Monday, August 29, 2011


The backyard, post hurricane.
I put the rock on the kids' slide to keep it from blowing up.

We are still here, which is saying a lot today.  We have power, a dry basement and a sound roof, unlike many around us.  Irene packed less punch than advertised here in New Jersey.  We received almost 10" of rain according to the National Weather Service, but had no flooding.  High winds knocked down sticks and small limbs from the giant, weedy silver maple that dominates our garden, but the tree is still standing.  

I took a moment in Saturday's hurricane prep to say a quiet "good luck and goodbye(?)" to the garden, not knowing what shape it would be in afterwards.  Seems silly in retrospect.

The maple survives.

Furniture lashed together by the sandbox.

We have a lot of this to clean up.

And this.

Our savior?

Underneath the backyard a 6' city storm sewer carries a buried stream.  The drain above is located near our garden gate, in the lowest part of the yard.  I made sure it was clear before the storm.  It silently swallowed thousands of gallons of water and kept us from flooding.

May it be decades before another hurricane strikes here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thalictrum 'Evening Star'

Both the thalictrum above and the lychnis below are new plants for me this year.  I stubbornly planted this part/shade trough in a rainstorm one Saturday in May.  I didn't set out to buy the perfect plants for the trough but instead bought what caught my eye at the various spring plant sales and then planted a couple new troughs grouped according to the plants' common exposure.  This one gets morning sun/afternoon shade and is anchored by a Cole's Prostrate hemlock at one end and a tiny cotoneaster at the other.  The thalictrum (behind the hemlock in the photo) has been gorgeous: delicate and free-blooming all summer.  It's a little taller and looks great in the back corner of the trough.

That lychnis, on the other hand, is too vigorous and coarse for the trough, no matter how pretty the flower.  It's quadrupled in width and is too large-leaved to be in front of the cotoneaster.  It throws the whole grouping out of scale.  It will be cast out of the trough in the spring and planted in the ground.  The lychnis and I will both be happier.

Lychnis flos-cuculi 'Nana'

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back From the Shore

My family and I just returned from a wonderful, if slightly wet, week at the Jersey shore.  Growing up in Iowa I was never exposed to the wonders of the week at the beach.  I've become a convert the last few years.  The garden got along just fine without me thanks to the 7.5 inches of rain within 2 days last week.  We got more rain last night and the humidity has disappeared today.  With cool nights predicted this week it feels like September.  Bring it on.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One-off Trough

trough 25 x 21 x 9"H (not including feet)

I really love this photo.  The morning light, filtered through the trees, was flattering that day.  I made this trough for fun one Saturday night about 2 months ago when the kids went to bed early.  I found an old cardboard box in the garage, filled it with sand, and cast this trough old-school-style, packing on the hypertufa with no outside mold.  The trough is shallow, but has a great feeling to it.  I can't describe the fondness I have for some objects like this, but I remember a grad school compatriot years ago saying that he liked a certain concrete bridge because he "felt it in his butt".

I wouldn't go that far, but I can't deny a bodily identification to some objects.  They are pleasing in a physical sense.  They just feel right.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beats Mowing It

The front yard of our house

When we moved into our house a few years ago the front lawn was sparse and weedy due to its being shaded by a 35' Callery pear tree between the sidewalk and the street.  We dug up the grass, much to the consternation of one of our neighbors, and started planting a shade garden.  We added a small pieris and a kalmia to the ugly yew planted in the center of the house.  Within a month or two of starting the shade garden the city cut down the giant pear tree and planted a small lilac tree, leaving us with full sun.  The shrubs stayed but we basically started over, keeping in mind my wife's wish to see something blooming at all times of the year.

The bed is now a mix of hardy perennials, bulbs, and a few annuals.  It's a tough bed to water so anything that complains gets moved.  Unsurprisingly, the coneflowers, sedums, grasses, mums, salvias, zinnias and lambs ears carry the show this time of year.

View from the front step

We even colonized the hellstrip.  The whiskey barrel sits on the pear tree stump.  I have to bite my tongue when people park here and smash stuff as they blithely step out of their cars.

I have to remind myself of the bad old days of mowing.  It could be worse.

Monday, August 8, 2011

An August Composition

a fig tree, a couple succulents and some empty planters 

This little still life in front of the garage is prominently visible from our kitchen.  I like looking at the different shapes of the planters and move things in and out often.

I realized that I also enjoy it lately for not showing any stress about dryness or heat.  I love plants (and planters) that don't complain.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More Welcome Than Any August Bloom

A good, slow 1/2"+ of rain last night.  
Both the plants and I are breathing a sigh of relief.