Sunday, December 27, 2015

Patience Pays Off

Sometimes (maybe, often) I find myself an impatient gardener. I look at the picture on the plant tag and want the plant to look like that immediately. So I do everything I can to to jump start it: amending the soil, adding root stimulator, fertilizing, mulching, watering, etc. And then, like a mother with newborn baby, I check it often to see how much it has grown.  But the old gardening adage that says a plant sleeps the first year, creeps the second year, and leaps the third year was coined by a wise gardener. It seems that regardless of what a well-intentioned gardener does, you can't rush Mother Nature. I'm reminded of this lesson often.

Case in point is the Nandina domestica 'Murasaki', sold under the trade name Flirt Nandina. I loved this nandina at first sight because it has the wispy, almost fern-like foliage and nice red berries of the large common nandina but with a more diminutive size. It's suppose to mature to 1-2 ft tall and wide. At my spring job at the Dabney Nursery, I often mention it when customers ask for recommendations for small garden areas.

Jack and I planted two Flirts in our garden about 3 years ago. Over the course of the next several years, the plant did not grow at all. In fact, it seemed to decline, looking a little more sparse and scraggly each year. When this happens, impatient gardeners like me are usually motivated to do more: water more, fertilize more, etc. Or maybe the plant is not happy in its location and needs to be moved to a better spot (or to the compost pile). But I resisted the urge to do something and just waited. You never know what is going on underneath the soil. Meanwhile, back at my spring job at the Dabney Nursery, my enthusiasm for recommending the Flirt  had dampened a bit and this spring came with the caution, "It's a beautiful plant but seems slow to establish."

Then suddenly this summer, Flirt began to thrive. It looks almost as good as the plant tag. I have high hopes for next spring. 

Nandina domestica 'Musacari' 

I don't know if my experience with the Flirt nandina is typical or not. Maybe its slow start was unique to our garden. (If you have one, please post a comment on your experience.) Even if its slow start is typical, have patience. Flirt is worth the wait. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Update on Leaf Removal: Oh My Aching Back!

In mid-November I told you about our two-part plan for dealing with the fallen leaves. For the lawn (part one), Jack and I planned to mulch the leaves with the lawnmower and leave them in place to decompose. For the beds (part two), we were going to wait until all the leaves fell, rake them out to an open area, mulch them with the mower, and return them to the beds.

Part one of the plan seemed to work fine. It was a lot easier and quicker to mow the leaves, compared with raking them and moving them to a compost pile. We have a lot of tiny leaf pieces in the lawn, but we believe the next few rains will push them to the soil level. We are anticipating that they will decompose nicely by spring and add nutrients to the soil. 

Plan two was much nicer while we were in the "waiting for the leaves to fall" stage of the plan. But this past weekend offered up two warm days and nearly all the leaves were down, so we decided that it was time to go operational. Executing plan two was much slower than I expected because the leaves were very deep in some places. We finished the front beds on Saturday, and Sunday we got about half of the beds  in the back and side yards done. The work was back-breaking because in some places we had to pick up the leaves to move them out to an area where we could run the lawnmower over them. I estimate that Jack and I need one more sunny day to finish everything. We were happy to get so much done over the weekend, but I can't say that today's rain was unwelcome. Jack and I are both driven to finish things once they are started, and if the weather had permitted, we would have been out there raking and mulching again today. But this rain forced us to take the day off. Mother Nature, our sore backs thank you!

We won't know until spring how well this way of dealing with the leaves works out, but, in terms of labor, I think I like these methods. Unless we see unanticipated negative effects in the spring, I think plan one was a definite success--definitely less work-- and that this is probably how we'll handle them in the future. So far, I think plan two is a keeper, too. Although we worked really hard the days we worked on the beds, it was a much shorter leaf-raking season. Last fall, it seemed we were raking leaves continuously from October through December. And since we are returning the mulched leaves back to the beds, we avoid the work of building and caring for a compost pile. The benefits just keep coming!

On a completely unrelated topic, happy winter solstice. Tomorrow is a longer day!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Now Blooming: Tea Olive

One day while touring the Dixon Gardens I noticed a wonderful fragrance. Looking around, I couldn't connect the fragrance with any particular plants. When I asked someone, they said "Oh, that's the tea olive" and pointed out a distant small evergreen tree. I was impressed both by the pleasing fragrance and how the smell carried a long distance across the garden. 

I purchased a small tea olive that same year and waited patiently. The first two years it bloomed sparsely and grew very little. I was concerned that I had bought the wrong species of osmanthus because the leaves were so small. This year, however, the plant had that third-year growth spurt. The leaf size increased and it rewarded me this fall with many fragrant blooms. 

As you can see from the picture below, the blooms are tiny and nestled at the base of the leaves. From a distance, the blooms are hardly visible. I think this is part of the plant's charm: the nose discovers it first, and then the eyes must seek it out. Sometimes the scent eludes me if I pursue it too aggressively. I bend over to sniff the flowers and smell nothing, then later, detect the fragrance wafting across the garden from quite a distance.

Osmanthus fragrans
If you are a fan of fragrant plants, I highly recommend the tea olive. In the three years or so it has been in our garden, I have given it no special care: no fertilizer, no spraying for bugs or disease, and very little watering. It is evergreen and blooms in the late fall/early winter and sporadically at other times of the years (it was early spring when I ran across it at the Dixon). 

If you shop for one, be aware that there are a number of osmanthus species and a number of plants with "tea" in their common name (for example, Camellia sinensis, the tea plant). This article is informative about the various osmanthus species and cultivars. The one I've been discussing is Osmanthus fragrans, easy to remember if you think about it being named for its wonderful fragrance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Daffodils in the Fall

Jack and I have some daffodils planted in a bed of mostly liriope. Since we cut the lirope foliage back each spring, the daffodils have a chance to put on their show in the early spring and, later, the liriope helps disguise the daffodil foliage as it dies back. Sometime back in the summer, I noticed one bunch of daffodil foliage sprouting up in the liriope. I didn't think much of it. Curious to see what the outcome would be, I just left it alone. Several weeks ago, I noticed that a strange bloom stalk had emerged. Strange because those daffodils normally have fat buds and this one was one the slender side and strange because this is fall and daffodils bloom in spring. From there things got "curiouser and curiouser" (as Alice said about Wonderland). The bloom stalk produced a stalk with multi-flower buds, not the single one I expected. Clearly this fellow was a new arrival, but how did he get there? 

Just a few days ago, I downloaded a new garden app on my smart phone that is supposed to identify plants. So I took a picture using the app. After searching its database, the app returned a series of pictures of narcissus that closely matched this one. Unfortunately, the genus name narcissus was all that was provided and I had already guessed that much and was hoping for a bit more specificity. 

So I consulted the American Daffodil Society website. They listed 13 daffodil divisions that you can view here. After examining this flower more closely, it appears to be a Division 13 (Species, Wild Variants and Wild Hybrids). As you can see in this picture, both the petals (perianth segments) and the cup (corona) are white. They remind me of the paperwhites that are forced into bloom this time  of year.

By the way, in case you get as confused by nomenclature as I do for this genus, the American Daffodil Society says that there is no difference between Narcissus and daffodils. Narcissus is the botanical name for the genus and daffodil is the common name for all flowers in the genus. They recommend using daffodil at all times, except in scientific writing. The term "jonquil" applies only to daffodils in certain categories. And the term "buttercup"? I could find nothing about this term on the internet, other than it is incorrect. But that's what everyone called them when I was growing up in Tipton County, and, in my mind, the common yellow ones will always be buttercups. I wonder if it is a Tennessee thing?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Wacky Weather

Yesterday, Jack and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to clean up some flower beds. I had planned to wait until the plants had gone dormant but who knows when that is going to happen? To expedite leaf removal (we are mulching them, then returning them to the bed), I cut back the foliage on the perennials (the salvia and coneflowers are still blooming) and pulled up the annuals.  I was struck by how many plants are alive and growing, almost a full week into December. And have you noticed how many azaleas have been blooming this fall? Some of these are the mulit-season bloomers like Encore, but I'm sure that others are not. 

Is this an anomaly or a sign of things to come? Global warming?

This article by the Garden Professors suggests that such out-of-season bloom doesn't represent a threat to our plants in the short-term. But the graph they present does show a definite warming trend. . . .

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hellebore Season Begins!

For those of you who have hellebores in your gardens, it's time to go poking around in the fallen leaves for hellebore buds. Some hellebore species are months away from bloom but the bloom season is beginning for others. Here's a picture I took last week of a hellebore just beginning to show bud. You have to look closely to see those three white buds just peeking above the mulch.

Then this morning, something caught my eye from the kitchen window. When the rain let up enough so that I could go outside and explore, here's what I found.

These two plants are in the Helleborus niger species, the Christmas rose. They are among the earliest blooming hellebores; typically mine begin blooming in early to mid-December. I'm always excited when I see the first buds because that signals the start of a very long hellebore blooming season.

So if you have Helleborus niger in your garden, you might want to poke around in the leaves to see if your plants have started blooming yet. And if you don't have any of this species in your garden, December-January would be a great time to see them in bloom at your favorite local nursery.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fall-blooming Camellias

My most recent plant passion is fall-blooming camellias.  Jack and I acquired our first camellias several years ago. The first one we bought was a spring-bloomer, Camellia japonica 'Pearl Maxwell'. The larger foliage and tighter growth habit of the Japonica makes it a generally better-looking shrub but late freezes sometimes interfere with its bloom. Such has been the case with ours. It puts on a lot of buds, but our warm days in early March encourages the blooms to open. Then a freeze comes along and turns the blossoms to mush. So most years we don't get a lot of enjoyment from the blooms. If you look closely, you can see the buds it has set for next spring.

Camellia japonica 'Pearl Maxwell'

I later heard that we often have better luck in our growing zone with Camellia sasanqua, the fall-blooming variety of Camellia. I bought the fall-bloomer shown below, 'Winter's Joy', several years ago, and it has grown well and is rewarding me with a heavy bloom this fall. Winter's Joy will be a large camellia; it is already over 8 feet fall. Notice that in comparison with the japonica variety above, the growth habit of this sasanqua looks pretty scraggly. Part of this is due to the fact that I haven't yet pruned this young plant, but in general, sasanquas, compared with japonicas, seem to have a more open growth habit, as well as smaller leaves. 

Camellia sasanqua 'Winter's Joy'

Here's a closer look at the blossom on 'Winter's Joy'. It has been blooming for about six weeks now and still has buds yet to open.

Camellia sasanqua 'Winter's Joy'

Last fall we planted this one, 'Autumn Sentinel'. 'Autumn Sentinel' is a columnar camellia maturing at around 10 feet. It is called a "peony camellia" because its delicate blossoms resemble a peony, looking like this when it first opens: 
Camellia sasanqua 'Autumn Sentinel'

and maturing to this:
Camellia sasanqua 'Autumn Sentinel'

By selecting species and cultivars with various bloom times, you can have a camellia blooming  in your garden almost continuously from October through May. This is an excellent time of year to select a sasanqua camellia, since many are in bloom now. In particular, I think the "October Magic" series of cultivars are lovely. See 'October Magic Inspiration' here

Most of our local nurseries carry camellias. The Dabney Nursery has an entire greenhouse devoted to them (including many of the October series). For cold hardiness, Dabney Turley suggests looking for a plant with a cold word like "winter" or "snow" in its cultivar name. Here's a link to a selection of  winter camellias hybridized for cold hardiness by the National Arboretum.

Lest I lead you to believe that pink is the only color of camellias, let me mention that there are many red, white, pinks, and mixtures of these colors. I guess my favorite color is obvious  . . . .

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Leave the Leaves?

Fall is the busiest time of the year in the garden for Jack and me, and the biggest chore of all is leaf management. We have both a significant area of wooded beds and a fairly large lawn, each requiring a different approach. We've tried different strategies the past few years to manage the leaves, always with the goal of returning the leaves to the soil as much as possible.

In the wooded area, we've tried raking up all the leaves, mulching them, and putting them in a compost pile. In the spring, we use these not-quite composted leaves as mulch in our beds. This is a good process with one big caveat: it is a lot of work! So one year we tried just letting the leaves lie where they fell. This strategy was a lot better for our backs in the fall, but it added to our tasks in the spring. The leaves decomposed very little over the winter. We did not like the way the garden looked, so we had to do a spring leaf clean up. But perhaps the biggest problem with this strategy was that the thick leaf cover created the optimal conditions for moles and voles.

Last year we raked the leaves out of the wooded area, mulched them, and then immediately returned them to the beds as leaf mulch. The mulched leaves did not provide the thick cover that whole leaves did, so this made a less hospitable environment for moles and voles. The leaf mulch was still visible in spring, but the plants quickly covered it up, and by fall it had, for the most part, returned to the soil. I think we'll use this strategy again this year.

With the lawn, we always used a mulching mower to shred the leaves early in the season and allowed them to remain in the lawn. Leaving whole leaves on the lawn is thought to be bad for turfgrass, but small leaf pieces decompose and contribute to the health of the soil in a variety of ways. We have a lot of trees on our lot, and so for us, the question became "can you get too much of a good thing?" Because we didn't know the answer to how much is too much, we never left all the leaves on the lawn. Early in the season, we mulched the leaves with the mower and left them on the lawn. But when a lot of leaves started to fall, we raked them to another area, ran over them several times with the lawnmower, and then moved them to the compost pile. Again, a lot of hard work.

Recently, I came across several articles (such as this one in Fine Gardening and this Michigan State Extension Service article) that suggested that a LOT of leaves could be mulched into the lawn. These articles also said that, in addition to providing nutrition for turfgrass, mulching leaves into your lawn reduces the need for herbicides (weed killers and preventers), and Jack and I like the idea of using fewer chemicals. So this year our plan is to mow most/all of the leaves into our lawn. With the number of leaves that we have in some areas, this may require double-mowing but that is still less work than raking and composting.

Jack is a bit skeptical of mulching so many leaves into our turfgrass, but I had a good feeling that this could work well. I may feel differently as the fall progresses because many more leaves have yet to fall. I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Garden Decor and Seminars

Yesterday I attended a gardening seminar at Urban Earth garden center in Memphis. The topic was garden decor. The presenter talked about using pots, statuary, metal art, and a variety of other non-botanical means of adding interest to the garden. He also talked about "tacky" garden art. I won't say what he gave as examples because I think that tacky is in the eye of the beholder. Besides, as the presenter mentioned, we sometimes change our minds about what we consider to be tacky-- what I consider tacky today may be in your garden now and in my garden next year.

The first piece of garden decor I bought was an antique lead birdbath bought for our garden when Jack and I lived in Virginia. I wasn't looking for a garden ornament--it was more like it found me. I bought it, not because it fit with our garden style or because I had a spot that needed some hardscape, but because I fell in love with the little cherub. We moved it into our garden here, and he quietly "shushes" visitors as they enter our garden path.

I suppose this little birdbath would be considered formal European garden style. My garden style is eclectic, and nothing else in our garden could be considered formal. 

I am often drawn to Asian garden decor. I like Japanese lanterns and Buddhas of various sorts. Here are a couple of new Buddhas I purchased a few days ago, found in the clearance section of a local store. They will remain in our sunroom over the winter while I decide on just the right spot for them.

But back to the topic of garden seminars. I learned recently that Urban Earth offers seminars periodically, and they gave out their schedule for 2016 yesterday. I was delighted to see that they offer at least one or two seminars per month during the winter. If I can't get out in the garden, the next best thing is gathering with other gardeners to talk about gardening. I had hoped to find a link to the schedule on their website, but I could not find one. Maybe I overlooked it so I'm posting a link to their homepage here.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Summer Annuals Continue to Put on a Show!

Yesterday when I walked Sparky (our yorkie-ish rescue dog), I was struck by how beautiful many of the summer annuals still are in my neighborhood. No wonder many of us (myself included) are so late planting our pansies and other fall flowers. It's a real dilemma: if you enjoy that early fall revival of your summer annuals, you miss the prime time your pansies need to get established before the cold weather arrives.  But is really hard to take out flowers that still look like these (pictures taken during my walk).

New Guinea Impatiens

Dragon-wing Begonia

Tidal Wave Petunia

Annual Vinca
But that window of opportunity to plant pansies is closing, and I do love their cheery faces and bright color in the winter. So when I got home, I bit the bullet and began to clean out my summer annuals. Today's rain has given a few of the beds a short reprieve, but over the weekend, I'll clean out the rest. I'll plant a few beds with pansies and the others will get a winter covering of compost or leaf mulch. Speaking of mulching leaves, that will be the topic of an upcoming discussion.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Another Reason to Visit Plant Delights Nursery

I can't remember how I first came across the plant catalog of the Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, North Carolina, but it has been my favorite catalog for many years.  Tony Avent is a wonderful, witty writer and the catalog is not only filled with great information on each plant, but is also so much fun to read. Tony's plant descriptions make me want to buy every plant in the catalog. (The catalog is available online at Tony's website.)

Reading the catalog made me want to visit Tony's nursery garden (which is mainly an online nursery but opens for public events periodically) and the Juniper Level Botanic Gardens, but I have never made the trip. Now I have another reason to visit: Tony's wife, Anita, has started offering mindfulness and meditation retreats in the gardens. I recently discovered that Anita shares my interest in mindfulness meditation, and non-duality and that she is planning retreats for 2016.  I would really like to combine one of her retreats with a nursery/garden visit. Maybe if I'm lucky, she'll schedule one in the same time frame as the open nursery dates for 2016. Hint. Hint.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tropical Milkweed--Plant or Not?

A gardening friend of mine gave me several milkweed plants she had acquired at a plant swap this spring. I already had one variety in my garden, a short, bushy yellow plant that seeds politely around my garden. (By politely, I mean that I discover one or two new plants a year.) The plants my friend gave me were of "grab bag" variety. She did not know what kind they were but I was hoping for a purple one. Two of the plants soon bloomed and they turned out to be the common tall, yellow plants. Although I planted these in late spring, they have produced two bloom cycles this year.

The third plant didn't grow very fast and I almost forgot I planted it. Last week, I noticed some red buds on it, which later opened to a yellow center. I was thrilled that it was so pretty!
Asclepias curassavica?
After researching it on the web, I believe that it is Asclepias curassavica, tropical milkweed. I also discovered that tropical milkweed is the source of hot debate among butterfly enthusiasts. On the one hand, gardeners, hearing about the decline of Monarchs, plant milkweed because of its critical role in in Monarch reproduction, and tropical milkweed is a beautiful, commonly-available variety. On the other hand, tropical milkweed is much criticized across the internet for contributing to the Monarch decline. What's a good-intentioned gardener to do?

My research on tropical milkweed revealed a complicated problem. The gist is that the decline of the Monarch is partly attributable a parasite infection, and the infection rate is much higher for Monarchs that breed on tropical milkweed and overwinter in the southern part of the United States compared with those that migrate to Mexico for the winter. According to the Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of government and private organizations to preserve the Monarch, the problem lies in winter-breeding made possible by the tropical milkweed rather than in the plant itself. As long as tropical milkweed is not available for winter breeding (that is, it dies back in the fall), it should not pose an increased risk of parasite problems for Monarchs. The Joint Venture recommends that in those warm areas where tropical milkweed might not die back in the winter, it should be cut back to the ground in the fall to ensure that parasite-free foliage is available for migratory Monarchs. (Click here for a full discussion of these issues).

So it seems that in our zone 7/8 gardens in the Memphis area, tropical milkweed bears watching. Since this is my first experience with it, I intend to watch mine closely as cold weather arrives and I'll give it a helping hand if it resists dormancy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dry Streambeds

In the last post, I talked about how the terraced beds we created were not enough to manage the run-off water we get from neighbors in heavy rains. The problem begins on the backside of the fence shown in the picture below. Although his house is not visible in this picture, the neighbor on the other side of the fence has the highest spot in the area. He has a dry streambed directed toward this fence, which, over time, has rotted out the bottom of his fence. The water flows onto our property at the top of our garden, approximately where the utility box can be seen . 

The former owner of our house installed a catch basin in this area with a drainage pipe that  runs underground to a location at the back part of the yard.  This was a good idea and usually takes care of the problem, but in heavy rains, the catch basin overflows. To take care of this problem, we installed a dry streambed to take the excess water down the slope in a more controlled way.

As you can see from this picture, the streambed makes a turn toward the fence and disappears behind shrubs.

We did a similar thing in the side yard to direct run-off from the neighbor's driveway toward the street. Water collects in a low spot between the neighbor's house and ours (assisted by a berm that Jack created) and then enters a dry streambed in the area shown below.

This dry streambed snakes around a tree in our front garden.

Then it makes another curve, discharging water into the side lawn area, then down to the street.
We just finished the last section of this streambed this summer and have had almost no rain since. Consequently, we don't know for sure whether the discharge from the stream will stay to the side lawn as we hope. We will be closely watching this area throughout the winter and if we find low places that allow the water to flow toward the lawn rather than down the hill, we will mark those places. Then, in the spring, we will lift the sod there and create a slight berm to encourage the water to flow toward the street.

I have found doing this work ourselves to be very satisfying (Jack might disagree . . . ), and I really don't mind that it takes us a longer time to get a finished product. Being amateurs, we seldom get it perfectly right on the first attempt and have to do subsequent tweaking. By my calculations, we will finish all our garden projects, about the time we're ready for the retirement home. But, for gardeners, that might be perfect timing!!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Solving Drainage Issues: Terracing

Last week I mentioned that in 2011 when Jack and I moved into our home, we discovered that several areas on our property needed drainage/water flow improvement. Professionals we consulted suggested catch basins with underground drainage pipes. While we had a catch basin installed in one area, in general, we preferred to use more natural landscaping techniques. In some areas, we mostly wanted to slow the water down so that it could be redistributed and used on our own property, rather than immediately sent to the sewer system. Of course, we needed any excess water directed away from our house. We decided we could solve most of these problems ourselves, using natural-looking methods like berms, dry stream beds, and terracing.

The first area we tackled was a side/back yard area that sloped away from our neighbor's mostly-concrete backyard toward our house. Here's a picture of the way that area looked when we moved in. The former owners had planted a small dogwood and there were a few azaleas and ferns planted here and there. Random stones were scattered around. The elevated area in front of the trees is an ivy-covered rock wall that was built by the former owner to hide an area where a drainage pipe was exposed.

Here's another "before" shot taken from farther back in the lawn.

In a heavy rain, water sheeted across the neighbor's concrete parking area and washed across the slope toward our house. We wanted to slow this water down to allow it to soak into the soil, while channeling excess away from the foundation of our house. To accomplish this, we decided to create a series of terraced beds bordered by short, dry-stacked stone walls.

Here's a recent picture of the the uppermost part of that area.

I would like to say that we began this effort with a full blown plan but, in fact, it "unfolded" as we went along. We first ordered two pallets of stone and built the beds closest to the neighbor's parking area. With practice, we got better at stacking the walls, and later walls we built looked better. We planted densely in this area to soften the hardscape and minimize bare ground.  When these plants mature in a few years, the walls will blend into the landscape.

The first obstacle that water meets as it comes off the neighbor's parking area is a thickly-planted bed of green liriope, bordered by a low stone wall. This grassy area both slows the water and controls erosion. We also brought in soil to decrease the slope within each bed. The combination of low walls, improved soil, and flatter terrain has slowed the speed of water flow, allowing more water to permeate the soil.

The following year, we started on the lower beds. The "sunken" pathways in the lower area serve as channels to direct any excess water away from our house. These pathways are actually at natural soil level but appear lower as a result of the slightly elevated beds that surround them. 

Although the terraced beds improved water retention in this area, the fact that the neighbor's adjoining area is nearly 100% concrete means that a lot of water is directed toward our garden in a heavy rain. The sunken pathways direct the water that can't be absorbed away from our house. We've tried using shredded bark and pine straw as mulch for these pathways, but both materials wash away in a hard rain. So, at least for now, the paths are not covered.

Another view of this area from a slightly different angle shows part of several flat stone paths that we created. These paths end with a slightly elevated border to maintain the flow of water inside the "sunken" pathway. The river rock (scattered in the path just below the flowerpot) are not a part of the path but were being temporarily stored there while we built a dry stream bed in another area. More on that in a later post.

To separate the lawn area from the garden, we decided to switch from natural stone to a single layer of retaining wall blocks. The blocks provide a more uniform surface for edging where the beds meet the lawn, and they are quicker and easier to put down. To make for a smoother transition to the natural stone, we extended the blocks up a bit into the garden area. 

For the most part, we were pleased with both the appearance and functionality of our terraced beds in this garden. However, in very heavy rains, a problem persisted in one area. I'll tell you how we handled that in the next post. Think "dry stream bed."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Tribute to Three Trees

Yesterday Jack and I had three trees removed in our yard. The first was a maple. It must have started from a seed that hitched a ride on the wind and planted itself too close to a large gum tree. Its limbs were twisted in strange directions from trying to reach the sun. This past spring, we noticed a termite infestation in the lower part of the trunk, and when we investigated, the trunk was nearly hollow. 

The second was a large, old, wild cherry tree that had apparently been struck by lightning in years past. The top part of the central leader was gone, leaving a gaping wound that appeared rotten. The tree was in the back part of our lawn, closer to a neighbor's house than our own, and one of the large horizontal limbs that remained reached across the fence onto to their property. The neighbor had told me that several years ago, one of their own trees had blown over, doing a great deal of damage to their house, and they were nervous about this tree. We had an arborist look at it, and he thought the tree probably had a good deal of rot in the trunk.

The third was an old redbud growing near a pathway at the edge of a small grove of trees. When we moved into our house four years ago, the tree was leaning badly, but I was fond of the way its branches draped over the pathway, almost making an entrance to that part of the garden. Its gnarly, old trunk was riddled with holes and its bark was ragged. We considered taking it out last year because I was afraid it might fall one day and injure one of the grandsons who liked to play in that part of the lawn. 

I was sad about having all these trees removed. I was sad that the maple never had a good shot at life but had made a valiant effort to grow where Mother Nature planted it. I was sad that the cherry would no longer provide food and sanctuary for the wildlife in our backyard. And I was sad that spring will arrive next year without the pink blossoms of the old redbud.

I think that one of the men in the crew realized how I felt about cutting down these trees because he came up to me just before they left and said, "I thought you might like to know that the wood from the cherry tree will be put to good use. Cherry gives a wonderful flavor to meat and I plan to take it home with me to use in my smoker." I can't tell you how pleased I was to hear that. I thought of the book "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein (if you haven't read this, you must). Like the tree in the book, that old, wild cherry will be giving for a little while longer.

I'll resume my discussion of solving drainage issues next time. Please forgive the digression.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Solving Drainage Issues

When Jack and I moved into our house about four years ago, we discovered that we had inherited water movement issues that were not readily apparent when we bought our house at the end of a very dry summer.  The 100-year flood of 2011 enlightened us. We quickly discovered where all our problem areas were. Thankfully, we suffered no actual damage--all our problems were of the nuisance variety, for instance, lawn areas that stayed wet too long and mulch that kept escaping the beds and running into the lawn. One by one, over the course of the past four years or so, we've gradually been finding solutions for those problem spots. In the next few posts, I'll share those solutions.

But first a little context . . . . Our house sits at a higher elevation than most of the houses in our neighborhood. But, as you can see in the photo below (taken when we bought the house), the neighbor's house (let's call him neighbor #1) is at a slightly higher elevation and has mostly concrete back and side yards that slope toward our house. Our house is to the right and not visible in the picture. This lawn area is in the front of our house.

 Neighbor #1's downspouts empty directly onto this concrete area and so the water ends up in our front, side, and back yards. The neighbor behind him (different development, elevation a little higher still) has a pool in his backyard so most of his rainwater flows onto his pool deck and runs into channels directed toward neighbor #1's backyard. So, that water eventually ends up in our yard as well. Here's another view, this one from our backyard. Neighbor #1's house is at the top of the incline.

As you can tell, the former owners of our house were not much into gardening. In fact, they called the area shown in this picture "the wilds" and left it as an untended, natural area. This sight might frighten away many potential buyers, but for a recently retired, garden enthusiast, it was a blank slate with a lot of potential. 

The former owner had installed several catch basins at the top of the incline and directed the water away from the house using buried drain pipes. He had also attached drain pipes to the downspout on this side of the house and, to avoid cutting a lot of tree roots, did not bury them but rather disguised them using a stacked stone wall. This wall (covered with ivy) can be seen in the picture, just in front of the trees. All this helped but did not completely solve the problem.

In future posts, I'll show you how Jack and I found solutions for our problems using natural devices like swales, berms, and dry stream beds. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Not All Monkey Grass is Created Equal

When Jack and I moved into our house in 2011, included in the existing landscaping were several garden beds bordered with variegated liriope (also called lilyturf). We have never been big liriope fans and when we planted it, it was usually for functional, rather than aesthetic, purposes.  It makes a great groundcover for those spots where you need a trouble-free plant to fill in a dry, shady area or where you need something for erosion control.

Before I go further, I should say that I know people who REALLY hate liriope, which they usually call "monkey grass". The common name "monkey grass" is often used to refer to both liriope and and mondo grass. But I think the haters of monkey grass are usually referring to the spreading form of liriope called spicata. This spreading form of liriope can be invasive and rather than staying in a well-defined clump, it spreads out in all directions. So it is important to know what you are getting when you purchase anything called "monkey grass."

If you are looking for liriope, you probably want the clumping type, liriope muscari (which comes in both green and variegated forms). This type spreads, too, but the clumps simply become bigger over time. Thankfully, this is the type Jack and I inherited when we bought our house.

When we started attacking the landscaping issues around our home, we decided to divide and transplant our liriope to an area underneath a large tree in our front yard where we could not grow grass. It was a fairly shady, sloping area with quite a few tree roots at the surface of the soil. We thought the liriope would be an easy way to cover and hold the bare soil and would also hide the tree roots.  An added benefit is that liriope is such a tough plant in our area, requiring no extra care once planted. 

Being that I am a frugal gardener, we divided our liriope into many small clumps so that it would cover a larger area, and it is just now starting to fill in and take on a mature look in the bed we made. Because it is the variegated form, it adds a little brightness to the usually shady area.

I have been pleased with how this area is coming along. But an unexpected surprise has been how beautiful the flowers are on this form of liriope. It starts blooming in late August and retains a nice bloom throughout September. I tried for several days to get a picture that would show how pretty the bloom is and could never get one to do it justice. When I took this one last week, the bees were everywhere!

Planted in mass, this liriope actually makes an attractive flower bed and adds a lot of color to the late summer/early fall garden. If you are thinking of getting some, I'm sorry I don't know the cultivar name. It may be 'Variegata' but I can't say for sure. I'd recommend buying it in bloom to be sure of the flower color.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Life Lessons from the Hummingbirds

Our little group of ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to delight us. They have become welcomed-although sometimes noisy--companions for our porch-sitting as they buzz about fighting over the flowers in the garden and the nectar feeder.

It seems that in our garden, the hummingbirds and cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) are inextricable. The hummingbirds appear in early summer, just in advance of the cardinal flowers blooming, and they leave when the cardinal flowers finish.

Cardinal flower in mid-summer

So as I look out the window and see the red cardinal flowers with just a few blossoms left, I know that any day now, I'll no longer be joined on the porch by those busy, little birds. They will be on their way to their wintering spot in Mexico or Central America. I appreciate them more every day now, knowing that they will be gone soon.

Cardinal flower now.

It would be easy to be sad thinking that the hummingbirds and cardinal flowers will soon be gone and that the cold, short days of winter are just around the corner. But instead of being sad, I'll focus on enjoying each day that the hummingbirds are here, and when they are not, I'll enjoy the bright orange and yellows of the mums and pansies that we will be planting soon. And not long after that, the first of the hellebores will be budding out, followed soon by the festive white bells of the edgeworthia, and so on. Seasons come and go, and every season has something wonderful to offer a gardener.

But for today, I hear that familiar buzzing on the porch and I will sit with the hummingbirds.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Most Beautiful Cannabis Headquarters You've Ever Seen!

I'm willing to bet this is it!  And if you are like me, it's probably the only cannabis headquarters you've ever seen.

On our recent visit to Colorado, my daughter and I ran across this establishment in a little town called Lyons, Colorado, about halfway between Boulder and Estes Park.  How could we not stop to take a picture at this joint?

While people inclined to more peaceful gardens might think all these colors mixed together are one toke over the line, I think they are amazing!

I mean, what dope would not be impressed by this display?

Or this one . . . .

And, as you might expect, they put together an exceptional pot.

Although it's easy to see that I'm really high on this place, Jack thought I should mention that only the fragrance of the petunias was inhaled and that no purchase was made. 

And, of course, no one connected with the Tennessee Extension Master Gardener program is making a statement one way or the other about the legal sale of cannabis. 

But aren't the flowers lovely!!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Flowers in Colorado

My daughter and I took a trip to Colorado this past week and I was impressed by the flower displays in the towns there. Here are some pictures from Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, snapped with my cellphone as we walked around town.

I love rock gardens and many of the Estes gardens were designed around rocks and boulders. With apologies for my photographic ability (or lack thereof), here is a flower tour of downtown Estes Park.

And the mass plantings were spectacular. The flowers in cooler climates seem to have better color than we typically have here.

And finally, containers . . .

Estes is a pretty little town, but, wow, what a difference flowers make!