Marty's Garden, mid-October, 2020

Oh rats; how time flies. It’s already mid-October and the gardening season pretty much has come to an end. I clean up some annuals and throw them on the compost heap.  I deadhead the roses, knowing full well the few buds left on the shrubs probably won’t open and there are no more blooms in the near future. I treasure the few roses still blooming but I can’t bring myself to cut them off and bring them in.


Leaves are turning red, yellow, crimson or just plain falling off. Since we still haven’t had the first hard frost, some annuals are still going strong. I treasure them, knowing they have previous little time left before they turn to mush. I keep an eye out for weeds; it always pays to stay on top of weeds! Weeds creeping through the sedum meadow are dug out and discarded. After a day of much needed rain the weeds easily pop out of the ground, making this gardener’s job so much easier.


The temperature of the water in the pond has dropped to the mid-sixties; still warm enough for the fish to feed. Once it drops to the mid-fifties, the fish will stop swimming around so much. Not long thereafter they will stop feeding altogether, start hiding at the bottom of the pond and prepare for a long winter’s snooze. For now, the waterfall is going strong and the pond shutdown is still about three weeks away. Around the first week of November most of the equipment will be turned off, save for one pump, which will stay on during the entire winter. This pump will provide oxygen to the fish and keep two holes open in case the temperatures drop enough for the pond to freeze over. If you have a pond with fish, never, ever, let the pond surface freeze over solid, or you will lose all of your fish.


The dahlias, planted in late spring, grew over the summer and while they didn’t flower much at first because of the heat and lack of moisture, they made up for it when we finally got rain. I used six-foot rebar as stakes for two plants, thinking it would be more than enough. Ha! With two feet of rebar in the ground and four feet above, my dahlias grew, and then grew some more until they were way above my head. I think next year I will invest in eight, if not, ten-foot rebar. But oh, what a sight to see when they are blooming their hearts out! Now I wait till the first hard frost, which will kill the top growth. Then it is time to cut down the stalks, carefully dig out the roots (technically called tubers), brush off excess soil and let them sit upside down for a few days before storing them in a cardboard or plastic container in a cool place. Last year I stored my tubers in slightly damp shredded paper in a plastic container with the lid not quite covering the entire container. Every month I would check it. If it was dry and the tubers felt a bit shriveled, I would mist the tubers. If they were ok, I left them alone until the next check a month later. Fast forward six plus months, mid to late May, and it is time to plant them out in the garden again for another floriferous show. Meanwhile, however, I peruse magazines, read about other gardens and wait for the days we can see the first spring flowers. It’s going to be a long wait!

Marty's Garden, Early fall 2020

Summer is officially behind us and what a hot and dry one it was! It rained to the North and to the South of us, to the East and to the West, but we got precious little rain. Nevertheless, my garden persevered with a little help from me and now autumn colors are starting to reveal themselves. The Dogwood has the first bright red leaves while newly planted Maples in the development are also turning red. The first round of hostas have called it a day, but there are many different types of hostas still going strong, at least until the first hard frost.


The Spouse had been pointing out to me for years that my well-designed back yard lacked room for a she-shed, something I desired ever since I saw the first one at a garden show. Two years ago, when I took a chunk of front/side lawn and turned it into a garden bed, I didn’t realize I also had room for that shed. The penny finally dropped this August and after some measuring of the site, a look at custom sheds from a local builder, approval from both the HOA Board and the Township, I now have the perfect site for my she-shed. Right outside of the back-yard fence, on the left-hand side of the house, is a nice level spot where my 8’ deep and 12’ wide shed will go. With windows on three sides, a dormer with 6 windows and a single door with 9 glass inserts, I should have plenty of light, but just in case, I added the electrical package. It will sit on a crushed stone bed which will be installed within a few weeks.


Now it was time to move plants to make room for the she-shed! But there was “a problem”. I had no room for those dug up plants in the back or other side yard; what is a gardener to do? Well, it didn’t take me too long to come up with a solution. The builder-installed bed in front of the porch was a skimpy 3’ wide, while the opposite bed next to the front door was a generous 9’ deep. I decided to kick out the bed in front of the porch and made it 9’ deep. I incorporated the newly planted Dogwood (part of the landscaping done by the builder last fall) and this bed curves outward to the (large) side bed. Separating this bed from the side bed was a 4’ wide strip of grass as a path from front to back yard. After looking at it for a day, I eliminated this grassy strip as well. Now I have a new garden connecting side and front beds.



Eliminating the grass is easy: cover it up with cardboard or builders’ paper. On top we put 5 to 6 inches of beautifully triple shredded root mulch.  I dug holes down to the cardboard or paper, cut out holes, filled it with topsoil and started planting. As the grass underneath dies and decomposes, it will only add more soil to the bed, while the mulch will also decompose into soil. 


I bought three new shrubs to help anchor the new porch bed: two Double Play Candy Corn Spirea and one Blue Diddley Vitex. The Spirea has yellow leaves with red and orange accents while this Vitex is the smaller cousin of other Vitex already on the property. I dug up a number of my home grown Stipa Tenuissima or Mexican Feathergrass, divided and planted them. I added Veronica, which blooms for months on end with beautiful blue flowers. At the edge of the bed I planted 100 Muscari bulbs or grape hyacinths varying in color from white, light blue to dark blue. Finally, I dug up and divided red hot pokers, although in my case, the “red hot” is actually bright orange. Come spring and through summer, early fall, this new bed will be a vision of yellow, bright orange and blue and should help revive flagging spirits after those winter months!

Marty's Garden, Early September, 2020

Summer is speeding by and with August in the rearview mirror we’re getting some relief from the heat and finally some rain. Despite the serious lack of rain during late spring and through most of summer my garden has soldiered on. I made good use of the rain barrels and each time when I got close to the bottom of the barrels, we got more rain and it all filled up again.


The butterfly garden, which is now in it’s fourth year, doesn’t need much help from me. Despite the seriously compacted heavy clay soil, most plants continue to do well. Unfortunately, the buds on my lilac dried up in early May when it was hot, dry and windy, but there is always next year to look forward to.


The last three years I lined the walkway through this garden with annuals. The first year it was yellow snapdragons; year two melampodium (a small yellow daisy-like flower), year three bright red celosia. In year two, after setting out the melampodium, snapdragons sprouted here and there. Mostly yellow, but a few red ones popped up and I let these volunteer seedlings intermingle among the other plants. Last year, again, various snapdragons reappeared and with it a new crop of melampodium. This spring, when it finally got warm, not only did volunteer snapdragons and melampodium pop up again; they were joined by bright red celosia. The combination of various yellows with bright reds enticed bees, flies, beetles and butterflies and it didn’t cost me a penny.  This will probably continue for years to come and other than digging up the occasional plant which has reseeded itself in the middle of my paths and moving it over to the beds, I whole heartedly approve of the way nature is taking care of the garden.  

Seedlings in the butterfly garden


While I allow for generous reseeding in this garden, I stay on top of weeding. After all, this garden is a front garden and I want to show that you can have a fully planted garden that looks great instead of a lawn. Similarly, the hell strip in front of the butterfly garden, (that piece of land between street and sidewalk) is planted with a variety of annuals and perennials, rather than with grass. Because there is no mulch in this hell strip garden, most weeds crop up here and I spent more time weeding this small strip than anywhere else in the gardens.  Weeding after a good downpour allows me to pop up weeds root and all and eliminate them, hopefully forever. It’s a monthly chore, but a necessary one and it allows everything else growing there its moment to shine and that makes the work worthwhile!

Marty's Garden, Late July 2020

Another hot day in July. We still get rain once in a while but the amounts are small and the temps remain above normal. In other words, it’s a hot and dry summer. This year some of my lilies never bloomed. The buds developed, but then because of the lack of rain (or not watering), they dried up and fell off. The same happened with the Astilbe; flowers formed, but then just dried up. It still looks pretty but I never got that pop of color I was hoping for.


The daylilies on the other hand don’t seem to mind the hot weather and they have been in full bloom for several weeks now. I make my rounds, collecting the shriveling-up flowers each morning and depositing them on the compost heap. Granted, if you leave the flowers alone, they drop off and shrivel up on the ground, littering around the plant or sometimes drying up and sticking to the leaves. And so, I “groom” my plants. Deadheading, or removing spent flowers from a plant, can prolong flowering and who doesn’t like a longer period of bloom? Sometimes you deadhead because it makes the plant look better; who likes looking at dried up flowers? But there are also times you leave the spent flowers, allow the seeds to ripen and watch as birds gobble it up. I groom in spring when hostas under trees get spent blossoms on their leaves, or when the peonies drop their petals on their own foliage. These spent blossoms dry up and leave a brown spot. A quick rub of the leaves removes the browned petals and we are good to go for the remainder of the year. Ok, so I am a neat freak.


However, during this pandemic with few places to go, I find solace in the garden. With plenty of time on my hands, the garden gets that daily workover and beware of any weed which pokes up its head. Unwanted seedlings, out they go. I snip an errant branch here and there. Then I get to the ornamental grasses, grown from seed two winters ago. Stipa tenuissima (aka Mexican feather grass) and Stipa gigantea. The two-year-old grasses have put on some girth and mostly dance on the wind, but a few clumps are bent over and no longer sway with the rest. A look shows the top of these plants have become a tangle of seeds and while I try to comb my fingers through it, I don’t get much of it out. And this is where I take the whole “grooming your plants-thing" to a whole new level. I grab a hairbrush with widely spaced bristles and comb my grass as if it is a teenager’s ponytail full of knots. Handfuls of seeds come out and suddenly my clumps resurrect themselves and move in concert with the rest. All sweaty I go back inside; a job well done deserves a cool drink. Later I sit down with a book in my favorite chair overlooking the pond and my well-groomed garden. It’s one way to spend your days in these trying times!

Marty's Garden, July 20th, 2020

After six weeks of very warm and sometimes windy weather with very little precipitation, it finally rained. A grey day brought us gentle rain in the morning and then heavy rain. When all was said and done, within a six-hour period, we received 2.5 inches of rain; YEAH! My garden and all those surrounding us perked up considerably. Then, two days later, we got another 1/3 inch of rain. And that was it. Now, 7 days later, we are still hot and dry. Gardens are starting to lag again and there is no rain in the forecast. Without a doubt, after 24 years of gardening, this year is one of the top-five driest. Shrubs and trees planted in 2016 and 2017 are getting by with virtually no help from me, while I water those plants which were put in the ground last year and this spring.  


Since I have now gravel paths throughout the gardens in back and on the side, I am putting the finishing touches on beds which were a little bare. Pink blooming plants, which were banned from the main beds now have their very own bed. In early spring my ‘Dancing butterflies’ peony blooms in Pepto-Bismol pink, followed by pink bearded Irises and a smattering of pink as well as blue Columbines. Now, my ‘Pow Wow’ Echinacea are blooming together with a variety of different lilies. The fragrance is enticing and the colors smack you in the eye. I also sprinkled a package of perennial Flax seed throughout this bed and come spring there will be a haze of blue among all the pink. It should look nice. 

The side bed near the fence has a collection of orange and yellow varieties of daylilies as well as yellow and blue Siberian irises, plus hardy Geranium ‘Rozanne’. These colors make for a good contrast with the dark red foliage of Sand Cherry and further along the bed, Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ or purple Ninebark, while the yellow-leafed Spirea ‘Ogon’ also contrasts nicely with its small leaves. My ‘banana cream’ daisies look nice in this bed, but I have already decided they will get the heave-ho come fall or early spring next year. The same daisies in the bed lining the driveway already need dividing in their second year AND they do not look their best with a lack of rain. Add to that the fact they need to be deadheaded (remove the spent flower) so it can rebloom, and it just becomes too much work. Instead, I will use Melampodium next year. Melampodium falls into the Sunflower family, but it is a low growing annual, which blooms from May until the first frost.  It is heat and drought resistant, doesn’t need deadheading and is covered in small yellow flowers until the day it croaks. What’s not to like? I currently have it in another bed among the variegated oregano and it is looking great. Seedlings of a slightly different colored (brighter yellow) Melampodium have popped up in a bed where I had them last year. So, with a bit of luck, I will grow my own plants next winter, and then will have seedlings pop up in the same beds year after year. A great looking garden, with less work; now that is something I like!