Thursday, April 29, 2010


One of the necessary rituals of the gardening vacation is stocking up on plants. Visits to Merrifield, Colesville and Roxbury Mills resulted in the following purchases:

3 oakleaf hydrangea 'Alice'
3 Hosta 'Bressingham Blue' (when Colesville was out of Sieboldiana elegans)
1 kirengeshoma palmata
1 cimicifuga 'Pearl'
2 epimedium 'rubrum'
1 epimedium 'sulphureum'
3 hakonechloa 'Aureola'
1 hosta 'June' to replace the 'Paul's Glory' which turns out to be susceptible to disease
2 hosta 'Big Daddy'
1 hosta 'Sieboldiana elegans'
1 geranium sanguineum var. lancastriense
3 gallium odorata

and to the person who asks quietly, "Is that in the budget?" the only answer, of course, is "yes."

Three projects

Having all this time to garden means doing more than the routine maintenance. No, new peaks must be scaled! Hence three projects, at least two of which will test my abilities.

The first is the expansion of the back corner, which was looking awfully bare after the forsythia was grubbed out a year or so ago. The current plan is to plant three oakleaf hydrangeas 'Alice' that should provide height and mass (plus three-season interest). (My sources claim they grow 10-15' in height and width, though their label claims only 8' - we'll see.) Then I'll underplant with hostas, spring bulbs, etc. Here is the project so far. And here are the plants waiting to be planted.

Second is a raised bed beside the cutting garden which will be a home to sun-loving annuals and vegetables. The very nice man at Home Depot assured me I could do this. Yes, but... Here is the lumber, and below is a picture of the raised bed frame, a bit cattywompus because I had to use screws and a drill instead of my sewing machine.

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The third is putting up the trellis, which I did today with a little help from Alison as to moving and placing everything. At its feet are the cardinal climber vines, eager to clamber up the trellis. (Or is it an arbor?)

And the fourth of the three projects is to get rid of the grass underneath the viburnums. Newspaper and mulch on their way!

Notes to self

Wandering around the garden, the following notes:

These allium triquetrum continue to be my favorites, and I love them popping up among the perennials in the front garden. They add a little delicate color that is welcome once the narcissus have gone by. More, more, more!


These little alliums (?) are darling but in the wrong place - they will do better transplanted in front of the trellis.


These Sungold narcissus bloom with the English bluebells, which was why I got them in the first place, but they are charming all over the garden. Get more next year and scatter them about.


The oak tree garden benefits from just a few tulips at this time of year, adding spires to the prevailing mounds. This area in particular could use a few Ivory Floradale.
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Azalea rants

Adrian Higgins boldly claimed this week that azaleas are overdone, that people plant them regardless of color schemes and prune them into horrible balls. He's right, of course, at least a little. Sure, they're overdone in Washington, and in many gardens they are the only plants you see. But they make beautiful cut flowers, and planted right - in naturalistic settings, in shade - they can be beautiful.

My house came with a few azaleas in front that have grown over the last twenty years into an imposing presence. Okay, I would not have chosen this color (especially since it clashes with the coral bells, also in bloom now), but for two weeks a year I can live with it and even like it.
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But take it out entirely? Higgins suggests such a thing, but I don't think I'm brave enough - or motivated enough. Even though it would open up another three or four feet at the back of the garden.

Meanwhile, the white azaleas in back are blooming now and looking quite elegant. This is the one I transplanted twice, and it seems happy here against the fence.

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Yes, to most eyes it would appear etiolated and wee, but I prefer to see it as a Zen azalea. Less is more.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Unfit mother and day two

The little seedlings have been having a hard time of it. You'd think that a big sign by the coffeepot would be enough to remind me when to turn on the grow lights and turn them off again, but no. They endured a few 24-hour days and 24-hour nights. Towards the end, their water dried up. But the will to live is strong, thank goodness.

Here they are awaiting transplanting. This group has cleome, tithonia, nicotiana, cardinal climber and calendula.

The cardinal climber and tithonia are obviously strong growers. Nicotiana seed is infinitesimal and it results in tiny little plants all entwined. They're survivors as volunteers, but we'll see how they do with some nurturing. Only three calendulas grew at all. The cleomes, another said to self-sow vigorously, look a little wee.

Here is the first set to be transplanted, complete with the cullings. Somehow that never gets easier.

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Now comes the stage of putting them outside, then taking them in, then putting them out again... considering that I'll be gone the next couple days, they may just need to be strong and live despite the conditions.

A shortened day, but also pruned dead rhododendron stalks and a volunteer shrub by the cedar, and worked on my Colesville list.

Notes to self: get a timer next year, concentrate on the easy ones to grow, and transplant them at least a week earlier.

Tomorrow: the cleomes, which have been transplanted once, get to go outside for a stroll.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day one

The gardening vacation is inevitably interrupted by the reading vacation, the quilting vacation, the going-away-for-a-few-days vacation, the scrapbooking vacation and the sorting and cleaning vacation. Nevertheless, today saw the lawns mowed and the loosestrife weeded (the intent is to make this bed smaller and make room for other things). Removed two heucheras and a liriope for possible placement along the sidewalk under the maple. Also measured the lawn by the side cutting garden. It looks as though I could have some raised beds three feet wide by 25 feet long. If I were so inclined. Which I might be.

A riot of color and what's in bloom

Note to self: the first flurry of color in the garden is yellow: winter aconite, forsythia, kerria, daffodils, crocus, all blooming from March into April. The next flurry (happening now, the third week in April) edges into pink, red, blue and white: azaleas, tulips, bleeding hearts, bluebells, columbine, tiarella. The baptisia and amsonia are just barely starting to come out.

Another note to self: the front garden is much more successful this year, thanks to the miniature daffodils and species tulips (speaking of yellow).

What's in bloom on April 19:
bluebells (hyancinthoides non-scripta)
sweet woodruff
star of Bethlehem
mertensia (just going by)
azaleas (pink and white)
Solomon's seal
shasta viburnum
fothergilla (just going by)
ajuga (bugleweed)
lily of the valley
epimedium niveum
hellebore (still)
mazus reptans (thanks, Martha!)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book report

The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn by John Greenlee, photos by Saxon Holt.

Less lawn appeals to lots of gardeners, including me, so why not turn your lawn into a meadow?

Positive comments:
Appealing idea and beautiful photos, and I came away with a list of about a dozen grasses that might work in various parts of my garden.

The topic is really grasses, as opposed to a mix of plants you might find in a meadow. There is an alphabetical listing of recommended grasses, but no consistency, except for zone listing, in the information provided. Will this do well in sun or shade? How tall will it get? How much moisture does it need? You'll find most of this information in most of the entries, but for many entries you'll have to look elsewhere for the details. The photos are gorgeous but not every entry merits one, meaning that many of the grasses are not pictured. Also, this has a definite west coast bias, making it less helpful for easterners. More of a coffee-table book than a reference book.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tulip frenzy

After almost a week of hot wind, we had a delicious rain and cooler, sunny weather. Just about as perfect as it can be.

Though some of the daffodils and tulips got cooked, the later ones and the ones in shade are still doing well. Alison was telling us last night that she thinks tulips are too regimented. I protested, but actually, I think she's right, and there are just a few ways to use them effectively:

*to draw attention from a distance
*in drifts of color
*as cut flowers

Up close they are somewhat overdone.

On the other hand, I am falling in love with the species tulips, which are a delight close up. Here is 'Lady Jane' in front of the akebia trellis.
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And here, by the way, are the muscari meant to provide some socks for this garden. More socks needed desperately!

I love these pink fringed tulips ('Davenport'??) from the cutting garden, just in time for Weezer's birthday.
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The front garden is much more successful this spring, with the mixed miniature narcisssus from WFF and this beautiful species tulip 'Batalini.'
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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Borrowed finery

I don't have any flowering trees at the moment, unless you count the maple with its tiny red dots. But I enjoy the ones I pass on my daily round at this time of year.

This is one of two enormous weeping cherries in my neighborhood.

These cherries along the road by Old Mill Park always remind me of little girls putting on their party dresses and holding out their skirts.
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And this one is, I think, a pear tree - not the lollipop Bradford pear but the real thing, with bronze color in the fall and altogether a benign presence.

Maybe it's a Callery pear.

And then, of course, we have our own cherry blossom festival along Lewis Street each spring.
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Between those and my neighbor's cherry, I think I may not need any (except a wild cherry which is native and will attract wildlife). So maybe a crabapple instead. The classic 'sargentii' would be the one.

Magnolia mysteries

The magnolias have been particularly beautiful this year, or maybe I am just noticing them with fresh eyes. Not having grown up with them, it took me some time to appreciate them. Well, there seem to be two kinds, one evergreen and the other - the ones in bloom now - not.

Here are two beauties in town, one on Lewis St. opposite the Wheelers, the other near the farmer's market.

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A bit of research reveals that it's the Southern magnolia that's evergreen, with leathery leaves and the most delicious creamy saucer-shaped blooms. We some some gorgeous trees in flower at the National Arboretum last year.

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I have been toying with the magnolia x loebneri 'leonard messel' that Martha Stewart recommends, for the back corner of the garden. This is one of the deciduous ones - I don't think I have the room for the Southern. But the spot I have in mind is too shady and occasionally too wet. Maybe in the front?? The dithering continues.

Easter weekend

Biffy and Sarah drove down for a quick visit on a beautiful weekend. We ate, read, talked, cooked and walked. Saturday we walked along the Rappahannock and saw beautiful wildflowers. I have mertensia and trout lilies in my garden but have yet to grow trilliums despite the best efforts of my gardening friends. Does anyone know what the unnamed flower is?

You can get a better view by clicking on any of the photos.