The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

Rekindling the Romance

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It was a dark and stormy day … bracing myself here for what they are calling a 10-20 year storm with damaging high winds. Yes that bitch Wicked Witch of the West is back big and bad, and in our faces! No s*** yet, just November rain. It’s not dampening my spirits so far. I’ve spent days – maybe even over a week! – in my own garden and the weather was/has been perfectly, unbelievably, magically beautiful. It’s as if the Universe parted the skies and granted me all my wishes! Crisp cool air, clear blue skies – THAT is how I remember my favorite North Country Fall. One warmer day I even had to take off my fleece because man, that sun was still warm and I was working it baby – in a tee shirt! In November! Sweating in MY garden! Can life get any better?

I came to the realization that my true wish is to spend everyday, all day in my garden! It truly is my passion. I feel whole. I feel myself again. I feel better, rejuvenated, calm, spent. I feel love, joy. I feel feelings I didn’t know I was missing. Yes, this is the romance my garden and I used to have. The birds were flocking and singing as if it were Spring. The dirt was deliciously dark. The sun gloriously gold. The leaves and stalks brazenly husky. The weeds were amazingly tall but I conquered. I hacked. I shoveled. I raked. I hoed. I clipped. I pulled. I dug to China. I whimpered. I groaned. I moaned and swore like a sailor. And you know something? I can’t wait to get back out there again! I want to move mountains of weeds and plants. I want to finish my little back yard patio. I want to put in my new Woodland Edge path … I want to skip winter and jump right into Spring. I don’t need a break – I want to garden!

For weeks, maybe even months, I have been pondering how I can redesign my garden so that I can maintain it. I didn’t realize how heavily it upset me to see it grow so wild and out of control. I don’t mind wild but well, it was getting quite rambunctious. There’s wild and then there’s unkempt. I first started noting “problem areas” – areas that sucked up my time or that repeatedly needed my hand. Then I contemplated how to make them easier to maintain so that they could grow and flourish without my whip of control.

I started with the Potager which I haven’t posted much about all Summer because it was such a mess. The first thing I did was clean out the greenhouse. I never did take down the hornet’s nest when I should have and well, seeing those guys work so hard  building, I just didn’t have the heart to destroy it. So, I avoided the greenhouse … can you tell? (Yes, that is a grape vine growing in through the vent from the nearby fence.) Believe it or not I did put down weed fabric under that stone – don’t ever ask me to advertise weed fabric ha ha! Lesson: take down the hornet’s nest immediately!

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Before

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After

It was so satisfying to bring the greenhouse back to life! This year I will be starting my seeds indoors however as I think the nights are still a bit cool for seed germination in the greenhouse. I’ll then transfer the seedlings out to the greenhouse to harden off and grow up strong. I’m not sure what I’ll grow in the greenhouse over the summer. Maybe I’ll start some fall crops to keep the produce coming. Maybe I’ll grow some pots of peppers or other heat-loving plants. I never did get the red noodle beans to take off, or the Malbar spinach. Maybe a big pot of each of those because I feel the problem is our climate here in Northern NY and gosh I really want to see those things grow!

I decided to “consolidate” the Potager and grow only out of raised beds because they are easier to maintain and weed. So I moved one of my raised beds that was nearer the compost pile (aka mountain) to where I had the “teepee tomato tower.” I also repurposed the old cold frame (pre-greenhouse days) into another raised bed. Now the productive food-producing part of the Potager is about three quarters the size it used to be and I will only be growing veggies in raised beds. I decided I am going to dismantle the teepee – it just isn’t working for me – it feels “in the way” – and is difficult to weed around.

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Before

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After

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It feels much more open and welcoming now. The above picture is already old. I have since weeded out all of the invasive Rudbeckia Laciniata (wheelbarrows full!) and the paths, and she’s looking pretty good. I planted some horseradish near the rhubarb because I love both of their large leaves and thought they might work well together. I have other plans for where the horseradish used to be. All my beds are now topped off with compost and leaves and ready for the Winter.

Here is an up to date picture. I have several bricks I just purchased to redo a nice edge for the beginning of this path so that the grass doesn’t creep in.

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My rustic arbor suffered a little damage in a storm we had prior to this one happening at the moment (let’s hope she holds up!). The main roof brace/line broke and part of the frame of the roof also broke. Breaking up is so hard to do so I am going to use some of the branches from the teepee to reinforce these parts of the arbor to see if I can make her last a few more years. I think the trumpet vine is what is holding her together! As I have mentioned before, my plan is to train the Trumpet Vine into a living arbor.

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The area from where I moved the raised bed is now going to be a little backyard patio sitting area! I love to sit out in the garden high summer for happy hour and around dusk. I miss these evening dates we used to have. I have two chairs I keep in the lawn that need to be moved each time we mow (yes, I still have some lawn). So, I thought by making this area into a paved patio I could reduce the amount of weeding I need to do and also have a permanent sitting area. Eventually I would like to acquire some nice wooden Adirondack chairs. I am pretty excited about this new side of the garden, granted it is next to the compost mountain, but backside. I am using large 16×16 pavers to make an approximately 5′ x 5′ patio.

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I “framed in” the Asparagus with some bamboo edging I acquired from a friend so that it, too, now has sort of a raised bed. I used it to frame up some paths, too – more defining.

About two years ago I acquired some plants from our local garden club that I thought were Baneberry. I thought great! these will be perfect under the Eastern White Pine so that’s where I planted them along the fence behind the White Pine. They grew really well – yay! Then they grew to approximately 12′ tall! Hmmm, not any Baneberry I know. What I think I have is Red Elderberry. It bore beautiful white plumes of flowers this summer but I didn’t notice any berries as it was smashed between the fence and White Pine and I think birds probably picked them off. Anyway, I dug those three “little” plants out of there and planted them between the new patio area and fence/property line (just left of the Asparagus – yellow – you see in the photo above) to offer up some coziness and privacy (plus I really look forward to eying those beautiful flowers and the birds eating the berries from my new hot seat!). I am a little worried about them through this storm as they are newly planted and the winds are predicted to be up to 60 mph! I hope, and think, they should be okay.

Red Elderberry?

Red Elderberry?

Another problem I had/have (probably for the next few years at least) is the prolifically propagating Rudbeckia Laciniata. I love this plant but I finally decided it has to go! It is marching over everything and all I can say is the conditions in this part of the garden must be its perfect mate! I have some along the Nice Driveway that never really took off at all and struggles. My condolence is that I will plant some on our lake property in a moist area, because it is native, where it can run rampant over 5 acres. The birds and bees will miss it here but hey, I just offered up some Red Elderberry. We can banter.

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Wheelbarrow full of stalks of Rudbeckia Laciniata

My decision was completely validated when I weeded around my poor Blueberry Bush – at least two wheelbarrows full of Rudbeckia alone! I dug it up from the front of the shed, too, and moved my repurposed trellis to this spot closer to the path so I can grow some beautiful, annual vines up the shed. Where it was, on the other side, was difficult to get to and tend. Also, this large perennial smothered my cute little window box on the shed. Now, I can plant it up and appreciate it.

For years I have struggled to maintain a river rock path through this bed. I give up! Instead I planned a smaller path just to the window box for planting and tending and opted for “fake stone.” Bigger and easier to keep weed free. A good relationship is about compromise, after all.

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I can now see the Winterberry I have planted in this area, too. I just ogle over those bright berries this time of year. The birds can now get to these berries, too. See? We can work it out.

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Red Winterberry

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Orange Winterberry, Ilex Winter Gold

I also did some work out front – mainly weeding, weeding, weeding. My neighbor decided to use hay to create her beds and I’m wondering if I now have hay growing up through my front gardens? I couldn’t get it all but it certainly looks better. I pruned up the Crabapple and planted some great bulbs beneath her for more Spring color: Crown Fritillary in Orange and Yellow, and another cute smaller Fritillary, Fritillaria Michailovskyi. I moved some poppies to the front, too. We’ll see if they take off next year. I planted a Pasque flower out front, too, with red blooms – oh, can’t wait!

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The Crabapple out front through my window.

I stopped my ravenous race around the gardens repeatedly to admire the leaves of the Pin Oak which, sadly, are going to be lost with all this wind. I’m glad I paused when I did.

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There’s lots of love going on here. I have many more dates planned with my garden. Lemonbalm eradication, a stone path through the Woodland Edge so I can better control the bindweed. I am a tried and true organic gardener but even I recognize that some things need a different approach. I am going to use an herbicide to kill the bindweed next year. This decision was not made lightly. I will be very careful in my application. My plan is to soak cotton balls in an herbicide, cut the bindweed off and dab the remaining portion of stem with the cotton ball. I have to. It keeps getting bigger and spreading and is now also along the fence in the Potager. It’s time to try a new strategy.

I have a volunteer shrub(?) growing in Hosta Row that I thought was chokeberry but it certainly does not display chokeberry’s incredible Fall colors so I’m not sure what it is. Because I have limited room now I think I will remove it because what I really want is to plant a patch of Spikenard! Spikenard will also offer berries for the birds. It’s all about give and take. I am very excited to grow Spikenard.

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To be replaced with Spikenard!

Hosta Row still needs some cleaning up but I limbed up the White Pine a little for passage and so that I can plant something underneath. I am considering a hosta or two and starting a patch of low bush blueberries or perhaps try Baneberry again! I will order it myself so I know it truly is Baneberry.

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Hmmm what to plant beneath?

Don’t think those pine boughs went to waste …

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Who knows I may get another day or two to spend with my lovely garden before we set off on our winter adventure. I sure do hope so. I will kiss her good bye and remind her that absence makes the heart grow fonder?

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Author: Kathy Sturr

Cultivating art, growing soul, and creating plant-based food in the beautiful 1000 Islands, New York and Cedar Key, Old Florida.

11 thoughts on “Rekindling the Romance

  1. You go, girl! I’m so glad this mild fall gave you a chance to catch up. Are you going to quit your gardening job next year and spend more time in your own garden?

    • Thanks Kathy! No I’m keeping the gardening job for at least one more year … I think I can find a balance by making some changes to my garden. I am so grateful to be caught up!

  2. How wonderfully happy you sound in this post. I think you need to make your own garden your priority next year and give the other efforts what you have leftover. I’m impressed by how much you got done. I got a real chuckle out of this: “I hacked. I shoveled. I raked. I hoed. I clipped. I pulled. I dug to China. I whimpered. I groaned. I moaned and swore like a sailor. And you know something? I can’t wait to get back out there again! ” Now THAT’S the heart of a gardener! 🙂

    • Thank you Eliza. I am so happy to be back together with my garden. I do need to make it my priority next year and my job second. I am also going to have an art space open to the public next year so my garden will have to stay in tip top shape – there I am forcing myself although it’s not really something someone has to force me to do!

  3. Your garden is looking good. I have a similar pine at my River House and have hostas planted under it and they look lovely all summer. Did the storm ever come? How did your garden survive? I am hoping my River garden is safe and my dock has not blown away. Have a wonderful time in Florida. Hope you will blog about your tropical garden since I have not had much luck with mine in SW FL. Although I did plant beach daisies and they grew so well over the summer they almost took over the yard. LOL

    • Thank you Elayne. All survived! Although a few gusty moments, I don’t think the storm was as bad as the news made it out to be – typical. I’m not sure I’ll get to repair my arbor before we leave so I sure hope it’s still salvageable come Spring. I think your dock is probably intact – no news of stray docks. This year I am bring a tote of houseplants with me thanks to your milk crate suggestion!

  4. Like you I spent day after day in the garden…weeding, digging and finding my garden again. Look at all the work you have accomplished….I know how great it felt….it felt great here too. And now the eye to redesigning as I wander and look and connect again. Your garden will be looking forward to your return…after all it knows you love it.

    • Snow predicted for Sunday Donna … looks like the end and I’ll get to see my snowfall. I still have to bring in a few things that shouldn’t weather but other than that I feel pretty good about the garden. I would have liked to fix my arbor but I am running out of time! 7 days until take off. I can’t wait to see your redesigns – I sure hope the Rudbeckia Laciniata works out for you!

  5. It’s great to see all your progress, hear about your plans, and hear your enthusiasm about your garden again. I think all of us in the northeast have been blessed by this mild November weather that has allowed us catch up on garden chores. (I finally got all the contents of my big truckload of purchased compost into the flower beds this past week.)
    I encountered Aralia ‘Spikenard’ for the first time this summer at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and was instantly smitten. I’m planning to add it my garden next year.

    • I could still be out there Jean if I didn’t have to get going on some other things – like packing! Sometimes I wish I could just hole up for the winter and work on my painting and my house, but dang it’s way too fun to go to Cedar Key and there I can really paint because well, I’m not looking after the garden or my house! I can’t wait to grow Spikenard. It’s bird friendly, too! We could start a Spikenard Lovers & Growers Club!

Thank you for joining me in the making of my garden!

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