It is mid September and the garden is looking more tattered and aged than usual. The above picture shows the dried and burned grass in the sunny portion of the garden. The foreground freedom grass still looks quite green but it is really best seen from a distance. September is the month of natural decline as plants complete their life cycles. Days are getting noticeably shorter but this September has been very hot. Not hot if you live in Austin, TX but hot for New England where air conditioning is still not in every home. Until today, we have had no significant rainfall since mid-August. This garden and the gardener are dependent on well water. A well ties one a bit more closely to nature. Choices must be made regarding water usage. Shower the body or the garden? Drink a cool glass of water or quench the thirst of a garden full of plants? With hundreds of feet of borders, a vegetable garden and a week of vacation, Mother Nature has chosen to remind me of the necessity of water. Those thin, large leaved plants with shallow roots are the first to show the signs of water stress. Hydrangeas and astilbe are limp and crispy. I cringe when I look at the withered foliage in the garden but here and there in the garden there are a few pristine perennials. One small and rather insignificant perennial herb shows no sign of stress. You might think it is the wooly leaved lamb's ear or the gray foliaged yarrows but even those plants have turned limp or browned. The Queen of the Garden this September is the herb rue, Ruta graveolens. I have only one plant and it has gotten no attention during the dry spell. Its foliage is blue and smooth and just looking at this plant brings down the heat. It is cool to the eye. It is an interesting herb which is native to the Balkans where the climate is hot and dry. Rue has been used medicinally for centuries and was said to have been ingested by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo to improve their eyesight. It can also cause violent vomiting and gastric distress and the oils from this plant can blister the skin. It is also quite bitter. I will stick to using it in the garden. I have read that soft tip cuttings taken in the fall and stuck in moist sand will root during the winter. I may just have to increase my stock of this plant and give this a try. It would make a lovely border plant as it grows in an upright, rounded form. Rue has long been a symbol of bitterness and regret but I have no regrets in planting this cool beauty in the garden. In fact, I know I need a few more of them.
Beds and borders
Somehow gardening tasks took me away from the blog in June and July. Well, gardening tasks and other pursuits. The gardening tasks have paid off with dividends in the form of sweet corn, squash, kale, lettuce and ripening tomatoes. These all feed the body but the smell of garden phlox sure feeds the soul. I have found that the newer cultivars of phlox have much less scent than those garden 'volunteers'. These rogue phlox are always a bland, to my eyes, pinkish purple but there is nothing bland about their scent. The heavy air of an August night carries this fragrance on the breath of a warm evening. The mornings arrive with the creak of cicadas and the twitter of birds. The sultry air of summer entices the butterflies out to romp with the flowers. I am seeing a plethora of butterflies this year although no monarchs have arrived as of yet.The long border is full of color and there is the look of reckless abandon there although this gardener wields the pruners often and with precision. In the vegetable garden there are also a few volunteers and this onion which was left to its own pursuits is sporting a jaunty cap as it readies itself for its flowering dance. These summer days with the garden in full bloom and fruit are the gardener's reward for cultivating life. A bit of deadheading, a keen eye on the opportunistic weeds and a good book are all that is required on a warm summer afternoon. The scent of phlox is free.
This morning, the birds are singing, the grass is greening and the scilla are in full, blue bloom. Scilla siberica, to be exact. This little flowering bulb reaches about 3" in height in my garden and it naturalizes beautifully. I have heard the word 'invasive' in reference to scilla but I prefer 'naturalize'. It does spread. That can be a positive. What makes one plant invasive and another a desired naturalizer? Well, this one has beautiful flowers of bright blue and they attract honeybees. It might crowd out grass but in my 'Freedom Lawn' that is just desirable. I do think its best use is as a naturalized ground cover. There is nothing as blue as the electric, black light blue of the scilla flower en masse. It blooms about the time of the daffodils and what could be better than that complement of yellow to enrich the tone of the blue or vice versa? Scilla is planted in the fall. Plan now to order some if you want your own carpet of blue. This is not a native bulb but then few are native to the USA. It is very hardy and it grows in Zones 4-8. The bulb contains a toxic substance so the deer do not eat it. That is a win around here. The bees however do love it. This plant is the first to bloom on which I see the honeybees. And, the honeybees have blue knees. Blue knees on the honeybees is a sight to see. They work the flowers as bees do and they end up with a nice cap of blue on their pollen baskets. I have long noticed the blue pollen but it was Kris Green, Interpretive Horticulurist and blog writer at Blithewold, who told me to look for the blue bee's knees. Persistence paid off. Yesterday was warm and windy and the bees were busy...well one bee was busy. I spent quite a while trying to get a shot of this busy bee. They move quickly from flower to flower wasting no time at all. I guess that is the definition of 'busy'. On my part, watching the bee was time well spent. I think there might be a children's story in that title, The Bee's Knees, what do you think?
The snow has left the gardens but there are still a couple of mounds in the drive from the winter snowplowing. No matter since now the garden work can begin. The crocus are up and taking turns debuting their outfits. The snowdrops have almost finished blooming which means that in spite of all the raking to be done, they need to be moved around right after the flowers fade. I have found that this is an easy transition time for them and they spread quite readily when given a helping hand. I just lift the larger clumps and carefully pull apart the bulbs. It is then an easy matter to pop them into the empty garden spots. Someday there will be rivers and pools of snowdrops. It is coming. The winter aconites are doing a bit of yoga with this salute to the sun. Theirs is the first bright yellow to appear, usually well before the daffodils which are just beginning to show color here I do see a bit of the tete a tete flowers pushing through one of the fallen, yet to be cut back, grasses. One expects bulbs in the spring but the first of the herbaceous perennials to bloom are the hellebores. This hellebore is a lovely rose veined variety, Helleborus orientalis 'Apricot Blush'. I do have some of the dark flowered hellebores but I find that they are lost among the richness of the soil so it will be these lighter ones which I will plant from now on. In the middle of the week I discovered that I am not the only one who loves the Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'.
Her cool, blue beauty attracted another admirer. In the dark of night either the deer or the rabbits decided to eat the blooms. The deer spray is sitting right there on the step. Live and learn. At least I got a couple of days of joy from them. Another task which has been checked off the spring list is that of starting the tomato seeds. I know it seems late since so many of you are in the warmth already but here it will take six weeks to get them to just the right size so they suffer no root stifling. I have planted them early in the past and have found that to do so results in the extra step of potting them on to a larger sized container. April 15th is the target date for planting the seeds here. I was one day off. The seedlings will be planted in the garden at the end of May. Tomatoes love warm soil so there is no use planting them any earlier. One other task which lightens the load for this gardener is the annual burning of the grasses. I can only really burn these by the fishpond as they are well away from other plantings. Usually this is done around St. Patrick's Day but this year I could not even get near them and they were lying under the snow. You can see how flat they are. These are Miscanthus s. 'Gracillimus' and Miscanthus sinenesis var. purpurascens. They are in excess of six feet tall by the time the fall plumes appear.I did get out the hose and the rake just in case there were any escaping embers but from start to finish, the grasses burn hot in under a minute. The ash sweetens the soil and the area is transformed. The fish didn't seem to mind at all. It was a pretty good week. I hope yours was filled with spring blooms and enjoyable garden tasks.
On Monday, March 30, 2015, it is snowing yet again and this March morning has all the steel gray warmth of an early January day. I did miss most of the snow of this remarkable winter but upon returning to New England in mid-March I have been privileged to witness the effects of the many snow storms of 2015. There is still a foot of snow on the ground in many places and the driveway has five foot piles of snow from the plow. The temperatures are quite chilly with the current temp of around 32F. There will be no raking in March. There will most probably be no garden cleanup until well into April. The days are getting much longer though and the sun is quite warm despite the cool air temperatures. The evidence that spring has arrived is here but it is slim evidence. Much of the garden is still covered but those southerly exposures are clear. The snow is receding ever so slowly leaving in its wake, sticks, mud, packed leaves and even a flower or two. Why didn't I plant five hundred crocus in this area in the back? Nature gives us the best cues if we care to look for them. I do have some Eranthis hyemalis aka winter aconite, blooming in the back and it really only takes a glimpse of this bright yellow to lighten one's spirit. I am marking the calendar right now to order some bulbs for fall planting. Next spring when the snow recedes, a bright carpet of gold will take its place. Gold and maybe some orange. I feel better already.
I am not sure how it happened. Summer is gone and today is the first full day of fall. I thought it the perfect summer. Many would disagree. It was clear and not overly hot. The tomatoes loved it. Lots of bright sunshine brought a huge harvest. The flowers loved it. This gardener loved it. Still, the weeds crept into the borders in late July. It happens every year despite my resolve to keep at it. No matter. There is much to keep one busy in summer. You can see the coloration beginning. The poison ivy which receives the morning light is one of the first plants to color up. The colchicums bloom, the spiders are busy spinning away and the lower light causes deep shadows and nice back-lighting. This morning the temperatures dipped for the first time into the 30's. High 30's, no frost yet. I cannot say that I am ready for a frost but there is the smell of damp decay in the air and the days are shorter. Night is coming a bit more swiftly. It is time to set the mouse traps. They will be trying to share the warmth inside. I will attempt to thwart their efforts. The border has a few flowers left. The deer have started cutting back the hostas. It is so kind of them. I never see them but they leave their mark. They are foraging for the long, cold months and I cannot say I blame them but there is a field out back just for them. If only they would stay there. Fall in New England is usually lovely. I will have to wait and see what it has to offer this year. I hope it is long and warm. Hoping is the gardener's trademark after all.
It is high summer in the garden here on the hillside right now. It is a small hill and the only 'Lucifer' in sight is the crocosmia which is blooming flame red. Hydrangea leaves wilt in the sun even with ample moisture at their feet and the whine of cicadas slices through the still silence of summer. The spicy scent of tomato greens hangs in the heavy morning air as I flick the little suckers off the plants to keep the plants a bit tidier and inside their cages. My fingers turn green along with my thumb. The plants are laden with unripe tomatoes. It will be a few weeks before they turn red. This past spring was stingy with warmth. The tomatoes are off and running now, reaching a good five feet into the sky. It is a small forest of tomatoes. In the borders the black cohosh is blooming. Ironically, it has spikes of white flowers which bloom from the bottom up to the top. They are covered with bumbles and their scent is heavy and perfumed. Daylily days are upon us. It seems a long wait for their luscious flowers. This plant spends the spring forming a multitude of buds all of which bloom for just one day. Tragedy is rampant in a garden. Morning coffee is in one hand while the other is busy snipping the sodden messes of yesterday's blooms from the plants in order to make them photo worthy. It is a chore which I realize would lose its allure if I had to do it every day of the year. The days of high summer are few. Garden chores are best done early leaving the hot afternoons to more peaceful pastimes.
I cannot say that this is an original term, 'A Plague of Alliums'. It is one I heard last year on a garden tour from a gardener who was bemoaning the fact that her alliums had reseeded in her garden. The effect was magical. Much more magical than the dire statement. I remember being envious. Globe allium bulbs are not cheap and they have never reseeded for me. Never say never. While I don't have a 'plague' this year I do have many more than I planted. They have seeded in at the feet of the parents and I am quite enjoying the 'Alice in Wonderland' effect of so many perfect spheres. They are no trouble. Should I wish to remove them I could do so with a soil knife. It would be easy to lift and throw the unwanted right into the compost tub or move them to another spot. I would do so if I found them to be a problem. I cannot imagine that happening but editing the garden is a constant, brutal and necessary task. If left undone, Mother Nature will gain control. She can have the woodlands, pastures, meadows and wetlands. I would love to control her as far as rain, wind and temperature go but my only real control is in the editing. So, edit I will. The garden looks very serene in early June. The perennials have filled out and are plump, fresh and full. The burgeoning health of the youthful garden in late spring is glorious. I have to remind myself to take time to just enjoy it.
April Bloom Day has arrived with April showers which is just as it should be. It is time to reap the rewards of past fall bulb plantings along with celebrating the earliest bloomers. The snowdrops have lost their pretty white flowers but there is much of interest to take their place in the gardens which are still being uncovered. Most of you know of Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'. She is tiny and her color is pale but satisfying. These clumps are a testimony to her happiness and mine. What is spring without some smiling pansies? I have planted the containers by the back door with this little seasonal annual and while the plants need to fill out a bit, the cheery faces of the pansies and the bright spots of color lift the spirits. Other blooming bulbs include daffodils, purple and white crocus which are naturalizing in the front entry bed and Scilla siberica which also fills in and reseeds in the garden. Some call it invasive but this little ground cover provides early nectar and intense bright blue flashes of color. I prefer to call it a 'naturalizer' since it would be easy to eradicate and doesn't take the place of any low growing native. It is worth noting that this little flower has a sweet and unique fragrance which is best experienced lying prone on the ground with one's nose in the flowers. Beware, you may come out of this looking a bit smurf like since the pollen is blue and may show up on the tip of your nose. Kids love this little demonstration. Another great naturalizer is the Glory of the Snow, Chionodoxa forbesii. It faithfully blooms every year on Patriot's Day and it contrasts well with the yellow of daffodils or as a skirt around the witch hazels. One other little bulb, this Tulipa Hearts a Fire, is not yet in bloom but with foliage this dramatic, who needs blooms? In the borders the hellebores are blooming. Hellebores are available in a wide range of flower colors and species and they are deer resistant. I did witness a bit of chomping on the Helleborus foetidus flowers. They were nibbled off and left for litter on the ground right next to the plant. No matter, H. foetidus is really valuable for the fine fingered foliage while these others have lovely flowers and foliage which is less dramatic but still a wonderful texture. The earliest blooming shrub in my garden is witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise'. This is still a small shrub having been planted just two years ago. Since this is its third year in the ground I am expecting leaps of growth this year. There is a frenzy of activity in the garden this time of year. Much of it is taking place underground as roots stretch, grow and absorb life giving nutrients but this gardener is keeping busy as well with cleanup, fertilizing, spreading compost, planting and, soon, dividing. Does anyone need any bee balm? It seems to be taking over the central garden bed. It is not difficult to keep busy this time of year. I look forward to seeing what is blooming in your garden and thank Carol of May Dreams, once again, for hosting another Bloom Day.