Monthly Archives: September 2012

Fall Overhaul

Yesterday I began my fall overhaul of the garden. I still have a handful of shrubs in pots, but things are already looking better.

It turns out my azaleas did grow this summer, we just couldn’t tell because of the overgrown Siberian irises – so out those flowers came. After Chris significantly widened the border of that bed around the deck, we filled it with two flats of pansies. I love the result.

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It’s so nice to finally be able to focus on color, and not just background texture.

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There is one little problem though. I love my irises, I really do. Maybe a little less after an hour of struggling to get them out of the ground, but still. We planted a handful around a spindly camellia in the corner, which looks after three years as if it just might make it. I figured the tenacious irises might take root in that poor soil area, and help remind me to water.

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As for the rest … I’m still working on that.

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Drop me a line if you’d like a bundle of irises!

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Bulb Frenzy

Last week, I gave a rundown of my plan for the side garden, and how I hope to turn this into a colorful showcase. It was about that time that I became very serious about my bulbs. As I mentioned earlier this month, I’m looking to really go overboard with bulbs this year for a brighter and more colorful spring next year. I’m starting with the basics. At Wal-mart I found a still overpowering selection of daffodils, tulips and crocuses. After much deliberation I settled on:

  • Tulip long stem mix, yellow, pink and red, mid-spring bloom – 36 bulbs;
  • Daffodil Tahiti, dark yellow with orange hints in center, mid-spring bloom, 12 bulbs;
  • Daffodil Ice King, cream with soft yellow in center, early spring bloom, 12 bulbs; and
  • Crocus mix, purple, white and yellow, early spring bloom, 55 bulbs.

I selected more than 100 bulbs in basic bold colors for my spring mix.

Yesterday Akira and I found the perfect time to plant our 115 bulbs, just before a major rain came through. I followed the directions on the bags, planting the daffodil and tulip bulbs about four inches down (roughly, hoping next week’s mulching will add to that depth) and putting the crocus bulbs down no more than 2 inches. I also alternated the tulips with daffodils, hoping that the proximity to the daffodils will protect my tulips from squirrels. Crocuses were planted in a row just behind the bigger bulbs because, well, I didn’t plan ahead that well, but am hoping the crocuses will bloom early enough they won’t be blocked by the taller flowers.

Akira helped me to dig the 4-inch deep recommended holes for my tulip and daffodil bulbs (until I firmly insisted she stop).

That little oops was reminder enough to me that next fall I’ll have to add layers further back, and continue with these plantings until this entire bed is a wash of brilliant color each March and April – and hopefully May and June as well, since I’ve transplanted several bearded and Siberian irises to this bed as well and the gardenias seem to be holding up and growing still.

Of course, this was just one bed. I’m excited to explore the incredible options available in daffodils when the petunias in my front bed die out here soon and I begin updates in that area!

My helper borrows my garden tools.

A Side Garden Trip

I’ll admit, it wasn’t the snakes keeping me out of the garden this last week so much as it was a little R&R.  Just before I left town I went to Lowe’s to see what they had available in the way of bulbs, and wound up walking out with an armful of $1 mums. The mums have been doing great in my side garden all year, and now are finally ready to reveal their yellow and copper blooms, so I’m working to expand this little patch.

Before I describe my next course of action, though, I wanted to show some of the many transitions my side garden has taken since I moved in. It’s been my absolute favorite and also most hated patch of soil since about day one.  Part of the reason is that it was, essentially, the one flowerbed that existed when I moved in, and a scraggly mess it was.

The bed was bordered by two gorgeous crepe myrtles, one of which was in desperate need of pruning to allow its branches to grow thicker. Then there were a few shrubs that are healthy and quite nice but had really no rhyme or reason. Then there was some messy fosythia throwing out a tangle of roots and a few spotty February flowers. There was no border, just a place where there was even less grass. The whole area is largely shadowed thanks to a combination of oaks and hickories, and the crepe myrtles when in season. All of it is across from the garage, so you really can’t even see this area from the street, which makes it an odd location indeed for a flowerbed. Still, I was determined to make something of it.

The side garden in 2009, shortly after we moved in, was more of an idea than an actual garden.

The first thing to go was the scraggly forsythia, relocated to the back of the house where I thought its early color would help brighten the winter view from the kitchen window. The next step was to begin to give some definition to the bed. I decided to go the free route, and dug up bucket load after bucket load of monkey grass from my mom’s house. I planted it in an undulating border, punctuated by variegated liriope transplanted from the front of the house. Later, during our pond production, I would cap the ends of each bed with clusters of red stone that seem close in color to the crepe myrtles’ roots.

A mix of decorative grasses set the edge of the bed.

With the bed defined, I began the fun work of filling it in. I knew I wanted something to anchor it, something green but fun, low growing but taller than the flowers I wanted to plant in layers in front. I settled on frostproof gardenias, which I was absolutely thrilled to find. I had planted dwarf gardenias at my last house, and those little guys still created an out-of-this-world amazing smell every June … and then croaked every December. On a side note, I had a tough time with these frostproof ones the first year, but better mulching and regular fertilizer have since helped these beauties grow big and healthy.

I filled in my side bed with fun shrubs that could provide a backdrop to colorful annuals.

I added hydrangeas to fill in the odd space left behind a full grown but lopsided pieris, figuring they would do well with that shady spot.

Last year, I added a few stepping stones and a second hydrangea, and the first of many bulbs to come.

The problem I began to face with the bed was that, for the longest time, it was my only flower bed.

In my attempt to fill and beautify this garden, I may have gone a bit overboard.

Whenever I found something I liked or was gifted bulbs, such as the dozens of peonies my mother-in-law gave me, I slapped them into this bed because I had no other options – no matter whether the plant was suited there or not. The peonies, hating the shade and tangle of myrtle roots, have refused to bloom. The tall starburst-like lilies looked horribly misplaced and awkwardly tall next to the small gardenias and the irises didn’t seem to fit in with the waxier, lighter green plants around them. There was simply no order.

So this year I’m going for more, and for less. I’m going to transplant at least half the peonies to see if I can find a spot that works for them, where I can transplant the rest. I’m going to plant rows of bulbs (more on that next week). I’m going to move the lilies and, now that I know they’ll make it, add two  more gardenias to create a more solid row. And I’ve begun creating circles around the crepe myrtles, with rows of irises, that I hope to supplement next year with simple, bright annuals. A good cover of mulch and a few more stepping stones ought to finally get this bed in shape to show off. As for the rest of the side yard, well, I’ll save that for another post.

The side yard is going to be transformed once again come spring.

Why I’m Hibernating Until Winter

Even now my heart is hammering in my chest, I can barely unclench my fists enough to type and there’s a trickle of sweat itching the back of my neck. More to the point of this blog, I have vowed not to step foot outside until winter, at least until a good frost has covered the ground for more than a morning. Could make getting to work a little tricky, but I suppose I’ll cross that (safely inside) bridge when I get there.

What event could have led to such a horrible conclusion?

I was sitting by the pond, sipping on a muddled drink, idly throwing pellets of food to the fish, when I happened to glance up looking for Akira. I didn’t see the dog. Instead, I came eye to eye with a nightmarish-black serpent slinking past the skimmer with a fist-sized frog dangling from its mouth.

Now, if you’re one of those “they’re all God’s creatures” or “they’re part of gardening” or, blech, a “but they’re wonderful additions to the yard since they keep away pesky rodents” type gardeners, stop reading, exit this page, don’t even think about leaving a comment. Because believe me, I know that snakes have their place. I know they have a bad rap. I know that nasty thing isn’t going to do me any harm. I know this, logically. Still, the second the sun’s rays sparkle off those sequin-like scales, calling my attention to these legless, finless intruders, instinct kicks in, my amygdala kicks my legs into action, and I’m  out of there. Usually shaking and whimpering in an embarrassing display.

To tell the truth, this time I did pretty good. I screamed at the dog to “run, get, go, run!” as I headed up the deck steps. Not like when I was five and ran screaming  into the house at the sight of the tiny garter snake, locking the door before my toddling sister had even realized I’d left her alone. See, I’ve grown some.

It’s so incredibly frustrating, because I really do know better. And I’ve tried to overcome this frustrating gardening obstacle. I’ve gone to nature exhibits where snakes are on display, and proudly reached out to barely touch their colorful sides. I saw an exhibit once at the Baltimore Aquarium of water snakes, and I had to admit they were kind of beautiful. And if I think on it hard enough, I’ll admit there was something a little beautiful and noble about the sleek creature swimming through my grass today.

Doesn’t matter. If there was a button I could push to destroy them all, I’d do it in a heartbeat, without a thought to the consequences or the karmic retribution I’d draw down upon myself.

A Dear Surprise

I was all set to post an update to my fall flower initiative, when two unexpected guests dropped by yesterday afternoon.

I dropped everything to grab the close-up camera lens and snap through the front door these photos of the two young fawns lunching on my front lawn.

I never did spot the children’s mother, but can only assume she had taught them well or was watching nearby, as their ears were on constant alert, flickering at the slightest thing.

May your day likewise be full of unexpected surprises!

Dutch Influence

For the last two years, I’ve made a handful of trips to Europe for work, and I’ve carefully coordinated it so that I’ve had layovers in Amsterdam. I’ve spent all of one rainy night actually touring the beautiful city, and would love to someday spend several days soaking up the rich architecture, scenic canals and incredible art, but my layovers have been motivated by one purpose only: tulip bulbs.

Schipol Airport in Amsterdam has a number of shops that showcase the variety of uniquely shaped (ruffled and pointed!) and colored (green strips! dark black!) bulbs available in the Netherlands, with a few bags approved for import to the United States (be sure to carefully check the labels to avoid a big problem in customs). On my first trip I was feeling generous, and brought home tulip bulbs for my mom and brother. The last two trips I kept my carry-on fairly empty for plenty of flowers all for selfish me.

These imports from the Netherlands clearly state they have the required U.S. health certificate, making them safe for import to the United States.

Once home, I stretched my bulbs out as far as I could, hoping to have my pointed, green and red striped beauties peek their heads out of the dirt all over the yard in the spring … which they did … which I finally realized looked ridiculous.

Up close, this tulip is majestic; from a distance, this single flower seemed oddly placed.

This year, alas, I will have no new Dutch bulbs to plant. But that’s ok, I’ve realized, because this is the year I’m going to give my exotic beauties some local company. This is the year, I have declared, for going overboard on bulbs.

And I mean seriously overboard.

In addition to more traditional red tulips, which I feel will make the more exotic varieties better stand out, I have plans for couple other new additions. The biggest addition I’m planning to make is lots of daffodils.

This luscious tulip will look even more unique once surrounded by its more sedately traditional solid red peers.

The biggest single lesson I learned last year is that I am not the only local tulip lover. I have had major competition from the squirrels who found the holes dug for tulips to be easy access points for placing their acorns (and snacking on my bulbs). I learned courtesy of the American Daffodil Society that squirrels will not eat daffodils, and that frequent placement of these cheery beauties may help prevent squirrels from bothering other bulbs (of course, it may not. I guess we’ll see).

This blog was prompted by a flier this morning for my local nursery’s early bulb sale. I hope to have an update for you within the next few weeks, as we get deeper into September, about my bulb activities, and a few additional lessons learned from years past.

You won’t be alone for long, little tulip bulb – you’ll find plenty of company this year from a wide variety of bulb-based flowers!