The Impatient Gardener: September 2016

30 September 2016


I went outside in the rain the other morning and snapped a shot of my favorite plant at this time of year. Then I checked the blog because I thought surely I'd written a special post about toad lilies before and I couldn't believe I hadn't.

Truth be told, I had no idea what a toad lily even was until I asked some blogging friends to share their favorite perennials back in 2012. Two of them chose toad lilies. It's a rather horrible common name don't you think?

Tricyrtis sounds a bit dinosaur-ish to me, but it's better than toad lily. What I love about them is that they look like tiny orchids. That something so exotic could emerge from the fall garden, which is winding down in all other areas, is rather remarkable.

The flowers on the one I grow (I believe it may be Tricyris hirta Mizakai Hybrids, but the label, like so many other, must have fallen victim to aggressive raking)  are speckled, tiny and a lovely lavender color that could properly be called orchid. You have to get close to really appreciate them, which is why even though this is about three feet tall, I think it should be planted right at the front of the border so those beautiful flowers are right in your face.

They are woodland plants that grow in zones 4 to 9 and require absolutely nothing in the way of maintenance. In fact I usually forget all about them until this time of year when one day they catch my eye from the living room window.

How any self-respecting gardener could forget about such a plant in their garden is rather appalling, but I do it every year anyway. And this year, like I do most years around this time, I vow to plant more of them, although I usually forget come spring.

Several years ago the Chicago Botanic Garden evaluated Tricyrtis and the results are well worth a read. Do that, then plant some. I promise you will thank me, but don't feel bad if you forget all about them until this time next year.

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28 September 2016


On Tuesday I walked into a funeral service in full on late-summer weather and emerged a couple hours later into weather more suitable for late October. A brisk breeze came off the lake, leaves were falling on our heads and the sun refused to provide the warmth I swear it had earlier in the morning.

In case I wasn't fully aware of the changing garden, that chilly breeze set off the alarm in my gardener's brain: It's time to start wrapping things up in the garden.

And while I'm starting to move things around, clean out the oval circle garden and generally taking stock of the garden's performance this year, it's also a good time to analyze the summer's container plantings. By this time in the year they've done all they will do; it's all downhill from here.

At the end of the summer the window box is looking a bit raggedy and overgrown, but it's a good time to analyze how the design performed all summer. 
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The window box is both my favorite container to plan and plant every year and the one I struggle with the most. Part of that is because it really is a focal point and a show piece and when you only really get one crack at it a year, it is disappointing when it doesn't turn out how you had envisioned.

For the most part, I've been happy with it this year. Now, certainly it looks shaggy, tired and, at least in the case of the coleus, a bit overgrown.

I'm very happy with how the Verbena bonariensis 'Meteor Shower' performed at the back of the box. It got tall enough to provide enough height but didn't completely block the view out the window. It would have looked nicer throughout the summer if I had kept up with deadheading it, but that's not the most fun in a window box and it didn't suffer much because of it. The plants on the end flopped out a little bit, but I sort of like how that turned out.

In front of that was 'Lemon Twist' coleus. I felt that I needed a strong foliage plant in that position, but honestly it didn't grow as well as I would have liked. It took awhile to get going and now, of course, it's too big. It's not horrible, but I think the whole box would have been better if I had chosen a darker color coleus.

In the front row I planted Surfina 'Heavenly Blue'Ornamental Oregano 'Kent Beauty'Helichrysum petiolare 'Lemon Licorice' and Superbells 'Coralina'. The oregano did well and the licorice plant did what it normally does for me, which is to say nothing spectacular but nothing horrible either. The 'Coralina' looked nice for the majority of the summer, although I think it may have been a bit crowded. Unfortunately the 'Heavenly Blue' was a huge disappointment. I used it both in the window box and the large container by the front door and it hardly grew in either location. The color of the few flowers it did produce was gorgeous but it was a big underperformer.

It looked pretty pathetic when it was first planted back in June.

So all in all it was an OK window box year. Even though I cut back on the amount of plants this year,  I still think I planted too much. And I think next year I'll go for some darker foliage to contrast better with the white house. I'd probably give it a B- if I were grading it. If the petunia would have grown decently I think it might have been firmly in A- territory.

Now I can start thinking about next year's design. I just wish I didn't have to wait so long to take another crack at it.

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23 September 2016


It's officially fall. I will allow myself to use the word now, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it. But there's nothing to be done about it, so I might as well make the most of it and enjoy what really is a beautiful time of year (even if I spend it dreading what comes next).

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First, I wanted to share this photo I snapped on my way out the door the other day and shared on Instagram. My rose in a pot is putting out great new growth (so much so that I'm going to grow more roses in pots, because I'm a sucker like that), but I just loved how these fresh leaves looked with their little water droplet jewelry.

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You know I'm a bit dahlia nutty, but growing them for show is an entirely different animal. Look at some of these utterly gorgeous dahlias Matt over at Growing with Plants shared.

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Gardenista's Hardscaping 101 series is featuring bricks, which is an option I like more and more these days. In my dream vegetable garden I envision gray bricks set in a herringbone pattern leading to the bespoke greenhouse and running between the raised beds. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

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Apparently the only closeup picture I have of our kitchen island. How is that possible?

Over at Thrifty Decor Chick, she's talking about different ways of finishing butcher block, but never mentions my favorite, which is just oiling it. I use this oil on our walnut kitchen island and I love it. It's super easy, holds up and, well, what else is there? The only down side is that any paper you set on it will pick up some oil if it's been oiled recently.

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Dale Sievert spoke to our master gardener group last night and I was so enamored with the beautiful photos of moss gardens that he showed us that I immediately ran over to his blog to see more. Check it out but be prepared to consider going full moss in your garden. But think hard first. He told us that he spends 60 hours a week in his garden in spring and fall and about 25 hours a week during summer. In fall he rakes, then blows, then VACUUMS his garden so there is no debris left on the moss over winter.

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On another note, since it's officially fall (and I swear the leaves on the trees started turning overnight, damn them) I need to ditch my unimaginative but  summer wardrobe (crop pants + solid T-shirt + sandals, literally every day) and get some clothes for fall. As I get older I find myself getting worse at cooking and dressing myself. I have no idea what that is about but I need some serious help to get my style in shape. I tried Stitch Fix and it was a complete disaster. Anybody have any good ideas for me of where I could get some help to boost my style?

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That's it for this week! Hopefully the weather will cooperate to allow lots of time in the garden this weekend. What are you doing? Moving into full fall mode or holding out as long as you can? By the way, this was one of those random two-post Fridays. If you missed my post earlier today updating  you on my plan for the circle garden, you can find it here

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It's Friday, so I bet you're expecting Friday Finds. Never fear, they are coming later, but I didn't want to let another day pass without giving up an update on the oval circle garden (I feel like that's now the best way to refer to it).

When we last checked in on this garden that is the first thing people see when they come in our driveway (other than possibly the garage straight ahead), I was sharing how I had let the whole thing sort of slip into a sad state because I knew I was sick of. Upon further reflection I realized that there were design problems from the very beginning (which I'm letting myself off the hook for because it was the first garden I ever designed) and while I still like the concept, changes are needed.

I've been doing a lot of sketching and have settled into something I'm liking quite a bit.

As I've mentioned before, the chive hedge will stay and I'll rearrange it to line each segment. The paths, which are now a paltry 16 inches wide, will expand to 24 inches wide. That will eat up a lot of planting space, but it has to happen (and there's always room for plants somewhere else). The pea gravel that is currently there will be changed out for some other kind of gravel. Cobblestones will line the outside and the middle circle, but I'll do steel edging again for the "spokes."

Not that you can tell there's an obelisk under there, but there is and it supports the 'William Baffin' climbing rose (that the deer like more than I do) and a clematis.

As I previously mentioned, I'll leave the obelisk with a climber in the center circle and probably replant a few other things in there. For the rest of the planting, I'm thinking about a boxwood meatball or even a square, but something tightly clipped, in the middle of each section. Then each section would be further divided with three different grouping of plantings. If I line them up right, the effect would be a diamond shape.

Each subsection (shown by different colors on the drawing) would be completely planted with just one plant variety but not divided by any other physical barrier. I'm envisioning a combination of flowering annuals, grasses, dwarf shrubs and perennials. Planting a variety of things would allow me to accommodate for the fact that even though it's a small garden, part of it is much shadier than the rest.

Among the plants I've been playing with in my head are Mexican feather grass, verbena bonariensis, dahlias, 'Bobo' hydrangeas, rhubarb (which is the only plant staying because I don't want to move it), hakonechloa, begonias, coleaus, nepeta and alliums. None of that has to be decided now and I'm having fun playing with all the options in my head so I'm sort of saving the fun for winter.

The gardening season is rapidly drawing to a close, but my goal is to get the hardscaping finished this fall. I also wanted to get the boxwoods planted if possible but now is a great time to plant here and planting in two or three weeks isn't so great. I'm just not sure I can get it to that point in time and I don't want to risk the health of four expensive boxwoods by planting them too late.

I can't tell you how much better I feel about this garden now that I have a better concept of a plan. Frankly, it's the most excited I've been about this space in a very long time. That's good because I'll need the enthusiasm to get through some of the hard work that needs to happen before the snow flies.

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20 September 2016


There's no getting around it: At this time of year, the garden is starting to look tired. Foliage is tattered and sun faded, flowers are flopping, everything looks a bit haggard. But one plant is just now coming into its own, the ever tropical-looking Castor bean. 

This plant will surely catch your key from across the garden.

Before I go any further, this is one plant I feel requires a warning. There are a lot of poisonous plants out there that I wouldn't bother with a warning on, but this one is a biggie. All parts of the plant and especially the seed are poisonous (this is where ricin comes from, after all). Don't eat any of it let anyone or anything eat it. My dog has never shown an interest in eating plants and he's never outside unattended, so I feel comfortable growing this, but you may not be.

OK, preamble done. Castor bean (Ricinus communis) ticks all my tropical plant boxes. It has huge palmate leaves in the most lovely shade of purple or green (I've only grown purple varieties), and crazy pokey-looking red flowers. 

The flowers are unlike any others.
They can get very large, so I've grown smaller varieties: 'Impala' last year and 'Gibsonii' this year, and both have topped out in the 5- to 6-foot range. I start them from seeds in spring and like all beans they are very easy to get going. When I plant them out in early June, when it's plenty warm (they will flat out sulk on chilly nights) and they are about a foot tall and then I mostly forget they exist until all of a sudden one day in mid- to late-August, there they are, standing proud a few feet tall. From there, their growth rate is unbelievable, reaching for the sky and developing a main stem (trunk?) that is about 1.5 inches in diameter, even on the smaller varieties.

They are also pretty good about not needing staking. I suspect the secret is a good amount of water, which we've had plenty of from Mother Nature. I keep meaning to cut a few leaves to take inside to see if they hold their shape once cut, but I haven't gotten around to it and I suspect they won't. 

At a house I was at recently, a huge variety of Castor bean occupies a corner of the vegetable garden, which, now that I think about it is a little ironic.

I was at a house with beautiful professional landscaping a couple weekends ago for a party and noticed that their gardener used tall Castor beans in lots of spots, including a tricky, tiny corner of soil near the driveway and at the entrance to the vegetable garden.

I'm always torn about where to plant Castor beans, because they want sun and heat, if you can give them that, but they would look great in a far corner of the garden where their big leaves beckon and invite visitors for a closer look. Still it's a fantastic annual (here, anyway) that offers a look that's hard to get.

Have you grown Castor beans?

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16 September 2016


I had to apologize to the friend that I bounce every idea off of (she has mastered the art of gently telling me I'm crazy when I need to slow down a little) because as I always do this time of year, I'm full of so much inspiration and I suffer from some sort of attention-deficit issue related to projects. In the past week I've sent her dozens of photos I'm using as inspiration for the redo of the circle (oval) garden, random beds I like (one of these days I'd like to get an upholstered bed) and who knows what else. I'm truly all over the place. I think I am so afraid that I'm going to be bored in winter that I line up more projects than anyone could possibly do.

Still, I really have enjoyed searching for inspiration again, especially when it comes to the garden. I just wish that inspiration didn't always seem to require money to bring anything to fruition.

I've been eating up gardening shows on BBC as usual (via the Smart DNS service from Cactus VPN) and the series Gardener's World is doing on designer Adam Frost's new garden is fabulous. Watching a designer create their own garden from a blank slate is fascinating. Here's a brief clip from that series that give the lay of the land.

I've also been watching a show called Garden Rescue in which homeowners choose between two garden designs and the project is seen through its end. Sort of like every home makeover show on HGTV except with gardens.

I don't think I've told you about my monarch caterpillars. We have some milkweed growing across the road from our house and I happened to find two eggs on a leaf a couple weeks ago. I never would have looked but I've been following Kylee's monarch raising for a few years now. She's a good person to learn from as she has literally written the book on the subject.  She encouraged me to bring them in and has been talking me through the process. Unfortunately the other day one of the caterpillars died, but the other one is doing great and is really big and any moment now he should pupate.

Eric from Garden Fork had me on his podcast again recently. We have a sort of natural rapport (I think it's our common Midwestern roots), so we have a tendency to just kind of flow from topic to topic, which we did here. I'm certain we could create the world's longest podcast if Eric didn't keep an eye on the clock while we're talking. Check out his other podcast episodes when my Wisconsin accent gets to be too much. I will admit we did this one in the evening, a bit into cocktail hour so my accent was probably worse than usual.

Each Little World photo

I am so bummed that I missed this mini blogger meet-up of Midwestern bloggers. I was intending to go and then work full-on exploded on me and there was no way to make it. Looks like they had a fabulous time.

I'm getting to the age where things start hurting, possibly for no reason, and certainly for no reason that would have affected me 15 years ago. Something is all jazzed up in my shoulder and my arm is constantly numb and Dr. Google tells me it may actually be a pinched nerve in my neck. So I pulled out this crazy thing I got on Amazon that looks like a purple question mark (and more than a little like a strange sex toy). I keep it at the office and it is pretty amazing. We all use it when we have one of those knots you just can't work out. I still can't feel my arm but my neck feels better.
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This guide to the top 99 kitchens of all time on Houzz is worth a scroll through. I didn't study them all but I see two basic types and then themes from there. I also notice that the world loves an island.

I used to be an Aquarius, but now I'm a Capricorn. And my bestie who is coming to stay with me tonight is an Ophiuchus. Well, maybe, because chart of the new zodiac calendar has double days for each sign. So maybe it's a bunch of BS and I should go back to being an independent-minded Aquarius.

That's it for this week gang! I have a lot of activities on the schedule for the weekend so I'm not sure how much gardening I'll get in, but if I do get out there I can't wait to keep digging away at the circle garden.

What will you be up to this weekend?

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13 September 2016


If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? I'm going to weigh in with my own answer to this age old question: No. I say that because on Sunday we discovered that a very large tree had, in fact, fallen in our woods, not far from our house, and until we tried to walk down our little path in the woods, we had absolutely no idea it had fallen.

It's a sad loss because it was yet another birch and of the few birches that remain on our property, it was one of the healthier ones. Birches are not long-lived trees in our area and I think most of the birches on our property were planted (or planted themselves) at about the same time, so we've been losing them steadily since we bought the house 14 years ago.

It turns out that the rather torrential rain we had last week did it in. I'm not sure how much rain we got but it was certainly a few inches at least over a handful of days. This birch, a naturally shallow-rooted tree, was growing in the woods near the creek and seems to have just toppled over, roots and all. Unfortunately it landed in a younger maple tree where it is currently hung up so we'll have to do something about that and a some point we'll take care of the trunk.

Unfortunately it's hung up in an otherwise healthy maple, so we'll have to get in there to free it up.
A few big branches fell onto the little path that we mow through the ferns in the woods in order to get to the road to the east of us. The branches are beautiful white ones, perfect for Christmas decorations, but I'm torn between wanting to find a spot to save them and wanting to stick them in the chipper shredder to make some great mulch.

So yep ... somehow a big 'ol tree fell and we had no idea. At least one mystery is solved.

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12 September 2016


I've mentioned before that the idea that a garden is ever "finished" is a fallacy. Because it is constantly growing and changing, gardens are in a state of evolution at all times. It's not like redoing a room in your house where you paint the walls, get new furniture and then stage it perfectly to take a bunch of photos because it's finished.

It's a lesson I wish I would have learned many years ago when I think I was rushing to get the garden finished. I think I made some poor design choices because of that rush, but even if I hadn't, I'm sure there would be decisions I regretted.

The circle garden from a few years ago before the chive hedge was complete and when I actually tended it a bit more.

And that's where I am now with the oval garden. You can always tell when I'm sick of an area of the garden, or at least when it's not holding my attention, because it will be the most unkempt area of the yard. And for a couple years now, that's what the oval garden (which I often call the circle garden because it has a better ring to it even though it is certainly not a circle) has been. I just haven't loved it enough to do any more than the basics, and it shows.

I'm embarrassed to show you this photo of what the circle garden looked like this weekend before I started ripping plants out of it. What a mess.

What really kicked my butt in gear was a really inspiring conversation I had with my friend Linda (who blogs at Each Little World) and her husband Mark when they stopped to see the garden in early July. They rattled off some ideas that finally got the creative juices flowing.

I've been thinking about the oval garden since then and have now committed to a complete redo next spring. First of all, I should mention, the oval garden was the first garden I made from complete scratch in my life. We had owned the house a couple years and I had reshaped and completely emptied the garden off the patio but I was anxious to get stuck into a project that was all mine. So I turned a derelict vegetable patch with random shrubs thrown in, into an oval garden. At this time I didn't have a real handle on my own garden style, and I was just getting my feet wet at learning about plants in general. In other words, I was pretty much winging it.

What has become most clear was the biggest mistake I made when I first designed it. I went with the oval shape for a handful of reasons, including that it was the most effective way to deal with the sort of rectangular leftovers of the garden that had been and because the space seemed to lend itself to something that length but didn't have room for the width that would be needed to make a circle. But I also was afraid of getting too formal and somehow I thought an oval was less formal than a circle.

This photo from Google gives the best view of the circle garden. Judging from how sparse the western most section is, I think this photo is from about two years ago when I combatted a horrible weed problem there. Just looking at those curvy paths makes me cringe. 

That's really flawed thinking of course. By it's very nature, a garden that is edged in cobblestones with center feature and self contained is going to be a more formal look. I tried to fight formality even more by dividing it into three sections of different sizes with curvy paths. Because a 6-foot long curvy path is super informal, right? And then I got greedy with planting space and made the paths very narrow, just 16 inches, because apparently at some point I thought I wouldn't have enough space for plants in my yard. Clearly I was wrong about that. Basically I did everything I could to fight formality.

Over the years I've come to terms with my divided loyalties to different gardening styles. I love a flowy, cottage-style garden, but gosh darn it, I like formal and structured too. And even though it seems odd to consider those two styles in the same place, I've also reached a point where I'm comfortable gardening for myself and have decided that if I love it, then that's what matter. It's funny: I've preached this approach dozens of times on this blog, but it has taken me a while to feel comfortable with that in my own garden.

So this fall and next spring I will be correcting some of the wrongs I made originally in the oval garden. First off, I'm going to embrace the formal nature of it, but I will be embracing some of the planting styles and choices I admire in other gardens. What exactly that will look like, I'm not sure, but here's a list of what's happening.

This is literally a picture of the quick sketch I was working that gives you an idea of what I was thinking for the paths on the redesigned "circle" garden. I'd adjust the angle of that X so that the path in the lower left would lead somewhat naturally off the patio. 

  • The overall shape, center circle and exterior cobblestones will remain unchanged.
  • The curvy paths will go, replaced by a much more formal X-shaped design for the paths. They will also get a bit wide to make them more comfortable to walk on and more in proportion with the garden. 
  • The pea gravel used for the paths is going. I've decided I detest pea gravel. A lot of people love it and good for them, but I prefer the sharper edged gray gravel I used on the path to the garage.  Or I might consider something like a decomposed granite for the paths. 
  • The chive hedge stays. I love that chive hedge even though it's a little quirky. I'll replant it to match the new paths so that each segment is outlined in chives. 
  • The plan now is for the center obelisk to stay, along with the clematis that grows up it. The 'William Baffin' rose that also grows there could stay or go. 
  • The rhubarb will probably stay only because I can't think of a better place for it and it's quite happy there.
Quirky as it may be, I love this chive hedge and it's staying.

I started the process of clearing out plants over the weekend. The sedum 'Autumn Joy', which I planted three of when I first made the garden and divided them over time was moved to a sunny corner of back/side yard garden. Amazingly there were at least 15 plants there. A few of the grasses were moved to the end of the driveway near the address sign to help ground that. I need to find homes for a few hydrangeas, a hosta and a handful of other plants, including a baptisia that will not appreciate the move at all. Everything else is either an annual or a plant deemed not worth saving. 

Once I get the plants attended to, I'll work on ripping up the paths and repositioning them. I'd like to get all of the structural parts finished this fall so that all that is left for spring is planting. As for the the planting plan, that's up in the air. My best garden inspiration tends to happen in the middle of winter so I'm not overly concerned about that bit yet. I do know that I'd like it to be very colorful, which will help carry the garden until mid-summer when things really start blooming in my yard.

It's sort of odd to be tackling an area of my garden for the second time, but I look at how much different my perspective and knowledge is this time and I'm really looking forward to the process and the result.

 Have you ever looked bad at a decision you made in your garden and wondered what you were thinking? Please tell me you have!

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09 September 2016


Well I made it through the first post-Labor Day week. This summer has been so incredible (I know, I won't shut up about it, sorry) that I was truly melancholy Monday just thinking of it ending. Despite my best efforts, my thoughts have turned to gardening tasks that need to be attended to before frost and suddenly I'm feeling concerned I won't get it all done.

I spent some time this week at the local library doing some research for work and I was thrilled to see a real, live card catalog. I bet the library gets offers to buy it on a regular basis, but this one is serving a great purpose: It's a seed library. I'd known it was there, but I hadn't checked it before and I was thrilled to see such a great variety of heirloom seeds represented in it. Seeds are packaged and free to take. They ask that you bring back some seeds at the end of the season  to keep the collection intact and hopefully add to it. Here's more info on seed libraries.

The Kitchn is doing a series called "20 Chefs, 20 Knives" and I find it really interesting. I'll admit, I was a knife snob. When we got married I didn't register for a knife set, choosing instead an expensive  German chef's knife and paring knife (which I still have an use regularly). Then I got a Wusthof santoku knife that has been in regular service for about eight years. And then I read a Chef's Illustrated knife review and picked up their favorite, the Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef's knife (affiliate link), about a year and a half ago and it's the knife I use 98% of the time now. I like it so much that even if it's dirty I will take it out of the dishwasher and hand wash it rather than use another knife. When I bought it, it was $35 and I see that it's now $10 more, but it's still a fantastic deal over most really good knives. I also got a new knife sharpener and it's the best I've used. You just have to know the angle of your blade, which they clearly describe how to figure out in the instructions.

This list is actually quite funny and somewhat spot on. But only go there if you have a sense of humor about your name.

Here's some good info on how to clean marble, complete with lots of drool-worthy photos of great marble, natch.

This reminds me, I never did get Mr. Much More Patient to build a trellis for the clematis by the garage.

I'm a little afraid of canning. I fear I will kill someone with a horrible foodborne illness caused by an improper seal or whatever. Here's a bunch of ways to preserve food without going the full-on canning route.

That's it for this week. I'll be spending some time in the garden doing a variety of things including using Miller High Life for it's highest and best purpose: slug bait. The slimy suckers are everywhere. What's on your list for the weekend?

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06 September 2016


I would be crazy to complain about anything that happened in the garden this summer. The weather has been lovely, possibly even perfect. For the most part we had warm temperatures with plenty of rain mixed in. Sure, there were a few dry weeks, but I only had to do supplemental watering a handful of times.

And yet, there is one problem in my happy little garden. And it's a big one: verticillium wilt. It's caused by a nasty little soilborne fungus that attacks a large variety of plant species.

The 'Lemony Lace' elderberry looking fabulous in early summer. And it looked great until just a few weeks ago.
Here's how it presented itself in my yard. Two weeks ago my sister-in-law and I were walking the garden, taking special note of my 'Lemony Lace' elderberry, a lovely cutleaf shrub with bright green foliage that looks like a Japanese maple. Four or five days later, I was enjoying cocktails on the patio when I noticed from afar that the elderberry looked a little odd. Upon further inspection, I noticed that half of it was wilted. My first instinct was to give it some water. This, of course, made no sense. We'd had a good amount of rain and it was an established plant. And only part of it was wilted. It occurred to me that this may be verticillium wilt, which I'd heard of but never seen, and when I did a little research it was clear to me that's what it was.

Two weeks ago I noticed that about half of the branches were wilted.
About a week later, the wilted branches were brown and the leaves had fallen off.

I meant to get out quickly to deal with it but I needed bleach to sterilize my pruning shears and another week passed before I could get out there. When I did, I found that the branches that had wilted were completely devoid of leaves, all of which has dried up and fallen to the ground. I don't usually get too crazy about sterilizing my pruners, but verticillium wilt is particularly nasty and I didn't want to take any chances.

I'm not usually the most careful gardener about sterilizing my pruners, but I took no chances of spreading verticillium wilt. This was about a 10% bleach solution and I dipped the pruners in it between every cut.

I cut away the wilted branches, but honestly, I'm being exceptionally optimistic. If the rest of the branches (which look a little silly now) make it through the fall, the odds are the elderberry will come back next year, look good until late July or August, and then the same thing will happen. And the more it happens, the more I risk having the fungus that causes it spread, putting other plants in danger. Elderberries are susceptible to it, but so are viburnums, which my yard has plenty of and I would hate to lose any of them. In fact the list of plants that can succumb to verticillium wilt is long.

This all had to go. You can see that the leaves of the non-wilted branches are yellowing a bit, which is probably a sign that they will succumb to wilt soon.
Since the fungus that causes verticillium wilt lives in the soil, the only way to get rid of it is to either remove the plant and the soil around it or to solarize the soil by digging it, wetting it down and pinning clear plastic over it to "cook" during a hot time of the year for several weeks or even months.

All of which is a real drag. I loved that elderberry and it was a real star in the garden, but it will have to go. When I remove the soil, I'll plant something that is resistant to verticillium wilt in its place and to be extra safe, I will dispose of the soil in some way that I don't have to worry about it spreading. This may be in the garbage or possibly I'll throw it in the fire when we have a bonfire.

One last note: Waiting until all the leaves fell off was a really bad plan. I had to scour the area for all those leaves, making sure to remove all traces of them. All of the branches that I cut off went directly into the garbage. I could have burned them but it could be awhile before we have a fire and I didn't want them sitting around the yard.

I'm sad about the whole thing, but the sooner and more thoroughly I take care of it, the less likely it is to spread to other plants.

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03 September 2016


It's been a great year for dahlias here. Who am I kidding? It's been a great year for everything in the garden, but the dahlias are appreciating our lovely summer as much as anything. A few have been unfairly (in my estimation, at least) targeted by slugs, but for the most part they continue to bloom their little heads off.

'Cafe au Lait'
Bouquet after bouquet comes in the house and I am repeatedly reminded of just why I allow dozens of gallon pots of tubers to sit around my house in late winter. Spring tends to come late to the shores of Lake Michigan, so I get a jump start on the season by potting up tubers in April so they have a good start on the season by the time the ground is warm enough to plant them (a soil temperature of about 60 degrees or so.) The extra care is worth the effort as I'm rewarded with blooms for months.

'Crichton Honey'
Once they are in the ground, I do nothing but water and deadhead them. Dahlias grown in pots get the same fertilizer treatment as other containers (a synthetic bloom booster water soluble fertilizer, fish emulsion or comfrey tea at various times), but otherwise there is no coddling. If I have a downfall as a gardener, it is that I am a horrible staker. Blame it on aggressive optimism perhaps, but every year I think, "This is the year they will all magically stand up on their own and I won't have to do any staking." And of course, every year, the taller varieties, which most of the larger-flowered dahlias are, get the dreaded lean that should warn an alert gardener that they are going to spend the next two hours trying to jury rig bamboo poles and metal stakes along with various bits of twine, Velcro and a pair of nylons you won't remember that you ripped up to hold up plants until you are five minutes late for the next dressy event that calls for them. I'm certain at some point I will learn the lesson to stake early, but I can't say it has gotten through this gardener's thick skull yet.

'Art Deco' gallery dahlia

Deadheading, however, is important to keep the flowers coming. Here's how you know what you should be cutting off and what will become a new flower.

'Secret Glow'

'David Howard,' whose dark foliage is as striking as its orange blooms.

Dahlias are becoming more fashionable, but I can't think of a time when I haven't loved them. The only thing they are lacking really, is scent, but I suppose there is a hybridizer out there working on that. I'll sit tight on that, but dahlias have nothing to fear from me: They'll always have a spot in my garden.

'Cafe au Lait'