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!