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Friday, July 31, 2009

The Back Ornamental Garden - The Beginning

I'm always trying to start something new, usually I bite off more than I can chew but in this case I'm taking our back ornamental garden at a casual pace. In other words I'm not pushing myself to get it done but just doing what I can when I can.  It fits a general long range goal I have at creating a quiet garden in the backyard for growing shade loving plants. Most of our landscape is full sun so I have to take a few steps before I can really get things going. This corner of the yard gets shade through the late morning then full sun for several hours followed by evening shade. Pretty much the opposite of what you want for growing hostas and hydrangeas. The first step to creating a shady sanctuary is to put in trees that will one day provide relief from that big orange ball in the sky.  I picked maple trees to begin this area in particular red maples (Acer rubrum).  Red maples grow relatively quickly, have great fall color, and are easy to find. There are all kinds of varieties out there like 'Sunset' and 'October Glory' but I just went with the species. The two small maples in the picture came from the Arbor Day Society while the larger one was purchased locally. The Arbor Day trees should be the same height as the other one by now but unfortunately the deer like them in a much different way than I do!

The next step is creating the actual planting beds. I have a simple technique for making these beds fairly quickly.  First I take our push mower (which has a bag for collecting grass) and put the wheels on the absolute lowest setting or one notch above that. Mark the area you want to mow with landscaping paint if you want (I didn't since I'm not worried about the exact boundaries of the garden yet, if at all). With the wheels on the lowest setting the mower will scrape the ground and pull up the grass and dirt on the top layer of the area I want cleared of turf. Then I dump the collected grass on top of that area. After I clear the area I readjust the wheels to raise the mower back to normal grass cutting height and collect clippings from other areas of the yard and dump the grass on the newly cleared areas. The grass clippings combined with the severely scalped turf is usually all that is needed to prevent grass and weeds from growing up but if you want to (and I have done this some) you can add a layer of newspaper underneath to insure there are no weeds emerging. The newspaper degrades over time, just make sure to not use the glossy colored pages. 

Since this summer has been so wet the grass is still green and actively growing, even the cool season fescue is doing well in the middle of July! I'll add additional clippings and expand the area as I mow which will gradually reduce the area I need to mow a little at a time.

This fall I will be moving those little maples to new spots nearby.  The two branched on on the left of the picture needs one branch removed to establish a central leader. It will get moved onto the right side of the picture (garden) to balance the large red maple. The little maple that is currently on the right will get moved onto the left side of the large tree to further delineate the back garden from the rest of the yard by creating a tree line.

You'll notice in the picture that there are two ornamental grasses front and center. They are a form of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) called 'Shenandoah' which boasts some really nice foliage and red seed heads in late summer and fall. It's also a native and a great replacement for potentially invasive grasses like miscanthus. I'm using the two grasses to mark the pathway entry to the back garden.  They are set apart about 7-8 feet to allow for plenty of space to move through with mowers and wheelbarrows.

I've added a couple of rabbit and deer resistant plants to these garden areas as well: Caryopteris 'Longwood Blue' and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). Caryopteris blooms blue as its common name Blue Mist Shrub indicates and of course if you've followed this blog much you know of my fondness for Russian sage! Caryopteris is extremely easy to propagate and will be on my new list at the beginning of next week of easy plants to propagate. Both the Russian sage and caryopteris like the sun and will help to anchor the new gardens. Until the maples grow larger and begin to cast shade the sunny plants will have to do!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Additions: Texas Sage and Eupatorium 'Chocolate'

Last week I was out of town teaching and was forced to come home early due to a awful case of food poisoning (watch out for those buffets!) When Saturday rolled around my outdoor work plans were drastically changed. I had planned on getting some mulch on a few spots but just couldn't stand being in the heat and humidity for very long without feeling like I was going to have to be dragged inside. So instead I went to a local nursery to see what was new! Of course it would just be plain wrong of me not to come home with something, right?

Here's what I added to the garden from the nursery:

Texas sage (Salvia coccinea)

This salvia is a verifiable hummingbird magnet! Unfortunately it's cold hardiness may be in question here but it should reseed in zones 6-8. It grows about 2-3' tall. I can't resist planting sages in the garden!

'Chocolate' Eupatorium rugosum

This beauty got me with its deep purple tinted foliage. Tina gave me some seedlings last year that never made it but since Tina liked it I new it had to be good! It should return year after year with it's dark colored foliage and white flowers in the fall. It grows between 4-6' tall and can be propagated through stem cuttings! I'll give it a week in the ground before I try to make more.

There are two of the new additions. Soon I'll show you the new ornamental grasses that I added for my birthday!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Worst Weed Wednesday or Who Has the Worst Weeds?

Welcome to Worst Weed Wednesday! Today is the day that you can rant all you want about weeds, how much you despise them, how you would like to eradicate them (and do), and what kinds of things you say to them (please keep it PG or PG13!). I'll update this post as more folks rant on the worst weeds in their garden so check back and see what new weeds are coming up here at The Home Garden! (newer posts will be added to the bottom). Click on the links or the pictures to visit the Garden Bloggers and the banes of their garden's existence!

Tina (In the Garden)
You're just itching to see her post...I promise! Or maybe you'll just be itching after her post...

Frances (Fairegarden)
Weeds bloom too don't they? Stop over and see what happens when Frances tackled Bloom Day and Worst Weed Wednesday at the same time!

Nan (Hayefield)
Garden writer and blogger Nancy Ondra has weeds, but they look much nicer than mine! Ornamental self-seeders can definitely become weedy in a hurry! Go see how her alpacas helped to plant her worst weed in her gardens!

Dave (The Home Garden)
Three weeds that you definitely don't want in your garden but happen to be in mine!

Vanessa (Trees and Shrubs @about.com)
How about weedy trees? I know I have more than a few. Can you say wild cherry? Check out a couple other trees that are growing where they shouldn't at Vanessa's post!

Tatyana (My Secret Garden)
I have to say that I find myself very envious of those who may have this weed! Not only is it beautiful but it has uses as an herbal tea. I can see why for Tatyana her Alaskan weed is indeed a treasured one!

MMD (Mr. McGregor's Daughter)
Sometimes you have to choose your battles! Bindweed took precedence and now another insidious weed has come to prominence. The war never ends!

My Worst Weeds for Worst Weed Wednesday!

So what is a weed? By nearly every gardener's definition a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place. It could be a flower that self-seeded in an unwanted location but that's not what most people really consider a problem plant, and true weeds are problem plants. So for Worst Weed Wednesday here are several plants from my gardens that I consider to be true weeds!

From the least-dangerous-but-most-annoying list is Johnson Grass or (Sorghum halepense). This rhizomatic grass spreads like crazy and grows to heights over 5 feet tall. To say that it grows fast is to say that lightning might sting a little. I've pulled it from every garden but where it is the most annoying is when it seeds itself underneath another plant like my Russian sages or among my hemlocks. It's easy to pull up but you have to get all the roots in order to completely be sure it won't be back and that is a challenge. Herbicides work but I try to avoid chemicals in the garden.

The next weed that vexes me and my garden is ragweed (Ambrosia artemissiifolia). I don't have any real allergy problems but this weed grows like, well, a weed! If a seed hits the ground a new plant will be found. Once ragweed starts to grow it begins to crowd out the grass and other plants that surround it and when it is removed it leaves a bare spot. Of course if you know ragweed it gets worse. It's the plant behind hay fever which is caused by ragweed pollen floating over the wind. It even points a finger at goldenrod (Solidago) who gets blamed for it all when it blooms in the fall. Poor solidago, such a beautiful plant maligned!

The last of my weedy triumvirate is horse nettle (Solanum carolinense)!

If you have ever tried to pull it without gloves on (or sometimes even with) you have no doubt noticed a dangerous surprise. All long its stem are sharp prickly thorns well suited to protect itself from the errant hand of the gardener. It self seeds everywhere but in the first couple days of growth it doesn't have any thorns and pops up easily when pulled. If you let it go or you don't notice it for a few days longer grab the nettle at the base of the plant where there are very few thorns and pull (make sure you are wearing gloves!)

Did I mention that it's toxic? It's also a native to the U.S., I guess we can't blame someone else for this weed!

Thanks for joining me on Worst Weed Wednesday! So what's your worst weed?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Taming The Morning Glory

Normally I'm a fan of Ipomoea, normally. I like the ornamental sweet potato vines, the heart shaped leaf morning glories with little blue flowers, and of course I love eating sweet potatoes but this three lobed morning glory has worn out its welcome. It started off inconspicuous enough, just a couple little leaves in the spring gradually twining through the ornamental grasses. In the beginning I thought "that might be pretty to see little flowers appearing between the sharp bladed grasses." Then I lost track of the morning glory. Not that I didn't see it. I was aware of it every single day that I passed by it. It grew and I my thoughts changed a little "I'm going to have to reign in that sucker soon."

But "soon" is a relative term when there is so much else to do.

Then it became this monstronsity and my thoughts were much different and eventually turned into "Your end is NIGH!" It had completely covered the miscanthus grasses planted there, all seven. Not to mention the little Russian sage I planted and the monarda.  Monarda, what monarda, was it even still there?


It's sinuous vines took over everything and were threatening to continue its effort at world domination. Hey MG, have you ever heard of Kudzu? We don't need another plague of the south!

Alas MG your day has come! While the gardener may not win all battles in the war on weeds he will win the important ones. And so now the morning glory has been laid to rest, in the sun then in the compost bin.

Morning glories develop a large tap root that was easily pulled out from the rain moistened soil. The best time to weed is right after a rain!

And now the garden is an area in recovery. Below where the morning glory was on the mulch is a mold that after exposure to the sun will dissipate. The grasses can continue their normal growth and I have rediscovered a monarda once lost.


A weed let go can be a big chore when grown! 

For more weeds join me for Worst Weed Wednesday on July 29th!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Propagation Update: Asiatic Lily and Viburnum

In late May I wrote a post about how to propagate Asiatic lilies from leaves. I figured it was time to show you how things are coming along. After small little bulbs began to form on the base of the leaves I planted the bulbs into small pots. As you can see in the picture below the old leaves completely died back, most likely to provide nourishment and energy to the new bulbs and roots, and formed brand new leaves. They are well on their way to becoming flowering beauties in my garden!

I also took a few cuttings of a viburnum back in April. These haven't advanced as much as I had hoped but they are alive and well. I haven't fertilized or done anything other than pot them up and water them, even though a little fertilizer will do them some good. It takes time for plants to develop roots and when the roots have reached a large enough size more leaves grow to support the young plant.

If you're interested in learning more about taking cuttings to increase the plants in your landscape take a look at this post: The Basics of Cuttings


Here is a list of 10 easy plants to propagate.

I'll be writing an update post pretty soon about easy plants to propagate so stay tuned!

Don't Forget About Worst Weed Wednesday!

Do you say "Do you feel lucky, punk?" when you stare down weeds while wielding a bottle of herbicide? Do you cringe when you hear crabgrass? Then don't forget that this coming Wednesday July 29th is Worst Weed Wednesday where you get to rant all you want about the worst possible garden invaders to your yard! For more details check out the original post about Worst Weed Wednesday. This isn't a weekly meme but if you can't get it done this Wednesday I'll add you to the mix when you do.

So tell us, what are your worst weeds?

Poppy Seed Harvesting

When the flowers are pretty much gone it's time to harvest the result: seeds! Saving seeds is a great way to reduce your plant budget for next year, especially when the plants you save seed from are known for easy germination. Recently I collect some poppy seed from our red poppies in the self-sowing garden. Some of the seeds I'll collect and others I'll sprinkle around wherever I may want poppies to grow next year. They bloom from spring to early summer (I did have one orange one bloom this week even though it should probably be finished) then they fade away.

Even when the poppies have faded away they offer some interest in their seed pods. They resemble little cups with lids. The lid is actually made from the stamens that have dried on top of the fruit to create an enclosed seed pod.

Harvesting the seed is very easy. All you need to do is peel off the top of the seed pod and pour the seeds out! There are quite a few seeds in each pod. I won't take the time to count the seeds but an estimate in the 100's wouldn't be far off.

Now there are two choices to make, I could store them for the winter and sow them in spring or sprinkle them around where I want them to possibly spring up in the future. I think I'll do a little of both!

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not collecting seeds for baking uses or for development of illegal substances. Nor should you!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mystery Photo Answer: Coneflower (Echinacea)

Yesterday I posted an enhanced photo of a flower from my garden and asked readers to try to identify it. I disguised it a little by removing the color and cropping and zooming the picture. I though it was a neat way to look at one of my favorite plants in the garden, the coneflower! This particular one was Echinacea pupurea or purple coneflower and is a very common one in gardens for a number of reasons: it's easy to care for, it's easy to grow, and its drought tolerance. Coneflowers grow up easily from seed and you can even to basal stem cuttings to propagate more. Right now we have coneflowers flowering in two gardens (the rain garden and the birdbath garden) and have dropped seeds in the self-sowing garden to add a few more for next year. In the fall when the seed heads have formed just sprinkle the seeds over where you want them and next spring you will have a crop of coneflowers.

Here's what the coneflower looked like before I edited the picture.

And now for a couple more gratuitous coneflower shots!


The garden guessers who got coneflower right were:

Great job!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Garden Mystery Closeup Photography

Can you identify the picture below? I've zoomed in and removed the color to make your guess a little more difficult but I think you can handle it!

Email your guess to The Home Garden so that we can retain a little mystery and give everyone a chance to guess! If you get it right you'll get a link to your site!

(comments are closed on this post)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Using Stone for Garden Borders

The other use for my pile of rock was for garden borders. I'm gradually edging all my garden beds with natural limestone rock. Limestone is readily available all over Tennessee which makes it either cheap or free! I'm happy with the look o limestone but nearly any type of rock will work well for borders if it is large enough. Most of the stones I use are about 6 inches or larger in length and often 4 inches or more in width. The advantage of rock borders is that when you walk around your landscape with the edger you can get as close to the borders as you want without worrying about chopping off a favorite plant or scratching other types of borders.

With the pile of rock above I was able to add the stepping stones from yesterday's post and finish adding a stone border to our front garden. Here's how it looks starting from the arbor and moving toward the front door:

Dusty Miller, Persian Shield, and Sweet potato vine
Salvias and Daylilies 
The gaps between the stones in the pictures above and below will be where creeping phlox will grow through. It's already planted in those areas but needs time to grow. 
Rosemary and Russian sage
The Front Garden

I laid the stones on top of the grass in places and used newspaper to prevent weeds from coming up between the cracks then filled in mulch where necessary. Borders are so important to define a garden bed!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Setting Inlaid Stepping Stones

Recently I was given some natural stone to add to my landscape by a local gardener.  Some of the stone was large and flat while other stones were rough edged and angular. Today I'll show you how I used the large flat stones in three areas of my yard. First I'll tell you how I set the stones. I didn't use any fancy equipment other than a shovel. Often when people set stones and concrete they lay down sand or crushed gravel underneath. I didn't since I wanted a very natural, like-it-had-always-been-there look.

  1. I laid the stones down where I wanted them and made sure they were positioned right. 
  2. I used my shovel and edged around the stone fitting the shape of the stone as tightly as I could.
  3. I removed the sod and transferred pieces to other areas of the yard that have dips in them. (Speaking of dips, have you ever wondered about the signs that say "Dip in Road"? Why doesn't he ever move? ;))
  4. Then I tested the stone fitting to make sure I had removed enough soil from underneath and either added or subtracted soil to make it fit better. 
  5. Last, I set the stone and back filled around the edges.
Ideally the grass will grow around the stones and they will appear to have always been there.

The first area is by the arbor. A large threshold type stone was just what the area needed.

The large stones on the sides are set at 5 feet apart which makes the threshold stone about 24-28 inches long.

A close-up. 

The second area is next to our front sidewalk garden to create an entry point into the yard. the entry was already there but it was grass only. I removed the sod, put the stones in, and mulched around them.

The third and final area to show you is the beginning of a natural stepping stone pathway between the birdbath garden and the deck garden. As I gather more stones I'll add to the pathway.

The pathway splits after the stones where a viburnum anchors a small planting bed. The left side goes back to the front yard via the side garden and the arbor. The right path goes back to the backyard lawn.

That grill really stands out, I'll have to plant something next to it to disguise it!

How do you use stone in your garden?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Ugliest Tomato Contest - My Entry

While there may be no official contest going I'm entering a very special tomato for the ugliest tomato of 2009. I remember Carol last year challenged folks to find a tomato uglier than one she had.  If I had managed to grow this monstrosity last year I might have beaten hers for I have never seen one such as this!

Are you ready for a look?

It's pretty ugly,

And now it gets even uglier...the bugs have visited!

You can almost see where the stem was attached. The tomato has folded around the stem turning this lycopene filled delight into one ugly mater!

If you think you have an uglier tomato than I do feel free to post about it and we can compare! The only rule for making a fair ugly tomato contest is that it must be one single tomato and not several that have merged together. 

And don't forget to check in for Tina's Veggie Garden Update. If this post was too ugly for you take a look at yesterday's tomato harvest post and you'll see that most of my tomatoes look very nice!

If you don't blog and have a really ugly tomato take a picture and send it in! I'll pop it up in a post and you can be proud of your ugly tomato growing abilities!