Friday, November 29, 2013


Cold today, barely 30 degrees but sunny.

Dang nab it, the one tree I did not put a mesh cylinder around to protect against antler rub got scraped:

This is one of the two larger sassafras trees on the hill. The bucks have never touched the sassafras before, and I thought maybe the rough bark deterred them. But it is the right diameter -- they like small trunks that they can get the fork of their antlers around.

And it was the only tree of this size that wasn't wrapped. So of course it was rubbed. I think it will be all right, the scrape is not too deep. But dang it.

I can see they tried to rub some of the smaller saplings that are wrapped. The marks are just above the top of the mesh cylinder, and a few small branches were shredded there, but the cylinder keeps them from scraping all the way up and down the trunk and doing major damage.

I'm also perturbed that the witch hazels by the driveway hold their leaves and look so brown and shaggy. I thought it was the early freeze last fall, or the snowstorm the year before that messed up dropping their leaves.

But as they mature it now appears that they do hold onto their browned leaves into winter. I can't help it, these two look like Frick and Frack -- even more so now that I pruned up the lower limbs. Not what I was hoping for at the entrance garden.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Four Inches

We have hot water. It was fixed yesterday afternoon. I am thankful.

We got almost 4 inches of rain and it froze overnight in the gauge, but the sun has come out now on Thanksgiving morning. It's a cold, windy, after-the-storm blustery day.

I hope the plastic tube has not cracked from the ice, I really like this oversized easy to read rain gauge.

There is much to be thankful for today that goes well beyond hot water.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Water Woes

Too much water, or not enough. Woe is me.

First the good news: it is raining. But it is too much.

It is raining very hard, pouring down, filling the giant rain gauge on the deck. There are almost four inches in it now, still rising rapidly. We are going to get all the badly needed rain for the entire fall season in this one storm the day before Thanksgiving.

A soaking, drenching, dark-as-night rainy day.

Now the bad news: there has been no hot water in our house for three days. The water heater gave out on Sunday and flooded the basement. We mopped it up, and called the plumber Monday.

He could not get the heater on Monday or Tuesday, but finally came today and put in the new one. We paid him several thousand dollars, waited over an hour for the new tank to heat, and then I finally went in to have a shower.

After three days I was so ready to wash my hair and get clean.

Nope. Icy cold water. Not even lukewarm. The new heater is not working. I don't know if we can get a plumber back over here before the holiday now.

I know, I know --- first world problems.

I need to keep in mind that it is Thanksgiving tomorrow and I am truly grateful for so very many blessings in my life. Too much drenching rainwater outside, and no hot steamy wash water inside are simply minor woes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Light Sparkle

18 degrees when I got up this morning. There was a light rime coating everything, and it sparkled.

This is the first morning there has been glinting frost, although we have had many below freezing nights lately. But it has been too dry to create any freezing moisture.

This morning, though, a little bit of frost twinkled in the sun. The deck had a light coating and my flat soled shoes slipped on the slick steps. Oops. Ouch.

The herb bowl, after so many freezing nights, is finally looking a little fried. But not the sage. Even with a coating of frost it looks perky.

The winterberry hollies are covered in red berries. They will be gone by Christmas and I rarely get to see them against snow, but right now they are eye catching, surrounded by gold and bronze.

The aronia berries will hang on much longer. Nobody likes to eat those.

Even the dried brown lespedeza looks structural and interesting. The buff colored caryopteris by the patio does too.

Another eye catcher is the bayberry. It is so deep green and glossy and it has grown into a big loose pyramid. It was lopped in half in the 2011 snow storm, but has regrown amazingly. In spring it is very late to green up and all summer it is just a green blob in the back of the garden.

But now it stands out against the brown meadow, with a bright red winterberry next to it.

How pretty this red and green backdrop will look when there is white snow. The winterberries may be gone by then and I don't remember if the bayberry holds its green in deep winter. But it could look very festive!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This Poor Hydrangea

Yesterday's little bit of rain brought very warm, balmy air and it was lovely to be outside. A little breezy. Temps in the 60s and sunny.

Now that the leaves are down I can take a look at the hydrangeas, which need some help.

This poor panicle hydrangea, a Tardiva standard that I planted very early along the side of the house (in 2006), has had such problems over the years.

The trunk was badly curved at the very base and I had to keep it staked to prevent it falling over. Even now, seven years later, the curve still makes this hydrangea unstable. Left on its own it leans over, especially since as a tree form it is top heavy.

It got smashed to bits in 2011 in the snowstorm. I thought I lost it. Regrowth has been all over the place, shooting up from the damaged areas, creating a thicket. All the weedy branches lean way over and had to be staked too.

So today I cut everything off, leaving just two upper branches to try to recreate the tree form. I want it to be tall and upright and to stay above the fothergilla planted below it.

I staked one whippy branch to the ground and tied the other one to that. Kind of a botch job, and where I lopped off branches at the trunk it is a mess, but I'm not sure what else to do with this deformed panicle hydrangea.

The Tardiva panicle hydrangea planted at the top of the gravel garden, however, is a really neat shape. A big symmetrical teardrop, very graceful. This one was never pruned into a single trunk, in fact it has not been pruned at all, and it looks great just as is, whether dried and brown in November, or full and flowery in summer.

The Tardiva hydrangeas in the Drive By Garden need some help. They are not as prettily shaped as the one above, and they sprawled this summer. While they made a nice hedge in flower, they were gangly and flopping.

I'm not sure if I want them to branch to the ground like the pretty one by the gravel garden, or whether I should prune them to be more upright -- not a tree form like the poor thing by the house, but more hedge-like.

I'm waiting for inspiration on that.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Not Enough . . .

One quarter of an inch of rain fell overnight.

It's something.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lessons in Composting

A misty, damp day today, overcast and wet feeling, but we have still had NO RAIN since the beginning of October, other than a scant quarter inch November 1. It's been over 5 weeks now and the ground is powder dry.

The faucets are turned off so it is impossible to get trees and shrubs well watered going in to winter. We need a soaker so badly right now, before the ground freezes hard.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about some lessons I have learned in composting. It's taken a couple years, but here's what I have discovered:

1. The pile must be turned. Frequently. Often. 

When we began throwing garden debris and grass clippings behind the spruce berm, I did not intend to have a "system". I had read that if you just put green and brown material in a pile, it will eventually break down, although much slower than if you turn and mix the material.

So that's what we did -- just dumped the stuff there and waited for nature to take its time. Big branches, loads of grass clippings, whole discarded container plants, etc.

But it does not break down at all. The problem is the heavy, wet grass clippings which weigh everything down and form impenetrable mats of unaerobic slime.

It just didn't decompose even a bit. I had thought leaving large branches and brush in there would be enough to aerate the grass and leaves, but it doesn't.

I have learned that I need to be out there with the pitchfork all the time. It is not enough to get at the pile a couple times during the season. It needs to be aerated every week, religiously. In hot weather. In cold weather before it freezes. Frequently.

It is hard exercise (which I can certainly use) but as I keep at it each week now, I am discovering it gets easier. I need to set a reminder note like I do for filling the hummer feeder -- I need to be reminded to get out to the pile and pitchfork it every week!

Just do it.

2. The compost tumbler needs to be nearby.  Right at the back door.

We keep a green plastic tumbler for kitchen scraps, but had put it out in back of the spruce berm, out of sight and where it wouldn't be smelled.

But of course I couldn't get to it across the snowy yard in winter, it was too far to go on a hot day, and not seeing it nearby just put it out of mind. Kitchen scraps went in the garbage.

I tried a staging system, putting scraps in a little stainless steel container under the sink and then emptying that every once in a while but somehow that was two stages too many.

Finally, this year I moved the ugly tumbler next to the deck, and surprisingly, it doesn't look too awful there. Or smell. You don't actually see it from any of the seating areas on the deck or patio. It's on the east side, away from the main entrances to the patio and deck where we usually come and go.

Now I make a few quick steps outside, toss the scraps in, and I'm back in the kitchen in a second. Easy. I add the small brown materials from my potting bench (dried stalks and flower heads from containers, etc.) as I am working around the patio.

It's not a "trip out back to the compost bin" anymore, it's just another few steps in the process of cooking or cleaning up or puttering at the bench.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Scent of Katsuras

In early November I took a walk around the neighborhood one cool but pleasant morning, and was delighted to catch the unmistakable sweet smell of katsuras.

In autumn their leaves smell so distinctively of vanilla, or cotton candy, or burnt sugar.

There was one on Quail Run, and then two at the top of Arrowwood. But the amazing thing was that in the early part of November, the leaves were all down. I did not even notice that there were katsura trees nearby until I caught that fragrance, then looked around, and there I was, standing right near a katsura that was completely denuded.

I'm starting to be able to tell a katsura from the furrowed bark and shape, although it's hard without any heart shaped leaves to check. But the scent was so unmistakable!

There were brown leaves, dry and crunchy, at the foot of each tree. No leaves remained on the branches. Can it be that the aroma lingers in the dried, fallen leaves? Wow.

Jim can't smell the fragrance at all, although he knows what I am talking about since he did get the wafting scent from a whole stand of katsuras in the parking lot at Cornell Plantations when we were there in October 2012.

Our newly planted one did not have any fragrance, but it was just transplanted, so I need to give it time.

I thought it was the coloring of the leaves in fall that produced the sweet fragrance. But all three of the trees I saw on my walk were bare. They had lost all their leaves and even the piles at the base of the trunks were just a few dried remnants, not a big pile of freshly fallen leaves.

But the sugary vanilla - caramel scent was immediately noticeable and made me stop and look.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Cold Bite To The Air

There air is sharp today, and it is overcast. Very November.

The temperatures are in the mid 30s, and the breeze is strong, so there is a cold bite that keeps me inside.

The Ogon spirea in Meadow's Edge has turned, and it is some of the last color in the garden now. What a pinky orange this year! It really does look this neon and odd, quite tangerine.

I don't know if the gray skies and dim light make it more so, but it is orangey bright.

I really need to get the fallen leaves off the fleeceflower. It looked so good this year, but the matted leaves covered by heavy snow will kill off the plants in wide patches.

You know what looks amazing? The bayberry has rich, glossy, dark green leaves at this time of year when all else is fallen or brown. It's an awkward shape, but a big green presence in the brown landscape. In spring it it so late to green up (not till Memorial Day), but it holds its fresh color late in the fall.

Another late-to-hold tree is sweetgum. The one by the road cut is the only color out there now.

And the two on the hill are the only bits of leaf color there now. The dark purple leaves behind the golden sweetgum in front are actually on the top of the second one. That sweetgum got zapped in the first frost we got a while back, and the top branches turned dark bruised purple, but the lower leaves were ok.

The meadow is a sea of brown and tan now. Asters and milkweed are all fluffy and soft, but the whole area is a monotone of brown.

A sight I have been admiring lately is the trunk shape that is emerging on both of the blackhaw viburnums, limbed up to be small trees.

Here is the one in the Blueberry Garden, which did color up in late fall after I first thought it had just browned in the frost.  This was back on November 6, six days ago. See how nice the shape is?

And here is the one under the bathroom window, also shaping up nicely. This was taken way back in mid October, and later on it colored soft red. What a nice little tree it is becoming.

Now, on this sharply cold day, the viburnums have lost almost all their leaves and most are gone from the maples and everything else too, except the sweetgums.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Past Peak

A nice day, still and sunny, in the high 40s, so it was cool.

I got the baptisias and geraniums cut back, and cleaned up other areas. I cut the kinnikinnik and creepers that encroach on the front sidewalk, chopping them back so Jim can snowblow. A morning of tidying.

Suddenly all the beautiful colors and rich tones of fall are past peak. The trees that still have leaves are browning and the rich red leaves of the maples and Japanese maples are turning dry and curled.

It's not just that leaves are falling and winter will be here soon. It's drought, technically "abnormally dry" on the US drought monitor for our area. Fall has been rainless and the trees and shrubs are giving up.

It's been 32 days now, a full month, and we have had just a quarter inch on November 1.

Nothing but that little bit of rain since October 7. Everything is really, really dry now.

In summer plants would drop some leaves to conserve water, and that's what they are doing now, except there are so few leaves left to drop. What is still hanging on is just browning now, and all of a sudden it is evident everywhere.

We were supposed to get rain the other day, but got nothing at all. I'm worried about the trees and shrubs going into winter so dry.

The day that rain was forecast two days ago we never got a drop, but we did get a rainbow!

Pretty amazing.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fall Color Report and a Few Updates

Today is a brief reprieve in the chilly temperatures. It is warmer, up to 60 degrees, but rain is coming tomorrow and we'll go back down to the 40s in the daytime for a few days after that.

Sweetgum out in the meadow
The color each fall is different. 2010 was such a spectacular year all over. Not just a lot of color, but intense color. It was a dazzling year.

In 2011 we had the devastating October storm that ruined everything, and in 2012 we had one rogue hard freeze in early October that zapped not just annuals and perennials, but a lot of the woody trees and shrubs. They never colored at all. Then Storm Sandy blew the browed leaves down.

But this year has been a great one. Maples, birches, viburnums, all are beautiful reds and golds. The dogwood looks spectacular. The witch hazels are getting yellow. Spicebush was brilliant earlier in the fall, and the bottlebrush buckeyes were a hedge of golden yellow until the freeze knocked the leaves down.

Sweetgums are colorful. Stewartias have developed rich red and the black gums are coloring, although not as I expected.

But one tree that has me puzzled this year is the sassafras. Even in last year's fall when maples were browned by the early freeze, the sassafras trees on the hill were bright orange.  Here were the two big ones (the little tiered one goes early) in late October 2012:

This year these two trees are still holding leaves, but the foliage is brown. They almost look like oaks out there, hanging on to their brown leaves. The little tiered one was bright orange but is gone by now. The big ones look awful. Nothing to photograph.

And yet everything else is having a great fall color season. Each year there are mysteries and bewilderments.

And to go with the fall color report, an update on planting:
  1. I planted 50 tiny iris reticulata bulbs in the front, adding some to the post light area on that side of the walk, and supplementing the other side with more stuck in under the kinnikinnik.
  2. I dug the dahlia tubers a few days ago, dried them off and will wait until spring to divide them, when the eyes start to swell and are more visible. They are in a cardboard box in the garage with newspaper covering them now. I'll still order Black Beauty seeds, in case the tubers don't survive or divide well enough. I want lots of Black Beauty next year!

An update on the 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple that had such ugly black weeping areas at the graft union:

Bartlett treated it for Phytophthora a few weeks ago, and the original wet spots dried up, but now have spread to the other side of the trunk. They came again today to spray once more. Sprays are typically not very effective, but may help. The real issue is to keep the area dry, do only deep watering at the base and keep water off the trunk and leaves.

I don't know if the sprinklers hit this tree -- will have to check that next year. Certainly the wet spring may have contributed at just the wrong time. The bed is raised, the trunk is not buried too deep, so that's ideal conditions.

It's such a pretty tree, and the leaves show no effects of the Phytophthora.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Hose Froze

28 degrees overnight, and it was that cold for several hours. This was a hard freeze, not just a frost.

The hoses had not yet been taken in, and the water froze solid in them. Not good. So Jim and I spent a chilly, finger-freezing, nose-running morning draining the hoses and bringing them in. Although when the breeze died and the sun was out it was a crisp day, and nice to be outside.

Surprisingly, the herb bowl still looks good, no damage at all. The ruby red alternathera in the center was blackened by the first frost last week, so that came out, but the parsley and sage and oregano look fine.

The white pendula baptisia in the Birch Garden has completely blackened, stems and all. It still holds a very upright vase shape, really interesting, but all black now. The Twilite Prairieblues baptisia in Northern Exposure was more protected, and only a few branches have blackened and dried.

The Orange Dream Japanese maple's leaves are all curly and dried up now.

I keep waiting for the tupelo in front to turn scarlet (the mature one at Moscarillo's is a beautiful red) but it wants to be orange.

The black gums out in the meadow are young, but they had very bright red leaves briefly, that have dropped already. Oddly, the black gum by the dry creek bed is dark maroon, and not changing.

The stewartia on the east side that I thought was a disappointing brown is now much redder.

The stewartia mondadelpha near the gravel garden is also brighter now, kind of a coppery red.

The flowering dogwood looks gorgeous now, very red, a little less purply than a few days ago.

And here comes a man walking down the path. Working man, ladder in hand. Good to see. Hi!