One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."

Archive for the ‘clouds’ Category

Sunday in the Garden

Hi everyone.  I’m Greg and I’m a plant-a-holic.  (Hi Greg!)

It’s not an unusual thing for me this time of year, to lose track of purchases and find myself eating a little extra Ramen until the next paycheck rolls around.  But there are so many delightful plants to choose from – and still so many that I’ve never had the privilege of growing – that it is sometimes difficult to choose.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Mr. Downstairs (builder of wonderful decks and – for the record – the Best Landlord Ever) informed me that we were going plant shopping yesterday.  It had already been a pretty terrific weekend which included a plant-seed swap with Susan of Trout Towers and pair of great concerts with my friends in the Chamber Singers.   So the idea of choosing plants for the yard and not having to pay for them just tickled me no end.

The list of purchases was pretty long.  Mostly, I selected annuals this time around, as we have lots of perennials already and I’d have to be creating new beds in advance of choosing more of those.   So I focussed on the things which will – hopefully – bloom all season and help to showcase all those perennials we do have.   I was excited because, since its my second year here, I had what I think were some smarter ideas about what plants to put in which locations.

Some of these weren’t in bloom yet, so its hard to pick them all out in a photograph, and you’ll have to wait a little while before I feature them here.

But I planted little promises for the future everywhere, including cleome, agastache, bacopa, snapdragons, bachelor buttons, gazanias, portulaca, geranium, WAVE petunias lantana and plenty of marigolds.

And as I worked in certain beds, I also added seeds for more marigolds, cosmos, bachelor buttons and (say it with me now) allyssum.

Some of the plants were chosen for containers, a few of which were half planted already, just to fill out the planter.   I find plants do better in those circumstances when they are crowded up close to one another.  Also, trailing plants help to shade the container soil, so water is less likely to evaporate on the hot sunny days ahead.

I haven’t bought any of the WAVE petunias in a few years, and I think the deep purple might be a new color choice since my last purchase of them (which I think dates back to before I started this here garden blog).

HGTV fans may recall the commercial jingle that sings “The WAVE puts the ‘oooh’ in petunia.”, but even that doesn’t tell the Uninitiated that the WAVE petunia is a sort of super-hybrid that has long stems that radiate out from the plant’s center and, with reasonable fertilization, will be just covered in flowers throughout the season.

I’ve had good luck in the past letting them trail through other, taller plants, but this year have put a couple in containers, too.   I think they’ll perform well, as long as I remember to feed them and keep them pruned to encourage them to branch more.

The purple flower in the photo above is called Browallia, which is indicated for part shade/sun, so just perfect on of the planters on the side steps, where it joined some sweet woodruff (also above, but harder to see in the upper left) and some previously planted pansies.   The dracaena (spike) and the variegated ivy (in the right of the same photo) went into a different container that was already hosting some impatiens and coleus.

It was a beautiful day for working in the yard, although perhaps I ought to have thought more carefully about some sunscreen, which is more important to remember on mostly overcast days such as this one.  Although it was pretty humid with temps in the rising 70s, there was a pretty steady breeze that helped cool things a little.

One of my favorite things about gardening is being out there in Nature, feeling like you are a part of something bigger.   As I worked, chipmunks flew back and forth across the lawn, yelling at one another (and no doubt the rest of us, too) about chipmunk things we don’t understand.   The oriole, spotted once or twice at a distance over the past couple of weeks, was finally tempted to one of the feeding stations in the yard thanks to an offering of grape jelly.   Everywhere you walk in the yard now, there are robins trying to lead you away from their nests (as we now host three of them:  under the new deck, in the lilac and also in the hollow of the old apple tree).   And on one of my trips around to the front of the house, I spotted this little turtle.

I think this is an eastern box turtle, but if so, then a young one (the one I knew in my last Eastham garden was decidedly larger than this little fellow) measuring about four or five inches across and only slightly longer.  If anyone knows enough to correct me, your re-directive comments are most welcome.

He was not pleased that we came in for a close-up look, as evidenced by his shrinking back into his shell.  After a moment, though, he resumed his march, making a quick exit into some taller grass and the cover of an o’erturned rowboat in the side yard.

I was sort of interested in where “he” was headed and I was a bit torn between giving it some privacy and tracking its movements.   It was moving west, so I assume – in hindsight – that its destination may have been the marsh across the street.   There’s no evidence to the contrary this morning, so I’ll assume that the crossing of the road went well.  Or perhaps he’s taking up residence under that rowboat.  I’ll keep you posted about any future sightings.

In the midst of getting all the new additions in the ground, I was also able to do some other maintenance work in various beds.   You may recall this Montauk daisy, which I planted beside the Monkey God last summer.

Since the Montauk daisy blooms so late in the year (usually somewhere around mid-September), this is a good time to give them a pruning, to encourage more branching – and consequently – more blooms, so I grabbed my pruners and gave the whole bush a bit of a trim.

Well, most of the bush.   I did leave one branch tall for now, since it’s terminal bud was hosting a little spider and her nest.   I can touch that one up later on.

But I didn’t discard those pruned branch tips, either.   While I was pleased at the idea of spending someone else’s dollar at the nursery, I also still don’t believe in discarding things that can be useful and save us money in the future.  And I like to think that, about gardening at least, I am something of an evil genius.  Except maybe not so evil.  But still, bwa ha ha.

I learned sort of accidentally about four years ago that its quite easy to root broken branches of Montauk daisy, so I saved these for after I’d finished all my other planting.   Back upstairs, I trimmed the bottom leaves off of each of the tips and then stuck them into a planting box I got pansies in last year.   This – and regular watering, naturally – should be all I have to do to encourage some new seedlings to thrive.

They look a bit floppy just now, but I have high hopes that at least some of them will survive and take root here, where I can keep a closer eye on them.   If this experiment works out, we might someday have a whole hedge of Montauk daisies with which to greet the autumn.

Bwa – ha- ha.


On Saturday, there was talk of tornado warnings in a great many locations in the Northeast, and sadly, tornados took a number of lives in Ohio over the weekend.   As the day went on yesterday, our skies grew more cloudy and what had been a comforting breeze turned into something a shade gustier and for a while I wondered if we should be worrying about tornados which are rare hereabouts, or at least another big thunder-boomer like we had on Saturday, which are not so rare.

That never materialized, though I’m happy to say we did see a bit of light rain after dark, for which all the new plants were surely quite happy.

Hey, a special shout-out to my buddy George, who found himself in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy this weekend.   Wishing you a speedy recover, pal!


Bustin’ June: All Decked Out

We’re all a bit confused about the weather lately.

It’s been little short of divine, but the humidity and steamy temps (70s and 80s) have left us a bit confused about which holiday weekend it was we were celebrating last week.  After all, the lilacs which have perfumed our Memorial Day weekends past this year bloomed weeks ago.  Only a few of the later dwarf varieties remain now and they are few and far between, it seems.   It felt much more like the Fourth of  July was upon us.

Irises, traditionally the mainstay of those first lightly humid weeks of early June, are well underway in their blooming, some even finished already.   It’s show is through for another year (as I’ve currently only one root of this recent addition), but I can’t help but share with you another look at the delightful and sweet Gypsy Princess.

Not far away, the garden heliotrope is standing tall (about eight feet tall) and unlike so many of its garden companions, has come to bloom on the same schedule as always, just as Memorial Day comes upon us and right in time to help celebrate Dad’s birthday.

I just adore the vanilla-y fragrance, which has been drifting up and into the kitchen windows here at the Nest and scenting the whole place.   One warm misty morning last week, their scent mingled with that of the neighborhood’s many rugosa roses and the salty tang of the tide rising in the marsh.  

Mmmm, I could’ve leaned on that windowsill all day, it was so intoxicating.   What a way to start the day.

I’ve posted some photos recently, but mea culpa about holding back with the Words.  It’s not for lack of news or activity as there’s been plenty of both to keep me occupied.   But the big news,  as far as this here garden blog is concerned at least, is about the return of my deck garden and what a triumphant return it is.

You may recall from photos that the deck was a bit careworn and those who’ve visited know that it was becoming steadily more…uhmm, unsteady.   It hadn’t been built the first time with pressure treated lumber, but in fact with lumber recycled from another location years ago.  We joked that it had been built with the salvaged remains of the Wydah.

As far back as my moving into the Nest in September ’08, the plan was to rebuild the deck, which needed the attention.  But you may recall that a robin eager to set up housekeeping built no less than five nests on the rafters beneath the decking, eventually settling down to lay eggs in one of them.   By the time the young ones fledged, summer was upon us and the days raced along without the time for the job and by autumn’s arrival, I’d made note of certain places not to step and begun removing planters.

The birds tried to beat us to the punch again this spring, but since it was no longer safe to so much as chuckle heartily on the deck, we had to put them off and took to knocking out nesting materials as they’d appear on the beams below, until our human project could get underway.

Finally, the day arrived about two weeks ago, and Mister Downstairs and a friend got the old decking stripped away, revealing some equally old timbers below which crumbled as they were, in turn, dismantled.   Suddenly it was clear just how lucky I’d been my last few times out there and an all-new deck rose up from the ground below.

In fact, it took just a few of those warm June-like May days for the project to be complete and what a treat it is!!   I hadn’t been able to tell when there was only a framework, but when it was all planked, the increase in real estate was clear:  the new deck is at least a foot deeper than the old one.

Since it is more spacious, there’s just a hint more privacy on the deck, which is nice.   And it also doesn’t feel crowded once I get all my plants out there.   And you can trust me, I have.  As you’ll shortly see.   I’ve also realized (and fortunately before any watering mishaps) that this new porch gets sun through more of the day, meaning I have to be more even dedicated to my watering.   But that’s okay, it also means I might get to grow some other things, too.

There are a pair of shepherd’s crook railing attachments that came with the apartment which I’d never put to use before, since the old deck was always meant to be temporary, so I got those installed right away and then made my first order of planting business a pair of hanging baskets.

The top one is my red, white and blue arrangement, which should be in full bloom for the July Fourth festivities.  In addition to a pair of red zonal geraniums, there’s a bit of asparagus fern and two trailing plants, a white bacopa and a blue evolvulus.

The lower pot in the image to the right is newly-planted with asparagus fern, nasturtiums and some blue lobelia.  It’s my plan that all that should grown together into a big tangly blooming mess.

I’d also like to call your attention to the pot of violas and pansies in the lower right corner of that photo.   Planted all that last summer and they’ve survived a winter out of doors in a little plastic pot quite handily.   How very charming of them.

Next up were the window box planters.   You can see at the center of each are two large dracaenas.   They’re wonderful accent plants for such a setting and those two (as well as all the asparagus fern I’ve divided up into assorted planters) are survivors of last summer.   You may recall I potted them up and brought them in to green up the living room this winter, making a black pepper spray which was meant to keep the Gray Catsby away, but probably only seasoned the long fronds more to his liking.

I ask you to take note of the square planter in the upper left of the photo above.   We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Anyway, I liked the idea of building both these planters out of similar materials, each arranged in slightly different ways.   I have not given up the idea of someday owning a greenhouse, and when that happy day arrives, I’ll surely grow many of my annuals from seed, each one’s start carefully timed throughout the winter to arrive together on Windowbox planting day.   And on that morning, I’ll beam with pride.

But this spring, I was faced with a deck suddenly complete and a perfect weekend for planting (warm and sunny and just prior to the full Flower Moon), but a busy concert weekend schedule, too.   So off I dashed in the early morning light to gather an array of likely suspects from a few different nurseries around town and came home to play at combining them.

Last summer, I had large zinnias in both yellow and red, but this year, the salmon-y pink ones were those that caught my eye.   The pale purple angelonia spires seemed almost to demand being paired with the zinnias, for the contrasts in both color and flower type.

And for extra fun, I expanded the palette with some red petunias and yellow marigolds, both of the single-flowered variety and then rounded out the cast with some dark blue lobelia.

It’s a busy assortment of colors, to be sure, but they all seem to work pretty well together, as most colors do.   Predictably, I’ve undersown all those guys with some white allyssum.   White flowers are great for helping potentially strident color combos work together smoothly, so the allyssum’s sort of an insurance policy, though I’m also comfortable with the choices.

And you know how I feel about allyssum, anyway.

Here’s the finished planters, as seen a week later (this past weekend), looking pretty good.   Most remarkable in this picture, I think, is the progress that the nasturtiums in the hanging pot made in just a week.  But also, I proudly call your attention to the small army of sunflower seedlings, getting a little extra TLC (and some drinking straw splints for good posture) on the new deck before they’ll be planted out in the yard below.

The new deck is also popular with my roommate Badum and here he is, lounging out there.  (Oh, hush, he’s just big boned.)   I think he likes being on the deck as much as our walks in the yard, maybe moreso, since I’m pretty comfortable with him being out there without the leash/harness business.   I do keep a pretty careful eye on him, since I can see his attention sometimes focusing in on the nearby rooftop…or the deck railings.

Knowing that he is not always known for landing on his feet (he assures me this is a myth about cats every time he accidentally rolls purring-ly out of my lap and onto the floor), I like to make sure he’s staying safe and not putting us on a path toward an expensive and unpleasant visit to Kitty ER if he goes plummeting.

But mostly for him, after a bit of plant grazing (I have some grasses potted up for him, and of course, he’s still fond of those dracaena) its a fun place to watch the birds in the nearby treetops, that’s for sure.   I was amused to note that, throughout the afternoon when I was beginning to pot everything up above, the robins had returned to resume building their nests on the underside of the new deck and recent behavior suggests that eggs are being sat upon now.

There’s a third window box to match the two I filled with flowers, but my plan for this one was an herb garden.   And so I’ve combined some marigolds with golden thyme, curly parsley, tri-colored sage, lemon balm and coriander (aka, cilantro).   They are all very different plants, appearance wise, but all look really great together and I hope the planting will inspire some wonderful summertime meals.

Below, you can see the full herb box at the center of the photo, more sunflower seedlings in the foreground.   There’s also a pot of basil to the left and behind the herb box is a pot with both spearmint and white peppermint, the latter planted with sun-brewed ice tea in mind.

The large maroon pot upstage in this image (the one with the big hot marigolds) is actually the home to a plum tomato plant you can’t see much just yet.  It’s had most of its side shoots pinched off and been planted deep, to encourage an extra strong root system.   The marigolds should help keep some of the troublesome bugs at bay and will also help to shade the pot.   To further assist in keeping the tomato plant well-watered, though, I’m trying a little trick.

During the recent heat wave, I discovered a bottle of birch beer left in reserve from last summer and made short work of the stuff, which I love.   It was one of those one liter plastic bottles, which I’d normally rinse and take off to the recycle bin.   I remembered, though, reading about how such bottles can be used for irrigation purposes by being perforated and buried, leaving the bottle top open to be filled with water, than then seeps out at the root level.

I’m sorry I didn’t think to take photos as I was putting the whole business together for a sort of do-it-yourself guide.   I slid a cork into the bottle, which floats so I’ll be able to easily see what the water level is like inside the buried bottle.

After poking a number of holes through the plastic in the bottle’s lower few inches, I buried it in the pot, adding the tomato plant and the marigolds in the top layer.

Of course, I’ll keep you posted about how the idea works out.

[In as-yet unphotographed growing arrangements, I’ve also got some green peppers and squash potted up for container experiments.  I have ideas about maybe letting the squash share a climbing trellace with some more morning glories, so those big yellow squash blossoms can bump up close against some giant sky blue morning glory trumpets.   More on that another time.]

Now, back to that morning glory planter.   Earlier in the spring, I may have gushed a bit about how pleased I was that the violas had seeded themselves in here, but I had no idea then just what a supportive little microclimate this large planter was hosting.  In the lower right, you can see leaves of allyssum which seem to have returned from last season.    And just a week ago, this planter filled with green, as a variety of seedlings – morning glories and cardinal climber – burst out of the soil, also self-sown from last season.   What a pleasing development!

In the lower left, you are no doubt seeing the clearly fake purple tulip, but you might not realize it’s a solar lamp.  Long-time readers may recall the tulip lights were a gift from my Granny back in Summer of ’08, which she ordered for me just prior to a nasty accident she suffered.   I’m happy to say she’s made a pretty remarkable recovery from the unpleasant days of that summer and celebrated her 91st birthday at the early days of last month.  She doesn’t get to do all that much gardening herself, these days, but she enjoys hearing about and seeing pictures of what I get up to in the dirt.

Next to the tulip light, you can see the foliage of a plant which rises out of frame.   That is a bachelor button plant, from a seed scattered too late last summer.   The plant was growing as autumn glowed and faded about us, but never bloomed and I feared it would surely be lost to Winter’s freezing.   As is often the case, I could hardly be wrong-er.  More wrong.   Less right.   What-ev.

Anyhoo.  It would seem the plant simply paused for the winter and resumed growing this spring and just today, it’s first blossom is fully unfurled.

I’m posting it here this evening for my pal Curt, who perhaps will appreciate the reminder that, while bachelors are sometimes blue, they are also singular sensations who are stronger and more resilient than anyone might guess.

And so it’s June now (even if the weather suddenly feels more like May).   Summer gets closer by the minute, as we dash through this short season of lengthening days, warm, star-filled skies and rose scented mornings.   I wish each of you time – moments here and there, to appreciate all that happening around you – and I wish you more happiness and love than you feel you deserve (because about this you are wrong), and regular falls of rain (between midnight and six a.m., when possible).

Mother’s Day Garden Report

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

I’ll add this to other greetings of the day I’ve already sent along to my own Mum and Granny, as I also offer my best to all the other Moms, mothers, grandmas, aunts and other nurturing types who make such a difference in my life and others.  I wish each of them a delightful day, and offer my thanks for all the things that being a Mom entails.

It’s a beautiful morning here on the Cape, the balance of the gray and thundery day we had yesterday and I’m transitioning back to the Nest today, so I’ve much to do and will keep this entry on the brief side.

T’was a good week here – always nice to have a little doggy time (and Peanut the cat was good company, too).  The weather’s been unseasonably warm this week, as things continue to bloom on the early side.

Scotch broom is something we usually count on to be blooming during those first warm days of June…not the first warm days of May.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the stuff blooming at the same time as the lilacs.   And now I see that the irises have begun, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m always excited to see things coming into bloom, especially my favorites (which long-time readers may have realized by now is like EVERYTHING…), but I can’t help but wonder, if everything blooms early, then what will happen in August, when there’s nothing left to look forward to?!   I wonder if I shouldn’t try to grow something subtropical this summer.

I’ve enjoyed being in Brewster this week, not only for the parade, but to watch the gardens’ Mugsy’s Mom has been establishing here.  I love peonies, but haven’t ever seen tree peonies in bloom, so its’ been fun to watch them coming along (again, peonies:  traditionally a June bloomer…WTF?).   They are not all scented in the same way their more fragile relations are, but a few surprised me.  One had the traditional fragrance I expected, but the purple one had a surprise citrus-y scent that’s kind of fun.

It can be fun to spend time in someone else’s garden, to watch things grow which I don’t currently host in my gardens at the Nest.   Those tiny red bells are coral bells, AKA, heuchera (if I’m spelling correctly, which suddenly seems unlikely) and this hot pink stuff is, I believe, called thrift.   Cute little blossoms.   I’ll have to get me some of each sometime, but meanwhile, here it is to enjoy.

But here’s a photo of some tiny white blooms I found in a scrawny tree arching over the parking lot at work the other day.  It was really more of a shrub than a tree, but tall enough to lean over where I was parked.

It was the fragrance of these precious branches of blossom that caught my attention, sweet like the heliotrope I’m waiting for.  But I don’t know what it is.   Can anyone help me know this one?  I’d really like an introduction.  I took a picture of the tree trunk, too, in case that’s helpful.

Of course, with all this ahead-of-schedule excitement going on, I’ve been missing my own gardens.   The house-sit is just far enough in the opposite direction that it hasn’t made sense to stop back regularly, plus it confuses my Gray Pal about whether I’m home or not.

But I was over there to spend some time with him yesterday as I started transitioning back in that direction and, of course, I couldn’t resist looking around to see what’s going on there.

In my absence, the tulips has faded, but there’s plenty more going on (though it occurs to me that I’ve missed a couple of weeks pinching back the imperial mums, which are getting rather tall.  I’ll have to give them some attention once I’m resettled), like this first of the purple globe alliums.

When I’m back at the Nest, there will be faded tulips and daffodils to cut back, but there are also great drifts of violas forming now from the tiny seedlings I tucked into the ground here and there a while back.  And that’s just the tip of the botanical iceberg.

My gardens are always trying to teach me a lesson about having Faith in what I can’t see.   I try to be good about that, but I think you all understand how tough that can be to believe sometimes.   Just about a year ago, I planted some lily bulbs, an assortment of different varieties, if my feeble memory serves.

But Life conspired to sadden sweet June and she cried nearly every day.   When no lilies appeared later in the season when the sun came out, I assumed that too much rain had prevented them from getting established and I put them from my mind.

Ah, but look how they are thriving this year!  What a treat they will be as begin our mid-summer revels (or Memorial Day, if the early blooming schedule applies to the lilies, as well)!

In the back yard, there’s an iris ready to unfurl in the next day or so.  It is one of the roots sent along to me from my gardening pal in Baltimore and so I believe not one I have seen blooming before.   I’ll have to see if I can find the tag I planted it with, but by any name, I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, by the front door is a stand of muscari – grape hyacinths – I planted last fall.   It’s an array of colors, from pale to dark blue and they are looking pretty cool.

I apologize for not having a better photo of them, but I’ve managed to change the settings on my camera, so that about a dozen photos fills my memory card.  I’ve tried changing it back, but I think I’ll need to consult the  users manual…which means I’ll have to find the users manual (eyeroll).

Meanwhile, there’s a full day ahead of me.  I hope that yours is sunny and flowery and fragrant and warm and happy.