on sunday, my garden was ignored

When you have a garden it’s a love – hate relationship sometimes.

Even though I’ve got cute little sunflowers peeking from around the beautyberry and all sorts of other things in bloom, I am frustrated.

All the rain recently washed away and rearranged a lot of my wood chips in the shade and woodland garden areas. In places the wood chips are almost like they are in waves.

In the front, the weeds are growing faster than I can pull them. And the Japanese beetles have arrived and the spotted lantern fly nymphs keep appearing. I’m frustrated. I am a one woman band for the most part with this garden. I ask for help, but sometimes my family doesn’t see the joy in gardening like I do. Especially if it means helping me with garden chores.

So today I said screw it, and I ignored my garden. I went treasure hunting and junking with one of my besties and had a swell time. Found a couple little things for the garden at Creekside Antiques Downingtown .

I have driven by Creekside Antiques in Downingtown for a few years now. But I’ve never been in until today. Every time I drive by I say to whomever I’m driving around with “We really have to check that out.”

Today we did. So much fun inside and out and really decent prices.

Creekside Antiques photo

Outside they have larger salvage items and vintage garden pieces. Really really cool outdoor vintage furniture pieces.

Inside is a series of small rooms and hallways that all have different vignettes. Again, it is a mix of vintage, antique, reproduction, and artisan items. There is some wonderful photography that is for sale right in the front.

I bought a couple of reproduction garden signs and a delightful little bell for my porch.

I got the break I needed from my garden and had fun with my friend. There is something to be said for exploring on a hot summer day with a Wawa cola slushie! I highly recommend it!

the secret garden

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“As long as one has a garden, one has a future, and if one has a future, one is alive.” ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett 

One of my most favorite books as a child and ever is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I read it over and over and saw every movie adaptation. It captured my imagination and how could you not love the idea of this secret garden full of flora and fauna tucked away?

The Secret Garden has touched the imagination of many since it’s 1911 debut.  The actual garden was based upon a garden on a property in Kent, England called Great Maytham Hall.  This book continues to spark imagination today and there is even a musical which is put on here in the US and overseas.  The Broadway show actually won three Tony awards in the 1990s.  The story of a small girl’s search for home and a garden brought back to life.  The garden was locked away and forgotten. 

Maybe on some strange level this garden I now have is my secret garden.  After all, it was a feral garden when I first started with it.  The old lady whose house we bought had grown ill and died.  Her garden went untended except for the barest of maintenance.  Her adult children all had their own lives and it’s not easy to let go of a childhood home.

As I have written before, I unearthed garden beds slowly from under very overgrown conditions.  It was an excavation of sorts, and this summer I found something yet again when I performed another great forsythia massacre and discovered a giant Sambucus elderberry with a trunk as think as a tree trunk.

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Irregular garden bed during transformation

This garden has evolved over quite a few years at this point, and will continue to evolve.  Today I dug out and replanted and extended a garden bed out front.  When we moved in it had a giant buddleia  in it and not much else. It was irregularly shaped, neither circular or oval exactly. I had removed the buddleia when it died and planted a David Austin Rose and a bit of sedum, lilies of the valley and Stella D’Oro daylilies.  It always bugged me but nothing inspired me until yesterday. 

Yesterday I picked up two bedragged sale hydrangeas on a whim at Home Depot. I knew they needed just some water and a home. But when I first came home with them I couldn’t figure out where to plant them.  Then I did what I always do when I am pondering a garden bed, I look out of upstairs windows down at the garden.  And it came to me: the small irregularly shaped bed out front would get a makeover.

So this morning in the rain, I pulled the bed apart and dug up everything except the rose which I decided would still anchor the center of the bed. I dug out all around the existing bed until I had a true circle.  Then I dug up the grass, dug down and turned over the soil, added compost and a giant contractor bag of sand. The soil is either wonderful here or loaded with clay and rocks.  This bed as it turns out was loaded with clay and  as I dug down to turn the soil, I discovered bricks. Lots of bricks.  Enough to edge the finished bed with.

I split the three giant clumps of Stella D’Oro daylilies into six pieces.  First I planted my hydrangeas, then I planted back the daylilies.  After that I added two small hostas and a pair of foxglove plants that had been languishing on the porch. Then I planted my lavender plants from Mount Airy Lavender   and a pair of Heuchera that had also been biding their time on the porch waiting for inspiration. Then I added woodchips and edged and voila! 

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“After” Taa daa!!!

I think it looks pretty good if I do say so myself!! 

My garden will continue to evolve and become more refined.  But it was today while digging in the dirt that I thought of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I encourage all of you to create your own secret garden.  Create a place to love and cherish. Gardening is such a happy thing.

I will close with some current flower power photos. Thanks for stopping by!

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open garden day was fun!!!

Today for the first time ever I opened my garden for an “open garden day.” I was nervous about doing it, but so glad I did!!

Opening your garden up is like opening a very special private and creative part of you. And as people tour your garden you always wonder are they going to see what you see? Appreciate what you appreciate? And my garden is different from a lot of US gardens because it’s more in the English and Irish cottage garden and woodland garden style.

I have worked really hard on this garden and there is a lot of me in it, and as it has started to mature I have had plant societies and other groups preview my garden to be potentially included on a garden tour, but thus far none of them have found my garden good enough.

One plant society didn’t like it because I did not have little plastic sticks sticking up next to every plant to identify every single plant. And then one of them told me how I should be pruning my Japanese maple and I didn’t really care for that because it wasn’t a helpful suggestion it was really meant as a criticism.

And then there was a garden tour that I had thought I really wanted to be part of because it was put on by my alma mater. But the mothers today who form the committee don’t come themselves to preview the gardens, they send paid staff from the school.

And while I was happy to have those ladies look at the garden, the parents were supposed to be working on this event committee never even followed up with me and overall, they made me feel that my garden wasn’t good enough. Right or wrong that’s how they made me feel. And that was predominately because they couldn’t be bothered to come themselves to look at it and it was their event. And as an alumni of the school I would’ve thought they would’ve at least made an effort.

But I decided to open my garden up today on July 4th, for a few hours to the members of my garden group. To see how people would respond and if they would come. Because that’s another thing when you do something like this you always wonder will they come?

And people did come over today and they seemed like they really liked my garden and I was so happy to share it with them and they stayed a while. It made me happy to share what I’ve created with like-minded souls.

In the United Kingdom they do open garden days quite a bit. That was one of the things that made me decide to just try this on my terms. I had water for everyone and I had done some water infused with lemons, limes, apple mint, and fresh basil from my garden. And as a nod to the UK I also put out some Scottish shortbread.

I think I will do this again in the future and I hope people will come back.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to visit my garden today! I’m going to stake up some flowers now before the rain comes!

Happy Independence Day!!!

even in the rain there are garden bright spots

I will admit, I have spent the past couple of days being garden cranky. Too much rain! I missed the memo where they moved Chester County, PA to Seattle, WA.

The woodland toads are happy, the slugs are happy, but me? I’m getting tired of small pools of ponding water everywhere in my garden. I just have to accept if we don’t get some good sun soon, some of my plants will rot, except I think some are already starting to rot.

I have done my best to bit by bit try to amend the soil in places where it is a heavy clay content, but all the rain has shown me where I missed. The soil in spots is extra bad with all of the rain. Shiny bright clay. Ugh. Time to dig in more grit, more sand.

But even in the midst of soggy city, where weeds grow faster than I can pull them some days, there are just so many pretty things starting to bloom now.

Hydrangeas, monarda, roses, echinacea, and daylilies all popping open one by one. The march of summer colors has begun.

Color makes a garden sing. Just make sure your colors are harmonious or you might create the headache space instead. It’s true. I have over the years had to move things because the colors were jarring where they were.

All of the rain this spring has caused a jungle lushness. And things are blooming or getting ready to bloom ahead of schedule – like a lot of my hostas. A lot of my hostas have seemingly overnight shot up flower stalks and buds.

Before the thunderstorms and crazy downpour, I wandered the garden doing a little deadheading and weeding. I also finally transplanted the zinnias I grew from seed. But mostly I just enjoyed the vibrant garden colors of June.

I also checked out where I needed to do more work. Like put down more stone on a path. With all the rain I could see where I needed more stone. Groan…I wish I did not have to put down more stone anymore than the fact I still have more wood chips to put down. Sadly, gardening isn’t all planting pretty flowers.

But we do need to take the time to sit back and look at the pretty flowers. Even in the rain.

Rain rain go away….

the evolution of gardens

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Echinacea ‘Butterfly Rainbow Marcella’ Purchased from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market

A garden is a constant evolution. Mine evolves in layers.

A few years ago I planted my red rhododendrons and native deciduous azaleas along with some favorite viburnum (Brandywine and Winterthur).  Over the past couple of years including this year, I have layered in witch hazels of different colors and blooming schedules that were purchased from Rare Find Nursery and Yellow Springs Farm.

This year I have also added Mountain Laurels.   They came from the annual plant sale at Jenkins Arboretum that the Valley Forge Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society puts on –  they are the NICEST people at that society and very helpful. (I also find this person called Rhody Man helpful FYI.)  These kind folks also sold me a native deciduous azalea that is red.

I also bought two really great Mountain Laurels from Applied Climatology at the West Chester Growers Market – Kalmia ‘Sarah’ (Mountain Laurel). Species is native to North America.

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Kalmia ‘Sarah’ (Mountain Laurel)
Species is native to North America. I purchased mine at Applied Climatology and this is a stock photo which shows what my blooms will be like next spring!

And hydrangeas.  Hydrangeas are so amazing and there is such a wide array available for planting.  I have a special affinity for Mountain Hydrangeas.  But I plant them all.

I have planted layers of color as well as plants. For my shrubs and perennials, there are a lot of shades of pink and blue reds. I am not an orange red person, so you rarely see orange in my gardens.

Gardening is a favorite thing with me as everyone knows, and when I did not have as much room as I have now for me to plant, I planted elsewhere.

Many, many years ago when I was living on the Main Line and only had my tiny courtyard garden of my apartment, I used to volunteer at this little slice of heaven in Bryn Mawr, PA called Historic Harriton House. I loved walking my dogs over to there and truthfully, I have been wandering around Harriton House since I was 12 as is evidenced by this photo:

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Harriton is an amazing piece of historic preservation that works.  The land it sits on is a park owned by Lower Merion Township.  But the historic structures? Owned and maintained by the Harriton Association which I watched acquire properties over the years to sew up a good sized parcel safe from development.  The original farm and plantation was originally around 700 acres or more and was part of a Penn Land Grant (yes like Lloyd Farm and Happy Days Farm in Chester County which are currently at risk from development.)

The Executive Director, Bruce Gill, and the Harriton Association Board have truly created a very simple preservation model that works.  Part of why it all works at Harriton is the place has never been tarted up.  It has remained loyal to it’s agricultural heritage and history.

Years ago, a couple of years after the conversion of the old dairy barn into an education center and administrative offices was completed, one day I was looking at the ruins of the rest of the stone barn fragment which had been turned into a pool house, a pool, and gardens in the 1920s (I think that is when that happened).  When Harriton acquired this structure a reclusive little old lady had formerly called it home.  Before she died, it was not part of Harriton, it was a little adjoining property in the midst of Harriton, much like two other properties they raised funds and acquired.

Now this little old lady was quite the hoarder, and I remember what it was like when volunteers, myself included, help clear things out.  A lot of the decades of contents was literally garbage, but things that were salable were sold at the annual fair in the White Elephant section for a few years.  Even what had been the swimming pool was full of stuff.  It was crazy.  I had never seen what a real hoarder’s home looked like until this.

After the clean out the restoration and conversion of the barn to education center was completed, I kept looking at the ruins when had been garden spaces from the 1920s until I guess the little old lady inhabitant had gotten too old.  I saw potential for planting and I was itching to do more planting.  So I asked the Executive Director Bruce if he would buy a bunch of plants next time he was up in Lancaster,  I would totally plant up the area.

And that is what I did. It was so much fun creating something out of nothing.  After I had planted the ruin, one of the couple of garden clubs that gardened at Harriton thought Bruce had let in another garden club.  They didn’t quite believe him for a while that it was just me who had dug in the dirt and played and planted.  I never took photos back then of what I had done, which now, is close to 20 years ago if not more than 20 years ago.

But the thing about gardening is once you start, other people follow suit.  And after the first time I planted in the ruin, garden clubs took over and planted it going forward.  I can’t remember which garden clubs did this, except I think perhaps the Villanova Garden Club or the Garden Club of Bala Cynwyd.  I don’t know which garden clubs are still gardening there today.

Here are some circa 2006 -2010 photos of the garden ruin planted (again, I never photographed my work before them, sadly):

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I returned to Harriton this past weekend for their Father’s Day Ice Cream Social, which is just as lovely and old fashioned as it sounds.  I was so happy to see that the ruins were still being gardened, though not as much.  In spots it looks like whichever garden club it was lost interest. But the positive thing is it was still being gardened so many years after I dug the first plants in. And there is a community garden and the tenants garden. I do not know if any of the perennials I planted are still there or not, but after not having been back to Harriton since either 2011 or 2012 I was happy to see any continued gardening there:

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I hope whichever garden clubs are still on Harriton continue.  People change, garden clubs and plant societies are definitely groups where people age out, and not necessarily by choice. But gardening should endure. Wherever we can garden.

I close with some of my own garden’s posies:

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in the garden, you get what you pay for

I am so mad at myself. I know better than to order from cheap unknown plant places, but every once in a while I’m just human and want to try to get a good bargain.

Well look at the shoddy plants I received today from Gilbert H Wild and Sons!

Wild has been around forever. I get their emails, I think I also used to get catalogs from them, and I never ordered from them before. But I thought what the heck, I might as well check them out.

BIG MISTAKE.

I might as well have flushed my money down the toilet. And that makes me so angry when it comes to plants for my garden. And I’m mostly angry at myself because I know better.

I always tell people you get what you pay for and it’s always true. It is better to deal with a company that you know is super reputable and maybe a little pricey than to try to get a bargain like this. Because what I got today were half dead plants and completely dried out bare root items.

I could go to them and demand a refund but I don’t feel like being bothered, so I’m going to write off the loss and tell everybody don’t order from these people.

I should have known when I had to call them to find out where my order was because I never got a shipment notification or a tracking number.

Bless their hearts, they didn’t like my opinion. I didn’t ask for a refund because of experiences other gardeners I know have had. But this unprofessional response to my justified opinion based on what was delivered to me? Caveat Emptor…

I opened the box today and nothing that was bare root was packaged properly and they did the bare minimum on the plants that were potted.

I plant bare root all of the time and I can tell you that I find it doubtful that any of these things are going to be resurrected from the dead. When something arrives bare root and it’s completely dried out it’s usually a goner unless you’re planning on smoking it.

So there you have it: at the tippy top of my do not buy from for the garden list is now Gilbert H Wild and Sons. They suck.

finding new garden treasure

Something remarkable has happened since I started the great forsythia massacre 2019 — a new plant (or new to me) has made itself visible.

And I am not sure what it is.

When forsythia takes over it’s like a shrub Kudzu with monstrous arms covering everything in its path. And what I never knew until I began to beat back 50 years of overgrown forsythia is it more grows over everything than up and through everything.

I have literally discovered more than three new large areas in my garden to plant by cutting back and digging out overgrown forsythia. For the life of me I don’t know why forsythia doesn’t end up on an invasive species list because it truly is invasive.

This time around as I started to cut it back, I realized the forsythia was SO overgrown it had smothered itself in part.

I cut and I cut and I cut. Over the past couple of weeks my mountain of plant prunings has grown and grown and bit by bit the forsythia has shrunk back. Once again I discovered bare earth with not even a weed.

And then I looked up. I saw a plant I had never seen before. It had white sort of airy fairy frothy flowers. I thought it was a vine at first. I had already pulled out the obnoxious twisting vine hell known as bittersweet. I had already pulled out the dog rose which I yank out whenever possible because of the mites that carry rosey rosette disease.

I cut back some additional dead growth, and all of a sudden I realized what I was looking at was actually a shrub.

Now to discover what it is. I haven’t figured that out yet. I am leaning towards some sort of viburnum. I have discovered other viburnum growing wild in my woods, including one of my favorites, maple leaf viburnum. I have also consulted some garden experts via a garden app I use called Garden Answers. They sent me an email that said it was a black elderberry:

Sambucus nigra is a species complex of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae native to most of Europe and North America. Common names include elder, elderberry, black elder, European elder, European elderberry and European black elderberry. It grows in a variety of conditions including both wet and dry fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations.

Purple- and cut-leaved form of Black Elder, a vigorous, upright deciduous shrub producing amazing, large pink blooms and stout canes. Once the blooms are done in mid summer, tiny, shiny black fruits form that are edible to both humans and birds. Native to Europe, North Africa and Southwest Asia. Black Lace is a trademark used to sell the ‘Eva’ cultivar.

It prefers afternoon shade, regular water and a slow release fertilizer 4 times a year.

My problem with that is I have black elderberry and the leaves are darker. Also these flowers are white. But maybe it is an elderberry and not a viburnum. Time will tell when the berries form.

This is the fun of tending to your own garden. You discover things. Hidden gems in unknown plants, or at least unknown to you.

It’s like a treasure hunt when a garden gives you an unexpected plant!