Category Archives: Seasons

Beauty in Autumn


Chrysanthemum “Duchess of Edinburgh”

Under an impossibly blue, brilliant sky, golden leaves rain down on the garden bellow. The cool temperatures suit these fall bloomers. They offer the last gift of color for us and nourishment to pollinators before the leaves start to come down for a last hurrah!



Asters are classic fall bloomers.  Don’t you love them? A full 250 cultivars have been classified, covering a wide spectrum of colors, native and perennial.  These are a perennial variety I have enjoyed for decades.  I buy Asters, Chrysanthemums and other fall bloomers to plant in spring, I then almost forget them. Always makes me happy when I see them burst out just when I thought the garden was done!



Sold as an annual, Melampodium reseeds itself every year. I collect and scatter its seeds were I want them in other parts of the garden. Also a drought resistant plant and best of all, deer have do not go after them! Very tidy and showy mounds full of blooms! at this time of the year it is like a basket of sunshine.


Tall Sedum and annual Browallia

I grow this tall Sedum sp. in my pots and add a variety of annuals each year in the spring. Deer love them and always eat them in the garden. They do well in pots and awaken every spring even more energized than the year before! Their succulent foliage is very attractive in early spring and drought resistant which makes them a great plant if you don’t want to water all that much! The late blooms at times appear alive as pollinators flock to enjoy their nectar!

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Misconseptions about Wildlife Corridors

hemlock bed 11



Talking with a colleague in the Landscaping and Gardening business, I was shocked to hear that she though the the term “Wildlife Corridors” meant that it was required to be planted with only native plants.  But the term refers to creating a highway of vegetation connecting garden beds or enlarging existing ones to assist small mammals, reptiles and insects to move safely though the land for the purpose of finding food, shelter and reproduce. In a sense expanding their habitats.

In the photo above, I have an example of an existing bed in my on garden. The Canadian Hemlocks planted twenty years ago and heavily shaded by many oak trees next door, have become very thin in the bottom and no longer provide the privacy screen they were originally planted to achieve.  I see this as a perfect opportunity to enlarge and add plantings for my benefit and to help biodiversity.

hemlock bed 21

Follow the guide lines in my 2009 post: creating a new planting bed. Determine the space to use, layer with newspaper to kill the grass, wet paper so it stays in place and add mulch (here I used leaf mulch created from last years leaf collection) and presto!

hemlock bed 31


New planting area ready and marked.  I will trim the hemlocks a bit in the spring so the shrubs will be outside the drip line. In this case I have chosen Aesculus parviflora or Bottlebrush Buckeye, very shade tolerant, large and just dense and tall enough to provide the needed privacy in two or three years depending on the size planted. And Yes, this is a native shrub that is also deer resistant!

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein

Glorious Irises!

I had to take a moment in this busy season to take a few pictures of these beauties. I find I get so involved and focused on the tasks and the running around I forget to take some time and really think, admire and learn.

It was very early in my gardening explorations that I became interested in Irises.  I was totally baffled by the tremendous varieties of color, shape and sizes but I knew nothing about them.  So, I learned that there were Bearded Irises and Siberian Irises, with about 300 species scattered around in the wild all over the Northern Hemisphere.  This is not counting all the cultivated species painstakingly created for color, size and flower patterns. No wonder I was confused!  In essence, Bearded Irises are taller, with wider fan shaped leaves and of course have a “beard” in the center of the fall petal.  Because the flower stem is so much taller I find I need to provide some kind of support to prevent a sudden squall from topping down the flowers. I have also found that the foliage dries out in midsummer so I find it necessary to plant a companion that will hide it later in the season. They prefer well drained soil.

Irisis in a border

Irises in a border


Bearded Irises

Bearded Irises

Bearded Iris

Bearded Irises

Siberian Irises on the other hand, do not come in a such a wide range of colors, although some new cultivars are quite striking but pricey and hard to find in garden centers. With taller upright slim blades  and clumping habit, I find them more elegant in appearance and better behaved in a border.  Some varieties are suitable in water’s edge or ponds but will also do fairly well in drier conditions.

Siberian Irisis

Siberian Irises

As you can see from some of the photos I have taken just today, whichever variety you choose, they carry quite a punch by themselves or in a mixed border.  They can become quite addicting  but are quite easy to divide and share, what varieties do you have? Hint, hint…

Louisiana Iris1

Louisiana Iris “Red Velvet Elvis”

On June third, I took a photo of this beauty.  A new addition to my collection purchased from the Penn State Master Gardener’s booth at the Boyd annual plant sale.  The photo is not quite as clear as I would like but the colors!  I can’t wait to have it come back next summer…


 “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”  Maya Angelou.


Garden Reflections

What a wonderful feeling to be in the garden from morning to night!  It is true, I can easily ‘pot around’ the garden all day… but not necessarily “work” all day.  There is a lot of reflection, the observing of nature at work and the changing of the landscape day by day.  There are breaks for snacks, planning and just finding a cozy spot to take in some sun.  Oh, I don’t mind saying it, I love to stay home and just enjoy my wild space out back.  Old friends come around again,  Yesterday, the House Wren arrived from his winter home. Straight to my back porch to the trellis were their bird house hung last year and they raised their brood.

House wren and her brood

House wren and her brood

Could it really be the same bird?  He knew exactly were to perch. There it sat singing loudly for his mate to come and join him!  And then there is this squirrel that lost half of its tail last year, -to Misha, my neighbors semi feral cat- I saw  it this morning digging around the garden for its forgotten acorns.  The hummingbirds always arrive the first week of May.  Last year, I was a bit late setting out the feeder and one hovered right in front of the french glass door for a good 30 seconds… right in front of me! it was magical, we stared at each other and it was as if it was saying:  Helloooo, were is my syrup?

So besides all the chores, the garden cleaning and planting, the mulching and composting, the rewards are in the sense of creating a small habitat outside your door that is both healthy and inviting and in a sustainable way, harbors life for so many other creatures.  Many we don’t even see or know are there. That is my reward.  Every creature and plant a prayer of hope.  Happy gardening friends!

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” 
― Rachel CarsonSilent Spring

Starting my Seeds


Sorting out seeds

Sorting out seeds

Unpredictable temperatures did not deter me from sorting out my seeds and getting started the first week of March. I know, that was probably too soon, but for you readers, now will not be a bad time to start. I intend to put this crop out under cover in the middle of April.  Last frost dates for our area are between the 21st and the 31st of April. Besides, not being able to get out and work in the garden was driving me nuts!

seed starting1

Here they were all tucked in and labeled.

So, I am off and running.  Now, so I remember next year, I only planted my long season vegetables, to me, these are tomatoes, peppers, leeks and eggplant.  If I plant these as direct sow in the ground, they will not have fruit until very late if at all in our climate.  I learned that last year, when at first frost, green peppers , eggplant and tomatoes were not ready to harvest.  It also helps to check the amount of days from germination to maturity provided as all varieties and cultivars are different.

Three weeks later.

Three weeks later.

They are doing quite nicely under the fluorescent light fixture in my basement, I rigged a shelf, -plywood covered with aluminum foil-. I then hung it right from the fixture with twine that I can adjust as they grow.  Pretty rustic but works!

Of course it would be simpler to buy your seedling from a reputable green house.  I grow mostly heirloom vegetables as I do not like my seeds altered.  I wrote about the difference between heirlooms, hybrids and GMO seeds in my post on Shopping for Seeds and I was amazed by what technology and the seed companies are doing to manipulate our seed supply.  Another reason to consider heirloom varieties is that we are loosing so many old classics and our field of options keeps getting smaller as years go by.  This is an important way to preserve the diversity of our food choices. Also, with heirlooms you can harvest the seed and preserve it from year to year which is the reason we have them today.  Some varieties can be traced to ancient times! I intend to keep seeds from my favorites and make sure they survive for years to come.
“Keep on sowing your seed, for you never know which will grow — perhaps it all will.”
Albert Einstein


Planning for Spring

First Day of Spring… Really?

First Day of Spring… Really?


And planning  is all we can do at this point considering what is going on out side! I was expecting a balmy day. Huge contrast to the last two years when I wrote about out great weather in early march.

As a continuation of my last post: Anticipating Spring, I realized there are more garden chores to add to the list.  After spending just one day doing much needed pruning on my shrub borders, I noted that the extreme freeze-thaw cycle we experienced caused many plants to heave out of the ground.  It is advisable to tend to them as soon as you can. Tamp them back in and add a bit of good garden soil around the roots to anchor and strengthen their hold. It was also a good opportunity to fix some of the protective netting that shelter some plants or areas from deer browsing and retying the stakes of young trees that had come loose.

Lets not forget our birds! Best time to clean and repair bird houses is now. I go over the inside of the box as well with a bar of soap.  A light coating prevents wasps from attaching their hives in the inside of the bird house. As long as there is a coating of snow in the ground I continue to feed the birds stopping when the ground is clear to encourage them to forage.  They do tend to get “hooked” on the feeders! If you are interested on learning more about birds, go to my favorite site at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, were the experts really know their stuff!

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  ~Charles Dickens,Great Expectations

Related Reading:

Feeding Birds

Nest Boxes

Anticipating Spring

I don’t know about you, but every March I am filled with this sense of impatience, when will the warm weather break through the bleak winter and will this really be the last snow fall of the season?  Getting a brief break does not help, the last couple of days for example, balmy, sunny and just beautiful. I was able to go for a walk in the garden and survey the damage. Today, back to single digits and snow back on the ground.  Tremendous disappointment! The real test will be to see how many perennials will come back after sustained single digit temperatures and so many freeze and thaw cycles.  So I grabbed a pad and paper and started to make a list of priorities:

My spring chores 

  1. Start vegetable seeds.  Since I grow Heirloom varieties I start long season vegetables indoors:  tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and leeks.
  2. Prune all broken or damaged branches of small trees and shrubs.
  3. Cut back any perennials and grasses left though the winter.
  4. Clean all leaves and other debris from perennial beds.
  5. Apply an organic seed germination inhibitor, such as corn gluten meal,  under my Rose of Sharon, and any other prolific seeders.
  6. Prune Privet hedge and any other small shrubs that bloom on new wood later in the season. Delay pruning early bloomers which bloom on old wood, until after they bloom.
  7.  Direct seed some cold tolerant vegetable varieties under cover in the vegetable beds. Usually this will be my leaf crops like Kale, Spinach and all salad greens.

I suppose I will tackle the lawn a bit later but when weather permits, it is time to start crossing off as many of these chores as possible.   Happy gardening!

“Spring is the time of plans and projects.”
― Leo TolstoyAnna Karenina

Preservation, One Garden at the Time

fall garden1

Hard to believe the entire summer has gone by and I am in the process of putting the garden to bed for the year.  But as I cut down perennials, dig up my cannas and harvest the rest of the vegetables, I am already planning next year’s garden.  Top on the list of priorities is improving sustainability and enlarging all my planting beds to provide better habitat for all wild creatures that rely on the environment I have created to survive and multiply.  Every plant contributes to that particular habitat.  Every product I choose to apply affects the well being of a multitude of insects, birds and small mammals.

For my reading group this year, I choose “The Faraway Nearby” by Rebecca Solnit.  A new author for me, her writing gave me pause with the depth of her observations and beautifully crafted prose.  She writes:

“Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia — and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.”

Just like climate change, loss of habitat is another serious threat to life in our planet.  In a small but highly significant scale, we can promote biodiversity in our gardens by enlarging plantings, widening our beds to create more wildlife corridors and being mindful of keeping organic practices.  Studies have shown that corridors for wildlife improve their odds of survival by providing safer areas to travel – away from roads – in search of mates, food and shelter.

“No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.” 
― Aldo Leopold –

Harvesting and Preserving Tomatoes.

Harvest1What do you do with this much produce harvested in just one day?  Well, first of all give away as much as possible.  After a while, that gets old though and you start to notice that your friends may be avoiding you!  And of course, the stuff keeps coming everyday!  I am one of those people that do not like to waste anything much less food so, I have been experimenting with easy ways to preserve as much of my harvest as possible.

Tomatoes are easy:  They can be frozen whole and I found out it is not necessary to peel them ahead of time.  Just cut out around the stem, place in freezer bags and they are good until the next harvest.  As needed, I take them out, place in tepid water and the skin just comes out almost in one piece.  It is a thing of beauty.  I then cut them up (still frozen) and they are ready for the pot.  I found they taste more like fresh than the canned tomatoes and are wonderful for soups and stews.  Other options are sauce, drying  or canning.  All of them time consuming and way too much work for me, but I admire those who have the dedication and know how to do it every season.   There is however one great trick I learned from my mother.  Now, she never had a vegetable garden but once a month or so she will buy a nice supply of celery, onions, garlic and tomatoes and put the whole thing thru the blender, then freeze in ice cube trays.  She would then add them as needed to all her soups and stews  and that gave her cooking a wonderful flavor.  I started doing this but also adding my herbs: basil, oregano and parsley.  It is a great time saver and  a great way to start almost any dish!

Sadly, my tomato plants are starting to look tired and as the nights get colder, the green tomatoes on the vines may not ripen before frost.  One good thing to do is to cut back all new growth.  Any new buds will not ripen so they are a waste of energy for the plant.  Instead, this energy is used to help ripen the fruit already formed.  Also, as you cut some of the new green growth, more light reaches the fruit.  Enjoy your harvest while you can, autumn is quickly approaching!

It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in the Autumn.
B. C. Forbes




April Garden Chores

I know many of you are out in the garden eager to see plants growing and blooming.   I went out last week and started cleaning out the huge amount of oak leaves from my neighbors trees that end up in my beds.  Even though they look unsightly, it is a very environmentally sound practice to let the fall leaves stay on the perennial beds thru winter.  Many species of insect and amphibians find shelter and hibernate there for the winter.  So now that the weather has finally changed, off they go to my huge compost bin designated just for leaves.  In the fall leaves that lay on grass get mulched with our mulching mower as I explain here.  Some more spring chores:

  • Pruning.  This is the best time to prune some shrubs  and clean up any fallen branches from the yard.  The general rule is to prune in spring only shrubs that bloom on new wood.  Shrubs that bloom in early spring generally bloom on old wood or stems that formed last summer,  it is best to wait until after they bloom to cut back.  Some examples of early bloomers are Forsythia, Mahonia, Salix, Daphne, Deutzia, Azalea, Rhododendron and Weigela to name just a few. Read more about pruning in this post.
  • Divide Perennials.  Early spring is the ideal time to dig up and divide large clumps of perennials like Hostas, Iris, Pulmonaria, Brunnera and Lilly.  Although you can divide some perennials anytime during the summer, it is much easier to do it now when the crown be easily seen.  More here.
  • Hummingbird Feeders should be out by April 15 when  the first migrating hummers start showing up on their way north, sometimes so exhausted that a sip of nectar can replenish their energy and make a life or death difference.  Some may even choose to make a home in your garden!
  • Feeding and top dressing beds probably the best time to apply a bit of nutrients to the soil as needed.  I use good organic products for  my evergreens, Azaleas and Rhododendrons,  a light layer of composted soil mixed with mushroom manure on the perennial beds and fix any bare patches of lawn.

We all know that the work seems a bit daunting at this time of the year, but it is thrilling to see plants spring into life and discover that once more the cycle of life continues.  Enjoy the outdoors!

  “Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day-like writing a poem or saying a prayer”  -Anne Morrow Lindberg