Spring photos

Too busy to write too much today. Those ornamental grasses aren’t going to cut themselves down.

But I’ll share some photos with you that have me all jazzed up with the extreme exception of the last one.

Poison ivy is already spreading its pretty little wings all over the garden and we need to nip this in the bud sooner than later. Time to bring in the poison ivy whisperer, my wife.  

Enjoy.

crocus blooms 2

 

 

crocus blooms

 

 

tulip bud

 

 

tulip buds

 

 

daffodil bud

 

 

viburnum bud

 

 

poison ivy

Our weekend

Now that was a solid weekend.

The weather finally cooperated and the softball season kicked off in style.

jamie softball 2

jamie softball

jamie softball 3

jamie softball 5

 

Later that night, a walk over the Delaware river for ice cream at sunset.

walking over bridge

sunset bridge

 

The first flower of the year revealed itself.

daffodil bloom

 

With others soon on their way.

daffodil buds

 

Hours were spent outside cleaning  up the garden, getting her ready for the season and obtaining a solid sunburn. It’s amazing what a little sunshine and warmer temps will do for the soul. I am one invigorated mo fo.

The clean up revealed more perennials letting me know they are on their merry way.

amsonia growth

peony bud

allium basal foliage

 

Most of the ornamental grasses were cut down albeit later than in years past because of the long winter/spring.

cut down grass

 

It was a chance to get down on the hands and knees and observe off season developments like with this Itea and its newly shedded bark.

itea bark

 

What was a dead foliage playground has returned back to bare ground with only hints of plant life.

cleaned up garden bed

 

I even had a chance to do some garden analysis. This view is my newest obsession. This is what I see each day as I pull into my driveway. It is time to expand it further.

expanding a garden bed

It looks OK in the summer.

garden5

But we’re ready to expand that bad boy. Take notice of the orange extension cord. We’ll soon be filling it all in with cardboard I’ve been hoarding all winter so we can kill that grass and plant more.

expanding a garden bed 2

 

We made it out to our favorite pepper and tomato nursery, Cross Country Nursery,  which is literally within walking distance from our house. The selection is off the hook so on our first run of the season we stocked up on poblanos, jalapenos, basil and a bunch of tomato plants. We will be back again in the near future.

tomato pepper plants

 

Hell, I even brought in the cut branches of the Redtwig Dogwood and Dappled Willow because I’m like a totally kick ass interior decorator.

redtwig container

salix container

You know you are impressed.

It was all then topped off with a fresh grapefruit and tequila cocktail.

drink

Good times.

Cleaning up the perennials

It’s been rainy and cold for days now but there was work to be done out in the garden. Enough is enough. I’ve promised big things this year so every waking second is crucial. Even if it is was too wet to venture into the garden beds for fear of soil compaction, I could still take care of some important tasks.

One of the tasks was to start cleaning up the perennials I could easily reach and removing all of their dead foliage from seasons past. Here is some of what I accomplished:

PHLOX

We started with the pink Phlox that looked like this.
cut down perennials 5

And it was heart warming to see that they will be back again in 2015
cut down perennials 6

And will soon look like this.
phlox

 

VERONICA

The numerous Veronica ‘Royal Candles’ were left as is for winter.
cut down perennials 2

And each and every one of them fought of winter’s wrath and are ready to shine again.
cut down perennials

Like this.
veronica3

 

MONARDA

I enjoy the winter interest of spent Monarda (Bee Balm) blooms.
cut down perennials 7

And those tough as nails sons of bitches are back …
cut down perennials 8

… and willingly spreading wherever they please, even under this Clethra shrub.
cut down perennials 9

The pungent smell on my fingers after cutting the Monarda down have me longing for the early summer.
monarda3

 

GERANIUM

Current state of Geranium ‘Espresso’.
cut down perennials 10

And tiny proof that it is back for more.
cut down perennials 11

And “more” looks like this beauty.
geranium3

 

LADY’S MANTLE

The ratty looking Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla Mollis) ..
clean up perennials

… are now ready to strut their stuff.
clean up perennials 2

… and light up those shady areas.
lady4

 

HEUCHERA

Good to see Heuchera ‘Blackout’ is rounding into form.
cut down perennials 3

 

BUGBANE

Without a doubt, the perennial I am most excited to see perform this spring/summer is the Bugbane ‘Brunette’ (Cimicifuga). Two years in and I haven’t seen much but I am more than willing to remain patient for these beauties. I’m just psyched to see that it is back for a third spring and I’m convinced that the ladybug and earthworm below are signs of good luck.
cut down perennials 4

Along with other endless tasks, I’ll continue to plug away at cleaning up the perennials out in the garden the next few days and hopefully we’ll see some true spring weather soon.

Thanks for stopping by.

John

 

 

 

Bulbs in containers

My soil drains poorly therefore my soil is almost always wet.

Most bulbs don’t like “always wet soil” therefore I struggle to grow bulbs.

I like bulbs in spring therefore I grow bulbs in containers.

tulips

A rather logical solution me thinks.

I tried growing tulips for a number of years when we first moved into our current home. I was out there each Fall digging to the proper depth, spacing them out accordingly and even feeding them a bit. And not once did I see a sign that any of them even thought about leafing out.

Even a dolt like me eventually figured out that they were rotting in the wet soil over the winter/spring. The daffodils and summer snowflakes have reliably come back year after year, but almost all other bulbs, including the tulips, have failed to thrive. Normally I would say “shit happens” or “it isn’t in the cards”, but my wife loved tulips and I needed to keep up the front that I was an all world gardener.

It didn’t take long to find the solution. A little bit of web research and I had my plan. Grow bulbs in containers where I could control the soil and ultimately, the drainage. Genius.

There were a few options on how to pull off growing bulbs in containers. I could bury the containers outdoors over winter. I could store the containers close against the foundation where they would stay warmer. I could store the containers inside my attached garage where it was warm enough to escape the brutal cold but cold enough for the bulbs to go through their appropriate cycle.

I opted for “garage” and haven’t looked back.

Seriously, it couldn’t be any easier. The bulbs are planted in your standard old potting soil at a shallower depth than is recommended on the package and are planted closer together than is suggested.

tulip-bulbs-container

I cover the bulbs with more soil, water them a bit and that is it. They go into the garage not to be thought of again until spring. No watering or anything else needs to be done.

The first signs of growth appear in early March and by the time they are 2-3 inches in height, I move them outdoors. If there isn’t enough water from the spring rains, I’ll water them regularly. That is it. I just let them do their thing.

I had these by mid April last year.

tulips1

Fast forward to this week and I realize I’ve completely forgotten about the four containers I had stowed in my garage. They were hidden out of view, which probably speaks volumes about the state of my garage organization. I immediately moved them outdoors, probably later than required as you can see by the amount of growth below.

bulbs in containers

bulbs in containers 2

Oh well, we’ll see how it goes.

If you want a lot more detail on growing  bulbs in containers, I suggest you click here. Really good stuff.

I am incorporating one process improvement this season and that is doing a better job of acclimating the bulbs in containers to the sun. In years past, after I’ve moved them from the garage, I’ve stuck them immediately into full sun. This year, all of the containers have been placed in a shaded location for most of the day and will then bump up the sun exposure over the next few weeks.

bulbs in containers 3

Wish me luck!

Our trip to Washington DC

We just returned from a long weekend spent in Washington DC and we are happy to report that is was enjoyed by all. Here is a recap of the trip, with details both big and small, along with some commentary that I am in dire need of sharing. I’ll even throw in some learned tips because I am that generous.

The drive from New Jersey to Washington DC

  • Lunch purchased ahead of time at Wegmans (the Holy Grail) because that is how we roll. Tip#1 – Sushi enjoyed in the close quarters of a car doesn’t smell so great.  
  • Driving is always a nice time to get reacquainted with your significant other as the kids tune out with their respective devices.
  • Tip #2 – Always use Google for navigation. We hit major traffic approaching DC and Google lady coached us around it. She even had traffic nailed to the second.

Evening#1 at the hotel

  • We arrive late so no plans to visit any museums or monuments. Dinner is within the hotel so an easy walk and chance to game plan … and enjoy some beverages.
  • Tip #3 – Kids just want to swim more than anything else. Seriously, we could have driven to any random town in NJ and stayed at the local hotel and the kids would have been thrilled. Swimming and staying in a hotel room is all they need. So we swam after dinner and they loved it.
  • Tip #4 – Beware of traveling during Spring Break. Especially to tourist destinations like Washington DC. There were young teenagers everywhere and I would estimate that 90% of them are a-holes. And many of the chaperones aren’t far behind.
  • Tip #5 – All kids are restless sleepers. I’ve never witnessed so much tossing and turning in my life. To say sleep was limited is an understatement.

Full Day # 1 – National Archives and Newseum

A quick Metro ride and we are in the heart of the city.

washington dc 3

While it is clear and sunny, it doesn’t feel a bit like “spring”.

washington dc 2

National Archives 

  • The National Archives is tremendous as we were able to see the original Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta and Constitution.
  • My son clearly knows more about all of these documents and their history so it was fun to allow him to educate us.

Newseum

  • The Newseum was an absolute favorite judging by the fact that we spent nearly five hours there and could have done many more.
  • Pieces of the actual Berlin Wall started us off and the kids were intrigued immediately.

washington dc

  • We slowly worked our way down starting with this roof top view on the Family Terrace. An awesome view of Pennsylvania Ave.

washington dc

  • Highlights included the 9/11 Gallery which was emotional and powerful as told through the eyes of the journalists who were there that day. Tip #6 – Be wary with young children at this gallery. My 12 y/o son handled it OK but my 8 y/o daughter never grasped the magnitude of that day before. She had a rough time with it.
  • This photo below is a collage of all of the world’s/state’s issues that next day.

washington dc 2

  • The FBI exhibit covered 9/11, Waco, the Unabomber, Patty Hearst and others. We read every last detail and again, I think some of it was a bit much for the kids but we also don’t believe in shielding them from everything.
  • The Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery moved us more than anything else that day with some of the images familiar but many others never seen before. We shielded the kids from a few of these but they were in awe of those they witnessed. Wow.

Dinner at Founding Farmers

  • Quick cab ride down Pennsylvania Ave from Newseum. Tip #7 – DC cab drivers are a dream compared to those in NYC.
  • You must order the skillet corn bread, kettle corn, pot roast and farmhouse platter. We had all of these and loved them.
  • The kids are learning to appreciate local and carefully crafted food/drink. Nice.

Evening #2 post dinner 

  • More swimming.
  • Teenagers acting like savages in the pool.
  • Threatening my son if he ever acts like what we witnessed in the pool.

Full day #2 – college visit and chilling with friends

  •  We took a short drive to visit a soon to be graduating family member at Mary Washington University. We are friggin old.
  • Brunch out an awesome local joint and a chance to catch up and tour of the mind of a soon to be graduate.
  • The roommates were still sleeping post brunch (I miss college) so we hung outdoors for a bit. Is this not classic college set-up?

washington dc 9

  • I wish my college home had bulbs and a garden.

washington dc 10

washington dc 11

Evening #3 – dinner with friends and an evening tour of monuments

  • Drinks at the hotel. Even the kids got in on the action.

kids dc

washington dc 8

washington dc 13

  • All were in great spirits (pun intended) and enjoying the moment.

washington dc 6

  • The perfect occasion for the ultimate group selfie.

selfie

  • As we walked through the brisk evening air, I longed for finally seeing the cherry blossoms but we were a bit too early.

washington dc 5

washington dc 4

  • My best attempt at framing the Washington Monument through a cherry tree.

washington dc 2

  • We took a quick tour through the FDR Memorial and I was taken by one particular quote more than all of the others.

washington dc 3

washington dc

Last day – National Zoo and then time to head home

  • Of course, the biggest draw is the panda exhibit and it didn’t disappoint, except for the crowds who acted like it was New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Adults pushing children is always a joy to see.

washington dc 2

  • I love me some Golden Lion Tamarins.

washington dc 4

  • And elephants entertaining the crowds that are watching them.

washington dc 3

  • And the always entertaining Meerkats.

washington dc 6

  • But no mammal is more fascinating than the “guy with a selfie stick posing in front of the mongoose display”. Identity protected because I am a responsible journalist.

washington dc 5

  • The only thing more fascinating than selfie guy was the tons of mulch being blown all over the zoo. Look at this major faux pas. Are you kidding with that mulch?

washington dc 7

All in all, a vacation to remember. One that was educational, emotional and silly all at the same time. I’ll say it again, may they not get a day older any time soon.

A spark

One of the rites of spring is the removal of the dead foliage on the perennials to hopefully reveal new growth underneath. It can be a real shot in the arm for the passionate gardener. A sign of better things to come and reassurance that the plants yet again, survived a brutal winter.

I probably take this rite a little too far. If you catch me at the right time, you’ll see me ripping through the soil on my hands and knees in search of any signs of plant life like a desperate dog looking for its buried bone.

Golden Retriever dog digging hole

Maybe I am that deeply affected by the horrific winters or maybe I’ve lost so many plants over the years that I’m scarred, but either way, I’m so incredibly pumped up to spot any signs of plant life. I thought this would wane over the years as I became more seasoned but I thought wrong. I’m still nuts for it.

Today was the first day of “out with the dead and in with the living” (wow, that is an awesome Walking Dead tagline if I do say so myself). I walked outside armed with my pruners and a little jump in my step. There wasn’t a lot of time to go on the hunt but I just needed a little fix.

First up was a Sedum. These are almost too easy. They are typically one of the first plants to show signs of life in spring and are reliably solid survivors of the winter.
emerging sedum

While I started out in a mad rush to complete the task, I quickly found myself reminiscing about gardening of years past.

The simple image of the new Sedum growth brought me back to the late 1990’s when I planted my first perennials. I had always been told that the Sedum was fool-proof so it was one of the plants I added to my inaugural garden. I can still vividly remember the first time I set eyes on those curled up stems and how exciting it was. You mean a plant will keep coming back year after year, bigger and better? What a fantastic concept!

A gardener was officially born that day.

As I proceeded from plant to plant this morning, now in only a semi-rush, I started to realize each plant had been associated with a rather specific memory. Not all that different from the memories associated with specific songs.

The Baptisia, only added to my own garden within the past two years, will always remind me of the garden I had put together with my parents a few years back at my childhood home. Not to mention the hilarious attempts by my parents to control them after that. That is what hit me as I dug through the mulch and soil to find this.
emerging baptisia

I will always thank Amsonia for teaching me to not only think native plants, but also for accepting and appreciating what growing conditions I’ve been granted. She is as reliable as they come for surviving wet winters.
emerging amsonia blue ice

Let’s extend this trip down memory lane to the shrubs. I can remember falling in love with Viburnum carlesii years ago with those early sweet scented blooms. I didn’t think they could survive the deer but I had to have one.

I nursed that 6 inch “stick” for years to the point where it became a “real shrub”. While the blooms are sporadic due to the aforementioned deer, I get enough to make me happy.

I appreciate those that make it through …
viburnum bud

… and even those that don’t.
deer eaten viburnum bud

Can we extend to grasses too please? Thank you.

I discovered ornamental grasses by necessity as they are one of the truly deer resistant plants in existence. They also don’t mind be flooded at times. It was an immediate love fest and it became an even deeper love once I understood the “cool season grass”. I remember identifying as many as I could online and then going into a mad rush to locate and purchase them.

I’ll take any green growth I can get in early spring and what a sweet transition they provide to the warm season grasses that follow in May.
emerging cool season grass

Let’s not just talk old memories, new memories are made each gardening season. Last spring I planted a bunch of Trollius on a whim simply because I liked their orange blooms.

trollius

They aren’t deer resistant and I don’t think they care too much for the always moist soil. But you know what? They came back.
emerging trollius

For how long, who knows?

But for now, new memory officially made.

Pruning the Redtwig Dogwood

It may be snowing here in New Jersey as I write this, but it didn’t stop me from heading outdoors and completing another gardening task today. Today was all about pruning the Redtwig Dogwood ‘Arctic Fire’.

My lone Redtwig Dogwood is unfortunately, in a location where I can’t let it grow as large as it desires. ‘Arctic Fire’ maxes out at about 5′ x 4′ (don’t believe what a lot of other sites will tell you). I had no other choice but to plant it in a bed along the front of my home where I’ve managed to shield it from the deer for years now. Anywhere else in the yard and it would be toast.

Because of that, I potentially have to prune it for size control for the first time this spring.

Here she is last summer just about outgrowing its spot.
redtwig dogwood

And last Fall after shedding its leaves.
after11

And as of this morning.
pruning redtwig dogwood

If size wasn’t an issue, I don’t think pruning the Redtwig Dogwood would even be a need at this point. As you can see below, the stems are all still wonderfully fire truck red.
pruning redtwig dogwood 4

So let’s now unveil the final decision via video. How will he be pruning the Redtwig Dogwood?

There we have it. Time to chop it down to the ground.

And just like that …
pruning redtwig dogwood 2

Yes, another big hole in the garden but if we want to experiment and learn, this is a necessity.
pruning redtwig dogwood 3

So another pruned shrub to keep a close eye on this spring/summer. Fun stuff.

And by the way, I used my new favorite pruners for pruning the Redtwig Dogwood and for pruning the Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’. And that would be the Corona Anvil Pruner.
corona pruners

Nothing has ever worked or felt better in the hand. A serious endorsement for this one.

Have a great weekend.

Pruning Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’

Today was the official start of the gardening season. I completed my first official gardening “task”. And by task, I mean getting outside, freezing the ass off and performing some sort of physical labor. That task was pruning Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’. A shrub that I absolutely adore. 

But first, allow myself … to introduce myself and what the plan of attack would be for this shrub.

With that in mind, here is what she looked like by the end of last summer.

salix4

Just about ready to really take over my deck. The only choice I see is to cut it back severely in order to keep it in bounds. Not to mention the possibility of improving on the white and pink variegation in spring.   

So this is where we started off today.

pruning salix

As you can see below, the buds have just started to form on the branches so pruning Salix time is of the essence.

pruning salix 2

I didn’t take photos of the actual pruning of the Salix, as I basically cut all of the branches down to about 12-18 inches off of the ground. Even with some of the thicker branches (close to 2″ in diameter) I was able to cut these down using hand pruners and a little brute force.

I did my best, where possible, to cut right above a bud in hopes of having the newly chopped down branches leaf out in a well shaped manner. Honestly I don’t even know if it was necessary but we will see how it plays out.

pruning salix 4

After the severe pruning of the Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’, here is what she looked like.

pruning salix 3

pruning salix 6

A rather large hole in the garden right now, but I’m willing to put up with it knowing how quickly this shrub puts out growth each year.

All in all, the pruning took no more than 5 minutes with minimal effort. Now the waiting game begins.

pruning salix 5

Pruning Salix is only one of the many planned severe prunings I have planned for this spring. As always, I will be sure to track the results throughout the spring/summer/fall/winter.

I would love to hear all of your feedback in the comments section if you’ve pruned your Salix in the past.

 

Spring reveals plant life

More severe snow melt this weekend, not to mention mega amounts of rain, and that made me a happy man. A lot of plant life was revealed as a result, both good and bad. Here is a sampling of what I found:

The Hyacinths are indeed on their way.
hyacinth

 

As are many of the daffodils.
daffodils emerging

 

I was pumped just to see the buds that have formed on the Lilacs.
lilac buds

 

As with last year, I’m planning on pruning back the old wood on the Ninebark ‘Diablo’.
ninebark winter

 

As It is now easier to identify the ‘older wood’ of the Ninebark by the grey color of the branches.
ninebark branches

 

The Tsuga ‘Moon Frost’ took a major hit this winter, most likely from those dang rabbits.
taxus

taxus eaten

 

Also taking a hit was Juniper ‘Gold Cone’, critter unknown.
juniper gold cone deer

 

I think I may have discovered a new breed of Boxwood, a nice brown and yellow variety.
boxwood dead

 

I am very thankful to see Boxwood ‘Wedding Ring’ remained unscathed.
boxwood winter

 

Nothing, I repeat nothing, could destroy my many Sweet Flag (Acorus).
yellow flag winter

 

And seeing the Sedum ‘Red Carpet’ fight though the ice was a most welcome sight.
sedum red carpet ice

Signs of spring

The first signs of spring have arrived in my garden here in New Jersey and with that news in mind, allow me to break out my Kevin Bacon “Footloose” dance moves.

Footloose

Seriously, I promised my wife one day I would learn this entire dance and perform it for the family. It is equal parts awesome and ridiculously goofy, yet I am consumed with it.  When the day comes that I have it mastered, I promise you it will be revealed here first.

Speaking of dancing, I haven’t truly “danced” since my own wedding over 18 years ago. Prior to that, I kind of thought I was a decent dancer for a gawky 6 foot 3 male. I was fearless and had no issue with letting it all hang out. I was even known for doing a solid running man.

However, upon further reveal (specifically my wedding VHS tape) it turns out I am an embarrassment to male dancing. Like cringe worthy bad. And even worse than the lack of rhythm was the facial expressions that accompanied the dancing. An awful overbite mixed with false bravado. Brutal. I vowed from that moment forward to never dance again and other than some alcohol induced wedding screeching/singing/hopping, I haven’t busted a move since.

But if I can master the Footloose dance without anyone seeing the prep work involved, I’m willing to come out of retirement. If it’s quality, I look great and it goes viral. If it’s horrendous, the comedy value will still be worth it … and it goes viral. It seems a lot less intimidating to mimic an existing dance rather than freestyling on my own.

So let’s dance our way back to the signs of spring.

Seeing these irises emerging is incredibly exciting, even if they are still surrounded by a foot of snow.
signs of spring

 

Yes, a single crocus stem is enough to get the juices flowing this time of year.
signs of spring 2

 

After seeing these signs of greenery, I made an announcement to all of the deer that were within earshot. Gardening John is back and if you know what is good for you, you’ll head out immediately.

With that intimidating declaration, the deer obliged and headed for cover.
signs of spring 2

signs of spring

With signs of spring here, game is officially on.

AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY OF ONE MAN'S ATTEMPT TO GRASP THIS GARDENING THING