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Monday, August 31, 2009

A Gardener's Perspective

If you enjoy gardening and consider yourself a garden chances are you walk around with the same perspective that I have. Everywhere I go I find myself observing, mentally recording, and analyzing how plantings work in various gardens. It might the house down the street, a business, a park, or any other place with some semblance of a garden that catches my eye.  This was very true today when I walked around the Nashville Zoo with my family. Kids and zoos go naturally together but gardening does too. Most zoos make an extra effort to incorporate plants that appear to be native to the animal's natural habitat and while that's very interesting there is another perspective that I enjoy. I like to observe those things that aren't meant to be exhibits but are special in their own way.

For example, I doubt many people even noticed this lonesome dove sitting on the fence post outside the zebra exhibit. A moment of peace and calm on a busy day.

I wonder how many people stopped to notice this oak leaf hydrangea still carrying its dried flowers underneath the towering bamboo near the alligators. I took the picture standing below the hydrangea since it was planted on a ledge about five feet up above. Oak leaf hydrangeas were planted all over the zoo along with many other natives.

I noticed the wild hardy ageratum blooming with the elephants.

I enjoyed watching the swaying ornamental grasses as they stretched toward the lantern shaped light post. 

Since I'm a fan of rocks I observed the placement of this large boulder among the ornamental grasses. I like how it sticks out just enough to give itself presence and is softened by the grasses around it.
I stopped to watch a monarch butterfly rest and taste the flowers of the ironweed which is blooming all over Tennessee.
But I did have to stop and wonder like this red panda did...
What is this guy doing here?
 Of course the panda probably meant me!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How Time Passes In My Garden

The passage of time is an amazing thing, especially so when applied to the garden. To me the passage of time in the garden involves three different dynamics: time over long periods, through the seasons, and how you spend time in the garden. The first dynamic is not as easy to see as the other two and unless you have documented the garden through pictures you might not really notice how much things have changed.

Take my birdbath garden for example. This is how it began, very simple and small and over the years it has grown considerably. A birdbath and a few pass-alongs mixed with purchased plants made a nice little spot for the birds to take a dip or a drink. This was back in October of 2007 around the time when I started this blog.

Seven months later in June of 2008 the garden had grown in area as well as plants. Salvias jumped into the garden along with seed raised coreopsis to provide splashes of purple and yellow.

Stone borders were gathered and added to the garden to define its boundaries. The butterfly bush that was purchased for $5 grew prolifically and became a bird favorite for shelter and play. Later the deer struck and various plants had to be moved (like the purple leaf plum which is now in the front yard).
Another winter passed. Cold moved in and out. Things changed again. Time moved onward.

March of 2009 brought a new expansion to the garden. I added a new wing along with stumps to hold up a bench seat. One of these days I'll actually put the seat on! The cat statue marks the resting place of our house cat who succumbed to renal kidney failure in December of 2008.

It's amazing how the garden changes in the span of a single year or within a couple seasons. The picture below is how it looks now in our backyard. The recent expansion caused by the addition of the ninebark has given the garden a little more of a curve. A second bird feeder hook was added to prevent the mockingbirds from dominating the seed supply. Blooming on the left is the 'Oranges and Lemons' Gaillardia and the butterfly bush. Also included in the garden are three types of salvia, verbena, artemisia, a witchhazel, catmint, and redtwig dogwoods. There is even a single cayenne pepper plant that I put in because I really didn't have a clue where else to stick it! I figured if the deer wanted a taste of it they might think twice next time they munched in the birdbath garden.

The stone pathway around the other side of the birdbath garden is new this year as well. If you followed my rock week you probably remember me talking about it. I'm really happy with its addition.

Of course there is one more thing I think about when I consider time in the garden is how I spend my time. I weed, I water, I wander, I fight bugs and pests, and I plant but every gardener gets to do those things at some point.

What makes time in the garden special is when you can spend it with others:

But then that's more about the who than the when and the how isn't it?

For other posts about time in the garden go visit Gardening Gone Wild's Garden Design Workshop for August 2009.

Also please note that the Fall Color Project will be starting soon! Check back for more information next week!

Send Me Your Shed!

OK, not really, I know the postage would be expensive! Still I want to see your shed or greenhouse photos. I'm looking for ideas and inspiration to build one of my own eventually and would love to have some sheds to share here on The Home Garden. If you would like to contribute a shed or greenhouse photo of your shed just send it to TheHomeGarden@gmail.com and I'll put it together into a post to highlight all the unique sheds. Please include information about your shed including how you use it, how it was built, size, what you like about it, what you would do differently, and anything else you would like to say!

Shed pictures may not appear right away but will eventually make it to the blog and I'll be sure to let you know when it's about to appear. So go out in the garden right now and show me your shed!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Growing The Fall Vegetable Garden

As I mentioned in a previous post about fall vegetable gardening we're in the window of opportunity for getting those fall veggies going. All those cool season vegetables you planted for spring are eligible for a second go round in the garden. In our garden the radishes are rising, the sugar snap peas are sown, and everything else is will be green and growing soon. It's all been planted and all that is left to do is to continue the weeding, monitor the watering, and to tolerate the waiting. I did alter my fall vegetable planting layout slightly. I was forced to change my bean area to a 2 foot by 4 foot section rather than the 1 foot by 4 foot section in the layout. Part of the reason was to make more beans for freezing but I do have to admit I forgot my layout when I was planting and accidentally doubled their area! That's fine by me though since green beans are regulars in our menus. It does mean I have to sacrifice some square footage originally intended for broccoli, but that's sacrifice my wife was ready to make!

This batch of bush beans is already producing. I planted them a couple weeks before our final batch of bush beans which you can see have sprouted in the next picture. There are a couple pole beans planted in the the bed that I need to stake up mixed with all the remaining seed from a packet about four years old. Seeds are amazing things, they can stay dormant for years then pop up and grow when the conditions are right.

The next batch of bush beans was planted in three irregular rows by my daughter and myself. Crooked rows don't matter as long as my daughter learned a little more about this gardening thing we love so much. My thought is to get the kids involved as often as I can to introduce that gardening habit. Kids who grow their own food and see where it comes from are more likely to eat it.
The radishes are coming up all over their area. I'll thin them out soon since I over planted them to ensure adequate coverage. 
I can't wait to see more sugar snap peas appear this fall. The few we had in the spring were so delicious that they never made it inside the house! I'll probably have to tape my mouth shut when picking the peas to avoid the same problem this fall. As an added benefit these are legumes which help to add nitrogen to the soil. I have them planted in an area that may house tomatoes next year and the extra nitrogen will help those tomatoes get a good green start.
And of course what vegetable is probably the most popular one in the fall for ornamental reasons?

It's the Great Pumpkin of course! Maybe this one will be something more impressive than last year's little pair of pumpkins. They aren't Atlantic Giants or anything terribly impressive just Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins but that's exactly what we're looking for.
I'm still waiting on the lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and beets to show their greenery. Another preview of fall weather is coming up this weekend which might entice the little leafy green veggies to show themselves. Several cucumber seedlings are not pictured in this post but are definitely on their way. We'll see what they can do before the frost takes them out in October.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rooting Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) is one of my favorite shrubs (among too many to list) for good reason! It's easy to grow, it's dark glossy leaves change to various colors in red hues during the fall, and it provides nourishment in the form of berries for our local avian population. This variety is called 'Morton', a 'Northern Burgundy®' viburnum which is named for its fall color. The viburnum berries began forming in late June, turned blue at the beginning of August and completely disappeared a few days later. You can thank our Mockingbird neighbors for that! I like this shrub so much that it will come as no surprise to you that I propagated more, which I'm sure will please the birds as well as myself.

Viburnum Propagation

The viburnum propagation process can be done in a couple ways: layering or cuttings. When layering take a low hanging branch and make a small notch with a knife just below a node in the direction of the node. A little slit is all that is necessary. Be sure that the knife is clean. Treat the cut with rooting hormone then stick a toothpick in the wound to hold it open and bury the branch underneath a small amount of soil. Over time roots will form around the wound and you can sever the plant from the mother plant and plant the new plant either in a pot or in the garden. Sometimes branches will begin to root where they meet the ground on their own - without use of the knife. The layering method is reliable but I prefer taking cuttings. With cuttings you can make more viburnums faster.

Taking Viburnum Cuttings

When I take viburnum cuttings I select healthy 3-4 node branches. I cut just below the node but as you can see in the pictures the roots will form along the stem. I treat the cut end of the viburnum branch with rooting hormone then I set it in the rooting media covering both of the bottom nodes. On the top node I left one leaf attached to gather light for photosynthesis.

Finding the balance between moisture loss and photosynthesis is important. Too much leaf surface area on a cutting will cause it to lose water but you want to leave enough that the cutting can gain energy. Cuttings that are sensitive to moisture loss can be trimmed to make smaller leaves and covered with a plastic bag. Don't worry too much, experiment and see what works best!

Once the cuttings are put into the rooting media give them about 2-3 weeks to root. 'Shasta' Viburnum also roots very easily!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Little Girl Just Turned 4!

I hope you'll forgive this little divergence from the garden talk to brag on my oldest little girl. She just turned 4 today and here's how we spent our time after dinner:

Groovy Baby!
And now for the ice cream shots!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Birdbath Garden August Expansion

August isn't really the best time to expand a garden. It's hot, not much water, and usually the nurseries don't have a whole lot of nice plants to choose from since they are waiting on the fall stock to arrive. Even though I wouldn't recommend buying and planting plants right now if you promise the plants that you will water them when needed and won't be leaving them for any extended lengths of time then they may allow you to plant them. Such is the case with my new friend 'Diablo' (Physocarpus opulifolius). Diablo is a ninebark and a pretty neat one at that! Ninebark is native to North American and has white flowers in the summer.  Because I purchased this ninebark impulsively (I've wanted one for a while and just found a nursery nearby that sold them) I spent a few days figuring out where to put it. I finally found a spot on one side of the birdbath garden that I could expand where I paired it up with a couple 'Powis Castle' Artemisias I propagated from cuttings. The silver and purple look is one I really enjoy! They're little now but they will grow fast!

I also settled on a spot for yet another big rock as a low bench. What do you think about planting plants in the heat of summer?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One Way to Protect a Small Plant from Rabbits

In our newly formed back garden areas I've planted several things that are virtually rabbit proof. Things like caryopteris and Russian sage are perfect plantings here since the rabbits just don't like them. But what do you do if you want to plant something that the rabbits believe is a deliriously delicious and divine delicacy for dinner? You have to find a way to protect it, disguise it, hide it or just not plant it. Usually the plants that are rabbit munchies I hide among the less tasty plants but recently I planted two crape myrtles that I grew from cuttings. They are small plants but have adequate root systems to grow in the garden on their own. Eventually these two plants will form an arc over a passage to what will one day be the back shade garden. While the rabbits may never even see or smell these two plants I'm not going to play a game of chance when it comes to my crape myrtles.

In an attempt to shield the new planted trees I took two nursery pots and cut out the bottoms to form a plastic sheath that will fit gently around the trees. Then I speared dried willow branches into the ground on the insides of the pots to hold the pots in place. The crape myrtles will grow up and through the holes while they remain hidden for now from the rabbits.

Will it work? Hopefully but there is a good chance the rabbits will manage to find them. The only thing I've found that keeps rabbits out 100% is a wrap made several feet high (2-3) made from plastic or metal mesh. If I can manage to get the first 3 trunks of the crape myrtle above rabbit height then they are welcome to nibble on the suckers. Then they'll be doing me a favor!

After 3 days in the ground both Crape Myrtles are untouched!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Alas It's Dead, My 'Husker's Red'

Every gardener experiences loss. In fact some gardeners experience more loss than others but eventually no matter what kind of gardener you are (experienced or not) you will lose a plant. Sometimes the plant fades away and you don't even notice it disappeared until later when you think "Didn't I have a [insert whatever plant name you like] here?" Often you will forget about it over the winter and in the spring they just don't come back and then sometimes they fade so fast that they leave a gaping hole in the garden. Prepare yourself, if you've never lost a plant either you're blessed, lucky, or you raise plastic plants!

Recently one of my 'Husker's Red' Penstemons took a turn for the worse. It tanked. It was all very sudden. I don't think it felt any pain but its loss will be felt in the Japanese maple garden. So what caused my penstemon's sudden spontaneous decline? I suspect the culprit is a fungus caused by all the rain we had. The crown of the roots where the stems emerge from appears to have rotted away. I have two thoughts now.  One, the garden is too wet for drought tolerant plants; and two I had better move my other Penstemon before it goes the way of the proverbial dinosaur!

My other penstemon is doing fine as you can see, at least for now.

Recently I was able to find more 'Husker's Red' Penstemon on sale for less than $3 a plant. I picked up two and planted them this weekend in a new location. So tell me, what plants have died in your garden lately? And how are you coping with your loss?

A Beautiful August Weekend!

What a beautiful fall preview weekend we were granted this weekend! This fall has been very unusual with moderate to cool temperatures here in Tennessee. I hope you we're able to enjoy the weekend outdoors, I know I did! Here's a couple pictures I took of the nice weather.

 The wild goldenrod on our slope will soon be blooming which will signify the beginning of the end of summer. Soon the beginning of fall will be here with fall colors starting to change all over the northern hemisphere. This would be a good time to mention the Fall Color Project! Last year I invited all bloggers (garden or otherwise) to show the colors of nature all around them. So many people participated that we were able to see colors from all over North America and Europe. The goal was to track the spectacular color changes as they travel south. I'll be putting together a post with the details soon but for now please take a look back at what everyone did last year and pass the word around, Fall is coming and so are the colors!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Plant I Didn't Even Know I Had

Have you ever been given a plant and you were told it was something then it turned out to be something else completely different? That happened to me back at the plant swap this spring. I was given several pots of 'Black and Blue' Salvia that day and didn't look at any of them very closely. I was in a hurry when I planted all the plants I brought home (which must have been more than two dozen) and planted plants as quickly as I could. Then I forgot about them and they began to grow.

Later I noticed that this one plant in particular looked very different from what it was "supposed to be." They were all seedlings when I adopted them and as seedlings looked vaguely similar but as they grew the leaves changed. Then the salvias began blooming while the other plant was still all foliage. A couple weeks later the buds began to form in small clusters of little fuzzy ball shaped buds. Immediately I had a suspicion as to what its identity was but needed it to bloom to be sure. Here's how it appears today:

A hardy ageratum or blue mist flower (Eupatorium coelestinum). This is just now starting to bloom but should last well into the fall. It should return next year (zones 5-9) and could reseed.

It's always nice to have more blue in the garden!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gardening in Vein

Most people look at plant foliage and admire the wonderful variegation of the leaves or the shapes, but have you ever stopped to admire the multibranched vein patterns? If not take a look sometime when you are out in the garden or hiking in the woods. The veins form very unique patterns that whether follow the variegation or simply highlight the colors.

Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) is a perfect example. The leaves range from a silver-white color to a dark glossy purple but retain the green leaf pattern that branches out from the center vein (midrib).

Here's how the Persian Shield's leaf appears when we look close. It's an annual here in Tennessee but if you like interesting foliage it is worth growing!

Of course I can't think of plants with veins without thinking of heucheras. The foliage of this Heuchera 'Silver Scrolls' displays an outstanding example of a veining pattern. The silvery leaves help to highlight the darker colored veins.

And what about Caladiums? Sometimes the variegation follows the vein patterns as in this green and white caladium...

but sometimes it doesn't, or at least not completely. This pink and red mottled caladium has pink splotches all around that don't follow the veins even though the red mostly follows the veins. I like how the veins radiate outward from the central stem of the plant.

The vein pattern on this Euonymous (Emerald Gaiety) isn't particularly showy but is still interesting to admire.

"Inside every turning leaf is a pattern of an older tree." ~ Sting

The redbuds have done particularly well this year thanks to the rain and moderate temperatures. These newer leaves are excellent for displaying the pattern of the veins.

Here are just a few examples of interesting vein patterns in leaves. What plant demonstrates really interesting vein patterns in your garden?

Friday, August 21, 2009

We Rocked This Week!

Well the end of my rock posts has come...for now! Here's a quick summary of what we did this week with rocks. Feel free to take a look back if you missed anything. If you rocked this week tell me about it!

And so ends Rock Week in the garden!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Stone Pathway that Grows

Can you believe I reached the end of my stone? I emptied the truck the day I brought the stones home but only yesterday did I finished my stone projects. Please keep in mind that finished is a relative word since many of my projects are ongoing. You might remember a little while back I added a few stones to begin a stepping stone pathway between our deck garden and the birdbath garden. I used many of the large flat stones from my latest rock hunting excursion to add to the pathway. Unfortunately I ran out of stone to complete the path but not before I managed to complete a large section of it leading from our patio to the side yard (AKA Eventual Shady Side Corridor).

I've annotated the picture to help you see the areas around the pathway better.  If you follow the pathway it leads you along the house all the way over to the side where the arbor stands. There is a gap between the newly laid stones and the arbor itself that I'll fill in over time. You will also notice in the picture that there is a very large stone just in front of the viburnum. I don't have a close-up picture but I can tell you it resembles a very large home plate in shape. I situated it so that it would be a good stone to branch off with a second pathway to the right. The first pathway and the (eventual) second pathway will circle around the viburnum and connect near the stone bench in front of the birch tree.

I dug each of the stones into the ground so that the riding lawnmower would have no problems traveling over them. I tested it last night and while the stones might have been a little bumpy to mow over (most natural stones are) there were no issues. Encouraging a low growing ground cover might be an option for the future.

I followed a few simple steps to set the stones:

  • I laid the stones down with the flattest side up since it would be the best side to walk on.
  • I spaced them out to the desired distance. In this case they matched my normal walking pace. (Anyone else is out of luck!)
  • I used my shovel to cut an outline of the hole around the rock. Then moved the rock.
  • I cleaned out the hole of sod and left loose soil underneath to make setting the stone easy.
  • I replaced the stone and filled and holes along the sides with more loose soil. 

Another option would be setting the stones then filling in with topsoil but since I didn't want to change the grade of the land or take a trip to get topsoil setting the stones in the ground was the best option. But I also think that digging in the stones is less work!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Natural Stone Bench

Yet another use for my pickup load of stone the other day is a bench for the little people. No I'm not talking fairies, elves, or garden gnomes but my two girls.  Of course anyone else who might happen upon the bench and need to take a load off their feet is welcome to do so.  I was lucky to find the main bench stone among all those other stones. As you can see it's very thick (around 5-6 inches) and long enough (around 3'-3'6") to be perfect for a small bench. I needed two other stones that were of sufficient height to raise the main seat up and keep it level. Since the ground slopes to the right I selected one that was slightly thicker for the right side while another smaller one was selected for the left side.


One of my concerns was that the stones be stable enough that neither of my children would get hurt by a rolling stone. I shimmed up the underside of each side stone with smaller flat rocks until the bench seat was set with only a minor wobble. To test it I jumped on it a couple times, stood on it and wobbled back and forth, and of course sat on it for a couple minutes to watch the birdbath garden. Then I had my oldest daughter test it. She sat, wobbled, and jumped too while I stood next to her just in case and we declared it safe. Since the bench stone weighs more than she does I highly doubted that anything she could do would move it.

I've worked the bench in so that it smoothly fits in with the stone borders around the area, at least as smoothly as rough hewn stone can be. It rests underneath a birch tree that was new this spring and beside a beautyberry which is also a 2009 addition. My hope is that the underside of the bench will serve as a toad refuge since they like to hide underneath rocks and I will always welcome insect and slug predators to my garden! Perhaps I'll nickname the bench, "The Toad Stool". We'll see!