Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween and Los Dias de los Muertos

This time last year we were in Mexico -- we left here on November 1 and arrived there in time for the Days of the Dead.  In Mexico City, the grand ofrenda was amazing -- giant skulls made of fiberglass, painted with bright flowers and geometric designs.  There were "Aztec" priests in the Zocalo, chanting, burning copal, and selling blessings -- including blessings for the Mexican hairless dogs called "perritos Aztecas" (little Aztec dogs).  
The idea is somewhat similar to that of Halloween -- the time when there is an opening between our world and the world of the dead, and each of us can cross over to visit the other.  Homes, restaurants, hotels, offices all display a table with offerings for the dead of cigarettes, drinks, special foods, photos, perfumes, anything and everything the dead person enjoyed in life.  The whole thing is edged with elaborate paper cutouts in black, red and orange -- very beautiful, but very hard to transport.
We visited a cemetery in a small village near Cuernavaca where the graves and tombs were decorated with the traditional flowers -- marigolds and red amaranthus caudatus, which we call love lies bleeding, and again the offerings of favourite things.  There were candles everywhere, both to light the way for the families who are visiting and also to light the way for the beloved spirits return.   

And, to bring this into the realm of gardening, the first picture is of the wall of the hotel garden in Cuernavaca -- the vine is called cupo de oro

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall iz come!

Temperature last night got down into the low 40s, and today is only in the fifties.  All the tropicals are tucked up in the garage now with the exception of the brugmannsia, which insists as usual on opening most of its flowers very late in the season.  It is not looking happy though, and I think it had better go inside tomorrow.  
The leaf mulch is all distributed around the various beds although there is still a bit left on the grass.  I need to gather it all so that I can re-seed the lawn there.   There isn't much left in bloom, just the Korean mums, a few stragglers among the Austen roses, and some blue pansies.  The picture on the right shows the Japanese anemones a couple of weeks ago -- they are almost gone now.  The violas are planted in the hanging pot on the back deck, and I am awaiting the arrival of my bulb order from Scheepers.  Once that comes, I can finish with the garden for the year and retreat to make plans for next year.  

Monday, October 6, 2008

New Camellia

I just planted C. April Dawn on the west side of the house, on the patio below the porch.   It is the 18-24" size, and cost me $39.99.   Its tag says:

Erect habit, with vigorous growth rate; shades of pink, shell and white variegation (not viral) on formal flowers.  It has a very heavy bud set (well, this one has only two buds for next spring) and blooms over a long period.  The pink and white variegation among the flowers over the whole plant is very unusual.  Developed for exceptional cold hardiness.  looms mid- to late season and is hardy to -10F without protection.

So, let's see how well it does there -- supposed to be the best aspect for camellias.  The others I have are planted between the houses, facing east/north, and April Dawn is on the south side.  It is now almost 8 feet tall, and is once again covered with buds for the spring.  Hope most of them make it through the winter.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Project

I live in an old neighbourhood where many of the houses are very close together.  Our house is on a corner so we have only one close neighbour, but that one is very close.  There is probably only about 18 feet between our house and the neighbour's screened porch, just enough to allow for passage between the houses.  The people who live next door are not gardeners, and don't mind that I use the little strip of their land -- about 4 feet wide -- to plant, and in return I keep it tidy and pretty.  But one spot has always been a problem -- the earth banked against their foundation grows a wonderful crop of weeds.  I have pretty much left it alone because it is really poor soil, and I don't have to look at it because I keep the blinds down on that side.  But now I want to improve things there, and I am beginning to plant.

I have a load of leaf mulch coming tomorrow, and I will lay down newspaper and mulch to cover the weeds and plant ground cover through the layers.  In the back garden I found two spotted ajugas (I HATE those things, but they were free!) and a forsythia (ditto) and have moved them to there, plus a PeeGee Hydrangea Tardiva.  I have also started two flats of pachysandra cuttings, and plan to use those, some golden lysimachia, and blue ajuga to plant below the shrubs.  

So, here's what it looks like now, and I will have to wait to see what will transpire!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Tropical Storm Hannah

Tropical Storm Hannah came and went yesterday, leaving a whisker less than 7 inches of rain in my rain gauge, a little water in the basement, and a much refreshed garden.  Some of the pots fell over and had to be rescued and the big coleus uprooted itself,  but all told it was a non-event for us.  Tomorrow afternoon I hope I have time to get out into the back and pull out some of the ivy and myrtle around the steps, in preparation for replanting that area.  

Thursday, August 28, 2008


A hasty note so that I will remember later how long it was between rains this year.  It began to rain this morning, and it is still coming down softly.  First rain we have seen in my neighbourhood since July 14, and I am delighted.  AND -- the forecast calls for more tonight and tomorrow morning, then thunderstorms tomorrow evening.  Oh, Joy!  I can hear the roof gutters gurgling and can almost hear the plants slurping as they get their feet wet.  It has arrived just in time for the big ferns in the back garden.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The view from inside

As I walked through the house yesterday, I saw the view through the doors to the little deck outside, and thought it was pretty.  Something to think about in the winter.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

And another pot

This one was pretty successful, I thought.  It started out with the euphorbia Diamond Frost, the red plant whose name I cannot ever remember, and a brilliant lime-green coleus.  The coleus got the collywobbles and perished, so I replaced it with the red and scarlet coleus.  The Diamond Frost has done very well, and next year I will consider doing a pot of nothing else.  I like the airiness and delicacy of it -- maybe it should be placed next to something big and brooding for contrast.  

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Time to evaluate

It's time to look at the pots and patio and see the general effect, and decide what I want to change next year.  I am not happy with the placement of the furniture nor with the pots but it's too late to change much now.  I just added a pot of tibouchina which I hope can be wintered over in the garage with the brugmannsia, the jacaranda, the ginger, the fuchsia and the colocasia.  Getting crowded in there!
So, here are some photos to remind me in January of what it looked like in August.  Note to self:  before you get too nostalgic, remember the gnats and mosquitoes too.  And notice please the containers of insect repellent prominent in every picture!

Monday, August 11, 2008

We appear to have been moved to Canada,

and are enjoying cool (55 degrees last night) nights and beautiful breezy days without humidity!  The airconditioning is off, the windows are open, and I am sitting at the computer with the french doors open behind me so that I get the breeze and can hear the birds as they do their evening errands.   The big copper birdbath is very popular with the feathered crowd, and I can hear them splashing around.   The robins are the best customers, followed by the catbirds and the cardinals.  Yesterday there was a goldfinch drinking there, in his brilliant yellow summer plumage.  

No rain though, and the water barrel is down to less than one-third.  This summer dryness seems to be a new pattern here and we can no longer count on afternoon thunderstorms to keep us watered.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I am not a rose person -- conditions in the mid-Atlantic area are too difficult to grow really spectacular roses, but some of mine were lovely this spring.  

The banks in front

I've been thinking about the "lasagne" method of making a new flower bed -- I used it a couple of times when I was planting the banks in front of the house in order to eliminate the need to mow them.  It is really simple to do, and I am surprised that more people don't do it.  No need to nag at the strong back people in the household, no digging, no removal of sod, just save your newspapers until you have enough to cover the area 5 pages thick, enough mulch to cover the paper with 4 inches of mulch, and Bob's your uncle.  You can even plant immediately, if you are an impatient person like me.  The photos show the bank in front of my house at the conclusion of seven hours of hard labour on the part of my friend Martha and me.  All the plants flourished, and have spread and filled in beautifully.  Maybe it was the sweat with which we watered them that day!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The front garden

We live in a suburban area where the lots are small -- about 1/4th of an acre is the norm although we have a little more than that because we have a corner lot.  It's an old area developed in the late 1930's and early 40's but that doesn't mean that the gardens are old and beautiful.  Not at all.  Mostly they are yards.  Places for the dogs to poop, or for the kids to drop their bikes, or to plant forsythia and magenta azaleas.  I sometimes think that the azaleas are both the blessing and the curse of this area -- the blessing because they are perfectly acclimated to DC, the curse because they are perfectly acclimated to DC.   People (and this includes the "landscapers" who are employed by builders) plant a row of azaleas across the front of the house, a dogwood tree in the middle of the lawn, and maybe a redbud tree on the corner of the double garage.   

Now, there is nothing wrong with any of these plants --although I don't personally like redbud, many people find it beautiful, azaleas can be lovely, and dogwoods, of course, are as near perfection as any shrub gets.  It's just that they are all (a) over-used and (b) planted without thought for their eventual size, and (c) with no regard at all for their colours.  Magenta, pink, fire-engine red, coral, white -- azaleas mixed up in a god-awful stew of colour, with probably some egg-yolk yellow daffodils in front of them, for good measure.   Azaleas left to their own devices can become enormous shrubs -- some of mine are over 8 feet tall--and as "foundation plantings" they are a joke.  But I don't get the idea of "foundation plantings" anyway, so don't mind me.   But if you are planting something new, could you go look at some blogs or websites to find out what would be pretty and unusual?

When I first came to this area from Australia, I used to ride around my suburb with my husband, and I would ask him "but where are the flowers?"  After the daffodils and azaleas, there was nothing.  Until lovely Ladybird Johnson came along and inspired all us young gardeners to help plant bulbs along the parkway and to envision the city changed by her love of flowers.  It is hard now to remember what it was like then--green, certainly, but no hanging baskets of flowers, no perennial beds in people's gardens, and certainly No Tulips!!!  So, despite real estate developers and their "landscapers", we have made progress!  Now, we have lovely drifts of early tulips, marching ranks of Darwins, whole lawns of crocus tomasinianus, and stately groups of t. "Menton" in front of my house.  And, dang it -- I have just noticed that Menton harmonizes very nicely with that magenta azalea in the foundation planting.

The persimmon tree is gone.

For as long as we have lived in this house, there has been a large triple-trunked persimmon tree shading the back door and the southwest aspect of the house.  Although it didn't set fruit, it was very messy -- it dropped twigs all year, tiny popcorn-shaped flowers for three weeks in spring and green fresh leaves  at the same time, and dribbled down its large black-green leaves from mid-September on.  The twigs were a particular nuisance, clogging the roof gutters and making a messy litter on the steps and patio, but I tolerated the whole mess for many years because of the shade in summer.  One day recently though it dropped a large dead branch onto the patio, a couple of feet from where I was working and we decided that it needed to be gone.  Also, there are now two oaks which have grown larger over the years and that are giving us good shade in the mid- to late-afternoons.  So, the treecutters came and took it down, at vast expense and trouble, and now the roof gutters are clean and the patio too but I feel a pang of guilt at having done this terrible thing.

Not guilty enough not to begin planning to replant the area formerly shaded by the tree.  There are hostas there, a lonely azalea, some hellebores, ferns, and in early spring the whole bank is covered by Dutchman's breeches dicentra -- I planted one corm years and years ago, and it has naturalized very happily.  I am afraid it will not come back now that the conditions have changed, and I think that the hostas and ferns won't be happy either.  What a delightful dilemma -- what to plant there?  So many choices, so little money!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"The Folly" and fringe tree in bloom

A couple of years ago, a friend gave me an old wrought iron gate that she found in the garage when she moved to an old house.  I put it at the end of the side pathway between our house and the house next door because it seemed like a nice idea to mark the entrance to the back garden, and because the fringe tree hangs so beautifully and frames it.  My husband thinks this is the silliest idea ever -- "but it doesn't keep anything in .... or out" so it has become "The Folly", and I think every garden should have at least one.  The idea of passing from one space to another is completely lost on him, but I love The Folly and have allowed the native ferns to grow up around the posts.  There is a clematis jackmannii that is very happy there now -- it grows through a white azalea and then up an old trellis, and its purple blooms coincide happily with the azalea.   

I have been working on the side garden for years now -- there is an old flagstone walk which is very weedy, and it is a lot of work to keep it looking good.  About two years ago I transplanted a lot of hostas to there, and they have settled in very well -- a bit too successfully, in fact, because they are presently crowding out a couple of small camellias and will have to be disciplined severely.  The neighbours' house is very close at this point, and the small strip of land which belongs to them is quite a problem because it is a weed farm and is never mowed unless I get out there with the weed whacker.  I am going to ask them if they mind (hah!  they'd never notice!) if I plant something like ajuga or mazus reptans there.   The mazus is beginning to fill in between the flagstones in places, so it might be a good choice.  I think I will mix ajuga, mazus, and the golden creeping plant whose name is lurking at the edge of my brain right now, and see which of them wins out.  Couldn't look any worse than it does now.

On the other hand, my large corylopsis is doing very well -- it is outside the east window of the living room, so that I can see its lovely catkins in late winter and enjoy them from inside.    Also, camellias appear to like the place and I have several which are doing quite well, including a wonderful c. sasanqua, "Snow Flurry", which covers itself in white fluffy blooms in November -- or, it would if the hostas would stop leaning on it till it gets a bit bigger.

Monday, July 14, 2008


We got an inch of the lovely wet stuff last night, and my water barrel is now full and ready to supply water to all the veggies -- except for the zucchini.  Why did my zucchini die?  There doesn't seem to be any problem with its stem -- i.e., no borers or breaks, but it's dead.  From a lovely flourishing plant it has gone to a shrivelled miserable mess.  Why?  Why did this happen to my plant?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

July 2008

So far this has been a good summer -- not too much heat, not too much humidity, and a lot of rain up till early June. But then, the rains ceased and now we could really use a good soaking. I planted some cockscomb seedlings today, given me by a neighbour, and it was difficult to dig the ground for them. But now the sky is dark, and the forecast is for a chance of thunderstorms tonight.

This is the back deck, which faces the patio shown in the earlier photo. The chair is a new acquisition -- $50 at Home Goods last week. I had been ogling it for months but at $150 I couldn't buy it. It looks nice there and is a good place for looking things over in the evening, provided the mosquitoes aren't too bad.

The planters this year have done well, and I will take pictures of them so as to remember for next year what has done well. The Gartenmeister Bonstedt fuchsia is doing well, although I haven't seen a single hummingbird at it yet this year. The white ginger in the foreground is vexing because it won't begin to bloom until late September, and last year its blooms withered because I had to bring it inside before they were ready to open. Not sure what to do to hurry it up.  

P.S.  -- it's raining!  First rain in 29 days!