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Garden journal - all of 2008

 

Cyclamen hederifolium - an evergreen surprise today
January 12, 2008. A mild winter weekend day - perfect for engaging in some garden cleanup activities. I leave most of the dead stalks from perennials standing in fall, preferring the nature at rest look over that of clean-shaven beds. But by this time, many of the once stately stalks are toppling over, while remains of large-leaved lower-growing perennials (hostas are a good example) look like a mushy mess. And who wants to spend early spring, when you can be taking care of live plants, dealing with dead remains? So me and my trusty (and rusty) pruners made the rounds today. It struck me - this is not a young garden any more. At nearly 12 years, it not only sports lush growth in summer (which can be achieved within a year or two), but its shrubs and trees, the real bones of the garden, have come to define the space. Walking around in winter is a good time for contemplating the year ahead. So many areas of the garden need work! Some, like the side garden, are in dire need of an upgrade - a wholesale restructuring. Others, like the areas around our big pond, are still coming together. And I recently joined the North American Rock Garden Society, which means I'm newly energized to do something about our rock garden areas. And of course Lily wants a garden of her own, now that she's almost five years old! Plenty to look forward to...
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January 27, 2008. I spend a good amount of time trying to find information about plants on the web. The internet has completely surpassed my trusty hard- and soft-bound references when it comes to figuring out what a plant looks like, whether it is hardy in my climate, and what conditions it appreciates in the garden. But it's not always easy to find the best references from a Google search - search for common plants and you'll find mostly links to commercial seed and nursery catalogs, many of which don't specialize in providing useful information (although some do!). On the other hand, search for a more obscure plant by its botanical name, and most results are references to scientific articles and studies of little interest to the gardener. As an experiment, I set up a Google Custom Search engine. This allows me to define websites from which to preferentially display results, as well as websites to omit from the results. So far, I've listed 39 sites - mostly purely informational, a few particularly good nursery sites, and a handful of "do not list" sites. I'm fairly pleased with the results already, but I'm sure it will improve further as I tweak the lists. I put a search box for this custom search on my plants page, and for convenience I'm putting one here as well. Let me know how it works for you!
Google Custom Search
 

just a few of the many that have germinated thus far
February 16, 2008. As usual this time of year, all gardening action is taking place in the basement. So far, seven shoplights have been put into service for the annual seed-starting operation. Early February was crazy - the exchange shipments from both the Hardy Plant Society (a tradition for me) and the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS - new for me, I joined just a few months ago) arrived, with a total of 60 extra varieties to start! Many have already germinated; in fact, I have so many types of seedlings this year, that I'm resorting to growing more of them on a 3½" square pots instead of cellpacks. As always, it's an experiment - my methods are ever evolving!
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Composition in evergreen
February 23, 2008. A few years ago, when I first started to throw myself at this website, I started a page called Evergreen, aiming to explore how various woody plants, perennials, and even annuals bring foliage color to the winter garden. Unfortunately I never followed through, so the page is still rather inconclusive. But my quest to explore the topic continues, as the photo here shows. I was struck by the contrast between the small-leaved Stewartsonian azalea and the boldly variegated Sasaella masamuneana f. albostriata bamboo. The wandering ways of the latter have me somewhat concerned, but they sure do add a blast of brightness to the winter garden!
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March 01, 2008. I'm frustrated! After years of wielding a point-and-shoot digital camera (and taking some pretty nifty pictures, I think) I finally broke down and sprang for a digital SLR. My brand new Olympus E-volt 510 comes with so many buttons and settings, I don't know if I'll ever master 'm all. A decent zoom lens too, so that I may finally capture some birds in action. The problem is - there's not much out in the garden to capture on bit-film. So this is what you get from me today - a photo of the colorfully burnished leaves and petioles of one of our hellebores. Not too long from now, it will send up fresh new leaves, with luscious purple flowers...
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March 02, 2008. It's a different one every year - but there's always a winner of the first-seedling-to-bloom contest that displays its inaugural bloom while still under the basement growlights. This year, the honor goes to Rosa rehderiana, a shrub rose. The gardener who sent me this seed in a trade had suggested it was very early to bloom - I hereby proclaim her to be extremely correct. Hopefully they'll prove to be equally floriferous once established in our outside garden!
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March 06, 2008. My parents in the Netherlands have been sending triumphant photos of what's blooming in their garden for a month now - but none of our crocus, daffodils, or even snowdrops are close to blooming yet. For now, we make do with our Darley heath, which reliably blooms through most of winter every year. It's probably at its best right now - the flowers still look fresh, the needly leaves are dark and glossy. I've always found it hard to photograph, so it made a natural subject to try my new camera on. Still not perfect, but there you go...
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March 12, 2008. I knew that last posting would incent the crocuses to show their faces! A few days later, there they were, poking up their heads in places normally occupied by other plants - such as here, in the rock garden, the Kamtschat sedum. Now spring doesn't seem so far away...
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March 16, 2008. A mild weekend, with early-spring weather: a few peeks at the sun, a few bouts of rain, and mostly just impressively or drearily cloudy skies. Perfect for some pre-season puttering - straightening out the arbor that our new New Dawn rose is supposed to conquer this year, pulling a few dandelions, collecting blown-in trash, and looking for signs of new growth. And then, suddenly, out of the corner of my eye: ducks! Our big pond attracts its share of birds, but it's a bit small for waterfowl. Not that we'd want them to take up residence - their habits upset the nutrient balance we're trying to establish with our biological filtration system (see the algae in the picture? Too many nutrients already!)
But it was nice to have them explore our little waterscape for a bit - half an hour later, they were gone - off in search of more expansive nesting grounds, no doubt.
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March 23, 2008. Spring is officially here - and even though we had a cold night, the garden is definitely showing its promise. Not very openly, just yet - you have to get close to the ground to see the signs of new growth pushing up, but getting close to the ground is only natural for a gardener. So today, finally, I decided that the rest of the standing top growth from last year would have to go - even the grasses that still decorated the garden views with a firmly upright architecture. And even the weeping sedge, which whose great green mound was still verdant after the punishment of winter, but whose leaf tips showed some scorching. I've no doubt it will jump back into prominence soon after this morning's haircut.
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March 30, 2008. The gardening season has begun in earnest: I've got my first big project of the year under my belt! For years, the front perennial border had been looking a bit dilapidated. It was the first area of the garden cultivated twelve years ago (even before the lawn went in), and although many plants had come and gone since then, it had not undergone a real overhaul, and was clearly in need of one. The soil had not been deeply improved ever. I was a beginning gardener at the time, and thought a few bags of store-bought organic humus should suffice to turn the native clay into decent soil. Even with all the compost top-dressings over the years, a few inches down the soil left much to be desired. So the first order of the day, yesterday, was to collect a pickup-load of mushroom soil from my steadfast source. Next job was to dig up all of the plants (some just barely showing signs of life), toss them aside, and mix plenty of wheelbarrows of the fragrant black stuff in with the crumbly clay. Next, install some new path lights (the ancient plastic Malibu's were looking pretty awful, and the solar replacements never worked so well), and allow Amy to direct where the perennials should be replanted. Fewer than half were allowed back in, so I spent the final part of the weekend potting up lots of plants for my sale in May.
And that, dear friends, was the end of smooth, blemish-free hands - at least until the dog days of summer.
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April 05, 2008. Another weekend, another project. Today it was the rock garden's turn to be overhauled. Once again, all plants were carefully removed (some of them, I haven't yet figured out what they are!), the area somewhat expanded, lots of new soil (amended with sand and grit) added, along with new rocks I picked up at a farm field's discard pile. I had hoped to achieve something that was a bit more convincing as a natural outcropping, but I'm afraid I failed in that respect - the result looks more like a wedding cake than anything natural. I could blame the rocks, but it's probably more my lack of eye for placement. But even so, the new arrangement, having much more variation in the vertical dimension, as well as more isolated pockets, will offer a good home to rock garden plants of many types - a necessity, now that I've joined the North American Rock Garden Society and am growing many plants from its seed exchange! I'm also on their "opens garden to other members" list, although I'm not sure they'd be inspired by my culinary concoction...
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April 13, 2008. Going three for three on recent weekends, with a major reorganization each week. This time it was the side garden's turn. The first part of the garden that was reclaimed from the lawn, more than ten years ago, its original design worked just fine for the bare space. Several paths wound themselves through the fairly narrow garden area, defining circular and oblong areas for planting. One circle got a weeping cherry, another (after a few other things died) finally wound up with a crab apple. Both have grown up, and claimed much more space than we anticipated as novice gardeners. So yesterday, in a long overdue operation, I pulled up all of the paths in the front half of the garden, and remade them - a bit further away from the trees. Also, one path is now clearly the main drag (a bit wider and more direct), while others are for casual perambulation of the garden. Of course I took the opportunity to reorganize the plantings as well - many tired old specimens and spreading thugs didn't make the cut, leaving lots of room for new plants. Which is fine by me - I've got a basement full of seedlings! We also made a spring trek to Point Philip Perennials yesterday, and returned with a carfull of goodies. If only I could maintain this early-spring energy throughout the season...
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April 23, 2008. The great spring rush is in full swing - I'm running out of space to put potted plants for the sale, and the new seedlings are begging to be planted in real soil, away from their miserable sixpacks and small pots. Meanwhile, the perennial garden areas are still very much in startup mode, with lots of bare ground still showing. The real stars of the garden right now are the flowering trees – the star magnolia did its thing a few weeks ago, followed by the apricot and peach trees. Right now, the later magnolias (such as 'Elizabeth' shown here), the apples, crab apples, redbuds, and kwanzan cherries are at center stage. Every once in a while I manage to look up from my frenzied activities to enjoy them.
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May 05, 2008. After the rock garden fixer-upper (see last month's entry), of course I had to stock the new boulderfield with some spiffy plants. One of the new entries was Lewisia cotyledon, a plant we'd grown before but lost. We're glad to have it back! It's already cheering up the top tier of the rock garden with its bright flowers, and the tight buds held closer to its succulent leaves hold promise for more to come.
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Lily inspects the new planting area
May 11, 2008. Last Sunday, looking at the plants left over from my plant sale, I came up with the bright idea of designating a new garden area to house unsold plants and temporarily stash others that can go into next year's plant sale. With the help of my father that Sunday, and my kids the next weekend, I managed to get a sizeable new garden dug and planted. I fully expect that the stepping stones Lily in using in the photo will be obscured by the growing plants fairly soon. The idea is that this is not just a utilitarian zones within our garden, but a nice-looking, albeit temporary, arrangement of plants in its own right. I'll tell you later this year whether I succeeded. Read more about our sale plot.
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May 13, 2008. If you've visited my garden art page, you know that our garden is home to an eclectic if not qualitatively acclaimed variety of artifacts - many of the animal persuasion. New since last year is this blue pottery pig, who was featured as the Sheriff of NoddingHam at Amy's cub scout day camp last year, and has lived in our shade garden since then. He just happened to be shoved in between some emerging hostas a few weeks ago. The hostas grew big quick, and now our friendly sheriff can barely see out. Most cool chance combinations in the garden involve plant companions - but I like this plant/artifact vignette quite a bit, too!
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May 23, 2008. Today was the first day of garden dividends. After weeks of working hard to get ready for the plant sale, overhauling garden areas, putting in overtime to get all the seedlings planted, I can finally take a breather. Today was a lovely spring day, cool and sunny, after a week with lots of rainfall - in other words, perfect for just strolling around the garden, pulling some weeds here and there, and observing what plants are getting around to strutting their stuff. And once in a while, you look at a plant in a different way. Like this arisaema - I'd never noticed just how the stripes on the hood were patterned. A good subject for close-up photography! I don't know exactly which voodoo lily this is, but I'm having a good time watching its spadix unfurl amid its glossy green leaves.
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fun with muck
May 26, 2008. This holiday weekend I finally made good on a project I'd been intending to tackle for a long time: fixing the front end of our little pond. We put this one in ten years ago alongside our newly installed patio, and it was in need of some fixing - especially along the front edge, which had started to slope toward the water, causing the flat rocks used along its edge to slide in and expose the liner. The renovation was a fun project, involving draining the pond (which required catching the many fish and scooping many gallons of dark black muck from the bottom), peeling the liner back (oh wow, we used that old vinyl and scraps from our first carpet as underlayment!), and then building the front wall up using left-over bricks. All the time of course shuttling plants around. After all was finally put back in place, the pond was both clearer and more put-together - and I had acquired that indelible fragrance of pond muck.
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June 01, 2008. This was the year our silver maple, planted alongside our big pond's bog filtration zone, decided to set seed - in great abundance. Thousands of large propellors dropped into the bog and surrounding areas a few weeks ago, doing a great job of clogging up flows and skimmers. And now, many have decided the time is right to germinate - wherever they happen to have been carried. A great many of them had accumulated in the pebbly overflow area between our bog and the pond proper, which is already inhabited by string algae. A symbiotic situation, it seems, since the maples were happy to grow in the shallow flowing water, their roots secured by the green mass around them. I picked as many of them out as I could today - and also vowed that the tree would have to go. This fall, it's coming down - probably to make place for the much slower-growing paperbark maple that's been living in our nursery area for some years now.
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June 02, 2008. What was that sound? Max asked the other day. I didn't know - a cicada? a cricket? But soon I found out - it was a toad! I knew all about bullfrogs and their calls, had heard about (but not heard) spring peepers - but I had no idea toads had their own call - a long, high-pitched trill. Our new amphibian friend sings especially abundantly at dusk. In this picture, he's surrounded himself with various objects of garden art. We hope he sticks around - toads have visited our garden on occasion, but haven't thus far made it their permanent home.
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June 07, 2008. The first New Dawn rose of the year - making me very happy to have purchased it last year. We hope it will cover our arbor by the end of the season.
Meanwhile, spring has left us; we're now sweltering in the hot'n'humid. Which means more time will be spent in our swimming pond. Hopefully, it will be bearable tomorrow morning, when we'll be hosting a small tour for HPS/MAG members in the Lehigh Valley.
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Erodium manescavii - entry number 100
June 22, 2008. For me, gardening has been a hobby that keeps on giving, by branching out into new hobbies: tinkering with websites, and taking photos of all those interesting and beautiful plant and animal life forms. I started my photography humble enough, with a Canon A70 3MP digital camera, upgraded a couple of years later to an A95 with 5 megapixels. Both have been great point-and-shooters; almost all of the photos on this website were taken with them, including all of the critter pictures. But early this year, I really started itching for a digital SLR, and finally broke down - the result is my newest toy, the Olympus E-510. While hardly top of the line, at ten megapixels it's got a good deal more resolution than its predecessors, and a lot more settings to set too.
Over the years, I've been asked a few times to sell a photo - for magazine or book publications, or promotional materials. The new camera seemed like a good excuse to make it a bit more official, so I've started my very own stock photo catalog, where I collect and offer for sale my more successful plant pictures. I'm writing this post on the occasion of the one-hundredth entry into the catalog. Although my photography has improved over the years, I'm still far from a professional photographer - but maybe some of my photos will fit just the right bill. And even if I don't sell any, it's still a great excuse to go and take pictures of my garden's inhabitants - who can complain about tinkering with two hobbies all at the same time?
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fresh from the oven
June 28, 2008. It was one of those pleasant garden surprises - the sour cherry set plenty of fruit, and the birds didn't eat it. Don't ask me why - in previous years, our share of the harvest was little to none (except for the one year where I arranged a bird net across it, but I found it to be too much trouble to repeat). But we'll take a windfall when we see one, and have now produced two cherry confections from our bounty. The first one was a warm-up act - an ugly-duckling pie produced with the first two cups of cherries we picked. When our good fortune held and we were able to harvest five more cups today, I baked a second one, this time full-sized. It may not be the most professional-looking culinary creation, but it tasted yummy!
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July 19, 2008. Most gardeners specialize - some like cottage gardens, other prefer rock gardens or formal designs. Likewise, we all have our preferred ways of doing things - whether it's mulching, staking, or new border construction. When it comes to propagation, I have thus far specialized on seed-starting, building lots of experience and preferred methods over the years. But I've neglected the very useful vegetative means of propagating plants. I doubt I'll ever do tissue culture, but I decided I should at least give basic methods of growing from cuttings a try. For years, I've kept a copy of an HPS/MAG newsletter (now available online) that described how to build a Nearing frame, a garden structure especially suitable for starting cuttings outside. Last week I finally got around to cutting up an old sheet of plywood, and painting and assembling the pieces into the structure shown here. It will get partly buried, with the main opening facing North, and rooting media inside. As was the case with seeds, I expect many false starts and failed attempts - but hopefully I'll learn enough about cuttings and such to makes extras of at least a few of my favorite garden denizens. Wish me luck!
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July 22, 2008. Summer veggies are here in force! They make the onslaught of heat, humidity, and Japanese beetles more bearable. Pictured here are our 'Pintung Long' oriental eggplants, a mainstay of our vegetable garden. The last couple of years I decided to grow it in our Earthbox planter, where it has grown much more strongly than in the open ground. Besides the eggplants, we're enjoying a few types of summer squash, bush beans, the first tomatoes, and cucumbers. Can you say ratatouille?
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August 23, 2008. The herbaceous bluebeard (Caryopteris divaricata) is showing off its clear blue flowers once again. It's quite photogenic, especially up close, so I'm often tempted to take its picture. This morning a hoverfly intervened just as I was all set up to shoot - so it got shot too (I don't think he minded too much). Not as much critter photography this year (I've not yet learned how to get the best results with my new camera), but every once in a while...
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September 02, 2008. August is over - I can return to the garden ;-)
Newly inspired by the promise of cooler temperatures and the prospect of a family visit, we spent part of the holiday weekend tidying up the gardens, and I managed to squeeze a visit to Point Phillip Perennials for the usual late-summer splurge. It's been dry recently, with just a single day of rainshowers in the past three weeks. The photo here was taken the morning after that rainy day, showing off how the 'Pink Knockout' rose we planted just this year is coming into its own. In fact, I've been pleased with all three of our rose purchases, which have lived up to their billing as being fairly disease-resistant and floriferous. I expect them to be even bolder and bigger next year.
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Tinantia erecta glistening with dew, surrounded by coneflower seedheads
September 19, 2008. I love this time of year, starting at the very latest end of summer, when nights start to cool and the garden escapes from the dog days. It's the best time for gardens like ours, that are inherently full and messy - a look that is strained in late spring and summer, when better planning and design would serve to showcase the wealth of flowers more effectively. Come fall, the slightly bedraggled look seems just right - with late-season annuals joining in with autumn perennials and seedheads of all kinds. And with the sticky heat gone, I enjoy being out in the midst of it again. Happy fall gardening!
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Aster 'Purple Dome' coming into its full glory
September 21, 2008. Ah, fall is here - and today was early fall at its best - a crisp morning (the bedewed grass clippings made for a messy re-entry into the house!), followed by a Goldilocks temperature the rest of the day. I'm so lazy around the garden now - I'll still stoop down to pull a weed when I see one, but I don't go hunting for them (and trust me, there are plenty...). Even seed-collecting, which could be going at a frantic pace right now, ambles along at a leisurely pace. I look with a smile upon the bedraggled borders, seeing not so much the lack of neatness as all the color this season has to offer - the blues of asters, the yellows, oranges and burgundies of mums and sunflowers. Meanwhile, plenty of long-performing annuals and perennials keep on going at their own relaxed pace - harebells and cranesbills, morning glories, Mexican hats... It was even warm enough for a quick dip in the swimming pond - at a time that many traditional pools are being tucked in for the cold season, that's a special luxury. Even if my main activity was the removal of string algae, who are doing their fall bloom thing.
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October 04, 2008. Interrupting my absence from this journal for just a moment, to report on the joys of autumn. Yes, I guess I probably say the same thing every year, but there's just such an abundance of rich colors... This photo here shows our Euphorbia corollata specimen, finally done blooming after many weeks of white flowers, coloring up for the season. In the background, our old rock garden still has campanulas and other flowers in bloom.
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October 26, 2008. Fall foliage - hostas are about the last plant I think of in that context. But there they were, as I rounded the corner into the side garden today: the plants whose big leaves were bluish green just a week ago have turned yellow. Another hard frost and they'll be all gone - unlike their neighbors the hellebores, who are just now preparing for their early-spring flower display, and will keep their shiny leaves all winter.
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Mr. Sympetrum vicinum
October 27, 2008. For some reason, I've not spent much time this year taking pictures of invertebrate wildlife in our garden. But I couldn't resist snapping a photo of this autumn meadowhawk, which was happily sunning itself on the rocks along our big pond. As its name suggests, this dragonfly species comes out to play late in the season. It's the first red dragonfly I've noticed in our garden.
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November 07, 2008. Even though Thalictrum lucidum is one of my favorite species in one of my favorite genuses, I had thus far overlooked one of its exciting features: the brilliant yellow fall foliage. It's possible that the coloration varies from year to year, and this year is particularly spectacular; but more likely, I simply had failed to notice it in previous years, in our garden's jumble of yellows, oranges, scarlets and burgundies. Today, collecting seed from a mountain mint brought me up close to the meadow rue - and tada! Camera time!
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December 20, 2008. Late fall didn't much inspire me with sights worth capturing - but today, on the brink of winter, the garden is a twinkling wonderland. A storm yesterday was supposed to bring a heavy load of snow, but instead delivered mostly freezing rain. Not much fun when trying to travel, but the effect on the garden is marvellous. I took a bunch of pictures - the one I chose here is for the promise it holds: a cluster of pussywillow buds, plump and red in their icy casings.
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