Monthly Archives: May 2013

The 10-Year Plan

I think the biggest surprise I’ve gotten out of this year’s blooms is how happy I’ve been with the way my garden looks now. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a ton I want to improve and there have been some sad, scraggly looking bushes. But it’s evident even the worst offender is growing, and some doing even better than that.

Take the irises, for example. They were a gorgeous treat all through May. I’ll have to divide them this fall because they’re doing so very well, and I love the thought that something in this yard is established.

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By the time the sunshine knock-out roses began doing their thing, the hybrid sage was in full purple glory, and things really looked like I’d actually planned this work of art.

Roses and Irises

This ties in, in part, to a fantastic article I read in the January/February 2013 issue of Gardening How-To. The article, “Worth the Wait” by Sarah Dorison (page 32), talked about the need for patience in starting a garden from scratch. Dorison¬†profiled the owner of a landscape design company who advises “Paper first, backhoe second.”

Part of why this article so inspired me was the photos by Janet Loughrey. The “before” photos could have been my, or anyone’s, backyard. It was a square with a few neatly mulched trees. The “after” photo, however included a neat lawn, a lovely pond adjacent to a tidy patio, with all manner of wildflowers and cozy spitting spots corralled by beds of mulch – very much the look to which I aspire.

I’ve also read reminders recently (although the source unfortunately escapes me) that after three years a shrub starts to look established, after five years it begins to look like it’s meant to be in that spot, and after ten years you can’t tell it hasn’t always been there forever. Well, for many of my plants, this year marks the three-year point. There are still some scraggly beasts, and some that haven’t fared so well, and many that need a good pruning, but for the most part the plan is starting to look like just that.

Now, the only downside to this 10-year plan I’m working on is that I’m ready to establish new things now, since I know just how long there is to wait. But drawing is for this year’s to-do list, and planting is for next year!

Iris Beauty

My Summer To-Do List

Being a mom has already proven to be hard work, and I still have several more months to go before my garden-helper-to-be is out in the world. The hardest part for me has simply been that every time I bend down to pull a weed, it takes five minutes, a backache and a bad batch of heartburn before I can struggle my way upright. And digging holes? Forgetaboutit. Urgh.

For the time being, I’m stuck making lists, planning ahead, and pointing (much to the chagrin of husband and every strong-backed individual who has the misfortune to wander too close to my garden paradise). I think I’ve found a few small things I can do, though, and I thought I’d make a to-do list so that by fall I can look back and say, “Well, I accomplished something.” (In addition to giving birth and all that jazz, of course.)

1. Lawn care. Ok, this one falls into the point-and-plead arena, but I thought it would be worth putting on the list simply because Chris has taken lawn improvement into his own hands and I thought it would be worth remembering in October to compare the views and see of our weed and feed regimen has made a difference.

Lawn Improvement Project

2. Control the roses. My knock-out roses may think they’ve won their way out of their pots, but I’m determined to prove them otherwise. I have plans for a simple lattice, using 1×1 wood, screws and a couple cans of spray paint that I’m sure I can do mostly sitting down. I love the enthusiasm of these roses, but their growth is getting out of hand and any day now I’m going to come down the stairs to find they’ve toppled over on themselves and are growing aggressively across the grass.

Knock-out Roses

3. Edge the gardens. While my scraggly plants¬† are still struggling to grow (less of a struggle this summer, I’m hoping, with this over-hungry Siberian irises out of the way), the grass, clover and other weeds are having no such problem. Chris and I have been talking since day one about edging each garden with stone to create a finite boundary that the mower can easily run over, determining lawn versus garden once and for all. I’m hoping this is the year. I’ve decided if I just pick up a handful of landscaping stones at Lowe’s a month, I could have half the backyard edged by 2022 (partly kidding). Moreover, I figure hand digging and settling in stone is something I can handle while seated on my happy little weeding mat. On top of that, I found a fantastic inspiration piece on Pinterest for how I would like my edging to look.

Let's hope this fall's "after" shot of this scraggly azalea and company is all-around neater.

Let’s hope this fall’s “after” shot of this scraggly azalea and company is all-around neater.

This list is depressingly short right now, but overall I’m not expecting to make many dramatic changes this year. I suppose number four on the list might be to start drawing out the idea I have for extending the garden around the pond, but I have a feeling that will undergo many changes before fall digging time. We’ll start with this for now and see how it goes.

My Favorite Plant Reaches Its Full Potential

Do you see that shrub sticking up deck-high? Just behind the railings? The beautiful, soft green of that most wondrous of plants?

Blueberry BushIf I stick my arm out of my Adirondack chair, I can nearly reach the top of my all-time favorite plant: my blueberry bush!

That’s right, this year I’m living the dream! In just a few short weeks, I’ll be able to pick blueberries from the comfort of my deck, just as I had planned all those years ago when I dug the hole for it. I’m already salivating about the thought of taking my morning Cheerios to the deck and sprinkling it with a few over-sweet berries, yummm!

Veggie Gardening Colonial Style

As I mentioned in my last post, the Lower Garden at Mount Vernon was among my favorite inspiration points at George Washington’s impressive estate, in part because there was no separation between the practical and the pretty, the vegetables themselves were beautiful. The rows of purple-topped chives added interest among the cabbage. Rosemary created a fragrant, beautiful, and simple-to-maintain hedge around the peas.

Lower Garden

Around the fenced-in dipping cistern was a beautifully patterned arrangement of vegetables to benefit from the handy irrigation.

Dipping Cistern at Lower Garden

However, the most unique addition was the apple, pear and peach trees trained to grow espalier along many of the fences throughout the garden. It was mind-blowing how these trees had been trained and trimmed to create a low-lying living fence throughout the garden.

Apple Tree in the Lower Garden

The entire arrangement made me eager to rush home and start digging the perimeter of my veggie-garden to be. Fortunately for Chris, I don’t rush much of anywhere these days and instead am making plenty of to-do lists for the summers ahead. More on that later as well!

Is there anything more beautiful than an edible feast awaiting harvest in the garden?

Is there anything more beautiful than an edible feast awaiting harvest in the garden?

Mount Vernon’s Landscape Inspiration

Chris and I have started a tradition of doing something special for our anniversary, rather than settling for gifts – something we might not ordinarily do, where we can both learn something new and enjoy some time together. My waddling and growing girth limited us a bit this year, so we took a short drive north up to visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s final estate. (It’s starting to seem as though we’re following President Washington around…)

The estate that George Washington spent 45 years remodeling and improving.

The estate that George Washington spent 45 years remodeling and improving.

It’s a beautiful mansion on the banks of the Potomac, and the organization that runs it has done an amazing job of preserving even the view from the grand veranda. Outside, as we waited in line for our tour, I admired the arcades on either side of the main house, leading to servants’ quarters and kitchen, respectively, and how what seemed to be honeysuckle had been trained to grow neatly along the columns. From a distance, the flowers seemed painted. Inside I was most impressed to see Washington’s study, because I do love a good library, and it was rather impressive to see the chair he sat in to pen many of the documents that helped dictate the course of our nation.

The covered walkways bordering the main house at Mount Vernon are themselves covered with well-trained blooms.

The covered walkways bordering the main house at Mount Vernon are themselves covered with well-trained blooms.

As our tour guides reminded us, ol’ George considered himself quite the farmer, and his gardens show his passion. The first we toured was the tiny test garden where new or exotic varieties of plants were grown before being moved to one of several other gardens. There was a large orchard that sloped beautifully toward the river. Then on either side of the front lawn were the walled Upper and Lower Gardens. Restorers have created in these gardens their image of what was standard for the time, with some basis in records that Washington kept.

The Upper Garden, which abutted the former greenhouse, was a fabulous mix of wild and tame. Here we found rows of cabbages and lettuce and peas and radishes and other veggies bordered by a hodgepodge of peonies and Siberian irises and tulips roses and goodness knows what else.

The Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

The Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

Yet on the side of the walkways closest to the greenhouse, restorers had created a fabulous expanse of topiary in all manner of unique designs.

The topiaries in the Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

The topiaries in the Upper Garden at Mount Vernon

It was a fascinating blend of discipline and untamed beauty.

Wildflowers and Topiaries

Still, I think it was the Lower Garden that I most enjoyed, because practicality and beauty were combined hand in hand. More on that later…

Sweet Start to Summer

This morning I was greeted with the first rose of summer. The sight left me smiling and I thought I’d share.

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Given the rate at which my roses have grown so far this spring, it’s going to be a sweetly fragrant summer.