Sunday, November 30, 2008

Small stuff

In keeping with the very small amount of time spent in the garden over this long weekend, I'm sharing some of the small plants that I missed tending.

A frosty grouping of Thymus serpyllum Coccineus, Vinca minor "Alba," and fallen beech leaves.

The needle-like leaves of Dianthus gratianopolitanus "Firewitch" enclose a dried bud.

I did manage to transfer these tiny sedums and hen-and-chicks from their summertime planter to a sunny corner of the garden. Hopefully, they'll over-winter fine beneath the snow.

Lots of reasons, some happy (friends, family, and sweet potato pie) and some not (flight cancellations and sleety weather), for allowing time to slip by. So it goes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cold snap/ice crack

Just a week ago, it was 55 degrees and sunny. I was giving my sweet pea trellis a spruce-up coat of paint and setting it in place for spring planting.

This weekend, the temperature tumbled down to 18 degrees at night. I was caught unprepared--my garden hoses and clay pots of annuals were still outside. First, everything had to be dragged into the basement to thaw. Then, the pots were emptied and their contents sent to the compost pile. The hoses spit out chunks of ice as they were drained. Yes, it was an ugly sight and not just because of the environs.

Warmer weather is forecast for the next few days. I'm hoping for a little raking and snipping time in the back quarter acre over the long holiday weekend.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Garden goalroll

A couple of months ago, my brilliant neighbor over at Skippy's Vegetable Garden posted an on-going list of garden ideas for next year. I figured that I could do with one, too.

Just as with those strategic planning exercises at work, I'm trying to think about SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-sensitive) goals. I'll keep this list as a "Thinking ahead!" link on my sidebar and add new tasks--whoops, goals!--as inspiration strikes.

To keep this list alive, I've changed the order so that future tasks and their times are at the top and those of relevance--and, hopefully, completed--earlier in the season are towards the end.

May or June

When it is 3 feet tall, cut the joe pye weed "Gateway" back to half its height to encourage dense growth.


Move the summersweet Clethra ainfolia along the property fence so that they are placed between, rather than directly in front of, the "Sky Needle" hollies.

After the forsythia blooms

Move Amsonia hubrichtii towards front of bed for more sun.

Expand the new side bed to join more fluidly with the raingarden.

Add two Astilbe x rosea "Peach Blossom" to existing one.

Add two Chasmanthium latifolium Northern sea oats to existing one.

Consider replacing flagging forsythia with red osier dogwood Cornus sericea "Allemans." If only local nurseries would carry a decent inventory of shrubs!

Replace mallow in raingarden with Aster novae-angliae "Purple Dome."

Organize the bearded irises, so that visually compatible cultivars are grouped together. Tag individual plants so that they can be moved later in the season.

Explore new combinations of annuals, such as Ageratum houstonianum "Blue Danube" and Salvia farinacea "Victoria Blue," as inspired by the gardens at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. Sedum and iris foliage would complement. Ageratum houstonianum "Hawaii Blue" and Salvia farinacea "Victoria Blue" are going in from 05/17/2009

Resist the temptation to position dark dahlias in front of yews. Plant the following varieties: Rose Toscano (2 plants), Normandy Painted Pearl (1 plant), Rae Ann's Peach (1 plant) . . . Old side bed: "Karras 150" (white) and "Park Princess" (pink); new side bed: "American Dawn" (peach/pink/purple) and "Park Princess" (pink); house back: "Karma Choc" (dark red), "Rae Ann's Peach" (red/peach), and "Rose Toscano" (peach), all planted 05/16/2009

Plant three more Thymus serpyllum Coccineus plants along top of wall to left of front stairs.

When the forsythia blooms

Continue to prune front foundation plantings, especially rhododendron and little-leaf hollies.

Prune clethra to remove deadwood and shape.

Re-seed damaged portions of front lawn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Watching the leaves molder

Here is my newest garden creation.

Yes, it looks like a pile of leaves--and, no wonder, because that's what it is--but, more importantly, it's leaf mold in the making. I've been wishing for a place where I could pile up dried shredded leaves in the fall and shovel out rich leaf mold in the spring, one or two years hence. With such a small plot of land, there's not much extra space. At last, the long overdue demolition of a playhouse in a back corner of the back quarter acre offered an ideal location, tucked-away but still accessible. Now I have a spot for watching the leaves molder--the winter version of summer's sport, watching the grass grow.

The two main trees dropping leaves on my yard are a weeping beech and a rag-tag maple. I raked up their leaves and mowed over the piles twice. Given that I had to use a gas mower to chop up the leaves, there may be an environmental false economy in this organic endeavor . . . but it felt like the right thing to do nevertheless. I heaped the chopped leaves into a pile. More ambitious gardeners use plastic bags, wire cages, or garbage cans to produce leaf mold.

The mold will be used to top-dress beds, mulch plants, and generally improve soil condition. Now, if only I could collect leaves from my neighbors' yards . . . .

Monday, November 10, 2008

Zen and the art of garden maintenance

Closing down the garden in the fall is a time for contemplation. It's best to shift from puzzling over the inner workings of plant life--why didn't that grow here? will those come back in the spring?--and simply enjoy cutting down dead foliage, shoveling mulch, raking leaves--what an enlightened person might call being in the moment . . . and if you don't assume that mindset, you're likely to call chores.

Dead wood was pruned out from an old yew. My son's Japanese wood saw set the mood. I am planning to start a leaf pile in this back corner, so access needed to be improved. Also, this yew hadn't been cleared of dead wood for many years. And, the remaining green boughs should look nicer when the winter snows arrive.

This aged yew is fruiting more heavily than usual. I am hoping that this is not its last reproductive gasp, but a reinvigorated spirit. A fabulous local tree company is now providing a twice annual root drench of compost tea. A different type of tea than enjoyed by the Buddha, but perhaps part of its own Way.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

From earth’s wide bounds

Halloween, All Saints Day, All Souls Day . . . . isn't this time of year when the veil between the living and the dead thins?

These seasonal reflections took me to Rock Meadow, one of my town's conservation areas. My colonial ancestors farmed a portion of this tract about 350 years ago. In walking over the mowed grass fields, I wondered how much this land has changed since the time that they pastured their livestock here.

These open fields? Local history indicates that this area was meadow, wetlands, and woods at the time of colonization.

Those clumps of Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)? With its beguiling Halloween colors, this invasive plant is the devil in disguise. This herbaceous colonizer arrived around 1850.

A fascinating study of Henry David Thoreau's diaries, written during his sojourn at nearby Walden Pond, indicates how much the New England landscape has changed over the past 150 years. Since the 1850's, 27% of the plant species at Walden have disappeared; 36% are near extinction. Lilies, orchids, buttercups, anemones, asters, bluets, violets, roses, dogwoods, and mints have declined at the expense of mustards, knotweeds, and non-natives (hello, bittersweet). Global warming is not just about melting ice-caps and a few stranded polar bears--it hits us here and now.

Even on a winter afternoon at Walden Pond.