Welcome to my new front yard garden

Growing annuals from seed to fill in the space formerly filled by lawn.

If you follow me on instagram, you’ll know I’ve been working on a new garden in 2021. It all started in September of 2020 when we cleared my exisiting raised beds, all the remaining grass and a few ancient shrubs from the front of the house. (PJM Rhododendrons – anyone remember those?)

Our contractors then put in brick walkways, and a few mulched pathways to loosely structure the space. They also planted a few shrubs at the font of the house, and a shade garden of native ferns at the shady end of the yard. The wide open space in front was daunting in the spring of 2021.

But I had been planning and growing seedlings for weeks, so by mid-May, I was ready. Or so I thought. Like all gardens, this one was not without its heartbreaks – rabbits skirting the fence, a too hot June followed by a rainy July. I’ll spare you the photos of rabbit chewed plants, and a few stunted Dahlias (too close to the shade!) and just say, thankfully, by the late summer, my seed-sown plants started to come into their full glory.

I’m not showing the bare patch behind the zinnias, where the rabbits killed my delphiniums, but I am already planning and making lists and dreaming of next year’s garden. And to that end, I’ll share a few of my favorites from this season below and hope to inspire you in planning your 2022 garden!

Strawflower Magic

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Today, frost came and killed off the annuals in my cutting garden once and for all. It was late this year, allowing me extra time to enjoy my cosmos, zinnias, calendula, nigella, and most of all, strawflowers. 

This is the first summer I’ve grown strawflowers and they’ve been such a delight. Always a familiar flower (I remember them from my parents’ garden), I learned so much about these flowers over the course of the summer; watching a plant emerge from seed and grow into its full glory has a special kind of magic. 

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Strawflowers were no exception as I watched their strappy leaves sprout and elongate; the first flower buds cluster at the tips of the plant. I cut and hung flowers to dry, thrilled by the way they hold their color and shape, sometimes opening slightly, sometimes flexing their petals back as they dry. (Or, are they really bracts? or sepals? Must look that up!)

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I saw that strawflowers close tight on cool, damp nights and open in the morning sun, a particularly endearing habit. It was already October by the time I had the idea to capture strawflowers opening with a time-lapse video. 

A couple of notes about this video. (1) The way the plants appear to shudder at the end is my fault – I could’t resist poking the flowers in between frames to see what would happen. (2) The flickering results from the camera settings – I forgot to turn the auto white balance off, so the camera changes sometimes between frames. No, that’s not natural light variation! What can I say? It was my first time-lapse, and I am learning by doing.

Its a testament to the magic of strawflowers opening that the the effect is still mesmerizing as they open in a series of rolling petals. (Or, bracts?) When I made this time-lapse, I felt like I’d really captured the secret life of a flower and I knew I had to try again. 

And I did try. There were plenty of failures. There were camera batteries that ran out, flowers that didn’t open,and others that opened hours later than I expected. But luckily with the mild weather, I had plenty of chances to keep trying. Finally, last weekend, I had another success and managed to fix a few of the problems in my first attempt. Just in time for the frost to come this week!

So now, I’ll be cleaning up my garden and dreaming of next summer’s flowers. I know I’ll be planting more strawflowers, but I also wonder what next summer’s discoveries will be? Someone recently suggested Cardinal vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) and I am intrigued. If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

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