Friday, August 31, 2007

The August Garden

On the last day of August, I'm cheered to see what really is in bloom right now. The drought and heat were so enervating that I just gave up on the garden for a while. But today, having just cut the grass for the second time all month, I realized there are quite a few things happening after all.

I should grub out these self-seeded morning glories, but then they curl charmingly around the fence and I'm glad I haven't.

This is one of those quietly satisfying plantings (though not the best picture of it). Instead of plopping some geraniums in this pot, which lives on the steps at the end of the driveway, I planted some modest bacopa. It is restrained yet endearing, with its tiny white flowers that just keep on blooming.

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are a sign that summer is fading. They self-sow everywhere, and again, I should really grub them out, but I like them so much. Here they are adding an architectural element to the front garden. Okay, I really will try to weed them more mindfully once they stop blooming.

 This little stand of Boltonia asteroides is in the front garden, offering a tiny cloud of airy white flowers at this time of year. It would undoubtedly be more abundant if it got more sun, but it persists here happily enough.

Tony Wrenn wrote about British soldiers, aka naked ladies, resurrection lilies, and spider lilies (Lycoris squamigera), in the Free Lance-Star recently. And lo and behold, they are rising up in my garden now, too. I never planted them, they were either planted by the previous owners or just blew in on the wind. See a favorite picture of them from several years ago in my very first post here. I like the tidy little row that popped up in stairstep order in the front garden.

For some reason, I haven't had the enormous, fragrant nicotianas self-sowing around the compost pile this year. But here's one peering from under the aucuba in back. Perhaps it will bloom before frost.

It takes only a drop of rain for mushrooms to show up. These orange ones are everywhere in the lawn right now.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dog Days

It's been hot, hot, hot and dry as a bone until the last week or so. Finally, we got half an inch of rain, followed by 2.75 on Monday night - I could hardly believe the rain gauge. Then another crashing thunderstorm last night left another inch. We're still at a deficit, but in much better shape.

This is the time of year to regret your choices and mourn the jobs not done (planting beans, for example). But there are still a few garden joys.
The morning glory is terribly puny because there's not enough sun back here, but I love the single blooms that do appear. I think this was a mixed batch of Heavenly Blue and some others.
The front garden was gasping, too, but the - I always want to call it phlogiston for some reason - Physostegia virginica or False Dragonhead - is starting to bloom now. I don't know how much I love this, but it does offer some late summer color that's not orange for once.

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The Black-eyed Susans just keep on going, though I notice that mine are stunted compared to those in my neighbor's well-irrigated garden. Clearly, the lamb's ear also loves this dry weather. (A better gardener would have placed the lamb's ear in front of the Susans, but maybe this fall I'll be moved to move them.)

The best thing to do right now is weed after this rain (which I won't do much of, because it's still hot and humid) and work on fall bulb orders.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A book that should be a database

Right Plant, Right Place lists almost every garden condition you could think of and recommends plants that work there. Each entry includes a color photo, list of Latin and common names, height, zone, flowering times, etc., plus a paragraph of information about habits. Because some categories overlap - e.g., Plants Suitable for Dense Shade with Plants with Yellow or Yellow-Green Leaves - you have to consult the See also list at the end of each section to get complete information. This is a 2005 revision and it's almost a book to own, but in reality I will scour it for ideas and then return it to the library until the next time I need it. I'm finding it very useful as I plan the shrub border at the north side of the house. I've also used it to update my plant lists (see right).

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Victory Garden redux

Some of us remember when Roger Swain, with his scratchy beard and generous middle, led the original Victory Garden team, along with Marian Morash, wife of the producer and a wonderful cook, and Tovah Martin, who as I remember concentrated on herbs and container gardens. But since 2001 the show has been led by Michael Weishan, whom I'm beginning to like.

His book is actually quite good; he starts out with the obvious question, why another basic gardening book? This one, he says, is a basic sampler of good gardening practice that helps you to ask why as well as how. He concentrates mainly on design, with entreaties to amend your soil and pay attention to light requirements, all good advice (that I sometimes follow). He encourages gardeners to start with the house when designing gardens. Pay attention to which parts of the garden you see from the house and integrate your house's style into the style of your gardens and hardscape. Those ubiquitous and boring foundation plantings should be designed in layers to make it look as though the house is emerging from the garden rather than being tightly outlined by shrubs in formation. Finally, he makes the very good point that outdoor scale is big - you need more space for tables and chairs than you might think.

The photos are inspiring without being so amazing that the ordinary gardener feels humiliated. Nicely done.

Good Taste

Anne Raver, well, raved about this book in the New York Times, and I agree that the photographs are awe-inspiring. Several of the photos were taken at Heronswood, with their combination of cool good taste and sly surprises. I was particularly struck by the use of negative space, as in empty pots or pots filled to the rim with water that looks black or mirror-like.

Rogers concentrates on color, form, texture, and other qualities that make up good design, so it's more of a design book than a practical guide (not that these things aren't important). He's a huge fan of cordylines like the ones pictured here, tropical Australian palms with striking colors and architectural foliage, as well as other tropicals like Agave.

His favorite container plants will not easily be found locally but would be worth seeking out.

This is fun to look at but not a book to own.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

You say akebia, I say abelia

Well, no wonder I couldn't track down a vining abelia - it was an akebia that I saw at Merrifield. The one I was looking at is a white-flowered variety known as 'Shirobana' or 'Silver Bells.'

Here's a close-up of the flowers of this variety in bloom,

and here's a picture of the vine itself.

It's known as the chocolate vine (flowers are more often dark purple than white) and the five-leaf akebia. Everything I read about it sounds wonderful, except for its potential invasiveness. Sigh. Here's what the National Park Service has to say:
Fiveleaf akebia is a vigorous vine that grows as a groundcover and climbs shrubs and trees by twining. Once established, its dense growth crowds out native plants...

They go on to suggest that
In the eastern U.S., some great native vines that are available as substitutes for Akebia including [sic] trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), cross vine (Bignonia capreolata), and Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia durior).

I hardly need to train Virginia creeper up the trellis, it is happily romping among the compost piles!

I am not discouraged, though, since it seems easy to keep in bounds, especially where I am planning to plant it. Stay tuned...

Field trip

Yesterday I went to two garden centers in northern Virginia and came back almost empty-handed, I'm proud to say. Betty's Azalea Ranch runs wonderfully cheesy full-page color ads in the Post each week and has been around forever, but I had never been there before. It's a huge place with what looks like a pretty good selection of plants. I was concentrating on pots and hooks and they had a nice selection of each. Their pots are 30% off right now, and I was very tempted, but since I don't really have a plan yet, I held off. I'd go back.

The other place was the Fair Oaks outlet of Merrifield Garden Center, which I loved. I'd been to their original location years ago, but this one seems even better. Their selection is enormous, and it's arranged logically (think of that!) in alphabetical order by sun or shade. The staff seems very knowledgeable, too. One person suggested that climbing hydrangea (with which I seem to be obsessed) would grow too much (up to 40 feet) and develop a woody stem too big for my proposed site. She recommended abelia instead. The variety she showed me (though I did not jot down its Japanese name and have not been able to reconstruct it) has attractive, oval leaves and a pale yellow, scented spring bloom. More delicate than the hydrangea but still sturdy enough for the site. Plus, it thrives on drought. I need to do more research, since there seem to be several varieties, many of them more shrub-like than vine-like.

This person also suggested hellebores planted in front of the trellis, which appeals mightily.

Two other recommendations for shade plants I might not follow up on, but I was mildly interested: Rubus calycinoides 'Emerald Carpet' is a ground cover with a interestingly rough leaf, related to raspberries and can take sun or shade. Rohdea japonica is another shade-lover that might work under the oak tree, but somehow I'm not terribly enamored of it.

I came back with a big hanging fern and hook for the back side of the trellis, garden plans dancing in my head.

The two places make a good day trip (they're both along route 29, less than a mile apart), and I plan to go back this fall with a plant list.