The ornamental grasses are looking quite ragged by the time spring rolls around. Most people cut them down which is laborious unless you possess a weed whacker with a blade. I have several clumps of grass and these by the fish pond stand alone, away from any structures or other plants so my preferred method of maintenance is to burn them.
Burning reduces the grasses to black char very quickly. From start to finish might take a minute and a half or so. Wednesday is often 'pizza night' here with the neighbors and because burning grasses are such a spectacle it is a plus to have an audience when they are burned. This was Gibbs' first official Burning of the Grasses and he was on a leash since he is a bit ignorant at his young age of the power of fire.
Controlled burns were a part of my youth. The local farmers would burn the fields to sweeten the soil and rejuvenate the fields. That vivid green arising from blackened fields seemed almost miraculous to me when I was small.
These grasses provide a screen at the back of the fish pond and give a sense of enclosure as they mature.
If you burn your grasses it is important to take a bit of care and have a hose, a rake and some people on hand just in case. The fire is incredibly, impossibly hot and it is fast. I cannot imagine what a prairie fire must be like and I always have a renewed respect for firemen after experiencing the heat of the flames generated by the dry grasses.
Here is the grass garden behind the pond after the burn. Neat and tidy with minimal effort, a night of entertainment and the added benefit of sweet char.
It is Bloom Day and quite a different Bloom Day than one year ago. There was still quite a bit of snow on the ground last March but this year has seen temperatures in the 70's already. Today though it is cold and rainy as befits a 'normal' March day. Is there a 'normal' concerning weather any more? On to blooms. Last fall I planted more crocus and many of you know that my least favorite color is school bus yellow but school bus yellow is a 'fifty mile per hour' color or perhaps a '100 yard' color. It can be seen while driving that fast or from that far away so school bus yellow it is mixed with purple to soften the glare. Snowdrops are also blooming in the photo with the crocus. I am working are larger drifts and pools of them. They do have incredible fragrance and spread quite easily. They are best moved as the flowers fade or while 'in the green'. The little Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin' is a wedgwood blue beauty which has bloomed in this location for three years now. This is a tough color to see in the garden with leaves littering its base but up close it is soothing and sensational. The hellebores are sporting flowers and this one with the speckled face is an unknown cultivar. I have cut off the leaves at the base as they become quite ratty looking after snow, ice and cold has attacked them. The flowers show up a bit better as well. I know the foliage stays beautiful in climates a bit warmer than mine so perhaps pruning is not necessary for every garden. Gardening is so regional. Bloom Day this March seems much more promising than last year. Several gardens have been cleaned out already. As a New England gardener, I enjoy the down time of winter but an early spring is very welcome here. Many thanks to Carol of May Dreams blog for hosting Bloom Day. You can visit her blooms and many other gardens by clicking here.
I have been worried about the vernal pool in the back field. It often fills with water in the fall and stays full until mid-summer. Vernal pools provide habitat for frogs and salamanders and a few other creatures. Without the vernal pool some species would have to look elsewhere for breeding areas. This winter it was just a depression in the field after a very dry fall. It finally filled with water about a week ago after a hard, late winter rain. Crisis averted. I look forward to the sound of the spring peepers and finding a spotted salamander or two. The sounds of silence from this dry pool would have been quite sad. I know, you might call this depression in the back field a puddle when it fills with water but it really is an important part of this field ecosystem. You can read more about vernal pools here. Gibbs and I have been walking to the back field each morning. He can run off a bit of energy and I can take stock of the slow changes which happen as winter saunters into spring. I have noticed the lichens and moss on the fieldstone walls and some of those stones seem to defy gravity. The walls have been here for more than 100 years and the freeze/thaw action of winter and spring cause them to move and sometimes tumble. They served as boundaries and fencing for livestock as the fields were cleared many years ago. The EM mows the front field fairly often but the back field is mowed just in the fall to keep them clear. A bit closer to the house the gardens are showing green bits and pieces. The sedum is starting to emerge and the winter aconite's clear yellow blossoms seem to be providing food for someone. There are a few bite marks on these flower petals. Gibbs has not yet learned his place among the flowers as he promptly ate all the flowers off the few crocus blooming by the foundation.
He also likes to find a discarded pot and chew it thoroughly. But that face is so sweet that it is difficult to be mad at him for any length of time. I will have some extra picking up to do this spring. Picking up and training. Puppies are so entertaining and demanding. I was going to end this post here but Gibbs needed to go outside where it is a warm 57F.
News flash-the tommies are blooming in the lawn. That is cause for much celebration.
The are sure signs of spring in the garden after a heavy, warm rain washed away over six inches of snow last week and a warm weekend took hold. Usually, it is the snowdrops which bloom earliest but this year I spotted a dot of yellow under the Chinese Dogwood. Eranthis hymealis or winter aconite has unfurled. Yes, it is tiny but it is bright. I am hoping to see a carpet of these someday but right now there are just a dozen or so and they are coloring up a bit erratically. Still, I am happy to see this yellow. The crows are cawing and the wind has been busy drying up the mud and those are both more sure signs that spring is close at hand. The Helleborus foetidus, Stinking Hellebore, has been in flower for months although it has been snow covered. It doesn't mind at all. The flowers are a plus as this plant is deer proof (I don't say that lightly) and the foliage adds great texture to the borders. This is often the first green of spring. Late winter is the time of glowing emerald moss. It thrives on cool moisture here in my garden. It grows easily on the granite ledge outcroppings.The moss doesn't always grow exactly where I want it but here by the fish pond bench, it provides a soft carpet around the stones in the small patio. The days are noticeably longer and the bright sunsets have been accurate predictors of the delight of the next springlike day. I am not sure how many more we will have before winter asserts its cold presence once again.That presence will not last long once those first flower blooms have been spotted. Now, there is no stopping spring.
February is a tough month for blooms here in New England. Outside it is finally winter with a good snow cover which is appreciated since this weeks temperatures are in the negatives. Warmth is coming though and warm it is inside where there is plenty of foliage but not too many blooms. Meager is the word. I have two houseplants with very small blooms. They would be overlooked in the middle of June but in February they are welcome and noticed. Both are on rex begonia hybrids. This first is on a small plant, Begonia 'Stained Glass'. Really, the foliage is lovely and this one is from Logee's Greenhouses. You too can purchase one since Logee's is well know for their wonderful mail order plants. The next flower, forgive me, it is really just a bud, belongs to Begonia 'Palomar Prince'. You can see that full plant here. The foliage is cause enough to grow both of these plants. I find begonias easy to grow and they really help those of us who suffer from winter's 'Nature Deficit Disorder'. I find February the longest month. I know I am not alone but, thankfully, it is more than half over. The final bloom is really little Gibbs. He won't be little much longer as he is growing fast and is three and a half months old already. He has made himself at home and as I write this he is getting into mischief since my attention is not totally on him. With the temperatures in the single digits during the day neither of us venture too far outside. Later in the week a heat wave is promised. We both need a long walk. Happy Bloom Day to fellow bloggers and thank you to Carol of May Dreams for hosting. I look forward to seeing the outdoor blooms of warm climate bloggers as I visit those who have posted for this Bloom Day. Your blooms will sustain me. Thanks.
There is much to be said for winter in New England. I know, it is cold and dark but cold is good and dark is restful. Every gardener needs a bit of a rest when dreams of past and future garden glory can take over. Nothing is as beautiful as the garden was or will be next season. All is possible. As for the cold, it is necessary for some plants in order to produce flower buds. This process is called vernalization. The actual definition of vernalization is ' the induction of a plant's flowering process by exposure to the prolonged cold of winter, or by an artificial equivalent.' Other factors are, of course, important and you can read more about the process here if you wish. As a gardener, I would submit that I need a 'vernalization process' as well. The tropics are not for me at least not for more than a week or two in the middle of February. A warm climate is lovely but cool temperatures restore me. There is nothing like a walk outside on a cold day as long as one is properly dressed for the low temperatures. Anything over 15F is comfortable for a walk. The air is clear and there is often an energetic crunch of snow underfoot. The world is mostly black and white here in New England in winter but those few spots of color, color which would not be noticed during the height of June bloom, is cherished and appreciated. The boxwoods punctuate the landscape and the bleached stems of tall grasses lend subtle color and movement to the garden. A walk in winter requires greater attention to detail. The sights and sounds are much more subtle than at any other time of year. The trees talk in the rustle of the oak leaves, which are slow to fall, and they define this environment. Pine trees whisper and tell their secrets to each other. The lights of Christmas have been replaced by the few bright plants glowing in the garden. The bare stems of the Cornus stolonifera 'Midwinter Fire' cheer from the sidelines providing bright contrast against the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. The low cotoneaster sprawls at ankle height and its berries yell unnecessarily for attention. For me, there is yet another reason to walk in the cold these days since Gibbs has joined the family. Puppies need a bit of exercise and this pup loves to chase the secret scents of winter. He has already embraced the field and the stone walls which provide nooks and crannies to investigate. Gibbs is eleven weeks old today and it has been three weeks since he has become part of the family. He loves to chew sticks, acorns and pine needles not to mention socks and fingers. Many people think winter is not a great time to add a puppy to one's family but I would disagree. These short days with no gardening to be done seem just the perfect days to watch a puppy grow.
I think I have perfected it. The 'it' being the perfect way to start the new year. L.J. Gibbs! Gibbs came home to Ledge & Gardens on January 1, 2016. He now weighs 15.5 lbs. This Gibbs has no TV fame but we hope he has the longevity of that long running TV show NCIS. We already know that our Gibbs is much more emotionally responsive than the one on TV. Gibbs is 8 weeks old. He was born on November 6, 2015. We did consider adopting a pound puppy but Tucker and Cooper, the past canine residents here, came from the most wonderful home, Tonmar Kennels in CT. They breed Labrador Retrievers. Tucker and Cooper were both yellow labs. Tucker lived to the ripe old age of 16 and he was a dignified dog. Cooper came home with us in 2010. Cooper was a bit of a 'honey badger'. I introduced him in a post here. He was top dog from the day he arrived. Tucker was too dignified to argue that fact. Cooper should still be with us but he developed complications from Lyme disease and went over the rainbow bridge just a few weeks after Tucker in May of 2014. As you can see, Gibbs is a chocolate lab. Who doesn't love chocolate? I am finding it a bit more difficult to photograph him with his dark face and eyes. If the snow ever arrives, I am sure it will be a bit easier.We have been without a dog for over a year and we have missed that companionship. A dog is four legged love. Unconditional love! I just read that the Dalai Lama has said that "Love is the absence of judgement". While I am sure he was talking about people loving without judgement which, as we all know, is difficult. Dogs don't judge. They just love. Gibbs will teach us the way as did Tucker and Cooper before him. He is the new Job Supervisor. He is too young yet for the responsibilities of that title but as he grows he will learn to oversee all garden tasks and provide a bit of deer management. We hope. Don't tell him just yet. For now, he is just providing endless entertainment. He is adjusting to his new home and so far loves the leaves, the fields and his meals. He also likes a good cuddle. He is mildly inquisitive. On his second day here, we went for a walk and I took him over to the fish pond for the first time. I was watching closely but I was unprepared when he just stepped off the edge. Labs love water but they cannot walk on it any better than a human. I should have been prepared since Cooper did the same thing although it was summer and it was a dunk into the swimming pool. Puppies need a more gentle introduction to water than total immersion. It was a chilly 25F. Needless to say, we both had a bath and there was a bit of shivering and whimpering. Gibbs got me to stop that pretty quickly with a lick and a kiss. Winters can be so long here in New England. I think that Gibbs will keep us pretty busy until the garden beckons. Whoever he is, top dog or lap dog, the EM (Equipment Manager) and I will love him without judgement.
Fall is welcome here in this New England garden. Blooms are traded for bright and burnished foliage and glowing seed heads. While the foliage lasts but a short week or two it also signals the garden's respite. Everyone needs a rest. The plants, the gardener and the thermometer. The gardens surrounding the house look battered and worn. August arrived and left leaving little moisture for the garden. September wasn't much better. In addition, the white tailed deer have been enjoying the buffet of the garden. Lush hostas are reduced to single stalks. So it goes in the gardener's life. Some success and many failures. Still, there are a few spots of color. The monkshood has several toppled stems but the few upright ones sport a jaunty, royal purple bloom. Asters and persicarias carry the day in the left handed mitten garden and one can always count on the Pink Sheffield mums for apricot blooms. I took a walk to the back field yesterday. It is not a regular event since the loss of the pups who loved to run, play and chase the scent of wildlife. Autumn was in full swing. Maples can exhibit a vast color range, ranging from bright red through burnished copper. This maple was glowing in the lower light of a fall afternoon. I crossed the stone wall to check out the spring which was once in the field providing water for livestock. There is no livestock there now and the field has given way to hardwoods. The spring was dry. I have seen that only one other year in all the years I have lived here. Each season gives us different challenges and each season teaches a gardener something new. Next year there will be a bit of drip irrigation for some of the vegetable garden. The mixed borders will have to deal with whatever Mother Nature decides. Except for those white tailed deer. These two beloved guys did a good job of keeping them away from the gardens.The dogs are gone but the deer, well, they have to go and the best method for control, other than the expensive fence just might be a new puppy. Yes, it is time this garden and this gardener had a new Job Supervisor. It may take a while but there will be a new face here at Ledge and Gardens sometime in the future. Now, what might be a good name?
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.
Has a gardening season ever flown by as fast as this one? No, that's not a pumpkin, yet. It is a tomato and the tomatoes tell the tale. They ripen during the hot days of August here in my garden and August is the beginning of the end. The tomato vines look a bit dismal with the yellowing and spotting of leaves (no, I am not going to show you) but they are laden with fruit and the fruit is perfect. For some reason I planted these 30 vines much too close together this year. I don't know what happened and can only offer the explanation that the snow did not leave the garden until mid-April which condensed the season's spring cleanup and rattled the brain of the head gardener. I plant mostly heirloom tomatoes starting them from seed in April. The vines are about six feet tall. Well they would be if the cages made by the Equipment Manager were six feet tall. As it is, they are tumbling and spilling down the sides of the cages. It is a jungle out there. A divine smelling jungle. I try to plant a variety of different tomatoes each year although there are favorites.
'Mortgage Lifter' is one which I won't do without. It is delightfully acidic and huge. One slice for each BLT sandwich. I have come to adore 'Pink Berkeley' for its dark green and red striped skin and great taste.
This year I have grown 'Copia' for the first time and it is also quite large and golden orange. It has a surprising 'punch' of flavor and very large fruit. The early tomatoes, 'Early Wonder' and 'Sioux' throw out a few small tomatoes in July but the bulk always ripens right along with the late tomatoes.
One other stand out favorite is 'Indigo Blue Beauty' which has a mantle of shading on its shoulders. It is a medium sized tomato with excellent flavor.
Paler than pale, 'White Queen', looks a bit insipid and drab. It has very soft skin, almost mushy but I decided I must at least taste it and was pleasantly surprised with the sharp, pungency of its flesh. There is consolation to hot days, dry weather and withering foliage when you have a table full of tomatoes. I believe that tomato flavor results from the 'terroir' of the soil in which the tomatoes are grown, much like wine. I have tried 'Brandywine' and they have had little flavor although it is the heirloom with the best press agent. That said, the worst tasting home grown tomato is always better than the best tasting grocery store tomato. The dark and cold days of January will come all too soon but here, for now it is tomato soup, tomato salad, tomato heaven.