October 28, 2012


There's a storm coming? Oooohhh.

I don't make this stuff up. Jim photographed this tree last summer in the woods beyond the formal gardens at The Mount, Edith Wharton's home in Lenox, Massachusetts.


October 24, 2012

The Fog Has Lifted

I had eye surgery this week.

Now a blue sky is no longer slate gray all the time.

Even with the healing that must still take place, the world looks different to me now.

This is the Nyssa sylvatica (black gum, or tupelo) last week in my front yard as it kind of looked to me. It's photo shopped, but you get the idea.

And this is what it really looks like in October.

As my eye heals, focus will get sharper.  The fog is gone -- I am no longer looking through a sheet of waxed paper. But to see the bee on the dahlia I will need a few more weeks.

I had a sudden onset cataract, not the typical slow-developing creeping fogginess that is more typical and is usually a result of aging.  Early this summer I abruptly began to be bothered by bleary, indistinct sight. I thought my glasses were dirty, and compulsively cleaned them all the time. Then I thought it was allergies, causing my eyes to water. I compulsively touched my eye, trying to clear the blurriness.

My eyeglass prescription had gone way off.  So far off I thought I had picked up somebody else's glasses somewhere by mistake.

I bought a macbook laptop this summer with spiffy "retina display" that I thought would improve the jumpiness of text on the computer screen. It was better than the old screen, and after replacing a 6 year old underpowered computer it was wicked fast, but I thought for the price the screen should be a lot clearer.

Now I know better.

In a miracle of modern medicine, they took out the lens in my eye, and inserted an artificial lens that will always be 20 / 20. My laptop display now sings.

I can't wait to read your blogs now and pore over your photos. (Captcha codes are still maddeningly murky, though. There's no operation for that.)

I can't wait to wander in my own garden and see -- really see -- the details of leaf and petal and bug and pollen and yes, even the hidden weeds that took advantage of me this summer when I did not notice them so clearly.

They are toast. I will be able to spot those sneaky buggers soon.

October 21, 2012

Well, This is Odd

Two sassafras trees, planted side by side.

Planted in the same year, from the same nursery, both were five gallon whips in containers. Both have grown on the hillside for six years now, mingling with maples and oaks and other young trees establishing there.

One looks like a strongly tiered wedding cake of a sapling, bright orange in October.  It makes a wonderful view from my kitchen window. In fall it twinkles, looking back at me from between the spruce and holly, very shapely, very structured, and looking like a golden pagoda.

It remains a small sapling after six years.

It is only three feet from its companion on the left, a big green, leafy sassafras twice the size of the little one. They both have the distinctive mitten lobed leaves sassafras are known for, but what different shapes and growth habits! It is most noticeable in fall when the little one colors, and the bigger one remains green.

Really, it is so odd.  There are no cultivars of sassafras albidum. There are only species plants. I bought identical ones and planted them at the same time.

The tree on the left, big and green, is about two feet lower than the one on the right. It was planted in a little dip in the rocky scree that made up this hillside when I first began planting a forest to screen the roadside behind.

The pagoda shaped one on the right is a little higher, sitting up above the dip in the hill, but not by much.  It, too, is in rocky scree.

The only thing I can think of to explain such different growth patterns is that the bigger tree in the hollow gets more moisture, being in a lower spot that collects any water as it runs off the hillside.

Can that explain this oddity?  Could there be such drastically different growth and fall color patterns just from the occasional puddle of water one gets compared to the faster run off the other experiences?

Plants are the weirdest people.

October 18, 2012

Opening Up

'Sheffield Pink' mums open very late in the season.  They hold their buds forever, and they wait, and wait and wait until the time is just right, then they wait another day or two, and then they finally open up.

They are the only hardy mums I grow. Some years they are quite pink, other years they are rosy brown. I have clumps of them everywhere, so the apricot color repeats throughout the gardens.

'Sheffield Pink' is a muted color, so the sheer abundance of open daisy faces is soft and calming amid the riot of fall colors.

They seem to take forever to open up. When they do, it's not showy and its not flashy, but it's good.


October 14, 2012

The Pictures I Promised

When I wrote about Oxydendrum arboreum -- my little sourwood -- earlier this month, I promised I would post a picture of it when the leaves turned scarlet in mid October.

Here you go.
 (Ignore the green plastic mesh sleeve around the trunk of the sourwood.  It is there to deter bucks from rubbing their antlers on the bark this time of year.  They do quite a lot of damage to small tree trunks.)

Jim braved threatening clouds to take these photos on a stormy looking day. He is my hero.

(It never rained, but the skies were ominous)

It's a little chilly sitting in the chairs in the gravel garden now.  But even on a cool day I could rest here all afternoon and marvel at how trees change color, how they grow and how my garden is evolving.

(The bright orange nasturtiums have succumbed to a killing frost since this picture -- they froze to mush,
leaving a strong scent of pepper throughout the whole area.  And the red salvia blackened. Sigh.)

Do you do that? Do you rest, look, marvel, and shake your head at what you have created around you? I hope so.

And, because it is autumn in New England, you have to look at a maple leaf.  You just do.

Happy October to you.  Happy spring to the gardeners in the southern hemisphere, and happy autumn to the gardeners staring down winter up here.

We got a hard freeze this weekend.  It's coming.

October 10, 2012

A White Autumn

I am surprised at how many white flowers I have in October.  I have clear white big blooms all over my garden now.

A big flowered clematis 'Henryii' has rebloomed against the brick wall in front.

A 'White Chiffon' Rose of Sharon has been blooming profusely since early August, and continues to put out big silky blooms in October. Not as many flowers now, but it is still producing pure white hibiscus blooms even as the leaves yellow.

The fall blooming Nippon daisies are not a surprise, they always come out in October. All summer the clump is a green mound, and then these fresh white daisies open just when the itea behind them is dark red.

I didn't realize the white iris 'Immortality' would rebloom at the same time as the Nippon daisies, and that's a nice surprise. They are peeking out on the left side of this round garden, and the two punches of clear white on either side of the red itea makes a pleasing balance.

From a distance they are bright pops with little detail. The only way to photograph the white iris is after dark in the rain.

And the white blooms of clematis viticella 'Alba Luxurians', which are down facing and delicately streaked, also photograph best in the rain.

But look at how 'Alba Luxurians' scrambles. It was cut to the ground after blooming in early summer. Now, in October, it is back, bigger and fuller and bloomier.

By the way, I was surprised when I looked closely at the swan basket with the orange pansies sitting on the wall under the clematis. Look --- the eyes of the swan match the pansies. Eep.

October 7, 2012

Three Autumns

From year to year the scene changes dramatically along the back hill where I have been planting tree saplings over six or seven years.  The trees grow, I lose some, new seedlings pop up, and I plant more little container saplings each year. The mini forest constantly reinvents itself.

No two seasons ever look the same out there.

Here are three views taken in early October in three recent years.  All these shots were taken from the patio, looking out at the hillside.

October 11, 2010 the hillside was dominated by pale gold and soft yellow.

The following year -- October 11, 2011.  Some rich golden color, and some maples turning russet.

October 7, 2012.  This year there are scarlets and reds, but no golden hues.

As the maples have matured, the color show in this strip of woods has gotten more dramatic, less muted, more red, less golden.

But I do not lack for gold in early October.  Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) has finally matured into a good sized shrub behind the spruces this year, and it gives me all the bright yellow I could want.

Here's a peek on a misty, rainy day:

And then the sun came out.

And in bright sunshine it was dripping golden coins.

This spicebush will rain down all its golden treasure before the rest of the hillside completely colors up.

This is the first year in the past three that it has done this so vividly. It's as if the spicebush has put on its own show to make up for the lack of any sunshine gold on the hill this year.


October 4, 2012

You Can Grow That - Sourwood

I have posted about Oxydendrum arboreum before. I can't help myself, I love this tree, and I want to tell you about it. You can grow it.

I am joining C.L. Fornari's series "You Can Grow That". You will find many more bloggers' experiences growing plants on her site Whole Life Gardening.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have read about this tree.  But come sit with me in the gravel garden, in one of the Mayan folding chairs. We'll be here a while -- those chairs are impossible to get out of. I'll need to help you when you want to get up, there's just no dignified way.

So settle in and we can talk about the little tree there in front of us. You can grow one too.

Oxydendrum arboreum is called sourwood or sorrel tree. It likes acid or "sour" soil. Most of New England has acid soil, but my yard is not overly so. It is just below neutral, and that seems to be enough.

Sourwood is a southeast native, but you can grow it in the north in zone 5.  It is not completely hardy for the first two years, but if you can protect it at first while it slowly gets roots established, it will be fully hardy in zone 5 after that, tolerating temperatures below zero.

The leaves are glossy and narrow, and the flowers in June and July look like lily of the valley flowers, and bees adore them.

The flowers dry and remain on the tree all season, into fall. That creates a bejeweled look when the leaves turn scarlet in October.

The shot above is of a tree a few streets over in a prior autumn. Even my young mop headed sourwood shows this effect. It is coloring now, and I'll post a picture in a few days, in mid October, when it is fiery red with white dangling sprays.

Sourwood is a very slow grower, but eventually it can get to 30 feet tall. But it remains a trim, smaller shape, the perfect size for patios and yards. I had it sited near a patio wall for the first five years, and it grew but did not thrive.  Perhaps the soil near the stone dust of the wall was not acidic enough. This tree really is particular about soil. I moved it this spring, and it has perked up and grown much better near the pea gravel garden.

I really like the form and color and personality of this tree.  And sometimes I think the Big Gardener Up There does too, especially when I see it lit up in a ray of dewy sunshine on a late summer morning like this.

October 1, 2012

I Fixed It

I made a mistake but I fixed it.

It is the first of the month and time to confess a Gardening Oops.  Joene sponsors this and you can find more GOOPs on her blog.

I have no explanation for why I planted tall grasses right in the middle of a garden bed, obscuring anything behind them. I think I had a plan -- it involved waving, motion-filled verticals in a space under some trees.

I think. I don't actually remember now why I did this.

But I fixed it.

I took out all the Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'.  Feather reed grass is nice, and 'Karl Foerster' is a great cultivar that glows in the sunshine when the light illuminates the tips. But it is inappropriate in the middle to front of a mixed border.

It looked better immediately after I uprooted them.

There is a whole other gardening oops resulting from creating a big border underneath a maple and a birch tree as you see I have done. The root competition and increasing shade is an emerging disaster for this garden.

It looked so spacious and easy to fill in the beginning. Wouldn't you be tempted to plant up the open spaces between the little trees with shrubs and perennials? I was. This was in 2008. So much space to fill.

But a mixed border under large forest trees is a major oops for another day. Today I am just happy I corrected the mistake I made in there with the grasses.