Corona Garden Diary 3/17/20

I planted several handfuls of ‘Tete a Tete’ daffodils last fall and I am reaping the rewards now.  I will definitely plant more of these little guys  — perhaps hundreds more!  Plenty of space on that brown slope there, don’t you think?


Unfortunately, the dwarf iris that I planted at the same time (Iris reticulata ‘Rhapsody’) — which was also supposed to bloom at the same time  — did not get the message and is already done blooming.  Here are the iris a couple weeks ago:


So much for my blue and gold early spring extravaganza!  I can still enjoy them sequentially, I suppose, but still…I had been excited about the combo.  Moving on to one of my beloved Ackerman Camellias:

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This camellia is one of the ‘April’ series…I think it’s ‘April Remembered’ but (ironically) I can’t remember for sure.  The flowers are huge even though the plant is still young and lanky; the effect is sort of like when you see a Great Dane puppy but with gigantic paws.  So sweet.

Next, hellebore patch growing right under my black walnut.  I can’t remember this cultivar right now, but it is one of the Pine Knot farms ones.  I love the ruffly, dusty-pink blooms:


The bluebells are just starting to bloom.  Nothing better.


Little patch of daffs blooming in a far-off corner of my yard.  Planted by the previous owner.


Lindera benzoin with its soft spray of pale yellow blooms (in stark comparison to the eye-popping gold of the forsythias).  Birds planted this one a few years ago.


Daffodil with silhouette of honeybee:


Camellia ‘Nuccio’s Bella Rossa’ planted in much too small a space:

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Clematis ‘Henryi’ working his way up the side of my porch:


Classical statuary in the Orangerie:


(Okay it’s a concrete doo-dad from an antique store on Rt. 50 and it’s sitting in a patch of daylilies, but still nice.)

Tarragon making lots of headway in the herb garden:


Bumble bee resting on the ‘Sage’ sign.  They’re still a bit lethargic in the chilly spring air:


Husband built some new beehives and brushed them with teak oil before setting them up:


Bees coming and going, looking rather….well, busy, I guess.


Like the college students down in Florida, there is very little social distancing occurring here, and little empathy for the weakest members of their community (they just shove their dead out of the hive!) Still, it is nice to see a functioning community at a time like this — full labor participation, lines of production open, etc.  Yeah, it’s a monarchy, but at least for now, the bee economy rolls on!


I Hope “Ungardening” Never Takes Root in Our Lexicon

On an internet surf earlier today, I came across this article on Yahoo called “Back to the Wild: How ‘Ungardening’ Took Root in America.” 


The article itself was fine, its content uncontroversial.  It profiled a couple of local (DC/Takoma Park) gardeners (ungardeners?) who plant natives, shun pesticides, and let their yards grow a little wilder.  It also touched on the “rewilding” of vacant urban spaces and its benefits for wildlife.

It even gave a shout-out to Sara Stein’s fascinating book Noah’s Garden, which it called a “Bible for the [rewilding] movement.”

My displeasure arose not from the content of the article but from this hideous new term “ungardening.”  Did the writers of the article invent it?  Is it a term that’s trending with Millennials that I’m only now encountering?  Whatever the case, I hope it doesn’t “take root” because it’s simply a terrible word choice for what it purports to describe.

People who strive for a more natural, “wild” look in their yards are still gardeners, and their actions still qualify as gardening.  Selecting plants from a nursery for your garden counts as gardening, even if you’re selecting natives.  Digging a hole for a plant and watering the plant in counts as gardening — doesn’t matter if the plant came from China or if you’re transplanting it from 10 feet away.  Planting flowers for bees instead of just for aesthetics is still gardening. Making a conscious decision to mow your grass at 4 inches and to mow only once a month is more an act of gardening than hiring Mow ‘n’ Blow to scalp your lawn every week.  Choosing to leave seedheads up in the winter?  Chopping up fall leaves to compost in your planting beds?  Also acts of gardening!

I get it, “ungardening” is supposed to be a cute buzzword to draw attention to more ecologically-friendly gardening practices.  I suppose what irks me is that it suggests that the word “garden” — whether as a noun or a verb — has become tainted, when in fact that word, for so many of us, represents our greatest pleasure and passion.

It reminds me of the use of the term “Unschooling”, which became popular awhile back as a “hippie” version of homeschooling.  Presumably, an unschooled child would take no tests, could spend his day doing whatever interested him, and wouldn’t have to study yucky stuff like math until he was good and ready!

Horrifying, right?  The only thing worse than an ungardened yard would be an unschooled child!

Except I’m pretty sure that’s not how it actually works (at least I hope not).  I am sure that most “unschooling” parents don’t sit around and go, “hey honey, Billy is six now. What would you think about keeping him home from school and literally not educating him in any way?  Just to see what happens.”

I suspect that most practitioners of “Unschooling” are just like these practitioners of so-called “Ungardening” — people who see serious flaws in the traditions and institutions of education/horticulture and who are ready to try something different.  Not — as the prefix implies — choosing to do nothing at all.

The “Un-” suggests passivity, whereas these folks are anything but.  There may be some on the fringe who are willing to sit back and watch their house become swallowed in saplings and vines and go, “this is called nature, people.  It’s called ungardening and I think it’s really problematic that you don’t need a machete to get to your front door.”

But creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat is not the opposite of gardening.  No, these people are not “ungardeners.”  Indeed, they are taking responsibility for something very precious, they are actively involved, making choices, and doing it all out of love.  Gardeners.


It’s February 4 and 62 Degrees

Groundhog Club co-handler Al Dereume, second from right, holds Punxsutawney Phil on Feb. 2.

Days like this always lull me into a state of blissful delusion.  Well, that’s it. Winter is over.  The daffodils will be blooming any second now.  I can put the snow shovel back in the shed, get the salt washed off my car, resolve to clean and sharpen my garden tools but then fail to do so — all signs of spring!

Time to go out and take stock of the backyard.  I’m in shirtsleeves!

The ground that was rock hard 36 hours ago from the “Polar Vortex” is now thawing into a semi-marshland.  With each step my boot sinks into the brown ooze; I know I should stay out of the garden beds, but I can’t help myself.  Winter weeds: somehow they survived the sub zero wind chill looking fresher than ever, and I’m going after them.

Little rosettes of shot weed are popping up all over the place, and the ground is soft enough to pluck them out.  I move through the beds, remembering a blog I’d read last spring saying that shot weed is edible; there was a photo of a carefully arranged tuft of the weed on top of an open-faced roast beef sandwich on a pretzel roll with mustard.

I hold up one of the weeds.  A glob of mud clings to its roots.  I will probably stick with romaine, but it’s always good to know I can forage for food in my own yard should society unexpectedly collapse.

I continue to remove the shot weed, plus some dead nettle, wild strawberry, and creeping Charlie.  Hmmmm, should I be doing this?  I look back and see I’ve squashed a bunch of soil.  Damn.  Now I’ve gone and destroyed the soil structure and deprived the plants’ roots of oxygen.  What would my local extension agent have to say about this?  Nothing good, surely.  Here I am, always trying to teach the young people in my life about the virtues of delayed gratification, and yet at the first sign of spring I can’t keep myself from traipsing all over the delicate, exposed beds.

I tip-toe out of the garden bed back to some stepping stones.  The sky is turning a deeper blue, tinged with orange.  The hint of warmth that had settled into the garden at noon is quietly dissipating as the sun sets.  I pull off my mud-caked boots and head back inside.

Still a bit giddy from this blissful taste of spring, I decide to check the weather forecast.  66…50….68!!…64….hmmm, 38.  Well, that’s days away….the weathermen are probably just guessing.  After that, who knows?  Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring after all.  And nothing says science like a group of elderly men in top hats leaning in to hear the pronouncement of a giant rodent-oracle and then reciting it from a scroll.  I think that more scientific discoveries should be delivered to the public in this milieu.

Later that evening, I retire to the couch with a glass of wine and a gardening magazine. As garden activities go, it’s not as satisfying as doing stuff in the dirt under the sun, but it’s not half bad.

November 6, 2018

Some imagery from today in my backyard:


I have always had plenty of good fall yellows, but I am happy to be nurturing along some more reds:


This Hosta ‘Stained Glass’ looks pretty good for Nov. 6.


Autumn fern, Sarcococca, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, fish


Judd Viburnum


our shed and bee area:


Some yellows…American hazelnut, Bottlebrush buckeye, and spicebush


Fall color fail. This redbud, which I got at a native plant nursery a few years ago, has been a disappointment.  It had one flower last spring, and so far the fall color has been non-existent.


Some fading pennisetum, aster, chyrsanthemum in our old wheelbarrow:

P_20181106_160425My lone Colchicum autumnale ‘Pleniflorum’…I ordered and planted 5 from Brent & Becky’s but only this one bloomed.  Awwww…


My fall vegetable gardening attempts.  Carrots: 1/10


Broccoli: It’s not going to happen.


I can always count on my Super Sugar snap peas:


75 ‘Marit’ tulip bulbs from Brent & Becky’s


Gardens, Kids, Time.

When I started gardening, my son was 12 months old.  I took the baby monitor outside with me while he napped and laid it in the grass while I worked.  I vividly remember that first summer clearing bishop weed from one of our backyard beds, digging down into the soil to find every bit of fleshy, white root, all the while keeping an ear out for those little noises he made when he woke up from his nap.  I can still recall those sounds, through the static of the receiver, little whimpering noises that meant my gardening session was over.

A few years later, I bought him some plastic gardening tools.  He wanted to do everything mommy did.  I have a picture of him at two years old, very seriously wielding an orange plastic trowel over a pot of herbs.  Oh, there’s my little gardener, I remember thinking at the time.

Age five, six, seven, etc., he still wanted to come outside whenever I did.  Often he would make gardening quite difficult!  I bought a plastic sandbox shaped like a turtle in hopes of  keeping him occupied while I gardened.  Sometimes it worked but often it didn’t.  He would roll in the mulch or bother the dog.  Sometimes he would pick up stones and toss them into the flowerbeds. Cut it out! I remember snapping at him and telling him to go inside if he couldn’t behave himself.  If only I could garden in peace, I thought.

Now he is 12.  Occasionally he wanders out to see what I am doing, but more often he stays inside and pursues his own interests.  I am free to garden in peace.  No baby monitor, no interruptions.  Sometimes I stop and look up at his bedroom window and wonder what he is doing.

Today he wandered the garden with me and we picked herbs. I challenged him to name each herb just by smelling it.  He got about half of them right.  I told him that the smell of herbs warmed by the sun was one of my favorite things about summer.  He told his dad and me about his excellent sense of smell after differentiating chocolate mint and spearmint.  We agreed that this was exceptional.

Some of the changes that occur in the garden make me ecstatic and some make me weep. I am glad there are a few things, like the stones, that never change.

Toxic Relationships

Very few can survive, let alone thrive, living in the vicinity of a toxic individual.  Many will succumb instantly, unable to co-exist even for a short time in a toxic environment.  Others make a go of it, only to perish slowly or merely limp along, never reaching their full potential living in the shadow of a toxic presence.

Those of us with black walnut trees need to find those plants who are co-dependent, who will not only put up with juglone (the toxin present in all parts of Juglans nigra) but who will thrive under its canopy, bringing the tree its slippers and laughing at its offensive jokes.

I got an email from Simeon in Ithaca, NY, who gardens under black walnuts and inquired about planting a Kousa dogwood beneath his trees.  Would C. kousa pack its bags after encountering a black walnut’s toxic personality or would it accept its adverse circumstances and become self-actualized anyway?

I wasn’t sure, but I did ask Simeon to send me a picture of the perennial border that he has planted under his walnut trees, and he kindly obliged:


As you can see, all sorts of hostas and ferns look completely at ease in the presence of juglone.


Simeon also highly recommends ‘Sunburst’ St John’s Wort (Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’) as a plant that flourishes alongside black walnuts.  Thank you Simeon!

I find it both comforting and inspirational to find other souls who are committed to finding plants who tolerate the presence of black walnuts — messy, pernicious, beautiful, bountiful black walnuts. What? You’re too good for to live with one?  Oh, you don’t want to live with someone who drops bombs on your head and poisons your environment?  Get outta here, snowflake!