This year’s gardening journal has a theme; a wet theme. Spring was mostly cool and wet, summer was hot for a short period and wet for the rest. Storms rotate over the same region time and time again and over 12 days this July I have measured nearly 11 inches of rain in the rain gauge. The first rains on Sunday 7/15 measured 2.3 inches and were a welcome relief from the heat. The garden immediately perked up and on Wednesday 7/18 we received another 3.8 inches of rain. No longer was there any need for watering and since then just about every other day we have had more rain. Since my side garden is on a gentle slope, the heavy rain, unfortunately, moved my thin layer of mulch all the way down the slope. I raked it back up the slope and the next heavy rain brought it down again. This got old fast! There was only one solution to the problem: more mulch, lots of it. So, I ordered another truck load and The Spouse and I have been busy spreading it on the side yard. I now have a good three to four inches all over the side yard and the next rain (coming down as I am writing this) will pack it down a little, but no longer move it down the slope.
As a gardener I recycle all garden “waste” on the compost pile. I had two bins, bought many years ago, but it was hard moving the compost around in it or getting to the bottom of the bins where all those pieces of plants and paper had turned into wonderful soil. For a while I had been thinking about making new bins out of palettes (check out the internet for ideas – there are lots of them out there) but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. I dismantled my bins and got a full wheel barrel and two buckets full of soil out of the bottom of my compost bins.
Now I had two heaps of garden waste sitting in the back of the garden and no will to reassemble the two bins. And here comes The Spouse to the rescue! Online he went and found cedar compost bins, to be assembled by the recipient. Just in time for my upcoming birthday! When the FedEx guy came (as we were mulching) I could not have been more excited. The next day I assembled my bins, which was as easy as pie! The corner pieces and slats are all dove-tailed and you slide the slats down the post (occasionally with the help of the rubber mallet). Rather than make three separate bins, you can use the corner post from the first assembled bin to add bin number two. My three boxes of bins thus gave me four compost bins with even a few slats and two more corner posts left over.
Let’s just put it this way, I will be composting to my heart’s content for decades to come. My cedar bins will weather into a nice grey color and soon my neighbors won’t even notice them.
Since June, July and August are months when lilies strut their stuff, my garden has been a fragrant paradise for weeks now. One of my favorites is the Turk’s cap lily, a four to five-foot giant with many (20+) flowers opening over a week or two. When I bought my first Turk’s cap lily, they were expensive at $5 a bulb and I only bought three of them. They multiply, slowly, but I dug up my bulbs from my original garden and brought a few baby bulbs with them to my PA garden.
Each (flowering) stem will bear tiny bulbs, called bulbils, at each leaf axil and you may get as many as fifty of these tiny bulbs from one stem. Usually they will just fall off and start a new plant right next to the mother plant (as it did in my NJ garden). It will take a few years for these bulbils to grow into a larger plant and eventually flower. Two years ago I took all the bulbils from my Turk’s cap lilies and planted them in different parts of my garden. Some did well, others not so well, but one spot suited them greatly and now I have the first few blooming Turk’s cap lilies from these tiny bulbils.While the flowers are not as tall or as floriferous as the parents YET, I consider them a gift. Next year I should have many more Turk’s cap lilies blooming in my garden, both the single as well as the double variety, and it didn’t cost me a penny! Soil for free from composting and flowers from bulbils. Ah, gardening on the cheap, I knew I could do that too!
While the start of summer was on the cool side, it geared up pretty fast to hot! The first heat wave came and went (and it was blistering hot) before temps dropped to a more comfortable level. Now, only days later, we are back to hot with another heatwave around the corner.
Most of the plants are doing well, although the smaller perennials planted this spring need a little extra care. The few new shrubs I planted this spring are coming along nicely and they only need the occasional watering. Most of the annuals are doing well too, but a bit of additional water is appreciated by these plants, so I break out the hose in the early morning or early evening to help each one along.
It is interesting to see how the hell strip, that bit of garden between sidewalk and street, has changed from spring flowers to summer blooms. In spring it was a vision of blue thanks to the perennial flax which I had sown two years earlier. Now the perennial flax is mostly done and the Liatris (also known as blazing star or gayfeather) has taken over. I had sprinkled some cosmos seeds among them in spring and now the hell strip is a vision of mostly purple with a sprinkling of orange and yellows. Next year I will triple the amount of cosmos Bright Light as the combination is stunning!
Each morning I check the window wells for frogs and toads. After a rainy night I liberated six small frogs, but the other morning I caught myself a nice big leopard frog. Aptly named after that large wild cat, they share the same patterns of spots. They are one of my favorite type of frogs; once they get used to me I can work around them. This big frog was no different. After I released it back in the pond it obligingly posed for me while a took a few pictures. Then, the other day a large dragonfly landed on the inside of the awning while I was taking a break and reading a book. I watched it for a while and then decided to see how close I could get to it. I put my hand out and it actually stepped right on it! I called for the under-gardener to bring me the camera and again I was able to take a few pictures. When I was done I put the dragonfly on a branch, where it sat for a while before finally flying off into the great blue yonder.
Each evening I plop myself down into the comfiest chair in the garden, which by then is finally in the shade, eat some fruit and read my book. I watch the fish frolic in the pond, catching them jumping out of the water, or more likely, hearing the splash and watching the ripples in the pond where they re-entered. The other day I saw something rustle in the grasses surrounding the pond. It’s… a chipmunk; the first one I have ever seen in my garden. After that first sighting, we start to see it all over the garden, running around the rain barrel, sitting on one of the rocks, scurrying around plants. I have not yet witnessed its destructive behavior; digging up bulbs, pulling out small plants, so, for now, this little critter is welcome here. This garden is becoming a home to many small critters, birds and insects and it truly deserves to be called a backyard (and front yard) wildlife habitat.
Spring, mostly wet, has come and gone. The first day of summer was decidedly chilly, but now it is warm again. After having watered some newly planted annuals and relocated hostas the sky opened up and it poured. Oh well.
The koi spent most of the last week spawning. It was a regular orgy with male fish bashing the females against the side of the pond. Then the female releases the eggs and the male fertilizes them. Usually, other koi come in right behind the pairs to gobble up eggs, keeping the amount of baby koi within a manageable range. Unfortunately, my largest and oldest female fish (10 years old) became a victim of the vigorous spawning. She lingered for a day or two before expiring. She was a bright orange fish and although her offspring has some of her coloration, none are orange all over. Finley, born in 2011, comes closest, although her parentage includes a bright white father, and subsequently, she is mostly white with large orange spots. Ninja, born in 2012, is also the offspring of my bright orange koi, although her father, Buddy, is dark grey. For most of Ninja’s life she was a dull dark grey with a bit of orange on her belly. This year she started changing colors and now most of the dark grey is gone. She has become bright orange although still with grey and white spots. Koi, just like goldfish, are capable of changing colors, while high-quality food and light also can contribute to changes in color or the intensity of color. From experience, I have found that it is mostly the dark-colored fish which can turn into something much brighter, although not all of them will change during their lifetime. A nice thought when I look at some of the dark-colored offspring from two years ago; they may end up looking like some really nice fish in the (near) future.
I have already spotted the first few baby fish, seven of which I caught and relocated indoors to a small tank. When I first caught them, I could hardly see them in the tank. One small pellet of fish food pulverized into dust is the perfect fish food and now, only days later, they have nearly doubled in size. They are actually starting to look like tiny fish now. This week I will be setting up a larger tank which will serve as their new home in the near future.
In the back corner of our lot we have a large silver maple tree. At first, I was happy to have such a large tree on our lot as it provided us with some shade while everything else was growing (and at times struggling) on our bright sunny lot. But construction of the house, followed by the construction of the pond has not been kind to this tree. Add to that the fact that this tree is on a low spot in the garden where both the sump pump and some gutters drain away. A silver maple may like damp feet, but this area is too soggy, and it just continues to decline. Last year I noticed fewer leaves on the branches. After each storm, dead branches would litter the ground. This spring was no different. Fewer leaves, more dead spots and this tree will have to come down. I will wait till fall to get the job done if only to provide the shade-loving plants with its protective covering during summer. Meanwhile, the two corkscrew willows which I planted in June 2016 are growing fast and provide some much-needed shade while I am also nursing a new corkscrew willow cutting to (eventually) take the place of the silver maple. On the upswing, once this maple comes down, I won’t have to deal with a gazillion silver maple seedlings which miraculously (and most annoyingly!) spring up everywhere in the garden. Tiny little maples sprout from the large winged seeds and I spent several weeks on hands and knees around my plants or on the paths pulling them out. While I pulled out hundreds (if not thousands) daily at first, now I come across those that hid among plants and are just starting to peek out. They sprout at the pond’s edge among the grasses and I even disturb the occasional frog while hunting down stray tiny maples. As I make the rounds in the garden, pulling a few stray weeds, I also come across tiny little toads, aka toadlets, no bigger than the nail on my pinky. The other day I came across a big old toad among my plants, probably one which is responsible for the little ones in my garden. With luck, a number of these little toads will also stay in the garden and patrol it for insects, including snails, so future hostas will have less snail damage. More toads and better-looking hostas; I consider that a win-win.
May has been a mixed bag. It has rained, a lot. It has been chilly overall and there were few warm days. According to the weatherman it rained 20 days out of the 31 days we had in May and pretty much each weekend or at least part of each weekend has been rained out. But, oh, the world is green and lush.
In this new house, all of the rain collected in the gutters goes into the downspouts and drains the rain right on the property, just feet away from the house. In our previous home, the downspouts were connected underground to the sewer system and as a result, all the rain was carried away from each property, leaving it drier than this garden will ever be. When the pond was built in 2016, rather than let the downspouts expel water right next to the pond, black corrugated pipe was connected to several of the downspouts, buried underground and diverted towards the back of the garden. That alleviated the problem of having large amounts of water draining into the pond, potentially creating a problem for the fish. But when you have mulch instead of lawn, the rain rushes down the drainpipe, carves a neat channel into the mulch and soil and carries itself away to the lowest point leaving you with gullies throughout the garden. So, rocks come to the rescue.
Wherever the corrugated pipes come out on the property (or where there is a drainpipe close to the house, as is the case with the two rain barrels on the side of the house) we put down rivers of rocks sloping away from the house. Now when it rains, the water comes down the drainpipe, into the corrugated pipe, out over the rock and then drains down towards the lowest points of the garden. Since a “river of rock” looks rather odd by itself, I have turned these wetter spots into rain gardens. First, I had to do a bit of research to come up with plants (trees, shrubs, and perennials) which can tolerate wet conditions but which will also tolerate dry conditions when we have periods of dry weather. For the tree, I found a nice native variety, the American fringe tree, or Chionanthus virginicus. It has white fragrant flowers in mid-spring and grows about 15 to 20 feet high and wide. I then planted several different varieties of Siberian and Japanese irises next to the channel of rocks. I dug up a few of my hostas from the side of the house, divided them and grouped them around the rain garden as well. A tiny cutting from one of my hydrangeas from the old house had finally rooted last year and was moved to the edge of this garden. It was joined by another hydrangea bought last fall. While it still looks a bit sparse, the plants will fill in over time and soon enough this rain garden will be lush and bloom with abandon in spring. The colorful rounded leaves of the hostas will provide interest for most of the gardening year and they will provide a contrast with the spiky leaved irises. It also creates an added interest to the garden while dealing with a spot which would otherwise be boggy and not very useable.
It’s just past mid-May and we are once more stuck with lower temperatures and rain. This week we received over 2.5 inches of rain and there is more in the forecast for the next three days.
Last week we spent a few very nice days in Holland. Holland, Michigan, that is. Each year they hold their annual tulip festival and we certainly admired them all over town. Holland also has the one and only Dutch windmill bought from the Dutch Government and brought abroad to the USA. It was originally built in 1761 and brought to Holland, MI, in 1964. It has been fully restored and is now a working windmill in a pastoral setting among (of course) the tulips and many other blooming plants. Once the tulips are done blooming on Windmill Island Gardens they are removed and replaced with annuals, which will give the gardens an entirely new look for the remainder of the seasons.
When we returned home I found myself in possession of a large cardboard box full of live plants; my long awaited delivery. I spent the next few days on hands and knees in the garden digging holes. Right now most of these new plants, a lot of them daylilies, don't look like much. They are a bit yellowed from being in a box and they certainly would appreciate sunshine to grow and perhaps, throw out a flower or two. I also got new hostas, a few miniatures, a few large hostas and a few of the "mouse" series. I don't know which "mouse" hosta came first, but I started my mouse addiction with blue mouse ears, followed by mighty mouse, sun mouse, church mouse and now monster ears. There are currently 50+ varieties of "mouse" hostas so I still have a way to go if I want to collect them all. As I walk through the garden now I am amazed how lush everything looks after some warm weather followed by rain, rain and more rain. There is one bright spot in the garden where low growing thyme has spread like a small carpet, hugging rock and cascading between them. Most of the time it is a rather bland, just green, ground cover, but when it blooms you can't miss it.