 30: cut down when 4 feet high to 2-2.5 feet.

Pinch sedum "Autumn Joy" when it reaches 8 inches; stake with ring.

Organize the bearded irises, so that visually compatible cultivars are grouped together. Tag individual plants so that they can be moved later in the season.

√ Add a pink coneflower to complement annuals Ageratum houstonianum "Hawaii Blue" and Salvia farinacea "Victoria Blue." Ended up with three "Green Jewel" coneflowers, instead.  And only one at end of fall.

√ Stake dahlias when the tubers are planted and again and again as they grow. Old side bed: "Karras 150" (white); new side bed: "Normandy Painted Pearl"; house back: "Rose Toscano" (peach) and "Park Princess" (pink). Planted around May 22.

√ Pinch back shasta daisies to 6" in late May. May 30: Cut back shasta daisies in new side bed to about 6 inches.  June 10: Cut back shasta daisies in old side bed to about 12 inches Will they set flowers?  Yes, and cutting back had minimal effect on floppiness.

And stake, stake, stake!


While daytime temperatures are still above 40 degrees, spray an anti-transpirant, like Wilt-Pruf or Wilt Stop, on "Sky Needle" hollies to prevent winter kill.  Done November 28.

Winter-sow larkspur seeds.

Top-dress beds with composted cow manure.

Lightly feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone.

Dig in bone meal around peonies.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Flower in the crannied wall

Unlike Alfred Lord Tennyson, I will not be pulling out this little flower in the crannied wall.

With perseverance, this "Dakota Gold" helenium self-sowed from last year's big pot of coleus and red fountain grass. It is flourishing, even at the end of November, in its little cranny between the bricks and mortar of the front steps. I just hope it seeds again! Now, how to get that re-pointing done?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Balancing act

I really enjoy fall clean-up. Why else would I spend six hours in the garden, pulling out spent dahlias, cutting back perennials, shredding leaves for the compost pile, mowing the lawn, planting tulip bulbs, preparing leaf mold, and edging flower beds?

Maybe to attain the perfect balance of exhaustion and satisfaction? Yeah, I think that's it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Amaryllis anxieties

After losing multiple amaryllis bulbs last year, I am more than a little anxious about this year's cycle. Those remaining are my favorite bulbs for sentimental or aesthetic reasons. Can't let anything happen to them!

So, this weekend, I started the bulbs on their countdown to next year's bloom. "Royal Velvet," "Minerva," and "Ruby Meyer" had spent the summer in the bright light of south-facing windows. Thanks to restraint in watering and fertilizing, their leaves were green, their bulbs looked firm, and this "Minerva" amaryllis had even sprouted a fat little off-spring.

The bulblet released easily from its mother. Hopefully this baby will actually sprout. So far, I've had no success with growing bulblets. And, even worse, last year's mother bulb expired after giving birth.

Because last year's amaryllises were plagued by death and decay and because this treatment had seemed to help, I dusted the bulbs with a copper fungicide.

Again, thinking of the rotted-out bags I discovered in the refrigerator after 12 weeks of chilling last winter, I placed the bags on a layer of crumpled newspaper hoping that this will promote better air circulation.

The final step was following good garden hygiene by scrubbing the pots in a dilute bleach solution.

Well, it's not quite correct. The true final step is waiting--anxiously--for five months.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dumbarton Oaks, autumn

Folks rave about the beauty of the Washington spring--cherry blossoms lining the Tidal Basin, swathes of daffodils running along Rock Creek Parkway--but autumn is pretty darned lovely, too.

Last weekend, I spent an Indian Summer afternoon at my very most favorite garden, Dumbarton Oaks. I've raved about the sublime Beatrix Farrand landscape in a previous post, so here's a single highlight: the herbaceous border.

From outside the towering walls of yews bounding this garden, all you can see are billowing clouds of pale purple asters.

Inside, two 100-foot long beds of mixed perennials and annuals line a sloping central walk. At either ends are columnar yews. No fantastically exotic flowers here: just masses of zinnias, chrysanthemums, asters, ageratum, and verbena.

And this sublime beauty.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


This is the glory of dahlias: you can just step outside your back door and pick a bouquet of earth-shattering beauty.

And then, the next day, you can do it again. Sometimes you even have a helper.

Bulb addenda

A finale to the bulb ordering . . .

Brent and Becky's Bulbs
20 Narcissus Tazetta "Ziva" (indoors)
10 Narcissus "Ceylon" (new side yard)

. . . and on to the bulb planting, chilling, and potting up!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Fall plans for spring plants

Last night, I finally settled down in front of the computer to place my fall bulb order.

Given the rabbit feeding frenzy this year, I am reducing the percentage of delectable tulips and am hoping that the daffodils planted last fall will continue to flower. I'll also no longer be digging hundreds of little iris reticulata into the beds by the front walk, only to see them--or, more accurately, not see them--disappear. Miniature daffodils will go into their place.

Here's this year's very short list:

Old House Gardens
10 Tulipa "Generaal de Wet" (back of house)

White Flower Farm
50 Narcissus "Tete-a-Tete" (front yard by walk)

Brent and Becky's Bulbs
10 Tulipa "Purple Prince" (old side yard)
10 Tulipa "Prinses Irene" (old side yard)

And for indoor forcing:

White Flower Farm
1 Amaryllis "Temptation"

Old House Gardens
3 Hyacinth "Gipsy Queen"
3 Hyacinth "L'Innocence"
3 Hyacinth "Lady Derby"

It was way past my bed-time when I pushed the final "Enter" button, so I seem to have left a few dozen bulbs of paperwhite "Ziva" off those orders. An excuse to expand the list . . . more daffodils, I think!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Autumn approaches

Somewhere between recent travel up and down the East Coast, being laid up with a back injury, and rainy weekends, the garden has been sadly neglected during the past few weeks.

Nevertheless, autumn is marching resolutely in our direction. These "Purple Dome" asters (Aster novae-angliaeaster) are just coming into bloom.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Seasonal blues

My dear children have flown the roost to college, and I miss them. A floral sentiment includes sweet peas, salvia, hosta, and ageratum.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Late summer gardening, A(fter) D(ahlias)

Before I was introduced to dahlias, my late summer garden was a mere echo of its early spring glory: there was green, brown, a few flecks of color, and more green. Then a few years ago, my father-in-law asked me to babysit some dahlia tubers while he was away over the summer. Stunning flowers! I was hooked. Because my attempt to over-winter those tubers was an utter failure (for which my father-in-law graciously forgave me), now I treat dahlias as annuals and embrace the opportunity to try out different varieties every year.

This summer's garden is testing "Pink Princess," here sparkling against a backdrop of yews.

This "Karma Choc" is quite wonderful though, because of its dark flowers and stems, in a kind of weird David Lynch-ish way. The perfect accent plant: a little goes a long way.

At the opposite end of the attention-grabbing scale, this white semi-cactus "Karras 150" is the chorus member who stands at the back of the stage while other dahlia divas seize the spotlight. The supporting cast definitely has a welcome place, too.

"American Dawn" takes pride of place: unfolding here, the petal fronts are pinkish-coral and the petal backs are purple. The stems are almost black. Like the other dahlias in the garden, this one is about four feet tall. And also like the other dahlias in the garden, these need to be staked. I lost two of them due to a poor quality job.

After years of being considered declassé, dahlias are finally on their way to rehabilitation according to no greater authority than the London Times. Not a moment too soon!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Integrated Pest Management, the natural way

At first I thought this was a joke. What family trickster had tossed a white panicle of flowers onto my tomato plants?

But closer inspection revealed that this was no laughing matter for two of the three parties involved.

Me, because that "flower" was actually a hornworm caterpillar (Manduca quinquemaculata) feeding on my tomato plants!

The hornworm, because those white "blossoms" were actually cocoons of parasitic braconid wasps (Cotesia congregatus) feeding on it!

Here's where it gets really ugly. The braconid wasps lay eggs inside the hornworm caterpillar. In their larval stage, the wasps eat through the hornworm's body to its surface, where they spin these tiny white cocoons. After hatching, the wasps continue introducing other tomato hornworms to their lethal brand of Integrated Pest Management.

So there's a happy ending for two of the three parties involved. And a natural ending to the third!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chesterwood, Stockbridge

Hoping that I could beat the Boston heat, I slipped away for a brief jaunt to the marginally cooler climes of western Massachusetts. Among my carpe diem goals in life is to visit every one of the Gardens of the Berkshires. This weekend, the stop was in Stockbridge at Chesterwood, the home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French.

The grounds were pleasant enough but--how to say this?--under-gardened. A long bed sported lots of black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.) and monkshood (Aconitum sp.), along with some well-staked helenium. Serviceable, but not exactly the level of creativity that you'd expect to see in an artist's garden. There were lawns and woodland paths, too, but again . . .

An allee of flowering tree hydrangeas formed a promenade to the studio. Not exactly Giverny, but nice enough.

The most dramatic presentation of natural beauty that day was encountered elsewhere in Stockbridge: the thunder rolls and barrage of lightning bolts that accompanied a spectacular storm sweeping up the Hoosatonic River valley.

Monday, August 17, 2009

So sweet, so red, so bountiful

Happily, it's hard to keep up with the abundance of container-grown cherry and grape tomatoes. We pick a few handfuls for dinner every night and, the next evening, there are still more to harvest.

Tying up branches, pinching out yellowed foliage, and reaching between the leaves for ripe tomatoes immerses you in that special tomato smell--the perfume of summer! And these "Sugary" grape tomatoes taste pretty darn good, too.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Caltha palustris conclusion

I was so excited back in April when these neon yellow marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) heralded the arrival of spring . . .

. . . and in June, I was so intrigued by their super-cool star-shaped seed heads . . . .

. . . that I failed to realize that August would be spent pulling out hundreds of volunteers. The raingarden is blanketed.

While weeding, I spied this fine green fellow resting on a bed of seedlings under a flag iris bower. I left his boudoir undisturbed.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Inside inspiration board outside inspiration board inside

Dahlias began to bloom a week ago. This year's mix of colors and shapes include, running clockwise from upper left, "Rae Ann's Peach" (red/peach), "Park Princess" (pink), "Rose Toscano" (peach), "American Dawn" (peach/pink/purple), and "Karma Choc" (dark red).

As I was downloading today's dahlia photos, I noticed that same palette of peach, pink, purple, and red was echoed in a group of photographs taken the day before. When it's too hot to garden, I am sewing up a storm on a string quilt. The inspiration board next to my sewing machine is tacked with swatches of fabrics, photographs of favorite tulips and dahlias, and a salad days snapshot of this quilt's recipient wearing a lilac gown and crown of purple grapes. So the inspiration circles from garden to board to quilt and back again.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


This single variegated pachysandra pops as a white punctuation dot in a bed of green. It appeared, a spontaneous mutation, about two weeks ago.

Botanically, this plant is a chimera, composed of genetically different tissues: one that produces green growth and another that yields white growth. Much more pleasing than the mythological monster!

Monday, July 27, 2009


With all of our rain, this year has sprouted a bumper crop of moss. Green patches are flourishing on the north-facing stone walls . . .

. . . tracking along the concrete courses between bricks . . .

. . . with some leafy liverworts, eddying around the base of Siberian irises . . .

. . . and even sheltering under a spray of yarrow leaves.

I like moss. We all benefit from having our hard edges softened, and moss smooths over the rough places in a most serene manner. My mind was opened to the possibilities of what I had previously considered a nuisance by this array of mosses displayed at the gardens at Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion, in Kyoto.

In Japan, even the mosses are arranged by status. The sign below reads "Very Important Moss (Like V.I.P.)." At the other end of the hierarchy are the "bad" mosses. Too bad the individual plant labels are in Japanese. I'd like to know who rates the most respect. Maybe sugigoke (Polytrichum commune)?

You can just make out the undulating moss-covered hillside on the opposite bank of this pond at Ginkaku-ji. Serenity.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Daylily days

Late July means that the daylilies are roaring along full throttle. Their bed can barely contain its mix of boldly colored tetraploids. These plants came in one of those discount grab-bags of unnamed cultivars. Occasionally, I'll see a photograph in a plant catalogue that resembles one but then, on closer examination, the match just misses.

Nothing blends and none concedes a supporting role to its neighbor. The red flowering plants have been increasing their hold while the yellow ones disappear. Anonymous, unrefined, pushy: "Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

First harvest

"Sungold" cherry tomatoes just picked, sweet and summery, from the vine!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Revitalization movements, spirea style

Back in June, the spirea hedge was rambunctious with bloom. Now that that excitment is over, it's time to start pruning, so that next spring's blossoms can set on this year's wood.

All the authorities say to clear out deadwood and cut back about 1/3 of the branches each year to spur new growth. I usually have time to don a long-sleeve shirt and wield my loppers against a mere fraction before the weather turns too hot for pruning in protective gear. This year, the cool weather has extended the season.

Earlier this spring, I clipped off some dead spirea twigs to serve as supports for a few sweet pea plants. How very eco-friendly, I thought: recycling the old to benefit the new.

However, with our recent cool, rainy weather, those spirea twigs have stirred from the dead and suddenly burst into leaf and bloom. Are they flowering on last year's wood, I wonder, or on this year's? Ahead of the game, or just catching up?