Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Late fall


This leftover nest remains in one of the forsythias. The interior is smoothly  plastered with a thin coating of dried mud. I haven't done any research yet but think it probably belonged to a robin or catbird.

I spotted it while wrestling honeysuckle out of the bushes.

Most of the trees have lost their leaves, but our little crape myrtle was still showing some fine color. Earlier in November I cleaned up and enlarged the flower bed around its toes to make room for planting bulbs: mixed tulips, grape hyacinths, and the forgotten daffodils I dug up accidentally. If you think you have spotted a great place for bulbs, you probably already planted some there! The back corner of this little bed is now home to a new, small clematis called Chevalier. It is still green, but has been outside just long enough to begin to show a slight touch of bronze.

Behind this bed, and to the right of the forsythia, is what's left of an old viburnum. Through the years it has suffered from our indecision about its ideal form (small, multistemmed tree or large bush?). In the meantime, the main central group of trunks died and rotted. Now all but the base of the dead center has been removed, leaving a sparse and scraggly cluster of younger shoots coming up from the roots. We hope that pruning will encourage them to branch out and act like a bush again. In the meantime, the leaves are a lovely golden shade. (See photos below. Someday I'll learn how to align them better.)

Crape myrtle "Natchez"
Tulips, grape hyacinths, and daffodils

Clematis "Chevalier"


Mantis on fennel

When I stepped out the back door, there  she was on the fennel plant by the step, making her way south. Was she the remaining adult from the little band of mantis infants I saw when summer began?

Northwest of the fennel, on a patch of sedum, I spotted a mantis's egg case near where I had recently seen a different, greener mantis. I've never seen the hatchlings emerge, so I'll try to keep an eye out come spring.
Mantis egg case on sedum

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brookside afternoon

Hot Maple

Fall color at Brookside
Yesterday afternoon found us enjoying a walk at Brookside Gardens, one of our favorite uses of our Montgomery County tax dollars. The many varieties of Japanese maples extended the color range beyond what we see in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Brookside camellia, Brookside bee

At this point in the fall, the main blooms were in the greenhouses, where we enjoyed the end of the chrysanthemum show (soon to be replaced by the popular annual model train exhibit.) But a few outdoor plants were still offering some flowers.  Pansies benefit from fall planting here for best spring display, and we admired a large bed of them. The camellias were also still in bloom and attracting bees as well as a few wasps.

In the visitors' center there was a nice display of wall hangings in botanical and nature themes, by Verena Levine, Diana Garrison, and Janet Wildman. They were described as quilts, and certainly used some quilting techniques, but the size (too small for a bed) and the surface detail were more suitable for hanging. Possibly the term 'quilt" seemed more accessible.  I especially liked "Forest Floor" by Levine and Garrison, for its use of applique across block boundaries to suggest ferns and vines.

Late butterflies

Late Butterfly
This Painted Lady (as I believe her to be) found late season  afternoon warmth on the west wall of our house. We were both enjoying the late October sun.

Fall surprise

Late summer was a busy time, and not much attention was paid to the yard. Then, in mid-October, after being away for a bit, I found these late instar Black Swallowtail caterpillars lingering on the bronze fennel next to the back steps. They are gone now, off to winter over (I hope) in their chrysalises. Failing to find them, I leave the fennel uncut. On a sunny afternoon the warm fennel smell still floats above the foliage.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Buckeye on sedum 9/5/10
September has brought us some beautiful Buckeye butterflies, sometimes as many as five at once. They feed on the sedum, seeming to prefer the variety with the flattest panicles, if that's the right word.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


The past couple of weeks have brought as many as ten swallowtails at a  time to our butterfly bushes. The white one has been especially popular. I'm not sure if that is because of its color or its height. It is our tallest bush and the swallowtails concentrate on its top half.
Mostly we get the classic Eastern Swallowtail, although  we   have seen an occasional dark form female and a few Spicebush Swallowtails as well.
Sometimes a pair seem dance together in the air, spiraling upwards, trading places, almost touching.

Dahlias after all

I grew up with the impression, based on parental tastes, that one ought not to like dahlias, and indeed I find many types unpleasantly stiff and oddly colored, as if they were badly tinted plastic. But they have a sturdy reliability in this region which appeals to me. This year I tried a pack of Fresco Mix around the toes of the new crape myrtle, next to the rescued coreopsis. They are short, mostly shades of red with one or two yellows. Just now they are surging into a new round of bloom, in spite of the heat and  storms we've had. The yellow centers match the coreopsis. I mean to plant lots of them next year.The only disadvantage I can see is that, like begonias, they don't seem to attract our local pollinators. I can't recall ever seeing a bee, wasp, or butterfly visit them.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Fireflies rise from the lawn at dusk. This evening two were coupled end to end on a leaf of the potted mint by the back step, as in this New York Times article, according to which the female is receiving the male's "nuptial gift".

The orange daylilies ("road side" type) are blooming but my favorites are the tall but delicate pale yellow ones (Hemerocallis citrina) that open in the evening. Now that I see where they are, I will dig out some of the orange ones later on to make room.

The State Farm zinnias planted as spindly seedlings are doing nicely and turn out to be exactly the sort of mix of hot orange reds and strong violet pinks that I like on a hot day.

And the bind weed is having a great June, because it's been too hot and buggy to weed much.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I have 3 kinds of zinnias this year: Dreamland, labeled pink but mixed, including 3 shades of orange and hardly any pink; Magellan, mixed, mostly red and yellow; and State Farm, labeled mixed but proving to be (so far) hotter or paler shades of pink.

Dragon wings?

I bought this planter a couple of weeks ago and have been trying to identify the red begonias ever since. Not so simple, it turns out. In order to look up a begonia you have to already know more about begonias than I do. However, I'm starting to think it's a hybrid called Dragon Wing. WFF has a pink one that looks similar.


This delicate visitor sprouted in one of my vegetable pots, completely unexpected and unknown. The little blossom is pinker than it looks here--not really blue as it appears in this shot. It's one of those coolly violet shades that are so hard for an amateur photographer to catch. This is a small plant with small 5-petaled flowers and finely cut feathery leaves similar to cosmos or a wisp of fennel. I have had no luck so far trying to find its name.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mantis watch

We have a bronze fennel plant next to the back door. So far this year it's between 3 and 4 feet tall, with feathery new growth starting as a darker bronze shade that turns greener with age. The top bits of foliage have scattered light green dots that might be aphids. Also hanging out in the upper foliage are young mantises. As of Monday there were six of them visible, all brownish, perhaps up to an inch long, with flat backs. This morning I see two. Already they are larger, greener, and now intermittently adopting the characteristic mantis posture: thorax raised, front legs lifted and folded. Their brown and green shading blends into the fennel nicely. I'm not worried about the aphids (if that's what they are) but I do wonder about the whereabouts of those other mantis siblings.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


This planter was 20% off some number of dollars and was the only one with no petunias, which are irresistible to rabbits. The begonias are handsome (not so pink as they seem in the photo). I do wish that I managed to get more accurate color, and that I was more skilled at getting multiple photos positioned effectively.

In other gardening news, here's the veg garden: 2 tomatoes, each in a pot; 3 peppers in one pot; some herbs. There is also a bit of kale, as well as some chard, off to the right.

We are managing a succession of bloom pretty well. Even after the rain the peonies are lovely.

Dreamland Pink

Believing that one can never have too many zinnias, and that hot colors are best, I returned to my nearest garden center yesterday in search of reinforcements for the spindly seedlings I planted earlier. The selection was still a bit thin, but I did spot several packs of the Dreamland series labeled as to color. Wrongly labeled, as it turned out. For example, this promising orange blossom was nestled in a pack labeled "Dreamland Pink". The other buds in the pack were not so far along as to declare their specific colors, but still far enough to hint that those colors will all be different. Now I'm even more curious to see the colors of the packs labeled "State Fair Mix" that I planted earlier. I wouldn't be surprised if they all turned out to be pink.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In the yard today

The peonies and Siberian iris are blooming. The sweet woodruff I brought home from Maine traveled well and is blooming next to a small pink astilbe beside the front steps. The 3 echinaceas I planted in back last year are coming up nicely. I've added mixed zinnias, cleome, white alyssum, and a few snapdragons here and there to fill in some gaps, plus half a dozen little dahlias (figaro). I grew up with a family prejudice against dahlias but these had the right size, color, and adaptability for a spot in the back, and unlike petunias might not be tasty to rabbits.

Last weekend included a big cleanup effort in the back corner, battling invasive vines and rearranging some day lilies. Today the anti-vine effort moved to the front but there is still a lot left to do. I had intended to cut down any and all honeysuckle until I saw a female hummingbird breakfasting at the vine that's climbing the viburnum. Now it seems heartless to cut it all down!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spring planting

The first few days of May found me in Maine helping with the repurposing of two former vegetable beds. The idea was to fill them with Bluestone Perennials' preplanned perennial garden of 60 or so plants (2 dozen varieties). The included plan showed a layout for a bed 32 feet wide and 5 feet deep. Some adaptation was required to fit the plants into the 2 beds in the foreground of the photo, each 5 feet wide by 15 feet deep, as viewed from the house. We planted 3 sedums elsewhere and divided the remaining plants into 2 groups of mixed heights and colors, arranging them by height in each bed. Some were familiar (asters, for example) while others were new to me (aruncus, echinops). It will be fun to see how they develop.

French Cemetery

While in Maine recently I visited the French Cemetery, so called not from any national or linguistic identification but from the family associated with it. Old cemeteries appeal to me as hints of a place's history and as examples of popular design. This vault door, overhung with spring flowers, faces away from the road and in the general direction of the sea.

An 1846 stone memorializes Captain Sherman, "Drowned at Sea". A single rose adorns the 1859 grave of 18 year old Maria L., "Also two Infant Children".

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Digging in a neglected bit of flower bed to plant a recently purchased blue salvia , I disturbed this fine spider, which sat quietly while I went inside to fetch my camera. As usual, no amount of fiddling will make me happy with the result (surely the overall body color was darker, and the soil has a redder clay tinge to it), but I'm pleased to have a record of our encounter. The overall size of this spider, including legs, was approximately 2 inches or perhaps less.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


The sign at the local garden center warns that our average last frost date is April 30, but I was not the only optimist last Saturday buying a first installment of summer. Sunday was my day in the yard, cutting back the forsythia, weeding, and starting to plant. I cleaned up the area along the fence beside our neighbor's driveway, taking out the ailing caryopteris that finally gave up under 30 inches of February snow, and planted cleome, little yellow marigolds, and a blue larkspur, hoping that the proximity of concrete would keep the temperature up just enough in spite of a frost warning. The larkspur (labeled "Siberian larkspur" and allegedly perennial!) seemed expensive for one plant, but I succumbed to its lovely and almost unphotographable blue flowers. It turns out to be a bargain: there were 4 plants in the pot. I spread them around hoping they are all the same blue. Still waiting on our front steps are some zinnias for the back corner, and a couple of geraniums.

The azaleas are having a great year, in spite of those 30 inches of snow. This one is Herbert, the only one of the evergreen azaleas that we planted. I think we bought it at an Azalea Society sale at Brookside Gardens many years ago. The color is a little bluer than the photo shows. I would like to try taking cuttings of it as well as some of our other azaleas, especially the white one that made a great comeback after a couple of bad years.

We also have a deciduous azalea (Northern Hi-lights) doing very well in the back yard and just starting to bloom. It's currently perhaps 30 inches tall and should eventually reach 4 or 5 feet. The flowers are creamy, almost a pale yellow, when they start to open. The fully open flower is white with a yellow blotch. I could fall for another one, or perhaps another golden orange one like the one we used to have.

All in all, the hard winter seems to have agreed with the flowering shrubs that survived. Not yet blooming, but lighting up its corner of the yard, is the Deutzia I brought back from Maine a few years ago. The yellow-green leaves seem to glow in the late afternoon sun.

In the produce department, I planted seedlings of lacinto kale, green swiss chard, and what I though was red chard, which turns out to be beets. I just didn't want to fuss with seeds. Peppers and tomatoes in pots will come later.

It was lovely to spend the day outside just poking around, following my inclinations and getting things done as it suited me, with no meetings, committees, or project plans.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the yard today

  • Flowering crabapple "Adirondack"

  • Lilac "Nadezhda", planted back in 2005, is blooming more heavily and beautifully than ever before.

  • Last late daffodils

  • First wave of azaleas

Growing nicely:
  • Crape myrtles (front and back) are leafing out

  • Peonies are up

  • Earliest daylily has buds and later ones are up

  • Korean lilac has buds

  • Early hostas are coming up

  • Siberian iris are up, in spite of needing to be divided

  • Echinaceas and rudbeckias planted last year are up

  • Clematis (what's the plural?) are up

  • Centaurea from Maine, dug up and de-weeded to its bare roots and moved, is budding anyway.

  • Buddleias are leafing out after being pruned

Annuals planted:
  • 2 packs of State Farm zinnias, labeled "mixed"

  • Pansies: Let Freedom Ring mix (front) and Antique Shaded (back)

  • Lacinto Kale and green chard

Saturday, April 03, 2010

It's Spring out there!

Spring is here, and it's yellow!
The forsythia is just past its peak and the midseason daffodils are coming along nicely. The lilacs will be blooming soon. The harsh winter seems to have agreed with them.

Today we made the season's first garden center visit and got 3 packs of mixed pansies (burgundy, lavender blue, and white) to be planted by the front steps tomorrow. I'm also planning to clean up my leftovers from pruning the buddleias and the unwelcome volunteer barberries. The one by the fence, which was being claimed by a mocking bird this morning, had an old nest in it, so I'm glad to have cut it down before another nest was built.
I found a clump of distinctive leaves in the lawn--very suggestive of a young blackeyed susan--so I dug it up and stuffed it in a pot. I'm always curious to see what turns up. The ones I planted on purpose last year are coming up. I think at least some of the echinaceas are also coming back.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Snowbound Buddha
Here's a picture of one of our neighbors, maintaining his customary equanimity, even with a cape of snow.
We could of course provide the usual collection of buried cars, half-shoveled steps, and so on, as well, but the news media do a better job of that.
We could also have documented our trek on foot to and from the grocery store, including the plow-piled mountains at each major intersection, but we were too busy getting home with the food without falling into either the snow or the traffic to pause for a photo op.
Now that we're home and the power is still on, we'll just see if we can emulate that perpetually calm guy down the street.