Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gardening, Isn't That Over By Now?

The reaction of the average person around here this week when I said that Ed stays home on nice days to work in the garden was one of disbelief.  "Gardening, isn't that all over by now? "  Indeed for most people it is over.  The weather is closing in on us more quickly every day.  We still have a few lovely flowers blooming like this Sedum sieboldi.

One or two plants of Ingeborg's mallow still have their lovely pink flowers.

Elle's Gloriosa Daisies have been fantastic this year, and despite numerous frosts, they haven't all given up yet.

The Emperor of China chrysanthemums are finally starting to bloom.  It would be a shame not to visit  and appreciate this end of the season beauty.

A beautiful hawk was seen perching in the big cherry tree.  It had a dark head and brown speckles on its white chest  like a lace necklace.  All day the Canada geese make their  trial flights over our head. Their honking and wing beats break the quiet until they settle back down on the river or into a cornfield with pungent freshly spread manure. The slate gray juncos have returned.  Still in a large group they fly away when approached flashing the white stripes on their tails as they go. They will spend the winter here with the chickadees.

There are weeds to pull. Old enemies and new unknown plants would love to have the whole winter to establish better roots.  It is our goal to leave as many of the garden beds clean and looking good as possible.  The pictured weeds here are now working to make compost.  Cutworms, Japanese beetle larva and slugs are squished when they are discovered and added to the bucket of weeds. Gloves worn because of the cool weather make this a fun activity.

This lemon verbena was not selected for a spot on the basement windowsill because there was no more space available.  Rather than leave it in the ground to die of neglect when the weather really turns cold, it was moved to compost while still green.  In a couple of years its unmistakable scent will be encountered once again as compost is sifted.  The cycle just keeps moving forward.

This snow sled was purchased at an end of season sale.  Becky felt it might serve as a stone boat.  Freshly fallen leaves make a slick surface to slide the stone over.  It was moved downhill despite the fact that the distance to the driveway was greater that way.  The pull was easy and once it nearly overtook me.  A smooth pull behind the Ranger delivered this beauty close to the developing rock garden.

We expect the frost to enter the ground here in about two weeks.  If the rain moves away, a real start can be made now on the next gardening season.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Final Arbutus Survey

This is the current status of our original attempt to transplant arbutus from the wild.  Four separate plants form the central cluster.  A fifth plant appeared from seed but that seed must have been moved in the soil with the transplant.  Three of these arbutus are male.  The lone female made flowers for the first time this year.  It appears that these plants will soon reach the stone well that keeps them safe.  A larger stone well will likely replace the present one.

These plants are in the lower left corner of the above photo.  They were taken with this year's wild dug plants since it appeared to me that as many as five new plants from seed completed the clump.  If all goes according to plan, an attempt to separate them will be made in the spring.  Root disturbance has been avoided with a passion since I believe that damaged roots cause transplant failure.  One way to test my theory is to dig these up.  This will also afford me the opportunity to see actual root structure.  Great care will be taken both during the dig and after the move to try to keep these plants alive.  A close look at the picture revealed what may be a new plant from seed centered at the lower edge of the clump.

This picture was taken on moving day, May 07, 2014.  It rather clearly shows three different plants although matching their original placements with the present photo remains a puzzle.  The amount of new growth realized in one growing season following transplantation is incredible.  These young plants were placed in suitably poor unamended  soil and they were watered nearly every rainless day.  Now I am really looking forward to my chance to separate and relocate these plants.

This plant is growing in the black plastic nursery tray visible in the lower right of the first photo.  The tray was filled with soil taken under mature white pines.  Arbutus seed gathered here this summer was sprinkled on the soil surface.  Little has happened here and I believe that arbutus seed requires cold temperatures before it will germinate.  We really do not expect plants from these seeds until next summer.  If wishing made it so this would be a new arbutus plant, but I think that is something else.  It will remain undisturbed and we will watch and wait but little is expected.  A chance to look at the new plant growing at the edge of the recent transplants has changed or opinion of the possible identity of this plant.  It may just prove to be arbutus.

Arbutus is one of many plants that forms its flower buds ahead of the coming winter.  That seems risky to me but if arbutus has taught me anything it is that this plant will follow its natural time schedule no matter what.  Try to interfere as I must, the plant does its thing when it knows that the time is right.  These buds are on a  plant known to be male.  One of our goals for next year is to take a picture of a male flower when it is loaded with yellow pollen.  We have yet to see this since other garden tasks keep us very busy at that time of year.

These are the six plants were transplanted form the wild earlier this year.  They were taken from a ridge that exposed them to full sun every day.  All of the leaves growing under that condition were small and sunburned but the plants were heavily covered with flowers there.  Moved under a white pine, these plants now get only a few hours of daily direct sunlight.  Their leaf color has normalized and the new leaves are typically sized.  Here again the need for a larger protective wire cage is becoming apparent.

This bud cluster is on a plant known to be female.  Perhaps you can see a difference between the proportions of the male buds and the female buds.  There is so much left to learn about this plant.

This row of white pines was planted by the last man to try to farm here.  In the more than one quarter of a century that they have been growing here, natural soil conditions should meet the needs of arbutus.  Located near a formerly cultivated field, this ground has remained undisturbed save for the cows that were pastured here.  No hardwood trees grow nearby so smothering by fallen leaves would not be a problem here.  The exposure is south west but arbutus planted here could grow into the shade.  A mown trail lies just on the other side of these trees so water can be hauled here.  This looks like the best spot that we have to try to grow more wild arbutus.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Great Gardeners Deserve Great Onions!

After all these years the arrival of a seed catalog from a company that I love still gets me excited about the garden all over again.  Yesterday we were on the way out when we picked up the mail.  The name Dixondale Farms  on a thick manila envelope was a welcome sight.  I am a person with a powerful curiosity and I would have loved to rip open the envelope right there in the car,  However the envelope was carefully sealed with plenty of clear shipping tape.  There was nothing for it, but to wait until I got home to open it.  Waiting only intensified my excitement.  When I did get to open the envelope, inside I discovered these beautiful catalogs and a nice letter from Mary Caddell.

This year their catalog features a photo of one of my bodacious braids of  Red Marble Cippolini onions.  I have always loved to braid my onions.   I braid them between two strands of garden twine.  The more onions you add, the heavier the braid gets and the tighter the strings hold together.  I could not have been more delighted when I was asked for this picture for use in their catalog.  After all I consider them the very best supplier of onions plants in the country.  Plants and Stones has never done any advertising.  We are not in the business of endorsing garden products.  Any recommendations we make are unsolicited and reflect our true feelings.

What a great looking plate of sliced onions.  I love the way the brilliant  color goes all the way to the center of the onion.  How about a beautiful slice of onion on a burger.  My Dad used to get two nice slices of homemade bread, slather one with butter and make a sandwich using one big slice of an onion like this one.  When I look at a plate of sliced onions I can see him and the way he enjoyed those onion sandwiches.  Some of us would join him, leaving the others to complain about our onion breath.  It was so worth it!!!

These onions grow to a very nice size here.  We did plant a few close to keep them small.  Here I peeled a small Red Cippolini.  The outside skins are dark  red, but the onions themselves are almost magenta. This is one of my favorite colors.  I wonder how many people grow onions that match their winter vest?  What a delight it is to add this brilliant color minced in tuna or potato salad.  Pretty little purple onion rings make up for the loss of summer flowers in my salads.  However, don't use them for French onion soup. Long cooking  makes them sweet and delicious, but the color change to death gray is unfortunate and unappetizing.

I will have to decide which of my gardening friends will receive  the extra catalogs.  Fortunately you can get one of these great onion catalogs and your own picture of my beautiful onion braid  by clicking on Dixondale Farms and ordering one.

Let's not forget that  Ed planted and harvested the onions.  He weeded the center of the bed where I can't reach.  Without him I could never have so much garden fun!  Usually we wait to order our onions until January or at least December.  Perhaps I should get my order in early since more of my friends will be ordering onion plants too.  They have lots and lots of onions for sale, but I want to make sure I get mine!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wild Arbutus Protected

Recent beady snow in the air has changed our focus.  Garden work must wait while our attention shifts to tasks that must be finished before freeze up and snowfall.  Several days have been devoted to repairing the gravel driveway.  Washouts and ruts are being filled so that the snow plow has a reasonably flat surface to clear.  This naturally occurring arbutus group also needed help.

Growing at the edge of the gravel bank seems like a poor choice.  Bulldozed more than one half a century ago, this ground has had that time period to revert to a natural state.  Uneven ground filled with large and small stones would not seem to promote the growth of this difficult wildflower.  Some years we enjoy the sweet early flowers here while at other times we can find no trace of the plant.  This past early spring, I found rabbit pellets in great quantity where the arbutus grows.  As an evergreen plant, arbutus is one of the few sources of fresh food at that time of year.

Snow melt revealed no visible trace of arbutus plants here.  Arbutus delays new leaf and stem growth until after the business of flowering is complete.  These plants had no flowers but still they remained dormant until the time was right for new leaves and stems to grow.  Left with only a scrap of crown and an intact root system, these plants began to show new growth.  Their recovery seems to be a miracle of sorts.

The combination of a field stone wall and a wire cage should keep the foragers at bay.  Nestled in a depression, the cage cannot be pushed aside by a woodchuck's snout.  Hopefully the rabbit will not be able to find wiggle room sufficient to slip under the wire.  We will visit this site frequently to see if our precautions meet the challenge.

New leaf growth was the single job done here this year.  No flower buds were set.  Another full normal growing season will be required before any flowers appear on these plants.  That is a long time to wait for flowers but wait we will.

For now, this job is finished.  Fallen leaves were spread to cover most signs of recent work.  The stones were left exposed but moss and lichens will soon hide them.  An old heavily used rusty wire cage almost goes unnoticed.  The stones were carefully set and they should remain in place for many years.  The wire cage will rust away leaving a shallow stone well to puzzle those who follow me on this land.  If they are persistent, they may find an occasional arbutus plant in bloom.   

One note on the unusual clothing in use.  Many years of time spent working in sunlight has left sun damaged skin.  A Solumbra helmet liner and a long sleeved  shirt protect almost all of the skin but create a strange visual appearance.  We have not way of knowing what passersby  think when the see the wild man strangely dressed working among his posies.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It Will Be A Cold Day!

With all this talk about our frosts and freezes you might think that the garden was history.  It's true some of the plants like this butterfly  weed have gone to seed.  Other more tender plants have blackened and died.  But a walk through the garden shows that plants do not give up so easily.

These Debutante Mums have been frosted and even frozen several times and they still look fantastic.  How wonderful it would be if all the hardy mums you read about were as tough as this beauty!

Catchfly is a plant that self seeds abundantly and has to be weeded out in the spring.  It must be the warm days that have it blooming again now.  Of course the hummingbirds that love it so much early in the summer have headed South weeks ago.

This is the first pink bud on the Emperor of China chrysanthemums. This plant gives late blooming a whole new meaning.  Frequently the flowers appear after the cold has changed the leaves to a dark burgundy.  So far the leaves are still green.  It's nice to have these flowers to look for after most of the others have given in to the weather.

Perhaps this pink gladiola flower is not a perfect specimen, but it was the most  surprising and exciting flower I found in the garden. It may not be hardy, but it is stubborn. These are not expected to withstand cold weather. Others in the same bed have gone limp and mushy.  A few days have passed since I took these pictures.   Perhaps a day or two later, some of the fragrant gladioli plants sent up flower stalks.  They looked kind of sickly and were kind of pale grey-green.  I cut them and brought them into the warm house.

Here they are today.  I don't know if these flowers will bloom , but their attempt is beautiful.  We are having a few days of warm windy and rainy weather.  Ed is stubborn too.  He stayed out there this morning doing his garden thing in the light rain.  When it seemed like the rain was serious, he put away his tools and came inside.  Later if the rain stops he will likely return  outside.  It will be a cold day when he gives up on the garden!  When the plants have gone dormant, he still has his stones.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Leaf Littered Lane

Each season of the year is special in its own way if one takes the time to take a long look.  The center of the lane marks the boundary of our land.  We hold a right-of-way to use the other half of the lane but it matters not since our neighbors are  easy to get along with.  Leaf litter will be harvested here when the coming frost leaves the ground and we begin gardening once again.  For now this is a truly beautiful place to walk on many levels.  The scents and sounds created from moving across the fallen leaves and needles are tranquil and sooth the soul.

The white pine nurturing our transplanted arbutus is dropping its old needles at the same time that the hardwoods are shedding their leaves.  If one looks at the upper part of the tree, occasional clumps of brown needles can be seen still attached to the branches.  It may be that the new green needles push away the old growth after cutting of their nutrient supply and taking it for their own use.  Unlike the maples and oaks, a white pine is always fully clothed in green.  The brown mass of discarded needles is deep and slippery.  To be honest, I must admit to pulling the dropped needles away from the arbutus leaves.  Evergreen, they must have uninterrupted access to sunlight.  Covering needles are not moved very far.  Their decomposition will build acidic soil necessary if the arbutus is to flourish.

It does not get much better than this long view.  The ridge belongs to another friendly neighbor but we look upon it as our own.  Our view is free and we do have permission to walk the ridge.  Coyotes, bears and perhaps wildcats call this area home so we tend to enjoy it from a distance.  In my younger days, a hike to the top of the ridge was safely completed.

Garlic went to ground today in the manicured planting bed to the right.  Twenty-seven rows were spaced eight inches apart.  Placing two sections of fence, one rotated 90 degrees from the other, on the surface of the ground creates graph paper with two inch spacing.  The end of the handle of the stone fork quickly punches planting holes.  Place a hole, skip three, place a hole defines the rows.  From a row hole moving along the other axis, skip two and place a hole results in six inch spacing within the row.  If all two hundred seventy plants emerge, the order of the planting will be either too fussy or impressive.  More work remains to be done here now.  Molasses mixed with water will be sprinkled on the surface of the ground.  That mix is reported to encourage beneficial soil organisms.  Screened hardwood leaves will cover the surface.  We would rather mulch than weed.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Growing A Rock Garden

A sloped area in front of the house has been neglected for the past eleven years.  My usual stone walls did not seem appropriate for the location so nothing happened there.  I wanted something built using larger stones but had no idea of how to safely move small monsters to the site.  Age has brought me a little improvement in judgement and I realize that a back injury now might permanently end my stonework career.  Gemplers listed a simple cable with differing sized rings at each end.  The smaller ring will pass through the larger ring and then drop over the ball on a hitch.  My trusty red Ranger pulled this rock to the house with no problem.

There are nearly enough rocks in this collection to build a rock garden.  The smaller ones were rolled into the dump cart pulled behind the lawn tractor.  The larger ones were pulled behind the truck.  All are gathered above the new garden.  A remaining challenge is to safely move the stones downhill to their final resting place.

These stones have been found in various locations around the property.  Many had been moved to field's edge years ago.  Some were a great distance from the closest possible approach with my machines.  Becky thought a plastic snow sled might be used to pull large stones across the forest floor.  She was right.  It takes some effort but the sled slides over fallen leaves with a reasonable amount of work from me.  Several irresistible stones still wait for their turn on the sled.

Five large stones have been placed to complete the first change in elevation.  Each was bedded in wet fine gravel.  Only wet sand can be packed firm and working these stones into the wet sand has them solidly anchored.  Small path stones were screened out of the soil here.  The stone path is intended to keep the pasture grass out of the planting bed.  We have found that the path will require weeding but if we stay with it the quack grass will not take over the garden.

This unusual rock was found along the edge of the back field.  Its formation remains a complete mystery to me.  The thin white lines may be calcite deposits but they were laid down in two different directions.  How could that have happened?  This stone is in the middle of the row of five.  When I need to walk across here, I always step over this stone.  The glacier left it intact to a degree but it looks fragile to me.

We would like to plant this area come Spring.  Much more sifting needs to be done to remove all of the small stones and weeds from the dirt.  Then compost will be added to make soil.  This is where I can be found tomorrow.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

General Frost

As expected, we woke up to find the ground heavily coated with frost.  Our lettuce plants should have been covered but we were unable to do that.  Some leaves are damaged and they will be pinched off.  We hope that new growth will continue to put fall lettuce on the dinner table.

Becky ventured out early to wash the frost off of the lettuce leaves before the sun hit them. Stepping on frost hardened brittle leaves results in blacken footprints.  Following the trail, you can trace her path to the hydrant and then to the lettuce plants.  Today we covered the plants and moved the two trays of lettuce into the basement.  We will see what tomorrow brings.  The chance of frost should disappear for awhile after tonight.

This bed still had some basil plants growing in it this morning.  Growing is hardly an accurate term but now they are gone.  Hardwood leaves served as mulch here and they functioned well.  Weed growth was nearly nonexistent.  Removing the mulch and the frost burned basil leaves together was a pleasant task.  The soil has been turned and will be left bare.  Exposed to the harshness of the coming season, we hope some weed seeds, insects and disease will be lessened.  A goal is to have the entire garden in that condition but the frost blackened buckwheat in the next bed clearly shows that we have much work to do.

The garden near the woods included one hill of butternut squash and one hill of pie pumpkins.  Each hill was seasoned with aged alpaca manure.  The soil nearby was covered with grass clippings.  Those preparations are typical while this harvest is exceptional.  That difference must be the result of generous rain that fell here this summer.  We cannot begin to eat all of this produce.  Squash, pumpkins and potatoes will be delivered to a nearby food bank.

We usually get hit with frost in late September.  This killer was a little late but not unexpected.  If we are lucky, the frost was severe enough to end some of the biting insects.  We expect to have six more weeks of workable soil in front of us.  If the bugs are indeed gone, these will be some of the best work days of the year.

Hardy Chrysanthemums

My history with chrysanthemums stretches all the way back to childhood.  A visit to my maternal great grandfather's home exposed me to what a man could do growing flowers.  He generously gave me divisions of several chrysanthemums but the move across two climate zones and the inattention typical of a twelve year old boy ended them.  The memory of him and his gardens is no doubt a motivating force driving me to garden.

At this time of year pots of mums are in abundance at the retail stores.  Chemically fed and mechanically pruned, they are covered with flowers.  Several times I have purchased them with the hope that some scrap of life would appear in the spring.  That never happened.  Root bound masses were easy to remove since no new growth was present.  Becky refers to these plants as cupcake mums since that is what their shape suggests.

Clara Curtis was our first hardy mum.  Mail order purchased in the spring, it has proven to be as hardy as dandelions.  The above photo was taken August 10th and the plants are still in flower.  We have given away boxes of plants suitable for division and are presently overrun with them.  I resolve to pot up, plant out and pinch back several specimens so that this beauty can reach its full potential next year.

Mammoth Pink has also been with us for several years.  Larger more brightly colored flowers set it apart from Clara Curtis.  It has proven itself to be hardy here and we have a surplus of them also. That is the kind of gardening problem that I can live with.  Here again, we need to give great care to a manageable number of these plants.

Red Daisy identifies this plant.  We may have it growing in three different places but Daisy Rose is another possibility for one or two of these similar plants.  Planted near a stone wall, this plant is flourishing.  The catalog clearly identifies their mums as hardy to zone five.  Perhaps if we take advantage of sheltered spots in the garden, we can keep these alive.

Out in the direct flow of our frost river, this Nor'easter has little to show for its three years with us.  Its flowers are just what we were looking for but there is not much to this plant.  Perhaps a move to a gentler area of the garden will help this plant along.  You can tell by the number of plastic name tags that we have purchased more than one of this variety.

Debutante is a vigorous garden mum.  This single plant is ready for division.  Next year should see a large planting of this very attractive plant.

Bluestone Perennials is our mail order source for chrysanthemums.  They feature a wide selection of several different types of mums.  If your hardiness zone is actually 5 or higher, then you should have good results with their plants.  Our zone 4 location presents challenges but in the long run I think that we will find some of these plants to be perennial here.