The autumn harvest

Been too long since I posted! First there was the long, hot drought, which meant that commenting on gardens–at least mine–was basically senseless, since everything was as parched and dry as the Texas panhandle. And then I went on a brief (but lovely) vacation to the seashore, and moved my daughter into her first real apartment … oh, what the heck. You don’t want to hear excuses; you only want to see the baby. So, for a good month and a half after the initial early-July plethora of tomatoes, there were no more tomatoes (see drought, above). But now the tomatoes have started to come back in, as has a fine mini-crop of jalapeños. And I cut a bunch of white (now green) hydrangeas–they’re Proven Winners’ ‘Incrediball,’ and the flower heads really are as big as a child’s head–and put them in a white vase a friend from work gave me, and took a photo of the whole blessed thing, and this is the result. It makes me feel better about a harvest year that didn’t quite turn out as well as I had hoped.

I should mention, however, that I planted some free nicotiana seeds that came with my seed order this year, way back in the spring. Then I more or less forgot about them. Hey, guess what? The seeds germinated, the plants got WAY big and fluffy before I realized what they were, and if frost holds off just another three weeks or so, I’ll have the lovely, unmistakeable fragrance of Nicotiana alata in my garden this year!

Too hot to post!

Too hot to garden! Too hot to breathe! Not too hot for somebody in my house (not accusing anyone in particular, mind you) of busting some branches off the big-ass coleus beside the back door while taking out the trash. (I will mention there are only two other people in the house, and they’re both male and accident-prone …) Anyway, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Look how pretty the busted leaves look in a vase. I never would have thought to do this if somebody hadn’t broken my plant.

And I bet they’ll last longer than flowers do in this awful heat. Supposed to hit 100 today! Sticking close to the fan …

Salad days!

Lookee here! First crop of the year! The son and I had bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for lunch for the first time this season. These are decorating the kitchen table, and there are more out there ripe for the picking! I’m so happy it’s tomato time!!!

Lavon and surely

Sorry. Bad pun day. This lil’ beauty is Orienpet lily ‘Lavon’ (yes, this time I’m sure it’s an Orienpet!) coming up amidst the branches of a hydrangea, ‘Pinky Winky.’ That’s a terrible, terrible name for a hydrangea, I agree. It’s actually much better than its name. It’s called ‘Pinky Winky’ because the branches have a red (not pink) tint to them; the blossoms open brick-reddish, lighten to white, and then go green. I like the shape of the flower heads, a sort of wide, long wedge. It looks great dried in vases. And the branches are very thick and strong. My ‘Pinky Winky’ has a sort of strange shape to it, and has ever since I first got it as a trial plant from Proven Winners. I think I need some tutoring in hydrangea pruning. I just cut off the branches I want to use as dried flowers, but clearly this one needs more discipline.

As for ‘Lavon,’ it’s a beauty. This is the fourth year for the three bulbs I originally planted, and they’ve doubled in number; there are six stems now. The flowers are a little bit subtle; they don’t hit you over the head. The cream is sort of muted, and so are the crimson and green. But the scent is delectable, the blossoms hold well even in heat, and hey, I’ve doubled my investment in a brief four years, which would be great even on Wall Street!

A mystery lily!

I’m usually pretty darned good at keeping track of what I plant. But I’m confused by these lilies. Confused by their beauty, yes, but also–what the heck are they? Years ago, I had a very tall trumpet lily in this same spot in my side yard. It stopped coming up eventually–I think the little kids next door kept chopping off its head, and I have to admit, if I were a little kid, that tall stalk would be alluring. But I know for sure that there were several years when it didn’t bloom.

So I thought that last year, I ordered three “Orienpet” lilies to replace it. Orienpets are hybrids of Oriental lilies and trumpet lilies; they’re supposed to have good fragrance and bloom their heads off. Sure enough, this year three lilies came up in this spot, right beside the downspout. And they’re gorgeous; no one could argue with that. But … I can’t seem to find my order form, and I can’t remember what these are! I’ve been all over the Internet looking at pictures of Orienpets and Trumpets and Orientals, and none of them look exactly like this.

Also? They’re not all that fragrant. Actually, they’re not fragrant at all unless you stick your nose right in them, and then you get covered with lily pollen, which DOES NOT wash out of clothing or off one’s skin, ever.

It doesn’t really matter what they are, because I won’t order them again if they don’t have that lily fragrance. Lilies without fragrance aren’t really lilies, if you ask me. I do like this photo, though! For once, I didn’t jiggle the camera.

At long last, rain!

We’ve been in a serious dry spell hereabouts, and it’s lasted a long time. I tried all my tricks to dispel it. I watered the tomatoes last weekend. Usually, going to all the trouble of getting out the hose and hooking it up is sure to bring on a storm. I then went grocery-shopping today. Just about every time I do that and have a million bags to wrangle, the heavens open with a vengeance the moment I step out of the store. But today I got all those bags in the car and then in the house, and all I was drenched in was sweat. It was unbelievably hot and humid. I was listening to weather reports on the radio, and I kept hearing about ferocious storms in other places–over in Jersey, up in the next county, but nothing here.

So I figured I’d check my e-mail. That’s when the drizzle started. Before long, it was a deluge, complete with lightning that knocked out our lights and my computer and the first draft of this post. I sat with my son on the front porch and enjoyed watching our quiet street become a river. Torrents were streaming off the roofs of nearby houses. And the ground, which has been so hard and pale and dry, gradually became dark brown.

And this wasn’t one of those hit-and-run storms, either. After the initial downpour, the lightning passed us by, and now we’re enjoying a nice, steady, not-quite-gentle-but-n0t-quite-heavy rain that’s slowly soaking deep into the roots I’ve been so worried about–the roses, the toad lilies, the tomatoes, and even the zinnias. Usually they can take hot and dry, but they’re the last thing I planted this year, and they’ve gotten off to a shaky start.

Now I’m just sitting and typing and loving the wonderful sound of the falling rain.

Photo by Adrian.Benko licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Cleome at the garden gate

You know the old saying that a weed is just a plant growing where it’s not wanted? That would, uh, make this lovely white Cleome hassleriana a weed, since it sprang up all on its own right at the opening in my back garden gate. And yes, that would be a sunflower volunteer coming up just behind it. So now I face what is, for me, living in an old house with even older sidewalks, a surprisingly common dilemma: Do I pull these lovely plants, or do I let them go, knowing their robust roots will rout the concrete in which they grow? In fact, that sunflower just might push the entire garage over; it’s in pretty shaky shape.

For now, we can still get out to the garbage cans and the alley. But not for long!

Stocking up

You know how you wander through the grocery store in spring and see those twirly display thingees with the little packets of seeds on them? Yeah. Well. I can’t walk past one of those display thingees without buying some seeds. I mean. Half the time they’re 25 percent off, and they only cost two bucks to begin with, so how can you lose?

You can lose because the seeds don’t come up sometimes. Then again, you can also surprise yourself.

Last spring, I bought a packet of stock seeds–Matthiola incana. I love stocks, especially their spicy, clove-esque smell. I rarely see them in nurseries, so I usually only get to enjoy them if they happen to be included in a bouquet the husband buys me. But I went ahead and planted my stock seeds, even though I knew they preferred cool weather and weren’t likely to do well.

Well! They came up! I wouldn’t say they’re anything like florist stocks; the flowers are single, not double (there’s a long explanation on Wikipedia of single-blossomed and double-blossomed stocks and genetics and alleles, if YOU want to read it), and they’re only about five inches off the ground so far. Still, one is blooming! I’m so excited! I feel like an expert nurserywoman, I must say.

Photo by Kenpei licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Stunflowers!

I’ve been looking at this photo for quite a while now, trying to figure out why I find it so disconcerting. I think it must be because my eyes don’t know where to go. A sunflower is so visually arresting that you’re drawn right to it, only in this case, you’re drawn to it, and it, and then it, and it, and it …

Then again, it could be mystical. Wikipedia says that the seeds in sunflowers are arranged according in a series of interconnecting spirals and that the number of left-hand spirals and right-hand spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. And Fibonacci numbers are something having to do with the “golden spiral” and “golden ratio” that appear in strange places in nature, like the arrangement of the fruit cones of a pineapple and the prickly things on pine cones and unfurling fern fronds. I would explain more but I didn’t understand the explanations so I can’t. I’m a gardener, not a mathematician.

The first of my sunflowers bloomed this morning, and I was thrilled to see it. So will my next-door neighbor Julio be. Julio rarely talks to me about my garden, but he must like sunflowers, because he asks about them. He first brought them up about a month ago, while I was weeding the tomatoes. “No sunflowers this year?” he asked.

“They’re coming,” I assured him, and pointed one out. It was only about a foot tall.

He looked dubious. And he must have been, because he asked about them again a few weeks later: “You didn’t plant sunflowers this year?”

“I did. They’re just not big yet. It takes them a long time to get big.” You’d think he’d understand that; he’s the dad of four kids. But I guess he won’t really be satisfied until they’re eight feet tall.

Gee, you don’t think he’s in a hurry because he’s tired of looking at us, do you?

Photo by Bruce Fritz.

Almost four-o’clocks!

It’s almost time for four-o’clocks! Also known as Mirabilis jalapa (“mirabilis” meaning “wonder” or “marvel” and “jalapa” being the name of a Mexican town), four-o’clocks are one of those plants that I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t have a garden full of them. Yes, I know they self-seed like crazy, but that’s a good thing, not a bad one, so long as the seedlings are easy to pull out when they crop up where you don’t want them, and these babies are. I also like the size of four-o’clocks. At between two and three feet tall, they’re hefty enough to fill up empty space cheaply and reliably.

Sure, the flowers don’t open until the afternoon, but look at the bonus you get–different-colored, and even multi-colored, blossoms on the same plant! Plus they have a faint, sweet fragrance that’s never too intrusive, but remains haunting and alluring. (Visitor to garden: “What’s that lovely smell?”) They come up year after year after year after year as volunteers. I don’t know any plant that’s more likely to self-sow. And if for some reason you don’t WANT any more four-o’clocks, the seeds are big, about the size of peppercorns, so you can just sweep them up with a broom.

Though I really don’t know why you’d want to do that …

Photo by Vaikoovery licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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