Friday, December 10, 2010

Tipsy Pots for the Winter

Do you have a collection of potted perennials awaiting spring? I do, each winter; either stuff I've unearthed during fall clean-up, or specimens I just never got around to planting, or gifts. My eyes are generally bigger than my stomach, as Mother used to say. I really meant to put that new salvia over by the feverfew, and I had the best intentions of plantng the dwarf Joe Pye near the gazebo. Alas, some things didn't get done.

But don't forget about those potted wonders. As Paul Young taught me, you need to tip the pots on their sides right about now, so that moisture doesn't collect in the bottom of the containers and rot the roots.

So trot right outside and do it. You won't be sorry.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Winter water for the birds

Birds need water to drink and bathe in year 'round, just as do we humans. The first few nights below freezing remind me that it's time to dig out the bird bath de-icer and position it in the round plastic basin which is attached to the railing on our back deck. An extension cord plugs into an outlet on our screened porch, and the element turns on when temps dip below 32 degrees.
This simple apparatus cost me some $15, I suppose, and it's functioned well for years. In the off-season it lives in a kitchen drawer, near the cupboard where the thistle seed is kept.

I place a small rock on top to prevent dislodging in high winds, or by over-enthusiastic critters. Of course, the basin gets cleaned every few days to keep things safe for our avian friends.

Even after all these years, it's still a thrill to see finches, wrens, chickadees and other birds taking a drink of clear water in the depths of winter when most other sources are frozen.

Mother Nature appreciates every little bit of help.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Late Color in the Garden

By now, most garden color is usurped by dry leaves strewn on the lawn and the blue wash of sky above. But some vibrant hues remain. Salvia 'Victoria' is still standing tall and blue. Buddleia 'Lo and Behold' retains flower panicles for late butterflies and bees. Hamamelis 'Jelena' sports bright yellow leaves, as does the 'Goldmound' spirea just outside my front door. The dangling flower buds on pieris 'Mountain Fire' are bright red, and honeysuckle 'Alabama Crimson' boasts not only sprightly yellow leaves, but clusters of orange flowers.

But the best of the lot is the oakleaf hydrangea. The last shrub to color up in my semi-shady backyard garden, it boasts large interestingly-shaped leaves of mingled purple, green, red and burgundy. Dried summer flowers in ivory hues add to the intrigue of this native, underused shrub.

It's possible, even deep into November here in southern New England, to have color in the garden. Makes one glad to be a tiller of the soil.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Monster Swallowing our Trees

Early November is the best time of the year to recognize Asian bittersweet, that invasive interloper who's taking over our forest edges. Most of the leaves are off the hardwood trees, but the round leaves of bittersweet are bright yellow and will persist for another week or so.

Go outside and look up. Do you see a yellow-leafed vine scrambling up your trees & over your shrubs? It's most likely bittersweet and it needs to be cut down before it envelopes the trees like the picture above. So get out the clippers, loppers and hand saw. Some vines will be as big around as a man's arm, and will eventually kill a tree by either crowding out the sunlight, squeezing the trunk, or making it so top-heavy that it will break the trunk or topple in a strong wind.
Try to uproot the beast, (the orange roots are diagnostic) but if you cut the vine, it will sprout next year, so plan on going back and recutting next spring. Keep after it!
If each of us kept our patch of Mother Earth clear of this monster we'd go a long ways towards eliminating a major threat to our woodlands. Otherwise, our forests here in the Northeast will eventually look like the sad picture above.

Monday, October 25, 2010

There's still color in the garden!

My great gardening friend Paul Young likes to gently tease me about the importantce I attach to color in the garden. It's true, I live for color, and even this late in the season there's plenty of it.
This photo was taken this morning. Notice the orange of the amelanchier, the russet of the Japanese maple and the still-vibrant green of the forest grass. Is your eye caught by the last blooms on the roses and the purple/red of the hydrangea? Me too. Are you drawn to the depths of the surrounding forest? I am.
Adding to the garden color are fallen leaves on the chestnut-brown mulch. Nature's bounty, scattered around the beds and borders, but soon to be gathered and added to the compost pile, which grows to some 10' tall this time of year. But first it's fun to scuff through them on the grass paths through the garden.
A northeast garden offers color even this deep into autumn. The beauty of the land is all around us.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Interesting Begonia

This strange looking begonia has lived on my patio all season long. I purchased it at Shakespeare's Garden in Brookfield (my favorite nursery) in June. It's done quite nicely on my semi-shaded patio, and put out numerous sprays of tiny white flowers. Truth be told, I didn't know it was a begonia when I first spied it. No matter.

It's done so well all summer that it's going to be one of the few plants I'll save over the winter. Come the cold weather, most patio plants get pulled up and relegated to the compost pile. This guy looks so handsome in his terra-cotta pot that I just gotta give him a winter home.

Now, if I can just find out his name! Anyone out there have a clue?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

News-Times column of 9/17/10

It's a charming antique home in charming downtown Bethel. But what makes passersby turn their heads isn't the ornate woodwork, large windows or the three-story height on the house in which Steve Muffatti rents a first-floor apartment from his parents.

No, it's the scramble of canataloupe vines edging out into the driveway, the ripe tomatoes that come nose-to-nose with visitors at the front door, and the purple eggplants hoisting their fruit on what used to be lawn.

Clearly a gardener lives there. A gardener who knows enough to allow the lettuce to bolt so he can collect seeds for next year. A gardener who's seized every square inch of planting space. A gardener, it turns out, who's sophisticated enough to realize that all growth starts with the earth and who therefore added copious amounts of compost prior to planting.

And yet, this is Steve Muffatti's first season tilling the soil. A senior at Western Connecticut State University who's majoring in history, he's only recently been bitten by the gardening bug. The difficult weather that Mother Nature threw at us this year hasn't deterred him. Next spring, he plans on digging up what's left of the front lawn and devoting it to still more vegetables. Corn, watermelon and green beans. Basil, and dill for pickles. Squash and maybe potatoes, though he's not enamoured of growing "anything underground". Yet.

What drew him to the world of gardening? As a barista at Bethel's funky coffee shop, Molten Java, Steve was intrigued by a frequent customer's comments on the art and science of gardening. After many a horticultural conversation, including several concerning Eleanor Roosevelt and World War II, Byron Graham, of Warrups Farm in Redding, challenged Steve with a gift of seeds. These were planted with some of Steve's mother's backyard compost into the soil around the foundation of the house, and a gardener took root.

It wasn't all done exactly according to Hoyle. Steve used no fertilizer, and he didn't read up on how to grow vegetables. All he did to prepare the soil was to pull out some tree seedlings along the foundation, remove sod, and incorporate the compost. And with his busy schedule of work and school, his only gardening time is early morning.

Not everything was a victory, of course. There's a sad story about the first gardening crisis, in which a blight visited the cucumbers; and a tale about a critter unknown who made off with some prime tomatoes.

But success is enticing, and the vegetables keep coming. As they do, girlfriend Julia Klaucke, an art and psychology major at WestConn, cooks Steve's garden offerings. Recent dishes include fresh tomato soup, salads and sauces, stuffed cabbage, eggplant Parmesan, and sauteed kale.

Steve Muffatti plans on being an educator, eventually teaching at the college level. He's 23 now, and soon life will take over. He'll be busy with family, career, and home. But I have a hunch that he'll always find time to garden.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Finally, some moisture from the sky! That makes the gardener's life So Much Easier. We got .7" by my back deck rain gauge. Today I'll check on the thirstiest of the plants (hydrangea, new perennials, spring-transplanted trees), to see if they need more.

Soon garden cleanup will be in full swing. I always hate to start it, feeling there's more beauty to come. But I look forward to my winter vacation from the garden!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010


It's been a tough season in many parts hereabouts. Too much heat and not enough rain. But this is the type of year when gardeners find out what are keepers and what are tossers. Among the former category for me are daylilies.

I developed my super-special deer repellent (see my book, Mentors in the Garden of Life, chapter 15) in response to white-tail deer's depredations on my daylilies. If applied regularly, the concoction works perfectly, and I now grow maybe 40 different cultivars of DL's, which give me thousands of blooms from late June until (usually) late August. This year things are ahead of themselves due to weather, so the beauty pictured here is among the last.

My backyard garden is often viewed from above, from my screen porch (see chapter 2, Mentors in the Garden of Life), where the flowers and foliage of the large hosta, astilbe, hydrangea, roses, etc. look quite good, if I do say so myself. I grow all colors and sizes of DL's. Pink, purple, apricot, white, red, lavender, and so forth. Don't ask me most of their names....I've not always been diligent about labeling. Lately I've been better, yes, but there's a bunch of orphans.

Once one is down on the grass paths that wind their way thru the backyard gardens, the weeds & problems are obvious, but I like to take visitors first to the porch and deck, so they can take in the full effect of the floral carpet spread below. The signature is the gazebo, framed in different seasons by different flowers.

Back to daylilies, which have scoffed at the drought of '10. With their tuberous roots, they store water; it takes a real humdinger of a scorching summer to cause them pause. Though bad this year, I've seen worse.

So my advice is to control the deer, and then indulge in daylilies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pinky Winky

Such a cute name, but I'm not sure where the title comes from. Is there a cartoon character who shares this moniker? A stuffed animal? A kid's book?

Whatever. The hydrangea paniculata 'Pinky Winky' is a grand charmer. At maturity he'll be some 6' - 7' tall and wide, but he's already spectacular. Those strong red stems! Those HUGE (up to 16") flower panicles that start off white, and turn pink at the base for a two-toned treat! The graceful habit, imposing presence, long bloom, and drought resistance all combine to make this a favorite.

A Proven Winners shrub, it's been in my front walk garden for three years now, (starting off as a mere twig) and I delight in seeing it as I walk up to the front door from the driveway or step out in the morning to get the daily paper.

Only once has Pinky been nipped by deer, but I'm forewarned, so now I apply deer repellent once per week, at the same time the stuff goes on the hosta, phlox, etc.

'Pinky Winky' has earned a place in my heart. True, he'll soon be too big for my Front Walk Garden and so will have to have a place in another of my gardens, but I'll still cherish him even when he's further away.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Publicity is Hard Work!

For most of my adult life I'd wanted to write a book. I write for magazines, do a weekly garden column, keep a garden journal, and have a couple of novels "in the drawer" (never sold). But tah-dah! This past May my garden memoir, Mentors in the Garden of Life was published. Such a thrill! Such a lot of hard work writing it and getting it birthed!

Little did I know the real work was just starting.

Nowadays, most publishing houses do very little to publicize books, especially books by new authors, or books with a perceived "small" audience. So publicity is up to the author. And it's an arduous task. It takes time to make contacts at bookstores and libraries & request a book signing or talk. (and we are often rebuffed). It takes knowledge and time to reach out to venues which may or may not want to interview us or review our book. It takes courage and money to send out review copies to people who may or may not review us, or review us kindly.

Add to all this the the fact that it seems fewer and fewer folk read books anymore, and it's an uphill job to publicize one's own book. I mean, how often and for how long does one blow one's own horn? Which PR overtures are likely to pay off? Who knows!?

But the only way word about my book, or any book is going to get out there is to keep on trying. So each day I try to make at least one outreach, one contact. I know Mentors in the Garden of Life is an interesting, well-written book, one with stories, messages, garden info, and life lessons. I'd like it to have a decent chance Out There. So I'll keep slugging away.

You can help. Consider purchasing my garden memoir either from me ( or or come to my book talk/signings. I'll be at Southbury Borders on Saturday, July 24th, and Danbury Borders on Saturday, August 21.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Carefree Caladiums

It's been terribly hot and dry this summer. Waaay above normal for temps and way below normal for rainfall. Some plants have suffered, and so have I.

A bright spot, literally and figuratively, are my caladiums. I generally purchase some potted specimens for my Shade Garden, which is so deeply shaded that even impatiens won't blossom in its depths. But caladiums shine. And glory be, once established, they haven't needed supplemental watering!

They'll last until frost, brightening up their alloted square feet in the universe. They're insect and disease-free, and earn their keep every day.

Are there any problems with caladiums? Of course! No plant is without problems. In the Plimpton garden there are several main issues with these handsome fellows:

One: They're expensive. Try at least 5$ a pot. Ranging on up to $12 or $15 (I won't buy them at that usurious price)

Two: They're very cold-sensitive, so can't be put out here until June 1.

Three: For me they're not easy to get started. They lag behind other stuff and I run out of room.

Four: Try as I might, I haven't been successful at wintering them over. I've tried leaving them in their pots. (they rotted in the garage). I've tried placing them tenderly in ever so slightly damp peat moss for the winter. (they disappeared).

I need to check with my propogating wizzard pal, Suzanne Galante to see how she would do it.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy my caladium beauties for the next couple of months and then rethink how to save them over the winter.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Queen of the Prairie is deposed

She's gone, my filipendula, aka Queen of the Prairie. Statuesque, pink, blowsy, easy to grow and gorgeous in the vase, nonetheless I've evicted her. Why?

She's too tall, and wants too much sun. While my my Backyard Garden is quite large, (100' x 100'), it gets progressively shadier as the deciduous trees in the woods ringing it grow inexorably taller. The Queen was leaning over the buddleia, obscuring the hosta, and threatening the pink 'Knockout' rose. I decided a couple of years ago she had to go. Actually getting rid of her, however, was another story.

I began pulling her up in clumps each spring, and potting her up for the Garden Club plant sale. But she was a persistent monarch, and kept sprouting more clumps. Which I kept pulling and potting.

For several years.

This year, no Miss Nice Gal. I yanked her up wherever I found her and tossed her unceremoniously into the woods. I think I finally have the situation under control.

New large hostas, 'Dick Ward', 'Sum of All' and 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd' have taken her place.

I hope.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Garden Nemesis

Another name for this pretty, delicate-appearing green monster is Garden Enemy #1. It's pilea, an enthusiastic weed which grows to some 12-18" if permitted, and which likes moist, shady conditions. Precisely what my back yard gardens offer. I'm not sure when it first arrived, probably 3 or 4 years ago, but I recall the Cooperative Extension office identified it for me.

Little did I know it would take over. Deceptively easy to pull out, with weak, water-filled stems, I nonetheless must have let a few of its antecedents go to seed. So last year it greeted the spring with vigor. And this year it's hiding under the leaves of the big hosta, it's disguised among the astilbe, and it's insinuated itself in the shady rock wall by the hydrangea. It's everywhere! I keep pulling and pulling, but's found a home.

Here's hoping it goes away as fast as it arrived. But I'm beginning to despair.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cow Slobber

No, really. "Cow slobber" is one of the old-timey names for this lovely perennial, properly called Tradescantia. It's Latin name comes from John Tradescant, an illustrious plantsman of 17-century England. But the common name for this flower is spiderwort. Apparently it acquired the unattractive cow-related moniker because when the lax stems are severed, an oozing, stringy sap issues forth, guessed it, cow slobber!

This charming plant is in bloom now, but just in the morning; its blossoms close by the heat of the afternoon. However, each stem bears many buds, so it's in bloom for a couple of weeks. And then, if the entire plant is cut back, it will rise and bloom again later in the summer.

Spiderwort appreciates a spot in moist, shady soil, where it brightens things up between the hosta and the astilbe. Easy to grow, easy to maintain, the only problem I've ever had with it is the year the voles wreaked destruction on the shady slope under a huge sugar maple. They took out much of the carex and major clumps of astilbe, too.

Most spiderworts seen in the nurseries are blue, but look for 'Sweet Kate', which has chartreuse foliage and pink flowers.

Another pretty plant with an interesting backstory.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hankering for Hostas

This handsome fellow is the 2007 Hosta of the Year, 'Paradigm'. He's fast-growing, slug-resistant, sun-tolerant, seersuckered, and huge. A good doer. He lives by the gate to my shade garden and has grown so big in 3 years that next spring I'll have to move him back a couple of feet so I can access the garden. He's also crowding out hosta 'Christmas Pageant', another beautiful plant, but totally overshadowed by Mr. Paradigm at this point.

I'm fortunate to know the names of these cultivars....I'm not terribly good at labeling, though every year or so I get an attack of conscience and then purchase yet more and fancier labels which I don't use. C'est la vie. Now my ever-growing hosta collection is setting seed and producing some babies, confusing things immensely. I do have to label those, so one doesn't get mixed up with the cultivars. Most of the young 'uns are nondescript, but I could use them to fill in spaces....

I see no end to my hosta wishlist. Lately I lust for 'Mighty Mouse' and 'Liberty'. 'Marmelade' sounds delicious, and I must have 'Dream Queen'. I favor the large, variegated cultivars, but the itty-bitty ones like 'Pandora's Box' and 'Blue Mouse Ears' are charming, too. Every year Paul Young and I travel to Granby, CT, to John O'Brien's hosta nursery, ( ) and every year I bring home yet more lovely cultivars. I seem to have decent growing conditions for hosta in most of my gardens. Lots of compost helps, and regular applications of my homemade deer repellent.
Change is a-coming, however. In my main front garden, the European white birches (which I didn't plant) are in decline. When they go, the whole front yard will be sunny, necessitating a re-do of much gardening space.
But isn't that what gardening is all about; the permanance of change?

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Spring View of the Shade Garden

Spring is the happiest time in the deeply-shaded, narrow garden between the south side of the house and the woods. The soil, amended well with compost and peat when the area was dug and the fieldstone path laid 10 years ago, is now root-infiltrated and dry. Some things do well, such as the tiarella and phlox stolonifera above, intermixed with hosta and backed by old-fashioned bleeding heart. The plantings almost obscure the large rock outcropping which was the impetus for making this area a garden. The ledge was just too difficult to mow around, and the sparse grass became thinner with each passing year.

I try different things in there on a regular basis, and some plants, such as Virginia bluebells, have thrived, but the Shade Garden remains one of my most difficult challenges. In April I removed the leggy rhodies along the east side, and replaced them with a deutzia 'Chardonnay Pearls' and a itea 'Little Henry'. We'll see.....

One thing that helps is the small red tulips I plant each autumn. Though they won't perennialize b/c there's not enough sun, the effort of yearly planting is worth the bright sparks of color in spring. And I love tiarella. It takes deep shade, the deer don't bother it, and it self-sows. I have several cultivars and numerous seedlings.
Heucherella is a cross between heuchera and tiarella. I find it tolerates significant shade, blooms well, and is a healthy, deer proof plant. I recently purchased 'Sweet Tea', a lovely caramel hue, and put it in with some large hostas at the entrance to the Shade Garden. I like the color contrast, and we'll see how that area does.

After all, a gardener is always learning.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


The allee of crabapples along my front walk bloomed early, like everything else this crazy spring. There are three of the small flowering trees. The first, an unknown cultivar, was a Mother's Day present some 15 years ago and I don't know its name, but like the rest, it's disease-resistant, floriferous, and fruit-bearing.

The second, 'Prairie Fire' blooms a pretty pink, and bears round red fruits that the birds quickly devour, often before they fully ripen.

The picture is a closeup of the third crabapple, 'Scarlet Brandywine'. My favorite, its bloom is double and fragrant, and the fruit is large and orange.

Crabapples, especially the newer disease-resistant ones, give three seasons of interest. The often-reddish leaves, the magnificent flowers, and the fruit, which nourishes both the birds and our souls.

Gardening in concert with Mother Nature. It's the best.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Bloom This Week

Actually, lots of things are a-bloom this last week in April. More than should be, in fact. We're waaay early this year. Lilacs, forget-me-nots, lunaria, Korean spice viburnum, tulips, daffodils, crabapples. And so much more. I love my garden at all times in season, but sometimes I think the couple of weeks when the tulips bloom is my absolute favorite.

However. Here's a shot of a quiet corner of my fishpond border. Lamium, of which I'm not overly fond, (because it's aggressive) is admittedly pretty in flower. In this picture it's draped across the rocks around the pond, and looks quite lovely. Perched above it is one of the best small plants for shade, even dry shade. European ginger, grown for its shiny, healthy, round leaves, not the almost-imperceptible flowers which are borne under the leaves. This ginger, planted when the pond was put in 10 years ago, has self-sown and spread. It's not a thug, though. And it's easily transplantable.

Both of these guys will do well in shade, and don't they look pretty against the rocks? I like how they soften the stone, and add color to a monochromatic scene. When you design your gardens, think in contrasts, like this.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thrilling Trillium

I found this little beauty in my woods last week, tucked in between a swamp maple and a tulip poplar. A welcome sight she is in my deer-and-invasive-species-ravaged woodland.

My newspaper column this week is about garlic mustard, but that's not the only marauder I've got. The bittersweet, however, is pretty much eradicated on my 2 1/2 acres, and I tolerate the few stands of barberry. In a minuscule attempt to at forest restoration, each year I transplant more tree seedlings to the edge, and vigorously apply my homemade deer repellent further into the woods.

But there are no baby or adolescent trees left in the interior. The deer have devoured them all, leaving only the mature forest, ever thinner and more open to plant invaders. When those trees die a natural death there will be nothing left of the once-grand forest. Will people care then? Will there be a real, coordinated effort to control the deer population at that point?

I hope so.

In the meantime, my small efforts to bring back a tiny portion of the forest pays off when I see skunk cabbage, jack-in-the-pulpit, and ephemeral wildflowers like this red trillium.

Somebody's got to care.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Petite Daffodils

Does the sight of vibrant yellow daffodils gladden your heart like it does mine? I love them all, the old-fashioned 'King Alfred', the fancy doubles, the pure white of 'Mt Hood' and the late-blooming 'Actea', and of course, the jaunty little 'Tete-a-Tete', which bloom early and often in clusters. Easy to grow, easy to pick, and critter-proof, all daffodils really want is a place in the sun and a handful of Bulb-tone now and then.

Though I admire them all, I only grow daffodils that naturalize reasonably well. The ruffled pink ones are delectable, for instance, but it seems the farther away from the basics the cultivar is bred, the less hardy it is. I want my daffs to last for many years in the garden.
Some pointers:

  • Choose firm bulbs, and plant in decent, well-drained soil, in full sun.
  • When picking, pull 'n twist the flower stalk from the base.
  • After bloom, remove the withered blossom, but leave the leaves. Do not fold, spindle or mutilate. Those declining leaves are making food for next years' show. If they want to hang around until July, let 'em.
  • Fertilize 3x a year. Once when leaves first emerge in spring, once when flowering is finished, and once in autumn.

But do enjoy your daffodils, and plant more every autumn, so that you, too can appreciate their exuberance in the April garden.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Grande Dame of Early Spring

She's here! Helleborus orientalis, Lenten rose, has risen her lovely, statuesque head to greet we winter-weary, waterlogged folk with a true taste of spring. There she is, amid the tattered remnants of last year's leaves. She's shown up in my garden in robes of purple, ivory and speckled green.

Time to do right by her. Here's how:

First, release her from those ugly leftover leaves. Cut them down at the base and toss into the compost, being exquisitely careful not to cut her flower stems, as they are close together. Then, if she has any progeny under her skirts, pot them up for gifts, garden club plant sales, or transplant them right away.

Don' t be alarmed if the temperature drops into the 20's one of these nights; the Lenten rose will droop in the cold, but revives in the light of day. She's a northern gal and can take the cold.

I do hope you've given Lady Lenten Rose a place of honor in your garden, where her blooms can be admired now, when there's so little in bloom, and on into the six weeks or so that she flowers. At the front of the flower bed, or next to the front door, in a moist, shady spot is ideal.

And did you know that she makes a gracious bouquet?

All in all, the Lenten rose, while a tad expensive at the nursery, is a most regal presence in the border. Early, deer-proof, colorful, long-lasting....what more could we wish for?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Vagaries of March

The zephyr breezes of spring that caressed our gardens last week are gone; in their place we have rain and cold. Those cannas I resurrected out of their winter peat storage and potted up? Back into the garage. The multiple flats of pansies? Awaiting warmer temps. I did plant some of them, and will watch the nighttime forecasts. Pansies are cold-tolerant down to about 22 degrees. They may lay over, or look wilted after a night of such cold, but they'll spring back. I'm ready with the Reemay or a flowerpot, though, if the weatherman predicts colder than that.

In the meantime, I'm raking the lawn, pruning the roses, piling the compost high. I'm sharpening the tools, filling patio pots halfway with done compost, and scraping the driveway debris. It's all satisfying work, even if the sun doesn't shine. Soon enough the warmth of April will bring the daffodils and I'll need a truckload of Sweet Peet in my driveway.

In the meantime, the birds think it's spring. They've been checking out the newly-cleaned birdhouses and sounding a serenade. Once it's a little warmer, I'll be singing, too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Late-Winter Chores

I do think it's coming. Spring, that is. The equinox is approaching, the ground is thawing, and the garden work beckons. In between the raindrops, I've been out in the Front Walk Garden, chopping down the ornamental grasses, and the Patio Garden, cutting the sedum stalks. I've deer-repelled, leaf-lifted and cut forsythia for forcing. I've eyeballed pruning needs and spent a moment in the gazebo. I've offered my garden for the June 5th Garden Tour.

The compost pile, swollen with offerings, is huge and ripe. The new pile, started with Christmas paper, beer cartons and cardboard, is layered with garden gleanings, sawdust and treasure from the old pile. What a delight to pitchfork last year's compost and see how it's turning into riches! The earthy smell, the magic of turning nothing into something. Is there anything better than composting?

Ah, but other chores call. The high winds and rain of the past few days have left white pine cones scattered on the grass. I need to pull out the snowplow driveway markers. I need to find my tools, straighten the shed and assess the vole damage. I need to lay in my supplies of Milorganite and Holly-tone and potting soil. (Agway, here I come!)

I try to spend at least an hour outdoors these fine cool days. To breathe the air, hear the birds sing, and watch Mother Nature work her alchemy on the earth.

What about you?

Saturday, March 6, 2010


As I write this, the temperature is 42.6 and heading up. Maybe it'll reach 50 today, which will be the highest temp since what, last November? Snow piles abound, and the ground is still frozen, so not much can be done in the garden.

But.....I can scatter fertilizer, especially under the broadleaf evergreens. I can cut some witch hazel for display and forsythia for forcing. I can mix up and apply deer repellent. I can pick up sticks & pinecones. I can do a little organizing in the shed.

I believe this qualifies as the initial workday of spring '10. According to my garden diaries, this breakthrough generally occurs in the first week of March, and the chores are about the same, year to year.

Sure feels good.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Have You Noticed?

Have you seen the new wash of color on the willows and red maples on the roadside as well as on distant hills? Have you heard the increasing chatter of the birds & chitter of the squirrels? Have you seen the hawks wheeling above the treetops?
The picture above, taken in Paul Young's marvelous Bethel garden, shows the glow of late-winter color on redtwig dogwood and pondside willow. The wood duck house awaits new inhabitants.

Spring is Coming!

Witch hazel is in bloom, snowdrops are ready to burst forth at the first sign of sun, and days are appreciably longer. Sugaring is in full force, so 'tis time to plant seeds, assemble the garden tools, lay in a supply of potting soil and fertilizer. Once again Mother Nature is sounding her siren song.

It's time to listen.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Color is a-Coming In!

It's a dreary, overcast, raw February day, & spring is weeks off. But there's color in the garden! I just checked the witch hazel. Both 'Jelena' and 'Arnold Promise' are about to bloom. These witch hazel cultivars were a present from Paul Young, who grows magnificent specimens in his garden. The chubby buds on 'Jelena' are robust orangy-earthy tone, and 'Arnie" is boasting a hint of his bright yellow. When we get a warm day, perhaps above 40 degrees, they'll both unfurl their bright little banners of color. They are often fragrant, and the scent wafts over the White Pine Garden while I clear it of winter debris.

And take a look at the pieris! These set their flower buds the previous season, and they sit, patiently awaiting the blue skies of March to burst forth. But they give us a color present while they wait.

Both pieris and witch hazel are easy shrubs for the shade garden. Deer disregard pieris, but you'll have to spray repellent on the witch hazel. It's worth it for the preview of the season to come, isn't it?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bees and Birds

Today I'm writing my weekly newspaper column; this one's on beekeeping. I'm learning as I go, & interviewing my pal Peter Philip, who's kept bees for decades. Thinking about flowers which attract bees makes me long for warm weather.

And I'm watching the birds out my front window. The main birdfeeder is visible if I peer over the top of my computer; I can see the redbellied woodpeckers at the suet, the jays crowding the smaller wrens and juncos, and the brilliant scarlet of the male cardinals against the green of the hopper.
This morning it was 5 degrees on my back porch, so when I went to retrieve my News-Times, I scattered a birdseed mix rich in black oil sunflower seed on the sidewalk. That allows the groundfeeders to get their share, and the seed does double duty as an anti-skid substance.

However, I'll have to be sure to apply organic Preen as a preemergent come late March, so all the seed not eaten by by bird visitors doesn't germinate into weeds.

In the meantime, the birds and I are muddling through the deep cold of the winter of '09-'10.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Winter Chores

'Tis the dead of January; what could there possibly be to do in the New England garden now? Much. Though I generally wait for a mild day to do anything; temps above 40 degrees are preferred. And I appreciate sunshine, however weak the rays.

Given such conditions, I grab the pruners and do some trimming on the crabapples, the forsythia, the philadelphus, and other shrubs. Yes, if I waited a few more weeks I could force some branches into bloom, but tempus fugit, and I like to act upon my inclination to work outdoors.

What else is there to be done? Scatter granular fertilizer around the base of broadleaf evergreens such as rhodies..... Pick up branches and pine cones that aren't frozen in place. (They've got to come up by spring anyway).... Clear stone paths and other hard surfaces of leaves and organic debris....Organize your pots for spring work.. ..Start laying in a supply of potting soil, amendments, and other essentials..... Keep on deer repelling....

Yep, there's a host of outdoor garden activities for January and February. And the more you accomplish these short days, the more time you'll have come mid-March when the ground thaws, the days grow longer, and the compost can be turned. That's when the season really starts!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Brush Piles and Christmas Trees

Our Fraser fir did a yoeman's job this Christmas, evoking the spirit of togetherness and providing backdrop to our revelries. And though it was festooned with lights, we never got around to draping it with ornaments or tinsel. Oh well. We had a lovely Christmas anyway, with Courtney home for a 2-week sojourn from China, and Kyle dropping in frequently from his home on the other side of Bethel. Eddie was in Florida; we missed him for the holiday, but we had a nice visit from him and Esther in November.

The Christmas tree is now ready to serve another purpose. Shorn of lights, it's off to one of the brush piles on the edge of the woods. There it'll join the other Christmas trees from previous years, as well as assorted cut shrubbery and saplings that we allow to accumulate in these spots. There are now three brush piles, each some 4-5' high, and each providing shelter to a variety of wildlife.

Sometimes it's unwise to be too tidy a gardener; it's important to think of the other creatures who dwell on this fragile planet with us.