Saturday, December 18, 2010

Garden goalroll, 2011

For the past two years, I have run a garden goalroll: this is my place to scribble horticultural marginalia and to post reminders about what needs doing when.  Or to record what I still haven't done.  Bearded irises, I hear you.  I'm making plans for a glorious 2011!

Dead of winter

Read up on xeriscaping in anticipation of extending the bed in front of the day lilies.  The drought-killed lawn there is going to go!  Plants to consider:
  • Coneflower "Green Jewel" (move from current location)
  • Sedum "Autmn Joy" (move from behind compost bin)
  • Fort Ticonderoga bearded irises (move from current location)
  • Pink coneflower
Order dahlia tubers.  Ordered 3/1/2011

  • Back of house: Arabian Nights, Rae Ann's Peach, Rose Toscano, Patty Cake
  • Old side bed: Karras 150, Bonne Esperance
  • New side bed: Park Princess

When the forsythia blooms

Continue to prune front foundation plantings into shape.

Prune clethra to remove deadwood and shape.

Edge garden beds.

After the forsythia blooms

Dig out a new curved bed in front of the day lilies, amend, and load up with drought-tolerant plants.

Lightly fertilize bearded irises with bonr meal, superphosphate or other low nitrogen (5-10-15) supplement. 

May or June

After flowering, shear Amsonia hubrichtii by 1/3 of its height to promote better form.

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

Pinch sedum "Autumn Joy" when it reaches 8 inches; stake with ring.

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.

Stake dahlias when the tubers are planted and again and again as they grow. Stop dahlias by pinching stem back to four pairs of leaves.

Pinch back shasta daisies to 6" in late May.

And stake, stake, stake!

Columbus Day

Dig in bone meal around peonies.

Lightly feed evergreen along front of house with Holly-Tone.

Veterans Day

While daytime temperatures are still above 40 degrees, spray an anti-transpirant, like Wilt-Pruf or Wilt Stop, on "Sky Needle" hollies to prevent winter kill.

Top-dress beds with composted cow manure.


Winter-sow larkspur seeds.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Inside edition

Although this past weekend's brisk temperatures and sunny skies were terrific for some end-of-season outdoor clean-up and top-dressing, a few hours had to be devoted to preparing indoor plants for winter bloom.

I should have cut off all this lush foliage and set the amaryllises for dormancy about six weeks ago. I pretty much follow the same drill every year.  My biggest challenge is always rot. The onslaught is unending.  I feel like an embattled Churchill in 1940: "We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields . . . "

This "Temptation" bulb had produced lots of leaves, thrown off a plump off-set, and looked firm--but the papery layers of skin were soft and covered with brownish-red patches.  I stripped off what I could and cut out the rest.  Usually, I am not so ready with the knife but I figure there's nothing to lose.

To cheat out the long wait for these cooling bulbs, I also planted a new "Novella"amaryllis and set it to warm by a radiator in a south-facing window.

I also began the weekly cycle of paperwhite planting. "Ziva" are my favorite: their fragrance, overpowering to some, is perfection to a diminished sniffer of scents like myself. I have reported on an alcohol-inspired way to ensure short stems, but I'm starting the season with long stems supported by a tall vase.  Just add glass pebbles and water.

To ensure good root growth, I start the bulbs in a cool, dark place. For a few weeks, they are resting in the closet of coldest room of this cold house. (What, everyone doesn't set the thermostat to 60 degrees and wear a knitted cap indoors?)  Waiting, waiting, waiting . . .  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Harvest home

Thanksgiving may be receding in the mirror, but our New England weather still feels like fall.

Lots of chores are on the list this time of year.  Since daytime temperatures are still above 40 degrees, I sprayed an anti-transpirant on the leaves of the "Sky Needle" hollies to prevent winter kill.  

Larkspur seeds that were gathered after flowering and stored in the refrigerator are now directly winter sown.

It's probably too late, but the ground has not frozen, so I will still lightly feed with Holly-Tone the broadleaf evergreens along the front of the house.  Fruiting was sparse this year.

And always the beds need to be top-dressed with composted cow manure.  

Gardening in a cold climate, hurray! 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tulips, purple and orange

Fall, spring, and all year round, one of my favorite color combinations is orange and purple. Add a sprig of green, and I'm in secondary color heaven.

And what better way to indulge than with the tulips "Prinses Irene" and "Purple Prince"?

The bulbs were planted this weekend.  In this neighborhood, hungry suburban animals thrive on tulips: in the fall the bulbs are dug up by squirrels, and in the spring the flowers are nipped off by rabbits.  Past years, I've covered the bulbs with a layer of chicken wire.  Today, I had a flash as I was tossing around the Bulb-Tone.  Why not use peony hoops as a deterrent?  I recollect seeing a similar set-up in the garden of the Longfellow House in nearby Cambridge.

I just placed the hoops directly on the ground over where the bulbs had been buried and secured the hoops with the wire legs. I'm a lazy gardener who's looking to escape as much of the fall clean-up as possible.   This way, the hoops don't even have to be washed and put away. Could it really be so simple?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Competitive gardening

Just becaue my husband grew some basil in a pot and planted a few bulbs across the street this year, he thinks that he's now ready for competitive gardening.  What is with men anyway?  This is the guy who needed to race his swim team girlfriend across the pool back in the day.  Of course, he lost.  His girlfriend, admiring that mix of bravado and foolhardiness, married him. And now he's dog-paddling his way into gardening.

Our sporting event was houseplant renovation.  The subject to hand was, I think, a dieffenbachia which had been adopted, nameless and straggly, as a sprout. Some years later, it was still nameless and straggly but awkwardly large.

So back in July, we unpotted the plant and cut the stalk in two.  My better half, confident that he had selected the plant's better half, potted up the root ball.  I can't be certain, but I think that he was smirking as he walked off holding his selection.  All I had left was a bunch of floppy leaves on a stem.

Repotted, the two separate parts were pretty sorry looking specimens.  The top portion needed stakes and string to hold it upright. The bottom portion looked like a plant in the early stages of assembly.

A few months later, and both plants look pretty darn good.  That part without roots grew roots; that without leaves grew leaves.

The new leaves are slightly yellow, probably due to a lack of fertilizer, too much sunlight, or some other fault of the competition.

Of course, I think that my plant is the winner. At least, it's greener. Maybe size isn't the only thing that matters!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seasonal slippage

It didn't take trick-or-treaters ringing the doorbell or tonight's forecast freeze warning to announce that the seasons have slipped. Signs are everywhere in the garden.

Even though the dahlias are defying the fall with a final flush of flowers, their foliage has become dull and embrittled by the cooling temperatures.

This "Normandy Painted Pearl" variety sports a glorious color range: the outer petal surfaces are coral-pink-purple and the interiors are yellow and pink.  The blooms change color dramatically as they mature.

This morning, I cut a massive amount of dahlia blossoms. When I put a vase in the dining room, I realized that their pink-yellow-coral palette aligned perfectly with the shot cotton quilt that I am currently piecing.  

Serendipitously, I've found my seasonal slippage sewing project.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Garden variety jonesing

I didn't even really try to abstain.  None of that facing yourself in the mirror stuff for me.  I was simply looking to indulge my addiction for spring bulbs, and this morning's Financial Times provided the slender excuse needed.  I mean, who am I to argue when Robin Lane Fox is hustling spring flowering bulbs?  More "Tete-a-Tete," you say, Robin?  Sure, why not!

As midnight rolls around, this fall's order looks like:

Brent and Becky's Bulbs
10 Narcissus "Tete-a-Tete" (beds to side of front walk) Planted 10/31
50 Narcissus "Minnow" (beds to side of front walk) Planted 10/31
50 Narcissus "Thalia" (new side yard) Planted 11/6
10 Tulipa "Purple Prince" (old side yard) Planted 11/14

Old House Gardens
10 Tulipa "Prinses Irene" (old side yard) Planted 11/14

And for indoor forcing:

White Flower Farm
1 Amaryllis "Novella"
24 Paperwhite Narcissus "Ziva"

Old House Gardens
3 Hyacinth "Gipsy Queen" Cooling 11/12
3 Hyacinth "L'Innocence" Cooling 11/12

Total okay-ness.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jumping in with both feet

This weekend, we dug out the little stream that drains into the raingarden, laid some stones and planted a few ferns, grasses, and flowers in the muck. Yeah, it's kind of a hot mess. I have absolutely no idea how this excavation will affect our soggy hillside. The plan here is just to shut your eyes and jump in with both feet (or maybe, more accurately, follow the Leeroy Jenkins strategy).

Several hundred pounds of wet gray clay were replaced with a mix of peat moss and composted cow manure.  From one of my favorite small providers, Lazy S's Farm Nursery in Virginia, I ordered some marsh ferns (Thelypteris palustris), variegated sweet flags (Acorus gramineus "Golden Ogon") and dwarf goldenrods (Solidago x "Little Lemon").  They are now settling into their new home.  Hopefully, this little spray of goldenrod buds means they plan to stay. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Every (rainless) cloud has a silver lining

Our New England summer has been sunny, scorching hot, and (when not dealing out the rare torrential downpour)  bone dry.  Seems that even when it rains, the sun is beaming down.

As a result, it's become painfully obvious which parts of the backyard are naturally better-watered and which are not.  Around the hillside stream, the grass is green.  But in the side yard, thanks to the combined excellent performance of our French drain and the deep thirst of a neighbor's weeping beech, we are experiencing dustbowl conditions.

The silver lining to these rainless clouds is garden expansion.  Yes, come spring, a swath of turf along the daylily bed will be replaced with some drought-tolerant perennials and annuals. 

I will have the entire winter to draw up plans, make lists, and browse plant catalogues. And I promise to learn how to correctly spell "xeriscape."

A number of current garden plants will be better sited in this dry patch: a neglected coreopsis "Moonbeam," a division of "Autumn Joy" sedem, and a straggly "Green Jewel" coneflower for starters.


Then, I'm thinking about sundrops, more daylilies, and some serious coneflowers. Grasses? Sages? And someone to help dig?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Dahlias: dem, dos, dese

Dahlias, clockwise from upper left: Karras 150, Rose Toscano, Normandy Painted Pearl, Pink Princess, Rae Ann's Peach, Roxy

Every fall, I second-guess that year's dahlia selection: "Why didn't I opt for something dark?" "Maybe I should have planted another one of those?" "Am I bored with collarettes yet?"

The mosaic above shows the current selection of backyard blooms. My second guesses run something like: "Yes, why indeed didn't I opt for something dark?"  "Why is Normandy Painted Pearl so shaggy this year?" "Thank goodness I missed digging up that Rae Ann's Peach tuber last fall, so it came up early this summer!" "What was that tuber marked 'WP' that never grew? White Perfection?"

Next year, I'm thinking less Normandy Painted Pearl and more American Dawn. Shadow Cat or Crossfield Ebony? Is it time to order yet?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Sungold harvest

This year, I planted two pots of "Sungold" cherry tomatoes, along with the usual container of "Sugary" grape tomatoes.  The good news is that we now have lots of cherry tomatoes, even after the low-hanging fruit has been harvested by the local bunnies.  This plate is holding about half of what ripened up over the Labor Day weekend.

The not-so-good news is that in comparison with the sweet grape tomatoes, these cherry tomatoes taste bitter. Maybe it wouldn't be noticeable if there was only one crop but with the sugary competition, these cherry tomatoes are also-rans.  And, while the tomato fruits are perfect saffron-colored spheres, the plants' growth habit is slovenly, sprawling, and downright shabby.

A few are being eaten straight off the vine (by humans), but most have been regulated to cooking tomatoes.  They are serving in pasta dishes and ratatouille and as salad garnish.  Did I mention that we now have lots of them?  Oh, yeah. Maybe next year, we'll have none.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Damp drought

Although we have been suffering through a string of blastingly sunny hot summer days, one corner of the garden is absolutely flourishing.

The raingarden is over-flowing with black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida "Goldsturm"), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum "Gateway"), and Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).

And that's because even during this drought, we have plenty of water running through this area. Our two-year old French drain is very effectively catching water as it flows down the back hillside. By the end of each steaming hot day, the standing water in the raingarden has evaporated, leaving just a margin of damp silt.

But by the next morning, water has pooled again.

Despite the French drain, the grass downhill is damp and squishy. And water is rising to the ground surface just uphill. What to do?

I am thinking that this hillside stream might have to helped along: removing the sod, inserting a series of flat stones to ladder and guide the flow, and edging the course with some marsh ferns (Thelypteris palustris), a low growing goldenrod (Solidago canadensis "Baby Gold"), and a dwarf sweet flag grass (Acorus gramineus "Golden Ogon").

This re-visioning was totally inspired by (soggy feet every morning and) a recent ramble through a profusion of Joe Pye Weed, goldenrod, cattails and loosestrife in the wetter parts of our local conservation land at Rock Meadow.

Yellow, purple, green, and pink. I'm in.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Traveling the High Line

I took advantage of an early Sunday morning during last weekend's trip to Manhattan to explore the High Line. I'd read a lot about this smart, sensitive, and refreshingly whimsical re-visioning of the urban landscape.  Originally built in Lower Manhattan during the 1930's as an elevated railway, the High Line tracks were laid through the center of buildings in order to collect goods without affecting street traffic.  Since it was decommissioned in 1980, the derelict railway has been in eyesore. Starting in 1999, a group of inspired activists initiated a move to re-use this urban space.  Much work later, in June 2009, Section I (Gansevoort Street to 20th Street) opened to the public.

Because of its elevation, long urban vistas unroll from all angles.  A cross-town canyon stretches beyond a screen of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum "Gateway"),  purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea "Vintage Wine"), and broadleaf ironwood (Vernonia glauca).

The quintessential New York skyline of a rooftop water tank on a block-built modernist building is softened by foreground grasses.

Rather than trying to force the High Line into the ill-fitting form of a romantic garden or a greensward park, the designers played with its abandoned urban history:  they incorporated lots of native plants, like this familiar wasteland tree (oh, what is its name?) and Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), and included species that had been growing on the tracks.

The plant selections are in tonal harmony with the reds, greys, and browns of the built environment.  Here, layers of grasses, silvery coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea "Jade"), and pale pink American boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) echo the stone facade behind.

The seed heads of  many flowering plants, like these drumstick alliums, remained intact, giving just the right mix of color and texture.

How great that the park attendant I asked could give me the Latin names of the plants I asked about!  But there were so many varieties I was interested in.  Next time, I'll bring a copy of that month's plant list with me!

A couple of days after my visit, the Rockefeller Foundation awarded to the High Line founders the 2010 Jane Jacobs Medals. Congratulation to the most deserving recipients whose work "creates new ways of seeing and understanding New York City, challenges traditional assumptions, and creatively uses the urban environment to make New York City a place of hope and expectation."  And forward to the future!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Hard pruning

"This thing is out of control," groused my husband as he slipped under a spray of "New Dawn" rose canes blocking his entry through the kitchen door.  "What the heck are you feeding that?" asked my neighbor from his yard next door.  "Yikes!" I thought when I saw the tussle of rose blossoms clambering up to a second floor window.

Such was the impetus for my most despised gardening activity: rose pruning.  I have to admit--as if I could claim otherwise in the flowery face of the evidence--that I had kind of let things go.  A couple of years, I really couldn't prune because I didn't want to disturb the birds nesting in the arbor.  Another year, it was just too dang hot.  My mother, an excellent rosarian, was no longer around to take up the task.   Meantime, canes sprouted, curved, flopped, and grew some more.

With several days of cool, clear weather forecast, I set to pruning every evening after work.  After more than five hours teetering on a ladder and after accumulating over five bags of clippings, I can say that I'm done.

It was hard to prune, and I pruned darn hard. My mother's rallying cry--"Whack it out!"--spurred me along.  She was a ferocious rose pruner--my tender-hearted father couldn't even bear to be around when she was wielding her clippers--and every time that I wondered WWMD, I knew the answer was cut, cut, cut.

Anything that was where it shouldn't be was snipped off.  (Almost all) distorted canes were removed.  Deadwood was clipped.  New canes were tied to the arbor.  A good 1 1/4 cup of Rose-Tone was scratched in around the roots.

And then, among the debris of shorn branches, there was even the thank you of a few last blooms!