Monday, November 16, 2009

On Hiatus

Dear Friends,

I have moved for a while from the Garden Bench into my garden, i.e., I am concentrating on my gardening blog for a while. After all It's My Garden!

Please come visit me there.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Out From Under my Rock!

[Note: the following was written October 23. Same excuse as last time!]

Sometimes work just completely interferes with life. For the past three weeks I have hardly lifted my eyes from my desk, and yesterday when I finally had a few minutes I discovered fall is arriving.

When last I looked around me the Bradford pears looked like some flamboyant Marilyn wannabee had roamed through the neighborhood smooching them randomly and leaving her lipstick on their tips. Suddenly I saw trees in all shades of red, and started looking around to see what was happening. The maples run from their normal green through yellows and oranges and into reds, while the evergreens provide their steady background of green needles. Everywhere I look are the beginnings of the gorgeous season of trees. As much as one loves Spring's rebirth and the first glimpses of willow green, Fall brings her own exuberant color and that last gasp of excitement before the calm sleep of Winter.

A walk through the garden and I find that the chrysanthemums are starting to bloom, with the promise of many more to come. The pale coral ones - whose names I have lost - are in full bloom and the pink ones that came from Mitchell's mother's garden are full of buds. They are the old fashioned naturalizing type of flower, so will make a blanket of subtle color in another couple of weeks. And the "pacific daisies" - which are really chrysanthemums, too - are on track to bloom about the same time and will make a lovely ground cover for us.

And, there is always a treasure or two if one looks for it. Right now it's the Monk's Hood. Although totally poisonous (and therefore a terrible choice for a garden where there are children or pets around), it is a lovely purple spire standing high above the rest of the plants. Monk's Hood is a challenge for me. I have tried it in three different locations and still have not found the right spot. I suspect it may be an issue of water, not sunlight.

Of course, though, all this beauty reminds me of the work that lies ahead. It's time to start the serious deadheading for the end of the year. That's the kind of thing that can be done broadstroke, but there is plenty of it to do. The silver lining of this particular cloud is that it will all go in the compost pile and by spring we will have new humus to top dress the garden.

It's especially nice to live in a place where we have bloom about 10 months out of the year, and where we will continue to enjoy a flowering yard until Thanksgiving.

Return to The Project

[Note:When I was suffering my writer's block over at the Garden Bench, I did continue to write about the garden, but fell way behind with uploading photos. And, this blog needs pictures! So, I have updated and uploaded. This was originally written on September 25th.]

As I told you last time, I need to re-do the xeri-garden. I have loved it all summer, but if it's going to be really great in the future, I need to stop and smell the catmint and fix some things.

Too wide. Altho it is a great size for its site, I lost track of one of the big rules of laying out a garden. It is too wide and I cannot reach to the back to weed and to work on the plants. The
landscape timbers that I used come in 8-foot lengths, so it seemed simple to just cut them in half and make the bed four feet across. If I were eight feet tall, that would be fine, but at 5'3", I can just barely reach three feet effectively. So, I need a way to make it easier to get into the bed so I can reach across it. The answer is to install some pavers so that I can kneel on them and extend my reach.

Too shallow. I admitted earlier that I didn't put enough dirt in the bed. In my heart of hearts I knew that when I put in the original dirt, but I was so tired that I did not want to deal with it then. I just wanted to finish the bed. So now I need to add dirt.

Too long. Altho I had no real understanding of how large the xeri-plants would be, I still did not buy enough plants to fill the final space. So, I have bought additional plants and need to move some others around to use the space to a better effect. The agastache 'Ava' and the catmint nepenta 'Walker's Low' are both more than twice as large as I had expected, so they are planted too close together. By spreading them out a bit, I can fill more space and they will have more room to expand some more. I want the bed to look full, but the plants don't have to tumble on top of each other to be pretty, and look full.

I have spent the past two weekends fixing the xeri-garden and am finally happy with the current state. Last weekend I mixed growing medium - hereinafter "dirt". Mitchell needed additional dirt for his square-foot-gardens. There is a specific recipe for that, so I just bought extra ingredients and tried to make enough for my bed, too. Remember that I need 5-6 inches more dirt over 32 square feet. I estimate that at 16 cubit feet of dirt!

Mixing dirt on that scale is hard work. First one dumps all the ingredients onto a large tarp. For me it was three different types of humus, vermiculite, and peat moss. To mix them together you first rake them together and then "tumble" the pile by pulling the tarp from one side to the other in both directions. The goal is to get the mixture to look the same throughout the pile. I made enough to top off Mitchell's bed and started to fill mine - when the rain came! I put what was left back into the big bags and stored it for later use.

It was clear to me that I did not have enough to fill the whole bed, so this weekend I bought some pre-mixed gardening soil, more peat moss and some perlite. I was not able to find vermiculite, so substituted perlite. It tends to clump a bit more than vermiculite, but when used in a fairly small amount, it does fine. So this morning I dumped all the soil I made last week back onto the tarp and added new ingredients. More mixing, more tumbling and I had enough new dirt to finish filling my bed.

Now the hard part. I had to dig up all the plants, add the dirt and replant everything. I emailed the nursery where I bought most of the plants and asked what I should do about the broken agastache 'Ava'. Their recommendation was that I "cut it back hard" since I have nearly 60 days until the first hard frost. In our area that is around November 15, so I am cutting it close, but I have hope.

By day's end I had a new bed. I added five new plants: Three Beard Tongues and two Evening Primroses. Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' will be the new "big plant" in the far corner. It should be three feet tall at maturity. Two Penstemon mexicali 'Miniature Bells' will fill the mid-space and the primrose Oenothera fucticosa'Youngii-lapsley' are in the front. Under all the catmint and 'Ava' I found three of the small penstemons that had disappeared. I think they are 'Elfin Pink' and 'Violet Dusk' but will not know until spring. I moved them much closer to the front of the bed to give them more room and some sun!

I also moved all of the sedum 'Neon'. It was also too far back in the bed and hidden under the spreading xeri-plants. When I transplanted it in the spring it was not strong enough to hold up its stems, so they flopped this year and were buried under other foliage. I cut everything back this time, so that they should grow up strong and tall next spring and stand above the surrounding plants.

And finally, you will notice a path of small pavers down the length of the bed. These are for kneeling on so that I can reach the back of the bed to work in it. They are close enough together to put my kneeling pad over two, or I can use them "as is". It will make my work easier, but once spring comes and the plants start new growth they will pretty much disappear from sight.