Category Archives: spring

9 ways my garden made me happy this week (GBBD June ’10)

I have been a neglectful gardener. I have been extremely neglectful garden blogger. My excuse is the Great Chefs Event, a huge fundraiser that benefits Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and the research that will hopefully end childhood cancer someday. Huge success – 1000 people, 30+ famous chefs cooking and chatting, hundreds of thousands of dollars raised. My tiny little piece of that puzzle seemed to take over my life for the last few weeks, and my garden suffered. Probably my family suffered too, but fortunately, that is not the subject of this post. But that was last night. I’ve got the blisters on my toes to prove it (Somehow, I just couldn’t justify garden clogs with that great dress. Darned high heeled sandals!)

Today, I got to work in my garden. Ahhhhhhhh. And as I was puttering and watering and weeding, I realized that in the midst of my craziness, the garden has given me things to smile about. It continues to work, even when I can’t. So here are the ways my garden made me happy this week.

1. The monarda attracted the year’s first hummingbird. He joined us at dinner tonight. Bee balm? Maybe. Hummingbird balm? Definitely.

2. The lavender and the evening primrose bloomed simultaneously. Direct opposites on the color wheel, these complimentary beauties are textbook.

3. The salad I made to take to a friend’s this weekend called for fresh basil. I walked out the back door with a pair of scissors and had fresh basil.

4. A pair of goldfinches decided to make my feeder their home. They’ve been to visit daily.  Haven’t seen these guys since they were gray and gloomy in February.

5. I weeded the whole garden today in the time in took to roast a chicken. I know my yard’s not big, but 90 minutes is definitely a record for a whole garden weed. Hot weather? Lack of rain? Excessive mulching? I don’t know what’s keeping them down, but I’m smiling about it.

7. My sticks are blooming!!! Remember the bare root roses that I put in the ground while trying to muster the faith to believe that something would actually come of them? They’re showing off now boy.

8. The jackmanii clematis that I planted last month shriveled up and died.  Here’s to nurseries with guarantees! The new one is bigger and better. Whereas before I had one shoot that had made it 2 feet up the arbor, now I have three.

9. Hydrangeas. They ask so little, they give so much. (Mine are all real, by the way)

Clearly, my garden can live without me for a few weeks. True, it is the hours I spent last month, last year, three years ago that have set it up to produce without me, but I’m loving the return on my investment.

To see what’s blooming in other bloggers gardens this month, check out May Dreams Garden.

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The Fake Out. Would you do it??

Take a look at this luscious perennial border spotted this weekend in the idyllic Chicago suburb of Western Springs. See anything fishy? Anything out of the ordinary? Anything to make your obsessive gardener antennae quiver with discomfort?

How about in this close up that I took because the contrast was so eye catching?

What about in this planter, one of a pair that flanked the front walk to a really lovely home?

There is definitely something amiss here. Have you figured it out yet? Let me tell you how I got there. The house caught our attention first with its amazing wrap around porch and expansive lawn (everything is more expansive in the Midwest. I had forgotten that after 5 years of old city east coast living). My old friends C & L and I gawked at this beautiful border – lush with hosta and peony and ladies mantle. I whipped out my camera and told L that I would be featuring her neighborhood in my next blog post. I took a shot from one end. I took a shot from the other. I boldly stepped one foot into the border to get up close and personal with the nikko blue hydrangea and the white peony that were such a perfect contrast. Then I do what I always do with a plant I find especially lovely – I touched it.

It was plastic.

The hydrangea was plastic!! Wow. That’s surprising, we commented. Such a lovely border to have a fake plant stuck in the middle of it. Everything else was real. Everything else was lush. These bobbing blue heads were tucked in subtly among the other bloomers. They weren’t garish. They didn’t advertise their plasticity. How would your average passer-by even know that they weren’t real? (I mean, really. How many polite Western Springs residents would be cheeky enough to step into the middle of the border and lay hands on their neighbor’s flowers? Probably not many. Good thing I’m not a polite Midwesterner any more or we wouldn’t have anything to talk about right now).

We took a closer look at the rest of the garden. All real, except for a few sprigs of ill-timed forsythia in the entrance planters. They were a little more obvious, but still, mixed with the honest-to-goodness plants that filled the majority of the space, they could fool the casual observer.

So here’s my question for you. Your shade garden is fabulous, except for that one spot off to the right that really could use a jolt of color. Your sunny perennial bed looks stunning, but a tiny bit of that nikko blue would really do the trick between the phlox and the lavender. Would you fake it?

p.s. Apparently, I’m not the only one blogging about this phenomenon. Check out Christine in Alaska – she’s got some real beauties on this post!

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Organic Roses

Roses made me a gardener.

Until I graduated from college, my interest in horticulture extended to mowing my parents’ lawn (for a fee) and watching my mom work magic in her garden (without any inclination to help her). Then, I discovered roses – producers of fantastic multi-petaled wonders that smelled like heaven and made me look like a floral arranger. I had developed a love for the flowers during college – what girl doesn’t appreciate a dozen of them from a boy who makes her knees go weak. What really amazed me about the plants though was the reblooming. Keep ‘em deadheaded and they’ll pump out their prizes all summer long. The first square foot of land I could call my own became my first rose garden.

I inherited three red scraggly roses with this Philadelphia garden, roses I’ve mostly ignored while focusing on other, more pressing projects. I can’t tell you their name. They’re tall (6 feet or so) and arching, so I suspect they are climbers. They seem only to bloom once a season and have about 20 petals per bloom. They did not go the way of the forsythia hedge or the barberry or the sidewalk-invading yews (compost baby!!), but they have received precious little attention. But even neglected, these beauties put on a show every May. They line the fence that divides my back garden from that of my neighbors P and B, and, when blooming, provide a nice little privacy screen.

I’ve often wondered whether P & B shared my love for roses or if, rather, they find them a bit unruly. They do arch, as I mention, and tend to arch into their yard. Also, when we first moved in and were having the “property boundary” conversation with our neighbors (this fence is yours, that shrub is mine, etc.), P made a curious comment. “Oh yes, and ALL the roses are yours.” Hmmmmmm.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I finally asked for permission to train my roses on his fence. I had been doing it surreptitiously for years, of course. But this year, the darn thing kept flopping back onto my side of the fence. “Surely it’s the wind,” I told my self. “No!” countered a voice inside my head. “It’s P and B being annoyed at your unneighborly rose and detaching it from their pickets. Can’t you get a message?” So I figured I’d ask outright. To my delight, not only was P gracious in his insistence that I use his fence to support my rose, he gave me some pruning advice and some back-story about his history with my roses. Apparently, the former owner of this garden sprayed her roses religiously, fully decked in plastic protective clothing. P, apparently, is a gardener in my style who loathes the idea of any chemical usage in the garden. Ha! An explanation for the luke-warm rose comment 4 years ago. Roses in my garden meant chemicals in his.

And now the best part of the story. P told me that in all those years of spraying, those roses had never looked so great as they do today. Organic roses work. True, some of the leaves are spotty. Some tend toward yellow. But the blooms are still lovely, and I don’t worry about my kids or P’s cat getting some nasty illness.

I’m not the only one touting the benefits of low-maintenance rose growing. I read two articles this week about the benefits of laying off the constant spraying and fertilizing the fussy rose myths would have us do. One was from an expected source. Organic Gardening’s G. Michael Shoup suggests mulching, compost teas and good companion plants to make your roses flourish. He dismisses the idea of an isolated bed of roses you expect to be perfect. “Don’t plant rose gardens,” he says. “Plant gardens that have roses in them.” Amen brother. Even more interesting to my mind though, is the article by rose-grower Paul Zimmerman in Fine Gardening Magazine. He suggests finding roses that are a good fit for your landscape. Do this by amending the soil when you plant and by NOT WATERING once a rose is established except in drought conditions. This is for all the same reasons we all know – less frequent watering forces the plant to send down deeper roots and to, well, fend for itself. True for roses just like it is for lawn. Zimmerman wrote of the many roses in his gardens that haven’t received supplemental water for eight years. Hey – I’m half way there!

The moral of my story: I’m going to plant more roses. With the basics of the garden almost done, I can envision a climber here and an antique shrub rose there, punctuating my landscape with those little wonders that made me a gardener in the first place.

Check out Paul Zimmerman’s blog “Roses are Plants Too” for great tips and resources on low maintenance rose growing!

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You Gotta Have Faith

Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see.

Wish I could claim to have written that , but I have to give credit to the writer of the book of Hebrews. I was thinking about it though (I can claim thinking about it, right?) when I planted a bunch of sticks in my garden and tried to believe that they would one day be covered in hundreds of roses. Which got me thinking further. No matter where your faith lies for the larger questions of life, anyone who puts their hands in the dirt is exercising faith to some degree.

Plant a seed, cover it with dirt, keep the dirt moist. In most cases, we’re sure of the hope that it will sprout. We can’t see it, but we’re certain it will happen. Better yet, bury a bulb in October. Put it to sleep eight inches underground and wait for six months. We have to go on faith that it’s still alive under there, that it will sprout when days get long enough.

But back to the roses. I spent a good long time back in March searching the web looking for just the right roses to ring my patio. How about the antique shrub rose named “Ballerina?” Introduced in 1937, the same year my house was built, this rose is described as “a tough, fuss free bloomer.” Great. I’ll take six. Here’s what they’ll look like:

They arrived a month or so via UPS. If I’d never seen bareroot roses before, I would have been a bit concerned. No soil? No pot? Just roots and shoots.

Okay, so this is what we’ve got to work with, we’ll work with it. I dug the holes just as instructed, planted them just right, watered them like clockwork. Weeks passed. Still sticks.

But – a little reward for my faith. At least I’ve got sticks with leaf buds. Hurrah!

The cascades of roses may have to wait until next spring, but I know they’ll come. Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see. Sure is fun to have faith.

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New to Me: Mock Orange, Red Foxes, Osprey at Sunset

I just lingered over a second cup of coffee and a back issue of National Geographic with a view of the Atlantic Ocean out the kitchen window. Life is very good here on the Outer Banks of NC.

I must say, though, this award winning photo journal does make one feel a little insecure about the point-and-click garden shots one has been posting on one’s blog. Every issue of NG is gorgeous, and so exotic. Iceland, the Polynesian islands, Bhutan. Kind of makes you feel like getting off your duff and exploring the world. I guess I could explore vicariously if I buy the book advertised on the last page: “A Camera, Two Kids and A Camel: My Journal in Photographs.” Annie Griffiths, a veteran NG photographer, took her 2 kids along on most of her assignments. “They travelled to six continents and spent years in the Middle East, where the children swam in the Red Sea, explored the ancient city of Petra and, yes, befriended Bedouin and rode their camel.” Good gracious. I feel good when we make it out to throw rocks in the creek.

So here I am feeling a little bit untraveled and a lot humbled in the photo journalism department, when the coolest thing happens. I go downstairs to move some laundry over and catch sight of a four legged creature strolling through the car port. A cat, maybe? Nope. A red fox. I knew they lived in the brambles around here, but I’d never had the chance to get a close look. This guy meanders around the house, nuzzles his mate who’s sunning in the back yard, and then plops himself down to catch a little sun time himself. I double back to get a better view and either they hear me or they smell me, but I get a piercing look from both of them saying, “Not one step closer lady.” Unsure if foxes are prone to pouncing on unsuspecting and barefoot gawkers, I retreat for my shoes and my camera.

So I get to have a little NG moment of my own. Wildlife, unexpected encounters, exoticism (foxes are exotic, don’t you think??). The photos won’t win any awards, and I doubt anyone will want to buy a coffee table books made up of them. But it was a good reminder that you don’t have to go all that far from home to have a bit of an adventure. Open eyes, a curious mind, slowing down enough to take note, and a willingness to ask what you do not know: all are key to a life filled with discovery and wonder instead of just the same old same old.

A few more things I don’t get to see in my garden in Philly: According to the lady I stopped on her walk, this fabulous shrub is a Japanese pittosporum, or mock orange. The scent has beach goers and butterflies alike weaving drunkenly among their blooms.

Only grows in zones 9-10, so I might have to make do with it in a container. I guess that might be best since its 15-20 foot height and spread would BE my garden in Philly.

And, I got to wish the osprey in this nest good night yesterday as the sun set over the Currituck sound.

The little wonders. I’ll take them.

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p.s. Turns out I got a few things wrong in this post. First – pittosporum is commonly known as Japanese Mock Orange. The plain old Mock Orange  is native to the western US , has big white fragrant flowers is called the philadelphus lewisii.  Second – those foxes are gray foxes, not red foxes. Now I know!

Gardenaholics Anonymous

My name is Kelly and I am a gardenaholic. They say the first step is to admit that you have a problem, and boy do I have a problem.

This realization has been coming on gradually. Thinking back, there were warning signs. A few weeks ago, I set the table for dinner for my family and said to my husband that it had been a long time since we all sat down together. He replied, very graciously and in a kind tone of voice, “It’s gardening season.” My husband is not a gardener, unless you include “willing to dig big holes” or “helps lift the really heavy things” in your definition. He was clearly commenting on my tendency to lose all track of time the minute I step out the back door and don the yellow gloves. What I  intend to be a quick 15 minute weeding session becomes a shrub-moving, hardscape-building landscape overhaul. I really do plan to come in at 5:30 and fix dinner for my children. Then 7:30 rolls around and I’m calling the Chinese place. Hmmm…. Problematic.

This next warning sign will undoubtedly cause much cringing and eye-averting by the neat-freaks among you. (Mom, I’m talking to you here. Please feel free to skip to the following paragraph. What follows may simply be too upsetting a display by someone so closely related to you).

Last week, miraculously, the kids were fully ready for school and the kitchen was clean 15 minutes early. Found time! Great! I thought I’d get started folding that laundry that had been piling up for, oh, a few weeks. I should have been worried when I noticed my four and five year olds digging through the baskets in the living room for clean underwear, but it was this sight that made me think I might really have a problem:

And then I went to my bedroom and saw this:

And then I had to get something out of the basement and was faced with this:

Oh boy. Things are falling down around me.  But it’s May and it’s beautiful and the peonies I planted 3 years ago that never grew AT ALL have finally surfaced. There is so much fun work to be done in the garden. And so much unfun work to be done in the house. Let me ask you. Does anyone really want to organize the tool bench? Are those winter coats really causing harm? If you could spend a half hour matching a gazillion pair of size 4 socks or a half hour dealing with this chore:

which would you choose?

Last night, at 8:30 I realized I was watering my newly planted annuals IN THE DARK. Not in the dusk. In the dark. My name is Kelly, and I have a problem. Not so sure I want to be cured of it though!

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Violets: Weeds or Wonderful?

Violets are blooming all over southeastern Pennsylvania this week. Their pretty little blue flowers bob above big clumps of heart shaped leaves where gardeners encourage them, and above little clumps of heart shaped leaves where they have tried to eradicate them.

Every year about this time I wonder if I should just let them grow instead of trying in vain to weed them out my garden every year. We’re talking the wild violet here, or viola papilionacea, not their fancy viola cousins for sale at garden centers. These are the ones that just show up. Who decides which plants are weeds anyway? The folks who named milkweed, Joe Pye weed, butterfly weed and sneezeweed clearly had some question about their value in the cultivated garden. Yet native plant enthusiasts (myself included) pay cold hard cash to buy them at fancy nurseries and then feature them prominently in their borders.

Back to violets though. No question they are beautiful. Parents name their daughters after them. They represent a color of the rainbow. (Remember Roy G. Biv?) They are Wisconsin’s state flower. And without violets, how would Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson ever have fallen in love? As Mr. Forster describes it:

“Light and beauty enveloped her. She had fallen on to a little open terrace, which was covered with violets from end to end. . . . From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems, collecting in pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth. . . . George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her. ” (from A Room With A View).

Wow do I wish I could write like that.

So why not let them run in rivulets, irrigate my hillsides, eddy round my tree stems and cover my grass with spots of azure foam? Violets will do just that if left to their own devices. They are immune to most herbicides, weed and feeds don’t do the trick and REPEATED applications of Round-Up are necessary to make a dent. And this only if you’re willing to douse your garden with chemicals, which I am not. So I usually try to dig them up and throw them out, to no avail. You know, in the woodland section at the Missouri Botanical Garden, their violets are labeled with those nice little name tags I love so much. That must mean they want them there.

Here’s my plan then. If they get shaded out, too bad for them. But if they really want to be here, I think I ought to let them. (I speak here as if I had a choice in the matter). Who wouldn’t want a flower that can fill your face with radiant joy and cause the George Emersons of the world to notice?

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Redbuds on Bloom Day – April 2010

My friend Paul, an avid up-before-dawn birder, once made a great comment to me about cardinals. How lucky we are, he said, to have this amazing, tropical-looking scarlet bird eating at our feeders during the depths of winter. Don’t take for granted this fabulous, showy bird just because it’s native to our area.

Since I’m not an up-before-dawn anything, I’m going to preach the same message about my favorite tree: the eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis). How great is it that this April show stopper belongs here. Not some import from Japan or China, the redbud flashes its bloom laden branches and we here in North America get to enjoy it guilt free. Hey – I have a redbud. I’m sustainable! I support local insects! I didn’t import any nasty elm-killing, chestnut-blighting hitchhiking fungus! See – you can feel good about owning a redbud.

But even if you don’t look over your shoulder guiltily whenever you plant a non-native (true confessions), you must admit the redbud is spectacular. The blooms burst right out of the bark for goodness sake.

My dad always said he loved them in the spring, but they were horribly ugly the other 49 weeks of the year. I must disagree. They have beautiful heart-shaped leaves and grow up to 30’ tall so they can provide shade if planted strategically. They love full sun to part shade and well drained soil. Apparently they don’t transplant well, but I’ve moved mine twice and its doing great. Plant one next to a white dogwood and you’ve got a gorgeous pair all year round.

So there you go. Plant a redbud. And then be amazed with me at this spring and the bounty of blooms we have to enjoy on tax day.

My lilac behaved this year:

The grape hyacinths are actually just past their peak (at least the ones in the sun):

I love the tiny blooms on the brunnera macrophylla:

as well as the tiny blooms on the sweet woodruff

and look! The hope of blueberries

The foam flower is getting there:

And my favorite newcomer (and native),  fothergilla

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m getting tired of uploading. Wait, here come the tulips. In back:

and in front:

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Garden for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day every month. Very fun!

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Pathetic Pink Dogwoods Anyone?

******If you have stumbled onto my site by googling “why won’t my dogwood bloom,” or something like that, welcome. My best guess, if you’re in the northeast or midatlantic, is TOO MUCH WATER. If that’s enough info, thanks for stopping by. If you want more of a story and some truly pathetic pictures, read on!*****

Four years ago, my husband, my realtor and I visited a house for sale outside of Philadelphia. You could barely see the house through the two huge trees in the small front yard. To get to the front door, we had to push our way through a hedge of overgrown yews and azaleas. (Don’t even get me started about what we saw when we managed to get into the house. Ever seen dalmation spotted shag carpet? Up the stairs? Not pretty). We bought the house.

I happily oversaw the yews being ripped out; I was a bit conflicted about the azaleas. But I could walk to my front door unimpeded. Both my realtor and contractor suggested that we cut down the trees in front and start our landscaping from scratch. A two story Japanese maple and a towering pink dogwood tree. I am seriously opposed to cutting down trees, especially two trees that had been on my wish list for years. My contractor preached doom and gloom regarding the dogwood. “Look at this bark. This tree’s got a fungus. It’s done for.” Hmmm….let me think. No thank you. The trees will stay.

So now, four years later, the garden is in, installed with the two lovely trees as key design elements. I have gloated every spring as my dogwood put on a fabulous show, loaded with blooms.

Those blooms were my assurance that I was right and my contractor was wrong, confirmation that mature trees do not mean sick trees. So imagine my horror this year when I realized that my beloved tree looked completely pathetic.

Where blooms cascaded last year, I count eight blossoms. Where hundreds of pink flowers waved in the breeze, I see only baby leaves. Argh!!! Was he right? Is it sick? What will happen to my garden design if I have to take it down???

I was slightly reassured when I began driving around my neighborhood spying on the state of my neighbor’s pink dogwoods. Theirs aren’t so great either. True, there are some that look pretty good, but for the most part, the pink dogwoods of Philadelphia are underwhelming at best. None are fully covered. Most have some blooms to show, but lots more foliage. The white ones are great, but the pink ones, not so much. If it isn’t just my tree, what’s going on?

I have no definitive answers, but here’s a list of reasons dogwoods don’t bloom:

1. Too much nitrogen. Trees planted in fertilized lawns suck up too much nitrogen which causes great leaf growth but isn’t good for flowers. Two strikes. My tree is not in the yard. My yard is not fertilized.
2. Too much or too little sunlight. Dogwoods were made to grow on the edges of forests where they get dappled shade. They don’t like full sun or deep shade. Strike. My front yard is the perfect example of dappled shade, with a shady maple next door and a house that blocks the afternoon sun.

3. Improper Pruning.
Prune dogwoods in late winter and you lop off the baby buds. Thus, no blooms. Strike. I’ve never pruned mine except to cut out dead wood. I love the abstract, japanesish shape they have on their own.
4. Lack of water. Not enough H2O inhibits blooms. Strike, strike, strike. During the second half of 2009, we received 31” of rain when we usually get only 17”. This winter’s 70” of snow buried our normal tally of around 20”. Too much water, maybe. But please. Not lack of water. Not this year.
5. Cold Snaps and Temperature. If you get some really cold temps in the early spring, that can zap your buds.  We had a though winter, but despite all the snow, the temperature was never ridiculously low. And spring came at the beginning of March with great temperatures in the 60s and 70s, way above normal.

So you tell me. What has caused this year’s anemic performance? I would really love to know. In the meantime, I’m going to give my dogwood the same stern talking to that my lilac got last spring when it gave me a meager 4 blooms. The lilac has shaped up significantly. All I ask is that you limit the doom and gloom and keep the dang chainsaws out of my garden.

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