What may be the main focal point of my garden is the central patio. It's a great place to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the yard, and it's also nice to look at, in season:
You can see it from all parts of the back yard, from the deck, from all of the windows on the back of the house... so really, from almost anywhere. It's important to keep it looking nice.
I was poking around in the mulch under some of my bamboo plants the other day looking for new shoots, and I saw what to me is one of the coolest mini discoveries that you can find in mulch: Bird's Nest Fungus
When I first saw this a couple of years ago, it completely captivated me. How could something so complex form?
It's grey, chilly, and pretty windy today, but today's goal is the big grass and some more chipping. Here's the grass:
It's Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus', and is one of the first plants I added to my garden. Luckily I put it in a good spot, as it's become an anchor for the design of the surrounding beds.
Recently I've become a big fan of moss. I don't know much about it, and until a couple years ago it was always just something that grew in certain places in my lawn.
I'm going to tackle these two larger grasses today. Simple, straightforward, and messy. Make sure you're wearing long sleeves and gloves, grab the loppers, and get to work!
I've been growing bamboo for a few years now, and the emergence of the year's new shoots in the Spring is one of the most exciting times in the garden! Things are a little slower this year than last, probably because it's been a bit colder this year, but I should start seeing more shoots any day now.
This Fargesia dracocephala 'Rufa' (also referred to as Fargesia rufa) is one of my earliest shooters. The shoots are so fun and happy looking, aren't they? These are small shoots -- less than 1/4" in diameter -- but they are just a teaser for the larger bamboo shoots that some of my other plants will be producing in the next few weeks.
As I mentioned in the last cleanup post, my holding area for material to be fed into my chipper was pretty full:
So I rolled out the chipper and set to work.
Beautiful weather today, so I plan on spending a little more time and tackling one of my largest beds. Here's the top part (where I've already done some cleanup the other day and removed the large ornamental grass):
When you get a few minutes after the clouds are gone, the sun starts shining, and Spring is in the air...
... you've got to take advantage.
After a Friday that was sunny and warm (almost 70ºF), it really was not good weather Saturday. Cloudy, cold, windy, and sprinkling rain every once in a while -- not the kind of day that I want to spend in the garden. But work was getting frustrating, and there's a lot left to do out there, so I decided to spend a couple more hours on cleanup. I noticed that the butterfly bushes were starting to leaf out, and some of the perennials are really starting to emerge, so I'll start with those.
The green you might be able to see under all of that brown is oregano, with some old Spanish Flag vines on top. The butterfly bush is in the background (out of focus).
One bird that is always welcome in my garden is the wren. (Truthfully, all birds are welcome in my garden, except for maybe a swarm of grackles because they'll empty the bird feeder in 2 minutes.) Wrens eat harmful bugs like caterpillars, they have a really nice song, and they're pretty curious. I mainly see Carolina wrens here, but we'll get house wrens too. I think I've seen a Winter wren once or twice as well, but sometimes it's hard to tell what type of little brown bird is flitting around under the plants. You see a little motion, catch a glimpse of brown, and that's about it until it bursts out and flies away.
|Photo by Errol Taskin, from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/|
Another thing I like about wrens is they're really curious, and sometimes make their nests is the strangest places. I've read stories about wrens making nests in old boots, in the center of a big ball of twine, and inside somebody's bathroom!
It's the time of year when it can be really nice, sunny, and warm one day, then cold, rainy, and dismal the next. So let's take a look at the signs of Spring while it's still nice. After all of the photos of brown lately, we need some color!
Another lunchtime cleanup job in the nice warm sun! It's time to get the Winter's worth of sunflower seed shells off the driveway, and get that whole area looking better. It's a mess:
Yuck. This is the part of the yard that I look at the most. You think I would have cleaned it up a long time ago.
Again without much time I decided to tackle a job that I've put off for years: pruning the honeysuckle vine. This is one of my first additions to my garden, and was planted in 2002 I believe.
Guess how many times it's been pruned? None. Zero. Oh, I may have cut a vine or two at some time, but it's never really been reduced -- I've just let it get bigger and bigger. It's starting to show now, as there's a lot of undergrowth that's dead, and the top is just a mass of tangled, twisted, coiled vines.
Continuing my review of my bamboo plants and the winter damage they received, here are a few of my groundcover or "shrub" bamboos. These are plants that will most likely never get more than 2-5' tall. A garden needs balance, and these shorter plants are part of that.
This Indocalumus longiauritus looks pretty good. Has some damage on several leaves, but stayed mostly green. Pretty impressive considering the winter we had:
That one was actually two plants, and is just starting to spread now. It's also starting to push up shoots!
Just a quick look at some of the cold damage that my bamboo plants received this past winter. We had a colder than normal winter in St. Louis this year, with temperatures hanging in the single digits (F) and even negative single digits for several days. Thanks to that Arctic cold air mass that settled over the middle of the country, there were days when we had lower temperatures than Chicago, which almost never happens!
That's Semiarundinaria okuboi, looking pretty much fried, even though it was wrapped in plastic for wind protection. There are a few green leaves left in there.
The Spring of 2006 was a big one in my garden, as we had the locust trees that were closest to and overhanging the house removed. That opened up our yard in an immediate and drastic way, but left me with pretty much a blank canvas in the area right behind the house, what I referred to as "the bowl" since it was a bowl-shaped depression. My idea was to put a patio here, with a pergola for some shade since all of the trees were now gone. If you've ever had a substantial tree removed, you know how your yard can change from full shade to full, blazing sun in no time. It's a shocking, scary change, but a great opportunity to grow a bunch more sun-loving plants.
I won't get into the details of the design right now, other than to say that a key feature was going to be a much-needed staircase with a "stream" running downhill next to it.
This stream has added so much to the garden by attracting wildlife of all kinds, giving garden visitors something to watch, and more importantly something to hear. The gentle bubbling brook sound is so calming, the yard seems dead when it's not running. Unfortunately, it's hard to keep running all winter (as I learned last year) so I have to shut it down for a few months each year. Today I got it started back up again for the year. It's not a difficult task, but it's not fun either.
Another day of garden bed cleanup! Nice and sunny, which is great for my spirits, but since the bed I'll be working on is partly in the shade cast by the house and deck, it's going to make for some tough photos. Here's the bed:
It's another raised bed I built in 2002. I refer to it as "the big box". Growing in it last year was plumbago, purple coneflower, shasta daisy, eryngium, columbine, and a couple of others. The large toppled tree-looking thing was a castor bean.
Today was nice and sunny, so even though I was short on time I took advantage of the weather and cleaned up another small area. Just a couple of ornamental grasses to chop and a little raking. The perfect size job for lunchtime.
I kneeled down to take this photo, so the grass looks a lot bigger than it really is. It's about 5' tall, and is "switch grass", Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal' if you're interested. A really nice grass. Grab the loppers and start chomping into it...
I did very little to clean up the garden last Fall. Part of it was lack of time as I was really busy with work, and the other part of it was lack of desire. Oh, it's not that I don't like cleaning up the yard: raking leaves, pulling down dead vines, cutting down dormant perennials, etc. I do enjoy it. I just don't want to do it. I like looking at dead plant matter over the winter.
I mean, look at that color! Besides all of the beautiful shades of brown, I've just spent five months or so building up "walls" of ornamental grasses, flowers, and shrubs so I'd have something interesting to look at and walk around in. Why would I want to get rid of all that and look at a boring, flat yard (relatively speaking) for five more months? Plus, all of that material provides food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, acts as a windbreak for surrounding plants, helps provide an extra bit of winter hardiness to many plants, and often makes a really cool sound when the wind blows.
After I partially emptied the greenhouse, I took a walk around to inspect my other bamboos. This is not unusual -- I do it quite often -- but after seeing all the nice, fresh green of the protected bamboo, I wanted to see what our colder-than-normal winter did to the in-ground plants. When I got to the 'Spectabilis' (Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. Spectabilis):
I saw the couple of rhizomes that had escaped their designated area, and remembered that I should dig them out before shooting starts (sometime in the next few weeks). So although I wasn't planning on doing it now, it seemed like I should just jump in and tackle it while the weather was nice.
One of my main plant passions right now is bamboo. I'll be talking about it quite a bit over the next few weeks, but all you need to know right now is that I acquired several new plants last fall, and already had several in pots of all sizes.
I didn't want to leave these new plants out in the cold all winter, as cold, dry winter winds can be tough on bamboos, especially when they're newly dug or not yet established. So I decided to build a temporary greenhouse out of PVC and plastic sheeting.
A tree fell. Just one tree.
That's how I started in gardening. In my suburban St. Louis backyard of lawn and locust trees, one locust fell over leaving a large hole in the ground which needed to be filled with something (I chose plants -- well, soil then plants), and now ten or so years later I have a yard full of growing and discovery, and a consuming passion for plants.
Starting with a small bed of almost randomly-chosen flowers, I've observed, modified, experimented. I've added new beds, removed others, built raised beds, redesigned. I've built a patio, small "stream", pergolas, and trellises. I've created a fenced veggie garden, dealt with rabbits, woodchucks, chipmunks, birds, deer, and more. In short, I've gardened. Over the last eight or so years I've learned a lot, made a lot of mistakes, gotten a lot right (in my opinion), but mainly have had *a blast* doing it. I love working in the yard!
I've never been very good about documenting what I do in the garden though. I've finally forced myself to keep a garden diary the last couple of years, but I find it difficult to put pencil to page and write down everything that happens outside, especially after a long day of digging or wheelbarrowing load after load of compost, soil, gravel, or mulch. It's good for planning though:
It's also great to have a book to look back through and see what was going on a few years back (hey, here's when we planted the bald cypress! We had to drag it's 250 lbs across the yard on a plastic sled, downhill, then uphill again!). A written diary can't easily contain photos though. Nor can it link to other cool garden sites. Plus I have to keep sharpening pencils and the good sharpener is all the way in the basement. So here we are: a blog.
I've decided to record and write about everything I do in the garden this year: cleanup of last year's plants, planting, maintenance, building, something interesting I see, a repair -- whatever I do, I'll post about it. Why? First, it will be my new garden "diary". Second, it will let me get some idea of how much time I spend in the garden, and will hopefully let me more accurately estimate the time certain tasks will take. I don't know how many times I've grossly underestimated the amount of time something in the yard will take, so this will help me get better at that. Third, I'm hoping some of my experiences will help and inspire others in their gardens. I know that without the resources of the Internet my garden would be a pale shadow of what it is now, and I would never have attempted much of what I did. I want to "give something back" now, and hope that I can.
So let's get started.