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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What’s Blooming: Forget Me Not!

I’m a little late for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens the 15th of each month, but it doesn’t mean I forgot! I decided to spend what time I could IN the garden and not at my “desk” which translates to a table on the back porch where I live 99% of the time. I cannot not post what’s blooming in May! – glorious May before the jungle reigns.

Drifts of Forget-Me-Nots are blooming in the Woodland Edge and Dogwoods are just bursting into bloom.

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Along with Snowflake Flower (Gravetye Giant) and a few later blooming Daffodils that missed our heat wave.

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Amsonia Blue Star, one of my favorites, is just beginning to put on a show in the Woodland Edge.

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It is dry here, amazingly, after all that snow melt. Barely any rain and I’m not one to water. In the Bird & Butterfly Garden the Baptisia is at least a foot shorter than usual. My Forsythia is still gallantly trying to leaf out. Geraniums are loaded with buds but not quite open yet.

And one of my May Flowers has a bloom this year! (Sorry it’s out of focus.)

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The crabapples are blooming out front – oh so heavenly. And spice currant is blooming on the side where I don’t garden, but its wonderful fragrance drifts in through the front porch and windows.

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Creeping phlox and tulips that have not been overtaken by grass that seems to be invading my front gardens. I feel the need to weed!

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And these beautiful early blooming short Iris. I should move some of these to the back where I would enjoy them more. I don’t typically hang out front “in public.”

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I am in love with Cornus Alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) ‘Golden Shadows.’ It should flower eventually like my traditional Pagoda Dogwood as it matures. It just glows among my “shrubs” of Bleeding Heart in Hosta Row.

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Solomon’s Seal is blooming in Hosta Row right now, too. I hope it spreads like the Bleeding Heart.

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Brunnera has a beautiful dainty flower similar to Forget-Me-Not planted up against the North side of the house along the Nice Driveway where poppies are beginning to plump out.

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I’ve saved the best for last. What really has my eye, is Betty Myles Davis Passion Flower who I’ve potted up in a large pot (vacated by a recently deceased houseplant – mean bad gardener!). This is her third bloom already! I am going to enjoy seeing her bloom all summer I hope on the steps of our back porch leading into the garden. I just love her flowers.

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So much happens in May it’s difficult to slow down and enjoy but, thanks to Carol and Gardener’s Bloom Day, I have found a little time.


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What’s Blooming: Rose Petals and Cotton Candy

Well, here we are at the height of Summer for those of us in the Northeastern United States … J-UUU-L-III! This is the month of big bangs of blooms. Picture picnics and sizzling grills (of veggies), beautiful bouquets, carnivals and cotton candy. Reality: I took photos this morning in the rain, in my squeaky, squishy flip flops. No sunny skies here today but that’s okay, I have blooms – lots of big bang blooms!

I am still far behind in my gardening chores – chores that I have listed in my head such as you really, really need to cut back the Black Lace out front. You really, really need to weed that new area by the rose trellis. You really, really need to tie up your cherry tomatoes … on and on. So, you may see a weed, or a dozen, but the blooms are what to focus upon, please.

The Potager is in the worst shape. It needs a cut back, tie up, pull up, fall plant, and a really good day – or two – of weeding. The paths are barely passable, but there are blooms (and buzzes) everywhere – Calendula, Morning Glory, Tomatillos, Purple Perilla and Cutleaf Coneflower have reseeded themselves silly. Trumpet flowers are just beginning to open. The dill and borage are growing tree size!

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Dill Tree

The Bird & Butterfly Garden is becoming choked by Joe and Susan’s love affair. There will be a messy divorce come Fall, I predict. Still, on and on there are blooms – currently, Daisies and Bee Balm – through a veil of Joe Pye just budding.

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Another large growing patch of Bee Balm in the Nice Driveway – safe from Susan. Summer Nights Heliopsis decided to move itself to the Nice Driveway, too. I have also been spreading my Cone Flowers around for fear they will be permanently choked out by Susan. I’ve replanted or deadheaded some in the Nice Driveway, some more out front by yet another patch of Bee Balm, only pink, mixed in with Verbascum which also easily reseeds.

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‘Summer Nights’

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Liatris is finally taking off in the Nice Driveway. Things either thrive or perish in the Nice Driveway. It is full sun and somewhat dry. The soil is not as rich as it is in the back gardens.

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Sea Holly has flared up out front and is normally glittering with pollinators but not today in the rain.

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I can never pick out Butterfly Weed until it’s in bloom, then bang, there it is!

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Good news! I thought my New Jersey Tea didn’t survive but then, bang, there are some small blooms!

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I had a large whiskey barrel container at the end of our driveway. I finally moved it up to the garage in the dead sea of paved driveway to break it up. It was really just a pee spot for all the passing dogs where it used to be, anyway. And when the crabapples were planted, it didn’t really fit out there anymore. It detracted from the trees. I devised a trellis with bamboo and grapevines to grow Cardinal Climber for the hummingbirds.

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I also planted Pineapple Sage and some of the seedlings I started this year into it: Castor Bean, Lime Zinnias, Lime Nicotiana, Love in a Mist, and Shrimp Plant. I love it in its new spot – birds even perch on the trellis – a Cedar Waxwing the other day! But sadly, it is full of black ants and they are eating the bases of the stems! You can see the Castor Bean is wilting. I tried chalk around the barrel, sprinkling cinnamon around the base of stems and transplanting some Calendula to deter them – they seem to be dwindling. All remedies I looked up online. (I also have an ant problem in one of my raised beds – where are the Flickers?) Next year I will be sure the ants are gone before I plant. There’s always next year says the gardener.

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Shrimp Plant blossoms

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Lime Zinnia bud

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Castor Bean flowers

I think the Woodland Edge is my favorite part of the garden. There is always something going on. It is also the most wild and difficult to maintain. My stone paths I attempted are almost completely grown over (another item to add to the list). Right now this border it is all frothy and pink.

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The beautiful cotton candy blooms of Queen of the Prairie are just beginning to froth.

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Queen of the Prairie (in pink) and Tall Meadow Rue

Persicaria Firetail just beginning to flare, will shoot off until frost.

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“The Rocket” lights up.

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The Hydrangea in the drive droops in the rain. This Hydrangea’s cuttings have taken root in new Hosta Row.

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Hydrangea from cuttings now growing in Hosta Row. Golden Shadows and Red Twig Dogwood in foreground.

A new Hydrangea ‘Quickfire’ (replaced Oakleaf which surely would not have survived last Winter here) just beginning to bubble behind Heucheras Pinot Blanco and Caramel. I love this combination.

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Well, if you’ve hung in here this long you deserve a grand finale! These photos were take a few days ago in the sun. The Prairie Rose, which unfortunately I cannot see, or smell, from our back porch as intended because we have yet to install our windows, has never been so big and full! I would say this rose definitely disguises that chainlink fence now. My neighbor can appreciate it anyway, and the bees – of whom I can hear their buzzing through the wall – and the syrphid flies and more. Rose petals flutter down from the sky throughout the garden.

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And so yet another Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens gives proof through the night that we can have flowers nearly every month of the year.