Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Orchid at Longwood Gardens 

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I've been obsessively checking the weather, hoping it will provide me some hope that warmth and sun are on their way. I so desperately want to be outside, digging, planting, moving things around.

But since the long-range forecasts aren't giving me the hope I need, I'm drawing and sketching, trying to figure out what to do with my backyard this year. At least I'll have some semblance of a plan and be ready to go the moment the weather gets better and the ground begins to thaw.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Space and bushes: A dilemma

As my blog's tagline says, I think I'm gardening on a suburban-sized lot when in reality, I have .03 of an acre here in the city. As a result of my oversized dreams, I've purchased or acquired a number of bushes in the past several years - bushes that are starting to outgrow their current location and should either be moved or discarded. I've been pondering this dilemma for a good year and really have no idea what to do with many of them. As a visual, I call my property by three names: front yard, side yard, and back yard. Totally original, I know. I'm thinking of copyrighting them.

In my front yard
Lilac: My mom gave me the lilac so I don't its particular name. It is currently part of a superfecta of bushes in the front forming a really great privacy screen from our busy street. Unfortunately, it's being overshadowed by our half-dead dogwood. It definitely needs to be moved, but to where, I don't know.

Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake': I purchased this from my favorite nursery and didn't believe it really was going to get big for some reason.  Obviously a temporary moment of insanity, as it's about six feet tall now. It's not very wide yet, perhaps because it doesn't have a lot of room. It is smack dab next to the lilac in front, like right up on it. I'm surprised they haven't had babies yet. I think I'm hoping it will replace the half-dead dogwood when J and I finally come to our senses/are so embarrassed that we have the tree cut down.

Viburnum "Summer Snowflake". Image from
Butterfly bush: I got this from a former coworker when I was first starting the garden. It provides some nice privacy from my neighbors's driveway and I love to see the butterflies on it in the summer. However, it is way too big for any space in my garden and I'm going to discard it this spring. 

Hydrangea: I didn't write down the name of this plant, but it's a lace-cap hydrangea that starts off blue and then turns pinky-red when it gets hot/is at the end of the season. It is part of the superfecta that provides privacy in front, but it has very much outgrown its place and is drowning out some of my perennials. I'm thinking of moving it to the back yard by my patio (if I even start a patio flower bed) or close to the porch, where it might block out part of the rain gutter. I like both options equally.

Lace-cap hydrangea with Ostrich Plume astilbe
Azalea: The azalea was here when we bought the house and does well in its spot in front of the porch. I have no intention of moving it. I'm not sure if its leaves would look good, once its done blooming, with those of the hydrangea if I moved the hydrangea to the same bed. 

Azalea in front of the porch

Ilex crenata (Japanese holly): I didn't write down the exact cultivar (why did I think the tag on it would last through the wind and snow of winter?), but I bought this last year to go in a weird spot in the front yard, next to the porch steps. I needed something that would get tall but not too wide, as it's next to a walkway. I found this at my local nursery and so far, it fits the bill perfectly. 

In my side yard
Forsythia: This bush was here when we bought the house. It's always the first to bloom in my garden, and it provides privacy from the front yard to the back yard. Unfortunately, it is way too big. I'm constantly pruning it so that it doesn't block the side walkway or my neighbor's driveway. Though I don't want to force anything in my garden that doesn't fit or doesn't belong, I really want to keep this even though it's too big, and even if that means digging out half of it every five years or so to try to control its size. 

Climbing rose: This was also here when we moved in. It's super low maintenance and is really lovely. Unfortunately, it helped bring down the arbor on which it was climbing a couple of years ago (rotting wood was also a culprit), and I've yet to replace the structure. This is staying where it is, because once I get another arbor, it's a really nice segue into the side yard. 

Climbing rose
Hypericum frondosum cv. 'Sunburst' (Golden St. Johnswort): I bought this with my very first plant purchase, not knowing anything about it. The bees adore it in the summer and its flowers are really interesting. This bush has unfortunately been a casualty of my yard getting cut in half two years ago and has not had a permanent home since then. It was biding its time where the Japanese holly now lives, but I've since moved it to the hill on the side yard. One of its trunks died this summer, and I'm still not sure where to put it. I do like it, but may need to find it a home with someone else.  

Golden St. Johnswort. Image from

Dwarf lilac: This is from my mother, so I don't know much about it beyond that it is very wide but not tall. I moved this from the side of the house to the front of our new back yard seating area, to give the seating area some privacy from the neighbor's driveway and the street beyond. I'm not sure it really liked the move, though, and I'm not sure if it's going to come back this year. I do hope it does, as I like it a lot and I'm happy with the space it occupies.

Dwarf lilac

In my back yard
Kerria japonica (aka, the Pom Pom Bush): My mother had this at our house growing up, and we used to call it the Pom Pom Bush because of its flowers.  She brought me some from her new home far, far away. I have it in a corner where the fence turns. I don't love it there, but my goal was to use it as part of the transition from side yard to back yard, to let visitors know there was about to be a transition in what they saw. I'm undecided about the location but do want to keep it.

Pom Pom Bush in winter

Cornus sericea 'Farrow' Arctic Fire (Red Twig Dogwood): I bought this two years ago to anchor the corner where my fence meet's my neighbor's. I also wanted it to create some privacy so that I wouldn't see the entirety of the home of our new neighbors behind us. It's doing a good job on all accounts and doubled in size between its first and second years. I just need to move a lot of perennials out of its way this spring, as I hadn't realized how big it would get. 

I have some tough decisions to make once it gets warmer. Which bush stays, and which goes, and which gets moved?  No matter what happens, I am excited to make some long-needed changes to my garden. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Planting on a budget

It is a gorgeous day today in Philadelphia, sunny and mid-50s. Tonight it will start to rain, then snow, and even more snow tomorrow. Oh Mother Nature, you're such a tease.

One thing keeping me going through a winter where it snows every freaking weekend (besides my trusty light box, of course) is planning what I will buy and where I will put my new purchases once spring officially arrives. Of course, it has to be economical for obvious reasons, not the least of which is we are getting a new roof this year (ouch!). I decided to put together a list of budget planting tips, none which are rocket science, but there might be one or two you haven't thought of before.

1. Start seeds: I mentioned a a couple of weeks ago that I was ready to start growing seeds indoors. Well, the snapdragons were started last week (have you ever seen their seeds? They're about half the size of a pinhead. I had to use tweezers to plant them, but I digress...). Broccoli starts this week, and then other annuals and veggies will follow according to the spreadsheet I made. And because my neighbor and I share a veggie plot in our community garden, she bought the seeds and I'll just grow them. So I'll have a summer bounty of food and a lot of annuals (I hope) for about ten bucks.

2. Buy with friends: A neighbor has an account with a wholesale flower seller. Now, I know this is not easy to come by for many people, but if you have the chance to buy flowers this way, do it! Last year we split three flats between neighbors. They were all tiny plugs and I was initially disappointed in their size, but over the course of one summer they grew incredibly well. I was able to get about forty plants for $40. This year I'll be getting about forty plants for $60 (we ordered some more expensive ones). The only downside to this is that I don't know where on earth I'm going to put them all. Tough problem to have, I know.

3. Share with friends: My neighbor, M, has a beautiful perennial garden. She and I share our plants a lot. If she sees something she likes in my garden, she'll ask for some, and vice versa. This goes on all year, every year between us. Dividing perennials is easy and a fantastic way to diversify your personal plant catalog. The best part? It's free.

4. Throw a plant party: Neighbor M hosts a party in May every year called "The Perennial Divide". Each person who comes divides plants from her own garden and brings them to the party. After a few cocktails, we gather round a Master Gardener neighbor who acts as the auctioneer and raise our hands if we want the plant. At the end of the evening, you leave with a bunch of new plants and a nice buzz from the martinis.

5. Buy at the end of the season: My favorite local nursery usually starts reducing the prices on their perennials at the end of July. It might start with 25% off, then move to 50% off in August, then in September, buy 1 get 2 free. If you have the foresight to look past what looks dead and think of how it will look the following year, you can usually get a great bargain. Unfortunately, sometimes the plants really are dead, but I think it's a worthwhile risk to take.

What about you? Do you have any other budget-friendly tips to share?

A pretty, but irrelevant, photo

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Something's eating Barbara

Remember Barbara?

Something's eating her. Literally.

She's my first citrus tree and I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Truth be told, I haven't investigated that much. I don't like bugs, and I don't like knowing there are bugs in my house. So I've only kinda sorta been looking for the culprit, until today. If I don't see anything, it doesn't exist, right?

But the poor girl has been dropping a lot of leaves and so I went to clean them up this morning. While looking in her large pot, I saw movement.

And then I immediately felt like there were things crawling on my head. This is why I haven't looked too hard. When the heebie jeebies attack, they attack! Fifteen minutes later I'm still scratching my head, and not because I'm trying to figure something out.

But I decided to put on my big girl panties and grabbed a pair of gardening gloves. I saw a little bug and tried to grab it and squish it. I'm not sure if I was successful because I didn't look to see if I dropped squished bug in the garbage can or not. Then I poured water in the pot, hoping to drown whatever it was. I doubt I was successful with that tactic.

So here I sit trying to figure out what's eating Babs.

The first possibility that I found is a fuller rose beetle, only because the pest photos look similar to what I saw for .5 seconds in the dirt. However, the leaf-eating pattern doesn't quite look like what's happening with Barbara.

What does mostly fit the leaf-eating pattern is a grasshopper, but I haven't seen any of those on or near the tree.

Good. Beetles or grasshoppers. My itching is in full force right now.

Without knowing exactly what I'm dealing with, I'm not sure exactly how to treat it. Most websites I've read indicate that pests are not a real threat to the lime tree and just cause cosmetic damage. Barbara is really just to look at; I don't expect to be able to grow a lifetime supply of limes from her. This website suggests soapy water or neem oil. I know I could try it, but I'll have to put some garbage bags down around her, as she's too big and heavy to keep moving outside to spray for bugs.

I would love some advice or direction if anyone has any!

Friday, February 8, 2013

To move or not to move

Early last year, I became aware of an organization here in Philadelphia called Tree Philly. It's a greening initiative that, among other things, gives away free yard trees to interested residents. Though we put up a fence last year, it didn't enclose our entire yard. I was (and am) interested in natural privacy screens and a free tree seemed like a great idea. So, I filled out a short application and picked up my tree on a rainy day in April.

I selected an Eastern Redbud both for the size that it would eventually become (only 15-30 feet) and for the beautiful display of flowers in the spring. I wanted to plant it on the side of the house, where it might eventually screen us in from all of the new construction going on next door. But it had to remain pretty small because we only have about 10 feet between our house and the property line. I didn't want something that was going to bump into the house.

Photo from

As this fall and winter progressed, and the ugly construction next door resumed, I found myself looking out the window. In full view is the blue porta potty that has a place of honor for the contractors. And I realized - I planted the tree in the wrong place. I don't know what I was thinking. It is off to the side of the kitchen window, not really in front of it (where it'd block out some of the ugly new view). Again, what was I thinking?

So now I don't know if I should move it when spring arrives or hope it will block some of the view when it gets a little bit bigger and a little bit leafier. 

According to, it's perfectly okay to transplant a tree. I'm assuming it's probably doubly okay to transplant one whose trunk is about the size of two quarters (read: tiny). And according to the USDA, my tree may eventually spread 15-25 feet (hello shade!). So it looks like either of my options would work. I guess I'll wait to see what the tree does in the spring and decide from there. And hope, in the mean time, that the blue porcelain throne makes an exit sometime soon.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Orchid Orbs

J and I visited Longwood's Orchid Extravaganza yesterday. It was a dull gray winter day and I needed to see and touch some living things. It was also one of the few Beyond the Garden Gates days, so we got to go behind the scenes and see some interesting parts of the Conservatory that we have not been allowed in before. Those pictures are for another day, though. For now - the magnificent orbs and other shapes that were skillfully made of orchids:

Orchid orbs hanging from the ceiling

Creating an orchid orb demonstration

Demonstration materials. Can I have one?
Orchid cone hanging from the ceiling

An arch made of orchids

Closeup of the arch

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Longwood Christmas - Trees

Though Christmas has thankfully been over for a month now, the memories of the beautiful displays at Longwood Gardens still linger. Hosting family at my house for the holiday left me no time for any relaxation - until they left. So on New Year's Eve, J and I decided to use our brand new memberships to check out their Christmas display before it was removed for the year. The folks at Longwood do a phenomenal job with their gorgeous display of lights and plants used in creative ways. We assumed that the place would be deserted but it was packed. Doesn't anyone go to New Year's parties anymore?

It's hard to take pictures there because there are so many people doing the same and you don't want a random stranger in your photo, but here are some of the shots I snagged of the myriad Christmas trees around the gardens.


Enormous outdoor tree decorated for Christmas

Staff decorate this tree with edibles for birds and animals

Inside (in the Conservatory):

A trifecta of Christmas trees

I think the docent said there were 3,500 decorations on this tree
Poinsettia tree

Christmas tree made of agave

Greenhouse tree made of multiple plants

Closeup of the greenhouse tree

Spinning tree on the water