ABUNDANCE OF GARDEN CHARM

I've been a bit slow in posting this week, in part because it's that horrible just-back-from-vacation thing where you're running around and feel like nothing is getting done, but also because I took SO many photos this year that it's taking me awhile to get through them. I tell ya, Mackinac Island is heaven for a gardener. There is so much color and inspiration everywhere you turn.

I'm a nut for fences and gates. I can't explain this, but I love them, and yet I have neither in my garden! This will have to change.  But how charming are these?





And plant-lined walkways to beautiful old cottages.


Mr. Much More Patient declared the Mackinac Island Post Office the most charming post office on the planet.

And of course gorgeous views of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron connect.

That's the prettiest lighthouse on the Great Lakes in the background: Round Island Light. It's also one end of the finish line for the sailboat race I do to the island every year.


My favorite climbing hydrangea arbor that I take a picture of every year.


 Amazing plantings in yards.
Both sides of this house had these terraced beds just brimming with color.

And of course the most incredible displays of annuals designed by Jack Barnwell, including this gorgeous container.


This is just the tip of the iceberg folks. I have so many inspiring shots to show you. Stay tuned! If you want to see more though, consider going to the Grand Garden Show in August. You'll get "backstage" tours of the most amazing private yards on the island. 

THE OBVIOUS GARDEN CHANGE I ALMOST DIDN'T SEE

I returned home this past weekend after 10 days away from my garden. Things faired far better this year than previous years, thanks in part to the crazy, ongoing rain we've had. I'm not sure I've ever seen lawns so green in mid-July before.

There's always a lot of weeding and cutting back that happens after more than a few days away from the garden, but I also find it to be one of the best times for analyzing things. There's nothing better than a bit of time away from the garden to help you see it in a different way. And with many plants at their peak, the garden is about as close as it gets to completely filled out.

I've not yet cracked the design code of the area off the patio. I gutted a large portion of it the fall before last and that helped quite a bit, but there are still areas I'm not quite happy with. Sunday, as I was taking a break from a weed-pulling frenzy, I looked up and I saw a change that seems so obvious.

I love the texture that the Amsonia hubrectii I planted two summers ago adds to the garden, and although I found its flowering to be a little disappointing this year, its fall color cannot be beat. I'd be happy to add more of it to the garden. I also have some Siberian irises that have been in that garden since the beginning. They are pretty, but have a pitifully short bloom period and then the rest of the summer all that's left is their strappy leaves. That's not the worst, but it's not the best use of a high-profile spot in the garden.

Moving the iris on the left of the urn and adding more Amsonia whould help unify the space and add some great texture.

What I saw Sunday was the solution: nix the iris and add more Amsonia. Not only will it add some texture, but it will add a bit of continuity as well. This is not rocket science, but for whatever reason I couldn't see that until I had some time away from the garden.

Maybe a break from the familiarity of our own gardens can be a good thing, even if it means there's a lot of weeding that comes with it.


LEAVING THE GARDEN

I'm leaving my garden.

Not permanently; perish the thought as I actually had a nightmare to this effect a few weeks ago. Nope, I'm just going out of town for little bit. But it's difficult to leave at this time of year. The garden is looking good. And between the heat of summer and the plentiful rain we've been getting things will be growing. Things, you'll note, will include both plants and weeds and the odds are good that both will be conspiring to create a jungle while I'm gone.

I have people looking in on the garden while I'm away, but I only ask them to do the bare necessities: watering and (hopefully) deer repellent.

It will be interesting to see what it looks like when I'm back. Here are  few quick shots of what it looked like the night before I left.

The gravel is in the circle garden path and it's looking good!

I ran around and did some last-minute weeding, particularly trying to grab the jewelweed before it flowers. 

I'm thrilled with the window box so far this year.

And below the window box, the skinny annual border is plenty bright.


'Etoile violette' clematis looking as charming as ever.

The first 'Windermere' roses in the driveway containers started blooming. They are smaller than I expected but I'm thinking that's related to the immaturity of the plant. 

Quite happy with how these containers are filling in as well.

I'll post as I'm able, but I never know what the internet/time situation will be. Do follow me on Instagram and on the Facebook page, where I'm more likely to be popping up a picture or two.


5 GARDEN TASKS TO DO NOW

It's more or less the middle of the gardening season here in my zone 5 garden. It's the point at which some areas of the garden are cruising along and others, neglected still, are looking worse than ever. They'll be dealt with when time, temperature and the mosquito population allows. The urge is to sit back, relax and enjoy the garden.

And you should, but don't rest on your gardening laurels for too long as suddenly the good parts of the garden will start to look like the neglected bits.

So in the spirit of doing a little something in the garden—but not too much—here are five things you can do in your garden now.

Prune roses but cutting back to a set of five leaves.


1. DEADHEAD
Stay on top of the deadheading or else the flowers that just faded may be your last. In my garden right now I'm mostly going after spent roses (cut back to a set of five leaves) and just starting to keep a close eye on the dahlias. Here's a quick video I did on deadheading dahlias if you're not sure how.

2. SPOT WEED
If you've gotten all the big weeding out of the way, you'll just have to worry about the little guys that poke up. Oxalis is a common one in my garden. The good news about this kind of weeding is that you can usually do it with just your fingers and you can definitely do it one handed, leaving the other one free to hold a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a gin and tonic.

3. WATER
It's a drag, I know, but this is high season for watering. The good news is that watering can be kind of cathartic, so consider it a bit of a mental break. Don't forget to fertilize containers regularly. Even if you added time release fertilizer when you planted, most container plants are getting big enough by this point in the year that they need more nourishment.


Prune Spireas right after blooming.
This Spirea is still looking pretty good but about half the blooms are spent  and it's time to prune. Cutting it back deadheads it and allows me to shape it for next year. 

4. PRUNE
For a lot of shrubs, the time to prune is right after the flower. Many shrubs bloom on the previous year's growth, so pruning right after they finish blooming allows time for them to put on new growth and next year's flower buds.  I've pruned most of my Spireas in the past couple weeks to keep them a little in check without sacrificing next year's flowers.

5. MAKE MENTAL NOTES
Odds are your garden is nearing its peak. If something isn't looking just right, make a note about what you could change for the long term to get it there.

Check off that list and then get back to that first thing we talked about: sitting back and enjoying your garden. You deserve it.

5 jobs to be doing in your garden now

THE BEST CLEMATIS YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

I have a bit of a love affair with clematis going. I can't explain this, other than by saying I find them to be very satisfying plants to grow. And I'm not alone. As I read and learn more about this great family of plants, I discover that there are a lot of people who are under its spell. And I've seen a common theme: The love affair often starts with the bold, blousy, in-your-face types and moves to the smaller flowered varieties, the veritable shy, but smart and good looking kids in the corner of the clematis class.

Clematis (I'm using that in the plural form and here's why) are known as the "Queen of the Climbers" and for good reason: There's a climbing clematis that will put on a great show for almost any spot in any garden. But here's a little secret: Some of the best clematis aren't climbers at all.

I've got clematis growing up trellises, poles, up trees and through shrubs, but look a little lower and you'll find some of my favorites, the non-vining varieties.

Right about now you may be thinking: "What is the point of a clematis that doesn't climb?" And if you're thinking of clematis in the typical sense, this makes sense. So stop thinking about them as clematis. Think of them as you might any other perennial, although one that blooms for an incredibly long period and gets on well with its neighbors.

These non-vining clematis can be staked, or rather corralled, a couple feet and then allowed to spill over the top if you want a little bit of height, but they can also be allowed to just scramble at will, which is how I usually grow them.

'Sapphire Indigo' clematis: the best clematis you've never heard of
'Sapphire Indigo' has blooms that just last and last even while more come.
'Sapphire Indigo' is perhaps my favorite clematis in the garden (after, perhaps, the more typical 'Guernsey Cream'). The color is otherworldly: truly the color of a deep blue sapphire gemstone, although occasionally ranging toward purple. Its flowers, which keep coming in waves for weeks and last for ages before fading, are probably 3 inches across, but seem to cover the plant. I planted it along the short terrace wall off the deck, where I encourage it to flop over and it seems happy to oblige. It mixes nicely with the nearly 'Honey Bun' Oso Easy roses and is great with nearby chartreuse foliage. But it's not in your face. A garden visitor last weekend spotted a climbing rose from the moment she walked into the garden but I had to point 'Sapphire Indigo' out to her before she spotted it.

Sapphire Indigo clematis in the border

To me, that's part of the charm. I'm all for bold plants, but you need special little spots in the garden that maybe aren't appreciated at first glance. It encourages lingering, and if gardens weren't meant for lingering than I don't know any place that is.



This pink clematis won't catch your eye from across the garden and that's part of its charm.


On the other end of the wall, a pink non-viner is equally charming, although its flowers are large open bells. It's killing me that I cannot come up with its name right now, but I have it somewhere.

Recta 'Pamela' clematis is a lovely, charming plant when allowed to wander through the border.
Recta 'Pamela' allowed to ramble through the border.

Both of these have stems that are 3 feet at the longest, and probably shorter, but I've also grown larger clematis as sprawlers, including recta 'Pamela', which has tiny white flowers and 6-foot long stems. ('Purpurea' will do the same thing but has beautiful purple foliage to boot and I'd recommend that one as an alternative.) This is one that I tend to collect into some kind of staked situation for the first couple feet and then allow it to flop wherever it likes. It's almost ethereal. Unfortunately there's no sign of growth on this one this year, a situation I cannot explain. I've not given up on it entirely, however. Clematis have a way of rallying even after a year of pretending to be dead.

'Arabella' clematis allowed to ramble
The first flower on 'Arabella.'
This year I added two more non-vining clematis: 'Arabella' and Clematis integrifolia. 'Arabella' just offered up it's first bloom, a lovely little blue that aimed straight for the nearby 'Paprika' rose as though it knew it was destined for great color combinations. Integrifolia will be a dainty little guy that I put front and center off the patio so it won't be missed.

I've seen a lot of people lament that they can't grow clematis, and I will bet that most of the time it's the large-flowered Group 2 types that they have issues with. They can be a little tempermental, not to mention that they have confusing pruning rules associated with them. All of the non-viners are Group 3 pruners, meaning that you just cut them back nearly to the ground in late winter or very early spring. I feed all my clematis with Espoma Rose-Tone a handful of times a year, usually when I prune, about four weeks later, again after they bloom and maybe once more during the season. Beyond that, the non-viners seem to be very easy to grow. I do plant them with compost and manure and mulch them. People always say that clematis should have their roots in the shade, but that's sort of inaccurate. They just want moist (but not wet) roots that aren't allowed to dry out.

I encourage you to give non-vining clematis a try. Don't be offended if a garden visitor doesn't spot them immediately. Once they do, they'll be in love too.