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?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Saying goodbye

It's time to pull the trigger.

Some of my plants are not performing or are getting to be invasive. I've been in denial about some of them for years but it's time.

On the Pharm (front yard), I have two different problems:

The Aster 'Alma Potschke' has something wrong with it. I've been in denial about this plant for about five years or so. I used to think that the brown leaves and stems were indicating that it needed more water, but even in years when I watered it a lot, it still looked like this.

The entire bottom of the plant looks dead.

Leaves turning yellow

As a primary part of the front garden, and a plant you see as you walk up to my house, I just can't keep this ugliness around anymore. I don't know if it's a fungus or what, but it's got to go, which is too bad because when it's in bloom, it's a bright, eye-catching plant. So now I'm on the hunt for a medium-size, fall (or repeat) blooming perennial.

On the side of my front porch, I've had two very vigorous silver lace vines. They climbed up a trellis, kept the front door cool in the summer, and were only a pain when I had to cut them down at the end of the year because they were SO big.

In better times.

This is how the vines did this year:

The remaining vine on the left.

I accidentally pulled one out while weeding, which shows how dead it was. The other, as you can see, is still in the ground but doing absolutely nothing. Maybe this past winter, one of the coldest on record, was too much for them. In any case, now I'm on the hunt for a (vigorous but not overly so) vine for this area for next year.

In the back yard, I have a potential disease problem and an invasive problem.

I'm scared to even write this, lest it really be true: I think all of my echinacea have aster yellows. I first noticed it a few years ago in the front yard and pulled out the offending plants. But then this year, it seemed like every single one - front yard, side, back yard - had the tell-tale puff of green on the seed head.

Last year. In better times.

This is how they look right now:

They all fizzled out a couple of weeks earlier than last year. It's possible that that's due to the dry conditions this summer. I really like echinacea. They're a staple of my garden and I don't want to have to rip them all out. I'll continue to monitor them and hope for the best next year, though I suspect I'll be talking about being in denial next fall as I rip them out.

The spiderwort in the back yard are now getting invasive. I'm finding them in the hell strip by the road, for crying out loud. I have 5-6 of them evenly spaced in the back yard and, in late spring, they're often the only thing in bloom.

Two different colors, on the left and right, still in bloom in summer.

When they die, though, they leave big gaping spaces that I've been working on trying to hide (somewhat unsuccessfully). I don't think I'll be too sad to see these go, especially since it will probably take me a few years to completely rid my gardens of them.  In their place, I need to find any sort of late spring/early summer perennial that doesn't look like death after it's done blooming for the year.

They've provided me with more joy than inconvenience, but it's time to cut the cord (and it's a great excuse for fall plant shopping).

Monday, September 7, 2015

So much to say, so much to say...

I've been making blog posts in my head for months but never actually got them down on paper the screen. For example, I was going to talk about how most of my summer, I spent my days off volunteering and was so busy with that, then segue into the volunteer flowers that popped up in my garden. Get it? Or that I didn't have time to post a bloom-day post in July because on impulse, I rescued my little friend from the city's animal shelter the day she was to be euthanized for space, and fostered her for a few weeks until we found her a forever family. Three dogs is a lot. A lot a lot.

Foster puppy on the left, learning how to sit with my two goofballs.

Maybe it's best that those posts stayed in my head!


It's so hot and dry. Late spring and early summer started off with higher than average rainfall, but August brought less than an inch of rain during the entire month. I try to water my perennials as infrequently as I can most years but have had to turn the sprinkler on them several times in the past weeks to keep them from keeling over.


I planted milkweed last fall and when it came up this year - surprise! A monarch found it! YES!

Not milkweed, but the monarch liked the hibiscus as well.

And then the orange aphids found it too, and I couldn't get them off with natural controls so I cut the plant down. I hope it grows back next year.


My neighbor got a new fence. She went from a DIY metal one (first pic) that I was sure her tiny dog was going to get through to a wooden one. I like it a lot. I'm slightly worried that it means a little less sun in that area because of the fence shadow, but I'll make it work.

Old fence

New fence


The caryopteris x clandonensis 'White Surprise' that I ordered and planted last fall, partially for its variegated foliage, is growing in....not variegated. I feel like this like the time when we got a puppy when I was a kid. I asked my mom when she'd learn to pee lifting her leg like other dogs. I was missing some common sense then, and feel like I'm missing something obvious now.

Not a whole lotta variegation going on now.

I'm starting to compile my fall plant order. Spreadsheets abound! Are you ordering anything fun for next year?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2015

What a strange year so far. Almost no spring weather - just hot and dry. And then it cooled down a bit, but still no rain. The last week or so it's been raining more, for which I'm grateful, and it's really hot again. Some of the flowers seem off - blooming too early. And it's that time of year where the late spring flowers are done and the early summer ones aren't at their peak yet so there's not a whole lot going on. But green is a color, too, right?

Back yard:

Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler' finding a home on my fence

The allée:

Coreopsis 'Mercury Rising'

The last of the blooms on Penstemon 'Dark Towers'

Nepeta 'Walker's Low' . Can't wait to divide these things!
Phlox 'Blue Paradise' is just starting. And it's really purple, not blue.

The pharm:
Echinacea in front of the hydrangea. I feel like it's early for echinacea.

Callirhoe involucrata spreading on the sidewalk. This is the only place it's doing well.

Gaillardia. I feel like it's early for it to be almost done!

More echinacea. When they flop, it's a sign that it's super super dry!

I wonder if the weirdness will continue this year. It really makes me regret all of the aerosol hair spray I used in the '80s!

Thanks to May Dreams for hosting this monthly event!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Holes in the allée

The allée is still a newer garden. It was started a tiny bit in 2012 but I dug out the rest in 2013. I've added plugs, divided plants, and last fall I bought about $200 worth of perennials and planted many of them there.

But still, when I walked through it this week I noticed that there are a lot of holes. No, not those kinds of holes. We're fortunate that in this part of the city (and probably in many parts of the city), we don't have to deal with moles or voles or other critters. The holes I have are embarrassing because there is nothing growing in them.  I'm sure when I plant new flowers in late summer/early fall that I have a plan in my head but I didn't realize that the plan included leaving great spaces of nothingness.

I seem to have three categories of holes: Places where there's nothing because the plants around it get bigger; bare spaces left when bulb foliage dies; and then just pure poor planning on my part.

To wit: I know that I didn't plant a lot here because the ninebark will eventually be 8 feet across, though since that probably won't happen for several more years, I need to plant and then move when the ninebark takes over. 

And this is a tough spot because when the hibiscus gets going in July, it crowds out everything around it. So instead of giving it space, apparently I planted right next to it and then left blank spaces closer to the pathway. Awesome.

These next two pictures show problems that arise when the bulb foliage finally dies. Then, there will be absolutely nothing in their places. I need to work on some choreography in these spots.

Then there are the spaces of nothingness or just really bad planting on my part. Like here - apparently I like to plant on diagonals. 

Here next to the back door - I know it wasn't this empty last year. There were some Geranium 'Rozanne' and more than one Coreopsis but I guess it didn't come back. I planted some annuals there but I have to do something about this. It's a tough area, though, since it gets stepped on all winter when the bench isn't there to block that route.

Under my Eastern redbud (which had TWO flowers this year, by the way, an improvement over zero so it gets to stay), I planted two Amsonia hubrichtii last fall. I know they'll get larger but right now they're just sprigs and it looks so bare.

Or this - let me just bunch plants together around a hole of nothingness, and then plant some annuals in there to try to mitigate the damage.

As you can see, I have a lot of work to do. This mainly involves online shopping for new plants but may also include moving some things around and dividing some plants. For now, I'll just sit here in the a/c and window shop online.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Early bouquet

I'm very book smart but have no common sense, so when Neighbor M and I were admiring my Baptisia bushes yesterday and she told me that she cut some of her own for bouquets, it was as if she had showed me a unicorn farting rainbows and giving out gold for free. My brain is stuck on the cutting peonies, zinnia, and rudbeckia for anchors for bouquets but baptisia? Never would have thought of it on my own and very happy she thought of it for me.

B. australis species, 'Twilite Prairieblues', 'Solar Flare Prairieblues', and Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

Which late spring/early summer plants do you use in bouquets?