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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Corner Shade Garden

This past weekend I put together a small corner shade garden. We have a garden spot on one side of our house that only receives 3-4 hours of morning sun per day. We thought that the spot would be a perfect candidate for a shade garden.

When I think of shade gardens I think of foliage. Colorful flowers don't come to mind although there are some out there that will do well in shade. Things like hostas, heucheras, and ferns seem to enter my head first. The hostas and heucheras do flower but are recognized more by their fantastic foliage than their petal prowess.

I began laying the groundwork for the shade garden last summer. I removed most of the sod and mulched with a hardwood mulch. Unfortunately I didn't have a weed barrier layer and many of the weeds I removed came back. I took care of many of them this weekend with the primary pain being the wild strawberries. They are very easy to pull if you grab them from the crown but multiply rapidly if they are left alone for a while. Each plant is capable of becoming it's own mother plant.

We planted several hostas, heucheras and caladiums last year. Two of the hostas are 'Patriots' which I purchased for about $2 each at the end of the season. The heucheras are the 'Palace Purple' variety which were also a discount purchase. I think I picked up 4 of them for around $5. (I know most people don't recommend buying plants in July and August but you can find some really good deals then!)

In the back is a bush that we have never liked there, I believe it is a privet bush.

I removed the bush and found a pot bound root system and a tag that said $30.00 on it. Interesting.

The one good thing the bush did do was hide the gas meter from view.

Since I'm not one to throw any anything usable I transplanted the bush to a spot in the back yard between our yard and a neighbor's yard. I hope it does OK there but I'm afraid it may suffer some transplant shock.

My wife and I have loved Oak Leaf Hydrangeas for a while and really wanted to put one in somewhere. The shady corner seemed like a perfect fit and it became our replacement for the bush. It isn't any special variety just simply Hydrangea quercifolia.

Our 'Patriot' hostas from last season are doing fantastic. You can see in the next two pictures for yourself. I like the dark green foliage with the white variegation. I can't wait until these hostas multiply and fill up our shady garden.

Here is one of our new hostas called 'Ginko Craig' (Hosta sieboldii). It is shorter than the 'Patriots' will be as it will max out around 12 inches. The narrow leaves (at least for hostas) is what attracted us to this find at the Bloom 'N Garden Expo.

Here is a rather strange looking hosta, at least at the moment. Its foliage is very crinkled on the edges. I'm not sure if that's the variety or if there is something wrong with it. It came from a box so there's no telling, at least not yet! It didn't come up last year so I'm just happy to see it.

Here's another expo find. I originally thought this was a heuchera, it looks pretty darn close don't you think? It didn't come with a label and the girl we bought it from couldn't tell us anything about the name of it. I did some digging and found it was actually a Heucherella which is a cross between a Heuchera (Coral bells) and Tiarella (Foam flower). I think this particular one is called 'Stoplight'.

The foliage is obviously what brought it to my attention. I thought the red around the veins and the lime green coloring was very unique and would contrast well with the 'Palace Purple' heuchera. To the left is a picture of our 'Palace Purple' heuchera's leaves. Nice and dark.

With all these plants I still felt that I felt we needed a little more to add into the shade garden to fill in some gaps and create a border. I picked up two $.97 6 packs of coleus and 6 caladiums for $1 each. The caladiums don't look like much right now but they will fill in as the season progresses. Each little pot had several bulbs in them which I moved around to different places to maximize ground coverage. I also had several predominantly green coleus plants that I raised from seed.

Here is how the corner shade garden looks right now. Please keep in mind that several things still need to be done, like mulching! The coleus is rounding out the edges of the garden but I'd like to add another type of edging to define the bed from the lawn. In time the hydrangea will grow much taller and cover the bare wall behind it while the hostas and heucheras will fill in the gaps. Here are two more things I had to think about:

1) where the meeter reader could step
2) where I could step to get to the water faucet.

I'll be putting in large, flat, natural looking stones to serve as stepping stones for both paths.

This little garden is very young and I'll share its progress with you as I go!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Front Garden Spots (Mailbox Garden, Yoshino Garden and other Spots)

Before I begin to highlight a few more front garden spots in my yard let me just say that many of these locations have not been prepared yet for the year. I still need to weed more, mulch more and add new plants in places!

These first few pictures are from the mailbox garden. Pretty much everyone has something around their mailbox, it's almost a tradition. It might even be worthy of its own post. I hope to expand this area quite a bit in the future. Since moving to our house I've noticed a few things about our soil. Up by the road there is virtually no topsoil. It was probably scraped clean of any valuable earth when the house building process began. There is even a good deal of gravel strewn about in this part of the yard. Again I'll blame it on the builders. The further back in my yard you go the better the soil gets. In the very back it is rich, dark, loamy soil characteristic of a forest. Between those areas we have all sorts of variations in between, including clay.

On with the show!

Here you can see our 'Purple Homestead' verbena that has done really well in this location. I need to take a few more cuttings of it. The opposite side of the mailbox also had a verbena but it died off. I need to get a replacement.

Here is the 'May Night' Salvia which is doing great. I'm a little surprised it is blooming this well so early. It may have something to do with the proximity of paved surfaces. They can act as heat sinks and tend to create their own micro-climates.

Here's a view form behind the mailbox. You can see that the posts really need to be cleaned and painted. We have an achillea (Yarrow) of some variety that I don't remember. It comes out pink and changes to white. I think I like it more for its fern-like foliage than the flower colors. You can also see a second 'May Night' salvia behind the achillea. All of these plants are hardy and do well in poor soils.

Here's what the mailbox garden look like right now. It's a mess at the moment but soon it will look better. It's amazing what a bag of mulch can do for a garden! I almost forgot to mention the irises that can be found throughout our landscape.

Apparently out squirrels are quite the gardeners, they seem to have planted an oak tree under our mailbox! I'll have to transplant that tree somewhere else.

Here's the beginning of our Yoshino garden. So far there is a Yoshino cherry tree, several irises and two rocks. As the tree grows I'll expand the garden around it. The bed is in a small fan shape that I thought might look unique with the two rocks framing it on the sides.

It will look better over time, and soon the irises will bloom. I'll be planting some allysum in front of the irises and I will add some salvia from cuttings behind the rocks once they are ready to plant.

Here is a small corner garden between our sidewalk and driveway. This little garden spot is new and doesn't have a while lot planted yet. I divided a huge clump of liriope that was here before us into 30+ little plants. They will line the edge of the bed next to the sidewalk and above them there will be daylilies.

Here's another garden spot underneath one of the two Bradford pear trees. I moved sod to create a small berm or mound then I covered it with grass clippings periodically last summer to add some organic content to the soil and then I added some irises. I didn't mulch it, but I will soon. I've seen it written that irises shouldn't be mulched but I think as long as you don't bury the rhizomes they will do fine.

Now we'll go back to the front sidewalk garden to show you some plants I missed in my last post. Here is one of two $5 butterfly bushes I purchased last summer. It's done really well in this spot. It retained most of it's leaves over the winter, probably because of its proximity to the house.

When I talked about the tulips I mentioned how the white and purple ones ('Shirley' thanks to Mr. McGregor's Garden) began as yellow tulips. Here's one of them before they changed color. Definitely yellow.

Here's a 'Stella de Oro' Daylily. This is one of several divisions I made last fall and it is doing great. I love getting more plants for free!

Here is one of my Russian sages. I think this is the 'Longin' Russian sage. If you ever get the chance to touch one of the leaves of a Russian sage there is a nice, strong smell which is probably why it got named as a sage even though it is not a salvia.

Finally here is a very from the other side. This was taken before the tulips were in bloom and before many of the other plants began their new growth. It does give you a good look at the nandina. There's still a lot of work to do.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Freeze Warning for Tennessee

Hopefully this will be the last time this year but there is a chance of a slight freeze tonight and tomorrow night (April 28 & 28)! The weather forecasters are predicting temperatures in the mid to upper 30's for both nights. After that we should be in the clear.

Protect those plants!

If you are like me and have already planted some tender vegetables or annuals you may want to consider covering them for both nights. The daytime temperatures will be nice, in the upper 60's to low 70's, so your plant will get warmed up during the day! Just remember to take the coverings off when the sun comes back out.

How Do You Protect Your Plants?

I'll be using a combination of fabric sheets (not plastic) and overturned nursery pots.

Empty nursery pots work great to protect your plants. Just find an appropriately size pot and drop it over the plant. They are cheap, easy to use, and I have a bunch of them!

You could use plastic bottles and milk jugs with the bottoms cut off instead if you don't have extra pots lying around. The cloth sheets will cover the larger things that need protecting like my Blue Berry bushes (NTP hint). You can use plastic sheets but just make sure they aren't touching the plants themselves. Cold will transfer through the plastic and touch whatever parts of your plants are touching the plastic!

I'm also going to take some dried grass clippings that I have and cover my small seedlings (squash and cucumbers). I'll be sure to pull it back in the morning when the sun rises.

Tulips in the Front Garden

As part of Gardening Gone Wild's Front Garden Workshop I'll show you the tulips that are in our front sidewalk garden bed, which is a work in progress. There are only two kinds of tulips in the front garden, a purple one called 'Negrita' and a mixed purple and white one called 'Shirley'.

The tulips are blooming in a small rounded formation just in in front of two Euonymous Fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety' shrubs. I put in those two bushes and several yews as a foundation planting. The yews were in sad shape when I purchased them but I got them for less than two dollars each. I babied them a bit last summer and now they are flushing out with new growth. The euonymous are doing fantastic but that shouldn't be a surprise!

If you look really carefully in the picture below you can see a Russian sage to the left of the euonymous. The Russian sage needs to be moved to the other side of the sidewalk where it will receive more sunlight.

Here's a closeup of one of the 'Negrita' Tulips. It's dark purple petals contrast nicely with the new green foliage of the euonymous.

The arc formation I tried to make with the different tulips had the dark purple of the 'Negrita's in the center and the white and purple colored tulips on the sides forming wings. In the background you can see one of my red twig dogwood cuttings. I tend to use the front garden bed to acclimate plants (usually from cuttings) to the outdoors since it is in part shade for most of the day.

It looks like one of the tulips lost her petals. Just behind the naked tulip you can see the foliage of a 'Stella de Oro' daylily. It's one of 13 divisions I made of a large chunk in the fall. I know 13 isn't a lucky number, but I'm not superstitious. Maybe I'll divide a few more, just to be safe.

Here's a side shot of the tulips. On the left side of the photo you can see a Nandina looming over the bed. It is the largest plant in the bed and the only thing that remains from the previous owners of our house. I don't like nandinas much since they are overplanted in our area but this one will stay where it is. The larger nandinas can be attractive but I don't think much of the dwarf varieties.

Here's another shot of the mixed tulip. It's a pretty good photo if you want to see the parts of a flower. You can see the stigma in the center surrounded by the stamen.

I like how the edges of this tulip are highlighted in purple. It just makes it more interesting than a plain tulip. Another interesting thing about these white and purple tulips is that they start yellow! I thought at first that we had received the wrong kind but as they matured their true colors revealed themselves.

In this last picture you can see in the lower left a spirea that volunteered itself in our front bed. It must have been here before we bought the house. It's had a rough time lately because of aphids.

There's the tour of the tulips in our front garden. There's more to highlight in our front yard but everything is still very much a work in progress. When the tulips fade the annual verbena I planted will take over (I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but I'm not superstitious). I may drop in a couple salvias when the cuttings I made get a little further along. Come back and take a look later this week at the corner shade garden I put in this weekend along with other front garden highlights!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

My Vegetable Garden is Started!

Lately I've been working on getting everything up and running with my vegetable garden. I followed the raised bed layout I made and filled the beds several weeks ago. I've already planted lettuce, tomatoes, marigolds, peppers, beans, cucumbers, watermelon, catmint, and squash. In the picture to the right you can see the little cucumber sprouts popping up through the soil. They've been interplanted with the tomatoes.

The peppers and tomatoes I started from seed were more than ready for the garden a week ago. I used the system you see in the picture to start many of my seeds this year. I had a very high germination rate. The only vegetables I start indoors are the tomatoes and peppers, the rest I plant directly in the garden.

Some of those plants should probably have waited a week or so, like the squash and watermelon, but since the weather has been so warm and I'm planting in raised beds I decided to go ahead and plant what I could. One of the advantages to raised beds is that the soil warms up faster which allows you to plant certain plants sooner.

I am trying to use companion planting techniques to help fend off unwanted insects and improve the yield of the plants. The marigolds are a good companion plant to deter various insects. The catmint (Nepeta) is good as a pest deterrent also but this batch won't be staying in the vegetable garden. It will eventually be transplanted to the ring around our garden and maybe some other places in the yard. I may add some basil in with the tomatoes since they are just a natural fit, or at least they are in my spaghetti sauce!

This past week I had to add a new feature to protect it from rabbits, a fence. It's not the most attractive fence and I would much rather have wood with pickets but it will do for now. This fence will double as a trellis for many other plants.

In the far bed you can see where I have planted beans. I put together a makeshift trellis (Is it really makeshift if it works?) out of a sliding glass door window grid and a few bamboo stakes. I weaved the stakes through the frame and stuck them in the dirt and there was an instant bean trellis. In the closest bed I planted the catmint on the lower edge and marked it off with some twine. I'm not sure yet what to put in the rest of the bed but I'll come up with something! In the corner bed I have lettuce and radishes planted. The lettuce is coming up pretty good and some should be ready in a week or two for the dinner table. It's a Romain mixture. You can see several different color mixtures in the leaves. After all, who likes a boring salad?

In the next picture you get a bird's eye view of the garden. If you look over to the left side of the fence you can see a spot of dirt I've cleared of grass. I planted some sunflower seeds there with some zinnias. They are the beginning of the circular bed. Now imagine a bed with various perennials (like salvia and Russian sage) and annuals ringing around the outside of the bed with an herb garden at the gate and a nice picket fence keeping the garden neatly in bounds. I'll be working on the ring bed and herb garden as I can this year but the fence will have to wait. Money doesn't grow on trees, but if it did you can bet I'd be propagating a few!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Battle of Sylvilagus floridanus (Cottontail rabbit)

The battle has just begun. The lines have been drawn and the enemy has been sighted.

I began scouting the territory in an attempt to locate the the wily villain and took these pictures. It was a difficult mission.

I crept closer and closer to the encampment of the enemy, stopping often to cautiously take reconnaissance pictures. I was afraid of discovery. My enemy has an extremely keen sense of hearing and it's awareness of its surrounding borders on the supernatural.

Preliminary reports indicate that this enemy of the garden is the infamous Sylvilagus floridanus. Gorilla warfare on vegetable gardens is their main strategy for world domination. While seemingly benign, these cute little furry creatures can decimate the tender crops of the home gardener in minutes. They will wait until the cover of evening darkness approaches then sneak into the garden to eat the tender young foliage. The Eastern cottontail rabbit has a voracious appetite and something must be done to protect the garden at all costs.

The Line Has Been Drawn.

The raised bed vegetable garden is now behind a border fence. Although it may not be the most attractive fence it will keep the voracious rabbits from entering the vegetable garden. The wire fence is covered with a vinyl coating that will prevent it from rusting in the weather and keep it safe for tiny little hands to touch. I fashioned a makeshift gate out of the remaining fencing material and a bamboo stake. By weaving the bamboo stake into the fencing it will keep the flap pieces together.

I plan to improve this fence over time by adding wooden posts and a picket fence but for now this will do. I needed a quick, easy and cheap fence to install and this wire one fit the bill. Outside of the fence area I will gradually plant perennials, shrubs and annuals as I create a circular garden around my vegetable garden. An extra advantage with this fence is that it can double as a trellis for vine plants like beans, gourds, and various flowering vines. I plan on installing plants that rabbits may not particularly enjoy, things with a strong scent. Like rosemary, Russian sage (I love that one), salvias, and various herbs. I'm still planning on installing my herb garden layout (it will be where the garden gate is) but I want to incorporate some of those scented herbs into the garden ring to dissuade rabbits from their sorties.

I've seen mixtures and deterrents that you can use but they often require reapplication after rain. There are some homemade rabbit deterrents that use hot pepper powders in them, but these require that the rabbit actually taste the plant. When they discover the strong taste they decide not to indulge themselves on your vegetables. The theory is that they will learn not to associate those plants with a food they like. I'd rather the rabbit not even get close to my plants! A fence for me is a better option. The truth is I like the rabbits, just not in the vegetable garden. From time to time I've found their droppings in the yard which I'll move to the base of a plant or a garden bed as an all natural fertilizer. I wouldn't be opposed to owning a rabbit for this very reason but I don't want to have to care for one at this point.

Yes Peter Cottontail, you are not welcome in the Veggie Garden!