Sunday, September 19, 2010


A most satisfactory gardening morning today. Yesterday at Colesville I picked up three variegated liriope - mundane, I know, but finding things that will live under the dry shade of the maple tree is not easy. Plus, they are reliable and attractive. Got them planted, also a Begonia grandis 'Heron's Pirouette' that I couldn't resist. Plant Delights Nursery says, "While the triangular green foliage on the 15" clump is similar to the species, it is the huge and excessively large flower clusters of deep pink that set this selection apart." That went in by the fence along the terrace garden.

Five woodland asters are in search of a home, I'm sorry to say. They do well in dry shade, but they grow about two feet tall, higher than I was envisioning them. So instead of edging the white garden, they may end up under the oak tree...or among the oakleaf hydrangeas and hostas in the corner garden...or spilling over the wall along the walkway garden.

But most satisfactory of all was digging out the erstwhile cutting garden by the raised bed. This has been overgrown with gooseneck loosestrife and a creamy white perennial pea from Mom. Both are attractive for just a few weeks a year - not enough to justify them, sadly. So I uprooted the loosestrife (fully aware that the fleshy roots are still interspersed throughout the bed, but they're not hard to pull out), and cut the pea back so that it didn't look quite so tattered. Then expanded the bed just a bit to make a curve in front. The depth is about three feet along the straight edges, maybe up to five feet along the curve.
So, what to plant?

I'm mindful of the fact that my neighbors see this garden daily as they get in and out of their cars, so it's time to pull it together a bit more. I'd like to put in at least one shrub, maybe an evergreen (cherry laurel?) that won't get too big. Then perhaps a clematis for the trellis where the pea currently rules. Park the echinacea and Stokes asters there, too, until the sun bed starts to take shape.

I'm trying to plan in an orderly way. I've cut out graph paper in the shape of the bed and look forward to cutting out various plants and seeing how they look on the plan. Such an SJ I've become!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The groundhog did it!

I'd planted four little red Russian kales, very pretty and promising to provide good fall color in the raised bed (which mostly looks like hell right now), plus providing delicious home-grown kale (for heaven's sake). I have been watering them faithfully every day during the drought, and after a week in my care they were thriving.

Yesterday afternoon I spotted a groundhog in the back yard. I opened the back door to look more closely, and he lumbered quickly away (interesting how they do indeed lumber but move so fast). Guilty conscience??

An hour or so later, I wandered over to the raised bed to congratulate myself on the kale, only to shake my head in disbelief. Where did it go? It has been nibbled down to the ground, and I can only conclude that the mysterious ravager of my vegetable garden has been the groundhog all along. Wikipedia quotes the Cornell University Press as saying, "Mostly herbivorous, groundhogs primarily eat wild grasses and other vegetation, and berries and agricultural crops when available." Seems to fit the bill. Do not be fooled by the charm of the groundhog in the photo, they are clearly evil.

I remember that Mom, that pacifist, thought that shooting groundhogs was perfectly appropriate, although I think they hired trappers to take them away. As for my garden, it's time for some fencing!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book report

The Collector's Garden: Designing with Extraordinary Plants by Ken Druse.

A look at the various kinds of plant collectors: aesthetes, specialists, missionaries and hunters, as he styles them. An overview of the gardens and gardeners is accompanied by gorgeous photos, including many close-ups of plants as well as the sweeps and drifts. The gardens are as extraordinary as the obsessed gardeners. I was particularly struck by three of them.

Lauren Springer (later Ogden) designed a garden in Denver that takes into account the severe weather and lack of rain. (Don't fight the site.) The resulting prairie/mountain garden has lots of plants that would work well in drought-ridden Virginia, I think. I loved the way she filled up every inch of her front yard with mostly low-growing plants.

Nancy Goodwin moved to Hillsborough, North Carolina, carefully selected as a good gardening location despite the heat and drought of the area. The photos here show a lush yet dry blue garden, and sweeps of orange, yellow and chartreuse set off by black sweet potato vine used as a groundcover. I love her saying that she'll kill a plant three times before giving up on it - moving it until it finds the right spot or she just moves on.

Wave Hill in the Bronx is one of the great North American gardens (not that I've seen it - yet). The emphasis, at least in this book, is on the late summer-early autumn garden, where leaf shape is just as important as color. This appeals to me because summer can be so hellacious here that you don't want to set foot in the garden. The onset of cooler weather, as we're having today, makes hope spring up again. And, of course, the autumnal plants like asters, grasses, salvias, sedums are beautiful in themselves.

So, taking an idea from Wave Hill, I'm now thinking of designing the new sun bed for September to November interest as well as spring. The plan is slowly emerging...

The book was published in 1996, and after only fourteen years many of the gardens and gardeners have changed or moved on (Heronswood being the prime example), reminding me how transient gardening really is. But there is still a lot here to discover and explore. Cyclamens, anyone??