Thursday, July 2, 2015

Goodbye June: A Summer Stroll Through My Garden

There are two words to describe the month of June this year---wet and wetter.  In fact, it's now official that this has been the wettest June on record.  All the rain has meant it has been difficult to get out into the garden often enough to pull all the weeds that are thriving, let alone finish putting the mulch down.  On the bright side, though, the plants are loving it, and I haven't had to water at all other than a few containers sitting under the eaves.

I realized this week that in spite of the weeds and unfinished chores, this is the perfect time to visit my garden.  The coneflowers are in full bloom everywhere, and the lilies are all opening up, making this the most colorful time of the year.  So how about a little stroll through my garden?  For once, I'm going to show mostly long shots instead of my usual close-ups, as long as you promise to ignore the weeds and the random hoses or junk tools or mulch that I couldn't crop out of the picture.  My garden isn't that large, but it is spread out, so if you were here, you'd need some walking shoes.  Instead, grab another cup of coffee and join me as I give you a little history of the garden.


When we moved to this house in the late summer of 2004, we inherited a large yard with many beautiful trees.  But there was nothing else here, other than some overgrown yews on the north side of the house.  That fall I moved a few of the plants I wanted to keep from the old house and plopped them into a shady spot under the big evergreen at the corner of the house.  I wasn't much of a gardener then, so I'm surprised they survived, but they did.  Little did I know at the time that that would be just the beginning of a new obsession.   The front of the house looked so plain, so several years later I added the shrubs along the front side, too.


When I retired a few years later, I expanded the shade garden, doubling its size.  By that time I was becoming a plant addict, so of course, I had to add more plants, resulting in the green jungle where ever-growing hostas threaten to take over smaller plants.


On one side, the shade garden is bordered by a 'Limelight' hydrangea with the miniature Japanese garden nestled underneath.  Looking back at my post on this little garden from two years ago, I'm amazed at how much the 'Limelight' has grown. I've been trying to get it to become more of a tree shape and prune a few branches each spring, but darn, it's hard cutting back much when I see all those gorgeous flowers every August.


The other side of the shade garden is bordered by a very tall evergreen, which I still haven't identified. The area underneath its low-hanging branches tends to get very weedy, and I've pretty much ignored it until the last year or two.  But this year I cut back as many of the weeds as possible and mulched most of the area with a thick layer of leaves.  I've also planted various groundcovers, hoping one day they'll take over the area and choke out the weeds.  The tower planter, by the way, was made by my daughter's boyfriend and a birthday gift last year--it's not so easy to grow things vertically, I've found:)


I've been trying to add more height to the back of the shade garden, but it's taking awhile.  The bargain Japanese maple on the left has taken a growth spurt, though, and finally can be seen above the giant 'Sum and Substance' hosta.


From my first garden area to my newest--I had been wanting to expand the shade garden even further for a long time. Last year I noticed the lawnmower tracks around this nearby oak tree, and a light bulb went off.  I convinced my non-gardening-you-have-more-garden-than-you-can-take-care-of husband that if I planted all this area, it would be so much easier for him to mow around the tree. The logic worked!   I quickly got busy, covering the area with newspapers and compost and began digging up hostas from the shade garden to move here.  It's amazing how quickly I could fill an area just with divisions from my own garden, but of course, I couldn't resist buying even more shade-loving plants now that I had more room.


I've learned some valuable lessons over the past few years as I've evolved into a gardener.  One of the most important is not to plant things too close together, so this area still looks rather bare to me, but I think I'll be happier in another year or two.  I also have been better about getting this area mulched right away.  The tall, spiky plants, by the way, are some of the 80 daffodils I planted in this area last fall whose foliage just will not die back, it seems.  Oh yes, and Sasha is only temporary garden art:)


Back to the chronological tour . . . the first full summer we lived here, I decided to turn this triangular area into a flower garden.  At one time I think there were some small shrubs and flowers here (my in-laws built this house and lived here until they passed away), but the house had sat vacant for several years, and nothing remained here but some very overgrown yews at the back and layers and layers of gravel.  I've told the story of digging out all that gravel before, so I won't repeat it here, but let's just say it was a challenging experience that took me most of the summer.  The area has changed over the past 10 years, most notably the absence of the big yews which we cut back, and which I was told would grow back, but didn't.  But that's a story for another day.  I keep intending to revamp this whole garden and started the process this May until my mother became ill.  She's doing better, I'm happy to say, but it's too late to make any major changes to the sidewalk garden now--another project for next year.


One of the things you'll notice in the previous photo is that the coneflowers have taken over this area.  I pulled many of them at the front of the border this spring and intended to take out more before I got interrupted by family obligations, but once they began to bloom....well, who would have the heart to pull these out??


I do love coneflowers; I just would like to have more variety in this small area.  But they are butterfly and pollinator magnets.  If you look closely, you'll see there are at least five Red Admirals in this photo.  I counted another dozen on the rest of the flowers this day before I lost count.  


The large boulder in place at corner of the driveway also begged for some color, so I added some of the 'Stella d'Oro' lilies I had also brought with me.  In the spring, daffodils and tulips bloom here as well.


That same year our beloved big dog Roco passed away, and I created a little garden memorial for him.  It's a challenge keeping the weeds out of this area, especially all the creeping charlie that wants to invade the space.  I often talk to Roco while I'm weeding, reminiscing about all the good times we had.   He has since been joined by daughter's cat Max and granddaughter's first guinea pig.


Now let's take a little hike down our long lane to what I call my roadside garden which I planted the following year, in 2006.  It's really just a narrow flowerbed in front of three large burning bushes. The daylilies at the front--mostly 'Stellas'--are finishing up blooming while the coneflowers are just beginning.  Behind the coneflowers are some of my favorite daylilies, which you can't see from here, that should open up any day now.


One of my favorite flowers in this garden at the moment are these 'Prairie Sun' Rudbeckia.  I'll say more about these cheery flowers on Bloom Day.

Now let's head back up the lane to see the last few newer garden areas.


Once I retired, I had much more time to devote to gardening and discovered how much I loved it.  I dug up a small area out back to attract more butterflies.  In recent years it has become pretty wild, overrun with asters and goldenrod, but there are some blooms that stand out from their foliage right now, like this beebalm.


Butterfly weed's orange blooms show up through the foliage quite noticeably.  I just hope all the rain this year doesn't prove too much for them as it did for the large butterfly weed I used to have in the roadside garden.


A new addition this year is this Ascelpias curassavica, a tropical milkweed.  It's an annual here, but I love its vibrant colors and plan to grow it each year from now on.


Over the years I've learned more about the benefits of native plants and have added more of them to this area in particular.  I've also learned you have to be patient for some of these to grow, but it's worth the wait to finally see blooms like these just beginning on the gray-headed coneflower.



Nearer the driveway is one of the flowerbeds I created after retiring, the Lily Bed.  This is the area that really stands out right now, though it's hard to get a decent long shot of it.  I have become addicted to daylilies, and I've packed so many of them into this narrow space that I've run out of room.


Although this area was meant to show off my growing collection of daylilies, there are other plants, of course, too, that vie for attention like this bright phlox and the 'Vanilla Strawberry' hydrangea behind the NOID daylilies.


Over the years my garden has grown, but not enough to keep up with my ever-growing desire to have more plants.  Still, the lack of room doesn't stop me from adding more beauties like this one!


Finally, the next-to-newest garden area and the largest  is the Arbor Bed.  In the spring the front of this garden is filled with daffodils and tulips of every color.  Right now it's just beginning to acquire its summer color with more lilies and phlox as well as annuals beginning to bloom.


And of course, there are more coneflowers!  This area was carefully planned in the beginning, but as usual with all my plantings, this garden seems to have a mind of its own, too.  Besides all the plants I plopped here because I didn't know where else to put them, many, like the coneflowers, have re-seeded and taken up residence here.  Sometimes I pull them, sometimes not.


One of the plants here that is definitely a keeper, however, is my Amsonia Hubrichtii.  Although it's no longer blooming, its foliage looks beautiful all year whether surrounded by the last of the red poppies or Japanese anemones in the fall.

Thanks for taking the time to stroll through my garden with me.  Since these photos were taken, I've had a couple garden helpers help me do some more weeding and finally finish the mulching, so the garden is looking even better (including the small vegetable garden, which we didn't see).  It's the perfect time to visit my garden, so do stop by if you're in the area!


Have a happy and safe Fourth of July, everyone!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Change Is Inevitable: Lessons From the Garden

Change is a part of life; we all know that. But while some changes are good, some are not so pleasant.  I like a change of scenery, a new hairdo, a new paint color on the walls,  But there are other situations where I'm perfectly content with the way things are, and when things begin to go in another direction, I become unsettled or stressed out.


My favorite flowering crabapple in full bloom in early May.


There are so many lessons learned from the garden, and the inevitability of change is one of the major ones.  Every spring I am a little sad to see the early blooms I enjoy so much fade away, and yet I know their end signals the beginning of something new as summer blooms slowly begin to take their place.  I am also consoled by the knowledge that they will return again next spring and delight me once again.

Every year, too, the gardener is faced the realization that she has lost some plants, whether to disease, pests, or the harshness of winter.  I lost several plants due to heaving, I think, because we had so little snow until late in the winter to protect them from the thawing/freezing cycle.  My Knockout roses, which I planted before I called myself a "gardener" and brought with me to this house eleven years ago, look half-dead this year.  Why?  I have no idea--I mean, how can you kill a Knockout rose??

'Brindisi' lily in previous years

The first Asiatic lily I planted, which had grown so huge in recent years and was definitely my favorite, is also a no-show this year.  I found it uprooted in the soil when I was cleaning up the garden back in early April.  I suspect it may have been a victim of a vole, since Sophie caught one nearby (after digging up a huge hole to find it).  I planted the pieces of bulb I could find, and I think a few little shoots are growing again.  But it will be a long time before this plant will grow to be the prolific bloomer it once was, if it ever will.




Not every change in the garden is a negative one, of course.  Plants grow, sometimes surpassing one's expectations.  Hostas in my shade garden have continued to grow by leaps and bounds.  Even after moving some to another area, the main shade garden is a jungle of green once again, to the point of taking over some of my favorite heucheras.  The same is true in the lily bed, where there suddenly is room for little else.

'Empress Wu' blooming for the first time.

The biggest change this spring for me, however, has not been in the garden, but with my mother. During the past year, we noticed she was having trouble with balance, and we were happy when she finally relented and began using a cane.  Other changes were more subtle, and it wasn't until she nearly collapsed one day and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance, that we realized just how much her health had deteriorated.

Hollyhocks in the "wrong place," but I won't cut them down--they're a fond memory of my childhood, and the original plants came from my parents' home.

I know that many of you have experienced the same issues with aging parents, and I am thankful that my mother has recovered enough to return home.  But still it's difficult to see someone once so vibrant and always busy, whether quilting or putting up produce from her garden for the freezer, unable to do so many of the things she once enjoyed.  It's hard, too, to see my father suddenly becoming the caregiver, trying to mask his worry with a brave face for my mother.  At the same time, the love he has for my mother and the bond that these two have shared for nearly sixty-seven years is a true inspiration for all of us.


I try to ignore the weeds and the plants that badly need dividing or moving here and focus on the bright red poppies.

And so I am adjusting, too.  The garden, which once was my main obsession during the spring and summer, has been relegated to a lower priority.  I am letting go of the need for perfection--not that my garden was ever, ever anywhere near perfection!  The weeds are growing and growing, especially with all the rain, and I try to look past them to focus on the pretty blooms instead.  A few big projects I had planned for this year will just have to wait--after all, there will be another gardening season.

A coleus, a begonia, and a few leftover Profusion daisies thrown together in a pot.

I used to spend a lot of time planning the combinations of plants I wanted to plant in my containers. But when I found myself driving to visit my mother in the morning instead of leisurely mulling over all the plants I had purchased, I started just throwing things together in pots whether they color-coordinated or not.  And you know what--I like some of these just as much as those I planned!


The miniature Japanese garden still needs the dry garden completed and a little more tweaking, but I'll get to that one of these days.

I have always done every chore in the garden myself, except for the occasional help from the grandchildren.  But this year, I'm accepting more help.  Best friend Beckie came one morning to finish planting all the containers.  My granddaughter has been so busy this spring with various activities, but she came over one evening to help get the mini-Japanese garden in order once again.


She also created this simple little fairy garden in another area where nothing would grow in the rocky soil but sedums.  And whenever the rain finally stops, I'm hiring my friend's two granddaughters to help me weed and mulch the garden.


Do fairies like dogs?  I don't know, but I couldn't resist this addition to the fairy garden.  It's Sophie-approved and makes me smile every time I look at it.

As I am slowly learning to accept the changes over which I have no control, I have a new-found appreciation for the constants in my life and those small moments that can bring joy.

A little Zen time in the garden does wonders for the soul.

 Spending some time in the garden, for example, is one of the best therapies there is.  After a particularly stressful few days, I took a morning to work in the shade garden.  Nothing major, just a little weeding and planting.  But those few hours spent digging in the dirt on a beautiful day, listening to the birdsong with my faithful canine companions supervising at my side, did wonders for my spirits.

Ever so tiny, there's the beginning of a bloom here.

The garden reminds me,too, that there is always hope.  The Indian Pinks that I was so excited to find last year were a no-show this year, and I had resigned myself to accepting that they didn't like it here.  But just this past week, I noticed these--yes, they are tiny, but they are back and they will bloom!



And when it comes to constants, there is no plant that is as reliable as my beloved coneflowers.  Every year they return in greater numbers,  to the point that I have begun thinning them out a little.  But I can't bear to pull too many, because they are so faithful, a reminder that while the world around me may change, some things will always remain the same.  To me they represent the roots I have in this prairie soil, the land that my ancestors first tilled over 150 years ago.  They remind me that we are caretakers of this land for our short time here, but the land will be here for future generations. Change is inevitable, but life does go on.


I'm linking this post to Beth at Plant Postings' quarterly review of Lessons Learned in the Garden.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June GBBD: And the Garden Goes On...

It's not often that I go a whole month without posting, especially in spring when the garden is bursting into life.  But shortly after the last Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, my mother was hospitalized and then sent to rehab for a couple of weeks, so life has been pretty hectic around here.  Gardening has gotten short shrift, needless to say, with only the most important chores getting done--like finally planting all the new annuals and perennials I had purchased in the previous weeks. I also managed to do some weeding in the vegetable garden so that I could find the newly emerging green beans among the pesky grass popping up everywhere.  But other weeding?  Let's just say there won't be any long shots of my garden in this post.


Bloom Day is all about what is blooming in your garden today, but I hope you'll indulge me in a few scenes from previous weeks, since I didn't get a chance to post them earlier.  The peonies are gone now, but were gorgeous this year; my mother appreciated the bouquet of pink peonies I gathered from my garden as much as any florist's bouquet.


There were enough blooms this year to bring some inside for myself, too.



The Amsonia is no longer blooming either, but made a nice backdrop for the peonies.  Amsonia Hubrichtii here and its counterpart Amsonia tabernaemontana had much bluer blooms than this photo shows.


'May Night' Salvia is still blooming, however, and will continue to bloom throughout the summer--if I ever get around to deadheading it, that is.



Other blooms that have since faded include the Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy.'  This plant has been slow to establish here, or maybe I'm just impatient, but it's finally taking off and reaching some height.  In fact, I can see it needs some pruning--one more job to add to the growing to-do list.


The alliums haven't been purple for a couple of weeks, but I still like the accent these tall plants make even as they're fading.  And yes, that is more Salvia--it apparently likes my arbor bed and has re-seeded all over.


And now for what is actually blooming today--Nigella hidden away in the back corners of the Arbor Bed.  These re-seed themselves each year, and when the seedlings first emerge I'm never quite sure whether they're cosmos, larkspur, or nigella.  The mystery is solved.


Spirea 'Neon Flash' is covered in blooms.  These two shrubs have grown so full the past few years, they're due for a serious pruning before they overtake other nearby shrubs.


The Knockout roses are not doing well this year, but 'Radsunny' has some blooms.


I am envious of Southern gardeners whose 'Black and Blue' salvia come back every year.  In my zone 5b garden, it's definitely an annual, but worth purchasing every year.


Not only do I love the electric blue blooms, but they are hummingbird magnets and look good in a pot as well as in the ground.


Lamium adds some petite purple blooms to the various shades of green in the shade garden.


It's almost lily season now, and the first to bloom are always the ever-reliable 'Stella D'Oros.'  They definitely need dividing again--didn't I say that last year?  And the year before?  'Walker's Low' Nepeta to the left has been blooming for some time.


There will be a plethora of red poppies again this year, but I'm most excited about this dark burgundy called 'Laura's Dark Grape.'  I purchased this seed, but I will have to remember to save these seeds and separate them from the reds later in the season to have more of these next year.  The hoverflies love them, too.


I'm also excited to see my first ever 'Annabelle' blooms.  I planted a couple scrawny, half-dead starts last year when we divided an overgrown plant at the nursing home where I volunteer.  They must be pretty tough hydrangeas.


The past couple of weeks have been a time of transition, with spring flowers gone and summer flowers not quite ready to bloom.  But very soon there will be an explosion of color as lily buds begin to open.  The first Asiatic lily to bloom (above) is one I don't remember buying or planting, but I certainly can't ignore these bold orangey-red blooms.


And what would summer be without my favorite, purple coneflowers?  A few early blooms have appeared in the past week, but soon I will have a plethora of coneflowers everywhere.  I can't wait!

What is blooming in your garden today?  Check out Carol at May Dreams Gardens who hosts this monthly get-together--join in and see what's blooming all over the world!