Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sweet Surprise

Look what happened while we were away out west:


The sweet autumn clematis burst into bloom.

What a sight to welcome us home, and what a heady scent as I walk out onto the deck each day.

I had stayed away from planting this vigorous vine, worried about having a monster on my hands. I relented in 2012 and put one in by the deck stairs. It has behaved beautifully. It drapes lushly and stays compact.


I don't know if it's a matter of a few more years before it eats the deck and comes for me on the porch, but so far it is a safe size and shapely. I cut it to the ground each winter, so that will control it, I hope.

It was so nice to come home from our trip and see this fully blooming and inhale the sweet scent.

(By the way, the photo below was from last year, but it is one of the most frequently re-posted shots of mine on Pinterest. It's everywhere now. I should have watermarked it. . . . )

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My Private Haven

This time a year ago the porch was torn up and in the middle of remodeling. Now, a year later, I find I am spending my entire summer on the porch. It was the best money we ever spent on the house.


The footprint didn't change, so it remains a narrow 7 by 14 foot area tucked in the back corner of the house. The windows are much deeper now, allowing me to look out, and the materials are much nicer than the cement floor and vinyl siding that were here before. It's not a big enough porch for entertaining many people, but it is perfect for me.

I have my coffee here in a pool of sunshine on cool summer mornings. I read here, nap here, drink a glass of wine here. I survey the gardens, look out on my deck full of containers, and supervise Jim grilling on the patio, all from inside my new porch.


When the weather is bad, I close the windows and sit out here and watch it rain. When it is hot and humid I come out here to escape the stuffy frigid air conditioning inside.

I check out the hummingbirds feeding at the feeder on the patio. They don't even know I am watching from inside my screened hideaway.

I write my journal posts on my laptop, sitting on the porch, and I spend too much time surfing around on the web. A lot of garden planning gets done here.


I thought I would spend evenings on the porch -- there is a lamp and soft wall lighting -- but I don't.

Why didn't we fix this space up years ago? For the first nine years we lived here the porch was simply  a passageway from the kitchen to the outside, a closet, a storage area for pots, an uninviting area to pass through.

Now I live here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A New Tower

It was supposed to be a deep teal color, but it's blue.

That's okay, I like it.

Uncharacteristically for me, I have put a colored structure in the garden and I don't hate it.

I am trying to solve several problems here. . . .
One: this part of Meadow's Edge is mostly shady, especially in the afternoon, and the new clematis I ordered wants some shade, otherwise its pretty silvered blooms wash out. It can go on this pyramid.
Two: this spot near the big maple is flat and empty. I have groundcovers there -- epimediums and low spreading sedums and fleeceflower, but nothing with any height.  A large bulky shrub or big perennial simply won't grow in the maple's root system.

Three: This whole garden bed recedes into the background and my eye is drawn to the weedy meadow behind it. A bit of color and structure in the front brings it forward.


And four: My "allee' from the driveway looking to the back yard is nice in fall when the big maple in the distance is fiery red and draws your eye right down the walk and across the lawn. But in summer it's all greenery and it recedes. The blue tower makes a nice focal point.


I like the problems this tower solves, I like the color, and the size and visual weight are just right.

It's a keeper.



Friday, August 15, 2014

Weeds Gone Wild

Nothing likes two and a half inches of rain after a long drought as much as weeds do. Big tall monster weeds appeared in the garden beds the day after the rain passed, as soon as the sun came out.

The good news is that they pull up easily, especially tall fleabane; the soil is damp and the stalks are tall and weak.

Prickly jimson weed is tougher, but even that nasty thing comes up from the moist soil if I work at it.

Everything in my garden looks refreshed, but nothing shoots up in one day like the weeds do.

The clematis 'Jackmanii' is reblooming now. It's not as prolific as it was in spring, and the purple blooms have to compete with the seedheads all over the vine, but it's a decent showing.

The hummingbirds are drinking me dry. They are at the feeder constantly, hovering there motionless for minutes at a time, or battling with the yellowjackets in swooping dives.

The pink fall anemone is flowering nicely now.

The garnet red Japanese maple in the distance by the deck never turned maroon as it usually does in hot weather. It has stayed bright red all summer. But the leaves of the 'Forest Pansy' redbud have now morphed from its deep wine color in early summer to a mixed green and purple. It's muddled.

But in the right light the redbud's muddled colored leaves shine like mixed jewels.

Everything really does look better after a summer soaking. The weeds have run wild, but that's a small price to pay for all the rain.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No Complaints

It rained. We got enough. Almost two and a half inches.

Other areas nearby got much more, and some parts of the midwest and the D.C. area were badly flooded. We didn't get that, fortunately, but we did get a soaking.


Nothing to complain about here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What's Going On in August

I water and water.

I even connected all the hoses and went out in the meadow to water the newer saplings. I get discouraged when there is no rain for weeks and I have to spend entire days watering. . . . it just eats up summer days with a tedious chore, and nothing looks that great despite my efforts.

Thankfully the days have been warm but not terribly hot and the nights are still downright chilly, so heat stress is not adding to the garden's woes.

Clethra is flowering and the spicy fragrance is wonderful on the breeze. I have to keep the clethra watered, they are not planted in a very wet area and they are moisture loving plants. At least it's nice watering them and inhaling!

Crocosmias are done blooming -- but I found one growing in the old compost pile. I have had such a hard time getting a stand of red 'Lucifer' going, and now there's one impudently blooming away in the waste area.

Same thing with the cardinal flower. I found one out in the meadow, a bright red spike peeking up in the weeds. I can't get lobelia cardinalis to spread or even to come back much in the garden. This is all that will grow for me in the garden, standing next to the steely blue globe spruce.


I finally found a shady enough spot for several bergenia plants, but these pigsqueaks have never really bulked up much. They always look awful in spring. This patch looks okay now, though. The bunchberry did not come back under the Japanese maple at all, so the pigsqueaks have no competition and are doing a little better.

Pale lavender 'Jim Crockett' boltonias are blooming and flopping, next to a small orange stand of 'Marmalade' coreopsis. I've never been able to get coreopsis to come back after winter, so maybe I'll dig these up and put them in pots to spend the winter in the garage. The yellow 'Gleam' nasturtiums are spreading along the gravel.

I didn't think I'd like the pale orange-tan color of the 'Marmalade' coreopsis, but I do, so I will try to save them.

I always like the rich velvety color of the 'Choca mocha' cosmos, but this year I stuck individual plants in among other things along the fronts of several borders. They don't really show up like that. Last year I had three bunched together and Choca mocha was much more impactful in a big group.

'Blue Chip' dwarf buddleias came in finally. They really are tidy little dwarf butterfly bushes. There are three, and each one is a different size. Butterfly bush is another plant that won't come back after winter for me. These did, but are uneven in size and flowering. There is only one really blooming well.

Geraniums are making a full, even display of tiny purple flowers all around the bend of the walk. This is Geranium wlassovianum. In other years they would be ratty looking by now, and past blooming. I would shear them and hope they'd come back in time to make a nice foliage display for fall -- they turn jewel red in a good year. But this is mid August and they are still blooming nicely, not ready to be cut back yet.

Tall phlox 'Nicky' makes a big punch of bright color in the Birch garden, but it's an odd shade of purple-pink. Many gardeners disdain magenta in the garden, and I can see why. But from afar it pops.

And of course the black eyed Susans are in their summer glory in August.

It's a delight to walk around the garden on these cool August mornings. There is enough moisture in the air to make everything slightly dewy until the relentless sun is up high and every plant thirsts for a good drink. We need rain.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On Assignment

National Geographic came to our house today to photograph the ruby throated hummingbirds.

They sent their top photographer and he brought his tripod and zoom lens and fancy camera. His name was Jim.

It was a beautiful summer morning, and the hummingbirds were staging a carnival. Two males swooped and chattered (they make a high pitched little scrree chirp) and dived at each other around the feeder.

The hummingbirds were further agitated by annoying yellowjacket wasps that hang off the feeder where the sugar water drips.

My job was to spray the feeder with the garden hose to keep the drips of sugar off it and deter the yellowjackets. The photographer's job was to wait for the perfect shot.


Even with a tripod and great patience, it was hard to get a focused shot, and he couldn't get the two battling birds in one shot together.






It's not easy capturing these tiny bundles of speed on camera. But it was fun having a National Geographic professional on assignment here all morning. I had to make him coffee but otherwise he was undemanding, and just sat there for an hour perfecting his craft.

He's actually still here.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Brick Wall

Still no rain and none forecast. The days are pleasantly hot, a little humid, just what August should be. Need some rain, though.

I don't know what to do about the 'Henryi' clematis on the trellis against the brick wall in front.


It had bold white flowers that stood out against the wall this spring, but it was also highly susceptible to clematis wilt (a fact frequently mentioned in all the descriptions, but one that I had missed when considering buying it). This summer it wilted, blackened, and I cut the diseased stems down.


I've done some more reading, and it seems clematis wilt is rarely fatal. The vine should regrow from the roots, although that may take a couple years to really reestablish, and it can be treated with fungicide soil drenches with some success (possibly).

An interesting observation is that clematis seems to outgrow its susceptibility after about 5 years. The bigger the root system the better it fights off wilt.

So, should I wait for it to regrow, treat it with fungicide and see if I get a hardier version of 'Henryi' over the years? Or should I plant a new variety that might be less susceptible and not need all the fussing?

The trellis is very delicate, and a smaller clematis would suit it better.

In a fit of frustration I ordered another clematis, thinking I had lost 'Henryi' for good. I am getting clematis 'Samaritan Jo' this fall, which is a more contained vine (4 to 5 feet only). It will fit the slender trellis better.

'Samaritan Jo' is gorgeous. It is silvery, with delicate purple colored edges, and it's a long all-summer bloomer. Won't that be beautiful against the brick wall?

But now I read that it washes out in full sun, and is best in light shade. Really?? I have no light shade.

I give up.

Maybe I'll just grow plumbago on the trellis instead. I have plumbago in a pot that I simply put in front of the trellis after I cut down the clematis. Right now it is sort of climbing the tower I stuck in the pot, but it could as easily be supported by the trellis.

That might be the way to go. It's a pretty plant and it has the bright cheerful flowery look the wall needs to lighten it up. It climbs if you tie the stems to a support. It blooms all summer. I have to treat plumbago as an annual, though. It won't winter over.

Okay, I've decided I should forget about growing clematis against the brick wall, dig up the root of 'Henryi' and instead put in a plumbago auriculata, which I will have to replace each year.

Now, what to do with the new little 'Samaritan Jo' vine I ordered? I might plant it in a container with a small pyramid tower and put the whole pot in the half shade in Meadow's Edge where the area needs brightening. That might work.

Friday, August 1, 2014

And It's August

It's dry. Ten days with no rain. Strong showers passed through the state today, but we got nothing, not a drop, despite black clouds threatening all around us.

As August comes in it is amazing how many cold nights we've had. The temperature is consistently in the 50s at night. When I get up to make the morning coffee it's chilly.

The nicotianas don't release their nighttime fragrance at all in this cool weather. They're pretty enough, though. I have three kinds.

Delayed by all the cool air, the bottlebrush buckeyes are late to bloom, but have finally -- finally -- opened their rocket shaped flower spikes.

All except that tardy one second from the left. It's a different cultivar, it flowers two weeks later, and I complain about the lack of blooming symmetry every year. Drives me crazy. Jim says the hedge has "character" and "individuality", but those are just euphemisms for a labeling mistake by the nursery.

Black eyed Susans, daylilies, cardinal red lobelias, deep purple phlox are all adding color now. A few of the frilly white 'Miss Manners' obedient plants showed up and I added more this summer, but the big stand I had in previous years is just a little patch. I've been watering and fertilizing it more this year, to see if it does better with more attention.

The deep wine colored velvety 'Ruby Slippers' cardinal flowers keep diminishing every year, but I see some small ones near the patio wall, waiting to open. I'm fertilizing and watering them more this season too, to see if I can revive what had previously been a big stand of them.

The grape leaved anemone 'Robustissima' has silvery buds held aloft, and one pink blossom has opened. This is a plant that does fine with little care. I did stake it earlier in the summer to keep it from flopping over. By the time I got to it last year, the plant was too big to get any supports under it.

Russian sages are blooming now but they are sparse. They seem to be taking several years to bulk up.

Should I cut down the 'Alba Luxurians' clematis by the patio wall? It finished blooming a while ago, and in past years the foliage got tired looking and I cut it to the ground in late July. By September I would always get another full plant, with glorious white blooms all over it.

This is what it looked like in the middle of last October, after hacking it to the ground in mid summer.

This year the foliage looks fine and I am reluctant to chop it down. Will it rebloom on its own if I leave it standing? I guess I'll try leaving the vine as is and see what develops this season, even though right now it's just a tower of uninteresting green. It sure isn't much to look at now.

Each year is so different. Some plants behave differently, just when I had their needs figured out from prior years.  Or some don't show up, after I had created a nice design with them the year before. Some were big and robust one year, wimpy and small the next, leaving gaps.

Sometimes I try new plants and they aren't as rewarding.

This year I planted smaller zinnias, rather than the big Cut & Come Again series which get so unruly -- and what I have now are button sized zinnias that are too tidy and don't provide any summer oomph. They are all pink, not mixed colors this time, and I miss the variety.


Nasturtiums are piddly this year. Mostly I planted Yellow Gleam, and it's too pale and underwhelming, and not very flowery. Give me a big orange or red one.

Every year I end up with empty spots, ratty looking areas, and places that just look weedy despite my careful tending. The containers on the deck need some refreshing too.

My solution is always to run out in August and buy things that are too leggy in their nursery pots by mid summer, then scrabble around in the cement that is the dirt in my dry summer garden, and try to stuff some color into areas that are bare.

That's what I did again this week. My summer ritual -- buy a bunch of pot bound plants in full bloom, scrape out hard dry dirt to put them in, and get frustrated with trying to fix things on the fly. I got gaura Whirling Butterflies, some pink coneflowers, some mixed low mounding zinnias, petunias.

There's not much left in the garden centers as August arrives.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Funk's Plants

Funkia grandiflora -- also Hosta plantaginea
I did not know that hostas are also called funkias, named for Heinrich Funck, a German apothecary and botanist.

In 1812 the plants we call hostas were first named to honor an Austrian botanist, Nicholaus Host, who, in addition to being a plantsman and author of a botany manuscript, was also the personal physician of the Emperor of Austria.

It would seem he was well connected.

Later, in 1817, a German botanist proposed naming this family of plants after the Bavarian botanist Henirich Funck instead.

As with many of the thousands of plants being classified into the new Linnaean system in those years, confusion ensued, and the name Funkia was finally rejected in favor of Hosta.

But not until after the German name was already in wide use in Europe. In the 1800s gardeners everywhere commonly called these plants funkias, and that name is still used in many European gardens today.

It's somewhat like changing aster to symphyotrichum, which, although official, is never going to happen in my garden. Asters will always be asters, even the ones that are something else now.
Funkia grandiflora blooms

I want to plant Funkia grandiflora, certainly for the name, also for the very fragrant white flowers, and surely for its light green, bright foliage. Gertrude Jekyll loved them, William Robinson grew them, and I think I should have a Funkia grandiflora in my garden too.

But . . .  it's a hosta. Ugh.

Hostas are so overused, so prone to slug and deer damage, and I don't have much shade. I find them plastic looking -- both because they can be endlessly bred to be any color or form you want, and because they so easily mimic fake plants (or fake ones easily mimic the real thing).

I have a couple that the builder put in, so I don't know what cultivars they are, but they both have muddy purple flowers on tall ungainly stalks. The one tucked under a baptisia by the basement window is shaded but goes unnoticed in its out of the way location.

The one along the front walk under the dogwood is more visible, and looks good now, but will be slug tattered and crispy by August.

I love the idea of a Funk plant in my garden, but hate the hostas I have.  How to reconcile that?

(If anyone reads this journal other than my own family, it may help to know that my maiden name was Funk. Just to explain. . . )