Marty's Garden, Late December 2022


The year is almost at an end, soon we welcome 2023. The gardening year has come to an end as well. Days are short, but they are sloooowly growing longer again. While many states have seen record snowfall in the last weeks, we haven’t had any yet. For this I am grateful as early snow tends to hang around forever. I can handle snow by January, and February, it goes with winter. Even snow in March and April is part of the Northeastern climate, but at least snow in April disappears quickly. By then there are plenty of early blooming shrubs and bulbs, which can handle snow without a problem, and you know better days are just around the corner.


For the first time EVER, I managed to make my Amaryllis rebloom. Just in time for a belated Thanksgiving dinner with friends it bloomed with four large flowers, and then a fifth one opened at few days later. By now I only have the last flower wide open, but I know I can make this bulb bloom again come next year. In the basement I have a second bulb that is just starting to grow its first leaf and with luck this one too will bloom sometime in January or February. Amaryllis is a long-lived bulb, but when they don’t rebloom and only grow leaves, the “fun’ of having them around for years grows old pretty fast. Now that I have unlocked the secret (3-4 months of dormancy before potting them up again) I will be looking forward to yearly blooms around the holidays. Yeah!


Gardening this year, the Memorial Garden for my sister Truus came into its own. At the same time the sharpest edges of my grief were blunted by working in it and seeing it grow. Next year should be even better.


As I look forward to a new year, there is lots of promise in the garden. Foliage of spring bulbs can be seen all over the garden. In my mind’s eye I can see puddles of yellow daffodils and blue grape hyacinths where I now only have leaves.  Witch hazels show thick buds, just like my magnolia. I know the witch hazels will bloom with abundance: they can handle just about anything nature throws at them. I will keep my fingers crossed for magnolia blooms rather than blasted buds due to a late frost (or even a not so late frost).


Houseplants brought indoors in fall are being cared for in the basement. I also dug up and relocated heuchera (‘Plum pudding’) which were in a sunny spot NOT to their liking. They are much happier now on the north side of the house. A tiny bit of root missed when repotting decided to grow where it fell. It looks good there so I will leave it alone. I had plenty of roots left over so I potted up 12 pots and put them under lights in the basement. They are doing well too, and next year I will find room for them in the garden.



I look forward to a new year, hoping for magnolia blooms. May your New Year be happy, healthy, and floriferous too!  

Marty's Garden, Late October 2022

The gardening season is ending. Most annuals have collapsed. I pull them out but give them a good shake over the beds. This way I am guaranteed fallen seeds and new seedlings for next year. The front yard has undergone a transition this year. I gave myself an early 65th birthday present in April and had a new front yard designed, based on ideas I presented to the landscape architect. All the grass was removed and in the middle of what had been lawn, a raised bed was built. But this was not an ordinary raised bed. At the front of the garden, you see a stacked wall made out of local bluestone. On the opposite end, facing the house, there is only a partial wall where large boulders seemingly spill out of the raised bed. The bed is planted with a variety of perennials and grasses, complementing similar plantings surrounding the bed. 

The (currently) empty space with the boulders will be turned into a large bed, mostly for heaths and heather, which are acid lovers. To that end I dug the soil, which was compacted from the equipment used by the landscaper, a bulldozer, boys, and their toys!



I added in peatmoss. On top of that I added more garden soil and dug it all in. Finally, last week another cubic yard of garden soil was added plus more peatmoss, and I gave it a final good dig. Handfuls of pelleted gypsum was added as it helps to open up the compacted clay soil underneath. I will leave it fallow during the winter, allowing the freeze and thaw effect to get down into the soil and break it up. By spring it should be quite hospitable for my acid loving plants, which are currently bedded in on the side of the house, where they are seemingly happy.


My new front garden would have mulched paths, but we needed to consider drainage from a downspout coming off the house. When I was presented with the design for the new garden, I pointed out that oversight. The “answer” was additional rock around the downspout to guide the water. When there was grass, the water was directed to the middle of the lawn, and all was well. But with the mulched paths, suddenly the gush of water went past the rocks, down the walkways and took the mulch with it. After the first heavy rain (and it was extremely heavy!) my mulch ended up down the sidewalk and in my neighbor’s driveway. Obviously, their solution did not work. We thought guiding the water all the way down the garden would be the answer. First, we dug a (rather) shallow trench to guide the water and filled it with river rock. It worked, up to point. Where the water had to take a shallow turn, it decided to keep going straight, still taking the mulch down with it. Ultimately, a deeper trench was dug, a 4-inch perforated pipe was connected to the drainpipe and laid out on a layer of gravel all the way out to the edge of the garden. Then we moved all the river rock back on top, so the pipe is invisible. Now I have a meandering river of rock going out to the front of the garden which actually guides the water, even in a heavy downpour.


The mulch from the paths was re-used it in the garden beds. A crew came an added two concrete steps (which look remarkably like blue stone) to the front of one path and three steps on the other side. Then they put down landscape fabric and used gravel for all my paths. Now my new front garden is complete. The steps hold in the gravel, the perforated pipe and river rock allow water to percolate into the ground before reaching the edge of my garden and the gravel looks great with both the blue stone wall as well as the wood surrounding all of the other beds. As I walk there is that pleasurable crunching sound of the gravel underfoot. In Holland gravel is quite often used to paths in the garden or even to the front door. The crunching sound will tell you someone is approaching, and, in a way, it is a very low-tech early warning system similar to today’s video doorbell. You may not know who is at the door, but you know there is someone. I hope it is a fellow gardener!

Marty's Garden, Early September 2022

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.

Marty's Garden, Late July, 2022

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!

Marty's Garden, 4th of July, 2022

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!