Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer Rain

One of my favorite smells is the rain in summer. It’s Memorial Day weekend, the start of summer, and sure enough it rained. It was a brief, passing shower that came out of nowhere. I was weeding and pruning when suddenly the sky turned dark. I thought, “Hmm, it smells like rain.” Then the wind kicked up and there it was – a downpour. I sought shelter on my screened-in back porch, where my kittens were lazily napping. I poured a glass of wine and enjoyed the fragrance and sound of the rain. The sun popped out and it became a sun shower. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Whenever it rains in summer like that, I think of the Johnny Rivers song, “Summer Rain.” The tune goes through my head, “Summer rain taps at my window / West wind soft as a sweet dream / My love warm as the sunshine / Sittin’ here by me, she’s here by me…” Johnny Rivers is probably more well-known for “Secret Agent Man,” but “Summer Rain” is a favorite of mine. 

Raindrops in motion. (Picture taken through the screen on my back porch.)

Not long after it started, the rain was gone. And I had to turn on the sprinkler to finish watering the garden. It was a fleeting, happy moment. 

If you want to hear “Summer Rain,” go here to see a taping of a live performance from 1973 (with the mustache, wavy long hair, and all the glamour of the 70s):

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pass the Wine, Please

No, I’m not talking about a bottle of Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Grigio — although I certainly wouldn’t turn those down. I’m talking about an Iris. I’ve always liked bearded iris, so it’s interesting that I only have one in my garden and I just planted it the year before last. They are graceful flowers that come in so many great colors. I had a hard time deciding what kind I wanted in my garden. I finally decided on “Pass the Wine” due to it’s dark maroon colors. Or so I thought. That’s what the picture in the catalog looked like, but that’s not what I got. Being a graphic designer, I should know that what you see isn’t always what you get when it comes to color. We are often telling customers that their hard-copy proofs or their PDF proofs won’t match their printed piece exactly. I guess it can sometimes be the same with a picture in a garden catalog and the actual flowers! I looked it up on (which is a useful website, albeit not very well-designed) and checked out the pictures posted by other people — and gosh darnit, they look just like mine. I wonder if those people were as disappointed as I was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful with lovely colors. Just not what I expected. So take a look at the so-called wine-colored flowers of “Pass the Wine.” It really is pretty, despite it not being what I thought I would be.

If you want to see what I was expecting, go here:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Appreciation of Azaleas

I must admit, I’ve never really been a great admirer of azaleas. It wasn’t until I went to Winterthur in Delaware one Mother’s Day that I realized how beautiful they could be. Winterthur is an amazing place and if you’ve never been there, you MUST go. It was the house of Henry Francis du Pont. Not only are there 175 rooms filled with antique American furniture, there’s a wonderful 60-acre naturally landscaped garden. I will have to do a post on Winterthur sometime with pictures. But I digress... Winterthur has a truly magnificent azalea garden. Around Mother’s Day it’s a mass of glorious colors. After seeing that I thought, “Hmm, maybe there is something to this azalea thing after all.” Mind you, I’m not ready to run out and join the Azalea Society of America (yes, there is one), but I’ve decided azaleas do have a place in the landscape.

When Brian and I first bought this house in 2005, I spent the first year just observing the grounds – not planting much, but just seeing what was already there and what it did when. There were azaleas in the front yard and I wasn’t sure I’d keep them until I saw them bloom that first spring in 2006. They light up the front yard in white and magenta. I decided I kinda liked them there.

Azaleas in the front yard.

The front yard is an area I haven’t done much with and that’s in large part due to those azaleas. It’s also due to the fact that there’s some serious tree roots and it makes for difficult digging. The only thing I’ve planted is a hydrangea and another azalea to replace a large, dead azalea. I know I’ll eventually do more, but I’ve got my hands full with the back yard and for now I’m content with the azaleas in the front.

Close-up of the azaleas in the front yard.

There are also two azaleas in the back yard by our shed / workshop. They bring color to an otherwise fairly dark area. 

Pink azalea by the shed as it’s starting to bloom.
(That’s a neighbor’s blue house in background. No, not Mr. Friendly Loud-Talking Neighbor.)

Yes, it’s true, the azaleas are done and not blooming right now. But I couldn’t resist showing some pictures.

Magenta and pink azaleas in front of the shed / workshop. Also some clematis in this shot.
(No, we don’t keep Christmas lights up all year round. Well actually we kinda do.
We like the white lights all year round on the shed and in the greenhouse.
They happen to be falling down a bit in spots, though. Guess we better get on that!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fence Farce

I want to post some pictures of my latest big garden project that I've been working on since last fall, my raised vegetable beds. However, before I do so, I need to premise it with the story of what I refer to as “the fence farce” or “the invisible fence.”

We are very close to our neighbors on three sides. The neighbor along the back is a rental property, however the landlord shows up pretty much every weekend to do whatever it is he does in their large garage. Our property and his were divided by an overgrown hedge of invasive honeysuckle and who knows what else. It was pretty messy and not very attractive, but at least it was a green visual barrier from my neighbor’s parking lot of a driveway that includes various vehicles that don’t work anymore (a broken down boat, wave-runner, and at least two or three other cars).

My view of the back of my yard and the neighbor's property when there was still a hedge.
The hedge is behind the curved garden bed and the small raised bed (that has since fallen apart).
The large, white structure is the neighbor's garage.

Early last spring, my loud-talking, friendly neighbor says, “Hey neighbor! We’re planning on putting up a fence next week. I have a friend who can take down that hedge for you really cheap if you want.” Little did he know that Brian and I had been discussing taking out the hedge and putting up a fence. I even got a quote from a landscaping company on clearing out the hedge and the left side of the backyard, which is also overgrown (that’s a story for another time). The price I had gotten was almost $3,000, so needless to say I didn’t go through with that. I got a price from the neighbor’s friend for taking out just the hedge and it was a good deal so we decided to go ahead with it.

The fence that was supposed to go up “next week” turned into “next month” and then turned into “next year.” I spent all season long digging out roots of honeysuckle that kept producing more offspring and eventually got it to the point where it stopped popping up. As time went on, I would occasionally ask Mr. Friendly Loud-Talking Neighbor if he was still planning on putting up a fence. The answer was always yes, but there was the excuse of expense and other unexpected things that came up that had to be taken care of first. The last excuse was he was waiting for his tax refund. I’m guessing he’s gotten that refund by now. I told Brian that I feel like saying to the guy, “When you said you were going to put up a fence, I didn’t realize it was going to be an invisible one.” But I’m not sure how he’d take that and Mr. Friendly Loud-Talking Neighbor may turn into Mr. Mean-and-Nasty Loud-Talking Neighbor.

So I spent all season-long last year looking at the view of my tranquil garden with flowers blooming and birds chirping...with the hideous parking lot behind it. I cursed that view every day. Come the colder weather, we had wood stolen from our woodpile and my entire pile of kindling that I had gathered throughout the season was taken, as well. Now I’m concerned my vegetables will start disappearing as soon as they ripen. I find myself wishing I had that ugly, overgrown hedge back.

So that’s the story of “the fence farce” or “the invisible fence.” Here’s some before and after shots. Let’s see who you think has the better view. Here are pictures of the neighbor’s view of my garden:

Mr. Friendly Loud-Talking Neighbor's view of my garden and shed in summer
(the blue house in the background is another neighbor's house).
The neighbor's view of my garden in the summer.
The neighbor's view of the back of our shed and house in summer.
The neighbor's view of my garden and shed in spring.

Here’s the view that I have of the neighbor's property:

My view of the neighbor's driveway and garage.
Usually there's even more cars in the driveway, which is why I call it the “parking lot.”
Need I say more?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bleeding Hearts

Even though my Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra Spectabilis) are losing their blooms now, I had to post some pictures of how lovely they looked a few weeks ago. They start blooming in April, maybe just after the crocuses and just before the wisteria. Their bloom-time overlaps the wisteria a bit and they compliment each other well just outside my greenhouse. Provided I keep them watered regularly, the foliage will stay green most of the season. But late in summer or fall they tend to die back, which is always a bit sad – but I know they’ll come back as beautiful as ever next year.

There are a few varieties of Dicentra, including the fringed variety, however the “old fashioned” Bleeding Heart is my favorite. There was one already planted next to my greenhouse when we moved in and I loved it so much that I planted two more. For some people, Bleeding Hearts conjure of fond memories of visits to Grandma’s house. It’s been a staple of the English-style cottage garden since the 18th century.

There’s some interesting folklore about how the Bleeding Heart got its name. I’m not sure where the origins of this story come from, but I found a blog that illustrates the story very well using pictures of the different flower parts so that it all comes together and makes sense. Check it out, it really is cool how it relates to the flower structure: