Another hot day in July. We still get rain once in a while but the amounts are small and the temps remain above normal. In other words, it’s a hot and dry summer. This year some of my lilies never bloomed. The buds developed, but then because of the lack of rain (or not watering), they dried up and fell off. The same happened with the Astilbe; flowers formed, but then just dried up. It still looks pretty but I never got that pop of color I was hoping for.
The daylilies on the other hand don’t seem to mind the hot weather and they have been in full bloom for several weeks now. I make my rounds, collecting the shriveling-up flowers each morning and depositing them on the compost heap. Granted, if you leave the flowers alone, they drop off and shrivel up on the ground, littering around the plant or sometimes drying up and sticking to the leaves. And so, I “groom” my plants. Deadheading, or removing spent flowers from a plant, can prolong flowering and who doesn’t like a longer period of bloom? Sometimes you deadhead because it makes the plant look better; who likes looking at dried up flowers? But there are also times you leave the spent flowers, allow the seeds to ripen and watch as birds gobble it up. I groom in spring when hostas under trees get spent blossoms on their leaves, or when the peonies drop their petals on their own foliage. These spent blossoms dry up and leave a brown spot. A quick rub of the leaves removes the browned petals and we are good to go for the remainder of the year. Ok, so I am a neat freak.
However, during this pandemic with few places to go, I find solace in the garden. With plenty of time on my hands, the garden gets that daily workover and beware of any weed which pokes up its head. Unwanted seedlings, out they go. I snip an errant branch here and there. Then I get to the ornamental grasses, grown from seed two winters ago. Stipa tenuissima (aka Mexican feather grass) and Stipa gigantea. The two-year-old grasses have put on some girth and mostly dance on the wind, but a few clumps are bent over and no longer sway with the rest. A look shows the top of these plants have become a tangle of seeds and while I try to comb my fingers through it, I don’t get much of it out. And this is where I take the whole “grooming your plants-thing" to a whole new level. I grab a hairbrush with widely spaced bristles and comb my grass as if it is a teenager’s ponytail full of knots. Handfuls of seeds come out and suddenly my clumps resurrect themselves and move in concert with the rest. All sweaty I go back inside; a job well done deserves a cool drink. Later I sit down with a book in my favorite chair overlooking the pond and my well-groomed garden. It’s one way to spend your days in these trying times!
After six weeks of very warm and sometimes windy weather with very little precipitation, it finally rained. A grey day brought us gentle rain in the morning and then heavy rain. When all was said and done, within a six-hour period, we received 2.5 inches of rain; YEAH! My garden and all those surrounding us perked up considerably. Then, two days later, we got another 1/3 inch of rain. And that was it. Now, 7 days later, we are still hot and dry. Gardens are starting to lag again and there is no rain in the forecast. Without a doubt, after 24 years of gardening, this year is one of the top-five driest. Shrubs and trees planted in 2016 and 2017 are getting by with virtually no help from me, while I water those plants which were put in the ground last year and this spring.
Since I have now gravel paths throughout the gardens in back and on the side, I am putting the finishing touches on beds which were a little bare. Pink blooming plants, which were banned from the main beds now have their very own bed. In early spring my ‘Dancing butterflies’ peony blooms in Pepto-Bismol pink, followed by pink bearded Irises and a smattering of pink as well as blue Columbines. Now, my ‘Pow Wow’ Echinacea are blooming together with a variety of different lilies. The fragrance is enticing and the colors smack you in the eye. I also sprinkled a package of perennial Flax seed throughout this bed and come spring there will be a haze of blue among all the pink. It should look nice.
The side bed near the fence has a collection of orange and yellow varieties of daylilies as well as yellow and blue Siberian irises, plus hardy Geranium ‘Rozanne’. These colors make for a good contrast with the dark red foliage of Sand Cherry and further along the bed, Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ or purple Ninebark, while the yellow-leafed Spirea ‘’ also contrasts nicely with its small leaves. My ‘banana cream’ daisies look nice in this bed, but I have already decided they will get the heave-ho come fall or early spring next year. The same daisies in the bed lining the driveway already need dividing in their second year AND they do not look their best with a lack of rain. Add to that the fact they need to be deadheaded (remove the spent flower) so it can rebloom, and it just becomes too much work. Instead, I will use Melampodium next year. Melampodium falls into the Sunflower family, but it is a low growing annual, which blooms from May until the first frost. It is heat and drought resistant, doesn’t need deadheading and is covered in small yellow flowers until the day it croaks. What’s not to like? I currently have it in another bed among the variegated oregano and it is looking great. Seedlings of a slightly different colored (brighter yellow) Melampodium have popped up in a bed where I had them last year. So, with a bit of luck, I will grow my own plants next winter, and then will have seedlings pop up in the same beds year after year. A great looking garden, with less work; now that is something I like!
We finally had rain! A storm dumped 0.6 inches of rain in about an hour and I could hear a sigh of relief from my garden. The roses immediately put on new growth and everything is standing a little taller and straighter.
With June 21st behind us, we have headed into summer and with it the days are growing shorter again. Why, oh why couldn’t days grow shorter starting with fall and grow longer again in spring. I would be perfectly happy with nine months of longer days and can live with three months of short and cool/cold days. However, life doesn’t work that way and I will have to live with the seasons the way they are.
Last year I put hardy geraniums in my garden. They seem to be a staple in English gardens judging by how often I saw them in British garden shows and I decided to get some; again. You see, I had them in my NJ garden at one time and while I liked them in the beginning, once they took off, I didn’t care for the way they sprawled in my garden. Fast forward a decade plus and here I am buying five pots of them. I put them in the long border coming into the garden; spaced out between yellow as well as orange daylilies and parsley. Soon they were growing and yes, they sprawled, again. But this time their sprawling habit, weaving through the daylilies and parsley, was charming. Here was a plant connecting through its neighbors without suffocating them. When I put the new front garden bed in, I bought more of them and planted them throughout. Now they weave themselves through the purple kale and I could not have asked for a better combination. The varieties used in my garden are Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and ‘Rozanne and Friends’; both of which are a purply-blue. They combine well with anything yellow or orange, as well as with blue or purple.
My garden doesn’t include a vegetable garden but the purple kale, while certainly edible, was bought purely as an ornamental plant. I am hoping to find the same purple kale plants in fall, as my current kale will probably bolt over the summer, set seed and die. Kale is a plant which should be planted in fall and which can be harvested throughout early winter. Kale is best after a light frost and in Holland my father grew plenty of kale in his vegetable garden. We always had kale as “stamppot”; a typical Dutch dish. You boil potatoes as well as your vegetable and then mix both in a big dish. It’s a great dish for kids as the mix of potatoes and vegetables (kale, or any cabbage, sauerkraut or even brussels sprouts) goes down a lot easier then eating bites of vegetables. A little bit of light gravy over it all and you have the perfect winter AND comfort food. But, my purple kale with ‘Rozanne’ sprawling through it will stay in the garden for as long as it will live. It’s just too pretty to eat!
Oh, how time flies. The early spring flowers have come and gone, late spring flowers have started to bloom and soon, with summer only weeks away, my garden is getting ready to truly break out in color.
April brought me my “river of blue”; grape hyacinths cascading down on the backside of the waterfall. Last fall I added more bulbs to my river, but thanks to reseeding some day in the not too distant future this part of the garden will be a sight to see in spring. Then, just as the grape hyacinths start to fade, my hardy ice plants turn that same part of the garden a golden yellow. It would be an amazing sight if both grape hyacinths and hardy ice plant bloomed at the same time, but then it would all be over within two or three weeks. Instead, I get to enjoy the river of blue for nearly three weeks and then it all turns gold for weeks on end.
In other parts of the garden trees bloomed; the Caroline silver bell had (duh) bell-like flowers; the Canadian redbud broke out in magnificent magenta flowers while the American Fringe tree dripped with white flowers which smelled heavenly. But this floral feast was over too soon and the trees leafed out. Now they provide puddles of shade; a reprieve from bright sunshine and hot temperatures for shade loving plants at their feet.
The gravel has been put down on the paths which I so carefully cleaned from mulch and decomposed mulch weeks earlier (and re-used it all in flower beds). I now crunch my way through the garden from one end to the other and back again.
Meanwhile the weather has been downright dry. More than a week ago we had a bit of rain; we were supposed to get ½ inch over two days, but instead we got 0.15-inch one day and nothing the next day. Nevertheless, even with that little bit of rain the garden perked up considerably. Then, thankfully, the temperatures dropped a little, the wind stopped blowing so hard and I have been able to water my newly planted plants from the rain barrels in the garden. With the possibility of rain “here and there” in the near future I am hoping for lots of it and soon. If not, I may have to break out in my rain dance, and with my two left feet, that won’t be a pretty sight!
So far spring is throwing us for a loop. Early April started out great. Because of slightly above average temperatures my garden came back to life with startling speed. Mid-April the temperatures nose-dived, and a 28-degree night turned a few hostas to snot. The rest of the month remained cool. Nevertheless, my garden continued to grow, and it was good to see color returning all over. Now, on May 8, we are expecting frost for the next two nights as an artic blast pushes into our area. While we may not see snow (whew, what a relief!) I will be protecting some of the plants so they won’t turn to snot again. A sheet thrown over plants will provide protection, even if it looks weird. Some marigold plants put out in the garden two weeks ago will also need to be protected. (Yes, I know, I planted them outside before their time.) They are already nearly a foot tall and they will be covered by empty plant pots. Not a great look for the garden, but enough coverage to keep them alive.
Aside for frost protection for the next few days, I walk around my garden and marvel at a few plants which only show up in early spring before returning for their underground snooze the remainder of the year. Many, many years ago I bought my first Trillium at Lowe’s. It was a tiny little stick with a small root, but I potted it up and eventually planted it out in the garden. Every spring this woodland native would produce three leaves and one “flower”, which more correctly are considered sepals. The white flower would slowly fade to pink, before going dormant again. Eventually I had a small grouping of these plants in early spring, but it certainly took time before they multiplied. Then we moved and I found again some Trilliums in stores. At first, I planted them around the silver Maple tree and the next year I had three tiny plants. Then, the Maple declined so much in health we had it cut down and when the three plants reappeared in spring, I moved them to a better, shady spot. This year the Trilliums came back and I am hoping they will multiply and lighten up their shady corner of the garden.
The second oddity in the garden is my ‘Jack in the Pulpit’ or Arisaema. A friend in Connecticut had lots of them growing in her garden and while visiting she dug some up and passed them on to me. I put them all over my (New Jersey) garden, trying to see which location they liked best. Surprisingly, they liked every spot and they obligingly multiplied. Before we moved, I dug some of them up and planted them in my new garden. Each year after they have bloomed, seeds develop and I move the seeds to new spots in the garden, hoping they will like their new spots. So far, I have managed to quadruple the number of plants and with additional shady spots in my garden their environment is becoming more to their liking. Before long I should have them growing under shrubs in just about every corner of my garden and they will delight me with their odd flowers.
A young great heron, which was a bit of a nuisance late last year, decided to visit my pond early this spring and managed to catch a few fish. I wanted to reduce the number of koi in the pond this spring so this heron “kind of” obliged me by eating them. However, before it cleaned out most of the fish, I put up a barricade at its favorite fishing spot and it hasn’t been back since. Most of the fish which disappeared where good-size three and four-year olds; the older, bigger fish remained, and the small fish were also untouched. Going into my fourth gardening year in this new garden I now have to contend with a late frost and a hungry great heron who wants to make my pond its personal fishing ground. Who ever said gardening was easy?