I bought this katsura tree (cercidiphyllum japonicum) sapling for $15 at a plant sale a year or two ago. Did I have room for it? No. Did I need it? No. Did I want it? Yes! I've always wanted to grow this tree so it came home with me. I've been torturing it by growing it in a large hypertufa planter ever since. I feel guilty constraining this beautiful plant, caging it for my enjoyment in my private zoo.
Above is the gorgeous color from last October.
It colored up differently this year, probably due to the late dry spell we had in September and October. Above is a photo I took on September 10th this year.
This is last week. It's been so gorgeous this fall that I'm starting to rethink my promise to find a good home for it next spring.
How is it mid-October already? It's been a ferociously busy four weeks, full of PTA volunteering, scouting, camping, a monumental birthday, and the weekly rhythms of cycling and gardening. I can't really call it gardening though, more like just getting the bare minimum done before the season passes. Throughout it all, I've had the weekly pleasure of unwrapping new hypertufa troughs that I cast over four or five consecutive weekends through August and September. I let them cure for four weeks, wrapped in plastic and stashed under the deck, like some weird, slow bread oven.
I still get a little thrill of satisfaction when I unwrap something that I made a month earlier.
Some of the new troughs are sold already, but about a dozen remain up for grabs. Let me know if you need one.
Summer seems to have moved on without the normal 6 weeks of heat with no rain. It's been dry, but not terribly so, and relatively cool. The garden and I are both relived that August is in the rearview mirror.
Above is a late hyacinth bean flowering on the fence. I look forward to the burgundy bean pods every year, and diligently collect the huge seed for the next spring.
Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite' is having a great year, despite being grown in a hypertufa planter.
The kirengeshoma is opening on schedule. Although the flowers don't last long, I love their puffy firmness. They remind me of those orange circus peanut candies we had as kids.
Hardy begonia livens up the shady side of the garage.
Thanks to Matt Mattus's suggestion on his blog, I started using organza drawstring bags to protect the dahlia buds from the earwigs. As ridiculous as it looks, the bags guarantee that I have pristine dahlias to cut for the kitchen table, and less kids freaking out about earwigs at the dinner table.
It's cooled off enough that I've been making hyptertufa troughs for the last three weeks. These are only some of the planters curing under the deck. I'll start opening them next week and will deliver the sold ones in October.
Be sure to let me know if you're in the north Jersey area and are interested in a trough.
My wife will be the first to tell you, I get weird over the winter. When my hands are idle I go a little nuts. Drawing helps, but sometimes I just need to make something, even if it's just a good loaf of bread. Most winters, when it's too cold to work on hypertufa or woodworking projects in the garage, I'll make a small sculpture at the kitchen table. If the sculpture is intricate and takes many hours of handwork with small tools, even better.
Above is a small faux-bois Gothic shelf that I made this winter and then gave away to artist friends as a housewarming gift. The sculpture on top is gold-leafed heart made by the husband for his wife. I love that my sculpture is the pedestal for this offering.
The sculpture is made of pine, wire and a two-part resin clay called Apoxy.
The resin clay cures in about 24 hours so I have a pretty long open time to work with it.
We just returned from our week at the Jersey shore, where I was crestfallen to find out that cycling 30+ miles a day does not negate the effects of IPA over-consumption. Oh well.
I did ride by this house and think to myself 'now that's a commitment to a tree'. This homeowner long ago made a choice to prioritize the beautiful specimen pine in the front yard over access to the front door. The lateral branch across the front entrance to the house must be only 3' or so above the sidewalk.
I wonder how that conversation went. Maybe it was something like this:
"Honey, maybe we should trim the pine out front. It's starting to block the entrance'.
'I dunno, dear...I kind of like it. We have a side door, don't we?'
The morning sun lit up the saracennia yesterday. The greenish-yellow pitchers seemed to glow from within.
This pitcher plant is growing in an acidic mix of peat and sand, covered in pine needle mulch, in a plastic liner cast inside of a hypertufa planter. The liner helps keep the alkalinity of the concrete away from the planting medium. I drilled a hole in the liner midway up the side in order to hold a couple inches of water at the bottom.
We've gotten plenty of rain the last couple weeks and the garden is pretty lush right now, in mid-July, when it's usually on the ropes as we head in to the driest, hottest part of the year. Above, the reddish pink flower in the foreground is knautia macedonica. The tall pink on the right is a thalictrum. The Japanese painted ferns have colonized the Gothic planter on the patio, an example of nature sweeping aside (gently) my idea of a planting scheme, and proposing a better one.
It's coneflower week in the garden, apparently. Yes, they are common, but they always remind me of the Midwest. I'm happy to step outside and see them each morning.
In the front garden the coneflowers are mingling with the blue blooms of hydrangea macrophylla 'Dooley'. I used to take this hydrangea for granted, but after no flowers the last two years I'm happy that the inevitable late spring cold spell didn't doom the flower buds this year.
I've wanted to grow rudbeckia maxima for a couple years, for the height as much as the cool name. That's it in the middle of the photo above. I saw a couple member-grown pots of it at my garden club's plant sale last year so I bought them all. They stayed small last year and were overgrown by the asters and other tall perennials in this bed. I kind of forgot about them and figured they were goners after the green wave engulfed them. I was happy to see them come back strong this year. There are a few in this bed but one has ambition to live up to its name.
Close-up of the maxima at eye-level.
It looks great with the 'Raspberry Delight' monarda. Maybe the other rudbeckia maximas will poke their heads up high next year and make a show of it.
We pause the normal relentless blogging about plants for something different. My wife, kids and I took our first European trip together at the end of June. We rented a gorgeous place north of Verona, Italy, in a valley of vineyards. Above is a view north from downtown Verona.
Exterior frescos and sculpture in Verona.
San Marco in Venice (not shown- the thousands of tourists and pigeons filling the piazza).
Entry to the Doge's Palace in Venice.
Villa Rotonda north of Vicenza, Palladio's most famous villa and a personal inspiration. The villa is symmetrical inside and out; all four facades are pretty much the same. It's more of an idea of a building, or a sculpture of an ideal building. I made a sculpture based on this years ago and spent a long time researching this building. Too see it in person made me giddy. Bucket list!
Within a couple hours I made another check on my bucket list: Giotto's fresco cycle from 1305 at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. We spent hours and hours studying these in one of my art history classes. Giotto is often seen as the beginning of the Renaissance, the first modern painter. Visitors are only allowed 20 minutes per visit due to the fragility of the frescos. We drank our fill.
Interior of Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua. We had to visit to say thanks for all of the help finding lost things over the years!
Castelvecchio in Verona, a medieval castle remodeled in the 20th century by Italian modernist architect Italo Scarpa, and now an art museum. I drove my family crazy photographing Scarpa's benches, mounts, flooring, pedestals and doors.
Andrea Mantegna's altarpiece at the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona. We spent hours studying this one in art history class as well.
Lake Garda near Sirmione. I'd like to get back to explore the Dolomites when the kids are a little older and can handle some trekking.
These guys suffered through a week without TV or iPads; forced to eat strange things like octopus, cuttlefish and wild boar; and made to walk long miles through stone streets . They are troopers.
I had the chance to go on a guided plant hike in the NJ Pine Barrens yesterday, led by the incredible Janet Novak of the Delaware Valley NARGS chapter. I've wanted to dive into the Pine Barrens since I read John McPhee's book 25 years ago, but had never gotten around to it in 11 years of living in NJ. Neighbor Ray and my 9-year old botanist (above, with beaver stump) made a long, humid day out of it.
We started at Pakim Pond in the Brendan Byrne State Forest in south Jersey. We shuffled around the mucky edge of the small pond on boardwalks and pine needle-covered paths. The acid sandy soil is host to carnivorous plants, ferns, a few orchids, pitch pine, blackjack oak, and a wide range of ericaceous shrubs, including the high bush blueberries that we snacked on as we walked.
I've come to think of pitcher plants as rare, fussy, expensive and hip (lately), but here they were in the wild, growing at the wet edges of the pond.
Here's the super-famous curly grass fern, a really tiny thing. Note my errant finger in the photo.
Each hummock in the pond was a little garden.
We moved on next to Webb's Mill, a bog that looked like an impressionist painting yesterday.
Pitcher plants, sundews, bladderwort...Monet, right? I felt like a kid.
Pitcher plant and compatriots.
More bog beauty
Incredible things were everywhere. I took too many photos and inevitably failed to capture the excitement of this site.
Dwarf pines growing in sand just outside the Warren Grove Bombing Range
The last stop of the day was at Bill Smith's garden in Warren Grove. We walked around the corner and found this 10' x 30' raised bog garden in full bloom. Bill is growing many of the same plants that we'd seen growing wild in the local bogs, but what floored us were the pitcher plants. I had that feeling that I have in front of a masterpiece in a museum: overwhelmed by the combination of beauty and skill.
Gorgeous containers lined the raised bog bed.
Another of the many, many saracennias
A mini masterpiece. The yellow is bog asphodel.
Red + Blue= Wow
These guys looked hungry.
This dude survived 5 hours of plants, plants, plants with Ray and me. He had a well-deserved burger followed by a nap on the ride home.