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Saturday, February 17, 2007

What's a Filipendula without a name?

Filipendula hoosiewatsis?

Phooey, don't you just hate it when you lost the name of a plant? It drives me crazy when this happens, it's not like I don't know how important it is to keep the name of any specific plant.

About 5 years ago I was visiting Fox Hollow Farm here in South Huntington. Mary Kay always had the coolest perennials available there and many a time she urged me to buy something I had passed over. While I can't say I loved everything she pointed out, I have to admit that 90 percent of what she chose turned out to be amazing. Like the time she twisted my arm to buy a flat of left over primrose. OK, maybe she didn't have to twist too hard :-)

Well, one day she pointed out this little 4" pot. There were only two plants like it and she told me that I should make sure I took one home. Mary Kay is one of those plant people who have botanical names tripping off her tongue at the drop of a hat. Me, I'm pretty good with those names too, certainly not a Mary Kay, maybe that's why I want to pull my hair out when I've lost the name.

My luck, there was no label in the pot, and just minutes later when I got home all I remembered was that it was a Filipendula. Well, I had never grown a Filipendula and didn't even bother to look up it's requirements. For some reason I thought that it was a shade plant and so I planted it in my front (very dry) shade bed.

It's taken a few years (no wonder considering where I planted it) but this plant has grown into a huge, mature, lovely clump. This year I had several visitors while it was in bloom and all of them expressed surprise at the spot I had chosen to plant it. I guess I goofed on that one but instead of up and dying on me, this Filipendula has really put on a show.

This year it's really due to be divided as it's doing that donut thing (growing into a big circle with a hole forming in the middle). I'd really like to take a nice piece and put in a spot where it will shine but it sure would help if I knew what I was dealing with.

If you have any ideas as to the full name of this plant and it's ideal conditions please post it as a comment here for everybody to see.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Eye Candy!

A feast for the Eyes
(for Maria)

Wow, we've been hammered all day with an ice storm. Being stuck inside the house I thought it would be a great time to look back at some of the photos taken during spring and summer. So curl up with me in front of this here monitor and join me in a tour of Old Country Gardens.

As you can see in the opening photo, we are set back quite far from the street. Our winding driveway is approximately 275 feet long. For the most part, there are perennial borders that run down both sides.

The first pair of gardens out by the street are bordered with a natural rock wall. Supposedly these boulders were taken out of the ground here when the foundation of the house was dug. Wish we had more of them! There are a number of tall oaks and other trees out by the street throwing lots of shade here. Because of one massive Maple tree, the roots suck any moisture out of the ground so we are dealing with dry shade. One of the hardest conditions for gardening.

I just adore sharing my garden with other folks and every season a few groups tour our small piece of paradise. This past summer I had the honor of being on the national tour for the American Hemerocallis Society (that's Daylilies for you botanically challenged folks). In that one week in July we had over 600 visitors to the garden.

Our house is an old fashioned colonial with a breezeway connecting it to the garage. This photo was taken from the breezeway looking up the driveway towards the street.

Here we can see the front sunny perennial borders and how they flank the driveway.

The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. One day my neighbor commented that she didn't have to garden, she only had to look over the fence to see a beautiful sight. It made me wonder what my garden looked like from her side. What do you think? I think she's pretty lucky!

When we moved in to this house, the backyard was a landscapers nightmare. Everything was in the worst possible spot and without a six figure budget, there was no easy way to work around the poor design. Two things we had right away were a pool (way too large but hey, it's already there) and a pool house. By taking the ugly white chain link fence away from the pool, it looks much more inviting.

The same year we added a huge perennial border around the back of the pool to cover an ugly slope. Our land appears quite flat to the eye but when you build a structure as huge as this pool and patio, you quickly notice which way the land rolls.

The pool house or as we call it, the cabana is just now coming in to it's own beauty. It's really just a glorified shed, holding the pool filter and all the corresponding chemicals. That extra toilet and sink sure come in handy though when your feet are covered in mud and you don't want to come in to the house.

I took this photo in May and the plant material is still quite immature. It's a good example though because it also shows off the playground equipment that was waiting here for us. We think it came from the elementary school up the street that is now a senior assisted living center. When my daughters have friends over they all gravitate to that see-saw.

My first garden here was a row of daylilies and seedlings set out like a small farm plot in the back right corner of our yard. In the past two years it's been completely changed and is now a semi-formal herb garden.

The herbs have been a wonderful companion to over 100 spider and unusual form daylilies. Unfortunately many plants in this garden have been struggling from the roots of many huge black walnut trees just over the property line. This year I will move those glorious daylilies to the other perennial borders and plant more herbs and vegetables in this spot.

By the way, I just love the way the crushed seashells look in the walkway around the center bed here. My mother gathered them over many trips to our local beaches.

Out along the back of the property line I've been working on a massive shade garden. Unlike the shade out front, this garden is not dry at all. What a huge difference it makes to have moisture and occasional moments of full sun. The plants in this garden just thrive and have been growing with leaps and bounds. Time for some serious dividing this spring!

This is one last shot of the back shade garden and it shows something that I'm very unhappy with. White fences look great if they are put in the right location. There's nothing more charming than a white picket fence out in front of a lovely cottage garden. This six foot high vinyl white fence though is the bane of my garden. I've designed my garden so that you look at the plant material, not at the enormous un-natural fence. If I have a windfall of money in the next year or two I'm going to put back the stockade fence to hide this eyesore.

Well, it's time to get back to the real world of snow and ice. Stay tuned for more garden talk! Oh, Maria, thanks for suggesting I add more photos that show off the garden :-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Containers - Medium

Containers with a flair!

What I consider a medium container is one that is not just "medium" in size but also requires a bit of work to get the finished results. More than adding a few handfuls of soil but not so difficult a project that you need a rocket science degree to try this.

This first image shows a pot shaped like a head (simply called a pot-head around here). This pot charmed me a few years ago at the Philadelphia flower show and weighs enough that I was struggling by the time I got it to my car.

It has a very small place to actually put your plants and if I chose to put a single plant there, it could qualify as a "small" container. The fact that I like to plant a trio of plants, bumps this up to "medium". You see, the first year I had this pot in my garden I learned that it dries out very quickly because of the small amount of soil in the chamber. Since I don't have time to water my containers twice a day, I've learned to chose plants that don't mind drying out.

Hanging Baskets

Hanging Baskets require a bit of thought, which is why I put them in this category. Whether small, medium or large, there are a few thinks you need to consider when making a hanging basket. First of all, because this container is up in the air, you are going to see much more of the mechanics such as the underneath part of the container. Hanging plastic pots can be bought just about anywhere in the spring but I like be a bit more original. The majority of hanging pots in my garden have an open iron-like framework. In this first example though you can clearly see the terracotta colored plastic pot.

When it comes to using containers that have an open framework, you will have to decide what to use to close up that framework. This past season I tried two new products, both of which worked out very well for me. This group of hanging containers and open framework containers along my cabana are all lined with coco liners. Coconut coir fiber liners come under several different names so use what is available to you. I actually ended up buying large circular liners and pulling them carefully apart so that I'd have a number of pieces ranging from 8 inches to 12 inches. This was easier to work with and seemed to me to be a more natural look.

My favorite result came from using sphagnum moss. I wasn't sure I like this at first but it quickly grew on me. Sphagnum moss is a bit harder to work with. I bought a large cube of the moss and put it in a 5 gallon bucket. Then I added water to the bucket and let the moss soak up the water. Using a hand cultivator, I stirred the mossy soup to break up any large lumps. Once the moss was ready, I began grabbing large handfuls of the moss, squeezing out any excess moisture and then pressed it against the container frame. It's very important to remember to wear rubber gloves while doing this. The container of moss that I had purchased had clear instructions that people should handle the moss with rubber gloves and I made sure I did exactly that.

Once you've pressed moss all around the container, you should consider lining it with something or it's going to dry out every time a breeze blows by. I used landscape fabric but as I wrote in the previous posting on small containers, you can also use plastic supermarket bags with a few slits cut into them. Now you are ready to plant.

When you've finished planting your container you need to hang it up to dry. The first day it's going to drip quite a bit of water and bits of moss so don't hang it in your screen room if you don't want a puddle on the floor. Another helpful thing would be to place a large plastic bag or even an old dish washing drain under the container while working on in. There was so much moss on the ground after I had finished that I found myself trying to pick it up to use in the next planting.

Ivy turned out to be an excellent plant to include in almost all of these plantings. Every two weeks or so I'd take the longest tendrils and just wrap them further around the container. They look lovely growing on the outside of the moss. I really loved this combination of the variegated ivy and the peace lily but I have to admit that the peace lily needed more water than I was giving it.

Bird Bath Bases in the Garden

Two years ago I was walking through Main Street Nursery (in Huntington Village) when I spied these amazing containers. They kind of looked like ice-cream cones coming up from the ground. When I asked my friend Gianna about them, she told me that they were the bases of ceramic bird baths! Every now and then a shipment of bird baths has a broken piece top or bottom and it was a shame to throw out the other half of the bath. In this case they started using the bases as innovative containers. Well, I was madly in love with these and lucky enough to be the first to ask if I could purchase them.

Because these bases are actually being place up-side-down, they need some kind of support to keep them from tipping over. You can see in the photo that I used a simple wooden stake that I pounded well over a foot into the soil. Once you've got the stake firmly pounded down, you simply slip the hollow bird bath base right over the stake. When adding your potting soil you might want a second stake or garden tool to help you tamp the soil down around inside the base. then add your plant material and you have a whimsical addition to your garden.

In two of these containers I planted hardy perennials instead of annuals. The perennials came through the winter just fine and it sure lessons the amount of planting I had to do the next year (besides saving me some money at the same time).

My last container in this post is going to be the radio flyer wagon that I've been planting various succulents in for the past few years.

In the same photo you can also see my pot lady but I'm going to save her for the next installment on large containers.

The red radio flyer wagon had a mishap with a backing up car so it no longer worked well to move things around in the garden. By drilling a few drainage holes in the bottom, it became a fun focal point for my daughters playground area.

The first time I planted this wagon I put herbs and veggies in it. The herbs worked well but the celery was not happy with the shallow allotement of soil. The next year I put various Sedums and Sempervivum (hens & chicks) in the wagon and it's stayed this way for two years. The bonus with using succulents is that I've never had to water this container and yet it always looks chock full of cheerfulness.

Monday, February 12, 2007

New York Debut

Pantomime in the Bowery

Well, this seems to be the week for non-gardening topics. As an incredibly proud (busting at the seams) mom, I had to share this photo of my daughter Emily (on the left) and two mime companions as they performed this past Sunday.

It was the achievement of their young lives to be able to perform along with their entire mime troupe at the Bowery Poetry Club.

Wow Emily, your first performance in the Big Apple. Girl, you are on your way to stardom :-)