Refresh Your Garden Design

refresh your gardenWell done but not my cup of tea.  No matter how often I read about analogous and non-analogous color schemes, I can’t keep it in my head.  And occasionally I would look at a picture and think it was fine only to discover this was the bad “before” picture.  So, not too helpful for my limited visual skills.

Having said that, the book like all of Rebecca Sweet’s is very well organized and beautifully illustrated.  A bit of a California bias means she includes some zone 8 and above plants that are gorgeous but probably annuals for us.  The final chapter, offering suggestions for plants that will provide the desirable form, texture, weight and so on was quite inspiring.  Here are my notes with images pulled from hither and yon.

For “texture with weight,” consider a small weigela, only 3′ x 3′.  ‘Dark Horse’ offers bronze foliage in full sun – might work as a good weight to the sunny border.  Image from the Sunray Gardens blog.


I am looking for something to put in front of the yews by the steps.  At the moment this little bed is a dog’s dinner of little bitty things that I put there in despair, punctuated by the  pipe thingy.yew bedI was thinking of a low-growing viburnum or maybe this dogwood,  Cornus sanguinea ‘Cato’ Arctic Sun, that Sweet recommends.  But I think it needs a more prominent spot to do well.

Cornus sanguinea Arctic Sun 7249

Next are two plants for “form and shape.”  Here is donkeytail spurge, Euphorbia myrsinites,


whose form and repetition I love. Low-growing, drought resistant, offers a sense of movement in the garden.  I’m just not sure where I would put it.

And this is spiral aloe, aloe polyphylla.aloe polyphylla

She recommends this as a specimen for a container or succulent garden.  Only zones 7-9 but it could work here.  I love it in this container.

Finally, cotoneaster, aka bearberry.  I already have this at one end of the walkway garden.  Perhaps it or its relative, Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Streib’s Findling’, an “excellent spreading ground cover with a stunning herringbone silhouette,” 6″ tall by 8′ wide, might help a driveway area that’s gone all to hell.cotoneaster_procumbens_streibs_findling_01

This bed came with low-growing juniper that I extended farther along up to the walkway garden.  But this year it is dead and dying and depressing.  I think low is the way to go, so maybe this cotoneaster or another one?

Note: I did my best to find plants that might solve a problem rather than plants that just caught my fancy.  Whether I will implement any of these ideas remains to be seen.


For the Birds?

Over the last few years, the supposedly squirrel-proof feeder I had became less and less satisfactory.  old feederIt was a good one from Droll Yankee, but it never really worked all that well.  First of all, the squirrels quickly figured out how to work around the baffle and helped themselves. See the bite marks on the edges of the baffle?!

Next, it attracted only some of the birds and I wanted to expand my scope.  Finally, I had an old hummingbird feeder from Dad that was hard to clean and had lost a few parts that I had to tape on.  Time to move forward!

The young guy at Roxbury Mills recommended two feeders, one for thistle seed and the other for sunflower seed and supposed to be squirrel-proof.  I also picked up a simple hummingbird feeder.  The results have been great, despite a few bumps in the road.

Here are the thistle and seed feeders, hanging from a new shepherd’s hook.feeders

You can see that the goldfinches have found it!  Also the house finches.  Here’s a close-up of them actually feeding.feeders2

So far the visitors have included Mr. and Mrs. Goldfinch, Mr. and Mrs. Housefinch, chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and  a nuthatch that swoops in from climbing upside down on the oak tree.  On the ground below I’ve seen mourning doves, a brown thrasher, robins, and white-throated sparrows.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but such fun to watch.

However, I have also managed to attract two pests, squirrels and cats. The perch on the sunflower feeder closes up if enough weight is on it, theoretically deterring squirrels. It took the damn squirrels less than a week to figure out how to put all their weight on the pole so that they can get to the sunflower seeds.  I try to shoo them away but it’s really useless unless I want to sit there all day with a BB gun on my lap.

The cats are my neighbor’s free-range cats.  More than once I’ve noticed an ominous silence and when I’ve looked the window have spotted the orange and white cat sitting patiently below the feeder, waiting for a SNACK.  Not on your life, buddy.  I plan to invest in a spritzer and stand ready to spritz him with water the next time I see him.  Yes, I know this is a losing venture, but it might give me some satisfaction.

On a happier note, the hummingbirds have found my new hummingbird feeder!  I can see it right out of my kitchen window and have had lots of fun watching them.  Unlike the feeder’s on Kristi’s deck in Vermont (seen here sans hummingbirds, but what a view!)

hummingbird magnet

hummingbird magnet

my feeder attracts only one at a time.  In typical fashion he (sometimes) or she will zip in, sip either while fluttering or, something I didn’t expect, perch and sip.  Here are a few pictures thanks to the burst feature on my camera.hummingbird3

This is the Mrs., without the ruby throat, hovering until she can find the right spot.DSC07087

And here she is feeding.  I’ve also seen her husband, whose brilliant ruby throat is visible for a fraction of a second as he flies away.  I have my camera right by the kitchen window in hopes of getting a better picture.

I’ve also bought a second, window-mounted hummingbird feeder, but it may be poorly sited.  I’ll play with its placement a little and see if I can get some good close-ups once they find it.

This has been a ridiculous amount of fun, despite the swearing at pests.  I may just add to the feeders until the place looks like a scene out of The Birds.

The Great Culling of 2016

Years and years ago, Mom gave me some of her columbines, mostly blue, and they happily grew and self-seeded throughout the garden.  The bees love them (as you can see below), they provide a sea of blue in April and May, and they fill in lots of gaps.

Bees on the columbine

Bees on the columbine

But this year I looked around and realized that the columbines had taken over.  They were EVERYWHERE, leaving no room for what had been purposely planted and no room for any new plantings or annual seedlings.  Time for the great culling!

I learned quickly that although they have self-seeded, many must have come back every year, digging their fleshy roots even deeper into the ground.  Here’s just one pile of uprooted plants, sent to the compost pile (where they will doubtless self-seed again).columbines in compost

If you look closely, you can see how big some of those roots are.

I started in the sunny border, then moved on to the front side garden (underneath the bedroom windows) and finally turned to the walkway garden.  To see what a difference it makes, here is a before picture of the walkway garden:columbines before

All those upright stems are seedheads, ready to start the cycle over again.  But after the culling you see this:after columbines

I’ve planted three Juno hostas and you can actually see them now.  The calla lilies, which I got as a freeby with a bulb order years ago, have room to grow and might even bloom this year.  The bare ground I’ve sowed with zinnias in hopes that they will fill in and add some color.  A very satisfactory result.

Not again!

It has been raining almost every day for about a month, and we are sick of it, as you can see from this extremely witty Facebook post.

Even someone like me, who welcomes a rainy day as an excuse to quilt and read, is getting weary.  We had one sunny day last week, and the air was ringing with the sounds of lawn mowers.  I was able to edge the sunny border, fighting with the witch grass all the way, and started to replenish the soil in the newly installed raised bed.  Rainy today, Sunday, and predicted to go on until some time on Tuesday.  And to top it off, we are still in a rain deficit for the year!

On another note, garden bloggers’ Bloom Day has come and gone yet again without a post from me.  Here is a reconstruction, and a list from 2014 (another of those pieces of paper that floats around the kitchen counter until needed).

Early May 2014

  • Cherokee phlox
  • False Solomon’s seal
  • Ghostly bulb in white garden
  • small white allium
  • hellebores
  • mazus reptans
  • bluebells
  • tulips (going by)
  • columbine and wild columbine
  • sweet woodruff
  • Topolino (I think) daffodil in sunny bordertopolino
  • tiarella
  • euphorbia
  • vinca
  • sorrel
  • Star of Bethlehem
  • dandelions
  • Viburnum ‘Shasta’ and neighbor’s pink dogwood
  • bleeding hearts (white and red)
  • white azalea
  • garlic mustard
  • geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s variety’
  • bugleweed
  • lily of the valley
  • pink azalea
  • coral bells
  • Sun Dial narcissus
  • pansies

This year is much the same, except that mid-May this year found nary a trace of the mazus and wild columbine, both lamented.  I think the hellebores might have crowded out the columbine.  The Topolino daffodil again was the last to bloom and is most welcome.

‘Sarah Bernhardt’ is in bloom, as gorgeous and over the top as ever.

2016 peony

Equally magnificent in a very different way is the Jack in the pulpit that either Becky or Judy passed along to me.  It seems to be very happy in this cool, wet spring. Jack in the pulpit

Thanks to advice from Adrian Higgins, I sowed my Shirley poppy seeds in February and hoped for the best.  They were just lying around, so why not give it a go? Lo and behold, it worked!  poppy

This gorgeous red is a good contrast with the blue columbines that have taken over the garden (their days are numbered if it ever dries out a bit).

What else we saw in Kansas City

After our restorative lunch and an even more restorative nap, we set out for the World War I museum, partly because it was highly rated in Trip Advisor and partly because it was in the general direction of our dinner reservation.  It was well worth the trip despite these weak reasons for visiting.IMG_20160421_165412

It’s set on a hill with great views over the city, but the museum itself is mostly underground.  You could spend hours here, but we only had one.  Nevertheless, we saw  incredible recreations of battles, followed the timeline of the gaining, losing, gaining and losing of the same ground over and over, saw a recreation of a trench, watched videos and generally came away in awe both of the horrors of this war and the skill of the museum staff in presenting complex information in an engaging and illuminating way.  If your travels take you to Kansas City, go here!

We wandered around the art district at the tag end of a gloomy day and didn’t see much except for the remnants of the industrial side of KC.  Here’s a glimpse of the back of Union Station and some double-stacked freight cars.  IMG_20160421_192613We proceeded from here to our amazingly delicious dinner at Lidia’sbbhg_lidias_pittsburgh_9122_-_copyI did not realize until this very minute that the restaurant is run by that Lidia, Ms. Bastianich of PBS cooking show fame.  No wonder it was so good!  The best Caesar salad I have ever had, followed by our old friend cinghiale, this time in ravioli.  A perfect end to the day and to our Kansas City adventure.


Why we went to Kansas City

Johannes_Vermeer_-_The_Astronomer_-_WGA24685Since Alison plans to see every Vermeer in the world, she paid attention when an exhibit with two Vermeers was announced for Boston and Kansas City.  Though one was from the National Gallery, which we have seen repeatedly, the other, The Astronomer, was from the Louvre.  Maybe we saw it on our visit, but since neither of us has a clear memory of it, it doesn’t count.  Boston in the winter?  Nah, on to Kansas City in the spring!

After our visit to a famous quilt shop, we settled in to our hotel in Country Club Plaza, walking distance from the Nelson-Atkins Museum.  Too weary to drive to Gates Barbecue, we went at the suggestion of the hotel guy to this placeIMG_20160420_203450

where we had more meat than was good for us.  Yum, the burnt ends!  Alison was happy even before dinner began:IMG_20160420_192952

The next morning we took a walk around the Plaza, which is more interesting than it sounds.  Built in the 1920s in a style that borrows heavily from Spain and Italy, it’s filled with upscale national chain stores but also has some interesting architectural details.DSC06905DSC06911

Had we met this guy in Florence?  Yes, we had.

More Spanish influence:

The weather was raw and damp, and soon enough it was raining.  We scurried down the street to the imposing art museum.


sculptures by Claes Oldenburg

We walked up the steps to this classic old-style temple of art, though the shuttlecocks give you a hint that there’s something else going on here.  In the imposing atrium was the exhibit banner, and the art-lover whose expression hints at what was to come…DSC06922

The exhibit was in the modern addition, a huge space that is seamlessly attached to the side and back of the old building.  We walked and walked and walked, and finally got to the exhibit itself.  Since no photos were allowed, I can only say that it was a fascinating exploration of class through 17th century Dutch art from museums around the world.  You can read more about the original show in Boston and peek at a few pictures here.

But as we came to the end, the Vermeer-lover looked around in confusion.  Where was The Astronomer??  No one could tell us, so we went up to the information desk and asked there.  Much to-ing and fro-ing, although both guides swore that there had only ever been one Vermeer in the exhibit.  In the end, we determined that between Boston and Kansas City, four paintings had been removed from the collection.  Insurance reasons?  Other bookings? Who knows.  Alison vows to contact the curator and determine what happened, but what can you do?

To make us feel better the guide encouraged us to view one of their jewels, the Caravaggio St. John the Baptist.  This will get us ready for Rome and Malta!  Isn’t he dreamy?Caravaggio_Baptist_Nelson-Atkins_Museum_of_Art,_Kansas_City

We enjoyed their Renaissance collection and their lovely cloister, and then had a ladies’ lunch in the stunning atrium cafe.  IMG_20160421_123702

I can only imagine the generations of Kansas City children who have been taken to the museum and then on to a special lunch or bite of cake here.

And now for something completely different, this stunning piece that looked like a quilt but wasn’t.  Created by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, it’s made from bottletops.DSC06923

See more here.  Quilt designs are everywhere, you just have to look.

The Disneyland of Quilts!!

The main purpose of our jaunt to Kansas City was to see the Dutch art exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.  But a quick look at the map showed that the Missouri Star Quilt Company was just an hour away.  You can’t pass up the opportunity to see this amazing quilt store complex, can you??

We picked up our car at the gloomy old airport and were surprised to find that they had given us a bright yellow Mustang.


Of course, all we wanted to do was to ride around (Sally), so it was good to have an hour-long trip ahead of us.  We took an almost deserted highway to a two-lane road that wound up and down rolling hills, some of them rather steep, with rich black soil in the newly plowed farm fields on either side.  Another highway, another two-lane road, and we were in Hamilton, Missouri.IMG_20160420_132414

It’s a typical small town (pop. 1800), with incredibly wide streets (presumably so you could turn a horse and carriage around), head-in parking, and not a whole lot going on.  But Jenny Doan and her family have created eleven quilt shops here, and their empire has become the biggest employer in town.

We had lunch at the Blue Sage restaurant: a huge side salad of romaine, blue cheese and bacon for me, tomato soup for Alison, and a delicious shared lamb burger with fantastic home-made potato chips.  Thus fortified, we started next door at the Florals shop.  Brightly lit, nicely laid out, and an enticing beginning to two hours of browsing, yearning and actual shopping.

Here’s a peek at what we saw.

The Modern shop had fabrics from Cotton + Steel, my fave Marsha Derse, and, as you can see, lots more.  Fabrics are arranged by manufacturer or designer.


Each shop is beautifully staged, with the Modern shop featuring this mid-century modern tableau.IMG_20160420_143643

The solids shop had colorful display windows and a rainbow of mostly solids inside.  This is where I found the Pepper Cory shot cottons from Studio E that I had not been able to find anywhere!  Now I know – everything in the store is also available online.

Quilts and inspiration on the wall.IMG_20160420_143623IMG_20160420_143224IMG_20160420_143154

Non-quilters are not forgotten.  While many quilt shops have a couple of chairs for non-quilting friends (face it, usually husbands), this one features an entire “Man’s Land.” Leather recliners, two big-screen TVs, and bookshelves featuring sports-related books and equipment.  Two guys were there, one reading a copy of Guns & Ammo, the other snoring mightily, and both covered in quilts.  Alison retired here with a good book.IMG_20160420_140423

I didn’t break the bank, but I did come away with some project-related fabric, some hard-to-find IBC pins (recommended by Judith Baker Montano), and some random beautiful stuff: blues for my Sarah Fielke BOM, William Morris and neutrals for the hexie quilt, binding for the baby quilt, the shot cottons, and the Potting Shed Daily Deal which I just could not pass up!   46% off!!IMG_20160423_103742

On the way out, we stopped for a few more photos of the main drag.

We tootled back the way we came, stopping only for a picture of this clever Trump sign.  Hate the sentiment, love the inventiveness!IMG_20160420_162850