June 29, 2008

Late June Gardening

A Severe Thunderstorm Approaches
I can't remember a time when we have had so many Thundershowers, with storms arriving most every evening, at night, and even in the morning. Needless to say, the garden is enjoying the nitrogen-rich rain, and thankfully, we have been avoiding the hail storms, which have occurred in the area. This is the weather we in New England typically see in the period between late July and early August, with near 100% humidity, and high temperatures, it feels more like Miami, than Boston. Still, I would rather have this weather than dry, drought-ridden months which can also occur.

I am smitten by Nepeta sibirica 'Souvenir d'Andre Chaudon'
This is a relatively new Nepeta, or Cat mint available at your more stylish garden centers, and it is a charm. It has showier flowers which are also larger than other Nepetas, and it stay's in bloom for a very long time, beginning here in late May, and continuing for most of the summer.

Nepeta "Souvenir d'Andre Chaudon, a named cultivar of Nepeta x faassenii

With nearly 20 Nepeta species and named varieties carried by just one internet search at Digging Dog Nursery, I now have this surprising genus on my radar. I am so impressed with this cultivar ( which is sold under various names), that I now am more curious to try others. Inexpensive, easy to grow and stunning in the garden, you may want to try some of these new Nepeta's also. I took some cuttings so that I can plant a larger sections ( as with most perennials, plant in lots of 15 if you can), but this is a registered variety, and propagation is restricted for retail use.

Berberian Farms, a farm stand near my home.

About six years ago, I decided to reduce the time spent in the vegetable garden, since the labor, cost and time involved became simply too much ( I mean, I am not Martha Stewart and I can't afford all the gardeners she has! How nice would that be!). So I discovered Berberian's Farm Stand, twenty minutes from where I live, and now I can buy fresh, local grown produce. This weekend, we bought fresh English Peas, which I spent a good part of Saturday, shelling for fresh pea soup, or simply steamed with some fresh butter and mint. Yum. We also bought baby beets for Beet greens and Summer Borscht with sour cream and dill, as well as lots of Arugula, lettuce and Dandilion.

Last year I decided that even at the farm stand, the cost was a little crazy ( corn - $8.00 a Dozen, Heirloom Tomatoes - $5.00 a lb), so we started a tiny vegetable garden consisting of three raised beds, and some beans planted out back with squash and gourds. It's just not summer, without Pumpkins on the vine and fresh herbs. I wish I lived where I could have acres of corn, but that will have to wait. Until then, I will have to settle for a dozen tomato plants, and not the 75 plants I used to grow.

Freshly Shelled Sweet Peas

June 22, 2008

A New Garden

With overcast conditions, this was the perfect weekend to work on the new garden, in front of the greenhouse. My design has taken three years to get to this point, but slowly, it is coming together. This weekends' project includes removal of more bamboo, and excavating the sod, to extend the garden around the cirlce of gravel which marks the centerpiece of the garden. We also added three beds for vegetables, as well as more boxwood, which was transplanted from the back vegetable garden, were I wintered it over after buying it all on sale last autumn. The boxwood transplants very easily, and now, it should enjoy the deep rich loam, that this part of our property provides, since it all used to be part of my grandparents, ( and parents') vegetable garden. My goal is to have more growing space, attractive design, and relatively easy care ( i.e. less lawn to mow). ORganized beds, with hedges that are neat and tidy year round, makes for a more manageable garden. I don't look at hedge trimming as a chore, since it is down once or twice a season.
Margaret helped, or bossed me around. Something about Irish Terriers, they need to be near you at all times, and inspecting everything that you do.

Of course, in the heat of the day, Margaret and Fergus discovered that newly turned soil, was much cooler.

A view of the new walk leading to the Martin house circle, from the entrance of the greenhouse. This section now includes the vegetable garden raised beds, and the blue and gold garden, mostly perennials, and lots of boxwood hedging.

Another view of the newly designed walk, awaiting to be surfaced with granite gravel, which arrives later this week.
Last year, the Stewartia pseudocamelia had only a few blossoms, I wonder if the fact that now that the this precious chinese native tree can get more intense sunshine, since the 16 foot hemlock hedge was removed, has anything to do with the massive bud count. The flowers really do look like Camellia's, and I love it when the start to fall, intact, and line the ground with their camellianess. There just are not many trees that have the 4 season charm and character that this species has. I encourage anyone to add one to their collection. Smooth, muscular branches, which have attractive mottling, and we use them to fill urns and window boxes at the holidays, brilliant autumn foliage, and these amazing white camellia-like blossoms in late June and July.

Digitalis obscura
An unusual Digitalis from the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain, which I received from plantsman and nurseryman, Harvey Wrightman ( of Wrightman Alpines), graces the rock garden with it's brown-apricot trumpets in a color which is very un-foxglove like. I must get more of this plant, it virtually glows in the evening sun. I havn't been to the Sierra Nevada's since high school ( ugh like 1978), but this plant reminds me that there are other mountain ranges worth exploring beyond the alps, and besides....now that I collect winter-blooming Narcissus.......this would be the perfect place to visit.

June 17, 2008

Violent Spring...Silent Spring

Late Spring Storm Damage
Last night we had a squall line of thunderstorms push through before a cold front, bringing to an end, the 100 degree plus temperatures, but with it, came fierce winds, with gusts near 75 mph. These winds brought down three massive trees, including a huge red oak tree, growing near the pigeon lofts in the back corner of the yard. We were all amazed that none of the trees hit any structure, and now we are blessed with enough fire wood to warm us for most of the winter!

Flowering cacti species blooming in June
Relatively carefree, cacti never interested me, that is until I saw a collection in bloom on display at Chelsea flower show a few years ago while visiting London. After a little research, I discovered that many of these spring blooming cacti require the same environmental conditions that many of the South African plants in my greenhouse require, except opposite. So, in the summer, they can get heavy doses of rain water and full sun, but in the winter, they must be allowed to go bone dry, and survive temperatures near freezing. All conditions easy to provide in ym greenhouse, the cacti are moved to the upper benches where pots stay dry, away from the hose watering. In the summer, the South African bulbs are moved there to go dry and dormant for the summer. So these cacti are a perfect marriage and these cacti such as Rebutia, sulcorebutia and Lobivia, all native to Bolivia and other South American countries with deserts, thrive and now bloom regularly, with hardly any care.
Mountain Laurel is a native plant in New England that adds value to any garden.
We in New England are sometimes blind to the rare offerings our native plants provide. In these times of environmental awareness, and greater focus on native plants, we should be grateful that there are such choice native plants for us to use. Around our property, there are a number of plantings of our native Mountain Laurel ( Kalmia latifolia), shrubs that are so large that they tower near 12 feet tall, most planted by my parents and grandparents early in the 2oth Century. ( Remember, my Dad is 95 years old), and still feeding the birds and picking bouquets of Mountain Laurel which his father planted.

A view of the Petasites japonica growing near the old gold fish pond. The leaves this year are massive, since we have been having a wet spring.

June 8, 2008

Havin' heat wave...

With only one quarter of the new vegetable garden and yet-to-be-named, blue and gold garden dug and planted, the Salvia planted last year is beginning to mature nicely. My goal with this perennial border is to plant it properly, that is....with 5 to 10 plants per clump of each cultivar. A planting style rarely seen in the states, or at ones home, but truly, the only way to achieve professional results. Simply planting 3 of each perennial is not enough, although, that is my minimum rule. Generally, I plant 5 in a 12 sq. foot lot. Between and underplanted, of course, with lilies and annuals, and, all withing the yellow, gold, blue and white color palette.
A house wren makes a home in the new bird house.
Designed to attract Purple Martins, in our New England garden, I would be lucky to get a few nests of English Sparrows. So imagine how thrilled I was to see that wren has decided to move in. Well, semi-moved in. You see..House Wrens are peculiar birds, and much like many human couples, are very particular about their homes, and males tend to leave the final decision up to the lady of the house. Male House Wrens can select up to 12 nesting sites - building a nest at each, carefully chosen site. One may be an abandoned woodpecker hollow in an Ash, another, in an empty jug some farmer nailed to a wall on the barn, or another in a red plastic Wren House by Rubber-Maid. The male Wren then sings away, in an attempt to attract a possible mate. Once she has been found, the real fun begins. No pick-up lines here.....from this point onward, it's all up to her. Mr. Wren fly's with her to visit each site he has selected, and built, and she carefully selects only one which is perfect ( sounds too much like HGTV to me). The home reality show ends when she chooses the site, and mating can proceed. We can only hope our industrious male succeeds with his choice of an English Martin house in the Arts & Crafts style, with a genuine copper roof and a new-never-lived-in-construction, to boot. It lacks a stainless steel kitchen, but with an Olive tree right below, and two Irish Terriers to keep cats away......it sounds like Nirvana to me. ( Of course, there is a family of English Sparrows living in the same complex....).
Stay tuned, for today, our male sings for a mate, begining early in the morning from the tops of the bamboo stakes, amongst the Delphinium, as well as from the tippity top of the spruce trees surrounding the circular blue and gold garden. It appears the nest is built, he was lining it with feathers from the neighbors Homing Pigeons, which indicates that the construction is nearly complete. A down comforter and decorative elements in the bedroom is always the last sign.
This morning, I was able to hear two different species of wren, for a Winter Wren who live in the woods behind our property, whistles his repeating call of "Whit-wickty whit-whickity, whit-wickity", both in the early morning, and late in the day, at dusk. He is twice a large as the house wren.
An English double Auricula, Primula 'Stromboli'Primula auricula 'Stromboli' blooming unseasonably late, in the greenhouse. This is surprising, since these are cold-weather plants, and the greenhouse has been reaching temperatures over 100 Degree F. The auricula primroses, will be moved out this week, to a covered bench on the north side of the pigeon lofts, where they must be hand-watered for the summer, and protected from heavier rains. It is not the cold that makes these plants so difficult to grow, but the heat. Keeping them alive through our hot, humid summers is the most challenging part of mastering the most beautiful of English Primroses. They we're not designed for humid, damp gardens, but for pot culture, in a cool, breezy English alpine house.

It's amazing how fast Dahlia's grow. These pots are one week older than the post last weekend, and look at the size difference.
It was too hot, however, to plant them this weekend, so they will need to wait for cooler weather this week.

We started the new vegetable garden, a smaller venture, with just four raised beds. But it was too hot to plant, so the plants will need to wait for a few days. Rototilling was work, enough, in this weather!

It just isn't spring, without baby ducks. Four newly hatched Indian Runner Ducks ( for egg laying and slug removal duty from the vegetable garden) take a dip on this 95 degree F weekend.

June 4, 2008

Lilium mysteriacum?

Well, it's more like Lilium lost-the-lable-um.
Please, if any of you know.....share your thoughts. My best guess is Lilium monadelphum, a turkscap-or, pendant lily natic to the Caucasus. The yellow pollen and lilac spots shift me there. This confirms that I need to fill a gap in my library with some books of lilies, and if anyone knows of a good one, please share that too!

I am having some problems with the white balance with my new Nikon D300, but these early morning shots of this seedling are the best I have at the moment. Anyway, it is lovely, isn't it? And the lily beetles are finding the Asiatic's much more tasty than this mere species hidden in a shrub all alone. Maybe next year it will be larger, with more blossoms, I will need to remember to remove the seed pod.

June 1, 2008

A Stunning Sunday

A beautiful giant Allium 'Gladiator' blooms in the front yard garden. Too bad the honey bees arrive in a week, ( we bought two hives - the only bees we've seen have been bumblebees this year. Normally, the Allium are swinging with bees.

People who know me, often comment that they don't know how I do everything, and others - those who know me well, really know that mostly, I complain, that I can't get anything done. Friday, when I drove home from the office, I decided to make a list of everything I wanted to get done - then, Saturday it rained, and then severe thunderstorms blew through near the end of the day, so I unplugged my compter, and dumped the list. Besides, what seems like a way to perhaps get things done on Friday, on Saturday, the list was so long that it loomed over me. Tossing it meant that at least, I knew I would forget most of it by Sunday.

Sunday arrive, and after the severe storms, the day began cloudless and brilliant. So for the heck of it, I decided to list everything I accomplished in the garden in one day.

1. Direct Sown Annuals -seeded in the garden:
Amaranthus -Love Lies Bleeding
Asclepias physocarpa ( Hairy Balls)
Nicotiana glauca

2. Cleaned ( swept and hosed off) the greenhouse walk.

3. I then prepared all 36 of the Dahlia which I started rooting in the greenhouse two weeks ago, and looked-up each name in the original catalog, and prepared new larger lables on wood lathe with the name, bloom size and color. Then the dahlia pots were relocated outside on the newly cleaned greenhouse walk, to be hardened off before planting later in the week.

Dahlias re-labeled and placed outdoors to harden off before being planted in the garden

4. Moved the remaining large tubs of Camelia out of the greenhouse, and placed then in the ephemeral garden.

5. Repotted two Camelia into larger pots

6. Planted the Canna Phaison that I saved from last year and started in the greenhouse a month ago, into the Blue and Gold garden.

7. Planted the last of the Colocasia in the Blue and Gold garden.

8. Removed the last of the seed from the Cyclamen and cleaned them, then freshly sowed them into pots, ready for watering in the fall. these were set in the sand bed, where the sand in just damp enough to keep them from drying out completely.

9. Potted-up the Tuberous Begonias from Blackmore and Langdon, which were started into growth in peat pots in the greenhouse. These 12 and ridiculously expensive Begonias were then potted up into 8 inch clay pots and moved onto a wire bench next to the Primula auricula collection.

10. Potted-up the fiberous Begonias into larger clay pots in the greenhouse.

11. Started vegetable seeds in 4 inch peat pots and placed them in the greenhouse sand bed, to germinate since the outside soil is still lower than 55 degrees.
Pickling Cukes - Pearl
Butternut squash - Waltham Butternut
Zucchini - Golden
Gourds - Ornamental mixed
Okra - North and South Hybrid

12. Repotted into larger tub, a Beaumontia grandiflora ( the easter lily vine). Planted Brugmansia in the Martin house garden.

13. Fixed the zinc rain barrel and set it behind the display of alpine troughs, where I filled it with water, so that I cold have easy access to the rain water which will collect in there for watering the troughs, especially the gentians.

14.Moved the Aspidistras out for the summer, under the magnolia trees.

15. Took cutting from some the the encrusted Saxifraga and planted them in pieces of Tufa rock where others had died. ( June is the best time to take Saxifraga cuttings, more will be done, later).

A lovely tight bun of a silver saxifrage planted and grown on a tufa rock. Cuttings of Saxifraga planted in tufa grow more characteristically than those grown in soil. Also, I have fewer failures.
16. Cleaned the Freesia bulbs since they went dormant, and I needed the pot for some of the Begonias.

17. Photographed some of the cacti which are blooming, as well as the Epyphyllum ( which we're also moved outdoors to spend their summer hanging in the trees.

Epiphyllum ' Vista Sun' bloomed last night, and filled the greenhouse with its scent. By morning, the blossoms has begun to wilt, but lasted most of the day. One wonders why one grows these plants, they bloom once a year, and the flowers last a day. Since all the buds opened last night, we now have to wait 364 days for another. Hmmm...we are crazy, aren't we!

18. Planted miniature shrubs in the alpine garden.

19. Moved the large tubs of potted Rosemarinus to the gravel circle with the Martin house. This project involved about a dozed large pots that will spend the summer in the circle, including the citrus, lemons, Murraya, the Tulbagia fragrans whicha re blooming now, the summer growing Nerine species, the Boophane, and the Ozmanthus.

20. Restaked the topiary Rosemary's, and repotted one into an italian pot.

21. Moved the 6 Banana trees outdoors to acclimate them before planting. ( The fancy bananas were all planted in the bed in front of the greenhouse Friday, along with the canna, calla, and rarer Colocasia varieties that came in the mail from Plant Delights Nursery a month ago. Dahlias will fill in the gaps, later this week.

So all in all, I guess things did get done, Even though it feels as if I have a longer list of "things to do". I suppose that will never change!.