October 27, 2011

Fall Funnies

This young sassafras wants to be noticed.  Bright orange, tiered like a wedding cake, framed between the spruce and holly, it catches my eye whenever I look out the window.

It is right next to another sassafras.  These were planted at the same time in the woods along the edge of the road.  The one on the left has grown much larger and fuller, but it has no fall color.  The smaller one is strongly tiered, still a bendy whip, and colors spectacularly.

Does the smaller one color so brightly because it is stressed?  It looks healthy enough all year, but isn't growing like its sister just five feet away.  And the green one should be coloring up --- sassafras here are among the most brilliant fall foliage sights.  It's funny, and I'm not sure which tree is the oddity.

Another strange thing is the doublefile viburnum 'Shasta' that has been two-toned for weeks now.  Half red, half green.  In other years it has turned deep mahogany all over, but this year it can't get there.  It's stuck halfway.

There it sits, with some tall orangey sugar maples towering behind it on the hill.  The red half and the green half of the viburnum are distinctly split right down the middle.  Kind of funny.

Irises in late October?  Iris 'Immortality' is advertised as a reblooming iris.  I planted it, thinking I would see the pretty white blooms in spring and then a few sporadic reblooms later in the year.  It is actually blooming stronger now than it does earlier in the season. It goes into October and November with lots of crystalline sugary white petals, all frilly and silly, looking confused about the season.

A visitor who saw them along my front walk this week asked "are those real?"  Funny!

Another strange fall duo: two river birches planted in the same raised berm at the same time five years ago, and the one on the left is yellow, dropping leaves, the other to the right is still green and leafy.  They are only ten feet apart.  Why so different, I wonder.  It's just funny.

It's almost Halloween and we haven't had a frost yet.  That's unusual here.  And so I get the odd combination of fiery foliage on the trees with blue flowering plumbago.  The plumbago isn't even close to being hardy here, and should be gone by now.

It's odd to see the combination of summery blue flowers, deep garnet Itea in the garden behind it, and orange fall foliage in the distance, lit by the rising sun at dawn.

It's funny but I like it!

October 25, 2011

A Reminder


Sometimes I think I am getting a message from my garden. 

October 21, 2011

A Crocus, A Chicken, and Kinnikinnik

The autumn crocuses have emerged from their summer naps.  I have one that is simply called Colchicm speciosum 'Album', or 'White' fall crocus.  It is a pure white, and I love how the tiny blooms pop up from under the deep green mat of kinnikinnik (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).

That was something of an inspiration on my part.  I tucked the bulbs in under the woody stems of the groundcover kinnnikinnik and it works to hide the wimpy crocus foliage, especially as it fades. The tangle of woody stems holds the nodding crocus blooms more upright; on their own the weak stemmed crocuses tend to swoon and fall over. 

The contrast of the white crocus bloom and glossy green kinnikinnik foliage is the perfect combination.  Someone will surely ask me how I get my kinnikinnik to flower in the fall, since it looks like it is the groundcover that is blooming.

I need to move some of the crocuses to spread out more in the green mat.  Here a lone crocus chases a fleeing chicken. 

(They are the easiest chickens to care for, but they are afraid of their own shadows most of the time, and bugs and flowers terrorize them.  I move them about the garden frequently to ease their anxiety.)

Here a bee tumbles upside down inside a crocus to get at what he wants.

Colchicums only last a short time.  They are nowhere to be seen all spring or summer, and when they come up in the fall, it's just for a brief show, easy to miss.

But with their pure white faces looking up from their bed of green kinnikinnik I notice them as soon as they open.

Nice.

I just wish the chickens appreciated them.

October 18, 2011

Some Simple Changes

Some simple changes have occurred in my garden.  First of all, it finally stopped raining.  That's a change.

Fall colors are emerging which is always a transformation.  And the mums have burst open. They are 'Sheffield Pink', which are so common and everyone has them, but their salmon - pink - apricot colors make me happy, so I put them everywhere.  It's the only hardy mum I have.

And there's a change here that was simple, but dramatic --- I took up some lawn and filled the space with pea gravel.  That's all.  So simple, so effective.

It made the space along the side of my house go from this isolated grass - island - border tableau . . . . .
Before (this summer)

      . . . . . to this:
AFTER 
          From this . . . . .
Before --- mid summer
        . . . . . to this:
AFTER
It's just gravel.  It's just some stone spread around, and two plastic chairs from Lowe's.  So simple I'm embarrassed I didn't do this earlier.

For you blog readers who suffered my ditherings about the bright red knockout roses --- should I keep them or not --- they are gone.
Before.  Last summer the roses filled the top of the drive, crowded by yellow daylilies

The blank space where the roses were will be filled with something else.
AFTER -- no roses, and only a few daylilies left (I kept three fragrant yellow ones)

The grass strip bounded by shrub and perennial borders was nice enough, but it really had no interest.
Before.  An empty space, not used for anything except walking through.

AFTER.  A place to stop.  The edges of the gravel will be softened with spiller plants next spring.

Did I tell you I really like Sheffield Pink mums?  Now, with new confidence resulting from the success of this gravel garden, I'm thinking I could try other varieties. 

Let me know your favorite hardy mums, I'm feeling like I could pull off some more colors now and make a few more simple changes.


Disclosure: 
it took 6 cubic yards of pea stone, a swath of landscape fabric under it, and steel retaining edges installed to keep the gravel from washing away.  It also took sod cutters to rip up the lawn and trucks to haul the sod and the doomed rosebushes away.  I did not do this myself.  

Designs of Mann installed this new garden.  They made the result look simple, but it was a lot of work.  I knew what I wanted but they made it happen.

Thanks, David and Sharon!


October 14, 2011

A Provocative Garden

At first it looked like a traditional Connecticut garden tour.  The quiet Colonial house sits in the woods, down a country lane in a rural area.  Oh so New England.  All surrounded by stone walls, of course.  I expected a flowery cottage garden edged by a pretty lawn, herbs outside the kitchen door, more stone walls, that kind of thing.



But once we got into the garden, the sense of place shifted.  There was something more exotic and much more artistic and definitely provocative.

This is Lee May's garden.  Lee is a retired journalist, with an impressive career over the years at the LA Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and you can read about him on his blog Lee May's Gardening Life.  How a man who grew up in the deep south landed in the woods in Connecticut in his retirement is puzzling, but what a garden he has made here.

There are almost no flowers.  Bloom interest comes from hydrangeas and lilacs and rare variegated dogwoods and woodland shrubs, even some groundcovers, but there are few perennials.  There was absolutely no lawn.  None.

The entire garden was rocks.  Not a cute rock garden, but big chunking rocks throughout. There were streams of rocks tumbling down slopes, a whole bed of large gravel, seemingly random (but carefully placed) rocks everywhere.

If you garden in New England you fight the rocks.  Lee doesn't fight them.  He uses them.  Since there is no lawn to mow, he could get creative with scattering rocks all around in the thick carpet of moss.

I mean, really.  Even a pile of them as a deliberate focal point.  Provocative.

Check out the flickr photo stream on his blog to see the creative ways he uses stone accents.


His plants tend toward an Asian feel, with severely pruned, almost bonsai Japanese maples growing in the entry bed.  A little eerie, but dramatic and deliberate. 


Even the woods are heavily pruned, and the effect is startling.  Would you think you could prune a large forest tree so artistically?

Tree trunks in the forest are pruned up to make woodland rooms.  This is not a naturalistic woodland walk, it's truly a tearoom under a leafy canopy held up by narrow limbed up pillars.

And you must have carpets in your rooms, it's just civilized.


Everything in this garden is artificial, every tree pruned, every space constructed. There are baubles and sculptures and silly whimsy.  But it had an amazingly calm, serene, shady, restful feel.

I did not like all the severe shaping or all the goofy artifacts in the garden, but I loved the overall effect it gave.  I did not like the spare, trimmed Asian style in the Connecticut woods, but I loved how provocative it was.  I expected flowers, but really enjoyed how a garden can be so much more with only rocks, tree trunks and carefully chosen greenery.

And I loved Lee's obvious delight in what he has created.

He started with a run down house and flat boring lawn in 2001.  He ripped out all the lawn and started planting, moving rocks, and pruning, pruning, pruning.  He is happy to share it all with visitors, and with audiences at his gardening speaking events.  His talk (and book) about reconnecting with a long absent father through gardening is touching.


I was about ready to haul up on his shady porch, grab a lemonade and talk gardening with him all afternoon. 

A true Southern gentleman and a plant lover in all zones, he would have indulged me, I'm sure.



By the way, if you visit Lee May's garden and you are no longer a young man, do not wear cargo shorts.  Do not.  He'll tell you why.

October 11, 2011

Why So Tentative?

It's Columbus Day.  Where are the colors?
It feels like spring here in my part of the world, even though I am in the northern hemisphere and it is mid October.

It feels that way because I am waiting, waiting, for something to happen, just the way I anxiously monitor emerging shoots and tiny leaves in early spring.

I am waiting for fall to emerge.

Autumn here is not an ending, it's the start of a glorious season in my garden.  But this year it is tentative and halting. 

Garden club speculation lays the blame on our very wet September and early October.  Too much rain has delayed the fall color.

I do have proof.  I keep another blog which is unpublished.  It is a private daily journal of the tasks and minutiae that occupy me outside.  And it gives me a photographic record year by year, dated and preserved.

Last year we had fall color by Columbus Day.  It peaked in late October, but it exploded around this time and then deepened as the month ended.  This year, compared to prior years, it is tentative and developing slowly.

A tiny new whip of a black gum tree is the only color out in the woods. None of the more mature black gums have started to put on their red dresses yet. 

The little forest of growing maples on the back hill is just thinking about coloring.  Very softly tinged right now, it is slowly turning.  It should be ablaze.

The Virginia sweetspire shrub, itea, has begun to turn a deep color, and it is kind of nice, but last year it was a shocking garnet red that shimmered.

The only real red color on the back hill comes from staghorn sumacs.  The line of shaggy buckeyes, aesculus parviflora, are only starting to turn gold in front of the browning meadow.  They should be bright neon yellow all over at this time.  The doublefile viburnum on the right here has been half green and half rusty red now for a week.  Get your act together!

A brand new pagoda dogwood, cornus alternifolia, looks like Raggedy Ann.  It hasn't grown into its elegant shape yet.  At all.  But it is one of the few spots of color right now.

The hillside is nice, but not what it has been in prior years.

My sourwood, oxydendrum arboreum, was deep crimson last year on October 12, and I have pictures from prior years that show it was a beautiful color even in late September.  This year it is still green.

The 'Sheffield Pink' mums want to bloom, but they are still just a sea of buds with only a few brave flowers.

All will be right by the end of October when the colors emerge in their glory.  But why so tentative?  Why so delayed?  Just to drive me crazy this year?

October 9, 2011

But What Do You Blog About in Winter?

The featured speaker at the Connecticut Horticultural Society's September meeting was Margaret Roach.  You all know her from her blog A Way To Garden, and from her Martha Stewart editing days. 

I went to hear her speak and to see slides of her beautiful garden in upstate New York.

She was a delightfully entertaining speaker.  The slides were familiar to me --- I have followed her blog since she began it, and have seen many of the plants and views featured in her posts over the years.  But it was her message that caught my attention: the 365 day garden is a joy all year. 

She launched her talk by saying that autumn causes many people to lament the "end of the season" or to regret that it's time to "close the garden".  But to her a garden shines every single day of the year.  You just have to go beyond perennials.


Fall and winter are as beautiful as other seasons and something is always, always going on out there if you look and if you design for it.  Even dreary late spring is enjoyable when her beloved frog boys emerge from under the mud and come back to entertain her with their antics.

I really related to her talk.  In my own garden the most glorious season is fall, and it doesn't feel like the end of anything.  It feels like a continuation, only more colorful than the summer bloom period. 

last November

Winter is cold here, and long, and damn poor for napping in the hammock.  But it is a wonderful season in the garden, with woody plants and dried seedheads taking the stage, and evergreens for color, and interesting sights in every landscape.  If you garden with more than perennials and flowering annuals, you have a 365 day garden.



A new acquaintance once learned about my blog, and asked me "but what do you blog about in the winter?"  I was a little stunned.  I blog about my garden in the winter.  I didn't know what else to say.  Then it dawned on me that to her a garden was a flowerbed or vegetable patch.  When it was done blooming or producing, you closed the garden and the season was over.


Not in my garden.  I was so glad to hear Margaret Roach articulate what I feel.  My garden is a great place to visit and see and even blog about all year long*.



* Except for three weeks at the end of March when icy mud oozes everywhere and vole tunnels snake through every bed and an unrelenting brown color won't quit.  I try, but those three weeks simply do not fit into the 365 day garden.  

They don't.  What I have here is really a 344 day garden.  

Just being honest.