Wednesday, June 27

The Importance of the Supporting Cast

When I arrived home after working at the garden center tonight, I discovered that two plants had newly bloomed... plants whose first blooms have been highly anticipated for a long time.

The first plant is my 'Sykes' Dwarf' oakleaf hydrangea. In my humble opinion, oakleaf hydrangeas (hydrangea quercifolia) speak for themselves. They are such stately plants, with white panicles, handsome leaves, and good form. That their foliage takes on jewel-toned hues in fall--and the bark and dried flowerheads add a ton of winter interest to the garden as well--seems almost too much to get from one shrub.

This one is an anchor of sorts in my front bed. It gives the eye a quiet place to rest amid the riot of the blue crambe maritima foliage, rusty Spanish foxglove spires, dark red snapdragon flowers and multiple purple- and yellow-leaf plants.

The second plant is anything but quiet. The canna 'Wyoming' has large, dusky purple leaves highlighted by a lavender flower spike and sherbet-orange blooms. This is one of those plants that screams, "look at me!" and was planted as a focal point in an otherwise unassuming bed.

Here, the dark, misty haze of bronze fennel that screens the air conditioning unit from view both highlights the leaf texture and helps its color blend in. The aging goatsbeard flowers are turning a warm tan that echoes the orange of the canna flowers (I wish I could say that was planned, but it's a happy accident) in a way that ties the canna in to the rest of the bed. The multiple grasses in that area make foliage seem like more of a focus here, further mitigating the bright bloom.

Originally, this post was going to be a quick, "Okay, I was wrong--work or no, I can't stop posting when I have new flowers in the garden" kind of post. But as I looked at the pictures of these two very different plants, I was struck how much their supporting cast of plants affected them.

Generally, you see oakleaf hydrangeas in naturalistic, quietly beautiful gardens. Cannas are most often seen in hot, colorful borders. Both are filling new roles here and surprising even the person who planted them. Makes me wonder what other plants should be reevaluated... and maybe given a different supporting cast...

Monday, June 25

Ladybugs and Lady Birds

I can't bear to take pictures of the whole tree--it looks so terrible--but my Bing cherry has been hit again. This time, the culprit is aphids. I noticed them a few weeks ago, and also noticed some spiny, red-and-black things firmly attached to the underside of the leaves as well. This site identifies the spiny creatures I saw as the larvae of the Asian lady beatle... and you can see in the picture I took this week that they are looking a lot more beatle-like now!

They are apparently good eaters of aphids, but not good enough to save the tree. I had talked about taking it out when I first noticed bacterial canker, and the aphid attack reminded me that it really needs to go. Shovel pruning is usually my method of choice, but this is a big boy so a little hatchet or pruning saw will probably need to be pressed into service. I'm already plotting its replacement--but more on that plan this fall.

All of these thoughts about ladybugs reminded me of lady birds... in particular, one Lady Bird, also known as Mrs. Johnson. She's been in the news lately because of illness and hospitalization, but in healthier times she and actress Helen Hayes founded a wildflower center at the University of Texas at Austin.

I can totally get lost in the center's website, which can be found at If you haven't already found this yourself, set aside at least half an hour and play around there. (Or if you're a northern gardener, bookmark it for a nice leisurely perusal this winter when everything outside is brown and grey.) Even if you aren't interested in gardening with natives, you have to admire an image database that can be searched by tags like "bark," "seeds," and other gardener-friendly terms... it's a great resource.

On an unrelated note, I will probably be mostly MIA from the blog in the next couple of weeks. At my regular job, we put on a two-week summer event on the weekends around the Fourth of July. It's a fun event but very time consuming, so don't be surprised if you don't hear from me. (Of course, that's what The Clerk said before he headed out to Sweden, and we enjoyed some very lovely posts from him during those two weeks so who knows what will happen, really)

If I don't "see" you all, though, between then and now: Have a very safe and fun Fourth of July!

Thursday, June 21

Midseason Lineup Change

While watching all of the annuals arrive at the garden center this spring, I kept thinking about my dark black urn. Last year it was a gift of sorts for my boyfriend--the modern man and abstract painter who still maintains a deep love of classical architecture and landscape elements. This year, I wanted to place the urn next to the side door and fill it with deep, rich colors to add some interest to that beige-door-on-beige-siding entrance.

I knew that I wanted to use 'Black Knight,' one of the dwarf cannas that Brian had bought me at the home and garden show, as the "thriller" element in the pot. And I love 'Silver Falls' dichondra so much that I wanted to use that as the "spiller." But it's a big pot, so I obviously needed a few "fillers" as well. After much debate, I settled on a combination of the rose-and-gold 'Royal Glissade' coleus, bronze carex flagellifera, and the lovely green-and purple 'Gage's Shadow' perilla.

This first picture shows the pot soon after the initial planting. That's not actually 'Black Knight' in the back, however. As per Murphy's Law of Gardening #3456, the only dud out of the 5 canna tubers that I planted was the one for which I had plans... so another dwarf canna with colorful foliage, 'Ingeborg,' was tapped instead.

A few weeks after planting, I noticed that 'Royal Glissade' was staying rather rosy instead of developing some of the pineapple-yellow streaks that I had counted on. So to lighten up the middle of the pot, I tucked in a tall curry plant. (The taller variety is a greenish silver, unlike the whiter silver of the dwarf curry, so it didn't detract from the dichondra.)

That was better, but... well, but still not good enough. I couldn't help but feel that the pot was just one more plant away from being a full, lush knockout. So last week I asked the designer who creates our custom plant arrangements at the garden center for his opinion. I explained that the bare canna stem was bothering me a bit and I wondered what might round out the arrangement.

He suggested I add some golden creeping jenny for a little pizzaz. I had used up my at-home supply of lysimachia nummularia 'aurea' and we had just put our 4 inch annual pots on sale, so I bought one before I left that day. I brought the pot home and plopped it right down on top of the dichondra while I went inside to rinse out my coffee mug.

When I came back outside, I discovered that Danny was absolutely right about how the creeping jenny would wake up the whole combination. In fact, I liked the creeping jenny there so much that I promptly evicted the dichondra and placed the creeping jenny front and center. I threaded the longest stems back through the center of the pot to give them a head start on filling in the canna area--and I may get two more tall curry plants to flank the canna stem, too, since herbs are so cheap.

Between the creeping jenny and the alchemilla mollis, I think that acid-bright is my color theme of the summer... but that doesn't mean I have completely fallen out of love with the 'Silver Falls' dichondra. After hearing of the use of kidneyweed as a groundcover in more temperate areas, I decided to plant it in the front garden. If it takes off and starts to fill in around the purple sage, bergenia, heucheras, and grasses as nicely as I imagine it will in my mind's eye, then I won't feel nearly so bad about its "demotion" from the urn pot!

Saturday, June 16

GBBD: June Blooms

There is so much color and texture in my garden right now. So I was amazed when I went out today to take pictures for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and discovered that very few things are actually blooming. I love my garden, and I love foliage... but on days like today when I'm posting a meager list in comparison to most other North American garden bloggers, I admit that I feel a little deficient! :)

When I started taking the pictures off of my digital camera, I found that one of my attempts at photographing the lavender had instead focused on the purple-leaf salvia behind it. That seems appropriate for my garden thoughts today, don't you think?

The other thing that struck me was just how many bees I was seeing. I've noticed a lack of pollinators around these parts lately, so it was nice to see them busily flitting about. The spanish foxglove, digitalis parviflora, is one of their favorites. It's one of mine, too: dark green, almost glossy foliage, blooms in more sun or more shade, and with flowers in an unusual chocolatey orange color.

Here's the rest of what's in bloom right now:

- goatsbeard 'Zweiweltenkind' (side note: I discovered in an Allan Armitage book yesterday that this cultivar name means "child of two worlds" in German)
- 'The Watchman' black hollyhocks
- 'Dortmund' climbing rose
- jackmanii clematis
- tiarellas 'Neon Lights' and 'Crow Feather'
- 'Whiskey' wax begonias
- 'Anne Greenaway' lamium
- 'Brise d'Anjou' jacob's ladder
- 'Olympic Fire' mountain laurel (almost done)
- 'Regina' heuchera'
- 'Chubby Fingers' sedum
-'Paprika' achillea
- annual purple verbena
- alchemilla mollis
- thyme and lemon thymes

Notably in bud:
- dwarf oakleaf hydrangea
- drumstick alliums

Thursday, June 14

Notes to Self: June

I originally started this blog in part because I had tried (and failed) to keep a faithful garden journal for two years in a row. So here's my little garden journal entry for the month of June--complete with pictures so I can see what exactly I am talking about when I review these notes later.

Note #1: I must remember that while not all flowers bloom exactly as advertised, some do. Modern plant marketing with all of its little white lies and spin did not exist in the early days of 'The Watchman' hollyhocks (reportedly grown by Jefferson at Monticello) so I should not be shocked that they actually turned out to be black.

And since I purposely planted black hollyhocks, I should not be disappointed that they aren't really dark purple. I hadn't realized just how much color and light the black flowers would suck up without something silvery or white--or good positioning, to take advantage of backlighting--to relieve their severity. Ah well, the foliage isn't up to my standards so I probably won't grow them again anyway... I'll just enjoy the flowers for right now and make sure that I catch them in the right light.

Note #2: WOW, does a little acidic color wake up an otherwise tranquil mix of blues and purples or what?! In the bed with the purple ninebark (which was labeled 'Diablo' but I suspect is actually 'Summerwine,' darn it!) my eye keeps being drawn down to the flowering lady's mantle. If only it kept flowering until the self-sowing purple amaranth and Russian sage grow big enough to add to the show.

Side note: And here I used regularly cut off the flowers on all of my alchemilla mollis because I didn't want them to obstruct the view of the beautiful, fuzzy leaves. Now I see what I must have been missing.

Note #3: Speaking of cutting off flowerheads, I've been rather lax with a few other perennials that I normally head off at the pass, too. The 'Purple Knockout' salvia lyrata is one such plant--probably the one plant that I should deadhead, as its blooms don't even have a real color. I find that I kind of like the way it combines with the lavender blooms, a nearby bronze sedge and California poppy seedlings to make the front garden look a little wild, though.

Another side note: 'Purple Knockout' really does glow in the late afternoon sun. I need to plant more red- and purple-leaf plants on the west side of my house to take advantage of that jewel tone look.

Note #4: When it comes time to plant garlic in the fall, I have to figure out a way to use it a bit more artfully. Maybe it needs to be in more of a strict layout instead of messy-looking clumps. This fall, I think I'm going to plant it to form snaking lines of greenish blue accent foliage instead of grouping it in clumps like you see here.

Of course, this bed will be livened up when the self-sown purple amaranth seedlings grow up a bit more... and maybe I'll change my mind about the garlic then. We'll see.

On the last side note: The goatsbeard (aruncus sinensis 'Zweiweltenkind') seriously lightens up this bed on the east side of my house when it's in flower. The dark rhodie leaves look particularly handsome breaking up the single plants (in front and to its right) from the larger clump of 4 plants you can kind of see beyond the rhododendron.

That's all the notes for June. I hope to review them myself in July, and have more observations to share next month, too. More observations will mean that I've been spending more time in my garden! :)

Sunday, June 10

Pralinage + Good Beer = Good Roses

It caused a bit of a stir a few weeks back when I mentioned my family's secret recipe for planting grass. To review: Plant grass seed and apply straw as usual. Then sit around in lawn chairs drinking Corona. They swear that the grass grows so fast this way that you can watch it... but admittedly the more Coronas you drink the more likely you are to see the supposed growth in action.

I applied this basic idea when planting my 'Dortmund' rose this spring. First, I planted the rose as usual: Wash any shipping dirt off the roots, dip the roots in a mudbath, plant at the proper depth in regular dirt with a healthy dose of composted cow manure mixed in. (The French call this mudbath "pralinage," and it's supposed to help when planting bareroot plants because it keeps them from drying out, ensures contact between the roots and the ground, etc.)

After the planting was complete, I went outside and puttered around that front yard garden with a Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold in hand. I figured it was a fitting way to get this particular rose started... and I was right!

The rose is already blooming even though the canes have not grown a whole lot this year. In fact, the flower with which I posed the unopened bottle of "Dort," as we affectionally call it, was a mere 3 inches off of the ground. Horizontal branches supposedly flower more, so this makes sense. After seeing just this first flower, I can understand why the brilliance of Dortmund's blooms caused Henry Miller some consternation in regards to combining them with other things in his garden. (I admit, I dig that kind of challenge.)

More importantly, though, check out that gorgeous foliage. As Barrie noted in a Gardenmob review last year, Dortmund has rosa kordesii in its lineage and thus inherited some good disease resistance. I'm absolutely enamored of its dark green, glossy leaves. Even if it never blooms again--and even though its thorns are legendary--it's a definitely keeper in my garden!

*Edited on Monday to add the picture of a Dortmund bloom in the sun. It glows!

Friday, June 8

Weekend Plans

In a few more weeks, all of the seasonal people will be taken off of the schedule at the garden center... so I'm taking advantage of the hours when I can get them. This weekend I have a pretty nice schedule, though. 9-6 both days, which means that I have almost 3 hours each evening in which to work in my own garden! My "to do" list is pretty long, but here are the highlights:

- Harvest these lovely garlic scapes and use them in a delicious omelette

- Dig up a few plants that are going to new homes

- Weed and mulch the bed behind the Japanese maple (It's so bad that I'm ashamed to show the "before" picture I took tonight!)

- Plant the flat of veggies that are wilting on the side of the driveway

- Take a few pictures of the plants I didn't realize were in bloom until this evening

- Thin out the volunteer amaranth seedlings (Anything that's not dark burgundy in leaf must go)

- Fill in the hole in the back bed where I removed the potted oakleaf hydrangea two weeks ago

In addition to that, I need to mow the grass... but that's not really a fun job for me so I'm not going to include it on my list. :) Off to get some sleep so I'm up for all of the tasks ahead--I hope that this is a great weekend work-wise for all of my fellow gardeners who have long "to do" lists themselves!

Friday, June 1

Dive Bombed!

This afternoon, the sun emerged after a brief rain so I decided to go out and take a few pictures in the yard. I focused first on the lovely combination of dark blue Siberian iris and acid-green alchemilla mollis, then started to work my way back toward the newly opened peony blooms.

While trying to catch some good backlighting on several baptisia, I noticed that a bird had flown by awfully close. It was a blue jay, and it came back for another pass--actually mussing up my hair this time--just as my boyfriend pulled into the driveway. The first near-miss was obviously not a mistake.

I hurried back toward an apparently more "neutral" area of the yard as he got out of the car and explained what was going on. "I'm getting dive bombed by a blue jay! Do you see anything back here? A nest, anything?" I asked.

Neither of us could pick out anything that looked out of place. "Well, let's see if it happens again. Watch your feet," he cautioned as we cautiously moved toward the back of the lot again.

Sure enough, the dive bombing resumed as soon as I got to the end of the baptisia bed. Brian commented that there were actually TWO blue jays diving at me, which explained how they were coming back around so quickly. I was watching my feet as directed when I saw something small and grey plop onto the unmulched ground from the lowest branch of the espaliered pear. "Look, there's a baby!"

I didn't want to stress the new parents or the little one out any more than I already had, and I certainly had had enough of their protective campaign... but I couldn't resist taking a minute to snap a photo before I scooted out of there. If you click the picture to enlarge it, you can see the baby to the left of the tree trunk, just behind the first clump of dianthus.

We watched from a safe distance as the baby hopped off, stretching his wings under the watchful eyes of the parents. Since they had successfully protected their baby from the big scary human interlopers, they were now free to scavenge more food. We watched them feed the baby a few times as it hopped along, but didn't get to see it actually fly...

Speaking of flying, it's past the time we had wanted to get on the road ourselves. We are heading down to OU to see my wonderful sister-in-law graduate from medical school. (Congratulations, Amanda!) It seems to be a weekend of new beginnings all around. I hope that all of my fellow gardeners make a few fun discoveries out in their own gardens this weekend!