May’s Garden Madness

There is the notion that working in the garden brings the gardener a sense of tranquility and calm. Ha! Certainly not in the month of May.

2013-05-19 17.31.27
Front garden. It’s all growing too fast, and I can’t keep up!

Gardening in May is a race against time, against weeds, against the grass, against the weather, against your own plants as they undergo growth spurts like lanky teenagers. And for me it is a very unfair race, because I can only run on Saturday and Sunday, whereas everything else is zipping along 24/7.

The fact is that I cannot get done all the things I feel need to get done in the allotted time.

Sunny days approaching 90 degrees F? OK, I laid out soaker hoses for some plants and watered others by hand. Nevertheless I fear a few of my new plants may have been fried past the point of recovery.

Woodland Phlox, Wild Columbine, and Wild Geranium in the east side bed.
Woodland Phlox, Wild Columbine, and Wild Geranium in the east side bed.

Grass is growing excessively shaggy and creeping into the flower beds? OK, I’ll mow the lawn and trim the bed edging with my weed whacker (after Judy, the weed whacker is the great love of my life).

Weeds staging a hostile takeover throughout the garden? I will roam the flower beds with hoe and dandelion picker in hand. However, this is by definition a task that can never be finished. During this time of year, pulling weeds is like cutting off Hydra heads, they grow back as fast as you pull. At least, that’s how it feels.

Tulip 'World Expression'
Tulip ‘World Expression’. So it turns out Judy had taken pictures before she left. I felt I had to post pictures of the tulips that did them more justice.

Perennials need cutting back? I succeeded in cutting back the New England aster and most of the Salvia (‘May Night’, ‘Blue Hill’), even though the Salvia was not that tall. On the other hand, I didn’t get to the Agastache or the Monarda.

And please don’t even mention staking. I took care of the Phlox paniculata and most of the New England aster, but that’s all. The Penstemon, Monarda, and Heliopsis I did not get to at all.

White Bleeding heart, Merrybells
White Bleeding Heart and Merrybells foliage.

This situation brings on in me and some other gardeners a state of mind I call The Permanent Fret. I am always fretting – if I don’t cut back the Agastache now, will it delay blooming to an unacceptable extent? And what about the Salvia, did I cut them back too early? But if I wait until next week it might be too late!

Of course, a person might ask why, if I get worked up into an irritable frenzy with garden chores, did I dig up so much of the lawn for so many flower beds and borders. To such a person I would say: who asked you?

Wild Geranium, Brunnera, Allium
Back Garden Bed with Wild Geranium, Brunnera, and Allium.

Whew. I’m taking deep breaths now. At times like this I have to remind myself of two of the cardinal rules of gardening: 1) don’t worry too much about making mistakes; and 2) your garden does not have to be perfect.

Have the garden chores of May been driving you to madness?

Last Of The Container Tulips And A New Planting

As I may have mentioned, starting last week and for the remainder of May I have to be out-of-town Monday through Friday. This is what we used to call a major bummer, especially given all that is happening in the garden. Yesterday I arrived home to find that the late season container tulips were blooming. (Sorry, but Judy is also traveling and doesn’t return until Sunday, so these are pictures I took with my cell phone.)

Tulip 'World Expression'
‘World Expression’ (white and red)

We planted three late season tulips: ‘Kingsblood’, ‘La Cortine’, and ‘World Expression’. All of these were winners, but I though ‘World Expression’ was most striking.

Tulip 'La Cortine;
Tulip ‘La Cortine’

Yellow with a red stripe, I thought ‘La Cortine’ was both lovely and exciting.

Tulip 'Kingsblood'
Tulip ‘Kingsblood’

Finally, ‘Kingsblood’ was a good deep red.

We are definitely going to do this tulips in containers thing again. I would not, however, do it again with smaller containers, in which only half the tulips made it through the winter.

Unfortunately, I was not free to spend the weekend gazing at tulips. Saturday morning I started a new class at the Chicago Botanic Garden on annuals and biennials. And there was an incredible amount of catching up to do in the garden. The warm and sunny weather of the previous days had been beautiful but tough on my newly planted perennials, so watering was the most urgent item on the agenda.

This was especially true in the new planting I did on the northeast corner of the house. This is not really a new bed, just an extension of the east and north foundation beds where I had removed the ‘Bridalwreath’ Spirea (Spirea xvanhoutei).

This is one of those weeping shrubs that takes up a lot of space. There were three of them, so I had a lot of space to fill, despite the fact that I just leave the stumps to slowly decompose. (It’s not that I like how they look, but generally the plants hide them, and digging up stumps is a LOT of work. OK, so I’m lazy, so sue me.)

New planting
April 27th: New plants waiting for their new home.

Since I have two newly planted fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus) in this area, I am filling in with plants that can function as groundcovers. I chose perennials that I already had in other parts of the garden: wild ginger (Asarum canadense), wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), woodland phlox (Phlox divaritica) and false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla). There was also an unknown Epimedium that popped up, which I allowed to stay.

My neighbor Audrey provides advice as I plant.
My neighbor Audrey provides advice as I plant in the back garden.

These guys were planted in late April. Until this past week, we were having a cool, moderately wet spring, and the new plants were happy without supplemental watering. This past week, though, we had sun and temperatures around 80 F (27 C). By Friday, many of my new plants were seriously stressed by lack of water.

New planting
New planting

So I went to Home Depot and bought some flat soaker hoses (I prefer the flat ones because they are more flexible), and I have been watering all day.

Are conditions dry where you are? Are you keeping up with your gardening chores.

Foliage Follow-Up: May 2013

May is a time for fresh green foliage, before heat and drought and little critters give us leaves looking tired and tattered.

To begin with, there is wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Not really ginger, but the root does have a strong ginger smell. A nice groundcover native to eastern and central North America.

Wild Ginger
Wild Ginger with Lady Ferns

Then there are the ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris). They are not yet at their full height, which can be four feet or more. This is their third spring in the garden.

Ostrich Ferns with Bleeding Heart
Ostrich Ferns with Bleeding Heart

Another native plant that I like to use as a groundcover is wild strawberry (Fragaria virginica). This time of year it also has little white flowers. Later there will be tiny strawberries that are edible but best left to the birds and critters. I use a weed whacker to keep the wandering stolons in bounds.

Wild Strawberry
Wild Strawberry

Starry Solomon’s Plume (Smilacina stellata) has inconspicuous flowers in spring. The striped berries that come in late summer are much more interesting. The foliage is nice, also.

Starry Solomon's Plume
Starry Solomon’s Plume

The wild currant (Ribes americanum) has fully leafed out by now. The maple-like leaves have a nice texture. I like the dangling chartreuse flowers as well.

Wild Currant
Wild Currant

The peony buds are not yet open, but some of them have attractive and unusual foliage.

Peony
Peony. Can’t remember the variety.

As I say, this is a time of year when all foliage can delight the eye, just by virtue of being fresh and new.

'Darlow's Enigma' foliage
New ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ rose foliage on arbor.

Are the fresh green leaves of spring in your garden making you happy?

Garden Blogger Bloom Day: May 2013

Carol of May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th of every month, giving gardeners around the world an opportunity to show what’s in bloom on their home ground. So let’s get to it! May has been a good month for color in my garden.

Tulips in Containers on the front steps.

The lily flowering tulip ‘West Point’ is now blooming, adding its cheery yellow and elegant shape to ‘Flair’ and other varieties..

Tulip 'West Point'
Tulip ‘West Point’ and ‘Flair’

And the late species tulips are showing off. The orange and white ‘Little Princess’ …

Tulip 'Little Princess'
Tulip ‘Little Princess’

And the blue and cherry red ‘Little Beauty’ …

Tulip 'Little Beauty'
Tulip ‘Little Beauty’

And Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’, with petals colored red on the outside and a rich yellow on the inside.

Tulip 'Cynthia'
Tulip ‘Cynthia’

Tulipa orphanidea flava is a wonderful tulip, really interesting coloring.

Tulipa orphanidea flava
Tulipa orphanidea flava

The grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) are also blooming well. I can’t wait for these to spread more to create wider clumps, but the delay is partly my fault as I keep disturbing the beds to change perennials.

Grape Hyacinths
Grape Hyacinths

This has been an incredible spring for celandine poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum), the delicate yellow flowers blooming profusely over lush blue-green foliage. They are beginning to show more aggressive tendencies, though, I’m going to have to watch these guys more carefully.

Celandine Poppies
Celandine Poppies

The clove currants (Ribes odoratum) in the sidewalk border are blooming. I planted these because they are supposed to have a strong fragrance. The fragrance is in fact very nice, but you have to put your nose right up to the flowers. This is their third spring, maybe when they are more mature … The much more modest Chartreuse flowers of wild currant (Ribes americanum) have also begun bloom.

Clove Currant
Clove Currant

The tiny blue flowers on Nepeta “Kit Kat’ have just started to open. In my garden, the various Nepeta cultivars are essential plants for edging in areas that absorb hot afternoon sun.

Nepeta 'Kit Kat'
Nepeta ‘Kit Kat’ edging the raised front walk/driveway border.

I thought the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)  had reached their peak last weekend, but I was wrong. The cool weather has been kind.

Virginia Bluebells
Virginia Bluebells

In the shady back garden, Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) works well as an edging plant. It also has blue flowers.

Jacob's Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder

False forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla) has tiny sky-blue flowers like real forget-me-nots, but this is a reliable perennial.

Brunnera
Brunnera flowers poking up through Allium foliage.

I devoted the last post entirely to old-fashioned bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Even so, I have to include one more picture for this post.

Bleeding Heart
Bleeding Heart with Celandine Poppy.

There are quite a few other flowers blooming now: annual stock, violas, and pansies; great merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora), starry solomon’s plume (Smilacina stellata), wild strawberry (Fragaria virginica), and probably a couple of others I can’t think of. Some of these I will include in my foliage follow-up.

In the meantime, happy Garden Blogger Bloom Day to you all!

A Fine Year For Bleeding Hearts

The old-fashioned bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) in my garden are looking very happy this year, the moist cool spring must agree with them. They are bushy and robust, with many long stems lined with dangling pink and white flowers.

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart
Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart.

The unique shape of the bleeding heart flower certainly suggests the origin the plant’s name, though it is odd that the drop of “blood” is white. However, this common name makes more sense than some others that have been used. For example: lady in a bath, Dutchman’s breeches, and lyre flower. As to lady in a bath – if the white part is the lady, then the name should be lady in a bath upside down. Now that I think of it, lyre flower is a good fit, though not as evocative as bleeding heart.

Note that the taxonomists have been at their mischief again. The botanical name was Dicentra spectabilis until recently, very suitable and appealing if you ask me. How they came up with Lamprocapnos I don’t know, but it is a very ugly genus name for a lovely flower. Lamprocapnos sounds like one of those parasitic eels that attach themselves to fish and suck out their vital juices.

Bleeding Heart with Virginia Bluebells
Bleeding Heart with Virginia Bluebells

Another reason my bleeding hearts may be looking especially nice this year is that they are just another year older. This is a plant that spreads gradually by rhizomes, the clumps becoming more and more impressive in size.

Bleeding hearts like shade and moisture. They are considered ephemeral because they die back after blooming. In my experience, though, bleeding hearts in the right sort of spot will keep their foliage looking fresh until July or August.

Bleeding Heart with False Forget-Me-Not
Bleeding Heart with False Forget-Me-Not

Blue flowers go particularly well with bleeding heart, especially Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophyla).  A note about false forget-me-not. This is not to be confused with forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica). False forget-me-not is a longer-lived perennial  with flowers very similar to Myosotis. It also goes under the common name Siberian bugloss. Which would you rather be called? Enough said.

Bleeding Heart with Ostrich Ferns
Bleeding Heart with Ostrich Ferns

Ferns are another excellent companion for old-fashioned bleeding heart.

Do you have bleeding heart in your garden? Is it having a good year?

An Early May Walk Through the Chicago Botanic Garden

Last Saturday morning, after finishing my class at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I walked outside and realized that it was a perfect day. Perfect days have been few and far between this spring, so I called Judy and asked her to come up and meet me so we could take a walk and enjoy the garden together. Oh, and I asked her to bring the camera.

Tulips
Tulips ‘Passionale’, ‘Shirley’, and ‘Havran’.

The first thing that had us exclaiming was the tulip display in the Esplanade near the entrance. There were a mix of three tulips with a purple color theme. The three were the dark purple ‘Havran’, the medium purple ‘Passionale’, and ‘Shirley’. This last tulip is white with a purple blush. I really like this type of color arrangement with several variations on the theme of a single color.

Daffodils
Daffodils at the CBG Bulb Garden.

After the Esplanade we went to the Bulb Garden. Many of the tulips here have not yet opened. Those that have, for some reason, were mostly pink, not my favorite color for tulips. Even so, the bulb garden was lovely, filled with blooming Narcissus, fritilaries, etc.

Ferns Chicago Botanic Garden

From there we wandered over to a woodland garden which, though unnamed, is actually one of our favorite areas in spring. At this time of year, there are ferns, bluebell false forget me not, and daffodils among the birches and evergreens. When we were there the bleeding hearts were not yet in bloom, but by now they will have added many arching stems of dangling pink flowers to the blue and yellow.

woodland garden cbg may 4 2013

This garden is planted on a steep slope. From the path at the top, you can see down to the lagoon.

Carillon Tower, Chicago Botanic Garden, Evening Island
Carillon Tower at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Evening Island.

Onward. We walked across the bridge to Evening Island, which is really a collection of several gardens. At one end there is a small hill topped with a Carillon. Carillon concerts are given on summer evenings, something we have always meant to go to. One piece of advice: do not stand at the base of the Carillon when it starts ringing. I have learned this through personal experience.

Carillon, Chicago Botanic Garden, Evening Island
View from Carillon hill.

From the Carillon hill, you can see across sunny fields of flowers to another small hill at the other end of the island. Grape hyacinths make a blue carpet at the feet of a hedge of bright yellow forsythia. Per my earlier post, I admit this is a setting where forsythia looks really good, but I still wouldn’t plnat it in my own garden.

Evening Island, Chicago Botanic Garden
Water-side path on Evening Island

We walked along a path lined with crabapple trees. The crabapples are also planted along the water on the opposite shore. When they bloom it is a glorious sight. I’d think there’s another week or two before that happens.

woodland garden 2 cbg may 4 20

Leaving Evening Island on the second bridge, there are more crabapples, daffodils, and false forget me not.

English Walled Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden
English Walled Garden

Before heading to the parking lot, we walked along the English Walled Garden, admiring the yellow magnolia (Magnolia acuminata).

Finally, we had to head home. After almost three hours, there was still a great deal we had not seen. Even so, we had done enough gawking, and there was serious gardening to be done at home!

Have you taken any great walks so far this spring?

My New Bird Feeder For Orioles

I have more bird feeders than I can actually use at any one time. That’s OK, though, because I like to change feeders and types of food as the seasons progress. For instance, I stop feeding peanuts once the warm weather is established.

Male Baltimore Oriole at our old feeder. Help yourself to some grape jelly!
Male Baltimore Oriole at our old feeder. Help yourself to some grape jelly!

These changes keep the birds on their toes (or would if they had toes) – they never know what I’ll do next.

But I want to  state something  here for the record. It is not true, as certain persons claim, that I buy everything the nice salespeople at the Wild Birds Unlimited store try to sell me.

I admit that the Wild Birds Unlimited store is one of my favorite places. Their prices are not necessarily the cheapest, but the quality and variety of their goods are excellent. More important, the staff are real bird people, so to speak. Meaning they will talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about birds for as long as you care to pursue a conversation.

Oriole feeder.
My new Oriole feeder. Took this with my phone when the light was kind of bad.

Now, I added the new feeder because I wanted to make sure I would be able to accommodate all the Baltimore Orioles that might arrive with the spring migration. Yes, I already have one Oriole feeder, but what if some of the Orioles had to go away hungry? The new feeder has two glass bowls that can each hold a larger quantity of grape jelly (the favorite food of Orioles) than my current feeder (or, alternatively, orange halves).

What’s more, the salesperson pointed out the value of the plastic orange roof (sold separately). Not only does this roof prevent watery grape jelly, it also serves as an orange beacon that flying Orioles can see from above. Apparently the color orange makes Orioles think of grape jelly.

But you can put more than just orange halves or grape jelly in this new feeder. It can also hold freeze dried mealworms. The salesperson says that Orioles love freeze dried mealworms, as do warblers and other migrating songbirds.

Freeze dried mealworms
A bag of freeze dried mealworms.

I did hesitate when I saw the price of the freeze dried mealworms. You would think that demand for such a product would be pretty limited and so the price would be quite modest. This is not the case, however. We live in a strange world.

Anyhow, I threw caution to the winds and bought one bag of mealworms, at least as an experiment for the spring migration. Judy says it’s OK as long as I never take them out in her presence.

The salesperson suggested mixing the mealworms into the jelly for a carb-  and protein-rich snack no Oriole can resist. This, however, I refuse to do. There are limits, after all.

In the meantime, Judy is talking to a lawyer about obtaining a restraining order that would keep me at least 100′ from any Wild Birds Unlimited store.

Have you made any purchases for your garden recently that an ill-informed person might regard as not absolutely essential?

It’s Spring. Do You Know Where Your Perennials Are?

When I was growing up in the late Mesozoic era, TV stations used to demonstrate their civic responsibility by running a particular public service announcement. The one I have in mind usually had a still shot of some teenagers on a dark street, obscured by shadows. And there would be an announcer, asking more in sorrow than in anger: “It’s 10 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”

Culver's Root 'Fascination', Veronicastrum virginicum
Culver’s Root ‘Fascination’, a late riser. Asiatic lilies in the background.

As you might suspect, this was at a time of heightened concern about crime. Do they still run that announcement, or some version of it?

I was thinking of that old TV spot recently when I was trying to figure out where in the raised driveway border to plant three ‘Longwood Blue’ bluebeard (Caryopteris xclandonensis). I made the mental connection, such as it was, when I realized that it was spring and I didn’t know where some of my perennials were. And that meant that I was uncertain about where to put my ‘Longwood Blue’.

Joe Pye Weed 'Gateway'
Joe Pye Weed ‘Gateway’, another slug-a-bed.

Several of the plants in this bed are late to emerge from dormancy, which didn’t help. (Like many teenagers, these plants stay in bed far too long.) Some examples: butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), and Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’). I didn’t want to place my new bluebeards where they would be cheek by jowl with some inappropriate neighbor, nor did I want to damage an existing perennial while planting a new one.

Also, there were a couple of emerging mystery plants I couldn’t identify. Were they early sunflower (Heliopsis), ironweed (Vernonia)? Friend or foe? Plants in my garden have an annoying habit of disappearing, then reappearing a year or two later more robust than ever before.

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa
Butterflyweed rises late and hates to be disturbed.

Sure, I know I’m supposed to have some system to identify what is growing where, but I’m just not organized that way. So the new bluebeards sat in their pots against the south-facing wall of the house for two weeks, until I could make a more educated guess about what plants were where.

Do you know where your perennials are? Or are you making guesses and hoping for the best?

So Happy I Could Cry

This is a very stressful period for some garden bloggers (namely, me). On the one hand, we have had another glorious weekend and I am almost overwhelmed by all the wonderful blooms now returning to the garden, not to mention the new plants being installed.

Tulipa 'Flair'
‘Flair’

I want to write posts about all these developments for this blog.  But I cannot spend too much time writing, because spring is moving fast and garden tasks are piling up, especially since I am home only two or three days a week. Moreover, everybody else has so many wonderful blooms in THEIR gardens and they are busy writing posts about it for their blogs, and I must read and maybe comment on those posts … Just thinking about it is exhausting.

'Couleur Cardinal'. This is a Jason picture, please excuse the hubcap.
‘Couleur Cardinal’. This is a Jason picture, please excuse the hubcap.

But enough self-pity. Let’s talk about the new blooms that have emerged just since last week. Well, for starters the container tulips have started to bloom! So far we have ‘Flair’, ‘Bellona’, and ‘Couleur Cardinal’.

The first of my container tulips in bloom. The yellow is 'Bellona'.
The first of my container tulips in bloom. The yellow is ‘Bellona’.

I’m afraid I did lose some of the container tulips, though. This fall I definitely want to plant tulips in containers again. However, I will use only the larger containers and provide them with extra insulation.

There is also another species tulip, Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’.

Tulipa clusiana 'Cynthia'
Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’

Among the native spring flowers, the celandine poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) are blooming vigorously.

Celandine Poppies
Celandine poppies with Virginia bluebells at lower left.

And the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are just about reaching their peak.

Virginia Bluebells
Virginia Bluebells

The dangling yellow flowers of merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) are on display. This native wildflower should be used more in shade gardens, I think. It is interesting and beautiful, if a bit understated. In a location with sufficient moisture, it makes a good groundcover after blooming.

Merrybells
Merrybells

Serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is showing off its pure white spring flowers.

Serviceberry 'Autumn Brilliance'
Serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’

False forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla), a very useful and lovely non-native spring flower, is also blooming.

Brunnera macrophyla
False Forget-Me-Not

On the foliage front, the fiddleheads of the ostrich ferns (Metteucia struthiopteris) are unfurling.

Ostrich Ferns
Ostrich ferns unfurling

And the wild ginger (Asarum canadensis), a nice native groundcover for shade, has emerged.

Wild Ginger
Wild ginger grows near the gate at the far end of the path. Merrybells grow in the foreground.

Tasks this weekend included:

  • Planting a new bed in the area where I had taken down some bridalwreath shrubs (Spirea vanhouteii). I also settled some more mail order plants into the raised front walk bed. More on these activities in later posts.
  • Getting a start on weeding! Featuring dandelions already blooming, creeping charlie, and other delights.
  • Preparing my little vegetable and herb bed. This entailed setting up the tomato trellises and digging out the rest of the old plant debris. Also, I had to beat back the oregano (Oreganum vulgare), which is bent on turning my entire lot into a oregano plantation. In addition to creating thriving colonies through seeding, the oregano mother ship has a rapidly expanding root mass with the density of 3″ armor plate. I may have bent my shovel trying to slice off pats of it.

Are you having trouble keeping on top of your blog and your garden? And which new blooms are you excited about?

Return of the Prodigal Grosbeak

The beginning of May is when many migratory songbirds return to the Chicago area. And so, before leaving home for a business trip, I stocked the bird feeders with some of their favorite foods.

Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Sure enough, when I returned today, there were Baltimore Orioles and Rose Breasted Grosbeaks making themselves at home in the back garden.

Baltimore Orioles spend the winter in Colombia, Central America, and other areas around the Caribbean. They are not considered to be endangered, but are not normally seen because they spend their time up in the tops of trees. Unless, that is, you put out grape jelly and orange halves, but especially grape jelly. And that is exactly what I did before leaving on Tuesday morning. Once they start feeding in your back garden, I have found that they will stick around until fall.

Male Baltimore Oriole
Male Baltimore Oriole

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are large finches, related to Cardinals. Like the Orioles, they overwinter in regions near the Caribbean. They are ground feeders who appreciate sunflower or safflower seeds. They like to feed on the ground, so I attract them with a platform feeder. Unfortunately, in my garden they show up in May but don’t stick around for more than two or three weeks. They may show up again on their way south in the autumn.

Female Baltimore Oriole
Female Baltimore Oriole

Have you seen any favorite songbirds return lately?

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