Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Race to Get Them Planted

Yesterday was a perfect day for several hours of digging.  The morning temperature was in the sixties and the drizzle I drove through on the way to University City wasn't falling when I got there.  I dug sixty-one plants, many of them pretty good clumps, and packed every available space in the car with them, save for the space I allowed Lola the Poodle in the back seat.

After lunch I planted about forty-five that were left over from the previous day's dig.

It's clear to me now that I have more interesting plants than I have space in my two hybridizing beds to display them, so I'm going to have to plant the whole collection without much planning, use the ample space in the back yard, and figure out a proper planting scheme for next year.

Today was the beginning of a substantial warming trend, with a high of near ninety predicted.  Kathy and I both got outside right after breakfast.  Here she is several hours later, planting the line-out bed, where we are growing various things in blocks.

I took the earth auger out to the shorter of the two big display beds near the street and planted all the ones I dug yesterday plus a dozen or so more that were either sitting in a pan of water or growing in pots.

Getting them planted before they bloom is exciting, but even more exciting is the sight of new seedlings breaking the surface.  I spotted them from the bedroom window yesterday morning and confirmed what I saw when I took the picture of the robin eggs.  Here's a picture of a mass planting of several dozen seeds sown densely about an inch deep.

That cross marker, "BCVL x Boundless" means my seedling from BUTTER CREAM X VICTORIAN LACE by BOUNDLESS BEAUTY.  The marker at the bottom of the photo, "Papa Luz x Boundless" is shorthand within shorthand.  "Papa Luzio" is a nickname for a seedling from (BETTY WARREN WOODS X PERSIMMON PUNCH) X BUTTER CREAM.  My friend, Ken Luzio, had admired a bright yellow seedling from BETTY WARREN WOODS X PERSIMMON PUNCH, so I nicknamed it "Ken's Yellow."  Then I nicknamed its offspring "Papa Luzio."  That seedling was vigorous and it had a nice scape with bright medium yellow flowers that just didn't thrill me.  So, before abandoning it, I made a final cross with the exemplary BOUNDLESS BEAUTY.

Here's another one that stirs up my hopes:

"Tulip" is a nickname for a seedling of exceptional blue pewter color from BEST KEPT SECRET X TARTA.  As the name indicates, there is often an opening problem, resulting in a flower that resembles a tulip.  "Ummies" is the exceptional pink, rose, and pewter lavender flower, UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG by the late Steve Moldovan.  My goal is to retain the distinctive color of "Tulip" on a flower that opens correctly.

We were finished for the day a little before one and had our lunch staring out the big sliding glass door at the water of Hidden Lake.  I wish I had the power of Hercules and the endurance to go out there and plant another seventy, but I don't think I ever had that kind of energy.

I'm starting to think ahead now to the circles and broken circles I've designed in the gardens in the back yard.  I'm going to encircle the shrub, Spirea "Gold Mound" with plants of the daylily, ELIJAH, and that will be my "Ring of Fire" bed.  I need a plant of the daylily, JOHNNY CASH somewhere nearby.  On the far corner of the lawn, I have four beds around a circular bed.  I've "painted" the picture to show one of two ideas I had for planting on the curve of each bed.  The picture below shows, with too bright a pink, the effect I have in mind with a mass planting of the daylily JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS.

The next photo changes the color to cream with just a hint of pink, which is not visible in my painted picture.  In this case, the mass planting would employ the daylily GREEK EFFECT.

I have two sets of four beds like this in the back yard and might just use both ideas, as I have enough plants to realize this vision this season.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Robin Eggs at Turtle Haven

I took Lola the poodle along our lake shore this afternoon.  There are so many good sniffing opportunities there, what with turtles, lads fishing, and ducks.  As we approached the cherry tree I noticed a robin's nest, looked in, and saw this:

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Bed for Tender Loving Care

Oh my, this post sounds like it's either going to be a country song or a sappy novel.  Actually, it's a report on my project of digging daylilies I "parked" last August in dense spacing at the Green Center.  I used the empty space in one of my seedling beds after I had cleared out everything that wasn't selected.  The selected ones stayed where they were.  My house was on the market and I needed a place to store my daylily collection over the fall and winter.

Last August, this planting scheme seemed like a good idea.  I thought I would have that bed cleared out by the end of April.  But April proved a very wet month, and I only began the job this morning, at the end of May.  Fortunately, the soil in that seedling bed has been amended so much over the past decade that it digs really easily.  Less fortunately, plants that get started early in the spring shade the plants that get started later.  Everything is more lush than usual, thanks to all the rain, so the early risers have provided total darkness for the late risers.

This morning I had to set aside the late risers in their own pile.  The plants were really puny!  I came home for lunch and told Kathy I'd have to create a zone of TLC in part of the garden just for those small plants.  I only wish I weren't setting them out in ultra-dense clay.  However, they will get full sun, no shade from larger plants, and lots of moisture.  The first batch are in the TLC bed now.  I imagine there will be many more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rain, mulch, and mud

It's going on 5:30 pm on an afternoon where we've been alert to a line of potential tornado storms in our region.  This morning it rained and I went out to plant more daylilies as soon as the rain passed.  My earth auger works easily in the wet, heavy clay.  I can dig holes seven or eight at a time, then pause to set in plants, then dig more holes.  All in all, about 40 plants in an hour's work.

In South St. Louis they've just measured a hail stone at softball-size.  No hail fell here this afternoon.  This morning I quit after pieces of dime-sized slush came down briefly.  If that had been hail, it sure would have stung!  You'd never know another rain was sweeping in by the look of this picture I took just after I took the equipment inside.

It looks like a dove is taking off in the upper left corner of the picture.  I've got 183 plants in this bed now.

I took a look at the storm water running down our swale a few minutes ago.  It's staying within the banks all the way to the lower section where I haven't tossed the obstructions out yet.

Our new berm for the dogwoods on the north corner of our lot is catching runoff from the higher ground of the street and the neighbor's big front lawn.  Then the water flows onto the line-out bed that Kathy has been planting, where it is sponged up by the thick layer of leaf mold.

In the back yard, I can new see the patterns of downhill runoff, and I see what I'll have to do to divert this runoff away from seedling beds and onto the grass of the lower back yard.  Much of the water flows directly onto one of the eight big planting beds for mixed perennials.  Now that I understand something more about what our potential ornamentals need, I see a good spot for Louisiana irises and Hydrangeas as well as Siberian Irises and, of course, the water-loving daylilies.

I had several new daylilies open today, blooming in pots.  Here is the third bloom open on Larry Grace's DELIGHT OF MY EYES:

Sorry about the rain spots, but, "Sometimes in this life, Baby, ya see things ya don't wanna see" (my favorite cliche in the movie, "Dirty Dancing").

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Got Trees

It has been a big weekend here, as we dodged rain for three days and started "moving in" where our immense landscape is concerned.  Friday offered a prime opportunity to build berms on the two outside corners of our property.  But when Carl Brandt checked in with Chesterfield Topsoil, they told him there was too much rain Thursday and their soil was heavy and wet.

I gave Carl the names of two local suppliers and we settled on my favorite nursery, Daniel's Farm, just two miles away.  Their topsoil is sandy loam from Troy, Missouri, up on what used to be the tallgrass prairie.  Steve Brandt arrived with the tractor and with his helper, Tim, and they began to work on drainage trenches while we waited for topsoil.

We needed four truckloads of 5 cubic yards, we figured, maybe more, but we'd see as we went along.  The soil started to arrive before noon.  At that point, rain was forecast for three o'clock.  We asked the driver to have the trees delivered after lunch.

Three Korean Sousa dogwoods (they take full sun and require attention to good drainage in the heavy local soil; that's why we made berms.) and three Forest Pansy redbuds, plus one fragrant Viburnam.  Since we were in a race against time, I decided to be part of the crew.

Yes, the lot is immense at the street side.  It's shaped like a quarter of a pie.  Tim's out there checking the depth of the hole so we're sure the top of the root ball is up at the top of the berm.

It took a lot longer to place the trees than I thought it would.  Tim tweaked the shape of the berm with a rake.  Long sleeves?  Probably for sun protection.  We were lucky the sun wasn't out and the temperature wasn't bad.

OK, one side done.  Rain not threatening yet.  Tim said it wasn't expected until 8 o'clock.  Time was on our side, but we didn't have enough topsoil.  Steve had borrowed a lot of it from the other corner to make the first berm right.  So I called in for a fifth truckload and Steve and Tim began to place the redbud trees on the other corner, expecting to fill in between them later.

You can see there was only enough topsoil to surround the trees.  Shortly after 5 o'clock, Daniel himself drove up with the fifth load of soil and Steve set to spreading it while Tim and I manned the rakes.

Still not enough soil.  We'll need another three yards next week to get the berm right.  Tim was pretty played out by the time they quit at six o'clock.

I couldn't thank them enough for completing that part of the job.

It never did rain Friday night.  Saturday morning was sunny, so Kathy and I bounded out of bed and started the long job of planting the daylilies.  Her part of the job was to plant the "line-out" plants in the bed near the dogwood berm.  We weren't able to plant there until the tractor work was done, so Friday's work moved us into the next phase of planting those beds.

I went to University City and dug fifty-three cultivars and ten seedlings during the morning.  After lunch I fired up my new earth auger and drilled planting holes in the curved bed farthest from the redbud berm.  The near bed can't be planted until Steve finishes the tractor work on the berm there.

No rain materialized.

Today, with another opportunity in the morning, we worked the same routine.  I dug plants at the Green Center for two hours, came home for lunch, and we both worked another two hours planting.

Here's the line-out bed that Kathy's been working on.

And here's the quasi-display bed I've been working on.  I've got 83 plants in now.

We've got severe storms in the forecast for tonight.  The tornado sirens went of an hour ago, but the menacing storms went north and west of us.  More threats are expected around nine.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rain Songs and Hostas

I was thinking of rainy songs today.  (I took this picture of a child watching a duck in Vienna nine years ago.) A brief shower came along today at an inopportune time, so the topsoil could not be brought over for the berm, and the crew could not come to complete the drainage project in back.

"Rainy Day People," a song by Gordon Lightfoot from the seventies.  I learned it and many others and sang them one night a week at La Posada in Santa Fe in the summer of 1975.

"Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down," a song I don't know and don't want to know.

"Singin' in the Rain," a song made immortal by the movie scene in which Gene Kelly sings it.

"Buckets of Rain," a Bob Dylan song I'm trying to adapt for the absence of a string bass.  I work on it a little every day, trying to toughen up my finger tips and work out fingerings that will let the music come across with clarity, no fumbling.

With nothing to be done in the garden today, I took Lola over to the house-for-sale in University City and dug good pieces of my hosta collection.  The heavy rains of April have made everything lush, and the hostas have increased beautifully in the last several years, or many years.  I was able to take good pieces for myself and leave a substantial plant behind.  I didn't want to spoil the curb appeal.

"Krossa Regal," a vase-like hosta of distinctive and truly elegant blue-gray-green leaves that leaves me breathless.

"Elegans," an elephantine hosta of huge, round blue green leaves.  My friend David Watkins recommended this one to me in 1997.  I know where he grows a huge specimen of it in his garden in Ithaca, New York.

"Hadspen Blue," a superb blue hosta that forms a procession in the front garden at the U. City house.

That's Hadspen Blue on the curve of the bed.

"June," a milky yellow and green mixture that I fell in love with at David's house.  David sent me a plant of it, along with....

"Inniswood," which I also loved there.

"Gold Standard," which thrived at our house after not doing so well at our friend, Amy's, house just a mile or two away.

"Regal Splendor," which David sent me after I admired it at his place in 2008.

"Solar Flare," with the same story.

"Aureomarginata," a cream and green mix that was special to my friend, Oscie Whatley, and which he shared with me back in 1997.

"Halcyon," a wonderful smaller blue green one which thrives here.  That's Halcyon next to the concrete planter.

And one with a forgotten name, maybe "Golden Tiara," maybe not, but it's special, and I have a piece of it.

Every rainy day now I wonder if I will have any hybridizing season with the daylilies at all this year.  I am intent on moving my collection over here.  I don't want to bear the expense of daily trips over there to collect seed pods for a month or more.  This is a seedling I won't try to set pods on this season.  It's a cross of JOAN DERIFIELD X AUGUST WEDDING.

My plan has changed with the extension of rainy weather.  Now, as soon as the guys can make the berms and plant the trees out front, I'll plant the breeding daylilies that are potted and here.  I'll get some good things into the ground quickly.  Whatever is here and blooming will be my hybridizing world this season.  Once I get these in the ground, I'll start moving the U. City plants over here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Seed-planting Day at Turtle Haven

The little strip of lakeshore next to "Boone's Dock" here at the Duckworthy Estate is called Turtle Haven. There are some floating trunks of dead trees a few feet from the shore, offering a perfect tanning salon for the local turtles.  This morning as I was completing the task of planting my daylily seeds, I noticed that the turtles had decided my non-standing position was non-threatening, and so they mounted the logs as well as each other!

It was a perfect Spring morning in the garden.  The temperature was in the low sixties and there was no wind.

I fired up my small tiller and mixed some leaf mold into the never-before-planted clay soil, deep enough to start seeds, and raked the bed smooth.

Then I fetched my trowel, kneeling pad, and short length of plywood, put some extra wooden plant labels in my pocket, and carried everything down to the seedling bed.

The seeds were arranged alphabetically in a cardboard carton that I removed from the refrigerator.  They have been under refrigeration following spring rehydration for four weeks.

I'm trying a new planting method, new for me, that I saw in use at Daylily World (the garden of David Kirchhoff and Mort Morss in Lawrence, Kentucky) last July.

Seeds are placed very close together in a four-inch wide row, about an inch deep.  They'll germinate over the next couple of weeks and grow as tiny seedlings until late summer, when they will have two pair of leaves and enough of a root system to tolerate transplanting in August.

At that point I will move the seedlings to four-inch spacing in rows eight or nine inches apart in a hundred linear feet of seedling bed five feet wide.  The advantage of this method is that there will be no wasted space in the final bed.  Heretofore, I've planted seeds in four-inch spacing, only to witness big gaps where lots of seeds failed to germinate.

Last year I had 381 seedlings growing in a space designed for about 2,000.  That's a lot of wasted space!

The wooden labels are disposable in August.  When I move the young seedlings to their development bed, I'll insert metal EON labels to mark the position of each cross.

After the phenomenal rain delays of the past six weeks, getting these seeds into the ground was a milestone to match the accomplishment of moving and planting the 381 seedlings last Thursday and Friday.

Tomorrow we expect to form up the berms for trees in the front of the property, so next week at this time I hope to have the redbuds and dogwoods in their places.  Once the berms are formed and planted I can begin planting daylilies in the beds near the berms.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

First Plants in the Ground


Yesterday, Friday the 13th, Kathy and I re-planted the 381 seedlings that germinated in a University City garden in 2010 and were dug with the help of Seajay and Richard Mock on Thursday. Since there were so few seedlings to put into the new garden space I allowed for a regular crop of about 2000 plants, we gave them generous spacing in rows a foot apart.

Three hundred eighty one seedlings out of about two thousand seeds is horrible germination.  With hybridizing there are "disaster years."  One man I buy from lost a big section of "futures" to a sink hole in Florida.  Another man I've known for over a decade lost almost a whole crop recently because he planted the seeds too deep.  I've lost a crop in a cold frame from fungus gnats in the potting soil.  They awoke and feasted on the tender roots of the seedlings.  Friends supplied me with surplus seeds.  There are so many ways to be shocked and disappointed with seed storage and planting, and yet when I weigh my disappointment with the monumental disappointment of a farmer who can't get a crop in or out, I have to relax about my own problems.

Each plant came over in a plastic grocery bag or bookstore bag or drugstore bag.  I get them at the recycle bin at the grocery store.  Then I save them for more trips.  There are hundreds more plants to move here.

In the background you see the lawn has been regraded somewhat and half the deck has been removed to allow room for the regrading.  On Thursday, Steve and Tim thought they would only have half a day of work before rain moved in, but the rain didn't come, so they were able to install a new rain drainage system to collect the outputs of all the rain gutters and empty them onto the middle of the back yard.  The last thing we need in the swampy front is water!

The existing drainage system hadn't been carried out well.  It was causing erosion and swampiness around the basement.  There is more grading ahead, to make a gradual slope to the planting beds in the middle of the back yard.

Here's the finished work.  I'll plant this year's seeds densely on the end of the near bed.  Then in August, I'll transplant those that germinated to another two beds that I'll have two months to prepare.

The promised rain arrived this morning, a gentle all-day soaker that will prevent any more garden work here for many days.  Rather than work today, we went to Daniel's Farm and Nursery and bought two more dogwoods, two more redbuds, and a fragrant viburnum.  They will be delivered and planted in berms we'll make with Steve's help in the coming week or two.

When the ground it too wet to work, we have the all-summer project of tossing hunks of concrete rubble out of the swale that drains neighborhood storm water.  Since the swale lies on our property, the city isn't able to help with the cost of fixing it when sections collapse.  That's our worry entirely, but we don't actually worry about it.  Even with the clear-out only a quarter done, the water is remaining in the channel rather than running over the left side of the gardens.  We'll make more progress on it every day it doesn't rain for the next week or two, until we can work the ground again.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Man and His Horse

In the early morning mulch
With a tiller in my hand
With a sweatband on my head
And a horse at my command,
I’m a long way from done,
Don’t know how long I will last
In the early morning mulch,
With a tee shirt from the past.

See the corner, see the shade,
See the place we’ll make a berm.
There’ll be dogwoods in a glade
On a mound we hope is firm.
There’ll be flowers on the curve
When we line them out in blocks;
All the colors, all the forms,
All the social after-shocks.

What a shape we have to tend,
Like a quarter of a pie,
With a swamp we must rescind
Where the low spots never dry.
So we garden on the left
And we garden on the right,
Always thinking of a curve
For the senses to delight.

This will be a redbud stand
In a shape that’s like the lot.
We’ll have three there on a berm
Long before the Spring is shot.
We’ll have veggies in the back,
With a view of Heron’s Cove,
With the company of birds;
This is why we made the move.

Things look closer than the pic,
It’s a wide-angle, you know.
It is only half a click
To the haven down below.
There are turtles on a log,
There are ducks upon the dock.
You can feel how tired I am,
Like a run-down mantel clock.

One more pass before I quit,
Then another, then again.
Haven’t done this since Vermont,
Sixteen years ago was when.
I was fifty, I was fit,
There was a river in the view;
Now we live on Hidden Lake,
KEB and me, and sometimes you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We Call it "Heron's Cove"

Here at the Duckworthy Estate at Hidden Lake, we have Turtle Haven to the right of "Boone's Dock" and Heron's Cove to the left.

The day we moved in last September, a convention of ducks was napping on the dock.  Thus, this "estate" in Hidden Lake Estates was dubbed "Duckworthy."  It sounds somewhat like Old Money, from Way Back, around the era of the Great Gatsby.

There are probably many places named Heron's Cove.  Most are real coves, not little curves in a man-made lake that was once a hog woller, or wollow, depenting how how fastidious you are about spelling.

We named our little curve Heron's Cove because of this bloke, or blokess.  I don't know how to determine gender in a Heron.  This afternoon when Kathy spied this bird, I grabbed my telephoto and fired off a dozen pictures from the open door to our deck.  The picture I like best shows a bit of our new Japanese Iris and Siberian Iris collection, the bright flowers on the Knockout roses, and a goldfinch swooping just above the shorter rose bush.

I think I had five-star horoscope today.  At least I felt like I did.  Steve, Carl, and Tim showed up this morning to take off half the deck so that Steve could more easily correct the grade of the lawn there.  We plan to replace the deck in a few weeks.

That's Steve Brandt in the black tee shirt.  He's President of Branco Construction.  Timmy is sawing through the deck joists as Carl Brandt, the company's founder and former President looks on.

My un-tilled seedling beds are in the background.  The larger beds behind Steve are for mixed perennials.

By horoscopic providence, the first of two dump trucks full of leaf mold arrived just after lunch, eighteen cubic yards for the new daylily beds on the front lawn.  Steve offered to spread the compost with the tractor he'd brought.  Now there's a piece of luck!  The rich black compost always smells like pipe tobacco to me and reminds me of the twenty years that I was seldom without a pipe in my mouth.

You can see the big pile of eighteen cubic yards behind Steve.  He dropped one bucket at a time and then dragged the bucket over the dumped material to distributed it at the six-inch depth I wanted.  Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll till those beds to a depth of eight inches.

The small bed with some mulch on top that's beyond the big pile is a triangle where we will add dirt to build up a berm.  Then we'll plant three Redbud trees on that berm to anchor the view of the property for those driving past on Hidden Lake Drive.  On the other end, seven hundred feet away, we'll plant three white dogwoods.  Here's a picture of Steve working on those beds after the second dump truck arrived with another eighteed yards about an hour later.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Family Life a la Goose

A few months ago I wrote about a goose trapped in the ice on Hidden Lake.  An eagle landed on the ice and walked carefully over to the goose to see if there was an easy kill to be had.  But the goose flapped powerfully and the eagle thought better of an attack.

The next day there was enough of a thaw for the goose to escape the ice.  Day after day we watched that goose, alone on the lake.  Then one day another goose joined the recuperating one.  Was it the missing mate?  We hoped so.

Suddenly a week ago we saw a pair of geese with a little gosling on our grass by the lake shore.  And then this morning all heaven broke loose here.

When I walked out onto the deck this morning with my camera, the goose family started to walk to the lake.  The three little ones hurried along.  Soon they were sailing away...

A couple of hours later, Kathy called for me to rush to the window and see the TWO families of geese in the back yard.  Each family had three goslings.  As soon as I walked onto the deck with my camera, the group on the right began to move immediately toward the water.

See how the three little ones are trying to fly?  Their wings are out at their sides.  Instinct tells them the wings have an important purpose, but they don't work yet.  The legs do, though, and the little webbed feet.

Life on the lake.  The turtles at Turtle Haven thought nothing of what was going on and continued sunning themselves on a floating log.