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.

Happy Halloween!

Surprise of surprises the month of October has passed and there still remains a general air of pleasantness and overall contentment with the autumn season.  Even as the wind and rain buffet trick-or-treaters, the gardener has yet to mention death, gloom or futility, in spite of light frosts and dropping leaves and various ghouls and other undead wandering the neighborhood.

autumn garden color

Fall color seems especially bright this year.  The view towards the tropical garden doesn’t really seem all that tropical anymore but it’s not bad at all in my opinion.

To be honest I’m not 100% sure a ghoul qualifies as undead but I am sure that the garden still has plenty of life in it.  Last weekend was excellent weather for outdoor labor and even this gardener got a few things done.  Mulching was probably the most rewarding job and being that I love mulching, and free mulch is even better, it was almost a struggle to wait until a respectable 9am before making the first run to the town’s free mulch pile.

hellebore garden

The new hellebore garden is finally fit to show.  Stepping stones have been leveled, mulch spread, and now all that’s missing is a nice blanket of leaves on top.  Nature will oblige I’m sure.

Free mulch around here isn’t the fanciest thing, but I’m still thrilled my friend Paula inspired me to go looking for it again.  I can head out, fill a couple buckets and an old trash can, and pull back into the garage in eleven minutes flat, which isn’t all that unreasonable and compares very favorably to the time I would have been sitting around “resting” anyway.  In all I made four runs, which quickly adds up to forty minutes, but since two of the trips included picking up or dropping off children I still think I’m not doing too bad.

autumn garden color

Orange is the color of the week.  Tonight’s wind and this weekend’s frost will change the picture but for now I love it.

Besides mulching and mowing, a few other things were checked off of the to-do list.  Stage one of tender plant triage includes cuttings of the most cool-weather sensitive things such as coleus, and that was completed a couple weeks ago.  Stage two is dragging all tender potted things closer to the garage and off the deck.  Stage three will be the end to procrastination, and means dragging them all in when frost threatens (Friday night), and then Stage four will be all the hardier things such as potted geraniums and rosemary which can handle a frost, but resent a freeze.  It’s kind of late for a hard frost this year, so I’ve been enjoying a nice drawn out process where things are a little less hectic, and a lot more organized.

tatarian aster jindai

Some late season blooms on the Tatarian aster ‘Jindai’.  A delay in a hard freeze means this slowpoke has had enough time to put on a nice show this year.

A beautiful fall, a relaxed pace in the garden, projects getting done.  It all still seems so remarkably positive that I almost hesitate to bring up a dark cloud, but it’s there nonetheless.  Deer have made my garden a regular stop on their nightly forays.  It’s not unusual for them to come through as they grow restless in the autumn, but this year they really seem to like what they’ve found.  The little piles of ‘pellets’ seem to tell me they’re spending quite some time here at night and the stripped leaves and beheaded chrysanthemums tell me what they’ve been doing.

autumn salvia

I love this tender salvia which went in as part of the autumn upgrade to these containers, but I also loved the purple oxalis that used to fill the front.  Stems are all that remain.

This gardener hopes they move on during the winter.  Maybe the colchicum flowers they ate will upset their tummies enough to make them wander off to greener pastures, or maybe the cyclamen flowers left a bad taste in their mouth… but I really suspect they just liked adding a bit of exotic flavor to the diet.  In any case you can probably guess who has been encouraging the neighborhood hunters to shoot local this year…

berm planting

There’s been some activity on the berm.  A close close look may reveal the small green sprays of new ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae as well as a few other tiny things.  In about 15 years maybe I’ll post another picture to see if it’s amounted to anything.

Don’t let a few deer nibbles give off the wrong impression.  It’s still a remarkable autumn and I’m quite pleased with the progress and with the garden… even if the days are becoming rudely short and time outside is becoming annoyingly limited.  With that in mind I’ll leave you with something exceptionally positive.

galanthus tilebarn jamie

The first snowdrops are up.  The fall blooming Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ looks fantastic amongst the autumn leaves, and it’s just one of a few which are in bloom this week.

The first of the little snowdrop treasures are too precious to run the risk of facing the elements outdoors, so of course they’ll have to face the risks of a fickle gardener indoors and hopefully that works out well.  A few fall and winter bloomers did survive outside last year but not enough to give me the confidence to gamble with these, so in another two or three weeks these will also migrate to the winter garden alongside other plants too special to give up.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy the company while we wait for the garden to thaw out again 🙂

A lull in the storm

I promise this is the last time I will complain about the brutal freeze which ended our growing season.  I’ll also not mention the weeks of warm weather which followed, and I won’t show a picture of the dahlias which are resprouting due to some misguided notion that winter came and went.  Instead I’ll focus on the mellow colors of autumn which are slowly winding the year down, and I’ll just enjoy the warm lull we’ve been having until winter returns again in earnest.

the front border in autumn

The front border is about as tidy as it will get prior to winter.  Whatever’s left will hopefully hold the snow nicely and keep things interesting until spring returns.  The golfinches approve of the leftover coneflower and sunflower stalks.  

Last weekend I finished up the last of the leaves and tried to wrap up the last of the fall planting and weeding.  I have to admit I like the way the gardens open up and empty out this time of year, and I love the way the fall rains have left a lush green lawn to set off the emptying flower beds.

Muhlenbergia capillaris pink backlight

Earlier in October the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)  finally came through and put out the airy pink flowerheads which look so nice in the low autumn light.

Three years after transplanting, my pink muhly grass has finally bothered to bloom.  I’ve come to accept that I’m just too far North to enjoy this plant.  It looked pathetic until August, finally put out enough leaves to look alive by September, and then for 12 days in October it impressed with it’s pink seedheads…. and then was promptly browned out by the first freeze.  The effect is still nice enough, but I wouldn’t have minded a few more weeks of the pink.

pink muhly grass after a freeze

Pink muhly grass after a freeze.  Still nice, but not the amazing, glowing pink you look for in this plant.   

I’m going to give the cultivar ‘Fast Forward’ a try next year.  It’s supposed to be a good month or so earlier than the straight species and also shorter and more compact… although for me the larger size would have been preferable.  I’ve actually already got my hands on one but since it was a small plant and just planted last week I’m not too confident it will make it through the winter.  Fall is not the time to plant anything borderline hardy or more of a warm season grower…. speaking of probably not making it through the winter, my cardoon seedling is really starting to put out some nice leaves.  The freeze didn’t bother it, but as a zone 7 plant I’m really hoping for some serious El Nino luck in getting this thing through the winter.  Any protection suggestions are more than welcome!

young cardoon plant

If this cardoon plant makes it until next year I’ll be thrilled.  Bigger leaves with artichoke-like fluorescent purple flowers would be the highlight of 2016 I’m sure 🙂

Something which will have no problems this winter is the Virginia creeper.  This year brought on a good crop of the grape-like fruits, and I’m sure they’ll be sprouting up all over as a gift from the birds…. just like this plant was.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) minus it’s bright red fall color, but still interesting with its raisin like fruit.

The rest of the garden is clearing out.  Leaves are mulched, the vegetable garden is tucked in, and there’s already interest in spring flowers.  I love how good hellebores look at this time of year, they love the cool temperatures and extra moisture and if all goes well this spring I may have my best hellebore show yet.

hellebores ready for winter

Hellebore seedlings showing promise for next year.  Hopefully we’ll see a few blooms next year since these are supposedly yellow seedlings and haven’t yet shown their true colors.

Back towards the meadow garden things are just waiting for snow.  I’m glad I left a bunch of the little bluestem since it’s gone through such a nice color change from green to yellows to reds to tans now.  With the rest of the yard mowed, it keeps things somewhat interesting back there.  Something I’m not too glad I left is the littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) seedling which showed up among the phlox.  I’ve been ignoring it for years, but at six feet I think it’s time to make a decision.  The mother plant is so popular with the bees and so fragrant I just hate to weed it out…. but a second linden is one more than this yard needs.

autumn cleanup in the vegetable garden

Mid November in the vegetable garden.  Yet again the phlox have not been divided, and there’s a huge linden tree weed, but at least I’m getting some mulched leaves down to save on next year’s bed prep.

There’s little chance of dealing with the linden this fall.  It would do fine with a transplant at this time of year, but with 14 pounds of crocus and daffodils sitting in the living room I have other things calling for my attention.  I should have no problem getting a few in tomorrow… unless I first deal with the dozens of daffodils and tulips which I already had from this summer’s bed renovation.

Whoever said November was a time for gardeners to kick back and relax obviously didn’t procrastinate planting spring bulbs nor succumb to early clearance sales.  Hopefully your autumn is much more relaxing 🙂