Thursday, October 22, 2015

Indian summer

We had a hard frost the other night, hard enough to do in the zinnia and marigold but not the bee's friend. I threw a sheet over the coleus on the front porch (which didn't help much) and the herbs on the deck (they survived). Now we are back to more moderate nightly temps as the trees turn and the yard and garden work winds down.

The plants from Prairie Nursery are in place on the south side of the house, and most appear to be doing fine. (Since this is the time of year when they go dormant, I'm hoping root growth is making up for the lack of vigor above ground.) It has been unusually dry, so I water them every two days.

Thanks to Mr. (or Ms.) Woodchuck, the sweet potato harvest was disappointing, especially considering all the trouble of raising them in black felt grow bags. Besides continuing to make my garden less accessible to wildlife, next year I may actually try (once again) growing sweet potatoes in the garden proper, as my SO has doubled the height of some of the raised beds.

I don't feed the birds during the summer, as they seem more interested in dining on fresh foods. While it is too soon to plug in the bird bath, the cool temps and calling jays remind me to fill the feeders. The spilled seed attracts the non-avian clean up crew, including this young squirrel.

Its appearance drove the indoor cat nuts.

Sometimes by fall, I'm a little sick of the yard and garden, but this year I am trying to be more diligent about cleaning out the vegetable beds. Also, anything that can be done now may (hopefully) ease the hectic pace of spring. And in the back of my mind are changes I want to wreak upon the yard going forward.

What plans do you have in mind for your yard and garden next year?

Monday, October 12, 2015

In a pinch

After reading a review of The Well-Tended Perennial Garden at the gardeninacity blog, I picked up the book from our local library. Then I took it back. Tracy DiSabato-Aust's techniques looked like too much work. But unhappy with the way my yard looks, I took the book out again late this summer. Perennial maintenance still looks like a lot of work, but now I feel more willing to make the effort. Not that I have yet, but my interest and motivation are growing.

Last week, I installed 32 transplants from Prairie Nursery on the south side of the house. They didn't quite fill the space available, so to plug the holes I moved some of my established plants, including the New England Aster 'Purple Dome'. I've never pinched this plant back, but a volunteer specimen growing next to the rhubarb bed received a whacking or two from my grass trimmer before I let it go.

"Pinched" New England Aster 'Purple Dome'

As you can see, the "pinched" plant is not only shorter and less straggly looking, the blossoms appear denser. The one left to its own devices needs a makeover. (Truth be known, it was also competing with a clump of yarrow gone wild, which I'm sure did not help.)

"Unpinched" New England Aster 'Purple Dome'

My yard will always look unkempt to the fans of "meatball" shrubbery, but I am becoming a convert to controlled chaos. As the newbies in this bed become established, the more mature plants will need to be held in check. Guess what book is going on my xmas list.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Better late than never

The first year I grew Black Eyed Susan Vine, it did great. Since then, not so much. A combination of factors has worked against it - critters disturbing the directly sown seed, poor germination rates, etc. This year the problem was a mighty wind that severed the vines. I assumed that was that, but a few surviving plants regrew and climbed the trellis on the front porch and actually produced a handful of blooms.

I'm not giving up on Thunbergia alata. It grows fast, tolerates some shade, and looks good. Soaking the seeds may improve germination. Also, the clematis it is standing in for has had its own set of problems, so I still need something for that trellis.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Marie Kondo-ing the yard and garden

Marie Kondo's bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is hot right now. (I hate to be trendy, so let it be known I was one of the FIRST to check a copy out of the local library.) The primary Kondo rule of tidying up is, If it does not give you joy, say thank you for your service and good-bye. I've applied its techniques inside my home (more or less) and now I am turning my konmarie eye to the yard and garden. That's not quite so easy.

The seed stash is the first area to undergo scrutiny. I have a habit, good or bad (you decide), of using the seeds on hand when starting transplants for the garden, simply because I have those seeds, they are still viable, and I don't want them to go to waste. Now that I have decided the vegetable garden has reached its optimal size, I am giving closer consideration to just what to grow going forward. For example, tomatoes for fresh eating are certainly tasty, but the plants take up a lot of space and produce more fruit than I can eat or share; maybe I would rather get my tomatoes from farmers markets where there is a plethora of heirlooms. Rethinking the vegetable garden will be a pleasant winter pastime as a prelude to ordering seeds in February.

I have a similar problem with perennials - if they already exist in my yard, I feel obligated to make use of them even if they don't fit in and/or I no longer like them. Over the years, I have eliminated a clematis of the wrong color and almost all the iris and Stella d'Oro daylilies. No worries - they went to good homes. That may be the key - if I can find someone to take them, I don't feel so bad about giving them the boot. But sometimes a plant is simply in the wrong place, so I spend a certain amount of time moving things around. Since my general goal is to make my yard look less haphazard, I see a LOT of plant moving in my future, but some are already earmarked for removal.

And then there are the shrubs. I have several Viburnum that, while perfectly healthy, have been a disappointment. The blossoms of one smell like carrion, and, even though they are supposed to, most of the bushes do not produce berries for the birds, which was one of my goals in planting them. Of similar disappointment are two shrubby trees that were girdled by rabbits their first winter (mea culpa) and never really recovered; they bloom and produce fruit, but never grew much. There are also some 'Wichita Blue' junipers that I was very happy with initially but are now looking rather ratty. Apparently, this is a common problem. Sadly, I planted more during that honeymoon phase.

The bigger the change, the more important it is to have a plan. With the vegetable garden, every summer is a new beginning. Perennials are not furniture - you don't see the results right away - but mistakes can usually be easily rectified. Until I have a plan for the shrubs, though, they will stay right where they are.

Monday, October 05, 2015

The impatient yardener

After touring gardens with the North Park Village chapter of the Wild Ones, I became inspired to introduce more natives to my yard. I consequently spent a lot of time perusing the Prairie Nursery offerings. Their online catalog is very helpful in choosing plants by various characteristics, including soil type. Since my yard is mostly heavy clay, this is important to me.

But what to choose? The options seemed overwhelming. And what area of the yard to target? I do not have much of an eye for design, in anything. Most of my plantings are haphazard and not very "together". How can I improve this, and where to start?

Ironically, I decided to begin where the soil is not clay - the south side of the house. The builder backfilled the foundation with a sandy mix, and the deep eaves block much of the weather, so this bed is rather dry most of the time. It also gets full sun except at the height of summer. I started a list of possible plants, then realized Prairie Nursery offered a collection for just such a group of traits - full to partial sun, dry sandy soil - complete with a planting plan. The burden of design was lifted from my shoulders.

Of course, the planting plan is not for a bed that is 36 feet long and 3-4 feet deep. This is the side of the house with the eight-foot wide gate through which I drive the car when delivering things like mulch or horse manure to the backyard, so I need to preserve what I refer to as "the lane". But I think I can stretch the planting plan out so the general design is somewhat preserved.

Here is the impatient part: I felt so excited by this improvement that I could hardly wait for spring. And then I realized, I don't have to! I ordered the collection for fall planting. It is sitting in the garage right now, rehydrating while I figure out exactly what will go where. Yee-ha!

Gotta go get started.