Bzzzz July 15th, 2013

I will admit to my fair share of fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants garden design. Just give me a cart at a garden center and I’ll emerge with enough plants to fill an SUV, a happy smile and not the vaguest idea of what I’m going to do with them. But (and here’s an ugly truth) I have also had a fair number of those plants languish in pots while I wandered around wringing my hands and wondering what should go where.

When I decided to add a new garden bed last year, I decided to take a different approach.

Planning! What a concept!

Gladiolus callianthus 'Murielae' and castor bean2

The new bed is 4′ x 40′ and extends along the north side of the potager. Last fall I ordered up a truckload of leaf mulch that we layered over newspaper. Nature did a good bit of work over the winter breaking down the newspaper, smothering out the grass (and weeds) and improving the hard, clay soil underneath.

In the meantime, I went shopping—this time by catalog and with graph paper and pencil. I selected plants I liked, printed them out on a color printer with their vital stats (height/bloom dates, requirements) and created a collage on a pin board.

A butterfly bush anchors one end of the bed. I added a pieris ‘Dorothy Wycoff’ in more-or-less the middle and a fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ at the other end. Tall plants I started from seed included castor bean (ricinus communis) and Mexican sunflowers (tithonia rotundiflora) purchased from Botanical Interests. I wanted colors we could enjoy at night, so I added a generous number of white gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ and white physosegia ‘Miss Manners’ purchased from Brent and Becky’s.

coreopsis and tickseed in July2

Accent colors are reds and yellows from Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’, Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Tradescantia ‘Blue & Gold’ and assorted butterfly weeds and coreopsis that I allowed myself to pick up at the garden center on a whim.

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'

Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’

Not everything came out according to plan. For example, the gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ were advertised as reaching 12″ to 24″. They are easily more than 36″ tall and continue to grow and push out more and more white flowers on long, sturdy stems, so I’m not complaining. But they are in front of the ‘Hot Lips’, so placement could be better. And although I like the Mexican sunflowers well enough, they are mostly foliage topped by small orangish flowers. Mammoth sunflowers would have given me more bang for the buck.

But hey, there’s always next year.

And speaking of next year, I have a whole new border to plan over the coming winter. The graph paper and pencil approach worked well enough that I’ll do it again. It also gave me a gardening project for those long, cold winter days.


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Bzzzz February 14th, 2013

I’m sitting here with seed and plant catalogs scattered around—Plant Delights, Botanical InterestsBaker Creek, Cook’s Garden, John Scheepers…My Lee Valley 10-Year Garden Journal is open to February. My Excel spread sheet plant inventory is open on my computer screen. The collection I affectionately refer to as my Seed Vault is on the floor under my desk, threatening to overflow into Seed Vault Two.

I’m bundled in a bulky sweater, fingerless gloves and my warmest Ugg shoes. I hardly remember what summer looked like last year.

Potager in June

Potager in June

I know it was green. I’m pretty sure it was green. I remember picking tomatoes, cucumbers, tiny mar des bois strawberries, Bright Lights Swiss chard. My husband and I spent many evenings under the stars finishing dinner and drinking wine, listening to the crickets and watching the bats dart across the night sky. I can remember the smell of freshly mown grass and basil pinched between my fingernails.

Gosh, my feet are cold. I should to make some hot tea.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

Oh yes, we had lots of butterflies last year. Monarchs, zebra swallowtails, eastern tiger swallowtails, red admirals. I didn’t know the name of some of the butterflies and moths but loved them just the same. I remember wondering why the monarchs seemed so skittish and the eastern tiger swallowtails would almost let me touch them.

celeste fig tree

Celeste figs

Oh, that’s right. All those celeste figs! So many I hardly knew what to do with them all. I stood next to the tree and popped them right into my mouth.

Maybe another pair of socks would help warm my feet.


Oh, the birds! That’s right. Our hummingbird feeder had a lot of business last summer.

I should bundle up and go top off the bird feeders now. That birdbath could use some hot water to melt the ice too.

Lemon grass in the foreground

Lemon grass in the foreground

So much lemon grass! I remember I was glad I only planted one since it nearly crowded out the cone flowers.

And the asparagus was filling in nicely. I think we can pick some more this year.

Asparagus berries

Asparagus berries

Ah yes. There was color too. Purples and blues and oranges and yellows.


It’s awfully cold in here. Maybe I should just turn up the heat for a little while.

Oh, that’s right. It’ll be better soon.

(Click on the photos to embiggen.)


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