February, March: I dream of the upcoming gardening season. With luck there are a few early blooms.
April, May: the season kicks into gear. Clean-up keeps me busy; everywhere the garden comes back to life.
June and July: sun and rain, not quite in equal measures, kept everything rolling along. I worked, but also relaxed in the garden.
August: darn hot and dry, the garden stumbled, but hung in there.
September, oh September; now here is a month I like. The temperatures came down; it rained! Suddenly thirsty annuals start growing and push out more blooms. Perennials, deadheaded weeks earlier, pump out buds.
My front gardens are a vision in yellow and blue, yellow, and orange or just plain yellow. But it is the side garden that really came into its own this year. Planted less than a year ago with a variety of grasses, coneflowers, asters, and a sprinkling of annuals, it has turned into a multicolored vision. The annual Celosia with red leaves and bright red plumes rears its head among the grasses, while bright orange marigolds add another colorful counterpoint.
Three types of ornamental grasses bloom with different seedheads, all of them waiving in the slightest breeze. As fall is right around the corner, asters are starting to bloom as well, bringing a bright pink highlight to the many colors. Two different varieties of Veronicastrum, a white blooming variety and a blue/purple variety will bring height to this garden in coming years. Meanwhile, as the various coneflowers are going to seed, goldfinches fly around, munching to their heart's content. A birdbath provides fresh drinking water before they move on to the next seedhead. They are like little jewels, moving about.
A different palette will soon take over; yellows and reds will become predominant colors in the garden as we progress. Already Viburnum ‘Winterthur’ is starting to turn red, while the berries are becoming more noticeable. This winter the birds will have a feast when there is not much else to be found. Some of the hostas, crispy from lack of rain weeks earlier, decided they are done for this season. No need to pump out more leaves, they are yellowing and calling it a day. Meanwhile, other hostas, more shaded than their sunny counterparts are still perfectly happy to stick around until the first frost, which hopefully is still a loooooong way off.
A few weeks ago, I smelled a peculiar odor in the garden and when I investigated, I found a dead raccoon on the steps to the pond. It had a hole in its side, and I can only surmise it encountered a fox or dog before getting away and expiring in the garden. I moved it behind the arborvitae, where it quite quickly decomposed and deflated, although it remained pungent for a few days. I am hoping to add its skull to my collection of found skulls from deer and fox. Last time I checked it still had a face, but I imagine by spring next year I will have that skull.
Days are getting shorter, but the season isn’t quite over yet. I welcome fall and hope for many more weeks of gardening before it is time to retreat indoors with dreams of next spring.
Summer and it’s been hot and dry. So far, we have had, a much needed, 1.25” of rain over a two-day period. I wish for more rain, but we will have to wait and see. Summer is not always kind to plants.
Plants reseed themselves; some are polite about it while others throw seeds around with abandon. Sometimes you know in advance if a plant reseeds itself, other times you find out after the fact.
When I started my garden six years ago, I fell in love with a chocolate mimosa. A friend mentioned that they are “weedy trees”, throwing seedpods around by the bushel but I thought my CHOCOLATE mimosa was a bit better behaved than just your ORDINARY mimosa. Just to be on the safe side I picked the (few) seedpods before they fell to the ground, but as the tree grew, so did the number of seedpods. Last fall I stood on a ladder, picking off all the pods I could find. A few, very few, fell to the ground – I let them be. This spring I noticed little mimosas sprouting around my tree and around the corner in the front garden. Enough! As the tree was approaching a height beyond which I was confident I could pick off seedpods, and although I liked my tree, it had to go. I brought out my (little) chainsaw and cut down all limbs. The Spouse caught branches as I cut them down and soon my tree was reduced to a trunk with three cut limbs. Come fall I will give it a “flush cut” at ground level and soon you will never know there was a tree there in the first place, or at least I hope it doesn’t resprout from the trunk.
Another plant that had to go was my Mexican feather grass, now botanically known as Nasella tenuissima. I first saw this grass in a picture from Piet Oudolf’s garden in the Netherlands and I loved the soft feathered look of it. I got some seed, grew it, and planted it out in the front garden in spring. Soon the grasses bulked up and they added a sea of movement as the slightest breeze made them sway back and forth. The first year I didn’t really notice the number of seeds, but by year two and three a layer of seed covered the soil around them. Thankfully not every seed sprouted, not even one in a hundred, but with thousands of seed being spilled, I pulled my fair share of new grasses. This spring I started taking out a few bunches, then a few more and then some more. By now I have only four bunches left in two beds, but they will get the heave-ho in fall when it’s time to divide perennials and replant these where the grasses resided.
Meanwhile the memorial garden for my sister is looking positively glorious with bulked up grasses (NOT Mexican feathergrass) and a variety of perennials and annuals. Here I included bright red plume Celosia; an annual plant I bought several years ago for the butterfly garden. Each year spilled seeds from the previous year give me new plants. The reddest ones I keep; reddish-green plants are weeded out. When they move too far into the path, I dig them up and move them back into the garden beds. Last fall I saved some of the seed and started it indoors in winter. Again, the reddest ones I kept; greenish ones were tossed. By now they are growing, although because of the lack of rain, they haven’t reached their full potential yet. By September I will have red highlights poking up through the grasses, mingling with Marigold Kees’ Orange and other perennials. Next year these Celosia will reseed themselves throughout my sister’s garden and surprise me with their locations. Yesterday, making a little side trip to a nursery I came across Verbena Bonariensis, a tall but airy plant which is known to reseed itself. I bought three and put them in my sister’s garden, hoping for a few baby plants next spring.
I removed two plants from the garden because they became a nuisance while two others got prominent spots in the Memorial Garden. Will they politely reseed themselves and fill in empty spots throughout the grasses? Or will I be pulling them out by the handful as I did with my Mexican feathergrass? Only time will tell. If it's the latter, my sister will probably have a chuckle upstairs. She said if I ever found a plant bearing the name 'Truus" it would probably be weedy and run all over my garden. I couldn't find a "Truus" but there still may be something "weedy" in her garden!
I might as well admit it. Despite my green thumb there is one family of indoor plants which I can not please. For 50+ years, across two continents and throughout three states, I have left a trail of dead ferns behind. To be frank: I am a serial fern killer.
It is not for lack of trying. It started out innocent enough. I remember pictures in women’s magazines: beautiful bathrooms with verdant greenery hanging from the ceiling or potted up in front of windows. Large ferns cascading, loving the humidity of bathrooms and growing ever bigger. My friends had them, so I had to try it too. It seems no sooner I hung one above the bathtub or leaflets started raining down into the tub. I watered it; more leaflets fell. Soon it was but a shadow of its former self and it went to that great garden in the sky. Several more followed over the years; all ended up the same way.
When I came to America it took several years before there were some extra dollars to spend on plants. First there were plants I could manage without a problem. They would grow so big I took cuttings and started new plants. But eventually I would come across a cute little fern and just had to take it home. I would mist it, water it, put it in the bathroom in front of the window. It died. I tried Boston ferns; maidenhair ferns, asparagus fern (which is not really a fern at all – I still killed it) and others.
One year The Spouse gave me a terrarium; the ultimate home for ferns. The glass enclosure would hold moisture in, and a fern would be HAPPY! Not so fast, I landscaped my terrarium with small plants including a fern in the corner, rocks, oh, and yes it had a chair with a broom leaning against it and tiny boots in front of the chair. A bulldog puppy in the chair completed my little terrarium. I watered it sparingly and for a while … my fern did not die. I thought I conquered my killing streak, but it was only on hiatus. Several times I replaced the dried-up fern, and then I gave up on ferns in the terrarium.
One year while vacationing in Holland to visit family I saw a restaurant with staghorn ferns in every window. I loved the look and thought about getting one. My mom had one, attached to a piece of bark. Each Monday it got a quick soak in the sink, drip dried on the counter and then went back on the wall. Considering my mom was NOT a gardener (a fear of worms made it impossible to put her hands in soil) this plant still graced our home for years and years. If mom could keep this type of fern alive, I should be able to do it too.
I bought the first staghorn fern, which was potted up in soil. Strange I thought, since staghorn ferns are epiphytes, living on tree branches and as a result most plants are usually mounted on bark or wood and hung on the wall. I found myself a nice piece of wood and mounted my staghorn to it with sphagnum moss and fishing wire. Once a week it got a dunk in the sink, and it lived, although begrudgingly. It would get a new leaf, then a leaf would die. It was a never-ending circle of one step forward and one step back until it finally made a leap backwards and all the leaves fell off. But wait, I do not give up that fast, after all I have been doing it for 50+ years. A second staghorn fern came home with me, and I left it in its pot. I thought I saw a glimmer of hope when it started growing new leaves without any others withering. Then last week two leaves fell off and two others look awful. I am still not ready to call it day; I can see a new leaf developing. I keep it on the dining room table where I see it every day. It sits on a tray with pebbles, which I water religiously to increase humidity. I only water the plant when it is dry and keep fingers and toes crossed that this is the year my fern lives, and maybe, thrives?
If this one gives up the ghost, I do not think I can go back into a nursery to pick up another little fern. I am afraid there will be posters at the check-out with my picture on it: Do not sell this woman ANY ferns – she cannot keep them alive! But, still, hope springs eternally, especially when you are a gardener, or at least when you are this gardener!
My garden is coming along, a bit slower than in other years. Nice days are followed by cooler weather, and we still have the occasional frost. Hostas unfurl, get frost, and turn mushy. It gets warmer, they come back up again, only to be hit by frost again. Not every Hosta turns to mush, some are definitely less tender, but still.
While we have to contend with one more night of 29 or 30 degrees right after Mother’s Day, I started bringing up seedlings from the basement to harden them off. Twenty-five red Celosia plants and five Angel’s Trumpets or Brugmansia are now outside. They got rained on their very first night out and the Celosia looks a bit the worse for wear with some torn leaves, but they are managing otherwise in a shady corner right next to the house.
As I walk around the garden shrubs are leafing out, flower buds are showing on trees (but NONE on my Magnolia) and perennials are reappearing everywhere. A Japanese painted Fern reseeded itself in previous years in unexpected spots; now the small plants are coming up in crevices between rocks, softening them with their appearance. I never would have been able to cram the plants in where they are, but nature found the perfect spot and they are happy. So am I.
Pulmonaria or Lungwort also reseeded itself around my garden, but nicely. I can always find baby plants around the mother, but just as with my Fern, sometimes seeds find a spot further away. One seed found its way to the back of the waterfall, growing in the protection of an evergreen. Another one found its way in the gravel, growing at the foot of the retaining wall, again softening it.
Meanwhile The Spouse and I have been forced to use the garage to enter the house rather than the front door. Several weeks ago, a pair of finches decided the tulip wreath on the door was the perfect spot to build a nest. Once it was built, eggs appeared, one each day until mom was done with five. Now there are five downy chicks growing like weeds. A few more weeks and the front door will be ours again.
For the third year in a row a tree frog is calling the birdhouse hanging from the arbor its home. I do not know if it is the same frog from last year, it could be, but it is fun to see its face peering from the entrance.
The garden snakes are back as well. Not as much fun as the various frogs in my garden, but nevertheless they are welcome too.
Seedlings, baby birds, frogs and snakes, my garden has room for it all. A little slice of nature carved out from an empty lot with heavy, heavy clay, six years in the making. It is just as I imagined it.
There is no greater joy than seeing a magnolia in full bloom in early spring. Pink blossoms arrive when our souls need that burst of color early in the season. It is enough to make your heart sing.
No wait, let me correct that statement.
There is no sadder sight than an early blooming magnolia caught in a late frost. One day there are the magnificent flowers unfurling; the next morning they are but a blasted husk of their former self, having turned brown overnight. Soon the ground will be covered with decaying material, a great amendment to soil, but a sad sight, nevertheless.
While I still lived in NJ, I visited a gardening friend and fellow gardening club member. She had a collection of out of the ordinary shrubs and trees and among them was a yellow blooming magnolia, something I had not seen before. Right then and there I said, my Pennsylvania garden must have one too, and once we moved here, the hunt was one. In September 2017, about 16 months after moving, I found a nursery that sold yellow blooming magnolia. It did not have a tag, so I never found out which variety it was, but at least I had one!
In spring 2018 it bloomed – and yes, the nursery was correct – it had yellow blooms. My little tree did not have a ton of blooms, but the hope for the future was there. All I had to do was wait for future springs.
2019: my tree bloomed, with five flowers! FIVE! To say I was underwhelmed was an understatement, but there was hope.
2020: my tree was full of blooms, and it lived up to my expectations. I counted ninety-eight flowers (yes, I counted them twice, just to make sure). It was a sight to behold. Then a major storm blew through only days after most of the flowers had opened. By the time the storm left I had a few petals clinging on. Oh well, it was grandiose while it lasted and there is always next spring!
2021: never did my (steadily growing) tree have more buds. Walking past it every day I wondered how beautiful it would look when the flowers finally opened. One early spring day I spied the first yellow peeking out and knew I was in for a treat in the days to come. I was going to call my gardening friend from the other side of our block to enjoy the sight of all these blooms, just so I could share it with someone else besides The Spouse! Overnight we had a heavy frost, but I did not give it another thought. Then I came out in the garden in the morning and noticed how each slightly opened bud had gone from pale yellow to brown overnight. In the passing days as buds opened further, blasted flowers dropped to the ground and other than a few (very few!) late blooming flowers there was not much to see.
Spring 2022: here we are again. With a stretch of exceedingly nice weather in mid-March my garden jumped back to life, as did my magnolia. Buds fattened and on March 25 the first buds cracked open, showing just a hint of yellow. Then there are several nights of heavy frost in the forecast, more than enough to dash my hopes of flowers. But there are ways to protect just about anything from a late frost, frost blankets. Woven material that covers plants or early crops when frost is in the forecast. I covered my tree and hoped for the best. Despite three days of being covered up, 19 degrees Fahrenheit blasted quite a few buds and they fell off. On Easter weekend the first flowers opened; then we had another frost. When I looked on Monday morning the flowers had turned brown as did a few more opening buds. I will have flowers in the upcoming weeks, but they will be few despite the early promise.
I considered digging up my tree and replacing it with something else but after nearly five years in the ground it is turning into a handsome little tree. I may get to see a full bloom maybe once every three or five years. I may get a few flowers in other years, and I will just have to treasure each and every bloom as I get it. But gardeners are an optimistic lot; after all, there is always next spring!