Friday, July 22, 2005

Public Inspiration

I have a secret. No, I’m not having a torrid affair with Tim. Rather, twice a week, when I’m supposed to be training to run half of the Flying Pig Marathon with Brit, I instead walk along the Ohio River and ogle the parks’ plantings. Summer in Cincinnati is simply too hot and steamy to run at noon. Besides, my great running speed reduces the flowers to a blur. I need to stop and smell the roses.

My walk begins and ends at Sawyer Point. The park caters to large crowds, and thus features mostly trees, grassy areas, and annual plantings. Looking beyond the Disneyland-like glare of the marigolds, impatiens, and zinnias, there are a few inspirational plantings. For instance, this shade bed is lush with a mix of perennials, like hostas, and annuals, like caladium. In the summer heat it seems especially tropical.

The landscaping highlights, though, are in the Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park. Despite its unwieldy and overly-P.C. name, the park has more to offer than images of open hands. The plantings are inspiring, artful, and well tended. I’ve enjoyed watching the seasons progress in the park and have found it especially valuable to illustrate how different one plant can look over the course of the year. For instance, the forsythia, so striking in the spring, are now nondescript. The park has influenced my own landscaping. I was inspired to purchase a Miss Kim Lilac after smelling the combined fragrance of the dozens that line the parking lot. I often pause at the wall planted with trumpet vines to imagine how my deck will someday be similarly covered.

One of the first things I see upon entering the park is this planting of daylilies in alternating, contrasting colors. The contrast of yellow and pink blooms is enchanting.

For Zoey, of Perennial Passion, here are some striking container shots. I’d love to know what the plant with both purple foliage and flowers is. It reminds me of spiderwort.

I was surprised to see trees in bloom in July. I haven’t a clue what these are – they may not even be true trees. The color combination is very pleasing.

Finally, this is my current favorite planting in the park. There are two rock islands in a grassy sea within the Australia section. A flowery beach rings each island. This is the more striking of the two. (The other island is missing the yellow flowers.)

What public space inspires your garden?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Cherokee Brave

I’ve got a nice shady corner of the yard that will bookend my new red/white/pink (candy cane) garden. This is where I plan to plant a pink dogwood. Two weeks ago, I headed to the closest, best (and, granted, most expensive nursery) to check out the dogwoods. Because it is summer and the trees are long past bloom, I expected to pay $40 – $50 for a tree.

The kind nursery staff directed me to the pink dogwoods, “Cherokee Brave.” The price: $125! I nearly fell over. I decided that I didn’t necessarily need a pink dogwood, so I moved to the white-flowering variety. They were $119.

Are these prices outrageous? This nursery’s stock is the best around and the trees are 7 – 8 feet tall. I assume that the prices reflect a slow growth rate and the many years it took to grow them.

I checked out the Arbor Day Foundation’s website. There, I could buy a 2 – 3 foot red or pink dogwood for $10.98. While the ADF’s price is more budget friendly, I know the tree won’t bloom any time soon and we don’t plan on living in the house long enough to see it flower. Call me selfish, but I don’t want to buy a flowering tree that only the people after us will enjoy.

According to my nursery’s staff, a sale of 20 – 30% off the entire stock should be coming along in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I will be visiting the other greenhouses in town to do a little price comparisons.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Gratuitous Tibbs Photos

Usually, I confine my kitty gushing to my other blog. However, these pictures are of Mr. Tibbs in the garden, so I have justified posting them here.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Transplanting in July

Looking at my yard on Sunday, I had two problem areas. The first, was the wedge shaped bed near the garage. I was thrilled with it in the spring. The snowdrops, creeping phlox, and forget-me-nots were blooming. The emerging mint had a purple cast and filled in the bed nicely. I was enjoying the lovely foliage of my newly planted Stella D’Oro. As the season progressed, I was less happy with the plantings. The mint began smothering the other plants, so I ripped it out, leaving a number of bare spots. The clematis I had transplanted from the destruction zone became unhappy and almost too large for the small bed. When the Stella and the coreopsis bloomed, the two shades of yellow clashed horribly. The coreopsis and a single coneflower grew to five feet tall and flopped over the walkway. They completely overwhelmed the petite space.

The second ugly spot was the garage bed. Again, I was happy with it in the spring. I tucked a number of miscellaneous plants from Patrick into the narrow space and was happy with the contrasting foliage. Later, I added a few hollyhocks to the mix. I was trying to grow perennial poppies in the center of the bed, beneath the window, but had only succeeded in raising giant weeds. Then, a few weeks ago, my neighbor asked me if I was growing vegetables along the garage. I regarded the bed and realized that it DID look like a vegetable garden. Almost nothing was in bloom. The hollyhocks, in their first season, look like squash plants. The bed was a sea of green leaves without even the promise of a fresh salad.

By Sunday morning, I had some sale plants from Moeller’s and Home Depot and an itch to do some transplanting. My plan was to move the coreopsis to the poppies’ former seed bed along the garage, dig up the clematis, and fill in the bare spots in the wedge bed with my new purchases.

First, I prepared the coreopsis’ new home. I dug a nice big trench in the light soil along the garage wall. As is Mr. Tibbs’ wont, he climbed in to provide some liquid fertilizer. After ejecting the kitten, I followed the summer-time transplant advice given on Perennial Passion, and filled the hole twice with water. After the second filling, I wandered off to find some gardening tool. When I returned, the water had soaked into the ground and Mr. Tibbs had provided more fertilizer – in the solid form this time. Kitties can be troublesome garden helpers.

I dug the coreopsis, coneflower, and larkspur out of the wedge bed and soaked the roots in vats of water. I removed the clematis with a large clump of soil and dropped it into a temporary pot, trying to disturb its roots as little as possible. I then combed through the dirt to remove fistfuls of mint roots. They had so thoroughly invaded the soil that I could understand why my coreopsis needed such frequent watering.

I divided the coreopsis into two bunches and planted it, along with the single coneflower, under (or, rather, in front of) the garage window. I’m hoping that the structure will hold the lanky blooms aloft and that, with the competition from mint roots gone, the plants will grow more extensive and supportive root systems. I need to add some shorter plants in front to disguise the legs, but the bright blooms instantly improved my “vegetable” bed.

In the wedge bed, I planted two Russian sage where the coreopsis and coneflower had been. I repositioned the larkspur and added two orange pixie lilies and a coreopsis “limerock ruby” (tickseed). (I’ve probably stuffed too much into the bed, but I can always move it!) Click on the photo for a labeled version.

The clematis is cooling its heels in a pot positioned in its new location. I will probably put it in the ground during my planned fall planting fest. (I’ve got hostas, gardenia, jasmine, mock oranges, hydrangeas, and a dogwood to plant.)

Five days later, the transplants are doing well. The tall coreopsis and coneflower had a rough time at first, probably due to their stunted root systems, but with consistent watering for the first two days and the more recent rain and cool weather, they’ve perked up. I’m glad I moved the plants around. I’m no longer driven bonkers by the leaning flowers, I found a home for my sale plants (except one orphaned Russian sage), and I’ve lost my fear of transplanting in July.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sorta Glad

This spring, as I tidied the yard, I pulled what appeared to be cornstalks. I thought it strange that someone would plant corn in front of the house. The withered, brown leaves easily pulled out of the ground. I assumed that the plant was long dead.

As the season progressed, I began removing the four, ancient yews from in front of the house. Not long into the process, I noticed sturdy shoots emerging from the ground between the two left yews. Curious, I called the former homeowner to ask her what these were. She revealed to me that my “cornstalks” were actually gladiolas. I was surprised because, according to The Gardening Book for Ohio, gladiolas are not hardy and need to be dug up each fall. The previous owner assured me that she had left them in the ground each winter and they emerged each spring.

By the time I had progressed to the third yew, the number of shoots had at least doubled and were in danger of being trampled by my shrub removal efforts. I started digging them up. It was a much more difficult task than I had anticipated. First, they were buried at least 12 inches down. Second, the soil is heavy clay. Third, I had to be careful not to snap the emerging shoots as I pried them from the earth. Last, there were many more bulbs than I had imagined. They had multiplied like rabbits beneath the sticky earth. Determined to save each precious life, I transplanted them with care to a trench at the back of the bed. It quickly reached maximum capacity. I started tucking gladiolas in the garage bed, next to a few other emerging shoots. The ground yielded yet more bulbs. As I ran out of space (and tired of digging new holes) I gave away two heaping pots to my neighbors. I started pitching bulbs into the wild edges of the yard and into the compost pile. At last, I thought I had moved every gladiola from the area and began planting the rest of my garden.

As my soil in the front bed (and almost every other bed) is heavy clay, my planting method involves chopped up clay hunks with a hoe and worked in bag after bag of humus/manure mixture. The result, at times, was a surplus of soil, which I stored in a huge dirtpile on the front walk. All the dirt, eventually, ended back in the bed. Unknowingly, I had also distributed dozens of tiny gladiola bulbs throughout the entire bed.

I have gladiolas EVERYWHERE. Some people weed; I yank baby gladiolas. The bulbs are quite resilient. Even after I’ve pulled multiple leaves from the ground, they keep sending up new shoots. Additionally, the patch I had tried to dig up proved to be much larger than I imagined. I let it be and now have two large gladiola patches in the sun bed. I’ll finish moving them this fall.

I can’t be completely annoyed, though. The plants are incredibly hardy and vigorous. Some of the flower stalks are nearly six feet tall. I find the gladiolas especially hard to hate when they start flowering. *sigh*

Anybody want some bulbs? I’ve got another potful in the garage.

Monday, July 11, 2005

BSB = Big Scary Bug

One of the chief reasons I chose a Botany concentration for my Biology degree, instead of a Zoology concentration, was my horror of bugs. The Zoology concentration required an Entomology class, which required an insect collection. While my friends were cheerfully pinning roaches inside a smelly shadow box, I was pressing flowers. When they proudly displayed their completed collections on the walls of their homes, I averted my eyes. The creepy crawlies give me the heebie jeebies.

Last June, we visited Cincinnati on a house-hunting trip. We toured the UC campus and took in the sights. I noticed small objects whirring by my head, but was unconcerned until an enormous, noisy bug with glowing red eyes landed on me. We had arrived in the middle of cicada season. The nasty things were everywhere. When one followed us into the car, I became frantic with the thought that it would tangle itself in my long hair and torment me by flinging itself against my head and chattering in my ear. I inched as far away from the bug as I could and helplessly wept until Mike pulled onto the freeway shoulder (or “berm” as it’s referred to here) and ejected the monster from the car. Until I learned that the cicadas only appear every 17 years or so, I seriously doubted whether we could make our home in Cincinnati.

As I’ve become engrossed in gardening, I haven’t become any more tolerant of bugs. I’ve steeled myself to touching earthworms, but potato bugs still make me squeamish. The larger the bug, the larger my reaction. You can imagine how I felt to find this fine fellow on my coreopsis.

I froze. My scalp prickled. My heart began racing. (Look at those claws!) I backed away from the flowers, fixing my eyes on that loathsome beast. If it so much as twitched, I was ready to flee, or faint dead away. The further I moved from the horror, the less power it had over me. Eventually, the compulsion to document its evil overcame me. I managed to reapproach and then face the demon long enough to take a photo. Perhaps I’m making strides against my bug phobia after all.

(I haven’t progressed far enough to include my thumb in the photo for reference. However, please believe me when I say that this sucker was at least 1.25 inches long.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Front Bed - 4 Months Old

Perennial Passion started an interesting discussion of the sorts of garden pictures her readers like to see in a blog. I find nothing more frustrating than close-up after close-up of blooms, but no landscape context! Ironically, I’m guilty of exactly that. My excuse is that, while my individual blooms look good, the big picture is still rough around the edges. However, I was recently comparing some before and after shots and realized that my "after" is starting to look pretty good. I've decided to take the plunge and share.

Before I began, there were three yews to the left of the front door and one to the right (dead). After a Herculean struggle, I removed them. I moved a clematis and hosta to another location. I tried to relocate the gladiolas from the left edge of the bed to beneath the left window. Quite a few bulbs escaped me and taunt me to this day. After the destruction, I was left with a lovely mud pit.

To the right of the front door, beneath the branches of a holly tree, I planted a shade garden. The rhododendrons and hostas were existing. I installed the birdbath and a number of plants. Click on any of the “after” photos for a page identifying the plants.





To the left of the front door I planted a sun garden. It’s only a few feet from the shade, but it gets BLASTED with sun and heat. I’ve had to water often as the plants become established. (See the mud pit photo for the “before.”)

After (I need to take this photo with the sun shining on the bed.)

Before (The "before" was so ugly that this is the only other shot I have.)


If the perennial gardening adage is true (First year - sleep. Second year - creep. Third year - leap!), I am very pleased with the results I have achieved in the first four months.

Lovely Lovely Loosestrife

I’ve just discovered that the lovely purple spikes in my garden are Lythrum, or Loosestrife. It is considered a noxious weed and is banned from sale in many states. This plant was a gift from Patrick. According to him, it is not invasive unless it is planted in a wet area. (The plant takes over wetlands and chokes out native species, hence its “noxious” designation.) My front bed can be very dry. I will take care not to give my Lythrum too much water.

I’m looking for some advice. Is it foolish for me to hope that I can control the Lythrum? Should I rip it out while I can? (It adds much need color and fullness to my nascent garden.) Should I install root barriers?

I’m quite upset that Patrick didn’t warn me about this plant. It’s nice to have something that will quickly fill in the space, but I don’t want a front bed with nothing but Loosestrife.

Not-so-lavendar Doll

I like yellow, orange, and red daylilies. Lavender daylilies, though, aren't my favorite.

My Lavender Doll has finally bloomed and I think the flowers look ill. They aren't actually lavender - more of an anemic bluish-pink. The plants are far from the house, so I rarely see them. I'll let the lilies be and try to get used to the odd color. Maybe it will grow on me.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Despite its ugly name, spiderwort is a lovely plant. The stems remind me of bamboo. It tolerates conditions from mostly shade to full sun. However, the blooms last longer in shady areas. I love the electric blue blossoms of the native variety (a gift from Tim). I purchased a second spiderwort from Home Depot, but have been disappointed with its lavendar flowers. (So disappointed, in fact, that I didn't take a picture!)