24 October 2011

when october goes

I spent an hour or so planting lilacs on Saturday afternoon. It was a classic late-fall day—gray sky, occasional drizzle—and I was feeling the way I always feel this time of year . . . a little cold, a little older.

And as often happens in fall, I heard a flock of Canada geese approaching from the north. On some days their flights south, then maybe north again, then east, then have we gone west yet? make me laugh out loud ("Make up your minds, you guys! Are you staying or going?"). But on Saturday, I stopped digging for a moment, let my heart catch a little, and watched the majestic, raucous formation pass overhead.

I should be over it now, I know.
It doesn't matter much how old I grow.
I hate to see October go.

22 October 2011

amarilli mia bella

Dug the amaryllis bulbs three weeks ago, put them in a box in the basement, where they will rest for a few months (that is, until early–mid December), at which point I'll pot them up and see what happens. They were beautiful last year.

And speaking of lovely, here's "Amarilli mia bella," by the late Renaissance/early Baroque Italian composer Giulio Caccini and sung by Cecilia Bartoli:

unusual year for tomatoes

If anyone had told me back in early September, with the summer we had, that I'd be picking 'Sun Gold' tomatoes in the rain on 22 October, I would have said, "Awwwww, go on with ya!" Except I would have believed the rain part.

However, I'm cooking down a few more tomatoes for the saucepot this afternoon. It's been a great year for 'Sun Gold.'

A few months ago, Ken Druse talked with Steve Bogash, Penn State Extension regional horticulture educator, who is known in vegetable circles (eh? what's that?) as Mr. Tomato. Last night B and I listened to the podcast with great interest. A few takeaways:
  • Who knew? Tomatoes like a slightly acid soil, somewhere between 6.2 and 6.8. Better yields with that pH. Most garden soil is pretty neutral. Don't lime the soil where you'll be growing tomatoes!
  • Favorite reds/pinks: 'Big Beef' from Park's Seeds; 'Brandy Boy' and 'Bush Early Girl' from Burpee.
  • Favorite yellow cherry: 'Sun Gold' (when he said that, B turned to me and smiled); however, it has a tendency to split, which is our experience.
  • Favorite yellow grape: 'Solid Gold,' which doesn't split, and which Ken Druse grows and loves.
The tomatoes that did best for us this unusual year were 'San Marzano' and 'Sun Gold,' both small varieties. We did our usual heirlooms, and they produced very few edible fruit. We bought one that was supposed to be early and had a horrible name: 'Sophie's Choice.' Isn't that awful? She limped along until the wilt took her away. Good riddance. We had lots of rot this year. Very disappointing.

But I'm not complaining this afternoon, with a nice pot of tomatoes cooking down on the stove.

31 July 2011

happy pairings

It's that time of the year when all of the plants in the garden begin growing around, up, and through each other. While I was unwinding the veronicastrum from the hollyhock this afternoon, I noticed how nice the buds of a 'Casa Blanca' lily looked as they poked their way through the dark leaves of a cotinus.

There are lots of these auspicious meetings. Here are some I noted this afternoon.

Two annuals playing nicely. The color of the blue lobelias this year has been amazingly intense. The sedum behind is one I picked up at a plant store in May. I'm certain it's a sedum; I'm just not certain which kind.

Why do my echinacea blossoms always look so "seasoned"? Here's one resting her well-traveled head on a bed of Amsonia hubrichtii.

Bluish bracts of Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' with regular old shasta daisies behind.

Here's what started it all: buds of a 'Casa Blanca' lily consorting with the dark, round leaves of Cotinus coggyria 'Royal Purple.'

12 July 2011

daylilies in bloom, 9 July 2011

Here's the daylily bed. It's about 30 feet long currently, but I think it might look really nice about 60 feet longer. Am I crazy? I am. I am insane.

My plan would be to intersperse at more or less regular intervals a selection of red, orange, and yellow daylilies that bloom early, midseason, and very late. Among the colors and forms I like are these three that are in bloom now (see below; would this be midseason?).

The first is blooming at about 50 inches tall. It's got very thin, grassy foliage, and the flower is washed out in the sun here, but anyway, it has yellow sepals and red striped petals. It's been blooming for about four days already. And there are plenty of buds to come. B and I like this one a lot. I've done some searching online, and I think it may be 'Caballero.'

The next is much shorter, about 28 inches tall in bloom. The flowers are a beautiful, deep brick red with a deep gold throat (the photograph here doesn't do it justice). I love it. It's cheerful and warm and small (one might even say it has a lot of spunk), and it's been in bloom for about a week now. Again, I did some Googling, and it could be 'Sammy Russell Red.'

And the last started blooming about two days ago. It's located at the end of the peony bed in the side yard. Currently it's being overhung by our huge Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle.'  The color is a deep burgundy (even though it looks more purple in this photograph) and it's about 55 inches tall in bloom. I think it might be 'Burgundy Star,' but I wouldn't swear on it.

Current daylilies (left to right): 'Caballero,'
'Sammy Russell Red,' and 'Burgundy Star.'
I realize I'll have to note when these go out of bloom, too. Hmmmm. Hope I remember to do that.

In addition to these strong colors, the daylily bed in its current configuration has some other plants with peachy or mauve blossoms. I'm not so crazy about the colors (they don't blend well with the ones I really like), and the forms of the flowers are broader, fleshier, and not the more-regular shape I prefer.

So . . .

On Sunday after church, I went over to Slate Hill Farm, which is about a three-minute drive from the center of Salem, New York, and told the owners, Craig and Mary Barnes, what I was looking for. I left $40 poorer and four daylilies richer.

Here's what I bought (and the images are from the Slate Hill Farm website): 'Campfire Embers,' a 1979 introduction by Stanley Saxton, one of the great daylily breeders (and a choral director, too; my kind of guy). This is a 30" tall plant that is in bloom now but continues for a long while, apparently. The flowers are a vivid, vivid, vivid scarlet red. Just gorgeous.

The next is 'Hyperion,' bred by Franklin Mead in 1924. This is considered a classic. It's 48" tall and a midseason bloomer. It smells wonderful (I don't know of many daylilies that have a fragrance, but then I don't know a whole lot about daylilies), and it looks beautiful blooming next to 'Campfire Embers.' When I asked the Barnes whether they preferred another beautiful yellow daylily, 'Kindly Light,' that blooms at around the same time and has thinner, more spidery petals to 'Hyperion,' they both said, "Oh, you want 'Hyperion' definitely."

For later in the season, I chose another yellow daylily called 'Sandra Elizabeth,' 28 inches tall, very late, with broader petals that somehow don't look overblown to me. It was developed by breeder Don Stevens in 1983. It's pretty wonderful.

The last is 'Autumn Minaret,' bred by Arlow Stout in 1951. It's another late one, huge (70") and a beautiful light orange, apparently, with red overlay. It's supposed to be fragrant, too.

New daylilies (left to right): 'Campfire Embers,' 'Hyperion,'
'Sandra Elizabeth,' and 'Autumn Minaret.'

A couple of others I didn't buy, but have put on my list for purchase from Slate Hill Farm another time are: 'Bitsy,' 'Scarlet Orbit,' and the aforementioned 'Kindly Light.' I figure I'll visit again in another few weeks and again a few weeks later and again later still to see what's in bloom throughout the summer. Three more I'd like to find are "Autumn Accent,' 'Princess Irene,' and 'Painted Lady' (Sydney Eddison considers this one her favorite).

It will take a few years for my four little plants to grow into big clumps that I can divide and replant, but, oh, what beautiful plants!

07 July 2011

thalictrum update

Nine and a half feet. And still growing.

deer: 13+; j: 0


Two weeks ago, I planted some 13 dahlias and a whole bunch of heuchera in the large bed down by the road. I was diligent about watering them all in through the first week. I promised myself that I am going to stay on top of crabgrass and other weeds. And what a beautiful sight they will be!

Or would be. (Maybe still will be.)

Got home from the city late last night. Gave a quick glance over at the bed as I drove up the driveway, and all looked well.

On my way out this morning, hmmmm: a different story!

Each dahlia has had most of its leaves eaten off, as have about half the heuchera plants. Sometime between late last night and around 8:15 am today, a marauding horde of deer—even though they can gorge on all of the lush greenery festooning the woods around Pleasant Hill; even with corn growing like mad in the fields just down the road; heck, even though I can’t imagine that a heuchera leaf would taste that good—had its way with my dahlias (and some of the heuchera; did I mention that?). Nibble, nibble, nibble.

To my thinking, deer are not Bambi; they’re not, “Ooooooh! Look at the pretty deer in the field! Shhhhhh! Don’t scare it away!! Sooooo cute!”

They’re big. They’re hungry for my plants. And I don’t like ’em.

26 June 2011

clear winner: thalictrum

Last spring, I bought six delicate little wisps of plants from Clear Brook Farm in Vermont: Thalictrum rochebrunianum. These were very pretty little plants last year, with columbine-ish foliage and stems that have a purplish bloom on them. I loved the look of the plants when they were a foot tall.

This year the story is a little different. The plants have grown quite a bit; they're somewhat taller than I imagined they would get. That's an understatement. They're actually quite a bit taller. I mean, oh my gosh, these guys are tall!

I can't get a clear idea of what conditions thalictrums want or need, although it seems to me that this crew is pretty happy where it is, which is in full sun in a well drained spot. The blooms are supposed to come soon, and they will be clouds of purple and yellow (yellow anthers, purple petals). Other thalictrums are shade and moisture lovers, bloom in spring, and are considerably shorter.

I can imagine getting sort of absorbed in a genus of plants that has such variation.

Thalictrum: My new friends.

19 June 2011

good advice

Listen to the gardeners talk:

"Two things you should do: Plant the dahlias in full sun and don't slack off on staking them. Let me tell you, if you put them in a semi-shady area and sort of forget about them, you'll come out in midsummer and find a floppy pile of leaves and flowers, and you'll be so disappointed. I mean, really, really disappointed."

"Here are some bachelor's buttons and the prettiest low, purplish monarda. This monarda isn't a thug at all. It'll stay where you put it. You'll plant the bachelor's buttons, they'll dry up and disappear, and you'll think, 'Oh, no! I killed them!' But don't worry, they'll show up."

"Just keep on pinching them back until July Fourth. You won't want to, because they'll be looking nice and full, but pinch them about every three weeks until July Fourth. If you pinch them again a little after the Fourth, well, that's all right, but try not to do it too late. They'll be bushy and full of flowers come September."

11 June 2011

june leaves

A friend asked B to bring flowers for her daughter's graduation party tomorrow afternoon. "Hmmmm," B said, "there's not an awful lot in bloom right now." We're sort of at the tail end of the iris/catmint/poppy era and haven't yet reached the mock orange/shasta daisy/astilbe period. So we went out this afternoon, dodged the raindrops, and took an inventory.

It turns out we have some gorgeous foliage going on: smokebush, ferns, hosta, lady's mantle, euphorbia . . . B cut and arranged various leaves in 12 Mason jars that will be filled out tomorrow morning with peonies, aruncus, and lamb's ear.

He's stored the jars in the garage (that's BeBe, our 1985 Plymouth Reliant in the background) for the night.

dahlias sprouting. most, anyway


I save my dahlia tubers from year to year. They live through the winter in bins of peat moss or, this past winter, shredded leaves, and then I pot them up (62 pots this year!) in the spring.

The dahlia tubers from Old House Gardens (my usual source; and I feel guilty I didn't place an order this year, but I didn't have $30 worth of tubers I wanted to buy) were all quick to emerge, but the ones I bought last year from Corralitos Gardens have been much slower or have not sprouted at all.


10 June 2011

pleasant hill? rose hill, more like!

This evening, B and I spent a few hours on the fabled long and steep slope. He planted red, yellow, and white annuals, and I wrestled with rocks and slate to plant two more Knock Out roses he bought at a local nursery. These last two are in addition to the five bareroot bushes (B calls them "sticks," and he hardly sees the point) I bought online from Miller Nurseries in Canandaigua, New York, and another plant B bought a few weeks ago. That's eight roses, eight easy-to-care-for roses that are billed as blooming from spring to frost. The pots the rose plants came in look suspiciously like the pots our pathetic 'Endless Summer' hydrangeas came in (that is, the pots are pretty, un-potlike colors with lots of superlatives printed on them). Regardless ('Endless Summer' definitely did not live up to the hype), I have higher hopes for these roses, which I have seen blooming in the medians on the West Side Highway in Manhattan, and which get rave reviews from my gardening friend Pam. We shall see. (In his book Gardening at Ginger: My Seven-Year Obsession with Designing and Planting a Personal Landscape, James Raimes says, "I think the phrase I use most often when I garden is 'We'll see.'")

A few weeks back, I moved three roses from the hell to which I had consigned them (an overgrown weed patch far from the house) to the slope. These are a musk rose called 'Darlow's Enigma,' Rosa glauca with reddish leaves, and 'Harison's Yellow' (one "r," please), an old thicket-forming rose that grows up around abandoned homesteads and that I think I've seen in the dooryards of old farmhouses in Washington County.

Already in place on the slope are a bunch of Rosa rugosa that B and I bought from the county soil and water conservation district a few years back and three Potentilla fruticosa 'Katherine Dykes' (also in the rose family, bien sรปr).

Planted, watered, and fingers crossed. Gosh, I have high hopes of seeing a somewhat continuous show of red, pink, yellow, and white blooms this summer on the slope. 

Here's a clumsy little collage of other people's photographs of the various roses (except the Rosa rugosa, which is pretty familiar). Click to make it larger!

(top to bottom, left to right; photo credits in parentheses) Knock Out Rose 'Radsunny' (from Miller Nurseries website); 'Darlow's Enigma' (from Mark of Excellence Roses website); Knock Out Rose 'Radcon' (from Miller Nurseries website); 'Harison's Yellow' (from Wikipedia); Potentilla fruticosa 'Katherine Dykes' (from Golden Hill Plants website); Knock Out Rose 'Radrazz' (from Miller Nurseries website); Rosa glauca (from ask.com)

09 June 2011

early june

This is that time of year when you're likely to find me in a reverie of one sort or another in spite of all that needs to be done in the garden. I am transported by the warmth, the smell of the air, the light. I think to myself, Oh, I need the spade, I really have to divide the asters, and on my way to the garage, I get a little sidetracked by the way the hayfield across the road looks so soft in the evening light, and I stop to take it in.

Five minutes later, I'm standing in the same position, my eyes fixed on the same point in space. The spade is still in the garage, and I don't remember that I wanted to use it for anything.

A friend who was visiting last week watched me wander back and forth across the lawn with a morning glory plant in my hand for a full half hour. I didn't actually get it planted then, but I was plenty busy.

The three 'Blue Angel' hostas I bought several years ago and moved from a sunny spot where they were getting burned out to full shade are more and more glorious each year. Every spring I worry that maybe they haven't made it through the winter, because they leaf out later than other hostas we have, and each year they come back bigger and bigger.

The Chionanthus virginicus that B and I bought two or three years ago after we saw one in bloom over at North Hill also seems to be settling in to its spot. The fringey blossoms have a sweet, very subtle fragrance. I catch whiffs of it as I'm weeding the slope.

All spring the name of the delicate-looking plants I bought in a six-pack last year has been on the edge of my brain. It begins with a "T":  Tradescantia? Tricytris? No . . . Thalictrum! All are about as tall as I am, with straight, sturdy stems that have a dusky bloom on them and more and more leaves unfurling. I have a feeling that when they bloom it will be an Event.

10 April 2011

isn't it amazing?

  • 16 March: I am eagerly awaiting being able to walk anywhere I want on the hill without having to navigate deep piles of snow.
  • 23 March: I am bitterly lamenting yet another snowstorm and comforting myself with watching some amaryllis blossoms open.
  • 9 April: The first daffodils are about ready to bloom (B says he thinks it will be Monday), we spent the afternoon raking and clearing brush and walking the perimeter of the property, and I will plant radishes, spinach, kale, and lettuce tomorrow afternoon.
In three weeks we have gone from hip-high snow to spring. Happy days!

09 April 2011

notes from last fall

  • Plant the Sungold tomato against the fence and let it sprawl.
  • Do not, DO NOT tuck an extra plant into a bed that's been planted already. No more Love Lies Bleeding in with the carrots.
  • One nasturtium plant per spot is puh-lenty. Three is gross.
  • B wants to grow haricots verts, little tiny string beans.
  • One 4x4 box should have two tomato plants in it, tops.
  • B wants to grow persimmon tomatoes.
  • The two waterlily type dahlias from Corralitos are over five feet tall. They've shaded lots of other things out.
  • Octopus campanula has a gorgeous leaf. Just gorgeous and the moundy thing it does is wonderful.
  • MUST MOVE the Oriental poppies.
  • MUST remember to pinch back the asters often. They are not as pretty now as they were for a few years.

bluestone perennials order

Thank you, Joan and Suzann, for my gift certificates to Bluestone Perennials. With them (and a sweet 15% discount), I was able to order the following:

07 April 2011

crocuses in abingdon square park

Click on a photograph to make it larger.
As I walked past Abingdon Square Park in the Village last week, some glimpses of purple caught my eye from the middle of the small lawn. I'm used to the park's gorgeous springtime displays (they make me feel like I've gorged on beauty, truth to tell), but these crocuses planted one by one sort of took my breath away. So simple and clean and elegant.

23 March 2011

two steps forward . . .

It's cold. And we're expecting snow tonight. A few inches.

Seriously? Winter, you have worn out your welcome.

But the next two arrivals on the amaryllis circuit provide a good measure of solace. As 'Apple Blossom' fades fast, two of his friends (I'm not acquainted with them yet) have stepped up to lighten the mood on the hill.

16 March 2011


The mud has arrived. Finally. Rain and warmer temperatures over the past few weeks have begun to melt the enormous amount of snow we've had this winter, which has felt endless. A patch of grass is emerging on the side of the driveway, where Scott used his snowblower to excavate one of our cars one sleety, snowy Friday afternoon in February.

I'm having a hard time getting my mind around the possibility of being able to walk easily anywhere but on the driveway, patio, or path I shoveled to the birdfeeders, but I know I will be able to soon. I have a long list of chores to tackle once the snow is gone. And in spite of not quite believing that the ground will thaw, I'm composing a wish list of plants and seeds to order and plant.

Back in the middle of January I potted up three amaryllis bulbs I'd grown outside all last summer and then dug and stored in a styrofoam cooler in the cellar. I followed Margaret Roach's advice to water them once and let them wake up before I watered them again. The first one began to bloom last weekend, about two months after I planted it. I think it's 'Apple Blossom.' The sepals on the other two are pulling back from the buds.

Welcome to water and dirt and green and color and growth.

14 January 2011

springs eternal

Last year after Christmas, I bought three amaryllis bulbs from Lowe’s. They cost something like three bucks a box, complete with bulb, orange plastic pot, and a little disk of peat moss that expands when you water it. I planted one bulb immediately, put the other two in the cool pantry, and then forgot about them. When I found those other two all dried out in April, I decided to pot one of them up to see what I got: Lots of leaves and no blooms. Hmmm, waited too long. Well, anyway, I planted them out in the garden in June (even the third one) and let them grow all summer long in the ground. Come October, I dug them up, shook off the dirt, and stored them in a Styrofoam cooler at the top of the basement stairs.

Tonight I will plant them. Margaret Roach over at A Way to Garden (great blog) tells me to “wake up amaryllis bulbs by watering once, placing in a bright spot, and waiting for them to respond. If no dice in a couple of weeks, water again . . . but don’t repeatedly water an unresponsive bulb, or it may rot. It will tell you when it’s ready for action.”

So, as the temperature outside dips below zero (–1.3°F currently and dropping) and drifted snow glistens in the light of the waxing moon, I am standing here in my warm kitchen—Scamp watching me from his bed next to the heating vent—and potting up these bulbs. I’ve done this about a thousand times, so I know the routine, but I am feeling tentative tonight. I want to do everything right: clean pots, fresh dirt, enough water, and a reasonable amount of hope.

07 January 2011

winter glow

Sometimes a shift in perspective occurs without my even realizing it. I began shoveling out from the Christmas snowstorm in a black-and-white world after the snow stopped falling on 27 December. The sky cleared as I shoveled, and the sun began to set, and this is what I saw when I looked across the road a little after four o’clock.

red, black, and white

A lovely snow storm two days after Christmas 2010. Another one is blowing through West Hebron this evening and tomorrow.

acony bell

The fairest bloom the mountain knows
is not an iris or a wild rose,
but the little flower of which I’ll tell
known as the brave acony bell.

Just a simple flower, so small and plain,
with a pearly hue and a little-known name.
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
for they know that spring is coming soon.

Well, it makes its home ’mid the rocks and the rills
where the snows lie deep on the windy hills,
and it tells the world, “Why should I wait?
This ice and snow is gonna melt away.”

And so I’ll sing that yellow bird’s song,
for the troubled times will soon be gone.

(Photo of Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite, from a Google image search and then borrowed from http://www.virginia.edu/blandy.)

And for those who would like a listen to Gillian Welch singing the song: