Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Not only was I out in the noonday sun, but I was hard at it. Just as one doesn't realize one has been in the sun too long until it's too late, I didn't realize I had worked too hard until late in the evening, when hoisting my butt off the couch became a major endeavor. This morning I feel about 80% recovered, though. Some gentle yoga should release the remaining aches and pains.

(A brief paean to yoga: If it weren't for the yoga classes I have been attending, I would not be able to do a fraction of the yard work I have accomplished this year, particularly the digging. I highly recommend yoga for improving ones strength and flexibility.)

I attacked the Queen Anne's lace and thistle with vim and vigor, concentrating on the larger plants which were starting to bloom. Because of the amount of foliage I removed, the 3B garden now looks ravaged. Soon the coneflower will be bursting forth, though, which should distract the eye.

Earlier this season, I planted black eyed Susan and tickseed. The former is just kind of sitting there, presumably setting down roots. The latter is doing the same, but also blooming.

I'm glad I surrounded this area with chicken wire, as I have come across rudbeckia I planted in previous years, or rather the remnants of those plants. The bunnies must really like the stuff.

This astilbe is a long-suffering resident of my yard.

I have tried it here and there, with little success. It is supposed to like shade, but I guess it's possible to get too much of a good thing. It is getting more sun than usual this year, and is responding with some nice color.

Heuchera, aka coral bells, is not known for its flowers, but it does bloom.

Another shade lover, the dark foliage provides colorful contrast to the hostas.

The yucca flower stalk has broken free from the asplenifolia.

Its petals are already dropping.

On the south side of the house I have a fair amount of painted daisy of the 'Clara Curtis' variety.

It's not really a daisy per se, but a member of the chrysanthemum family.

There are a few shasta daisies mingled with the monarda.

This bee balm is known as 'Fireball' and is mildew resistant. Ordinarily, the bees cannot resist it, but so far this year, the blossoms are sadly lacking their insect companions.

I read an article yesterday about how not only is the honeybee population in danger, but all pollinators are struggling to survive, even hummingbirds. This tragic fact is evident in my own backyard. Last year hummingbirds and butterflies were daily visitors but I have seen very few of either this year. No one knows for sure what the problem is, but likely culprits are loss of habitat and overuse of pesticides and herbicides.

Ordinarily, my yard is not totally pesticide/herbicide free. I have been known to apply weed and feed on the lawn and wage battle with mulberries and Canada thistle using Round Up. But this year I just did not get around to the lawn treatments, and every time I thought about spraying weeds, a breeze would spring up, leaving me fearful of herbicide drift. My lawn looks a bit raggedy and is not nearly as lush as it usually is, but it is basically green, so I am not going to worry about it too much. I'll take care of the thistle by pulling it and using newspapers as a weed barrier beneath the mulch. It's more work than spraying; I don't know about you, but I can always use the exercise.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Too Much Is Never Enough

I once commented to a friend that I could see how one's house could become packed with old newspapers. She looked at me like I was nuts; apparently, she does not let clutter take over her abode. Thanks to recycling, I am less likely to find myself maneuvering around piles of the Journal Gazette these days, but lately I have been saving them to use as a weed barrier under mulch.

Using newspaper in the garden is not a new idea. When I first created the beds along the north and south fences, newspaper went under the mulch. But it did not occur to me to use more newspaper under subsequent layers of mulch. Nor did I think to soak the newspaper beforehand. Thank you, Lasagna Gardening.

In each of the previous two years, I ordered an entire truckload of mulch, its delivery strategically timed with my son's spring visit. Happy birthday, son! Here's a shovel!

I don't know if it is the economy or my energy level, but this year I just could not bring myself to buy a whole truckload. That is a lot of mulch that needs to be dealt with right away. Last year, after watching me struggle to clear what looked like a prop from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" from my driveway, the neighbor across the street offered the use of his truck in the future. I contemplated taking him up on that this spring, but somehow the urge to purchase mulch never coincided with the urge to spread mulch.

Instead, I bought ten bags of cypress mulch (the cheapest kind) from Home Depot one day. Since my garage was going to be full of the vehicles of vacationing relatives (ahem), I threw the bags around the back yard with the best of intentions. Since then, it has rained almost everyday (0.25" since yesterday). This morning it looked threatening, but I decided to tackle the mulching anyway.

An hour later, I am out of newspaper and almost out of mulch and nowhere close to being done. I asked my SO to bring me his old News Sentinels, but it won't be enough. This is recycle week. Dare I take my bright yellow wagon around the nabe and rifle through my neighbors' trash? That is beyond even me.

In anticipation of future weed barrier needs, just how much newspaper should I allow to accumulate over the winter? I generate a brown paper grocery sack of newspaper every two weeks. Filter out the slick advertising inserts, and it's maybe a sack every three weeks. From September to April, that's maybe 10 or 11 bags. Hmmm. That's not as bad as I thought it would be. So that will be my strategy for next year. Meanwhile, I'll just limp along, scrounging from those I'm not too embarrassed to ask.

Besides mulching, this morning I was picking as well. The snap peas were planted where they get afternoon shade from the privat. Generally, gardening resources suggest that row crops be planted in north-south rows, to increase the plants exposure to the sun. But it looks like the peas on the west side of the pea fence are less prolific than those on the east side, presumably because of the privat. I will have to keep this in mind next year when I decide what (and where) to plant in this area.

In a previous lifetime, before snap peas were developed, I grew not only snow peas but English peas as well, enough for a family of four to enjoy all winter long. On the negative side of growing peas, they need something to climb, they need to be picked at just the right time, and they need to be shelled. On the plus side, they favor cool weather, so are one of the first veggies from the garden, garden varieties are better than Bird's Eye, and they make great snacking right out of the garden. Shelling peas while watching TV became a family ritual.

My bunny is quite spoiled with fresh greens year 'round, but right from the garden during the growing season.

The mustard greens also grow in the shade of the privat, which I think is keeping them from bolting. Maybe I will have to cook up a mess for myself.

Meanwhile, it's back to the yard, to tackle the Queen Anne's lace.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


After all my hard work, chopping and bundling brush, I forgot to put it out for trash pickup this morning. *sigh*

The thrill of spring is giving way to the steady rhythm of summer. The honeymoon is over, but there are still a few interesting things around the yard.

Up close and personal, the milkweed blossoms await their pollinators.

This plant grows from a crack between the driveway concrete and a wall of castle block. The volunteers in the 3B garden are not nearly as robust, in spite of having real dirt to grow in and lots of mulch to keep their feet moist.

The burning bush is starting to make these little fruit? seeds? that the sparrows like.

Hmmm. I just did a little research. The burning bush does produce fruit which the birds do like, BUT it is also considered a non-native invasive. I did not know that. I have not noticed my bush doing any invading in my yard, but the birds may be spreading the seeds far and wide. In my defense, this bush was here when I bought the house.

Yuccas are forever, but this one is struggling to bloom.

If memory serves me correctly, once upon a time I planted three yuccas in this spot. When I added more plants, I tried to eliminate some of the yuccas, but like a bad weed, more keep popping up. What remains has to compete with the asplenifolia and sandcherry for sunlight. The flower stem is quite spindly and not full at all. Not sure if I will do anything about it, though.

The next two pix were an attempt to showcase the 3B garden but my photog skills are lacking.

3B stands for Bees, Butterflies, Birds. This garden is successful in attracting all three. From a distance, it appears meadowlike, very green with highlights of color. The above photo shows the catmint and daisies, the picture below yarrow, pestemon, and keys of heaven.

The 3B is prettier in real life.

The two-leggeds need to eat as well.

The first pepper!

And here is the Mad Rabbit.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Take My Money, Please

Still waiting on one of the estimates. Not sitting by the phone, but a little puzzled that I have not heard at all. This does not bode well. Suitor #1 is looking better and better. I've decided to decide by the end of this week. Time's a wastin'!

Today we received another 0.5" rain, on top of 0.25" from Monday? Tuesday? The days are a blur. I did a little weeding Monday night, until the mosquitoes chased me in. Tonight I picked bunny greens but abandoned the snap peas for one more day. Those damn bugs!

And this damn Blogger! It's being recalcitrant uploading pix. And why have a home and garden blog if you can't illustrate it with mediocre photography?

Anyway, here is the one pic that did upload:

Deadheading the Stellas has become the daily chore task. I hope it will be worth the 1.23 minutes per clump that it takes.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Not an Early Bird

I worked in the yard Thursday evening, Friday evening, and Saturday morning. Despite forecasts of scattered thunderstorms, the weather looked fine this morning, but I just could not drag myself out there a fourth day in a row. The work will still be there tomorrow. (And it did rain in the afternoon, 0.25".)

The new room continues to morph. Now it is down to 18'x18', almost the same size as the deck, the deck that is going away. I was resting on the deck yesterday, eyeballing the warped boards, the cupped surfaces, the trellis coming loose, the wasps building nests under the benches, the rabbits nesting beneath it, etc. And usually it is too buggy/windy/hot/cold to spend much time on the deck. I will not be sad to see it go.

The estimates are starting to roll in, and that is affecting the plans as well. Can't afford the half-bath nor the cathedral ceiling with carsiding. Looking for other areas where I can trim some costs as well. Get that calculator out.

I run hot and cold on this whole deal. On the one hand, I get really excited about fixing up the house (finally!) Then I freak out about the expense. Then I try to convince myself that I deserve this. Then I wonder if it would be easier to just move. But I would have to fix up the house before I could sell it. Maybe I will wait until next year. But prices will only go up. Maybe I won't do anything. But the house needs a new roof. And if I am going to do the roof, I might as well do the room as well, rather than re-roof the flat roof. Round and round I go.

And having multiple bids is like having multiple boy friends that I have to choose among. All of them are perfectly adequate, but none outstanding. The bids are in line with each other as well. The inner people-pleaser is struggling with this issue. Do guys have this problem? What would Bob Vila do?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Early Bird

When I awoke this morning, I could hear rumbling, but once I struggled out of bed, the skies cleared. Today's chore: attack the brush pile.

Backyard habitats are supposed to include a brush pile, but city residents are not. Technically, someone could have reported me to Neighborhood Code Enforcement for this little mess. Wielding my new clippers (which I discovered do not hold a candle to my little Cutco pruning shears that I abused so badly they need a major overhaul), I literally cut the brush pile down to size.

I saved the larger branches for burning in my fire bowl. That's another city thing: no open burning, but we can have fire bowls and chimneas.

My daughter stopped by when I was done, and I proudly said, I got rid of the brush pile! Her response: Now it's in the front yard.

The city trash picker-uppers will not haul away yard debris unless it is bundled or in bins or in bags. I am frequently tempted to buy a shredder/chopper of some kind, so I can recycle this kind of brambly yard waste more easily (and buy less mulch too). Maybe someday.

Anyway, it's a good thing I got an early start, as around noon the skies darkened, the rumbling returned, and we received a good 0.5" of rain. Now the weeds will be easier to pull.

This is only the second year for this Avant-Garde clematis.

The plant is like an adolescent, tall and gawky, and the blooms kind of ratty looking. Unfortunately, it will have to be moved if/when the new room is built. That will delay its settling in.

Proof of snap peas.

It won't be a bumper crop, but should be enough for some fresh eating.

And more tiger lilies.

Friday, June 20, 2008

No Man's Land

There is an area behind my back fence, in front of the privat, that belongs to me. When I first moved in, the neighbors behind me were using it as a dumping ground. I didn't realize this until, while I was cleaning up the debris, they came out and apologized profusely for the mess; I had assumed the previous owners of my house had left the junk behind. These neighbors and I took turns mowing that stretch. When they moved away, the new neighbors and I had a few "discussions" about the privat and their fence, with me discouraging them from cutting down the privat and them trying to get me to do the trimming by their fence. Now I am the exclusive mower of the area, but I decline responsibility for the grass growing along their fence. These same neighbors share a swath between their fence and the fence of the people next door to them. Neither party seems to want to take responsibility for this area, so it gets a little ratty looking until finally one of them (I'm not sure which one) runs a mower through it. Do you have no-man's-land areas in your neighborhood that become passive-aggressive battle zones?

The weather forecasts are reliably unreliable, so yesterday and today were mowing days for me. Yesterday was also car washing day and garage cleaning day. Everyday is deadheading day and, since it hasn't rained in a while, water something or other day.

The weather this past week has been delightful, highs in the 70's, lows in the 50's. Today it climbed into the 80's, so I turned the AC on for a while. These temps have allowed the climbing rose to just keep going and going.

There is almost not enough room on the canes for the thick clusters of blooms.

I still haven't gathered any rose petals while I may. Sometimes enough is enough.

The early bird hosta is inching closer to full bloom.

Hummingbirds like these.

This photo does not do justice to the range of pastel colors in the yarrow.

There is white and yellow and pink and lavender.

A neighbor's yucca has burst forth with bloom while mine is just barely starting.

But his does not have to compete for sunlight with an asplenifolia.

I've been cruising the nurseries and nursery departments, looking for more 'Jethro Tull' and, since I inadvertently destroyed the last of the scabiosa, I have also been keeping an eye out for a replacement. Tonight I found both at Lowes.

This is Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum' aka purple fountain grass. Now that I am taking a closer look at the plant tag, I realize I did not buy what I thought I was buying - this stuff is supposed to get huge. I may have to rethink where I plant it. (That pesky lack of mindfulness thing bites me once again.)

Several years ago, I received with a mail order plant shipment some free lilies. I stuck them in the ground here and there, with the intention of moving them someday. You know what they say about good intentions.

Here is this year's first bloomer of this group. It is growing in the pink and white flower bed, but it looks like a good candidate for the yellow and maroon side of the house. Since I will be planting 'Jethro Tull' tomorrow (weather permitting), maybe I will move this guy and replace him with some coneflower.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


After bragging about how well my 'Blue Muffin' bloomed this year, I'm frustrated to report there are no berries on the plant. Ditto the 'Onondaga'. What gives? Well, according to my research, research I did now and not before I bought the shrubs, the 'Blue Muffin' requires a cross pollinator, which I apparently do not have, and the 'Onondaga' is not known for its berry-producing powers.

What really aggravates me, though, is when I bought these shrubs, I told the nurseryman that I was looking for berry-producing shrubs for my backyard habitat. He came up with a list of likely candidates, and I chose five from that list. Now I discover that two are goldbricking. I can try to solve the 'Blue Muffin' problem by planting a cross pollinator (which may not be as easy as it sounds, from what I have been reading on gardening forums). But I will never get that beautiful 'Onondaga' to squeeze out more than a few token berries.

To add to my irritation, the serviceberry, which the robins love, has never produced much, while the blackhaw viburnum has tons of berries that the local wildlife is not wild about. At least the chokeberry is choking with fruit this year. I need to protect it better from the marauders that snip whole branches and drag them away.

Not everyone is goldbricking.

I have been diligently plucking spent blooms from my Stellas, in hopes of extending their season. What makes yellow so cheerful?

The name of this groundcover is anything but cheerful: 'Dragon's Blood' red sedum.

The blooms are not very dramatic, but it is a robust grower, spilling over the castle brick retaining wall in front of my house.

One way to prevent weeds is to grow 'em big and grow 'em dense.

The heuchera is barely holding its own against the hostas that ate New York and the volunteer violets. But notice: no weeds in this bed. I just have to guard against grass creeping in along the edges.

While the hostas above are biding their time, this hosta is pushing the blooming envelop.

What is odd about this particular hosta is it shares its bed with a twin. A puny, underdeveloped twin. A twin I planted at the same time. These two plants are less than three feet apart, in an old tractor tire, and one thrives while the other is stunted. Maybe it's a case of sibling rivalry. Maybe they need to be separated.

I was late planting my snap peas, and they probably do not get enough sun, but they are blooming.

I think in years past I was harvesting pods by now.

The following photo, blurry as a UFO picture in a tabloid, is proof that I have tomatoes on the way.

Now I have to tell a story on my co-worker. M asked me if the blossoms on the tomato plant were what produced the tomatoes. Yes. Then we got to discussing his tomato plants. He wanted grape tomatoes, but he thinks he got cherries. He planted them in a container, and some people have told him that he has too many plants for the container. How many cherry tomato plants did he plant? Ten. As in 10. As in Roman numeral X. He lives by himself. I told him he will have to set up a cherry tomato stand in his front yard to dispose of the extras. Or trade them for zucchini.

He is not the only one to end up with the wrong plant. When I bought this tiger lily, I thought I was buying a tiger daylily, aka ditch daylily.

It's still a beauty.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mindfulness, Lack Of

Yesterday I was weeding the beds visible from the street (the ones I don't see from the house - out of sight, out of mind), when I noticed the scabiosa was absent. I kept picking up my feet, thinking I had stepped on it, but no, those pretty periwinkle flowers were in the basket. Those naked stems fooled me. I debated trying to stick it back into the ground, but I didn't think it would survive. My only consolation was the color was wrong for that side of the house, which is mostly yellow and maroon.


... and maroon - NOT!

A co-worker developed a landscaping plan for me about seven years ago, and while I have not followed it to the letter, it served as a great starting point and gave me more confidence about developing my little acreage. But most of the pre-existing plants, like the old-fashioned lilac, burning bush, creeping phlox, and this clematis, remain despite their clashing colors.

A couple of years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to move the succulents to the bed with the asplenifolia and yucca. Unfortunately, this idea was flawed, as the new location is not sunny enough for these fellows. A remnant of the hens and chicks remained in its old location and is now blooming.

This guy's cousins are slated to be moved to the pink bed on the south side of the house.

One of the wren houses has some twigs in it, and I hear the male singing in the neighbor's tree, but the house doesn't appear to be occupied. Yet. One can only hope.

And for those of you who think it would be great to sit on your deck and blog on a laptop, like I am doing right now, be forewarned that there is a lot of glare on the screen, and a few pesky insects. But there is also birdsong, fragrance, and color to excite the senses. Not a bad trade off.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Good News

One of the estimators I have been entertaining lately paid a return visit this afternoon, to discuss the New Plan. I had drawn up a picture of my Dream Room, which includes a half-bath at the north end of the house. He checked out this and that and proclaimed my plan Good. Now we will see just how much money it will cost.

This is the back of the house. The Florida room is in the center, and it would go away. An added bonus of this amputation is the family room and kitchen will get more light. The new room would go on the left and be as wide as the gable on the right, but jut out deeper into the backyard, measuring 24' x 18'.

When I first went house hunting way back when, I said I did not want a well or a flat roof. I wound up with both. Last year I hooked up to city water (the outdoor faucets are still on the well). With this remodeling, the flat roof will be history as well. So, in a way, I was right.

Yesterday I moved some daylilies from the back fence to the south fence. These daylilies are supposed to be what I call tiger lilies and some people call ditch lilies. They grow tall along country roads and bloom a long time. I see them in other people's yards but I don't know where those plants come from because every time I bring some home from a nursery, they turn out to be not quite what I want. I planted these last year, and I can't remember if they even bloomed. In their new location, they will get more sun and rain, so hopefully will grow tall and strong and beautiful.

Today it rained again, but just enough to wet everything down.

Let's go for a walk around the yard:

Here we have the first blush of yarrow.

Butterflies like yarrow because of the flat surface. This variety comes in several colors.

And here is the first of the Stella d' Oro daylilies.

The ones at the shopping centers have come on strong, but mine are a little late, probably because they get less sun. Mine also don't bloom for very long. This year I am going to try to keep the blossoms coming, by daily dead-heading. (Does someone do that for the parking lot Stellas?)

The privat is filling the air with its almost-too-cloying fragrance.

The bees love these blossoms, which made yesterday's relocation of the daylilies, um, a challenge. No insects (or humans!) were injured, though. Well, except for one deer fly, but I killed him in self-defense.

Every year, some milkweed pops up in my front yard. Monarchs come to visit, but I have never found any eggs, caterpillars, or cocoons on the plants.

This year there are some volunteers in the backyard. Maybe the monarchs will like that location better.

I have been trying to capture the beautiful new growth on the barberry. This photo does not do it justice.

Other varieties are less subtle than mine. These are still luscious, especially when lit from behind by the setting sun.

What I am trying to show in this photo is how tall the yucca stalks are.

It's difficult to see, but the top of the yucca stalk is about three-fourths of the way up the asplenifolia. I don't think I fertilized this bed yet, so this must be a fighting-for-some-light growth.

The surviving Shasta daisies are doing well.

What makes daisies seem so cheerful and innocent?

And the roses are still hanging in there. The hot and humid days have been somewhat balanced by some fairly decent ones, so they haven't crumpled to the ground yet.

Hmmm. It just occurred to me that maybe I should try saving some of the petals. Do they hold fragrance? Could I use them in sachet or potpourri?

The pestemon is still in its beginning stages.

Last year I was impressed with the way it swept up against the fence. Hope we get a repeat performance.

Up close and personal, individual flowers show fascinating variations. This scabiosa has delicate stamens in the center.

Scabiosa bloom all summer long. The flowers are supported by nearly naked stiff stems, and appear to be just hanging in midair with no support.

The petals of the 'Jethro Tull' coreopsis are fluted.

Get it? Jethro Tull? Fluted? I guess you have to be (ahem) middle aged to understand.