Incomplete Garden To-Do List?

20141119_161059Don’t Fret!  Think about what you accomplished.

By Michael Leach

Even as the last leaves cling stubbornly to the trees, snowflakes twirl to the ground. Ah the mixture of seasonal icons that is November, one day autumn, the next winter, sometimes both in the same 24 hours.

Indoors the winter “look” is back, as the houseplants, gathered from their summering grounds on porch and in the garden, recover from their sulk of yellow leaves. As they find a new equilibrium, so shall I. Soon their green leaves and occasional blooms will be pleasant reminders that the gray world beyond the windows will awaken — eventually — from dormancy.

For now, however, the fatigue of a long, challenging growing season makes me more weary than usual at this time of year. A summer of seemingly endless weeding, mowing and trimming back has me thinking nothing new and fresh happened. But a few moments of recollection show this is wrong in several ways. I’m actually ahead on a few projects and you probably are too.

For instance, in the last, desperate acts of cleanup and shut down before the snow, I managed to scrub the pair of recycled-plastic Adirondack chairs to a reasonable whiteness. Instead of dragging out dingy, grayish furniture next spring, they’ll look almost new. Never done that before.

Then there’s the waterlily. Growing in small pool, this plant is perhaps a half century old. Hmm, when was it last repotted?  Reagan may have been president. An undemanding plant to say the least.

Hardy pink waterlily from Lilypons

Hardy pink waterlily from Lilypons

Its ability to remain so long in the same quarters was due to the gradual transformation of the pool area into a deep shade alcove. A mere sprig of bamboo turned into walls and partial ceiling of dense privacy. (Bamboo was a less than perfect solution to screening the unsightly mess of dented cars and attendant debris at the auto body shop that went in next door. Over the years, the business cleaned up its act considerably, while the bamboo continued to grow ever more thuggish.) By the time I hired a crew in the spring of 2013 to cut down a swath bordering the pool, barely enough light penetrated to produce a handful of pitifully small lily “pads” each summer.

Suddenly sunlight poured in much of the day and the grateful lily bloomed repeatedly last summer and again this year. Not surprisingly, the plant outgrew its venerable clay pot. Instead of waiting until frenetic spring 2015, repotting was one of several chores tackled on a busy September afternoon. Viola! I was done with that.

Another revival. Among the bamboo stumps a semi-sunny border is developing. A flat of wee perennials, a few transplanted hostas and three baby variegated red twig dogwoods were IMG_7994wedged in amongst  old bamboo roots, the rebar of the plant world. The newbies are all mulched for winter. I’m done with that.

I’m also done with the fall planting, which included a paltry 200 or so spring bulbs, a flat of pansies that should survive winter for early color and a half dozen or so small shrubs.

There’s more to do this fall, weather permitting, as always. But why fret and stew about an incomplete to-do list  when there’s so much to take pleasure in having accomplished?  I’m done with that. And I hope you are, too.

IMG_3435Share your “done with its”. What accomplishments are you taking pride in? Please tell us.




Book Notes: Three Old Favorites

IMG_0863 resizeBy Debra Knapke

November is a time when I revisit books that are old, and sometimes forgotten, friends. We’ve all heard the dire pronouncements: books are becoming obsolete, the web is killing the publishing industry and more. Yet, in this time of early evenings, colder temperatures and even snow, it is a cup of tea and a good book that are my preferred companions at the end of the day.

Adelma Caprilands[1]

Adelma Grenier Simmons

All three of these writers are also my teachers.  Each has given me pieces of wisdom that have become part of my personal and professional ethics. Each has settled into my garden heart.

How do we choose books? Often it is a catchy title that entices. Herb Gardening in Five Seasons by Adelma Grenier Simmons had me at the title. So what is the fifth season? A season that has a feeling all its own: Christmas. Adelma Simmons wrote this book in 1964 when herbs were beloved by gardeners, but they weren’t the mainstay of gardens as they are now. She brought herbs to the attention to many through her books and her extensive gardens, Caprilands, in Coventry, Connecticut. She influenced my herbal education greatly. Adelma died in 1997 at the age of 93, seven years after I read one of the many reprints of her book.

Rosetta_Shear_Clarkson crop

Rosetta Shear Clarkson

Still on my herbal journey, a year and a half later I found another classic, Herbs: Their Culture and Uses. Rosetta Clarkson penned three books. Magic Gardens (1939) and Green Enchantment (1940) preceded Herbs: Their Culture and Uses (1942). Her style of writing is very personal in all three books. While reading her instructions and advice I felt as if she was talking to me. Rosetta gardened just outside of New York City and along the coast of Connecticut. My favorite of her three books was Green Enchantment, but it has disappeared from my bookshelves; probably lent out and never returned.


Henry Beston

In between these two authors I found and fell in love with another author whose poetic prose took me to the places he described. Another east coast writer, Henry Beston wrote Herbs and the Earth (1935) while on his farm in Nobelboro, Maine. He penned one of my favorite quotes –

“A garden is the mirror of the mind. It is a place of life, a mystery of green moving to the pulse of the year, and pressing on and pausing the while to its own inherent rhythms.”

And, I would like to offer you a quote from Adelma as you contemplate (dread?) the approach of winter:

“The quiet aloneness of winter has a special charm for the herb gardener, and I confess this season is my delight. Through the restless, rushing hours of spring, and the long days of summer that begin at dawn and end with weeding in the twilight, I find myself looking back at the peace of winter and forward to the next one. The winter landscape, bare and stringent, reveals a beauty of form and line that is not visible in the spring and summer.”




Favorite Flora: Chrysanthemums

An ancient flower wows modern gardeners

See what modern mums have to offer

20141025_115436 “If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow Chrysanthemums.” (A Chinese philosopher)

By Teresa Woodard

This Chinese philosopher certainly would smile if he saw how widespread these “mums” have become as the darling of today’s fall floral displays. In fact, I recently was one of thousands visiting the popular Chrysanthemum Festival at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa. Inside Longwood’s four-acre conservatory, more than 80,000 chrysanthemum blooms are nurtured and trained into inspiring forms, including shields, spirals, cascades, balls, and even a 10-foot tall yellow chandelier. IMG_1442The crown jewel of the display was the Thousand Bloom Mum—featuring more than 1,500 perfectly arranged flowers—the largest of its kind grown outside of Asia.

Gaining more respect for this mass-marketed fall favorite, I recently visited the National Chrysanthemum Society’s website to learn more about this plant’s rich history. Check out these fun facts:

  • First Mum — The chrysanthemum was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb and is described in writings as early as the 15th Century B.C.IMG_3981
  • Imperial Blossom — Around the 8th century A.D., the chrysanthemum appeared in Japan. So taken were the Japanese with this flower that they adopted a single flowered chrysanthemum as the crest and official seal of the Emperor. Japan also celebrate a National Chrysanthemum Day, called the Festival of Happiness.IMG_3987
  • Winning the West — The chrysanthemum was first introduced into the Western world during the 17th Century. In 1753 Karl Linnaeus, founder of modern taxonomy, combined the Greek words chrysos, meaning gold with anthemon, meaning flower. They belong to the Compositae, or daisy family.
  • New Colors, Forms — In more recent times, growers within several countries began to propagate chrysanthemums. Hybridizers in England, France, Japan, and the United States have developed a wide range of floral colors, shapes, and sizes. Today’s colors include pink, purple, red, yellow, bronze, orange, white and bi-color variations.IMG_3982
  • Keeping Track — To help with identification, the National Chrysanthemum Society developed a classification system with 13 classes ranging from the large “football” mums to spider-shaped blooms to the classic potted mums. Some of these chrysanthemum cultivars can be trained into different forms as showcased at annual displays at Longwood Gardens, New York Botanical Garden and Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, Al.

Snapshots: Poultry Rule at Ohio Nationals

By Teresa Woodard

No where is the growing trend of poultry keeping more evident than this weekend’s Ohio Poultry National at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus.  Here, hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas and partridge arrive from across the country to compete for best of show.  You’ll find heritage varieties, fancy ones with crested plumes and feathered feet, large turkeys and small bantam ducks, and even pink silkie chickens.  Below are a few favorite snapshots from the event which wraps up today.

Narragansett turkeys are known for being one of the largest of the heritage turkeys.

Narragansett turkeys are known for being one of the largest of the heritage turkeys.

Brahmas are known as the "Kings of Poultry" for their size and strength.

Brahmas are known as the “Kings of Poultry” for their size and strength.

The frizzle-feathered chickens are the divas of the poultry world with their curled feathers.

The frizzle-feathered chickens are the divas of the poultry world with their curled feathers.


The crested chickens are the beloved subject of old Dutch and Flemish paintings.

The crested chickens are the beloved subject of old Dutch and Flemish paintings.


These pink chickens were a hit with kids in the trading area.

Eco-Friendly Leaves

fall leavesWays to make autumn leaves more eco-friendly

By Michael Leach

Cackle, crunch, crackle, crunch go the footfalls of autumn walks through dry leaves that smell pleasantly of faded summer days.

Savvy gardeners, who know that leaves are easily recycled into a free mulch and soil amendment, aren’t likely to bag their leaves and put them at the curb, much less rake them into the gutter to await collection.

However, those who shun nature’s gift and relegate leaves to the gutter are creating environmental issues.

Gutters filled with leaves “… impede the flow of rainwater to the nearest storm drain, creating puddles where mosquitoes can breed,” says the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District in Columbus in a recent newsletter. (Despite the autumn chill, I guess we shouldn’t underestimate the power of mosquitoes to reproduce.)

“When the leaves are blown by wind or carried by rainwater to the storm drain,” the report adds, “they clog at the catch basin and form an impenetrable mat on the grate. This causes street flooding and the extra expense of calling out municipal or township employees to clean it.

“When leaves travel through the storm water system to the nearest stream, they contribute to oxygen depletion as they decompose.”

The district suggests keeping leaf piles out of the street  to await vacuuming. If your community offers curbside yard waste recycling, put leaves in cans marked “yard waste” or in  paper leaf bags.

“Yard waste” is such a misnomer for this valuable resource. Despite having to deal with leaves from a dozen or so large shade trees, including several mature sugar maples, I don’t consider leaves waste.

Besides putting them to work in the landscape, this year I’m putting some into plastic trash bags to insulate carrots and turnips. I’m hoping to keep the soil cold but not frozen, making harvest in dead of winter a possibility.  Stay tuned for further developments on this front.

BTW, what’s your favorite uses for leaves?

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