Dahlias – 1st time ever!


Dahlia ‘Nick Sr.’

I’ve been gardening for more years than I care to count and I’ve NEVER ever grown dahlias.  Dunno why…  they just never particularly interested me.  And then there was the hassle of digging up the tubers (?) each year and storing them.  Nope, not for me!  Then I ordered some plants online, and when the box arrived they’d also tossed in 3 free dahlia tubers.

Well, you can’t throw away free plants – oh, maybe you can, but I have a hard time doing that.  So I planted them in a spot I use for holding plants that don’t have a home in the garden yet.

Dahlia 'Babylon Roze'

Dahlia ‘Babylon Roze’

Dahlia 'Razzle Dazzle'

Dahlia ‘Razzle Dazzle’

All three have done so well, with so little attention.  I did plant them, but really didn’t care too much if they survived or not.  All three are between 4-5′ tall.  Razzle Dazzle and Babylon Roze have been blooming since mid August.

The first blossom of Nick Sr. started opening earlier this week.  It looked like some sort of mutant, but by yesterday I picked it and brought it in to enjoy.  I’ve been carrying it around the house from room to room so I can look at it where ever I am.  As you can see by the picture above, Nick Sr. is a wild looking thing, petals of rosy red tops and pale yellow undersides.  It is the size of a small cantaloup!  The petals twist and turn in a wild array, reminding me of a piece of Chihuly glass sculpture.

The other two are more classic dahlia looking.

I guess I’ll dig them up in the fall, store them, and next year I’ll find a place in the back of the border where they can show off.  A significant plus seems to be that they take the heat, I rarely watered them, and, best of all, the bunnies didn’t show any interest in them – yay!

It’s nice to have such lovely blooms in Aug/Sept, huh?  Do you grow dahlias?  Any tips for me?

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – August 2013

Don’t have time to add words…  but lots is blooming in the August garden!

8-15-13 august garden1

Rudbeckias, zinnias, limon,

8-15-13 august garden2

shatas, abelia, hibiscus, datura, cosmos, sweet allysum

8-15-13 august garden3

dahlias, cleome, joe pye weed, ornamental oregano, verbena bonariensis

8-15-13 august garden

morning glories! and soon to pop solidago, some lingering coneflowers, black-eyed susans

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daylilies, black-eyed susan vine, sneezeweed, hops, zinnias, pumpkin blossoms

And that really ‘says’ it all (how can a blogger not have time for words?  I’m sure you know…)  Happy August!

A tomato with a story…


Most tomatoes don’t have a story worth telling, but this one just might!

Most tomatoes are planted, grow, ripen, and are picked, sent to market or canned, sold and eaten.  Or maybe you grew it yourself & you can skip the ‘sold’ part.

This little tomato, whose identity is a mystery, has a slightly different story.

I have a pebble tray in my kitchen with all my orchids.  In January this year, a tomato seedling showed up in one of the pots.  I swear, I’m not one of those cooks who throws food around the kitchen, but somehow a seed made it to the orchid pot in the window.  I decided to just leave it and see what happened.  That orchid got more water than the rest because, honestly, orchid bark is not the best growing medium for tomatoes.  It’s quick draining.

Anyhow, the weeks went by, the seedling grew.  And wilted.  And I quickly watered it.  It perked back up.  And it grew and grew.  It was in a south-facing window with good diffused light, but there was a lot a space between each set of leaves.

By end of March or early April, it was 2′ tall and blooming, much to my surprise!  Far too early to even think of putting it outside.  And it needed a stake or something, as it kept falling over.  I leaned the stalk against the window frame and kept watering.

Even end of May is iffy for putting tomatoes outside in my garden zone.  The soil is not warmed up yet and our frost date is towards the end of May.  A small, green fruit was forming on the tomato plant.  Hang in there baby!

About a month ago, mid June or so, I re-potted the orchid and gently removed the very tall, single stem, tomato plant with, basically, water roots.  I planted it quite deep in one of my raised beds and stuck a winter driveway marker next to it.  And lots of twist ties to hold it in place.  At this point it’s 2 1/2 feet tall, this stringy, leggy, but tenacious tomato plant.  I watered and fertilized, and watched with wonder as it took off.

In the collage below you can see the wild thing it has become.  Lots of side shoots, all looking pretty healthy.  Lots of other stakes to hold up its branches.  It has lots of blooms and fruits forming.  At this point I’d guess it’s what you buy at the market called ‘vine tomatoes’.

07-28-13 tomatoAnd I never though it would survive, much less produce a crop.  The first fruit, which survived the transplant process and grew more, was harvested a few days ago and put on the windowsill to ripen a bit more.  Today I’m eating it and it tasted just like any other home grown tomato – juicy and flavorful, if a bit small.

IMG_7267So that’s the story of the tomato that thought it was an orchid… or something like that.
Remind me to tell you sometime about the preying mantis egg case that hatched in my kitchen in February (with a foot of snow on the ground outside).  Happy gardening!

End of season update:  This plant produced more tomatoes for a longer period than all the other tomato varieties in my garden this year!  Truly, the little tomato that could…  I wonder if I should start all my tomatoes for 2014 in my orchid plants in January? hmmmm

Side Note:  When I want to save some tomato seeds for next year, this is what I do:

  1. I scoop the seeds directly from the tomato and smear them across a paper towel.
  2. I set it aside to dry.  I write the type of tomato and the year collected right on the paper towel.
  3. When completely dry, I fold the paper towel & place it in a baggie to store.
  4. When I’m ready to plant, I take large container, fill it with dirt, place the seeds (paper towel and all) on the soil.  Cover the seed with soil, water, watch ‘um sprout.  The paper towel disintegrates.
  5. Transplant into individual pots when the seedlings are big enough.

The silence of early morn

Headed out into the garden very early today, almost at first light.  I love the garden when it’s so quiet, fresh.  It seems no one is about yet and the world is just mine.  Everything seems renewed by the night time, and this little bit of cool weather the last couple days is so refreshing, both to me and the garden.  I needed a sweatshirt, it must be high 50s or low 60s – chilly.  Miss Maggie, my cat, says she wants out, too.  I grab my coffee and camera, clippers in my pocket, and out we go for a garden review, the first of the day.

I was thinking about the “silence” of the early morn.  It’s not really, you know.  When I stop to listen, I hear all sorts of sounds:  (it’s amazing the noise we learn to block out)

  • The bees are already buzzing in the abelia bush (abelia x grandiflora) and in the various squash & pumpkin blossoms.  They crowd, 2 or 3 at a time into the squash blossoms, jockeying for the best spot.
  • Interstate 81, a perpetual distant hum, even this early.  Early local street traffic.
  • Crickets and some other low bug-hum.
  • My quiet steps on the path.
  • The tentative slu-u-u-rp of my very hot coffee 🙂 .
  • Maggie’s tags on her collar (no sneaking up on the unsuspecting critter for her).
  • The first bird calls (The cardinal, a catbird, robin, and a Carolina wren).
  • My very own breathing.
  • Something’s rustling around at the back of the bed in the asters – that fat brown mouse I’ve seen around, perhaps?  He’s becoming very bold, but he knows I’m harmless.  I hope it’s not the wee bunny, who does not know what he likes to eat yet, and so samples almost everything!
  • The momentary ‘fwap’ of the newspaper hitting the neighbor’s front porch.
  • A very gentle breeze is barely moving the leaves at the top of the trees.
  • A runner passes swiftly by on the side street, shoes softly hitting the pavement.
  • The very distant wail of a train whistle (what a mournful sound, somehow).
  • And the wren, scolding Maggie for merely existing.

I’m sure I’ve missed things, even though I was determined to hear everything in the “silence” of early morn.  And again…  Slu-u-u-u-rp!  Gulp!  Ahhh!  Hot coffee’s so good!  Sun’s up and Maggie is ready to go in for a real breakfast after a few nibbles of grass.

Lot’s of things blooming, as you’ll see by the following photos.

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Miss Maggie and the lambs ears (Stachys byzantina)


The pergola reflected in the birdbath

Square-89 by Skeletal Mess

Tickseed (coreopsis rosea)

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Sunflower (Helianthus) planted by the squirrels, seeds from the birdfeeder

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Morning glory ((Ipomoea), growing on an old shovel


Black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia)


Black-eyed Susans


Pink Zinnias

And I picked a handful of this and that to put in my favorite little cream pitcher.  Takes only moments to set up a little still life shot with a piece of scrap-booking paper as a backdrop, so I can share my sweet pastel bouquet with you!


Catmint, cosmos, queen anne’s lace, spirea, hosta, morning glory, dayflower, tall verbena, lobelia, blue mist spirea, a couple grass seed heads from the alley.

All so pretty in that early light!  Happy Gardening!  Go out and listen!

Side note: THE LISTENING WALK by Paul Showers is a marvelous children’s book about listening outside.  I read it to my children many a long year ago.

Datura Inoxia – first bloom

My first datura bud (aka moon flower) has bloomed for this gardening season.  So strongly scented I can smell the lovely fragrance 25′ away.  Sometimes I pick several just before going to bed and put them in my bedroom so I can enjoy the scent inside.  It’s one of the pleasures of the evening garden, as it opens in early evening.  An elegant flower, it lasts just one day.    And ALL parts of this plant are poisonous.  It seeds itself freely, so I usually remove the pods before they dry & disperse.  It’s definitely an item I love having in the garden, as it blooms well into September in my 6a garden zone!

IMG_3899This shot is an old one, taken in the fall when the chokecherry is all berried up.

09-05-09 tomats, LGbokeh12

Shown here are some of the charms of this flower: a bud, buds unfurling (love those curlicues), fully open (with bee), and a seed pod (golf ball sized).


It’s delightfully cool here this morning – 58 degrees when I got up.  A pleasant change from the last week and a half, for sure.  Enjoy your day!

Fence Garden 2


Fence Garden 2

A shot from last week, before 5 days of mid-90 temps left everything looking significantly wilted. This garden has really come into its own this year. It was planted autumn of 2011, so is headed toward the two-year mark (just long enough for me to discover all the mistakes made)!  I’ll be yanking some things up in the fall, like the lamb’s ears, which has grown like a bad weed.  More on the history and making of this garden later, with some ‘before’ pix.

The oakleaf hydrangea at the far right had pure, sparkling white blooms earlier this year and has now moved into that delicious pink stage. This plant lived in a pot for 4 years, sorely neglected, and really looked pathetic when planted a year and a half ago.  I pruned it hard last year and it branched out beautifully. This spring it bloomed for the first time, much to my delight.  Now it’s looking like a star performer instead of an abandoned orphan. Yay! (and by next year it’ll probably eat up that whole garden area and I’ll be regretting my decision to put it there). Live and learn, plant now and regret later!  …and prune, prune, prune!

The dark green vines growing on the pergola way at the back of the garden are hops (no, I don’t brew beer).  They really provide nice cover overhead and protection from the setting sun in the west, behind the pergola.  They were a gift from a friend in Yakima, WA, and arrived last spring in a priority mail box, swathed in wet paper towels and in a huge zip-lock bag.  It was a gnarled, rooty mess and they were just starting to put out sprouts.  If you’ve never seen them growing (and you CAN see them growing, almost, inches a day), the flowers look sorta like tiny pale green pine cones.  They are a herbaceous perennial (humulus lupulus) and grow swiftly on twine staked to the ground and tied at the top of the pergola.  End of the season (if there’s no one wanting the hops), you just cut them down and pitch them in the compost pile, jute twine and all!


PS – Yes, there is a fence garden 1. Stay tuned…

Why a blog about gardening?

Well…  why not?  I love gardening and want to share my pleasure with you and find others who share my interests.


I think I was born with the ‘gardening gene’ and a green thumb.  I love digging in the dirt.  I’d rather work in the garden than most anything else, although I’m not fond of mowing the lawn (if you consider that a gardening task).  My maternal grandpa was a serious gardener, my dad was frequently busy in the yard in my childhood home in Florida.  My introduction to gardening, as a child, was an hour of weeding ever summer morning.   And, except in the winter months, I’m always out in the garden now, by choice!  I garden in western Maryland, USA.

I have a garden bench, but rarely sit on it for any length of time – I always see some small task that needs to be done, or weed that needs to be pulled, or leaning stem that needs some support… oh, you get it!  Gardening is not about sitting around!

I find that I’m always wanting to tell folks what’s going on in my garden (like it was important or something).  So instead of

  • chatting with a friend,
  • boring a non-gardening coworker,
  • emailing or texting a pal,
  • or writing a letter (how outdated!)

I’m creating a blog about all the incredible as well as mundane things happening outside at Saint Claire Cottage!  And I’m so new at this, so bear with me while I figure out all the bells and whistles of a WordPress blog.

I hope to share with you the pleasure I gain from the simple (?) act of growing & maintaining gardens.  And I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me.  Cheers from the gardens at Saint Claire Cottage in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Right now there are day lilies galore in my garden, as shown in the collage above.  Simple to grow, not demanding, lots of color choices, relatively inexpensive, and ever so pretty!  One day and one blossom at a time.  I get mine from friends, catalogs, and local garden centers.  Do you grow them too?  Where do you get yours?