Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2014

I'm back, baby.

After a whole lot of nothing to say during the winter that destroyed my soul, spring is here. Let me say that one more time, because there's a part of me that still doesn't believe it. Spring. Is. Here. I won't comment on the fact that t was 82* on Sunday, and we're having a freeze warning tonight. Whatever, Mother Nature.

One of the reasons I started a blog was to see how my garden looked from year to year. In my April 2013 bloom day post, I mentioned that things were coming up later than usual. This year, everything is coming up even later than last year. There's not much to report going on here in this city garden except bulbs. Thank goodness I went on a bulb-buying binge in the fall.

Let's get to pretty things now, shall we?

In the front, my $20-for-50-daffodil-bulbs purchase last fall paid off. This is just one clump that I planted.

Creeping phlox just starting to flower. It was already in full bloom at this time last year.

On the side, I finally trimmed the forsythia. I mean, I hacked the crap out of it, not that you can tell.  I know, you're not supposed to do it until after it flowers but if I'd waited, the 25 little baby forsythias I removed would still be there and my neighbor's car would continue to be scratched.

The allée is looking a little tacky with the brightly colored pink and blue hyacinth that were an impulse buy last fall. But boy does it smell good when you walk through.

Early tulips are blooming. In the fall, I finally made sure to get a variety of early and middle blooming bulbs.

There's not much to report in the back except a) there's no snow, and b) there are green leaves popping up here and there, so it's a win-win in my book.

My helleborus x hybridus 'Snow Bunting' bloomed! Sure, the flowers are all facing the fence so I have to do a weird yoga pose to see them, but it bloomed! Note to self: Plant more hellebores here for next year.

That wraps up my bloom day for this month. Spring has finally, finally arrived and I can't wait to see what continues to pop up in my garden. Thanks to May Dreams for hosting.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Practical ideas from the Philadelphia Flower Show

I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show yesterday with Neighbor M. I haven't been in a couple of years but I had nothing else to do (spring break!) and thought it might be nice to see some flowers during this never-ending winter.

It's the only flower show I've ever been to so I'm not sure if my issues are with it or with flower shows in general. I've avoided it in past years because I always found it ostentatious with few practical ideas, super crowded, and really, there are only so many rhododendrons one can see. This year's theme was ARTiculture and many of the displays were interpretations of a particular painting or of the works of a particular artist. So, a lot of it was really out there. (And then, of course, there are those displays that don't even pretend to stick to the theme and do whatever they want.) Hellebores were apparently this year's rhodies, which was a sort of pleasant surprise.

As photos and show reviews are ubiquitous across the interwebs,  I'm not going to add yet another review of the show or of its grand displays. Instead, I made a conscious effort to seek out practical ideas that would inspire me in my own garden and will share those here.

Seating areas

I'm not a fan of my seating area or outdoor dining table in the back yard. Neither are comfortable and they stick out too much, and both are too big for my small space. I saw some ideas at the Flower Show that inspired me, though I'd certainly need to bring them down to scale.

In these first two photos, I liked the plantings behind the chairs (try to ignore the furniture itself. I'm not going for bright red!). I can dig out a foot or a foot and a half from the fence where the current outdoor table rests and then get a smaller table. Alternatively, I can group some pots behind the dining table and chairs.

There were also some nice bench ideas. One was on top of a wall (that I keep building in my dreams). The other was between two flower boxes.

And finally, there was a really great vignette of a dining table under a pergola. I've thought of putting up a pergola over my back patio and then growing vines up and over it. There's a lot going on in the picture as far as table settings, orchids, and hanging lights, but you get the idea.

Veggies and herbs

The next few pictures show some creative ways to grow veggies and herbs. I don't know that I'm going to run out and get a giant barrel in which to plant herbs (actually, I know I'm not going to) but it was nice to see the lushness of them all. I particularly like the basket of herbs.

Assorted design ideas

This final set of pictures has some random things I liked, from hardscaping to vertical planting.

Flower petal-inspired hardscaping:

Small flower beds in between a patio and some Belgian block:

A lush screen of evergreens (I'll pass on the Monet-inspired bridge):

A well-designed wall of vertical plantings:

I'd say this year's Philadelphia Flower Show was a success as far as practical inspiration goes. I can look back on these pictures and try to incorporate some of the ideas in my own tiny city garden. What about you? 'Tis the season for flower shows - do you attend any? Do you come away with any inspiration?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

They're under there somewhere

Have you heard the one about the six-pack abs? A guy will say, "I have a six-pack. It's just under my my beer belly." 

That's how I feel about my plants. I know they're out there somewhere, but they're hiding underneath feet of snow. 

I have no words suitable for print for this winter. Like many areas of the country, we've been hammered with record-breaking snow. During each major snowstorm, I've put on my snow clothes and headed outside with a broom to beat the snow off of my bushes, trying to make sure they aren't dying under the weight of snow and ice. Sadly, I'm not sure how my poor azalea will fare when the snow is gone.

But there is hope!

We've recently had some rain and a couple of warmer days, so though I still can't access my front or back yard without snow boots, the allée is newly freed from the white stuff. And just like I thought, even though I couldn't see them, my plants have been getting ready for their springtime show. 



Tulips or daffodils. I can't remember what I planted here.

It will still be some time before there are actual blooms, but knowing they're under there somewhere will help me through the next round of snow.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's about to get crazy over here: Part 2

In my last post I revealed that I'm going to turn a lot (if not all) of my front yard into a vegetable garden.  I thought that a day off of work because of yesterday's 13.5 inches of snow would be a good time to play with some design ideas for integrating the vegetable beds with the existing perennials. (As you take a look at the pictures below, please note that I am available for hire for my clearly awesome Photoshop skills.)

This picture is from 2009 but you can see the whole front yard. Please don't be jealous of my awesome grass weeds.

The flower beds that you can see are mostly the same. They're close to/on a wall that stands about four feet up from the sidewalk. The gray thing at the bottom is my porch roof.

Next, some recent pictures of each side.

This is the right side of the yard (I'm standing on my porch roof looking to the street). The neighbors' driveway is to the far right, and our half-dead tree is in the upper right corner (I got a verbal okay from J that we can cut it down at the end of the year - yay!). The purple lines denote current flower beds. You can also see the new Nandina 'Firepower' that was planted this past fall.

The brick path leads to the allée. I'm considering removing the brick and putting in a more organic curved path, but I haven't gotten that far in my planning, yet. To the bottom right and out of this picture is my giant forsythia.

The other side of the front walk is larger but has a couple of restraints, namely that I need to leave a couple of paths for Neighbor M to weed her front garden and for her husband to bring their garbage cans down to the street across our lawn every week.

To the bottom and out of this photo is the small flower bed by the porch and the azealea. I don't intend to move those right now.

I'm still not sure if I'm going to do raised beds or not. If my soil is okay after the lead test results come back, I'd prefer to just stick everything in the ground. Of concern, though, are the many slugs that like to roam around so I'd have to have a copper barrier of some sort.

Behold! My very simple ideas for the front yard.

Scenario A for the front right:

Tomatoes in the back, since I predict they'll be unattractive and unwieldy. The nandina will likely be moved, as will the contents of two of the three flower beds.

Scenario B for the front right:

Instead of circles, we have a few rows here with paths in between. I can keep most of the existing flower beds as they are.

Scenario A for the front left:

Very simple, as you can see. Rows of veggies with paths in between for all of us to walk through, while still maintaining the flower bed in the front.

Scenario B:

A little fancier. This would compete with the flower bed by the porch and by the wall, though, and I'm afraid it might be too much.

This is one of those times when I'm having difficulty visualizing things that are not right in front of me, so my designs at the moment are super simple. The plus side to this is that if I don't do raised beds, I can change things around from year to year as I get a better handle on what's working and what's not.

And finally, since I mentioned the word crazy in the title of this post, I thought I'd just throw caution to the wind and tell you about what else I'm thinking of doing.

Some possible ideas include turning this trellis of silver lace vines that climb up the side of the porch...

...into a trellis of cucumbers or peas. It is currently high maintenance to keep the vines check. But cukes by my face as I walk in the front door? Not so sure about it yet.

Edamame growing up the drain spout? Possibly.

Strawberries instead of flowers in the boxes on the porch?


I need to make sure to pace myself though. But as I sit inside with snow covering every inch of the ground, it's hard not to get excited at all of the possibilities my little yard might become.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It's about to get crazy over here: Part 1

A few years ago, I answered an ad about growing a vegetable garden in someone's backyard a few streets over from my house. The people who placed the ad had just purchased their home and it needed a LOT of work (we're talking Money Pit here). Since they wouldn't be landscaping their yard any time soon, they generously offered it up to people in the area to create plots for vegetable gardens. At the time, I was growing a few tomatoes in my back yard but would soon lose that space when my property was cut in half by developers.

Neighbor M and I decided to share the vegetable plot in our new community garden. The first year, we grew tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, lettuces, and I'm sure a few other things I can't remember.

July 2011

As the yard had been nothing but grass prior to becoming a community garden, our vegetables took on nuclear proportions. Squash plants as tall as my hips. Tomatoes that never stopped producing. 2011 was a banner year for vegetables. Since then, it's hasn't produced as much for a variety of reasons, one of which is that neither Neighbor M nor I feel like walking over there in July to weed and water every day. Yet my desire for fresh vegetables continues to urge on my inner farm girl and tell her "Plant more!"

This is where it might get a little crazy.

I've been trying to come up with ideas for my front yard for some time. The allée is being turned in to a butterfly and bee haven. The back yard will (eventually) be landscaped some more and be my tranquil oasis in the city. But the front? The place where I have some flower beds, a lot of crabgrass, and full sun?

I'm turning it in to a vegetable garden. 

It took me a while to be comfortable with the idea. After all, front-yard vegetable gardens have only recently been gaining some traction among gardeners but I still wouldn't call it a popular idea. I want fresh food, yes, but I still want it to look nice, and will blighted tomatoes ever look nice? But one day, ye olde Google showed me this photo: 

Image courtesy of theartofdoingstuff.com

It was from this post at The Art of Doing Stuff and oh my god! She has a front yard vegetable garden AND it looks nice! Not only nice, but I think I'd like to roll around in it for awhile, meditate, and then eat. This was the inspiration my inner farm girl was looking for!

My front yard is about four feet above the sidewalk and with my existing flower beds and bushes, a lot will automatically be hidden. I'm still playing with some designs (more in another post) and will likely have to move around some of the flower beds closer to the house. Also, since I can just move a sprinkler around, watering should not be an issue like it is at my current community garden plot.

My prep work thus far includes:

1. Soil testing - I do intend to get my soil tested for lead (this place looks easy enough). Now that the ground isn't as frozen as it was during the Polar Vortex, I may be able to dig down far enough to get some good samples.

2. Seeds -  I'm going to go as organic as I can and Monsanto, etc.-free. I've already purchased a variety of seeds from Cubits and am still looking for more. If you have a favorite vegetable seed purveyor who meets my criteria, please let me know.

3. Stop letting the dog pee in the front yard. Today's crabgrass is tomorrow's carrots and...ew.

4. Seed starting - It's almost time! I'm not ready! I'm looking for organic soil in which to start seeds (if you have suggestions, let me know). My big box store does not carry this, or at least not in January, so I need to look to the internets.

I'm really, really excited about this. I look forward to being able to walk out my door and grab a turnip or some beets. I just need to figure out how to marry function with looking pretty. 

Coming up in Part 2 - design ideas!

What do you think of front yard vegetable gardens?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reflecting on 2013

It's a week in to the new year and I've been thinking about the year that just passed. I don't make resolutions - they never stick and cause too much guilt when you break them. Instead, for some time now I've been trying to find the lessons in each year and reflect on what I've learned. With respect to gardening, this is what I've come up with for 2013.


I am a control freak with a capital C.F. I generally try to plan most things out in my life, though in true Gemini fashion, I make the most important decisions of my life without much thought. 2013 was supposed to be the year that my natural fences took shape. The climbing roses would weave themselves through the lattice on top of my new fence. The viburnum I moved would grow and thrive and block out the new homes built down the street. Clearly, nature had other plans, as all of my roses contracted rose rosette disease and had to be ripped out. My viburnum was plagued with some mystery pest and looked dead, then half-dead, for most of the year. I am left wondering if my viburnum will make it in 2014 and had to come up with a plan B for the fence. I really did take it in stride, though, because what else can you do when Mother Nature laughs and throws you the middle finger? In any case, at least I got a nice picture out of it (before I ripped the roses out). And it's sort of fun getting to plan things all over again. Waiting to see if bushes really are dead? That's tougher, which leads me to...


This lesson has come to me the past two years. It will be a long time before I make good progress but I'm getting there. I have a tendency to want things to be Martha Stewart-ready right now! But 2013 was the year I subconsciously decided to be nicer to myself - to let myself relax when I wanted and to not be so tough on myself that everything isn't so perfect all of the time. This translated to taking the entire summer to dig up sod in the side yard and needing to be okay with something that was a work in progress for months.

It also meant I said "no" when Neighbor M persisted in asking if she could help me dig up the front yard to do something with it because I wasn't ready (even though I think the front yard looks like crap!). It means that a lot of the plans and ideas I have in my head stay there for awhile or that projects are done in stages. Would it be nice to have everything "done" (I say facetiously, as a garden is never done)? Yes, but most of the fun is the planning and the doing.

Proper pacing

Patience and pacing are intertwined. The mania of spring garden chores has led to summer burnout for me every year that I've had the garden. Every year except 2013, that is. I made it through the entire year without wishing it was already over. Part of this was thanks to patience - giving myself permission to take things one step at a time. Part of it was giving myself permission to stay indoors when the disgusting humidity appeared in July and August, even if it meant my weeds were getting out of control. Part of it was that I had a lot of other things going on my life and the garden wasn't the main focus. 2013 kicked my ass in a lot of ways, but gardening burnout wasn't one of them. I'll need to keep this in mind in 2014, as with close to a foot of snow on the ground, I'm ready for spring and the onslaught of gardening chores!

I'm looking forward to the lessons that 2014 has in store for me!

How about you - do you feel you learned anything from your garden or from the act of gardening last year?

Monday, December 30, 2013

What I planted in the allée - Bushes Edition

As I keep hearing on the radio, temperatures in parts of the country are so cold right now that you can get frostbite if you're outside for more than a few minutes. Other parts of the country haven't had power for over a week due to crippling ice storms. So in comparison, my 35-degree day felt like the tropics and I decided to do what any gardener already sick of winter would do - do yard work. I tied up my Japanese holly so the next round of snow doesn't bend its branches. I also hacked away at the last remaining rose bush. I've barely made a dent in it but I only have so much room in my garbage pails. As I wandered around outside, I realized I never posted about my new additions to the allée so I thought I'd take the time now to both warm my fingers and mention the bushes I planted.

As I mentioned in my last post about the allée, my mother generously purchased some shrubs for me during my visit to New England in September. My criteria at the nursery was that the bushes wouldn't get too wide - there's just not enough room - and these shrubs were suggested, so we bought all three. 

Nandina domestica
Image courtesy of plant-care.com

The first is one that I've been toying with buying for months. Nandina domestica, also known as Heavenly Bamboo, has gorgeous fall foliage and bright red berries in the winter. I thought I'd done my due diligence when I looked my state's invasive plant species list and did not find this specimen on that list (it exists on other state's invasive plant species lists). The one I purchased already had berries on them - berries that have since turned bright red. I've cut them all off and brought them inside to use as holiday decorations. And though I'm afraid of most birds (and therefore don't like most birds), the fact that the berries contain cyanide and are toxic to birds doesn't sit well with me at all. I'll need to consider this berry dilemma next year when they start to emerge again. It doesn't make sense to create a habitat of plants that bees and butterflies love and simultaneously poison birds. 

Fernleaf buckthorn "Fine Line"

Image courtesy of harmonygardens.biz

This plant did not come with a tag with its Latin name, so imagine the almost-heart attacks I had (and there were several) when I was trying to research it. Apparently, its parent plants (e.g., Rhamnus frangula) can be very invasive in many parts of the country. Fine Line, though, was made to have few, if any, berries. It will maintain its tall, columnar shape. It is a deciduous bush (thank goodness I looked that up, as I thought I killed it after planting) and its leaves turn a nice yellow in autumn. I really like the texture of the leaves - the word "wispy" comes to mind. Right now it's on its own in the middle of the allée but I may pair it with another bush when warmer weather rolls around again.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Cross Compact' (Compact Fernleaf Cypress)

I love this plant. Love it. It looks like a tiny chartreuse Christmas tree at the moment. Its foliage looks like soft ferns. Online research is totally mixed. One site says it's rapid growing, the other says it's slow growing. One site says it's tighter and more compact and another site says it will branch out to 6-8 feet wide. The tag says it will look like an upright globe (what the what?). This is clearly a plant after my own heart as it sounds like it can't make up its mind and is in a constant state of identity crisis. It will also probably need to be moved as it's at the start of the pathway and it might get too big. It might be nice in front of or behind another bush (depending on which identity it assumes).

Those are the three new additions to my gardens. Unfortunately, I suffer from a bad case of one-itis, and these three singletons are joining a lone Golden St. Johns Wort, a single dwarf lilac, my pesky viburnum 'Summer Snowflake', and a random hydrangea. I may need to make some (or many) adjustments in the allée in the spring. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The kindness of strangers

I received a gift in the mail last week. I sent away for it and was expecting it but it still thrilled me when it arrived.

No, I'm not peddling baggies of drugs. They're seeds! Despite my initial shyness at requesting seeds from an esteemed garden blogger (even though she was giving them away!), I made a request of Nan Ondra at Hayefield for several seed packets and was sent all that I requested! I was only hoping for one or two, so to get eight was a nice surprise. Let's see what I received.

Amsonia hubrichtii (Arkansas Bluestar)

A multi-season interest perennial, it was named 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. It ought to get 2-3 feet tall by 2-3 feet wide when it matures in a few years and it grows in full sun to part shade. According to this site, it may take 16-20 weeks for seeds to germinate and then evolve into a transplantable plug. I guess I better start them soon!

Image courtesy of studiogblog.com

Image courtesy of gardengonewild.com

Asclepias speciosa (Showy Milkweed)

A perennial that attracts both Monarch butterflies and hummingbirds, it will grow about 2-3 feet and enjoys full sun. Once it is established, it should bloom in May-June. According to this site, it should germinate in about 2 weeks. This one looks like a good seed to start under my grow lights in late winter/early spring or to try in my still-to-be-built cold frames.

Image courtesy of anniesannuals.com

Digitalis grandiflora (Yellow Foxglove)

A perennial that may be more of a biennial, it likes part shade and will grow to about 3 feet,  producing yellow flowers in late spring/early summer. This is another cold frame candidate.

Image courtesy of wifemothergardener.blogspot.com

Papaver somniferum 'Lauren's Grape' (Lauren's Grape poppy)

This annual should get about 3 feet tall and likes full sun. It should bloom in early summer and apparently likes to reseed itself, but considering how beautiful it is I hope that it seeds itself all over my garden! This can apparently be direct-sown in early spring. 

Image courtesy of anniesannuals.com

Penstemon digitalis (Foxglove Beardtongue)

These seem to resemble Penstemon 'Husker Red', of which I purchased a couple during my end-of-summer plant binge. It should grow 3-5 feet and enjoys full to part sun. It will have white or light pink flowers in late spring/early summer and red foliage in the fall. It attracts bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies! According to this site, I should surface sow the seeds for 8 weeks at 40*F, so maybe I'll start these outside around March. 

Image courtesy of wildflower.org

Stachys officinalis 'Alba' (White Betony or Wood Betony)

I requested this seed because I'd like some more white flowers in my gardens. This perennial's flowers will only grow about a foot tall in early summer and likes full sun to part shade. Bees and butterflies also like it (are you seeing a theme in my selections?). It seems that I can channel my inner Laura Ingalls and make an anti-anxiety tea or a poultice for bug bites from this plant. This is another cold frame candidate.

Image courtesy of hayefield.com

Vernonia lettermanii (Narrowleaf Ironweed)

This butterfly-attracting perennial grows about 2-3 feet and has purple flowers in late summer/early fall. It likes full sun and has foliage similar to Amsonia hubrechtii (I better label both!). This is yet another plant to put in my it-better-be-very-large cold frame.

Image courtesy of plantdelights.com

Zinnia haageana 'Soleado' ('Soleado' Mexican zinnia)

The only other annual I requested, this zinnia reminds me of some coreopsis varieties. They like full sun and will grow 18-24 inches tall. I'll direct sow them in the spring.

Image courtesy of selectseeds.com

Wow. I have my work cut out for me! I've never grown perennials from seed before. But thanks to the kindness of a stranger, I have the potential to have a lot of new plants in my garden that I wouldn't have had otherwise. 

Have you ever grown perennials from seed? How has it worked out for you?