The Impatient Gardener: July 2011

29 July 2011

Tomato race update: Close but so far

For those who have been following the great tomato race, which isn't officially a race but rather a quest for bragging rights between my mom and I at the community garden plot we share specifically for the purpose of growing tomatoes, I have good news and bad news for those of you on Team Erin.

Here's the good news:

See those beauts? That's just one cluster on my heirloom Legacy tomato. There are about three other clusters like that. The tomatoes are a great size; as big or bigger than the typical tomato you'd buy in the store. My mom  has nowhere near the number of fruits on her Legacy.

Here's the bad news: They've been like that for about three weeks, despite the fact that we've had record temperatures and plenty of warm (and even hot) nights. They just won't ripen (and no, this isn't a green tomato variety).

Meanwhile, my mom's Delicious tomato plant also has less fruit than mine, and she officially gets the price for the first ripe tomato of the year from that plant. But what's weird is that the tomatoes on my Delicious plant are nicely formed and otherwise pretty (although, like their next door neighbors on Legacy, they aren't getting ripe any too fast), while the tomatoes on my mom's Delicous plant are a big deformed (although she reports that they taste delicious ... go figure).

There's still no real way to know exactly what accounts for the differences in the plants.

To recap, the plants were purchased from the same place and planted in the same plot. They are receiving the same water and both are in complete full sun. I planted mine with Tomato Tone organic fertilizer and my mom enrobed hers in plastic for the first several weeks of the growing season.

My mom did sneak a cucumber and a few beans in there as well. As you can see the cucumber is pretty happy.

So here's the question though: Who can tell me why all those tomatoes on my Legacy plant are taking so darn long to ripen? Is there anything I can do to speed up the process?

Here are the past updates:
Tomato Race: I'm behind
My name is Erin and I'm a tomato hoarder

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26 July 2011

Is good landscape design timeless?

In this Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the front page of the home and garden section was dedicated to "updating your landscape." The premise of the article was that it is good to update your landscape. In fact the article compared having an "outdated" landscape to having harvest gold appliances.

And all this got me thinking. Does a truly good landscape design ever become outdated? I'm not talking about overgrown bushes that threaten to eat houses. I consider that to be a maintenance issue. And I'm not talking about replacing plants that have either gone onto a better place or that you've just gotten sick of. That's just human nature to want something different after awhile (which I think is a perfectly good reason to redo a landscape, but that's not the same as redoing it because it is outdated).

To me, one of the signs of a great landscape is that it is timeless. Certainly there must be a reason why a formal parterre garden still looks beautiful and appropriate in the right landscape and why so many of us strive to have free-form, lovely cottage-style gardens like our grandmothers had.


Would anyone call this landscape outdated? Fine Gardening photo


The article also offers a list of things that are "out" in landscape design:

  • Lava rock
  • Mulch in unnatural colors
  • Plastic swans and pink flamingos
  • Whiskey barrels
  • Old gazing balls
  • Old birdbaths
  • Wagon wheels
  • Railroad ties
  • Plastic flowerpots and flowers
  • Garden gnomes
  • One kind of flower in a pot
  • Spikes surrounded by geraniums
  • Honeysuckle
  • Privet hedges
  • Some types of junipers
  • Ash trees (because of emerald ash borers)

But I ask: were any of these things ever "in" in good landscape design? Some of the items on the list fall under the category of "whimsy" and therefore I think they can belong in the garden without forcing the rest of it to be declared "outdated."

To me this is the beauty of landscapes: you're not at the whim of whatever is in at the time. You don't have to ask yourself, "Is this (landscape equivalent of the all-white kitchen) going to be dated in 10 years?" Mother nature is a confident lady and she's been around a lot longer than any landscape designer. Choose well for what will work in the space, take care of it, and you're good to go.

At least that's what I think. What say you?


25 July 2011

I'm back ... and so is Limelight

I got out of town for a few days and then I was beat when I came back so I spent a lot of time thinking about blog posts and not so much time actually writing them. Anyway, I have lots to update you on, and certainly lots to do in the garden. If you don't realize how much pulling a weed here or deadheading a plant there makes a difference, just leave your garden for four days in the middle of summer and see what it looks like when you get home. Yikes.

To start of the week, I thought I'd update you on a plant near and dear to my heart. You all know about my love affair with hydrangeas, and particularly Limelight. You might recall that back in April I did a slightly-later-than-I-should-have, rather aggressive pruning of my Limelight.


Here she is before the big pruning (I love leaving the flowers on during winter):


Limelightbefore 041411

Here she is just a few minutes and a lot of hacking later:

Limelightafter 041411


And check this out. This is what she looked like a week or so ago. Flower buds are starting to form and they don't even really seem delayed, as the new Limelights I bought this year are at about the same stage. Standing at well over 5 feet tall, if this isn't reason enough to prune confidently, then nothing is.



So ... what's happening in your garden?

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13 July 2011

A couple of plant combinations I'm digging

Sometimes plants work together. Sometimes they fall a bit flat. In general I find that plants that work best together exhibit contrast, either in color or texture.

Here are a few combos I found in the garden this weekend.

Here is Proven Winners Superbena Royale Peachy Keen with purple ruffles basil (and you can see Blackberry Punch in there too). This is in my big container which I haven't shown you much of because it's not looking too spectacular this year. Peachy Keen, though is showing off now.



Don't you love it when you turn around in your garden and, WOW, something catches your eye. That was the case with one of the frilly red poppies that seeds itself quick happily around the place. The seeds originally came from a co-worker  and at least four of us at work now grow them. For all of us, the first ones popped open on Saturday, which is pretty interesting because other things in our gardens can be two weeks or more different in blooming time because of the microclimates at our houses. I call them "Carolyn's Magic Poppies" which sounds pretty bad if you don't know what we're talking about.



I have a few growing in a corner of the circle garden that I've been trying to turn into a red and yellow garden and despite the ketchup and mustard comparison, I do love how these bold poppies look next to Heliopsis Loraine Sunshine.



I'm finally accepting more yellow into my garden after banning it for awhile (more on that soon) and one of the unlikely combinations I've fallen in love with is pink and yellow. One of my favorite plants that I was sent by Proven Winners for their garden writers' trials this year (in which they send plants for the next year's introduction) is Superbells Cherry Star. I'm a sucker for a bright fuschia flower and I love it with a sunny yellow. And I love it even in more in a blue pot. I wish I could say I came up with the combination of Cherry Star and Nemesia Sunsatia Lemon, but I didn't. I stole that baby right from Proven Winners because I loved the photo on their website. I couldn't find three Sunsatia Lemons, so the middle pot has Mecardonia Gold Dust, which was one of my favorite PW introductions last year.



I have very informal (to a fault, lately, given the amount of weeds taking over the joint) gardens, so it's ironic that one of my favorite spots in the garden is probably the most formal area of the garden. It's a tricky spot on the west side of the house, in front of the fireplace wall, which I think creates a testy microclimate. I've tried (and lost) both a rose and a Japanese maple in this spot. Now it's a combination of a witch hazel shrub (just a baby, as it was added last year, and I'm not sure exactly which one it is), heuchera Black Beauty and hakonechloa All Gold (which I've read is "overused" but I don't give a rip, I love it). There is also heuchera Miracle in the background but that doesn't really add much to the equation. Certainly it's the combination of the dark leaves of Black Beauty against the chartreuse of All Gold that makes this area pop.



And sometimes, Mother Nature makes her own combinations that don't follow any rules at all but just look good. Somehow a pulmonaria seeded itself in a piece of driftwood "art" in the garden a few years ago. I left it there because I thought it was kind of neat how it grew up through the driftwood. There is no reason why it should be blooming right now, but it is, and so is clematis recta Pamela, which I let creep around the garden. For whatever reason I love how the combination of the delicate white flowers of Pamela combine with the pink bell-shaped flowers of the pulmonaria against the rugged driftwood. There is no design rule in the world that says that those two flowers should look good together (or be blooming in the same place together for that matter), but I like it.



So what great plant combinations are growing in your garden this year?


Proven Winners sent me a selection of plants for review as part of their Garden Writers testing program. I have not been paid or instructed to write about them. All of the opinions on them expressed here are completely my own.

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11 July 2011

The prettiest vegetable?

Swiss chard might be one of the prettiest vegetables there is. I admit that I started growing it for it's looks, but now I really think it's delicious and I love it with a beautiful piece of fish. Plus, it's about as easy to grow as it gets.



With it's shiny dark leaves and multi-colored stems, Swiss chard is absolutely a vegetable that could and should make the leap from the vegetable garden to the border.

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06 July 2011

The back side: What a difference!

I inadvertently took all off last week off from blogging but in a second you'll see what I've been up to. I've been busy, busy, busy working on the back yard (which is really the side yard but for whatever reason we call it the back yard). And it wasn't until after work yesterday when I snapped a few photos that I realized:

1. Holy smokes, somewhere along the line this turned into a really big project, and

2. What a difference from nine months ago.


Here's what the house looked like September 1, 2010:


And here's what it looks like today:



That's some kind of after, huh? In the past six weeks or so, I put in the stone path (which leads to our detached garage), the stone retaining walls on either side of the path, and all of the plantings to the right of the path and the little bit you see in the foreground on the left side of the path. I'll give you a closer look at some of the new gardens, which are pretty bare bones, later this week. My goal for this summer was to just get the framework in, so I focused on getting in trees and shrubs. I filled in with many of the perennials I had around from buying sprees and some of the things I have purchased through the Yahoo plant-buying co-op.

I'll try to take some photos of the garden from different angles. I struggled for a long time about whether to add the half-moon shaped garden on the left side of the path (as you're looking at it now) so I'll be interested to hear people's thoughts on that.

I haven't written much about the renovation since it ended because I was just exhausted and sick of the whole project. It definitely was emotionally draining and every time I tried to blog about it, it got way too preachy and whiny, so I'm saving that for another time when I have had more time to gain better perspective on it. I will tell you this, though: Toward the end, when it became clear that we were way over budget, we gave serious though to eliminating the deck from the plan, and looking at this photo, I'm so happy we kept it. We have been eating outside much more at a table under the pergola and it truly feels like an extension of the living area.

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