Sunday, June 29, 2014

Buddha and the Dunce

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A dunce once searched for a fire with a lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner.

Like the dunce in the poem above, I finally got around to correcting a major mistake in the garden - it only took me five years. When Buddha was first placed in the garden, there was no fence. As a result, I set him off center from the corner edge.

Once the fence was put in, his off-corner location was much more obvious.

Over the years I attempted to plant an assortment of different planting in the gap behind Buddha as a means of hiding this mistake, all without any long term success. The corner was too shady, and over time, as the burning bush/tree on the adjoining property grew, it shaded the corner even more. So, I finally made the decision to relocate Buddha to the actual corner.

I began by removing many of the plants that had been overcrowding each other in the corner area.

The Clumping Bamboo I transplanted from near the big gate to the corner had done very poorly (seen above, behind Buddha, last summer). This season it produced only a handful of new shoots. So I dug it up and moved it adjacent to the two existing bamboo plants near the house. In time it might recover and sprout new shoots.

I also moved one of the 'Bottle Rocket' Ligularia plants (yellow flowering plants seen below). The one on the right needed to be positioned at approximately the same location along the fence as the one on the left was along its fence panel. 

Before Move (with yellow flower)

After Move (without flower)

After only one year, these plants have done very well in this shady spot. I was worried I might shock the plant when moving it, but it seems to have survived the move and is almost ready to flower. 

In order to make that move, however, I had to remove several existing plants, all of which were beginning to overcrowd the area (image below from last year). 

The Lungwart (Pulmonaria 'High Contrast') (back right)

Melting Fire Coral Bell (Heuchera 'Melting Fire') (top center)

Raspberry Splash Lungwart (Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash') (bottom right)

I also removed some Tiger Lilly, Hosta, Ferns, and Fire Star Dianthus from elsewhere in the garden. Now they all sit in buckets awaiting to be relocated. However, this creates a new problem for me due to the fact that there is no where else to place them. 

So, it looks like I will be placing them temporarily along the long wall of the garage, outside the garden area. This is usually the area I use as a dumping ground for rocks etc. However, now that I no longer own a camper, I can use this space to expand the garden.

I also split up the existing Bugleweed growing in front of Buddha and spread it out into the expanded bed. It will take some time, but eventually it will fill in this area. Next year should produce a lot of blue spike flowers in the spring. 

In addition to moving plants, I also added some new plantings to the corner. On either side of Buddha sits two Astilbe plants.

Astilbe (Astilbe x arendsii 'Fanal'

This plant likes partial sun, so I will see how it does in the shady corner. As long as I keep it watered well it should thrive - it likes to be moist. It already had its bright red bloom which starts in early summer. The color is a nice addition to the garden, which has lots of green. They should grow to about 20" in height. 

I also reworked the rock edge, adding a second layer of rocks and filled in the top area in front and behind Buddha with Mexican Black stone. In between I planted three small Hosta.

Hosta hybrid 'Blue Mouse Ears'

This small Hosta likes shade and has small blue-green leaves. It only grows 6-8" in height, so it will not block the view of Buddha. It also produces a nice short spike blue lilac flower. I have one elsewhere in the garden and really liked it.

Overall, I am happy with the change. I should have done it long ago. Buddha is now centered appropriately along the fence line.

The balance and symmetry of the plantings makes for a better appearance and improved Feng Shui. 

Buddha and I can now finally rest and relax.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

New Additions

After reworking much of the northwest end of the bed last week, I decided to add some new plants. To begin, I added some white, yellow and red Zinnia. I have had some luck with these in the past, and with luck, I can do so again - provided I can keep the slugs off. They really like to eat these.

After having the Fire Star Dianthus in the same location for many years (top, near the granite steps), I finally decided to take them out. They produced nice red flowers, but never really fit well in the garden - it looked more like a southwestern plant rather than Japanese garden-like. Instead, I relocated one of the small Pulmonaria  that had been crowded behind the Japanese Maple

Once the Pulmonaria was moved, I cut back one of the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccias struthiopteris). I like these ferns, but they spread too easily. I then planted, temporarily, a small Hosta I had sitting in a bowl. It will probably get removed next summer, but only if it grows too large.

I also planted a Toad Lily across from Buddha near two yello Zinnia

Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta)

This Zone 4 plant likes shade and should grow to about 20" in height. It will eventual produce an unusual spotted flower in the fall. I hopeful that this plant will do well, provided the slugs don't eat it before it flowers.

Another area that was reworked was the flat area just next to the granite stair entrance. For years, I had Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) growing here and let it spread down into the rock bed of the garden. Last year, and this year, it was doing poorly. Part of the problem is that most of the area was covered by think heavy-duty weed fabric. So I removed what was left of the plant and cut out the fabric. In its place, I planted a small fir.

Dwarf Korean Fir (Abies koreana 'Cis')

This small fir will only grow to about 1.5' in height and 2' wide. It likes part shade, but should get enough sunlight on the northern edge of the garden. I am hoping that it fills in most of the space in time. To help keep the soil in place, I added another layer of stone and I leveled off what had been a steep incline from the original bed. We will have to wait and see how it does after its first winter.

Just below the Dwarf Koean Fir, and further down the northern edge, I planted two new grass plants. There had been a couple of long term Bunny Blue Sedge (Carex laxiculmis ‘Hobb’) grass plants in these locations that had lost their appeal (they looked more like weedy grass). So I removed both and replaced them with two new plants.

Japanese Sedge Grass 'Silver Sceptre'

This zone 5 grass will grow to about 9-12" in height. It likes partial shade, so it should do well on this northern edge.

Variegated lily Turf Grass (Liriope muscari 'Variegata')

This zone 5 grass likes shade and will grow to about 16" in height. I will have to keep an eye that it doest get two wide. This plant is very close to a Green Mound Juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Green Mound’). I can continue to cut back the Juniper or let the grass grow. I will have to wait until next year to see how the grass does before I decide.

Next, I have to start getting new mulch into the garden.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Ring of Fire

After a long wait, the new fire table I ordered for the garden finally arrived. A fire pit was always part of the original plan for the garden. As one of the Five Elements, fire was an important part of ensuring some aspects of good Feng Shui in the garden.

The first fire table I installed was meant to be temporary - a small metal fire table that required me to chop wood and keep it clean. It was too much work to roast some marshmallows. In addition, it was poorly constructed and only lasted a couple of years before I disposed of it.

I considered digging an in-ground pit, and even running a gas line and installing a gas burner. However, getting one installed was very expensive and I wasn't sure were I actually wanted to place it. I also didn't want to do all that work. Instead, after much research, I opted to spend money to buy a more durable fire table, one that ran on propane. Most were either too large, expensive, or high (more like table height).

Eventually, I came across a coffee-table hight fire table, one that uses a 17 lb. horizontal tank, thus keeping the hight low. It was also round, an important esthetic since I intended to place it in front of the Moon Window.

In fact, the diameter of the table was exactly the same as the Moon Window circle. I thought this would prove a nice element.

I purchased it from an online distributor, All Backyard Fun. They have been very helpful in making sure all went well with the delivery.

It was easy to install, and once up and running, it worked and looked great.

It also came with a top-cover for when its not in use, helping to keep dirt, leaves, etc. out of the glass in the burner.

It may not be "natural" using propane, but from now on no more chopping wood, stinking like smoke, or having to clean up. I can go out, turn it on, roast a marshmallow, turn it off, and go to bed. Bummer for global warming, but, hey, I like marshmallows.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

"To forget how to dig the earth
and tend to the soil
is to forget ourselves."
Mahatma Gandhi

All week the Mouse Ear Coreopsis 'Nana' that I planted beneath the Moon Window back in August, 2011, have been in bloom. Originally
I planted three small plants, but they have since expanded to fill in most of the area. They are very brightly colored and look spectacular. 

These blooms will last a couple of weeks and then return next year. The Bamboo on the outside of the Moon Window is also filling in nicely with new shoots. By mid summer the plant should be back to its full size.

Today was a beautiful day and I was able to spend the entire day in the garden. Initially, I intended to plant some new plants I received as Farther's Day gifts, but I soon found myself doing some major alterations in the garden.

To begin, the Japanese Maple in the garden has bloomed more than I expected, especially after having trimmed it back last year. It is growing at a more noticeable pace as it takes over more of the garden. As a result, I was concerned that the 
Shade Fanfare Plantain Lily (Hosta 'Shade Fanfare') I added last year was going to be overtaken and blocked from any sunlight, so I decided to move it to the  eastern end of the garden. 

Before the Move

After the Move

This was the perfect spot since there had been a large Hosta here early in the spring, until something ate its roots and killed it.

After moving the Hosta, I realized that the narrow bottom bed in the western end of the garden (near the retaining wall/patio area) was devoid of any plants. I have attempted to plant something different hear almost every year, with no long term success. So, I decided that I would take some clippings of the Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans, 'Burgundy Glow') and place them into this bed. 

Bed Unplanted

Bed with Bugleweed

It will take a while for it to spread and fill in the bed, but when it does, I am hoping it turns out as nice as the area in front of Buddha. I realize that I will have to be diligent about clipping it back so it doesn't spread beyond the bed. I think it will be worth the effort, given how spectacular the blue flowers looked in front of Buddha this spring. 

Of course, I won't see any flowers in the reworked bed until next year.

I was also concerned about the plants and beds on the northern side of the west end, across from where I placed the new Bugleweed. This bed was becoming overgrown with plants that I needed to thin out. I also wanted to rework the stones here since I abandoned the idea of the rain chain/waterfall idea last year.

I had originally planted three small Happy Returns Daylily (Hemerocallis), a type of miniature daylily. They were miniature no longer. They were beginning to crowed out several Hosta varieties I had nearby (themselves in need of splitting), but I wasn't sure where to move the Daylily. 

The solution turned out to be very convenient. Over the winter, the deep freeze had killed off a number of my shrubs, both in the garden and elsewhere in the yard. Back in 2009, I had planed two small round shrubs at the entrance of the garden in the backyard, one on each side of the entrance. One died over the winter, the other survived intact. Needing a replacement for the Gem Boxbood that died near the Yukimi Lantern, I decided to transplant the remaining shrub, leaving open the two spaces where the original pair of shrubs had stood. 

Gem Boxwood - About to Die 

Transplanted Shrub

The transplanted shrub looks good in this location. I will have to wait and see how it takes to having been moved. With luck, it will make it. Unfortunately, I have not had any long-term luck with plants in this location. If this shrub doesn't take, I may just plant another Hosta in this spot.

With the shrub out of the way, I then transplanted the Daylily on either side of the garden entrance. They actually look nice. Again, I hope they take to the transplant.

I then returned to the northern bed and began the long process of reworking the stones and bed. I also split one of the Hosta and made a new level-bed along the second level. I also created a new enclosed bed on the lowest level for a new plant:

Sugar & Spice Foamflower (Tiarella 'Sugar & Spice')

This zone 4 plant likes partial to full shade. It blooms in May-June with a stalk covered with small white flowers.I liked the deep green leaves that have a maroon to burgundy central branch. Given the shadiness of the garden, it should do well.

Overall, both sides of the western end of the garden look nicer and will now include more perennial plants, making it a bit easier for me to manage the garden. I still need to apply mulch to all of these beds, but I am waiting until I make some additional alterations before I order the mulch.

I do have some other major changes planned for this season, but I believe the changes I made today will last a few years before I make any additional alterations. Next week, on to the central portions of the garden.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Open Enclosure

I finally got around to finishing the two big projects for this spring - the back gate and garden sign. 

As noted in earlier postings, I completed the construction of the main sign for the garden entrance. The only step left was to stain the cedar posts and roof. I used the same green as the rest of the garden fence. 

The finished product looks nice. I was amazed at how well the color scheme worked out - the sign itself matches the doors remarkably well. The craftsmen in Taibei, Taiwan got it just right.

I still need to move the sign to a final location after I move the Hosta, but I will probably wait until later in the summer, after the Hosta has flowered.

I also completed the construction and staining of the large back gate doors. I added a cable system to the inside of each gate door after realizing how heavy each was.

Unfortunately, the cables run diagonally opposite of the support boards, but they work very well. I anticipate that some sagging will occur, but these cables will help to slow the process. In the fall I will check to see if I need to make changes. One possible solution is to cover the door frames with the same split bamboo that is used elsewhere along the fence. It won't be as esthetically pleasing, but it will be substantially lighter and may make the frame last longer. However, I am hopeful that the doors will hold up as is.

After the cables, I added critter-stoppers at the bottom and handles on the outside of the door. The doors open inward and I intentionally left no means by which to open the gate from the outside. 

Rather than buying hardware for the handles, I used some scrap cedar to fashion a circle, cut it in half, and fastened it to each door. It is more Chinese than Japanese in its design, but I also kept it simple.

Overall, I am happy with how the doors came out. They will add some occasional privacy to the back of the garden. However, I also added some small latches to the interior so that the gates can be kept open. There will be times that I want the garden accessible to visitors. In the future, I hope to rework the old camper driveway area with new plantings, possibly extending the garden outward. An open gate in such an area would prove more inviting. 

Finally, the last addition to the back gate was the small sign that my daughter originally purchased for me last summer in Taiwan. It too contains the name of the garden: Songni Yuan (Pine Mud's Garden). 

At first I thought the size too small, but it looks very appropriate attached to the post on the left side of the gate. 

The garden is now enclosed on three sides. The entrance from the back yard remains only "fenced in" by the the Clumping Bamboo and other plantings. Perhaps some day I might build a small Shikirigaki (仕切り垣 “partition fence”) or Yotsumegaki (四つ見垣 “four eyes fence”) to designate the boundary between the Zen garden and the backyard.