Monday, June 05, 2017

Siberian irises, desparate remedies, and cultivating the art of renunciation

In order not to impact flowering, gardeners are typically advised to transplant Siberian irises in the fall. But what if your Siberian irises have very little impact anyway? What if that dense mat of knotted, fibrous plants is only yielding one or two blooms? Wait to see if more appear? Or plunge in with shovel and knife to carve out new divisions? That was the dilemma yesterday.

I opted for spring transplanting. The week ahead promises to be rainy and cool, so the weather is on my side. After shoveling up a mound, I pulled off groups of two or three outer, younger plants and briefly soaked their roots in water. I added a little composted cow manure and 10-10-10 fertilizer to the soil and poked these divisions back into the ground. Because it takes a year or two for transplanted divisions to flower, I limited myself to a single clump. Now that I see how desperately these irises need to be separated, I know that I have to continue to cycle through the garden clump by clump.

So, in foregoing a strong turn-out of Siberian irises this year and perhaps even next, I am reminded of Thomas Hardy's advice from his lesser novel, Desperate Remedies: “Cultivate the art of renunciation.”  And patience. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Garden goal roll, 2017

My garden goal roll is more than just a "To Do" list.  Yes, this checklist is very definitely the way that I remember what needs doing when, but it also serves as my electronic diary, where I can record what worked and what didn't.  Sometimes that thing that didn't work is me: my personal rate of success in meeting my tasks is about 40%.  Thankfully, Mother Nature performs to a higher standard.


Dust peonies with copper fungicide to limit blight. Done 4/15/2017. Re-apply in June.

Top-dress spring-flowering bulbs with 3-5-3 when the leaf-tips emerge.  Done 4/5/2017.

Prune and clean up shrubs damaged by winter snows. On-going!

Treat daylilies infected by Aurebasidium microsictum fungus with Daconil (chlorothalonil)  every two weeks. Sprayed 4/18/2017, 5/3/2017, and 5/20/2017 (yellow leaves starting to appear). Replenish the bed with six plantings of Winsome Lady, a fungus-resistant variety from Oakes Dayliles. Planted 4/30/2017. Sprinkled with a little HollyTone to counteract lime leached from house foundation into flower bed.

Shape "New Dawn" rose canes. And figure out a support structure.

Feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone. A little bit applied 4/30/2017.

Dose "New Dawn" rose with 1/2 cup of Epsom salts in 2 cups water. Applied 5/3/2017.

Trim "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle back.

Move sprigs of "Autumn Joy" sedum to front of bed by side of house. Done 4/30/2017.


Plant dahlias. (Along bed at back of house planted 1 x Touche (BBSC) 3.5' salmon/lavender, 2 x Ivanetti (BA) 3.5' purple ball, 2 x Totally Tangerine (AN)3.5' anemone orange, and 2 x Giggles (CO) 3.5' collarette orange/lilac, all from Swan Island 5/20/2017)

Top-dress beds with composted cow manure throughout month.

Review spring bulb performance.  What needs to be replaced or amplified? Add +/- 50 bulbs of tete-a-tete for front beds. Rotate in another batch of 25 "Gladiator" alliums in back bed against house.

Planted 6 Victoria blue salvia along bed at back of house.

Set up front porch and garden table containers.

That stuff that you didn't get to last month?  Do it now.


Planted 3 Cathedral white salvia in bed at back of house.

Edge garden beds.

Mid-June: spray groundcover with horticultural oil to combat scale infestation. Spray again 10 days later. Pachysandra, periwinkle and rhododendron sprayed with Four Seasons horticultural oil 6/10/2017.

Cut out deadwood from and thin spirea hedge.

Yellowing leaves of evening primrose treated with handful of garden iron applied to soil and leaves drenched with Miralcid acid-loving fertilizer 6/9/2017. 
Scratch 1 1/4 cups of RoseTone around the roots of "New Dawn" climbing rose now monthly through the summer; be sure to stop feeding by August 15 in order to prevent developing new growth that will not have time to harden off before fall temperatures drop.

After flowering, shear Amsonia hubrichtii by 1/3 of its height to promote better form. 
When it is 3 feet tall, cut Joe pye weed "Gateway" back to half its height to encourage dense growth.

Stake dahlias when the tubers are planted and again and again as they grow. Stop dahlias by pinching stem back to four pairs of leaves. 
Pinch back shasta daisies to 6". Or just get rid of them?

And stake, stake, stake!


After flowering, prune the "New Dawn" climbing rose. 

Prune back 50-80% of "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle after bloom is over.

Late August/Early September

Separate Siberian irises along bed at back of house as needed. Group at center separated 6/4/2017.

Time to order spring bulbs! 
*   Indoor at least 25 paperwhite narcissus bulbs and 2 amaryllis bulbs
*   Outdoor: 25 Gladiator allium

Transplant peony in shaded old side bed to sunny spot at back of house.

Columbus Day

Plant spring bulbs. 
Dig in bone meal around peonies.

Lightly feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone.

Start forcing paperwhites indoors for Thanksgiving bloom.

Veterans Day

Top-dress beds with composted cow manure.

Late December

Start planning plant purchases for 2018.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Fall reckoning

A few Indian summer flowers have been finally harvested. This last bouquet offers a reckoning of the season's successes and failures, starting with the blooms arranged in a recycled Tianjin 天津冬菜 jar.

Pickle-pot posy
Dahlias: of several planted, only Kelsey Radiance bloomed.  The others suffered insufficient sunlight, uneven watering, the predations of rabbits.
Next year: just stick to low dahlias in the old side yard.

Salvia farinacea: "Victoria Blue" deserves strong representation in the garden.
Next year: what about adding a white-flowering annual variety, such as "Evolution," "Victoria White Series" or "Jewel White"?

Day lilies: For several--well, for several several--years, the daylilies have been infected by leaf streak caused by Aurebasidium microsictum fungus. At the end of the summer, I sprayed the foliage with Daconil (chlorothalonil) both after cutting down and again when re-growth appeared.
Next year: continue with the Daconil treatments every two weeks and replenish the bed with new fungus-resistant daylilies ( Betty Bennet, Edna Spalding, Ella Pettigrew, Globe Trotter, Nancy Hicks, Pink Superior, Ron Rousseau, Sudie, Tropical Tones, Upper Room, or Winsome Lady).

Streak, blight, fungus . . .

Sedum: Pinching and trimming back is better than not doing either, but that luxuriously full and rounded mound remains elusive. 
Next year: no reason not to shift stragglers lurking around the compost area into real beds.

Compost pile kabocha?
And speaking of the compost pile: despite the continuing challenge of balancing dry/wet, green/brown, kitchen scraps/everything else, one discarded seed sprouted out between the bin openings, flowered, and set a cute kabocha squash. Success!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Good morning, evening primrose!

What is better than a serendipitous plant discovery?  Maybe receiving a gift of that serendipitous plant discovery!

Evening primrose (Oenothera sp.) in the morning

Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) has been on my wish list for years.  Although this American native appears variously as plants tall and short, lovers of damp or dry soils, and with blooms of white, pink, and even blue, my heart was set on a finding a well-behaved specimen that approximated the wild yellow-flowering version.

So how happy was I that last Independence Day weekend my sister-in-law offered a few seedlings of the sunny yellow specimens from her Maine coastal cottage garden in gratitude for a morning of weeding?

Pulling weeds, Harpswell, July 2015

Of the four seedlings that I transplanted, only the one best situated survived our winter. In bloom, it lights up a semi-sunny, well-drained bed.

While this nameless charmer might be a member of the genus Oenothera, I'm not sure of either species or variety. I'm guessing Oenothera fruticosa by reference to its size, leaf shape, soil preference, and sunny disposition. My only regret is that, despite the name, this evening primrose's yellow flowers are usually folding up by the time that I get home.

Closing up for the night

Monday, June 13, 2016

Compost challenges and cures

Throughout the winter and spring, we've dumped banana peels, kohlrabi parings, and melon rinds into our compost bin. What's the result of such environmentally-friendly diligence? Have we been rewarded with the gardener's black gold: crumbly, fine-textured, and earth-scented compost? Sadly, no. Instead, I have a pile of slimy, wet, malodorous muck. It looks and smells like . . .  yes, that's right. You don't want this stinky, sticky stuff on your skin, on your clothes, or in your garden.

What to do? The solution is simple. The green/brown or nitrogen/carbon balance of my compost pile is out of whack.  The recipe should be 1/3 nitrogen to 2/3 carbon but, during the cold months when green nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps rapidly accumulate, that ratio is difficult to meet.  To redress the situation, I need to add carbon-rich, absorbent materials. I use whatever I have at hand:
  • Shredded paper towels and newspaper (no glossy inserts or magazines!)
  • Dried grass clippings or lawn thatch
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Shredded leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Dryer lint
Shredded paper towels
To re-charge the process of decay, it's important to aerate the compost. A handled edging tool is great for slicing down into the pile, twisting, and lifting. Once lightened up, a spading fork does the job just fine. Turning over the pile mixes up the carbon and nitrogen components, encourages the growth of bacteria, and provides a good upper body work-out. 

Well-mixed and warming up
I'm not a big fan of dumping unfinished household compost on garden beds--why have the smell of raw sewage compete with that of roses and lilacs?--but it can be done. Since adding a few loads of carbon materials last week, this pile is percolating. I'm hoping that by the time that fall top-dressing rolls around, my compost will be cured.

Self-sowing cantaloupe seedling peaking out of the bin.