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This Is For You, Mom

July 23, 2016

Lavender WalkWhen my parents were in their early seventies and my father had retired from his job in a steel forge, they sold their house to my younger sister and bought a mobile home in a nearby retirement park. This mobile home park really was park-like. The lots were generously sized, and when the place was built, each lot had been landscaped with several specimen trees. My parents had a hemlock, two flowering hawthorns, a flowering dogwood, and an enormous blue spruce that dominated the back of the lot. The family that owned the park included at least one gardener who created interesting plantings in the public spaces. (I was particularly fond of several places where clematis had been trained over boulders.) And many of the people who lived in the park planted flower gardens. I remember my parents taking me to look at the park before they decided to buy there and being wowed by the beauty of the landscaping.

The unit my parents bought had a clump of lilacs (a plant my mother could not be without) outside the bedroom window, and rhododendrons growing under the windows at the front. It also had perennial plantings of peonies, bearded irises, and lily of the valley. Over time, my mother added some additional perennials – hostas, rudbeckia, and shasta daisies. After the blue spruce tree came down one year in a winter storm, I created a circular perennial garden for her to fill the space and ease the loss of the tree.

One plant my mother always wanted to grow at the mobile home was lavender. But, although I bought her gift plants of lavender on a number of different occasions and tried out multiple varieties in a number of different places, we never succeeded in getting lavender to grow in her garden. So, when I was thinking about my new front garden, I knew that I wanted to create a planting of lavender in memory of my mother.

The realization of this desire is the Lavender Walk, two small flower beds that flank a narrow 10 ft. long section of walkway that leads from my new patio to the fragrant garden under my bedroom window. The fragrant planting of lavender provides a transition from the front entrance garden, which includes relatively few fragrant flowers, to a planting focused on fragrance.

lavender & ice plant2The Lavender Walk features eight plants of Lavendula augustifolia, four on each side of the walkway. In designing this planting, I had to figure out the best companion plants to go with the lavender. One side of the planting sits at the top of a retaining wall, and here I chose sedums as companion plants. The three plants of Sedum x ‘Autumn Fire’ planted behind the lavender are looking very happy and will bloom after the lavender has finished. In contrast, the four plants of the beautiful groundcover Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’ that I planted at the top of the retaining wall, in hopes that it would not only spread across the ground between the taller sedum plants but also trail down the outside of the wall, are looking very unhappy. Earlier this summer, when Craig Cote and Rex Beisel of Barred Owl Daylilies gave me a division of another groundcover plant, Delosperma (ice plant) x ‘Table Mountain,’ I divided it into three small pieces and planted them between the lavender plants at the front of this planting. The results have been very gratifying, as the plants have not only settled in, but grown dramatically and bloomed profusely. If the groundcover sedum does not survive or continues to look sickly next year, I may replace it with pieces of the ice plant, which I think would be happy to cover the top of and trail down the outside of the retaining wall.

Magnus bloomOn the other side of the walkway, the Lavender Walk planting backs up to the front deck of my house. Here I used Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ as a companion plant. This choice was inspired by one of my mother’s neighbors in the mobile home park who had lavender and echinacea growing together by her front door. I always loved the way the combination looked and knew I wanted to replicate it here. The four lavender plants are at the front of this border, with three of the taller echinacea plants behind them. The echinacea has just begun to bloom, and I am very happy with the result. At the front of this planting, I added another Sedum spurium variety, ‘John Creech’ as a groundcover between the lavender plants. Unlike ‘Tricolor,’ John Creech is looking healthy and happy and is covered with pink blooms.

lavender inflorescense John Creech & lavender

Because the Lavender Walk has special meaning to me, I had a big emotional investment in its success as a planting. In its first year, it has exceeded my hopes. Each day, as I walk through this part of my garden, I am filled with wonder at its beauty and filled with love for the very special woman who inspired it and in whose memory it was created.

July’s Floral Bounty: GBBD, July 2016

July 15, 2016

lavender walk July 2016July is the time of peak bloom in my Maine garden. The garden hasn’t reached its peak yet; that is still a week or two away. But I am experiencing that beautiful floral crescendo that will peak in late July.

The first flower beds in my new front garden, planted less than a year ago, continue to amaze. The Lavender Walk is abloom with two varieties of lavender (Lavendula augustifolia ‘Munstead Strain’ and Lavendula augustifolia ‘Hidcote’), ice plant (Delosperma ‘Table Mountain’), Sedum spurium ‘John Creech,’ and the first flowers of Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus.’

Lavender Walk flowers

walkway to patio July 2016In the Porch Border and the Patio Border, flanking the walkway to the patio, Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal,’ Geranium x oxonianum, and Tradescantia virginiana ‘Pink Chablis’ continue to bloom profusely. But they have now been joined by some of the earlier daylily varieties, by the tall, pale pink panicles of Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Moerheim’s Glory,’ and by flowers of annual cosmos and cleome.

patio walkway flowers

The astilbes are at their peak right now, especially in the Deck Border. There, ‘Moerheim’s Glory’ is joined by lavender spires of Astilbe x arendsii ‘Cattleya,’ the delicate arched flowers of Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Betsy Cuperus,’ and the beautiful Astilbe x thumbergii ‘Ostrich Plume.’


But it is the daylilies that steal the show in my July garden. These began to bloom the last week in June. By mid-July, one or two varieties are opening their first flowers each day. Here is a sampling of those currently in bloom:

early daylilies 2016
Daylily varieties, left to right, top to bottom: Unnamed large gold daylily from Barth breeding program, Mary Todd, Happy Returns, unnamed wine-colored daylily from Cellars breeding program, possibly species daylily Hemerocallis citrina, unidentified red spider daylily, Lily Munster, unidentified yellow-orange daylily, Sheepscot Valley Sunset, Boothbay Harbor Gold, Alna Pride, Hemerocallis fulva.

And these represent only about 25% of the varieties I am growing, with many, many more still to come in the days and weeks ahead.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see an amazing array of blooms from gardens around the world.

Cherry Tree Problems

July 13, 2016

cherry tree taller JulySince I last checked in on my little native pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), it has grown by several inches and has a kind of skinny, gangly adolescent look. The new growth is encouraging, but I am also alert to signs of trouble. One of the reasons native cherry trees are not often recommended as garden trees in Maine is that they are prone to some problems, most particularly a fungal disease (Apiosporina morbosa) called “black knot” and infestation by eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum).

I’m not particularly concerned about the tent caterpillars. I have them in another cherry tree in the woods behind my house, and I used to worry about them spreading to other trees in my woods. I once had a neighbor advise me to remove the silken “tents” from the tree and burn them with a blow torch in my driveway. Since then, I have learned that these insects are mostly cherry tree specialists and are unlikely to spread throughout my woods. I’ve also learned that they are unlikely to kill a tree, and that they provide food for birds. If they show up on this little tree next year, I will probably remove them, but I don’t need to burn them; I can just deposit the silken nest of tiny caterpillars in my driveway and let the birds take care of them.

The two problems I’ve noticed on my little tree involve stems and leaves. There are a few places where stems have been broken and are hanging limply with dead foliage attached. It seems likely that these were physical injuries caused by some animal and not a particular cause for concern. There are also a couple of places where leaves seem to  be rough-textured and curling. Nothing I have read suggests that this is an early symptom of black knot, so I will just keep monitoring them and see if the problem gets worse.

cherry tree broken stem cherry tree damaged leaves

I’ve decided to simply monitor my tree this year without taking any action. Next spring, if I’ve decided the tree is garden-worthy, I’ll consider pruning for shape (and to remove any signs of black knot), removing more of its competition, and possibly staking it to gently correct its tendency to lean.

Tree following is hosted by Pat English at Squirrel Basket, where you can learn about other trees being followed this year.

Update on the Front Garden Project

July 6, 2016

imageThis is year two of my five-year (?) front garden project. The opportunity for my new front garden was created when I had an addition built onto the front of my house in 2014. The front garden  is a big project that involves creating a whole new landscape for the front of my property, an area of more than 4000 square feet that runs from the front of my house to the dirt road I live on and from my side property line to the driveway.

In year one (2015), I worked on a relatively small area around the new front entrance to my house, laying 220 square feet of concrete pavers to create a series of walkways and a small patio and preparing and planting four relatively small flower beds around those walkways. My plans for year two were more ambitious: preparing and planting both the Side Slope – an area that covers a fairly steep slope from the bottom of the retaining wall down to the driveway and running from the steps up the slope at one end to the corner of the retaining wall at the other end – and the Fragrant Garden, which will fill a 10’ x 20’ area under my new bedroom window. When I calculated the size of the Side Slope (almost 450 square feet), however, I realized that it would take me three months to prepare that planting alone. My revised (and more realistic plan) for this year is to prepare and plant the Side Slope and then to do as much of the soil preparation for the Fragrant Garden as possible, with the goal of putting plants in next spring.

side slope fragrant garden bones

To understand what’s involved in preparing a new area of my garden, you need to know that my neighborhood sits on a large glacial sand deposit. (A geologic survey test pit less than a mile from my house measured the sand at 45 feet deep.) The result is poor soil that contains little organic matter. I had the soil tested this spring and the results showed less than 1% organic matter, about one-tenth of the minimum recommendation for garden soil. To make matters worse, most of  the soil for my new front garden is backfill around the new addition and the retaining wall. I work the soil in 6-square-foot sections, adding about 1.5 cubic feet of organic matter (compost and dehydrated cow manure) to each 6 cubic feet of existing soil. In deference to the degenerated discs in my spine, I limit my work sessions to 2-3 hours and try to  allow 48 hours for my body to recover in between work sessions.


I created the above design for the wedge-shaped side slope during the winter and made great progress on preparing the soil during the month of June. I quickly discovered that I could add organic matter to three 6-square-foot sections in a typical 2-3 hour work session. side slope in progressDuring the last week in June, I finished preparing the soil and put in the plants for a strip at the top of the slope that runs from the corner of the retaining wall on the left to the corner of the patio border and the walkways on the right. Since July and early August are the hottest parts of the summer here and not a good time to plant, I have continued to prepare three sections of soil every other day, with the intention of putting in most of the plants in the second half of August, after all the soil is prepared.

Today, I ran into a bit of a snag as I worked my way over toward the stairway. When I reached the edge of the excavation area and encountered soil that had not been disturbed during construction, I found the work of amending the soil became more difficult and I could only complete two sections in a 2-3 hour work session. I expect to work at this slower pace for the rest of July and then to get back to the easier-to-work backfill in August. I am still on track to get plants in before the end of August, however, and hope to prepare the soil for the entire 200-square-foot Fragrant Garden by mid-October. Slow-but-steady progress is enough to keep me on track and to provide gratification as my new landscape takes shape.

Wait For It! Wait For It!

July 1, 2016

spirea bloomsThe end of June is a time of exquisite anticipation in my garden. As June turns into July, the last of the Siberian irises are fading and the big flush of early summer blooms is coming to an end. But the big flower show of high summer has not quite begun.

I don’t want to give the impression that nothing is happening in the garden at this time of year. The spireas are at their peak, covered with masses of pink flowers.

Along the walkway to the patio, dense flower spikes of of Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal’ continue to delight the ruby-throated hummingbirds. patio walkway blooms
ladys mantle blooms Hardy geraniums, tradescantia, and Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) also continue to bloom profusely. Astilbes and goatsbeard are beginning to bloom.

But the stars of peak summer bloom in my garden are the daylilies (Hemerocallis), and these are the flowers that I am eagerly anticipating. In recent weeks, my morning tour of the garden has involved considerable time peering into daylily foliage looking for (and compulsively counting) developing flower buds. At this point, most of my daylily plants – including those in my holding area waiting for new homes in the front garden and those newly added last year – have flower scapes showing.

holding area daylily scapes front garden daylily scapes

In most years, the daylilies start blooming right about now, either the last week in June or the first week in July, and build to a crescendo of bloom in mid-late July. Typically, the first daylily to bloom is one of the early rebloomers ‘Happy Returns’ or ‘Boothbay Harbor Gold.’ Both of these have many flower buds and will begin blooming soon.

Happy Returns flower scapes Boothbay Harbor Gold flower scapes

Lily Munster bloomThe surprise first daylily bloom was not on either of these plants, however, but on one of the newcomers in my garden, ‘Lily Munster,’ which has opened several flowers this week. ‘Lily Munster’ is one of those modern daylilies with huge flowers and twisted petals. I don’t usually like these, but this one captured my fancy when I saw it blooming at a local daylily nursery last summer. I expected it to be long blooming, because it had flowers when I first saw it in mid-July and was still blooming when I planted it in my garden more than a month later. Lily Munster hiddenBut I didn’t expect it to bloom early; the American Hemerocallis Society database lists it as a mid-season plant that reblooms. Unfortunately, all of the flowers ‘Lily Munster’ has opened so far have been hidden down among the foliage and difficult to see. This may be a plant whose flower stems tend to flop because the large flowers are too heavy for them. I’ll give it some support and hope that will make the flowers more visible.

In the days to come, the show I have been waiting for will begin in earnest as more and more of those daylily flowers begin to bloom.

My Botanical Solstice

June 24, 2016

CMBG hillside gardenNormally, I treat the summer solstice as an ultra-relaxing holiday, getting up extra early to watch the sun rise and then spending as much of the day as possible outdoors – often sitting in the garden reading a novel while I soak up the glorious Maine summer light. This year was different. I did get up extra early on the solstice, but not to have as many hours as possible for relaxing out of doors. Instead, I got up early because I needed to be out of the house early to make the 90-minute drive to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, where I was taking the first course toward my Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture, a three-day class in basic botany called “The Life of a Plant.”

With an early start, I was able to arrive at the garden more than 30 minutes before the start of class. After checking in, I sat down at an outdoor café table to eat the breakfast I had packed while I reviewed the reading from Brian Capon’s Botany for Gardeners (Timber Press, 2010) assigned for this first day of class. Class began with brief introductions, followed by a lecture of about an hour. The rest of the day was spent either out in the garden, applying what we had learned to real plants or examining plant material in the classroom. The course was organized so that the first day focused on basic plant organs, cell structure, and on the basic life processes of photosynthesis and respiration. The second day of class focused on flowers and sexual reproduction in plants. The third day focused on seeds, germination and growth. Brief quizzes each afternoon helped us to reinforce knowledge learned that day. It was a wonderful experience. I was impressed with the flexibility of the instructor, Lauren Stockwell, who was guided by the interests of the students and very open to drawing on their knowledge and particular expertise. This meant that we learned not only from Lauren but also from one another.

This course is required for both the Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture and the Certificate in Botanical Arts. Our class was evenly divided between those with a primary interest in botanical arts and those with a primary interest in horticulture (although these two categories are hardly mutually exclusive), and the two groups often brought different perspectives to the course material, which expanded everyone’s horizons. One student was particularly likely to ask intriguing questions that never would have occurred to me (like “Can plants photosynthesize too much and OD?”) Another student was a high school science teacher and contributed educational tools to the course (like a microscope that could be attached to a laptop computer and used to take photographs of plant structures not visible to the naked eye). We spent a lot of time looking very closely at plant structures, both with the microscope tool and with hand lenses. I had never looked at the inside of a seed before, to see the structures that will emerge when the seed germinates. I was also amazed to discover that the blossoms of chives and clover are not individual flowers but inflorescences of many, many tiny flowers (very beautiful flowers in the case of red clover).

CMBG botany classmates

My experience of this first class has left me eager for more. I’ll be back at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this weekend for a class on Gardening for Wildlife with Doug Tallamy.

June’s Beautiful Blooms: GBBD, June 2016

June 16, 2016

Although April and May provide some preliminary blooms, June is the month when my garden really comes into its own. The primary display at this time of year is provided by varieties of Siberian iris,

Siberian irises 2016_1

…hardy geranium,

geraniums 2016

…and tradescantia (spiderwort).

Tradescantia 2016_1

walkway to patio_1I am taking particular delight in the new flower beds around my front entrance that I put in last summer, especially the porch border. It’s hard to believe that this lush planting is less than a year old. Repeated clumps of Geranium x oxonianum and Tradescantia ‘Pink Chablis’ are playing a supporting role here, but the real stars are the flowering spires of  Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal.’ This is an old-fashioned heuchera variety, from the days when these plants were grown heuchera spikesfor their flowers rather than for strange foliage colors and when the common name of “coral bells” made sense. I bought one plant of it 15 years ago and planted it at the front of the house, where it never got very large and put up 3-5 inflorescences each year. Last year, I dug it up from my holding area and divided it into four small pieces that I planted along the front of the porch border. Ten months later, each of those divisions is larger than the original plant ever was, and each has more than a dozen spiky blooms. Given the color and shape of those flowers, it is not surprising that this is a favorite hangout for the ruby-throated hummingbird.

dianthus shooting starAcross the walkway, there is less going on in the patio border, but the flowers of Dianthus x ‘Shooting Star,’ a gift from a guest, are providing a lovely display.

Along the lavender walk, the lavender plants are full of buds, but not yet flowering. Between the lavender plants, though, the newly planted ice plant (Delosperma) ‘Table Mountain’ is covered with blooms.

lavender walk June 2016 ice plant blooms
In the back garden, the blue and yellow border is in its blue period. back garden blues
June yellow & blue Although the flowers of Iris sibirica ‘White Swirl’ and Baptisia x ‘Carolina Moonlight’ do provide some contrasting yellows.
I always find Amsonia tabernaemontana  particularly lovely at this time of year. amsonia 2016
self-sown irises Leaving the back garden and walking down the driveway, I find the Siberian irises that have seeded themselves down the back slope are putting on a lovely display.
At the other end of the driveway, the circular bed is in its beautiful, soft June mood. circular bed June 2016

June is a wonderful time to be in the garden enjoying its beautiful blooms. For beautiful June blooms from other gardens, visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, where she hosts Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.


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