Fall Is For Planting Bulbs

I mentioned in my “I’m Too Old for Fall Gardening” post that I used to plant mass quantities of fall bulbs. Bulbs are special things. They require a special kind of gardener–one that is willing to wait until it is cooler and damper (usually)–or sometimes downright cold and nasty–and then the gardener goes out and plants in this weather, not seeing any result until 6 or 8 months later. Talk about delayed gratification!

But of course for those who do plant fall bulbs, the result is so worth it! There’s absolutely nothing like seeing the first bulbs of spring pop up–and we can debate what those first bulbs are. For me it’s snowdrops, although some folks plant winter aconite, and they may be first.

Others don’t plant either, so their first bulbs may be the lovely crocus, whether its the very early light purple “tommy” crocuses, or the slightly later dutch varieties that come in shades of purple, blue, white and yellow. They never fail to make me smile–sometimes they’ll even make me stop the car and just enjoy, if I can safely do it on a side street.

Once the crocus are up, it’s a virtual riot of bulbs that follow: daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths and hyacinths being the most common. I’m seeing more and more “minor” bulbs like blue and white scilla, which are early–with the crocuses, and puschkinia (a mouthful of a bulb, but pretty). Even the looser, more open Siberian squill, which looks like hyacinths gone amok, in shades of blue white and pink, are occasionally pooping up in my neighborhood.

I don’t see much snowflake or giant snowflake–perhaps its name is too off-putting. It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely white, later blooming bulb.

The alliums are becoming more popular–perhaps because they are great for pollinators. And it is possible to have alliums in bloom for 5 months in my climate so that’s a definite plus.

I also almost never see fall blooming bulbs here. That’s a terrible shame. What’s better than the unexpected in the garden? Most are deer proof as well. They too are planted in the fall although earlier than the spring blooming ones.

This year, my fall-bloomers have not yet bloomed. It’s the drought. As soon as we have a few good rains–if we do–they’ll be up and blooming their fool heads off. I know they weren’t winter killed because the foliage came up in the spring.

Some great places to buy bulbs–besides your local garden center–are the catalogs. But don’t delay because the best selection will be almost gone shortly. My favorites are always “local” catalogs for me. I like Colorblends of Darien, CT, John Scheepers, of Bantam, CT and for very unusual bulbs, Brent and Beckys of Virginia.

Wordless Wednesday

I remarked last week that I had brought in all the house plants and that I was out of windows.

Well, that’s never the end of the story, is it? I’m still moving things around and shifting things and deciding what’s staying and what’s going–a few last-minute tweaks before things settle down for the season.

As all of this is going on, the Spoiler keeps asking about something that’s still outside. I can’t for the life of me imagine what he means. He keeps referring to it as “that nice pot with the matching bottom,” or something vaguely similar.

As more and more plants came in, I figured whatever it was had come in as well–but no. Once again, over the weekend I got the question about the pot with matching saucer, this time.

Finally I asked him to show me what he was worried about. This was what he pointed out.

The "forgotten" planter

What’s interesting about this is that I do bring in and over-winter the red dracena because I can’t always find one when I want one. But everything else? The begonias go dormant–and need to do that to rejuvenate themselves for next year. The torenia and calibrachoa are true annuals and won’t over-winter, particularly in my chilly house. So even were I to bring in that planter just as it is, it wouldn’t look like much in a month or two!

Still, it’s sweet of the Spoiler to care. Some years I guess he doesn’t want summer to end either!

Some Good Garden Reading

A week ago, when I was talking about fall gardening, I talked about curling up with a good book.

Coincidentally, the National Garden Bureau drew my attention to some newly published books. When I looked to see who was publishing them, I was quite surprised to see that it was not Timber Press, who puts out almost all the gardening books on the market these days.

I did a little more research and found the web site of St. Lynn’s Press, a small publishing house out of Pittsburgh that publishes organic gardening books and sustainable living books in the months when gardening books might not be interesting.

While I can’t say I’ve read too many of these books yet, I am familiar with a few of them and they are first rate. I am also familiar with several of the authors personally and know them to be excellent writers.

What is most interesting is the unusual array of gardening books. In the last few years, as a book reviewer, I’ve lamented that it’s all “chickens, edibles and regional books–or how-tos.” Thankfully this past year or so, the trend seems to have been broken, but a few of these books seem more unusual than the offerings I’ve seen coming out. Lately the new books all seem to be scholarly and exhaustive treatises on a single plant or a genus. I can’t say that excites me either, sadly. I’d much rather read about bottle trees, frankly!

But as I always say, if we all liked the same thing, what a boring world we’d have.

Putting the Garden To Bed For Winter

On Monday I mentioned that I do the majority of my garden clean-up in the spring because it was better for the garden. This may have struck some of you as a controversial statement. By now, I hope it hasn’t.

The idea of “lazy gardening,” “less is more” and other sorts of hands off garden maintenance has become somewhat of a norm, not just because it’s easier on the garden, but because it’s better for the garden. And by better for the garden, I mean it’s the more sustainable garden practice.

Many towns are even beginning to mandate a sustainable approach to fall leaf care because the practice of collecting leaves–whether they are bagged or raked or worse yet blown to the curb–is very economically costly. Homeowners who initially resisted and feared the collapse of civilization once their towns stopped collecting leaves have found other ways to manage, even in the leafy suburbs.

While our town and neighboring town haven’t stopped collecting the leaves yet, I have put some of the leaves in my yard to various creative uses over the years. In the days when I grew hybrid tea roses, I would mulch the roses with leaves instead of something else. I would use whole elaves instead of chopped leaves because they were a better insulator.

I still let all the leaves over winter remain in my perennial and shrub borders. It provides a nice, nature supplied insulation. And while I have lots of voles on the property, I do not lose plants to the voles over winter this way. I don’t have to worry about timing my mulch application to when the ground freezes–nature seems to take care of that.

So what I do worry about before the leaves come down are things that I call the “must dos.” I remove diseased foliage. I try to remove perennial weeds. I remove weeds with lots of seed heads that may scatter around and sow themselves and thus spring up before winter.

After that, there are the “can dos.” These are the things that it is nice to do before winter sets in, but it’s no catastrophe if I fail to do them. In this category are things like cleaning out pots and straightening out my tools and my potting shed. Nice if I want to do it; if I don’t nothing is compromised.

And then there are the just plain old garden chores. This involves things like rolling up and draining garden hoses, bringing in or covering any statuary that isn’t weather safe, things of that nature. While one could argue that these are “must dos,” I don’t really put them in the garden category at all because they’re sort of garden house keeping. Whether one has a huge garden or a small one, this is the sort of maintenance that has to be done. This is like the “oil changes” of the garden–the bare minimum that must be done to keep things working.

Wordless Wednesday–I’m Out of Windows

I mentioned Monday when I talked about Fall Gardening that I didn’t even want to think about bringing in the house plants. Of course that’s what I did all weekend.

West Window

One of the joys of summer is being able to see out of my windows–when the blinds or shutters aren’t drawn against the heat, of course. Now my windows are full of plants.

south window

Clearly I make use of every available inch of space.

East window

Although there is certainly room to shoehorn some more plants onto this windowsill when I acquire some–and that’s when and not if, of course.

south bay window

Over the years, the plants I’ve brought in have gotten larger, so I bring fewer in each year. Once it was over 200. This year, it’s 91. But as I said, there will be more as the year goes on–and I am planning a longer trip at the holidays, so probably so of these will succumb as well.

Who knows what will go back outside next spring?

Fall Gardening–I Am Too Old For This!

All of the garden publications this time of year wax poetically about the “joys” of fall gardening. And I think back some 20 plus years to when I first began gardening at this property.

I enthusiastically planted bulbs every fall, completely ignoring the realities of my clay soil and the critters that rampaged over the property. One fall I planted 1300 bulbs, giving myself carpal tunnel that lasted until the following spring! It was delightful. Who says gardening is a “genteel” activity?

I thought about Thomas Jefferson’s quote “Though I am an old man, I am yet a young gardener,” as I was thinking about the garden this morning. It doesn’t matter what the weather is–it can be hot, it can be cold, by about mid-August (just about the time I realize we have no more light in the evening anymore) I am done with the garden. All I want to do is cocoon until next spring.

That doesn’t mean I want to go inside, curl up and read a book (although that’s mighty tempting, I must say!). But I look at the all the house plants that I so willingly and happily transitioned outside in the spring and thing, “Ugh! Must I drag all of these back inside?!” It’s just way too much work.

And I look at the gardens–already putting on their autumn hues as the hydrangeas burnish and the black-eyed susans turn to rust colors–and I think, “Fine. Let the leaves fall and cover everything up until next spring. I’ll be more than ready to deal with it again by then.”

This is one reason why I just do a minimal clean up in the fall–for one thing, it’s better for the gardens. For another, it’s personally better for me as the gardener.

And as for bulbs–well, now I know better. In my heavy clay, they just get diseases and rot. And what doesn’t rot, the critters eat. And I am not one of those who is going to be out there like a madwoman spraying repellents every 30 minutes. That’s not sustainable. So no bulbs anymore, as much as I love them. I’ll just enjoy other people’s bulbs.

A Great Year For Begonias

Non-stop begonia

One thing this very dry year has been fabulous for is begonias. I almost always plant up this planter with an identical combination of peachy non-stop begonia, red dracena or phormium (which I save from year to year) and then two purple or blue trailers–usually some variety of torenia and calibrachoa.

Most years I have to nurse the thing along, and in very wet years like last year, I may have to re-plant the begonia once or twice because it rots away from all the nature supplied moisture. I’ve never quite seen one put on a show like this year.

giant wax begonia

This has generally been true of my container grown begonias. They’ve adored the heat–and no humidity we’ve had this year. I didn’t grow any angel-wings, but this “giant” version of a wax begonia has also done fabulously for me.

perennial begonia grandis alba

On the other hand, this perennial begonia, while just beginning to bloom, seems to be really struggling this year. While always late to come back, it didn’t return until almost July this year. And the cooler summer means it has really struggled to take off. Some years you can barely see my steps for all the begonias
(which the Spoiler hates). This is not going to be one of those years.

And the ones in the flower bed (behind the planter with pink wax begonia) are barely 4″ high. It’s doubtful they’ll even bloom this year. That’s fine–these things are prolific self-sowers and I don’t really need any more of them. But I’d hate to lose what I do have because I do love them!