MY FAVORITE TOOLS (PART 3: WEEDING, EDGING, WATERING, WHEELBARROWS)

We started with my four most used tools and yesterday I covered pruning and raking tools. Today I'm going to hit you with all the rest, so hang onto your hats.

Just to review, these are my favorite tools that I use for specific jobs in the garden. My entire tool collection numbers far more than the tools I actually use frequently, though. 

First up, my favorite weeding tools. In case you missed it, here are the main ways I deal with weeds (without chemicals) and all of these tools were mentioned in that garden.

Favorite weeding tools: The Impatient Gardener

1. HOE

I don't know what you call this kind of hoe, but generally speaking, it's a push hoe with sharp corners that work to sort of pluck out deeply rooted weeds. I think I'd prefer a hoe that works on both the push and the pull stroke though.

2. A.M. LEONARD DELUXE SOIL KNIFE

Are you noticing a pattern? I obviously use this thing for everything. Read more about it in Part 1.

3. WEED DRAGON PROPANE TORCH

Read the weed article for more about this dangerous, but super fun, tool. I also have a small hand truck to pull the propane tank around and I would really miss that bit. Garden Tool Co. has the torch bits on sale for under $55 right now.

EDGING TOOLS

I don't particularly love the process of edging but I love neatly edged beds and I can pretty much do anything I need to with an edge with these three tools. I should add that for awhile I used a half-moon edger, but that is now lost in the depths of the garage since I narrowed in on these tools.

Favorite edging tools: The Impatient Gardener

1. A.M. LEONARD COMPOSITE HANDLE SPADE

I didn't buy this spade specifically for edging, but when I got it, I realized it was WAY too heavy for efficient digging, but its flat, heavy blade works really well for hand edging. I use this for small edging jobs or to do the heavy lifting when creating a new bed.

2. BAHCO LONG-HANDLED EDGING SHEARS WITH VERTICAL BLADE

These "shears on a stick" are new to me this year, but I am really loving them. They are long enough that you can stand up straight to use them. You set one blade against an existing garden edge and then move your right hand to slice through any grass that has sprung up. It has the most lovely slicing noise, too. This is great for a quick touch up and I've found by hitting my edges with this every couple of weeks, my initial edging at the beginning of the season will probably last all summer without having to bring out any other tools. If you're sort of nutty about your edges, this is a good tool to look into, and far preferable and safer for your plants than the weed eater.

3. BLACK AND DECKER 2-in-1 LANDSCAPER EDGER

First off, I have no idea what the 2-in-1 portion of this machine is because I only use it for one thing: cut edges. What I really wanted when I started looking for a power edger was a big gas edger. And then I discovered that those are really really expensive, so unless you run a botanical garden, you probably don't need one (or don't want to spend the money on one). I think I picked this up for about $100 and I'm OK with that price considering how much I like it.

It's electrical, so you do have to drag out the extension cords to use it and that's the main reason why I don't use it more often than I do. But it cuts a nice sharp line in the soil in seconds. I do go back and clean up the edges, usually on my hands and knees with my soil knife, just pulling away all the excess material on the bed-side of the line, but all of that still takes far less time than doing the whole thing by hand with a half-moon edger or spade. 

WATERING

Back in the early years of this blog, I lamented the lack of quality watering tools available for home gardeners. I was so sick of leaky everything, constantly wet sleeves and hoses that didn't last a year. Well I am very happy to report that manufacturers have really stepped up and improved the quality of watering tools.

Favorite watering tools: The Impatient Gardener

1. DRAMM COLORSTORM TURRET SPRINKLER

Dramm, which is manufactured just up the road from me so I admit some local bias, has professional and consumer lines. The professional products are harder to find and you usually have to go to a nursery-supply company to buy them, but in some cases they are worth seeking out. Their Colorstorm line is by far their biggest consumer line and for a lot of products, the quality is similar to the professional lines. I have a love-hate relationship with sprinklers. For the most part, I don't like to use them but at the same time, sometimes you just don't have time to hand water everything. I like this sprinkler because you can pick the water pattern. I usually use the half rectangle or semicircle patterns so I can set the sprinkler on the edge of a bed and it will just water the plants in the bed, not anything behind it.

2. TUFF-GUARD PERFECT GARDEN HOSE

I've written about this hose before, and the fact that I still love it is actually the best testament a person like me, who used to replace hoses annually, can give a product. Here's what I like about it: 
  • It's light but still big enough for a large volume of water to flow through it (other light hoses I've tried were light because they were small and the water just trickled out).
  • You can't kink it. Ever. I actually put valve fittings on the end to stop the water for when I need to swap out end fittings because you can't just pinch the hose to stop the water. I can't tell you how nice it is to not have to worry about kinks.
  • It has solid brass fittings that don't wear out.
It has one negative to it and I'll be honest, Mr. Much More Patient crabs about it somewhat regularly. It's a bit springy, so you pretty much have to use something to store it, rather than just coiling it up in a corner. I use a hose container and it is perfectly well behaved there (and comes out easily, again without kinking). Plus, I think it looks a heck of a lot better in a container than just coiled up on the patio. 

I have two 50-foot lengths connected and have used them for at least three years with no complaints. I have never had a hose last so long. In fact, we still have a traditional hose connected on the back of the hose that I use pretty rarely and I've gone through two hoses in that time and the stupid things kink all the time. 


3. DRAMM WATERING WAND AND WATERBREAKER

I have a couple of these and sort of mix and match the parts as needed. The one I use most is the 30-inch wand with a pull handle on it that I got at the hardware store. It's part of their Colorstorm line. But it came with a plastic nozzle that I don't care for, so instead I use an aluminum waterbreaker from their professional line. I've had all of these for several years and as long as I occasionally put in a new rubber washer, leaks are not an issue.


4. WATERING CAN

This is not exactly exciting stuff. I'm sad to see that Gardener's Supply seems to have discontinued this watering can because I really like it. The best thing about it is that it has a 3-gallon capacity. I hate lugging water around in cans, but what I hate even more is having to make a bunch trips for more water. There is a nozzle for it, but it seems to get clogged easily so I rarely use it. I've found that if I carry it backwards when it's full, it doesn't slosh out. I have no idea why, but it works! After about five years of use, it is starting to crack a little on the top, but I don't think you can complain about that.

WHEELBARROW


How could I not include my trusty wheelbarrow in my round-up of my favorite tools? This is only the second wheelbarrow I've had and it serves me well. It's got a large capacity bucket (I do not understand the point of a small wheelbarrow) and I quite like the double front wheels. I can't take it directly into beds because of the wide wheels, but I don't find that to be a big problem. 

I would say that wheelbarrows are one of those things that it pays to just buy a really good one from the beginning. Cheap, wobbly wheelbarrows are awful.

Well, all but one of them are. My first wheelbarrow was a cheap, wobbly one and it was great and I'll tell you why. Mr. Much More Patient proposed to me with it. 

We had purchased the house six months earlier, so we needed homeowner stuff and had pretty much no money. Our Christmas gifts to each other had to be practical. I got him a chainsaw and he got me a cheap, wobbly wheelbarrow. But in that wheelbarrow was an engagement ring. Did he have me pegged or what?

Even though I stopped using it a few years ago, I hung onto that wheelbarrow for ages. Finally Mr. Much More Patient asked me this spring if he could take it to the dump. I'm not a super sentimental person and I hate clutter so I reluctantly agreed. I can't tell you how much I regret that decision. 

Oh well, I still have the ring (even if I don't wear it during gardening season) and, more importantly, the husband. And he even pushes the new wheelbarrow for me sometimes.

So those are my favorite tools. Please keep telling me about yours. I want to look in to some of them. Next week I'll tell you about a few things that I don't have that I think I probably should (spoiler alert: I may have already picked up a few at the Garden Tool Co. sale).

MY FAVORITE TOOLS (PART 2: PRUNING & RAKES)

Yesterday, in the first part of My Favorite Tools, I covered what I consider to be my four essential tools; the ones I reach for almost every time I garden. Today I'm going to get a bit more specific and show you what I use for specific jobs.

The first is pruning and cutting. Yesterday I showed you the most expensive gardening tool I own (my Sneeboer Ladies Spade) and mentioned that I thought it was worth the expense because it's a high-quality tool that I think will last my lifetime. So it's clear that I don't mind paying more for quality when it's called for. But sometimes I like to straddle the line of getting a good tool without spending a lot. I'm sure there are better pruning and cutting tools out there, but I don't feel like I use them often enough to justify spending more.

And here's a little secret: Sometimes I accidentally leave my tools laying right where I left them. Often for days, and possibly for weeks.

I try very hard not to do that, but I have rusted loppers beyond practical use in the past because I lost them in a pile of trimmings. And that's why I don't buy very expensive loppers anymore.

Favorite pruning tools: The Impatient GArdener



The first two tools in my pruning and cutting arsenal—my Bahco pruners and my A.M. Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife—were covered yesterday. The rest of them all happen to be Fiskars, which seems to strike the right balance of quality and affordability and has the added advantage of being easy to find in stores.

3. FISKARS POWERGEAR LOPPER

I won these from a giveaway on another blog and I have to say, I really like these loppers. They are shorter in the handle (which I like because I feel it gives me more control) and ratcheted, so they have extra cutting power. If I can fit in the jaws (I'd say they open to allow about a 1.25-inch branch), it will cut it and they've never failed me yet. They are also extremely light, which is maybe not necessary but awfully nice.

4. FISKARS HEDGE SHEARS

I use these for rough pruning of things like my meatball boxwoods as well as cutting back ornamental grasses and mass quantities of perennials in fall or winter. They seem to keep a pretty good edge and they haven't done anything to make me not like them, so they work for me.

5. FISKARS FOLDING SAW

I got this folding saw this year to manage some branches that wouldn't fit in my loppers or were at an odd angle that couldn't be reached with a larger tool. I've only used it a couple times, including when I dug a hole for a new tree and had to cut away some old roots intruding in the hole. That didn't do the blade any favors, but that's sort of the beauty of having a $10 tool; it's not the end of the world if you have to do something that dulls the blade.

I don't really love them. The blade seems really floppy to me, which makes it hard to cut with, but then again I'm not the most practiced saw user in the world either. I don't think I'd buy them again, but I also wouldn't spend a ton of money on a tool like this (see aforementioned cutting of underground roots).


I haven't counted, but I'll bet I have six rakes in the garage. That's ridiculous and there is no need for them. At all. I have a plastic lawn rake for leaves (not included here) and then these three that I use in the actual garden.

Favorite rakes: The Impatient GArdener

1. GROUNDHOG ROUND RAKE

I can't tell you why the shape of rake matters, but for whatever reason, this rake is great for spreading material. It works wonders on bark mulch, smoothing it easily and distributing it evenly. It also works for spreading out soil amendments like compost and manure, although it doesn't get a surface perfectly level. It also has a lightweight aluminum handle, which I really appreciate.

2. METAL RAKE

This came from a big box store and there is nothing special about it, but it's still the best tool in the shed for evening out the soil. We'll be filling in around the driveway with topsoil and reseeding soon and this will be our most used tool for that. I like to use the tines for sort of rough work and then flip it over and lightly use the flat back for a super smooth finish if that's what I'm going for.

3. ADJUSTABLE RAKE

The only thing that's special about this metal-tined rake is that it is adjustable so it can be as narrow or wide as you need it. That is particularly helpful for raking leaves out of beds around plants. When it's fully extended, the tines are pretty flexible so I find that it is far less damaging to the crowns of plants you might hit with it than your typical plastic lawn rake is.


MY FAVORITE TOOLS (PART 1)

I love tools and gadgets and I'm always searching for the next great thing. There is such satisfaction that comes from having the right tool for that job. In my quest to have the right tool for every job, I have accumulated a shed full of tools, about half of which I ever use and maybe 10% of which I use frequently.

So I thought I'd share with you the tools I use for each job in the garden and I hope, at the end of this, you'll share your favorite tools me with.

As a quick aside, I want to say that every piece of equipment I'm talking about was purchased by me; nothing was supplied as a test or a trial. So I'm factoring in cost when I consider how much I like these tools.

I'm going to start with the tools I use the most. These are my core tools and the ones I use almost every time I'm in the garden.


1. BAHCO BYPASS PRUNERS

I know that Felco pruners are supposed to be the be-all and end-all of pruners for serious gardeners and I've seen gardeners nearly come to fistacuffs over which pruners are best. I have never tried Felcos, but I have a hard time thinking I'd like them better than my Bahcos.

The main reason I love these pruners is because they come in sizes and mine happen to be small. I never realized how fatigued my hands were getting from repeatedly opening a pruners that was too big for my grip until I got a set of pruners that was properly sized. I have had these $25 pruners for four years I think and while I'll likely ask for a new pair for Christmas, these will still serve as a good backup pair. I keep them oiled and sharpened and they do their job nicely.

It doesn't look like Bahco is making this specific pair in the small size anymore, but they do make a slightly nicer (and more expensive) version (the ergonomic PX-S2) in a small size. I've given these to both my mom and sister-in-law and they both swear by them. They are about $45 on Amazon and it's money I'd happily spend.

2. A.M. LEONARD DELUXE SOIL KNIFE

Earlier this year I wrote about my love of hori horis (aka soil knives) and mentioned that I was trying this one out this year and promised I would report back.

Well, I love it. It combines all of my favorite features of the various soil knives I've tried into one tool. I've not had to sharpen it yet, which is rather surprising, and just the other day I was cleanly and easily cutting back some spent stems when I didn't have my pruners on me.

It's about $22 from A.M. Leonard.



3. SNEEBOER LADIES SPADE

This is the newest addition to my gardening tool arsenal and the one I'm most enthusiastic about. I wanted to get a proper spade, something with a handle that was an appropriate length. I also sort of coveted a shiny stainless steel blade, something I'd read a lot about.

I found myself at Garden Tool Co.'s website, where they had several high-quality spades to choose from. Since I was completely flummoxed about which one I should get, I sent them an email and got an almost immediate reply from one of the owners, Blake. He went through the differences between the spades I was considering and then recommended that I go with the Ladies Spade. I'll admit, I was skeptical. Having only used very large shovels in the past, I thought I would get frustrated with a significantly smaller blade, but Blake pointed out that the theory is that you want to get maximum effectiveness without undo strain or tiring too quickly (I'm sure there is a bell curve for this).

And that's when I realized that buying a spade is just like buying a paddleboard paddle. When I researched what paddle to get for my paddleboard I spoke with a lot of people who knew a lot more than me about it. My thinking was, why wouldn't I get the biggest paddle they make? I'll move more water with it and go faster. But the experts explained to me that only the biggest and strongest paddlers get the biggest paddles (and this is why the come in different sizes, by the way). Most women use a smaller paddle. It still moves a lot of water, but it takes much less effort to paddle, so you tire less quickly and you don't hurt yourself in the process.

So I ended up with the Ladies Spade and it was love at first dig. It was a ton of money to spend on a spade but I really feel like this is one of those heirloom tools that I could have forever. Plus, it is a joy to use. It has great balance, the handle feels great and it has a step protector on the blade (a must for me).

I see that it is on sale right now for $112. I have no idea how long that sale lasts, but if I didn't already have one, I'd buy it without a second thought for that price.

As for the Garden Tool Co., Blake wrote back to me a few days after I received my spade and said I was welcome to exchange it for another if I didn't absolutely love it. That's the moment I fell equally in love with the company as I did with the spade.

4. FIBERGLASS HANDLE SHOVEL

I don't know what kind of shovel this is or where it came from (other than probably a random big-box store), but it's a workhorse. I don't use it as much anymore (and never for any digging since I got my Sneeboer spade) but it is good for moving mass quantities of material, such as a big pile of soil. We've had this one for at least six years after breaking several wood-handled shovels.

Those are the four tools I reach for the most. In the coming days, I'll show you what I use for edging, watering and pruning, but in the meantime, what's your favorite gardening tool?

Check out Part 2 (Pruners and rakes) and Part 3 (Weeding, edging, watering and wheelbarrows).

FIVE WAYS TO DEAL WITH WEEDS (WITHOUT CHEMICALS)

Even though we are in that sort of sweet spot of summer when there isn't much to be done in the garden other than enjoy all the hard work, there is still one job that must be done: weeding.

I have a lot of weeds in my garden. Honestly, this year I never really got out in front of them. I manage the areas farther away from the house as well as I can and keep the gardens closest to the house the tidiest. So I don't profess to be a champion weeder. But I know that weeding is something every gardener must do and here are the five ways I manage weeds without chemicals.

Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
When hand-pulling weeds, try to grab them as close to the soil as possible. This jewelweed comes out easily with hand pulling but some of the other nasty weeds growing in this area don't pull quite as easily.

1. PULL 'EM BY HAND
I probably deal with 80% of the weeds in my garden by hand pulling them. Some weeds, like Jewelweed, garlic mustard weed and even oxalis can just be pulled out with a couple fingers so long as the ground is soft. The key, of course, is to pull out the whole weed, roots and all, otherwise you're just making more work for yourself.

Pros: Requires no tools, can go quickly, can be done with a wine glass in one hand.
Cons: Sore back, sore hands, doesn't work for all weeds.
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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
Wild violets are considered a weed in my garden and the only way to really get them is to dig them up.

2. DIG 'EM OUT
When hand pulling won't do it, that's when I turn to my hori hori and dig them out. Dandeloins, quack grass, plantains, tree seedlings and anything else that doesn't want to come out easily gets this treatment. It's slower than hand pulling but you can be sure to get the entire root.

Pros: Guaranteed to get the root out, very salt-of-the-earth kind of gardening.
Cons: Time consuming, laborious.
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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener

3. HOE 'EM
Some gardeners are big hoe fans, but I'll admit to be relatively new to world of hoes. In fact, I only really have one proper hoe and I like it because it has sharp corners that I can dig in to pop out more deeply rooted weeds. It works better for young weed seedlings, as it's difficult to dig the hoe in deep enough to get the roots on larger weeds so if you're a person who likes to do a little work more frequently, hoeing would probably work well for you.

Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener

Pros: Easier on the back, fast
Cons: Hard to get the root so needs to be done frequently
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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
This area was covered in cardboard in May and has done a great job smothering out the weeds all summer. I still haven't gotten around to covering it with mulch. 

4. SMOTHER 'EM
This is my favorite method for dealing with large areas infested with weeds. I often use this for areas I intend to plant in a year or two but I'm just not ready to deal with yet. Although I've used multiple layers of newspaper (or newsprint on rolls, which is much easier) in the past, lately I've been using mostly cardboard, which is easier and works much better but is perhaps a little more difficult to find. I cover up the cardboard with the least expensive wood mulch I can find to make it look a little more presentable. You can also use plastic or even an old piece of carpet to smother weeds, but I prefer paper or cardboard because it breaks down naturally and you never have to worry about removing it in the future.

Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener
The light brown mulch at the top of the photo is an area that I covered in newspaper. I didn't have enough plants to fill this new garden area all the way to the back of the bed, so the cardboard plus mulch keeps it looking tidy this year and next year I'll be able to fill it with divisions from elsewhere in the garden.
Pros: Quick, effective, manages large areas easily.
Cons: Material collection (cardboard or newspaper) can be onerous, mulch to cover it can add up in cost.
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Five ways to deal with weeds without chemicals: The Impatient Gardener

5. BURN 'EM
There's no doubt that this is the easiest and most fun way to deal with weeds although it is certainly the most dangerous. I bought a large weed torch a  year or two ago after I decided I wasn't getting enough power from my small weed torch. This one hooks up to a large propane tank (like you connect to your gas grill) and you pull it behind you on a hand truck. Because heat is obviously non-selective, you have to be careful not to get too close to anything you don't want to kill. When you use a weed torch, the goal is not to incinerate the weeds, but to desicate them so they die back on their own. To do that, I just hold the torch on them until the foliage gets bright green. Within a day, they'll be shriveled up. I pretty much only use the torch on my stone paths and the cracks in the patio, but it works like a charm. I did burn myself pretty badly just by touching the hot torch (turned off) accidentally to my leg this spring so you should probably be smarter than I am and wear some protective clothing (and not flip flops) and maybe have a hose handy when you're going to get crazy with the weed torch.

Pros: Fun, easy.
Cons: A good chance you could burn down your house or send yourself to the emergency room.


What's your favorite weeding method?

A ROSE IS A ROSE (EXCEPT WHEN IT'S DEAD)

Can anyone explain to what it is about roses that makes gardeners go nutty? OK, maybe some of you may have been able to resist the siren song of this queen of all flowers, but I have not, despite the fact that they torment me.

I kill roses. I can think  of at least five that have met their fate at my trowel, and yet within month of swearing off "fancy roses" yet again, I have thrown my gardening heart into one again.

Sidenote: If you ever hear me swear off something gardening related, be it a particular plant or a broader concept like not adding any more gardens, you would be wise to bet me that I don't really mean it. Because sooner or later I always do it/plant it again.


But back to roses. I have been able to grow Oso Easy roses extremely well. I almost don't even consider them to be roses because they seem to require less maintenance than almost any perennial in my yard. I also have a couple of climbing roses—a William Baffin and CanCan—that have bucked the trend. The problem with all those roses is that they have little to no scent. And really, what's a rose without a scent? Just another pretty flower.

I don't know why I care roses. There are plenty other flowers that many gardeners wouldn't be without that I live without just fine. I think it's because roses seem to be the pinnacle of gardening success. Their reputation (deserved or not is debatable) as fussy divas somehow makes them something to be conquered.

This spring my 'Carefree Beauty' rose was dead, one of the few victims of a winter I thought would wreak havoc on much more of the garden than it did. I bought it because it was supposed to live up to its name and it joined a growing list of "Roses I have killed."

That's when I swore off non-landscape-type roses.

And yet just last week I received a package in the mail with a rose in it. Buying a rose in August is probably not the smartest move. Buying a rose in August via mail order really isn't. But I did it anyway.


This one, a compact white floribunda, will live in a container and I'm hoping that will give me the edge I need to keep it alive. I plan to coddle it on the patio this summer, overwinter it in the unheated garage and hopefully be able to place it in the garden next year. I've been inspired by other gardens to include more containers right in the garden for interest and plants with special needs, which clearly roses are (for me anyway).

I'm not placing bets on if this rose's fate will be different from its predecessors, but gosh let's hope so. If only so I can get it out of my system once and for all. Maybe.

Do you have a way with roses? Or are they just not something you're all that interested in?

CHECKING IN ON THIS SUMMER'S CONTAINERS

Somewhere along the line it became August. I have no idea how that happened and I'm none too happy about it, but that means I better check in with the containers like I promised I would back in June.

The deck planters are doing surprisingly well. I feel like the pink mandevilla is a bit more vigorous than the red mandevilla I've grown in previous years. I'm also really happy with the addition of the white zinnias, which I feel tie the whole thing in better to the container and the pergola.  

2014 containers: June to August comparison

Here's what it looked like in June.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

In the large container by the door, the cardoon has finally started to do its thing.  The Bordeaux petunias are actually quite aggressive and have crowded out much of the light yellow Superbells and the purple sweet potato vine. Overall I'm pretty happy with this, but I wish the sweet potato vine would put it into high gear a little.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

2014 containers: June to August comparison

And here it is back in June.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

The containers on the front steps are getting close to needing a haircut. You can see the top container is not doing well at all and this weekend I think I figured out what is going on: The portico-type roof over the front door, which does not have gutters, is draining right into it. Given the mass quantities of rain we've had this summer, I think the poor thing is being drowned.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

Here they are in June.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

And that brings me to the window box. Of all the containers I do, this is the one I want to turn out the best and when it doesn't, I get so disappointed that I only get one chance a year to get it right. It's not horrible, but it's not exactly how I had imagined. I'm thrilled with the trailing nasturtiums, even if they are threatening to take over the world (I prune them somewhat aggressively about once a week), but I feel like the height balance is off since they got so wonderfully long. The problem with that, of course, is that those are casement windows that we actually use, so I can't really cover them up with tall plants. 

I also feel like the texture is a bit off. I think something really bold in the back would have been helpful. And lastly, with the nearby 'Cancan' climbing rose blooming bright pink in early summer, the combo with the orange nasturtiums was not great. 

2014 containers: June to August comparison

The detail shots of what's going on inside the container are a little more forgiving.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

2014 containers: June to August comparison

Here's the June view.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

Over in the more practical container area, the mint is still going strong and there are five tomatoes on the vine. Usually by now we would have eaten several tomatoes from this container-grown plant and there would be far more than five on the vine. The cool weather has not been good for the tomatoes in containers or the ground.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

2014 containers: June to August comparison

It's an improvement over what they looked like June.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

Did you notice that there's been an addition? I have been wanting to give growing citrus (indoors in the winter) a try for awhile and happened upon a nice Bearss seedless lime and glazed pot at a local nursery's 50% off sale a couple weekends ago so I thought I'd give it a shot. Don't be too impressed with the lime on there: it came on the plant.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

I can't complain with the urn in the garden. Although I threw the dahlia in there because I had nothing else and didn't feel like buying more plants, I'm really happy with the effect.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

I have a 'Princess Diana' clematis growing through it but it's just starting to flower.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

In June, it looked like this:

2014 containers: June to August comparison

The 'Green Mountain' boxwood in the container by the garage got a prune in early July so it's a bit neater and the petunias probably could use a little prune to keep them from making the container look out of balance. Overall, everything seems to be happy.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

The June view:
2014 containers: June to August comparison

 And lastly, the tree stump planter in the new garden has filled out nicely and continues to provide a much-needed spark of color on the far side of the yard.

2014 containers: June to August comparison

Here's what it looked like June.

2014 containers: June to August comparison





FIVE PERENNIALS I'D NEVER BE WITHOUT

I have had a lot of favorite/top posts in the works and was planning to run them over the course of a week, but this is my 600th post on this blog so I thought it should be something a bit meatier, and today I'm bringing you five perennials I wouldn't be without.

These are plants that are complete no-brainers for me and I can't fathom having a garden without them. Most of them are low maintenance and therefore play an important role in my zone 5b garden.

1. LADY'S MANTLE (ALCHEMILLA MOLLIS)
My adoration for this plant know no bounds. It has a lovely scalloped round leaf and a very clumpy habit, so even when it has put on a lot of growth it tends to stay in a tight ball. The leaves are slightly fuzzy so critters don't bother it. In early summer it sends up shoots of tiny chartreuse flowers that last for months, although they tend to flop over. The flowers are wonderful in flower arrangements but equally as nice in the garden where they add an ethereal shot of light.

Lady's Mantle: A perennial I wouldn't be without

Lady's Mantle: A perennial I wouldn't be without

Lady's Mantle: A perennial I wouldn't be without

In my garden, Lady's Mantle grows equally well in full sun and part shade, although the flowers seem to last a little longer in shadier spots. It couldn't be easier to divide, something I have done at almost any time of the spring and summer. It will also seed itself sometimes, but in my garden it does this only in the nicest possible way and is not at all overbearing.

Dwarf Lady's Mantle
Dwarf Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla enthropoda) is truly petite, but its scalloped foliage is so charming.

The past couple of years, I have added a dwarf version of the plant to my garden (Alchemilla enrthropoda). It doesn't flower nearly as well, but its leaves are utterly charming and perfect for the very front of a border.

2. NEPETA
Nepeta, aka Catmint, is a true workhorse in the garden, especially for someone like me who can't get enough of anything with a blue(ish) flower. There are oodles of varieties out there and my preference is for those that don't seed themselves everywhere. Walker's Low became quite popular a few years ago and I quite like it, although it is not a small version as the name would suggest.

Nepeta: A perennial I wouldn't be without

Nepeta: A perennial I wouldn't be without
Nepeta 'Walker's Low' loosens things up by the meatball boxwood.

I line my path with Nepeta, sort of a poor man's substitute for lavender (which I've had no luck with in the past). When it gets too floppy I cut it all back to about 6 inches off the ground and it regrows and reblooms in about a month. Last summer I got three full rounds of blooming.

It's another plant that no critter will eat and the bees adore it. I also love the smell of it, making it an even better selection for the path, where you may brush against it. I've also dotted it liberally around the garden where it has a tendency to flop a bit and intermingle with its neighbors, usually creating a lovely look.

3. HOSTA
Given my recent complaining about how I have almost no intact hostas left this year, thanks to an aggressive deer and slug population, you might be surprised to find this stalwart on my list. Unlike the previous two plants, I'll admit, hostas have some drawbacks. But there's a reason that there are people out there who call themselves hostaholics; who have thousands of different cultivars in their back yards. Hostas provide an important texture that few other hardy plants can. With all the bitsy plants with minute leaves, there are precious few that can juxtapose them, and hosta does it better than almost any other. They can have an almost tropical feel to them.

Hosta: A perennial I wouldn't be without
Elegans and Paradigm hostas play well together. In the photo below, you can see a little 'Silver Moon' clematis growing up the lattice in bright shade.
Hosta: A perennial I wouldn't be without

Of course hostas come in just about every shape, size and color (white, yellow, green and blue and everything in between) you can imagine, so it's easy to understand how you could quickly fill a garden with them.
Hosta: A perennial I wouldn't be without

In my zone, you can find a hosta to grow almost anywhere, including full sun. Some (usually yellows) do better than others in sunnier spots and you probably need to water them more, but I'm always amazed at how tough hostas can be.

4. CLEMATIS
I'm throwing this vine in this group purely because I have become somewhat obsessed with them. These are nowhere near as carefree as the other plants on this list, but I don't think they are as high maintenance as most people think they are. If you plant them right to begin with—deeply in a hole filled with good stuff including compost, well-rotted manure and a touch of bone meal—water it well and mulch them to keep the roots from frying, all you really have to do the rest of the year is a little pruning and throw on a bit of fertilizer (I use Espoma's Rosetone).

Clematis: A perennial I wouldn't be without
Etoile Violette, a group 3 clematis, climbs up the deck railing.
Etoile Violette Clematis: A perennial I wouldn't be without

Although I love, and have fallen for over and over again, the large group 2 clematis with their showy flowers, these require more work than the others. The smaller flowers in group 3 are utterly charming when they work their way through a shrub or tree and and are so easy to care for: just cut them back to one or two buds in very early spring.


Clematis: A perennial I wouldn't be without
This one is just crudely tied to a stake amid a forest of monarda.

Awhile ago, I figured out that you don't need a trellis to grow clematis. I now grow them up shrubs and trees, on standalone obelisk-type things (sometimes just a group of skinny tree branches), sprawling on the ground, and up the deck railings. I like it when they go a little wild.

5. HAKONECHLOA
Originally I thought I would choose ornamental grasses for this last slot, but that is a pretty broad category, so to narrow it down I'm going with Hakonechloa (Japenese forest grass). It grows in shady spots where most other grasses won't even think about going, but it will tolerate a fair bit of sun as well. With a lovely arching habit it has a way of softening the edge of a border. And it looks great with hostas because of the contrast in foliage types.

Hakonechloa: A perennial I wouldn't be without
'All Gold'

My favorite is 'All Gold', but I also grow 'Stripe it Rich', 'Beni Kaze', and 'Aureola' (all of which look very similar to me).

Hakonechloa: A perennial I wouldn't be without
'All Gold' mixes well with black heuchera.
Hakonechloa: A perennial I wouldn't be without
'Aureola'
What perennials would you never be without? Did any of mine make your list?