Saturday, March 30, 2013

Much Has Been Done

Despite the cold drizzly start to Thursday, much has been accomplished in the past three days!

Thursday afternoon cleared off a little, and Friday and Saturday were cool, partly sunny days, in the 50s, perfect for work outside.

Jim helped prune the conifers that had too much growth up top, although we held off on the spruce with the crooked top branch, since it turned out that there are no other tall branches. That crooked one is the leader. I'll ask Bartlett about it.

I even turned the compost pile. Phew. Hard sweaty work, but the air was cool enough for it.

Perennials were cut back, carypopteris chopped back, lespedeza too. A lot of clean up, including the miscanthus grass at the corner of the garage and the three Northwind plumes at the back of Meadow's Edge.  Boy do I hate grass clean up in spring.

It all took the better part of two days to get most stuff cut back.

Then Jim and I assembled and put up the arbor at the entrance to the gravel garden, without any dispute. : )

I moved the dwarf spruce to the right side (it had been right next to the Star magnolia, not a good place as the magnolia gets bigger).

I will need to get another bluestone to make three steps into the gate area. I dug up all the thyme around the area, added more fill and raised the topmost stone up, and then replanted the thyme. I also used some of it to replace browning patches along the top of the driveway. Dying thyme has been a problem along there.

And I have a kiwi vine on order to put on the left side of the arbor, to climb over the arch.

The whole thing is horribly flimsy. It's just wobbly aluminum, inexpensive and lightweight. If I decide I like the look, and if the kiwi vine takes off and drapes well over the arch, I may consider getting a sturdy natural wood arbor and gate, and have it installed. For now, we'll see how this does.

Picture it all, if you will, in summer, in this very spot - - -

I dug out a lot of the edge on the back side of the border on the left to expand the width a little, and will put in a styrax there, just to the left of the first twig tuteur. That will shade (someday) the front part of the gravel sitting area.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Plans (and Conifers) Gone Awry

Despite the predictions of cool, clear weather for the next three days, and my plans to get so much clean-up and pruning and even digging done during that window of time, the weather has gone awry.

I woke up ready to go, put on some clean(ish) garden pants and waited for the temperature to get up out of the mid 30s.  By mid morning it had started to drizzle. Pffft.

Know what else seems awry? A couple conifers have odd growth up top.

The rightmost spruce on the berm needs a lop:

It's funny how it mirrors the slant of the ancient white birch across the street:

One of the Austrian pines needs some shaping on both the left and right sides toward the top:

This is the tree that I want to grow a clematis up this year.

The skies seem to be clearing, but it is still only 39 degrees now at lunch time. If the rain holds off after lunch I can still do some work out there, dressed for the chill.  Jim will need to help me with the extension lopper.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Get Ready for 3 Days in the Garden!

Tomorrow I have a dentist appointment and lunch with a friend, but after that, starting on Thursday the weather looks good for being out in the yard all day long getting stuff done. For three days!

Then Sunday is Easter, so I'll be sore and tired and ready to take a day off to visit family, eat, and rest.

The nights will be above freezing, and the days cool and breezy. Some drying out should start to occur, although there is still snow that needs to melt in places.  I'm ready for three solid days outside.

ThuMar 28

AM Clouds / PM Sun
AM Clouds / PM Sun

FriMar 29

Partly Cloudy
Partly Cloudy

SatMar 30

Partly Cloudy
Partly Cloudy

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Cold at night, in the low 20s, and the ground is frozen. But today there was sun, the afternoon got into the 40s, and there was only a moderate breeze. Some exposed areas were snow free. Where the top inches have melted it is incredibly squishy, though.

But I went out today and it felt good.

I took all the mesh and plastic trunk protectors off the trees on the back hill and in the yard. You'd think that would be a quick job, but it took quite a while.

I spent time on the back hill cutting down multiflora rose and bittersweet. So much of it. I wanted to brush each cut stem with Brush B Gone, but really it's impossible. In the tangle of woody vines and weeds and other debris up there, I can't get to the stems.

I just lopped off what I could, took the vines down from the upper branches and moved on to the next entanglement.

I cut my hands badly on some thorns, lost a glove on the hill, got hot and sweaty in the chill air, and wound up with burrs all over me.  A good day.

I saw that one of the black gums planted back there was incredibly root girdled. There were visible tightly coiled roots around the small stem, and I could see how distorted the trunk was becoming.

This is the tree, in fall 2011. It's nestled between some maples at the bottom of the hill, and it has not grown much.

I thought that was because Nyssa sylvatica is a slow grower, but this little tree is stunted, totally root strangled.

You wouldn't believe how girdled the top layer of roots was. I should have gotten a photo. I cut away what I could, lopping off quite a few tightly wrapped roots, at least the ones I could see at soil level. I hope I have saved it.

Even with all the entangled vines, the cold ground, and wet conditions, it felt good to be doing chores out in the chilly sun today.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Still the cold persists.

It is still in the 20s at night and the ground remains frozen. Snow has melted in some areas, but still, it's wintry and white out there. And windy today.

Yet this little iris wants me to know there is hope.

Oh, and taxes got done today.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Winter Lingers

The first day of spring has come and gone, but winter stays with us. Every day when I wake in the morning the temperature is in the low 20s. During the day it gets up into the 30s, sometimes even the low 40s, but the air is sharp. Not in a crisp mid-winter way, but in a chilly gray way.

With snow still blanketing the ground from the storm earlier this week, everything is white, cold, and the ground is not only frozen but unseen.

I had hoped to get some early spring tasks done in the cool of March. There are 5 things on my To Do list that are still waiting.

Inside, the seeds I planted are up, even the zinnias that I just planted a few days ago. The only no shows so far are the morning glories, but they'll peek up soon.

And the Rex begonia that I brought into the bedroom is doing really well. It goes nicely with the silvery-teal color of the quilt I bought this winter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No Chores Today

Gardening tasks for today have been cancelled.

All clean up and tidying for spring will be rescheduled for a later date.

We're staying inside today.

Pam came over and spent the night here last night so she could get a morning flight out to California. We are such an easy drive to the airport from our house.

There are several inches of snow and it is still coming down in a light snowy mist, but the airport was open and her flight is on time. The roads are okay, but anything else outside is going to be put on hold.

No chores in the garden today.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

No Let Up

Sometimes March gives us a sunny, calm day, and you can feel spring coming. You can spend a day outside doing chores, and the ground starts to soften in exposed areas.

This year there has been no let up from the cold and the wind.

For days now it has been in the 20s at night, and only in the 30s in the daytime with a stiff breeze. The ground remains frozen in most places.

Next week looks to be the same, although snow is forecast for midweek.

There is just no warm break to encourage any outside work, it's too wet or frozen to do much, and it's wearing on me. I want to get some things started!

A few hopeful signs are the royal purple iris reticulatas just coming up, and snowdrops, which have been blooming for a while now.

And the pink Dawn viburnum wants to open, as the bright yellow Cornus mas does. Soon!

I know this is typical March weather, or at least freezing nights with days in the low 40s are. And of course last March was abnormally warm. But I would like just a little let up in the steady parade of cold temps.

Just a day or two to be outside comfortably and to make me feel spring is coming soon!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Too Cold to Do Anything

Very cold and windy today. It never got above the low 30s and there was a bitter wind. A nasty day.

I decided to do some garage cleanup anyway. Cold weather is good for that, and I really want to prepare the area around the door for painting when it's warmer. I am going to paint the door black and make the entry we use every day look a little less like coming in through a greasy machine shop.
This is the idea -- from Houzz
Jim wasn't ready to have any of the junk accumulated by the door moved, and insisted I leave piles of his stuff where he could decide later what to do with it. Later. Not today. Okay.

I tried to take off the strip of pegs on the railing by the door, to get that area ready for painting later, but he didn't want me using a screwdriver to undo the screws. He told me twice I had to get the heavy drill out and do it a different way and on the third demand he got really edgy about it (just three easy screws to take out -- do I really need a power tool?), and I realized I wasn't going to keep him calm while I was "doing stuff" in the garage.

Which was the real issue, not whether I should use a screwdriver for such a simple job.

Whatever way I attempt to do projects drives him crazy. I don't select or use tools the way he does, whether it is garden projects in the yard or simple home fixes inside.
Another picture of what I want, but not black steps.
I have a white decal that says Welcome 

I know he thinks I am a total home repair / gardening klutzoid.

In the yard I've tried explaining that I can't handle the big shovel, I just don't have the upper body strength, but by using a small transplant shovel while on my knees, I can get some leverage even if it takes longer to dig a good hole. But I am not digging it the right way, and that upsets him. He has to tell me to put my tools away and go get the right ones. Or just let him dig the hole as it should be done.

I am happy as a clam removing sod with a Cobrahead claw in small patches, and hauling away the clods in a bucket. He insists I have to go get the edger to cut out square sod patches and then use a shovel to dig them up. It's much harder for me that way, but it is the right method to remove sod.

If I'm using a bucket to haul away weeds, he will tell me I need to use the wheelbarrow instead.

If I'm moving one bag of mulch at a time, he will come out to insist I should instead lift them up into the John Deere trailer, and open up all the bags into a pile in the tractor bed.

Since I can't begin to lift the heavy bags into the raised bed of the trailer, and shoveling it all out from the height of the bed is impossible, he has to do it for me, but that is how it is best done.

If I am spreading compost with my hands, kneeling, he insists I should be shoveling it and using a rake.

He is a big help with all my projects, he's very good about jumping in to work alongside me in the yard, which I really, really appreciate.

But it frustrates him that I don't work using sensible, appropriate methods. It certainly frustrates me to be so incompetent.

I feel embarrassed and I must look foolish, sometimes using tools meant for other tasks, and usually adapting a method that's easier for me to handle, rather than doing it the right way.

So . . . frustration today. My "clean up the garage door area for painting when it gets warmer" project wasn't done right. After he had to demand three times that I use the drill instead of a screwdriver to take out the screws, I had to stop and let Jim take over to do it properly, and he really didn't see the need to do it at all.

Besides, it was too cold out there to clean things up today anyway.

Too cold for gardening. Too cold to think about organizing the garage. Too cold to paint the door area and too cold to try to get ready to do it.

I went in and took a long nap.  I do that competently.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

March Chores Have Started

Still cold, still too much snow on the ground to walk around much, but March chores have started.

It has been in the 40s but sunny and still, so I could do some cutting back and cleaning up and pruning and it was really comfortable.

But the wet ground means I really should stay off the yard and out of the garden. Nevertheless I puttered around:

I pruned the rest of the hollies on the berm. They don't look much different but I took a ton of branches off and sheared for shape.

I pruned the viburnum on the west walk, trying to get a nicer branching pattern and keep the biggest branches away from the walk.

The grasses will go. I'll do that this week. They are so unkempt now, and this spring they will not only be cut back, but will be taken out to free up space around the air conditioning units. It will be a much different look along the walk then.

I cut down the amsonias in back, and the Hubrichtii amsonia in front. I tidied up the front walk where I could work in the sunshine along the walk without getting into the soggy yard.

The Kent Beauty oregano in pots on the porch is sprouting. Not sure the plumbagos made it, nothing to show in their pots yet.

I pruned the spicebush shrubs along the back of the berm, and brought the pruned stems in to force.

Jim and I watched two crows harass two hawks right over our heads in the front yard. It was quite a dive bombing battle, full of noisy caws and shrieks. The crows did drive the annoyed hawks away.
Not my picture. This is from NowPublic Photos

Oh, and I started seeds earlier this week. I have a station set up with lights in the basement this year. So far I started just the butterfly weed, which takes 20 days to come up. I'll start the others soon.

And Daylight Saving Time started today. The clocks are now an hour ahead, the late afternoon and evenings will be lighter now. It's started . . .   spring will be here soon.

Friday, March 8, 2013


I spent three days this week in Philadelphia at the Flower Show with Jane. We took Amtrak down, and stayed in a quirky B&B in the Society Hill area. The brick row house had been built in 1811 and was an eclectic mix of modern furnishings, centuries-old structure, and shabby chic upkeep.

We liked it, and it was comfortable, but definitely not luxurious. We could walk to the convention center a little over a mile away. Our hostess was a pleasant older woman, a gardener. Breakfasts were very good.

Snow threatened the whole time, but didn't really arrive until we got home, and now, March 8, we are in the middle of a wet winter snowstorm.

Last March at this time we were headed into a warm week in the 70s!

The flower show was a disappointment to me. Yes, it was huge and the exhibits were over the top and bright. There were high end vendors. And it really is about floral displays, not gardens.

But the theme of "Brilliant" and "British" led most exhibitors to do something vaguely related to English pop culture, and so we got a yellow submarine, Jane Austen cottage garden displays, gardens with thrones and the queen's crown as motifs. Umbrellas in the garden. Sherlock Holmes, lots of hackneyed British references, unrelated to anything to do with plants. A giant Big Ben in the middle.

There were gardens too, a Hidcote facsimile, a Scottish golf course, several layered and complex designs that were interesting enough, although plant material was almost exclusively bulbs, and azaleas.

The one exhibit I really did like was a student display showing the early seed trade between Bartram and Collinson, with accurate depictions of what the shipping containers were like and how a planted nursery might have looked.  There's a good post about it here at Hortitopia, describing it fully.
Photo and article about the exhibit from Hortitopia

I know a flower show is not like touring a botanical garden, but I did want to get design inspiration and some ideas I could implement. But there were few.

I do want to grow some big purple clematis twining up the Austrian pines out back. There was a lush clematis display that was over the top but actually inspiring. I could easily grow a couple of these gorgeous vines up through the pines.

And as we try to bring the Birch Garden closer to the three paper birch trees by widening the gardens themselves and reducing the grass between, the idea of using scattered stone steppers set in the grass to define a path is nice. It still needs to be mowed, but it ties together separate beds.

Jane and I both thought the show was too tacky, too much an entertainment extravaganza and too little about gardens or plants. But it was a great experience and a nice little getaway.

Now, back at home, we are getting buried. Snow all last night, all this morning, and it is still going on.


Monday, March 4, 2013

March Bluster

Cold and windy and partly cloudy. The temperatures were in the 30s today and the wind was gusting. Not a day to go outside, but I finally had to.

I think we have decided not to move the a/c units.  If we leave them where they are, the grasses have to be removed. They block air circulation and caused us problems last summer.

So they will come out. These are Panicum 'North Wind' and they were great screens last summer, but really were too crowded, and not looking very upright this winter. Out. Out.

And then we will see the units along the walk, but, well, so what.

The three soldiers at the back of Meadow's Edge, also Panicum 'North Wind', look upright and wonderful lined up in a row. Those are keepers.

Surprisingly, the big miscanthus by the garage door also looks good after a winter of snow and wind.

In the cold blustery wind, I did some pruning, but it was hard maneuvering in the snow. Not that it's deep, but it is just hard to get your footing.

I pruned the blue hollies for shape.  I did two of the four today. Here they are, with the clippings still strewn about.  I like to keep them pyramidical.

They look stiff now, but as spring comes and they loosen up a bit, it's a good look.

I also pruned the Viburnum prunifolium. That sharply angled branch bothered me, and I really do want to take off the lower branches to keep this a small tree.

An improvement? Not sure. The angled trunk had some interest. But this will give it a more vase shape, sort of.

I took off another branch above on the right too. It is such a dense twiggy viburnum, that come summer I may never notice that any branches came off, but I do hope it gives it a more elegant, open shape.

I need to prune the one by the side of the house too. At least the lower branch on the left has to come off.  What to do about some of the upper branches? Keep the curving one on the left or remove it? Take out the strong upright in the middle to open it up?

It was too cold and windy to stay out much longer today, so any more late winter pruning will have to wait.