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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.)

Favorite Garden Books: Garden Revolution

July 26, 2017

Garden Revolution: How Our Landscapes Can Be a Source of Environmental Change by Larry Weaner and Thomas Christopher (Timber Press, 2016) is part of a trend in garden design to use natural plant communities as a model for gardening. In  this sense, it fits together well with Darke and Tallamy’s  2014 book The Living Landscape (see my review here) and Rainer and West’s 2015 book Planting in a Post-Wild World (see review here).

Where Darke and Tallamy focus on mimicking nature’s layering of plants in the garden and Rainer and West focus on creating gardens of plant communities, Weaner and Christopher focus on the processes by which plant communities develop and change, particularly the ecological process of succession. Plant communities are almost always in the process of becoming something else. Where I live and garden in the northeastern United States, for example, the processes of ecological succession mean that all plant communities are either forests or on the way to becoming forests. (As I’ve weeded hundreds of oak seedlings and thousands of tiny maple seedlings out of my flower beds this year, I’ve been reminded of just how quickly my property would revert to forest without my active intervention.) Weaner and Christopher advocate a style of gardening in which you figure out what kind of soil you have and what plant communities naturally grow in that type of soil and then design a garden that uses a naturally occurring plant community with human interventions to shape the process of ecological succession (for example, stopping the process by which a meadow would turn into shrubland and then forest by mowing the meadow once a year).

Although the kind of wild-looking garden landscapes that Weaner and Christopher favor are not what I’m after, I found valuable insights for my own gardening in this book:

  • I had always heard (and believed) that plants which grow in poor conditions will grow even better in rich garden soil. Not so, Weaner and Christopher argue; many plants that grow in difficult locations are poor competitors that thrive there because they have carved out a niche where they have few competitors. Put them in rich garden soil, and they will be crowded out by more competitive plants, often weeds.
  • There is a tension between the idea of a garden as a composition of plant colors, shapes, and textures and the processes of plant community development. Good design requires thinking about how the plant community we are creating will change over time and an openness to those processes of change.
  • Disturbance is an important part of the ecological process of succession in plant communities. As gardeners, we can intentionally use disturbance (e.g., mowing a meadow, cutting down trees to create a forest clearing) to create desired results and we can avoid disturbance (e.g., pulling weeds) when it will create undesired results.

Before I was even halfway through Garden Revolution, it was already influencing my thinking about my garden. When a clump of self-sown blue Siberian irises bloomed in a flower bed that I had designed as a composition in shades of pink and lavender, I resisted my initial impulse to dig them out. So what if they changed the color scheme of the planting? The pink irises I had originally planted in this location had never really thrived, and these blue irises were healthy and happy and looked lovely in the company of pink flowers and green foliage. It was time, I realized, to let go of my pre-conceived color scheme and let nature guide me. The insight that not all  plants thrive in rich garden soil has shaped my thinking about how to design the new Front Slope planting that will be my major garden project next year. As I begin to work on that design, I am imagining a gradation of soil types from heavily amended rich garden soil at the top of the slope to unamended native loamy sand at the bottom.

I consider any garden  book that leads me to see my garden with new eyes or think about garden design in new ways well worth reading. Garden Revolution did both and I highly recommend it.

Summer’s Sweet Spot: GBBD, July 2017

July 15, 2017

summer sweet spotYesterday, a friend came to visit. We toured the garden and he took some photographs. As we were sitting on my screened porch, looking out over the new front garden and eating lunch, he said, “This is a really sweet spot you’ve got here.”

I love my rural house nestled in the woods in all seasons, but the experience of living here is sweetest in summer. And that is especially true in July, when the garden reaches its peak. In many ways, mid-July is the sweet spot in the garden season. In mid-July, there is so much going on in the garden that almost every garden area looks good (even the temporary holding area for plants, shown below). But there is so much more yet to come! In mid-July, I can drink in the current beauty while also enjoying the delicious taste of anticipation.

holding area color 2017

The entrance to the back garden features a lush display of goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), astilbe, and spirea flowers spilling over the retaining wall. goatsbeard & spirea

In the Circular Bed at the turn into my driveway, the pastel hues of June are giving way to the strong contrasts of July. The gold color of these daylilies contrast with the blue-violet flowers of Geranium x ‘Johnson’s Blue’ (below left). This color scheme is repeated on the other side of the circle in the blooms of daylily ‘Margaret Seawright’ and geranium ‘Brookside’ (below right).

Barth gold with Johnson's Blue Circular bed vignette
Porch Border July 2017 I continue to be amazed by how mature the Porch Border planting looks in it’s second year. In July, the front-of-the-border planting of Heuchera ‘Raspberry Regal,’ Geranium x oxonianum, and Tradescantia virginiana ‘Pink Chablis’ that continue to flower all summer long are being joined by the tall spires of Astilbe x ‘Moerheim’s Glory’ and the first daylily blooms.
The Lavender Walk is also a source of delight in mid-July. lavender walk July 2017
Side Slope from top 2017 And it’s hard to believe that the Side Slope is only in its first year when I look down from the deck on the lush display of flowers spilling down the hillside.
The planting for the Fragrant Garden was completed only a few weeks ago, and it does look raw and new. Even here, though, there are beautiful flowers to enjoy, including sweet peas growing up the side of the deck, the first phlox flowers of the season, a few flowers on rose ‘Therese Bugnet,’ and several varieties of daylilies. sweet peas
First phlox 2017 Therese Bugnet bloom

My favorite part of the July garden is the beginning of daylily season. At this point in mid-July, about 20 percent of the varieties I grow have begun to bloom and two or three more are opening their first flowers each day. I leave you with this montage of some of my favorite early season daylilies.

Early Daylilies 2017

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is graciously hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see what garden bloggers from many climates have happening in their July gardens.

Smitten By Daylily Love

June 29, 2017

dumortieri groupingLast week, while on a garden tour sponsored by the Garden Club Federation of Maine, I met a new daylily and fell hard. As regular readers know, falling head over heels in love with a daylily is not a new experience for me. Indeed, one of the first posts I wrote for this blog was entitled I Love Daylilies.

I don’t love all daylilies equally. I’m not particularly attracted to ruffles or picotees or tortured, twisted petals. And I find doubling in daylily flowers downright ugly. What I love most are simple trumpet forms, vigorous plants with lots of flowers, and old-fashioned daylily fragrance.

dumortieri close-upWhen I saw big drifts of yellow daylilies blooming at two adjacent waterfront gardens, I thought they must be the early blooming daylily species known in this part of the country as “lemon lilies” (Hemerocallis lilio-asphodelus). These are relatively small yellow daylilies with a sweet lemony fragrance that often form big clumps and bloom about a month before other daylilies begin to flower. But the daylilies in front of me were distinctive in having copper-colored sepals that glowed in the sun, a feature I had never before seen on lemon lilies. I entertained the hypothesis that this was a local genetic variation in H. lilio-asphodelus; but my friend Harriet was unconvinced, and it was she who eventually identified these flowers as another early-blooming daylily species,  H. dumortieri.

Whatever its identity, I was smitten. I loved the form of these flowers, the copper glow of their sepals, and the way they provided a splash of bright yellow at a time of year when pastels dominate my garden. In one garden, they were providing a lovely contrast with white and yellow Siberian irises and with the blue spikes of Baptisia australis (both plants that I have growing in my garden). The icing on the cake is that Hemerocallis dumortieri is, like many daylily species, fragrant.

dumortieri vignetteThe problem with falling in love with with species daylilies  is that they are often not available from nurseries, even specialized daylily nurseries. As Allan Armitage put it in his 3rd edition of Herbaceous Perennial Plants (Stipes, 2008), “Unfortunately, in our pursuit of hybrid hipness, the old folks got left behind.” I have found a happy exception, however, at the Olallie Daylily Garden in Vermont. They currently have twelve different Hemerocallis species (including H. dumortieri) for sale both on site and by mail order. Next year, I intend to buy two or three clumps of my new daylily love for my garden.

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.