A Bee in the City

adventures in an urban garden

A few photos from recent weeks 4 July 2011

Here are a few photos from recent weeks in the garden, which I am sharing while I am uploading a memory card full of the most recent ones to my computer.

First California poppy to bloom this year

First California poppy to bloom this year (grown from seed), taken on 7 June 2011

White California poppy with purple perennial salvia

White California poppy (from seed) with purple perennial salvia, taken on 15 June 2011

Rose Souvenir de la Malmaison, first bloom in garden

Rose 'Souvenir de la Malmaison,' planted early this summer, showing its first bloom in the garden; taken on 15 June 2011

Much more info on ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’ is over here.  I got mine from Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants.

Two plants of penstemon cultivar Prairie Dusk, yet they are two differnet hues

Two plants of penstemon cultivar 'Prairie Dusk,' yet they are two differnet hues; taken on 7 June 2011


Still here, still gardening 19 June 2011

I had no idea how long it had been since my last post until I checked back today.  I apologize for my hiatus.  I am still here and have been doing more gardening this year than last, both because the weather has been more to my liking (less very hot, very humid weather so far – knock on wood!) and because I haven’t been busy with an intensive study program like I was last late spring and summer.

I started back in March, when I did my annual clean-up, including sprinkling the seeds that had spent the winter outside on seed heads but hadn’t yet been eaten by the birds.  I also sowed the seeds that like a cold period then – annual poppies, love-in-a-mist, sweet peas, probably some others I’m forgetting by now.  I also went ahead and sowed the California poppies round about then.  Those have done particularly spectacularly; they had an especially high germination rate, and are blooming their little hearts out as I type.  But the sweet peas have done abysmally – they took ages to sprout and have never grown very tall or put out a single bloom.  I have heard from others here that their sweet peas have also had tremendous problems this year.

In late March or early April I cleaned up the half-barrels I used for my crops last year, that I had overwintered outside.  To my great surprise this spring, the garden strawberry and the thyme made it through the winter without protection.  The oregano did not, however.   In the pots, I sowed peas, two kinds of kale, spinach, arugula, fava beans, radishes, carrots, turnips, and some cold-weather herbs.  I also planted two cilantro plants (I sowed seeds too, but wanted immediate gratification; I generally do both with cilantro).  The carrots and arugula have had very low germination to date, but everything else took off decently.  The favas haven’t produced much, but I suspect the weather swings are at least partly to blame; it will be warm and muggy, then cool and rainy, then mild and sunny, and sometimes quite windy.  All but 1 of the 9 pea cultivars are doing great; I just harvested some more peas today.  The radishes and some of the turnips have bolted, but I’ll just let them go to seed and the seeds should germinate when temperatures are to their liking in early autumn.

Since then, I have sowed beans (mostly pole beans, as well as a bush bean and a lima bean) and some warmer-weather herbs (dill, summer savory) and have planted some plants from the area farmers’ market and a couple from friends in the half-barrels.  I have added:

  • 7 chile plants – a mixed 6-pack from a farm stand (habanero & others), & 1 poblano-type chile ‘Tiburon’
  • 4 sweet pepper ‘Islander’
  • 2 sweet pepper ‘Golden [something]’ (possibly ‘Golden California Wonder’ as it gets the most hits on Google for “sweet pepper golden,” but I will have to check the tag)
  • 5 tomato plants – ‘Pruden’s Purple,’ ‘Green Zebra,’ ‘Black Cherokee,’ 2 others
  • 3 eggplants from a friend – 2 wee ones labelled ‘Asian eggplant’ & 1 larger plant labelled ‘Black Beauty’
  • a replacement oregano
  • Greek oregano
  • a replacement pineapple sage (it is not typically hardy here anyway)
  • a replacement prostate rosemary (ditto)
  • chives
  • sweet basil

I have also put some herbs in pots on the porch:

  • more sweet basil
  • bay laurel
  • lemongrass (mine abruptly died after 3 years, about 1 1/2 years ago)

I have more herbs I want to pot up, but I don’t want to add any more plants to the half-barrels, and I’ve run out of soil though I have some extra pots.  They are:

  • sweet marjoram (so far, my seeds haven’t germinated, so I eventually bought a plant while the market was still carrying them)
  • summer savory
  • a different kind of basil

And I got wooly thyme and lemon thyme at the market this week during another one of the late June all-plants-must-go sales, but I think I will use them in the main garden rather than for cooking.  They are such pretty little plants.

I am growing some taller non-garden-beans this year, but instead of trying to rope a friend into driving me for more half-barrels and more big bags of soil, I am aiming to use them as a living screen in front of the front section of my house.  They have had good germination rates, and yesterday I finally purchased more 6 ft. stakes so that I could provide more adequate support for them.  I am growing 3 kinds of runner beans (species scarlet runner bean; scarlet runner bean ‘Scarlet Emperor’; and potato bean), 3 colors of pods of yard-long bean (‘Mosaic,’ ‘Red Noodle’ and a green-podded type); and 2 kinds of hyacinth bean (‘Red-Leaved’ and ‘Ruby Moon’).

I need to make dinner, so I’d best publish this now instead of writing any more, lest this become another unpublished draft.  I have been taking photos with my camera this year, so hopefully I will post again soon sharing some of them.


On the way to eggplant success! (Hopefully!) 8 September 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Liz Loveland @ 4:05 pm
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Today I finally spotted them – five buds on the more robust eggplant plant and one bud on the one that’s always been slower growing!  Perhaps there is still time for some eggplants to ripen before their sensitive souls get cold-weather-ed to death!


Spending an autumnal day in the garden 5 September 2010

Filed under: gardening — Liz Loveland @ 5:01 pm
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Today is beautiful here after yet another heat wave – comparably cool, sunny and breezy, with temps in the mid-70s F and feeling cooler still.  The cold front came through last night, one night after Hurricane Earl thankfully failed to produce the wind and rain that had been predicted.  With the cold front came abrupt, gentle rain, despite no rain in the forecast.  Still the rain is not enough to make up for the deficit here, and already this afternoon many plants have started to look weak, most especially the crop plants in their big half-barrel planters.

But today is a good day to transplant – especially compared with all the hot, humid days we’ve had this summer – and transplant I did, in two main batches.  I pulled (a lot of) weeds from the big area to clear out more space to plant, and then I planted a lot more in that area, more than doubling the space that had been planted this year.  I also discovered that the azalea I thought had been choked to death by the insidious and invasive plant, black swallowwort, actually has resprouted from the bottom and has one little branch of life, branching out into two twigs.  Hopefully now that I’ve cleared out a lot of the black swallowwort that was strangling it, it will start to grow better; but we’ll see.  In that area I planted some asters, salvia ‘Lady in Red’ (which FINALLY is in at the nursery in very big pots), a perennial salvia, the showy goldenrod I’d gotten way back at the plant swap in late spring and had brought with me from my last garden, and some more sad-looking herbs I got free at the nursery – comfrey, another bronze fennel, tansy, and…another one or two.  I also transplanted the catmint I’d planted in my last foray into that section, which looked sad by the fence.  After I planted it the first time, I realized that after over three years gardening on a site that was eye-level, I am no longer used to not having to plant the shortest things in the front if I want them to be seen by others, and immediately suspected moving the catmint would be best for it, but wanted to wait and see.  The coryopsis I also planted in my last planting in that area has started to bloom after the rain.  I just love that shrub.  In my first session of work, I also planted a few things in the small strip – two big pots of autumn-hued rudbeckias (‘Denver something’ and ‘Autumn Colors’) I’d gotten at the nursery at the same time as salvia ‘Lady in Red,’ as well as a penstemon and a second tansy, and I moved one of the pussytoes, which was much less happy than the other one.

The plants I’d mail-ordered earlier this summer from High Country Gardens came this past week as they were scheduled to do, and in my second batch of work, I sorted them into two groups based on which section I planned to plant them in and then planted the ones that were going in the small strip.  I added 4 or 5 more echinaceas (more plain ole species ones as well as some ‘White Swan,’ that cultivar whose seeds the birds so prefer), several more agastaches (varying species and cultivars; agastache is one of the main specialties of HCG, and they do a lot of breeding and selecting of them), 2 Russian sage ‘Little Spires,’ 1 salvia ‘May Night,’ 1 butterfly weed, and 1 sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’  I’d hoped to get to the rest of the HCG plants today, but I found that after all the bending and twisting involved to plant things in such a thin-soiled, heavily-planted area, I was too tired and hot and sore to go on.  I spent a few minutes appreciating all the hard work I’d done, and then came in to wash up.

In the little strip I’ve done the same thing I did when I started out in my last garden – heavily planted it with annuals, with some perennials mixed in, and observed how things do, using that information to procure more perennials that seem suitable (or that have already proven themselves to do well) as the season draws to a close, so that next year they will start to grow more robustly, and can take over more of the space from the annuals.  Being without a fence and getting sun literally nearly all day, it is far more catching of passing eyes than the fenced-in, two-shrubbed main garden area, so between that and wanting to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment, I made it my top priority in gardening here.  I’ve gotten mostly compliments on it, so hopefully I’ve succeeded at my goal.  The moss roses, lantanas ‘Trailing Lavender,’ and marigolds have done especially stunningly, and the purple-fruiting ornamental chiles (2 with marbled green-and-white leaves and shorter, dark purple chiles, and one with purplish-green leaves and longer, lighter purple chiles) bring a bit of fun, funky flavor to the section.


Manure: It’s good for what ails you 17 August 2010

On Sunday, after I finished up my last coursework, I went out and finally laid down the giant (by which I mean 40 lbs.) bag of aged manure that a friend had helped me transport home in his car.  I started out putting it on the container plants:  My fucshias, brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi,’ Cestrum, sweet violet, tuberoses, and yellow rain lilies that had come with me from my last home; the potted peppermint that has been surviving winters outside in a pot so long that it’s actually from two homes ago; the hanging alpine strawberry I bought at this summer’s farmers’ market; and the big tubs of herbs and veggies at the edge of the driveway.

Then I put it down on my little area of planted plants at the edge of the large section of the garden, and laid it on most of the smaller strip that is almost fully planted, doing my best to avoid the pussytoes and moss roses, as I believe they prefer the poor soil currently in place there.  Between the manure and then yesterday’s and overnight’s rain, some of the plants have just gone crazy!  The strawberry in the tub looks so happy, and the zinnia that’s beside the stairs up to the front porch looks to now be staging a coup of the stairs – I swear that zinnia has doubled in size just in the past two days.  Like all the other zinnias in my garden this year, it is cultivar ‘Inca,’ which I’ve never grown before, and which interestingly seems quite variable – some are fully double, some semi-double, some pretty much single-blooming, and the shade seems to very from a medium orange to a dark orangish-red.  I haven’t looked up any information on the cultivar, so perhaps this is typical for it.

Here are the veggies I’m growing this year (in 4 half-barrel tubs):

  • 2 tomato ‘Cherry Apero’
  • 2 tomato ‘Orange Blossom’
  • 2 chile ‘Fooled You’
  • 2 eggplant ‘Gretel’
  • 2 bean ‘Maxibel’
  • 2 bean ‘Blue Coco’
  • 1 bean ‘Rattlesnake’

The ‘Cherry Apero’s started producing first out of the fruiting plants.  The ‘Orange Blossom’ closest to them started flowering second, but it was so hot it initially dropped its flowers.  Now it’s also got some fruit and the second ‘Orange Blossom’ recently finally started flowering in earnest.  The chiles have been flowering for a while but again, it was so hot they dropped their flowers.  Now they finally have teeny little chiles!  The beans have been covered in flowers of late.  The eggplants are still smaller than everything else and still, as far as I can tell, have not produced a single flower.

With them are one strawberry (‘Wonder,’ or something like that), one cooking thyme, one oregano, one prostrate rosemary, one Genovese basil, and one pineapple sage.  The thyme has started hanging pleasingly off the edge of its half-barrel.

I mail-ordered some plants (they should come in early September, after the weather has cooled down enough that hopefully shipping will be OK) and today I made another trip to the nursery, where I got some fall bloomers (well, the last 2 also bloom in summer) – 2 asters, 1 hardy mum, 1 gaillardia, and 1 anise hyssop – as well as 4 sad-looking small-potted herbs – comfrey, borage, a weakly blooming basil, and bronze fennel.  The herbs looked so sad that the guy tending the register tossed them in for free.  I’m looking forward to cleaning out more weeds and starting planting the main section of the garden.


Tough as nails 9 August 2010

I don’t know if this is just me, but I’ve always looked to tough spots to see what plants will survive under truly awful conditions – places like highway medians, plantings in little squares in the middle of sidewalks and parking lots, etc.  Out here I see many of the same plants over and over – things like rugosa rose, Russian sage, cleome, gladiola, zinnia, coreopsis, dusty miller.  In New Mexico, Russian sage is also popular, but the second most popular is yarrow, especially the silver-leaved kinds, followed by sunflowers – to heights that would be quite literally unimaginable in most New England gardens – are also quite common, often seemingly having seeded themselves in.

There are also many native plants in plantings there that would not survive in most New England gardens – it’s just too wet here compared to there – but agastache is common in both tough spots and regular ole gardens, and as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I began planting it in my last garden, a dry, windy slope with conditions quite unlike most Boston-area gardens.  Not only did the ones that were supposed to be hardy to my zone (6B) survive, but my first year growing it, even some of the ones that were only supposed to be hardy to zone 7 also survived.  Last summer was so incredibly wet here that it killed off a lot of the Southwestern plants, including some of the agastaches.  But this summer has been hot with little rain, and what does come usually arrives in torrential downpours just like is common in the Southwest.

The plants I’ve put in the little strip between the house, the concrete of the sidewalk and the path to the front door, and the asphalt of the path to the back of the house have overall been thriving in these awful conditions, and they include a favorite in pockets here – moss rose.  I transplanted some of the young ones from my old garden, and then, starting with a fresh slate, bought two big pots of them at the nursery.  They did so well I bought two more big pots, the last two they had in mixed colors.  By now the moss rose have taken over the front of the strip, literally forming a carpet that is spilling over the edging in some spots, headed for the sidewalk.  Each flower is so short-lived – just hours – that often if I go by in the morning and then come back in the afternoon, entirely different flowers will be blooming than the last time I passed by.  The herb farm that comes to some local farmers’ markets has some nicely robust plants for really good prices for this area, and I bought two agastaches from them, one at a time – the only kind they sell, ‘Heather Queen,’ which I also grew in my old garden, and one of the ones that is supposed to be hardy here.  (I keep saying “supposed to” because zones solely take temperatures into account, but with plants from vastly different climates, that’s not all that counts – for example, things like the amount of precipitation matter a lot to a plant from an area that doesn’t have it very often while it’s actively growing.)  Interestingly, something that’s happened to me before happened again – even though they were the same cultivar, form the same grower, when I planted them near each other one began to thrive and the other wilted.  It’s coming back, slowly, with watering, but it’s still not nearly as happy as its agastache brethren.  I’ve always wondered why this is, and I have some theories but nothing definite.

I also planted some more from the nursery – two big pots of mixed gazanias, a pineapple sage, and some pots of my old favorite ‘Trailing Lavender’ lantana (which has protested being planted near other plants by not being so trailing here) – as well as some more from the herb farm and some from other stalls at the local markets – 12 marigolds (most orange-with-red, but a few mixed colors), 12 mixed snapdragons (some didn’t make it, but the ones that did are thriving), 6 rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’ (that one that was new last year; it seems to be doing much better here than it did in my old garden), 2 lavenders, 3 echinaceas (similar to the agastaches, 1 of the 3 started out doing much worse than the other 2, even though they were planted near each other), a rosemary, hyacinth bean, cardinal vine, and 2 ornamental peppers that turn purple and whose leaves are brushed with green, white and purple.  And I transplanted a few more things from my old garden – licorice plant (which didn’t make it), tall verbena, some Gloriosa daisies that unexpectedly survived the winter.  So far in the larger area that’s got huge unpruned shrubs and tons of weeds in with the surviving plants from the abandonment of the garden, I’ve planted one tiny area, with a sunflower, a moonflower and a cardinal vine.  At the nursery a bit ago I got a very big pot of small sunflowers and a slightly smaller pot of mealy sage (I think it’s ‘Victoria’) to plant by them, but it’s been so hot and often humid most days that I haven’t done it yet.

The crops I planted in the half-barrels that I brought from my old garden have been doing great overall.  The herbs – another pineapple sage, another rosemary, a thyme and an oregano – have adjusted well, the strawberry is putting out lots of leaves (no flowers yet), the chiles are still flowering (when I last thoroughly checked a few days ago, there were no fruits yet), and the tomatoes are covered in flowers with several fruits forming.  I harvested my first cherry tomato recently, eaten straight off the vine right in the garden – what can be better?  This already makes one more tomato than I harvested last year, when it was so cold, wet and gloomy that they didn’t even begin flowering for me until sometime in September.

There have been two semi-problems so far.  One is that no matter what I do, it’s so windy in the driveway that the bean plants fall back down their poles after I leave them unattended.  The other is that the eggplant plants have only been putting out leaves, and have not been growing as robustly as everything else; I don’t know why, though I do know that eggplants have a reputation for being slower-growing than other crops, and also for being especially sensitive to having their roots disturbed (to the point where it can kill them).  Hopefully they’ll pick up the pace soon.  Though while July was so August-like that it really feels like it was August, it is only August now – so hopefully they’ll have plenty of time to form.  I did check my notes since last post and it’s ‘Gretel’ I’ve got going.  Here is some info on it.  I didn’t realize it was an F1 hybrid, but honestly since this cultivar was made for smaller spaces I’m not very surprised; it seems like a lot geared this way are F1s.  Thankfully I hadn’t been set on saving seeds of this particular cultivar anyway.


Many changes 26 July 2010

Hello everyone,

I apologize it’s been so long since I posted here.  Much has changed since my last post.  The house I was living and gardening in was sold and the new owner’s employees did an large amount of damage to the garden.  I moved in June and am now living in a place with an abandoned garden that I am slowly taking back.  It’s mostly weeds now, especially black swallowwort (an extremely virulent weed here in New England, where it appears to have first escaped North American cultivation; and, as a milkweed relative, monarch butterflies mistake it for a food source, lay eggs on it, and then the caterpillars are unable to eat the plant and starve to death), wild toadflax, purslane, and grasses.  There’s also one pokeweed and a couple stands of wild milkweed, but they’re native and good food plants for wildlife so even though most people would probably call them “weeds” I am leaving them where they are.  So far I have mostly cleared & replanted the small strip on the right of the front door.  There was already a bush (unknown; I am worst at ID’ing bushes out of all plants) that I left as well as the pokeweed.  I added echinaceas, rudbeckias, moss roses, gazanias, agastaches, cardinal vine, hyacinth bean, pineapple sage, salvias, pussytoes (2), tall verbenas, marigolds, lavenders, rosemary, zinnias, and probably more I’m forgetting.

The other area is larger and fenced in with a chain-link fence.  There are two large unknown shrubs that the neighbors say have grown a lot this year and which they don’t think flower, so the flowers are pr0bably not very remarkable, but without having ID’d them I am hesitant to prune them.  However, they are taking up a very large amount of the space, and have grown so much since the garden was last tended that they appear to be killing some of the plants in their shadows’ wakes.  There is also a small azalea shrub but it appears to be dead.  There’s lots of weeds, milkweed, a  large clump of very tall mint, two large clumps of irises (bloom color unknown) and  varying-size clumps of daylilies, all of which appear to be a double version of the orange daylily so common on roadsides where I grew up.  So far I’ve planted a moss rose in the corner that’s closest to the other strip to help unify it, and another cardinal vine, a sunflower, and a moonflower by the fence that’s adjacent to the driveway.  So far the soil seems much better in the area I planted the latter three than it is in the little hot strip.

The driveway takes up the entire left side of the house.  There is a strip of weeds next to it that starts partway down, growing wider towards the back of the property, that it is difficult to tell whether it belongs to the house next door, this house, or both.  Unfortunately Japanese knotweed has started in on it while it was abandoned.  There is a daylily planted near the Japanese knotweed, so I imagine someone originally tended this area as well.  The back of the property has been completely covered with asphalt as well, or as we say in New England, “hot-topped.”  (This has not stopped the Japanese knotweed, which is also growing up from the crack where the fence runs along the back of the property.  It can break through asphalt, but I don’t know what to suggest to the owner, since it’s so, so hard to remediate.)  On the right side of the house, a path runs along right next to the house, and there is a strip of grass that runs between this house and the next house.  Again, it is unclear exactly how much of it is on which property.  The neighbor on that side is quite nice though and I’m hoping he won’t mind if I plant some partial-shade plants I brought with me along the edge of the path.

Near the base of the driveway, where it gets smaller and makes it more difficult to park, I have put the half-barrels that I brought with me from my old apartment and have filled them with organic soil and planted crops in them, the majority of which I bought in a two-for-one sale at a neighborhood shop who was trying to sell off their last organic seedlings they brought down from a farm in Maine.  I have four tomato plants, a strawberry plant, thyme, creeping rosemary (the one planted in the garden isn’t creeping and I won’t eat it), oregano, two eggplants, two chiles, pineapple sage (again, this one is for eating and the one in the garden is for ornamentation), and five bean plants.  There were actually originally three, but while the two bean plants another gardener gave me this spring didn’t survive being dug up and brought to my new garden, they both produced a small number of seeds when they died.  One, ‘Yellow Arikara,’ is a cool-weather bean so I’ve saved the lone seed I could find.  The other, ‘Blue Coco,’ is fine with warmer temps so I planted the two seeds, and they both germinated.  So now I have five plants (though one of the ones from the shop isn’t doing very well and may not make it).  My friend had forgotten I’d given him both the cultivars’ seeds in the first place, so it was nice to get the plants back after I failed to save their seeds myself last autumn.  Most of the tomatoes are ‘Orange Blossom,’ a cultivar I’ve never grown before, and both chiles are ‘Fooled You,’ a jalapeno-type chile that’s not very hot, and which I’ve also never grown before.  Two of the beans (including the weak one) are I think ‘Maxibel.’  The eggplants are I think ‘Gretel.’  I believe I grew ‘Maxibel’ several years ago, but I’ve never grown ‘Gretel’ (nor the other one the shop had, ‘Hansel’ – one is small and white, the other small and purple).  I don’t remember the name of the other kind of bean I bought there, but it’s got speckled pods.

The weather has been very humid and often hot most days for 4-5 weeks, and it’s been really awful for doing any sort of garden work at those times.  Consequently I have fallen way behind what I’d hoped to accomplish by late July.  Hopefully the weather will moderate soon.  Today is lovely so far, breezy and comparably cool.  It is supposed to get to about 90 F, but the humidity has been swept away by an overnight cold front, so I don’t mind.