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Garden journal - all of 2010

 

February 07, 2010. Still in the middle of the winter journal lull. Yesterday brought a nice snow storm to our area, dropping 6-8" of powder on our garden. The area in the picture here is part of our side garden, featuring a bench whose slats rotted out some time ago (but which we keep around for general ornamental value), and a gazing globe set aside for the cold season. Not much outdoor gardening going on, though. Since I didn't get around to much garden cleanup this fall, I'll have my work cut out for me once milder weather returns. But that doesn't mean my gardening activities overall are in a lull as well: I'm in the busy season of seed starting, with dozens of varieties already growing under the lights, over a hundred varieties in various stages of anticipated germination, and my usual worries over space under the lights are starting to crop up. I received my seed exchange order from NARGS last week, and expect to see the HPS/MAG order any day now. I'm overwhelmed, but in a most exciting way.
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February 10, 2010. It snowed a bit today. This view from the back door across the patio and the little pond (can you find it?) was taken in the morning, before the bulk of the snow arrived. It's good to have a real heavy snowfall again, after quite a few years of relatively light snow years. Between what was left from the snow we got over the weekend and what came down today, there's a good 19 inches on the ground. I hope it sticks around for a while, even if the shoveling today didn't do my elbow's tendonitis much good.

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March 06, 2010. And the winner of this year's cutest seedling award.... Acaena myriophylla! Every year I'm charmed by a few seedlings among the many species and varieties I start through winter and early spring. Usually seedlings of a species I haven't previously grown, that are particularly sweet in their baby clothes. This year is no exception in the new-species department (see my list of newly grown varieties), and sure enough there are some charmers. The Acaena featured here is mostly an unknown entity to me - I don't know if I'll manage to grow it successfully, let alone whether it will survive our winters. But that's part of the excitement and fun of do-it-yourself gardening!

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March 15, 2010. Hey, here are some more seedlings to make baby sounds at out of sheer excitement over their new-born cuteness. I had tried several times before to grow tree peonies of various species from traded seed, but never had any luck. This time it appears I have succeeded, due in no small part to excellent instructions from my trading partner. She detailed how the seeds first sprout a single root at room temperature, after which they need to be subjected to cold conditions for a while to develop a more extensive root system. All of that took place in baggies, with a bit of damp potting soil stuffed alongside the seeds. When I took them out of the fridge (sure enough, more roots!), I put them straight into pots, and sure enough, seedlings pushed up a few days later. The whispy leaves atop burgundy stems open up further after a day or two. I'm hoping I can give these the right conditions to grow on to maturity (I failed already once with P. obovata, which perished shortly after I set them into the nursery area). Wish me luck!

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I think I'll call this the Curve Garden
March 20, 2010. The last few days the weather has been divine - sunny, with temperatures around 70 degrees. It feels like we should be well into all kinds of spring flowers, but so far only bulbous irises, crocuses, and hellebores have been providing color. But of course the weather has drawn everybody outside - including me! I've been wondering ever since last summer how I'm going to manage the sun-loving perennials that are getting too much shade in our side garden (that weeping cherry is getting mighty big!), and decided not too long ago that at least some of them could go into what we have usually called the cutting garden: a bumped-out border along the fence that runs the left side of our garden. Although its intended use was for cutflowers, that's not how it ever worked out; instead, it has been a playground for self-seeding and indoor-sown annuals, with a few perennials thrown in somewhat at random. A pleasant jumble, to be sure, but never a showpiece. Eyeing up the space a few days ago, I decided to go one step bolder, and join the cutting garden and the herb garden to its right (another bumped-out border, separated by a giant boulder left over from the big pond construction), enlarging both to form a wide curvaceous (two-bump) border. So I spent today suffering the consequences from my decision: stripping sod, digging into the exposed clay soil, pulling better soil from my storage pile behind the compost bins, mixing it all together, and putting the plastic edging back in place. Is it just me, or are those projects always defined by soil logistics? Where do I put the pile of sod, and what do I do with the rocks that I excavate in droves? Where does the clay soil go before mixing with the crumblier stuff, and how do I keep that trench open enough that I don't have to dig once again to get the edging in place? Somehow, a whole lot more dirt gets moved around than seems necessary, but by the end of the day, a few sore muscles and a red neck later, the job is done. Amy even came out and pitched in! It will be a few weeks before we figure out what new plants will inhabit the space, but at least the hard work is out of the way!

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March 21, 2010. Today was even warmer than yesterday (our outdoor thermometer broke, so I don't know just how warm; it certainly felt like summer). With water temperatures on the rise, and decay processes about to kick into high gear, it was time to take pre-emptive measures to improve water quality in our swimming pond. The first stage, shown in the picture here, was to chop all of last year's growth down in the bog filter. Doing so removes all nutrients stored in the plant remains from the pond's chemical balance, and makes room for new growth, to take up a fresh load of nutrients from the circulating water. I'm pleased to report that a few frogs were already out enjoying spring (although they didn't much enjoy my intervention into their habitat).

While stage one was completed using the brand new rubber boots my parents gave me for Christmas, stage two involved my T-shirt and shorts as protective gear, and a good deal more trepidation: my outfit served as a make-shift wet-suit, to keep me at least somewhat warm in the still chilly water, as I retrieved scoop after scoop of algae and decaying plant matter from the bottom of the main pond. About a half hour was as much as I could take (a hot shower felt nice, but didn't stop the shivers). So there's plenty more work ahead of me, as I barely scratched the surface of the algae layer.
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March 27, 2010. If you ever decide to build a rock garden - be bold! Since I built ours about five years ago, I've overhauled it twice, making it bigger and taller both times (the last time was just two years ago!). As I discovered again yesterday and today, overhauling a rock garden is no small task. Literally nothing stays in place: all the plants have to come out, all the rocks get moved, and every time it gets larger in area or height, you need many more rocks and wheelbarrows full of soil. But undertaking the job has its advantages as well: over the years, some thugs take over a lot more space than they were originally allotted, and it's easy to misjudge just how out of proportional the plants are until you pull it all apart and have to decide how much of each to replace. I decided to leave three perpetual offenders out of the garden altogether in this round, and reduced the bulk of several others. The final result: a rather empty-looking rockery - which is fine, with the results of this and last year's NARGS seed exchanges, I should have extra rock-citizens aplenty when we get a bit futher into spring. Although I added a bit of extra area, the main direction of extension was up: the southwest-facing side of the garden (left in the picture here) now slopes up much more strongly, giving the whole area an additional 10" or so of height. That means that the back side has more of a slope too, which makes it easier to create planting pockets, for keeping plants in their space. The sunlight will also be less intense on that side, which will be nice for the rockery plants that prefer not to be baked.
And although it still is a far cry from a natural-looking rock outcropping, the new version looks a bit less like a wedding cake!

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April 04, 2010. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain! What? No, it's not that the garden is too dry - we had a downpour Monday and Tuesday. It's just that all this warm sunny weather is wearing me out! It just wouldn't be right to stay inside, so I'm out all day, doing this job and that in the garden, none of which by itself is exhausting but at the end of the weekend... I started out Friday afternoon and Saturday morning redoing part of the side garden: the part that used to feature an "herb circle" (long since superseded by an herb garden elsewhere, its stone steps completely obscured by the plants that took the herbs' place) as well as a comely garden bench (the slats rotted out a few years ago, but I leave the metal structure in place as an ornament - I planted two ligularias to grow up through it). I completely rerouted the path; hopefully the new version will actually be navigable come summer. Some of the original denizens got replanted in the new beds; some made their way into the sunnier curve garden. And a few plants, including some that I had in temporary holding awaiting their new partly shaded home, took up new residence. There's lots of room for more, as I once again eliminated bunches of plants.
The rest of the weekend was a hodge-podge. Plenty of plants from all over the garden found their way into pots for the upcoming sale; I replaced the blades in chippy, and made a dent in the towering plant debris pile (spring cleanup does that). Then I hacked down the last of the large grasses and other dead stalks from last year, and pruned some of the shrubs that were getting too pushy (the debris pile is as towering as ever now).
So why, with the cherries, apricot, flowering pear, peaches, assorted hellebores and daffodils, a few tulips, violets, and rock cress in bloom, did I choose to accompany this entry by a picture of fuzzy new growth on a Western serviceberry? Because I'm always sure to notice all those bright blooms, but I still like to be surprised by things I haven't ever paid such close attention to!

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April 11, 2010. Ack! What a week! Following on the heels of plenty of unseasonably warm weather in March and early April, we had three days of temperatures in the high 80s this past week. Which meant that all the flowerbuds that were patiently waiting to show off their color went into overdrive, and bloomed themselves out in one fell swoop. The dogwood that normally blooms in May did its thing a full month early. And Magnolia 'Elizabeth', pictured at right, already looked tired a day after it started blooming. Amy made fun of me this week, as I was cursing Ma Nature for making the height of early spring (the season to which I look forward most) last a mere three days. But I guess I'm over my frustration by now, as a milder (but still warm) weekend got me focused on many other things. I'm aching now, mostly from taking down the massive yew that had dressed up the front of our house for the past dozen years (it had started to obscure a front window and just got too big for its space), and moving the smaller (but still sizeable) Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Snow' from a different part of the garden to take the yew's place. When I first got 'Snow', I was under the mistaken impression that it was a dwarf conifer. When it grew taller than me in the past couple of years, I knew I would have to move it from the middle of the perennial border where I had planted it - but had procrastinated on doing so until now. My bed will feel mighty good tonight.

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April 14, 2010. A neat surprise - Amy fired up the grill this weekend, and reached for a utensil in a drawer that had been left ajar. What she found was a bird's nest, full of promise with eggs. Mamabird wasn't too happy about the grilling operation, but we got out of the way quickly, and the avian family seems to be doing just dandy (no littluns just yet, but it can't be long now).

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April 18, 2010. Another busy weekend. Breezy and cool, following a thunderstorm on Friday - good spring gardening weather. Potting up plants for the sale was in high gear, but will be slowing down from here on out: it's time to start getting this year's seedlings into the ground! Meanwhile, I spent some time getting an area of the side garden that was getting overrun by several bullies into a fresh and clean state. The offenders included the imposter adenophora (most likely Campanula rapunculoides), which I've not been able to banish from the garden despite years of concerted effort); coltsfoot, a weed which I was foolish enough to allow to develop out of curiosity, before realizing it belongs to the conquer-the-world-by-roots clan; and sea oats, which I appreciate in their proper place, but have the unfortunate tendency to seed around indiscriminately.
As part of my efforts to clear out the woody-plant nursery area of the vegetable garden, I waged battle on my Amorpha fruticosa specimen, which was surprisingly strongly rooted for its size. Amorpha won the first round, skinning my pinky finger in a couple of places with one of its stubs. But after seeking medical attention from Amy, I won the battle. I don't think I have a use for Amorpha in our garden (I'm sad to admit, because it certainly has its charm). If you'd like to own the tree that eventually succumbed to my superior hacking skills, let me know - I'd prefer to give it a home than send it through Chippy.
And guess what, even with all the frenzied activity, I still had time to stroll around for a few minutes, just to observe what's going on in the garden, and noticed this pretty little columbine by our shed. We have none like it in the garden (most of ours are Nora Barlow types), and I didn't plant it there. But I'm happy to accept this delightful gift.
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May 02, 2010. It feels good to sit here, showered and in clean clothes, a little past 11pm on the Sunday after Plant Sale #10. As in previous years it's been a hectic few days. I always take a day or two off before the sale, just to get myself organized for the madness that ensues around eight o'clock on Saturday morning (Amy counted 39 people in our two-car garage at 8:10!). It was fun as always, with plenty of familiar faces, and somewhat predictable favorite selections (although there are always surprises: plants that used to sell out didn't, and some that were not as popular in previous years went quickly this time around). It seems like the whole affair is over earlier every year - this time, the crowds had died down by 9:30, replaced by a gentler trickle of customers until about 11, when it was just about completely over. Which suits me fine, because now I have the usual unsold plants to deal with: do they go into our own garden areas, or into nursery or sale plot gardens? How to organize the wild variety of pots that were left behind by recycling-minded plant lovers? And, not least, the ongoing task of getting this year's seedlings into the ground. The photo here shows some sturdy seedlings of Salvia azurea, a species I haven't previously grown. They'll live in the nursery area for a year; hopefully, they'll survive winter, so that next spring they can find permanent places in our garden (with perhaps a few left over for the sale - after all, I'm always looking to update my assortment!)
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May 03, 2010. Worth a chuckle: Amy got me a Dilbert calendar for Christmas, which I keep at work, reading the daily strip on weekdays. That means I get to read three on Mondays. On the back of each strip page is a "Daily Extra" feature - usually some silly puzzle, useless advice, or factoid. The entry for May 1st, the day of my plant sale: "More money is spent on gardening than on any other hobby in the United States". I hope that for those who attended Saturday's sale the cash outlay was money well spent, anyway.
 

May 05, 2010. A just-because picture to share today. For sure, Atlas poppy is a sight for sore eyes when in full bloom, as it is for a long stretch of mid spring throug summer - but the anticipation as its buds swell and offer peeping-tom glimpses of what is to come is also delightful.
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May 08, 2010. Took my parents to Morris Arboretum today. We'd never been there, and were impressed with the diverse gardens and scenery, on a large plot tucked into the bustling suburbs of Philadelphia. This nearly man-high wall is part of the rose garden (which housed a much larger variety of plants than its name suggests). The tapestry of trailing and tufted plants tucked in between the stone joints was stunning, and makes me wish I had a natural stone wall to attempt my own version.
Picked up a few shade plants at the plant sale the arboretum just happened to be running on the day of our visit - including a few trilliums, which I hope will do well in the patch of our back yard island newly anointed as "woodland garden".

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May 16, 2010. Our garden is reasonably diverse - it features sunny and shady borders, a rock garden, a couple of water gardens, a vegetable garden, and something that might charitably be called a wildflower garden. But it did not, until recently, include a woodland garden. I've not bothered to look up the definition of a woodland garden, but in my mind it's distinct from a shady garden in the fact that the shade is cast by a canopy of trees that are very much part of the garden itself. Our first shade garden was shady courtesy only of its position in a northern nook of our house. Since then, other garden areas have become shadier as hedges have grown up, and large ornamental trees started to make their presence felt across ever larger swaths of garden. But none of those areas feels remotely like a woodland. Well, it finally occurred to me that our back yard island garden was starting to have elements of a very small-scale woodland: its canopy is low, composed mainly by a redbud and a crab apple, with supporting roles from a chaste tree and a Tatarian maple. But together, those trees cast enough shade that many of the original plants, placed when the trees were saplings, had faded away, their place taken by a messy mix of self-seeding perennials. When finally the Maximillian sunflower that had always taken center stage failed to make its appearance this spring, the wide open space presented itself as an opportunity to do something new. So last week, the miniature woodland garden was born. Its first inhabitants include our 'Metallic Blue Lady' strain hybrid hellebore, which was getting lost in its original location; a couple of trilliums acquired at the Morris Arboretum sale, along with named varieties of Acorus gramineus and mondo grass; and several of the arisaemas and pinellias that have been coming up in our seedling nursery area, whose identities I haven't managed to keep straight. It's still early in the season, and I don't know how the concept will hold up as everything fills out through summer. But it's fun to experiment, and I like being able to talk about 'our woodland garden', even if the woodland is postage-stamp size.
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May 26, 2010. I enjoy the garden immensely this time of year. The spring rush is over (nearly all those seedlings have made their way into garden and holding areas!), and while there is plenty left to do, there is also time to enjoy the lush full growth and many flowers. The rock garden, overhauled earlier this season, is already richly in bloom with penstemons, coreopsis, dragonheads, stonecrops, and yellow flax. The bit of rain we got on Sunday didn't hurt, either. Hot weather has arrived - perfect for a leisurely garden stroll to feed the eyes. I hope your gardens are likewise bringing you joy right now!

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May 30, 2010. The weather has taken a turn to the warmer. Some hot and sticky days this past week, but luckily, today it was merely warm, not too humid. A perfect day for the swimming pond, which is still in the process of being cleaned up for the new season. I've now assembled a duo of long-handled tools: one with a strainer on its working end, for scooping plant debris and algae from the pond; the other with a small broiler pot, for lifting the pebbles that accumulate in the bottom of the pond and redistribute them to their original locations, where they hide the rubber liner. Today was the first time this year the kids came in too, so we did some exploring. One find: several damselflies emerging from their larval stage into adulthood. I liked the one pictured here best: almost using the lilypad as its grand stage, making a triumphant appearance onto the scene (complete with larger-than-life shadow).
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Pachydiplax longipennis
June 03, 2010. Ah yes, dragonfly season has arrived. As our swimming pond has matured, it has supported more of the lifecycle of these majestic insects. And this weekend, it was time for some of those larvae to transform into their winged adult form. We found several brand new blue dashers, apparently not yet able to fly, wings still folded a bit funny, hidden in nooks near the water. While I took several photos of the whole insect, I just happened to attempt a close-up shot - and was amazed at the result. Never before had I captured the faceted eyes so clearly! Even with all the careful tripod-based photography I attempt, sometimes an old hand-held shot outdoes it all :-)
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June 07, 2010. Plants come and go in any garden - and I suspect the turnover in ours is quite a bit larger than in most. A good part of the fun of gardening to me is experimenting with growing new things, many of which turn out to be not hardy, misplaced, or just unhappy. Every year there are many occasions when I suddenly realize that this or that plant just failed to return - in many cases despite seeming happy the previous season. So it was, I thought with this Kenilworth ivy, which had the misfortune to be planted in a corner off our patio behind the gas grill, where it had to contend with many much taller neighbors. I had noticed it was struggling last year, and didn't notice its return at all this year - until I stepped out onto our patio today, and there it was - right by my feet. It had traveled about six feet along the foundation of the house to find a spot where it got a bit more light, and was presenting its happy-faced flowers and dainty little leaves to the incoming sun rays. Brought a happy smile to my face, too!

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June 11, 2010. Innit pretty? This beautifully arranged bud belongs to Cephalaria gigantea (giant scalehead). Its big floppy creamy yellow scabious flowers are fine too, but the bud really caught my eye today. I'm establishing the plant in our newly created curve garden, now that the location its ancestors used to inhabit has become too shady for its liking. Our second-year plants are hardly "giant", topping out at about three foot right now - but I expect they will reach their tall upright stature by next year.
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No glandular feature on the style above its base
June 26, 2010. Today I undertook a project that had been on my to-do list for a while: figuring out if any of the plant species in my garden that arrived as Adenophora (either as plants or as seed) are in fact members of that genus. They can be distinguished from their close cousins, the campanulas, by dissecting a flower and looking at the base of the style. Since they're all blooming, today was the moment of truth. Sadly, it turns out all of my supposed adenophoras are campanulas (I don't know which ones). You can read about my project on the new Adenophora Project page.
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June 27, 2010. One of the best parts of the swimming pond is all the wildlife; this year, the bullfrogs have become bolder, and don't seem to mind spending their time right alongside humans of various ages even the ones who delight in catching them, running around with them for a while, and then releasing them back into the pond. While swimming yesterday, Lily spotted (no pun intended) a particularly speckly one, just lazily sunning herself on the ford area where our filtration bog overflows back into the main pond. Not at all concerned with the attention, she allowed me to take her picture from as close up as I wished. The size of her tympanic organ, about the same size as her eye, identifies her as a girlfrog (boys have bigger ones). She must fancy herself queen of the pond, with her flashy get-up.
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July 11, 2010. I'm finding it hard to work up much motivation to go out into the garden these days. Four weeks of heat and no rain have taken a big toll on most plants. Even with sprinklers and hand-watering efforts, many plants perished or are looking pretty awful right now. The side garden is usually an undulating sea of foliage in various textures at this time of year - but as the photo here shows, many contributors to that sea are looking beat. We finally got a nice rainstorm a couple nights ago - too late to turn the appearance of the garden around, but hopefully in time to save many plants from an even worse fate. At least it's an opportunity to look around for plants that are still looking good, and working more of them into garden areas designed for drought tolerance.
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Luna on Diabolo
July 18, 2010. Wow, I'd seen photos of luna moths before, but I'd never seen one for real. This evening, Amy was sitting on the patio, and spotted what looked like a white leaf in our burgundy-leaved 'Diabolo' ninebark, right above our little pond. I was called to the scene in short order, approaching oh so carefully at first, afraid to disturb the majestic creature. But Mrs. Luna seemed entirely unperturbed, so I got closer, stepping into the pond to take pictures, and finally snapped off the entire branchlet she was clutching. At that point, I figured we had found an expired moth ("She's pushing up the daisies!"), but a little later, she let us know through little movements that she wasn't quite ready to meet her maker (although she must have known her life was short: Luna moths live for only about a week as adults). When I'd taken as many photographs as I knew what to do with, I positioned her back in a nearby shrub. By that time, it was pretty dark outside. Soon after I had set her down, her wings started a trembling motion, so I stuck around for a while, waiting to see what would happen. I was kind of expecting a slow rousing, an elegant start of flight - but it was much more sudden than that: abruptly, she quickly fluttered upwards, made a single loop-de-loop over the patio, and took off over the house. No doubt, in search of a boy-moth and some tasty trees for her offspring to enjoy. A delightful end to a hot weekend.
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In retrospect, it seems so obviously fake...
August 24, 2010. My rotten little eight-year old boy, that darn Ben, tricked me the other day! One evening at dusk, as I was approaching the rock garden to plant one of the perennials I had secured on my recent trip to Point Phillip Perennials, I spotted a big bug on one of the rocks. It looked unlike any critter I'd seen, with dullish yellow and green coloration. Without taking a second glance, I ran inside for my camera, eager to add a fancy new insect to my critter pages. It wasn't until I'd taken several photos that I realized this bug was awfully still, and had some odd muddy blotches. At that point, I flipped it over, to reveal a decidedly plastic underbody. There could be no doubt - this was Ben at work. He's the bugboy in the family, enjoying both live insects of all kinds and their toy counterparts. When confronted, he confessed to having dug the bug up nearby, and posed it to show off his trophy discovery. Grumble!

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October 30, 2010. OK, so I've been taking a physical and mental break from gardening. The drought and its after-effects on the garden depressed my garden spirits so much that I preferred to be engaged in other activities (several of which have recently ramped up - I now enjoy seeing gardens pass by as I zip along on a road bike). But by now, the garden has moved on, fairly happily engaged in the things it does in Autumn after water levels were replenished by some big rainstorms. So I guess I should return my attention to horticulture as well. I'm afraid my seed collecting suffered from the inactivity, but there are still plenty of seeds to collect (and more have yet to ripen). On a walk through the garden this afternoon, it struck me how many blues I encountered. Fall is known for its fiery hues, and sure enough there were the mums, some remaining sun/coneflower types, and hot pink spikes on Bistorta 'Firetail' - but they were offset by the deep blue of Carmichael's monkshood, the clearer blues of several campanulas, a nice display of Rabdosia longituba, vibrant blue blooms on a hybrid salvia, and even some asters in the blue spectrum. And then of course there's all the seedheads. The oddball ones pictured here are from pufferfish milkweed I've been watching them for a few weeks, as the've grown from grassy green soft-spiny balls to today's pale-green to purple elephantine contraptions. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to successfully integrate the plant into a planting scheme, but it's certainly contributing to keeping the garden interesting in the final weeks of the garden season - before the first hard freeze shuts things down for the year.

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December 25, 2010. Merry Christmas! Breaking yet another long radio silence (induced at least in part by an unfortunate bicycle crash, resulting in a nasty shoulder injury) to report on winter sights at the Lush Gardens. Not so lush, in fact - the garden has definitely reached that winter dead-stick look. Although we've had one decent snowfall and some pretty nippy temperatures, the snow is long gone, and today the was chilly but not uncomfortable: good for an observation stroll. This is a good time to see the bones of the garden - and one of the boniest sights is the tangle of ghostly white brambles of Rubus thibetanus. It has to fight for recognition when surrounded by its eager neighbors in summer, but right now, it has the scene all to itself!
Seed-starting has commenced, albeit at a less frantic pace than previous years. I'm looking forward to a season of gardening with friendlier weather than 2010. Wishing all of you a healthy dose of gardening fortune and serendipitous magic in 2011!

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Last modified: February 07, 2010
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