Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Solar Panels

The first freeze of the year occurred Sunday night. It got down to 30 degrees and stayed there all night. Monday was chilly, windy, and promised winter.

There have been some changes here. I'll show you, starting with a sketch of our house this summer:

And here is a real life photo of what it looks like now, with 6.875 kilowatts of solar energy generation installed on our roof. That will provide 100% of the electricity our house uses.

The roof faces full south, there are no obstructions, and no trees will shade it for a long, long time. It doesn't look too bad -- the panels have a clean, sleek look, but still. . .  they are smack on the front of the house. I'll get used to seeing them and won't notice after a while, I hope.

The installers were beside themselves with glee -- "we don't see such an easy, full sun, unobstructed orientation very often" they gloated happily. I think they even brought friends over to climb up on the roof and enjoy how great it was . . . . there were a lot of guys hanging out up there at times.

Now let the sun shine down on my garden and my house!

Sunday, October 19, 2014


My katsura tree has not disappointed.

As I walked around the east side of the house yesterday I caught the delightful sugar smell of cotton candy.

The leaves are now mostly down. The breeze was coming toward me in gentle puffs. The morning had been cool but the air was warming.

The fragrance was light but it was there, and if a smell can be described as a color, it smelled golden.

I am completely and thoroughly intoxicated.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Lemon of a Lemon Tree

It rained a lot. An inch and a quarter of soaking rain yesterday, all day. Today is sunny and sparkly.

It was hot and humid and we put the air conditioning on, even though it is mid October and we've had chilly nights for a while.

When we got back from Kentucky it was so cold at night (down to 36 degrees) that I brought the Meyer lemon tree inside. Now we have humidity and warm temps and open windows at night.

But here it is, my lemon tree under lights, indoors, looking out of place and forlorn.

It has bloomed but I got no fruit. In fact when it arrived, mail order, it was full of fragrant blooms that fell off.

It thrived outside all summer, and I had to prune it pretty severely. The leaves are deep green and glossy. It bloomed outside, but again, the flowers fell off.

The problem may be either too much water or not enough water. One or the other.

The problem may be immaturity. How old does it have to be?

The problem may be temperature -- it won't set fruit when nights are cold. It's warmer in the house, so maybe that will fix it?

The problem may be too much fertilization or not enough. Whatever, this tree is not performing.

I just hope this lemon tree isn't a lemon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When We Got Back

When we returned from a week in Kentucky, it was a delight to see that the sourwood had turned bright red.

It's not a deep, rich red, it is always more cerise colored, almost a pinky red, but very spectacular.

Compared to the rusty doublefile viburnum at the back, it is bright on an overcast day. The soft pink Sheffield mums, just opening, tone it down a bit.

When the sun comes out, the leaves of the sourwood take on a richer color against the blue fall sky.

When we got back, I spent some time cleaning up the geraniums. I had to cut them all to the ground, they had totally gone by and were a brown tangled mess.

I added 5 bags of pea gravel to the dry creek bed to refresh it. I also opened up the end of the creek bed a little wider by moving stones around and adding pea gravel. Hands and knees work, moving rocks around.

Bulbs arrived in the mail during our trip. I have a lot to plant: a hundred daffodils, lots of drumstick alliums, some globe alliums and a lot of ornithogalums. More hands and knees work to come.

When we returned the Raydon's Favorite aromatic asters were in full bloom. Wow.

I divided these asters this spring and now there are several around the gardens, but this original stand  is amazing. I divided them, I trimmed them back in early summer, and they are too big for this space by the gate. They are crowding the fothergilla behind, which may need to be moved.

My katsura tree turned orange while we were away, but there is no autumn scent. Yet. When I walked around the corner at Becky's, her katsura delighted me with the classic burnt sugar smell -- loved it! The leaves on her tree were mostly down. I may have to wait for mine to drop leaves in order to smell the cotton candy scent.

The bottlebrush buckeyes just started to turn yellow the week we were gone.

The clethra did too, although not all of them. They had a stressful dry summer, and that has affected the fall color.

And the long row of yellowroot on the berm just began showing some copper tones. It will get much richer soon.

Out on the back hill, the little persimmon is fiery yellow orange, and the early sassafras  -- the odd one that is tiered and small -- is tangerine, while the other sassafras trees are still green. Blueberries are all hot red now.

Oh, and little white autumn crocuses popped up along the front walk and opened.

We were away only a week, but transformations occurred in that short time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Appalachian Autumn

We had a week away, driving for miles through the autumn colored Appalachians and visiting good friends. 

We had a wonderful time, betting on the horses while sitting under parasols in a premier box at the finish line. We dined at The Club and had an incredibly informative personal tour of a racehorse breeding farm.

We rode a three car ferry across the Kentucky River. We shopped, visited the Shakers and ate, ate, ate. Of course there was a beer and bourbon tour -- it was Kentucky after all -- and we got quite mellow.

Becky's gardens are delightful. It's a country garden, four acres of ever changing shrubs and trees and flowers integrated with the wild forest around their hilltop estate. And we ate from her extensive vegetable garden, but the prized paw paws, the first ever on her small trees, were stolen in the night by some critter before I even saw one.

And when we returned home, tired and road weary, I looked up as we entered the driveway, and thought how nice our own place looks.

It's good to be home.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Friday, October 3, 2014

Noah's Ark

Why do I have pairs of trees or doubles of shrubs in my garden? Not groups of three, not single specimens, but two of a kind. Most of the big woody plants here have been planted in twos, sometimes side by side, sometimes in two different areas of the yard.

It started with the big red maples planted the year after we moved in. Two of them.

A couple years later I planted a sweetbay magnolia, then another one. Now there are two, not yet the same size, bracketing the corner of the house.

There are two black gums in front of the house. I do have more tupelos out back in the meadow and by the bridge, but the front yard has a symmetrical pair of them framing the house.

I planted two blackhaw viburnums and trained each one into a tree form. One is under the bathroom window, the other is in the Blueberry Garden in back.

There are two Austrian pines, buddies next to each other along the back perimeter of the yard.

Two flat round Birds Nest spruces flank either side of the entrance to the front walk, threatening to grow out and across the walk to join ranks.

Two red carpet roses were planted side by side below the bedroom window, then moved. They moved together and are side by side in the driveway garden now. They blended together to look like one shrub, but there are two.

I planted two doublefile viburnums, although to be exact, one is 'Shasta' and the other is 'Mariesii'.

I have two Corneliancherry dogwoods, one by the driveway, the other by the Birch Garden.

There are two mounded dwarf white pines anchoring the center of the Birch Garden.

I have two dwarf Blue spruces, one at the top of the driveway, and one in the garden in back.

Two identical plants can make a formal statement, framing an entrance as the Birds Nest spruces do by the walk, or as the tupelos in the front yard do. But for the informal look of my yard everywhere else, why do I have so many pairs of large woody plants?

It's not like the trees and shrubs I chose need a male and a separate female (some types of woody plants do, but not the ones I have.) And it's not like I have a deliberate design repetition going. . .  I just have random pairs.

It's like Noah's Ark here; plants came into my garden two by two.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

And Now Margot

After losing one cat last week, it caught us up short how quickly the other one declined. Margot looked better and acted a little healthier than Minerva, but she too was very old and very sick.

And one week after her sister / littermate died, she left us too.

Goodbye to both. They are back together again, reunited after only a week apart. As it should be.

Two beauties, together

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Along the Driveway

In the end of September, 2011 we had a long curved bed installed along the side of the driveway. I had no planting design for it, but I had some conflicting ideas in mind of what this garden should do.

First, a garden here had to screen the neighbor's house. This side of their large house is unattractive. The blank side wall without windows at the near end is awkward, and the roof angles down weirdly.

They are nice neighbors and I didn't want privacy as much as just a way to hide the looming oddness.

Second, I wanted a line of tall plants to draw your eye up the driveway. It had to define and enclose the edge of our property, and give a sense of entry as you arrive.

Third, I really liked the idea of a long line of panicle hydrangeas -- a hedge of them, with big white cones of blooms catching the sun.  I had seen just such a hedge. I convinced myself that this long bed lining the driveway would be perfect with a billowing row of late blooming panicle hydrangeas.
(out of focus because I photographed this from a book)

I only had room for three 'Tardiva' hydrangeas, and that was not enough for the kind of hedge I had in mind. But they went in, lined up between the trees that already anchored this strip.
first installed, in 2011

At first they were fine. But three were not enough to make a real hedge, they were smushed between the trees already planted, and I kept adding more plants to this border which crowded them even more.
August 2013.  A little floppy and rangy, but not bad. Nice flowers.

I planted a Parrotia persicaria tree in back to get some height eventually -- the hydrangeas were never going to get tall enough to screen the neighbor's house. But the little sapling was swamped behind the hydrangeas.

There is a doublefile viburnum behind the hydrangeas too, still small but destined to get very large and spreading.

This summer I pruned the hydrangeas to get more form and structure, but that just encouraged them to lie down across the other plants in this border and smother them. It looked totally chaotic.

In the end, I had to give up the idea of a flowery hedge. And I had to give up the idea of quickly screening the side of the neighbor's house. The hydrangeas had to come out.

I got two of them out last week. The third under the Norway maple will have to go too. Now I can see the doublefile viburnum, and the tiny parrotia. Eventually the viburnum will get much taller and will spread, and the parrotia will become an upright real tree.

The parrotia and the nearby variegated sweetgum will have to do the work of screening the house, but I will need to be patient while they grow into large trees. That is going to take time, but the line of tall trees will eventually hide (or soften) most of the unwanted view.

I can't be stuffing lots of big plants in here in hopes of hiding things right away. And I can't create the hedge I wanted where I already have structure and trees and other shrubs -- that's chaos.

If I can be patient enough, this border will have a curved line of tall trees from the dark Norway maple, to the upright parrotia, to the brightly leaved sweetgum, and then ending with the grouping of witch hazels and corneliancherry dogwood at the top end.

That's a lot. I don't need big blowzy hydrangeas in there too.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Mornings and Afternoons

Love to see this sight on a cool autumn morning. I am standing on the deck, coffee in hand, and the air is lovely. The sun is coming up over the tall trees.

If I look to the left I can see that the tower of clematis viticella by the hummingbird feeder never rebloomed this fall. Each year I cut it to the ground in late July and get spectacular regrowth and a full rebloom in September, but this year I experimented and left it standing after the flowers were spent. It didn't rebloom.

So next year I'll cut it back in summer. The hummingbirds are gone now. I haven't seen any in a couple days.

If I turn a little further left I see my blue pyramid in the back garden lit by the morning sun. I like it.

Now I turn toward the right and catch the startling red of the Japanese maple next to me. This was the first year it stayed such a brilliant red, rather than turning maroon in the heat of summer. It is either stressed from the canker it is being treated for, or the cool nights this summer kept it from washing out.

Mornings are lovely in fall. So are afternoons when the shadows get long.

All summer it was a challenge to find enough shade to be comfortable in the gravel garden in the afternoon. Now, late on a cool day, sitting in the dwindling sun is nice.

Asters are blooming in the meadow and the sun catches their purple haze in the afternoon when the yard is in shadow. Because of the dry summer the aster display isn't much this year. The buckeyes look better than ever before, deep green this year for the first time and unscorched. The cool summer helped.

I especially like the white wood asters, so delicate and frothy looking and they stand lower than the tall gangly purple asters. They seem to do better in a dry summer than the purple asters.

Turning back from the meadow toward the house, I see the river birches and the sweetbay magnolias lit up in the late afternoon. The red Japanese maple is as bright from afar as it is standing next to it in the morning. It just shines.

Fall is a beautiful season for light, early morning or late in the day.