Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Can Bite Me

Today is the first day of summer, and I know some are reveling in it. We've just had our first heat wave, a spate of days with temperatures in the high-80s (it hit 90 on two days). I know for some that's not hot, but it is for me. I don't like it.

I. Do. Not. Like. It.

It's been a long time since we've had a good soaking rain, and I've been dragging hoses and sprinklers around to various beds, trying to make sure plants don't fry.

The heat broke last night, and I was delighted this morning to discover a light, misty, yummy rain was falling. 















My favorite kind of weather. I love this first day of summer.

Summer. You can bite me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A New Garden To Play In

I have a new garden to play in...unfortunately, it's thousands of miles away, back East. It's the garden (and I use that term very loosely) around my son Iain's new house. While I was there visiting I took photos. Not enough photos, but anyway, I thought I'd share them with you, and let you know some of their ideas for what they want to do with the space, and let you know some of my ideas.

And if you have any thoughts, please tell me.

The front of the house, which faces west, so we are looking toward the north here.

Those two shrubs are Rhodies, apparently lavender-flowered. They weren't flowering when we were there, but they've flowered since, and Diana emailed me to let me know what color they were. They want to keep them. There's a rose behind the Rhodies too, which they'll probably keep, although it might need to be moved, depending on how soon they take down some of those trees, because it will need more sun. If I remember correctly, that very short plant in front of the chimney is also a Rhodie, that looks like it was butchered by the previous owners for some unknown reason.  Of those three trees on the left-hand side, the middle one is coming out, because it's mostly dead.

Not directly garden-related, but plant-related -- see the front door in that above photo? That's actually the second front door. There's another one directly to our right as we're standing here. The kids want to take out that superfluous front door and put in a fourth window and turn that room into a light- and plant-filled atrium/sunroom. It has a drop ceiling right now, but they plan to take that out and put in skylights to bring as much light as possible into the room. They've even started a Pinterest board with ideas for it. See it here. Iain and Diana's Atrium Pinterest Board

Oh, to be young and ambitious and energetic!


Another shot of the front garden, facing the opposite direction, toward the south

Here you can see there is a double row of conifers very close together and also very close to the house.  They're planning to take out that middle row. I think they should thin the trees along the street as well. The strange piece of fence on the left hides the recycle/trash bins. I'm not sure what they plan to do with that concrete walkway that goes to the second front door. I'd love to see them break it up and use the pieces for a recycled concrete wall or perhaps for a path, like paving stones.

Still the front, all the way up at the southwest corner of the house, still looking south. There's an arborvitae and a rose, and an enormous conifer -- it's a corner lot, by the way

This enormous conifer stands right on the corner and they want to keep it

Do you know trees? I don't know enough to identify it.

On  to the back garden.

Looking out the back door, facing south -- there used to be an above-ground pool, now just a big patch of sand

There's a fence in sorry shape, and another row of conifers, planted very closely, some with multiple trunks. I recommended that they take some of them out, at least every other one. The yard and the fence continue around the corner of the house. They talked about putting a shed down there in the corner under the conifers and a greenhouse possibly around the corner, where the garden gets the most sun.

I have all kinds of ideas for what to do with this long narrow area. I think the first instinct of most people is to put beds all along the edges and grass in the middle. In fact, that's exactly what I have in my garden here in Washington state (I had less imagination ten years ago). But if I were redoing my son's garden, I'd put in a long, winding path with beds that come out into the middle of the space and large plants and shrubs that obscure the destination of the path and show little, or just hints, of what's ahead.

A closer look at the fence

You can see the rotten fence is being held up by metal poles. I would love to recycle those into supports for Danger Garden-style dish planters once they replace the fence.
Here's a closeup of one of the conifers -- any clues what it is? I really don't know anything about trees (I'm lucky I can tell the difference between an oak and a maple)

Closer to the  house -- Look what's growing in the lawn! Onoclea sensibilis(sensitive fern) I told them to rescue these

And another fern, Athyrium? Dryopteris?

I knew this looked familiar when I first saw it but couldn't place it, now I'm wondering if it's Phytolacca americana (pokeweed)

Here's what's growing around the corner, along the south wall of the house

An oak tree!

Pretty sure this is Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon), growing a little too close to the house

If they can move the Rose of Sharon without killing it, to put it somewhere it isn't interfering with the eaves of the house, that would be great, especially if it has a pretty flower. But the oak tree has to go. This is the area where they want to put a greenhouse.

Now we're at the back door again, looking in the other direction, toward the north

The yard slopes untidily upward in the Northeast corner. Of course, those tidy terraced walls belong to the neighbor. There are, I think, three oak trees, and two swings hanging from the largest. Iain and Diana would like to put a water feature here, a waterfall and disappearing stream. I asked Iain, 'Not a pond?" But he was adamant. I think he remembers digging an enormous hole in the backyard for my pond one hot summer when we lived in Massachusetts and he came home from his first year of college. I'm not sure he realizes that a disappearing stream is going to also need an enormous hole as a water reservoir.


There's a beautiful old rock covered in moss

What's growing in that untidy corner? I spy iris foliage, weeds, lily of the valley, weeds, vinca, weeds...

And looks like poison ivy to me

There's a very old, weedy patio made of slate set in concrete, and a fire ring

They'd like to take up that old patio and reuse the flagstones for a path. Iain envisions a new patio here, with a fireplace, and a BBQ/outdoor kitchen and even a pizza oven.

Well, this review of Iain and Diana's new garden may have been interesting only to me, but I hope it was to you too. It's fun to imagine what you'd do with a new space. Of course this is Zone 6 Massachusetts, so I don't think they'll be planting anything exotic like Agaves in the ground, but there are Opuntias that are hardy there.

Got any brainstorms for me to pass on?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Nursery Visit Back East -- Avant Gardens

When we first started planning our May trip to Massachusetts to visit our son Iain and his girlfriend Diana we didn't know that they had started making plans to buy a house. By the time our trip actually rolled around, they had bought and passed papers and taken possession of their new house in North Providence, Rhode Island. Like the Seattle area, and I would guess a lot of other large cities, homes within the city or within easy commuting distance have been priced beyond reason. Although they both work in Massachusetts, they had to look in the Providence area to find something they could afford. Fortunately they both have jobs that allow them to do a lot of telecommuting.

One day while we were there we all hopped into cars and drove to North Providence to check out the new house. Although they officially own it, they haven't moved in yet. They're making changes, painting, etc., before they actually make the big move. Iain and his dad drove straight to the house with tools and supplies to change all the doorknobs. But Diana, her sister Julia, who is staying with them for the summer, and I stopped along the way at a nursery called Avant Gardens in Dartmouth, MA, which is in an area of Massachusetts that is a short drive from their new home.

I remember hearing about Avant Gardens when I lived in Massachusetts, but I never visited. It was at least an hour's drive, 65 miles away, which to me at the time seemed like a long drive. Now I think nothing of driving up to the Kitsap Peninsula here in Washington, sometimes two or three times a year, to see Heronswood (77 miles, an hour and a half) or even further to check out the offerings at Far Reaches Farm (100 miles, 2 hours).

So I decided to take the opportunity to visit this nursery that I had heard so much about from other gardeners when I lived in Massachusetts, to satisfy my curiosity, to compare it to what I've become accustomed to, and to show Diana a cool resource that she might be able to call on for her new garden. She had asked me for advice.

In business for 25 years, selling via both retail and mail order, Avant Gardens is owned by Katherine and Chris Tracey. Katherine has a particular passion for succulents that you would normally find growing in California, not zone 6, "snows-all-winter-long" New England. You can read more about  both Katherine and Chris here. Katherine also writes a blog for the nursery website called Garden Foreplay. And Margaret Roach, of A Way To Garden, interviewed Katherine about making succulent wreaths, which you can read here.

Anyway, enough blathering from me. Here's a look at the nursery.

Note the succulent container


We started with a look around the garden. The nursery is actually attached to the house where Katherine and Chris live, and their home garden is the nursery's display garden.

Variegated lilac

I just had to take a picture of the lichen-bedecked rocks

A nice combo, the red Enkianthus flowers with the red Japanese maple behind


There's a lovely Wisteria-covered pergola

Love this combo too, which would work right here in Washington -- a gold Brunnera and Epimedium

And a Primula

Gold Hosta with black viola

I didn't recognize this shrub, do you? It reminds me of Wisteria, but it's so small and lime-green

It has pea-like seedpods

Love this Solomon's Seal, with that dark mid-rib

I would have loved to take home some of these terra cotta pots, but I hadn't brought anything appropriate with me to use as a carry-on

A light misty rain had started to fall, and Julia pulled out an umbrella -- but not this PNWer -- you call this rain?

They have a great selection of Heucheras

Hardy Sedums


Lots and lots of plants
We wandered up and down, while I pointed out to Diana all the cool plants I thought would look great in her new garden.


Diana very much wants a Japanese maple

I took a peak inside a greenhouse with a disappointing sign.







But then we found the succulent house! I don't remember ever seeing anything like this at a nursery when I lived in Massachusetts.













We asked a woman scurrying to and fro for some advice, and lo and behold! It turned out to be Katherine herself. She was very helpful and kindly acceded to my request for a photo of her with Diana.
Katherine Tracey, one of the co-owners of Avant Gardens, with Iain's girlfriend Diana

Click here to see much better photos than mine of the nursery garden at Avant Gardens.

It was great fun to visit, even though I couldn't take any plants or containers home with me. In a way I wish I had visited when we lived in Massachusetts, but I'm also glad I never had to leave any of their fabulous plants behind when we moved. I've seen our old house on Google Street View and the garden has changed massively, which makes me sad. I hope the current owners enjoy mowing all that grass.