Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring is All About Change -Right?

Everywhere you look, everyday things are changing in the garden right now. Yesterday the the lilac bloomed - Syringa patula 'Miss Kim'. It is truly a love in the garden. It blooms later than other lilacs, extending their season. It's compact - 6-8 feet at maturity and easily trimmed to stay shorter, so you can use it as a foundation plant. We put it at the foot of the steps from our deck to the yard. The moment you step onto the deck - from the house or from the yard - you get the wonderful fragrance.

And, it's a beautiful color. The buds are pinker, but the flowers are more ice blue-violet. Oh, and it doesn't mind our climate. A winner all around! This is one of my "memory plants". I planted it in memory of a dear friend's mother.

Another beauty that came into full bloom this week is a weigela - Weigela florida 'Java Red'. It's a smaller variety - not really small enough to be considered a dwarf - but better for smaller spaces. This one is going to get a major pruning after it finishes blooming in the hope of improving its shape. The side that you cannot see is nearly flat because there was a huge clump of sea grass behind it until last fall. I finally decided that the sea grass was way too invasive and dug it up, but it had really hurt the shape of this shrub. I hope that by cutting it way back, it will grow out all the way around and even out in the next couple of years.

And, then if you truly want to see what an early spring we have had, here's my best proof.

A water lily bloomed this week! This is one that Mother gave me a couple of years ago. We didn't have room for it in the fish pond, so we got a small pond liner and created a lily (only) pond. I don't give it an annual cleaning (since fish are not dependent on it), so I don't cut back the plant in the fall, and the result is this! Turns out the frogs have the prettiest spot in the garden right now!

More Change in the Air.

In the spirit of spring, I have decided to make a change in my blogging, too. For about 18 months I have maintained two sites - this one which has been wholly about the garden and my first site - From the Garden Bench - which was planned to be insightful comments on my life and the world. I find that I have much more to say about the garden, and this topic is the one that draws me most of the time, but I still want to write about other things from time to time - without needing to maintain a presence at both locations. So, starting May 1st I shall combine the two blogs - but over at the other site. This one will remain up in case anyone is just dying to look up something in an old post - and so I can link back to it - but all the new stuff will be other "there". And, gardening will still be the main focus of what I write.

I will leave a link here, but hope you will come find me next month "on the bench" as well as "in the garden".

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Too Early for Iris!

Iris bloom in May and June. Any gardener can tell you that. Apparently someone forgot to tell the iris that this year. This beauty opened this morning - at least two weeks early.

Mother gave me this one for Christmas about three years ago and I neglected to save its tag, so haven't a clue what it is... except huge. It's about eight inches "tall" and about four inches "across" the main part of the flower and a delicious pink. Fortunately, it is also pretty happy with its conditions. There were originally two rhizones, and now I have at least four fairly large clumps - enough that I gave some away last year.

At one time I had some plants that were descended from my grandmother's favorite iris. They were a small yellow flower that succumbed to an overly wet winter several years ago. While this one can't replace that family heirloom, it certainly has made a place for itself - both in my garden and in my heart.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Longfellows in the Garden

Our local botanical garden - Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden - is a whole mile away - close enough to walk on a pretty spring day. I love to drop in frequently to see what's looking good in their plantings and to consider things to add to mine. Someday soon I will take you there to see some of the pretty things they have and to tell you about it. But not today. Instead we have a special event.

Currently they have a fun exhibit of glass sculptures by Hans Godo Frabel. The pieces are placed throughout the property and among the plants all over the garden. Last weekend we saw about half the exhibit, which was either geometric glass sculpture like this fountain or his more whimsical "longfellows" and clowns.

These are longfellows. As you can see, they are like stick figures in glass, but have elongated legs and arms. Their heads are tiny, but yet they have faces. This is my favorite group. They are settled in among the Japanese maples and junipers in the Asian Garden. There is a stream that flows from the Tea House above, down the hill and then behind this group. The columns are glass and reflect the water, the sky and the plants all around the figures. The sun was bouncing off the figures and sparkling so that they seemed to be moving.

Another fun group is a dozen clowns who are balanced on floating glass balls in the lily pond that surrounds the children's garden. There are about a dozen of them on brightly colored balls.

This group of the longfellows was riding a turn of the century bicycle. At one time this property was the location of a bicycling club and they would have ridden high wheelers like this.

We hope to go back this weekend to see the rest of the glass exhibit ... and to see what's bloomed this week!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Blooms

It's a lovely evening in the garden. We had a full day of beneficial rain. As difficult as it is to believe we are in a rain deficit right now. After the wettest winter in memory, we have had nothing during April and yesterday were an inch behind. I would guess we got about 1/3 inch today, so everything is perking up and saying, "thank you!" this evening. So much is blooming now.

Always my favorite, the clematis are starting to climb everywhere. The first two to bloom, tho, are 'Marie Louise Jensen' and 'H.F. Young'. This is Marie.

"She" is part of the renovation I did last year to the front corner near the porch. You can see that she has already reached the top of her trellis and will soon be making her way up the porch railing. My hope is that she will grow across the top of the railing and on up the corner post before the end of the summer. (We had hoped to get the railing painted this spring, but are running behind. We may delay until fall to let Marie have her way with it! Do you like that excuse?)

'H.F. Young' is growing up the mailbox post:

Unfortunately, in the photos they look similar in color - but they are not. You can see tht H.F. is a much lighter, but it is also a much more pink shade than Marie. See the flower on the lower left, that is not quite open yet? That's more the true color. I have taken a bunch of photos, but they all come out more blue-purple than life. Weird.

A lovely surprise today is this tiarella - 'Sugar and Spice'. I planted it years ago - maybe five - and it has struggled and struggled, but never bloomed. And all of a sudden here it is.

I think it was all the winter rain, but don't really know. This is a part of the garden that needs more water, but I have not found a way to really provide it on a consistent basis. If we ever put in the irrigation system, this spot is number one on my list of places that need help. It's a tiny plant, but with a lovely cluster of pink petals at the tip of each bloom cluster.

The most exciting thing I found tonight is a mistake. About five years ago we visited Longwood Gardens and Brandywine Museum (of the Wyeth family painters). There was a perennial sale at Brandywine and on pure impulse I bought three trilliums - heritage unknown. For the most part, that was the last I saw of them. A couple of springs I have gotten a couple of leaves, but never any sort of bloom. But suddenly I have this:

I think you will agree with me that this is not a trillium, but a Jack in the Pulpit. Either way, I love it and am thrilled that it decided to bloom. I'm guessing it's the wet winter again.

And finally, varigated Solomon's Seal. I really love this plant. We brought a potful from the "old" house (and from my mother-in-law's garden). It has filled in a huge area of [too] dry shade, and provides a lovely pop of light under our elm tree. It is truly one of my favorite plants.

There are plenty of things ready to pop open, so there should be lots more to show you by the weekend.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 15, 2010 - Something Other Than Taxes

Things are blooming so fast that it's almost impossible to keep up. A stroll yesterday uncovered these little beauties.

A miniature iris - it's only four inches tall. It's best quality, tho, is that it grows in dry shade (as well as partial sun). It was a pass-along from Garland.

Wood Hyacinths. I have pink and white, as well as the blue, but clearly the blue color is genetically dominant. There must be 1,000 times as many blue flowers. These came from our old home 10 years ago and grows all over the yard - wherever I need a blue filler.

A lovely white viburnum. I cannot find the tag for this and am so sorry! It is lovely, altho it has no fragrance, which is a disappointment. To get a size perspective, it's in the final picture.

A cheap little dianthus from the Big Blue Box last summer. I used it as filler in the xeri-garden, but it came back this spring big and luscious, so I left it. I love the hot pink color!

Calycanthus floridus, aka Carolina Allspice. In the sun this would be a big full shrub, but it's in pretty deep shade, so it's an open - not all that pretty - one instead. Last year it had only three blooms and this year about ten times that. The fragrance is like pineapple with something else sweet - maybe vanilla - mixed in. I wanted it next to the deck so that we could enjoy the fragrance with a glass of wine. Maybe next year. You can smell it, but you have to be this close!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring Came While I was Busy Working

In the past ten days things have changed in the garden. I hardly know the place.

Planted these anemones - Anemene ciribarua 'Lord Lieutenant' last year and only two or fifteen came up, but they are both back this year and much bigger. There is hope.

A native honeysuckle. I love the color! it grows over a piece of lattice and used to hide the trash cans. It's big enough and thick enough that some years we have a bird's nest in it. Nothing so far this year, but there's still time.

An early azalea that is nearly open (left) and a lungwort (right) - Pulmonaria cevennensis . The latter came from Andre Viette two years ago. It struggled last year and has never bloomed before, but this year popped up early and has been in bloom for two weeks. Don't know if it's because of all the rain, or if it just finally got old enough but either way, it's lovely.

Not actually mine. This lovely lilac is my neighbor's and lives on the lot line. It smells heavenly and is just gorgeous! I look forward to it's blooming every spring.

Fothergilla gardenii 'Mt. Airy'. A lovely foundation shrub. It was scraggly last year, but came back full and pretty this year, like just about everything else in the yard. I hate to think that it was all the extra rain that resulted in the beautiful flowers we are having this year.

And Carolina jasmine. This is one of Mitchell's favorites. We have it growing on a big trellis supported by the house, so it looks like a shrub, when it is actually a vine. Unfortunately, he decided that it needed to be cut back - he was right - so he did it in February when we trimmed some of the shrubs - that was wrong. He cut off more than half of the buds, but it is still blooming and pretty - and much smaller than last year.

A gorgeous spring day in central Virginia. Wish you were here, too.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring To Do List

There's always so much to do in the spring that it's easy to just move along doing "stuff" without setting any real goals. Two years ago when I was laid off, I learned that I needed to set real goals to keep moving forward and so that I could accomplish something - even if I did not have a real job. I found that I liked having the list and taking the opportunity each day to look at the list and decide what to work on next. At the end of the day it was lovely to cross something off the list. So here is the spring list for 2010:

1. Renovate the bed around the oak tree. Actually, there is no oak tree. It died last year and we cut it down. Sadly, we killed the oak when we moved into this house. They put the driveway right over half of its root area and therefore deprived it of water. It was fine for a couple of years, but over the past five years struggled and finally we had to have it taken down. Now, what used to be a shady area is a sunny area. It needs additional shrubs and a general re-working of the plants.

2. Remove the sweetspire and renovate that part of the back garden. Sweetspire is a lovely three season shrub that we had in a very shady spot at our "old" house. When we moved here I knew it needed more light, so put it in full sun where it went wild. It became aggressive and was taking over the hibiscus bed. Last fall we decided it had to go, so I used a generous amount of Round-up to start killing it. Now I need to clear out the space and find something to put there.

3. Fix up the entry to the garden shed. It's difficult to get the mover and other big tools out of the shed. I need to take out the grass and put in some kind of pavers to make it easier.

4. Revitalize the veggie garden. Mitchell built a wonderful pair of boxes for square-foot gardening two years ago. He really enjoyed them the first year, but lost interest last year. I really enjoyed the fresh food, so want to grow some more things this year, but it needs more soil and a plan.

In addition to the cleaning that still needs to be done, this list should keep me busy for a good while.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Phirst the Phlox!

Mother Nature has started her daily distribution new wonders - and how wonderful it is! In the past couple of days the creeping phlox [Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue'] has started to bloom. At one time I had much more of it and in several colors, but this lovely purple has been the survivor. It probably needs more water over the summer - but, in my climate, what doesn't? It still makes a pretty bed, especially with the mini-daffodils peeking thru and around it. I'm going to add to the little bulbs as I can, probably with some wood hyacinths [Hyacinthoises hispanica], also known as English bells or Spanish hyacinths. I have lots - all over the yard - and they bloom much later than the daffodils, so I can extend the bloom in this bed with them.

The other big bloomer I have this week is Harry Lauder's Walking stick [Corylus avellana 'Contorta')]. It's a deciduous member of the hazelnut family and considered a dwarf tree. Mostly, it's an interesting addition to the garden in all seasons. Its blooms - called catkins [really!] - are just a cascade of little yellow flowers. They're called "insignificant" in the trade. En masse, however, it's quite pretty. It will be a full of lush green leaves all summer, but then it will leave me the most interesting architecture to observe all winter. Truly a year-round plant!

Tomorrow - forsythia and hyacinths!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's Here - It's Finally Here!

Today I believe that Mother Nature is finally stirring! Last Thursday I saw the first tiny yellow daffodils starting to bloom, but it has rained four of the last five days and I could not get out to see them up close [and personal] until this afternoon. Even with the bright and rather warm sun, tho, it was difficult. With nearly three more inches of rain in those four days, the ground is saturated again and one has to pick carefully from high spot to high spot to walk into the yard. Fortunately these pretty little ones were in a bed next to the driveway, so I had asphalt for support.

You can't tell without something for perspective, but they are only five inches tall and the flowers are less that an inch in diameter. The original bulbs were a gift from Mitchell nearly fifteen years ago. When the local botanical garden opened, he bought me a membership for my birthday and it came with a bag of ten [I think] little mini-daffodil bulbs. I have moved these with us from the "old house" and as they multiply have started moving them around the yard. Someday they will be everywhere!

If you look carefully, tho, there are two more important things to see in that photo. The bit of lavender is creeping phlox that will be glorious in another week or so, and the yucca at the top is one of the red yuccas that bloomed for the first time last year. This is the smaller one that did not bloom, but I am hopeful. Will show you those in a few days.

I did a bit of weeding in this bed while I was there. Spring weeds are looking good and healthy, but they have not yet set any seeds so it's a great time to pull them out and avoid this year's growth and next year's new ones. Since they are small and the ground is - did I already mention this? - wet, they were easy to pull and the work went quickly. It is so much easier to do now. If one waits, then the ground will dry out and get hard, so that the roots break off more and leave little ones to come back next year. If one waits way too long, then they will set seeds and when you pull each one out the seeds will fly. It's a funny experience at the time, but disastrous for flower beds! [Can you tell that I have experience with that!]

The helebores are lovely. About ten days ago I waded in and cut back all the big, old leaf clusters around the plants, and got all the vegetation that had been crushed by the snow in January and February. With a few days of sun they have perked up and opened prolifically. If you look carefully in the photo above you will see a red flower peeking thru - right in the center. That is the camellia!

Normally it blooms in late November and on thru December. I have used blossoms on the Christmas table several years, but this year the cold hit us hard and early and I figured I wouldn't get anything. It has been covered with buds for months, but suddenly last week it, too, began to look promising. This is still a small shrub - only about three feet tall and less than three feet in diameter. It's nearly nine years old, but we started with a tiny little one.

Now you can see how lovely it is. This is the first year that we have had more than 10 - 12 blooms, and they are not as cold-damaged as I had feared. They are a truly double flower and dark red. So pretty that I cut some for the house. I guess they will be just as nice for St. Pat's Day as for Christmas!

Yes, indeed. Spring is finally coming to zone 7! Join me next week to see what else is waking up.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

It's Time To...

Along with sunshine and a bit of warmth, spring brings a lot of responsibility for those of us who love the garden! In zone 7 the first of March means an end to sitting in the chair thinking about how much we hate winter. (If you are in a colder zone [2-6] , you will need to do these things, but later in the year. I think it's 2-4 weeks later per zone. If you live in zone 8, you should have already started in February, and if you live in zones 9-10, you never stopped working in your garden and you grow different plants!)
Zone 7 is the pink zone. I'm in the light pink part - 7a - so I am 5-10 degrees on average cooler than dark pink - 7b. The greens - zone 6 - are 10 -20 degrees cooler than the pinks, an so on. The other things one has to consider are type of soil and PH. Central Virginia is highly acid and has heavy clay soil. If you move to the coast of Virginia, where the soil is sandy and they have more ocean warming, you are in zone 8.

It's time to get moving and start doing! So, here's a short list of things you need to start working on this month:

  • Cut back the liriope. Doesn't matter what variety of Monkey Grass you have, it needs to be cut back. The easiest way is to drag out your lawn mover, set it at three inches and just mow the liriope. The goal is to cut off the old growth to allow the new growth to come up and not be all choked in last year's leaves. It will start growing by the middle of the month, so you need to do this soon. If you wait until later, you may end up with the new grown all being cut straight across the ends. Not a tragedy, but it will look a little hinky.

  • Finish your fall clean-up. You know you didn't finish! We got snow early and then rain, rain, rain, so everyone has more clean-up to do. I still need to cut back the dead growth from last summer on many perennials - some of the Shasta daisies, sedum, and asters for sure. And, some cleaning up in the xeri-garden.

  • Plant cold weather veggies. Technically, around here one should plant the peas by George Washington's birthday - now nearly two weeks ago. I have dug the bed and bought the seeds, so today will plant them. The next step will be to put up something to support them as they grown up, and a fence to keep out the rabbits. Other cold weather veggies you might want to consider are spinach, any of the "kole" family - broccoli, Brussels sprouts - or other leafy greens.
  • Prune your shrubs. Most of your deciduous shrubs will start leafing out by the end of the month, or by mid-April - so now is the time to do whatever light pruning you need to do. Never, never, never take off more than one-third of the plant! Never! But if you need to shape up plants it's easy to do now while you can see the structure. If you have branches that grow into the plant instead of outward, you want to remove them as close the the branch as possible. This will provide air and light into the center of the shrub and promote more growth and a healthier plant. For plants that grow from canes (Nandinas, for example) you want to keep them from looking too leggy, so cut one-third of the canes back to the ground, one-third about a foot shorter than you want the top of the plant to be and one-third in between these two. As the plant fills out this summer you will get growth at all three levels and end up with a fuller plant. Evergreen shrubs - boxwood or arborvitae - only need to be selectively trimmed for "wild hairs" or lightly sheared. Flowering shrubs should not be trimmed until after they have bloomed.
  • Start planning your spring and summer projects. You have probably been doing some of this over the winter as you looked at catalogs. Your plans might change based on what winter damage you have gotten. At the moment, I don't have but one small project. Am really waiting to see how bad the damage is from the standing water. Be sure to make a list. You know it won't get done if you don't write it down.

The important thing about March is not to do too much. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the "need to do's" that we forget to really enjoy the first stirrings of life in the garden. March is the time to enjoy the rebirth that happens every day!

After weeks hidden under snow
and ice the hellebores have gone
crazy with blooms.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The First Hints of Spring

Finally some progress! the first little peeks of spring showed up this week. This is a clump of Stokesia laevis 'Mary Gregory' that won't bloom until June, but suddenly it's come up and appears to be growing well.

In the xeri-garden I was surprised to find the first basal growth of the sedum "Brilliant" coming up. I had not expect that for at least four to six more weeks. The rest of the bed looks awful, but there certainly is hope.

Tucked away in odd spaces all over the yard are little bulbs coming up. These are mini-daffodils next to the drive way. Mitchell gave me the original corms at least 15 years ago. He gave me a membership in the nearby botanical gardens and they came with the membership. We moved them from our old house and they are always the first thing to bloom in our yard. It will still be weeks, but at least I know they survived the monsoon rains, heavier than usual snow, and all the standing water. It gives me hope for other things surviving.

A sure harbinger of spring is this dogwood tree. We transplanted it two years ago and this will be the first time it has bloomed. A poor photo, but you can see the little buds that are ready to go... soon.

But best of all, the hellebores have finally bloomed. In a normal winter, they start blooming in mid-December and last until June. This year we got our first heavy snow on December 18th. It weighed them down - smashed, actually! In January they were pancake flat and no buds or blooms visible. Suddenly this week here they are!

In another two or three weeks much will change. I can hardly wait!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Harry Leu Gardens

The third garden of our recent trip was the Harry P. Leu Garden in downtown Orlando. We chose a sunny, but windy day and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. This garden and estate were donated to the city of Orlando about 40 years ago by the Leus after they spent another 40 years developing it. Earlier owners had built much of the house and landscaped a bit, but it was Harry Leu's love of camellias that led to this lovely oasis in the city. The grounds are an interesting mix of styles with about three miles of paved walkways to make access easy. The property also has a lake down one whole side, so there are some lovely vistas out over the lake, and at one point a walkway over the water. When we arrived a wedding was just ending in the rose garden, with the guests moving inside for the reception, and there were fairly many visitors in the garden.

Located on 50 acres this garden combines a somewhat traditional southern garden with the natural flora of central Florida. There is the largest camellia garden outside of California - developed over years as the Leus traveled abroad and brought back specimen plants. The house is now a museum furnished mostly in possessions of the Leus and surrounded by kitchen gardens of herbs and annuals, and a huge rose garden. There is also a natural area of native Florida plants and an educational garden where they grow "idea gardens" designed to give recreational gardeners ideas of things to try at home. The camellias were almost finished blooming, but the area was filled with mature shrubs - many 10 feet or more tall and in diameter - and covered with their final blooms of the season. I particularly liked this flower, that was a very dark coral color.

Another thing I liked was that they painted with their bromiliads. At the garden in Naples the designers have used huge swaths of the same variety of bromiliad. When they are older/larger it will create large drifts of the same plant. Here they have mixed plants of the same size, but different colors to create a different, softer look that I liked a lot. In a way it's more natural looking like a rock garden, but also charming - at least to me.

In the educational "idea" garden, there were many small planting areas more like we have at home, than those normally found in a large scale garden like this. There is also a series of delightful sculptures of people having fun and playing together. As you can see from the photo, there was not much going on in the plantings, but it was early February after all! In some beds there were "leftover" annuals - things that we wouldn't consider trying to grow this time of year in Central Virginia - and clear signs that they are getting ready to start a new round of planting for their upcoming season.

There were many plants that were not familiar to me. One I particularly liked was this "orchid tree". A young man passing by was also intrigued with it. He was pretty sure it is actually a legume of some sort. The tree was probably 20 feet tall with a very open growth habit and covered with these gorgeous dark purple flowers. They were not true orchids at all, but certainly gave the general impression of orchids. They actually remind me more of hibiscus flowers with five major petals and a few insignificant ones with a prominent pistil.

Another spot that we particularly liked was the pond walk were we could see hundreds of water lilies just waiting for a bit more sun and warmth to open. We walked all the way to the end of the pond walkway - past all the "do not feed the alligators" signs - to see the lilies. You can see how hard the wind was blowing by the raised leaves in the water.

All around the pond were huge water oaks and palms and many philodendron vines climbing both. For those of us who are used to philodendron as part of a dish garden, or perhaps working its way across our desk and up over the door to our office, this was the most steroidal plant ever. The leaves on this plant ranged from two to three FEET long and the vine was as large as my wrist.

The final fun thing in this garden is the flower clock. I have never seen one, but apparently this one is patterned after one the Leus saw in their travels. It will be gorgeous in the later spring when it really fills out in annual blooms. In case you are wondering.... the time was correct!

Harry P. Leu Gardens is definitely worth the time to visit. On a prettier day we could have spent three or four hours wandering. We didn't really see as much of the camellias or the natural areas as I wanted, but the wind was cool and we decided to move on to a warm bowl of Pho in the nearby Vietnamese section of Orlando. The arts district was also close by, so if you find yourself in Orlando and looking for an alternative to the Mouse, head over to northwest of downtown and visit some different things. This one was fun and interesting.