Planting Weekend


Traditionally, the last week in May, culminating with the 3-day Memorial weekend, is my prime planting time.  I usually take the entire week off from work and there is a huge push to get all new perennials, seedlings sown indoors, dahlia tubers, and all directly seeded veggies and annuals, such as zinnia, nasturtiums, and cosmos in the ground, as well as all annuals into containers.  Until recently, our last frost date hovered between May 22-24, so the last week in May was generally safe (over the last couple of years, it’s been closer to May 17-18).

The edging, weeding, and mulching of the numerous flower beds waits until after the mass planting event.  It drives me batty to walk around and see weeds and grass poking up through all the perennials, but it can’t be helped.  With limited gardening time, triage is a necessity.

I couldn’t take the full week off this year due to our trip in April, but I had a rather successful planting weekend nonetheless (thank you Nora).  Thankfully the rain held off until today.

We managed to get the 80′ hot border edged, weeded, planted and mulched.  I planted 5 crates — yes, crates — of dahlia tubers (various red varieties) that had over-wintered in the basement, 7 ‘David Howard’ dahlias (last year’s tubers potted inside about 10 weeks ago), cut back the dead tulips, and planted a line of marigolds along the front edge.


The border put on quite a display last fall with all of the dahlias and rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’.


To extend the blooming season, I’ve added some early to mid-summer bloomers last season, including Papaver ‘Goliath’, Baptisia ‘Solar Flare’, Bearded Iris ‘Raptor Red’, Hemerocallis ‘Ruby Spider’, several varieties of red and dazzling yellow lilies (that I have since forgotten the name of), and peony ‘Paul Wild’.

I also finished weeding and mulching the shade garden.  This border is tucked into the northeastern corner of the house and is planted largely with astilbe, columbine, ferns, and hosta.  I have some bearded iris and day lilies for splash of color tossed in as well.


Yesterday was spent in the vegetable garden.  The onions, shallots, beets, carrots, sweet peas, dill, borage, chamomile, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, marigolds, scarlet runner beans, and snap peas were already in the ground.  Yesterday we cleaned out another 7 beds (each 3′ x 20′) and direct seeded sunflowers (‘American Giant’ and ‘Santa Fe’), cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, edamame, green beans (bush variety), pole beans, zinnia, morning glories, swiss chard, kale, and two types of lettuce.  I still need to plant the acorn squash, and I want to get some bee balm, basil, and nasturtium seeds planted as well, but that will have to wait until next weekend.

I’ve decided (I think – I could change my mind by next weekend) to let the pumpkin patch rest this season and plant a green manure crop of field peas, oats and hairy vetch (an organic mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds) in the patch to be tilled-in in late fall.  I still have 3 unplanted rows in the vegetable garden since I wasn’t in the mood to plant potatoes this year, and I may use a couple of those for a few pumpkins.  Much smaller scale than my roughly 30′ x 50′ pumpkin patch, but I was trying to “scale back” in the veg area this year to allow more time for the mixed borders.  As you can probably surmise from the list above, I wasn’t terribly successful.  I just can’t seem to help myself.

To wrap up yesterday, before I collapsed from exhaustion, I also replaced a dead lilac with a new one, planted two yucca grasses in the rock garden, and a 2nd Daphne near the gazebo.


Rock garden with a variety of dwarf evergreens, including Gold Thread Cypress, yucca, various other ornamental grasses (that are barely noticeable at this time of year), creeping phlox, and white potentilla.  This area was a mass of nettles and wild parsnip three years ago.  I buried it under a mass of landscape fabric, cardboard and mulch for a couple of seasons and really started planting last year.  More to do, but a vast improvement over what it looked like before!


As I was digging holes for the yuccas, our friend, Tim, arrived to hang the barn quilt — a wonderful Christmas gift from Lorna and Tim (designed and painted by Lorna, and constructed by Tim).  I had my brother build and hang a couple of window boxes a week ago to set off the quilt.  I think it looks fabulous!



More Flowers

The crescendo is beginning to build.  The peonies are loaded with buds, the camassia just started to unfurl yesterday, many of the clematis are already 3-4′ tall…in another couple of weeks, the June flowering will begin.  It’s my favorite time in the garden.


Lots of work to get done between now and then, if we can catch a break between rain showers.  I’ve done very little direct seeding in the vegetable garden and I’ve only managed to edge, weed and plant some seedlings into a couple of the borders with another 12+ borders remaining.  I still have salvia and dianthus seedlings, dahlia plants and 4 crates of dahlia tubers to get into the ground.


Crab apple blossoms


Memorial weekend is usually my first big gardening weekend, but as of now, we’re looking at a dry Saturday, but rain on Friday, Sunday and Monday.


But the rain has spurred quick growth in the garden.  Some photos of blooms above and below.


Ok, not a bloom, this is Oreo



Walking around the garden

The rain had stopped by the time I arrived home after work.  I was happy to have the rain after a weekend of planting dahlias, containers, and seedlings in the vegetable garden (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and sweet peas).  It was a gentle, constant rain much of the day and the garden always benefits.


Which of these things is not like the others?


But… there’s always the “but” with gardeners…but the rain also benefits the weeds, dandelions, and grass that are running rampant through my borders right now.  I know I’m not really “behind” since we’ve barely passed the last frost date, but I feel very behind.

So, as I was bemoaning how much work there was to do in the garden and how I couldn’t get to it with all the rain in the forecast for this week, Nora swooped in to the rescue – as she so often does – and grabbed the camera, and me, and forced a garden walk-about.


The tulips have gone over for the most part and are quickly passing into the spent, ugly phase.  I will have to get to them this weekend to cut back the stems.  But I allow the foliage to remain until yellowed to put some energy back into the bulbs for next year’s performance.


However, the perennials have really shot up.  The alliums are half open and the camassia lilies are on the cusp.


Pearl Bush with allium ‘Purple Sensation’


But we did manage to find a few others in full bloom (see below).


Weeping Siberian Pea Shrub
Pink Forget-Me-Nots?  Self-seeded from last year



Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ – incredibly invasive – mine are in a bottomless pot in the border to keep them somewhat contained – but I love them


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – May 2017


Quite a few changes in the garden between the time I left on vacation the 3rd week in April and yesterday.  We had torrential rains while I was away, leaving many of the borders and much of the lawn under inches of water.  We had a fairly rainy weekend as well, but softer showers which were able to seep into the ground as quickly as it arrived leaving everything green and sparkling with rain drops.


Despite the rather wet weekend, I was able to get a little planting done in the vegetable garden.  Another 50 or so walla walla sets went in, as did the first planting of carrots and beets, into the raised beds.  The regular beds are still too soaked to plant.  The week is looking dry and warm however, so hope to get the lettuces, kale, chard and a few other types of seeds planted.  I’m feeling a couple of weeks behind due to the trip.


I was able to get a little spot weeding done in some of the flower borders.  I also bought and planted 3 Japanese Willows (Salix integra ‘Hakaro Nishiki’), two in the front yard and one in the back next to the gazebo, and a Gold Thread Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’) in the rock garden.  Picked the first rhubarb of the season on Saturday, and we’ve been cutting asparagus since we returned; looks like a banner crop this year.


The majority of yesterday, however, was spent planting out 20+ containers.  I still have another 7 to fill, but ran out of annuals.  I feel another trip to the nursery coming on!  Sadly it will have to wait until after work today.  Alas, Monday has arrived…


Here are a few other photos, taken yesterday, of what’s blooming in the garden.


One of the late blooming varieties of daffs in the borders
One of the pear trees now loaded with blossoms
Okay, this isn’t blooming yet, but the black currants are loaded with buds
Pear blossoms
There are few things as delicious as freshly cut asparagus


If you can’t garden outside…


Clearly I’m not able to get outside and do any cleanup with the snow and water on the ground, and likely won’t be able to do so for awhile yet.  But the indoor “nursery” has been hopping for a few weeks now.

I have roughly 200 plants in seed trays and pots right now, and I will sow another 50 or so in 3 weeks.  That’s a couple of hundred less than last year, but N and I will be in Ireland for 10 days at the end of April/first week of May (yeah! our first time there).  My brother will move into the house to tend to our various animal babies, and well as the green babies.  I didn’t want to overwhelm the poor guy!

So, here’s what’s cooking inside at the moment:


Several salvia varieties, Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’, Salvia farinacea ‘Fairy Queen’, Salvia splendens ‘Flare’ — salvia is a perennial in zones 8 and up, but treated as an annual in our neck of the woods since it won’t overwinter; will tolerate poor soils and some drought; ‘Victoria Blue’ has a deep blue flower (and it’s a true blue, which is rare) and blooms from June through the 1st frost.  I use it as a filler in the mixed borders, as a butterly attractor, and simply because I love the color.  This is my first year planting the other 2 varieties.  ‘Flare’ is a flaming red, so they will end up in the hot border.

Digitalis purpurea ‘Strawberry Fayre’ (common name: Foxglove) — biennial and prolific self-seeder; quintessential cottage garden flower; comes in shades of pink, purples and white; I have many purple varieties already in the garden; this one happens to be the Strawberry Foxglove variety; they are attractive to bees, butterflies and certain birds.


Dianthus (also known as Cottage Pinks) — in shades of pink, red and white; these work wonderfully in front of the border, and I plant them everywhere.

Echinacea purpurea (common name: coneflower) — a perennial that blooms from mid-summer into the late fall; a favorite of the bees and butterflies; and not just another pretty face, Echinacea is an excellent immune-booster.  This plant makes an appearance in many of my borders as well.  I’m a sucker for anything daisy-like.

Dahlia – varieties: ‘David Howard’ (orange with deep burgundy foliage; I love the look of this plant (see below)); ‘Thomas Edison’ (deep purple flower); ‘Worton Blue Streak’ (actually lavender  in color, rather than the blue that the name suggests); ‘Kelvin Floodlight’ (a huge pale yellow flower — seriously, each flower is 8-10″ wide).


I also have dozens of an unnamed red variety that were given to me by a local gardener that are quite spectacular.  Dahlias will not overwinter here, but I dig up the tubers after the first hard freeze kills off the foliage and store them in the basement.  I replant them in pots in March and by the time we’ve had (hopefully) our last freeze in mid to late May, they’re ready to go back into the ground outside.


Hollyhock — it is, of course, impossible to have a cottage garden without hollyhocks (the old-fashioned, single bloom variety); I adore them and have them in a variety of colors — pinks, burgundy, white and yellows; they are biennial, self-seeders and you’ll have volunteers popping up all over the garden if you leave them to their own devices; they look marvelous planted at the back of the border, and against walls and fences.  I have a dickens of a time getting them to germinate inside, and usually only end up with a handful of seedlings.  They do so much better when allowed to freely self-seed outside (and I do allow them to do so), and yet, I keep trying each season to start them indoors.


Cleome (also knows as spider plant) — annual — predominantly in shades of pink or white, in a good year, the plants can tower up to 6′ tall.  Another plant that doesn’t like to germinate inside for me, but a hearty “volunteer” outside.


Lathyrus odoratus (commonly known as Sweet Peas) — an annual; a 6-8′ vine with wonderfully fragrant flowers.  I’m planting several varieties this year and although I generally direct seed in early spring, I decided I would try starting some inside this year.  Even with pinching off, they’re already 5-6″ tall!  I’m growing the following varieties: ‘Chocolate Flake’, ‘Spring Sunshine Champagne’, and ‘North Shore’.  I also have a pastel mix from John Scheepers.


Cauliflower (‘Purple of Siciliy’) — an heirloom variety, beautiful, and quite tasty


Eggplant (‘Casper’) — a white eggplant (probably evident from the name) that originated in France.

Peppers (‘Autumn Bell’) – red bell pepper

Tomato (‘Thessaloniki’ and ‘Nepal’), medium sized slicing tomatoes; Tomato (‘Koralik’), cherry tomatoes for the hens and ducks (and occasionally, I even get a few).

Walla Walla (sweet yellow onion) — absolutely delicious cooked on the grill!


Agastache foeniculum (common name: Anise Hyssop) — perennial and member of the mint family.  This blooms in the summer and attracts a diverse variety of bees and butterflies.

Matricaria recutita (commonly known as German Chamomile) — a medicinal herb known for its calming properties; great in teas, but also a delightful, little daisy-like bloom.

“PlantPure Nation”

Some disturbing facts from the documentary “PlantPure Nation:

  • Large, mono-crop agribusinesses use fuel-intensive equipment and high amount of pesticides and herbicides; trillions of dollars in subsidies are provided to these companies every year in the U.S. – at the expense of the health and wellbeing of U.S. citizens
  • The number of small farms in the U.S. have gone from 7 million in 1940 to fewer than 2 million today , and the numbers are dwindling annually
  • Americans have almost doubled their annual meat intake per capita from 100 lbs in 1930s to just under 200 lbs today; a change in diet pushed by the meat and dairy lobbies and large agribusinesses
  • 30% of U.S. land is given over to grazing animals or growing food (soybean and corn) to feed factory raised animals; animals which are not only unhealthy to consume, but the living conditions, treatment and slaughter of which is inhumane
  • 9 of 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century – horrific from a planet and human health stand-point; the emissions produced from the inputs needed to sustain this increasing demand for factory raised animals (including not only meat products, but also dairy and eggs) is a major contributor to climate change

“Numerous studies now show that a whole foods, plant-based diet comprised primarily of vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts will not only prevent many chronic diseases (Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesteral), but will also reverse many.” (PlantPure Nation”)

Personally, I think it’s unrealistic to believe that every American will become vegan any time in the near future.  But from a health perspective, if for no other reason, many could cut their intake of animal-based foods in half and benefit greatly from the change.  There is also no reason why every American, even those living in apartments with little more than a balcony for personal, outdoor space, can’t grow some of their own food.  Just a taste of fresh, green herbs or a juicy, sun-soaked tomato from your own vine will make one long for fresh, organically grown produce in favor of the tasteless, nutrient-deficient, sorry excuse for a vegetable that is “manufactured” by some agribusiness on the other side of the country or world.  And these smallest changes in habit, all the while, will benefit our planet as well.


Finding my “Happy Place”

Since the inauguration of “Trump the Terrible,” like most of the world, my emotions have ranged from rage, deep depression and, after his 1st week in office, sheer terror and horror.

I realize that much of the blather coming out of the White House is just that, and much of it, I hope, will never get past Congress or the courts, but that really does little to assuage the horror I feel when reading the news.


As a result, I have decided to preserve my sanity, bury my head in the sand, stop following the news, and find my happy place.  In the depths of winter (especially heading into my least favorite month), my happy place can only be found by a deep immersion into gardening books and gardening videos.  So here’s a look at what I’ve been reading and watching for the past week:

  1. The Elements of Organic Gardening, by HRH The Prince of Wales with Stephanie Donaldson (2007) – The book focuses on the development of the gardens at Highgrove, Clarence Hall and Birkhall with a particular emphasis on Highgrove, given that’s where Prince Charles really began to implement organic gardening techniques at a time when it was not at all fashionable.  In fact I think many English gardeners thought he was quite crazy at the time.  Now, of course, it’s a given that this is the superior way to garden.  At any rate, I would highly recommend this book.  Obviously the scale of gardening at each of these “homes” is on a much grander scale than most of us have to worry about (we have neither the amount of land, nor the resources/staff), but many of the principles can be applied in a garden of any size.  Even if it weren’t tremendously informative (which it is, covering everything from soil health to purifying grey water), it’s just a delightful read and the photos are superb.
  2. The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage, by David L. Culp with Adam Levine, photographs by Rob Cardillo (2012) – David, along with his partner, created a beautiful 2-acre cottage garden in Pennsylvania.  The concept of layering – planting a mix of perennials and annuals that prolong the flowering of the garden through the seasons – is not a new one, as he admits.  But again, the photographs are beautiful and I’m a sucker for a good “how I created my garden” story.  And I love books that introduce me to some new plant or shrub that I then must add to my own garden (although he’s growing in a zone 6 area, so some plants, although tempting, will not survive our winters).
  3.  Tasha Tudor’s Garden, by Tovah Martin with photographs by Richard W. Brown (1994) – this is a book I have re-read every year since purchasing it 3 or 4 years ago.  Again, it contains marvelous photographs of Tasha’s garden when it was at its peak (she was almost 80 years old at the time this book was released).  Tovah does a wonderful job of capturing both the wonder of the garden, and the eccentricities and talents of its creator.  I feel re-inspired and ready to tackle a new gardening season every time I re-read this book and linger over the photos of what can only be described as an enchanting, wild garden.  If I could transport myself back in time, I would return to the late 1980s or early 1990s, to Tasha’s home on the hilltop in Vermont, and sit down to a cup of tea with Tasha on her flower-covered front porch and talk plants for hours.
  4. Lastly, if you haven’t watched this video, it’s worth the time.  Secret Gardens of England: 16 Secluded Gardens Revealed (2007).  Narrated by Alan Titchmarsh, he explores 16 small, private gardens scattered throughout England.  While not all of the gardens selected appeal to me from an aesthetic standpoint, I always enjoy listening to enthusiastic gardeners who simply delight in the plant world.  And it’s always a pleasure to be transported to the world of color and hear the birds signing in the background when all I see, when I look out my window right now, are the white and greys of winter.