Friday, July 4, 2008

Red, Blue and . . .

Blue catmint (Nepeta 'Walker's Low') swirling around red Asiatic lilies. (A white peony is nearby....)

Happy Fourth of July !

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rosemary Before

I suppose I should give us one last look at this rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis 'Tuscan Blue') in its current state, as it's scheduled for radical surgery Thursday of next week. It's another one of those plants bought cheaply in a one-gallon pot that grew in four years to about its current size, which is about 7 feet high by 10 feet wide. That's after I whack the heck out of it twice a year. I mean about a pickup-load's worth.

Lots of gardeners grow rosemary here, and lavender too, and we're all amazed at how magnificent they are. This plant is on the west-north side of the garden, so gets pummeled by winds and colds -- and doesn't care a bit. Every year luscious growth over and down to the sidewalk, sweet clear-blue flowers, and a deep aromatic scent.

Jessica told me three years ago that I should prune it heavily before it got out of hand, but I've hardly ever listened to anybody and I suppose I'm too old to start now. The biggest problem, which you can barely see in the third photo, is that it's taking over the Rosa glauca -- in fact has stunted its growth for a couple years now -- and I LOVE the Rosa glauca and want it to flourish.

So, major surgery it is. Tuscan Blue won't mind at all; it's one of those land starfish. Lost a limb? No problem! It'll grow back!

The only thing rosemary needs is excellent drainage, which everything on the West Bank gets.

Which reminds me: I need to finish watering.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Graham Thomas

This gorgeous black pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla v. melanostachys) started out eight years ago as a one-gallon multi-branched twig and now look at it: about 20 feet wide by maybe 12 feet high. It sweeps out over the sidewalk, with the lowest branches kept pruned to stay about 5-1/2 feet off the ground. The younger kids love to walk underneath it, "like an umbrella," they say, and run their hands on the soft golden oregano (Oreganum vulgare 'Aureum') that carpets its feet.

In this photo you are looking east, which means the willow and the oregano face west, and the drainage is superb because the area behind the foundation wall is filled nearly to the brim with rocks. Even so, this willow, which I'll write more about in the winter when you can see why it's called the black pussy willow and when I'll really need something to write about, doesn't need much additional water when the rains stop. What does need water is the plant that grows within it (one of the flowers just barely shows within the white square).

It is THIS:::::

Rosa Graham Thomas, named after the horticulturalist and former Gardens Advisor to the British (minus Scotland, which has its own) National Trust. Mr. Thomas was planted here when the willow was a wee twig and I didn't believe things that started that small would ever get this big in my garden. Three or four years ago Mr. Thomas got completely lost in the willow and I figured that was it. The next year I was hauling something down those steps to the garage and -- whoa! -- lookat that!

The chance encounter with the willow has saved Mr. Thomas. Mr. Thomas is otherwise rather spindly and has trouble holding up his apricot-flesh-colored flowers. (The buds open an even deeper apricot and the flowers eventually fade to a buttery yellow. A proper gentleman, Mr. Thomas never shows any harshness in color.) The willow acts a bit like an umbrella for Mr. Thomas, too, otherwise his 30+ petals would turn to mush like every other. And the willow hides the lousy foliage that'll be coming along soon. As Mr. Thomas is a David Austin rose, it has a terrific (fresh tea) scent but gets blackspot as soon as you say the word out loud.

This is the only rose left in my garden that didn't come from Heirloom Nursery, but you can find it there and grow it through something of your own. It blooms continuously from mid/late June through frost here and I give it a prune just to get rid of any dead parts after the leaves fall from the willow. Otherwise, regular water and the usual treatment of organic 5-5-5 a couple times a year plus an inch or two of soil-building compost.

Do you believe that plants just get lucky, as Mr. Thomas did in being overtaken by the willow? Or, look at the question another way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences? (Hat tip to M. Night Shyamalan.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

I hear voices

And furthermore about weeds::::

I hear Berta saying, "When that ol' long grass gets goin' you just about never can get rid of it."

And John saying, "I just try to get my ten square feet in every day. Five if it's bad."

Bunch o' five-feet days coming up.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Yesterday morning I woke up thinking (1) I would've slept better if I hadn't sampled those candies last night; and (2) In the future I'll try to include pictures of the foot of a tree or shrub so that we can see their underplants.

First up is a Ribes sanguineum "Porky's Pink" underplanted with morning glory, blackberry, long grasses of several sorts, sheep sorrel, and buttercups.

Sheep sorrel is used in alternative medicine in many ways, including as a tumor-reducing anti-cancer agent. It spreads both by seeds and by long, trendril-ly red roots, and can be very hard to eradicate. It is rampant underneath the old azaleas on the north side of the house, a sure sign of soil infertility, which would explain the sorry state of the azalea foliage, about which more later. After I dig up as many of its roots as I can, I'll fertilize, add several inches of Gardner & Bloome's soil-building compost -- you can get it locally from the very nice folks at Brim's -- and water.

Ooo, there's a lovely border of long grass growing atop the West Bank. Look how graceful and tall it grows.

Next, a gorgeous yellow twig dogwood with underplants that include every kind of weed and some lovely calla lily.

And finally, shyly hiding her ragged head behind a Japanese maple, a tall sow thistle that's reached five feet. I guess you could say she's gotten too big for her underplants. (Not to mention that she's toxic.)

Some years (okay, maybe 3 out of 7) I'm the Perfect Gardener and have the whole yard weeded by the first week of March, then spend the rest of the year plucking out whatever I see as I pass, la de dah, so that nothing much ever gets started. Well, I just didn't get out front -- or side -- much this year. As the geologist said about the creek bed: Silt Happens.

I tackle weeds, when I get a round tuit, with a good bit of stretching, Fiskars cushy kneepads, 5-gallon buckets and a bonsai root hook that looks kind of like this (purchased at Portland Nursery.)

And, afterwards, Ultra Soft Plus Doux Kleenex, Loratadine and white wine.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Here is a basic, old-fashioned plant, Weigela florida "Carnival," and there truly is nothing more beautiful in my garden now. It's been on the east side of my house for maybe six years, just peaking out to the south side, so I guess you could say it gets partial sun. Its spreading, arching habit has always been a bit of a problem because it needed something. A wrought-iron arch, say, to be draped upon.

Some people never do anything to these shrubs and they can get honking big (the plants, not the people). Because mine is on the narrow side of the garden I've kept it pruned. Just a few weeks ago I moved the wrought iron arch that you can barely see to this spot, which is just at the entrance to the backyard, and am SO GLAD that for whatever reason I didn't cut the weigela way back earlier this year, as I had thought to do after the December storm. I've woven some of its long, flexible branches through the arch and now I have this gorgeous bower. When the weigela is finished blooming a couple clematis will come along. I've rarely been happier with the way a spot is turning out.

There are at least a dozen weigela varieties, some of them growing only a couple feet tall (like "Minuet" and "Wine and Roses." They're all terrific, I think, it just depends on what you need in what space. They're two-season plants, with no fall color and no great structure to recommend them in winter. But they're just so easy, requiring no more care than you care to give them; and Carnival in particular is so pretty, with its tubular flowers of many shades of pink. It's the ultimate girly-girl shrub.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Geranium x. oxonianum "Hollywood"

It really is amazing what people will say on the internet. For instance: "I bought 13 of these at 8 bucks a piece!"

Yes, I did. I couldn't resist Dan Hinkley's description in the 2000 Heronswood catalog:

"Extremely floriferous flowing flowers of pale pink, perfectly formed with overlapping petals, and strikingly veined with magenta, we have used this to remarkable effect as a groundcover at the base of a newly planted hedge outside my office. It was stupendous this year."

Stupendous, by which Dan clearly meant definitions 1. and 2.: "marvelous" and "amazingly large." Obviously I didn't consult the A to Z Encyclopedia which very clearly says that Hollywood grows to 3-1/2 feet by 2-1/2 feet. Sure enough, it does. See first photo.

I started giving Hollywood away the day after it arrived, and I haven't stopped. I have maybe three of the original plants, but there are more in the yard. Have you ever met a geranium that didn't love to be divided?

These photos, which I took at 9:00 at night without flash, don't show the sweet, pale ballet pink of the flowers, though the veining shows nicely in the lower photo.

No pinching is required to keep the plants in full bloom from mid-June until August; that's about when I'll cut them back to the ground -- there'll be some new growth lurking there -- and in about 3 weeks I'll get a second flush of lush foliage and flowers before the November or December frosts. Then I'll cut them back again and wait until spring. The plant in this photo is next to the front walk; after I cut it back I'll tuck a pot of whatever strikes my fancy beside it until it grows again.

These geraniums, like the others, aren't picky about their requirements. They grow and flower equally well in sun and shade -- the pink is a little darker in the shade -- and tolerate drought well. Don't water them overhead just before you have company because the water knocks them back; they'll recover in a couple hours.

The foliage of the "true" geraniums doesn't have the wonderful smell of the more tropical zonal pelargoniums that we all call geraniums. There are many, many different varieties and colors, some of them quite deep and striking but none particularly tropical. Joy Creek Nursery has a wide selection; the now-Burpee-owned Heronswood has a few too, though I haven't ordered from them since the buy-out. Pick one or two -- or even three, but certainly not thirteen, unless you have a STUPENDOUS yard.