A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Saturday, June 30, 2007

My Other Garden

I'm so thrilled with how well my garden at Rutgers Gardens is doing this year thanks to wintersowing and the new irrigation system. This is what it looked like last year:

June 25, 2006

And this is what it looks like this year:

June 30, 2007

Here are some close-ups. . .


Bachelor's Buttons


Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Weirdness Chronicles 2007 - Chapter 7

My first introduction to Rutgers Gardens was a course on dividing perennials in the spring of 2005. For some reason in that post, I failed to mention the monarda I brought home. It has been a foster child ever since, constantly moving from bed to bed, never staying more than one season anywhere. I just couldn’t decide where I wanted it. But it kept finding its way back to the Purple Garden where I finally allowed it to stay last year. It rewarded me by blooming this year. And now I know why it wanted to be here.

There’s just one problem. This is the original clump that it came from:

As far as I know, there is only scarlet bee balm at Rutgers Gardens.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I had high hopes for the surviving Oriental hybrid lilies in the Entry Garden. They are all budded. The squirrels seemed to have lost interest in them. And then I woke up to this today:

Even the hostas are not immune:

Come on, guys. You have your own specially tailored buffet under the birdfeeder in the backyard. I even added unshelled peanuts this year. I’m spending more at Petsmart than at Pathmark.


Give me a break.

Mystery Plant

I thought that this was St. John’s Wort. Then it put out purple flowers.

So I’m guessing . . . hyssop, maybe?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Carol’s Five Questions

I’m late as usual. Carol of May Dreams Gardens has posed five questions about gardening. I’ve blogged about most of them previously, but here they all are together:

What are you most proud of about your garden? The perennials I’ve grown from seed. I have terrible luck buying plants. I almost always manage to kill them. Seed is much cheaper so if only a few germinate and survive, I don’t feel like I have spent a fortune to obtain very little. Echinacea, Shasta Daisies, Rudbeckia, Dianthus, various Columbine, Alpine Strawberries, Thyme, Common Sage, Anise Hyssop, and Monarda fistulosa are the ones that come to mind.

When you go to sleep at night, what are you worried about in your garden? Squirrels! I hold my breath every morning when I make the daily rounds of my yard. Some days I just want to cry at what they have destroyed. But I can’t get too angry with them. They were here first. We have invaded their territory.

When others come and see your garden, what do you think they remember most about it? Like most gardeners, I would complain that not much is blooming at the time of the visit. Visitors, on the other hand, have told me that what impresses them most is the extent of my gardens and the variety of flowers, most of which they have never heard of.

What is your favorite gardening tool, the one you would recommend every gardener get? My seagrass basket that I bought at the Flower and Garden Show last year. It’s tough and weather-proof and holds everything: my tools, camera, sunscreen, plants, seeds, bulbs, plant markers, pencils. I’m always amazed at how much I can comfortably fit into it. It makes it so much easier to commute between my garden at home and my garden at Rutgers Gardens. I always have what I need.

If you woke up this morning with all the time and money in the world to spend in your garden, what would you do first? I would tear down the old shed that is steadily deteriorating in my backyard and replace it with a new, attractive one.* But not in the same spot. My shed currently occupies a corner on the side of my yard that gets close to full sun. I would place the new shed in the opposite corner of the yard. It would mean moving my shade garden from that corner to the side of the house and finding a new home for the birdbath, but it would be well worth it to expand my sunny border.

*For those of you who don’t live in NJ, getting rid of construction debris is horribly expensive because of the lack of landfill space to put it. In the few cases where I have replaced something like a porch or sidewalk, it has cost more to get rid of the old materials than the cost of new materials and labor combined.

Monday, June 25, 2007

What's New?

I love trying new flowers every year. I planted tiger lilies last fall that were supposed to bloom in different colors. Very few of the bulbs came up, victims of the voracious squirrels perhaps. The ones that did come up have all budded and the first to bloom is orange:

The tangle of foliage in the background are Canterbury bells and yarrow. I’m pretending that it’s a cottage garden look rather than just a mess.

Also new this year is some lantana I bought at the Spring Sale at Rutgers Gardens specifically for my new Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden. It hasn’t grown much, but it is finally blooming.

The first flowers on the Empress of India nasturtium, an heirloom, have opened in the same garden.

I love the blossoms of the anise hyssop in the Purple Garden.

It follows the lambs ear perfectly. I grew this from seed but I only have a few. It’s on my list for wintersowing next year.

Here’s an interesting mystery.

I allowed the Sweet rocket to go to seed but instead it decided to bloom again. Has this happened to anyone else?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


Several years ago, before I started keeping records, I ordered two daylilies, one that was supposed to be white with a green center for the (now defunct) Green Garden and one that was supposed to be purple for the Purple Garden. The white one didn’t survive its first winter and when I saw no sign of the purple one amongst the asters where it was supposed to provide color until the asters bloomed, I assumed that it also did not survive.

This spring, I noticed distinctive daylily foliage growing among the asters. Then a flower stalk with actual buds appeared. It kept me in suspense for days. Today, it finally bloomed.

The photo is deceptive. In person, it is a muddier, orangier color. Quite ugly, in my opinion. I definitely like the picture better!

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

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mercer Educational Gardens

One of the benefits of being a volunteer at Rutgers Gardens are the field trips offered to local gardens and nurseries. Today we went to the Mercer Educational Gardens. They consist of a compost demonstration site and gardens maintained by the Master Gardeners of Mercer County.

In addition to the maps and literature offered at the entrance, there is a kiosk built by students at a nearby vocational school.

There are eight gardens in and around the compost demonstration site.

I’m always a little leery about “self-guided” tours. Too often, I end up with more questions than when I started. The signage in this case was exceptional. Each garden has a marker . . .

As well as a weather-proof stand with a complete description and pictures of the plants and garden that you are looking at.

My apologies. The Perennial Garden didn’t have the completed stand. That is the Annual Garden pictured above. The Perennial Garden features plants that do well in shade or part-shade.

The garden that drew the most interest was the Weed Identification Garden which contains, well, weeds!

Interestingly, the gardener who maintains this bed has trouble transplanting weeds into it. They don’t like being disturbed.

The Herb Garden consists of two large beds . . .

With a sundial in the middle.

The idea is that you stand on the middle board which is marked with the months and your shadow points to the correct time. The hours are on the surrounding stones. The sundial can be calibrated for Daylight Savings time so it is always correct.

The shed is surrounded on three sides by a pretty Cottage Garden.

This is the back.

I have to remember (and imitate!) this combination:

The Butterfly Garden was just starting to bloom.

They definitely have better butterflies than I do!
After our tour of the gardens, we headed over to the stables at the Mercer County Equestrian Center which is located on the same property. Everyone’s favorite was a cute pony by the name of Mudpie.

In another barn were the horses used by the police. They were huge, measuring 16 hands. They were also less friendly than Mudpie and his stablemates. Do you think he’s mooning us?

On my way back home, I stopped at Rutgers Gardens to check on my plot.

I can't believe how lush it's getting. It's beginning to look like a real cottage garden.

More pictures of the Mercer Educational Gardens can be seen on Flickr

More Garden Surprises

The yarrow in the Entry Garden has surprised me again. Not only has it grown tremendously in size, but it also appears to be of more than one color. Last year, it did bloom a little and I recall that the flowers were pink. When it began to bloom this year, the flowers were the expected pink:

As the buds opened on another clump, I noticed that they were more of a salmon color:

I kinda like this color! The last clump has bloomed and those flowers are white:

Three clumps, each a different hue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Garden Surprises

There is one clump of Japanese iris in my yard that has consistently been the last iris to bloom each year. Only after all of the other iris, bearded, Japanese and Siberian, have finished does it bloom. For a long time I blamed it on the shade. It was growing quite close to an enormous holly bush. My neighbors removed that bush years ago, allowing more sunlight into that bed. Everything took off, especially the Blaze rose that had been struggling since before I moved into this house. The poor thing had been climbing the holly bush in its desperate search for light. Still, the laggard iris bloomed last.

This year I didn’t think it was going to bloom at all. All of the iris in my yard finished blooming and it didn’t even have a single bud.

This morning on my way to feed the stray cat that has taken up residence in my yard (s/he is not nearly as attractive as Macavity), I saw this. And more buds. I’m beginning to think that the iris is just doing it for attention. It’s not as large or showy as some of my other iris. It doesn’t have as many flowers as some of my other iris. So maybe it feels it can’t compete with them. That it can only truly be appreciated separately from the other iris.

Or maybe it’s just lazy.

The Hyacinth Bean Tepee may be a bust this year, but the poppies are wonderful

I love all the different colors and sizes of the blossoms. I will be more careful and not plant them as thickly again in the future. And I will do some thinning out if this happens again. For now, I love this burst of color.

Monday, June 18, 2007

It’s Officially Summer

The beginning of summer is marked in different ways. For some people, it is Memorial Day. For others, the first tomato. The Summer Solstice. The last day of school. For me, it is when the daylilies begin blooming.

When I moved into this house, I was delighted to find a clump of daylilies in the backyard. In the succeeding years, I’ve heard them called many things. Daylilies. Ditch lilies. Tawny lilies. I’ve always called them daylilies. They are the lilies of my childhood. Even then, they were considered “common”. Only old people and people with no taste grew them. “Modern” gardens tended by “modern” gardeners were never sullied with their presence. Still, I have fond memories of them.

As an heirloom gardener, I’ve come to appreciate them even more. Their toughness which enables them to survive and grow almost anywhere has kept them around long after more delicate plants have died out. They provide a direct link with our colonial past, having been brought to the New World by European settlers. Eventually they escaped from cultivation and became naturalized in the landscape. It is difficult for me to regard as a “weed” a plant that was once considered valuable enough to have been imported across the ocean.

Over the years that I’ve lived in this house, I’ve nurtured my clump of daylilies. I’ve weeded them and fed them with compost. Every year I widen the bed a little encouraging them to spread. I mark the seasons by their growth. Spring is underway when the first foliage begins to peek above the soil. Summer has arrived with the first blossoms. The foliage starts to die back in the autumn. Winter leaves the bed bare of everything but a few dried leaves. Winter is many months away. Right now, the daylilies are blooming. Summer has begun.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summer on the Pond

I went out to Rutgers Gardens today intending to work on both my plot and the Herb Bed for which I am responsible as part of a team but it was much too hot to do more than give my plot a quick weeding.

Instead I took a stroll through the hedges and ornamental trees, snapping pictures of leaves, bark and flowers that caught my eye. When I arrived back at my car, I realized that I was close to the Pond Garden which I hadn’t visited in a while.

I first saw it at the end of 2005 in all of its autumnal glory.

I didn’t go back to it again until this past February when it wore a more bleak aspect.

I was eager to see its lush summer attire.

The difference of just a few months is amazing. What was once a frozen shoreline . . .

Now looks almost tropical.

A frozen passageway . . .

Has become an inviting respite from the heat.

The once icy stream . . .

Is now a cheerful, babbling brook.

When I got home and uploaded all of my photos from my stroll (you can see them on Flickr), I discovered that this was one of those days when the best picture of the day was a complete surprise, just a quick shot of some fungi that caught my eye in the Bamboo Forest.