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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dumb tree

One of the most enlightening blogs I've ever read was Don Engebretson at The Renegade Gardener. For the first time in my life I wasn't embarrassed about being a tree killer. Some trees are just meant to be killed.

Our property really is lovely, unfortunately the two previous owners were neither gardeners nor knew a single thing about landscaping. The last owner actually created several huge landscape faux-pas that would cost six figures to fix the way they should have been done.

I don't know who did the original foundation plantings but a Hemlock (Tsuga) was planted about 3 feet (1 meter) from the foundation of the house. Yup, that was smart. Plant a fast growing tree right next to the house and the big front window and see what happens.

Not only did the tree require constant haircuts just so we could see out the window, but it had the worst case of wooly adelgid you could imagine. Don't tell me about sprays, I have an entire property line of infected Hemlocks and would rather save the money for tree removal.

My husband Don took the above shot while I was unaware. I see he captured my best side.

Four hours later, thanks to Don's amazing talent with a Husqvarna chain saw, we can finally see out of our whole living room window. Now if only I could convince him to take those yews down a foot too.

Of course I realize trees aren't dumb. There are just dumb choices of trees planted in dumb locations all too often by dumb people. If you don't know what I mean, I could show you many more dumb examples.

Spring Purchases

On the first day of spring I posted that I had gone on a shopping spree. For several days I had hunted around for pansies. I hit several big box stores and just couldn't find any. How strange.

The front walk walk and stoop were installed last June and I haven't yet designed the planters the way I want them. I knew I wanted the dwarf Alberta Spruces in one pair of planters because they will be visible year round. My mind's eye wanted orange pansies but they were no where to be found. My only choices were yellow or blue and the blue would have disappeared from view 100 feet away. At the end of May I'll switch out the pansies for something else.

Now it looks less like winter out there. I still have to replace the basket up against the house but the plant material available just isn't up to snuff yet. Lowe's had some amazing large pots full of tropicals for only $4.99 but I have nowhere to store 4' tall plants indoors until we pass the frost date of May 15th.

These stepping stones though might just turn out to be the worlds number one bargain. I'm almost afraid that if I write about them you'll all rush out to get some and there won't be any left for me. Just in case, I plan on heading out to get 10 more today.

They are concrete but thin, just under 2" thick would be my guess. A few in the pallet were broken so I can see they aren't meant for heavy duty work. The sales man told me not to stack them in my car, so I wasn't prepared for more. Are you ready for the price? 48 cents. Yup, no dollar sign cause they were only 48 cents. I can't buy a pack of gum for 48 cents. Guess I have to give up the store too...Lowes.

We don't have a Lowes too near us, they only came to Long Island a few years ago. The gas to go there is going to cost more than the stepping stones but it's still a bargain.

This is where they'll be going. Looks delightful doesn't it? Yesterday I spent hours cleaning up leaves, there's at least two more days work but once cleared out, this is my Hosta bed and there was a little bare spot in the middle for a seating area. In the past we just dumped wood chips in that area but now I'm going to make a patio out of leaf stepping stones. I'll rub some dirt into the leaf veins and some moss too and soon they'll look nice and old.

Borders was another place I got a bargain on Thursday but that will have to wait. The weather guesserologists were wrong again. No snow showers, not even cloudy out there. It's cold, just above freezing but if I get my Easter cleaning and food prep done in the next few hours I can head over to Lowes and play in the yard for a little while.

Happy Easter all!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tag... I'm it!

Cinj, over at Cinj's Chat Room has tagged me. I've never been blog tagged before but this is how it works. I have to post 10 weird or random facts about me that most people don't know. Then at the end I tag 5 more bloggers and state why I tagged them.

Number 1: I adore my wonderdoodle Calie with all my heart but deep down inside I desperately miss having a cat. This was our first cat, Muffin with my daughter Lauren. Actually I miss Lauren too as she's away at school and this will be our first Easter without her here.

2. I'll never be as brave as Lauren (who's all grown up now).

3. If I was deserted on an island and could only have one kind of food, it would have to be cheese, or ice cream...nope, make it cheese.

4. I never go to church but I pray every German.

5. Not only do I have slugaphobia but I can't touch worms either (and forget about mice, snakes, rats, and cicadas).

6. I could walk for 20 miles and not get tired.

7. I collect rocks, just can't seem to stop picking them up.

8. I'm a book fanatic, sci-fi and fantasy are my thing. I first read the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in High school and they blew me away (So did all the Harry Potter books).

And now, I saved the weirdest ones for last:

9. When I was a kid I took accordion lessons for two years. We lived in Queens (New York City) and I had to ride my bicycle to the lessons with the accordion in a monster sized basket on the front of my bicycle. Double dork!

10. When I was 13 and 14 I danced with a German Schuhplattler dance troupe (think Oktoberfest dancers) and many times they only had beer for us to drink when we got off the stage.

Ok, now I have to tag 5 more people, this is the hardest part. There are people I'd like to tag (like Kim) but they don't have blogs.

1st I'll tag Blue Fox at "Blue Fox garden" since she and I have the same values when it comes to house keeping.

2nd I"ll tag Anna at "Life at RavenCroft" since I know her as a daylily nut but there's more I'd like to know.

3rd I'll tag Linda at "Garden Girl" as I love everything she's written so far.

4th I'll tag Carol at "Terra Nova design" because she loves Maine Coon cats and I wish I could have one!

5th I'll tag Frances at "Faire garden" because in my heart I'm a fairy, elf, dwarf and magic lover.

Pin the tail on the Donkey - or cut it off?

This is what Euphorbia myrsinites looks like in my garden on March 19th. The nick name of this plant is Donkey's tail and I can kind of see why.

The bloom is very subtle, but it looks so wonderful cascading over rocks, gravel or down a hill.

A number of years ago I was in Minnesota in November and the gardener that I was visiting had this in her garden. She dug me two pieces and I brought them home. I had learned not to be shy if I saw something in masses in other gardens and I will ask for a piece if the moment is right.

Last year I actually bought more since my original plants have given me only a handful of seedlings.

Here's my question of the day. Do you grow this plant and if so, do you cut those long scraggly tails back in spring?

Now I need to get ready so I can photograph yesterday's purchases and play with them too.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's Spring!

Happy Spring! The air here is still crisp, actually quite chilly and the winds today have been whipping about but who really cares, spring is finally here.

I'm quite late today getting this message out, I had to celebrate the season with a trip to Lowes, Home Depot and finally to Borders Book store. Tomorrow I'll show you the items I bought and I what I plan on doing with them.

For today, I just want to enjoy some photos of what's to come. These flowering trees were photographed in late April last year at Planting Fields Arboretum.

As you can see, they were flowering the same times as the daffodils but I don't know if they were early, mid or late season daffodils. Did you know you could choose daffodils based upon when they'd bloom?

Magnolia's do grow and bloom here on Long Island. I don't have one here but my good friends up the street have a few different varieties.

I just walk up there if I need a Magnolia fix :-)

This photo of Daffodil 'Jet Fire' was taken on April 14, 2007. Today, the buds are already out there, about six inches off the ground. Hopefully that means that this spring will be earlier than last years spring.

I have yet to see any growth with the Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Britches) but I'll keep looking! This tiny patch is about 5 years old and I wish it would spread more. It's in a very dry spot so that might be the problem.

Ok, now I need to bundle up and get out there and play with my new purchases so I can photograph them for you tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vigorous, Aggressive or Invasive?

One of the tips I gave while lecturing is to try to read between the lines when reading that tag in the pot at the nursery. The advertising world is a savvy one and many descriptions are phrased to make something that's not very desirable look perfectly normal or even an asset.

Two phrases get me hot under the collar. The first is when the tag says "short lived perennial". Reading between the lines, that usually means the plant is a biennial. Why not just say "will die right after blooming". I have many biennials that I grow and adore but at least I know they're supposed to only live two years and I don't fret and wonder what I did wrong that killed the poor thing.

The second phrase that drives me crazy is "vigorous grower". When you see this phrase it usually means "start running after you've planted me in the ground if you don't want me to bury you alive". So often I'll be shopping at a plant center and see people pick the pot that's busting out of it's seams. "Look Honey, this one even has some pieces growing out of the drainage holes, what a great bargain!". I want to tap them on the shoulder and say "start running now".

Being realistic, when does a plant cross the line of vigorous to aggressive or worst of all, invasive? I don't care about whether it's a native plant or an import, invasive means invasive. It means that the plant will run over, through, or under all neighboring plant material. In a few cases it might be the seedlings that self sow in the middle of other plant material but most often it's the underground thugs that I've got a problem with.

Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker' is the number one thug in my garden today. I can only blame myself for this one. A good gardening friend shared a piece with me and warned me that it runs. I fell so in love with the rich purple foliage that I begged more pieces from her.

The above two photos are two viewpoints of one planting area. The first shows you how lovely the purple foliage contrasted with the neighboring plants. The second photo shows you more of the surrounding area, the Lysimachia still fairly well clumped with a few stray pieces off to the left.

When removing leaves from this area in the last few days I'm horrified to see that the Lysimachia is everywhere, choking out the daylily clumps like they were butter. The Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' and Euphorbia are still holding ground but for how long?

The little blue ground cover here, Mazus reptans can run as far and as fast as the Lysimachia ciliata. The big difference is the Mazus doesn't choke the companion plants. It simply grows around them and fills in any open spots. If it goes where I don't want it, the roots are extremely shallow and I can remove any unwanted plants in a few minutes.

Here in this golden yellow display are several vigorous growers. Coreopsis 'Zagreb' is the strongest growing Coreopsis in my garden. I choose it over other varieties because it never flops, the stems nice and strong. While it might not grow through a daylily clump, it spreads at a good rate and every 4 years or so I need to go in and pull back the outer edges.

The large leaves in this photo are from the perennial Begonia, I don't have a better name as it was a pass along plant. I'm not sure it's as perennial as people tell me, it just might be a good seeding annual but it has never sown too many plants for me. Further up in the photo though is the adorable blooms of Corydalis. While I'm crazy about this plant, I really need to get in there and be ruthless with some of those seedlings. At least they are easy to pull out.

Uh oh, do you see what I see? There's that tiny spot of purple in the left hand margin. Guess what's run over, through and under everything in this area now?

While most Sedums are well behaved, there are a few that are vigorous growers and yes, some are invasive. This photo shows Sedum aizoon 'Lemon Snowflakes'. It's not invasive but I would list it as vigorous. The original clump grows at a nice pace but it sneaks out seedlings that pop up in the general vicinity. Thankfully it is so pretty and so few people grow it that I've found homes for all those seedlings.

The very first Nepeta I ever bought was at a local nursery named Franks. I didn't know anything about cat mints, didn't save the tag either but the name Nepeta mussinnii keeps popping up in my head. This plant seeds around all over but never choked out another plant. Best of all, I've put many of it's babies in large planters and they over winter just fine. They have such a long bloom season and look so lovely cascading about that I still wish I had more of them.

If you look carefully though you will also see the foliage of Violets in this bed. They are a bit harder to deal with and would have to be moved up the list at least to "agressive" and I know other people who would call them "invasive". It took a bit of practice but now when I weed this area I use a dandelion fork and pop out any violets that are in the middle of the dwarf Hosta.

Symphytum (comfrey) was on my wish list for years. The only variety I've found for sale is this pink one, 'Langham's Pink'. While I was highly warned by others, I bought five pots of this plant. Contrary to all advice, four years later they are still in clumps, not a runner or seedling to be found. I'd really like to try to divide these beauties up in a few weeks.

When it comes to finding out what plants are vigorous, aggressive or invasive, blogging just might be the best available tool. While there are plenty of great gardening books out there with this information, it might take you hours or days to find what you need to know. By going to the search tool at Blotanical, you can simply type in a plant name and instantly read about how it does in other gardens. Pretty cool! If only I had thought of that before I twisted Chris's arm for more Lysimachia...

And now for the most distasteful task of all, time to empty the hearth and fireplace of all winter decorations. Other people might call those decorations "Christmas" decorations but thankfully we call them "winter" decorations so we can leave them up all winter. For the past month I've been averting my eyes every time I walk through the living room. It's a much hated job since it requires numerous trips up and down the attic stairs while loaded down with boxes. That's my ugly confession for the day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Propagating Sedums and Sempervivum

Much of the hard scape in our yard was poorly planned. One area, brick steps leading up to our ugly pool has been falling apart for a number of years now. It got to the point where I was worried that the step would give way when somebody placed their foot there.

Since this isn't an easy fix, the whole area needs to be addressed with big bags full of money in hand, I decided to disguise the problem with plant material.

Sedums and Sempervivums (hens & chicks) are so fascinating to me. I need to touch them, they're one plant I can't make myself wear gloves when I'm working with them.

These two steps and top ledge hold many of my mother plants and lots of the new babies in pots.

Last week I bought a pot of Sedum to my class with me. I wanted to show off how beautiful the newly emerging buds can be. One of the women asked me why it was in a pot over the winter. It set me off on a long talk but I don't think I actually answered the question. I keep them in pots over the winter because I can!

Sharing plants, trading plants, selling plants, they all make me happy. When children are in my garden I like to show them the Hens and Chicks and let them pick a variety. Then we gently pull one off from it's Mommy, pot it up and the child gets to take it home with them.

Nothing is easier to propagate than Sedum. Simply take a pinch (cutting) and stick it into some potting soil, or even in the ground right next to the mother plant. They root almost instantly and before you know it, you have another plant.

At this point I have quite a nice Sedum collection, unfortunately I don't have the names on some of the early arrivals here. Many of them were pass-along plants from other gardeners.

Yesterday 2008 catalog from a local nursery arrived in my mail box. I had to immediately thumb to Sedum to see what new arrivals would be coming in. Looks like I'll be adding Sedum 'Diamond Edge' to the garden and propagation step this year. Although there are 23 other entries there, I either have them or have passed some by as not required for my garden.

Still, as I drive around and visit different nurseries you can bet I'll be looking for some more succulents, after all, I don't have nearly enough of them yet.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Go Green

Happy St. Patrick's Day! The power of green is an awesome thing. I find green an extremely soothing color and just love all the different shades and textures that I can find in a garden. A simple Hosta mutation shows you how beautiful green can be.

Gardeners with shade sometimes moan and groan but look at all the amazing green combinations you can have. I will show this slide over and over again because I love it so much. I can't even pick a favorite plant here, they are all so beautiful.

More green texture in the shade garden, splashes of white and blue too.

An emerald green lawn, kind of looks like a golf course to me :-)

Soft and sculptured leaves on my Viburnam.

Tropical shapes on the Ipomea (Sweet Potato vine).

And to finish things off, a river of green (Hakonechloa aureola)

Are you green today?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Have a Seat

Seating in the garden is a very important feature. Sometimes the seating is part of the decoration of the garden. A number of years ago I found this old wooden chair at the curb awaiting pick-up by the garbage men. I painted it a different color each year depending on the mood of my garden. I'll never forget the day there was a garden club here and I saw a woman step into my flower bed and sit on the chair. That day I realized how important it is to have a place for people to sit while enjoying the garden.

The urge to use the seats as decorations was still strong. My mom found a broken table and two chairs in the garbage and I drove out and brought them home with me. The chairs just needed a good cleaning and new pieces of scrap fabric as covers. The table was fitted with a wire basket and then planted. I showed the table just a few days ago but now you'll see some of the mechanics.

After a two years of being outdoors the seats also broke. I was faced with the prospect of fixing them or doing something different. Is it any surprise I chose the different route? Like the table, I decided I would plant the chairs.

Here you can see a single chair. I took green hardware cloth (wire grating) and folded it into a basket shape that would fit inside the frame. Then I took green floral wire and sewed the basket into place.

Before putting the potting soil in you need to first add a layer of protection. One year I used black landscape fabric, one year I bought a coconut fiber basket liner and ripped it into the right shape, the last year I used sphagnum moss. All worked well, they just gave a different look.

On the back of the chair I made mini living wreaths and hung them. Here you can see the chair all planted. This one had a purple, silver and green theme.

For the table, I thought that I'd use herbs/edibles even though not all were truly edible. I've planted that table for 5 years and this was my favorite combination.

Here you can see them all finished. They lasted for five years in the garden before the legs of the table got to the point that they were dangerously wobbly. Five more years of life before they were sent back out with the garbage.