Sunday in the Garden with My iPad

Judy’s camera isn’t working, so we’ve got to take it to the shop. In the meantime, we’ll have to make due with our iPad. We both took these pictures, mine are distinguished by their fuzzy quality.

Trumpet honeysuckle.
Bleeding heart and wild currant in the backyard.
Wild currant is an easy and attractive low-growing shrub. As you can see, it has dangling chartreuse flowers in spring. The small black fruit is edible and sour, but the birds are enthusiastic.
First peony bloom of the season!
The wild geranium have started blooming.
Brick entrance path into the backyard. We got the arbor last year. I'm growing two roses up the sides - Darlow's Enigma and Westerland.
Our back door. We inherited the wheelbarrow from the last owners. It was past its useful life, so we turned it into a planter. We're growing dwarf and low-bush blueberries and annual flowers in the containers.
The mighty ostrich ferns emerging from behind the bleeding hearts in front of the house.
There were lots of red admiral butterflies this weekend, and another species I couldn't identify.




My Problem Flower Bed

The bed along the east side of our house has always been a problem . It’s separated from the neighbor’s old brick garage by a stretch of grass about 8′ wide. These are nice neighbors, and I want my side of this side yard to look presentable but also consistent with my style of gardening. Unfortunately, I’ve mostly fallen short of this goal.

When we moved in almost 10 years ago, this side of the house was bordered by overgrown forsythia and a big dying yew. We had to take these out to fix a leak in the basement. I planted summersweet and a flower bed edged with woodland phlox, celandine poppy, and wild geranium.

There were two problems, however. First, the summersweet just weren’t happy, and they failed to live to to their reputation as fast growers. That meant there was even more open space between the edging plants and the wall of the house.

Newly planted columbine and solomon seal join the phlox, geranium, celandine poppy, and red elderberry on the east side of our house.

My solution was inspired by frugality:I would just fill the empty space with volunteers from among those wildflowers most enthusiastic about reproduction: Short’s and calico asters, anise hyssop, sweet joe pye weed.

The result was less than ideal. The sickly shrubs combined with the big rangy wildflowers to create a distinctly weedy look. So I came up with a two part solution.

First, I removed the summersweet and replaced them with some red elderberry (now in their second season) and a common lilac at the far end (planted this spring). The elderberry are starting to fill in and should make a solid hedge in a couple of years. I was pleased to see that they have already flowered and set fruit this spring.


Next year this bed will look really good, I swear.


The second part was just implemented yesterday and today. I dug out all the big wildflowers, except for the sweet joe pye weed standing right against the house. Then I planted a host of tidier, spreading wildflowers that should fill in around the open parts of the bed: wild columbine, lady ferns, and Solomon seal.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ve found the right formula at last.



Celandine Poppies and Other Spring Wonders

Just got back from a week’s vacation with Judy (more on the trip once Judy has sorted the 1,500+ photos she took – thank God she has a digital camera). Pulled up to the house and first thing I noticed was the celandine poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) blooming their hearts out.  

This is another midwest native wildflower I’m very fond of, but don’t see very often in gardens around here. Its flowers have four petals and are a clear, golden yellow. The seed pods are evocative of poppies, and the foliage is deeply lobed and a dusty blue-green. Celandine poppies like shade and will tolerate drier soils, though they may go dormant if they dry out.

Celandine Poppies in my front yard.

These are tough plants. Some garden writers claim they are too aggressive, but that hasn’t been my experience. They will self-sow, but not excessively.

I’ve got them planted on the east side of the bed that runs from the sidewalk up to my front door. The taller plants in the middle will shade the celandine poppies when the weather gets hot. Right now, there’s a nice contrast between the blue grape hyacinths and nepeta (just beginning to bloom), and they yellow celandine poppies. The nepeta “kit kat” is planted along the west edge of the bed, where they get the hot afternoon sun they appreciate.

Blue and yellow makes a nice contrast, no?

On other fronts, the bleeding heart is looking especially fetching this spring. And the ostrich ferns, which are starting their second season, are off to a promising start.

Bleeding hearts and ostrich ferns. The ostrich ferns are supposed to grow as big as 6' tall. I'd like to see that.

Department of Underused Plants: Merrybells

The Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) are blooming. This is one of my favorite spring flowers (native to the midwest) but one I don’t see very often. Like everything else this spring, it’s blooming early. So early that it seems to have rushed into bloom before reaching it’s normal height of about 18″.

What makes this a great plant is, first, the flowers. They are long, slender, yellow bells that dangle from the end of nodding stems.

Second, the perfoliate foliage is attractive through the summer and makes a good groundcover. Merrybells spread gradually and eventually the foliage gets nice and thick.

Merrybells prefer part to full shade and moist to mesic soil.

It’s not easy to find, but you can order from Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin and Prairie Moon in Minnesota.

A Spring Weekend in the Garden

Well, today and yesterday were not as eerily beautiful as some of the days we’ve had recently. They were on the chilly side and mostly overcast. However, they were good enough to get outside and spend many enjoyable hours doing spring chores. As noted in my previous post, the first thing I did on Friday afternoon (after returning from another week in Springfield) was plant my new flowering dogwood.

I was delighted to find when I returned home that my crabapple was at its peak of bloom.

My "Donald Wyman" crab at peak of bloom in my front yard.

 Also, the grape hyacinth, the scilla, and the Virginia bluebells are now in full swing.

Virginia Bluebells outside my back door. Is it wrong of me to wish they could genetically engineer them to last all year?
Grape hyacinths along the front walk to the house.

The first of the yellow celandine poppies are blooming, as are the bleeding heart, and the false forget-me-not have started blooming, but are a week or two from their peak.

I spent most of my time edging the flower beds. A few years ago I switched from using pavers length-wise for edging to shallow trenches. I prefer the trenches because they tend to make a sharper, clearer line between lawn and bed. However, the trenches tend to fill with soil, leaves, etc. over time and I have to go over them with an edger once or twice a year. I’ve been told by a guy who works at the Chicago Botanic Garden that I should fill the trenches with wood chips. I may do that this summer.

One thing I noticed while working on the edging was that some unwanted visitors had invaded a few of the flower beds. Specifically, the grass had grown into and around the crowns of some New England aster and Red Milkweed, and were expanding outward from there. I really don’t want to dig up these plants and disentangle the plant roots.

 Also, I’ve got creeping bellflower in a couple of my beds. Again, there is no way to get rid of this plant without digging up everything, and even then they’ll just grow back from the underground tubers. My inclination is to just be mellow and accept the presence of these unwanted guests but practice some containment. My concern is that I may be kidding myself, that I have to eradicate or be completely overrun. Gardening may be relaxing, but it still provides plenty of stuff to fret over for those of us who are inclined to be fretful (that would be me).

I also transplanted some carolina roses. They were planted just a couple feet from the driveway – not the greatest place for a very thorny plant. I moved them a few feet to the south side of the crabapple.

My New Flowering Dogwood

Yesterday I planted a flowering dogwood I had ordered from ForestFarm. It’s a variety developed at the University of Tennessee called “Appalachian Blush” with pink and white flowers. It’s funny how you never see flowering dogwood at garden centers around here and it’s even somewhat rare among on-line retailers. The Chinese dogwood Cornus kousa seems much more common. I guess it’s the danger or anthracnose, though I’m not sure if anthracnose is common in the Midwest. Thing is, the fruit of the Chinese dogwood is not nearly as attractive to birds. 

Anyway, I planted my new flowering dogwood in part sun in deep, fertile soil. I’ll give it some pampering and see what happens.

This is what “Appalachian Blush” flowers look like:

I put it agaist the back fence where I had cut down the bridalwreath. It should grow tall enough to block the view of the neighbor’s house across the alley but not so tall that it’s a problem for the power lines. Right now it’s about 5′ tall and hasn’t leafed out yet. Actually, it kind of looks like a long skinny stick, but I remind myself that dogwoods are fast growers.

Live long and prosper, “Appalachian Blush.”

Memo to Flowers: Slow Down!

My pleasure in all the new spring flowers is diminished by the sense that spring will be over before I really get a chance to savor it. For example, my crabapple is thisclose to blooming. However, I have to go on a business trip tomorrow morning and won’t be back until Friday. I have a feeling it will bloom and pass its peak by the time I get back.

Also, it’s not even April 1st and already most of the backyard daffodils have faded. Fortunately, not all of them.

Nevertheless, I love how everything is leafing out. And I am really enjoying my species tulips, especially Tulipa praestans “Fusilier.”

I love species tulips. Just as beautiful, but much easier and long-lived.

And the serviceberries have come into bloom, and they are lovely as always.

Serviceberry blooms with red flower buds from the neighbors' crabapple.

With all this early blooming, I’m wondering if the flowers will be pollinated. My spicebush has bloomed and it doesn’t appear that many, if any, flowers will bear fruit. That would be very disappointing. Also on the Failure to Berry front, I have several gray dogwood that just refuse to flower and once again this spring they have no signs of flowering. I was thinking it must be lack of sun, but some other gray dogwood I have in even shadier locations bloomed last year and have the beginnings of blooms already this spring.

 On the other hand, I have some red elderberry in their second year that have formed flower heads – I can’t wait to see what birds they attract.

Spring in Fast Forward

We’ve had several days with temperatures up in the 80s. On the plus side, the daffodils have begun their show. The forsythia and the spicebush are blooming. The spicebush is much more understated than the forsythia, though still lovely. Spicebush leaves have a lovely citrus scent when crusched, and I planted half a dozen because the red berries are supposed to be of very high value to the birds during fall migration. I just started getting berries last fall – hoping for a much bigger crop this year.

Purple crocuses in bloom.

Everything is leafing out, the crabapple, the lowbush blueberries, the roses … I can already see the flower buds on the crabapple; I think it will bloom no later than mid-April.

Forsythia in bloom.
Spicebush, the thinking person's forsythia



On the minus side, the snowdrops have dropped their flowers. The purple crocuses have bloomed and passed their peak within a few days, drooping with the unaccostomed heat.

I’ve taken advantage of the excellent weather by getting some garden work done. I’ve filled the containers with pansies and johnny jump ups. I’ve cut down the bridalwreath that sits close to where I intend to plant the flowering dogwood – a job that was easier than I expected.

I also re-dug some of the edging trenches, if that’s the right way to say it. I carted the soil so obtained over to the compost piles, and dumped it on the pile that is currently “maturing.”  And I made my first round of weeding this afternoon, mostly digging up dandelions, clumps of wild rye, and bits of grass infiltrating into the flower beds.

On the bird front, the robins, grackles, and redwing blackbirds are out in force. I’ve also seen wood thrushes and another kind of unidentified thrush scratching and hunting in the backyard. And I’m quite pleased with my sunflower chips – little mess, and they don’t get eaten up immediately.


I Love Crocuses

I got back from a particularly grueling work trip on Friday to find the crocuses blooming their little hearts out. This truly gladdened my own heart, and my step became lighter as I carried my bags to the front door.

Yellow crocuses make me happy.

 I’ve loved crocuses since I was a little kid. It’s partly that they bloom so early, partly the bright colors and the way they glow in the sun. Sure, snowdrops bloom even earlier, but the understated and elegant white snowdrops cannot compete with the bright colors of crocuses that shout “Hey! Look at me!” just as the winter weather withdraws.

Crocuses glowing in the sunshine.

Spent some more time cutting down dead stalks of perennials this weekend. My new approach is: leave it all on the ground, it’s free mulch. This makes spring clean up much easier. As I worked, I noticed all the daffodils and species tulips sticking their noses up out of the dirt, the first signs of peonies emerging, the spicebush flowers looking like they were about ready to pop.

I also transplanted my dwarf and lowbush blueberries into new, larger containers. I’m growing them in containers because here in the limestone soil of the midwest it’s the easiest way to keep things sufficiently acidic. The blueberries looked fairly happy, lots of buds. Maybe we’ll actually get berries this year.

Snowdrops are understated but elegant and long lasting.
Lavender crocuses. Croci?

On a less positive note, I saw that some critter has bitten off  almost every single bud on one of my “Iroquois” black chokeberry, which I planted just last year. I’m hoping that won’t be a problem.

Spring Stirrings

The snowdrops are blooming. Hooray! This is something of a relief. Many of them emerged from the ground during those mild January days we had, and I was afraid they’d get blasted by a hard freeze. But it appears that snowdrops, as the name implies, are hardy beasts.

The crocuses (croci?) are always up. In some places, like in the front parkway, it’s just the leaves. However, in the backyard many of the crocus tommasinianus have purple flower buds that looks like they will open with the next mild spell. In the same bed, there are the remains of crocus chrysanthus whose flower buds have been bitten off and some of the leaves chewed down close to the ground. Damn your spotted souls to hell, cursed rabbits! I guess this is good news in that it seems to back up the claim that critters leave the crocus tommasinianus alone.

Crocus tomassinianus

Other bulbs are also showing signs of life. If you look closely you can see the daffodil and species tulip leaves poking up from among the dead leaves and mulch. Oh, and I say a grackel yesterday (not that grackels are cause for celebration, but still) and the first redwinged blackbird today.














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