In praise of phlox

Tall garden phlox. I have to pull volunteer phlox out all the time, because they self-seed everywhere. But I leave plenty, as many as I can. They cross pollinate and you never know what color combinations will appear. Here are a few of the dozens of different variations:

white with just a hint of pink in the center.

very gentle lavender shade. This is a shorter variety, maybe 2.5 feet. Some phlox zoom up over my head!

a bright pinkish red one with a tiny crab spider

pale pink with a darker eye

darker purple, with white feathers

phlox with echinacea and white cleome, another exuberant self-seeder

this shows why the hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, and bees/bugs of all kinds and butterflies hang out in the back yard. Some of the phlox in this picture are six feet tall!

Daylilies are past peak but still blooming beautifully. I start every morning in daylily season walking slowly around the garden carrying a deadheading/weeding bucket to snap off yesterday’s spent blossoms and grab any weed I might see. It’s time to smell the lilies and get pollen on my nose, listen to birdsong, breath in the morning air, enjoy summer. I watch for critters–yesterday we saw a garter snake. There are toads and snails, and the other day I saw a red eft! Didn’t get a picture, though. Here are a few of the daylilies:

this is primal scream, a show stopper

a white one, from my friend Karen

I love this one! It’s very short, with 4 inch blossoms, but has sturdy scapes and the flowers are so sweet–a rich creamy white with crimped edges to the petals and that showy center. I don’t know the name of it.

I think this is called “Startle”. It used to be the fanciest one I have, until the other day when I picked up one called “rumpus” from a friend. picture coming later.

And ending with the usual cat picture, here is Mr Fluff sitting with me as I try to be still once in awhile to just be in the garden–I usually see something I want to do and jump up after a few minutes. The cats are better at just hanging out.

mid-July garden report

It’s been very dry for a month or so but last night and this morning we finally got some real rain. This morning I went around the yard taking pictures. Daylilies are the main attraction at the moment, but hummingbird and butterfly flowers are also well along: beebalm, echinachea, and phlox are the three most common of those that I have. Swallowtail butterflies are out in force, and at least six hummingbirds have been zooming around the place. First, the daylilies:

Apricot Sparkles, a small but sturdy flower.

Primal Scream, on the other side of the size spectrum.

big bright blossoms of this daylily, whose name I don’t know, are like satin.

the more delicate graceful blossoms of the daylily hyperion, very fragrant!

given to me by a fellow daylily enthusiast, but I forget the name. I love the color.

every year I post photos of this lily, my favorite–or one of my favorites! Came to me from White Flower Farms, a selection they offered one year of 18 unnamed lilies. Not only is this lily beautiful, but it also is very fragrant, and vigorous, expanding so fast I can (and have) divided it many times.

OK, enough of the daylilies, here is the back yard butterfly garden, pretty much in full swing now.

beebalm and phlox and false sunflower predominate.

delphinium are almost done. the echinacea are in full bloom.

I caught a nice picture of a bumblebee enjoying a culver’s root flower:

love the antennas and the shiny eyes!

I should also mention hosta flowers as good hummingbird fare:

the hostas are just starting to send up their flower stalks.

While the back yard is a riot of color, the shady, dry front yard is mostly green.

in the front yard I rely on several very tough plants to survive the dark, dry conditions there: hostas, cimicifuga, dicentra, goosneck loosestrife, ferns, turtlehead (chelone) and solomon seal.

As a last note, the very first dahlia blossom has started to open!

the first dahlia!

and, thanks to the birds and chipmunks being careless at the bird feeders, we have a lot of volunteer sunflowers and they are starting to open.

sunflower with a bumble bee at the center.

animal antics and in praise of hostas

The garden is awash with chipmunks, and our two elderly cats don’t bother chasing them. I caught this little chippy snacking on the centaura flowers this morning:

checking the menu

excellent choice

yum yum!

I put a small charming birdbath in Mimi’s Garden of coleus and begonias, and a bigger classic style one in the meditation garden. We are eagerly waiting for birds to discover and use them. This morning I found out why the birds are not using them:

Tater takes a drink

why did she put my water dish so high up?

We have white-crowned sparrows, humming birds, and cat birds as regular visitors of the back yard, but the house wren really dominates there. The other day I noticed them stuffing our nice new bluebird nesting boxes with twigs. They did a very thorough job. The little rascals want to make sure no other bird can use them!

out of service; not for rent or lease. signed, the back yard landlord and lady

Deer are, amazingly enough, not much of a problem for us. They prune the shrubs a bit over the winter, but that’s about it.  And this year they enjoyed some hosta snacking:

radical pruning for this hosta

They would have to eat a lot of hosta to make a dent in my garden. Here are some of the hostas around the garden:

hostas in the very dry,  heavy clay soil, in 100% shade of the potting shed spot, and doing just fine

under the kitchen window, monster hostas that I have to cut back several times a year. I keep dividing them and they keep spreading just as fast.

these hostas thrive in acidic, sandy, dry soil under a row of pine trees.

I used to dislike hostas, but now I have them all over the garden. Here are a few pictures showing their lovely colors, patterns and shape.



peonies managed

Managing peony sprawl is worth it, since the blooms are so magnificent. Every year at this time I push three metal step-in posts around each of the fifty or so peonies I have and use twine to prevent the sprawl that happens when the blooms get too heavy. Here is an example:

peony bush staked and wrapped

The early peonies–a single red called “America” and a double called “Red Charm” are already blooming. This is the “America”:

America peony budded

The buds of the “Red Charm” are huge:

bud of “Red Charm” peony

And the blooms even huger. I’ve decided to downsize my peony collection. I’m thinking of trying to find a new home for at least ten of them, maybe even twenty. Thirty peonies is enough! This year I’ve staked most of the peonies, but I removed two thirds of the buds from most of them, and removed ALL the buds from a few that I know I am finding other homes for–because I’m leaving in two days for a two-week road/camping trip. Leaving the garden at the very start of the peony season is bad enough, but coming home to a mess of broken stems and spent blooms is no fun, either. So I’m being proactive.

Peony blossoms are amazing and even the buds are pretty.

peony buds in morning sunshine

I know that when I get back the garden will be a complete jungle. Oh, well, that’s fine. The front yard already is looking pretty chaotic–in a good way.

front yard jumble

I planted a small shady bed with annuals, using, for the first time ever, coleus, impatiens, and begonias. I was inspired by my sister-in-law who uses coleus to excellent effect in her garden. Here is the bed now, with each plant having some room to spread out as it grows.

Here is a quick photographic tour of the garden this morning:

white garden (which isn’t all white)

pine tree bed, upper

pine tree bed, lower

middle of front yard

bottom of front yard

what we call the potting shed bed, not a very imaginative name!

southside walkway

under the apple tree

top of the back yard

viburnum in full bloom in the back yard

The orange poppies are in full bloom and are the brightest flower going. Here are a few of them. I’ll be back in two weeks!

peony with morning sun shining through it

poppy center

and the race is on

It seems that plants in the north country get a late start and then make up for lost time. Leaves on the trees are out, apple trees are blooming, and garden plants are growing like crazy. Here is the shade garden under the east-facing apple tree:

May 23

We have a new garden feature: a birdbath in the meditation garden!

the birds have not discovered it yet, however.

We bought two pretty bluebird houses and put them up on the telephone pole in the back yard. Not sure about the location: they are supposed to prefer open fields. We’ll see what happens. There is a tiny, bold, loud house wren that rules the back yard. Hopefully it will tolerate some other birds. 

The front yard is green and leafy, getting more shrubby, which is what we want. I’m going to yank out the euonymus and a weigela shrub and the white spirea, and plant instead natives like dogwoods and viburnum.

the front yard from the top

and from the bottom

I have been putting wood chips on the paths, using the very convenient pile provided for free to the community by the town.

wood chip paths last a long time and look nice. this is the white garden.

I had David take a picture of me this morning at this daily activity:

shoveling wood chips

Peonies are budded and want to be staked. The lilacs are dominating the flower show right now, along with tulips. Here is the tulip bed:

I ordered several hundred tulips last fall from Color Blends, mostly the double variety. I really like them, especially the pink ones called Aveyron.

Aveyron tulips. The color is just gorgeous, and both the pants and the flowers are sturdy, holding up to wind and rain. The flowers last a long time in a vase, too.

lavender double tulips, heavy with yesterday’s rain

double tulip with raindrops

These tulips are showstoppers, but other flowers are blooming: bleeding heart, woodland anemone, woodland phlox, violets, wild ginger, lily-of-the-valley, johnny-jump-ups, solomon’s seal, and probably more that I’m forgetting right now!

anemone, henbit, unfurling hosta, and johnny-jump-up






Ta da! The daffodils make a big entrance

Two warm days and the daffodils exploded around the garden.

southside path row of daffodils

another row, this one in the square garden on the north side of the yard

various daffodils in a clump

dramatic orange-centered ones

This morning as I sat on the sofa with the all-important first coffee of the day, I heard an absolute riot of birdsong, and I could see out the window, which gives a view of the swamp across the street, lots of bird activity. I heard the double-phrase song of the brown thrasher, Canada geese honking as if trying to drown out everything else, chickadees, and blue jays and most of all the noisy red-winged blackbirds. As soon as I am awake and the coffee cup is empty, I put on garden boots, went to fill up the bird feeders and feed the horses, then went around the yard with a camera to take pictures. I did not plan to linger–black flies are out. I already have a nice collection of bites. Yesterday I planted a new daylily “primal scream” , like I need any more daylilies, why doesn’t someone stop me?? And I planted a snowberry (symphoricarpos) in the white garden:

snowberry welcome to the garden!

It looks small now but it should reach 3 to 4 feet wide and tall. It’s a native with good nectar for pollinators and high-quality berries for birds in the fall and winter.

Here are some views of the half-raked garden:

back yard

front yard


northside pine tree bed

square garden

white garden–with a few errant yellow daffodils

Well, I’m not being too much of a purist when it comes to the white garden. It is blanketed with henbit, which is purple. Now that I’ve decided it’s not a weed I am enjoying this vigorous little creeper. Here are some shots I took of it this morning.

very hardy and early to wake henbit. I have not tried cooking and eating it yet.

henbit in the back yard with flower stalks

Over the years I’ve bought several collections of daffodils (narcissus if you want to be fancy) such as the White Flower Farm “golden legacy” collection, and more recently a collection from Colorblends. These are samplings of the thousands of varieties of narcissus that have been developed. I love seeing the different sizes, shapes and colors of these flowers. Here are a few of them that have come up so far:

I love this one! a double, I don’t know the name

another double, one of the most fragrant

small delicate pale yellow

these have very large trumpets that change from salmon to peach to pink and stay blooming for a very long time.

I left for work early and just as I got into the car a rainstorm started. The sky was threatening and dramatic all morning. Photos don’t really show the feeling of a coming rain–the smell, an uneasy wind, the day getting darker. It was exciting!

dark clouds

In other garden news many plants are popping up as fast as they can, making up for lost time from the cold April. Peonies are reaching out of the ground with their red stalks that look like hands. Bleeding hearts are up, poppies, and others.

bleeding heart sprouts

oriental poppy, surrounded by the ubiquitous tall phlox. If I didn’t stop them the entire garden would be nothing but phlox. 

another very successful self-seeder: catmint. This one seeded itself in a concrete block.

front yard with leeks and wild ginger, bleeding heart and cimicifuga

We are excited that several patches of wild leeks have come up again from where we transplanted some from our woods. We want them to spread so we’re not harvesting any yet. But they tell us when it’s time to go foraging in the woods. We also transplanted some wild ginger and it’s harder to see in this picture but there’s a spreading patch here as well. There’s also a white bleeding heart and a large cimicifuga plant here.

Last but not least, the tulips I planted last fall are up and budded. I only plant these in the “square” garden, which used to be a gravel driveway, because the voles and other critters can’t seem to get through the gravel there to eat the tulip bulbs, at least not so far. Anywhere else I plant they are doomed. I buy and plant a few hundred in this garden every year, and they make a beautiful display. I have to buy the shorter varieties because of the wind.

tulips up and budded

This week we are supposed to have more rain, and warm temperatures, which is perfect for the garden. Well, good for weeds, too, but oh, well. Time to weed later. I’ve started making trips to the town highway department where they pile wood chips, compost, and used shavings from the stables. I go for the wood chips since my own horses supply me with compost. I’ll use them to refresh the paths through the garden. Now, back to work, I’ll post again when the tulips bloom!

dandilion, henbit and motherwort, oh my!

Three common “weeds” in my garden which have turned from enemy to friend by a simple change of attitude–and more education on my part. Dandilions don’t need any introduction, and I think we all know they are edible, pretty, and good for bees and other insects. A friend once commented that if dandilions were rare and hard to grow they’d cost a lot of money and be very popular. I’m going to let them be this year. So, what is Henbit? Its latin name is lamium amplexicaule. It turns out that this little member of the mint family is edible, healthy, and also good for bees and insects. I noticed it in my northside (white) garden a few years ago, took it for a weed, and ripped it up –or tried to. It’s a very successful self-seeder and I didn’t make much of a dent in it.

It has many virtues–comes up before the snow even melts, and is already flowering, which is good news for the early bees/bugs. I did a little research and found out you can eat it raw in salads, make tea out of it, and cook it. So, why am I ripping it out? Plants seem to have no trouble coming up through it. It doesn’t get very big, and it’s a nice ground cover.

Then there’s motherwort, or leonurus cardaca. Another mint family, another plant I have a lot of, and always considered it a weed. This one self-sows very happily, and sends up tall stalks of tiny pale lavender flowers. It turns out you can also make the flowering tops into tea, and it’s supposed to be good for the heart, nervous tension, and, according to one herbal website, is “used by women during life transitions.”! great! But when those stalks dry they also have sharp hard prickly clumps that can hurt. I have not yet decided whether to stop pulling these up. They have deep, strong roots and take effort to pull.

The jury is still out on motherwort.