Thursday, May 28, 2009


Someone - maybe Barbara Damrosch? - recommended cocoa hull mulch, so when I saw some at Roxbury Mills I grabbed a bag. I've used it just on containers, and I like the look, although chocolate is a strange smell in the garden. Yesterday I noticed white mold on the mulch!  Yuck - but it's apparently common in wet, humid weather (which we've had for weeks) and totally harmless.

Weirder than that is what happens to Soil Moist granules when you spill them on the ground. As soon as it rains, they swell up and look like transparent jello.
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Monday, May 25, 2009

What I loved and what I didn't do

I loved being outside, the fragrance of the honeysuckle drifting around the house on this weekend of clouds and dampness, using every muscle in my legs, arms and back as I wrestled with weeds, moved shrubs, and lifted heavy bags of mulch. Discovered that the boring bees - aka carpenter bees - have drilled a hole in the trellis and wonder whether I should worry about it. Enjoyed the colors and textures of everything I saw. Pleased with the expansion of the oak tree garden, hopeful that the shrub border will really amount to something in another year or so.

But I didn't - yet - prune the azaleas, move the pink azalea, plant the rose, plant one last marsh fern from Martha, edge the walkway garden, clip the columbines, mark the white ones in order to scatter their seed next month, move the wooden edging under the rhododendron to the cutting garden, hang the bird sculpture, dig up the grass and mulch the viburnums, or find some dragonwing begonias. Next time...

Plants in the ground

That was the goal for this weekend, and I did pretty well. Had three great mornings of gardening and accomplished the following:

*planted the fothergilla and the hydrangea 'Annabelle' in the shrub border by the house
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*grubbed out the ivy by the fence (a simple phrase that covers an hour of heavy, sweaty digging to get all of the roots out), then dug up the white azalea and moved it there. It looks much better against the fence, airy and Japanese-y.
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*planted the containers front and back with colocasia, white caladiums, white impatiens, begonias, and coleus
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*found a spot for each of the beautiful plants - and their equally beautiful soil - left on my doorstep by Martha, who's clearing out her wonderful garden in anticipation of her move. Wild ginger (the lovely mottled form), hellebores, epimedium sulphureum, mazus reptans, ferns, Oenothera Biennis (evening primrose), black and blue salvia - what wonderful presents! I will think of her when I weed, mulch and (inevitably) move them.



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I also planted the last of the WFF tomatoes, along with some parsley and basil. And all in time for the rain this afternoon - which didn't amount to much, but one lives in hope.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


'Sarah Bernhardt' is in full bloom right now, and looks beautiful in a vase with the Love-in-a-mist (nigella) and white campanula from Margaret, who snuck them into the vase on my desk while I was at lunch. What a nice surprise!

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The Susan Hepler peony turned out to be a semi-double creamy white with yellow stamens. Not sure of its name, but it seems to be a Japanese type. Isn't it beautiful? Two blooms this year. The other Hepler peony is modestly holding out till next year.

Now I'm longing for one of the dark reds. Perhaps the side cutting garden is the place for a few peonies. Nelda was telling me that she's had good luck with Gilbert Wild's grab bag of unnamed peonies for a good price. 'Raspberry' Sundae,' 'Sword Dance,' and 'Red Charm' look pretty swell.

Margaret Roach reports on her peonies this year, including more details about Molly the Witch. Apparently the species peonies are a bit touchy to get going, and may even bloom in different colors, but they like shady conditions. I feel sure one would be happy under the oak tree.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Impulse buy

Yesterday I visited a marvelous downtown garden belonging to Carl and Ann Little, showcased by the Native Plant Society and the ridiculously named but valuable Tri-County City Soil and Water Conservation something or other. The Littles have turned their medium-sized city lot (they're on William Street backing up to Maury) into a beautifully diverse garden filled with trees, shrubs, perennials, a vegetable garden, a delicious compost pile, and a beautiful water feature. Not a blade of grass to be seen! It was a beautiful and inspiring garden, and they graciously welcomed everyone to stop by whenever we like to visit it again. I might just do that!

Their garden is filled with lots of native plants, too, some of which were being sold by the Tri-County people. On a whim I bought three bearberries, an evergreen ground cover that I thought could do well in the white garden, edging the side in front of the shed.

Well, on looking it up I discovered that it is Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and considered "Difficult to transplant. Does best in acidic, poor, infertile, sandy soils." And "does not like excessive summer heat." And its common name comes from its attraction to bears, though I doubt any will find their way to Ferry Farm.


But the Missouri Botanical Garden also says "An excellent, albeit slow-growing, evergreen ground cover which provides year round interest. Can provide good erosion protection for slopes and hillsides. Good with Azaleas. Green leaves and red berries are often used for Christmas decorations." I'll give it a try and see what happens.

Upcoming projects

It's time to prune the pink azalea drastically in preparation for getting it out of the ground and putting it - where? Maybe somewhere in the back where I can enjoy its color but don't have to pay too much attention to it. And in its place? The 'Zepherine Drouhin' rose that I've been agonizing about and finally bought at Roxbury on Friday afternoon. I think it gets enough sun there, especially in the morning, and it's worth a try. Not sure whether it needs any support, but since I don't have $1000 to spend on this gorgeous structure, maybe it can do without it.

It's also past time to prune all of the boxwoods, which I suddenly realize have grown all out of proportion to their sites.

The honeysuckle is in full bloom and its sweet, haunting fragrance has hypnotized me into thinking I should never cut it back. I will come to my senses once the flowers fade.

A day in the garden

I've had even more than the usual number of plants waiting to get in the ground and finally had a day to do that. I planted the Mr. Stripey tomato from WFF in my new cedar barrel, surrounded by basil from the sale at Rappahannock Area Adult Activities earlier this month. The Mortgage Lifter tomato went into the walkway garden, where I really need to get a grip - at the moment it's become a holding place for a bunch of stuff, though I do have a tiny vision for it (butterfly bush and a few shrubs to go in next to the aucuba). Still to be planted - where? - is the Riesentraube grape tomato. And they all need tomato cages, which I ruthlessly weeded out of the shed in a fit about a year ago.

One of the colocasias ('Black Magic') is now in the ground next to the aucuba, and I have high hopes that it will make a dramatic black/purple statement there (thanks for that idea, Martha and Becky). I noticed that McClure & Zimmerman's label advises me to plant it responsibly. Somehow I doubt that it will become invasive in our dry heat. The other is slated to go into the pot on the front steps, along with some white caladiums and probably some coleus.

Pruned the forsythia vigorously and felt like a woodcutter in a fairy tale as I bundled the branches together and tied them with twine to put out with the trash (experience tells me forsythia branches are too whippy to go through the chipper/shredder successfully).

Planted the May apples and Jack-in-the-pulpits from Judy's garden under the oak tree.   
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This is what they look like in her garden.
The Kirengeshoma palmata that I bought at Merrifield is doing well there, its maple-like leaves waving in the breeze. I'm glad I didn't put it in the front garden, which was the original plan, where it would get too much sun and be out of scale. Planted the forget-me-nots from Judy in front of the akebia.

Planted a Jackmanii clematis to one side of the trellis, and a moonvine from C&T at the farmer's market on the other. Thanks again, Becky and Martha! Will see how they do in the partial shade.

Weeded most of the bishops weed (aka Goutweed, aka 10 Plants You Should Never Buy (Because I Guarantee Someone Will Just Give Them To You) from around the leucojum, though I didn't really get all of the underground roots, so of course it will come back. The kind I have, thanks to Judy's compost, is not even the variegated kind that This Garden is Illegal can find a place for. Luckily, it's not too hard to keep it at bay as long as you keep at it. And anything taken from this part of the garden is never transplanted elsewhere lest it spread.

Looking at the above, it's hard to believe this was four hours of hard work (including mowing the lawn), but it was!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Latest wacko garden plan

So I've been thinking about the beautiful Zephirine Drouhin climbing rose that Martha grows and am considering the following. How about a rose arbor framing the cutting garden on the side of the house? Yes, the entrance might be much grander than what follows, but so be it. Once I take out the ailing dogwood it could work. Then, this article in Garden Rant makes me think that I might as well try growing asparagus along the side farthest from the fence, which, like most of my garden, reads as partial shade. Seize the day and go forth!

The Wild Hunt

For years and years, a visit to Ladew Topiary Gardens north of Baltimore had been on my someday list, and I finally got there last month when Alison and I took our annual Garden Week trip. The tour of the historic house included a lovely oval library, named one of the 100 most beautiful rooms in America, and displayed the belongings of a wealthy man who loved foxhunting, traveling (he consulted T.E. Lawrence before a jaunt to the Middle East) and, of course, gardening.

Topiary is not my favorite art form, but in this setting - the soft, rolling hills of the Maryland hunt country - and on this scale, it's charming. Most famous is the portrayal of the fox hunt, complete with two portly hunters.
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Among the many gardens are the sculpture garden

and the topiary gardens by the house. Here's a view looking back across the "Bowl," where they hold outdoor concerts on summer Sundays.
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Equally famous are the garden windows - this one looking out onto the misty colors of flowering trees in the distance - and the swans swimming along the border of the Bowl.

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Pretty tulip beds - the white ones must be species, but which ones?
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The yellow, orange and apricot tulips in the yellow garden framed by golden evergreens were very effective.
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And the Adam and Eve statues are famously seen looking back from the keyhole garden. In a week or two the azaleas surrounding the statues would be in bloom.
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Now that I've finally been there, I don't need to return, but I would recommend a visit if you're in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Garden in the rain


I'm not sure how I ended up with only pale yellow irises (I used to have white and pale blue ones handed down from Bob Taylor via Mom), but they are abundant. Here's the first bloom, despite two straight days of rain.


Susan Hepler may not know there's a peony named after her, but there is in my garden! She gave me two plants several years ago and one of them has buds for the first time. I can't wait to see what it is - it might be a pale pink?

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This 'Paul's Glory' hosta is doing just what it's supposed to do - growing up to hide the dying daffodil foliage in front of the trellis.

These next two pictures are exciting because they come close to capturing the blues of the tradescantia and the purples of the columbines and sage. My camera has never done this before, but I've never used the Manual setting before. Maybe one day I will understand... Anyway, the front garden is primarily blue right now, until the irises and peonies take over.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Book report

I've heard of Beth Chatto for years but had never actually read anything by her. This is a year-long account of just part of her forty-year-old garden in flat, windy Essex, focusing on "Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest" as the subtitle has it.

Engaging, discursive, informative, and with spectacular photographs. My notes, either to find out more or to consider adding:

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' - I would like a magnolia, but I need a sweet little woodland tree, not a towering species. Maybe this one? Martha Stewart says it's a shrubby tree 15-25' high and 10-20' wide.
In early spring, precocious 'Leonard Messel' produces dark-purple buds that open into star-shaped, dark-pink to purple blossoms with white interiors before its leaves unfurl. The long, wavy, frost-resistant petals open wide to expose stamens. This compact, shapely, small tree has leaves that mature from coppery to dark green.

Narcissus 'Cedric Morris' - drooping flowers with green shading

Galanthus plicatum 'Beth Chatto'

Cut back old epimedium leaves in early February to display the new flowers - though I have never done this and the flowers seem to lift up above the leaves just fine.

Sarcocca - sweet box - scented -- this keeps coming up, I really need to investigate

Plant dark-flowered hellebores among leucojum and lamium maculatum 'White Nancy' to show off the blooms.

Wild peony - paeonia mlokosewitchii, "familiarly known as Molly the Witch" with pinkish bronze stems, grey-green foliage, and cool, lemon-yellow flowers filled with gold stamens.
Wikipedia says it is "native to the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Dagestan, where it grows on rocky slopes in oak, hornbeam, or beech forests." Here's their picture of it.

Anemone nemerosa 'Vestal' - double white

Transplant euphorbia to the back shrub border, where it will enliven shady ground.

Smilacena racemosa - cf. to Solomon's Seal, fragrant

Astrantia major involucrata 'Shaggy White' and 'Claret Red' "with upturned heads, each made of many narrow segments filled with quivering creamy centres." The late lamented Paghat's Garden describes it as needing moist, humusy soil so it may not do well in my dry clay.

Pileostegia viburnoides - self-clinging climber with frothy cream flowers in summer; this seems to be my old friend the climbing hydrangea, said to grow up to 15-30 feet so too much for me

Geranium phaeum or nodosum - thrives in dark shade. The Missouri Botanical Garden says
Easily grown in average, medium to wet, well-drained soil in part shade. Unlike most other species of geranium, this species performs best in shade including close to full shade conditions. Prefers moist, humusy, well-drained soils. Intolerant of the heat and humidity of the deep South. Foliage may decline in hot summer climates after flowering, at which point flowering stems can be removed and foliage trimmed both to shape and revitalize plants. If not deadheaded, some self-seeding may occur in ideal growing conditions.

Cimicifuga - now called actea - plant against the fence where the ivy sprawls now?

Hellebores 'Kochii group'

Bowles' Garden grass with epimedium under the maple tree? But I think it needs moisture, so Hakonechloa comes to the rescue again.

Heuchera - she says to replant in fresh soil every few years, which I had been thinking mine need, though she doesn't say when to do it. Will try this fall.

Random gardening joys

The common bugleweed (ajuga) in bloom by the Japanese roof iris in back - I am encouraging this to spread under the crape myrtle.

These strange insects on an old log - while I watched them swarm, they started to take flight, each one sparkling in the sunlight.

The oak tree garden now mostly blue and white with the self-seeded columbines and Japanese roof iris in bloom.

And the oak tree suddenly shedding its blooms all over the place.
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