Petal perfection

I know I go on and on about hydrangeas, and particularly Limelight, but I simply can't help myself.

I mean look at how many petals are simply packed into this flower.



And the blooms on my older Limelight are enormous! Of course all I have for scale is my hand, so here's a picture of me feeling up my hydrangea blooms. Awkward.



The blooms on the new Limelights that I planted by the deck are significantly smaller, which is not surprising, but are also much whiter, although I'm wondering if that has more to do with exposure than age.


The white house with the blue door gets a paint job

I apologize for the lack of posts this week. Since most of what I blog about in summer is stuff that happens outside, and because I'm usually at work during the day when the light is decent, I often take most of the photos for the blog on the weekend and then pump out a bunch of posts related to the photos during the week.

But no matter how much I pretend to deny it, summer is waning. We've had gorgeous weather lately and I can honestly say that last night might have been the most perfect night ever (with the exception of some obnoxious mosquitos). I sat outside well past sunset trying to savor every second.

Anyway, last weekend I was busy doing summer-type stuff and didn't get time to snap any photos. And then when I get home from work during the week the light sort of stinks and then I end up with no blog posts. Still, I could wait to show you what I've been up to.

You know our blue door that I adore? The one that was the very first project I took on when we bought our house nine years ago and ever since have called it "The white house with the blue door"? Well, I painted it.

Now don't be alarmed. It's not a drastic change, even though I am currently in love with yellow doors and after seeing this amazing house tour I damn near painted it Benjamin Moore's Wythe Blue.

BM Wythe Blue

But after thinking about it, I knew our otherwise plain white house (which I was once so nicely told on Gardenweb was the "most boring white house anyone could ever imagine" and the very nice poster suggested that I fire whoever was responsible for that. Ah, the Internet, don't 'cha just love brutal anonymous honesty?) needed a bold color that would stand out in our new entry.

So I chose (drumroll) .....

Another blue.

Wow, I'm a crazy party animal, aren't I?

I changed it from what I have always called "Greek blue," although I don't know what color it really is (I painted it before I ever started paying attention to paint colors and neurotically googling the name of the color to look for images of what it looked like in other people's homes), to a more royal/indigo blue: Benjamin Moore's Down Pour Blue.

BM Down Pour Blue

Anyway, enough chit chat. Onto the (lousy, taken after work) photos. By the way, this was one of the easiest projects I've ever done. Because I painted it last, I knew I had used water-based paint (I ALWAYS use water-based) and that I had primed it thoroughly. So I just sanded it with the palm sander, touched up a few blemishes caused by moving in and out however many times in nine years for floors, renovations, etc., and put on two coats of semigloss paint.

So here's the best picture I have of the before (pre-renovation):

And here's what it looks like now (with the screen door open because I've not painted it yet; that's a project for winter):

It's actually kind of nice to have the screen door the old color so you can see the difference in the blues. And yes, the stairs are all wet because I was blasting bugs off the house right before I took the picture.

And speaking of that screen door, there's a bit of a problem. Can you spot it?

How about now?

It turns out that the hanging light that I really love and picked up for a steal, doesn't work so good with a screen door that opens out. Fortunately we don't really go in and out of the front door much, but we do frequently open it for more light and airflow in the summer, so we're just really careful when we do open it. 

I'll work on better pictures that show more of the house this weekend!

Moving Day

There are so many garden chores that escaped me earlier this season since I was busy basically redoing our entire backyard (including this path and these walls) so one of the many things that needed attending to was some plant moving. Sadly it seems like the worst of the heat is behind us (90 degrees? I'll take it. PLEASE.) so I thought it was safe to start moving things around. I never like to wait too long to move things because I worry they won't have time to get established before the temps drop dramatically. I'd rather have to baby them a bit more in the beginning than take the risk of losing them later.

The target of most of the moving was the fringes of a garden I created four years ago or so that served as a holding bed for things that didn't have another place.



As you can see, it wasn't exactly stunning to look at. The first thing to get moved was the Nikko Blue hydrangea that you see in the middle, which was moved to that location before the house renovations last year. When I dug it out, it was actually two plants. I think a branch rooted itself awhile ago and actually that part of the plant is nicer than the mother plant. This hydrangea, which blooms on old wood (that often freezes out over winter), isn't a great performer. But a couple years ago it gave me five gorgeous light blue blooms and I fell in love with them enough to keep trying.



I moved the two plants to the west side of the house where I've never really had anything great growing. I'm hoping that a protected spot by the house might help keep those buds safe. And in the front I planted a 'Let's Dance Moonlight' hydrangea that I got through the Yahoo co-op a couple years ago and have been growing out in a container. (By the way, do you like how I can't even manage to take the shovel out of the garden before I take a picture?)


The next thing that needed to happen was to get rid of a potentilla shrub I've been chasing around for NINE years. And what you'll be interested to know is that I didn't like it to begin with. My extremely sweet and well-intentioned mother-in-law took me plant shopping shortly after we bought our house. I didn't have the faintest idea what was already growing in the yard nor did I have a clue what my gardening plans were, but I was reluctant to pass up free plants. So we went to a nursery and my mother-in-law asked an employee what was deer resistant and I came home with three potentillas. Two of them (thankfully) died (and that may or may not have something to do with how I "cared" for them) but one just kept on going. I moved it once, and still hated it, so I finally moved it to an empty space. It never bloomed again and got rangy and unattractive. But for some reason I had a hard time throwing away a plant I really didn't like. Well, no more. It had to go. And I think a far more noble purpose for it will be serving as compost several years from now.

After I freed myself of that monkey on my back, it was time to move a couple of hosts that had also been relocated last fall before the renovation. I blogged about the process of moving them here, and I'm happy to report they handled the move wonderfully and looked great this year.



I divided both Blue Angel and Paradigm (just into two divisions) before moving them to the back yard where they are flanking the east-facing stairs off the deck. I didn't cut the foliage off them, but I may if it starts looking shabby.

And then I filled in the newly cleaned out area with more hydrangeas I've been growing out in pots: two Incrediballs and one Invincibelle Spirit. I hope they do well and fill in that area that until now has been just a storage spot.


Well that's just peachy

One of my favorite parts of being part of Proven Winners testing program is that I have the opportunity to grow plants I might not otherwise pick up. I'll admit that when I pulled Superbena 'Royale Peachy Keen' out of the box I had flashbacks to my teenage bedroom, decorated in the latest hot colors of peach and forest green and, well, maybe I wasn't really feeling it.

Well surprise, surprise. Guess what is quickly pulling to the forefront of my favorites of all the 2012 Proven Winners plants I'm currently growing? Yep, Peachy Keen.

Even though we've been through all sorts of weather this summer, from cold and rainy, to a 10-day stretch in the high 90s and even a few days over 100, Peachy Keen is still growing strong. But it's not just a tough cookie, it's also darn good looking and rather eye-catching from a distance.



'Royale Peachy Keen' is planted with 'Purple Ruffles' basil, Superbells 'Blackberry Punch,' Papyrus 'King Tut' and creeping Jenny. On the right you can also see 'Blue Mohawk' grass which is growing in the adjacent pot.



The color on this picture is some kind of weird, but you can see that Peachy Keen jumps out.



Peachy Keen's cousin Superbena 'Royale Iced Cherry' is almost neon. I love it. It's growing in the window box with lots of other plants including Superbells 'Sweet Tart,' on the bottom.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Since I've missed every single one of these so far this season, I thought I better hurry up and participate in one before there are no flowers blooming. So last night I set down my gin and tonic and snapped a few pictures of what's happening the garden now.

As always, thank you to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this. Make sure to go to her page to see lots of wonderful blooms across blogland.


Everytime I think that Rudbeckia isn't worth chasing around the garden digging it up wherever it has spread to next, I fall back in love with it again.



A baby bloom on a baby Hydrangea 'Let's Dance Moonlight.'



I think this is 'Chorus Line.' I love the lime green throat.



Limelight is out in full force and I think I love this stage of the blooms, when they are a beautiful chartreuse, the most.







The last of the lily blooms. I used to think I didn't like lilies and now I really love them, at least when I can get to them before the deer do.

Four plants I'll (probably) never plant again

I'm sure we all have them: Those plants that the rest of the world finds innocuous or maybe even loves, but we can't stand. I have a short list of plants that fall into that category and it always sort of surprises me that I carry such a grudge against these plants, especially when I see them in someone else's garden and (gasp!) sometimes sort of like them.
So here's my list of plants you won't catch me planting again (probably):

Coreopsis zagreb

1. Coreopsis
OK, I should have known better. This was one of those pass-along plants that the gardener I got it from had "plenty to spare." This, in case you haven't figured it out, is code for "It will take over your garden faster than a garlic mustard weed farming operation." And certainly it has its good points. It does bloom its head off. OK, well that would be its one good point. But it also looks like crap if you don't stay on top of the deadheading and it flops all over the place making for a garden that looks like a small tornado has gone through. Every day. I know there are lots of varieties of coreopsis and I suppose many are better than others, but my experience with what I assume was a fairly common variety of this plant was so heinous that my stomach churns when I hear the word "coreopsis" and I actually swore off any yellow flowers out of my garden for about five years. Can you imagine? Do you know how many flowers are yellow? Anyway, after several years of pulling seedlings, I eradicated this little bugger from my garden.

Update summer 2013: Yeah, I relented on this one. Haven't visited a garden with gorgeous patches of threadleaf coreopsis 'Moonbeam', I went out and got some. I put three in the circle garden and I hope they will behave themselves. I have sworn to myself, however, that I will deadhead them promptly and not give them a chance to set seed.
Source: Paz gardens

2. Artemesia 'Oriental Lime Light'
This thug has no redeeming value. Period. Oh sure, I know you're look at it and thinking, "Oh my gosh, it's so bright! What a great way to brighten up a corner of the garden. Imagine it with purple flowers or foliage nearby!" Nope. Imagine an entire garden full of it. Because that's what you're going to get. I actually had a hard time finding this plant and if I recall (I've gone through extensive therapy to rid myself of the nightmares this plant caused me, but I have some bone-chilling recollections of it) I planted two small containers of it. Within a summer it had more than filled the area I had in mind for it. By the next spring it had taken over the entire bed and was threatening to move into the house.
I'd like to be able to tell you that I've closed this disturbing chapter in my life, but alas, this artemesia continues to haunt me. It has been at least six years since I attempted to remove the last vestiges of this plant and it is STILL popping up in my garden. Just a few weeks ago I was in the circle garden and had that creepy feeling like someone was watching me. I turned around and this is what I saw:


Cherry Bells: Its baaaaaa-aaaaack. As is, apparently, that lovely weed in the foreground of the photo. Just keeping' it real, folks.
3. Campanula punctata 'Cherry Bells'
I have mixed feelings about this plant. It really is pretty and there's a reason I begged some from my mom's garden (hmmm, do you notice a pattern here? What kind of parenting is this anyway?) The blooming time is not long, but honestly, that's not unusual for my garden. I'm perfectly willing to deal with gorgeous blooms for a short time if they are worth it. Once again, the problem with this plant is its vigor. It just kept spreading and spreading and spreading. I dealt with it for a couple years and this spring I finally started pulling it out. And just when I thought I had gotten it all … well, you know the drill. It's still there. In full force. Most of them didn't get a chance to bloom, which is really the worst-case scenario. Now I have mini Cherry Bells all over the place but they aren't even going to bloom.
I will say, if I could find a way to effectively contain Cherry Bells, she could be invited to stay. But she's a rude one, and really has no manners.


4. Sea Holly
I fell in love with sea holly when I saw it in a bouquet, and I think that is really the higher purpose that sea holly was put on this earth for: flower arrangements. I will give sea holly a partial pass on my judgement of it, because I planted it in part sun, not full sun, and perhaps that's why I was disappointed with it's performance. The flowers were still beautiful and a nice shot of blue. It was a plant that everyone commented on. But its tall stems flopped the minute they hit about 30 inches and it was a holy mess from then on. Because the stems are skinny, it was hard to stake them in any attractive way and ultimately it had to go. But it was stubborn and apparently liked it in my garden and kept coming back. I haven't seen any signs of it in my garden for a few years now, but it lives on … in the gardens of all the people who told me they wanted some, no matter how unruly it was.

So, what do you think? Am I crazy for banning these plants that plenty of people love? And do you have a list of plants that you've banned from your garden?

An expansive (and clandestine) garden crash

I've been so excited about the garden tour I had planned for the weekend. An expansive garden, just minutes from my house, was open as part of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program. The 120-acre property known as Afterglow Farm was established in 1929 by the Uihlein (pronounced Eee-line) family. (You can read more about the garden in this great article in the local newspaper).

Much of the property is naturalized, with wide paths leading around large ponds, past charming pump houses and off to the far reaches of land. What I found most interesting was that most of the planted areas by the main house relied on what I consider to be "old standards" and often natives. So often when you tour a garden it is full of hard-to-find cultivars that are interesting partly because they are so unique. But this garden used wide swaths of classic plants.

But here's where the clandestine part came in. As I was walking up the path to enter the garden with my SLR, a volunteer stopped me to tell me no photographs were allowed. Why, I cannot imagine, especially since several photos of the garden appeared in the newspaper and on various websites, but whatever. So I put the SLR back in the car and started doing a lot pretending to be text messaging on my phone while sneaking photos (there were volunteers everywhere busting people for taking pictures). So that explains why the pictures stink, which is really too bad, but hopefully you can still get a feel for this great garden.


A winding path that goes past several ponds opens onto this prairie, full of native plants.


The path from the beach (the property is on Lake Michigan) borders a beautiful ravine.



An orchard is enclosed by a fence on which vines grow. This is probably one of the most formal parts of the garden.



Hydrangeas, blue fescue, creeping thyme and more are combined in the planting on the back side of the house.



Ligularia 'The Rocket' is always a stunner, but it is even more eye-catching when planted en masse.



At first I thought this was a little well house or something, but it turns out it's just a very creative way to stack firewood. I'd hate to be the one who pulled out the wrong piece of wood though.



Purple coneflowers and Eupatorium are a simple but absolutely lovely combination.



Why don't I grow astilbes?



And why in the wold don't I have any Anise hyssop in my garden? This photo shows how meticulously the beds were edged. I've always said that nothing cleans up a garden more than a fresh edge. This one was amazing and very uniform, and obviously done by some kind of power tool. Anybody know what that might be? Because whatever it costs I think it's worth it.



The showpiece of the property is a large circle garden enclosed by a fence covered in climbing hydrangea and full of small paths. A fountain stands in the middle.


Black-eyed Susans and Monarda: more classics that look great together.


There was a little bit of everything in the circle garden, from herbs, to natives, to sedums and standards. You can see the top of the fountain on the left side of the photo.


Potting bench/area of my dreams.


Want to see more garden crashes? Check out this one and this one.




Perfecting plant combinations

I come from a long line of ink-stained wretches so it should come as no surprise that I love magazines and newspapers—the kind you can hold and fold and read at the beach without some sort of specialized case (and trust me, I'm a gadget girl too. I haven't met a product that Steve Jobs had a hand in that I haven't loved). I love reading magazines and newspapers, studying them and I even like recycling them (either to other people or in the recycling bin). I subscribe to several magazines and will keep a handful of most of them when there is a particularly good issue. But two magazines, House Beautiful and Fine Gardening, are never tossed. House Beautiful magazines usually go to our collection at work, which we use for graphic design inspiration from time to time, but the Fine Gardenings are all mine.

The stack of Fine Gardening magazines in my hallway closet is part of my finely tuned system of getting through the long Wisconsin winter. It is my main source of garden design inspiration.
That's also why I like the special issues Fine Gardening puts out. I have at least 10 of them in my collection and I like referring back to them when I'm looking for something special, such as containing gardening ideas or plants for the shady spots in my garden.


So I was happy to have the opportunity to review their most recent special issue "Plant Combinations," which gives readers a handbook on plant pairings in their gardens. I just wrote about some of the plant combinations I'm happy with in my own garden, but the key to a garden you love is really having everything work well with each other.

Frequent readers of the magazine know that Fine Gardening ends each regular issue with a photo of a great plant combination; this special publication takes that concept to a full 99 pages.

What I particularly like is that the editors focused on featuring very common plants that work in a wide range of zones. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a plant in a magazine that you absolutely have to have and can't find anywhere. They also break then down into different light categories which is really helpful if you're looking for something for a specific spot in the garden.

One of my favorite combinations in the magazine is one featuring 'Autumn Joy' sedum, a fountain grass and 'Alice' Japanese anemone. Not only does it look fantastic, but it might be the most maintenance free plant combination known to man.

'Autumn Joy' sedum and feather grass are a perfect combination. You can just see 'Alice' Japanese anemone peeking out from the top of the photo. To see the whole thing you'll have to pick up the magazine. Susan A. Roth/Fine Gardening photo

"Plant Combinations" is already well worn with several pages turned over. Filled with classic stand-by plants that should be easy to find (many even in my own garden) I'm sure it will serve me well for years to come.

You can pick up "Plant Combinations" for $7.99 on the Fine Gardening website.

A window box abbondanza

I cannot believe it's August already. That fact is particularly sad given that I haven't even weeded one section of garden for spring yet, nor edged any of the beds. Whoops.

When I was gone a couple weeks ago I was on my annual trip (via sailboat) to Mackinac Island. I didn't have as much time on the island this year so my annual garden touring time was cut short, but as I was waiting for a taxi to the airport (you have to love a taxi that has to stop twice on the way up the hill to rest the horses), I couldn't help but snap a few photos with my phone of the massive window box outside Doud's Market (the island grocery store).

This photo should run next to the word "abundance" in the dictionary.

I love the use of nasturiums in this window box because I love the texture the leaves provide as much as the pretty flowers.

It caught my eye from far away with its bright colors and sheer volume, but also because I knew it was designed by my favorite Mackinac Island garden designer, Jack Barnwell (check out my Q&A with him here).

In fact, Jack wrote about building the window boxes for the market in spring on his Facebook page, so it was even cooler to see them planted. Because there are so many people strolling the streets of Mackinac Island, it was impossible to get a straight-on photo showing the magnitude of this window box display. The boxes are under every window of the store, so there is probably a good 25 or 30 feet of flowers.

I think the idea of bridging the gap between window boxes with a black-eyed Susan vine is ingenious.

Even a begonia snuck into this planting!

These are very free-form plantings, which I think works so well with the whole cottage/resort feel of the island. There must be at least 15 different varieties of plants used in the boxes and the look is one of abundance but not at all chaotic. The overall color theme is purple and orange, but that ranges from peach and yellow to even orangey reds. I especially love how Jack used the black-eyed Susan vine to bridge the spaces between boxes but also as the "thriller" of the entire planting. Genius!