Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Suburban Water

I was taking a thinking stroll in the suburban area near my office and I happened upon this water feature. My guess is that this is a 1920s era house, common in old suburbia in the US. You know the landscape, built on a hill with a steep set of steps leading to the front door. Often landscaped with an apparently un-mowable patch of grass. Here the owner has build a babbling brook into a solid stone creek. In sun and shade. With water plants. Serene in suburbia.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Solomons Seal

Now that the Hellebores are in it is time to work other parts of the front garden. I know that Solomons Seal, Polygonatum, is a well known wild flower in this region. I have seen it walking the lake. It is fairly plain though, a reasonable but unspectacular ground cover. Three years ago the local nurseries started to carry a variegated form of Solomon's seal. They were still unusual items, not carried in many places. I bought a few to try them out.

The next year they had spread to about twice their original area. Even in a not too hospitable area in mostly shade and root competition. The white/yellow variegation on the edge of the leaves made them glow slightly. They show a row of small bell-like flowers in the spring, but you won't grow them for the bloom. They also did well with hostas, rising in most cases to about a foot and a half. Like Hostas they die to the ground in the fall and come back with red shoots, well after the early spring bulbs come up. Wait for them before your dispair.

This year I tried some mass divisions to fill in some of my lost areas. Solomon's Seal reproduce by spreading rhizomes, often in a 'line', depending on how loose the soil is. Also by seed, though I have not seen that. In established beds the rhizomes come close to or even break the soil surface. Though they spread readily, they are not invasive and easily controlled.

They are very easy to divide, much easier than Hostas. Lift them with a shovel and then slice them apart. The leaf stems are fragile, and can break at the bottom, so treat them gently. Then replant them in enriched soil and water them in well. Once they are established, say after the first year, they do well in even dry root-ridden areas. I got over a hundred divisions and replanted them in improved soil in a three meter square area. Added a bit of fertilizer, but it's probably not necessary. Should create a very nice ground cover of Solomon's Seal next year.

They have medicinal uses. One reference says the leaves have a spicy flavor, though I have not tried them yet. When I get enough I will make a salad.

The local nursery is selling these for twenty dollars a quart pot with only a few meager stems. You can easily do your own propagation and have many in just a few years. I should get into the business.

Above, a two year old line of plants, below, today's planting.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Consider the Hellebores

Three years ago I noticed that my few Hellebores were growing a crop of seedlings. So I took the seedlings and placed them in an unused bed in the back yard. In three years they produced a thick bed of leathery, glossy foliage about two feet high, evergreen through our winter, covered in tan flowers. They did not come 'true' from seedlings, reverting to green/tan from previously blue/pink flowers. They had survived, forgotten, the drought of '07 with almost no watering. About three years from small seedlings to mature plants. Good attributes.

Hellebores are now common in the garden catalogs. Not so ten years ago. The local nurseries also have them, though they are not as common as Hostas. They are surprisingly pricey, marketed as exotics. Beyond being mostly evergreen (burning here in cold winters) they have a number of benefits. They do well in shade, though they do benefit from some sun. Once established, they can survive a dry area. They bloom, remarkably in mid to late winter, sometimes in the midst of snow.

Why not divide them into my front garden? I had never divided Hellebores. I have done countless other plants, but not Hellebores. So I read up on them on the Internet and went through all the question and answers. The WP has a good overview. Many thought they were mysterious and needed special care during division. Toxic, don't eat, some people have skin reactions.

I got my shovel and started to divide the bed in place, digging under, lifting and then hacking away each plant, trying to get as much soil with each divided plant as possible. Easily got a dozen plants from half my seedling bed. They are easier to work with than Hostas. Dug the receiving hole, augmented the soil with organic matter, added some slow release fertilizer, watered in the hole, placed in the plant and firmly tamped it down, watered again. The new location is in dappled shade. They are doing well.

A good choice for the semi-shady garden. Requires little work. Can produce a thick bed of ground cover ideal for fill-ins in tough areas. Above is one of the plantings. Will report on the bed in the future,

Friday, June 13, 2008

Stone Walk in the Woods

There is nothing much more beautiful than a stone path in the woods. I was reminded of this by a recently published book : The Art and Craft of Stonescaping: Setting and Stacking Stone, by David Reed. Just starting to browse the book. In particular it is about dry stacked stone. No cement, just stone stacked up to be as solid as possible. Probably with soil behind it for planting. You can set such a wall easily, though it will probably heave during freezes in our climate. It is continual work, not like mowing the lawn.

Over many years I have hand dragged stone up from a stream bed, maybe a hundred feet below the back garden. Probably a few tons. The size of stones I could deal with are relatively small, mostly twenty pounds or so, larger ones would be more stable, in particular at least an assortment of 'capstones' to tie things together. But that would add to the ache in my knees. I don't gather stone any more, but now I have a great deal of stone for the gardens. They can and have been placed and re-placed.

The picture here is a dated photo of the path to the back pergola. It no longer looks like that, poor choices of ground cover have filled in much of that area and it needs machete work to restore it to that state. My stone work is pretty simple. The stone here is Ordovician limestone, often covered with fossils from a 400 million year old sea, when things were much warmer here. The glacier from 12 thousand years ago stopped roughly in our back yard and deposited the stone and carved the stream that chopped up the former sea bed.

When I have traveled I always look for a good dry laid wall. Even a short piece of wall is an inspiration.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Shade Resources

A book that I have had for years is George Schenk's The Complete Shade Gardener. A bit quirky at times, like his suggestions about growing a vegetable garden, but a very complete resource. Larry Hodgeson's book: Making the Most of Shade: How to Plan, Plant, and Grow a Fabulous Garden that Lightens up the Shadows is well rated in Amazon, but I have not had a chance to look at it, will review when I do. Garden books are a bit like cook books, lots of glossy photos sell the book, like super models in a cosmetics ad, they are aspirational, though I am not sure they often convert to action. An example of this is Ken Druse's The Natural Shade Gardener, a stunning set of photos of shade gardens, with lots of close-ups but not too much actual help in the garden. I did buy it, though, to me it was inspirational. Much more in Amazon. What are your favorites?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Working the Garden

I mentioned that we lost a good portion of the garden due to the drought. Though I am now retired, I have been spending most weekdays doing post retirement work. The weekends have been about rehabilitating the garden. This weekend was the warmest yet, over 90 degrees and very humid. In the background is the shrill song of the cicadas. Here we get them in force about every 17 years. (Thought question: Does anyone notice anything unusual about that number? Why would it be that kind of number?) During the long walk around Sharon Woods lake yesterday they were out in force, their high pitch in the foreground and in waves in the background, occasionally descending on you from the trees. They don't bite and don't do any harm to my kinds of plants. Only a nuisance for a few weeks and then they are gone again for 17 years. Late in the summer, in August, we get very different locust sounds.

Below is a picture of the front garden as of the first of June, compare it to the 2006 picture in the post below. Went to the garden store today and bought in some fill in Hostas and Solomon's seal. Have also been dividing plants to fill in the drought deletions. Bought some Coleus to brighten up some of my only sun, at the bottom of the drive. More on that in a later post. While planting the new acquisitions noted the soil. When you plant under trees, especially maples, some of the top soil can be turned into a fibrous mat. That also makes it hard to retain moisture during dry periods. Using Osmocote to feed these days, learned to use that in my Nursery days. Still quite a bit to do as the late spring continues here. Hope it cools off.