December 2019:


Winter has arrived. We had early snow Halloween weekend (3-4 inches) and about a week later we got another 3-4 inches on top of that, and cold weather. The snow melted (thank goodness!) but winter caught autumn unprepared - a surprise ambush!

The house is now decorated for Christmas season and I snuggle underneath a thick throw blanket on the sofa at night admiring the Christmas tree. It's cold enough now to fire up the fireplace, brrrrr!

I hope everyone has a wonderful and blessed holiday season. May we all be jolly and bright and happy.


Monday, July 22, 2019

Milkweed and Driveway Garden


Yesterday we "ended" a major heat wave here in SE Wisconsin; when the cold front came through from the northeast on Saturday the temperature dropped more than 20 degrees in less than 20 minutes!  But the high dew points stayed around Saturday evening and yesterday, although it was much nicer yesterday because the rain disappeared after the cold front passed through and yesterday was mostly sunny with a wonderful breeze of about 10 mph blowing off Lake Michigan.  It felt WONDERFUL!  Today the temperature is higher but the dew point is lower.  Didn't make any difference; by the time I was finished walking the 9 blocks from the supermarket home with 2 heavy canvas sacks of groceries, I was sweating.  Not dewey - sweating.  I sweat like a man working on an asphalt crew, unfortunately.

The pummeling rain storms did their work on the milkweed which I recently confirmed was such based on the recent photos I took of the prairie plant that Monarch butterflies love so much identified as such while I was visiting Granddad Bluff overlook of La Crosse, Wisconsin, just on the other side of the border with Minnesota.  I tied them up to the decorative fencing I have around the central air-conditioning compressor and they seem to have recovered somewhat today, after nearly a full day of sunshine and milder temperatures (and no rain) yesterday.

Here's a photo I took before the last rainfall that was the straw that tipped the camel (milkweed) over:

No flowers - I didn't even know they got flowers, but flowers they had at Granddad Bluff so maybe they need to receive more sun than they do in this location - you can see how shady it is and it stays that way most of the day.  Or maybe they need to grow for another year or two before they start blooming? 

These are total volunteers, not something I planted.  Somehow or other a milkweed seed found its way to this location last year and sprouted up, and despite my efforts to remove it - I didn't dig the root out of the ground after I failed to pull it out despite lots of yanking, huffing and puffing.  I thought it would die out over the winter after I'd cut it all the way down to the ground (a single lonely stalk), depriving it of all of its leaves.  But nope!  This is what came up this year, geez Louise!  There are eight separate stalks.

I think I'm going to have to transplant them to the driveway garden at the end of this season or maybe early next spring, because they need more sun.  It appears part of the problem that caused the flop-over was because they're "reaching" for the sun when it swings around to the south around 10 a.m. and starts flooding the backyard with sunshine.  This area receives some, but only a couple of hours at best. 

The bonus of having these is that this year I've seen Monarchs fluttering around the yard, and other butterflies too!

There's a single stalk of milkweed also growing in the driveway garden this garden - also a volunteer whose seed was dropped by who knows what bird in some poop or blown in on the wind, but I don't think you can see it in any of the photos below.  I took them to show you how much this space has grown all by its self (essentially) over the past four years!  I am especially proud of the hydrangea.  I should buy a couple more, they are soooooo gorgeous, but boy oh boy, while they love receiving the sun in this spot, the suck up water like there's no tomorrow.  I have to say, if nothing else, I get a workout just toting several 2.5 gallon watering cans out to the hydrangeas during hot, dry weather! 

I wish the lavender shading on some of the blooms had shown up more in these photos - they are really quite spectacular.  After the last rain storm when the cold front came through last Saturday, when I checked everything the next morning, several of the top-heavy blooms had drooped to the ground.  I cut them rather than try and tie everything up and they are not holding court on my dining table. 

Oh - there's the milkweed stalk!  You can just make it out on the far left side of the hydrangea - it's about as tall as the birdbath. 

The driveway garden is a trapezoid shaped area created where the previous owner(s) expanded the concrete driveway to fit the entire width of the 2.5 car garage.  It was - mostly - filled with large white marble stones that had not been placed on any landscape fabric before being laid down, EEK!  What a mess.  Filled with decayed leaves, weeds popping through everywhere, and no way to effectively mow or weed whack the area,

I decided it was perfect for development as a garden spot, especially after I had one of the three large pine trees lining that side of the driveway (the south side) in 2015 and the wasteland grew even larger.  The poor pine was very sick and I was afraid it would come down at some point in a bad wind storm if I didn't remove it, so remove it I did.  Well, not me personally, I paid to have people come and take it out because it was TALL and as you can see, very close lot lines here in the city, I'm only about 3 feet or so away from my neighbor's house - and so was that huge tree!  Judging from an assessor photo of the property I saw from 1977 or so, the pine trees (three of them) were just small things then, so I figured they're now more than 40 years old.  More about that shortly -

Above is another view of the driveway garden, and you can see where the concrete angles out toward the south lot line - which is where the neighbor's arborvitaes are planted.  You can see the solo stalk of the milkweed standing tall (pre-Sunday storm) just to the right of the birdbath, in front of the hydrangea.  The day lilies will be thinned out at the end of this season.  You know how they are - they would overtake the entire garden if I let them!  The purple cone flowers are doing fairly well this year although they seemed to have a very slow start, and the tall white flowers to the right of them that I call daisies (I don't know what they actually are) came over with the lambs ear a few years ago when I transplanted one shovel-full of dirt containing what I thought was only lamb's ears plants from one of the backyard planting beds to this then new garden!  The next year up cropped those tall white "daisies," while the actual much shorter white daisies I put in a few years ago have not fared nearly as well.  I'm just happy they showed up this year!  Last year I had a much larger circle of them, this year - not so much.  I never know what this garden is going to do.

Looking toward the garage, you can see how the garden angles to follow the line of the concrete driveway.  This end (the west end) of the bed isn't very pretty - you'll see why.  I do need to get in there, though, and clean up the grass, and I need to add new mulch.  One of my "to do list" projects is putting in a proper small concrete line of blocks to outline the garden bed correctly  - I have them now (I didn't when the bed was first created) so eventually this will get done, like so many other things on my "to do list."  My bleeding heart (the yellowing plant on the left near the hydrangea) is still holding on upright.  I don't cut her down until she nearly fully gives up the ghost.  She's one of my earliest bloomers and is usually done by mid-June if not before.  This year, it was cold, cold, cold, snowy, cold, cold, cold, wet, wet, wet WET WET WET WET and then it started baking outside - quickly.  We really didn't have a "spring" this year.  My poor bleeding heart didn't do very well, her beautiful pink flowers didn't last long at all.  She's been well fed and she pops up well before the columbines do, which come up willy nilly in my uncontrolled garden (I do remove some if they've sprouted where I don't want them and I don't have a place to transplant them, although it pains me to rip out and toss away any living plant).  So I expect she'll be fine for next year.

In the photo above, you can literally see the "root" of the problem as to why I haven't properly finished off the west side of the garden with a concrete block border.  It's the left-over of the pine tree stump that I had removed in 2015 and you can also see a part of a large root sticking up out of the earth to the left of the center bare spot, too - that popped up (literally!) out of the ground this year.  That I can cut away with my hand-saw and will give my arms a good workout, but the stump is beyond me.  Honestly, at this point, I am also leery of trying to hire one of those people who are always advertising around the area that provide "stump grinding" services.  You can see some of the white marble stones in the photo above near the lower right center of the photo.  Who know what lurks below the grass, etc.? 

The stump grinder of the folks who removed the tree for me was no match for the combination of the white marble stones that were EVERYWHERE buried and eaten up by the tree stump and the size of the stump itself, plus all of the roots.  They gave up and left me with a mess.  It's not sticking up above the ground exactly, but what a pain in the neck!  Like trees do, it raised a "hill" where the trunk sprang out of the ground and this area is also elevated above the surrounding ground.  Some grass has actually grown over part of the stump, but other areas have remained bare. 

What I have thought of doing is somehow getting a row (or two) of blocks down and then building out from there in a large enough area to expand the garden and create a raised bed, burying the stump totally.

There are two more pine trees further along the drive.  They are also infested with the same insect or fungus or whatever that is killing off the needles, and the trees show all the signs of distress that the first tree (now removed) did, only not as far along.  I am loathe to take them down because what shade I presently have on my house, my front lawn and garden beds will totally disappear when those trees go.  I can't afford to pay several thousand dollars to have a taller, more mature tree or a line of already taller arborvitae put in what would be a new barren area left on that side of the driveway overlooking my front yard to try and provide some meager shade!  What's a girl to do...

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