Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Problem Child

Still cold, in the single digits at night, and barely up to 20 in the daytime.

For years I have been wanting to move the little dwarf weigela 'My Monet' from Northern Exposure to somewhere else. This pretty pink-tinged shrub has been a problem child every spring when its striking foliage pairs up with the odd smoky purple baptisia in bloom.

The frothy tiarellas and the veined coloration on the 'Green Spice' huecheras add to the problems. This is just awful. Awful.

But every year I let it be, then despair the following spring when it sets my teeth on edge in May and June.

I should move it this year.

How about putting it at the corner of the new stone wall at the entrance to the gravel garden? Right where those lambsears were (I took those out).

The weigela is eye catching on its own, it is rounded and low, perfect for this spot. And it really pops when it has a dark green background or a light dusty blue color near it.

Here I can barely see the blue dusty miller that I had near it one year, but it is obvious even from this bit of the shot that the blue was a good contrast with the pinky foliage.

And here I can see the dark glossy leaves of the rose, and the saturated red of the blooms, works well.

I think the dwarf spruce as a backdrop, the bluish rocks and the spot at the corner of the wall would be good for this pink problem child of a shrub.

I'll need to move the tiny new dwarf abelia that I put there late last fall. I should cluster the three of them ('Fairy Dance') together at the center of the stone wall (where the terra cotta bowl sits in this picture), and then leave the far left corner for the pink weigela.

The three super-compact abelias at the top of the wall will bloom pale lavender in summer -- I haven't seen the flower color yet, since they were new last fall. Does that recreate the combination problem with the weigela's odd pinkiness?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Too Much White?

Still so cold, single digits every night, chilly 20s in the daytime, even when the sun shines. For days now.

As I sit indoors going over photos and plants from last season, it occurs to me that the majority of flowering trees and shrubs around the gravel garden have white blooms. White blooms are a common color for woody plants, but I did not plan that.

The star magnolia starts it all in late March.

Then the fothergillas bloom in late April and into early May.

Then the pretty deutzias take over from mid May to June 1st.  The blackhaw viburnum against the house blooms white in mid May, although so far it is not very profuse. At the same time as the deutzias, the styrax across the garden blooms, also very frilly and pretty from mid May to the first week of June.

The sourwood starts blooming in June and goes all summer. The little flowers are subtle and more noticed for their effect against the fall foliage than for their whiteness.

The stewartia blooms from mid June to the start of July, but so far it is sparse, and the little flowers are hard to see.  At the same time the New Jersey Tea below it is in full creamy white flower.

And of course the 'Tardiva' hydrangea that anchors the end of the gravel garden is showy white in late summer.

There is also the simple fact that the gravel is shades of white and gray, and that is the visual center of the garden.

Is that too much white all season long?

It is broken up by the brief blooming of the intensely red buckeye in mid May when the deutzias and styrax are blooming -- that's a nice combination. I have been debating whether the buckeye fits in that spot, but now that I think about flowering, I'd like to keep it for contrast in spring.

And orange butterfly weed at the end of the garden adds color. The most contrast, though, comes from annuals and pots that I put in the gravel garden in summer.

In fall the area is ringed by brilliant foliage colors from the paperbark maple, the smokebush, the stewartia and the sourwood. The fothergillas are bright and the longer view from the trees around the yard is intense too. Purple asters and soft pink mums add zing. In fall this is a colorful garden.

But as spring unfolds this year I need to pay special attention to the symphony of white blooms that plays out from April to summer all around the gravel garden. Especially as the new plants mature and there is more of it.

I don't think it will be too much white. The effects are subtle, the blooming goes on from early spring through summer, and there is a lot of hardscape, chairs, annuals and busyness going on here. So much white may actually be calming for this crowded area.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Giant Reed

Bitter cold is back. It snowed last night and the wind blew and it is only 5 degrees F outside this morning.

Jim and I had waffles and sausages for breakfast, topped with big scoops of blueberries from my garden that I had frozen. They were tart! What a treat to taste the bounty of my garden on such a winter's day.

The snow accumulation wasn't much here, although other parts of New England got a foot, and there was much disruption. Our tour of the Masonicare assisted living facility in Wallingford (yes, some day I will leave this garden) was canceled.

So the day will be spent indoors dreaming of next summer's plants. Here's one:

I really want to grow variegated giant reed, Arundo donax 'Peppermint Stick'.  I think that is what we photographed at Chanticleer last June.

It just popped in the sunlight with that clear white striped foliage, and although it is huge, it arches over gracefully and kind of fits in with other mounding perennials. Could it possibly fit in my garden?

Could I put it at the back of the Birch Garden where the agastache was? That back corner needs an anchor plant. Would it stay put or spread terribly?

We saw more giant reeds at Chanticleer, planted among some emerging globe alliums, and the contrasting structure was beautiful. These were much smaller, a newer planting perhaps.

I have tried tropical looking foliage plants before (canna in a pot) and it doesn't fit my garden's style, but I was pretty tentative about it. I only planted one canna in a pot that was too small, and simply set it in the gravel garden.

If I want to try this big bold plant, I need to commit to planting it in a prime spot and among things that will complement it. Here is the Birch Garden with the agastache in the spot I am considering:

There are plenty of mounding foliage things in this garden. Toward the back last year the strappy sword-shaped foliage of irises and blackberry lilies started to fill in there. So I think the forms would complement.

The agastache was a beautiful plant that I miss now, but it was too similar to the large mounds of nepeta in the front of this garden. Repetition is good, but that was a lot of blowzy purple, front and back.

Do I think a big, dramatic stand of eye-grabbing foliage that looks like a shock of corn would go at this corner?

I dunno.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sentry Shed

This is what I need in my garden:

From Gardener's Supply

This is from Gardener's Supply and it is expensive for such a small structure, but it is exactly, exactly what I need want. It is $549, plus there will be extra shipping charges. But it is perfect.

I want to paint it deep red, the color of the ice house in this picture.
This is the color

It will go on the back side of the berm, by the compost row, and it will store the pitchfork for easy access. Right now I have to tromp all the way around the house to the garage to get the tools I need to turn the compost, and it makes a whole project of simply turning the pile.

I drew where it would go, roughly. Tucked right between the spruces and set back onto the berm. I'll need to make a level spot to put it on. I can use the rest of the crushed gravel for a 3.5 x 3 pad.
Looking from behind the compost row toward the back of the berm.

Will it be heavy enough to stand upright when the wind blows? Can it simply sit on the crushed gravel pad? Is it going to be perfect or what?

I may have to take out the lower shelf so the handle of the pitchfork and any shovels can be set in there.

The price is a concern.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sunrise Coffee

It poured yesterday, a gloomy 40 degree day of wet winter gray. This morning dawned bright and cold, 28 degrees. The sun was rising just as the coffee brewed.

Sitting at the dining room table, with a hot cup of coffee, I watched the sun rise through the east windows.

The Dawn viburnum outside the dining room window, so aptly named, welcomed the sunrise.

And then the sun peeked up over the tree line and began to light the books in the bookcase across from the windows.

It only took a few moments, not even the time to drink a full cup of coffee, and then the house was bathed in sunlight.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Coyote Family

Last Friday Jim got some great photos of a coyote family that has taken up residence in our area this winter.

We have only rarely seen a coyote here. Peggy and Cheryl say they have had coyotes all around them in the Duncaster area of town but this year they don't hear or see them. So apparently they have moved their territory.

I was away (skiing with Gail) the day he got these shots of the family, but I have seen them since.

It was a mother and four pups. He tried to get pictures of all five together, but they were hunting and running and the pups were cavorting and jumping, and the best he could get were two at a time when they were standing still.

I don't think they are a real danger to deer, but I hope their presence is enough to keep the deer at a distance this year. I do think they'll keep the rabbits and voles down a bit.

For the first time we have tunneling moles in the yard, and they are making a mess of the lawn. I know they are good for eating lawn pests and grubs, but Jim wants them out of here since they are creating big hills of dirt everywhere.

Moles are not a prey animal for coyotes, although sometimes they dig them out of their tunnels.

It is so amazing to see these guys in our yard. The pups are the size of large dogs, but the mother is much bigger than any dog.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What You Can't Do

I have to buy pots with the
combinations already planted up
I've learned what works for me in the garden over several years now, but one thing I have yet to learn is how to manage containers.
I've never grasped designed containers with spillers, thrillers and fillers --- all my pots have one and only one plant in them. That's enough of a challenge to keep watered and trimmed and in bloom. 
I've never figured out how to do large shrubs or small trees in containers, despite the nice magazine photos I see. A shrub or tree gets too big. Too heavy to move, too big to tip over and root prune, too much to deal with. 
I can't make myself spend money on colorful glazed ceramic containers. 
All mine are neutral terra cotta or tan or wicker, Hypertufa or gray composite. 
Most are fiberglass or plastic to survive staying outdoors in winter. Blah.
One effect I kind of liked last summer was the row of tiny plastic terra cotta colored pots with yellow marigolds in them.  Early in the season they were orderly and cute, but later on the marigolds outgrew the little pots.
in May they were cute, lined up at the edge of the gravel
by August they were a yellow mini-hedge, but by September they toppled over

But one thing I have learned that you cannot do is keep potted plants out in the garden over winter.

Theoretically you can, if they are hardy to a zone below your own (because the container gets colder than plants in the soil do.)

But what happens here is that they freeze, and then rain comes in mid winter and you have standing water on top of a frozen root ball and it is all stuck to the ground.

Looks pretty in light snow, but the reality is that the
whole thing will freeze and then act as a watertight
cistern to hold freezing water all winter.
That's what happened yesterday in the Thunderfog.

Warm rain poured down on frozen containers and I looked outside to see my dwarf blueberries and the red honeysuckle drowning in pools of water.

I went out to tip them over to drain, but they were frozen fast to the ground.

Poor things, the stems encircled in two inch thick ice collars, the roots so waterlogged that pools of water were cascading over the rims like Niagara Falls.

When I tried to tip over one of the blueberries to drain it, the solid ring of ice around the stem shifted and severed the woody shrub from its roots.  Now there is nothing left of the 'Jelly Bean' blueberry above the soil line.  sigh.

What you can't do is leave containers outside in winter, even frost hardy plastic ones that won't crack.

I need to remember that and bring ALL pots inside the garage to winter over, even if they would theoretically be hardy enough outside in a pot.

They might survive the temperatures but they can't survive the freeze and then the rain and the drowning in place.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


From bitterly cold the past week to 59 degrees today. It's pouring rain, and the rain is standing in huge lakes over the frozen ground. The dry creek bed is a running torrent.

There is fog, and thunder, but no lightning.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One Degree

That's how cold it was this morning, just one degree F when I got up. The sun is out and the air will warm, but it's another very bitter day.

The real news, though, is that that after a couple nights of single digit temperatures, the porch is now down to 28 degrees.

Temperatures on the porch in winter have not dipped below freezing before, but it's been very cold for more than a day and the plumbago that I was wintering there is frozen.

It had looked good, with healthy green leaves, although I had chopped it back for winter. Now it is pretty sad looking. I'm not sure the roots survived in the pot.

So I need to put a plumbago on my shopping list for next spring. I love its blue flowers and want it again, but even growing it in a pot and overwintering it on the enclosed porch didn't work.

It's an annual for me.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Whipped Cream

After Thursday's snowstorm we were left with bright skies and bitterly cold temperatures.

Yesterday I awoke to minus 7 degrees at dawn.  Today it is a little warmer, about 20 degrees just before noon.

The snow crunches and groans loudly when you walk or drive on it. It's that cold, complaining sound that only very frigid snow makes.

Even though the snow was fluffy and dry it stuck to the trees in a way that looks like whipped cream carefully swirled on the branches.

It looks so white and so creamy and so artfully dolloped on everything.

The big spruces have dots of cream on the tips of their branches, and the denser dwarf Alberta spruces are positively coated.

It kind of looks like the soft serve machine at Dairy Queen malfunctioned.

There were tracks all around. I wonder how the wildlife stays warm on nights when the temperatures are below zero.

I'm still staying indoors, not venturing out very much in this cold weather. There is salt and frozen slush all over the roads and driveway, and that's not pretty. But I do love looking out the window to see so much whipped cream in my garden!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Haven't Been Outside

It is snowing hard today, with over 6 inches expected by tomorrow, maybe much more.

Not going outside.

In fact since before the holidays I have not been outdoors at all.

Occasionally a sprint to the mailbox, and once or twice in and out of the car going to the store. That's it. For weeks I have been inside.

Our trip to Mammoth included a morning on the slopes in the sunshine and that was great, but otherwise I stayed in the cabin by the fire.

I like winter, I have warm clothes, and there is no reason not be outside inspecting the plants, wandering in my snowy garden, or going for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. But I don't.

Today, with the blizzard swirling there is every reason to be inside.  But when it clears, and now that the holidays are over. . .  I need to get outdoors!

A discouraging note to the beginning of the new year: the heart shaped accent stone fell out of the stacked wall I built. It was there New Year's Eve (I know because we were showing it off to Noelle and Bob), but it was lying on the pavers on New Year's Day.  Just plopped out.
It fell out New Year's Day

Since I haven't gone outside, I have yet to do anything with it, and the heart is still lying on the ground, now covered up by the accumulating snow.