Saturday, November 28, 2015


Thanksgiving day was sunny and bright and the whole house was lit up with sunshine, noise, people, chatter, food and kids. A beautiful day. Now, on the weekend, it is raining and gloomy looking outside, but cozy indoors.

There are still a few things in the garden with color to catch the eye -- berries mostly. But one plant has really surprised me this year: Hydrangea quercifolia 'Amethyst'. It has clear wine purple foliage this fall. Its big leaves have flopped about from the fall winds, but it's still fully clothed even at Thanksgiving.

It's an oakleaf hydrangea, and I have had it since 2011. But I never noticed this plant in the years since I got it. It was small when I planted it, then I moved it around a couple times as I always do until I can figure out where things should go.

It never looked like much. I've never seen flowers. It had no real shape or size until this year. I never saw fall color before. It's in the driveway garden, between the sweetgum and the witch hazels, and until this year it was an indeterminate thing, mostly unnoticed.

But look at this oakleaf hydrangea now. What a stunning shape and size and what rich fall color so late in the season. And those big oak-shaped leaves. Really, this is the first year it has even been on my radar. It had some tinges of fall color last year and in 2013, but it was subtle, and I had to look to see it.

'Amethyst' will get to about 5 feet wide and tall, probably too big for this spot along the driveway. The blooms are supposed to be the big cones typical of oakleaf hydrangeas, and they are said to open white and then turn to wine red. It hasn't flowered yet, either because it is still too young or because last year's horrid winter with sustained minus temperatures killed all the buds. It's marginally hardy to zone 5 but may suffer dieback or bud kill. Despite a harsh winter, this plant has certainly thrived this year.

It's a Michael Dirr cultivar. He discovered it while on a drive with his mother in Cincinnati. I don't know why it's important that he was driving around with his mom, but botanical sources mention it, so there it is. He should have named it after her, but it's called 'Amethyst' for some random reason unrelated to flower color or fall foliage color.

My fantasy is that some day a plant will be named for me, but it's unlikely that I'll be driving around with a famous horticulturalist when he spots a new hydrangea. And even more unlikely he'd name the thing after me. If Michael Dirr didn't name this one for his own mother, despite the fact she was in the car when he discovered it, then where's the hope for me.

'Amethyst' it is.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Things I Like: November edition

Here are some random things I am enjoying this November.

When the leaves are all down, the shimmery peeling bark of the paperbark maple can be seen and it's simply beautiful.

The paperbark seedlings are pretty too. Between this maple and the red maples and the Norway maple in the yard, I weed little Acer seedlings out of all my gardens all year long.

I love how the grass in November is so green and rich. Lawn turf loves cold weather and we've had rain and it looks like an emerald carpet right now.

I am enjoying Season 2 of Fargo on FX. Awesome acting, tight scripts, gratuitous violence and a ridiculous plot. But the acting and the pacing and the easter eggs of random references keeps me riveted and entertained. Best series on TV.

I like red November berries. Aronia berries, which no birds or animals like, rise high above the Birch Garden and will be there all winter until the critters get really really hungry.

The aronia shrubs arch up over the faded garden which is brown and gone by now. I'll cut down most of the stuff on the right side and then the aronias will really be noticeable -- they'll be the only thing out in the late November garden.

More red berries: winterberry hollies. I should net these so they don't get eaten and stripped bare before snow -- how I'd like to see them highlighted against snow next month, but it seems harsh to deprive the deer and birds of these treats just now.

I really like turkey dinner. Thanksgiving is a great time for so many reasons, including family and celebration. But I really do love the actual meal. It's one of my favorites. Gravy. Fixings. Stuffing. My sister's corn casserole. If you ever want to comfort me in a time of crisis, bring me a turkey dinner.

I like the way the blue pyramid looks now that everything around it is open and bare. It looked nice out in the garden all summer, but now it is truly the focal point.

The Pequot Indian museum was good. I enjoyed that earlier in November, and particularly liked going with our old friends and making a day of it. It is a shining example of what boundless casino gaming money can do when it is well spent with a professional, balanced approach to history telling. Well done. Go if you are in southern Connecticut. You can completely skip the slots machines and tables, they aren't even near.

I like big fluffy grasses at this time of year. The 'Karl Foerster' grass that I put in spots at the edge of the meadow is lovely right now, and the three tall clumps of 'Northwind' panicum are eye-catching.

It's the miscanthus by the garage door that I really love. So soft, so bouncy in the wind, so full. I actually thought this was a goner. The middle has died out, and I did not think the growth around the edges would fill in, but it did.

It will get chopped to the ground very soon. Before the snow comes if I can time it right. I don't like to get rid of this beautiful grass at the height of its best season, but there is no such thing as "winter interest" when heavy snow splays this out and lays it down all askew across the pavers in a sodden icy mess. It gets chopped before that can happen.

I'm enjoying pink sunsets all this month. We get soft rosy skies now and with the leaves of the tall trees down, I can marvel at the delicate, sweet pink of a November sunset.

It comes too early though -- at 4:30 p.m. That's one thing I don't like about November. It gets late so early.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Winter is Coming

Down this path lies winter. Just around that corner, to the right, and when you get there it will be cold and there will be snow and boy will it get dark early.
It took all summer for the bluestone steps to look like they were settled in.
Now, with grass grown up between them and after adding some dirt at the edges,
 they seem integrated into the lawn a little better.

Winterberry hollies do their best to stave off the dark and cold that is coming, but their bright red berries will be gone by the time snow comes. Usually the birds strip the berries, but I have seen deer eat them too.
Winterberry holly -- Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite' -- never looks like much all spring and summer.
It's just a green shapeless leafy thing. But when the berries form, these rangy shrubs redeem themselves in the garden.

The last trees in the woods to lose their leaves are the sweetgums, but even they know winter is coming. Oaks and some of the witch hazels hold onto their leaves well into winter, but those are brown and dry. The sweetgums will lose all theirs, but they stay colorful and hang on until the very end. But the end comes.
There are three sweetgums planted on the back hill and all three have the last bits of color out there.
This one was advertised to have deep purple fall color, but it has always been bright red.
Liquidambar styraciflua seems to grow very narrow -- this one is particularly skinny.

The paper birches now hold court over the yard. Stripped of leaves, they take on a ghostly dignity.
I planted these three Betula papyrifera trees in a triangle around a garden in the middle.
But the triangle somehow never looks symmetrical -- it's off kilter and an odd shape. I keep wishing I had made
a real grove of white birches by planting them all closer together. But here they are, an odd but regal trio.

Yep, around the bend and down the path and a few more days into the calendar, and it will be here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Patchwork Beads

I'm making you something, she said. What colors do you like?

Jewel tones, I said. Garnet, teal, royal plum purple. Those are all good.

So she made me a beaded cuff. Each little piece is created from tiny beads strung into squares, and then sewn together into a patchwork quilt pattern.

Even the elastic hook and eye of the clasp are intricately beaded.

There is a funky purple fabric for backing and she signed and dated it. The soft material protects the wrist from the hard beads. It fits me to a t, and it feels soft and wrist hugging.

Can you imagine the work that goes into making such a tiny, beautiful quilt? I've looked and looked and no two patchwork squares on this cuff are the same.

And yes, there are garnet reds and teal greens, and peacock blues and deep purples, just as I specified.

And, in addition, there are 36 years of friendship and decades of memories that come with each bead and every tiny square, all painstakingly stitched together in a gift from a good friend.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Seasons, Ranked

Autumn in New England is such a spectacular season, and every year I despair at capturing it on camera. I just can't show how the entire world is transformed into a blaze of color and luminescent light and vibrancy. There are so many professional photos that do it better.

My garden is endlessly exciting as each plant changes and everywhere I look there is something bright and beautiful. A trip to the center of town to do errands is a wondrous ride through exploding colors. I want to get it all on camera, but I can't.

I can't adequately describe the crisp air or the scents. All this excitation leaves me agitated at not being able to save it and show it, even as I am calmed by the beauty of it all.

I love fall here. It got me thinking about the other seasons and how I might rank them. So here goes.

Best season in New England is always and always will be autumn. Specifically October for the color and blazing excitement, but also November for its fading glory and quieter moodiness. Fall has no equal here.

Next best season in New England is winter. I like snow and cold days. Most people in this climate don't, and every retiree I know abhors it with an intensity that drives them to live in ugly condos in Florida all winter, but I love winter here. I ski, I like to be outdoors on cold days, and I love the inside world of the house in winter.

Summer is okay in New England. It's pretty, the garden blooms, my porch beckons. But it can get hot and humid and a little draining. While I like being closed up in the house in winter, I hate being closed up in the air conditioning in summer. Still, summer is leafy and green and my gardens are nice and you don't have to wear socks.

I hate spring in New England. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Sure, there are daffodils and the dogwoods bloom and the forsythias shout in yellow. I've planted spring bulbs. But boot sucking mud is the predominant feature of the garden in spring. It's depressingly bleak looking until early June, it's cold and windy and damp, and there is no conceivable reason why it should take so long for my gardens to wake up each year.

For 66 years I've lived in this state and the rhythms of its seasons are in my bones.

Jim and I talk all the time about moving to somewhere more tax affordable for retirees, or closer to our kids, or where we can age in place with health services. But we stay here.

If we ever did move somewhere new, we would still have to come back to this place in autumn. I could not live without experiencing a New England fall each year.

And winter, we'd need to come back for that. And summer too, of course.

I could live somewhere else in spring.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


The bottlebrush buckeye hedge (Aesculus parviflora) flowered well this summer and the blooms turned into clusters of heavy nuts.

By fall they had turned brown and then opened, dropping shiny brown nuts on the ground and leaving the dried split husk on the shrub.

Because we took out one bottlebrush shrub this past summer, there is a hole in the hedge that I am hoping will be filled by suckers from the adjacent plants. The plant we took out was a different cultivar, mislabeled when I planted it, and not looking at all like the species A. parviflora on either side.

Instead of waiting for suckers to fill in the empty area, why don't I just plant the abundance of buckeye nuts that have already fallen on the open dirt there?

I did some research and got conflicting info on how to plant buckeye nuts. The one area of agreement was regarding freshness -- the nuts need to be planted in the fall as soon as they drop and not be allowed to dry out. I'm good there. The dropped buckeyes from my shrubs look fresh and they don't appear dried out.

But the rest of the advice was a little confusing. Some said they must be scarified and planted in damp sand, others said they only sprout in year 2, not the first year after sowing. One source said all nuts germinated one year, no nuts germinated another year.

So. I dug holes in the empty spot in the hedge, I put the freshly dropped buckeyes into them. I did not scarify or soak or try to put them in damp sand. Just put them in holes and covered them up with dirt.

There were so many that I took a handful and potted them up in containers too. I'll keep the containers in the unheated garage, and keep them slightly damp all winter.

And then I took another handful and planted them under the trees in the forest on the back hill. I had done that last year too, but forgot where I planted them and never saw anything that looked like the big palmate leaves of an Aesculus seedling, so I assumed they never germinated.

Let's see next spring what comes up, either in the empty spot along the hedge, or in my containers, or on the back hill. In other years I have found volunteer buckeye seedlings coming up in my gardens, no doubt planted there by squirrels, so I know they will sprout.

Let's hope these sprout where I planted them.

Monday, November 9, 2015


Did you read that last post? Unbelievable. This is Hangen here, with a rebuttal to the plaintive drivel that was the last post, written by Hopewell after illegally hacking into the Garden Diary website.

Well, I can hack into Blogger too, and after I figured out the password, I got in and so here I am posting about gardening tasks. Gardening Tasks That Must Be Done Now, according to Hopewell.

Well lah di dah. Nothing is so urgent as some sanctimonious opinionators would have you believe. There are other things the head gardener could do in fall and digging out new garden beds is not one. 

All that blather about good weather being ideal for shovel projects. No it's not. Nice fall weather is when you wander around picking up buckeye nuts and planting them in random spots where you won't remember you put them next spring if you want to check to see if any sprouted.

Sunny fall days are when you shake the black seedpods on the baptisias so their spooky dry rattle scares away imaginary beings who might, or might not -- I'm just saying --  be in the garden at any moment.

Autumn afternoons are when you keep on the lookout for bears and trap voles and free abandoned birds nests from the branches of trees once the leaves are down. Milkweed silk, spiky sweetgum balls, thistle burrs all need to be noticed now and you can't properly attend to them if you are Doing a Project Digging Up Dirt. Hopewell would have your attention highjacked and your will to live squashed with checking things off a To Do list.

I agree with Hopewell on one thing, though. Lunch.

I'm logging off now. I forget what we were arguing about.

Friday, November 6, 2015

We Need Some Help

This is Hopewell here, writing today's journal post. Because, well, stuff isn't happening around here the way it should. Usually we are silent. We see it all, but don't offer any kind of public comment. It's always been that way. 

But this is too much. Hangen is to blame, I fear, for distracting the head gardener from her duties -- tasks that have needed doing for a while now. You know the tasks I mean. They pop up on her computer every morning when she opens her laptop and the List Of Things To Do appears.

The list has had two major garden projects on it for months now, awaiting appropriate weather to get started. These are digging tasks that involve shoveling dirt and getting down on hands and knees. The kind of jobs Hangen and I usually assist with, although my efforts help and Hangen's never do. It's always that way.

First it was too hot in summer. Then it got too cold this fall. It was too dry for a long time. It rained and was too wet all of a sudden. A trip to New Mexico got in the way. But really, there has been fine weather for days and still these tasks are not even started.

She gets so distracted, and I know who to blame. Today she even put on her gardening pants and got out the edger to start digging out the new garden area that needs digging, and then someone whose name starts with H but who wasn't me diverted her attention to some twigs that needed pruning. Then some pots needed moving, then some plastic bags caught in the branches in the woods needed removing and then it was lunchtime.

I like lunch.

But these garden jobs need to get underway before snow comes. 

It's always been a struggle between my helpful support and Hangen's irresponsible mischief. Mostly we balance each other out and just stay in the background. I have never before thought to log on to her web journal and post anything. I am at my wit's end, though, and need some help. Please, if you are reading this, send the head gardener an e-mail and tell her to stop listening to Hangen and take Hopewell's urgent advice to get going on those two garden projects while the weather holds.

         Thank you.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Closer and Closer

We saw the black bear again, and I think it was the same untagged juvenile that walked through the yard last summer. He (she?) took the same route, traversing diagonally over to the neighbor's, only this time he was not out in the yard, but directly under our windows!

The bear ambled down this walkway . . .
I looked up from my coffee and there it was right under the kitchen window. It startled me to see such a big black animal so close -- if I had opened the window I could have petted it.

It then walked down the bluestone walkway, stopped right under the bathroom window to check whether the blackhaw viburnum berries were worth bothering with, then continued down our walkway to the garage doors.

Only then did it wander across the pavers and out into the yard as it headed over to our neighbor's crabapples.

The first time I saw this bear in the yard I was between it and the house -- I easily backed into the porch and inside away from the bear.

This time, if I had been outside in the garden, the bear would have been between the house and me. It would have been closer to the door, and I would have been out in the middle of the yard. Awkward, but not really dangerous.

. . . then it went to the garage doors before crossing the pavers and wandering on

Despite my initial worries about surprising one or getting too close, research tells me black bears are big, strong and timid. They get nervous when humans are near, and if too near they may bluster and huff out of anxiety, but they won't attack. Instead they'll look for a tree to climb.

We don't really have large enough trees in our yard for a nervous black bear to climb, so best to give them space and ease their anxiety by backing away quietly.

We did not get any pictures, we were so stunned watching the bear right outside the house, and didn't stop to get our cameras.

This guy is getting closer and closer each time he visits. Next time I see him I expect to find him in the kitchen standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open. Then I'll get a picture, I promise.

Here's a good site with lots of info on black bears and humans:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

November is Here

Just like that, November arrived.

I'm going to miss mornings on my bench in the shade on a hot day. But it will be there waiting for me, and just like that, spring will arrive.