The Impatient Gardener: August 2017

29 August 2017


 It's a good time for reflecting on the gardening year, and I've learned to be a little tougher on the gardener (me) and the gardens when it comes to analyzing what worked and what didn't. There are no perfect gardening seasons, so I try not to allow myself to make excuses because of the weather. Every year it will be something so plants and plantings need to be able to roll with the punches.

The only "new" garden I made this year was the circle garden. In fact it wasn't new, but a complete revamp. I have to say, overall I'm thrilled with how it turned out, but there are a few misses.

So I thought I'd share with you my no-holds-barred analysis of the first year of the circle garden. Warning: This ended up pretty long, so if you just want to cut to the chase, you can watch a video about my thoughts on how the garden performed either here or at the bottom of this post.

Hardscaping wise, I'm thrilled. The cobblestones were part of the garden I designed many years ago and the outside edges didn't change. But new paths and a lot of soil moving required that everything other than the perimeter be pulled up and replaced. I learned the lesson of landscaping fabric in the paths of the old garden, so this time I put down a crushed limestone base (sometimes called limestone screenings or paver base) and a thick layer of decorate crushed stone on top. I still see the advice that landscaping fabric be laid under gravel and after what I went through last time, I don't get it. Anything organic that falls in that gravel eventually becomes soil (or soil-ish). Weed seeds take hold and weeds grow, often with their roots through the fabric, making them nearly impossible to pull. My hope with the paver base is that weed seeds will find it inhospitable to grow in and if they do they'll be pullable. I can also use the weed torch on the gravel safely.

What can I say about that chive hedge? That funky little hedge that I'd been working on for years is amazing. It delineates each section of the garden without growing too high. I think it also discourages rabbits from coming in. And best of all, it has to be the most inexpensive hedge ever created. I started with two good-sized clumps of chives—divisions from my mom's garden—several years ago. And over the years I've divided those clumps into smaller clumps, and divided those again, and again, and again. I'm seriously in love with my hedge. Also, I ALWAYS have chives.

The original plan for the garden. A few things were shifted around and updated. 

I divided the garden into four quadrants, and each of those into three segments. The central boxwoods in each section have been problematic. I replanted the entire bunch after the first round seemed to have failed. I blamed my dog, who I caught peeing on them, but guess what: two more of the second round are looked really rough as well. And they happen to be in the sunniest segments. I think this might entirely my fault: not enough water. We'll see how they do over the winter, but I'm happy they have warranties.

In each quadrant, I aimed for a foliage plant, and at least one annual that would provide color all season, along with a shrub or perennial, in some cases.

The white section, planted with Supertunia White and Diamond Delight Euphorbia is looking great.

'The Alnwick Rose'

The sunniest quadrant was planted with rhubarb, roses and a combination of white Supertunias and Diamond Delight Euphorbia. I'll admit, the rhubarb had me worried. Although its leaves can look tropical, it's also sort of a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other situation with a vegetable in the middle of the garden. I shouldn't have been worried. It looks great and provides a much-needed bit of bold texture. The David Austin 'The Alnwick Roses' have been thriving and I couldn't be happier. I hope I can get them through the winter. And the white annuals in the front have just gone nuts, and filled in the area so well.

Floppy Egyptian walking onions are not looking good. At all.

To the east of that quadrant is perhaps the biggest disappointment. This quadrant was planted with 'Serkin' dahlias (I planted six and I should have done five), Goldilocks Rocks Bidens (it got a little wilder than is right for this area) and Egyptian walking onions. If you don't know these onions, it's worth finding them. They are a cool plant! They have fat, glaucous stems and grown bulblets on top. These weigh the stems down and the plant flops, allowing the bulblets to root and the plant to "walk." And that's where I went wrong. It all flopped, which if course is exactly what the plant is supposed to do, but it is a total mess. They'll have to be moved.

Although the Bobo Hydrangea and Hakonechloa 'All Gold' are looking good, impatiens were a poor choose for the front segment. 

At the shadiest end of the garden, which is not really that shady, I think I hit the nail on about two-thirds of the head. The Bobo Hydrangeas are out of this world. They have bloomed all summer and they are just now started to fade to brown. What a fabulous performer! And because they are covered in blooms, it's like a massive of flowers there. The Hakonechloa 'All Gold' is just a tad washed out from being in a touch too much sun, but it will adapt and I love the texture of that plant. In the front I planted a beautiful impatiens called Peach Ruffles, but it was a poor choice. Impatiens doing really spread much, so I would have needed dozens of them to fill that area in. Also, again, there was more sun there than I anticipated. A Supertunia would have great.

'HS Flame' dahlia

And I'm very happy with the last quadrant, where I planted 'HS Flame' dahlia, an amazing single red flower with the darkest foliage, Verbena bonariensis Meteor Shower and the must have plant-it-and-forget-it Achemilla mollis (Lady's mantle). I'd happily replant this grouping.

I'm declaring the center a success as well. Two types of alyssum—White Knight and Dark Knight—have grown so well that I'm wondering why I wrote that plant off years ago, and the thai basil is a nice foliage accent with pretty flowers (the only basil I allow to flower). There are two clematis planted in the center that should grow up the tuteur, but they've not done much in their first year, as you might expect.

More than the individual successes and not-quite-failures in the circle garden, I have to say the garden in its entirety is having the desired effect on visitors. When people come they are immediately drawn to it and walk through its paths. I couldn't ask for anything better.

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23 August 2017


I have been enjoying the garden so much the past few weeks. It's sort of a sweet time in the garden for me as most of the plants have done (or are doing) what they are going to do, the weeds, although ever present, don't have a lot of places to grow and, thanks to a lot of rain, everything is looking pretty good. In fact anything that's looking shabby got that way because of slugs, and that's just a given with rain.

So I've been doing a lot of something I rarely do: Sitting in the garden. Mr. Much More Patient and I seem more intent than ever to soak in these glorious summer days while we can. Several times during the week we have a glass of wine on the patio. This is pretty much a required activity on the weekend, but in previous years we've not done it much on weekdays. This has allowed me to spend more than two weeks watching the same flower, just a couple feet away from where we sit.

I grew 'Crichton Honey' dahlias for the first time last year and stored the tubers over winter. It's a short-growing ball-type dahlia that blooms in a range of colors from yellow and apricot to coral and pink. I wish that some of those planted farther back in the garden wouldn't have been ravaged so badly by slugs.

I started taking a quick snapshot of this particular flower when it was just breaking bud. It was the first time I noticed how beautiful an opening dahlia bud is, like a fiery pincushion. I have taken pictures of this same flower as it got bigger and changed.

The last photo was taken this morning. Its petals are getting tattered—I blame that on slugs as well–and started to turn brown underneath. I have to say it's been fascinating documenting it.

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17 August 2017


For a person who harps on the joy and importance of getting in every garden you can (there's always a takeaway!), I don't really go on nearly enough garden tours. However, our master gardener group recently had the opportunity to tour The Christopher Farm and Gardens, an expansive private garden that is often open for charity events.

It is a huge property with several diverse garden areas, lots of garden art, ponds and certainly many thousands of tons of rock. 

Here are a few shots from our visit.

Off the conservatory there was an 8-foot wire form planted with mandevilla and sweet potato vine.  It was quite impressive.

A lot of annual salvia was used.

There is a Heritage Garden, shown here, and a separate kitchen garden. Both had raised beds made of 4x4s, which I thought looked quite nice.

A Japanese garden had a lovely stream and a pond with koi.

Along the top of the Japanese garden a walkway made with these pavers guides visitors to the next garden.

An enormous grape arbor is too fun to not walk through.

I think this is the kitchen garden, but it may have been a separate cutting garden. Either way I still like the raised beds and the gravel.

Several areas encouraged you to walk OVER the water on small stone bridges. How can you resist?

Thanks to a reader for helping me identify the plant below as Achillea ptarmica 'The Pearl'. It's quite lovely!

About three weeks before we visited they'd had a terrible hailstorm and all of their hostas were in absolute tatters. I felt terrible for them.

I don't know what tree this was but I loved this little starfish-like cluster of pinecones.

All of the glass art around the garden was made by local artists. I thought it looked quite nice in this bed.

Have you visited any great gardens this year?


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16 August 2017


It is always interesting to see how the same plant can grow differently in two almost identical locations. And in this latest case it was even a little disheartening.

Sweet Summer Love clematis is a prolific bloomer, but one that needs a good while to get established before it really starts showing off. Four years ago (I think), both my mom and I got one in a small quart-sized pot. I can't say mine had done much in terms of blooming in the past, although it's a lovely vine that always looks healthy.

But this year it's starting to do it's thing. In fact I was fussing over all the flowers—only about an inch or a little more each—on mine and all the buds yet to open. I spent a good amount of time with my camera capturing this beauty, which unfortunately is on a homemade support that rotted on one side and is starting to collapse.

Sweet Summer Love clematis closeup

Later that day I stopped by my parent's house. They live only about 15 minutes from me, just a touch farther away from Lake Michigan (which is THE weather influencer here), although much higher as I'm at lake level and they are on a bluff. 

I was taking a look around her garden, which always looks amazing as she is a dedicated weeder, turned a corner and saw this.

Sweet Summer Love clematis
The purple cloud towering over this corner of the garden at my parent's house is Sweet Summer Love clematis, looking quite different than the one at my house. By the way, the three marked trees on the right are all ashes that have succumbed to Emerald Ash Borer, like hundreds on their property. They planted them by the dozen when they built the house in the 1960s and all are failing, so their property is undergoing some rather dramatic changes.

Not only is this corner of her garden—one she only recently started gardening in—absolutely stunning, but rising above all of that amazing color is a purple cloud.

That's her Sweet Summer Love. It would not be an overstatement to guess that there might be 5,000 flowers on it. There is a beautiful painted tuteur that is about 7 feet tall or more under all that, not that you can see it. 
Sweet Summer Love clematis
If you look closely you can see the top of the tuteur sticking out the top.

I can't explain the difference. Perhaps her just slightly warmer garden made the difference. Or maybe her soil, which is heavier than mine and has more clay, is more appealing to this plant. Maybe she just has hers in a better spot all around.

Or maybe, just maybe, my garden is  just a week or so behind hers and mine will soon look like this.

A gardener can hope.

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11 August 2017


Have you noticed that I've not shown you much (or maybe anything) from the vegetable garden this year? That's because I got so late planting stuff that even my kale is only a few inches tall. The only variety I grow anymore is lacinato, which, as you can tell from the photo above from Mackinac Island makes a pretty great ornamental, as well as being so tasty!

If you've read much on this blog you know I can't resist a good alliteration, which makes me even more excited to be one of the "Garden Gurus" contributing to the Proven Beauty blog. My first post there is about how to get your garden ready for your vacation. I'd love it if you checked it out and maybe even left a comment. Thank you in advance!

Most people in today have never stood under a majestic elm tree, but a huge effort to bring elms back has been underway for years. This story about the process of reintroducing Dutch elm disease-resistant cultivars and getting elms back is fascinating.

The size of the landscape projects Deborah Silver works on is astounding to me.

Warning: This next bit has a couple of Amazon affiliate links in it. Thanks for supporting The Impatient Gardener!

I have found a product that seems to keep the rabbits from nibbling! It's a spray by Plantskyyd. But oh my lordy, it smells so foul. The smell goes away as soon as it dries, but it will clear your patio if you spray it. It's also made of blood and it looks like it, so the garden takes on a bit of a murder scene look. The staining (unless you get it on your clothes) also goes away. BUT I just found out they make a granular product that I'm going to try. Seems like it would be a lot nicer to use. I'll report back.

By the way, I still swear by Messina's Deer Stopper II for the deer situation. And it smells like cinnamon and cloves, so you're basically spraying Christmas on your garden.

This is such a lovely podcast episode by Margaret Roach and well worth a listen, but I warn you, it will make you hungry!

We are actually going to be social this weekend! We have a very large party (it's sort of a work thing but also all of our sailing friends will be there) tonight and then we're having people over tomorrow (I have a bit of last minute weeding to do for that). That's quite a lot of socializing for us so some time in the garden on Sunday will be lovely.

Do you have gardening plans this weekend and if you're growing food, what are you harvesting now?

Have a great weekend!

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09 August 2017


This is not an exciting photo.

It's exactly what it looks like: A recently mulched garden bed with very few plants in it.

I'm sharing it with you to show you that things don't always go as planned and sometimes you just have to do what you can.

When I decided last year to reclaim this little corner from the naturalized area that takes up a good portion of our property, I knew I was being optimistic. I honestly do not have time to adequately maintain all the garden beds I've created over the years. (This is what happens when Midwestern gardeners get bored in winter: We design new gardens that we don't have time for.) We planted a couple hundred pink daffodils in it last fall and in spring it looked very nice. The plan after that was to direct sow a bunch of seeds and let it go a little wild.

And then the rabbits came. Every seedling that managed to come up despite a fair bit of neglect on my part was promptly nibbled down. In the end, even the Icelandic poppies that I had nurtured since February were mowed down. I saw one bloom and the rabbits even ate that so I don't even have any seeds to show for it.

As is the case in these reclaimed areas (which are far more difficult to turn into a garden than an area that used to be lawn), the weeds started moving in. I knew that all my hard work (not to mention a yard of topsoil I bought last year) would quickly be undone if I didn't act quickly.

So last weekend I edged the bed (still my favorite way of improving any garden space), weeded it thoroughly and heavily mulched it with chips from trees we had cut down in spring. Sidenote: Finding a place for the arborist to put those wood chips instead of having them hauled away was the best thing we've ever done. All year I've had a ready supply of really good wood chips for free.

It looks pretty ridiculous, to be honest, but I've saved it for this year and over winter I can develop a new plan for this area. If I do some moving and dividing of plants in fall I'll be able to plant there as well.

It's not what I had envisioned, but not every garden is a success right off the bat. In fact, few of them are. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right.

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07 August 2017


I used to find super cute clothes on vacation in some place with tropical weather, and I'd bring them home and try to wear them and it was a disaster every time. After I had a closet full of skirts with loud prints, impractical tank tops and at least one hat made from palm fronds, I can to the realization that you have to be careful what you buy on vacation. Of course a flowy skirt with a toucan on it makes perfect sense when you're somewhere with 90% humidity, trade winds and you haven't worn shoes for a week, but it doesn't translate well to a Wisconsin winter.

I think the same caution needs to be applied to gardens. As you know, I'm a huge advocate of getting into as many gardens as you can as there's no better way to be inspired or learn, but I think it's important to know that it's rare that a garden you see elsewhere could be picked up and moved to your yard and work. Obviously there are climate issues to be considered, but even if that's not an issue, rarely will an exact replica work.

That's why I think it's helpful to find little pieces of a garden, a moment here or there, to draw inspiration from, rather than the garden in it's entirety.

It's something I need to remind myself frequently when I'm on Mackinac Island. The place is so flush with color and gardens everywhere you turn that it's hard not to want to turn your whole garden into one straight out of Mackinac Island. Instead, I'm sharing a few of the bits of inspiration I've picked up there over the years.


A colorful corner at the Hotel Iroquois. 

The long border in front of the Grand Hotel. 

You'd be hard pressed to find a garden on Mackinac that could be described as subdued. Most are riots of color. This is usually delivered through annuals and for good reason: They provide color all season long and since Mackinac Island is a seasonal destination (almost all businesses are closed in winter), there's no need to worry about winter interest in most gardens.

The gardens at the Hotel Iroquois prove that you need not worry about how you mix colors because if you put enough of them in, it all works!

My skinny patio border. 

The skinny patio bed at my house is certainly planted in this vein and that's probably not a coincidence, although I doubt it was a conscious decision. I think it works in that small bed and provides a much-needed jolt of color against our all-white house.


Dry stacked walls on the entrance to the Hotel Iroquois add texture, raise plants and create so many more planting opportunities. 

One of the best features of the entrance garden at the Hotel Iroquois, in my opinion, is the terraced levels, which offer the ability to see so many more plants at a glance. This garden would not be nearly as interesting if it were all flat.


These hedges, which form a river of annuals, always intrigue me. I think the one on the right is there to hide the bottom of the building and the one on the left is to keep people from cutting the corner onto the walkway. The "river" of annuals down the middle makes you want to explore more. 
On the lake side of the hotel, hedges help define the patio areas, but the color keeps flowing with annuals planted in front of them. This keeps the area from looking too formal as well tying it in with the rest of the garden. Every year I wonder where I could use this lesson in my garden.


Front walkways, almost without exception, are lined with plants on Mackinac Island. There is no doubt how you get to the door, but guests seem to be invited to take their time getting there as they enjoy the plantings. I'm not suggesting that all walkways will benefit from this treatment, but marking the entrance in some way, perhaps with just a pair of pots, is a great takeaway.


Don't underestimate the importance of hardscaping. As gardeners we're inclined to worry more about the plant bits, but hardscaping sets the tone, guides people through a space and keeps you on even footing ... literally.

When I was on Mackinac Island a few weeks ago I snuck out early in the morning to grab a quick video of the gardens at the Hotel Iroquois. You can check it out here or below.

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