Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Mexican Food Flower

I LOVE Mexican food. It is my all-time favorite type of cuisine. I suffered unbearably in Okinawa where there was no decent Mexican food to be found. I’ve been on a binge ever since returning to the U.S. Mike and I have tried nearly every Mexican restaurant within a reasonable radius. I cannot get enough enchiladas, chile rellenos, and, of course, chips and salsa. While I would happily consume Mexican food at every meal, the smell of it in my garden turns my stomach.

I am not referring to the scent of crushed cilantro leaves or bruised chiles, but mignonette, Reseda odorata. I started Josephine Bonaparte’s favorite flower from seed for the promise of an exquisite scent much in vogue during the Victorian era. The blossoms and their famed fragrance make numerous appearances in romantic literature – tucked into bosoms, love letters, and bedclothes. The scent has been described as a deliciously sweet raspberry, but to my nose, it smells of cumin and lard.

From others’ descriptions, I knew the plant would be weedy and the flowers inconspicuous. I tucked my mignonette between showier flowers so that only its heavenly scent would advertise its presence. Thankfully, the smell is faint, so I hardly notice the plant at all. It looks like a weed and smells like kitchen leftovers. Yum.

It may not be mignonette’s fault. Perhaps the genes that make me swoon over the scent of lilies and even appreciate the muskiness of cleome also cause me to gag over mignonette’s odor. I’m curious to know, how do you find mignonette’s fragrance?

Friday, July 28, 2006

My Favorite Spot, July 28th

My magnolia bed is a little lacking in height. The sweet bay magnolia and mock oranges are still babies. To add some vertical interest, I knocked together a twiggy teepee for the season. It was knobby and awkward when naked, but now that it’s clothed in sweet peas and cuddling a buddleia, it is my favorite spot.

I’ve planted sweet peas, cardinal vine, and black-eyed susan vine at the corners. The sweet peas will fade soon, just as the cardinal vine and black-eyed susan vine come into their own. I popped two baby sunflowers inside the teepee to give them support. I expect the sunflowers to bloom in the next month. Around the teepee, I have butterfly bush, annual poppies, black-eyed susans (perennial!), and zinnia in bloom.

Not only do I love this spot, the animals love it too. I’ve spotted a hummingbird sipping from the sweet peas and songbirds using the teepee rungs as perches. On a warm day, the teepee is humming with insect life, from bees to butterflies. I’ve even caught Zoro curled up inside. (Yes, the photo is posted sideways. It was initially a mistake, but then I thought it looked more interesting that way.)

The teepee will need to be moved next year to allow some growing room for a nearby mock orange. I think it may end up in my newest bed to lend me height and interest again

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Annual Black-Eyed Susans

I adore perennial black-eyed susans. They are hardy, reliable, cheery, and easy to grow. When I learned that an annual variety exists, I couldn’t think of any reason a gardener would grow them. Why fuss with new plants every year, when you can plant the perennial flower to enjoy for many seasons? Still, I was curious, so I bought a packet of seeds.

The annual BES is a bit different than the perennial. The leaves are larger and hairy. The flowers are also larger, but fewer are produced. (However, this could be a result of my plants’ morning-sun location.) The most interesting difference is the flower’s center. It is shiny, almost glossy, like a true eyeball. The perennial flower’s center is a matte brown. The plants stand at about the same height, three feet.

My verdict: I won’t go out of my way to plant annual black-eyed susans again. I enjoyed trying something new, but they really aren’t worth the bother.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Flower of Babyon

I’ll admit it. I wanted a piece of my friend’s passion flower vine simply for its evocative common name (and the possibility of harvesting a passion fruit). I was disappointed to later learn that “passion” referred to the Passion of Christ, not some aphrodisiacal quality of the flower. However, if the flower reminds me of any biblical figure, it would be the illustration of the Harlot of Babylon I remember from My Book of Bible Stories. She was pictured as a heavily-made up woman with wild red locks and a revealing, flowing purple dress. She was dripping with gold jewelry and holding the leash of a viciously snarling, multi-headed, horned dog. To me, she represented power and beauty. Honestly, I wanted to be the Harlot of Babylon when I grew up.

Passiflora is similarly beautiful and powerful. The flowers are strikingly intricate. The decadent fringe (representative of the crown of thorns) resembles wildly colored false eyelashes. The undulating purple stripes remind me of the lights in a pumping discotheque. You may use your own imagination as to what the swollen, upright stigma and pendulous stamens resemble. The bees agree that this is one sexy flower.

The vine itself is extremely vigorous. In its second year, my vine is busily devouring a rose bush, zebra grass, and a fence. (I’m moving it to a better location this fall.) I received my start from a friend who has to mow religiously (pun?) along her fence line to keep suckers at bay. I’m willing to donate my suckers (when they appear) to any plant swappers brave enough to take this lady on.

I am not the first to take a sacrilegious slant on Christ’s flower. In Japan, the flower is a symbol for homosexual youths. I suppose we’re all going to hell. I’ll be there wearing my purple dress and a maypop tucked behind one ear.

Paghat’s Garden website contains a nice article on Passion Flower Symbolism, from religious to profane.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Does This Yard Look Lopsided?

Sometimes I bemoan the fact that my husband has no interest in gardening. He isn’t even interested in the lawn. While other men are aerating, fertilizing, watering, trimming, and over-seeding their grassy acre, I must nag Mike to mow our yard just once a week. I suppose, though, I should count my blessings. Because Mike has absolutely no interest in the yard, he doesn’t mind that my garden is slowly, but surely, consuming the lawn.

Every time I create a new bed, I tell myself, “At last, I have achieved the perfect balance between garden and lawn.” However, it takes just a few months for me to start eying another grassy patch. I have grand plans to tear up the hellstrip and a portion of the lawn along the sidewalk this fall. I will also be tilling and smothering the weed-cover in the north corner of the backyard. Those projects seemed like enough to achieve my final, grand vision until I took a look at our house from the street and realized that the garden looks lopsided! The bright flowers on the sunny left side completely overwhelm the reserved shade garden on the right. The asymmetry has been bothering me ever since. My solution is to create another island bed to the right of the stepping stone walkway, leaving “grass” paths between the new bed and the shade bed behind it and the shrub/shade border to the right. Our house faces southeast, so, although the holly tree will shade the new bed in the early morning, the plants should get six hours of sunlight during the late morning and early afternoon.

I plan on creating my new bed with the same method I used for the magnolia bed: smothering the lawn/weeds with newspaper topped with straw. The 6 – 10 sheets of paper I used in the magnolia bed proved absolutely impenetrable to the existing vegetation. Although the straw did contain grain seeds, they were few and the straw’s attractiveness more than made up for the inconvenience of pulling a few stalks of grain.

The best part of my plan is that I now have a place to plant dwarf forsythia (I’ve been coveting forsythia since last spring), to transplant the perennials I need to thin or move from other beds, and to house my bumper group of winter-sown biennials and perennials. I anticipate no objectsion from Mike, because there will be that much less grass for him to mow.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Too Many Gladiolas

It’s gladiola season and time for me to complain, again. My magenta gladiolas came with the house and, although they are tender corms, have proven themselves hardy enough to be left in the ground over the winter. Last season was our first together and I was very excited to see them flower. I was impressed by the tall spikes and vibrant colors. Eventually, though, I came to view them as a maintenance nightmare.

Each and every flower spike must be staked. Time and time again, I have been fooled by a seemingly sturdy looking spike that is then dashed to the ground by a summer storm. By the time I find the wreckage, the flowers are too far gone even to cut for a vase. I end up staking about 1/3 of the flowers and losing the rest. (The photo shows the perfect, “no work” stake: a nearby sunflower!)

Although the corms should not be hardy in zone 6, they not only survive, but thrive in my yard. The corms reproduce at an astounding rate. I cannot dig in my gladiola patches without slicing into a few. I have unknowingly distributed hundreds of cormlets throughout my beds and am constantly “weeding” them out.

The time has come to start thinning the gladiolas. I simply have too many (again!). I’m going to dig up the entire patch along the garage to swap. I’d gladly trade them for iris!

(By the way – I apologize to the two readers (Heather and Jennifer) I promised gladiolas to last fall. I dug the corms up and potted them, but left the pots out on the deck all winter. They weren’t hardy enough to survive the exposed situation. Email me if you still want some and I’ll do better this year.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

True Blue, My Ass

I bought the Dianthus amurensis 'Siberian Blues' seeds from Park's. They were described as "the closest to a true blue dianthus!" Some of my first-year plants have bloomed and they are absolutely not blue. They are mauve. They are exactly that shade of lavender-pink that I detest in the garden. To add insult to injury, they aren't even fragrant. Anyone want to swap?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Cincinnati Plant Swap

If you are a gardener in the Cincinnati area, please consider joining the Cincinnati Plant Swap group on Yahoo. Using the message board, simply list the plants you have to trade and those you’d like to acquire. Chances are, your message will be read by someone who would like to swap with you. I’ve kicked off the group message board with my own list of “Have”s and “Wanted”s.

To prevent spammers and advertisers from flooding the board, you must be a member of the group to post messages. Membership costs nothing, but I must approve. (Again, to prevent spam and advertising.)

Hope to see all local gardeners there!

Click here to join cintiplantswap
Click to join cintiplantswap

Friday, July 14, 2006

My Favorite Spot, July 14th

On weekend mornings, I rise as early as I can bear. I stumble down the stairs, trying not to trip over the cats. I head into the kitchen, open the back door, and collapse into the hammock. Then I lie there in a daze, allowing the morning air to finish the job of waking me up. Later, I’ll muster my strength to brew a cup of tea, and then return to the hammock to nurse my cuppa. After sipping the stimulating brew, listening to the trickle of the fountain and clatter of the wind chimes, and gazing at the vibrant flowers, I’m ready to begin my gardening day.

My favorite spot this week, the deck, gets heavy use. Not only is it my second bedroom, but it is also the kitchen and dining room most evenings. It is also my nursery. The snowy deck hosted my winter sowing containers during the cold months and now supports my immense stock of shade-loving seedlings.

I’ve planted the area around the deck fairly intensively. The southwest side is lined with spiderwort and nicotiana. Along the northwest, I’ve recently planted ostrich ferns, Golden Lights azalea, Fairy primrose, sweet woodruff, hostas, and a Ruby Spice clethra. A Terese Bugnet rose was already resident on the northeast side. While Terese’s head is in the sun, the area around her feet is shady, so I’ve planted more ostrich fern and chameleon plant there.

When I first began to plan the landscaping around the deck during March ’05, I debated over which vines to climb the overhang. I was torn between clematis jackmanii and trumpet vine. I decided to plant them both. Neither plant flowered last year, but I was rewarded with purple and orange blooms this year. Four enormous fuchsias hang in the windows, completing the lush, tropical feel.

Can you see why this is my favorite spot?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Park's Shrubs

The fall issue of Park’s Seed catalog arrived recently. I thumbed through it on the bus as I rode to work. As I flipped through the pages, I thought, “I have that….and that….and that…and…” Last season, I placed multiple orders with Park’s. While I bought a few perennials from them, I mostly ordered shrubs.

Park’s Seed doesn’t get a great rating on the Garden Watchdog, but I like the glossy catalog and easy-to-navigate website. If you’ve noticed that the Wayside Gardens’ website looks strikingly similar, it’s probably because Wayside is an affiliate company of Park’s. Unlike the Direct Gardening company of Bloomington, IL, which masquerades under a number of different names, Park’s seems to be a reputable company.

No matter how stellar the company, I’ve found that plants ordered by mail always seem shockingly small when they arrive (except Forest Farm). The expectation vs. reality disparity is even more pronounced when one orders shrubs. I ordered six shrubs (four varieties) from Park’s and imagined enormous potted bushes emerging from the back of a delivery van. With the exception of the hardy gardenia, my arrivals turned out to be sticks in tiny pots via USPS. Supposedly, the smaller the plant, the better it transplants, so how did those sticks fare?

The following is a rundown of the shrubs I purchased from Park’s last season. I hope you find the information helpful whether you plan on ordering from Park’s yourself or are just interested in the same variety of plant from another merchant.

Mockorange (Philadelphus) "Snowbelle." The two plants were short, single whips upon arrival. I planted them in the sun bed last fall. I did not expect them to bloom this season, but they surprised me by covering themselves with double, white blooms in the spring. While I was impressed with the bloom production, I was underwhelmed by the fragrance. However, I think the scent will be more noticeable when the plants become large enough that I don’t have to belly crawl through the mulch to smell flowers.

Hydrangea paniculata "Limelight." I planted the 8 inch stick in a carefully prepared hole last fall. It did not survive the winter. At $14.95, I probably could have bought a much larger plant at a local fall sale.

Hydrangea macrophylla "Hornli." After Limelight’s dismal performance, I didn’t expect Hornli to live either. This dwarf surprised me by leafing out this spring and looking very much alive. I see none of the famed red blooms, but I won’t complain, yet.

Gardenia augusta "Grif’s Select." The story of the gardenias is a very sad one. I ordered two and they arrived as small, multi-branched plants covered in deliciously glossy leaves and sporting a few fat flower beds. I amended our clay soil well and hoped the plants would survive the winter, as promised. (This gardenia is advertised as hardy to zone 6.) The gardenia is also described as evergreen, but it lost its leaves over the winter (and the flower buds never did develop.) By April, there was no sign of a reappearance of leaves, so I resigned myself to the fact that these were losses and replaced them with viburnum. However, I didn’t toss the gardenias in the compost pile, but instead stuffed them in plastic pots to monitor. A few months later, it is evident that one of the plants appears to be clinging to life. I’m really not sure what to do with it.

I don’t think I’ll order shrubs from Park’s again. I prefer to buy my shrubs locally. However, if you are looking for a specific, hard-to-find cultivar, I can’t recommend Forest Farm highly enough. The shipping charges are high, but I received large, undamaged shrubs. I’ll highlight those survivors soon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Stinkin Cleome

I never would have grown cleome had a new gardening friend not pressed the seeds upon me. In my opinion, cleome look weedy. She, however, insisted that there was no better flower. I said, “What the hell,” and planted them with the rest of my annuals in March.

We both had very poor germination (the seeds were from Ed Hume), but I managed to raise three seedlings in a strawberry container. I don’t recommend strawberry containers for winter sowing, or even spring sowing. The many vents cause the soil to dry out rapidly. My poor cleome seedlings demonstrated their will to live, though, and hung on through the drought-like conditions. At last, I took pity upon them and planted them in the witch hazel bed.

Sometime after I planted them out, I heard that cleome is fragrant. The promise of scent had me watering and weeding my three seedlings, awaiting a flower. This week, the most vigorous plant bloomed. I buried my face in the wispy flowers and inhaled. Quite puzzled, I sniffed again. There was no doubt about it, cleome smells like skunk!

The plants are fragrant indeed. They have a light, musky, animal odor. I would not recommend cutting a bouquet of cleome for the dining table, or anywhere else in the house. While the effect of one plant is mild, I can only imagine the stink that a sweep of cleome would make.

A discussion of cleome’s fragrance on GardenWeb was quite enlightening. Apparently, the bruised foliage smells as bad, or worse, than the blooms. While some people don’t smell a thing (personal genetics, I suppose), others find the odor so offensive that they will not have cleome in their garden. I have the plants far enough away from any sitting areas (and the house) that the smell is not a problem. In fact, I think I’ll grow it again next year because, now that I’ve seen it in my garden, I don’t think it is weedy at all!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pit of Despair

I affectionately refer to the outdoor stairs leading to the basement as “The Pit of Despair.” This is where my winter-sown containers that did not germinate go to end their days. The green growth is, sadly, only weeds. My top non-germinating seeds were:

  • Delphinium (I should just throw this package of seed out because they didn’t germinate last year either!)
  • Ajuga
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Wintergreen
  • White Sweet Violet
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Astilbe
  • Perennial Candytuft
  • Snow in Summer
  • Spicebush
  • Bladdernut
  • Yellowwood

    On the Winter Sowing forum, I’ve read that some seeds just take an extra year, so I plan on keeping these containers around until next spring, just in case. In the meantime, I keep checking them, looking for something familiar. (To add to the fun, the labeling has worn off all of these containers.) Once, I thought I had found a lone catmint seedling, so I bruised a leaf and rubbed it against my nose to identify it by odor. There was no smell, but my nose started tingling. The mystery plant turned out to be a nettle! Pit of Despair, indeed.

    I water the containers faithfully, and I’ve added a morning glory and black-eyed susan vine in pots to cover the window bars and add a cheery note to the bleak scene. I keep thinking that if I just wait long enough, I’ll be rewarded for my patience. Perhaps I should call it the Well of Hope, because I am not ready to give up and despair just yet.

Friday, July 07, 2006

My Favorite Spot, July 7th

My favorite spot this week is nothing new. I must have taken dozens of pictures of the sun bed and magnolia bed this year. It’s July and I’m still very pleased with both areas.

The sun bed is on its second year. Last spring, I ripped out three old yews to make way for flowers and flowering shrubs. It was hard, dirty work, but nothing “double-digs” your soil like removing shrubs older than you are! Currently blooming in the sun bed (roughly from left to right):
Nasturtium “Empress of India”
Balloon Flower “Fuji Blue”
Burgundy Gaillardia
Sage “East Friesland”
Purple Loosestrife
Black-eyed Susan
Shasta Daisy
Butterfly Weed

The magnolia bed is only in its first year. I created it with the newspaper and mulch (straw in this case) method last fall. Blooming in the magnolia bed (view the set to see the flowers not included in this shot):
Red Poppy
Red Hot Poker
Yellow Asiatic Lily
Pink Oriental Lily
Nemesia (?)
Dianthus “Firewitch”
California Poppy
Sweet peas

I’d like to know (honestly!) what you would think if you walked up to our front door, through this flowery jungle. (You can click on the photo for a bigger view.) Mike categorizes it as “crazy,” but I think it’s “charming.” Is it over the top?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Annual, Biennial, or Perenial?

Plant and seed package labeling can be very inconsistent. They are often missing crucial information like the Latin name or moisture requirements. I’ve found the internet invaluable for finding the missing data. Sometimes, though, the labels are wrong or misleading and the internet is ambiguous. I find this is especially the case when listing whether the plant is an annual, biennial, or perennial.

Part of the confusion is that some people define “perennial” simply as a plant that lives longer than one year. Under this rule, biennial plants count as perennials. I have an entire stack of seed packets that are labeled “perennial,” but that I’ve put in a bag labeled “biennial,” so that I can be sure to start seeds every year until self-sowing will reliably repopulate the bed. Sometimes I think that the growers aren’t so much confused as sneaky. By labeling the plant or seeds as “perennial,” they are more likely to make a sale.

The other problem is that, depending on the conditions, an annual may live more than one year or a biennial may act perennial. For example, snapdragons are reputed to return the following season in zone 6, but they flower so poorly in their second year that most people replace the plants yearly. I’ve read that hollyhocks and other biennials can be made to behave as perennials if they are deadheaded promptly. (For hollyhocks, deadhead when the number of seed-forming ovules outnumbers the blooms on the stalk.)

As a new gardener, I’m discovering for myself what plants act as annuals, biennials, or perennials in my conditions. For instance, I bought Johnny Jump-Up (Viola tricolor) seeds last spring and the package said that they were annuals. I planted the seeds, but then promptly dug in the area, so I had no germination. This year, I bought Johnny Jump-Up seeds and the package said “perennial.” I used the winter sowing method and got great germination. It is unusual for a perennial to bloom in its first year, so I expected no flowers. After planting the seedlings out, I found that nearly every single plant bloomed. Now I’m wondering about next year. Will the plants come back? Will they self-sow this year so that I will be unable to tell whether I have new or returning plants next spring?

I also winter sowed wallflower (Erysimum x allionii). Again, I had good germination. (The cool weather loving plants seem to like a cold treatment for their seeds.) According to everything I read (including the seed package) these are biennial plants. I wanted color in my magnolia bed this year, so I planted annual California poppies to hold the wallflower’s place. The wallflowers were potted into small pots and placed in my nursery bed to grow on for the season. I intend to plant them into the magnolia bed in the fall.

I was astounded to see flower buds appear on a few of the wallflowers. They developed into bright orange blooms in mid-June. The flowers are a bit scantier than they should be, but they smell terrific. Now, though, I’m concerned that the plants that have flowered will behave as annuals. All I can do is wait and see whether the flowering plants return next spring.

Gardening would be much easier if we could neatly categorize all of our plants, but there will always be exceptions to the rule. Sometimes the best sources of information are experience and anecdotes.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Holiday Lilies

I can’t resist the potted, blooming lilies offered at the grocery store around certain holidays (Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day). Lilies are among my favorite flowers, primarily for their scent. I figure that spending $8 on a potted lily is justified by the comparable cost of a lily bouquet. As an added bonus, I tell myself that I’m not just buying flowers for the moment, but I can plant the bulbs out in the garden and enjoy them again and again and again.

I bought the pictured lilies around Easter 2005 and parked them in the dining room, where they perfumed the house for a full two weeks. They eventually faded and, after deadheading, I moved the entire pot outside for the summer. The bulbs went dormant a little sooner than the garden-grown lilies, but that is to be expected because they began their cycle earlier. I planted the bulbs in the candy cane bed last fall. As you can see, they reappeared this spring. The treatment I gave the bulbs must have agreed with them because they have put forth vigorous growth and multiple flowers.

I also bought blooming lilies at Christmas 2005 and allowed the foliage to ripen in our sunroom. After the bulbs went dormant, I moved the pot into the garage for a cold period. When fresh growth appeared this spring, I planted the bulbs out, near the Easter bulbs. The Christmas lily has only put out two, rather spindly, stalks and will not flower this year. I suspect that the weak winter sunlight in the sunroom was not enough to reenergize the bulbs for a second bloom. Hopefully they will be stronger next year, after spending a season in the garden. (Based on the foliage, the lilies I bought at Easter and Christmas appear to be different varieties, so some of the difference may be due to genetics, not treatment.)

Easter 2006 was too early for me to judge the success of my earlier experiments, so I passed by the lovely lilies at Kroger in an effort to be budget conscience. Now that I have demonstrated the success of planting out the grocery store lilies, I won’t restrain myself again. This Christmas, our house will be filled with lilies!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Gag Me in the Garden

I choose many of my plants for fragrance, but my selections have sometimes unintended results. I discovered one such surprise as I was digging in the sun bed, right next to my miniature rose, to plant a veronica. My hole was roughly six inches in depth when I started to smell something bad. My first concern was that I had disturbed a previous homeowner’s pet. Then I realized that I had dug in this area too often to have missed a rotting corpse. In fact, I had planted a hyacinth bulb right in that very spot last fall…

My shovel bit squarely into the soft, juicy bulb and the full, putrid smell was released. A rotting hyacinth bulb smells like a mixture of onions, sulphur, and decaying meat. Even in the open air, it was potent enough to cause me to hold my breath as I fished the remains from the earth. I suppose it is only fitting that something that smells so powerfully good in bloom would have an equally powerful stench when dead.

I’m not sure whether to blame my heavy soil or my watering practices (I have thirsty annuals above) for the bulb’s death. Hopefully, I haven’t killed them all. I won’t be poking around in the dirt to find out, though. The experience of smelling of one rotting hyacinth will last me a lifetime.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

2006 College Hill Garden Tour

I live in College Hill, so when I learned of the local garden tour, I was excited not only to see the gardens, but to get to know the area and my neighbors better. The tour covered a large area - too far to walk, but just right for biking (had I a bicycle). It ranged from a church on Glenview Avenue to a mansion on Belmont to a remodeled ranch house on Larry Avenue.

The first stop on the tour, 5734 Nahant Avenue, is described as a cottage garden in the program. The garden was absolutely immaculate. I drooled over the flawlessly edged lawn as well as the gorgeous baskets adorning the gate into the backyard. The garden is nine years old. According to the home owner, its creation took five years, and the last four have been maintenance. The garden and house are being considered for an article in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. This garden is definitely ready for its close-up.

The highlight of the second stop, at 1421 Groesbeck Road, was a large pond, complete with waterfall and bog garden area. The water feature looked absolutely natural in the wooded lot. It is visible from a screened room in the house and, judging by the homeowner’s collection of photos, well enjoyed.

The third stop seemed to be a bit of an odd choice, the belltower garden at the First United Church of Christ. However, I was glad it was included. The pastor’s wife created this garden as a place for members of the congregation to meditate and pray. Upon entering the garden, the first thing the visitors noticed (and oohed and aahed over) was a spectacular Lucifer crocosmia in boom. (I wondered if I was the only one that appreciated the irony of that particular cultivar in a church garden.) The garden’s centerpiece was a three-tiered pond, connected by rushing waterfalls. Because I visited the garden tour stops out of order, this was my first stop and I enjoyed it so much that I wished it were my last so that I could linger longer.

Fifty-six forty Belmont Avenue is one of the big houses I like to ogle as I drive past. Not only is the house big, the lot is enormous. The owners have had their work cut out for them to landscape the space. They’ve wisely planted a number of shrubs, including the first St. John’s Wort I’ve seen outside of a garden book. The area around the house includes a restfully shady border and a fancy fountain.

The friendship garden at 1639 Marlowe Avenue was a classy joint, complete with live violin music, photo albums, and a well-dressed hostess. The garden hosts regular tea parties in its two dining areas. The darling potting shed was hand built and smelled like cedar. I especially liked the shade garden, with three windows whimsically hung on the fence.

Stop number six, 1570 Larry Avenue, was my favorite garden. It was bright and whimsical. It featured a cutting garden, a lily garden, and a pot man. Even the strip along the driveway was gorgeous. I thought that the choice of a cobalt blue birdbath in the lily garden was sheer genius.

I expected to hate the Asian garden at 1506 Larry Avenue. I imagined it would be all raked sand and contorted evergreens. To my surprise, the mostly shaded garden was lush and beautifully textured. It did feature a few Japanese maples and a cast pagoda, but the effect was far from the overly manicured gardens I saw in Japan. I was pleased to see a large, shaded curbside garden at the end of the driveway. I wish more people would take a chance beyond lawn and hedges in the front yard.

The tour ended at 6563 Edwood Avenue. The garden was my second favorite, because, like 1570 Larry Avenue, it was blowsy and cottagey. I loved the hollyhocks and clematis. The white arbor and dining set looked fabulous against the backdrop of greenery and flowers. The mosaic birdbath was the epitome of cottage style.

I had no idea there were so many fabulous gardens tucked into College Hill. I was also impressed with the organization of the tour. There were helpful CHG volunteers and bottles of water at each stop. In each garden, ten plants were labeled with numbers corresponding to Latin and common names found in the tour program. The price, $8.00, was a great deal for the entertainment provided. My goal is to be a tour stop myself, in two years.

See all of my photos from the CHG tour here.