Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Holiday Rain

We got almost three inches of rain yesterday -- well, exactly 2.75 in my rain gauge. And more than an inch is expected again today.

In darkest November, wet days are particularly dreary. But mahogany brown and olive green tones of a sweetbay magnolia outside the bedroom window suit the gloom beautifully, and drip with sparkling jewels of raindrops.

This is the rain we should have gotten in summer when it was so desperately needed. It's good now -- the trees and shrubs need it going into dormancy for winter, and so in this season of thanksgiving I am grateful.

But it would have been really, really appreciated on the 4th of July.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Leaf Blowers

I have been annoyed for a long time at how noisy it is to live in the suburbs. In the nicest seasons, in summer and fall, lawn machines and leaf blowers are a constant, loud, and annoying irritant all around our neighborhood, our own yard included.

This article titled "The Case Against Leaf Blowers" sums it up well.

Although bans on gas leaf blowers have been enacted in some places, the noise of landscaping machines is with us in most suburbs. Just as it is here. We keep a grass lawn and we mow every week all summer and fall.

We use a leaf blower in autumn, although it is electric and so less polluting but just as noisy and irritating.

All our neighbors have landscapers who mow and use leaf blowers too.

You can't escape the noise and I don't think we are going to realistically get to a point where power tools are completely banned across the country.

The article agrees, summing it up: "ours is a nation too vast to be groomed by hand tools."

At our ages, we could not continue to live here in this green, leafy suburb if we had to use a reel mower and rake by hand. No landscaping company has the manpower or could afford to provide hand maintenance for hire.

But eliminating yard maintenance and moving to a condo in the suburbs simply means the hired help does the maintenance of common lawns and cleans up the walkways and leaf drop -- that doesn't solve the noise problem. It merely means we aren't doing the leaf blowing, a maintenance company is getting paid to do it for the condo owners.

So . . . move to a city? No lawns, little greenery, but blessed relief from leaf blowers?

People move out of cities to escape the noise and pollution of urban life, then find the open spaces and green refuges have their own irritants of noise and pollution. I like how the article ends, with this observation:
"One might wonder why we’ve chosen to make our homes in places that cannot be maintained without annoying each other so flagrantly. Perhaps this goes to the troubled heart of the suburban promise: These are environments conceived as peaceful respites from human disorder, places predicated on the assumption that other people are fundamentally irritants. And when we move there, we discover just how true that can be."
The answer of course, is to eliminate  suburban lawns entirely and let fallen leaves replenish the soil as they decay, as nature does in the forest.

But the suburb is not a forest, and can't be. Alternatives to lawns or pseudo wild environments have their own issues . . .  and yes, hefty and annoying irritants.

Maybe those irritants are more aesthetic issues or maintenance conflicts rather than the Gaah, make it stop torture of roaring leaf blowers.

I'm not ready to rip out our lawn or let the forest take over. I do think I'd like to live somewhere quieter, though. The noisy city has appeal.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

November Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving all . . .

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cold Squall

A cold rain squall roared through last night and stripped the red maple's leaves off.

The day before it came through was mild and nice and we sat on the glider in the gravel garden, admiring how stunning the maple's color was. Today is cold and raw and wet and the color is all on the lawn.

We cut back the ornamental grasses while it was warm and pleasant yesterday. I wanted to cut back the tired 'Sheffield Pink' mums, but when I got close enough to start in on them with the hedge trimmer, I saw how many bees were still swarming the spent blossoms. There's not much for them to feed on right now, so I left the mums alone, lying on the ground and looking awful, but entertaining the bees.

Even after last night's squall, the second of our two red maples still has a lot of its leaves. They'll come down soon too. It won't take much now.

We bought three turkeys plus fixings this weekend -- one for us and two to donate. Ours is in the refrigerator thawing. With the cold wind, dropped leaves, early dark evenings, and traditional foods in the pantry, it feels like Thanksgiving is close upon us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Fall clean up is all about timing. Although the photos in this post are from about a week ago, the garden still looks good. There are still warm enough days to be outside in it, and I don't want to start cutting back perennials or grasses. I'm not ready to look at empty areas yet.

The grasses are at their best now, but since the shot above, the purple asters have gone by and that little bitty stick of a dwarf ginkgo under the windows has dropped all its yellow leaves. Who knew the climbing hydrangea had golden fall color -- I haven't seen that before.

Pink 'Sheffield' mums are still blooming, but they have all laid down in the dirt to rest. Dried seedheads on many plants are standing upright, and many shrubs, like fothergilla and blueberries are still brilliant red.

So things still look good enough. But if I wait too far into November it gets cold, and then cutting back and tidying up is a pain.

So I started cleaning up. I cut back the clematis by the patio, and the anemone, all the zapped daylily foliage, and all the catmint, which was still full and made a nice blue-green cool contrast with the bright red 'Gro-Low' fragrant sumac nearby.

I hated to cut that back, or any of the ornamental grasses, while they still look good. But. . . timing. If not now, on a comfortable day, when?

I've waited until December in the past, and that's a mistake. Too cold, or sometimes ice or snow arrives early and makes the chore impossible.

I've left things all the way until spring in the past too. There is no such thing as "winter interest" for perennials in this climate, but still, I have left everything standing some years. But that's worse. When spring comes the ground is so cold and wet and clean up chores are a miserable bit of work then.

So, on a cool but nice day in mid November, I started getting things tidied up. I emptied containers on the patio too -- some of them still looked good despite recent freezing nights, but it's time.

There's still more to do. I left the grasses for another day, and there are still things that need to be trimmed. The key is to time it just perfectly to finish it all up before winter sets in.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


Blackhaws are hanging on viburnum branches in big navy blue clusters right now.

This Viburnum prunifolium in the center of the back yard had a tough season. I had become quite proud of how I trained this thickety shrub into a little multi-stemmed tree. It had twisted trunks that branched low, and it looked quite graceful.

But long before the dry summer -- last year in fact -- the back half died off. Mike and Chris from Bartlett both looked at it and could not figure out the problem. By the middle of this summer it was clear the dead half had to be cut down.

What remains is half a tree, canted to the side, bare in back and full only in front. It's sparsely leaved, oddly shaped and fall color was nothing much. I'm this close to taking the whole thing out.

Then it went and put out these striking dark blue berries and I'm wavering. I don't even remember the tree flowering much this spring, but it must have. There are fruits.

So I'll let it continue to grow and see what it does next spring. There is always the hope that a malformed, severely pruned tree will fill in the empty spots over the years as sun hits the now open branches.

Especially such a stiffly branched plant that wants to sucker like blackhaw viburnum does. It has oddly angled branches when full and healthy, and my hope is that those awkward branches will angle out to fill the empty areas in back.

Anyway, I like the blue black haws.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Empty Nest

When the leaves are down you find interesting things.

It looks like there is an egg in the nest, but it's the knob of the black metal arbor that the nest is firmly built around. It's poking up through the bottom of the nest and has oxidized a bit.

In summer the nest was hidden by the foliage of the kiwi vine growing up over the arbor. As I came and went through the arbor gate all summer long, I never knew there was a family just inches away, well hidden in their home fastened to the metal prongs.

Now in November the leaves are off the kiwi and I can see the substantial construction of this nest and how firmly it is attached to the arbor. It was apparently a good home and a sound one.

I hope it served the family well, and the young birds fledged successfully before everyone moved out and abandoned the sturdy home they built in my kiwi vine.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Oaks Are Having A Moment

Now that leaves have thinned out, the oak trees, which are still fully clothed, are noticeable. Some oaks have rich color in fall, and now they are standing out.

I saw such beautiful oak colors all over town as I drove in to the center the other day. Russets prevailed, but also red and orange and deep mahogany. I don't remember oaks being quite so colorful in past Novembers. This year they are. This season is theirs.

The tree in the picture below was ten inches tall and had a taproot about a foot long that grew sideways and contorted, when I pulled it up out of the woods and planted it here in the meadow behind the hedge of bottlebrush buckeyes. It owned seven leaves that summer.

I didn't really transplant the thing, I simply yanked it out of the ground, breaking off much of the tap root, probably in 2007 I think. I don't even know what kind of oak it is; Quercus is notorious for hybridizing in the wild and making up all kinds of variations of itself.

I then put the broken-rooted seven-leaved seedling into a small hole of inhospitable rocks and mud in the meadow. I gave it no water, never did anything to help it, and look at it now. Nine years later I have an oak, a real tree, and it is clearly having a moment.

I can't tell you how rewarding this is to see.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

At the Corner of Orange and Pink

Boxwood balls in a line, a hot orange fothergilla, and pink hardy mums.

Boxwoods are 'Tide Hill' and will continue to be little buns in a row low to the ground. Mums are the pretty 'Sheffield Pink' variety, and are not your average mums. The fothergilla is 'Mt. Airy'.

I used to have three 'Mt. Airy' fothergilla shrubs in a group anchoring this border at the end of the gravel garden. One was lost, I forget from what cause, another was almost lost in the drought this summer so I moved it to a damper spot, and this last one remains.

But even by its lonesome the single fothergilla makes a nice orange pop against the soft pink mums.

Hardy mums (Dendranthema, Chrysanthemum, take your pick, it's confusing) are not your typical gaudy round shaped things that are set about in pots everywhere in fall, and that don't last til the next season.

These are lower, more open looking mums and they not only last season after season in the ground, but they spread and multiply. I now have them in multiple spots in different gardens.

Some years 'Sheffield Pink' is a soft peachy color with golden centers. This year they are a clear pink with yellow centers. They happily nestle inconspicuously among other plantings, not looking like much until autumn arrives, and then they shine.

I moved a small blue green 'Silberlocke' Oriental spruce into the spot where one of the now departed fothergillas had been. You can barely see it peeking up behind the mums.

It will get much larger and denser, and then won't that be a sight? Hot orange and pretty pink backed by cool silver in a grouping of different heights and shapes, making this corner of the gravel garden something to behold in fall.