Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Planting Peonies November 18, 2008

Filed under: flora,my garden — greenwalks @ 11:00 am
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I lied just a little bit when I said I’d finished planting all of the bulbs I got at the Arboretum sale. Well, I didn’t lie, really – I DID plant all the bulbs. It was just the corms that got the shaft. I had two daylies still languishing in their brown bags with no idea where to put them (I already have way too many daylilies, so why did I buy more??!), but it was the $9 peony that I really wanted to get into the ground before it was too late. Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re supposed to be planted in September or October to establish well before winter truly hits. But it’s been such a mild autumn here in Seattle that I am hoping to get away with it.

My great-aunts, fabulously industrious gardeners, had several varieties of gorgeous peonies that my mom inherited when the family farm was sold. They are still blooming strongly in her garden – those things must be 50 years old or more! I love their showy blooms and delicate fragrance, and the way the bumblebees just get their party on and roll around in the pollen.

I was super careful about ripping the tag with the peony’s name off the bag so I could post it here. Somehow, it didn’t make it indoors with me, so I apologize, it will remain a mystery. Haphazard gardening is my stock in trade, apparently. It’s kind of fun in a way to be so disorganized sometimes – I get to be surprised about what comes up in the spring! Honestly, there was no picture, so I don’t even know what color it will be. How’s that for lame?

I followed the planting instructions on the bag, making a 12″ X 12″ hole, filling it with mulch, mixing in fertilizer (probably the wrong kind, hope that didn’t matter too much), adding back some dirt, and propping up the corm. It was a little dried-out looking, hope it’s okay. It was showing a few little signs of life, so I guess I’ll just see what happens, if anything, in the spring.

Dry-lookin peony corm

Then I filled the hole with water, waited it for it to drain, and covered it all up with the rest of the dirt and a mulch layer on top.

While I was at it, I remembered that we have a previous-owner-installed peony plant that was poorly sited and had not bloomed once in the four summers we’ve been here. So, since I was in hole-digging mode, I decided to dig it up and find it another home. Boy, was I surprised by the size of the corm cluster – it was more like a tree stump!

Gigantic peony corm cluster

Man, that thing probably hadn’t been divided for a decade. No wonder it wasn’t blooming! Of course the smart thing to do would have been to put down the shovel, take off my gloves, go into the house, get out the gardening primers and read up on how best to divide peony corms. But did I? Nah. I just used the spade to hack it into pieces, tossed out the ones without eyes, and planted the rest around the backyard. More haphazard gardening! Don’t these look kinda scary? I think maybe I have a weird phobia about roots, at least a little bit. Ditto spiders.

Divided peonies

All that freshly dug dirt and smoothly layered mulch is probably going to be a magnet for you-know-who – even if he’s not after the peonies, I’ll have to replant them if he digs them up looking for tastier morsels, so I finished it all off with some squirts of witches’ brew and a dash of paprika.

Mulched and paprika'ed ground

The brew isn’t too stinky, but I’m playing it safe and keeping it outside, just in case it decides to ferment and explode…

I realize this post was heavy on the dirt/root pics, so to see lots of pretty photos of peonies in bloom, click here.

Anyone want to fess up to planting things a little on the late side this year? Or are you all patting yourselves on the back right now for being more timely and assiduous than I? If I helped you feel better either way, I’m glad. 🙂

Peony planting supplies


Lavender Share October 30, 2008

In my previous garden, lavender was hard to grow – we just didn’t have enough sun. Now we have the sunniest garden imaginable and inherited countless lavender plants. They line every path and set of stairs, to the point that their delightfulness is beginning to wear off a bit. Especially at this time of year, when I spend way too many hours snipping off their spent blooms to encourage good re-growth next season.

One thing lavender does is reseed itself, not quite with abandon, but enough so that new plants are always popping up somewhere. In my parking strip garden, reseeding is generally encouraged but when the lavender clumps get too big or are getting in the way of something else I’d like to put in, out they go. This time, I asked a neighbor if she’d like some of the discards and she happily agreed. I’d already given away divided crocosmia to another neighbor earlier in the week, so maybe I’ll get a few garden karma points for finding new homes for these guys instead of piling them in the yard waste.

This big clump was blocking the end of my stone path experiment, currently in progress:

Lavender clump

I dug it up and hacked it into a few pieces, transplanting some to better spots and potting up the rest to give away.

I also removed some of these “babies” before they get too much bigger and start overshadowing the shorter groundcovers:

Baby lavender

Of course I have a million black plastic nursery pots lying around, since I can never bring myself to toss them in the landfill and haven’t got around to finding a nursery that recycles/reuses them (yet another thing on the winter to-do list). Happily, they came in handy for potting up the give-away lavender:

Lavender all potted up to share

As soon as I’m off the computer, I’m running these across the street. This neighbor has been so generous to us in many ways, plus she is a professional pastry chef so I have a fantasy that she will actually use the lavender in a recipe someday. I’m just happy that I can give something back to her after all she’s done for our family, even if it’s just a few little orphaned plants.

(If you are visiting Washington State in the summer and have a chance to visit the Purple Haze Lavender Farm in Sequim, it’s supposed to be quite a place. Sequim is located in the “rain shadow” of the Olympic Mountains, so its climate is dryer and warmer than most of the rest of our area, hence the happiness of the lavender plants.)


Divide and Conquer October 27, 2008

I finally decided that today was the day to dig up my overgrown orange crocosmia and see if I could figure out how to divide it. I inherited it from a previous gardener but hadn’t touched it in the 3+ years we’ve been here, so it was pretty much now or never since it had basically stopped blooming.

Crocosmia clump

Northwest gardening expert Ciscoe Morris recommends digging up the entire clump, hacking off sections from the side, and discarding the middle (why? not mentioned in his article). So, that’s what I did. I had to remove a lot of quack grass roots, I hope I got it all (ha ha, I don’t think that’s ever possible, is it?) – this is the “before” pic, the white roots are the evil weed grass.

Crocosmia clump full of quack grass

I ended up with about 8 small clumps, most of which will go down in the parking strip (where I toss all my free/self-seeding/divided plants).

Crocosmia mini clumps after division

While I was at it, I decided to make a little pathway for the mail carrier, who uses that space as a cut-through to avoid having to go up and down a million stairs to the street on our (hilly) side of the block. I’ve never made a path before, so I don’t know why it struck me that I had to. I used some old bamboo pieces left over from a decommissioned water feature to outline it,

Bamboo strips outline path

and then filled it in with cedar debris from the massive tree that adjoins the path.

Cedar debris added

I didn’t level it very well and the cedar berries are a little unstable. Hm, I hope he doesn’t fall and sue me! I’ll have to work on it a bit more to make it better.

I put back one clump of crocosmia in the original spot and will hope for the best next summer. Then I remembered the two sad little native huckleberry plants I’d bought at a long-ago plant sale – they’d been languishing in a flat along with a still-unplanted hydrangea and a yellow cotinus I’m still deciding if I have decent spots for. I know huckleberries need rich forest-type soil and a lot of moisture to be happy, but that’s never going to happen here. So, in they went and I added a lot of compost and mulched (when do I ever mulch?! That bag was probably three years old and had some weird whitish cast to the soil, which I hope was not plant-killing mold of some sort!). The bed needs more residents but I’m done for the day.

Done for now

Now I just have to put in the rest of the crocosmia or give a few clumps away to neighbors. Then again, they probably don’t need the quack grass! What do you do when you divide plants – replant elsewhere in your garden, give away, or toss the rejects? Or a bit of all three?