No More Red Geraniums

Fighting the Red Menace. Gardening like we mean it.

Neighborly Gardening August 19, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — LeftyGardener @ 3:51 PM
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In the past month, I’ve spent more time talking to the neighbors on my block than I have in the entire four years we’ve lived here.


Because now I’m gardening in the public eye – out in the front yard. There’s no way to miss my new garden, either, as it takes up about half of my front yard. I’ve actually spoken with a few strangers who commented on the progress of various plants. We’ve had ample rain this summer (for a change), contributing to rapid growth among nearly all the plants.

I think that living in a pedestrian-friendFront yard garden - August 2010ly neighborhood like mine encourages this type of neighborly interaction. While I’m out working in the garden, people will stop on the sidewalk as they walk to or from the grocery store/park/library and chat about what in the heck I’m doing to my yard. They wouldn’t feel comfortable just walking down here solely for the purpose of asking me about it, but if they’re “out and about” anyway, well, it feels OK to ask me about it, since I’m right there next to the sidewalk.

Not everyone appears to “get it”, though. Today, as I was digging up some dead grass next to the sidewalk, I saw a gentleman coming up the sidewalk whom I’d seen many times before, but never spoken to. I said hello, and he asked what had happened to my grass. I told him, with perhaps a bit too much glee, that I had killed it all off in order to put in a garden. “Hmmm,” he replied, and continued on his way, looking a bit perplexed. People around here aren’t too obsessed with having golf-course-perfect lawns, but there are still some who can’t imagine a yard containing anything but grass. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t describe to him my grand plans for the rest of the yard…

In addition to its ability to create connections,  the front yard garden can also contribute positively to the character of my block, something that backyard gardens can’t usually do. I feel a certain responsibility to make the design of this garden a little different from my usual style, as it’s a part of our neighborhood’s public face that everyone sees as they travel down our street. This garden needs to appear, perhaps, a bit more conservative in color and form than my usual cacophony of colors and textures.  So far, native grasses and perennials in muted colors comprise the bulk of the plants – nothing too colorful or bold, just plenty of textures.

I also hope to show a bit of environmental consideration by channeling some of my lot’s rainwater into the “dip”  in the middle of the garden where moisture-loving plants reside. (It’s not truly a raingarden, so I call it “the dip” instead.)

I anticipate a lot of work will go into making this garden successful, and it’s going to take time as well. I thank my neighbors for their patience and support, and hope that this garden will encourage others to tear out their lawns and create something beautiful!


It’s like raaaaaain, nearly every day… August 13, 2010

Filed under: photos — LeftyGardener @ 8:21 PM
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Isn’t it ironic? I built myself a drought-tolerant garden this year… and we’re getting blasted with rain at least a couple days a week. Just last night, we received a 2-3 inch soaking that, once again, left a small river flowing through my basement.

The new plants sure are benefiting from ample moisture, though! I had expected to water them frequently this summer, since many of them are in their first year – but so far, I’ve only watered the newly-planted plants for a few days until they’re settled in.

Everything has developed nicely so far…

Front yard garden

Front yard garden again - August

Mondarda and grasses

And the windowboxes have filled in as well.

Windowboxes in August

The raingarden “dip” in the front yard garden seems to be fulfilling its purpose. I’ve had the opportunity to observe it during downpours several times now, and while the channels into the dip do overflow during heavy rain, the channels and the dip don’t have any standing water in them once the rain stops. The Siberian irises appear quite happy with their spot – I might actually get some blooms from them next spring. Three Lobelia vedrariensis plants I found on clearance at Bluestone are already blooming:

Lobelia vedrariensis

And the Eupatorium purpureum are blooming as well, but slugs have eaten their leaves and I’m too embarrassed to show them right now. They’re quite popular with the bees, even in partial shade.


Critters! August 11, 2010

Filed under: photos — LeftyGardener @ 8:47 PM
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For the first time, I managed to capture a couple of our wascally wabbits on camera. I think it’s been a banner year for the bunnies; their babies keep popping up everywhere, chewing on everything not behind chicken wire.

The culprits:

Mr./Ms. Rabbit, unafraid

My manic antics don’t seem to have created any healthy fear of humans in the rabbits – I was sitting on the patio the other day and a rabbit hopped over and sat down about two feet away. I think they’re taunting me.

Baby rabbit

OK, so this guy looks a little scared. I found his secret hiding place! Somehow he managed to find the least comfortable spot in the yard. Don’t feel sorry for him – someday soon, he’ll munch my hostas down to the ground like the rest of them, then fornicate under the shrubs.


Front yard progress June 12, 2010

Filed under: photos — LeftyGardener @ 2:36 PM
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Well, the past two weekends have brought copious amounts of rain, so I figured it was high time I posted an update on the front yard garden. Progress has been made!

Front yard 7

Yes, the dead grass continues to look like crap. But nearly all of the plants are in, and I finally filled the “channels” from the gutters with black poly and rocks/pea gravel. There are still spots where the poly is exposed, but they’re definitely starting to get the dry stream bed look I was going for. Now I just have to figure out how to transition the edges of the channels where they meet the land.

Front yard 8

This photo is looking back toward the house from the sidewalk. The rain garden/dip is front and center. I recently found a few additional plants on clearance that I added to the dip, including some native Lobelia that will stand tall among the grasses. With any luck, they’ll flower later this summer in shades of purple.

Moving away from the front yard, the Alcea nigra (Black Hollyhock) I seeded along the south side of the house is just about ready to flower. It’s quite tall already:

Alcea nigra

I’m a bit worried it’s going to outgrow its spot and take over the sidewalk. We’ll see.


Late spring blooming May 29, 2010

Filed under: photos — LeftyGardener @ 10:09 PM

According to the meteorologists, we’re still running about 3 weeks ahead of schedule, weather-wise, and are on track for the warmest spring in history. It’s no wonder, then, that everything is blooming far ahead of its normal schedule for my Zone 4 garden.

First and foremost – the strawberries are ripening! Proof:

The first strawberry of the year

I grow all my strawberries in hanging containers, so they had a head start on the growing season. This year, I actually remembered to place netting over the plants before the squirrels and birds had a chance to nab the fruit! And they taste fabulous – so far, none of the berries have made it as far as my kitchen.

Penstemons of various species are turning out to be great plants for my sunny, south-facing garden – the rabbits won’t touch them, and they come in my favorite colors:

Penstemon in bloom

There’s nothing like electric blue against bright green foliage.

The native Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) I planted last year have flowered prolifically so far. I like their orange/yellow flowers with the blue/purple of the Nepeta and the bold green leaves of the hosta here.

Aquilegia, Nepeta, Hosta

The plants along the back fence have already reached the “oh no, my garden is overflowing!” stage, though it’s not even June yet. It’s a good thing some of them will be moving to the front yard soon.

Daylily, Nepeta, etc. along back fence

The Nepeta has a habit of flopping open anytime we get rainfall while it’s in bloom. Looks like it’s just about time to give it a haircut; it will rebloom in  a month if cut back by at least one-third.


The Front Yard Garden

Filed under: photos — LeftyGardener @ 9:44 PM
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Well, I finally took the plunge and started the front yard garden. I decided to kill off all the grass with Roundup, so once I sprayed, there was no going back. That’s commitment!

Here’s the front yard in early spring, before the grass had really greened up:

Front yard - before

And here’s after one afternoon of measuring, staking, and much digging:

Front yard - beginnings

A closeup of the “dip” in the center, which will receive rainwater channeled in from two of my gutter downspouts:

Front yard - closeup of "dip" area

So far the dip has Siberian Iris, Carex muskingumensis, Monarda fistulosa, and Elymus canadensis/Elymus virginicus (2 different types of native Wild Rye grass). I’m trying to fill this part with plants that can withstand being wet a lot, since my clay soil takes forever to dry out after rainfall.

The photo below shows the current state of the garden. The Roundup has done its job well; most of the existing sod has turned to straw, which makes it much easier to dig in and pull up. I plan to cover the remaining dead grass with wood mulch of some sort (whatever I can get cheaply) that will, I hope, break down and eventually improve the clay soil here.

Front yard - end of May

Yes, it looks terrible right now. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, right?


Wintersowing: Successes and failures April 23, 2010

Filed under: photos — LeftyGardener @ 2:23 PM
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I think the time has come… Time to remove the covers from my wintersown flats and containers! It’s been so warm that I’m afraid of frying the plants if I don’t let them out. Plus, some of the containers’ lids/covers are too close to the soil – the plants can’t grow any taller. Next year, taller containers.

Wintersown Elymus canadensis and Elymus virginicus

Wintersown Elymus canadensis and Elymus virginicus

They don’t look like much now, but these little native grass seedlings will eventually play a major role in my front yard garden.  They tolerate shade and many types of soil, so hopefully they’ll tolerate the compacted clay soil I have.

Wintersown seedlings

Wintersown seedlings

Some more seedlings from my wintersowing containers… Allium, monarda, and echinacea paradoxa, I think.  Many of the labels I stuck on the containers have faded to the point where I’m not sure what’s what! Even the labels where I used a ballpoint pen – to leave indentations where I wrote – aren’t legible anymore. Whoops. I guess I’ll have some surprises.

I’m glad I tried wintersowing this year. I think it’ll be a good way to grow plants cheaply. A few things I’ll do differently next year: Taller/deeper containers, better labeling, and sow the seeds more densely to accommodate uneven germination. Also, I’ll be better prepared with good potting soil – the nasty stuff I got, in desperation, from the hardware store didn’t drain well and may have led to poor germination in some of the containers.

Mail order plants

Mail order plants

Okay, so these aren’t wintersown plants – but I’m so excited about all my mail order plants that have been arriving! Here we see a Meyer lemon plant (the big one in the midde) surrounded by some native perennials – Eupatorium purpureum, Penstemon, and Asclepias tuberosa for clay. Now I just need to find the time to plant them all…