If one were as good a gardener in practice as one is in theory, what a garden would one create!
- Vita Sackville West
Blog entries categorized under garden theory
Where are all the acorns?
Tags: gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, gardening in zone 6, WTNH, Boston Globe, Gardeners Edge, Pick Up Wizard, Nut Roller, mice, squirrels, Chipmunks, deer, bear, gypsy moths, oak trees, organic gardening, CT gardening, acorns
I have to admit, it’s all my fault. After 2 years of excessively heavy acorn crops, I bought a nut roller this spring. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to use it for months. And now, even though my property is surrounded by oak trees, there isn’t an acorn to be found.
In the falls of 2009 and 2010, I couldn’t walk across the lawn without stumbling on the lumpy mat of acorns. Raking the leaves meant picking up bushels of acorns, too, which added a lot of weight. When I saw the nut roller in a catalog, I thought it was heaven sent. I’d never heard of this tool before. The Gardeners Edge catalog (www.GardenersEdge.com) calls it a Pick up Wizard. Now it’s gathering cobwebs in my garage.
WTNH in New Haven, CT, has reported on this year’s lack of acorns, so it’s not just my yard. Apparently no one knows exactly how the cycle of acorn production works, except that there tends to be a bumper crop every 2 to 7 years, with a small one following. According to the Boston Globe, there was a light acorn year like this in 2004 (exactly 7 years ago).
Since deer, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and bear all eat acorns, they are in for a difficult winter. That means that they will forage further and turn to alternatives such as our bulbs and the bark on trees. And there will probably be fewer of these critters next spring.
If next year brings a scarcity of mice, which eat gypsy moth pupae, we might find an excess of gypsy moths. Which means I’ll have to take the blame. But if local lore that says a heavy crop of acorns foretells a harsh winter proves true, then this winter should be mild. And I’ll be glad to take the credit for that.
Have you noticed the lack of acorns this fall?
Tonight we will have a new moon, which makes me remember my grandmother’s garden. It towered over me as a child—huge plump grapes enveloping the arbor; poles buried in thick beans, dinner plate-sized dahlias & sunflowers; melons too heavy to lift. She was from Lithuania, and she always planted by the moon. She said that the darkness of a new moon promoted good development of the roots. Was this the reason everything she grew seemed over-sized and exceptionally lush? I wish I’d had the chance to ask her about her gardening methods.
Tags: organic gardening, new moon, gardening customs, transplanting, Farmer's Almanac, above-ground crops, gardening by the moon
According to the Farmer’s Almanac (farmersalmanac.com), the period of the new moon today (9/27) through 9/30 is ideal for planting above-ground crops such as leafy greens, flowers and grains. That sounds perfect for cool weather crops, perennials and reseeding the lawn. October 13th to 15th, on the other hand, favors transplanting.
Did your relatives follow any gardening traditions inherited from their national or ethnic backgrounds? Did you learn any old-fashioned techniques or lore? Do you apply them? Do they work?
I would love to hear from you and to gather whatever gardening customs may have been handed down in all our families. In a time when it is critical that we protect the planet by avoiding toxic chemicals, what wisdom can we collect from those who knew only time-tested organic methods?
As a shade gardener, I’m always on the lookout for plants that are described as tolerating shade. Tolerate is the key word—most plants do best in sun with a small minority actually preferring shade. A majority of plants sold for sun to part shade do tolerate some shade—but that doesn’t mean they perform their best there. Plants grown in less sun than they require will be leggy, floppy and tend to bloom less—the density of growth and coverage of flowers will be diminished.
But we expect this to some extent. What we don’t expect is shade plants that aren’t used to shade. But that is exactly what we get when we buy shade-tolerant plants. The nurseries and other plant growers seem to raise everything in bright, full sun. This gives them fuller, denser plants in a minimum of time and promotes heavy budding. It’s understandable that they want to offer the thickest, greenest, most floriferous merchandise possible.
The problem comes when we get home and plant our new purchase in a shady location. It is labeled for shade; we bought it for shade; but this plant has never known shade. There will be an adjustment period during which the new plant will look unhappy and perhaps lose some fullness. New growth will not be as dense as previous growth.
With perennials, this adjustment is not too serious (with annuals, lack of adequate sun will lead to a speedy end). With shrubs and trees, however, the time it takes to adapt and flourish in a shady spot can be as much as several years. We need to have patience and expect a transition period before the tree or shrub truly settles into its shady home and begins to flourish.
I recently added a new Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cloud 9’) to four already growing in my yard. I was conscious of the new tree being heavily leafed, and the leaves, though green and healthy looking, were nearly folded in half.
I speculate that this is the tree’s way of coping with the full sun of its nursery life, compared to the understory light for which Dogwoods are intended. The leaves of my established Dogwoods are broadly open and ‘normal’ looking in their partially shaded locations.
Another shade-tolerant tree I grow is a Shadblow (Amelanchier laevis), which is native to our area. I bought this years ago for the graceful branching pattern and the early spring blossoms that pepper the woods’ edge. This is another understory tree, native to partially shaded woodlands. Not only had the specimen I bought been pruned into a lollypop form, eliminating its natural grace, but the tree was so used to growing in bright sun that it struggled for several years at the edge of my woods. At first it lost several branches and had a tendency to develop fungal spots on its leaves. After a few years, though, it began to look happier and put out substantial growth. In the early years it denied me the delicate flowers that are so appreciated after a long, dark winter. Now it flowers better each year and the fungal problems have subsided.
Tags: gardening in zone 6, Cornus florida, Amelanchier, Shadblow, Dogwood, organic gardening, shade gardening
What would this Shadblow tree have been like if it had been grown in its intended setting? Perhaps it would have had much less transplant shock. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the new Dogwood. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from other shade gardeners if they’ve had this experience and if they have any advice that eases the plant’s transition.
I have to admit it. I’ve done everything backwards. I started out by buying plants that I absolutely couldn’t live without. Then I wandered the yard looking for suitable places to plant them. Then, when they weren’t happy or didn’t look good, I dug them up and moved them. Some plants have been moved up to 3 times before we both were satisfied. Beds and pathways developed along the way, following the contours of the property and the plantings already in place. When they didn’t work, they were rearranged too.
This is not the neat, efficient method of creating a garden; it is the way of the plant collector. It is also the trial-by-error, experimental way of learning to garden. It is a matter of getting to know my property intimately by working it, adjusting and editing as I go. And I don’t think I’m alone here.
On one level, I think all gardeners begin at the end and proceed backwards. We are attracted first to the quick, easy impact of annuals to brighten our yards for the outdoor season. If we get the gardening bug, we proceed to perennials for their ability to return year after year. As we gain experience, we begin to appreciate the need for structure and permanence—for the well-placed tree or defining hedge, for the shrubs that offer interest for most of the year with little attention.
Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what we should have done. The large, permanent plantings should go in first to define the space, the views, the traffic patterns. Then, the perennials can come in to ‘decorate’ the landscape, filling in the holes and enhancing the flow. Finally, annuals can accent the display with color and surprise as desired and needed.
I guess this is the benefit of hiring a or designer—they bring the experience that we don’t have when we start out. They can establish good bones for the garden and let us fill in the blanks.
It’s too late for me, but perhaps you can get started with the benefit of professional help, or at least the concept of structure first. Then again, if you are a plant collector like me, reason and planning just get in the way. We just have to find a spot for the latest acquisition and see how it all shapes up over time.
Can you relate?
Tags: garden design, landscape architect, plant collector
A knee problem has sidelined me in recent weeks, preventing me from doing any real garden work. It took me a while to realize how much this disconnection has affected me. Yes, I can walk (limp) around the yard and look, but not being able to literally dig in, to get down to weed and primp has taken a toll. Something is missing, as if I’m not getting enough oxygen. Thanks to my husband and some rain, the plantings will survive without my constant attention--I guess. Meanwhile my blogging will have to focus on garden memories.
I’ve always been attracted to the softness and moist green of mosses. The texture draws me to touch it. One of my fondest gardening memories is of a humid summer day when I volunteered to help at the Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, NY. Director Stephen A. Morrell instructed me on how to groom the moss that plays an important role in this shady garden.
On that day my duty was to sit on the ground and use my hands to clear debris from the mossy border of a walkway. Stones, twigs, bits of fallen leaves accumulate and disrupt the velvety expanse. And weeds, if left to spread, will likely out-compete the moss. Just a soft swiping with my hands, plucking the weeds gently, and I could almost feel the moss responding, perking up. And I, despite the stifling
humidity, was transported to state of cool serenity.
As with all weeding, it is easier if the soil is moist. People have been known to weed moss with tweezers! I found that a gentle tug with my fingers would usually work, perhaps followed by tamping down the disturbed moss. Weeding is relaxing; moss grooming is paradise. Perhaps the most intimate of garden tasks, it reduces the world to yourself and your immediate, soft surroundings.
After years of attempts to grow moss, I’ve come to believe that it is more a matter of encouragement than the usual planting and feeding. Though it grows in awkward places where nothing else will, that doesn’t mean moss will grow anywhere. It has established itself very successfully on my paved driveway—shaded by a wall and facing east. My efforts to grow moss on the east side of my kitchen have failed for a decade. Some mosses I tried disappeared—only to reappear on the other side of the house.
If you have a patch of moss in a desirable place, be grateful for the head start. Encourage its spread by keeping it clean and moist. Watering with diluted yogurt or buttermilk will help to increase acidity. But I don’t think you will have much success if the conditions aren’t already right.
If you want to transplant a patch, try to place it where its original conditions will be duplicated, i.e., the same exposure, the same type of soil, moisture and pH. Take note of where native mosses are growing—many like to grow directly on rock and some like sandy, sunny locations. I’ve also noticed that mosses often grow on slopes, edges, sides of rocks, where wind and water will naturally clear their surfaces. Which brings me back to the grooming….
The Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is a wonderful place to enjoy moss and get ideas for how to use it in a garden. The Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, NY, is open on weekends and well worth a visit. Look it up at http://www.gardenconservancy.org/humes.html.
Another wonderful place to see and even buy moss is Sticks and Stones Farm in Newtown, CT. On an expansive wooded hillside, and Tim Currier and Annie Stiefel “farm” moss for landscape designers as well as offering healing workshops, walks, camping and many more holistic activities. The farm is a special place to visit, but to purchase moss, moss soil and to learn which mosses prefer which conditions, the place to go is the website, http://www.sticksandstonesfarm.com.
Tags: shade gardening, moss, Humes Japanese Stroll Garden, Sticks and Stones Farm, organic gardening
As I savor the vibrant colors of my daylilies on this sultry summer afternoon, I am reminded of how much I appreciated them last year. The summer of 2010 was so hot and dry in the North East that no amount of watering could perk up some of the plants in my yard. Branches drooped; leaves turned to parchment; and flowers came and went in a sorry blink.
Not so the various Hemerocallis in my garden. Their foliage stood staunchly and their blossoms unfurled daily with vigor. They did not require extra attention, and, unlike many others in my garden, they were not depressing to see. Daylilies, it turns out, come from mountainous areas of Asia that can be dry.
Other perennials that stood tall throughout the drought include wild Aster (A. divaricatus, White Wood Aster), Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and blue Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro). I was surprised to learn that all four of these belong to the Aster family. Three of them are native to the Eastern US, Globe Thistle hails from dry, gravelly areas across the pond. And both E. purpurea and a variety of Rudbeckia, R. fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm,’ rate selection by the American Horticultural Society (AHS) as two of the great plants for American gardens. A major qualification for this label is trouble-free growth.
Blue Oat Grass (Chasmanthium latifolium), indigenous to Central and Eastern US, waved its lovely seedheads in the breeze despite the lack of rain. The popular Autumn Joy (Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’) showed stamina, too. Native to dry, mountainous areas of North & South America, this late-bloomer is another AHS-designated great plant.
Although the perennial groundcovers Epimedium (E. x youngianum, aka Barrenwort) and Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) originated in Asia, their habitats were dry, open areas, explaining why they withstood last summer with aplomb.
Two shrubs that held their own last summer were Siberian Cypress (Microbiota decussata), a wonderful low evergreen for slopes, and Caryopteris (C. x clandonensis ‘Blue Mist’), a medium-sized deciduous shrub that flowers in late summer. It turns out that they, too, derive from dry slopes in Asia. The Caryopteris is also an AHS great plant.
Notice a pattern here? All the plants that weathered last year’s drought without wilting have origins in dry locations, many of which are in the Eastern US. Yet another manifestation of the old garden adage, “Right Plant, Right Place.” If we choose plants that are naturally suited to the conditions we can offer them, we will have happy, easy-care gardens. So, species native to our area--or at least one that resembles it--are our best choices.
Now I can return to enjoying the daylilies, coneflowers and globe thistle blooming in my garden with the knowledge that many of my plants are where they belong and prepared for what heat and drought may come.
Tags: AHS, American Horticultural Society, Caryopteris, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', Epimedium, Plumbago, Microbiota, Siberian Cypress, Hemerocallis, Black Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia, Coneflower, Echinacea, Aster, daylilies, sustainabilitiy, easy-care gardens, North East, New England gardening, shade gardening, Echinops ritro, Globe thistle, great plants, 75 great plants for American gardens, Summer, drought
This list of drought-tolerant plants is by no means complete. It reflects the plants in my shady garden of which I can speak from experience. In these days of extreme weather and concern for sustainability, we would all be wise to focus on plants that do not demand extra water. I'd love to hear from you about the plants that have proved to be drought tolerant for you in the North East, so we can compile a useful list.
As gardeners, we share a reverence for plant life, for the miracle that transforms a tiny seed into something as substantial and sturdy as a tree or as ephemeral and delicate as a lady slipper orchid. We nurture and watch, wait and hope, tend and treat each plant on our property to bring it to its fullest potential and beauty. Many of us even talk to them.
Which is why we are so reluctant to give up on any plant. To dig it up, throw it away and admit failure. I am here to give you official permission to draw the line, to call it quits when a plant is causing more misery than it is pleasure. When nursing and feeding and spraying do not result in an attractive, healthy specimen, you have the right to cut your losses and remove it.
I hereby grant you freedom from guilt, a license to kill.
Tags: chrysanthemum, poinsettia, Sedum acre, gardener's guilt, license to kill plants, unhappy plants
New gardeners find this especially difficult, but experience teaches us perspective and we become more comfortable with the power we have to destroy.
• I finally gave up on the American holly that I had nursed through recurring fungal diseases for 15 (!$#%#!) years. It demanded so much of my gardening time, looked so spindly and showed no signs of recovery, so this spring I decreed its demise. It’s been removed and replaced with a graceful Cryptomeria japonica and I have no guilt or regrets. It was the wrong plant in the wrong place and all my efforts to change that were futile. I just hope the replacement settles in happily.
• My friend Debora and I admitted to each other that we love our Sedum Acre, which spreads among impossible rocky crevices, but we also yank it out by the handfuls. When it intrudes where we don’t want it, we love the fact that it is so easy to pull. Just because a plant volunteers somewhere doesn’t mean we have to accept it.
• Next year, toss that spent poinsettia into the compost in February, and buy yourself a new one for the next holiday season! (I know for a fact that even some accomplished professionals do this.) Consider this with fall chrysanthemums, too. The nurseries have perfected the growing conditions and pruning schedules to maximize plants like these. We at home will never be able to achieve such results.
Think of it this way, as a wise mentor once told me, every empty space is an opportunity!
Replace the offending plant with something that will thrive in that location, that will inspire more happiness than worry, that will not demand so much time and effort that you cannot tend or enjoy the rest of your garden.
And remember, Nature Creates; Gardeners Edit.
Organic that is. It seems many of us gardeners are facing the same challenge when we decide to go organic: Getting our mates on board.
I love that my husband enjoys maintaining a beautiful lawn. His swath of green sets off my garden beds so beautifully. But, he has always relied on chemical fertilizers and weed killers to get that velvet carpet.
My Master Gardener training and garden club involvement made me sensitive to the dangers of toxic chemicals long ago, and I’ve been gardening as naturally as possible for decades. My husband Kevin was known in our circles as the lawnmeister, and he didn’t want to hear it.
Each season as we discussed trips to the nursery or garden center, I tossed out a few facts about the costs of using chemicals.
- They leach into the watershed, where they add excess Nitrogen to the water, causing overgrowth of algae and other aquatic plants which then damage the water quality and harm the wildlife.
- Not to mention our drinking water. Since we get ours from a well, this hits close to home.
- They are toxic to children and pets, and more and more studies link them with chronic diseases.
- They disturb the natural balance of organisms that enrich the soil.
- While chemicals may add specific nutrients, they do nothing to improve the all-important texture of the soil.
- Synthetic fertilizers can be too strong and burn the lawn.
- They produce grass that is dependent on quick fixes of potent fertilizer and much less hardy than an organic lawn.
Little by little—like water wearing away stone—I quoted articles, lectures, friends on the ecological price of pesticides and passed on tips about organic lawn practices. After a few years, Kevin was reading the organic packages at Agway and complaining about the prices. (As soon as I heard him complain about the cost, I knew I had won him over!) I was sympathetic, but doing the right thing is never the easy route, is it?
So now, when I hear friends complain about their chemically dependent mates, I tell them to talk to Kevin! It took time and patience (words that go hand in hand with gardening), but Kevin is a convert and now keeps a healthy organic lawn—with pride. He’s my poster boy for the enlightened greens keeper! No, his grass isn’t as flawless as it once cohesive was—yet—but it is still a soothing span of green that flows and unifies the areas of the yard. And it supports toads, and birds, and bees and butterflies….
What is your experience with converting a mate to organic methods? Have you had resistance, success? Do you have any tips? Please comment.
Tags: organic gardening, organic lawn care, organic