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Garden journal - all of 2013

 

January 26, 2013. After a rather mild start to January, we were finally hit with real freezing temperatures this past week, down to the low teens overnight and not rising above the low twenties in the day – topped off by a bit of a snow shower yesterday. So at this point, the perennials' mettle has been adequately tested: evergreen, or hibernating through winter? Most of our plants obviously fall into the second category, but it's always nice to see a few buck the trend. The rock garden is a good place to spot patches of live foliage this season. And that's where I found this Limonium virgatum ssp. dictyocladum this morning. It's one of those minute plants that can only be appreciated in the rock garden setting. I had to blow the powdery snow off, but underneath, the tiny leaves looked surprisingly fresh after the abuse they'd been served this week. The bare flower stalks from summer still remain Other photo ops included the curious buds of Parrotia persica and the flowers of our witch hazel. I'm glad there are some things to look at outside, even as the basement is filling up with the seedlings that will head outdoors this spring.
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March 10, 2013. What a wonderful weekend we just had! Temperatures into the fifties, a bit of sun, not much wind – there were no excuses not to be outside. And so I was, for most of the weekend. Not all of it gardening – my new hobby of cycling must be indulged as well, of course – but at least I made some inroads on garden cleanup. First I hacked away at the lifeless remains of last year's driveway bed, which combined with the family Christmas tree in the utility trailer I purchased last year as a replacement for the pickup truck. The truck, which had hauled many a load of compost, mushroom soil, and mulch in the years I owned it, had started to develop more problems than I wished to keep up with, so it finally had to go. I'm still getting used to a trailer (give me a wide berth when I'm trying to back up!), but I think it will be a good trade-off in the end. So yesterday it made its inaugural run to the township recycling center to dispose of the first load of cleanup debris (and that Christmas tree, of course). Then I turned my sights on the vegetable garden. We have ambitions (as we do many years, to be perfectly honest) to harvest more than usual from our vegetable garden this year, by making sensible choices about what to grow, and by keeping the undesired inhabitants under control. While those less desired things include charming reseeders such as dill and red perilla, the biggest problems are infestations of bindweed and mugwort. What better time to get a head start on their removal than now, before their leaves start feeding their underground root systems? So I dug a good part of the garden, carefully removing the brittle white bindweed rhizomes wherever I found them, along with the darker-colored creeping root systems of the mugwort. They'll be back for sure, but I feel good having had the first strike this year. And amid all of that digging, I spotted the first flowers of the year! Not on an on-purpose plant, though – the cheerful blue flowers belonged to a patch of weedy ground veronica that had also colonized the vegetable garden. I left them in place for now – you can't get cross with a plant that smiles at you even before the hellebores do (well, OK, they're blooming too, but I hadn't paid attention to them yet). Eventually of course they'll fall to my weeding efforts as well, when beets, lettuce, or cabbage need to be planted. But for now, they can stay.
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March 16, 2013. Our parrot tree has been living in a corner of our front yard for a good number of years now. It used to be the corner of death – several other small trees and shrubs preceded it, and all died. Not so the Parrotia, which has been quite robust, even though it grows slowly. Its primary ornamental attribute, as far as I'm concerned, is its fall color. But it does have flowers, too. I first saw evidence of them in the spring of 2011, when I found the brown spent flowers after the weather had turned warm. So I put a reminder on my calendar for March 2012 to look for flowers – which I did, but no luck: it did not flower last year. So this year is the first time I get to see the full development of buds and flowers. The red pompoms were already starting to show themselves in February, but didn't really emerge until we had a few warm days last weekend. By the time I got around to taking a picture today, the weather had turned again – to wet snow. At least the white offsets the dark red flowers nicely. It's been fun to witness them up close – but the flowers will never replace the brilliantly colored leaves as the primary ornamental feature. From a distance, they just look like dark protrusions from the bare stalks (which still hold last year's dried-up leaves, which doesn't help to pretty up the picture). But hey, at this time of year I'm happy for anything that's willing to announce it's aliveness – however demurely.
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March 24, 2013. This weekend marked a few firsts for our family. The biggest news was our acquisition of two ducklings. Amy slyly got me to go on an errand with her, and suggested we stop by the local Tractor Supply Co outlet. Next thing I knew, we were leaving with two cheeping mallardlings, along with bags of supplies. The little ones are now living quite comfortably in our living room, cozy in a rabbit cage lined with pine shavings (which they get wet in an amazingly short amount of time). Provided they survive Lily's nearly non-stop attentions and make it out into the garden and our big pond, I'm sure they'll be photo-featured in an upcoming journal entry. But today's photo pertains to another first, more directly related to the upcoming gardening season: hypertufa! Amy and I have been curious about trying to make our own pots and troughs from the porous artificial rock material for years, but had never quite gotten around to it. This year, thinking about all the little rock garden plants I grow from seed that get lost in the big bad nursery area and perish within their first year, I was determined to provide better survival opportunities for some of those babies. Hypertufa containers seemed just the ticket – so yesterday I ventured out to get big bags of Portland cement, perlite, and milled peat moss, so that today I'd be ready to give it a go. I had plenty of help: Ben (in the photo here) and Lily helped to sift the big chunks out of the peat moss, and then to mix the cement, perlite, and peat moss in a roughly 2:3:3 ratio. Then Ben was in control of the water nozzle, spraying a little bit at a time until the mixture had the right consistency (it may have been a little too dry, in the end; hopefully that won't affect the results too much). When the building material was all ready, Amy joined the crew. We had already gone out to the dollar store to stock up on a range of containers to use as molds – the one in the photo here is a simple basket, which will have to be destroyed to remove it from the container we built inside it. Most of the others are plastic ones that we can hopefully reuse. Since this is our first go at this, we don't know if it will all work out – by a few days from now, when we attempt to remove the containers from the molds, we'll get our first indication whether we're likely to meet success. But then we'll still need to wait another several weeks for the whole thing to cure. So stay tuned – if all goes well, there will be photos of brand new troughs planted with darling little plants by summer!
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April 01, 2013. As promised in my last entry, an update on the ducks, who have by now explored the yard a bit. It's absolutely amazing how quickly ducks grow! When they came home with us, they were just little downy things, but now, not even two weeks later, they've grown into creatures that more resemble mature duck form. We had to rename them – Amy had initially settled on Brock and Lee, but when it became obvious we had two girls on our hands, they turned into Cally and Flower. They had some distinguishing features at first (not least of which was Cally's larger size), but as they grow into their adult feathers, it's becoming harder to tell them apart. In any case, they enjoy the back yard, especially the pond-side. Even though they can swim, they seem happier wading in the shallow bog filter, or just scuttling around the pebbles along the side. The crazy things try to eat everything – hopefully they'll figure out what's actually edible eventually. Quite endearingly, they follow us around the yard most of the time (I never fashioned myself as a mama duck, but there you have it). With the warmer weather upon us recently, it's only a matter of time now before they graduate to permanent outdoor status. Once they grow their wings, it will be up to them to decide whether they wish to make the Lush Gardens their permanent home, or seek their luck elsewhere.
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April 09, 2013. After skipping the plant sale last year, I was eager to put one together this year. I knew it was going to be a tight squeeze – I normally have it the first Saturday in May, but due to family plans, it would have to be the late Saturday in April instead. The ongoing cold weather into early April didn't help either – by the time the first few warmer days arrived last weekend, and I was ready to start preparing for the sale, there were just three weeks left. And hardly any plants were up! Quite discouraged, I made up my mind that I'd have to skip another year, especially given the busy schedule ahead (a few cycling events on the weekends, and kids soccer practice four evenings of the week). But Sunday was a nice day, a few more things seemed to pop up, and I made a bit of progress – so I changed my mind once again. There will be a plant sale of some kind this year. It will almost certainly be on a smaller scale than previous years, but hopefully I can offer something of interest to all of my gardening friends who have made the sale a regular stop in their spring schedule. Some plants are already potted up – see the growing list here. Wish me luck, as I frantically play catch-up – with some luck, I'll see you on April 27th!
 

Leibnitzia anandria
April 14, 2013. It's been a busy weekend, with every last bit of daylight spent outside. Not all gardening – I got a nice long bike ride in on Saturday morning, while the sun and wind dried out the soil soaked by Friday's downpours, and this afternoon was a prime example of the suburban dance, Amy and I rushing back and forth to get all three kids to their soccer games. But the rest of the sunlit hours I was out in the garden, evaluating what had and hadn't survived the previous season, digging up plants for the sale, finding new homes for some others – and once in a while actually paying attention to what the already-installed plants in the garden were doing. Finally, after a few warm days last week, most of the early- and mid-spring risers have poked up their heads, many displaying great promise for the season to come. I was surprised to find a couple of Leibnitz daisies in the rock garden this morning, because I thought they hadn't survived last summer; then I was even more surprised to find one of them blooming in its lowly way in the evening. They are sneaky that way: they quickly come into bloom in early spring, and then hide their sexual parts for a while; in late summer, they send up fully formed seedheads, on a new set of stalks. At least, that's how I think they do it – I tend to lose track of them in between the flowering and seeding stages.
With this weekend's harvest, I'm at about 140 varieties potted up for the sale. Quantities per variety are lower than previous years, but with another couple weeks left to add a few more species, the selection should be almost as good as in years past. To entice the plantaholics among my customers, I've added a few choice new varieties: I decided to put one of my prized four-year-old Paeonia ostii in the sale, along with a huge Japanese beautyberry (which takes up the biggest pot I could find in the shed) and some fine hellebore divisions. Many of the new ones will be smaller-growing plants, since I've grown so many rock garden plants in recent years, from the incredible NARGS seed exchanges.
I'll need every waking non-working hour between now and mid-May to finish up sale preparations, work on getting all the new seedlings planted, and otherwise get the garden ready for the new season. And I'm looking forward to being pleasantly tired every night.
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A peek at the plants potted up for sale
April 20, 2013. Phew! After two days of non-stop hard work – I took yesterday off to work in the garden – I feel like I'm close to being ready for the sale a week from today. For the most part, all the plants that need to be potted up for the sale are safely in their temporary containers, looking forward to new homes. Sure, there will be a few more added to the list between tomorrow and Friday, but the list won't change at nearly the frantic pace as it has over the past two weeks. The garage is still a mess, and will need to be completely overhauled to accept the display tables; many plants still needs tags, all of them need to be priced – so there is a boatload of work ahead of me, but the "enough plants already" moment is always a welcome turning point in plant sale preparation. I actually spent a good part of today's gardening getting the new seedlings out into the nursery area. This year, I have only a few weeks to get the many hundreds of seedlings into the ground, so things will stay just as busy after the sale!
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April 26, 2013. What happens when spring arrives late and the plant sale arrives early? A lot of bare-looking pots! On a normal year, by the first Saturday in May just about all perennials are showing some growth (there are some exceptions, which is why I've never offered Baptisia alba in the sale, for example). But this year, things didn't quite work out that way, and some of the late-rising perennials are just barely poking their heads up. That means that the last several things added to the plant sale sit in pots that look mighty empty. Such as the Agapanthus pot in the photo here. I finally decided to offer up two divisions of the plants I grew years ago – but you have to squint to see the little flat-bladed new growth emerging. Same goes for Rodgersia aesculifolia, Hibiscus moscheutos, Pinellia tripartita, Baptisia australis, and Asclepias tuberosa. And of course all the balloonflowers. So my customers tomorrow will have to trust me when I say there's strong plants in each of those empty-looking pots. Luckily, I believe I've built some trust over the past decade of plant sales. And if those plants don't sell, I have a bunch of places in my own garden areas (sadly neglected until after the sale, as usual) where they'd live quite happily. Now I'd better hurry off for last-minute preparations – I can't believe the sale is tomorrow!
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April 27, 2013. It feels good to sit down. Another plant sale come and gone – yay! We got lucky with a beautiful day: not only was it warm and sunny, but there was hardly any wind to blow plant signs all over the place. Every year the sale seems to be over earlier; I think there was only a slow trickle of customers after 9:30 this time around. Which does give me some time to actually talk to those fellow gardeners, rather than madly rushing all around the sale area to point out plants, remove signs for sold-out varieties, and reorganize where plants get moved out of place. Thank goodness Amy is around to take care of tallying and payment, because those first thirty minutes are all-out hectic.
By 11 am, the place was deserted, and I actually got to venture out and overhaul a section of our driveway bed that had gotten too overrun with thistles to deal with piece-meal. So while the last few customers swung by, I was digging out every bit of soil from that area, trying to get all the mint and thistle roots, setting aside the few desirables that still survived, and then putting the (compost-amended) soil back in place. An ulterior motive: to have another place ready to accept some of the many left-over plants looking for homes. So that's where one of the Agapanthus went (I expected those to sell quickly, but they didn't; I'm still trying to figure out the plant popularity thing!), as well as some irises, daylilies, dianthus, and assorted other perennials. Then the local Boy Scout troop came and delivered the mulch I had ordered, which meant I had to figure out which plants to put in the front perennial border so that all digging was done before the mulch went on. Several more perennials and loads of mulch later, I settled into post-sale mode proper: figuring out what to do with each of the hundreds of unsold plants. Many will go into the sale plot, some smaller ones to the nursery area to bulk up for another year; a good number will find their way into the various other garden areas. And I'm keeping a few aside to send to the local community college in case they can use them in their garden areas. A big operation, but it's well underway (and certainly doesn't take as much time as potting them up in the first place). So yep, I'm tired. Good night to you all – and thanks for stopping by the sale, if you were able to make it today!
 

May 04, 2013. It's been a busy week, with not so much time for tending the garden. But there's a lot of work to be done, so I've been getting up 15 minutes early every day, just to get out in the mornings before work, and I also used any evening time not taken up by band concerts or soccer practice. So today, I finally finished putting the unsold plants that have no immediate purpose in our own garden into the sale plot – always a big job (and I still have to deal with the big pile of empty pots!). Meanwhile, on my way back from this morning's bike race, I stopped in at the nearly Mennonite nursery. I only meant to pick up a couple of pepper plants (since I hadn't started any jalapenos myself), but found myself looking around their ornamental areas (which I hadn't paid much attention to on my previous visit). And I walked away with a new blueberry bush (the ones we bought mail order are barely alive after several years in the garden – hopefully this one, which starts out much larger, will do better), a mountain laurel (which likewise replaces a previous attempt, in this case deceased), and a blackgum tree. I misremembered the specifics on that tree, thinking it would stay smaller than the 50-80' mature height I found in my references. But it grows slowly, so it will in fact be somewhat small for years to come. It joined the general "forest" area that defines the woodland garden. I like the idea of a woodland area, but for the most part our trees are spaced well apart; in this area, behind the big pond in our back yard, trees are planted closer (a 'Ginnala' tatarian maple, a redbud, a chaste tree, and a crab apple combine to provide serviceable summer shade). So I resolved to add a few more trees to this cluster, so we'll have something a little bigger than the 10x10ft patch to call our woodland.
The ducks have grown to pretty much full size, and now quack instead of cheep. Although we think they're now capable of flying, they haven't shown any inclination to leave – they seem to like our bog filter too much (as shown in the photo here). Unfortunately, they've uprooted nearly all of the watercress (which went on to clog up our skimmer bag), which they've been snacking on almost non-stop. Pretty soon the food sources provided by the Lush Gardens may no longer be sufficient to sustain Cally and Flower. But we enjoy their company while it lasts.
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Where are the white petals and yellow stamens?
May 11, 2013. Missed it!
Two species peonies in my nursery area each put out a single bud this year: one of my seed-grown Paeonia ostii specimens, and the single Paeonia japonica that I picked up at the HPS/MAG member plant sale as a seedling a couple of years ago. Of course, having waited years for both to bloom, I was eagerly anticipating their first flowers. But events and weather conspired against me: the past couple of days were nice and warm, and happened to feature soccer coaching in the evenings, keeping me away from the garden. And sure enough, the peonies both decided to take the opportunity to bloom right then. I just managed to catch the P. ostii flower before it completely disintegrated (but it was rain-soaked and droopy by the time I spotted it). But somehow I entirely missed P. japonica's performance: the photo here shows the remains of the flower, which I guess was exceptionally short-lived. If I'm lucky, I may see the ornamental purple-blue seeds when the pod opens later this year – but more likely, seed won't set, since I have just the one plant (and just the one flower). Now I have to decide where I want the plant to be when it blooms next year. It's time to graduate her out of the nursery area.
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May 14, 2013. It's the middle of May, and when I checked the weather forecast last week, I didn't spot any night-time lows below 40F. So over the past week, all of the tender vegetables went out into the garden. Meanwhile, Ma Nature was smiling serenely – she had a trick up her sleeve, in the form of a late-season frost. Sure enough, by this weekend, the weathermen were calling for freezy lows last night, and judging by the chilly weather and clear skies overhead, I gave them a fair probability of being right this time. So between coaching soccer and attending a scout meeting, I worked in some plant protection chores yesterday evening: all the tarps I could lay my hands on came out, to be draped across tomato cages, fences with nearby cucumber and pepper plants, and those succulent squash starts (some of which got a bucket overhead as well). Sure enough, a glance out the window this morning showed the tell-tale glimmer of frost on the lawn, and closer inspection revealed many plants covered in shimmering ice crystals – like the Phlomis russeliana in the picture here. Luckily, my precautions appear to have done the job: all of the plants look like they're alive, although a few of the cucumbers are a bit worse for the wear. According to the forecasts, we're once again out of the danger zone. Keeping my fingers crossed that was the last scare of the season.
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can you see that path?
May 31, 2013. Beware of scheduling a family vacation in late May. Beware even more of contracting pneumonia on said vacation, because it likely means a few days spent in the hospital looking longingly out the window, wishing you could see and tend to your garden. Because late May is when the garden explodes. Before we left on vacation, the garden was filling out nicely, but still pretty much tidy, with everything in its place. After the docs finally gave me clearance to go out and recover on my own recognizance today, a little over two weeks had passed since we lugged our suitcases out to the car and waved goodbye to the plants – and "tidy" is no longer an adjective that applies to the garden. The photo here is exhibit A: the view to the left as you step out our front door, along the path through the "lane" garden. You can see the path, right? It's just behind the Jupiter's beard, Roman shields, brown-eyed Susans, yellow corydalis, and various other enthusiastic tenants of that patch of our garden. It's paved in flat colonial stone, so that only low-growing step-on groundcovers would ooze along the spaces in between the irregular slabs. That was the plan, anyway.
So it appears I've got some work ahead of me. And the doctor just told me I had to take things easy for at least a week. I suspect I'll be somewhat non-compliant.

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the troughs have taken over the patio table!
June 13, 2013. As you may have gathered from my March 24 entry, I've recently ventured into a new gardening endeavor: creating and planting hypertufa troughs. It will be at least another year before I can gauge how well this is going to work out, but for now, I have a nice little collection of troughs, planted with a selection of small succulents and alpines. Since I maintain pages for each of my garden areas, it was clearly time to dedicate a page to the trough collection, which now constitutes its own, albeit more portable, garden area. So here you go. I hope to update the page from time to time, showing new additions to the trough assembly (a new batch is on its way, courtesy of a flash of inspiration this weekend), and documenting the development of the plants now living in these porous containers. As I gain experience, I also hope to put together a page with some how-to information and personal experience with the hypertufa-making process. But that idea joins a long list of "things I'd like to do with this website", so don't hold your breath.

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June 21, 2013. Two days late. Had I been there with my camera a couple days ago, the white flowers of Aruncus aethusifolius would not yet have faded, showing off the red-and-yellow Spigelia marilandica to even greater effect. Ah well, even if you don't get the picture at its prettiest, I got to admire it earlier this week. As usual, the combination is entirely fortuitous – I most likely had even forgotten about the late-rising spigelias when I planted the aruncus in their front-of-the-border location. In the background you can catch a glimpse of the air conditioning unit – it's a new one, installed just a few weeks ago, and to set it in place, the installation guys tromped through a good swath of the shade garden. So that area looks even funnier than usual, with a bare strip running right in between all the bold-leaved plants (hostas, ligularia, rodgersia, tricyrtis, and others) that vie for some diffuse light in that space. But not to worry: it will be filled up in just a few weeks. By then, the flowers in this picture will have faded, but the bold foliage look will be just dandy too.
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no longer pretty in pink
July 28, 2013. Gardeners take vacation at their own peril. My late-July foray to Boy Scout camp (which only partly qualifies as vacation – keeping a bunch of scouts on the right path to earn their merit badges can be hard work at times) was during a time that not many new plants come into bloom in our garden, so I didn't miss too much. But the one event I did miss was the first bloom of our recently acquired lotus. We were supposed to get a couple of lotus plants as part of our plant package when we had the swimming pond put in years ago, but they didn't make it through their first winter. The sticker shock of lotuses had since kept me from giving them another try, until we decided earlier this year that it was time at last. So we bought a small, pink-flowering lotus variety at a local nursery, and unceremoniously plopped it into our swimming pond, in its nursery container (I really need to give it a proper place in the pond, unconstrained by black plastic, but that hasn't happened yet). Sure enough, it chose my week at camp to show off its first flowers. I may have to wait till next year to see it in its full glory, so for now I snapped a photo of this year's fading blossom. At least I'll be able to admire the uniquely holey seedheads.
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December 26, 2013. Well, that spells the longest hiatus of journal entries here at robsplants.com since I first started posting... Other activities pulled me in different directions since mid-summer, so my garden activities were mostly limited to a) de-algifying the swimming pond (a futile but relaxing activity, especially on hot summer evenings), and b) damage control in the weedling department. Neither of which lend themselves very much to journaling about. But a new season of seed-starting is here (I plan to start this evening – a month later than most years, but still in time to get plenty of littluns underway for spring planting), so I'm looking forward to a renewed horticultural vigor in months to come.

None of which is directly related to my reason for posting today. This morning we had another light snowfall – just one in quite a sequence of snow events, more than I ever recall seeing this early in winter. And once again, the collection of hypertufa troughs on the patio table got covered in snow. Temperatures zig-zag quite a bit around here (we had temperatures into the 60-degrees-Fahrenheit range earlier this week), so every time it snows or rains, those troughs get drenched again. Not good for those finnicky alpine plants that will rot if their feet are too wet through winter. So I finally got around to moving most of the troughs into the garage, onto a table near the window where they will get a bit of light. Now, I tried to do the same thing last year (when my collection of pots was much smaller), but my attempts at preserving the plants were frustrated by the resident rodents, who found the succulent foliage (as well as the underground bulbs) much to their liking. Not a living bit remained by the end of winter.

So I'm trying to outsmart them this winter, by placing the pots underneath a wire cage I built with some hardware cloth and left-over lumber. We'll see how that goes. Now I have to remember to water them very once in a long while, so they don't completely dry out by the time spring arrives.
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