June 30, 2014

Manboxes, Mangaves, Manfredas and that Angry Wood Pecker

I love odd color combinations, and our window boxes this summer show just how great a container can look when one gets a little creative with plant material. My rule? No green. "They're 'Man boxes' ", says my friend Jess calls them, planted in tones of tanned leather, olive drab and khaki - with just a touch of camo. Cigar anyone?

It's become a bit of a joke amongst my designer friends - how 'ugly' can I make a garden? Each year, a few of us challenge each other to see how odd a color combination can we create - since so much of what available today is just pink and blue. This year, I think I've nailed it - in what we've come to call my 'Man garden'. Window boxes planted in the tones of leather, camo, army green and olive drab. I think it's the reduced amount of green that helps these colors work. I tried adding salmon impatiens with what seemed to be the perfect shade of coral, but the foliage was just too green, so I removed them this week, and replaced them with some Begonia 'Firefly', which really complements the odd yet striking mix of earth tones.

But so much more is happening around the garden. Click below to see more:

How about camo lettuce? Leaf lettuce is ready to harvest in the veg garden, and few are as handsome as 'Mottistone', a speckled summer-crisp variety which is quickly moving to the top of my list. Crispy, flavorful and speckled - just what the troops ordered.

Our Mangave's and Manfreda's are blooming, and what a show! This Manfreda 'Chocolate Chip'  has flowers that currently are capturing the attention of everyone, not just with their long, spectacular stamens, but with it's scent - which sort-of smells like molten plastic or burning Styrofoam - yum.
Our potted Manfreda  'Chocolate Chips' has a magnificent floral display - with long stamens that indicate that any pollinator must be on the wing - even though Hawk Moths and nectar feeding birds may visit this plant in its native habitat in Mexico, the flower is designed so that nectar feeding bats can pollinate it.

I hated doing it, but it's time to remove some over-grown and poorly sited trees and shrubs, which means saying good bye to our large yellow magnolia 'Goldfinch' on the walk that leads to the greenhouse, and our large Hamellis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise' which is nearly 20 years old. More light will reach the greenhouse, and it all will make room for a new vegetable garden.

I will post more about this new garden soon ( using our new Troy Bilt rototiller - in fact, giving it a super-tough workout ( Oh, I see a giveaway coming!), but first, more trees to be cut, a new fence, a new walk and an enlarged vegetable garden needs to be set in before the 4th of July.

While cutting down the Magnolia, the strangest thing happened, this Hairy Woodpecker became very angry. I'm guess because I kept two suet feeders in this tree, but whatever triggered him to get pissed, kept her angry for about six hours. She swooped at our heads, and threw a temper tantrum, tapping on every branch that she could find, even the bamboo poles we are using for tomato stakes. I know she is nesting in an old elm near the chicken coop, so clearly she was just angry about losing her feeding tree.

Other birds could care less, like this house finch and a male Rose Breasted Grosbeak. We have decided to feed the birds through the summer, with suet and black oil sunflower seeds, which has attracted a wide range of  species including brown thrashers, catbirds, orioles and these rose breasted grosbeaks - a summer visitor we rarely see unless we feed.

With the two large trees removed, and dragged to to woods, more light can now reach the garden and the greenhouse.


  1. Sounds like a busy week! We've lost a number of trees in the last few years due to age and weather. The extra light quickly makes up for the loss.

  2. Are you going to plant a replacement Hamamelis elsewhere?

  3. I think the colors in your manboxes look fantastic. Nothing ugly in my eyes. Beware that angry woodpecker!

  4. Fritz1:20 PM

    The manbox is incredible! Thanks for sharing your awesome ideas.

  5. Anonymous10:31 PM

    Sounds like a good day, saws, rototilling, and man boxes. It does make me look twice at my new angel wing begonias. They seem more like gran boxes than man....

    1. Aww, Frank - but there's always a place for 'gran boxes' too. Nostalgia, my firend - nostalgia. Lean into the gran box.


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