Category: Spring

Post-book writing bliss

These past few days have been slow. Slow in a delicious way.

I’ve never felt more relief than after clicking that “publish” button. The book was out in the universe and I couldn’t stop it or change it.

**Take a quick glance to your right and you’ll see the book is for sale at Amazon.**

No more tweaking. No more anxiety. No more over thinking. It was done and now it was time to take a breath and reunite with the family and come out of the foxhole.

Time to coach softball.

Time to talk advanced baseball metrics with my son.

Time to see my wife and relieve her of editing duties (which she killed by the way).

Promotion of the book could wait. That’s for another day/week/month/year/lifetime.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first places I turned for some calmness was the garden. It felt different than it had the past few weeks. My pace through the garden was slower and devoid of plant facts and anecdotes and book material. I just enjoyed growth and flowers and even those adorable little weeds.

Pops of color from the bulbs never looked better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even a sole bloom that seemed to have come out of nowhere just felt right.

 

The promise of more to come.

 

Some of the perennials have started to bloom.

 

 

And one shrub has the entire street asking “What is that near perfect smell emanating from your lovely spring garden, John”?

 

Foliage growth from the perennials continue and even a few of the grasses have awoken.

 

 

 

In my state of bliss, I even managed to cut down all of the ornamental grasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first tour of my garden in 2017

Daffodils in bloom

Some of the Narcissus (Daffodils) are in bloom now, no doubt pushed by the 80 degree temps we had here in New Jersey yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

Flowers soon to arrive

Viburnum carlesii.

 

 

The tiny Muscari.

 

Golden ragwort (Packera aurea).

 

Daffodils that will hide the recently cut down ornamental grass.

 

More daffodils, ‘Kokopelli’, on the way.

 

New foliage growth, almost as exciting as the flowers

This is Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ or False Spirea. Say that 5 times fast.

 

I get a lot of anxiety in early spring, fearful of what plants didn’t survive the winter. While this pic of Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ may mean little to you, it means the world to me. I’m so thankful to have her back for another year considering I recklessly moved her around three times last summer.

 

This is the plant I’m most excited to watch progress this year. It’s Filipendula rubra (Queen of the Prairie). This will be its third year in my garden and I hope it can reach upwards of 6 feet in height with plenty of pale pink flowers in summer.

 

This is Diervilla sessilifolia (Southern Bush Honeysuckle) with its variegated foliage emerging over a mass of Bee Balm rosettes. This combo should be killer by early summer.

 

Photos that make me think

Baptisia is here, yeah. So are the weeds, boo.

 

I like to sing the praises of Bee Balm (Monarda) and its agressive nature, but this spring they have marched into enemy territory. Enemy territory being other perennials. Here it is challenging Heuchera (Coral Bells). I think we know who will win.

 

I am way excited to see that tulips have, knock on wood, survived the winter and appear ready to bloom. Even better is the fact that this small ornamental grass will strategically cover the decaying tulip foliage as it gets larger with the warmer temps. Hopefully by allowing the tulip foliage to decay, it will energize the bulbs and provide a repeat display of flowering next spring.

 

I’m totally cool with the Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) expanding its colony even if it’s underneath this evergreen shrub. I say “evergreen shrub” because I can’t recall the name even after a search through my garden archives.

 

Finally, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I can’t bring myself to cut down this pairing. I’ve loved it all fall and winter and can’t end it quite yet. It is Little Bluestem grass, with its stellar orange hue, and Mountain Mint with its still upright seed heads.

I’m going to enjoy it for a few more days before cutting them both to the ground.

Task oriented

Task 1 : Cut down the Redtwig Dogwood

As hard as it is to say goodbye to those killer red stems, it’s time to move on now that spring has arrived.

I cut the stems of this shrub to the ground each spring and without fail, it grows back rapidly through spring and summer. This keeps the shrub’s size within bounds since I have it in a tight spot along the foundation of the front of my house.

This is what it typically looks like by summer.

The severe pruning also aids in providing the reddest of stems that upcoming fall/winter.

That task was completed today.

 

Task #2: Prune out the oldest stems on the Ninebark

This is another pruning task I conquer each spring. I cut roughly 2/3 of the old stems on this Ninebark ‘Diablo’ to the ground with the goal of limiting the ultimate size of this rapidly growing shrub.

You can easily identify the older branches by their lighter color and heavier peeling bark.

Another task completed today.

BEFORE

AFTER

Again, I do this so this Ninebark doesn’t outgrow the somewhat limited space I’ve provided for it along my foundation. By pruning it in this manner, it doesn’t get too monstrous and looks like this by the time it stops growing in summer.

 

Task #3: Clean up the dead foliage around the perennials

A lot of hand pruning and pulling but it’s all worth it after seeing all of that delicious green new growth.

 

Task #4: Cut down the ornamental grasses

For today, I stuck with the grasses that could easily be handled by hand pruners. That consisted mostly of Karl Foerster grasses.

 

Task #5: Observe

Observe the bulbs developing in a see of Bee Balm rosettes.

Observe the Golden Ragwort quickly throwing out growth and hopefully flowers in the next few weeks.

 

I think gardening season can officially kick off now

This has been an odd winter/spring so far.

Yes, beyond the late nigh tweets from Donald.

Bulb foliage emerged in January. December, January and February were way warmer and less precipitation filled than normal.

I banked on getting to spring cleaning tasks sooner than normal.

And then winter was all like “I’m going down with a vicious fight”, and we were slammed with snow and ice a few weeks back.

The remainder of that snow is now slowly disappearing and I am determined to get outside this weekend and play the role of gardener once again. It has been way too long.

I haven’t cut down a thing since the fall so I’ve got nothing but dead perennial foliage and ornamental grasses to contend with.

The only color in these parts, besides my frigid red cheeks, is from the Crocuses (or is it Croci?) that finally arrived this week.

I found time to hunt for new foliage growth and it took some parting of dead leaves and branches to find anything but it still felt great to witness rebirth.

False spirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia)

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

Coral Bells (Heuchera)

Stonecrop (Sedum)

The daffodils are making up for lost time with many showing signs of flower buds. The bulbs below have found their way up and through an ornamental grass. I must have moved this grass last year without knowledge of the bulbs that quietly lurked underneath. Here’s hoping they can all happily co-exist.

Yet another faux pas. Moving rocks in winter knowing there is high potential to block a bulb’s growth come spring. Fortunately, this Allium bulb isn’t taking “no” for an answer.

I hope my fellow trapped gardeners can get outdoors as well this weekend.

Cheers.

 

Garden optimism

A break from all of the baseball posts today.

Our trip down south unfortunately has come to an end. I now turn my attention from photographing athletes throwing a ball to photographing all signs of green that are popping up all over my garden.

And for the sake of a smooth transition, I like to think that I went from the promise of a new baseball season where all teams still think they can win it all, to the promise of a new season in my garden.

No weeds to deal with yet.

I like to think every plant in my garden will have survived the winter and will perform better than last year.

Optimism still exists.

So far, all of the Sedum plants appear to be intact.

 

And an endless number of daffodils have announced their presence.

 

 

The new irises I added last year (‘Wow Factor’) are ready to go and I cannot wait to share these killer blooms with you all.

 

But the plant I am most excited to see return is Allium ‘Globemaster’.

This is the first year, knock on wood, that it has returned for a repeat performance and that has me all sorts of giddy.

One last note:

Thank you all for your feedback/comments on the book I have in the works. I am putting all of your comments in motion and hope to share a sample chapter or two with you in the very near future.

 

 

Allium love, a new holiday and introducing “Question of the Day”

Here is the latest and greatest in my garden on this, dare I say, warm and beautiful May afternoon.

It’s all about the Allium right now, as the fruits of my fall labor are being realized this spring. I’ve got at least 25 Allium bulbs in bloom right now and they are kicking ass and taking names.

They look good up close.

allium 2

And as we pan back …

allium

… and back even further.

full 2

 

Baptisia blooms have arrived this week and I’m thinking this day should be declared a holiday each year. That is how festive it makes me feel. At a minimum, I’m going to push for #NationalBaptisiaDay on Twitter leading up to this day in 2017.

baptisia

baptisia yellow

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moon’

 

Siberian iris ‘Snow Queen’ is blooming but I’m only giving you a macros shot because they actually look kind of lousy because this lazy gardener has refused to divide them for four years running now.

iris

 

Amsonia tabernaemontana is blooming and that’s all I will say here because I’ve raved about this plant enough already.

amsonia

 

All of my peonies will be blooming within the next week or so and until then, I’ll enjoy the ridiculously delicious scent of the lilac in the background.

peony lilac

 

Another day, another sigh from me regarding the awesomeness of Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’.

ninebark

 

And finally, it’s time to sit back and enjoy watching the garden fill in while all empty spaces disappear.

full

full 3

Thank you again for stopping by.

I am going to try something new today. A “Question of The Day”. Here it is:

What perennial do you find to be the most underrated?

Leave your answer in the comments so we can all discuss and get educated.

Grats

Foliage over flowers

It was Portland outside here today or at least how I imagine Portland to be most of the year. I’ve only visited the city twice in my life and both times it bucked the trend of typical northwest weather. It was sunny and dry but still an incredible city and one I’m anxious to revisit. While I may prefer the sun and the extreme warmth of summer here in the northeast, there is no comparison when it comes to the perfect garden conditions of the northwest.

Today was overcast with a relentless mist and a layer of fog that slowly looked to envelope the entire town. But hot damn if it didn’t perfectly highlight and saturate the colors of the garden and aid in it looking healthier than it’s ever been. I’m no professional photographer but I have to assume this was close to the ideal day for capturing the great outdoors in all her glory.

So this amateur shutterbug made it a point to not miss this golden opportunity before the bright sun returns and washes out all of the color. As soon as I walked through the front door and into Seattle, my eye was immediately drawn towards the soon to be blooming mass of Trollius (Globeflowers). The orange buds were radiant and glistening after being misted for like 51 hours straight.

As I settled into my plant-photo-taking-stance, I surveyed this little section of the garden and realized how much it was being taken over by the bee balm I had planted there only last year.

orange flower bee balm

The best part of the quick takeover? The crowding out of any weeds. Not one could be found and that is all sorts of awesome. But not my point, at least for today.

I snapped a ton of pics of this section of the garden and after reviewing them and trying to determine which were blog worthy, I noticed something that only affirms what I’ve always known.

Here is one of the soon to be blooming Trollius flowers captured as the dominant element with the bee balm stems more faded in the background.

orange flower

Nice shot, right? But I prefer this next one, where the bee balm takes the lead.

orange flower bee balm 2

Give me foliage over flowers any day of the week. In this case, I love the reddish/purple outlining of each bee balm leaf, the texture of the leaves covered in moisture and even the shape of the square stems. Flowers are great and special and all because of their usually short stay, but it is the foliage that makes the statement. It is the foliage that works hard to look good all year round. It is the foliage that defines your garden and your style.

As exciting as it is to witness the first Geranium bloom (‘Espresso’) of the spring.

espresso

Nothing compares to the statement made by Lady’s Mantle on a cool and wet spring morning.

lady's mantle

 

Embrace the dandelions

An open letter to my obsessive lawn loving friends and family:

I love you all, I really do. But you have to chill the hell out. There is nothing you can do about it and in fact, I’m writing this letter today with the goal of not only talking you off the ledge, but to also tell you why you in fact need to embrace them. “Them” being those delightful little pops of yellow spring flowers known as the dandelion. Please take notice that I used the term “flower” and not “weed”, because that is your first step in coming to terms with your unnecessary lawn stress.

Listen, I’m not here to patronize you, that is not the intention at all. I was once like you, wickedly concerned with the perfect looking lawn. I too shared the weekly dream of a pristine sheet of green with nothing else present but those lawnmower lines. I subscribed to the Scott’s 137 step plan and cheered on the idea of killing everything in the lawn’s path. I cut my lawn diligently each week scooping up all of the clippings along the way because any visible clump represented laziness. I’d too then trim the shit out of the lawn for like and hour or so and then grab my painfully loud blower and blow the loose clippings on the driveway into my neighbor’s lawn. I may have even grunted a bit when it was all done.

I don’t remember specifically when it all changed, but it started when we moved into our new home 12 years ago. I went from a tiny suburban lot to a 2+ acre country lot. At first, I tried to keep up with the lawn in the same manner as at the old homestead, but it became evident early on that it wasn’t going to work, I could never sustain it. From that realization forward, I slowly evolved to who I am today. I educated myself through exhaustive online research. I read all of the opinion pieces on safe and organic “turf management”. And honestly more than anything else, I came to the realization that I cared a hell of a lot more about my garden and my plants than I did about the lawn. I wanted to spend as little time tending to the grass so as not to take away from my garden time.    

Having said all that, here are some key tenets I’ve come to live by when it comes to the almighty lawn:

  • Stop all fertilization – it is expensive, requires too much effort and if you dig around a bit, you’ll see that it wreaks havoc on our environment.
  • Stop with the watering – yes I know things can look bleak in the dead of summer, but just deal with it. You’re probably not watering the right way any way. Water is a precious resource and your lawn will recover in time when it finally rains again.
  • Keep the lawn clippings on the lawn – they will break down over time and that is your lawn’s only feeding which replaces the aforementioned fertilization. 
  • Cut the lawn at its highest setting – this lessens the stress of cutting back those blades so severely each week and helps shield those weeds and weed seeds from seeing the light of day.

And now one last one – Don’t fight the dandelions.

I know it kills your lawn aesthetics dream, but maybe if you knew that it can literally save the bees, you can come to terms with it. Seriously, the dandelion flower is their first source of nectar in spring. For those bees that managed to survive the winter, it is their best chance to make it so don’t you want to be part of rewarding those feisty creatures? You do know if there were no bees, well, we’d be in big trouble?

So learn to embrace the yellow flowers as a rite of spring. Sell yourself on the color they bring to the spring landscape. If that doesn’t work for you, know that the long taproot of the dandelion actually aids in bringing more nutrients to the lawn’s soil by breaking up that soil and making it easier for absorption.

Once you come to terms with the presence of dandelions, imagine all of the newly found time you’ll have now that you’re not trying to pull them one by one or god forbid if you were spraying them (we’ll discuss that a later date).

You can’t tell me that the quick-to-emerge-again dandelion flowers don’t look cool after a recent lawn cut.

lawn

It has such a natural spring time look doesn’t it?   

And when the dandelions are blooming at their peak, well it looks a hell of a lot better than just that boring green grid so many of you love.

dandelions

You are most welcome.

John

 

 

 

This post is boring and you’ve been warned

After six years of willfully displaying my immature excitement at new spring plant growth on this blog, it’s time to slow things down a bit. A never ending supply of minuscule pops of green is not very entertaining. In fact, those types of posts are a turn off to the non hardcore gardener. And if I’m here to do anything, it is to convert the non-obsessive to the obsessive.

So with that in mind, forget everything I just said. I’m a happily immature 43 year old who still gets down on his hands and knees and pulls back the mulch/soil for signs that perennials survived the winter. I use my left hand to hold back dead branches while the right hand barely balances the camera and some how manages to capture the rosettes of newly emerging sedum.

Maybe next year I’ll spare you the pain of my spring excitement. If you have had enough of these types of posts, photos or have seen all you need to see in your own garden, you are now free to leave. For those who stay, I’m sorry.

The ultimate rite of spring, the emergence of the peony. Still fun.

peony

 

In the not too distant future, we will have carpets of moss phlox blooms.

moss phlox

 

I’ve struggled to grow lilacs of any sort but things are looking up already this spring.

lilac

 

lilac 2

 

Allium ‘Globemaster’ returning for another year. No flower garners more attention than this one.

allium

 

Rhamnus ‘Fine Line’ (Buckthorn) is going to really take off this year and I’ll be there every step along the way.

buckthorn 2

 

buckthorn

 

A rosette of Ajuga peeking through the dead foliage. Tells me it is time to strap on my shit kicking boots and get my gardening on.

ajuga

An early spring garden tour

Even with temperatures dipping into the 40’s here in Central New Jersey and wind gusts of up to 40 mph, I still managed to spend a good deal of time in the great outdoors garden on Sunday. There was still dead perennial foliage to be removed, a first wave of weeds to eradicate and the never ending task of cutting down all of the ornamental grasses. When there is an available window of time for garden chores, you take it, no questions asked.

After the “tasks” were completed for the day, I grabbed the camera and did my best to capture what’s going on. Things seem to have slowed down a bit in the garden after the colder weather arrived this past week but there are still signs that we are in fact moving forward. And that is a good thing.

Bud break on the Viburnum ‘Amber Jubilee’ promises stellar foliage is coming in the very near future.

viburnum emerging

 

Same goes for the Sambucus ‘Lemony Lace’ which lived comfortably in a container last season but has now made the jump to the big leagues and is in a very prominent spot in the garden.

emerging foliage

 

Variegated Siberian Iris will enjoy it’s first spring in my garden and here’s hoping it enjoys it’s stay.

emerging iris

 

Bee Balm rosettes threaten to take over all other perennials and I’m OK with sitting back and watching how it will all play out.

emerging bee balm

 

Daylilies … um … are green or whatever.

daylily emerging

 

The cool season ornamental grasses are showing signs of life as seen here with Calamagrostis ‘El Dorado’.

grass emerging

 

The buds on Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’ have turned to their usual pre-blooming pinkish hue and it won’t be long before that killer scent is wafting in my front windows and carrying me away to my happy place.

viburnum bud

 

I couldn’t bring myself to cut down the Panicum ‘Northwind’ yet. With nothing but cold temps and wind on the horizon, I still need to watch them dance a bit more before I can bid them goodbye.

northwind blowing

 

And on to the bulbs.

Daffodils, not the most original and unique of blooms but it is still color and they come back without fail year after year after year. An underrated attribute I do not take for granted.

daffodil

 

More Narcissus not too far away.

daffodil buds

 

daffodil buds 2

 

Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) is starting to bloom and is one of the few bulbs that can withstand wet soil conditions over the winter. Hence, I have got a lot of it. Loved how the back lit sun was captured here.

leucojum

 

leucojum 2

 

The Hyacinth blooms are mini in stature but I’m just psyched that they came back at all again this year. It is the first time I’ve had repeat bloomers. It’s the little things that make me happy.

hyacinth