It happens quickly. The turn from summer to fall. Here in southern New England we are in 'The Golden Days' of fall. The whites pines shed their needles this past weekend creating a blanket of burnished copper under their boughs. This blanket muffles sounds, covers the imperfections on the floor of the pine woodland and it also creates a spongy and inviting carpet for the casual hiker or hapless gardener on the way to the compost pile. There is still brilliance in the garden and the surrounding woodland. Crimson and gold mix together as the low angle of the sun illuminates the leaves. It is a turning point-Nature's last colorful gift to the gardener before the onset of gray and dreary November which is perhaps a necessary respite from the color of 'The Golden Days' of fall. There is much still in bloom here as the first frost has been reticent to show his face. That is fine with this gardener. The moonflower vine was planted late and has just started its show which will be short indeed. The Spanish Flag vine or Mina lobata self seeded next to the tutuer in the island garden. It has cheery tricolor flowers which match the colors of fall here perfectly. It was a gift from Mother Nature this season and it is much appreciated. Did anything crop up unexpectedly in your garden this season?
The mornings are cool now that fall has arrived. The cool mornings actually arrived a week or so before the official fall date. There has been a frost down in the valley a mile away but no frost here yet which means that the gardens are still looking full and lush although there is decline in the air. The afternoons are clear, warm in the sun and cool in the shade, kind of days. When I step out the front door on these warm afternoons there is a loud hum. The oak tree anchoring the entry garden looks as though it has a bit of matted fur all over the trunk and limbs. Climbing high into the branches, English Ivy, Hedera helix, has made a home. Now before you get all excited, yes this plant is invasive and on many invasive lists but here in northwestern Rhode Island it has not spread by seed. Here, it just has climbed high and when it climbs high it flowers. The flowers of English Ivy are creamy umbels which have an incredibly sweet fragrance. Their sweetness is appreciated by the bees. I know there is more than one kind of bee enjoying the nectar. I can see bumblebees and I think there are honeybees but I have not taken life and limb in hand to climb a ladder into this bee haven. I am content to stand under this tree and just listen to the happy hum. These are not the only 'bees' in the garden. In July as I started to pick the climbing beans in the vegetable garden I heard the familiar and angry buzz of hornets. Looking for the source I realized that they had and were still building their nest in the top of the tutuer on which the beans were climbing. My first response was to back away and leave the beans right where they grew. My second response was to purchase hornet and bee killer. I thought long and hard about the implications of applying this pesticide in the vegetable garden. Hornets can be quite aggressive and if I had an allergy to bee venom I would not hesitate to remove these trespassers. But while hornets are not great pollinators they are great predators. Most of us have experienced hornets hovering over a soda can or descending upon the fallen fruit in an orchard but they also eat a variety of insects. I do think there was less damage on all the Brassica plants in the garden this year. The cabbage looper often etches a lacy leaf pattern on the brussel sprouts foliage which does impact the size of the actual brussel sprout. So, I left the nest and have watched it grow all summer long. It is really a marvel of engineering. These critters are doomed anyway since the first frost is imminent. Have you ever left a wasp nest alone just so you can observe what goes on in and around it?
It doesn't look like spring here in the garden. The sky is blue, the temperatures are hovering just over freezing and all is covered with a nice, soft white blanket. It doesn't matter. The season will progress and under this blanket of snow there is an abundance of green shoots. I do like a slow spring. It gives the gardener time to adjust to the changes although it is hard to rake with snow on the ground. There are seeds to be started, pruning to be done and today there is a birthday to celebrate. My son, Ben, has a birthday today. He was born as a new season started and while spring is cause for celebration for a gardener, there is no greater celebration than the annual festivities of a child's, now a grown man, birthday. Happy Birthday, Ben.
There is a perceptible change in the light levels here in the garden at the end of February. Last nights dusting of snow outlined and frosted the garden dressing it up for a photo op. While the weather is still quite cold with temperatures hovering just above freezing during the day, the buds on trees and shrubs are getting fat with expectation. I know I am expecting warmer weather soon. The garden is still covered with a good six inches of snow and the high plowed piles will be around for a while but the brightness of morning comes a bit earlier and evening much later. There are very few snowdrops visible as most are still buried but this small clump by the house is showing a bit of white. Can blooms be far behind? What signs of spring are you seeing in your garden?
February is a time of broken plants and delayed dreams here at Ledge & Gardens. Heavy snows have shattered the once stately grasses and they lie bent, broken and ragged. The small grasses are invisible wrapped tightly under the white blanket. These grasses are usually burned in March but only time will tell if the sodden lumps left after the snow leaves will ignite. The noticeably longer days have unfulfilled promise and only the indoor garden provides a bit of greenery to keep the spirits up. Today, the wind is howling outside. The hyacinths are giving off a spring scent. The seed catalogs are still arriving. What are you doing to keep sane during this month of February?
I know everyone is tired of hearing of the big Northeast snowstorm. That it made such a splash on the news is good in a way. It means that there were no school shootings or major political incidents. I will take weather hype over those stories any day but I am tired of it as well. I am also living with the aftermath. New England should have snow in the winter and it does but not usually over 20" at a time. Twenty inches of snow is fairly impossible to walk through. The EM had to get to the tractor in order to plow. The barn is a good 300' from the house. I had to poke a hole in the snow cover over the fishpond. That is only fifty feet or so away from the walk but it was quite a chore to get there. There is a circulator in the pond but that much snow capped it which could cause the fish to die. I left the seedheads of Autumn Joy sedum for winter interest but they have disappeared in most of the garden. These by the shed are visible due to the high winds blowing the snow off their location. Gardening is a regional activity and winter interest means different things to different people all over the world. Winter interest in Texas can mean blooming bulbs. Winter interest in Florida can mean gardenias and orange blossoms. The colorful birdhouse on the hook in the long border adds pretty contrast to gray and white. The orange globe in the sunny border is warming me with its glow. So, what is keeping your garden interesting at the moment? Is it inside or outside? Is it man made or natural? Perhaps it is just the trees which come into their own this time of year. Whatever it is, please share it as I need a bit more winter interest when the snow is more than knee deep.
When it looks like this outside, the inside garden provides a bit of sanctuary. Really, there is little to see outside in the garden with snow on the ground. I will go take a closer look tomorrow morning but right now, the indoor garden is providing a bit of green relief. Are any of you interested in aeriums? Aeriums are like a terrarium but with no 'terra', just air. I am not sure who coined the term. Perhaps it was Flora Grubb Gardens which sells a wide variety of these interesting little worlds. If you can find the glass globes, glass teardrops, glass cubes or clear wall vases at your own local garden center you can pretty much make your own with bits and pieces of lichen covered twigs and ground lichens along with dried moss. You could use a small glass container of any sort. Tillandsias are also now easy to find at most garden centers. If you can't find them you could mail order them if necessary. Tillandsias are in the bromiliad family. Called air plants,they take their nutrients from the moisture in the air, decaying leaves and the surrounding environment of their native habitat. They are native to Central and South America, the southern United States and Mexico. Once you nestle your little tillandsia inside a clear container with any bits and pieces you like, you will need to mist it every now and then. It seems that once something is put in glass, whether it is an air plant, a garden of small plants or even inanimate objects such as those in snow globes, the object or objects become deserving of a bit more attention. Tiny little self-contained worlds are that much more interesting to look at and enjoy. These tiny, miniature gardens seem to help ward off the fatigue of winter and they require little care. I am enjoying them along with the terrariums in the indoor garden. Have you tried adding them to your plant collection? Will you?
The usual slow pace of decline in the garden is fast forwarded when you are away from it for any length of time. Usually, October is brilliant but the autumn colors are less than dramatic here this year. Perhaps it is relative and I am unfairly comparing them to the brilliance of the trees in Maine which I saw the first of the month. The seasonal change in leaf color can spice up the garden as flowers wane. The first heavy frost occurred just a week ago and morning temperatures are finally chilly.Having been away for a good part of the month, all that is left blooming is the very late 'Pink Sheffield' mums along with Eupatorium 'Chocolate' and a couple Knock out rose blooms. I do see some color on the delphinium in the upper garden but that is another story. The garden needs a good cleanup as the leaves fall and cover everything with their uniform brown. Most of the trees closely surrounding my garden are oaks while the outer perimeter is ringed with white pine. White pines are very shallow rooted and not a great choice when planted in close proximity to a garden. They are a softwood evergreen and the native white pine, Pinus strobus, is very large. Oaks are more desirable for my garden as they give great shade, are deeply rooted and can be pruned up for more light. They are, however, very stubborn about giving up their leaves. The leaves start to fall in October and they continue to drift to the ground right through the winter. The abscission layer of oak leaves is stubborn and fails to fully mature uniformly. Some leaves wait to fall until spring growth begins. They settle on the garden through the fall and winter like dust on the bookshelves requiring weekly attention if the garden is to look tidy. Not so the white pines. The white pine woods are cleaning themselves. A new layer of pine needles have been shed and they cover the ground with a uniform sprinkling of cinnamon. This soft layer of needles muffles the sounds of the wildlife and not so wild life. Plush as a Persian carpet, the woodland paths are inviting me in to take a walk.
The sunny days have a definite and discernible brightness signaling to the garden and the gardener that it is time to get busy. This weekend was brisk and light filled even as the ice still covered the fish pond. The maiden grass is looking tattered and torn having suffered a very early and heavy snow in October and many swirling winter winds. We have had just a couple very cold days this winter. There has been little snow cover compared with last year. In addition to the golden glow of the grass which compliments Tucker's blond coat, the moss is almost impossibly green. Along the drive there is a newly planted witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'. Arnold is starting to wake up. It may be a whole month until spring but here brightness and light are returning. There will be slips back to winter. It is inevitable. That said, there is a touch of yellow in the garden. Is your garden showing the signs of a new season yet?