The Impatient Gardener: May 2014

30 May 2014


I'm declaring it here: Someday I will go to the Chelsea Flower Show. This annual event is a veritable utopia for gardeners who go to take in the show gardens (from large to small), and special booths often featuring specific plants. The only thing keeping me from booking a ticket for next year is the crowds. I'd have to figure out a way to avoid the public days because after watching some shows on it, I would go nuts dealing with all those people.

Continuing my addiction to BBC gardening shows, I watched almost all 14 hours of Chelsea Flower Show programming on Youtube last week (go here to watch most of them) and while much of it was repetitive, it gave me the best look at the show I've ever had. The website has a handful of photos of each garden (not nearly enough, in my opinion), videos and, best of all, a few gardens provide plant lists (this should be mandatory for every garden, I think).

What amazed me was how the large show gardens, all designed and sponsored by different people, seemed to have so much in common. A blue, white and yellow color scheme (in other words, very soothing) seemed to be everywhere (this was just fine with me because I'm learning that is my favorite, for now, anyway). The planting styles were also very similar. Giant chunky drifts of plants (as we've been taught to plant in and I have preached here, although sometimes still struggle to do in my own garden) seem to have given way to a more naturalistic style of planting. Many of the gardens seemed to have a small number of plant varieties, but mixed them up and repeated them throughout. It's one way to make a garden that I feel is always successful, but it requires far more restraint than I'll ever have.

My favorite garden was the Hope on the Horizon garden designed by Matthew Keightly, who is just 29. It won the People's Choice award and I can see why.

This is my favorite part of it.

The Galloping Gardener photo

The combination of the granite blocks, the ethereal Mexican feather grass (which I'm now obsessed with and in search of for my own garden even though it's only an annual here and relatively invasive in warmer zones), the white agapanthus and the pops of blue is just amazing. I think the plant selection in this garden is absolutely amazing.

There was a very similar color palette used on the Best in Show garden, the Laurent-Perrier garden designed by Luciano Giubbilei. I don't care for this garden nearly as much but clearly the judges didn't agree.

Another garden that I liked was the Telegraph garden, which the design brief says is a modern interpretation of an Italian garden. If this is what a garden in Italy is like, I consider that one more reason to get there soon.

My favorite thing in it is the lime trees (Tilia x europaea 'Pallida' aka European linden) that have been trained to form a roof. What amazing structure they add! And they make the perfect spot to sit for a cappuciano. I also quite like what I'm calling the ottoman boxwoods. We've seen boxwoods pruned into just about every shape imaginable, but this is the first time I've seen them all squatty. The planting is great, and while straight lines aren't usually my thing, I think they make perfect sense in this garden.

As much as I love that color scheme, even after looking at these three gardens, I'm a little sick of it. Thank goodness for this Japanese garden by Kazuyuki Ishihara to change it up.

Chelsea gardens aren't meant to be real, of course. Every plant is coddled to be at its peak for the show, a situation you could never reproduce in a real garden. But it's incredibly inspirational. I wish I could see them with my own eyes.

Labels: , ,

28 May 2014


As you know, I love planting containers. Of the containers I plant I think I put the most emphasis on the window box. It is probably the first thing you see when you pull up to our house and it's one of the few containers I can see (part of, anyway) from inside the house. So I spend a lot of time planning what will go in it.

I was happy with how the window box turned out last year, maybe for the first time ever. A logical person might think of just doing the same thing, but not me. There are just way too many flowers in this world to repeat a container planting as far as I'm concerned.

I did, however, take some cues from last year's box. Two years ago I had a very colorful planting but there was no variation in texture. Everything was about the same size and shape. So last year I went out of my way to vary the foliage size and shape.

I did even more of that this year. Like last year, I started with a row of five Blue Mohawk grasses in the back. I loved how they grew last year but not so much that the view from inside was blocked. And like last year, I put a layer of coleus in front of them, although this year I went with a chartreuse one with purple veining called Gay's Delight. Right now the leaves are starting to turn more yellow than I'd like but I'm hoping that's because it's been thrust into full sun with only a short period of hardening off from the greenhouse.

Skipping ahead to the front row, I put a Supertunia Indigo Charm, one of the few absolutely can't-miss plants that I use just about every year, in the middle. Then I repeated the planting on either side of it starting with a trailing nasturtium, a spider plant (or something like it; it wasn't labeled), Sweet Caroline Raven sweet potato vine and then another trailing nasturtium on either end of the box.

In the middle I stuck in two orange signet marigolds, both for their orange flowers and their feathery texture, and two Superbena Royal Chambrays.

I wasn't doing the window box any favors by taking this in the evening and without hauling out the ladder. I just held the camera over my head and hoped for the best. Still, you get an idea of what's going on in there.
I'll be honest, I'm not feeling particular confident about the design and I can't guarantee that I won't rip something out and change it in a few weeks. I'm worried that I'm short on flowers. I'm also fearful that the coleus is going to be too bossy color-wise with the rest of the plants. I actually think the key is going to be the signet marigolds, which I've never grown before, so that's a lot of pressure. If those don't fill out and bloom decently, the whole thing could be a flop.

Of course it all looks underwhelming right now, as all new plantings do. Whether it's a successful design remains to be seen. Time will tell.

Labels: , ,

27 May 2014


Did you all have a great long weekend (at least my U.S. readers who celebrated Memorial Day)? I love long weekends (well, who doesn't?) but my goodness, they are so exhausting.

Saturday was our big master gardeners' plant sale, so I took Friday off of work and spent nine hours helping set that up. Then it was back early Saturday morning for the actual sale. It went well, but it's always interesting to see what is purchased first. This year, anything edible was really hot. Our heirloom tomatoes (which we grow ourselves by renting out space in a nearby nursery's greenhouses) are always hot sellers, but this year people really wanted vegetables. The kale sold out in minutes. The gardeners we get shopping at the sale don't want to fuss with seeds. They want plants and they want them growing quickly. I can understand that feeling.

What didn't sell well was purely ornamental plants. I'm not sure if that's because the people who come to our sale (which, years ago, used to be strictly herbs) are focused on edibles, or if ornamental gardening in our area is fading from popularity.

Usually I get a lot of gardening done on Memorial Day weekend, and this year was no exception, although there is so much more to do. If I don't get onto weeding soon I will be in dire straights. I usually plant all my containers this weekend, but it's still a little cool outside and I'm really babying all the annuals I've purchased from nurseries and taking some time to properly harden them off. I did get the window box planted and I'll show you that later in the week. It was a bit of a departure for me in some ways and I'll be honest, I'm nervous about it.

The back/side yard project is progressing. I'm happy to tell you that I'm finished removing sod. Thank goodness. I completely forgot about using the mattock, which I actually purchased for the same reason some years ago. Once I brought that out, it went very quickly. I'll show you some of what I've been up to there later this week to.
The tree would be much prettier if that trailer weren't parked in our driveway. The garage roof is in the middle of being replaced and we told our contractor (and neighbor and friend) that he could park his trailer there while they are working on it. That's Limelight hydrangea budding out in the foreground.

But today I'm going to tell you about the world's most accurate rain predictor. It is my Serviceberry tree. Our tree—a gift from my mother-in-law about 11 years ago—has grown so much. It's obviously happy in its location. As far as flowering goes, the small white flowers take about a week to fully open. Once open, they will stay like that for up to a week, creating a gorgeous white cloud. But only if they stay dry. If they get wet, they droop and that's the beginning of the end.

So of course, it pretty much never fails that the day the flowers fully open will be soon followed by rain and once again it happened this year. When I woke up Monday morning I could see from the bedroom window that the Serviceberry was in full bloom.

So I did what any rational gardener would do and I ran out to take some pictures because I knew it could rain at any moment. I was able to enjoy the tree all day until the torrential downpour came at 5 p.m. and then was followed Tuesday morning by a deluge that had me jumping out of bed to rescue some seed trays I remembered I had left out on the patio.

The Serviceberry is a great tree and it offers something at almost every time of the year (OK, not so much in winter because it doesn't have interesting bark or anything). I'd love it more if those flowers didn't bring on the rain and stuck around a little longer, but I love it just the same. Floppy flowers and all.


20 May 2014


I can't tell you how much I wish this post was showing you the new beds in the back/side yard, but I still haven't finished pulling up the sod. Apparently I grossly underestimated how much sod there was to remove and just what a pain in the butt it is to remove. I think I can finish it up with one good night after work, but I need it to stop raining for that to happen.

Rather than dwell on what's not happening in the garden, one of my favorite things to do at this time of year is enjoy all the beautiful plants in the woodland area that just take care of themselves. It's always a little amazing that I spend so much time coddling some of the plants in the garden then so many other go and just manage themselves and are so beautiful.

The Virginia bluebells are all over the garden as well as the woods, but they are really such a beautiful simple flower. When I tire of the foliage I just chop it back and the plants never seem to be any worse for the wear.

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, Virginia bluebells

The jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) have really spread themselves around the garden and the woods in recent years and I don't mind a bit.  They have such an exotic look to them.

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, jack in the pulpit

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, jack in the pulpit

I love the mayapples. These plants disappear almost out of the blue but always come back like little umbrellas. Unfortunately, this is the area where in the past I've had several white trilliums and I can't find any this year. I can't imagine what happened to them. I have plenty of (delicious) ramps (the strappy foliage in the next picture) and a few more bloodroots (which have the most amazing leaves in addition to cute little white flowers), but the trilliums are missing. I'm heartbroken.

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, mayapples

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, ramps and bloodroot

Along the stream my absolute favorite wildflower is blooming, although I feel the population has decreased a bit this year. I just adore marsh marigolds.

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, marsh marigold

As I was taking the photo of the marsh marigolds, I was surprised to look down and see this little sedum popping up all along the rocks. I didn't plant it there and there are no sedums that are native to Wisconsin, so this little guy came from somewhere but I have no idea where. It's a lovely little accent.

The woods are covered in skunk cabbage, which despite its name, is quite a lovely plant. Right now it looks like bright green hostas dotted throughout the woods. Its bold foliage is the perfect compliment to the just-unfurling ostrich ferns. Soon the ferns will stretch to 5 feet tall and open all their fronds and the woods will disappear into a sea of green.

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, skunk cabbage

 This little scilla siberica is so charming in the middle of the woods.

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, scilla siberica

The trout lilies are all over the shade garden and I've given up trying to get them out. They seem to be relatively harmless and even sort of cute when they flower. This one was shy in the morning, but its flowers are usually open when I get home from work.

The Impatient Gardener: Southeastern Wisconsin wildflowers, trout lily

I'm so happy we have the little bit of woodland. I can't imagine a spring without these beautiful plants, made even more attractive by the fact that I didn't do anything to make them bloom.


15 May 2014


I've been so busy working on various projects around the garden that I've neglected showing you what the actual garden is looking like these days.

As usual, there is good news and bad news in the garden. The bad news is that our cold, wet spring has really retarded the growth of many perennials. My hellebores are just showing buds now, a good six weeks late. My witch hazel, which bloomed in February two years ago, is just now blooming. Well, what's left of it is blooming. The deer ravaged it, and so many other things, this winter.

The good news is that this long, hard winter was less damaging in my garden than in other places. I credit the thick layer of snow that we had all winter for that.

Even though they are slow to come out of hibernation, most of my shrubs and trees seem to have emerged relatively unscathed. That includes the Venus dogwood tree that I planted last year despite it being questionably hardy for my area. The buds are starting to swell on it and while I don't expect flowers on it this year, I'm thrilled to see any sign of life.

Buds are also swelling on the gingko 'Gnome' and I have to say I absolutely love this plant at this stage. It is absolutely perfectly studded with little green buds and I love the architecture of it.

The Impatient Gardener: Budding gingko 'Gnome'

I'm quite happy with the chive hedge on part of the circle garden. The chive divisions I planted last year really took off. I wish I would have planted them a little closer, but they should grow to fill that gap. Here's what it looked like last year when I planted them about this time.

The Impatient Gardener: Chive hedge

The thalictrum 'Black Stockings' (meadow rue) is looking great. I absolutely love this plant.

The Impatient Gardener: Thalictrum 'Black Stockings'

The 'Cancan' climbing rose is finally thinking about leafing out.

For reference, this is what it looked like on April 2, 2012. What a difference!

The boxwood mostly did OK, but there is some damage on the stems above the level of the snow coverage. I assume this is mostly sun fading. I look forward to late June when I will be able to cut off those damaged bits and reshape it. I want a really tight meatball this year.

The Impatient Gardener: green velvet boxwood

The Impatient Gardener: green velvet boxwood winter sun scald

The 'Blue Magoo' blue spruce, which is growing slowly but surely, has a pretty severe case of sunscald, but I think it will recover in time. It's about 30 inches tall these days and I will admit I wish it would start growing a little faster. I think this is its third year so maybe I'll get a bit of a leap.

 What I didn't show you was the weeds, which are absolutely loving the rain we've been getting. As always, there's lots to do in the garden. How's your garden looking?

Labels: ,

13 May 2014


You think this is going to be about weeding, don't you? Well, I do detest weeding, but it pales in comparison to the garden job that I truly abhor: pulling up sod.

Last weekend I finally had the guts to cut the bed lines for the new side/back yard. I sort of had to; the can of landscaping spray paint I bought was almost gone after redrawing the lines four or five times when I either changed my mind or they were snowed or rained on. I either had to cut or buy another can.

The cutting is no problem, but when it came to pulling up the sod, well, that just stinks. Removing sod is such a lousy job. First of all, it's hard to cut that stuff into pieces without a sod cutter. And it is SO heavy. I also knock off as much soil as I can both to aid in moving it as well as to keep the cost of any soil I might have to add down. And then you need to find a place to put it all (usually I just turn it upside down and make a pile in the woods which breaks down and becomes compost at some point), and that means filling up the wheelbarrow and moving it all. And as weird as this sounds, I usually check the sod pieces for worms and throw them back in the ground because I don't want to waste any worms in my garden.

There are very few jobs I would ever entertain hiring someone to do in my garden (I'm far too particular), but this is definitely one of them. Except I can't think of anyone who would actually do this or what amount of money they'd charge to do it.

I probably got about halfway through the sod removal process over the weekend. The plan was to finish up this week after work but it has been raining almost nonstop since Sunday night.

This is where I stopped on Sunday afternoon. That part of the bed will go as far as the closer post on that set of stairs. I actually left the spade right there in the ground and walked away. Bad gardener!

The upstairs window in the bedroom really comes in handy for getting the bigger picture of what's going on in the back/side yard. I made the bed that crosses the path a little bigger to make it into a true oval. From this view it looks like the top left bit of that bed, to the left of the path, got a little flat so I'll have to go back and fix that. I will be moving the stones that create a mini path to the left of the path up and bend them around to create the border on that side of the bed. It looks like my cutting got a little sloppy where the large oval of grass meets the oval across the path, but that's easily fixed. I've not done any sod removal at all on the far side up by the garage, but once I get up there I think the whole design will make much more sense.

You can see in the photo below that I also changed the main bed in the lower right of the photo. I extended the curve of the stone wall back to the path rather than swooping it up. I think that makes more sense. I'm trying to grow a bit of grass in that area now, although as you can see, growing grass is not our strong suit.

In the meantime, I've dug out and potted up most of the plants that were in the small bed by the garage. I also divided the Hakenachloa 'All Gold' from the west side of the house which will be prominently featured in the shadier parts of the new back/side yard.

Everything seems to be managing just fine in the pots, including the three clematis that lived in that bed. I will have to be good about not letting them bloom their hearts out this year so they put more energy into getting established in their new spots than into flowering. That's tough for any gardener to do.

Once all the sod is removed, I will have to go back and amend the soil in those beds. It's not horrible, but every time I've not taken the time to amend soil in a new garden from the beginning, I've regretted it and I don't want to make that mistake again. I will be very happy when all the prep work is finished and it's time to plant.

Labels: ,

09 May 2014


It seems incomprehensible to me that I have given basically no thought to container plantings this year. By this time of the year I usually know exactly what I'll be doing in all of my containers, but I'm just first starting to think about it now. Certainly the weather is partly to blame, but I've also had other gardening projects on the brain.

It could also be because I still haven't finished the planter we've been building. It's so close to finished, but I keep dragging my feet on it. Hopefully this will be the weekend that I'm able to declare it finished and share it with you.

My greatest source of inspiration for container planting is always looking at photos of other containers. I can't think of a time that I've ever copied a container planting exactly, but I usually see something I like and use that as a jumping off point for creating the look I'm after.

So, for Feature Friday, I'm sharing some pretty container design photos. I hope they'll spark a design for you as much as for me.

Not sure on the source but I think this is a Deborah Silver design.

Deborah Silver

Deborah Silver

Pot Inc.
Edens Gate Gardening

A note about sources: Many of these photos came from my Pinterest Container Gardening board and the pins I then pinned for this board don't seem to go back to the original source. If you know the source, please let me know and I will be sure to give proper credit.

Labels: ,