August 9th, 2013 by Kristin Green
I wish I knew that trick because once again summer seems to be flying by — despite long days in May and June spent planting; despite what felt like an interminable heatwave in July. But suddenly it’s almost the middle of August and the tupelo trees (Nyssa sylvatica) are starting to fly tiny red flags of fall. And I am packed for my family’s annual pilgrimage to New Hampshire where it always feels more like fall than summer by the end of our week there.
Maybe one way to slow down this season is to take a look back to realize just how full, long, and luscious it has been: We might still be recovering from marathon planting in the North Garden. The Rose Garden was never prettier than when the foxglove and allium bloomed in concert this June. And it doesn’t seem that long ago – because it wasn’t – that the goldfinch ate every last one of the peony poppy seeds.
And of course another way to slow summer down is to focus in and savor the present without thinking ahead about “the end” of anything.
Focusing in is easy enough to do in the garden. Refraining from worry and dread is not. At least for me. But I plan on getting in some practice this coming week. Hope you do too – here or in your own garden!
August 2nd, 2013 by Kristin Green
This week has to have been the prettiest week of the summer so far. The sky is clear as a bell, a slightly lower humidity level has made it easier for internal thermostats to function as nature intended, and we even just had a tiny but delicious bit of overnight rain to dust everything off and make the world sparkle. It doesn’t get much better. And yet I have the mid-summer slows. I’m very glad that there’s nothing too strenuous on the to-do lists right now. And what does need to be done — what pulls me off my seat and back out into the garden — is a meditative pleasure. (For the most part. Mosquitoes and coreopsis can wreck my reverie.)
There’s always weeding — we’ve decided to hand out kudos for the biggest catch of the day (Dianne won yesterday for an enormous deadly nightshade vine). And ’tis the season to deadhead. Not every plant requires it. As a matter of fact, I noticed that the majority of plants in my own garden produce seedheads that give me the deadheading days off. Here we don’t touch the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) because their handsome pods mean more butterfly weed for next year. And blackberry lilies (Iris domestica syn. Belamcanda chinensis) are given that name for the surprise hidden inside their balloons. Remove those before they open? Never.
We’re on the fence about deadheading plants like coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and beebalm (such as Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’) that also produce seedheads. On the one hand, more blooms are coming below the fading ones and they might come bigger and faster if given the opportunity to pump more energy into those flowers. But their seedheads are attractive in more ways than one. (Who doesn’t love to feed the goldfinch?) This year we’re doing a little more deadheading of those plants in the pollinator garden than we did last year to see how we and the wildlife enjoy the difference.
Zinnias, Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos astrosanguineus), coreopsis, and black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Prairie Sun’) really need the encouragement of deadheading to keep blooming and since their seedheads are no great shakes, there’s no incentive to leave them hanging on. Unfortunately, like I mentioned above, deadheading coreopsis is enough to make a gardener go crazy. It must be sheared instead. On the other hand, chocolate cosmos, which has similar whip-thin stems and a profusion of deadheads, is a pleasure to work on. But then I am a chocoholic.
We deadhead the daylilies daily to keep up appearances — they look so much better after the limp dishrags of yesterday’s blooms have been snapped off. And it’s about time to shear the lavenders. That is my favorite deadheading job on the property — the before and after difference is gratifying and the scented oil that gums fingers and tools is heavenly — so the volunteers and I have been savoring it one plant at a time.
Are you taking it slow in the garden right now too? What are your favorite plants to deadhead — or not to deadhead?
July 26th, 2013 by Kristin Green
By now we have a pretty good idea of what plants in the garden are going to fall over by mid-summer and we usually plan way ahead to prevent floppage. We have whole sets of peony rings designated for plants like like balloon flower (Platycodon gradiflorus) and speedwell (Veronica longifolia) rather than for peonies. They just didn’t make it on quite in time this past spring/early summer. That said, not hooping the speedwell was a deliberate experiment. We decided to give it the Chelsea chop instead. (Remember this post? I barely do…) We thought cutting its stems back by a third to a half might encourage a bushier, sturdier clump that wouldn’t need propping up. We learned our lesson. The clumps were as wimpy as ever — wimpier even — and fell open unattractively in concentric circles. Boo hiss. And I take full responsibility for “forgetting” to put hoops on the balloon flowers. I don’t like the look of them when they’re corralled, and resent that they need hooping at all. I thought I might enjoy them more if left to grow loosey-goosey. I don’t.
I always cross my fingers that gladiolus will stand up on their own the way these lovely stems are doing…
But then if they show any signs of leaning dangerously, we try to tether them just before they fall. We missed a couple this summer (blame the heat). And another just went and bent itself over in the other direction after propping. There’s no good solution at this point except to try to remember to relocate the corms (these have been wintering over in the North Garden for years now) further back in the beds where they might lean on sturdier neighbors.
Sea holly (Eryngium planum) is another plant that leans like a spaniel and another that I would personally never hoop. Like the glads, I’d rather relocate it to tighter quarters behind and amongst other plants that can take its weight. In the meantime, pea-stakes will have to do. The other option is to cut any stems that have fallen in the way for flower arrangements.
What’s your opinion on staking, corralling, hooping, and propping? Is it too much trouble? Do you prefer a loose, au naturel look? Is staking worth the effort? Do you not mind seeing the scaffolding? (–Or do you have clever ways to hide it?)
July 23rd, 2013 by Kristin Green
We didn’t. We just rolled with the sun’s punches, sweated buckets, and are still recovering. But even though we lost the fight in some respects — we lost a week with the volunteers, lost appetites and energy — we and the gardens remain undefeated. The gardens actually managed to grow and bloom (all except the roses, which have given up for the time being). And a few undaunted visitors — more than I ever expected to see walking around during such wretched weather — took in the show. Gail, Betsy, and I did as much as we could each morning before we lost too much steam (literally), doing a little more planting (we’re done now!), light weeding, and deadheading. Just enough to keep up appearances.
But now that the heat wave has officially broken (it’s definitely not as hot but it’s still wicked humid) we’re anxious to welcome the volunteers back for a more thorough go-through. (We forfeited their help this morning due to a heavy downpour. Can’t complain though because we needed that too…) And we’re able to take good long looks at the gardens again to make our annual mid-summer assessment and discuss hopes and wishes for the coming months and next year.
We spent a few minutes this morning in the North Garden wishing the roses didn’t look so naked (Japanese beetles did a number on them as well as the heat) and appreciating some of the newer additions to the garden such as Phlox paniculata ‘Sherbet Blend’ (Kathy’s post on Garden Foreplay about Avant Gardens’ phlox trials reminded me to notice and love this one). We’re also enjoying two different Plectranthus we included for their excellent foliage (P. argentatus and P. forsteri ‘Green on Green’). And we discussed the possibility of adding some beebalm, like Monarda fistulosa ‘Claire Grace’ to the borders next year. We have grown that beebalm (a.k.a. wild bergamot) in the pollinator bed and usually let seedheads form for the birds. But this year, just to see how awesome a rebloom might be, we have elected to deadhead them. I have to say, it really feels good to have a few brain cells working together again. So much so that we’re going full steam ahead with putting our bulb order together too.
How did you and your garden beat the heat?
July 16th, 2013 by Kristin Green
I have been very remiss in following through with a particular intention. I meant, weeks ago, to post a Save the Date! for a very special event this Sunday the 21st, from 1-3pm. Please tell me you’re not otherwise engaged or that you can change your plans to come hear author, blogger, podcaster extraordinaire, Andrew Keys speak (and show slides) on the subject of his first book, Why Grow THAT When You Can Grow THIS?: 255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants. Because there are a few seats still available.
If you do not already own a copy of Andrew’s book, this will be the best local opportunity to remedy that situation and give yourself (or a friend) the gift of a signed copy. And you (and your friends) must have it. Here’s why I think so in a tiny nutshell: (What follows is excerpted from an East Bay RI column I wrote last Christmas when my poor scorched brain was cool as a cucumber and I had just read the book cover to cover.)
Andrew Keys is my kind of people and I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend [and fellow plant nut]. His first book, “Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?: 255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants,” was just released [last November] by Timber Press and is the perfect the potting bench companion to every pretty coffee-table book we already own. The plants listed are eye-openers to the world of choices open to us, local and exotic.
But it’s his descriptions of the “problem” plants (some are invasive, others just high maintenance or boring) that make for wicked-entertaining reading. For instance, Henry Lauder’s walking stick, which we would plant for its sculpturally twisted branches, is, “at summer’s end … like a plant that just rolled out of bed, his leaves all shabby and rumpled.” Too true! Why not plant a contorted flowering quince instead?
What makes this book truly useful as well as inspiring is Key’s own nuts-and-bolts advice on how to choose the best plants for our gardens based on the kind of conditions (soil, light, climate) our garden has on offer. After all, the most inspiring gardens are full of carefully curated and edited plants that thrive under nature’s care. [Rather, I should have said, than requiring the life-support of excessive supplemental watering, fertilizing and applications of pesticides.]
I’m proud to say that Andrew drew some inspiration right here at Blithewold and some of our plants are right there on his pages and in his slides. (Never mind that some of the photos he shot here he used for the “Why grow THAT? side of his argument. Ever the gentleman, Andrew will be the first to acknowledge that Blithewold is blessed with some of the handsomest specimens around, whether he considers them garden-worthy or not.)
Personally, I don’t need any more plants for my garden — not a single one more — so I’m a little nervous that I might come away from his talk with a wishlist… But I wouldn’t miss it for all the plants on Avant Garden’s sale table. In fact, what better way to spend a hot weekend afternoon that in a cool, dark room looking at beautiful pictures and laughing along with one of the funniest plantsmen you’ll ever meet?
Tell me you’re coming. Check out the event details here and follow the link to register for it. (Again, it’s this coming Sunday the 21st, 1-3pm)