Welcome to Winter

There are still a bunch of things to clean up in the garden but now that the first serious frost has hit I’m officially announcing an end of autumn in my garden and the beginning of a very early winter.  The cannas were blackened last night, tomorrow’s high might not rise above freezing, and Friday’s low is predicted at 18F.  For those of you on a Celsius scale that converts to pretty damn cold, especially for very early winter.  Fortunately I was able to run around like a total fool at the last minute in a cold drizzle with freezing fingers, and bring the bulk of the non-hardy plants in before the frost.  Obviously it did occur to me that I could have done this much more comfortably on a warm and dry October weekend, but….

overwinter plants

I ran out of space in the winter garden so these tropical leftovers have taken over the garage and pushed the car out into the driveway.  Who needs a warm, frost-free car in the morning anyway?   

Hopefully over the next few days all these irreplaceable goodies will find a longer-term spot which gives them a little light, a warm-enough temperature, and also gives the car enough room to get back in.  The garage has been cleaned after all, and it would be a shame to not use it for the two cars it was meant for.

overwinter rosemary

Non-hardy to the left for when the door is closed, semi-hardy things like rosemary to the right to cozy up to the shelter of the garage, yet still get some outdoor air and sunshine.  I’ll drag them all in when it drops below the mid 20’s.  

Two of the shop lights are already in use back in the winter garden.  Against better judgement I’ve brought in a bunch of potted geraniums (pelargoniums) rather than the smaller, less bulky cuttings I normally do.  Hopefully there aren’t a billion pillbugs and slugs hiding within the pots.

overwinter pelargoniums

Geraniums under the growlights of the winter garden.  Rest assured they will soon be joined by a few dozen snowdrops and cyclamen… and whatever else finds its way in 😉

This newfound love of geraniums (or pelargoniums if you prefer the official name) makes me 95% sure I’m well on my way to becoming my grandmother.  I’m not sure what my wife thinks of this but I’m sure my grandmother would approve, and I’m sure she would also approve of some of the more interesting flower types which are now safely blooming under cover.

pelargonium flower

A closeup of ‘Fireworks bicolor’… nice enough flower but the name?  I think they could have done better than ‘bicolor’ to describe the bloom….

I’m fine with moving things indoors.  The winter garden seems to fire up earlier and earlier each year and it’s a nice quiet spot to just putter around in… assuming I can still get back there once all the garage plants are stuffed into their winter accommodations.  We’ll see how it goes.  Seeds need cleaning and packaging, a new plant order needs planting, and there’s a strong possibility 100 snowdrops are on their way to our doorstep.  We won’t even mention the temptation of a Brent and Becky clearance sale.  I already feel weak.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.31.17

Happy Halloween!  In between trick-or-treaters and going out with the kids there’s still enough time today to join Cathy at Word and Herbs and celebrate one of the last Tuesday views of the 2017 season.  We dodged our potential frost last night, so I guess today’s view would count as a treat 😉

front border

The low autumn light smooths out a lot of the wrinkles and age spots of this elderly border.  A good rain sure didn’t hurt either!

Part of me wants to get to tidying up the border, but logical sense tells me to wait a few more weeks.  Right now everything is still solid and wet and a lot bulkier than it will be after a good freeze or two, so waiting a bit will make the work much easier.  Plus it still looks decent, especially since the haggard and rough looking sunflowers were cut down and hauled off.

cardoon

The perennials are drying up but the non-hardy canna and cardoon are still full of life!

In the end it shouldn’t be all that much work.  I’ll dig a few canna roots, cut down a few frosted annuals, and chop down the messiest of the grasses.  The rest will stay as “winter interest”, partly because it really is more interesting than bare ground in December, but also because that gives it all winter to fall apart (and hopefully blow away into someone else’s yard or the woods!)

front border

Not bad for the last day of October, trust me it usually doesn’t look this nice.

There are only a few other plants which look interesting in the close-up.  Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ has never been this pink before, I think it’s thanks to the steady rains which kept it hydrated all summer.  We did get three weeks of hot and dry, which browned the south side of the each panicle, but overall they’re still attractive.

autumn limelight hydrangea

Drought and heat-stressed brown is the normal fall color for these, I’ve got to say I much prefer the pink!

The muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is also finishing the year off in pink.  A normal year has frost bleaching the color just as it begins to flower, but for the second year in a row we’re in luck.  Like most grasses it’s the perfect thing to have backlit with some nice, soft, autumn light, but on the other hand a smarter gardener would have already found something equally as fluffy which is a little better suited to growing in this northern garden.

muhly grass

Pink muhly grass with just a little backlighting.  

So that’s where we are as we step over into November.  The summer annuals have all thrown in the towel but there’s still enough left to keep things interesting for a few more days.  Bulbs will be the last question of the year.  Right now I say no, but clearance sales have a way of twisting my arm and you never know.  In the meantime have a great week!

Done With Autumn….

Well that lasted about a week.  I miss summer and wish autumn would get on with it.  Yesterday was beautiful, but today it’s colder and rainy, and I’m sure the wind is pulling down all the autumn foliage just as it finally colors up here in the valley.  Here are a few spots in the garden, maybe when I look back in January the cold and ice will put it all in perspective.

The back deck in autumn

Frost is forecast for tomorrow night nearly everything still needs to come in.  Sadly enough I have less than 24 hours left to procrastinate. 

I spent most of Saturday just wasting time.  The weather was nearly perfect and the schedule was open, but 90% of the day was spent watching grass blow in the wind or birds picking through seed heads and nearly no time time was spent productively.  If we had to separate into ants and grasshoppers, I’d be all grasshopper this weekend.

October in the potager

The potager is all ready to fall apart for winter with everything dying back and going to seed.  Peppers were harvested, the rest is on its own now.

I guess I did mow the lawn on Friday.  It didn’t really need it but the mower made quick work of stray twigs and leaves which were starting to pile up and with the mower set to mulch it was not much of a commitment at all.  Also it kind of chopped up the turf clods which lay all around the back yard courtesy of Mr. Skunk.  Someone suggested I replace and tamp down all the clods before mowing… I gave him the look and said he was more than welcome to do that in his own yard.  Here we prefer to thank the skunks for their free grub removal and turf aeration services and let winter work apart the clods.

the meadow in autumn

Back behind the swingset, the meadow looks downright respectable again after a few mowings.  

Mowing the lawn takes a little longer these days now that the meadow area is back on the weekly cut plan.  To those who thought the tall grass was a reservoir of dangerous ticks and snakes and spiders this comes as a relief, but to me it’s all just part of getting the turf ready for next year’s show of spring bulbs and early summer wildflowers.  It will sprout up again just fine next spring, and ironically enough the most dangerous thing back there still remains within inches of the swing.  The bright red seed pods you see belong to the castor bean plant(Ricinus communis), and as you may know the beans are the source of the poison ricin.  Smaller children would need to be watched, but based on what a struggle vegetable eating is in this house I’m pretty confident my own kids won’t be picking beans up out of the dirt and eating them any time soon.

The tropical garden

The tropical garden just before the frost.  Not as lush as last year but the grasses are still a good 8+ feet tall, and overshadow the not-quite-as-tall-as-last-year cannas.

I may not have done much in most of the garden but at least I did pay some attention to the rock garden.  It still doesn’t have any rocks but at least the yews are trimmed.  Weird that out of all the things to do this time of year I’d be trimming up little yew meatballs, but there you have it, Saturday’s big job.  Here’s a photo from a few years ago to give you an idea of where we came from.

overgrown yew hedge

Every spring… trim the yews… I finally got so bored with it I let them go, but after a few years the neighbors started talking.

Two years ago I trimmed the yews back to within a few inches of the ground.  It was either that or remove them completely, but after the struggle of taking a single one out (so the electrician could rework the electric service), I suddenly warmed up to the idea of keeping them.  So now I have little yew nuggets along the foundation and an empty south-facing mulch bed which seems perfect for rock garden plants.  I’ve already filled most of it and it’s a constant battle to keep from doubling the size of the bed.

the rock garden

The rock garden.  You may see a single rock to the far right but for the life of me I don’t know how the name started.  -Btw the pine is Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  I love it. 

Eventually I’ll need to get moving if I really want to be serious about gardening again next year.  Beds need cleaning, plants need saving, things need transplanting.  There’s always plenty to do but in the back of my mind I keep figuring that cold indoor days are coming and I should take advantage of the last warm days.  That probably means doing things, but a little soaking it up doesn’t hurt either.

porch decorations for autumn

We will see how this handles a little frost.  All together I think I found about 20 of the odd little Yugoslavian finger squash once I started looking around out back, and between those and a few mums I think we’re decorated.

Tomorrow I’ll be running around.  Or not.  Most of the geraniums, amaryllis, and cordyline spikes can handle a little frost and should be ok for another week or so, so I guess it all comes down to seeing how long I can postpone the inevitable.

overwinter geraniums

Geraniums (pelargoniums) lined up and ready to come in.  Between these and a few cuttings already under lights I think I can give any geranium-loving granny a good run for her money.    

Frost will come, the garden will go to bed, and the dreams of spring will start.  I’m sure there are still plenty of perfect days to come but for now I’m dreading the end, and even worse when the clocks fall back next weekend.  I wonder if it’s too early to start thinking about snowdrops.

… haha, who am I kidding, I’ve already been obsessing about them for the last month!

Have a great week, and maybe you can find something pleasant in the soft light, beautiful colors, and crisp air of autumn 😉

Autumn. It Could Be Worse.

I’m ok with summer being over.  Not excited, but ok with it, and I guess that’s good enough since neither myself nor anyone else can do much about it anyway.  Fall follows summer and that’s just the way things roll here in NE Pennsylvania.  At least we have butterflies this year, and in this garden the butterflies have been the highlight of every garden stroll.

Monarch on zinnia

Monarch butterfly on a zinnia in the potager.

People enjoy talking about how beneficial butterflies are and I’m not going to argue with them but if you think about it they’re right up there with cabbageworms and tomato hornworms in terms of caterpillar crawling and plant eating.  They don’t do all that much to benefit the gardener, but they’re just so darn pretty to look at.

monarch mantis attack

A handful of butterfly parts.  Not a good sign for the butterfly lover since no butterfly sheds its wings willingly.

If you want to consider a beneficial insect the praying mantis might come to mind.  Maybe.  Not since the garden of Eden has all life pleasantly revolved around working purely for mankind and the praying mantis is definitely a New Testament kind of creature.  Its instinct is to kill and eat (not necessarily in that order) anything from bees to grasshoppers to butterflies and it doesn’t matter if the gardener would prefer the later to stick around (uneaten) for pollination purposes.  Scattered butterfly wings under your flowers is a good sign of a fat mantis above.

praying mantis

The guilty party lurking amongst the flowers of a chrysanthemum.

The chrysanthemums are only second party to the carnage.  It’s not their fault they’re so attractive right now right as the Monarchs are moving through.

seedling chrysanthemum

Some seedling chrysanthemums from a few weeks ago.  

I couldn’t care less about chrysanthemums in April, but now as everything else is calling it quits I wish I had an entire border of them.  I bet I say that every fall but your guess is as good as mine as to if it will ever happen.  So far the one thing I have managed to get done is collect, and grow (and kill) quite a few different mums and fortunately manage to have a few nice ones left to flower each fall.

chrysanthemum centerpiece

Chrysanthemum ‘Centerpiece’.  Perfectly hardy for me and an interesting flower form, but she always insists on starting the season in August, way before I’m ready to look at mums.

What I really want is some of the big “football” types, ideally the obscenely large, overfussed, and overfertilized types which show up in the better greenhouse displays at this time of year.  There’s about a zero percent chance of that happening but it doesn’t stop me from hoping that someday, something close to a miracle will take place, and one of my larger flowered types will do the impossible.  For now I’m just happy I found (mailordered from Mums of Minnesota) a few ‘footballs’ hardy enough to overwinter here without me jumping through hoops… or even just jumping anywhere… I’m still feeling seasonally lazy.

football mums

A few football mums which survived two months of potbound abuse and then a way too late planting.  I like them all but the pale yellow ‘Mellow Moon’ at center is my favorite.

Although I’ve been ordering and labeling and trying to keep mum names straight, I’m much less snobby about the chrysanthemums than other plants such as say… um… snowdrops.  My barren soil seems to make an excellent seedbed for mums and I try not to rip them all out during those frantic days of May.

seedling chrysanthemum

I planted ‘Dolliette’, the smaller quilled flower in the back, but the others including the pink are just surprise seedlings which popped up around her.

I welcome the seedlings, I welcome the fussier ones, but I also welcome any leftover autumn decorations found on our or the neighbor’s porch.  Most of these disposable greenhouse mums don’t make it through the winter, but a few surprise us with green life in the spring.

garden mums

These leftover porch decorations have been here for a while, surviving drought, disease, and neglect.  This spring I moved a few of my favorites next door to ease the monotony of mulch and I’m quite pleased with the result.

The mums and Monarchs may be stealing the show but the beautiful weather sure doesn’t hurt either.  Our gardener did make an effort last week to mow and trim and between that and the greening lawn I think he may eventually snap out of his autumn doldrums, but when temperatures are so comfortable and the lighting is so relaxed I don’t see much hope in the way of any major garden projects being started.

autumn flower border

The front border with some nice autumnal light.  The brown amaranthus dead center really does detract from the view, but….

I’m fine with enjoying the weekend while the weather is still on our side.  There’s always next week to start fall cleanup and if it doesn’t happen…. maybe the winter winds might do just fine on their own.  As long as I dig up the dahlias and cannas before December, that’s the kind of timetable I have in mind.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.9.17

My gardener has been extremely unmotivated these last few weeks as he comes to terms with the long stretch of hot dry weather which has settled down upon this corner of Pennsylvania.  Months and months of not needing to water and not having to concern himself with pampering transplants has spoiled him, and the last month of humid, buggy, unseasonable heat has him refusing to work.  As a result this week’s Tuesday view is not much changed from the last view, and other than the general air of decay setting in, there hasn’t been much of a fight put up against this end of season degeneration.

front border

Today’s Tuesday View.  Autumn is here.

The garden did get a good soaking this weekend when the latest hurricane leftovers blew through, but the humid dampness also brought the local gnat population to an electrified frenzy.  Lets hope it also electrifies the gardener since all we’ve gotten out of him in the last few weeks has been a 20 minute manic attack on a relatively innocent Rose of Sharon bush (Hibiscus syriacus ‘bluebird’).  It happened one overly warm afternoon, shortly after he was heard ranting something to the effect of  “look at all those friggin’ seed pods, no way I’m pulling up thousands of seedlings next spring”.  So out it came.

front border

Sometimes pretty blue flowers and inoffensive green leaves just aren’t enough.  The Rose of Sharon is out now, but unfortunately the branches, rootball, and garden cart still sit where the gardener left them over a week ago.  Not even the threat of a Tuesday View was enough to get him moving!

Fortunately there have been a few other autumn goings on which can distract us from the local labour’s laziness and sloth.  The fall bloomers are coming on in full force and the Monarch migration has reached its highpoint.

aster raydon's favorite

We are on the downside of the migration but Monarchs still keep fluttering on through.  Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ might not be the Monarch’s favorite but as far as asters go it’s mine.  It tolerates drought, needs nothing from me, and flowers for weeks.  

There are always a few dozen butterflies floating through the air, and as you stroll they take off and circle in a round, lazy pattern which makes you wonder how they ever manage to make it all the way to Mexico.  But they do, and although it’s still on the warm side they better get a move on it.  Frost is coming and the last nectar-filled flowers won’t be around forever.

pepper sedona sun

Some color at the midpoint of the bed.  An unknown purple mum from a years-past porch decoration and the cute little orange and yellow fruits of ‘Sedona Sun’ pepper.  Each year I like ornamental peppers more and more and who knows, maybe next next spring will turn into pepperpalooza!  

The last big hurrah of the front border will be the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) at the far end.  Most years the peak of pinkness hits only to be followed by a bleaching frost but this year my fingers are crossed for at least a few days of enjoyment.  I’ll try for a better photo next week with a little late afternoon sunshine but for now you’re stuck with a little of the grass with yet another Monarch perched in front.

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly surrounded by the colors of autumn.

So that wraps up this Tuesday’s view, and it also signifies the beginning of the end of the 2017 season.  You may have noticed that in spite of the heat I’m no longer quite as convinced that summer will never end, and I’m actually accepting that autumn is here.  I guess it was inevitable, and if you’d like to see what it looks like in other parts of the world give Cathy a visit at Words and Herbs to check up on a few other Tuesday Views.  I hear she is also admitting the season is winding down.

As always have a great week!

Tuesday View: The Front Border 9.26.17

It’s time once again to check in with Cathy at Words and Herbs for the Tuesday view.  The word this week is hot, and plants are wilting under the dry sun as temperatures rise to 90F (32C) and above for the last few days.  This would have been welcome in August, and even tolerated earlier in September, but now it’s just tiresome.

front border

Dry heat at this time of year saps all my enthusiasm.  Plants are wilting, the lawn is browning, and even though there are likely another three or so weeks to go until frost, I’m ready to let it all go.

The plants seem ready to let it go as well.  The summer crowd is moving on and the flowers and grasses of autumn are doing their best to pull together for a finale.

Korean feather reed

Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) looks great with the fading hydrangea flowers but I find this grass too invasive to keep.  Even if I cut the seedheads there will still be some seedlings next spring… some of which I always end up leaving…

Even as the perennials fade, the half-hardy cannas and verbena bonariensis are still putting on a decent show.  I should really water a little, it would be the least I could do for them after all their hard work this year.

kochia burning bush

The canna ‘cannova rose’ would probably be flowering more if I deadheaded, but… they still look fine.  Here the burning bush (Kochia) is finally doing its thing for a few days before drying up in the heat.

There is one surprise though.  Last fall I bought a ‘hardy’ agapanthus which I didn’t dare leave outside.  It overwintered dormant on a cold windowsill and then went into the bed in May.  I can’t believe my small plant has flowered!

agapanthus blue yonder

Agapanthus ‘blue yonder’ is supposedly hardy from zone 5-10.  I know people have had success in 5, but I’m still not convinced it will make it for me.  I’ll have to let you know next April.

The other surprise has been the butterfly hordes which have come to the garden this past week.  Dozens of painted ladies showed up a few days ago and it seems like other butterflies are showing up as well.  Maybe it’s a migration or maybe it’s just the weather drying up the surrounding and forcing them to move on for their nectar.  Either way it’s exciting to see all the butterflies surround you as they lift up off the flowers as you pass by.

painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly on the Verbena bonariensis.  They’re all over, but not all are as photogenic as this one.

I’m still waiting for more Monarchs though.  Today there were maybe a half dozen moving through but I’ve heard reports of many more North of here.  Not too long ago we had a fall like that, with dozens floating through the air, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much and I’m just glad to see the ones we’re getting.

migrating monarch butterflies

Monarchs love the verbena as well, and their orange and black wings look great with the lavender-purple.

So maybe this dry heat is good for something after all.  Maybe it’s the perfect weather for butterflies on the move and will make their migration even more successful.  I’ll tell myself that as I stand in the heat with a water hose, cursing the stupid gnats and dreaming of snowdrops.  Is it too soon for that?

Colchicums!

I’m finally ready to admit it’s fall and then what happens?  The rains stop, the thermometer rises, and we’re right into the middle of a stinkin’ heat wave.  I would have loved this at the start of the month when the pool was still open, but now it’s just making the gnats hungry and me grumpy.  Fortunately it’s colchicum season and between that and the chrysanthemums things look somewhat refreshing around here (provided you only go out in the morning or near sunset!)

colchicum bornmuelleri

Colchicums, aka autumn crocus, aka naked ladies, are a nice way to ring in the change of seasons with something fresh.  Out of the hard, dry ground come these unlikely flowers, all eager to show off such as this favorite, Colchicum speciosum ssp. bornmuelleri

I’ve written about colchicums before so I don’t want to rehash the same old info I always give out, but the short summary version for the autumn blooming types is… leafy clumps of hosta-like leaves in the spring fade away in May, and various shades of pink through white crocus-like flowers appear without anything else (naked!) in late summer and early autumn.  I like them well enough 🙂

colchicum in lawn

Before things got too hot the colchicums in the meadow area were coming up nicely.  They seem to be settling in well but if you look towards the back you’ll see another planting which is much sparser.

The trick to growing colchicums is to find a spot where the spring foliage won’t bother you as it dies back in early summer, yet the spot is open enough so you can see the flowers as they come up later in the year.  For a while I had them all by themselves in a bed which was too dry for anything else, but as they’ve multiplied I’ve had to plant them outside my comfort zone and actually try and come up with decent companion plantings and landscape uses.

colchicum in ground cover

I’ve shown them in the blue plumbago Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) ground cover before.  It’s not for everyone but I don’t think it’s the worst combination I’ve ever put together.

The plantings which have pleased me the most are the ones in ground covers rather than plain old mulch or bare soil.  Sedums make a nice carpet and I have it in my head to try a lot more like this.  Hopefully some of that will happen!

colchicum autumnale album

Colchicum autumnale album with and without a nice creeping sedum blanket.  I think the ones surrounded by green are far nicer.

Unlike most bulbs which move best while dormant, colchicums also give you the option of procrastinating until bloom time and then having the much more enjoyable experience of digging and planting bulbs (actually corms if you’re going to get technical, and even then people will debate you) in full bloom and moving them to the exact spot you want to see them flower.

dividing colchicum

Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ lifted and divided at the start of September.  The roots are just starting but if you’re careful no harm is done.

You really want to make sure they’re in a spot where you won’t miss the flowers.  The big, bright ones are unavoidable but the smaller more detailed blooms are also worth your attention.  Checkering, or tessellation, is something extra special and worth a closer look.

colchicum tessellation

The dainty and early flowering Colchicum x aggripinum.  Tessellation on the newly opened flowers of this hybrid is really something.

This flower also does doubles.  I’m not the type of gardener who will drop any single just to pick up the double version, but these have their own charms… well maybe not charm since they’re so fat and double and pink, but they do pack a punch.  I think of paper flowers when I see these, I don’t think it would too hard to replicate them in pink crepe paper if the need arose.

colchicum waterlily

colchicum waterlily

Who am I kidding?  I love the double as much as any of the others, and if we’re being honest I really wouldn’t mind adding another couple new ones even if it was only to have another couple new ones.  Just for the record I saw a few really tempting ones at my favorite local nursery, Perennial Point, and I did not buy one.  Yes, I’m patting myself on the back.

colchicum byzantium

I think I like them in the lawn best of all (C. byzantium)

I may be working through collecting issues with these bulbs, but there’s someone else out there who’s clearly gone over the edge.  Her name is Kathy Purdy and if you’re a follower of Cold Climate Gardening you already know she has one of the largest colchicum collections around and will be opening her upstate New York garden this fall for the first time to show them off.  I’m in, and if you’re interested >click here< to visit her blog for the details.  Have a great week!