Monday, April 23, 2012


All day yesterday and all day today, although amounting to only about an inch total.  But that is enough to be going on with.

I don't think I've ever felt so desperate for rain in April before.   What a strange year.  And temperatures tonight will be well down in the 30s, although probably not freezing.  I'm waiting for the mid-May frost...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

June is busting out all over

... which would be fine if it weren't April.  I suppose really our mock orange has been blooming in the second half of May in recent years, but I still think it blooms in June, dammit, and it is a month early in any case.

On the other hand, plenty of trees are still just thinking about leafing out, those that depend more on daylight length than temperature I guess.

This is my red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, which usually blooms somewhat later too.  It's settled in well and growing nicely, about 5 feet tall now and should double in size eventually.

With the heat wave over the weekend we're seeing the end of the daffodils.  I will have to find something else to cut for the refreshment tables at the high school show this coming weekend (I thought since it's "The Secret Garden" we should have flowers).  Perhaps mock orange.

The big news is we're getting rain today, and probably tomorrow and over the weekend as well.  We need it desperately.  I've been making rude faces at the sunny, clear and warm weather reports.  I want gloom and damp, thank you.  However, so far we've had about a splash and a half, so I will believe the new weather pattern when I see it.  If we don't get an inch I will have to drive over to Derwood and water anyway.  My seedlings are parched.

I forgot to record seed-starting, so: last Thursday, I think it was, I started a huge number of nasturtiums, some of which have sprouted, along with mouse melons (yay), West India gherkin, amaranth to be a flea beetle trap plant, and a few calendulae.  Very soon it will be time to harden off the tomatoes, which is good because I need the space they're sitting in.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yeah, this is why I kept the azaleas

I am not a photographer, so I can only try to color in words the way this azalea's blooms glow in the early morning light, like a silky summer evening gown worn by a woman a bit woozy with too many daiquiris but still holding her balance as she stands at the top of a grand flight of stairs in strappy high-heeled sandals in the wee hours of a chill April morn.

Or like an unpruned azalea.  I don't think azaleas should be pruned much, but on the other hand they should then have space to express themselves, perhaps best in the slightly wild area in the far back of one's garden where one can look at them in April (or whatever month they choose to bloom in) from a nice blurry distance as they glow (preferably in colors that make some attempt at coordination, and not the usual glaring mismatch, but who really cares anyway) and then can be pretty much ignored for the rest of the year.  Because, let's face it, azaleas are not very interesting when they're not blooming.  And they're usually planted in full sun so they get lacebugs and spend their lives gradually dying.  And there are way too many of them, except when they're blooming.

I now possess three azaleas, and unless I decide to put some in the wild blurry area out back, that is all I will ever have.  They all came with the house.  This one (I don't know what kind it is: pinky-lavender and large flowers) is a "foundation plant" in front of the front porch, where it gets late afternoon sun and not enough lacebugs to destroy its happy existence.  It has a twin that is much smaller because it lives under a Japanese pieris.

Here's what was planted in front of our house when we moved in 24 years ago, from right to left as you face the house:

Two small azaleas
[Door of screened porch]
Two small azaleas

And then a yew around the corner.  They had been planted a few years before, because by the time we moved in it was already clear that the two small azaleas on each side of the door had been a mistake that was threatening to eliminate passage.  They must have been very cute and tiny at the garden center.

The arborvitae got bagworms and died.  The rhododendron died of exposure when we had to cut down the Giant Maple Tree in the front yard.  The four small azaleas I dug up and moved out back (one of them is still alive, now blooming in white under the self-planted redbud).  Here's what we have now:

Pieris (has put on another third at least in size)
Azalea (growing entirely sideways but still managing to peer fetchingly out from under the pieris)
[Opening of now unscreened porch]
Azalea (mostly unpruned)
Viburnum 'Mohawk'

And the yew is still around the corner.  Across the front: was 10 plants, now four, or three and a half if you give the sideways azalea its due.  Plan for growth, people.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Weed triage

As I just said over on Grow It Eat It, I pulled out 35 gallons of garlic mustard this morning, counted by the 5-gallon bucketful.  What I was coy about there was just how much remained to be pulled.

That's some of it.  Not just in the foreground; check out further down the hill.  Another 7 buckets there, I'm guessing.  Luckily I have near-eradicated it in the front part of the half-acre.  Well, almost near-eradicated.  You can pull the stuff up and it grows back from a piece of root you missed or a seed that was shed three years back.  Eventually I may win, or you may start seeing posts praising the subtle beauty of the stuff.

Kinda pretty, no?

It has allelopathic chemicals that kill other plants in its vicinity, so it takes over entire fields, and it grows in sun or shade, though best in part shade.  Woods with thin understory?  Perfect.  The parks around here have competitive garlic mustard pulls in the spring.

Anyway, I've decided to take a new approach to the endless battle against weeds: triage and selective attack.  Instead of trying to pull all the weeds from one or two beds, I'm going after one type at a time in a broader area, preferably that which provides the biggest threat, like garlic mustard about to go to seed.  Another priority for this week: Japanese honeysuckle, about to become inaccessible under shrubs that are filling out.  I already missed my chance to get the vines living under the lilacs before they gained camouflage.  The honeysuckle is evergreen, which gives it an unfair advantage.  A month ago I could spot it clearly; now the lilac leaves hide it well.  But I'll give removing it a try.

Clearing aggressive weeds like these is kind of like cleaning up a neighborhood that's been dominated by drug dealers or gangs, not that I have any personal experience with that, but it seems to me that if you only take out most of the hardened criminals, the ones that are left will have a clear field to advance themselves.  Weeding in sections, I always leave a few garlic mustard plants behind by accident, and that's enough to seed a whole new set of thugs.  Better to get them all out of one part of the yard with a few years of thorough clean-out, ignoring the small fry if necessary (I can get to like ground ivy, really).  Where I don't have "lawn" (mostly ground ivy) and never intend to have civilized beds of Gardener-Approved Plants, I am putting in aggressive but pleasant-smelling spreaders such as lemon balm and mountain mint, so at least I have something there that I can pretend is on purpose.  I'm not sure how that works into my fraught analogy.  Well-meaning politicians and community organizers?  Who breed out of control?  At least lemon balm makes nice tea.

The South is another country

This is part of the back yard of the house we stayed in last week at Folly Beach, SC.  I mean, really.

We did a garden tour in Charleston, as well, at which I was not allowed to take pictures (state law, apparently), so I can only tell you that classy city gardens do not generally contain palmettoes, though mine would if I lived there.  They do contain entire brick walls covered with creeping fig (which I don't think is hardy here), and camellias that were mostly past blooming since spring is weird to the south as well, and lots of boxwood and yew, and rosemary (everyone has rosemary hedges.  I am so jealous) but not a lot of edible plants otherwise, though one place had a small vegetable garden with tomatoes already almost two feet high, and citrus trees they merely have to cover in the winter.

And then there were all the plants whose identity I was clueless about.  I love traveling because I see new things, including plants, and I hate traveling because it makes me feel ignorant, but at least I learn stuff.  Mostly not stuff that is useful for gardening here, of course.

More photos will be posted when I get them off my son's hard drive, but he is intensely thespian this week so it will be a while.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tulips, surprising and otherwise

One of the nice things about a spring that starts a month early with unseasonal heat and then cools down to normal again is that for once we get to spend time with our late season bloomers.  Tulips are hanging on longer, as are the late daffodils that usually show up for three days and then die of heat exhaustion.  You can see a couple of them in the background of this photo.

In the foreground... surprise!  Or rather, 'Surprise,' which is a tulip I bought I swear ten years ago because it had the name of Jack Aubrey's ship (oh dear, am hopeless) and planted out front by the mailbox in eight inches of mostly clay, and it is still pumping out a few blooms each year.  Do not believe anyone who tells you tulips are not perennial.  (They are, technically and botanically, a sort of annual that reproduces itself underground, for which there is a word, and they make for interesting metaphors, which is basically how I see the world.)  As I have said before, the secret to perennial tulips is to plant ones that clash violently with something else that blooms nearby at the same time.  In the case of 'Surprise,' this was the magnolia with the purple-pink flowers a few feet behind.  In the 2012 spring oddity, however, the magnolia is leafed-out and pretty much done blooming, so the tulips don't contrast so horribly.

They also go well with the clusiana tulips behind them, which are the real secret to perennial tulips (along with anything else in the "species" category, or Kaufmannias, or Greigiis, or Emperors, or even the Triumph sort that 'Surprise' belongs to, or even Darwin Hybrids if you have just the right spot).  I adore clusianas; they are petite and delicate and transition every day from a perfect closed bud to a wide-open display of petal interiors, and back again.  I think these must be 'Lady Jane,' though I don't actually remember buying those; they might also be an unspecified species type.  I've got bunches of them, and I'm so glad to get to enjoy them at length this year.  These photos were taken over a week ago and they're still going strong.

Didn't post sooner because I was away in South Carolina for a few days.  Photographic evidence coming up.