High Summer

Phlox volunteerSomehow 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.Bee balm and butterflies I am seeing a plethora of butterflies this year although no monarchs have arrived as of yet.August borderThe 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. Allium 1In 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. 


It's May, it's May, the Lusty Month of May,,,

Gold Bleeding heartYes, the lusty month of May. May, full of visible energy as leaves and flowers unfurl. Flowers are lusty. They are all about pollination and fertilization besides being just plain beautiful.  May always makes me think of  that song....you know the one Julie Andrews sings in 'Camelot'.  You can listen to that song here. We are having another 'slow' spring. It has been quite cool which is great for flowers and busy gardeners. The snowdrops which can bloom in late February had to wait this year due to the abundant snow still left on the ground until April. They have finally finished blooming and now is a great time to move them around. I have done a bit of that but with other spring tasks taking precedence, it may not get done. Oh well. Such is the gardener's life. There is always something left undone.

ForsythiaThe forsythia are just blooming which signifies that the soil has warmed to around 50F. Corydalis seems to have taken over the entry garden but since it is a spring ephemeral it will disappear shortly. Entry CorydalisI will just admire the orchid blooms and be thankful that it is such a good re-seeder. Salmon DaffodilThe river of daffodils is blooming and this lovely salmon cupped daffodil is elegant in an arrangement or just left in the garden. I have found that for the best show, yellow wins the day. You can see the yellow portion of the river of daffodils from very far away. Magnolia 'Elizabeth' is shedding her flower sheath and wearing it more as a stole rather than a full winter jacket. I expect she will open her blooms in the next few days. Magnolia 'Elizabeth' budShe seems to have shrugged off the cold of winter and has many flower buds this year. I think I have found a good spot for the Viola odorata. This tiny, fragrant violet is nestled under the branches of the cotoneaster and seems to be spreading just a bit. Not far from the door, it is easy to see and reminds me to bend down and take a whiff. Viola odorataIf you stop by and see me lying prone on the lawn with my face in the flowers, I know you will understand. Well, you will after you have experienced the soft, flowery fragrance of this tiny little violet. Spring is unfurling slowly here and that is much better for blooms and this gardener's disposition. May is oh, so welcome here.

The Bee's Knees

Bee's knees 2This 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. Blue pollen 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? Blithewold scilla and daffodilsScilla 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. The Bee's KneesBlue 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. Pollen on beeI 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 Week in Review

CrocusThe 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. Last snowdropsThe 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. Winter aconite2The 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'Hellebore2I 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'. Katherine H.
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. Grass burning 1I 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.Grass Burning 2I 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. Grass burning 3The 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.

A Walk in the Garden at Follers Manor

Follers-ChairsOn this cool spring day in New England, I invite you to travel with me to a garden which overlooks the village of Alfriston in the Cuckmere Valley located in the eastern portion of the South Downs in Great Britain. I had the great fortune to visit this garden in the summer of '13. It was one of many lovely gardens which I saw that trip. It is an exceptional garden. Designed by the noted Landscape Architect, Ian Kitson, and owned by Anne & Geoff Shaw it is a garden which has been sculpted out of the hillside. It has a maturity which belies its youth. Follers More FieldsThe Shaw's purchased the rundown house in 2006 and renovated it. The garden was developed and planted through 2012 when a copse of trees was added for the Queen's Jubilee. Don't you just love the Brits? They so embrace a celebration. The Shaws had two directives for the architect. One was to make the garden wildlife friendly and the other was that it should be colorful. The final garden, if a garden is ever final, is so much more than those two components. Follers-open fieldThe approach is breathtaking. The walk from the parking area, down the lane to the drive was on an incline but there was no watching one's feet.  Rolling fields laced with wildflowers framed the view of the valley along the lane.Follers-Scenic view Trees and shrubs frame the view from the lower part of the garden. Follers path to the gardenOnce through the small courtyard and down a series of steps, much of the garden is revealed. Follers-sunk patioA nautilus shaped sunken patio with a limestone base is one of the focal points of the garden. Seated in this garden, the breeze is reduced but the view is not. Follers-sitting areaThis is a patio with sections which contain quiet, gentle spots for conversation, cakes, and company. Follers sinuous sedumsThe sinuous walls are made of flint and the top of the wall is planted with sedums and sempervivums. Follers-sunken patioLow growing campanula was in bloom at the time of our visit and it formed purple puddles surrounding the seating area. There is much to see both up close and in the distance. Follers Manor HouseFollowing the curve of the patio a lower natural pool invites one down the path to yet another seating area which looks back toward the house and the pond. Follers-Chairs fieldI would bet that the lounge chairs are often turned around to take in the view of the valley. Who could resist? On one side of the pond garden there is a meadow garden. Follers-DaisiesAlmost every garden I saw on this trip included a meadow garden. They are all the rage and they are a wildlife magnet. Bees and butterflies joined us on our walk through this garden and many of our group paused to sit on this inviting bench. There is a walkway winding through the daisies but it is cleverly hidden by the flowers and meadow grasses. Follers-Lower Garden On the other side of the naturalistic pond, herbaceous borders lead the way to the bottom of the property. This bench provides yet another opportunity to sit and enjoy the shady beauty of the lower garden. Follers-veggiesAt the bottom of the garden, the view is once more revealed just over the raised vegetable beds. To feed the gardens, there are, of course, composting bins.Follers-Compost BinsTucked off in the corner these were filled to overflowing.
Follers shady walk backThe garden paths loop around the garden from top to bottom so there is never a need to retrace one's steps although it was necessary to do so in order to truly appreciate the paths, plantings and views throughout this space.
Follers right pond viewThe picture above is of the right side of the pond garden. This is a garden for strolling, sitting and enjoying the views. It was not easy to leave it. Follers waterlilyMany thanks to Anne and Geoff Shaw for opening their garden to us. It is on the NGS register and is open to the public certain days of the year. You can check here for more information on open dates. I do hope you have the opportunity to someday see this garden on your own. 


The Forgotten Spring

Snow-EranthusOn 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. Deep snowThere 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. Snow-recedingThe 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. Snow-single aconiteGold and maybe some orange. I feel better already.    

Where The Rosemary Grows

Prostrate rosemaryI am feeling a little guilty. Well a lot guilty actually. New England is experiencing record snowfall this winter. It is the winter of the endless storms. Some people pick up and go to Florida to escape the harsh New England winters. My Mom actually loves Florida and she is there right now but I love a place with a cooler climate. A climate in winter where temperatures are usually between 40F and 70F. A climate where, if you owned a plot of land, you could actually garden all year long. Since the EM can telecommute and my skills are limited to the New England gardening cycle, we decided to pack up and head for Sonoma, CA. We have enjoyed this area on several previous visits. Most of those visits were in December and we visited two summers ago in July when the rolling hills of Sonoma were  brown. Now, in February, they are vivid green. Jaxson Keys vineyardThe grape vines traverse the landscape adding perfect geometry to flowing fields. Rosemary and BeeBack home, the icicles reach from roof to ground. Here the rosemary thrives and flowers and bees dance in their blossoms. Camellias and HelleboresThe camellias and hellebores are also providing a dance floor for the bees right along with the daffodils. Healdsburg daffodils I love New England. It is home and this winter it has been harsh. With any luck, I will get to experience spring twice this year. As I said, I am feeling a little guilty. 

Juno-Great Expectations

Deer damageThe garden has become a playground for white tailed deer. They sneak in after dark and scamper around nibbling the Rhododendrons. There is not just one hoof print. There are many. They must know that the hunters have left after sitting or stalking their elusive daytime presence. They obviously know that there are no longer dogs here. They are taking advantage. Yak Rhodie damageYou can see the tips of the frayed Rhodies. They rarely touch the boxwoods or the hellebores. They love arborvitae. I am left today worrying about them just a bit as the big storm bears down on New England. Where will they spend the next, snowy twenty four hours. In spite of the damage they cause, I will worry about their comfort. It is snowing lightly this Monday afternoon. A downy woodpecker is having a bit of a meal at the suet hanging from the hook in the garden. He seems unconcerned with the impending storm. Earlier today the roads were busy and the grocery store was bursting with shoppers. There is nothing like a snow forecast to improve the bottom line at the local grocer's. The atmosphere is tense with anticipation. Goats and yard stick I have set the yard stick out in the goat yard which is covered already with three inches of snow. It is tilted slightly since the ground is frozen in this spot. I wonder if I will be able to see it tomorrow at this time of day? Stay safe where ever you may be. 

Yard stick

UPDATE: Goats under snow-Here is the yard stick after the storm. Almost two feet of snow. 

Blog Giveaway-Bee Happy-Gifts for the Nature Lover

Mason Bee HouseOkay, there is not a bee in sight in my garden here in the northwest corner of Rhode Island but that doesn't mean I am not thinking of them along with the birds and the butterflies and the flowers they love. The butterflies are also long gone but the birds are flitting about the cotoneaster and the bird feeders. Butterfly ShelterI do have many bird houses about the garden and I have mason bees. They like to drill holes in the eaves of the house and the shed to lay their eggs. I really would rather they pick somewhere else to get this task accomplished. As a gardener and a nature lover I do sometimes receive gifts for birthdays and holidays which are meant to reflect my love of both. They are always appreciated. Any of these shelters from Gardener's Supply would be welcome in my garden. They are attractive as well as havens for some of the wildlife here.
Bamboo bird houseI was recently asked by Gardener's Supply to participate in one of their product giveaways.They sent me three wonderful, organic looking bamboo items. A bird house, a butterfly shelter and a mason bee house. All are offered on the Gardener's Supply website and they can be purchased together or separately there. Do you have mason bees? They are workhorses in the pollination department and many of the species are native to the United States. You can learn more about them here or here. I don't mind them when they are buzzing about the small, round openings they have created in my rafters. They are solitary creatures. I would prefer them to make their homes elsewhere. I have seen them burrow into the east facing wood and the west facing wood and some holes are under an overhang while others are just slightly recessed in a fascia board. With the help of Gardener's Supply, I am giving away some of the mason bee houses right here, right now. Bee house and stone wallTo enter, leave a comment below about the bees in your garden.  Winners will receive one of these bamboo mason bee houses shipped directly from Gardener's Supply. You have almost a whole week to leave a comment but you must live in the USA and you must be over 18. Winners will be chosen at random on December 23rd. Make sure you leave your email address when you share a comment so that I may contact you.


Note: Gardener's Supply sent me the three bamboo shelters at no cost to me and they will provide the winning prizes. Many thanks to them. I would also like to note that I have purchased directly from them on many occasions and they deliver with great customer support.