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

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

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

Image courtesy of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving cactus

I've been assuming for the last three years that my Christmas cactus was an overachiever, always blooming a month ahead of time and usually right around Thanksgiving. Who knew there is also such a thing as a Thanksgiving cactus?

Whatever it is, it's nice to see some color now that the cold days of not-even-winter-yet are upon us in Pennsyltucky.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stick a fork in it

It's done.

Marathon season is done (and I went out with a great race).

Teaching (my second job) is done - mostly - for the semester.

Stepping outside without a heavy jacket - done.

And the garden, as far as blooms and bright colors, is done.

It was only this week that it got really cold overnight. Despite some chilly temps, my mums and caryopteris were still going strong. But now they are also done.

Garden cleanup - not even close to being done. Postponed (as always) until spring.

So now that there's not much to report on outside, I'm going to try to remember what worked and didn't work this year - or as much as I can remember as I sit here sipping an adult beverage while NOT writing out lecture notes for class next week:

What worked

Creating new beds:
Cutting out more of the back yard bed and creating a nice curve. Unfortunately, I've already run out of room back there!

Finishing sod removal on both sides of the allée. 

These standout flowers:
The climbing roses on the back fence. They were doing exactly what I wanted them to do - trailing through the trellis accent at the top of the fence - until they didn't work anymore because of rose rosette disease and I had to rip them out. So this is a worked/didn't work situation.

Coreopsis - between 'Moonbeam' and 'Mercury Rising', there were flowers blooming for months and months on end.

Hibiscus - the one outside of my kitchen window was a show stopper for months. It is clearly madly, deeply in love with its new spot in the garden.

The winecups. I am madly, deeply in love with these, though I'm sure my mailman is not. But it's my house so I win.

My peonies came back and even waited until I returned from vacation to bloom.

What needs work

So much!

The bushes:
Seriously, sitting here and thinking about them all makes me throw my  hands up and say, "God!" in a sarcastic, teenage-I-didn't-get-my-way way.

From my problems with the viburnum to my dwarf lilac barely coming back to cutting down the monstrous butterfly bush for hours - I did not have luck with my bushes this year.

Not to mention rose rosette disease destroying the roses in my garden. I still have to rip out the giant rosebush in the allée but haven't yet had the time. The red twig dogwood was too big, but Neighbor M and I plan to chop a lot of it down this winter to use its branches in seasonal decorations. The bushes next year are going to have to shape up or ship out get ripped out.

The bulbs:
In the spring I realized that I hadn't planted any new bulbs the prior autumn, so while I had some nice tulips, daffodils, and crocus there simply weren't enough.

I have remedied that this year, complete with covering each bulb area with mesh to keep away the squirrels. There better be one heck of a show next spring.

Still, the spring-planted bulbs and tubers were a disappointed. My dahlias did almost nothing. My stargazer lily grew about 2 inches. I think there were sunlight issues but I'm not totally sure. I have all winter to figure out what went wrong.

The annuals:
The good: They grew from seed started under grow lights in my basement.  The bad: They got leggy as hell and were not properly placed (up front for all the world to see their naked legs!). The good again: The marigolds and zinnia were some of the last plants to stick it out after summer left, providing some much-needed color in the back yard. If I can hone the placement and color choices next year, this ought to be a success.

Overall, I'm actually quite pleased with this year's gardens. The back yard looks pretty good for starting over just a couple of years ago. The allée has been increased by two-thirds and is already so full of plants that I think I've run out of room there, too. The viburnum and I came to a mutual understanding after we both spent some time sulking. I'm in high plan-for-next-year mode already and super excited about some of my ideas. 

The gardens of 2014 - just beginning. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Out with the old, in with the new

It was circa 2005 or 2006 when a former coworker offered me a free butterfly bush. I was just getting started with the garden and accepted any and all donations (including Neighbor M's obedient plant - bad mistake!) just to fill space in the blank canvas that was my yard.

I have not had a good run with bushes, as my space is just too small for most of the ones I love. Or, as is usually the case, I have no idea what to do with a particular bush so I plop it into the ground until I can figure out what to do with it. Both of these situations applied to the butterfly bush. I put it in the ground next to a retaining wall that separates my front yard and my neighbors' driveway.

God, the maintenance involved! Cut, cut, cut. Always cutting. But it provided a nice (albeit massive) privacy screen between the neighbors and I. Whenever I thought about cutting it down, I'd see butterflies flocking to it and would feel guilty, and I would leave it alone. And then, because I'm a total wackadoodle, I'd feel doubly guilty because my grandmother used to call my sister "her butterfly" and felt that cutting it down would disrespect both of them (one who has been dead for 15 years, the other who would not give a crap if I had a butterfly bush or not).

You can see the bush in the above photo taking up the entire upper right corner. It extended about 4 feet over my lawn and, when not doing damage control in my neighbors' driveway, 4 feet toward their house and pinstriping their cars. I couldn't even get the lawnmower past it, so there was a section of my front yard that never got mowed. I was one of those people. I might as well have put a car up on cinderblocks in the front yard since I wasn't mowing part of the lawn!

The neighbors finally asked me to trim as it was scratching their cars. The neighbors who, by the way, are totally cool with anything I do and have never complained. It was clearly getting bad.

There's nothing like an impending winter coupled with a 50% off all plants sale (and complaining neighbors) to get one's rear in gear and trying to complete fall garden projects. I found two Nandina domestica at my local big box store for $10 each. Red berries! Winter interest! $10 each! They were going to replace the butterfly bush, but first I had to remove it.

[insert string of expletives here]

It took every single one of these tools and an hour and a half to get that thing out:

Do you know what it's like to try to saw at roots a foot below the ground with your ass pointed at the neighbors across the street for what seems like eons? You manage to saw through one five-inch root after ten minutes only to find that there are others you can't see holding it in place. Just in case you're not too bright - the situation sucks. Here's my tip of the year - do not let bushes that you don't want/don't have the space for languish too long in your garden. By the time you try to dig it out, it'll have giant taproots.

I put my hand shovel there for a size comparison. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you how big that bush had grown both above and below ground.

The only way it all finally came out is because I used my Hulk-like strength to twist and turn it until it broke in several pieces and I could saw at the last taproot. Success!

The story doesn't end there.

I decided that after all of that, in the declining sunlight and after an hour and a half of busting my butt, it was a good time to look up the sun and space requirements for my ten dollar Nandina domesticas, as the tag attached to the branches identified it.

The tag indicated it needed morning sun and would grow seven feet high and seven feet wide.

[insert string of expletives here]

I did not buy those plants on a whim to have to go through this ordeal again! I wanted something easier - something that would not scratch my neighbors' cars, something that I wouldn't have to prune every week! I almost cried as I sat on my front stoop Googling "How to keep Nandina domestica pruned and petite". I certainly cursed under my breath.

In the end, I decided to put them in the ground and worry about their size in the spring.

Not a whole lot of privacy, but pretty colors

But wait! There's more!

When I was removing the bushes from their pots, I noticed that both had stickers that said Nandina 'Firepower'. Running back to Google, I found that this cultivar is berry-less but only grows to 3-4 feet. I can deal with that, so I'm hoping the stickers prove to be the correct identifier and not the random tag on the leaves. I guess we'll see in eight years when I get tired of them, too. For now, isn't that foliage fantastic?

One other PSA for this year - Nandina domestica shows up on many invasive species lists, so check your state's list before going out and planting one. Apparently the birds eat the berries, poop them out, new plants grow, yadda yadda. This plant does not appear on Pennsyltucky's list so I was comfortable planting a couple.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Autumn at Longwood Gardens

For Christmas last year, J got us a membership to Longwood Gardens. We're nearing the end of our membership year and decided to pop in again to see what was going on at this time of year (we do plan to renew). I am always amazed at how different the place looks depending on the season. The last time we were there, a month or two ago, it was really hot and pretty uncomfortable walking around in the sun. This time, I was taking it all in and reluctant to go indoors as outdoor time is now limited. I won't share all 92 pictures I took, but I would like to share two highlights - the borders on the Flower Garden Walk, which are always tremendously well done, and some autumnal shots.

Flower Garden Walk Borders
The plants on the Flower Garden Walk change with the seasons. They are added and removed and though it's not realistic, everything always looks amazing and nothing is dying (because dying plants are removed!). There are blocks of colors - blues and purples at first, then pinks and reds, oranges and yellows, and ending with white. I always find a plant or ten that I NEED RIGHT NOW in this section of Longwood.

Presented without many comments, as I didn't write down the names of most of the plants:

The purple plant, Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha) is one of my MUST HAVEs

This is by the vegetable gardens on the other side of Longwood

Autumn's show
In the spirit of stopping to look around and enjoy what is around me, I did my best to appreciate the bounty that autumn has to offer.


Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra 'Laciniata')

Isn't it all so beautiful? Happy autumn!

Friday, October 18, 2013

More carnage

Walking around this week taking pictures for Bloom Day, I passed by the giant rose bush twenty times at least. This is the rose bush that came with the house when we bought it almost a decade ago. It used to climb an arbor (that rotted and has been removed) but now is just a giant bush that I try to manage.

So I'm walking by, back and forth, back and forth, each time ducking under one of the giant canes that had grown across the pathway. At some point I decided to try to photograph the rose hips for Bloom Day. I looked over and saw this:

Seriously!? This has been the most laid back rose in the garden. I don't water it, I don't feed it, and I only occasionally prune it. And now - now!? - Pinkie has passed on her rose rosette disease.

This one is not going down without a fight. Wish me luck - I think I'm going to need full body armor to take it out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - October 2013

This will probably be the last Bloom Day for 2013. I enjoy autumn and its tranquility but it also means we're heading into winter, with which I have a difficult time each year. In any case, though this month's blooms are not very showy, their subtlety forces me to take a closer look and take note of the details of the garden. There's something to be said for slowing down. 

Front yard
Mums and Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'
This aster is a real winner. There is almost no color in my yard right now (or anywhere else on the block) and yet this aster on my front wall is big, bright, and beautiful. I don't know why I don't have more!

More Aster 'October Skies' with a mum in the middle
Aster novae-angliae 'Alma Potschke'
A different type of aster, 'Alma Potschke' (or Poetschke) adds bright color to a fading fall landscape. I do enjoy this plant, but even after chopping it in half in the summer, it's still too leggy. Maybe it needs two chops next year.

Ilex crenata
My Japanese holly must be happy. She didn't have berries last year (her first year here). I just noticed these today while rushing around to take pictures. Clearly I need to slow down and look around some more.


Abeille allée

As I mentioned in my last post, my allée has recently experienced quite a transformation. Many of the plants are immature but there are still a couple of things in bloom. 

Geranium 'Rozanne' and Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'
The coreopsis is STILL blooming!

Nandina domestica
The berries on my new nandina (Heavenly Bamboo) are already starting to turn red. They'll be a great holiday decoration in the winter.

Back yard

Here is where I will finally show you my great shame - my utterly mismatched annuals against some perennials. Sure, the marigolds are about the only thing still in bloom in the back, but look at what they're next to:

Marigolds and Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Orange and pink. Together. I don't know what I was thinking! It was even worse during the summer, when the marigolds and pink zinnias were next to each other.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy', spiderwort
The spiderwort is blooming again. Can you see the fantastic seed pods on the baptisia?

Anemone 'Queen Charlotte'

This gal needs a more prominent spot. She's flopping over from the weight of some echinacea and hidden in the back of the flower bed. I'll have to move her next year.

That's it for 2013, I assume! I'm glad I took the time to document different stages of the garden this year. It'll be nice to look back on during the dreary days of winter. Thanks to May Dreams for hosting another Bloom Day.