Monday, June 29, 2009

"Long about knee-deep in June, 'bout the time strewberries melt on the vine." ~ James Witcomb Riley

This week my favorite color is melon.

I absolutely love these Asiatic lilies. They bloom for a relatively short time but they will always have a spot in my garden. Almost the same color, maybe a little lighter than melon is the rose Golden Unicorn.

Golden Unicorn is a Griffin Buck rose developed at the University of Iowa especially for the prairie states with our extremes of temperature. It has to be one of my very favorite roses. A heavy bloomer, not especially prone to blackspot, and a compact, upright plant that doesn't exceed 30-inches in my garden. Golden Unicorn fades to a pleasing buff shade as it ages.

Geranium sanguineum Max Frei, deep magenta pink, cup shaped flowers in late spring/early summer, then sporadically throughout the season. This is the geranium for everyone who doesn't like Rozanne's lazy, relaxed ways. This plant never sprawls, it forms a neat and tidy rounded clump and and it maintains it all season. Mine is five years old and less than a foot tall 18-inches wide. Admittedly it has stiff competition from the lilac roots so it might be a little larger in another spot.

Sweet William purchased a couple years ago and now reseeding here and there. This stays very low growing, under 12- inches and compact. Between my heavy mulch and my compulsive weeding, seedlings don't stand much of a chance. I need to be more careful in areas where I want annuals and biennials to return and increase.

A large clump of screaming red Asiatics. My pastel flowers fade into the background when these lilies and the Stellas are in bloom.

"I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June. ~ L. M. Montgomery

Lots of people don't like lamb's ear, especially when it blooms. I love it. The combination of furry leaves and lovely pink flowers looks perfect among my roses. Unfortunately when the weather gets hot and dry it melts out and requires a good deal of clean up. If I can manage to cut it back before it begins to go to seed, it does much better. Large patches of it are tedious to maintain but that soft silver is worth the trouble. Lately I found that lamb's ear does quite well in open shade, however it doesn't bloom there.

Today, last but far from least, I'm doing the 'Tomato Dance'. German Johnson has several nice fruit pretty close to ripening. I know, sometimes green tomatoes will sit there forever, not growing and not ripening. I just have a feeling...soon. The first tomato of the season is a perfect moment to be savored;)

This year I didn't plant a large variety of tomatoes:
Five Kellog's Breakfast, because friends told me it was 'the best'.
One German Johnson.
One Mortgage Lifter.
One Black Krim, one of my favorites and a lovely pinkish purple color.
One Super Sweet 100 a red cherry tomato.
One Mr Stripey, which I later heard tastes awful;)
One Celebration, not an heirloom but an early variety.
I searched all over for Sweet Million, the sweetest tomato I've ever eaten. I suppose it will require a drive into the Chicago suburbs to find them. That will have to wait for next year. I'm just grateful that our local greenhouses have finally started selling a few heirlooms.

This year I didn't include any Brandywines or Cherokee Purples. Both are delicious, especailly the Cherokees but neither is a heavy producer. I'll probably regret not planting any Cherokees.

Anyone new to heirloom tomatoes be warned. The shapes are often irregular and many varieties tend to crack across the top. Those perfect orange orbs are only to be found in the new hybrids. The hybrids also tend to be more disease resistant, but alas they have no taste.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.
No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them.
~ Aldo Leopold

June is the time of abundance in the flower garden. So much bloom all at once it's difficult to appreciate each new flower. The roses, lilies, salvia, not to mention the annuals are all covered in billowing masses of color. The best any of us can do is pay tribute to the all too brief display of a few of our favorites.

David Austin's flamboyant masterpiece Pat Austin. A departure from his pale pinks and buttery yellows.

Salvia nemorosa 'Marcus' is a small salvia remaining under a foot tall. The clumps are compact and don't sprawl like May Night and Caradonna. In my garden I've used this excellent option for tight spots between plants that benefit from some all season color. It does well in my clay soil and withstands our drought periods.

I fell in love with the colors of this pelargonium 'Elegance Purple Majesty' Masses of lovely blooms all summer long. Of course there's a downside--constant deadheading. I'd have to say it's worth the extra trouble.

Meidiland Magic is often described as a ground cover rose. The idea of using roses as a ground cover strikes me as a painful choice. There is no way to prevent all weeds from growing up in any ground cover. It seems to me that weeding an expanse of tightly compressed roses would be a very uncomfortable experience.

Magic is a good choice for pegging or it can be used as a climber. Roses that are pegged (keeping the canes horizontal rather than vertical) produce more bloom. I've experimented on this rose trying to recreate some of the beautiful sculptures the British create by pegging canes in a pattern. Sadly, I haven't mastered the art;)

In my garden Magic blooms all summer. The flowers are small and produced in clusters of six or more in an eye catching electric pink.

Phlox paniculata is becoming an obsession with me. Two years ago I stumbled upon an absolutely perfect phlox, one of the Volcano series. Constant bloom attracted tiger swallowtails in droves all season long. No disease, no pests, very compact requiring no staking. If I could find any of the Volcano phlox I'd happily buy a hundred in various colors. Where are they? I haven't been able to locate any since that original purchase.

This year I've added a dozen 'non-Volcano' phlox hoping to find one or more that perform almost as well. The one above was labeled 'Blue Paradise' (not sure the name is correct) under a foot tall. It began blooming very early in June and continues with no sign of quitting. We will see how disease resistant it proves to be.

I'm going to try to maintain a regular schedule of posting, at least thru the summer months. Mondays and Thursdays hopefully I will have something to say. I know it is sometimes difficult when bloggers post irregularly. My blog list updates me when my favorites post new subjects but if you don't use a blog list, it can be hard checking in frequently looking for updates.

A non garden related news note: Some of you may have seen this on CNN. We had a train derailment in Rockford a couple days ago. Not normally something I would blog about but this accident happened to take place directly behind the building where I work. One woman was killed, several others were badly burned. All the victims were waiting in their cars at the railroad crossing.

The train was hauling tanker cars full of ethanol which exploded when the cars left the track. We were fortunate that our building is set back a couple hundred yards from the tracks.

(Rockford Register Star Photos.)

The news media is consumed with the telling and retelling. They have progressed from 'what happened' to 'why did it happen' and are now concentrating on 'who's fault is it'.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

If you believe in magic

As for the elves, having sought them in vain among foxglove leaves and bells, under mushrooms and beneath the ground-ivy mantling wall nooks, I had at length made up my mind to the sad truth, that they were all gone out of England to some savage country where the woods were wilder and thicker, and the population more scant.
~ Charlotte Bronte (from Jane Eyre)

There is something mysterious and otherworldly about foxgloves. It isn't too hard to imagine the faerie folk might just materialize in these photos. You can almost make out their shadows in the twilight gloom beyond the trees at the bottom of the garden. Listen carefully and you can hear the tinkling of tiny bells.

Most of us have a 'bottom of the garden' . A spot not as well manicured, perhaps a little wild and overgrown. In these spots the faeries live and wait for the human folk to sleep. On moonlit nights, they dance and sing and ring their bells. If perchance you should meet a stranger in your garden, a wizened old woman or a beautiful child, do be pleasant and kind for this stranger may be a faerie in disguise. It is never a good thing to anger the magic ones.

Afar from our lawn and our levee,
O sister of sorrowful gaze!
Where the roses in scarlet are heavy
And dream of the end of their days,
You move in another dominion
And hang o'er the historied stone:
Unpruned in your beautiful pinion
Who wander and whisper alone.

~ Author unknown

Where? Where are the fairies?
Where can we find them?
We've seen the fairy rings
They leave behind them!
When they have danced all night,
Where do they go?
Lark, in the sky above,
Say, do you know?
Is it a secret no one is telling?
Why, in your garden
Surely they're dwelling!
No need for journeying,
Seeking afar:
Where there are flowers,
There fairies are!

~ Author Unknown

Foxglove is steeped in superstition and myth. Faeries gave magical gloves to foxes to make them silent hunters and to help them escape death at the hands of angry farmers who's chickens they killed . The fay folk wear them to enhance their own magical spells and charms.

In your garden, foxgloves will lean toward a supernatural presence or spirit. This, of course, is a very helpful tool that will allow you to locate unseen beings lurking among the lilies and the roses;)

Foxgloves will prevent those pesky faeries from stealing your children. Child stealing is something faeries are always trying to do.

Of course you must never bring foxgloves into your home. Very potent bad luck. In addition the wee people don't appreciate damage to their plant and will seek revenge. Foxgloves do bring good luck to other plants growing near them. The magical strength of the foxglove is shared with surrounding plants. If neighboring plants are crops, fruits or vegetables they will store well when harvested.

Have a magical week, everyone.


Nepeta deserves a post all its own. There isn't a harder working plant in my garden. It performs in heavy clay and in the gravel garden in horrible, dry conditions. I don't divide it often so some of my clumps are almost 4 feet in width but it's easy to shear back if it gets out of bounds. It self seeds a little in my garden. I have clumps between the stones in my wall which is very attractive. Self seeding isn't a problem and I actually wish it would seed more. Nepeta smothers any weeds that come within its reach so it makes my life a lot easier.

It begins blooming about mid-spring and continues all summer, all the while alive with bees and cabbage butterflies. A perfect plant for concealing the ugly feet of rose bushes, hiding the remains of spring bulbs or cascading over walls. I wouldn't be without its pools of hazy blue in my gardens.

The photos below are Walkers Low.

I can identify with Donna Carroll Batton, the author of this cute poem.

That Time Again

The floors need scrubbing, waxing too
This quick, once-over, just won't do

Quickly rushed through wash and dry
The ironing is piled high

The dinner's late, half-cooked again
I haven't baked since who knows when

The dust is gathering 'neath the bed
And cobwebs dangle overhead

By now you think I'm one, big flop
Among the ranks of pail and mop

But this just happens once a year
When garden planting time is here

Monday, June 15, 2009

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning,

a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.

More peony photos. I'm soaking up the essence of peony like plants soak up the rain. All too soon they will be gone for another year.

These are all Shirley Temple. It's amazing how much they've grown in two years. Each bush must have at least twenty huge blooms.

This is double greater celandine (not a celandine poppy which is similar). It is just finishing up a month of bloom. Considered invasive in some areas of the US it was introduced from Europe in the 1600's by settlers.

The Siberian iris have performed wonderfully this spring. They increase rapidly if given lose, organic soil. I have three huge patches that needed to be divided in early April. Unfortunately that didn't get done and they are becoming a serious threat to their neighbors. Usually they have a brief bloom period but this year the cool weather has kept them fresh for almost a month. Very unusual.

I enjoy heucheras although I don't have a big collection. This one was sold as Stormy Seas. So many look exactly like this one but have different names.

Wildlife Rumors by Miss B

Well, we have another scandal brewing in our little community. It has recently been discovered that Mr Wren is leading a double life. What does that mean, you ask. Well, he has two homes, two wives, and two families.

Each wife claims not to know about the other but they can clearly see both homes from their own front doors.

In this photo he sits upon a shepherds crook an equal distance from each home and serenades his families. He seems to be totally unconcerned about criticism being whispered behind his back.

"Who is helping to care for all those children?" Mrs Chickadee is quoted as saying. "He just sits around and sings all day."

Other resident birds are scandalized. They are all monogamous until the fall comes at which time they dump the old spouse and head for good times somewhere south.

"He is a very bad example for us all and especially his sons." Mrs Cardinal confided to me.

I will be back with late breaking news as it occurs. You know you can count on me, Miss B, to have the best gossip anywhere.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rainbows apologize for angry skies. ~ Sylvia Voirol

I've always been a 100% non-conformist. I've always hated to travel and still do. Never learned to drive a car because I didn't want to go anywhere. I have never paid the slightest attention to etiquette, but didn't know I was "out of step" until I got married ... and my husband pointed it out to me. He enjoyed it.
~ Ruth Stout

I would have liked to have met Ruth Stout. A woman before her time. She was sister to the famous author, Rex Stout, who often commented she must be insane. In her younger years, Ruth claimed to have demolished a few saloons with her friend Carrie Nation. A generation after her death, we are still building on her no-till, no-dig gardening techniques. Ruth did things her way with very little help from the men in her life. She wrote books, helped other gardeners, and was considered a genuine eccentric. Rumors abound that Ruth gardened in the nude so it was best not to just drop in on her unannounced;) She lived a full and healthy life and gardened well into her nineties.


I still have a pot ghetto, a sorry little community of miss matched nursery pots containing plants that should have long since found a home in the ground. Ornamental grasses, zinnias, petunias, a bronze fennel and a Jim Crockett boltonia.

These lovelies will be so root bound they won't know what to do when they are finally set free in the garden.

And then there are the seedlings I sowed. Many are wondering if they are destined to live and die in little plastic cups. This weekend I'm determined to get every last plant into the ground.

I'm very proud of these foxgloves. They don't naturally thrive in my area but a few have been pampered and babied along and are blooming again this spring. Not very tall but pretty never the less. I am finally giving up my vision of masses of five foot tall stalks in various pastel colors. A couple three foot stalks with pink and white gloves is what I'm lucky to have.

Tall by the cherry tree the foxgloves stand
pale in their purpleness, their long bells sweet
and profligate. Each one of them could fit
a lady's narrow, faithless, foxy hand.

~ Alison Prince

The yellow cosmos I sowed from seed didn't do well so I found some already started pinks at a local greenhouse. This is the first year for cosmos in my garden. It won't be the last. They are so cheerful and pretty they will definitely be a regular here. These are only a little over a foot tall.

This little sedum has lived in a plant saucer for several years. It doesn't require much soil or water. Sedums are so easy to start from cuttings. The saucer was about half full of hens and chicks when I stuck a few cutting of this variegated variety into the dirt and left them to root.

Peonies are awaited with much anticipation every spring. If for some reason I could only have five flowers, this would be one. This is the first bloom of the season. Huge, chaotic masses of petals with wonderful fragrance. The bloom time is so short no one could possibly become bored with them.

I love the doubles and the 'bombs' (I suppose they are so named because they look like a bomb went off in a flower petal factory;) No such thing as too many petals or too many ruffles.

The two above were growing on the farm when I moved here. The farmers before me didn't give up much soil to non-revenue producing items. 'Just pretty' wasn't reason enough to grow flowers or shrubs. Peonies were the only exception they made.

Below is one of the two Shirley Temples I added two years ago. They have grown quickly from a few bare root eyes into two large bushes covered in buds.

Another unknown purchased a year ago. The tag said 'red peony'. My camera doesn't do well with reds. This peony is a lovely scarlet.

Monday, June 8, 2009

I love spring anywhere, but if I could choose I would always greet it in a garden. ~ Ruth Stout

OH, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
~ Robert Frost

When spring finally arrives in the north, plants explode with blooms. They know how short our season is and they have a lot to accomplish before another long winter sleep.

Allium karataviens is still blooming. It's a little charmer with leaves almost as wide as the plant is tall.

A few tall, gangly alliums Purple Sensation are still blooming but most have passed to the green seed head stage. The strappy allium leaves are already disappearing and will leave their airy skeleton orbs standing above the lower foliage and blooms.

This is garlic. A bulb from the local farmer's market was pushed into the soil at the feet of Rose de rescht and it thrives and increases every year. I've never dug the bulbs or eaten the garlic. It makes a nice ornamental. After it blooms the nepata will move into its space.

More iris in a rainbow of colors.

These yellow and blue blooms crowd each other like two children wanting attention.

Nepata (cat mint) is everywhere. It hides the bare ankles of taller plants and covers the gravel garden. Its blooms are tiny, not significan, but a three foot wide plant smothered in a million blooms is like a blue mist hovering above the ground. This plant definitely has a work ethic and never stops blooming.

The peonies are just opening so there will be peony photos in the next post.

Wildlife Rumors by Miss B

Let me tell you about the wild time we had last weekend. A starling somehow got into our house. I told my photographer, quick get the camera but she was absolutely frantic and wouldn't listen to me. The bird was flying through the house, crashing into windows and landing on picture frames. We cats (myself included) were racing right behind and leaping to grab it. My photographer fetched a big towel and threw it over the bird. Before we cats could pounce she had that bird scooped up and out of our reach. Very disappointing. If my photographer had only done her job and gotten some good action photos for my wildlife column. Not one photo do we have.

Now she keeps mumbling about bad luck and birds in the house. It was bad luck for cats that we didn't catch the bird. House cats don't get a lot of opportunities.

I need a photographer that stays cool under pressure and does her job. Her job isn't catching birds and setting them free outside.