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

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 ‘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 jalepeños
  • 1 Giant Thai pepper
  • 1 Habañero 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.  The 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.



April 28: Milkweed and Joe Pye finally re-emerging

I’ve been sweating, wondering if the milkweed would survive the transplant to the back hill. For the past two years, we’ve had milkweed in the most prominant focal place in our front yard: right in front of the stairs that lead up to the front door.

It looks great when it’s fresh and green, but once it gets covered in aphids and starts looking super messy and leggy, it’s not really the best plant to have as a “look at me!” plant in front of the house. I redesigned the front bed to hopefully have a less messy look (though every bed I design is for butterflies, birds, and pollinators, which generally means meadowy “natural” plants, which tend towards the messy eventually) and moved the milkweeds out back where it’s fine for them to be covered in all the critters we’re growing them for. The aphids are part of the food chain and will get eaten by something else, and even when a milkweed seems coated in, the monarch caterpillars seem undeterred from munching the leaves.

I was fearful the milkweed wouldn’t survive the transplanting. Everything this year is happening later than it did last year, thanks to the late snows and freezes. The milkweed and Joe Pye were emerging April 15 last year. The dogwood and redbud were already in bloom at that time too.

I’ve been walking the garden every day to check on everything, and I think it’s finally happening. I think the milkweed and Joe Pye are finally sending up shoots. Though last year the milkweed were green and this year they’re red. Maybe I’m just catching them earlier than I did last year. I just hope they survive and I don’t have to replace them. The Joe Pye and the pink milkweed look an awful lot alike. I hope they’re what I think they are and not a weed.


This past week I also noticed the bachelor’s button seeds I planted are sprouting, and I put in a Mexican feather grass and a scabiosa out back since the grasses I want aren’t in yet (a pink muhly and prairie dropseeds).

This time last year I had already sowed wildflower and zinnia seeds. Temperatures are forecast to approach freezing on Sunday night. I think I’ll wait until after that to sow the rest of the seeds: nasturtiums, zinnias, dianthus, sunflowers. And next week, it’s FINALLY supposed to break 80℉. I’m hopeful things will really take off after that. Until then, here’s how things look. Not nearly as far along as last year, especially in the herb bed. I don’t think the thyme survived my divisions very well.


Spring is springing!

It’s two weeks until our average final frost date (April 29), and I spent this weekend sowing seeds: Cleome, Bachelor’s Buttons, Coreopsis, and Brazilian vervain, along with lettuce, tendersweet peas, and some more chamomile and feverfew.

mid april seed packets
Two weeks til average final frost. Time to sow these seeds.

I repotted my little bluestem and Scabiosa seedlings — their roots extended for inches beyond the hole in the bottoms of their beginner pots — and put all the seedlings outside for a little while yesterday and today to start hardening them off. I may be doing that too soon.

I also, for the first time ever, planted some ornamental grasses. I’m really excited about these, especially since we get a lot of wind. They are graceful in the breeze, with their blades waving. I bought two natives (Muhly and switch grass) and two others that I just like the looks of and that were the right size for the space I wanted to put them in.

All of these are planted in the new bed on the back hill:

Apparently it is still early for grasses. I have two more I want: a pink muhly for the mailbox, and three prairie dropseeds for the front bed. I’ll keep going back to the nursery every week until they come in.

I’ve got a couple more rounds of seeds to sow. The main batch is the week after the final frost date. That’s when I can put in the sunflowers, zinnias, dill, basil, Dianthus, and nasturtiums. And then, I wait. Wait to see if my transplanted perennials emerge and survive on the hill. Wait to see which seeds sprout. Wait to see comes up that I’m not expecting.

Every day, I walk the garden looking for new leaves, new buds, new sprouts. Birds hop around in the beds, nabbing insects and worms. The flower beds are much more interesting and lively than a grass lawn.

I love this time of year. I know things are happening underground that I can’t see, and that every day there will be something new to delight me. The anticipation is delicious.

For now, I took advantage of this grey morning to get out my real camera and document what’s happening in the garden right now. This time last year, the redbud and dogwood were in bloom, and a lot of the herbs were already out and green. Not so this year. Not yet.

dogwood flower bud (1)
The dogwood is not quite flowering yet
redbud buds (1)
The redbud is almost flowering
First tulips. The deer got the leaves but not the buds.
salvia buds
Blue Salvia buds
I needed some flowers, so we added annuals.
wheat shoots ermerging (1)
The blue wheat is emerging! I figured the birds would eat all the seeds.
liatris emerging by bird bath (1)
The liatris is coming back up, and the lemon balm (behind the bird bath) survived division and transplanting

We’re expecting to get a ton of rain tonight and tomorrow. I hope it doesn’t wash all my seeds away. Monday night’s low is 32℉ (0℃), so I hope everything survives.

I’m okay with everything holding off for a couple more days until this storm passes through, and it gets cold, and then it warms up again. Then the trees can bloom and my seeds can start sprouting.