Friday, June 30, 2006

My Favorite Spot, June 30th

I receive many gardening catalogs and a few other miscellaneous pieces of gardening junk mail. In one of these envelopes, tucked among glossy flyers, were free Red Poppy seeds. I sowed these with the rest of my annuals in March and they germinated well.

This season, I used the poppies as place-holders for the Cerise Queen yarrow in the magnolia bed. They were itty bitty plants when I tucked them into the straw in early May. The poppies have exceeded all my expectations and grown into floriferous monsters. In fact, with their flushed, silken petals, they are stealing the show from the established perennials. The visitors to my garden all admire the poppy patch.

I was a bit disappointed when the first poppy opened to reveal a blush pink color. (After all, the package said RED Poppy.) Subsequent blooms have proven to be a range of colors, from fiery red to the aforementioned, insipid pink. While I prefer the true red poppies, the gradation of red shades is a nice effect.

Next year, the poppies will be gone and the yarrow will be blooming in their place. Knowing that I'll only have the poppies here for only a single season, I find that I can’t stop photographing the patch. I'll have to find room for annual poppies again next year because they are sure to make some spot my favorite.

Monday, June 26, 2006

2006 Licking-Riverside Historic District Home and Garden Tour

The Grand Homes, Gardens, & Grapes tour kicked off the local garden tour season. As evidenced by the descriptions in the tour guide, however, the event was primarily about houses. The historic Licking Riverside district is peppered with gorgeous old houses that have been homes to persons of local and national importance. From the comments and behavior of my fellow tour-goers, I gathered that they were primarily interested in the Grand Homes. While some of the buildings were admittedly breathtaking, I was there for the Gardens. I saw nary a Grape, but the day was a sweltering 93 degrees and I would have preferred a cold beer over warm pinot noir anyway.

I bought my ticket at the Baker Hunt Center shortly before the tour began and double-timed it to the most promising garden as soon as the clock struck noon. I was not disappointed. I entered the garden at 719 Garrard Street through a shady passageway between the house and its neighbor. The original garden is a shade garden, sheltered by a massive tree and the house. The demolition of the alley house opened up a sunny expanse that has been used to its full advantage. A formal rose and clipped hedge parterre and fountain occupy the center of the space. While the parterre was dramatic, my favorite part of the garden was the cottage garden style planting occupying the sunniest portion of the yard.

Six-o-seven to six-o-nine Greenup street is a Victorian house carved up into three apartments. The owner lives there and maintains a gorgeous, private shade garden in the cozy backyard. The balcony overlooks the scene, complete with a fountain and pond. I exited the garden on the other side of the building and a look back at the retreat made me loathe to reenter the sunlight.

My very favorite garden on the tour was not the largest or the most elaborate, but had the most character. I was sure that 310 Garrard Street would delight when I spotted a very persistent robin at the bird bath in the alleyway. He would flutter away as each visitor approached his perch, but was reluctant to stay away from the charming scene for long.

The garden is a treasure trove of plants and structures. The long line of peonies (leading toward the birdbath in the photo) must have been spectacular in bloom. The courtyard at the end of the path is overlooked by an enormous southern magnolia. The gardener confided in me that his secret for maintaining this tree so far north of its zone is to cover it with a giant burlap sack each winter. A few of the giant blossoms festooned an inviting dining area. Even the more practical elements of the garden were a pleasing to the eye, like the lovely potting table.

The mansion at 412 E 2nd Street created quite a stir with the crowd. The enormous house was put through an extensive renovation. The result is an elegant masterpiece, stuffed to the gills with Asian furniture. Although I enjoyed the interior, my gaze kept drifting out the window. I exited as soon as was politely acceptable to explore the garden.

A shade garden is nestled against the north walls. I was tickled by a burbling water feature tucked into a cranny for no reason at all. It is almost hidden by the house walls and greenery, but the sound produces a cooling effect far beyond the viewing area. I saw a number of grand fountains and waterfalls during the tour, but this water feature was my favorite.

The yard featured a few distinct areas. To the west, a wisteria covered arbor offered shade and cushioned comfort. The expanse of lawn, edged with a cottagey border, offered views across the river. To the east, through a charming arch, one could dine in the sunshine while inhaling the fresh, clean scent of lavender. The window box overlooking the patio was an absolute riot of color. As nice as the mansion was, if I lived there, I would spend all my time in the garden. Perhaps they’ll let me move into the little alley house next to the patio?

By the time I reached the mansion, the day had become even more hot and muggy. I rounded out the tour with a viewing of a retro-modeled townhouse at 122 Shelby Street and Victorian style home at 207 Garrard Street. The townhouse garden was very neatly manicured, but it was the fountain, converted from an old pump and placed on a balcony that caught my fancy. At 207 Garrard Street, the homeowners had placed not one, but two, water features in the back garden.

Interestingly, almost every garden had a water feature, even if it was simply a fountain on the balcony. Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink! (Except for a cup from the kind man at 607-609 Greenup Street.) The water features, as evidenced by my photos, garnered my attention. I also found that my favorite gardens not only had water, but were laid out in a manner that invited exploration. Even just a single hidden nook adds an element of surprise and drama.

I left the tour hot and sweaty, but brimming with ideas. In fact, Mike came home that afternoon to find me in the backyard, adding curves to a formerly straight border. He asked me if I now found my garden lacking in comparison to those I had viewed that day. Quite truthfully, I told him, “No, I now see just how good mine is.” And that’s how one should leave a garden tour: inspired, not envious, no matter how Grand the Gardens.

Friday, June 23, 2006

My Unfavorite Spot, June 23

Today, I’d like to write about my UNfavorite spot, the sunset bed. I named it so because it receives the late afternoon to sunset light and because the flowers are in shades of red, orange, and yellow. I planted it with goblin gaillardia, cardinal flower, red daylilies, and assorted true lilies last spring. Then, I waited for it to fill in.

The plants haven’t done so well. The first problem is the aspect. The wall faces north-west, so the plants crane their necks for sun most of the day and are then blasted with heat and light in the late afternoon. Only the daylilies flourish in such extremes. The afternoon sun is too harsh for even a drought tolerant plant like gaillardia; it was burned into oblivion. I mercifully moved the cardinal flowers. The true lilies tolerate the conditions, but are leaning dreadfully.

The second problem is our ever-present clay soil. Although this is a “real” flowerbed, with a poured concrete curb, the ground does not appear to have been cultivated. It is thick, sticky, orange clay. One corner appears to have been the dumping place for ash from the old coal furnance. I’ve amended the soil, but even so, the clay is gluey when wet and rock-hard when dry. The lilies appear to be suffering from the lack of drainage.

The final problem is the house gutters. The drainpipe on the northwest corner of the house is often overwhelmed (despite Mike’s best dredging efforts) and the water spills out of the gutters and into the flowerbed, further compounding the clay’s poor drainage.

I’m having a terrible time getting anything to grow here, but this is a spot that needs vegetation to soften the stark cement foundation and white siding. For the current season, I have planted a few annuals (nasturtium, California poppies, and sunflowers) to fill in the blank spots, but they are not flourishing. This fall, I’m considering a total overhaul by planting shrubs (Ribes sanguineum and yellow butterfly bush) and ornamental grass (zebra). I am hoping that they will provide me with the height and hardiness that the perennials I have used so far lack.

Presently, the sunset bed is the wart on my landscape. I try not to look at it when I'm in the back yard. I only enjoy it from the other side of the pictured window, when the late afternoon light casts a pink glow into our guest room.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Garden Tour Teaser

This weekend, I attended the Grand Homes, Gardens, & Grapes, in the historic Licking riverside district, Covington, KY. Unfortunately, my schedule is such that I won’t get to post the photos and commentary until later this week. If you just can’t wait, you can view the Flickr photoset. (For those homeowners whose gardens I photographed, please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes identifying the photos.)

Until I find the time to properly write about the tour, I leave you with this photo (not from a house on tour, but in the area) of the single best use of impatiens I have every seen:

Friday, June 16, 2006

My Favorite Spot, June 16th

What could be more romantic than a garden gate? It promises a secret world within. The view from here certainly looks enticing, even if reality may not quite measure up.

I can’t claim that I had anything to do with designing our gate, but I did repair the chewed bottom and Mike and Pixie gave the whole thing a fresh coat of white.

The tall grass to the left is zebra grass from Patrick. It looks gorgeous with the red rose that is currently between blooms. I was cursing this grass last year because it would cut me (and actually draw blood) every time I brushed by it while wheeling the barrow. This year, I’m using the gate on the other side of the house for large loads and I have made peace with the grass. To the right, I’ve planted Alexander lysimachia (also from Patrick) and silk road lilies (about to burst). There is also a trellis, just past the right of the edge of the photo, that hosts a baby Carolina jessamine vine. I’m hoping for blooms next year.

Although I use the alternate entrance for the wheelbarrow, I still use this gate as I make my daily rounds of the garden. I’m always careful to close it behind me to maintain a neat and tidy look. The cats have learned to go up and over or follow close at my heels. The gate isn’t fancy, but I’m always pleased to approach it, depress the latch, and enter our backyard haven.

(View looking out of the backyard, over the gate, when the red rose is in bloom.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

June Bloomin Annuals

I’m a cheap bastard. My frugality is one of the reasons why I refuse to buy annuals. Yet, who can resist the gaudy colors and incredible fragrance (of some)? This year, I grew mine from seed.

Some were very easy to germinate, like California poppy, while others were extremely stubborn: cleome and cosmos. When I started the seeds, it seemed like it would be a lifetime before they bloomed. Instead, I was surprised to see the first flowers in early May (Sweet Alyssum). I present to you a gallery of June-bloomin, from-seed, annuals that I grew myself!

Nasturtium – yes, the flowers are edible, but I can’t bring myself to eat the first blossom! The tomato-red color is intense.

California Poppy – these are wildly happy in the magnolia bed. I planted them as place-holders for the biennial wallflowers that are busy growing their first-year rosettes in pots. I am so pleased with this plant that I will find places for them next year as well.

Stock – probably the easiest annual to germinate. I gave Mary dozens of seedlings that I just didn’t have a place for. They have a lovely clove fragrance.

Sweet Alyssum – quick to germinate and flower. The blooms have a warm honey scent. Why didn’t I grow more of these?!

Sweet Peas – I’ve found these to be slow growers. Only the peas planted in a container have flowered so far (probably because the soil temperature is warmer). Those planted in the ground are just starting to put on some good growth. I’m afraid the hot weather will hit before I see blooms. The flowers do have a nice scent – just like the sweet pea scented body products.

Nicotiana – this is easy to grow and has touchable, fuzzy leaves. The flowers, though, have been a disappointment. They are scent-less and an ugly greenish-white.

Lilliput Zinnia – the seeds had a so-so germination rate. Next time I’ll sow many more than I need. I love the bright flowers!

Snapdragons – this seeds rivaled only stock for the highest germination rate; I gave away many seedlings to my friends at work. I know I was supposed to pinch my plants, but that just seemed too cruel, so they are flopping all over the place. I had to hold this flower spike upright to get a photo.

I’m still waiting for the mignonette, cleome, cosmos, tall zinnia, gazania, heliotrope, poppies, flax, moonflower, cardinal vine, morning glory, and annual rudbeckia to flower.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's Eatin Time

I may have to ask Hanna for a venison recipe. I’ve managed to tolerate the damage done to my garden by the mice, voles, moles, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits. However, all their destruction is nothing compared to one night’s rampage by a deer. This hosta is almost completely defoliated. My daylily buds were nipped right off.

If I lived in the country, I’d be thrilled about attracting deer because I could shoot them in my front yard and save on groceries. However, I live in the city limits and I can’t just randomly fire a shotgun next to the street. There is also the little problem about deer not presently being in season and the fact that they must be hunted in the daylight.

I can stand the smaller pests, not only because their damage is minor, but because my five cats keep them well in check. Yes, I am a heartless bitch who can watch her cat slowly kill a bunny by licking it to death. The evening the deer came to my buffet happened to be a night that Mr. Tibbs stayed out (I usually managed to round the cats up at nightfall), but he didn’t do a thing to save my plants.

If I can’t shoot the deer, is there any way to train my cats to bring it down themselves? I like to imagine the five of them hunting in a kitty pack. A deer carcass at my front doorstep would be a HELL of an offering. Or, at the very least, can I teach them to stand sentry in the branches of the trees and pounce on the deer’s back, howling, yowling, spitting, and clawing until it runs away in terror? *Sigh* At least the deer don’t come through my yard often. My hosta will probably recover, but I still wouldn’t mind a little venison jerky.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Black Blooms

The idea of a black garden has always sounded rather macabre to me. Flowers are lusty, colorful symbols of life and love. I can only imagine black blooms decorating a polished table in a starkly modern room. Or in the Addams family garden.

My stance was softened a little when I read the description of a black garden in Garden in the Dunes (recommended by Harvest). The predominate flowers in the black garden were gladiolas. The petals were compared to feathers, the flowers to blackbirds, and the garden to a rustling flock. I could imagine the odd beauty of the scene.

As fate would have it, I’m now the proud owner of black blooms myself. The first of my hollyhocks has opened to reveal midnight blossoms. I have always doubted that flowers described as “black” were really black at all. They must be deep purple or dark maroon. I am now convinced that black flowers do, indeed, exist. I still don’t think I like them much, though.

Friday, June 09, 2006

My Favorite Spot, June 9th

I love it when a plan comes together. I can’t stop staring at my corner bed, where bright orange pixie lilies, blue geraniums, and yellow tickseed and stella d’oro daylilies are blooming. The orange lilies alone are not for the faint of heart. Their coloring is so intense it is almost fluorescent. Combined with yellow and blue, the effect is traffic-stopping. (Good thing the bed is far from the street!) Yowza! The purple sage, blue larkspur, and assorted snapdragons are next to bloom here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's Alive!

I thought my ROS cuttings were a failure, but some small shred of hope kept me from tossing the pots. Instead, Mike and I moved them off the deck and out of sight under the mother tree. This weekend, as I was puttering in the new the laundry pole garden, I caught sight of a flash of green in the lifeless pots. Half convinced it was a fallen leaf, I took a closer look. Lo and behold, 10 of my 30 cuttings are leafing out!

I still have hope that some of the other 20 sticks will also show signs of life. As a back-up plan, I will make some semi-ripe cuttings in mid-summer. If all goes well, I can begin planting the hedge next spring.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

How Does Your Lamb's Ear Grow?

Lamb’s ear, like hosta, are grown primarily for their foliage. However, again like hosta, the issue of whether to allow them to flower or not is hotly contested among gardeners. One side believes that the ungainly flowers distract from the tidy appearance of the foliage. The other side enjoys the flowers for their odd beauty and attractiveness to bees. How do I prefer my lamb’s ear? Well, it depends.

In a rockery, where the plants are generally low growing, I agree that the tall flower spikes are unattractive. Stachys’ mat of silvery green leaves is its primary attraction in a rock garden. However, among taller perennials, like the pictured grouping with east friesland sage, the flowers blend well with their neighbors. It’s all in the context.

I can’t claim to have come to my decision to allow my lamb's ear to flower in any sort of a logical, preplanned way. I don’t cut the flower stalks off because I’m simply too soft-hearted. It seems almost cruel to whack off the long flower stalks. I just got lucky in that the result looks nice too. If I had a rockery, I suppose I’d clip, but it would break my heart.

Friday, June 02, 2006

My Favorite Spot, June 2nd

This week, my favorite spot is the entire front of the house, to include the sun bed, shade bed, and magnolia bed. The shade bed is past its glory (spring), but the fuchsia rhododendron is lighting up the back corner. In the sun bed, mini-roses, burgundy gaillardia, weigela minuet, columbine, east friesland sage, and lamb’s ear are blooming. The display will peak in July. I’m very pleased to see a few blooms in the magnolia bed: tall evening primrose (from Pam), potentilla (also from Pam), perennial bachelor’s buttons, and California poppies (from seed!). The sweet bay magnolia is also in bloom now, perfuming the warm air. They say that a garden is never finished, but I feel like my cottage garden is at least approaching my vision