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Late August Garden Tour

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I was feeling kind of melancholy this evening. I'd taken Phoebe to the plane two days earlier, and it was really hitting me how alone I'd be while Liam was at school this fall. I ached for my girleen, so far away, and I had that dratted autumnal lump in my throat. Listening to too much Jackson Browne, too. I love his music but jeez. The slow crickets in the meadow are his insectile equivalent.

So I put my big rig on and grabbed the iPhone and went out to shoot some goldenrod and ironweed. I highly recommend clicking on the panoramas to get a better effect. Bill has mowed the meadow twice this season, trying to beat back the forest of sumac and honeysuckle, and the goldenrod has responded most enthusiastically! This meadow is so beautiful in the dying light I almost can't look at it without tearing up.

I never tire of shooting the flowers that I've happened to plant in the corner of the front bed. I have years and years of this shot. This time, Salvia guaranitica "Black and Blue," a random tuberose, Mexican cuphea or firecracker plant, zinnas...

Just below that bed, more zinnias, and an opportunistic tall ironweed that looks pretty swell with their party colors.

From there I wandered to the shade garden under the birches. And realized that I have kind of a thing for fuchsias. Gartenmeister "Bonstedt" in bronze and variegated, a little pink and purple one whose name escapes me.

The pink one: Fuchsia Trandshen Bonstedt

The hummingbird beds, full of cardinalflower exploding.  Oh Hell yeah!
More Salvia "Black and Blue" and cuphea here, too. 

'Round the west side, zinnias and Caryopteris "Bluebeard." Both big faves of butterflies, which seem in rather short supply this summer. Come on, people, I have the flowers! 

The newest crop of seedling gray birches I've grown from seeds from our existing trees. 
Believe it or not, that white trunk shard is all that remains of Garret the red-headed woodpecker's home.
I have a stone propped up that says "Tempus fugit" here.

 I wandered around back to shudder at the giant kiwi vine, which has maybe three fruits still hanging after it aborted the crop thanks to a midsummer drought. Sigh. That's a lot of biomass for three kiwi fruits.

Speaking of biomass, here's the willow we planted when I was big with Liam, 16 years ago.

I waited and waited for the first batch of morning glories I planted to germinate. Nada. Wasted three weeks. Went out and bought a new packet of "Heavenly Blue" and they all came up. But by then it was nearly July!
It's gonna kill me to see frost get these plants. 
I hope they get a full mantle of blossoms before that happens. 

Hope is what gardening is all about, after all.

I felt better when I came inside, having at least recorded and saved images of some of the extravagant beauty all around me. I realized that I made most of it happen, and that made me feel a bit better. Of course, the beauty that happens on its own is the best of all.

Garden Makeover Part II

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Here's the plan for my newly spacious front bed: I'm going to take a bunch of my planters and pots and sneak them into the bare spots I've made. Devious!

I plant three huge Rex begonias right into the bed, and move two large mixed planters of geraniums and Abutilon and fuchsia into the bare areas.  Instant color where there was only bare soil. They won't live through the winter, but that's OK. They'll color it up and act as placeholders until frost. It's cheating, sort of, but it's good cheating.

Hoo-wee does that ever look better.
It's OK with me if it looks kind of like a garden center tag sale. At least it's interesting and not full of deadheads and crap I don't want.

I put some tropicals I don't intend to bring into the greenhouse in the spaces where the lilies of the valley grew. It's kind of a crazy mix, but it sure beats a mess.

 With a bunch of the superfluous pots cleared away and planted out, the front entry looks neater and more inviting now.

Achimenes "Pink Nighty" is stealing the show, with shocking pink blossoms popping everywhere.


I've been propagating that plant like mad, so I can have some to give away this winter. 

Achimenes, which is a gesneriad (African violet/gloxinia/sinningia relative) has a charming habit of going dormant in fall, dying back, and leaving little green pinecone-like tubers in the soil. You keep those in a Ziploc bag at room temperature, and plant five of them to an 8" pot come spring.  
From practically nothing you get this amaaaazing compact but trailing, bushy plant that blooms and blooms and blooms.
And then when it dies back in fall, you store it over the winter in a Ziploc bag full of green pinecone thingies. Takes no space at all, but you have all the genetic material you need to start fresh in spring.
It's truly amazing. They let you know when they're ready to grow by putting out a little red shoot!

I'm kinda nuts about a new Rex begonia called Jurassic "Watermelon." I'd like to think T-rex had this color and pattern. 

Hibiscus "The Path" has just gone nuts this summer. She got a bigger pot and lots of plant food and manure. She liked that!
Heck, she's as tall as I am now. I'm already planning what not to bring into the greenhouse, on her behalf. Sorry, giant scraggly Rosemary. You've just been voted out of the Groanhouse.
You too, three oversized jasmines. Too much foliage and spread. We're cutting back to one jasmine.

In late summer, the sun's intensity has dropped enough that I can bring my bonsai Japanese maples out of the shade and display them on the front stoop. I love to watch them color up come fall.

When I was finally done with my garden/front porch makeover, I mowed the lawn. 

Right before I took this picture, Mr. Baker was lying, frogspraddled, right across the path of the mower. This is what he does when I mow. He glares balefully at me and moves at the very last second. Then lies down again where I will have to come through on the next pass. It's his way of bringing himself to my notice as I mow and sing and talk to myself.

So there you go.  A day well spent, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I like working hard, especially when the results are so easy to see. Maybe it's time for a late summer garden makeover at your house! 

Thanks to the tuberoses in the foreground, this view smells even better than it looks. I like to think of our meadow as the world's largest flowerbed.

Late Summer Garden Makeover: One Day, Big Difference

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


July 19. The place is looking pretty fly; the drought hasn't hit yet; the late summer crabgrass has yet to take over the entire lawn, and the daylilies are all blooming. 

By August 21, though, my front gardens were showing their age. That big front bed was buggin' me. 
Over the years since I planted it, certain things had taken over, asserted themselves, crowding out the plants I loved and actually wanted there.
It was ticking me off.

I was winding up for a garden makeover. And I wanted fast results.

I had to wait for a good soaking rain. We got 2 1/2", and three days later another 3/4" of blessed rain, which would soften the soil enough for me to do some serious digging.
August 21 dawned clear and cool, 53 degrees. I went for my run and came back loaded for bear.

I started digging.

First to go were the huge, gangly, spent evening primroses that had bloomed beautifully, then turned into seed factories. I like evening primroses, but these had spread so aggressively they killed a bunch of things I like better. I wasn't about to let these drop their seeds all over this bed again. I got them out before the capsules opened. Whew!

Next to go were the orange ditch lilies that, no matter how often I pull them out, keep spreading. 
That's because you can't pull daylilies out. They just break off at soil level, leaving all the tubers. You have to get serious, get a spade and dig them out.

It didn't take long to get a cartload of tops and roots. Whew. That already feels a lot better. I have some beautiful farmer's market daylilies in that bed that I adore. But these orange ditch lilies just had to go.

Now there was some breathing room around the daylilies I liked. There was room for the bleeding heart to come back up in the spring, room for four beautiful little bleeding hearts my dear friend Lucy in Minnesota gave me this summer, and room for all the daffodils that had had to struggle through the daylilies. 
It's absolutely amazing the biomass I took out of that bed. Out! Out! Out! You can see the last remaining ditch lilies on the left side of this photo. They're going.

When I was finished, there was even room for me to plant a few new things next spring!

Next to go were all the lilies of the valley. 
I know this plant well enough to know that I will never get rid of them all. But I tried.
Now, I know a lot of you love this plant. I do, too. The problem is, this plant is a thug. A big ugly garden thug.
I got the start for what became a monstrous stand of LOV from my grandma Ruigh's garden in Meservey, Iowa. 
I never dreamt it would take over half my front bed with a foot-deep, impenetrably dense mat of roots and runners. 

I am a sentimental person, but I abandon sentimentality when a plant ceases to be an asset. Unfortunately, you can't grow just a few lilies of the valley. You wind up growing nothing else. Can you say "INVASIVE?"

Grunting and cussing, I dug and dug and dug. I was amazed to see they had infiltrated the hosta roots. Nothing stops them! The roots were so thick and heavy I had to chop them into manageable two-foot square hunks to be able to lift them and shake the soil out of them. 

 Another cartload of pure ugh. About 75 pounds of lilies of the valley. And a Lenten rose, one of many, that just keep seeding and spreading. I want things like larkspur and delphinium, bleeding heart, bergenia, fuchsia and butterfly weed instead.

When I was done, there was a pleasing amount of bare space in between the plants. Yay! 

Now to tackle the doorstep clutter. I can't help it. I'm a compulsive horticulturist. I propagate and pot up babies and divide and recombine...I just love messing with plants.
And pretty soon it gets difficult to get in the front door.
But I have a plan.

Next: Cheating with Container Plants and Tropicals: Late Summer Garden Makeover II.

The Art of Disappearing

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When I got to the Hummingbird Festival, I was given a packet of directions to the various functions (banquet, hummingbird garden breakfast, hummingbird banding demonstration). There was an address on each sheet, but I didn't see any other identification. 
On my last free morning in Sedona, I got up early to go to a hummingbird breakfast in a spectacular private garden. I had missed my garden date the day before; I was still working on my hummingbird talk. I wanted it to be the best it could be, and it came out well, but only because I gave it the days of work it needed to be good. 

I followed the directions on the sheet and headed out, watching amazed as hot air balloons began rising against the rocks. I was charmed by this until a more Sedona-wise friend kind of snorted and said something like, "Damn balloons, cluttering up the view." It had never occurred to me that hot air balloons might be anything other than magical. I laughed with delight at our differing perspectives. I suppose if you've seen enough of them, hot air balloons could be seen as clutter. Yeah, I get it.

It took me awhile to find the place, but when I did, this was the view from their yard:

Holy smokes. Imagine seeing that in every light and weather condition, every day!

I saw a sign in the street pointing toward the backyard that said, "Hummingbird Banding Demonstration." But there was not a soul stirring. Whoops. I'd followed the directions all right, but I'd come an hour and a half too early, to the wrong place! This wasn't a hummingbird garden breakfast. This was the 8:30 banding demo. At 7 AM.

Now what? 
Well, I didn't want to wake anyone up, but I'd come all this way and I had a notion there must be something pretty wonderful in that backyard.

 So I disappeared.

I put on my Cloak of Invisibility, turned on my sonar, tuned in, and melted into the background. 
Emboldened by the signage, I made my way silently into the backyard and took in the scene: a multitude of the heavenly host, buzzing around many sparkling clean large-capacity feeders.

I was looking right into the sun, though. To get any kind of shots, I'd have to have the sun at my back. I'd have to walk right across their backyard. And the back of the house was all window and patio. 
So I swung wide, out into the scrub, and moved quietly across the back of the property. Then I swung back toward the house and melded myself with a chain link fence and some shrubbery. 

And magic began to happen.

A pair of Gambel's quail stepped lightly across the path at my feet. 
Oh good morning, Handsome!

All the hummingbirds that had been wary of me at first completely ignored me. This immature Anna's hummingbird was intent on guarding his feeder.

His half-finished pink gorget was like a brooch at his throat.

When he turned his head the right way, I could catch a glimpse of the glittering cerise helmet he'd wear as an adult.

An immature black-chinned hummingbird was identifiable because it looked to me like a rubythroat, with a slightly longer, decurved bill. Both are genus Archilochus. 

An adorable rufous hummingbird flitted against red yucca flowers.
(Thanks Luisa dahlink!)

What a treat to see these birds at their ease! I don't like photographing hummingbirds at feeders; I like natural vegetation. I was in hog heaven here.

I watched a young rufous hummingbird feeding at crape myrtle. It made me miss my crape myrtle at home. It died in the Big Freeze two winters ago, but is putting up root shoots now!!! Squee!!

With enough light, even I can get a decent hummingbird photo. See how the wings are frozen? You can do that in the brilliant sunlight of early morning.

Suddenly I heard a door open, and a clatter. The homeowner came out to check and refill some feeders. Ack ack ack. Here I was in plain sight leaning against his back fence, still 40 minutes early to the event. How embarrassing! I melted away even more, hoping not to be discovered. Truthfully, I was thoroughly enjoying my solitude, my audience with fairies. 

Inwardly I was squirming, because the last thing I wanted to do was announce myself and scare the bejabbers out of this innocent man. So I stayed mute, and visualized myself as part of the vegetation. 

He looked right at me, squinting into the sun, looked to the side, checked a feeder, filled another, checked a trap, looked at me again. To my utter amazement, he looked right at me several times, but he never saw me.
Perhaps it was the sun's angle. Or perhaps I had truly succeeded in becoming invisible. 
All those years of wearing dung-colored clothing and trying to be unobtrusive had paid off!

He went back into the house, and I relaxed again. Soon the official event would start and I could just be part of the crowd. 
I settled back into my solitude.

But wait. Who's this?

Isn't that a Costa's hummingbird? I'd heard that one had shown up at one of the festival event sites. I wondered how many people would have given their eyeteeth to be standing where I was at this moment. I certainly would have!

Yes, that was a different little bird. That steep forehead, that strange half-circle around the eye, the compact dumpy shape. Had to be the Costa's. And here he was all tee'd up, just for me!

Look at your little V-shaped violet gorget!

Exit, Stage Left!

If you want to see what this bird will look like next year, by all means click this link. Warning: Real Hummingbird Photography by Alan Murphy Ahead. Swoon!! 

What an amazing morning I'd had. What a gift, to have gotten my days and addresses all backerds. It brought me to this oasis, to beautiful hummingbirds, sitting at their ease. 
And I had successfully disappeared. That was the best part of all. 

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