The Impatient Gardener: March 2011

25 March 2011

Emerging from the snow

Look what finally gets to see the light of day.


This little boxwood ('Green velvet' I think) is such a trooper. When I planted it near the corner of the garden I never realized that it would be buried by snow plowed from the driveway every winter, but it is. How it manages to retain any shape at all I don't know, but it doesn't look much worse for the wear now that is finally being allowed to see the light of day.


24 March 2011

A little spray paint goes a long way

I'm so excited and honored to have my little yellow lamp redo featured on one of my favorite blogs, Better After, today.

If you've not checked out Better After before, it's so worth it. You wouldn't believe the inspirational stuff that people come up with. I'm honored to be in such good company.


22 March 2011

Grass vs. Garden

If you follow The Impatient Gardener on Facebook or Twitter, you know that Mr. Much More Patient and I are having a, um, discussion about the future of the back yard.

For years, he's been bugging me to create a real path out to the detached garage so we don't have to walk over the grass. He's right about it: we need it. I've been avoiding it because all I see is a whole lot of back-breaking stone hauling. I also don't love the idea of a stone/gravel/whatever path bordered on both sides with grass, only because I think it will look a little silly. But at this time of the year, when those who dare to walk on the grass between the two structures risk sinking six inches deep into shoe-sucking mud, in mid-winter, when ice forms on the grass from overuse, and in mid-summer when the grass is worn from use, it is obvious that a proper path is necessary.

So the path is on the agenda for this spring as well as a redesign of the beds back there thanks to the new deck we added as part of the renovation. This weekend I took a break from painting to throw on my new Target wellies (a must in the destroyed-and-seeded-in-fall back yard) and do some measuring so I could put it all on graph paper and get an idea of what the plan is. And I came up with a nice little design featuring curvy beds (I love me some curvy beds) that I think tie the new path in with the rest of the existing garden, not to mention provide the opportunity to screen the garage a little. This is a benefit because I'm pretty sure the garage is going to fall over some day and if I have a little bit of pretty screening, I won't have to look at the pile of rubble under which our cars are buried.


Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner,
Jennifer Benner photo via

vs. Garden:
Midwest Living photo
Midwest Living photo

But here's the problem: Mr. Much More Patient wants grass; I want plants. He has his reasons for sure: I already spend  hundreds of hours in the gardens we already have every summer and there are weekends when he literally has to drag me out of the garden and stick a gin and tonic in my hand while forcing me to sit down on the patio to enjoy the garden. Also, he's smart enough to know by now that more gardens = more plants = more money. But I think what it really comes down to is that he wants a big, expansive lawn to look out on. I don't pretend to get it, but I know it's a common affliction for his gender.

Lest anyone get on his bandwagon, let me tell you that new garden or not, that will not happen. We have extremely sandy soil and two enormous dogs who have free run of the back yard. We don't use any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or other chemicals on the lawn. It's sort of hilly back there and there is an enormous evergreen with a 50-foot wingspan that provides more than a little shade. The perfect lawn is not in the cards.

I don't really have a lot of arguments on my side other than what I've already mentioned regarding asethetics, other than to say that if had any clue what my long term plan for the yard was, he'd be thrilled I only wanted to reclaim a couple dozen more square feet of lawn. Plus, about a third of our property (if not more) is woods, the edges of which probably were once part of the lawn until a previous owner allowed them to "go native." There's no reason we couldn't reclaim part of that for lawn space if we felt we needed more.

So where do you fall in the garden vs. grass battle? Do you love a big, beautiful lawn fit for a good game of croquet or would you rather see more gardens?

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16 March 2011

Stay out of that garden!

You wanna garden? Oh yeah, I know you do. But ya know what? Working in your beds right now may be the worst thing you could do for your garden.

Check out why on my guest post over at The Design Confidential.

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15 March 2011

Another hydrangea I'm losing my marbles over

You all know I have kind of a thing for Tim Wood, right? I certainly mention him enough here. Well, that's not entirely true, even though he seems to be a very nice, intelligent and sort of funny guy. I really have a thing for his hydrangeas. (Honestly, Tim, I'm not stalking you ... just your plants.)

Little Lime looking gorgeous.

He mentioned Hydrangea paniculata Little Lime at the Proven Winners Outdoor Living Extravaganza last year and I could tell then he was excited about it. But last year I was a bit overcome with my feelings about Incrediball. I'm now, however, anxious to get my dirt-covered hands on Little Lime.

(A quick departure here to discuss Little Lime's name. Little Lime is the trademarked name, but the cultivar name, according to the Spring Meadows site is 'Jane.' So who are you Jane that you got so lucky as to have this little beauty named for you? Maybe Tim Wood will find a new hydrangea that is has all the properties of Little Lime but the flowers turn blue. The cultivar can be called 'Erin' but I'll let him use a different trademarked name.)

I love Limelight. I have one growing in my garden that I have to prune pretty heavily to keep in check and it loves me for it. I see them all over the place and think they really might be the most amazing hydrangea there is (other than those tricky blue ones, that is). Remember the garden I crashed last summer that had hedges of them? I still have dreams about it.

A Limelight hedge ... love at first sight.

But Limelight is a big girl. Big-boned you might say so as to not hurt her feelings. And that means she's great for some spots, but not so much in others. What the world needed was a Limelight Mini Me, and now Tim Wood has given us just that in Little Lime.

Briefly, Little Lime is about half the size of her big sister, just 3 to 5 feet tall vs. Limelight's 6 to 8 (or even 10) feet. She's equally hardy (to zone 3!) and gets the same amazing lime green flowers that turn white, then pink then almost burgundy. I leave the flowerheads on my Limelight all winter and they are beautiful against the snow (that is, earlier in the winter when I can still find the beauty in snow).

If you don't believe me, check out this great video of Tim Wood, Limelight and Little Lime herself pitching the new girl as the next "Garden Idol." (You may have to register to view the video but it's worth it.)

As I design some new gardens in the back yard I know that both Limelight and hopefully Little Lime will feature prominently in them.

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14 March 2011

A sunny before and after (+ a sneak peak)

How about a little before and after to start the week?

I bought this lamp at Target about five years ago or so and honestly, I don't know what I was thinking with that shade. It sat in the guest room which really always was a decorating disaster. I think I was trying to go too many directions in the old room. So this time around, I wanted to keep it simple enough that even I couldn't screw it up: yellow, gray, white, black.

So I bought a new lampshade, because I really detested the shape of the old one. It was, I think, $9 at Target. I'm very into these great geometric patterns these days, such as the great Imperial Trellis and my current favorite China Seas Aga from Quadrille. Have you priced those fabrics? Let's just say that I don't have any shoes that cost more than a yard of it. I looked for a less expensive option with a similar feel but had no luck. If I had found something I would have just wrapped the lamp shade in it, trimmed it out with more ribbon and been done with it.

But that was not to be. So I made my own pattern with painter's tape and some spray paint. I couldn't find tape that was skinny enough so I bought the one-inch Frog Tape and sliced it lengthwise into three pieces. The I measured out every three inches on the top and bottom of the lamp shade, and made a criss-cross pattern. It wasn't perfect because the bottom of the shade is 2 inches bigger than the top, but it was close enough. Then I went back and cut out some of the sections.

This is what it looked like when the taping was finished. I also taped a piece of waxed paper over the top to keep spray paint from coating the inside of the shade.


Then I just took some "Pewter gray" spray paint and did two light coats. In the meantime, I spray primed (I like the Zynsser BIN primer) and spray the lamp a bright yellow.

And here's what it looked like with it was finished.

And here's a few sneak peeks of it in the new guest room. Obviously this room has a way to go. The bed needs a headboard. A rug would be good I think. And there is a giant wall crying out for some art. Plus, I'm not sure the furniture layout is right. Still, you get the idea.



And what do you think about that light on the ceiling fan? I mentioned it before (here) and as I suggested then, opinions on it appear to break down entirely on gender lines: men hate it, women love it.

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11 March 2011

Replanning and replanting

It's funny that I seem to refer to this photo a lot for different posts. This was taken in September on the day we started the renovation so it looks a little bit like we might be loading up the Joads' truck or something. Anyway, you can see the area along the front of the house that I'm talking about. I'd already cut back the Russian Sage quite a bit here in preparation for digging it all out.

So I mentioned that I ripped out all of the Russian sage in the little bed between the south side of the house and the patio and that my plan is to replace it with more Russian sage. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it?

Here's the deal. The area in question, about a 2-foot-wide patch of dirt that runs from the front door to along the south side of our white house to the stairs to the back door, is a very inhospitable place to grow something. The sun beats down on it thanks to the southern exposure. Rain is limited because the area is mostly covered by the eaves of the house. The white siding reflects even more light.

But I need to grow something there. Our foundation sits about four feet out of the ground because we're so close to the water table. Therefore the rather ugly block foundation is fully visible all around the house. Planting something in that area makes you look beyond that ugliness.

Because it's a small area, I don't want to plant multiple varieties of plants. I want it to be simple and pretty, and not compete with the front door, the window box or the nearby perennial garden. I have a couple of clematis planted in it for some vertical interest (although whether they survived the construction remains to be seen) and to break it up a little. Boxwood would probably work in that area, but I think that's just too formal for that part of the house.

The Russian sage that was there when we bought the house had a lot of good things going for it. It was certainly mature, and the blue color when in bloom was beautiful against the white of the house. But it had plenty of disadvantages too. It was too leggy and even though I pruned it pretty hard a couple times during the summer, it would end up flopping all over the patio. In order to be able to shovel the patio in the winter, I'd have to cut it back in fall, which isn't great for plants and leaves the foundation exposed all winter. It would be much prettier to have something, even the skeleton of a deciduous plant, to break up that line during the winter.

The variety that had been planted there was the common kind of Russian sage: Perovskia atriplicifolia. It's a tough plant, perfect for the kind of conditions this little microclimate provides (and also for island beds on boulevards, etc., which is why you often see it planted in the median) and it's lovely scent makes it almost impervious to animal nibbling. It grows to about four feet.

Russian sage (the standard variety shown here) looks great in so many situations, but I think it's particularly lovely here in a prairie-like setting amidst chartreuse grasses. From Great Garden Plants

There is another cultivar of Russian sage that incorporates all the hardiness of the original in a smaller package: Perovski 'Little Spire.' Depending on what source you consult (don't you hate when the size information for a plant varies so much?) it shoul get about 2 feet wide by 2 or 3 feet tall. I'm thinking 3 feet is more likely in my area because I have almost perfect growing conditions for it: sun and great drainage. The thing I like most about is its unlikeliness of flopping, which was my main complaint with the original Russian sage.

'Little Spire' all in a row. From Miller Nursery

Without anything to use as scale it's almost impossible to tell Perovskia atriplicifolia apart from Perovski 'Little Spire.' This is said to be 'Little Spire' but it certainly looks tall compared to the neighboring roses. From Bear Creek Nursery

Now I just need to find a source that will have the dozen or so plants I'll need to fill up this area. If all goes well, I'd like 'Little Spire' to be the first plants I put in the ground this year. 

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08 March 2011

Cue the angel chorus; there is hope

That's right folks. Look past the almost three feet of snow still covering most of the yard (in my part of the world) and you will indeed see signs that spring is on the way. I donned my new Target wellies the other day (with this much snow it's going to be a very wet spring) to take a little cruise (well, not so much a cruise as a fight ... for ... every ... step ... as ... you... plod ... through ... snow ... up ... to ... your ... crotch) through the yard to see what I could see. And what I saw made my heart sing.

First I took a glance at the little strip of ground next to the south side of the house that is bordered by the patio. This is a lovely little microclimate that can support plants that are at least zone 6 if not zone 7, so it's always the first place to produce a plant. The snow also melts quickly here so I can actually find dirt.

And look what I found there: daffodil shoots!

Look at those cute little daffodil shoots!

I'm not sure what is going to come up in this bed this year because I raped it in late fall when I dug out all of the overgrown Russian sage that grows there. I know I damaged or destroyed a lot of bulbs in the process so it will be a surprise this spring. By the way, I'm replanting the area with ... more Russian sage, believe it or not. I'll do a separate post on that though.

Then I made my way around the corner to the area in front of the fireplace. This has been a very tough place for plants, in my experience. It faces west, but there are large trees nearby so it's really gets mid-day sun from the side but not so much hot afternoon sun. I had a rose there for awhile and that failed. Then I planted a gorgeous Kamagata Japanese maple (whose death I cannot mention without almost shedding a tear but you can read about it here and here) and then last year I put in a witch hazel. I can't be sure of the cultivar because the tag is buried under the snow, but if I recall it's a spring bloomer with red flowers. It's not  much to look at now, but up close you see there are indeed little buds thinking about bursting little blooms forth.

It's not much to look at right now, but hopefully soon it will be.

Do you see the one little bud with just the tiniest fraction of pink sticking out?

Incidentally, over on Garden Rant today James Roush is talking about drinking the witch hazel Koolaid, saying that they are unremarkable plants that no one would grow if they bloomed in June. And here are my thoughts on that: he's probably right. But that's just the point: a plant that blooms in June better be darn spectacular because there's a lot of blooming competition. A plant that blooms in early spring basically just has to show signs of life and a little color to make me want to set up a lawn chair and gaze at it lovingly. But in defense of the plant, it has amazing foliage. So there.

And then I went to look at my Acontifolium (Acer japonicum 'Acontifolium'), which is quickly becoming my favorite plant/tree in my yard. Again, it's unimpressive from a distance. Like most Japanese maples, it's a slow grower, but I love its shape and its color throughout the year cannot be beat.

I love Acontifolium's vase shape and it looks particularly nice against the dark green evergreen.

I was happy to see it too has several nicely swollen buds, but I was horrified to look down and see what those nasty rabbits have been up to this winter.

Acontifolium is ready for spring!

Those little bastards chewed the bark on my favorite tree! Now I've dealt with my share of irrational rabbit damage, but this takes the cake. I've never had them do this kind of winter damage before.


The good news is that they did not girdle it, which usually is a death sentence for trees. Everything I've read leads me to believe that it should be able to heal itself without intervention from me. But what I should have done, and will do now to prevent further damage is to use some tree wrap. Apparently you can leave it on as long as the tree is still small and doesn't threaten to grow into the wrap, and by then the bark should be tough enough that Thumper and friends won't be interested in it.

More snow is on the way here, but Mother Nature can't fool me ... I know spring is coming. My plants told me so.

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07 March 2011

Every house needs ...

Don't you think every house should have bougainvillea growing over the garage? I can't think of a house in the world that wouldn't look better with a blooming fuchsia bougainvillea adorning the front of it.


That's just a little snapshot I grabbed with my phone while on a mini vacation. Between the natural wood garage doors and the beautiful bougainvillea, well, it's enough to make a girl want to move to a much warmer climate.