Friday, August 26, 2011

Update on the Curb Strip Planting...

The new trees are all in the ground: 
                        Maples by the backyard fence - check
                        Serviceberry in the curb strip - check

Larger Serviceberry in front and the smaller one was moved further down.
I have done this lawn-killing thing before... ok, many times before. So it is surprising to me what a deep breath I still needed to take before sinking a shovel into that green, weedy expanse.

An hour later, the curb was polka dotted all the way to the corner.
And some of my neighbors were giving me funny, incredulous looks. Again.

And now the real daydreaming begins.

I have always planned on keeping this curb strip more simple than the other one, which has become the Front Woodland. But now that I see that fresh, dark dirt just waiting to sprout something, I am having new dreams of grandeur. 

Picture this: waves of small white bulbs blooming in unison under the Serviceberry trees in early May... or maybe blue and white?...I must look at May photos.

And for summer: Something simple like Geranium 'Rozanne' blooming in clumps among the Sedum 'Acre'. Oh, bliss.

Read the original post about Designing a Curb Strip Planting in Lieu of Lawn.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hummingbird Moth

This Hemaris moth is known as a Hummingbird moth or Clearwing moth in the US (or a Bee Hawk-Moth in Britian).  There are four varieties that fly in North and South America and three in Europe.

They are so amusing to watch as they dive about because they move just like a hummingbird, hence their common name.

I first remember seeing them when I worked at the local nursery (at which I now just spend money instead of earning it).  They would hover all around the butterfly bushes (Buddleia hyb.).  I am pleased that they have visited us in our Driveway Garden the last couple of years to drink from our butterfly bush. They like to be out in the heat of the day with the butterflies.

If you have never seen one of these moths fly and are curious about it, here is a short video clip I found.

Perhaps now you will see one this summer too!

Monday, August 22, 2011

New trees!

This is what happens when a wife, mother and gardener takes an empty minivan to the nursery and finds a sign that says: Trees 50% off

Hooray for new trees! 

Two maples (Acer rubrum 'Red Sunset') for the backyard fence, ready to fill in after the eventual demise of the mature tree, and a Shadblow Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) for the curb strip.

Serviceberry waiting to be planted.
Seeing all of those trees along this street-side of our property makes me feel ready to tackle ripping out the rest of the lawn in the curb strip. Exciting progress after five years of planning/thinking that direction.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More on restraint and looseness...

The English Garden at Stan Hywet.   More photos from our recent visit to come.
Every garden makes a philosophical statement about the relationship between art and control on the one hand and nature and wildness on the other.

~Noel Kingsbury in his introduction to Designing with Plants by Piet Oudolf

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pruning Daylilies in Mid-Summer

Herbaceous pruning (cutting the foliage of perennial plants) has a few uses. Often, it is used to delay the bloom of a plant, or to make it have better branching instead of just one main stem. This is known across the pond as the "Chelsea Chop", because gardeners in the UK can plan on cutting their perennials around time of the Chelsea Flower Show. (The show is usually held at the end of May.)

Another good reason for pruning perennial foliage occurs later in the season. During the hot months of July and August, perennial foliage often starts to look old and tattered. For many years, I sighed and assumed that yellowing leaves meant my garden was passing into its fall foliage already.

Before: Hemerocallis waiting for their trim in the Front Woodland

A few years ago, I started experimenting with cutting back (also known as "dead-leafing") my hardy Geraniums, lamb's ears (Stachys byzantine), lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and Hosta. Even that took a bit of courage at first, but my plants looked better for it!

Then I read Tracy DiSabato-Aust's thorough treatment on herbaceous pruning in her book, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden. New challenge: the bold step of cutting some plants to the ground. This was supposed to regenerate their foliage. But would it really work?

After: Post chop. Hedge shears made quick work of the entire Front Woodland.
I love daylilies early in the year. Their flowers are beautiful (sometimes scented!), their foliage covers the ground quickly in early spring and they are generally undemanding. Once they are done blooming however, I begin to despise their tattered appearance. In past years, I have torn off just the yellowing leaves under the base of my daylilies (Hemerocallis). This year, I decided to be brave and cut down the entire foliage clump when they had finished blooming.

After: Front Woodland with Hemerocallis nubs.
 I was very pleased with the overall appearance of the Front Woodland once I had cut the daylily foliage down at the end of July. It looked kept. Rather a satisfying bit of restraint at the most jungle-like time of year.  And with the Sedum 'Acre' ground cover in this garden, there was less bare mulch seen than I anticipated. I rather hate bare mulch. Better than dirt, yes, but that is what drives me to cover it with plants instead.

And for those of you wondering: Just a couple of weeks later, they are sending up new foliage. We have had some rain this week, which has helped them to recover quickly. The hope is that they will have new, fresh looking foliage all the way til frost.

Before: Cherry Corner
In the case of our Cherry Corner Garden, my decision to chop the daylilies worked out even better. The black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia) were barely visible at all above the mess of foliage. Once it has been cut down, I was delighted to be able to see the yellow flowers dancing above the annuals. This is the best this garden has looked yet at this time of year. 

After: Wow! I could not tell there were that many susans back there!
All that was left was a wheelbarrow load of foliage. After a long afternoon/morning of herbaceous pruning, I usually park this sucker in the garage and deal with unloading it later. Are you as lazy as I am?

Happy pruning!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day - August 2011

 I am happy with the gains I have made this year in our summer season at Gilmore Gardens.
(A look back at August 2010.) Not satisfied yet, but happy with the progress.  I have had little time to write about it (I have started five posts on the subject!), but I am in the middle of figuring out what tricks I need to add to my bag to make the gardens be show-stopping at this time of year.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Flying Squirrely Night Visitor

In a wonderful "wife" moment last evening, my husband and I were sitting out on our Patio enjoying some hot tea in our cooler weather. After a full day of being "mother" by chasing, reading, feeding, cleaning (always feeding then cleaning), coloring, snuggling, it was a great rest. (We had also squeezed in a little "gardener" with a quick trip to the small local nursery after dinner to grab some plants. Sorry we missed you, Joel!)

So, we are enjoying our after dark tea and conversation, when hubby spots a little creature making leaps to our bird feeder. It is so dark that it is difficult to see anything but its outline, and that is brief because it is so quick!  I snuck inside to get my camera, and the flash reveled our visitor - a flying squirrel right in the middle of town!

I lightened these photos a little so they could be seen better.
We watched him jump back and forth to the feeder in shadow-form for about twenty minutes. It was not until I snapped a picture between his jumps that we knew he was staying in the front of the tree to look at us. Sorry for the lack of focus on the next couple of photos; rather tough in the dark.
You can see his little pouchy "wings".

And with a little teamwork, we managed to shine a flashlight and get a little video clip of him jumping to the feeder to show our kids (and you all of course). 

(If you are reading this on email, you will need to go to Wife, Mother, Gardener to view the video.)

Great fun on a Thursday night!
Hope you are able to enjoy a few more magical moments this summer!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)

The Dawn Redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) 
is an unusual creature in the tree world - a deciduous conifer. 

That means it is cone-bearing and looks like an evergreen (its leaves are needles), but it turns color in fall and drops its needles (like a maple tree). There are only a handful of deciduous conifers in the whole world. This tree was once thought to be extinct, only being identified by fossil records. In 1944, it was officially discovered in China. But it was not spread to the rest of the world until after World War II.

My first encounter with this tree was at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA in 2009. I walked quickly with my then three-year-old Grace through their arboretum section, but was stopped in my tracks by this tree. This is one of the two large specimens that grow at Longwood.

View of its needles.
Just recently, I discovered that there are two younger trees planted outside of Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA. During our long saunter around the outside gardens, my husband and I found these unmistakable trees at the end of their prairie-style planting in the front yard.

At Phipps Conservatory

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hill Garden ~ First Week of August

An August update on the Hill Garden succession planting. 

The last update was in mid-July, with Rosa 'The Fairy' in full swing.
Very soon after the daisies were finished (see July), they were cut down to their second or third set of leaves. Cutting them this way might encourage them to make a second flush of bloom later this month.

Soon the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) started bursting on top of the Hill.   I have had success in sowing it myself from seed, probably since it is one of the easier plants to grow. It has really filled in this year. It was given the "chelsea chop" (or herbaceous pruning to those of us State-side) around the end of June to encourage it to bloom a bit later and have mulitple stems. It worked great this year!

Hidden amongst the coneflowers are half-a-dozen very small Russian sage plants (Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Little Spire'). So far, I am not thrilled with this plant because it is so slow growing. Maybe all Perovskia are slow growing? (Christine, any help??)  Perhaps it is just because it is a dwarf? Or maybe because it is part of a succession and therefore has to compete a little bit for its sunshine earlier in the season?

I do love how its blue flowers look in front of the large leaves of Canna 'King Humbert' (rather funny name, huh?). These cannas were potted up in my basement in April, sat for a while in their pots on the Hill while I thought about adding them (ok, they sat for a couple of months), and were just officially planted last week. I like them a lot here.

 That is it for now. The roses are recouping on the hill side; the lambs ears are regrouping from having their languidly lolling flower spikes cut down to stubs (a good mulching was needed after that yucky job).
Waiting to see what the rest of the summer brings!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Shade Path in July

See the bee on the right?
July was for savoring. 
We had a wonderful July here in PA. Pretty hot, but with a good rain at the end. Here are some ethereal moments captured by the shutter in mid-July on the Shade Path.

This is the fourth flush of flowers to fill this area this year. The bloom in the Shade Path started with the crocus, iris reticulata and helleborus in April; then the river of forget-me-nots (Myosotis) and Narcissus 'Thalia' in May; the bright and full display of foxgloves (Digitalis) in June (which I missed posting on as of yet!); and now to the stalwarts of summer: hosta, impatients and begonias.

Looking toward the Circle Lawn

 In the past, I would have snubbed my nose at these dwarf-bred begonias. And they certainly are nothing like the ones that I marvel at in humid tropical conservatory gardens, but I really like them at the edge of the Shade Path this year. I love adding some dark foliage to the mostly green hostas that remain. And I like their pastel pink blooms for this area of the garden; they help make it a restful stroll down the length of the house.

Looking toward the gate
Another angle to marvel at our mature maples; I like them a little bit. I am thinking about adding an ornamental tree on the right to be seen out side of our bay window, but also thinking about our need to plant new young shade trees soon.

And one more ethereal glimpse of our Shade Path from July...
Looking toward the Circle Lawn
 Grace, my daughter, is learning how to get the best angles. :) She is growing so fast. Some days I am starting to feel that childhood is as fleeting as those hot July days... which as of this week, are gone.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Designing a Curb Strip Planting in Lieu of Lawn

When my husband and I first moved into our house in 2007, it took him an hour-and-a-half to mow the lawn. This is fairly typical for many country lawns, but it seemed rather ridiculous for a town lot. It was mostly due to all of the steep hills around our yard, which made it impossible for me to mow it at all. Bit by bit we have killed off the turf on the hills and planted with them ground covers instead.

Besides getting rid of the lawn to shorten its maintenance time, another goal has been to give our property the feeling that it extends all the way to the street. It does go to the street. But lawn does not make a passerby feel connected to the rest of the garden. A turfed curb feels like a public, rather unwelcoming area. (The democratic lawn is not my design goal.)
The hill by the backyard fence in April of this year.
By removing the lawn and replacing it with low-maintenance ground covers on both sides, suddenly you get the feeling that you are entering someones garden, though you are just passing by on the sidewalk. 

Choosing a curb strip plant
The most important thing is your choice of curb strip plant. It needs to be tough, able to take some foot traffic, spread quickly, like your sun/shade requirements and coordinate with your garden in some way (by repeated use of the exact same plant or at least the same color).
Curb with lawn still intact.
Some choices I tossed around for this area were hardy ivy, Pachysandra and Sedum 'Acre'. In the end the Sedum won. It is just hard to beat in my situation. It grows like crazy, covers the ground quickly in the spring, flowers yellow in June, is already a part of other garden plantings, and has such a nice wavy form when filling out a large area. It is the main ground cover in another part of our curb plantings, the Front Woodland.
Sedum 'Acre'
Killing the lawn
The best/most natural way to do it is with a lasagna layering of leaf litter, cardboard, mulch, the kitchen sink (ok, not that) - whatever you have that will rot down and smother the grass.

Other ways are stripping the sod by machine or hand (with a shovel). Or using Roundup to kill the grass, as a last resort.

In this situation, the curb a very narrow area and is slanted down hill. Since I was concerned about water washing away organic material, I opted for using the last two methods in combination. First, I made shovel holes in the sod and flipped it over on the grass next to it. This resulted in a polka-dotted lawn effect. 
Polka-dotted grass.
Then I used Round-up on the remaining visible grass. To make it most effective, be sure to spray it on a hot day (at least 70 degrees) and when it is not going to rain for a couple of days. That should do it.

Once the turf is dead, start your planting. The sooner you can out-compete with the weeds, the better. Sedum 'Acre' is amazingly easy to plant. Grab a handful from somewhere else in the garden and slap some dirt on top of it. I used the planting "holes" in the turf to make sure that the Sedum in this area would not just wash down the hill onto the street. Then I scattered a cosmetic amount of mulch around just to make it look a little better for this season. In an area with less slope, it would be a great idea to mulch deeply to help the plant starts.

Curb planting in May 2011 after planting.
Establishing a Curb Planting
Much like any other part of the garden. Be sure that it has water when needed, and that it is not out competed by weeds that you do not want.

This first year is crucial for making sure that this planting gets a good start. The Sedum 'Acre' only needs a sprinkle of water for each clump (less than most plants) and only when it has been hot for a couple of days without rain. I have done two thorough weedings at this point, and expect that I will do one or two more this year.

The curb planting is already making this part of our sidewalk feel more like an experience. We have added it to our evening garden walk!

You might like to read about our curb planting in the Front Woodland.
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