Archive for the ‘In the Garden’ Category

I drove by a neighbor’s house about a week ago and noticed that his magnolia was in bloom. This wasn’t just a bloom or two, either. The tree was really celebrating all the recent rains we’ve had with a real crop of showy pink flowers. (And that’s before we braced ourselves for Hurricane Irene!) When I saw pink magnolia petals on my own deck later in the day, I knew the second half of the summer season had finally arrived.


Above: Marigolds, like Tagetes ‘Taishan’, will bloom through heat and drought into the Second Season and right past the first light fall frosts, provided spent flowers are removed regularly.

Gardeners who moved down to the Eastern Shore from the north, like I did, commonly don’t think of the growing season as having two parts. Even native Southerners aren’t always aware of them. For gardeners, though, thinking about a two-part growing season makes sense, and there are decided advantages for gardeners who do. (more…)

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Soil isn’t the sexiest topic for a blog post, but it’s been on my mind quite a bit of late. Part of the reason is I just finished editing/rewriting an e-book on composting for a client, and the organic matter in compost is at the heart of great garden soil. I’ve also had conversations with several friends and gardeners about soil recently. (Yes, I am the nerd that sits under an umbrella at a pool party and talks compost and compost making with fellow gardeners.) So, it’s no surprise that I’ve been thinking about my own composting efforts and the state of my soil’s organic matter.


Above: A stockpile of chopped leaves for amending soil and mulching at Mt. Cuba Center in Greenville, Delaware.

Building Healthy Soil
Since healthy soil is the key to having a successful garden, understanding a bit about what’s going on down there is helpful. I could actually sum up a post about soil improvement in a single sentence: Add organic matter as often as possible. It’s that simple. You really can’t add too much organic matter. Plus, that statement applies to soil improvement everywhere, not just here on the Eastern Shore. In my garden, I mostly add it by amending soil when planting and by mulching with organic matter such as composted wood chips or chopped leaves. I also compost religiously, although I don’t have fast, hot compost piles that need turning regularly.


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I have to admit there are days when my plants own me and not the other way around. Yesterday was one of those days. Most years, I stop moving new plants to the garden in early May, but this season I’m running late and I was in a bit of a panic. Blame it on the gloriously damp, cool British spring we enjoyed this year. (Seems like a distant memory, doesn’t it?) All the rain led to weeks when it was too wet to plant, and now there were still 30 or so shrubs and perennials sitting in front of my garage clamoring to get out of their pots and into the ground.

Late spring planting is a dilemma, though. Transplant too late, and the plants rarely have enough time to get established before our typical hot, dry summer weather commences—unless you have room in a prepared bed with amended soil and a regular watering routine. I had none of these for the unplanted 30. My holding bed was full to the brim. (More on the daylily collection that’s occupying space there in a future post!) My plan, hatched during our too-early bout with 90-degree temperatures a week ago, was to wait and move them into the garden in fall.

But keeping plants in individual pots all summer long presents its own challenges. Especially with smaller pots—these were mostly in 4-inch and quart pots—daily watering is essential. Miss a day or skip a pot by mistake during hot, dry weather, and the unwatered plant may be a goner. At the very least, its roots and top growth are  damaged. If plants in small containers do survive the summer, they are never better for the experience.



Above: Chartreuse-leaved oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey), variegated Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica ‘Picta’) and several other plants settled in to temporary quarters for the summer.

Fortunately, I had picked up a couple very large plastic pots at CostCo that look like they are made of something more dignified. Paired with a bale of ProMix, they made perfect emergency holding beds. I planted five plants per pot, which means they’re all stuffed in pretty tightly. Then I moved on and filled a self-watering window box and several large nursery pots with ProMix and planted them as well.


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Growing Up!
I’ve always had trouble dealing with vines.  A big part of the problem has been that I didn’t have suitable structures on which to support them. Until this year, I haven’t had any fences for training vines, and although I’ve occasionally purchased small pillars or trellises, I’ve never had any that I really loved.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this spring and found myself married to a welder! My husband, Peter, has long wanted to learn to weld to make sculptures. Last year, he set up a shop in the garage, and he started with those. Below, he’s discussing one of the boat sculptures he created of a friend’s Nonsuch sailboat at a recent show in Chestertown.


Happily, he was also interested in making garden sculpture. I wanted to share pictures of the pieces he has made for me thus far.


This trellis is 8 feet tall and was made from the steel rounds left from two half whiskey barrels. The smaller circles are from another wooden container I had that also rotted. At the top is one of the first boats he designed. I displayed it in a houseplant until he took it away to re-use. Fortunately I got it back!


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I recently spent three days visiting gardens in Richmond, Virginia, while on a tour with the Annapolis Horticulture Society. I adore spending time wandering through gardens I haven’t seen before, and this trip proved to be perfect. The weather was gorgeous, the tour was impeccably well-planned, and the gardens were beautiful and varied. Plus the bus was filled with fun and interesting fellow plant nuts. Needless to say, we all had a great time.


Above: All the gardens featured mature clumps of perennials. Large clumps or drifts are especially eye-catching and help anchor beds and borders. For this use, great cultivars are especially worth the investment. This is hosta ‘Risky Business’.

For me, visiting mature, well-cared for gardens has a down side, though. I quickly become overwhelmed at the thought of my garden-in-progress waiting for me at home. Yes I have some sections that look great, but none of these Richmond gardens have the great swaths of weeds that I’m still planning to tackle or the undeveloped edges that still need my attention. I found myself thinking, “There’s no way my garden will ever be as…” You fill in the blank—gorgeous, lush, colorful, compelling, well-designed, well-maintained. I could go on.


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Sowing seeds is one of my favorite activities this time of year—especially since it’s still too cool and wet to plant much outside. Hardy perennials are easy. I sow the seeds as soon as I get them, mulch pots with gravel, and set them outside in a protected spot to germinate when they will. I get nice, tough, sturdy seedlings this way with a minimum of fuss. Plus, I’ve grown a wide variety of really fun plants this way, from hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) and ornamental onions (Allium spp.) to Devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) this way.


ABOVE: Bing supervising sown pots of hardy perennials.


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Although we haven’t had a hard frost yet, there’s finally enough of a nip in the air to signal the end of the growing season. And, while my coleus aren’t dead yet, they’ve certainly ceased being ornamental. I have to say, I’m looking forward to having a bit of time to reflect on last year’s garden and plan the next. What better time to start a blog?


ABOVE: A single pink camellia (Camellia sasanqua) is one of the last plants to finish blooming here at Hackberry Point. I usually still have flowers right through Thanksgiving.


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