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.