Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The anxiety of early blooms

February 2017 was warm. We had about ten days where the temperatures were in the high 60s to 70s (our average historical temperature in Philadelphia is 44 degrees). Cherry trees erupted in blooms and I saw a dogwood already flowering by my bus stop. Bulbs got the go-ahead to erupt out of the ground and some started to bloom. Up and down my block, daffodils burst into flower last weekend.

I had a few early bloomers. I watched them carefully, and was then dismayed when they all (including the hundreds in other neighbors' yards) flopped over after one cold night. I kept expecting them to right themselves but they haven't yet. So, I cut mine and brought them indoors.

There are many more that are thisclose to blooming. With freezing temperatures and snow/rain forecast for the weekend, I want to run out and protect them. If the internet is right, though, they should be okay on their own. I hope.

Do you have anything blooming now that is really early for your garden?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The first crocus of 2017

In what is becoming an annual tradition, I'm recording the first crocus bloom of the year. I noticed this on Monday. It's roughly the same time the first one appeared last year, and a month earlier than the first crocus of 2015. 

It would be nice if this weather stuck around, but I'm sure we'll have freezing rain, hail, and diving temps again during a fickle spring. I'm also worried about the pest population this year, as it hasn't really been cold enough to kill the bad guys.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trying to get my groove back

2016, I wasn't sorry to see you go. It was a tough year for many, myself included, and for a variety of reasons. I started a hundred blog posts in my head and never put any of them to paper the keyboard. I still puttered in the garden but not as much. I made a thousand excuses for why I'd rather sit inside and play on my virtual farm game (seriously).

I lost "it". I lost a lot of the joy I get from gardening.

I saw weeds and felt humidity and was annoyed that the garden is not the way I want it to look in my head, and yet I didn't want to put the work in to make it that way.

And yet, the garden does what it does. Flowers keep blooming, plants keep growing. It's amazing, really. You don't feel like doing much and yet you're rewarded by so much beauty.

The one spot I was really happy with all year, and I didn't even really plan this.

There are always lessons to be learned for a control freak like me. Gardening is an exercise in patience and letting go, as so often things don't go as planned. But it's often the unplanned that is the most rewarding.

Also unplanned, but I love this color combination!

I'll sit here in the winter and plan for spring. I'll order my seeds, get inspiration from magazines and blogs, and try to make a plan, though I know that so much in 2017 will not go as planned, even outside my garden. Most of all, I want to get my groove back.

Flowers still blooming in November

Monday, July 4, 2016

Early summer on the Pharm

Two years ago, I ripped up some of the grass in my front yard to create a front yard vegetable garden (aka, "The Pharm"). I had some good successes with the plants (see this post) but couldn't really conceptualize a design.

The garden in early spring 2014

This winter, after my dead tree and very-much-alive forsythia were chopped down, I had a blank slate. After years of debating, thinking, and not making a decision, I just drew a line in the dirt with a stick and voila! I had my layout.

The garden in early summer 2015

(For reference: The sidewalk and street are at the top of the photo above. Dr. Neighbor's driveway is to the right.)

When I was starting my seeds in early spring, I had visions of abundance. I'd donate to the local food pantry! I'd eat super local! I'd have fresh tomatoes all day, every day! My tomato seedlings were SO big (the cherry tomatoes in particular) that I planted them outside the last week of April. My grow lights simply couldn't accommodate them any more. While I was at it, I also planted my zucchini and butternut squash seedlings outside.

Tomato seedlings

And then it rained for a week and a half. My cherry tomatoes survived but everything else disintegrated. I planted an emergency second set of tomatoes (Amish Paste and Bonnie Best) indoors.

I'd also direct sowed Swiss chard, spinach, kale, lettuce, and sugar snap peas according to the seed package timetable. The Swiss chard below is the only plant to emerge after three separate seed sowings.

I had a fairly decent showing of sugar snap peas. The spinach bolted too quickly. The arugula always does really well. The kale did not grow at all, though I found two random tiny plants this week that must have formed when some seeds flew out of my hand.

(L-R) Arugula, zucchini, and eggplant

One zucchini plant survived the deluge of rain and cold temperatures. I direct sowed some more and the first round produced nothing. The second round produced a number of plants so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Itty bitty zucchni

The butternut squash seemed stunted for two months, but they just flowered and the vines are starting to grow.

Butternut squash hiding behind asters and coreopsis.

The bush beans I direct sowed are doing fantastically. I just harvested about a pound of beans and more are growing.
Beans on the left of the path; basil and tomatoes straight ahead

And the emergency planting of tomatoes? Everything is growing and growing well. Some are just starting to flower, so I'm hopeful that I'll have the fresh tomatoes I dream about all winter.

Cherry tomatoes. 

Next year, I'll start my seedlings inside a few weeks later than usual so that I can plant them outside around May 15 when I'm supposed to. I'm still not sure why my direct-sowed greens didn't grow. Is it my (clay) soil? Did I plant them at the wrong depth? Did I skimp on the water? I'll try again in the fall and see if I have any better results.

While I don't have quite the abundance I was hoping for, it's a good start with the new layout. I really enjoy my daily walking tour through the Pharm, especially when it means I get to pluck and eat a fresh bean or leaf of arugula!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2016

The strange weather continues. We had almost a week and a half of rain to start off the month of May. This weekend was the first sunny and warm weekend we've had (though today is cold, gray, and windy), so I was out in the garden in full force doing the usual spring chores but also preparing for things to look presentable for Neighbor M's yearly "Great Divide" plant swap party. Said party starts in 45 minutes so without further ado, I bring you what is blooming in my city garden!

The Front Yard
The flowers here seem to about two weeks ahead of where they were at this time last year. I'm not sure why it's just the front yard that's doing this (everything else is pretty much on the same schedule).

Azalea, iris, and Nepeta 'Walker's Low"

The phlox is just about done. The salvia is just beginning.

The allée

Peony 'Bowl of Beauty'. It really is that bright!

Siberian iris 'Frommymotherii'

Zizia aurea. Just planted in the fall so it's still small.

Iris 'Harvest of Memories'

Another iris. I thought I divided it from 'Harvest of Memories' but it's clearly a different flower.

Lilac bush and Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

The back yard

Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'

Kerria japonica

Centaurea montana 'Amethyst in Snow'

Baptisia australis just starting to bloom

Allium christophii just opened

Geranium sanguineum - new to the garden (planted last fall)

Thanks to May Dreams for hosting!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Strange spring

After a pretty mild winter, one in which we didn't have a lot of snow and it was most certainly NOT the third coldest winter on record (like last year), the week of March 7 brought us 70-degree temperatures here in Philly. I know it was that week because I was on Spring Break from work and I was puttering outside in the garden for much of the week.

And then the first day of spring came, and we have since had three freeze warnings during which I first covered my fledgling sugar snap pea seedlings, and then I gave up.

We also had snow last weekend. I happened to be in Lancaster County, PA (Pennsylvania Dutch Country), where they call a springtime snow an "onion snow". The snow was really wet, and then we had another freeze that night so some emerging plants like my bleeding heart (below) were damaged.

You can see some of the bleeding heart flowers directly "above" the tulip are damaged.

For the second year in a row, my Eastern Redbud has bloomed. Last year, I had precisely two flowers on the entire tree. This year, I'm pleased with an entire branch of flowers. The tree heard me threatening to chop it down two years ago and is finally performing.

Completely unfazed by the strange weather, my creeping phlox is in full bloom and has been for a week or two. It's an entire month early, by the way, as it's usually in full bloom in early- to mid-May.

My Kerria japonica is also about a month early. It's right outside of my back door so it's nice to see.

I was able to move my pot of strawberries to the covered porch during the freeze warnings, so it's doing just fine now. The chives behind it in the photo below looked pretty dead during the "onion snow" (no pun intended) but have since rebounded.

We're less than a third of the way through 2016 and it's already been a very strange year as far as the weather and garden are concerned. How about where you live? Is it business as usual or are you also experiencing a strange spring?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A month early

I spotted these crocuses in my yard this week, on February 24th to be exact. They're about a month early. My cousin tells me the tulips at the White House are blooming already.

This makes me think I could plant tomato seedlings in March if I wanted to!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The baby

What do you get when El Nino and global warming come together? 

You get irises blooming in January. 

This was taken January 2 amid a backdrop of Christmas lights and it's probably the closest I'll ever come to having a January bloom day post.

Winter weather has finally arrived here in Philly so the flowers are now gone, but boy was this an amazing treat for the last seven weeks!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Tabula rasa

Alternate titles to this post:

"When life hands you lemons, make sure you have vodka."
"What the f*ck happened?!"
" 'It'll be okay', she says, as she sits sobbing in the fetal position."

I've been talking for years (seriously, years) about taking down the dogwood in the front of the house. I've also been talking for years (yes, years again) about removing the forsythia on the side of the house. I struggle with decisions about my garden.

The dogwood was planted a long time ago, before we ever moved in. It was brilliantly planted RightNextToTheRetainingWall so that its roots would eventually crack the wall and require us to replace it. Awesome! Expensive future project! But even more worrisome is that in the last couple of years, the tree started to lean to the point that I was afraid that a strong wind would topple it over and on to a pedestrian on the sidewalk or my neighbor's car. Also, during the past two winters, I noticed that there were little piles of wood dust here and there on the tree, as is if it had termites.

The forsythia was also planted prior to us moving in and was too big for its space. It was planted between my neighbor's driveway and my side walkway. To pass through either, I had to prune it in an odd shape - flat on my side and constant pruning on my neighbor's side so it didn't scratch her car.

Still, both provided privacy (which you know I love since my city neighbors and I are all on top of each other).

The forsythia at the end of the allee, shielding us from the front yard.

The dogwood and the lilac in the corner creating some privacy in the front yard.

And both had lovely spring and summer blooms.

I finally decided that the dogwood had to come down. It was leaning too much and it's affectionate moniker, "the half-dead dogwood", wasn't quite funny anymore. I could deal with it. I'd manage. I'd made a decision! J called his tree guy who came and gave an estimate, which included "reducing the forsythia" to get the stump grinder through the yard and to the dogwood stump.

"Oh, I can do that," I said. "How much does he need me to prune?

"Let me email him and ask," J said.


A few days later, I came home from work to this.

The tree guy showed up without telling us. Huh. But, I guess my suspicion about termites wasn't far off!

And then I saw that this also happened.

This is what "reducing" the forsythia means, apparently.

Needless to say, I walked inside and flipped the F out on J. Not that it was his fault, but he received the brunt of my rant about the lack of communication and professionalism from the tree guy, who assured us the forsythia would grow back in a year during a call I forced J to make to him right then and there. My Google search disagreed about the growth rate, and I ranted away.

We can see the whole street from here, kids!

And yet.... I hated to admit it, because I knew that I SHOULD be mad since this wasn't what I asked for, but I almost felt relieved. The choice was made for me. I couldn't pull the trigger myself to get rid of a bush that so obviously didn't belong in that small space, but now it was gone. Yes, if I left it, it might grow back in a year or two, but did I really want it to?

They came back to stump grind the dogwood a few days later and took the forsythia out with it, per my request. The lilac had to go, too, since they couldn't get the stump grinder to the rotted dogwood stump with it in its way. I think I am most sad about that, though it too was planted in a bad spot (that one's my fault). 

I now have this space where the dogwood and lilac were:

And this space where the forsythia once was (the mulched part in the foreground housed my tomato plants this year):

It is so, so bare. I feel naked and exposed. I need to buy something (appropriate-sized bushes? a small fence? an arbor?) to plant/install to define the end of the front yard and the start of the allee. Feel free to send any suggestions my way. 

At the same time, I now have 31 feet of sunny planting space (where I used to have 12 feet) to go full throttle with my front-yard veggie garden. I've already been dog-earing my new 2016 Baker Creek seed catalog with wild abandon. For the first time, I can envision multiple layouts of designs for the front yard whereas before I needed Neighbor M to draw me a plan because I just couldn't "see" it. Also, I'll get to feed us for six months from the front yard! I'll get to can veggies for the winter! I'll get to donate any excess to the local food pantry!

I still feel like I forgot to put my clothes on every time I walk out the front door, but I'm pretty excited about the possibilities in store.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Winter iris

This iris looks exactly the same today as it did when I took this picture back on November 7.

We've already had a frost or two and it's still blooming. I planted it in 2013 and it never bloomed - until now.

I thought it was just an anomaly until Neighbor M said there were fall-blooming irises. I can't find the tag to save my life (despite going out there daily to look around in the dirt) so I'm not sure if that's the case with this one or not. UPDATE: Thank goodness for paper journals! It's Iris 'Harvest of Memories', described as a spring bloomer with "dependable rebloom in summer and fall".

Either way, it's a gift. I might even be able to cut some of the flowers for a Christmas bouquet.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Coming soon!

I finally pulled the trigger and placed my plant order for the fall. My "paralysis by analysis", as Neighbor M has diagnosed me, was really bad and for months (seriously) I labored over decisions. Would it clash with other plants near by? Would it even do well here? What if it dies?

I know, I need therapy.

Anyway, some are new takes on existing plants I have that have done well. Others will be brand new but captivated me with their descriptions and pictures online. All of them are from Lazy S's farm. They do not use neonicotinoids and the plants I purchased from the last year are doing well. They should be arriving this week, so let's roll out the red carpet for:

Achillea x 'Schwellenberg'

I somehow have completely forgotten about yarrow until this year. I used to have many plants but when I had to move things around when I lost half my yard, I apparently lost most of them. I realized that the one I do still have is vigorous, a late summer/early autumn bloomer, and enjoys neglect. In other words, perfect!

Photo from

Anemone x hybrida 'Queen Charlotte'

I have one of these in the back yard and it's so, so lovely to stare at out the back window when I'm washing dishes. I'm hoping to double my pleasure with an additional plant.

Photo from

 Geranium sanguineum

I pass by these babies at the park by my office and they're incredible. I ordered four plants - they'll replace the increasingly invasive spiderwort in the back yard. And their flowers are nice and bright, which is always needed after a terrible winter.

Photo from

 Heuchera x 'Delta Dawn'

I'm excited to put these (I ordered 3) in the allee, where it will provide color from spring through fall. It starts out like the picture below and then changes colors with the seasons, ending up as bright reds, oranges, and yellows.

Photo from

Salvia microphylla 'Wild Watermelon'

Shocking, I know - another brightly colored flower! I'm hoping to put this salvia in the front to replace the Aster 'Alma Potschke' that I mentioned isn't doing so well in my last post. 
Photo from

 Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'

I purchased one of these a couple of years ago to replace Rosa 'Pinkie' that got rose rosettes disease. It's making its happy home on the back fence, so this second one will be started further down. Hopefully in a few years, they'll both be big, lush, and spilling over the entire fence.

Photo from

Monarda didyma x fistulosa 'Gardenview Scarlet'

I am going to rip out the invasive daylilies on my side of Neighbor M's fence and put this plant and the yarrow there. It'll be interesting to see if there are any subtle differences between this and 'Jacob Cline'.

Zizia aurea

I had one of these years ago and loved it, but it didn't survive the new garden move. It's a subtle spring plant that I'll plant outside one of the kitchen windows to stare at longingly when it's still chilly outside. 

Photo from

Crysanthemum x 'Cambodian Queen'

I've always envied Neighbor M's perennial mums (though not the peachy color), so I'm finally buying one of my own. This will go in the front yard where fall color will be welcomed.

Photo from

Woo! I'm excited! Are you excited about any new plants you've purchased or will be purchasing?