Bloom 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. I will leave the caterpillar post for another time as this is Bloom Day. Forgive the pictures. They all include, yes, caterpillars. I am thankful for a few blooms.
Last Friday was a very warm day for late April. One of those unusual spring days which warms the ground more than most. I worked outside just a bit cleaning out garden beds all the while thinking that the ground underfoot was moving ever so slightly from those pushing roots. Roots of grass, perennials and shrubs. Roots pushing outward from their base in search of moisture and nutrients. All in readiness for a burst of shoots and top growth. Friday night a gentle rain fell. I could hear it in the background of my sleep. It had been dry for several days and I know that I let out an audible sigh of relief for the emerging spring plants. I could almost hear the plants echo that sigh. Saturday morning the garden was greener and more visibly alive than the previous day. The nubs of Solomon's Seal lengthened by inches overnight. Honestly, they did. The daffodils bent a bit with the moisture but the sturdy tulips just embraced the shower. The freedom lawn colored up and violets and ajuga burst into bloom. Yes, I have a ragged lawn which serves as a suitable ground cover for setting off the borders and allowing a bit of play. It also keeps the woods at bay. Lawn is an easy groundcover if you don't care about perfection. Dandelions are a cheery sight in the lawn as well and one can actually eat dandelion greens. I do admire the perfection of grass on a golf course but the freedom lawn works for me. I would rather spend time on the details of the borders. The little grape hyacinth 'Valerie Finnis' loves to party with the Heuchera 'Caramel'. Prunus x 'Hally Jolivette' is covered with blooms and this cherry is a must for any garden. It is a shrub but can be trained to either a standard or multi-stemmed tree. It will stay in bloom for 2-3 weeks depending on the daily temperatures. It also blooms well when it is quite a young shrub. I have had this one in the garden for over ten years and while it is listed as having a maximum height of 10', this one is well over ten feet tall. The long, sunny border is emerging. It needs weeding and a sharp edge to bring it into shape but the colors and textures can be appreciated even with a bit of disarray. I would so love to see a gentle rain a couple times per week. It doesn't hurt to make a wish.
Nine years ago I wrote my first blog post. Easter was late that year but spring was in full swing. Much has changed in nine years. The garden continues to evolve, the gardener's pace has slowed down a bit and the weather, never a sure thing here in New England, continues to challenge the spirit. Many perennials are emerging as are the leaves of some of the early flowering shrubs. The lilacs are well into green buds. The scene is set for a nice slow spring but, no. A good six to eight inches of snow arrived on Monday and Tuesday the low temperature was 15F. The snow cover served the perennials well providing inches of insulation but there is cold damage on the lilac leaves and flowers. The magnolia stellata was just beginning to open. Time will tell if the unopened buds will drop or unfurl. No matter, most plants will survive. Heavy rains arrived on Wednesday to wash all that snow away. We are back to April weather this morning. Garden cleanup can continue and the lawn continues to brighten to a rich shade of green. The first flowers of spring which include dandelions are again visible. Spring is such an active time in the garden for plants, wildlife, birds and the gardener. Gibbs, the new Job Supervisor in the form of a chocolate lab, is growing big and strong. He seems to have a bit of a penchant for digging which will have to be curbed a bit. At five months old, he has wrapped himself around our hearts even on those rainy days when he whines to go outside seemingly oblivious to the heavy rain. He has helped to once again establish the routine of walking around the garden each morning, coffee in hand. I check out the plants and he checks out all those scents on the ground. All is right with the world. Thank you for reading this blog. Many of you have been reading for nine years. Blogging has provided a outlet for sharing my garden with a big world. I plan to continue as the garden is ever changing.
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.