Monday, October 29, 2012

One Last Chore Before the Storm

Day 241
The Daily DuBrule

Today is my husband's birthday and the one year anniversary of the October snowstorm that caused so much damage in 2011. Ironically, another storm of the century is blowing outside, dubbed Frankenstorm by the weather forecasters. Yesterday I spent a long time bringing things in and tidying up the yard to prepare. Not that you can really prepare for hurricane force winds, but you can try. I put the tomato stakes in their bins in the garage. I brought in all the lanterns and candleholders. The lawn furniture got stored for the winter. Potted plants and all of the halloween decorations-check. By noon I was done but filled with nervous energy. So I proceeded to dig and divide my garden. 

It seemed crazy to do this work the day before Frankenstorm but why not. So many of my plants have been cut down and I could see even more problems that I needed to deal with. A giant yellow yarrow swallowed up by mountain mint was dug up, weeded out, and reset on high ground in my new berm garden. All of the chives were placed in a neat cluster at the front of the now newly liberated, empty bed that is free of gooseneck loosestrife and waiting for the peach tree to be planted after the winds die down. Jerusalem artichokes were harvested, thus thinning the clump to prevent the blueberries and hydrangea tree from being swallowed up. I even climbed inside of a huge forsythia that straddles the property line and carefully removed the bittersweet and wrapped it in a huge tarp, ready to toss in the dumpster later in the week. I didn't realize it was there until the berries turned orange. Horrors! Not that this effort will make much of a difference as the entire back hillside of mine and all of my neighbor's properties is covered with trees engulfed in bittersweet, most of them lying down after last year's snowstorm. But it made me feel good. 

Every time I thought I was done I just kept going. Edging beds, digging up ground ivy, digging out self-sown clumps of bronze fennel that landed in the wrong spot, cutting back peonies and hostas... I just kept wandering around my property with my garden sickle and pruning shears, filling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, cleaning up and taking stock of my garden.

The very last thing I did was cut nearly 100 stems of my precious 'Lucie's Pink' mums and bring them in the house. They are in perfect bloom, a few flowers open and many buds on every branch. I couldn't bear the thought of them being shredded by the wind and pummeled by the rain. They now fill my house with cheerful color as I hunker down and ride out this storm.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Lucies

Day 240
The Daily DuBrule

The year before I started Natureworks, in 1982, I began gardening for a German woman who lived around the corner from me, Lucie Carlin. Lucie had the most amazing garden I had ever seen. It was wild and romantic and pretty and blew apart all of the rules I had learned about gardens. I fell in love with the garden and adopted Lucie as my surrogate grandmother. I cared for her garden every week for the next 15+ years, often on my day off as my business got crazier. Not only would I garden for Lucie, I would do her grocery shopping, go out to lunch, sit late into the evenings and share food and wine as the sun set over the bay in front of her house, I even took her to Foxwoods casino when it opened! She opened my eyes and my heart to so much. 

I remember fondly the first time I tried to edge and weed her gardens. She would follow me around and watch me with an eagle eye. Those violets I thought were weeds in the front of the bed? Those seeds were brought over from Germany decades ago. The irises belonged to "the aunts" who had owned the cottage in the 50's. The peonies too. The buttercups were meant to weave in amongst the orange poppies; they weren't weeds, they were part of the tapestry in June. Together we grew this garden. I was the digger and the bender and the hauler. Lucie was the inspiration and creative director. Not that she knew the names of most of her flowers. She just knew that she needed more strong pink there and we need more of those blue plants right there. It didn't matter if there was a giant rock or tons of other plants that had just been cut back or gone dormant in that spot. If we needed a mass of deep blue, I found a way to put it in. 

As the growing season wound down each year we would look forward to the blooming of her deep pink mums. These were not just any mums. They didn't even start blooming until the very end of October and if the weather cooperated, there would be flowers lingering on Thanksgiving. They were very distinctive with a little ear-like pink petals sticking up in the center of some of the flowers. By giving them one hard cut back in June, they would be about 18" tall. They also were really hardy. Not only did they come back every spring, they spread and were easily divided and moved around the garden. I named them 'Lucie's Pinks'. Lucie called them "My Lucies". She would say, as I walked down the hill and entered her cozy little cottage "My Lucies are flowering!" I even brought divisions to a CT nursery and had them propagate them and introduce them to the industry. Actually, I would say it was re-introduce them as I am convinced they were from the line of early Korean mum hybrids bred by Bristol nurseries. When I would show pictures of this amazing, late blooming pink mum in slide shows around the state, someone would usually come up to me and tell me that her grandmother had the exact same mum in her yard. Lucie was so excited that this mum was being grown professionally. They even made a plastic tag for it with her name on it!

Eventually, this local nursery stopped growing this mum for me. I occasionally dig and pot up some plants to sell at Natureworks if asked. I have, in the meanwhile, planted it in my own gardens and given divisions to many of my friends. When they start to flower we call each other up and share the joy that 'Lucie's Pink' mums have continued to give us each year. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It Should Be Illegal

I left this gooseneck loosetrife above ground for the winter to kill it and it just laughed at me, rooted, and took hold.
Day 239
The Daily DuBrule

I ache all over. I just spent many hours over the last couple of days digging out gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) from one of the prime, sunny, well drained spots in my yard. When I moved in eight years ago there was a weeping Siberian pea shrub, a small stand of gooseneck and a tidy border of Geranium 'Biokova'. All was well with the world. The Geranium is long gone, swallowed up by this fast spreading perennial which has tried to swallow up my gorgeous Japanese irises, my blueberry bushes, my 'Therese Bugnet' rose, and a bunch of daylilies. Finally, I said "ENOUGH!". 

Since I have a dumpster in my driveway for my deck replacement process, I decided that now was the time as I was NOT throwing this plant in the compost pile.  I left the last batch that I dug out a few years ago above ground for the winter so that it would freeze. Instead, it rooted in and now I have it under my Norway spruce border. Into the dumpster it goes. I love to dig holes but digging this plant out is nothing but tortuous labor. The roots are tough and the tiniest piece left in the ground will sprout. I devised a method. Jump up and down on the shovel with my heaviest work boots on. Slice off a chunk. Flip it upside down. Beat it with the shovel. Kneel down and shake off the good topsoil (this used to be a turkey farm so the soil is very fertile). Toss the roots into the wheelbarrow. Sift through the soil and find all the broken bits of roots and toss them too. On to the next chunk. 

I cursed this plant the whole time, knowing full well that I wasn't going to finish before I had to go back to work for the week AND that I have this plant in two other places in my yard. I must admit that when it is in flower it is covered, I mean absolutely buzzing, with bees. It can be a nice cut flower. But anything that spreads that quickly and is that hard to get rid of is truly scary. 

My question is, with all this invasive plant banning going on, why didn't this plant make anyone's list? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reading the Woodland Garden

Day 238
The Daily DuBrule

I've been doing a lot of driving around lately. It's interesting to be able to "read" the landscape based on the color of the leaves of the plants. During the rest of the year, it all looks like a big green glob. It takes a good eye (especially while going 60 on Rt. 9) to spot native and invasive plants.

At this time last year I was meandering down Rt. 80 in Killingworth enjoying the foliage display. I was getting ready for a talk called "Why Natives?" for a garden club the following week. Out the window I saw the woods ablaze with red foliage. I pulled over and grabbed my camera. Burning bush. A perfect example of why we don't plant it anymore. The woods was filled with it, blocking out the native plants that our native pollinators depend on. I probably wouldn't have noticed it at any other time of year.
Poison ivy is easy to spot this week.
Poison ivy has spread under my Pinus flexilis
Ditto for another native-poison ivy. I knew I had some growing in my wild border. Now I can easily spot it, don my rubber gloves, and eradicate it. I usually get poison ivy in the winter months as I don't know I am touching it without the leaves to warn me and you can definitely get poison ivy from the stems, trust me, I have many times. Unfortunately, as I tromped through the weeds in my way-back yard, I realized it has spread throughout that large area. My heart sank. But at least I now know its there when I go foraging for grapevines.
Poison ivy growing up into a mature pine.
Grapevines are also easy to spot this week. I pull the young ones down to make wreaths and garlands and it is like a reconnaissance mission to see where they are now that the leaves are yellow. It always surprises me to find that have wound their way up into some of my valuable evergreens and shrubs on the margins of the untamed hillside.
Grapevines make themselves known this week
At this time of year I can spot stands of Clethra, Lindera benzoin (spicebush), and Calycanthus floridus (Carolina allspice). It makes me happy to see these plants thriving-instead of a woodland filled with red burning bush. I even spotted some sweetfern, which had turned a beautiful shade of burgundy red, along the ledges on Rt. 9. I know I spend too much time looking at the plants and not enough time looking at the road. I just can't help myself, I find it so interesting to discover where these native plants are thriving.
Carolina allspice

Sweetfern-Comptomia peregrina

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Playing with Pumpkins

Day 237
The Daily DuBrule

Today I ran a free workshop for anyone interested in participating called Playing with Pumpkins. I do this every year and am always so excited about the results. My goal is to walk people through our gardens and open up their eyes the the wide variety of material still looking good that can be used as a cut flower or foliage. After the hard, killing frost of a week ago, it is truly amazing what is out there!
First we scooped out the pumpkins and put in a piece of plastic wrap. Then we added some pre-soaked floral foam. Then we went to town. Just to give you an idea of the abundance still out there in the gardens, here is a partial list of some of the plant material we played with:
  • Hellebore foliage
  • Bright red and orange Fothergilla foliage
  • Purple smokebush foliage-now veined with pink
  • Diamond grass plumes
  • Little blue stem grass leaves- they have turned burgundy
  • Purple and white beautyberries
  • Helianthus salicifolius 'First Light'-flowers and foliage
  • Sanguisorba flowers
  • Pennisetum grass flowers-2 kinds
  • Muhly grass flowers
  • Acuba japonica foliage
  • Golden Chamaecyparis foliage
  • Buttonbush seed pods
  • Caryopteris 'Sunshine Blue' foliage and blue seed pods
  • All kinds of late blooming mums- Mei Kyo, Venus, Mammoth Coral Daisy, Hot Embers, Carousel, etc.
  • Aster tartaricus flowers
  • Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' yellow spidery foliage
  • Sciadopitys verticillata-evergreen foliage
  • Salvia leucantha-purple velvety flowers
  • Rabdosia longituba flowers- blue and white
  • Itea foliage- now deep burgundy
  • Peony foliage
  • Monkshood flowers- Aconitum arendsii

I'm sure I left something out. All I know is that when we were finished I had a tent full of very happy people who learned that not only can you pick from your garden and not make a dent in it's beauty, you can also learn to arrange flowers and foliage very easily if given permission to unleash your inner designer. Why not go out and see what you can harvest from your landscape this weekend and make a pumpkin arrangement for your house? I bet you'll love it too!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Petite and Late

Day 236
The Daily DuBrule

In this post-frost universe, any perennials just starting to bloom are really important. For years I have been planting a diminutive but very durable perennial in every garden that can accommodate it to help us get through this transition time from lush gardens to barren landscape.

Allium thunbergii 'Ozowa' is just too cute. The foliage is up in early spring and looks like a really tiny chives. The buds start forming in September and mine just opened last week. It will last into November. It stands a mere 12" tall and the clumps ever-so-slowly expand to a foot or more in diameter. They can be easily lifted and split if you want to spread this little beauty around. 

You have to locate this plant up front and close where you will notice it. I have used it in creative foundation plantings right near the front door. I have a clump in my courtyard where I sit on a big rock and commune with my frog (Frogman). I have many clumps on the edge of my sunny garden where I will surely notice them out the window of my office. I also have a white form- Allium thunbergii 'Album' which grows to the same size.

This is a fun plant that will surely turn heads of anyone walking slowly through your late fall garden and observing the details. If you ever see it offered, grab it. It's rare in the trade, but for those of us in the know, we wouldn't be without it. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Natives Gone Rouge

A few years ago when the Coreopsis integrifolia was happy.

Day 235
The Daily DuBrule

I just spent an hour liberating my Coreopsis integrifolia from my Eupatorium coelestinum. The perennial ageratum had won the battle and had engulfed this very unusual, late blooming Coreopsis that I count on for cut flowers at this time of year. I started by digging out a tarp load of plants, essentially the entire front of the border. Then I got down and dirty and started sorting out the mess. The perennial ageratum has an amazing root system. White roots run along the surface of the ground and thread their way into everything. I LOVE this plant. It blooms for 5-6 weeks in my garden, fills vase after vase with cut flowers, and attracts butterflies galore. But it truly is a thug in perennial border. The Coreopsis has long, wiry roots. I teased them all out of the Eupatorium and put them in a bucket. I found that a large grouping of old fashioned coral bells had also been swallowed up. I dug it out of the mess. I then dove into the clumps of Astilbe and hardy mums and daylilies and Echinaceas and cleaned them out as well. Crazy me, I left some of the Eupatorium in the back part of the border where it does the job it is supposed to do which is fill up the empty space when the bleeding heart that ate Middletown goes dormant. I will watch it like a hawk from now on. 
No sight of the Coreopsis this year, but I found it!
While I was at it, I also dug out countless Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' plants that had seeded around. This is not the first time in eight years I have done this. Rudbeckias LOVE my yard, as they do most yards. I have removed them before and banished them to the back border where they can spread to their heart's content amongst the 'Midwinter Fire' dogwood. Yet they return.

Last week I dug up huge clumps of Joe Pye weed that had seeded into the middle of my blueberry patch. Another landed in the Siberian iris border next to my raised beds. They both were moved to the wild border between the pussywillows. I have planted many New England asters of colors I specifically wanted- hot pink 'Alma Potchke' and low growing 'Purple Dome'. They too have self sown, resulting in pale pink and magenta tall asters that, albeit beautiful, are out of proportion or the wrong color for the spot they landed in. Never mind that a gigantic New England aster growing in the heart of a 'Coral Fay' peony can't be good for the peony. 

I adore native plants and totally want them in my yard. They are easy to care for, a magnet for pollinators, and fascinating to observe. I just have to use a heavier hand on the ones that area trying to wipe out the well laid plans of this garden designer to have the borders of her dreams.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Frost? What Frost?

Day 234
The Daily DuBrule

Friday night was seriously cold all over the state. When I live on the shoreline I always had impatiens blooming on Halloween. This year there is not a tender plant left unscathed in the warmest parts of Connecticut after the bone chilling cold of October 19th. I just spent a few hours in a thankless chore- cutting down soggy, frozen, mushy plants and hauling them to the compost pile. The only satisfaction one can get from these labors is to look out and see a neat and tidy garden once again.

I noticed a few plants that laughed at the hard frost and are still going strong. I would love to know your survivors as well. It will help all of us develop late October and November gardens with color as this crazy, extreme weather continues to keep us on our toes. Some plants still flowering and happy are:
  • Platycodon-dwarf balloon flower, in bloom today
  • Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Atropurpurea'-the best cut flower in the garden right now
  • Sedum 'Autumn Joy' seed heads- a pretty burgundy color. Surprisingly, the foliage seems green too.
  • Aster laevis 'Bluebird'- happy as a clam
  • Aster 'Purple Dome'- still flowering strong
  • Allium thunbergii 'Ozowa', a diminutive beauty for fall.
  • Allium thunbergii 'Ozowa' and 'Alba' are blooming happily with lots of buds to come.
  • A pretty golden orange daisy mum given to me by my friend Elizabeth last year. I had forgotten about it and was thrilled when in opened!
  • 'Lucie's Pink' mums- the leaves look a little nipped but the buds are fine. All my other mums are fine too.
  • Chelone and Aconitum are flowering today 
  • In the vegetable garden the mustards, mizuna, and arugula are green and fresh and totally fine. So is the parsley and the sage.
The surprise of the day is a bulb I planted late last year, Sternbergia lutea. It was in bud Thursday afternoon and in bloom today. I was worried that it wasn't hardy to zone 6 but I guess I was wrong for this year at least. The disappointment of the day was that my Rabdosia leaves froze. The flowers, I am happy to report, are fine. I think I will plant my next one under the wisteria arbor. This gave wonderful protection to a bunch of plants gathered below it on Friday night.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First Frost

Day 233
The Daily DuBrule

I woke up this morning to a world covered in frost. I wasn't at all surprised. The television news talked about last night as "dangerously cold". Sure thing, if you are a houseplant. Yesterday was filled with scurrying about. All gardeners had to make choices- what to save and what to leave out. Which plants made the cut?

My beautiful flowering maple tree did not come in the house yesterday. It is two years old and a beautiful sight to behold. It sat on my deck all summer getting prettier and prettier. But early in the season I looked at it closely and realized it was covered in scale. I knew if I sprayed it I would still be bringing the possibility of scale into the house and it wasn't worth it. I have valuable orchids and Clivias and other ancient houseplants that I didn't want to take the chance of infecting. It broke my hard but this plant didn't make the cut.
I was sorely tempted to bring in my stunning combination planter of Coleus 'Smallwood Driveway' and geranium 'Mrs. Cox'. Oh what a pretty mix this was all summer! But I have limited room in my office sunroom and I settled on cuttings of the coleus to get me through the winter. I will plant these two together next year and for years to come. They are a marriage made in heaven. 

At Natureworks we moved gigantic planters of golden pineapple sage, Salvia leucantha, and Leonatis into the tent. They are PERFECT this week, some just coming into bloom. I looked at the forecast ahead and saw there wasn't frost in the future for the next week and beyond. They have been spared to bloom until Halloween.

I was actually surprised that our first hard killing frost came this early in one of the warmest years on record. But we take what we get. This doesn't stop us from continuing to plant and rearrange gardens. It just clears the herbaceous clutter a bit so we can see more clearly what we are doing. 

The first killing frost is noted by all gardeners each year. It is certainly a day of transition for the growing season. I will enjoy the ride to work, looking at the white frosted fields. I am dressed in many layers and ready to accept the changes brought about by these freezing temperatures. Garden sickle at the ready, onward to the next stage of the fall I go!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Day 232
The Daily DuBrule

One of the benefits of hiring new people is that they bring to the business a fresh perspective. A few years ago a woman came to work for Natureworks who was a true plant geek. I knew she wasn't taking this part time job for the money. She was coming to work to be in the company of all of the amazing plants-and spend her paycheck on them!

She introduced me to many new perennials but my hands down favorite is Rabdosia longituba. When she asked me if I could get it I said "Whaaa?" I had never heard of it before and I was on a mission. I did find a few plants and planted one at Natureworks and one at home. When I came home yesterday afternoon I was delighted to see it in full bloom and glowing with pretty blue flowers. 

Spur trumpetflower does best in partial shade. It has an arching habit, a bit lax, and a delicate texture. You wouldn't think that it would call to you when looking at the garden out the window but, en masse, it does. Mine is growing beneath a rose of Sharon tree. To the right of it is Aster laeavis 'Bluebird' which is in full bloom. To the left and in front, in more sun, is good old Sedum 'Autumn Joy'. The flowers on the Sedum has gone from pink to bronze. To the left of that is a nice stand of white Anemone 'Honorine Jobert'. The entire combination is just so pretty and so filled with color for the middle of September. At Natureworks it is at the feet of a large clump of fragrant white Cimicifuga ramosa 'Atropurpurea' which is full bloom right now. This combination also works well. The more years I grow this plant, the more I get to know it. I am eager to try it with more shade flowers and foliage plants.

Rabdosia grows up 24-30" tall and then arches over a bit. Don't be fooled by its appearance in a pot. Plant it in your garden and let it establish itself. You will ask yourself "what is that?" next spring. It is so unobtrusive for most of the summer. But when October rolls around you will be very happy to have a large cloud of blue tubular blossoms waving in the fall breeze. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Labyrinth

Day 231
The Daily DuBrule

When I first moved into my house there was an in-ground pool in the backyard. I never wanted a house with a pool and neither did my husband. I thought "what the heck, I'll give it a try" and for two years I vacuumed, skimmed, bumped, and did everything else needed to prevent it from becoming a giant science experiment. When the scuba diver I hired to repair a leak told me I needed a major repair I decided ENOUGH!

I hired a contractor to remove the pool. Let's just say it was a messy, muddy, expensive proposition but what I gained was SO worth it. All of the sudden I could see the rest of my yard. No more chemicals, loud pump, and peeling paint drifting into the pool. Never mind the fact that it became a giant Japanese beetle trap in the summer.

Meanwhile, I was introduced to the labyrinth by a client who hired me to design around a labyrinth she was going to install in her tiny backyard. I really didn't know much about them but I was intrigued. I started studying and reading about them. It turns out they are an ancient pattern found on cathedral floors and places throughout the world. They are a metaphor for life. You can see the center where you are going but it is a very roundabout and circuitous route to get there. After Kate's labyrinth was completed, she had a birthday celebration at a spiritual center where there was another labyrinth, this time in a beautiful field. I was fascinated with the way it calmed me down and centered me when I walked it. 

Later that year I was sitting on an upper floor at Hartford Hospital hospice, holding vigil for my beloved great Aunt Jo who was leaving this world. I happened to look out the window at the space between the building we were in and the children's hospital. A temporary labyrinth had been laid down on the pavement. I watched people walk by, stop, and then slowly enter this spiritual space. It was amazing to see their reaction.

It took me a long time to design this space. I wanted a private sanctuary where I could come home and relax. During those same months I was working at a job in New Haven where, right behind this property, there was a wood fired pizza oven. I decided I wanted one. Not just any pizza oven. No, that would be way too easy. I also wanted an outdoor fireplace for evening gatherings. 
The next element of the design was the water garden. The contractor I hired (a good friend and a true artist) brought in gigantic, beautiful rocks from his family farm. The result was a masterpiece. During the first spring and summer I didn't have time to plant it properly. A few annuals and lots of weeds kept me from really enjoying this space. Finally, I got serious.
Now it is a serene space filled with fragrant flowers, evening scented blossoms, easy care plants, and textural beauty. I usually walk the labyrinth after dark. I walk it barefoot as the pattern of the stones is easily felt under my feet. Plants encroach on the edges; I prune them back. Sometimes I just sit and enjoy the pattern of the stones. I do yoga in the center. It is a dream come true and just what I needed to help me center myself with my over-the-top, busy life.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Embracing Fall

The stakes are out of the ground and ready for storage.
Day 230
The Daily DuBrule

Sunday I cleaned up the tomato garden. I removed all the plants, took down all the stakes and cut off the old twine. I stacked them across the raised beds to dry out. I removed the cages and stored them in the garage. I found a few arugula plants, some mustard seedlings, and lots of Calendulas and borage still blooming. These I left.
The morning glories are still blooming behind the pumpkins.
It is a bittersweet time of year for me. I have to say that I fight the blues in October. I am sure it is S.A.D., seasonal affect disorder, where the shortening of the days and the reduction in the intensity of the light causes a mild depression. It has happened to me enough years in a row for me to at least, at this point, be conscious of it and not freak out. I did a bit of research on line to see if this is common with people who garden for a living. It didn't take long for me to see there is most certainly a connection. No wonder we have chosen gardening as our life's work. We are outdoors during the sunniest months of the year!
Even the Asclepias seedpods are really pretty now
My husband also knows that this happens to me and he has been really supportive. The other day, when I hit the wall (probably due to too many days of rain) he gave me some very sage words of advice: try to embrace the season. Decorate with pumpkins. Light a fire in the fireplace. Light some of your scented candles. Try to see the beauty in the natural world in this, it's natural life cycle. At first I was, like, "yeah yeah yeah I know all that", rolling my eyes. But then I decided to take his advice to heart and take action. I brought home all kinds of really fun pumpkins and gourds and decorated the courtyard and my front porch. I tried to stay totally in the moment on Sunday when I was cleaning up the garden, looking for the beauty despite the greyness of the day. The birds were happy enough, munching on the seedpods I had left up. The berries were glowing red and orange.
My goodness, look at all the roses blooming! There really was color everywhere I looked. The leaves were turning wonderful colors.
The purple smokebush flowers are turning red
I am promising myself to work outdoors every single day that it isn't pouring rain or snowing. If the sun is shining, I'm there. I can prune, clear brush, gather kindling, cut the garden back- there's plenty to do. If not, I will take a walk and soak up the sun. I am thinking of getting the special lights for my office at home to help with this syndrome. But, so far, lots of vigorous exercise and being outdoors has helped a lot. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Day 229
The Daily DuBrule

I am basically a peaceful person. I embrace all of God's creatures and work very hard to create the peaceable kingdom both in my backyard and around my garden center. But right now, I am feeling very angry at...wait for it...chipmunks! Since the spring they have been wreaking havoc on my gardens. They dug up so many bulbs I wondered if there would be any left. Yes, the Colchicums survived the chipmunk onslaught but I bet the tulips and crocuses are history. Did I take action? No. I moaned and I groaned but I didn't do a thing.
This was the scene at Natureworks in May
The Colchicums weren't bothered by the chipmunks

All summer long the chipmunks have been running to and fro at Natureworks. They climbed up the Lilium stalks and ate our lilies right before our eyes. This week they are eating pansy flowers. Pumpkins? So far we have had to write off more than I want to discuss because they find them so tasty. Still, have I set any traps? Done anything at all? Nope.

Two years ago when we had a plague of chipmunks, Mother Nature took care of them. I meet the crew at seven a.m.  We all saw a weasel each morning and voila! No more chipmunks. I assume the coyote got the weasel (pop!) because this year, Alvin and all of his buddies are back.

Thursday afternoon I hit the wall. After working in the rain and drizzle for days, wading through knee deep poison ivy and pucker brush to create a native landscape, fielding calls from clients trying to arrange jobs despite the weather, I was feeling pretty low. It was then that my mechanic called to tell me about the $600+ repair on our red pickup truck due to...wait for it... a chipmunk nest in the alternator that not only ruined the alternator but also the housing or whatever you call it that connects it to the rest of the truck. Okay, that's it, I'm done. Alvin, you're beyond "cruisin' for a bruisin". You're toast. 

Not that I know exactly what I am going to do or even if I did, not that I would share that gruesome information with you. All I know is, I am DONE da dum dum DONE with this nonsense. Peacable, smeeshable, I don't want to cross paths with another chipmunk for a long time. Oh, and by the way, they came into the retail store yesterday. The nerve! Jane chased them out with proper dramatic flair. They heard we had boxes and boxes of delicious bulbs and they were all out on the buffet shelves, no digging needed. I can only imagine some morning at the crack of dawn opening the doors and finding chipmunks lying around the shop, sleeping off their gorging rampage because we didn't chase all of them out like we thought. Sigh....

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Noble Effort

Day 228
The Daily DuBrule

This week my crew and I have been involved in an extremely challenging project. We are working in a woodland area that borders a salt marsh. This had been let go for years and it was filled with the typical invasive plants- multiflora rose, bittersweet, cat briar, and poison ivy. The entire area contains dozens of well established burning bushes. This woodland space is set in a condominium community where burning bushes are everywhere, hundreds of them. Trying to eliminate them from the woodland garden or even trying to convince the residents of this community that they are a bad thing is, at this point, impossible.

My amazing crew cleared the slope by hand and hauled away truckloads of brush. Some people suggested that I just Roundup the entire area to prepare it for planting. That was out of the question. Instead, we are doing the work the hard way. I would never apply an herbicide next to a marsh. Period. Roundup, according to my research, is toxic. It turns out that the active ingredient, glycophosphate, is less problematic than the inert ingredients. I have never used it and never will. Instead we are using many methods to restore this habitat. Clearing by hand the old fashioned way is one, planting fast growing native plants and smothering with planter's paper underneath the mulch is another, and LEAVING THE LEAVES as they fall is a third.

This project is frustrating in that the burning bushes won't go away as long as they are planted on all of the surrounding property. The work we are doing is a major compromise. The budget is not sufficient to do all that I would like to do and the followup care of this landscape will determine if the hundreds of native plants-bayberries, redtwig dogwoods, blueberries, Christmas ferns, Fothergilla, Itea, pussywillow, swamp azaleas, oakleaf hydrangeas, etc.- will transform this formerly neglected and sad landscape to a place of natural beauty.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Yummy Native Plant

Day 227
The Daily DuBrule

My gigantic Jerusalem artichokes are in flower this week. These are 6-7' tall perennial sunflower plants that form edible tubers. Native to North America, they are now often called Sunchokes. They are not from Jerusalem and they are not even related to artichokes. Nonetheless, they are quite a fast growing, vigorous edible and ornamental crop for your garden-if you have the room.

Trust me, these spread fast. The best way to contain them is to dig up their roots every fall and eat them! They can be eaten raw (think water chestnut substitute). They can be boiled, roasted, mashed, and stir fried. They are often made into flour and pasta. Incredibly nutritious, Jerusalem artichokes are high in iron, potassium, and niacin. They are important for people with diabetes as they store carbohydrate as inulin which is processed by the body for energy much differently than sugar. The flour is excellent for those with wheat allergies. They help keep the good bacteria healthy in your digestive tract.

Let's see, what else is cool about Jerusalem artichokes? They bloom in October which is a bonus. How many gorgeous, six foot tall stands of yellow daisies do you have flowering in your yard this month? They supply much needed nectar for migrating butterflies and all sorts of pollinators. You can cut the flowers for long lasting bouquets. 

You are supposed to wait until a hard frost to harvest them but I couldn't wait. I pulled up a few stems to see how they grew this year. All signs point to an abundant harvest. Mine are growing in my mixed habitat border. They will overtake slower growing plants so give them lots of elbow room and thin them every fall by digging out as many tubers as you possibly can. Even the smallest pieces left in the ground will resprout and grow next year. The native Americans were really on to something when they encouraged this plant. It was a big part of their diets- perhaps you might make it a part of yours.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

It's Time for Savory Herbs

Day 226
The Daily DuBrule

With the official arrival of the fall season, my mind turns to soups, stews, and roasted meats and vegetables. I have always grown sage and rosemary in my garden. The sage is a great perennial; the thyme comes and goes with the years. Four years ago I decided to give winter savory a try. I don't know what made me try this herb as I had never had any experience with it. I think I was curious and it was neat and tidy looking. Well, the English thyme planted next to it is long gone. The two plants of winter savory (Satureua montana) are not only thriving, they are one of the prettiest little ground covers I now grow on the hot, sunny south side of my garage.

I brought some with me on a weekend trip with a bunch of girlfriends. My friend Suzanne was cooking a turkey and she was intrigued. I had used it on my roasted potatoes, carrots, and parsnips with great success. It turned out to be a fabulous addition to her homemade stuffing mix. Yesterday I roasted a chicken. I am basically a peasant cook. I buy (or harvest) a few ingredients and then I play, using my instincts. I rubbed the chicken with olive oil and then laid on the winter savory, sage, and rosemary. I sprinkled it with sea salt and cracked pepper. Then I squeezed on the juice of half of a lemon and added lemon rind slivers. Another spritz with olive oil and into the oven it went. 

A half hour later I added my freshly dug 'Yellow Finn' potatoes. I sprinkled them with olive oil and salt and added some more savory. When the dish finally came out of the oven and was served, I have to say my husband was quite impressed. We even had a side dish of yellow zucchini and the last of the tomatoes, tossed with fresh parsley and, you guessed it, some more winter savory.

All the herb books I have referenced about this herb keep talking about annual summer savory as "the bean herb". Winter savory is much stronger and more pungent in flavor, just the ticket for this time of year when our bodies crave food and lots of it with spicy, aromatic flavors that say "pay attention to me!"

What's really unusual about this herb is that it gets tiny white flowers in late October and November. In the picture below you can see how I have paired it with bearded irises and Oenothera macrocarpa, the all summer blooming evening primrose that hugs the ground. They work really well together. 

The lesson here is to keep experimenting with your food. Expand beyond your everyday boundaries and see what you can discover. Savory is billed as a salt substitute. Well, so are most of the traditional fall and winter herbs if you ask me. My process is to cook with an herb, study it's complexity, and gradually learn about it and learn how to use it. It's a lifelong exploration that is very satisfying in every way.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Colchicum Companions

An established stand of Colchicum 'Waterlily' emerging
Day 225
The Daily DuBrule

It's Colchicum time. This bulb is often referred to as a form of autumn crocus, however the species name is Colchicum and it is a LOT larger than any crocus flower I have ever seen. The Colchicum bulbs that I grow come are lilac pink and are either single or double. The double form is named 'Waterlily' and it is easy to see why.

Colchicum with donkeytail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites)

Colchicums have a backwards life cycle compared to most of the bulbs that we grow in Connecticut. The bulbs arrive in late August and are already sprouting flowers. Left in their bin boxes, they will bloom in the retail store. The goal is to get them planted as soon as possible. The flowers appear in the garden anywhere from early September through October. The emerge out of the ground flowers only, no leaves. An established clump of Colchicums will produce dozens of flowers over the course of many weeks. 
Colchicum and black mondo grass-love it!
In the spring, the leaves appear. They are strappy, gangly leaves that look a bit like Amaryllis foliage. No matter how much you know about gardening, they always are a surprise simply because they look so out of place where they are growing. The reason for this is that you locate Colchicum bulbs where they can be enjoyed in the front of the garden and the leaves are way too big to be anywhere near the front. You just deal with it. You have to allow the leaves to grow until they die back naturally, usually about 3-4 weeks. That is how they feed the bulb for the fall flowering to come.

A fun trick is to plant them so they come up through something- ground cover junipers, black mondo grass, Euphorbia myrsinites, any low growing plant that can form the unerpinnings for this magnificent bulb. That way people can do a double take and say things like "I didn't know junipers bloomed in the fall..." and you can just slyly smile. I would love to know what you have combined them with that works especially well.
I got a little nervous this fall as the Colchicums seemed slow to emerge. In the spring we had "the attack of the chipmunks" who dug up every single garden at Natureworks and ate tons of bulbs. Even though I have observed and read and been told that rodents don't eat Colchicums, I was afraid we had lost them. That is why I celebrate with great glee every clump that arises.