garden or jungle?

No beautiful flower portraits or pictures of that perfectly weeded and mulched spot today. Today you get to see the places where plants have taken over the path, or, less pleasing, weeds have taken over the path, and where it looks more like a jungle than a garden. Half of the front yard now is weeded and has paths that are mulched. The other half looks like this.

wood anemones and spirea taking over the path

Here the gooseneck loosestrife, sweet ciceley, columbine and sweet woodruff have eaten the path

Here is what the paths are supposed to look like. I would like nice welcoming wide paths that you can navigate without being slapped by over-arching plants or get your clothes all wet in morning dew or after rain. In other words, I’d like the gardens to be actually penetrable. I’d also love more sitting spots that are comfortable. I imagine sturdy, deep seated benches with backs to lean on and arm rests for coffee cups. For now, we have flat rocks on concrete blocks.  Not too comfortable.

newly weeded path

a path–inviting!

Another place where my garden resembles a jungle is the south side of the house. It might be pretty to look at, but it’s a little intimidating if you want to go into it!


southside path

The thing is, from late May to mid-July gardening is simply a race against the vigor of growing and sprouting things. I create huge piles of greenery for the compost pile in a single hour of  weeding. After mid-July things slow down a little.

Yesterday I tackled the potting shed, which is now cleared out, organized, and fun to be in.  I did some actual potting in there this morning: at the co-op they were selling plants for a dollar, and I bought 8 yarrow plants. I re-potted them in good dirt and big pots because I’m not sure where I want them yet.

The daylily season is under way. Every morning I look to see which ones of the 60 or so varieties I have here are opening. This showy one opened this morning.

nice red and orange daylily

It’s hard for me to look out at the garden landscape without thinking of what needs to be done: weed this, mulch that, sharpen that edge, rescue that unhappy plant, divide that monster plant, pick off that Japanese beetle…. But when I’m actually doing a particular job I can focus. Time disappears, I can see the details but I’m also happily aware of and commune with the wind, the songbirds, ants, beetles, earwigs, cats, plant roots, stems, leaves and flowers–etc…

ant on echinacea petal

I’m present and pretty much blissed out. Because time does disappear, I often bring out the kitchen timer, so I know when an hour has passed. I usually ignore it for another 15 minutes, but then I force myself to stop and go inside for a drink of water, and a breather.

sweet peas

We decided to make an archway over the entrance to the meditation garden, using an antique sully (light cart pulled after one horse) made of wood and beautiful iron-work. You can sort of see it in this photo. Right now it’s just leaning against the entryway. We’re going to raise it up, of course. There are also little wooden pieces perfectly positioned for hanging two small wind chimes.

new archway

The cats are always around where we are working outside. I just love their company. Here is Mr. Fluff hanging out enjoying the day on the front porch.

Mr. Fluff on the front porch this morning

Pinks and reds

front yard just after a rain

Lots of red shades are starting up now. Finally the front yard garden has some pink and red.


The poppies that came from Eleanor,  Papaver somniferum, or “breadbox poppy”, have started blooming. Some are singles and some are wildly double.

floppy poppy

wild fuzzy poppies

They self seed all over and I have to weed them out every spring, letting only a few mature. A Nice pink monarda and the pink sweet peas add color, too, as well as a beautiful dark pink hollyhock.

pink beebalm (monarda)

sweet peas

false sunflower and hollyhock

And as promised, here are some pictures of the finished backyard wall.



Also, here is a picture of that new “trellis” that we put up the other day:

sweet pea trellis

My favorite photo was an accident, with a variety of reflections. This is the bay window.


June 25 update

Weeding a few days ago

We had a heat wave for several days, and the ground was very dry, plants seemed to be just enduring, not thriving. I did a bit of emergency watering for seedlings and potted plants, but I don’t have time for anything more than that.

These dicentra bloom all summer

Finally yesterday it clouded up and we got a little rain. Yesterday I finished the back yard wall, hurray! Pictures soon. Other than finishing that wall,  I’ve been weeding and laying down mulch.

an old rusty pail with no bottom made a nice garden feature

I’d love to get to the potting shed make-over, but the weeding and mulching gets top priority right now. Just starting to bloom: Daylilies, echinacea, phlox, monarda, sweet pea, shasta daisies, yarrow, veronica. Still blooming strongly: false sunflower, evening primrose, roses, delphinium, larkspur, penstemon, campanulas, cleome, dianthus, geranium.

Stella de Oro daylilies

When I finished the backyard wall, I planted out all my heliotrope and the rest of my delphinium seedlings and nasturtium. About 1/3 of the decorative sunflowers that I grew from seed and planted have made it through the drought and have managed not to be eaten by bugs, but these are dwarfed by the sunflowers that self-seeded from last year’s sunflowers.

sweet pea

We built a–OK, I watched my husband build–a trellis for the sweet pea to grow on (picture soon) of an old step ladder. It doesn’t look pretty but it does the job.

evening primrose

Nearing the summer solstice

A house wren has decided to build a nest on our front porch. I was sitting there this morning with my second cup of coffee, taking a break after two hours of serious weeding, and one of the wrens flew up with a quite large twig in its beak. It landed on the porch railing, over-balanced, dropped the twig, sang loudly and flew off. I couldn’t tell if I had surprised it, or if the twig was too heavy, or what. Funny.

morning view from the front porch, photo June 14

The daylilies are just starting, and the peonies are almost gone.

Last of the peonies with morning dew

Weeds are sprouting happily everywhere. June is the weeding month, and everything just gets greener and greener. In the evenings, fireflies make an amazing display–this year they are notably more active than the last few years. We wonder if the disease that wiped out bats has had an impact on the firefly population. From earliest light to dusk, something is happening everywhere I look. Birds fledging, nesting, singing. Butterflies, bugs of all kinds, crawly things. I love the buzz and hustle.

bug on a lamb’s quarters’ leaf with morning dew

I am not only weeding, but also building a few walls and putting down barnyard dirt and mulch. When an area gets weeded and mulched, it’s a great feeling–I know the plants and soil are improved and protected, plus it looks nice and I won’t have to weed there for awhile.

mulched garden and bench under the apple tree

Here is the slowly evolving backyard wall:

back yard wall

Here is the backyard house wren:

house wren on the telephone cable

Larkspur, evening primrose, roses, mock orange, comfrey, white clematis, lonicera, penstemon, and campanula are all in full bloom.

evening primrose

bumblebee in a rose blossom

pink larkspur

Just on the edge of blooming are the daylilies, shasta daisies, sweet peas, false sunflowers, and echinacea.

southside walkway in morning sun

Lately I’ve been making lists and wrestling with my calendar, juggling too many things. This morning I gardened for two solid hours–a gorgeous day–the whole time feeling guilty that I was not at the barn riding or inside practicing the flute. I’m thinking of putting very small, unobtrusive signs around the garden, instead of plant labels. Things like “be here now”, “guilt-free zone” and so on. Last night I said to my husband (or, maybe to myself–I think he might have been already asleep!) “Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our shoulds and obligations, and all of our self-definitions like ‘good daughter’, ‘flower gardener’, ‘teacher’ etc. could be like a suit of clothes and we could shrug it off sometimes and just go walking along free of it? No name, no identity, no obligations. Just a live body on the live planet, breathing and being.”

Bumble bee, approaching a rose


June 10 garden update

campanula glomerata

The lovely, medium short, intensely colored campanula glomerata opened a few days ago.  The first daylily opened today, surprisingly early. It’s one of the new ones I ordered this Spring from Oakes Daylilies, an excellent catalog source for daylilies.

daylily scapes

Most of the many daylilies in the garden are just sending up scapes now. Delphinium are starting, but I have only a few of these this year–my older plants are waning, and this year’s batch planted from seed are tiny, stubbornly refusing to grow bigger. I bought some more seeds and will start them outside after letting them chill for a few weeks in the fridge. Pink spirea are blooming, as are the charming creamy yellow foxglove that I got from my gardening friend Nancy. The foxglove are finally, after a very slow start, established in two spots.

yellow foxglove–I love how they contrast with the bronzy color of the weigela bush

Also, the lime green flowers of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), from another friend, are blooming now.

lady’s mantle blooms

Other plants are budded–I find buds as interesting as flowers. Here are sundrop (evening primrose) buds,

evening primrose/sundrops (Oenothera)

and a False Sunflower Heliopsis helianthoides bud.

close up of helianthus bud

Salvia, Valerian, and a beautiful glittering white yarrow are blooming now.



white yarrow

Grey Kitty’s message


The forecast for today calls for wind, rain, thunderstorms, and hail this afternoon. Such warnings are usually exaggerated but still, this is what really brings the peonies down. Even staked, the heavy blooms fill with rainwater and the stems break over the restraints–in my case, simple twine. I picked a sumptuous bouquet of peonies this morning, and resisted the urge to take them proudly to the Blackbird for public display–they’re staying home, just for us. It was hard to pull myself away from them–I kept finding reasons to walk past the table where they were placed, to bury my nose in them, or admire their amazing colors and architecture. Speaking of architecture, the leaves of Dicentra burning hearts are as beautiful as their flowers:

dicentra burning hearts

Other garden news: Peonies are in full glory and dominate the garden, but other less showy plants are coming along: the tall, pale blue peach-leaved  campanula are blooming, as are the glomerata campanula–I promise to take pictures tomorrow.

Beverly Sills iris

Soapwort and sweet woodruff are blooming, the later iris, the last of the bleeding hearts are dangling from stems all over the yard, and spirea is blooming.

spider wort

Comfrey and Spiderwort are blooming like mad and the sunny evening primroses are budded. Oh, yes–the rose is in full bloom now. Also the catmint, geranium, weigela, yellow foxglove, burning hearts dicentra, centaura and baptisia. Delphinium have started to bloom, and some daylilies have scapes up.

Rose in the meditation garden

I could spend all day every day in the garden in June and not run out of things to do. Alas, there are other demands on my time. I have a huge list of garden chores to do, and I’m trying not to get impatient or overwhelmed. Yesterday afternoon I worked a bit on the backyard project–I must take pictures–the “before” of “before and after” is rapidly disappearing.

Jeanne on the swing

As I was busting sod, our elderly and ailing cat Grey Kitty came over and flopped himself right where I was working. OK, I thought, let’s just sit and enjoy the half-finished yard together. So I went to the nearby chair under the apple tree and patted my lap and called him “tsst tsst tsst”. He loves laps, and he knows that sound. Over he bounded, and leaped up to settle, purring blissfully, while I petted his now bony body. I stopped thinking about what still needed to be done, and just enjoyed the sunshine, the nearby musical house wren, and various insects buzzing by.

under the apple tree

Every time I go into town, I stop at the horse stables at the edge of town to load up the bug tubs I carry in my Subaru hatchback. That’s going on the gardens, and, this year, it will also cover the paths. We’ve decided to try this instead of the usual bark mulch we buy.

mulched path

I think it looks very nice, and the plants are protected from dry spells. This stuff breaks down quickly, and improves the tilth of the soil. My soil is already on the acidic side, so that’s not great, but using hay mulch has its own problems–it doesn’t look as nice and it tends to add LOTS of weed seeds to the garden.

combined hay mulch and wood shavings

Still, I love to add old moldy hay to the garden–it’s perfect for improving soil and I have lots of it piled up in the hay mow. We recently bought a trumpet vine and planted it next to the wooden play set– I mulched it heavily with hay mostly to discourage the grass.

Campsis radicans trumpet vine

In the meditation garden I am using the “lasagna” method: old tired dirt on the bottom layer, a layer of old hay, a layer of the wood shavings, another layer of hay, a layer of good compost, then a layer of wood shavings on the top. I’ll let it sit this year, and next year the worms et. al. will have made it into high quality garden soil.

lasagna patch in the meditation garden