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Garden journal - all of 2015

 

January 11, 2015. As usual, I've allowed a lot of time to pass by between posts as fall petered out and winter arrived. After more than ten years of maintaining this site, pretty views into the snowy back yard, or even gnarly ice sculptures generated by the water fountain in the pond, aren't so novel any more. And sure, I've been starting my seeds, and have quite a few little greenlings to show for it under the basement lights – but I've shown those before, too. So I'm OK with a longer hiatus between posts – spring, and new inspiration, will be here soon enough. Still, just to show I'm still alive and looking out that window, I thought I'd check in here. We've been enjoying the birds on our back patio quite a bit this year: our three feeders in the direct vicinity keep them (and the resident squirrel) quite happy. They've learned to evade the cat, as well as the hawk that likes to pop in from time to time, and spend their time flitting about the trees and shrubs around our patio – and the more daring ones venture onto our patio table, where the feeder-filling process leaves tasty morsels aplenty. Mr. Cardinal here is sampling the offerings, while the other littlun (I've not quite figured out what his or her name is) enjoys the view from atop one of the few hypertufa troughs that winter outside.

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February 06, 2015. I missed him! I missed the Fantastic Mr. Fox! Late this morning, as I was busy at work, Amy called me full of excitement: there's a fox in our back yard! He came strolling along our side garden, right across our patio and the frozen little pond adjoining it, traipsed through the back yard, perhaps looking for an exit not blocked by our fence, and finally just went back the way he had come. All that, and not a picture of foxy to show for it. According to Amy, he was more yellow than red, but I imagine it was still a red fox. In any case, I requested that Amy at least capture the evidence of his visit on film. After all, this is the wildest mammal on record in our suburban garden: squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks are all much more commonly seen, and a hunter is by my definition much wilder than its prey. Hopefully he'll choose a time that I'm home for his next visit...
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Armeria welwitschii in shades of green and purple
March 15, 2015. It's melting, it's melting away! After the second cold and snowy winter in a row, with temperatures dipping well below zero on several occasions and the yard reduced to an expanse of snow for several months, a stretch of warmer days has finally allowed a glimpse of the plant life below. In most of the garden, there's not much to write home about, but the rock garden (which is two-thirds clear of snow) has a high proportion of evergreen plants. So that's where I focused my attention today – seeing which plants were first in line to treat me to some much needed green. I was delighted to see that my single specimen of Gentiana occidentalis ssp. aragonensis had made it through another winter, looking positively prim and proper. The rock soapwort looks no worse for the wear, its formidable mat of purple stems and dark-green leaves looking ready to take over more of the rock garden than I will allow. Its cousin Saponaria boissieri is considerably more compact, but likewise ready for the season. Various eryngiums, sedums, sempervivums, and dianthus add to the cast of greens in the rockery. And then there's the Armeria welwitschii (if that is in fact what it is – its identity is still somewhat in question), which had some leaves die back, but the ones that didn't make a lovely patch of purple and green interplay. Hopefully more regular updates from the garden aren't too far away now. Spring had better hurry up, because I have hundreds of seedlings that are itching to graduate from the basement out to the garden proper!
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April 04, 2015. Later than most years, but they finally arrived: the first warm days of spring. Temperatures reached the upper 60s two days this week, which got the gardening juices flowing. The garden itself doesn't show much excitement yet (all the usuals are doing their thing, of course: crocuses, snowdrops, hellebores, dwarf irises), so the time was ripe for a hardscaping project in preparation for the new season. Amy and I quickly settled on a good one: finding a better place for my collection of hypertufa troughs that house little alpine prima donnas. It was about time for them to emerge from the garage, where they spent the winter away from the onslaught of winter wet (which most of them can't tolerate). But we needed a better solution than last year, when I had commandeered the patio table for this purpose. Amy had been amazingly tolerant of this assault on patio furnature functionality, but she would really prefer to have a place where we could eat on a nice summer evening. So we settled on a strip at the edge of our patio that gets a reasonable share of sunshine. That started a game of musical chairs: the roses and some other residents of the strip had to be moved to new locations, which in turn prompted some indiscriminate hacking into established tenants of the garden (arctic willow, RIP). With a clear slate to work with, Ben helped me scavenge bricks from various garden areas, to serve as the bases for a set of pressure-treated boards, together forming a two-tiered set of shelves. The structure raises the troughs up from ground level, bringing their tiny inhabitants a little closer to eye level and also providing more light and less disturbance from rodents and other critters. At first sight, it seems like my attempts at keeping the littluns alive was more successful than it was last year, but I'll wait another week or two before taking inventory. As always, it's good to start the gardening season with some kind of a project, to enhance the spirit of renewal promised by those first days of spring. Gardening season is on!

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April 19, 2015. And the prize for first new-to-me flower of 2015 goes to... (drumroll) ... Townsendia rothrockii! Through the years I've tried to grow several species of Townsendia from seed, and always got seedlings, but never got them through a season to see them flower. I'm happy to say that this one broke the spell. The photo here shows one of the plants in a hypertufa trough that was overwintered in the garage, but the ones I planted out in the rock garden also survived (although they're a little behind in blooming). Big flower for such a tiny plant.
A week of warm weather has really kicked the gardening season into high gear – I've been working through my nursery beds whenever I've had time, moving surviving plants (last year's seedlings, mostly) out into garden areas that could use some help. As is always the case this time of year, I'm full of hope for a better, more manageable garden in 2015, one that won't get away from me by mid-summer. Wish me luck!
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May 02, 2015. April was good – milder weather with some nice days, but nothing too hot, which meant that the flowering trees kept their blossoms going for a long time. Meanwhile, I've been using every spare minute (which are scarce, these days) moving last year's seedlings from the nursery area out into the various garden areas, and planting this year's seedlings in their stead. By now, the garden is starting to look nice, with the usual early-season bloomers strutting their stuff. But nothing out of the ordinary, which has left me without much inspiration for adding to my journal: after ten years, it's only the large projects and the sudden surprises that move me to write here. No large projects this spring (but the smaller one worked out nicely: those troughs are right at home on the new shelves), and few surprises. But today, I hit on a pleasant surprise: I spotted this Viola labradorica blooming in full view in a forlorn corner of our shrub border. I grew this violet for years, and was always charmed by its combination of purple leaves and blue flowers – but it disappeared from our garden several years ago. I made several attempts to re-establish a population with seed from trades and exchanges, but didn't get any germination. So this was a very welcome sight. The seed from which it sprouted must have laid dormant for quite some time! For now, the violet still lives in the spot where it popped up, but I may give it a more prominent home sometime soon.
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When I do look up, the view of back-lit variegated leaves still makes me smile
May 04, 2015. Gardens change over time – and even though the change is generally slow, the realization just how much change has occurred can take some time to set in. All of a sudden, you realize that something is quite different from the way it used to be: a sunny part of the garden is "suddenly" much shadier as nearby trees and shrubs grow up, or a once-tidy border with some pleasant ramblers "suddenly" becomes so overrun by those free-running plants that all the milder-mannered companions have given up. And so, it struck me this weekend how our variegated Japanese elm tree has matured. For years, this tree was a joy to watch as it spread out its early spring leaves, which would then change their color pattern to settle into their mature variegation. The tree still does all this, of course. But the action is now happening overhead, too far up to admire up close. It is still a handsome tree, but I must admit I miss its youthful days. Too often, I'm fixated on what's happening at ground level as I walk through my spring garden, and forget to look up to admire the developments above my head. It's hard to slow down and let the eyes wander when there's so much to do!
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Fly, little ones, fly!
May 05, 2015. I just took the photo to document the fuzzy new growth of Sophora davidii, but when the picture popped up on my computer screen, I had to laugh – to me, it looked just like a nestful of baby birds trying deliriously to take off on their first flight. I love that about digital photography – I never know just how the images will strike me until the camera is inside, usually as I'm relaxing at the end of a day of gardening.
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May 06, 2015. Some garden plants flower for months. That's wonderful, because their color is welcome the entire season. But you do start to take them for granted after a while. Not so with the plants whose flowers are so fleeting, you might miss them if you blink. I've found that to be the case with Japanese peony: they go from buds first opening to petal drop in a matter of a day or two, at least in my experience. My one plant, purchased a good number of years ago at the HPS/MAG members plant sale, had started to bloom two years ago, but all I caught until this year was the bulging bud stage and the aftermath. So I was excited to finally see the flowers this year. I never knew they had such a striking bunch of yellow stamens!
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May 11, 2015. Pink on pink!
There's a lot of pink going on in the garden right now. Whole sections of the garden and lawn are blanketed in the color, from pink blossoms dropped by the various flowering cherries that are done doing strutting their wonderful stuff. And then there's the Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires' growing underneath our Kwanzan cherry, blooming in a slightly more saturated shade of pink, and looking not half bad if on a less majestic scale than the tree that provides it shade. The big wads of slimy pink petals I'm collecting from our pond skimmer are somewhat less appealing, but you gotta take the bad with the (abundant) good in the garden!
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May 26, 2015. Tigerbeetles
The first exciting new bug find of the year is always worth a journal entry. So it is with great pride that I present to you this loving couple of net-winged beetles. They were enjoying each other's company on the underside of a Pinellia tripartita leaf, so intently that they didn't even think of moving away when the big black Olympus with its flashy thing bore down on them. A dozen photos later, I left them alone, expecting to find lots of little net-winged beetlets in the woodland garden at some point in the future.

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May 31, 2015. Penstemons galore
It's penstemon time! The photo here shows Penstemon cardinalis ssp. cardinalis in all its glory, but that is just one of at least seven species I counted blooming in our rock garden today. Two of them red (you can spot just a little bit of the pine-leaf penstemon in the background), one white, a pink, a blue, and two in the lavender-to-violet spectrum. That's not the end of it for the year, but it has to be peak bloom. Given how most penstemons are finnicky about germinating, and staying alive through our wet winters, it's great to see the fruits of all those efforts come together in such a small area of the garden. A few more are blooming, or have just finished blooming, in our hypertufa troughs. Of course those penstemons have to put on a good show, because there are so many other flowers clamoring for attention in the garden right now. Even the dearth of rain we've had all month (it's finally raining this evening, yay!) hasn't put a damper on the show, which includes oriental poppies, peonies, early sages, irises, geraniums, and dozens of others. A good time to garden!

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June 12, 2015. Coming together in a trough
In recent years, I've posted a few times about my hypertufa troughs, including the trough shelf project earlier this year. I enjoy them a great deal, especially because they are close at hand and there's almost always something coming into bloom or otherwise interesting in the assembly of containers. But most of them still look like an excessively mulched professionally landscaped garden: lots of blank space, with individual plantlets in a sea of pebble mulch. This despite the fact that I've tried to cram in quite a few species into many of the troughs. The look that I'm going for is the tastefully growing-together, oh so smartly arranged one. Says the gardener who doesn't have much of a sense for design. But of course plants do their thing regardless of the gardeners, and often they just work it out in pleasing ways. So it is with this trough, which I made last year using a hanging basket as a mold, and planted earlier this spring with a mixture of second-year plants and seedlings. Those seedlings won't do anything this year, but are already contributing some foliage texture (a dwarf columbine, and new-to-me Cotula 'Tiffindell Gold'. Meanwhile, the Scabiosa japonica and Sedum glaucophyllum are strutting their floral stuff, and I expect the gentian to contribute some flowers later this year. I'm pleased with this one.
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June 25, 2015. Hairstreak on Broad Street
The great rush of spring gardening is over – almost all of this year's seedlings have found their way into the garden or nursery areas, most of the major transplanting is done, and spring visits to area nurseries have brought some new plants into the garden. The past few weeks have seen the gardening activities slow down: mostly to leisurely weeding (a never-ending activity), but also removal of an old overgrown elderberry and a thicket of variegated bamboo, and on hot days, algae removal while splashing around in the swimming pond. Insects have also hit their stride, like this banded hairstreak that was enjoying our Coreopsis 'Broad Street' (one of those new nursery purchases) late this afternoon. I even managed to turn our compost bin – for the first time in two years! Yep, early summer is a good time in the garden.
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where once there was lawn...
June 30, 2015. Blueberry boost
One thing everybody in our family can agree on: blueberries are good, and growing our own would be great! Unfortunately, we have a rather poor track record in the growing department: years ago, I bought a couple of mail order blueberries, and planted them in a purpose-built full-sun blueberry patch near our vegetable garden. And the plants sat and sulked. I fed them with fertilizer for acid-loving plants. They sulked some more. I treated them to benign neglect. One died. In a hopeful mood, I purchased a new one – from a nursery this time, already larger. It sulked anemically. Several years pass. In all that time: not one blueberry. This spring, only one scrappy plant returned, showing no sign of doing any better. So what did I do? Ever the optimist, I bought a small new plant in a Walmart sad-pak, and stuck it in there, dosing it with Hollytone. Meanwhile, our grocery chain decided to carry blueberry plants. Not little ones – no, these were full of plump berries. So Amy bought one, which I stuck in between the two ones already there. A little tight, but that's all there was room for in that blueberry plot. Two more weeks pass. The blueberries on the new Patriot ripened, making tasty gardening snacks. And yesterday, when I returned from work, what did I find? Two more blueberry plants! They were now half off, and therefore too good of a deal to pass up. Won't you plant them, darling? Well, there definitely wasn't enough room left in that little patch to plant two more, so this evening's project was boosting the blueberry patch. Digging up our native clay, generously amending it with the last remnants of my compost stash, tossing in a good number of cupfuls of Hollytone, and in go the new Patriot and Blue Jay plants. I sure hope they do more than sulk...
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Meadow fritillary - Boloria bellona
July 14, 2015. A new butterfly
After nearly twenty years of tending our garden, I don't often encounter butterflies that I haven't seen fluttering around before. So when I do, I run out and grab my camera, and hope like heck that the butterfly is still there when I return. Luckily, this meadow fritillary was quite patient with me, perhaps because it was such a hazy lazy warm afternoon, and it was enjoying its perch on the purple coneflower. This is the first fritillary of any kind that I recall visiting the garden. Which is odd, because they are certainly widespread around the northern part of the eastern United States, and our garden provides lots of violets, which are the larval host plant for these butterflies. Maybe this one will go tell its friends about our garden, so we can have more pretty visitors like him/her.
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August 15, 2015. Shy Beauty
This year, I grew some dahlias from seed that came to me in a trade. The seed was labeled 'Bishop of Llandaff', a cultivar with dark purple leaves and red flowers. Since there were several other dahlias on my trader's list, I didn't really expect the offspring to come true – and sure enough, it didn't. None of my seedlings had the dark leaves, and while some had red flowers, others were orange and yellow. Which is fine: I seldom grow dahlias, so when I do, it's nice to have a variety. Some of the flowers in this year's batch are shown on my generic dahlia page, and they're all nice enough. But so far, they had pretty much presented me with their cheerful faces. Today, I was struck by one that apparently developed a shy streak, and turned its face away from me (and from the prevailing direction of the sun!). And it was a thing of beauty: perfectly formed, unblemished petals, backed by delicate, shiny-translucent bracts (or are they sepals? my botanical knowledge comes up short here), held aloft by a gently curving purple stem. So I just had to take a photo of Miss Dahlia's back-side!
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Last modified: January 11, 2015
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