Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to grab a sweater and get out there

It’s October, a time when we start winding the garden down and there’s all sorts of projects waiting for you when you walk out into your yard.

First, take a moment and look at the sky. This is the season when the clouds are their most dramatic. The sky seems impossibly blue and wherever you look it’s a Maxfield Parrish painting.

Of course, under all that visual drama, is a series of green chores. Yesterday I started to take the vegetable garden apart. There’s something cathartic about ripping out dying plants and getting back to a clean slate again. There were still peppers dangling like earring like from the scattered plants I’d jammed into corners, but I have far too many peppers drying around the house to last me for the next twenty years. I also removed the amazing self-seeding tomatillos. I wish I knew what to use them for other than salsa, it’s one of my winter research projects -- especially since they grow like gangbusters and the deer don’t like them.

It’s still too early to remove the dahlias I snuck behind the veggie fence to protect them from the deer. You want to wait for a frost to blacken their leaves (as it hardens off the bulbs to save for the next year) but I did some major cutting back and harvested a huge armful of flowers for the kitchen. I did however leave my variegated basil standing proud -- it hasn’t bolted and seems totally unaware that fall is here. It’s one of my new favorite plants of 2009.

After I get everything ripped up and raked out I’m going to give all the beds a little lime and then top dress them with compost or Sweet Peet so they are ready to go first thing in the Spring. I’m late on putting in garlic, but I promised Dereyk I would so I have to hunt some down. I’m looking for good hard necked organically grown bulbs if anyone knows of any. There’s a great farm stand on Butter Lane in Bridge that grows it so maybe I’ll go over and stock up on their fabulous Oyster mushrooms (we’re majorly addicted) and try and buy a few bulbs to dig in this week.

Speaking of deer, this year they are dreadful. I’m so overwhelmed, that I’m sort of ignoring the whole situation and obsessing over bulb planting. I am mad for the Giant Grape Hyacinths (Bellevalia pycnantha) that I planted last fall and so I’m stocking up on more of those. Mine were about 10” tall and were great in a vase – my true litmus test for a good flowering plant. I'm also crazy about Summer Snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) a totally misnamed bulb as they bloom in the spring with my Thalia daffodils. About 14-16” tall they have elegant nodding white flowers and look like snowdrops on steroids. I’m buying up bags of both. I’m also eyeing some Snake's Head Lilies (Fritillaria meleagris ) one of the only flowers I know that comes in a subtle gingham. Who doesn’t need a checkered plant?

I’m still shopping the sales, there’s a great deal (50% off) on an excellent peat substitute, at Marders that I’m going to buy up in bulk and use with all my planting in the spring. When you are digging in heavy clay like I am you have to amend the soil. When I get lazy you can tell, the plant is stunted and pathetic, so I’ve learned to make the extra effort, and I can always find good things on sale in the fall which live happily in the garage until next years planting season. Plus when I transplant I’m going to use tons of the stuff.

I was guilty of overwatering this year (trying to keep the hydrangeas alive) and the signs are showing up now big time. Lots of fungal issues and wilt and just pure trouble in a lot of places, but I turned my irrigation down and am trying to remove all the infected growth and hoping for the best. A note on water, once I start transplanting I’m going to have to keep watering through the frosts if it doesn’t rain, so I’m not shutting my system down yet.

But boy did I cause havoc. And boy am I going to need to fight fungus come springtime.

We made a fire the other night, so I know the end is near, and the dachshunds shiver hopelessly each morning when we head out for coffee, but while I was ripping out tomatoes with wild abandon an enormous preying mantis stepped off the edge of a tomato cage and walked across my arm. I stopped spellbound and thrilled that the egg case I put out this year still had a citizen enjoying the warmth of the day, and thought how grateful I was to have a beautiful day in the garden.

Paige Patterson thinks buying up a mass of Pee Gee Hydrangeas on sale is a justifiable purchase.

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