Drowning in larkspur (that’s a good thing)

The first larkspur have begun to open in my garden. Last year, I had one really HUGE larkspur plant, a deep purple one, as well as a few smaller ones. Well, Mr. Jumbo seems to have been very virile and to have self-seeded with great abandon. This is great for the moment, though I’m not sure what I’ll put in the place of my four square feet of larkspur once the blooms peter out, probably in early July. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the intricate shapes of the flowers, the many visits from bees, the occasional white or pale pink interloper, and that wonderful sea of deep purply-blue.

We had another terrible storm last night. My beautiful little lettuces were pounded. A lot of the poppies got flattened. But the larkspur are still standing, proud and tall!

First opening announcement: Today brought the first nasturtium, WAY WAY WAY ahead of those I planted this year; this one is a volunteer. I never had nasturtium winter over before; my friend Ruth said hers have self-seeded as well, for the first time ever. Mine is a pretty, rich mid-orange. Gotta love those nasturtiums!

Photo courtesy of Nell Carroll.

Worth the wait

Sometimes things really are worth waiting for. Years and years ago–as long as 10 years, maybe?–I bought a clematis, a species called Clematis durandi, from a catalog. I planted it out beside the garage, in between two antique climbing roses, with romantic visions of the deep blue clematis flowers twining through the pink and white roses every June. That’s not exactly how it happened. The clematis was very fragile and floppy. I couldn’t get it to climb, much less twine. And while the flowers were gorgeous, they were so sparse—maybe a dozen over the course of a summer—that they were barely noticeable. Once in a while I thought, “Maybe I should move that clematis to a different spot,” but you know, once in a while I also think, “Maybe I should lose 50 pounds,” and neither gets done.

I love clematis and considered buying more when I’d see them in catalogs, especially a fuzzy bear called ‘Blue Multi,’ but I’d had so little luck with this one that I never did.

Well. For some reason—who knows why plants do these things?—my durandi decided this was its summer to shine. It’s out back blooming its head off, twining beautifully through my white ‘Mme. Hardy’ damask rose (which unfortunately lost a lot of blossoms in a terrific hailstorm last night …), and it’s as though it’s a completely different creature. The stems are stiff and strong, the flowers are big and bold, as you can see in my photo. It’s a metamorphosis! Ten years seems like a long time to wait for a plant to come into its own, but it would be so ungrateful of me to complain!

Off with their heads!

I had one of those garden moments today. I was strolling along the side garden bed when I noticed the very top of an Asiatic lily lying on the pavement. Perplexed, I looked along the pavement … and saw many, many more decapitated lily heads littering the side yard. For a moment, I thought–hoped–the damage might have been done by some critter, perhaps a very, very large rabbit standing on a stepladder. But I knew in my heart that these injuries had been inflicted by human–make that child–hands. And that put me in an awful spot.

A big family lives next door to me–mom, dad, four kids. The oldest kid is maybe 12; the youngest is 3. They are all adorable, funny, nice, kind  kids. But–they’re kids. And that means they put a different value on things like lily buds than adults like me. To them, the nice, fat buds of a lily are something to swing a plastic baseball bat at. Whereas to me, those buds are something I wait all year long for, holding my breath.

Now all the lilies are ruined, which is bad enough. What’s even worse is that I then had to wait until I saw the mom next door and then have an exceedingly awkward conversation with her, one of those in which she feels horribly embarrassed by the havoc her kids have wreaked and I keep trying to assure her it’s no big deal, I know how you feel, it’s not like MY kids never did anything like that, I don’t mind, it’s okay, I just don’t want any more damage. She kept apologizing, and I kept apologizing, and I kind of wish I hadn’t brought it up, but I feel better knowing I have.

None of this, of course, is any guarantee the same thing won’t happen next year. 😉

Blackberry parfait

Sometimes a plant sort of … grows on you. One of the items Proven Winners shipped to me for trialing this spring was a calibrachoa called ‘Blackberry Punch.’ When I first unpacked it, it seemed weird and dark and not exactly festive–sort of a flower that vampires would adore. But now that it’s been happily situated in a couple of containers, I have to admit, I’m starting to feel this baby. The flowers are incredibly velvety and rich-looking, and when they unfold all the way, they have bright yellow hearts that perk the whole flower up and keep it from being gloomy.

I’ve had good luck in the past with calibrachoa. They’re petunia relatives, and the flowers look just like little petunias. Little petunias are fine by me; I sometimes find the big new hybrids a bit steroidal. They’re supposed to attract hummingbirds, which I always find thrilling once I realize that’s not a giant bug zipping around my yard. 🙂 And the flowers don’t seem to be as tender as those of true petunias, which so easily get shredded by rain. We’ll see how these blackberry beauties fare come the dog days of August, but for now, I think this blackberry is très parfait!

Oh, and update on the floral openings: the first three calendula unfurled today, as well as the first few of many, many, many (probably too many; I should thin then again) larkspur—a lovely rich purple version. Hooray!

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® http://www.provenwinners.com.

Bidens my time

Okay, okay, sorry, lousy pun. I like the plant known as bidens because I like to think it’s named after the Vice President, who’s married to a lady who used to be married to my first cousin–for real!–and who I met once, back when I was, like, 12, and she was so very very pretty and sweet and kind. So anyway. Proven Winners sent me two plants of a new bidens called ‘Goldilocks Rocks,’ and while the plants are still quite small (the tags promise they’ll spread out some), they do have very charming bright yellow flowers about an inch wide, plus pretty feathery foliage. So yeah, I wasn’t sure I was going to sign on the bidens bandwagon, since I have lovely coreopsis that self-seed in my garden every year and make a big golden-yellow splash. But the coreopsis are awfully tall and leggy, and if these bidens stay sort of small and bushy and self-contained, then the genus will have found a new fan.

I’ll let you know what the summer brings. Meanwhile, we’re at that time of year when every day brings something new starting to bloom in the garden! Today, my first California poppies–and oh, man, talk about molten gold; they are the most vibrant yellow imaginable. Also the first of the above-mentioned coreopsis. There’s something so much more satisfying about the first bloom of something you’ve grown from seed, rather than something you’ve plopped in the ground full-blown. I do love the plants that Proven Winners sends, and my garden would be far poorer without them. Still … tomorrow, I think the nigella will bloom!

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® http://www.provenwinners.com.

Blue jean baby

This is another plant sent by Proven Winners. It’s what they call a “Superbena,” a.k.a. a souped-up verbena. You really have to soup up a verbena, in my opinion, to get anything worthwhile. Oh, I buy them–they’re irresistible. I bought two yesterday, a yellow one and a coat-of-many-colors pink-and-orange-and-yellow one. But I’ll live to regret it. Not enough flowers to be worth it, in my book.

But! But! This one from Proven Winners is covered in blossoms, and they’re SUCH a gorgeous color. Even before I looked at the name tag, ‘Royale Chambray,’ I was thinking “blue jeans.” There’s something so denim-y about it! It’s not as purple as it looks in this photo. It’s a straight-out blue with a hint of gray, with the flowers darker or lighter according to how long they’ve been open. So it really does look worn and comfy like a pair of old blue jeans.

I got two of these. One went in a container in the backyard with a yellow bidens hybrid … we’ll see, I have my doubts that the bidens will do any better than my self-seeding coreopsis that goes all summer long! The other went in a big urn on my front porch with some green-yellow coleus; a couple of lovely Nonstop tuberous begonias (yeah, well, we’ll see how they do; it will depend on the weather), one rose-pink and the other a sunset-y orange/pink/yellow; and a couple of other things. The Superbena is supposed to need full sun and won’t get it on the porch. If it seems to be faltering, I’ll move it. It’s way too pretty to lose!

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® http://www.provenwinners.com.

They’re here!!!

This is one of the highlights of my summer. I just took possession at my front door of a huge, heavy package from Proven Winners, the company I trial-garden for. I took it into the kitchen, read through the information, and then slowly, slowly, while dying of anticipation, unwrapped the contents to see what I’d been gifted with. There are five or six different plants, and I’ll happily introduce you to them over the next few days. But I had to start with what I think is my favorite so far. (I should add that the plants this year are full-grown, fully blooming, BIG bushy ones, not the little starters PW has sometimes provided in the past. I don’t know what I did to get so lucky, but I’m glad!)

The above is Pretty Much Picasso, and it is pretty much the coolest petunia I’ve ever seen. I got three pots full, and every one is bushy and busting out of its container. I love the new varieties of petunia that really spread out and go to town. And how wonderful and unexpected is this color combination? It’s like floral coleus, if you know what I mean.

I’m not the only one in love with Picasso; these have won a ton of prizes in the industry. Now my job is to spoil these pretty babies for the next four months or so, which shouldn’t be hard to do at all.

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners®, http://www.provenwinners.com.

A red, red rose

Not long after we moved here 17 years ago, I went shopping at a garden center with my then very-young son. We ended up buying a rose standard, one of those top-knotty things that are trained with a straight trunk and a round ball of foliage and yellow flowers at the top. I’m not sure what I was thinking. I’m not really the sort of person who’s good at keeping plants–or kids–trained. But we found a nice spot for the rosebush in a new little round plot I’d made in the backyard, and we enjoyed it that summer, and it became known for some reason as “Jake’s rosebush.”

The following spring, the foliage came back, looking a bit scraggly and worn, but as I recall, the bush didn’t flower. I decided to give it one more year. Meanwhile, it proceeded to grow like topsy. It was no longer top-knotty; instead, it was sort of fountain-shaped. And there were a lot of new branches sticking out of the bottom. The spring after that, the bush did flower. But instead of the big, fancy yellow roses it had when we bought it, it had sweet, small, single red roses, with center tufts of bright gold stamens. They were lovely, really–just like the Red Rose of York. The only drawback was that they had no scent.

Well, Jake’s rosebush has gone on growing like topsy. And I’ve read up some on roses, and understand now that the more delicate yellow rosebush was grafted onto this hardy, common rosebush bottom, and once the yellow part died, the red just went to town. I think I like it better than the standard, frankly. It makes a big mound of crimson in the yard, it doesn’t seem to mind being hacked at and pruned like crazy, and it comes back again and again. And it always makes me think of Robert Burns’s poem:

O my luve’s like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my luve’s like a melodie

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will love thee still, my Dear,

Till a’the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my Dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:

I will luve thee still, my Dear,

While the sands o’life shall run.

And fare thee weel my only Luve!

And fare thee weel a while!

And I will come again, my Luve,

Tho’ it were ten thousand mile!

Photo courtesy of Proven Winers® http://www.provenwinners.com

My own private peony

I wasn’t always a peony lover. In fact, I used to find them rather … over the top. A bit too much. De trop, as the French say. The flowers are so big and graceless, the beach balls of the flower world. They always seem to shatter in the rain, leaving gobby brown petal-masses flattened against the ground. Besides, they bloom when roses are blooming, and who would want peonies when you could plant roses instead?

But the older couple who used to own the house next doors to ours had peonies against our shared fence, and I have to admit, when those big, blowsy blossoms would poke their heads through the cyclone and bloom on my side, I started to grow fond of them. Then, about five years ago, I found a tiny peony seedling all the way across the yard from that fence. It was smack-dab in the front of my biggest flower bed. I left it there for a long time—years, in fact—not wanting to disturb its equilibrium. I mean, it had to like that spot, right, if it had come up there? But though the foliage filled out, it never bloomed, and I got tired of it hogging up the front of the bed. So last fall, I moved it back across the yard to where the seed for it came from, among the few stalwart peony survivors that still come up along the fence (only on my side, since the new family that lives there has four kids and a trampoline!).

And guess what? This spring, it bloomed! And suddenly I find I’m very, very fond of peonies, especially THIS peony, which I’ve nurtured along since its birth. (I always have a special vested interest in flowers I grow from seed, just as I have a special vested interest in the kids I’ve grown from seed. Other people’s–not so much.) The first flower is big and overblown, and it’s raining tonight, so no doubt tomorrow I’ll find it plastered against the ground. But it looks very much like the wild form of Paeonia lactiflora, the common peony, shown above. Pretty!

Photo by Ulf Eliasson licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Bad bad bunny

The baby bunny and I are no longer friends! I mean it! The baby bunny has been chomping hard on the biggest of all my Icelandic poppies. It takes a lot for me to turn on a baby bunny, but this is too much.

Said bunny has also chomped one of my echinacea to death.

I’m not sayin’ it’s gonna be an eye-for-an-eye kind of thing. But I may start to sprinkle Pounce kitty treats around the yard.

Speaking of wildlife, we had a bat in the house last night. I was sitting quietly, drinking a glass of wine, watching college lacrosse playoffs, when a black shape swooped through the dining room. “Bat!” I screamed, jumping up from the sofa and running upstairs through the bedroom where my husband slept. “Bat! Bat! Bat! Bat!” (I’m really scared of bats. Hell, I don’t even like birds.) I went on screaming “Bat!” while I locked myself in my son’s third-floor bedroom (he was at his senior prom). Husband roused himself sleepily and grumpily, and for the next half hour I huddled in the bedroom in fear while he stomped around the house trying to get the bat to fly outside. Failing that, he finally whomped it to death with a tennis racquet.

Wow. This is a post filled with death. Questions: Why do bats only fly in so late at night? And more important: How the hell are they getting in? We just had all our windows replaced!

Photo by Louise Docker licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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