Monday, July 29, 2013

Day One

A lovely day today, with temperatures in the 80s, but humidity in the 40s. What a difference that makes. Sunny, breezy and summery, but when the humidity is below 50% it feels so much better.

I always make a note of the temperature here in my journal, but that has so much less impact on how it feels than the moisture level.

This was Day One of the porch remodel. A lot of tearing things up and laying in materials, like all the new windows and lots of sticks of lumber.

Long way to go yet, but they have really started.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Voices in the Garden

I say there, what a lovely summer day. Jolly fine temperatures today and some sunshine. Quite pleasant here in the herb bowl.

Yes, indeed.

Mmmm, so calm, no breeze, just perfect for a pink anemone to open. I am the first. There will be others, but I am the first and I am perfect.

Yes you are.

Would you all be quiet? I am trying to nap here on this daisy. White moths flitter and flutter, but I am resting now.


Well, I'm busy. So much to do this summer. So much to do today. While the sun shines.

Gotta go now. I'm off.

We only get one day each. One single day to show off, and then . . .  But it's a perfect day today and we're happy enough and others will be by tomorrow.

And then more the next day and the day after and for days after that. We're daylilies and we're pink, aren't we?

We're getting the party started. August can't arrive until there are Black Eyed Susans and hamburgers and lemonade. Nothing says summer like . .
 . . . us.

Friday, July 26, 2013

We Have a Dumpster

It was cold and damp this morning -- not just a cool summer morning, but really cold and damp, in the low 60s with rain. It was jeans and sweater weather! We got a third of an inch of precipitation. By afternoon it had cleared off and was in the 70s, pleasant but muggy.

Yesterday, before any rain and while the air was so cool, I got the geraniums cut back.

They were still blooming profusely, but many had gone by, and last year I waited too long to cut them back and they never filled in again before fall. This year I hope they fill in, re-bloom and then have great fall color.

I also used the cool weather yesterday to do some clean up around the line of Tide Hill boxwoods. I took out and moved a bunch of the strawberries, then added mulch to keep this area more open, and cleaner looking.

I trimmed back some of the fothergillas too. Should I move them? They really will get far too large there, and the Drive By Garden could use some shrubs.

All the little boxwoods need a trim, they are getting a little shaggy.

We have a dumpster!

The porch is finally getting its makeover! Monday the contractor arrives. Today a dumpster showed up in the driveway, proof we are about to start our project.

I have never known what to do with the porch. We aren't changing the footprint, so it will still be small and narrow, but with deeper windows going down to a kneewall just above the floor, it will feel like a porch and not so much like a walk in closet.

The vinyl siding will go, replaced with wood that we will stain or paint. And a brick floor (actually brick tiles) will replace the utility carpet. Those two cosmetic changes will completely upgrade the feel of this place.

(Vinyl siding is ok on the outside, seen from a distance. You don't focus in on the fake joints and trim or see the faux grain in the plastic when you see it from afar, even though you can clearly tell the difference between a vinyl sided house and wood clapboard. But up close, in a room enclosed in plastic, it is really, really cheap and ugly. The metal strips that finish the edges are bent and look bad, and the fake plastic takes on a dirty pink hue inside.)

How much richer the dark brick and real wood will look.

And how much more open to the back yard and garden it will be with deeper windows. I will be able to sit on the sofa and look out instead of being hemmed in by a wall topped with windows.  Can't wait.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Can This Be?

When I woke up this morning it was 58 degrees outside. After all that heat and humidity over the past weeks, it is not just cooler now, it is cold!

Great sleeping weather with the windows open and the quilt on.

When I took my coffee outside to sit and drink a little, I was chilly. There is a breeze, and the air is nippy. I had to go back inside.

Can this be?

Summer can be variable and storms can move through and change conditions rapidly, but the change between our heat wave and this is crazy.

One thing I have noticed lately is the new growth on the variegated sweetgum Silver King. It had struggled so the first year, and then this spring we moved it, and the leaves continued to be small and stunted and brown at the edges.

Then the heat hit and they browned even more. But look now --- how healthy and big those new leaves are!

I am pleased with how this tree is looking, and I think it will fill the area nicely.

Here's the newly planted one I saw at Hollister House Garden in June. They had left the tag on it. It's in more shade than mine.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Impressions of My Morning

Cooler, in the 70s early this morning, but humidity is rising again.

This morning I took a cup of coffee out into the yard and walked around.

Garden shoes covered in dewy wetness.

A damp breeze.

A moment of surprise as I walked around behind the bottlebrush buckeyes, and was struck with the explosion of blooms on the backside of the hedge.

Blueberries right off the bush, popped into my mouth. These are the big sweet ones from the mid-season shrubs in the meadow.

Japanese beetle damage on the sassafras saplings, but not too bad.

A moment of worry. The pagoda dogwood by the dry creekbed has yellow dropping leaves. Did it suffer when the temperatures skyrocketed? Does it need more water? I have watered it. I'll watch it.

Love those rich dark chocolate cosmos. Plant more next year.

Rose of Sharon is blooming, just a few so far.

Black eyed Susans are opening. Not as big and showy as Goldsturm, but nice, and the foliage stays healthy.  Butterflyweed calls for my attention.

Summery, wet, sweet air.

Cold coffee.

Little silver berries on the zenobia. I never noticed those before.

No urge to weed, although I see a few and pull a few.

The air conditioner roars as I sit in the gravel garden. Very annoying. A relief when it chugs to a stop with a clank that sounds like it just broke, and quiet returns.

Later I go in and have breakfast, then go back out before it gets too warm and deadhead the Becky Shasta daisies. I chop down all of the Alba Luxurians clematis. It was finished blooming, the lower stems were browning, and based on last year's experience, the whole vine will regrow vigorously and rebloom by the end of summer.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Temperature Malfunction Mode

Still oppressive and in the 90s, with the heat index going over 100 degrees. It is supposed to break today, with some rain- producing thunderstorms, but so far it hasn't.

We could use the rain. It's been over a week, and the sunny hot wind has been hard on the plants. Containers really struggle despite soaking them every day.

If I go out in the morning and work very slowly, I can get a few minor things done before I am drenched. I just never remember having such trouble with heat when I was younger. Now, in my 60s, the least effort on a humid day means I have sweat streaming in my eyes, water running from my nose, soaked clothing, hands too wet to hold tools, rivulets running down my cheeks.

I remember being hot and sticky in summer, but nothing like this, ever. Of course I never had hot flashes and night sweats before either. My whole body is in some kind of water and temperature malfunction mode. None of the dials work, and all of the regulators are gone haywire.

So here is what I did get done while the cloud cover and a damp wind made things a little more tolerable this morning.

I cut back all the nepeta. I like the blowsy spread of the plants as they flop over and wiggle into the junipers nearby. But the blooms are gone by, the forms are messy and they need the chop.

I also dug up and moved a few pink Cut & Come Again zinnias to the empty spot in the front center of the Birch Garden. There is always an empty spot there, I never seem to find anything to fill it. Even all the tall Nicky phlox plants did not fill that space, although they help immensely with their deep pink at this time of year.

I took the Black & Blue salvia out of the pot as I had wanted, and put it at the edge of the gravel garden near the smokebush. It's a filler, holding the empty spot where the aurinia was. Then I dug up the little plumbago to put in the pot. The plumbago looks better already. It was doing nothing by the side of the arbor, and although it had one sky blue bloom, it wasn't growing. Better out in the open in the container.

Still need to cut back the drumstick alliums and chop the big patches of geraniums back, but the morning's easy work was too much. Soaked, I came in, ate lunch and then slept the sleep of the dead in an after-lunch nap. I really think the little bit of movement out in the humid air makes me so sweaty and I lose so much water that I get dehydrated, or something. I mean, I slept.

What a surprise the blackberry lilies are this year, the orange ones forming a big stand at the back, and the wine colored 'Sangria' lilies forming a stand at the front. I haven't seen them so prolific before.

The weird thing in the Birch Garden this year is that the evening primrose never spread, and only a couple pretty pink blooms remain in a small area. It had previously been a worry for being rampant.

And the big wild stands of yellow coreopsis have not materialized either. Last year they took over the back of the Birch Garden. I loved them, the sunny yellow flowers on tall floppy stems were nice. But this year the little patch you see above is all there is. I don't know where they all went.

I have decided the lone rogue bottlebrush buckeye in the hedge is bothering me a lot, now that all the others are so big and blooming so profusely. It sits there, not ready to bloom for another few weeks, right in the midst of a line of big flowers.

It. Is. Driving. Me. Crazy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dog Days

It's been too hot for words for days now. Every day in the 90s (101 in the sun today) and the humidity is high and the sun is strong.  A high pressure sits over us, and has blocked rain or any change in weather for a week now.

They happen every year, these dog days of summer, and they keep me inside, where I do crossword puzzles and nap and think about what needs doing in the garden.

I go out and water at night. There are some changes I'd like to make -- I think this is the last year I will try to grow Black & Blue salvia, it just never looks like anything. I am getting a few blooms, but not much. It's all light green foliage.

Instead I want to take it out of the big navy blue pot and put the little struggling plumbago in there.

And there are plants I want to move, and containers I want to change, and . . . . .

. . . . it's too hot.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hot White

It's mid summer and I want to enjoy being outside on a summer's day. I don't want to be a wimp and spend all my time in the air conditioned house. But even a short stay outside just isn't that nice.

Sitting in the gravel garden under the umbrella with a glass of wine was anything but enjoyable at 4:30 this afternoon. It is 93 degrees and the humidity is 66%. The A/C unit by the garden roars. The sky is a blank white. No storms threaten, but the whole atmosphere is heavy and oppressive.

The patio is not shaded enough yet to sit on under that hot white sky.

But . . .  despite wilted lacecap hydrangeas and suffering containers, there are pretty things going on.  A lot of mid July white!
Big white Becky daisies
Clear white handkerchief clematis blooms

Creamy white bottlebrushes
Delicate white lily of the valley flowers on the sourwood
Boltonia's light lavender rays read as white asters in the hot glare
But there is color too. Scarlet crocosmia Lucifer, and peachy pink daylilies and the candy red of the berries forming on the doublefile viburnum.

And the magenta purple of trailing lobelia, which isn't looking so full or robust, but is still a nice color with the cool lambs ear below the pot.

And there are bright yellow daylilies, and wine colored drumstick alliums.

It's all pretty enough, but the weather does not tempt me to be out there looking at it. A few moments in the early morning with my coffee, a few moments to go out and take pictures, and then a day spent inside with the constant air blast of the A/C. Sigh.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Fine Morning

The humidity broke and the temperatures this morning were in the mid 70s. It was lovely to be outside and I had one of those mornings that was so rewarding -- digging, moving things about, redesigning areas.

Unfortunately one of the areas that got redesigned was the spot where the katsura tree was. This is what  it looks like now. Gone.

It had completely died since earlier in the month, as I knew it was going to when I saw the bare branches and dropping leaves. With only a small strip of bark still intact, it could not carry nutrients and when hot weather hit, it was over.

I do want to replace it. Jim took out the root ball --- boy was it a swampy mess, a big sodden pool of water in there.  We spent a lot of time talking about what to do with the east side of the house, but I just want to keep it simple and replace the tree with another katsura in that spot. I think.

I also took out all the penstemons in the Drive By garden. So much better now, but bare, and sorely needing something there around the little blue juniper.

I actually moved the juniper. Moved it over 20 inches, maybe two feet. That's how I do all my garden designs, I randomly place things, then find out they are too close to other things and move them, sometimes just a foot over.

You can see where the juniper was too close to the growing ninebark, which will get much larger. The juniper was in the spot where the light colored stone is, and now has been moved to the right just a wee bit.

I know, crazy. But boy did it feel good to have a shovel in my hands today and scrabble around digging and planting!

There is so much more to do here. The smoky-foliage rose to the right of the juniper will be moved in fall. And I am thinking of moving the new Parrotia (which is just beyond the rose) over a few feet, closer to the empty spot where the rose is now.  Just a few feet. That's how I garden.

Then I need more plants to underplant around the main trees and shrubs here.

Some of the aromatic sumacs suffered this year -- I think they got hit with lawn weed killer at just the wrong time, and those near the edge had dieback. I need to fill in, and add some more, and so I took cuttings today of new growth from the healthiest.

I just stuck the twigs in potting soil. No rooting compound (I didn't have any). We'll see if they take.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Diagnosis: Scorch

Another inch and a quarter of rain yesterday. Unbelievable. It is only in the high 70s today, very darkly overcast, so I went out to weed and start moving things around in the Drive By Garden, which needs a total redesign.

But the mosquitoes were awful and the humidity was so high that it just wasn't doable. I did manage to cut back the floppy Huskers Red penstemons in the Birch Garden, and do a little weeding. Not much.

I don't think the alpine willows (Salix yezoalpina) on the east side of the house have bacterial scorch. The brown edges do not have the ring of discoloration at the edges. But they do have a scorch problem, and my diagnosis is that heat and sun are the problems.

The whole patch looks terrible, with new leaves all deformed and banded in brown.

When these groundcover willows scorched in last summer's dry stretch, I put it down to drought. But this year that simply can't be.

We've had so much rain! Three and a half inches just in the first ten days of July. Over 12 inches of rain in June, record breaking downpours.

The older leaves look great, and I think when the temperatures were cooler with all that rain, they did well. But then we got very high temperatures for a while, and it is the new leaves that seem to be affected.

These are alpine plants and they want cool temperatures and perhaps more shade than they are in. They get what amounts to full sun -- even though they are on the east side of the house and in deep shade during the height of the afternoon, they are in a full seven hours of direct sunlight from dawn to 1 p.m.

So even with all the rain, I really think the bright summer sun and temperatures in the 90s are browning the leaves. It's not a water problem. They surely are as wet as can be this year. Maybe too much, even. As alpine plants they can take dry conditions, but I do think they need cooler weather.

So, what to do?  They are not diseased, they are spreading well. But they look awful in the height of summer.

  • Should I leave them and just don't look?
  • Or take them out and replace with vinca or pachysandra? Those are easy, overused but reliable groundcovers that will do what the willows are doing for coverage.

What to do, what to do.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chocolate Cosmos

An inch of rain last night with thunder and lightning. A real downpour. It's cooler today. Overcast and in the high 70s. Everything is wet!

The mid season Berkeley blueberry shrubs are now ripening and I had a few of those today.

The early ones (Northland, Northblue, Northcountry) are all still producing and I pick big bowlfuls every day.

And still no birds or critters bother any of them.

The rabbits are exploding everywhere, though. A rabbit did eat the new young baptisia that I had put at the back of the berm. Ate it down to twigs.

I've been sprinkling hot pepper flakes around other garden plants, especially the annuals.

I'm loving the chocolate cosmos and would like to get more next year. Sweet and pretty, but they don't smell like chocolate!

Monday, July 8, 2013

I Don't Get This

It got very humid and sticky over the 4th of July weekend, and quite hot, in the 90s. A thunderstorm rolled through, but only brought 2 tenths of an inch of rain, and not much change in the humidity.

I don't get what is happening this year with the fruit crops. The blueberries are phenomenal, and I am not netting them. No birds or animals have touched them, and the blue bombs are producing like gangbusters. The same thing happened with the strawberries.

This is what breakfast looks like, and it is only what I picked from two bushes while the coffee brewed. I still have to go out and haul in the bounty from the other two bushes.

Then I have to get the blueberries from the two early-bearing shrubs in the meadow. There are four more shrubs that have unripe berries that will come in at mid and at late season after that. And the early ones are not even close to being done yet, with tons of ripening berries still on them.

And this has been every day for a week now.

No netting, no battle with the animals for the fruits --- I just go out and fill bowls, and then go get more the next day.

First the strawberry bonanza, now the blueberry boom, after years of having almost no production at all from any of my plants. Barely a berry. And what there was always got eaten by critters.

But this year . . .

It can't just be maturity of the plants this year. Something else is going on and I don't understand it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Humid and damp. Not terribly hot -- it has only been in the 80s the past few days, but the humidity makes it so awful to be outside. And the mosquitoes are ferocious. On my morning walk around the garden today they were a torment.

Those are the problems with the summer conditions here. I also have some plant problems.

The salix yezoalpina, groundcover willow, has a bacterial pest I think. I'll have to do some research to see what it is.

The whole stand was looking great in spring, filling out rather aggressively and blanketing the east side of the foundation. But now the browning tips of the leaves are showing up and some are curling and wrinkling.

It got the same condition last year and defoliated, looked awful and of course never colored in fall.

Another problem is the white pine weevil in the Norway spruce out on the hill. I know what this pest is, and I know I have to get out there and cut the leader off.

Here's a design problem, not a pest issue. The nasturtiums just won't climb up the towers, and so they look like lumps of greenery trapped inside a cage.

They were supposed to be trailers, so I thought I could get them to roam up the support, but it isn't happening. I liked 'Gleam' last year because it climbed the inkberry hollies nearby so well. I might try that one again next year in these twig towers. So far pffft on these 'Variegated Queen' which are supposed to trail 6 feet.

Another design problem that I might change next year is the little St. Johnswort in the blueberry garden.

It's blooming well and I like the bright yellow. But I wish I had put in the St. Johnswort I had several years ago that has blue green foliage, big daffodil sized yellow blooms, and gets tall and bushy. That one was Hypericum frondosum 'Sunburst' and I loved it.

This one, 'Blue Velvet', is nice enough, but the leaves are little and the flowers are profuse but small. Next to the small leaved blueberries and groundcover fleeceflowers, there is no contrast. And it isn't bushy enough to cover the sparse bottom of the clematis on the iron tower.  It's tidy and cute, though, and I will move it somewhere else.

So those are the problems in the early July garden. I must do something about the pests, but I will wait till next year to do something about the design issues.

And of course there are tons of successes in this wet summer garden!  Just a few:

Love the drumstick alliums popping up all over.

 The California poppies are open. I thought they'd be orange.

The one remaining New Jersey Tea shrub is blooming. I like its low roundy shape and pretty flowers so much, and the bees do too.

I'm pleased with the Black Beauty dahlias, and would definitely plant more next year.

Oh, and the blueberries are coming in great. Despite not netting them, I am getting a bowlful every day. Birds and critters seem to be ignoring them so far. How can that be for long?