Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What I Did in My Garden Last Sunday
Sunday was a lovely day to work in the garden and BOY did my garden need a tuneup. I realized when I was done that for beginning gardeners, it could be very useful to understand what the late July garden needs and specifically how to deal with some of the challenges we all face at this point in the growing season.
Plants that have been languishing in my holding area for a while were begging to be planted!
I began my day with high hopes of getting some planting done. I had about a dozen perennials and annuals that I have been trying to get in the ground. I mixed up a "batch" of Quoddy lobster compost and Pro Gro. I filled a watering can with Organic Plant Magic solution. As I started getting ready to plant, I found myself weeding and deadheading instead. How did the garden get like this, seemingly overnight?
My 'Sentimental Blue' dwarf balloon flowers (Platycodon) had suddenly stopped flowering and formed hundreds of seed pods. Instead of getting around to individually deadheading the flowers, I simply cut them all off and cut the plants in half. I did this last year and they came back and bloomed again for me in the fall. At that point I let them go to seed; now I have lots and LOTS of dwarf blue balloon flowers sprinkled throughout the borders. I had to "de-gunk" my daylilies. Is that a real term? Well, no matter what you call it, I had to deadhead the stalks and then use my hand to comb out all of the yellow and brown leaves. Any daylilies that will repeat bloom (I have 'Fragrant Returns', 'Happy Returns', and a few others) got a couple of shovels full of my magic compost/fertilizer mixture spread around their base. I also noted that a couple of my older daylilies really needed dividing. I never got around to it last fall, I MUST do it this fall. 
My 'Highland White Dream' Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum) was done. I cut the flowers back about halfway down the stems; I will go back in a couple of weeks, once the leaves turn yellow, and cut the flower stalks down to the ground. A new clump of fresh green basal foliage will then emerge, but this variety will not bloom again.  My later blooming 'Becky' Shasta daisies still had plenty of nice flowers and buds coming along so I just did a bit of sporadic deadheading on them. 
Beautyberry flowers are turning into berries this month and need to be deeply watered at this stage of their development.
As I started digging into the garden where I was going to add new perennials and annuals, I realized that the soil was bone dry below the surface. So every hole was filled with water and allowed to drain before I planted anything. That made me realize that my beautyberry bush (Callicarpa) was in bloom along the edge of my Norway spruce border. This is a really dry spot due to root competition. It is SO important to water beautyberries now as the flowers are becoming berries. No water, the berries don't form or fall off. I moved my hose to the base of this shrub and left it there to deep soak the area while I finished digging the holes.

I had originally set out to replant one of the containers on my deck but that would have to wait. I realized that my Baptisia was engulfing the Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and all of it's neighbors. I gave it a hand pruning to shape it and cut windows for the plants below. Then I began the crabgrass wars. How could all these baby crabgrass plants possibly have just appeared overnight in the cracks between my stepping stones and every tiny bit of bare earth? Believe me, there isn't much bare earth left in my gardens.  I knew if I got it out now, at an early age, it wouldn't go to seed and spread.
I love this funky Euphorbia. Look at those cool leaves. The center bract turns bright orange in the fall.

Finally, I got to that pot on my deck. I removed the Nemesias and pansies and added four new annuals- Angelonia, Fuchsia 'Gartenmeister', Euphorbia heterophylla 'Variegata' (shown above), and a purple impatiens. A wacky combination of plants with very different needs. I danced around 6 self-sown evening scented fragrant Nicotianas that had appeared from the year before.
This is what I ended up with- a GIANT wheelbarrow filled with weeds, spent blossoms, and garden clippings. Pretty good for a day's work. After hauling it to the compost pile, I decided to give myself a reward. 

I picked the very first ripe fig of the season and ate it in one big bite. Sorry Tony, dear husband of mine, but that one was for me! I then wandered through the gardens, sticking my nose in my fragrant lilies.
I love this new combination I dreamed up- Molinia caerulea 'Skyracer' surrounded by fragrant, evening scented Nicotiana. That's my deck chair behind the railing with a moonflower vine slowly making it's way up the post.

I spent the spring and early summer keeping the lily leaf beetles at bay on these old fashioned tiger lilies that I got from my dear friend Lucie Carlin's yard over 20 years ago. They are stunning this week and I am proud of myself!
My Allium senescens that I added to the main border last fall looks so pretty with all of the self-seeded cone flowers behind it and a smattering of black-eyed Susans.
I slowed down, watching the giant wasps on the mountain mint, observing bumble bees covered in pollen, nibbling on 'Sungold' cherry tomatoes and fresh raspberries, and soaking up the beauty of my patch of paradise.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Walking the Highline

Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver's root) with city buildings in the background
Walking the High Line
Last Sunday, Natureworks sponsored a bus trip to the High Line in New York City. Myself, my husband, many Natureworks employees, and lots of very enthusiastic customers braved the hottest day of the year to venture into the city and check out this very unusual garden. We were given a tour and I learned so much about how this garden came into existence.
The High Line was originally a raised railroad track that brought trains into the meatpacking district. As tractor trailer trucks eventually replaced railroad transportation, it was abandoned and became a dangerous eyesore. It remained abandoned for 25 years. It was scheduled to be torn down and was saved at the very last minute in 1999 by The Friends of the High Line. It is now owned by the City of New York and is a public park. But this is not just any park. It is actually a linear park, stretching nearly two miles. Five million people walk The High Line every year.
A field of Echinacea with a smokebush in the background.
On the day that we visited, even though it was extremely hot, the park was crowded with visitors. I heard so many different languages spoken all around me; this is a popular tourist attraction. Locals could be seen sitting in the shade of the birch groves, reading or sleeping. There was live music, art everywhere, food vendors selling everything from popsicles to gelato to espresso. There was an interactive gigantic Leggo display and an area where water flowed over the pavement and everyone took off their shoes and walked barefoot. 
Our tour guide told us that park was designed around the following concept:
Thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica) happily seeded into the cracks in the stones.
The park was designed by the landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations and architects Diller, Scofidio, and Renfro. The planting design was done by Piet Oudolf of the Netherlands. I have been studying his work for a long time and have visited Millenium Park in Chicago a few times, another one of his United States designs. Words cannot express how exciting it was for a plant geek like me to finally walk The High Line.
Eryngium yuccifolium (rattlesnake master) with Liatris
The impression that I walked away with was that the juxtaposition of wild looking, loose, prairie-type, native plants growing with abandon against the hard lines of the cityscape surrounding it made the whole thing simply magical. What a concept! A mass of Amsonia hubrechtii with Veronicastrum virginicum behind it framing the Empire State building in the distance. Billboards for expensive handbags with a sea of rattlesnake master Eryngium interwoven with Liatris at it's feet.
I was thrilled to realize that Natureworks already sells so many of the plants that we saw on Sunday. But, of course, there were many more that I didn't know and had to learn about. I took tons of pictures and when I returned home, studied the July blooming plant list given to us. I then went onto the High Line's VERY excellent website and downloaded the complete plant list they provided. Mysteries were solved and I was able to match photographs to plant names.
Aster umbellatus

Aruncus 'Horatio'

Salix eleagnos (rosemary leaf willow)

Ruellia humilis (wild petunia)

Magnolia macrophylla, the bigleaf magnolia, had us all talking. It was so tropical looking.
Silphium laciniatum

My FAVORITE! Silphium terebinthinaceum, also called prairie dock, with massive shiny leaves and tall spikes of yellow flowers.

Suzanne is shown here talking to Karen, both Natureworks employees who enjoyed the trip. Suzanne planned this entire trip and she did a great job.
Art was seen everywhere, but this was my favorite.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit The High Line. You will learn a lot and you will be impressed, as I was, at the creativity of man and the tenacity of plants in such an urban setting.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe Vermont

On The Road with Nancy

I just returned from Stowe, Vermont and I found so many beautiful gardens to visit and enjoy. My all time favorite is at the Trapp Family Lodge. Set high up on a mountain top, the lodge has vast gardens to grow flowers, herbs, and food for their guests. They have done a lot of work on the gardens in the past few years and they are a delight. 
The gardens are a perfect example of a large, edible landscape. Stone pathways meander through generous beds. I was lucky enough to visit on an overcast day so I could snap a few photos. Of course, everything always looks better with a stunning mountain view in the background!
As I wandered around, I could just imagine what the arrangements of fresh flowers would look like inside the inn. Snapdragons of every kind were in abundance as were large stands of colorful, annual statice. The vast acreage made for masses of color. Yet, this was not your typical cutting garden or food production garden. It was laid out beautifully, for strolling and enjoying.

Ammi majus, Agastache, and zinnias
Cattle grazed in the field below. I realized I was singing "The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music" to myself.
Clary sage
Amazing peach snapdragons
Really neat dwarf zinnias
Tiny orange poppies everywhere, covered with honeybees
Every kind of daisy imaginable
Back down the mountain, as I traveled around the village of Stowe, I decided that I was in "The Land of Phlox paniculata". It was absolutely everywhere, huge stands, in every color of the rainbow. Driving the back roads, garden phlox formed the backbone of every garden I saw. Joe Pye weed filled the fields; I don't think I have ever seen so much of this native perennial in my life. It was intermingled with flat topped aster- Aster umbellatus. I fell in love with the native aster and am determined to add it to my own wild gardens. 

Sadly, the river that runs through Stowe, which was adjacent to our motel, was surrounded by invasive Japanese knotweed. While walking the recreation path, this plant was everywhere, blocking the view to the river, clogging up the edge of the trail. As I drove around the area, I could see that Japanese knotweed has become firmly established in this beautiful countryside. 

Joseph's Coat amaranth
I returned home to a completely overgrown garden. The heat wave of last week and the prolonged dry spell had really stressed out my gardens. Two consecutive Sundays away (the day I usually spend in my own gardens) made for quite a mess. I spent my first day home deadheading, chopping back giant sunflower trees that had bent down to block my path, harvesting baskets full of tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce, and escarole. I felt overwhelmed in the morning, tired and satisfied with the progress I made at the end of the day. The sweetest surprise? The Joseph's Coat amaranth I had planted from seed in July took my breath away with it's beauty when I rounded the corner to the south side of my house. Heat? Drought? No problem. This plant appears to love those conditions. This annual is a keeper; I hope it self sows, but I am going to plant it again next year just to be sure!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nancy's Garden: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Part Two

2013 was a very productive year in my edible garden. I managed to plant a reasonably good succession of vegetables from spring until fall. I had a few favorites, a few failures, and many happy successes. The last weekend of the year is a great time to review the good, the bad, and the delicious... 
My number one success story is my new peach tree bed. In the fall of 2012 I decided to give my husband a peach tree for his birthday. He LOVES peaches. I spent many weekends digging out gooseneck loosestrife and sifting the soil to prepare it. I planted the tree and surrounded it with divisions of culinary chives plants, 5 'Top Hat' dwarf blueberries, and 5 assorted high bush blueberries. This bed is right next to my back garage, my garden shed of sorts, where I often sit to rest and survey my kingdom. The peach tree got lots of tender loving care, not to mention Organic Plant Magic, worm castings tea, and water. Well! We watched those peaches develop and ripen and when they were ready, they were the juiciest, most delicious fruit we have ever tasted. 
My next success story was growing greens. I guess I have never really appreciated greens as much as I have this year. I had lettuce constantly, including in the summer when I planted varieties that could take the heat. I grew frisee endive, escarole, chicory, and spinach. I seeded them in early and again in late July. My fall crops of greens were unbelievable. Salads became a regular part of our diet.

2013 was the year I finally understood how to grow brocolli raab, one of my husband's favorite vegetables. I guess I was always expecting it to look like the bunches we bought in the store. Instead, I realized that I just had to keep picking those little flower heads every day, along with the young leaves, and they would keep forming for weeks and weeks. We ate so much of this healthy green vegetable that we couldn't believe it. I planted my first crop in April, with the moon phase. I planted my second crop in July, again in synch with the moon. I will not be without this plant in my garden again. 

'Summer Perfection' spinach produced all during the hot weather and into the fall

I also had great success with a fall crop of bok choy and learned all kinds of interesting ways to make my own stir fries with fresh ginger root and other veggies. I intend to plant this again in 2014. It is really quite easy.

My biggest failure was that I neglected to THIN my fall crops of carrots and beets. They came up so profusely and then I got really busy. By the time I got back to them, they were all entangled and thinning was close to impossible. I will NOT do that again. I am going to try all kinds of ways of sowing these seeds so they are not so close together. I have heard that mixing them with sand helps. I have seen people make their own seed tapes. I could create a little template by drilling tiny holes in an old yardstick. Whatever... I love these root crops too much to waste them. 

I grew the best crop of kale ever, but found out that, although I love to cook with kale, my husband didn't enjoy it at all. Naturally, my spring crop continued to produce great guns until late in the fall. I found myself bringing a lot of it into work to give away. I will probably still plant it next year, but a lot less. 
My biggest frustration was my cucumbers. I actually created a brand new raised bed for them by my driveway because I had been plagued by disease and cucumber beetles in my main garden. At first they were very happy. By late summer, they started suffering from watersoaked spots on the leaves and the production diminished. This is one crop I need to really study. There is nothing like a cucumber tomato salad in the summer time. 
Erich Bender, the veggie master at Natureworks, gave me a seedling of 'Cocozelle' squash early in the spring. That turned out to be the most productive summer squash plant I have ever grown. The vine survived surgery to remove squash vine borers and continued to produce delicious squashes right up until hard frost. That is a variety I will grow from now on. Thank you Erich!

The one thing I did differently in 2013 that really paid off is that I paid a lot more attention to watering my edible plants. We had a few long stretches of very dry weather, especially in the fall. I monitored the amount of moisture in the soil closely under the straw mulch. I do not have an irrigation system. My method was to use a series of buckets and watering cans. Each time I deep soaked my plants I treated them to either Organic Plant Magic or worm casting tea that I constantly brewed from tea bags in a large bucket. I would see the difference immediately.

All in all, I was quite pleased with my food production in 2013. I miss my garden already and have already eaten all of the potatoes I had stored. There are a few bags of peppers and green beans in the freezer, plenty of garlic still to enjoy, and a few bags of frozen plum tomatoes to make into sauce over the winter. Good thing that I can work on my seed orders now. It keeps my dreaming about all the food I will be growing in 2014. 

What were your successes and challenges in YOUR edible garden?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nancy's Garden: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Part One

As we approach the winter solstice and the new year, it is a good time to gather our thoughts and take stock of the gardening year that has just past and start to think about the growing season ahead.

I have spent the last month cleaning up my gardens, planting the last of bulbs, and trying to get my tools in order. Taking advantage of every sunny day, I found myself in deep reverie about my successes and failures of 2013. As I cut plants down, I realized I had some serious new favorites all of the sudden. I also spent quite a bit of time lamenting some things I did wrong and vowing to improve in 2014. Plus, I have already compiled a list of "must have" new plants. I will share my thoughts with you in a series of blog posts. Perhaps my musings will encourage you to also put your thoughts down in words. It is a fitting exercise for this time of year.
Let's start with a couple of my new favorite plants. Topping the list is 'Top Hat' blueberry. I have to say, I planted six of these little beauties last fall, mainly as a border around my new peach tree bed. Growing only two feet tall and wide, I was stunned by the amount of super sweet fruit that kept on producing long after my other high bush blueberries were finished. Plus, this plant is cute as a button in every season, even now when covered with snow. This will become a mainstay in my edible landscaping designs.

The plant that impressed me the most with it's long bloom season was our native Sanguisorba canadensis. The white bottle brush flowers started in early September and continued until the first week in November, providing a never ending source of nectar for bees and other pollinators. I just couldn't stop photographing these unusual flower spikes. Last fall I moved it from a border near a stand of trees to an open spot in deeply dug, enriched clay soil. Well! That made all the difference in the world.

Think about it. What plants really made an impression on you this year? Sometimes it's not the flashy, sexy hybrids that make my list. In this case, it's a couple of hardworking natives.