Tuesday, August 28

That August Itch

I have been reading about it in several different garden blogs, and that August Itch has finally bit me, too. Hard. I don't know if there is a "real" name for it, but you know what I mean. It's that time of the year when those areas of the garden we called "lush" earlier in the summer now just look like a jungle--in a bad way. It's the downtime between the bountiful blooms of summer and the start of autumnal tones and elegant decay.

It is now that I look out over my eclectic garden and wish that I instead tended a regimented, formal parterre. Or a soothingly austere prairie-style planting. Maybe a zen garden.

I finally succumbed yesterday and started to scratch my itch. Much of the self-seeded red amaranth was ripped out and composted. 'Othello' ligularia was moved (yeah, while it was blooming) to a spot where its rounded, large leaves are needed to break up the finer foliage of goatsbeard and grasses. Hakonechloa 'All Gold,' picked up on clearance, was placed in a corner where it can glow--and cascade over nearby retaining wall blocks.

Japanese bloodgrass--happier here in the rich, trucked-in soil of the back garden bed than it ever has been in the barren dirt of the front bed where herbs and other tough guys like yarrow thrive--was divided into more clumps. The blue hosta in the foreground moved between two of them and the hakone grass.

Several different relocation options for the Russian sage are under consideration. Clusters of 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga were broken up and spaced apart in the hopes that they will grow back together to carpet the garden floor. The gaping hole in the bed, where the 'Diablo' ninebark used to be, is now the home of the dwarf tart cherry tree that I should have planted there in the first place.

Finally, this area of the garden is starting to look like something. But even as I remind myself of my vow to try to Leave Well Enough Alone in the coming year, and give things time to settle in and grow... still, I feel that itch.

Monday, August 27

Messy Thoughts

On my way to work one morning last week, I heard a news story about flooding on the Blanchard River in Northwestern Ohio. The house I grew up in is less than half a mile from a bend in the Blanchard, and we'd never had a problem before... but the news crews made it sound like this was a flood of epic proportions so I felt compelled to call home. "We're okay here," Mom said, just as I had expected. "Ottawa is just a mess, though," she continued, and proceeded to tell me how water was collecting in places that I never remember seeing floodwaters before--not even during the horrible flood of 1981. The waters had apparently risen very quickly in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, catching most people completely unaware.

The people we knew who seemed to be the worst hit were my brother Jeff's brother-in-law Troy and his family. They lost eight 4-week-old puppies to the floodwaters, and water was so high in their house that it will probably be months until they finish reconstruction and can move back in. My brother picked up a john boat from a friend's house early Tuesday morning and helped them evacuate their kids and Lynette's mother out of the house. They moved into Troy's parents' place, which is in town but on higher ground... and when word got around that Jeff had a boat he ended up helping evacuate a few other kids out of a house nearby, too, through chest-deep water.

For the rest of the week, watching news clips and talking to people back home seemed like a bad dream. One streaming video showed the same view of Main Street that I normally enjoy as I drive into town from Cleveland. But you couldn't actually see the street or the green lawns that line the road... just a sea of muddy brown water edged with houses, broken only by a line of trees that showed where the pavement should be.

The most surreal moment of all came when I got a call from Mom early Thursday evening. "Make sure you watch ABC World News Tonight," she told me. "Jeff, Troy and Jenny's parents might be on--a crew taped them going back into Jenny's house to retrieve her wedding dress." (My other brother, Craig, was scheduled to get married on Saturday to his longtime girlfriend Jenny. In spite of the flooding and the fact that his future in-laws had to evacuate from their house we were all pretty sure that the wedding would still happen in some fashion.) The part of the conversation that really threw me, though, was my mom's response when I asked her what she and Dad were doing. "Well," she responded matter-of-factly, "They still don't have power in town so your grandma and a few of us cooked up supper for your uncles and whoever else nearby wants to eat a hot meal. We're just waiting for the kids to arrive with the canoes so we can hop in and deliver it." Supper delivered by boat through the streets of Ottawa... I couldn't even imagine!

The water finally crested late in the week, but I had no idea what we would find when we arrived back home on Friday night for the wedding rehearsal. The amount of water was mind-boggling, and it took me an extra hour or so to navigate my way around all of the flooded roads.

The wedding itself went off just fine, with a few little flood-induced glitches here and there like missing thank-you gifts that would have to be passed out later once the bride's parents were able to get back into their house. All of that paled in comparison to the what had been accomplished, though. Our neighbors stepped in and let us use the party room in their huge garage/workshop for the rehearsal dinner because the intended location was still underwater. Workers went into flooded stores to retrieve tuxes and salvage linens. One very generous local family put up the bride, her parents, her sister, and several members of the wedding party who were supposed to be staying at the bride's flooded house. Many people drove the long detours to come out and show their support for the happy couple as well.

It was the first--and hopefully last--wedding that I have attended where an ABC news crew was present. If any of you saw the interview of the bride's parents on Thursday, or the follow-up footage of the wedding on Saturday, consider yourself introduced to my brother Craig and my newest sister-in-law Jenny! (I was in the wedding, but happily managed to escape the TV camera.) We later found out that a picture of my other brother, Jeff, was on the cover of Saturday's New York Times. He was standing in the water with a boat, waiting for Troy to finish talking to the Coast Guard so they could row to Troy's house and pick up a few more things to entertain the kids at grandma's. Unreal.

The Sunday after a wedding is usually a leisurely day of resting and recovering... but not this week. After tying up a few loose ends we threw on old clothes and work boots, then headed over to my uncle Al's house to help him with cleanup. If you click on the picture of the pile of debris outside his house, you can see the water mark on the foundation shrubs. Notice also how the blades of grass are still coated with fine brown mud. (What you can't see is the stench of decay that permeated the air... I kept feeling like the old Black Swamp must be rising again!)

Al is the kind of person who will come over, rounding up people to take with him along the way, if something happens to an acquaintance or if a DIY project means that there is work that needs to be done. You don't need to call him, he just comes. So you can imagine that he had plenty of help himself this weekend in return, and it didn't take too long to get the flooded basement and garage emptied and scrubbed out with bleach. On Saturday, an electrician had replaced two breakers in his downstairs electrical box, which had been submerged for at least a day, and my Dad helped Al fix the rest of the electrical issues yesterday.

All that remained by late in the afternoon was to let the basement dry out completely, tear out and rebuild a wall of simple wooden shelves in the "tool room" down there, replace some low paneling on the walls around the back door landing, and put back all of the stuff he had been able to salvage as the water rose. Luckily, Al has two teenage boys and a daughter in her 20s so they were able to pull lots of things out of the basement to begin with (including the washer and dryer) and he'll have a lot of help putting things back when the time comes.

Several of us then walked the short block to my other uncle's house to see what we could do to help there--they sit a bit lower and so they had water in their first floor. They also lost several cars that they hadn't moved to higher ground. My aunt's family were there working, and only so many people can remove waterlogged stair treads, drywall, carpeting and subflooring in a small area. So after scrubbing out their garage with bleach and brushes, and powerwashing the floor, we soon discovered that we had outlived our usefulness there. We headed back to Al's, where leftover wedding food awaited us for supper.

As we walked back to my uncle's I was struck by the piles of stuff that lined the street. Some of the biggest piles were in front of the smallest houses, leading me to wonder whether anything was left inside. Dumpsters had started to be dropped off in the streets, and extra people could be seen at almost every house. And I knew that these scenes were being repeated throughout the city, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to have to deal with such mess. Such loss.

We had to head back to Cleveland last night so my boyfriend could make it to work today, but I was very happy to have taken today off. As I worked in my messy garden, picking up spent canna leaves from a cushion of germander and cutting back little bluestem grasses that had fallen into the sedum due to heavy rains last week, I relaxed and thought about the past week. And as I puttered around my urban garden... I realized that this strong sense of community, of helping each other, was one thing I really missed about living in a small town.

Tuesday, August 21

Wordless Wednesday

Taken at the Cleveland Botanical Garden August 4, 2007.
(If I didn't know that I took it, I would think that it was a postcard or something. I am seriously amazed at how well this turned out... click it to see the detail.)

Sunday, August 19

It's A Jungle Out There

Nate is one of those friends who drifts in and out... sometimes we see a lot of him, sometimes we can't get a text message back from him at all and are left to wonder where he is and what he's doing. Today he came over to hang out and catch up, which is always a good time.

"I know I haven't been here in a while," was the first thing he said to me, "But I wasn't quite expecting the nice little jungle you've added to the backyard." Nate meant that as a compliment, but it made me laugh just the same. Jungle? Au contraire, Nate--you were looking at the veggie garden!

Well, part of the veggie garden, anyway. See the blue leaves of brussels sprouts peaking out from behind the Little Bluestem, just to the right of the 'Red King Humbert' cannas? There are 'Ichiban' eggplants behind them and a row of various late-planted peppers spaced out evenly next to the 'Fuldaglut' sedum that edges the bed. The 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranths that you see popping up throughout the bed are edible, too--you can use the younger, more tender leaves like spinach.

Some veggies are just so pretty that I think I will always be able to find a place for them in the yard. And some of them, admittedly, look rather exotic. The purple-tinged eggplant leaves are one example. And the red okra that I plan to grow next year is another. That various grasses and low-maintenance perennials like 'Matrona' sedum, Siberian iris and Russian sage mix well with them is a bonus.

On the one hand, this post is an ode to the beauty of veggies and is meant to show that all vegetable plants do not have to be relegated to a square plot. On the other hand, it's also in response to Chuck's desire to see all of our gardens from other than the usual "closeup" perspective that we tend to show on our blogs.

On the third hand(?), this is also a "before" picture of a bed that's going to be totally revamped this fall. For one thing, I allowed the amaranth way too much leeway--artful clumps would look much better than all of that self-sown randomness. I have finally decided on a square lawn instead of the irregularly-shaped one that I have now, so more grass will be taken away and the area in front of the cannas will need to be redesigned to accommodate the new shape.

The 'Morning Light' and 'Little Zebra' miscanthus grasses that you see beyond the cannas, still in their pots, will need to be included here. I kind of like the way the 'Morning Light' and the Little Bluestem look bookending the cannas in this picture, so I may have to work that into the design somehow... but all of this design talk is mere conjecture at this point, really. I need to get out there, mark off the new bed, and take some measurements so I can actually start to design this area the right way. For once.

See, I would like to be one of those ultra-organized people who draws everything out on paper and then follows the plan to the letter, but sadly I am not. Instead I have a very good idea of what I'm going to do ahead of time, but make lots of changes--lets call them adjustments, that sounds more positive--as I start to dig.

I always wonder whether my fellow garden bloggers and garden blog readers have plans that they follow, or whether they just bring plants home and plop them anywhere they have space... or somewhere in between. Anyone out there reading care to comment and appease my curiosity?

Saturday, August 18

Visit to the CBG III: Rediscovering Childhood

The Hershey Children's Garden is a magical place, and it is open to children of all ages--as the docent was quick to reassure us when we inquired whether "we adults" were allowed to enter. That may have been true, but there were many features (like this vine-covered arch that Amy was nice enough to pose beside, to give a sense of scale) that were strictly designed for the smaller set.

I'm glad that I didn't have to miss the opportunity to visit this wonderland... and I'm also glad that there weren't too many people in the garden that day. The kids may have understood, but their parents would likely have rolled their eyes at our exclamations of delight as we explored this little paradise.

A small station at the entrance to the garden shows several cut flowers in small bottles, which children are supposed to look at, remember, and then find in the garden as they explore. A sundial in the patio floor there allows you to stand in the center and use your own shadow to determine the time--and all birthdays are listed around the outside of the sundial. (The docent said that the kids just love to walk around and find their birthdays here.) There is even a maze in the garden... an entrance to what looks like a stand of arborvitae reveals itself as you walk past. The path winds you into the center of the stand, and then winds you back out near the exit.

The huge treehouse at one end of the garden beckoned us first. It spanned a change in elevation, so you could walk up a hill to enter through the back door of the second floor, or you could start at the bottom and climb the stairs. We chose the former, and on the way up the hill we passed an educational station about water gardens. The trough full of water and plants included these instructions: "We are water hyacinths. We float on top of the water. Pick us up and look at our roots." Who could resist obeying? Not me!

The treehouse was fun, with a potted "root beer plant," benches to sit on and books to read. As we exited the stairs, we were drawn toward the pond garden with wooden walkways at its base. Several children were crouched near the water's edge, squealing with delight as they pointed out the golden koi navigating around waterlilies and cattails. I didn't quite feel right about taking pictures of someone else's children, but I did get a picture of someone else enjoying the wooden pathways--just before we got too close and caused him to jump back in.

Next we discovered the kids' version of the kitchen garden. Lots of herbs, veggies, and instructional signs here... along with a kid-sized garden shed that had the loveliest door I've seen in a while. The plantings here were meant to entrance kids by attracting butterflies, introducing them to new scents and flavors, and providing a general sense of awe.

We were pretty entranced ourselves--especially after the docent told us that we were welcome to eat any ripe berries that we could find. Those, apparently, are for children of all ages, too, but we only managed to spot one inky beauty. Since I have my own blackberry bush at home, I allowed Amy to enjoy the whole thing in spite of her offer to "go halves."

The garden is not just about enjoyment, however. There are learning opportunities around every corner. A vermicomposter sat near the spot where kid-sized stepping stones embedded with everything from marbles to tooth-marked Legos were set out to dry. It had been part of that day's activities for those children who joined the educational lesson series there. Elsewhere, a 3-compartment composting station explained the stages of making "black gold," (yes, their sign really said that!) from Beginning to Working to Finished.

In case you couldn't tell, this was one of my favorite places at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. All children (of all ages) should have the opportunity to experience such a fantastic place! After our visit here, we needed to take a quick break to sit down and enjoy some refreshment at the garden cafe. Time to recharge between wonderlands: The glasshouse, showcasing the spiny desert of Madagascar and the cloud forest of Costa Rica, is up next.

Friday, August 17

Visit to the CBG II: Theme Gardens and Lessons Learned

The "Theme Gardens" at the Cleveland Botanical Garden are those built for the most recent Flower Show. This year's theme was "Rhythm & Hues," with each garden designer taking a very different approach. There were structures where water cascaded off of the roof and onto drums below and whimsical fountains where water poured out of the mouths of musical instruments.

At this time of the summer, most of the theme garden plantings are not flashy. It is now when the interest provided by leaf color and texture, along with hardscaping, makes a huge difference. What struck me most as I explored this area were the ideas that I could take and apply to my own garden. These theme gardens reminded me more of a "real person's" backyard garden--albeit a very beautiful, well-design one. I could imagine this gorgeous container anchoring the corner of my garage... unfortunately, it wouldn't have fit into my car!

One garden featured a seculed patio with a water feature in which water spilled down a concave wall. A semicircle of stone in front of the feature seemed to complete the circle visually, and the whole patio was refreshingly cool thanks to a combination of mist and leafy cover.

I took this picture of the entrance to the patio, but it wasn't until I went home and studied it that I realized why I appreciated it so much. I love the repetition of rectangular patterns in this patio entrance. In the midst of the more organic forms that populate the botanical garden--and in contrast to the circular water feature inside--these straight lines added an orderliness that was somehow very relaxing and comforting.

Using tall timbers as the lowest level of overhead beams in the arbor here was fantastic. It allows the squares revealed by the sunlight on the floor to be repeated on the "ceiling" as well. In effect, it looks like perspective lines have been drawn to pull your eye toward the water feature inside. The bricked columns on either side continue the rectangular theme but add a nice vertical and a sense of arrival as well.

The "Opera Hortensia" was definitely one of the more colorful theme gardens. Two curving walls of arches bookended the garden, with an open area near the lower wall that evoked a stage. A patchwork of plants swept across the curving slope, giving the feeling that each plant grouping was a separate party of viewers settled in to enjoy an evening concert. The seemingly random clumps lent a nice rhythmic feel to the planting. The planting wasn't overly dramatic... from above, it just felt nice in a quiet kind of way. You can see what I mean in the first picture.

Now check out the framed view in the second picture. Okay, so the "frames" are gorgeous cement (stone?) arches, but don't let that distract you--I really think that they would be just as beautiful if they were plain wood. The arches do not support any climbing vines or hanging baskets, as their purpose is to focus your attention and provide context. Framing the plantings in this way makes them seem much more important than they would be without the arches. Now I keep thinking about views that I might want to highlight via framing in my own garden...

The last theme garden that I want to highlight was this sunken woodland gem, designed by The Pattie Group. The pathway meanders down the hillside through the wild-seeming plantings. Large-leaf hostas and ligularias contrast with other fine-textured plants and random rock outcroppings.

Sunlight snakes through this garden via a break between stands of tall trees. I might have just been here at exactly the right time of the day and year, but you can see that the sunlight patterns are highlighting the subtle river of yellow-leaf plants (including large hostas) that they planted to "flow" down the hill in an accidental-looking way. I can't believe it's accidental, though, and it got me to thinking about how I could better take advantage of the patterns of light in my yard.

As I sat on a rather conveniently placed large stone in a small landing area, I lamented the fact that I have a level yard. There were so many beautifully used changes in level here. But I did take some inspiration from the ajuga and ferns planted within a collection of rocks behind the natural bench. You don't need large levels to tuck some of these smaller plants into groupings of rock and dirt artfully--I think that I could arrange this on a smaller scale at the back of my lot, beneath the grape arbor.

As we left the cooling refreshment of this last theme garden, Amy and I felt a little bit tired... there had been so much to take in. Luckily the Hershey Children's Garden awaited around the bend, full of excitement and a return to the energy and enthusiasm of childhood. Stay tuned for a tour of that garden, which will probably be posted later this weekend.

Wednesday, August 15

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: August (OOPS) 2007

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from my garden in August. All gardens seem to look great in June and into July--and I love mine in September, when it starts to show the beginnings of fall color--but August seems like a rather tough time of the year. Many perennials have finished blooming, annuals are getting scraggly and need to be cut back, and plants in general always look a little worse for the wear in our typical August heat and humidity.

Maybe that's why I love my 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth so much. This stuff looks good all season long, with just the occasional hard chop. That it pairs just as nicely with the cool purple of Russian sage as it does with the warm oranges and reds of canna lilies doesn't hurt, either. In the second picture you can see the amaranth on either side of the lemony-striped Miscanthus (either 'Zebrinus' or 'Strictus,' my aunt and uncle didn't keep the tag) and the purple-tinged foliage of the 'Ichiban' eggplant. I think I'll cut it back a bit more, though, since it's looming a little ominously over the zebra grass!

Similarly, I appreciate the carefree nature of snapdragons. These annuals sometimes overwinter for me, and I really like the taller varieties, but this year the only reds I could find at the garden center were short. I think that next year I'm going to start some old-fashioned ones from seed--and for this, I blame Elizabeth.

I like my red snaps next to the glaucous leaves of sea kale, and in another part of the garden I have some snuggling up between blue-tinged hellebores with red veins, and golden oregano. The latter looks more chartreuse than golden at this point of the summer, but it still compliments the yellow throat on these snaps in a good way.

I have read several times (but first in a Tracy diSabato-Aust book) that one should keep the entire color spectrum in mind when placing plants together. The idea is that you get the most pleasing effect when colors from the far end are a darker shade than those at the near end. I believe that Tracy's example was that apricot goes well with dark blue but dark orange doesn't go so well with light blue.

She would not like my snapdragon and sea kale combo above, nor would she like the 'Orange Carpet' zauschneria garettii (aka hardy or California fuchsia) cozying up to the Russian sage here, but I do! I understand the concept and agree with it for the most part... but I also wholeheartedly believe in bending the "design rules" when it makes you happy.

I do NOT always like it when plants decide to bend design rules for me, as is the case with the orange cosmos and dark-leaf canna here. The cosmos was supposed to be a little bit taller, and the canna was supposed to stay a little more dwarf. Instead, there is quite a large visual step down between the two.

I guess that I have been the recipient of many happy accidents in the garden, however, so I can't complain too much. And my orange cosmos does look nice between the canna and the 'Fuldaglut' sedum spurium that has spread nicely at the edge of the bed. (Kylee... click the picture to enlarge. Do these cosmos look like your marigolds or what?)

Shade is at a premium in my garden, especially since the neighbor limbed up his beautiful beech tree last week, but there are a few interesting things blooming in the more light-challenged areas. Here, one toad lily bloom jumps in front of the dark foliage of 'Hillside Black Beauty' cimicifuga/actaea and the gold-flecked foliage of a different toad lily. Both toad lilies are still in their nursery pots, as I am "trying them out" here next to the bugbane... but I think this is a fun combination, especially with the shiny European ginger at their feet and a large 'Frances Williams' hosta next door.

I have decided that New Guinea impatiens are probably too fussy for me to bother with next year unless I keep them in pots where they will be easier to remember to water. That said, I love the dark foliage on these (Something-Cherry is the name) and they look great next to hakonechloa macra 'aureola.' The variegated Japanese forest grass is sprouting its own airy inflourescences, and the blooms on the New Guineas help pick up the beginnings of the pink fall tinge on the grass blades.

Overall, I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see so much in bloom here in August.... especially since foliage, not flowers, always seems to carry my garden. Here's the rest of today's lists:

In Bloom - 'Paprika' achillea, 'White Swan' echinacea, purple emporer sedum, 'Koralle' european upright fuchsia, silene maritima (aka Catchfly), 'Purple Knockout' salvia lyrata, chasmantium latifolium, 'Dortmund' climbing rose, bronze fennel, 'Ozark' alpine strawberries, 'Whiskey' wax begonias, 'Dawn' miniature hosta, 'Regina' heuchera, 'Samobor' geranium phaeum (sparse rebloom), 'Caradonna' salvia, 'Voodoo' sedum, common chives, yellow lantana, various peppers/tomatoes/eggplants, zauschneria latifolia v. etteri, pennisetum rubrum, 'Hameln' pennisetum

In Bud and Highly Anticipated - 'Hillside Black Beauty' cimicifuga/actaea, 'Blanche Sandman' lonicera sempervirens, various Japanese anemone

*Edited to add the pennisetums in bloom and change the subject to the CORRECT month--thanks, Chuck! Can you all tell I'm feeling like the summer is getting away from me here?! :)

Monday, August 13

Help Me, My Friends, For I Am Weak...

I went to the garden center today to get some potting soil because I have a few plants that desperately need to be repotted if they are to survive the winter indoors. (I learned my lesson last year--my rosemary was so rootbound that even overwatering it would have been fine for once. It only made it through mid-December.) I should have known better than to venture into a garden center shortly after having collected a surprise check from my second job... I really should have known better.

You know how these garden center visits go at this time of the year, right? As you drive there, you remind yourself that you are, indeed, a plant addict and feel smug that you've successfully gotten through Step 1: Acknowledging that you have a Problem. Then you comment out loud that you really don't have space for anything else, anyway, and resolve that you are ONLY going to the part of the store where the one specific thing you need resides. You are going to put it on your cart, and then you are going to proceed directly to the cash registers--no moving your head to either side as you walk down the aisles, even. You can do it, you tell yourself. For you are Strong.

You enter the building like a woman on a mission... and before you know it, you have your bag of potting soil. Plus 2 ceramic pots that were marked 30% off at the entrance to the potting soil room. Your cart then heads to the annuals section as if it has a mind of its own. (It must want to look for bargains to fill those new pots.) In the annuals section, you score 3 "annual" ornamental grasses marked as hardy to a zone warmer than you but bearing the same botanical name as the three you overwintered in your garden this past year--'Frosted Curls' sedge, to be precise--and a tiny "fall magic" pot of the 'Angelina' sedum that so entranced you in a picture on someone else's blog but was sold out of the perennials section by the time you went looking for it.

By this time, you feel a little lucky, so you stride toward the perennials section and find that they a running an unadvertised Buy-X-Get-X-Free deal. 'Silver Queen' ajuga jumps onto your cart (after all, who couldn't use more groundcover?) and she is followed quite cozily by the inky purple 'Arthur Branch' sedum that you drooled over this weekend at the botanical garden, where it was sprawling through 'Silver Falls' dichondra.

2 pots of hardy plumbago that you figure can be divided into 3 different clumps each before they are planted are squeezed into the last corner... what a bargain, and won't they look stunning in the fall tucked in between your 'Diablo' ninebark and the chartreuse leaves of 'Sum and Substance' hosta?... at which point you realize with horror that your cart is almost full.

So you head toward the cash register to see what kind of damage you've done--but to get there, you have to walk the gauntlet of clearance tables. "All Peonies 50% Off" catches your eye, as you know they had some lovely tree peonies earlier in the season that were a little rich for your blood at $40-some...

But enough of this *ahem* hypothetical situation. Let's get right to the part where I admit that I need your help. Before anyone jumps in, I don't particularly want suggestions on how to avoid my next plant bender. (Heck, I wear the same clothes for so many years in a row that I figure I have earned the right to splurge occasionally on plants with my frugality. Some women are clotheshorses, I'm a plant-horse.)

No, what I really need is advice on how to site and care for my new tree peony! All I can think about is that when I first looked them up in an Allan Armitage book, the first line under paeonia suffruticosa read something like this: "The proper care and cultivation of tree peonies remains shrouded in mystery..."

Yikes. That sounds even more daunting than a late summer trip to the garden center. Help!

Saturday, August 11

Visit to the CBG I: Herb, Rose, Woodland and Japanese Gardens

This spring, I had planned to visit the Cleveland Botanical Garden for their (somewhat horitculturally) famous Flower Show... until my part-time job at a local garden center and a sick puppy changed my plans. I was bummed to miss both the show and a chance to meet fellow blogger and "blackswamp girl" Kylee, but I resolved to visit the garden--and Kylee, separately--at some point this summer. (For more on the 2007 CBG Flower Show, you can read Kylee's excellent review at her blog, Our Little Acre.)

They did not need me at the garden center today and my boyfriend was planning to head off to the woods with some work friends to experience the dubious "sport" known as paintballing. So it was a perfect day for my friend Amy and I to visit the Garden, and I so enjoyed my visit that I thought I would conduct a little virtual tour here on my blog. You can click on any of the pictures in this post to see the images in more detail.

As we walked through the entrance, we noticed the gorgeous containers. The pot simply planted with phormium and echeveria was my favorite, but the multiple pots of dahlias with 'Red Threads' alternanthera were nice, too. Amy liked the huge potted pines that looked like bonsai on steroids, but I didn't get any pictures that do them justice. Although we parked on a nearby street, I appreciated that the entire drive down from the entrance to the underground parking lot was surrounded by beautiful plantings. Nice attention to detail there.

Following the map, we decided to hit the Western Reserve Herb Society garden first and work our way around. I admit to being a little disappointed overall by the herb garden. The paving--which included lots of millstones set into the paths--was beautiful, and who can resist wrought iron gates set decoratively into crabapple hedges? A few other plants like purple basil, tree peonies and 'Helene von Stein' lamb's ears were standouts here as well... but for the most part I wanted to cut things back and give everything a fresh coat of mulch. I'm sure that high expectations played into my disappointment, as I love herbs and count on them as real workhorses in terms of garden interest.

On the flip side, I assumed that the Mary Ann Sears Swetland rose garden would be past its prime to the point of being ugly. After all, we were not visiting during the magical rose month of June! The beds where just roses came up out of the soil, mulched and pruned but unaccompanied by other perennials, definitely lived down to my expectations. The lovely center bed that included catmint, lavender and dichondra surrounding an octagonal fountain was very nice, however, and the non-climbing version of 'Iceberg' also caught my eye.

As I took the picture above, my eyes were drawn to the dramatic red rose covering the arch at the far end of the garden. I kept my cool while Amy and I walked around the center bed toward this beauty... but involuntarily let out a girly little squeal when the tag at its feet confirmed my suspicions: A Dortmund!!!

Exiting the rose garden brought us to a fork in the road. I let Amy choose, and she thought a bit of shade would be nice so we headed to the Japanese and Woodland gardens. The Woodland garden was fun, mixing unusual shade lovers like Kirengeshoma (yellow wax bells, which I believe come from China) and horsetail rush with dainty little natives like jewelweed. I couldn't keep track of the number of different hostas they had, and quickly decided that I definitely need a gold variegated comfrey somewhere in my yard.

The Japanese garden was wonderful as well, but it was a challenge to take good pictures there today. The CBG holds weddings on site, and there were dozens of white folding guest chairs set up inside the best section. The first picture shows the focal point of the bowl-shaped area where the wedding was (to be?) held--I was standing at the what I assume is the "I do" spot, at the top of the main aisle, while I snapped the shot. Behind me was the large wisteria arbor you see in the second shot, taken from the top of the other side of the "bowl." Can you see the thick tree trunk at the right of the second picture, just beyond the arbor? That was one of two Dawn Redwoods that we found at the garden. I didn't even know we could grow them here!

The edge of the woodland garden blended seamlessly into the themed garden area. These are largely the same show gardens that I would have seen had I made it to the Flower Show in May, but I did notice a few differences between the earlier pictures that Kylee posted and the ones I took today. But this post is getting a little long, even for me--and it's no secret that concise writing is not my forte, so that's saying something.

I have a lot to say about the theme gardens and ideas gained from them, the wonderful place that is the Hershey Children's Garden, and the amazing world condensed inside the glasshouse. Each of them is going to get its own post at some point, and soon. For now, though, the paintball warrior is back and we are both in the mood for "big food," so we are off to forage...

Friday, August 3

Natives, Grasses

Much has been written lately about the benefits of using native plants. I love the idealism and energy of many of those who champion natives, and the idea that natives are a good source for the "right plant" to put in a certain place in your garden makes sense. After all, if a plant is predisposed to living in your soil and climate, you won't be spending a lot of time and effort working to make it happy.

On the flip side, gardening is inherently artificial and I firmly believe that even if you use all natives you will not have a truly "natural" garden. From an artistic standpoint, there are some natives that I feel are not particularly garden-worthy, and some nonnatives that I would hate to do without. And then there is the slippery slope of defining what exactly qualifies a plant as native.

Not every plant labeled "native" is indigenous to my state. Many plants that are Ohio natives, like the gorgeous trillium grandiflorum that grows wild in the woods behind my parents' house, would not be happy in my poor, sandy soil on the Lake Erie shore. Some garden cultivars of popular plants could be a cross between a native parent and a nonnative cousin--or a cultivars of a native plant that was developed in another country. So which plants qualify as native and which ones fail the test? There are many shades of gray in this complex issue.

My personal response has been to try to follow a pragmatic use of natives. I try to keep natives in mind and if it makes sense both practically and aesthetically to use a native, I do. If a nonnative is a better fit and is not potentially invasive, I have no qualms about choosing it instead. And so my garden spans the spectrum between natives and nonnatives, as you see in the second picture. A German-bred cultivar of our lovely native switchgrass, panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch,' peaks out behind a decidedly exotic 'Wyoming' canna and mingles with an amaranth whose seed was used by Native American tribes in the American Southwest.

Some U.S. natives that I find particularly enjoyable and easy to work into the garden are the native grasses. Bill over at Prairie Point often shows gorgeous pictures of these in their native habitats, and several recent shots featured schizachyrium scoparium--much easier to refer to by its common name, little bluestem. (Call me a chicken, but even with a little help from Fine Gardening Magazine I would never try to pronounce that in front of anyone who knew botanical Latin!)

Bill mentioned in the accompanying post that he wasn't sure why more gardeners didn't use little bluestem as an ornamental. I wholeheartedly agree, as the cultivar 'The Blues' is a stunner in my garden. Carefree blue foliage that deepens to reddish pink in the fall, relatively drought tolerant, fine in full or part sun--not much to complain about there!

Here you see one of my two 3-plant clumps of little bluestem. This one lives on the southeastern corner of my house where it gets full sun until about 2pm. Behind it is a pyracantha that I am beginning to train against the wall and beside it is the same clump of canna that you see in the switchgrass picture above.

At 2 years old they have not yet reached their mature height of 3-4 feet, but already they provide a nice vertical line in the garden. These fine-textured verticals soften the potentially jarring transition between the harsh line of the 2-story house the wide garden bed next to it.

One last native grass that I adore is Indiangrass, sorghastrum nutans. I was initially intrigued by the hue of the blades on 'Sioux Blue,' but it was the inflourescences that made me go back to Bluestone Perennials and order two more this spring. (You can see these in the very first picture at the top of this post.) They glowed golden in the setting sun from late summer on, with the color reminding me of glittering fields of wheat back home.

In this picture, you see the oldest and tallest of my three plants with its new neighbors: lilium, chocolate eupatorium, 'Regina' heuchera, horehound, a variegated sedum, purple leaf clover and a patch of 'Crow Feather' tiarella. The sorghastrum was chosen for this shallow "driveway bed" because it has a relatively slim profile compared to other grasses of similar height, like miscanthus. The two newer 'Sioux Blue' are evenly spaced along a 20 foot stretch of this same bed in an effort to give the area some repetition and help me avoid that bitty look.

I do have a few other U.S. native grasses on my radar for future consideration. Next year I want to reseed my back yard with a lawn of blue grama grass now that High Country Gardens put that on my radar, and there is a lovely new cultivar of little bluestem called 'Blaze' that features dark orange fall foliage... but I admit that I also hope that my clumps of the bronze carex buchanii, which hails from New Zealand, grow enough to warrant dividing next year.