This past October was a gift; sun, rain, or some cloudy days, but there was plenty of growing in the garden. November… well, that will be a different story as a cold front is heading down from Canada and we will be getting the first frost this week.
For now, yellow and orange coneflowers are still in bloom and the ageratum provides puddles of blue. Even my Kniphofia and Veronica are still blooming as well as other assorted annuals. But I must face the fact that the outdoor gardening season is ending.
Six weeks ago, I took four cuttings of a copper-colored coleus; they rooted and are growing. In a few weeks I will be able to take cuttings from these plants and by the end of winter I will have a substantial number of new plants to put in the ground once the threat of frost is gone. But that’s (eek!) more than six months from now; let’s not even go there.
The indoor plants which “vacationed outside” for spring and summer have been brought back indoors. Begonias and succulents are back in the basement where they provide a colorful back drop in my plant room. As this is also a hobby room, I should be able to keep my spirits up during upcoming dark and dreary days!
Because of October’s mild weather and rainy days, the new garden out front thrived. The grasses continued to grow and as soon as my (Dutch-grown) bulbs arrived, they were planted. Next spring this garden will be multi-colored vision; foremost green from the ornamental grasses, but with white and pink Veronicastrum, yellow, orange, and red coneflowers, blue ornamental onions, Camassia and grape hyacinths, and bright red and orange celosia (to be grown from seed this winter). Considering this is my sister’s memorial garden, and Truus liked her flowers in all hues, I think she should be able to spot this garden from up there. This garden was started as a labor or love, but it ended up being a healing garden for myself.
And so, I slide into late fall, observing, a bit of puttering and diving back into gardening books and magazines for inspiration for next year!
Oh, how time flies. We are a little over two weeks into fall, but temperatures have been positively balmy and are above normal. The garden is still going strong; chrysanthemums, asters and anemones are all in full bloom while annual plants have not given up the ghost yet either.
This gardening year has been one of sustenance; coping with grief and taking strength from nature. It has mostly been two seasons of puttering and a bit of upkeep as most of the gardens are in place.
In early September we had a week of cooler weather, my cue to start my new garden. I ordered eight cubic yards of triple shredded mulch, got my cardboard out and covered every blade of grass from sidewalk out front to existing bed with she shed. The Spouse moved wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mulch until most of the mulch was gone. This new garden was going to be a naturalistic garden in the style of Piet Oudolf, a Dutch garden designer, who designed -among others- the High Line in New York City and the Lurie Garden in Chicago. Piet uses many multiples of a few different plants for the matrix (the functional layer), adds in a few primary plants for structural focal points and then adds in his “scatter plants” to be repeated throughout the garden. Bulbs can be added for spring interest. For my garden I got 50 Camassia bulbs, which bloom in blue in early spring and can handle heavy clay soil as well as excess moisture.
Hidden in my side yard were six clumps of ornamental grass, Millium effusum 'Aureum' or Bowles’ Golden Grass, which I had grown from seed a few years ago. I also had three small clumps of Pennisetum ‘Hameln’. I dug both grasses up, divided each plant in four and repotted each part. I gave them tender loving care for several weeks before I started laying them out in the new garden. As the Pennisetum grows shorter than the Golden Grass, it is planted around the edges, while the Golden Grass is used throughout. These two grasses will become the matrix or functional layer of the garden. One of my three Vitex shrubs from the front bed was dug up, losing quite a few large roots in the process. I pruned the Vitex in the shape of a multi-trunked small tree, and it will function as the focal point in the garden. Then there are yellow, red, and orange Echinacea (cone flowers) scattered throughout as well as white and pink Veronicastrum virginicum or Culver’s Root. While my matrix is still a little bare, Bowles’ Golden Grass will grow into a substantial clump by next year and with a bit of reseeding this matrix will fill in fast.
With this new garden going out to the sidewalk the front yard is now home to four different, but similar gardens. Next to the driveway going up to the house is the yellow garden, made to honor my mom who loved EVERYTHING yellow. Yellow daylilies line the driveway, Nasella Tenuissima or Mexican feather grass provides texture and movement while yellow blooming Kniphofia (or red-hot poker – except here YELLOW hot poker) gives a counterpoint. In between these plants I scattered Melampodium (aka butter daisy) for a constant yellow bloom till the first frost. The second bed next to the sidewalk out front is in honor of The Spouse’s heritage. This bed is blue and yellow to honor the national colors of his Ukrainian roots. Vitex, Veronica, Russian Sage, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and the annual Ageratum bloom in shades of blue. Melampodium and three (still small) Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera aurea nana or Gold Thread cypress represent the yellow in this bed. The third bed borders the porch and represents my favorite color, orange. Again, I used Veronica, Ageratum and one Vitex, as well as Mexican feather grasses to link this bed to the others and used orange blooming Kniphofia, Portulaca and Celosia. The fourth and new bed connects to the garden in front of the she shed and includes yellow blooming Forsythia, daylilies as well as Heuchera ‘Caramel.’ Now I punched up those colors with red, yellow, and orange cone flowers, blue for the Vitex. ornamental onions and Camassia bulbs, as well as a bit of white and pink from Veronicastrum or Culver’s root. This garden is dedicated to my sister, Truus, who liked flowers in every hue. It was a labor of love, which, surprisingly and thankfully, took away the sharpest edges of my loss. It also gives me something to look forward to in spring next year.
With two thirds of summer behind us, it’s time to take stock. We had plenty of hot days, but it rained regularly, more than in most summers. Now, in late August, a tropical storm moved up the coast and with it lots of rain. Suddenly my garden is drenched, and everything stands a little taller and greener.
The only plants which have shown signs of stress this summer where the hydrangeas, but no wonder, this is one plant which will hang its head before everything else. I have tucked them away in shady spots, their preferred location. They are also in sunnier locations or spots which will be shady in another year or two when trees have grown enough to provide cover. Most plants were bought at the $3 sales rack at Lowes, and some came from supermarkets. It has taken them a few years to bulk up enough to start flowering in earnest this year. One came as a cutting from my old garden. This cutting was an afterthought; just about when we were ready to move, I thought it would be nice to have this plant in my new garden. It sat in a pot for a year; then I kept it in a slightly bigger pot for another year as I would have lost it in the garden; it was so small. Finally in year three I planted it in the rain garden, under the Chionanthus virginicus, or American fringe tree. Now, in year five it bloomed, and I am looking forward to many more years of amazing flowers.
My carnivorous pitcher plants are doing well. I have a variety of them growing on the side of the pond in a fairly shallow area. Before I added moss among the plants, the frogs used it as their spawning area and dislodged plants on a regular basis. Now, I have a green mossy “lawn” connecting the plants and the frogs have moved to another area of the pond for their amorous activities. Other pitcher plants are grown in containers; one in an oversized deep plate. The containers are brought in before the first frost and I keep the plants in the basement. I keep them watered with pond water and each spring they go outside again. Browned and dried up pitchers are cut down at the base and soon you have a new flush of growth and flowers to boot. Insects beware!
There is always some time in August when I start to look forward to cooler weather and the prospect of wearing socks and shoes again. I am not ready to say goodbye to warm weather (even with muggy days) but I am chomping at the bit of making a new garden and for that I need cooler weather. The side garden outside of the fence will go out all the way to the sidewalk and the lawn will get a little smaller (again). I have dug up plants which had outgrown their original spots and others which needed dividing. I bought some and ordered a few more plants online which should arrive mid-September, just in time for planting. One Vitex shrubby tree will be dug up from the front bed and it will become the center point of this new garden. Planned out on paper all I must do is wait a few more weeks to get this project off the ground. Cooler weather, mulching, digging holes, planting, and getting dirty – now there’s a great way to welcome fall!
My sister had a few hobbies; lace making was one of them, but the other one was miniatures. One year she made an old-fashioned Dutch kitchen in a one room box, and I liked it so much I wanted to do something similar.
During one of our vacations in Holland, we went to a trade show where vendors sold just about anything in miniature, and I loaded up on miniature garden related items. I also purchased a kit to make a one room store, which ended up becoming a flower store. It took me a while to put it all together, but eventually I had my store. The floor was black and white (paper) tiles, I painted it inside and out and glued little cabinets to the walls to display vases filled with flowers. I even found a black board and in my smallest handwriting wrote out prices of the various items. Then, one year, my sister sent me a tiny little snail in the mail. No bigger than 1/8 of an inch, with a shell, it was a perfect replica of the garden snails found in Dutch gardens. I wondered what to do with it; it was so small it was easily overlooked. Ultimately, I glued it to the top of the door frame of my little flower shop, where it sat for many years. Then we moved.
Arriving in our new home it was time to unpack box, after box, after box. Within the week we were done, and it was then I discovered during the move and unpacking, the little snail had come undone and it was gone. I looked around in the hope to find it, but without any luck; it was definitely gone. Over the years I moved the box to different rooms, a spare bedroom, the basement, my plant room in the basement and eventually this spring to my she-shed.
During one of the last conversations I had with my sister I happened to mention the snail, how it was lost and how much it annoyed me that I had lost it. We both agreed that something that small could easily get lost during a move and we left it at that.
Last week we purchased two glass cabinets at Ikea to put in my she-shed to replace the old wooden ones I had. We put them together (which took for-EVER!) so I could display horticultural-themed items (vases, plates, cups) given to me or purchased because they were so pretty. The flower shop was put on a low table where it could easily be viewed. Two days ago, sitting and reading in the she-shed I looked to the box and saw something small on its floor. I thought it was a piece of dried flower fallen from one of the arrangements on the wall, but no, it was the snail. Almost exactly five years after disappearing, it was back!
What were the chances this tiny little snail came undone during the move and fell through the opened door? Or that it fell into a corner or under the little table and NEVER showed on the floor any time it was moved to a new location? Less than four weeks after my sister’s death it is back; my little snail from heaven.
(And yes, I re-glued it to the door frame, with extra strong glue.)