Hot, Hot, Hot


In some years, an occasional snake plant will bloom.  This snake plant is on its second bloom this year–and its got 3 stalks of bloom this time around. The scent is overpowering. I’m glad that these plants are in an unused guest bedroom and that we have no guests. I would have to remove it if we did.


But that plant isn’t the only snake plant that’s blooming. This one is blooming as well–and it never has before. The only explanation I have is the heat–because these plants have always been jammed into their pots. They like that. In fact, the twice blooming one broke out of its pot last year, and, immediately upon re-potting, broke out of its new pot. So I sort of gave up on that one.  I am just letting it grow through the side of its new pot.

Snake plants are more versatile than folks give them credit for. When I lecture, I say that they will “grow in a closet.” While I don’t mean that literally, of course, you do often see them in dark, dusty corners. And those are the ones that only get watered every month or so.

But give them some light and they really take off. And there are also lots of funky varieties as well. You can see one of my cylindrica types reclining across the pot in the above photo. I have a more upright variety as well. I may be watering too much for this variety to stay upright. I don’t care. I am not one of those “fussy” types that needs my plants perfect (obviously, if I am letting one of them grow through the side of a pot!)

In any event, these are all in a west window and get watered once a week in the summer. With the above average heat we’ve been having, perhaps they think they are in Arizona or something. I just thought it was interesting that even plants indoors are responding to wild weather.

Wordless Wednesday

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This time of year there’s a certain way that the light falls upon the water. But you don’t have to live near water to see it. Sunrise is later; sunset is earlier. Even with things still undeniably lush and green (or as green as they can be without much rain) one season is ending and another is beginning.


These creatures–the “cross” spiders–also indicate the coming of fall where I live. I never see them in June. But by late August they are plump and sassy. They remain until a hard freeze kills them off. Then eggs hatch a new crop next spring.

As much as I remark that I would hate to live in a place without seasons, every year, the coming of fall seems to sadden me a little more.  But if fall never came, spring wouldn’t come either. That’s what I need to try to remember.

An Annual for Bees


I was watering the other day and was surprised by the number of honeybees that I saw on this celosia. It was not something that I expected.

So often when we plant annuals we plant for color or for long blooming time. These plants have performed beyond all expectation, nestled as they are up against a brick wall and a parking lot, in our very dry summer. They’re lucky if they get watered once a week. You all know by now that I am notoriously thrifty with water.

And yet they are thriving and blooming their heads off, as annuals are supposed to do. The fact that the bees love them is quite an unexpected bonus!

As for the mulch–this is my “work” garden. You all also know I don’t mulch at home.

Drought Stressed Evergreens

It’s been a tough few years here in the northeast. I won’t re-hash. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But as tough as it’s been on the people who call this region home, it’s been even tougher on our plants. And the plants are finally showing us that they may have had enough.

I started to notice trouble with Eastern white pines (a native plant, incidentally) in early May, after a very dry winter. What’s interesting is that I wasn’t just seeing signs of distress on these plants near streets–as some of the experiment stations were reporting–but I was seeing it all over the place and often several hundred feet back from the road where “winter salt injury” couldn’t possibly be a factor.


These two trees are in a neighbor’s yard. They are several hundred feet from the road and in a mixed planting of other evergreens and deciduous trees and shrubs. So clearly this is not “salt injury. ”

Here is a “fact sheet” from the University of Massachusetts on the Eastern white pine situation. Even they can’t quite figure out what’s happening, although they have some speculation.


More recently I am seeing injury to spruces. They’re either dying from the top down or from the bottom up–it scarcely matters really.


And then of course there are the ground cover junipers. These are often susceptible to blights like juniper twig blight caused by a couple of different fungal diseases (hard to think of fungi in droughts but actually several of them flourish in the heat). This is my juniper horizontalis with twig blight. It’s going to have to be removed.

The Spoiler is in denial.  He thinks the dead parts can just be cut out. If he would like to try, more power to him. This juniper covers about 100 square feet.  It will leave a huge hole in this garden.

So what is going on? Is it just drought? Is it drought, made worse by warmer winters? Does it matter?

Any time a plant is stressed, it is susceptible to disease and pests. Drought is certainly a stressor, and prolonged drought would be an extreme stressor to evergreens, because they can’t shed their leaves the way deciduous trees can.

I have already cut back many of my “drought stressed” (and therefore either browned or diseased) perennials for this season. That will allow them to conserve whatever strength they have left and put it into coming back next year and other years. No point in watering (either supplementally or if we happen to get any rain) diseased or browned plants. Let the water go to the “good” plants that remain.

But with evergreens, they can’t shed their leaves protectively. So what we may be witnessing after several summers of less than ideal moisture is the evergreens that simply can’t cope. This past warmer winter may also have been a stressor for the trees as well.

Time will tell about whether these trees can recover. If not, New England backyards and forests may never be the same.


Wordless Wednesday


Do you love this pot or think it’s ready for the trash? It took me a long time to accept this sort of imperfection.

The Japanese have a name for it. They call it “wabi sabi.” The nearest that I can come to understanding the concept is to describe it as lived in or lived with. I have heard it described as “imperfectly perfect ” but that doesn’t help me.

So what do you think? Would you keep this pot around? It’s one of my favorites. I guess I like imperfection.

Deer Proofing?

deer on alert

It’s been awhile since my backyard has looked like this! And at this point, I might even welcome the snow (yes in August!) because it would be welcome relief from the drought!

The drought–and our lack of snow cover last winter–has made this a bumper year for critters. They are looking for anything they can eat both to encourage their larger numbers and to get moisture. It’s a tough time to be a gardener.

However, indications are that this weather pattern is part of the new “normal” for us. It’s our third summer of severe dryness (two of the winters have at least alleviated that with snow but last winter we had a “snow drought” as well). People–and animals–are going to have to figure out more creative ways to cope.

I have been writing on an ongoing basis about critter and deer proofing and repellents. I have two articles coming out in the next month that will deal with this topic, one specifically all about this and one about fall gardening that talks about the topic with respect to protecting fall bulb plantings.

Because I am an organic gardener, I use only approved organic remedies (if I use anything at all) in my own yard and I recommend the same to folks who ask me. In my articles, I tell folks to go to their local garden centers, who are in the best position to recommend what might work best for their area at that time (since, with publication schedules, it’s tough to know what might be working at that moment).

But as I have discussed before, the word “organic” can have many meanings. When I use the term, I try to use it as the CT-NOFA Handbook has used it and I apply the principles found in the handbook. That way, I know I am applying locally controlled best practices.

This therefore always presents me with a dilemma when I am lecturing about deer proofing (which should always be referred to as repelling, anyway. Unless you are in an area where you can surround your property with an 8 foot fence or an electric fence, your property is not “deer proofed.”)

In some places, deer browse can be quite dramatic and homeowners can be understandably distraught. I understand that. My own home is on a deer trail. They wear a path down to the bedrock. Because we are partially wooded, usually the damage isn’t too severe. But one particularly snowy winter, everything, including spiky holly, was browsed, and when the snow melted, everything else was browsed. I had shrubs that were “nubby little nothings” after that incident.

I didn’t use repellent–at that point, it would have been futile. Instead, I pruned back hard anything that had been browsed and I fertilized with an organic fertilizer. Everything came out fine.

Others are not as lucky. They go through this every year. So if they need to apply something else, who am I to question? I just ask that it be the least toxic first, if possible.

Oregano for Pollinators?


20160804_142258Although they are not visible in this photo, there were literally dozens of small bees on this flowering oregano. There were four honeybees. There was at least one bumblebee. And there were 3 steel blue cricket hunter wasps. All on this one clump of oregano.

I didn’t want to get too close to take the photo because I didn’t want to disrupt all those pollinators! Believe it or not, this clump of oregano (which grew from a 4″ pot planted maybe 4 years ago?) is not there to feed anyone. It’s there mainly as a deterrent.

This is my “work” garden. I planted it a few years ago and then it wasn’t supposed to be “mine” anymore.  You know how that goes. I still take care of it and weed it and plant it every spring, etc. That’s fine. It’s definitely small enough for me to manage.

But at work we have a family of woodchucks–or we did until this year. I haven’t seen them too much this year, although I closed up the hole in the garden that was there from last fall and it “re-opened” so I think they’re still around. It probably means I just haven’t been looking at the right time.

I don’t have the physical ability to do the digging required to fence against a woodchuck so I figured that I would just ring the garden with herbs, not grow what it seemed to like to eat and leave it at that. That’s why the oregano is there. It’s one of the “stinky” herbs I brought in. I think it’s even the “hot” variety. Obviously the pollinators don’t care.

At home I have some golden oregano–an ornamental variety–that came back after I removed some insect infested black eyed susans. Although the leaves still get affected by the same insect that bothered the rudbeckia, the oregano has been blooming most of the summer and it is constantly covered in bumble bees. I feel bad when I have to water the garden and get the flowers (and the bees) wet!

Try letting a small portion of your herbs flower, particularly if you have a large clump. Your pollinators will be grateful!