Friday, October 31, 2014

Scudding Clouds

It's been in the 50s and low 60s, still and nice enough. The skies have been sunny, then scudding dark clouds move in, and a little rain spits, and then it clears up again. Then heavy clouds roll back in.

This has been one of the best fall color displays in years, whether in full sun or under blackening skies.

Both of the stewartias are amazing this year. The little Stewartia monadelpha is complemented by pink Sheffield mums in the gravel garden, and the Stewartia pseudocamellia by the front door shines.

Bottlebrush buckeyes, Aesculus parviflora, have formed a big hedge finally, and the whole line of them has turned bright yellow. Their big floppy leaves and bright color give them a wild look.

Most black gums, Nyssa sylvatica, turn scarlet or wine colored, and the ones I have in the back of the house certainly do, but the one in front always turns more orange.

This is the first year I have noticed any fall color on the linden in the cul de sac. It's a soft yellow, very nice. And all of a sudden this planting of two white pines and a linden, installed by the builder in 2006, has become a lovely grouping.

Here is what it looked like the first summer it was planted, and of course the white pines that flank the skinny linden were just little blobs then. The poor linden was volcano-mulched.

I love how well formed the linden has become. It is a really beautiful tree now, despite a severe case of antler rub on the trunk one year, breakage from an early snowstorm a few years ago, and living inside a mulch pyramid (I removed as much as I could by hand over the years.)

Fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica Gro Low, is a river of red. It runs down the edge of the driveway, and I repeated a couple clumps under two of the birch trees just beyond.

It all looks so great this year, The whole yard, all my gardens, the hills beyond, all of it shining under black clouds and broken sunshine. I don't even know where to point the camera.

I'll stop now. There are more colors, more sights, and beautiful autumn light at this time of year. But I'm getting overwhelmed!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Forest Fire

Sometimes in October, the woods around us looks like it is burning.

It's morning, the yard is in deep shadow from the house, and rays of sun only hit the tops of the trees, setting them afire. Thick, smoky looking clouds hang above.

I expect to smell smoke and hear sirens, but a walk down the driveway is made in calm, still, chilly air. It only lasts about 20 minutes, and then the sun rises higher and lights up everything, not just the treeline, and then the forest fire is under control.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Go Slow, October


O hushed October morning mild
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.

Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.

Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!

For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’s sake along the wall.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Waiting for the Rain to Stop

The day our solar panel installation was finished we got a nor'easter -- a rainy, windy bit of weather circulating over us spinning counterclockwise for days. Not much sunshine to christen our panels.

We got an inch of rain from it over the past few days.

It remains cloudy and wet today as the storm moves off, and the 100 daffodil bulbs I need to plant are still in a bag on the porch, unplanted.

To amuse myself during days of raininess, I pulled up some photos I took a few days ago just before the storm moved in. These are of the driveway garden, which looks so much cleaner now with all three of the 'Tardiva' hydrangeas removed. It was getting dark and it was threatening rain when I took these pictures, but the garden looked good.

The Rhus aromatica is doing what I envisioned when I planted this bed. It is spreading at ground level and filling in along the whole area. This fragrant sumac is at its best in fall, when the fiery red color and shiny leaves make it light up the long strip.

The doublefile viburnum in the near foreground will get large and add weight, the light colored variegated sweetgum in the middle will add height, and the big witch hazels and corneliancherry dogwood at the end are already bushy screening plants. In between the doublefile shrub and the sweetgum tree there is a tiny Parrotia persica, which can't really be seen yet. It will become a tall, narrow, beautiful tree, adding more height to the line of this garden.

A little bare patch of dirt at the edge of the driveway is seeded with grass and waiting for the rain.

It is interesting how the Rhus aromatica under the Norway maple is staying green, while all along the rest of the garden it has turned flaming colors. Is it because it is in more shade, or because of drier conditions from the root competition?

The black-purple of the 'Summer Wine' ninebark is a color I'm not sure about. It has shiny leaves like the fragrant sumac, but the inky color seems odd with any other combination of plants, even with the lighter sweetgum next to it.

I like it better from the backside of this garden, where a stand of silvery colored mountain mint next to the ominously dark ninebark tames it.

To the right of the purple ninebark is a tiny silver blue blob that is a Korean fir 'Silberlocke'. It is a slow growing dwarf, and likely to stay mounded rather than the more pyramidal shape that some Korean firs become*. It is the same cool silvery blue as the mountain mint on the other side, which was a happy accident of design.

It would be nice if the rain and clouds would go away now. Still waiting.

* the 'Silberlocke' fir was from Kevin's nursery before he closed. He told me he had propagated this himself, and because the parent plant was a mounder rather than a taller specimen he says my plant is likely to have a lower profile and stay rounded. I'll let you know in 20 years.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Solar Panels

The first freeze of the year occurred Sunday night. It got down to 30 degrees and stayed there all night. Monday was chilly, windy, and promised winter.

There have been some changes here. I'll show you, starting with a sketch of our house this summer:

And here is a real life photo of what it looks like now, with 6.875 kilowatts of solar energy generation installed on our roof. That will provide 100% of the electricity our house uses.

The roof faces full south, there are no obstructions, and no trees will shade it for a long, long time. It doesn't look too bad -- the panels have a clean, sleek look, but still. . .  they are smack on the front of the house. I'll get used to seeing them and won't notice after a while, I hope.

The installers were beside themselves with glee -- "we don't see such an easy, full sun, unobstructed orientation very often" they gloated happily. I think they even brought friends over to climb up on the roof and enjoy how great it was . . . . there were a lot of guys hanging out up there at times.

Now let the sun shine down on my garden and my house!

Sunday, October 19, 2014


My katsura tree has not disappointed.

As I walked around the east side of the house yesterday I caught the delightful sugar smell of cotton candy.

The leaves are now mostly down. The breeze was coming toward me in gentle puffs. The morning had been cool but the air was warming.

The fragrance was light but it was there, and if a smell can be described as a color, it smelled golden.

I am completely and thoroughly intoxicated.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Lemon of a Lemon Tree

It rained a lot. An inch and a quarter of soaking rain yesterday, all day. Today is sunny and sparkly.

It was hot and humid and we put the air conditioning on, even though it is mid October and we've had chilly nights for a while.

When we got back from Kentucky it was so cold at night (down to 36 degrees) that I brought the Meyer lemon tree inside. Now we have humidity and warm temps and open windows at night.

But here it is, my lemon tree under lights, indoors, looking out of place and forlorn.

It has bloomed but I got no fruit. In fact when it arrived, mail order, it was full of fragrant blooms that fell off.

It thrived outside all summer, and I had to prune it pretty severely. The leaves are deep green and glossy. It bloomed outside, but again, the flowers fell off.

The problem may be either too much water or not enough water. One or the other.

The problem may be immaturity. How old does it have to be?

The problem may be temperature -- it won't set fruit when nights are cold. It's warmer in the house, so maybe that will fix it?

The problem may be too much fertilization or not enough. Whatever, this tree is not performing.

I just hope this lemon tree isn't a lemon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When We Got Back

When we returned from a week in Kentucky, it was a delight to see that the sourwood had turned bright red.

It's not a deep, rich red, it is always more cerise colored, almost a pinky red, but very spectacular.

Compared to the rusty doublefile viburnum at the back, it is bright on an overcast day. The soft pink Sheffield mums, just opening, tone it down a bit.

When the sun comes out, the leaves of the sourwood take on a richer color against the blue fall sky.

When we got back, I spent some time cleaning up the geraniums. I had to cut them all to the ground, they had totally gone by and were a brown tangled mess.

I added 5 bags of pea gravel to the dry creek bed to refresh it. I also opened up the end of the creek bed a little wider by moving stones around and adding pea gravel. Hands and knees work, moving rocks around.

Bulbs arrived in the mail during our trip. I have a lot to plant: a hundred daffodils, lots of drumstick alliums, some globe alliums and a lot of ornithogalums. More hands and knees work to come.

When we returned the Raydon's Favorite aromatic asters were in full bloom. Wow.

I divided these asters this spring and now there are several around the gardens, but this original stand  is amazing. I divided them, I trimmed them back in early summer, and they are too big for this space by the gate. They are crowding the fothergilla behind, which may need to be moved.

My katsura tree turned orange while we were away, but there is no autumn scent. Yet. When I walked around the corner at Becky's, her katsura delighted me with the classic burnt sugar smell -- loved it! The leaves on her tree were mostly down. I may have to wait for mine to drop leaves in order to smell the cotton candy scent.

The bottlebrush buckeyes just started to turn yellow the week we were gone.

The clethra did too, although not all of them. They had a stressful dry summer, and that has affected the fall color.

And the long row of yellowroot on the berm just began showing some copper tones. It will get much richer soon.

Out on the back hill, the little persimmon is fiery yellow orange, and the early sassafras  -- the odd one that is tiered and small -- is tangerine, while the other sassafras trees are still green. Blueberries are all hot red now.

Oh, and little white autumn crocuses popped up along the front walk and opened.

We were away only a week, but transformations occurred in that short time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Appalachian Autumn

We had a week away, driving for miles through the autumn colored Appalachians and visiting good friends. 

We had a wonderful time, betting on the horses while sitting under parasols in a premier box at the finish line. We dined at The Club and had an incredibly informative personal tour of a racehorse breeding farm.

We rode a three car ferry across the Kentucky River. We shopped, visited the Shakers and ate, ate, ate. Of course there was a beer and bourbon tour -- it was Kentucky after all -- and we got quite mellow.

Becky's gardens are delightful. It's a country garden, four acres of ever changing shrubs and trees and flowers integrated with the wild forest around their hilltop estate. And we ate from her extensive vegetable garden, but the prized paw paws, the first ever on her small trees, were stolen in the night by some critter before I even saw one.

And when we returned home, tired and road weary, I looked up as we entered the driveway, and thought how nice our own place looks.

It's good to be home.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Friday, October 3, 2014

Noah's Ark

Why do I have pairs of trees or doubles of shrubs in my garden? Not groups of three, not single specimens, but two of a kind. Most of the big woody plants here have been planted in twos, sometimes side by side, sometimes in two different areas of the yard.

It started with the big red maples planted the year after we moved in. Two of them.

A couple years later I planted a sweetbay magnolia, then another one. Now there are two, not yet the same size, bracketing the corner of the house.

There are two black gums in front of the house. I do have more tupelos out back in the meadow and by the bridge, but the front yard has a symmetrical pair of them framing the house.

I planted two blackhaw viburnums and trained each one into a tree form. One is under the bathroom window, the other is in the Blueberry Garden in back.

There are two Austrian pines, buddies next to each other along the back perimeter of the yard.

Two flat round Birds Nest spruces flank either side of the entrance to the front walk, threatening to grow out and across the walk to join ranks.

Two red carpet roses were planted side by side below the bedroom window, then moved. They moved together and are side by side in the driveway garden now. They blended together to look like one shrub, but there are two.

I planted two doublefile viburnums, although to be exact, one is 'Shasta' and the other is 'Mariesii'.

I have two Corneliancherry dogwoods, one by the driveway, the other by the Birch Garden.

There are two mounded dwarf white pines anchoring the center of the Birch Garden.

I have two dwarf Blue spruces, one at the top of the driveway, and one in the garden in back.

Two identical plants can make a formal statement, framing an entrance as the Birds Nest spruces do by the walk, or as the tupelos in the front yard do. But for the informal look of my yard everywhere else, why do I have so many pairs of large woody plants?

It's not like the trees and shrubs I chose need a male and a separate female (some types of woody plants do, but not the ones I have.) And it's not like I have a deliberate design repetition going. . .  I just have random pairs.

It's like Noah's Ark here; plants came into my garden two by two.