Sunday, May 30, 2010

An enchantment

On the way to a client’s home, I pass by hundreds of lawns. Not a believer in lawns, it seems they are perfectly designed for sheep to graze and poop on, month after month.

But more than that, I have come to see lawns as sterile. People pour lime and fertilizer and herbicides and fungicides and are looking for something approximating an English landscape. Except this is not England. We don’t have long cool moist days in summer. This is Virginia, hot and humid with a long running season that can turn most lawns brown. In November and March, with the cool season lawn grass seed mixes, it looks like an English lawn.

It’s not just the rainfall. It’s also the heat and humidity that encourage fungal diseases. And there is the mowing, the fertilizing, the herbicides, the dethatching, the aerating, and all the other stuff that makes folks think that if they only do more, the lawn will respond. Even if you can set up sprinklers in summer, to water the browning lawn, it’s not always enough. In any case, the grasses recover by themselves in the autumn when more rainy days appear. We just don’t have the right climate for livable lawns.

Keep a little bit of lawn around the house and then build a meadow. Add perennials. Add some fun annuals. Plant some great bulbs in the fall. Mow once a year. Benefit from more and varied bird visitors; butterflies and insects will bring your landscape to life. Build a woodland. Buy some young trees and get them started in the lawn. Let the meadow grow up around them.

Some books recommend using herbicides that kill everything, like Round-up, several times, to create a meadow. Kill everything and start anew with well-chosen plants for a stylish meadow. I don’t think that makes sense. The good folks I work with can stand the scruffy bits with the perennial and annual treasures hidden within. The rich fragrance of the meadow is wonderful. In spring and summer, plants come into flower, growing fat and sassy. The autumn light with those long rays will backlight the tall grasses and they will shine. The little spiders will spin beautiful webs that will catch the dew in the morning light. Birds will feast on seeds in the winter. It will be full of life, without the sheep.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rose - ageddon

It may be the combination of the snowy winter and the wacky spring, but this year the roses are spectacular. A little bit of rain brought them all out and it is a treat to go from one to the other, drinking in the wonderful fragrance, enjoying the color and marveling at the abundance.

Most of my roses arrive via mail order. I am very fond of the Buck roses and am building a good collection of them. This is the elegant 'Winter Sunset'.

I frequently fall for some of the odd names or odd characteristics of other roses. Striped roses are a thrill but some don't make it through the winter for me. Weird names are wonderful, like Ghislaine de Feligonde, blooming now.

Madame Hardy is in bloom now. An old damask rose, she is so fragrant I save and dry the intoxicating blooms for later enjoyment. She blooms once, in the spring, and this year I will prune her lengthening canes.

The aphids that usually mar the roses are missing and the rain drops have refreshed everything. An explosion of roses can make everything seem possible.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iris Joy!

The irises are blooming in the Shenandoah Valley and they almost glow. While they can often have problems with iris borers, I cannot resist the bearded iris varieties. The ones I have chosen for my garden are tall and bright, showy across the lawn, and fragrant with a strong grape aroma.

Here are a couple of beauties:

The best way to control the iris borer is to remove all of last year's foliage from the rhizomes in winter. The eggs have already been deposited on them.

Another favorite iris is Iris tectorum, the Japanese roof iris. Here it is planted under a golden ninebark.

Planting almost at soil level seems to help my iris stay healthy and fight off the borer. They like the sun on a part of the rhizome. I move them in July or August when the flowers are gone and the rhizome has been well fed. They transplant very easily. Just tuck the roots underneath into the soil and leave the rhizome on top in the sun.