Friday, June 26, 2009


First beans today -- some on the "Jade"bush beans , and also some on the"Trionfo Violetta" pole beans , with lots of tiny ones coming. I pulled out the peas last week, because they had stopped producing much in the heat. The vines are sitting there waiting to be dug in when I get some bare ground.

The "hortaliza" is doing very well -- in addition to what's in the ground, there are several big pots containing mesclun, Thai lettuce, dill, two kinds of eggplant, cucumbers and finger carrots. The eggplants in the pots seem to be doing much better than those in the ground, which I must remember next year when it comes to planting. Also, I think that the sweet peppers did better in pots last year, although they're in-ground this time.

The early days -- picture taken on April 30:

June 22 -- the peas are gone, and beet seeds are planted in their place:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Ivy Is Gone!!!

After much hard labour, the ivy at the side of the garden is GONE! I am on guard for probable attempts at reconquest, but for the moment it is a tabula rasa, nothing but the big trees, mulch, some bulbs, and the results of yesterday's work..

I spent a couple of hours yesterday moving some of the geranium macrorrizha to a curve in front of the three big azaleas, curving it round to the edge of the old brick wall. It will form one side of a mulch and pine needle path across the area. At the end with the two big oaks, I plan to plant bulbs -- I think they will get enough light in winter and spring to bloom well, and I will move some of the Frances Williams and the big blue hostas to cover their leaves while they die down. Frances Williams doesn't seem to like any sun, so I hope she will do well there instead of where she is on the east side, and the big blues need to be divided.

Along the sidewalk I plan to put a curve of daylilies for part of the distance -- it's about 40 feet total, then finish with a border of pachysandra for a neat edge which I hope will deter dogs from doing their daily business there. In the meantime, I am considering getting a half-truck load of leaf mulch from the county to spread it there, because the soil is very poor after the ivy's long occupation.

Are gardens ever finished?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Shed, Final Notice

The shed is finished! The garden bed along the side of it hasn't yet been brought into civilization, nor have the flagstones been properly dug in, but the painting is done and the inside is all organized -- tools hung neatly on the walls, pots stacked on (cheap) shelves, a table under the window for potting with supplies in plastic boxes nearby, and no spiders. At least not yet!

The azaleas are in full bloom -- most of the ones in the back garden are white, and I like the effect with the dogwoods and the big doublefile viburnum, but there is one firecracker red one that crept in under cover of darkness and I like its brashness among the bland politeness of the white azaleas and the enormous bleeding heart. The airy blue is phlox stolonifera, fighting it out with the variegated solomon's seal.

And finally, the new stone steps are beginning to fit into the bank. The azalea is a show-off!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Making a List for the Bank

Have been working in the garden a bit today in advance of the promised rain tonight, and thought it would be a good idea if I made a list right now of what I want to order this fall to put in the little cracks and spaces in the new rock steps. They are still pretty muddy and not a thing of beauty yet -- the railing needs to be painted, the steps and driveway need to be cleaned up and the clover needs to grow. I planted clover at the sides so that I would have something to hold the soil (well, clay) in place for the summer and I will turn it in in the fall for its nitrogen and add some compost. What I think I want to put there:

Squills -- a mix of deep and light blue
The tiny Dutchman's Breeches that are all over the facing bank -- they have naturalized from a single corm ten years ago, and I will move a few clumps across.
Also, return the big clump of snowdrops that had to be moved.
Try: a few baby hellebores, to see if they like the sharp drainage there as much as they do on the other side.
Maybe some mazus reptans for the summer because the others are ephemerals and will fade away early. Plus a couple of clumps of something low and flowery for the summer. There is enough sun now that the persimmon tree is gone; the oaks' shade doesn't get to the steps until about two o'clock.
Veronica Waterperry Blue -- creeping veronica with mauve/blue flowers -- spreads to about a foot. There are a couple of good spots to tuck it into.

To digress some from the steps -- most of the bank is shady, except that the steps get some morning sun, but the daffodils, aconites, crocus and snowdrops are all happy there so I don't want to interfere with them but just redo the area of the steps. I think though that I will concentrate on using bulbs and early spring stuff there because they are all happy now. The big pink azalea is going to get a moderate pruning after it blooms too. When (if ever) the ivy is gone, I need to replant the pachysandra which has been much discouraged by that horrible stuff. It's WAR on that stuff, WAR I TELL YOU!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Tale of a Garden Shed

When we bought this house umptyninth years ago, we acquired with it an 8x10 foot garden shed which we proceeded to abuse. It received anything and everything we threw in there, never complained, never gave any trouble, and dynasties of spiders grew old and fat and laid their eggs in peace among the old garden gloves and empty plastic pots. One day recently, I had the idea of removing the ivy from the back side so that the area could be cleared for my new solar clothes dryer. This was done, but unfortunately the removal of the ivy caused the whole wall on that side to disintegrate. Further investigation revealed that the shed was being held up only by the joint efforts of the ivy, the termites and the spiders, which were apparently joining hands to keep their ancestral home from falling down around their ears (or whatever spiders and termites have in place of ears).

So, a contractor was summoned. He put us in order, quickly and neatly, and asked only $1,000 for his work(!). The "new" shed is very neat, will be pretty when it is finally painted, but it does not have the je ne sais quoi of the old one. There is no picturesque covering of ivy, no suggestion of a Victorian "ruin", and gone are the piles of pots, old tools, mismatched garden clogs (how does one lose ONE garden clog, anyway?), and old candles and bug spray cans.

I have been working on the plantings--the ivy had done a lot of damage to the hydrangeas and the pieris, but they will recover now. It is too cold yet to paint outside, but the walls will stay the same beige, the trim of the door and walls will be a soft taupe, and the door will be the same cornflower blue as the house doors. A picture will be forthcoming when the painting is done, probably in May. Somehow though I know I will miss my romantic ivy-covered ruin.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No time for blogging!

The garden is busting out, and there is no time at all for blogging! I wish I had time to post pictures of what is happening here -- the daffodils are all out together -- early, mid and late season, because our spring has been so strange. The dogwoods are showing little green bracts, which will become big white bracts in a week or so. The famous cherry trees have come and gone, leaving us with opening redbuds and crabapples. Azaleas are just a rumour right now, but in a week or so we will begin to see some colour from them. Tulips are opening too, and the pale orange ones in the front garden are singing harmony with the "pink" daffodils next to them -- they are NOT pink at all, but their trumpets are a wonderful soft peach, and alongside the tulips they are fantastic.

All of which brings me to what I wanted to talk about -- "The Essential Earthman", Henry Mitchell -- garden writer extraordinaire of the Washington Post. He died a few years ago in exactly the way many gardeners would like to go (assuming we HAVE to go and can't just continue to putter forever) -- a heart attack in his garden. Just gone, among his wonderful and beloved plants -- no lingering, no family conclaves of "what shall we do about Pa?" -- just gone. Here is a quote from his book, one of many many wonderful quotes:

"I have a shocking patch of azaleas, fortunately not very large, of pink, three shades of pink, and a couple of whites. I like them, but they are dangerously close to grossness, and some of my neighbours do better, I think, with their clumps of fewer colours. I knew it was wrong to add two or three yellow-orange-salmon-tawny deciduous azaleas across the walk from the reds and pinks. But even this sort of garishness is not the flaw that most annoys me when I speak of grossness in "improving" flowers. Instead, I mean things like turning the delicate single cherry blossoms into powder puffs. All of which brings us back to the "improved" and garden varieties of the common dogwood. Here is the end of the matter. It is not evil of gardeners to like double dogwoods or dogwoods with too many flowers on the branches, or to like them with a stew of mottled leaves instead of God's sweet green. ...........

We should keep asking ourselves , when we are tempted by colour and display and show, whether it is beautiful as well. The world should not be a nice drab universal grey. But nothing is gained by painting sidewalks orange, either. We will all hit on different balances in our gardens, large or small, and that is what makes them endlessly different........"

There's more, but I have run out of time. Next time, the saga of the renovation of the garden shed, trying to keep in mind Henry's principles "Is it beautiful? That is a great question and the ultimate one".

Monday, March 2, 2009


March 2, and our first snow of the season came overnight -- six inches of powder, with a strong wind that is now sculpting it into drifts around the corners of the house. Above, summer and winter views of the pretty little wire chair outside my door.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

When Will It End?

I know that other places have had a much worse winter than we have had here in the mid-Atlantic, but I am feeling very hard doneby. It is the first of March, and it is snowing. With more snow to come this afternoon. Enough now! To console myself, I am pulling out some pictures from summers past. The first is a little view from my workroom where I keep my loom and computer; this is the small deck outside the French doors which lead to the patio. The chair is a delightful place to sit and look over the pots of annuals which are crowded around, and to observe the hyacinth and morning glory vines which I train up the house wall.

A walk around the garden yesterday produced a couple of crocuses, lots of snowdrops and aconites, one clump of hellebore niger, and a very few daffodil and tulip snouts. Here is a dahlia from last summer and a colocasia leaf photographed in fall just before it got brought into the garage. The autumn sunlight was coming at a very low angle and making interesting shadows.

And finally, just for sheer exuberance of colour, a hotel courtyard in Mexico ...........

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Winter in Another Place

Like just about every other gardener in the northern hemisphere I am officially tired of winter. Every year in October, I bring in my tropicals and disperse them around the house in somewhat-suitable places, lecturing them as I go about how lucky they are not to be left outside. I settle in for the winter, the first part of which goes quickly with the holiday planning and festivities, and enjoy the snugness of the house, the warmth of the fire, and the cosiness of snuggling under a floofy eiderdown. January brings the catalogues, and I greedily pile them by my chair, spending whole days engrossed in my selections. There's winter cooking too -- lamb shanks and lentils, thick soups with cornbread or pumpernickel, beef stews or hearty casseroles, and oranges and cabbages and sweet potatoes and tangerines smelling of exotic lands and spices from the Orient whose scents seem more sharp and pungent in the chilled air.

Now in February I am anxiously patrolling the garden, hunting for small signs that life will return, that we are not yet condemned to eternal winter, that the sun will warm us again, the hummingbirds will return, and there will be greenness and flowers. I am reminded of another winter a long time ago when we lived in Moscow. It was a very hard winter that year in Europe--not unlike this one, actually -- and Moscow suffered along with everyone else. There were huge snowbanks everywhere, enormous icicles hung down outside my seventh floor windows, great winds scoured the streets clean of snow at night, leaving it drifted against the buildings and blocking the entrances with 6 foot drifts. There were no signs of greenness anywhere and although the city was beautiful in the snow, it was a stark beauty. I was enchanted though by the magic of the Russian winter, I had my sister-in-law's old fur coat (she had moved to California) and a good pair of boots, and I wandered the city taking it all in.

A few photographs from that winter -- I wish there were more but many of my slides have disappeared themselves without my knowledge. One is of the little lake at the convent of Novodevichy, with the little house for the waterfowl which lived there; another is an old wooden house in a back street in Moscow, and the third is an old (and unidentified) church, again in Moscow. The third was taken on a day when we went for a troika ride in Izmailovsky Park and met small Natasha, dressed for the cold, the next is a wooden church on a windswept plain outside Moscow -- Kharkov area, I think, and the last is more pleasant -- a little pond in a little village in the outskirts of Moscow.

PS -- I see that Blogspot has decided where to place my photos. Oh well.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I am Australian-born, and although I have lived away from Oz for many years, I still regard myself as Australian. My home is in Victoria where the recent bushfires have done so much terrible damage. So many people have died--we do not yet know how many--and there are many fire victims in hospitals fighting for life. Like Americans, we like to see ourselves as living in a community of order, of laws and organization, where things like wildfires are dealt with quickly and without really serious consequences. My heart goes out to the fallen, to their families and friends, their neighbours, and to the incredibly brave firefighters who have worked to exhaustion this past week. Thank you and God bless you.

The bush animals -- as my daughter used to say when she was a little girl, it hurts my heart so much. Koalas can't run, and on the ground they are slow and awkward. Wombats probably hunkered down in their burrows, and I hope the fires passed over them without harm. Bandicoots and wallabies and possums both ring- and brushy-tailed, flying squirrels and kangaroos, goannas and flying foxes, and the birds! How do we count the birds? The lyrebirds don't fly, and many of these fires were in their dancing grounds; bellbirds and butcherbirds and rosellas and king parrots and sulphur-crested cockies and wattlebirds and honeyeaters -- where are they? How many have perished? How will we count this? And how do we estimate the forward loss?

The vegetation will re-generate because it has evolved over millenia to do just that; the eucalyptus regnans will regrow, albeit slowly because they don't regenerate from root and branch but only from burned-over seeds; it will take many many years for them to attain their mature height of more than 90 meters,but there are still some remaining forests where one can see them in their splendour, but can we depend on the next generation of Australians being able to see them, being able to listen to the kookaburras' dawn and dusk celebrations, to watch a lyrebird as he dances and sings and courts his lady with all the calls of the bushland? And what if they can't? Does that lack somehow detract from their Australian-ness, from the shared experience and love of the things that make our country unique?

Truly, this hurts my heart.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blooms Day, February 09

Well! After last month's dreary count of flowers in bloom on the 15th of the month, there has been a big change in the garden, and much much more change to come next month!

Today's offerings from La Dona Primavera include snowdrops, aconites, and violas; the helleborus niger is determinedly sending up its pink buds, but they need a little more warmth in order to open. The other hellebores have their big fat fringed buds down low among their tattered and burned old leaves, with probably a month to go before they actually get the courage to open. The mahonia by the front door (north face) is dawdling in opening also. My photographs leave a lot to be desired, I know, but as a record for me of what's opening today they are just peachy. There is actually one foolish camellia April Dawn flower almost open; this is an example of what happens when one breaks the rules and plants camellias on a south wall! Not possible to get a picture though, unless I wade right into the bed where the hyacinths are coming up. The little violas have survived the winter very well, and are now beginning to fatten -- this year, I fertilized with kelp all winter and they seem to like it. And one final photo -- the h. niger blooms from a neighbour's garden; whywhywhy does her plant bloom weeks before mine?

The buds are getting fat on the corylopsis sinensis, although the edgeworthia still has its silvery parasols closed up tight. Soon it will open and send glorious fragrance around the neighbourhood for a week, but not this week.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dreams from the Veggie Catalogues

Have just spent a happy two days with the stack of garden catalogues that has accumulated on my desk over the holidays, and have formulated a Grand Plan for a vegetable garden come summertime. This will be my most ambitious attempt at veggies, and I am prepared to sacrifice plants in the large perennial garden -- mostly because I am not happy with that garden, and am willing to ruthlessly move or toss plants. Mostly, I am going to remove the Knockout rose that someone gave me a couple of years ago and which I dislike immensely. It occupies a large space and cuts off sun to other things without giving me much in return. The flowers are pretty but not useful for bouquets for the house, nor particularly decorative in the garden. I think these plants would be great massed along the highway where their flowers would be bright but not subject to close scrutiny. So -- out it goes. Sorry, Cecelia, it died. Don't know whether it was the drought or the cold ... or the gardener's neglect, but it's gone.

Then, lots and lots of lovely practical things. Ichiban eggplant and Totem tomatoes, Red Sails lettuce and Thumbelina carrots and Trionfo Violetto pole beans, and fingerling potatoes (I hope -- never grew potatoes before), and Cippolini onions, and dill and basil and big tomatoes too, like Big Beef and Early Girl and Costoluto Genovese. And probably an in-house revolt at being required to eat vegetables at three meals a day in order to use it all up. I should be so lucky! Pictures later, when things get going.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Warm thoughts

After spending a few minutes outside today looking for something -- anything - in bloom, I came in frozen, so I decided that what I needed was a little reminder of the warmth and beauty of my Jakarta garden, and of the Javanese landscape. The two little girls playing croquet are long ago grown up.

Bloom Day, January 2009

This is the first time I have participated in Bloom Day, and I am not entirely sure how this works but here goes.

There is pathetically little in my garden right now -- the violas and pansies are completely flattened by last night's 8 degrees (above, this is northern Virginia not Minnesota!), and even the mahonia is not opening its buds yet. The snowdrops have shown their noses but with no flowers so far, and the helleborus niger's buds are just showing but not open. So, here is a picture of my big white cymbidium in the sun porch, and one of the mahonia's buds. Maybe by February's Bloom Day there will be something going on.

My dear mother-in-law lived in Chicago all her life, and she had a little oldfashioned poem that she would recite when winter got too much for her:

"I heard a bird sing in the dark of December,
We are nearer to spring than we were in September."