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Flower power. June 26, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading.
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Once again, nature has stepped in to create a fabulous landscape effect here at Hawk’s Haven that wouldn’t have occurred to our friend Ben and Silence Dogood. We have a row of red-throated orange daylilies along one side of our parking square. Below them, along one side of our patio, a red-orange trumpet vine clambers over a stack of wood so ancient that both it and the trumpet vine were here when we bought the property. And behind that, across our little stream, Hawk Run, we’ve planted elderberries on the stream bank.

At this time of year, and for perhaps two or three weeks thereafter, the three are simultaneously in bloom. The effect is truly stunning, with the clouds of massed, fragrant white elderberry blossoms backing the abundant fireworks and color echoes of the trumpets and daylilies.

Impressive as the display is, it also creates a sort of secret garden effect, since it can only be seen in its entirety from certain bedroom and mudroom windows and from the parking square. And there’s the added benefit of ruby-throated hummingbirds at the trumpet flowers and beneficial insects pollinating the elderberries, plus, of course, the promise of an abundant berry harvest ahead. Even the clusters of elderflowers can be used to make wine, and, of course, daylily flower buds are edible, apparently excellent in stir-fries. But frankly, we’d rather leave all our flowers where we (and our fellow creatures) can enjoy them in the garden. 

Thanks, Mother Nature! We couldn’t have done it better ourselves.

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When autumn met summer (and it was love at first sight). September 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was just driving through the little townlet of Maxatawny en route to my bank, admiring roadsides lushly covered with the white and lavender asters, goldenrod, and white-flowered nettles that proclaim the arrival of fall.

But once on the main (and as far as I can tell, only) street through Maxatawny,  I came upon an amazing plant combination that I would never, ever have expected. Someone had planted a small-flowered white aster that, unlike its wild cousins, had great clouds of white bloom, behind a standard red-flowered zonal geranium (pelargonium).

To see those brilliant red summer flowers blazing in front of the white cloud of autumn blooms was heart-stopping. Intentional, or an accident? Whatever the case, the result was inspired. It made my breath catch, even as I was driving along focusing on making a desperately needed bank deposit, and that’s saying something.

If I weren’t such a Luddite, I’d have stopped and clicked a picture. As it is, you’ll have to make that picture for yourselves. Red stars suspended in front of a white cloud, transforming a plant many of us take for granted (the zonal geranium) into a plant with unparalleled pizazz. Far from fading out as autumn took its turn, in this case summer was teaching us that sometimes, the best really is yet to come.

        ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

Mother Nature to the rescue. May 8, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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When our friend Ben and Silence Dogood first moved to Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, we had a landscape problem in the form of a row of big Norway maples along the streambed out back. At least they weren’t ‘Crimson King’, the purple-leaved cultivar that would have turned the area into a pool of blackness, but as ornamentals, they definitely left a great deal to be desired.

Landscaping friends insisted that we cut them down, assuring us that we could plant something else and have shade trees there in only 25 years (!). Meanwhile, of course, our delightfully shady deck would be in blinding full sun along with most of the backyard. Besides which, there was the little issue of their roots, which would have cost a fortune to remove and were, incidentally, holding the stream bank in place. We opted to endure them with as good a grace as we could muster, though grace of any kind is in notably short supply in spring when they shower flowers and then samaras (maple seedpods) all over the place, requiring multiple deck sweepings and making it impossible to sit out without one’s drink and head becoming a target. Still worse are the Norway maple seedlings that sprout up as reliably as (but much more plentifully than) poison ivy just about now.

However, having chosen to leave them in place, we had a new landscape problem: what to plant under them. Our friend Ben was not constitutionally capable of enduring the sparse, pathetic grass and bare earth that was the status quo when we moved in. But what could compete with those monstrous maple roots?

Ultimately, through trial and error, our friend Ben established a rather pleasing bed beneath the trees. It ended up having a green-and-yellow color scheme: a coworker gave me some pieces of a small-leaved gold-and-green-variegated hosta; I planted yellow-flowered perennial foxgloves; goldenrods and green-flowered hellebores (Helleborus foetidus) seeded in; and I put in groundcovers of shade-loving perennial strawberries and golden lysimachia (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’). All these plants continued to multiply and thrive, much to our friend Ben’s astonishment, until the green-and-gold color echo had filled the entire bed.

Almost. With a disastrous lack of foresight, back in the day when the bed seemed huge and empty, our friend Ben had for reasons now unknown also planted a daylily there. Daylilies grow elsewhere on the creek banks; had it been a primrose-yellow-flowered daylily it would have seemed a logical if not especially brilliant choice. But this daylily has variegated foliage. Its foliage is green and white. In fact, its foliage is mostly white.

It, too, has taken a slow but tenacious hold and sent up new and ever whiter fans of foliage every year. It precisely divides the bed in half. On each side, you have hostas, foxgloves, goldenrods, lysimachia, hellebores, and strawberries echoing the green and yellow theme. And smack in the middle is a striking green and white plant. This is not what you call inspired design. This is, in fact, design disaster.

Why don’t I just move it, you ask? Sensible gardeners correct design mistakes with their spade or trowel. But it took such a long time for the little daylily to decide to grow and thrive. Every year, our friend Ben would set up an anxious vigil until it finally appeared, then watch with ever-increasing concern as summer came and the rains didn’t. I guess I just don’t have it in me to dig it out.

Today, proud as any new father of the three white-and-green fans now defacing my bed, I stopped with little Shiloh to admire it when I saw that it was not alone. Mother Nature had decided to take my disastrous design choice in hand. With it was a large, healthy violet covered with white blooms. Green and white contrasting in form with white and green. Suddenly, it began to look more like an intentional color shift between the echoing green-and-yellow plantings. Especially if you let your eye stray upward to the hanging baskets of green-and-white variegated spider plants suspended for the warm months from the branches overhead.

Thanks, Mom. Our friend Ben needed that!

A perfect pairing. May 1, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Some color pairings might not strike us at first blush as being ideal, or even desirable, but then you see them in nature and realize that they have a lot more to offer than you thought. This morning, as I looked out the kitchen windows, I saw two brilliant red cardinals in our blooming redbud tree: two bright red splotches against a soft sea of red-violet (or perhaps mauve might be closer to a redbud flower’s color). The contrast of form and color was lovely. I immediately thought of brilliant red tulips rising from a sea of red-violet (um, mauve?) creeping phlox. It’s actually a better combination than bright red against white, yellow, or blue (and certainly pink!)—all too contrasty. To soften it without lessening the impact, warm shades of orange tulips could be mixed in with the red. Nice!

           ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

A plant combination even we can love. April 24, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were headed for the nearby town of Kutztown, PA yesterday to get some cat litter. We had run out, which as all cat owners know is a crisis of epic proportions, and since the only brand of cat litter we’ve ever used, EverClean, is only available from pet supply stores, replenishing our supply requires a little more effort than just heading to the grocery. (Trust us, we curse EverClean for this every time we have to get some. But it works—no odor at all, so easy to clean up—so we keep buying it.) We also needed a new litter scoop, since someone who shall remain nameless (are you reading this, Ben?!!) had managed to actually break our old one without bothering to mention it.

What’s this got to do with plant combinations, you ask? Just this: While passing through the tiny town of Maxatawny en route to Kutztown, our friend Ben and I were struck by a very pretty plant combination. At its heart was creeping phlox (Phlox subulata), one of the great old-time spreading evergreen groundcovers beloved of cottage gardeners around here. Even if you’ve never grown it yourselves, we know you’ll recognize it, spilling down banks in an April effusion of Easter pastels: lavender, blue, pink, white, and just to brighten things up, hot pink/magenta/fuchsia. In bloom, the plants are a solid spill of color.

We’ve never planted creeping phlox ourselves, but we really do love it. What we don’t love are hyacinths. To us, the fat, gross, waxy flower heads and overpowering scent are the epitome of Victorian excess, and not by any means in a good way. Give us grape hyacinths and compost those awful obese plastic-flower-air-fresheners-come-to-life, please. So we were amazed to see that somebody in Maxatawny had created an appealing plant combination of creeping phlox, hyacinths, and tulips, in a range of complementary Easter pastel colors. Not only did the flower colors echo each other, but the homeowner had the good sense to plant masses of tulips and hyacinths instead of a lonely lollypop row. It worked. It actually looked good. Really good.

The moral of this story is that there are no bad plants, just plants that are used in bad ways. We’re still not planning to stock up on hyacinths anytime soon. But at least now we know how to use them.

          ‘Til next time,

                     Silence