Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Slowly, Spring


Slowly, slowly, spring is coming. I love winter, but I am officially over it and ready for spring. We've had a few teasers of warm days but then the next day it's 20 degrees.  Or it snows. So crazy.  Often March is a busy garden month, but not this year.  I've pruned my roses and cut back the ratty hellebore foliage but that's about it. It has been so long since I've taken any photos outside because it just seems like it's been gray and dreary for so long and there has been nothing worth taking a picture of.  I spent a few hours on Sunday and Monday outside, doing more cleanup and cutting back of perennials. It's always so rewarding to clear out the garden debris and see all the bulbs and perennials  starting to poke through. I've made my list of things to do in the garden, and now have officially begun the spring garden tasks.


Iris pallida

Daffodils and Galanthus


Perennial garden, cleaned up

Last week Eileen and Prudy and I took a quick day trip to Pennsylvania, a pre-plant shopping trip. We stopped by a few of our favorite greenhouses to check out their inventory and it was kind fun to see all the flats of seedlings.  We just bought some pansies and primroses, and a few bags of the PA potting mix we like,  but we'll be back at the beginning of May for the big plant shopping.

Pretty hyacinths in PA

Spring fleurs in PA

Newswanger's Greenhouse, March 26

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Unending Search for the Perfect Hose

I'm always looking for the perfect garden hose. There's not much I hate more than trying to roll up a heavy, kinky, awkward hose.  Last year I ordered one of the lightweight hoses from Gardener's Supply and I was pretty happy with it. It's sooo much lighter and easier to carry around, and it rolls up pretty well. I used that one in the front yard, so this year I decided to make my life easier and just get another one for the backyard.

The hose I ordered is the Super Slim Lightweight hose, $59 for the 50 foot length. It's a smaller diameter hose (1/2"), so the output isn't quite as strong but I found it perfectly adequate for watering and for sprinklers. And the bright colors are a bonus--last year I got the moss, and this year I got eggplant (pictured below). Really, you won't believe the difference in the weight.

Super Slim Lightweight hose from Gardener's Supply

And here are a few more I've been looking at. This hose from Williams Sonoma looks pretty similar and I love the orange.

Williams Sonoma Slim and Light Professional hose

I love all the Dramm garden tools, and this bright yellow hose is pretty great too.

Dramm ColorStorm Professional Rubber hose

And garden writer Margaret Roach likes these slim hoses from Water Right.

Water Right Slim and Light hose

And Gardenista likes this one from Terrain.

Heritage Garden hose from Terrain
If you need a new hose this year,  it's worth checking out these colorful choices.  Just don't get this one!

Friday, March 20, 2015


'Spring,' Carl Larsson


Always it happens when we are not there — 
The tree leaps up alive into the air,
Small open parasols of Chinese green
Wave on each twig. But who has ever seen
The latch sprung, the bud as it burst?
Spring always manages to get there first.

Lovers of wind, who will have been aware
Of a faint stirring in the empty air,
Look up one day through a dissolving screen
To find no star, but this multiplied green,
Shadow on shadow, singing sweet and clear.
Listen, lovers of wind, the leaves are here!

~ May Sarton 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Girl on the Train

There's been a lot of hype about this first novel by author Paula Hawkins, comparing it in genre to Gone Girl. I did not like Gone Girl, and was hoping for more in this 'marriage thriller, ' which has the same kind of creepy characters and twists in the story. The main character is Rachel, whose life is pretty much falling apart--her husband has divorced her, she has lost her job, and she's definitely drinking too much.  To keep up appearances, she still rides the train into London every morning, and on her daily commute she observes the back gardens of several homes and the people who live there.  One couple in particular fascinates her and she imagines their perfect lives as she passes by--until one day when she observes something that's not quite right. When the woman she sees from the train goes missing the next day, Rachel is obsessed with what happened and becomes involved in the story. 

I wanted to like this book, it seemed like such a great premise, the idea of watching people from a train every day and imagining their lives. By the end, however, like with Gone Girl, I was tired of the characters and pretty much wanted to ring Rachel's neck. Still readable, though!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

Such a good book. Wonderful characters, compelling story, emotion, beautiful language, some mystery, this book has it and more. It begins in 1944 and goes back and forth in time during the years of the Nazi occupation of France in 1940 and the liberation in 1944. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a young French girl, blind since age 5 and living with her father in Paris. He is an expert locksmith, working for the National Museum of Natural History, and his mind works in details--with his work and with his daughter for whom he contructs intricate puzzle boxes for her birthdays, and miniature models of the streets where they live so that she can learn her way around and not be afraid of what she cannot see.  When the Nazis come and occupy Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee to St. Malo, a walled town on the coast of France and move in with her reclusive Uncle Etienne in his tall house by the sea.

Parallel to Marie-Laure's story is Werner Pfennig, a young German boy who grows up in an orphanage in Zollverein, Germany.  Enthralled by the French radio broadcasts about science that he and his sister Jutta grow up listening to, Werner becomes fascinated with radios and electronics and soon becomes adept at fixing things in his small village. Eventually his skills are recognized by the Nazis and he is sent to a German technical school –a way out of the coal mines where his father died, but now his future lies with Nazi Germany.   

How the author interweaves the story of Marie-Laure and Werner is magical, full of themes of light and dark, the beauty of the natural world, moral questions, and always the light that continues to shine despite the darkness of war. It’s also a book about the senses—what the eyes can and cannot see, the voices heard over the radio, the feel and smell of the salty air and the ocean.

I thought it was a beautiful story, filled with stories of courage and humanity.  Recommend highly.

“The brain is locked in total darkness of course, children, says the voice. It floats in a clear liquid inside the skull, never in the light. And yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

Monday, March 16, 2015

My Top Ten Perennials

Tree Peony

The current issue of Fine Gardening has an article about a private garden in the northeast and lists its Top Ten Perennials. I love articles like these, love lists of all kinds—the top ten flowering shrubs, top ten small trees, etc. The article's picks for top ten perennials were:

Ligularia ‘The Rocket’
Bee Balm
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
Liatris ‘Blazing Star’
Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
Japanese Painted Fern

I’ve had most of these perennials and many would make my list as well. I have ligularia and while I love its bold glossy foliage, its blooms are unremarkable, at least in my garden. I love lady’s mantle, but it does only marginally well for me. I have a few patches of it, but it doesn't thrive. I've had bee balm but it spreads too much for a small garden,  and gets terrible mildew. I love astilbes and brunnera and have both. The article made me think about the perennials I would put on my own Top Ten List.  It’s pretty easy, actually, after many years of gardening, to pick those tried and true plants with winning qualities, such as great foliage or long-lasting bloom. My Top Ten are below.

Hosta~What's not to love about hostas? So many great varieties, I am partial to the blueish varieties, and am starting to collect some minis.

Hosta 'June'

Purple Coneflower~~Probably the stalwart of my garden. I have had many varieties over the years but they all seem to revert eventually to the common purple color--which is okay with me. They bloom tirelessly, and always look good.

Purple Coneflower

Peony~~Now peonies probably wouldn't be on a lot of lists, because of their short bloom period, but I will always have peonies in my garden, both herbaceous and tree. They are my favs.


Japanese Anemonies~~I started with two plants probably fifteen years ago and now I have entire beds of them--under my Kousa dogwood, a big patch in the perennial garden, and in a shady corner.  Obviously it spreads, but it's not aggressive. They don't bloom until August/September, but the foliage is pretty and dependable and looks good all season long.  It's a great plant to put with bulbs because the leaves hide the dying bulb foliage. Mine is the pink 'September Charm' variety, and I am hoping to add some of the white 'Honorine Jobert' this spring.

Anemone 'September Charm'
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’~~ I was resistant to this perennial for many years for some reason, but I am   on board now. It is really a perfect plant, no problems with pests or diseases, foliage looks good from spring through fall. The books begin as pale green to pale pink to dark pink to bronze. Mine tend to sprawl a bit by the fall, but if you cut them back by about a third in the spring that helps.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Japanese Painted Fern~~The best foliage when paired with hostas.  It is a deciduous fern that features a slow growing clumb of triangular, variegated fronds. Fronds are a soft grayish-green with an overlay of silvery hues and maroon stems.  Very pretty and long lived. 

Japanese Painted Fern

Phlox Paniculata~~I have had good luck with pretty much all the garden phloxes. I have lots of varieties, pale pink, candy-striped, white, pale lavender. They bloom all summer and into the fall. I have some mildew but it's not bad. Mine are planted among asters and other tall bloomers so they tend to hide any mildewed stems.

Phlox Paniculata

Geranium~~Perennial geraniums are a tough and reliable bloomer. Mine bloom early in spring and  after  blooming I shear them back pretty hard and they fill in and rebloom. I like the lacy foliage, good around a border.


Baptisia~~Another backbone of my garden is baptisia australis,  in bloom April/May. Its blooms are such a clear blue and I love the blue green pea-like foliage. I cut mine back by about half after it blooms and new growth comes in a few weeks and fills in and the plant looks great the rest of the season. Mine is proably five feet tall and several feet across when it is in bloom, so it is a show stopper.


Heuchera~~I love all the heucheras except for the overused 'Purple Palace,' and especially like the green varieties  such as 'Lime Rickey,' 'Lime Marmalade,' and 'Citronelle.' I also have a few of the bronzy ones, I think this one is 'Crème Brûlée.' Yum.

Heuchera 'Crème Brûlée'

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Bookstall

Sunday afternoon at Politics and Prose, Washington

The Bookstall

By Linda Pastan

Just looking at them
I grow greedy, as if they were freshly baked loaves
waiting on their shelves
to be broken open--that one
and that--and I make my choice
in a mood of exalted luck,
browsing among them
like a cow in sweetest pasture.

For life is continuous
as long as they wait
to be read--these inked paths
opening into the future, page
after page, every book
its own receding horizon.
And I hold them, one in each hand,
a curious ballast weighting me
here to the earth. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Thanks, Robert Frost

Thanks, Robert Frost
 by David Ray

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought ...
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Garden Tips of the Week

Bulbs~~March 12, 2014
Garden on March 2, 2015

It was cold and sleeting all day Sunday with icy roads as a result, so we were pretty much stuck inside.  I spent a good part of the day looking through gardening magazines and my garden journal, and thinking about my to-do list for the garden this spring.  While looking through my journal, I came across several tips written by Washington Post garden editor Adrian Higgins. I am a huge fan of his, and he's one of the reasons we still get the daily paper. Every Thursday I look forward to reading his column on gardening, as well as his weekly gardening tip. I often cut these tips out and paste them in my garden journal because I find them so useful. Here are some of his tips from the past, mainly ones that are geared toward winter and early spring. 

My garden journal

~~If the ground is not frozen, winter is a good time to check for excessive soil moisture in garden beds and turf areas, which may be the reason for poor plant performance or weed infestation. After a period of dry weather, use a sharp planting shovel, a sturdy trowel or a long-handled bulb planter to dig down at least six inches. Soil that is consistently waterlogged or soft will present problems for many plants. Fixes include installing drains, building raised beds or planting trees, shrubs and perennials that tolerate wet soil.~~December 31, 2014

~~Mild winter days are perfect for beating back winter weeds that are now growing and will become a nightmare in early spring if left unchecked. Clear seedlings with a sharp hoe and spread a thin layer of shredded leaves or compost to prevent further germination.~~January 15

~~Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing in winter. An elevated birdbath will attract a range of songbird species, but it should be refreshed with tap water at least twice a week. Immersion heaters are available to prevent freezing. If possible, place a feeder near shrubbery to provide cover against cats and hawks.~~January 20, 2015

~~Many fungal disease organisms spend the winter as spores on last year's leaves. It is important to clean up fallen leaves and dead plants that could harbor various blights.~~December 31, 2013

~~Take advantage of mild, dry winter days to get a jump on soil work. If beds are not waterlogged or frozen, you can add compost or other organic amendments to enrich and lighten the soil.Spread amendments evenly and then dig them in with a spade or fork, working backward to avoid treading on freshly turned soil. You can return in March to cultivate and rake the soil smooth for planting.~~January 8, 2014

~~Begin to cut back the remaining top growth of last year’s perennials and grasses, especially if snowdrops and winter aconites are beginning to bloom. Sharp hedge shears are perfect for the job. This is also a good time to lift, divide and move grasses, before the appearance of spring growth.~~February 12, 2015

~~To avoid squirrels digging up spring bulbs — they may eat the tulips and crocuses — plant the bulbs more deeply than recommended (seven inches is a good depth) and pack the backfilled soil with the back of a hoe. Hide signs of soil disturbance with a thin layer of mulch. In containers, cover the bulbs and their soil with a generous rodent-thwarting layer of gravell.~~October 22, 2014

~~Winter weeds are waiting for mild March weather to flower and seed; pull or hoe such pesky species as chickweed, speedwell, bittercress and henbit. Stay out of beds that are waterlogged.~~February12, 2014 

~~Winter jasmine, often confused with forsythia, blooms on and off through the winter but will finish with a floral flourish in early April. Old thick mounds can be rejuvenated by a hard prune after flowering. Use lopping shears to cut them back to just a few inches above the ground. Vigorous fresh growth will return, along with next winter’s flowers. Stems that have tip-rooted can be dug and potted up and given away.~~March 12, 2014

~~As part of the pre-spring cleanup, ornamental grasses should be cut back before fresh growth emerges from the crown. The old top growth should be cut back at about two inches above the soil line. Hedge shears work well. Work on clumps in sections. On hilly sites, begin from the uphill side for a better view of the cut.~~January 22,  2014

~~Don’t wait until spring to set into motion garden projects that involve hiring stonemasons, carpenters, painters or other contractors. It can take weeks to get estimates and schedule work, especially if building permits are required. The early bird might also get a break on prices.~~January 29, 2014

~~Tree and shrub branches that have been damaged by ice and snow should be removed before new spring growth for the health and look of the plant. Remove the damaged stem back to the nearest branch or leader, leaving the natural swelling or collar at the join. Lopping shears will handle smaller branches. Use a pruning saw for thicker ones, but leave branches that are large, high or near power lines to an arborist.~~February 19, 2014

~~Pine trees shed old needles in the fall.  Needle clusters closest to the trunk naturally turn yellow and fall in advance of fresh growth next spring. This is not a sign of distress. Fallen pine needles can be gathered and used as a light mulch. Keep them stored dry in leaf bags for use in next season’s vegetable garden.~~December 4,  2013

~~In winter, songbirds still require sources of water for drinking and bathing. Make sure birdbaths are replenished on days with temperatures above freezing, and changed regularly. An immersion-style water heater will keep the water from freezing but doesn’t negate the need to change the water. Don’t use antifreeze.~~January 22,  2015

~~Forming a crisp edge between the lawn and plant beds is a simple way to freshen the yard in spring. Use a sharp spade to create a one- to two-inch deep vertical edge between the grass and the bed. Guide the line first with string pinned with long nails. If you attempt to eyeball the line, the edge will look crooked.~~April 9, 2014

~~As part of the late-winter cleanup, avoid the temptation to cut back ragged-looking lavender plants. A hard prune will kill this herb. Wait until fresh growth appears in April for a light trim of dead wood. Similarly, a lavender that appears dead from the harsh winter might resprout in a few weeks. Be patient.~~March 19, 2014

~~For a jump on spring, cut stems of early flowering trees for forcing indoors. Saucer magnolias, flowering cherries, apricots, quince and forsythia can be cut for the vase. Make fresh cuts whenever the water is changed — at the first sign of clouding. Wait until month’s end to force apple and dogwood blossoms.~~March 7, 2013

~~Winter weeds are in flower, offering a final chance for the gardener to destroy them before they produce seeds for next year. Hoe or pull henbit, bittercress, chickweed, speedwell and annual bluegrass.~~March 20, 2013

~~Mulch should be applied as a thin layer — no more than two inches deep — to conserve moisture and minimize weeds. It should not be used to smother the garden. Thick layers become a growing medium for plant roots, with disastrous results as the mulch rots away. Mulch must not be mounded against the trunk of a tree; this common but misguided practice damages vital bark.~~May 7, 2014

~~Birdhouses or nest boxes should be constructed, purchased or, in the case of existing boxes, repaired and cleaned out in advance of spring nesting season. Wrens and chickadees are among species drawn to birdhouses that are correctly sized and positioned. ~~February 19, 2015

~~Final call to prune rosebushes: Use thick gloves and lopping shears to remove dead, weak and conflicting canes. Keep about half a dozen canes around an open center and cut them back to about 18 inches, just above an outward facing bud. Remove any suckering canes emerging from the soil. ~~March 26, 2014

~~Tying and braiding daffodil foliage will reduce the energy the leaves put into restoring and increasing bulbs for next year. A hoop of green string will tidy a splayed clump. Long-established daffodils that are weak bloomers should be lifted, divided and replanted in a sunny and well-drained location in full sun or partial shade. Do this in about a month’s time as the leaves fade.~~ May 14, 2014

~~Sweet basil should not be planted out until nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50s or warmer. Plants in hand can be grown together in 12-inch or larger pots. Bring them under cover on cool nights. In May, transfer the basil to garden beds or keep it as a handy container-grown plant. Buy more for your garden beds. Small ones will grow vigorously in the heat of the next few weeks.~~April 23,  2014

~~A fungal disease named clematis wilt results in the sudden collapse of budding clematis stems. Cleanly cut entire affected stems — the afflicted plant should regrow for blooming next year. To minimize its recurrence, be careful not to damage fragile stems, remove leaf litter from the base of the plant, and apply a fungicide labeled for this treatment. The best remedy is to select a planting site with good air circulation and to choose clematis varieties less prone to the disease, such as small flowering hybrids and species.~~ April 30,  2014

~~Stake peonies now to prevent flopping caused by wind and rain. Plastic-coated wire grids work well to prevent storm flattening. The type of peony materially affects a grid’s performance: Single or semi-double flowered varieties fare better than top-heavy double varieties with a high petal count.~~May 15,  2013

~~Container-grown tomato plants should be of the determinate type, which are more compact than garden vining tomatoes. Place a cage or stake in the pot when the tomato is still young to avoid later damage. Popular and high-performing varieties include Patio Princess, La Roma, Red Robin and Bush Early Girl. Buy small transplants, which will establish better than larger ones already in flower.~~May 28, 2014