Before the Freeze

Looking out the kitchen window this Saturday morning the sunshine is beautiful, and to be honest it was similar yesterday and I even enjoyed the ride to work because of the brilliant light.  I wish we could start late every Friday, if only for the chance to remember what it’s like to have sunshine lighting the way to work rather than headlights, but it’s a rare treat this time of year.  I won’t say it’s unlikely to happen again until February or March, but those familiar with the calendar and seasonal changes in day-length might already suspect that.

In spite of the sunshine there is still a bit of lingering snow from Monday’s Arctic plunge.  Cold weather does that, and it’s been cold.  I briefly considered a few snowy photos, but with only an inch or two it wasn’t enough to cover up all the garden’s flaws so rather lets go back to last weekend when the last bulbs and newly purchased shrubs and tree seedlings and clearance perennials and surprise plant packages and whatever else went in to the ground and the last half-hardy pots and tubers and bulbs and cuttings and offsets came indoors in one last, desperate weekend of procrastination comeuppance.

tropical garden fall cleanup

The cannas have left the garden.  As part of my “new” laziness I’ve used hedge shears to chop up the canna tops and left everything in situ after the roots were dug and brought in.  It looks better than before and that’s my new gardening mantra for my 50’s.

No one wants to see the mess all the tuber filled tubs and overflowing shelves of plants have created indoors so let me instead celebrate a major garden milestone.  I hesitate a bit to share, because a story comes to mind which Chloris at The Blooming Garden related not so long ago, but I don’t think people hold me to as high a standard so I think I’m safe.  My foggy memory seems to recall Chloris mentioning some surprise over several negative comments given regarding a newly completed project she had revealed.  I expect and perhaps deserve a few less than enthusiastic observations, but her projects are always a little crazy and over the top and turn into amazing spaces, so the fact readers were able to find flaws surprised me but it gave me pause none the less.  Just for the record, I know my reveal still faces an uphill battle.  A lukewarm reception is expected.

building a garden pond

Several years of neglect have left the leaky garden pond as an overgrown sludge-filled pit of lost toys and random garden waste.

I don’t have enough time to bring you up to date on what a failure this part of the “garden” has been.  A more optimistic time would be 2013 when this pit was first dug, but looking back at the post(s) even then the title should have been a clue for where this would end up. >Here’s a link<  Needless to say a timely article by my friend Pam at Pam’s English Cottage Garden on fall pond building reminded me that a decade is a long time to look at a muddy failure.

building a garden pond

Deep but small meant cinder blocks for three of the four sides. Pond fabric went down first to cushion the liner.

In all I’m not sure why it took so long.  The hole was already there and I didn’t really have the ambition to make it much bigger… plus the liner I had on hand… for years (oh my God that’s a whole other story) wasn’t much bigger than the hole, so it was just a matter of reshaping things and getting the blocks in.

building a garden pond

Liner, second layer of pond fabric, position a few rocks and layer in some bags of gravel, and it already looks 90% better.

Construction began about a month ago but then it sat for a few weeks until I could figure out the edging.  The back has a bit of a gravelly, sloped beach, but the sides and front are steep and unnaturally squared.  I browsed around but eventually called a landscaper friend who hooked me up with some scrap and leftover stone stair treads.  He said the thicker cut would look good, and he was right.  I love it!

building a garden pond

Done for the winter.  I’ll likely take up all the sides, re-level and cut the stone for a proper fit next spring but for now I’m happy with it.  Various footprints have already shown it to be quite popular with all the most destructive wildlife.   

So in my usual tradition I’ve almost finished another project and have convinced myself that I’ll finish the rest at a future date.  I may not have learned that lesson yet, but I did learn one interesting thing about my garden, that being the reasons behind my less than stellar drainage.  I had assumed the layer of shale fill that surprises the shovel four to six inches down is what keeps the yard a mudpit after it rains, but surprisingly if you chip and pick your way through that, bedrock lies another six inches below.  So much for the inground pool plans, and hence the reason for the pond being slightly elevated.

autumn garden

Some last flickers of fall color.  Each passing season brings a little more winter interest.

The garden has been neglected sine last weekend.  I’d like to haul a little more compost in for some last minute mulching, but all I’ve really done is order an unnecessary amount of clearance bulbs which now need to get in the ground before the frosts really set in.  Maybe I’ll just hope for a warm December.

autumn garden

Looking towards the foundation.  For some reason I really like the dried tan of the asian spicebush (Lindera glauca v. salicifolia).  Thoughts?

In any case blowing off Saturday blogging and gardening and journeying down to Philly to enjoy some fall snowdrops doesn’t help my case at all.  Maybe today I’ll find some motivation to get all the new jobs done.

verbascum leaves

A fat verbascum has found a niche in the foundation bed.  I love verbascum in general but I hope this one is something more interesting than the plain roadside version.  We’ll see next year.

Motivation through the week hasn’t even brought me outside.  Late nights and cold weather can do that, but at least things look halfway decent for the winter, even if all I do is take a glance while pulling in to the driveway.

autumn garden

Amsonia hubrichtii next to the mailbox is showing some of the fall color it’s known for and the frozen miscanthus has fluffed up nicely.  I’ll still need to chop down the miscanthus, it makes a mess when it crumbles and blows all over in February.

Another thing which may look halfway decent for the winter is the indoor winter garden.  In a rare bout of preparedness I did a summertime cleaning of the room and when things started trickling indoors they actually had a place to go this year.  I’m excited for it and have already spent a night in there picking pots clean, arranging plants, repotting a few things… all the unnecessary things which define the slower pace of puttering indoors.

cyclamen confusum

Cyclamen confusum indoor under lights.  It should be hardy but of course having it indoors is more fun, especially when you want to visit at night.

As soon as this posts I’m off to secure another batch of mulch.  It’s now Sunday morning but hopefully late enough that Godless doesn’t come to mind when I’m seen filling tubs with compost behind the town hall building.  I promise this will be the last of it, and it really needs to be since I should be addressing the tray of new cyclamen which may have followed me home from yesterday’s Philly trip.  There will be more on that later, so for now let’s focus on the money I saved by not shipping directly and at least I didn’t buy any more snowdrops.

19 comments on “Before the Freeze

  1. I love the new pond. That squared-off geometry is perfect with the fence behind it. And yes, water does bring the critters. We finally stopped having fish as a way to cut down on the raccoon population. That’s been fairly successful but we’ve had one somewhere in the garden most of the summer. You can always tell when they are gallumping through the water Iris to reach the pond. As for brown leaves on your Lindera, I love the contrast with the green and the house and other colors. We were initially unhappy when we realized our Korean maples kept their brown and curled up foliage all winter. Now we realize what a great contrast it provides with the snow and evergreens.

    • bittster says:

      Heh heh, I love the dried leaves on a few plants, but have already spent several sessions with my witch hazels, plucking dried leaves off them in a way-too-early staging for spring! Oak and beech used to annoy me as well, but ever since that spicebush came in to my life things are changing. Maybe this was the Korean maple moment I needed!
      One tragedy with the pond is that if I look from just the right perspective I notice the geometry is just off square with the grass path which runs into the rest of the garden. I forgot that the neighbor’s fence is crooked and my path is not… We will see what happens.
      The guy at the nursery was giving pond advice when I went to buy the pond fabric. He told me the depth for fish, and I mentioned I wasn’t likely to put goldfish in because of wildlife attacks, rather I might try just putting a few guppies in each spring to control mosquitos. I could tell he didn’t know what to say, but for right now I think it might work without bringing in too many curious raccoons.

  2. Chloris says:

    Hey, who are you calling crazy? Have you been talking to my husband? I love your new pond. You still have some nice autumn colour, what are the round balls in the first photo? You are endlessly creative in finding ways to save money on the garden. I’m working on that one.

    • bittster says:

      Sorry! I always thought the most exciting gardens are made by people who go off the deep end just a little. Two witch hazels are nice but three dozen make things fun!
      I’ve found that saving money in the garden is easiest when you don’t keep track of things well. Also saving money elsewhere also counts as gardening dollars used wisely… for example when I didn’t order a second drink at dinner I really earned myself a new cyclamen. Obviously the cyclamen is then free since you budgeted it for entertainment.
      I would do another post on garden budgeting but I’ve found that putting a budget and expenses in writing always leads to a lot of unnecessary questioning.
      The round balls in the tropical bed are Gomphocarpus physocarpus. It was exceptionally fertile this summer.

      • Chloris says:

        I was only joking, of course I am crazy and I am in good company. I love your innovatory approach to budgeting. I think you should do another post and share your wisdom. Oh yes, I’ve seen Gomphocarpus in Madeira, is it hardy?

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I see nothing wrong with your pond project especially since it isn’t finished. These square/rectangle ponds are so popular right now. Modern they say. So believe it or not you are with it. I like the Lindera contrasting with the evergreens. Have fun in your indoor plant room.

    • bittster says:

      Look at that. I’m modern! I won’t say that the shape was really due to the fact a more natural pond would require more space than I was willing to give up 😉
      I’ve been spending a bunch of time in the indoor plant room, much more than I usually do at this time of year. Hopefully that’s not a bad sign that I’ll be going stir-crazy by February!

  4. I love the new pond. Your scenery looks a lot less winterish than here. And I also want to know what the round balls are.

    • bittster says:

      As long as the grass stays green things don’t look too bad. Also the new hedge of green spruce closing in the garden makes it look less wintery as well. Reminds me of cemetery plantings though…
      The round balls are Gomphocarpus physocarpus, a milkweed related annual grown for its seed pods. I’ll leave it to you to look up the common names.

  5. Eliza Waters says:

    The new pond looks great, Frank, and it’s nice that you still have fall color. It has been so cold here lately, I find it hard to do much before my hands stiffen with the cold. All I got done today was hardware cloth around plants vulnerable to vole damage. I still have to wrap my hollies and yew against deer nibbling. I’m pretty much ready to hibernate full time. Such a lazy time of year!

    • bittster says:

      Hah, I know what you mean! The cold wind last week had me back in the house before I even started looking for jobs to do. I really meant to get something done, but haven’t been outside enough to thicken up my blood yet. Hibernating is not the worst plan.
      Maybe today I can quickly get a few tulips in and put some wire around for the rabbits.

  6. Great work on the pond. I would really like to have something like that, instead of my mini-water fountain. Are you going to have a pump to do any water circulation?

    • bittster says:

      I keep going back and forth about a pump. Previous ponds never had any circulation and as long as no dirty little goldfish end up in there it stays clean… but I like goldfish and so do the kids, so we’ll see.

      • So you just have all the cleaning done by snails and such?

      • bittster says:

        Pretty much. As long as the pond is slightly shaded and leaves are removed… and you don’t insist on crystal clear water… it stays fine. Plenty of plants helps, and not having goldfish in there (they’re very dirty as far as pond fish go) also keeps it low maintenance.

  7. Cathy says:

    You didn’t buy any more snowdrops??? Look forward to seeing the post on the trip though. Your pond does look good. And you do have some lovely winter colour too. Hope you manage to get the bulbs in soon. I got my last lot in at the weekend. Yippee! Winter can come. I will hibernate soon. But I have had a hair-brained idea to plant a few more trees before the year is out. 😉 Shame I don’t have an indoor garden like yours to enjoy….

    • bittster says:

      Good for you that you’re going to try and get a few more trees in still! I snuck into the industrial park a week or two ago and scattered a few bare root seedlings here and there. They were cheap and as long as I could get a shovel in between the rocks, the stiff roots went down into the opening pretty easy, and I didn’t really have to do much digging. We will see if they make it. Native black gum and persimmons were planted, I hope if they do make it they put on a fantastic fall display 🙂
      Seriously, I really didn’t buy any snowdrops on my trip!
      Maybe a few cyclamen though 😉

  8. I too love the new pond! It looks very neat and sleek. Do you have an electrical outlet nearby or is that something you’ll need to add (if you need a pump/aeration?)

    • bittster says:

      Electrical still needs adding. In all likelihood any electrical service to the pond will be an improvised third-world service that will make any qualified electrician turn around and walk away. Maybe I can get around that with some kind of solar system but I question the longevity and power level…

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