Saturday, September 27, 2008

Late season decisions

Save or compost?

Today I pulled all the worst-looking spent annuals and biannuals out of the pots and beds in my version of fall clean-up. I’m not a big fan of cleaning up the garden, but there’s nothing beneficial about some ratty-looking petunia stems, and the birds can do without some of these biannual seedheads. I tend to treat biannuals as annuals anyway; I never trust the term.

And I’ve been assessing the container situation, thinking about the following:
1. Should I transition completely to fiberglass pots, wich are lighter and much more attractive than they used to be?
2. Should I give up completely on such annuals as petunias and certain nicotiana which look terrible at this time of year, focusing instead on plants like lantana, diascia, heliotrope, and almost all the foliage plants? These and some others soldier on well into October. Calibrachoa is a good long-lasting petunia alternative.
3. How am I going to successfully save all these colacasia? There are at last 4 that I feel I MUST save, but it’s iffy and a pain. The Thai giant has to be I suppose; otherwise, it will never achieve an impressive size. I have a feeling that I should just start some of these from plants again rather than make the possibly frustrating effort.
4. And it looks like I’ll have to buy more containers just for bulbs. Lilies are in permanent residence in many; I’ve given them their last boost of fertilizer to get them through the winter.

I’ve also planted my last perennials: sweet autumn clematis, a hart’s tongue fern and the Husker Red penstemon. And in a burst of optimism, I fertilized some of the foliage containers, in the hopes of October longevity.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Then and now

The iphoto library is a pretty decent tool for a chronological record of the garden—not great, but it works. Especially as time goes on. I now have about three years worth of gardens on there, but what I need to remember to do is always take the same angles every year (in addition to all the other pictures I take). I like the idea of comparing the garden over a period of years or even a period of months as well.

So, you’d think this would be a jarring image juxtaposition—early July (top) with late September (above), but this section of the garden, though browning, going to seed, and just a bit ratty, still doesn’t look this bad. And I like this angle, looking to the pond. Next year I’ll try to do more duplicates of other shots I’ve taken.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bulbs and me, 2008

For my records and your possible entertainment, I share my annual bulb order. So far, that is, because though you’d think 430 bulbs would be enough for anyone, I may order later from Old House Gardens and The Lily Garden.

I love species tulips (top), but they are small and you do need a lot of them for a lovely wildflower-like impact. My ultimate goal is to have every single species tulip that can be purchased in my garden. This year I got some I don’t yet have—biflora (bottom right), marzoletti (top left), vvedenskyi (bottom left)—and some more turkistanica. Species emerge early or late, so that’s another reason you need a lot. You’d think they’d all be early, but not so.

Triumph tulips (above, top left and right) are the best for forcing and I also use them in big containers (kept in the garage over the winter) and in the front “yard,” where they have to be dug up after bloom. Then I have a single late mix in two raised beds, 50 in each. This is the epitome of the “dig a big hole and throw em in” method and it works amazingly. Big impact. The forced indoor tulips need a 12 week chilling period in the root cellar. The triumphs are Amazone and Negrita; the single lates are Blushing Lady and Mrs. Scheepers.

What will I do with these double lates? I couldn’t resist: Yellow Mountain, Black Hero, Orange Princess.

Hyacinths are purely for forcing, in vintage (almost typed "antique" but who are we kidding) hyacinth glasses and in pots. They work equally well in each, given a chilling period of 10 weeks. I give a lot of these as gifts. The recipients sometimes look askance at the fat buds sticking out of dirt, but they love them when they bloom. Those and biscotti are my two “homemade” gifts. These are Isabelle, Carnegie, and Raphael.

I lurve tazettas and there are so many better types than Ziva. From top left you see Inbal, Grand Soleil d’Or, Martinette, and Golden Rain. These all take longer than Ziva, but in full (window) sun they will bloom reliably. They should be started in a somewhat dark, chilly room until they get a good sprout going. I use colored glass stones and river stones, depending on the look I’m going for. Some use aquarium gravel, but … I dunno. Old House Gardens offers tazettas that need a two week chilling period and these are wonderful—a pure daffodil scent, no sickly smell at all. The varieties above also have a lighter, fresher scent than Ziva. In conclusion: you can do better than Zivas.

Finally, lilies, my summer passion. I am trying to transition from the pink tones to white, golden, and orange, hence the orienpets and oriental hybrids you see above, from left: Touching, Amazing, and Honeymoon. These arrive last as they are the last bulbs to be harvested. The Lily Garden catalog will arrive soon, and I will be tempted. I authorize you all to enable me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The un-mum brigade

As I gaze at the tangled, going-to-seed mess that is my main sunny gardening bed (above), or walk through the slug-ravaged side and front shade beds, there are spots of cheery color that I know will continue to provide pleasure through October. And they aren’t mums.

There’s no need to get into all the reasons I find mums unsatisfactory; most of you have seen my mum rants. I’d rather talk about the plants that—for me—more than ably substitute as late-season solutions. Some of them are perennials like Japanese anemone and boltonia (at top). Some of them are summer shrubs like hydrangeas. Hydrangea fall color is perfect, and it’s fun to watch the slow process of change. Here you see my Alpenglow in high summer (above) and then in fall:

Foliage plants seem to transition into fall particularly well. I have a bunch of them including these coleus and colocasia (above) and this colocasia hybrid (below) that really has only come into its own in the last few weeks.

And, hell, I’ll take an impatiens over a mum any day. (BTW, I don’t mean the exotic mums you can see in garden shows. Those are magnificent. I mean the ordinary ones that you see in garden centers everywhere now.) These Fusion impatiens have performed nonstop since June and they’ll keep it up until frost.

When November hits, I am busy composting leaves and planting bulbs. My mind is the on the future and I don’t need to look at a few (now quickly browning) mums to keep my spirits up. Not to mention that the fall tree color we have here in Western New York is another reason not to worry too much about fall garden color.

Are you visiting from the GWA conference? Take a look at the Perennial Posts at right. They’re a sampling of my favorites.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A fest for gardeners

In general, I’m up for anything with the word “fest” “party,” or “celebration” in the title. “Reception” is good too. We fest a lot in Buffalo: spring, summer, winter, and fall, and, although the picture at top is a bit premature, a September garden fest helps bring an appropriate celebratory note to the winding down of the garden season.

This Saturday, September 20, if you’re within 100 miles or so of this blog, I encourage you to attend Lockwood Greenhouse’s Fall Garden Fest in Hamburg. This event used to be held by the local cooperative extension in East Aurora every year at this time, as the Fall Garden Faire. I think Lockwood’s will do an excellent job reinvigorating the event (and I have to admit I’m glad the olde spelling of fair was discarded—but that’s just me).

The event is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with vendors all day and lectures/workshops at 10, 11, 1:30, and 2:30.

There is a very cool lineup of workshops and vendors, like:
•Groundcovers (Weed-suppressing perennials)—Brian Eshenauer, Cornell IPM
•Keep the annuals, Bring in the houseplants—Donna Connelly
•Hydrangeas—Joan Mariea
•Walking tour with Sally Cunningham

There will be all kinds of free advice for the asking from the master gardeners present, including a soil testing clinic. Keep in mind that this is AT a greenhouse, so in addition all the visiting vendors, there are tons of plants to buy for fall fill-ins. Personally, I only do fall planting in September; I just don’t think the plants have enough time to settle in after that.

Lockwood’s is one of the best nurseries around and this event was excellent when it was a stand-alone in East Aurora. So I would have to call this a perfect storm of fall garden goodness. Check it out!

Monday, September 15, 2008

A wet but still-blooming garden

As homeowners in Texas are recovering from the most recent in what I am afraid will be a string of big storms, we’ve also been having strange weather of a sort. Yesterday was 87 and sunny: a perfect summer’s day flanked by dreary rain and wind on either side.

All the rain has kept the garden fairly green and lush—and what a relief never having to water—but it’s brought plenty of slugs and a certain amount of lank weedy growth among the perennials. Overall, I feel good about the garden; it looks pleasant. I’ve already talked about what makes it pleasant: all the colorful and variegated foliage plants. There are some blooms, though.

At top you see a tangle of flowers: buddleia, lobelia, diascia, and dahlia, with some emerging boltonia in the back and some canna foliage and rudbeckia seedheads. There. All in one shot!

There are others, but my favorite is a plant (above) you Southern gardeners probably take for granted. It’s been blooming all summer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Five ways I prepare for cold weather gardening

Notice I didn’t use the W word. You all know that we hardcore gardeners would naturally find it somewhat difficult to get through the Northeastern and Midwestern cold months, so should it surprise you that many of us have developed strategies to make the non-gardening months fly by? Of course it doesn’t.

At top you see one of the ways. I love buying cut flowers for inside; indeed, I don’t really like cutting flowers from the garden even at the height of the season. (The reason this mantelpiece is so funereally lush is that this is the only place the cat won’t bother them.) I do cut flowers in summer, but I think cut flowers and cut flower arrangements are a whole other species from flowers in the garden. I buy flowers in the summer, but I buy even more in the winter and early spring. The early spring flowers, especially tulips, seem to lend themselves to indoor arrangements, which brings us to …

Forcing tulips and hyacinths. I have also forced unusual tazetta daffodils (NOT paperwhites) and scilla. I have great luck with hyacinths and even tulips, thanks to my root cellar and bright plant room. One hyacinth can scent a whole room and a table of them is very pretty. The tazettas appear in December and January, the hyacinths appear in late January/early February, and the tulips in late February.

In the late winter/early spring I am also very busy ordering plants from Bluestone Perennials, Select Seeds, Plant Delights, and Brent and Becky’s. This is a very long process because it takes a while to winnow out enough plants to make a second home equity loan unnecessary.

I’ve noticed that houseplants are somewhat of a dirty word around the garden blogosphere. People who will go to any lengths to keep their outdoor plants going—not to mention cheerfully replace them when they croak—turn into miserly pessimists when it comes to indoor plants. God forbid one should die; that often means an end to all future indoor gardening endeavors. Well, I love my houseplants; sure, they die periodically, but, just like outdoor plants, they can be replaced.

And then there is indoor seed-starting. I have failed miserably so far, but haven’t totally given up. It seems to be all in the lighting; perhaps this winter will be the time to conquer that hurdle altogether.

There are so many more than five ways; after all, we're gardeners, no matter what month it is. I must say, blogging all year-round makes four season gardening much easier.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Garden FAIL, part 1: seeds

At the end of every summer, I imagine all gardeners think about what might have been: plants they wish they had planted, plants they wish they had had better success with, hardscaping or other general garden improvements that did not take place. I’m no different.

This year, in spite of all my good intentions, and the purchase of several packets from good vendors, I grew only one plant from seed, and even that one I didn’t plant until early June. It’s a cute little castor bean plant but needed a longer period to gain its proper height. This (above) is the puny result of several packs of seeds including hyacinth bean, cleome, nigella, and amaranth. “Why,” I hear you saying, “Those are all easy, quick-germinating seeds!” Well, I did plant some of them in peat pots, but the ones that came up failed for whatever reason.

Today I went over to my BFF Cheryl’s house and saw her hyacinth bean, which she had twining up both sides of her front porch. It is shown at the top of this post. C. tells me that she planted them quite late (in May) and used an inside/outside method of growing them. Of course, these were seeds that I had given her. It’s somewhat humiliating!

Next spring, those seeds are being planted, and successfully, or else.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Five ways I keep it fresh in the late season

This is not the kind of post I usually do. I try never to blatantly give advice. So just take this is as some guidelines I follow, not anything I suggest for others. Or just ignore everything I’m saying.

1. Have a water feature. Especially when it’s hot in September, the cool water and—ideally—lush foliage that surrounds the water should lend a cool, green atmosphere. By this time, our pond is totally overshadowed by vines (hydrangea, wisteria, trumpet, clematis). Sadly, my sweet autumn clematis was obliterated by the pond guys and it hasn’t struggled back yet.

2. Plant lots of foliage plants. Unlike flowers, these won’t let you down in the late season. Indeed, some of the tropical or hot zone/annual ones like musa, colocasia, croton, and coleus get bigger and better than ever. Meanwhile, the rudbeckia and echinacea are beginning to look kind of ratty at this time.

3. Have lots of annuals, period. Most of them, if properly watered and fed will pump out flowers through much of October. I’d much rather keep my annuals going than plant mums (Fie! Bah!) or autumn sedum (yawn) or other plants prescribed for fall. Japanese anemone is wonderful, but I don’t have enough of it.

4. Buy new plants if you can find them. This may be terribly extravagant and wasteful but if you have good nurseries that still have viable annuals at this time, why not. I don’t cavil at buying full-grown, blooming dahlias. Maybe I’ll even succeed at saving them. I’ve also found that buying smaller seedlings from such places as Select Seeds, will give a mature plant later. This is certainly happening with my black-eyed Susan vine.

5. Cut back, deadhead, or just rip away crappy brown plants that are serving no useful purposes. I’ll leave the rudbeckia and conehead seedheads for the birds, but there are limits.

And there you have it. I still need to finish number 5 and I’m taking a stab at 4 tomorrow.