Sunday, July 30

Contrast: Texture, Color

I was going through my digital pictures today, looking for a certain flower. I shouldn't have been surprised to have at least a dozen pictures of the plant--or the area where said plant resides--but not one single shot of the flower in question.

See, what really gets me going in the garden is contrast, especially contrasts in plant texture. Chunky bergenia leaves next to the fine foliage of achillea. A grouping of bold, glaucous ornamental sea kale interplanted with wispy French tarragon. And so on.

When you can throw different plant forms or leaf colors into the mix to turn up the contrast even more, so much the better. Add the whispy strands of a young ornamental grass to your bergenia and achillea, and you have the upright habit of the grass contrasting further with the rounded bergenia form and the horizontal flavor of the achillea flowerheads.

If flowers can add to the contrast, too, that's great. If they can't, then they had better at least not get in the way--or look good in a vase.

So here are a few of my favorite texture pictures from today: A stray red sunflower petal that fell into the cool threadlike foliage of 'Frosted Curls' sedge. Salvia officianalis 'Newe Ya'ar' with an underplanting of 'Dragon's Blood' sedum. A potted croton enjoying the summer sunlight with a background of artemisia.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad...

Good bugs--the bees are still loving my fennel and salvia, but it looks like they've discovered my sunflowers now, too.

Bad, bad, BAD bugs. There are hollyhocks with absolutely pristine foliage not 4 feet away from this new cherry tree... I don't really care about the hollyhocks, though, so of course the Japanese beetles are cavorting on the cherry instead. Grrr. I took much pleasure in crunching both beetles shortly after this picture was taken.

Thursday, July 27

Dragonfly Sleepover

This delicate-looking creature decided to sleep over last night, attached to one of my leaded glass windows. According to my boyfriend, he left when the morning rain ended around noon.
Hard to get a good picture of him from the inside of the glass, but I thought he looked cool. :)

Exploring our Gardening Roots

These beets are "Detroit Red." Not quite as delicious as the "Yellow Intermediate Mangel" that I've grown for the past few years, but I had decided to branch out this year. As I checked the beets to see which ones were large enough to pull and share with a friend tonight, a memory from my childhood made me grin.

I grew up surrounded by farmland in the western half of Ohio--farmland for which the old Black Swamp was drained, hence my display name. Mom was a factory worker, and occasional layoffs would happen during summertimes when orders were slow. She didn't seem to mind the timing of these layoffs at all, and her three children definitely looked forward to spending the occasional summer with Mom.

One spring, when my youngest brother Jeff was just finishing kindergarten, we were informed that Mom was probably going to be home with the three of us again that summer. Craig, the middle child, practically bounced out of his seat: "Cool! Can we have a garden, then?" The parents exchanged surprised glances but promised to consider it. The following week, we made veggie wishlists while Dad tilled us up a square bed of our own.

Craig, Jeff and I carefully sowed our chosen seeds: corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini and peppers. Mom and Dad, knowing that we would be impatient for results, added seeds for a few early crops like green onions, radishes, and carrots. None of us kids had the palate for radishes or green onions back then, but we were excited to see them appear, dutifully tasted one each, and were happy to leave the rest to Dad to devour.

The carrots came next, followed by the heat of summer, and we watched the garden put forth lush growth all through June. One day, in early July, we were finishing dinner when one of the boys looked up from his mashed potatoes and announced, "Well, the corn's not quite ready yet."

Anyone who grew up in farm country can tell you that corn is only supposed to be "knee high by the fourth of July," so his statement was only surprising for its obviousness. "I know that," Mom answered slowly, one eyebrow raised, "but how do you?"

"Oh, we checked today," the other brother piped up, prompting a solemn nod of agreement from the first one. "We pulled up a couple of stalks, and there ain't nothin' down there yet but a whole bunch of white roots!"

Mom, Dad and I burst out laughing... and the puzzled looks on the boys' faces only made us laugh harder. We just couldn't help it. "Good thing we said yes to planting a garden," Mom finally told Dad when she could gasp enough air to talk, "God forbid our boys grow up thinking that corn grows under the ground!"

Well, of course they thought that was the right way to check for corn after pulling up the onions, radishes, and carrots. They didn't know anything about corn except that somehow those tall fields of green stalks produced the uniform yellow kernels that showed up on their plate--and even that little knowledge probably put them far ahead of most city kids!

A trip out to the garden after supper set the boys straight on what to expect from all of the plants that were still growing. But I still think of their "mistake" when I see stories about programs that teach inner-city kids about how their food arrives at the grocery store. They are wonderful programs, and it really is important that people know where their food originates.

I am happy to report that the two little towheaded boys who pulled up cornstalks one July to check for mature ears have come a long way. One grows lovely houseplants in his apartment, and looks forward to the day when he and his fiancee can have a large yard of their own. The other lives with his new bride in a rented house and grows as many veggies and herbs as he can in the small garden bed that his landlord approved--and added a large containers to the back porch when they decided that still wasn't quite enough room to grow.

And as far as I know, neither one still thinks that they can grow corn underground. :)

Wednesday, July 19

Garden Snapshots 7/19

Breakfast... enjoyed shortly after this picture was taken. :)

In the cool morning light: hollyhock, cabbage, baptisia australis

Snake plant... so happy to spend its summer outdoors that it's trying to bloom

In the warm morning light: peppermint, amaranthus 'Hopi Red Dye,' miscanthus zebrinus, bronze fennel

Monday, July 17

Color Me... Evolving

I am abundant, fresh and natural (green).

I am warm, cheerful, happy and bright (yellow).

I am a mix of passionate, urgent, excited, strong (red) and sophisticated, intelligent, spiritual and dignified (purple).

Don't believe me? Just check out these pictures of my deep backyard border. Burgundy leaves and flowers that mix red and purple... yellow accents in foliage and umbels... and abundances of abundance--er, green. They all may just reveal a lot about the garden who lives within.

Stuart, a fellow (and fun) blogger from the land of Oz, inserted a list of color meanings into his recent post "Using Colour in the Garden." Color psychology says that each color carries a certain meaning or evokes specific feelings. In that case, I'm very glad that the passionate, bright, and abundant bed you see in the first picture is located underneath my bedroom window... ;)

The psychology of color has been utilized for a long time. You can thank it for your chalky-mint-green schoolroom walls that were supposed to keep you calm and help you focus on your lessons. You can see it in decorating magazines that advocate using soothing "spa" colors in the bedroom and bathroom to help turn them into retreats. I hadn't really thought much about how it translated to my garden, though, before I read Stuart's post.

On a personal note, it's interesting to see how my taste in color has evolved over the past few years, since my life has undergone great changes during that time. My husband turned into my former husband and then became a good friend. A friend turned into a date and became the person who set free "the real me" from her pale shell of an imitation. I bought a house. On my own. Without having my father walk through it first.

In my old garden... my old life, really... I focused mainly on blues (melancholy, heaviness, coolness) and greens, with a few complimentary soft oranges mixed in just because I didn't want an "all X color" garden. I shied away from reds completely.

Even if you ignore the color meanings, my gardens looked very soft. I rarely used bold foliage or flowers at all, and when I did it was almost apologetically. I hid it behind mounds of other plants or interwove it with finer-textured foliage to mitigate its impact. I would have run screaming from some of the plants I have now. Miscanthus zebrinus, with yellow stripes? Eek!

In my new garden, though, I have replaced Great Blue Lobelia with its flashier red cousin, lobelia cardinalis. I have entire stands of the bold 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth you see in pictures above. I'm growing red hot pokers, for pete's sake--you can't get much more flashy, straight and to the point than that!

It will be interesting to see how and whether my color and design choices continue to change as I get older. If and when my plans turn to starting a family, will I incorporate more soft and nurturing pinks? Only time will tell.

Until then, you can color me... evolving.

Wednesday, July 12

My Favorite Container - July

I love this container--it makes me wonder if I should "throw things together" more often, because it looks a whole lot better than most of my planned ones! I love the way the humble terracotta pot sets off the surprisingly sophisticated mix of foliage, too. Maybe I should just tell people that this one turned out exactly as I planned... who's going to know any different?

This container has a twin, and together they stand sentinel beside my side door. It's the entrance that I use 99% of the time, so I get to see these beauties on a daily basis. Here's what I have planted in each pot:

- One of the two bay laurels that outgrew their little 6in. pots in my kitchen this winter

- Three wintersown "Lady" lavender that had no space ready for them in the garden

- One salvia lyrata "Purple Knockout" from an impulse Bluestone Perennials purchase

- One of the two plants (barely visible at the base of the bay) that I got from a single pot when I decided to splurge and buy black mondo grass at my local garden center

- One dichondra "Silver Falls" that I found at a Home Depot, of all places, after looking for two weeks at smaller specialty garden centers

I originally put my carex buchannii (reddish/brown sedge, smaller picture) in this container, too, but moved it out to add a little color to the "Vodka" begonias I put in the huge urn planter that I got for my boyfriend. That's okay, though. Being able to mix reddish brown into that planter would probably have sent me over the edge of garden ecstasy anyway.

Part of what is so appealing about this container is its fleetingness, by the way, and not just because the dichondra is an annual. The salvia, lavender and black mondo grass will have to be planted out this fall and will be too large to share a container next year. I don't have room for this big pot inside so I'm going to have to repot the bay laurel into a smaller planter as well.

So I am already planning what to do as an encore... although maybe I'd be better off just waiting until the spring and winging it!

Monday, July 10

Why Start Something New?

Well, after all, I AM down to just two active projects right now: Those posts that I need to put up for all of my espaliered trees and the grapevine, and finishing the flagstone path. (Yes, I still have some fall sowing to do, and to clean up the garage, but those two projects don't count for our purposes here today--mostly because I don't want to think about them yet.)

So this afternoon I dipped into my stack of retaining wall block and started laying out a pattern for a new mowing edge. Everything inside of the brick line is going to be lawn, and everything outside is going to be planted with other things. I took this picture from my attic stairs window so I could check the curve halfway through for needed adjustments. I'm going to leave the block sit for a few weeks to make sure that I can comfortably navigate the curves with the mower, and so that it kills the grass. That way I can tell where to dig to set each individual block flush with the grass.

My property line, which will eventually be marked by a wooden fence, sits about 3 ft. to the left of the end of the block line... and one of my espaliered apple trees is going to go in the skinny bed that will be bordered by the fence on one side and the straight part of the mowing edge that you see about halfway done on the left side of the photo.

My boyfriend and I are taking out two not-quite-squares of concrete as well. These are the two that you see on the left side of the driveway, where the remnants of this spring's woodpile remain. They are not even needed to access the left garage bay, and I want to plant one of my dwarf cherry trees in that general area so I need the space.

Originally I was planning to get rid of the lawn entirely. Then I started thinking about how much I really kind of like to lay in the grass on a summer day... and how much the dog enjoys napping on it, too... and how said dog also needs a place where she can relieve herself... and how if I ever have a child, he/she may want to play on the grass as well as the concrete in our backyard.

So for now the grass stays... and I will be looking for end-of-season sales on reel mowers. Because escaping the gasoline grip of the regular pushmower was my main incentive for getting rid of the grass anyway!

Saturday, July 8

Feel Like a Kid Again

A few things in the garden are making me feel like a kid again:

Now if only I could find some dandelion flowers to smear on my cheeks... :)

Wednesday, July 5

My Favorite Spot - July 5th

I'm stealing an idea from Kasmira and posting a picture of my current favorite spot in the garden. It's kind of a funky jumble of contrasting foliage--no flowers right now--but that's why I like it so much. I can't wait to see what it looks like when everything fills out more!

In this frame you see the Japanese maple that I inherited with the house, lemon thyme and variegated lemon thyme cascading over the retaining wall, an unknown variety of hosta, and the dark leaves of cimicifuga/actaea "Hillside Black Beauty."

If you look closer you can see a sedum sieboldii also planted under the maple, some Japanese bloodgrass lining the retaining wall, the edge of a leucothoe in the upper right, and the chartreuse (with burgundy veining) leaves of tiarella "Crow Feather" behind the HBB on the left.