Bloom Day-August 15, 2017

Left handed mitten August 17
Left handed mitten garden

It is a bit murky here on this August Bloom Day. The Dog Days of summer are upon us and the gardens are in late summer bloom. This year, the bee balm, Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' has been a vigorous showstopper. The hummingbirds are loving it just as much as this gardener. It is six feet tall in some areas of the garden. We have had a moisture filled summer up to this point. The late astilbe is blooming in the left handed mitten garden along with phlox, persicaria and butterfly bush. The lawn is green even if the trees are not due to yet another year of gypsy moth caterpillar problems.

Fennel 17
Fennel

Fennel reseeded everywhere in the garden closest to the house. It is a prolific re-seeder so beware. It does have a beautiful flower. Pool border August 2017The pool border is lush with flowers. The bee balm is a bit out of control here. The other side of the fence, the long, sunny border requires attention every week if one has planted Dutchman's pipe. Beware of Dutchman's Pipe. It can travel twenty feet in any direction and is as rampant in New England as Kudzu is in the south. Still, it does create a privacy screen. Long Border 2017As you can see, a haircut is in order as it is scrambling over the tall perennials at the back of the border.

Eucomis 'Glowing Embers'
Eucomis 'Glowing Embers'

Annuals fill in the gaps in the August New England garden and containers add bright bits of color here and there. Canna 2017As always, thanks to Carol of May Dreams Gardens, for hosting yet another Bloom Day and thank you to those who have visited this garden.


Milkweed Magic

Milkweed in budJuly has arrived and the long borders are glorious after a cool and rainy spring. Summer is here and while the tended gardens are beautiful, I have a confession. It is not the the glorious flowers of astilbe, bee balm, phlox or even the majestic delphiniums which have caught my attention this summer. No, it is a lowly native plant patch which beacons me and Gibbs, each day, down into the lower back field. Milkweed moundSometimes it is in the morning with a cup of coffee. Other times it is in the glare of the mid day sun. Often it is late in the day. Halfway down between the barn and the lower field, the scent pulls me forward. It is heavy and sweet and as identifiable, once experienced, as that of lily of the valley or lilac. The milkweed patch, Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, has taken root in the well composted horse manure pile of the back field. Milkweed patchAs unromantic a start as can be had. In the morning, the flower heads of the milkweed are thick with dew, in mid-afternoon the patch hums with life and in evening the scent seems the sweetest. To stand at the edge, or even in the midst of a patch of milkweed is a revelation. Milkweed moth and honeybeeThere are moths, bumblebees, honeybees and milkweed beetles meeting for some afternoon delight. A visceral experience of sight, sound and scent. Beetle loveAt the recent Fourth of July party, a good part of the afternoon involved several trips down to the milkweed patch. All who traveled there seemed amazed. I have to believe they were being more than polite and the surprise and appreciation at the life in and scent of the milkweed patch was genuine. There are many interesting facts about our native milkweed. It was named for the Greek God of medicine, Asclepius and as expected it has many medicinal uses. The latex like substance exuded from the plant when it is cut or damaged has been used to treat warts. The milkweed plant contains cardioactive glycosides which gives protection from predators to those insects who ingest it. Good news for the monarch caterpillar and butterfly which feed exclusively on Asclepias species. The silky parachute of the milkweed seed is six times more buoyant than cork and five times warmer than wool. The floret of the milkweed has the ability to trap the leg of an insect seeking nectar.  Milkweed flower closeupA structure called the corpusculum does the trick. This helps ensure pollination as pollen is dispersed as the insect struggles for freedom. The coarse fibers of the stalk have been used by Native Americans to make twine.  You can read much more about this plant from the experts but there is no substitute for standing near the milkweed patch where you can hear, smell and see all the life which it supports. I would not recommend this species plant for the manicured border but there are other garden worthy species available such as A. tuberosa, Butterflyweed. Milkweed and flying beesCommon milkweed is coarse and can be invasive as it spreads from both seed and runners but if you have a sunny field area it would make a great addition to your landscape. Milkweed pod and seedI look forward to visiting the flowering patch which will last another week or two but I know, in mid-October, the milkweed will again please the senses as the seeds ripen, the plush parachutes open to catch the breeze and they lift and float to fields unknown.


June

Overview MayJune begins here in the garden much as May ended-with a gentle rain pattering on the windows and on the garden. Another slow and cool spring gives longevity to the flowers which have dared to bloom. The cool moistness also holds back the iris, peonies and poppies. They stay tightly wrapped, waiting for warmth and sunshine. It has been a while since the garden has experienced either. I know I will yearn for this coolness a month from now.  Right now though impatience for sun and warmth after a rainy, cool spring is rampant. Anticipation is one of the major hallmarks of a gardener. We wait for the first crocus, the first iris, the waft of fragrance which signals the month-lilacs and lily of the valley for May here in Rhode Island. June brings the soft sweet smell of peonies and iris and later in the month comes the heavy scent of roses. I had forgotten the fragrance of iris. My husband reminded me. Vegetable Garden MayOne has to stuff ones nose down into the bloom to experience its unique but subtle fragrance. As June begins here, all is lush with green as the predominant color. How many shades of green exist in the world?  The human eye is most sensitive to different shades of green than any other color. I adore green but I am a bit anxious for more color in the garden. It will come. It seems as though we have had more than the average 10" of rain for May but perhaps it has just been faux rain and mist and gray. It has certainly been a month with less sunshine than previous years. Pool Border May copyRain may dampen the spirit but it does break up garden tasks giving the gardener a bit of a rest in the frenzy of spring planting, weeding and mowing. I have found that a misty, gray day can be a very comfortable day in the garden. Weeds come out of the earth a bit easier, moisture is kind to the skin as well as the plants and while the knees and feet get a bit muddy both wash quite easily and sweat does not drip down ones face. What will June bring? I will let you know in a month but right now I will just enjoy the green. 


Late Winter-Ups and Downs

Barn and snowMost of the winter has been quite dark here in southern New England. That is, until the second week of February when a snowstorm dropped over a foot of snow. It is amazing what a difference snow makes to the light of winter.  December and January were gloomy. All was brown, rust and gray with watery, limpid light. Snow transformed the landscape but the snow of February is doomed more quickly than the snow of December. The sun is getting stronger and the temperatures can and did fluctuate wildly. The back field gave way from white to bare in a matter of days. Feb17backfieldWith an average February temperature of 40ºF here, February is a bridge to the coming warmth of spring. March will be ten degrees warmer than February and just perfect for working outside without breaking a sweat or battling bugs. That is the expected but expectations are not always realized. This past weekend we had three days of over 60º weather. Three days is quite enough. The initial warmth is welcome even while it is unsettling. Unsettling because gardeners know that plant dormancy is necessary for their survival. If a plant breaks dormancy in February here in my garden, it is often doomed. Cold weather and frost will put an end to those green bits of new growth on most plants. There are exceptions of course. Winter Aconite 17Eranthis, winter aconite, shrugs off the cold. It just closes up at night and when morning arrives opens its sunny petals.  The early crocus are also a hardy bunch. Those which are leaning against the base of the foundation open first and cooler temperatures keep the blooms happy much longer. CrocusSnowdrops are often the first of the little bulbs to bloom here but they are a bit later than the aconites this year.  Hellebores with their thick leathery leaves and  flowers are really the 'honey badger' of all flowers. Nothing bothers them. Not the deer nor the cold. Hellebores17They bloom starting in December depending on the weather. Their blooms will handle a heavy load of snow. They shrug it off multiple times with none of the exasperation of the winter weary gardener. I will thank Mother Nature for a spring preview and also thank her for returning us to more normal, bracing, late winter temperatures. 


The Last Garden Tomato - December 2016

Indigo Blue BeautyIt hung from the ragged vine with blue shoulders shining in the late fall light. It wasn't the only one. I picked several. They were firm but unripe.I picked them all before tossing the vines and pulling out the stakes. These tomatoes, while not in my garden, were ones I had started from seed and given to my daughter, Emily. Indigo Blue Beauty. That about sums it up. For an heirloom tomato it is quite prolific. It has dark navy/black shoulders at a young age and as it matures they ripen to deep aubergine while the bottom of the tomato turns bright red.

Two weeks ago I went to my daughter's to help her with fall bulb planting and garden tidying. She lives about 20 miles east of me in the city of Cranston. Emily has created a small, suburban garden complete with a bit of lawn for play, containers for fun, vegetables for sustenance and a party pavilion. The party pavilion is transformed into a carport for winter. This garden is an oasis for a busy life. Emily's gardenShe has incorporated a few vegetables into her tiny plot of land. Tomatoes, eggplant, squash and one year she planted corn behind the shed. Only a dozen stalks but they were lovely if not overly productive. This year there were two or three tomato plants which I started from seed and gave to her. By the time November rolled around, bulb planting time, the vines were spent but there was still fruit hanging from the vines. I picked four firm tomatoes. Emily had had enough so I took them home to ripen on the counter. One by one three of the four tomatoes succumbed to rot. The fourth ripened.  One tomato is really not enough to share especially when the quality is unknown so I made the executive decision to eat it for lunch. It is said that the worst garden tomato is much more flavorful than the best store bought tomato. I believe that is true. This little beauty was divine. The flesh was still quite firm when it ripened and it resisted the knife just a bit as I sliced it for the plate.  I had little expectation of any true garden tomato flavor. The first bite was a revelation. I was transported back to the last warm days of summer as I tasted the tang and tartness only a well tended, garden fresh, hand picked tomato can possess. I wish there had been more to share but it is December, DECEMBER. As Christmas Carols played softly in the background, I ate that last tomato with a bit of burrata cheese, some olives and flatbread. Tomato lunchGardening is regional and in New England, the growing season is shorter than in many areas of the country and the world. Some people love to break the record for having the first tomato of the season. I am happy to have this last tomato of the season in New England, in December. The best things in life truly are free.


When An Artist Comes to Visit - Ellen Hoverkamp

October gardenWhen an artist comes to visit the gardening disappointments of the past summer disappear. An artist brings with her a unique perspective when she views a garden. All of us have a bit of an artist within us but one who hones and practices her craft professionally sees the land, the landscape, the layout, and the individual plants, both foliage and flowers, with a trained eye. Recently Ellen Hoverkamp came to visit. Garden ClubEllen
Ellen shared her floral scans, tips, advice and knowledge recently with my garden club at our October meeting. Ellen was a captivating speaker. Since she was traveling I offered her a room in my home for the night and she prevailed. We sat up into the night chatting and getting to know one another and the next morning she walked with me in the garden. An October New England garden is not at peak. There are bits and pieces of interest here and there and sometimes there is fall color but in general, plants are waning as is the gardener's enthusiasm. This year was a particularly difficult gardening season. Gypsy moth caterpillars ravaged trees and plants in June. July came and went with little rain to help regenerate foliage. August came and so did the deer with their new offspring. GibbsOctGibbs has not yet learned that deer are not welcome here within the garden limits and he does little to discourage them. This gardener threw her hands in the air and went golfing-the game did not improve but the gardener's spirits did. Ellen'shandsIt was into this neglected garden that Ellen and I walked. She with clippers and a pail and me with a camera. It is a revelation to see one's own garden through someone else's eyes. Ellen cutsflowersEspecially those of Ellen who has such an original talent. Her art is beautiful. She collaborated with well known horticulturist and garden communicator, Ken Druse, on a wonderful book, Natural Companions which features her floral scans and Ken's prose. I know Ken only as many other professional and amateur gardeners know him- through his many award winning books and his radio show, Real Dirt.  Ellen snipped and we chatted. Monkshood scanEllen has visited many wonderful gardens and has cutting privileges in quite a few of them.  I was honored that she cut from my garden and, of course I hope she will come back to visit when the garden is beautiful in June. Pinksheffieldscan These are the scans she made from my garden tidbits. Through her work, I was able to see the beauty that is still quite visible in the garden if only one knows where to look. Through her visit, I gained a new friend. Thank you, Ellen.

 

Note:  Ellen's works are available on her website and on Red Bubble under Ellen Hoverkamp. She also writes a blog and has a list of her upcoming lectures and gallery sales both available as well on her website. Click on the purple text to visit them.


Bloom Day - September 16, 2016

Dahlia ageratumA speedy Bloom Day post is in order as there is much to do in the garden today and the weather is cooperating. It is cool, as September should be, and sunny at the moment. It is also still dry but no matter. Bloom Day cannaThe dahlias, cannas and fall blooming crocus are all blooming. The grass is still green and the scent of ripening grapes and decaying foliage is in the air. Colchicums
I hope this Bloom Day finds your garden full and satisfying. Thanks to Carol of May Dreams for hosting yet another Bloom Day.


Tassels and Silk

Corn topsTwo weeks ago there was fragrance in the air. It was subtle yet distinct. Sweet but not cloying. Heady and beckoning. I walked into the garden to discover its source. Fragrance can be as elusive as a dream memory and it took just a few steps to realize that fragrance was coming from the corn patch. This sweet scent comes along for a few days each summer as the corn flowers mature and release their pollen. Corn flowers are much more subtle than phlox, dahlia or daylily flowers. Corn is a monoecious plant which means that there are both male and female flowers on the corn plant. The female flowers are aptly named 'silk' which is wrapped around the fertilized corn and peeled back when we shuck the corn. Corn flowersThe male flowers are at the top of the cornstalk and are called 'tassels' and no male ever smelled sweeter than the pollen produced by these tassels. Tassels shed pollen for just a few days and once the pollen is shed it is viable for only a few minutes. When it lands on the silk below, it germinates within minutes. It is another miracle of Mother Nature. I am not a corn expert but as a gardener, I can appreciate the process. As I walked toward the corn patch I could hear the hum of the bees, honeybees. Happy, happy honeybees were busy with the corn tassels.  Corn with beeThey seemed to appreciate the sweet smell as much as I did. Perhaps even more since it is life giving for them. It seems that everyone can appreciate the line 'Stop and smell the roses' but how many of us can appreciate and actually stop to enjoy the smell of sweet corn in a field? I wish this for everyone, everywhere.


Bloom Day -August 15, 2016


BloomdaybutterflyI missed Bloom Day in July due to challenging gardening conditions. Pests, drought, pests. No bother, the season moves along at its own pace. August has, so far, been a month of high humidity, heat and at least some rain. Welcome rain. Every plant looks better with moisture. Weeds included. The warmth brings out the butterflies and today's Bloom Day is sunny, dry and a bit more comfortable with humidity levels down from 90%. BloomdaylimelightDeer do eat hydrangeas but they left me a few blooms on the H. paniculata 'Vanilla Strawberry' and H. paniculata 'Limelight'. Both have unique qualities. BloomdaycomboThe Vanilla Strawberry has dark stems and is shown here with coneflower. The 'Limelight' is incredibly floriferous. BloomdayblackbutterflyThe true blue of Ceratostigma is cool relief for these hot days and this butterfly finds it palatable as well. BloomdaydahliaIn August, it is usually the annuals which take center stage.  Here, the dahlias are beginning to bloom. This one is 'Cafe au Lait' and it is quite popular. I find it adequate, preferring bright colors to its bland, cream tone. Bloomday AthenaPortulaca provides a brilliant crown for 'Athena' who hangs on the garden gate.  BloomdaycannaCannas are also blooming and add a tropical look to this summer garden. There is more in bloom but tasks await. Thank you for visiting. A big thank you to Carol at May Dreams for hosting yet another Bloom Day. I hope to visit gardens around the country via her Bloom Day Blog list.


Bloom Day-June 15, 2016

June14gardenBloom Day, this June, is serious business. It looks like spring in the garden with no leaves on the trees. June is usually the time of prolific blooms in my garden. This year is different. A plaque of gypsy moth caterpillars has descended upon this region and the only good news is frass. Frass is the correct term for insect excrement which is high in nitrogen. I have uttered the 'other' word for frass many times in the past few weeks, frass is falling fast. The oak leaves are gone, the maple leaves are being eaten now, the white pines are succumbing fast and everything in the garden is covered with crawling caterpillars. Amsonialady'smantleI will leave the caterpillar post for another time as this is Bloom Day. PEONIESForgive the pictures. They all include, yes, caterpillars. I am thankful for a few blooms.