Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Midsummer Garden Review

I took some time out from my busy schedule to review the status of my gardens.  I find it's a good idea to do this periodically, taking notes and photographs, so that in the fall or next spring I'll have an idea of what areas need work, what needs to be moved, and what just plain isn't working.  None of these pictures are going to win awards but they all tell me something about the state of my garden.

Here's my annual corner. I'm quite pleased with how this is working.  This is the area where the snow from our driveway gets piled up.  I put annuals there because sometimes the plow damages the near by plants.  It's nice to have a spot for annuals since they look good all summer and I can change them yearly, if I want to.  I like Zinnias so I put some here, and I'm very pleased with the snapdragons.  I doubt you can tell but I've also got Gomphrea fireworks in this corner.  Don't bother with this one.  The flowers are nice when viewed close up but they are small.  Even in clumps (I think I have a dozen plants in there) they aren't that exciting. 

I refer to this area as my Liatris Patch.  I've got Liatris Kobold, Coreposis Zagreb, Hyssop, Asclepias and some Spirea.  They're all doing well, if a bit crowded.

Here's the other side of the Liatris Patch.  Kobold doesn't need to be supported.  It's a great variety (Michelle, I'll get some seeds or seedlings to you this fall, Queen Bee, you'll have to get seeds.  You can try to start them in your greenhouse).

I don't just take pictures of the good spots.  Here's an empty area.  Need something to fit in there.  

Here's another empty area (I call this the Dead Zone because I've lost so many plants right in this one area).  Right by the walk leading to the front door is difficult because we have one street tree that partially shades this area and whose roots are very aggressive.  I like the dappled shade in the living room during the summer but this tree is starting to cause problems with the sidewalk and my plumber is worried about the water and sewer lines.  It's an American Basswood or American Linden (Tilia americana) and it's just too big for the spot.  If I can get the city to remove it (it's technically their tree) I'll replace it with something more size appropriate.  I'm fantasizing about a nice Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa).

OK.  Come out of the dream and back to the reality of the garden.

I've never had great luck with Echinacea.  Not sure why.  My neighbor has a lot of them growing really well.  This is one of mine.  The one that is doing best.  I planted it last year and got some blooms (hence the seedlings).  The blooms this year lack petals (huh?).  I have a few other types of Echinacea scattered around the garden and we'll see  how they look next  year (this is the first year for them).  

This Heuchera is also failing.  I think this failure is due to the abnormally hot summer and maybe too much sun.  I might move these guys next year.

On the positive side I like this area of plantings by the corner of my property.  The height of the Buddleia, the Panicum virgatum and Aster oblongifolius October Skies help screen the view into the side yard and nicely frame the tall bloom stalks of the Gaura.  I really like this area.

I also like this Agastache Patch.  Although the Daisy will get moved next year so that the Nepenta behind it will get more light and fill in.  Most of the plants in this area have an open, airy look to them.  I like that in a plant.  

I'm a bit worried that this Garlic Chive will get crowded out by the Panicum behind it.  So I collect seeds and scatter them around.  Garlic Chives is a nice garden plant.

No.  I didn't make the fish.

No.  I didn't make the bird bath, either.  Pretty cool though, huh? 

So I now have a list of plants to move or replace, a list of areas that need plants and a list of plants that are doing well and plants that aren't doing so good.  Now I just have to keep track of that list till next Spring!

Last thought:  "If you're not killing plants you're not growing as a gardener" JC Raulston.  I guess I'm doing a lot of growing!  At least as a Gardener!

Thamnophis sirtalis in Stipa tenuissima
I'm glad the Garter Snakes weren't all scared off by the house painters
The Mexican Feather Grass is not supposed to be hardy in this zone.  These plants survived the winter in a microclimate by the garage. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lawn Rant

I'm not a big fan of lawns.  There is a time and a place and I believe that all of the chemicals applied to chemlawns are doing a great deal of harm to us and the environment.  But that isn't what this Rant is about.

This Rant is about a neighbor.  A house kitty corner across the street just got rented out (it's been empty since the owner died and his son can't bring himself to sell the house he (the son) grew up in).  In the past three weeks the new neighbor, who shall be named Carl, has mowed the lawn FIVE TIMES.  FIVE TIMES.  Did you get that?  FIVE.

To put it in prospective we have mowed the grass here at The Edge, oh, let's see, zero times in the same time period.  In fact if you count all the neighbors whose property abuts ours (including the kitty corner properties) only one neighbor has mowed at all and she mowed once.  So that's five properties with one mowing, divided by one property with five mowings and that equals irritated neighbors!

Our Rainfall for June was near normal.  But most of it fell during the first week of the month.  Our rainfall for July is about half what we normally get.  And it's been abnormally hot here.  The grass isn't growing.  It looks like, well, dormant grass.  And that is not grass that needs mowing.  

But wait...  My Rant isn't over.  There's more.  He uses a very, very noisy riding mower.  

No, still not done.  It takes him longer to mow his property with a riding mower than it takes for either The Husband or myself to mow our whole lawn, starting with picking up after the dogs, rolling up the hoses and moving the various and sundry stuff than ends up sitting on the lawn in the Dogs' Lawn.  True we don't have as much grass but when I say he takes longer I'm talking two or three times what I estimate it would take me to mow his property with my push mower.  And he has a very, very noisy riding mower.

UPDATE:  Tonight's mowing started at around 5:30 and was still going when I went out at 7:45.  Our lots are standard sized lots, around a quarter of an acre.  WTF???  When I headed out Carl was mowing BACKWARDS (the lawn mower was going backwards).  OMGWTF???

The Husband thinks he's trying to get the neighbors to all chip in and pay for lawn service for him.  

Whew.  Thanks for letting me get that out.  I needed to Rant.  And I really need for him to stop mowing so I can watch reruns of The Daily Show.

PS.  Clueless Gardener just posted an article she wrote in her local paper about lawns.  She's much calmer than I am.  And I really don't see where she gets calling herself Clueless!

Stay tuned.  Tomorrow is my summer pot party!  I will be sure and post embarrassing pictures of Houseplants with Naked Roots.

I've Created a Monster, and some pretty pictures

I've Created a Monster.  I've been blogging for just over a year now.  My mother, the Queen Bee, got inspired to blog about her new hobby of beekeeping (at Beesnest).  Now she's become inspired to join the garden blogging world and posted her Garden Blogger Bloom Day post (a bit on the late side) at her NEW blog, the Experimental Garden.  AND she has a Facebook Page.  This is what happens when people near retirement and start having too much time on their hands.  They start looking at what their daughter is doing and copy it.  I guess I need to crank my life up a notch and come up with more new and exciting things for the Queen Bee to try.  Want to go Kayaking on the St. Laurence Seaway with the whales?

In the meantime check out her Experimental Garden blog.  Keep scrolling down.  There are some great pictures about half way down the post.  You'll see which ones I'm talking about. 

Now for some unrelated pictures of flowers from The Edge.

Liatris Kobold.  I like the Kobold variety because it doesn't get tall and floppy like some other varieties.  I don't have to support this one!  Anyone want some seedlings?

Asclepias tuberosa.  The big bloom happened earlier this summer but I like the look of the seed pods.

Sedum x Autumn Fire.  This type of Sedum gets flower buds sooo early but doesn't bloom till later in the summer.  I like the contrast in texture between the bud clusters and the leaves.

Rudbeckia Cappuccino.  I put in several varieties of Rudbeckia this spring and this one is the winner for first year show.  Hopefully the others are busy establishing their root systems and will look equally good next year.  If they can survive the onslaught of the Guerrilla Rabbits.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Suburban Safari

Most people seem to think that you need to go somewhere exotic to see wildlife, to see predators hunting, to witness life and death struggles.  I just look out my office window to my front garden.

It's fledgling season (fledglings are baby birds that have left the nest and are still learning life skills from their parents - like how to find food and avoid predators).  I was watching a group of fledglings bopping around the yard (that's a technical term - bopping).  Two of them were behaving oddly.  They would bop forward and then jump back and loooook, tilting their heads, bop forward, jump back, looooook.  So I decided I needed to look, too.  I'm too big to bop forward (plus there's my desk between me and the window) so I just leaned.  

There it was.  A shrew.  What was a shrew doing out in the middle of the day?

The fledglings were apparently trying to see if the shrew's stubby little tail was edible.

The shrew scampered off and after a minute the fleglings lost interest.  I didn't.

What was a small rodent doing out, fully exposed to predators, in the middle of the day?

I got up and went into the next room so I could watch.  The shrew was hunting. 
She1 would root around in the grass and under plants and occasionally I would hear crunch, crunch, crunch.  This makes her a beneficial insect.  No, wait.  Not an insect.  A beneficial rodent?

Slowly she moved across the front garden/yard.  So I moved, too.  Next room over.

This is the breezeway and it has a storm door so I opened the inner door for a good look.  The shrew did not dart into the bushes (normal shrew behavior, unless she knew there are snakes living there).  

Then she reached the edge of the driveway.  Did she turn back?  Did she rush across with great haste?  Did she hug the garage?  No, no and no.  She wandered across the driveway.  Something is not right with that shrew.

So I stepped outside.  She didn't flee.  Huh.

Then she went around the side of the garage.  Along this side there is a paved path leading to the backyard.  She walked right down the center.  Not along the edge of the garage, not in the neighbor's grass.  Out in plain sight of any predators (like me).
Then the word popped into my head.  Toxoplasma.2 

Wait, don't be scared by the big word!  Toxo is a parasite that infects rodents and felines (and it can infect humans, too.  This parasite is the reason pregnant women are told to avoid cleaning litter boxes).  This parasite has the ability to affect the behavior of the infected host (even in humans! The Wikipedia entry is actually very accurate and kind of creepy - you should read it).  In rodents this results in increasingly risky behavior.  Including a lack of fear (some rodents seem to actually seek out areas that smell like cats!). 

My guess is that this shrew is infected by Toxo.  Her behavior was just not normal.

Life and Death in the home garden.  That shrew is not long for this world.

1.  I don't always know the gender of the animal I observe, I don't like to use "it" for animals.  Animals are living beings, not household appliances.  So when I don't know the gender I randomly assign one.  All crows are "he," shrews are "she," Blue Jays are "he," birds of prey that I can't tell the gender are "she" etc.  
2. I learned a lot about Toxo during graduate school.  It's a very interesting parasite.  Research suggests that humans infected with Toxo also display reduced fear and an increase in risky behavior.  There appears to be some evidence suggesting that in some individuals Toxo can cause (or contribute to) schizophrenia.  It also has an effect on reproductive behavior and seems to skew the ratio of male:female births in favor of males.  Really.  Go ahead and read that Wikipedia article.  I don't usually recommend Wikipedia since their articles are not always accurate but this one is good enough for a lay audience.  You may never want to clean a litter box again!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Odd colored hummingbird

I took these pictures of this odd colored hummingbird in my backyard this afternoon.  I'm mostly sure it's "just" a Ruby-throated hummingbird (the species we normally get up here and the only one I've seen in my yard) but the golden sheen to the back caught my attention.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

It's that time again.  Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  Where gardeners all over the internet follow the lead of Carol at May Dreams and post what's blooming. 

This morning I got up before the bees to photograph my garden.  I found this sleepy bee on an Agastache NOID (I've got several Agastache in that area, some blue, some pink, one orange, but I haven't bought any white ones...)

Mixed Agastache (Blue Fortune and A. rupestris) and Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia filigrin)

Agastache rupestris

Agastache Golden Jubiliee

And now for something completely different:  Rudbeckia Prairie Splendor

I have some Hen and Chicks that I've planted between some rocks in my Hell Strip.  It's blooming.

I'm ready for my close up.

Shasta Daisy Becky (Leucanthemum x superbum).  I moved it from it's spot last year where it got too large.  This is also a temporary spot but Becky doesn't seem to mind.  Next year I'll move her into the back yard.  I think she's tough enough to stand up to the dogs.

My Scabiosa Butterfly Blue and my Gaura Whirling Butterflies bloom all summer long.  It gets hard to come up with new ways to photograph them but they are such great bloomers I want to include them.  So I'm using them as background.  In focus is blooming Parsley.  Didn't know parsley bloomed?  It's biennial so it blooms the second year and then it dies.  The flowers attract a lot of small pollinators and the plant will re-seed.

Liatris Kobold

My culinary Oregano.  With friend.
(A Great Golden Digger Wasp - these are ground nesters.  Last year we had one, she nested near our door, this year we have quite a few and at least one is nesting near our door again.)

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)

Coreopsis Zagreb

A completely different Coreopsis - this one is Domino

Red Velvet Snapdragon.  No that's not the real name but that is what the petals look like.  You just want to touch them!

Marigold NOID but pretty and doing well.

And now we'll close out with a reliable space filling annual - zinnia!

Not shown:  Buddleia (butterfly bush), several varieties, Clethra alnifolia (forgot the variety and am too lazy to go outside and check my label), my pink Gaura, several Salvias, one lone, out of season bloom on a Columbine, a whole bunch of stuff in the backyard like Monarda and, wow, I have a few things blooming, don't I?

What's in your garden?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Progress

Today is my one year blogiversery.

[throws confetti]

[ok, who's going to sweep up the confetti?  What?  No volunteers?  I have to do everything around here, don't I?  Grumble.  I got the confetti.  I threw the confetti and now I get to sweep up the confetti.  Who knew a blogiversery would be so much work?]

Last year, my first post, I showed my house as it was before I started to garden.

Now it looks like this.  

It's good to go back and see the progress I've made.  It's so easy for me to see what needs to be done.  That section that needs to fill in, those shrubs that are too large for their spot, the annuals that are done with for the year but I haven't done anything with...

But stopping and  looking back allows me to see where I have made progress.  Like this view into the side yard.

To celebrate my one year blogiversery, my second summer in this new house, in this new zone, in this new climate!  I put down my roots and hung my heron sculpture.  I guess I'm here to stay (for a while at least). 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Secrets and Spies

Now that the "alleged" Russian Spies are back in Moscow I can breath a sigh of relief.  I didn't want to mention this before now but I played a pivotal role in catching these spies.

I spotted a mysterious pair lurking around The Edge, watching me weed and plant early this Spring.  They watched carefully as I placed plants in a bucket of water to loosen the root ball prior to planting.  Then they scribbled furiously in their notebooks.  Whenever I tried to approach them they slipped away.  This is NOT typical Gardener behavior!  Gardeners know that we're largely a friendly bunch and we're always eager to show off our plants and techniques!

This mystery pair was also spotted surreptitiously reading the plant labels I put around the garden.  I need to keep track of what I plant where and this works for me better than a map (am I the only one who starts drawing a map and ends up smushing the last bit trying to get it all on the sheet of paper?  I don't think so.  Plus it's helpful when someone asks "what is that?" and you can't quite remember).

It was when I caught The Mystery Pair digging up seedlings that I knew they were trouble.  I have plenty of Gaura seedlings to give away.  They just needed to ask!

So I called the Master Gardeners.  Our First Line of Defense (what?  You thought the military was in charge of defending our country?  ha!).  They swooped in and investigated the pair.  Turns out they were living in Cambridge.  A close inspection of their house showed bags of stolen seeds, boxes of carefully packaged seedlings and notebooks full of cryptic codes and sketches of garden lay-outs from all around the Boston area.  And if that wasn't enough - photos of local gardens, including mine!  

What to do with them?  Unfortunately the Master Gardeners couldn't prosecute them.  Seems the Russians have some dirt on Paul James, The Gardener Guy and his secret activities on behalf of the Master Gardeners to promote sustainable gardening in states where he is not a registered Master Gardener.  They were forced to capitulate and send the Russians back home.  

If only they'd asked for the seedlings I would have happily given them some and these spies would never have been caught!  Don't let on that Gardeners will readily spill their gardening secrets or we might not be able to catch the next spies.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I thought I was living in New England

The weather lately has NOT been typical for a New England Summer.  For the past week our temperatures have been running about 6 degrees above average (and one day it was 20 degrees above average - ouch) and we've had humidity.  It feels like The South.

Plants don't mind the heat, or the humidity.  Most plants do well in humid conditions (unless they get Powdery Mildew).  The humidity is probably the reason I still have a garden.  In the past month we've only gotten 0.84 inches of rain here on The Edge.  That's well below normal.

[I can be that exact because I measure rainfall for a group called CoCoRaHS - they took over organizing volunteers from the National Weather Service.  Check them out sometime.  It's a great place to find local rainfall (and snowfall) information.  They're always looking for more volunteers - hint, hint.]

The heat and dry conditions have made our grass go into dormancy.

This is normal in The South but some of my neighbors are alarmed.  The good news is that it won't need mowing until we get more rainfall.  The other good news is that most of my neighbors are smart enough to let it go dormant instead of trying to keep it green with copious watering.  The bad news is that the weeds seem unaffected and show up against the brown background (or is that good news?  I could go out and hand weed the lawn now...  Of course I'm planning to get rid of this lawn so why waste my time?  The gardens need weeding!).

Some of my newer plants are suffering.

Like this Lewisia.  It's supposed to be drought tolerant.  I'm hoping it's going dormant for the summer.  Notice the crab grass and other weeds are nice a green. 

This Hellebore is also suffering.  It was bought at an end of the spring gardening season sale.  I have several end of the season plants all in the same area and I'm struggling to keep them well watered.  Time to clean the fishtank.  [I carry buckets of old fishtank water outside - it's high in all kinds of goodies like nitrogen and it's "free" water.  I'd be getting rid of it anyway and using it on the garden is a type of reuse.  The tank is 55 gallons so I have plenty of water to spare.]

My little patch of pansies and viola by the fireplace is done in for.  Last summer I managed to keep these going until August.  This year, not so much.  It's a warm spot and usually the viola do quite well.  

[The pile of dirt to the left of the picture was removed by a ground nesting wasp.  Her ancestor nested in this area last year - see post here.  It's good to see the current generation digging in to my garden.]

I'm off to do a rain dance.  We could use a good tropical storm heading up this way!