The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making


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Rekindling the Romance

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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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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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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Project: Copper Tri-pod aka Fancy Bird Perch

You may remember last year I hauled my dog-pee-spot-of-a-whiskey barrel up from the curb to break up the large expanse of my oversized driveway (it detracted from the newly planted crabapples out front). I added a bamboo tripod wrapped with grapevines for a Cardinal Climber vine hoping to attract hummingbirds for a close view from the porch. Well, it worked!

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In fact many birds perched on the tripod and made it a stop on their way to the other side of our driveway. Then, that bitch, Wicked Wind of the West blew in and snapped off the bamboo right at the base! Unbelievable.

Well, I didn’t want to give up my new found, bird-attracting perch, so I thought I would make a Bionic Tripod – we can rebuild! I opted for something with more strength that would not snap in two and still have garden appeal – copper pipes.

The pipes came in 10′ lengths and the height worries me a bit with the wind, but I’m lazy and would have had to ask my “contractor” for help cutting the pipes – ah, no – we’ll use as is, he’s expensive (ha ha).

My favorite contractor

My favorite contractor “Big Bern.” He’s pretty sexy.

I like height (being short). Not the cheapest project I have tackled but I realize I have a lot of copper accents going on around the porch area so I am pleased with it. I had some copper wire lying around (from another project) that I used to “tie” the pipes together. I got a little fancy with it. Then I ran out …

But I still had the grapevines from the old tripod! So I attached them with “copper colored?” twine. (I received a whole box of different colored twines for Christmas – thanks Dad!)

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Well, the wind – she has huffed and puffed and tried her best to blow down my fancy bird perch, but so far I have won!

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I can’t wait to plant Corkscrew Vine in here and have it wind up the grapevines and into the copper pipes. Kathy at Easy to Grow Bulbs (where I purchased the vine from – very pleased!) was kind enough to provide me with photos of Corkscrew Vine that she grew in her own garden.

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I know, gorgeous! These vines can grow up to 15′! They are also supposed to be very fragrant. I wonder what the hummingbirds will think of THIS!


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Project: Winter Green

Each year I like to dress up my window boxes and containers with greens and other natural elements. Last year I didn’t quite get it together in time before the glacial ice and snow. This year, even though I migrated, I still made a little time to dress up my containers. To me, there is nothing worse, aside from dirty snow and road slush, than dead or empty containers that call to mind the Nightmare Before Christmas.

Normally, I make a dump run and spend my time picking through all the prunings before they are mulched. I have found some beautiful greens at our local dump – cedar, white pine, spruce, birch branches … See what I have put together in years past here, here, here, and here. This year, because I was a bit earlier than usual, I didn’t have anything to choose from so I resorted to a back state road. I was a little nervous that I might get stuck since there was snow on the ground at that time and the road is not plowed. I was also a little nervous that it may be hunting season of one kind or another. However, it was a beautiful sunny day and I went to work clipping some bows – actually the trees I chose could have used a little pruning. A stand of cattails also caught my eye and the fuzzy red “horns” of the Staghorn Sumac. I didn’t make the large haul I usually do but I have a stash of pinecones, too. I didn’t have nearly enough green for the whiskey barrel but I did have a stash of bamboo tiki torch remains. I arranged them in a Christmas tree-like shape. A red bow will hopefully keep them from falling apart from the blows of the Wicked Wind of the West.

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I salvaged these baskets from my gardening job and thought they would dress up our workshop garage. These may very likely get blown apart since our driveway is the runway for the Wicked Wind of the West. I really like the cattails.

The back entrance to our newly enclosed porch gets a basket. I pruned some of my yellow twig dogwood (because I want to be better about it than my cardinal dogwood which has grown too thick), and saved the not-quite-turned-yellow branches for baskets. A handful of pinecones and some sprigs of hops from the garden add a finishing touch.

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I used more hops in my cedar window box on the front porch. Each Spring I am sure to find peanuts in these baskets from the Blue Jays I feed them to. I just love the golden hops.

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My favorite baskets are the “Michael’s find” that sit atop the pillars to our front steps. I think I purchased both of these metal baskets for around $14 and still remember a woman stopping to ask me if they are antiques. I found them almost immediately after we moved in, or I should say I think they found me. The Sumac berries add a little punch to these. I had dreams of cutting my own Winterberry branches once my bushes mature, but now realize that the birds will always beat me to the berries each Autumn and that’s okay.

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At least our house will look a little festive for those who remain in the Northern climate. Christmas here is much more understated than in my Northern home. I think in the North we are bombarded by Christmas because of the darkening grey skies and colder temperatures. People need that Christmas cheer. Here, well the sun still shines. Still, I found an empty cement urn on the driveway to our rental and lots of fallen pinecones during a bike ride. I put the two together – there’s nothing worse than a dead or empty container … And I love the green backdrop!

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