March 21: back hill is ready for mulch

My garden vacation begins in less than a week. On Friday we will have two trucks of mulch delivered. Today was gorgeous: blue sky, sunshine, and enough warmth that I could garden and turn the compost.

I finally cut back the remaining ornamental grasses and perennials today. I moved a bunch of stuff around — echinacea, sedums, rue, little bluestem grasses, bee balm — and planted about 20 liatris bulbs. I moved stuff around to group them better. The middle bed is predominantly echinacea and sedum now, it’s going to be so pretty in late summer.

I sat in the sun with a cup of coffee and my journal after I watered the compost. As I sat under white puffy clouds in a blue sky, sun warm on my skin and air fresh in my nose, it was hard to believe a pandemic is raging. It is a beautiful day. I sipped my coffee and listened to a lawnmower buzz, a woodpecker chock-chock-chock, neighbor voices carry on the air, and birds too-whit too-whit and twee-twee-twee-twee-twee.

Other than some seeds I’ll sow later, the back bed is ready for mulch. I’ve got a lot to do out front: cut back the grasses and perennials, prune the rose bushes, figure out how I want to arrange everything. I hope I can all get it done on my garden vacation! I can’t wait to put all that mulch down, and see the garden transform into a rich, thriving space. I can’t wait to watch the garden grow.

February 16: cutting back, mowing leaves, and compost

I’ve got my gardening vacation on the calendar — first week in April — but there’s so much to do, I don’t think I can get it all done in one week.

It was sunny and 50 degrees today, so I started early with the cutting back and the turning compost and the getting ready for spring.

In fall, Brian raked and then spread the leaves at the top of the hill. I mowed them today to shred them for the compost pile and to spread on the hill to help prevent erosion.
I made compost! The pile on the right is ready to go. The pile on the left is my working pile. It should be ready in about a year.
The bulbs our mail carrier gave me two years ago (she’s also a gardener) have finally made flowers! The first flowers of the 2020.

Sep 7: State of the Garden, plus new goldenrod and mums

I wanted to spruce up the garden since many of the summer flowers are starting to fade.

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New goldenrod and mature red mums

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Little bluestem grass and Mexican feathergrass

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New mums and goldenrod

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Monarch caterpillar

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New goldenrod

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Swallowtail caterpillars on rue

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Monarch caterpillar with aphids and milkweed seeds

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Left and middle back beds

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Right back bed

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Front bed

Aug 17: cleaning out spent flowers

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August deadheading

It’s been hot and dry here for weeks. Since I put in mostly natives and drought-tolerant plants, I haven’t watered. That’s been fine for a lot of the flowers out in the garden, but not all of them. The New England asters didn’t make it, and the black-eyed Susans started browning before their time. Now I know.

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Big brown blob of dead asters in front of the switchgrass

I went straight out into the garden this morning to get to work before the sun got too high. It took about four hours to snip the brown flowers off the indigo salvia, black-eyed Susans, white coneflowers, roses, butterfly bush, zinnias, shasta daisies, and echinacea. I stopped a lot to take pictures of butterflies.

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Painted Lady on Miss Ruby butterfly bush

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Monarch on zinnia

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Swallowtail on zinnia

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Blanketflower (Gaillardia)

 

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Back bed before I ripped out the marigolds

I decided I hated the tall marigolds I planted from seed, so I ripped those out. Which meant, of course, that I had to replace them. One of my favorite things to watch in the garden is goldfinches bobbing on Echinacea cones in the fall, so I bought more Echinacea to replace the marigolds. I waited until the sun was low in the evening to put them in the ground to hopefully minimize the stress of planting them. I’ll need to remember to water them a lot over the next few days since there is still no rain in the forecast. The ground was rock and dust when I dug in. There was no moisture anywhere.

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New Echinacea plants (Echinacea p. ‘Magnus’)

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Echinacea and wind dancer grass (Eragrostis elliottii ‘Wind Dancer’)

Now I want to move a bunch of stuff around, but I know I need to wait. I don’t want to kill everything moving it around in this heat. Plus, the caterpillars are on their way, and I don’t want to mess up their ability to eat and pupate.

July 6: Garden in Photos

I haven’t seen any caterpillars or big butterflies in a few days (or weeks?). The flowers are pretty though.

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Morning shastas

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Yellow zinnia and forget-me-nots

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Volunteer cleome and echinacea

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New Sombrero Adobe Orange Coneflower

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Butterfly watch from the hammock

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Flight of the bumblebee 🐝

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The Joe Pye weed is blushing

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I love this Mexican feather grass so much

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Echinacea

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My little prairie

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Echinacea is starting to come into bloom

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Lots going on out back; still needs to fill in

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Late afternoon out front

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Out front

June 9: Garden in photos

I saw a hummingbird in the garden today, the first of the season. It’s been raining for days. We got 2.5 inches Friday, then another half inch yesterday. During a break in the rain today, I saw a great spangled fritillary flitting around and drinking from all the purple flowers: the dwarf agastache, scabiosa, and lollipop vervain. It was my first chance in a few days to get out in the garden, so I took my camera with me.

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First monarch caterpillar! On butterfly weed.

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Great spangled fritillary on scabiosa

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Look how fuzzy!

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Feverfew blossoms

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Cornflower bud

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Hydrangea

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Sunflower bud from a volunteer

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White coneflower, nepeta, and yarrow

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Blanket flowers, blue grama grass, white speedwell, dwarf agastache, yarrow, a butterfly bush that will soon bloom, and a bunch of other stuff

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Agastache (foreground) and liatris about to bloom (behind the agastache)

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Front bed filling in

April 10: Two tons of mulch spread. And I got a spicebush!

Everything hurts. My hands are blistered and cramped, as are my feet. My forearms could use a massage, and my whole body feels like it’s vibrating after two 8-hour days of shoveling, carting, dumping, and spreading mulch. But the front and back beds are done! All that’s left are a couple of small beds on the side of the house. I’m too pooped to do them today. Tomorrow.

Out of curiosity yesterday, I wondered if it were possible that I had moved a ton of mulch. I googled “how much does a cubic yard of mulch weigh” and got an estimate of 400-800 pounds depending on whether the mulch is wet. We bought 12 cubic yards in two dumptruck loads, and I’ve probably moved 10 yards in the past two days, so 4000 lbs. The mulch got drenched by heavy rain after it was delivered, so it was wet and on the heavier side, but I never know how much to trust the googles, so I’m just going to go really conservative and say it’s safe to say that yes, I moved a ton of mulch per day.

Everything looks so pretty 😍.

And nearly as exciting as the mulch? After three years of searching for a spicebush, I saw one at Crow’s Nest, my local nursery this week. By Monday, I had already been to the nursery nearly every day since I returned from my trip to Belgrade. When I plopped my plants on the counter at the cash register, the woman who always rings me up saw me, laughed, and said, “Maybe you should get a job here!” I told her I’d probably see her tomorrow, thinking “I won’t see her tomorrow, I’ve gotten everything I need.”

The shortest path to my car was through the shrub section, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the tiny yellow flowers of Lindera benzoin, the spicebush: host plant of the spicebush swallowtail and native shrub to our region. I didn’t buy it Monday but did go back on Tuesday, and was embarrassed to be there again for the fourth time in five days.

But now I have a spicebush! I’ve never seen one at the nursery before, and even asked about them the first year I was planning the garden. I thought I’d just not be able to get one and I gave up. And now I’ve got one! I’m so happy 🙂

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Spicebush, Lindera benzoin

April 6: Gardening vacation day one — Prairie plantings

I returned from a work trip to Belgrade, Serbia on Friday. Spring had arrived there — with pears, cherries, and tulips in bloom — and I could not wait to get home after a successful conference to take a week off for my annual gardening vacation.

Today was warm and sunny, and I drove to the nursery with the car windows open. Katy Perry came on the radio and I turned it up and roared Roar. I was one of those people that make me happy when I see them, singing full-throated like a pop star on a stage when really they’re all alone in their car.

I worked on the bed below the front door, moving a yarrow and the Little Bluestem grasses I grew from seed. I loved the bed in the summer, but in winter it was pretty bleak. I’m grouping the grasses in hopes that their dry golden blades will become more attractive when clumped as a focal point and covered in frost.

Stuff I added:

  • 3 Prairie Dropseed Sporobulus heterolepsis
  • 2 Calamint ‘Marvelette Blue’ (Calamintha nepeta ‘Marvelette Blue’)
  • 1 Ornamental Onion (Allium ‘Millenium’)
  • 1 Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata ‘Snowflake’)

Stuff that was already there:

  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’)
  • Catmint (Nepeta x.f. ‘Walker’s Love’)
  • 3 Russian Sage ‘Crazy Blue’
  • 2 Yarrow ‘Moonshine’
  • 2 PowWow white coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘PAS702918’)
  • 4 Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • 2 Blackeyed Susans (Rudbeckia)

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Front bed, early April

The beds still look pretty awful, since nothing is growing and I haven’t mulched yet. So I got my spring greenery fix by refreshing our flower boxes.

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Flower box

Monday the mulch arrives. Tomorrow I’ll try to finish weeding and fertilize so I can get that done in time to begin a week of spreading mulch.

 

August 11: so many flowers in the garden, especially sunflowers

A goldfinch perched this morning on a purple coneflower head. This is one of my favorite things to see in the garden: these tiny bright golden birds swaying on the long stems of summer’s Echinacea.

The only problem with this scene is that, combined with the kids starting school next week, it reminds me that fall is coming soon. Which means winter will follow.

I don’t feel like I’ve recovered yet from last winter. I’m not ready for the garden to go to seed. I’m not ready for endless months of desiccated plants, without green and flowers. The Shasta daisies and Rudbeckia flowers are already starting to brown on the edges.

The good news is that the garden is full of butterflies and hummingbirds. I worked from my dogwood chair yesterday, with monarchs and swallowtails drifting all around me. When I approached the flowers where they drank, I was close enough to the many small moths and butterflies that I could hear their wings whir.

Other good news is that the garden is pretty much filled in as much as it’s going to this year, so I can get a good look at how to move things around and fill in next year.

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This is the first year I’ve planted sunflowers. I love them so much.

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Butterflies love the cleome, zinnias, and butterfly bush; bees love the salvia

I’m pretty happy with how the front beds turned out. They still need some help, but the area with the cleome, zinnias, and butterfly bush are a hot spot for all the fluttering insects I like to watch. I haven’t seen as many hummingbirds in the bed as I did last year, when I had bee balm out there, but they do sometimes visit the cleome and the zinnias.

Out back is a different story. I rarely look out back in the afternoon or evening without seeing a hummingbird. They particularly love the Mexican sunflower, but I’ve seen them at the cleome, zinnias, and even the nasturtiums as well.

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Back left beds: hummingbirds love the tall orange flowers (Mexican Sunflower)

It’s hard to believe that last year that was all grass. I still have a lot I want to do with these beds — I want the far left bed to be mostly pinks and greens, with a little bit of soft purple. I’ll ditch the yellows and oranges. The Joe Pye weed, cleome, milkweed, rue, sedums, and ornamental grasses will stay, and I want to add some of the Northern Lights zinnias I have out front. I love their pink and purples, and zinnias are unanimously the favorite flower of our household. Everyone loves them.

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Lots going on here — needs some work

The middle beds out back definitely need some help. The lower bed on the left is currently a mix of silvery blue foliage and yellow-green pepper plants. We’re thinking about doing a raised bed for peppers next year, and then I can fill in that lower area with a small moon garden of silvery plants. Higher up the hill are the Mexican sunflowers, which I adore, but I don’t like where they are. I have other ideas for that bed to put some neater looking plants there, but I’m not sure where I’ll put the Mexican sunflowers next year if I do that.

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Far right beds

I’m meh about the bed with the Shasta daisies. I need to move some stuff around in there. The far right beds are pretty okay. Next year I’ll probably put in another Mexican sunflower on the far right, and I’m thinking about replacing the nasturtiums with a Persian Carpet blend of zinnia seeds, since we all love zinnias (as do the hummingbirds and butterflies), and when I asked our daughter which new type of zinnias she liked, she picked this one.

I’m going to keep soaking up the garden as much as I can before winter comes. August is the worst month for gardening, but it’s the best month for enjoying the butterflies and birds who come to harvest the abundant nectar and seeds.

 

July 18: sunflower, swallowtails, and monarch caterpillar

I love July in the garden. The flowers still have fresh blooms, and the butterflies start showing up.

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Eastern tiger swallowtail on Miss Ruby butterfly bush

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Eastern Tiger swallowtail

 

The caterpillars start showing up, too.

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Monarch caterpillar

 

This is the first year I’ve planted sunflower seeds. Most of the seedlings were decapitated by critters, probably bunnies. But I’ve got one that made it to bloom.

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My first sunflower 😍

July 15: summer blooms

The garden is in full bloom, and a monarch came to visit the back garden beds today. My work killing lawn is paying off!

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Monarch on milkweed

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Cleome

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Lamb’s ears

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Shasta daisy

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The back beds are filling in

The front is starting to fill in as well.

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Autumn joy sedum and liatris

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Cleome, Miss Ruby butterfly bush, and bird bath

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Front bed from behind

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Bumblebee on lavender