Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tippy Teepee

Last weekend, we had some terrific storms. I grew up in a place where thunder and lightening were fairly rare, so I’m still thrilled by the novelty of electrical storms. I love to be tucked cozily inside the house, listening to the patter of rain and the roar of thunder. However, it isn’t nearly as pleasant to be out in the storm, buffeted by winds and pelted by raindrops. Apparently, my sunflowers agree. The last of the sunflowers bowed to the elements this weekend, and took my teepee with them!

I’ve tried to right the entire mess, but it is impossible. The teepee was never well grounded and only the tenuous hold of the vines has kept the whole thing from going horizontal. The teepee’s structure seems sound, though, so I’ll allow it to lean until the first frosts destroy the blooms. Then I’ll untangle the jungle and store the teepee until next spring.

Friday, September 22, 2006

My Greatest Success

This season, buoyed by my successes last summer, I tried a lot of new things in the garden. I grew annuals, built a pond, and installed an arbor. However, I believe my greatest gardening success was my twiggy teepee. I built it in early March from trimmed holly branches. It looked like something out of the Blair Witch Project until July, when the sweet peas grew tall enough to at least cover the drunken legs. After the sweet peas petered out, the cardinal and black-eyed-susan vines continued to provide color and coverage. At the end of the season, the two sunflowers I planted to grow through the teepee’s framework continue to bloom and bloom and bloom. Below, I’ve presented the teepee’s seasonal progression.

March 13:

July 13:

July 27:

Sept 22:

I’m looking forward to enjoying it in a new location next year.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gimme Leaves!

Today feels fall-ish and I’m greedily eyeing the leaves on our neighbor’s trees. I can’t get enough leaves. Our trees are mostly evergreens. The honeysuckles’ leaf fall is negligible and our hackberry tree drops most of its leaves in Mary’s yard. Our sweet gum drops a good portion of leaves, but not nearly enough for my nefarious purposes. As the season advances, I will be canvassing the block for my neighbors’ leaves so that I can kill more grass.

Last fall, I spread Tim’s and my eastern neighbor’s leaves along the southeast edge of our front yard. Two hollies, an enormous euonymus, and a floppy Annabelle hydrangea line the fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s. The ground cover was a mix of grass, violets, henbit, and ivy. A generous layer of leaves (roughly 4 – 6 inches) effectively smothered the ground cover and created a shade garden. I have had to remove a few survivors (mostly the damn pernicious violets), but, for the most part, I am a convert to this simple way of turning lawn into garden.

This year, I plan on ridding the yard of the grass on both sides of the sidewalk. I’ve already begun planting in the hell strip, using the tedious sod-removal method. The other side of the sidewalk is heavily shaded by our two Norway spruce and a hackberry tree. The grass is sparse and removing it will be a blessing. I plan on spreading a thick leaf mat in the hell strip, beneath the Norway spruce and hackberry tree, and over the entire north corner of the back yard.

The only drawback to using fall leaves as a smothering mulch is that, initially, they tend to blow away. The dry leaves shift out of my artfully arranged piles and I am compelled to trudge outside with a rake to reform the edges of my future beds. As the season progresses, the leaves lock together into a soggy mat. However, those first few weeks are difficult. Add whooshing cars, doodling doggies, and errant bicycles, and the leaves I’ve carefully arranged in the hellstrip don’t have a chance.

Thankfully, I heard about a product called Leaf Lock. Derived from corn solids, it combines with water to form a “shell” that prevents a leaf pile from blowing away. I haven’t checked at the local big box stores yet, but I’ve heard that it is only available from Amazon. I suppose I’d better place my order before the fall rush. I plan on using this product on the leaf piles in the hellstrip and anywhere else that I need to maintain a hard edge.

I also use fallen leaves as a mulch in my garden beds. Contrary to popular opinion, I’ve found that they do not smother perennials, even when applied whole. I do take care with the low growers and I do not cover the evergreen groundcovers at all. Sweet woodruff seemed to like a very thick layer last fall, provided it was pushed aside in the spring. Most perennials, though, send up strong, vigorous shoots in the spring that easily penetrate the weathered leaf mat.

While most people are cursing the leaves falling from their trees, I’ll be volunteering to rake my neighbors’ yards and snatching full leaf bags from the curb. (Strangely, Mike will help me drag leaf bags home but strongly objects to my plucking newspapers from recycle bins.) I’ll smother the lawn and mulch my beds with the excess. If I am lucky enough to still have leaves left over, I will try the black plastic bag composting method. Fall, leaves, fall!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hillside Garden in Mt. Adams

After a year of walking through Friendship Park twice a week at lunch, I was ready for a change. I was also tired of paying $2 to park at Sawyer Point on Tuesdays (the only day I drove to work). A few weeks ago, I left home early and figured out how to drive to the free, on-street parking at Mt. Adams. Serendipitously, I also discovered a new place to walk at lunch.

From work, a short (5 minute?) walk takes me over I-71 and into the Mt. Adams district. There, houses, apartments, and condos jostle for space on the steep hillside. The incredible views of the city and river make it worth living three feet from your neighbor. Many of the houses are historic. The varying architectural styles on just one street are enough to slow me from my brisk walk. I’ve seen everything from modern to Victorian to Moorish! Although most of the yards are small, some of them host stop-and-stare gardens. The limited space calls for carefully edited collections. For those with an aching for more acreage, enormous Eden Park borders the district.

I’m just beginning to explore the area in one-hour jaunts. I was amazed to find that I made it to the conservatory (in a very round-about manner) and back to work a single hour. I carry my camera with me to capture the inspiring views. Clicking on the Mt. Adams area photoset in the sidebar will take you to the ongoing collection of snapshots.

Today’s selection from Mt. Adams is a rather large garden. This hillside, next to the gardener’s hillside home, is overflowing with annuals and perennials. I spotted the elderly gardener on her balcony after I parked beneath her garden one morning. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to say more than “beautiful garden” before I hurried to work. I long to climb the hillside to see the plants that I can see only a hint of below. It also looks as if she is continuing to expand the garden to the south, to the right of the photo. While most of the hillside is a ruin of old foundations and weeds, her portion is a small Eden. Bravo! I applaud gardeners who extend their paradise to the street to delight passersby. It gives us a glimpse of what life might be like if everyone did the same.

I hope to bring you many more featured gardens from the Mt. Adams area in the future. If you live there, watch out for the crazy red-head with the camera. She just may be pressing her face against your garden gate to snap a photo for the garden blogging world

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Toby Did It, Again

Toby has been at it again. We have more honeysuckle carnage in the backyard. It looks as if four or five of the shrubby trees have been lopped and sawed down. The remaining stumps were leveled with an axe and one was even ripped from the ground, roots and all.

Toby must have overheard me declaring war on the honeysuckle. The invasive trees have a lovely name, but an ugly habit. Commonly used as screens, they grow to 30 feet high and, from the outside, have a graceful, arching shape. Beneath the trees, though, a wasteland is created. The dense shade is uninhabitable except for ivy (English and poison), Virginia creeper, and vinca (all undesirable). Looking up beneath the trees, one is confronted with a thicket of dead, naked branches, shaded out by those above. My neighbor, Mary, has a habit of snapping the brittle branches off as we chat across the fence. Even uglier, is the sight of a row of honeysuckles are pruned into ungainly hedges. (They are usually, incorrectly, pruned in a “V”, revealing their naked legs to the world.) Legend has it that a woman in Hyde Park brought the bush honeysuckle to her yard from China. Whether or not that is true, the tree has spread across the Midwest and is listed as an invasive species in many states. The bright red berries are eaten by birds and the seed is spread. In the wild, the exotic honeysuckle outcompetes native plant species and contributes to increased predation of birds’ nests. (See Roy Rich’s article on invasive honeysuckle in the Midwest. Of particular interest, are his suggestions for site level control and eradication.)

Both for ethical and aesthetic reasons, I would like to rid my yard of the honeysuckle. The entire SW border of our property is lined with a double row of the trees. I am reducing them to a single row. (I cannot remove both rows because the parallel row resides on or on the border of my neighbors’ properties.) Along the NE border of the backyard, I initially planned on removing every other bush this year, and the remaining honeysuckle next year. However, it looks like Toby decided to, instead, remove all but one. I can’t blame him; it’s easy to get carried away when pruning. Hopefully the goatsbeard I planted along the fence will quickly obscure our view of one neighbor’s trashy yard.

To replace the honeysuckle, I am planting redbud (Cercis canadensis), Carolina spice bush (Calycanthus floridus), Carolina silver-bells (Halesia carolina), Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), spice bush (Lindera benzoin), hydrangeas, azaleas, and camellias. I’m underplanting the trees and shrubs with goatsbeard, ferns, heuchera, hosta, and spring ephemerals. The result should be much more interesting than the honeysuckle monoculture.

In the end, I don’t mind Toby’s work, but I wish he wouldn’t leave me with the shrubby mess to clean up. It takes many times longer to chop the limbs into manageable sizes and stuff them into yard waste bags than it does to whack the trees down. Where is Toby when you really need him?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sniffing the Katsura Tree

The calendar says autumn and our nighttime temperatures hint at agreement. The leaves of some trees are beginning to color, but we are still months away from the peak of the fall show (mid-October). Trees selected for autumn interest typically have bright leaves or showy seedpods. The leaves of the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) simply wither and brown, but they release the most fabulous smell as they fade, usually described as like cotton candy or hot sugar. If you have room for this large shade tree, it is worth inclusion in your landscape for the scent, if not the color, they bring to fall.

A whiff of a withered katsura leaf takes me back to high school and the childhood home of my friend Ryan. His family lives on a large lot, on Coal Creek Road, at the edge of town. The property encompasses woods, the aforementioned creek, and fertile fields, farmed for some profit and their own consumption. One of the major crops is strawberries. They sell many of the berries at the farmer’s market, and dry what they can’t eat or sell. The food dehydrator, in the kitchen, is a large cabinet with slide out screens. The strawberries are sliced, laid on the screens, and slid into the dehydrator. A fan circulates warm air over the berries and into the house as they slowly dry. Katsura leaves smell to me exactly like Ryan’s house when the strawberries were preserved: sweet, slightly tart, and fruity.

In Cincinnati, the katsura leaves are just beginning to fade. At my work, one large tree stands outside a side entrance. I will linger there, after returning from my lunchtime walks, to breathe the sweet air. This year, I intend to swipe a handful of dried leaves to use as a potpourri in my office. One whiff removes me from my sterile environment and connects memories from my youth with the present Midwestern autumn.

*I visited Marvin’s Organic Gardens (in Lebanon, OH) last weekend, and they have nice, reasonably priced katsura trees for sale. Go sniff them if you are in the area!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rosa "Julia Childs" Review

When I started gardening, roses scared me silly. They have a reputation as needy prima donnas. It was with great trepidation that I pruned the roses that first year. However, as I continued to care for the existing roses, my confidence grew. After viewing enough outrageously gorgeous rose photos on the Cottage Garden Forum, I gathered the courage to plan my own small rose garden.

I selected the Julia Child rose, a 2006 introduction. The rose’s description (from www.rose.org):
Julia Child is a floribunda destined to be as famous as her namesake. Personally chosen by the award-winning chef herself, this rose combines old-fashioned style with delicious fragrance rarely found in a free-flowering plant. This rose has a rounded habit and excellent disease resistance, raising the bar for any English-style rose. Julia Child also features a sweet licorice perfume that exudes from each fully-petaled flower, as well as a butter-gold color that's perfectly suited to any landscape.
“Disease resistance” and “sweet licorice perfume” were the selling points for me.

I planted my three bare-root roses in April. Over the course of the summer, the canes have developed into the promised medium sized, rounded, bushy plants. The foliage is neat, green, and glossy. I have had absolutely no problem with disease or pests. Except for working manure into the planting soil, I did not fertilize the roses. I’ve given them consistent water over the season.

The first blooms appeared in June and the bushes have been blooming non-stop ever since. The blooms begin as a fairly bright, almost lemony, yellow and gradually mellow to the described “butter-gold color” before fading to almost cream. Also consistent with the description, the color blends well with my other plants. Suspended over a carpet of white sweet alyssum and backed by the blue mist of caryopteris, the roses contribute to a dreamy color scheme.

The scent has been variable. At times, I detect the strong, licorice fragrance. Sometimes I think that the blooms smell more like citrus. Other flowers seem to have no scent at all. I’ve been so pleased with the rose’s easy care and appearance that I don’t mind the general lack of scent. I have catmint, sweet alyssum, and scented lilies planted in the bed for fragrance.

I’m impressed with the Julia Child rose and am gradually getting over my misconception of roses as difficult to grow. For those not willing to spray or live with defoliation, I believe that disease-resistant roses are key. This fall, I’ll be expanding my rose collection with two Livin’ Easy roses. I hope to post a similarly glowing review next year.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pantyhose in the Garden

I don’t do much staking in the garden, but I am training a number of vines up various structures. My favorite material for securing plants to supports is pantyhose. Working up the legs, I cut a section off and snip it in half to yield a stretchy length of fabric. The elasticity is the hose’s main attraction. It allows the plants to respond to wind and mechanical disturbances without snapping the stems. I also like pantyhose because the light brown color blends well with the garden. It is unobtrusive.

It can be difficult to find enough hose for a season of gardening. Generally, I don’t wear pantyhose. However, I often have to wear it as a performer. After we complete a run of a show, I ask for all the ladies’ pantyhose (which are generally full of rips and holes by this point). My germ phobia could be an obstacle to handling other people’s dirty tights, but I remind myself that the garden is worth it and hands are washable. Once home, I wash all of the hose and then store them in the garage for use. Tammy Faye yielded plenty of pantyhose for this season and beyond.

I’m still undecided on the material’s longevity. It does seem prone to UV-damage. I’ve noticed that some strips are beginning to look a bit ragged after a few months of exposure. This hasn’t been too much of an issue because I continue to add new lengths to the top-growth of the vines, so the older, lower ties are no longer crucial.

Although the hose seems to breakdown while in use, I’m concerned that the snipped off ends that fall in the soil and used lengths that make it to the compost will persist in the environment. It probably seems silly, but sometimes I worry about the earthworms choking on nylon strands the way sea turtles do on plastic bags. Generally, I try to police the unneeded pieces and toss them in the trash.

Time will tell whether pantyhose prove to be a reliable tie-down for my plants, but I’m willing to experiment with a material I got for free. The hose seems to be working well so far, and I enjoy chuckling at the sight of saggy tights mixed in with my gardening tools. Finally, I’d rather cut up pantyhose than wear them!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Don't Hate Lamb's Ear

Last weekend, Maggie and I met at Greenfield Plant Farm to swap plants. She was surprisingly cute and bubbly. (I had a mental image of someone older and dour. Sorry, Maggie!) We had a great time talking and I am disappointed that she lives a good 45 minutes from my house. During the course of our conversation, she revealed that she hates lamb’s ear. I wanted to drag her back to my house immediately to show her how lovely mine is. I’ll have content myself with showing her, and you, this picture:

I absolutely adore this plant. It is a fabulous edger. Its neat appearance and silvery foliage make an orderly transition from sidewalk or lawn to garden. It multiplies rapidly, so I have plenty of clones to continue edging other beds, give away, trade, or sentence to the hell strip. Along my front walk, I have interspersed the lamb’s ear with East Friesland sage and I admire the contrast of deep purple against silver nearly all summer long. The leaves are evergreen, providing some structure when most of my perennials have retreated beneath the ground during winter.

The most common objection to lamb’s ear is its aggressively spreading habit. True, I must divide my clumps in the spring and fall, but I can always find a use for the excess. Some don’t care for the silver color. Others (garden fashionistas?) simply find it out-dated.

When Maggie comes to see my garden next spring, I will continue my efforts to warm her to stachys. Lamb’s ear is like a fuzzy, lovable puppy – sometimes a little out of control, but charming all the same. Maybe I can manage to send Maggie home with a division or two (because, after all, who can resist puppies)!

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Favorite Spot, September 8th

Although I made no official announcement, I was sure that my Friday “Favorite Spot” posts were over for the season. They petered out as the summer progressed until I finally gave up hope of having a favorite spot again till spring. As I look around the garden, I can classify the beds as “fried” (flowering is done!) or “raw” (too new for me to like looking at yet).

Two late bloomers have persuaded me to bring back “my favorite spot” for the last(?) time this year. I did not anticipate it, but caryopteris and sweet autumn clematis have a significant bloom overlap and look absolutely magical together.

I offer only this close-up shot because a wasteland surrounds these two beauties. I am training the clematis along the railing above the basement stairs (aka Pit of Despair). The caryopteris shares the half-moon bed with a number of plants (lilac, coreopsis, gazania, oriental poppies) that look like absolute hell right now.

My favorite spot may only be two cubic feet of blooms, but it is better than nothing. Till next year!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Very Early Muscari

I planted my first bulbs last fall – tulips, crocus, daffodil, and muscari. I was surprised to see the muscari foliage emerge the following January. I was even more surprised to see it pop up again at the end of this August. A bit of research revealed that muscari commonly send up fall foliage that will persist over the winter and into the spring. Last year’s leaves were actually “late.” I will be interested to see how the foliage weathers the winter.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


As I began gardening, one of the tenets I quickly picked up on is planting in drifts. I believe Gertrude Jekyll popularized the style of planting grand sweeps of a single plant. As a newbie, I found the concept of drifts daunting, both in terms of plant selection and cost. To my credit, I originally envisioned planting my sun bed in drifts, but my plans were waylaid by stubborn seeds and unrealistic expectations. Instead, my bed is a colorful mess. Serendipitously, I prefer this look to sweeping drifts of color. It seems to fit the cottage style I aspire to.

As I plan and plant my shady areas, though, I am firmly committed to drifts. Let’s be honest, a shade garden is not vibrant, exciting, and in your face. It is subtle, peaceful, and relaxing. Planting in drifts gives the eye and mind less to digest. It creates seamless waves and swirls of foliage. In the spring, I hope to achieve subtly winding paths of blue, pink, yellow, and white.

Some contend that drifts look a bit artificial, but I prefer drifts to a naturalistic look. If I wanted naturalism, I would have let the ivy, violets, and henbit hold sway. The drifts may look (wo)man made, but I believe I’ve earned a little credit for my efforts. I would also argue that drifts aren’t wholly unnatural looking. Plants that spread by runners, like ostrich ferns, naturally form small monocultures within a shady area.

Not only are drifts pleasing to the eye, they also make maintenance easier. The water hogs can be watered without unduly soaking the bulbs that prefer a dry summer. Weeds are easily spotted and routed. I’m also less likely to slice into a dormant mertensia with my shovel when they are all clustered together.

Drifts, though, take discipline. I can’t simply load up on one of these and one of those and one of this and one of that. Instead, I try to obtain everything in multiples, whether I am buying, sowing, swapping, or stealing. I must leave large patches of ground open to accommodate future additions. Most of all, planting in drifts requires thought and planning. I have to save my impulse purchases for the cottage borders.

Don’t be fooled into thinking I’ve already accomplished impeccable drifts. I have a single may apple, flanked by a drift of blue cohosh on one side and multiple astilbe on the other. (The may apple cost me $10. There was no way I was buying three!) I had only two pulmonaria in a “drift” until Maggie swapped me two more. (I’d say three or more plants constitutes a drift.) Wherever the singles appear, I’ve left them room to run or self-seed so that I will eventually have a grouping. The drifts that I do have are a bit patchy looking as I wait for the plants to fill in.

I’ve already begun to see where drifts can have their downside. The forget-me-not drift I planted in afternoon sun is a large eyesore without consistent moisture. (I had thought their planting spot was a bit shadier than it turned out to be.) If they were tucked in among hosta and ferns, I might not notice their sagging foliage. A drift of mertensia must be co-planted with toad lilies to avoid a large bare spot all summer and fall. I am fearful that the deer or slugs will discover my drifts of hosta and denude an entire planting.

Finally, one can go a bit overboard with drifts. For instance, pictured here is an enormous drift of hosta, comprising almost an entire shade garden. To my eye, it goes beyond restful and into the realm of boring. In a larger shade garden (like a park), it would be appropriate, but here, it borders on monotonous. I have no firm percentage to offer, but the size of the drift should be somewhat in proportion to the size of the garden. For those who prefer prescriptive rules to the eye’s judgment, perhaps the golden ratio would be a place to start?

Planting in drifts may appear to be overly regimented to some, but I believe the results are worth it. When I feel an ADD moment coming on I can always go plug random annuals into my sun beds. When I’m ready to calm down again, I take a stroll through my restful, shady border and appreciate the repetitive beauty of columbine foliage en masse.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Hi Ho, Holly-O

Our house came with three mature holly trees. I haven’t a clue as to their proper names. They might be American Holly, Ilex opaca, but I’m just guessing. These behemoths are 30 feet tall, armed with the lethal leaves, and ornamented with bright red berries. (At least, the two females have berries. The male is wisely hidden along the side of the house.) Because our soil is alkaline, the leaves are usually a sickly yellow, although they’ve improved this year with the addition of Holly-Tone and peat moss. Overall, I find them ugly trees, despite the year-round foliage and ornamental berries. Like the Norway spruce, I would never have planted hollies, but I’m stuck with them.

Last fall, Mike and I spread the neighbors’ leaves along our side yard, beneath two of the hollies and our burning bush, at a depth of about eight inches. The leaves effectively smothered the patchy grass and my shade garden extension was born.

As I’ve gardened beneath the hollies, I’ve come to appreciate them for the wonderful quality of shade they provide. The canopy is not dense, so the shade is dappled, providing perfect conditions for most shade plants. When the wind blows and the small holly leaves are tossed, the resulting light patterns remind me of being underwater. It’s all very restful until I kneel down to pull a weed and am poked in the knee by a sharp holly leaf.

Unlike the Norway spruce, the hollies’ roots are easy to garden above. They dive fairly deep into the soil, but when encountered, are easy to dig and plant around. Except for my pouty hydrangea, the holly and my shade plants do not seem to compete for moisture.

From beneath, the branches are revealed to fabulously contorted. It’s as if the world’s spinning has confused the growing tips into lurching in random directions. The result is artful, if difficult to fit into a yard waste bag after trimming the tree.

I still find the hollies ugly when studied from afar, but I’m enchanted once I’m beneath their spread. In most other yards, the hollies’ branches extend down the trunk to ground level, creating an impenetrable cone. Those homeowners don’t know the magical world they’re missing beneath the holly boughs.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Garage Bed Potager

I dubbed the strip of dirt between the sidewalk and the garage my “garage bed.” The garden plan for this area has gone through numerous revisions. I’m still not happy with it.

Currently, the bed holds a hodgepodge of plants: Carolina jasmine, Silk Road orienpet lilies, Lysimachia ‘Alexander,’ Lysimachia ‘Firecracker,’ lavender, tulips, coreopsis (2 kinds), hollyhocks, creeping jenny, gladiolas, yarrow, and echinacea. It looks terrible.

The wall faces SW and the soil is good, but dry. The only plant that really seems to thrive here is the lavender. Given the conditions, an herb garden seems appropriate, but I don’t think it would give me the height I want. I’m considering adding veggies for height and annual flowers for color to create a potager next year. My plan:

  • Leave the lavender beneath the window
  • Plant cherry tomato plants on either side of the lavender
  • Plant sunflowers (the regular kind) on the outside of the tomatoes
  • Construct bamboo teepees at either end of the garage for climbing peas or beans
  • Plant low growing crops, herbs, and annuals in the remaining space

I’ll confess that I have not grown vegetables before. This was my first year with herbs and some of them look truly terrible. Many of you fellow garden bloggers grow veggies, so I’d love to hear your advice. Some questions I have are:

  • What kind of legumes can I grow on the teepee? Are they cool-weather crops? Should I plan for two or three crops on the teepees over the season?
  • Instead of teepees, what about arches extending over the sidewalk, with one on either end of the garage? Oooh, then I could grow birdhouse gourds…
  • Will cherry tomatoes become so bushy that they’ll block the path? (I haven’t measured it, but I think the bed is 2.5 or 3 feet deep.)
  • Any suggestions on low-growing crops? Should I plan, again, on different veggies for different times of the year?
  • What about perennial vegetables, like rhubarb and asparagus?
  • Finally, do you recommend any good books on potager gardens?

The world of veggies is completely bewildering to me. I feel like I’m learning to garden all over again. I appreciate your help!