Monday, May 27, 2013

Scary purple things

We're traveling in northern California this week, and keep seeing these:

Which are, if the scale isn't evident, tall spikes of flowers about ten feet tall, which we dubbed "scary purple things" until I finally got decent internet today and (since I am the sort of person who Googles rather than, say, calling up the Master Gardeners or grabbing random people on the street and asking) found out that it's Echium pininana or giant viper's bugloss.  Those of us who are familiar with normal viper's bugloss are all going ooh, ah, while those who live in climates similar to the Canary Islands (where it hails from) are probably saying, "what, that old thing?" as you, annoyingly, do.  Though really I challenge anyone to dismiss this plant cavalierly, even when it's overplanted to the degree that northern Californians seem to do.  Because it's scary.  And just because something is common doesn't make it less terrifying.


I took this photo in Mendocino, which is a lovely New England-style town that stood in for Cabot Cove, Maine, in the Murder She Wrote series.  It would do that fine as long as you avoided shooting the giant viper's bugloss.  (And any number of other less obvious plant species that don't belong in Maine.)  In the foreground of the photo is some kind of wild radish which I ate the seedpods of, because cruciferous plants are one thing I do recognize in this wonderland of vegetation.

I'll post more wonders later, but just couldn't wait on this.  Ooh, ah.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Never was a story of more woe

I told the sad tale of the death of my Juliet tomato and Romeo pepper over on Grow It Eat It earlier today.  (Plus several of their friends, perhaps named Mercutio and Tybalt.)  Hello, my name is Erica, and I kill plants.  Although I suppose I can blame climate change or locally odd weather patterns for these particular late-frost-related deaths.  (Gardeners don't kill plants; weather kills plants.)  But if I hadn't decided to plant tender vegetables at... an entirely reasonable time, this wouldn't have happened.

I've also concluded that I've lost my Franklinia tree that spent the winter in a pot on the deck.  Probably too small a pot, and/or it didn't get watered enough.  I purposely killed off the Vigna caracalla by leaving its pot outside - three years and it hadn't flowered once, which is kind of the point of it, and two winters inside in which it climbed all over everything and got in the way.  Someday I will try again.  When I get my greenhouse.  (Which is a little like "next year in Jerusalem" but maybe will actually happen.)  I haven't checked on the pomegranate that was still alive last year though not producing, but I doubt it survived since the winter was much harder this year and it's in the way of rampaging black raspberry canes.  The chaste tree is dead (I don't know why), and so is the fig (rabbits).

This is not to mention the things that are dying in various places because they are being smothered by weeds that I'm not managing to keep under control.  You should see what is definitely my former vegetable garden (since I now have the Allotment), or again maybe you shouldn't.  I do have a plan to deal with the mess, but when that will happen is another matter.  Maybe I actually need an elderberry thicket and large quantities of dock, morning glories, cranesbill and mint.

There was a moment last week when, mowing the Way Back, I thought I saw the resurrection of the male winterberry, but when I went to look it turned out to be a baby locust tree.  The females are hanging on, but I really need to clear more space around them (and get them a new friend).

I did get the Winterthur viburnums in the ground, at least, and they look happy.  The rest will come.  I am oddly not depressed about all the plants dying, though I do not approve and I am not resigned and all that.  Much has been done and I'm getting my energy back to do more.

Totally missed GBBD this week; have the white-flowered shrubs that apparently bloom in May now:

Mock orange, oh heavenly smell
Maple-leaf viburnum

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Where are the headlines of yesteryear?

It's not every day you spend a couple of hours starting a new garden bed with newspapers from the Bush administration.

(Neighbors' cat is bonus cat.)  And yes, I am a packrat, but finally I am at the bottom of the pile!  There were athletes from the Beijing Olympics, there was "Lost" speculation, there was "Clinton wins Pennsylvania," there was trouble at Bear Sterns.  Lots of it was good to bury.

Here's another shot, from down below:

I wasn't quite finished there; the shape was originally supposed to be a gentle arc and ended up more like a triangle, because I decided to incorporate a patch of daffodils that's been there since at least the Clinton administration (when we used to have a fence; since the fence went away it's been sitting in the middle of the lawn making itself difficult).  The purpose of the bed (besides making room to put plants in) is to connect up the pagoda tree space with the mock orange space.  It will require stepping stones.

The theory here (which I have successfully applied before) is that you mow the grass short, then layer newspaper or cardboard in the desired shape, then put down compost and/or materials that will compost, and eventually get something you can plant in.  For now I've plopped down some fresh wood chips (more than in these photos) from another neighbor's tree removal, mostly just to weigh down the paper so it doesn't all blow away.  I'll add materials as I acquire them, and edge the bed so we can mow around it.  For right now all I'm going to plant are three Winterthur viburnums that have been in pots for a year and a half (big pots; they actually look great) and that I have been flailing about because I couldn't remember where I meant to put them, really, but this is as good a place as any.  I'll move the newspapers and chips out of the way to dig those holes.  In the fall, some bulbs, and then small shrubs or perennials as I acquire them.

It will be fun, but right now my back hurts and my knee hurts and I wish the chip pile wasn't way at the bottom of the hill, but so it goes.  At least I have free chips.

I had a Brandywine viburnum too, which has gone into the bed by the driveway:

Said bed is (like most of mine, unfortunately) solidly in the Evolving stage.  I need another evergreen shrub to form a screen, since the viburnum is deciduous.

Bonus photo of Japanese painted fern in the middle of sweet woodruff, an accidentally stunning combination:

We have a hell of a lot of sweet woodruff now.  I suppose we had better make May wine.