Friday, November 23, 2007

What's cooking. Not.

On this food festival holiday weekend, I can proudly announce that my refrigerator shows few signs of culinary activities. (And those who have been subjected to my labors over the years might say that's a good thing.) Instead of turkey and all the trimmings, the shelves are filled with chilling plant life.

These glass vases hold white ("L’Innocence") and deep pink ("Jan Bos") hyacinth bulbs. The bulbs must chill for about ten weeks at 40-50 degrees suspended over--but not touching--water. They'll be brought out of the refrigerator after January 1, to welcome the new year.

A crisper drawer holds amaryllis bulbs, bagged for convenience--my first attempt at rolling these bulbs over for another season. Three plants came to me in bloom last holiday season. After the blossoms dropped, I watered and fertilized the plants erratically until early fall. When their leaves turned limp and yellow, I cut off the foliage, removed the bulbs from their pots, picked away the dirt from the roots, and stuck each in its own labeled bag.

They need to chill for about eight weeks, so re-potting will not begin until after January 11. I also ordered a new deep red amaryllis ("Royal Velvet") for this year, just in case. Trust issues, I guess.

The refrigerator's butter shelf contains larkspur and mallow seeds (thanks, Bestitched!) from summer collection. I celebrated Thanksgiving by direct-sowing about half of the larkspur seeds. I guess that's what I'm serving this holiday!

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Raking leaves is fall's familiar task. Here's how it was conducted in the Maryland suburbs, circa 1918: by well-dressed toddlers who had not quite mastered the finer points of how to operate their equipment.

Both of these apprentices--my mother and her sister--grew up to become accomplished gardeners. Maybe it was all those years devoted to perfecting their skills.

Up here in New England, the raking season is in full stretch and swing. Trees have shed about half of their leaves. Following the economy of effort school of gardening, I like to combine lawn mowing, yard waste removal, and leaf mold production into a single activity.

In other words, after running my mower a few times through the leaves I've piled up, I dump the shredded leaves onto my compost pile. There is never enough room for all this good stuff, so I stashed some of the excess in a tin tub before bagging the remainder for local composting.

Yes, as if the night frosts and short days didn't sufficiently spell out the season, fall has definitely arrived.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fall fruits, writ small

One of my tasks this weekend was to fertilize broadleaf evergreens: hollies, rhododendra, and pieris. According to "Horticulture," this feeding should be done about two weeks before the first frost. Since we hit hard below freezing last night, I figure that I'm late with my chores, as usual. I use about 5 lbs of HollyTone in the fall and close to 10 pounds in the spring.

As I walked from bush to bush--stopping along the way to sprinkle a few handfuls of fertilizer on a bed of pachysandra or over the lilies of the valley--I realized that this garden contains a lot of plants with berries and that those berries fruit in all colors.

Earlier this year, when the front foundation plantings were renovated, my savvy sister-in-law suggested Ilex meserveae "Blue Princess" and "Blue Prince" for this north-facing elevation. These berries testify to the happy home and compatible relationship these hollies have found.

Nearby grow a couple of black-berried Ilex crenata "Chesapeake." How could a Maryland native not honor a variety named after the Bay? Although maybe this holly would prefer a more southern clime, as it is terribly vulnerable to winter kill and begs for a hard pruning every spring.

Another Japanese holly that fares better is this large, late blooming Heller's variety Ilex crenata hellerii. It is just now sporting tiny creamy flowers.

Some of the first bushes that we planted 15 years ago were American hollies, both red-fruited female Ilex opaca "Christmas Tree" and, for company, a yellow-berried male Ilex opaca, variety forgotten.

Some of my favorite hollies are a pair of sparsely fruiting Ilex opaca. These two American hollies were among six softwood cuttings that my mother took a decade ago from hollies growing freely on my in=laws' Cape Cod property. Glossy, well-formed foliage--but all of three berries!

Sunday, November 04, 2007


What better way to use today's extra "fall back" hour than in the garden? Perennials were cut down and several hundred more bulbs went into the ground. Although we haven't had a hard frost yet, the dahlias were spent.

No tuber trials this year: the plants directly went the way of yard waste. Nature abhoring a vacuum, allium and tulip bulbs were cycled into this spot. After they bloom next spring, they'll be replaced by another crop of dahlias.

Around here in early November, it's all about yellow foliage. When the flowers are gone and the leaves are dropping, these bursts of color fire up an otherwise insipid garden.

The brilliant amsonia in the foreground came as a slip from my prairie-gardening pal, DK. I stuck it into a back corner and, now, look at it a few years later. In addition to the steely-blue flowers in the spring and yellow fall foliage, its habit is graceful and delicate (kind of like the gift-giver herself, come to think of it!).

Astilbe foliage is beautiful all year, even as it dies.

Yellow leaves set against the dark stems of Clethra alnifolia "September Beauty" are a stunning addition to autumn. Why didn't I discover this genus years ago? And can I find room for more of these plants? That French drain did create some opportunities for new plantings . . . .