Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mostly Wordless Wednesday

It's so easy to make me happy: a bit of sun, a garden I love, and a stack of books.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Just a Ramble...

My fall garden always surprises me. This is ridiculous since I'm the one that planted everything. I shouldn't be caught off guard by how much is blooming but I am. I get so busy with the start of the school year that I lose track of what's happening and stand on my patio in my pajamas come Saturday, amazed at it all.  

These little 'Dream of Beauty' asters were advertised as needing the ever elusive 'Moist but well drained soil'. However, when I gave them the closest thing to it I could, they almost died. They want to be hot and dry. 

Monarch on the verbena bonariensis

I've had numerous Monarchs in my garden this year

and five fat little caterpillars munching on the milkweed.

These tiny 'Snow Flurry' asters are cast iron tough. Any plant that can handle being stepped on by me and peed on by my four dogs is a keeper.

They are super low growers that can handle dry, bright partial shade.

Native white wood asters (eurybia divaricatus) grow through the variegated 'Autumn Charm' sedum. Both grow well in dry, bright partial shade, too. The wood asters are floppers and leaners so if you don't want them lying on the ground, let them ramble over a cooperative companion.

Northern sea oats, Solomon's Seal, sedum, blue stemmed solidago (solidago caesia), and asters in the shade garden.

 Yellow annual begonias thrived in this shady urn next to the massive Rose of Sharon. I always thought these were fussy plants but they were easy easy easy.

More white wood asters grow through blue plumbago under the Rose of Sharon. Both of these are outrageously tough plants, which is a requirement for staying in my garden. I have a strict "No Whining and No Divas" rule.

 'Piglet' pennisetum and blue mist flower

Blue mist flower grows every where in my garden, especially in the moist, sunny beds along the rain garden. It spreads quickly and I end up ripping it out by the handfuls every fall to keep it from taking over. But it's so pretty I always leave more than I pull.

Native Short's asters are another fall bloomer that grow well in dry, bright partial shade. These quickly grew to be almost four feet tall. They might need to be renamed. 

These soft yellow zinnias were supposed to be three feet tall but never got the memo and are five feet tall instead. Overachievers.

'Serenade' Japanese anemones need less water than most anemones, which automatically gives them the coveted designation of Super Fabulous Plant of Amazingness.

I recently extended the sunny side garden by a few feet in depth. Since my dogs can't resist freshly turned soil or compost, I covered the extension with straw to help minimize the amount of soil they track into the house. Fall rains will help this area settle and the straw will decompose. After I've redesigned part of this bed, thinned out all the seedlings, and filled in the new areas, I'll mulch over the straw to keep the plants from heaving this winter.  I still need to remove the sod by the river bed.

I'm going to extend this area by another foot, but that's as far as I can go. My dogs have an invisible path that takes them from the patio to the dog run, where they chase squirrels and bark at birds. If I move the garden into their path, they'll just run everything over.

I have a huge container garden that I've been working on for years to get just right. This area becomes a wind tunnel during summer storms and everything I've ever planted there has been smashed or knocked sideways. But the miscanthus 'Little Zebra' has held up so well, I'm adding another one. Plastic tulips were the only other option.

This is a mid-sized lespedeza that I cut back every year. If we have a snowy winter, I can pile this spot outside my garage with snow without having to worry about crushing my plants. This plant was only 8 inches tall in March. It looks like a giant pink octopus but I find that charming.

I love how cool these flowers are.

Is that more blue mist flower?

 'Matrona' sedum and knautia with even more blue mist flower in the background

I planted this fragrant 'Fair Rosamond' clematis this spring and it finally bloomed.

And now for something completely different.... white mist flowers!

Fall blooming 'Starman' geraniums grow alongside blue and white mist flowers. Actually, half the garden grows alongside blue mist flowers.

In a plant smackdown, native obedient plant would smother blue mist flowers and leave them screaming for mercy. This plant will gladly take over your garden but the pollinators love it so I give it room to run.

Seed grown gomphrena without a blue mist flower in sight.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Plan D

When I was a kid growing up in California, I was always reminded of my grandfathers Swedish heritage. He came from a family of immigrants who had come through Ellis Island and made a life out of nothing. But my baseball loving, cocktail drinking, poker playing grandmother was English and German, a fact that was rarely mentioned. In her sewing room sat an old blue Carr's biscuit tin covered with drawings of English royalty. Queen Elizabeth the First stared off into the distance while fat King Henry and prissy Sir Walter Raleigh glared from the sides. 

Full of buttons, I found it fascinating and would pour over the contents, always looking for something new. After my grandmother died, the button tin moved into my mothers craft room and when she died onto my shelf.

This winter I became convinced I had an ugly pot problem that could only be fixed by creating something with all those buttons. Maybe I've just spent too much time at my favorite DC art gallery drooling over the mixed media art, but at no point during my delusion did it ever occur to me that I have no ability to create anything artistic. I just knew I was one button away from absolute amazingness.

Game Fish by Larry Fuentes, created using found objects,
 is one of my favorite pieces of art.

I spent my weekends and snow days pouring over my grandmother's buttons, ordering more when the tin didn't offer what I felt I needed. Grand designs began to hatch and my latest project soon migrated to the dining room, where it stayed for months. At some point my confidence should have wavered, stumbled, and crashed, tumbling into the black depths of self awareness. But it didn't. 

Artistic Fantasy

Auguste Renior's Luncheon of the Boating Party

Harsh Reality

Just to clarify - I rarely work topless.

When Plan A, a design that required hours of wire wrapping, only looked good while lying flat on the table but resembled Kindergarten Craft Hour when placed on the planter, I knew I had to start over. Super Simple Plan B worked well for a few weeks but soon fell apart and Plan C never made it past the mental design stage before I finally realized I had zero ability to create it.

Plan B originally called for three button swags of varying sizes. But several of the buttons cracked and faded in the sun before falling apart so I never added the additional strands. 

With the new school year fast approaching and my free time shrinking, I knew I had to face up to the fact that I have only two artistic skills: 1) making a huge mess and 2) sticking stuff to other stuff. Since I have only ever successfully made one thing, it seemed wise to replicate it - with buttons.

So I did.

Using tile mosaic mortar, I covered an old metal birdbath with buttons and beads and then coated it with marine-grade epoxy resin.

I also used beads and charms that say "Be Yourself".

I created the design as I went along. 
Many of the buttons are reminders of people I love.

My birdbath reflects me: quirky and colorful.

Considering the recent shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, I paused before adding the Pittsburgh Police button. The mystery of why my grandmother kept this uniform button intrigued me, but adding it to the mosaic served to remind me that the actions of a few do not define the whole. It helped turn an old birdbath into my own time capsule and political statement, even if the only person reading between the lines was me.

Once I had finished the design, I was ready to paint the bird and coat it in resin.

I used blue exterior spray paint.

 The entire design has been coated in resin. A thicker layer covers the bottom of the bowl to protect the design from standing water. This waterproof resin is designed for boats and is UV-resistant to prevent yellowing and cracking.

My design is safe under a layer of resin.

How to make a bird bath mosaic:

1. Find a metal birdbath and clean it off.

2. Mix up a batch of Mosaic and Glass Mortar until it's the consistency of cake frosting.
3. Spread it on the birdbath.
4. Stick stuff in it the mortar.
5. Coat it in resin.
6. That's it.

This was a really easy project.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pocketful of Sunshine

The shade is winning and I'm tired of it. The joe pye weed (eupatorium) looks like a shepherds crook as it bends towards the sun and the cup plant (silphium) is down right Seussian. When I planted them a zillion years ago their spots were open and sunny. Fast forward to right now and there is little sun to be had. But all that shade has met its end.

Say hello to my little friend!

I positioned myself in the shady dog run and began sawing away. I like the coolness the shade brings to my garden but dislike its tendency to block the sun. While I know that's contradictory, I don't care. The only way to make peace with all this leafery is to cut out the high branches that block the most sun while leaving others that provide manageable shade. 

Truly sad silphium

and its partner in misery, Joe Pye Weed

These skinny branches supported a wide canopy. A few swipes of the Shade Blaster and they were history.

Small plastic dinosaurs say it best.


Opening up the canopy created more light for the entire area. Deam's rudbeckia thrive in the dry partial shade in this little corner along with 'Blades of Sun' snowberry and a 'Cool Splash' diervilla.

This is actually on a tiny slope that allows the 'Cool Splash' more moisture than the rudbeckia. Native diervilla rivularis and diervilla lonicera grow well here, too. A rusty metal cat tail marks the tiny white turtle head plants (chelone glabra) growing in the bog. They will eventually grow to be 4 feet tall. Shasta daisies grow in the very front.

A pocketful of sunshine was just what my garden needed.