Sunday, October 20, 2013

Be still my addicted heart.

So we all know I have a problem, although this year I thought I was going to be better. I vowed that I would plant no bulbs. The reasons for me not to are multiple. I am not wealthy, and tulips, with their brief fleeting moment of beauty and their real lack in interest in returning, are somewhat of an indulgence. Also, over the last couple of years I’ve planted a whole bunch of bulbs, and I have been very bad. I have not marked where any of those hundreds and hundreds of bulbs have gone. And last year, I ordered so many bulbs compulsively that I needed help to get them all in.

Unfortunately my help dug too many holes too close together and put too many bulbs in each hole. In spring we had chaos. All sorts of perennials were missing, and although we had a cacophony of fabulous color, when the flowers started, by the time all the foliage was up, it was way too crowded and the leaves started to rot and to suffocate the remaining perennials who had survived the killing spades of fall.

I vowed this year to take a break. And to mark, in the spring, all the places where my bulbs reside. In short I said there would be no bulb buying.


Of course, I am going to try very hard to not plant any more bulbs in the beds that are already stuffed to the gills, but I realized that there are many other places where I could put bulbs, especially my beloved tulips.

If you’ve read any of my columns you know that my husband the chef seems fairly uninterested in cooking from our vegetable garden. To be fair, he liked the lettuces before the chickens got them, and he’s a fan of my garlic and the chives, but he doesn’t get inspired by the garden, instead he tends to decide what he wants to eat first, and then goes and finds it at farm stands. But I also should add that it is kind of scary going out there to find stuff since I’m not a big weeder. And since I mulched the path with large piles of hay one must weave through. And he does use the tomatoes, in spit of the challenge of getting them.

So, why not plant tulips in the vegetable garden instead, and then in spring add in the beloved by but of us dahlias? The moment I thought of it, I placed my first order. And of course, since I work at Marders and I choose all the bulbs that come into the store, I also have to grab the last bag from each box as they get low. Plus when there’s only a couple of bulbs left, no one else really wants them, so I have to give them a home, right?

I know you all understand this, and to be fair, I did give my favorite bulb customer first choice of everything (wiping us out of seven fabulous varieties the first day the bulbs went out – I still long for the Red Mohican Alliums he got.)

So now the floodgates are open. My client took all my Night Riders, so I’ve had to source more just for myself, paying a premium for the pleasure and while I’m on these other rarified bulb sites I got lost down the internet rabbit hole and came up with a longing for the double early tulips that are called artichokes and brown tulips.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but I want you to log on to the internet and search for a tulip named ‘Boa Vista.’ Then tell me if I’m nuts or not. These tulips as multi-petaled with petals running down their stems so they look more like cabbages or artichokes (thus the nickname) then flowers and they will be incredible in bouquets. I must have. I’m actually trying to track down peeps in England who might be conned into breaking the law and mailing me a few. Burpee had the ‘Brooklyn’ but of course it’s way too late for me since I paused this fall and they sold out in a nanosecond. Silly me. I am now desperate to track down ‘Compassion’ or  ‘Sinopel’ or ‘Purple Tower.’ Anyone traveling to the Netherlands for thanksgiving with an empty suitcase? While you are there I also am looking to track down the elusive ‘Bruine Wimpel,’ a silvery, beige, pinkish tea-stained tulip you would weep for. Be still my heart! Remember I’m a girl who started gardening because I loved making bouquets and this amazing color would go with everything, so please ship me back some of these beauties too.

And finally let me explain about brown tulips. The only place I know to buy them is when you can get four, I repeat four brown tulips for $50. Divine no?  The brown tulips were huge in the Arts and Crafts era according their website, but I think they’d be divine in any era.  Many of the brown shades are actually broken tulips, which are exceedingly rare and are caused by a virus. Broken tulips, however, are a lust to be pursued  another different day. Right now I might be curbing my cravings for caramel, cinnamon, bronze and chocolate with ‘Cairo’ which is sort of toffee colored and fantastic and ‘Princess Irene,’ which is really more orange then amber with red stains not brown, but there still a lot of them left at in the bin box at Marders.

Paige Patterson believes that a gift of bulbs for Halloween is almost as good as a bag of candy although she really does have a terrible thing for very good dark chocolate.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The official start of fall

It used to be that the first day of fall was a day that I started looking around the garden seeing what parts needed to be cleaned first, and what areas needed to wait for the leaves to fall before I could get into them and do my whirling dervish moves.

Now I’m a lot less anxious to display my neat freak streak. Instead, I leave seeds for the birds, other plants for winter interest (I’m especially fond of the way my grasses look in the snow) and frankly I tire a little sooner each year now, so I take it a little easier.

If you still have the energy, any foliage that is yellowing and or brown on perennials is fine to cut down to the ground and toss it on the compost pile. Or it you are feeling very energetic, you can snip it into tiny pieces and leave it in the bed to break down like mulch. I am a little on the fence on this move. I mean part of me thinks it’s crazy to remove all the dying and dead foliage that nature creates to feed the soil, only to replace it with purchased mulch that is trying to serve the same purpose. On the other hand, a lot of the foliage I’m my garden has black and purple fungal spots on it, and that stuff I don’t want to leave in the garden so the spores can reinfect my plants next spring. Those leaves go in garbage bags and get carried off the property, along with strings of glechoma hederacea, commonly known as Creeping Charlie, a hideous weed that found it’s way into my compost pile a few years ago and didn’t get cooked, but instead got spread through all my garden beds.

That said, I’m not sure that a dead bed filled with chopped up bits of crocosmia that aren’t really going to get broken down by spring is the right look either. So last year I decided to do as little as possible and see how it all worked out. It was hard not having the tidied up cleanly raked beds that I was used to. Those clean beds made me feel that I was all ready for spring and raring to go, but instead I just left a lot of it in place and made sure when spring came that I checked under the winter matted down leaves for suffocating bulbs. And it sort of worked.

I know what I should really do is cut everything back, take it all out, separate it into clean and fungal piles, and then shred the clean pile with a lawn mower and put the shredded bits back, but boy do I not have the energy for all that, so I’m going with the less is more look under the belief that nature left to it’s own devices is not a terrible thing. Besides, nature is going to help me start the clean up by breaking down a lot of the foliage for me. Not iris leaves, those I’m going to have to chop back and through on the compost pile so they don’t suffocate the hellebores they are next to, but I don’t bother with hosta or daylily leaves, since the frost and winter do a big number on those. I actually tell people that they if they are going to cut stuff back, to wait for the frost to start the process for them.

The iris I remove with a pair of newly sharpened for fall pruners. They will sharpen them for a small fee at the hardware store, and it’s certainly worth doing each and every year even if, like me you have a bunch. I also recommend Japanese hedge shears since they make the cutting back of grasses a divine process regardless of when you decide to do this chore. Just make sure that when you do cut them back, you leave at least 10 inches of the old grass on the plant or it will be too stressed to grow back properly in the spring.

I leave the bronze fennel foliage up until the foliage has been completely stripped by swallowtail caterpillars, and besides I like it to self seed, but I’m not a fan of dead astilbe flower heads, so those come right off as soon as the flowers start to brown. I think dead astilbe flowers are ugly, I think they just look too ugly for words, and I don’t get the attraction, but I love the way the snow sits on ancient echinaceas and leave those up as long as I can. I guess this is why fall garden clean up is such a personal thing.

And even though I caught myself unconsciously breaking off dead eryngium flower stakes and scattering the seeds, I have learned to leave the fallen leaves in the base of my hedges and in the shrub borders of my property. I’m even getting better about leaving the leaf litter be in beds, but I do pick them off the lawn and put them into my compost pile as they would suffocate the grass if left in place. I live for these leaves each year as they make the most beauteous compost with which I feed my vegetable beds each year.

Actually, this year, I’m trying something new in the vegetable garden. Tulip bulbs. You see each year I dig them into the perennial beds, and in the process, I’m afraid to say, perennials get lost. This is because I am greedy with bulbs, buying them by the hundreds at a time, and then sometimes I need help installing them. And sometimes my assistants are not as careful as I tend to be. So it’s time for a change. I really like the idea of harvesting tulips more than I’m interested in harvesting kale, besides my chickens adore kale and scratch it right up and out of the ground. Greedy chickens. Hopefully they won’t be as hungry for tulips.

Paige Patterson brought home a beautiful new hydrangea paniculata called ‘Fire and Ice’ because it wrapped its little stems around her leg and wept until she put it in the car.