Saturday, August 29, 2020

Is it fall yet?

It always happens by the end of August: I am DONE with summer. Last week was hot and humid, but finally it rained(!) and now it is cooler. And by "cooler" I mean mid 70's. Still shorts and T shirt weather, but definitely a harbinger of things to come.

An athletic and industrious squirrel has been cleaning out the bird feeders in the front yard, despite the rodent baffle on the pole. It is presumably preparing for winter. I moved the feeders to the backyard, in hopes that the dogs would do their duty and keep the feeders relatively squirrel-free. I also adjusted the baffle. So far, there have been no squirrel sightings, but not too many birds yet, either. They will come eventually.

My SO came over last weekend and helped me prune the purple leaf smoke bush. If you click here, you can see how it infringes on the rhododendron's personal space. The poor rhododendron is a shadow of its former self. I hope it recovers.

PJM rhododendron in center. Note lopsided growth habit.

According to my "records" (previous blog posts), I purchased four big blue stem plants in 2016. The funny thing is, three of them look alike and the fourth is not like the others. Three of them flop, one is much more upright. The floppers form seed heads before the upright one, but both types have that telltale turkey foot look to their seed heads. If any of you have an explanation for this anomaly, please leave a comment.

Flopper on left, upright on right

I've been debating about what to do with the back corner which currently is a MESS. The fruit trees I chopped down defiantly keep coming back. Other plants include common milkweed, pokeweed, bindweed, Indian hemp, creeping Charlie, Canada thistle, Virginia creeper, plus various weeds I don't know the names of. In the spring, there are daffodils that don't bloom much anymore. Then there is the rather ugly madder plant I need to dig up; the roots produce a red dye. That corner has had many incarnations over the years, but I think I am going to give up on it and turn it into lawn. Toward that end, I have started the long and difficult task of clearing it out.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Please fence me in

The fence guy finally called, promised to come take a look at my problem, but hasn't shown up yet. I'm a little anxious about the gate not latching properly - it's currently held closed with a bungee cord - but since I have that area blocked off from the dogs, there should be no excape artists in the making.

It is still dry, and now it is going to get hot again. I try to work in the shade as much as possible. A bed next to the deck that once held some rudbekia and coneflower (in its latest incarnation) is now pea gravel except for a bit at the end that holds a daylily that needs to be relocated. I'm not really a gravel mulch person, but sometimes it makes sense. The natural gas line runs under part of this bed, so I prefer to not be digging around in it anyway.

I've also been working on clearing the bed next to the front walk. It holds a conglomeration of sedum (both tall and creeping), coreopsis (that spreads! who knew?), spring bulbs, as well as volunteer wild strawberry, violet, columbine, sea oats, yucca, plus weeds of various kinds. I was hoping the wild strawberry and violet would act as dense ground cover and choke out undesirables, but that was folly. While my usual MO is to try to save all the plants, in this bed I am yanking out almost everything. The bulbs and 'Autumn Joy' sedum will be spared, perhaps some of the coreopsis, but not the rest.

All of a sudden, the cupplant is DONE. Oddly, some of the butterflyweed is blooming again. The morning glory is doing well but its growth habit is not what I hoped for. 'Limelight' hydrangea is absolutely LOADED. The goutweed beneath it has been trampled badly by the dogs, but I don't think you can kill that stuff, as it is making a comeback. Sunflowers should be blooming soon. Occasionally, I spot a lone swallowtail or monarch or paper white, but otherwise butterflies are sadly lacking.

The 'Golden Spirit' smokebush in the front yard looks great, but it has never really "smoked". A friend who owns a nursery gave it to me. I expected it to get as big and wide as the purple leaf smokebush by the house, but apparently that is not the case. It's growth habit is much denser, it most likely will not get as big and wide as its cousin, plus the jury is out regarding whether it will ever smoke. I saw one on the Garden Bloggers Tour I attended and thought it would be a fine addition to the yard - and it is - but I probably should have researched it more carefully beforehand, so I would have known what to expect.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Hummers are back

I confess that when the hummingbirds stopped frequenting the feeder in my yard, I stopped refreshing the nectar and it fermented. Hummers are smart birds and memorize where their food sources are. My feeder was probably imprinted in their brains as one to avoid once the nectar was no longer palatable. So not only did I refresh the nectar, I moved the feeder about 30 feet away. The hummingbirds are back, plus I sometimes see one perch on the feeder and take long sips.

The 'Limelight' hydrangea is full of blooms but they are about half their usual size. I saw a Limelight at Home Depot that had been trained into a tree form and I almost bought it for the newly freed area by the front porch. Fortunately, I looked up their growth habit online and decided it was not a good candidate for that location. I would like something tallish and narrow but yellow or gold, to contrast with all the purple leaf stuff in the front yard. Alternatively, I may put a cluster of pots there.

The morning glory is putting out more blossoms but still not exactly going to town. What I mostly see from the deck is yellow - rudbekia and cupplant and lemony daylily, with some coneflower and zinnia here and there. I try to focus on the "good" areas, ignoring the sections that still require a lot of attention. A local nursery is letting a corner of their country property go wild; they have the beginnings of a nice meadow. My wild area is mostly common milkweed, Canada thistle, and creeping Charlie. Ugh.

I started widening the area around the 'Golden Spirit' smokebush and used the grassy clods I removed to fill in some of the holes the dogs have dug in the backyard. I've observed them just randomly digging here and there, although sometimes it is a cicada they are after. One place they dug a cavern was next to a fence post, and now the nearby gate will not latch. I called my fence guy, but a week later am still waiting for a call back. Maybe he went on an extended vacation because he can no longer purchase fencing material - it's all gone. Pea-sized pebbles are also in short supply, but I managed to snap up a half dozen bags the other day.

We still need rain here - I'm getting tired of watering and wrestling with kinky hoses - but at least the temperatures have moderated a bit. With the recent heat wave, I broke off dog walking, but when I took Clio in for her annual shots, she had gained five pounds. Now Clio and Watson and I are getting back into the groove of early morning jaunts around the nabe.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

What's in a name?

There is a clump of some kind of grass next to the big blue stem that I don't recognize. While perusing garden pics in an effort to identify it, I came across one of what I referred to last time as little blue stem. Well, I think that is wrong. I think it is prairie drop seed. Oops!

This isn't the first time I have misidentified a plant or shrub in my garden. For example, I kept calling the silver grass 'big blue stem' even though it looks nothing like that native. Since I rely on my blog to keep track of what's what, this bad habit is very unfortunate. I hope you will forgive my errors.

I've been digging this past week, literally. I moved some of the northern sea oats and switch grass (at least I *hope* that is switch grass!) to the south side of the house. Today I capped that effort by hacking at the remaining plants in front of the house; tomorrow I will mulch that area.

The house faces east; the bed I am working on is at the south end, by my bedroom. Currently, the bed contains an overgrown purple leaf smoke bush, several 'PJM' rododendron, and a clump of pampas grass. The PJM has not done well lately, and now that I have cleared out the forest of northern sea oats, I can see why: the smoke bush is infringing on its territory. If I want the rododendron to recoup itself, something will have to change.

Here is a pic of the 'Scarlet O'Hara' morning glory. So far, there have not been many blooms on the vines. Since this is my first time growing them, I don't know if this is normal and I just need to be patient, or if the plants are not getting enough sun. The zinnias that share the morning glory pots are spindly, a sign of insufficient sun. The vines have reached the top of the pergola, which gets lots of sun, so we'll see if that makes a difference.

(Blogger has updated its user interface. Ugh. I like to compose in HTML, but apparently the HTML view does not recognize touch screen input. It's back to using the arrow keys because I don't have a mouse and I hate the touch pad. Some editing options are no longer available in the HtML view (or I can't find them), so I have to bop back and forth between views, then remove the extraneous HTML that the 'compose' view inserts. The photos may not fit into my template, either. Wah, wah, wah.)

Saturday, August 01, 2020

All day rain

As far as I am concerned, today's all day rain can be an all weekend rain. No matter how much one waters or how one waters, it doesn't beat actual rain. Also, this rain fits right into my plans to shift some plants around.

Actually, the shifting has begun. I moved some rudbekia, coneflower, and "ditch" day lily to the silver grass circle, from a bed next to the deck. There already was coneflower behind the silver grass, but it couldn't be seen from the deck. I didn't intend to move the day lily there, but after blindly digging it up, discovered my mistake only after placing it in its new hole. Oh, well. The more the merrier, which is why there is also some aster there now.

The little blue stem that remained from the prairie sample is now next to the chokeberry, near its big cousins, along with more aster and coneflower, also from the so-called prairie. The little blue doesn't seem very happy about the move, but hopefully this rain will perk it up.

Yesterday I wanted to work outside, especially since the temps were moderate, but I just could not face any more digging or weeding. So I pruned the viburnum. The 'Chicago Lustre' and 'Blue Muffin' are forms known as arrowwood for their straight, vertical branches. But sometimes those branches go horizontal, threatening the mower's eyesight. I'm not sure how the 'Wentworth' highbush cranberry is supposed to grow but mine tends to spread, a lot. The blackhaw is mostly vase-shaped but it too has some literally eye catching branches. I sawed, snipped, and cut out a fair amount from all these specimens. I also pruned up the other redbuds in the yard, so I can walk under them.

The 'Scarlet O'Hara' morning glory is starting to bloom, although I would describe the color as fuchsia or even pink, not scarlet. I planned to take a photo today - yesterday was too breezy - but the blessed rain interfered with my plans. Maybe next time.

A male hummingbird has made an appearance in my yard, preferring the penstemon to the nectar feeder. Male goldfinches are also present, feeding on the bee balm seed heads and hanging around the cupplant. I hear more birds than I see, especially a hawk, but am not very adept at identifying bird song. A few more butterflies have passed through - both yellow and black swallowtails, a sulphur - but despite all my native flowers, they don't hang around. The cicadas do, though. Some people don't like their song but I do - much better (and sometimes louder) than lawn mowers.

Grasses are starting to put out seed heads. From where I sit at the computer, I can see the turkey feet of the big blue stem. In the front yard, the northern sea oats and dwarf fountain grass are doing their thing. The plan is to move the former to the south side of the house because, OMG, do those seeds spread! The latter spreads, too, so it is destined to be transferred to a more contained bed. I'm sure if I were more proactive about cutting down grass seed heads, I would not have the spreading problem, but one of the reasons I plant them is to enjoy the beauty of those pesky seed heads, especially as "winter interest".

BTW, if you want to know how I really occupy myself in retirement, it's as the doorkeeper for pets. They are always on the wrong side of the egress. Time to let two wet dogs in.