3 PLANTS I'LL GROW THIS YEAR

I keep lists of plants I'm on the hunt for in various places—on sheets of paper in my purse, in an app on my phone, at the back of my garden notebook. This way I remember to grab them if I find them at a local nursery.

Each year there are a handful of plants that I get really hung up on for whatever reason. Here are three that I'm hoping to add to my garden this year.

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BOUTELOUA GRACILIS 'BLONDE AMBITION'
Monrovia photo

The first is a grass. I'm fussy about grasses. I've been through the ringer with less-than-well-behaved grasses in the past, so I choose them carefully. The one that I'm currently lusting after, a blue grama grass with a great name—Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'—caught my eye several years ago. It is a nice size plant—super tall grasses make me jittery—and has the most charming seed heads that sit perpendicular to the stems. The whole thing makes for an interesting plant. Of course those cute seed heads can turn into a nightmare but everything I've read says this is easy to control from a reseeding standpoint. I've struggled to find it in the past, but it seems to be popping up in many more places so I hope it will find a home in my garden this year.

Zone 4-9
Size: 30 to 36 inches tall and wide
Available online at: High Country Gardens, Plant Delights Nursery, MonroviaSanta Rosa Gardens, among others 

GEUM TRIFLORUM
Paul Drobot photos

The next is a plant that has popped up quite a bit on this blog lately: Geum triflorum. This is another one that's been on my radar for some time, as almost every garden I've toured seems to have them. And Proven Winners horticulturist Stacey Hirvela told me she can't imagine having a garden without it. Bonus points for the fact that it's native in much of the northern U.S., is a pleasant but not aggressive reseeder that will gradually work its way around and a gold star for it looking great for much of the year.

Zone 3-8
Size: 6 to 18 inches
Available online: Prairie Nursery, High Country Gardens, and as seeds

ACHILLEA
'Richard Nelson', Bluestone Perennials photo
'Terra Cotta', Bluestone Perennials photo

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but the next plant on my must-have list is Achillea millefolium. You know ... yarrow. The plant that everyone has had in their garden forever. I feel like I have to defend my reasoning for not growing this plant before. I'm certain it has everything to do with the goldenrod yellow color I most typically associate with this plant. That harsh shade of yellow has never been a favorite of mine (even though I sometimes don't mind it in early autumn). That combined with the sort of loose habit of Achillea always made me think "weed" when I saw it.

But guess what? Achillea is so much more than that. Cultivars range from an easy-on-the-eyes lemon yellow to shocking pink, dark red, peach or orange. Some are more compact than others, which also appeals to me and all are said to be very attractive to pollinators.

A few varieties that are worth a look:

Zone 3-9
Size 12-36 inches

These were the three plants I had to have last year and wouldn't you know it, every one of them made it into my garden last summer. I still love them all. 



SPRING: A TIME TO TAKE STOCK OF GARDEN PROJECTS TO COME

Happy spring!

In preparation for the first day of spring, we spent some time over the weekend walking through our still partially snow covered yard taking an assessment of what needs doing this year.

The creek that runs under this little bridge and it's twin a bit farther east  ranges from a trickle to a gully washer  at various times during the year.
At the top of the list is replacing the bridges Mr. Much More Patient built over the creek the year we bought the house 15 years ago. He used cedar for the boards but they seem to have fared no better than the pressure treated structural timbers over the year. The whole enchilada is rotting. I don't think we can complain as they've lasted a decade and a half and it will be a good excuse to make them a little wider. Not only does my two-wheel wheelbarrow barely fit on it (and it has careened off the side on more than one occasion), but there is a very small chance we may have a garden tour at the house next year and I'd like the bridges to be a touch wider for guests just in case.

The boards on top just lift up and you can see that there's rot in the structural bits too.

I also took the time to make a few notes about areas of the garden that I'd like to do some rearranging in, particularly in the sunny part of the garden north of the house. This has been the default garden for things I'm dividing or don't know where to plant, but I'm feeling the need to do a little fixing up in that area.

While walking to that garden we looked up and noticed the the chimney has mortar falling out all over the place again. We love that chimney but it has serious issues. We've had two people out over the  years to fix it. The first one was OK but sloppy. The second one, I think, actually lied about even going up there to do anything. So now we find ourselves having to find a mason and I'd like to get that done sooner rather than later because they always trash the garden.

If you look closely, you can see that the beds are bulging pretty badly. When we built it we sunk eight 4x4 cedar posts in the ground so we thought it would maintain its shape, but that's not been the case. In retrospect we should have added strapping to keep the beds from bulging. You can see the metal brackets on the front corner that are temporary measures to hold it together this year.
The bridges aren't the only thing rotting in our yard. The main raised bed garden is completely falling apart. We knew this would happen. We built it using cedar posts and untreated pine. In its eighth year, the pine boards are bowing terribly and rotting everywhere. The ones on the north end have crumbled. What we didn't expect was that the cedar 4x4 posts have also rotted. Is cedar not like cedar used to be? It seems like it's failing quickly.

The north side of the garden is in the worst shape. Not only are the boards rotten, but the posts they are screwed in to are as well. 

The solution is a patch job. We've bought some corner brackets to hold it together and we'll have to replace the boards on the north end with something. Even scrap wood would be OK. Mr. Much More Patient has some plan to get the screws to bite into the rotten posts.

The reason we're not doing a proper fix is that I'm very excited to report that the plan is for a complete redo of the veggie area next year. The dream of a potager is one I've been trying to shake for a few years but it just won't go away. So my plan is a new set of raised beds, room on the edges for growing fruit, a large fence around the entire thing and a small seating area to soak up the sun in the center. On the rough sketch I have there is also a faint dotted line on the back of the fenced-in area that says "Future greenhouse." I should be so lucky, but it doesn't hurt to have a plan just in case.

This is also the time of year when I make notes for future plantings. I stuck a few sticks here and there around the garden to represent possible locations for trees, which helps me visualize the location from various spots inside, as well as judge the amount of sunlight an area gets throughout the day, something I'm generally terrible at (optimism make me see sun that's sometimes not there).

These are difficult days for a gardener. There is a lot of pent-up desire to garden but no ability to do so. This kind of planning helps. In fact, maybe gardening is like proms and parties in that sometimes the anticipation is even better than the main event. 

WEEKEND FINDS

The week again got away from me, but that's no reason not share some good stuff from the web. Here's some of my favorite finds.

Gardener admission: I don't care for asparagus. I'll eat it if it's roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper but I do so begrudgingly. But I know plenty of people love it and I think it's a beautiful plant. If you're itching to grow some, here's how.

I need work on the decorating part, but it tasted amazing.

A couple weeks ago Mr. Much More Patient celebrated his birthday and his only request was a weekend of his favorite meals and a chocolate cake. I made Ina Garten's Beatty's cake but used this chocolate cream cheese frosting recipe. Best. Cake. Ever. (As confirmed by several friends and family who also got some because we don't need an entire cake for two of us.)

Speaking of Ina, you can buy her New York Pied a Terre. It doesn't exactly thrill me.

After all that cake I should probably do this.

I do love a space with just a hint black and these are really good.

I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show a few years and thought it was one of the better garden shows I've been to, but still a little disappointing in that so many of the show gardens put plants together that never would grow together. Looks like that's changed.

By the time you read this the weekend will be in full swing. The garden is (again) covered in snow so there will be no outdoor gardening activities for me this weekend. There will be some more seed starting (which one must do if they are going to grow as many different things as I am) though. And of course there's that little project going on in the basement that I haven't brought up for awhile to deal with.

What will you be doing this weekend?

FINDING A FOCAL POINT

Big things happen in my garden when I'm not able to garden. It is absolutely a case of my gardening eyes being much larger than my gardening stomach, but what else is a gardener to do during the long days of winter than think about the garden?

The west side of the house is the first part you see when you drive in.

This spot along the west side of the house has been problematic over the years. First I grew a very questionably hardy Japanese maple there (it died; I was sad). Then I planted a rather ordinary witch hazel there as the focal point. Unfortunately I was at the mercy of local nurseries, which seem to stock the most plain-Jane cultivars they can find, and ended up with a not-so-special plant. The best that area has looked was in the early days of the planting there. The witch hazel was small but lush, in front of it were black Heucheras and on the edge was a swatch of Hakonechloa 'All Gold'. 

The second year after planting this area was looking pretty good (minus the creeping Charlie problem in the lawn).

But the Hakonechloa happily took off and the Heuchera, which is not long lived in my garden to begin with, suffered. It's still there, it's just much shorter than the Hakonechloa, so you can't even see it. I divided all that Hakonechloa three years ago to make the new garden by the garage and I'll be able to divide it again for the new circle garden this year. Despite being considered a shade plant, it thrives in that spot with just a big of fading late in the summer. It's an all-star in my garden, seemingly accommodating a variety of light conditions.

But several years later it's less of a success.
Clearly this spot is in need of a bit of a redo. The good news is that because of the large spruce we cut down on the south side of the driveway there will be more light on this side of the house. Also, it's really more of a west southwest exposure, so there is light there by late morning. You can get a feel for the layout of the garden—this space is labeled as the "West side garden"—in the slightly outdated "artist's rendering" of the garden that I did a few years ago, below.



The most important part of that planting, and frankly, perhaps one of the most important parts of the entire garden as it is visible as you drive in, is the focal point plant in front of the chimney. In my opinion, it needs to be highly structured and a little simple so as to not compete with the busy pattern of the stone. I've been wary of dark foliage because I want it to stand out against the dark of the chimney.

A month or ago I took Margaret Roach's 365-day garden webinar. It was very good and full of valuable information but the only thing I can tell you about it right now is that Margaret has an Asian pear espalier on the side of her house and I'm in love. I would love to link you to a picture of it but I can't find one that links back to Margaret's page, so you'll have to trust me that it's fabulous. I've been obsessed with the idea of doing an espalier tree in front of the chimney ever since and that led to a ferocious amount of calling around to local nurseries. 

The good news is that I found one not far away and they claim to be reserving it for me (I always wonder if nurseries are really saving plants though as they never take a deposit and it all seems very casual). Supporting it will requiring putting bolts and wires in the stone or mortar. Obviously a full southern exposure would be best, so fruiting may be slightly compromised but that's OK. I'm frankly more worried about aesthetics than production and would have been equally happy with a non-fruiting espalier if one were able to be located. 

I will leave the Hakonechloa after dividing in hopes that it can handle the increased amount of sun, but the Heuchera will be replaced. With what, I don't know. But it feels good to go in to gardening season with a plan.