Friday, July 22, 2011

Let's Get this Garden Party Started

Okay then!

Today’s post officially launches phase 2 of our grand gardening effort. The effort began when we turned this:

Into this:

And this:

Into this:

Now we will turn the above view into something resembling this: 

The last photo, for you new readers, is of the tiny but terrific garden my husband and I built at our first house, between 2004 and 2009. (We loved it. But we couldn’t, unfortunately, have conversations in it because of the volume of traffic behind that wooden fence. )

So now we’re back to square one. Let’s review our mission as long as we’re here: to build a high-desert cottage-like garden that is crazy colorful without guzzling water.  Color Palette? Purple, yellow, and pink. (With some chartreuse thrown in to help yellow and pink play nicely.)
And since every epic journey requires a map:

This drawing depicts our backyard. The sections with crosshatching are patio. The guitar-shaped section is grass and the “hole” in the guitar is a raised fire pit. The horseshoe shaped feature on the right side of the main patio is a raised tree planter, and the pie-shaped feature in the left top corner is our raised vegetable garden. All the colored circles around the edges of the grass are shrubs and perennial flowers.

Which shrubs and flowers? I’m glad you asked. Time to introduce our cast of cottage-garden characters. Let’s start with the one I planted first: yarrow, or achillea.

This is ‘Apple Blossom’ yarrow, to be exact. Do you love her? I adore her. At least, so far I adore her. This is actually my first time planting yarrow, and it was only after planting that I discovered that the pink varieties-- known as achillea millefolium-- can be “vigorous to the point of weediness” according to my plant encyclopedia. Since “vigorous” is usually a euphemism for “invasive” I’ll have to let you know if this one turns into a thug as time goes on. For now, I’m in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, and I’m focusing entirely on her attributes.

Attribute number one: yarrow is drought-tolerant. So much so that, after planting, mine were looking sad and wilty until I backed off on water. They perked right up.

Two, this yarrow blooms a lovely deep pink but, as you can see in the photo above, each bloom changes to pale pink, and then to white, as it ages. The color variation between different blooms on the plant creates an effect similar to adding highlights to your hair: depth, dimension and interest.

Three, because of its nice flat shape (called “umbel” if you’re dying to know) yarrow is a magnet for beneficial insects including tachinid flies, lacewings, ladybugs, and the like.

 I planted a row of three yarrow, and each of them should grow to be roughly 2 ½ feet tall and wide. Here they are after planting.

They look quite prim and polite, right? Let’s hope future photos don’t show them swinging nunchucks and threatening neighboring plants.

It could happen. Fingers crossed.

Here is the map with the yarrow on it in pink:

Next plant: Gaura lindheimeri .

If fairies had a favorite plant, this would be it.  I purchased the above variety of gaura called ‘Whirling Butterflies,’ and you can see why. It looks like a cloud of white butterflies, especially when the wind blows. The photo above is from Here's another lovely one from Paghat's Garden.

Here's a photo I took of my baby plant where you can see the butterfly shape of the bloom:

Though I’ve heard this magical plant referred to as “wand flower,” around here, people use its Latin name, pronouncing it “GWAH-rah”. 

I planted four behind our cast iron fountain near our wrought iron fence. I chose this plant not only because it’s drought tolerant, but because of my love for contrast in garden design. Since contrast generates intensity, what better plant to position behind a cast iron fountain than the delicate, whispy gaura? I also wanted a plant that wouldn’t completely block the view behind the fountain, which includes distant houses scattered over the hills. Here is the view of the fountain from our main patio with the view of distant houses in the background:

Now, work with me here, and remember that these are baby plants. Here are my four gaura after I planted them.

I know, I know, you can't see them even with the yellow circles around them. This is one of the troubles with photographing an infant garden, especially when the plants are delicate. Work with me here. Use your imagination and try joining the first photo of a mature gaura with the photo of the fountain.

Can you see it? Isn’t it outrageous? By this time next year we should have a photo to knock your garden hat off.

Here is our map with the fountain in black and the gaura in white:

Anyone else have any experiences with achillea millefolium or gaura lindheimeri they can share?

Stayed tuned for more planting!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Now, Where Were We?

Cherished reader!

Glad you made it back. Glad I made it back, too. So much time has passed since my last post here at green out every window that I’m feeling pressed to account for my whereabouts the last two months.

 Let’s see, there’s been a little of this:

And this:

And a bit of this, too:

And this sort of thing as well:


 Of course, there’s been some activity in the garden, too, but all of the activities pictured above made post-writing nearly impossible.

At this point, some quick updates might be the best way to get us back on track.

Let’s start with those birds.

After home-made bird scarers failed to frighten the friendly quail who were gobbling up my veggie garden, I bought a plastic decoy hawk online. The result?  Success. Here’s a picture of my upper veggie bed (with home-made scarer) that was being repeatedly munched by quail back in May:

And here is the same veggie bed now:

Mr. H. Decoy’s presence in the garden has also spawned some rather amusing behavior on the part of the quail : Hawk Watching.  Observe:

I’ve only seen solitary males engaging in this entertaining ritual. I know I’m anthropomorphizing a bit here, but I can vividly imagine them daring each other to get as close to the hawk as they can while their female companions roll their eyes.  From my window it looks like a single male quail sitting perfectly still on the fence while looking at the decoy. Then he looks away, and looks back at the decoy, then looks away again, and looks back at the decoy. He keeps this up for some time (whatever time he’s agreed to with his buddies) and then flies off.

Today, the quail plot at our house thickened all the more. While removing the mulch from around the base of a boxwood I was getting ready to transplant, my gloved hand happened on what felt like a pile of very light rocks, but turned out to be a nest full of small, speckled eggs. 

Quail eggs, of course.  I can only imagine it was the father’s idea. After all, this location greatly shortens the commute for his new, favorite pastime: Hawk Watching.  Our yard's status has been upgraded from quail salad bar to all-inclusive resort.

Now, back to that tomato I sprouted from a supermarket tomato seed. Sadly, said tomato seedling became exceedingly yellow and stressed while waiting to be planted. In the end, I didn’t get him in the garden until about 2 weeks ago, again, due to the fun  mentioned at the start of this post.  Here he is now.

Teeny, huh?  And here’s the seedling I started from the grocery store bell pepper seeds:

 I doubt either of these plants will have enough time to set fruit before the frost, but I’ll keep you posted.

Now, remember my hardening off disaster? Well, believe it or not, several of my beloved poppies (seven out of the 14) responded to my last ditch effort to revive them with careful watering.  Even though I had to repeatedly cut off leaves that turned yellow or brown as the seedlings came back to life, they made it back from this:

To this:

They’re now planted around my crabapple tree in the backyard. Unfortunately, my timing is WAY off with these guys as well. They're technically a spring flower, and since weather prevented planting until the second week of June, they’re just now getting going and it’s wicked hot outside.  Perhaps too hot for them to bloom.  Only time will tell. I’ll let you know.

Most of my other seedlings are in the ground as well, and doing fine, but don’t deserve a photo until they’ve made a little more of themselves.

In other news, someone please get me some sauce to eat with my big plate of crow. After vehemently insisting, back in April, that a Ghost Chile plant would never bear fruit in an aluminum beverage can (as the Magic Plant Company would have us believe) I must admit that I was mistaken. There it is: They are right. I am wrong. As a reminder, I was so convinced their system wouldn't work that I  diligently removed several sprouts from their can to grow in “better” conditions, I am embarrassed to admit that my best seedling looks like this:

And the Magic Plant Company Ghost Chile in the can looks like this:

I guess the rule for TV pundits applies to bloggers as well: The more emphatic you are in your predictions, the more likely you will be proven wrong. Mmmm, crow, yummy.

Let’s return now for a minute to my plan to attract beneficial insects to my garden after a devastating experience with Bayer systemic fertilizer and insecticide.  So, has the introduction of yarrow and a daisy-like coreopsis to my garden (both reputedly loved by beneficials) brought more good bugs on board? YES!

Both began to attract various sorts of flying critters while still sitting in their nursery pots in my backyard. Here's the coreopsis complete with beneficial bug.

 After consulting my Audubon Field Guide to Insects and Spiders, I’m convinced this is a tachinid fly, a beneficial insect whose larvae become parasites on the bodies of pest insects, eventually killing them.  I admit I was a dismayed at the extent to which these tachinids resemble house flies. Not nearly as romantic as ladybugs and green lacewings, but so be it.

On the other hand, I felt a bit giddy when I discovered this lovely fuzzy insect sipping nectar from my newly purchased pink yarrow….

…until my Field Guide informed me that it’s a large bee fly, which looks innocent but is a sworn enemy of solitary bees. The cunning bee fly follows the bees home to their nests, and then, after the bees have departed, lays her eggs in the entrance tunnel. When the dreaded bee fly larvae hatch, they devour the bee larvae! So, not such a great bug afterall. But oh well. This is where we bow in deference to the garden food web, and just let it be.

Finally, a quick update on my free Arbor Day Foundation trees. The crabapple that delighted me when it woke up and put out leaves in March didn’t make it. I was afraid to put it outside in the March cold, and I believe the lack of light in the garage did it in. Here’s a picture shortly before it’s demise:

Of the remaining four trees, only two others came to life. Of those two, only one looks like it will make it. Here is the eastern red bud  treeI have little hope for:

And the crape myrtle that I’m rooting for:

That’s the wrap. Thanks for reading!