Stunning garden path

This is the most gorgeous walkway I have ever seen. I saw it in my Facebook Newsfeed, posted by the Raw for Beauty page. It has a Sixties feel, don’t you think? Yet, it looks contemporary too! It’s a work of art!

I have to figure out a way to get this done! Love the colors, the floral bursts and spirals. It probably would cost a fortune, but I am going to try begin to collect and stow away materials that could be used later. Definitely worth getting some estimates for having it done. Simply stunning! Any landscapers out there need website or social media services? I am willing to barter!

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Master Gardeners are awesome!

I am very lucky to work in very close proximity to the Sussex County Master Gardeners, who are a volunteer corps of Cooperative Extension. I am not sure how many are in currently active in the county, but judging from their monthly meetings, we have more than 100 active volunteers. Each talented individual brings something unique to their volunteer service. We have Master Gardeners who write press releases, others who do training of staff and administrative work. Many go out into the community and teach at libraries and garden centers. Others answer phones on our seasonal helpline, and a large portion work in a teaching garden, known as the Demonstration Garden.  Recently my office moved toward the back of the building and my window overlooks the hydrangea section. I can see University of Delaware’s blue and gold tent, under which many free or very low cost workshops are offered during nice weather.

The Demonstration Garden is open to the public, who benefit from the clearly marked flowers, annuals, trees, shrubs and specialty attractions. Each year, something in the garden is added and changed. A big emphasis in the last few years or so has been on Accessible Gardening, or “Making Gardening Smart and Easy” by incorporating raised beds, pulleys and the  many tools that are available to encourage gardening at any age. I can still bend over and kneel to weed and dig, but it is going to get harder as I age. Good to know these resources are around. Nothing should stop anyone from gardening!  Sussex County Master Gardeners do however, have one special day, their Open House, this year on Saturday, July 13, when the Master Gardeners will be there in force, to answer questions, conduct workshops, sharpen tools and share their enthusiasm and knowledge. There is something for everyone; a children’s garden, with fun things to touch, taste and smell, a shade garden, and if I am not mistaken, a beautiful contemplative garden too.

When I retire, and if they’ll have me, I will sign up for the intensive and very thorough training offered by both University of Delaware and Delaware State University’s experts.  In the meantime, I am content to drift past the flowers and sneak a couple of photos on my lunch hour! If you are in the area on July 13, you can too! Here’s more information on the Sussex Master Gardener Open House and here is a link to pictures I took at the 2012 event.

Photos taken with my old Nikon D50, kit lens 55-200mm

Walk through the shade tunnel
Walk through the shade tunnel
Each year the Master Gardeners who tend to this demo garden, add garden art. Love this bird bath!
Each year the Master Gardeners who tend to this demo garden, add garden art. Love this bird bath!
They don't call it bee balm for nothing! These are a pretty shade of  magenta
They don’t call it bee balm for nothing!  Two are busy collecting. These Monarda are a pretty shade of magenta!
A perfect spot to contemplate, read, rest and smile
A perfect spot to contemplate, read, rest and smile
The view from my office window. Hydrangeas!
The view from my office window. Hydrangeas!
All plants are labeled with the common and official Latin name. Those plants that are native to Delaware have a special designation at the bottom right.
All plants are labeled with the common and official Latin name. Those plants that are native to Delaware have a special designation at the bottom right.
This bee has a pollen mother load on its legs!
This bee has a pollen mother load on its legs!
Touch and smell  - part of the Children's Garden
Touch and smell – part of the Children’s Garden
A bold burst of red, just showered by the sprinkler system!
A bold burst of red, just showered by the sprinkler system!
An Acuba and fern share a shady spot
An Acuba and fern share a shady spot
Coral Bells
Coral Bells. As an educational Demonstration Garden, all plants are clearly named.
Herb Garden. Think they'd mind if I snipped a few sprigs here and there?
Herb Garden. Think they’d mind if I snipped a few sprigs here and there?
The wonderful world of bees!
The wonderful world of bees!

What kind of hydrangea is this?

Calling all experts!

I am not a hydrangea expert, just a big, big fan of them!

Three years ago, we took down some gangly, ugly and very spotty red tip shrubs and in their place, we planted a row of what we thought were white hydrangeas. At least that is what the labels said at Lowes, where we made a purchase and aligned them along a short stretch of split-rail fence.

fenceline of hydrangeas
My plans are to mark this area off with stone (wire grass is a problem here) and dress with mulch.

We thought we bought seven, identical white hydrangeas. Two at the far end turned out to be blue lacecaps. Not exactly my plan, but I don’t mind surprises. But the one closest to my garden gate has an altogether different look than any of my other hydrangeas.

The first year, my husband kept mowing it down so it never bloomed. Last year in 2012 it looked like this:

Pink at last! Well, sort of!
Pink at last! Well, sort of!

I was delighted to finally get a pink hydrangea. Sorta, kinda. The pink was very slight, not at all over powering. To my eye, it had a very vintage look and the pink played off well against the vanilla white background color. I loved the old-fashioned delicacy to the blooms. One might say it had even Victorian aesthetic

This year, 2013, the same hydrangea surfaced with a whole new look:

This is the same plant as above, and just as delicate, but now in shades of powder blue
This is the same plant as above, and just as delicate, but now in shades of powder blue

Can anyone comment on what variety of hydrangea this is (as Lowe’s label was way, way off)? Even though it isn’t white, I quite like the surprise and its evolving colors. My soil apparently has quite a bit of aluminum in it, as any pink or rose hydrangeas I have tried to grow have all converted over to blue, and these are my deepest, most stunning blues. It is much harder to turn blue into pink, as you must actually subtract aluminum from the soil. Adding acid or alkaline amendments to the soil really can’t change blue over to pink. I haven’t made any cuttings for indoors as I want it to continue to grow, but it is a variety I wouldn’t mind propagating.

I rather like my mystery plant!

Nice neighbors

We have some new neighbors who have moved next door to us this spring. We’ve been keeping an eye on their mailbox and house as they travel back-and-forth from their old location. They are a lovely couple, and they surprised us with Brazilian coffee and candy! Delicious!

We didn’t have anything quite so exotic to offer in return, but this morning we dug up the first of our red potatoes to share our harvest from three potato plants! with our nice neighbors.

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Blue and white bouquet

Why is it that I wake up on a Saturday morning even earlier than I do when I have to get up for the work week? Rather than thrash around under the covers trying to get back to sleep, I decided not to fight it, and went out int to garden. Still in my PJ’s, and with a light dousing of mosquito repellant, I shuffled outside with kitchen shears looking for puffy candidates. I have about 15 different hydrangea shrubs growing in my yard. Many still not mature enough to use for cuttings (I want them to grow, grow!) But, I singled out a few blooms to harvest and added some lemon balm and my favorite wildflower for arrangements, Pearly Everlasting, as accents.

So here’s a device portrait of my morning labor on the kitchen counter! Gardens are meant to bring indoors!

A bouquet of hydrangeas
Five different varieties here, of hydrangeas, with some lemon balm for trailers and some white pearly everlasting wildflowers for contrast

 

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Baby the rain must fall

Get out your rain slicker, grab your camera and enjoy the garden!

In Delaware, June 2013 has produced record rainfall. Makes going out to the garden a bit of an annoyance, but don’t let a few (okay, a lot) of raindrops deter you from enjoying what you love!  After a rain event, your garden is particularly beautiful.

The addition of freshly-laid raindrops adds a sparkle and glimmer to vegetation and provides a new appreciation for how all the elements work in concert!  This afternoon, we had one of those downpours that arrived sandwiched between sunny blue skies. Perfect petal posing conditions! Now if I could only capture that rainbow!

I have taken my fair share of straight on flower portraits. I submitted hundreds to the new HGTVGarden website and suggested about 20 or so for consideration as their “pic of the week.” But it was a chance photo of rosebush leaves, adorned only by recent raindrops, that earned the editors’ attention and me a $100 prize, which I immediately spent at a local garden store!  This was the photo:

Rain drops on rose leaves
Rain drops on rose leaves

This afternoon, once I saw the sun peep out, I made a dash and took these photos. I used a 85mm micro lens, but I could have easily used my kit lens (55mm-200mm)  and zoom in from a distance, using the flower setting. I get very good results using a shallow depth of field and stepping back from the subject and zooming to 200mm focal length. Certainly, a micro or macro helps! Most importantly, experiment when you photograph your garden. Take photos at different times of the day. A bright sunny day at noon is not necessarily the best condition for nature photography. Vary your angle and don’t be afraid to get close…or wet!

Here are the photos from today. The raindrops add the sparkle and interest on what might otherwise be an ordinary flower photo!

Knock out rose bloom past its prime gets some additional visual energy with raindrops
Knock out rose bloom past its prime gets some additional visual energy with raindrops
A red maple leaf intercepts the rain
A red maple leaf intercepts the rain
Thirsty lace cap hydrangea drinks up all it can!
Thirsty lace cap hydrangea drinks up all it can!
A raindrop dangles on a delicate coral belle
A raindrop dangles on a delicate coral belle
A Knock Out rosebud is bathed in June rain
A Knock Out rosebud is bathed in June rain
Oak leaf hydrangea blooms glisten in water and white!
Oak leaf hydrangea blooms glisten in water and white!
A bay laurel leaf has thrived in this rainy June month
A bay laurel leaf has thrived in this rainy June month
A violet lacecap hydrangea dances in the rain
A violet lacecap hydrangea dances in the rain
Heavy rains can knock off the blooms of a Knock Out rose bush, but this blooming bud looks beautiful in water beads
Heavy rains can knock off the blooms of a Knock Out rose bush, but this blooming bud looks beautiful in water beads

George Harrison’s memorial garden in the UK

The Beatle I admire the most was George Harrison, and my affection for him grew when I learned he was an avid gardener. Olivia Harrison recently posted news of a contemplative garden created in his honor. This is a permanent garden, unlike the one that appeared at the Chelsea Garden Show in 2008, which was also spectacular! And here is another link about the Chelsea tribute garden! And this page has some great videos: http://georgeharrison.com/garden/exhibit/

I particularly love this free- form bench.
I particularly love this free- form bench.source: bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk

This new garden is a meditative garden, according to the media release on George Harrison’s website Do you see the engraving on the left side of the bench? It says, “Now I’m so happy I found you” from his beautiful song on the White Album, Long, Long, Long.

The website describes how the garden was created and provides a diagram of the planning and planting. It looks as though they recycled the Pavilion from the Chelsea garden into this new one. His son Dhani once said in an interview that his father would get lost in his gardening, so intense was his concentration that it would get dark and dinner cold, because George was so focused at the task at hand. I can relate to that. I can’t tell you how many times I put something in the stove or oven, and then ran out to do a little weeding or pruning, only to get carried away and come back to a burnt pizza or soup!

It is a long-term goal of mine to add features, colors, and flowers inspired by George’s music, lyrics, and favorite garden practices. I hope and have suggested that the Harrison estate or The Material World Foundation might put together a pictorial garden book, or even produce a line of garden products inspired by George, his favorite flowers, art, by his lyrics, colors of the 60s and 70s – the proceeds could help promote horticulture in areas or communities where a little color, beauty and contemplation is needed. Hey if Martha Stewart can sell spades and garden art, I think it would be great to have inspiration from a man and gardener who really felt the passion for digging in the dirt and adding beauty and life to our lives!

Raised beds – a beginner’s attempt

I saw this post today on Facebook, from the Raw for Beauty site. I love the infographic they used!

Source: Raw for Beauty Source: Raw for Beauty

Our raised bed area doesn’t look quite as picturesque – but it does the trick.

We had an area off the side of our house, that used to be a dog run and had been unused for several years. In 2012, we decided to make some raised beds. We had been composting in a corner of this rectangle area (behind the very healthy Nandinas to the right), using old pallets for the composting bin. It had been tucked away with its own area sectioned off with split rail, and some tall arborvitaes, so it was a perfect area to create a veggie garden.  We started pricing raised bed materials and were amazed how costly they were. Hundreds of dollars per bed! We decided to look for other materials.

Living in coastal Delaware, we get a lot of weeds. Crabgrass and wild Bermuda grass is a serious problem. We placed landscape paper over the entire grass area and my husband began mapping out large rectangle areas for raised beds out of concrete block. (Yes concrete block, also referred to as cinderblock, cinderblock is actually a different material and much harder to find these days, many people use the term cinderblock but what they actually purchase at a big block store is concrete block.) Whatever their name they are those large, unattractive blocks I used in college to support bookshelves for my stereo and vinyl albums! Since no one is really going to see this area in our back yard, and it is well disguised from the road and neighbors, we weren’t too concerned with aesthetics.  My husband started out with two beds, but quickly anted-up to five. They were easy to install, and each bed  cost under $50 to construct.

Finishing off the first cinderblock bed. Under the blue tarps is firewood. Finishing off the first concrete block bed. Under the blue tarps is firewood.

Here are the first three concrete block  beds.  We eventually put landscape paper all around the area. Our beds were two courses high. We did not anchor our blocks with concrete. We had quite a lot of old larger red rock and we filled some of the holes with that, some with extra soil.

Cinder block project Steve stands by his concrete block project. The empty one in the foreground became the bed where we “hilled” potatoes

We probably should have, but we did not use any drip irrigation. As you can see we have two rain barrels, so we have water readily available. Later that summer we added two more.

Same area with mulched and first plantings Same area with mulched and first plantings
Cinder block raised beds As you can see each bed is two blocks high, and we staggered these. Nothing else is holding them in place except for perhaps every fifth hole, we poured some loose rock and gravel.

Along a split-rail fence we added another longer, but narrow bed:

564179_294941800583953_713853871_n In this photo five beds are visible. Under the blue tarps is firewood. Off to their left is a cluster of plants that disguise a compost bin made from recycled pallets. We’ve been tossing household food waste, lawn clippings, vegetation in there for years and created some beautiful black compost. We strongly believe this is what made our garden grow so well!

This was our first experiment with growing vegetables. I am not a tree-hugging, organic-only type of consumer, but I’d rather not use pesticides if I don’t have to! Our first year, we used nothing. No fertilizer, no pesticides. A few air-borne weeds landed in the mulch area. Since we have a pond and bird-friendly structures nearby, we get a lot of bird traffic and we saw many near the garden area. I think they picked the vegetables clean of any insects that might have tried to gain a foothold. We have plenty of common rabbits in the area, but none damaged our vegetables, due to the two-course high of block. Our second year has seen very little insect damage, no diseases and very good yields! Compost, compost, compost!

For our first year, we planted way too much lettuce, and we were eating salads with Romaine, Red Sail and butter crunch for quite some time. We also grew broccoli, cauliflower, yellow and green snap beans, peppers, and beets. My husband grew tomatoes in pots, but they did not do as well.

Romaine lettuce Romaine lettuce
lettuce Lettuce
Brocolli Broccoli

One of our more interesting projects was growing potatoes. We planted red seed potatoes in our largest bed. We had looked into “hilling” potatoes in buckets or large sacks. Once we had the bed created, we decided to try and hill them in the bed. We put only a couple of inches of soil in initially, then laid the potato sections in the bed and covered them with another two inches or so. Once the plants sprouted and got taller, we added more soil (50% compost, 50% purchased garden soil) and kept adding soil as the plants grew taller. Eventually the soil reached near the top of the second course of block. Once the leaves started to turn, that was our cue to harvest the potatoes. Hilling produces more potatoes per plant as it encourages a root system (tuber) to sprout from the plant’s nodes.  We averaged around 5-6 potatoes per plant! They were delicious!

We We “hilled ” these red potatoes in a raised bed, adding soil as the plants grew!

Here is a video of my husband and his daughter harvesting the potatoes:

My plans are to stain the blocks, and I have already started growing herbs in some of the pockets provided by the block’s holes.  I would love to have some creeping phlox or other annuals grow in the pockets. In 2013, we rotated the crops, and this year, we planted tomatoes directly in one of the beds and they are doing very well.  We have had no issues with mildew, mold, pests, insects or disease. I attribute this to our birds, for the vegetation being raised, and my husband’s diligence tending to his crops. We’ve been invaded by sedge grass this year, which lands from the air and grows on top of the landscape paper. Fortunately it is easy to put up, but they keep coming back!

We have not had any push back on the block. They have stayed in place. At some point we might need some rebar or concrete to anchor them, but it hasn’t been an issue so far. The area primarily receives afternoon sun – at least four hours of direct sun. So far, everything seems to be the perfect combination!

Another video of my husband talking about the beds:

Pearly Everlasting

Given to me by a friend in Pennsylvania, this wildflower is lovely alone and great for arrangements
Given to me by a friend in Pennsylvania, this wildflower is lovely alone and great for arrangements

This is a flower given to me by a friend in Pa. I had forgotten what it was called and had to do some detective work. The Latin name is Anaphalis margaritacea or the wildflower known as Pearly Everlasting. They grow on study stems with alternate leaves, and the flowers are tiny,1/4″ wide and nearly round. Mine begin to bloom in June and they make wonderful accents for arrangements, especially with hydrangeas, which bloom about the same time. They kind of look like a bigger baby’s breath, and convey that delicate effect.

I have dug them up and transplanted them elsewhere, and they have done fine. They do like sun, and can tolerate dry conditions. The blooms are sturdy, the white petals will stay fixed through wind and rain, and keep their bloom for about a week, before beginning to turn brown at the edges. Several clusters will appear on each stem.