Friday, June 23, 2017

Lazy, Crazy, Hazy days of Lilies!

If there is ever a time to just sit and marvel at the abundance of flowers in the garden it's now - as the lilies bloom.  Over the years I have tried a lot of different lilies and had varying success, but these are the days that make all that trial and error worth it.

What do you like?  Yellow .?.. check!

Darker yellow? ... also check!

Gold?  Sure!

Striped?  Easy as pie!

Red?  it gets better and better!
Yes, it looks coral to me, too.  True red is still under
construction in the lily world.
Oops - i forgot black!
This one came from Andre Viette - at his farm.
How about a calla?

or, two?
These are not supposed to be hardy here - this one came from our "old" house 17 years ago.  Still going strong, altho the color changes slightly from years to year.
And, you've already met the tree lily ...
Does it occur to anyone that for a girl who doesn't like yellow flowers, I have a lot of them?

I have not had a lot of success with some of the fancy orientals, but it may have been placement or the amount of clay in our soil.  My asiatics lasted only a couple of years - again, placement, or clay?  And, there are many I haven't tried, but you can bet that I will be scouring the catalogs for early-blooming and late-blooming varieties to add to my inventory for next year.  I've already spotted a pretty pink one in my neighbor's yard that I'm going to request.

The new pink ones I planted last fall have not yet bloomed, but soon ...

Lilies are just too pretty to not have more!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Night of the Monsoon

It poured rain last night.  
No streaking lightening, no rolling thunder, just rain, rain, rain, and then more rain.  It was  perhaps the heaviest rain i had ever seen, except during a hurricane.  We got 4.5 inches in less than two hours.  (You will have to take my word for it, since i dumped the rain gauge without thinking to take a photo!)

The damage this morning is not too bad.  Plants in the cutting garden are flattened, but will probably stand up again when the sun gets overhead.  The grass is flattened in areas where the water ran off to the the storm drains, but that will be fine.  The worst mess is where the mulch washed out of the garden beds and into the grass.  Now we have nicely mulched grass in the yard and bare dirt in the beds.  It is clear that my assignment for the coming week is to get and spread more mulch - clearly something to be done in the early mornings this time of year.

But there is always a silver lining, and this time it is the tree lilies.  After the deluge, they decided to bloom this morning. 

I have not yet found a botanical name for them, but they are an "OA hybrid" - a cross between oriental and asiatic lilies (not to be confused with orientpets, OT hybrids between oriental and trumpet lilies).  They typically grow 4-6 feet tall and spread over time into a large clump.  Mine are about 10 years old and easily six feet tall - well over my 63 inch height - and all from only one bulb.  It took about three years for them really to get going, but for the past five or more years they have been glorious.  
They are readily available - just Google for suppliers - come in many colors now, and not terribly expensive for what you get!  Mine probably came from Breck's, and will continue to bloom for about four weeks and will then provide a lovely green background for later blooming plants. 

A nice silver lining, indeed!

Friday, May 12, 2017

And, Finally ... a (Better) Place to Sit

There's always been this nice clear space under the elm to sit in the shade.  We've tried a hammock, a a swing chair, and just putting chairs there, but nothing has ever felt right.  It's the coolest spot in the yard in the afternoons, so too nice to waste.  It was the obvious last step in the new garden plan.
An okay place to sit, but nothing special.
On the plans I drew it as a flagstone patio, but i always knew that I would not be able to do that.  There are two main considerations:  1) it is over a main section of elm roots and has a noticeable slope from right to left, and a hump in the middle; and 2) it is over a main section of elm roots and I don't want to cut off water drainage completely.  I have found roots for this tree 50 feet away, so it has a huge root system, but i still need to respect it.

My solution was to use 15-inch square concrete pavers and half-size pavers set wide apart.  That will allow water run-off from the pavers to migrate down thru the wide sand "joints".  The other advantage of using the large squares set wide apart is that I can adjust to the slopes in small increments, while a solid patio would require putting in a significantly thicker base and blocking out water from the tree. 
First raise the height of the back edge so that I could add
paver base and sand to bring up the grade.

If you hire a hardscaper to do a patio, she would not do it this way.  She would have built a retainer wall all the way around, then installed 4-6 inches of gravel and then paver base to bring the entire area to a flat, level surface, then a couple more inches of sand, and finally the pavers.  This would result in a step up to the patio of 6 - 8 inches or more.  I did not want that.  And, I did not want to risk additional damage to the tree roots. 

Next, a layer of paver base spread out thicker at the back and front
and at the left end to even up the slopes.

Then using sand to set the pavers and fill the spaces in between.
Instead, I cleared the space as much as possible, and leveled as much dirt as I could - moving it from the top of the hump down to the back edge and then installed half-bricks along the back steel edging to provide a higher back edge to support the paver base and sand.  In the front, I used the existing steel edging.   Next came the paver base, which is basically a coursely ground gravel - very fine, but heavier than sand - which will pack down to a nice flat, supportive surface.  And then the sand.  I used it to settle each paver and then in between.  Then a couple more bags of sand to fill the spaces until it looked level.  It is not actually level, but i was able to minimize the changes using sand.
Finally, a little sweeping, two chairs and a table to hold a couple of wine glasses.  Add some pots of coleus for color and voila!  Instant party.  It must be 5:00 somewhere!

The Nuts and Bolts:

For a space that is 7 feet wide and roughly 6 feet deep (curved on the front edge), I used:

7 15-inch square concrete pavers
8 rectangular pavers 7x15 inch
4 bags of paver base
5 bags of sand

About $75 for supplies.
I could have done it in two days is I had had all the supplies.  Instead, I made three trips to the big box store and worked a few hours over several days.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Next ... the Plants

Planning the shade garden was by far the most fun part of this project.  I started last fall to go thru catalogs and several reference manuals I have on perennials and woody plants (taking classes has greatly expanded my gardening library!) to find plants that would be happy living in Central Virginia in the shade.  There are two main criteria, other than shade-loving:  their ability to tolerate heavy clay soils and to tolerate the heat and humidity of the summer months.  This is especially a problem at night here.  Many nights in July and August the humidity stays above 70% and many plants don't like that at all!

Oh, the photos!  It was like gorging on your favorite chocolate!  In recent years I have started trying to use colorful foliage to add interest to the gardens, so foliage was a factor, and I wanted to choose a variety of leaf sizes and shapes, flower colors, and look for ways to bring light into this darker part of the yard. 

I looked first at shade-loving selections and then checked them against my "hates this climate" list.  A lesson I learned years ago is that you cannot go by zone tolerance alone.  Zone 7 on the west coast is very different from zone 7 here.  Then I scoured catalogs and web sites to find the best deals on the plants i wanted and placed my orders.  Purchases at local nurseries would come later.  Once I had settled on most of the plants, I drew the plan:

The elm tree that provides so much of the shade is actually to the right of the drawing, with the Vitex underneath the elm.  The neighbor has a water oak (Quercus virginiana) that partially shades the elm, as well as a lot of our yard.  Most of this area gets a little sun in the morning, and a little in the late afternoon.  From the birdbath to the left is sunny all day. 

Before - Solomon's Seal from front to back in the bed.

After: same part of the bed, slightly different angle, but you can see how much less material there is. Locations for new plants are flagged - both white and green.  (I ran out of white.)

In mid-March i started cleaning out plants that had become invasive, and moving things around.  Then I marked out the location of new plants (white flags) and the spray heads (orange heads).  Later as I added plants that were too small to see clearly, i added green flags until they grew a bit. 

Existing plants that I kept include huchera, Lady's Mantle, nandina, Monk's Hood, a native aster, phystostygia, and Solomon's Seal.  The latter three are invasive at best, so 50-75% of what was there needed to be removed.  (That will be a continuing project all summer.)  New plants include Bear's Britches 'Whitewater', Goatsbeard 'Kneifii', columbine mountain rue, several different heuchera, hosta 'White Feather', Brunnera 'Jack Frost', and sarcococca.  The last planted in hope of growing pretty foliage for arranging.
The "mill wheel" in the center is actually the top of an old birdbath.
We had left it to hold water for the butterflies.  When I sat it up
 to clean around it, it just stood there and settled in, so i left it.
 It seems to fit.
With the planting spots marked, planting was a snap and I was able to plant things the day they arrived, and finally made my run to local nurseries to get the last things into the ground.   By mid-April I had finished planting and had started watering .... and, so far it all works.

It will be the end of the summer before I have a good idea what will make it and next spring when things come up again before I really know if it's a successful plan and planting, but i already love the new look.  (Have lost one goatsbeard already, but if I can find it locally, I may try replacing it in the fall.)

But here's how it looks today:
Right end: Heuchera and Solomon's Seal.  There's room to add a couple of tiarella in this area.
 I see a trip to a nursery this week!
The left end from the back side.  White plant is Acanthus mollis, then phystostygia and
 a native aster (too invasive ... am pulling it as other things grow).
The "wheel".  It's settling in nicely with Columbine Mountain Rue behind it
and hostas in frong.
Life is good!