June 6, 2015


I feel like jumping up and down, and I would, if I could - If I wasn't' too sore from hauling about 2 tons of gravel across two acres, after digging about 36 holes for dahlias and digging out roots of invasive plants, which now are burning in the fire pit. Finally you can read about some accomplishment, thanks to Joe who helped haul a tractor load of granite cobblestones from out back near the woods where we kept an extra pile. 

Daphne is such a good girl, she like to sit and watch everything that we do. OK, sometimes she likes to dig too, but that's OK, as long as she isn't digging up dahlias. Here, you can see the type of professional weed block that we need to use, to keep bamboo and grasses at bay. We even use it over the soil to keep the gravel clean. Too bad too, as our soil is so rich and the loam so deep in this spot next to the greenhouse.

It's just so nice to sit back in the evening - on a Saturday, no less, and make a list of all that was completed in one day. A new terrace graveled over, a new raised bed which I will write about later,(it's one of those table-type beds from Gardener's Supply - I'm getting ready for old age!), a couple dozen plants of various chili peppers were planted, more tomatoes, 36 dahlias, a selection of small annual seedlings transplanted out into a new garden, and zinnia seed was sown.

Joe placed cobble stones which one paved the old streets here in Worcester, MA. His father rescued a few tons years ago, and we use them for lining walks. Just too expensive to buy the quantity that we need.

The most noticeable accomplishment, an entire new walk which was one of those projects that was started last spring, but encountered many hurdles much like a house remodeling, where once you start, everything connects. We cut down a couple of tall yellow magnolia trees, which was sad, but necessary, we then had to dig out grass and weeks, bamboo and switch grass, plan a new fence ( which is still another huge job for this summer, and of course, before any of that had to be done, we needed to design what we were actually doing. It's always helpful to have a plan.

The weed block cloth is thick yet allows water to pass through.  It's more expensive than the thin, plastic sort, but we need this to be permanent. If we need to plant something, we just need to cut it or blow torch a hole.

This new garden is an example of what I am realizing we will need to do across our yard - which is to reduce the amount of labor needed ( which, essential is us).  By eliminating lawns which need to be cut, and placing long rows of walks, gravel and hedges, there is less room for weeds and high maintenance grass, and more condensed spaces for the plants we love to grow. This walk is the start of a new project, that will extend our gravel paths along side the greenhouse, and then behind the greenhouse leading to the coops (we placed our chicks out today for the first time, and ducks arrive later this coming week).

Gravel is heavy, so we haul half loads and rake each load out to keep the path level.

The pea stone gravel we are using is browner than I would like, as I would have preferred more of the bluestone chips which we were using, but it is more forgiving on the dog's paws and our bare feet. maybe it will fade over time.

New kennels will be going in at the end of this walk, as part of the problem on this side of the garden is that this side is the dog side. Grass does not grow, and they like to run all over the acre and a half which is also theirs. I can't really fight it, as this is Joe's hobby, so a compromise was needed. Make much of the garden dog friendly, use  playground pea stone gravel, and fewer muddy areas should do the trick. The only problem now, is dogs peeing and stepping on young plants.

Complete, it is starting to look like someone else's garden. Now, to think about what hedge material to plant along the path, and, start thinking about how we will replace the fence to the left. Trees will need to be cut down first at the end of this path, and a cross path will be added along with kennels behind that.

Next, Dahlias will be planted along the left side of this path.


Ken Druse proves not only that his talent is still relevant today, he reinvents the shade gardening genre with his newest book, THE NEW SHADE GARDEN. Today, shade gardening can mean so many things, dry, water wise gardens, mossy gardens, or woodland plants integrated into natural plantings.
My gardening library is full of Ken Druse gardening books.  Rich with his gorgeous photos and well informed horticultural text, they were some of the most influential gardening books for me, as I a started rebuilding this old family garden of 4 generations just when I bought the house back from my family. Even today, it's a little ridiculous how many influences  I can trace back to his books, in particular his book THE COLLECTORS GARDEN (now available in paperback), which introduced me to many of the rare trees and plant ( and eventually, to almost all of the folks profiled in it as now most have become my friends). How many books and authors can do that?

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June 4, 2015


Oenothera caespitosa ssp/ exima proves that not all Evening Primroses are aweful. This alpine is planted in one of the troughs that I keep desert and steppe plants in, as it seems to appreciate the sand and rocky dryness.

I find it so  fascinating that the few plant explorers who are still out there looking for new plant species, continue to find new undiscovered or rediscovered plants. Even though we must clearly be reaching the bottom of the barrel, there are many genus and species which still need greater recognition, or let's say - discovery by the big retailers, or by the large, Dutch propagators and distributors. The fact is, most plants whether they are good performers or not in the garden, never make it to the shelves of big box stores and nurseries for no other reason beyond the more tactical ones on shipping size (too tall for shelves or too large for containers when the bloom, or in particular, a resistance to bloom at the right retail time - a big limitor in a market where a majority of people are entry-level gardeners unfamiliar with what plant they are buying.

Oenothera caespitopsa ssp. exima - The Tufted Evening Primrose
I should warn you that there is a bit more botanical Latin in this post than usual, but try to bear with me, as few of these plants have common names, and if they do, they are too similar to related species and you are more likely to get the wrong plant if you go to a nursery. Take the genus Oenothera for instance. Like Oxalis, its a genus which can offer both weedy and invasive plants that can be a real bugger to exterminate from your garden, while the same genus can offer some real, garden treasures. I am only focusing on the treasures here.

Oenothera caespitosa ( Eee-noth-thera  sez-pit-TOE-sah) is a precious, alpine verision of the more weedy cousin's we have all tried in our gardens. This is not common Evening Primrose ( and by the way, it's not even slightly related to primroses no matter what eBay says.). This one is best for our Western dry gardeners, or in a trough, which is where I raise mine. It's a xeriscape plant that more of us should be growing. A native North American with giant flowers that attract hawk moths at night.  Potted in sand, gravel and a nutritionally weak clay, this Oenothera has a flower which is so out of scale to the plant, that it can be shocking. Let alone it's perfect form - like a Trefoil Girl Scout cookie, I'd say, except a bit larger. My flowers are about 3 inches across.

Oenothera caespitosa is common in much of the West, but east of the Rockies, it is rarely seen in gardens. One can grow it without a drought however. Just plant it in a sand-filled trough or deep pot.

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