Fall? Update

We’ve had a busy fall, all in good ways, but now things are settling back to normal — except the weather. It went above 80 degrees this weekend, which is extraordinary for November, even in the South. One bonus: the fall foliage is still gorgeous, especially on the Japanese maples, though not on the same scale as New Hampshire, which we visited in October. We had just missed the absolute peak, with all the red maples, but there were still plenty of orange, gold, yellow, and brown vistas to make us happy. And the swarms of mosquitoes that tormented me all summer are gone.

New Hampshire lake

We went to the Lakes region for a week to see my father-in-law, who is in his 90s and lives in assisted living. He was in fine form, and we loved being able to spend leisurely time with him every day! We treated ourselves to staying at our favorite bed and breakfast for the week, which was heavenly. They fed us such large breakfasts that we didn’t need lunch and mostly had wine, cheese, and charcuterie for dinner, with an occasional lobster roll. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but we only eat lobster in New England, because it just doesn’t taste as good anywhere else, no matter how quickly they ship it inland.

On this visit, we flew into Portland and spent the night of our arrival in Maine, staying with one of my cousins who now lives there year-round with his wife. Like me, he has inherited the hopeful gardening gene from our grandparents, but he is horticulturally challenged by the much shorter growing season in Maine. Noentheless, he proudly showed me the ropes and ropes of fresh garlic has had grown and is drying in his shed; and I proudly described the one shallot I succeeded in growing this year! Not sure what happened to the others I planted; I think they got pulled up by the yard crew I hired to clear out the overgrown summer veg garden.

I’ve been on leave from my job this fall, in a sort of trial run of retirement. I’ll go back on December 14 and see how I feel then. I must say, I’ve really enjoyed being able to do all kinds of things around the house and garden without feeling time-pressured! If I don’t get to a task on a given day, it doesn’t have to wait for the weekend. I still have a lot of de-cluttering to tackle, though. What I’ve confirmed, though, is that I have plenty of interests and activities to stay happily occupied when I do finally retire! And removing the stress of my workplace has done wonders for my health, which was the whole point of the leave.

And now, it’s onward to Thanksgiving, several family birthdays, and Christmas! Meanwhile, I still have to deal with the tomatoes I picked when we expected freezing temps a couple of weeks ago (it did get down to about 34 degrees for a couple of nights). And wouldn’t you know — with the recent higher temps, I now have more green tomatoes on the vine! I’ve let some of my basil keep growing and flowering, mostly for the benefit of the pollinators who cluster there and around my asters and wild ageratum.

I’ve just found a local source for “Coral Bells” kurume azaleas, to replace a couple that have finally died after decades of service along the walkway in our front yard. They must have been at least 40 years old, as they were planted by the former homeowners who died of old age in the late 80s (both their age and the decade). “Coral Bells” is no longer as widely found as it must have been at one time. I used to be able to find them as needed at the State Farmers’ Market, but not this year. All anyone seems to sell these days are the Encore azaleas, or the really short gumpos. I’m so happy to have found replacements! We have a large hedge of them on both side of our front walk, and now I can fill the gap with ones that match. Do you have any cherished plants that are now hard to replace?

“Coral Bells” azalea; Photo by Claudia Zuidema on Pexels.com

Coneflowers and Goldfinches

Goldfinch on purple coneflower

Here we are in mid-August, and between my two-week absence to visit my dear father-in-law in New England and the plentiful rain and heat, the weeds are running rampant in my garden. However, the same conditions mean the several coneflowers I added to a flowerbed this spring and summer are also flourishing, and this weekend I spotted a pair of goldfinches among them, feeding on the seeds! Although I’ve had a few coneflowers in the same bed for a while, I’ve never seen goldfinches visiting, so this was a real treat.

Like many bird-lovers, I took down feeders this spring at the advice of various organizations, because of the current outbreak of avian flu that is having a particularly bad impact on wild birds. The more they are encouraged to congregate (like at a feeder), the easier it is for them to become infected. I’ve missed the colorful presence of the usual cardinals, wrens, and others, so you can imagine my delight when a goldfinch couple appeared: the vividly yellow male, and the yellowish brown female. I hope they stay around!

I’ve been planting more and more flowers and other plants that appeal to birds and pollinators. They are also beautiful — the bed where I’ve added coneflowers has a soft sunset/twilight color scheme, because it catches the late afternoon sun, and coneflowers now come in many pretty shades of pink, coral, purple, etc. that blend beautifully with the daylilies I have there. The ruby-colored monarda I planted years ago seems to have come into its own this year, and is spreading nicely; it has been visited regularly by hummingbirds and butterflies, who also appreciated the flowering vines I had in my vegetable garden last summer. (I planted fewer this year, because last summer’s bean vines took over the whole bed!). Our small back yard already has many bird-and-bug-friendly features, like plenty of tree cover and areas where leaf litter is undisturbed. Sadly, though, we no longer see fireflies in the back of our garden as we used to. I blame the ubiquitous mosquito-spraying in our area.

We drove up almost the entire Eastern seaboard to visit my FIL in New Hampshire, and the whole way up and back, I couldn’t help wondering WHY so few interstates include plantings of native wildflowers, in spite of the Federal Highway Administration’s wildflower programs. I saw hundreds of miles of grass along the sides and up the middle of highways. Imagine if more, even most, of those miles were planted with native milkweeds and other highway-tolerant wildflowers for the endangered monarch butterflies and other pollinators! I know there is a partnership among several states to plant monarch-friendly flowers along the “Monarch Highway”, Interstate 35 — I wish there was a similar partnership along Interstates 95 and 85. If there is one, I didn’t see any evidence of it, though I appreciate the wildflower plantings on Interstate 16, the highway that leads to the coast.

Does your area actively cultivate wildflowers along public rights of way?

Goldfinch on purple coneflower
Goldfinch on purple coneflower; image by Will Stuart, from audubon.org

It’s A Jungle Out There!

Whether you’re in the US, the UK, or Europe, you are undoubtedly suffering through a heat wave. Here in the Southern US, we’re used to hot muggy summers, but this has been ridiculous! My backyard feels like a rain forest! The humidity has also been extreme, which can make for some dangerous conditions. Fellow gardeners (and others), here are some very helpful hints from the Old Farmer’s Almanac to deal with gardening and your own wellbeing in this weather: “Tips for Gardening in Extreme Heat.”

Gardener wearing hat in hot weather
Gardening in extreme heat

As for your plants, there are many good resources with guidance for keeping them alive during hot spells, like this guidance from British Columbia. In the US, every state has an agricultural “Cooperative Extension Service”, coordinated by the US Dept. of Agriculture, and many individual counties have their own branches. Your local extension service will be able to provide guidance specific to your particular area and local conditions. Stay safe and green!

“No-Mow Month” – the no-good, terrible lawn-care advice from the Xerces Society

Ranting Locally – a Letter to the Editor I submitted this letter to the editor of my local paper with the title “No-Mow Presents Problems for Lawns” …

“No-Mow Month” – the no-good, terrible lawn-care advice from the Xerces Society

This does seem like an over-broad, simplistic piece of gardening guidance. I grow many, many pollinator friendly plants that also feed birds, but I also have two small lawns, one in front of my house, one in back. I have shrunk both over the years by enlarging flower beds and mixed borders, and creating a small vegetable garden with raised beds, all pollinator-friendly. We don’t use much on the lawns: some organic crab-grass control, Ironite, organic fertilizer.

It also seems very simplistic to declare a No-Mow Month without regard to planting Zones. How do you handle grass or lawn in your garden?

Cultivating One’s Garden

In last Friday’s Perfume Chat Room, I posted this: Perfume Chat Room, March 11. Despite this weekend’s sudden freeze, the flowers that were already blooming have survived nicely, except (of course) the camellia blossoms. I rescued several of the pink “Debutante” blooms yesterday to bring indoors before the frost got them.

My garden is about to enter its most glorious season, when the Coral Bells azaleas burst forth, the hellebores are still in bloom, and the dogwoods begin to flower. It is also before the weeds get going, and I can still imagine myself as having some control over them!

Hellebores – to leave or unleaf? — GardenRant

A timely piece by Anne Wareham, about the hellebores that are starting to bloom.

We probably all love hellebores, but some people seem to like them leafy and some people like them naked. And sometimes the plants themselves seem to come kind of in-between.  Aren’t they glorious? So why de-leaf? The biggest reason may be Leaf Spot. I really know nothing about this – we may have it, or…

Hellebores – to leave or unleaf? — GardenRant

Winter Vegetable Garden

My replanted winter vegetable garden! Some of you may recall that I had high ambitions, last summer, of posting regular snapshots of my summer vegetable garden in the new raised beds I had built for my garden last spring. Alas! Between summer trips to see family, and a long, hot, wet summer, plus planting too many bean vines, my summer vegetable garden turned into a veritable jungle, complete with aggressive mosquitoes.

So this fall, we cleared the whole thing out, pulled hyacinth bean vines off everything (seriously, they went everywhere!), and started over with cool season vegetables and flowers. I have beets with gorgeous maroon leaves; Swiss chard with brightly colored stems; red mustard; curly kale; broccoli; cauliflower; parsley; and, of course, pansies. 

Among my containers, I still have lots of herbs that are flourishing; and several roses that have decided to embark on a third or even fourth flush of bloom. Yes, we’ve had unseasonably warm weather; and on Boxing Day, yesterday, it was in the mid-70s! No wonder my poor roses are confused. But the warm weather will help my vegetables get a good start rooting, I think, before it turns cold as expected in January and February.

Are you able to garden at this time of year? What will you grow? Happy New Year to all, and may 2022 bring us increases in health and happiness.

My renovated winter vegetable garden

Saturday Snippet: The Scent of Extinct Flowers

Botanical print of extinct flower Leucadendron grandiflorum

Well, this is just fascinating: Guerilla Artist Daisy Ginsberg Recreates Scent of Extinct Flowers.

Where others might seek to reconstruct a woolly mammoth from centuries-old sequences, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is part of an interdisciplinary project to recreate the scents of plant species lost to human colonial destruction of their habitat.

But wait, it gets better! Dr. Ginsberg is also working on a plant-based art installation at The Eden Project:

I am creating an artwork not for humans, but for pollinators, whose numbers are in global jeopardy. In September 2021, we are planting a 52-meter-long garden at the Eden Project in Cornwall [UK], designed by an algorithm to optimize ‘empathy’ for other species. I’ve defined that as planting to support the maximum diversity of pollinators, using carefully developed regional planting lists that the algo selects and optimizes from. Hopefully, this garden will look strange to human tastes—with every color and size and shape of flower included, plus patterning to support different foraging strategies. It is an unnatural garden designed for nature. I want to challenge what we think of as a garden and who it’s planted for. The algorithm will be online so anyone can create their own artwork for pollinators which we invite them to plant.

You can learn more about the installation, and even use the same algorithm to create your own planting scheme (it’s designed for UK plants, pollinators, and climates), here: The Pollinator Commission.

Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes — GardenRant

Rose and I recently went out for our first movie in a long time. We picked a good one. “Gardens are good for the soul…They make you feel like your city or community care about you,” Lynden Miller, says at the outset of Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes. Miller, an award-winning public garden designer, is featured…

Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes — GardenRant

I love so many of Beatrix Farrand’s designs. I look forward to seeing this documentary!