Friday, May 31, 2013


After such a cold Memorial Day weekend, thunderstorms brought rain and very hot, humid weather. Today is in the 90s and sticky. In the sun my weather station reads 99 degrees this afternoon.

This is what I had for lunch today:

Delicious. After so many years of disappointment with these 'Mara des Bois' strawberries, I am getting a bumper crop this year. Tons of them for days now, and loads of berries still ripening on the plants, and I am getting so many perfect, ripe, sweet berries that taste the way strawberries did in my youth.

I started these in 2009 in clay strawberry jars, and that didn't work out. I moved them to a long plastic container trough and they were too crowded. There were slugs, springs brought poor conditions for fruiting, they languished, I lost so many plants, divided others, planted them out in the garden by the hatchway, and then re-planted them along the gravel garden in 2011.

Finally, they were happy. In the gravel garden border they spread and sent out runners in 2012, and produced a few berries that the chipmunk ate. I got about a half dozen strawberries over the summer.

Now, in 2013 they are wondrous! The cool dry spring, then tons of rain right at fruit set, all seemed to work this year. The chipmunk is nowhere to be seen, and birds have not noticed the red temptations. What lush, vigorous plants (I am even ripping some out where they crowd other things).

And what scrumptious berries! I simply walk out into my garden, kneel down and pick a bowlful. Wow. Jim was impressed. Me too.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

So Sweet

There is nothing so sweet as almost an inch of rain in the gauge in the morning. Thunderstorms brought  brief but heavy rain overnight.

There is nothing so sweet as going out into the wet garden to pick strawberries for breakfast. There are many more red berries on the plants needing just a day more to ripen. And lots and lots of immature fruits to ripen over the next weeks. Where is the chipmunk?

There is nothing so sweet as seeing brand new transplants well watered. I do not need to water anything, not the containers (they're too soaked now), or new seedlings, or things I moved. And the new, expensive, huge black gum that Bartlett planted yesterday got watered in well.

This tree is the companion to the black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) planted in front on the right three years ago. This new one is almost the same size (hence the price), but of course as a new transplant it is sparser and will take a little time to fill in and catch up.

But as it does, the two tupelos will make a pair -- a frame for the front of the house. And this new one behind the mailbox visually breaks up what was a small but very open expanse of lawn that looked too featureless smack in front of the garage wall.

Here is a terrible picture in bad lighting, but it gives an idea of how the two tupelos will frame the right side of the house -- the front porch and door -- rather than having the peaked garage face be the focus when you look at the house straight on.

Hard to tell with the new one being so sparse still, and I do think the one on the right is too far over. Oh well. That's the idea: two large gorgeous trees (especially in fall) with the opening between them showing the front door.

So sweet.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sweetgum Move

Memorial Day weekend has been extreme. Lots of rain earlier in the week, then hot and humid, then on Sunday it got so cold, barely 50 degrees. Monday was abundantly sunny and beautiful, in the 70s, and today is iffy again, with more rain coming.

The magnolia Elizabeth that I wrote about 3 days ago now looks even worse.

So Jim got out the hand saw, and it came down rather easily today. Sniff. I will really miss that beauty. We just cut it off at the ground and left the small stump and roots in place.

The sweet gum was moved into the space, and the dwarf corylopsis that had been under the guest room window was moved in front of it. This is a better site for both plants.

The sweetgum doesn't seem so crowded as it did on the end of the Drive By Garden, so close to the quickly expanding Cornus mas.  And the corylopsis is out in the sun and not crowded by the fothergillas and the big miscanthus that are under the window. A better site for both.

When and if the sweetgum grows big enough to produce fruit, the gumballs will fall mainly in the bed (I hope) and not all over the lawn and driveway, although if it is big enough they'll fall everywhere.

Here's half of the length of the Drive By bed with all the spindly immature plants in it. The light colored sweetgum now has pride of place in the center. The tall narrow Cornus mas on the far right can spread out and anchor that end, with the two witch hazels filling in on its left.

The new little parrotia is on the left, next to the rosa glauca but hardly visible yet. I can't wait to see this whole garden strip in several years time.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Too Much

Okay, okay, I was dumb to complain so bitterly about rain missing us.

For the past two days it has rained off and on, and we now have another inch added to the inch and a half we got earlier.

2.5 inches of rain, total.

It went from being hot and humid a few days ago (we had the air conditioner on) to very cold (45 degrees, with the heat on all day).

Too wet and rainy now to enjoy the pretty white deutzias that have opened, and the irises. And the red Blaze peony which only lasts a few days, maybe a week at the most, is opening but dropping petals in the rain.

Sheesh. Now it is too much. But the system is finally moving on, the clouds are being blown about by cold wind, and things should start to dry out over the next few days.

The goatsbeard on the porch is blooming. I love how it has aged the pot.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Elizabeth Does Not Look Good

Overcast, cloudy, with more rain threatening. Unsettled weather and cooler, in the low 60s.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' looks very bad. She bloomed earlier in spring, but is not leafing out well. Leaves are stunted, very small, and limp to the touch.

As a young tree she was shapely and had a huge, full canopy. This is what she looked like in early fall, 2011, before the October snowstorm tore off and twisted branches.

And here is what she looked like when first planted in 2010. The leaves were big and almost tropical looking even then. The skinny trunk did not look like it could hold up the foliage.

In 2013 she now looks to be in decline. First there was all the branch damage from the 2011 snowstorm. But in 2012 it looked like it was coming back, with new shoots, a lot of new growth and new branching. It started to fill in again and looked great.

Then there was antler rub in the winter of 2011-2012 that tore off some of the thin bark. But a callus had formed and was healing the wound.

However, I think the combination of branch damage and trunk damage was enough to cause the bark to crack. According to the research I've done, yellow flowered varieties are particularly susceptible to bark cracking, and it can be the result of winter sun, structural damage above, or to the roots.

This tree certainly had its share of damage above.

The crack is all the way up and down the slender stem.

There does not appear to be a callus forming at the edges of the crack -- it's just open.

So now Elizabeth is leafing out in a very pallid and stunted way. No big tropical leaves, no fullness at all.

I won't do anything yet. But I fear Elizabeth is not going to make it. I'll move the variegated sweetgum there if I end up having to remove this magnolia.

What a star she was going to be in my garden.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Never Mind

Ignore my post from yesterday ranting about the lack of rain when all around us got a good soaking.

Although it truly was weird to see the empty rain gauge after so much hype about storms rolling through for days.

But never mind. We got an inch and a half overnight. Good, wet, soaking water.  And it simply fell from the sky all over everything.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Big Umbrella Over Us

We just got back from three days in Vermont for our anniversary. Lovely time at the Grafton Inn. It poured buckets of rain up there, with major thunderstorms rolling through over a couple days. Wow. It came down hard, a lot of rain in two separate storms. We drove home in rain, and were still getting pelted all through Massachusetts this morning.

The whole three days we were there the doppler map showed storm systems rolling through Connecticut too. I did not water anything before we left, knowing our area was forecast to get soaked.

The last rain we got was a quarter inch two weeks ago (well, 13 days ago) so I was relieved to know we'd get something at last, after such a dry spring.

But it didn't happen. Official records show more than half an inch fell at the airport, 8 miles away, but my yard got nothing. Not a lesser amount --- simply nothing.

The birdbath is down to scum after three days and the rain gauge doesn't have a drop in it.

After two weeks with no rain, and only a quarter inch before that, the first thing I need to do now that we are home is go out and water the new saplings. And I need to water the containers, which dried out over three days since I had expected them to get well soaked while we were away.

Today is cloudy and stormy and threatening, and doppler maps show bands of rain all moving over New England, except for over Hartford and Bloomfield.

Once again the impending rain on this map is actually moving north toward Albany and will miss us, just as all the other massive green blobs of rain did for three days. The green blob above in Massachusetts came through from the west, staying entirely to the north of us.

We're a tiny state. How hard would it be to get a rain storm to move a few miles over and deliver the rain that all the other states get from each storm coming through?

It's like there is a big umbrella plonked in the left upper corner of our state that shields us from absolutely any kind of precipitation, over and over. And even when the airport station gets some rain, another smaller umbrella shields us just a few miles away.

I noticed this dry bubble over north central Connecticut in other years, and I noticed we would be completely dry when the airport nearby got a good soaking, but thought it was just an anomaly or just me complaining over nothing.  It isn't. Our pocket of land just below Penwood forest and just under Talcott Mountain Ridge is truly in a defined rain shadow.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Today was hot and humid, in the 80s. Wet air, but no moisture for the ground at all, which is back to being dry and dusty after the little bit of rain we got last week.

I went outside just to walk around, and found three ticks when I came in. The point of having a garden is to walk around in it and wander and enjoy. But every single time I come in from outside I have to deal with ticks on me.

It's not just when I have been scrambling around pulling vines out in the meadow, or just when I have been weeding on hands and knees in among the plants. It's any time I walk outdoors. It's any time Jim mows or goes out to take pictures. He can go out for just a minute or two to get a good photo shot and come in and find a tick on his head.

When we come in we inspect, checking everywhere on our bodies and clothes. But then a few hours later I find two in my hair, one crawling on my ear, another on my sock. Jim finds them on his neck. Lunch time is spent scratching my head and finding at least two or three each time.

At night, after I have showered and blow-dried my hair, long after I checked everywhere, I reach up to touch my scalp and there is a tick embedded in the top of my head. Several times now Jim has found them on his pillow in the morning.

I take my clothes off and look into all the seams and sleeves when I come in to shower, then leave them on the side of the tub. An hour later I see a tick crawling on the tub edge. I find ticks in the corners of the bathroom sometimes, even when I have not been outside at all for a day or two.

I constantly feel creepy crawly, especially my hair.

There is an explosion of ticks. Here is a long article in Outside Magazine that talks about what has happened with tick populations over the past years.

I grew up in Connecticut, played outside, climbed trees, built things out in the meadows and wandered in the woods, and I never remember seeing any ticks on me.

I don't remember ever taking a tick off the boys when they came in from a day playing in the woods behind Bugbee School, or even after long games of wiffleball in the yard, running into the tangled plantings all around us to retrieve a ball. Mosquito bites, bee stings, yes. But I never once saw a tick on them.

Now, I bring in three or more on me whenever I so much as walk around the garden to look at the plants. I have to start saturating all my clothes and hats with DEET even to just walk the garden now, but how I hate the smell and feel of it.

I do love the garden, but I increasingly feel so icky going out into it, either from the DEET or from the ticks. And it is not just silly squeamishness -- after my horrific paralysis and fever and joint pain in 2008 from Lyme disease, I want nothing to do with any risk of a tick bite. Jim won't go outside for enjoyment at all -- the only time he will spend any time outdoors is to mow or take a picture for me.

We are starting to view the yard as a place to stay away from. This can't be right.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Doublefile is a Star

Nice, cool, dry weather in the 70s. Some sun, some clouds, no rain, although once again we need it badly.

The doublefile viburnum is at its best.

I like these dark clovers in a pot.

The aronia this year is awesome. I don't remember it being such a frothy white or so tall before!

I'm loving the little Tide Hill boxwoods in a slanted row. The strawberries, so prolific all of a sudden this year, are crowding the boxwoods a bit.

The blackhaw viburnum is blooming this year but only at the bottom. I think it got frost damage earlier this spring. I saw frosted blackened leaves and some crispy flowerbuds, so that may explain it.  I do love how my pruning has taken effect -- it's a nice little tree now. Quite shapely.

The Chocolate Chip ajuga keeps going and going.

All good.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Filling Some Gaps

From Dave's Garden  Salvia coccinea Hummingbird
Yesterday's freeze did take out the red salvia seedlings in the pots that I had left unprotected on the berm.

They are gone, and maybe one or two others by the dry creekbed got it, but the rest in the ground did seem to survive.

Everything I covered with a coffee filter or overturned glass is ok, and the angelonia seem to be fine.

Today was unsettled and windy and cloudy. No rain, although it threatened all day.

It appears that I have some gaps to fill ---
  • A gap where the agastache is not coming back this year in the Birch Garden. 
  • One of the New Jersey Tea plants is gone, leaving a small hole by the gravel garden.
  • Where I took out the winterberry holly next to the bayberry, there is a gap. 
  • And the two pots with frozen salvia seedlings in them need plants to replace the poor seedlings.

Here are some thoughts, using what I already have:
> Maybe put my new Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) in the ground in one of those gaps? Put it where the missing agastache was? Is there enough shade there? 
Spigelia marilandica from BK Perennials

There on the far right back corner is the Purple Haze agastache in August of 2012.
Is there enough shade now, in 2013 from the Orange Dream Japanese maple?
Can the spigelia take quite a bit of sun?
> Put a couple of the Cherry & Ivory Swizzle zinnia seedlings into the pots on the berm? I don't need so many under the birdbath. I just need a little pop of color behind the yellowroot foliage out there. These would be nice.
Cherry & Ivory Swizzle zinnias from Park Seed

Now, what to put near the bayberry?

What to put along the border of the gravel garden where the New Jersey Tea was?

Do I need to go shopping? Do I?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Readings All Over the Place

The forecast was for a low of 41 F overnight. I did not bring in any pots or try to cover any seedlings.

At 3 a.m. I woke up and the reading on my clock from the official local reporting station was 36 F so I got a little worried. I tiptoed out to the kitchen to read my backyard weather station and it was 30 degrees.

A freeze.

So at 3 in the morning I was in my bathrobe and slippers hauling the pots inside on the porch. I covered what seedlings I could with coffee filters, which was all I had at hand.

I never did get back to sleep after all that activity.

At 5 in the morning, my weather station read 29 degrees. As the sky lightened I could see a white frost coating everything outside.

The pots on the porch are safe, and the nasturtiums and some zinnias are lightly shielded by coffee filters. The choca mocha cosmos is too.

But most of the red salvia seedlings are uncovered and I may have lost those. The new angelonias were uncovered too.

If they are lost, I'll get some other annuals to replace those.

How could the forecast have been so far off?

(At three in the morning, in still cold air, it was actually exhilarating to be outside. Not a single car passed in the half hour I was running around out there. Not a peep of sound or a puff of breeze. Stars overhead. Silence and utter stillness and me alone in a garden frozen in time and temperature. It was strange.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Possible FreezeTonight

Mother's Day was nice, and with the several days that brought some rain, everything looks good.

Now today it got cold. It is only in the mid 50s with a chilly breeze. The Basket of Gold plants look warm and yellow, with the red smokebush leafing out behind.

But it is a cold one, and the prediction for tonight is for mid 30s.

That's too close to freezing. I will need to cover up the zinnia seedlings, the new choca mocha cosmos and the nicotiana. And three little angelonias. The dahlias and black eyed susan vines and salvia in pots will need to come in. Sheesh. It's a lot. Oh, and there are red salvia seedlings out in the garden too.
(update on Tuesday morning: no freeze. It only got to 39 F briefly, but precautions had been taken and everything vulnerable had been covered.)
In the cool weather today I took out the leftmost winterberry holly that had been crowding the bayberry and the hemlock. It opens up the area a lot. Boy does the bayberry look awful, but I know it will green up at the end of May -- it's always such a late one!

I was thinking the New Jersey tea plants were awfully late too. They still look like sticks. But when I look closer I see that one is leafing out from the roots a little bit, the other is not at all. It should not look so completely bare in mid May, even if it is a late one to come out.

Everything is a week or more behind last year's very warm spring, but this ceanothus does not look good. It was fully in leaf by May 18 last year. It is now the 13th and very bare. I don't think it is going to come back from the roots.

I thought the two gaura in the front walk were no shows, but they are leafing out. They are late ones too. I spent some time trimming the heaths today, and cleaning out some of the crowding (I'm looking at you, Angelina sedum) in that strip.

I cut back the Frosty Morn sedums for more compact growth (the variegation is all gone) and there were aphids all over the new growth, eew.

And the sourwood is finally putting on leaves! The black gums too --- they are very slow. You can't even see the sourwood on the right here, it is just a brown stick, but there are little leaves coming out.

Scilla are blooming, but they are such a moody gray-lavender and they don't show from afar. Plus they are overtopped by columbines and nepeta in the Birch Garden. I really need to move them or take them out.

All four clematis vines are putting on height: the new Niobe is the smallest under the Austrian pine, the Jackmanii is filling out the iron tuteur, the viticella Alba Luxurians is rising, and here is Henryi:

Much progress, many things are growing and blooming but this cool spring, and dry period have held a lot back.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

And Another Quarter!

There were two separate days of rain last week that brought a mere quarter inch each time. Then Friday was a beautiful cool, brightly sunny day. On Saturday rain returned and brought another quarter inch of rain. So, over the past several days we've had three quarters of an inch of rain, and everything looks great.
Tiarella looks lush this year, and is making a  nice "river " of pink spikes
Geums are bright orange, and the pruned viburnum is blooming.
The flowers at the top are missing, though. I think frost got them earlier this spring.
Chocolate Chip ajuga is rich and purple and spreading!
Green Spice heuchera and Weigela My Monet
Mixed Pansies

Tomorrow: FROST. Oh no.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Quarter + A Quarter

We ended up getting a quarter inch of rain late Wednesday, and then another quarter inch of rain late yesterday as the bigger, wetter system slid all around us to the north and south. At times Hartford got a lot of rain and the Litchfield hills at the same time, but we were constantly in that weird open bubble of clear sky.

But I will take it. A half inch combined, and everything looks so refreshed.

Jim saw the first hummingbird of the season today at our feeder!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Still Hoping

Not a drop of rain for 17 days and less than half an inch before that.

And now no rain out of this weather event at all. We are in an open window, with rain clouds sliding around us to the northwest toward the Great Lakes. The green blob out in the ocean is sliding toward New York, to the south of us.

Long Island and NY got lots of nice rain, and earlier Mass. did too, but we have not had a drop today.

Still hoping that new storms may form tomorrow.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dry, Dry, Dry

Still no rain, for three weeks now, other than 4 tenths of an inch 15 days ago. I'm starting to see mild signs of stress as the plants are emerging and leaves are coming out.

We have turned on the lawn sprinklers already and used them twice. I water, water, water all the new trees and the little seedlings I put out and the buckeyes, and the trees just planted last year.

Water, water, water --- it takes up so much time. It's just so dry, dry, dry. But rain is predicted for later this week.

Meanwhile, in the spring garden:
Fothergillas are blooming.
I love the big red pot I got at Home Depot for cheap.
(I put California poppies in there)

I like my little row of Tide Hill boxwoods, marching down into the gravel.

The geums are the happiest flowers in spring, very ORANGE!

Forget Me Nots spill

Ogon spirea is the prettiest, most delicate thing in the garden in spring.

The groundcover alpine willows look good now.
In summer last year they burned and looked awful --
Hoping for a better season this year.

This is how much the alpine willows have spread
under the Dawn viburnum.

All the trees and shrubs I ordered have been planted. The three carpinus, the three sweet birches, the hop hornbeam, and one new sassafras. Six blueberries, plus the two dwarfs in pots. A cornus racemosa, which I actually split apart and planted two pieces of it in the meadow. The plumbago I put that at the front edge of the new arbor.

And the kiwi vine, which will be permanent after the plumbago finishes its one season, also went on that side of the arbor.

All the seeds (marigolds, California poppies, scarlet sage, zinnias) are in the ground, waiting for some rain. We need a soaker!