The Lavender Blues

It’s been a bountiful year for lavender.   I don’t remember ever seeing so many buds on my plants before – the bees are certainly rejoicing!  

Lavender

Lavender is an easy-care perennial, sun loving but can tolerate some shade, does well in drought and poor soil – exactly my kind of plant.  I have about twelve bushes but admit the ones in the shady back yard,

roses and lavender

are not as lush as the ones in the sunny facing front.  Lavender

I’ve grown lavender for years as the fragrant smell has always appealed to me.   It’s inexpensive at $5 a pot, and once established, it’s beauty can last for years.   I usually plant English lavender as it is the more cold-hardy species.  My few attempts at growing French lavender were not successful as it did not survive overwintering here in our Canadian climate.   I also prefer the sweeter English lavender smell, whereas the French has a sharper Rosemary-like scent.   French lavender has a longer bloom time and a darker purple flower.  Someone brought me back some from Provence once and while it was nothing at all like mine, it would still be lovely to see someday. 

Lavender field in France

(Colors of France photo)

These photos from my garden show the progression of color with the season, from the palest shade early on, 

roses and lavender

Lavender

Lavender

gradually darkening to a more vibrant purple. 

Lavender

In certain lights it can take on a blue tone,

Lavender

but the softer light of early evening really makes the purple color pop.   

Lavender

Usually by the end of July, the buds are dried out but there are always a few spears still growing in September.  Cutting them back is supposed to encourage a second flowering – I’ve never tried this but might this year as it is so abundant.   While some people like to harvest early for best fragrance and dry their lavender bundles upside down, I prefer to enjoy the beauty of the plant and and strip the dried buds off later.      

Lavender in a Blue Pot

If you don’t have a garden, a pot of lavender is a nice alternative.  

Lavender

Lavender has long been known for it’s calming fragrance.   Add a few drops of lavender oil to the bath water after a stressful day for instant relaxation.   

Lavender Spray

Lavender Pillow Spray

For sleep-inducing properties, use a lavender spray or tuck a lavender sachet under your pillow.   I often give sachets away as presents and one year my cute little 5 yr old neighbor insisted on taking one home for her shift-worker dad.   Lavender can also be used in cooking, adding a subtle fragrance to baked goods like cakes and cookies.   While I’ve never baked with it, I used to  drink a brand of lavender flavored Earl Gray tea before I gave up caffeine. 

Earl gray Lavender tea

One year I tried to make my own lavender oil, with disastrous results.  There were two methods suggested – the first extracting the oil with oil required  steeping the leaves and flowers in a crock of olive oil and repeatedly pressing, straining and adding more buds every 24-48 hrs, repeating the process 6 to 8 times.  The second method, solvent distillation, which involved extracting the oil with alcohol to make a tincture, sounded much easier.  They recommended ethyl alcohol, but if you couldn’t find it, vodka was acceptable (but not rubbing alcohol).   For a non-drinker like me this required a trip to the liquor store where I was surprised to find even the smallest bottle of vodka cost $20.   The lavender buds were soaked in the alcohol in a jar, in a process called maceration, meaning steep or rest, an old pharmaceutical term I remember from my school days, as in the extraction of a drug by allowing it to stand in contact with a solvent.   The jar was placed in a dark cupboard, with instructions to agitate it once a day.   I missed a week while I was away unexpectedly, but it just looked darker and murkier.  After several weeks (2-6 wks), you drained the liquid off by straining it through a cheesecloth filter and froze it in a suitable container.  The lavender oil was supposed to congeal on top of the alcohol, which does not freeze, and could then be scraped off and placed in a glass bottle.   I ended up with about 3 ml (half a teaspoon), of a strong lavender-like but somewhat foul smelling brown liquid, not enough to fill even half my dropper bottle, which eventually got thrown out during one of my cleaning binges.   My advice – drink the vodka instead and just buy a good quality essential oil.   Some products have fake lavender scents, but I’ve found this to be one of the better brands, and at $12 it’s reasonably priced.       

Lavender oil Now

Storing a lavender spray in the fridge to spritz on a hot summer day is a refreshing trick. 

Lavender mist spray

The calming scent of lavender soap can help you pause and relax while performing that all important frequent hand-washing activity. 

Lavender Soap

 It’s nice to scent your drawers with a lavender sachet.   Wedding favor bags from the party store are great for this purpose.  

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets

I admit the lavender bushes aren’t quite as pretty when the season is over and they’re brown and dried out, but the smell is still lovely, especially after a summer rain.

Lavender harvest

My lavender is almost ready harvest.   With such a bumper crop this year I may have to hire help!   

Book of the Day:

The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected BlossomingThe Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming by Jeannie Ralston

Visiting a lavender farm has long been on my bucket list, preferably one in Provence but even here would do.  For those who dream of living such an idyllic life, a memoir of the reality by a New York city writer who moved to Texas with her National Geographic photographer husband to start a lavender farm.   I read this when it was first published in 2008 when I was interested in making scented products.   As I recall, they lasted about ten years, including time to get the plants established, before they gave up and moved to Mexico.   (Rating 3/5 stars.)        

Song of the Day:  (and Source of Blog Title)  Lavender’s Blue                      

This song is stuck in my brain after watching a Disney movie last week (2015 Kenneth Branagh version).   I always liked Lily James as Rose in Downton Abbey and she did a credible job  as Cinderella.   Okay, I wasn’t really watching it, but it was on TV while I was editing photos.   An old English nursery rhyme/folk song from the 17th century, it seems faintly familiar.

And last but not least, one of my mother’s paintings:

Pears & Lavender -AMc-Aug/17

.

Garden Treasures

This is the first year I haven’t bought any garden flowers – no hanging baskets, no geraniums, absolutely nothing.   It was cold with snow flurries until mid-May so the pop up nurseries had a pathetic selection of small and withered looking plants.   We went straight into hot humid weather and I was waiting for them to go on sale but then never made it to any of the big box stores or nurseries. 

On the plus side I don’t have to water, especially welcome in this record breaking heat.   On the minus side, I miss the beauty of having baskets, even the humble geraniums, but I’m trying to focus on my hardy perennials.  Due to the late spring it was a bad year for lilacs (exactly 3 blooms) and peonies (a poor showing, only one or two on the new bushes) and some of the rose bushes did not fare well.  The ones on the north side are very sparse and two had to be dug out entirely.   On the other hand, the rest of the roses were abundant and the lavender was so plentiful it deserves it’s own blog.     

Here’s a recap since May.    A carpet of blossoms on my daily walk.

cherry blossom carpet

My 50 cent purple iris was a beautiful bargain once again.

purple iris

purple iris

The daisies showed up early.

Daisies

Second year for the prolific purple clematis.

purple clematis

The older purple clematis is still hanging in there.

purple clematis

The fuchsia clematis.

fuchsia clematis

Purple salvia and pink roses make a colorful contrast.

Russian sage and roses

The heirloom roses were bountiful.

roses

fifty year old roses…

And so were the Pink Knock-Outs,

roses and lavender

and the newer lavender bushes are doing well.

roses and lavender

Stay tuned for The Lavender Blues next week…

roses and lavender

And speaking of blues, the hydrangeas were more cooperative this year – some lavender hues and my favorite blue tones, aided by a generous dose of aluminum sulfate to acidic the soil.    I wonder how much you have to add to get that brilliant blue you see in gardening magazines? 

Blue hydrangeas

Blue Clematis

The garden is my backyard oasis, a tranquil respite from this crazy COVID world.   How is your garden growing this year?

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley is one of my favorite garden perennials – it’s delicate white flowers herald a unique fragrance which I always associate with the first days of summer.  The scent is sweet, although not overbearing like that of honeysuckle or wisteria.

Lily of the Valley

A woodland species, lily of the valley is not actually a lily but a member of the asparagus family, and is considered to be poisonous to pets and people. 

It flowers in June here in Canada, although in other countries earlier in the spring.   In France, May 1 is considered Lily of the Valley day, where vendors set up their stalls in the streets to sell bundles brought in from the countryside.    

Lily of the Valley - Janice MacLeod book

from A Paris Year – by Janice MacLeod

Lily of the Valley - Janice MacLeod book

from A Paris Year – by Janice MacLeod

I inherited my now thriving patch from a free clump given to me by a fellow gardener. 

Lily of the Valley

No social distancing here….

Warning – it is an invasive species, spread through underground rhizomes, something I always appreciate in my garden where so much withers and dies, usually from neglect.   A hardy plant, it can take care of itself, although it prefers a shady spot.

Often a favorite of bridal bouquets, like Kate Middleton’s, even a spray or two adds a delicate touch of white.

Lily of the Valley - Kate Middleton

I like to put a few springs in a bud vase and perfume my rooms. Lily of the ValleyWhile the smell may only last a few days, you can recapture the mood with scented products.   I remember wearing a fragrance by Coty called Muguet-des-bois, many years ago.   

Lily of the Valley Coty - Muguet des bois2)

Scented hand soaps are nice too – especially as we’re washing our hands so frequently – a little dose of springtime year round!

Lily of the Valley

In the language of flowers, lily of the valley means the return of happiness, perhaps a signal of sunnier days ahead. 

PS.   The third week of May, this beautiful blue flower bloomed right in front of my lily of the valley. 

Blue flower near Lily of the Valley

I don’t know what it is and don’t even remember planting it – possibly it was from the horticultural sale two years ago — but it’s unfortunate they didn’t bloom at the same time, as blue and white is always a lovely color combination.   It’s nice to know that even in this time of COVID monotony, the garden can still hold surprises.  

PS:  Speaking of old and new, I’m still on the old editor.  When I decline, not now, it allows me to continue with the old, but I’m not sure if this is a permanent thing or if I haven’t been switched yet?   Is anyone else still using the old?   I would have thought they would have migrated everyone by now?  

  

 

Plein Air Painting

          Last Wednesday I joined a group of local artists for a plein air painting session.    They meet once a week during the summer, always at a different location, (garden, park or water view), paint from 9:30 until noon, then break for lunch and social hour – and show and tell if you wish to participate.   I did not, as my mother is the artist in the family.   I was only there as the driver and unofficial brownie-baker.   I never took art in high school, can’t draw a straight line and have no desire to learn.  The few times I have attempted to paint I sit there with a clenched jaw, frustrated that the end result does not in any way resemble the vision in my head.    My mother on the other hand, finds it pure bliss, and paints almost every day, although she has no formal training.   Still, plein air painting looks like fun, if you enjoy dabbling with a brush.  

Plein air is the act of painting outdoors.   Artists have always worked outdoors, but in the mid-19th century, the en plein air approach became more popular as painting in natural light became important to groups such as the Barbizon schoolHudson River School, and Impressionists.      In Canada, the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson are examples of en plein air artists.    (Wikipedia source)

The invention of a portable box easel which held paint and palette, as well as the availability of paint in tubes, made this outdoor activity much more convenient.   Previously oil paint was made from pigment powders mixed with linseed oil.   As there was no photography to record a scene, if you wanted to paint a landscape you either conjured up the image in your head, or went straight to the source, be it harbor, garden, or field of wheat.   

Monet

Impression, Sunrise – Monet

For the Impressionists, like Monet and Renoir,  it was all about the Light.  How the play of light affects and influences a painting was important to them, especially if you were lolling about in the south of France where the light is reported to be particularly inspiring.   Imagine a sketching tour there!  

Monet painted his famous Haystack series (25 paintings) after visiting a wheat field near his home at all hours, seasons and weather conditions, in order to capture the effect of different variations of light. 

Haystacks - Monet

Haystacks Series – End of Summer – Monet

Below is my favorite Renoir painting – a testament to natural light, shade and color – plus it looks like a fun outing.  

Luncheon of the Boating Party - Renoir

The Luncheon of the Boating Party – Renoir

No problem getting your friends to pose for hours if you ply them with enough food and drink and a boat ride down the Seine.

The Group of Seven were Canada’s first famous artists, painting outdoors in Algonquin Park in the early 1900’s.   They would often take summer tours where they would do preliminary sketches in the great Canadian wilderness, then return to their studios to finish the work over the winter.   

The Jack Pine - Tom Thomson

The Jack Pine – Tom Thomson

Our Canadian summer is almost over.   It’s cooler now in September and nice weather can no longer be depended upon.   This outing was the last of the year and an add-on for a session which was rained out earlier.   

Germain Park Garden

While not Monet’s famous garden,

Bridge-over-a-Pond-of-Water-Lilies - Monet

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies – Monet

the park we visited is known for it’s gardens.   I here to photograph the flowers, which are at their fall peak. 

Germain Park Garden

We arrive a bit late, as it’s a fair drive from home, and I’m not an early riser.  These artists are all morning people, but I suppose it’s cooler then for painting in the summer.    Today is overcast with a cold north wind, so we are all bundled up in sweaters and jackets.  It’s a large park, basically deserted at mid-week, and the painters have already scattered along the paths and picked their solitary spots.  

Zen Garden

There’s a separate Zen garden with a tranquil waterfall but no one is painting there.    Maybe it is too Zen?

Zen Garden

I wander around the flower beds admiring the fall colors, 

fall flowers Germain Park

and stop to visit with several of the artists, marveling at their talent. 

Plein Air Painting

Fall Flowers - mums

Most of the artists have been painting for years, but some, like my two friends, are relative beginners, 

Plein Air Painting still learning the tools of the trade.

Watercolor and oil are best for painting outdoors, as acrylic dries too quickly in the hot sun.

At noon they break for lunch, (brownies anyone?) in a spot sheltered from the wind,

Plein Air Painting - lunch

and afterwards, show and tell.   They pass each painting around the circle and I’m totally intimidated by then. 

Plein Air Painting

 And also grateful for that thermos of hot coffee.  

One of the artists points out a white squirrel which frequents the park, so I pursue a picture, although I only have the zoom lens on my cell phone, so it’s not the best pixel-wise.  

white squirrel

White squirrels may be albino (with red eyes), caused by a mutation of a pigmentation gene, or they may be a very rare variant of eastern gray squirrels.    He was a strange sight – and definitely an antidote to all that color.  

After lunch, I’m in desperate need of a nap.  All that fresh air is so tiring – makes you sleep like a baby – maybe I will dream in technicolor? 

Fall flowers - Germain park

PS.   Although it was an enjoyable day, I think I’ll stick with my writing gig for now.   

A Colorful End to Summer

I was looking at my big fat beefsteak tomatoes the other day and it struck me how very green they were, so I thought I would do a photo essay of  summer ending – by color.   Color my world –  just like we used to back in grade school, with the big 64 pack of Crayolas.   I just happened to have a box with my craft supplies in the basement and they have the same waxy smell I remember.  

Crayola crayons

The Crayola company first began selling crayons in 1903 and since then they have made over 200 distinctive colors.  (Wikipedia link)  Although many of the original colors are still around, I believe they are a bit more inventive with the names now, so I’ve decided to help them out, (see brackets).

The very green tomatoes.    (Lean Green Tomato Machine, because what tomato plant isn’t this time of year)

green tomatoes

The purple clematis is blooming.   (Purple Rain, as in the Rock Star Formally Known as Prince).  

purple clematis

The neighbors yellow Black-Eyed Susans nodding hello over the fence, (so very Mellow-Yellow).

Sunflowers

The orange tones of fresh summer fruit – melons, nectarines and peaches. (Fruit Salad Palette)  

Ripening tomatoes.   (Red Hot Salsa)   

Red tomatoes

The Last of the Pinks.    This  Dipladenia was the best plant I bought this summer, water and drought resistant (we had both) and no deadheading.  It’s still hanging in there as if it was in the tropics, which it felt like some days.  (Caribbean Dream Pink).

Pink flowers

The first bouquet of fall flowers – yellow and green and pink.

Autumn bouquet

White for the clouds of late summer, towering and cumulus, but looking fall-like.    (Cumulus Cloud White)

seagull and clouds

Blue for the water and sky and sailboats.   (The original Sky Blue can’t be beat).   

Sailboat

And beige for the sand and the last trip to the beach.   (Sandblaster Beige)

beach towel

Let’s say goodbye to the last (Psychedelic Sunset) over the lake.   

Sunset over the Lake - AMc

The first signs of fall are already here – the sound of crickets at night, sometimes on the hearth – the first drift of wood smoke in the air – the maple tree with it’s leaves dipped in paint – that first chilly morning when you have to reach for your chenille housecoat and it’s not because of the A/C – and that dreadful/wonderful/your pick pumpkin spice which saturates the season! 

Class dismissed – put the crayons away and go outside and play while the sun is still high in the sky!      (Sky High Blue-Green)

seagull

apples

PS.  Red for the apple for the teacher and for the harvest coming in at the farmer’s market.   Speaking of farmer’s markets, I’ll be doing a restaurant review soon on a locally sourced Harvestfest Dinner (link) – so get your forks ready to join me.   I hear there will be pie – as in (Very Cherry Red)!    

Harvestfest Pie and coffee

 

The Subject Was Knock-Out Roses

The Knock-Out Roses are blooming again, starting into their second cycle of the summer.    While never as showy as the initial blooming, they are still a welcome sight, a bright spot of color among the withered baskets and dried up lawns of early August.   

Knock Out Roses

Knock OUt Roses 1 (2)         If you want a low maintenance, easy to grow rose then Knock-Out Roses are the rose of choice.   I have 24 of these rose bushes and it was one of the best garden investments I’ve ever made.   

roses and lavender

Knock Out Roses

At $20 per pot for the pink double ones I’ve had ten years of beauty from them.

Knock Out Roses

If you are not familiar with the family of Knock Out Roses they were created by rose breeder Bill Radler in 2000 and were a hit right from the start.  Traditionally roses have had the reputation of being finicky plants, hard to establish and prone to disease, requiring lots of tender loving care.   

Knock OUt Roses 2 (4)

Knock-Outs have become popular because they are basically no-care and disease resistant, but the biggest appeal for me was they are repeat bloomers.    After a glorious initial bloom in mid-late June here, they will repeat the blooming cycle every 5-6 weeks.   New growth on the bushes is seen as red shoots/leaves.   One year when we had a particularly late fall, I had roses up until December – they looked quite strange with a dusting of snow on them.      

snow on roses

Well more than a dusting….

They are also self-cleaning in the sense that there is no need to dead head them, although you can if you wish.  I spray mine with the garden hose on jet when they start to look too shaggy.   They are also heat tolerant and do well in most hot sunny locations, requiring 6-8 hours of sun a day.    The two I planted on either side of the house do not generally do as well as the others as they do not get enough sun, likewise several at the back which are in the shadow of the house. 

Knock Out Roses on Arbor

Made in the Shade

Although that is not true this year, as we have had horrible heat close to 100 for days, so the ones in the shade are doing better than the rest.   We also had a late cool rainy spring with little sun, so the bushes have failed to achieve their usual height.   I should point out that most of these pictures are from previous years, lest anyone think I have created miracles during this weird weather year.   

They also don’t need much water, so as they are the perfect plant-them-and-forget-them rose, especially important if you are a lazy gardener like me who hates to drag the hose around.   

Knock Out Roses

As tall as the shepherds hook

Pruning and height:   I prune mine back to about 12 inches in early spring, although last year I misjudged and pruned in late March then we had two more weeks of wintry cold, so I learned my lesson and waited this year.   If no pruning is done, they can reach 3 to 4 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet tall, and some years I have achieved this when we had a milder spring and a good growing season.   Although they may be shorter than usual this year due to our poor spring, they still have plenty of buds on them.     

Knock Out Roses

This year’s shorter bush

Caring and fertilizing:    I give them a dose of bone meal in spring and a sprinkle of controlled release fertilizer and that’s it.   The website suggests some winter protection in colder climates, but the year I blanketed them with a layer of fallen leaves, was also the year I noticed a lot of blackspot on the stems the following spring.  The nursery owner suggested I forego the leaf layer and spray them with horticultural oil to treat/prevent any fungal disease, which I do now every spring.    I do mulch them, but other than that they have survived our brutal Canadian winters, although this year I was a bit afraid as the stems were so late greening up and looked so dry and brittle for weeks, but they eventually came along….sigh of relief.    

Here’s the company’s website, with a page of FAQ’s – link.

There are ten colors.   I have the Double Pink Knock-Outs, as I love bright pink and when I bought the first lot the nursery owner suggested keeping the color the same if I wanted to make a statement.   The Double blooms are fuller and put on a nicer show, so I always recommend the doubles.  Unfortunately three of the Doubles I bought a few years later came out as singles, despite the silver grower tags on them stating double – liars!

I really wish they had climbers, but they only have shrub roses so far.   They do have a tree rose, which stands about 6 feet, but at $90 I found it hard to justify when I have so many others and being a small tree, I wondered how it would over-winter here? 

Knock Out Rose Tree

Knock Out Rose Tree

Of course there’s always a gardening mishap or two.   One year some unidentifiable slug (I was never able to capture one), started munching on the bushes on the west side of the yard and managed to steadily eat their way along the whole row.   I was busy with work and by the time I noticed it was too late – they had decimated six bushes.       

Knock Out Roses munched

2015 was not a good year!

Although I tried everything – soap, powder, washing them off with the hose – they continued their stealthy munch munch munch.    But the next spring they bounced back, good as new.   

Although they are bred to be disease resistant, a few years ago Rose Rosette Disease (also known as Witches Broom), started attacking the Knock Outs in some parts of the United States (see Southern Living article), but it hasn’t affected mine so far.   Knock on wood that it never moves this far north, but if does, then it’s game over and they all have to be dug up and discarded.    Best to check with your local nursery to see if this virus, spread by mites via wind, is a problem in your area before buying.     

While I do have other roses – an ancient climber, 

roses on trellis

with prolific blooms, 

Roses on trellis

This years abundant blooms.

and a ‘John Cabot’ climber, (also very short this year due to the difficult spring), the Knock-Outs remain my favorites.    

roses on arbor

So if you are looking for an easy care rose which will provide beauty all summer long, these are the roses to pick! 

Roses on Trellis

PS.   An old oil painting of my mothers.

Roses - AMc

Roses in a Vase

 

 

 

The Blue Garden

Although the white garden at Britain’s Sissinghurst Castle may be famous, I have always wanted a blue garden.   Although there is a certain romantic appeal to a vista of pale white flowers glowing in the moonlight, white simply does not make a statement to me.   I need color in my garden – pinks and purples and blues, perhaps a dash of yellow or red.    White is an accent color, seen only in a few daisies which came up from last years toss of a wildflower mix into a back corner.  My grandmother had a white snowball bush, and my mother had white spirea bushes along the front of the house – I cared for neither.  I did like the white apple blossoms on the crab-apple trees in our old orchard, tinged with a blush of pink and heady with fragrance, but their show was brief, one glorious week in spring.   No, it is color I crave and blue is my favorite color.   Although my garden is predominantly pink and purple (see last years The Color Purple and the upcoming Rose Cottage), my attempts at introducing blue into my garden have not been very successful.   Blue flowers may be a rarity in nature for a reason.

These are delphiniums from a Nova Scotia vacation so long ago that I’ve  forgotten the name of the small sleepy town where we stayed, other than there was nothing to do after supper so we toured the local botanical garden.  Certainly I was not into gardening back then, but the image of delphiniums against a picket fence was striking enough to warrant a picture, although my memory of the rest of the place is vague – I think there were roses past their prime? 

Delphiniums (2)

And this is my one solitary blue delphinium, which bloomed one year and was never seen again, nor were it’s pink and purple cousins.   The same thing happened with the lupines. 

blue delphinium

 A neighbor of my mother’s had a beautiful display of delphiniums a few years ago, five feet tall and waving look-at-me,  but he is a wonderful gardener.   I suppose I can’t expect a scene out of Downton Abbey, if I don’t put much effort into it. 

Then there was the blue rose, which came up a pale lavender/lilac at best.  What a marketing scheme that nursery tag was, a scrawny thing, it bloomed for a few seasons, producing exactly one rose every year.    I was so annoyed with it, that this year I tore it out when I was removing the dead Rose of Sharon beside it which hadn’t survived the winter.

Those pretty blue lobelia flowers in garden baskets look nice for a month or two at most, but do not survive the heat and neglect of July/August.    I’ve given up on them too.

blue flowers

I love the first sign of Siberian Squill in early spring, especially vibrant with the contrasting yellow of daffodils. 

Daffodils & Siberian Squill

There is a large swath of them growing wild along the river road and another neighbor has a lovely patch in her backyard, but I have never been able to find them in a nursery.    Maybe next year I will remember to ask if I can dig some up.  It’s another invasive species I wish would invade my back yard.    

Siberian Squill

Blue Hydrangeas are always lovely, but how many bags of aluminum sulfate have I bought trying to get them to go true blue.    I’ve had some some success with this bush near the side arbor, but only because the neighbor’s overhanging cedars make the ground naturally acidic.   Last year it was covered with blooms, this year there isn’t a single one and yet all the other bushes have plenty.   How do they decide which one is going to take a vacation?

hydrangeas

Last week I dumped some more AlSo4 on the rest, hoping all the forecast rain would wash it magically into the soil, and had some success.   At least they weren’t all lilac.   

blue hydrangeas

hydrangeas

blue hydrangeas

I had some luck with forget-me-nots this year, which a fellow gardener shared, somehow it hurts less when things don’t survive if they are free.    Of the donated bunches I planted last spring, one came up at the front of the house, and two small patches on the side bed.   This year I transplanted some more, hoping they will become invasive.   They reseed themselves once past blooming.

forget me nots blue

My Heavenly Blue morning glories are the good old dependables, except one year when they didn’t come up at all.    They are hardy souls and thrive on neglect once they get started, growing a foot a day in late summer.  I blogged about them here – link – A Glorious September Morning.

Morning Glory with bee

Blue Morning Glories

Blue Morning Glories

This year I planted them in front of two recycled trellises, hoping they will be more contained so I don’t have to spend three hours tearing them off the neighbor’s fences in the fall.   

Morning Glorious

Morning Glorious

I’m planning on checking out a blue clematis the next time I visit a nursery, but it must be blooming, so there are no surprises like the one I planted last fall which turned out a dark purple not the vibrant Jackmani I was expecting.    All future flowers must show their true colors before they are purchased!   

A few years ago a local garden tour brochure described one of the entries as the Blue Garden.    I was so excited to see it – and so disappointed to find there were no blue flowers at all, except blue planters, painted rocks and bits of blue ceramic garden kitsch.   I have a limited tolerance for most garden kitsch, no cutesy signs,  rusty iron figures or painted trolls are allowed on my castle grounds.    However I would like a cobalt blue garden cat to preside over my garden like Linda discovered at Walking Writing Wit and Whimsy.   It would provide the blue color I desire, a dose of whimsy and it wouldn’t need watering.   Forget the blue flowers, better to get a cat!  

Have I missed any blue flowers?  What is your favorite blue flower?

 

Flower Power

The only positive thing about this cool rainy spring is that I haven’t had to water anything…not even once.   Mother Nature has done it for me.   In fact it’s rained so much this past month that most of the farmers haven’t even been able to get their crops planted, the latest season ever as many recall.  It’s sad to drive through the countryside and see all those bare soggy fields.  The crop insurance has been extended a few days, but things are looking desperate, and the forecast is more of the same.  Let’s send out a few prayers for our farmers – because if they don’t plant, we don’t eat.   

I’ve been preoccupied with the kitchen reno, but here’s a recap of the best of the spring flowers, even if I’ve been too busy and it’s been too rainy to enjoy them.  

The hyacinths at the corner always make going to the mailbox a treat. hyacinths

These little purple violets scattered in the grass are always so pretty, especially if you ignore the weeds!  violets in the grass

The nicest thing about this picture, also taken near the mailbox, is the shade, which means the trees are finally leafing out.   TulipsI love the play of the shadows on the lawn. tulips

The squirrels dug up most of my tulips, tulips for lunch

so I really appreciate it when someone else makes an effort.   It’s always a treat to drive down this street and see this yard,  tulipsand this one. hyacinths spring garden

Last year I transplanted a few blue forget-me-nots from my neighbour – they were so pretty I hope they are invasive.  forget me nots

My only purchase earlier in the spring was a pink and yellow dahlia and a couple of bright pink begonias, my first for both types of plants.   I didn’t know what to do with them, and read that the dahlia had to be dug up in the fall so I just stuck them in bigger pots.  dahlia The dahlia has flourished, with many buds again, but the begonias got too water-logged.  dahlia

The lilacs finally bloomed, mine pale and anemic, so I enjoyed the neighbors dark purple ones which hang over my fence.   The bloom-again lilac was a few weeks later, but I was disappointed in it’s smell.   We’ll see if it lives up to it’s name.  

The lily of the valley was plentiful too, another invasive gift from a  fellow gardener.  lily of the valley

My 50 cent bargain iris from last years horticultural sale bloomed for the first time, all of them coming up purple, except for one ugly burgundy one I gave away as it didn’t fit the color scheme.    iris The second year for this fuchsia clematis.  My new one, planted last fall, is not out yet but as it is a Jackmanii, it may be later. clematis

Sometimes I’m not sure if things will bloom the first year, but the half-price peonies planted last fall burst forth a pretty pink.    peonies

When I finally got to the nursery again, these were my selections.  I’ve never had a dipladenia plant before (smaller than a Mandevilla), but it looks very tropical. garden flowers on tableAnd one can never have enough lavender.garden flowers on table

 I may pick up some half-price geranium pots if I can find any, but even the nursery plants are struggling this year.   Many look so pathetic no one would want to take them home, which is just as well, as man does not live by flowers alone.   I planted lettuce in early May and all the rain has made me the Lettuce Queen of the neighborhood.   Let us be grateful for homegrown salads!lettuce

Lilac Time

Our old white farmhouse was surrounded by lilac bushes, which were often out in time for Mother’s Day, an occasion we always celebrated on the farm with a big family meal which my mother prepared.   Looking back, it seems strange we made her cook on Mother’s Day, but then my grandmother always came over, so she probably considered it her daughterly duty, and was happy having all her kids home, even if it did mean we ended up doing two hours of dishes by hand in the days before the dishwasher.   Out would come the lace tablecloth and the good china, and the long farm table, dating from 1870, would be extended to its maximum length, with later another set up in the kitchen for the ever-growing collection of grandchildren.   Of course, this was in the days before going out for brunch became popular, which we tried occasionally but which was often a disappointment, restaurants always being so busy that day, and the kids not being able to play outside, where the lawn and orchard would be sunny with dandelions.    

Those old farm lilacs were common in the countryside, with almost every farmhouse (which back then only came in two types, white clapboard or yellow brick), sporting a bush or two.   But ours were special, as they surrounded the house on three sides.   If it was a nice day with a south breeze and the windows open, the smell was heavenly.    The fragrance would waft in through the kitchen and living room windows, and also the upstairs bedrooms, as the bushes were quite tall.      

lilacs 1 (3)

We also picked some to bring inside and put in vases, something I still do to this day.   Even when I was older, I would always take a bouquet or two home, wrapped up in tinfoil, to put on the kitchen counter.  

lilacs

After my father passed away and my mother moved into town, my sister brought her two lilac bushes as a house warming present.   They lasted about fifteen years and then had to be cut down.   I planted two lilac bushes in the corner of my yard ten years ago, and they are now starting to look spindly.  One bush smells like what I remember, the other does not.    Of course, they are late this year, like everything else, so these are pictures from last year.

Lilacs

There are over 2000 varieties of lilacs, according to the International Lilac Society, in a wide range of colors, sizes and blooms.    Common lilacs generally prefer cold winters, well drained soil and full sun.   They are low maintenance and require little watering, once established – my kind of plant! 

lilacs

My neighbor has the darker purple kind, which does not smell nearly as nice, but then maybe I’m just being nostalgic.

lilacs

All lilacs are lovely, (except those four foot Korean Dwarfs, my Miss Kim never bloomed once), but it is the old-fashioned kind I love the most.   While the nursery sold me the variety known as “common lilac” they certainly don’t seem as hardy as those old farm lilacs, which must have been heirloom stock, as they were still going strong at eighty years plus.   (Some varieties only last 10 to 15 years.)   The “common lilac” has the largest and longest blooms and the most fragrant flowers and can grow up to twenty feet.   Ours would be pruned back once in awhile when they got too tall, (only prune immediately after the spring bloom), but they were always leafy and full, and the branches made excellent spears for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a backyard bonfire.  

Lilacs

I was told my grandmother planted them sometime in the 1920’s when she was newly married, after the house was raised, a basement put under it and a veranda added.   She also planted a row of white spirea bushes beside them, so it formed a little alcove.  lilacs 2 revised I would sometimes take a book or magazine there and sit and read, sheltered from the wind, stopping once in awhile just to breathe in the scent.   Here’s the view, looking out. 

lilacs on the farm 1 (2)

Someone needs to cut the grass!

After my mother moved, the house and the lilacs were bulldozed down to make room for  more acreage – a sad fate after so many years of providing beauty.   I wish I had thought to take a cutting or two, but I was busy with life and not much interested in gardening then.       

Last fall, I bought two Bloomerang Lilacs on sale, a variety new to me, but then I’m always behind on the latest gardening trends.   (Here’s a link to more info.)   They are similar to the popular Bloom Again Hydrangeas, and will rebloom in the summer and fall after a short rest.  They will only grow to 5 feet, making them more like a shrub than a tree.   Mine seem to have survived the winter nicely and even have buds on them.   I like the idea of having lilacs for three seasons, as a week or two in May seems much too short.   

Lilac Bloomerang

This would make a nice Mother’s Day gift!

If you’re ever in northern Michigan in early June, check out the famous Mackinac Island Lilac Festival (link added to bucket list).   No cars are allowed on the island, but you can cross on the ferry and stay at the Grand Hotel (where Somewhere in Time was filmed) and tour via bike or horse drawn carriage – now that really is going back in time.   Visiting this lilac paradise is a nice way to welcome summer after a cold and snowy winter.  Here are a few pictures from Victoria Magazine, May 2000 issue. 

Victoria Lilacs 1 (2)

Victoria Lilacs 4 (2)

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lilacs - AMc

Farm Lilacs