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Moving Into Summer: GBBD, June 2017

June 16, 2017

entrance garden JuneThis is one of my favorite seasons in the garden, the beginning of the big flush of early summer blooms. Each morning I step out into the garden eager to see which plants have opened their first flowers. The flower beds around the front entrance, now in their second year, are looking remarkably mature. The Blues Border features electric blues of species Siberian irises and Tradescantia ‘Zwannenburg Blue’ along with the soft blue stamens of Tradescantia ‘Osprey.’

Blues Border in June

raspberry regal flowersFlowers are just beginning to open in the two flower beds that flank the walkway to the patio (photo at top). The big show here is being provided by  the floral spires of Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal,’ a hummingbird magnet.

The June garden features pastel hues – blues and pinks and lavenders, with chartreuse accents provided by flowers of  Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle).

The newest flower beds, the Side Slope and the Fragrant Garden, are in their first year with small plants and relatively few blooms. However, the Side Slope display currently includes Rosa ‘Therese Bugnet,’ the pale blue flowers of Amsonia tabernaemontana, and clear pink blooms on Geranium x oxonianum. The fragrant garden has several varieties of Dianthus blooming along its front edge.

side slope june blooms fragrant garden dianthus

When that somewhat scrawny Amsonia grows up, it will look like the one below blooming in the Blue and Yellow Border, where it is accompanied by stronger blues of Tradescantia virginiana, Iris sibirica, and the true blue of Linum perenne.

amsonia grown up linum perenne 2017
deck border biokovo

Across the walkway in the Deck Border, hints of pink are provided by the flowers of Geranium x cantabrigiense Biokovo.

In both the Fence Border and the Circular Bed, ‘Biokovo’ grows together with its stronger-hued sibling, Geranium x cantabrigiense  ‘Karmina’ and with Alchemilla mollis. cantabrigiense and alchemilla

In the Fence Border, that pastel combination is accompanied by this lovely vignette of blue Tradescantia virginiana and pink Geranium endressii; in the Circular Bed, it is being upstaged by the display of Allium ‘Globemaster.’

blue and pink fence vignette 5 globemaster blooms

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see the bounty of blooms being enjoyed this month by garden bloggers in many places.

Thinking About the Front Slope

June 10, 2017

front slopeI have been giving quite a bit of thought recently to the design for the Front Slope section of my new front garden. The Front Slope isn’t on the agenda for this year; this year’s focus is on creating the grassy path that will connect the upper and lower gardens, the shrubbery that will anchor the front west corner of my property, and a small rain garden depression by the downspout on the front west corner of the house. But, even as I begin to work on these areas, my mind has been skipping ahead to the Front Slope, which is next year’s garden project.

The Front Slope is the largest planting area in my new front garden, approximately 720 square feet (36 feet wide by 20 feet deep). As I work on other parts of the garden, I have been noting ideas for this area: (1) I want to feature hot colors below the retaining wall– reds and oranges that are not much found elsewhere in my garden, mixed with yellows and purples. (2) I want to transition from more formal planting at the top of the slope, closest to the upper garden, to informal planting in the lower garden.

Wild Seed Magazine 2017My current thinking about how to bring these ideas together has been shaped by three influences: First was a class I took a few weeks ago with Bill Cullina, President and CEO of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, about how to incorporate native herbaceous plants in the Maine garden. Second was the Wild Seed Project’s annual magazine, with inspiring articles about gardening with native plants. Third was Larry Weaner’s Garden Revolution (Timber Press, 2016), about ecological gardening. (Look for a review of this book in a later post.)

What all these inspirations have in common is an emphasis on using plants in the garden that we more often think of as wildflowers. I came to gardening through a love of wildflowers, and I have often tried to incorporate wildflowers into my garden. These sources give me a better understanding of how to do so successfully. Years ago, I read that plants that grow in poor soil will always do better if you give them good soil, but that turns out not to be the case. Many of my attempts to transplant wildflower volunteers on my property into the garden have not been successful. In his class on gardening with native herbaceous plants, Bill Cullina distinguished between plants that do well in amended garden soil and those which do not. In Garden Revolution, Larry Weaner notes that many plants growing in nutrient-poor soils are not good competitors. They thrive in challenging conditions because they are filling a niche that other plants aren’t adapted to; in rich soil, however, they will be out-competed.

Larry Weaner recommends not amending soil at all, but instead choosing plant communities that grow naturally in the soil you have. However, the kind of wild garden look that he extols is not what I am after. Nevertheless, there are a number of plants that have volunteered to grow in the unimproved soil on or near the Front Slope that I would like to include in my garden. These include four plants that can be used as groundcovers: wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), bluets (Houstonia caerulea) and moss phlox (Phlox subulata).

front slope strawberry front slope potentilla
front slope bluets front slope phlox

Other volunteers include Tradescantia virginiana, Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), and black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta).

front slope tradescantia front slope daisy

I am thinking that I can combine these (and other) volunteers and wildflowers with cultivated plants and my other goals for this planting by using gradations of soil amendments, from fully amended rich garden soil at the top of the slope to unamended loamy sand at the bottom. I don’t want the design to have obvious horizontal bands, but if I create undulating edges between different gradations of soil richness, the different plant communities will weave into one another, blurring the boundaries between them.

I am excited by these ideas and have begun to compile lists of plant possibilities for the various levels of soil richness. I expect to modify and expand on these ideas as I continue to work on the design for this planting in the year to come.

The Spring-to-Summer Race

June 5, 2017

back slope rhododendron 2017Spring in Maine is known for being both late and fleeting. During our winter-to-spring transition in April, I moved through the garden at a leisurely pace, cleaning up each bed as the snow melted there. It was pleasurable to be outside in the fresh air and to see new growth emerging from the ground. The last snow melted from my garden on April 30, and I completed my spring clean-up a few days later.

I imagined a similarly leisurely experience in May as I would work my way through the garden again, weeding, putting in plant supports, and mulching. I had forgotten the realities of the race from spring to summer, when everything happens too fast and all at once, and it is impossible to keep up. This year, May was unseasonably cool and rainy, punctuated by occasional days of sunshine and exceptional heat. The cool, rainy days were unpleasant for working in the garden. During the hot, sunny days, the plants raced to catch up, growing by several inches and producing an abundance of flower buds.

side slope mulchedWhen May turned into June a few days ago, I had barely made a dent in my May list of chores. I focused my attention in May on the newly-created Side Slope and Fragrant Garden plantings. By disturbing the soil to add organic matter and plant these areas last year, I created an opportunity for weed seeds to germinate – and they did! The Side Slope, which I worked on during the summer and planted in early September, was particularly full of weeds. I worked steadily on this large planting during May, weeding and mulching it one section at a time until I finally finished it last week. (I also transplanted some low-growing native plants – sweet white violets and wild strawberries – that I hope will naturalize and form a weed-suppressing groundcover.) fragrant garden mulchedThe Fragrant Garden, which I worked on in September and October, was much less weedy. It is also less than half the size of the Side Slope, and I was able to get it weeded and mulched in a couple of days. Here, I also needed to complete the planting, adding roses, a peony, phlox, and sweet peas to grow up the deck railing at one end of the flower bed.

The end of May is the traditional time to put out tender annuals in Maine, and I took some time around the Memorial Day holiday to shop for annual flowers and herbs at several local nurseries. This weekend, I got the morning glories (both purchased seedlings and seeds) into the ground, planted a few herbs, and crammed colorful flowering annuals into containers to go on decks and patios. container planted

In the first week of June, I am finally turning  my attention to the older parts of the garden, where time is running out to get weeds out and mulch in before plants are too large to work around. Last year, I learned that the compost I have been using to mulch my garden for the past several years, made by a local farm from a combination of shellfish waste and cow manure, has a pH higher (7.4) than most plants are happy with. This year, in search of an alternative, I decided to buy a leaf shredder and use a mixture of shredded leaves and compost to make a more pH-balanced mulch. For the past week, I’ve been getting out on dry days (still too few!) to get this done. I found a twenty-gallon plastic barrel with just the right diameter to hold my leaf shredder. I fill my wheelbarrow with raked leaves and then feed them into the shredder. Two wheelbarrow loads fill the barrel about three-quarters full of shredded leaves, which I then dump back into the wheelbarrow, mix (3 parts to 1) with compost, and spread between plants as mulch.

shredder shredded leaf mulch

My garden is still about a week behind its normal bloom schedule, but many plants are just bursting with buds. Later this week, our weather is expected to turn seasonably sunny and warm. When that happens, the plants will race to catch up. Within a week or two, it will be early summer in my garden. As the garden races from spring to summer, I am racing along with it, trying to complete my spring garden chores before it is too late.

A Late Spring: GBBD, May 2017

May 17, 2017

pin cherry blossomsI’m a couple of days late for bloom day, but that seems fitting in a month when my blooms are also late.

In Maine, spring is not normally a season of slow, gentle unfolding (as it is at latitudes to our south). Here, a long wait for spring and much anticipation precedes an explosion of new growth and bloom that morphs into early summer so quickly that it feels like you can miss spring if you blink. But this year has been different. Warm weather in the first half of April got everything started early, but then was followed by several weeks of cool, dreary rain and drizzle with high temperatures 10-15 degrees below normal. The garden seemed to be in a state of suspended animation.

Except that it wasn’t. Although the changes were almost imperceptible as I walked through the garden each morning, one day I noticed that the spring bulbs had finished their bloom period. Another day, I realized that daylily foliage was well up out of the ground; and yet another day, I saw the first nubs of hosta breaking the soil.

And then, yesterday, the succession of low pressure areas that have dominated our weather since April finally got chased out over the Atlantic and replaced by a dome of high pressure that brought sunshine and sudden warmth. Spring flowers that had been waiting for the right conditions to bloom began to open.

As I walked around the garden yesterday, I found very few cultivated garden flowers in bloom. In the Serenity Garden at the edge of woods, hellebores were blooming and the first flowers of the bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) cultivar ‘Gold Heart’ had just appeared.

hellebores 2017 Gold Heart 2017

The real stars of my garden in mid-May are the spring wildflowers that sow themselves around my property. The little volunteer pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) tree that I noticed growing outside my study window last year and decided to encourage is blooming enthusiastically this year, as are the clumps of sweet white violets (Viola blanda) that grow primarily on the back slope.

flowering pin cherry white violets 2017

Today, I transplanted violet seedlings that had planted themselves in inconvenient places to the top part of the side slope, where I hope they will naturalize as a groundcover. The wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), which have just begun to bloom, will be planted as groundcover on the bottom half of the slope. Clumps of what are probably common blue violets (Viola sororia) and carpets of bluets (Houstonia caerulea) can be found scattered around the cleared areas at the edges of my garden.

blue violets bluets 2017
In the woods alongside the driveway, the delicate flowers of bellwort (Uvularia sessifolia) have begun to bloom. (It’s easy to miss these if you aren’t looking carefully.) uvularia

I also keep an eye out for wildflowers blooming along the dirt road that leads to my house. On one side of the road, the blossoms of a native viburnum (Viburnum lantanoides) are quite conspicuous. On the other side of the road, yesterday’s sunshine revealed masses of little white flowers blooming on mossy hummocks; I believe these are goldthread (Coptis trifolia).

hobblebush blossom goldthread

As May turns into June, the wildflowers will be upstaged by the flowers of cultivated perennials.

If you would like to see blooms from places where the garden season is well underway, visit May Dreams Gardens where Carol hosts Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on the 15th of each month.

Record-Keeping Tools

May 7, 2017

This is the third in a series of posts that draw on my recent study of garden record keeping. (See Gardeners’ Record-Keeping: Some Preliminary Results and Varieties of Garden Record Keeping.) In this one, I want to look at how gardeners can use some readily available record-keeping tools.

imageOne under-utilized tool for organizing garden records is the computer spreadsheet (e.g., Microsoft Excel). Among the 72 gardeners who completed my online survey of their record-keeping habits, only 38% reported ever using spreadsheets and only 13% used them often. But for anyone with a basic knowledge of a program like Excel, spreadsheets are a very useful way to organize any information that lends itself to rows and columns. I use a spreadsheet to record what is blooming in my garden, with each row as a week in my garden season, each column a flower bed, and a separate spreadsheet page for each year (which makes it easy to compare the current year with previous years). Spreadsheets are also a great way to organize lists. In my case studies of four gardeners’ record-keeping strategies, Harriet used a spreadsheet to keep lists of her special plant collections. imageShe had separate pages for different types of irises, for daylilies, for hostas, for shrubs, for roses, and for clematis. The image above is of her spreadsheet list of Siberian irises. Each row is a variety of Siberian iris in her garden (listed in alphabetical order), with columns to record the date she acquired each variety, where she acquired it, a description of the flower color, who hybridized it, and how tall the plant is. I recently added a page to my spreadsheet with a list of spring chores. The chores are in the rows, organized by month, with a column for each year where I can check off chores as I complete them.

imageThe greatest power of spreadsheets, however, is not just their usefulness for organizing information in rows and columns, but their ability to do calculations. This is particularly helpful for vegetable gardeners and those who grow flowers from seed. Even better, some seed companies have created spreadsheet calculators that are easy for gardeners to download and use. The website of Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a particularly useful set of such calculators. The image above is of their downloadable Excel spreadsheet for calculating succession planting dates. The spreadsheet comes with very clear instructions for how to fill in information for your garden (e.g., your average date of last frost) and for the vegetables that you would like to grow. It will then automatically calculate planting dates for each vegetable.

While relatively few gardeners use spreadsheets as record-keeping tools, there are other tools that gardeners readily have available but have trouble figuring out how to use effectively. One of these is photographs. Although more than 80% of gardeners who completed my online survey reported that they keep photo records of their gardens, the case study interviews revealed that gardeners sometimes have trouble organizing these photographs in an effective way. I confess that, although I take a lot of photos of my garden, the only time I use them as a systematic record is when I do a sun study as part of the process of designing a new garden area. This involves taking photos from the same vantage point once an hour from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. (usually in late May, just after the trees have fully leafed out) and gives me an accurate record of how many hours of sunlight each part of my garden actually gets. One of my case-study gardeners, Harriet, uses photos to diagnose and solve garden design problems. In the series of photos below, we first see a spring planting of daffodils and red tulips that Harriet was very happy with. The second photo shows the same garden area ten years later; we see that the red contrast provided by the tulips has mostly disappeared. Harriet used the comparison of these two photos to identify where she should plant red tulips in the fall; the third photo documents the successful result the following spring.

imageimageimage

Another of my case-study gardeners, Jana, keeps an electronic garden journal. The electronic form makes it very easy for her to embed digital photos into her journal to illustrate problems, plans, ideas, or inspiration.

imageNursery plant tags are another potential record-keeping tool that many gardeners save but that most never find a way to use effectively. I saved tags for many years, but eventually threw them out when I realized I wasn’t using them. One of my case-study gardeners admitted that her plant tags were all just tossed in a drawer without any system of organization. Jana, however, has devised an effective way to organize plant tags. She has them organized in alphabetical order, inside envelopes, and stored in boxes. imageIn the photo above, she has pulled out the envelope with tags for hostas in her garden; it would be simple matter to add another hosta tag to this envelope or to find one when needed. For Jana, these tags provide a simple alternative to keeping a list of all the plants she grows. After I saw Jana’s system, I realized that it would also be easy to organize plant tags in the type of portfolio files that I use for household finances. I would probably organize them by garden area, but the same type of portfolio could be used for an alphabetical filing system.

Learning about available record-keeping tools and how they are used by other gardeners makes it easier for us to develop record-keeping  systems that work for us.

A Hillside of Spring Flowers

April 28, 2017

hillside of crocus bloomsAs I create the new front garden for my house (a large, multi-year landscaping project), I have been trying to design for an extended garden season. To that end, after I finished planting shrubs and perennials on the large slope by my driveway in late summer (see The Side Slope: Mission Accomplished), I ordered more than 300 crocus bulbs to tuck in among the perennials. My goals were to have early spring growth to help hold the sandy soil in place on the hillside and (most importantly) to have flowers to enjoy while waiting for perennials to emerge in the spring.

I ordered my bulbs from Fedco, a Maine coop specializing in seeds and plants for our cold climate. I chose three types of crocus bulbs from their catalog: 200 bulbs of Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’, 100 bulbs of a species crocus mix (mostly Crocus chrysanthus, combined with some other small crocus varieties), and 50 bulbs of the jumbo Crocus vernus variety ‘Pickwick.’ About half the ‘Pickwick’ bulbs went at the top of the side slope, near the walkway to the front door; the other half went in by the foundation near both the front and back doors. I planted my crocus bulbs in late October, putting five in each hole. (I should note that digging holes for planting is an easy task for those of us with sandy soil). I followed Fedco’s advice to sprinkle ground cloves on top of the planting holes to deter rodents (chipmunks, squirrels, voles, mice) from sniffing out, digging up and eating the bulbs.

pickwick in bloomI have been delighted with the results. The ground cloves were a success, since all 70 clumps of bulbs have emerged. The first flower came in late March on a clump of ‘Pickwick’ planted in a protected spot by the foundation near the south corner of the house. (To understand what a big deal it is to have flowers in my Maine garden in March, you need to know that most spring ephemeral wildflowers don’t bloom here until late April or early-mid May.) In early April, clumps of crocus foliage began to emerge from beneath the melting snow on the side slope hillside. By mid-April, these had begun to flower. Each day since has brought more crocus flowers blooming on this hillside, and there are still a few clumps that have not yet begun to bloom. This means that my hillside display of spring flowers will last well into May. By the time the crocus blooms have finished, perennial foliage will have grown up around them and the floral display of summer will begin.

Ruby Giant2 I have very much enjoyed the showy striped blooms of Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick,’ but I am also charmed by the more delicate flowers of Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant.’ My favorites, however, have turned out to be the mixed species flowers. I love their many combinations of purple, white, blue, and soft yellow blooms.
crocus vernus mix2 crocus vernus mix1 crocus vernus mix3

Springing! GBBD, April 2017

April 15, 2017

side slope snow meltIt would be an exaggeration to say that spring has sprung in my Maine garden, but it is definitely springing. Most of the snow has melted; what’s left are patches of snow on the ground, piles of shoveled snow, and snow banks left by the plow. Even the huge pile of snow shoveled from the roof, which I dubbed “Snow Mountain” in February when it was up to the roofline, has dwindled to a small hillock.

In the garden, seven flower beds are now snow-free, while six still have snow remaining. (Of those six, two will probably be free of snow by the end of the day tomorrow.) In the blue and yellow border, the blue hyacinths have begun to open and the daffodils have buds.

hyacinths blooming daffodil buds 2017

pickwick flowersThe stars of my garden in this early spring period are the crocuses. Last fall, I planted several clumps of the showy Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’ near the foundation at the south corner of my house, along the walkways to both the front and back doors. They rewarded me with early blooms. The first crocus opened on March 30 and was promptly eaten by some hungry critter. In the two weeks since, however, more have emerged and bloomed, a cheering sight whenever I enter or leave the house.

serenity crocus In the Serenity Garden, a smaller variety of crocus, Crocus vernus ‘Flower Record’ has just begun to bloom. These provide a preview of still more crocus blooms to come. Last fall, I planted 300 crocus bulbs, in 60 clumps of 5 bulbs, on the Side Slope. As the snow melts from this hillside, crocus foliage emerges from beneath the snow. As of today, half the 60 clumps are visible, although none have begun to bloom.

In the weeks to come, as the crocuses finish their display, trees will flower, lilacs will bud, spring wildflowers will appear, and spring will truly have sprung.

side slope crocuses emerging

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, providing an opportunity for bloggers to share what’s happening in their gardens. Go to her blog to share your own blooms or to see what is happening in gardens from many different climates.