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!

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!

Find a garden — enjoy the linger!

Linger

Gardens are made for lingering. Color, aroma, and the cycle of life evolve right before my eyes — sometimes slowly and incrementally, other times annoyingly fast, like a pesky, hungry, hunter of a mosquito buzzing around my face with its proboscus set for my juicy upper arm.

Then I don’t linger.

SWAT!

Most of the time, the paths that I carved out and created in my not-quite-an-acre-world, command me to slow down. My garden asks me to pause, consider, drift, and linger.

And I do. With my body, with a camera, with my love.

A garden is the best lingering venue. Sitting. Kneeling, Digging, Weeding, Watering, Cleaning up.Thinking.

Lingering is also quite lovely with a glass of Pinot Grigio! Each sip is its own joyful linger of grape, citrus and sugar.

Benches are perfect lingering devices!

.bench

I plan when I linger.

I am continually surprised if I let myself linger long enough. Imagine what I almost missed.

A burst of color today that wasn’t there yesterday. Taking notice of a senior citizen shedding its petals, one slow drop at a time, on its way of decay to become soil.  Happy to have met you!

You can’t notice these things if you don’t linger.

20130902-153023.jpg

Or escape that, I too, am a part of it all. This mysterious revolutionary movement of nature.

Lingering in the garden grounds me. I am shedding petals also — bone mass, collagen, elasticity, once thick brunette hair at a time is turning a fine, thin grey. I am shedding!

And it is all okay. I certainly won’t malinger over it!

On my way to becoming something else. I am contributing to it now.

It is part of the natural movement forward — a contribution I am able to make — and keep making still!

Peace through reflective lingering. The gift of, and in, gardening.

Sharpen the senses. Rest the mind. Linger. Drift past the flowers that grow so incredibly high!

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!

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!