Friday, June 30

Who Needs a Bed of Roses...

... when you can snuggle up next to your favorite bee girl in the middle of a calendula bloom?!

Did I capture an illicit once-a-year tryst--cue up Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night"--or do such shenanigans happen all the time? Is this a regular snooze, or are they sleeping off a really good buzz? (I know... I'm sorry. I just couldn't resist the bad pun!)

Last week and this week have been brutal at work, so I haven't been gardening or posting much. I don't even have time to go and research what in the heck is going on in the picture above. But it definitely made me smile while I was out deadheading by porchlight at 11pm tonight, so I thought I'd share.

Sweet dreams...

Monday, June 26

My Current Favorite Annual: Atriplex Hortensis

a.k.a. Ruby Orach Mountain Spinach

What's not to love? Puckery, thick leaves in various shades of reddish purple with a silvery sheen. Darker red veins. Looks as good in my front yard garden with miscanthus, little bluestem, sedum "Matrona," calendula and achillea "Paprika" as it does in my backyard with this unknown variety of hosta, hydrangea and "Jade" sunflowers.

Oh, and it's edible, too--smaller leaves can be used fresh in salads or cooked to green goodness in a saute. It throws up red flowerstalks as it bolts, and yes it has a reputation for being a prolific self-sower. (Hey, nobody's perfect.) I plan to harvest some seeds and cut the rest of the stalks down as they bloom to keep it in control.

Saturday, June 24

One Man's Trash...

... will soon be my new potting bench! Check out this week's fun find. You can tell how wide it is by comparing it to the garage door in the background.

Had I not been able to borrow a van to load it into and get it to my house, I would have at least found a way to get those lovely turned legs and the old (iron?) pulls. I did chip the veneer as you can see, but the large chip came off cleanly so I'm liking my chances of reattaching it.

This piece used to be an old stereo cabinet, judging by the hole in the top for a record player, electric cord coming out of the back, and speaker hidden in the cabinet on the left. Both cabinets and the drawer offer storage, and all I have to do is line the space in the top before I fill it with soil. I'm so excited!

Monday, June 19

A Tale of Two Sages

This is the view I have of my front garden while I sit on my butt and cut back my culinary sage (salvia officinalis). I do this quite often, as said sage is apparently on a mission to take over the allium senescens "glaucum," panicum virgatum "Rotstrahlbusch," and anything else that has strappy leaves and grows nearby, really.

As I clip, I think about how to better this corner and thus my view. I planted nasturtium seeds recently to add some heftier foliage, and cut back the lemon thyme that was encroaching on the lavender.

One problem I cannot seem to solve happily is the problem of the two very different "Icterina" variegated sages. The bright yellow, compact plant in the near left corner of the bed and the bigger, looser-leaved, darker Icterina behind the solar light were both purchased at the same time and in the same sized pot.

They looked for all the world like twins when I planted them... but one gets a few hours more of sun than the other. Frankly, I like the darker twin better--the brighter one looks rather like a floozy. I'd have to ask my grandmother to confirm this assessment, of course, as Grandma could spot a floozy a mile away. I myself always paid more attention to the brazen hussies because I fully intended to grow up to be one of them someday.

In any case, the bright sage is going to have to go. I'm not sure where, I'm not sure when, and I'm not sure what to use to replace it. But I do know that I'll be going several more rounds with its vulgar culinary cousin this summer... so I'll have plenty of time to come up with a plan.

Sunday, June 18

One for the Weirdness Chronicles

The stunted growth on this spanish foxglove (digitalis parviflora) is strange in and of itself because it hasn't been treated any differently than the other 11 I bought at the same time, from the same place. The rest of them are happily throwing flower stalks at least 2 feet in the air, while he's sulking.

The really weird part, though, is that he's still trying to put out little blooms in spite of not having a stalk to loft them high. One for the Weirdness Chronicles over at Garden Voices?

(Fixing) Mistakes by the Lake

Find it hard to see the city of Cleveland through the brush and over the lake in this picture?

Well, for years it's been hard to see the lake from the city, too, unless you're lucky enough to have an office on the north side of your tall, soulless concrete box. Ordinary mortals sometimes catch a glimpse of sparkling blue as they drive the shoreway. Often this sight is accompanied by a jolt of remembrance: "Oh YEAH... I live near one of the Great Lakes!"

The relative inaccessibility of Lake Erie has been one of the many "challenges" mentioned in our local media lately. Seems that after years of fencing off waterfront and erecting "No Trespassing" signs, the powers that be are finally recognizing the vast potential of the body of water to their north. Living near one of the Great Lakes is cool, and we might want to embrace that idea? Gee, who'da thunk it?!

Last weekend, I had a chance to go visit my local park and take a walk on their recently unveiled, newly bricked walkway. There is still a field of stone and recycled concrete between you and the lake as you stroll. But it's a huge improvement: The closest you could get to the lake pre-walkway was gazing at it through a chainlink fence that still perches at the top of the green bluff above the new walkway.

Yes, people would hop the fence and come down to the lake anyway. But the difference between furtively checking out the lake--as you keep watch behind you for anyone who looks official --and enjoying the lake while lounging on one of the several recycled-material benches placed along the length of the path is amazing.

Want to bring grandma down to see the lake, too? No problem--everyone takes a wheelchair-accessible ramp to traverse up and down the bluff to the walkway. The lakefront arms are wide open here.

Two circular brick patios bookend the path, which might be about 1/4 mile long all told. The city logo is featured in the middle of the eastern patio, and the centerpiece of the other patio is a directional sign showing North, South, East and West. I love that the directional salutes Lake Erie's shipping roots, and that they put one of those binoculars-on-a-stick machines on the eastern end but are keeping it free for all to use.

With the binoculars, you can get a closer view of the Goodtime and any other local sailing ships or motorized boats... or of the city itself. But thanks to the new walkway, you don't really need binoculars to get a good view of Cleveland. Or of the lake to its north.

Thursday, June 15

Funky Lakeside Prairie?

Last year, I found a small local nursery that had a ton of unusual plants. It's little wonder that it is no longer in existence, as every time I was there I heard customers asking for Black-Eyed Susans (shudder) and "those purple flowers my neighbors have" while the unusual plants languished unloved and unasked-for.

I took advantage of the resource while I could, especially as the plants I wanted weren't hot sellers and so were often marked down. Amongst the treasures that I found and purchased there were several gallon-sized pots of Tiarella "Crow Feather," baptisia australis, and the crambe maritima (sea kale) that you see in the first picture. It's the one with the glaucous, ruffled blue leaves and it is supposed to show off sprays of white flowers like baby's breath when it's old enough to bloom. Oh, and if you want, you can blanch the leaves when they're young and eat them, too.The sea kale is slow to emerge, so I have it interplanted with chives... but I'll be better at deadheading the chives next spring so I don't have to cut the whole plant down as you see I did this year. The green chive foliage really fills in nicely between the sea kale.

In front of the sea kale you see several of the dozen digitalis parviflora (Spanish foxglove) that I bought at 99c per pint container. It's supposed to be a perennial type of foxglove and would probably like more moisture and shade than it's getting in this sunny herb bed but it's blooming just the same. To their right you just see the Little Bluestem rass starting to grow tall, and behind that are nasturtium sprouts that will fill in the blank space--I'll have to start those earlier next year, too.

Overall, I don't really know what you would call my front garden design... "funky lakeside prairie" maybe? All I know is that those two crazy lions guarding the front steps aren't as prominent as they were when I moved in. (The Japanese maple on the left marked the front edge of the garden beds then.)

I may need to add more grasses, though, now that I think about it. More prairie/savannah might just make the lions feel even more at home in my otherwise urban front yard...

Tuesday, June 13

Gallery of Shame

In my next life, I plan to be one of those "good" people who finish each project before they begin another one. I will also send cards for all birthdays and holidays and maybe even get them in the mail at least 2 days in advance, and... well, nevermind the rest of the list. I just started this blogging thing, so I have plenty of time ahead of me to share my other shortcomings.

Back to the project issue. Yesterday I tried to take some pictures of the garden and was failing miserably in my attempts to get anything good recorded. Why is that? Well, my half-finished projects kept sneaking into the viewfinder and messing up the shot.

So here, for your enjoyment (and to give myself a kick in the rear) is my rogue's gallery of currently unfinished garden projects:

Project #1: Grape Arbor

This poor grape vine--that leafy light green thing that's draping itself over the perennial geranium in bloom--needs something to climb. I have the "Groundmaster" post holder partway in the ground, and I have the post stained and almost ready to go in the basement. It "just" needs to be sealed. It's needed to be sealed for a couple of weeks now.

Project #2: Various espalier

I have three dwarf Bartlett pears and two dwarf apple trees that all need to have a post-and-wire training grid put in place asap for espalier. Again, I have the posts stained and everything else bought... I just need to seal the posts already. Side note: This isn't even the "right" way to train an espalier, but these were free dwarf pears that had been hacked at the nursery so I'm going to play with them. The apples are being trained correctly, however.

Project #3: Flagstone Path

Theoretically, this flagstone path will enable you to walk between the tall espaliered "Sundance" apple tree on your left and a shorter espaliered Bartlett pear on your right... through a sublimely scented carpet of different thymes, banked with drifts of borage and sage... as you approach the Japanese rock garden my boyfriend surprised me with last year. In reality, plan to do this in about 2010 based on my work history in this part of the garden. (In my defense, leveling and laying flagstones is long, tedious work, darn it!)

Project #4: Lasagna Bed

The dirt that I'm removing from the flagstone area is being added to the lasagna bed on the north side of my house. So you can see how far this has gotten--and that I have yet to move the anemones that I plopped in that corner last fall. Hmm. Forgot about those until I looked at the picture just now.

Sadly, all of these projects are scattered all over the yard. Not even one part of the garden is really "finished" based on what I want to accomplish this year. There are a few other pictures that I could post, too, but I'm cutting myself off at four confessions for this evening.

After all, I really need to get some laundry done so I have work clothes for tomorrow... so what will actually happen is that I'll just log off and take the dog for a walk. After all, I do have my priorities--and it's trash day tomorrow a few streets over, so you never know what treasures I might miss if I waste too much time folding laundry!

Saturday, June 10

In Praise of Nomadic Plants

I guess that all gardeners have nomadic plants--you know, plants that regularly get moved from spot to spot. Sometimes we decide we don't like them where they are, sometimes we find something that would suit the space better... and sometimes we move them just because we know that we can and they won't mind.

For me, my most nomadic plant has been heuchera "Regina." I bought a 3-pack of Reginas from Bluestone years ago, and they were moved several times around the yard at the old house. In the spring of 2005 they followed me here thanks to the generosity of my ex, who allowed me to move many things from the garden in the year after I moved out.

In the first picture, you see a couple of Reginas just after they arrived here--plopped in a bed without much thought, but still blooming their little hearts out.

The Reginas didn't get to stay there long, but I'll be darned if I can remember where they snuggled in for the long winter of '05. All I remember is that early this spring I moved them next to the driveway as I transformed that strip from a ribbon of grass to a long but shallow border. The second picture shows three Reginas next to some geranium phaeum "Samobor" and a couple of lovage plants.

When the bed was finished, Regina probably figured that she had finally found her "forever home" next to some large blue-leaf hosta, the aforementioned geranium, hakonechloa macra "aureola," a few centaurea dealbatas, and some "chocolate chip" ajuga, as you can see in picture 3.

Sadly for Regina, a permanent home there was just not meant to be. I decided that her silvery foliage makes her just too "pretty" for that spot. I want darker. I want more dramatic. If I am putting a purple-leaf plant somewhere, I want a PURPLE leaf plant. None of this taking the edge off the purple with a silver overlay stuff for me.

So why don't I just do what I have considered doing a hundred times and take all three of the girls over to my Mom's house, where pretty plants like Regina would feel much more welcomed?

Frankly, I don't think I'm quite done using her just yet. Tonight I moved her to the sunnier front part of this strip bed, so she can strut her stuff amongst the perennial grasses and winter sown black hollyhocks. After all, it will be a while before the hollyhocks and grasses fill out their part of that bed... and maybe then Regina can move on to a better home and really put down some roots!

In case that ever does happen for good old Regina--and I'm pulling for her, here, really I am--I will definitely need a similar nomadic replacement. Any suggestions? What's your favorite plant nomad?

Thursday, June 8

Disgruntled Tenants

We really need to talk about the living conditions in here. All of us would like a little more breathing room, for one thing.

Breathing room?
Your living quarters aren't supposed to be spacious, you know. The experts all say to plant containers so that they look finished from the beginning, not so that you're still waiting for it to finally fill out in August.

Oh, I see how this is going to go. You're going to act like there isn't a problem here, aren't you?

What do you expect? I'm German--we're known for being stoic. There are no problems, just changes of circumstance.

You're not all German. There's some Welsh and Spanish there too.

A tiny smidgen of Spanish. And the quarter Welsh only means that I just might be able to spin a good yarn about this whole thing at the end of the season. But you're digressing here--like I said, the main point is that it's a good thing for you to look full.

Oh, looking full is no problem. We can look full all day long... or at least until that big guy in the back finally crowds us out and we all have to jump ship. Look at his size. And it's only June!

Well, yeah, I am surprised about that. I figured he wouldn't like me and wouldn't grow very well. But he has his own separate pot sunk into your container so his growth will be limited, I promise. If he gets to be a problem I may move him to separate living quarters. Until then, you can just ignore him. Kind of like the elephant in the middle of the living room that nobody wants to talk about.

Verrrrry funny. I take it that "stoic" does not indicate that one has a really good sense of humor, eh?

Oh, just shut up and keep looking pretty.

Sunday, June 4

Friends in High Places

Mom always taught me not to brag... but in this case I can't help it. In school, I always hung out with many different stereotypical groups, but never could quite get an "in" with those who I considered to be really cool. I had to get past my 10-year high school reunion before it finally happened: I regularly hang with the musicians.

My new musician friends are weird folk, I admit. They tend to repeat the same few bars over and over in their songs, and they ingest all sorts of wacky substances to sustain themselves: grubs, soft-shelled Japanese beetles, and other psychadelic-looking insects. (Artists, man. They'll try anything to foster their creative edge!)

In fact, their weird taste in food is how I befriended them in the first place. Seems they like to stop by and see what sorts of interesting things my shovel turns up for them to sample. As I generally turn over one long strip of sod at a time, they can investigate the just-turned part while I work on the rest.

About a week ago, they were boldly foraging a mere six feet away from me. I came across a rather juicy-looking grub, and before I really thought about it I found myself saying, "Hey Robin, check this out!" and tossing my offering a foot or so in front of my new friend. He cocked his head at me, but then hopped over and scooped it up.
Slurp, it was gone. And he was asking for more.

Now, they come by often while I'm in the garden. If I haven't noticed them, they'll fuss at me until I see them and toss them a bug. If I'm standing up and walking around, they don't hang out much... but they'll stay for quite a while if I'm sitting on my rear end, especially if digging is involved.

It makes the hard labor go quickly to hear them singing to me from the fence posts. For my part, I feed them whatever I find that I think might strike a chord with their palate--yes, even a precious garden worm or two. I hope that they remember how much they like my yard next spring when it's time to build a nest. After all, rent here goes for a song... and meals are included.