Friday, May 27, 2011

Second Spring

 The Peony Moment

It finally stopped raining earlier this week and we're having "second spring" as my friend Amir used to call it (as opposed to the "first spring" of daffodils, cherries, tulips, etc.).  My wife's beloved peonies are having their moment, justifying their prominent placement by the garden gate, with the gorgeous diablo ninebark blooming behind them.  When we were laying out the garden, I thought we had room for two or three peonies, but we now have six.  You know how it goes...

paeonia x 'Madame Emile Debatene'

paeonia lactiflora 'Sorbet'

The purple crush in the frontyard

Our front flower bed is very small and fills the space between the house and the sidewalk.  I try to have something blooming, or at least visually interesting, going on all the time.  I tend toward blues and purples and pinks since we have a light blue house.  Right now the front is billowing mass of blue and purple bearded irises, flax, columbines, alliums, lupines, lavenders and a small baptisia.  The red geum "Mrs. Bradshaw" will show up to ruin the party in a few days.  As summer comes on, the coneflowers, rudbeckia, eryngiums, and grasses will take over, along with zinnias sown into any blank spots.  It beats mowing the front yard.  (That's the neighbor's trash can catching some sun.  Lovely, no?).

saponaria 'Bressingham' quietly doing its thing in a trough with alliums and a gentian

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Deck as Seen from Space

OK, not from space, but above are the planters on our deck as seen from my eye level.  It's peak bloom time with the saponaria, lewisiia, dianthus, silene, asperula, and even a poor abused weigela blooming.  The hen-and-chicks are hatching chicks.  The blue spruce sedum is close to being exiled for its over-exuberance.  It's good to just sit in the house and stare out.  Below is a more conventional, say three-year-old's, point of view.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pink Season Part 2

Clematis 'Nelly Moser'

The rain continues to pour down in NJ, mocking my attempts to do anything in the garden.  Was I really hand-watering things last week?  What's with all of our spring rain coming in the course of 5 days.

Things continue to bloom, even without me outside worshiping them daily.  Nelly Moser is singing like a soloist above a shady bed of tiarellas, epimediums and yellow hakonechloa grass.  The blue garage really flatters her.  She's got class.

Nelly again

Silene caroliniana

The silene above is one of my favorites.  It seems to love its high and dry position in the trough.  I look forward to it all year long.  Don't judge it in its rain-battered state.

The mountain laurel buds below are soooo gorgeous right now, maybe even better then the open flowers.  At least the cardinal flowers to the right of the kalmia love all of this rain.

Is it time to start building the ark?

Kalmia 'Tiddlywinks'

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leonard J. Buck Garden

Natural rock face with alpines

On Friday we visited the Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, NJ.  I last visited in April and was amazed at how much things had changed in a month.  It was a nice cool day for a stroll and even my three-year old was a notch slower than normal.  I'm kind of in love with this garden.  Or at least it's a crush.

Shady little glen

Beech trunk

Japanese primroses

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pink Season Part 1

Saxifraga 'Peter Pan'

Saponaria ocymoides with dwarf iris leaves behind

Both of these plants are wonderful in bloom but also secretly satisfying to me in that I've killed both of them before by planting them in the ground.  I tried to mix in gravel and raise them up when I planted them but being in the ground was death to them.  Both are happy as can be in the more inhospitable (drier, hotter) climate of a hypertufa trough.  Whatever it takes...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hypertufa Planters for Sale

I'll be selling my planters at the Friends of the Frelinghuysen Arboretum plant sale this Friday, May 6th from 4-7PM (members only) and Saturday, May 7th from 9AM to 3PM.  There will be lots of knowledgable plant folks around if you need advice about the botanical offerings.  I'll be there to help load the containers should you buy one.  Since they're made of a mix of portland cement with perlite and peat moss, they're not as heavy as they look.  I've even planted up a bowl and donated it to the raffle at the sale (below).

Best. Shrub. Ever.

emerging flowers of Mt. Airy fothergilla in mid-April

The first fall that we lived here I went with my neighbor/plant guru to a few nurseries to pick through the end-of-season leftovers to get some woody bones for our infant garden.  I was looking for viburnums, which we found, but my neighbor pointed me towards a Mt. Airy fothergilla.  I'd never heard of it but bought it on his recommendation.  I'm so glad I did.  Thought to be a cross of fothergilla gardenii and fothergilla major, this shrub has thrived in full sun in rather poor soil, rewarding us with its year-round show.

I love the mix of opened, opening and unopened flowers in late April

This week it's fully open

Mt. Airy fothergilla is admittedly a background player in the summer, with its tasteful-looking blue/green leaves reminiscent of witch hazels, to which it is related.  It is in fall when it steps to the front and takes another solo.  The autumn foliage is a mix of yellow to orange to near red as seen below.  Winter exposes its intricate branching structure. Now that I've grown it for four years, I can't imagine being without it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Not Easter anymore, but I'll take it

 red pulsatilla vulagaris

The aptly named Pasqueflower, pulsatilla vulgaris, has been quite content in a shallow trough the past couple years.  Its purple relative started blooming a couple weeks ago since it's planted in the ground.  Behind it is fall-blooming sedum sieboldii and in front is an unknown passalong sedum.  Once the flowers are gone the fantastic seedheads persist.

Monday, May 2, 2011

In Praise of a Thug

Pass-along comfrey 

For six years I volunteered at a NYC community garden called Green Dome at North 12th St./Union/ Driggs in Brooklyn.  Although I don't miss the "gardening by committee" feeling, I do miss the tenacious people and plants.  Green Dome is no vegetable-plotted garden but a great mix of perennials, trees, shrubs and hardscaping.  It feels like a little oasis in McCarren Park, of which it is technically part.  Because the garden is open daily to the public (unmonitored) and mostly unwatered, the plants need to be tough to survive.  Comfrey (genus symphytum, I'm unsure of the species), one of the toughest, came along with me to New Jersey when we left Brooklyn in 2006.  This is a plant with serious territorial ambition and it took me a year or two of moving it around to find the right spots for it.  I planted it on both sides of the dominating and thirsty silver maple that towers over our garden.  The soil near the root flare of this tree is full of roots, some major, but the comfrey has dug in and flourished.  I always welcome its elegant downward-facing white bells in the spring but cherish its toughness in out-competing all the other weeds year round.  That lean situation is probably what keeps it from taking over the whole garden.

Another plus is that comfrey foliage is especially high in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  When I remember, I sometimes throw a few comfrey leaves into the planting hole of new plants.  Supposedly they break down quickly and supply a nutritional boost to the new plant.  

In the end, I know that if the comfrey gets out of hand in the garden, it can always enrich the compost pile.