Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fiddling around the edges

Really, I don't mean to whine but - record numbers of 90-degree days? Drought followed by just an inch of two of rain here and there? Asian tiger mosquitoes undeterred by any bug spray you can name?

It's been a miserable month in the garden, I'm afraid. To add to this litany of disasters is the demise of the Sweet 100 cherry tomato. I thought this was an indestructible variety, but somebody came along and ate all of its leaves, so I ripped it out. Could this be the culprit?

The eggplants were attacked by flea beetles, and I have only one tiny yellow (huh?) eggplant to show for it. The beans and the zucchini are starting to produce now, but only in the most modest way. Here is today's tiny little harvest. I'm saving the zucchinis in hopes that they will grow more than two inches long.
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Beyond that, I decided this morning that I could garden for more than thirty minutes if I wore long pants and long sleeves. Feeling a bit like a beekeeper, I succeeded in working for an hour and a half before the heat drove me indoors. Planted the kerria Judy gave me, two pieces in front of the compost trellis and the other next to the yellow kerria along the fence. The compost trellis is a difficult spot - the soil was dry as a bone, plus it's in shade. Will see whether the kerria will survive there or not.

Moved the 'Strawberry Candy' daylilies from the front garden, where they never bloomed, to the walkway bed. Mulched several beds and weeded here and there, which always helps things to look better. Ripped out scads of perilla along the walkway, revealing two almost-hidden day lilies and the nicotiana I started from seed. Perhaps we'll have a bloom or two before summer is over, and with any luck the nicotiana will self-seed there.

Finally, I am starting small with the new shrub and perennial bed in front, beginning by throwing down two bags of mushroom compost. I think I'll start with just a few things and expand the bed over time. I was inspired by Biffy's beautiful raised bed by the terrace to add some grasses.
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Isn't this beautiful? Her lavender is gorgeous as well, and she attracts all kinds of birds and butterflies. Note to self: add lavender and rosemary to the list...

p.s. On the brighter side, I haven't seen a single Japanese beetle all summer long!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dreams of glory

I'm thinking more about the new garden planned in the front, where full sun makes many things possible. Scale and sustainability are important, leading me away from a crab apple (too big) and towards some shrubs and even an evergreen for four-season interest. Although this decision is based on looking at the lawn from the front of the house. When you look from across the street, it seems that the space is big enough for a small crab apple to work. (Of course, you also notice the shutter in need of repair - just squint and it will be less noticeable.)
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But I'm also dreaming of planting lots of colorful perennials that won't thrive elsewhere in the garden. Inspiration comes from every mixed perennial border you've ever seen, and more recently from this display at the National Arboretum last June:
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Tell me if you can spot a color scheme here:

Echinacea - Just bought three 'Tomato Soup' - bright enough for you?? (No, this is not my photo, but when I bought them they were indeed this color.)



Japanese anemones

Really tall things, like eupatoriums, or perhaps vines on a trellis or stakes

Lilies - Adrian Higgins' recent column provides lots of inspiration




Rudbeckia - maybe this one touted by WFF


The first step is to lay out the bed and start mulching this fall. Then annuals next summer and planting in the fall of 2011.

July is finally over, and it's time to garden again - maybe

What happened in July? Drought, that's what happened. We had the hottest July on record, many days around 100 degrees, and approximately 1.1" of rain for the entire month - that's all! It was terrible, kind of like being stuck in the house during a snow storm. Too hot to go out, way too hot and buggy to garden, and meanwhile everything was dying.

Trying hard to be a responsible gardener, I do most of my watering from the rain barrel and from gray water saved from the kitchen sink. But this month I did do some deep watering with the hose and sprinkler a couple of times. How long can you watch your viburnums and hydrangeas curling up and gasping for breath without rushing to their rescue?

But, just like a snow storm, a long, hot summer gives you a chance to dream and plan. So here are some thoughts on moving things around, plus lessons learned from the raised bed. Caution: some of these images may be disturbing.

To be moved:
The American ginger in the shrub border - it gets too much sun and not enough water. Moving them under the oak tree will solve at least the first problem. Here they are all splayed out. Horrible, isn't it?

Itea - I have two in the shrub border behind the house, but for whatever reasons, this one suffered terribly in the drought while the other one did fine. I think it's time to move it (where?) and substitute an evergreen that grows 6-8' tall and can hide the rain barrel from view.
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Tithonia - now that I know what this plant actually is, I would mass them some place where they get good sun and enough water. Not sure where this would be, but I'm working on it.

Tiarella - the sole survivor in front is dwarfed by a Siberian iris that throws its blade-like leaves far and wide and smothers the poor thing. Time to move the iris.
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To be improved:
ALL the soil in the gardens, but especially in the side cutting garden. Most of what's there are annuals, so this fall will be a good time to dig up the dry, hard clay and add as much of that great compost as I can spare. See how awful it is now?

Raised bed area:

The eggplants have been attacked by flea beetles; the pepper was eaten by whatever creature has been eating my plants; the parsleys were discarded and new ones planted but they are tiny because of the drought; the cleomes and cosmos are okay. Putting bird netting around some of the plants seems to have averted the creature (birds? woodchucks??). Only the tomatoes seem to be somewhat successful. I always like cherry tomatoes, but I would not plant Siberia again. A short, cool growing season is hardly one of our problems.

The cardinal climber vine is more delicate than I expected - maybe because of the drought? - and does not have the presence needed for the arbor. Next year, either another year of annuals such as hyacinth bean, or take the plunge and plant roses and clematic.
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The beans were attacked and replanted and have been sulking a bit. I'll give them another week and then I'll rip them out and plant for the third and last time. The zucchinis are doing okay but not setting much fruit. I may be the only gardener in the world who is not inundated with zucchini this August.

But am I daunted? No, I am not. It takes only one day like today, everything sparkling with the less-than-1/10-of-an-inch-of-rain we had last night and low humidity, for me to think that all things in the garden are possible.