Sunday, August 31, 2014

Come Sit for a Bit

My estate is grand enough that I have multiple places to park myself for a rest and a view.

There is my new bench which I bought for decorative purposes to visually break up the long row of the berm. But I find I sit on it in the mornings, sometimes for a long time when the morning is cool and there is a breeze. It provides a view back up the yard that I don't normally see from the house or from the patio. It is shady in the morning and is just a delightful spot to rest.

Next year: this is a keeper. I want the bench here in the same spot next year.

Then there is the front porch, where I put the folding Mayan chairs this year. I only sit here once in a while. It's nice, but sitting on the front porch looking down the street is odd. We are at the end of the cul de sac, and I feel like I am monitoring the drivers and walkers and dog-exercisers as they come down the road. It's weird. Waving and eye contact is awkward.

Next year: remove the chairs. Put some flower stands and pots there and leave it as a decorative area. 

It doesn't function as a sitting porch.

There is also the gravel garden, which I can't figure out how to use. I put the patio table and chairs in it this year, and it looked nice, but eh. We tried three times this summer to entertain here, but it has to be timed right so the sun is behind the tall trees to the west. Otherwise, it's too sunny and hot and the umbrella doesn't shade enough area. The air conditioners roar nearby. The steel legs of the chairs sink into the gravel. It didn't really work.

Snacks and drinks are around the corner, up the deck, and too far away. I had to shepherd people out here to sit, and it didn't work easily as a place to sit and entertain.  I didn't use it during the day either.

Next year: go back to having the Mayan chairs here.
It works better as an occasional sitting area. 

I actually really liked the way the Mayan chairs looked in the gravel garden in prior years, so I'll be putting them back here. Maybe get a hammock too? Yeah.

These chairs work better here than on the front porch. 

Then there is the patio, where I spend my time surveying the place from the rockers. This is shaded now in the late afternoon and I rock here with a glass of wine. The hummingbird feeder is nearby.

Next year: Change this up. Put the patio table and chairs here.
It will be much more convenient from the kitchen, and it's near the grill.

I actually had the table and chairs here at first when the patio was brand new -- isn't this photo from early spring 2007 amazing?

The set barely fit, but the table I have now is smaller.

I also had the table and chairs up on the deck for a couple years, but it was always really cramped there and I could never get late afternoon shade. It just didn't fit. But I did like having a place to eat lunch and have drinks with friends right outside the kitchen / porch door.

The table and chairs belong near the kitchen and house, but this upper deck area was too small.

Having the table and chairs on the patio will be more convenient. Definitely doing that next year.

Oh, and there is the little cement bench under the birch tree. I do sit here, it's a good place to stop and catch my breath amid chores. It faces the Birch Garden and is in shade in the morning. This stays.

I supervise the butterflies from my spot on this low bench.

It's Labor Day -- the end of summer and I'm getting tired of the plants and flowers and weeds and successes and failures growing in the garden now (it happens). So instead I'm mentally moving furniture around outside and it seems to be much more rewarding at the moment.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Little Stress

Hot and muggy yesterday, up to the mid 90s, and then a little cooler and fresher today after a brief thunderstorm rolled through last night. There was no rain from the storm though, just rumbles and flashes.

After drowning in two and a half inches of rain on August 13, it's now been over two weeks without any rain (I think a quarter inch fell the day we left for Denver, but that's hardly enough).

Some things look stressed.

The 'White Chiffon' Rose of Sharon looks really stressed. Leaves are turning yellow and it's not very leafy any more. I can see through it as I sit on the porch.  It is flowering but not as much as in other years and the blooms are shattering on the ground.

There has been vole activity all along the east foundation, and one tunnel leads directly into the rootball of the Rose of Sharon. Could that be part of the problem or is it just the long dry stretches with too little water?

The 'Edo Shibori' bush clover also looks bad. It is starting to flower now all along the bouncing stems, but the whole plant has flopped and splayed open down the middle. It's just messy looking. In other years it has been fuller and more arching.

'Forest Pansy' redbud looks stressed, but then this one is a constant concern -- it struggled in winter, never bloomed in spring, and leafed out late. But it did leaf out and it did look good in the cooler parts of summer. Now it looks limp, although it is one of the trees I do spend time watering deeply when I can.

The dogwoods look limp now too. The Cornus florida flowering dogwood in front and both Cornus mas corneliancherry dogwoods all have curled leaves, which is typical at the end of the season, but it seems very pronounced now. Is it the heat? The dry stretch? Is it normal?

Does it help if I worry?

Aesculus pavia, red buckeye, always yellows and drops its leaves early. Late summer is not unusual for this little tree to look raggedy and go bare. I did water this heavily this summer, as it crisped badly  in late summer last year. Even with the extra water it wants to close up shop in August.

It does seem unusual for the iteas in the Birch Garden to be reddening up already. They are bronzy now, and will be deep garnet red in October, if they hang on that long. I think the cool nights all summer this year and the dry conditions have stressed them into early color.

But some things actually look really good, with no signs of stress. The 'Robustissima' anemone, for example.

And the sweet autumn clematis continues to be spectacular, looking up at it from below, or looking out at it standing on the deck. Lovely from all angles.

And the 'Yellow Gleam' nasturtiums, after bunching around the foot of the twig towers all summer, have now made a shapely climb up the structure.

It's been a stressful summer for some of my plants. Too many chilly summer nights and too little rain. Then too much.

There's been a little stress in the household too -- Jim came home from Denver with a cold. It's almost a guarantee that airplane travel will sicken us.

Since retirement we are not around people enough, and with no grandchildren to share germs, we've lost immunity to anything.


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.