2018, November 2018, What to do in the garden

Take care of tender perennials

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It’s starting to get colder, and soon the snow will start to fall. This is great for the plants, as snow is an excellent insulator. But what if it doesn’t snow? What if it’s just really cold for awhile, first? Straight – up cold can be devastating for perennials, especially tender ones that are at the limit of their cold hardiness, or new ones that got planted late.

What to do? Well, it’s better to hedge your bets and give your most precious plants some protection than just hope that there will be snow. This doesn’t mean anything too complicated – just cover the crowns of the plants with salt-marsh hay, or evergreen tree boughs. (You can supplement these later with boughs cut off your Christmas tree, if you have one.)

Roses can also benefit from a little cover. Plastic fencing or chicken-wire, wrapped around them, and stuffed with leaves works well. You can also buy things made especially for roses, but then you have to figure out where to store them the rest of the year. But in the end, it’s up to you. Anything you can do to help the plants will be greatly appreciated by them, and they will reward you in kind in the summer.

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2018, November 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to do your future self a favor

The gardening season has pretty much wound down by now, and before the holiday season starts up and while the garden is still fresh in your mind, you can do your future self a favor and prepare for next spring, now, by getting organized so that when the time comes, you won’t be searching for blunt tools or wondering why your peony hoops have become inexorably tangled with the gardening twine. It’s rather like taking the time to put the Christmas lights away properly so that you won’t have a tangled nightmare next time you need them.

-While your gardening tools are all in one place (or if they aren’t in one place, get them in one place), go through them and see which ones can be sharpened and either sharpen them yourself or bring them to a professional. There are some inexpensive kits out there, and it’s not hard to do. Then rub a very light coat of oil on the blades to help prevent rust, and put them away somewhere where you will remember to find them in the spring! For more on this, click here.

-Sort through the area where you keep your gardening tools, and make sure that everything is in good shape. Get new wooden handles, if necessary, throw away anything which is beyond fixing, and clean off any soil from shovels and spades.

-Paint the wooden handles of your garden tools. I can’t tell you how many pairs of pruners I have lost, but I can tell you that the ones that I have had the longest have red or orange handles. Some came that way, but others I painted myself. I just taped off the business end of the tool and sprayed the handle scarlet. Not only are they easier to pick out when you have gotten distracted and put them down amongst the flowers, but people are far less likely to walk off with them thinking they are theirs!

-And finally, get the oil changed in any power equipment that you have that needs it. You wouldn’t want to wait until the first snowfall to get your snow blower serviced, and you wouldn’t want your string trimmer or blower to fail to start the first time you feel inspired to use it. We all know how long it takes for that inspiration to come back.

Just a few preparatory steps now and you will be patting yourself on the back in the spring. So go ahead! Set yourself up for success! You’ll be thanking yourself before you know it.

2018, September 2018, What to do in the garden

A good time to plant

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I get asked a lot if fall is too late to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials, and the answer is a resounding “No”. In the fall, they are starting to get ready to retire for the winter, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the strength to establish themselves- quite the contrary. In the fall, perennials, trees, and shrubs don’t have to spend their energy on making leaves and flowers and attracting pollinators, so what energy they have can be used for root growth and getting settled in their new place.

Some caveats apply – if the summer has been very dry, and the plants seem stressed in their pots because they haven’t gotten enough water, you might want to pass them by and find others that have been better cared for. You don’t want to start with a stressed plant.

Also, if it’s a dry fall, and there is water rationing, it’s better to wait until spring when hopefully more water will be available. Just like any other time that you are planting, the new plants need to be well watered for several weeks in order to do well.

In New England, it’s best to stop by Halloween. But until then, as long as there is enough water, you can have great success with new plants. And sometimes they are on sale, because nurseries are often looking to get rid of stock so they don’t have to overwinter it. Win-win!

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2018, September 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to order bulbs!

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It’s hard to believe that it’s that time already, but it is, in fact,  time to think about ordering bulbs so that they can be delivered at the best planting time. At this time of the season, when the garden is still pretty full, it’s hard to think about where to put them, or why you would even want them, really. But try to remember that feeling that you had in March, of wanting spring to come, and how nice it is to see the first snowdrop, or have daffodils outside your front door, or to see a drift of Grape Hyacinths at the edge of your walkway or patio, and consider adding to the display. It’s a gift to your future self.

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As for where to plant them, that’s a little trickier, when the garden is full. So here are a few tips:

-Plant some near the front door, or the garage if that’s your main entrance, or where they can be seen from a window that you look out often. It’s often too cold or rainy or muddy in the spring to explore the out-of-the-way parts of the garden, so they will be wasted if you put them there. Put them where you can enjoy them.

-Don’t plant bulbs where you usually have piles of snow from the plow or underneath the roof where snow is likely to pile up. Those places will melt last and the bulbs may never get a chance to do their thing. (I know this from experience!) Likewise, don’t plant them in a shady, north facing place – same problem.

-Think about planting them next to your fall blooming plants. That way, the spring bulbs will have come and gone before the fall plants start to get going, and they won’t compete for space.

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In a month or so I’ll write about how to plant your bulbs, but in the mean time, check out your local garden center and see what they have to offer, or try some of the mail order sources below. One word of advice – when it comes to bulbs, bigger is better, and it’s worth spending a little extra money for a bigger bulb of the type that you are looking at. Those have greater food reserves and will produce a more robust plant.

Have fun!

White Flower Farm

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2018, July 2018, What to do in the garden

There are always flowers…

Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” At this time of year, it’s easy to get so caught up in our lives that we forget to stop and look at the garden and what it has to offer, so this week I thought I’d post some flower pictures from around the virtual garden. I encourage you to stop and spend a few minutes enjoying your own garden, or that of a friend – the summer goes by so quickly…

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Design ideas, Garden ramblings, June 2018

Down the garden path

Pathways are an important part of any garden. They get you from here to there, and separate areas of the garden. But their value is not necessarily just in their physical function. Pathways play an important psychological role in the garden, and so it’s important to choose the right material and layout, and to really think about what the path is supposed to accomplish.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

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Example #1: Paths that slow you down. This is part of my garden. It’s a terraced area on a very steep hillside, and when we had the terracing done, it took a long time to figure out how I wanted the layout to be. You enter the garden between the two round boxwoods on the right. From this top layer, there are two ways of getting to the bottom layer- by going down the hill in front of the stump-and-stone table in the center back, or down some steps that you can see the beginning of in the bottom left hand corner.

Without the garden beds, the impulse was to enter the garden and turn immediately towards the steps on the left, without paying attention to the rest of the garden. At the bottom of the steps was a second terrace, an eight foot strip that followed the upper contour, and another set of steps that lead into the woods. The flow of the space basically spit you out of the garden before you had even had a chance to look around.

I wanted to change that. I wanted there to be no direct way to get anywhere in the garden quickly, so that I (a rather impatient person by nature) or a visitor, would have to slow down and enjoy the garden which I was about to put a lot of effort into. So I created the semi-labyrinth that you see in the picture. There are now many ways to get from point a to point b, but none are direct, so you get to spend some time being present and enjoying the space.

The pea stone was also a deliberate choice. I will admit that part of the reason that I chose it was because the driveway in front of my grandparents’ house was covered in pea stone, and the crunching noise that a car or feet would make has a nostalgic aspect for me. But I also chose it because it is soft, and gives underfoot, and adds to the feeling of slowing down.  Pea stone can be a pain and isn’t for everyone, but in this circumstance, given what I wanted to accomplish and my fondness for it, it was perfect. And it serves the purpose well.

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Example #2: Paths that speed you up. This is a lovely path. It curves out of sight and adds interest and mystery to the garden. But it is not built for wanderers. The narrowness of it combines with the bricks running the long way psychologically hurry you up. While you are meant to enjoy what is on either side, you aren’t encouraged to linger. If I had to guess, it is a garden that is open to the public, and is designed to politely move people along. Imagine, for a moment, that the bricks went horizontally across the path. Would you walk more slowly?

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Example #3: Natural, but formal pathways. I love this picture. The garden is made up of great swirling drifts of plants in organic sweeps, but is manicured and formal at the same time. Choosing a style of pathway to fit those somewhat conflicting criteria could be tricky, but in this case, the designer has  done it perfectly. There are two paths here, and they need to be wide enough to fit the space but inconspicuous enough so as not to take over. These well shaped pieces of wood, arranged in pairs into graceful curves while  allowing grass to grow in between accomplish all that.

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Example #4: Natural but informal paths. This pathway is a great example of a side path that would belong in the woods, or be the “road less travelled”. Although its narrowness might suggest that it would make you go more quickly, the natural stepping stones do the reverse, as you would probably be keeping half an eye on the ground to make sure you had your footing. This pathway makes me think of a Japanese designer that I read about once but whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. But I have never forgotten the trick that he used to employ. He liked to design his gardens with stepping stones like these, and he liked curving paths with something special like a view or a specimen tree just out of sight around the corner. Then, he would make sure that the stepping stone that you would step on just before going around the corner and seeing that special something was a little wobbly. You would tread on it, wobble, and look down to  check your footing. As you took your next step, and rounded the corner, your head would come up again and you would get a special surprise. Manipulative, yes, but magical all the same.

And it goes on and on. Think about it next time you walk on a path. How does it make you feel? Does it affect the way you walk on it? What would you change if you could?

 

2018, May 2018, What to do in the garden

Planting Perennials

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Memorial Day Weekend is a great time to plant perennials since, for most of us in the Northeast, the threat of a frost is over. It’s time to go to the garden center and spend a little money. Or a lot of money! Regardless of the amount spent, we all want to protect that investment, and one of the ways to do that is to make sure the plants are planted correctly. The small amount of extra time that it takes to plant a perennial correctly pays off generously in the long-term health of the plant. And it’s very simple, once you know how.

 

Basically, what you are doing is creating an ideal environment for a new plant to grow in. This means making it easy for it to put out root growth, and giving it enough water deep down so that the roots to grow down, not up. Because if you have a good root system, the plant is much more likely to thrive. Here’s how:

 

1)     Dig a hole about twice as wide as the plant, and maybe 1.5 times its depth. The reason for this is that the soil that you put back in will be looser and it will be easier for the plant to grow roots into. Save the soil that you took out. Once upon a time, it was thought that putting back fresh, enriched soil was the thing to do, but studies have found that it makes such a pleasant place for the plants’ roots to be that they don’t venture into the adjacent soil, causing the it to be less stable. So the soil that you took out should go back in again, except for exceptional circumstances.

 

2)     Take the plant out of its pot and inspect the root system. If the roots look like they are densely packed, or are circling the bottom or sides of the pot, then they need to be loosened up. Scratch all the way around the root area, allowing the roots to spring free from the shape of the pot. If they are really stubborn, use your garden clippers or even a knife to slice them.

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3)     Backfill some of the removed soil into the hole, and check to make sure that the soil level around the plant is the right height. Place the plant in the hole, and backfill around it until it is about halfway up the sides of the root ball. Water deeply. This ensures that there is plenty of water available at the bottom of the plant, and gets rid of any air pockets that may be lurking in the soil.

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4)     Backfill the rest of the way. If you can, make a shallow ring around the plant with a little bit of soil so that water gets trapped there and can sink in. Water deeply again.

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And there you have it! Your plants’ roots will have an ideal place in which to grow and be well watered. Mulching will help retain water loss, so that’s a good idea as well. Just keep the mulch away from the place where the plant meets the soil, or moisture could settle in and the plants could rot.

 

So now, you know. Happy planting!