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 🙂

Indian Summer

A single cold night in mid October ended the summer garden this year.  The thermometer dropped to 23F (-5C) and we abruptly went from balmy sunshine to snow squalls and blackened flowers.  It happens, but since that night we’ve barely had another touch of frost, and the short sleeves have come out again and shorts are back on as play clothes.  What better thing than to go to the beach?

international memorial flight 800

The TWA flight 800 memorial at Smith Point County park in NY.

It was a miserable beach day with showers on the way over and a tropical storm off the coast whipping the surf to a frenzy, but we’re not the sensible types and went through with our plans anyway.  Omi and Opa joined us and we ended up at the edge of the Atlantic on the sands of Smith Point County Park, near the Eastern end of Fire Island in NY.

smith point long island beach

Hardy miscanthus and feather reed grass mixed with yucca and annual purple pennesitum.  The wind kept everything moving and the coastal sun and saltspray keeps things short and tight.

We came for the sand and surf but can never avoid the memorial which stands for the 1996 plane crash which occurred just offshore here.

TWA Flight 800 Memorial

TWA Flight 800 Memorial

The memorial sits down a bit out of the wind and the calm quiet of the memorial is a stark and sad contrast to the panic and fear which must have accompanied the flight’s last seconds.

TWA Flight 800 Memorial

TWA Flight 800 Memorial

I remember the days and weeks after the crash and the weeks of debris washing up and the unease when visiting during that and later summers.  It’s strange to think over 20 years have passed since.

smith point beach in the fall

Even in the fall the Gulf Stream keeps the water warm for weeks beyond the end of summer.  There are miles of empty beach to explore but to some the sand and water are always more fun than walking.

Still it’s a beach trip, and I didn’t intend to make this such a somber post.  We and the kids loved the visit despite the windy sandblasting we received walking to the shoreline, and the clean warm water and sand were just too inviting for the kids to resist…. even if the calendar says fall.

smith point beach in the fall

Mom had enough sense to pass on an October beach trip.  You can tell dad was in charge.

It will be months before there’s any chance of getting back into the water so I was glad for this one last hurrah.  You never know what next year will bring, and the kids grow so quickly.

Goodbye 2015

All the random wandering around the garden with camera in hand have surely raised an eyebrow or two in my neighborhood and I’m sure neighbors question how I can focus on so many things without stopping for even one selfie.  For the last month though I wonder if anyone has noticed how normal things have been?  For whatever reason I’ve been just fine looking and not photographing and as a result there’s next to no record of October to blog about.  So it’s been quiet around here.  Lets see if we can change that, and let’s see if the last of the chrysanthemums will do the trick!


A mix of winter hardy chrysanthemums blooming in the garden this month. I have their names somewhere but that’s a job for next spring’s transplanting, when I’m sure I’ll be able to tell one dried stem from the next… (although I do know ‘Dolliette’ is the bicolor in the center)

The last few years have seen an unexpected interest in one of the least interesting plants I grow.  Pots of disposable mums fill every grocery and DYI store and farmstand at this time of year and the rounded blobs of color shouldn’t really do anything for my gardening passion…. but they do, and I’m not really sure where this came from.  As usual I blame the internet.

hardy mums

A weather weary white chrysanthemum next to a few reds. Between fresh and faded flowers you wouldn’t guess all five of the oranges and red flowers come from the same plant.

It started innocently enough with trying to overwinter a few of the seasonal color pots which we came across at various nurseries and farmstands, and it grew from there.  I wanted to give something more reliable (and interesting) a try and found Mums of Minnesota and their University of Minnesota introductions.  If it grows in Minnesota it should work here, right?

chrysanthemum in the garden

Chrysanthemums taking over the vegetable garden.

Besides spending the last couple years adding named mums to the garden I also grew on a few seedlings.  It’s surprising how nice a mum you can get from a few old seedheads, and they’re fast and easy!

chrysanthemum from seed

A few chrysanthemum from seed, early and late bloomers, tall and short.

So far they’ve been overwintering well with no effort on my part, but some are far hardier than others.  One of the hardiest are the seedlings of ‘Innocence’ which I grew from HPS seed exchange seeds.  They do need trimming in July to control height (or staking… if you’re into that kind of stuff) but otherwise they’re carefree.

chrysanthemum innocence

Seedling of chrysanthemum ‘innocence’. Most are pink and white but this year I found my first “ugly” seedling, a small orange which you can see at the lower right of this photo. It’s already found a place on the compost pile.

Some of the odd petal forms even show up in the seedlings.  I like this unusual mix of orange with just a touch of pink on this spoon shaped petal.  We’ll see how this one looks next year with a little more room.

chrysanthemum from seed

An interesting self-sown chrysanthemum seedling.

Besides loving the surprises of new seedlings I’ve also become smitten by the fat football types.  I was surprised by their hardiness last year and of course had to add a few more this spring, and even though they were rudely crammed into the edges of the vegetable garden they’ve still put on a halfway decent show.

football chrysanthemums

A few football chrysanthemums in the vegetable garden.

This is the time of year when preparations begin for next year, and although a harsh, early freeze put an end to much of the garden’s chrysanthemum show I’m still excited about these newest additions and am already looking forward to next season.  According to the grower’s website some of these will put out 5+ inch blooms if properly cared for and disbudded, and even though this also means staking I might just give it a try next year.  A couple potfuls of big football mums might be just the thing our front porch needs 🙂

Make way for Monarchs

The last few weeks are bringing the Monarch butterflies in.  They usually miss my plot on their springtime crawl North, but during their escape to the South they come right through.  It’s good timing too as it comes about four or five weeks after I’ve given up completely on the vegetable garden and the selfsown Verbena bonariensis have taken over.  Last week they were all over the place feeding and fluttering and during the one day of perfect conditions I counted at least 20 in there at one time.  They don’t stay long, but walking the paths and having the large orange butterflies lifting up and floating around you on a warm autumn day is a wonderful experience.

verbena bonariensis

An airy purple haze of Verbena bonariensis will spring up wherever I leave an unmulched spot of soil.

The verbena is clearly a favorite, but other flowers also fill the menu.  I don’t think of double dahlias as wildlife-friendly but maybe the color brings in even more dinner guests.  I at least think they look great.

dahlia sandra

Not a Monarch but still a welcome visitor, this fritillary is taking a break on dahlia ‘Sandra’.

My dahlias are not quite where I’d want them to be this year.  I’d blame the rains of July but in reality it’s the neglect of August and September which really did them in.  Fortunately with some good lighting and a few verbena screening and distracting they still look nice.

dahlias and verbena

Dahlias and verbena in the morning light.

I like that the flowers take over in autumn, and I like that the combinations and players change each year as I gain or lose interest in one thing or another.  This year ‘Tiger cub’ corn is back.  The seed was a gift from Nan Ondra of Hayefield and I love the variegation but I’m afraid it won’t have time to ripen any seed this fall unless things stay warm late.  My fingers are crossed.  I love how the bright leaves of the corn go with the bright colors of the red gomphrena and orange marigolds.  Word is marigolds are supposed to be a no-no in classy gardens,  but I still love their carefree color and I like them even better knowing they’re another gifted plant, this time from Kimberley of  Cosmos and Cleome.

tiger cub ornamental corn

I did start out with cauliflower here in the spring, but then rather than replant with a fall crop I put in a few ‘QIS red’ gomphrena seedling, a few ‘Tiger cub’ corn kernels, and a few coleus for good measure.

I like this autumn mess.  Lettuce would be nice too but it’s just been too hot and dry and I just don’t have the ambition to start plants in a shaded spot for transplanting.  Plus I can always pick it up at the market… unlike butterflies, those I need the flowers for.

verbena bonariensis cypress vine Ipomoea quamoclit

In a few spots ‘love in a puff’ and the red blooms of cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) thread their way through the verbena stems.  These little surprises make me smile.

Here’s another little surprise which I could fill a whole photo album with.  This spring I finally seeded out a few Spanish flag vines (Ipomoea lobata), and although they never sprouted in their seedling pots, they did once I threw the leftover soil into the garden.  It’s a late bloomer and like many in the morning glory family it can be a little rambunctious, but in this spot it’s perfect.  The spent broccoli seed stalks (I suspect I’ll be weeding out tons of broccoli weedlings next spring)  and verbena stalks provide just enough support and when a bed to the left opened up after the potato harvest the vines moved right in.  I couldn’t have planned the color coordination with the chrysanthemums any better.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Ipomoea lobata (Spanish flag) vining through verbena stalks, broccoli stems, and some of my favorite orange chrysanthemums. 

The colors of this planting are the perfect match to my daughter’s favorite orange ice pops… please don’t question why she was eating this while the morning light was still so fresh.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

Color echoes in an ice pop.

I’m not a pink and grey pastel kind of guy so this bold mix of orange and purple really tickles my color bone.  Throw in a few hot pink persicarias in front of the dark foliage of the ‘Coppertina’ ninebark (Physocarpus) and I’m more than happy.  I just regret that my photo skills weren’t enough to capture it all together in one shot.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

More orange and purple in the fall garden.

Another thing I regret is that the flag vine planted on the deck has turned out to be a much less vibrantly colored plant from a more refined end of the gene pool.  When my seeds seemed destined to fail I snapped up a potful found at my favorite nursery.  It’s still a very nice thing, and I’ve even grown a paler yellow version before, but I can’t help wish they all had the darker stems and bolder orange of their more common cousin.

Ipomoea lobata Spanish flag

A paler version of Spanish flag grappling through some pennisetum on the deck.  The whiter blooms and lighter foliage are nice enough, but I need darker colors to hold up to the white railing.

Bold and less bold are still just fine and it really revs up the autumn season around here.  With temperatures finally cooling off and a good soaking rain last night fall is officially in full swing here and I guess I’m going to have to finally give up on my whining about the loss of summer.  It’s about time I’m sure, and to cheer myself up I think I’m going to get into chrysanthemums next post.  Have a great weekend 🙂

In a Vase on Monday-Mumday

Congratulations are in order for Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for reaching the one year milestone of her weekly “In a Vase on Monday” meme.  Each week for the last 52 she’s been encouraging people to fill a vase with whatever strikes their fancy in the garden or in the local meadows and woods.  I’m always amazed by the creativity and depth of the creations, and although my own contributions never manage to get outside the ‘pluck and plunk’ category they’re always well received and the whole process is fun.  This week I’m joining in again and just in time too.  The last of the autumn flowers are limping into winter, and the weather forecast doesn’t look good for them this weekend.

late fall cut flowers from the garden

The last of the chrysanthemums.

Three of the latest chrysanthemums are still hanging on; an unknown white which has been blushed pink by the cold nights, the spooned frosty violet flowers of “Carousel”, and the neat pink pom-poms of a self seeded volunteer.  It’s nice to still having some flowers out there even after the trees have lost their leaves and most other perennials have died back.

chrysanthemum carousel

Chrysanthemum “Carousel”

There’s nothing fancy about the vase, again it’s just my favorite flowers in a simple clear glass.

self seeded chrysanthemum

Score another victory for laziness. A couple years ago I missed weeding out some self seeded chrysanthemums. This small pink was my reward.

This might be the last flower filled vase of my gardening year, but it’s the first for Cathy’s 2014/15 season.  Congratulations!

Will work for mulch

Back in the day when I was younger and fresher I used to do yard cleanups and odd jobs on the side for a little extra spending money.  It doesn’t make much sense, but I still hold on to a job or two,  ask myself why, and then drag myself out on a damp morning for a day of hard labor.  Long hours working in someone else’s garden gives you plenty of time to think, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that I do it for the mulch.  I don’t get nearly enough chopped leaves around here and my thin topsoil greedily eats up every leaf I dump on or turn into it.

garden put to bed for the winter

Colchicum and vegetable beds tucked in nicely under a layer of whatever the mower sucked up off the lawn. Pity the poor seed grown chrysanthemum which spent all summer waiting to be transplanted out of its tiny pot. Amazing it lived, let alone bloomed.

I do the cleanup and take home a couple bags of weeds for compost and chopped leaves for mulch.  It’s not easy coming to terms with the idea I’m a mulch whore but when I’m home and showered and looking at my haul I feel a little less cheap.

chopped leaves lawnmower

A bonanza of chopped leaves for the garden. If I had more I’d start a leaf mould pile, instead I use them all up as garden mulch.

I snuck into my brother in law’s yard last weekend and mowed up his back yard.  It was only fair since most of his leaves are off the trees which suck the life out of the North side of my yard.  I don’t think he even noticed, and the daffodil beds thank him.  My fingers are also crossed for the neighbor across the street and the chance that he dumps his mower bags out in the woods rather than into unmarked trash bags.  That would be quite the haul 🙂

dahlia tanjoh

The last of the dahlias still dodging winter. The plants look more than ready to give up but the blooms are still coming.

We have a freeze coming this weekend which should finish off the last of the tender plants.  Normally October 10th is what I think of as our first frost date, so sneaking through into the first of November is a treat, even though most of the annuals seem more than ready to give up.

red leaved castor bean seedheads

The formerly lush red leaved castor bean is all ripening seedheads now. Take a little care when handling these, they’re the source of the poison ricin.

I’m ready to do the final cleanup.  After a freeze the dahlias and cannas will be dug and the roots thrown into the garage.  Then with the exception of late bulb sales I’ll be taking a bit of a rest for the holidays.  Time for bird feeding and snow watching 🙂

late season self sown chrysanthemum

One of my last bloomers of the season, this selfsown chrysanthemum looks nice paired with the red of yet another dogwood seedling and the yellow of fall hosta leaves.

So I think this season is just about a wrap!  Bulb planting counts as work for next season -which makes cutting back and removing the frozen annuals the last chore of the 2014 season.  Most people look forward to a winter rest, but not me.  I’m already antsy for late winter’s cyclamen and snowdrops!!

Glass Gem Corn

The title explains it all.  After nearly giving up on the watering a few times, and feeling guilty for the curled up/droughty leaves nearly all of the time, the Glass Gem corn has finally limped on in to the finish line.  It’s not a huge harvest but I love it all the same.

glass gem corn

Just in time for all the harvest displays, ‘Glass Gem’ corn looks just as you would imagine…. glassy.

“Glass Gem” is a popcorn type who’s origins trace back to the corns grown by the Native Americans.  This of course doesn’t seem a far stretch since all corn originates out of the fields of the earliest American farmers, but “Glass Gem” is a strain reselected by an Oklahoman farmer out of several of the oldest of corn strains available.  That’s the short version of the story.  There’s much more to it and if you’re interested check it out by clicking here.

I hope I don’t do the history of this corn a disservice by just hanging it around the house for decoration, but I think it’s just too cool to pop or grind (plus I only have a few kernels!)  I’ll have to grow it again next year and see if I can improve the harvest.  Having a couple real ears and not the tiny little deformed things I picked should really up the wow factor!

The beat goes on

From seven in the morning to about four in the afternoon all we hear is the thump thump thump of bulldozers…. six days a week.  Oh, and the dust too.

construction behind the garden

I have to admit I find the earthmoving, rock crushing, and site grading to be fascinating. I think it’s me who actually comes closest to being a kid in this family… and then my daughter throws a fit to prove me wrong 🙂

Of course things could be worse, but the steady beat of the steel bulldozer treads has been relentless all summer and I hope it’s finished soon.  Also I hope it’s not replaced by something more annoying!

The above picture is of the dried up vegetable beds with construction in the back, and as you might be able to see I’ve given up on the garden and it’s slowly dying without water.  Earlier in the week when it was cooler I was inspired and planted out a small bed of lettuce transplants, dutifully watering them in, but today as the temperatures climbed to 87F (30C) with bone dry soil, I’ve given up in disgust.

hardy cyclamen hederifolium seedlings

When all else fails I take a look at my cyclamen hederifolium seedlings. How can you stay grumpy with leaves like this sprouting up?

The fall rains will come some day and I’ll complain about the damp I’m sure, but right now I could go for a nice soaking.  I want the rain so I can get transplanting, there’s just no joy in it when the soil is so dry you need a pickaxe.  Fortunately I at least got the compost pile turned, and although it’s also a dry fungal mess there was some good stuff at the bottom.  In another week or two my new bulbs will appreciate that!

That wasn’t smart 3.0

Yesterday afternoon my Brent and Becky bulbs arrived….. did I mention I bought quite a few during their end of the season clearance sale?  So knowing the weather report I was out in the dim light and freezing rain getting things into the ground before the snow and cold came.  Bulbs go in quick when you’re wet and freezing, and I did pretty good although there was at least one shout from the house about catching pneumonia or what not…. I beat the snow by at least two hours 🙂first snowfall on deck

That was a close call since the weatherman is predicting more snow tomorrow and lows around 7F (-14C) for next week, and things will surely freeze solid.  Sensible people are finished for the year, unfortunately I have a stubborn streak and a history of stupid ideas put into action.  Brent and Becky was sold out of the 50 snowdrop bulbs I ordered so they were missing from my shipment (such is the risk of a late season order).  Instead of accepting my situation, I somehow ended up at Van Engelen’s website this morning and clicked OK to 200 more snowdrops (plus a couple hyacinth).  Not the smartest move.  Better check the potting soil supply 😉