Circles of Life

Our yard is full of circles: circular garden beds, free-standing gravel circles with our big blue planters from Dean's. A circle beneath the Japanese maple in the front lawn, and another circle, more of an oval, in the lower yard underneath two giant elm trees.

This oval was on my List this year. Jeeps ringed the trees with stones and filled in with mulch about ten years ago. I ambitiously put in about a thousand Siberian squill bulbs, which did beautifully and probably would have continued to do beautifully had we given the slightest damn about the area.  

We didn't. Total blow-off to the point where it became a dumping ground for sticks, dead soil from flower pots, decapitated Barbie dolls, a dozen Littlest Pet Shop figures, and a few magic markers. Bittersweet, the crack dealer of the garden world, knew a good neighborhood when it saw one, and moved in, followed shortly by its two favorite whores, Virginia Creeper and Lamium.  

"I gotta do something about that bed," I'd think every year, and then just turn to something else.  So here it is in all its weedy glory:

Can't quite get the effect?  Move in closer:

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. And dig the wagon wheel. Utah or bust.


So I moved in on it with the sole intent of cleaning it up. Yank out the bittersweet, the creeper and the clumps of grass. The lamium could stay as far as I was concerned because it does have pretty purple flowers and is a dependable ground cover for this kind of area. My mom had always talked about her friend Gail's under-tree garden which boasted a dozen varieties of hosta plants and was the most gorgeous thing. I have no doubt it is the most gorgeous thing, I also have no doubt it would be an open buffet for the deer. No hostas. At most I would move over whatever hellebore seedlings I could find. Maybe. I wasn't getting emotionally invested in this project. It wasn't even a project, for crying out loud, it was just cleaning up.


Prudently I divided the oblong bed into sections so I could pace myself. Do this much today, do this much tomorrow. Surprisingly, the weeding out took less time than I expected and over the course of a couple lunch hours raking, and a few evenings after work pulling by hand, it was mostly clear.

As I stepped back and looked at the clean space, the big roots of the elms started to define pathways and places. The elm closest to the house was clearly asking for someone to sit under it. How about a stump seat? I'm always incorporating stumps into my beds and borders, and thanks to Hurricane Sandy, there's no shortage of them in the woods and along the roads that border my property.  And the really lovely thing about them is that they roll.  

I walked up the road a ways, found a good one, and rolled it on down. Once situated in a flat space between two large roots, I took a seat with my back up against the trunk.  

This is great! Was there room for another seat? I looked on the other side of the tree. Of course there was! Another large stump got rolled down, and then a smaller one, making three seats in all under the tree.

Another curious-looking, half-rotted stump wouldn't make a good seat, but it was so cool-looking, like a little woodland creature's house. I put it down at the front edge by the stone ring just to hold onto it, maybe I'd use it in another bed.

I figured that was it, my work here was done.  I gathered up the shovels and rakes and loppers. The broken-down wagon wheel I had propped up against the second tree to get it out of the way. Half the spokes were rotted away completely, but the other half plus the hub of the wheel looked intact, and sort of evoked a rising sun. Maybe I could weatherproof it and do something with it.

Wrestling to move this half-wheel to a safer place, the rusted iron hoop fell down on the ground, right by two of the stump seats. I looked at it. Wait a minute. That's interesting. A circle inside the circle. It kind of looks like a...a...pool, or something. A pool. Yes. What if I filled it with stones? White marble stones? Would that look weird or would it be cool?

You can see where this is going. Yes I did fill the hoop with stones and sea glass, and since I was making a focal point, I might as well bring over a few hostas, and since I'm bringing hostas, well, there may as well be painted ferns, too. Next thing you know I'm mugging every other shade garden bed, stealing shamelessly: lily-of-the-valley, hellebore seedlings, forget-me-nots, ferns, sweet woodruff. One trip to a garden center and I came back with variegated Solomon's Seal and a hosta with bright chartreuse leaves. Another trip to another garden center and I found white bleeding hearts and white foxgloves. In the course of five days, it went from cleanup to a project, and went from being the yard's eyesore to one of my favorite places.

Small, Snobby Miracles...

It's that time of year when small miracles come out of the garden. It's that time of year when I'm a total snob in the grocery store, self-righteously pushing my cart past the greens, carrots and peas because (sniff) I have my own thank you very much.

I gave peas a chance and as usual I'm glad I did. There's nothing like them. True, it's a lot of work for a small yield, but shelling peas is almost as satisfying as eating them. As for eating, I've been observing and I noticed that as a side dish, you really don't consume more than a serving spoon of peas at a dinner sitting. A little is enough. And when you picked them twenty minutes ago, blanched them for 30 seconds and served them with a pat of butter and a little salt and pepper, it's plenty.

Now you know what else is awesome? Swiss chard. I've never grown it before and frankly, where the hell have I been? I picked yellow and pink because hey, if vegetables come in yellow and pink, you should grow them. And it is a snap. Sow. Grow. Pick. Wash. Chop or don't chop. Saute in a bunch of garlic cloves, olive oil, butter, salt and pepper until wilted. Add a little chicken broth, cover and braise. Flush proudly when your husband drinks the pot liquor and demands, "Grow more."

Oh, by the way, these turkey-veggie meatballs are a knock-off the famous Martha Stewart meat loaf recipe. It's a great way to get rid of any leftover steamed broccoli or cauliflower, or both.  Carrots, celery, onion, garlic—just throw it all in there.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Spring Flings

A great weekend of friends, family, fun, gardening and candy. Daffodils and muscari are thriving. The tulips are starting to bloom. Bleeding hearts are bleeding their little hearts out. The crows are molting.

The seedlings are doing well. All the tomatoes have been moved into 4" pots and I set out the broccoli this afternoon. To help keep the cutworms away, I read about this trick of cutting paper towel rolls into rings and putting them around the seedlings.

Behind the veggie garden was always this eyesore of weeds, rocks, burning bush seedlings and whatever cuttings and crap I would lob over the fence. I got sick of looking at it so last weekend I thought up, cut in, planted, mulched, and now it's one of my favorite places. It's also the home of Redman's little pine tree. His teacher owns a Christmas tree farm and she gave each kid in the class one to take home and plant. And name, if they so wished. Redman named his Gasol. As in Pau Gasol.

Over on the other side of the yard, Jeeps has started to move the stone wall to create the new triangle bed under the living room windows. I don't know what happened but my weeping cherry tree standard totally croaked over the winter, such a bummer (for me, that is; Jeeps always hated that thing). But the Andromeda looks terrific. I love Andromeda...when I was little I called it a "popcorn bush" and would strip off all the little white blossoms into a bowl to serve my stuffed animals.

Saturday was our annual Egg Hunt. Last year it poured rain but this year it was picture-perfect gorgeous. Jeeps broke out the bunny suit and cavorted with our neighbor Elizabeth, who not only owns a chicken suit, but dons it and crosses the road. I always wanted the kids to wear hats or butterfly wings, and I always put it on the invite, but it never happened. However, my friend Brandy stepped up and brought the baby in his bear suit, to which she stapled some long ears and added a pom-pom tail. Too bad he can't eat chocolate yet, I would've totally given him a Cadbury egg.

And then it was Easter Sunday. We got up and had candy for breakfast. I worked outside, the boys watched the Knick game. Panda was...somewhere, I don't know where she was but she came back for dinner which was roasted turkey breast with potatoes, carrots, red onions, brussels sprouts, and green beans. Followed by more candy.

Happy Easter and Passover to all.

More Plant Combinations that Bloom at the Same Time

For a while it was all purple and white, now the pinks are making their stand in the garden.  Here are some more combinations of plants that look good together and bloom at the same time:






Siberian Iris, Baptisia and Peonies

"Bowl of Beauty" peony with purple Siberian iris is a combo I came up with a couple years ago. I had such young peony plants that it's taken until this spring to see if it would work. It works! The plants are still young—only two blooms each this year, but I love how the sword-like leaves of the iris cut through the peony leaves.  

Adding baptisia brings in another spiky, purple element. Plants take a while to establish and don't like to be moved once they are settled. These are four years old now. They don't re-bloom but the foliage stays nice for the entire season and surprisingly, the plant doesn't need stakes or a hoop. Perfect posture from April to October.

Baptisia and Poppies

This is another pairing I came up with because I love purple and red together. Depending on temperatures and weather conditions, the bloom time of these two is approximate but this year it was spot-on together.

Poppies are my signature flower (my dad calls me "Poppy"). Besides the red ones here, I have pink ones in the lower garden, and white ones that I transplanted last year, now growing next to some purple sage. Poppies don't like to be transplanted. You can divide them easily enough in spring or fall, but you forfeit a bloom season because they sulk through the next year. 

I love pink poppies with any silver-grey foliage like lambs ears or rose campion.

Lady's Mantle and Everything

Did I mention lady's mantle is the greatest filler flower in the world?  And that it and geraniums make an especially awesome p—... All right, just making sure.