Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Year in the Life - Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum 'Gateway')

Well, as we all know, winter is generally not a time spent IN the garden. For many of us, however, it is a time we spend thinking about the garden. In that spirit, I've decided to do a few posts focusing on one plant and it's growth stages from the beginning of the growth season to it's death in winter. First up is my beloved Joe Pye Weed.


In my garden in Zone 8, Joe Pye makes it's first appearance in late March/early April. It's easy to miss the first buds as they appear, they are a deep, wine-red color. Once above the ground, however, they grow at an astounding rate, as you can see in the pics above. By July, it stands easily as tall as me, if not taller, which means it has put on 6+ feet of growth in around 3 months.


Even before flowering, Joe Pye is a beautiful and impressive plant in its own right. It's subsantial size alone give it great presence in the garden. It's straight stems have a dark wine-red coloring that really stands out amidst the deep green foliage. The leaves are arranged in whorls around the stems, making it a wonderful architectural specimen for any border.


Above, you can see Joe Pye flowering with Miscanthus 'Malepartus' in the foreground. Although the Miscanthus looks taller in this pic (since I'm below both shooting upwards) Joe Pye is almost 2 full feet taller. I didn't realize it when buying the grass, but I love how its blooms echo the color of the Joe Pye.


Another huge plus for Joe Pye is how big of a draw it is for bees. Honestly, it was almost comical how many bees were jostling on the flower heads for nectar. Strangely, it seemed to be mostly bumblebees on the Joe Pye Weed, while honeybees favored the nearby Sedums.


Of course, fall rolled around and the Joe Pye continues to shine. It's one of the few perennials with good, dependable, fall color. It doesn't last terribly long (maybe a few weeks), but during that time, the foliage turns a lovely buttery yellow, which contrasts quite well with the still-red stems.


And of course, after frosts and rain have stripped the plant to its skeletal framework, it still remains striking. I love how the once-full and heavy flowers are now delicate and ephemeral, catching rainsdrops and dew. Joe Pye, truly a plant for all-season appeal.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Décor


I just had to share this, one of my gifts this year...a christmas village based on "A Christmas Story", one of my favorite movies EVER! Luckily, I don't take down our decorations until after New Year's, so I get to enjoy them for a week. Now, I just have to get the neighbor's house, the Theater, the Police Station...



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - December 15, 2010

Solitary Bloom - Erysimum

Ok...I'm totally late on this, but work was insane again this week...and I haven't been home during daylight hours to even look at the garden! I honestly didn't think there would be anything blooming, but lo and behold! The Erysimum is earning its keep once again by blooming all winter! Sadly, it's the only thing blooming...but what do you expect...it's December, after all! In a related note, I think our Persian Ironwoods we planted last fall may be about to bloom as well...I've noticed some strange looking buds on the trees, so I'm keeping an eye out...don't want to miss the show!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Glory of Autumn Grasses

Miscanthus 'Malepartus'

Ahhh, grasses, would any of us be without them? Coming from the land of the tall grass prairie, I've always had an affinity for them. Growing up and playing hide and seek in forests of Switchgrass (panicum) and Big Bluestem (Andropogon) on our acreage in northeast NE, they've always been part of my vernacular.I've always been drawn to large plants, and they definitely qualify. From mere sprouts in spring to glimmery clusters of bloom far above my head in autumn, they are giants (especially when you are sub-4 feet tall ;-)

There are so many reasons to love grasses, their year-round interest, varying and interesting forms and growth habits, their adaptability, and of course, the fact that they come in so many colors, patterns and sizes. Of course, most of us look forward to the blooms as well, and although I love Portland's rainy winters, most grasses need dry weather to really show off their blooms. In wetter weather, blooms that would look frothy and light clump up. Well, this past week for us was pretty dry and the grasses were looking glorious, and in a time when the rest of the garden looks pretty forlorn, it's most welcome!

Above, is Miscanthus 'Malepartus' (at least I think it is...it's the closest I can find to any Miscanthus matching it. I love this Miscanthus for it's wider-than-typical leaves, which have the usual white strip down the midrib. In summer, it shoots flowering stems forth, a good foot or two above the gracefully arching foliage. The flowers are tinged with red for a good month or so before fading to a beige color. One dry days in the fall, the feathery flowers can be seen...and when backlit by the sun, they glow. I love how the flowers twist and turn as they dry.

Pennisetum 'Hameln'
For some reason, I always think of Pennisetum as the "cute" grasses. I guess it's the fac that I absolutely CANNOT walk by them without reaching out and brushing my hands against them, then again, I am a fairly tactile gardener. There is just something about those fuzzy little flowers that practically beg to be petted, it's like someone attached dozens of kittens to a grass. I have 5 different types of Pennisetum in my garden (wow, didn't realize that until just now!), 'Hameln' (pictured), 'Tall Tails', 'Moudry', 'Karley Rose' and 'Pennisetum spatheolatum'. I love them all, and they are all so very different.

Schizachyrium 'The Blues'
I've included this grass in a lot of pictures in recent posts, which probably proves how much I love it. It forms a fairly short mound of grass for most of the season, a lovely cool blue-ish green color. Come fall, however, it transforms and slowly adds purple, red, orange and pink to the mix. I planted it last year, but it failed to flower, this year (in a better location now, having realized it just got too much shade previously) all 3 of my plants bloomed. While first blooming, the blooms aren't terribly noticeable...but now, after having a few dry days, they are beautiful! They are unlike any other grass I grow, both in form and flower. I love the feathery little seedheads that appear along the stems, they wave and flutter in the garden, giving them wonderful texture.

Schizachyrium 'The Blues' (Detail)
Here is a detail of the feathery little seedheads.

Muhlenbergia cappilaris
Of course, I couldn't do this post without mentioning the lovely Pink Muhly Grass. I totally admit I hunted for these after seeing them in Nan Ondra's wondrous book Fallscaping a few years ago (which also caused me to look for Amsonia hubrichtii). I planted them late last fall and wasn't even sure if they would make it through the winter, much less do much the following year. They've proven to be wonderfully hardy, however. They are practically evergreen here in Portland, and once summer rolled around they took off. They aren't very bushy or full yet, but I'm hoping they will fill out in coming seasons. I was amazed a few months ago when I suddenly started seeing the fluffy flowering heads appearing. For some reason, this grass reallyl seems magical...seeing such a plain mound of grass (they honestly aren't much to look at for most of the year) suddenly erupt with sprays of lovely pink flowers! The frothy misty pink effect is intoxicating!

Miscanthus 'Malepartus'
I leave with another shot of my Miscanthus, showing also the bleached stems.

Friday, December 3, 2010

To Blog, or Not To Blog

A fellow blogger over at Danger Garden posted recently on why she blogs and posed the question to fellow bloggers. I had to think it over for a bit, as I think the reason I started the blog and the reason I continue it are different.
As far as I can remember, I started the blog a few years ago, mostly out of boredom. I didn't have a focus or a solid idea. It was a random assortment of ideas and subjects. My partner had a blog and I thought it was a novel idea and thought, "hey, i've got thoughts, maybe other people will care about my thoughts too!" Well, with no clear direction, I kind of floundered, I maybe had 5 posts in the first year!

Then we bought our first house...something I've dreamed about for so long. After years of moving from one apartment to another, I finally had a place of my own...and finally a place to garden again! I re-named my blog and jumped in. It would be a sort of journal and record of all the things we did with the house (definitely a fixer-upper), but mostly focused on the garden. It was also a nice way to update my family, who still live back in Nebraska and Tennessee, about what's going on. Since I love photography and was constantly taking pics of the garden anyway, I already had a huge amount of imagery at my disposal. It's so great to look at posts during the year and seeing the progression of the garden...and what I was obsessing about during any given time!
I think my blog started out as more of a me-centered project, but with more and more people reading and commenting, it's become more interactive, which I love. There is something wonderful and encouraging about getting comments. It's also extremely informative. There is such an amazing network of garden bloggers, each with their own cache of wisdom. I've gotten so much wonderful advice and feedback from so many great people. I get so excited when I log on and see new comments! I've also grown to look forward to so many of my fellow-bloggers posts!

I hope to keep blogging, even during the winter, when there isn't really much going on. I do find that I have a lot of ideas for posts, but it's difficult to gather all my resources and make a comprehensive, coherent post at times. I'm hoping this coming year to focus on refining the existing garden (an ongoing process for all of us) and really give detailed postings on new projects. I think one of my favorite things to see on other people's blogs are the posts on what DIDN'T work...it's so useful and helpful to see things that aren't perfect! Anyway, here's to all my fellow garden bloggers...no matter why you do it, keep it up!