Monday, November 18, 2013

Jane Kenyon, the poeticus' mood, and several hundred daffodils

In her essay, "The Phantom Pruner," poet and fellow New England gardener, Jane Kenyon, uses the  metaphor of a sun-filled garden to express her desire for emotional luminosity and openness:  

It's not just more flowers I want, it's more light, more air for flowers, more sun for cheerfulness.  A person gets her fill of shade-loving plants. She wants . . . a hundred white daffodils that glow after dusk against the unpainted boards of an old barn.

No weathered barns around here but, quite by chance, this fall's bulb order offers a small tip to Kenyon's bright vision. By the end of October, a couple of hundred daffodils had been planted: all dosed with a bit of bone meal and clumped together in groups of three or five. Over fifty white "poet's narcissus" bulbs replenished a bed next to the side of the house and another fifty narcissus "Yellow Cheerfulness" promise to bring spring sunlight along the back. The myrtle beds lining the front walk were loaded with a hundred bulbs of the perky miniature narcissus "Tete-a-Tete." After a challenging summer and fall, I am focusing simply on flowers that make me happy.    

I am planning to seek my bliss indoors, too, with a slew of paperwhites, hyacinths, and amaryllises.  

Order details follow.

50 Narcissus "Yellow Cheerfulness" (Brent and Becky's Bulbs)
100 Narcissus "Tete-a-Tete"  (Brent and Becky's Bulbs)
50 Narcissus poeticus v. recurvus  (Brent and Becky's Bulbs)
5  Narcissus poeticus (Old House Gardens)

3 Hyacinth "Gipsy Queen" (Old House Gardens)
5 Hyacinth "Lady Derby" (Old House Gardens)
24 Narcissus "Ziva" (White Flower Farm)
1 Amaryllis "Royal Velvet"  (White Flower Farm)
1 Amaryllis "Picotee"  (White Flower Farm)
1 Amaryllis "Tres Chic"  (White Flower Farm)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Going to seed

A combination of a relentlessly crazy workload, travels up and down the East Coast/across the country/around the world, and various family matters have kept me out of the garden this summer.  Weekends were spent either at the office or out of town.  For months, a random hour early in the morning or at sunset is all that I've been able to manage in the garden. Thankfully, my dear husband alleviated one burden by stepping up to assume most of the lawn-mowing responsibilities.

In the meantime, peonies and phlox have mildewed, basil has bolted, and many spent blossoms yearn for deadheading.  While it really doesn't matter whether you tend your garden during the growing season--as long as you can tolerate the disheveled and raggedy results--when it comes harvest time, paying no attention produces big problems.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) "Gateway" flower heads

Some of those beautiful blossoms can brag on quite frightening reproductive capabilities.  Fearlessly fertile flowers around here include Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) "Gateway," black-eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia fulgida) "Goldsturm," and Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). 

 Eyes of black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) "Goldsturm"

All, it seems, is for a few seeds to be dispersed in the fall and, come next spring, a tenacious thicket of stalks and stems have popped up. And when many seeds have self-sown, a weedy mess is the reward to be reaped.

Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

My free hours are currently spent frantically cutting down seed heads and weeding out sprouting volunteers.  It's a simple race against Mother Nature's biological clock.

Marsh mallow

In the absence of vigilant gardening efforts, even the ordinarily spring flowering marsh marigolds seem to spot a weed-pulling weakness and have shot out a few blossoms. Stop the madness!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Pieris parity

Around here, growing Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) presents a balancing act between the benefits of eye-popping red foliage decked with elegantly draped racemes of delicate flowers . . . 

 . . . and a susceptibility towards root rot, scale insect infestation, and splitting branches.  For this particular "Mountain Fire" specimen, structural vulnerability hasn't been helped by a location that receives the crushing winter burden of snow displaced from the roof, driveway, and front walk.

When spring rolled around, it appeared half dead (to the right) and half alive (to the left).  Some heavy pruning was in order.

A garden helpmate took to binding the broken branches with masking tape.  A rough and ready treatment, perhaps, but the patient seems to be stable. Thank you, Dr.!

Non-surgical care is quite minimal: feeding in the spring and fall with a few handfuls of HollyTone, an application of composted manure around the roots, deadheading and, when I'm on top of garden chores, spraying for scale in the spring.

 And, as these happily leafing out "Carnival" and "Mountain Fire" specimens show, when they are good, they are very good.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Green is the theme

I am so looking forward to digging around in the garden this long holiday weekend.  It's been weeks and weeks since I scrabbled dirt under my nails, shoveled compost, and kicked into the rhythm of edging flower beds. Throughout this past month, I've been on the road for reasons of business or pleasure (not that I'm complaining for a moment about the latter) and, along the way, have been subjected to all shades of late spring. Everywhere, green is the theme.

Wind, cold, and rain in Chicago

Prickly pears heating up in Phoenix, Arizona

Spring attempting a jailbreak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Happy with the homefolks in Hunt Valley, Maryland

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Woodland wake-up

This early in April, the little patch of open space across the street seems still asleep. But the morning knocking of woodpeckers in the tree canopy, the rumbling of passing trains, and the leaf-crunching footsteps of an occasional rambler suggest that spring has started to wake up.

On close inspection, early ephemerals can be spotted popping up on the forest floor.  Clutches of wild Northern white violets are scattered over the damper areas. Why are they so much lovelier than their invasive purple cousins?  Is it location (lawn vs parkland)? Or size (scrubby vs. robust)? Or just familiarity (ugh, another weed vs. native novelty)? 

Northern white violets (Viola pallens)

A bit distant and, thankfully, easier to spot, are several spreads of naturalized spring squills. Not native, perhaps, but most welcome during these chilly days.  Judging from the amount of territory that they have colonized, the first bulbs must have been planted decades ago.
Spring squills (Scilla siberica)
Of more recent vintage are the clumps of daffodils that my husband tends along the road verge opposite our house.  Late season purchases of discounted bulbs from the local big box store, augmented by a spring application of 3-5-3, help to spur these along. Every year that they return and bloom is an achievement given the onslaught of street salt, highway mowing, and flower pluckers.
Daffodil "King Alfred"

Perhaps rows and rows of yellow flowers will someday form an audience, like these springtime spectators watching crew races along the river. Ah, yes, it is time to wake up!

April rowers on the Charles

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

On the chilly cusp

To welcome our early Easter (and our holiday guests), I set out a big pot of tulips and pansies by the front door.  The weekend was blessed with sunshine and mild temperatures and, for just a few days, spring was quite electrically in the air.

Well, that's pretty much over now.  We are teetering on the cusp between the seasons: above freezing temperatures during the day but sub-freezing temperatures at night. 

The  Farmers' Almanac publishes a nifty little guide to frost for gardeners, including some handy terminology.  

Light freeze: 29-32 degrees F.  Tender plants killed with little destruction of other vegetation

Moderate freeze: 25-28 degrees F.  Wide destruction of most vegetation with heavy damage to fruit blossoms and tender semi-hardy plants.

Severe freeze: 24 degrees F and below. Heavy damage to most plants.

Of course, the degree of damage depends on the frost duration, micro-climate, altitude, and the other elusive factors that account for gardening's unaccountability.

Although pansies are tough little fellows, a severe freeze will turn their foliage. They are happiest when the night temperatures are around 40 degrees and the day hits 60 degrees.  That's actually our average temperature this time of year . . . well, other years, that is. Tulips fare slightly better in these chilly circumstances, with little effect until the temperatures slide down into the low 20's and below.

So, as we're looking at moderate freezes over the next few nights, it's fortunate that this pot can simply heaved a few feet off the front step and into the warmth of the front vestibule. It's hard to believe that our average last spring frost is April 7, less than a week away.  Get shining, sun!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March along the High Line

One of the best ways to spend a sunny March morning: strolling the High Line, an inspired public park that runs for a mile along the lower west side of Manhattan.  Whenever I am in New York City, I try to incorporate a little ramble down this reinvented elevated rail bed. The High Line has become enormously popular since I first wrote about it three years ago. Back then, you could pretty much have the place to yourself in the early morning; now, there's a steady stream of walkers and runners sluicing their way up and down the walkway. Not everyone is happy with this success, but we sometimes have to look beyond our own private pleasures to the greater common good, I think.  And it was indeed good to see so many people weathering chilling temperatures and early hours in order to refresh body and soul.

And if you were very patient, you would indeed be rewarded by a peacefully unpopulated scene.

Ruby Giant woodland crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) "Ruby Giant"

Just as the visitor might now have to recalibrate expectations to accommodate the larger volume of fellow park fanciers, our unseasonably cold and lengthy winter required some modification to what flowers were blooming in late March.  However, there was a wonderful scattering of early blooming trees, shrubs, and bulbs, as well as animated stands of grasses.  Near the north end of the park, we were greeted by sprays of blue-purple crocuses popping up between the stones of the rail bed.

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) Emerald Sentinel "Corcorcor"

The High Line is all about contrast and complementarity: the hard shapes of the man made environment against the softness of the natural world; the melding browns, russets, and beiges of bricks and dried foliage; the stillness of the surrounding buildings versus the movement of the vegetation. One of the sites where this visual friction and fusion was most successfully realized occurred between West 21st and West 22nd Streets.  There, Broken Bridge II, a massive installation of sheet metal and mirrored slabs by Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui, enticed, fragmented, and refracted the adjacent cedars, sky, and buildings. I loved how the blue berries burdening the cedar branches were echoed in the blue chips of sky caught in Bridge's mirrors and were counterpointed in the angular, ocher-colored pieces of tin.  This awe-inspiring woven work complemented those that we had seen in El Anatsui's solo show, Gravity and Grace, at the Brooklyn Museum just the day before.

Between West 19th Street and West 20th Street, lines of the track-like pavement, softened by bunches of meadow grass, eased into the ribbed facade of the beige brick building behind. 

Brownies hairy alumroot (Heuchera villosa) "Brownies"

In the Washington Grasslands at Little 12th and 13th Streets, floppy clumps of dark reddish-brown heuchera called out to the straight lines of distant brick buildings.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) "Sunburst"

But it was also a day just to revel in the simple joy of spring as expressed, for example, by this backlit yellow witch hazel.  These golden flower flecks belonged, most appropriately, to the "Sunburst" cultivar, which indeed snapped as an explosion of light. 

Dawn viburnum (Virburnum x bodnantense) "Dawn"

Flowering viburnums were scattered over the southern portion of the High Line.  Even to my feeble nose, they smelled like spring. Oh, sweet anticipation!

Crocus and cornus
All days should start so happily.  Thank you, High Line!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Garden goal roll, 2013

In eager anticipation of the upcoming season of shovels, pruners, clippers, rakes, and trowels, I'm preparing my annual garden goal roll: what needs to be done, when it should be done, and where it's all happening. 


Place plant orders. 
 *  From White Flower Farm, 3 bleeding heart (Dicentra "Gold Heart") and 3 beebalm (Monarda "Pink Lace") Done in March.
  * From Swan Island or other dahlia nursery: some small yellow dahlias, like "Baby Yellow," for old side bed? Five "Baby Yellow" tubers ordered from Lobaugh's Nursery April 1.

Pot up those refrigerated amaryllis bulbs!


Prune and clean up shrubs damaged by winter snows.

Shape "New Dawn" rose canes.

Order new rose arbor for back door.

Top-dress daffodils with 5-10-10 when the leaf-tips emerge. As they flower, top-dress with 0-10-10 or 0-0-50. High-nitrogen fertilizer should be avoided. Jump-started with BulbTone (3-5-3) on March 31.

Start renovation of back property line bed Started April 28
 *  Remove some lilies of the valley.  Is containment possible with aluminum lawn edging?
 *  Plant bleeding heart (Dicentra "Gold Heart") Planted April 28, but not looking happy.
 *  Consider what else would improve this space. Something low and chartreuse?  Or grassy?
 *  Move Japanese painted fern to more visible location.  Again, clear out lilies of the valley?

Did any perennials in the dry bed along the northeast side of the house survive the combination of rabbits and winter? If so, is more room needed?  Maybe cut this bed a bit bigger?
 *  Plant beebalm (Monarda "Pink Lace") along the front.  Due to lack of space in northeast side bed, planted at back of house on April 28.
 *  Move the sedum "Autumn Joy" from behind the compost pile into this bed. Four divisions planted in northeast side bed on April 28.

Feed evergreens along front of house with Holly-Tone.Done May 5

Dose "New Dawn" rose with 1/2 cup of Epsom salts in 2 cups water. Done April 28

Trim "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle back. Done April 28


That stuff that you didn't get to last month?  Do it now.

Review spring bulb performance.  What needs to be replaced or amplified? Maybe add to the Pheasant Eye daffodils (Narcissus poeticus) to the dry bed along the northeast side of the house? Yes!  Also late blooming daffodils along bed at back of house.


Move potted amaryllis bulbs outdoors and feed regularly with liquid fertilizer.

Edge garden beds.

Prune into shape front foundation plantings and yews along side property line.

Scratch 1 1/4 cups of RoseTone around the roots of "New Dawn" climbing rose now monthly through the summer; be sure to stop feeding by August 15 in order to prevent developing new growth that will not have time to harden off before fall temperatures drop.

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

When it is 3 feet tall, cut Joe pye weed "Gateway" back to half its height to encourage dense growth. Done June 8

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".

And stake, stake, stake!


After flowering, prune the "New Dawn" climbing rose. 

Prune back 50-80% of "Major Wheeler" honeysuckle after bloom is over.

Late August/Early September

Separate Siberian irises to left of kitchen door (Eric the Red).

Time to order spring bulbs!  Order 12 or more hyacinth bulbs (white, deep pink, coral), at least 25 paperwhite narcissus bulbs, and 2 amaryllis bulbs for indoor forcing.

Columbus Day

Plant spring bulbs.

Dig in bone meal around peonies.

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

Move potted amaryllis bulbs indoors and chill in refrigerator.

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 seeds.
Late December

Start planning plant purchases for 2014.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Springs: emotional, botanical, mammalian, religious, meterological, temporal, and astronomical

When does spring actually arrive in New England?  After a winter's worth of waiting, it might seem that the rather despairing answer is "Not soon enough" or, sigh, "Never."  And that would feel correct, emotionally speaking.  Meantime, we are bombarded with a range of different dates for the beginning of spring.  Take your choice! There's the meteorological start, defined by average temperatures, on March 1. Then, we spring forward into Daylight Saving Time on March 10. Our local groundhog's shadowless day forecast the start of this year's spring on March 16.  Want to hold out longer?  Go for the vernal equinox on March 20.  Or wait to celebrate with Easter on March 31. With March snowstorms rolling through, it's kind of a moving target.

To jack the seasons along, I've been cutting forsythia for indoor forcing. At last, the "Lynwood Gold" has produced so many branches that an armful can be cut without fear of leaving a plant with the appearance of a child's self inflicted haircut.

A little additional clipping of stems under warm water, a little sunshine, a little time, and behold--spring arrives on my schedule!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

And that's why they call them . . .

. . . snowdrops. Just peeking out from the icy package delivered by this week's snow storm are little green clumps of leaves and stems topped with tiny white buds.  However, a few more hours of driving, spitting, spraying snow, and they will be buried.

But in the meantime, this ice-dusted flower--released but not yet open--holds the promise of milder days ahead . . .

. . . as does this scruffy salad of snowdrop greenery. How great to see this chilly foliage poking up on the snow-covered hillside behind the house, particularly on a day when six more inches of snow is forecast: a gentle reminder that spring is on its way. Eventually.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Color chips

This year, I was determined to prepare enough hyacinth bulbs to combat those dead of winter doldrums.  With the frothy, festive show of dozen or so bulbs of "Gypsy Queen," "L'Innocence," and "Lady Derby", we're almost there. 

To prepare the hyacinths for indoor blooming, I cool the bulbs in the refrigerator crisper drawer for about nine weeks. Then, each bulb is set in a glass forcing vase. There are lovely vintage vases to be found out there in shades of blue, green, purple, and amber.
Just add water up to the base of the bulb, and a few weeks later roots appear . . .  

. . . followed by flower heads a week or so later. The blooms bring fragrance, life, and beauty to a grey winter day and yes, as the poet says, feed one's soul.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter white

Another weekend, another snowstorm, another white bloomer.  Here, amaryllis "Picotee" comes shining through our current blizzard.


We're still recovering from over two feet of snow that dropped this weekend.  Inside, sweet-smelling paperwhite narcissi "Ziva" capture the white light reflected from outdoors.

They almost look like bright exploding snowballs. 

And another set of white blooms, amaryllis "Picotee," is just about ready to launch. There may be too much white outside but is there too much indoors? Never!