Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Garden Clean Up and Pumpkin Patches

The bright orange of the pumpkins which remain in the garden are a sharp contrast to the browned stems and overcast sky above and below.  Fall is here and it's decision time.  Clip back or leave nature alone to do her work?  Rake the beds clean or allow the leaves to stay?  Surprisingly less is more in when the leaves turn gold.  Wooded areas are the best example.  That colorful carpet is mostly gone once the snow recedes.  Those piles of leaves at the curb are the key to fertile soil. 

In a perfect gardening world, we'd have the time and equipment to finely shred leaves and garden clippings then gently sprinkle them around the base of precisely clipped back plants.  But lives and jobs and a little bit of fall fun take precedence--and soon it's time to wrap the holiday gifts.

Still, in a quick and easy green gardening world, it is possible to develop a system that is eighty percent nature and twenty percent gardener. Nature is meant to do the work--so let her.

Leave a nice layer of leaves on flower beds and at the base of shrubs as a natural mulch. 

Most annuals can stay.  They'll disintegrate beneath the winter blanket of snow. Impatiens, for example will shrivel up and disappear after a few weeks of cold. What's left can be swept out by hand in early spring.  The decaying root system will naturally integrate the soil with valuable nutrients, so leave them in place. Pick a spot in the yard, and start a compost of potted plants and large scale clippings.  Consider the neighbor's line of sight when chosing a location.  The back of the garage may be out of sight for you, but a direct hit from the Addams family room. 

Clip the top third from sturdy stemmed perennials like phlox and shasta daisies.  The remaining stems will collect snow and assist in the insulation of roots from the freeze and thaw of winter. For winter interest keep big headed plants like sedum and hydrangea intact.  Do not ever cut back early spring blooming or wooded plants and shrubs like rhododendron, hydrangea, butterfly bush or lilac in the fall. These should be trimmed, if needed, right after bloom in the spring. 

Grasses can be left until the spring.  They look spectacular after a snowfall.

Take the basket from the mower and mulch leaves into the lawn.

Reduce the pile at the curb and increase the energy in your garden.  Nice balance.

Now, head for the pumpkin patch.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

MOONLIGHT GARDEN -- Flowers That Go BLOOM In the Night

Moonshadows on a Moonflower

               Nocturnal gardening was a necessity at first.  Later it became a preference. With two small daughters and a husband, it was tough to find time to work, schlep and cultivate the dirt patches around our house.  Our handy friend Kenny built our first potting bench, which is still standing.  Plopping a glowing candle in a sheltered glass, I’d sometimes put the girls to bed and poke around the yard until the news came on. A little music would encourage relaxation and growth.  Best of all, it’s nearly impossible to spot most weeds in the dark, so the yard looked outstanding.
Bill and I developed a ritual of circling the garden after our evening walk.  Ralph later joined us.  It was then that the more organized theme of a night garden began. Particularly along the path of our nightly tour, we noticed certain vegetation adopted a glowing character in the soft shadows of the moon.  Some of those areas became devoted to plants which were attractive during the day, but showstoppers at night.

There are special plants designed by nature especially for the day laborer and nighttime gardener.  These blooms only emerge in the coolness of the evening, like the four o’clock.   This bright and sturdy annual is easily started from seed and often volunteers emerge the following year.  Just as the dinner dishes are put away, these colorful jollies appear.
              At sunset, the curtain rises for Act Two: “Luminosity.”  Mama Raccoon and her babies stretch and head out for a late dinner.  The moonflower, an annual, appears in two forms.  The vine climbs vigorously after a slow start, sprouting morning glory-like blooms in pure white climbing high along any trellis, fence or other surface.  The bush-like plant, on the other hand spreads its sturdy foliage in all directions.
               Moonflower blooms resemble a closed umbrella by day, Yet at dusk, these vampires spread their wingspans into magnificent blooms radiating in the moonlight.  When the moon is bright enough to cast shadows, the effect is stunning.  The soft silver gray of lambs’ ears outline the trail.  White hydrangea glow in the reflected light.
               Scent is a second refrain of the night garden.  When the night is cool and the air has less need to compete with the fumes of the day, evening stock and other fragrant flora like lavender fill the air with gentle fragrance.  Brushing against these blooms deepens the sensory experience.  When the eyes are less distracted, other senses step forward.
               This year a hoot owl took residence in an old oak.  Bats dart about, clearing the air of mosquitos. 
               Add an abundance of fireflies, and the place is magical. 

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