Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sweet September

The summer has flown by.  It seems like just yesterday that i was planting annual seeds to fill in a bit of color among the perennials.And, now it's starting to go dormant.  Some days i feel dormant, too, but that's a story for another time!

With no school and no obligations at all, it's been a productive summer here in the garden.  I had three "big" projects planned for this year - a new shade garden with an additional place to sit and contemplate, an irrigation system for the main back beds, and refinishing the front porch decking.  Amazingly, i managed to get them all done with time to spare.  I shall get my lazy self in gear and share them with you over a few posts, but first... there is left over business from last year.

Eventually, the shrubs will form a green mass to soften the base of the deck.
In June of 2016 we lost a beautiful 'Thundercloud' plum tree that shaded our back deck.  After several weeks of grief over the loss of a truly beloved tree (it was the first one we planted at our new home - 16 years ago - and provided not only afternoon shade on our deck, but also the most gorgeous display of pink wonder every February when it bloomed), we decided not to replace it with another tree.  (Our tree man had always complained that it was way too close to the house - and apparently he was right!)  Instead, i embarked on a new perennial bed in the now sunny space left behind.

I planned a bed that would be the entrance to the back yard, but would also have color for three season and provide fragrance for the deck ... literally, i chose as many fragrant varieties as i could find.  It did fairly well in 2016, but was too new to really tell if we would like it. 

This year, a lot has changed.  The major design worked out just fine.  The gaillarda ('Grape Sensation') has bloomed since June and is still going strong.  In the early spring, there were pink Oriental lilies - all fragrant, and now there are two types of sedum in bloom.  

The grasses and shrubs have been slower to get established.  Two of the grasses did not survive the first winter and have been replaced with two more.  Part of the problem is the full sun location.  Many grasses would like a bit more shade.  The muhly grass has been slow to take hold, but is looking better this fall and actually has a few plumes - and they are pink, as planned.  (Did i remember to say that it's predominantly a pink garden?)

Seen from the "back", the rhodo (left), viburnum (center) and gardenia (right) will fill in this whole area. 
The rhododendron has also struggled, but is finally starting to look strong and has about doubled in size over the past couple of months and the gardenia suddenly produced three blooms this past week - hoorah!  In the spring i realized that i needed one more shrub to fill in a hole, so i planted a 'Sugar Shack' viburnum , which has grown like Topsy.  The shrubs all need one more year before i will be totally sure they are going to make it, but i am feeling better than i did this time last year. 

The only "major" design change i have made was to remove the lilies this fall.  Altho they were beautiful and smelled wonderful, i realized that they were not substantial looking enough for the rest of the bed.  It's full and lush, while they were each standing on one skinny stalk above everything else - just not the right look.  So, this week i replace them with pink daylilies which will give me a more substantial looking foliage to fit in better with the other plants -  they are all supposed to be fragrant - and moved the Orientals to the back part of the main garden where they will be able to easily hide their skinny legs among the taller perennials. 
Trevor the hedgehog has always guarded this part of the garden.

All in all, it's a plan that worked!

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!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

First ... the Water

Water is always a problem in this neck of the woods.  We have hot, very humid summers when we must provide water for all the plants, but our soil is way too heavy with clay, so drainage is crucial - especially in the winter.  Fortunately, 15 years of soil amendment has taken care of the drainage issue - at least in the garden beds - so putting in an irrigation system has been at the top of my list of projects for retirement. 

Many years ago I admired the solution of a neighboring gardener, who simply ran irrigation pipe on top of the ground and covered it over with mulch - LOTS of mulch.  But she did have sprinkler heads and could just attach a hose and run it.  Unlike my yard, that is lawn areas and planting areas, hers was entirely planting areas built in a series of mounds, so the mulch-covered pipe was just hidden in plain sight.  That doesn't really appeal to me for my situation, so i have been looking for a different answer.

Fall semester i took an Irrigation class at the community college in the hope of learning enough to do most - maybe all - of it myself.  I learned two important things:  1) what i wanted would be more expensive than i wanted to spend, and 2) I did not want to dig up the whole yard - both lawn and gardens - to "do it right".  What i did learn, tho, was how to design what i wanted, how to measure precipitation,  and how to make sure that the different zones received enough water to meet their various needs. 

From the shed (bottom) to the top and then right to the end of the bed there are four zones.  Look hard and you may be able to see the colors.

And, luckily i discovered a commercial product that met my needs: an above ground "snip and spray" system from Gardener's Supply.*  From there it was a snap.  I laid out a four-zone plan and ordered a sprinkler kit for each zone, while stopping by the local big box garden center to pick up a four-zone control box.
When the plants fill in and we add the normal yearly mulch the tubing will start to disappear.
Once the design was done, I just needed to figure out how to set up the operating system and I found a neat garden tuteur on Etsy from The Diligent Gardener.*  My plan was to mount the control box on the back of it, while planting a climber on the front as camouflage.  
Green are small plants; white places to put future plants; and orange for spray heads.
After marking the location of the spray heads with little flags, I bought a 3/4-inch hose to increase the pressure coming from the house water to the control box, built the tuteur, installed the spray heads and voila!
The water covers a 7 - 10 foot circle from each head.
It took me about a month to order everything and several days to put it all together, but if i had had two days without interruption, i could have easily done it that quickly.  Details about both follow, in case you have a need for more information.  Otherwise ... hope your day is sunny!

The Nuts and Bolts:

Snip 'n Spray kit contains three (3) sprinkler heads, 50 feet of tubing and all the connectors you need to set up a straight line or a circle.  Literally, the only "tool" you need is something to cut the tubing the the right lengths for your system - heavy shears, an exacto knife, etc.  The heads are totally adjustable and will spray from 0 - 360 degrees, and in any direction.  They also adjust from full pressure to no pressure at each head.  I added two (2) more heads to each circuit for a total of five (5) each - which is the recommended maximum.  Total $45 per circuit. 
Mounted on the back of the tuteur.  We had to add an extra piece to hold the top of the controller flush.  It's just screwed into the frame like the rest of them.
The controller is a Melnor Hydro-Logic Advanced Four Zone Electronic Water Timer.  It is battery operated and can control up to four zones individually.  Easy to program, altho i did have a problem and tried to contact customer service for help.  They have never responded and i figured it out by myself.  $50 at Lowe's or on line.  It gets good reviews on line, and so far is working fine for me.
It took less than an hour to assemble the tuteur.  Nice design in cedar.
The tuteur is from The Diligent Gardener.  It comes in two sizes and is made of cedar; came as a kit.  Was easy to assemble.  Could also get it painted.  I found it on Etsy, but you could Google and find him. About $80.

*Neither Gardener's Supply, Melnor nor The Diligent Gardener paid me for endorsing their products.  Am pretty sure they don't read this blog!  But i do recommend them all - easy to put together and well made.  Kudos all around


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spring is in the Garden

Five months without posting ... lazy indeed.  I wish i could say that i've been traveling, or even ill, but neither would be the truth.  Just terminally lazy. 

Now that spring has finally arrived - after all the fits and starts that everyone on the East Coast has talked about - I have plenty of projects and plenty to share.  Perhaps that will inspire me to write more regularly. 

It's always wonderful to finally be able to get my hands into the dirt after the long winter of waiting, and this year is no exception.  I spent the winter planning out a new shade garden.  After much consideration, it has turned into three projects that together will accomplish my goal. 

We have an area in the "big back garden" that is almost entirely under an elm tree and a vitex - which is more of a large open shrub, since it, too, is under the elm.  Most than 15 years ago I planted a chunk of 'Obedient Plant' (Physostegia virginiana) which came from our old house (my mother-in-law's garden) and three 'Solomon's Seal' (Polygonatum biflorum).  Later i added 'Lady's Mantle' (Alchemilla mollis) and just left them alone to grow and spread.  The result was a sea of the first two and several large clumps of the latter.  Not unpleasant to look at, but over time i have learned about so many other shade loving perennials that i would like to try.  So, this was the year to make a major change and install a planned shade garden.
This is the left end of the shady area, starting at the arborvitae and moving right to the vitex.  There's a spirea with Lady's Mantle on both sides and the entire "back" part is Obedient Plant.
And, here's where it became three small projects.

1) Water.  I decided that a way to get water to this part of the garden was imperative - hence, i needed to install some sort of irrigation.  Last fall I took a class in irrigation at the community college to see if i could handle this myself.  By the third week i knew that i did not want to dig up my entire yard and disturb all the beds to get an underground system installed; that it was probably more than Mitchell and i wanted to tackle by ourselves; and, that it would be too expensive to do what i really wanted to do.  But i did learn the principals of irrigation: how to lay it out for complete coverage; how to plan for different amounts of water for different parts of the garden; and how to measure and test precipitation.  I found an above-ground product that i thought would work.

From the vitex to the right is filled with Solomon's Seal - solid left to right and front to back.  It's gorgeous in April, and provides lots of foliage for flower arrangements, but honestly ... it's become invasive.  There are also two Nandina domestica 'Nana' at the very front.  I will keep them, but not there.
2) The shade garden.  I spent the winter planning and designing the space, researching plants, and comparing prices so that i would be ready to jump in when spring arrived.   

3) A sitting area.  If one is going to have a new, shady garden with lots of new plants, then one will want a new sitting area from which to enjoy them.  And, perhaps kick back and enjoy a book.

Seen from the "back" side ... first Obedient Plant, then native (wild) asters, and then Solomon's Seal.
So,  this is the tease.  Three posts to come on the three mini-projects. 

Hope your spring is going well, too!