Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: Faded Memories

Gardening--and blogging, too, to a certain extent--have been put on hold for the past week while I've been trying to get my house presentable enough for Thanksgiving dinner, working several days, and fighting off a nasty cold/virus.  But I didn't want to miss out on today's Wildflower Wednesday, hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by Gail whose Clay and Limestone garden of wildflowers and natives is a true haven for pollinators of every sort.

Since many of you no doubt are also busy getting ready for Thanksgiving, I'm making the pictures large and the words few . . .

After several hard freezes, there are no blooming wildflowers here anymore, but the dried remains of many hint at their former glory and add some visual interest to the late fall garden.  The dried flowerheads of the goldenrod growing wild here suggest different bloom times or perhaps even different varieties, ranging from the brown above . . .

. . . to white, poofier seedheads, reminding me of Christmas snow.

Seedheads of Butterfly Weed are a dramatic contrast to other stems and seedheads.

Another plant growing wild next to outbuildings is Tall Boneset (I think).

Now that it's stripped of most of its foliage, the "weedy" tree behind the butterfly garden is easier to identify.  The red stems of the numerous suckers of this tree confirm my suspicions that this is a Rough-eared Dogwood.

The Frost Aster, featured on my last Wildflower Wednesday post, is still holding on to its blooms.

From a distance--or without my glasses--these puffs of white look as though they've been coated with snow.

The shriveled pokeberries have turned into poke-raisins.

Although technically not a wildflower, the old-fashioned hollyhocks might as well be in my garden,  popping up at will here and there.

Also not a wildflower, switchgrass is nevertheless a native to the prairie.  The new 'Shenandoah' cultivar promises to be an appealing addition to the lily garden.

Another native, the Purple coneflowers will hang around all winter, providing tasty snacks for the finches.

Even the less showy Rudbeckia seedheads look good bobbing in the breeze
and bathed in early morning light.

While I've seen so many asters still in bloom on many other posts, mine are long past their prime.  Still, these powder-puff (as Frances called them) remains have a certain visual appeal. 

Somewhere there are probably some real wildflowers still in bloom . . . do check out other posts at Gail's to see what might be blooming in other parts of the country.

As we enter the holiday season, I have much to be thankful for, but today I am especially thankful for the soaking rain that fell yesterday, adding some much-needed moisture to my parched garden. And I'm thankful to all of you for taking time to stop by . . .

Wishing all of you

A very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November GBBD and Foliage Follow-up

When I retired, my attitude toward time completely changed.  I no longer look at the clock every 30 minutes,  and some days I couldn't even tell you what day it is.  But I think I need to re-evaluate my laxity in paying attention to the calendar.  Last week I missed one of my grandchildren's programs because I completely forgot about it--even though it was clearly marked on the calendar--and I was taken by surprise yesterday morning to discover that Monday was not the 14th of November, but the 15th.  And, of course, we all know what the 15th of the month is--Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, faithfully hosted each month by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

Even though I'm late, it won't take long to review what's blooming in my garden in mid-November.  A quick look reveals only three blooms!

Last week's Indian Summer weather wasn't enough to revive plants hit by a killing frost the week before.  A NOID mum is the only bloom still surviving in the shade garden.  One of the ubiquitous big fall mums I purchase every year, this is the only one that was successfully transplanted a few years ago.  I'm not even going to try to save the mums I bought this year.  Even though most are still blooming, they're going to find their way into the compost heap soon, instead.

Verbena is also blooming, laughing in the face of impending winter.  I've lost the tag, but it must be a similar cultivar to 'Homestead,' which I had the previous two years, because it is also a hardy plant, the very last annual to give into the cold each year.

You have to look closely to see the last bloom--a tiny spot of lavender on the Nepeta 'Walker's Low.'  For anyone wanting a low-maintenance garden, you can't go wrong with catmint.  It blooms non-stop from early spring to late fall, is pest-free, and needs little care other than an occasional shearing if it gets a little untidy.

I said I have only three blooming plants, but I have to also include the 'Victoria Blue.'  It's not really blooming, but unlike other annuals that turn to brown crisps after a frost, this plant's blooms turn to a softer blue as they fade away.

 While I may be a day late for Bloom Day, I'm right on time for Pam's Foliage Follow-up.  Besides the trees, some of which are still hanging on to the last few leaves,  there are some colorful examples of foliage in the garden.

The shade garden, one of my favorite garden areas, depends primarily on foliage for its appeal.  This is the large 'Sum and Substance' hosta in mid-July.

And here it is today . . .  Obviously, the shade garden is not at its best in fall:)

But there are a few bright spots.  I planted some new shrubs nearby in mid-October, including this Fothergilla 'Blue Shadow.'  It's still pretty spindly, but the few leaves give a promise of what I hope will be a much fuller display of color next fall.

While I was shopping for shrubs, I couldn't resist checking out the clearance sale on perennials and finally purchased a Heuchera I've been wanting for some time.  I don't remember what color 'Georgia Peach' is supposed to be in the summer, but right now it's more berry than peachy. Still pretty, though, but then I've never met a Heuchera I didn't like:)

Another new shrub, Itea 'Henry's Garnet' hasn't had much time to turn color, but the few burgundy-tinged leaves give a hint of what I can look forward to next year.

Another new Heuchera planted this summer, 'Southern Comfort' has completely changed its color from its summer appearance of bronze and rust.  Sort of like whiskey turning to wine . . .

The lone survivor in the vegetable garden, Redbar Kale, has some of the prettiest foliage around.  Linda recently discussed the nutritious value of this antioxidant-rich plant, but I would rather just look at it than eat it.  My camera keeps picking up the purple hue, but it's really much darker than this, almost black.

Another plant whose color fools the camera is the Amsonia 'Blue Star,' which is finally turning a lovely chartreuse.

Nestled in leaves in the lily bed, the Artemesia is turning a silvery hue.

Nothing looks better wearing a coat of frost, though, than the lambs' ears. 

But my favorite foliage of all this month has to be the Hellebores, which finally have room to shine in the shade garden now that they don't have to fight for attention with ferns and hostas.  These glossy green leaves are a sure sign that the garden will come to life once again in a few short months.

Be sure to visit Carol for other timelier posts of blooms around the country and the world, and Pam at Digging for some lovely examples of fall foliage.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Three for Thursday: Feelin' Good

After my last post, I thought I should focus on some positives in the garden, especially since I've probably been sounding like a total slacker lately.  We have had unbelievable weather this past week--sunny skies with temperatures in the 70's!  I managed to accomplish a lot in the garden this week thanks to the mini-Indian Summer, and I'm feeling pretty darned good right now.  In fact, I completed the top three tasks on my fall to-do list, just in time (well, maybe a day late) for "Three for Thursday,"  the brainchild of Cindy at My Corner of Katy.

1. I finally have all my bulbs planted!  I hadn't planned on adding too many spring bulbs this fall, but you know how it is when you start leafing through the fall catalogs and seeing all those tempting photos.  I wound up planting nearly 300 bulbs, including a bargain box of 120 crocus bulbs from Home Depot.  Actually, all of the bulbs except the crocus were planted two weeks ago, but for some reason those crocuses took forever--I think they were multiplying in the box::)  But with the help of my two oldest grandchildren, I finally got them all in the ground yesterday.  I know that when spring arrives and I see all these blooms, I am going to be so glad I got carried away this fall.

2.Another project I had been intending to complete all summer was building a compost bin.  As you can see, it's not the fancy wooden two or three-compartment bin I would really like to have, but a few inexpensive fence posts and some vinyl-coated chicken wire.  But it's certainly better than the sloppy pile I had, and at least it will keep materials contained, helping them to decompose faster. 

By the end of yesterday, the new compost bin was filled to the brim, thanks to the two oldest grandchildren, who had the day off from school and raked leaves while I did a little garden clean-up.

Grandson has been saving up for a new Playstation III, and Grandma was more than willing to contribute a little to the fund after all their much-appreciated hard work.

3. The third task I finished this week is the one I'm the most excited about.  I have been planning for some time to add more garden area to the circle area of lawn behind our house where the vegetable garden, the butterfly garden (also known as the Garden of Chaos), and the new lily bed are located.  This week I finally prepared a large area for planting next spring, using the lasagna method rather than the backbreaking task of digging up all the grass and soil.

A few commenters on my last post asked what lasagna gardening is.  For those not familiar with this term, it's simply a method of smothering the grass, using layers of newspaper, leaves, compost or fresh garden soil.  Over the winter these should all decompose, leaving me with a nice bed of workable soil--grass and weed-free, I hope--to begin planting. 

The project got a late start because I first had to negotiate with Mr. Procrastinator who informed me he thought I already had "enough flowers."  Enough flowers??  I didn't even know there was such a thing . . . but that's the subject of another post one of these days. His real concern, I'm sure, was having one more flowerbed to mow around.  After some threats gentle persuasion, he came around to my point of view, and I began preparing the new bed by laying out an old hose and marking the new boundaries with spray paint.

Getting a late start on this did present some problems.  My creaky knees rebel at working on my hands and knees for too long, so that I could work on this project for only an hour or two each day.  But even more problematic were the wind and the lack of enough new soil to weight down the newspapers.  Most of our garden centers and the big box stores apparently think no one gardens in November, and bags of garden soil are a scarce commodity right now.  I bought the last few bags of soil at one center, which barely covered a third of the new bed.  Lugging them out of the car wasn't much fun either, so I finally broke down and decided to have a load of compost delivered. 

And then there was the wind!  Perhaps this isn't a problem in a tree-lined suburb with houses all around to block the wind, but I live in an open area, where the wind whips across the soil, sweeping anything in its path--including newspapers--hundreds of yards away.  Thirty-mile-per-hour winds a few days last week kept me from working in this area at all.  Once the wind subsided to a more reasonable 10 mph, I began laying out the newspapers, weighting each one down with rocks before I moved on to the next paper. After I had a small section completed, I spread out the bags of garden soil, but it wasn't long before I ran out, and I began frantically looking around for anything heavy that would keep those light newspapers in place.  Small rocks dug up from other garden areas were poured into pots, and a few milk jugs were filled with water to also act as temporary paperweights.  Logs, a strip of metal, even my wheelbarrow were put into use. 

This is the scene yesterday--I can only imagine what visitors must have thought, all of whom were too polite to ask what in the world I was doing:)

A real timesaver came my way from someone else's carelessness.  There are some people who think country roads are the perfect place to dump their trash.  We live close enough to town that it's usually not that big of a problem for us other than the assortment of beer cans and fast food bags that are frequently deposited in the shallow ditch next to the road.  But this past weekend, I noticed large pieces of cardboard and styrofoam in the ditch.  Now I would hope someone didn't purposely dump these pieces, but rather had them blown off their truck by the wind.  Still, you would think a driver would notice and have the common courtesy to pick up after himself, especially when the pieces were strewn down the ditch for almost a mile.

As I fumed about this situation, I had a brainstorm.  The cardboard would be perfect in place of some of the newspapers.  I drove down to the spot where the cardboard lay, and after wrestling with it for awhile, finally got one piece in my car.  There was no room for the other large piece, so I decided to walk the 1/4 mile back to the house, fighting off the wind that threatened to take both of us across the fields.  These pieces were actually the top and bottom of a box containing a queen-sized headboard, so they covered a lot of area and saved me at least an hour on my knees laying down more newspapers.  I think you would say this turned out to be a case of making lemonade out of "lemons"!

This morning the load of compost was delivered, and thanks to Mr. P. who made short work of spreading out the mountain of dirt with the tractor, this new bed will now be left to settle over the winter.  Once spring comes, this bed should be all ready to plant.

There is still some tidying up to do in the garden, and I've been going to bed most nights with sore muscles,  but all in all, I'm feeling pretty satisfied about the garden right now.  The wind can blow, the snow can fall--I'll be happily dreaming of spring!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Good, the Sad, and the Ugly

 My garden is officially toast.  A killing frost last Thursday or Friday night spelled the end of even the toughest of blooms.

About the only thing that still looks good in the garden right now are the hydrangea blooms, like this one on the 'Limelight.'   Oh, if only I could age so gracefully!

It's hard to find anything photo-worthy in my garden right now, but a few days ago Nancy at "Leaping Greenly" (formerly "Soliloquy") posted a photo of her poor shriveled coleus and challenged other bloggers to post the ugliest thing in their garden.  Now that I can do!  Fall clean-up chores here have been put off while I have been busy doing other things, such as planting bulbs and doing some lasagna gardening to create a flowerbed, so there is no shortage of brown, shriveled plants here.

I guess I was too optimistic or maybe just not paying enough attention to the weather, assuming these geraniums would last another week so that I could pot them up and overwinter them as I did last year.  Last week's frost proved too much for them, though, and now it's too late to try to bring them inside.  But I wouldn't call this "ugly," would you?  No, I think they look rather sad instead.

The barely recognizable pineapple sage might qualify as ugly with its brown leaves, but I'd definitely call this sad as well.  This plant had barely begun to bloom when the deep freeze hit.  Last year I was so happy with this plant, a highlight of the Butterfly Garden in the fall when everything else was fading that I made sure to plant another one this spring.  I'm not sure why it bloomed so late this year, but it made me sad that it never got a chance to show off its bright red blooms.

The pots of plants may or may not get cleaned out before winter--I like to leave a few plants, like the purple fountain grass and the helichrysum in their containers because they actually look good covered in snow.  But the sweet potato vines like this one will definitely get pulled.  This is beginning to qualify as being ugly, don't you think?  But the pansies--now that's sad again; in fact, it's downright pathetic.  Pansies may like cool temperatures, but they don't like not being watered.  I deserve twenty lashes with that limp sweet potato vine for this sad state of affairs.

As I've matured as a gardener, I've begun to appreciate the beauty of dried seedheads and even the yellowing foliage of plants going dormant for the winter.  But there's nothing beautiful about these dried-up zinnias.  Now we're approaching ugly.  These did get yanked up, but only because I needed the space for planting spring bulbs.

Nor is there anything attractive about a sweet potato vine past its prime.  Another candidate for ugly.

But for true ugliness we have only to look in the vegetable garden, still waiting for someone to clean it up.  At first glance, this red pepper looks pretty good, but one touch, and it turns to mush.

But one look is all you need to know that these tomatoes are the ugliest thing in my garden.  It didn't take
last week's killing frost to do these in; the first light frost caught me by surprise, turning the tomatoes to sauce before I even had a chance to try to save a few.  Now that the days are getting shorter, I really had better get busy and get this fall clean-up done, or I'll be showing snow-covered vegetables soon!

What is the ugliest thing in your garden right now?

Monday, November 1, 2010

November Muse Day and Fall Color Project

Salt Fork Forest Preserve
"Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!
One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,
Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,
Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.
One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,
And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,
And the blue gentian-flower, that, in the breeze,
Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.
Yet a few sunny days, in which the bee
Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way,
The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,
And man delight to linger in thy ray.
Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear
The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air."
                                                  -   William Cullen Bryant
November. . . the time of year when most of us no doubt would agree with Bryant's poem, wishing for a few more sunny days warm enough to see bees or a few more lingering blooms before the cold winter sets in for good. 

While we have had more than our fair share of sunny days, we did have a hard frost last Thursday that signalled the end for all but a few hardy annuals and perennials.  This late coneflower apparently got confused and missed the announcement that the Coneflower Show is held here in July.

Besides the frost, last week we had days of strong winds that stripped many of the trees of their leaves.  Always the procrastinator, I waited too long to take the perfect photos I wanted for Dave's Fall Color Project.   I did manage to take a shot of the golden leaves of the ash tree next to our house, featured on my Bloom Day post.

But I missed the optimal time for the ash tree further out in the front yard, which has an almost burgundy cast to its leaves in early autumn.

While I waited for the just the right time at home, I set out two weeks ago with Sophie for an afternoon walk at the Forest Preserve not far from my house.  It may have been too early for the peak color show, but it did seem that this year's fall color has been more subdued.

Still, the maples have been magnificent as usual this year, in various arrays of oranges and blazing reds.

Yellows and golds were apparent, too.

One of these days I'm going to take a course on trees, so I can identify what I'm looking at, besides the maples and oaks.

Sophie loves to visit this area.  We never know what treasures we might find here . . . a mussel or clam shell in the heart of landlocked central Illinois??

Of course, to find the best treasure, you must get off the beaten path and take one of the trails.  Sophie was so excited she literally pulled me into this trail.  While she kept her nose alert for unusual scents, I was more interested in visual stimuli.

This shrub with bright red berries was a common sight along the path.  At first I thought it was a dogwood, but the leaves are opposite rather than alternate.  Can anyone identify it?  Update--it's a bush honeysuckle, a very invasive plant, which explains why there were so many of them.  Thanks, Gail, for the i.d.--bloggers are the best!

Faded red leaves drooping on another plant reminded me of sumac, but again I'm not sure.  Bright red sumac dots the roadsides in our area in early autumn.

The leaves of this tree were just beginning to turn to burgundy.

Finally, a plant I recognized!  Pokeweed with its bright red stems and purple berries certainly adds color to the fall landscape.

But my favorite scene of all was this one, in green and brown.  You might want to enlarge this photo to get the full effect.  Had Sophie not been so eager to keep moving, I would have loved to sit down on this log for awhile just enjoying the quiet.

The fall colors may not be as deep and striking this year because of the hot, dry summer, but it's been a glorious autumn nevertheless.

The peak of fall color here was probably a week ago, but there are still colorful sights in the landscape.  Back at home, the leaves of the old Bur Oak are just beginning to turn.

Their colors are muted golds and browns, not as showy as other trees.  But this granddaddy oak doesn't need any gaudy plumage to be impressive.

The leaves of the burning bushes seem slower in changing to red this year;
perhaps they won't be as striking as last year.

They're still full of berries, however, a favorite of the birds, including the cardinals who usually build a nest or two here each spring.

But the favorite roost for the birds has to be the white flowering crab, so full of red fruit.  While the other flowering crabapple trees lost all their leaves some time ago, this one is a showstopper in the fall.

We have over thirty pine trees on our property which provide a nice evergreen border throughout the winter.  But look at the "fall interest" below this bough . . .

Lots of pine straw for free mulch!  A gardener's gold.

In the fall, though, what really catches everyone's eye is the lone maple in our front yard.  Each day it adds a little more color.  Two weeks ago, it was wearing only an orange hat.

But yesterday morning it had put on its full fall dress uniform.

My favorite tree this time of year, its leaves positively glow in the sunlight.

In all too short a time, the colors of autumn will be gone . . .

 . . . leaving us with a world in black and white.

For other scenes of fall color all across the country, be sure to visit Dave   for a complete list. 
And many thanks to Carolyn Gail, the hostess for another monthly Garden Muse Day.