Monday, May 28, 2007


Posted by Picasa

If this were the only bloom all summer from this tuberous begonia, it would be enough.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Getting Things Done II

The fruits of a three-day weekend:
Stripped ivy off maple tree
Pruned maple tree
Planted rhododendrons 'Caroline' and 'Ingrid Melquist'
Planted hostas 'August Moon' and 'Blue Umbrella'
Planted epimedium rubrum and wild ginger (asarum canadensis)
Dug up Leucojum and discarded two thirds of it (infested with Bishop's weed)
Rooted out lots of Bishop's weed but it will still come back
Planted double bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis forma multiplex)
Discovered and transplanted Rosa 'Fairy'
Planted Nicotiana 'Perfume' dark purple
Pruned white azalea and purple azalea


Posted by Picasa
As part of cleaning up the front garden, I reluctantly rooted out the Fairy rose that Dad had given me. Its leaves were yellowing, and it didn't get enough sun to thrive. But lo and behold, I found two small blooms peeking from under the enormous azalea - either self-seeded, or a chunk of root that I didn't get. I've replanted it in the sunny garden, where the blossoms promptly shriveled up in the sun, but I have high hopes that it will live. Hurrah!

Here is a bad picture of it - hope for a better shot when it revives in its new spot.

I almost invented it

Posted by Picasa
The gardens get lots of shade, but it's mixed with shafts of morning and afternoon sun, so I could never decide whether I had partial shade, partial sun, or what. I had often thought that there must be a way to measure the amount of sunlight that falls, perhaps with sun-sensitive paper or some such. Well, it turns out that such a device exists, as I discovered in the Lee Valley catalog (thanks, Martha!). So far I have tried it in two spots - the new garden along the back of the house, and the narrow strip along the path-to-be along the side. Both came up as partial shade. Now I just have to understand what exactly they mean by that...

Big plans

I took the plunge! Shelley Meadows from Meadows Farms came out a few weeks ago and together we worked up a plan that I'm very excited about. A stone path will lead from the driveway to the gate, with the narrow existing bed along the house raised up with a nine-inch stone wall. The gate will be replaced with a new one four feet wide and a half-moon cut the right way (or, if that doesn't work, a lower height than the fence so visitors will get an intriguing glimpse of the joys to come).

The concrete pad will be mostly taken out, and a stone terrace put in its place. The solution to screening out the neighbors is especially pleasing: a trellis eight feet long and eight feet high coming out from the low wall, with a foot or so of planting space on each side for hostas, ferns, bulbs, etc. Shelley suggested a climbing hydrangea (shade), which I had thought of, too, but Mom says they're awfully slow to grow. At any rate, the trellis will provide privacy and also enclose the terrace, so that it becomes a garden room, with the open corner looking out to the oak tree garden.

Signed the contract on Friday and installation should start in just a few weeks. And it only took 18 years to make it happen...


It doesn't take long - I was away from the garden for just three days, and lots happened. The unnamed daylily I bought from that nice man in Charlottesville (he was a hobby breeder with a place on Route 29 that I think has been turned into housing or a shopping center or something) is in bloom:

Posted by Picasa

The Siberian iris are in bloom, a little less abundant after division but that's okay:
Posted by Picasa

The peonies are in full glorious bloom. This is the third or fourth year for Sarah Bernhardt and the first year I have enough to cut flowers for the house (note: wait till they're fully in bloom before cutting):

Posted by Picasa


As I look at my previous posts, I realize yet again that I am an impatient person. The anemones aren't coming up under the oakleaf hydrangea? The white columbine are few and far between? The double bloodroot hasn't arrived? Just be patient, and all will come to pass. I am impatiently awaiting an increased capacity for patience.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Carroll Gardens

Their wonderful newsletter announced that they had found a new source for double bloodroot, after their previous provider had died. Very excited, I placed my order despite the incredible price ($40 is not too much if you really love the plant, right?).

I ended up visiting Carroll Gardens on the way home from Bethlehem yesterday and was somewhat surprised by what I found. It's a bit down at the heels, to say the least, very small, with ancient greenhouses and a Mount Trashmore pile of old plastic plant pots. Nevertheless, they did have a beautiful Rhododendron 'Caroline' which had been on my list since a newsletter feature a year or so ago. I also picked up some unusual dark purple nicotiana, which they grew from seed. And I saw lots of double bloodroot, just crowded in with all the other plants as though they were nothing special. I considered telling them I had ordered one and would be happy to pick it up today if they hadn't yet shipped it, but decided not to (error).

Alan himself was runnning the store, a small, round, irritable man. I guess the voice that's so certain and compelling in print might be just a tad hard to take in person... No matter, but when I got home the bloodroot still hadn't arrived, despite my fear that it would arrive and die before I got to it. And then I searched the web and found this .
Have I made a big mistake? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

There's pruning and then there's pruning

"The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, Planting and Pruning Techniques" by Tracy DiSabato-Aust is well-regarded and I can see why. She's obviously a knowledgeable gardener with a lot of experience. Her notes on each plant offer good suggestions for when to prune and what to expect when you do (often a second blush of bloom). I made notes on a couple ideas: remember to cut down biennials immediately after blooming to get another year out of them; cut back old flowering stems of Pulmonaria for a fresher-looking plant; cut back perovskia in early spring, down to live buds, which can be 6" or more above ground; feed astilbe in early October with 20-10-10, it's a heavy feeder.

But she's a great believer in pruning so that you get smaller flowers later in the season. Makes some sense if you can avoid staking, but otherwise it seems fussy and artificial to me. Also, she seems to prefer huge sweeps of the same plant, which looks institutional in my opinion. Interesting, but not an addition to my garden library.

This and that

Lots of blue in the sunny garden: columbine, nepeta, amsonia just getting started, tradescantia. And then there's the amazing sage, with flowers of pale blue, pale pink and white, all on the same plant.

Ruthlessly tore out the pot on the front steps, saving the bulbs for the cutting garden, and replanted in shades of pink and purple (impatiens, purple sweet potato vine, dusty miller, ivy, petunia). I love the intensity of the purple wave petunia. With any luck the coleus in the middle will add height which is lacking at the moment. But I'm pleased with the colors:

Odds and ends: put in three basil plants, cleome (probably white?), and pale yellow marigolds in the front and worked in a bag of mushroom soil; sowed a mesclun mix from Renee's in the long pot on the steps; pruned the azaleas in the front; planted white impatiens in the white garden; staked the clematis around the mailbox, it's about to pop and I should have done this a month ago; enjoyed the lone yellow iris bloom, the others are all sitting there quietly having been divided last summer but apparently now paralyzed*; tried to pull out as much of the bishop's weed as I could get at, but I fear it's a losing battle.

We had a wild thunderstorm Saturday night that left the garden drenched, thank goodness. I noticed that the dry stream bed I put in place in the new bed was totally ignored by the water, which of course finds its own level and veered across the bed and down. Perhaps the rain barrel from the Friends of the Rappahannock will solve that problem.

*Sue Shackelford, the iris gardener I know from Jazzercise, reassured me that this is expected after division, with the well-known saying, "first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap." Just wait till 2010!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Henry Mitchell would be proud

Posted by Picasa

The late, lamented garden writer for the Post used to encourage people to plant the most outrageously brilliant azaleas if they liked and let good taste go hang. I can't track down the exact quote, but in "The Essential Earthman" he does say,
"I have a shocking patch of azaleas, fortunately not very large, of pink, three shades of red, and a couple of whites. I like them, but they are dangeroulsy close to grossness... I knew it was wrong to add two or three yellow-orange-salmon-tawny deciduous azaleas across the walk from the reds and pinks..."

My contribution to grossness in azaleas is this enormous clump under the living room windows, which came with the house and goes on without fail despite my almost total lack of care for it. It's not really fair to call it gross, I guess, it's just very intense. And though it might not have been my choice to begin with, I have come to enjoy its lushness.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

It's all in the timing

Posted by Picasa
Inspired by a pairing in the White Flower Farm catalog, I planted Sun Disc narcissus in the oak tree garden. They were supposed to bloom at the same time as the English bluebells, and it sure looked adorable on paper. However, the bluebells had gone by when these little yellow blooms poked up their heads. I love the way they float over the dark green foliage of hosta and mertensia, but they're off by about ten days or so in their timing. Oh, well. Better gardeners than I have the same problem, as I saw in Takoma Gardener's tulip story.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Grubbing out

In yesterday's Post, Joel Lerner recommends cutting forsythia down to two feet to renew it. "They'll have long, flowing stems full of blooms next spring," he claims. Plus, if I decide to remove or greatly diminish this overgrown clump in the back corner, this should make it easier.

Here are the before and after pictures.

He also recommends digging up tulips because they don't reliably return, but then commands us to save them and re-plant in November. Seems way too hard to me, and why bother? I liked the Corps de Ballet collection from WFF, but I planted them too far apart and they're not listed as reblooming, so I may be bold and profligate and pull them up. I can always replant them in the cutting garden in case they make an effort to return next year.

Since we had a gentle rain yesterday (and it felt so cold in the house that I turned the heat on!), today should be a good day for digging weeds, moving bulbs, and whacking back the forsythia and azaleas.

How it's going

Posted by Picasa

The front garden has undergone a big transformation. When I took out the beloved but way overgrown rosemary 'Arp' and, sadly, the Fairy rose that Dad had given me years ago (not enough sun any more), to say nothing of grubbing out tons of vinca, I had an almost clean slate. I am trying to keep in mind that this is the garden I see most frequently so it should be the best and most well-tended of all. It is mostly shaded now, with just a few slivers of early morning and mid-afternoon sun.

The astilbes have struggled a bit, I think because we've had such dry summers. Playtcodon is very happy, coming up in random spots as the fancy strikes it, ditto garlic chives. The edging of coral bells that Mom gave me when I started the garden continues to thrive, though I have a few bare spots that I need to fill in. The only problem there is the timing: the fuschia azalea that came with the house is in full bloom at the same time, and the soft coral clashes with the intense azalea color.

At any rate, I checked out and quickly bought "The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer" by Stephanie Cohen and Nancy J. Ondra. I love this for its practical approach and its specificity. Based on their design for "an elegant entrance garden" (not that I'm making any claims), I designed the front garden to include dark foliage (Heuchera 'Plum Pudding,' Cimicifuga 'Hillside Black Beauty,' et al.) and brighter colors (Hakonechloa macra 'Albo-striata,' my new favorite, and three Brunnera 'Jack Frost'). Last fall I put in three geranium 'Hocus Pocus' but there's no trace of them now - either they're very late to appear, or I planted something right on top of them (another reason to order that marking pen that Dianne B. recommends).

The next order of business is to choose spring bulbs - all that's there now are a few grape hyacinths, plus the Thalia daffodils I planted around the new August Moon hosta. In line with the idea that this garden is the most visible, why not choose something spectacular like double bloodroot? McClure & Zimmerman carry the single one, at only $8.95 for three. Carroll Gardens lists the double at $17.85! but it's not available this year. I may have to sneak into Judy's woods and grab one of Mom's while they're not looking.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

All the dirt

Dianne Benson used to be in the fashion world, but when her business failed, she turned to gardening instead, and "Dirt" is the marvelous result. No matter that she had been gardening in her Zone 7 Long Island plot for only six years when she penned this comprehensive guide to gardens - she is opinionated and fearless. And of course, as a former fashionista, she does it all with style, wearing riding breeches, a big white shirt, and a fishing vest from Cabela's (and tells you exactly where to buy all the above). She's wrong about some things - loves ivy for some reason, hates the color yellow, can't abide phlox or alchemilla - but she has more good ideas than bad ones. She's wildly enthusiastic about fritillarias and lilies, and plants more trees than you would think possible on only one acre. This is out of print but well worth seeking out. Thanks to Michele Owens at Sign of the Shovel for this recommendation