It’s Much Too Dry Here

Premature leaf fall from a magnolia

It’s a bit embarrassing talking about drought–or even dryness–when so many parts of the United States are truly parched.

It’s even worse to be wishing for rain when so many other areas are flood damaged.

But this seems to be the “new normal”–at least for the 4 plus years that I’ve been blogging. One of the themes of the blog is weather and I’m always writing about too much or too little of something.

Lest you think that I’m implying something here, I’m not. Any trained meteorologist will tell you that this is how we get our “averages.” At its simplest, you take a 70 degree day (“Wow, it’s way too cold!” ) and a 90 degree day (“Wow, it’s way too hot!) and average them together and you come out with the average for that day which at 80 is probably just about where that day should be.

Always remember 2 things: weather and climate are different. And if you can observe it in your lifetime, it’s weather and not climate, as the saying goes.

Last year, we were much too wet–and that seems to be the general pattern that is supposed to set up for the Eastern Deciduous Forest, which, broadly speaking, is the part of the country where I reside. The wetter places are forecast to become wetter still and the drier places, sadly, will become drier.

So presumably our arid summer is an anomaly. It’s also been mild, which has been lovely, because if it had been this dry and very hot, it could have been disastrous for the plants.

But when trees are losing their leaves–and have been for quite some time–very prematurely as that magnolia has been doing in the photo above-that’s how you know it’s much too dry!

Wordless Wednesday–Summertime Blues and Yellows!

Seaside Garden Sculpture

As summer winds down, the Spoiler and I took a day trip to the Connecticut shore. This sculpture was in a garden just off a sidewalk. It caught my eye as we were talking and walking.

We debated whether of not it moved. I didn’t think so but he thought it must. Either way, I loved the way it was framed by the sunflowers and grasses.

What A Supermarket Display Can Tell Us About Bee Preference

I was on my way in to my local supermarket when a garish orange flower caught my eye. Being a gardener of course, I had to detour over to take a look.

Mystery tropical

I’ve no idea what this is–of course it wasn’t labeled. It’s quite eye catching. But even were I so inclined to buy it, I wouldn’t and here’s why. Every buzzing thing on the table was avoiding it like the plague. Who wants that in a garden?

Actually, some later research indicates it’s a tropical called crossandra. And that it’s a shade plant. Interesting since it was in full blazing sun. I wonder if it will still be there this week and fried to a crisp?


Of course, I couldn’t investigate too carefully because the plants were interspersed with these lovely blue agastache–a brilliant marketing scheme, as well as great color design. Of course, I happened to take the one shot where there wasn’t a bee on the flower. But every other flower stalk was literally covered in bumble bees and honey bees. I’ve got to set the brightness on the camera so I can see what I’m doing, clearly (no pun intended!)


As I headed toward the store door, I was again stopped, this time by the pentas. What had me transfixed this time, however, other than the lovely pinks and reds of the flowers, was the fact that these plants were covered in hornets (or yellow jackets–I wasn’t stepping in too closely to try to tell the difference!)

Again, lovely plant–but not necessarily something you want to bring home if it’s going to attract these visitors. And really, you’re going to have to be careful how you even reach for this one. No wonder this flower display is so lush and full–no one can reach for any of the plants!

Some Happy Bees

If you remember my post last week about the lovely double Rose of Sharon (A Proven Winners Sugar Tip–just so we’re clear what I’m discussing in case you don’t remember) where the bees were having trouble finding pollen, you may remember I was questioning whether it was sterile and whether it was “bad for bees?”

I spent a long time just watching the bumble bees at that same shrub over the weekend. There were a lot of them there. Only one had any pollen at all on it, and it was not clear to me that it had gotten the pollen from that plant. Still, I did wonder if the bees would have been there at all if there were nothing to harvest.

So rather than stew about this any longer, I decided to go to the experts–Proven Winners itself. Within an hour, I had my answer. As I suspected, Sugar Tip is sterile. But even better, what was explained to me is that the reason it is sterile is because the mutation that causes those double flowers is what causes the plant to be sterile–the stamens become petals because of a natural mutation. Wow. So I was right–lovely plant, but not particularly “good for bees.”

It’s such a pretty shrub I don’t intend to remove it–and I’ve planted lots of good “bee friendly” flowering plants around it so I’m not worried about leaving it. There’s no “pollen desert” in my yard, that’s for sure.

But then I went down to the garden I created for the wildlife, where I have the more tradition Rose of Sharon plants.

Rose of Sharon flower with bee

Deep in this flower is a pollen covered bee. It’s so pollen covered it’s almost impossible to identify.

Rose of Sharon

This is the entire plant. I had gone down to the garden to do a little pruning but was kept away from this general area by the abundance of bumble bees on this plant. It’s supposed to be a L’il Kim but clearly it’s reverted to whatever its parentage was because it is not dwarf in the least. That’s okay–its abundance of flowers makes up for its reversion.

society garlic

Finally even these flowers–pass alongs from a friend, and supposedly society garlic–were covered in bees. Naturally the photo shows only one lone bumble bee, but there were several and they were chasing off the smaller bees as well.

So it’s nice to know there are places in my garden where I have some happy bees.

Wordless Wednesday–the Good Guys

beneficial fungus

A garden writer of my acquaintance has won awards for his books Teeming with Microbes and Teeming with Nutrients. The Microbes book is about the soil food web and the beneficial fungi (among other things) that live within it.

I’m well aware of that relationship when I garden “in the wild” in the garden and that’s why I try never to spray anything–organic or not–in the garden. I try not to destroy the soil ecosystem I’ve carefully built up in my garden.

For those of you that rototill, take note. This is a house plant. It had gotten too big for its pot in just one season (which surprised me). When I dug it out of the pot, this is what I found: all this beneficial fungus on the roots. Clearly this was helping the plant thrive.

I have no explanation for why this plant developed this this year. It surely wasn’t because of rainfall–we’ve been fairly dry. All I’ll say is that I’m grateful.

By the way, I re-potted 6 other plants this weekend. Only this plant had this good fungus. Very interesting.

Easier Gardening

On Friday I talked about how I’ve worked to avoid imperfection in the garden by practicing a form of “weed triage.” Today I’ll talk about how I’ve tried to simplify my gardening life a bit.

I used to plant a lot more containers. I would plant what I called my “mixed container border” and it was 25 to 30 feet of containers with mixed plantings. It was a lot of fun and very creative and I got to change out the plantings every year.

But I no longer consider it very sustainable. Containers demand a lot of water and I won’t use those water absorbing gels or anything like it. And it seemed crazy to be composting all those annuals and tropicals every year–even though I’d over-winter as many as I could. My compromise is to do fewer containers and group them to try to conserve water and leave it at that. I also try to use more perennials in the containers and just to add a few annuals each year.

Ditto on the vegetables. No matter what I plant, some critter comes through and ravages. Last year it was deer. This year I was all set with my deer avoidance system so the rabbits came through. Sigh. So there are still fewer veggies. Fortunately, there are great farmer’s markets all over.

And finally, I plant perennials and shrubs with interest and low maintenance which is a lot harder than it seems. What I aim for is longer bloom time, interesting foliage while it’s not in bloom and something in bloom from May to October. I’ve pretty much achieved it with the shrubs–hydrangeas, rose of sharon, elderberry, butterfly bush–things like that.

long blooming perennials

The perennials I look for are those with a longer bloom time–and they also happen to be natives, which are great. Cone flowers and black eyed susans work well for me, don’t mind if I never water, feed goldfinches and self sow so that there are more of them every year. They knit together the shrubs I’ve mentioned above into a fairly natural looking planting.

All I need to do to that garden is go in once in the spring and prune back the dead wood and occasionally keep it weeded around the edges–because once it gets growing, there are no other bare spots to weeds. That’s the goal I aim for in all my gardens. I can’t say I’m there yet–but I’m trying not to stress about it.

Once the gardens are “done,” what will I do?

Imperfection In The Garden

Fine Gardening recently asked in its online newsletter, “Is Lazy Gardening A Thing?” Their answer was emphatically a “Yes!”

Similarly, as post in the Lee Valley Newsletter (Vol. 9, Issue 8) talked about how being a “lazy gardener was quite an advantage sometimes. Specifically, that post was about saving lettuce seeds.

But I was surprised to even see the question asked.

Back when I worked 30 plus hours in retail gardening, plus at least that many hours in my law practice and lectured (in other words, 7 days a week, including nights and weekends), I would smile when people at the garden center would say to me “I’m SO busy I don’t have time to garden!”

I would simply tell them that of course they had time to garden–everyone has time to garden–they just had to be a “lazy gardener” like I was. And I would simply explain some of the things that I did–things that are now being written up in the magazines as brilliant, creative new strategies. Unfortunately, that was one of the things I did not do–write an article–or multiple articles, or even a book–about all my tips. Oh well. Steve Silk probably wishes he had trademarked that “Spiller, Filler, Thriller” concept too!

I think all gardeners learn tricks and techniques as they start to garden and then, the more they garden, they learn to adapt what works for them and to discard the rest. So my next few posts will share with you what I’ve struggled to learn over the years.

One of the hardest things for me to learn to discard was the concept of perfection, particularly when I was working all those hours (and even now). I haven’t read a lot of articles, books or blog posts about it, but I’ve seen a few that say it’s okay to just do the minimum necessary, particularly to keep the weeds at bay.

I call it weed triage and there’s specific method to my madness. First, weed out anything with flowers on it. Anything that’s about to set seed has to go.

Next, get anything that’s really thirsty. Even if you don’t live in a drought prone climate, you don’t want weeds stealing water from your precious plants. So here I’m talking about thinks like large weeds like pokeweed, and perennial weeds like brambles–things like that (unless you have a purpose for them)

And, by the end of the season, weed out anything perennial. That’s it. Other than that, I weed when I can.

That’s just one of the ways I fight “imperfection.” On Monday, I’ll talk about some of the ways I’ve tried to make my life easier as a gardener.