Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The First Act Ends

The start of July signals the halfway point of summer, the intermission of the gardening season, if you will. Maybe it's not the halfway mark astronomically, but certainly calendrically and horticulturally. The youthful exuberance of May and June will soon give way to the hot and buggy dominance of midsummer.

Gardens reflect the transition at this point. Irises and peonies are long gone, but the later bloomers such as mums and asters are weeks, even months, away. In the interim, daylilies, roses, dianthus and the like are stealing the show, and the ubiquitous hostas are finally sharing their flowers.

Around here the feel of the seasons has been amplified this year. Spring was extremely cool and soggy, but last week we got a taste of true midsummer with oppressive temperatures and humidity. My mini-vegetable gardening provides a snapshot: I enjoyed fresh, home-grown lettuces all spring, which now have been replaced by heat-loving bell and chili peppers.

This week I ordered spring bulbs to be planted in the fall--proof that the gardening season is both ephemeral and constant at the same time.

Overall, I'm looking forward to the second act of the season. My prairie corner in the front garden will burst into bloom as coreopsis and asters join the sedum; the Joe-Pye weed will beckon butterflies, goldenrod will shine, and those bell peppers, my favorite veggies, will hopefully flourish and ripen. What does the second act hold for your garden?

For more Muse Day thoughts, check out Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that I fell off blogging because I was on vacation.
The bad news is I've fallen off blogging now because of work.

The good news is this new sand coreopsis (C. lanceolata) is blooming.
The bad news is that something has been eating the petals.

(Who could be the culprit? Earwigs? Slugs? Japanese beetles? Hard to say!)

The good news is that my garden was well watered in my absence.
The bad news is that earwig season is in full effect.

The good news is summer is here!
The bad news is it's bloody hot.

The good news is this big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla) is budding.

The bad news is that this one is not.

(Note to self: part shade is all these asters can handle, so don't push your luck.)

The good news is that I've already written about the whole aster-genus-name-change thing here.
The bad news is that I now have to look up the genera of my asters when writing about them.

And to leave things on a good note, here are some dianthus that are doing better than ever. It's as if they're showing this oppressive heat what they're made of! There's no bad news about that!

(The hot pink blooms on the right are a novelty this year. Until now this had only bloomed the light pink with dark eyes seen on the left. Is it hybridizing itself?)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bloom Day--June

Looking at a busy Monday and an impending vacation, I decided to put together my bloom day post a little early. We're nearly at astronomical summer, and the garden is reflecting our fitful exit from spring. Some earlier-flowering plants are hanging on, while other summer bloomers are a little delayed with few or no buds. The peonies are making their last gasp. By mid-June, they start to look very ragged (especially after getting repeatedly pounded by severe rains this year), but I haven't had the heart to deadhead them once and for all. These white ones are in the best shape at this point.

My columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) are still going strong. There are a number of spent blooms that are on their way to becoming decorative seed pods, but they are still outnumbered by the pink and yellow blooms I love!

(Note the scraggly pink peonies in the background)

By now we are all familiar with the river of salvia at the Lurie Garden that was seen during the Spring Fling (no, I don't have a link because how could I choose one picture from all the shots out there on the attendees' blogs? Besides, most of you probably know what it looks like. If you don't, pick a blog on the blogroll and I bet you'll find it!) I don't have a river of salvia, or even a stream, but I do have a puddle. I've been nurturing a grouping of Salvia nemorosa 'Plumosa' and S. nemorosa 'Lost-Plant-Tag-Don't-Know-Cultivar', and the puddle is really hitting its stride right about now!

Some bumblebees stake their claim on this salvia every year, and I'm pleased to have them back. The bee visitor is a little blurry in this shot (sorry!):

I also lost the tag for this heuchera (suggestions welcome!), whose veiny foliage adds interest to this rather dull corner near my hose and in front of my irises, which have closed up shop for the year. I think the white blooms contrast deliciously with the purplish-brown leaves.

Remember those Supertunias we got at Carolyn Gail's on Saturday of Spring Fling? They can indeed thrive in part shade! I took this one and plunked it in this basket-looking container on my front patio. It's doing quite nicely.

Not pictured but doing something: Spirea, Astilbe (finally putting out a very tentative panicle after a disastrous season last year), pink coral bells (another cultivar mystery), and a cilantro. I'm not sure if you're not supposed to let cilantro bloom, kind of along the lines of how you shouldn't let basil flower, but I was so intrigued that I just let it go. I'm sorry there's no picture but it's a tiny plant and the flowers are downright minuscule--not good for my weak photography skills! Anyway, happy bloom day to all, and to see more visit Carol at May Dreams Garden!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Scourges of Summer

I am grateful for the recent rains here in Chicagoland because they have kept me from having to water the garden, and my new plants, particularly those in the rain garden itself, are benefiting from the frequent moisture. However, this has been a soggier spring than usual, and such conditions portend the arrival of two of the worst summertime scourges--powdery mildew and earwigs.

Both develop and thrive in moist, humid, hot conditions. Powdery mildew absolutely decimated the bee balm (Monarda didyma) I tried to grow a few years ago. I was so traumatized by their hideous demise that I have just this year planted some wild bergamot (M. fistulosa) in the hope that the native monarda species will be more mildew-resistant. The current moisture conditions are challenging this foray back into bee balm.

(Can the wild bergamot outwit the mildew?? Odds aren't good with them laying prostrate on the ground...)

Last year the mildew attacked my smooth blue asters (A. laevis), so already my confidence in the natives' ability to avoid this blight is shaken. I removed some suspicious-looking leaves from the asters last week and am closely monitoring the foliage now. The leaves were browned with some black spots--not the telltale white gunk of powdery mildew--but I'm hypersensitive nonetheless.

(Will this aster be a repeat victim?)

As for the second issue, earwigs, I don't know precisely how much damage these disgusting invaders do to my plants, but I highly doubt they contribute anything positive to our little ecosystem here. In the past they have set up shop in my containers when the potting soil remains moist. As a result, there have been times when I stuck my finger in the pots to check the moisture level and swarms of earwigs crawled out. Needless to say, my screaming and flailing most certainly qualified for some "goofy gardener" behavior, a la Carol/May Dreams Garden.

Let me qualify something here--I'm not anti-insect. I grow plants to actively encourage butterflies, bees, and dragonflies to visit my garden (yes, pretty non-scary bugs, I know). I don't disturb the spiders because I know they're eating other bugs. When I saw the guy below, I didn't run, I took a picture. But until someone provides proof of any benefit from earwigs, I will continue to loathe them and smush them on sight.

(What is this insect, in repose on a leaf of pale purple coneflower? Click the picture for a close-up.)

Regardless of my particular prejudices, our rainy, humid weather encourages various garden pests, so if you live in northern Illinois, be on the look-out. I've tried spraying a baking-soda-dish-soap-water mix on the mildew-covered asters but to no avail. I still won't resort to chemicals. I've tried to follow the "ounce of prevention" maxim by amending the soil to make the plants themselves healthier, and I'll still be removing suspect foliage. Are there other suggestions out there for dealing with powdery mildew? How do you cope with this or other climate-related scourges?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Confessions of a Composting Newbie

So what's going on here? Is this becoming compost or some unholy mix of mud and unreconstituted vegetable scraps? I know it's nowhere close to being ready to go on my garden, but does this look like composting is actually taking place?

This is my first concerted attempt at composting, so I'm not sure if it's going well or just becoming a smelly, buggy pile of gunk. As I mentioned in my June Muse Day post, I've focused on monitoring the moisture in my pseudo-compost bin, but I'm concerned that it's not retaining enough heat. The bin is just a Rubbermaid container that's about 2'x2'x2'. I was too cheap to invest in an actual quality compost bin. Has anyone had success with small compost piles or bins? I have usually seen recommendations to have a compost bin be closer to 3' or 4'. I figured the experiment was worth a shot, and if I fail I'll suck it up and get a real bin.

The mud here is from sod that I threw in there a while back when I was digging the rain garden. There are plenty of bugs flying around it (and crawling in it), but is composting happening here? Should I just get the real bin?

Monday, June 1, 2009

GBMD Final Fling Thoughts

Yesterday I posted my Spring Fling wrap-up, but I thought I would take this Muse Day to reflect on a few things I learned over the weekend. These are in no particular order:

1. To hide the "bare ankles" of alliums, plant them with daylilies (Hemerocallis). I'm sorry I don't have a picture to back this up, but after much study and discussioin, Mr. McGregor's Daughter and I found this pairing to be an ideal solution to the scraggly foliage of blooming alliums. For the record, we observed this pairing at the Chicago Botanic Garden on Friday.

2. Who says veggies can't be artistic?

(The vegetable garden at CBG)

3. Andie's restaurant has fabulous spanakopita, baklava, and cheesecake. I realize that's not exactly gardening-related, but hey, it's something I learned. If you're ever in Andersonville, don't miss it!

4. I'm finally going to try growing an orchid. After getting some helpful tips from Elizabeth at Gardening While Intoxicated, I feel ready to take the plunge and get a phalenopsis orchid, apparently a beginner-friendly variety. Until now I have admired and feared these flowers from afar.

5. I need to monitor the moisture of my compost pile. Shawna at The Casual Gardener listened to my composting woes and shared her discoveries with me, particularly that composting won't go well if the pile goes dry. I'm very grateful for the suggestions (and any others)!

For more musing and Spring Fling thoughts, see Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago!

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