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Garden journal - all of 2009

 

January 17, 2009. My first journal entry of the new year, to honor the cold snap we're experiencing - the temperature was -2F when I woke up this morning, colder than I remember seeing in recent years. So we'll see how well marginally hardy plants fare this winter. Meanwhile, the big pond is going through interesting ice patterns. We leave the circulation from the main pond through the filtration bog going year-round; ordinarily the flow comes across a pebbly ford, but the entire surface of the ford is now covered in ice, with water and air bubbles performing shadow puppetry underneath. I took this picture standing on the middle of the main pond - the ice cover felt nice and solid!
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February 15, 2009. Ah, it's that winter garden journal slump again. Not much to report on out in the garden recently. But of course I've not been slacking altogether. It goes without saying that seed-starting is a full-blown operation by now - the last few weeks brought big seed exchange shipments from NARGS and HPS/MAG; combined with seeds from earlier trades and collected from the garden, that makes for hundreds of varieties started already, and many more to come. Of course I've been keeping notes of my germination results on my plant profile pages. But there's other activity on robsplants.com as well: over the past few weeks I've started a new experiment called PlantLinks. It's an attempt to collect and organize links to many quality information pages about plants all in one place. So far, I've added links to many of my favorite garden information websites (at the time of this writing, 24453 links to 15293 species in 2685 genera), and I hope to continue the effort (at a slower pace) in months to come. It will only become truly useful if I tap many more sources, but do take a look and tell me what you think.
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March 07, 2009. I get all kinds of requests for use of photos on my site. Usually I'm happy to allow free use for informational or personal purposes. A recent request, from artist T.L. Baumhardt, was especially intriguing: she had seen my journal entry for August 23, 2008, and wanted to use the picture as a basis for a painting. I happily obliged, and was especially pleased to see the result a few weeks later - shown here in a reduced version of its full glory. For more of T.L. Baumhardt's work, visit her new Snow Fairy Farm website.

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March 14, 2009. It's so predictable - the first few mild days of late winter arrive, and my hands are a mess! It's too early to do anything with live plants, but the weather is perfect to cut or lop down all of last season's dead stalks. I leave them up through winter, preferring their presence to a barren garden look - but it's a big job to take care of throughout the whole garden. The stubble left behind (from this year's cuts, as well as previous years') is sharp enough that my hands, with baby skin from months without gardening, invariably emerge thoroughly cut and scraped from the operation. It's an annual rite of passage!
Meanwhile, only a few plants are exerting themselves in the garden. It's the usual suspects: snowdrops, rock irises, crocus, and of course hellebores. Some hellebores have fully open flowers, but I was particularly taken by this beautiful bud with its fresh green accompaniment.

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March 30, 2009. I must be getting better at timing my seed-starting activities. Most years, I have at least one variety that decides it's time to bloom under the lights when we're still in early February. Charming, but not particularly helpful, when they still have weeks to go before making their way outside. In following years, I make sure to start the species in question a few weeks later. This year, my first inside blooms didn't arrive until late March. They came courtesy of Impatiens scabrida, which I'm growing for the first time this year. The creamy yellow flowers are cheerful, but the plants are clearly not too happy about living inside - their stems are already stocky, and they're a bit squashed between the many seedlings nearby that don't grow quite so fast. Needless to say, I'll shift the seed start date backwards for these, too.
In other news, this past weekend, besides featuring a fierce hail-and-thunderstorm, marked the start of the outside gardening season. All the cutting back dead growth and other cleanup, even when it occurs in March, still mostly belongs with the previous season in my mind. But when I start to pot up plants for my annual plant sale, I know that spring is here! As usual, I'm keeping a running tally of species potted up. Pretty soon, I'll be spending my every spare daylight hour in the garden...
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primitivist art by Ben
April 04, 2009. A windy, chilly day - which made for a good excuse to make my almost-annual mushroom soil run, out to a farm near Kutztown. I need the stinky stuff for soil improvement in all kinds of places, including the veggie garden, to be applied over the course of early spring. But I had an immediate use in mind: the kids had been asking for larger garden plots, and no garden can be dug or enlarged without a large helping of organic matter. So I spent the afternoon stripping sod and digging to extend their garden areas. They each have about a four-foot section along our side fence; until yesterday, these were only about two feet wide, not enough to do much with. Now they're closer to square, nice blank slates for the new season. So what did my dear 7-year-old Ben do first? Make a mud decoration, that's what he did! Then he stuck in a lamb's ear, some chocolate mint, and a money plant for good measure.
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April 05, 2009. What a difference a day makes! Yesterday I had to retreat indoors every hour or so to recharge, today was T-shirt (and sunburn!) weather. Lots of plants potted up for the sale, but I also found some time to just stroll around the garden and look at what's popping up. By now I'm used to seeing the star magnolia and apricot in bloom around this time of year, but the Corylopsis sinensis is newer to our garden, and this year its bloom is more exuberant than its first attempt last year. So that one gets the honor of today's photo.
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April 09, 2009. Venturing out after dinner this evening to take a quick snapshot of a hellebore that bloomed for the first time this year, I was surprised (and charmed) to find a cabbage white butterfly, already asleep on one of its flowers. The last few days have been good for gardening, although the overnight dip into the 20s one night surprised me, the meteorologists, and my tender seedlings already hardening off outside. Luckily, most of them survived just fine.
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April 19, 2009. Wonderful weekend, sunny and warm! After a full Saturday getting trained on the ins and outs of Cub Scout outdoor activities, I put Sunday to good use getting the orchard nursery area organized to accept the hundreds of new seedlings that will soon be itching for a spot in the outdoors. A few of the hardier varieties already got planted there. Today also marked the first mowing of the lawn this year. And in between all of that, I found some time to walk around the garden with my camera and take snapshots of what's emerging and what's already in bloom. One of the photos was of this fritillaria, proudly flowering in our front lane garden. But what I didn't recognize till I looked at this photo was that it was surrounded by little bright-blue flowers. Wildflowers ("weeds"), of course - but still eyepopping when you look at them up close.
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April 24, 2009. The first of several warm days (it's supposed to get real hot over the weekend), so I took the afternoon off to wage war on the list of garden tasks that need doing. I'm slowing down in the area of potting up plants for the sale - nearly there now. But many hundreds of seedlings are waiting to be planted, the vegetable garden needs to be started for the year, and the cutting garden needed a good spring cleanup. I almost forgot to walk around and look at what's blooming! But of course I did, and I was particularly enamored of this combination of Virginia bluebells and grape hyacinths. As usual, I claim no credit (nor blame) for this arrangement - in our garden, plant combinations just kind of happen.
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I should have captured Amy at work, but I was too busy setting out seedlings
April 25, 2009. Our "cutting garden": the scene of much activity today and yesterday. Even though it's not actually a cutting garden in the real sense of the word, this does tend to be a border where annuals play the lead role. Some years it looks nice, other years it suffers from neglect, rampant volunteer plants, and haphazard plant placement. Last year wasn't one of its better ones, so I cleaned house big time yesterday, to set the stage for Amy's work today (pssst: a little secret - when I want Amy to join me in the garden, I need to have a good, long-overdue job waiting). Between annual seeds, some annuals purchased at the local big-lot store, a few annuals contributed from my seedling stash, and a cherry tomato, the beginnings of a colorful border are in place. Stay tuned for updates...
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May 03, 2009. Excuse my yawn - I'm rather tired. It's the end of a long weekend. Yesterday was my annual plant sale, an event that takes up most of my free time (and a few vacation days) each April, and once again it was a mad dash getting everything ready. Anticipating a crowd, Amy dusted off her cash register - and it was a good thing she did. Lots of people arrived to rush in right at 8am, and for the next two hours it was a bit of a madhouse. Next thing I knew, the plant tables looked kind of empty, and the crowds thinned out. Amazingly, some fellow gardeners had made treks from far-flung places (Rhode Island, would you believe it?) - I hope everybody left with new favorites. The afternoon, and all of today, were spent in the aftermath - dealing with the left-over plants, of course; but also tending to the back yard which had turned into a meadow with neglect, and all the tall weeds that were starting to take over the garden areas. It was lovely drizzly weather today - perfect for weeding, and just observing all the new growth in the garden. Like the rapidly unfurling new leaves of Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'. Just a few days ago, I'd been more than a little concerned that it hadn't made it through winter. Now I'm looking forward to seeing it through its first full year in our garden. Ah, if only mid-spring could last a little longer...
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Dryopteris marginalis: leather wood fern
May 04, 2009. Until recently our garden, in a new development reclaimed from corn fields, was sunny just about everywhere. The shade area was confined to one corner in a northern nook of the house, and it was one crowded place. Now that some of our trees have reached a mature size, more areas get at least part day shade. That takes some getting used to - I still make the mistake of planting sun-loving perennials in some areas that are no longer optimal for them, thinking of what used to grow there. But on the whole, this is a good development - finally some more space for plants that burn in the sun's rays. For me, that includes ferns (finally!). Since I'm a Johnny-come-lately to the fern thing, I'm not yet attuned to their growth habits. Just a couple weeks ago, I walked past the area where two of them grow and thought to myself "Hmmm. Not looking too hot, are they? I hope they survive". Of course they were just shedding last year's fronds, to make room for the new ones. I've always admired the photos of fiddleheads from other people's gardens, so I count myself lucky to be among the ferned.
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May 27, 2009. We returned from about two weeks vacation yesterday - it rained all morning on our day of departure, and it was drizzling when we returned. According to our local sources, it rained quite a bit in between too, which would explain why the grass had grown to a verdantly billowing meadow, and the rest of the garden exploded into a rich lush growth. I managed to mow the lawn today (painfully slowly), and also took plenty of pictures of the new blooms. Some of which belonged to the kousa dogwood pictured here - after many years in our garden, following a rescue from the torture of a discount nursery and attacks by rabbits in subsequent years, it finally did its thing. Still more of a squat shrub than a tree, but I'll be working on that later this year.
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May 29, 2009. I just learned about an event put on by the Historic Bethlehem Partnership on June 6th - a day of garden tours, lectures, and horticultural VIPs. Read more about it here.
 

June 10, 2009. Our damselfly population has exploded! Everywhere in the garden I look, I they are hovering and dancing, in their graceful ways. I credit our large pond with associated bog filter, which has given their larvae a place to hatch (my boys have found several newly-emerged, wet-winged damsels in recent weeks, to their great delight). This morning, as I was taking photos around the rock garden, one alighted on a penstemon bud, still laden with dew. I didn't notice until later that it had brought along some prey - damselflies feast on small flying insects. Go get them no-see-ums, ladies!
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June 14, 2009. Last spring, I overhauled our rock garden to have more elevation differences, and provide room for a larger number of different plants. My efforts paid off - I've been quite pleased this spring with the overall look and sequence of bloom, even though the garden isn't filled in yet as much as I hope it eventually will. It's been especially nice this first half of June, with aethionema, helianthemum, dianthus, linum, penstemon and others all flowering simultaneously for a lovely patchwork effect.
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June 18, 2009. Ladybugs for father's day, how cool is that? My dear wife, unsatisfied with the mundane gift suggestions I came up with when asked what the kids should get me for dad's day, decided that 1500 ladybugs was just the ticket. They arrived a few days early, so yesterday evening I got to walk all around the garden, dropping a few of the colorful beetles here and there. According to the instructions, I was to deposit a dozen or so at the base of each aphid-infested plant - but I neither knew of over a hundred such plants, nor did I have the patience for careful bug deposition, so I just strolled around, shaking the mesh bag wherever the mood struck me. They didn't seem to mind the treatment, and went about their ways exploring their new environment without looking back. I hope they stick around, and build up a new community in our garden. These "convergent ladybugs" (Hippodamia convergens) are a different species from the ones we typically find in our garden (mostly Harmonia axyridis, the Asian lady beetle), with a narrower body, duller darker red coloration, and more consistent spot pattern.
I noticed a few today on a little walk through the garden - so with some luck, this will be a gift that keeps on giving!
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June 28, 2009. Yeah, it's that time of year again when insect sightings get to be just about as interesting as new plants coming into bloom. Not that these little flies are anything out of the ordinary - but I was still pleasantly surprised to find them as I set up my camera to take a picture of the interestingly twisted buds of Phlox 'Natascha'. The more interesting insect find was yesterday, but unfortunately the fierce-looking creature (probably an ambush bug of sorts) flew away before I properly trained my camera on it.
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one of the first photos taken with my brand new Zuiko ED 50 f/2.0 lens
July 18, 2009. It's that time of year again... The metallic-sheened buggers are everywhere, munching holes into everything.
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Nigella hispanica 'African Bride'
July 20, 2009. Can you tell I'm digging my new camera lens? I finally splurged on a macro lens for my Olympus E-510, and it's been fun lugging a tripod around the garden, aiming my camera at anything willing to sit down long enough for me to focus. But some subjects are unmistakably more photogenic than others. Take this Nigella hispanica. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought it was an exotic passionflower! We've grown its cousin N. damascena for as long as we've been gardening, but this new one is a treat - not as pretty, but I like odd...
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Max, Ben, and Lily enjoy the water
August 01, 2009. I spent a good amount of time over the past couple of weeks in our swimming pond not to leisurely splash around, but in a quest to rid it of the carpet of algae laying on its floor. We've had the pond for nearly three years now, and it always goes through cycles where algae grow, slithering in the gentle currents, out from the rocks to which they attach themselves. This year, we must have had a surplus of nutrients, and algae just laid themselves down, to decompose on the pond bottom (with sub-optimal fragrance results). After trying several approaches, some involving sump pumps and elaborate filtration schemes, I found that the most effective means of de-algification involved a man (me) and a strainer (one of the ones I use for cleaning seed) and lots of surface dives to scoop up the green stuff. Luckily, my hard work paid off: the kids are once again enjoying the pond. Meanwhile, my job has shifted to harvesting the pebbles that slide to the bottom level, and redistributing them to higher levels to hide the black rubber lining. Low maintenance? I think not. But it's a pleasant job, in the heat of summer.
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The hypertufa face was crafted by Herb from Point Phillip Perennials
August 02, 2009. Remember that journal entry from April 25th? That cutting garden looked like a blank slate at the time, with potential for neatly arranged patches of colorful flowers. Well, it didn't quite happen that way. Years of rampant growth of fast-growing flowers such as purple amaranth, flower-of-an-hour, Brazilian verbena, and summer poinsettia conspired to produce a mass of seedlings which (even after concerted attempts to limit their numbers) produced a colorful tangle of medium-tall flowering plants. Mixed with the purposely seeded cosmos and bachelor's buttons, along with the perennial sea lavender we left in place and the border annuals along the front, it's a visual blast all right, even if it's still as far from a traditional cutting garden as ever before.
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It's sunnier up there
August 11, 2009. Almost two years ago, I triumphantly announced the arrival of a new era in rose-tending at our Lush Gardens: the planting of a New Dawn rose. But last year, this old stand-by climber was overshadowed by three additional roses that made their entry that spring: Citrus Splash, Black Cherry, and Pink Knockout. While those bloomed their heads off in a sunny garden area, New Dawn was less forthcoming with flowers, probably because it receives only part-day sun. It also failed to climb up the arbor I had so thoughtfully provided for its benefit. We're now well into another season, and finally there's some climbing going on - New Dawn has reached near the top of the arbor - up, up, toward the sky!
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Peck's skipper on Verbena bonariensis
August 15, 2009. The skippers are back! For a few weeks now, the garden has been aflutter with these fuzzy butterflies. Not as glamorous as their larger, more colorful brethren, but they make up for it in sheer numbers, pluck, and airspeed. Most common around here are the silver-spotted skipper and Peck's skipper.
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August 23, 2009. Two weeks ago I made one of my treks out to Point Phillip Perennials, on the other end of the Lehigh Valley. Their fall perennial sale usually raises me from my summer-heat-induced garden apathy, and I always return with a good crop of new plants. So also this year. The perennials for sun quickly found places in the garden. But with the shady characters, I face a problem: I bought them to help in the transition of our side garden from a sunny space (ten years ago) to a dappled shade zone (mostly due to the large weeping cherry in its center). But what to do with all of those plants already living there? I've run out of sunny borders to put them, so I have to make some hard choices - which invites procrastination. And that's why, two weeks later, the assembly of hostas, heuchera, tricyrtis, athyrium, and pulmonaria is still patiently waiting in a corner of the lawn.
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Chippy's new friend, a 24-volt powerhouse
September 09, 2009. Thirteen years ago, after I moved into the neighborhood and the mounds of construction soil had been transformed into expanses of lawn, I invested in my first modest push mower - a red 4HP MTD unit, as basic as it gets. It has served me well all these years, but it finally gave up the ghost (my attempts to repair it helped the demise along, I'm afraid). So last weekend, I bit the bullet and shelled out for a new lawn-mowing device. Ta-da! Behold the Black & Decker CMM1200 cordless electric lawn mower. After my purchase of a McCullough electric chipper/shredder, it was only a matter of time before the gas can would become obsolete at our Lush Gardens. That day has arrived. Our lawn is a bit large for this mower - it is recommended for lots no larger than 1/3 acre, and ours is almost 1/2 acre - but with all my efforts to conquer the lawn and convert it to garden through the years, the lawn area has shrunk almost enough almost, because I came up about one minute short of finishing the entire lawn on a single battery charge on my first attempt. I may need to develop a different routine - perhaps do the front yard one day, the back yard the next. Anyway, I think it will be worth it, to get away from the noise and the fumes.

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September 13, 2009. Late summer into fall is the messiest season in the garden. From the stark landscape of winter come the prim new beginnings of early spring, where each plant can be admired individually. The exuberance of late spring and early summer follows, and everything in the garden seems just right, colorful and bountiful but still in proportion. Then come the dog days of summer, and the Japanese beetles, and flowers turn to seedpods and the garden takes on a messy-mop look. But it's not necessarily a bad hair day I think of it as a funky 'do. In the scene here, sprays of blue wildflower asters on floppy stems provide some color among the developing panicles of sea oats, the seedheads of beetle-bitten swamp mallow, reddish-brown stalks where Siberian irises shone months ago all offset by 'Diabolo' ninebark, now featuring its darkest coloration. For each season a different feeling, that's what a garden is all about.
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October 26, 2009. Oh, it's a typical autumn allright - veering between days of being pelted by windswept cold rain, and glorious mild sunny days with that particular quality of light... We had one of each this past weekend: after Saturday's winds blew most of the rest of the leaves off of many trees, Sunday was a delight. I don't spend enough time in the garden this season - it's about to dusk when I get home from work, and weekends seem to fill themselves with other activities - but when I do, I enjoy just strolling around, not doing much of anything in particular, and taking in the sights. Still, I was surprised by this one, the screaming colors of the hardy mum and the Japanese beautyberry competing for attention in a vivid vignette. Better enjoy it now, soon the only gardening left to do will be indoors.
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October 27, 2009. When the autumn sun hits it just right, this Sedum 'Angelina' is just about the brightest thing in the garden. It's nice year-round, but somehow it really shines this time of year. It helps that it's planted in our front rock garden, right in the corner of the driveway and the front walk, where you can't help but notice it every time you walk by.

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November 22, 2009. My gardening slipped into a lull over the past month or two - even on the nicer weekend days (and those were rare for a while there) I didn't venture out into the garden as much as I would have in other years. Too bad, because there's always lots to look at in the garden in autumn - and what's more, lots to do, too! In the last few days, I finally took some time to haul chippy out of the shed and comminute some freeze-killed debris. I don't take down all the stalks at this time - the Nepeta subsessilis shown here, for example, still looks better in upright form with its raggedy seedheads than it would as cut-off stubble. But many other dead stalks have now been reduced to shreds. There's lots more, so I'm hoping for more pleasant days like today!
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Anemone 'Prince Henry'
November 29, 2009. Snow on a pleasant late-autumn day? The bright white mops of shedding anemone seedheads sure took me by surprise on my leisurely stroll through the side garden this morning. I must have caught them at just the right time - they get nice and fluffy when they are actively shedding, but only last a few days in that state. I'm just about done harvesting seeds (only Aconitum carmichaelii is still ripening up its seeds; I harvested them in mid-December last year). Only a few very hardy plants are still in bloom among them, one of the ladybells in the side garden, and Karvinsky's fleabane in the rock garden. Yep, the season is winding down... But have no fear, 2010 is already here, in the form of seed-starting activities. Due to bad timing on my part, I already have a few seedling varieties under lights; they'll be joined by dozens more in months to come.
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December 24, 2009. A couple of snowfalls have interfered with my good intentions of doing more garden cleanup before the dead of winter arrived - but I'm not complaining, it looks like we'll still have a pretty white view outside when Christmas morning arrives, even if there isn't more snow in the forecast. Right now, there's plenty of interesting, stark pictures of stalks and seedheads to be taken in the garden - but not a whole lot of lively green. This holly here is one of the few exceptions - it's the "boy" English holly we ordered years ago to serve as a stud for the variegated ladies we had previously planted. It quite obviously wasn't a boy, but I guess that worked out alright in the end - the variegated beauties are no longer with us, while our transgendered stud brings bright red berries every year!
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Last modified: January 17, 2009
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