seasonal weather

High Summer

433FB91F-737E-4E55-BC3A-616E1C61CFAE_1_105_cIt is high summer in the garden right now. July is the dry month in RI and the sprinklers are going, the sun is shining and it is a hot 80F at 8:00 AM. Gardening is regional and even within a small state such as RI the coastal gardens move along a bit differently than those in the high (a relative term since the highest point in RI is only 811 feet)western part of the state. My garden is about 568 feet in elevation which may be high enough to avoid a tsunami but it is also high enough to produce winter temperatures which are five to ten degrees below the state average. I garden here in Zone 6a with a maximum low of -10 F. It doesn't happen often but it happens and is particularly damaging when there is no snow cover and when the temperature drops quickly. 

5613C938-89D9-40AE-8FDA-78C8C65908AE_1_105_cDaylilies are blooming and the hydrangeas, depending on variety, are in various stages of bud and bloom. Last year I planted a crescent of Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'.  The smooth hydrangeas are much more dependable bloomers in my garden than the big leaf blue hydrangeas. The smooth hydrangeas bloom reliably every year since they bloom on new wood. My blue hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla 'Endless Summer' are often a disappointment. There are no blooms or buds on these plants yet. It may happen but since the flower buds are much more sensitive to cold they can fail to bloom in my high altitude - ha- garden. We did have a quick drop in temperature this past winter which could have caused flower bud kill. I will note here that I do not prune this cultivar until new growth begins and I prune only dead wood above new growth since hard pruning cuts off the flower buds which are formed on old wood.  The white Incrediball hydrangeas should be pruned in the spring. I prune about a third of the growth to shape them and encourage new branching. The Incrediball has a sturdier stem than the cultivar 'Annabelle'. I have yet to find a source for the straight Hydrangea arborescens which is perfectly fine in the garden having smaller but abundant flowers with sturdy stems. Marketing and trademarking have made it a less than profitable shrub. The best way to acquire this species plant is to find a friend who has an old planting of them.

310E3799-915B-44A0-8A5B-9AED18F026D5_1_105_cHigh summer is a relatively easy time for the gardener. Tasks include deadheading flowers, cutting back wild growth, re-edging those borders and water, water, water. Containers are full and happy but annuals do require frequent fertilization to keep flowering and to look their best. It is a good time to take stock of blooms and blanks in the garden and to plan on fill ins or divisions for later in the summer when rain is more plentiful. 87296571-AFA0-43A4-947D-1BAB38134345_1_105_c
High summer is the best time to take advantage of the patio, garden bench or lawn chaise and just enjoy the bonus of blooms from spring's hard labor. Today, in the heat, I am going to sit, enjoy, and relish the warm summer evening.


January 2021

SumacThis year this first week of January has a gentle grip on my garden. Last night Mother Nature delivered the perfect amount of snow. Barely an inch covers the ground. Trees, shrubs and perennials are outlined in clear white and the muted browns and grays are now in sharp contrast. The ground has a slightly soft yield to the step--different from the hard, cold, solid ground of just two days ago. January in my garden is a chameleon. Some days, it has an icy tongue and other days it softly surrounds the trees, branches and ground. Rhododendron and boxwoodJanuary is an excellent time for garden assessment. A light snow shows texture in the garden. The coarseness of the sumac contrasts with the delicate tracery of the branching of the dogwoods.  Rhododendrons are frosted with snow. Perennial epimediums hold their foliage through the winter and they catch the snow with their small but broad leaves held on wiry stems creating a 'dance of the sugar fairy' effect albeit in miniature.  Snowfall shows that the back garden clearly would benefit from an evergreen backbone. The Virginia red cedars aka junipers have declined over the years from deer browse and the encroaching shade from surrounding woodland trees. This leaves an undefined ending to the back garden. Deer are always a problem here. Don't fight the site is one of the basic rules of landscape gardening and that includes the wildlife which share this habitat. I will plant some upright boxwood along with some winterberry, red and yellow twig dogwood and perhaps some hydrangeas...the deer do love hydrangeas so a bit of fishing line will be employed to deter them. I am thinking of planting several Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'. I truly wish I could find the straight species, Hydrangea arborescens, which grew beautifully in my grandfather's garden. They have smaller flower heads on them but don't flop over in a heavy rain. I never see these for sale at my local garden centers so will settle for this new cultivar which is purported to hold its large, white flower clusters high on strong stems.

Epimedium jan 21Epimedium
January is a time of dreams and rest for this gardener. No garden is as beautiful as that which the mind envisions during the gray, cold and often icy days of January in New England. This month I will dream and plan. February will bring lengthening days and many seed catalogs but for now, there are dreams of a new border and the blooms of the coming season.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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. 


Vernal Pools and Spring Things

Back fieldI 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. Vernal PoolIt 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. Defying gravityI 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. Sedum emergingThe sedum is starting to emerge and the winter aconite's clear yellow blossoms seem to be providing food for someone. Winter aconite antThere 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.

First crocus
Eaten crocus
After Gibbs

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. Gibbs with potI 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.

Patch of crocus
Crocus tommasinianus 'Roseus'

News flash-the tommies are blooming in the lawn. That is cause for much celebration. 


Signs of Spring

Eranthis16The 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. Hellebore16The 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.GreenmossThe 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.Late winter sunsetThat presence will not last long once those first flower blooms have been spotted.  Now, there is no stopping spring.