Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

some of my ideas DO work – will be adding to the trellis fencing this fall – grow more ivy

I was wrong. Okay everyone? Happy now?? ๐Ÿ™‚ I admitted it. You were all right and I was wrong. But my idea wasn’t wrong – it was my implementation. ๐Ÿ™‚

burlap walkway – first iteration – loooking towards the street

I HATE that black weed block. In my initial days of homeownership, before I spent hours and hours planting flowers and herbs, I hired landscapers. We’d built a deck, and I wanted to safety-proof it for our new-born son. The service put down weed block and then a very thick layer of mulch all around the deck. For years we would add a fresh layer if the mulch bed was wearing down. That probably helped to kill our cherry tree – suffocating the root system.

current view along the back of the deck, w/ compost bins where once there was a cherry tree

Time goes by, children grow up, hobbies change, views from the house change, and ultimately, as I’ve recorded here, the time came to “do something” with the back yard. With the kitchen renovation I saw the backyard every day. The window had always been there, but I used to sit with my back to it, not sideways to the view. Now I see the back yard all the time. I began working my way from my viewpoint around the back to the compost bins and then this year to the side strip between the deck and my neighbors’ fence.

stage one looking from the street end to the back property line, with my blue hydrangea (and neighbor’s grass clippings)

That strip gets very little sun, but all the rain that everyone else gets. We don’t usually walk there except to get to prune the ivy growing up the deck privacy screens or to get to the water spigot on that side of the house. All of this means that that side of the house tends to be nothing but weeds. I wouldn’t mind too much if the weeds were mowed, but that wasn’t getting done either. I decided to make a path. I wanted it to be ‘green’ – it should be permeable and it should NOT have that hated black weed blocker that lasts for generation after generation, and should you decide you WANT to plant, you need a machete to cut the weed blocker to get to soil. I wanted a semi-temporary solution until I figured out what should be done as a permanent solution.

3rd iteration – adding bricks to block mulch run-off

First I weed-whacked all the weeds as low as I could get them. I pruned the weeds and the garbage out from the base of the ivy. Next I covered that area with fine burlap. I know that weeds CAN grow through burlap, but I’d picked a very fine mesh and I was hoping for slowing the growth, not obliterating the growth. I put down stepping stones so that we could use that path even after rain when the ground would be muddy. I put down mulch at the base of the plants to help slow weed growth and make it more attractive. I noticed that the mulch was higher than the other side of the path, which meant a heavy rain could wash the mulch right across the path into the fence. I put down bricks on the burlap to line the mulch and hold it back. It looked VERY nice, in my opinion.

penultimate iteration – lots of stepping stones, bricks mulch, no mud (see the low spot up there?)

My family complained that the stones were too far apart for a comfortable walk. I’d been thinking of a ‘working stride’ not a “stroll” so my initial spacing worked for that. They also pointed out that weeds could/would grow throw the burlap but I demonstrated how easy it now was for me to pluck the few daring plants. They were unimpressed. I went and bought more stones and made a comfortable path. The the rains came. With the rains came faster more abundant growth, and much more humidity. Perhaps I’d have weeded better without the humidity, maybe it would have always been too much, too fast.

weeds thru the burlap, up close and personal

I’m going to try one more “patch” this year and then let it go. The path is 54″ wide. I ordered a roll of fine mesh window screen material – 100′ x 60″. I’m going to pick up the stones, roll out the screen, put back the stones. If this does not sufficiently slow the weeds to a point where I can battle them successfully, I’ll admit complete defeat. Next year I’ll call in a landscape service. ๐Ÿ™‚

Maybe I should just get goats

Why We Weed

weeded backyard
After cleanup

I spend a lot of time in my breakfast room at my table. As I’ve mentioned before, that has spurred me to start shedding some love on the back yard. I shared pictures of what I’ve done, but those pictures showed all the weeds and mess. Check out how great it looks now that I went out there and weeded and cleaned!!! I still have more work to do in the part behind the deck, and out of sight of this photo. There is still so much weeding to be done in the driveway as well. But for the moment I’m resting on my laurels and enjoying the view!

Fall Garden Excitement

black swallowtail
Black Swallowtail butterfly

I have mentioned that I did not think I had ever seen a hummingbird until I saw one in June in Phoenix. My next-door-neighbor had a humming bird feeder and she saw them. My husband said that he had seen one in our yard once also (years ago). Other folks in town have said that they have hummingbirds. I have now seen one with my OWN EYES in MY garden!!!! I am SO EXCITED!!!!!!

False Starwort Bolton's Aster
zinnias, false starwort, canna lily all still in bloom

I was chatting with a neighbor. He is always threatening to steal my Rudbeckia Laciniata Hortensia (my big gorgeous yellow flowers). One year I gave him seeds from the flowers. I believe one year I even dug up a plant and gave it to him. He has not had any luck growing them. This year I gave him the botanical name AND the name of the place from where I get a few new plants each year (Heritage Flower Farm in Wisconsin). As we were chatting – that’s when I saw MY hummingbird! It was wonderful. It checked out the big canna lilies and flew away. My neighbor said that is where he sees them as well – feeding on his cannas. You KNOW next year I’m going to plant a FIELD of canna lilies!!!!
brown butterfly or moth

I never did anything about harvesting the seeds from the scarlet milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). I’m not sure the pod is even still there. I don’t think I have them in a very good spot. I may get some more for next year and put them elsewhere – maybe in front of the porch. The false starwort (Bolton’s Aster) is doing fantastic! It is indeed putting forth dozens of little white flowers. I don’t know if that’s a moth or a butterfly enjoying them. It flitted too much for me to get a sufficiently clear photo so that I could search on it. The black swallowtail was back as well. I think it might be a female. I have such a clear picture of it now but I can’t tell if the difference between the male and female on the web site is because they happen to have slightly different markings by the tail end, or if those different markings are how you tell male from female. I think this one looks more like the picture of the female black swallowtail

Not a weed
Those are DEFINITELY going to be flowers, not more leaves

The big bushy weed thing that was growing behind the zinnias and next to the cosmos – it’s not a weed!!!! Look – it has little flower buds on it! I can’t wait to see what comes up. I KNOW I have pulled that plant out in the past thinking it a weed. There is something growing out from under the yellow peony that I’m sure is a weed. But it, too, seems to have flowers so it gets to stay. The only flowering thing I pull is my goldenrod. The goldenrod would take over the entire yard if I let it. Its runners are extremely aggressive. ๐Ÿ™‚ Even pulling out easily a dozen runners this spring, I will still have a nice crop.

flowering weed
hey – if it flowers, it can stay

Among my many “let’s just try it” this year was an attempt to grow cucumbers. I love cucumbers. I gave my niece my Mexican cucumber plant for last year, and thought maybe I’d see if I could get real cukes this year. As you can see from the picture, it does not appear that I succeeded. I probably did not give it enough light, and maybe it needed friends to pollinate properly. It does seem as if it’s TRYING to make a cucumber. We’ll give it more time and see what develops. Maybe I should tell it that it is a WEED and it would be more productive?

supposed to be a cucumber
Half a cucumber?

It’s NOT a Weed!!!!

false starwort with canna lily
Boltonia Asteroides False Starwort

It’s my Boltonia Asteroides – False Starwort! Apparently it blooms in August and September and can grow to 4-5 feet tall. YES!!! The article in Backyard Gardener.com goes on to say that “The Boltonias, because of their great height, are highly desirable in large perennial borders because the plants literally bear thousands of star-like flowers.” I’m so relieved. I KNEW I’d planted something there deliberately. I must have switched my markers when I was planting. Either that or I have been misremembering which plant grew tall. ๐Ÿ™‚ I do like tall flowers.

false starwort
Flowering False Starwort

On the other hand, I’m fairly certain that I DO have a weed that has been trying to pass itself off as a cosmos. It is growing where I planted the cosmos. I thought it was a wonderfully healthy cosmos. Then I realized that it was too hairy and too thick to be a cosmos. I’ve seen this imposter before – it’s a weed. ๐Ÿ™‚ It doesn’t flower. On the other hand, I rather like its hairy leaves. It gets to stay even though it has no flowers. But NEXT year I’ll pull it if I recognize it in time.

cosmos imposter
The Imposter – It’s NEVER going to flower! But it is hairy!

The grape tomatoes are coming in! I lost the first crop to some hungry predator a few weeks ago when I did not spray stinky repel-all quickly and abundantly. I was determined that *I* would get to eat THIS batch. And I did. And they were yummy. ๐Ÿ™‚ I didn’t share at all.
grape tomatoes

I had a new butterfly today as well – the Common Buckeye. It was much less skittish than the Painted Lady the other day. I could step nearer while it was on the flowers and it didn’t dart away. The black swallowtail was back later in the afternoon as well. We’re all enjoying the not weeds. ๐Ÿ™‚

common buckeye butterfly
Common Buckeye butterfly enjoying the flowering mint

End of Season Browns

IMG_9055This happens every year. I cannot WAIT to get into my garden in the spring. Cleaning, pruning, preparing, digging in the dirt – it’s a siren song. Then comes buying the plants, arranging, planting, potting, admiring, dead-heading – the joy of seeing the blooms and produce. Then comes summer and it’s hot, hot, hot and the rain doesn’t fall on the hanging baskets. It either is a drought and all the plants need water daily or it’s constant rain (like this year) and the weeds emerge and conquer. IMG_9053The spring flowers are past their time, the fall flowers are battling the weeds, the summer flowers are fading and being punished by the incessant deluge from the heavens. That’s the time when I say “I’m really done with gardening for the year.” That time is now.

Most of my wonderful 3 ft tall daisies are brown. The spider worts are done. The rain has beat down the rudbeckia and the giant cosmos. Some careless weed-whacker (ahem) took down some of the dahlias. The dill is done, the cilantro is cooked, the tomatoes never took, and the weeds wander at will. ๐Ÿ™‚ Couldn’t resist that last sentence. The hanging baskets still show a pretty face to the passersby, but all WE get to see is dying brownness.

IMG_9062I did finally weed-whack the driveway and the back yard. I probably whacked some of my ivy too, by mistake (just like the dahlia), because the day I was whacking, it must have been the most humid day ever without actually raining. I know it was real-feel over 100F. And of course the weeds are flaunting their wretched little heads again. My husband razed the lawn because we are both so tired of it and our young helper abandoned our neighborhood for a better paying job. I have not yet coerced my new teenage next-door neighbor into being responsible for our lawn and walks.

IMG_9054I want to take my shears and clip all of the herbs down, down, down. The willow needs major pruning as it appears to be staking a claim on the driveway. The contractors’ trucks do battle with the willow weekly but that is one determined bush. I need to get someone to help me wrestle the rhododendron down and back a few feet. Ditto the forsythia. I have no idea what is happening in the far corner back by the water spigot and the deck. There is some weed that is about 6 feet tall now. I could reach it through the dining room window if I were not afraid it might turn me into a pod person. I’m hoping it dies in the winter because otherwise we may need a flame-thrower to battle it. That might be awkward as it IS against both the (wood) house and the (wood) deck.

IMG_9058There are still a few blooms of joy in the garden. Nothing can diminish my joy in my tropicanna canna lilies, the remaining rudbeckia laciniata hortensia (best flower ever) and the mandevilla. There are dahlias fighting the brave fight as well, and a few remaining daisies. The hibiscus has been disappointing all year – even the deer were so uninterested in it that they have done less damage than expected. But it has put out a few more blooms this week as well, encouraging me to garden on. I propped up the cosmos (as well as broke off a major stalk) so they are feeling a bit more up. *grin* The goldenrod is well over 4 ft now, which means it should have a wonderful fall bloom. Of course, most of us are allergic to the goldenrod pollen, but what price beauty, right?
IMG_9057

The Best Flower

goose neck and rudbeckia (1)Many many years ago my friend Ulrike dug up a bunch of flowers from her wonderful wild garden and gave them to me. Two big garbage bags filled with enormous root balls. There were 2 different flowers in there – a yellow, sunflower-like thing and a white curvy thing that she called goose-neck. Both plants flourished in my front garden for many years. I discovered the white thing is indeed “gooseneck” or Lysimachia clethroides. It’s very hardy and is indeed aggressive and has spread along the driveway as well as taking over a good portion of the first bed. (Hey Debbie – I should give you some of these, too!)

rudbeckiaI LOVE the yellow things. A few years ago, however, they began to fade, perhaps because the gooseneck was choking them. I had them in 2 different beds so I still had plenty of them, but I was getting worried. My friend, who lived next door to my mother, had died and her house was on the market. She lived next door to my mother so one day I went over, found an inconspicuous spot, and dug up another 2 root balls. Yes, I know that was “wrong”. You know what was REALLY wrong? The realtor in charge of selling that house leveled that gorgeous garden, tore down the bushes, the flowers, the wild beauty of the back yard. Don’t lecture ME on ‘wrong’. The stolen goods emigrated successfully. I knew Rike would be thrilled that her garden lived on.

But I was growing worried. What WERE these flowers? My dog-walking neighbor loved them as well and always teased/threatened to come over and dig them up for his garden. I began searching online to find a match. It’s hard to search when all you have is “tall, yellow flowers”. I tried sunflowers. I tried tall yellow flowers. I tried 5 ft yellow flowers. Finally I found something that I thought was it in one of the seed catalogs and I ordered the seeds. The seeds DID thrive and they came up alongside my yellow things. BUT…. the leaves were the same, but the flowers were not. This is because I WAS close, but I’d found the single blossom version of Rudbeckia Laciniata instead of the double-blossom. Nice, but really not good enough.

weed and rudbeckiaI continued searching and searching. One day I stumbled across a blog or a post or something somewhere talking about very tall yellow outhouse flowers (that wasn’t the exact wording that they used, however). When I looked at the photo, there were MY flowers!!! There’s probably a joke in there somewhere about my taste is in the outhouse or something. ๐Ÿ™‚ They are called Rudbeckia Laciniata Hortensia. Next I had to find the plants online. For some reason I kept ending up with seeds when I wanted plants.

weedI called our local radio station garden show and explained my problem – I needed outhouse flowers and did not know where to get them. Peggy immediately found a website selling the plants: Heritage Flower Farm. I went online that very day and ordered plants. I’d never ordered plants through the mail before and had no idea how it worked, how the plants traveled, etc. I ended up emailing with the owner, Betty Adelman, who was wonderfully supportive, informative and encouraging. The flowers arrived healthy and as described and all of them grew up last spring.

bare groundThis spring I ordered 6 more Rudbeckia Laciniata Hortensia (along with many other plants). I planted them in the front with their brethren. I watched them take hold, begin to grow. I cheered them on. The the rains came. And came. And came. People drove arks to and fro. The flora LOVED it and everything grew green and tall and thick. I was thrilled. Until just a few days ago when my sister said to me “I’m confused. You’re always talking about your yellow flowers, but I have the same thing and when I showed it to my neighbor she said it was a weed.” I guess some might call RLH a weed but I took a closer look at what was growing. Imagine my horror when I realized that with all that rain, weeds that looked remarkably LIKE RLH but were, in fact, flowerless weeds had taken over the bed. Although the leaves are similar, the stalk is very different. I yanked them all out, tossing them into the street to be run over by cars and trucks. Take THAT! I carefully uncovered what remained of my RLH but several of the new plants had been choked out.

heritage farms home pageThis is where dealing with someone as wonderful as Betty at Heritage Flower Farm pays off and brightens an otherwise cloudy day. I wrote to Betty asking if I could still get some RLH even though it’s now late in the season, and sent her pictures of the weed. She wrote back that she would send me some plants. I wrote again to ask if she needed me to send my credit card information. And she wrote back saying: “Weโ€™ll send you another one this week. We will cut back the leaves because it will help it recover from being dug after the record breaking heat weโ€™ve had. Once they get going they are vigorous and weeds may grow near them but will not choke them out. … youโ€™re not paying for this one.” That is kindness and generosity. I can’t WAIT for them to arrive and – trust me – I will guard them against the evil weed. This proves yet again that some of the best people I have ever met are people that I meet virtually. I’m not the only person who thinks Heritage Flower Farm is great – the National Wildlife Federation has honored them for their Certified Wildlife Habitat. So if you need flowers, or you want gardening tips and information, or you want some Rudbeckia Laciniata Hortensia for yourself, do yourself a huge favor and contact Betty Adelman and Heritage Flower Farm – Yesterday’s Flowers for Today’s Gardens.