TWO ENDS OF THE COLOR SPECTRUM

It's a rare Saturday blog post! I figured I owed you a little something with my sporadic posting over the past few weeks.

The garden is finally coming alive, and although there isn't a lot of things flowering just yet, it is a lovely combination of greens and almost everything is still looking fresh and new.

I'll show you more of the what's happening in the garden soon, but in the meantime, I ran across two beautiful color moments that couldn't be more different.

The first is at the base of the side stairs off the deck, where lady's mantle and nepeta have intermingled in one of my favorite color combinations: blue and chartreuse.

lady's mantle and nepeta comingling

The second is on the hot end of the spectrum, where the hot pink and bright cherry red of mandevilla and diascia create a riot of color in the deck planters. I don't usually like a lot of bright colors mixed together, but I went really bright in the white deck planters containers this year and I'm loving the effect.
mandevilla and diascia

Enjoy your weekend!


GARDEN TOUR: A FAMILIAR GARDEN FULL OF SURPRISES

I love looking at photos of gardens. I study them and after a while I think I know them. I've been following Linda's blog Each Little World longer than I've been following any other garden blog and I feel like I've become close friends with her Madison, Wisconsin, garden. 

But a couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to see her gorgeous garden in person and what I found was that, although I recognized parts of it from photos, it had a completely different feel than I expected. What struck me most, was the variation in the topography on Linda and Mark's very large city lot. Linda told me that topography is part of the reason they chose the property, which had no garden whatsoever when they bought it a couple decades ago.

The undulating terrain offers so much interest and creates garden areas with distinct personalities. What I also discovered is that Linda and Mark have a most interesting collection of plants, shrubs and trees. Several of them have been added to my list.

I MUST have this Carex 'Beatlemania'. It has the most delightful thin foliage and it made the most beautiful groundcover. It was growing on top of a low stone wall, so it was the perfect height for petting and admiring.


At first I had no idea what this caged plant could have been, and then Linda told me: It's an oak sapling (or maybe technically it's still in the seedling stage). A giant Bur oak (which a local historian believes is from a time before Wisconsin was a state) marks Linda and Mark's driveway and last year three seedlings made it through winter. This one made it through the following winter as well.


These pinecones caught my eye from 25 feet away. They were absolutely gorgeous. I'll have to ask Linda the name of the tree again, as I have forgotten.


Alongside the driveway is a stunning forest pansy redbud. Linda explained that it has suffered some winter dieback over the years, but the pruning from this damage has created an interesting, open shape that is equally nice to look at from afar and from underneath. The leaves are the most lovely shade of purple with green veins. 




Linda's 'Golden Shadows' dogwood is so lovely. I struggle so much with growing these.

golden shadows dogwood

The fence along the back of the property is one of the first things I fell in love with on Linda's blog. It was designed and built by Mark. The property behind it is for sale. What a bonus for new owners to have a back yard that shares this lovely feature.


I loved this apricot foxglove that stood by itself among a great selection of foliage plants.

lone foxglove

This weeping  Japanese katsura, Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendula', was so lovely in a back corner of the garden. They prune it to be able to walk under and it was such a charming moment. I intend to add one to my garden some day.

japanese katsura tree

Unless I missed, I don't think there is any grass on the property. Everything is connected by a series of paths, some rock stepping stones, some mulched, but all wheelbarrow accessible. When you walk around to the back of the house, the most phenomenal (and large) pond fills your view. A waterfall leads into it creating a lovely sound.

idyllic back yard pond

There are upper and lower areas to the pond.

upper pond

Linda and Mark took great pains to select appropriate rocks for around the water feature. The result is a completely organic feeling. Sometimes ponds feel a little contrived (which is not always a bad thing) but this one really feels like it was always there.

organic pond

I so enjoyed meeting Linda in person and touring her beautiful garden. What a treat to see a garden I've been admiring for so many years. You can see more of Linda and Mark's garden at their blog, and I highly recommend the "My garden odyssey" category of posts that detail the making of this great garden.

MY FAVORITE NO-FAIL, WAY-TOO-EASY GROUNDCOVERS

I'm nearing the tail end of the major work in the garden, which now consists of pulling out weeds by the handful and mulching. I'm certain I've weeded at least 10 wheelbarrows full and the mulch situation is completely out of control.

I'm fussy about mulch. My favorite is a very fine pine bark with pieces a half-inch or less and it's difficult to find. And I buy it by the bag. I know, that is not at all good from an environmental standpoint and I'm not proud of it, but the fact is that there was almost no cost savings buying in bulk because I would have to pay an exorbitant delivery fee on already pricey mulch. Also, I've been doing this weeding/mulching game for at least a month, if not more and I don't want a pile of mulch sitting in my driveway for a month.

I bought a pallet of it: 50 bags. And I ran out, so now I'm using icky giant wood-chunk mulch in the shade garden because that's all that's left at store.

All of this reaffirms my goal to cover my garden (or most of it, anyway) in groundcovers. If you consider a groundcover to be a plant that spread readily, then I have a lot more grouncovers in my yard than I'll discuss here. Ostrich ferns run rampant in the woods and certainly fit that description. Bigroot geraniums also count and I'm working to establish more of them throughout the garden.

But the groundcovers that I most often think of are more creepy crawly. I let them grow with reckless abandon and I just pull them out by the handful when they try to "eat" a plant I want to thrive or get to thick and messy looking.

These are four I have spread around the garden and I hope they take over. Groundcovers equal less mulch and less weeding and right now I'm all about that. There are some common groundcovers you won't see mentioned here and in some cases it's not because I haven't discovered them. Rather it's because I've tried them and they didn't pass my no-maintenance-at-all-required test. Creeping thyme is lovely but after planting it year after year, it became clear to me that it's only right for a well-drained, full sun spot that is never walked on. Irish moss is lovely and I have small patches of it around the garden, but again, any kind of foot traffic was the death of it. It's also very difficult to pull the errant weed sprout out of it. The four groundcovers I'm listing below are, for me at least, about as foolproof as they get.

AJUGA REPETANS


For about a month starting in late May in my garden, Ajuga has pretty purple-blue blooms that are a nice touch of color at a time when little else is blooms but the greens are really popping. I like 'Chocolate Chip' for it's smaller leaves but there are a lot of Ajuga cultivars that are interesting. When the flowers fade, as they will soon, you're left with a carpet of dark green to purple foliage that does a good job showing off lighter colored foliage and flowers. It doesn't spread as fast as I wish it would, but I'm also not great about dividing big clumps and spreading it around the garden like I should.

LYSIMACHIA NUMMULARIA


As soon as I mention the common name for this plant—creeping Jenny—you're bound to have a visceral reaction, because this is one of those plants that walks a very fine line between friend and foe. I like the 'Goldilocks' cultivar for it's brilliant foliage that works so well with blue and dark foliage plants and I think it maybe a tad less aggressive than other creeping Jenny varieties. It is lighter and brighter in more sun and turns lime green in shadier spots, which isn't my favorite look. This does spread quickly. In fact I think my patch of it started with one plant that I pulled out of a container at the end of the season several years ago. It won't hesitate to choke out smaller plants either, so I literally rip it out by the handful to create areas for other plants or just to thin it out when its look a bit too jungle-ish.


SEDUMS


There are a lot of great groundcover sedums and I'm sorry to say I don't know the name of the one I have a lot of in my garden. It gets about 8 to 10 inches long and a bit floppy, which isn't my favorite habit, but what it lacks in tidiness, it makes up for in hardiness. This stuff will grow anywhere. Of all the groundcovers I'm featuring here, I think this is the most aggressive, but again, I've found it to be relatively easy to control. You can see here in the corner of the garden it needs a little taming, but it certainly fills a space quickly and easily. I think I'd like to try a groundcover sedum that stays a little lower and tighter in form.

GALIUM ODORATUM (aka sweet woodruff)


I have yet to meet a place where sweet woodruff won't grow and really, that's it's charm. From deep shade to full sun, this groundcover whose leaves resemble mini lupine foliage, seems to just take off. It gets a tiny white flower that I find charming and requires absolutely no maintenance. I don't even cut it back in fall. It just dies back and disappears and comes back the next year. I'll be honest, it can be a little bit of a bully, but I've yet to be outwitted by it with just hand-pulling (not even digging) it out of the places I don't want it to grow. It does seem to "eat" other plants so I try to keep it away from smaller plants. For me it serves the important purpose of growing in a lot of places where I just can't be bothered to try to grow something else. In that respect, it's a real garden workhorse.



What are your feelings on groundcovers? I know a lot of people detest them and think they are messy, but I feel they serve a really important purpose in the garden. And if it decreases the amount of weeding and mulching I have to do, well so much the better.


FRIDAY FINDS

I forgot to show you a couple of photos that I meant to include in yesterday's post about what's happening in the garden. The 'Blue Angel' hostas in a corner of the garden have not yet recovered from a hasty division a year or two ago when they were badly in need of it so there is a little extra room on the edge of that bed. The local hardware store (my favorite place to buy flowers these days; great selection and much better prices than dedicated garden centers) had all their annuals on sale and I picked up all the begonias in the salmon pink/orange/pink-tinged yellow color range. Originally I was thinking of just white flowers there, but I'm really liking this more colorful option. 



Now, onto some Friday Finds.

I don't think I'd ever have the chutzpah to have a green kitchen but some of these are pretty great.

Until I read about this BH&G showhouse on Lauren's blog I knew nothing of it and it's only 20 minutes from my office. I'm excited about it, but mostly because Lauren decorated the inside and I fall a little more in love with her style every day.

I've been dreaming about this salad since I saw this recipe, but I want to wait for a homegrown tomato to make it.


There are a lot of new shrubs that I'm pretty keen on these days (subject of a future post), but I'm really excited about Tiny Tuff Stuff hydrangea. I'm growing a regular Tuff Stuff this year and if I'm happy with its performance, I may buy a whole bunch of its diminutive cousin.

This is officially my last "free" weekend until the end of July so it's do or die time in the garden. We're approaching the point where things that don't get finished, won't be done this year and I hate when I have to make that call. What's on your agenda for the weekend?


THE EARLIEST BLOOMS

So many things have been happening in the garden and I've not had to time to show you any of them, so I thought it was high time to take a few peeks at what's happening. Not much is blooming yet, but in a matter of weeks I expect the yard to be a riot of color.

There are moments of brilliance.


The 'Rimpo' tree peony I bought on sale from Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery a couple years ago is blooming. The first magenta bloom, which is now fading all too soon, must have been a good 9 or 10 inches across with a beautiful golden center. A second flower opened this morning.



The 'Guernsey Cream' clematis, which was divided and moved last year is looking as good as it ever has. Although my collection of clematis now numbers more than 20, this is my favorite.


Although I know the hostas will soon be ravaged by sun and slugs, this one ('June' I think) is looking so beautiful in the terraced bed off the deck. I like it with the striped hakenachloa next to it.


 This photo makes it look a little messier than it is, but I don't think the circle garden has ever looked better. I'm loving the 'Redbor' kale in there and I expect it to pretty much take over during the course of the summer.


 That bright orange pop you see in the circle garden is 'Geisha Girl' calendula. It is darn near neon orange


I'm happy with how the "main garden" is looking now that it's one of the few that has been weeded and mulched. I used 'Morning Glory Charm' supertunias in the urn and around it. I'm really loving this new variety. I really hope the urn grows in well this year. I have a 'Cafe au Lait' dahlia in the center with the supertunias and 'Kent Beauty' ornamental oregano. A 'Princess Diana' clematis climbs up the front.

Speaking of containers, the big container by the door was planted similarly to last year with the addition of verbena bonariensis.


I planted the garden alongside the patio with almost all annuals this year. Hopefully they will fill in and be a lush riot of color.


 The front steps are currently serving as a staging area. Please, god of gardening, let me get everything in the ground the coming weekend.



The 'Prairie Snowdrift' rose that I'm growing in a container has been looking good until the last two days when I noticed a familiar problem: telltale signs of sawfly larvae. Of all jobs in the garden, anything that involves picking creepy crawlies off of plants is among my most hated, but that's what I did. You can see the sneaky bugger on the underside of a leave. Hopefully I caught them early enough to avoid any further damage.

 That's what's happening in my garden? What's the report from yours?



THE DAY I PRETENDED TO BE A TV GARDENER

You are reading the blog of a movie star.

Well, not quite, but I sort of felt like one for a day. A couple weeks ago I drove 60 miles west to the charming town of Merton, Wisconsin (where I think I actually covered a school board meeting once for one of my first jobs), to help at the grand opening of a Katie's Krops garden and make a few videos for Troy-Bilt in the process. This was part of my relationship with Troy-Bilt as one of their Saturday6 bloggers, but it was the part of the deal I was most looking forward to.

Removing the sod and tilling the beds per Ted's design.

Two quick bits of background for you. Katie's Krops is an organization that helps kids create gardens that feed the community. Founded by young gardener Katie Stagliano, who grew a 40-pound cabbage as part of a school project and realized she could feed hungry people with it, the organization offers financial support, advice, camps and more for young gardeners seeking to make a difference in their communities. 

Ted and me.
Ted is a young Wisconsin gardener who also happened to get bit by the gardening bug through a big cabbage. The garden I spent the day at was entirely Ted's vision. Located on a large plot of land behind a district elementary school, the garden will support area food pantries and 14-year-old Ted's principal said he envisions that kids helping with the garden will not only plant, tend and harvest the food, they will also deliver it to food pantries, help prepare meals with it and serve meals. Truly farm to table.

Ted's principal talks about the project.

Before I tell you more about my day "on set" I should start with a little disclaimer. I was alternately looking forward to it and completely filled with dread. I won't bore you with my personal insecurities but I think most people are a bit self-concious about their appearance (especially on film), their voice (particularly when it's a midwestern twang) and their propensity to screw up. Fortunately there were a great bunch of professionals there who eased my mind about the whole thing and I ended up having a great time and really enjoying myself.

I tried so hard not to talk with my hands. This picture proves that I failed. By the way, I was freezing, but it was much cooler than I expected in the morning and I couldn't wear either of the two jackets I brought because one had a big logo on the front and the other was nylon, which the sound guy said was a no-go.

While I waited to do a few videos, a local Troy-Bilt distributor and a few other people went to work on getting the garden ready. Since it was a giant swath of dead grass when I got there, I was so impressed when 45 minutes later, the sod had been removed and beds were created to Ted's design. Ted, by the way, was stuck in school all day while most of this was going on.

I had worked with the people from Troy-Bilt's promotional arm to come up with some ideas for short video tips ahead of time and in the weeks prior to the filming we ironed out what I would say. Or what I was supposed to say, because mostly I just made sure to hit the main points and ad libbed the rest. I'm pretty sure this gave some of the production people fits, but in they end they were happy with it.

Sad comfrey.

There were some foibles. One of the tips I wanted to give was about using comfrey tea in your garden. I dug up some comfrey and potted it up the night before to bring but by the time we got to that part of the shoot the comfrey was completely flopped and so sad looking. 

They also wanted me to plant a few things on camera as part of a video about crop rotation. They picked up a few vegetable plants at a local nursery and I planted them. And then I dug them up and put them back in their pots and planted them again for a second take. And again. There was one poor kale plant that I planted four times at least, all while trying not to look like a complete dork.

I also "harvested" a bag of Yukon gold potatoes and several beets with the greens still attached. I have doubts how this will work in the videos but maybe there's more to movie magic than I know about.

The crew getting some shots of the garden.


All in all, we whipped through my videos pretty quickly thanks to all that ad libbing and then I hung out and waited for the kids to show up after school. I was very excited to meet Ted, whom I've heard wonderful thinks about, including from Katie, who raved about him when I met her in Charleston.

The kids jumped right into the project. 

Ted's expression when he showed up and saw all the beds created was fantastic. He got the biggest grin and said, "Oh wow, this looks awesome!" Several other kids immediately jumped in, putting together a donated irrigation system and deciding which plants would go where. 

I wish I would have had more time to talk to Ted, but he was the true man of the hour and everyone was demanding his attention. I hope they are having great success with the garden and I predict that next year there will be a lot more garden and a lot less grass.

As for the videos I made, I doubt I'll be able to watch them. I'll just cringe, I'm sure. But I'll let you know when they are online so you can watch me harvest a beet that was in the grocery store just hours before. You know us movie stars, anything for the story!



FRIDAY FINDS ... FINALLY

It's been a while since I've done a Friday Finds post and I've missed them.

First, a little programming note. My YouTube channel is gone. What happened to it is a bit of a mystery that starts with bizarre, profanity-laden threats from a random person on YouTube and ends with my channel being gone a few days after I reported those threats. I've attempted to contact YouTube for more information and to get my channel restored but there is no way to contact a real person. I keep filling out contact forms and I never get a response. So if anyone knows how to get some action from YouTube, pass it along.

In the meantime, you can still catch Gardener's World, it's just going to be a little more work. Go to Hola.org and download the browser extension for Chrome or Firefox (sorry you have to use one of those two). Once you have it, go to bbc.co.uk and look for iPlayer on the top menu bar. Click on that and search for Gardener's World. If it doesn't work the first time, give it a few more tries, sometimes it take a few. Episodes are usually up for a month. While you're there check out The Beechgrove Garden as well.

OK, onto the good stuff.

This DIY walkway is so great, but wow, it looks like a lot of work. '


A few months ago Teak Closeouts sent me a few samples of its teak root bowls. As you know, I love teak, so I was thrilled to see these natural, unique beauties. My favorite use for one of them so far is to display my beach glass collection.

A great list of small patio trees to grow.

I think I could search forever and not find containers like these.

http://northcoastgardening.com/2015/05/tomato-blight/

I hope I don't have to deal with tomato blight but if I do, I'll start here.

I LOVE this garden design for raised beds.

Did you catch any of the Chelsea Flower Show gardens? I have to look again, but I didn't fall head over heels with any of them like I did last year.

Enough looking at other people's gardens ... time to jump into some serious gardening myself. My goal for the weekend is to get the vast majority of the plants I have sitting around in pots in the ground and plant annual flower seeds. I'm WAY late on those already so I'll probably get flowers in September, but I'll go through the routine anyway. What's on your agenda for the weekend?

PLANTING THE WINDOW BOX

After a lot of talking about planting window boxes, the weather finally (if briefly) improved enough to actually do it. This year I aimed for a slightly more restrained color palette (blue/purple, lime green and a touch of orange) and fewer plants. In the past I've jammed so many plants in the window box that I think they had a hard time reaching their potential.

Window box planting 2015
It doesn't look like much right now but in a few weeks it should be full of color and filled out.
It would be great to have mature plants to work with but that's just not possible here, so there's a fair amount of imagination required. Right after planting, the window box looks spartan and a little silly but in a few weeks it will be filled out.

Because of that, I made a sketch with colored pencils first to give me an idea of the overall look. That served as my roadmap for planting.

Window box planting 2015, make a sketch
My sketch is looking a bit worse for wear after being used while I planted the window box. It's no Picasso, but it's enough of a guide to get my thoughts on paper so I have a feel for what it will look like. 

I start with new potting mix in the window box every year, using a combination of Fafard 3B mix, Lucky Frog potting soil, a small amount of well-rotted manure (manure can be heavy and weight is a concern with window boxes), a little chicken grit for extra drainage and some Osmocote time-release fertilizer. I use organic fertilizers on everything I plant in the ground, but I use Osmocote in my planters because it's hard for me to stay on top of regular feeding.

I fill the box about three-quarters of the way with soil, so I have to dig a little to put in plants, but I still have to top it off with more potting mix to fill the holes after planting. If I put any more soil than that in the box to start with, I end up with it going all over the place as I pull it aside to plant.

From there, it's just a matter of filling in the plants. Here's what I used:

  • 3 Nicotiana alata lime (grown from seed)
  • 2 Verbena bonareinsis Meteor Shower (Proven Winners variety due on the market next year that I'm very excited about; said to grow to 30 inches, perfect for containers)
  • 2 Nassella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass)
  • 2 Superbena Royale Chambray
  • 2 Lemon Licorice Plant
  • 2 Nasturtium 'Yeti' (grown from seed)
  • 1 Supertunia Morning Glory Charm
  • 4 Signet Marigold 'Orange Gem' (grown from seed)
The marigolds may get swapped out. I wanted a little touch of orange in the box, but not an overpowering amount and couldn't decide between the signet marigolds, Calendula 'Geisha Girl' that I also grew from seed or a new Proven Winners Bidens variety (which I decided was too red for this use). If the marigolds don't feel right in there, I'll be happy to swap them out for something else.


I spent a lot of time talking about the importance of texture variety in window boxes the other day and I feel like I've got a good variety here with coarse texture provided by the nicotiana and nasturtium, medium texture with the licorice plant, supertunia and superbena, and fine texture from the Mexican feather grass, verbena bonareinsis and signet marigolds.

I made a time-lapse movie of planting. Let me tell you, it's hard to get a good angle on a window box. I taped my phone to a stick and stuck it in the self-watering hole.

video


 I'll show you what it looks like in a few weeks and give you a peek at some of the other containers I planted this year.