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Fall’s Final Flowers: GBBD, October 2017

October 16, 2017

hydrangea1By mid-October, my Maine garden is going into dormancy. Leaves are withering, flowers are going to seed, and maple leaves are falling into the flower beds.

But, despite several nights below freezing, my garden has still not been hit by frost; and a closer look reveals a surprising number of blooms scattered throughout the garden (like these mauve blossoms on Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’).

Along the Lavender Walk  and the front of the Fragrant Garden, lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) is still blooming. lavender hidcote october
herbstsonne fall flower In the Blue and Yellow Border, the last flowers of Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ are struggling to open. (I have stopped deadheading these so that they can make seeds for the birds.)
Most of the asters have finished blooming, but there are still a flew tattered flowers on smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ aster bluebird flowers

Some flowers are meant to bloom in the autumn, like this sedum ‘Autumn Joy,’ which has achieved the deep wine color that comes just before its flower heads turn to seed heads, and the fringy flowers of witch hazel (Hammamelis virginiana), which have just begun to open.

autumn joy wine hamamelis flower

Other flowers have been confused by our weirdly warm weather in September and early October. There are a few flowers on spring-blooming bluets (Houstonia caerulea) and sweet white violets (Viola blanda); one hosta is also blooming out of season.

Many of my flower beds have finished blooming for this year. Others have one or two plants still finishing up. But my biggest source of October blooms is the Side Slope planting (completed last year). neon flash flowersThe beautiful Spirea x bumalda ‘Neon Flash’ has surprised me by putting out a whole new flush of flowers. (It will be interesting to see if it does this every year, or if this is a response to this year’s fall warmth.) Although the three species of Liatris that bloomed in succession from late July through the end of September are done for this year, there are still flowers – and even a few new buds – on Platycodon grandiflorus. Even more impressive are the flowers of Geranium x oxonianum, and Tradescantia virginiana, which have been blooming continuously here since mid-June.

Side Slope October

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see what other gardeners (especially those in milder climates) have blooming in October.


Garden Design, Garden Process and Editing: A Lesson from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

October 6, 2017

CMBG JoePyeThis year, I have been pondering the relationship between garden design and garden process. My reflections were particularly triggered by reading Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher’s book, Garden Revolution, which argues in favor of a focus on “garden as process” rather than “garden as product.” (See Favorite Garden Books: Garden Revolution.)

My thinking about this tension in garden design took a leap forward this summer when I had the opportunity to take two courses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens with Bill Cullina, President and CEO of the gardens. Bill was recruited to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens from the New England Wildflower Society, where he was in charge of plant propagation. He is a knowledgeable horticulturalist, a scientist who gathers information through experimentation and observation, and a creative thinker.

The two courses I took with him were “Selecting Native Herbaceous Plants for the Maine Garden” and “Horticultural Ecology,” both required courses for the Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture that I am working toward. Like all courses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, these were intensive (each two full days) and they combined periods in the classroom with periods walking around the gardens to examine plants in situ. Walking around the gardens with Bill is an extraordinary experience, not only because he knows so much about plants and horticultural science, but because he seems to be intimately acquainted with every plant growing there.

Our first foray into the garden on the first day of the Horticultural Ecology class was to the rain garden immediately behind the Borsage Family Education Center, where classes are held. The Education Center is a LEED-certified building, and the rain garden for handling runoff from the roof  was part of the design for LEED certification. As Bill pointed out and discussed the various plants growing in the rain garden, it became apparent that many (most?) of them had not been part of the original rain garden design. It seems that the design philosophy practiced at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is to begin with a planting designed to fit the site; then see which plants thrive, which do not and (most importantly) which plants not originally part of the design show up on their own; then edit.

Editing involves removing plants that do not thrive or are otherwise unsuitable for the place where they have been planted. One of the plants that volunteered to grow in the rain garden was common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), a plant which tends to form large clonal colonies. The milkweed was allowed to stay in one part of the rain garden, where it is completely surrounded by rock and has created a lovely island of milkweed. In the rest of the rain garden, where they were likely to become thugs, common milkweed seedlings were pulled up.

CMBG JoePye & Lemon QueenAnother plant that had shown up as a volunteer in the rain garden and had been welcomed there was spotted Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum). Indeed, Joe-Pye weed has seeded itself in many parts of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens; and its stately pink blooms are a glorious presence in the September gardens. In one part of the Haney Hillside Garden, Joe-Pye weed has created a beautiful combination by planting itself side-by-side with the perennial sunflower (Helianthus) ‘Lemon Queen’

If one advantage of the botanical garden’s design philosophy is the creation of beautiful combinations like this one that weren’t envisioned in the original planting design, another advantage is the cost savings when plants are allowed to propagate on their own. I saw an example of this when I visited the garden in May and was struck by colorful masses of marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) blooming around ponds in both the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses and the Children’s Garden. It turned out that only a few of these, along one edge of one pond, were part of the original planting; the rest had seeded themselves.

marsh marigoldsAs someone who came to gardening from a love of wildflowers, I find this design/process/edit strategy very appealing. The concept of garden designer as editor provides a middle path between Thomas Rainer and Claudia West’s idea of creating designed plant communities (see Favorite Garden Books: Planting in a Post-Wild World), which can be intimidatingly complex, and Weaner and Christopher’s idea of creating gardens that mimic wild plantings by using communities of plants already found growing together in similar conditions.  I like the idea of letting natural communities develop as volunteer wildflowers seed themselves into my designed gardens and of being more intentional about which self-sown volunteers stay and which ones get edited out.

Seasonal Transition: GBBD, September 2017

September 16, 2017

solidago volunteersIn Maine, the leaves have begun to turn and there is no mistaking the transition from summer to autumn in the garden. Although I love fall, I’m not quite ready to see summer go.

The daylilies that filled the garden with color in July are mostly gone, with just an occasional bloom on one of the late-blooming or re-blooming varieties like Lily Muster, Final Touch, Rosy Returns or Sandra Elizabeth.

Lily Munster 2017 Final touch september Sandra Elizabeth1

lavender SeptemberLavender also continues to bloom, but much more sparsely than it did in July. In most of the garden, Tradescantia virginiana has died back, but on the side slope it continues to put up new growth and make new flowers.

tradescantia september
geranium oxonianum september Other summer flowers are making a better show in September. The beautiful clear pink flowers of Geranium x oxonianum, which loves Maine’s cool climate, have been blooming continuously since June.
Spirea x bumalda ‘Neon Flash,’ added to the garden last year at the top of the side slope planting, has turned out to be a star, putting out a flush of new blooms just as most of the flowers growing around it are fading. Neon Flash September


Most of the summer phlox varieties that graced the garden in August are still hanging on, but their flowers look faded and blowsy.

September Phlox-002

Pinky Winky bloom Over the years, I have added fall-blooming flowers to the garden. The latest addition is the Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’ planted in the new rain garden. Although it is still quite small, I am enjoying its elegant flowers (which deserve a more dignified name).

September is the time when the sedums come into their own. The groundcover sedum ‘John Creech’ has been blooming for more than a month, but the taller sedums have just begun to flower. As their flowers mature they will first become more intense and then darker in hue. By October, most will be the color of wine.

September sedums 2017

Liatris novae-angliaeThe real stars of the fall garden, however, are all the varied members of the large Asteraceae (composite) family. Some of these have been planted in my garden; others are wildflower volunteers growing around the edges of the garden.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ continues to bloom along the Lavender Walk, but the big show in September is provided by two varieties of Liatris blooming on the side slope. Liatris novae-angliae is on the left below and Liatris aspera is on the right, below. (A third species, L. spicata, bloomed in August  here and elsewhere in my garden.)

Liatris novae-angliae flowers Liatris aspera spike

goldenrod flowers SeptemberOutside the boundaries of the garden, this is the season for goldenrods and asters. I confess that I don’t always have the patience to key out and properly identify the many species of these plants growing on my property. I’m not sure which one this is, although I’m reasonably certain it is a Solidago. The more easily identified species below are Solidago bicolor (silverrod) on the left and Solidago squarrosa, with its characteristic narrow, upright inflorescence, on the right.

silverod 2017 solidago squarrosa

Ionactis linarifoliaI find the myriad asters even more confusing than the goldenrods. The easiest to identify is the stiff, flax-leaved aster (Ionactis linarifolia) which grows enthusiastically and blooms profusely in my sandy soil. This has lovely lavender flowers, which the camera has had trouble capturing. I am hoping to establish some of this in unamended soil at the bottom of the front slope planting that is next year’s big garden project.

Several other aster species grow at the edge of the woods along the side of the driveway.

September asters

Alma Potschke opening budsThe wild New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) in my neighborhood have not yet begun to bloom. But in the garden, the popular cultivar ‘Alma Potschke’ is just beginning to open her buds.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month (although some of us are habitually late to the party!) by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see September blooms from far and near.

My Mini Rain Garden

September 3, 2017

rain garden siteThe new addition built onto my house three years ago added a feature that my house had never had before – gutters and downspouts. At one corner of the house, near the entrance, I installed a 50-gallon rain barrel under the downspout and attached a small length  of hose which allows me to channel rain water into nearby plantings. By the other downspout, at the west corner of the house, I decided to create a small rain garden.

A rain garden is a strategically placed depression in the ground designed to collect and slowly drain rain water and planted with water-tolerant plants. I don’t actually need a rain garden; my excessively well drained sandy soil slopes away from the house in all directions. Even in the heaviest downpours, water never pools for more than a few minutes. But my hope was that, by creating a depression that can collect and concentrate rain water, I might be able to grow the kind of moisture-loving plant that I normally can’t provide the right conditions for. I had my heart set on a hydrangea.

Last year I did some research on rain gardens, reading both a book on the technical details and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s advice. The technical book helped me figure out the appropriate size for my rain garden, which turned out to be very small – a mini rain garden, big enough for one hydrangea.

rain garden preparedThis year, I set out to execute my rain garden plan. My first step was to install a 4’ long flexible extension on my downspout to channel water from the roof in the proper direction. Next, I created a shallow swale to carry the rain water to the lip of the rain garden. I planted some divisions of Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ in the swale and also along both sides of the downspout extension. This is a groundcover that spreads quickly and grows about one foot high. It should provide an attractive lining for the swale, and my hope is that it will help to camouflage the ugly downspout extension.

With that done, it was time to actually dig out the depression for the rain garden. Because the bottom of the rain garden should be flat, the standard advice is not to build it on a slope, but I didn’t have a choice. This meant that, in order to have the downslope side be at least six inches deep, the upslope side needed to be about two feet deep.  I used some of the soil I was removing to create a six inch high berm around the downslope edges of the rain garden.

rain garden with hydrangeaOnce I amended the soil in the bottom of the rain garden with aged cow manure and compost, I was ready to plant. The hydrangea went in first, planted in the center of the rain garden. I had originally hoped to install Hydrangea paniculata ‘Quickfire,’ a plant that I fell in love with the first time I saw it growing in a garden-tour garden several years ago. Alas, when I studied the patterns of sun and shadow in my rain garden area, I realized that it only got five hours of sun in August, probably not enough for a plant that needs full sun. Instead, I opted to plant Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky,’ which is similar in size to ‘Quickfire,’ has beautiful two-tone cream and mauve flowers, and can thrive in a part-sun location. (As the catalog from my local nursery says, “Once you get past the name, this is a very worthwhile addition to a crowded group of plants.”)

I dug the hole for the hydrangea, filled it with water, and let it drain before putting in the plant and backfilling. Then I watered it thoroughly again. The hydrangea will eventually grow to largely fill this rain garden space, but I don’t want weeds covering the ground around it. Once the hydrangea was in place, I planted more of my groundcover geranium ‘Biokovo’ (a plant of which I have an almost infinite supply), putting in divisions around the circumference of the rain garden floor, and adding a few more in the side near the top lip on the upslope edges. These plants will grow toward each other and toward the hydrangea, probably forming a solid ring around it within 2-3 years. I also hope it will grow upward along the sides of the rain garden, stabilizing the soil and maybe even spilling out a bit over the top. As an added bonus, this attractive groundcover sports lovely pink and white flowers in June that will anticipate the colors of the hydrangea blooms.

rain garden with biokovo

We have rain forecast for later today, which will provide a chance to see how well my mini rain garden does in collecting rain from the roof.

Eight Years of Garden Growth

August 22, 2017

porch border AugustIt was eight years ago today, that I clicked on “Publish” and sent the first post of Jean’s Garden, Welcome to My Garden, out into the world. In the years since, the garden has grown, and I have grown as a gardener.

When I began the blog, my garden consisted of the circular bed at the turn into my driveway, the back slope, two small plantings along the front of the house (the iris bed and the bedroom border), and two large borders at the back of the house (the deck border and the blue and yellow border). A third flower bed for the back garden, the fence border, was under construction. By the time I prepared an overview diagram of the garden in January 2011 (see The Big Picture), the fence border had been completed and I was imagining another flower bed at the back of the garden, the serenity garden.

garden diagram

In the years since, not only has the serenity garden been created and a raised bed added to close off that area of the garden from the clothesline and driveway, but I have had an addition built on my house and embarked on a 5-year project to create a whole new front garden.


Eight years ago, the front of my house looked like this. front garden before
house front 2017 Now it looks like this – and work on developing a lower garden below the retaining walls has just begun.

As my garden has been growing during these past eight years, I have also been growing as a gardener; and blogging has been an important catalyst for that growth. Blogging put me in touch with other gardeners, both online and in person, from whom I have learned a great deal. (When I read some of my early blog posts, I’m sometimes embarrassed by my own ignorance.)

I found that writing about my garden process required that I reflect on it, and reflection led me to a better understanding of garden design (see, for example, Serendipity in Garden Design) and to reading books about garden design in greater depth and with more appreciation (e.g., Favorite Garden Books: The Inward Garden).

Participating in a series of Earth Day memes (see, for example, Books That Have Turned Me Green) led me into an interest in garden science. This is probably the greatest area of growth to result from my blogging experience, because I was a science-phobe when I was young. With the help of a botanist friend, I began to study and write about garden science (e.g., Botanical Identity Crisis). Since my retirement three years ago, I have been pursuing the study of horticultural science – by becoming certified as a Master Gardener Volunteer and through my work toward a Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

When I clicked on “Publish” eight years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t know how little I knew, or how much I would learn, or how much my life would be enriched by becoming a garden blogger.

The Season of Summer Phlox: GBBD, August 2017

August 15, 2017

Side Slope August

Our garden season in Maine is short; but as you can see from the above view down the side slope from the patio border to the driveway, there’s still quite a lot happening in the garden in mid-August.

If July is daylily season, the stars of the August garden are the summer phlox (Phlox paniculata). I have been taking advantage of my new front garden project to add more of these. Two varieties, ‘Blue Paradise’ and ‘David’ are old friends that have been growing in the back garden for years. ‘Blue Paradise,’ the earliest blooming of my summer phlox varieties,  has already been flowering for weeks and is beginning to look a little tired. ‘David’ is just beginning to open its flowers in the fence border.

Blue Paradise August David opening

As I add more phlox to the garden, I’ve been taking advantage of the amazing selection offered by Rachel Kane at Perennial Pleasures in Vermont, a nursery that specializes in growing and propagating old-fashioned garden varieties. The pink phloxes below include ‘Robert Poore’ (the photo doesn’t really do justice to its intense color), a variety that Kane has named ‘Old Cellarhole’ (because that’s where she discovered it growing), ‘Bright Eyes,’ and ‘Miss Pepper.’

Pink phlox

Although the daylilies are past their peak in mid-August, there are still more than a dozen varieties in bloom, including these which had flowers open today.

August Daylilies

Casa Blanca blooms The Casa Blanca lilies are adding beauty (and their glorious fragrance) to the August garden.
While the lilies have just begun to bloom in August, the flowers of Geranium x oxonianum are garden stalwarts that have been blooming since early June. I occasionally think about cutting back their long floriferous arms, especially now that they are putting up new blooms from fresh new mounds of foliage at the centers of the plants – but I love the way they weave their clear pink flowers among other plants, as here with the blue balloon flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus). Pink geranium & blue platycodon

Composite flowers (now in the family Asteraceae) also come into their own in August. These include the flowers of Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ blooming their hearts out along the Lavender Walk.

Echinacea August

But also the flowers of Liatris, here Liatris spicata ‘Floristan Violet’ blooming with daylily ‘Late Summer Breeze’ and L. spicata ‘Floristan White’ blooming with ‘Orange Bounty.’

Late Summer Breeze and Liatris Liatris & Orange Bounty
In the back garden, the lemon yellow composite flowers of the tall rudbeckia ‘Autumn Sun’ (or ‘Herbstsonne’) light up the back of the blue and yellow border. Autumn Sun
Solidago And around the edges of the garden, the native goldenrods (Solidago) have begun to bloom.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is the creation of Carol at May Dreams Gardens and is hosted by her in the 15th of every month. Visit her blog to see what other gardeners have in bloom this August.

New Front Garden: Year 3 Progress Report

August 7, 2017

imageI’ve been in a bit of a slump this year with my new front garden project, without the clear goals and timetables for reaching them that are typical for me. I thought the gratification of getting the Side Slope (below) and Fragrant Garden plantings created in year 2 would give me momentum, but this year’s projects just don’t excite me in the same way.

side slope year 1

My 5-year schedule called for completing the Clover Path and the Shrubbery this year. The Clover Path may not engage me in the way that creating perennial borders does, but it is a critical structural element in the front garden design. The Clover Path provides an entry point into the lower garden from the driveway; it connects the lower and upper parts of the new front garden, and it frames the Front Slope, the Shrubbery and the front and side perennial borders. The widening of the path at the curve by the Shrubbery also creates room for a small seating area, a destination in the lower garden.

clover path in progressSo I have been slogging my way through the Clover Path project and expect to get it done this month. In late spring, I laid out the borders of the path using a garden hose and some pieces of rope. I have been removing existing vegetation (unless it is clover!) and tilling in some compost. I had hoped to get the top half of the path prepared and seeded before the end of June, but other garden chores captured my attention and energy. Thinking I had until fall to get this done, I was working at a leisurely pace – until some research on planting clover revealed that, unlike grass seed, clover must be sown in spring or summer, no later than mid-August. This unexpected deadline lit a fire under me, and I hope to get the soil preparation and seeding finished in the coming week. Nevertheless, because my late timing is pushing the envelope, I have bought extra seed so that I can re-seed next spring if necessary.

My other planned project for this year, a planting of shrubs at the west front corner of my property has been delayed. I am scheduled to take a course on “Selecting Native Woody Plants for the Maine Garden” at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in mid-October, and I realized that it made no sense to design and plant this shrub border before taking the class. My goal now is to prepare the soil for planting this fall, design over the winter, and plant next spring. I have made some progress on this, getting trees limbed up to let more light into the planting area and beginning to pull up some of the existing vegetation.

rain garden siteAnother project has been added to my agenda for this year. I’ve decided to create a small rain garden to collect runoff from the roof at the corner of the house by the Fragrant Garden. I don’t really need a rain garden, since my very sandy soil drains quickly; but I am hoping that by creating a depression where rain water will collect, however briefly, I will be able to grow some plants that require more moisture than my conditions generally provide. (I am dreaming of a ‘Quickfire’ hydrangea.) Because this is a small area (about 25 square feet), I should be able to get it done quickly, preferably within the next 4-6 weeks. I have already added a flexible extension to the downspout to channel the water in the right direction. Next is to dig the depression, amend the soil, and put in plants.

I must admit that I am pushing myself to complete these projects in order to stay on track and get to the year 4 project that I find much more interesting – creating the Front Slope planting. (Indeed, I have already begun some preparatory work on this big garden area.)