Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - Stop and Admire the Bugs!

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent most of last Saturday pruning a ninebark shrub into shape. I finished up with plenty of daylight left, so I spent a little time wandering around to see what I could see. We've had quite the menagerie of critters this year as the flowers in the new area have really taken hold and are blooming their fool heads off.

Butterflies are one of my favorite critters to watch and photograph. There are usually 3 or 4 cabbage whites dancing around at any given moment and the odd monarch will sail grandly in and eventually wander off, in their slightly tipsy manner. Once in a while, though, the garden is graced with unusual visitors like the red-spotted purple.

Red-spotted Purple drinking from a muddy spot
Other butterflies have wandered through that I can't identify, like the 2 below. If anyone knows what they are, I'd appreciate the info! Also, if you recommend a good identification book, I'd be grateful.

Unknown black with white spots on hydrangea

Possibly a Fritallary of some sort? It was visiting the butterfly bush.
Certain plants seem to draw some insects more than others. Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), in addition to butterflies, also attracts its fair share of bumblebees and hummingbird moths. One odd herb I grow, mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), only seems to attract bees and HUGE wasps. Of the wasps, 2 are particularly beautiful and, thankfully, completely non-aggressive.

Large, black wasp - it has a gorgeous blue sheen when seen in the right light

This wasp must be 3 inches long!

If you're tempted to grow this herb to attract these insects, be aware that it IS a kind of mint, with all that implies. I find it spreads more by seed than runners, but it can be a handful to contain.

Insects aren't the only flyers visiting the flowers. This year we have been blessed with not one, but 3 hummingbirds! Here in the east, we only have ruby-throated hummingbirds. They are iridescent green and the male has a magenta patch on his throat. As far as we can tell, all 3 of ours are females.

They are ridiculously difficult to photograph. The shots below were taken at a distance by either me or Brian and have been blown up and cropped to get the best view. Apologies for the blur, but you can blame the hummers!

My shot - hummer feeding on a canna lily

Another of mine

Brian's shot - he has a much better camera and was able to get the wings
So my tip for today? Don't sweat the small stuff, like getting your Tuesday Tip posted on time! Sometimes enjoying the now is way more important to your sanity and a lot more fun!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Productive Saturday and Wasted Sunday

It's certainly been a mixed bag this weekend. Yesterday was lovely and I was able to get one major project completed. Behind the pond is a large ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius'Summer Wine'). A 10 foot tall, 12 foot wide shrub with purple leaves, 'Summer Wine' is supposed to be a more compact variety of ninebark. It certainly is a dense variety and quite beautiful.

In the midst of my renovations, however, I find having foliage all the way to the ground to be more of a  nuisance than anything. It is hard to weed at the edges and several plants were being shaded out entirely. Reshaping this shrub was definitely on my list of projects, so when my darling spouse, Brian, decided to go to the Saratoga track for the Travers race, I pulled out all my implements of destruction and went to town on it.

Before Shrub Surgery
As you can see, there is a cleared area in front of the bush where we removed the sod to stop the encroachment of the lawn. The thickness of the foliage at the intersection of lawn and shrub made weeding a scratchy proposition. Believe it or not, there were actually 3 daylilies hiding under the branches. Poor planning on my part, but I believed them when they said this shrub was compact.

After Shrub Surgery

Another View
I really like the shape of the shrub after the trim. The arching of the upper branches can be seen and there is now room for some shade plants. The weeding and trimming of the plants around the shrub was accomplished for the first time in 3 years!

Shrub and Pond
The 3 daylilies, what was left of them anyway, were relocated to sunnier homes. In the course of removing them, I had to climb around the top of the pond and managed to annoy our resident pond monster. He/She scared the crap out of me by leaping from the top of the waterfall into the main pond with a resounding splash. I almost fell in after it!

Pond Monster
The last bit of wildlife I have to report for the day was a tiny tree frog I found earlier in the morning while weeding over by the woods. We looked him up in the Peterson's guide and he appears to be a grey tree frog. He was absolutely adorable! After admiring him and inflicting an impromtu photo shoot on him, I brought him back to the weeds from whence he came.

Tree monster
The rest of the day was spent lounging on the couch until Brian came home.

Today, on the other hand, has been a spectacular waste of a day. The remnants of Hurricane Irene arrived in the night and it has been nothing but wind and rain all day. We did the only thing we could do - slept in and watched TV. And played with our computers, of course.

We've been lucky and had no damage from the storm. There are reports of a mudslide which took out a few houses in a neighboring town, but thankfully there were no injuries. Wherever you are out there, please take care and be safe!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Rhamnus frangula ‘Ron Williams’ aka ‘Fine Line’
Overall Low Maintenance Rating:   5 Stars out of 5
Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’, also known as buckthorn, was introduced in 2003 and is slowly gaining the recognition it deserves. I purchased a small specimen in 2006 at an end-of-season sale and it is now a gorgeous, 6 foot tall accent in an otherwise low height area of the garden. The foliage is a lovely, ferny texture and turns a bright yellow in the fall. The flowers are insignificant; I have to really be paying attention to notice them at all in the spring. It is hardy to -50 degrees (cold zone 2) and has had no problem handling temperatures in the high 90’s during the summer (heat zone 4).
This buckthorn is not fussy about soil type, but I have it planted in good soil and, considering its origins as an invader of wetlands, I doubt it would do well in sandy, dry soil without some amendments.
OK, enough with the statistics. This has quickly become my absolute favorite shrub. I like it so much, in fact, that I bought 4 more this spring, two of which I’ve even planted! This is what I call a genuine no-maintenance plant.

Ferny foliage of 'Fine Line'

Disease                                                                                5 Stars
I have never had a disease affect this small tree. I’ve read reports that the wild varieties can get stem cankers from certain fungus, but I’ve not seen it on my tree.
Pests – Insects                                                                  5 Stars
Japanese beetles can be a nuisance, but rarely more.

Japanese beetles rarely do serious damage to 'Fine Line'
Pests – Animal                                                                  5 Stars
None, unless you count birds pooping on it.
Invasiveness                                                                      5 Stars
Many varieties of Rhamnus are invasive pests. The wild varieties produce prodigious quantities of seed and can spread rapidly through wetlands. The linked report will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the invasiveness of buckthorn.
Fortunately, the cultivated variety ‘Fine Line’ has shown no inclination towards world domination. In my garden it rarely produces more than a very few fruits and, in 5 years, I’ve seen no seedlings at all.
General Maintenance – Water                                 5 Stars
Watering is among my least favorite garden chores and if a plant has survived here as long as this one has, you may assume it is not a water hog. Rhamnus is no exception. I have read that its water requirements are “medium” but mine gets by on whatever Mom Nature is pleased to send.
The usual caveat applies to newly planted greenery. All baby plants require extra care till they are established.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing                          5 Stars
I have never fertilized my Rhamnus tree (are you noticing a trend here? About the only things I have EVER fertilized are my roses!).
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning          5 Stars
The form of this tree is vase-shaped and so far there have been no rogue branches needing correcting. I’m rather surprised as the wild varieties have a tendency to get weedy with age. As my tree is only 5 years old, I will withhold judgment until it is older. At this stage, I can say it has not required any extra care in the pruning department.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - Be the Ants

Today was not a day I felt like doing anything much. Just coming back from a week-long vacation has done nothing for my ambition or attitude. Work seems more tedious, the people more annoying and the atmosphere more suffocating. By the time I got home, the only thing that sounded enticing was the couch.

Days like this make me want to give up on my renovations. Every time I look at my gardens, all I can see is what still needs to be done. The weeds continue to rampage unchecked. The groundhog still thumbs his little nose at us. The pond needs cleaning and the lilies never did get fertilized. It's enough to make anyone feel discouraged and it sure makes that couch look like nirvana.

Since I hurt my back this past spring, my darling, and long-suffering, spouse has taken it upon himself to load wheelbarrows with mulch for me whenever I need them. No matter what he's in the middle of, if he sees an empty wheelbarrow, he runs for the shovel, perhaps thinking I'll try it again myself if he doesn't. I tell him he needn't worry, I really did learn my lesson this time. He just rolls his eyes.

So I come home tonight, in my mood, and my Sweetie has the big wheelbarrow all loaded up and parked near the area I last cleared out and he has a big grin on his face. What could I do? I thanked him lavishly, changed my clothes and spent the evening spreading mulch.

When I started, I was just going through the motions. It seemed so little compared to the big picture. And, of course, the dandelions and oxalis had started to pop back up as we had some rain since my last foray into the weed patch.

A funny thought came to my head, though, while I was working. If you stood back a bit, it looked as though a black tide (the mulch) was sweeping through the garden. Much the way the weeds had swept through it when I was distracted by the new area. It sounds goofy, putting it down here, but it felt like I really was making headway, albeit slowly.

Did you ever read the short story "Leiningen versus the Ants" in high school? A really whacked out story about a plantation owner who tries to prevent army ants from destroying his land. I was feeling a little like the ants by the end of the evening. (I am gardener, hear me roar!)

So my tip tonight? Just do it. Every little bit helps, even if you don't see it at first.

Be the ants.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pissarro, Efts and Gardens – Oh, my!

Well, I’m back from vacation with a few stories to tell! Brian and I travelled over to western Massachusetts and visited the Clark Art Institute, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The first two were planned but the wildlife sanctuary was a happy accident. It just happened to be less than a mile from the hotel we stayed at. Just goes to show, when you’re travelling by car, keep your eyes open; you never know what you might run across!
My husband is a fan of the artist, Camille Pissarro, especially his landscapes, so it was a high priority to go to the Clark and view the Pissarro display. Entitled “The People of Pissarro”, there were only a few landscapes on exhibit, but we got to see another side of a great artist.
I won’t go into a detailed review of the show, but I will say we spent most of the day there and enjoyed every minute. There was an unbelievable amount of finished pieces, many on loan from distant museums. In addition to these, there were also sketches and preparatory works. If you’re a fan of Pissarro and you’re in the area, it is worth going. The café at the Clark makes a mean ham and Swiss sandwich, too, and their chocolate chip cookies should not be missed.
After the Clark, we travelled south to Lenox where our hotel awaited us. A Days Inn on a hillside, it was nothing special except for the desk clerk, a young woman named Allison. She directed two tired and hungry travelers to a local restaurant and gave us a coupon for 15% off our meal. After a tex-mex meal that couldn’t be beat, we brought her back a strawberry lemonade and many thanks.
We had spotted a small sign for the wildlife sanctuary on the way to the restaurant and decided to check it out in the morning before heading for the botanical garden. Good move on our part! It doesn’t look like much when you first arrive – a small wood-sided building for checking in and buying souvenirs or snacks and a path leading off into the trees. First impressions are deceiving, though. The Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of over 1300 acres, including several ponds and trails throughout.

Pike's Pond

The diversity of the plant life was amazing. I consider myself fairly well schooled in identifying wild plants and I saw some things that I had only seen in guide books. Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), used in natural medicine to induce or aid in labor, was a welcome check on my plant life list. We also saw white bane berry (Actaea pachypoda), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and sharp-leafed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba).
Sweet Autumn Clematis

Indian Pipe

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tenacious Tips Tuesday - The Curmudgeon's Season

Author's note: Sorry this is late, folks! Been on vacation!

Nothing drives me crazier than finding a plant I love at a price I can’t afford. It’s not that I necessarily think the growers or nursery people are overcharging, either. No, growers have my complete sympathy. Introducing a new plant to the public is the result of years, literally, of work. Making the crosses, growing the seedlings and discarding the majority of them for one flaw or another, propagating enough to sell and then hoping the public agrees with your choices. Given all that, it’s a wonder anyone bothers!
For me, though, what is comes down to is I am a cheapskate at heart. I have heart palpitations at the thought of paying more than $10 for a plant. A seed pack priced at $3.50 sends me fleeing in panic. My husband says I pinch a penny so hard, Abe Lincoln is eating wheat toast (if you’re too young to remember wheat pennies, my apologies).  So what’s a curmudgeon to do?
There are, of course, a million ways to save money on plants; I’ll discuss others in future Tips. For today, let’s talk about my absolute favorite, end of season sales. Yes, yes, I know; most places are picked over or the good stuff isn’t put on sale or the plants are in hideous shape or etc. All of that is true. However, there are still some factors that make these sales worth checking out.
First, it’s shopping, for pity’s sake, for garden plants. Isn’t that enough?? At any time of year? What else is your patio for except to hold a pot ghetto? Good grief, people, I shouldn’t have to spell this one out!
Second, if you like odd stuff, really odd stuff, you’re likely to find it at a steep discount at this time of year. Certain plants may not have sold in the main season because they were too weird for the general public, whose tastes run toward marigolds and geraniums. (Are these people really gardeners, by the way? I like those plants, too, but give me some quirky sedums, fall-blooming heleniums or at the very least a few gazanias! Don’t people get bored with the same old bedding plants year after year?)

Helenium 'Double Trouble'

Helenium 'Rubinzwerg'

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Baptisia australis
Overall Low Maintenance Rating:                            5 Stars

My preference is for plants a little out of the ordinary, ones that not everybody may have seen, and one of my favorites is baptisia (Baptisia australis), also known as false indigo. Baptisia forms a huge mound of blue-green foliage topped with blue spires of pea-like flowers in the spring, looking a bit like a gigantic lupine. It can get 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide and is quite hardy in our area. Full sun is must as it can get sort of floppy in the shade.
While the common variety is blue, other selections have different flower colors. ‘Carolina Moonlight’ is a lovely pale yellow while another species, Baptisia alba, has white flowers. There is even one named ‘Screaming Yellow’ and the name is entirely apt! I added one this year called ‘Solar Flare Prairieblues’ which has bright yellow flowers that fade to orange. The Prairieblues line also includes some different shades of blue including a rich midnight blue named, appropriately, ‘Midnight Prairieblues’. I have not yet seen this one in person, but I’m told it looks like a large, bushy delphinium.
Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight' with Iris 'Sultan's Palace'
There is also a dwarf form (Baptisia australis var. minor) which is a bit harder to find, but well worth it if you have limited space, as it only gets around 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. I’ve only seen it available in 2 places, both online – Well Sweep Herb Farm in New Jersey and High Country Gardens in New Mexico. Both companies are ones I’ve ordered from in the past and been very happy with.
Baptisia australis var. minor
If I had to give baptisia any negative points it would have to be for permanence. The root system on baptisia is impressive. You’ve probably heard that they have a tap root (a single root reaching down anywhere from 2 feet to hell)? Well, these plants don’t have just one tap root, they have many that go to hell and part way back. And if you damage them, the plant will die. It makes them nearly impossible to transplant. Once it’s full grown, you’re pretty much stuck with it where you planted it so site it carefully.
Disease                                                                             5 Stars
I have never experienced or heard of a disease affecting baptisia.
Pests – Insects                                                                  5 Stars
Pests – Animal                                                                  5 Stars
The only animal pests that have affected my baptisia have been voles and they don’t do any permanent damage. In the winter, the little varmints gnaw off the stems, sending the dried plant tumbling across the garden like a huge tumbleweed. I would have cut them off in the spring anyway and the plant always re-sprouts, so no harm is done.
Kind of weird seeing it roll across the snow in January, though.
Invasiveness                                                                     5 Stars
Baptisia is not invasive, but it can get large. Treat it as you would a medium sized shrub.
General Maintenance – Water                                       5 Stars
Baptisia has an extremely long and deep root system, allowing it to search near and far for water if none is forthcoming from the skies or the gardener.
The usual caveat applies to newly planted baptisias. All baby plants require extra care till they are established.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing                                  5 Stars
Another plant I would be afraid of fertilizing; baptisia does just fine on its own!
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning                     5 Stars
Baptisias are actually better if you don’t mess with them. The flowers are self-cleaning, meaning the dead ones fall off without any help, and the seed pods it forms are quite attractive and last the rest of the season.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - Weeding

Well, yesterday's laziness met up with Monday's busy-ness and I'm afraid this is going to be a short Tip. Since tonight's busy-ness involved weeding, let me make a few points on that activity.

First, while stubborness is a wonderful trait in gardeners, patience is also a virtue. If you have a large weeding project, wait for a soaking rain to begin it. The rain we were blessed with over the weekend ensured that the offending weeds popped right out, with the exception of some really stubborn ones (I'm looking at you, dandelions!). The ground gets nice and soft and the plants don't break off right at ground level the second you touch them.

I usually sit on the ground and dig at obnoxious weeds with my bare hands until it occurs to me that several weapons of weed destruction are sitting in a bucket not 10 feet away. I'm blond, what can I say? Which leads to my second point - use the right tools! There are 2 that I particularly like. The first is the CobraHead weeder. The thing is billed as being a large, steel fingernail and that is as good a description as any. Since they increased the handle length, you can get a really good swing behind it, increasing your destructive power. The spade shaped head is small enough to get onto tight spots and sharp enough to cut through tough roots.

The second weapon of choice is a garden cultivator I found at one of the big box hardware stores ages ago and never discovered an adequate name for. The link to Amazon calls it a Flexrake, hubby and I alternate between calling it an adze and garden whacker. It is a 2 sided hand tool; one side is a 3-pronged digging tool and the other side is like a hoe.

You cannot beat this tool for versatility and toughness. We beat the crap out of the 2 we have and not just in the garden. We took them with us to the Herkimer Diamond Mines and used them to pry apart boulders. (Great place, by the way. If you're out in the Herkimer area, check it out.) That trip we managed to bend a prong on one of them; nothing else has made a dent.

Lastly, and I've mentioned this before, alternate your technique. If you're like me, you enjoy bending over and pulling out weeds by the handful. It is easier to move around, you have more leverage and it's probably a habit. Unfortunately, it is a bad habit and can lead to back problems, especially if your enthusiastic in your tugging. Do yourself a favor and alternate standing with sitting.

I plonk right down on my butt and scoot along the ground when I'm too lazy to trot over to the garage and fetch my Scoot-n-Do. After that position becomes uncomfortable, I stand up, take a water break, then start again from a standing position. Your back will last much longer this way, though your pants might not!

OK, enough for now. Take care of yourself when you're out there!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lazy Sunday

So here I sit, staring out at the garden, a million things to do and no ambition to do any of it. With the rain yesterday, the weeds would pop out like magic, but I’m content to leave them for the moment. I can see half a dozen plants that need to be moved and this overcast, damp day would be perfect to do it and I just can't bring myself to care.
We’ve all had days like this, where our brain decides to stop and have a “me day”. Unfortunately, it usually chooses a day when you really have things to do! Sunday is laundry and bill paying day, garbage and cat box cleaning day. I still have to write my Tenacious Tip for Tuesday! I don’t have time to take a “me day”!
Since I can’t seem to be bothered to do any real work today, here are some photos of the garden from this morning. First, a few daylilies:

Final Touch


Watermelon Moon, still loaded with buds

Next, an overview of the garden:

The new patio is finished!

And some generic garden stuff:

Pond Monster
Gladiolus 'Celebration'

Scabiosa 'Fama'

Thanks for looking!

Author's Note - I did actually do some work today. Really.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Hemerocallis hybrida
Overall Low Maintenance Rating:                            4.5 Stars

One low maintenance perennial I couldn’t manage without is the Hemerocallis, or daylily. When they think of daylilies, many people think only of the bright orange ditch lilies found along every roadside or the interminable gold-colored ‘Stella D’Oro’, usually surrounded by a sea of red mulch. I have to admit that if these were the only choices available, I would banish them without ceremony from my garden. In the first instance, ditch lilies can actually become an invasive nuisance as they spread enthusiastically by root and seed. In the second instance, well, red mulch really SHOULD be banned; ‘Stella’ is OK but much overused.
Daylilies actually come in almost every color except blue and true black, and in a variety of sizes, from delicate dwarfs to towering giants. They can go years without division and are untouched by disease or pests in most areas. Bloom starts in late June and usually runs through July and into the early part of August. When not in bloom, they do a wonderful impression of a decorative grass.
Disease                                                                                4.5 Stars
In the Northeast, daylilies are relatively unaffected by disease. As you move south, however, daylily rust becomes an issue. Rust is a disfiguring fungus that has only recently been reported in the US. If you live in zone 7 or warmer, you may want to check out the information available at the American Hemerocallis Society’s (AHS) website on prevention and control. Rust looks like raised, orange bumps on the undersides of leaves and can result in the death of the leaf. While it does not seem to kill the plant outright, rust could weaken the plant and leave it susceptible to other problems.
Spring sickness is a disorder I have seen in my garden and, while it is disconcerting, my plants have always outgrown it and take no lasting damage. When the plants first start sprouting in the spring, the leaves can twist and turn brown on the edges. It looks a bit like your plant is trying to fold itself into a ball! There is no known cause, though some theorize it may have to do with changing temperatures. The AHS website also shows pictures of this disorder.
Pests – Insects                                                                  4.5 Stars
Insects generally leave daylilies alone or at least don’t do lasting damage. There are, however, bugs which do cosmetic damage to the flowers. Thrips cause white splotches and streaks on daylily flowers. Good luck spotting them as they are all but microscopic. Dark colored daylily flowers, reds and purples, show the damage the worst. I don’t find the damage sufficient to resort to sprays, but I’m told they can be controlled by products containing spinosad. 

'Startle' showing thrip damage

'Startle' undamaged

There are other insects which can affect daylilies, but I cannot comment on them as I have not had problems with them (knock wood).

Pests – Animal                                                                  5 Stars
The only animal pests that have affected my daylilies have been voles. Horrible critters. Voles generally eat the roots of any garden plant you currently love. For some reason, though, they don’t like daylily roots. Instead, they undermine the plant and make little vole living rooms under them. The whole center of the plant will die since its roots are not touching soil. If you notice this happening, dig the plant up, destroy the tunnels and replant it, packing the dirt down firmly.
Also, get a cat. They help a lot.
I'm not as lazy as I look!

Invasiveness                                                                       5 Stars
Domesticated daylilies are not invasive. The clumps expand politely and usually only need division every 3 to 4 years. The wild orange ditch lilies (hemerocallis fulva), on the other hand, can become quite the nuisance. They seed readily and expand wildly.
General Maintenance – Water                                         5 Stars
I’m about as lazy as it gets about watering. Unless a plant is in a pot and gasping its last breath, I am not likely to break out the hose. The daylilies absolutely don’t care. During the 3 weeks without rain and temps in the 90s, they were about the only plants which shrugged it off. This was during peak bloom time, too.
Please note that does not include newly planted daylilies; or any other baby plants, for that matter. Newly planted greenery should always be treated with extra care which includes making sure they never dry out. Once they’re established, they’re on their own.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing                                  5 Stars
Not once in the years I’ve been growing daylilies have I fertilized them. In theory, they might do better if I did, but I can’t see how!
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning                     4 Stars
Daylilies do require a little clean up on a regular basis to look their best, especially when they are flowering. Each flower only lasts one day and nothing is more disgusting than daylily flowers the day AFTER they flower. They turn to mush and then dry up and stick to the buds waiting to open. Picking the spent flowers off keeps it looking neat and the remains can be added to the compost heap. It’s not absolutely necessary, though, especially if you have lots of them!

Here are some of my favorites:

Armenian Haberdashery

Wild Horses

Frans Hall

Monterey Jack


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In Memoriam

Dr. Edmond J. FitzGibbon
March 24, 1924 to July 30, 2011

A wonderful husband, father and father-in-law

Tenacious Tips Tuesday will return next week