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June 26, 2015

hardscape1Now that the addition on the front of my house as been completed, I’m eager to get started on creating my new front garden, a big five-year project. But before I can begin digging and planting flower beds, I must first get hardscape in place. My planning for this project included a consultation with a landscape designer, and his design calls for a small patio and a network of walkways. I had hoped to have this work done by my contractor, but it has become a DIY project because there wasn’t enough money left in the construction budget to cover it.

I wasn’t thrilled about having to do it myself; I find this fussy, tedious work, and I’m not very good at it. But I also know that it’s important to do it carefully and well. Fortunately, the crew who built the retaining walls that support the new patio did a great job laying out the hardscape areas by compacting the sandy soil and topping it with a layer of gravel. hardscape stone dustIn addition, my contractor gave me some tips on how to do the work more quickly and efficiently.

I’m using 1’ x 1’ concrete pavers for all of these hardscape areas. I began by having a cubic yard of stone dust delivered. I am using an inch of this as a base to lay the pavers in. Stone dust turns out to be very heavy, but I can move about 10 shovels-full at a time using my wheelbarrow.

I began by laying the pavers (4 wide by 10 long) for the front walkway, and then moved on to spreading the base for the back walkway.

hardscape front walkway hardscape spreading base

hardscape back walkwayAs I began the walkway to the back door, I discovered a problem; it was 10’ 9” long. I would either need to cut some pavers to fit or fill in with another material. I decided to divide the pavers into three sections separated by narrow bands of pea stone. I also used pea stone along each side of the walkway. I like the way the contrasting materials look. In addition, the pea stone is very forgiving and could help me solve any problems in the way the two walkways lined up. Moreover, this design also ties this hardscape to the walkway in my back garden, which is made of rectangular concrete pavers set in pea stone.

When I had finished this second walkway, I realized that I was not happy with the way it connected to the front walkway. The perpendicular pavers did not line up with one another, and it looked messy. I also had some other dissatisfactions with the front walkway, which was not very level. I decided to redo the front walkway by taking away one course of pavers, making the walkway a few inches shorter than 10’ and adding contrasting bands of pea stone at the intersection with the back walkway and at the base of the front stairs. I’m much happier with this second version, and moving the pavers out a few inches from the base of the stairs made it possible to line them up properly with the 2’ wide walkway to the patio.

hardscape front walkway redo

I began the walkway to the patio earlier this week and expect to complete it this weekend. Then I’ll be ready to tackle the 8’ x 8’ patio. After that, there will be only one walkway left, which leads from the patio along the front of the house and will eventually connect with a grassy path leading to the lower part of the garden-to-be. hardscape patio walkway

Soon, I’ll be able to begin creating flower beds around all this hardscape!

A Soggy Solstice

June 21, 2015

raindrop nigrescensThe summer solstice is my favorite day of the year. I love the long hours of light, the lushness of the landscape, and the perfect summer weather of Maine in late June. I usually celebrate the solstice by spending as much of it as possible outdoors. When I was younger, I spent many summer solstices camping and hiking on the Maine coast at Acadia National Park. In more recent years, I have preferred to spend the solstice at home, on the deck and in the garden.

This year’s solstice has been a bit different, however, because it has been rainy and unseasonably cool.  I can’t really complain because my garden could use a day of good soaking rain. But I needed to change my plans for a day spent mostly indoors, relaxing and catching up on some chores.

I did get out in the late morning to go to the farmers’ market and do some errands. In the mid-afternoon, a break in the rain provided an opportunity to go out and enjoy my rain-spangled plants.


Tomorrow the sun and I will both be up early, and I will be outside to enjoy the luxuriously long day and the return of beautiful Maine summer weather.

I am linking this post to Donna’s Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View.

Just Because It’s June, June, June!!! GBBD, June 2015

June 16, 2015

In the coastal Maine town where the musical Carousel is set, the long winter drags on well into April, and by May people are beginning to doubt that summer will ever come. Then, all of a sudden, everything happens at once – a lush display of life, beauty and love that the song tells us happens “just because it’s June, June, June!”blue & yellow June 2015

Just as the song predicts, “June is bustin’ out all over” in my Maine garden, with new plants bursting into bloom every day.

amsonia fading bloomsThe blue and yellow border (above) has the greatest variety of blooms, with Tradescantia ‘Zwannenburg Blue’, Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Linum perenne (flax), five different varieties of Siberian iris, Amsonia, two varieties of Baptisia, and two cultivars of hardy geranium. The Amsonia in this flower bed is a large, well-established plant that provides a major presence in the garden, even after its flowers fade. white swirl with baptisia

Siberian irises have been blooming especially well this year. I think the unusually hot days we experienced in May reduced damage from iris budfly by causing the flies to hatch out and lay their eggs before the iris buds were formed. I have been enjoying this profusion of I. sibirica ‘White Swirl’ blooms with the blue flowers of Baptisia australis and the yellow flowers of Baptisia x ‘Carolina Moonlight.’

Other irises that are providing a beautiful display right now include the self-sown plants that are probably the species, I. sibirica ‘Tiffany Lass,’ which has bloomed all at once, and the delicately colored flowers of I. sibirica ‘Lavender Bounty.’

Irises 2015

The self-sown species irises are looking especially lovely right now on the back slope. back slope irises 2015
circular bed2 june 2015 In the circular bed, an unidentified violet-colored pass-along iris is blooming with Lady’s mantle, Tradescantia  ‘Danielle’ and several varieties of hardy geranium.

Tradescantia virginiana is another plant that self-sows readily in my garden and begins to bloom in June in many parts of the garden. The self-sown plants mostly grow in shades of blue-violet. But I also enjoy vigorously growing cultivars like ‘Zwannenburg Blue,’ ‘Osprey,’ and ‘Pink Chablis.’

Tradescantia 2015

fence border june 2015In the fence border, big clumps of Tradescantia are the major floral display right now, combined here with lady’s mantle and two varieties of Geranium x cantabrigiense (‘Biokovo’ and ‘Karmina’).

June is also when the large band of Geranium ‘Biokovo’ along the front of the deck border blooms, providing delight for the eyes as well as for the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that frequent its flowers.

june geraniums deck border june 2015

raised bed full bloomThese same flowers also grow in the raised bed that separates the serenity garden from the clothesline area. This planting, which is only in its second year, is at the height of its bloom right now, with flowers open on two different varieties of Amsonia (A. hubrichtii and A. x ‘Blue Ice’) and three varieties of hardy geraniums.

raised bed biokovo & hubrichtii blue ice opening
The blooms in the serenity garden are more subtle and include the first flowers of goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), Geranium ‘Patricia’, and bowman’s root (Poteranthus trifoliata). serenity garden june 2015

Serenity June

The amazing thing about June is that this is just the beginning and there is so much more to come.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the fifteenth of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see June blooms in gardens from many climates.

Winged Seeds

June 10, 2015
red maple full leaf

Maple seeds are a study in compromise. They are equipped with a modest, but not extraordinary supply of nutrients. They fly away from the overbearing shadow [of the parent tree], but not very far. But nature has probably gone as far as it can in giving them wings.

(Bernd Heinrich, A Year in the Maine Woods, Perseus Books, 1994, p. 106)

In the month since I began following the large, triple-trunked red maple (Acer rubrum) tree that grows beside my driveway, it has fully leafed out and has been producing seeds. As Bernd Heinrich has noted, the winged seeds (called samaras) of maple trees, are a marvel of design. They package the seed with some nutrients to give it a good start in life, but they can also fly away from the shadow of the parent tree. For more than a week now, I’ve been watching red maple samaras twirl down out of the trees like tiny helicopters. Sometimes a breeze gives them forward momentum. Occasionally, one catches an updraft and rises away from the ground for a few seconds before resuming its decent.

red maple samara sizeMost maple trees that grow in Maine produce their seeds in late summer and fall; only the red maple and the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) produce fruit in spring. The USDA Red Maple Plant Fact Sheet tells me that the “red maple has the smallest winged seeds (samaras) of all native maples, about 5/8-3/4 inches long.” The associated USDA plant guide tells me that red maples are prodigious seed producers and that “up to 95% of viable seeds germinate in the first 10 days.”

I can believe the part about red maples being prodigious seed producers. I seem to have these seeds everywhere; some have even managed to get inside the house. I have never noticed so many before. Am I seeing so many red maple samaras this year just because I’m paying attention to them in a way that I didn’t before? Or have the trees produced an unusually large number of seeds this year?

I seriously doubt, though,  that the germination rate here is anywhere near 95%; so many of the seeds land in places not conducive to germination.

samaras steps Some land on decks, porches and steps.
…others on walkways. samaras walkway
samaras driveway Many twirl down onto the gravel driveway.
Many also end up in the gutters of my house, where they wash down the drainpipe and get caught on the screen of my rain barrel. samaras rain barrel
samaras web Some even get caught in spider webs.

Even so, there are still plenty of seeds landing in soil where they can germinate and grow, and the USDA tells me that the seedlings can get established in 3-4 months. Most of these seedlings will be in places where I don’t want maple trees growing (e.g., in flower beds), and I will spend time next spring pulling them up.

One thing that puzzled me about all the samaras lying around on my property is that they are single, when all my reference information about Acer rubrum tells me that its samaras are produced in attached pairs. At first, I worried that I had misidentified my tree and that it was actually some other species of maple – but everything else about these samaras fit the red maple description except their being single rather than paired. Then I read in the USDA plant guide that the red maple easily forms varieties and hybridizes with other maples, which made me wonder if I had a distinct variety or hybrid that produces single rather than paired samaras. However, when I was out for my morning walk today, I noticed the much larger samaras of silver maples in the road by a stream where they grow – and they were all singles too! This leads me to believe that the single samaras are not a species characteristic, but an environmental effect. Perhaps our unusually dry weather as these fruits were being formed caused them to be more brittle and to break apart as they fell from the trees.

This post is linked to Lucy’s tree-following meme at Loose and Leafy. Following an individual tree is providing me with a great opportunity to learn more about trees that have been part of the background of my life for decades.

Warmth, Rain, Bloom!

June 5, 2015

rhododendron exuberanceOur April was unusually cool this year, with very slow snow melt and a sense that spring might never come. Then May arrived with unusually warm – even hot – temperatures. This was not the hot, humid air of July and August, however, but heat that was dry, dry, dry! Relative humidity hovered around 25%. Plants grew rapidly in the sudden warmth, but only a few bloomed. We needed rain.

On the last day of May, the rain came. It started raining on that Sunday morning, and continued for three days. Fortunately, we did not get the destructive, hard-driving rain that visited other parts of the country, but a gentle, soaking rain that was just what the doctor ordered. And, in a phenomenon reminiscent of what happens in the desert when it rains, thirsty plants burst into bloom.

I was away the day the rain started and didn’t get home until after nightfall. But as I walked up the stairs to my back door in the dark, I could sense the presence of masses of blooms and foliage beside me on the back slope. In the morning, I went out to look around, and this is what I found:

rhody catawbiense biokovo beginning

My sense of a massive plant presence on the back slope was correct. Large clumps of hosta leaves were overlaid by the exuberant blooms of the rhododendron that sprawls over the top half of the slope (photo at top of post). In the deck border, Rhododendron catawbiense Album had also begun to bloom, and the first flowers of Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ had opened.

zwanenburg blooms amsonia opening

In the blue and yellow border, Tradescantia ‘Zwanenburg Blue’ and Amsonia had begun to bloom, accompanied by the soft yellow flowers of Baptisia x ‘Carolina Moonlight.’ The first Siberian irises had also opened (with many more yet to come).

carolina moonlight first siberians

Elsewhere in the garden, Geranium maculatum Album is blooming more profusely than it ever has before, and Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal’ is just beginning to unfurl its flower spikes.

g. maculatum album h. raspberry regal

This is the time of year when new blooms appear every day. And these rain-encouraged flowers are just a preview of the great show to come.

Spring’s Wildflower Bounty

May 27, 2015

There are not yet many flowers in bloom in my garden, but this is prime season for the spring wildflowers that grow at the edges of the woodlands around my garden. So this month I’m joining Gail at Clay and Limestone in celebration of Wildflower Wednesday.

wildflower white violet wildflower strawberry wildflower bluets

There are several wildflowers that grow in my garden at this time of year. I’m quite happy to let clumps of sweet white violets (Viola blanda) grow where they seed themselves on the back slope. Wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), which love the glacial sand of my neighborhood, also grow on the back slope – as well as in many other places on my property. Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) bloom in clumps in open, sunny spots.

wildflower canada mayflowerIn addition to these obvious wildflower denizens of my garden, however, there are other wildflowers that will reveal themselves if you look more closely. The Canada mayflowers (Maianthemum canadense), while tiny, are easy to see because they grow in large mats at the edges of the woods and in open spots on the forest floor. Despite their name, these flowers don’t usually appear here until June. This year, however, our long cold winter has been followed by an unusually warm spring, and the mayflowers have actually bloomed in May. Where you find Canada mayflower on my property, you will usually also find it’s companion, the diminutive starflower (Trientalis borealis).

wildflower starflower

Although those strawberry look-alikes, the barren strawberries (Waldsteinia fragarioides) are trying to blend in among the strawberries, their yellow flowers give them away. wildflower barren strawberry
wildflower sasparilla Much harder to see are the white-green flowers of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), as they peek out from under the shade of their overhanging leaves.
One day, as I was walking up the driveway after my morning walk, I went over to investigate a flash of bright pink on the edge of the woods and found the small flowers of gaywings (Polygala paucifolia). I think these look like little airplanes, with their wings and tiny propellers. wildflower polygala

may wildflowers_1

A bit further afield from my garden, this is also the time of year when the walk down my dirt road to the mailbox rewards close attention. There I found (clockwise from bottom right) a clump of  blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium augustifolium), unidentified small blue violets, the lovely yellow-green flowers of blue-bead lily (Clintonia borealis), and a white version of gaywings (Polygala paucifolia). Best of all, I found several specimens of that elusive woodland beauty, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule).

wildflower lady slipper

Soon these spring wildflowers will fade, yielding pride of place to cultivated perennials growing in flower beds. Right now, however, their blooms provide a delightful preview of the garden season.

Growing By Leaps and Bounds

May 20, 2015

amsonia growingIt is hard to believe that there were still patches of snow in my garden only three weeks ago. In the weeks since, we have had warm weather and sunshine, and plants have been growing by leaps and bounds.

Two weeks ago, the various Amsonia plants had not yet sent up new growth; now this one in the blue and yellow border is about 18” tall and already has flower buds.


amsonia flower buds
The goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), which is one of the earlier plants to emerge in my garden, is now almost four feet tall and growing fast. By the time it blooms, it will top six feet and its feathery plumes will float over the garden. goatsbeard growing
hostas unfurling Late-emerging plants like  hostas are now all up and their leaves are unfurling.
Even the balloon flowers (Platycodon), always the last plants to send up new growth in my garden, have put in their appearance and are no longer looking like asparagus spears. platycodon up

I think our early and deep snow and the slow melt of the snowpack get some credit for this burst of growth. Snow cover provides insulation in the garden, protecting plants from freeze and thaw cycles. Because we had snow cover before the ground really froze this year, plants were protected from the unusually cold temperatures that followed. Although cleared areas like streets saw exceptionally deep frost levels, the insulating snow in the garden would have kept the freeze there relatively shallow. Our slow gradual melt also provided plants with a steady time-release infusion of moisture and nutrients as they started to break dormancy. It’s no wonder that, when they finally had sun to warm the soil and support photosynthesis, they were ready to take off.

With my plants growing so quickly, I need to also get myself moving more quickly. There is still a lot to do to prepare for the gardening season. For starters, that goatsbeard needs to be staked and fast-growing peonies and clumps of Tradescantia need peony hoops to support them.

peonies & tradescantia


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