Monday, August 29, 2011

Rockery and Roll: Xeriscape gardening

Just when the heat of the city seems endless, the coolness of Zone Three beckons. So does our once a year garden.  Xeriscape gardening, which focuses on plants dependent on sporadic moisture, minimal pruning and nature alone is perfect for busy live.  It is possible to experience a colorful garden full of texture and structure with very little attention and moisture. 

Kirk's crocosmia
Located on a rocky hill, the neighbors have collectively turned a barren tract into a bed of vivid color which greets us each morning and reflects the setting sun at dusk.  Kirk, who also works as a garden volunteer, is especially proud of the healthy clump of burnt orange crocosmia which graces the center of her hillside.

Yet on Eastern Standard Time, I crept out the back door in  snowman robe and flip flops, unable to resist the opportunity to photograph the dew laden blooms in the bright morning sunlight. Met up with neighbor Bill frying bacon for his church group on the grill. "Kirk's really proud of that orange flower over there."  So she should be.

Crocosmia is a fickle flower which is difficult, but not impossible to grow in Zone Five and a Half.  In areas prone to heavy snowfall, its summer success depends on the depth of winter snows and the protection afforded by layers of moist flakes which keep the temperature even and the likelihood of "freeze and thaw" damage far less.  Thus the success this year of the Crocosmia crop!  Big winter means big color in the summer.  This year we hit the landscape lotto!

My scruffy section of the hillside rockery is at the tail end, which is fortunate for the more frequent residents.  Understanding and working within limits is one key to gardening success.  Each year I check out what is blooming during our family trip so that color is maximized. 

Not around much to water my little patch, xeriscape plants are the focus. Xeriscape plants require little water and ongoing care.  Day lilies are classic and frequent plants of this nature, but saxifragia, sedum, lavendar, coral belles and lady's mantle also require minimal attention once established.  Low fuss and little fluid required yet these plants offer a variety of color, height and blossoms.

No crocosmia for the far end of the hill. Catmint, a staple of the garden provides lavender flowers and silvery foliage.  Its quick recovery after cutting back and mounding quality moves it to the top of the punch list.  Lemon yellow spirea shrubbery and euphobia add structure along with a small birdbath. The end is anchored with a young blue spruce, planted at about eight inches, now three feet, marking time each year.

Surrender to invasive grass is tempered by flourishing white shasta daisies holding their own.  Silver grass picks up and repeats what the Catmint starts.  The advantage of gardening at the end of the season are the dollar deals available in abundance, so it's easy and cheap to pop in a few bright annuals for the price of a grocery store cut bouquet.  Pansies and sweet alyssum may reseed and come back--weather permitting.

Boulders lugged back from car rides line the front, and are sunk in periodically to protect root structure and emanate warmth when needed. Heavier bark mulch doesn't float away as easily and only has to be touched up. To keep the lawn from taking over, botanical edges are recut.

Sounds like a lot of work, but only a couple hours unearths a lovely garden and reenergizes our end of the collective ribbon of color.  Hummingbird attracted to the bright colors of the crocosmia and phlox make it even more interesting. 

Rockery and roll. 

Sun laden blooms, birds chirping and the smell of frying bacon.

Getting away is good for the soul, but so is being welcomed by your own garden.

More Articles of Interest:

Will My Plants Survive this Drought?

Yellow Flowers -- Blooming Sunshine

Will This Warm Weather Harm my Plants?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hens and chicks -- Garden Bouquets are cheep!

"Mom, they broke my window."  The early morning call from the Big Apple was punctuated with a sob.  What should have been a joyous journey home after a summer of hard work and adventure started out with a crash and bang.  Fortunately my youngest had had the foresight to carry all electronics into the dorm room whilst her bags of personal belongings sat parked at the curb overnight.  Having rummaged through the clothing and finding nothing that would bring a fast buck and a quick fix, the vandals moved on.  So did she, driving through the rainy mountains of Pennsylvania with a rattling garbage bag to ward off the raindrops. 

Hens and chicks.  No matter the age, the connection never ceases.  On the same day, Bill and I left my father's condo afoot just as a thunderous storm blew in.  Thirty minutes later came the "casual" call from my dad verifying our safe and dry arrival home. 

One homecoming tradition is a vase of flowers from the yard on the dresser.  No matter the time of year, there's always something in the yard that will make an interesting arrangement.

Gathering is the hardest.  Sometimes it's just too difficult to clip off those lovely blooms.  Still, that's the point isn't it?  So, first taking from the least viewed point of the whole plant, clip away, leaving lots of stem.

Clear the stems of all leaves and lay similar blooms flat on a dry surface.  Even mixed arrangements from the farm market need tweaking.

Chose various blooms.  Like flowers together make a powerful statement, but random colors bespeak their own glory.  Depends upon the mood.
Hold the stems in the hand as if gathering a small bridal bouquet.  Overfill to create volume.  Trim all the stems once the bouquet is complete, plop in the vase, make a few adjustments, and viola, it's a bodacious bouquet.

Anything can be a vase.  The dollar store is full of glass vials.  Empty longnecked bottles from fancy iced teas and waters are fun, and the recipient can recycle when done.

A handful of long grasses wrapped around the fingers, then tucked into the base of a glass vase, before filling with warmish water covers the stems and adds a professional look. 

Hosta leaves make good frames for the base of the arrangement.  In the winter, boxwood or yew branches add greenery. 

The vase on the dresser says "welcome home."

Windows can be fixed, it could have been far worse, and all the chicks are back in the nest--for now.

More Articles of Interest:

Yellow Flowers -- Blooming Sunshine

Winter Interest

Moonlight Garden -- Flowers That Go BLOOM in the Night

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Incrediball Hydrangea -- from Annabelle to Forever and Ever

Forever and Ever Hydrangea
Annabelle hydrangea vs Incrediball.   Limelight vs. Firestick? Should one of these lovelies finds itself in the right spot, the show is unlike any other perennial shrub.  Adding structure and soft hues to the garden, these low maintenance beauties are a sophisticated yet simple solution for a busy gardener.  The look articulates high fashion, but the price bespeaks "outlet mall."

Especially once the furor abates over the initial introduction.  Recall those lines when the I-Phone first hit the streets?  Gardeners have been known to spend serious greenbacks on a new introduction.  The more frugal wait a year or two to let the price settle.

Vintage plants command more respect than antiquated electronics, but the new technology curve for both is comparable.

Forever and Ever Hydrangea blooms on "old wood" meaning the plant will send up fresh shoots and sprout blooms early in the season.  Predecessor plants would die back to the roots in the cold months, without enough time in one growing season to mature.  The result was leafy greenery with occasional blooms. 

Until this century, only the Annabelle and similar white blooming hydrangeas were considered reliable in zones five and six

How things change.  Technology's not limited to the keyboard.  Grower geeks tinkered they came up with several hydrangea shrubs capable blooms each year.

Incrediball Hydrangea
Firestick Hydrangea
Enter the Incrediball Hydrangea, an Annabelle on steroids.  These hydrangea shrubs sprout endless white balls of blooms early and often.  Full and lovely, but sometimes leggy or spindly.

Need color?  With the right amount of iron additive, pink blooming shrubs can turn a pale blue. A nail will do, but less safe for the soles.  An unusual color not oftern found, blue contrasts well with white, yellow, lavender and pink blossoms.

Firestick hydrangeas are especially vigorous, but become top heavy without pruning. 

Oakleaf Hydrangea
Hydrangea make elegant and easy bouquets, spilling over the sides of the vase for a voluptuos look.  Dried, hydrangea last all winter. 

Never cut hydrangea shrubs to the ground in the fall.  Allowing the dried blooms to collect fresh snow adds structure and interest far beyond the growing season.  In the spring trim back at to notch below the bloom.  Shape overzealous branches with a quick snip.

Location?  No hot direct sun. Tidy hydies need water, but in moderation once established. 

Avoid Oakleaf Hydrangea if deer frequent the yard.  Otherwise Oakleaf add strong structure to shade.

Samantha Hydrangea
Samantha Hydrangea grows profusely in morning sun on the warm easterly side of the yard.  Samantha's leaves are pure white on the bottom side.  When the wind ruffles her branches, the leaves rustle and flash like an aspen tree.

Absolute showstopper. 

More Articles of Interest:

Green Fences -- Boxwood Hedges to Hydrangea Hedgerows

No More Bad Haircuts -- How to Trim Shrubs