Sunday, December 27, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
But here are some of my impressions of horticulture & gardening in that huge city:
- There is much more greenery lining the streets, and pots of annuals prettying things up, than when I was last there, in '04. Willows along the channelled riverbanks, which were full of interesting-colored water. Small sycamores and oaks elsewhere. Large locust trees.
- Elaborate arrangements of annuals were placed in various spots; begonias, impatiens, other familiar flowering plants. Modern China is about to celebrate its 60th anniversary; there was much decorating of the streets going on with these.
- The large squares, such as the one at the Olympic site and Tienneman, held little greenery and no birds. Just huge expanses of concrete.
- Soil in potted plants, and small plots with ornamental trees, etc. looked nutrient-poor, and was not mulched.
- The Flower Market, held near the American Embassy, was a bustling place full of vendors hawking annuals, houseplants and decorative items for the home, such as statuary.
- There is an veritable army of workers setting up and tending to plants.
- Watering is apparently done from large trucks at night, with workers administering what look like fire-hose quantities of water.
- The Beijing Botanical Garden, on the far outskirts of the city in the northwestern hills, is an oasis of green, with a temple, wide paths, simple perennials, man-made watercourses, and a lovely, expansive lilac area. It was the only place we visited where we were the only white people, and Jerry, with his white beard and curly white hair, got some stares.
All in all, things in BJ look greener and more colorful than several years ago, though some of the street trees are suffering. I believe there was much planting done for the Olympics, and that effort shows.
I'll post some pictures when I can find them on my camera!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
- It keeps your good organic soil from washing away.
- It keeps moisture in.
- It keeps soil temperatures steady.
- It suppresses weeds.
- It beautifies your landscape.
Of course, the negative thing about mulch is that it has to be applied! Witness the mountain of mulch that still blocks my driveway. I had 8 yards delivered about three weeks ago, and with much hauling, cursing, mumbling and some strong teenage help, I've gotten maybe half on the garden. Now deep into May, I begin to feel I'm NEVER going to get finished. As I lug the buckets (I can't use wheelbarrows due to the steepness of the property and the thickness of the plantings) I generally find something that has to be done before the mulch can be put down. Weeds to pull or behead, a chlorotic rose, slug damage, a transplant Necessity, etc. So I'm delayed. But I like to think the garden benefits as a whole.
Those of you who read my weekly News-Times column know I like the dark, organic mulches, such as Sweet Peet and Agrimix. I don't use dyed material, and I don't use stones, rubber or peat moss. I want a product that will not only enhance the garden but improve it as well. By the end of the season an organic mulch will have mostly melted into garden soil, enriching it. Of course, that means that mulching is an annual chore, but oh well.
This year I've set June 1st as my Finish-the-Mulch goal. Let's I hope I get there.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
The colors and blooms of spring are often fleeting, and in the shade garden this is particularly true. Such plants as bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, lunaria and bleeding heart make a dashing appearance and then dash away, not to be seen again until next year. But oh, the impression they make while visiting! To flaunt their beauty, they take advantage of the dappled light available at this season before deciduous trees fully leaf out. Scattered about on the floor of the shade garden, they, along with tiarella, phlox divericata, ginger, pulmonaria, and lingering hellebore brighten the gardener's heart. Gardener's whimsy in the form of early botanical tulips sparks further interest.
But what happens to the deeply-shaded garden once these beauties have passed? It's important to have "bones" to carry intrigue through the next five months. These can include, as above, such structural items as the picket fence, blue birdbath, and fieldstone path. Japanese painted and maidenhair ferns lend structure and pique curiosity. Areas in the shade garden which receive more sun can support bright hosta such as 'June'. Azaleas, deutzia 'Chardonnay Pearl' and rainbow leucothe also help. The varied leaves of heuchera stay the season. And of course, plantings of shade-tolerant annuals in clumps throughout the bed assist in maintaining interest.
Many of the spring ephemerals are self-sowers. If you wish to increase their stock for next year, refrain from mulching until the ginger, lunaria, Virginia bluebells, phlox and bloodroot have had a chance to cast seed.
A shade garden is often the kindest imitation of Mother Nature, who plants in groups on the forest floor and whose tranquil, soothing scenery calms the weary soul. With planning, your garden can reflect the best our Mother has to offer.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
There aren't any hard and fast rules, of course. But there are wise practices. As the earth warms and water becomes ever more precious a resource, we must husband what we have. In fact this sping we here in Connecticut are 8" under so far for moisture. Shocking, isn't it?
Here's some suggestions on how to utilize what we have:
- Purchase an attractive watering can, one of substantial size (maybe 2 gallons). It should balance well in your hand, have a removable rose, and be presentable enough to live in the garden. (I love my French Blue from Gardener's Supply in Burlington, VT). Keep it filled at all times, especially as you leave the garden at the end of a workday. That way it's always handy to employ on a moment's notice.
- Obtain a good hose, keep it coiled and ready to use. If your's is a large garden, having one in each section is smart. Invest in hose guides so that as you use the hose across yard & garden it doesn't smash your lovely plants. (my hose guides are dark brown metal, ornamented with little birds, and they stay in place all season long)
- Set up a rain barrel. These are widely available nowadays, and are a direct descendant of the wooden barrels our grandmas had under the downspouts of our childhood homes, catching all that soft rainwater. One or two of these, hard at work snagging all the free water sheeting off the roof will go a long ways towards conserving water.
- Irrigate early in the day, if possible, to avoid evaporation in the midday sun. Try not to water in the evening; that promotes fungal disease.
- Refrain from watering your lawn. Instead, keep your lawn soil rich by using a mulching mower; dusting with a thin layer of compost; and incorporating clover into the seed mix. Grit your teeth in times of drought; the lawn may go dormant, but it'll come back!
- Keep your garden soil organic and therefore able to retain moisture. Dig in that compost!
- Mulch, mulch, mulch. Use an organic product such as Sweet Peet or Agrimix. Mulch helps the rainfall to soak into the garden; it keeps soil moisture from evaporating; it beautifies your garden; and it prevents erosion, just to name a few of its attributes.
Wise use of water befriends Mother Earth, upon whom we all ultimately depend. Do your part.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
- Purchase and enjoy your geraniums this season.
- Just before frost next October, trowel out healthy plants you'd like to save.
- Shake the dirt off their roots, and lay flat in an unheated, dark space. (I put mine on shelves in my garage.) You need a dry location where the temps don't drop below freezing. If you want to keep the colors straight, label them. Believe me, you'll never remember which is which without labels.
- Don't even look at the poor things until the beginning of March. By then you may see little green shoots erupting from the dead-looking stems.
- Drag out the pathetic objects, prune to about 3-5", pot 'em up and place in good light & some warmth. I put mine in a bay window until daytime temps are reliably above 40. Keep from freezing. Most of those scraggly plants will reward you with new growth in a couple of weeks. Harden them off as spring progresses. Geraniums are cold-tolerant, so may be planted in the garden generally by late April.
- You'll lose some plants, but soon there'll be a new crop from what used to be throwaways.
Congratulations! You've learned to recycle one more thing.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Next I carefully cut away the old leaves from my hellebores, which are about to burst into bloom. For those of you who follow my gardening column in the News-Times, look for more information this Friday on Lenten Roses.
Kyle then helped me to haul the 30-gallon garbage can of winter compost down to my new compost pile which Don so gleefully referenced in a comment a week ago. The accumulated frozen slurry is now at work, jumpstarting a new pile.
And, I raked some on the lawn. I like to give the grass a good massage with a wide rake in early spring. It removes the leaves, twigs and dead grasses, and provides me with an aerobic workout. Not all the lawn is dry enough to work, however, so I'll take it in stages. The rakings, of course, go into the compost.
All this took me about 2 hours. Then I replaced my tools, peeled off my muddy gloves and went inside to jot down my endeavors in this year's garden diary. Got to keep track!
Sunday, March 8, 2009
The pennesitum, chasmanthium, miscanthus, panicum, etc, serve the garden well for 3 seasons. But come early spring, they must be lopped off. Grab your hedge shears (not your pruners, you'll give yourself carpal tunnel!) and hack away. It helps if you hoist up a big handful, then cut. Put the leavings in the compost pile. It'll make the pile huge, but they will break down in a couple months. Be sure to rake the bed & lawn after your work session, so stray strands of grass don't blow all over the neighborhood.
Once clipped, your ornamental grasses will look denuded, and your yard will seem suddenly exposed. But rest assured, in a month, new green spears of grass will be peeking up from the stubbly mess you left behind.
And the cycle will start anew.......
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I'm itching to get out and inspect the garden. I want to prune, and plan, if not plant. I long to see some bare earth, and find the first flower. (a Johnny-jump-up, most likely) I want to haul the winter compost to the main pile by the mailbox garden, and clean out the supplies slopped in a corner of the garage. I'm eager to drag the patio pots out and clean sodden leaves off the deck and see what plant labels this winter has torn away. I want Kyle to get his motorcycle out of my garden shed so I can take inventory of pots, seed starting supplies and fertilizer. I want to be able to walk outside without bundling up like Nanook of the North.
I want Spring!
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Au contraire, my gardening friend. Start with yard and garden clean-up. If your ground isn't too soggy, make a circuit and pick up large sticks and twigs. Put them in the brush pile. (you DO have a brush pile, don't you? They provide essential shelter for a variety of amphibians, mammals and birds in our fragmented forest.)
It's also time to start removing the wadded-up leaves that have settled onto paths in your garden, or which have blown up against the house. Let the ones stay that are nestled in the shrubbery or among the perennials. Unless they're smothering the crowns of your plants, they can remain as free mulch. If they are hiding the perennials, wait a month until spring has indeed sprung, then remove.
As you gather up those soggy leaves, deposit them in the compost pile. They're full of nutrients and moisture and will help to super start the composting action in just a few weeks.
Stepping into the garden and doing just a few chores accomplishes several things. It gets you out in the fresh air; it lessens the workload which will be upon us next month; and even fifteen minutes of labor helps satisfy that winter-dormant urge to garden. And then there's the possibility of finding the first flower of the season, just as I did last week. There it was, a single johnny-jump-up, snugged in among the miscanthus and pennestium in the grass garden.
And a welcome sight she was!
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Still, the siren song of these old-fashioned, fragrant flowers calls to me. I can just see gathering armloads for the house, or giving them away in a nosegay. I can visualize the pastel colors and the cunning tendrils spilling over the white hobnail vase which was a gift from my mother. So when the new seed racks at Agway beckoned last week, it didn't take too much self-convincing to grab a couple of packs. I chose 'Floribunda', an early producer, and 'Perfume Delight', a variety known to be heat tolerant. I've got a sunny area picked out, next to the arbor and adjacent to a 'Ludvig von Spath' deep purple lilac. I figure the plants can grow either up the arbor or through Ludvig; their choice. I'll wait until the ground warms up to sow the seeds, probably around the latter part of March. And then I'll pray for success.
I grow many plants from seed each year, but I always insist on trying something new with the turn of the calendar. I'm not sure sweet peas really count, as I've tried them before, but hope surely springs eternal in the gardener, doesn't it?
Hope, and of course, folly.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
But there is something you can do to hasten spring, at least in part. Start a garden journal. Pick a blank book of any type, and jot down your gardening thoughts on a daily or weekly basis. Tell your journal what you plan to grow come spring, and where you plan to make your purchases. Draw a diagram of your plot, make a list of your garden wishes. Commit to paper the name of that great gardening book you mean to read this year. Record the warming temperatures and the increasing day lengths.
It's all grist for the gardening mill. It will all help the endless frozen days to pass. I've kept garden journals for over 20 years, and it's endlessly fascinating to review their contents. In fact, that's my favorite pasttime when snow shuts down our community. I dig out my journals and open them at random, amazed to read how I dealt with the deer in '86, or the name of that (I thought!) lost-to-memory iris from the middle '90's, or how I longed for time to garden when my children were small and oh! so demanding.
My journals are kept on a shelf in the family room with my gardening books. I used to just pile them one on the other, but now I line them up by years, so as to have better access. I also record the year on their spine, and start a new journal each January, no matter how much space might be left in the old one.
Some of the lists I keep in my journals are: the Perennial Plants of the last 20 years; pronunciation guides to difficult names; list of items I need to purchase; list of tasks to complete this gardening year; and transplant ideas.
Keeping a garden journal. Another chapter in the gardening life.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
But there is the last bouquet of autumn, picked in October when the garden was vibrant with late season color. The last bouquet, gathered every year as the autumn chores wind down, warms my heart as I await March, and the warmth of spring.
Hydrangea 'Glowing Embers' associates nicely with spiky astilbe 'Visions' fronds. Seed heads of sea oat grass dangle over the vase. A button of Japanese anemone rises from the center of the arrangement. Sedum 'Autumn Joy', of course. A frond of miscanthus. Air-dried 'Knockout' rose blossoms. All these, and more, adorn my winter vases each year. Their presence reminds me of the satisfaction derived from the gardening year gone by. The dried flowers provide a spark of interest in the days that are too short; the nights that are too cold. In their papery texture I sense the soil that grew them . The last bouquet of autumn sustains me, gives me the hope of a new year.
Spring will come again. The last bouquet of autumn proves it.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
The White Flower Farm spring catalogue http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/ had arrived.
Now, I do find WFF a bit overpriced, but their offerings are varied, the prose breezy, and the pictures, delectable. And they're from my corner of the world, just a bit north of here, in Litchfield, CT. My modus operandi with each of my favorite catalogues is to savor every page, circling plants such as hibiscus 'Sugar Tip' and buddleia 'Lo and Behold' that I planted last year and need to know more about. I note that such old favorites as hydrangea 'Preziosa' are back. I scan the annuals, and how they're grouped in pots. I chuckle at how expensive self sowers such as cleome and verbena bonariensis are this year. I jot musings on wished-for plants in my garden journal. The sticky notes mark catalogue pages to which I plan to return, and I've learned to write on the stickies what it is that's caught my attention. After half an hour or so the catalogue, now somewhat resembling a porcupine, goes on the shelf with other "keepers". This untidy bundle includes Bluestone Perennials http://www.bluestoneperennials.com/ , known for their impressive yet inexpensive selection of perennials; and of course, Park Seed, http://www.parkseed.com/ , and Burpee http://www.burpee.com/ from whom I order many of the seed packets I use each year. ( This year I'm contemplating 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories, cardinal climber, and snapdragon 'Rocket'.)
Yes, the garden catalogues allow us to enter a different world on these deep winter days. A world where the ground is not frozen, where the deer turn up their snouts at our yard, and and where gardening dreams come true.
Bring 'em on!
Friday, January 2, 2009
It's part of a gardener's imperative to care for their winged visitors. There are several ways we can do this:
Feeders are important, of course. I have two----a finch feeder on my back deck, kept full of a mixture of niger seed and sunflower chips. This one is generally busy with arguing juncos, olive-drab goldfinches and the occasional downy woodpecker. Attached to the deck rail, close to the hanging feeder, is a birdbath complete with an electric de-icer. I keep it filled and cleaned for the birds to drink. And they do. I've never seen them bathe in it, but they sure do drink the water. My best friend, Muriel, on the other hand.....she also keeps a bird bath going in her yard, and darn if she doesn't get bathing birds! Even in the dead of winter.
In the front yard I have an hopper-type feeder, with a perch that dumps off squirrels, and a metal baffle to further discourage them. This feeder is kept full of a mixture of cracked corn, hulled (to keep litter to a minimum) sunflower seed, peanut chips, dried fruit, and whatever else happens to be in the mix I purchase that week. (No millet) Attached to the feeder is a suet cake.
To this feeder & suet come an array of birds and wildlife. It sits directly outside my library window, so as I'm reading or writing I can glance out and see the action. We get cardinals; three different kinds of woodpeckers (red-bellied, downy, hairy); chickadees, blue jays, juncos, wrens, and many more.
Seed spills from the hopper, of course, and this ground bounty feeds the gray squirrels, occasional visiting pheasants, and assorted other wildlife.
What else can a gardener do to sustain the birds? Grow some berrying shrubs, viburnum for instance. Grow crabapples. Leave a few berry-producing wildlings such as pokeweed in the fringes of your yard. (Blubirds love 'em!) When you clean up your garden in the autumn, leave standing such perennials as rudbeckia to provide seeds and winter structure.
Birds add movement, color, sound, and a naturalness to the gardener's attempts to harness nature. They are a integral part of Nature's Design and, as we humans destroy their habitat, it's incumbent upon gardeners as stewards of the earth to do what we can to mitigate the damage.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
But that's no reason to relinquish the pleasures of composting. After years of trying various methods of cold-weather recycling of my organic leftovers, here's what I've struck upon as the most successful.
Grab a 30-gallon plastic garbage can, drill holes in it all along the sides and the bottom. (very satisfying, wielding that drill!) Place the can on a deck, an unheated porch, or anywhere convenient for you and where marauding night critters aren't going to cause too much trouble. Commence composting.
That's all there is to it. Of course, you want to follow the basic rules, such as layering, not using bones or meat, etc. Two 30-gallon containers suffice for my household of two for the winter months, and I compost almost everything.......paper towels, soft-walled cardboard cartons, pet hair, coffee grounds, as well as the usual array of stale toast and soggy cereal.
An added benefit of winter composting is that after repeated freeze and thaw cycles, by spring the contents of the makeshift bin has turned into a rich slurry. One caveat-----the can will be heavy as you haul it to the regular compost pile.
But the lumpy, fertile mixture will jump start your warm weather composting; you'll have saved your winter organic garbage from the landfill, and you got lungfuls of brisk winter air most mornings.
What can be be better than that?