Saturday, August 30

Saturday Highlights (edited with an addition)

Spurred by some of my fellow bloggers... and rejuvenated by my time volunteering at the Botanical Garden this morning... I decided to get my crabby butt back out into the garden today and get working on a few things. Specifically, I wanted to get the trellis painted, so that I can add the metal tubing crosspieces yet this weekend, and lift the poor grapevine up off of the ground.

In the meantime, I had plenty of time to enjoy and appreciate the surrounding garden. To atone for my crankiness with it yesterday, I'm going to show a few highlights from the back garden today. First, I really like the area where this tiny sedum hispanicum resides in the shallowest end of the dry loch garden, surrounded by stones and overlapped by cabbage leaves:

These curly onions (allium senescens) are fun in foliage and in flower... my 'Caradonna' salvia picks up the purple in their pinkish blooms:

This hosta--which is probably 'Sum and Substance' but is a division from an unlabeled plant in the garden at work--lives partly under the grape arbor and I love seeing it backlit:

A much more Kim-friendly pink, the almost-red blooms of 'Purple Emporer' sedum, hovering over variegated oregano:

A tiny but bold-colored portulaca, which somehow seeded itself at the edge of my 'Yellow Pear' tomato pot:

Now here's some pizazz! Russian sage, 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth, and miscanthus zebrinus:

And this lonicera sempervirens may just qualify as fireworks, especially with more of the purple-leaf 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth in the background:

Quieter beauty, this little vignette reminds me of the Pacific Northwest (okay, I can dream, can't I?! lol) with Japanese bloodgrass, 'Othello' ligularia, hellebores, 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga, and 'All Gold' hakonechloa:

Another shady spot, this one looking a little worse for the wear due to our drought but still interesting with pulmonaria, 'Hillside Black Beauty' actaea (nee cimicifuga) and a gold-variegated toad lily:

One last Saturday picture, this one of a spot that always seems cool and refreshing, even throughout our drought. Silver-streaked sansevieria in a blue pot, with 'Jack Frost' brunnera nestled at its feet:

As for the "to do" list, well... although the mirror says I might have gotten more stain on me than I did on any wooden structures, I did finish up the arbor tonight! However, I did it as the sun was setting and the mosquitoes started to bite.... so pictures of that will come tomorrow. (Or maybe Monday, as I'm set to hang out with friends at a campground all day tomorrow.) But in any case, I'm very satisfied to report that I'm a much less crabby gardener today!

**edited Sunday morning to add this picture of the painted arbor before I head out to the campgrounds:**

Friday, August 29

My Summer Discontent

It hasn't even been very warm for these past couple of weeks, and still I find myself in a hot, cranky, August kind of mood. Much of my garden is showing the effects of this month's drought, and while I admit that I kind of like the way it looks in the front yard, which was planted to be drought-tolerant, the back gardens are not so inspiring.

In fact, whenever I go out into the backyard, I find myself wanting to turn right around and go back inside, preferably to lay down on the couch and snooze for a few hours. Even the areas that "don't look too bad" make me roll my eyes. Here, for example, everything looks fine... except that there is no pizazz at all to this plant composition:

This picture prompts me to ask: WHY did I not plant my canna tubers this spring?! I carefully dug them up and stored them over the winter, but never got around to taking them out of storage when they should have been planted... they would have added some nice, thick-leaf contrast to this bed, like they did last year.

I've already posted about how I dislike the flower color of 'Matrona' sedum in my garden, but this year it looks particularly pretty in an overly-sugary kind of way. And it makes it even tougher to deal with my dislike when I see how much the pollinators love it. There are dozens on each plant, and some of these bees are as big as the tip of my thumb:

I have lots of projects to finish in the garden, too. We did get the rest of the crosspieces up on this big grape arbor (here you see just the first few) but it still needs to be painted. And then the 8ft. of 'Concord' grapevine that is rambling across the plants beside the arbor can be carefully laid on top:

This smaller grape arbor, where my 'Himrod White' grape is planted, is completed. But I still need to stain it AND the fence behind it (only the posts are completed right now), finish up the frames and pebbles for the path beneath the blue shelves, and plant a cover crop and mulch where you see bare dirt right now:

(Did you notice the apple tree leaning onto the ground, heavy with apples? I need to go out and thin those a bit. I have a post there waiting to prop up the tree itself, and right now the terracotta pot is helping out with a little bit of support... but I'm a little bit scared to secure it to the post now. I'm pretty sure it will snap off some of the branches if I do that, no?)

I love my little bluestem grass, but it is no longer upright in the back garden. I don't know if it sprawled because of the rain, because of the amaranth next to it, or because the dog tends to charge through the bed whenever she's chasing the squirrel. But it did this last year, too, and so I'll have to plan some sort of support system for it next year. Even if it does look kind of cool all spiralling down like this:

I hate ending such a crabby post on anything but a positive note... so let's go around to the front yard. I'm working on a post about the front yard and why I'm really loving it right now, drought and all. So I'll save those pictures for the next and instead show you my tropical smokebush, euphorbia cotinifolia:

As I mentioned earlier this summer, I got this plant from my aunt and uncle when I went back home for a visit. Becky mentioned that they would whack theirs back every spring before they took it back outside. When it became obvious to me after a month or so that mine was so potbound that I couldn't keep it watered... well, I whacked it back hard, and divided the rootball into sections that I repotted into a larger post with compost and potting soil. And then crossed my fingers.

It seems to be happier--less bare twigs and many more leaves--and even just started showing some of the pretty tricolor variegation that Don told me about this past weekend when I went home for a day:

I think it must have known that I was a little dismayed to have to tell Don that I hadn't gotten to see any of the special coloring on the new leaves, and so it decided to step up its game a little bit. Plants do that, you know--as soon as you decide to remove an underperforming plant, it will start to look lush and bloom to high heaven!

Maybe this complaining, crabby post will do some good after all... maybe it will provide a kick in the butt to a few of my other underperforming plants. (You know who you are, Japanese hollies, toad lilies, and that one 'Hameln' pennisetum that is smaller than the other two!) If only it would cause the underperforming gardener to get off her computer chair and grab a paintbrush, too... *sigh*

Saturday, August 16

Summertime Drooling

I have a lot of work to do in the garden this weekend. Finishing an arbor, lots of weeding, planting some fall crops, staining a fence... but it hasn't been all work. I have taken out some time to enjoy the fruits of previous labor, too. The blackberries keep disappearing before the camera can record them for posterity somehow, but here is a nice shot of my continuing crop of 'Ozark' everbearing strawberries:

I get a few strawberries every couple of days now... just enough to eat over yogurt and granola, if I'm patient, and otherwise good for some bursts of strawberry flavor in my mouth as I walk around thinking about all of my unfinished garden projects. And I am proud to report my first ripe tomato! This is a mild-flavored, old-fashioned pink 'Oxheart' tomato:

Some people are known to perform weird, cult-like ministrations before devouring their first tomato of the year. I, however, am a dedicated hedonist... so I enjoyed it straightaway after this picture was snapped, out of (an admittedly very dirty) hand and warmed by the sun. Yum.

Fresh garden foodstuffs aren't the only thing I've been drooling over this week, though. Ketzel Levine, NPR's gardening correspondent, has been posting pictures of Dan Hinckley's personal garden over at her blog, Talking Plants. (Yes, the same Dan Hinckley of Heronswood Garden/Nursery fame.) Judging from the pictures Ketzel posted, Dan's garden is as amazing as you would think it should be.

You can find her "teaser" post, with some pictures, here. And the full post, including a lovely shot of the amazingly beautiful 'Cherry Coke' dyckia, here. (Annie's Annuals calls this 'Cherry Cola' dyckia, in this frame from their Summer 08 Slideshow.) As I said in a comment I left on Talking Plants, pictures like these make me want to throw in my proverbial trowel... and also propels me to start revamping my garden in the hopes that it can rise to the challenge. Amazing stuff. :)

Friday, August 15

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: August 2008

On the 15th of each month, Carol at May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day so we can all show off the flowers in our gardens. It's an excuse for lazy gardeners like me to keep better records of what's going on in the yard... and I must say that I'm kind of surprised at the dearth of flowers in my yard in August!

Last year, I cut down the flower stalks of these 'Othello' ligularia before they could bloom because I don't particularly care for the flower color. Good thing I left them alone this year so they could brighten up this view:

I've also noticed that while the butterflies ignore the fennels and the asclepias that I've planted specifically for them, I will find the occasional monarch having breakfast on the ligularia. That's as good of a reason to let them bloom as any!

On the sunnier side of the bed above, a self-sown 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth is the "thriller" of this vignette as it towers above little bluestem and 'Ichiban' eggplants:

These big bloomers are the exception rather than the rule in my August garden, however. Far smaller than the above, and a much more pleasing (to me) shade of orange than the ligularia flowers, is the common butterfly weed, asclepias tuberosa:

A tiny iceplant bloom, not much larger than a quarter, turns its face to the sun at the driveway's edge:

The fragrant, purple blooms of grey creeping germander, teucrium aroanium, are almost finished:

While the pretty (but soon to be cut down) flowers on my basil are just starting. It seems to me that some of these purple-leaf basils, along with the thai basils, don't lose their flavor as much when they start to flower... so while I'm vigilant about pinching back my 'Genovese,' I'm much more lax with these 'Opal Purple' basils:

This is the flower that really breaks my heart, though:

That is my bolting 'Florence' fennel, shown against a backdrop of 'Rotstrahlbusch' switchgrass. 'Florence' is a bulb fennel, and if it doesn't get enough moisture it will bolt on you very quickly. I thought that I had been doing a good job of keeping it watered, but... apparently not! I'm going to have to try to save seed and start a few more of these for myself next year.

In the frontyard garden, even less seems to be in bloom. The flower colors on the seedlings from last year's snapdragons continue to surprise me:

'Bonfire' begonia is one of the few plants that has kept the heat kicked up throughout the entire summer, flower-wise. I think that I will be using more of this pretty annual next year:

This felis catus var. neighboricus is a wondering transplant between a few of the houses along my street. He usually naps beneath my Japanese maple, hidden among the silvery lamium there. I think that this is a nice spot for him, though, where his silvery fur picks up the overlay on the 'Ivory Prince' hellebores:

His eyes are a good color echo for the nearby 'Walker's Low' catmint, and the newly blue echinops ritro flower, too:

The rest of my front yard bloomers are mostly done putting on their shows, but the Japanese anemones are in bud and a few Spanish foxgloves and lavender are about to rebloom. I've tried to choose plants for the front yard that look interesting when their flowers are spent, too. Seed stalks of the foxgloves that I didn't cut back, and the browning flowerheads of this oakleaf hydrangea are among those choices:

By and large, though, the front yard garden is more about foliage and texture than it is about blooms. (So much so that I'm working on a separate post about it.) While I work on that, I'll sign off with a complete list of blooms in the garden for August 2008. Make sure to check out Carol's August Bloom Day post for links to what's growing and blooming in gardens around the world!

Houseplants and Annuals: Crown of thorns, 'Bonfire' begonia, coleus caninus, various snapdragons, various coleus, 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth, 'Yubi Red' and reseeded 'Banana Yellow' portulaca

Herbs and veggies: Greek oregano, 'Opal Purple' basil, various peppers, 'Ichiban' eggplant, bush cucumbers (blooming in spite of powdery mildew!), horehound

Perennials, Grasses, Vines and Shrubs: echinops ritro, 'Rotstrahlbusch' panicum virgatum, 'Othello' ligularia, 'Hab Gray' sedum, 'Caradonna' salvia, 'Summerwine' achillea, lonicera sempervirens, Northern sea oats, various heuchera, two 'Pine Knot Strain' hellebores that decided to rebloom in July for some reason, Russian sage, hardy blue plumbago, 'Efanthia' euphorbia, 'Merlot' echinacea, 'Black Watchman' hollyhock

Great Seedheads/Spent Flowers: oakleaf hydrangea, atriplex hortensis var. rubra, allium sphaerocephalon

In bud: Japanese anemones, 'Matrona' sedum, verbena bonariensis

Sunday, August 10

Perennial Sweet Pea Surprise

When I first moved into my home 4 years ago, the backyard was almost entirely grass. I noticed a little blooming plant in the corner where my backyard met with 3 of the neighboring yards, however. Occasionally, I or my neighbor would nick it with the mower and it would always come back just fine.

When we fenced in the backyard I discovered that the plant is sited in the very corner of my property, so it became part of the "Bordeaux garden." Based on the flowers and the foliage, I had guessed that it was a sweet pea, and therefore deduced that someone must have gardened in that area in the past. The flowers on this pea are a pretty mauve/purple, seen here mingling with a branch of my 'Concord' grape that needs to be cut back since it's obscuring the stepping stone:

This morning I was weeding around the patio stones when I came upon a surprise. Not only was the sweet pea continuing to bloom, but also it was covered with... peas!

My first inclination was to run for the camera, of course, and as soon as a few pics were snapped I headed back indoors to download them and do a little investigation. I was pretty sure it was not actually a sweet pea, lathyrus odoratus, by now, as the flowers are not fragrant and the foliage isn't quite right. This may not be the greatest picture, but I hope you can see how flat the stems are, even where they join together:

A commenter on the Dave's Garden site, in fact, mentioned not liking this plant because its foliage looked like a bunch of preying mantises all strung together... but that's part of what I like about it! This unique foliage helped me to identify my mystery plant as the perennial sweet pea, lathyrus latifolia.

All parts of this plant, including the "peas," are poisonous, and it has been mentioned as being invasive in certain areas as well. So I'm off to cut off the little seedpods now... I'm not going to yank out the plant, but I don't particularly want to enable it to spread around. And with a Gardening Assistant who likes to sample the produce in my yard, I really can't have toxic seeds that look like appetizers hanging around within a dog's reach!

Friday, August 8

Work (Sort of)...

A few weeks ago, after the garden center took all of us seasonal workers off of the schedule, I found myself skimming through the Cleveland Botanical Garden website. I was planning to take advantage of my newfound free time and check out the CBG once again, but then I noticed a blurb on the site about "horticulture volunteer" opportunities.

I thought about how much fun chuck b. seems to have volunteering at his local place... and I just couldn't resist emailing the volunteer coordinator to ask whether I was too late to get started volunteering yet this year. Several emails, an interview, and an afternoon of orientation later, I officially became a volunteer at the Cleveland Botanical Garden!

I had told them that perennials and herbs were my strongest areas of knowledge, but they seemed to be shortest on help in the Glasshouse. They didn't have to twist my arm to get me to agree to work there--I figure it's an opportunity to help out where I'm needed and learn a few new things!

Part of the glasshouse volunteers' work includes watering the indoor plants, like the ones in the exquisite terracotta pots hanging in the ironwork artwork above and others throughout the hallways and in the cafe. But most of the work is done in the glasshouse biomes, and in the working greenhouse that is adjacent to them.

I didn't know if I was allowed to take pictures in the working greenhouse--maybe I'll be brave enough to ask after I've got more than 2 days of work under my belt--but I took a few pictures of the public glasshouse areas to share.

Above is the public entrance to the Spiny Desert of Madagascar. On the left (just out of sight) is an African Black Millipede. Centipedes and millipedes usually creep me out, but this guy is so big he kind of looks like a snake with a vacuum brush of bristles on his underbelly. Okay, and he's safely ensconced in a tank--that helps, too!

In the first container there are a variety of opuntia (prickly pear) species, along with a sign explaining how the opuntia is choking out the native Malagasy plants. There is a similar message in a container around the bend that features a variegated lantana. But a few containers are just there to add beauty, like this one:

(Yes, I drool over those succulents regularly. *sigh*) The centerpiece of the Spiny Desert is an amazing replica of a Great Baobab tree:

Notice the vine climbing up the baobab in the middle of the picture above? That's a vanilla orchid, vanilla planifolia. I mostly sweep and water so far, and one of my jobs today was to water the vanilla orchid. Another job was to help clean up a schefflera and two dieffenbachias that had scale and mealy bugs, respectively. Last week, I got to help prune a monkey puzzle tree, which was a fun challenge. The leaves are very spiny and stiff.

Also very spiny is the temrec (which looks like a hedgehog) in another of the animal exhibits. He came up to the window and checked me out last week while I cleaned the outside of his glass, but this week he wouldn't sit still for a picture. As we leave the desert, I can't help but take a photo of another of the garden's residents:

That is Gamera, a radiated tortoise named after the turtle in Japanese monster movies. Great name for him, isn't it?! As I walked through the glasshouse this morning to water the containers, groups of kids who were taking a tour with their local YMCA stopped regularly to check him out. "Miss, for real... is that a real, live turtle?!" :)

The Cloud Forest of Costa Rica is the other biome in the Glasshouse. It's a lush, jungle-y beauty, and there is a butterfly release every day at 2pm. But even in the mornings, there are many butterflies still flitting about. We start working before the garden opens to the public, and I admit that it's kind of cool to feel like you're alone in the rain forest with a bunch of butterflies! (You have to walk through a burst of air, and check yourself in a mirror, at the exit to make sure that no butterflies are hitching a ride on you or your clothing.)

This is cool, too:

The centerpiece of the Costa Rica exhibit is a replica of a strangler fig tree, and there is an upper observation deck built around the top of this tree. To "hide" some of the metal support system, they wrapped beams and posts with moss and wired bromeliads and epiphytic orchids onto it. Way cool... I wonder if I could hide the upper track of my glass shower door with a similar trick, using tillandsias? *grin*

Here's a shot of the lower section of the strangler fig:

Some interesting plants inhabit the surrounding jungle. These guys were climbing around a boulder of sorts. They were very pretty, but their fuzzy stems somehow make me feel itchy:

While this plant makes me hungry for wasabi peas:

Time to go upstairs to the upper observation deck, either via the glassed-in elevator or the winding staircase. I love looking out over all of these brightly colored bromeliads:

One of the many birds in the Costa Rican rainforest was perched in the middle of the yellow bromeliad in the lower left of this screen, drinking water from its center. It flew away, of course, before I could manage to get the shot in focus! But up here we have our own bird's-eye view of many things, including this waterfall:

And from the other side of the deck, where you can better view the blooming shrimp plant (I think) at the top of the waterfall:

Speaking of other somewhat familiar plants, look at the cutleaf philodendron at the top of the strangler fig tree:

It kind of looks like our usual housplant varieties... until you see it in scale with my hand! (This is the one on the left side of the picture above):

One other thing you might have noticed about these two biomes is that there is a decent amount of dead material lurking around:

This "neglect" is actually on purpose, as they feel that it is a truer representation of what you would see if you were to actually travel to either of these places. We do sweep the walking path every morning, while the regular employees clean out the water features in the Costa Rica room to keep the pumps and filters in good working order. Outside of that, there isn't a whole lot of typical garden maintenance done... and they cut back on watering and keep the glasshouses cooler in the wintertime to put the plants into dormancy and also induce a good spring bloom.

Besides being able to help out a wonderful cause, and spend time in such a beautiful place, there are even a few other perks to volunteering. I think that my favorites are going to be the borrowing privileges at the Eleanor Squire library on site (I left with 5 books today) and the ability to visit the garden for free with a friend or two. Next Saturday, Brian plans to meet me to take a tour of the entire garden with me... since he sometimes reads this blog, I'll give him a little sneak peak of what he's about to see, here:

(This is part of the terrace garden, just outside the cafe. They change out these gardens according to the latest theme/event... and so these are tropical plantings for their "Go Bananas!" theme. I can't wait!)