Peonies and red poppies make an entrance

red charm peony

This peony is always the first one to bloom, and it is the most fancy variety I have in the garden. This is the peony I’ve been photographing every week–

red charm peony shoots on March 31

it started out at the end of March like this. I love peonies, and I think I like the buds more than the flowers. The peonies I have come from various places–a few from a pricey but high-quality nursery called Klehm’s Songsparrow, and some from the Potsdam Agway. The red charm peony came from Miller’s Farm in Hopkinton, a wonderful nursery run by local folks. I was buying a pink peony and the owner thrust the red charm into my hands and said, “You want this one.” He was right–it always wows.

red charm

Many of my peonies came from my sister, and a half dozen are from “chips” I took with a shovel off the edges of venerable old peonies from my parents’ yard–they were there all during my childhood and are probably 75  or even 100 years old. I also have about a dozen from what I call “the falling down house” across the street. With the owner’s permission, I’ve taken columbine, lemon lilies, lady bells, yellow iris, phlox, and peonies from what was the front yard and is  now a shrubby woods.

a peony rescued from across the road

The row of peonies were spindly, leggy, anemic looking, certainly originally planted in the sun but now languishing in the full shade of a row of large maple trees. They bravely sent up one or two blossom each Spring. One by one I brought them across the road in buckets, where they promptly grew ten times bigger.

So, the other drama in the garden

big red poppy–worth the wait

is the poppies– not the orange kind that I have thousands of, but the larger ones. It has taken me four years to find the right spot for them, where they would survive the winter.

I went to visit my sister last week, and here is how the herb wheel is looking these days:

Jeanne’s herb wheel on May 25

One thing that impressed me about the herb wheel is the open space between the plants. She used lots of mulch, and put in no paths–she just wanders around between the plants.

herb wheel with birdbath

I like it that you can see each plant–it’s quite different from my riotous cottage-garden style garden, where you need a machete to get through half of the time.

southside garden

So this morning when I worked on the meditation garden I kept that in mind, and left more space between plants. I weeded out the volunteer phlox and violets, tore out the old and molding forget-me-nots, and dug out most of the narcissus that need to be separated. Then I planted some lavender and mulched it all. Jeanne is coming to visit tomorrow–she’ll see the result of the herb wheel inspiration.

Iris are also very showy right now. This one is actually in Jeanne’s garden, but I have some of this same kind.

dark purple iris

Like peonies, I like the buds as much as the flowers.

iris bud

Yesterday I was working at the bottom of the front yard re-setting, watering, and mulching the “Old Ironsides” astilbe collection I got from White Flower Farm and planted several weeks ago. My husband’s grandkids were visiting the other day and decided that one of the astilbe plants really needed to be dug up and replanted. They got as far as the dug up part but didn’t quite get to the replanting part. It looked very sad by the time I found it. Also, it has been very dry and all the astilbe needed some attention. So I ended up re-setting all 12 of them. I lifted them, dug them deeper holes, filled the holes with water, set the astilbe in the puddles, firmed in some dirt and watered again. This morning all of them, even the one that had the kid encounter, are looking cheerful as can be. I didn’t take a photo but I also saw a luna moth–whenever I see them it seems that they’re too exotic and beautiful to be real–like they should be in a tropical jungle somewhere. And speaking of insects, the swallowtail butterflies are all over–must have hatched recently. And the usual bumblebees are around–here is one on the comfrey, which is blooming now.

bumblebee on comfrey

Friends and birthdays

A moment to appreciate friends–and it’s kind of fun to do this here, knowing that probably you will read this and know who you are! I will intersperse friend stories with some garden photos from yesterday.


My friend who is an artist and also a horse friend called on my birthday and sang me a Swedish birthday song over the phone–of course I was out in the garden, but I loved hearing it on the message machine. Later that morning she came over for coffee and brought homemade pie and whipped cream! We sat on the front porch watching a black swallowtail butterfly trying to decide which flower to land on. Later yet we met at the barn to ride, and then she and her husband and I with mine went for dinner in Potsdam. Talk about a perfect day! So here is what I was doing that morning when she called:

new raised bed

I was building a small raised bed. It has two wheel-barrow loads of old horse manure from the barnyard. I planted some dahlia there. I’m not sure what else to plant in it–the soil is too rich for the nasturtium seedlings I have–I’ll get giant billows of leaves and no flowers. Sunflowers would be too tall, and so would delphinium. Maybe I’ll plant some cat mint there.

The iris continue to open this week. Here is a fun colored one.

small iris

Another friend I appreciate lives near the big river, and is one of the most warm-hearted people I know, without being gushy. She’s very comfortable to be around, and always has a twinkle in her eye. She also really “gets” it that I can get freaked out at social events. I am very good at disappearing and most people don’t notice. But she does, and I’ll never forget once she climbed her long steep driveway on a party evening, to where I was sitting in the car, waiting for the party to be done and my partner to be ready to leave. She came walking up to the car window with a beer in her hand and proceeded to chat away casually as if there was nothing at all weird about a guest at her party bugging out and sitting in the dark in a car alone. She’s a very accepting person, and she probably doesn’t realize how much that little chat meant to me.

Poppies doing their thing

My friend by the river is married to another friend that I don’t see often but that I appreciate very much. Her good energy and spirit have left their own trace on this garden, as she used to live here. Since the day I first came here eleven or twelve years ago we’ve crossed paths here many times–you could say we are related by marriage. This friend has the gift of grace. She’s graceful physically–you can tell she has done years of yoga– but also emotionally. I’ve never had anything but a friendly greeting and warm hug from her, and she always seems to know the right thing to say. She can talk to anyone, and is intimidated by no one–she is graceful, but I feel there is also a lot of backbone underneath. I admire her a lot. Lacking her conversational fluency and ease, I’ve never told her that!

intermediate iris icy blue

Another friend I appreciate works at the college bookstore and is kind enough to the world to bring in small bunches of flowers to sit in little vases near the check-out counters. Today were orange azaleas. The other day were astonishing parrot and other tulips. The combinations are often surprising and unusual, or extremely simple. The flowers have a lot of personality–her arrangements allow the flowers to be who they are. It’s a gift, and I love it that she shares it with all and sundry who show up to buy a pencil or a cup of coffee.

hesperis matronalis Dame’s Rocket

My best friend in the world is my sister. She’s the one with the herb wheel that I have been posting about on this blog. There are too many things to appreciate about her–I couldn’t possibly list them all. So I won’t even try–I’ll just say that: she’s my best friend, and the one friend I never for a day forget to appreciate and be thankful for.

yellow iris

My “other”  sister–my sister-in-law– is another friend I appreciate. She and I go to tack shops–yes, another horse friend–and swap garden plants, and play Klezmer music together (she plays violin). She introduced us to the wonderful farmers’ market in her home town; I also admire her impressive career as a scientist.

more Dame’s Rocket, with a patch of false dragonhead (Physostegia virginiana)

These Dame’s Rockets all came from two little plants I pulled up and stuck in a plastic bag in Jeanne’s soggy swampy backyard back when she lived in Warsaw, Wyoming County. They spread like crazy, and I love them. They complement the orange poppies and cool them down a little.

Ground ivy and a mossy rock: giving the “weeds” their due

I also appreciate my fellow blogger friend who has that same grace I notice with my friend V. My blogger friend makes you feel, when you run into her, that running into you is the best thing that’s happened to her all day.  How does she do that?! I’d love their secret. My blogger friend is beautiful, she glows. And she’s a teacher through and through–the teacher part comes out when I ask for advice about blogging. You know the kind of teacher who loves to share what they know, and really wants you to succeed, and never misses a chance to praise every possible little victory or success you manage. Also she is a wonderful writer, and I love reading her blog.

delphinium seedlings, waiting to be planted out

Before ending this very long post, I have to report on the La Reve rescue I pulled off yesterday. It was a good day for transplanting: cloudy, wet, calm, cool. I dug up a bunch of La Reve oriental lilies, gorgeous pink lilies that I bought at a flower show in Troy with my parents-in-law and my sister-in-law almost 10 years ago, so they are important to me, and I didn’t want to let the lily bugs get them. Here’s a picture of them last year in bloom:

La Reve lilies

Here they are in their new home, located where I can keep the bugs off them:

La Reve lilies

Last day at 50!

Tomorrow I turn 51–starting a new decade. So far in my life each decade has been better than the last, so I am optimistic! In the garden I’ve been putting in some pretty serious rip and tear time. Here is a crater where spiderwort (tradescantia) was.

tradescantia crater

It is a lovely plant, vigorous and spreading, with amazing long-blooming flowers of unusual design. We have a  pale magenta kind and a dark royal purple kind. It is one of the plants I take special care of because it was one of the dozen or so flowers that were here when I arrived. But we have LOTS of it, and planted in most of my gardens it overwhelms all neighbors; grows up tall and then flops over on top of everything nearby like a green grassy wave. So I’ve been moving them out of gardens and into safer areas like half-wild hillsides. In other big news, the iris are now blooming:

intermediate iris

I have been digging up narcissus where I planted them in huge areas of the backyard garden about five years ago. They are now crowded and take up too much prime real estate. I am taking hundreds of them to give away at a plant swap next week.

narcissus waiting for a new home

I also took a fun picture of a bumblebee enjoying the solomon’s seal:


Every morning when I’m on summer break I start out the day with a cup of coffee and three pages of journaling, happily cross-legged in an antique comfy chair that lives in my study/music practice room. Lately I mostly fill those pages with lists of things to do in the garden. The big garden jobs I figure will take another two weeks, and after that I can attend to details, routine maintenance, and sitting around watching the bees. I love coffee breaks. I leave empty coffee cups all over the garden. Here’s one now:

coffee cup, peony, forget-me-nots, path

I made another “bench” the other day. It was the day of the big garden party. Near the end, with most guests gone, I disappeared to sit in the horse pasture by myself near the little stream. I spied a rock that was perfect in size and shape to be a bench seat. But getting it to the garden took real determination. It was too heavy to carry, so I laboriously flipped it end over end all the way across the pasture, past the curious horses, through the gate, up the driveway, and beside the northside garden. Next day I “built” the bench:

great spot for a cup of coffee!

As for other heavy duty and not really fun jobs, I have finished eradicating most of the lilies in the main gardens, but I still have a few hundred out in the old herb wheel and even some in the vegetable garden.

our mail box

I am saving the orientals in the meditation garden and bringing up the La Reves from the herb wheel, and I’ll just have to pick bugs every day.

Tater goofing off

So many plants have started blooming now that it is hard to keep up with them: iris, centaura, wood hyacinth, poppies, columbine, primrose, bleeding heart, lilacs, lily-of-the-valley, and more I am probably forgetting right now.

perennial bachelor’s button, centaura montana

I’ll end this post with the star of the show right now–the flamboyant poppies:


herb wheel update and a few more photos

May 15 and grades are due tomorrow at midnight, so I am still just posting photos and will write more after Thursday. Here is Jeanne’s herb wheel on May 12:

The herb wheel May 12

Jeanne is a college teacher, too, but her semester ended a week earlier so she is done grading. I called her this morning, “Hi! What are you doing today?” I innocently asked. She replied happily,”I’m going to the such and such [I forget the name] garden shop to get an echinacea  of a really beautiful color, for the herb wheel, and then I am going to so-and-so gardening center to look around, and then…” That’s when I stopped her. “Hey, I still have two more days of solid grading! I’m sorry I asked!” But in a few days I’ll be as happy as her, flitting to garden centers and local greenhouses. In fact yesterday I did get a few plants at the coop: thyme, rosemary, cilantro, sage, and a six-pack of salad greens.

More about the Mother’s Day garden party later. For now, here are some really fun photos I took this morning:

dandilion seedhead

Yesterday afternoon I saw a flock of goldfinches feasting on dandilion seeds. Somehow this one managed to get past Nancy, who was garden touring and pulling dandilions out of my garden at the party! New arrivals: iris, orange poppies, and dame’s rocket.

intermediate iris, champagne colored

But I want to post some primroses–so lovely! Here is a yellow variety:

yellow primroses

and a close-up:

yellow primrose blossom

and here is the red one:

red velvet

And there is also a purple magenta primrose:

purple primrose

and a close up:

primrose close up

And I have to show the bug shot of the day:

narcissus and friends

and last but not least, my gorgeous heuchera, coral bell, interplanted with stinging nettles and lady’s bells (adenophora?)–I’ll hopefully be removing the nettles–right into the soup pot!

coral bells, nettles and ladybells

A few quick photos

I am on my way to give an exam, so I’ll just post a few pictures of the garden and write more later. The anemone sylvestris is blooming beautifully right now.

Anemone Sylvestris, wood anemone

Also in full bloom is the tallish primrose whose name I can’t remember. North Hill strain, maybe? I saw my first hummingbird moth of the season in the primrose patch, but it had zoomed away before my camera and I arrived.

patch of primroses

Here is a close-up:

primrose close-up

Peonies are budded!

peony bud

And so are the orange poppies:

poppy buds

And the lily-of-the-valley are budded and unfurling:

convallaria majalis, lily-of-the-valley

And here is Mr Fluff taking a nap in the Myosotis sylvatica Forget-me-nots, with our blue ball, one of our garden’s few decorations:

Blue ball with cat

Red lily bugs

red lily bug–photo from the internet

Meet the red lily bug (Lilioceris lilii), which is currently one of my biggest garden challenges. As far as I know it is not widespread in my area, so I’ve been careful to not give away any lilies or lily bulbs. The University of Rhode Island seems to be the leading center for working on this bug. Here is the website and what they say about insecticides:

“To date, our material of choice for treating flowers is neem, an insecticide based upon extracts from the neem tree. Neem can be purchased at garden centers under the trade names Turplcx, Azatin EC, Margosan-0, Align and BioNeem. Neem kills larvae and repels adults. Neem is most effective on first instar larvae; it must be applied every five to seven days after egg hatch.”

Tall, striking yellow Asiatic lilies in my back yard garden

I successfully dealt with Japanese Beetles by patiently plucking them every morning. I’ve never used any herbicide or insecticide in my garden. I’ve been picking lily bugs and larvea for years and it is much harder than grabbing Japanese beetles. The red adults are bright but nimble and hard to grab. The larvae and eggs are on the underside of leaves, so you have to kneel down and laboriously check every leaf. Not how I want to spend hours every day.

The dark pink are Asiatics, and the lighter pink is La Reve orientals–the earliest of my oriental lilies to open. Also wine-colored monarda here in my “pink” garden

I have hundreds of lilies scattered all over the gardens, but I’ve been downsizing for the last two years because of these bugs. This year I decided that it’s just not worth the time and effort to save my lilies. I’m going to remove and destroy all but a dozen or so (of my favorites–the fragrant orientals).

Beautiful pure white Asiatic lilies bloomed even in this semi-shady spot.

The only worry I have is that the bugs might then move on to attack and decimate our “wild” patch of tiger lilies. The bugs seem to prefer the other varieties, but they do nibble on tiger lilies, and I hope that by removing the others I don’t doom the tigers.

Orienpet “red hot” in the meditation garden. These are not my favorites–in fact, I admit I will not miss them. They smell wonderful but this variety was sort of unmanageably and crudely vigorous–it grew so big and tall that it fell over, and also stems fused to create mega-stalks with distored flower stalks. Tree frogs liked these, however.

I bought 450 lilies about six years ago, from Scheeper’s. It was a collection with gigantic, gaudy orienpets, lovely, fragrant orientals, and the tall, stately asiatics. The asiatics don’t have any smell. They bloom first and mine had gorgeous saturated colors–and also a pure white variety.

Negros, near the sun-porch door. This patch bloomed beautifully for five years, then started to decrease dramatically in size. It made babies–and turned into a thicket. The little stalks with one blossom each were perfect for medium bouquets. I should have dug up the bulbs to thin them and fertilize more, but that chore got away from me.

The Asiatics are good for bouquets that I take to the local cafe, because of that lack of overwhelming fragrance. All the lilies are excellent cut flowers. Some of my favorites are the so-called “heirloom” varieties. They have a very slight fragrance, and are like “turk’s cap” in shape.

I got this lily by mistake–I forget which company I ordered it from, but it was supposed to be light pink, and I got this one instead. I was happy with that mistake. These are quite a small variety, and unfortunately a favorite of the bugs.

The first Asiatic I ever got was a deep red rather short lily called “Negros” (photo above). It reminds me of my friend Kathleen who inspired me with her lilies, and urged me to try them. I still remember the June morning I spent waiting for the fat, red bud to finally open.

Orange Asiatic lily

One of my favorites from the Scheeper’s mix is this orange–it just glows in the garden and made stop-in-your-tracks bouquets mixed with blue delphinium and golden yarrow.

The buds are so big! These are white Asiatic lilies.

My garden will be different without these showy lilies. But on Saturday the first hour of my gardening day was spent cricking my neck and shredding my knees searching for tiny red beetles and even tinier red eggs. An hour —  and I didn’t even make it through a third of my lilies. Some of them are already badly damaged. So, I’ll save out a few of my favorites, and protect these few fiercely from this bug, and hope that the tigers make it through.

Asiatic lilies in the backyard

Camera fun in the garden

But first, an update on my sister’s herb wheel:

Apparently the weather there is as damp and dark as it is here–the rain is great for growing things, so no complaints.

And as a bonus, she sent me this wonderful photo of her daughter’s indoor cactus “bowl” plantation. When cacti decide to bloom they don’t mess around.

Front yard

You can see above the pile of “dead” hay we use for mulch, and my fancy concrete block bench. In the foreground a hydrangea is thinking about leafing out. The deer prune this hydrangea for us every year.

Out in the garden this morning I had some fun with the camera. I had not had my morning coffee because supplies are low so I was having trouble holding the camera steady for the close-up shots.

Aquilegia with raindrops

Then Grey kitty showed up and tried hard to get in the way. The resulting photo was kind of cute, but not what I was aiming at.


I was aiming at these hosta shoots, which are interesting in both shape and color.

The ferns are curling up out of the dirt,

Ostrich Fern Matteuccia pensylvanica

and Mertensia (Virginia Bluebells) are blooming, coming up through a dense carpet of gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia Clethroides).

Virginia Bluebells

I set the camera down on the ground near the feet of the “Red Charm” peony I have been “tracking” since its first pointed shoots emerged.


Red Charm peony, from a different perspective

In the meditation garden, (where we never meditate) I have red tulips up. You can see my elegant concrete wall–as you can guess, there were lots of left-over concrete blocks scattered around the yard that I have found good uses for.

Tulips in the meditation garden