Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Being grateful.

The first day of September ushered in an afternoon dance of dragonflies and tree swallows in my yard. It was a beautiful day. Cooler now. And so fall has come. But instead of lamenting the passing of summer I am facing fall with a smile and a positive attitude. It’s actually fabulous gardening weather. And although everyone wants to start pruning, it’s still too early, so here’s the plan for this month. Let’s plant! Now we’ll be able to keep up with the watering needs of newly installed members of our green community, so let’s take advantage of all the sales at all the different nurseries that we are surrounded by and start shopping.

First of all, just because a plant is past blooming, doesn’t mean it’s bad, or dying or unhappy. It just means it’s slowing down a little. I picked up a whole crop of Echinacea and a gaggle of roses at 40% off and used them to fill in holes in all my perennial borders. And there are great deals out there on rhododendrons and other more expensive plants, which maybe seemed a little indulgent when they were at full price. I happen to have my eyes on some fabulous Chionoides over at Marder’s. These rhodos have a clean white bloom, and a perfect habit. A plant’s habit is the way it grows, it’s form and the structure it takes on as it matures, and the Chionoides rhododendron stays fairly tight and leafy and grows wider then it gets tall. It’s the best foundation rhodo on the block, and it’s a prime plant to pick up if you scout them on sale.

Plus, right now is the prime time to buy grasses. You can see them at the peak of their glory and make sure you’re choosing the right grass for the right place. I like the grass Molina Sky Racer. For reasons I don't understand, it is not as common a grass as the miscanthus and pennisetums that everyone else has. The clump of grass itself doesn’t become overwhelming in size, perhaps up to three to four feet, but it’s plumes shoot up and out up to seven feet above the ground and sway with an elegant delicacy the seems quite ethereal.

Of course there’s also a whole group of plants that haven’t even started to show off their beauty. My lespedeza is just starting. It grows somewhat like a grass, tall and arching over and is covered, weighed down actually with thousand of tiny flowers in either white, pink or purple that look like the individual florets of wisteria. It’s a must have in the garden, especially since the deer have never touched any of mine. Two other fab deer resistant, fall bloomers are aconitum or Monkshood and leucosceptrum -- a plant unblessed with the common name Japanese Mountain Mint. Now Monkshood is more common, with it’s tall blue spikes waiting until September to do their thing, and I put them in all the gardens I do, specifically because they extend the color display and because they multiple in a gratifying way and are easy to grow. Plus who doesn’t love blue in the garden? But leucosceptrum is more unknown. I like it for fairly deep shade in that it grows a lot like a hydrangea but the deer don’t touch it. It isn’t as interesting or as impressive in flower, with small bottle brush shaped inflorescences that come in either white or pink, but when you are working in the shade and without a deer fence, this plant is quite impressive, I have all three different kind, a variegated one, the original which looks like it has quilted leaves and my favorite, a golden foliaged one. Combined with Hakonechloa macra, the electric chartreuse shade tolerant Japanese forest grass it’s a perfect brightener of dark corners. And for those of us who are truly plant maniacs I have a stumper for you all. Who has rabdosia longituba? Who wouldn’t love a plant that can grow in the shade, is covered with billows of flowers in October and has a variety called Tube Socks? Hard to find, but worth the time, Jim Glover of Glover Perennials is the only local wholesaler to grow it but ask at your nursery and there’s a true perennial lover there, they can get it for you. Trust me, you want this plant.

This is also the time to start a Japanese maple collection or to begin an obsession with specialty conifers. I’ve always promised myself that I would grow a greater diversity of evergreens and I have my eye on this amazing dwarf hemlock at a local nursery that would look amazing with the Shishigashira Japanese Maple that’s sitting just a little farther down the path in the same area. A Shishigashira maple is very compact with tiny leaves that grow very close together, thus the plant’s common name, Lion’s Mane Maple. I’ve longed for one for ages and love it even more now that it’s costing less.

So I’m taking a hint from the creatures zipping across my skies and I’m starting my fall migration pattern and hitting all the nurseries I can over the next few weeks –– you should too. I promise I’ll even leave you some of the good stuff.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Before the fall

I know that it’s hideous to even mention it, but has anyone else noticed that it feels an awful lot like fall? I feel a little cheated frankly. It’s as if we went straight from June to August and are now heading deep into September. The horrendous parking lot previously known as Montauk Highway proves it’s all just my imagination, but it feels like we got gypped out of a month of summer. It doesn’t help that all the plants are so far ahead of themselves that the crape myrtles are already almost past their prime and that the extremes of July toasted every Nikko Blue out here. Nor do the stressed trees who’ve decided to perhaps start shedding a leaf or two or a dozen help to lower my anxiety. There’s that back to school smell in the air, and the sky just the other night took on another blue for a moment, a blue that I’ve long associated with the beginnings of wanting embers in the fireplace and the wearing of cardigan after dusk.

I’m not ready. I want more time at the beach. I just started to pick huge bouquets. I haven’t even tasted lobster yet this year.

I know, I know, I might be overreacting a tad, and that fall is not really breathing down my neck, but I’m bummed that my garden is fronting as a harvest landscape and the Pee Gees are already pinking. I want to blame it on climatic change, but I know that even hedging towards those words incites deep arguments, so I’ll veer instead towards the positives of all this heat.

The corn this year is amazing. We had some two nights ago from Pike’s that was spectacular. White, sweet and with a buttery taste that melted on my tongue like whipped cream it was a revelation. Every year I wonder why no one has even chosen to base a religion on those kernels. I would join that church in a nanosecond.

The crape myrtles put on the most extraordinary show in years. Every summer I get tons of people complaining that their tree isn’t flowering, or asking why they only had three blooms instead of the profusion the pictures in gardening books promise. This year, all I heard was how fantastic these trees are and could they get more. I used to tell people that crape myrtles need a lot of heat to do really well and that we are the farthest zone north to possibly support these loads of August fluff. I lost one of my borderline hardy pinks this winter, but if there were a competition for a flower for the summer of 2010, my vote would be for the crape.

Of course, we got tomatoes earlier then ever. I do confess though that once again my tomatoes, as I predicted, have gotten away from me. This year, I cut down on the number of plants, but when the black cherries started to head past 4’ and laugh at the tomato cages I had thoughtfully provided them, I didn’t build the scaffolding they require. So now I have what appear to be weeping tomato plants that are creating trains swishing 5 feet out on both sides of their beds and making the harvesting of the small little orbs a challenge that would fit nicely into some strange reality competitive gardening show.

As an aside, my husband wants me to write about the perils of planting too close to the house, an issue raised by the jungle we have to hack through to get to either of our entrances, and he wants me to accompany the piece with a photo of the 8’ tall hydrangea I bondage tied up (as I refused to prune it and lose it’s flowers) to allow passage. It may also have something to do with the fairly large southern magnolia (planted by an ex boyfriend who gave it to me in lieu of a bouquet one day when I was in a bad mood) that is now eating the front of our house. He’s right of course, in the way that nonplant people are always correct about the placement of greenery when debating with us folks who buy things impulsively without planning for their eventual home first. And so I have promised him that we can move the magnolia when the time is right. I was going to do it this spring, but got overwhelmed by the fact that the season came and went in a fluttering and that summer slammed into us in May. So now we are talking about root pruning the thing so we can move it next year. And yes, Dereyk, I do plant way too many plants, way too close and in all the wrong spots. But long ago I ‘fessed up to being a plantaholic and it doesn’t look like I’m going to change that pattern anytime soon.

For those of you stuck with a gardener like me in your family, don’t be fooled by our promises of transplanting things. There’s a good chance that when spring comes each year, it’s been so long since we brought home some new that there’s little chance we’re going to be digging up old stuff when we can still find new stuff to throw into the back of the car. I am going to try to move a whole bunch of stuff this fall, but with the weather playing such weird games with me, I’m really not sure when I’m going to be able to begin.

Normally I say the best time to transplant is the first or second week of October, but this year, I’m hedging my bets. I saw Mare’s Tails last week and someone said that the fall migration of warblers is already fairly deep so I’m saying I’ll have to keep watching the leaves as they fall to see how the whole thing plays out.