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Summer Blooms: GBBD, July 2014

July 17, 2014

blue&yelllow july 2014I’m a bit late with my bloom day post, but this is one that I definitely don’t want to miss. In my Maine garden, even in a year when flowers are blooming later than normal, mid-July is a time when summer flowers burst into bloom. Each morning’s tour of the garden brings new delights.

Daylily (Hemerocallis) season has begun in earnest, with ten of the more than forty different varieties that I grow currently in bloom. The first daylily to flower was the early rebloomer, ‘Happy Returns,’ which is currently gracing the back slope along with a velvety red daylily and the first flowers of Platycodon grandiflorus (balloon flower) ‘Sentimental Blue.’

back slope blooms red daylily in rain

circular july 2014The circular bed at the turn into the driveway, which has suffered somewhat from close encounters with construction vehicles, also features an early daylily , an unnamed neon gold seedling from the Barth breeding program. Most of the flowers blooming with this are in more pastel shades that allow the daylily to take center stage. I especially love this combination of Geranium x ‘Brookside’ and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle).

barth large gold 2014 circular brookside & alchemilla

holding area july 2014The holding area at the side of the house, where I put plants that needed to be moved out of harm’s way during construction and that will eventually go back into a new front garden, is a riot of color. Several daylilies are blooming here, as are five different colors of Tradescantia, an unidentified pink lily, Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal’, Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower) and a pale pink astilbe. I would not normally plant all these different colors together, but I’m enjoying the effect. I especially love the combination of strong yellow and pink.

pink lily holding area color
In the back garden, only one flower bed, the blue and yellow border, has daylilies in bloom at this point. (Both the deck border and the fence border have varieties that will bloom later.) The first daylily to bloom here was another early rebloomer, ‘Boothbay Harbor Gold.’ This was soon joined by the large fragrant flowers of ‘Alna Pride.’ Many more varieties, all in shades of yellow, will join them in the days to come. These daylilies are accompanied by tall spires of delphinium, which have begun to bloom, and by the strong yellows of Heliopsis helianthoides and Coreopsis verticillata ‘Golden Showers.’
b&y daylilies
alna pride 2014
heliopsis b&y july 2014 golden showers july 2014

deck border july 2014Although the blue and yellow border will soon take center stage in the back, the deck border still has more happening. Varieties of Astilbe are the most prominent flowers here. I am particularly happy to see the pale pink blooms of ‘Betsy Cuperus,’ which is thriving after being relocated last year. And my favorite Astilbe flowers are always those of ‘Ostrich Plume.’

betsy cuperus 2014 ostrich plume & goatsbeard 2014
In the fence border, in addition to the flowers of Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), tradescantia, and geranium – all which have been blooming for several weeks – clematis ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ is now blooming on the fence, and the first flowers of the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ have just begun to bloom. clematis comtesse 2014

fence border july 2014

serenity with bench

patricia serenity In the back by the woods, the serenity garden seems like a calm oasis of foliage. A closer look, however, finds a number of flowers in bloom, including the bold magenta of Geranium x ‘Patricia,’ the pale pink of Astrantia major, and the first flowers of Deinanthe cerulea (false hydrangea).
astrantia serenity deinanthe serenity

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog for links to what’s in bloom this month in gardens of many climes.

Star Turn

July 11, 2014

back garden from deckMy back garden is composed of three separate flower beds: the deck border, the blue and yellow border, and the fence border. These flower beds create a unified whole, but each also has its own distinct character. I often think of them as like an ensemble acting troupe. This is not a garden in which one flower bed is the star or focal point and the others are supporting players; rather, each is in the starring role at some points in the season and in a supporting role at other times.

Well, to be honest, the blue and yellow border may hog the spotlight a bit more than the other players in this ensemble. It is the largest flower bed of the three, and its big, bold blooms and contrasting colors demand attention. But in early July, when the iris display of June has ended and the daylily, delphinium, coreopsis and heliopsis blooms of high summer are just tentatively opening their first flowers, the deck border takes its star turn.

deck border star turn

The deck border has a much quieter kind of beauty than either the blue and yellow border or the fence border. It was designed primarily as a shade garden, with an emphasis on layers of foliage in different colors, sizes, and textures. And while it also has lots of flowers, those flowers have a quiet analogous color scheme in soft pastels of pink, lavender and white.

pink spirea bloomsBut this quiet floral display  wows me at this time of year. The deck border steps forward into the spotlight when masses of deep pink flowers appear on Spirea japonica ‘Magic Carpet’. As these fade to a softer mauve, varieties of Astilbe begin to bloom – white ‘Bridal Veil,’ mauve  ‘Cattleya,’ pale pink ‘Betsy Cuperus,’ and salmon pink ‘Ostrich Plume.’ These join the clear pink flowers of Geranium x oxonianum and the deep pink and white of Tradescantia ‘Pink Chablis’.  Above it all float the airy plumes of Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard).

astilbe blooms 2014 pink chablis 2013
goatsbeard display

The deck border will continue to flower through the summer and into the fall, with later blooming astilbes, several varieties of pink daylilies (Hemerocallis), pale pink balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus), and Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy.’ Once the daylily display begins in earnest, however, the eye will be more often drawn to the more dramatic blooms of the blue and yellow border and the fence border, and the deck border will step back into a lush but less flamboyant supporting role.


July 3, 2014

Last August, I built and planted the large raised bed that is intended to provide a sense of seclusion to the serenity garden by separating it from the clothesline area and the driveway (see Closure). I decided to keep the planting simple by including plants from only two genera, Geranium and Amsonia. Along what I think of as the “back edge,” facing the clothesline and driveway, I planted several divisions of G. x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ (of which I always have a seemingly endless supply). These are fast-growing groundcover plants that will fill in along the edge of the raised bed, spill over the edge, and also spread to fill in among the other plants. In the center of the raised bed, I planted a row of three Amsonia hubrichtii; these should grow to be about 3’ tall and wide, which, when added to the height of the raised bed, will provide an effective visual screen. Along the side of the raised bed facing the serenity garden, I mixed plants of the dwarf Amsonia x ‘Blue Ice’ and G. x oxonianum.

raised bed  year1

raised bed pinks & bluesIn its first season, I’m very happy with how this new flower bed is looking. The primary focus here will be on foliage; Geranium ‘Biokovo’ has already established an impressive foliage presence along one side, and the other plants are also growing nicely. In late June and early July, this bed is at the height of its bloom, with a mix of soft pinks (Geranium) and blues (Amsonia).  Even in year one, this combination is already looking good.

raised bed tall giant1But, wait, what is this tall giant at the front corner of the raised bed, where a low-growing A. x ‘Blue Ice’ should be blooming? Oops! I think this may be a plant of Amsonia tabernaemontana. But what is it doing here? One possibility is that this plant was mislabeled at the nursery. (It does happen.) The other possibility is that it was sitting beside the ‘Blue Ice’ plants on the nursery table, and I failed to notice its different tag when I was busy trying to choose the five healthiest specimens of ‘Blue Ice.’ (Hmm. That’s been known to happen, too Winking smile .)

Whatever happened, it’s okay; this mistake may turn out to be another instance of serendipity. While this plant clearly doesn’t belong in its current location, I’m impressed with its height. I think I may move it to the center of the raised bed, where it can provide a large architectural presence flanked by the more feathery A. hubrichtii plants.  (The plant of A. hubrichtii currently in that location can be moved to another part of the garden). I can then divide the Amsonia  x ‘Blue Ice’ at the opposite corner in two and place half of it at this corner, creating the intended symmetry. When fall comes, I will make these and some other needed tweaks to this planting and then expect to be even happier with it next year.

The Fence Border Grows Up

June 26, 2014

One morning recently, as I was sitting out on the deck eating breakfast and enjoying the garden, I realized that my eyes were looking past the glories of the deck border and the blue and yellow border to rest on the fence border beyond. And I was not looking at it in consternation, as I have often done, but in satisfaction. In that moment, I realized that, after several years of gawky adolescence, the fence border has grown up to be a beauty. fence border wide

The fence border is the smallest and youngest of the three flower beds that make up my back garden. It is a semi-circle, 16’ long and 8’ deep at the center, and backed by a 12’ length of cedar fence. While the two larger flower beds, the deck border and the blue and yellow border, are parallel, running along either side of the long curved walkway that creates a central axis in the back garden, the fence border lies perpendicular to the other flower beds. It was designed to create a sense of enclosure in the back garden and to screen the view of the clothesline from the deck. I began imagining the fence border in 2004 or 2005, it became a reality when I installed the fence and began digging the soil in 2008, and I finished planting this flower bed in fall 2009.

fence border close

The fence border’s floral display begins in late May or early June when two different varieties of Geranium x cantabrigiense (‘Biokovo’ and ‘Karmina’) and Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle)bloom along its front edge. At this point, the rest of the plants provide a backdrop of foliage in various heights, textures, and shades of green. By mid-June, however, flowers also appear in the center of the border as varieties of Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort), Geranium x oxonianum and peonies (Paeonia lactiflora) bloom.

fence border inner blooms fence border peonies

By early July, when the flowers at the front of the border are fading, the first blooms of two different clematis varieties appear on the fence at the back of the border. Most of the action in July is in the middle of the flower bed as the flowers of tradescantia and geranium are joined by Veronica longifolia ‘Blue Giant’ and six different varieties of daylily (Hemerocallis). In August, the main action moves to the back of the border. By that time, the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ will be blooming at one end of the fence and the tall daylily ‘Autumn Minaret’ will be blooming at the other end. In between late summer flowers of Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’ will bloom just in front of the fence. Also by August, the morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) vines that are just now getting their first true leaves will have grown up the twine on the fence. But they won’t have flowers yet; those won’t come until September – and only if we don’t have an early frost and the nights are not too cold for the buds to open. More reliable blooms in September are Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, which will bloom until frost, Sedum ‘Matrona,’ and the very late daylilies ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ and ‘Final Touch.’

It’s tempting to pretend that I carefully designed the fence border to transition from flowers at the front against a backdrop of foliage in the early summer to the floral display at the back framed by the foliage of geranium and Lady’s mantle in the late summer and fall – but that would be a lie. Like so much of the best design in my garden, this is the result of serendipity. I wasn’t thinking about this transition at all as I designed the initial planting and then added some new plants and moved others around in the first years. And I only recently recognized the way the floral display moves through the border as the season progresses. I consider serendipity one of my best teachers, however, and I am happy to add this to the repertoire of design tools that I can use more intentionally in future projects.

A Near-Perfect Summer Day

June 22, 2014

solstice garden 2014I don’t remember being aware of the summer solstice as a special day until I moved to Maine in the early 1980s. I find the quality of light at more northerly latitudes special all year round; but the long days of late June are especially magical in Maine. The light is clear, but not harsh, and late June can bring the best of Maine’s summer weather. This year has brought classic June weather, with sunshine, daytime highs in the 70s (F), breezes, low humidity, and cool nights.

I treat the summer solstice as a holiday celebrating these idyllic late June days. My goals for the day are to enjoy the light, to spend as much time as possible outdoors, and to suspend the normal routines of my day in favor of relaxation.

sunrise gardenI began yesterday’s solstice celebration by getting up and out to the garden early to look at the sunrise (which happens a little before 5 a.m. at this time of year). Then I went back to bed for a while, getting up again about 6:30 to go out for a morning walk. By mid-morning, I was sitting out on the deck with my breakfast and a novel (J.A. Jance’s latest mystery). I stayed on the deck for most of the rest of the day in a delicious state of relaxation – eating  lunch as well as breakfast there, reading my novel, and gazing out over the garden. At times, I paused from my reading to just drink in the beauty of the day. A hummingbird hovered at the red geranium (Pelargonium) flowers blooming in a container just a few feet from where I sat before moving on to the iris flowers in the blue and yellow border, the Heuchera blossoms in the deck border, and the peony blooms in the fence border. Bees buzzed among the flowers of Geranium ‘Biokovo,’ and tiger swallowtail butterflies flitted in and out of the garden. In the late morning, I decided to mark the official start of summer by gathering flowers from the garden to make arrangements of cut flowers for the house, the first of this season.

peony flower arrangement

In some years, I have stayed out on the deck into the evening of this longest day, watching the light fade and the stars come out. This year, however, I moved inside in the late afternoon, when the sky clouded over and temperatures dropped into the 60s. I ate my dinner indoors and then curled up on the living room sofa with a mug of tea to finish my novel.

The solstice really does mark the beginning of summer in Maine. Although the television meteorologists have been reminding us that the days will now begin to shorten, I know that it will be weeks before shorter days are noticeable. Meanwhile, I will keep the windows open, eat my meals on the deck, and enjoy the sunshine and warmth of these summer days.

June’s Beautiful Bounty: GBBD, June 2014

June 16, 2014

back garden june 2014In many parts of the north temperate zone in the United States, May is the month when gardens burst into life with new blooms. But in colder climate gardens, like mine in Maine, June is the month that rewards the gardener with a beautiful bounty of new flowers.

After what seemed like an endless winter and a spring that promised more than it delivered, June is the month when Mainers are finally sure that summer is coming. And it comes on all in a rush. Although my garden is not as far along as it has been at mid-June in most years, it is still a beautiful place to be. So let’s take a look around and see what is blooming.

On the back slope, the rhododendron is near the end of its bloom, with just a few blossoms remaining, and the flowers of wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) have been replaced by those of chives. Both the blue Siberian irises and the blue tradescantia have begun to bloom.

back slope june 2014

circular june 2014Construction has begun on the new addition to my house and all that remains of the former front flower beds is the circular bed at the turn into the driveway. This is an oasis of beauty amid the chaos of construction, with soft pastel shades of pinks and violets in the current blooms of Siberian iris, Geranium x cantabrigiense (‘Biokovo’ and ‘Karmina’), Allium, and Geranium x oxonianum.

circular bed irises

For calm, I retreat to the back of my property. There, the raised bed that was built and planted at the end of last summer is already filling in nicely, and the first flowers have appeared on Geranium ‘Biokovo’ and Amsonia hubrichtii.

raised bed first blooms

This raised bed separates the driveway and clothesline area from the Serenity Garden, which is mostly leafy loveliness at this time, with the last flowers of Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ and of hellebores fading and those of Geranium ‘Biokovo’ just beginning to open.

serene serenity

fence border june 2014Walking back toward the deck takes us to the heart of the back garden. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and Geranium x cantabrigiense (‘Biokovo’ and ‘Karmina’) are blooming along the front of the fence border, and several other plants (like these peonies) are showing off fat buds.

biokovo & karmina peony promise
In the deck border, masses of pink geranium flowers have begun to bloom along the walkway, and Rhododendron catawbiense ‘Album’ is blooming more profusely than it ever has before. deck border june 2014

deck june blooms

blue and yellow bluesThe biggest flush of flowers is across the walkway in the blue and yellow border. There blues predominate in the flowers of Tradescantia x ‘Zwannenburg Blue’, Siberian irises, Amsonia hubrichtii, Linum perenne ‘Saphire’, and blue geraniums ‘Nimbus’ and ‘Brookside.’ Yellow accents appear in the flowers of Lady’s mantle, Siberian iris ‘White Swirl’ (just beginning to open), and Baptisia australis ‘Carolina Moonlight.’

blue and yellow june flowers

The tiger swallowtail butterflies that have been flitting around the garden for weeks are enjoying all these new sources of nectar. And this is just the first flush of summer flowers. The garden is full of swelling buds promising more blooms to come, and every day brings still more flowers.

swallowtail nectaring

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day (for which I’m a day late) is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see the beautiful bounty of June blooms from gardens around the world.

Working with a Landscape Architect

June 10, 2014

imageWhen I first began thinking about putting an addition on the front of my house, I recognized it as an opportunity to rethink the landscaping of that part of my property. The front is currently a combination of scrubby grass, weeds and moss that slopes down from the front of the house and includes a couple of large, unprepossessing, and poorly placed shrubs (a forsythia and a mock orange). Except for the circular flower bed at the turn into the driveway, my attempts to create plantings in the front have been largely unsuccessful. After years of focusing my energies on the back garden, it was time to make some serious changes here.

Redesigning the front landscape presented two major challenges: First, it made sense to terrace the slope to create more useable outdoor spaces, but doing this (both conceptually and physically) was beyond my capabilities. Second, the house sits at an odd angle to the road and driveway, and the addition was going to make these odd angles much more apparent. I decided it was time to call in a professional landscape architect.

I quickly learned that landscape architects usually work on grander projects with bigger budgets than this addition to my 900 sq. ft. house entails. When the landscape architect that my architect recommended outlined his usual process and fees, it became clear that these would use up about half of my landscape budget, leaving much too little to actually do the work. Happily, the architect smoothed the way and the landscape architect proposed a more streamlined and less detailed process with a much smaller price tag. I explained that I didn’t need a professional to choose plants for me. What I was looking for was a kind of master plan that would show retaining walls, the contours of the land, and the location and shape of hardscape and planting areas.

The process that followed was fascinating. Peter Burke, the landscape architect, came out to the house and examined the property, making sketches and measurements. He also got a copy of the architect’s computerized rendition of the addition, which he could then add to. Very quickly, he presented me with a set of drawings that divided the front of my property into three levels, with a small patio at the middle level. The three-level solution to terracing the slope hadn’t occurred to me; but once I saw it, it seemed obvious (especially because it kept the retaining walls to a manageable size).

imagePeter’s first set of drawings also included a large circular lawn on the bottom level. And, while I could see how this design dealt with what he called the “funky angles,” it just didn’t speak to me. It was more lawn than I wanted, and it did away with the 8’ diameter circular flower bed at the turn into the driveway (a successful planting which I wanted to keep). This is where I discovered something about myself: I found it very difficult to critique Peter’s work; I didn’t want to be a “difficult client.” He was very reassuring about this, explaining that the design process is always iterative, involving back and forth between the designer and the client.

image Unfortunately, my landscape design budget wouldn’t stretch to cover an alternative planting design for this lower level. Instead, Peter focused his efforts on what I needed most from a professional, the design for contouring, retaining walls and hardscape. At first, I was disappointed not to have a design for shapes of lawn and planting areas; but then I realized that I can handle this. I have Peter’s initial design for this area, which I can copy and modify. Since I plan to create the new front garden beginning at the top level and working my way down, I will have a couple of years to think about the lower level and work on design possibilities before I actually get there. It will be a fun challenge.


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