Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's Gone Viral

I'm a little uncomfortable about this picture and not sure what to do about it.

In 2010 I went with my neighbors to a garden tour of several private gardens in a nearby town. I took pictures, mostly to show myself what I could accomplish in my own garden.

I don't remember now what the addresses were or the names of the people who opened up their gardens for strangers to tour.

Kit drove, so I don't even recall the driving directions to get to any of them.

I pinned this one photo to my Pinterest board to show me what my own climbing hydrangea would look like after several years. It's been a helpful picture, especially since it shows how the lower limbs were pruned up, and my own plant is starting to look like this now.

Putting it on Pinterest meant others could see it and pin it to their boards too. It's my photo, I own it, I posted it knowing others could duplicate it, and, thinking only a few if any might re-post it, I didn't mind.

But then something disturbing happened.

Hundreds and hundreds of people started re-pinning this shot. It's all over Pinterest now, and once a picture achieves a certain level of distribution, further re-pins increase exponentially. After four years, this picture is being posted constantly on people's boards.

What disturbs me is that this is someone's house. I own the photo, but it's of a private home. I don't know the people, and they don't know a picture of their house is all over Pinterest. Some day they will see it out there and will say "hey!! that's my house!"

I could remove it from my board, but it has been pinned so many times that it's now being repinned from sources multiple times removed from my original post. I've lost control of it.

It isn't particularly revealing -- it's not like the address shows or the front of the house is recognizable, and nothing even identifies what part of the country it's from.

But the whole viral posting thing is making me uneasy. I would hate to go on a garden tour and be told "please, no pictures". But I can see what the pitfalls are when private gardens and homes are photographed.

Friday, December 26, 2014


There were some issues getting our solar panels started (there was an electrical short), but they were finally fixed and the system was activated on December 11.

Since December 11 we have barely seen the sun.

Days are so short leading up to Christmas, and the weather remained cloudy, gloomy and overcast every day. There was a bit of sticky snow that covered them even after the rest of the roof melted.

It's been nothing but steely gray skies and simply no sun. Day after day.

A spot of sun on Christmas day and finally some visible sky today, but it was almost as if our solar panels had shut down the sun.

Could that be? Correlation or causation? Hard to tell.

Two days before Christmas men with chainsaws came. They took down the struggling spruces on the berm. It needed to be done, but the minute those big bulky trees were felled, I panicked. Bare space.

These are the two that came down.

Now there are no spruces flanking the river birch. The scene looks a little grim on a wet gray day.

We originally planted five dense spruce trees in a staggered row in 2005 to screen us from the road and houses behind. We added little pyramidal blue hollies in between each spruce. Later I added two big rangy river birches. And some spicebush shrubs. Over the next 9 years it all got way too crowded.

But I loved the complexity and lushness of this berm as it all grew together, and it really did screen our view. There was a brief moment a year or two ago when all the plants were in harmony, the right size next to each other.

It looked especially nice in winter. Not as crowded then as in the height of summer when the birches and yellowroot and spicebushes were in full leaf.

But plants grow. By early 2014 we had to take out the holly bushes that had been planted in between each spruce. They were too crowded.

I kept cutting back the spicebushes on the back of the berm, and I hacked off river birch branches all the time to get them off the spruces. The spruces succumbed to branch dieback in these conditions, and the two on the right were becoming bare.

Now the berm is asymmetrical -- there are still three closely grouped on the left side, but the right half of this raised area has only the river birch and some empty ground.

I think I will get several more spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) and add them to the two that I had stuffed in behind the now felled spruces. I'll make a grove of lindera, which can get quite large and spreading.

Here are the two on the back of the berm, after hacking these back for a couple years to keep them away from the spruces.

And here is one we saw at Cornell Plantations that had never been pruned.

I think these wide spreading large shrubs under the river birch will fill out the empty side of the berm. In a group they will add bulk to counter the three remaining spruces on the left, although they are deciduous and will be open and bare in winter.

They will form a middle height between the ground cover yellowroot and the tall river birch. They are woodsy, which is the look I still want for this berm. They will get big enough to screen the road when in leaf.

They are slow growers, though, which will drive me crazy waiting and I will be tempted to plant other things among them to "fill in" and then I'll have the same problem with crowding as before.

I have such issues with overstuffing my gardens.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I Think I'm Ready

Christmas cookies are baked, stuffed into tins and tupperware, chilling on the unheated porch.

This year I made the traditional anise flavored decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and a new orange-cranberry cookie recipe that is intensely tart and sweet.

I made chocolate peppermint cookies (two kinds) that involved four attempts and two failures before acceptable chocolate peppermint results were produced.

The tree is up, the wreaths are hung outside, and I finally found the scented balsam candles I bought years ago.

The plane tickets are bought, the beds are made. Prodigal sons just need to arrive.

The step daughter and her husband are hunkering down -- he's recovering from surgery a few days ago -- so we don't know when Christmas with them will occur, but it will occur. Later, but it will occur. Santa says so.

Cards have been sent, donations have been made. UPS has been here every day. Wrapping paper and glitter have been strewn about, and Scotch tape has been stuck to things.

The bread machine has been retrieved from its banishment to the basement years ago, and bread is rising. Cinnamon bread, aromatic and heady and full of sweet carbs.

Blessings have been endowed and blessings have been received. All year long.

I am thankful.

I am ready.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sounds and Sights

The other night, about 11 p.m., we were lying in bed when we heard a loud ka-bang on the metal bulkhead door that leads to our basement.

The hatchway door is right outside the bedroom wall (the a/c unit is too -- do builders think about these things when they install equipment that could be placed anywhere?)

We sprang out of bed, flipped on the outside light, and what to our wondering eyes did appear but a startled deer fleeing around the corner of the house. It had been doing something nefarious right outside our bedroom while we slept just feet away. Then it was spooked, probably jumped sideways, and its hooves clattered on the hollow metal and scared all of us.

Earlier in the week, in the daytime, we saw a buck with a headful of antlers standing very alertly in the yard. Then we saw a doe a few feet away in the meadow. For about twenty minutes we watched as she moved a little, and he followed.

She wandered left and then he did, right behind her. She moved up the slope and stopped, and he moved up the hill and stopped too. She ambled off toward the neighbors and the buck ambled right along after her. She kept moving away, then stopping to make sure he was following.

The bobcat has been around too, hunting in our yard. These photos are grainy because Jim took them through the window, from inside, but the bobcat was just twenty-five feet away from the house, at the edge of our small lawn.

There was some stalking going on, and crouching and pounce-readiness, but whatever caught his interest escaped and after a while he slowly moved on. Actually, we don't know if it's a he or a she.

The other wildlife that uses my yard has not been seen, but they leave calling cards. The coyote has not been sighted recently but it has been leaving piles of scat on the curved footbridge over my dry creek bed. Always a pile on the bridge .... use the weedy meadow, dang it, and don't make me clean the bridge off.

The black bear has been around but I have not seen it, and I hope it's hibernating now. In summer the bear left a humongous pile of droppings smack in the middle of the lawn. It was clearly a bear's work, full of seeds and berries and of a size you cannot imagine. I had to get the snow shovel out to clean up.

I like to see the wildlife around us, but not so much when they come into the lawn or up to the house. And when they clomp on the metal basement door, making godawful banging and clattering noises in the middle of the night, that's clearly too close.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Doctor's Visit

Last week the doctor came.

Mike, the arborist from Bartlett Tree Experts, scheduled a visit to check on the health of my property and see what my trees and shrubs might need in the coming year.

I like Bartlett because they do not hawk expensive services that aren't needed. They assess, and they will recommend, but you have to tell them how much intervention (for pests) or how much change (pruning or planting) you really want. They don't push anything.

I like Mike because he genuinely loves trees and can talk for hours with me at a level that most gardeners or visitors can't. He shows me pruning techniques, educates me on what to look for in tree health and marvels at what I've planted.

We had to walk around for 45 minutes in pretty appalling weather, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

Here's what the doctor says:

The older black gum in front needs to have a leader selected -- it's trying to grow up and out in two directions. I had noticed that too. Same thing with the new katsura, it has strong competing leaders and one has to be selected.
The confused black gum in front. It needs a leader established

We need to pick one tall central branch and reduce the others

We could stop spraying the paper birches and see how they do with black spot and defoliation without the fungicide. I don't want to do that, though.

My tilted Cornus mas in the Driveway Garden is canted over because it is really too wet. The roots can't hold onto the mushy soil. I had noticed damp wet and puddles in that spot but didn't realize how it was affecting the corneliancherry dogwood there. Move it? What to do. . .
I've staked it upright for a couple seasons, but when the stake
is removed it goes sideways again

He is as mystified as I am about the 'Orange Dream' Japanese maple in the Birch Garden forming congested branching every summer, almost like witches' brooms. It gets too much sun and is prone to scorching. Mike speculated that when the long graceful new branching in spring starts to scorch in summer the branches die back at the tips. All the growth then goes into a bunchy clump below the die back point. I think he's right. What to do -- I can't get the poor thing more shade.
In June you see the dieback on the tips.
By August bunchy leaf growth will form below the dieback.

The brown dead branches of the blue spruces on the berm won't recover. He explained all five have needle dieback problems but the three that get more sun have enough sugar in their needles to grow and fight off the pathogens. The two on the right, in more shade from the river birch, can't produce enough sugar to keep their shaded branches from succumbing to the disease.
A lot of dieback on the lower, shaded branches
Bartlett will prune the rampant river birches and get their branches up off the spruces this winter, but I am going to ask them to take out the two most defoliated spruces. The berm will look different -- there will still be a grouping of three spruces on one side, but I have to rethink a planting plan for the right side under the river birch.
The dieback won't recover even if it gets more sun in the future

The 'Dawn' viburnum is a mess. A wildly arching branchy whippy mess of a plant. Mike said to just do topping cuts all over -- not the usual advice -- and try to create some side branching, but we both had a good laugh over how ungainly the thing is.

Root flares need to be excavated on several trees, but it's minor and can be done by hand, so I'll do that in late winter. More pruning needs to take place on a couple other trees, and I can do that too.

The 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple by the deck is in pretty dire straits, and Mike is concerned, but Bartlett will continue to treat the phytophthera problem. They are now trying a soil drench that is nothing more than potassium, but it seems to help. Trial and error. He says not to despair, but. . . am I on a death watch?
Like the 'Orange Dream' maple, you can see the empty leafless tips of this 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple.
Phytophthera canker has killed a third or more of the trunk and the top branches can't get what they need.

The doctor made his recommendations, took notes, and will put together a plan for keeping my arboretum healthy next year.

We all benefit from an annual check up. At least "diet and exercise" didn't come up. My own doctor is on about that again . . .

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Next Year

Rain and downpours (not snow, though). Cold and drizzle. December needs to get its act together before the holidays. .  . this chill gray wet is not acceptable.

I need to start remembering what I did this year that I want to repeat or eliminate next year. If I don't write this stuff down it never occurs to me later.

Next year I am not planting zinnias. I love them, but am tiring of the hot colors and gangly height. They are a great summer sight -- look at this great stand I had of 'Cut & Come Again' -- but I'll skip them for a season or two.

Next year I am going to go back to having a mixed herb bowl. Of all the things I have tried in this planter bowl, including lettuces and annuals, I like the combination of herbs the best -- oregano, sage, some parsley, and gnome.

Next year I am going to plant a single line of California poppies in the tiny strip of gravel along the base of the stone wall I built. Will this work? Is there enough growing space, enough soil in the grit?
Next year I want to plant scaveola in the pot in the iron stand. Of all the things I have tried in this little planter, the scaveola has been the most successful. It draped beautifully without overwhelming the pot and stand. It bloomed constantly all summer and fall. There is a white variety too. I can't get the color right in this photo -- in reality the scaveola is a rich purple (and the gravel isn't so brown... having trouble adjusting the filters or something here).

Next year I am going to plant more tobacco, both the giant Nicotiana sylvestris and the pretty N. alata. They do really well for me and they bloom on and on. White, elegant, kind of dramatic from afar, easy. Even the low red perfumed ones that I had in pots were great. The big white ones do need staking.

Next year I think I'll forego coleus. I liked the low spreader 'Chocolate Drop' in past years and had big swaths of it as a ground cover. I used it again this year and planned to take cuttings for winter so I'd have more for next year, but I tired of it. In early summer before it fills out it's just clumpy, and then it petered out -- it didn't get enough really hot weather this year. My affections for it faded.

Next year I want to get lots of 'Karl Foerster' grasses and put them at the edges of the meadow. I tried these open airy grasses in my mixed borders and they overwhelmed and just didn't fit. Then a stray clump I had discarded in the meadow grew among the other weeds and showed me how lovely this grass is in that setting. So I'll try putting them in where the tall weeds meet the mowed lawn as definition points. The sharp transition between lawn and weedy meadow is a challenge and the 'Karl Foerster' grass is just wild but elegant enough to define the edge.

Next year I am going to get more Allium 'Millennium' and put them in the two oblong clay pots. I did that last year and loved them. They bloomed all summer, sturdy little things. I transplanted these summer flowering bulbs to Meadow's Edge, but want more to repeat the display in the pots on the deck.

There are more plants I want to repeat, and others I don't think I'll do again --- can't remember them all now, though. Must write these things down.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Soulful Man of the Soil

Eddie Lee May
Eddie Lee May Obituary

The character Lee May exemplified could be summed up as gentle and immediately approachable, but there was much more than that: May was a soulful man of the soil.

"He knew the soul of gardening," said his friend and colleague Walter Reeves. "There was hardly any distinction between his body and the earth; he just appreciated everything about a plant."

May was a journalist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Los Angeles Times for more than 25 years. He was one of the AJC's first African-American editorial writers, said his wife, Lyn May.

May was a news writer and editor at the AJC in the 1970s and left for the Los Angeles Times in the 1980s. 

During his tenure with the Times he wrote on a variety of issues including immigration and economics. He covered the White House during the Reagan administration. May moved from Washington to become the Times' Atlanta bureau chief in 1989.

Eddie Lee May, of Marietta, died Wednesday of cancer. He was 73.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

did not know Lee May the national journalist; I knew the gardener, the soulful man of the soil. 

His garden in Connecticut was unique and I wrote about it here. 

He visited my garden and did me the high honor of pruning things I was too timid to touch. He brought me hardy begonias from his garden that bloomed beautifully at my patio wall this past September. 

He left his special garden in Connecticut and moved to Georgia recently, where he started a brand new garden that promised to be as unusual and creative as the one he left. He had such plans for it.

But it was his writing that intrigued me most -- he could write about plants and design and the peculiar things that happen when you put things in the ground and tend them, in a way that really spoke to me.

He published books, but mostly I read Lee May through his gardening blog, and we struck up a back and forth commentary. Not just "nice pics", or "how lovely", but thoughtful, highly personal commentary and response on each other's blogs that was very rewarding to me.

I will miss reading and following Lee. I will miss seeing his new Georgia garden develop. 

But I will think of him when the begonias pop up along my patio wall, and whenever I have pruners in my hand I will hear his gentle encouragement. More. Limb that up. You can cut a few more branches off, look how graceful that trunk is if you open it up. 

And I will make the cuts, and he will be right.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Madcap Horse

This post is about viburnums. Madcap horses are involved, but you have to read to the end to see how.

Such a madcap!

The two viburnums that are framed in the windows of our house look very structural. Whenever I look at them I am struck by their symmetrical looking branches.

There is a blackhaw viburnum with stiff branches by the bathroom window, and a rangy young Dawn viburnum outside the dining room window. This is Viburnum prunifolium in fall, trained into a tree:

From the dining room window here is Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' in autumn. It was just planted in spring 2011. Not much of a looker, and not much of a bloomer yet either, but so far I like the ladder-like branches:

They look so stiffly structural because viburnums have opposite branches. Most large trees and shrubs have alternate branches. There are only a few kinds of trees that are opposite.

Seen up close, the blackhaw's branches are clearly opposite each other.

And the Dawn viburnum's branches, silhouetted against the sky, also show that ladderlike form.

Knowing this has been helpful when I have come across a tree or shrub with generic looking small leaves that I can't identify. The leaves look like every other woody plant, the shrubby form could be anything, but when I see branches lined up opposite each other I know it is typically a viburnum or shrub dogwood.

Other opposite-branched trees are easy to identify: maples, ashes and horse chestnuts. They have leaves I can usually distinguish. Viburnums, shrub dogwoods, elderberries and bush honeysuckles are the ones that look like everything else until you see the branch structure.

Pia Bobacka photo
There is a mnemonic to remember the very few types of woody plants with opposite branches:


Adoxaceae - viburnums and elderberries
CAPrifoliaceae - honeysuckles
HORSE Chestnut

That works for me. . . . . as long as I can remember what the "A" stands for, or the "Cap" for that matter.

Or why I am standing there looking at a shrub and completely at a loss for what goofy animal I am supposed to come up with.


(Well, this worked better when viburnums and elderberries and honeysuckles were all in the Caprifoliaceae family. You only had to remember what was in that one family, and it was just MADCAP Horse. Then they moved viburnums and elderberries to a new family, the Adoxaceae, but left honeysuckles in the Cap family . . . so the mnemonic had to be expanded, and it's kind of defeating the purpose of a memory trick. At my age, anyway.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Putting up the Tree

In contrast to my struggles to hang Christmas wreaths outside, putting up the tree inside was so easy.

The temperatures rose to the mid 60s briefly today. The air was delightful, the sun was out for a bit and this was the day I should have picked to put up the outdoor decorations. A really nice day. Much of the icy snow melted.

But, perversely, I put the outdoor things up in the cold, and then used this warm day to decorate indoors.

Our tree is artificial and little and pre-lit. It took less than 5 minutes to haul it up from the basement and stand it on the rug. Done. Lit.

It took longer to find a bottle of wine, open it, find a Christmas CD, put it on, and then sit down to think about getting the ornaments out.

We heard from the solar panel company today, were instructed to flip the switches and did. Nada. The GFI light is lit, there is some kind of electrical leakage issue and the panels won't connect. A "guy will be out" to fix it.

Okay. The tree is up and lit, not with energy from the sun yet, but soon. The ceramic nativity scene is on display, and I found some sparkle covered railroad set trees and polar bear figures I forgot I had, and put them out in a little global warming scene.

All good.