Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stone Turtle

I hired myself to do some stone work last week. The designer (that would be me) didn't really have a plan. The supplier (me) had some extra fieldstones left over from the low wall that was professionally built this summer along the east side of the house.

The laborer (me again) didn't have any direction, but got the project done. The homeowner (that's me too) was pleased enough when it was done.

Here it is:

I built a dry stacked wall. It's only six feet long, and it's no work of art, but it solved a problem.

The problem was the steel edging that holds the pea stone in place in the gravel sitting area. The edging is about 5 inches high, sunk into the ground. It's the barrier between the gravel and the adjacent gardens. It's not supposed to be visible, but it sticks up all around the perimeter of the area.

In some areas plants spill over the edge and hide the black steel strip, at least in summer when they are in leaf. But as the gravel has settled over the years and as the soil on the other side has sunk also, the strip is increasingly sticking up in most areas. No matter how much I rake gravel toward the edge, and no matter how much dirt I pile on the other side, the steel edging pokes up.

One successful way to hide the edging has been creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum). It loves the hot dry gravel and spreads out into it. This is a corner of the gravel garden, and the black strip, which you can see on one side, makes a 90 degree turn to the left and is completely hidden by the green carpet of thyme.

That white egg-shaped stone is a turtle, emerging from the sea of thyme onto the dry shore of gravel. Things get markedly metaphysical in my garden at times.

The real problem was at the far end of the gravel area, where the gravel just ended at lawn. There is a dip in the lawn there, and the steel edging was really sticking up well above the grass. It would have taken a lot of fill to create an extension of the garden border here and plant it. I didn't have soil to fill that area up to the top of the strip.

So I cleaned out the grass, laid some crushed gravel, and then stacked the leftover fieldstone in a haphazard way up to the top of the metal edging. Then I laid stones across the edging, completely covering it. I didn't have stones to lay a capstone course, so where the wall's top was most irregular, I put a planter on top and called it good.

It's uneven but it solved the problem. The metal edging is not visible, the stones make a boundary between the gravel and the grass, and it looks okay enough.

After toting and stacking rocks, I'm ready now to sit awhile in my gravel garden and contemplate whether the turtle can make his way from the sea of time to the far shore. He's so slow.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reading Round Up

This article about trees in our landscapes really spoke to me. There's an emotional impact, not just an ecological or economic one to living with mature trees.

It made me remember this book I read about the impact of American elm and chestnut trees on building our nation, and then the loss of them. The book was history, not horticulture, but it has stayed with me. A fascinating read.

First the High Line in New York, now the Underline in Florida. Miami is transforming the land below their metro rail into a 10 mile linear park.

I have pre-ordered this book in hardcover and am looking forward to reading it. I used to follow the author's blog, but he took time off to write the book.

Louis Raymond's Garden Journal has some of the most informative, lengthy and rich narrative about growing specific plants. A detailed reference that goes way beyond the usual "plant in well drained soil in sun or shade".

Another detailed guide to plants is Nan Ondra's blog. She only writes once a month on the 15th, but showcases a long parade of what's growing. Mostly pictures, but she has a wealth of personal experience with each plant. I've read her books too.

The Garden Professors changed their address and can now be found here. Always good science about plants, and fun debunking of garden myths and commercial hooey. Their old url " (slash) garden professors" is no longer in use.

I can get lost  in Joseph Valentine's garden photography. Just pictures.

He also keeps an occasional journal about his garden at Juniper Hill in southern New Hampshire. I'd love to visit (it has opened for Garden Conservancy in some years, not this past season though.)

The Connecticut Horticultural Society has greatly improved their website finally. Well done. (There's a CT Hort Society trip to Innisfree in mid October. Having just visited this summer, I would love to see it in fall.)

Damn, where'd I put my glasses?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Distracted and Relaxed

In kind of a gardening slump here.

The week we spent in New Mexico at the beginning of the month broke my rhythm -- my daily puttering in the garden has slacked off, and my thoughts about what needs doing and what projects are pending have wandered off to other topics.

It happens. Like any interest, it ebbs and flows.

The hummingbirds left. I keep the feeder up for migrants flying through, but no one has visited. I miss the activity buzzing around me as I sat just a few feet away. Seems lonely now.

The blue-leaved zenobia pulverulenta beneath the birch really is that powdery blue. The wine red mophead blooms on the 'Preziosa' hydrangea really are that rich color.

Right now the nights are chilly, the days are hot and summery and it all looks fine even without the trimming or weeding I might be doing. I'm enjoying the red nasturtiums in the gravel garden, and the white Rose of Sharon outside the porch.

Everything looks end-of-summer tired -- not worn out or fried, just distracted and quietly relaxed. Like me.

There is no longer a growing urgency in the garden. Fall bloomers like the aromatic asters and the perennial mums are getting ready to flower, but the rampant growth and fullness of life that was the summer garden is muted now.

And yet, as it all winds down, there is one plant robustly shooting up as fast as it can. Clematis viticella 'Alba Luxurians' gets cut down in summer after it is done blooming, and then regrows in September and has a full second bloom by October.

I cut it all the way to the ground on August 6 this year (other years it has been the third week in July). The bare tower looked so empty in early August, but look how it's filled back up again with leafy growth, and tendrils have reached the top of the pyramid already.
There are buds and soon it will bloom. Last year I experimented with leaving the vine on the pyramid all season. I did not cut it back and it did not rebloom. If I do cut it all the way down, it comes back with tons of white handkerchiefs, just as flowery as its first bloom in spring.

Okay, that's all the garden stuff for now. I have other projects and thoughts going and need to sit a while and think on them.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Becky Sent Me This

This is the perfect expression of what I am thinking when I am outside working, but never had the words to say, and I know for a certainty that Becky has mornings like this in her garden too.

Believe This

All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
work of turning a yard from the wild
to a gardener's will, I heard a bird singing
from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
and call its name, but even more, I wanted
to join its church. For all morning, and many
a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond
this plot I work, has called the order of being,
that givers of food are deemed lesser
than are the receivers. All morning,
muscling my will against that of the wild,
to claim a place in the bounty of earth,
seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor
as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even
for the aching in my body, which reached
beyond this work and this gift of struggle.

Poem copyright © 2010 by Richard Levine, from his most recent book of poetry, That Country's Soul, Finishing Line Press, 2010, by permission of Richard Levine

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dark Sunday

All day Sunday it was dark. The kind of day where you have to have the lights on to eat lunch. We got another inch of rain on top of the inch we had last week.

Late in the day it got even darker to the north, and brilliant blue sky came out to the south, all at the same time. From the front door Jim took this shot of rainbow, clouds and sun all together.

It was so brightly sunny that there were shadows on the lawn even as heavy rain fell in sparkling sunlit sheets. The west side of our house was bright and sunny and pouring down rain, while this view, to the east, was stormy and rainbow bedazzled.

Then the rainbow disappeared, and with it the pot of gold. The skies cleared abruptly and clouds tumbled excitedly into the open blue.

Before it rained, in the darkest part of the damp morning, I had gone out and trimmed the plants along the walkway -- my "allee". The Hakonechloa fountain grass had flowed all the way over the walk, the dwarf deutzias were encroaching from the other side, and the geraniums at the bend had completely taken over despite having been cut twice this summer already. I could not walk down the bluestone path.

Here it is now in the sunshine, all shorn back. The Hakonechloa looks a little funny now, but what can you do -- it's a plant that wants to spill over and it loses its grace when cut back.

The herbaceous caryopteris, C divaricata 'Snow Fairy' had gotten big and bushy and was also an obstacle to walkers on the path. I love snipping that back -- the leaves, described as "stinky" by some, have the sharp smell of green peppers to me. I liked cutting the soft stems and sniffing the aroma.

It's shorn looking now on the walkway side, but still frothy. Part of its whitish look is from the variegation on the leaves -- they have clean edged white margins. I've noticed a couple stems have reverted to all green, though and I'll need to do more snipping to cut those out.

Hard to see with the sun on the shrub, but there are tiny lavender flowers all over it. They are not very noticeable (except to the big bumblebees who adore them), so it's genius that I sited this bluebeard at the edge of the walk where the flowers can be seen, but even then you have to look.

When the sun came out for good and the rain moved on, everything looked fresher and brighter. I like the colors in this scene -- hidden red chair, yellow potted croton, steel blue spruce, and the green of the stately looking paperbark maple with its rusty orange trunk.

Notice the green spill of sedum growing out of the wall face. I cut a stem of an unknown sedum growing by the dry creekbed this summer and stuck it into a crack between the stones with no soil or any material to root in.

Apparently it is living off rainfall and some sandy material that washes down through the wall with each rain.

The sky is clear now all this week. A dark Sunday, ushered out by fancy rainbows and a glittery sun-rain pageant has finished its show, leaving fall to take the stage.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

There's A Hole in My Hedge

A nice full inch of rain fell on Thursday and the hot, tired, dry garden perked up some. The temperatures cooled down too, into the high 70s during the day.

Bartlett came the day after the rain, and took out the rogue bottlebrush buckeye that had been driving me nuts. With their big grinding machine they dug it up, pulverized the roots and took away the debris, all in 20 minutes.

That mis-marked cultivar, so different looking than the species companions planted with it in a row, had to to go. The foliage was different, it bloomed out of sequence, bah. I had written about it in this journal many times, debating what to do -- live with the oddity of the one different shrub, or take it out?

It got taken out, so now there is a hole in the hedge. I will keep the open area weeded, but let the suckers from the adjoining bottlebrush buckeyes fill in and colonize the new space, assuring that the species plants are all that grow here.

I went out in the late afternoon to let the two neighboring shrubs know they both have work to do to fill in the empty spot. I think they're on it.

Meanwhile, I am already feeling better about having a gaping hole in my hedge than I felt about seeing that rogue cultivar looking so out of place there.

Jim feels differently. As I've written before, he liked the odd one in the row. He thought it showed character and defiance and broke up the uniform line of the hedge in an interesting way. He named it Horta.

I just didn't agree. He was good about me having Horta taken out though, and trusts the hole will grow in with the species plants filling the space, which is what I've told him will happen.

Now let's hope it does.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Still Warm From the Sun

It's been very hot and sticky since before Labor Day. No rain for 12 days, and only a quarter inch back then. With temperatures in the 90s, this dry spell has taken a toll. The garden looks tired and limp. There might be some rain today.

Jim got swordfish this week and cooked out. To season and garnish it, I picked the first ever lemon from my Meyer lemon tree.

I couldn't tell if it was ripe. All of the big globes still have tinges of green in the rinds. But overall this one was quite yellow, and it volunteered itself for the first taste of lemon.

Sliced and squeezed over swordfish, it was tangy and tart, not at all sour. What a lemon should be. And because I picked it from the tree right next to the grill and because I picked it only moments before the fish was done, it was still warm from the sun.

Delicious. There are many more to pick, so lemon recipes are being gathered.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Back East

We returned from five days in Taos, and had to readjust from the vast openness and mountain vistas of New Mexico to the close, green, lush and layered intimacy of my garden in Connecticut.

The skies were turbulent and the landscape stretched. We could see what attracted painters to the area in the early 1900s. Northern New Mexico is mountainous and it is dark green with pines and cool blue with distant mountains. But the predominant color is a soft rosy taupe -- the color of all the buildings in Taos and Santa Fe.

It's the color of adobe walls, and it is not just the antique pueblo buildings, but all new construction too. Some walls are whitewashed, some are mud brown, but all of Taos is a soft earth color.

What a contrast to come back here. I suddenly see my garden with new eyes. It is so green, and the scale is so small and the sense of enclosure even outdoors is noticeable. And it is complex, with all kinds of plants stuffed together and with flowers and leaves and lawn and just a lot of busyness going on, in contrast to the open look of even the most traditional garden in Taos.

There are few lawns in New Mexico. Where open dirt has been exposed, it stays open dirt. Back east a patch of bare soil quickly becomes a weedy jungle. We always say that, by the way: back east.  That's where we're from -- backeast.

The backeast weeds had a festival in my gardens while we were away. As I abandoned myself to tequila cocktails and Hatch green chiles, the weeds in my garden were partying too, while multiplying prodigiously. They are everywhere now, despite a week of rainless weather here.

I was glad to see the sweet autumn clematis is now in full frothy bloom and the fragrance welcomed me home with a blast of heady scent.

And . . .  dare I hope? Lemons? Do these look ripe? Or at least riper? It's been 9 months since this Meyer lemon tree bloomed, and 6 months since hard green balls appeared. It's been 4 weeks since I noticed a little yellow on these baseball sized globes. Citrus takes a very long time to ripen, I have learned, and it needs heat and sunshine.

Well, it's been a very long time, and we had a hot week while we were gone, and the tree has been out on the sunny deck all summer.

I had a wonderful week steeped in fine art and Indian culture and vast landscapes, and after all the spicy northern New Mexican chiles I've tasted, I'm back east again and ready for some refreshing tart lemons.

Soon, now.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Stop Flopping

Last year the 'Tardiva' panicle hydrangea by the gravel garden was the loveliest shape. This year it is split down the middle, flopping open.

I blame the rain patterns this summer.

Long dry spells have been interrupted by short bursts of soaking rain, and then weeks without rain again after that. Rainfall has been so episodic. I think the hydrangea, water lover that it is, grew too suddenly and too much when there was a lot of water, then couldn't support itself when the long dry weeks came. Or something.

The Rose of Sharon 'White Chiffon' is also flopping all over the place. I don't think it is as sensitive to intermittent rainfall, but for some reason I can't seem to prune this so it will grow upright.

This picture is after I did even more pruning to get the floppiest branches off the ground

I took a lot off in spring, cutting out older stems from the base and lopping off winter kill at the top. In mid August it was splayed out, almost lying down on the ground.

Enough, you two. Stand up and stop flopping all over.

By the way, I planted Hibiscus syriacus 'White Chiffon' because it is supposed to be sterile and not seed about everywhere the way Rose of Sharon can do. And what am I finding? Rose of Sharon seedlings all over. They pop up under it, they seed in the lawn and get cut down by the mower, and now I am finding them growing by the patio. They are very tough to pull out so this is starting to be a problem.
May 23 -- it looked pretty upright as it was leafing out in late spring. 

Between the floppiness and the seedlings, I should be thinking of taking this Rose of Sharon out. But it really is lovely in bloom from inside the house where you can't see the form, just the pretty flowers peeking in the windows.

And the hummingbirds go crazy for it. That surprises me, but they love the white flowers and forage for nectar all the time, just inches away from where I sit and watch them on the porch.

So it stays. And it flops.