After all the nourishing rains, I walk down by my stream where the moss is a soft carpet under my feet and the concord grapes from an old grape vine scatter hither and yon. After having spent a few minutes, inhaling the rich fall fragrances of earth and water I climbed up the bank towards my house and into the vegetable garden.
THE VEGETABLE GARDEN AND COVER CROPS – In a couple of weeks I will turn the left over finished crops into the soil. This year, my choice for a cover crop in one area of the vegetable garden, this year is Alfalfa which has a 3.4% nitrogen content and on the opposite side of the garden Buckwheat which has a 1.4% nitrogen content and also provides nectar for beneficial insects. I will then cover the seeds with composted manure and compost; the ratio of these natural elements is one part compost to three parts manure. There are many cover crops to choose from and I use white clover and rye grass in alternate years. In spring when the earth is workable not too wet or cold, the cover crop is turned into the earth as ‘green manure’.
I hope you have already ordered your spring bulbs, to obtain the best selection. However, if you have not got around to it yet; now is the time to do so. When ordering or buying at the local garden center choose early, mid season and late blooming Daffodils, which will give you a succession of bloom. Take a look at my September tips about how to plant bulbs. When choosing the bulbs at the garden center, make sure they are firm to the touch, dry and free of mold. When the catalogue order bulbs arrive, check them immediately for the same reasons.
In this particularly warm fall I suggest you do not plant the bulbs until the end of October or early November, that being said, store the bulbs in a cool dark dry place such as a basement or garage.
I mentioned how to plant bulbs in the September tips but here are additional tips: The general rule is to plant bulbs about three times as deep as the bulb is tall, this goes for most bulbs although tulips should go about twelve inches down if you want to have bloom for a second year. Daffodils should go about nine inches down, which is below the frost line. Don’t plant the bulbs singly – plant in groups of odd numbers, 5,7 or 9 bulbs (odd numbers are harmonious in nature). Dig a trench and line the trench with composted manure.
Small bulbs like crocus, can be tossed gently into a shallower trench, about three inches deep and plant them where they land, pointed side up. For larger bulbs like tulips and daffodils dig a trench about nine inches deep and three or four feet long and scatter larger bulbs in the trench, also with the pointed end of the bulb faces up!
Observe Mother Nature, and you will notice that plants in nature growing in gentle curves connect harmoniously with the earth.
Personally, I treat Tulips as annuals because their first year’s bloom is the best, after that first year the bloom is never as strong; the only exception to this is the parrot tulip. Also be aware that tulips are the ‘caviar’ of the bulb family. The best method to prevent them from becoming a tasty item on the rodent’s menu is to soak them in an organic deer repellent, also works with rodents, and allow them to dry before planting. Remember to wear gloves when planting bulbs; many contain skin irritants that can cause a rash.
Method for planting or transplanting plants – in fall the soil remains warm enough for planting through October and this year even into mid November. When planting a tree or shrub, dig la hole at least one and a half times as wide, not deep, as the root ball. Note – evergreens because of their shallow root system cannot be planted later than September so please wait until next spring to plant evergreens.
Another cardinal rule: Do not plant the tree or shrub any deeper than it is in the container or balled burlap. Or when transplanting do not plant any deeper than it was originally in your garden as planting too deep can be the death of plants. If you are unable to dig to any depth for your plant in the case of ledge in your garden, berm up the soil on the ledge and plant so that part of the root ball is above the soil grade, mounding soil around it.
Handle your tree or shrub by its root ball, not by the trunk or branches. Amend the soil in the planting hole with three parts manure and, one part compost, if you do not have compost, manure is great. Water deeply, slowly and thoroughly when planting and at least twice a week through the fall until the first hard frost, which in this part of New England is usually about the second week of November.
Tree work – choose a licensed arborist. This work is much less expensive to have done in the fall when the foliage has left the trees the arborist is able to see more clearly what needs to be done and the work goes faster – meaning less labor time.
If you have deep shade and want more sunlight in an area, ask the arborist thin out the tree’s canopy to make dappled sun, which will give you more choice of plants that will grow in dappled rather than deep shade.
If you have a badly damaged tree, that is over 50% damaged or diseased then have it removed, giving you an area for a sun garden or perhaps the vegetable garden you have always wanted.
Leaving up my spent perennials, I so enjoy the browns, grays, and yellows and faded greens, which blend gently with winter’s muted landscape. The seed heads of the perennials are wonderful snacks for the birds and it’s a joy to see their antics through the cold weather. What better sight than a red cardinal on the Winterberry bush in the snow.
Don’t put away the tools just yet. You still have time over the next few weeks to divide summer blooming perennials, which have been in the ground for three years or more. Dividing perennials gives them a new lease on life and encourages more prolific bloom next season.
Also wait until next April to cut down ornamental grasses; their graceful foliage is lovely to look; the icicles on them shining in the pale winter sun.
Early spring blooming perennials such as Iris can be divided up to the second week of October; the soil should still be quite warm and with adequate moisture there will be enough root growth to anchor these divisions before frost heave becomes a problem. When dividing Iris cover the horizontal root divisions (the rhizomes) with just enough soil so they do not topple over, any deeper and they will not flower, of course add composted manure to the planting mix and mulch carefully around them.
Any spent perennials that show disease should be cut down but if the plant is more than one third diseased it should be dug up and discarded. The diseased material cleaned up and discarded it in the garbage not in the compost. Clean up any fallen plant debris from the soil and ONLY if it is disease and weed free, can it be added to the compost pile.
Peonies – Cut down peonies to within six inches from the ground after first hard frost in November and add some composted manure around the base of the plant.
Add a few inches of composted manure to all the cultivated areas of the garden. The soil has been working hard all season and manure (which is not a fertilizer) dissolves in water and is the best of Nature’s waste bi products to rebuild soil structure. The manure provides a rich planting environment for the following season by encouraging the millions of soil animals down below to manufacture nutrients for the roots of the plants.
If you mulch the garden, mulch with two inches of fine bark mulch, after the ground begins to cool in late October, this will keep warmth and moisture in the soil and protect the roots of your plants through the winter, particularly any that are newly planted. Mulch is particularly important for any newly planted broadleaf evergreens installed in September. As mentioned previously, evergreens are shallow rooted, and can heave above ground in hard frosts. I suggest that you store a few bags of topsoil and mulch in the shed or garage. When you see exposed roots cover them with the soil and mulch until the plant can be resettled next spring.
SIGNS OF FROST – You can foretell a hard frost when you notice the afternoon temperature falling fast under a clear sky. Assess the wind, by taking a long strip of plastic, like a shopping bag from the supermarket, and hang it from a tree branch, as long as it flutters about a foot in either direction, you do not have to worry about frost, but if it blows vigorously then frost is on the way. If you still have plants in the garden that are of concern, cover them with salt hay, newspapers or light weight old quilts and put a brown paper bag from the grocery store over smaller plants like herbs, anchored down with rocks.
Your houseplants should be indoors by now. Following their summer sojourn outdoors, change the soil for fresh potting soil and wash the pots. Wash the leaves with an organic Safer solution. If the plant has outgrown its pot, transplant it to the next size, only one and a half inches larger.
Enjoy the mild days of fall and I’ll see you next time in your garden.
SEPTEMBER TIPS 2014
‘A gardener’s works is never done’ and that being said after all your hard labor throughout the growing season you can take a break in September. Sit, inhale the garden fragrances and allow Mother Nature to anchor and relax you. As you contemplate your landscape, think on the past season, what worked for you and what you will never try again. Leave the weeds for a while, they are not going anywhere, take these moments to enjoy the peace, and joy that your garden brings you.
By this time of year, gardening chores are not overwhelming unlike spring when there is much to get done in our short New England season. The warm autumn sunshine is pleasantly warm on the face and the breeze cool.
In the early morning I sit on my patio near the herb garden, looking at my sage, making a note to cut some and take it indoors for drying. I will use some sage for cooking and some, I will gather into small bunches tied with string to hang in my closets which helps to repel moths. Insects do not like fragrance. You can do the same with small bunches of lavender and also put them in drawers to keep the moths from devouring your woolens.
Now in the less hectic pace of fall, is an opportunity to re-think your gardens. The garden’s pre-winter grooming will wait for a few weeks.
You may feel that you want a professional design, having thrown good money after bad and nothing still looks right. If that is so then contact someone that you trust to work with you to create a plan in the fall and winter, which can be phased in beginning next spring. Engage someone who will listen to your needs, and stay within your budget.
Rain this summer has been in short supply – hopefully we will have a good amount this fall to give our plants’ roots a boost before going into winter. The weeds continue to grow but I have been able to keep a handle on them with the use of Bradfield Organics corn gluten based weed pre-emergent, which can be purchased at any good garden center.
As I walk around the border on the south side of the farmhouse, I see that my Franklinia tree is about to bloom. This lovely small tree has saucer shaped white blossoms and yellow center and I derive such a pleasure having a tree that blooms in my garden in the fall.
However, mint has taken over that border beneath the tree.
Years ago I wish I had noticed that my friend Roz, who was kindly lending a hand to set up the garden many years ago instead of planting mint in a container she planted mint in the garden. By the time I got around to noticing the error, it was too late. For all of you who are not aware – mint is extremely invasive and should only be planted in containers where its wayward habits can be restricted.
PEONIES – September is the month to plant and transplant Peonies. Do not plant them deeply or they will not bloom. Just have enough soil to hold them up so that the ‘pink eyes’ on the roots are barely covered. Planting them with composted manure. Cut down the Peony foliage in November following the first hard frost.
In a few weeks bright touches of autumn color will appear on the maples in the wetlands behind my stream. Fall’s brilliant autumn finery is the last hurrah, before winter sets in. Climbing up the milk shed near the barn the buds on the autumn clematis are beginning to unfurl and in the herb garden autumn crocus, asters, sedum will take their curtain calls.
So that your soil remains vital and healthy add a nice layer of composted manure to all the borders either now or in October with a two -inch layer of fine bark mulch for winter protection around to all newly planted and transplanted perennials and shrubs.
I do not cut down my spent perennials but leave them up, as their ripened seed heads are a delicious treat for the birds in when food becomes scarce. I also enjoy the softer subtle colors of gray, brown and yellow of spent perennials and grasses blending naturally with the muted winter landscape.
Fall is a great time to be planting into mid October The benefits of fall planting of some trees, shrubs and perennials into mid October gives them a head start with root development over those planted in the spring. This is especially so if we have a late spring as we did this year and you are not able to plant until late April. The cooler temperatures and still warm soil in early fall in New England, directs the plant to put their energy into producing strong roots.
However, if you are adding any evergreens they must be planted in September. The reason being that evergreens are shallow rooted and need time to establish before the ground freezes. Root growth will continue in fall as long as soil temperature is above 40 degrees, which is about the second week of November here.
Plant the evergreens with peat and composted manure in the planting mix, and water until the ground freezes in November. Evergreens lose water quickly when exposed to cold winter wind. Add a layer of fine bark mulch around the base of the evergreens and keep the mulch about six inches away from the trunks so that rodents do not take up residence and gnaw on the bark. Keep watering all newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials until the ground freezes.
The bitter blasts of winter wind have caused damage to many broadleaf evergreens. However, by keeping the soil healthy and moist with composted manure and mulch will keep the root system strong and the plant will bounce back in the spring with less damage. The cold wind is damaging to the evergreens as it draws moisture from the foliage. Small evergreens can be protected loosely covered with burlap.
The following trees are not good candidates for fall planting:
Birches, Larches, Gingko, Oaks, Magnolia, in fact all flowering fruit and flowering trees as well as the Eastern Red Cedar. These trees have fleshy root systems and their feeder roots are not large when young and take time to establish, therefore are susceptible to frost heave.
Also some perennials that do not like to be planted in fall are Artemisia, Lambs Ears, Foxglove, Penstemon, Anemone, Campanula, Kniphofia, Lupines, Scabiosa, Ferns and Grasses.
BARGAINS – this is a good time to pick up end of season plant bargains. Most nurseries and garden centers reduce their prices to sell off plants so they do not have to winter them over. However, keep your eyes open for the following problem plants:
POTBOUND PLANTS – check the bottom of the pot to see if the roots are growing through the holes. If not, gently tap the plant out of the container to see if it has a network of overlapping roots that encompass the root ball. It is possible to salvage a root bound plant, which is suffering from water and nutrient deficiencies over the summer, but it will be slow to root. Before you plant this one in your garden, cut the encircling roots – the roots will now be shorter but will take root easier.
DISEASED PLANTS – plants that have been in containers all summer and have been fed high nitrogen fertilizers are easy targets for pests and diseases. Check for spots on the foliage, wilted or curling leaves, discolored roots. As well as visible signs of pest damage and infestation such as webbing or sticky residue on foliage. Not only would these plants do poorly in the garden but could infect your other plants and the soil. Soil born diseases are the most difficult to deal with.
BADLY SHAPED PLANTS – Badly shaped plants are the Charlie Brown Christmas trees of the plant world, the unwanted orphans that have been passed over year after year; these are the runts of the litter! Do not set yourself up for disappointment looking at an ugly tree or shrub just to save a few dollars.
MISLABLED PLANTS – At the end of the season many plant tags have been lost or mixed up, which means you are likely to get a perennial with flowers that are not the color you expected. Or you may buy a deciduous tree or shrub when you were looking for an evergreen variety. Stick to the plants that are part of large displays of identically labeled plants or with labels so firmly attached that look like they have been there for a while.
With any and all above mentioned plants – always add composted manure to the planting hole and do not plant any deeper than it is in its pot or burlap wrapping. Always wear gloves when working with manure; there is bacteria in the manure – great for the soil but not healthy for you.
NEW LAWN OR PATCH SEEDING – September is an excellent time to plant new grass, the young grass plants will have the advantage over weeds. Do not buy cheap seed, you reap what you sow!
Gently de-thatch the areas that you wish to overseed or patch. Do not use the large thatching machines, which can damage existing grass. Add some composted manure to the area, broadcast the seed and cover the newly seeded grass area with salt hay (free from weed seed). Do not allow the soil surface to dry out, keep it moist. Do not saturate the area or the seed will wash away.
When the grass appears, stay off it, do not mow and leave the salt hay to rot. Next spring, a healthy lawn will emerge and if there are a few bare patches you can fill them in, in April.
I hope your spring bulb orders are in by now. Be adventurous this year and go for masses of a single color for the greatest impact. No matter how small your planting area – it is the intensity that counts, with two or three dozen red Tulips or a hundred Daffodils planted on your woodland edge.
Buying daffodils in large numbers is less expensive, the bulbs are usually smaller -this is not a problem as daffodil bulbs grow in size each year. Even though many say the spacing between these larger bulbs should be six inches, there is no reason they cannot touch. Put some composted manure or bulb food in the hole and make sure you plant the Daffodils eight inches below the frost line, with the pointed end up. Wear gloves when you plant bulbs as they have a skin irritant, which may cause a rash.
If you cannot plant your bulbs immediately when you receive them, keep them in a cool, dry place. The best time to plant spring bulbs in the Northeast is the end of October to the middle of November.
Lily of the Valley can be transplanted this month but wear gloves because there is toxicity in this plant.
Dig up your gladioli corms, Calla bulbs, Elephant ear bulbs and Dahlia tubers when the foliage turns yellow. Lay them in the sun to “cure” and store them in a cool, dry dark place. When you dig the Dahlia tubers, do not pull them, pulling can break the tubers.
In early September take your houseplants indoors after their summer sojourn and wash the foliage gently and repot with new potting soil. Repot those plants that have outgrown their pots to a clean container that is only one size larger.
Fall and early winter is a great time to do stonework – dry laid paths, walls and patios. As well as repairing fences, arbors and pergolas and build decks. Painting wooden outdoor furniture with eco conscious paint before putting them undercover for winter. In October I will tell you more about how to go about stonework.
September is a gardener’s paradise; the air is cooler, the soil easy to work and you will not overheat with the effort. Stay awhile in your garden; enjoy the comforting fragrance of fall.
I’ll see you in your garden next month. Listen to me on the radio on WRCH 100.5 FM on Thursday September 18th from 8 to 8.30 a.m. – it’s a call in show for gardening questions but if you are unable to get through you can email me at www.TheEnglishLady@TheEnglishLady.com
AUGUST TIPS 2014
The month of August is aptly named the Dog Days of summer, when the garden like human beings move at a slower pace and are apt to languish. The Dog days of summer comes from an ancient Roman legend and tells us that the largest star, the Dog Star ‘Sirius’ appears to add its heat to the sun. In this month the legend said that we should gather our canine friends and keep them in the cool.
However, we have been most fortunate to have a lovely summer here in the North East, not too hot, low humidity but we still need more rain. Save your water and do not water the lawn, it will bounce back. A well established garden can manage with one inch of water a week so be sparing with irrigation. That being said, your vegetable garden does require more water. If you have plenty of manure in that garden and mulch it will help retain moisture and keep down the weeds. I like to mulch my vegetable garden with manure as is nourishes the soil of course and does not cap (crust) like other mulches. Grass clippings as mulch, does indeed add nitrogen but the clippings become slimy and can invite disease.
If you feel you must turn on irrigation or use the hose, water in the morning and around seven in the evening.
A word to the wise, do not plant, transplant or divide any plants until mid September. Mid summer heat stresses them enough without adding to the stress by asking them to send out new roots.
Each morning I stroll around the corner onto the south side of my farmhouse and am greeted by the deep purple bloom of the Butterfly bush. Further along that border I can enjoy the bloom on the hydrangeas, although due to the harsh winter and late spring the bloom is later this year. Did you know that hydrangeas are a wetland plant and therefore require more water than some of your other plants in the border?
Here in New England we have a short growing season here in New England and in the borders on the west and north side of the farmhouse I planted a mixed border with plants of differing bloom time, bright foliage of many colors that is a pleasure to behold especially as bloom begins to wane in late summer. Looking out of my study window, I can see the Serviceberry tree anchoring the corner of the house and the evergreen Andromeda with grasses nestling alongside, a lovely subtle backdrop to the perennials and ornamental grasses. Next to the small pond on the North side, the smoke bush is showing it pink bloom and the beautiful peach bark of the coral bark maple anchors a path to the front door.
My preference at least at my home, is a mixed border for year round interest. A mixed border combines perennials, evergreen and deciduous shrubs, small ornamental trees which either bloom in some part of the spring or have interesting bark and often both. A mixed border with year round interest is how, my son Ian, a wonderful designer who learnt this craft from yours truly designs a garden. There are always a few gaps to fill in, but that can be remedied with annuals or some later blooming perennials. A trip to the garden center in early September for late season sales is worth the effort.
Plantings that looked good last year may be oversized and have not bloomed so well. These plants are in need of division, so on a cooler day in September, divide early flowering perennials and transplant them with composted manure in the planting hole and planted no deeper than they were in the ground originally. Make sure you keep the transplants watered. When planting or transplanting make sure each plant has space, at least two feet apart depending on the growth habit of the plant. Give your entire borders and the vegetable another round of composted manure in October. The soil needs constant rebuilding and replenishing – it has been doing a lot of work since spring. The fall application of manure will work with the soil microbes to strengthen roots through the winter and produce an excellent growing environment for the beginning of spring.
Add a layer of natural fine bark mulch around the transplants to retain moisture. As I said plants need space so do not cram the plants close together; they need ventilation so that diseases like powdery mildew and others do not take hold.
Soaker hoses in the borders are the efficient method of irrigation as the water goes straight to the roots and keeps water off the foliage, which is an added deterrent against disease. I know a hose is needed for some tasks in the garden but you lose 40% of the moisture with the use of a hose. Soaker hoses are the way to go in all borders including the vegetable garden.
Keep up the deadheading so that your garden remains fresh and perky. Cut back the spent annuals for a new flush of bloom. When Coreopsis, Spirea and Salvia has finished blooming, shear off the dead bloom and a new flush will appear; doing this a few times in a season produces repeat flowering.
Stop feeding roses in the middle of August; roses require at least nine weeks to go into a slow dormancy, before the arrival of the first frost. If you do not have time to water the containers in the garden before you go out in the morning, empty your ice trays into the containers until you can add water in the cooler temp of the evening.
As previously mentioned watering in the morning is preferable as nighttime watering can encourage powdery mildew especially on summer phlox, Monarda and Hydrangeas. If you see this problem spray with my remedy of one gallon of water in a spray container adding one tablespoon of baking soda, a squirt of mild dish soap and a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Spray in the early morning when there is no wind and before the temperature and humidity combined go above 160.
To deter critters from munching on your vegetables, put an old sneaker or a piece of carpet that your dog had lain on for a while, amongst the vegetable plants – the doggy odor will help to prevent the animals from feasting on the vegetables.
Pest control –
Slugs – bury an expired plain yogurt in the ground, up to rim, this attracts slugs, in they tumble and the rest is history.
Another trick for Slugs – dry dog food – take out an amount for that evening, add water to make it mushy like mud pies, put the mushy piles where slugs congregate, then go outside an hour later, armed with a garbage bag and you will discover the slugs are so full of food, they cannot slink away, they have had their ‘last supper’. Scoop them up with a shovel, into the garbage bag and throw it away.
Place a rock or a log in the garden where the ground beetle can hide, the pest menu for this excellent garden worker is is very varied and they can even climb trees to deal with the tent caterpillar and other tree climbers.
Repel with smell – plant marigolds, mints (only in containers, as this plant is extremely invasive) basil. Basil planted near or among tomato plants repels tomato hornworms. Lavender, nepeta, honeysuckle, cosmos, roses and summer phlox and other plants with fragrance send insects packing ‘Repel with smell’.
Nasturtiums deter white fly and squash beetles, and the flowers and foliage are great to eat in salads, nasturtium flowers are delicious, a slight peppery taste on top of ice cream.
Attract lacewings by planting marigolds and sunflowers – they eat aphids.
If you do not have any of fragrant plants in the garden this season – there is always next year.
Place a few slices of cucumber in an aluminum pie plate. The chemicals in the pie plate react with the cucumber to give off a scent, undetectable by humans but the scent drives garden pests crazy and makes them flee.
Vacuum the varmints! – Use a hand held rechargeable vacuum, like a dust buster, to suck up whitefly, Japanese beetles, Colorado potato beetles and cucumber beetles
Hold the vacuum in one hand and move lightly over the top of the plants. Support foliage with other hand to lessen damage to tender leaves and shoots. Limit vacuuming to upper leaves of plants to avoid sucking up fragile beneficial wasps. The vacuumed insects will be stunned but not killed. Open vacuum away from the plant afterwards and dump the pests into soapy water.
Place your orders for Peonies now so they can be delivered in time for September planting. Plant, transplant or divide Peonies only in September. Plant the Peonies so that the ‘pink eyes’ on the roots are barely covered with soil and of course add composted manure in the planting hole. In November prune the Peonies down to about six inches from the ground and add mulch around the base.
Begin compiling your list of spring bulbs to send in early so that you can have the best choice. Enjoy and I’ll see you next time in your garden.
JULY TIPS 2014
Well, folks, we had a good drenching of rain for the garden on July 4th but with the drying winds since then, the garden will dry out quickly as will the plants.
WATERING is so important in the summer heat, particularly if you planted trees, shrubs, particularly evergreens in spring which take time to establish a strong root system and require extra moisture. Plants in New England need at least an inch of water per week. A regular hose loses 40% of moisture to evaporation. Soaker hoses in your borders are the best method of watering attached to a timer. By using this method of irrigation, moisture goes directly to the roots of plants where it is needed and not on the foliage, which causes disease such as black spot and powdery mildew.
A hose is necessary for a deep thorough watering when a plant first goes into the ground and for watering containers as well as cleaning up messy areas. y. Soaker hoses attached to a timer can be used not only in the borders of the garden but also in the vegetable garden, as vegetables especially annual vegetables require a lot of water. However, if you added composted manure to the containers and copious amounts to the vegetable garden the manure will not only retain a good amount of moisture but by using the composted manure as mulch also helps to retard weeds.
Water the lawn only when the green glow begins to fade. An established lawn will bounce back after dry hot spells.
Roses with composted manure and mulch around the base require a deep watering at least once a week, but direct water away from the foliage. If you do not have manure in your soil as yet, it is never too late to add at least two inches now, again in October and then again next April.
If you are a first time rose grower or adding to your rose collection, David Austin English roses are my personal preference. These roses are more trouble free than many other roses, are also repeat bloomers, have beautiful colors and have the added bonus of lovely fragrances.
Some of my favorite David Austin roses are:
A Shropshire Lad (my home country in England) a peachy pink
Abraham Darby, shades of apricot and yellow
Evelyn (my favorite) with giant apricot colored flowers
Fair Bianca a pure white rose
Heritage a soft blush pink
Carding Mill begins as a peachy orange double flower, becoming an apricot-pink
A lovely combination is climbing roses and clematis planted together as both enjoy the same planting environment, their heads in the sun and their feet (roots) cool, with manure and mulch. This combination looks great climbing together over a fence, wall or arbor.
Stop feeding your roses in the middle of August so they can go into a slow dormancy, necessary to keep them healthy through winter.
If you mulch, apply fine brown bark mulch, which keeps moisture in the soil.
On the subject of soil, soil is not an inert medium that merely holds the plants erect, it is a living organism that needs to be replenished with nutrients. The best additive is composted manure, which is not a fertilizer but works to build soil structure and encourages the millions of microbes below the surface to produce nutrients for the plants.
HYDRANGEAS: Plant Hydrangeas in a sunny area if you live near the coast and in part sun away from the coast. Plant them in organically rich soil with composted manure and add extra composted manure around the base now in July. Hydrangeas are a wetland plant and require plenty of water throughout the summer. We had a late spring and even with all the spring rain the foliage of the hydrangeas has been slower to emerge. Watch out for powdery mildew and spray with an organic sulfur solution called Safer that you can buy from the garden center.
Or if you are so inclined here is the recipe for a natural remedy for powdery mildew you can mix yourself:
Two tablespoons baking soda, one tablespoon of vegetable oil, a squirt of dish soap with a gallon of water in a sprayer.
The rule of 160 applies when spraying which when the temperature and the humidity are below 80 degrees and below 80% humidity and little no wind.
If you have an alkaline soil (sweet) which is unlikely in our area, but if you do and want the deep blue color for your Hydrangeas add some peat or aged oak tree bark for acidity and the extra manure around the base of the plant.
HANDS: Gardener’s hands are their tools of the trade so it’s important to look after them. My hands stay feeling and looking good as I give them a hot cream treatment once a week in the evening– using Calendula, honey and lavender cream heated in my microwave oven and then put on white cotton gloves and when I wake up my hands are soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom. Also when working in soil that contains manure or spreading manure, Manure is an organic product that contains bacteria, wear garden gloves, the bacteria is good for the soil and the plants but not good for you. I prefer the leather farmer’s gloves that are washable.
FLAVORED OILS – Many herbs are at their peak right now and are ideal for using in flavored oils. The oil I use is olive oil. I harvest basil, parsley, sage, tarragon and oregano in a morning, rinse them well, pat them dry with a paper towel and then make the recipe
Chose which one of the herbs and add to two cups of oil.
With thyme and lavender, I use the flowers and use one cup of oil and a handful of blossoms. Puree this mixture in a blender and store in a wide mouthed jar for three days (covered of course) shake at least three times a day for the first two days and on the third day let the mixture settle to the bottom, then strain the mixture through a paper coffee filter into a clean jar. You will now have a tinted but clear mixture.
Refrigerate the oil and use within two to three weeks. I have tried these tasty combinations: lavender, lemon, garlic, shallots and basil with olive oil as the base – these are my favorites and are great brushed on vegetables and meats for grilling. The lavender oil is great with desserts. Rosemary, lemon oil taste excellent on salads.
MOLES: I know I have given you a few mole remedies in the past; but I know I have not given you the exlax method for a while and I can attest to the fact that I have used this method as have many garden colleagues for years and it worked – put exlax into the mole holes, the moles and voles eat it then die of dehydration.
In March of next year, apply organic grub control, which means less grubs for the moles to feed on, and without their supply of grubs, the moles will go elsewhere for food.
Now that many of you are committed to organic gardening without chemicals the earthworm population is once again on the increase; earthworms are a great boon to the garden soil as their castings add many minerals and nutrients.
SUMMER PHLOX – I just love my summer phlox and keep the mildew problems down with the natural mix I mentioned above. Although I have found that my white Phlox Miss Lingard is more resistant to mildew. However, in order to get a second bloom, prune off ten to twenty inches from the flower stems just after the flowers have gone by and within a few weeks you will get miraculous new growth.
Deadhead all annuals and perennials for a second bloom and clean up all spend blossoms. KEEP YOUR GARDEN CLEAN – a healthy garden is a clean garden.
When Coreopsis and Spirea have bloomed, shear off dead flowers and they too will rebloom.
Make sure you have composted manure with the soil in your containers and keep them watered as they dry out quicker than garden soil. In hot weather they will need to be watered daily. If you do not have time in a morning before you leave for work or errands, empty your ice cube trays on the containers, slow release watering until you can get to them later. Enjoy and I’ll see you next time in your garden.
JUNE TIPS 2014
The fullness of bloom came late this year, with cool weather and rain.
Now, we need sun for the garden to flourish whether for flora, foliage or our vegetable gardens. The heady fragrance of dwarf lilacs, the wild roses just beginning to open and my lush peonies in the field on the west side of the farmhouse are wafting their fragrance through the open windows. I cannot remember witnessing such abundant growth; I know it’s a result of the rain, and manure that I have added three times each. The composted manure working with the millions of soil animals to build soil structure and produce necessary nutrients for the plants.
However, I know that heat and humidity is on the horizon and between the high temperatures and drying winds, the soil will dry quickly and the plants can shrivel and burn and must be addressed. An excellent counter measure to this situation as mentioned is a good layer of the composted manure, which not only builds structure and nutrition but also helps the soil to retain moisture and retarding weeds.
Weeds are our nemesis but there is an excellent weed retardant by Bradfield Organics that you can purchase from the garden center. This product is an organic corn gluten based weed pre-emergent so that when you clear a patch of weeds; sprinkle the product on the soil to keep weeds away for a few weeks.
For many years, in our nursery in England my family and I in my own garden prefer to use composted manure as mulch, as unlike other mulches, manure will not crust or cap, so that water and air can penetrate to the roots of the plants where it is needed.
Through my window I can see hundreds of blooms on the peonies as well as armies of ants. It is fascinating to witness the symbiotic partnership between ants and peonies. A question I am often asked is “Maureen, should I worry about ants on my peonies?” The answer is “ a lot of ants on the peonies just demonstrates that you have healthy plants with big buds producing a lot of nectar which attract the ants”.
Peonies need plenty of water for good bloom, and in early fall give a light application of composted manure and check the soils PH, it should be between 6.5 and 7.0. In mentioning ants; if you see them “let them live”; more often than not their presence indicates that we have aphids present and these useful ants feed off aphids. By the way, do not plant or transplant peonies until September and when you do plant or transplant, make sure that the pink eyes on the roots of the plant are only just covered with soil – just enough so they are secure and do not topple over.
A useful creature in the war on insects is the lowly toad. In my garden I have a toad house, which I placed in a shady, quiet spot. There is no reason to buy commercial toad houses. Unearth an old clay pot in the garage or shed, that is cracked, making sure that the crack is two to three inches wide for the doorway to this ‘toad house’ for the toad can enter. Also put a small saucer as a floor under the pot with some rocks, and keep the rocks damp, then your friendly bad bug eater will set up residence and eat about two hundred bad bugs each week. .
Did you know that garlic is the anti-biotic of the garden I just love garlic to use in my recipes but as an anti-fungal element to protect your plants I suggest you plant plenty of it.
Try the following:
Plant garlic with strawberries, tomatoes and raspberries to avoid fungal diseases.
Plant garlic with mildew-prone plants such as summer phlox and bee balm.
Plant garlic under fruit trees to avoid scab and root disease.
Plant garlic next to ponds or standing water to control mosquito larvae, or pour garlic oil into the water to keep away adult mosquitoes.
Where you notice marauders that either insects or animals have been munching make a garlic spray to apply on the plants:
Garlic spray recipe
4 large crushed garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
1 squirt of mild dish detergent
Put all ingredients in 2 cups of hot water and leave overnight
Then put in a gallon sprayer with cold water and spray in the early morning or in the evening when it is cooler and there is no wind.
To deter squirrels and chipmunks try a hot pepper spray using either 4 hot chilies or cayenne pepper in 2 cups of hot water, leave overnight then put in a gallon sprayer with cold water and spray the problem areas in the early morning or evening. This pepper spray works well on squirrels, chipmunks, deer as well as dogs and cats that may have left their deposits in the garden.
Most important- keep the garden clean; a clean garden is a healthy garden!
MULCH: mulch your gardens with a fine bark mulch, not the red dyed stuff and certainly not the cocoa mulch which has been found to be poisonous to dogs and cats.
When you mulch do not get the mulch any closer than four inches from the trunks of trees and shrubs, as any closer encourages rodents to come and gnaw on the wood. The garden as a whole can be mulched to a depth of two inches.
June is the month for Roses and personally I find that David Austin roses are the most trouble free, these repeat bloomers, have beautiful colors and wonderful fragrances.
Some of my favorites, which I have in my garden, are:
A Shropshire Lad, (Shropshire is my home county in England), this rose is a soft peachy pink with a fruity fragrance.
Abraham Darby with blooms in apricot to yellow, coupled with a rich fruity fragrance and spice.
Fair Bianca, a pure white, with a strong scent that is overlaid with an unusual heliotrope note.
Heritage, a soft clear pink and my favorite with overtones of fruit, honey and carnation on a myrrh background.
Evelyn, which has giant apricot flowers in a saucer shape, the fragrance is a luscious fruity tone, reminding me of fresh peaches and apricots.
Make sure you have additional composted manure in the planting hole and around the base of the roses and mulch a few inches up the base of the rose. It is not necessary if you have manure around the roses to feed the roses with an organic rose food. However, if you feel you must, do so monthly until mid August, and then stop feeding so the roses can go into a slow dormancy. Japanese beetles are very attracted to roses; so any Japanese beetle traps should be placed far away from your borders on the perimeter of the property. I find the English Lady Manure tea sprayed on the foliage keeps away black spot, Japanese beetles and fungal diseases.
A tip for keeping cut roses fresh: cut the roses in the morning, just above a five-leaf cluster and place stems in a container of lukewarm water. Inside the house cut the stems again under luke warm running water, forming a one and a half inch angular cut, and then place in a vase filled with luke warm water. Do not remove the thorns on cut roses, I have found that by removing the thorns reduces their indoor life by as much as three days.
Hydrangeas: need plenty of water. In the fields they were originally found close to water in the wetlands, before they were introduced into our gardens. Hydrangeas perform best in full sun to light dappled shade. Also add additional composted manure around the base and make sure there is good ventilation, which means space between plants to prevent powdery mildew. If you notice powdery mildew, spray with Manure tea.
Wisteria: regular pruning through late spring and summer is the main factor to help this arrogant vine to flower. Prune the new growth every two weeks cutting into the plant at least nine inches on each stem.
Clematis wilt: if you have this problem it will be noticeable early because the shoots wilt and die. Unfortunately this disease, which is soil born, is impossible to cure, therefore you cannot plant another clematis of that species in that area.
You can, however, plant the Viticella clematis selection, which are vigorous, free flowering blooms and are not susceptible to wilt. Some good choices in this variety are Blue Belle, Etoile Violette, both are purple and Huldine, which is a white. Roses and Clematis make a great combination grown together as they enjoy the same growing environment of heads in the sun and feet in the shade with plenty of composted manure and mulch to keep the roots cool.
CONTAINER GARDENS: If you have room for one pot you have room for a number; placed close together in different shapes and sizes, creates your own miniature cottage garden. As well as regular pots, the most unexpected objects make really interesting containers.
Check in your basement, shed or barn, as I did, two years ago when I found an old wooden wheelbarrow, with a wheel missing, which I painted with eco-conscious paint in a periwinkle blue, a bit of whimsy, among four others. Or you may come across a large chipped ceramic jar like the old two foot tall ceramic vinegar container, from my basement, replete with a hole where the vinegar tap was inserted, ideal for drainage, and which will look great on my painted periwinkle blue bench next to the red milk shed and barn. Periwinkle blue was my color for certain structures in the garden that year and I think this year the color will be lemon yellow.
Plant the containers with a variety of ornamental grasses, large leafed plants like Cannas and Elephant Ears and perennials; remove perennials when they have finished blooming, plant them in the garden and add some others from the garden. Tuck in some annuals as needed.
LAWN CARE: Keep an eye out for moles and if you see evidence put exlax down the holes. Exlax is made of Senna, an organic herb and the moles eat the exlax, get dehydrated and the rest is history.
POWDERY MILDEW: keep an eye open for powdery mildew, especially after a rain and the humidity returns. Spray with Manure tea or make a mixture in a sprayer, mixing one tablespoon of baking soda, two teaspoons of vegetable or horticultural oil in a gallon of water and spray the mildew. Summer phlox is particularly afflicted by mildew. I recommend Phlox Miss Lingard or Phlox David, white ones of the species; these are the most mildew resistant. Monarda, commonly known as Bee balm, is also affected by mildew. Be careful when introducing Monarda into the garden; this plant, like Purple Loosestrife and Evening Primrose are extremely invasive and can take over your entire border.
On the subject of invasive plants; if you plant mint; plant it only in containers, as mint too will spread throughout your borders.
When spraying with Manure tea or any other organic spray always observe the rule of “160” which means if the temperature is 80 degrees and the humidity is 80 then its too hot to spray, I find that early morning is the best time.
I know there is always much work to be accomplished in the garden but make time to sit and relax to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s so important to take the time to recharge and to have balance in your life and what better place to do this than in the garden. Enjoy and I’ll see you next time in your garden.
MAY TIPS 2014
“The darling buds of May” is such an apt phrase for one of the most enchanting months and I can only hope that spring is finally here.
In the garden, you are carefully removing winter debris, pruning broken branches, re-edging borders and most important of all putting down that rich layer of composted manure, followed by the organic corn gluten based weed pre-emergent by Bradfield Organics. Don’t forget to put some manure around your blooming daffodils so that the millions of soil organisms below the surface can produce nutrients for the bulbs and next year’s bloom. Apply the manure on all maintained areas of the garden now, then again in July and when putting the garden to bed in October.
Forsythia is in full bloom and if you notice that the bloom on your shrub is not as prolific then after blooming, prune out the old sparse wood. The Serviceberry tree, native to New England stands tall outside my study window and is about to bloom, two weeks later than usual, but worth the wait for the white panicles. The bloom to be followed by bright green leaves and within weeks the red fruit, a great addition for the menu of our feathered friends. Throughout my town, the Magnolias, Cherries and Eastern Redbud are tumbling over one another to make an appearance.
Outside near the barn, the Carlesii viburnum (also known as Korean Spice) is showing pink buds, which will open to white flowers; I am anticipating the lovely fragrance as I walk by. Covering the barn wall and up to the barn roof is my climbing hydrangea – bright green leaves emerging and I know the beautiful climber will be laden with blossoms in summer.
Soon tulips, creeping phlox, forget-me-nots, primroses and candytuft will bring much needed color to borders and rock gardens. Around your pruned roses pull back the old mulch and apply manure about three inches up the trunk of the plant. In about three weeks reapply mulch around the base of the plant on top of the composted manure. Apply lime and manure around the lilacs, they like sweeter or alkaline soil, thus the lime.
If you are making an organic vegetable garden this year; a garden measuring 16 x 24 can feed a family of four for a year, but keep the size within your needs and capability. Don’t work the soil if it is too wet or too dry. Double digging is the best way to go; it takes time and effort but its well worth it – dig down about one foot and remove the top soil, put to one side, then dig down and loosen the next six inches of soil and add about three inches of manure then put back the top soil and add another three to four inches of manure. Do not rototill, as this will badly compromise the soil structure. The gently loosened, aerated fertile soil will give excellent yield of fruits and vegetables in the garden. I prefer 6 x 4ft beds rather than rows, beds produce a larger yield of crops, and also beds make for ease of weeding and harvesting by putting narrow compacted soil paths in-between the beds.
The vegetable garden should be situated on the south or southwest side of the property for maximum sun exposure. Make sure you remove as many weeds as possible, by hand before you even begin digging. You will need a water source close by as vegetables require lots of water, particularly the annual fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, which are hydroponics (mostly water).
In the loosened soil, plant the vegetables plants so that they are touching, this method forms a natural canopy to shade out weeds and help retain moisture.
I prefer to mulch the vegetable garden with composted manure, the manure, as mulch, does not cap. Capping is when mulch forms a crust, which does not allow water or air to penetrate the soil.
Fence in the vegetable garden with a tall fence to keep animals out. At the base of the fence install eight inches of fine mesh chicken wire above ground and eight inches below ground to keep out the digging and burrowing animals.
Organic insect control – Insects do not like fragrance so plant fragrant plants like marigolds, nasturtium, lavender, nepeta and honeysuckle and roses to name a few.
Encourage lacewings, which feed on aphids by planting marigolds and sunflowers,
Attract ground beetles, which feed on slugs by laying a log or a rock on the earth, under which the beetles may hide.
Foliar spray all the vegetables through the summer with our manure and seaweed tea – find out more about this 400 year old family on our website www.TheEnglishLady.com and get in touch with us to purchase the teas.
With the nourishing rain, the grass is now a vibrant shade of green. When mowing keep the blades of grass at about three inches; the taller blades attracts sunlight, to promote a healthier lawn. The taller blades also shade weeds and help retain moisture in the grass.
If you are still procrastinating about lawn care; apply organic grub control, which will mean less food for moles. If you have a few bare spots, spot seed them now and use only good quality seed and water the newly seeded area with our Manure tea.
When mowing leave grass clippings on the lawn, the clippings are a natural source of nitrogen and if you have clover, that is an added benefit as clover takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil, additional nitrogen for plant growth.
After flowering is over, prune flowering shrubs by 25% each season, do this immediately before new buds set for next year.
On a rainy day go shopping for any garden supplies you may need, so that when the weather is dry you can be outdoors doing what you love and not indoors shopping. Buy good hoses, cheap ones will bend and crack.
When the soil has warmed up to 60 degrees in the next few weeks spread a fine bark mulch, which can be spread over the old mulch). Do not mulch right up against the base of the plants, as this encourages rodents to nest and gnaw on the plants. Beware of fungi that look like weird mushrooms in your mulch; this is a sign of Artillery fungus and can adhere to the walls of your home and cause problems. If you notice this fungus, you will need to remove all the mulch and get it off your property.
Peonies need plenty of water to produce flower buds. I have a thirty-foot long stand of Peonies in my field. The Peonies have been in the ground for over forty years and are a sight to behold when in bloom. I give them lots of loving care with a light dressing of aged manure, in April. In a few weeks I will pinch off the side buds while they are still small, leaving the terminal flower bud on each stalk, which will develop into a good-sized bloom.
Hydrangeas also require plenty of water during the season. Hydrangeas are a wetland plant. Also put plenty of manure and mulch around the base. If you need to prune a Hydrangea, which as become too large then prune it in June and no later. When a Hydrangea has been in the ground for 5years or more you can prune out 1/3rd of the old wood and the weakest of the young shoots immediately after flowering.
My maternal grandmother’s favorite bloom, the Lily of the Valley soon will bloom tucked under the boxwood hedge on the north east side of the farmhouse near the front door. I love the delicate white flowers and fresh unique fragrance. When the lilacs have finished blooming, remove the withered flower clusters, do the same on the mountain laurel in late June and rhododendrons to ensure good blossoms next year.
This month apply composted manure, a light application of peat and then mulch around the evergreens; rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas; these plants are shallow rooted and the mulch will keep the roots protected, warm and moist.
Some annual seeds that may be planted outside in mid May are:
Calendula, Coreopsis, Marigold, Nasturtium, Nicotiana and Zinnia.
Flats of many different and wonderful kinds of annuals will arrive in the garden centers around Mother’s day. If you purchase annuals, around Mother’s Day, put them in a sheltered spot on the south side of your home and plant them no earlier than Memorial weekend.
Tuberous-rooted begonias, caladiums, cannas and elephant ears can be moved from porch or cold frame to a part shade area as the weather becomes warmer.
If you staked trees, planted last year, cut the stakes off at ground level do not pull them out of the roots as you could damage the root system.
Aphid tip: squish a few in your hand; dead aphids release a chemical that causes other aphids to drop off the plants. Another ants and aphids tip – if you drink mint tea, any leftover sprinkle on the bugs, as they do not like the odor of mint. However, on the subject of mint, a word of caution – do not plant mint except in containers, as it is tremendously invasive and can take over your garden.
Watch out for a dry spell that often occurs in May, and make sure you water all newly planted deciduous trees, shrubs and evergreens.
Houseplants can be moved outdoors for their summer sojourn at the end of May. However, do not put your African violets outdoors but move them to a porch that is covered and shaded, or keep them indoors in a window that does not receive direct rays from the sun.
Wait until the soil warms up at the end of May to set out Dahlia tubers.
Roses are not the troublesome creatures you have been led to believe. I like David Austin roses; these shrub roses are repeat bloomers with lovely fragrances. Roses need at least four hours of sun per day, good air circulation, and excellent drainage. During their growing period from the beginning of June to mid August; they are heavy feeders (they like the same conditions as Clematis, which look great mixed with roses). Add manure and compost to the planting mix and mulch around the base of the plant in mid May. Before you top up the soil around the roses, add water and check if the soil drains, roses need good drainage. Deep watering is recommended at least once a week with our Manure tea, which is wonderful for foliar spraying on the roses during summer’s heat; this keeps the plant healthy and free from disease.
Plenty of stuff to keep you hopping folks and remember to keep your eye out for any pest trouble and when you spot it get on the ball immediately to avoid further problems. Throw away all herbicides and pesticides; these poisons have the same effect as second hand smoke. Come to one of my “Garden Earth” lectures; check the lecture schedule on www.TheEnglishLady.com to reconnect your hands, mind and heart to the loving nourishment of Mother Nature. In stressful times, the garden offers an anchor for peace and quiet enjoyment. Enjoy the warmth, the gentle breeze, the earth’s fragrance and bloom and please remember to breathe.
April tips 2014
Those April showers that come our way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May
And when it’s raining, lets not forget,
It isn’t raining rain at all, its raining violets
A popular ballad sang during World War II by Dame Vera Lynn in
Well finally, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed when I say, spring is here. I just put on my coat and stepped outside, lifting my face to the sun. In front of the kitchen window the Daffodils are peeking above ground. Around the corner on the West side, the Iris is showing foliage and buds will soon bloom on the flowering Almond.
I picked up branches from the grass that had been broken and blown during the winter and observing one of my butterfly bushes and lavender, put them on the agenda for pruning within the week. Near the barn wall the buds on my Carlesii viburnum will open in another few weeks and their perfume will fill the air.
I filled the bird feeders and heard my feathered friends telling the others ‘lunch is served’. Ian and I stirred The English Lady Manure tea and Seaweed tea, and soon those potent brews will be ready to be poured into containers.
I consider April a month of awakening activity, when gardeners experience new energy and enthusiasm, just itching to get their hands in the soil. I am only just beginning to see the faint flush of red on the maples soon, our old nemesis, and weeds will begin to rear their heads. As soon as you see them, I suggest you get busy and pull them up before they get ahead of you.
Did you know that all our cultivated plants began as weeds and at some point humans decided which ones they wanted in our gardens. Some that were not chosen have turned out to be beneficial weeds, like nettles, which are food for butterflies, clover takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil and oil from jewelweed soothes poison ivy rash. On that subject, Comfrey which is not a weed and for centuries has been cultivated as a medicinal plant soothes the rash from poison ivy when added to bath water or used as a tea.
Young Dandelion foliage is nutritious and tasty in salads. Soon they will appear in my field on the west side and my mouth is watering in anticipation. Some beneficial weeds encourage songbirds and other wildlife to linger in the garden; the weed seeds are an important food source for them.
In the garden, when problem weeds have been pulled, apply an organic corn gluten based weed pre-emergent. This product will keep weeds at bay for quite a few weeks. However, do not use this product on lawns, as it will prevent grass seed germinating. I checked on my David Austin roses today and tomorrow will prune any stems that were broken in the winter. In a few weeks I will prune any roses sharply that have been in the ground for more than a year and remove the old mulch from around the base and add more composted manure and mulch.
I prefer David Austin roses, which are trouble free, repeat bloomers, fragrant and have beautiful colors. Plant bare root roses at the end of April and container roses in mid May. Note – Planting depth – not only for roses but any plant only as deep as they come in their container Add manure to the planting mix and fill the hole about half full of soil then add water and wait a few minutes to ensure the roses have good drainage. Do not fertilize at this time, when buds appear in early June add composted manure and the brown fine bark mulch about four inches up the base of the plant. To give new roses a boost, add our Seaweed tea, which is found on the website, this tea has a root growth hormone with many nutrients ensuring strong, healthy growth. Check my March gardening tips on tips on roses.
Be careful clearing winter debris from around rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas, these evergreens are shallow rooted exposing roots to the air can damage them. If the winter has eroded soil around any roots, add a few inches of soil and composted manure. In late April add more topsoil to resettle the evergreens with a layer of mulch, composted manure and peat moss, which will nourish the plant, help retain moisture and keep the roots cool in summer.
In late April plant Gladioli corms at two-week intervals. By following this method, you will get a succession of bloom. Plant the corms eight inches below the soil surface with composted manure; the extra depth helps prevent the heavy blooms of the gladioli from toppling over. The Red Lily will soon be rearing its ugly head soon; the solution to this problem is organic Neem oil.
Soil solarization – is an effective way to control many soil borne problems, especially tomato blight that results in fruit rot. This blight has been epidemic in New England in the last few years. Now in early April cover the soil where you will be planting your tomatoes with clear plastic. Dig a trench several inches deep around the bed, and spread the thin, clear plastic film (1-4mils) over the bed. Press the plastic into close contact with the soil and seal the edges by filling the trench with soil that was removed. Leave the plastic in place for two months, during this time a high enough temperature will be generated by the sun in the top six to 12 inches of soil to kill pests, nematodes, weed seeds and many disease organisms like the tomato blight.
This process has proved invaluable for gardeners and farmers for years and the beneficial effects last through several seasons. Discard any pesticides and herbicides that you may have used in the past. They have the same effect as second hand smoke on you, your children and pets. My Garden Earth lecture, presented to thousands of people throughout New England is my mission to encourage all of you to garden organically. I want to reconnect people’s hearts, hands and minds with the nourishing energy of Mother Nature’s Life giving gardens. I am showing people how to create and maintain a beautiful organic garden. Organic farming and gardening has been my family’s philosophy on tending the earth for over four hundred years.
Manure all the borders with composted manure, which can be purchased in bags from the garden center, or aged manure from the bottom of the pile at a farm. Then mulch with fine brown hardwood mulch.
In the vegetable garden, I suggest you mulch with composted manure. Composted manure does not ‘cap’, which means that it does not form a crust like other mulches, consequently air and water can get through to the roots of the plants where it is needed. Apply an organic grub control on the grass and again in May to keep the grubs down and thereby eliminate food for the mole population.
The soil is the most important component of the growing business, compost, composted manure and peat for evergreens; amend the soil to rebuild its structure. The ratio is one part compost to three parts manure. Composted manure, at least three inches on the soil in April, July and October will ensure a rich growing environment.
Good soil structure helps with drainage issues, retains moisture, keeps down weeds and prevents compaction, particularly important with clay soil. Compost and composted manure breaks down in water, an ideal scenario, encouraging the millions of soil animals beneath the surface to produce nutrients for the plants. In a light sandy soil, humus in the form of compost and manure binds the sand particles together and in heavy soil such as clay the more compost and manure helps to break up the clumps.
Conditions in April are the most favorable for new plant-root development. In April evergreen shrubs may be transplanted and new evergreens planted. In the planting hole add composted manure and peat. At the end of May, when the new batch is ready soak the soil with our seaweed tea from the website; as previously mentioned, seaweed has a root growth hormone to enable plants to establish quickly. Give the roots a work out before planting to release them and open them up so the roots will reach into the surrounding soil for nutrients and later and not dry out in summer heat.
When I moved into my farmhouse on the shore seventeen years ago, the soil in my garden was, as you can imagine, sandy – good for drainage but without nutrients. I began adding a quite a few inches of manure to all planted borders in April, July and October and within a few months I could see the color deepening and becoming richer. Within a couple of years when I put a spade in the ground to check the color of the soil in spring its ‘black gold’.
When working with composted manure in the garden, gloves should be worn as bacteria is present in this animal bi-product. The bacteria are great for the plants and the soil but not good for your health. When Daffodil foliage is about six inches tall add composted manure around the plants and again when the foliage has gone yellow, add the manure, which will fortify the bulbs for next season.
As well as the amendments of organic aged manure, peat and/ or compost you can incorporate an organic root development enhancer like our seaweed tea by soaking the top four inches of the soil around the base of all trees, shrubs and perennials. Organic soil enhancers like our manure and seaweed tea when applied throughout the season to the soil, dissolve in water and are most quickly absorbed by plants and are especially useful for container planting.
Foliar (aka leaf) feeds with the teas are a quick acting tonic and are useful in supplying nutrients to plants, including vegetables. Roses in particular like the tea foliar feed especially in the heat and humidity of mid summer and this tonic helps prevent black spot and many insect infestations.
The Daffodils will soon be in bloom and when the bloom has past do not cut the leaves of any of your spring flowering bulbs, the leaves send down energy into the bulbs to store for next season’s nutrition.
April is the time to tackle a new lawn or patch seed, use only good quality seed and organic fertilizers. The soil is still damp and wet and we can still get a late frost, I can hear you groan, me too! Keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Do not panic if you are not able to get the April tasks done until May, your garden will wait for you and the constancy that is Mother Nature will continue to keep your patch of earth flourishing. Enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors now, inhaling the warm fragrance of awakening soil and experience the connection with growing things. Do not overdo it; warm up the body before any garden labor and stay well hydrated with lots of water. We are inexorably entwined with the earth and know that even the smallest gesture of a garden has positive rewards and the effects not only on you but our planet. I’ll see you in your garden in May.
Unlike some months in our calendar year, March can be rather unpredictable. A month of ‘wait and see’ following a winter that found us huddling under the blankets or having every inch of skin covered when we ventured outdoors. I hope that this month that came in as rather a boisterous lion goes out like a lamb!
I remember experiencing this much snow for a long period; in fact in 1995 when I lived in Lyme, I had my long drive plowed 17 times. But I don’t remember such bitter cold and wind. But enough of that, spring is almost here, the soil will warm up and I can inhale that lovely rich fragrance of the earth awakening.
All of us are itching to get out into the garden but following the depth of frost in the ground it will take longer for the soil to warm and dry up to be workable without damaging the soil structure and friable root systems.
Patience is what is needed now but planning can go ahead. You may be thinking of locating a new planting bed or expanding an existing one and if so here are some tips:
Think in terms of where you spend your leisure time indoors and out.
From indoors are you able to view and enjoy the new border?
Is it an area where there won’t be drainage problems, erosion concerns or water pooling?
Is it convenient to reach to tend and enjoy where you can place a bench or chair?
Will you be able to water it with relative ease?
Then check the trees in the garden to evaluate what work needs to be done, such as pruning of unwanted broken or dead limbs or what branches require cabling.
You can have a medium shade area changed to a dappled change area, which allows more sunlight by thinning out the upper tree branches or tree canopy.
Or perhaps you want a tree removed to transform a shade area to a sunny spot with more choice of plants available to you. I always hesitate to remove a healthy tree but sometimes too much shade is that, just too much. That is sometimes the situation when a tree has been planted too close to the house and the shading over the roof has caused mold and mildew.
If you need any of the above work to be done, please contact a licensed arborist. This is a good time of the year to make the call as the labor cost will be less with no leaves on the trees so that the arborist can quickly ascertain where to cut and the work moves faster.
There is an art to tree work knowing how, when and why to cut and I caution this work can be a real danger to the novice.
As I said earlier, patience is needed now but in mid April you can begin to clear away the winter debris, treading carefully on the soil to avoid damaging soil structure and friable root systems. When you have cleared away the debris and put down a 3” layer of composted manure then you can give the borders a nice clean edge with a sharp spade. For a natural informal garden I prefer a curved edge – a good line having grace and fluidity. I lay out a garden hose along the bed I want to edge.
This was one of the first lessons I was taught at our family nursery in England and my great grandfather was a strict taskmaster standing over me for quite a few days until I got it right.
Back to the edging – adjust the hose until you feel it looks, as you want it without sharp kinks – just gentle curves. The best tool is a sharpened lawn edger, the blade is a half circle 9 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep with a flat top – this tool creates a deep edge that will last. Face the bed, and thrust the edger down to its full depth and push the cut soil into the bed. Continue along and then remove the hose and surplus clumps of soil and grass.
In late April or early May when the soil warms up – a fine bark mulch can be added. Do not use buckwheat mulch as it flies everywhere, do not use cocoa mulch, as it is poisonous to dogs and cats and do not use the artificially colored red mulch. Mulch also keeps moisture in the soil and keeps down the weeds. You may also use Bradfield organics, a corn gluten based weed pre emergent that may also be used on the grass before it begins to sprout. Do not use this product on a newly seeded lawn, as it will prevent the seed from germinating.
You all know how I feel how that wonderful natural product – composted manure which you add later in April. Manure is not a fertilizer – it builds soil structure, aids in drainage and encourages the millions of soil animals below the surface to come alive and produce nutrients that are natural fertilizers, essential nourishment for an ideal planting environment. Soil with this organic amendment works in partnership with the roots of the plants.
Types of manure: Poultry manure – I know the odor can be a bit objectionable that is why in some areas, burying poultry manure is encouraged. However, for our purpose, allow it to age for two months and then add it to the garden – poultry manure contains about 2% nitrogen, one of the highest levels of all manures.
Horse manure is about .5% nitrogen, if you obtain from a stable, which has sawdust on its floors – it should be pretty weed free.
Cow manure, is .25 % nitrogen and is the most available manure. If you get horse and cow manure from the farm ask the farmer to give you manure from the bottom of the pile so that it is well decomposed.
I know the complaint with manures from the farms is weed seed. I find the
Best way of killing weed seed in the manure is to add it to the compost pile, where the heat will kill the weed seed. Or obtain the farm manure as soon as possible and lay it out in the sun covered in a tarp, which will suffocate the weed seeds and then a week before using it – remove the tarp and allow the sun to further decompose it.
If you do not have a compost pile, maybe it could go on your list for this season. All of the vegetable waste from the kitchen plus grass clippings, and wood prunings can be added to the pile. The high temperature in the compost would kill the weed seed and cook all those other necessary ingredients. For how to compost go onto this website and in the search box type in my article called “Manure like a fine wine”. The ratio for your garden is 1 part compost to 3 parts manure – but if you do not have compost – plenty of manure will do the trick.
DO NOT apply fresh manure to the garden, as it will burn the plants. If you do not have a source of manures from a farm, purchase composted manure in bags from the garden center.
IN ORDER TO HAVE THE BEST PLANTING ENVIRONMENT RESULTING IN A SOIL THAT IS ‘BLACK GOLD’ Apply 3 inches of composted manure to all planted areas in April, July and October.
Take a look at The English Lady Manure Tea and The English Lady Seaweed tea, a four hundred year old family recipe. These teas are excellent for soaking seeds overnight before planting in March. The Seaweed tea has a root growth hormone and many trace elements, which encourages the seeds to root and germinate fast. Check the February Gardening tips on the website on seed planting information. The optimum time for seeding is February 20th to March 20th. The Manure Tea and Seaweed teas have multiple uses through the season and are documented on the website.
ON A CLOUDY DAY – Gradually remove protective covering from shrubs and small trees. In exposed garden areas, however, where wind is a problem, leave the covering on until mid April. Cold wind is more damaging and drying to plants than extreme cold and frost.
FROST HEAVE: If some perennials, trees and shrubs have heaved out of the ground, cover the roots with fresh topsoil or mulch until mid May when they can be settled back in place.
Butterfly bush to two feet from the ground and apply manure around the base in late March.
Prune Forsythia after it has bloomed, pruning out sparse flowering old wood.
Prune roses when the forsythia blooms. If the roses have only been in the ground for one year, do not prune them wait until October.
Do not remove the protective mulch from around the base of the roses, wait until early May, and then apply a dressing of manure and mulch.
Delightful combinations that I enjoy are roses growing together with clematis, which have the same growing needs. Each month add some more manure around the roses. During the season spray the foliage with our Manure tea to prevent disease. Discontinue feeding roses and clematis in mid August, to enable them to go into a slow dormancy.
In March hedges can be sheared for shape, so that any stubby ends will be concealed by new spring growth.
Prune Spirea down to six inches from the ground.
Prune Lavender to three inches in April
Prune Sweet Pepper Bush (Clethra), cutting out the oldest branches in late March
Lilac – Prune back all old branches to various lengths before leaf growth begins, from two to five feet, keeping a good shape of the bush in mind. Sprinkle lime around the base and add manure.
BACKSCRATCH: When the lawn has dried out, rake lightly and remove excess debris such as leaves and dead twigs. Raking gently will also raise the mat up so the lawn can breathe again. Aerating machines are useful to develop a healthy lawn. Puncture holes with the aerator and pull out plugs of soil every four to six inches; following this treatment, root development takes off and thatch is reduced. Do not use the large thatching machines, which damage the grass.
GRASS Fertilizer: Apply an organic fertilizer and organic grub control before the grass begins to grow. Our Manure tea will rebuild the soil in the lawns.
Reseed bare or sparse spots in April after loosening the soil, liming and fertilizing, then cover the seed with salt hay to keep the seed warm and to prevent wind from blowing the seed away. Water the seed for the first three weeks. Do not blast the area with water, which will scatter the seeds.
MOLES: to keep down the mole population in your garden; apply organic grub control once a month from March for three months; less grubs, less food for the moles. Apply organic Pre-emergent crabgrass killers in March and April.
DEADHEAD: the crocuses when they start to look a mess; do not cut off the leaves; the leaves make food for the bulbs for next season’s bloom.
DAFFODILS: When the green shoots emerge; spread composted manure around the plants.
DAFFODILS FOR INDOORS: the stems release a sap like “goop” that harms other flowers. Before adding Daffodils to an arrangement, cut the stems at an angle, and leave them in a vase half filled with lukewarm water for a couple of hours. Discard that water and add the Daffodils to the other flowers. If you recut the stems you will need to repeat the process.
Perennials – when they are about four inches above soil level, about the third or fourth week of April, depending on the weather, make sure you have your April dose of composted manure on the borders to encourage their growth.
At the end of April or beginning of May, again depending on the weather – DIVIDE late blooming perennials that have become too large or did not flower well last season, which happens to many perennials after about four years.
Discard the older, inner parts of the clumps and plant the new outside portions. Do not plant the new divisions any deeper than they were originally in the ground.
When dividing Irises – when you replant, barely cover the root system so they do not fall over – if Irises are planted too deep they will not bloom.
Pansies: pick the flowers regularly to encourage more bloom.
Now is the time to plant indoors, the seeds of gaillardia, salvia, marigold, zinnia, petunia, snapdragon, stock and verbena. Before planting these seeds, soak seeds in our Manure tea and plant them in sphagnum moss or Coir, coir is the outer shell – the fiber of the Coconut, either of these two mediums prevents a disease called “damping off”, which can cause them to rot before germination.
Cover pots and seed trays with plastic wrap creating a mini-greenhouse, providing moisture the seeds need to germinate.
NOTE: Remove the plastic once the seeds have germinated, the soil needs to drain and air circulation is needed around the stems.
If you are going away on business, or vacation reapply the plastic wrap
Over the pots and trays and prop some sticks or skewers in the corners. While you are away the seedlings will stay moist, make sure the seedlings do not come in contact with the plastic.
START tuberous begonias, and caladiums indoors.
DORMANT SPRING SPRAYING of fruit trees, flowering cherry, crabapple, hawthorn, mountain ash and lilac can be done before the leaf buds open.
Call in a professional company and them if they use organic products; you do not want chemical pollutants in the garden.
HOUSEPLANTS: see February tips on repotting and care of houseplants.
GERANIUMS: The plants that you brought indoors at the end of last season, now when the new side shoots appear, cut them back if you have not already done so and repot them in clean pots about and inch and a half larger with fresh potting soil.
Well I think that’s given you plenty to think about to keep you busy for a while. I’ll see you next time in your garden.
FEBRUARY TIPS 2014
This winter, England, from whence I hailed eons ago, has been having terrible floods and even a hurricane, unusual at least in ferocity for that country. England has a temperate climate and they are usually a month ahead of us with winter into spring temperatures. Even though here in New England we are saying ‘enough cold temperatures and snow’ we are much luckier than the rest of the United States with what people have been experiencing for a few months now.
But soon folks – in about 40 days spring will be here and with it moderating temperatures. Lots to look forward to and in that regard I ask you to go organic for climate change – which as the weather showed is very much in evidence. As gardeners you are able to contribute to healing the planet eco-consciously with what you put into the soil for the growth of the plants that are free from herbicides and pesticides with liberal doses of my favorite stuff –manure.
I spoke with my friend Ann, this week; Ann is an avid gardener and lives in Cheshire, in England, which is next door to my home county of Shropshire. Ann told me that her daffodils are well above the soil and a week ago she started her seeds in the greenhouse. She soaked the seeds overnight in seaweed tea. My ancestors have known the root building properties of seaweed tea for centuries. Recently scientists have ‘discovered’ what farmers and gardeners have known for centuries that seaweed has a naturally occurring root growth hormone and is a bio-stimulant with more than sixty different types of nutrients. Now that the seeds are germinating she is also watering them with the seaweed tea.
February 20th to March 20th is the time to begin serious indoor seed planting here. Check here on my website for all the information on our seaweed and manure teas, which will be available for purchase later in the spring. If you intend to plant seeds in the next month or two check out which garden centers are stocking organic seeds, or go online for them – one company that I use is “Botanical Interests.” Don’t go overboard and buy too many packs of seeds; there are about 500 seeds in each packet. If you do purchase too many – have a seed sharing party with gardening friends.
Have on hand – inexpensive envelopes, soil mix, sphagnum moss and seed trays, which must be scrupulously – clean, egg cartons or cut down cardboard milk containers, both work well. Sphagnum moss works well as a planting medium and can prevent a soil born fungus that causes “damping off’ whereby seeds rot before germination. I and many friends and colleagues have used this method for years and have not lost seeds to the disease.
For tiny seeds use the moss as the planting mix and for larger seeds have a topsoil base and a layer of moss on top of the soil.
Mixing fine seeds with sand before you sow helps to loosen them up. Soak the seeds overnight before planting in our Seaweed or Manure tea if you have some from last year and just before planting spray them with warm water, never cold as cold water can delay germination. When they have germinated, water with Manure or Seaweed tea.
The best method of watering seedlings is from the bottom. But, if you feel you must top water, just mist with a fine sprayer, so you don’t drown the delicate seeds or wash them out of the planting mix. Use sterilized soil when seeding but do not save any left over soil, add it to houseplants or put it in the garden. Left over soil can develop disease and wipe out future seedling crops. If you are growing seedlings on a windowsill, place them on a south or west-facing sill, seedlings do not need heat to thrive, they need light.
Houseplants require extra care – personally my houseplants lift my spirits in winter especially the blooming variety. Keep the plants away from draughts and direct heat. If possible have humidifiers and air purifiers in the rooms, which will benefit not only the plants but also your own health. Place pebble trays under the plants and keep the pebbles moist for additional humidity.
Spray houseplants every few days with lukewarm water and once every couple of weeks, put the plants in a sink or bathtub and allow water to run freely over the plant to remove dust from the leaves and clean salt residue from the soil. The exception to the spray or soak rule is African violets, these plants do not like wet leaves.
Aphids and white fly thrive indoors in winter and an organic sulphur solution called Safer works well to clean the soil of the insect eggs and off the foliage. Perhaps you are fortunate like myself to have ladybugs in your home, let these pretty useful creatures roam freely as their menu is aphids and white flies.
The best time to repot houseplants is during the growing season from April and through June but if a plant has become root bound with no visible soil, then you may repot now. Water the plant to loosen the roots from the soil, turn it sideways on a newspaper and gently slide it from the pot. Repot in fresh potting soil in a clean pot that is only two inches larger than the original. With the plant firmly in place and the soil one inch from the rim, water it either with a dilute application of organic fertilizer or our seaweed tea, which lessens the shock of repotting.
Some trouble free foliage plants to enjoy in the house are: Rubber plants, Spider plants, Ivy, Philodendron, Monstera and Spaphyllum. If you have a sunny window Aloes, Succulents and Cacti.
Blooming plants sitting side by side with foliage plants give one a miniature garden and they enjoy one another’s company. Some of the bloomers are Cyclamen, African Violets, Kalanchoe, Primulas and Paper white narcissus. To prevent pets from chewing on the plants, add some cayenne pepper to the water when watering.
Check any power tools that require maintenance or repair. Now is the time to get them into the shop, because as soon as the weather breaks the shop gets busy and you may not get your lawn mower back until August.
When you can climb over the snowdrifts check other tools in the garage or shed. If you did not clean them off at the end of last season, plunge the shovels and spades into a bucket of sand, sand is an abrasive and will clean off any left over soil and manure residue. Oil the wooden handles of tools with Linseed oil or some inexpensive vegetable oil, the oil feeds the wood and keeps the handles splinter free. At the same time, check your hoses and fittings, which may have sprung leaks since last year.
Make a shopping list of new tools that are needed. There are lots of sales at this time of year, for you to pick up bargains. However, I caution that you buy only quality tools and hoses; the old adage always applies “you get what you pay for”. Also check that you have enough twine, bamboo rods, wire ties or nails, organic fertilizers like our Manure tea on this website.
In March purchase bags of composted manure; or if you have a farm close by that will sell you aged manure, take a pick up truck and get a load. If you are going that route ask the farmer for manure from the bottom of the pile – aged stuff. Manure needs to be at least six months old, as fresh manure will burn your plants.
Check the paintwork on your wooden fences, arbors, decks and any other outdoor wooden structures. Then purchase, paint supplies so that on a dry day in a few weeks when you are able to paint, everything will be on hand. Don’t forget to put paintbrushes on your list – I have a feeling you forgot to clean your old ones last year, which means they are now ‘stiff as a poker, that being said, remember sand paper and brush cleaner. If you are painting benches and garden seats on a dry day, put them under cover before sundown.
White walls in the greenhouse reflect light so any areas that need retouching, paint with white paint. It gives me pleasure to see
How much lighter the greenhouse is after a touch of paint and cleaning the glass. However meticulously clean and tidy your greenhouse, white fly, greenfly and scale insects seem to find their way in so spray with an organic spray.
Walking around a garden, which not only looks good but also feels good in mid-winter is a real pick me up. Patterns emerge created by paths, walls and hedges. Enjoy the shapes of shrubs, the shadows of evergreens and the strong silhouettes of tree trunks, their shape and bark without foliage stands out at this time of year.
Keep the bird feeders full, nothing is as enjoyable as watching the birds in their quick flights across the garden to alight on the feeders, and sudden bursts of song when the sun shines. I love to watch the “pecking” order the blue jays, the bullies I call them, then finches, house sparrows and among the brown, the brilliant red of the cardinal. Sometimes a bird appears that I do not recognize and out comes my Peterson bird book and binoculars. If you find squirrels swarming the bird feeders, some cayenne pepper to the birdseed – the birds are not affected by the heat. Then a distance away sprinkle birdseed without the pepper so the squirrels can also have a meal.
Winter has its own distinctive fragrance. Fog for example, on a morning when the air is very heavy, thick and damp – a damp even more bone chilling than rain. But what I love best is the smell of the soil, rich and brown, well manured or covered with wood mulch, leaf mold or salt hay. Winter’s smells are a potpourri, one moment fresh like the east wind, next dense and sweet.
If you have spent year after year throwing good money after bad it may be time to get a professional design, but do not hesitate as a design takes time and you want it ready for the growing season.
If you are thinking of attending the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show at the Convention center on Saturday February 22, I hope you will come to my lecture at 12:30 PM, I would love to meet you and I know you would enjoy my ‘Garden Earth’ talk.
JANUARY 2014 TIPS
Happy New Year everyone and I hope everyone has a good 2014.
December 21st the winter solstice we turned the corner and each day there will be longer daylight minutes. Today I moved some vases that I have planted with paper white narcissus from a cool, dark room on the north side of the farmhouse into a cool room on the south side.
This morning I moved one of the large glass vases planted with narcissus into my lounge, the buds are almost ready to open and bloom. I can’t wait for the fragrance to permeate the farmhouse.
Just the thought of new bloom gets me out of the winter doldrums. But with the yoyo weather we are experiencing with the Polar Vortex misbehaving itself definitely confirms global warming and the subsequent climate change. Those changes, combined with pollution in the air, water and the earth is damaging our planet.
That being said, your contribution to saving this wonderful planet
is to organically tend the soil with compost and manure. Your plants and vegetables will thrive, as will you. Allow your garden to anchor you by connecting your heart, body, mind and spirit to Mother Nature’s life giving bountiful gifts and her energy.
Here in January with snow and frigid temperatures then reasonably mild for a day or two I find it a bit hard for the body to adjust as well as one’s mood – yet again its New England.
Snow cover by the way, is beneficial for the garden, it blankets the soil to keep it warm and moist. A more benefit however, is snow protects the earth from winter winds, which is more harmful to plants than cold temperatures. The bitter drying winds draw much needed moisture from the plants can cause the demise of some plants as well as plant breakage and soil erosion.
It’s useful to have a few bags of topsoil and mulch in the garage. With these items on hand, any roots can be covered when they become exposed by wind or frost heave. Roots exposed to the elements for any length of time can cause their demise of the plants; therefore quickly covering them with the soil and mulch prevents this from occurring. When spring arrives, the plant can be resettled in place together with composted manure building an excellent growing environment.
On a sunny day in January, take a walk round the garden, get some fresh air and work off a few of the holiday pounds, make some notes and decide what worked for you last year and what you will never try again.
I’m sure as you sit in your armchair you have already begun lists of plants that you are thinking of buying, from the catalogues that began arriving months ago. They are meant to tempt you with their lovely but unrealistic “doctored up” pictures of plants that you feel certain will make your garden sensational this year.
Make 2014 a year for realistic and organized change. Don’t get caught up in the fantasy of those brightly colored, high maintenance garden pictures shown in the catalogues. Suit your garden to your lifestyle that will work within your time frame and physical abilities. If you follow that construct, at the end of the day you will have the time to sit, relax and smell the roses, without being overwhelmed.
It’s also important to keep your budget in mind, as you sit and plan for next season. Before you know it the weather will warm up and when the soil has dried out, winter debris can be cleared away. With a clear palette the soil waits for that lovely layer of manure and compost (the ratio being three parts manure to one part compost). Then if the weather tells you it is still not time plant, merely putting a clean edge on the borders makes such a difference to the look of any garden. April showers arrive and the sun is shining and you are ready for the fun stuff, the placing and planting!
For those of you who are vegetable gardeners, last year was not the best weather for fruits and vegetables, too much rain, not enough sunshine and how can we forget the invasion of the insects. Of course how can I forget the invasion of moles, voles and other critters? Let’s keep our fingers that this season there will be the right balance of rain and sun – from our mouths to God’s ears!
If last season you became overwhelmed with too much gardening, here
are some suggestions you might follow:
Send some of your borders back to grass.
Make some of the high maintenance perennial borders, into mixed shrub borders. To accomplish this, take out some of the high maintenance perennials and donate them to a worthy cause.
Plant evergreen shrubs, some green, some blue and some of the lovely evergreen gold variety, amongst the remaining perennials. To these, add small flowering deciduous trees and shrubs that will begin flowering in April and successively through June.
Add a Ben Franklin tree with its white cup like blooms and gold center that flowers in August through September.
Nestle one to three Blue Mist shrubs in the mixed border; this plant will delight with purple blooms and fragrant leaves into September.
Plant against fence or trellis fragrant white autumn clematis.
Add a groundcover as an evergreen framework – my favorite is Myrtle with its glossy leaves and miniature blue flowers that emerge in April.
Introduce your children and grandchildren to the wonders of the garden and introduce them to the garden fairies. Through the years I asked children to draw a picture of the garden fairy and make a list of questions to ask the fairies that live in the wild patch. We all have a wild patch in the garden; in fact you are probably saying, “Maureen, my garden is one large ‘wild patch’. The children became so excited and enthused about their lists and pictures of the fairies. What you have done is transformed science into magic. It seems that these days we have forgotten about fairy tales, dreams and magic; it’s time to bring those wonderful energies back into our lives and into the lives of our children.
In spring and summer I would find my children or their friends checking the garden impatiently wanting to see their planting efforts come into bloom. In the vegetable garden they waited to see what was ready to eat from the produce they had planted. This introduction to the garden often inspires children to make gardens of their own as adults. My son Ian is a great example of this as he has partnered with me through the years in the garden – and the old adage that ‘the student is better than the teacher’ has certainly proved to be correct. Ian is a designer ‘par excellence’. If you have the chance take a ride to the shore and visit the Old Saybrook Inn and Spa to admire the beautiful gardens Ian has designed and the crew installed.
In the March tips when you have your design or redesign layout done, I’ll give you some suggestions of ornamental trees, shrubs and long blooming perennials. I suggest that you obtain these from local garden centers who carry tried and true plants that will flourish in your area.
When you are planning your garden for this coming season there are facts to keep in mind:
What are the plants requirements for sun, shade, soil, and water?
Will they survive in this zone, Zone 6?
What are the growth patterns of the plants? Do they grow fast or slow? You do not want a fifty-foot tree up against the house with those tremendous roots that will play havoc with your house foundation. Or do you want that lovely but very large, Catawbiense Rhododendron, all ten feet of it, climbing through your dining room window in five years?
Check every aspect of the plant before you buy. That Lace leaf Japanese maple looks lovely in the photograph, but is it something you can enjoy, without its leaves in the winter? Personally I enjoy the shape and the bark of trees without foliage in winter.
For those of you just beginning a garden, let’s first dispense with the myth that gardening is a relaxing hobby. At the end of that first day of digging, lugging soil, manure and fertilizer, and planting everything at the proper depth; you will feel that you are going to keel over.
Then you remember that you still need to water the newly installed plants as you drag your tired body to switch on the hose. Thank goodness, the mulching can wait until tomorrow or next weekend, right? Right!
Watering by the way can be meditative. Imagine that the hose is your umbilical cord so that as you nourish the earth and the plants, the earth can nourish you.
By now the sun has gone down, and you trudge indoors muttering to yourself “what the heck did I get myself into”? To this comment I say, “You did not have to do the whole garden in one day”.
In gardening, there is always tomorrow, or next week, and even though the label says to plant it by the end of May or June, believe me folks, a few weeks later does not matter, the garden will wait for you.
You may be saying to yourself at this point “Maureen are you trying to put us off gardening”? No folks, but I feel I would remiss, as a person who has had gardening in my blood (as well as manure) for over four hundred years to describe however, reluctantly not only the pleasures, but some of the aches and pains.
The idea is not to bite off more than you can chew. For first time gardeners don’t scatter your energies all over the garden, tackle and complete one area at a time and that area should be priority until it is complete. If you have a new home with no landscaping, some hardscape may be required. Hardscape is walls, walkways, patios, ponds, decks and so on. The sound and look of a water feature in the garden is delightful, it need not be elaborate, a fountain is fine – a reflection that is Mother Nature’s mirror. If you are not able to do this construction yourself, get in touch with a contractor you trust, so that a plan can be done now, installed and ready by spring.
All of these endeavors means getting yourself in shape physically, so get off that couch, put away the catalogues and your plant lists, stretch, then wrap yourself up warm and take that walk.
As you walk, look at the trees in winter, the elegant shape of them, the lichen on the stonewalls, the moss tucked in cracks and crevices. Clear your mind and allow nature’s spirit to surround you. Take a look at a garden or two in your neighborhood which you have admired when they were in bloom, and see what they look like in winter.
I remember one of my professors when I studied at the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew saying, “in winter you can tell a really good landscape by its bones, without the flesh of the flora”. In spring, get in touch with those neighbors whose gardens you admired and ask them some of the secrets of their garden; they will be happy to talk with you – gardeners love to talk about their gardens.
Also before I forget, try to get to the Providence, Connecticut or Philadelphia flower shows, they are on in February and March. Always a good cure for the winter blues! By the way I am giving my Garden Earth lecture at the Connecticut Flower and Garden show on Saturday February 22nd at 12.30. Would love to see you there.