Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ravenna Partners

Red helenium with ravenna grass leaves

One of the most exciting moments in our garden is the rise of the grasses in August.  We grow about a dozen grasses, but by far the tallest that we have is saccharum ravennae, which gets 12' high by late August and then stands all winter.  Since the grass blades arch upwards and fall over, it's a space hog by late summer.  I have it underplanted with some Turks Cap lilies, which are done blooming by the time it overwhelms them.  This spring I had to move a large Provence lavender because the grass shaded it too much.  I replaced the lavender with some red heleniums that weren't doing well in their previous spot of poor soil and full sun.  The heleniums have been able to stand up and take on the grass toe to toe, and I really like the red with the glaucous grass.  It's a win-win situation.

On the other side of the ravenna grass clump I have the white echinacea 'Fragrant Angel', with a pass-along sedum at its feet.  While I'm not sure it's fragrant, it is gorgeous.  It's an accidental moment of taste in our garden that I look forward to each year.

And yes, the garden tour group was lovely yesterday.  We had gorgeous weather following some rain on Friday night.  Now the garden can get back to its regularly scheduled August activity of going to hell in a handbasket.

Echinacea purpurea 'Fragrant Angel' with saccharum ravennae and sedum spectabile (I think)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Le Tour

Tomorrow my garden is one of the stops on the local Master Gardeners tour.  I'm not a master gardener but agreed to be on the tour anyway.  We got a good 1/2" of rain last night with the possibility of (lots?) more tonight, but my garden doesn't look great after the recent dryness and heat.  I'm sure other gardeners will understand but I still can't help thinking to myself "...but you should have seen it in May".

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Settle Down Now, I See You

I think that yellow kolwitzia is waving, trying to get my attention.  I'm sure it wants a bigger pot next year.  I'll need to cast a larger container for it or finally plant it in the ground.  It's kolkwitzia amabilis 'Maradco' or Dream Catcher Beauty Bush (what an awful name).  It has pink flowers in the spring and yellowish leaves all summer.  Fall brings an orange flush before the leaves go.

This shrub sort of snuck up on me.  A couple years ago I had this empty hypertufa container late in the season and grabbed the kolkwitiza for $5 at a nursery, just to have something to fill it.  I knew nothing about kolkwitzia.  I only wanted some yellow foliage to contrast with the conifers in other pots, but this shrub has really grown on me.  It always looks good.  It's not demanding.  It's obviously super tough if it can thrive in a pot year round in the driveway.  I've sort of fallen for it.  

Monrovia's website says it gets 6-12 feet tall and wide at maturity.  It's no small thing.  What have I gotten us into, kolkwitzia?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Big Bake

This lonicera sums up my feelings here in late July: the exuberance and glory of summer combined with that fizzled, unkept, not-keeping-up dread.

In the spring I had the typical gardener's feeling of delight, of being able to do no wrong.  Plants thrived wherever I planted them.  The soil was always moist.  Temps were forgiving.  I felt like a conductor of a symphony, with well-trained musicians at my disposal.   Lately, with the lingering dryness and the intense heat, I feel more like a doctor triaging patients in an ER (yarrow- you can wait; stop your whining, hydrangea; just hang on spruce, I'll get you some water).  I wonder if I'm crazy to invest so much emotion and money and time in something as vulnerable as a garden.

My friend Amir called late summer "The Big Bake" when we gardened together in Brooklyn.  It's easy to forget in spring that this cruel test will surely come.

It's raining a bit outside right now, but I don't trust the weather anymore.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

High Summer

Coneflowers, daisies, russian sage, grasses...must be late July in the garden.  I was surprised how many gardeners in the Twin Cities were making good use of these stalwarts, and black-eyed susans, phloxes, and daylilies in their front yards.  Maybe with such a brutal winter northern gardeners feel the need to publicly celebrate in the summer.

This photo is from our garden.  The bamboo stakes are for some dahlias with aspirations.  This area needs some tidying now and then but is pretty undemanding for such a good show.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back from the Midwest

I just got back yesterday from a 12-day trip to Minnesota and Iowa to see family.  I forgot to take my camera and had to rely on my smart phone.  Sorry for the poor quality snaps.  Let's not call them blurry but "impressionistic" instead.

Corn blown over from 75+ mph straight line winds in Iowa on July 11th.  Surprisingly, to me at least, most of the damaged corn stood up relatively straight within a few days.

View from the road, over the ditch, and into my parents' pasture in Iowa.  I love the juxtaposition of grasses.

I spent a lot of time in Iowa photographing the perennials in ditches and unfarmed areas, even stepping on a sleeping rabbit at one point (sorry chap!) because I wasn't watching my feet.  Pretty sure this is a veronicastrum, or Culver's root.

Great mix of textures.

Helianthus I think, making inroads in a wicked colony of equisetum.

probably asclepias incarnata 
Asclepias syriaca

Turk's Cap Lilies

Purple coneflowers 

Hollyhocks from the demonstration beds at Seed Savers in Decorah, Iowa.  We stopped in on our drive from Minneapolis to NE Iowa.  I have often wondered what their operation was like but had never thought about visiting until Frank blogged about it right before we left.  I picked up a few seed packets and some dried green flageolet beans for cassoulet in their store, then wandered the farm until my antsy, hot kids couldn't take it any longer.  Thanks, Frank.

Love this dark hollyhock.  I bought some Nigra Hollyhock seeds to try some in our garden.

Gorgeous veggies, Seed Savers' specialty.

I left the blasting heat and buckling freeways of Minneapolis to come back to my hot NJ garden, only to find that the heat wave is following me across the country.  Thanks to my neighbor Ray's care while I was gone, our garden looks pretty good for late July.  Fingers crossed and soaker hoses deployed for the coming blast.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Understated Yarrow

Achillea ssp. ex Utah, with sedum, saxifrage, chamaecyparis and campanula

I must admit, I'm not a big fan of the gaudy-colored yarrows.  I grow only a couple of the muted ones, like Anthea, in the garden.  I do love the delicate, sculptural qualities of this little pale yellow number, achillea ssp. ex Utah.  The nursery tag said it forms "small mats".  It's been in the trough a year now and is only a little unruly.  I hope the lean growing medium of the trough will restrain it a bit.  The new campanula chamissonis (front right of photo) may push back when it gets going.