26 October 2009

ruh-roh: i’m already thinking about next spring

Surely I will ease off for the winter, but maybe not.

I was hanging around over at Blithewold the other day and noticed a single dahlia with petals that look like the dawn sky. I think it’s exquisite, and you can see it on this post (collage at the bottom of the post; upper left photo: Dahlia “Florinoor.” I couldn’t find it on a Google search of my own, so I asked Kris where she got it, and she pointed me toward Corralitos Gardens, which I think just may become one of my favorite Web sites come next spring.

On the next post, Kris posted a photograph of tiger eyes staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina “Bailtiger” Tiger Eyes), another plant I think I will have to have next year.

B and I want to visit Blithewold! There’s some beautiful stuff going on over in that Rhode Island garden for sure!


This is one of the many weeds that came in with the truckload of compost we bought from a local dairy farmer last year. It’s beautiful, I think, in a weird, witchy way. I have no idea what it is.

Happy Hallowe’ed!

gathering leaves

Wish I’d gotten a picture this weekend of the unusual harvest I accumulated on Sunday afternoon after the rain stopped: A cow barn full of leaves! Maybe next weekend.

I raked about seven tarps’ worth from the lawn between the house and barn. More to do, too, to the south of the house. I may venture up into the woods and grab even more. Scott, the man who mows for us, has offered to drop off his leaf shredder on Saturday so that I can make quick work of my harvest. Scott tells me the machine shreds and then bags the leaves that I will then save for mulch à la Sydney Eddison once the ground freezes.

Robert Frost seems to have a poem for everything. I think he may have been hanging out with me for a while on Sunday afternoon, long enough to hear me curse out the tarp that kept flying away on the October wind.

Gathering Leaves
Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

20 October 2009

october shadows

Top to bottom, all taken 10 October 2009: Miscanthus and Buddleia outlined on the side of the house; cornfield half-mowed on Joe Bean Road; sugar maples with the late afternoon sun behind them a little farther along the same road.

17 October 2009

before i forget . . .

Planted some small bulbs today, all labeled:
  • 10 Allium moly "Jeannine" by the front door, to the right as you look out from the house.
  • 10 Allium sphaerocephalon in the left part of the lilac thicket, probably nearer than they should be to the Dicentra.
  • 10 Bellevalia pycnantha front and center in the lilac thicket, in front of the astilbe and midway between the Japanese anemones and the Jacob's ladder.
  • 10 Ornithogalum nutans to the left of the garlic chives off the patio.
  • 10 Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica to the left of the front door, right in the lawn.
  • 10 Scilla bifolia "Rosea" between one of our newer lilacs and the daylily bed by the driveway.
Fingers crossed.

garlic planted

How wonderful to spend an autumn afternoon planting things. As I was placing 72 cloves of garlic in one half of one of our 4'x4' boxes in the vegetable garden, B said, "There isn't a better or more clichéd example of death and resurrection than putting a seed in the ground, is there?" And, really, when you think about it, putting a little kernel of something into the cold ground with the expectation that it will sprout in the spring is pretty awesome.

South to north, two rows apiece of six cloves per row, for a total of 12 rows of garlic, here's what takes up half of the left middle box in our vegetable garden:
  • Shantung Purple
  • Susanville
  • Polish White
  • Corsican Red
  • Inchelium Red
  • Lorz Italian
These are all softneck garlic, which means they'll store well (is that correct?)

Our first attempt at garlic!

16 October 2009

b(rrrrrr)other! weather!

Here's hoping the dahlia tubers haven't frozen this week while they've been sitting in the ground. It's cold here in the city and colder upstate.

The tubers are supposed to cure for a week in the garden after the killing frost. I was planning on digging them this weekend. Surely the ground hasn't frozen yet, right?

14 October 2009

killing frost 2009

Duly noted: Sunday evening (or Monday morning, more like; 11–12 October) we had a killing frost. I'm glad I got into the garden and took those last photographs on Saturday, because all the flowers are now gone, baby, gone.

This means the our frost-free growing season in 2009 ran from the first week of June (we had frost the week after Memorial Day that nipped a bunch of tomato plants in the vegetable garden) until mid-October, a total of about 19 weeks (or 133 days). I always think that our growing season is so short, but that's almost five months! Not bad.

This coming weekend I'll dig the dahlia tubers and store them in the basement over the winter.

A little advice from the Old House Gardens Web site on storing dahlias:
If you want to save tubers for replanting the next spring, after the tops have been “blackened” by frost, wait a week or so for the tubers to harden and fully mature in the ground. The soil will generally protect them from freezing. Then cut the stalks off a few inches above ground level. You’ll find that the tubers you planted in early summer will have increased into much larger clumps, so be careful when digging – start at least a foot away from the stalks. Tag each clump with its name, wash off all soil, and allow it to dry upside down in a cool, dry place for a day or two, no more.

Divide the clumps with a sturdy knife in fall or spring. Be sure a piece of the “crown”—the thickened area where the stem meets the tuber—remains attached to every clump, because the eyes (often more visible in fall) are located there. You may want to dust cuts with a fungicide such as garden sulfur. At the least allow cuts to air dry for a full day before storage.

Store in plastic grocery bags, in plastic garbage bags inside boxes, or in covered plastic storage boxes to help keep the tubers from dehydrating. Pack in coarse vermiculite, peat moss, wood-shavings, or something similar. Store in a cool, dry, dark place, ideally at 40–45º F. Check every now and then. Allow excess moisture to escape (look for condensation) or sprinkle some water on tubers if they seem to be shriveling.

Or here’s an easy way recommended by Marian and Bernard Mandella and Richard Peters in the Bulletin of the American Dahlia Society, September 2001. “Tear off a sheet of plastic wrap 20 or more inches long and lay it flat on a level surface. Place a [divided, dusted, and dried] tuber on one end and roll the plastic wrap over one complete turn. Lay another alongside and roll again. Be certain that no tuber is touching another…. You may wrap up to five tubers or so per package, but in the last 5-7 inches, fold over the side portions of the plastic wrap and continue to roll to completion. Fasten with a piece of masking tape that is labeled with the cultivar’s name. . . . There is essentially no loss from shriveling or drying.”

Some of our customers who grow dahlias in pots just bring them inside and let them dry out and over-winter right in their pots. Others grow them in 5-gallon or even 1-gallon black plastic nursery pots that they bury in the garden and then dig up and store in the basement through winter. You may want to experiment with these extra-easy storage methods, too!
As for me, I'll most likely bury the tubers in peat moss in a Rubbermaid tote that I will store in the basement (ah, the blessing of a dirt-floor basement; cool winter storage!).

10 October 2009

october portraits

Top to bottom: Zinnia "Big Red"; Geranium "Rozanne"; Dahlia "Kaiser Wilhelm"; Dahlia "Clair de Lune"; Dahlia "Andries Orange"; Aster "September Ruby"; Anemone tomentosa "Robustissima"; Anemone "Honorine Jobert."

plans for the day (or weekend, more like)

So it's a long weekend, B has gone to Vermont for a few hours, I'm drinking coffee and looking out the kitchen window at the early morning. The sky is gray with clouds, but I'm pretty certain they will burn off, and we'll see some sun. Which is good.

Plans for Columbus Day weekend:
  • Take more pics of the barn to add to the slideshow. The trees behind have turned (some have dropped their leaves already!), so there will be some nice kuhluh.
  • "Harvest" leaves for mulch, which involves raking them into a tarp and dragging them up into the cow barn where they can dry out before I mow them into shreds. (I read a funny little paragraph in one of my books last night about waiting to mulch until after the ground has frozen.*)
  • Begin digging the new garden! I want to do this now so the garden has a chance to settle over the winter.
  • Weed the bed down by the road (although, come to think of it, maybe I should just leave it as it is; it's scary-looking so it might be the perfect Halloween decoration, hmmm)
And, of course, we'll want to do some leaf-peeping (peak here this weekend, looks like!) and sitting in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace when it gets chilly tonight . . .

* "No matter where you live one rule is universal: never apply any mulch until after the ground has frozen. A winter mulch is put on to keep the ground cold, to prevent the alternate freezing and thawing which causes frost-heave, tears and exposes plant roots. Also, a premature mulch encourages mice. These little creatures spend the fall looking for a cozy spot for the winter, and to find warm earth under a warm mulch would be the equivalent of your finding a New York apartment with a garden in back and wood-burning fireplaces in every room, and at a rent you could afford to pay. So wait until the ground is well frozen and the mice have found other quarters before applying a winter mulch." (from The Country Garden, by Josephine Nuese, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970)

08 October 2009

poem for early october

One of my favorite poems (and I have a lot of those!). Reading it this evening is just right.

Let Evening Come

Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

07 October 2009

"diverse others"

That’s the term the folks over at Old House Gardens use for all the spring-blooming bulbs that aren’t crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. Little bulbs, mostly. The ones that grow under shrubs and venture out into the lawn. Mr. Robinson, the gentleman who got me excited about gardening in the first place, grew snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) under the mock orange, lilac, and spirea that surrounded his side porch. Their coming into bloom was always a great relief to me: Seeing them meant I wouldn't have to shovel his driveway for too much longer!

My mom and dad took Mr. Robinson's lead and planted snowdrops of their own under the yews in front their house in Schenectady. And our very first autumn at Pleasant Hill I planted some by the front porch, in memory of my old gardening friend. Snowdrops are remarkably prolific little guys; last year I spied a few on the slope behind the house, and I don't recall planting any there. Squirrels? Maybe I moved a few when I transplanted some other perennials? Who knows? But I love them.

So now it's time to expand the repertoire a bit, so to speak. Last year I bought and planted about 20 Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) after I read the following at Old House Gardens: "Vast pools of this true blue wildling decorate many old neighborhoods in very early spring, spreading without care under shrubs and into the lawn in light shade. Grown in America by 1830, its heyday was the early 1900s when one writer recommended planting 'hundreds and thousands in every garden.'" Isn't that great? Twenty is not the same as "hundreds and thousands," but one has to start someplace. I planted mine on the margins of the peony bed, and I hope they'll begin to venture forth into the lawn this year.

Last weekend I stopped at a nursery in Glens Falls and bought 25 more (for a grand total of 45, almost halfway to 100!), which I planted directly in the lawn under one of our crabapple trees. I used a shovel to cut and lift a circle of turf off the lawn, popped the bulbs underneath, and replaced the turf. We'll be able to see these from the kitchen window come spring.

And then last night I placed my very first order with Brent and Becky's Bulbs. I will be planting these guys in the lawn, in the woods, and in the garden.
  • 10 Allium moly "Jeannine": Society garlic. Planting it is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity, something we can all use, eh? I ordered some from McClure & Zimmerman a few years ago, but what they sent was not what I ordered, so I am hopeful I'll get it right this time.
  • 10 Allium sphaerocephalon: Drumstick allium. Purple, oval blossoms in midsummer. We really enjoyed the blooms on our garlic chives this year, and the large allium that came up on its own near the lilacs this past spring whetted my appetite for more alliums, please. I'm not ready yet to spend $9.00 and up on a giant allium, however, so these sweet little bulbs will be plenty fine for right now.
  • 10 Bellevalia pycnantha: I've never seen this before, a flower that looks a lot like (and used to be the same genus as) grape hyacinth; however, this one is taller (up to 12" apparently) and supposedly darker than the grape hyacinths I'm used to.
  • 10 Ornithogalum nutans: Star of Bethlehem or silver bells. I've seen this one before and have wanted to try it. Now's the time.
  • 10 Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica: Another small bulb suitable for what Brent and Becky call "lawn art." I like it!
  • 10 Scilla bifolia "Rosea": Another squill, this one a very light pink.

06 October 2009

grand plans

B and I have decided to double the size of the perennial garden by extending it almost all the way around the patio. The shape will echo somewhat the “bowl” of the back yard. We’ll fill the “old” perennial bed with asters and grasses and sedums and will call it the autumn garden. The new part near the patio (indicated by the garden hose in the photo) will be filled with summer-blooming flowers and herbs.

Problem to be solved with more garden? Well, because B and I tend to plant everything right on top of everything else, we will gain some breathing room and space for new plants, too. I also hope to create a little more order. While I don’t want our plants lined up like little soldiers, neither do I want them strangling each other.

So here’s to new beginnings. It’s time!

or is blue my favorite?

Hard to decide, that’s for sure. I took this picture a few weekends ago when we traveled to the upper reaches of Washington County with our friends Brian and Jim.

One of B’s lettuce mixtures this year included endive, so we’ve had some lovely chicory flowers to look at in the garden all summer. This chicory was growing on the banks of the Hudson River.

True blue.