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.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How my allée came to bee

I've recently started referring to the side yard here and there as the Abeille Allée and I wanted to explain a little further. I'm a huge francophile. HUGE. I started taking French in 7th grade and it was love at first sight. I continued through high school, minored in it in college, and studied abroad in Paris during my junior year. I long to be a Parisienne and I Frenchify everything in my life. Naturally, I can't then just have an English name for part of my garden. Mais non! It has to be in French.

When my back yard was cut in half (see post about it here) and the amount of space I had to garden was therefore reduced, I turned to the side yard to expand upon my garden. I had a couple of bushes and some leftover daylilies there, but it was just a means to travel from the front to the back.


Last year, however, I dug out a small bed on the side in the hopes of starting to realize my vision of a curved bed where you can't quite see around the corner, and then eventually and suddenly, you're in the back yard and a whole new "room". I even have an entire Pinterest board named "Jardin - Paths" (see how I Frenchified the name?) to inspire me.

Summer of 2012

As you can see in the photo above, I only dug out about 2 feet. It was enough to put my free Eastern redbud tree and the new plugs I had bought with some neighbors. It's difficult to tell in the photo but there's quite a downhill slope. It's very, very gradual at the beginning (lower right corner) but gets significantly steeper at the end (toward my neighbor's car). I was concerned about water runoff and wasn't sure if this would be a runny, muddy mess. The slope also poses a challenge because the pathway has to be pretty narrow, unless I send visitors meandering on the hill.

Luckily, last summer showed that the new garden bed wasn't a mess but it clearly needed to be expanded.

Back to front: You can see me using the hose to outline where to dig
Front to back

And so I worked on it, little by little, foot by foot, starting this summer. The process was very slow due in part because I insisted on hand digging everything (like an ass) and there was also minimal room in which to throw away my sod piles. I kept imagining that the garbage men were going to turn away my garbage cans for being too heavy!

Early summer 2013. Slow. 
Mid-summer 2013. Still slow. 

It was roughly around the time that the photo above was taken that it came to me - what to call this garden! See, after reading this great post by Laurrie, I'd been pondering what to name my gardens. I mean, Front, Back, and Side Yard are all super creative and memorable names but I felt like there was a little something missing. Well, on my hands and knees digging out sod I noticed the incredible number of bees on the flowers, particularly the St. John's Wort and the Nepeta siberica. In French, bee is "abeille". And though an allée is often, in the gardening world, a straight path with tall trees on either side, it also means "pathway" or "walk". Abeille allée just came together perfectly and with little thought - it had to be the new name for Side Yard.

The project was abandoned during the high humidity days of July and the frenetic busy-ness of August. Luckily, last month Neighbor M brought home a small rototiller. Realizing it would take me until 2017 to complete this project by hand, I went to town digging out the rest of the grass. It took me all of 30 minutes, and that includes the 6 times I had to restart the machine. With all of that new space, I then went on a shopping spree at my local garden store - they finally put their buy one, get one sign up AND they had a whole table of $3 plants that looked sorry but just needed some TLC.

Hooray for autumn sales!
Pre-planting spree. The path is (mostly) complete. 

Finally, when J and I went to visit my parents in New England a couple of weeks ago, my mom and I took a little trip to the very helpful Cranesbill Nursery, where they helped me pick out three different shrubs that would not grow too wide (a problem in a narrow garden). I also came home with another peony and a bunch of divisions from my mother's garden. Within twenty minutes of getting home from that trip I was planting everything in the ground. Who needs to unpack luggage? I have bushes to save!

Back to front: The new bushes and plants are in the ground.
Front to back.

The curve of the path is not at all as dramatic as I'd hoped, but I'm pretty limited by the slope of the hill in places. I still need to define the path's edges and then lay out some stones or add some pavers, but that will have to wait until after marathon season is over. I'd also like to finally replace the old, rotted arbor that we took out in 2009-ish to define the entrance to the Allée at the front, but that too will have to wait until J feels like helping me install some concrete post supports.

I have hope that by this time next year, some of the plants will be overflowing on to the path and the bushes will be a lot taller, making it more of an "oooh what's around that curve?!" situation.

(I do intend to make a separate post about all of my new plants, if for nothing else than so I can remember what I have and where!)