Twice a Year is Not Enough

Winter aconiteAfter many years of blogging the blogger tends to repeat herself just as Mother Nature does in the garden. That said, each season is slightly different in the garden. More rain, less rain, more sun, less sun, lots of snow, a little snow, no snow. The winter of 2020 has been a winter of no snow. It is up to the gardener to notice the subtleties of nature in the garden. This garden blogger has been lazy. Blogging twice a year is not enough. That needs to change. Starting here, starting now. Today it is warm for February, 48F currently and it is raining. The tuteur has fallen over and the birdbath tilts precariously. Here in New England the freeze and thaw of the ground is a powerful force most visible in the collapse of stone walls and the tilting of tuteurs. Tuteur on sideContainers left outside, freeze, crack and sometimes totally break. Walkways heave and pitch. Mother Nature launches some plants right out of the soil. Never a pretty sight for a gardener. Heaved rose rootsStill, the buds swell, the tiny bulbs bloom and garden tasks await. February in the New England garden can present some opportunities if the temperature is over 40F and the rain and the wind stop for a bit. It is easy to see the invasion of the bittersweet vine and brambles which can be clipped and later removed. The lawn is littered with broken branches and just tidying up brings quite a bit of satisfaction. I wouldn't call it gardening though. Is is more garden maintenance than actual gardening. Bending and stretching after a couple months of reading and relaxing remind the gardener, especially the aging gardener, that garden tasks need to be done in shorter spans of time. Purple early crocusNo more are there eight hour days of spring cleaning. An hour or two of light tasks done every few days is probably smarter for everyone but very necessary for those of us who have been gardening for decades. This past week there was an unexpected day of warmth. Temperatures soared to nearly 60F. The  snowdrops unfurled with their sweet scent, the small clump of purple crocus opened against the foundation and the winter aconites raised their sunny faces to the sky. I had trouble taking a picture of the snowdrops. Snowdrops with beesThe honey bees (where do they hide in my garden in the winter?) were landing on my camera with either curiosity or annoyance at the interruption. Snowdrops en masse   Winter aconite group
Today with rain, the flowers are clenched and tight but this year there is a larger patch of snowdrops, a little 'puddle' of winter aconite and this gardener is paying closer attention to both the garden and the blog.

Layanee

Form Follows Function - June, 2019

Newpatio1Anyone who gardens knows that nothing ever stays the same. I started gardening many years ago on my plot of land. The first garden was a vegetable garden but as the gardening addiction grew a border became a goal. The first was a border behind the house. It was southwest facing and away from the hubbub of a daily life filled with active kids, their friends, and pets. It was a border which would not suffer from thrown balls and furry feet. But, it was behind the house. It provided a nice respite from a long day. I clearly remember taking friends over to see it and one of them audibly gasped at the display. Nirvana to a gardener's spirit and soul. As the kids grew, the niche carved out of the woods for the homestead grew bigger-pines were cut down for more sun and more play area. There was a sandbox added and the woods were pushed back a bit further.  A sunroom was added to the house necessitating the cutting of more trees. The large pine holding the swing hit the dirt. The kids didn't use it anymore anyway. A patio was added and many a meal has been enjoyed on that patio. The area adjacent to the patio was the bird feeding station and it is situated right in front of the double, west facing window. Very useful for entertainment during cold winter months but a difficult area to plant in season as it had an irregular shape. It was a wild space in the summer. PatiotobeBee balm scampered around with abandon and a stray sunflower arose from the bird's sloppy dining habits.  The existing patio seemed smaller for friends more than ten. PlanviewThe garden evolves and so does the garden space. Louis Sullivan, architect, lived by the principle 'Form Follows Function' and while he applied it to buildings, it has become a maxim for landscape design as well.
As such it seemed an additional patio space would be a good solution to the problems of space and Ongoingconstructionpatiothat of taming a garden. There would be more room for sitting and chatting. More space for fun. A nicer space to view from the living room window. Work began. With the help of my awesome neighbor, Rocky, I started the dig. The Equipment Manager, also known as husband, Chris,  was not really on board for another project. He left for Maine for two weeks. I started work. I planned to add a rectangular addition to the curved patio. I kept digging....how many wheelbarrows of soil were removed from the designated area? I know I removed about ten before Rocky showed up with superior strength and a bigger wheelbarrow. I think it must have been 30 or 40. Processed gravel was added and then sand. The brick arrived. 630 bricks-I had to get 200 more as we went a bit bigger. Rocky is in construction and he has a good eye for leveling and all things construction. We decided during the process to add a rill under the drip line of the house. I love the rill and it has handled 2.6" of rain with no problem. WithrillWe finished the day the EM arrived home. He was less than thrilled but I do think he is now embracing the space since we have had a couple gatherings which have been much more comfortable with seating and space.

Rocky-Constructionforman
Rocky

We have had morning coffee on the new patio and evening wine. I saw my first cedar waxwings from the patio chair. Have they visited before? Were they there in the garden all the time and I never noticed? Cedarwaxwing2I don't think so, I think they came to celebrate the new patio.  

Layanee

Spring Blooms May, 2019

TuliproccocoThe garden calls loudest in the spring for those of us who live in four season climates. Each day brings new buds and blooms and many tasks which cannot wait. SweetpeasandlettuceThe sweet peas (I am determined to have those fragrant blooms) have been planted out as have lettuce starts. Other early vegetable crops are waiting, mostly because the gardener is faced with too many tasks. May is a month of dreams and disappointments. The dreams are realized as fall planted bulbs emerge and flower. The disappointments are right there in plain sight as well. Two sensitive ferns, apparently aptly named, have not unfurled and there is quite a bit of damage on rhododendrons with whole branches brown from desiccation from winter winds. The newly planted iris bed is still an unknown. Will those iris bloom this year? They were planted a bit late so patience must prevail. The thrill of spring blooms always trumps the disappointments. BleedingheartLate daffodils continue to bloom along with dog tooth violets, tulips, bleeding hearts, and Virginia bluebells to name a few. Hellebore flowers are waning and the buds on trees and shrubs are waxing. Each spring day brings a new surprise in the garden. ViburnumbOne day you walk the garden with coffee in hand and notice the swelling flower buds on the Viburnum burkwoodii. ViburnumfThe next day you catch a drift of their sweet fragrance and follow the scent to their now unfurled flowers which are small, delicate and oh, so powerfully scented.

This spring morning it is barely 40F with a steady drizzle. 40F! It is chilly for this time of year but well in keeping with the current weather pattern of this cool, slow spring. The garden sits still and waits for sun and warmth. The gardener moves inside and addresses the neglected beds and floors inside the house. Happy Bloom Day and thanks to Carol, of May Dream Gardens for hosting once again.

Layanee

Reflections - Austin Fling 2018

Waterlilies
Waterlilies at the Zilker Botanic Garden

Memories of Austin and the 2018 Garden Blogger's Fling linger with me this wet, lush New England morning. It has been a week since my return and there is much on which to reflect. It was my sixth out of ten flings and while 60% is never a mark I strive for  I do feel fortunate to have been able to attend six Flings. This was my first trip to Austin-attempts to attend the 2008 Austin first fling were thwarted due to airline problems. This time I arrived a day early, just in case. Austin is a friendly city and the people of Austin, Austinites, are happy. They are also very polite (I was Ma'amed several times) and, they are helpful. I am used to New England directness. Austinites have cultivated a gentleness and overt kindness which we northerners may possess but often hide. These traits were and are the hallmark of The Austin Fling team, Pam, Diana, Laura, Sheryl, and Jennifer, who were always smiling and helpful under the stress of the event production. All seemed to go off without a hitch. Great garden choices, great buses, lunches, dinners, entertainment and accommodations.

LauraJeanMargaretHelen
l-r:Laura,Jean,Margaret, Jenny, Helen

I have made lifelong friends because of these planned garden flings. Flings have brought many gardeners together with our shared love of gardening, writing and blogging. These friends, whose lives stretch from one end of the country to another, are keepers. It is wonderful to be able to look them in the eye, give them a hug and spend time chatting about our lives of gardening and family, work and now retirement. I regret not meeting and knowing all the bloggers in attendance but I did get to meet a few new bloggers, Angie from The Freckled Rose and Jennifer of Frau Zinnie, both from New England along with Liz, Margaret, Ellen, Jenny and Mary Beth to name a few. I hope to see  Angie's and Jennifer's New England gardens at some point this year and I truly hope they come to visit me in my garden. (I will make cake).

Glasssculpture
Glass Sculpture at the Donna Fowler garden

Each garden will be remembered both collectively and individually for its unique style and generous gardener. Most owner/gardeners greeted us at their garden entrances. Each is deserving of a separate post. Garden art and garden pools took center stage at this Fling.

Pam's Pool
Pam Penick's soothing pool

Fragrance was also present. I will not soon forget the scent of the jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, which was growing in many Austin gardens. I was envious of this scent each time I was enveloped in its fragrance. I cannot grow it in my Zone 5b-6a garden but as I walked my garden upon my return I realized that each region is given the gift of scent. I have lily of the valley and lilacs along with the perfume of the early blooming Viola odorata.  I would not trade these scents for that of Confederate Jasmine but I will hopefully revisit that scent with another Texas visit. The lushness of Austin did surprise me. Yes, there were dry gardens. Jenny & David Stocker's garden so reminded me of Beth Chatto's gravel garden. That is a post for another day. Green trees and swarths of lush foliaged areas were abundant. The Colorado river does run through Austin after all and it has been dammed to provide a 'lake', Lady Bird Lake, which was in generous usage while our group was visiting. Austin does seem to have abundant yearly rainfall, 34+",  considering its location. I think most of that fell on our group that first day of touring.

Lady Bird Johnson
Courtyard-Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Mother Nature provided us with a true Texas gully washing event which only made this Fling more memorable.

Articulture-Love
Articulture

Austin Fling's wrap party, it was such a great party, ended with our last visit to Articulture, a unique Austin plant boutique.  Tequila and barbecue were served up with Texas style hospitality amidst laughter and lingering conversations. As I reflect on this Austin experience I clearly understand why Texans love Texas. This New Englander loves Texas as well. Thank you Fling Team for a wonderful time.

 

Layanee

March-One Step At A Time

Crocus t. Roseus2What can one say about March? From a gardener's perspective, it is full of promise yet fraught with disappointment. This March has been more challenging than the over sixty I have witnessed in my life. Three nor'easters brought snow, wind and debris to the garden. The tide is receding leaving in its wake a lawn full of sticks and branches. It looks as though Mother Nature herself had the Noro virus. SticksThe oaks, which usually hold their leaves until the spring push of buds have been long bare. This is, in part, due to last season's second invasion of gypsy moth caterpillars. There are not too many leaves on the ground as a result. Change is afoot in the garden. The little Crocus tommasinianus Roseus have popped up in the lawn. The snowdrops continue to bloom as do the Eranthis/winter aconites which shrug off their wrap of snow with no ill effects. Snow on aconitesThe hellebore foliage has taken quite a beating this winter and the ever sturdy and faithful Helleborus foetidus, usually blooming on St. Patrick's Day, is black and bruised requiring a quick shear. Some areas of the garden, those north facing, are still covered with several inches of snow. It has been a cold month and while the sun and the earth are warm after a mild February, snow melt is slow. Back borderIn some respects this is a boon to a gardener who has to rake and clear. Cleanup of the bare, south facing gardens allows a bit of recuperation time for winter lazy muscles. It has been below freezing almost every morning in March to date but in spite of the cold temperatures leaves emerge in response to longer day length and warming sunshine among other things. SorbusThe real activity in the garden is taking place sight unseen below the soil as roots begin to awaken and absorb life giving moisture and nutrients. I will not be sad to say goodby to the weather of March this year. The tiny burgeoning beauty of buds and early flowers would be overlooked if they happened at the same time the opulent peonies bloomed. Each daily garden walk exposes a new bud, flower or bird song. March does reveal, in tiny doses, the march of the season. I just have to remind myself, each cold or miserable day, to look for what is right there in the March garden. The tiny things.

Layanee

Hope Springs Eternal

Eranthis18It is doubtful that the poet, Alexander Pope, was a gardener but his line, 'Hope springs eternal...' from 'An Essay On Man' is certainly a gardener's motto. It has slipped severely from this gardener's mind of late. It has been well over six months since my last post. Last year was a painful gardening year here in RI. I have lived on this ten acres of property for over 40 years and there has been a steady increase in the number of deer visiting and foraging on plantings here. Who can blame them since I have laid out a beautiful smorgasbord of lush hosta, divine perennials and room to roam. 1012gibbsThe newest Garden Supervisor, L. J. Gibbs, a now 2 year old chocolate lab is sweet of soul and has little interest in chasing any four legged pests. He is being stripped of his job title and will be reassigned as the Garden Greeter since all he seems to do is wag his tail. He is much better suited to that job. Adding to this gardener's misery was another year of gypsy moth caterpillar devastation. I am hoping the cycle, GMC problems are cyclical, will be broken this year.  Five stately oaks surrounding the garden and many more in the woods will stand bare this coming season. They will, at least, provide a home for birds. Hope has diminished in the heart of this gardener this past season.....until Friday. On Friday blooms appeared. Snowdrops '18The snowdrops unfurled their white petals showing green chevrons in the hearts. The aconites bloomed bright yellow in their beds of leaf litter. Hellebore flowers, tattered though they may be, also flashed a bright white smile in the garden. Crocus18The surprise of bright purple crocus against the warm foundation broke the monotony of brown littered leaves. My one very pitiful witch hazel put forth threads of gold. Witchhazel18A flutter of hope woke this gardener up from winter's lethargy and yes, hope, once again, springs eternal.

Layanee

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.

Layanee

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.

Layanee

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. 

Layanee

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. 

Layanee