September 2014

Hey, I did it! One post for each month of the summer. Better late than never, I say.

September is the time of grasses. A couple I planted last year are doing well. These are next to the mailbox, a sunny, dry location that also gets a salting over the winter.  A young milkweed is hiding behind them in this picture. I’ve been nurturing that little guy for a full year, because I took it into my head that we should have one for the Monarch butterflies, and because they’re pretty. Gardening is not a rational activity, as Margaret Atwood pointed out. We’ll see if if comes back next year.


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Garden retrospective: August 2014

By August, the perennial garden starts to look a little tired. This summer has provided wonderful vacation weather, a long series of sunny days with low humidity and temperatures in the comfortable 70s and 80s. The plants have different requirements, however, namely rain, which has been scarce. I haven’t been able to spend hours watering every bed, so I’m glad that I generally use plants that thrive on benign neglect.

Here are two views of the west side bed, messy as usual but still showing some color. That yellow coreopsis is too close to the flagstone path (not visible in the picture) and I’ll have to move it. Plants often grow bigger than I envision them and end up flopping or sprawling in inconvenient places.


The cleome is from seeds that my friend Elisa gave me. I’m hoping it seeds itself and comes back next year. The purple basil from Kathy keeps on keepin’ on. Continue reading

Garden retrospective: July 2014

When I first started doing flower gardens, I hadn’t discovered the later blooming perennials so I each July I felt bereft when June’s bounty ended.

Then I discovered the tough and beautiful butterfly weed, which is native to Eastern North America. This flawless plant is drought tolerant, has a long blooming season, and makes striking seed pods that look great right through the winter. I just learned that it’s a type of milkweed.morning_glory_first_2_july Continue reading

Garden retrospective: June 2014

June is the peak bloom season, when the freshness of early spring is still with us and summer is asserting itself. Abundent beauty arrives without effort.

Hostas are up and the primroses are blooming. The primroses spread vigorously, but are not difficult to keep in check because they spread by shallow running roots that are easy to pull up. I value them because their blooms are long lasting and they don’t look too horrible after the blooms have faded. In fact, their leaves turn an attractive red in the fall.

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Garden retrospective: May 2014

It’s nearly the end of September, and I haven’t posted anything about the garden in a long time. I finally went through my photos and I thought I’d do a few retrospective posts, by month.

Lots of garden writers wax rapsodic over the value of keeping a garden journal. In the past, I’ve tried to keep a record of what worked and what didn’t, both aesthetically and practically. In those pre-digital days, these attempts always fizzled out. It just felt like too much work.

However, I do enjoy taking pictures, thanks to a cute, easy-to-use camera my sons gave me a few years ago. For recording a garden’s evolution, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. One or two sentences for context, plus a picture with its date, and I have a handy record of what went on in my little garden. Continue reading


The nip in the air recently prompted me to get out the camera and record the moment when the garden shifts into transition. I’m no botany expert, but I can almost feel the life processes of the plants contract and turn towards dormancy.

Grasses are wonderful in the fall. Here’s the new one that replaced the giant Pampas grass. It’s very delicate, and I think it shows up well against the purple basil.

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The end of [dog] days

August marks a time of exhaustion in my garden. No matter how well my perennials and annuals have done all spring and summer, by August most of them are looking pretty tired. The hot spell this year scorched a lot of plants, and the flowering annuals are pooped, after generously giving me tons of blooms and re-blooming obligingly when I remembered to deadhead them.

There are a couple of exceptions. The zinnias are fresh and happy, since they only got going in July. Ditto the Heavenly Blue morning glories, which started to bloom a couple of weeks ago. The butterfly weed has gone to seed, and the seed pods are handsome. The yellow daisies (the kind we used to call black-eyed Susan) are indefatigable.

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Environment matters

It’s amazing to me how plants adapt to varying conditions. I think of one little pink weed, a prairie native, that can grow like a tiny alpine flower or a good-sized bush. It would grow just a few inches tall with eensy-weensie magenta flowers if it was in the lawn where it got mowed, or where the soil was very poor and dry. In rich moist soil it became a five-foot tall monster covered in great masses of bloom. Alas, it died out from my yard a few years ago, and I miss it.

Here’s another example. In full sun, the leaves of this plant have a bluish cast and are quite stiff, almost leathery.

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Primroses and pussycat

Although I didn’t walk today, I spent it in the garden, carrying bags of mulch and digging holes, so I feel that is a decent substitute for a daily walk.

After a few days out of town, it feels good to get back into my garden and take care of a few little chores. One thing I do quite regularly is move plants around. In a 15 year old garden, that’s the main job in the perennial flower beds: moving and sometimes dividing plants that have started crowding each other so that their arrangment is no longer pleasing or even healthy for them.

I am very grateful that we have managed to create a tiny slice of paradise on a suburban plot of land just a few yards from a busy street.
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