Tuesday, March 30

Right Now, I Have an Ugly Garden

There is a lot of discussion right now in the garden blogosphere about "ugly" gardens.  More specifically, about "ugly" vegetable gardens.  Without wading into that fray, I will simply say that I believe that form and function are not mutually exclusive... nor does something have to be useful to be beautiful, or vice-versa.

I will also say that a garden does not have to be weed-infested or poorly designed to be ugly at certain times of the year.  Case in point:  My own front yard garden, shown in these pre-spring-cleanup photos that were taken this evening:

Two views:  From the top of my steps (above)
and from my driveway looking toward the steps (below)

I am pretty sure that the current state of my front yard garden horrifies at least a couple of my neighbors.  One couple has gorgeous traditional borders, but admits that naturalistic gardens are not their thing and that they don't much care for grasses at all.  Another neighbor, Ms Type A Personality, whips out the Roundup at the slightest hint of renegade greenery, and keeps things neat as a pin in the block-lined beds near her porch. 

Unstated, though understood, is that my yard feels a little TOO messy to all of them.  I like all three of these neighbors, for the record, but this is the only time of the year when I agree with them in regards to my exhuberant front yard garden!

So why do I let my garden get to this state?  Several reasons.  First and foremost, saving all of this cleanup work until the spring saves me from my own enthusiasm.  It's still March--in Cleveland--for heaven's sake!  I have no business doing much of anything outdoors besides some late winter pruning, and planting the earliest of edible crops.  But if I didn't have spring cleanup chores left to do, I would most certainly be outside anyway... getting myself and my garden into trouble.

Second, this garden IS my front yard, which means that fall cleanup would leave a boring, barren landscape for me to view during a long Northeast Ohio winter.  Perennial skeletons poke up out of the snow and make interesting mound designs in the white stuff.  Buff-colored grasses add some height and movement (it's very windy here) and even provide a nice complement to some of my early flowers like the 'Ivory Prince' hellebores shown above.

Thirdly, plant detrius helps me to overwinter some marginal plants here in the front yard.  Unfortunately, this is NOT the year that my 'Black & Blue' salvia finally, miraculously overwinters (boo!) but various grasses--like the carex albula 'Frosty Curls' shown above, and nasella (aka stipa) tenuissima--regularly come back for me each spring if I leave them alone in the fall.  And in 2008 I lost one of my caryopteris by cutting it back too early in the year.

Last, but not least, I might miss out on a few miracles of spring if I wasn't out in the yard doing cleanup.  The feeling of elation at picking up a mat of wet oak leaves and finding my little species tulips peaking through the ground is something I would hate to miss.  So is seeing the otherworldly, deep purple sprouts of sea kale.

And if I hadn't been out working in the yard this evening, I would never have noticed the first official front yard blooms of 2010, shown above.  'Purple Dragon' lamium fills up the circular bed that showcases a cutleaf Japanese maple... but the delicate blooms on this branch were on the side facing my neighbor's house, and so they would have escaped my notice entirely.

So for all of these reasons, I embrace having an "ugly garden" throughout the month of March.  And as I dirty my fingernails and grimace at the squish of decaying leaves between my fingertips and palms, I look at my ugly garden and smile... knowing that come summer, it will be beautiful and exhuberant once again.

Monday, March 29

Dazzling and Confused...

I know that "Dazed and Confused" is how the saying--and the song--goes.  But my 'Sweet Lillian' amaryllis is more dazzling than dazed in its confusion:

This is its third bloom since I bought it back in November 2008 as a present for my grandmother.  The first bloom was a lot fuller, but I'm not complaining.  It has yet to receive a rest period--or fertilizer--and it is planted in a serving bowl with only pebbles (no actual soil) anchoring it in.  Given the sum of that abuse, it is performing admirably, I think!

And maybe, just maybe... maybe this will be the year that I remember to bring it in for a rest, and then pot it up for Grandma.  Finally.

Monday, March 22

My 2010 (Gardening) Adventure

I am notoriously bad at keeping New Year's Resolutions.  (Even when I (grudgingly) make them, I admit that they are going to be broken immediately, as you see here.)  So while I was toying with the idea of making a resolution on growing more edibles in January, something held me back:  The idea that this was one thing at which I actually wanted to succeed.

And then, I had my eureka moment:  I need to think of it not as a resolution... but as an experiment!

Experiments, now there are things that I can get into.  A quick search of my blog shows that I have pages worth of posts that contain the word "experiment."  They cover things like growing currants as topiaries in a semi-shaded spot that needed some structural plants... which had the added benefit of resulting in a delicious tart, made from these:

I'm just such a fan of melding form AND function... and of eating from my own backyard... that this makes sense on all kinds of levels.  So my EXPERIMENT for this gardening year will be as follows:

In 2010, I will limit my plant, seed and corm/root purchases to things that are actually edible.  Because I am all-too-aware of my weakness for pretty plants (and already had a couple of plans concocted) I will allow myself 3 exceptions to the above rule... and will strive for everything else to be both pretty AND tasty.  I will also consume, share and/or put up as much of my garden's produce as humanly possible this year.

I hope that you all will follow along with this gardening adventure of mine. I'm sure that there are going to be some bumps in the road, a few inventive recipes, LOADS of temptations, and lots of dirty fingernails along the way.  Stay tuned!
Beautiful AND functional:   Peach tree blossoms from the 2009 garden.

Thursday, March 18

Orchid Watch - Day 4

The bud is about the same color, but as you can see from the photo above it has dropped down a little bit.  And the stem has straightened out some, too.  Here is the first photo of the bud  for comparison:

I promise not to post a new photo of this orchid every day--frankly, I'm not organized enough for something like that.  But, fair warning:  I'm excited enough to share at least a few shots along the way to full bloom.  So you'll see a few more!

Tuesday, March 16

March 2010 Foliage Follow-Up

Yes, I've shown this kalanchoe beharensis before.  And I can tell you right now that I will probably show it again. I'm completely fascinated by its leaves, which look like velvet silver:

But with a hard, slightly toasted edge:

Of course, if you look in the right light, you can see more than just the flat silver sheen of the fuzzy leaves.  Look closer, and you'll notice the lighter-colored veins that radiate out from the leaf stem end:

In some lights, the silver doesn't look so rich.  In some photos, it even washes out to an ugly yellow:

Sighting seems to be everything for this plant--the right conditions, but also the right companions to set off its chunky, soft, silvery texture:

I like where it was placed in the photo above.  I think that next year, I'm going to literally plant it out in that part of the garden instead of leaving it stuck in a little 4" pot on top of the ground.  Maybe it will get even bigger and more impressive if  it has some room to stretch its roots?  We shall see!

To find out what other plants are catching the eyes of garden bloggers everywhere, visit Pam @ Digging and see the Foliage Follow Up links for March!

Monday, March 15

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - March 2010

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day... and while there's nothing yet worth showing out in the garden, I have quite a few things that are still in bloom in the house:  The passalong abutilon from Kylee, abutilon megapotanicum and dragonwing begonia (both in "dormancy"--ha!) in the attic, and some nameless rescued orchids with tiny red flowers.  The peace lily and the jewel orchid are still going strong, too.

An embarrassment of flowering riches, really, for Cleveland in March.  And yet I'm most excited about two newly discovered buds.  The amaryllis that I blogged out in my previous post, and this:

That soon-to-be beauty is a bud on my Paphiopedilum Canticle x Macabre Pie--last shown here, in February's foliage follow-up, with its dead previous bloom stalk still intact.  I picked it up this fall on clearance, as the last flower on the previous stalk was fading, so I never expected rebloom so soon.  I can't wait to see it!

For a proper showing of actual spring beauties across the northern hemisphere--and  maybe even some "fall" jewels from our friends south of the equator--visit Carol's March GBBD Roundup post at May Dreams Gardens.

Saturday, March 13

When Late Winter Feels Like Early Spring (and other Seasonal Wackiness)

It's been one of those weeks when the calendar says it's late winter, but your nose can smell an early spring.  The quick snow melt over the past few days revealed a  lot of interesting things in my neighborhood, like crocuses, matted grasses, and these hellebores:

Distressing to Miss Coco is the annual exposure of her numerous hidden "chewies" in the backyard.  She collected 14 (!!!) of them near the corner of the house while I was cutting down grasses on Thursday, and has been systematically bringing them in the house one by one.  Here's part of her outdoor collection, which is apparently being guarded from neighborhood doggie thieves by the her friend the turtle:

During my cleanup, I noticed that my tiny snowdrops have returned.  These are the only ones that have ever grown for me, and I realize they look a little pitiful and lonely, but they still make me smile:

The new growth on some of my groundcover sedums definitely says "spring"... but the long shadows cast by the Russian sage in front of them are a reminder of winter:

In the house, the Amaryllis is even more confused than I am about the seasons:

This will be its THIRD time blooming without a dormancy break!  I'm not even sure what to say about this one... I'm just steering clear of it and leaving it be, because it apparently is liking all of this neglect wonderful, attentive care I've been giving it for the past year and a half.

Either that, or it simply likes to torture me.  Don't be fooled by the close-up of the bud shown above... when this guy blooms, the flower is PINK.  (Argh, lol.)

Hope everyone else is outside enjoying this great preview of spring, and maybe even getting your hands in the dirt a little bit, too!

Saturday, March 6

On "Black" Plants

In art classes, I was always taught that "true black" does not actually exist in nature.  Anything that the eye reads as black is really the darkest shade of blue, red, brown, green... and in general, I think that's probably true.

Take this begonia for example.  In the harsh light of a flash photo, it looks fairly flat-black as a backdrop to the Meyer lemon buds:

But in more natural lighting, you can see the shades of green in the center of each leaf, and the purple tinge to the outer part of each leaf:

'Black Lace' and 'Black Beauty' elderberry leaves are also more of a deep purple:

'Hillside Black Beauty' bugbane (actaea, nee cimicifuga) definitely shows its true green beneath the "black," especially on the newer foliage:

"Black" tulips (I grow both 'Black Hero' and 'Queen of Night') are more of a deep, deep wine color.  Here are two shots of "the Queen":

And here's one that shows how you can pop some color out of your "black" plants by placing them in the right spot.  The orange heuchera underneath really warms up 'Black Hero':

Even my pooch is actually a dark, dark brown--her coat glints with hints of red when you see her in the sunshine, even though she looks inky black (with snowy white markings) here:

So why am I thinking all of these black thoughts lately?  No, it's not winter depression, but something much more fun!  Part of my birthday present from Steve this year was the book Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden by Paul Bonine.

I don't remember oohing and aahing over this one within earshot of Steve, but apparently I made my desire known as I read through one of my newsletters from Timber Press.  (You can go to their website and sign up if you want--Editor-in-Chief Tom Fischer's messages are great, and they let you know about different sales they offer. I just noticed that they're podcasting now, too, so I'm going to check that out this weekend.)

It wouldn't have been a far stretch for him to figure out that this would be a good gift for me, though.  My love of interesting foliage (especially dark foliage!) is pretty well documented.  Black Plants definitely feeds my dark foliage craving through its many pretty pictures--and I'm proud to be able to say that I already grow at least 16 of the dark beauties described within its pages!  (Yikes, that's more than 20%!!!)

If you're looking for guidance about how to site these dramatic plants within your garden, however, you'll need to look elsewhere... it's short on design tips and tricks.  But, hey, the drool factor is high.  And you might just be so inspired by one of these gorgeous plants that you'll make a place for it to live, if you have to!  But beware:  As my garden can attest, these plants do have a true dark side:  Plant one, and you will no doubt want more!

Note:  I have no relationship with Timber Press--outside of being a subscriber to their newsletter and a purchaser of some of the many books they publish--or with Paul Bonine.  My enthusiasm in the post above is purely my own, and I have received no compensation (including free products, etc.) of any type for this post.  (Frankly, I have linked to the above photo without their express permission, too, and will gladly take that part of this post down immediately if asked.)