The turning circle garden… past present & future

You know…I’ve been watching and agonizing over this area for a long time. I’ve thought about it for at least 3 seasons so far. It’s a not-so-blank slate. I just didn’t know what I wanted. This is the place that passerby see. I want something really special. So I’m going to talk myself (out loud) through the creative process.

I recently attended a talk at the Valley Gardeners club that was really inspiring in terms of really thinking about what purpose we want, and how to cultivate a place we REALLY love. So It’s back to the ol’ drawing board (in my head).

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View from the driveway.

So what is here right now? There is a Physocarpus (Ninebark), Wiegela, a few Euonymus fortunei, Peonies, a lot of bulbs, weeds, an oak, a maple, two spruce trees, 4-5 suckerin’ Sumacs, and a mystery tree, and a lot of overgrown grass because we sort of neglected it a little bit last summer. The area is fairly large, actually. So I can do a lot with it!

 

 

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Potato quality sketch. This would make any designer cringe. But in my past experiences, the more I make a drawing to scale, the more I wish to deviate from it. So I made a flowery vague sketch instead.

I had originally sketched out the desired look for it, but now I’m not sure I like all of what I had. We discussed at length the fate of some of the trees in here, and how much of the terrain is pretty much governed by roots, so unless we remove a few things, there will be little change. This means the removal of a few Sumacs that seem out of sequence. There are a few here, and they send up suckers OFTEN.

What I can tell you right now, our turning circle is VERY difficult to mow. Heck, I don’t even want to bother. I leave that to my manimal. So the first thing I want to do is eliminate the need for that as best I can. It will probably be the last step in the process, but I will replace whatever is left of the lawn as various ground covers.

 

 

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View from the road

It’s a very mosquito-riddled part of the property, and it is also not terribly private, as our driveway touches the neighbor’s driveway (and we’ve bore witness to some very disturbing behavior/rowdiness) so I will not likely be devoting much or any of it to seating or reflection. However, I do want to use it to draw in either customers for my small business, or guests who want to come in and have a wander around on the property. When I come home, that’s when my mood instantly changes. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to see a finished and beautiful turning circle to greet me? Ahh..yes. So it doesn’t need to be so overlooked. It’s also fairly shaded, and will remain as such. There are two fairly healthy spruces here, and I wanted to eventually run some power to this part of the property so maybe I could wrap them in lights over the winter, and possibly also power a subtle water feature in the summer.

The original consideration involved the addition of a Myrica pennsylvanica (bayberry) hedge along the perimeter to close it in a bit but still be low. Inside of the bayberry hedge, I am considering more Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and I might move my Hydrangeas here too.  I will be removing the Ninebark and Euonymuses (Euonymi?)  and instead have a nice specimen of a Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda dogwood).

So this is going to be an expensive and labor intensive process, I stepped it out into phases.

Phase 1: Removal – dig-up of the shrubs, and the removal of some of the deciduous trees, and one sumac. Anything we decide doesn’t get to stay will be removed. I haven’t begun yet, and this is what I would consider the toughest project I will undertake. It’s almost as dreadful as the days I realize I need to still pluck rogue grasses from my rock garden. It will get done though.

Phase 1.2: Hardscaping elements decided upon and added (I want a boulder, and we want electrical here). Would probably also erect the garden/business sign and do the front garden bed.

Phase 2: Plantings of small trees, shrubs.  (Hopefully I will have gotten my hands on a Pagoda dogwood by this point)

Phase 3: Beds dug around added trees to allow for gardens to be planted.

Phase 4: Removal of lawn, addition of flagstone or concrete stone, and groundcover to area.

So that’s all there is to it! Snappy! Haha. Yeah, I’m really actually very excited about this garden, but right now it’s just a dirty beast in the corner that I try to pretend isn’t there.

Next post I’ll tell you what I’m up to from early to mid June. Here’s a hint: I’m still weeding but I’m also seeing crops in the veggie beds start!

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A little progress (just a modest smidge)

So it’s almost been a year since I moved in. Everything felt wilder, and alien here. There were weeds and perennials (still not sure if some are perennials or weeds) that I’ve never encountered in my last home. I have seen insects that have truly weirded me out. And today, I thought I’d share some progress pics of various parts of my gardens.

Before we begin, I’ll make a note of the following:
1. There is never an AFTER, in the sense of total completion in a progress pic. Gardens are always progress.
2. I am hideously vexed that I don’t have any mulch down yet. Don’t point it out.

Alright, let’s go for a stroll.

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July 2015: 90% Lunaria, 10% Grass
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May 2015: 10% newly added perennials like Sedums, Sempervivums, Alliums and others, 10% Grass that I’m still fighting with, and 80% hungry, hungry “dirt”

The rock garden was a wild place. I reigned ‘er in. I purposed it into a rock garden. There will mostly be sedums, sempervivums, and other small perennials in here. At the bottom I planted  ‘Pistachio’  and ‘Cityline Mars’  Hydrangeas. I sort of groomed up some of the existing perennials, though I don’t think they will stay here forever. They are all staying here for now, until I find something really special to put in. As you can see, there’s still a LOT of work needed to make it look really clean. It needs nourishment too, as I still pluck horsetail out of the bed. They say the biggest enemy of horsetail is healthy soil filled with nutrients. Someday I’ll be able to prove that true, but not on this day, and maybe not for a while yet.

The garden around the deck hasn’t changed too much. I added a few perennials, a Buddleia, a Daphne (this year), and weeded it as well as cultivated whatever was there originally. This bed will someday connect to my butterfly garden (which right now is my ever hated goutweed bed). I have nothing to share photographically here today, as it has nothing to really admire for another few weeks.

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Nuthin!
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Plantings have begun. This year I added a Rhododendron impeditum and Rhodo. ‘Wojnar’s Purple’. Also planted (not seen) – seedlings of Helleborus, Wood Poppy, Fothergilla, and Daphne. 

The Rhodo forest was just a stand of Pinus strobus (White Pine). Now I’m shaping it up. There isn’t a lot to see as of yet, but I’ve got my shopping list and pick up things I find from the list as the season goes on. A huge help, as I have discovered is, if you have a plan and make a list of things you want, you can sort of control your garden center impulses, and channel them into buying what you know has a place where it is coming home.

The vegetable garden, as we moved in, wasn’t planted with anything, there were a lot of weeds and a PILE of irises. Since then, I evicted the irises and potted them all up to give/sell at garden club sales. In my vegetable bed, I laid it out to soon contain strawberries, herbs, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, peas & beans (peans n beas), carrots… well, just all the garden staples. Right now, it isn’t a lot to look at yet but I am hoping it will be an edible paradise. I’ll expand it eventually too. I haven’t got this one pictured, as it hasn’t progressed since I last mentioned it on my previous post.

The turning circle kind of got away from us again this year. Phase 1 will involve the removal of a few trees and cleaning it up. It was the first garden I met when moving in. I like the way the Sumacs give everything a tropical feel. They also feed the chickadees in the late winter. But I’d never plant another one. You will see me getting more into detail on the turning circle next week.

As for the main part of the property, there hasn’t been much added. We’ve planted a few evergreens, and eventually, we will repair the dry patches on the lawn. I am too ashamed of my dirt patches at this current point. It’s the Pheasants’ buffet.

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It spent the first little while being the moving in dumping ground. Note the current ends in this pic. 
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Ends were finished with insulation, rewired, wired in a thermostat to control the fans. We also covered it with shade cloth this week so it would not get quite as hot. It actually feels like a larger space now.
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We are now harvesting our first crop of radishes from the cold frame bed.

My biggest focus since I moved in was the greenhouse. This one I’m really excited about, obviously, since this is the place where I’ll be doing some business as well as propagations for my own property. We are starting to see some veggies coming up and being ready! I’ll be sick of radishes before long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, although there isn’t much progress here, I just wanted to share some shots of Bird City. Who visits? So far at my feeder I’ve seen Chickadees, Goldfinches, various Sparrows, Red Winged Blackbirds, robins, rose breasted grosbeak, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jays, Grackles, The Phesants, a squirrel (who hates the chipmunk), a rat (RIP rat & ratette), and probably others who come by without us looking.  But I love it here. I trimmed up the Forsythia, so maybe one day we can sit on a bench and enjoy what we currently have blooming!

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I love it.  I’ve got other places I want to share but I’m going to give them all time to come into their own. I’ve done a bit of changes to the bed in the front of the house as well. I’m still hunting for plants to put in this spot. It is mimicking the shade bed I loved so much in my last house (the one that my previous neighbors had often complimented me on).

Next week I’ll talk myself through the turning circle garden plans, and what it looks like now. It’s a big, multi-phase project that will take several years to complete.

Mid-Late May Agenda

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I’m still playing catch up after tropical adventure. But I am caught up enough that I no longer feel overwhelmed. Things in general are really greening up. We enjoyed our first fire last weekend, now that it’s not too cold in the evenings. I’ve been wandering the property and observing everything coming back to life.

According to Veseys,  today is the last frost date. Never plan your entire harvest’s livelihood on it, but by all means, this is when I start deciding it’s ok to put a few things out and keep the cloches close at hand. Chances are,  you’ve already got many things hardened off, and I’m hoping to as well.  I won’t be putting any tomatoes into the bed until June, but I’m definitely going to be putting them outside to get ready for the big rough world.

I’ve already taken my veggie plants (ok, well, my peppers and tomatoes) out of the mini crystal and into the main greenhouse. The overnight temperatures in there are well above zero, and usually around 8-10 degrees. I’m going to shut down my seeding op this week, and probably start any succession herb seeding in the mini crystal so I can clear up the basement clutter for new things… like an elliptical or something.

So this day marks the beginning of hardening off for everyone. Everyone gets booted out of the house too, or at least, I begin to decide who will be going outdoors. It used to be that I would send many tropicals outside, but I found in this new home, scale seems to be more prevalent. Almost everything got scale this year from being outside during the move (sitting outside for a day or two in July as I unpacked my life into the new house). I’m going to probably limit it this year to my “Jasmine” vine (I say it loosely as I am still not sure since it won’t bloom), my big jeezus Hibiscus, bird of paradise, and a few others.

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Veggie bed so far …and maybe dandelion crop?

Now, I’ve already cleaned the weeds out of the beds to be used in the veg garden. Manimal helped, which was a huge benefit in time. He left feeling slightly disturbed, as he dug up a hibernating toad. So after weeding, I’ve got seeding done for my peas, some carrots, beets, radishes and strawberries all planted. Since that day of weeding and planting, my radishes are coming up. I’m hoping to see an improvement in veggie size versus my last house’s garden. I could barely get a good yield, but this bed’s soil feels richer and hopefully will pay off.  Now that we are in mid-may, I’ll probably also be planting some beans too. I got my bean tunnel idea from Pinterest, of course, and I think it will be really fun to walk through (hopefully) a tunnel filled with food.

I’ve noticed there are a lot of existing plantings of bulbs, and I’ll be throwing down some bulb booster at the end of the month.

We’ve been watching the daily highs in the greenhouse and we know there isn’t much we can do to exhaust 40+ degree heat out there, so at some point this week, or the next, we are going to have a glazing party (I keep calling them this as it refers to something connected to the exterior of the greenhouse) where we’ll be throwing the shade cloth over the house and hopefully slow down the searing sunshine. Pizza and beer provided. If you know me personally, get in touch! Just need to know how to throw a rope end over a 20’ curve and help pull a rope.

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Die, mofo, die. (24 hours after first application of the R-word)

Other than that, I’m still cleaning up weeds (I knooooow this is a hellish process). But this week I addressed the Goutweed finally, and hope to see results. If I win this war I will make a post of it. Right now, I’m only seeing minor stress (I may have resorted to larger ammunition, but I can’t utter the R word yet) and I’m going to continue to hit it, until I can find someone with a backhoe…or a flame thrower.

 

In other news, we have discovered that the ‘Canadice’ Grape vine is, in fact still alive. I’ve also gotten a little cutting crazy and did cuttings of my father’s grape vines last weekend. Hopefully I will have more ‘Canadice’ as well as some ‘Foch’ (to one day continue the winemaking legacy) and ‘Concorde’ . This all means I’ll have to start up a row for grapes somewhere on our property, but before that, I’ll wait to see if the roots take.

I will also have another exciting project (well, sort of a surprise gift built for me) of having a 2nd raised bed set up in the greenhouse, so we can grow even more food over the fall/winter. This means I can grow most of my ‘Chesapeake’ Peppers in it as well as the little hottie peppers (we do love our reapers and ghost peppers), and some tomatoes,  cover them once the fall nights get cool again, and still be able to harvest late into the season. It was a wonderful thing to be able to pick peppers and tomatoes when you can see the snow flurries falling outside.

On the mantid side of things, I have no idea where they all went. I released them in my greenhouse and do you think I could find a single piece of frass?  No. I check daily when I do my watering, and hopefully when I find a few, they will be a bit bigger.

That’s all I have for now for updates. Next week I’ll share some before/after pics of my gardens (well, the ones that had some sort of progress in them). I just finished doing my rock garden weeding yoga, so it should be looking fairly …clean!

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Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque flower) such a friendly perennial in mid-spring!

FEED ME…but not too much! Carnivorous Plant Care

 

You know you’ve thought about it, and maybe you’ve done it. Took home a venus fly trap. It was exciting and magical. You might have stuck your finger in the trap, maybe a fly that was, let’s face it, too big. You watered it. Suddenly, it went downhill in a hurry. You’ve killed it. But you’ll try again, and again.

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Open for business. A freshly groomed Dionaea sp. waiting for a little snack.

It happened to me once. I flirted with the idea of some ominously glowing terrarium filled with Venus fly traps. And yes, I’ve taken home at least 3 of them. They all died. But last year, I bought one, and I said, that’s it. I’m going to research it! And what did I learn? The biggest problem for me was watering.

WATER: Carnivorous plants do not like tap water! If you want to really succeed, you will have to come to terms with this fact first. Unless you have a reverse osmosis system in your home, don’t use tap water. You can water them with distilled, RO, or rain water. Well water, town water, treated water… Nope! The soil should always be evenly moist, they will suffer if they get too dry.

LIGHT: The next thing to address is light. They might be in a bog, but they don’t live in the darkness.  I found the best success when I put them in a southern room. I never say “put them in the window” but you can see that my Nepenthes (Pitcher plant) hangs right in the window in a southwestern exposure. It grows quite quickly here, and each trap gets larger than the previous.

FEEDING: The third thing you need to remember is to not overfeed them. They are not crawling with bugs all the time. I am emphasizing here on the Venus fly trap in this case. Many websites recommend using insects that are about 1/3 the size of the trap, so the trap will actually close and seal around the insect and digest it.

So what do I feed them? In early spring, when there aren’t many insects available, I use freeze dried bloodworms. They are in the fish food department. I’ll put a few pieces in a little cap filled with water, rehydrate them, then put them into the trap. You will probably have to stimulate the two trigger hairs for it to close. Once it’s closed, the “teeth” should lock together, and hopefully, it will digest that meal! MMMM! In a day or so you will find the trap open again, probably with the dried up worm inside. The same happens with flies. I’ve had a lot of sadistic fun with flies.

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The biggest pitcher so far is just slightly smaller than my hand.  I was told not to cradle the pitchers as it looks a little obscene. 

For flies, if I find them in the home, I will use my electronic tennis racket and smack them out of the air. Once stunned, you can pick them up by a wing and put them inside the trap. Sometimes they try to escape. Usually, they fail.

This year I also started feeding my pitcher plant live meal worms. They’re squirmy irmy and full of protein, and never put up a fight. If you had a huge grow op, I would suggest using them, however, these were purchased to feed the preying mantises that recently hatched. They’re a bit too big for the mantises yet, so it’s a feast for the Pitchers. However, do not feed them to venus fly traps unless they are tiny enough to fit completely and for the trap to close and seal around the worm.

NEVER use insects that have chewing mouth parts (for example, a cricket). You do not want them to damage the plant while trying to escape.

REPOTTING: So, say you followed all these rules, the plant has outgrown its little 2” pot. It’s time to repot them. You do not use soil. You would use a sphagnum moss. They are like hairy strands of moss. I will do two things before using it. 1: rinse it MANY times with RO, Distilled, or rain water. Unless it says on the bag it is safe for carnivorous plants, you should always rinse. When you’re done rinsing, rinse again. And 2nd: if the strands are really long, I usually chop it up with a pair of snips so it’s smaller in size. These two tricks worked for me.

I do not use fertilizer. Do not use fertilizer unless you are absolutely sure it is a good idea. Mine are thriving fine without it.

GROOMING: The next thing you will need to do is maintenance. As you can see20160508_091644.jpg in this picture, there are some shriveled old pitchers on my plant, and some of the traps on my Venus fly traps are shriveled or black. I use a pair of garden nippers to clip off the dead traps. Sometimes you can just gently tug the black ones out. Traps will die as the plant grows. As long as you see new fresh ones growing from the crown it’s okay. For pitcher plants, you can snip the pitchers off at the point where they attach to the leaf. I will only do this when the pitcher is shriveled up. Be careful when cutting off pitchers. They could still contain that appetizing liquid. Dump them out so you don’t make a mess. If the entire leaf and pitcher of a pitcher plant are brown/dry, I would cut the entire leaf off, back to the main stem.

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Full view of Nepenthes sp. Before I trimmed the shriveled trap. Make the cut just where the tendril attaches to the leaf tip. Don’t spill the contents! Every leaf should intend to grow a trap, if the plant is happy and well hydrated.

FLOWERING: And the last thing I will reccommend to you, to prevent loss of your Venus fly trap: They will try to bloom, usually in the late winter/early spring. This is very energy-expensive for the plant, and often results in its death. If you see a flower bud emerging, cut it off. This spring, I cut about 4 flower buds off. Now that spring is here, it has not attempted to bud again. And it is doing well again. I recently read in a thread that you can use these flower stalks to start new plants by sticking the cut end of the stalk back into the soil. It will root, and a new plant will follow. I haven’t tried this yet, but I plan to the next time I find a flower springing up. Try it for fun!

Hope this helps! I’m still a newbie too, but I am completely enchanted with Nepenthes! If I could find more varieties, I would have one hanging in every window. If you follow these tips, hopefully you have better luck than your previous attempts. If you have any tips I missed, speak up, I always welcome an opportunity to learn. Gardening is about sharing all things including knowledge.


And keep in mind, all these tips are what work for me. I’ve repotted both plants, and both plants are thriving wonderfully.

Early-Mid May Agenda

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Happy survivors that remained as an ice block all winter in the greenhouse. I love to see them chillin by the front door every day when I come home.

Hello! Welcome to May! This is a fine time to be outdoors. I do love me some October, but May and June? Those are my glorious months. I feel  my spirit has been coaxed out of near death, because everything is beautiful! Spring bulbs are in full swing, Rhododendrons and azaleas are flourishing. Heck, everything is! The air is fresh, the wind is warm, the grass—HACK! I’m choking on mosquitoes… I might have to stock up the bug spray kit.

Let’s get to the agenda for the month.

I’ve been waiting to finally start cutting into the new garden beds. This is when I begin. The bugs aren’t TOO bad yet (no deerflies, mosquitoes in their infancy). You know where I’m going first. The Rhodo forest. But you can’t just dive willy nilly into a new garden. I’m going to do it by the book. I’ll choose my largest tickets first. I’m going to opt for an Amelanchier canadensis (serviceberry) as it will give some mid spring flowers, fall color, and berries to feed the birds (and ourselves, they are a lot like a really sweet, mild blueberry).  I’ll probably also choose some Rhododendrons this year. The one I really love is Rhododendron ‘Edith Bosley’, a really luxurious dark purple variety. R. Nova Zembla is another really great and easily available variety I’ll plant this year too. And let’s not forget the early blooming ‘PJM’ Rhododendron too. There is a LOT of space though, so I will have to piece my garden together little by little in the forest. I will probably focus on the view from the bench first, and some of the entrance wings. We might have to also discuss what we want for a trellis leading people into the forest. Something to do with twisted wood/branches, a more rustic feel.

I might also clean up, dig up or move things in the turning circle at this time too. If I can find a Catalpa that interests me, I may plant it here in the center, or I might wait another year or so. I bet you might notice you have your Peonies popping up now too. Better get the Peony bondage out before you’re too late, you’ll be glad you did it! (I’m getting mine this week)

I’m also going to start pounding some fertilizer spikes into the soil around various trees, shrubs, etc. I planted 2 Pinus strobus (white Pine) and one Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ (Japanese Maple) last fall, and they need a little help so they can get growing after living in pots for years!

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Skeletus of future veggie bed. Manimal has upcycled some found structures for bean tunnel and espalier wiring along the back. MUCH WEEDING TO BE DONE.

In the veggie bed, I will be sowing all of my cool season crops, like radishes, broccoli, carrots etc. I’ll also be sowing my herb seeds now, since I said I would when I got back home. I know I’m way late, but better late than never.This will probably be keeping me busy for a day or so, and also, replanting my tomatoes into larger pots, and possibly (hopefully!) moving them out to the greenhouse till it’s time to plant out. I’m putting the asparagus on hold this year, but I’m definitely going to start hardening off my strawberries this week for planting.

It’s mostly just the end of cleanup season and enjoyment of spring blooms for the next few weeks. Our “Last Frost Date” is roughly the middle of May, but I usually hold off on most warm season veggie plantings till June.

This was a short post this week. I’m recovering from a hectic week of vacation among other things. I have a lot of things to pick up and I’m just hitting the ground running.

 

So enjoy the spring beauty. Next week I’ll talk a little bit about carnivorous plants. Nobody’s a natural, but once you figure it out, they’re a lot of fun!

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“Smell you later!” Heh heh.