Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rain gardens

I've been thinking about rain gardens lately, in preparation for an upcoming workshop.  In essence, they're nothing more than landscaped beds, with well-prepared soil and plants selected for sun, shade, or something in between.

Natural forested landscapes absorb almost 99% of rainfall that fall on them, releasing water slowly into nearby streams, and then into rivers.  Urban and exurban landscapes shed water, because of impervious surfaces (roofs, driveways, roads, paths, and compacted soil landscapes).

Compacted landscapes? What are those, you might be thinking?  They're all too familiar in the thin lawns, mowed road verges, landscape edges, and other depauperate examples of marginal vegetative cover. 

Recent heavy rains had me amazed at how much water was sheeting off bermuda grass 'lawns' and adjoining paths into a prepared rain garden bed.

It's to be a demonstration site, and we were thinking about the roof runoff from the nearby building as our primary focus.

But the landscape runoff, by far, will be the biggest contributor to our newly established rain garden.

The take-home message is that creating landscapes that include trees, shrubs, and perennials with deep roots, and that are well-mulched, will pay dividends in terms of keeping water where it falls.  And the result is to minimize runoff of rain water (or storm water) with any accompanying pollutants of sediments, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. (depending on your landscape practices).

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

More fall vegetables

front beds (late Sept. 2011)
I cleaned up the rambling tomato vines in the front beds this afternoon (harvesting lots of green tomatoes in the process). 

There won't be time before frost for tomatoes to ripen, and the temperatures are already dropping into the 50°s (F) at night.

mesclun and ruby chard
Siberian kale and leeks

I swapped them out for some collard, mustard, and broccoli transplants that I bought at the local hardware store (thinking guiltily, I could have grown these myself!)  However, what I've sown is doing nicely, from the Siberian kale to the mesclun mix, so I haven't done so bad for a part-time resident in this garden.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Woody's perch and fall vegetables

sugar snap peas
Arriving early this evening to the mountains, I was glad to see that the fall greens were doing great.

My first activity, after harvesting some eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, was to clear the front trellis of bean vine remnants and the spent tomato vines.

meslun mix and swiss chard
Woody, not looking very alert
Woody enjoyed keeping watch on his perch.

Woody, hmm, on watch?
He can monitor comings and goings from his view through the window well. And, finally, my (our) gardening companion arrived!

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

FINALLY, some rain

We had two inches in our rain gauge by mid-day.  Woo-hoo!  It's been a brutal couple of months, with limited rain and high heat.  But with temperatures moderating now, this moisture will sink in, and help reinvigorate root growth of (practically dormant) plants. 

The non drought-tolerant wimps in the landscape have already succumbed, to be sure, whether they're native or not.  Even my modest triage efforts in mid-August only revived plants that could withstand over 3 weeks of extreme heat and no water.  It's interesting to see how tough many plants are, even if they would have looked a lot better with a lot more water!

A side note:  I just reconnected/updated my Networked blogs permissions, which had been 'broken' in early summer (I hadn't noticed), so any of you who read this via Facebook, missed a couple of months of posts over the summer.  I'm not a regular Facebook user!

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Border renovation

Not a nice-looking view
I'm not a big fan of doing 'traditional' perennial borders.  Yes, I like to admire them, but no, I don't have the time nor interest to lift, deadhead, and divide (not to mention water) - which is what many borders require.

See what I mean! (click to get larger images)
My 'low-maintenance' border, however, was looking pretty darn shabby, after weeks and weeks of drought and heat, and a gardener's absence.  It was not a happy sight. The redbud seedlings had popped up everywhere; even drought-tolerant perennials looked stressed (or had given it up, as was the case of the Coreopsis verticillata).
Better, but still needs work
So a morning's work knocking back the woody saplings and removing dead stems, and editing the perennials that looked the worst made an immediate difference.

more editing and pulling the border forward is needed!
This bed is slated for a major renovation over the winter (expansion, soil amending, and replanting in front of the oakleaf hydrangeas, which have been champs).

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Saturday, September 17, 2011


Watching an afternoon football game with my gardening companion (Clemson beat Auburn, hooray...), I couldn't help but notice a female hummingbird at the porch feeder. 

She sipped a lot, but then spent a lot of time 'hawking' -- just sitting on the pot holder rim above the feeder catching insects, and maybe just defending her 'food resource.'  Later in the afternoon, there was a second hummer dashing around, too.

First I brought out the binoculars to the living room room so I could peer at her, and then brought my camera. 

I find it hard to get a good focus on a small object (eg a hummingbird) with my lens, but was glad to have had a chance to observe her over the course of several hours.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Morning light

Filtered light through the trees in the ravine is a wonderful way to start a weekend morning.

The light, especially when it's a bit foggy, is glorious.
View from the kitchen

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Meadow plantings

This is why I like to have meadows. 
afternoon light behind meadow
this is why meadows work
The light coming through illuminates the pocket meadow in front of our  mountain house.  The much larger meadow in front of the garage at home is equally magical in the afternoon light.

Whether it's grasses or goldenrod, their appearance backlit by the sun going down is always uplifting.

new meadow plantings in front
We added a number of additional plants this morning after a native plant sale at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville, some to the front meadow, but others to a 'damp' border below the house and along the ephemeral stream at the base of the ravine.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Garden seasons and fall greens

I'm grateful for the renewal that each (gardening) season brings.

Fussing about drought-stressed shrubs and weedy borders isn't why I garden.  I don't want to be a gardener that looks out and sees the imperfections; it's about embracing what's growing.

It's the parsley that flourishing now as cooler air is blowing in, as well as the mustards and arugula that are growing rapidly. Even though the beans, tomatoes, and peppers are in decline, the promise of hardy transplants (collards, broccoli, and brussel sprouts), fall peas, lettuce, and salad mixes is encouraging.  Nice.

And it's fall plant sale time for the next few weeks.  Woo-hoo!  Who knows what cool natives might be available to be part of our front meadow or rain garden?

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Signs of (garden) life

The garden (vegetable and flowers) is looking pretty dismal.  One of my perennial borders is a perfect 'before' picture for a garden renovation class, full of redbud seedlings, and totally unbalanced in terms of texture and proportions.  Not pleasing at all.

Weedy edges are everywhere, with Bermuda grass creeping in, reflecting the heat and drought of August.

But the coolness of the cold front that came through with Lee, combined with a somewhat recovered hand (post-trigger finger surgery) found me this evening (more or less) happily doing a bit of tidying and seed-sowing.  It's always good to be in the garden, whatever its state.

I sowed a couple of flats of mesclun and transplanted some kale and collards, enriched another bed with mushroom 'compost', and admired the sugar snap pea shoots which are looking good in a container planting (they'll need a LOT more support than this soon).

I've got peas planted both in the Piedmont and the mountains;  maybe it'll be a good fall for peas this year!  They're growing well, and are signs of life in the garden.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Rain needed

So far, it's been a no-show with the remnants of Lee.

We were hoping for a good soaking, 4-8 inches of rain the predictions forecast.

So far, it's been about an inch, both here in the Piedmont and in the UNCA site in Asheville.  Hrrmph. We need a LOT more. 

I'm hoping for something overnight and tomorrow, but it's quiet now. We'll see.

This was a record-breaking summer in terms of heat here in the Piedmont of SC (number of days above 90°F: it exceeded 85 days).

In my growing-up town of Austin, TX, they were above 100° F for a lot of days this summer -- exceeding the record--at the end of August it was 75 days above 100°F, geez, that's rough.

It's obvious that there's reason to think about global climate change and weather extremes (hello?). 

But we also have to think about how we want to garden and water and what to plant. I'm voting for vegetables (pampered denizens of the green world) and plants from dry places (native to here or not).

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sedums and bees

bees on Sedum 'Matrona'
Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is often on lists of butterfly-attracting plants.

It's a great plant, to be sure, drought-tolerant and with multi-season interest.  But flowers are short-lived, and are more bee-attracting than butterfly-attracting, as far as I've observed.

Sedum 'Matrona' is similar.

It's also a great plant, taller than 'Autumn Joy' and with attractive purplish stems and foliage.

The one in our garden in flower now is covered with bees: bumblebees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, honeybees, with only an occasional small butterfly.

bee on Sedum

butterfly on Sedum

Sedum 'Matrona'
The crowns of flowers are bee magnets.

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