The Spoiler Strikes Again

I have said before that prior to this year and my surgery for melanoma, I was a raker. I would carefully rake out the beds around my perennials and I would rake leaves and pine needles off the tops of my shrubs. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t leave leaves in the beds–it means I would try to keep the Spoiler from getting into my beds with his hand blower (or worse yet, his blower on wheels!) and doing damage to my plants and my gardens.

Well, of course, this year, all bets are off. So a few weeks ago, I started to notice something odd accumulating on our screened in porch. At first, I couldn’t tell what it was. Here is a photo.


Once I realized that it was all over everything–walls, plants, doors, furniture, as well as the floor, I knew immediately what it was.  Some of my more astute readers have probably figured it out already.


And once I saw this–my exposed bulbs smiling up at me despite the more than 2 inches of soil that had previously been covering them–all my suspicions were confirmed.

Needless to say, not only is the Spoiler denying that any of this is possible, but he said that the place where my bulbs are planted is a “leaf trap” and that he really needs to “blast” at it with the leaf blower to get the leaves out of there.

Blast at is with the leaf blower? When a few gentle passes with a rake will accomplish the same thing and not spray soil–and who knows what else–all over our porch?! Is he kidding?!

Now you know where the name the “Spoiler” comes from!


Let’s Not Be Mindless About….Mulch

Today I start a new meme. For those of you not familiar with the concept of “memes” they’re just fancy words for themes or topics in the blogosphere.

This all started because I was thinking (always dangerous–bad idea. I don’t recommend thinking any more than necessary if you can avoid it!) about all the garden writers who just blindly recommend mulch. And some blindly recommend a lot of mulch. The more mulch the better. 3-4 inches of mulch.

Well, you know what folks? As with everything in life, not everyone should mulch!

If you’ve read this column for years, you must have heard me say I don’t know how many times that I have really heavy and wet clay soil. Well guess what? If I mulch, I wind up with rotting plants, particularly in the early spring. I wind up with all kinds of fungal diseases. I wind up with slug and even snails.

Still telling me to put down 3-4″ of mulch, you fools?

Well, of course not! But no where, ever, do I see a disclaimer like this! And do you know how much of our country has clay soils?!

Now, with all of the drought going on, I will be the first to tell you that we must do something to conserve water in any way possible. But for a woman who never–and I repeat never waters her gardens because of her water table and her icky wet soil, drought is rarely something I worry about.

Even when I bemoan the drought in my region and my own gardens, do I water? No! Because I have planted appropriate plants, or I have made other provisions (but that’s a different story we can discuss some other time).

So, all of this being said, how do I keep the weeds out of my gardens? My main way is close planting–in other words, space my plants very closely so that they shade the soil and don’t allow weeds to gain a foothold. It works well in some places, not so well in others.

One technique I have used in the past are things like short-lived perennials. The one I am thinking of in particular is forget me nots (myosotis). They come up very early in the spring, they spread out quickly, carpeting the ground and blooming in a lovely shade of blue, and then they’re pretty much gone by the time my “main season” perennials fill in.

Call it a “living mulch” if you will.

What it is not is a cover crop. It’s not so labor intensive and it does not require the soil disruption that a cover crop does. I am no fan of those. Perhaps I’ll do a rant on those someday.

So the takeaway here? Mulch is fine and dandy for the average homeowner (please–no sprayed and died ground up pallets if you don’t want airborne or other fungi all over the garden. Please use real mulches!) But if you have soil that is wet–stay away from the mulch! Find a different solution. Your garden will thank you!

And For Your Next Holiday Abomination….

Blue Poinsettia

Always remember, I try to be tolerant. A candy cane staking an orchid? Tacky but not horrible.

But a blue poinsettia? This just crosses the bounds of “never in my home, not even for demonstration purposes.”

Now I know there are folks that love these–in fact, this photo was taken at a Christmas fundraiser at my church and the person who purchased the poinsettias was so excited when she was talking about them because she was able to get so many blue ones. She said, “I know people love the blue ones.”

Maybe folks do love the blues ones. I am just not one of those folks. Here again, if we all loved the same thing, there would be no blue poinsettias, for one thing.

There would also be no blue phalaenopsis orchids–in just this same shade of blue I might add! That’s also something you’ll never see darkening my door, even though both the orchid and the poinsettia in the blue shade would technically, I suppose, fit right in with my décor. But no. I have to draw the line somewhere.

For those of you that love the blue poinsettias, please, enjoy them with abandon! Maybe the red ones are too garish for you. They surely can be, particularly once the holidays are over.

As for me, I gave up on poinsettias a few seasons ago. My house is just too darn cold!

A Rant on “Fall Decorating”

Actually, I’m not ranting so much on fall decorating–I’ll get to that in a moment. What I really don’t get–and it’s that I’m ranting on for the moment here–is Halloween decorating.

Halloween decorating–indoors and out–is now the second most profitable, if you want to put it that way, holiday for retailers. What on earth? Or maybe I mean under the earth? What are we celebrating?

I’m all for having fun and I’m all for letting kids safely celebrate the holiday–but what I do not get is these homes that go all out and turn themselves into miniature haunted houses. Some almost provoke car crashes they are so elaborate (and yes, I know the same thing happens at Christmas with the Christmas light extravaganzas–that too is way too over the top for me!)

One Halloween house nearby even gets political with its theme–the owner is a history professor or something. Oh puh-leez! While I certainly admire the creativity and hours of work that go into this fiasco, I find the whole thing bizarre and macabre.

But then again, I’ve never been into horror movies or films.

The thing I’m a little less conflicted about–but I still wonder about–is the autumn decorating thing. What’s with all these suburban homes decorating themselves up with corn stalks and hay bales and pumpkins and scarecrows until you’d think you were back on the farm–until you drive 10 feet and you realize, “oh no, it’s just another suburban tract home that’s run amok with farm decorating again?”

Mind you, the fall look can be beautifully done–but what’s up with that? We don’t live anywhere near farms. And while I’m not adverse to a pumpkin now and again gracing my property (although if it doesn’t rain, there’s no way I’ll indulge because the squirrels will be after that thing before it’s on my stoop for 3 days!) there’s no way you’ll find me indulging in corn stalks, hay bales and scarecrows–not sustainable, for one thing, and not really appropriate for my “sense of place.”

It’s my Mom and sister who live in Oklahoma, not me.

I can’t imagine why, when I and my neighbors live in New England, home of some of the most beautiful foliage shows in the world, my neighbors would choose to import all the trappings of farm life to their very colonial New England properties.

But, I guess I just have to fall back on my favorite saying here: If we all liked the same thing what a boring world we’d have!

Happy Autumn–however you celebrate–and decorate!

The Spoiler Strikes Again

After discovering last season that I had impatiens downy mildew, I came to the realization that I’d have to replant a large area under the white dogwood that I posted about a week or so ago for one of my Wordless Wednesdays.

As long as I’ve been gardening at this property (20 seasons or so) this area had been spring bulbs which dwindled over time as the dogwood shade increased. But that really didn’t matter because the bulbs got in the way when I wanted to put in the impatiens in the spring so I was sort of glad to see them go.

This year, of course, there will be no impatiens, so a week or so ago I told the Spoiler that I was going to put in perennials to solve the planting problem once and for all. He got kind of a sick look on his face.

“Do you have to? Why can’t we plant impatiens? Isn’t anyone selling impatiens?”

So I explained the problem–again–even though I’d explained it last year when they died and a couple of times over the winter. But the Spoiler is not a gardener and unless the problem is immediate, there’s no reason for him to remember or recall this information.

“Well, okay,’ he said grudgingly. “But they’d better not get in the way when I want to blow the leaves out of there in the fall.”

Now I already knew I couldn’t put hellebores there, which I what I would really would have liked to do because every time I show him hellebores he turns up his nose and says “Ick. They’re not very pretty, are they?”

If it’s not bold and splashy, you’d just might as well forget gardening around the Spoiler!

One of my other favorites, heucheras and heucherellas and tiarellas, which would work fairly nicely there too, because if we don’t get a lot of rain during the summer it can get a bit dry there–are also out then, because they won’t go dormant for him–but if I can find enough varieties of those, I just might do it anyway and let him “blow around” them.

Or perish the thought, I could actually rake out there area–it’s just a dogwood tree. The leaves aren’t that prolific.

But I’m already a slave to the almighty mower in what I can put on the lawn (in other words–nothing!) I refuse to be a slave to the blower as well!

Isn’t There Anything Left To Write About In Gardening But Chickens, Bees and Edibles?

Yes, I’m still on my rant (and no, I didn’t change the name of the blog).  But I’m a book reviewer for our local horticultural society.  And it’s getting darn difficult to find interesting and new books to review.  I told my editor over a year ago, “You know, it’s all chickens and edibles” and not much has changed except now you can add bees to the mix and maybe a little urban homesteading and canning except that’s not really my audience.

I’ve gone far enough out on my limb to review a book about wine (wine, for goodness sake, in a horticultural society publication.  It’s not Fine Cooking, after all!)  And I’ve done several “grow it then eat it” type books but believe it or not, edible gardening isn’t huge here in Connecticut.  Must have something to do with the fact that climate change, for us, does not mean warming.  Thankfully we do have a robust farmers market system here or I’d wonder if the whole state was going to die of scurvy or rickets or some disease that was eradicated long ago.

I’ve been encouraged by my lecturing and the fact that one group has actually asked me to do a talk on herbs.  Perhaps that’s the new “edible” gardening.  It’s certainly smaller and easier to incorporate into one’s existing landscape.

But honestly–of the 25 pages of new books coming out in the next 11 months on Amazon, 3 are on herbs (another has just come out recently).  5 are on fairy gardening.  Several more are on  roses. Two more on terrariums (don’t get me wrong–I love terrariums.  I even went to a workshop on making them recently.  But really, having already reviewed the first book on terrariums, and lived through this craze in the 70s, I’m done with this).

There are the requisite couple on bees, a few on chickens, I can’t tell you how many are on specific genera (including yet another on hydrangeas, the most misunderstood plant on the planet, so perhaps it does need another book) and there are dozens and dozens on edibles or homesteading or growing edibles in pots–you get the gist.

One caught my eye in particular–something about Queen Elizabeth in the Garden.  Probably interesting from a historical point of view.  I love the Tudor time period anyway.  I’m not sure my readers would.

And there are way too many on succulents, another up and coming topic.  If you haven’t jumped on the succulent bandwagon yet, don’t bother.  It’s probably passed you by.  I’m sure it’s great for all those parts of the country that are suffering with persistent drought.  Here in cool and humid northeast, succulents are just another invitation to kill plants!  I will not be writing about those books, thanks so much.  Again, it’s not for my audience.

My audience does love hydrangeas and roses though so maybe I can salvage something.  Hardly new topics–but of course not chickens, edibles or bees either.

Is Anything New In Gardening?

Two things got me to thinking (always dangerous–the last thing I want to be doing in the dead of winter is thinking!).  The first is a lecture I give called “Trade Secrets: An Insider talks about How Plants Come to Market.” I gave the talk at the end of January and I’ll give it again at the beginning of March and I’m continually revising it as my own test plants come in and I evaluate them, as I learn more about the plant evaluation process, and as I see what “new” plants are being trialled (hint–heucheras or coral bells are out; kniphofias or red hot pokers are now the plant du jour.  Either way, both are only marginally hardy for most so save your money).

The second thing was reading through this enormous backlog of gardening magazines that I have.   I subscribe to 5 different magazines.  That’s not a huge number, but it’s a good sample.  As I said Friday, it’s a great way to spend winter evenings. It’s also a great way to see that either most of the garden writers have very little to say that’s new (I mean, please–3 articles on edging in the last year?! Yawn!)  Perhaps the editors think there’s a great need for the public to edge garden beds.  I have no idea.  But I can tell you that those went into the recycle bin pretty fast.

I suppose as a gardener with fairly mature beds and not a lot of room to design (or re-design, unless a snowplow comes along and changes my plans every so often.  Or  a snow storm.  Or a hurricane.  But I digress),  I have very little need for a lot of “garden design” articles, particularly articles that tell me how I should design stupid things like where to park my car.  I mean, really.  I suppose some folks might need such help but that is the last thing I need help with.

To be fair, the designed space was spectacular.  But I’m guessing a lot of that magazine’s readers don’t live in cramped urban quarters with tiny spots that have to do double duty as a car park and a court yard and there was some suggestion that it was even a sheltered spot to sit and read a book.  Again, really?  Where the car parks?  Perhaps for some, but not for me.

As I always say, however, if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a very boring world.

With the last issue of a different magazine I was holding, I showed the cover to the Spoiler and asked, “What do you think of this?”  His response was “Looks like a meadow.  Or the woods.”  It was two perennial borders with ornamental grasses and lots of tall natives, bisected by a stepping stone walk between going to some sort of hedge at the back.   Luckily we won’t have the need to install anything like that anytime soon.  Also luckily we do have some woods so our native plants blend in a bit for him I guess.  (And guess what–that garden was in the Netherlands.  Do these editors think American gardens should look like the Netherlands?  Really?  How about they get a little less regional too?  I’m getting really sick of California and the Pacific Northwest.  I can’t grow that stuff!)

But it just goes to show, either I’ve completely outgrown what these magazines are trying to do, or there really is nothing new in gardening lately and we, as garden writers need to try to come up with some thing different.  Anyone up to the task?

Hurricane Preparedness

This may be the last post you read from me in a while.  I posted this Saturday as I was preparing for Irene to make landfall somewhere around Connecticut.  I scheduled it to post on Monday–I presume that if we’re without power it will still post but who knows?

I noticed quite a few garden bloggers posting pictures of their gardens on Friday and saying “I hope there will still be something left post-Irene.”  I can certainly sympathize with that!  I had a bit of a rude awakening on my Friday walk, however.  I went out at 6:30 to discover that my green beans, which had finally climbed to the tops of their respective poles and were fleshing out nicely, were gone!  Nothing left but a few stringy stems thanks to those pesky deer.  So  some of my gardening  came to a crashing halt a little early anyway.  Oh well.

Friday evening, I did a “quick” gathering up of all the plants and stored them in the garage.  It’s far too early to say goodbye to the summer containers–and besides, I surely don’t want them to become projectiles in tropical storm or higher force winds.

This is what I was gathering though and you’ll see that it wasn’t such an easy task.  It took 3 of us over an hour.

These are the herb containers I keep just outside my door for easy harvest.  I’m not ready to let those go.

These are mixed annuals and house plants with a few tender tropicals thrown in for good measure.

Mostly tender perennials that I over-winter (not the Alberta Spruce, of course!)

And finally more tender perennials and house plants.  What you don’t see are the big containers of mixed annuals that I already moved, or the orchids from the back of the house–but you get the idea!

But it’s also far too early to bring them inside.  I’m not quite resigned to the task of watering with a watering can instead of a hose.

And this year I decided that they were not all coming in either.  I mean I love my houseplants but it’s getting a little too crazy.  We’ll se if I can actually winnow down the collection to a manageable number.

But doing so while trying to prepare for a once in a 50 year storm is not probably wise. I can winnow after the storm–or even later in the season.

And I can hope this is all unnecessary and this storm, fickle as these storms can be, takes a last-minute turn out to sea and everyone is spared.  That’s what everyone is truly hoping and praying for!

Wrong Plant, Wrong Place?

While I was on vacation, I saw a lot of lovely landscaping (none of which I happened to photograph, of course.)  I saw the usual beach hydrangeas billowing everywhere.  You’ll see lots of hydrangea photos from me over the next few months, but none will ever come close to the beauty of hydrangeas grown at the shore, anywhere.

This was what got my knickers in a twist, however. This is a group of cedars, planted as a screen planting.  While each of these trees is lovely, they were never intended to be used as a hedge and to do so totally destroys the beauty of each tree (and I don’t even want to think about what the homeowner paid for this!)

I call this the “baroque” theory of garden design, although this is not so outrageous as some things I’ve seen. Usually I see a homeowner designed landscape of one of each possible topiary, spiral cut, pom-pom, and other ornamental tree in a landscape bed in the front of the house.  I’ll try to get  a photo of one of the most egregious of these for a post sometime.

It may not be obvious from the photos, but the trees don’t even appear to be doing particularly well in this planting.  Some of the browning is clear in the photos.

But the fact remains that these lovely trees were never intended to be a hedge–they were intended to be grown individually as accent shrubs.

But hey, if we all liked the same things, what a boring world we’d have!

Invasive Watch–Garlic Mustard

After all the rain we’ve just had here in the Northeast, it’s relatively easy to get out these little nasty rosettes.  They are the beginnings of the invasive plant, garlic mustard, alliaria petiolata, a plant with a pretty name and a pleasant smell, but one which will quickly over-run your lawn and garden if it is not rooted out.  It’s easy to see that from the above photo–there are at least 6 well-formed rosettes, and I don’t want to even think about whether all those little seedlings are new ones!

The rosettes are relatively easy to remove when young, but even when young, they can develop quite a tap root.

It is a bienniel, forming a rosette of leaves its first year and a flower stalk the second.  By the second year, the tap root will be so well-established that you may need a weed wrench to remove it completely–and if you don’t remove it completely, it will be back.

I thought I had weeded thoroughly last year, but I have literally thousands of rosettes popping up this year.  The old saying “One year’s seeds, seven year’s weeds” must be true!

There are some really amusing ideas for recipes for garlic mustard pesto and garlic mustard horseradish over at the site You Grow Girl but Gayla even admits that the horseradish is far more work than is worth it and the pesto is not that tasty.  Nevertheless, I love the idea that something good can come of an invasive plant!