September 28, 2009

Feeling Blue . . . or Maybe Blue-Violet

Some of my gardening projects are hitting snags and I'm feeling blue. But since I flunked the Color Recognition part of kindergarten, along with the rest of the horticulture world, I'll be illustrating this post with blue-violet. Above: 'Pagan Purples' delphinium.

We got stuck with the bank of neighborhood mailboxes in our front yard - very unattractive. But I planned to make lemonade from these lemons and create a lovely garden around the mailboxes that would be shaded by a flowering cherry tree. It would be my gift to the neighborhood: instead of confronting the utilitarian grey mailbox structure, neighbors could enjoy a garden encounter each time they picked up mail. But a utility easement (including electric, gas and water lines) might necessitate removing the tree and prevent the planting of any shrubs in that area. Above: Salvia farinacea 'Victoria', aka mealycup sage.

Planting a tree on the west side of your home is an earth-friendly way to reduce air conditioning needs in the summer, so we planted a honey locust to shade our western exposure. But now that same easement might require the tree to be pulled out. Above: Campanula carpatica 'Blue Clips', aka bellflower.

Anti-lawn rants are a frequent part of the garden blogging world. I like the look of lawn, but recognize that large areas of lawn are not perfectly adapted to my climate. I planned to remove some of my lawn and replace it with shrubs and perennials that would require less water and fewer chemicals than grass, but leave part of our front yard as lawn to help our landscape blend into the neighborhood. Above: more 'Pagan Purples' delphinium.

The snag in my lawn removal plans is . . . you guessed it, that same utility easement. How did I get lucky enough to buy one of the few homes in our neighborhood that have an easement along the side that prevents the planting of trees and shrubs without written permission? How come I didn't realize all of this BEFORE we started planting trees and pulling out lawn? Above: Geranium 'Brookside', aka cranesbill.

The original landscaping - including a tree and curbing - intrudes upon the easement, so apparently there is some leeway there. When I talked to an employee of our natural gas company last year, he gave the impression that I could plant whatever I wanted as long as I accepted the risk that it might have to be ripped out and replaced at my expense if a pipe busted and the company had to dig to make repairs. I'm fine with that, and I'm not tempting fate by planting any willows or poplars with crazy-invasive roots. Above: more Salvia farinacea 'Victoria'.

But our neighbors pointed out that the electric company needs to give the permission, so now I need to contact the electric company and ask them to clarify in writing what I can and can't do in my yard. And beg them to please let my trees remain . . . or let me plant a few shrubs even if the trees have to come out . . . or at the very least let me put curbing around the new flower bed so it matches the rest of the yard. Pretty please with a cherry on top. But I hate haggling, so I'm nervous about getting this done. Have any of you gardeners tackled such a problem and worked out a good solution? Wish me luck, I'll need it! Above: a final shot of a drooping cluster of Delphinium 'Pagan Purples". I feel droopy, too.

Added September 29 - I called the electric company yesterday and spoke with a very pleasant woman. She assured me that our landscaping was fine as long as we recognized that we'd have to replace it at our own expense if they needed to dig there. We are going to transplant the honey locust (a 40 feet tall tree at maturity) to a different spot just to be extra careful about root issues with the underground lines. I think I'll plant another crabapple in that spot (only 20 feet tall, with smaller roots as well). So I'm not feeling blue today! Thanks for your encouraging comments; this post and your comments gave me extra courage to tackle the problem.

September 23, 2009

Mugshots: 2 Creamy English Roses

For a confessed David-Austin-addict, I haven't posted much about my english roses this summer. Perhaps that's because of my angst over the trials of virus, thrips, curculios, aphids and powdery mildew that have afflicted my roses this season. There's a reason some people don't grow roses, quite a number of reasons actually . . . and I don't even have problems with rust and blackspot! Anyway, I still love my english roses, troubled though they are. Here is a spotlight on two of the creamy-white shrubs that were planted in spring 2008: Lichfield Angel and Crocus Rose.

The first three photos in this post are all of David Austin's Lichfield Angel, which is obviously a lovely rose. Side note: when I showed my husband the first 2 pictures, I gushed that if I made notecards out of them, someone might actually buy them! I'm sure he was suitably impressed with my amateur photographer prowess, even if he didn't gush a response (gee, that's great honey, yawn).
I've only had this shrub for two growing seasons, so it's still filling out. Austin roses take several years to build up a good structure with sturdy stems, especially around here with our short growing season.

This photo was shot in different lighting (no wonder photographers talk endlessly about the importance of light) and shows the Angel's fall burst of blooms. Perhaps the stems will hold the flowers up better as it matures over the next few years, but the nodding blooms have some charm. Their fragrance isn't very strong, though I have noticed a clove scent from some flowers.

Here is a shot of David Austin's Crocus Rose. I love the shape of these flowers. They have a more formal shape than LA and look great in a vase on my kitchen table, though they don't have much of a fragrance, either. In the rain the flowers get hot pink spots which are about as attractive as chicken pox. Good thing it doesn't rain often here in the summer.

This photo shows the delicate leaves that grace Crocus Rose. While CR forms a dainty and compact mounded shrub, LA has more wildness with its larger leaves and shooting stems. Their different characters show clearly when you have them planted side by side, as I do. Tidy CR shrubs would work well at the front of a border or as a specimen, while LA would look better in the middle of a bed or surrounded by a low edging plant.

More interesting light in this picture, eh? I might declare Crocus Rose to be the better rose, except that it gets powdery (or downy?) mildew in late summer (plus those pink rain spots), while Lichfield Angel stays clean. I sprayed CR with Neem oil and watered better and that seemed to keep the mildew from getting too bad. To be honest, Crocus Rose is my favorite. It's finely crafted flowers and great shrubby form take the cake. But Lichfield Angel is a nice, healthy rose and useful for different spots in the garden. Which do you prefer?

September 17, 2009

Hydrangeas: Endless Summer and Limelight in Fall

Lately I have been working to improve my garden photography. I learned A LOT about photography and photoshop from Pioneer Woman (Thanks for the tip, Randi. If you like it, it must be good). Check out what she does to a thistle flower photo here. Inspired by Pioneer Woman, I went outside and took pictures of my hydrangeas with my camera on the manual setting. Wow, I felt brave. Then I worked the photos over in photoshop elements. Above is a shot of 'Limelight' hydrangea with ruddy fall peony foliage in the background.

Really good photographers take photos that don't need a lot of help in photoshop, but I'm just a newbie and will take all the help I can get. I bought photoshop elements at Costco for $50, thanks to a $30 off coupon. Sadly, I'm learning that $50 is a tiny, tiny amount in the world of photographic equipment (how does anyone afford those really great lenses?). I think it was a good investment. Pioneer Woman showed me an easy way to bump up the color and contrast. I tried it on the above picture of 'Blushing Bride' hydrangea, currently showcasing her fall colors.

I played with this photo of hydrangea and Japanese iris foliage, too. Pretty much all of my photos look better with different cropping and more color than they had originally. When I look at photos in garden magazines, I suspect that their colors have been enhanced as well. Catalog photos would be more helpful if they would lay off the color saturation a bit and give me a realistic photo of how the plant will appear in my garden, but I enjoy the super-saturated eye candy when it's dreary in January.

Here is a picture of 'Endless Summer' hydrangea blooms. My soil isn't acidic enough to turn the flowers blue unless I add a lot of acidic fertilizer, and I was lazy this year. But this pink is fun. In the warm light of evening, the color actually looks like this on the plant. My photo was kind of bland, though, so it was tweaked in photoshop.

Do you notice how this shot has a blurry background? I thought my lens just wasn't capable of that, but when I put the camera in manual, turned the f-stop down to 5.0 (its lowest setting), and turned the lens all the way to telephoto, I was able to create blurriness in the background. This never happened in automatic mode. Cool.

Here is another shot of 'Limelight' hydrangea. I used the rule of thirds to place the sharpest bloom cluster in the lower left corner of the frame, and really like the way it turned out. Who knows if it's very good, but it's more interesting than what I used to take. And I have decades to improve. By the time I'm old and feeble in a nursing home, I should have collected enough good photos of my garden to help me remember how beautiful it was (or how beautiful I hope it becomes, from my current perspective). Photography is fascinating, and a great companion hobby to gardening. What has helped your garden photography? I'm always open to tips.

September 14, 2009

Mugshots: 3 Mostly Peach Daylilies, Part I

As promised, I am continuing my daylily mugshots series with three of the pinky-peach daylilies in my yard. It's hard to rate the exact color, but I think these blooms are more peach than pink. That's why they are here instead of back in the pink daylilies posts. As you can see in the above picture, even the wilted blooms are kind of pretty. But here we go with the 'real' pictures and info.

1. Siloam Double Classic - 10 in tall scapes, 5 in flowers, early-midseason, from Oakes
Some catalogs call this one pink, but if you asked me to quick - name that color, I'd say peach. Both pastels are there, though. The blooms are sweet and smaller than some of my others; maybe they reach 5 inches wide on a more established plant. My plants are growing in the challenging morning-shade/intense-afternoon-sun bed on the west of my home, but they seem to handle the conditions all right. All of the daylilies over there had spider mites on the leaves by August, but the plants responded well to some extra showers from the hose to wash off the mites.

2. Autumn Wood - 24 in tall scapes, 5.5 in flowers, mid-late, dormant, from White Oak Nursery

This daylily is orange sherbet with rose-kissed petals and a golden throat: good enough to eat! The ruffled blooms looked especially nice next to blue-purple mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea 'Victoria'). I can't wait to see a big mass of them blooming in a few years. I first noticed the flowers in the Oakes Daylilies catalog, but the $40 price tag turned me off. I was pleased to order them from White Oak Nursery for $8 each instead.

3. Smoky Mountain Autumn - 18 in tall scapes, 5.75 in blooms, early, dormant, from White Oak Nursery

This was another daylily I noticed in the Oakes catalog for $40 but ordered from White Oak Nursery for $8 (the plants that arrived were smaller than from Oakes, but were a better value for the price). The color is similar to 'Dublin Elaine', but deeper. Maybe this one would have fit better with the pink daylilies, oh well. It's a beauty either way.

While planning a new design for my front yard, I tried to edit. Really. I'm not trying to create a daylily museum; I want a well designed garden. So I edited out . . . one daylily, Barbara Mitchell. She was given to a gardener friend, and the rest of the numerous cultivars found a place in the new design. But then I ordered 'Princess Ellen' from Oakes, so that cancels out my edit. Oops. I'd beg you to help me overcome my plant-collecting tendencies, but I'm not ready to be that disciplined yet. So please just smile at my madness and enjoy more mugshots posts.

September 9, 2009

Mugshots: 5 Oriental Lilies in Pink & White

The Oriental lilies in my backyard were gorgeous this year. Above is pictured 'Brasilia', which was purchased from Costco on a whim this spring.

The color of this lily varied greatly with fluctuations of temperature. Cooler days brought out deeper pink shades.

We brought a whole stalk inside after my son stepped on it and broke it off at the base (he felt really badly about it). We probably won't see flowers from that bulb next year, but hopefully it won't die completely. The bloom above was especially vivid and very different than some of the mostly white flowers on the same stalk.

I also cut several blooms of classic 'Casa Blanca', shown above, to bring inside. Although I love the spicy-sweet fragrance of lilies outside, it was almost overpowering in the house. I kept wishing they would finally wilt and die so I could throw them away and escape the smell! Next year I'll just enjoy them outside.

The bargain bag from Costco (18 bulbs for $13.99) also included 9 of 'Wilke Alberti', with a nice soft pink bloom. Most of these poor lilies were camouflaged by the giant cosmos foliage this year; next year I'll have to leave them more room.

This double-flowered pink lily came home from Lowe's already in bloom. I can't find the tag; perhaps it was 'Farolito'. All of these pinks are on the cool side.

Here is another shot of the mystery Lowe's pink lily. Oriental lilies don't have a very long bloom period, but it comes in the middle of summer when the iris and peonies are done and my english roses and delphiums are taking a break, so the garden welcomes some flowers. The stalks don't take up much room. It's easy to tuck a few into the garden here and there for a nice July surprise.

I'll finish with this picture of the most famous oriental lily, 'Stargazer'. These bulbs were purchased (from WalMart, of all places) two years ago, and this year baby plants came up all around the large ones. When transplanting some of them last fall, I noticed tiny bulbils along the stems. I didn't bother removing them to plant separately, but they seem to be taking care of reproduction all by themselves. No complaints from me, I'll be happy to have more of these elegant flowers.

September 4, 2009

Committing to Plants for a Frontyard Design

Next spring I have plans to make some major changes in my front yard landscape. Although I posted in June and in March about plans for hardscaping and borders, I needed more time to decide on a planting plan. How do you arrange many favorite plants in a coherent plan? How do you create a well-designed feel without being stiff, and a feeling of personality without being chaotic? Here is my attempt.

It's hard to believe that this little piece of paper is the big result of two years of mad plant buying and trialing, hours of musing on color schemes, a college degree in horticulture and 16 years of gardening. This design includes many favorite plants for my Spokane climate in a color scheme that I'm pretty confident will work (but I have no problem transplanting later if it doesn't). The drawing is less messy than it would be if I wasn't posting it and less polished than what a professional would do, but hopefully it conveys the information (click on it to enlarge). My apologies for the photo quality, as I don't have a scanner to upload the drawing perfectly.

Photos in this post represent the color scheme and show some of the plants included in the design. At the top of the post is the much-beloved Nepeta 'Walker's Low' (catmint), and right above this paragraph is a baby Juniper 'Blue Star'. I've had to push myself to make more space for evergreens that will have presence during the 6 months when nothing else is growing.

Other shrubby evergreens include the dark green laurel 'Otto Luyken', variegated green/white/pink euonymus 'Emerald Gaiety' and grey-leaved lavender 'Hidcote'. Perennial liriope 'Big Blue' (pictured above) and penstemon 'Elfin Pink' (leaves pictured below) are also evergreen, though I don't know how good the foliage will look after our winter beats it up. I've also included space for large rocks, which will give further structure during the winter.

The color scheme is miles away from what I planned when we first moved in; I laugh to read my fussy posts about planning a perfectly pink color scheme and then panicking when it didn't work. All right, maybe my posts are all fussy. Anyway, the color scheme now includes the various leaf colors mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus flowers in light to medium shades of blue-violet, pink and peach.

A friend who gardens and quilts told me that when designing a quilt, you're supposed to include one color that doesn't really match, just to add some vivacity. I guess 'Elfin Pink' penstemon does that for me. In the picture above, you can see that the vivid flowers on the penstemon stalk are quite different from the light pink rose in the background. After the initial panic that the color was NOT what the catalog showed, I decided that I liked it. Then I went a step further and ordered similarly-colored dahlias, which are also a big step because I used to detest dahlias. But really, how could you detest this flower?

Another breakthrough came when I decided to accept the fact that most of my daylilies were peachy-pink or just peach, instead of true pink. I now like the way this orange sherbet 'Autumn Wood' fits into the big picture. Although I'm allowing myself to include 8 different daylilies in the design - which is probably too many for a small yard - I'm planting each in a group of three to reduce the chaos. The similar foliage will blend together when they're out of bloom. In a few years I might edit to keep just the best bloomers from the bunch.

Opening the door to peachy-pink allowed me to add one of my favorite roses, 'Abraham Darby'. Experts at the local rosarium assured me that I wouldn't have a problem with rose rust here. I'm following David Austin's advice to plant in groups of three, so I'll have a large clump of Abe and another of the pure pink 'Eglantyne', shown below.

Since most grasses make me sneeze and give me a rash, I've had to be creative to add linear elements. The corkscrew rush pictured below is technically a grass (genus Juncus) and does produce some pollen, but the leaves are smooth and don't make my arms itch when I brush them. Several upright clumps of lance-shaped siberian iris foliage will fill in for upright grasses, plus I'll have periwinkle flowers from them in June.

Other perennials include geranium 'Rozzanne' (pictured below), creeping phlox, tall and dwarf bearded iris, and irish moss. I included one 'Fine Line' buckthorn to create a living column that will draw visitors toward the front door. I'm really excited about this newly introduced shrub and hope that I can find a plant at a local nursery next year.

As in past posts, I have to thank fellow garden bloggers for expanding my plant-selection horizons, helping me define and refine my gardening style, and offering encouragement and advice (did you see 'Susan's steps' on the design, Susan?). I also need to thank Daffodil Planter for making time to see my garden while she was in town last week. It felt like an honor to show this witty, classy lady around my yard. She was overly generous with her compliments of my young landscape, but I certainly enjoyed it! You garden bloggers are great.

**PS - You'll notice that sun-loving plants are placed all around the trees. This is because my trees are all babies and don't make much shade yet. As they grow and cast more shade, I'll replace some of the current plants with hostas and hellebores.