May 6: new plantings – annuals and herbs

The forecast called for thunderstorms today, but lucky for me, since I took a day off, the rain didn’t come until late in the day. I took the chance to put some annuals in the ground (and some herbs in the raised bed) so they can get watered in naturally.

The back garden and raised bed

June 3: front bed do-over. Thanks deer. Also, ornamental grasses ­čśŹ.

Deer munched all my New England asters and the blue wheat I was growing in the bed in front of our house. It’s the most important bed, being the one that leads up to our front door.

This weekend I bought a bunch of stuff to re-do it. I moved the asters into the middle of the bed, behind a barrier of lavender and nepeta (catmint), which I hear deer don’t like the smell of. I’m sure they’ll just step all over everything and eat the asters anyway, so I took some photos in case this is the one day it looks okay. Although, if it survives our neighborhood herd of deer, it will look much better when everything fills in.

sunflowers and cone flowers_0017
New plants in front, including Switchgrass, sunflower,white coneflower, Russian sage, lavender, catmint

I’ve also gone crazy for ornamental grasses this year. Look how pretty!

mexican grass
Mexican feather grass in late afternoon sun

blue grama grass
Flowers of blue grama grass

On Saturday, while our daughter was at swim practice, I went to Lowe’s to find the Eragrostis elliotti┬á‘Wind Dancer Lovegrass’ that I had seen last weekend, before my June garden budget was funded. At the time it was still May, and I saw these gorgeous, graceful grasses shoved on the bottom shelf of a rolling rack. They looked like they were waiting to be put out on the ornamental grasses display. I had never seen them or heard of them before, and a quick search told me not only are they not invasive, they’re native. I took pictures of the tags so I could come back for them on June 1.

When I went to Lowe’s on Saturday, the rack was gone, and the grasses were not on display. My heart fell because these grasses were exactly what I wanted. They’d go in a windy spot, and they’d dance in the breeze that is constantly blowing. I walked every aisle three times before I gave up.

Since I had nothing to purchase, I checked the discount rack — all the plants they forgot to water or that look too imperfect to get full price for. And on the $5 rack, there were my grasses! At full price I would have only been able to buy two.

I bought four.

lollipop vervain and grass
Wind Dancer grass behind lollipop vervain

I sit on the back deck now and watch them wave in the wind. Hopefully I can save them from the near death they were experiencing at Lowes in their too-small pots.

I’m really happy with how the back hill is coming along.

May 23: planted a few things

After two years of unsuccessfully growing cleome from seed, I found some cleome annuals at the nursery! I also planted:

  • 1 superbena Royale Chambray verbena (back hill)
  • 1 white guara ‘Whirling butterflies’ (back hill)
  • 2 lemonade lantana (back hill)
  • 2 dwarf agastache (back hill)
  • 2 Jr. Walker cat mints (rose bed)
  • 4 jalepe├▒os
  • 1 Giant Thai pepper
  • 1 Haba├▒ero pepper
  • 1 Mariachi pepper

May 6: all the seeds are sown

I’ve been simultaneously eager about and dreading the final round of seed-sowing. Seeds are a lot of work, and while I want the seeds to be in the ground and the plants to be grown and flowering, I didn’t want to have to put the seeds — all the many scores of them — in the earth myself.

But I did. What cost us $50 in seeds will give us an enormous number of plants that probably would cost $300-$400 to buy them fully formed at a nursery. ┬áThe past two days I did a ton of tiny things in the garden that are currently invisible — I sowed seeds directly in the flower beds:

I also did the equally unexciting job of transplanting seedlings that I started indoors several weeks ago:

And, because all of those things require tons of waiting, and I want instant gratification, I took a trip to the nursery. Actually, I think I went to the nursery every day — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I got caught in a spring shower there yesterday, which was fun. The plants look so pretty in the rain.

spring storm at crow's nest
Spring shower at Crow’s Nest nursery in Blacksburg, VA

In addition to the seeds I sowed, and the seedlings I transplanted, I also bought some already flowering plants (and an ornamental grass I’ve been waiting for) and put them in the ground:

  • Lollipop vervain
  • Straw flowers
  • Purple Haze Nepeta
  • Nepeta Junior Walker
  • Muhly grass
  • Dwarf hummingbird mint (agastache)

As far as everything else going on in the garden, the indigo Salvia is in bloom — the first of the perennials to flower — and our buttery snapdragons look adorable against the blue. The yarrow has fat flower buds now, and the new veronica I bought a few weeks ago is starting flower spikes as well.

All the perennials I moved from the front to the back hill beds seem to be surviving, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they continue to survive and thrive out there. I spend a lot of time now sitting on the table on our back deck so I can watch the garden grow, and watch the birds at the bird feeder. We saw an indigo bunting yesterday! It was a gorgeous deep teal, almost a peacock-blue color, but a little less green.

The hardest work is done now: killing the grass, mulching more than 2000 square feet of flower beds, digging in rocky soil, transplanting dozens of plants, nursing seeds for weeks indoors before moving them outside, prepping the earth to sow seeds, actually sowing seeds in.

I’ve only got a few more things left to do (besides the constant weeding) — a few more transplants, starting some basil seeds. I think my gardening from here on out will primarily consist of maintenance, watching things grow, and enjoying it :-).

Here are some photos from early May. I always like to compare later in the season — it looks so bare now compared to how it’s likely going to look in July.



Apr 2: day three of gardening vacation

Two full days of gardening down, and I’ve barely made a dent in the work. It would probably help if I didn’t keep buying plants.

I bought more plants anyway.

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I bought more plants ­čśČ

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Today I bought:

  • Three Dianthus (Sweet William) for next to my garden chair
  • Two more phlox
  • A Germander (I’ve never had one of these)
  • A Gaura (beeblossom) for the hummingbirds (for next to my garden chair)
  • A lamb’s ear for our daughter for out back

I moved the final plants around in the front beds to make space for everything that’s going to go there. I can’t remember which day I did what,:

  • the asters, blue mums, Rudbeckia, blue Salvia, and yarrow are all in their rightful place in the bed in front of the stairs.
  • the Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, bee balm, and goldenrod have all been cleared out of the butterfly bush bed
  • the butterfly bush, white milkweed, sedums, blue Salvia, Germander, phlox, Gaura, lemon balm, and new Dianthus are all planted in their rightful places in the long lobe of the front bed.
  • a Sedum, Rudbeckia, and Gaillardia are by the mailbox. I also moved the tulips around down there.

Today our daughter sowed some blue wheat, and we covered it with twigs to keep the birds from eating the seeds. It looks like a giant nest in the middle of the bed. have no idea if these will work or how they’ll look, but that’s the fun of gardening. If I don’t like the wheat, I can just put an ornamental grass in that spot next year.

day 3 mulched front bed
Blue wheat seeds are under that nest of twigs

Once I got all the plants in place, I started edging the front bed like I did with the herb bed — slice an edge using the half-moon spade, dig a trench using the shovel or a trowel — and then I started mulching.

The front bed is big, so I’m mulching it one section at a time. I hope to finish that on day four, and maybe the mailbox too.

At that point I’ll maybe be able to relax and rest. I’ve got a couple more things I want to do out back, and I’m hopeful I can get to those before this weekend: before the mulch.

The back hill is going to be a beast to spread mulch on, but for that I’ve enlisted the help of Virginia Tech’s Big Event, a student-run day of service where students help residents with projects like painting a house or mulching a garden. I’ve got my fingers crossed it doesn’t get rained (or snowed) out. I’m not sure if I can handle covering that big hill by myself.

Mar 31: the gardening has begun!


Today is the first day of my annual gardening vacation! It was chilly this morning, so I bided my time writing and waiting for the nursery to open. I showed up promptly at 9am. I was the first customer there.

Today was a day to buy supplies — dirt, flower box liners, fertilizer — which meant a trip to the nursery. Which, of course, meant I’d come home with a car full of plants.

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I bought plants. #gardening #vacation

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I was excited to see a bunch of perennials from my list already available at my local nursery, the Crow’s Nest, and especially a Miss Ruby butterfly bush: the magenta butterfly magnet that’s to be the centerpiece of the flower bed by my garden chair. My purchases on Day One included:

  • pansies for the flower boxes
  • Miss Ruby butterfly bush
  • white veronica
  • pink veronica
  • Russian sage

flower box pansies kale (1)
First order of business: flower boxes

After adding new coconut liners to the flower boxes, replacing the soil, and filling them with fresh pansies and purple kale, I spent all day today moving plants around. In order to plant the front beds according to my plans, I needed to clear all of the current plants out. I moved the lilac from the front bed to the herb bed. I moved sedums, salvias, milkweed, and Echinacea from the front bed to the back.

Digging holes on the hill is back-breaking work. Under the dead grass is gravel and rock, and shoveling through gravel and on a steep slope is ugly. It’s a good thing most of these plants are drought tolerant. Still, I worry about their survival. It was a lot of work to move them. I hope they do okay.

back hill before mulch
Back hill in progress

Today was about a 6-7 hour day, and I haven’t even touched the mulch. Tomorrow I’ll finish moving plants around and start working on the herb bed.


March 18: lots of transplants, ripped out mint and bee balm

I was supposed to sow seeds today. In order to do that, I needed to move a bunch of plants to open up the spots where the seeds would go. After nearly 6 hours of ripping out mint, digging holes, unearthing plants, hauling them up hills, reburying them, and watering them in, I am pooped. And I didn’t start any seeds.

Here’s what I did do. Everything is still dormant, so I’m hopeful they’ll get established in their new spots and continue growing unstunted:

  • Sprayed weeds and grass that didn’t get killed the first go round.
  • Ripped out the mint under the stairs — two wheelbarrows full! I’m shocked by how much it spread. It was like an infestation.
  • Moved pink hydrangea spot vacated by mint.
  • Scooted white hydrangea closer to driveway.
  • Divided yarrow: moved one division next to white hydrangea, moved one to bed 9 out back, moved a small offshoot next to bee balm on side of house.
  • Moved 2 milkweeds (and a 3rd tiny one?) to bed 3 out back.
  • Moved 3 echinacea to bed 3 out back.
  • Moved 3 clumps of bee balm to bed 9.
  • Ripped out the remaining bee balm from front bed.
  • Moved 4 baby echinacea to fenced veggie patch so they can be protected from bunnies while they get a little bigger.
  • Moved 3 rudbeckia from herb bed out front to bed at top of hill out back.
  • Planted 5 liatris corms in butterfuly bush bed.
  • Moved Shasta daisy to it’s correct place in the butterfly bush bed.

I’ve got a to-do list at least as long as the one above to get to before I can actually plant the seeds. I’m bummed I couldn’t get more done today since we’re about to have 2 days of rain (and possibly sleet and snow). I guess we’ll have more rain in April, so everything can get watered in then. And this week I’ll try to chip away at my list :-).

March 4: More seeds, transplants, and some corms

I’m attempting to manage more than 2000 square feet of flower beds, starting half of that area from scratch and completely reorganizing the other half. My to-do lists are long, and I can’t remember everything I need to do. Or, as is more often the case, I get out there and start on the first true need, then get distracted by a thousand other things I also need to do, but aren’t as high priority.

So when I have a long list of things to do in the garden, and I don’t want to destroy my gardening notebook by dropping it in the dirt or spraying it with the hose, I take photos: of my list, of the bed designs, of the seed packets. Then when I’m out there, I know what I need to do, where plants need to move, and what depth to plant seeds.

I didn’t get to moving the Rudbeckia, pulling out the mint, or transplanting the hydrangea, and I decided to wait until it’s a little warmer to put the globe thistle in the ground, but we did get to these things:

– Pulled the purple vervain seeds out of the fridge (started Feb 11; should be able to expect seedlings sometime between March 18-25)
– Started indoors: Mexican sunflower seeds, Scabiosa seeds, and two varieties of tomato seeds.
– Transplanted 4 clumps of bee balm: 1 to underneath window on side of house, 1 to bed 3 and 2 to bed 4.
– Transplanted 2 Shasta daisies to bed 5.
– Son mowed grass.
– Daughter planted Liatris (blazing star) corms in bed 5.
– Daughter planted Crocosmia corms in bed 4.
– Trimmed lavender and transplanted to bed 5.
– Daughter planted tendersweet pea seeds.
– Finished erecting rabbit fence around veggie garden.

The high was 53 today, and the low tonight is expected to be 26. Now I just have to have patience to wait for the green. I hope everything survives!

June 10: plant yellow milkweed out back

I weeded this morning, and while doing that, I moved some pink salvia volunteers from the front bed to the herb bed and to the meadow garden out back. I also moved some of the wildflower seedlings around by the mailbox to declump them and distribute them a little more evenly.

Both rounds of wildflower seeds are coming up out back. The only thing I was still missing back there was milkweed. I drove over to the Crow’s Nest nursery to see if they had any since they didn’t on any of my million trips prior to today.

They had $10.99 gallon pots (I think they’re a gallon) in yellow, orange, pink, and white. The only one blooming was the yellow one, and I really want something blooming back there while we wait for everything else to come in, so I got yellow though I had originally intended to get orange.

I put it in the ground on the hill today, and we’ve got one week to water it in before vacation.

Meadow hill: bee balm about to bloom, new milkweed
Butterfly already drinking from new milkweed