Blooming Hosta, who knew?

>> Saturday, July 28, 2007

My Hosta ‘Golden Tiara’ bloomed! Totally unexpected. It is a really pretty flower and I am surprised it bloomed. Looking at the condition of the plant (especially compared with what it once looked like when I first got it just eight weeks ago). I didn’t think it was healthy enough to send up a flower.

The leaves look really bad. This is why I am so surprised that it flowered. It looks like it wants to die but the new leaves in the center are looking healthy.

I don't know if it is not enough water, too much water, too much sun. It gets direct sunlight from 4 PM to about 7:30 PM. That shouldn't be too much.

Nature always surprises me.


Unfinished projects, part one

Here’s an area that really needs work. I choose this area first because this is going to be the most labor intensive to get under control.

This picture, dated September 2006, was taken two years after we moved in. I did not have a clear plan for the space, other than knowing I did not want this tree and all of its suckers.

When we first moved in this plum tree was a ‘huge’ shrub and I had no idea what it was. I asked the neighbors but they didn't know either. The suckers had grown so tall and thick that the trunk wasn’t visible. For size reference, the fence posts are set ten feet apart and this thing covered the fence from one post to the other.

Within a month of moving in I cut everything down except the main tree, the trunks you see here. After clearing it back a bit I began finding tell-tale ‘fruit’ on the ground that looked like plums. They were a 'dusty' purple and not very well developed (see next photo). I attributed the smallish size of the fruit to the tree not being well-cared for. Perhaps this variety just produces fruit smaller than the standard plum.

I began tossing lawn clippings on the area thinking the decomposition of it would help loosen up the heavy clay soil.

Here is what it looked like in April of this year, before the suckers and bindweed have come up.

I’m still putting grass clippings on it, along with composted steer manure and digging it in. I had come up with a plan to replace the tree with a couple of tall and wide Viburnum. I ordered the Viburnum, one 'Aurora' (white) and a 'Red Wing' thinking they would be tall enough and wide enough to cover this section of fence by next Spring. At that time I would cut down the plum tree and all of its suckers.

Viburnum 'Aurora' before...

and after...

and what it would have looked like if it had survived my ineptitude.

Viburnum 'Red Wing' before...

and after...

and what it would have looked like. Ah well, they would have been beautiful.

I think the lesson here is that just because they are considered 'hardy' shrubs for my area, doesn't mean they don't need to be protected from the hot sun. I did expose them to the sun gradually, following the typical transplanting routine, i.e., a few hours of sun the first day and increasing sun exposure each day for a week before putting them into their permanent place. And I did water them a lot, although on reflection, maybe not often enough.

Another lesson is to pay a little extra to buy larger shrubs that would probably have had a better chance of getting established.

I will buy two more viburnum, the same ones again, and this time they will make it and my plan will have to be adjusted. Such is a gardeners lot.

In the mean time, there are two Lilac's maturing here until they get big enough to move somewhere a little more permanent.

And two squash 'Hybrid Gentry' crook-necked.

And one more plant, Spirea 'Little Princess'.

The open space in the above photo is as of today. I still need to figure out what will look good in front of two large Viburnum. This is the most difficult yet most fun part of gardening, is trying to decide what to plant.

Good garden design says I need to repeat what I already have planted, but there is so much more out there to plant that I just can't bring myself to be limited by what I already have. And I have to consider bloom times so I can have color during every season.

Maybe some Chrysanthemums, Geraniums, Bee Balm, Lilac....


Reflecting on past spaces

I was sitting on the back deck yesterday afternoon looking out over the beds I have planted. They really have come a long way from when we first moved here.

I went to the computer and began looking at some pictures I had taken before the projects were started and it felt good to compare how the yard has changed.

Here are a couple of pictures of the backyard in April of 2005:

This one shows the new raised beds I had just built and filled with soil and compost.

The back fence needs some sort of vine and shrubs to 'pretty it up' a bit. That's an apple tree in front of the beds.

This one shows a concrete pad that had a dog house on it and the area to the right is the future site of a perennial flower bed.

A plum tree is against the fence to the right of the apple tree.

These next two pictures show the backyard in May of 2006:

That's a cherry tree to the left and a box elder hanging over my shed from the yard behind us. This tree is the home to hundreds of box elder bugs. Nasty flying red things that are just bothersome. They say these bugs don't eat anything in the garden and so far I guess that has been shown, but they are messy.

Nothing much has changed here. I did dig up the future perennial bed on the right next to the fence and am getting rid of the weeds and will add compost etc before planting it in Spring 2007.

I have decided to pile compost material on the concrete pad hoping to get some compost. I know it isn't an ideal location, being on concrete, but at least it's a start.

These final two pictures show the backyard in July of 2007:

The 'Heritage' raspberry bushes behind the cherry tree finally produced and they were plump and juicy.The plants are five years old this year and I was told they don't produce before this age.

Here the perennial bed has finally been planted and almost everything is surviving, much to my surprise. I do have a record of killing off plants. I'm thinking that just maybe I am beginning to get the hang of this gardening thing. I did just feed everything a couple of days ago, so that's a positive thing.

Looking at the grass I can see it is beginning to return to a semi-healthy state. In 2005 I attempted to feed it on what I thought was a regular schedule but by 2006 I could tell that I did not yet understand how or when to do it. So, I hired a lawn service in 2006 before I did irreparable damage. Now I understand that I am supposed to sprinkle the lawn with some sort of compost/top soil mixture and aerate it every year.

I did have it aerated last year and again this year. When they aerated it this year their machine would barely dig into the ground which led me to ask questions about why. It seems that I may not be watering it well enough and I suspect there are other problems that I have not yet been 'made aware of'. It seems there always is something additional that needs to be done or I need to add a little 'finesse' in doing it the way I am.

As far as watering goes, I keep hearing and reading that you should water about 20 minutes several times a week with an occasional 'deep watering' but that is if you have an installed irrigation system, which I don't. You can see the garden hose laid out across the lawn and this is my irrigation system. I followed the 'experts' advice attempting to get enough water on the backyard and my wife took care of the front yard. I noticed she watered a lot longer than I did but I didn't say anything until towards the end of the year. The result was that the front yard greened up a lot better than the backyard. So, I am convinced that I need to water a lot more.

Boy, this learning process is long and arduous. If only I had an expert that can look at it and tell me (complete with a proper schedule) what to do then I would have the confidence to do it myself. I guess learning is a reward in and of itself so I have to keep learning in order to keep being rewarded.


New garden center

>> Sunday, July 8, 2007

There is a new garden center that opened up recently just three miles away from me! I can see it now, the convenient location is going to get me into trouble. It’s called The Garden Lodge. The grand opening was a month ago and I dutifully went to check the place out.

The interior is set up like a house, albeit a very large house, broken down into rooms complete with furniture, decorations, wall art, candles, and lots of floral arrangements. Lots and lots of great ideas and inspiration.

There is a horticultural library where you can sit in these big comfy sofas and over-stuffed wing backed chairs and browse to your hearts content. They also offer design services and community education classes.

Attached to the back of the building is a very large greenhouse (10,000+ square feet) that they promise they will carry anything you could possibly want for your yard and garden. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of anything there except for a few annuals and trees.

Walk out of the greenhouse and you step into what looks like several planned gardens. This area is as yet unfinished also and in fact they only have a few of the hardscape features in place.

It seems a bit odd that they would have a ‘grand opening’ without having everything ready for it. I haven’t heard any of the usual rumors about what the hold up is and the people who work there could only tell me that they are a bit behind schedule. Perhaps labor problems? I don’t know, but the place has a lot of potential and I hope they can pull it off.

Before they put their sign up and opened their doors there was a lot of speculation about what the place was going to be. There was no advertising until the day they opened and that was an ad in the city local newspaper. It all seemed a bit hush hush. Very strange way to do things for a retailer.

The only thing that hinted at it being something to do with gardening was the large greenhouse attached to the back of the building but all that was there was the glass structure and lots of construction debris.

Even now a month later it seems they are dragging their feet. I can’t wait to walk through their gardens. I like the idea of seeing combinations of plants actually planted much like a Home and Garden show instead of just rows of potted plants.


Rain, Yeah!

>> Saturday, July 7, 2007

We are getting rain for the first time in almost 30 days!
Sweet, glorious, life-sustaining, drought-busting, plant nourishing rain. We also have thunder and lightning.
It is a joyous day indeed.

It's pretty sad when I get exited about rain, but it lowered the temperature 8 degrees and that is really worth it.


Weeds, argh!

I found a dandelion in my yard! It was lurking at the edge of the front lawn next to the sidewalk just getting ready to spit it’s evil nutrient-robbing offspring to the wind to further encroach into my beautifully manicured lawn. Alright, that was a bit much, I’ll admit. At least about the lawn part. I have never had a ‘beautifully manicured lawn’ in my life. The evil dandelion part I meant though.

The good news is that this is only the second one I have found this year. The first one tried to gain access to the yard from under the fence, but I spotted its nasty yellow head bobbing about behind my raspberry bushes and yanked it out by the roots. Ha! The bad news is that I will never be completely free of them. My therapist is helping me deal with it.

When I moved into this house three years ago there was a literal dandelion farm in the front yard, the backyard and the side yard. Oh the humanity! I spent several months trying to slake my bloodlust to rid the yard of their deceptively joyous presence. Last year there were a few 'emissaries of evil' stalking about early in the year and this year they have almost been completely eradicated, in fact I am proud to say they have been. The only reason these two appeared is because our neighbors don’t do anything about the dandelions in their yard. The poor fools! Don't they know? Can't they see? They must be warned.

I live in constant fear of a ‘drive-by’ planting. Thankfully, I only have to deal with them for a short time each year. Unlike my other nemesis, the field bindweed, pictured here.

I have even gone into my neighbors yard and yanked out a particularly over-sized dandelion that threatened to come over the line.

I have got to get off of this subject, sweat is dripping from my brow onto the keyboard. Where’s my medication?


Diversity is making a come back

>> Friday, July 6, 2007

Saw this wasp just this morning.

It is the first time I have seen one of these since my childhood in Indiana.

This is a good thing to see one of these because they live off of caterpillars. Of course, it means there are caterpillars about. But it also means that the insect diversity is beginning to grow here and that is always good news.

Here’s some text from when I searched for the name of this wasp. It is a Thread-Waisted wasp but we used to call them paper wasps.

“Wasps are highly important to ecosystems. Sawflies consume vegetation and so limit plant growth. Most other wasps are either parasitic or predaceous and therefore play a vital role in limiting the populations of thousands of other insect species. All wasps are eaten by other species, thereby providing many links in the food web. Many parasitic wasps have been cultured and used in the biological control of agricultural pests. Although a few of the stinging wasps are considered nuisances, they also provide benefits. Yellow jackets and paper wasps, for example, prey on caterpillars and other larvae that can destroy crops. Wasps feed on flower nectar and play a role in pollination.”

I haven’t seen much caterpillar damage to my garden yet, I attributed it to having so many birds around. I have six bird feeders throughout the yard that I fill almost daily and just figured their part in pest control is working, but now that I have seen this guy hanging around maybe he is the one that is helping to protect my plants.

Here is a caterpillar I found a couple of weeks ago on one of the Primrose Fireworks. I took care of this one myself but I'm sure there are others around, or maybe the Thread-Waisted Wasp got one of his own. This little beauty is called a Hyles gallii and is the larvae of the bedstraw hawkmoth pictured below.

I'm pretty sure I have seen a few of these around.

Should I be worried for the butterfly population that I'm trying to attract? I'm thinking, maybe not, because nature has a marvelous way of balancing things out so I’m just happy to see the diversity starting to come back.

Yesterday I saw a large bumblebee on the salvia, first time I have seen one of those in the garden. I got this picture from the site mentioned above. I didn't have my camera with me when I saw it.


June drop

Over the past couple of days I have noticed many young peaches scattered around the ground. Now this in itself is not really that big of a deal because they are all laying around under a peach tree. And they do tend to drop some about this time every year. What is remarkable about it happening this year is that there are so many. Here is a picture of what I picked up so far.

We moved into this house in 2004 and the peach tree was planted by the previous owner about 25 years ago. He told us that the tree suffered from two lightning strikes, one in 2003 and again in early 2004 and the poor thing shows it. Some branches are looking a bit beat up and some branches have had to be cut off. Also, last year high winds took off two more branches. Given the history of events and the age of the tree I just figured we wouldn’t get much off of the tree and we haven’t. We have been putting off the inevitable replacement of it because it is a big tree and does still provide some shade. Here’s a picture of the ‘doomed’ tree.

Research told me that occasionally fruit trees will just not produce anything or produce a very small crop. This is what happened last year when none of our fruit trees (we have one each of apple, cherry, plum, peach and pear) produced very much. The year before, in 2005, they each produced an amazingly large crop (except the peach tree). Last year I thought I had done something wrong since they didn’t produce (I’m pretty much used to doing something wrong when it comes to gardening since I am such a rookie at it all) but then I learned that many of my neighbors trees went through the same thing. Then I learned that it is just a natural cycle to have an ‘off year’, so I felt better.

This year the cherry tree did not produce as much but I know why that is. It’s because there is a bit of an insect problem with that one that I can’t do anything about until this Fall. We just let the birds have what little fruit it produced.

The apple tree is back to its prolific self and the plum and pear trees are doing really well.

As for the peach tree, my research told me that they need to be thinned very harshly every year. I didn’t thin because I thought the tree wasn’t going to do much anymore so I just wasn’t looking at it closely enough. Actually, I have pretty much ignored the tree until I began to step on the little squishy fruit. And that’s just wrong when you’re bare foot! Yuck!

I found out that you should thin out about 92% of the fruit! I was amazed when I heard this figure. And that if you don’t take enough fruit off then the tree will shed the fruit on its own. This is called ‘June Drop’ and it affects the apple tree as well. I’m used to it with the apple but the pear hasn’t done much since we moved in until now.

The research I read told me that after the peach tree loses this much fruit it will then produce larger peaches. So, I don’t know if that is what is going to happen with this tree or not but I will keep my fingers crossed. There is nothing quite like a fresh juicy peach right out of the tree. I am so looking forward to this.


High altitude gardening

>> Thursday, July 5, 2007

We live at 4,930 feet above sea level. It is hot and dry. Right now, at 8:00 PM the temperature is 90F. There is no wind at all. It is down right eerie.

I usually enjoy sitting out on the back deck listening and watching the bird activity at their feeders and bird bath, but tonight they are very still. With the sprinklers on the birds are usually ‘showering’.

It has become overcast, hazy really, and there is a threat of dry thunderstorms. The kind that creates heat lighting. We get a lot of lighting strikes here in Utah. I don’t know if its because of the altitude or what. I’m originally from Indiana and I remember as a kid watching some spectacular lightning shows. It was beautiful really. I don’t get to see that much anymore. My wife, however, who is from California, does not share my 'fascination' and runs indoors at the first flash. I love to hear the thunder, especially at night when you’re lying in bed drifting off to sleep. It’s an odd comfort.

The temperature today hit 100F again. Most of my plants are doing okay but I have to give them extra water. Some of the plants require some sort of cover to prevent burning. Unfortunately, I have not been as vigilant as I should have been and a few plants show some scorched leaves such as on the Hosta, Liatris, one of the Veronica and the Hydrangea. Since they are all such young plants I fear the scorching may be too much for them. But they may make it in spite of me.

One thing I find interesting about here in Utah is that it is still light out at 9:00 at night. Makes for a big window of opportunity to get gardening work done.

Forecasted high temperature for tomorrow is 103F, so Lemonade in the shade sounds like my forecast.


June update

The Achillea Coronation Gold bloomed about a week ago and finally turned yellow.

The Achillea Angels Breath has had white blooms on it for several weeks.

The Chrysanthemum Shasta Daisy ‘Alaska’ now has three blooms on it with more on the way.

The Coreopsis ‘Early Sunrise’ is blooming like crazy!

Salvia ‘East Friesland’ has been blooming and attracting bees more than any other plant in the garden.

Echinacea ‘Magnus’ is beginning to send up flower buds and should spring open any day now.

The Marigold ‘Petite Orange’ and Antigua Yellow’ finally bloomed this past week.
And the Basil ‘Purple Ruffles’ sent up blooms.

My Liatris ‘Kobold’ is slowly crisping away so I need to figure out something to protect it from the heat.

All of this has my hopes up high that this garden just might make it. It may not be as beautiful as many of those others I have seen on the blogs but I keep telling myself that they had to have started from scratch at sometime too so maybe they can relate to what it was like to have their first flower garden and to watch it finally come into bloom.


Preparing for Fall blooms.

Finally found time to go through the new Park Seed catalog, Fall Planting 2007, today. Boy was that exciting! Now that my garden is beginning to establish, minus the few that did not make it, I now have a better idea of the areas that need to be filled in.

Going through plant catalogs is always a pleasure/pain thing. On the first pass, I let myself pick out all the plants I want whether I have space for them or not and then whittle the list down to a more manageable list and then whittle it down again to something a little more reasonable and again to something I can actually budget for.

I purchased a few shrubs on Monday from Wasatch Shadows Nursery to replace those shrubs that did not make it. I suppose I can place the blame on the heat since it has been so hot lately (maybe no one will question my involvement in their demise) but, deep inside, I know it was more due to my lack of experience in caring for new plants in this hot, dry heat. You see, my experience involves starting vegetables from seed and transplanting them in cooler temperatures.

Anyway, I bought two Spirea, one ‘Little Princess’ (the first photo) and one ‘Neon Flash’. These photos are what they have the potential to become. I can only care for them as best I can and pray to the patron saint of plants that I don't mess these up too.

The above Spirea are replacing the Viburnum ‘Aurora’ (next photo) and the Viburnum ‘Red Wing’ that so ungraciously turned into thin, brown, crispy sticks, may they rest in peace. These photos are what they could have become, I don't have the heart to show photos of what they did become.

I also bought a Buddleia ‘Black Knight’ (Butterfly Bush) to replace one of the two Buddleia that didn’t survive my pruning shears earlier this spring. I planted them last year and they were the only plants in the 260 sq ft bed. Actually, they shared the bed with a bunch of bindweed. They took off and looked so beautiful with all of their deep purple blooming spikes. I was afraid they would over-grow their bounds and had I read that they can be pruned to the ground each spring to control their size and shape. I pruned them way back thinking that since they grew so quickly they would come back in no time. I thought for sure I read the instructions correctly but evidently my inexperience once again sent some plants to an early meeting with the compost pile.

My long range plans for this plot calls for creeping thyme around the stepping stones and since the nursery had some Thyme 'Pink Chintz' on sale I bought a flat. Gotta save money where you can, right? Here is what they look like. They only get 3"-4" tall and when you step on them they emit a fragrance of some sort. Sounds good, anyway.

My wife has been after me to fill in the two beds at the front of the house and I found some Scabiosa Pincushion ‘Blue Giant’ plants on sale. I bought two thinking they would add a little height between the roses and the Dianthus and Pansies.

I was concerned about planting in this heat (especially given my luck) but the nurseryman gave me some instruction on how to help them get established. He said to water them deeply 3 times a day for two days, then skip one day and water them deeply again and then wait a few more days and spread the days between watering until they get watered only when the tops start to droop.

Now the two things I have to worry about most are mis-interpreting a 'droop' and drowning the roots from over-watering.


Variety of Life

>> Sunday, July 1, 2007

There has been an ongoing study related to the disappearance of honeybees through a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.

Susan of Garden Rant brought attention to this plight through her post ‘Honeybees – the Katrina of Entomology’ dated July 1, 2007. Thank-you Susan for keeping this very important issue alive.

In her post she directs us to the Washington Post garden writer Adrian Higgins article entitled ‘Saving the Earth From the Ground Up’ in which Mr. Higgins writes about a ‘bleak world without bugs’.

In this article, Mr. Higgins directs us to another of his articles covering pollinators in general in which he describes some of the many pollinators every garden needs to maintain a healthy garden.

Here is an excerpt from that article that I thought would be helpful in showing the important role that home gardeners play in attracting a wide variety of pollinators:
“As scientists seek to figure out why honeybees, brought here centuries ago by colonists, are missing in action, Laurie Davies Adams wants us to spare a thought for the other pollinators out there. Their ranks include a wide array of native bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, skippers, beetles, hummingbirds and bats.

From San Francisco, Adams directs the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, established in 1999 after a symposium at the National Zoo.

Working in a loose partnership with environmental organizations, scientists, public and corporate land managers and agricultural and horticultural groups, among others, the campaign has succeeded in getting Congress to establish June 24 to June 30 as the first National Pollinator Week.

Adams's group sees home gardeners who are concerned about pollinator decline, as vital helpers in the protection of pollinators. The campaign's Web site,, offers specific tips on encouraging and protecting them.

One strategy is to plant colorful and long-flowering perennials and annuals, and to group them in masses. Among the flowers in my garden that seem to draw all kinds of insect pollinators are goldenrods; any composite, including coneflowers, sunflowers and asters; the eupatoriums, including joe-pye weed, and lots of the stellar annuals now around, including improved strains of petunias and impatiens.

I'm not a huge fan of zinnias or marigolds, but they are pollinator magnets, too. Plants that are members of the carrot family produce domed flowers called umbels that seem to draw a lot of small pollinating bees and other insects. That group would include dill and angelica as well as parsley allowed to bloom. This year, I let some overwintering parsnips go to flower, and their resulting yellow umbels have drawn a lot of interesting little bees, ants and ladybird beetles.

The second important way home gardeners affect pollinators is in their use, or nonuse, of pesticides. Many products are highly toxic to bees, and if you must use them, do so in the correct concentrations and at a time of day when pollinators are not on the wing. Be careful about overspray and windy conditions, especially if your drift may harm your neighbor's garden. If you have a lawn and yard service, educate yourself about the company's sprays, methods and employee training.“

All of us should be mindful of how we use pesticides and whether the small amount of damage our plants receive warrant the use of pesticides. I just read Skippy's Vegetable Garden where Carlton shows in his post titled 'First Chili Pepper' dated July 1, 2007, he doesn’t worry too much about pests, I think this is a very commendable and responsible view of the insect world as it relates to our gardening pleasure.

I think that if there is but one overriding point to what Mr. Higgins makes in his article it’s that gardening is about variety. There should be a variety of insects and plants in every garden.


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