Friday, March 22, 2013

Sowing Seeds: A toddler & me

Dirt, tiny seeds, 2-1/2 year old boy, egg carton, me --- which one of these doesn't belong?  The answer is ..... me.

I've only once sowed seeds indoors (with perennial seeds) and it was an ultimate failure. When I throw a packet of seeds in the dirt, however, they grow vigorously. Are seeds happier when they are farthest away from my tender loving care?

So since I am such a genius at seed sowing indoors, I bought herb seeds to sow with my 2-1/2 year old (yes, time has flown!). He dug the dirt right away. He filled all the egg cartons and then moved on to filling pots (over and over again - anything to distract him while I get serious with the seeds).

I added the seeds and watered and ... The water just sat at the top of the soil (seed starting mix, really). Even poking it with a fork wouldn't help. Then I read the directions on the back of the bag: "Mix the soil with water first, then add seeds to the wet mixture." Oh.

So you see -- my toddler does just fine with seeds. It's his mom that needs some help!

Monday, March 18, 2013

My pagoda dogwood has canker

I bought my Cornus alternifolia Golden Shadows™ 'W. Stackman' in 2008 from the Arboretum sale. This was my first tree purchase and I was (am) in love with it. In the last 4 years, it has grown into a beautiful multi-stemmed tree with its characteristic gorgeous variegated leaves and extreme horizontal branching. In 2011, it bloomed flowers for the first time.

Year 1: 2008

It has been plagued, however, by a variety of nuisances ... The first year or two the lower branches were some rabbits dinner, followed by green bugs that likes to munch on its leaves. Despite the shade in the corner of my yard where it is planted, it sometimes appears to get too much afternoon sun and the early warmth and drought of 2012 did not help it at all. (In fact the warm weather had it leaf out early only to suffer from a frost - notice the last picture the leaves look terrible).

Year 2: 2009
To top it all off ... When our landscape designer came to visit our yard in June 2012 he noticed that it had canker - several of the branches had a yellowish tinge to them -- and told me to prune it out, disinfecting the pruners between cuts. Later in the Fall I had to prune out more canker infected branches. Problem solved?
Year 3: 2010
Nope, just today as I went to hang a birdseed pine cone on a branch, I noticed another branch with a yellow tinge. They say to cut 4-6 inches beyond the infected looking part of the branch but this is impossible: it is the entire length. If it infects the trunks, it looks like my tree will succumb to the canker.
Year 4: 2011
I love my little dogwood and don't want it to die. I'm not sure what I can do beside alleviate its stress ... Do trees take Xanax?

Backyard garden: Fence East side plan

A shrub plan along the back fence was a must-have on my backyard garden plan.

This is the East-Side of the Fence garden bed in 2012 (from the utility pole to the birdbath). As you can see, from the utility pole to the hosta is my DEAD ZONE where some random ground cover grew without my permission.
Pictured is my little golfer - 20 months old.

Link to photos of Fence Garden 2005-2008

When I planted my perennial garden along the fence in 2007, I started more towards the middle of the fence where there was more light (the circled hosta in the photo was the starting point). That area became a pretty perennial bed of shade loving plants: hostas, ferns, heuchera, brunnera, astilbe, fringed bleeding heart, pulmonaria, and a few dwarf oak leaf hydrangeas. 
The fence garden at its most LUSH (2010)

The Garden plan:
The plan is, with the Maple tree gone, to have foundation shrubs extend the length of the fence as a cohesion with the rest of the yard and a backdrop to my perennials. In addition, an ornamental tree would replace the loss of the Maple.

 Picture of the backyard fence shrub plan: Click to enlarge

Starting from the east-end, the plan calls for three (3) Judd Viburnum. I love Judds but I felt that this area was too shady for them (unsure why they were my designer's choice). Instead I transplanted a Lindera benzoin (spicebush) since it's native (and the perennials by this shrub will be woodland natives) and gets 6-12' tall & wide so it will screen the utility pole. It also does better in shade.

Next the plan called for six (6) Twist-n-Shout hydrangeas.  These are so pretty I had to keep them in the plan, except I opted to only plant 3 of them. They are pricey and I had an established Hosta in one of their spots that I wanted to keep. I also had two (2) Fothergilla 'blue shadow' that I picked up from the arboretum sale the previous year which needed a better home.

In front of the Fothergilla, designated as perennial space, are some Japanese painted ferns. I will add 1-2 other shade perennials here to join the ferns.

After we planted the shrubs 2012
 New stepping stones to compost

That's the east end of the fence. We'll see how these shrubs hold up in the Dead Zone.  NEXT UP, the west-end.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Backyard garden: patio garden plan

It's the time of the year where I am dissecting the backyard plan, deciding what I want these beds to look like - do I keep the shrub plan? What kind of perennial beds do I envision? Where will I buy everything from?
Right now I'm focusing on the garden beds around the two sides of the patio.

click to enlarge
The patio was installed in the space formerly known as my "mulch garden" -- an area under a Sugar Maple (neighbors) and Amur Maple (ours) which received very little sun. The Amur Maple was taken down to build the patio; it had a really lovely form and I didn't want to remove it, but it was dying in several areas. As we removed it, we found that it was still intact in its burlap root ball. 

The garden bed between the house and patio is where our former covered porch/deck was. Built by a previous owner, the wood was not treated nor built to last. That came down to make way for a step off the door and garden beds to hide the covered window well.

The garden plan: 
The white-flowered Tor spirea are the only plant from the plan that I'm keeping around the patio. They inspired me to plant other white flowering shrubs as listed below.

Between the patio and the house will go three (3) Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum'. Their small size fits into that tight area and their sweet smell in the spring will be nice coming in through my open patio door.  (The original plan called for boxwoods, but I wanted something more interesting).
 Site of viburnums & Birch tree

Off the corner of the house, we will plant a tree. The suggestions from our landscape designer are Japanese lilac tree or a serviceberry. Both are really nice trees, but since I opted for spring flowering shrubs I decided I wanted a tree for winter interest. After researching several options, I've settled on a compact river birch - Betula nigra 'fox valley'.

Under the tree, I have an area for perennials of my choice (my backyard plan has a lot of designated perennial areas for me to play with). I have decided to make this a butterfly garden (since the Viburnums also attract butterflies). I have ordered some: monarda (beebalm) , allium (wild onion), nepeta (catmint)... 

At the corner of the patio, are three (3) Spirea betulifolia 'Tor' (planted in 2012 per the garden plan).

foreground: spirea ---  along fence: sweetspire

And finally, along the picket fence, I have three (3) Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet'. -- also planted in 2012. (The plan was for 5 Ribes alpinum but I didn't care for them).

To do:
Finishing this area is the first thing on my spring to-do list. By early May, I should have received the tree, viburnums, and butterfly garden perennials to plant. Besides the plantings, the picket fence needs to be extended to reach the house and a gate put in.

This is all so much easier with a plan!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Backyard Garden 2012: New Plan

Last summer, I hired a landscape designer to redesign my backyard gardens.

I did not inherit a well-thought out backyard, and even though I was slowly improving each garden bed and developing a vegetable garden, the entire vision eluded me.  I was expecting my 2nd baby in the middle of the summer and my oldest was turning 2, I decided that this was a job in which outside help was necessary.
Facing east
Facing west
  • First and foremost, we wanted a patio space and foundation shrub plan in a small yard that was mainly a perennial garden with a small enclosed deck. We also wanted a beautiful vegetable garden plan in the potager style. 
  • Next up, we hired a landscaper to install the patio with clay brick pavers and edge out the garden beds along with perimeter of the yard.
  • And finally in the Fall, we started adding in some of the shrubs per plan -- those that I decided to keep in the plan, of course. (Being a plant lover, my designer and I both knew that I would loosely use the garden plan.)
Our goal for 2013 is to finish the backyard plan which entails:
  1. Completing the side yard fence
  2. Planting the rest of the shrubs
  3. Planting 2 trees
  4. Tearing down the attached shed
  5. Removing existing/Installing new vegetable garden
  6. Planning the perennial garden spaces (woodland garden, butterfly garden, etc)
No small feat, but our yard is very small so we are hoping that we can plan this right and enjoy our yard to fullest.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Starting over again

I am thrilled at the idea that I may have time to start journaling about gardening once again after a hiatus in which I had two kids, quit my job, and reshaped my priorities.

The kids are now 2-1/2 years old and 8-1/2 months -- they keep me busy, but I find that I've been able to find time for projects nearest and dearest to me. Gardening is still one of them.

Keeping this journal and jotting down my thoughts and notes for my garden as it evolves, as well as planning a new adventure into gardening (school? Career change?) is very meaningful to me and I still hope there may be one person out there who enjoys reading it.

Now lets get back into the dirt!