Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Ugly Spot Solution

If every garden has its hell spot, then a few of mine could inspire Dante to add an extra layer to his depiction of Hades. I have killed a lot of plants in my own personal Inferno. The biggest problem with one of my spots is that it doesn't appear to be the mutant mix of a tornado, high powered laser, and giant blob of boring. As a matter of fact, it appears completely harmless until you make the mistake of creating a garden.

Only the truly deluded would attempt such a challenge. Having been defeated numerous times, I should have crawled into my corner and left that area bare but that is just not the way I'm wired. Stubborn determination gets me out of the bed in the morning and keeps me warm at night. I will not be conquered.

The back side of my house features a boring beige wall and a window that provides a beautiful view into the garden. Do not be fooled by these harmless agents of plant death. The window is tinted with a reflective coating that keeps my house cool in the summer but blasts UV light onto the patio that raises the temperature outside the window by 20 degrees. The boring beige wall sends them leaning toward the sun and becomes a plant smashing wind tunnel during storms. The result is a deep fried, twisty, shattered mess of botanical butchery with an extra scoop of blah. I have been trying to solve this problem for years and have finally succeeded. 

Several years ago in absolute desperation, I hung a thick green curtain on the outside of one of the kitchen windows to block the reflected heat. When the plants perked up and my in-laws were horrified, I knew I'd found the solution. I upgraded it the next year to a beige model I made with water proof sail cloth.

If you're thinking, "Oh Sweet Baby Ray, she did NOT hang a curtain on the outside of her window!" Why yes, I did and it worked just fine. My kitchen was cool and the plants were happy, although still getting bashed by the wind. But after three years of curtains, I needed a solution that would solve the additional problems of wind and boring beige blahness.

The colorful birdhouses help break up the vast expanse of boring beigeness and echo the upright form of the grass. The grass will grow to be about 3 ft tall. The grass under the red house was recently planted and was purchased slightly sizzled, knowing with extra attention it would bounce back.

Miscanthus 'Little Zebra' is a tough drought and heat resistant variegated grass with a natural vase shape.

Know Your Enemy

Instead of working against the wind, I needed to work with it. I decided to use dwarf miscanthus 'Little Zebra' grass in giant pots instead of all the other plants I'd tortured in this spot. The natural movement of ornamental grasses meant they'd flow with the wind, eliminating the mess of broken branches and stems that greeted me after every storm. 

I needed to use a plant with a thick, narrow leaf to reduce the surface area affected by the reflected heat. Instead of burning the leaves, the heat is absorbed by the multiple blades of grass and there's less surface area for the light to hit. The wider and thinner the leaf, the greater the damage. 

The doorknob birdhouses were made by Rebecca Nickols of Rebecca's Bird Gardens according to Audubon guidelines for small birds. Wrens nested in the red house this spring. The red and blue houses were made to order with my own doorknobs and back plates. 

Know Yourself

I love functional art and decided to add to my collection of birdhouses by mounting these handmade houses on heavy poles stuck deep into the pots. The grasses were cut in half and planted  on each side of the support brace. This also allowed me to bird watch from my kitchen window. To satisfy my need for balance, I added two houses to the other side of the patio.

I placed the blue birdhouse tucked away from the steps by the window so I could bird watch from inside the house but no birds have moved in yet. The pot under the Art Deco house is full of seed-grown hollyhocks that haven't bloomed yet.

This was handmade from Colorado pine that had been damaged by pine beetles but was still usable.

The artist who made this house no longer has a website.

This incredible house is made from upcycled and repurposed materials by Ted Freeman of Roundhouse Works and also conforms to Audubon guidelines. Many birds have visited but it's sited too near to the house for it to be chosen for nesting. But it's so interesting, I wanted to be able to enjoy it up close. 

The bronze mailbox holds my small gardening tools.

My metal rooster is hiding behind the cosmos but you can't really blame him. After all, he is just a big chicken.

The view from the top step into the dogwood garden.

Part of  the shade garden

The hammock is a much loved summer spot.

The massive Rose of Sharon

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

So Seedy: The Seedling Update

This winter I decided to grow all my own sun-loving annuals. It sounds challenging but it wasn't. I bought grow lights, plopped seeds into large plastic drink cups, and kept them watered. It helped that I only grew plants that were easy to grow. Plants that needed a chill period were winter-sown. By growing my own plants, I was guaranteed my garden would be free of the pesticides that are routinely given to commercially grown plants. So, how'd I do? Just fine, thank you.

Pow Wow Wildberry coneflowers

These are dwarf coneflowers that bloom the first year from seed.  They needed to be cold stratified and were slow growers but are worth the patience.

Blue dwarf bush morning glories, curly parsley, and Denver daisies.

Like regular morning glories, these little guys only bloom in the morning but are cute trailing out of pots. They were very easy to grow. The winter sown parsley is grown for the swallowtail butterflies and the Denver daisies (rudbeckia hirta) are non-stop bloomers.

I love these! Known for heat and drought tolerance, they only reach about 18 inches in height.

Peggy's Delight zinnias

I grew these from old seed but they all germinated. These are a tall, cactus flowered zinnia in a variety of soft, sherbety colors. 

Their colors range from cream and pink to orange.

Poet's Tassel (Orange Tassel Flower)

I winter sowed these and only a single plant grew. Yep, just one. Next year I'll put them under grow lights. They have tall stems with tiny orange flowers, much loved by the pollinators.

This is a combination of Irish Eyes rudbeckia with seedlings of straight species rudbeckia.

Rudbeckia hirta doesn't need any help to grow so I've decided to stop helping it. I'll scatter seeds this fall where I want seedlings and be done with it.

 Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth)

There's been a bit of weirdness with the gomphrena this year. The pink looks almost white, the white is very vigorous, the purple less vigorous, and the orange is long and rangey, flopping about like a squid. The orange needs much more water than the others, so I moved it a slightly moist spot.

Dahlias, Persian Carpet zinnias, and Moulin Rouge zinnias

The dahlias are non-stop bloomers as are the little Persian Carpet zinnias. I grew the red zinnias after squirrels ransacked a pot of giant Indian Summer rudbeckia. I cannot resist a plant named after the Moulin Rouge. Had they been named 'Dateless and in a Turtleneck' I'd have passed them by.

Persian Carpet zinnias

These don't have the color variation advertised but so what.

Moulin Rouge zinnias

Cosmic Orange cosmos and Sonata cosmos (upper right - not blooming)

Bees ignore the Sonata in favor of the orange flowers on the daily. The Cosmic Orange is a heavy, cheerful bloomer.

'Pacifica' vinca

I thought these would be blooming in a variety of hot colors but they're pink, pink, pink. That's ok because I like pink but I think I'll buy these next year since they don't attract pollinators, anyway.

'Blue Monday' salvia

I thought this would have spires of dark blue flowers but only the tips are blue so I feel a bit mislead. But they were insanely easy to grow and the bees love them.

The blue pot in the middle right is full of 'Blue Monday' salvia and 'Mammoth' verbena.

'Tuscany Lavender' verbena

This is a tough, pretty plant that needs very little attention or extra water. But it was had to convince to grow so I'm not sure if I'll grow it again. 

Tithonia 'Goldfinger'

This dwarf variety is supposed to be 3-4 feet tall but mine is already 4.5 feet tall and I doubt it's done. I've staked it to keep it from snapping in the rain and love its huge, velvety leaves.

So what didn't grow?

The campanula were duds, the angelonia refused to germinate and the sweet peas were fried by a warm spring. My much loved ammi wasn't as vigorous as last year and was then crowded out by a massive knautia. 

So, what about everything else?

The centranthus grew well but waited til it warmed up to do much, leaving me convinced they'd wimped out. The hyssop grew like mad as did the linaria, another plant that needs zero help to grow. The hollyhocks haven't bloomed yet but are on their way. The 'Zahara Starlight' zinnias grew well but are boring.

The dahlias bloom in a variety of colors, which is fun. Never underestimate the power of a happy surprise.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Two Thousand Pounds of Carpe Diem

Before you read any further, I must warn you I'm a fairly energetic person. While this statement is in direct conflict with the sloth calendar that hangs in my bedroom for mornings I'm so groggy I need the type of empathy only an animal that sleeps 20 hours a day can provide, as a general rule once I've had a few hours to wake up, my energy level switches from a zombie-like trance to a steady simmer that keeps me going til I collapse into bed.

I don't recall posing for this picture...

Last month I decided to extend my rain garden after realizing a 13 foot section of my lawn was full of standing water and mosquitoes. Tired of muddy dogs and of dealing with a problem not solved by planting clover or allowing native carex to take over, I had a single day available to complete the project before a week of rain slowed me down. With my family only able to provide limited help, I knew if I wanted to get it done, I'd have to do it myself.

So I did. It only took eight hours.

The drainage pipe from our sump pump as well as a pipe from under our patio kept this area so saturated it stunk.

This is the swale that leads to our rain garden. It is a total bog most of the year and grass only grows in a drought. It is also right in the middle of the dog path my dogs use to run about the yard. Since one of my dogs is blind, deciding to rip this up meant I'd have to train him to cross the new riverbed.

I bought 1500 pounds of cheap river rock to form the base of the bed.

Because the new extension would be feeding directly into the existing rain garden, it was vital I kept the soil at the same grade it was before I started digging. While this sounds challenging, it wasn't. I simply dug up the soil and flipped it over, grass and all. Very little soil needed to be removed, which sped up the process. I used water permeable landscape fabric made from recycled soda bottles as a weed barrier.

Digging the extension and filling it with rocks took eight hours. Later in the week, I added 500 pounds of decorative rocks and created stepping stones from beautiful pale green flagstone. Almost everything in my garden is soft and curving so I kept the new grass path as curvy as possible. 

Scout went blind from diabetes.

My blind dog Scout navigates around the garden based on surface texture and freaked out when he discovered a chunk of his lawn has been replaced with a new river bed. Despite sliding a plate of bacon and eggs across the flagstones to convince him to cross, he simply ate the food when he got to the other side and then avoided the rocks.

I added Japanese iris (iris ensata) and variegated sweet flag (acorus) to keep it from looking like a shallow grave.

Native carex grass has already taken over but I don't mind. I looks more natural. I needed plants that would thrive in wet clay as well as survive a four dog squirrel chase. 

Japanese iris 'Butterflies in Flight'

I filled this little area with blue eyed grass since my dogs like to run through this part of the garden to bark at people walking by. It stands up to dog traffic quite well.

The new extension blends seamlessly into the existing rain garden.

The caladiums, which like well drained soil, are planted in a pot that's been sunk into the ground. If this area fills with too much water, I can just lift the pot til the subsoil drains. But they're the perfect compliment to all that fabulous purple, so I had to think of a way to work them into the design.

I finished off the project by adding a few of my sand dollar fossils to the garden. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Kindness Quotient

Most gardeners, I've discovered, are a rather supportive bunch. They're forgiving when you explain that you have yet to find dogs whose anuses are purely decorative and that despite having just scooped, they've already crapped in the garden or wallowed in the anemones like a furry, farting hippo. They're kind when you explain that you didn't kill your plants but rather they were heaved from the soil, kicked out of the garden by Mother Nature herself, the moodiest of dames. 

Bug party on a summer flowering bulb I can't remember the name of.

However, despite the love we often share with others, we can be absurdly critical of our own gardens. We apologize, explain, and rationalize our decisions, fearful of being judged. Sometimes the gardener we need to be the kindest to is our self.

I paused while weeding to take this photo. Self seeded orange milkweed is allowed to grow where it lands. In the fall I'll transplant it to empty spots in the garden. A few chunks of yellowroot (Xanthoriza simplicisima) have broken away from the group under the viburnum and are headed for the lawn where death by mower awaits. I didn't realize I'd purchased different mulch until it was too late. Oh well... 

This massive shrub was planted about three feet from house when I purchased it as a wee thing. I could blame it on a lack of research, exhaustion, cluelessness, or any variety of ailments that turn the most rational slab of humanity into a quivering blob of contradictions but I won't. My viburnum tooclosetothehouseum offers privacy and a perfect spot to bird watch. I'm done being embarrassed about it. As a matter of fact, I'd rather save my embarrassment for something much more interesting such as naked ping pong at midnight with a band of drunken gypsies or horrible karaoke. 

Winter sown calendula with variegated mint and a begonia I've named Hans. 

I just love these simple flowers.

These leaves should be dark green...

As for my calendula, I've decided to ignore the spider mites who are tunneling through its leaves after decimating my phlox. The Spider Mite Artist Colony has created custom variegation, making my calendula a masterpiece of insect artistry while the phlox sprouts new growth. The only true damage they caused was to my ego and I've survived worse.