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!