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Garden Notes November 2013

December 1, 2013

Christina writes: In some ways, this past summer was the most pleasant for gardening since our greatly expanded landscaping in 2010. There were periods of very hot weather, but less extensive than before and with breaks in between. Also, since there was enough rain that we had no local water restrictions, I could set drip hoses or sprinklers as I did other garden tasks during the day, rather than Wayne and I both losing free time before breakfast every other day, in order to use only watering cans or hand-held hoses, and only before 8:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m.

red salviaIn my last garden notes, almost four months ago, I commented that many plants and bushes seem to flower earlier each year, even supposedly late-flowering varieties which now are almost over by mid-August. This was true again this year, though our Rose of Sharon which began to flower early did continue to do so well into September. However, most of our annuals did very well and enjoyed an extended season, since we did not have a hard frost until the night of 28/29 October, several weeks later than usual. The red salvia at the corner of our driveway put on an exceptionally brave show, and a couple reflowering varieties of daylilies continued to produce the occasional bloom through October. As autumn progressed, the holly berries turned red, forming splashes of colour at the front of the house.

I was able to enjoy eating apples from our own trees: one (the Fuji) was especially productive, while another (Honeycrisp) produced only a few, and the third (Gala) none. The apples were rather small, even though Wayne thinned the new fruit early on to promote growth of the rest – not enough, it seems. Next year we must be even more drastic, be sure to apply cedar rust preventative at the right time, and maybe give the apple trees extra water. (On the subject of apples, I was delighted last year and again this year that our local whole foods shop for a brief time had my favourite Cox’s Orange Pippin available from an orchard in Vermont. This variety is very popular in England, but practically unknown in the U.S.A.)

birch bed November 2013During the autumn, I have started to plan for next year. For example, there were several clumps of phlox, all the same colour, already in the perennial bed when I came to Williamstown in 1995, sections of which I have periodically uprooted as they expanded, but this year, two small clumps looked particularly unhappy: very leggy, with yellowing leaves, and (despite spraying) attacked by mildew. I decided they should go, and had our landscaper remove them. I’ll decide next spring whether to replace them with more phlox of a different colour, or with something entirely different. I had the largest clump cut back and the space filled by subdividing some of the adjoining peonies, which were no longer producing so many flowers. Elsewhere, I had some of our larger hostas subdivided and the spare sections planted at the back to replace a Hydrangea quercifolia which had not survived the 2012–13 winter. I also had some of the iris clumps subdivided, but not all replanted. I love these in the spring when in flower and the leaves are still upright, not so much during the summer: as they grow tall and bend over, they encroach on the space of adjoining plants and look very untidy.

While Wayne was roaming Home Depot one weekend looking for materials for refitting the garage and potting shed, I spent my time in their garden section and was tempted by packs of bulbs. Since some of my earlier bulb plantings are no longer producing flowers (or have been dug up by squirrels), I bought 60 mixed daffodil bulbs to add to those  planted sparsely around the apple trees; 75 crocus, partly to be planted in clumps in the beds and partly in the lawn; 75 grape hyacinth (Muscari) to add to an existing border; and 24 dwarf iris and 30 snowdrops to go in the beds along the front of the house. As plants begin to die back in autumn, I keep my spirits up by looking forward to the spring.

As our perennials faded in October and November, I began to cut them back. Some, such as the Shasta daises, reveal fresh growth when cut back. A few perennials, such as the heuchera with their variously coloured leaves, continue to look good, and I prefer to remove damaged leaves in the spring. By the time the first hard frost came at the end of October, killing most of the annuals overnight, most of the leaves were already off the trees. One day the Guinea impatiens stood with bright flowers above a thick layer of leaves, the next they were shrivelled, and when I went out to pull them up I had to push the leaves away to find the plants. We get a lot of leaves, mainly maple and birch, most of them are from trees in surrounding gardens.

compost binsIt was not until the 20th November that our landscaper’s men came to do the autumn cleanup. They finished cutting back the perennials, cleared leaves from the beds which they then spread with compost that had been forming in large bins constructed from concrete blocks (Wayne calls these the ‘gun emplacements’) at the back extension of our property. The men needed to clear as much compost as possible to make space for the leaves they cleared from the beds and lawns. There were so many leaves, in fact, that they had to compact them somewhat by trampling on them, and even so the bins are almost overflowing. The men finished work that first day by giving our lawns their final mowing of the year. They then returned to spend the morning erecting fences to protect those plants most appetizing to deer, who might come out of the nearby forests at any time of the year but are most likely to visit in winter when food is scarce. We have some sympathy for them, but they can have quite a devastating effect, nibbling bushes down to the ground. Another reason for not encouraging them is that they carry Lyme disease, which can be quite serious if not quickly diagnosed. Unfortunately, the workers (no longer employed!) who took the fences down in the spring did not label them properly, and it took our landscaper, his two men, and me some time to unroll each bundle of wire netting and work out which piece went where.

A few days later, we had the first snowfall of the winter, not much in the wintry scheme of things in western Massachusetts, but enough for Wayne to brush (rather than shovel) it from the drive. Most of it soon melted. We have had several flurries since then, which have kept a sprinkling of white on the ground but, thankfully, not the heavy snowfalls that were at one time forecast for Thanksgiving.

shed southWayne writes: One of the home improvement projects I wanted to tackle when we had our renovations done in 2007 was a re-fit of our potting shed (attached to the north end of our garage), but as we ran out of time and money I put it on my long-term list of things to do myself. This year, I was determined to get at least most of the work done before (as has always happened before) cold weather set in and I had to postpone the job until spring. My conception of the shed has changed several times since my parents and I bought our house in 1978. For a long time, we kept it as originally described by the realtor, for garden work and as a convenient place to store the lawnmower and other tools. A previous owner had put up a cantilevered counter out of scrap wood, and had covered the stud walls with the remains of pallets from a local manufacturer; and in the latter, numerous nails had been driven willy-nilly, on which one could hang the odd rake or shovel. It was all as amateurish as could be, but a low priority for change as the years passed, both of my parents passed away, Christina and I married, we had book contracts, and so forth. At one point, I considered making the shed over into a printing shop, but as it’s unheated this was hardly practical; and since we rarely do actual repotting of plants, there was no point in restoring that function to the space. Instead, we decided to make it a small workshop, with a proper workbench and storage for hand and power tools, which I have used on a regular basis for repairs and odd jobs and wanted finally to organize, ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’.

In 2007, the most we could afford for the shed was to have an unsteady floor of bricks and carpet (talk about amateurish!) replaced with one of poured concrete, and overhead lights and ground-fault electrical outlets installed. Six years later, this past summer, I got busy at last, removed most of the scrap lumber from the shed walls, and mapped out what I could do economically, using new pegboard panels bought from Home Depot together with panelling and plywood left over from our renovations and spare shelving and brackets brought over from Christina’s London flat when she moved to Williamstown in 1995. I was pleased to make use of these materials, with a lot of galvanized screws, with a minimum of cutting except for short lengths of shelving installed between some of the studs. I already had a tool cabinet on wheels; instead of trying to build a workbench, I found one on Amazon of the right size, on which I mounted a small vise at one end. I have another, larger wood vise still to mount elsewhere on the bench, but that will be a little trickier.

shed eastAs shown in the photos, many of our hand tools are now neatly hanging on pegboard, and there is ample shelving, or large plastic bins, for power tools and supplies. I re-mounted on metal brackets an old shelf that had been at one end of the shed, and we use this now to store clay pots. Below this is a new long shelf, on which are a variety of watering cans. On adjoining walls are more pegboard panels, for hanging metal plant rings and stakes, and hooks of various sizes for other purposes. In the garage proper, I mounted two lengths of a metal pegboard, called (really) the Holey Rail, on which now neatly hang our shovels, rakes, push brooms, and the like, as well as small ladders. Finally, next to the door from our house into the garage, I mounted another pegboard panel, and on this we store our small gardening tools: secateurs, loppers, trowels, etc. Home Depot have done very well out of this project, especially in supplying pegboard hooks, but it’s very satisfying to be able to find the tool you’re looking for &endash; provided that one remembers to put it back when finished with it.

Images, top to bottom: red salvia, then still hanging on beneath our locust trees; the ‘birch bed’ in front of the house, put to bed for the winter, with anti-deer fencing around holly and euonymus; our ‘gun emplacement’ bins, filled with leaves and other garden waste that will make lots of compost; the potting shed, now also a workshop; the east wall of the shed, with pots, watering cans, and such.

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