http://theweeklygardener.com/ - Dec 12, 2013 11:18:12 AM - Apr 3, 2012 1:29:46 PM
Winter reverieWeek 47 - November 25th, 2013 Week 48
The art of dreaming
Dreaming is an gift, just like patience, just like happiness. It comes to us free when we're born but we lose track of it through our life's grumbles, through the 'can't do's, 'must not's and 'maybe later's.
They pop up everywhere as soon as the cold season ends, covering the roots of shady trees, peeking out from the grass, twinkling in the crude light of spring.
You get lost in thought gazing at a barren winter garden and your dreams weave new color schemes and anticipate honeysuckle and lily fragrance. All of a sudden you are six again, that extraordinary age when everything was new and miraculous, when you didn't question what was possible and you weren't realistic and reasonable.
The garden in your mind grows with new flowers, colorful foliage, and maybe that fragrant shrub you always wanted. Little stepping stones appear, leading the way through shady nooks to a place that would be just perfect for a climbing rose if only you added an arbor. A little bench, a tall bird bath, flowering myrtle flowing over the edge of an old retaining wall.
Something always snaps you out of your reverie, the cat jumps on the kitchen counter, the kids start chasing each other around the house, the phone rings. The wonderful picture slowly melts before your eyes and you go back to keeping track of your deadlines and forget all about it.
The landscape of your dreams doesn't go away, though. It waits patiently in a deep recess of your mind and pops out when you least expect it, nudging you to bring it to reality. Sooner or later you have to make it happen at least in part if you want to have some peace because every time you look at your garden you remember its ideal image etched inside your brain. Add that arbor, place those stepping stones, plant those perennials that take decades to mature, they won't leave you be if you don't.
Some people call this obsessing, I choose to call it art. The art of dreaming.
Little drops of sunshine
Come February the flower department at the grocery store overflows with cheerful blossoms. I can never resist them, of course, and this is how this perennial cutie made it to my home. It drew me close with its enticing fragrance (primroses have a delightful perfume), even though the cheerful yellow would have been reason enough.
If you have a cottage garden you must have primroses. Almost as nostalgic and old-fashioned as the violets the primroses share their heart-shaped leaves, their demure demeanor and avid spreading habits, their charming scent and their simply romantic flowers. They don't tolerate draughts or full sun exposure well but will not mind heavy soils.
Primroses are not demanding plants, though not long lived. Their blooming season is incredibly long, spanning from mid-February until way into May.
There is a lot of folklore associated with the primrose, some quirky and cheery, some sad and heartbreaking. I'll just go through a few superstitions I found fascinating.
In the old times people believed primroses could give them the ability to see fairies and also protect folks from the magical beings' well-known mischief.
If you are raising chickens never get a primrose posy with less than thirteen flowers or some of the eggs under the hen won't hatch. Bringing the flowers indoors, especially in groups of less than thirteen spells miserable luck and certain doom.
In Germany primroses are called key flowers because of a legend associated with them: a little girl found a door covered in flowers, touched it with a primrose and discovered an enchanted castle. The cute yellow flowers are thought to grow over buried treasure and open passage to secret worlds.
As far as the flowers in the picture are concerned, they came from the grocery store in a pot. I didn't count the blossoms before I brought them inside the house but I'm still breathing, so I assume they were at least thirteen. I waited until the end of March and planted them in the back yard. I'll watch them carefully this spring and if they bloom I'll dig for treasure!
I miss daffodils when the weather turns cold so I plant more and more every fall, each spring realizing I didn't plant enough. This year I focused on fragrance and most new varieties are classic jonquil yellow.
There is a large clump of daffodils in front of my door, they've been there for a long time, hidden in the ivy ground cover. Because of the northern exposure and the shade of mature trees they bloom very late, with the lilacs and the peonies, after all the other spring bulbs have faded.
Why I garden
It is easy to forget at the end of November how bountiful, special and miraculous the botanical world can be. There is no limit to the exuberance of greenery in spring, the garden doesn't need a reason to pour fourth abundance.
After the fall clean-up is finally over and two rounds of snow already rolled in this picture looks unreal, as if from another dimension where this profusion of color is possible, but I know it's not, it is just my back yard at a different time of year, a time I'll get to enjoy again soon, and this is why I garden.
White cats are rare which makes their abundance of peculiarities even more unique. The only reason white Persians seem commonplace is because they have been selectively bred to meet the high demand for their fluffy snowball kittens.
The gene that imparts white fur to felines is a dominant masking gene. If it is present the cat may have several colors but not express them. The same gene is responsible for deafness and the screening of pigmentation which renders their eyes blue. It only acts upon eye color and hearing in degrees whereas its presence always makes the cats' coats white.
Here's some more white cat trivia. Long haired white cats are three times as likely to be hard of hearing in both ears than their short haired counterparts. Cats with a dominant masking gene are not albinos: their pigmentation is masked, not absent, fact proven by their sparkling blue eyes. Albino eyes are always pink.
Deaf white cats are very sensitive to light due to the scarcity of pigmentation in their irises; they also have very little melanin in their skin and therefore an increased risk of sunburn.
Eighty-five percent of the orange tabbies are male, apparently the responsible gene is rarely active in female cats unless both parents are ginger. Marmalade cats are considered the friendliest, most outgoing cat breed. Their sunny personality is very accommodating of people, especially small children.
Why are we talking about cats in a gardening weekly you ask? Because its mid-November and all the plants are done for, that's why. So, just cats then.
Yeah, this looks comfortable enough, I think I'll take a little nap. Do you mind? A little privacy, please!
Look at this snow princess, have you ever seen a more delightful creature in your life? Persian cats have a decorous personality that unfairly earned them the reputation of furniture with fur. They aren't a very active and sociable breed, one has to earn their trust and affection and they are not given to antics even as kittens. It takes a lot of work to maintain this spotless coat, daily brushing, a balanced diet, a low stress environment, and unwarranted fussing makes kitty uncomfortable.
If Snow White ignores you it might not be because of a superiority complex, but just because it can't hear you. The genes that carry the white coat color make cats prone to deafness and having two blue eyes (a surprising number of white cats are odd-eyed) raises the likelihood of congenital hearing loss to over eighty percent.
White cats in general are rare which makes their abundance of peculiarities even more unique. The only reason white Persians seem commonplace is because they have been selectively bred to meet the high demand for their fluffy snowball kittens.
The gene that imparts white fur to felines is a dominant masking gene. If it is present the cat may have several colors but not express them. The same gene is responsible for deafness and the screening of pigmentation which renders their eyes blue. It only acts upon these areas in degrees whereas its presence always makes the cats' coats white.
Long hair white breeds are three times as likely to be hard of hearing in both ears than their short hair counterparts. Cats with a dominant masking gene and albino cats are white for different reasons: the former, whose pigmentation is masked, will have blue eyes, the latter, whose pigmentation is absent, will have pink eyes.
Deaf white cats are very sensitive to light due to the scarcity of pigmentation in their irises; this also increases their risk of sunburn.
It is possible for a cat to be completely white without albinism or the masking gene, but it is extremely rare. The phenomenon is known as white spotting.
If you want to know the softest, warmest and most comfortable place in a room just let a cat pick it. They will always find the plush sheltered chair, the cozy patch of sunshine on the carpet, the soft velvet pillow close to the fireplace, the warm chenille blanket, and the all times favorite, the floor heating grille.
When outdoors they seek sun baked flagstones and bask in the heat of ceramic roof tiles at high noon.
Cats are very fond of warmth and can tolerate temperatures twenty degrees above those that would make humans very uncomfortable; there are anecdotes about them seeking shelter on top of terracotta stoves, behind glass kilns, in front of bread ovens, sometimes so close to the fire their whiskers get singed.
So what better place for a cat to be than the tropics where the temperature never drops below seventy and where there is always an abundance of foliage for a comfortably sheltered nook. Did you know there are cat populations on tiny uninhabited islands in the middle of the ocean? No doubt descendents of ship's cats who snuck off their boats unnoticed.
Abraham deLacy, Giuseppe Casey
Did you know that ginger female cats are quite rare? If you see Thomas O'Malley roaming around your garden on his daily route there is a very good chance that it really is a tomcat.
Eighty-five percent of the orange tabbies are male, apparently the responsible gene is rarely active in female cats unless both parents are ginger. Marmalade cats are considered the friendliest, most outgoing cat breeds. Their sunny personality is very accommodating of people, especially small children.
Cat on the roof
If you are not a cat you don't realize how annoying humans can be. They will find you anywhere and they always want to pick you up (the indignity!), so you have to be nimble and find yourself little nooks and crannies that are simply out of reach.
This kitty found itself a spot one can't access unless one weighs under fifteen pounds, has no shoulders and is able to squeeze through a four inch gap. The fact that it happens to be twenty feet above ground doesn't hurt either. Finally some peace and quiet!
Yep, it's snow!
Frost on grass
Speaking of evergreens an obvious one that nobody thinks of as such is grass. Whether it is under the snow or exposed to single digit temperatures grass doesn't go into hibernation, a fact often overlooked in the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, muddy cold days and snow shoveling.
Roses and snow
When I said these roses bloom well into the winter I wasn't joking. They didn't even mind the snow.
It feels strange to me that my fescue/blue grass mix stays green through the cold season but goes dormant as soon as the weather turns hot and dry in the middle of summer. The only time of the year when this grass dies down is when everything else is at the peak of vegetative growth, especially heat loving meadow flowers like lavenders, daisies and thistles.
Now the green blades peek from under the snow, crisp in the cool air and reminding me how high maintenance they really are. Trust me, a patch of grass requires three times the amount of work required for a perennial bed of the same size and no amount of effort is ever enough. I wrestle an endless fight with the weeds, perennial or otherwise, and between the treatments, the aeration, the mowing, the watering and the reseeding of bald patches the work never ends.
Meanwhile the perennial flower beds gingerly take care of themselves, not picky about draughts or an occasional weed, only in need of the sporadic deadheading if the spirit moves me.
The thought makes me frown at the grass which is of course oblivious to my discontent and looks very pretty as the chilled sunshine glows through the ice crystals festooning its blades.
Snow really came early and brought frigid temperatures in its trail. I quickly went through the fall garden work checklist to see if I forgot anything. Plant spring bulbs, check. Clean up leaves, check. Clean up dried-up annual stems, not so much. And now it snowed on them.
Snow in November, ugh! I take another tour of the garden and notice the roses are frozen half open; they will probably resume blooming as soon as the snow melts. There is not much else going on, the season of hibernation arrived.
A fleeting patch of sunshine gave me just the right illumination to bring out the magic of the winter landscape. It created haloes of golden light around the unassuming grasses against the fresh background of the snow. The quick snapshot looks like the pictures in gardening books and that warms my heart in spite of the freezing weather.
I don't really believe in winter landscaping, one red stick does not a garden make, especially when everything around it is brown and gray and the sky bears down like lead. The cone flower seed heads look blackened and creepy in the cold wet air, the grasses soon start taking the dreary appearance of damp hay and the pretty red berries on the trees get consumed long before the end of the winter.
I like to think of the cold season as a time for the garden to rest, it certainly deserves it.
Deep purple sedum
I haven't seen this purple on sedums before, this fall's weather patterns created very colorful foliage on plants that are normally quite subdued. The hosta and daylily leaves shone a sunny yellow variegated with lime green and copper and the sedums turned purple.
I'm so looking forward to the new shade garden next spring, sedums feature prominently in it. I didn't think I'd be able to plant that area of my garden, it had too much shade, tree roots and ivy, and I am simply giddy with anticipation.
Generally when you think evergreens an image of some plant with needles comes to mind but they come in all forms and sizes from the surprisingly fragile low mounding of candytuft to the starched stiffness of hellebores, whose leaves have the tension and resilience of metal sheet.
The yew in the picture is one of the often overlooked structural elements of the garden. People plant yews to conceal what's behind them rather than for the charm of the yews, I thought it deserved a picture, especially now with a graceful dusting of snow on top.
It actually started to feel like fall, even with the flowers still in bloom when you pass mid-September you start waiting for winter. Not the most charming of times, fall is, once it's done with the turning of the foliage and the picking of the gourds and the planting of the bulbs and the clearing of the leaves it remains wet and barren and as exciting as an old disheveled crow in a dead tree.
An aromatic addition to the perennial herb garden, sweet scented and pretty.
Back to more pleasant imagery, here comes fluffy! There is fluffy everywhere, as I said, September is panache month. One tends to underestimate the importance of texture in the garden but the grasses really are pretty with their chenille fuzz undulating gently in the wind. They feel plush and cuddly and soften the harsh edges of the flower beds with billowy curves.
The stonecrops are in bloom, also fluffy and fuzzy, punctuating the garden with blushing umbrellas and blending with the soft plumes of goldenrod in an old-fashioned tapestry image.
As I enjoy my flower beds' accommodating demeanor the clouds of the old days pass over my mind, the years when my garden fought me viciously, yielding only thistle and scratchy sticks as if to spite me and waste my sweat. This just comes to prove that perseverance does help eventually. So does counting to ten, valuing the effort in and of itself, and the bane of all joy, experience.
With self-denial and the patience of Job I managed to uproot some well established weed ecosystems that endured for decades and came with the garden as a package deal. Some people say gardening isn't easy. It is easy, just not during the first ten years.
There is a brief respite between the jungle growth habits of summer and the never ending work of removing dried up stems and getting the leaves off the lawn (try it on a breezy day, you'll love it!) when the flower beds are tame and obliging and no plant grows out of proportion or requires special attention to look decent.
Everything is green, the leaves are healthy and fuzzy plumes dangle gracefully over the landscape, without that dreadful hay look they acquire in winter.
During this time frame I usually set aside my dislike for the season and try to make the best of it by adding to the garden a few new perennials. This year's were toad lilies, catmint, two low growing varieties of creeping veronicas and lady's mantle
After a while you only need to get plants you never grew before, for the rest the garden self-supplies. That is how I ended up with three more crane's bills, a lot of baby's breath, several heucheras, more daisies, white and purple garden phlox, daylilies galore, irises and two fragrant hostas.
If you transplant and divide perennials during the month of September they will be less stressed without the threat of draught and extreme temperatures and still have enough time to acclimate to their new surroundings before the garden wraps up for the season.
That's this prairie grass's best look, soft cascading plush. Later in the fall it opens up all its seed heads which become matted plumes of wooly fuzz in a dull straw beige.
For now it's soft and colorful and its flowy mane shines and shows no signs of frizz. One good thing about grasses is that they come in so many colors other than green and so many patterns other than solid.
This used to look a lot prettier in previous years, unfortunately this variety of fountain grass is not long lived. Several clumps slowly fizzled out and this one is not as thick as it used to be.
Its spikes are still the fluffiest in the land, at least for now until the maiden hair matures. If you thought grasses need no maintenance, think again: this plant produces significantly more spikes and looks a lot lusher and healthier with a good dressing of organic fertilizer.
This year I planted squashes for their flowers; even when fruit starts to develop it often succumbs to blossom rot. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. It is official that the giant summer zucchini was not the best choice for my micro garden, as it takes up all the space including the concrete path and doesn't like it here either. Maybe the weather didn't agree with cucurbits this year, the cucumbers are quite pitiful too.
I sprinkled a few perennial mums and asters through the garden and now fall is a lot more floriferous than it used to be.
It rained a little over night and the weather cooled, it is September after all. The garden looks neater and tidier than usual if you don't count the crazies (goldenrod, nicotiana and four o clocks) and the squashes, which are in a la-la land of their own.
The rest of the flowers settled into mutually agreeable patterns and stopped crowding each other. They now punctuate the landscape with rosy bunches of stonecrops, golden rusts of hardy mums and brazen pinks of zinnias.
The summer was reasonably fruitful but the bulk of the harvest begins just now - the eggplants, the carrots, the parsnips, the dry beans. Tomatoes generally boost their production at this time, careful to ensure sufficient progeny before the first frost. As usual, if you are curious about the quantities, check out the yield table.
It seems like winter and spring will be milder than normal which means that the young and frost tender perennials may make it through the cold season. Last time I checked my climate zone in order to pick the right plants the graph showed me that I am no longer in zone five. It really got warmer, people.
Every season has its character: spring is the realm of colorful flower carpets, summer gives in with abandon to exuberant growth, and fall is panache time.
Maiden grasses wave their soft chenille seed heads displaying sophisticated natural hues, ranging from wheat to soft purple. Their foliage color covers the whole range, from bright ruby red to straw yellow, purple and every shade of green. Solid or variegated, dwarf or seven foot tall, sporting velvety manes, spiky shoots or puffy flower clusters, the grasses are at their best in September when their foliage hasn't yet wilted but their ripeness shows itself in full glory.
They are not however the only plants to sway above the landscape with the grace of dancers. I discovered the qualities of this native of the northern plains, goldenrod, a few years ago and since then it grew and multiplied in spectacular fashion. Like all native perennials, once in your garden, always in your garden. The flowers are spectacular in mass plantings where their bright yellow bunches create a great effect. In its natural habitat goldenrod covers entire meadows in gold and sunshine.
I didn't heed the warning that it is invasive but must admit it that it spreads with the enthusiasm of a vicious weed, good thing that it is pretty. I can't resent it, even though it took a significant chunk of the full sun flower border for itself and grew eight feet tall.
I didn't have the heart to pull it and now it towers over the roses at a completely random location with its sunny flowers waving in the wind like a flag. The one in the picture surrendered to the weight of its flowers and bent down gracefully to kiss the grass.
Flowers of the potager
Since I have an official vegetable garden I embraced the tradition of planting "veggie flowers" to make it look pretty. A potager can be beautiful enough in and of itself, the bean flowers come in charming hues and the squashes keep you well stocked with little drops of sunshine throughout the summer. The cabbages, cauliflower heads, Swiss chards and rhubarbs provide accents of color, while the graceful seed heads of anise and dill offer texture.
Even so gardeners like to embellish, but in a practical, harvest oriented sort of way. This is how nasturtiums and marigolds became the traditional flowers of the veggie patch. Nasturtiums are edible and give a pleasant peppery spice to salads. Marigolds are great at keeping predators at bay with their pungent smell and are usually planted around tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. I'd say gardeners find an excuse to keep their vegetable yards pretty.
Pamper your skin
If any hands deserve pampering and care, there would be those of gardeners who scoop and putter, weed and feed and by the end of the day their hands get rough and blistered, with dirt under the fingernails and hardened cuticles. It is hard work to bring forth the miracle of harvest.
I wish you many blessings for the effort you put forth and will share this skin pampering recipe for you to enjoy: one quarter cup of vegetable oil, one tablespoon of coconut oil, one tablespoon of beeswax, one tablespoon of vitamin E oil (or one tablespoon of oil and two vitamin E capsules), one teaspoon of lanolin, half a cup of very strong calendula petals tea and your favorite fragrance. Warm up the oils and wax until they are liquid and fully blended, stir in the strained calendula tea and the fragrance and whip in a blender until smooth and creamy. Calendula heals small cuts and scrapes, lanolin is wonderfully conditioning and beeswax will form a protective layer over your skin that keeps the moisture in and the irritants out.
It's hot, ladies and gentlemen!
What are you doing, cold weather beauty? Not only it is two months ahead of schedule (toad lilies bloom at the end of October), but it picked the hottest day of the month to shine. A late heat wave is slowly baking the garden and the summer favorites enjoy an extension on their peak season.
I just wanted to brag about my eggplants, there are four of them and more in bloom. With the weather being so warm those are probably going to yield fruit too before the end of the growing season.
You have to get really close to appreciate toad lilies' blossoms which are small but unbelievably detailed. I don't think there is a flower in this part of the world that so closely approximates orchids.
They are hardy to zone 5 and bloom in the shade, the last flowers to bloom in the garden after the trees have shed their leaves, the sedums have gone to seed and even the all suffering calendulas succumbed to the cold.
Their pretty blossoms are festooned by ice crystals on frigid November mornings and twinkle like bedazzled polka-dotted stars above the barren landscape of a sleeping garden. I'm baffled to see them surrounded by shiny green leaves, they are so early this year!
Let their flowers go to seed and you may be blessed with new plants naturally. Give them moisture, shade and humus, this is what they like, they are woodland plants. Their preferred environment explains how they managed to get such an awful name despite their stunning beauty.
Toad lilies really do belong to the lily family and will take up to three years to look their best. They can be propagated by division but you have to be very careful because they don't like being transplanted.
In everybody else's garden Morning Glories bloom all summer long; they open their cheerful trumpets early in the morning when the sun is bright but forgiving and twist their flowers closed come noon to protect their delicate corollas from the heat.
They slow down at the end of the summer and fade in the background, surpassed by the intensity of the asters and garden mums.
Not in my garden. They start out slowly sometime at the end of June and take their sweet time to build up their foliage. Not a singular flower appears until August and the vine uses all its resources to clamber the pine tree it grows under.
When the vine reaches the first branches it spreads out and starts blooming profusely, this usually happens mid-September and goes on for more than a month during which the cerulean blue trumpets look like little drops of sky adorning the tree. Cold fall mornings bring up weird color combinations and the pure blue shifts to bright pink, magenta or violet, bearing stripes, gradients and watercolor smudges.
From September on they don't let up, not for the cold, nor for the gray skies, not for the rain. They keep draping the tree in garlands of heavenly blue flowers until the first snow covers them.
Plumbago is one of those fail proof groundcovers like periwinkle or ivy, with the added benefit of abundant blue flowers in the fall. I have this plant in full sun and part shade, I transplanted some of it to cover a problem slope with very loose soil and it performs beautifully.
No maintenance, it doesn't mind draught, light shade, poor soil, and will spread if it has room. Late in the fall its leaves turn a gorgeous ruby red, very attractive must have plant.
If you have an impossible condition in your garden you might want to try sedums. I managed to fill dry shade spaces that seemed hopeless. They grow very fast too and can dress up your garden in just one season.
Bees and butterflies are very fond of them, as seen in this picture. Want more bee and butterfly favorites? Go for aromatic plants with composite flowers: dill, mint, milkweed, goldenrod, hyssop, anise.
I often mention that the garden has a will of its own and bends the intent of landscape design to seasonal whimsy. This year it decided to take on a cool look in white and green right at the end of August when flower beds traditionally boast bright oranges, yellows and fiery reds.
Yes they did!
Now this is more like what I remember they should look like. Normally beans produce so much you can't keep up with harvesting them.
The Plantain or August lily takes on a prominent role in August and I am thrilled to have planted some that are fragrant. Their flowers smell like lilies and lily of the valley, with just a little magnolia scent blended in. I don't think most people think of hostas as fragrant flowers because most varieties aren't, but when they are scented they can compete with the roses.
I have a full shade garden now, filled with foam flowers, bugbane, sweet woodruff, lily of the valley and yes, lots of hostas. Joy of joys, this year I found and adopted two toad lilies whose orchid like polka-dotted purple flowers bloom at the beginning of November.
Fragrant hostas punctuate the path to my front door, pendulous trumpets scenting the air, it looks like I finally found what will bloom against a north foundation wall in full shade.
A full shade perennial garden in bloom is the Holy Grail of gardening, often coveted but rarely achieved. If it grows it doesn't bloom, if it blooms it doesn't smell, if both come true it can't tolerate draught and becomes a monument to high maintenance. And then again, sometimes it just comes together effortlessly to spoil you with fragrant white flowers as you walk to your door.
Despite the coolness of the weather the peppers took in the extra food in the soil and put it to good use. They are a little late and I can't remember if these flowers belong to the ancient sweets, the chilis or the regular bell peppers because the fruit is still very small and the vegetable patch is a miniature impenetrable jungle.
A surprise this year, the eggplants are pouring fruit like crazy. I am beyond impressed considering how difficult these plants usually are, I guess fertilizer had something to do with it. Not all plants like force feeding, I found out, the tomatoes are at a standstill right around the time of year where I can't keep up with picking them and the cucumbers are underwhelming, but I'm going to blame that on the dry weather and myself for not watering them enough.
After taking over my garden path the green summer zucchini finally produced large and fast growing fruit, so I don't feel too bad about the cluttered chaos.
You can grow a tomato but you can't train it on a stake, at least not the stakes I have anyway. The plants are too large and too heavy, so I abandoned the quest for order and control and let them sprawl despite my better judgment. They seem not to care.
We've got green beans yielding steadily throughout the summer and real carrots and parsnips with roots and everything. September is rolling around but I expect we'll have at least two more months of veggies. If you want to see how the micro farm project is going so far, click here. Modestly, the quantities are in ounces.
Daisies will take over a sunny spot, which is why I dug them out of the tiny and valuable full sun exposure corner of my flower bed and distributed them around less fortunate areas with clay and some shade.
I would lie if I said they liked it better, I felt a little guilty about this, but they still bloom in part shade, which was the desired result.
Summer is winding down with unexpected gentleness, there is a cool breath in the air unmistakably calling for the next season.
Usually you can only feel the arrival of fall in the oblique light, the radiant golden light that is brimming with sweetness like a fruit while the warmth in the air still flushes your face as you come out the door. Not this year, though, not this year.
Long awaited grace
The Kentucky Blue Wonder beans are in bloom and they look more like what I remember seeing in my grandparents' garden during my childhood. I also remember that my grandfather couldn't find enough ways to preserve the produce that springs forth from this horn of plenty - the climbing bean, so here are a few ways to deal with overflow crops if you are so blessed.
I haven't had much luck with thyme in years past but this potted crop seems to be doing well so far.
First, cook as many as you can palate fresh, they taste best. I don't care how much you like green beans though, there comes a point when you would rather chew on wrapping paper than see another stringy pod again, so here are the alternatives:
1) blanch and freeze them. Trim the ends of the pods and submerge them for one minute in boiling water, then place them in a bowl of ice water. Remove them, seal them in frost proof plastic bags and place them in the freezer.
2) can them. An old time favorite, because it doesn't require refrigeration and lasts indefinitely. Place the pods in clean jars, fill to the brim with briny water or tomato juice, seal the jars and simmer them for forty minutes in a water bath to pasteurize them, then remove the jars from the bath and let them cool down very slowly, preferably covered with towels or blankets so the heat doesn't dissipate too quickly, over the next twelve hours. I always add lemon juice to the brine, the increased acidity lowers to chances of spoilage and the processing temperature required for preservation. It also keeps the color vibrant and the beans crisp.
3) pickle them. Apparently they can be pickled in vinegar like cucumbers but I never tried.
Always remember to mark the date on the jars and discard anything that makes the lid pop, that means the vacuum seal is broken (if you push on the lid it shouldn't yield at all).
If you still have too many beans you can let them ripen, they will turn to dry beans eventually but the plant will stop producing pods if you don't remove them.
Isn't this beautiful, though? Gardening is such joy!
Can you believe this?
When it rains it pours! I'm not sure what I'm going to do with so many hot peppers other than to record them in the yield table for bragging rights at the end of the season.
This pepper plant overwintered in the house (it is a perennial, you know, it just needs warmer climates) and came out in spring a little frail. It took it a while to rebuild its foliage but bloomed like crazy at the same time and now we see the results.
Does produce really taste better when you grow it yourself? Absolutely. Before esteemed local growers raise as one in protest I am going to append that the activity of caring for, picking and preparing the produce is also part of the experience and can't be underestimated.
I think the first use for this overabundance of harvest will be a new batch of aromatic vinegar. I didn't have any luck with basil this year and haven't gotten to buying another pot yet, but try this: find a decorative bottle and place a fresh cut sprig of opal basil inside. Add chopped hot peppers, peppercorns, a few cloves of garlic, bay leaves and woody stems of rosemary and then fill the bottle with white vinegar.
The basil quickly turns the vinegar a beautiful pomegranate color but the flavors take a few days to steep in. Did you know that acidic media make the reds and violets of fruits and foliage more intense? On the other hand the same substance placed in an alkaline bath will shift gradually from purple to blue and then electric green. That's why raspberry lemonade is pink and green eggs are, well, green.
If you don't know how to make green eggs, you just mix the whites with beet juice. I'm not saying that there is any reason whatsoever to cook green eggs, I'm just saying that you can. And I have the hot peppers to go with them it looks like.
The first tomatoes were a little late this year, with the weather being so cold and all, but winter comes later and later and we have plenty of time till November. These are the cherry tomatoes, but the "Abe Lincoln" variety also bore fruit.
I think I overfed the veggie garden, it looks like an aggressive little jungle. I had to dig the cucumbers out of the knee high plumbago to see if they had any fruit.
Still mostly male flowers on the squashes. There were two little proto-squashes, but one didn't come to fruition. I have patience, last year I waited a month between the first male flowers and the first female ones.
The flowers are so cheerful and are really large too. I never tried them in salads, or better yet, crepe batter. I wish I had a bigger garden...
Between magenta and violet
Basking in the sunlight
Did you know that betony was thought to chase away vengeful ghosts, evil enchantments and bad dreams? I'm not acquainted with its alleged magical properties or even the real medicinal ones (apparently it was a prized healing herb in the ancient herbal medicine collection, supposed to provide relief for headaches and gastrointestinal upset), I just love its graceful purple flowers that float above a thick rosette of oblong leaves whose edges look like they have been decorated with a paper crafts crimper.
Echinacea needs no introduction, of course, it bloomed early this year. I still can't find it in my heart to harvest it, it is too pretty!
Like most of the aromatic and medicinal herbs it belongs to the mint family. It is a very long lived perennial with an accommodating personality that weathers draughts, partial shade and heavy soils very successfully. I inherited it and spread it around the garden as the clumps grew and it adjusted quickly to its new locations.
Don't spurn the short bloomed perennials, they are essential to the ever changing tapestry that is the all seasons garden. If you plan your garden well there should be flowers in it that come back year after year and stay in bloom for most of the growing season to provide continuity and structure for the movable landscape of spring bulbs, June roses and fall mums. Betony puts forth one long lived bloom at the beginning of summer and then modestly fades into the background to make room for the gladioli, lilies, daisies and black-eyed Susans.
I planted betony in part-shade. It likes full sun better, of course, but it will bloom if there is enough food and water. It grows more delicate in the shade, its elongated flowers balancing tentatively atop tender stems.
As far as its eerie protective qualities are concerned I really wouldn't know. Here it is, glowing in the sunlight, almost radiant.
When you create a garden for children don't forget the snapdragons. The little ones love to pinch the "dragon mouths" to make them snap open and at times the plant looks like it's pouting with indignation against the uninvited pestering. It releases delightful fragrance as it snaps back shut, relieved to be finally left alone.
Snapdragons are willful plants, they don't like being trained, contained or selectively bred. Their offshoots sprout all over the place and grow as tall as they please, reverting to the original color and demeanor in the process. For instance these pretty flowers are the descendants of a miniature and very compact hybrid painted in delicate pastel hues of blush and butter cream.
They decided to grow in the rose bush and I wouldn't dream of bothering them, you can plant a snapdragon but you can't make it grow where you want it to. They will undulate underneath perennial clumps, arch over the grass, disturb the height harmony of the flower border, sport unexpected colors in the middle of the carefully designed color scheme and still pout at even the thought of compliance.
They are not annuals either even though they are used as such. You may not live in a warm climate zone but some of them will still overwinter for no explainable reason and stay green through freezing temperatures, just because they feel like it.
If the concept of plant personality seems strange to you I can assure you that all plants have one and will assert it fiercely. As you can clearly see in this picture the snapdragons are not pleased.
I like to think of some flowers as garden echoes, reverberations of plantings of years past. Word to the wise, if you ever bring these wonderful children of the wilderness, the French mallows, into your garden you will always have them, they bounce from year to year sprouting in the most unexpected places to assert their vibrant zest for life.
Did you know they have a color named after them? Mauve is short for mauve-de-bois, the French name of this plant.
I planted German Catchfly a while back and every year I forget it is there until of course it blooms. Its very unassuming clumps completely blend into the landscape until the end of May when the plant sports tall slender stems topped with purplish-pink composite flowers.
It is a very resilient herbaceous perennial with tufted grass like foliage, one of those perennial garden staples that bloom reliably and require virtually no maintenance, a great choice for a pink and purple theme perennial garden. Propagate by division in the fall.