Thursday, May 30, 2013

Surprised by a star of bethlehem

The other day I woke up to a sudden display of starry white flowers strewn across the front lawn.

Since then, they've opened up in other spots too around the yard and garden. Plants I thought were crocuses that mysteriously failed to bloom have turned into a whole new species! What are they? I wondered. I don't remember seeing them at all last year, and perhaps we mowed at just the wrong time last year and just the right time this? Simply a faulty memory? I don't know.

A bit of research uncovered their name:  Ornithogalum umbellatum, also known as Star of Bethlehem. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Clearing the North Border: Bittersweet or Hardy African/Cape Daisy -- Osteospermum

The past couple of days were devoted to one of the more tedious chores of the garden: eradicating invasive vines. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon suited up head to toe in protective clothing, digging out poison ivy. I made a bit of headway, pulling two green garbage bags of the stuff out, and confirming in the process that yes, my poison ivy too, has three different shapes of leaves on one vine. Yay.

Today's task was slightly easier and much more interesting -- free the hardy cape daisy (where? you might ask yourself):

It took me two full years to "see" this plant. The first summer, I had no idea what it was. Then, late in the summer, I looked out the window one day and saw a daisy. Daisy? I thought. There aren't any daisies there. I thought I was seeing things, truly. Did I go investigate? I can't even remember. There was a lot going on (we were painting the back of the house).

Then in the spring, last spring, I scrutinized the thing closely. Nothing. Shrug. It was half non-descript strange looking weedy bush, half non-descript looking tree like thing. I wasn't sure what to make of it, so left it alone. Then, late in the summer, there were those white flowers again. This time I looked (but didn't take any photos). They had a blue center. Pretty! I thought. And it must be perennial, if it came back again. But I couldn't figure out what part of the plant was blooming. All I could find was a bush. A daisy bush? I wondered. I'd never heard of such a thing.

Time passed, vines started shooting out everywhere. Then in the fall, there were orange berries. Bittersweet, Capel announced. I looked it up. Invasive. The web announced. Lovely, I thought.

Then I googled "white blue-eyed daisy bush." Nothing except a photo of a purple flower. This was before I realized that googling images is a much faster road to identification. I kept trying different word combinations. Then bingo! African daisy. Except noone said "bush" or "shrub" or even "perennial." Half-hardy, they all say. But I've got a bush. Or, half a bush.

Fast forward to this spring. The two-headed bush is bare limbed (or that's how I remember it). Yes, here it is in April, to the left of the andromeda. I've researched bittersweet again, too, puzzling about which to save. I like the look of bittersweet. For awhile I wonder if I can keep both.

In May, the two sides are starting to show their different leaves. Cool, I think, still pondering. Finally, the outlines of the daisy are beginning to take shape, in contradistinction to the bittersweet. I "see" the bush.

Then I'm working all over the yard, letting it do its thing. Then it rains for a week. Then it rains for another week. Yesterday, we finally get some sun, and I go out and shazaam. The bush has disappeared. It's been devoured alive.

Finally, my path is clear. The bittersweet has got to go. Pronto.

I fully intended to start here yesterday. But Capel wanted to mow the lawn and predictably, the poison ivy has already escaped out from under the landscape fabric on the north border and grown long, invisible tentacles out into the lawn, flagged only by the tiny, shiny red advance leaves. Poison ivy avant garde. You can't mow that, I announce. I promptly suit up and start removing poison ivy. Hours later, the sun is setting. 

Today, then, finally, I get to the daisy. Which I've never taken a photograph of. But here is someone else's photo. When it's free, and when it blooms, it will look like this. Someday.

In the meanwhile, I remove this:

And this.  

Two maple saplings and a huge head of bittersweet ... tentacles of bittersweet vine spreading up and over into the andromeda, and roots spread under the andromeda ...

and from the andromeda to the pink azalea ... 

... and on to the white azalea. I pull these long skinny brown vines and great mats of soil roll back and the red roots pull up like carpets. I go as far as I can, three bushes over ... 

I get it all, I think. Plus the maple sapling in the andromeda. It's starting to look like a shrubbery!

Then I go back to the daisy, bittersweet home base.

At home base, I can't get any root. The stem of the bittersweet is as thick as my thumb and nestled right up to the main stem of the cape daisy. Their roots are clearly grown together. I cut the bittersweet at the base, knowing it will come back hydra-headed. But after some work and a lot of head-shaking to make sure I don't have bugs in my hair from ducking my head underneath leaves and branches, I do, finally, get it all.

The daisy looks a little sparse. It will fill in, I think. Before the bittersweet overtakes it again, I hope. 

But it is a bush, truly. And it must be ancient. There is a very old, woody stem and new shoots in more than one place, from the stem and also straight up from the ground.

It looks okay.

Better than before, at least. 

If a bit smaller.

And ... a bonus extricated from amongst the roots and leaves, two straggling lilies of the valley to be coddled into bloom.

It starts to spit rain. I pack up two lawn bags of leaves and roots, and tug the maple saplings around to the curb. Transplant a couple of alyssum in the other garden, dodging rain drops. The rain will be good for them all, and I? The rain is good for me too, happy with a job well done.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Update on the full sun/tomato flower bed

The new full-sun flower/tomato bed we put in this spring is going gangbusters. So I thought I'd give an update, particularly as, now things are actually coming up out of the ground it is a bit easier to see the design.

We dug the garden early this spring and planted it in April. The main post about the planting is here.

Now, end of May, it's starting to look like a real garden. Here is a shot from the end nearest the house, with a long row of daylilies on the left and a row of mostly later summer perennials on the right, from nearest to furthest in this shot: pincushion flower (struggling), coneflower, russian sage, black-eyed susan and more russian sage. In between, on the crest of the mound, are two sets of basil.

Below the perennials, on the yard side, is a row of alyssum seedlings, which have done much better than I would have thought. They're absurdly happy. I planted 3 different colors and a seed tape of traditional white alyssum, so I will be very interested to see what colors I wind up with.

Where the garden widens out, I put a rock garden. That was a happy accident that was never planned in the design, but I've been thrilled with the outcome so far. Here you can see along the top of the rock garden there is a semi-circle of perennials: thyme, creeping phlox, two different species of creeping sedum that I chose just because they looked good, separated by a mini-dianthus, and behind those a small maroon chrysanthemum and a white sea thrift, then lavender and a 12" pink dianthus on the far side.

Here's another view:

And, up close, thyme and creeping phlox (still in bloom):

creeping phlox and sedum:

sedum, dianthus, sedum, lavender:

And, finally, looking back across the grouping from the street side :

On the interior of the rock garden, I planted more simply. So far there are only hens and chicks and a tall sedum. It's a small space and I think perhaps better filled with just one or two varieties. Plus, the creeping sedums along the top will spill down over the rocks, filling in the spaces between.

On the far side of the rock garden are three peonies, which I transplanted from a spot at the back of the house that has become too shady over the years, where they weren't blooming well. Two of them are about to pop:

The third, in the bottom third of this shot, is struggling and won't bloom this year:

This is the one I dug up by the roots, moving only the roots, rather than the entire root ball. I wouldn't recommend that method of transplant, at least not given my experience with it. The two that are about to bloom I dug up a full 18" tub of dirt, roots and all, and lugged them around the house in my arms, like a baby. Those are the ones that are doing well and will bloom, despite the transplant.

Now, we'll walk to the far end of the entire garden and look back, and here is where the tomatoes are. To be completely  honest, I don't think I left enough room for the tomatoes, especially given that these are heirlooms. This is my first ever attempt to grow heirlooms, and I didn't realize they would be 6-7' high and sprawly. I'm used to tidy hybrids. But, here they are, in a little row, very tame so far!

In two rows alongside the tomatoes, I planted marigold seeds, which are up and running. And behind the tomatoes is a row of 3 tall dahlias, for constant bloom, 2 of which are up so far, and behind that a lily bed, which is still mostly just dirt. About 8 of the 15 lilies have come up so far, so these are getting a late start this year. Next year, I'm sure, they'll be up sooner. Here are a few shots of lilies coming out of the ground, just to give us a proper sense of accomplishment:

Among the lilies, I planted seeds to shade the roots of the lilies and provide some fill and color. Hollyhock, most of which will only bloom the second year, so these will be quiet and low this year. 

Cleome, which are sprouting everywhere:

And, verbena bonariensis, which I've never planted from seed before and am not sure has come up.

From there, we round the corner of the bed, near the street sign, and there, up against the street sign, I planted a globe thistle, surrounded by what will be very tall day lilies:

The problem area is still the low spots along the street, where there is no curb to speak of. After a heavy rain, the water pools there. I had to save a worm yesterday ...

And tho I planted marigolds here along the street, I'm not sure there will be much of anything here until I solve the water issue.

So, looking back from the street, it still looks a bit sparse, but it will fill in, and I somehow managed to coordinate with the colors of the azalea at the front of the house, without having actually given that consideration. (The little fences are temporary. I'm hoping once everything is properly established there won't need to be a fence. If there does, then I'll put in something more permanent). 

Overall, I am very, very happy with the result of all the work. Can't wait for the daylilies to bloom!