Monday, March 29, 2010

Before But No After

It has finally happened to me.  I have had a week here or so with the blogging blues.  I can't think of anything funny, entertaining, or even intelligible to say.   I even have the planting blues.   I went to the nursery on Saturday and didn't come home with a thing.  Nothing.  And really, I still have a lot of space to put things if I find something I like. 

I did weed half the front plot of wild onions.   So there was a tiny bit of forward action, but in comparison to the previous 4 weeks, I have hit the gloom.   I didn't even have to water anything because its been raining for the past couple of days.    I can now see why bloggers ferret away a few blogs.  For just such times as these, when you can't be bothered to be the slightest bit creative and haven't even put the dishes away or put the laundry in the dryer.

What I do have are some photos of plants that are in their 'before' stage and who will have their matching 'afters' later on in the year.    These will have to suffice for today.

I have planted a couple of the Endless Summer series of hydrangeas, which I plan on taking a few pictures of along the way, as it seems that many people have varying results with these.   The first of these is a Forever Pink, here pictured, March 28th.

The second is a Blushing Bride.  It seems to be a few weeks behind the Forever Pink, which actually has some flower buds forming.

Most of these hostas, which were sent to me by accident (and therefore free), are going to live with my Mom in Virginia where they will live hopefully long and happy lives, but two are going to have to tough it out and see if it can make it through the summer sizzle.   I know I'm already going to have to move them, but I'm leaving that for some time when the blues are gone.   There is a likelihood that the after pictures of these will be melted husks, but Compost in My Shoe, who lives close, apparent has some which have lived for years, so ya never know!  They made it from bareroot to here in about 3 weeks though, so they are sure liking it right now.

This is a Persian Shield (strobilanthes dyerianus), I have two of these as well.  Right now they are about 6 inches tall and 3 inches wide.  And recovering from the part sun area which I had originally planted them in.  They looked spectacular with the blue snowstorm bacopa (sutera hybrid), but that was the only thing they had going for them as a couple.

Here's my pitiful looking Butterfly Bush (unknown varietal).   He might be in too much shade, so I could be moving him too.  All this stuff about moving is making me exhausted just typing about it.

I have three coneflower plants, and will probably add another.   "Merlot" and "Kim's Kneehigh" are looking like they are having a bit of transplant shock.

Here's the before of the carjacker, Lady Banks.  I am not worried about her. Tomorrow I am going to get the little pegs drilled into the fence so I can get 'trained' as best I can.

I have dozens more where these came from so one of these days, later this summer, I'll do the real show.   Lets end with this picture, some African bush daisy's who look pretty much perfect.  Even as a before.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Living and Learning and Digging and Digging

I have officially been a "real" gardener for just over a month now, and you wouldn't think you could learn many "real" lessons in that amount of time, but you'd be mistaken.   Of course, I have thousands of lessons more to learn, but indeed a few things have made it through my neophyte skull.

As of today, I have learned that:

1) Digging a hole for a 3 gallon pot is really no joking matter,  particularly if there are any trees nearer than 2 miles away.  There was a 1 gallon version right there at the nursery.  Right THERE!!
2) Deciding that you don't have to get the small wild onions out of the front garden until you are ready to plant it up is plain stupid.
3) Dropping a cement planter onto the sidewalk is all she wrote for the planter. Cement planters are really heavier than they look.  Particularly when filled with wild onions.
4) Trailing verbena really really likes it here.  And it really really spreads.  And it puts out new roots for every one inch of plant so you can't even move it away from where its not supposed to be.  Why the heck wasn't this on the tag?  Its the mangrove tree of the 6" and under set.
5) They lie on plant tags. (see above #4 on theoretical verbena only growing only 12"- 24" wide, it is already 24" wide and only 1 inch tall!)
6) They lie some more on plant tags.  (Persian Shield isn't going to make it in any amount of sun here, no matter what they say, unless you want to water it twice a day, and give it a Victorian sun umbrella and an iced tea.)
7) All plant tags are lies.  Argh. They can't even get the color right.
8) Squirrels and I are not friends.   Squirrels really like rain lily bulbs, which used to be a problem but they have totally taken care of that situation.   And the oriental lily bulbs "potentially blooming all over the place situation" has been resolved too.
9)Lilies might not be the best choice for me, despite perfect growing conditions.
10) Finally, on a pleasant surprise note:  cosmos smell awesome.  3 little blooms smell up the entire garden.  How had I never attributed this smell to them?

So 10 lessons down, 10,000 to go!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Here a Statue, There a Statue

I have been thinking of getting a statue for my garden.  One made of concrete or cast stone that will year after year weather, streak and become less defined: it will become perfect.  Granted, I had my coffee this morning perched on top of a couple of bags of mulch, so I could be thinking of more useful garden accessories, but eh.   Garden chairs are boring.

I love statues in gardens.   No not the kind commemorating some big battle victory with a general on a horse, on a plinth 20 feet high, but the kind with soft worn mossy faces halfway hiding behind a fern.  Somehow they add peace to a garden in my eyes, the same way running water might.    There is no doubt they can add a major focal point, which, unless I want my focal point to be the palm tree, is something I desperately need.

The Savannah Bird Girl Statue, probably the most famous statue ever to come from this area, thanks to Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil (which, if you have any interest at all in the south, or plan to visit, is a must read) is the right style for me and my spot, I think.  It stood virtually unnoticed from 1936 until the book was publish in 1994 before it had to be moved from its cemetery plot for safekeeping.     I love this statue, but given its fame and proximity and number of replicas in this area alone, it is probably not the one for me.

Charleston itself is replete with statues of course.  Its just that kind of place.   You see them peeking out of driveways, tucked under camellias and many a Charlestonian has their entire teensy garden planned out around a favorite piece of cement.   Many are cherubs, Greek gods, angels, various Madonnas and fair maidens.   Some are part of fountains.  I saw a gargoyle guarding someone's trashbin area the other day too.  Its an interesting concept on how to keep the evil (i.e. raccoons) at bay, I'll give them that.

Surfing around as it pours outside, resigning myself that I am not going to get anything done today - at all - I revisited the offerings available on the internet.   To be honest, I am in love with a collection in my local nursery of marble "4 Seasons" maidens, but seeing as I only have room for one season, and I cannot afford any seasons, I have to expand my level of acceptable stone countenances.

Here are some of the ones I like, and I'm leaning towards choice #1.  If only she were a little taller on a shorter pedestal.   The combined height is near perfect (56").  So maybe the search goes on.   Well, like I said, I could invest in something to sit on out there instead...

Oh, and one final picture and note: if I could find this, this is what I'd get in a heartbeat.  I took this from someones blog a while back and I have no idea whence it came, so I apologize for not putting a credit.  But I love your statue/planter.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Carjacking By A Lady Named Banks

Last year, while visiting dozens of houses, looking for the perfect one to buy, I happened upon so many lovely arbors, trellises and fences covered in white, pink or yellow blooms cascading all over the place.    They perched from atop thorny limbs woven into many a gate I tried to peer through, and they climbed up columns holding up centuries old double porches (piazzas in Charleston-speak).  They called softly to me from unseen gardens, their fragrance mixed with the humid air for hundreds of steps.   Ah, so rosey.

But I am a beginning gardener.  One with a love of many sun loving flowers and limited space in which to grow them.   A quick reading about basic rose care, and it was settled.  No thorny, mildewy, buggy, flower wilting, fertilizer sucking temperamental roses for me.  Nope, I don't love them that much. 

Then something happened today when I stopped by to get some potting soil to fill up my two monster patio pots.  This Lady Banks Rose ended up in my passenger side car seat.  I swear I didn't put her there.  She tried to hide herself under my jacket, and frankly I wouldn't have even noticed her there except in an effort to make it safely home she put her seatbelt on, and well, I was suspicious.  My jacket is one of those wild children - never uses his seatbelt.

So her cover blown, she pulled out a water pistol and said "Drive, or you'll have root rot where the sun don't shine." I'm sure you all can imagine my utter shock.  At the next light, I nervously glanced around elsewhere in the car to see if any other secret passengers were about.  Sure enough, an entire bag of caladium bulbs were hiding on the floorboard!   The outrageous audacity of some plants, right?

For all of you who are now a bit concerned for me, no worries, I made it home totally dry, albeit with a new found understanding of the southern magazine, "Garden & Gun."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

You might be a WEED if...

There is an oft commented saying about weeds that goes something like, "A weed is just a plant or flower in a place that you don't want it to be." 

YOU might call a stray cosmos or 4 o'clock a weed all you like my friends, but they are not WEEDS, with all capital letters.  There is a distinct difference between a WEED and a misguided flower, and to help everyone clarify this difference, I though we could use the Jeff Foxworthy identification process.

You might be a WEED are totally indifferent if its cold, hot, muddy, dry, sandy, clayish, sunny, dark, windy, humid, gritty, lacking oxygen, lacking nitrogen, the place is on fire and it's hailing -  all at the same time.

If you feel pretty certain you have a fighting chance of establishing roots on a rolling bowling ball in the trunk of a 1985 Cutlass just might be a WEED.

You might be a WEED if you can overwinter 128 years in a row waiting for that one day when someone makes the error of uncovering you and 85,000 of your closest friends.

You might also be a WEED if you tend to grow a 5 inch by 10 inch root ball before actually sprouting anything lest someone might see you.

And if you can grow this rootball and sprout your first leaf in the time it takes the average person to use the bathroom, you just might be a WEED.

If you can see your entire family tree when you stand on your tippy-stems, and as a matter of fact you're still connected to them, then you might be a and a WEED.

And finally, you might be a WEED if you can have your starter leaves look, at any single moment, like every single other kind of plant that is lovingly planted in the garden until you grow more than 5-6 leaves, and which point you sprout out of that 'fake' plants stomach like an Aliens baby and eat all the actual garden plants in sight.  You are definitely a WEED if  you keep doing this.  Face it.

Instead of trying to feel better about weeds by calling them misplaced flowers, I think Doug Larson has done them justice in saying:

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.

Now THAT is true.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Plant Spree

Last weekend was a great time to gather up annuals and a few perennials and stick them in the dirt.  Plants have finally made it to the garden centers, though they tell me they are missing quite a few things that would normally be available.  I also planted in ground or pot those seedlings I started in late January which have made it through the process and the twice weekly cat maulings.     

Here's what I brought home from the garden center, seeded myself, or planted last fall after stealing from my mom's garden:
Annuals: Alyssum "Easter Basket", Bacopa (50cents!!!) "Snowstorm Blue", Verbena "Lanai Blush White", Nemesia "Innocent Compact Pink", Cosmos, Delphinium, Torenia "Summer Wave Blue," Nastursium "Empress of India" and some sweet basil which did incredibly well, even inside.
Perennials: Yarrow "Appleblossom," Star Jasmine, Trailing Lantana, Butterfly Bush "Unknown," Sedum "Autumn Joy," Hydrangea "Forever Pink", red and purple Beebalm, Elephant Ear "Unknown Lowe's Variety," an Autumn fern and a Lavender plant I just had to have.

I also planted some agapanthas and a rose of sharon last fall but they don't look like they are returning as of yet.

So thats the scoop so far, and this weekend is planning on being just as nice out there.  Time to go back to the nurseries!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Saucer Heaven

The slow spring has finally kicked it up a pink notch.

This morning at 7am I was awakened by the power company knocking on the door telling me that they were going to shut the power off in about an hour and change out the transformer.  Fine with me, plenty of time to make coffee and read the paper online.    What they didn't tell me was that at 8:15 this morning they were going to be completely blocking my driveway so I couldn't leave.

Not one to let a "bad situation" get me down, I made a few, "so sorry" calls and headed out with my camera for a leisurely walk around my neighborhood on a fantastic 60 degree morning.

I found every other yard was a pink and elegant sight to behold, as the Saucer Magnolias (magnolia x soulangiana) had erupted in the past 3 days trying to make up for the past month like a fast forward on the dvd player.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Raised bed around a tree, oh my!

I have a problem with the large palm tree in the corner of the back garden at the end of the hopefully soon to be renamed, "Great Brown Way."    This year when I moved here that area, and all other areas, were coated in magnolia leaves.  This had the unfortunate effect of killing everything that ever lived back there, but it had an unintended positive effect: it stopped the soil from eroding.

When I took away the leaves what I had was just soil.  Nothing to cover it, and nothing planted to keep the soil put.  These facts combined with the rainiest winter season on record left the entire left hand side of my palm tree with roots hanging out all over the place.   Did I mention all the water from the neighbors hated garage drains there?

For the past month or so I have been puzzling about what to do about this.   I threw a bagful of topsoil over it, and that worked for approximately 3 days until it rained 2 inches.    I thought maybe lots of pots under there, but that didn't solve the problem that half the roots were already hanging in the breeze.   So finally my minds eye pictured a tiny raised bed around the area that would maintain the soil better and would provide enough room to plant some things so the soil was still there a few months from now.

I typed this idea into the computer, and up flashed a neon red sign "TREE MURDERER."  hmmmm.  Would this kill my tree?   Would doing nothing kill my tree?  I mean, palm tree roots are not supposed to be outside the ground in my experience.  Aside from that, one small hurricane and that tree with no soil on the roots stands a high chance of falling on my car.  Which would not be a happy thing.   I did a little more digging.  A few posts said, oh its fine: I raised a bed 18" inches 20 years ago and look at this beautiful tree.

Confused I went to the tree nursery and asked.  For those of you who have ever wondered, this is what he said:  You can raise a bed around a tree if you do the following:
1) keep it as shallow as possible, preferably 6 inches or less
2) do not encircle the entire tree.  Keep to 50% or less
3) keep the new soil off of the trunk of the tree.  This causes rot, the biggest issue with the entire process.

I can do that.   (half a day pause) I just did that.

I need a few more bags of soil to fill in the ends a bit, and an extra block or two, but aside from that,  I'm done.   That was a job.  But planting that elephant ear took approximately 4 seconds.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

First Plant Of The Season

My fingers are crossed that the weather stays out of the freezing zone.   We are still unnaturally cold, but the nighttime temps are hovering in the high 30s, and forecasted to remain there til after the last frost date.

Sooooo..... Plant number one is officially planted, bought as a replacement for the many lantana I dug out of the front garden.

It is a medium purple trailing lantana (lantana montevidensis), and it SHOULD remain on the short side, less than 18-20 inches, which would be a great improvement over the 5 foot tall ones I uprooted in the fall.  I like the plant because it is a constant bloomer and I like the color.  Its downsides are that it can be invasive and the smell is not appealing to me.   Regardless, it is in!

And as a side note, you see, I am not kidding about the amount of cement in the soil.  That little pile is just from the hole I dug to place the lantana in.  Its nuts.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What's your style?

I might not be able to put it down on graph paper, but I definitely have a style of garden that I like, and plants that I like.    What about you?  Or do you like them all?

Charleston is in zone 8b, but practically speaking, the peninsula has a microclimate that is more like 9a.  People who have lived here their whole lives say that we haven't had a winter like this one since 1940.  But even that said, if you look at the rules of what makes a hardiness zone, even with many below freezing days, we never once dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit even this year.    This puts us in zone 9a, and it is apparent through the plants that you frequently see.  Many people here grow tropical plants and things like lime trees with success.   The problem is I don't like any of those plants.  Not really.  Oh, except for Brugsmansia, which I definitely will have in my garden somewhere.  I might even have two.  

Now maybe this will change after years of struggling with other plants that aren't really fit for this climate.  You see we are also heat zone 8-9, with high humidity, which means we have around 120 + days above 86 degrees, with that high humidity.  Insane, I know, but you get used to it.   Generally, if its below 80 degrees and there is even the slightest breeze, I get a chill.   Can you believe I lived in the NE for 13 years?  Goes to prove that your blood gets set when you are 2 years old or something.

Okay back to the point.   Many of the plants that I picture in my minds eye will be a struggle to grow here.  I know this.   Some of them I'm not even going to try.  Like peonies and dahlias.   Others though, like tall garden phlox, which is my absolutely favorite garden plant in the world, I'm going to grow if it kills me.  Sure, our 365 days of humidity are going to cause powdery mildew problems, but I don't care.

In general, I like tall vertical plants.  Pretty much all of them.  Among my favorites are delphiniums, foxglove, cleome and agapanthas.  I can't think of a tall flower spike plant that I don't like.    I also really like coneflowers, which is weird because the rest of the daisylike bunch is "meh" to me.  It has something to do with the way their faces are curled back like a pink lion.   It might also have something to do with the fact that they bloom for months on end.  And you only have to plant them once, you never have to water them, or deadhead them, or even fertilize them if you don't want to.

My final loves, stylistically, are the whispy many tiny flower faced plants.  Like catchfly.  Swamp milkweed.  Yarrow and even sedum sort of fit into this category.

My dislikes, besides the alien looking tropical plants, are silver blue foliage plants, anything the color orange, anything that looks like it can maim you, and irises, both because they smell awful to me and they rot in such an unattractive way, I just can't take them. 

So, just judging by the plants I like, a style sort of forms in my head.  But there is more.  I love densely over-planted wild looking gardens.   My front garden won't look like that, because it faces the Charleston street where formal gardens are the rule. The carriage rides that go by daily would likely tisk tisk an overgrown botanical warzone.  How un-Charleston, they would say. She's clearly not from here, they would say.  However, my back garden, hidden completely from everyone behind the tall fenceline, I want to be a wild place.   To some degree I don't care if a 4 foot daylily is in front of my coneflowers, if 4 o'clocks have reseeded themselves in the bushes, or if one plant (within reason) is taking over another.  Its all green life for themselves out there.  Let the best plants win.  And of course the phlox need to win too.

Maybe this is why the graph paper isn't working.