Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Green light, glowing flowers

Do you get those late afternoons when the setting sun’s rays seem to cast a green glow over everything? It reminds me of photos people take while scuba diving (not me) when they aim the camera up through the green depths toward the sun. There must be a name for it but I don’t know what it is. Actually, when I mention this to people, no one knows what I’m talking about so it may be early signs of glaucoma, but it sure is ethereal-looking. Anyway, we had an evening like that last night, after a blistering 100 degree day. The colors of the flowers were pretty much glowing so I took some photos of my giant hollyhock.

This hollyhock was a spindly creature for years, (yes they self-sow everywhere) growing in the shadow of an enormous upright juniper. The overgrown juniper dwarfed the house, and tried to lay claim to the driveway space too, and when I could no longer get the car in the garage without scraping the sides, the tree man came and took the juniper out. I should have done it years ago. Now there's a baby flame maple there, which isn't big enough to cast much shade.

The hollyhock breathed an almost audible sigh of relief, sucked up all the sunshine, and decided to reach for the sky. This year it’s 7 to 8 feet tall with the girth of a mighty oak. My neighbor was over the other day, did a double-take and said "what the hell's that giant thing?" as if I had surreptitiously planted it under cover of night. Really, it's hard to miss.

Half the fun of hollyhocks is seeing what color they will be when they bloom each year. It’s never the same in my garden. Most of them (planted years ago as a mix of white, pink and red) turn out a deep maroon color which I’m not crazy about, but my brother-in-law in the desert thinks they’re fabulous. I always hope for pink, and a cherry pink as long as I’m hoping. Hoping and wishing seemed to pay off this year.

Another stand across the yard shows definite apricot tones, with a few white ones thrown in.

These remind me of the flowers we used to make in school when Sister wasn't looking. We used a couple of pieces of kleenex, though I don't think we had apricot-colored tissue back then.

In the back yard, this hollyhock obligingly self-sowed in just the right spot. Ooh, cherry pink! In the next few weeks, the leaves will be full of holes (earwigs and such) and rust will take over. I'll cut them down to the ground and a fresh green rosette of leaves will soon appear and there will be a second blooming, but nowhere near as glorious as the first.

This evening, no green glow and the temperature plummeted to 80 today so I could get serious about prying the weeds out of the cracks in the driveway. This job requires my favorite gardening tool - the kneeler. A beer helps give me a bit of a glow too.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


In the fifth grade, Sister Mary Ethelburga came to class one day with a list of other 10-year-olds from around the country who wanted like-minded penpals. A penpal! What a thrill. We could find out how other kids lived in faraway, exotic-sounding places like Indianapolis, Yuma, or Baton Rouge. I’ve heard stories of people who remain penpals for life but I think my penpal lasted about 6 months. I’m sure that writing a letter was low on my list of priorities (after bike riding, reading Nancy Drew, and playing dolls) but Sister thought it was important to learn how other people lived and letters were a good way to share experiences with others. If only Sister Mary Ethelburga could see the blogging world today!

A year has gone by since I discovered garden blogs and began my own. I can’t remember how I found out all you people were out there talking about gardening (without me), but my best guess is that I probably Googled something that brought up one of your sites. Tentatively, I put up my first post the last week in June, and was thrilled when a few people started leaving comments. At first it was mainly Carol at Boxwood Cottage who kept me going, then Salix Tree joined in followed by Annie in Austin and then suddenly there was a whole community of gardeners I could visit with and view their photos of triumphs and tragedies. Gosh, this is fun, and no postage required!

When I joined AOL in the late ‘90s, I quickly found a gardening chatroom and learned I needed something called a screen name. I’d just read Thomas Christopher’s ‘In Search of Lost Roses’, and that seemed a natural for a “garden name.” Others in the chat room thought it meant my roses had died and that was okay since it was true some of the time. My participation in the chatroom was even shorter-lived than my penpal correspondence. While the topics were occasionally on gardening, most of the people who dropped in had the same question, “Uhhh, how do you grow pot?” While it might be a valid question, my interests were a bit more varied. And that’s where you all come in. Now, in the evenings after work, I can drop in on my blogging friends from around the country and around the world and take a peek into what they did today. You never fail to amuse, enchant, and inform me. Thank you all for being in the blogisphere!
Lost Roses in Mexico in February 2007.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Wicked, wicked ways

"A squirrel leaping from bough to bough, and making the wood but one wide tree for his pleasure, fills the eye not less than a lion, is beautiful, self-sufficing, and stands then and there for nature." - RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Not in my yard. These wicked little boogers irritate me no end. Fox squirrels are the largest North American tree squirrel and in my eyes, the most destructive. Why do they want to break my bird bath? I liked that birdbath. It had acanthus leaves on it and some other cool motifs. And they broke my favorite blue birdbath last summer.

Once they empty a feeder, they start chewing on the metal, glass, wood, or whatever it's made of. On this one they chewed the solder strips holding the panes together. What's up with that? My trusty roll of black duct tape bolstered the seams for awhile but the whole feeder is bent and chewed, metal and all, so I'm going to get rid of it. Besides, I need the duct tape to keep the passenger window in my car in place.
A friend sent me this big old goldfinch feeder for Christmas. Okay, it's not the most tasteful feeder I've owned, but it was quirky and bright and see how its stomach held the seed? Clever, huh? Well, first the squirrels disemboweled it.

Then they chewed its eyes out, and most of the face, with a few blows to the body and tail for good measure. I hung this feeder on a Monday and by Friday they'd done all this to it. I know that eating ornamental plants is common squirrel behavior, but what's with eating the garden ornaments? When I was a kid reading the Old Mother West Wind books by Thornton W. Burgess, I never noticed Happy Jack Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel acting like this. Come to think of it they didn't have bubonic plague either, which has been found in squirrels in Denver.

Well, I'd rather not think about that so here are couple of photos as requested by Zoey who wants to see just how scary the orange zinnias and the hot pink Zepherine Drouhin rose look next to each other.
A bit jarring, don't you think? I don't hate this, but it's not my favorite view. When I get tired of being unsettled each time I look at this, I'll move some purple and white containers in front of Zepherine instead. Or not. I am a lazy gardener when all is said and done. I wish the squirrels had as little energy as I do.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Other people's gardens

In Colorado, June is the month for garden tours. And Saturday was my husband’s birthday so of course I took him out for a day of doing what I like – visiting gardens. We started at his house where his main pastime is mowing the lawn - he grows Kentucky bluegrass and little else but doesn’t mind seeing what other people are doing even if he doesn’t agree.

Our tour took us to an old Victorian-era neighborhood in Denver, where the lots are small and the houses quaint. It’s one of those areas which used to be an iffy place to live but in recent years has become gentrified at a rapid pace. The current trend among homeowners there is to replace all the grass with a patchwork of plants and shrubs which are hopefully low maintenance and drought-tolerant. I don’t think I can be convinced that maintaining 100 plants in a postage stamp-sized area is easier or more water-wise than having a lawn, but that’s just me. The house above was not one of the gardens on view, but was next door to one, and its "painted lady" architecture overshadowed our interest in the neighbor’s garden. And it had grass, which my husband approved of.

My husband does like ice plants (delosperma). He remembers being wowed by California’s abundant use of them on the sides of the highways in San Diego years ago and has been fond of them ever since. He doesn’t want to grow them, but he likes them. So when we saw this huge circular bed of them in a minimalist Japanese garden he wondered how a southern California plant could grow so well in Colorado. I told him that was thanks to Panayoti Kelaidis (a renowned plantsman at the Denver Botanic Gardens), who collected seeds from South Africa about 10 years ago and hybridized them into an ice plant that survives Zone 5 winters.

Never mind that I’ve had a patch of them growing in the front yard for several years, he was suspicious of my explanation so he asked the homeowner how she could grow ice plants in this climate. She said, “Oh, that’s because Panayoti Kelaidis introduced them here.” The dubious gardener and I continued our tour.

These folks claimed to have an all-edible front garden. How’s this for creeping thyme? The gardener had two huge patches of these, one on each side of his front walkway and as we approached them the thyme appeared to be buzzing and humming. It was. There were hundreds of bees swarming over the blossoms, belying the “vanishing of the bees”, at least in this garden. The description of the garden mentioned recycled rain barrels in the backyard but someone must have given him the heads-up that it’s against the law in Colorado to collect rainwater because they were nowhere in sight.

I really enjoyed the above garden. There’s nothing like a bright blue stand of Bachelor’s buttons to catch the eye, and flanked by a patch of Sweet William in varying colors, it was a pretty sight. Colorful poppies added to the mix. This garden also had a lot of the small yellowish-orange California poppies which had self-sown in every nook and cranny. The dubious gardener wondered what they were and when I identified them he said, “Looks like onions to me.” Actually he was looking at a patch of onions. We make a habit of misunderstanding each other. He liked this garden too except for the fact there was no grass.

Having been fortified by a quick beer at a metal sculpture garden (no pictures of that, the beer went to my head) we soldiered on to garden number 12, or 13, or 14. I couldn’t remember by then. But it had lots of roses. Apparently north Denver got even more rain than we did, because the plants are taller and the roses huge. Or maybe they just have more sun or are a bit more disciplined about fertilizing.

I liked the placement of this dwarf Blue Spruce in a green-glazed pot which was a nice complement of colors. The homeowner apologized for having very few flowers to show because her new puppy had spent the morning biting the heads off them. No problem. The dubious gardener admired her nice swath of lawn and complimented her on her good taste, and then, tour done, we headed back to our respective houses to - what else? – mow our lawns.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Great expectations

Pretty little thing, isn't it? This is Paul's Himalayan Musk, one of the great rambler roses.

See how tiny this fully opened bloom is in my hand? See how badly I need a manicure? (I think I had once for a wedding in about 1990). See the roses threading their way through to the top of this pine tree?

1990 is about the same year that I planted Paul. I was swept away by Wayside Gardens' description that it was not for the faint of heart. They claimed it produced small, fully double, apple-blossom pink blooms on thin stems....so far, so good. They went on to say it blooms in great clusters on this huge rambling rose. Does this look like great clusters? Granted, I probably shouldn't have picked a pine tree for Paul to ramble through. What grows well at the foot of a pine? Vinca, I suppose, but not Paul's Himalayan Musk.

My rose above (at dusk), and Wayside Gardens rose below. Hmm, I see a big difference! Well, it's only been in the ground for 17 years, maybe a few more will do the trick.

Oh well, gardening is all about great expectations, isn't it?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Everything's coming up roses..and peonies..and poppies

An abundance of rain this spring has been a boon to the roses. Here are some that are in bloom now. This is an overhead view of Betty Prior mixed in with Jupiter's Beard (Valerian) in the crowded front bed. I've said before I wish I hadn't planted this rose right next to the sidewalk. I'm constantly pruning it back so it doesn't snag the neighborhood kiddies on their Big Wheels. I wish all my roses bloomed like Betty does. Nothing stops her from now till frost, just bloom, bloom, bloom. Her flowers look like pink dogwood blossoms.

This is a long view of the crowded bed. It's hard to believe that a Blue Mist spirea will bloom in the middle of it all later in the summer, but it will. Oh, and asters too. This is a lot of stuff in one bed but before I removed the huge upright juniper last year that cast so much shade this was one of my few sunny beds so I had to cram, cram, cram.

A close-up of the yellow rose on the left side of the bed. I tend to give roses my own names since I mostly can't remember what I planted. Or for some reason I thought that little metal tag would always be visible (I think squirrels collect them). But this one came unidentified from Home Depot quite some time ago. At the time I was lusting for a Gloire de Dijon when I spotted this one which I thought was close enough (and much cheaper). So this one is called Faux Gloire de Dijon.

I call this one Shell Pink because it reminds me of the color inside a conch shell we brought back from Key West once. It's on the right side of the bed behind Betty Prior. My daughter sent me a collection of roses from J&P a few years back and I can't find the tags on any of them. This was one of them, and it smells heavenly (maybe I should call it Heavenly Shell Pink?)

Up near the garage Old Faithful lives up to its name. Usually it's a small manageable yellow rose bush but the abundant rains made it act more geyser-like. Fortunately for me I found a black iron rose pillar in someone's trash last week and now Old Faithful's canes are corralled instead of flopping on the grass. Note the Rose of Sharon bush in the left rear, more about that below.

Across the grass path from Old Faithful are Oriental poppies and peonies. I used to hate these colors together. It no longer bothers me, in fact I like it. I think I'd like to see some red poppies in there too.

I like the way the same variety of poppies have variations in color. The one below is almost red, don't you think?

These peonies were here when we moved in 30 years ago. They used to be in the back yard in a sunny spot. Over the years the trees got bigger and the shade got deeper so I moved them out to the sunnier front yard 15 years ago. I also planted a little dinky Rose of Sharon at the same time. Sharon's not so dinky anymore and she's shading and crowding the peonies. I don't know if I have the gumption to move the peonies again. After transplanting they might not bloom for another couple of years and I would be sad not to see them next spring.

I never did see any ants this year on the peonies. A common garden myth is that ants are necessary to "tickle the buds" into opening. Obviously not true, but it was fun to believe it for a long time and I still look for ants each year.