Thursday, January 31, 2008

Get in the Zone

When I'm planning my yard I like to think in what I call Zones. Each zone in itself is a mini-garden. Sometimes the zones have their own micro-climate due to wind exposure, sun exposure, and other environmental conditions like moisture and hardscaping. Over the next couple weeks I'm going to talk about the zones I have planned for my yard. Each zone will eventually connect together to form one large garden. The mini-gardens will either ease into each other blending seamlessly (hopefully) or have pathways that will bring the traveler though the garden. I'm keeping in mind that my goal is probably years away. Working to create the garden I hope to will take some time but by working through zones I can accomplish shorter term goals that will help to fulfill the larger task at hand.

Here are some of the advantages to thinking in zones:

Gardens are easier to plan in small stages.
With zones you see significant progress as you go.
When you create a zone you make a point of interest in your yard.
Zones are easier to arrange plants with the same water and light requirements together.


Below is a short list of garden zones I hope to create. I'll elaborate on the ideas in future posts.

The Garden Zones

The Hillside Garden
The Birdbath Garden
The Shade/Fantasy Garden
The Lower Slope
The Side Garden
The Patio Garden
The Veggie Garden
The Herb Garden

I may add more zones to the list as I think of them!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

If You Could Plant Anything What Would You Plant?

Here's a random question for you. If you could plant any plant in your garden that exists outside of your zone what would it be and why? The first and only rule with this question is that the plant must not be hardy in your zone. Other than that any plant you can think of is fair game.

With my first choice I would probably pick some citrus trees. Grapefruit and oranges would be great trees to have. We eat them fairly regularly and it would be good to just walk outside and pick something for breakfast. Maybe lemons also since they can be used for so many things. Fresh squeezed lemonade in the summer from trees in our own backyard would be awesome!

Another choice I might make would be Camellia sinensis which is used for making tea. It's a zone 7-9 plant and would be a borderline plant here. We could possible cheat the zone and plant it outside but the winters would most likely damage it. We're about as close to zone 7 as you can get without actually being there. It could be planted in a pot indoors then put out for the spring, summer, and part of fall. We drink tea fairly often and it would be nice to have green tea fresh or try to make our own black tea.

What would you plant?

After the Rain Has Fallen

A line of storms came through last night dropping the temperature nearly 20 degrees in an hour. Strong rain and wind blew all over Tennessee. Here in our yard we received about an inch of rain throughout the day. Fortunately our damage was minimal. Probably the worst thing affected was our sleep. The neighbor's fence gate blew open and their two horses sized dogs barked through the night in our yard. At least it sounded like they were in our yard.

Aside from the sleep damage one bird feeder blew over. It was a thistle feeder standing on our deck. It was no surprise that it fell over I'm only surprised that it didn't fall over sooner! We also lost a branch on a tulip poplar tree. I looked at it this morning and it seemed that it was already dead before it fell. It was just nature's vacuum doing some early spring cleaning. The branch probably died back in the drought this summer. Most of our other trees are young and therefore were pliable in the wind.

There were thousands who lost power last night and on the news a homeless man was pinned under a tree. It could have been much worse!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Plant of the Week: Honeysuckle

The plant of the week this past week was correctly guessed by several people. It is a honeysuckle vine. This particular one is sprawling up the lamp post outside my parent's home. I suspect that it is a trumpet honeysuckle or coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). It was there before they purchased the house so I can't be 100% sure of what variety it is. One thing is for sure it isn't the invasive take-over-the-world kind that exists over much of the south. This native honeysuckle tends to grow slower than the Japanese variety that has proven to be invasive since it was brought to the United State's in the 1800's to control erosion. Honeysuckle is very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies as well as other birds who like to munch on the berries. If you choose to plant honeysuckle make sure it is a native, the Japanese variety doesn't need your help!

Plant of the Week
Other Plants of the Week

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Pot Garden

Several years before we had a house with a little land we had to garden on our back porch. Friends and people I worked with thought we were crazy but it really makes a lot of sense. For small spaces gardening in pots is an excellent way to garden. Many vegetables come in varieties that are perfect for pots due to their small size or their growing habit. Here in this post you can see some of our back porch garden veggie pictures.


In the above picture you can see one of our first pot gardens.



Those same plants in the first picture eventually became the one's in this picture!


Cucumbers! In the left side of this picture you can see our compost bucket.

A little cucumber on it's way.


Tomato blossoms.


Radishes are good choices for pots.

Strawberries and tomatoes both grew well in pots. Our other veggies included summer squash, peppers, beans, and green onions.

Mmmmmmm!

In later years we needed more space. The shelving helped to make use of the vertical space. You can see my bean plants sprawling in the front.

If you garden in a pot the most important thing to remember is to water regularly. Plants dry out quick since they are exposed to more air than they would be if they were in the ground. Go for plastic pots over terracotta since terracotta pots dry out much faster. You may want to consider a drip irrigation system to help with the watering. Pot gardens just prove that you can garden almost anywhere. I hope you weren't thinking of some other kind of pot garden! We're talkin' veggies here!

Staying Organized or How to Tread Water...

This is a hard topic for one so organized as I (which would be not). Organization is something I have gotten better about over the years but I still fall woefully short of any real system. I'm probably like most people, I intend to start getting organized. Then I actually start doing a few things to get organized. Then a few days later the system is abandoned, not because it was a bad idea or wasn't working, but because I just forgot about it. I'll say things like "I'll write that down later." It's amazing how later changes from hours, into days, into weeks, and into never! I'm fortunate to have a decent enough memory to retain my to do lists for the yard, although other things seem to get lost in my head. This blog has really helped me lay out my thoughts and ideas. It gives me a written record and a voice for my thoughts. Hopefully next year, after this year's plantings have finished, I can look back and see what worked, what didn't, what to do again, and what I wish I had never attempted. Here are a few things I do to keep myself organized that may help you tread the waters of organization!

1. I save all the plant labels until I can go through them and write them down. I shove all the labels into a plastic bag in the garage until I have the time or the inclination to sit down and write them down in a spiral notebook. That usually happens when it's 102 degrees outside in August and I have a few moments of free time. Writing the plants down helps me keep track of what we have in the yard.

2. This brings me to talking about my notebook. My notebook isn't fancy, just a plain and thick spiral notebook. In my notebook I make drawings of plans, sketches of garden ideas, and write information about plants. I've written lists of plants that I want in my landscape as well as seed purchase lists for this year's garden. I've even written down some of my successes in plant propagation, although I am behind in this area.

3. I am trying to keep all the paperwork in one place. This is very difficult since I'll take a magazine and read it in one room and look at the plant catalogs in another room. I tend to leave stuff in the kitchen where it gets in the way or leave books where a little two year old can grab them! My notebook migrates from room to room either with the books or the magazines. I recommend keeping all the catalogs in one place and all the books together on the shelf.

4. Everything has a place so put it back! All the tools need to be kept together to make them easier to find. I've messed this one up many times. My pruners often go into the yard with me and end up where I do. Somehow they abandon me somewhere and I have to go back to find them. The big tools all get put right back into the garage corner where they live and pass the moments between uses but those small little tools love to move around when I'm not looking.

5. Spreadsheets on the computer are a good way to see what you have purchased. That is if you can keep up with it. I've started several spreadsheets I just haven't put in everything I should. The best time to do this is as soon as you get a new plant or garden purchase. Put things like the plant name (both common and botanical), purchase price, and how many of them you have. You can even incorporate your gardening budget into the spreadsheet, that is if you really want to know how much you are spending!

6. Use the all important To-Do List. For a to-do list to be useful it needs to be in a good location, somewhere you can easily find it, somewhere you see it almost everyday. Somewhere
important, somewhere like on your blog! By sticking that nagging to-do list up on this blog I can see what I have planned for the next millennium. Hopefully it won't take that long! I've done a couple posts about my to-do list which probably makes me sound like I have my act together but the truth is if I didn't have it on this blog I don't know if I would be so organized at this point. Since I check this blog regularly I see the list all the time. If you think about the nature of a blog in its most basic element it is a web-log. It is a journal for documenting your own history. For me it is the perfect place to put that old to-do list. If you don't have a blog put your list somewhere you will see it. The bathroom mirror or the door to your garage are both good places to pin your list.

7. Probably the most important thing you need to stay organized is discipline. Keep doing everything you can to stay on track with your system. Be regular with writing things down. Make a habit of putting things in the right place. It's definitely easier said than done.

I hope these ideas are useful to you. Like I said at the beginning of this post, organization is not my strong point. This blog has done a lot of good toward keeping my head straight. If you have some other organizational ideas please share them! I could use the help!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Excellent Project!

A couple days ago while surfing around on Blotanical I saw a blog post that intrigued me. I went to the site and found a whole illustrated tutorial on building a patio with a pergola. Karen over at Savannah Garden Diary put together this excellent post. She included in her post photos of the project from before, during and after construction. It's a very informative and well illustrated post!

Go take a look at Building Patio and Pergola!

My Project List: Plotting and Planning for 2008

Garden projects and chores are like kudzu, they grow fast and long and sometimes seem insurmountable. They develop a life of their own. Here is part two of my to-do list. This is where I plan and plot over what is next. As I write I can think of quite a few things to add to the list. Like buying the seeds for this season. I'm still trying to sort out all the choices to what I can reasonably plant. I will probably order more seed than I need. I dream big I guess. Here is a list of projects that need to happen soon!

My Project List: The Done or Begun List

The Veggie Beds

I'm planning two "L" shaped raised beds made from 2"x6" or 2"x8" lumber. The middle of the "L" would be a square and rise one extra level above the rest. The dimensions will be approximately 4'x6', 4'x4', and 4'x6' for each "L."

Our Patio

We need to figure out what we can afford to spend on this one. Ideally we would have some sort of natural colored paving stones that would give it a cobblestone look and maybe one day add a pergola. It would be a dry fit patio with no mortar as this is probably the easiest way to lay a patio. The porous nature of a dry fit patio allows for good drainage.

The Deck Rail

This should be done already. I've wasted some time on it trying to figure out if I want to redo the deck in some way. Now I think I just need to make the quick fix for safety reasons. One rail has become separated from the corner post due to the corner post warping. It wiggles and wobbles yet so far has not fallen down. Our deck was not very well put together to begin with and this is really no surprise.

Add Lattice Work Around the Deck

We would like to add a 2' wide sheet of lattice work around the bottom of our deck to screen off the bottom. Then we would like to put in a raised bed planting area around the deck. It would make another excellent cutting bed once it is built!

Weeds

This is destined to be a spring chore or whenever I can get to it. The caladium and hosta bed as well as the front walkway bed will both need new mulch. Speaking of caladiums I will probably need to get more bulbs. I may remake it into more of a heuchera bed. However I decide to plant it I'll still do the old newspaper trick after pulling out the majority of weeds from the beds.

Re-pot House Plants

Several of our house plants need re-potting including our peace lilies, an anthurium, and possibly a couple others. Mostly to replenish the soil but in the case of the peace lilies to divide.

The Deciduous Hedge

I started the border hedge with a row of Salix integra (Japanese Dappled Willow). This is a good plant for a deciduous hedge as it could grow up to 10 feet tall, grows quick, responds well to pruning, and likes the moist area where the hedge is to be planted. It also has some unique foliage as its new growth emerges in spring with a dappled variegation. I will probably incorporate some butterfly bushes and some ornamental grasses in some way to close up the hedge more and add some different plants for seasonal interest.


The Herb Garden

Since it's too cold to really do much outside this project is still in the planning stage. What I need to decide on is whether to attempt a knot garden, go for a formal herb garden look, or allow it to become a more random natural looking bed. A knot garden would be neat but those are very difficult to plan out. It would be interesting to try though.

Use the Wood

A short time ago I picked up some used lumber for some projects. I had several ideas for the wood including some raised beds for starting perennials and cuttings, making some wooden planters, building a small bridge over a drainage ditch (I'll expand on that one later), and using it for an arbor.

The perennial planting bed would be one of the easiest to do since I just want a place to start my perennials from seed to transplant later. All I need is to get some deck screws and cut the boards to fit. Six inches deep would be plenty for these beds which conveniently is the width of these boards. Then I would fill with dirt and be done.

The wooden planters would look nice but take a but more planning and work. They would need to be sanded and painted to match the house color (or at least come close).

The bridge will cover a small drainage ditch in the back yard. I thought of filling it in at one point but now I think turning it into a dry creek bed might be the best way to go. On the other side of the bridge is a shady area that may one day become a shade garden with all sorts of good shade plants.

The arbor is probably the easiest to construct. I just need to get some 4"x 4"s, 2"x 2"s, and some bolts. I'm not planning on anything fancy just a basic entry arbor to our shade grove in the back corner of the yard.


Where to Start?

By far the most important project to be right now is the veggie bed. We're ordering several types of seeds to start and better have a place for them to go! We do have a little time for that since the last frost date is usually April 15th. Here is the prioritized list based of three factors: time, money, and convenience.

1. Perennial Bed and Arbor - tie
3. Fix the Deck rail
4. Lattice work around the deck
5. Veggie Garden Raised Beds
6. Install planting bed around deck
7. Deciduous Hedge
8. Herb Garden
9. Re-pot houseplants
10. Weeds - at any time!
11. Install the patio

I may not stick to this order but it all needs done at some point. The deciduous hedge and herb garden need to wait until spring for planting.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rain Garden Update

The other day the rain garden completed a mini-test. It really was more of a pop quiz. It wasn't multiple choice or fill in the blank. It was true or false, did it work or not? There was only about 0.34 inches of rain but it easily handled that amount. Here's what the drainage looked like before the rain garden was installed:



Notice the standing water on the edge of the pavement.

Here's what it looked like after the pop quiz.


As you can see I've put some of the decorative gravel down. I decided to spread out the cost of the stone over several visits to the store so what you see is only the first three bags. If you look at the pavement you can see very little standing water and some water streaks from where the water went through the dirt that was on the driveway. No puddle! I give this little quiz an A at the moment but a bigger test is still needed to see if it does the trick.

Other Rain Garden Links:
The First Step to Recovery
Digging the rain Garden
On Today's Agenda: Working on the Rain Garden
The Rain Garden is Almost Done

Friday, January 25, 2008

One Cold January Morning

Here is the view from one cold January morning in Tennessee. The thermometer read 8.7 degrees Fahrenheit at 7:00 AM this morning. I looked outside and the sky was showing this captivating display.


Feathery white clouds are wisping around while the the peaking sun shines through the skeletal trees. Sometimes cold mornings make the best pictures!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Seeds for 2008 Part 1

I started the seed selection process the other day. I ordered seeds through the American Horticultural Society's seed exchange. I wasn't able to contribute seeds to the exchange this year but they do allow you donate $5 and pick ten different selections from this year's list.

Here is what I picked:

Rudbeckia hirta
Agastache foeniculum
Asclepia tuberosa (Butterfly weed)
Dianthus deltoides 'Arctic Fire'
Echinacea purperea
Echinacea purperea 'White Swan'
Iris ensata
Campsis radicans (Trumpet creeper)
Ipomoea purpurea 'Grandpa Otts'
Stokesia laevis (Stokes Aster Mix)
Liatris Spicata

I'm looking forward to the coneflowers and the butterfly weed. I have some coneflowers in our birdbath garden area but I think they are the 'Sunset' variety. The 'White Swan' would look good near our asters in the front yard. The trumpet creeper might work well on an arbor I'm planning as would the morning glory (Ipomoea). If you count my list above you will find 11 seed types. This is not a mistake, one of those is a possible substitution if they run out of another. Unfortunately I don't remember which one it is! I think it's the rudbeckia but I can't say for sure.

Rest assured there are more seeds to come! Now I just have to figure out what they are!

Ready for Spring?

Anyone else ready for spring yet? Have a look at some dianthus, it may help to sustain you until spring! Or it might just make things worse...

It's supposed to be 29 here today for the high. I think I'm ready for spring!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rock this Way!


Rocks are a great landscape feature to add to your yard and garden. They come in all sizes and don't need any real maintenance. You can put moss on the rocks or let them rest as silent monoliths watching over your garden. You can use them for edging, for paving stones, stepping stones, and retaining walls. There are just so many things you can use a rock for that I had to get a few. This past weekend when traveled up to Mt. Juliet, TN to visit my wife' parents I went rock hunting. It's not nearly as exciting as it sounds. The hunt was through a pile of cast off stone and rock that has been heaved out of their ground. Heaving is the natural process of freezing and thawing of the ground that pushes rocks up and causes cracks and breaks in the ground. Had it been warmer I may have been more adventurous and trekked through the woods behind their home in search of the precious stones but the 30 degree weather deterred me! If you are familiar with Mt. Juliet, TN you will know that the ground is almost all rock and clay. They have used rock to edge various garden beds and some pathways in their landscape and allowed me to take home a few. As you can see from the picture above rocks come in assorted sizes and shapes. Here are a few that I brought home.



Once you have the rock where you want it (and I'm not sure I do yet) you have to decide how to place it. You have as many options as you have usable sides. In the case of this rock below I really only have two choices. The back/bottom does not look as nice as the side you see in the picture below so it isn't really an option. It also will only stand up tall from one side. So here are my two choices. Either choice A with the stone lying flat or B with the stone standing tall. What do you think? Also consider what might be a good use of this rock. Keep in mind that I haven't completely decided on its location yet (I may want to wait for its final resting place until after the tulips have bloomed). Do you have any ideas for the rocks in the above pictures?

So rock this way?

A Flat (not a music joke)
Or rock that way?

B upright
This rock is about 16-18 inches tall in this picture.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Purty Weed (Chickweed)

Looking for a thick ground cover that is green even in the dead of winter? Do you want something that will cover your yard with absolutely zero maintenance? Then look no further for you have found your answer! Chickweed is taking America and Tennessee by storm. It will quickly cover your lawn and garden in a dense mat of green foliage. It even has white flowers that will reproduce rapidly creating more and more of the wonderful ground cover you love! Forget about growing your lawn or wildflowers! Forget about flower beds and vegetables! Chickweed will proudly cover any area you let it. Hurry supplies are not even close to limited get yours today!


























Please note that this post was done in sarcasm! Do not ever try to grow chickweed as it will do as I said and spread, spread, spread! It looks very nice in its dense mat but beneath the chickweed nothing else will grow and it will choke out other plants around it. According to various herbalists it has several benefits in treating inflammations and abscesses although I can't verify this from experience. It seems to be enjoying the area beside our back porch. This area is destined to be redone so its days are numbered!

Plant of the Week

Here is the new plant of the week. Obviously this is an old picture since nothing is growing right now, but here's a little taste of the spring to come. This isn't from our yard but it is a nice example of a vine being used to accent a structure. Go ahead and make an educated guess!





English Laurel Cuttings

This weekend we ventured up to my wife's parents house. I'm always looking for something plant or garden related to get into so I braved the 30 degree temperatures for a little while to see what I could find. I decided to take some more cuttings of the English laurels (Schip laurels) in the front yard. I just can't help myself. When there is an opportunity to get new plants I take it. I took four cuttings back in the fall and managed to get them to root fairly easily and from what I've read others have found that they are extremely easy to root. If you haven't tried propagating plants before English laurels (Prunus laurocerasus) might be a close second behind willows as the easiest plant to propagate and might be a good one to try. These plants look great when full grown. Here is a picture of one the mother plants where I took my cuttings.




I ended up taking eight cuttings and followed the same standard cutting procedure as I did for the pyracanthus I posted about earlier in the week. Below you can see the 8 cuttings arrayed on the paper towel.




I used two old Gatorade drink bottles for temporary propagating pots, fashionable right? Maybe not but it is re-using something rather than tossing it into the trash!




Winter is a good time to take cuttings of many evergreens. I'll be keeping these plants inside until the warmer weather comes to stay.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Perennial Plant Pruning



Through a moment of lazy logic I decided to defy conventional perennial pruning practice. Decided is the wrong word...perhaps forgot to would be better! I even posted about the proper way to take care of mums including pruning several weeks ago when the mums were fading. Did I do what I said? Nope, sure didn't. Now I think that I did a good thing by not doing anything at all! Most people recommend that you trim back the mums to 3-5 inches in the fall after blooming. Not pruning them makes sense when you think about it. Mother nature knows best. Perennial plants in nature come back year after year with no one tending them, so why not do the same thing in the home landscape?

(a Salvia nemerosa with green growth at its base)

This was no great inspiration brought on to me through reading a book on perennials or an article in a newspaper. I was just too darn lazy to go out into the cold air to trim the dead growth off the plants. In fact I could have done it during our warm snap last week but by then I had decided not to bother with it. I think that trimming perennial plants before winter is mostly for aesthetics. Everyone wants their landscape to look great all the time but if you can stand to let go of the reins and let your plants do what nature intended you may benefit from it. I'm not advocating to never cut back your plants, but maybe waiting until spring is better for plants like chrysanthemums, echinaceas , rudbeckias, salvias, asters, and probably other several others.


(an aster with green growth at its base)

Now why wait to prune? The dead sticks and leaves that hang around protect the base of the plant from direct frost damage. Sure it's still cold but the branches protect and shield the plant from too much cold. Despite sub-freezing temperatures our plants look ready to sprout new growth at a moments notice. Also by leaving the dead growth and seeds on the plants you provide habitat and food for birds and beneficial insects. It might even be dangerous for the plants to get pruned in the fall since some plants will respond to pruning by growing new growth which would get frost bit by the cold temperatures. In the future all of my perennials might just have wait until spring to get their trim.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Little Sprout

Our youngest sprout!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Another Propagation Success: Pyracanthus augustifolia

Here are some cuttings of Pyracanthus augustifolia also known as Firethorn. This is a very good plant to use in the landscape for privacy hedges and for attracting wildlife. Birds and insects both love this plant. Insects for its white flowers in late spring and the birds for the bright orange berries in fall and winter. As you can probably surmise from the name it has thorns and its bright orange berries evoke images of fire (Firethorn).

Among my wife's family it is simply called the
"Orange Berry Bush." I wish I had known how to propagate plants at the time, but several years ago at their old house my wife's parents had a pyracanthus that they loved. They moved and couldn't take it with them because of the size. Later the people who bought their old house took it out completely. It would have been nice to bring a piece of the old bush and let it grow into their new landscape to preserve a bit of their past. They bought a new one and put it in but it would have been a neat idea to bring the old one with them.

If you ever go to the main campus at the University of Tennessee, you can find pyracanthus in several places around the campus.

In the pictures you can see three cuttings and a close up of the root system. These pictures were taken in December and I haven't checked the roots recently. Hopefully they have grown a bit!












My basic procedure for making these cuttings went like this:

1) Take the cutting. I made cuttings of about 5-6 inches long off the mother plant in the early fall. If you can't stick the cutting immediately wrap it with a couple damp paper towels and put them in a plastic bag.

2) Fill your flat/pot/container with your rooting medium. I only used sand for these cuttings and they worked fine. I also cut the bottom 4-5 inches off of a gallon milk jug to use as a container. It a great re-use of materials that most people typically throw out.

3) Dip the cutting in a little water. This will help with step 4.

4) Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and tap off any excess. The water from step 3 helps it stick to the cutting.

5) Put the cutting in the sand. I just stick them straight in but it might be a good idea to use a stick to prepare a hole for the cutting then firm up around the hole.

6) Water. Keep the medium moist.

If you can have your rooting medium ready before step one. It took about 6 weeks or so for these cuttings to produce roots. They need a sheltered location while they are young. Protect them from too much sun or shade and definitely shield them from frosts. This spring I'll pot them up in soil and watch them grow!



Friday, January 18, 2008

The American Gardener

I just received my copy of the The American Gardener for January and February and by skimming the table of contents I can see some interesting articles. The magazine is the American Horticultural Society's bimonthly magazine which you receive with your membership to the AHS. The magazine has great articles for those who enjoy horticulture in its many forms. If you aren't a member go check it out here: American Horticultural Society.

Here is what is in this month's issue :

In Plants with Promise Rita Pelczar discusses some new plants for this year. That is always an interesting subject!

Ray Rogers talks about coleus in Coleus's Comeback.

Conifer Heaven in the Heartland by Marty Ross introduces us to Marvin Snyder's conifer collection in Kansas.

Heirloom tomatoes are the subject of Flavors from the Past by Kris Wetherbee.

Wonderful Walkways talks about designing complimentary plant beds for the walkways of your home.

Each issue also includes lists of regional events, interviews with various people and a plethora of useful information!

I think I have some reading to do!

My Project List: The Done or Begun List

My rain garden is well underway and now is the time to plan my next project. I still need to plant the rain garden so it will remain on the list but there are a host of other projects to talk about. This will be the first of two posts. One post is just to list what has been started and how things are going and one to cover what I have been thinking about starting in the near future.

First here's what has been done or at least begun from the list:

Privacy Hedge:

Our Canadian hemlock privacy screen was planted. The plants are small but will eventually grow up to provide a thick hedge. Recently I built up the ground around the hemlocks with soil from the rain garden excavation to help drain the water better around the trees. The water from my neighbor's yard was backing up into our yard which gave them too much water and they don't like wet feet. I'm considering incorporating some other elements to the hemlock privacy screen but haven't decided what yet.

Driveway water drainage problem:

The rain garden is structurally done. It still needs to be tested by a good rain and the plants need to be planted. Here are the posts that follow the rain garden so far.
The First Step to Recovery
Digging the rain Garden
On Today's Agenda: Working on the Rain Garden
The Rain Garden is Almost Done

Plant bulbs:

I listed this item as tulips on my To-Do list but I also put in daffodils. Now I just need to wait and watch.
December and Still Digging

Arbor Day Trees:

All are planted either in the ground or in the trough planter.
Arbor Day Experiment Part 1
Arbor Day Experiment Part 2
Arbor Day Tree Update 1 or Do Deer Use Pruners

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Plants I am Planning on Planting: Salvia splendens 'Flare'

Salvia is a excellent plant to put in a garden. They are drought tolerant (which is important in Tennessee) and look great. They also come in many colors including red, pink, white, orange, blue, and purple. Depending on where you live and the variety you choose it may be a perennial or an annual. According to the website Floridata, there are more than 700 different kinds of salvias or sages. In our yard we have several perennial Salvias (Salvia nemerosa) including the 'East Friesland' Hybrid Sage, 'Caradonna' Meadow Sage and 'MayNight' Salvia. All three of these plants are bluish to purple in color. They flower in early summer then repeat later in the fall with another flush of flower stalks.

The Salvia I am looking forward to planting this year is Salvia splendens 'Flare.' This salvia has bright red flowers and is very heat tolerant. It is commonly grown as an annual from seed but according to various seed merchants can be grown as a perennial in milder climates. It is native to Brazil. According to BackyardGardener.com its hardiness zone is from 5-9 which puts Tennessee right in the middle. They also list it as tolerant to deer (somewhat of a concern in my yard), drought (a big concern in Tennessee), heat and humidity (we're in the south of course that's a concern!), slopes (not a big deal), and the seashore (I won't have to worry about that! And if I do we all have bigger problems to worry about!)

How and where I will use it:

Salvia splendens 'Flare' will be used as a hot color plant in and around my rain garden. I'll raise it from seed to save money. I plan on mixing it with various warm-colored rudbeckias, asclepias tuberosa, and ornamental grasses. Hot colors are mostly colors like yellow, orange and red. They lie next to each other on the color wheel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Weather Report: Cold with a Chance of Snow



A chance of freezing precipitation was in the forecast for today, but knowing how Tennessee forecasts work I did not put much faith in it. The forecasters begin talking about frosty weather several days in advance and there it remains, several days in advance. It just never seems to arrive. Tonight it did! Above you can see the wet snow laying on top of a Bird's Nest Spruce.



Here is a shot of the front porch garden bed. It's in a sad state right now but the snow adds some elegance.


Here is a view from the front porch into our neighbor's yard. It's accumulating but we won't end up with much, we rarely do. I'm just hoping for some daylight snow shots and enough snow tomorrow so that a certain 2 year old can make a little snowman!


Planning the Herb Garden

This post was originally written on December 9th, 2007 I'm bumping this post up to see if anyone has any suggestions.

When spring comes I plan to install a herb garden in the front yard which is sloped in toward the house. Since it is winter time and most outdoor tasks are finished it is a good time to plan ahead and figure out what to put in the herb garden. I want to put in a variety of herbs, both ornamental and functional. Rosemary is a must and is easily obtained for free (Thanks mom!). It's also a good perennial herb that works as a shrub. Basil is another one I have to put in the herb garden. Italian foods are an addiction for us. I want to have a couple different types of basil. There are some dark purplish colored basils that would look great mixed in with other rich foliage. Anyone have any suggestions for good ornamental and functional herbs?


From my window...

From my window I can observe the court of the reigning king of the hill. This prince of the porch reigns supreme as no one is willing to stand up (or fly) to challenge him. His desire: to save all the suet for himself. This king is no magnanimous monarch, there is no generosity associated with his rule. This iron-fisted (and feather clad) ruler accepts no rebukes from those seemingly stronger or more able. One must admire his tenacity as he has ruled for some time, something about him has kept his challengers at bay. He seems to be feared by all denizens of the kingdom. When he is not overseeing his court others approach cautiously to gather what nourishment they can from the king's stores. They know they must hurry for soon the mockingbird king will come.

As I watch I can see another who could take command. He is a more benevolent aristocrat who could challenge for the throne, but alas something is keeping him from taking charge. Physically he appears to be more than able to assume command. He is more mild mannered than the current king, more unassuming, and more even-tempered. Perhaps this is why he waits. Maybe he is of a patient, calculating, and intelligent nature and has a plan. He must hurry, for the subjects of the malevolent mockingbird monarch are growing hungry and frustrated with their attempts to feed their families. Until that day the kingdom waits, secretly hoping that the regime of the old king will be replaced by the rule of a kinder and gentler king. For now his sovereignty remains unchallenged, but one of these days someone will dethrone the king.


Mockingbirds are known to be territorial and this one is no exception. He guards the feeders most of the day preventing any other birds from partaking of the food. At least twice this week the mockingbird chased birds into our windows, fortunately none have been hurt. The mockingbirds we have are good in a way. They chase the crows away so we never have to worry about them. They love eating the grasshoppers in the summer which reduces the damage the grasshoppers can cause in the yard. Unfortunately the mockingbirds seem to like peanut butter suet. The woodpecker in the picture above doesn't not get along well with the mockingbird. I really think the woodpecker could win in an altercation with the mockingbird but he just isn't as aggressive. I think once more food becomes available the mockingbirds will abandon the suet feeder for live game. At least that is my hope!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day: Berries and Blooms


I didn't want to just have one plant to show so I added the Nandina above. Its berries are showing some pretty good winter color.



Here you can see the tiny blooms of our Mediterranean White Heather. Erica x darlelensis would look great as mass border planting. Too bad I only have the one, I'll have to add more this year!

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Rain Garden

Here you can find links to my posts about building a rain garden.

The First Step to Recovery
Digging the Rain Garden
Working on the Rain Garden
The Rain Garden is Almost Done
Planting the Rain Garden(still to come)

Helpful Gardening Hints: Back Saving Wheelbarrow Techniques

If you are like me, you may have never given your wheelbarrow much thought. It really is a gardener's best friend. This garden companion is with you in all seasons and through all manner of tasks. The poor little guy is taken for granted yet never complains and always does the job. Often it isn't until the morning after that you think about him and then it's usually too late. Your back is hurting and there is little you can do but pop more ibuprofen and hope it does the trick. But there is something you can do to minimize the pain next time!

1) Use your joints not your back! When you lift the wheelbarrow bend with your knees that when you stand straight up the wheelbarrow lifts with you. Your legs are much better suited for lifting than your back.

2) Bend your elbows. When you are moving the wheelbarrow bend your arms to create a suspension for the weight of the load. It will reduce some of the stress on your back and build some muscle in your arms!

3) Don't weigh it down! Reduce the size of your loads. It may mean more trips back and forth but a little extra walking never hurt anyone!

I hope these three tips work for you like they did for me. When working on my rain garden I moved 20-30 loads of dirt to other locations in the yard. I don't know how much each load weighed but they were filled to the top. The first two tips worked well for me. The last one I could have done much better with. I put way too much in each load and I am just lucky that the wheelbarrow (and my back) didn't break under the stress.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Rain Garden is Almost Done

The rain garden is very close to being finished. We worked most of the day and managed to get the soil put in to make the planting bed. All that is left to do is to select plants and cover with mulch!

Here's a look at today's progress:

Here is where I ended the other evening. A big hole with a trench. The picture is a little dark but you can still make out the trench for the water leading to the rain garden area itself.







The next step was to make the hole larger and create a trench parallel to the driveway to serve as a water collecting trench. Then we laid a piece of perforated drain pipe in the parallel trench. Before we laid the pipe we put gravel down in the trench. The gravel helps to improve the drainage and allows for better water flow.





Here is the expanded rain garden area. It could be a little larger but this basin should hold the amount of water we need to manage our drainage problem.









Here is one of my assistants hard at work! I hope that's not a violation of any labor laws...









On the left is a view of the "T" connector pipe that we used to connect the two pipes together.






On the right is my assistant doing some pretty important things. I'm not quite sure what those things were, but she knew and I guess that's all that matters!




Here is another view of the "T" connector pipe. These parts are very easy to assemble. You just snap them together and the grooves lock them in place.












On the right and below you can see the rain garden and drain pipe trenches filled with gravel.




























Here is the nearly complete rain garden. The bed itself is raised slightly higher than the surrounding ground to help define the planting area. In the foreground you can see the gravel area that will eventually be covered with decorative gravel.

















On the right is another view of the planting bed.











We managed to fulfill my goal of filling the bed with soil. We still need to put in the decorative gravel, plant the bed, put grass seed in the trench, and mulch. The hardest part is done! I expect the rain will settle the soil some and we may need to add more dirt to the bed.

A big thank you needs to be said for my dad, who helped shovel a bunch of dirt, a bunch of gravel and drove the truck to the yard! So Thanks Dad!