protect yourself

…or at least protect your banners!


UV rays will destroy any fabric, given enough time. The first banners I made are Spinnakers, and I have purposely left them out in all kinds of weather so I can tell customers what to expect in the way of longevity. It has been nearly three years now, and they have faded in what I consider a rather charming way. Commercial banners are usually given a three to five year life expectancy. Now along comes a product that promises to extend that span almost indefinitely.

We took a drive to the coast to escape inland heat. A huge kite shop had this product on hand, so we picked some up to try it out. The jury is still out (guess it will take three years before we can make our own comparison), but testimonials on their web site are pretty convincing. The site offers a search to find vendors carrying their products, or you can order directly…so who says space exploration is of no earthly use?

to berm or not to berm

…is not even a question. I love berms, and everything seems to grow bigger and better in a berm than in flat ground.


The moles are industrious little fellows. Whenever it rains, or wherever we water, this is a typical scene of their work. I might scoop up the light, fluffy soil as many as four or five times, only to have them push up another mound. I could grind my teeth and hurl expletives their way, but instead I praise my little crew for providing me with a steady supply of material.


Above is a shot of a berm in the early stages. I know, at this point it looks like a burial mound. Weeds, clippings, hunks of dirt from edging beds, etc. get dumped here until it reaches a height and shape that appeals to me, bearing in mind that it will settle over time and flatten to maybe half its height. It will then get a thick mulch of newspapers. I work with about ten layers at a time, watering thoroughly so they will lay down and stick together. There must be wide overlapping, or else grasses and weeds will find their way through the mulch. I extend the papers a couple of feet onto level ground, then border the mound with rocks. Cliffs line the roadway from our place into town. I hailed a highway patrolman one day to ask him if it was permissible to pick up fallen rocks along the verge. His bemused reply was that he didn’t see why not, as long as my car was parked well off the traffic lanes. I now stop frequently to load up the floor on the passenger side with the largest rocks I can find.


So that is a berm ready for planting, with just a couple of plants in place. The rock border does double duty: it holds the newspapers in place, and holds back the soil from migrating into the paths. Here’s where those molehills come in. Each time I get a wheelbarrow loaded up with mole dirt, I add a couple shovels full of corn gluten meal to counteract the weed seeds I know are lurking in there. The mixture is spread over the newspapers until nary a headline is visible. When a plant goes in, I just poke a hole and cut away enough to dig a proper hole. Eventually there will be little sedums and such creeping between and over the rocks. Cedar shavings cover the paper mulch outside the rock border to create a path and prevent surrounding grass from encroaching on the berm.


The above berm is further along, with plants beginning to fill in. I am experimenting with ground covers here, but even with quite a bit of bare ground, the weeding is much easier to manage than in the in-ground beds. The few weeds that do appear are usually shallow-rooted (catch them before they penetrate the paper mulch) and easy to pull out.


The first berm, on the east side of the house, is beginning to get a little crowded. It has been promised a round of dividing and pruning come spring. Restraint is a hard lesson, and that new, currently bare, berm is bound to fill up fast…especially with the HPSO fall plant sale coming up.

So there you have it: my formula for berm building. Best of all, all materials discussed here were absolutely free. More money for plants!

put a little ‘zin’ in your life


I love the way these zinnias pick up the colors in the banner and seem to shout a cheerful “Hello!” to anyone leaving the car park in back and approaching the house via the path to the right. These are Benary’s Giant Mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I started them indoors in early March and set them out after the tulips in this bed had died back. Zinnias are satisfying to start from seed, because green shoots appear in a matter of days and progress is noticeable from then on. An ample application of slug bait protects the small plants when they first venture into the garden. After they reach about a foot in height, they seem able to fend for themselves. Next year, I plan to add some of the Profusion series, which are shorter, at the outer edges of the bed to help with the transition from flat to tall.

The tree on the left is Cupresseus macrocarpus ‘Citrodora’. At the back is Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ just working up to its burst of glory. That’s the great thing about these zinnias: as long as I keep picking and/or deadheading, they will keep popping out fresh blossoms, partnering with whatever temperamental perennial comes along, until a hard frost stops them in their tracks.

august blooms

I’m late, I’m late…for a very important date! If you haven’t a clue what that means, pop on over to May Dreams Gardens (use the link at right) to see what Carol has cooked up to put together gardeners from around the world. In the meantime, here is a peek at some of the beauties in bloom in my patch right now.
The first Japanese anemone ‘Honorine de Jobert’ popped just in time. I can’t get enough of her, and a good thing, too, because she is a prolific spreader.


The cardoon reaches for the sky.


‘Casa Blanca’ is the last of the lilies, after ‘Muscadet’ and then ‘Star Gazer’ have taken their turns perfuming the air.


Echinops banaticus ‘Blue Glow’ holds its steely balls high above spiky foliage in the east berm.


Fragraria ‘Lipstick’ is a groundcover strawberry I am trying out. So far, the deer have left it alone.


I know this only as gooseneck loosestrife. Anybody know the botanical name? Whatever…these witty little clumps of loosey goosey flower heads will always have a place in my shade garden, and in long-lasting bouquets.


The deer bit off every hosta blossom in the woodland at the bud stage. It is only this ‘Guacamole’, planted close to the house, that was allowed to progress to full flower.


This supermarket hydrangea holds its own with the named cultivars.


‘Limelight’ is a spectacular hydrangea…almost tall enough to qualify as a small tree.


‘Preziosa’ has varying shades of flowers on the same plant. I had some success with layering it, so I now have several at the woodland’s edge.


‘Percy’s Pride’ is my favorite of the Knifophias. It is crowded into the east berm with grasses, barberries and Echinops. Come spring, it will be divided and spread around. One of my favorite scenes from the movie The Queen was the long walk completely bordered by knifophia in full bloom. Another was the great pile of leeks in the royal kitchen…might there be a pattern here?


This lonely little balloon flower plant cries out for more of its kind.


Looking beyond the realm of our industry, Queen Anne’s Lace sprinkles the landscape with no encouragement from we diggers and connivers. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother…but not often.

the lavender walk

The first project we undertook when we moved here four years ago was this line of lavender leading from the house to Richard’s studio.


My original intent was to have it on both sides of the walkway. After getting one side into the ground and mulched with gravel, other projects beckoned and side two never materialized. Now that it has reached maturity, I can see that it would have overpowered the walk, had I followed through with the earlier plan. Design by neglect rules often around here. The bed is three feet wide, and the lavender plants (Lavendula ‘Melissa’) are three feet apart. Puny and pathetic for the first couple of years, it now looks like this when in full bloom. After the bees have finished with it, I will prune each plant back to a neat little globe. The gravel mulch needs refreshing about every third year. I put down a thick layer of newspapers under the mulch last time, and am happy to report a sharp drop in weeding chores as a result.