Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Four O'Clock Walk

Cold, in the 50s, and a very dreary overcast day today, until about four in the afternoon. Then the sun came out, and the air was still, and I took a walk around.

The fothergilla nearest the garage is turning kaleidoscope colors. The other one by the cellar door has not changed much yet.

The red colors on the blackhaw viburnum are subtle. I am struck with how this shrub finally looks like a real tree. Gangly, but tree like.

The stewartia monadelpha is turning rust red, very dark, and hard to see. The first year it was such a bright red, but it hasn't had that color since. It's more brown than red.

The same thing is true of the other stewartia, S. pseudocamellia. It is turning a very dark brownish red. It too has had years where it was fiery scarlet, but it seems to be darker each year now.

The Sheffield mums surround the gravel garden and are the prettiest things in fall.

And Raydon's Favorite aromatic aster is also pretty. I will need to divide these three clumps next spring.

There are berries on the hollies, both the meservae blue hollies and the Ilex opaca. Kind of Christmasy on a fall day at four in the afternoon!

Monday, October 28, 2013


Last night we had a fire in the fire pit and sat around it drinking ice wine. A delightful little bit of camping. Wish we had marshmallows.

It was really very nice. But cold. It was 41 degrees and the small fire gave off little heat.

By the time we went in, I was pretty chilled, and my hair and clothes smelled like smoke. Still smelled like smoke today! But it was a beautiful evening interlude by the fire.

This morning another frost covered everything again.

Today Jim put all the outside furniture away for the season.

I watered, at least what I could of the newest trees I had planted this season, and the new little shrubs just planted. Everything is so dry.  It's been three weeks without a drop, and everything is going into winter thirsty.

While the plants look fine now, if the roots are not well watered for winter, trees and shrubs can be susceptible to drying winds that may cause damage to buds next spring. That has me worried. I can't really soak the larger things very well, and can only hand water the smaller, new plants.

The blackhaw viburnum by the bathroom window is coloring, a subtle, light red. It's the first time I have seen fall color to speak of. And it has dark blue berries for the first time too.

The blackhaw out in the open in the blueberry garden has not really colored, and the frost has now turned its leaves brown.

It was cold, but perfect today to do the kind of work that needs cooler weather, so I dug out some edges to expand where plants had spread over the border's edge. A good day for that. It's easier to edge in the fall when I can see the full spread of plants and what needs expanding, rather than in the spring when all the plants are still small.

The soil was dry as a bone, of course. But the little bit of edging was easy enough to do.

Winter is on its way, but don't tell the happy mums.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Overnight Frost

Goodbye to the hot pink zinnias
When I woke this morning the annuals were black and the hydrangeas were all limp. The first frost of the season settled last night after yesterday's breezes. Today is sunny and in the low 50s.

So this morning I took out all the zinnias, nasturtiums, the red salvia and the pots on the patio. Everything looks cleaner and neater. The hydrangeas perked back up a little.

It was time for those hot pink zinnias to go anyway. They were clashing with all the fall foliage.

I had to take out the long blooming chocolate cosmos that I liked so much. It didn't look as bad as the other fried annuals, but it was time to go.

In the spot that was opened up where the cosmos had been, I transplanted the gray dogwood, Cornus racemosa, from the meadow.  Actually, I had to move the Blue Velvet St. Johnswort over, then plant the gray dogwood, so it was a bit of maneuvering.
You can barely see the leafy little gray dogwood in front of the tuteur. The hypericum is now to its right.

I have not had much luck with Hypericum, so who knows if moving the Blue Velvet one will do it in now.

And I hope the little dogwood takes. I will want to limb it up quite a bit for this space and keep it from getting weedy and rangy as it wants to do naturally. Here is what a limbed up Cornus racemosa looked like in very early spring at Berkshire Botanical Garden. This will take some work.
In early spring you  can see the pruned and limbed up shape of this gray dogwood.

As I walked about the yard doing chores I got a distinct whiff of burnt sugar. The new katsura? But it has lost most of its leaves already. Could it be?

It was noticeable near the berm, but not near the katsura itself. But it might have just been the general smell of decaying things from the sudden frost. I smelled it later out in the meadow too.

But it was a real cotton candy smell near the berm. I swear it was those few remaining leaves on the katsura.

When I went out to get the paper early this morning, multiple contrails were shooting upward in a V from the east. To the right of this shot there were three more, exploding out from the rising sun. I couldn't even begin to get a picture looking straight into the sun, but what a sight the morning sky was today!

Friday, October 25, 2013


Cold air came swooping in last night and the wind came blustering in with it.

The temperature was 31 this morning, but there did not seem to be any frost and no tender plants were hurt. I think the gusty wind kept the frost away. It barely made it to 50 degrees this afternoon, although the sun was out all day.

I need to wait for a killing frost and then give the Black Beauty dahlias a week after that to ripen before digging them up. One is still blooming gamely in front of the Blue Ice amsonias that are just now lightening up.

In the early mornings, with the golden October light, the buckeyes are beautiful. They glow.

The Sheffield pink mums are looking nice now all around the gravel garden.

The Henryi clematis in front carries on with its late season re-bloom.

The hubrichtii ammonia is turning. I wonder if it will be the startling bright yellow that it was in 2010, or if this softer green gold is its typical fall color.

This was an indoor day. The wind and whoosh of sudden cold were too much.

Here are a couple nice views of the yard. The sourwood shining behind the umbrella really has turned that pink.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It's Getting Weird

Overcast and gloomy today, and quite chilly, in the 50s.

The dank light made the fall colors look kind of garish. But in any light, it is getting downright weird out there. The colors are going nuts.

Bluebird hydrangea going all purply.
I won't do a ring of alyssum underneath again, that just looks dumb.

A riot of clashing colors. Yikes. The Gro Low Rhus aromatica has gone from beautiful red to eye hurting cerise.
The hot magenta zinnias are too much. Check out the purple oak leaf hydrangea at the lower left.

More gaudiness. Thank goodness the witch hazel is not bright yellow yet, although it's turning.

Look at that Gro Low sumac. It really is that pinky red.

The dark ninebark is really goofy with the increasingly fire colored Gro Low sumac

This is a little better view -- rich mahogany doublefile viburnum and golden buckeyes.

And I like the garnet itea with a little bit of Orange Dream Japanese maple behind it, all tempered with clear white Montauk daisies.

All of the colors this fall are quite impressive, but some of my combinations are too weird to look at.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Plants for Next Year

Tom is 33 today. I am flabbergasted, and unable to figure out how that happened. Happy birthday, kid!

Fall is upon us and the weather is cool. It's been sunny and dry.

Is it too soon to be thinking about next year? Here are two plants I want to keep in mind:

1. Plant more of the annual Chocamocha chocolate cosmos

What an absolute stunner, blooming heavily all summer long. Still blooming, no let up. It never took a break. The velvety rich red color of the blooms never faded.

It stays low, only a foot high, and the three plants sprawled out nicely to cover the area. Next year get many more and spread them around in any spot that needs filling.

I got these three from Avant Gardens, one of my new favorite online sources.

2. Try Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)

In the empty spot at the back of the Drive By garden (where the stand of tall zinnias are now) I think a stand of Mountain mint would look good. A filler, silvery colored to catch the eye, and needing little care.

I saw clumps of them when we went to visit James Golden's garden last weekend and liked them.

It wants partial shade, but can be in full sun if kept moist. In the back of the Drive By garden it will get some shade from the other plants and from Gwen's trees nearby, but it will be exposed to western sun for part of the late day.

The write ups say it is pretty tough and blooms a long time all summer.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Forest Management

A mostly sunny, breezy day in the mid 60s. It was supposed to rain last night but didn't.

It's been 11 days now since we got half an inch of rain, but when I test around the new katsura or where I transplanted the dwarf deutzias on the east side, the soil is still damp.

I wandered out onto the back hill today, unprepared, just wearing my deck shoes and no gloves. I did have the pruners with me and thought to clip a few stray things, but instead I got totally immersed in forest management.

When I went just a little way into the stand of trees it was evident that bittersweet was choking everything. You don't see it from a distance, but once in under the trees I can see it is everywhere.

I scrambled around in the dense brush and cut off the vines and pulled down what I could.

The right way is to cut the vine and then paint Vine-X on the cut to kill the root, but in all the tangle out there I can't do that.

I can barely move, and I need the pruners at each step to clear what wraps around my feet as I step.

Here are my methods of forest management as I try to control the competition of vines, weeds, and the trees I am trying to grow:

Constantly cut and chop each vine. 
In spring and in autumn when it is cool enough and the bugs are not so bad, I need to go out there and cut the vines off the trees.

Just chop away. I have no chance of real control with Vine-X or by uprooting the vines, so it's the constancy of repeated chops that are a way to keep the worst at bay.

They come back, and I'll never eliminate them, but I can keep the vines off the trees if I repeatedly get out there with the pruners.

Walk around and flatten the weeds. 
I found that I can keep a sunny, open area around saplings by simply tromping around them and flattening the weeds with my feet. It's easy enough to do, no tools, no weedwhacker, no effort. Just walk around the area by each tree.

If I do that several times early in summer, it does hold the weeds down. They don't overwhelm the area and bury the plants I'm trying to encourage. By opening up around them I can keep an eye on the smallest saplings.

If I make an effort to get out there with the pruners more often in spring and fall, and if I remember to tromp around in the areas I want to open up several times in the summer, I feel I am managing my forest.

Here's another issue I need to manage in my forest: the cottonwood that was barely my height when we moved in 9 years ago is tall and skinny and is dominating the back hill now. This photo shows it in late September.

It needs to come down. Not only will it get even bigger and messier and more dominating, but it is growing out at an angle on the steep hillside. It is weak wooded, and at its tilted pitch, I can see it falling over in a storm.

It needs to be removed now while it is still skinny. That's going to be an issue.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Yesterday was a gorgeous day, warm (in the 70s) and still and sunny. Today is overcast and chilly, barely up to 60 degrees. Although it is cool, there has been no sign or prediction of frost yet.

Last year we got a hard sharp frost in early October that ruined the annuals and the fall color. This year we are going into deepest fall without any frost damage.

It's a great autumn --- good color, the Sheffield mums are opening, the aromatic asters are lush, the grass is rich and green, the garden spectacular, the light beautiful.

And yet, I am uneasy.

I find myself really losing interest in blogging, both reading others' blogs and posting my own. Bloggers are showing beautiful photos and writing interesting posts, and I am having trouble focusing on them. I want to stop writing my main blog, I just don't have the interest or enthusiasm any more, and I feel like it is a chore to come up with something to post.

It's been almost four years of continuous posting every three to five days. I feel like there is nothing new to say.

Much of my unease is because of the debacle going on with our government now. I won't write about politics, other than to say it is occupying my thoughts and consuming a lot of my time online now. I keep reading and re-reading news articles and watching TV way too much.

It is not only taking away from any enthusiasm I have for reading garden blogs, it is making me unsettled and unsatisfied with what had been my normal interests.

Add to that the inevitable burning out after four years -- that's a long time to blog and to follow blogs so intensively -- and I can justify why blogging is beginning to wane for me.

For a long time I have been looking at nice scenes in my garden or on visits to other gardens and constantly thinking: I need to capture that shot. I need to get that documented. I need to preserve that scene in case I want to refer back to it. I need to come back and get this when the light is better. There is an edgy worry about having to capture everything I see.

I just want to look without worrying about documenting it.

And for a while now I've felt compelled to keep up with what other gardeners post, and routinely make comments on some of them. I've greatly enjoyed making these friendships and I've loved seeing their gardens and what they are up to -- that has been a wonderful benefit of blogging. But as the political news has consumed me and I have neglected reading or commenting on others' posts, I am starting to feel pressure to catch up.

It's making me uneasy. I am falling behind or losing interest in reading what I had been so eager to follow before, and that makes me feel bad. I don't want to feel bad.

The good news is that I am enjoying actual gardening more than ever. I like being out there, I love seeing my own garden flourish. But I am tired of writing about it, and tired of constantly gathering and managing all the pictures needed to show others what I see.

I want to step back from blogging. I had already planned to discontinue the main blog this winter. Rather than doing so abruptly on the four year anniversary at the end of January, I may just start to post at longer intervals this fall instead of every week. I may cut back on reading and commenting on blogs that I had been trying to follow consistently.

I don't know.

Is it just unease right now because of what is going on in the news? I'm not overwhelmed or busy -- my retirement life is pretty calm and I have plenty of time to do what I want. But I want the edgy sense of pressure about documenting everything to stop. I want the sense of guilt over not reading and commenting on blogs of online friends to ease up.

I'll give it some time and think on it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pitchforks and Pruners

Chilly, but a nice fall day today. In the high 50s, and when the sun peeks out from the clouds it's up to about 60 degrees.
A good day to turn the compost pile, although even in cool weather that kind of work makes me very sweaty.

It needs to be turned frequently, once a week or so, to mix all the grass clippings with garden brush I toss on there. But the clippings pile up, it's way too hot in the summer to work the pitchfork in there, and I don't get to it all season long.

By the time it's cool enough and the season is ending, I have layers of anaerobic slime mats pressed together from the mounds of wet mooushy grass. No oxygen means nothing breaks down. I am amazed at how dense the mats of slime become.

So I forked and tossed and dug up the mats and removed them, then forked over what was there, spread it out a bit and phew!

I must commit to turning that mess more often all year long.

A couple days ago Jim and I tackled trimming the big white spruce by the front door. The leader had shot up a couple feet, and branches were angling out all over. He used the pole pruner to get the leader and the highest branches, and I cut all around the middle and bottom with pruners.

It's a a little barrel shaped, but the shortened leader, and the removal of center shoots from many of the whorls all around the tree, should keep it a more reasonable size for a while. A short while.

It will be far too big for its spot by the front door some day (soon).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Light in the Morning

Cool, fall-like. A little cloudy and sometimes overcast. Chilly, in the low 60s.

Between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning now the light is wonderful as it just rises over the tall trees in the east.

The persimmon on the hill glows orange in the distance

The black gum has not turned color yet, but it's getting close. It shines by the bridge.

The white Alba Luxurians clematis blooms away, and seems to stand in its own column of light.

The young river birch by the patio lights up and casts its long shadow on the lawn.

It's a brief half hour in the morning. So beautiful.