Category Archives: Gardening

Autumn Begins and the Gardens Are Ragged

But we should not mourn the summer garden. It was not more or less beautiful because it was temporary. If we were smart we took advantage of summer to experience as many moments of garden joy as we possibly could.”  —Jason, from the blog Garden in a City

Yesterday was the fall equinox, that time when there is a balance between day and night. In Maine, fall is perhaps its most beautiful season, a dazzling time of bright blue skies, blazing leaves, warm days, and cool evenings.

However, Jason’s lovely description perfectly captures the bitter-sweet mood that northern gardeners feel when autumn comes. We should “not mourn the summer garden,” but in our heart of hearts, many of us do. Gone are the lilies, the bee balm, and the phlox. The stalwart black-eyed Susans are fading fast. The modest sedums, with their blush of pink, provide some consolation, but the joyous burst of color in the gardens is over for another year.

The modest yet lovely sedum
The modest yet lovely sedum

Yet Jason is also right about taking as many moments of garden joy as we can in the summer. Clif and I certainly did. Almost every evening this summer and indeed this September, we took our supper plates out to the patio, where we smelled the spicy bee balm and listened to the crickets, the loons, and the barred owls. In August, as dusk fell, we admired the hummingbird moths. We were still in blissful ignorance about the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature of these little creatures, of how the beautiful, ethereal moths lay eggs that hatch to become marauding, voracious hornworms.   (I do want to note that not all hornworms attack tomatoes, but the offspring of the hummingbird moths that visited our garden certainly did.)

The gardens are in tatters, and next week I’ll begin cutting them back.

The ragged garden
The ragged garden

 

The fading hostas
The fading hostas

Cutting back the garden always makes me feel a little blue, but there are certain consolations. That bright sky, the warm sun, and the changing leaves.  Now that summer’s heat has gone, time spent around the firepit.

And, of course, apple pie, my favorite kind of pie to make. This year is surely a banner year for apples. The wild trees by the side of the road are laden with fruit, and yesterday, on a walk, I snitched a couple of dropped apples from beneath a neighbor’s tree. How good and crisp and white they were, with nary a sign of one single worm.  I am thinking of asking if I can snitch some more drops. (Cheryl, I promise to invite you over for apple pie or crisp. Your choice.)

The ones that didn't get away
The ones that didn’t get away

So onward to fall. Every season—even the long dark of winter—has its beauty and pleasures. And like our friend Burni, we intend to squeeze as much pleasure as we can out of each season.

 

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Yesterday, I went to the dentist’s office to have my teeth cleaned, and while I was there, I had X-rays. Clif will be retiring from his job the end of September, which means no more dental insurance. I figured that if any work needed to be done, then September was the month to do it. Well, good thing I had those X-rays. As it turns out, I need to have a tooth extracted, and I need a new crown. All will be done around my birthday. Happy birthday to me!

My teeth are naturally straight, and even though they are a little yellow from all the tea I drink, they look pretty good. However, sometimes looks can be deceiving. Every two years, I have X-rays, and they inevitably show that something must be done to Laurie’s teeth. In the past, it was fillings. Now, it is crowns, and with this new one, I will have had five crowns. As for the extracted tooth…it is going from the bottom and cannot be fixed.

Our out-of-pocket cost for the five crowns has been about $2,500. What a nice Canon camera I could get for $2,500. I know. Teeth are important, but I can’t help feeling a little wistful about the money spent.

When I came home, I told Clif about my teeth, and while he agreed with my assessment about the money, he was philosophical about the matter. “You need your teeth,” he said.

Indeed, I do.

After discussing teeth, Clif mowed the front lawn, and I tidied the patio and back garden. I cut back the phlox so that it wasn’t leaning over the dwarf snapdragons and touching the patio. Afterwards, I propped them up with green wire fencing. I swept the patio and cut some of the spent stalks from the daylilies. The garden still looked ragged, but it was a decided improvement.  At least things were tidy. More or less.

The sky was clear, the sun was setting, and Clif and I decided it would be an ideal time to have drinks on the patio. We both know we only have a month, at best, where we will be able to do this. We talked about my teeth, his retirement, and our sidelines—selling photo cards, computer consulting, and the strong possibility of a book being published in 2016. Our card business has begun to pick up, and we are excited about all our ventures.

As Katherine White would put it, onward and upward. Even the prospect of dental work couldn’t dim our enjoyment of the evening.

The tidy garden. More or less.
The tidy garden. More or less.

Jurassic Park in My Front Yard

IMG_0448“Hostas can be difficult to work into a garden because they have a tendency toward pride, a self-assertion that can be offensive….they seem so much more physical than other plants, muscular: the heavy-weight champions of the garden.”
—Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid

I know what Stanley Kunitz means. I have a patch of hostas that have gotten so out of hand that it looks like Jurassic Park in the front yard. The hostas are elbowing the daylilies, which aren’t exactly slouches, and I have to pull back the hostas from time to time to give the daylilies some breathing room. I should divide the hostas, but I’m not sure where I’d put the divided plants, and I’d hate to just throw them out. Kunitz decided not to plant anything else with his hostas. That way, they could muscle each other. A smart decision, I think.

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Jurassic Park in the front yard

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When I’m sitting on the patio, I always sit closest to the bee balm, right now in glorious bloom. Bees are indeed buzzing among the flowers, and I try to take a picture of them with my little point-and-shoot camera. I am not very successful. They’re not called busy bees for nothing. Bumble, bumble, yellow and black. They seem so slow yet they never really rest. (That might be a description of me as well.)

Not too bad but not in focus
Not too bad but not really in focus

Hummingbirds are also drawn to the bright red flowers, and it’s even harder to get a picture of them. I’m not sure why I keep trying. I know the limitations of my camera, wee wonder that it is. But when those tiny will o’ the wisps are thrumming almost within arm’s length of me, somehow I can’t resist. A couple of times, a hummingbird has stopped in mid-flight to consider me, but only for a few seconds. Not long enough for me to get a good picture.

Fortunately for me, the flowers and plants stay in one place unless there is a brisk wind.

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Right now, my backyard garden is in peak bloom, and we had friends over for cocktails on Saturday. The weather was good enough for us to spend the entire time on the patio, where they could admire the flowers. Clif made his legendary grilled bread, and I made Maine mules.

Summer, summer, summer.

The End of June, 2015

All in all, it has been a very good June. In Maine, June is typically rainy. Way back in the old days, I remember my father complaining about rotting beans in his garden—sometimes he would have to replant—and my friend’s father wondering anxiously if the weather would hold for haying.

A couple of years ago, it rained for twenty straight days. The slugs and snails blissfully chewed their way through my gardens, and I participated in what can only be called slug and snail genocide. (A jar of soapy water filled with the little slimers is truly a disgusting sight.) But finally I gave up. There were just too many of them, and by July many of my plants were in ribbons.

In disgust, I took this picture of my own wet feet, which looked this way too often two Junes ago.

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From two Junes ago

But this year, June has given us a break. Yes, it has rained, and this is good. We need rain. But we have also had a number of sunny days, and at the little house in the big woods, everything green is flourishing—the herbs in my small garden, my potted plants, the flowers. There have been slugs and snails, but so far their numbers are few, and the hostas, for the most part, remain unscathed.

Our green room the end of June
Our green room the end of June

The other day, as I was at the kitchen sink, I looked out the window and saw two downy woodpeckers, about the same size. However, one was feeding the other, a parent with a fledgling. Soon the parent will no longer be feeding “Junior,” but as my husband noted, Junior now knows where the feeder is. I will be sure to keep it full.

The lightening bugs have made their luminous appearance, and at night, as Clif and I sit in the living room, we see them on the screens on the windows. A little blinking glow in the dark night.

As lovely as the backyard looks, it is not always a peaceable kingdom. Female hummingbirds fight fiercely for control of the feeder, filled with a sugar and water mixture. (Jodie Richelle recently wrote about this on her blog.) It seems to me that they spend as much time fighting as they do feeding. Yesterday, my husband and I watched in fascination as over and over, the hummingbirds dived bombed each other. It didn’t look as though any blood was spilled, but it must be exhausting to fight like that.

“If only they would cooperate,” I said sadly. “There’s enough for all of them.”

“It’s not their nature,” Clif replied.

I guess it’s not. Unlike, say, crows, hummingbirds have evolved to be highly competitive, and I suppose it has served them well. But still.

July is just around the corner. Two more sweet months of summer. I try to enjoy each day to its fullest, to spend as much time outside as I can, to take pictures of the burst of flowers, the insects, and the rush of green.

Ah, summer, summer.

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Daddy longlegs on a green fern

 

 

Irises—the Consolation of Rainy June

IMG_9255In Maine, June is typically a cool, rainy month more suitable for say, soup, than for barbecues and time spent on the patio. For those of us who love summer and being outside, June can be a bit of a trial. We want to wear shorts and t-shirts, but instead we are wearing  turtle necks and sweaters. (Today, I am actually wearing a corduroy shirt over said sweater and turtle neck. I am determined to use as little heat as possible.) Every year in June my lament is the same, “Where oh where is summer?”

It will come in its own sweet time, I know. Fortunately, while June might be a rainy month, it is also a beautiful month. The leaves and grass are still lush and green. There is just the barest hint of the slug and snail onslaught that begins in earnest during midsummer. But best of all, the irises are in bloom at the little house in the big woods.

Now, I love all flowers—even peonies, those show-offs of the flower world—but irises are my favorite. Because our yard is so shady, many varieties of irises will not grow here, but I have found two very beautiful irises that do not mind partial shade and the damp it brings. Even better, the irises are purple, my favorite color for these lovely flowers.

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Why do I love irises so much? I think it’s because they are both bright and elegant, a delight to the eye and soothing as well. Peonies, on the other hand, with their gaudy explosion of bloom and  color, are just too darned much. Here I am, here I am, here I am, they shout. Full disclosure: At a friend’s house yesterday, I did admire her peonies, and my compliments were sincere. Still, when it comes to peonies, better her garden than mine.

This morning, before breakfast, I went out in the mist and took some pictures of the irises that have just started blooming in the backyard. Fortunately, the rain has not been heavy enough to beat down the irises. With any luck, there won’t be heavy rains for the next week or so, and the irises will bloom in all their elegant glory, bringing much-needed color to what can be a gray month.

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Bitten by the Gardening Bug

Sherlock making sure the coleuses have been properly watered
Sherlock making sure the coleuses have been properly watered

All right, I’ll admit it. Now that all the library brouhaha is over, I’ve been bitten hard by the gardening bug, and once bitten the fever spreads fast. Modest budget be damned, what I want to do is head to the local garden centers and spend, spend, spend.

I won’t, of course. I am mindful of our modest budget. However, this weekend when I go get herbs and some tomato plants, I might slide in a few six packs of, say, begonias, coleuses, or dwarf snapdragons, all plants that do well in my shady yard. I’ll try not to look at at the garden ornaments, another one of my weaknesses, but I sure could use another cobalt blue ball to go with the bird bath out back.

Yesterday, I potted coleuses and impatiens. Today I’ll plant the dwarf snapdragons in the long bed by the patio. The cats and the dog will be nearby to give me encouragement.

Right now, in central Maine and at the little house in the big woods, the gardens are in a prebloom state and are mostly green. But the green is a vibrant green, and the slugs and snails have yet to do their worst on the hostas. Everything looks, well, so green and healthy. While I’m crazy about flowers, I’m also very fond of all the green. So fond, in fact, that I don’t think I would be happy in an arid climate where the colors are more muted.

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Green, green, green

 

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More green with a spot of black

For the next week or so, I’ll be working diligently outside. Along with potting flowers—a task I just love—there is compost to spread, beds to be fertilized, and plants to be thinned.

As Katherine White once wrote, onward and upward in the garden.

Our Liam, checking out the garden
Our Liam, checking out the garden

 

Almost in bloom
Almost in bloom