Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Rain Garden Update

I have been extremely busy the last couple of weeks - work, work, get togethers, landlording, and lots of gardening.

In particular, SSB and I have been working on the rain garden. We finally tracked down our contract which was approved two months ago but the DNR guy neglected to give to us. As our neighbor says, "Never trust the government."

What exactly is a rain garden? The idea of a rain garden is to make a place for the water that falls on your property to collect and be used up by plants rather than running into the storm drains. Rain gardens normally use native plants since they are the best adapted to your property's particular conditions. I really liked that idea and took it as a challenge. My plan is to take a garden that can look rather boring

that uses plants that can look rather weedy

both pictures from

and make it appealing to the average homeowner.

We were given a design for the garden which looked very much like the design you see in the first picture above. I'm not too big on all these doughnut or kidney shaped rain gardens. Every rain garden that was on the demonstration list we were given was either doughnut or kidney shaped - OR BOTH! They just end up looking so unnatural and boring; whereas I prefer more natural looking layouts with some excitement. -And spirals, apparently, as the design that I came up with will be the second spiral garden on our property.

This is a "Before". I already started a garden here that I had been expanding over the years. At least 2/3 of the material in the garden needed to be removed (I gave them all new homes).

Here we have begun the lay out. I like to study a site for a while, then just start digging. The site will guide me as to the shape the garden should be. It's more divining than designing.

Most of the rain garden guides that I read mentioned an option for over-flow. They suggested a drain of some kind. I decided that, since the whole purpose of the garden was to keep water from draining off my property into our river, a holding pit made more sense. This pit will house the marshier plants that we purchased. It is the spirally part of the garden.

There is SSB watering the plants that we just purchased and laid out in the design. We purchased small plants so we could afford to get more of them, and they tend to transplant better when they are small. These should fill in nicely in a couple of months.
Here you can see the river idea that I was going for. The basin will be filled in with layers of sand, pea gravel, and progressively larger rocks once the plants are dug in. Right now, the rocks are serving to keep the plant pots from tipping over while we lay them out.

Are you ready for the dramatic Before & After?

Nice change, huh? Some of the plants in this picture were ones left from the original bed. They were either wildflower volunteers (like buttercups, goldenrod and daisies) or they were wildflowers that I had planted there myself. SSB and I did all the design ourselves and we did almost all the work too (the DNR guy helped dig for about an hour one day).

We still have a little more to do, but I think we might reach my goal of having it done by July 4th!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Easy Ligularia

Although I live in the North, my garden is mostly in full, and I mean FULL, sun. Plus, the summers here are generally in the high 80s and 90s with humidity in the same - but not infrequently does it get over 100F! Bleh! And barely any rain makes for a very poor environment to grow ligularia, unless you happen to have a consistently boggy area in your yard, which I do not.

However, I have happened upon what I would describe as no ordinary ligularia - Desdemona.

Desdemona, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

First - the fact that it actually grows!! I have killed so many ligularia; and the ones that I have managed to keep alive before finding this one have required a lot of attention.

Second - it's easy! I barely have to do anything to mine - even in FULL SUN!!

Third - they grow in FULL SUN!! Strike that. They aren't so much "growing" as they are "thriving". Having them in full sun was an accident. This area was originally very shaded, but the shade came from annual sunflowers. I had intended to move the ligularia the following spring, but they never gave me a reason to follow through with that plan. Even in the height of summer they do just fine here in FULL SUN!

Fourth - rarely needs extra watering. Ligularia have gained quite a bit of a reputation for being water hogs; and I have to say that my vote is in the affirmative on that one for every other ligularia that I have grown. But these are no ordinary ligularia! I am watering many of my other regular garden plants due to lack of rain or excessive heat long before I even need to think about the Desdemona - and did I mention that these are in FULL SUN?

Fifth - their height. The oldest plant is already over 3' high this year!

Sixth - the texture they add to the garden. Their leaves are Huge! I was just reading the other day that gardens without variety in leaf size and structure will appear boring.
These are definitely not boring. In fact they really do make all the plants around them look better!

Seventh - the color. The leaves are a spruce green on top and an iridescent raspberry underneath. The dark stems add even more contrast and interest.

Eighth - they flower! And they have nice, big, interesting flowers - and lots of them!

Ninth - the structure and form. It is a very architectural plant that can be used successfully in a formal or cottagey garden.

Tenth - did I mention they were easy?

If some one had never planted a ligularia before, this is THE ONE that I would recommend.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wonderful Wildflowers

When I garden, I don't so much "plan" as "go with the flow". Often the most wonderful things happen when I just let things happen.

As my garden has gotten bigger I have developed the habit of leaving some of the weeds to see what they actually are. Through the years I have been rewarded with lots of fabulous free flowers: violas, columbine, catchfly, hoary vervain, poppies, sunflowers, dame's rocket, lilies, goldenrod, milkweed, asters, veronica, rudbeckia hirta, pennycress, Virginia waterleaf, downy yellow violet, Solomon's seal, buttercups, winter cress, tansy, evening primrose, rose twisted-stalk, ground cherry, geranium, wild strawberry, white campion, and lots & lots of oxeye daisies - the current backbone of my garden!

But the one that I get the most people asking me about is my mullein. It is a biennial that looks like a velvet loose-leaf cabbage in its first year - very nice for the front of the border. In the second year, the plant elongates to 6 feet tall at times! Time for the back of the border at that height; and even if you move it in that second year, it blooms just fine.

It's a member of the snapdragon family that looks more closely related to lamb's ear or cacti. In fact, part of the reason that I personally love this plant is that, as it "ripens" after flowering, it reminds me of a saguaro cactus - well a soft, fuzzy version anyway.

They dependably start up around the garden every year and are fairly easy to move. I loved the way that these were bunching here in my prairie garden, so I moved a few more here.

Just when I thought they were looking fabulous themselves, the peony bloomed. I love the white pompons behind the silvery, fuzzy foliage of the mullein. What a happy accident!

Mullein are EASY to take care of. After you get them re-established after transplant they should NEVER need anymore care - no water, no food, no fuss. Nice.

Some of these mullein are already three feet high, but don't worry - behind them is Queen-of-the-Prairie which also gets up to 6' tall. And behind that are my compass plants which can get 7' tall!!

I will be planting winter cress among the mullein this year as I find them in my veggie beds. They have beautifully full tufts of yellow in mid-spring.

In front of them I have seeded pennycress that I collected from the patch that started itself there the last three years. This is a great little annual from start to finish. Nice form, pretty flower, interesting seed pods, and great ripening color. It also blooms right before the winter cress, so there should be continual color in this bed.

Don't have a prairie garden? Don't worry, I think they work well in the average, well kempt garden too!
The mullein are impressive at all stages, even in death. They create stately bird feeders throughout the fall and winter months- goldfinches and woodpeckers especially love the seed.

Mulleins have encouraged me to continue to let the weeds grow. Who knows what gem I will find next!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Vexing Vines

I decided that no matter what I was going to get the clematis planted this last weekend, which meant that I had to finish leveling the gazebo. It was difficult since it has been raining almost everyday for a week, but I got it done Saturday morning.

When I brought the clematis out to plant, the Comtesse de Bouchard all had some sort of fungus, even though the Blue Ravine right next to them were unscathed. I went to the nursery to ask if they had a fungicide I could use on them and they told me to bring them in for an exchange instead. I know you are going to say that was nice of them but actually they were quite snotty about it even though I never asked them to do it. They only had two though, so I got a refund for the third.

I have never bought a potted vine with a mini trellis before. I seriously suggest that they include instructions with these things! I started with the Comtesse since I really wanted to get them planted to avoid the fungus problem. I nearly destroyed one and did destroy the other trying to get the damn trellis unhooked from the pot so I could get the plant out. My suggestion with this set up is to cut the pot to release the trellis hooks from the bottom, take the plant and trellis out together, plant the vine, and if you want to remove the trellis - clip the vine free with sharp mini pruners. Oh, and you'll probably want a second person to help hold things. It was a nightmare.

Just as two years ago when I knocked a hibiscus shoot off the plant, I quickly acted to make cuttings. I have 6 of them and I tried all three ways that I read about. Something HAS to take, right? We'll see.

The oak I transplanted on Mother's Day is still alive. It looks like we will be losing the very top two branches, but everything else is looking pretty good. I figure that since it is three weeks in, that tree just might make it. Yay!

The pear that I transplanted this spring didn't even seem to notice that it had been moved. It never wilted at all, bloomed profusely, and is now covered by about three dozen pears! It had over four dozen, but I clipped off over a dozen of the smallest pears to keep the tree from over-working itself. This tree is only a few years old and barely taller than I am and was recently transplanted but still manages to crank out dozens of fruit - what a trooper!

My Tiffany tea rose made it another year. See my pretty toes?

Here is the rodgersia flower in full bloom. Not bad, huh? This will look really nice when there are a bunch of them blooming at once.

I Was Right!

Two years ago I was trying to identify a lily that I had. I scoured through all the lily indexes I have in my sidebar and finally guessed it to be "America" - I was right! I just found the tag for it Saturday. Yay!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Late Start, Early Start

I finally got my veggie/herb garden seeds from Jung that I ordered about a three weeks ago. How long does it take to put a dozen seed envelopes in a box?
Normally this wouldn't be a problem since I generally don't start planting my veggies until a week or two after Memorial Day - but this year I got a jump start (for me anyway) and had started planting two weeks ago. I had already replaced much of what I had ordered with other seeds, so...

I will be making ANOTHER veggie garden bed to house the items that I just got from Jung. I needed an additional bed anyway. I can cram a lot of veggies in a 4x16 bed, but I want to grow more squash and herbs.

The seeds I purchased:
  • Pumpkin "Early Sweet Sugar Pie" (which I already replaced with "Triple Treat"; a fabulous pumpkin that I had grown one other year and made the best pies with and what I had really wanted anyway)
  • Snow pea "Mammoth Melting Sugar"
  • Edible pod pea "Sugar Daddy" (which I have already replaced with "Sugar Snap" left over from last year)
  • Garden pea "British Wonder"
  • Filet bean "Maxibel"
  • Kale "Blue Curled Vates"
  • Broccoli "Packman Hybrid"
  • Lettuce "Baby Star" (which I already replaced with "Buttercrunch")
  • Salad greens "Jung's Gourmet Mesclun Mix" (I have grown this before and my family and the groundhog highly approved)
  • Pepper "Cherry Bomb Hybrid" and "Margaret's"
  • Spinach "Bloomsdale Long Standing" (which I discovered later I already had seeds!)
  • Carrot "Sweetness III Hybrid" (which I have already replaced with "Gold Mine" and "Nantes Scarlet"
  • Basil "Mammoth Napoletano" and sweet basil "Italian Large Leaf" (both of which I already replaced with what I had really wanted anyway "Genovese")
I also get left overs from my neighbors every year (packs of 6 when they only need 4 plants - I get 2! I love free plants!) . This year so far I have three different kinds of tomatoes, an eggplant, and two sweet peppers. The eggplant and peppers I planted in the flower garden since I had run out of space in my veggie garden and haven't finished the new bed yet. They will look nice and help fill in some space. I am thinking about starting a few more veggies in the flower garden, I have all this extra space in there, and having something growing in it should keep me from buying more plants!

Well, we'll see anyway.