Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bluebells... The Sweet Invader

There is more than one plant that I wish I had never introduced into our garden... the lamium from hell being a prime example. Bluebells, a native spring ephemeral, with their sweet, dusty blue and lavender flowers would hardly seem like a garden thug, but turn your back on them and they somehow sweetly end up taking over a flower bed. They came into this garden riding along with something I transplanted from my first garden. That garden was on the edge of a beautiful virgin woods full of wildflowers, and so bluebells, dogtooth violets, and bloodroots soon found my first garden to their liking.
The problem with bluebells in a woodland garden is that when they die down in late spring, their tall, lanky foliage just flops all over everything, and can soon smother out smaller neighbors. The woody roots tangle themselves through and around the other plants, so they are hard to remove; often pieces break off and just regrow. Also the dying foliage itself is hardly the perfect accent to a garden in its prime blooming season.
Bluebells are certainly a wildflower that tugs at my heartstrings; I can remember hillside after hillside of them blooming every spring when I was young, their dainty pastel flowers waving in the warm breezes of April... those hillsides now are covered with houses, the bluebells gone.
Well, not completely gone... they are currently occupied in taking over one of my azalea beds.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bargain Basement Garden Sophistication

Like a lot of other gardeners who've looked at one too many garden picture books, I've got a lot of big ideas about my own modest plot, envisioning it as one of those ancient English gardens, full of moss-stained statues and old brickwork. The trouble is, those things don't come cheap... and as they used to say, I have caviar tastes on a hamburger budget.
Therefore, meet the three foot tall Pan that greets visitors just as they enter our garden; what you don't see is that he has a small defect behind his left ankle, where, when it was made, a bubble got trapped in the mold. Because of this, the price... ten dollars, bought at the end of the season clearance sale.
The Pan looks just fine to me, as do all the rest of my bargain baby garden ornaments... besides, I happen to know that Vita Sackville-West of Sissinghurst Garden fame, was actually as tight as a drum.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An Appreciation Of Weigelas

If I had a bigger garden, I'd plant more weigelas; I'd have rows and mounds and groves of them, blooming in white, red, and pink... everywhere you'd turn in May, the cardinal shrubs would be cascading with flowers... if I had a bigger garden.
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Roller Coaster Weather

It seems to me that since we have four seasons to the year, each three months long, that there is plenty of time and opportunity for each type of weather to occur in its own proper season; it all doesn't need to try crowding into January.
Thursday it got down to -15 at night; today it is to be in the upper 50's with thunderstorms; by tomorrow night it's going to be back down below zero, with twenty below zero wind chills and snow... that's about 125 degrees of turnaround in five days. I don't think it's asking too much to expect a little order and decorum in our weather... hmmmm?
Talk about frost-heaving in the garden; I think I just saw a primrose sailing over a five foot tall viburnum this morning.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Garden Microclimates... Pluses And Minuses

Our garden lies at the upper end of a small, south-facing and south-sloping valley, with a four acre pond filling the bottom of the valley. The pond keeps us a little cooler in summer, warmer in early winter, but colder in mid-winter through spring... a draw. South-facing means we are hotter in summer but warmer in winter... now this would be a draw too, unless you love elepidote (big-leaved) rhododendrons. The blinding sunlight of late winter, with snow on the ground, and the soil still frozen solid is like putting your rhodys in the microwave every day... not recommended.
I hadn't planned on expanding our one acre garden, but I've made an exception for the rhododendrons; last fall I moved the deer fence along the east boundary to allow me to plant rhododendrons on a steep slope protected somewhat from the winter afternoon sun. In addition to being on a slope, there is a four foot tall yew hedge along the lip of the ravine giving this area some extra afternoon shade. I will, of course, also therefore have some winter wind protection, too. The slope is so steep that I'm going to build terraced beds with square-cut timbers.
After this, I'm absolutely done expanding the garden... really.
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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Overgrown Garden Pathways

While I made some good progress this last year in cleaning up and clearing up some of my overgrown garden paths, there are a number that probably won't be changed... and that's not all bad.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Stumping The Garden Expert...

When taking guests on tours of our garden, there's nothing like a round of "Guess The Genus". I've stumped more than one experienced gardener with this one... if you guessed the genus rheum, a decorative rhubarb, give yourself five points!
In the second picture, it's just unfolding its leaves. It gets to be borderline huge, looking almost like a gunnera.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Planting Shrubs And Trees: Quit While You're Ahead...

You know how it goes; first you plant a couple of Japanese maples next to each other; one a deep red, and the other a bright, almost brick red... very nice. Then in front of those you plant a bright pink azalea... even nicer. Then in the middle you plant a chartreuse arborvitae... eeek!
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What Doesn't Grow In My Garden...

My current garden is actually my fourth in a series (I tend to have itchy feet). Each of those gardens was noteworthy for what did well growing in them... and what didn't. For example, in our present garden I've been able to grow all manner of ladyslipper orchids, hardy cyclamens, Japanese maples, and other plants that are unusual in gardens here in Iowa, but I can't grow plain old aquilegias worth a hoot. In previous gardens, I'd just scatter their seed about and have them by the dozens that would each fill a bushel basket. Here, columbines usually sulk about for a year or two, then just disappear. I know it's a bit shady for them in our present garden, but there's something more to it than that, for even in relatively sunny spots they flop. Perhaps they feel slighted, being a rather common plant amongst all the hoity-toitys imported at great expense from specialty nurseries. I've never thought of myself as being one of those insufferable garden snobs, though I do confess to making a brief, half-hearted attempt when we first moved here to label our property "Cedar Point"... or was it "Cedar Pointe"? Unfortunately our friends just kept calling it "lizndon's place" like they always had, so that went by the wayside.
Whatever the reason; whether it's something in the sun, the soil, the water, or the attitude, I've just about given up on aquilegias... and let's not even talk about daisies!
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The History And Mystery Of Night...

During my life there have been so many little questions about this complicated and mysterious world we live in that have come up and that I've puzzled over; as time goes by, these questions have tended to accumulate, to the point where I go about with a wrinkled brow and a permanently perplexed expression on my face. Therefore it is no small relief to have one of these questions, minor though it may be, answered. Specifically, I've wondered for a long time, why, as the sun goes down, we speak of darkness "falling" over the land, or we speak of "nightfall".
It turns out that in times long past, they thought that darkness at night was caused, not just by the sun going down, but by mists and vapors coalescing out of the sky and falling to the ground... that is, night "fell" to earth. This belief was bolstered by the obvious fogs that can occur in wet places when the air cools after dark, and by observation of the darkening that can occur even during the day by smoke and fog.
So, one more little mystery is solved for me... now if I can just figure out this: if you drilled a hole all the way through the earth, and pumped all the air out of the tunnel to get rid of air resistance... if you then jumped in, would you fall all the way to the other side of the earth, so in the last half of your journey, you'd be "falling" upwards?
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Monday, January 21, 2008

A Gift Of The Heart In Our Garden

Quite a number of plants in our garden arrived here as gifts; few of these have the impact of the two long hedges of Weigela Red Prince that run uphill on either side of long perennial borders, leading to the large angel under a red cedar tree.
The shrubs were a gift from my father-in-law, now gone from us, who was a man of great grace and kindness. I think he would like how they look in May...
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Sunday, January 20, 2008

And Hostas...

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Yet More Hostas...

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Even More Hostas...

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More Hostas

More Hosta Pictures.. nice to look at in January.
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Too Harsh On Hostas?

I didn't mean to seem so harsh about hostas (winter is giving me a severe case of the crankies). In truth, there is a week in late spring in our garden when the newly emerged foliage of the hostas is the absolute highlight of the garden... breathtaking would not be too strong a word to describe them then.
Anyway, the hostas can probably stick up for themselves; a couple of them are big enough to be considered somewhat intimidating.
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