Rethinking how we landscape

At the University of Delaware, we are fortunate to call Doug Tallamy one of our own. I first heard him talk at a horticulture event I was covering. Doug is an entomologist and professor at the University of Delaware’s Department of Wildlife Ecology. His influence and expertise is respected worldwide. Thanks to his books, his articles and his generous appearances on Zoom, Doug Tallamy’s message is starting to get out. This is a recording of a recent appearance he gave to Ohio State University. I attended this for advanced training as a Master Gardener. His lecture beings at 3:50.

I have joined the Home Grown National Park effort that Tallamy has started. I planted my first oak tree, and hope to get many more. Increasingly I am adding native plants to encourage more caterpillar and insect activity.

Does this mean I will remove the many crepe myrtles on my property? No. But, as beautiful as they are in late summer, I won’t plant anymore. Will I still decorate my front porch steps with my favorite magenta geraniums? Yes I will. It is okay to grow and enjoy non-natives. But I am finding spots in my yard for milkweed, echinacea, mountain mint, redbud and serviceberry trees. I challenge anyone who reads Doug Tallamay’s books or watches him lecture in person or on YouTube will be compelled (and urgently so) the way they landscape their homes.

My Master Gardener Journey

Today, I began my journey to be a Delaware Master Gardener. I first heard about the Master Gardener program in 1994, when I entered my city back yard in a garden tour contest (I didn’t win anything) but I got on a mailing list and received information about the program.

Delaware Master Gardener official logo

Fast forward to 2001 when I began a new career at the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. I learned about the Master Gardener volunteers who help extend university research to the public. My new career coincided with a new home, three-quarter acre plot without a shrub, flower or tree, so I was eager to absorb the many fact sheets made available to the public.

Over the past 20 years I’ve gotten to know and admire the people involved in this program. I’ve certainly enjoyed spending my lunch breaks in their demonstration garden, and as my position officially switched to communications, helping to promote their workshops and outreach events such as their open house. I’ve also been thrilled to be a part of their many celebrations and hallmark anniversaries.

I’ve long known that gardeners are incredibly generous people. They love creating, growing and sharing. Getting to know the Master Gardeners affiliated with our land grant university only strengthened my opinions.

I wanted to be a part of their ranks!

While I know a lot about Cooperative Extension, and have learned through the successes and mistakes of my own garden, I am eager to have the formal training that this program will provide.

Because of COVID and the danger looming over the Delta variant, we will be receiving our 12 weeks of training via Zoom.

I am looking forward to sharing my journey here each week, sharing the resources that will be taught to my class via Extension professionals.

Stay tuned!

My Hydrangea Obsession

I’ve written about why I became interested in growing hydrangeas and I wonder now if it has gotten a little out of hand! Yesterday, I walked my three-quarter acre property and tallied up my hydrangea collection. Seventy-nine (2021) and counting! Here’s the list!

4-Little Limelight – local nursery

3-Macrophyllas lacecap 2 blues, 1 purple

1-Purple lacecap from above, successful layering

1-Forever and Everyone “Peppermint” 2011 a rebloomers

5-Schnee balls macrophylla, (white blooms, ruffled blossoms) 2011

1-Schnee ball successful layering and blooming 2021

1-Limelight panicle

1-Mom’s hydrangea (funeral bouquet 2001)

1-Oak-leaf Ruby Slippers (2004)

4-Mariesii variegated

1-Little Quick Fire Proven Winners (2016) local nursery

1-Oakleaf Syke’s Dwarf

3-Blue Billows Mountain Hydrangea – original parents Wayside Garden

2-Endless Summer (ES) Let’s Dance Blue Jangles (2019)

5-Macrophyllas propagated from cuttings (2018)

1-Walmart rescue (purple) (2018)

1-Gift macrophylla propagation (2019)

1-Vanilla strawberry (2017)

3- Proven Winners Tuff Stuff Ah ha, double bloomer (2019)

1-Annabelle (2015) MG Plant Sale

3-Macrophyllas unknown variety, traditional

2-ES variety unknown. Slow growing. Has a very tight, pagoda shaped bloom.

8-Blue billows mountain by propagation from original parents

1-hydrangea serrata kiyosumi turns all kinds of colors. Small dainty lacecaps

1-Mountain lacecap Greywood – Wayside Gardens (2002)

1-Oak-leaf Snow Queen (2017)

1-Mystery layering

1-Pinky Winky (2018) Local nursery

2-Nikko Blue (2002)

2-Incrediball h.arborescens

2-Pistachio

2-City Line Rio (transplanted from sun to shade in 2018. Currently growing but not blooming).

1-Merritt’s Supreme (2017)

2-Oak-leaf “Snowflake” double bloomer (in transit 2019)

1-Summer crush (2020) purchased at Lowes post season. Bloomed very pink in 2021.

1- “Alice” Oakleafs Hydrangea. Purchased at Willey’s Farm, Townsend, Del. post season in 2020. Looking forward to blooms in 2021.

1-Bloomstruck macrophylla

1-Strawberry Sundae (2020)

1-Bobo panicle hydrangea (2020)

1-Gatsby Star Oakleaf hydrangea (2021) Proven Winners purchased from UDBG plant sale

1-Shooting Star (double-bloomer) lacecaps macrophylla Lowes

1-Proven Winners Tuff Stuff serrata “Red” (2021)

1-Haas Halo – native arborenscens lacecap recommended by Mt. Cuba Center as a pollinator favorite (2021)
END

1-Lacecap “Bethany” a gift from a Master Gardener

Five layerings in progress. We’ll see how many make it! 

I’ve obtained these specimens from local nurseries, mail order, propagation from friends, and those I have created myself from layerings and cuttings! I currently have a dozen cuttings in a tub and it looks like all but two will make it!

The challenge now is to find a place for all of these. I would say half of my collection is small and in that “getting established” period of its life.

Back when I did not know what I was doing, I planted some macrophyllas in high heat, strong sun locations. Most are doing okay, but take daily and sometimes twice-a-day waterings. I doubt at this stage they would take to transplanting, but in leaving them where I have, I am creating additional work for myself down the line. I have taken layering and cutting samples from all of these, as I may try to replace them with paniculata.

Here are some of my favorite photos:

Little Quick Fire panicle hydrangea

Proven Winners Little Quick Fire panicle
Variegated Mariesii. This layers very easily. Much of the new growth is not variegated.

Blue and cream flowers on CityLine “Mars” or

Proven Winners City Line “Mars” It was purchased pink and now blooms in this beautiful, bright blue!

Wet and white! Schnee or Snow along the fence line. They are a macrophylla with deep, dark green foliage.

Oakleafs hydrangea Endless Summer. I wish I knew the variety. These blooms are very tight, curled and never form round shapes. They stay in this flat pagoda shape.

Limelight has become one of my most favorite plants. I heavily prune in early March.

I love to bring hydrangeas indoors. Here I have limelight arranged with a base of Philodendron Selloum. Both last a long time in a vase.

Various vases of my hydrangeas!

I transplanted this Strawberry Sunday from a container to the ground. Doing this interrupted its bloom schedule. But the plant sent me a message with this one, singular bloom, that I had made a good decision and I can look forward to more blooms like this in 2021.

Ruby Slippers earlier in the summer. Compare the spacing of the florets to the Snow Queen below. Bees love this hydrangea!

Oakleaf hydrangea. Either Sykes Dwarf or Snow Queen

A hot house hydrangea grown into a large blue shrub
This was a pink florist hydrangea bouquet that was purchased for my mother’s funeral in 2001. It took 3 years to grow before it bloomed this deep, purply blue!

 

Unknown blue macrophylla in foreground. Oakleaf “Syke’s Dwarf” in background.

 

For me a “generic” macrophylla, planted before I knew to record the variety!

Pistachio. This delicate little thing is a slow grower, but has stayed in the pink and rose hues. 

Proven Winners “Incrediball” hydrangea arborescens. These can be pruned heavily in the early spring.

A young Merritt’s Supreme blossom! It shifted from pink to lavender purple its first year,

Unknown big leaf lacecap. Maybe blaumaise?

 

Oakleaf, I believe is Snow Queen is decidedly lime in July first summer bloom!I love the early lime color! 

 

Pinky Winky
Pinky Winky first year in the ground! Wiley’s Market Middletown, Delaware

Little Quick Fire July
Vanilla Strawberry or Strawberry Sundae from Wayside Gardens mail order order

Ruby Slippers oakleaf. Last year, I did not water this faithfully and it went from white to brown quickly this year I am watering it every day and it helps sustain the pink part of its season.
Little Lime in early July. Despite its 4 foot maximum height, mine are shooting up stems that are over 5 feet! Mislabeled perhaps? It received a shaping pruning in early March.

May Traffic at the Pink Bucket Inn

Nothing enhances a landscape more than the wildlife and birds who stop by for a visit and enjoy the growth as well as the human contributions such as this birdseed tossed inside a pink bucket left over from 2020. The songs and chirps add to the serene and lively soundtrack of my garden, not to mention the biological control of these birds as they feed on both bird feeders and the growing insect population that ushers in in May!

Walfred Photography

Beach traffic at the Pink Bucket Inn in Lewes is steady. Word-by-beak must be spreading!

A House Finch family arrives to teach their youngin’ how to eat seed properly!

She clearly was having none of it. She squawked the whole time with her mouth opened, determined to have her parent feed her. First she appealed to her father.

Then entreated her mother for treats. Ah to no avail at first

Finally, her mother gave it. Anything to keep the little one quiet!

The commotion brought the attention of this catbird, who cleared away the finches so she could dine in peace.

The catbird left, but soon brought back its mate!

A surprise visit from this youthful rose-breasted grosbeak was a big treat for me! My irst-ever photo and observation of this bird! I haven’t seen it since

Just left of where the pink bucket sits on this deck ledge, I…

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April Showers

I have lots of new changes and additions to our backyard habitat woodland garden this year! I love to tour the garden after a good rain. It’s April 15 with my iPhone in hand! Take a look!

I often enter the garden from our garage. It opens to a walkway that passes by some raised beds built with concrete blocks. We’re taking those down now as they’ve become uneven and unsightly. So this is the entrance that visitors rarely see, but I do! So I found this trellis, stained it and bought a clematis to grow. It covers a gas valve on the side of the house!
Directly opposite the new trellis is this lovely Lilac shrub, now about six years old and at least 6-7’high. It was a gift from a friend – a cutting! It took a while to really come into its own, but patience is now paying dividends!

Beyond the raised bed section is an old dog run that I converted over to a perennial, pollinator garden. This area is the only part of our backyard that received more than 4 hours of sun. Although I started out with different plants, most of what I admired from the Master Gardener demonstration garden, I am adding blue and yellow flowers to dominate (my UD Alma Mater colors). New this year are delphiniums seen lower left. Everything is coming up wonderfully. The two sections of split rail fence are vestiges of a dog run I had for my Great Dane who has since passed. Last year I added some climbers, and we added an arbor to distinguish this area from the main back yard.

Part of the full sun pollinator garden
Delphinium
We moved this bench from the main back yard. A pollinator needs a place to observe all the activity, right? Accented with my blue and gold theme!
We use a dolly/hand truck to move this giant pot into the garage for the winter. We’ve been able to overwinter this elephant ear now for three years. I planted blue, yellow and white container plants around the pot this week. Can’t wait for it to fill in and add more UD colors!
As we leave the pollinator garden to the main back yard, we set this arbor in last year. It is flanked by peppermint azaleas, now just coming into bloom. I have also planted Major Wheeler native honeysuckle to grow up on the arbor. It is starting to send out vines!
Looking back through the arbor to the pollinator garden in progress.

In the middle of the yard, we removed a very mature River Birch. We had four, now we have three. The tree was too close to the house. I could have opened a River Birch nursery, with all the seedlings that erupted inside our gutters alone! It also dumped a lot of debris into our medium-sized pond. I left the stump kind of high, as I thought I might carve out a bowl/splinter. Right now the stump is weeping profusely. The sugars from the sap are spilling over and turning colors. The removal has opened up quite a bit of sunlight now!

A $15 River Birch bought at Lowes ended up costing us $1885 to remove 17 years later! The area around the roots and the significant root gullies are quite soggy now but the hosta around the tree base are loving it.
This unknown cultivar macrophylla was one of my best performers. It grew under the River Birch so it got dappled afternoon sun. I am a little concerned that this year of additional sun might harm the hydrangea, so I added these parasols, designed for peonies. We will see how she does this June. I may have to plant a smaller tree to give this some additional shade.

Two years ago, we reduced our pond by half. We had koi, and herons, and then ugly nets to try to protect the koi, and ugly leaves collecting in the nets. The ugly wasn’t worth it. We found homes for the koi, removed the net, placed a bench under a Japanese re maple and now we are serenaded by bullfrogs. We added a second trellis/arbor to mark an entrance to our deep-shade section.

With the increased sunlight from the missing River Birch, we can now plant some flowering plants by the waterfall. I could never grow anything there due to the deep shade. It will be so rewarding to add color to this area now!

Lutyens bench by the pond
A second identical arbor marks a pathway to the shade garden which is not yet in its full splendor. To the right, we have a stone walkway to what we hope will be a permanent

One thing about a shade garden, and a pond, are mosquitos. They love me and I am highly allergic to them. It is hard to enjoy the backyard we’ve created. Although we are vigilant in preventing any standing water, and use mosquito dunks in the pond, they do well here. Unfortunate! So I’ve been nagging my husband for a screened gazebo. They are quite the investment. We are looking at $7 to 8K to get a 12 x 12 structure. With Covid last year and this year, we weren’t sure what would happen with our incomes, so we wanted to test out the concept before we commit.

This is a 12 x 12 Alvantor tent. It is not perfect, but under $400 – a big difference that $8,000! We bought it in September and kept it up until early November and then tucked it away. The top is not waterproof, so we have to tend to it immediately after a rain storm. It is not what I want, but right now, we can sit out and see and listen to the waterfalls, the wind chimes and enjoy a glass of wine, mosquito free. We are going to try a different flooring this year. I am still not giving up on a cedar-type gazebo!!

Fall 2020
Hot waterblue lobelia in the shade garden
Cultivating a carpet of moss on the shady side
In another month, ferns, hosta, and other shade loving plants will fill in all this brown.
Hydrangea quercifolia “Alice” first spring in the ground. Purchased at Willey’s Farm in Townsend, Delaware
Part of the shade path. About 30% filled in
Columbine Aquilegia “Songbird Bluebird”
Dianthus Bleeding Heart
Merritt’s Supreme in partial shade. I covered it during our late frost last week. It seems to be doing okay!
Viburnum in the shade garden. Freshly washed with rain, the aroma is supreme!

The Pink Bucket Inn

Keeping a garden simply increases one’s appreciation for the surrounding wildlife. The view out my backyard is currently blossoming with birds!

Walfred Photography

As a novice birdwatcher, one of the trickiest parts of photographing birds is not scaring them. And birdwatching from home is especially so. The minute you see activity in your feeders, just try and grab your camera and get outside without causing flight!

However, I stumbled onto a new technique.

Outside my home office, I have a small deck and deck railings. Last year I used a pink planter/pail/bucket filled with soil to hold mosquito sticks in place. Last week, I was outside replenishing my bird feeders and passed by the neglected pail and decided to put a handful of mixed seed on top of the soil.

I was rewarded with lots of visitors. From my desk chair, I can get to my camera and shoot through one of the panes of glass in my sliding door window. The birds (and squirrels) don’t seem to see me, and thanks to…

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Twenty-Twenty

A Great Year for Gardening and Grandmothering

I’m not going too far out on a limb to say that 2020 has been a horrible year so far. Sickly, stressful, polarizing and divisive. Since March 13, 2020 I have worked from home and also had an opportunity to take temporary custody of my only grandchild, Hugo, who lives in NYC with his parents. There, at the epicenter of the pandemic, his parents felt their six and a half year old son might enjoy an extended visit in the southern Delaware countryside with “MiMa.” Both of us did our daily work virtually, and the extra time together concentrated on an outdoor classroom that included birdwatching and feeding, planting vegetables, planting and dividing flowers and learning about insects and pollinators. It was 11-weeks of that silver lining you hear so much about!

My grandson got a kick out of learning about the birds, recognizing the songs and in this case, rat-a-tat-tat of a red-bellied woodpecker
One of our favorite getaways was to go to Best’s Ace Hardware in Lewes and get some birdseed and some toys! Hugo can identify cardinal songs now, and he knows they prefer safflower seeds the most!

Working from home afforded me some extra time to water in the mornings, spend lunch time weeding, and when we were allowed to, visit some garden centers wearing masks.

My hydrangeas (currently 63 and counting) did not get the news 2020 was off to a poor start. I started seeing early indications that this would be a bumper year for hydrangeas. The best ever in my memory.

In my ever-shadier woodland backyard setting, I have lost the opportunity to flower garden. But this year, my husband and I took out three of our five concrete block raised beds (they worked but were unsightly) and used the area to create a pollinator garden. It is still a work in progress.

We added an arbor to differentiate the woodland garden from the pollinator garden. I’ve ordered two “Major Wheeler” native honeysuckles to flank each side. They will arrive in the fall. The arbor adds a nice touch I think! Photo processed through the Brushstroke app.
I moved this sign to the entrance of the arbor!
Another view of the new pollinator garden. My husband laughs at me when I lean back on the lounge and put the hose on. We don’t have irrigation, one of the big mistakes we made when we built this house. Soaker hoses are in the future! We left two sections of a split rail fence that we had to separate a dog run (I used to have a Great Dane) and I like the way it frames the space.

In the pollinator garden is an assortment of natives and non-natives. Echinacea, nepta (catmint) garden phlox “jeana”, various beebalm, senna, coreopsis, gaillardia, pink and purple Veronica speedwell, salvias, Shasta daisies, fennel, milkweed, butterfly weed (Asclepias), yarrow, false sea thrift (armería), stokesia, lavender, rosemary, cornflower, pokeweed, h.paniculata “Bobo”, solidago “Wichita Mountains”, drumstick alliums, and others.

Watering place for pollinators, filled with glass beads so they won’t get too wet!
A gazing ball is a nod to my childhood. A neighbor had one of these, and as a little girl, I thought it was magical. I might relocate this, however, just a few feet forward.
Drumstick alliums shifting from green to dark magenta. I saw these in the Maine Botanical Garden and wanted to add them to my garden! Bees love them!
On the other side of the yard I started Clematis “Jackmanii” The trellis comes from Lewes, at a little antique shop across from the blacksmith shop.
H. Macrophylla “Mariesii” this variety was variegated. It has experienced “revision” which means it has reverted back to mostly solid colored leaves. I think this is the result of too much sun. It is a temperamental bloomer, about 15 years old, this year it went bonkers!
Stoke’s Aster or Stokesia
H. Quercifolia or oakleaf “Syke’s Dwarf”
I wish I knew the name of this beauty, bought around 2005. Not knowing what I know now about Hydrangeas, I planted this in the front of my house with a southern exposure. It bloomed these glorious blue Lacecaps, but it minded the heat something awful. I watered twice a day. Thankfully, other trees in the front yard have matured and have provided afternoon sun relief.
Beebalm in the front yard. Powdery mildew is always an issue. Hoping to add wild bergamot to replace as it is native and less susceptible. Still, the pollinators enjoy the stand that is spreading each year.
This lovely was an unmarked Walmart rescue for $6.99. It’s second year in this spot, facing East, it has about a dozen blooms on it this year! I wish I knew the cultivar of this macrophylla!
This was our original pond that we built the first year we moved in. Last year however, we cut it in half.
I always wanted a “Lutyens” bench and a special place for it. It sits under a large red maple where we can enjoy the waterfall and watch the frogs. We kept koi for many years but had to resort to unsightly nets to keep them safe. All they did was catch falling leaves and the whole thing looked like a big mess. So we found the koi a new home and simplified the water feature.
Blue Herons still come by and visit, hoping for a Koi buffet. We spotted this beauty and her balancing act atop a hot tub privacy fence.
Another view of the Walmart rescue. In the back yard we don’t grow grass. No mowing, no fertilizing, no weed killing. Weed pulling yes! I am trying to establish a moss carpet. Tree and leaf droppings keep the floor mostly vegetative free. I would prefer to dress the ground with pine straw however. This is a bit too rustic for my taste.
Shasta daisies next to a cobalt blue birdbath filled with sedums and succulents. The succulents overwinter quite nicely.
I overwintered most of my pots in the garage. The spikes, geraniums, and lantana all overwintered! I only had to add the alyssum!
H. Arborescens “Incrediball” enjoy their third summer. I haven’t pruned these yet, I think I might do that next March to encourage bigger blossoms.
Another part of the shade garden. The Zen Den is at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the property. The Buddha honors respect for life, and all sentient beings. As a backyard wildlife habitat, insects, snakes, rabbits, possums, turtles, frogs, have all found a home here. I still swat mosquitoes though!
Enjoy your gardens! Bee Safe!