Monday, July 7, 2008

The Element of Surprise

My roadside flowerbed at the very front of our yard is the most neglected of all my garden areas. You would think I would spend more time here, making sure it is weed-free and neatly trimmed since this is the one flowerbed that many people see as they drive by. But here's the problem: according to my pedometer, the lane to our house is 1/8 of a mile long. In the morning when the sun is already high in the sky by 8 AM and the air is thick with humidity, the thought of walking a quarter of a mile with my basket of gardening tools to work in the hot sun doesn't sound very appealing. I think to myself, "This evening would be a much better time to work." Of course, when evening rolls around, all too often I am too tired to do much of anything.

You can understand then why one day, as I drove out of the lane on an errand, I was so surprised to see this. A rogue lily in the middle of all my Stellas!

I have no idea what type of lily this is; it blooms much like other hemerocallis, but it is much taller than the Stellas and is a reddish brown in color. Where could it have come from? This is not a case of Beckie's DIPT ("Did I Plant This?") nor could a bird have scattered a random seed. I've finally concluded that what must have happened is that this plant was mistakenly put in a six-pack of small Stellas that my son gave me two years ago.

The more I think about it, I vaguely remember seeing this last year, but it was much smaller then and I promptly forgot about it. This year I'm going to mark its spot and transplant it to a different area.
Seeing the lily prompted me to look around my flowerbeds more carefully. Sure enough, there were other surprises awaiting me. In the main bed next to the house, I had been watching the coneflower buds for a few weeks. This one showed a lot of promise for the next Garden Bloom Day. I had never noticed before the striking way in which a coneflower develops its petals. It looks like a starburst, doesn't it?

But while these coneflowers were still in the pre-blossom stages, I was surprised again to see that the coneflowers in the roadside bed were already in full bloom. They're both the same variety and both in full sun; I wonder why the difference in bloom time?

Strolling around the shade garden, I wasn't too surprised to see these pink hydrangea blooms. As I said on my "green" post last week, I never think to add some acidic fertilizer to them until after they've started blooming. I prefer blue blooms, but frankly, I'm just glad they're blooming at all.

But here's the real surprise--a baby fern. I know this wasn't here a few days ago; it must have been hiding underneath the Japanese painted fern next to it. I had ordered some inexpensive bare-root ferns from a mail-order company last fall--the kind that look like dirt with some roots--but none of them appeared this spring. I even asked for replacements--looks like I should have been a little more patient.

Moving to the back yard, I was surprised to see the Shasta daisy, "Becky," that I had planted in a pet memorial already had one bloom. I've never had much luck with daisies before, even though they are supposed to thrive in this area, but this one looks as if it is going to do well.

As I've mentioned before, yarrow is something I don't have a problem growing. But sometimes it can be a little finicky about being transplanted. I had to thin out the area where the yarrow originally was and plopped this division in an uncultivated area in the back yard. Last week it looked as though it wasn't going to make it, but now it's covered with blooms! Maybe it will spread and choke out some of the weeds nearby.

While I was in the back yard, I looked up to see the old apple trees loaded with small green apples. We don't do anything to these trees, and last year they didn't produce much fruit. It looks like this year will be a bumper crop, however.

Other than the green beans, my small vegetable garden is doing well, too. I haven't had any luck with summer squash the last two years, but I found this yellow blossom hiding under the leaves.

Now I'm regretting not planting zucchini as well. My family, though, said they needed a break after the bumper crop I had two years ago, when we had zucchini disguised in some form at nearly every meal.

No, these are not space aliens that landed on my front porch to surprise me--they're kohlrabi. If you're not familiar with kohlrabi, they are similar in taste to turnips. Neither of those vegetables appeal to me, but my husband has asked for these every year I've had a vegetable garden. So when I saw a four-pack of kohlrabi while shopping for tomato plants, I picked them up. Husband likes to eat them raw, somewhat like an apple, but he decided after the first two he ate that they needed to get a little bigger. I pulled these two up last night and asked him, "Are these big enough??" Of course, they're like radishes--the bigger they are, the stronger the flavor. He ate part of one today to avoid any more sarcastic comments from me.

The back yard is also where the hollyhocks grow freely. These are not surprise plants at all. Some of you may remember my post about planting some passalongs from my mother this spring. What surprised me at the time were all the comments I received about these hollyhocks. They are all heirloom, single-blossom plants: the transplants originating from my grandmother's plants, and the others planted by my husband's grandfather. This year the tall ones are obviously the originals on the farm, but in time the passalongs may catch up to them.

My mother had no idea what color the ones she gave me would be, and some of those are not blooming yet. But so far all the plants are pink or dark pink, like this one that is about 7 feet tall.

There are also a few shorter ones that are a deep dark red. I'm hoping there might be a white hollyhock in the plants yet to bloom.

Little surprises like these are one of the joys of gardening. Walking around the garden each day, you never know what you might find. Of course, there can be unpleasant surprises as well. In my new-found eagerness to take some good photos of bees, I noticed some flying around my shrubs. Quickly retrieving my camera, I moved in for a closer shot. They weren't bees...

Aack!! The Japanese beetles had arrived! The innocent might look at this photo and think what beautiful insects, but the rest of us know this regal-looking iridescent body hides a destructive devil! This is the only time of year I don't envy those of you with beautiful rose gardens.

One final, and much more pleasant, surprise: last weekend a neighbor we seldom see stopped in and asked if I'd like some cherries from his trees. I picked a couple quarts and while I was pitting them, images of cherry pie kept floating through my mind. Since I never did make that strawberry pie a few weeks ago, I decided this time I would follow through. I haven't baked a pie in probably 5 years, and now I remember why--it takes so long! But the end result was worth it--it wouldn't have won a blue ribbon for appearance, but it was delicious.

I think my roadside garden might get more attention now. . . I'm going to have to visit it several times a day to walk off all the pie I've eaten!

Post Script: After reading the first few paragraphs of this last night, I thought how lazy I sound! So I stopped writing and went down to weed that flowerbed. Good thing, too: it's storming here this morning with a predicted rainfall of 3-5 inches. I hope some of this rain is reaching those of you who really need it.


  1. Good morning Rose. I loved seeing your photos! The white yarrow is very pretty. I only have the yellow, but it is outdoing itself this season. It's been blooming nonstop for about 2 months now.

    Those hollyhocks are so pretty. Don't the beetles eat them? I just love HH's (used to have a lot of the old fashioned kind like yours) but they bloom at exactly the same time the JB's arrive and the darn bugs destroy every hollyhock flower.

  2. I think your garden by the road must be awesome judging by those daylillies. Everything is beautiful.

    Hi Marnie!

  3. Marnie, The yarrow I have actually is pink when it is in full bloom; I think the name of this species was "Appleblossom." I haven't noticed the Japanese beetles on the hollyhocks yet, but I'll have to check on them. We don't seem to have as many beetles this year, unless these are just the first arrivals.

    Tina, Thanks. I wanted an area that people could see, to know that I like flowers, but the flowers cheer me up, too, every time I come home.

  4. Rose, I have so many of the same flowers you have. That stray day lilly, looks like some I have, but I don't know much about it; it was given to my by my brother-in-law. The hollyhocks are just like mine, too. i love them so much, but the beetles have found them. I've been hand picking them off, but they just keep coming!

  5. Rose don't feel bad about not weeding at the end of your lane. Our driveway is probably 25feet long and I don't like to go out there and weed along the beds flanking it due to the heat of summer. They get a good cleaning out early spring and then it is good luck to them. Ha...

    We are getting the rain you mentioned coming in today. Lovely. I don't have to water now. Everything was getting wilty looking.

    I have a stella that went to a color similar to what you are showing. I have some large red daylilies near it so they must have had a dominant gene. Strange. It is better than them turning back to orange. I don't mind the orange ones but I hate the thought of having all orange.

  6. Rose,

    I love synchronicity! I have been thinking much the same thing about a bed at the end of our driveway. It's the first bed visitors see and it is in the worst shape! Unfortunately no good looking daylilies have shown up!

    Wow to the Yarrow and Hollyhock. Hollyhock were my mom's favorite plant and I am trying to get them established here. They must be a midwest plant at heart!

    I love the way plants have their own time table! Maybe the soil is just a bit different... who knows, it's just a delight and a surprise.

    No rain here! Does staring at the sky help? No! Does complaining help? No! So we work out the arms dragging hoses around!

    You are not lazy! Everyone has to have some part of the garden untended! It's the great equalizer!


  7. Dear Rose...Please tell mewhat this Japanese beetle does that is so bad. I have never heard of this little insect.

    Your hollyhocks are without doubt beautiful.....they look so healthy....what I would give....sigh.

    Lovely photographs by the way favourite is the coneflower not in bloom. Enlarged and printed onto canvas it would make a lovely wall hanging.

    By the did not sound lazy just tired.....we are all the same this time of year, there is always so much to do.....

  8. I just happened upon your blog through another and your flowers are LOVELY! I bet it is beautiful around your place with all of your blooming flowers. Glad I took a peek!!

  9. Ooooh, you've got single blooming hollyhocks! Those are so hard to find - all we've been able to find here are the double blooming ones, but I love the old fashioned singles.

  10. Joyce, Just visited you a little while ago--we do have similar plants:)! My hollyhocks still look ok, but the beetles are all over my roses. Must get some soapy water out there.

    Lisa, Thanks for the encouragement about leaving things untended. The stray daylily looked almost like the wild "ditch lilies" you see everywhere till I took a closer look. I still think it might have been a packaging mistake.

    Gail, I've been trying to tell the rain clouds to go south, but unfortunately they're not listening to me:) I remember you saying that your Mom loved hollyhocks. They've always grown in wild abandon on my parents' farm.

    Cheryl, I will have to take a picture of the beetles working over a plant for you. They love roses and eat the buds; the leaves look like confetti when they're done. Be thankful you don't have them! I liked that coneflower,too; funny I never noticed this till this year. Coneflowers are native to this area and a highly recommended planting for wildlife--the butterflies usually flock to them.
    Thanks for telling me I'm normal in being tired:)

    Darlene, Glad you stopped by! This is prime blooming time around here.

    Amy, I'm going to try to find out the best way of collecting seeds from the hollyhocks. Maybe I could send you some later in the season.

  11. Rose, loved your surprises! If you do move that day lily, I want a small division.(nothing like asking for a pass-along!) Actually, I wiil share some of mine with you. Am going to have to move a couple as they are in too much shade. Everything else is looking so good. You must be doing it right. I know what you mean about a weedy bed. Mine under the tree at the south drive way is looking sad. I always get too tired of weeding before I get to that one. If your summer squash is abundant- I will hell you out there too! :)

  12. Your surprise daylily blends well with the Stellas, Prairie Rose - I'd probably leave it in place, then make the bed a little bigger and divide the Stellas so they made a solid swath in front of it, as well as on both sides...but sometimes you end up with more flower bed than originally planned that way!

    The hollyhocks are lovely and cherries are an excellent surprise - what a nice neighbor.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  13. Those photos are fantastic, but I haven't read your post as I have just realised how late it is and I'm supposed to be going out tonight!! Back to read it tomorrow!

  14. Please don't transplant the surprise! It looks lovely with the Stellas. Of course, I'm all for mixing things up in a garden. No uniformity for me. The hollyhocks remind me of some wonderful neighbors we had when I was a kid living in O'Fallon, Illinois. They had the most beautiful flowers and lawn, and I loved it when we got invited over to their house for the Fourth of July. There was always a lot of good food and fellowship there.

  15. Rose, maybe you just need that front garden to run wild with lilies and wildflowers.

    It always bothers me when I can't identify a familiar plant too. You just helped me with one of mine. We have holyhocks growing (unfortunately) under the clothesline, but they are too beautiful to cut back. Ours haven't started blooming yet so I hope they do before we leave England this week.

    Your garden is lovely. Good luck protecting it from the Japanese beetles. We put out bowls of soapy water to trap them back in Maine but hand picking seems to work best - no fun.

    What a nice neighbor to bring cherries!

  16. Beckie, I will be glad to share!

    Annie and Walk2Write, Thanks for the suggestion on leaving the stray lily.I might just follow your advice. The Stellas need to be divided this fall anyway.

    Sarah, I hope your hollyhocks bloom before you have to leave. I spent some time outside with my can of soapy water picking off those pesky beetles.

  17. Rose ! What gorgeous pictures you have taken ! .. and the rouge lily with your Stellas .. that is so cute .. you could leave it there for an eye popper ? among all that yellow ? .. all my lilies against the house with the arbor gate are Stellas or Happy Returns .. except for Frans Hall and Black Eyed Stella .. I love seeing pictures of Holly Hocks : ) I just can't grow them here because of the powdery mildew thing .. drives me nuts !
    I had such a laugh over your quandary of eating pie and having to "garden" it off ? .. me too !!!
    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog .. I have neglected all these wonderful ones with my raccoon problem .. I'll be so glad when we get this FIXED .. BIG sigh !
    Joy : )

  18. I was going to comment on how pristine & perfect your Hollyhocks looked, then I read your followup. Ugh! It is so vital for gardeners to get out there, yes even to the back 40 or the front bed, to see what is going on, to nip these problems in the proverbial & literal bud. But how nice you had pleasant surprises too. I bet those Coneflowers by the road bloom earlier because of the microclimate created by the paving of the road.

  19. GardenJoy, I know you have been preoccupied; hope that darn raccoon leaves you alone pretty soon!

    MMD, You're so right. I usually don't do anything with the hollyhocks; if it hadn't been for Joyce's comment, I never would have thought to check for beetles. Good idea about the pavement's effect on the coneflowers--I never would have thought of that.

  20. Oh my goodness, Rose you are NOT lazy. Who would walk all that way in the heat? Not me. Anyway, a bit of wild roadside garden probably looks just fine. Not everything in nature has to be neat.
    Those cherries look good! I don't always make pies either. I just eat the fruit as is. When my children were small, I'd make pies, but now - it's just me and hubby and I really don't want to gain weight.
    Loved walking around your garden. Those hollyhocks really are lovely.

  21. I tried to comment here the other night but there was something wrong with my 'puter! Anyway, I just wanted to say what a brilliant post. So much to see. I do like your coneflower the shape is lovely. And I'm with your husband on the kholrabi. I love it raw but sadly the slugs and snails in our garden do too!
    Hope all is well with you and that it is good gardening weather over there now. It's been a very wet week here.


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