A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Belated Debuts

I had to cover a nightshift on Tuesday night so night became day and day became night for me and I missed some debuts yesterday.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photos. I was running around the yard in my pajamas this morning (I’m not the only one who does that, right?) while the coffee was brewing. I was trying to get an early start so that I would have time to mow the lawn and water the gardens before heading back to work this afternoon.

Belle de Crecy, one of the roses I purchased on sale at Home Depot last year has bloomed.

She was described as being “very double”. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I think I do now.

Mme. Plantier has literally burst into bloom. Two days ago there were only a very few blooms open. Today, there are hundreds.

I used to worry about allowing her to sprawl like that. Then I read Restoring American Gardens and saw a photo of Mme. Plantier happily sprawling in a garden long ago. If you are looking for a very fragrant, shade tolerant rose, this is the one for you. The back of my house only gets a few hours of sun in the mornings. It is in deep shade the rest of the day. Despite those difficult conditions, she has grown to about 8’ (2.5m) wide.

After the bearded iris and then the Japanese iris, the Siberian iris finishes the iris season. This one is my favorite. I planted it so long ago that I don’t remember the name

My other, nameless Siberian iris is a prolific bloomer.

Hmmm . . . that looks vaguely familiar. Where have I seen this before? I’ve noticed a few other anomalies like this. Plants that I purchased years ago that were mis-labelled by the sellers. I do more research now before purchasing plants and seeds so I am more adept at spotting those that are not labeled correctly.

The Weirdness Chronicles 2007 - Chapter 6

Half a dozen or more years ago, I sowed seeds for Ipswich pinks and Sweet William in a corner of the Purple Garden. It was an experiment. I had never grown either one before. Both germinated well and bloomed prolifically and fragrantly, quickly becoming favorites. When I decided to convert that corner of the Purple Garden into a Green Garden, I carefully transplanted the pinks and Sweet William to new homes where they continued to bloom prolifically and fragrantly.

This spring, at least four years later, I noticed a strangely familiar “weed” in that same corner which is purple again after a brief, green, hiatus. I allowed it to grow until it bloomed to see if my suspicions were correct. The Sweet William is back in its original home.

Seeds sown by birds? Seeds left over from the original plants that took a few years to germinate? The mystery will probably never be solved. But I’m allowing the plants to stay. It’s my new policy. I no longer try to “force” plants to grow where I want them to. I now allow them to grow where they want to. And the Sweet William obviously wants to grow in my Purple Garden.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What I did on my Summer Vacation

Memorial Day Weekend means parades, barbecues and planting the Display Gardens at Rutgers Gardens. Truthfully, I did no planting. I acted as a runner, bringing plants to those who were planting and collecting the empty containers. This allowed me time to pause and document the event with my camera, my other responsibility. I’m getting better at taking pictures of people. There are some really fun candid shots from the weekend.

I couldn’t resist the temptation, though, to photograph the gardens themselves. I started as soon as I parked my car at Holly House. Normally the volunteers park along the road by the Display Gardens. We had been asked to use the Holly House parking lot to keep the road clear for the weddings that were going on over the holiday weekend.

There is a lovely little garden at Holly House. It surrounds the patio with its shady seating. Not surprisingly, my favorite was this pretty peony.

From Holly House, my route to the Display Gardens took me through the Shrub Gardens. A happy surprise were these late blooming lilacs.

I took my time walking through them so that I could enjoy their fragrance.

I wasn’t the only photographer working in the gardens this weekend. On Sunday, I was able to spend some time chatting with a real photographer who does a lot of work in the gardens. He is always very generous with advice.

I noticed that he was intently photographing some alliums that were past their prime.

When I took a closer at them, I saw what attracted him to them.

Sometimes you need to look at something through someone else’s eyes to appreciate its beauty.

There were a surprising number of flowers in the vegetable garden.

What had been a yellow cloud of blossoms last week,

Has become fringes of seedpods this week.

I am fascinated by this common sage which has both white and purple blooms.

Even the wildflowers in the vegetable garden are striking.

I will leave you with a portrait of everything needed to plant the Display Gardens.

Trowels, a design and spray paint to outline the beds. Just add flowers.

Monday, May 28, 2007


I'm revelling in the first peony. It's the first peony of the season and of this garden. I don't know why I have never grown peonies at this house. I grew peonies at my last house. That's when I learned how tough they are and how careless non-gardeners can be. We were having our first large backyard barbecue. I bought white wire fencing to put around my gardens. White, so that it would stand out, fencing to make it clear where no one should step.

It was all to no avail. Our guests stepped and even sat wherever they wanted. The only plants that escaped destruction were my hanging baskets. Otherwise, the devestation was complete. I was heartbroken. In July, it is nearly impossible to find replacement plants. I reconciled myself to having to wait until the following spring to replant.

You can well imagine my delight when my peonies came up and bloomed the next year as if nothing had happened.

There are other firsts in my garden this morning. This is Madame Pierre Oger. I bought her on sale at Home Depot last year. She began to bloom for the first time last week.

The flowers on the Seven Sisters rose are much tinier than I had expected. I thought that this rose had died last year and requested a replacement from the catalog company I had purchased it from. By the time the replacement arrived, the original was showing signs of growth. I carefully moved it and planted the replacement in its place. The replacement died, but the original lived on and bloomed for the first time this year.

I finally have some color in the Entry Garden. I had ordered four iris last year, all Dykes Medal winners. Three made it through the winter. The fourth has disappeared completely, most likely a victim of the voracious squirrels.

This is Stairway to Heaven. I've discovered several iris with musical names. I'm considering creating a "Rock 'n Roll" iris bed.

Here's an oldie but goodie. Two years ago, I purchased The Fairy and General Jacqueminot for less than $5 each at the local drug store. The Fairy has bloomed each year sincebut not a peep out of General Jac. I thought I had lost General Jac completely last year. I didn't have to heart to dig it up and throw it out. Good thing, because it later sent out a few green shoots. The trouble was that they were from the bottom and most likely from root stock and not General Jac

Looks like I was right. I compared this flower to a photo in my rose encyclopedia. They look nothing alike. It's a pretty rose, though and I desperately need color in the front of my house.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


Beauty in nature comes in many forms. The most obvious is the flower with its myriad of forms and colors. Foliage can be just as attractive. Texture, shape, size and even the absence of foliage in the winter can all contribute to a garden's appeal.

Sometimes beauty can be as simple as morning sunlight shining through a seedpod. New life and a new day.

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Book Club

My middle name should be “Procrastination”. I have a real talent for finding seemingly valid excuses to not do what it is that I am supposed to be doing. Only the threat of a looming deadline spurs me to action. I finished reading the April/May selection, “Passalong Plants” in April. I will spare you the list of pressing chores that “prevented” me from writing my review until now, just a few short days ahead the May 30 deadline.

I was tempted to buy this book years ago when I became interested in heirlooms. The fact that it was about “southern” passalongs discouraged me from doing so. New Jersey is one growing zone north of what is considered “southern”. There are classic southern plants that can be grown here in sheltered locations but all it takes is a colder than normal winter and those delicate immigrants succumb.

Thanks to global warming, my zone 6 garden is now closer to zone 7, the northern-most “southern” growing zone. Colder than normal winter temperatures are rare now. I am more open to the idea of growing plants that are considered borderline in zone 6. I got out a pad and pen, ready to take notes as I dove into a whole new world of plants via “Passalong Plants”.

The authors, Steve Bender and Felder Rushing, have chosen to tell a story about each plant rather than just describing it. Southern gardeners and their gardens come alive through their anecdotes. The reader comes away from the book with much better “pictures” of these old-time favorites than any photograph (which are supplied in abundance throughout the text).

The essays can be read in any order. They are helpfully arranged according to the characteristics of the plants so that, for instance, if you are looking for fragrant plants, there is a section on those alone. There are also groupings of essays on plants that are aggressive spreaders, the most common “passalongs”, plants with strange characteristics (such as “naked ladies” and walking iris), plants with garish colored flowers and bare root shrub passalongs that are commonly sold in nurseries.

By far my favorite section was on yard art. I don’t “get” bottle trees but plastic animals, painted rocks and especially tire planters took me back in time to my childhood in largely rural upstate New York. The book ends with a chapter devoted to organizing plant swaps for your own passalongs.

I finished the book and realized that my pad was empty. I had been too caught up in the stories to stop and take notes. It’s on my bookshelf now, waiting for winter when I am making decisions about what to plant next year. I will page through it again in my constant quest to plant something new.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Woe is me

The Entry Garden continues to disappoint. Planted for continuous spring bloom, it has succumbed to voracious squirrels and vagaries in the weather. The sad tale goes like this:

The end of February was to have been celebrated with snowdrops. They were no-shows. Crocuses were supposed to have supplied the first real flush of color early in March. They were also no-shows. Things were looking up when daffodils came on the scene. Almost all of them sprouted and the ones that came up bloomed gloriously if not always pinkly. Then it was downhill again with the emergence of the tulips. Only about half of them bothered to show up and half of those were decapitated by squirrels who seemed more intent on robbing me of flowers than filling their bellies.

Currently, the Entry Garden looks as though someone has hit the Pause button. The tulips have finished, but the iris has been slow to replace them. Three out of the four rhizomes I planted last fall appear to have survived but only one of them is budded. All of my lavender seems to have wintered-over successfully, but only the Munstead is budded. The yarrow is indestructible. It didn’t just survive, it flourished. Foliage exploded out of the ground in the spring. Buds have been slower in coming. The Fairy rose won its battle with the squirrels. Now it is concentrating its energy on producing foliage. Perhaps flowers will come later.

Looking ahead, the five surviving oriental hybrid lilies are growing vigorously. They were originally eight. Two bulbs were dug up and eaten by squirrels and one lily plant was bitten in half by the same furry fiends. Cosmos volunteers continue to appear. Poppy seeds sown in March were mostly washed away in the flooding rains of an April Nor’Easter. A few seedlings survive along the edges of the bed. Bachelor’s Buttons seeds sown in April in a new section of the bed germinated more profusely. Not so the rest of the annuals sown in the first week in May. There has been no sign of the larkspur or the marigolds. A few zinnias are hesitantly poking their heads above the ground, still undecided if they will grow or not. I have “cut” a corner in the center of the bed giving it a more rounded appearance. Aster seeds will be sown there this weekend for fall color.

Just a few scant feet away, the Ballerina rose, literally planted in a hole cut in the lawn, is flourishing. Perhaps I should give up my original idea of an abundantly planted cottage garden and substitute a hedge of roses. More Ballerinas or a mix of small shrub roses? I have months of disappointment in which to decide.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Back to Ye Olde Greenhouse

Abandoned buildings intrigue me.

Why were they abandoned? What happened to the people that used to live or work there?

How long have they been gone?

I first visited this old greenhouse at Rutgers Gardens in February and found it hauntingly beautiful. I wanted to come back and see if it looked any different surrounded by lush green rather than ice and snow.

The change is remarkable. It has lost its air of forlornness. It seems almost alive now.

Is nature trying to get in or out?

Or is it trying to prevent us from reclaiming what was once ours?

If we braved the poison ivy and got in, could we get out again?

Or would we be trapped forever?

Maybe I will find the answers in the autumn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More Friends, Old and New

I buy most of my plants, bulbs and seeds from catalogs. The variety offered is much better than what I can get locally. There is one big drawback, though. Pictures can be very deceptive. Or non-existent. Sometimes all that is offered is an enticing description. In my quest to constantly try new plants, I occasionally have big disappointments. Last year it was the yellow muscsari. This year it is another muscari variety described as “An old variety introduced in 1596 easily recognized by its loose spikes of brownishpurple fertile bells crowned with an explosion of bright violet tassel-like sterile flowers “. This is what I got:

I think I’ll stick to “regular” grape hyacinths; maybe try some white ones or blue ones.

Here’s the perfect example of why good records are a must:

What I ordered, in 2005 before I starting keeping records, was Iris chrysographes, a black iris. Right shape, wrong color. This is the second year in a row that I’ve asked myself “What is that?”. I don’t know where I ordered it, so I can’t get a replacement or credit. Thankfully, it is an attractive iris that goes well with the Japanese iris in the Purple Garden.

Here’s the other Japanese iris in that bed, making its debut today:

And look what I found hiding in the foliage:

More Dame’s Rocket. I can’t remember if I planted seed or if this is a volunteer. Coincidentally, earlier this spring I sowed seed for purple Dame’s Rocket about 12 inches away from this plant.

Completing the circuit around the (round) Purple Garden, here’s my Common Sage, one of three types of salvias I am growing this year.

Note to self: do some research on salvias. They are very attractive and easy to grow from seed.

The first of my five Blaze roses is blooming.

Looks like it is made of velvet, doesn’t it?

Spring is in full swing in my yard. I have new iris and Canterbury Bells to look forward to as well as (double) peonies with buds so huge, they look like they are going to burst any second. And two kinds of foxglove, perennial and straw (Digitalis lutea).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My New Love

I planted my plot at Rutgers Gardens on a cool, cloudy Saturday with intermittent showers. The perfect day for setting out seedlings. A thunderstorm the following afternoon thoroughly drenched the Gardens, perfect for helping seedlings get settled into their new home. The weather forecast for the week leading up to the Memorial Day holiday is not as favorable. No rain and rising temperatures. I went to the Gardens this morning to water. I gave my plants a long drink of water, dragged the hose over to the other volunteer’s plot that was planted the same day and gave it a long drink of water too.

Then I took a walk. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Rhododendron and Azalea Garden in bloom.

I like them much better in a woodland setting than in the typical suburban landscape. The colors seem more interesting than jarring.

I can appreciate their unique forms so much better in a naturalistic setting.

The path I was on led into the Native Plants area.

From there it was a few short steps to the Sun and Shade Garden.

I’m going to frame this one.

My last stop was the new Tribute Gardens, still being built. They will be a series of “outdoor rooms”. Right now they are working on the “Recreation Room” which will have a pair of oversized Adirondack chairs. And that’s where I saw them.

It took me a few minutes to recognize what I was looking at because I had only ever seen them in catalogs. Single peonies.

They are among those very rare flowers that look better in person than in pictures

I’m in love*.

I’ve added them to my wishlist for next year. Yes, I have a list for next year already! I’m trying to be more organized about gardening. Instead of wracking my brains during the winter trying to remember all those great plants I wanted to try and/or where I wanted to plant them, I’m making a list as I go along. It has the plants, where I can order/buy them and where I would like to plant them. In some cases, like these peonies, I have no idea where I would like to plant them, just that I HAVE to have them.

*The pictures are of three different plants hence the different colors.