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Expect the Unexpected

On Friday I talked about what happens when life gets in the way of gardening.  Things like that have happened before: the year the Spoiler broke his ankle and I had gall bladder surgery on the same day (different hospitals) in mid-March there wasn’t a whole lot of gardening that happened that year either.

Then there was the year that my Mom had a stroke and the Spoiler got kidney stones at the same time. You get the idea. Life happens and gardening takes a big back seat to that.

But if you are a type A perfectionist (something that I have had a tendency to be) this sort of thing really trips you up. It’s all well and good to go around with Tee shirts that say “Compost Happens” and “Impatiens is a Virtue” (that last one is one of my all time favorites!) but wearing a shirt and living the mottos are two entirely different things.

So how then do you reconcile your personality with what you might want to naturally want to do in the garden? Trust me, I am an expert on this because I am the original Type A personality.

The first thing you want to do is to educate yourself about the reasons why you might be doing something in the garden. As I said on Friday, is it necessary to get every leaf out of the garden? Absolutely not!

Yes, you have to get the leaves off the lawn. Yes, you have to get diseased leaves off perennials. Beyond that, let the leaves fall into the garden and stay there.

The same thing goes for cutting back. There is really no good reason to cut back anything perennial in the fall. This is especially true if you are a beginning gardener or if you are new to your garden–you have just bought the house or something like that.  Don’t make a mistake by pruning something at the wrong time.  Better to let it get a little unruly by going a whole year unprecedented if need be,  rather than cutting it back at the wrong time and losing all its bloom.

Finally don’t do something just because everyone says that you have to. My “rose pruning ” story is a perfect example of that. More on Friday.

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What Garden Clean-up?

This time of year,  I start lecturing on “Putting the Garden to Bed.” There’s only one problem with this: I don’t practice what I talk about,  something that I freely admit in my lectures.

Or, to put it another way, I discuss the two different methods of garden clean up,  the traditional way and the sustainable way. There’s no “correct ” way for everyone–in other words,  what I am calling “sustainable ” won’t work in lots of neighborhoods. I am just fortunate that it works for me and in my neighborhood.

And then of course there is the ” oh, you have cancer and we’re doing the biopsy today” way, which is what happened to me last year. It wasn’t quite that blatant, but that sure as heck is what happened,  and then after the surgery to remove the rest of the cancer, the whole dang thing got infected so there was NO cleanup at all.

And then this spring, sure enough,  more cancerous cells, so again,  no cleanup. You will be surprised at how well the garden survives without you.

So for those who insist that every leaf must be mown, blown or shredded, I assure you that you are completely wrong. Leave the leaves. They make a wonderful mulch.

More on Monday.

 

 

It’s All About the Grass

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I knew we could make this an “All Spoiler week” if we tried.

Last week–just exactly a week ago–we had a soil scientist from the lawn care company that mistakenly trespassed on our property, poisoned my  vegetable garden and “treated” some of my perennial and shrubs with broad leaf weed killer come out, allegedly  to take “soil samples and tissue cultures” from the affected plants and areas.

Perhaps they got nervous when I started saying words to them like “trespass” and “irreplaceable” plants. Nevertheless, I permitted them to come.

When I told the Spoiler they were coming, he said, “Oh good. There are some brown areas in the grass I want them to look at too.”

“Some brown areas in the grass.” Long time readers of this blog know that we don’t irrigate our lawn. It was August 25 when they came–a very dry August, I might add.

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Nevertheless, it is undeniable that they did spray a lot of this broad-leaf weed killer all over the lawn. So I simply said, “that’s fine, honey. You just be here so you can show them where.”

I have to keep the Spoiler happy, after all.

Organic Gardening Catastrophe

I arrived home from work on a Tuesday afternoon about a week or so ago, stepped from my car and smelled the unmistakable smell of chemicals.

Sure enough, I looked down and there were white pellets all over my driveway (which is an unforgivable sin in my book anyway–pesticide applicators should know better than to leave that crap on hard surfaces, especially in close proximity to water bodies–but this is only the beginning of the horrors!)

I looked at my house, and sure enough, there was the hang tag indicating that my property had been treated with pesticides.

As all of you know, I am a long-time organic gardener. My property has been organic for 23 years. It is certified as a backyard habitat by both the state and the National Wildlife Federation. I don’t “do” pesticides, even of the organic type, except under extreme circumstances (pine sawfly larva is about the only thing I can think of that I spray for, and that’s about once a year with insecticidal soap!)

So I immediately went in and called the offending company, which is at least a regional company (and not the large one you are thinking of–for once TruGreen is off the hook. This one is based in New Hampshire). They had the local supervisor call me.

I was less cordial with him than I had been with the regional customer service rep (because after all, the person in New Hampshire bore no responsibility for this whatsoever). But the local person? He ought to know what his workers are doing!

So I simply explained that I was at a loss to understand how the worker could mistake my house for my neighbor’s. Here were some of the reasons why:

  • I have a dog, who probably barked at him; she doesn’t.
  • I have a larger lot, with 2 groves of trees on it; she doesn’t
  • I have lots of ornamental gardens, including a vegetable garden and pond; she doesn’t
  • She has a patio, a deck and a gazebo; I don’t
  • Further, my property is marked in 4 separate places with my house number

Clearly the worker hadn’t had enough caffeine–or had too much of some other banned substance–that morning.

But the damage is done. My yard is poisoned, I can’t walk my dog in my own yard, and I don’t dare eat my vegetables for fear that they have been contaminated.

And the Spoiler’s reaction when I told him about all this? He was worried about his grass, which is not supposed to be fertilized at all, least of all with a pellet fertilizer. So now he’s worried that that will die!

The best part of all? There was no yellow “This Property Has been Treated” sign placed on our property which is a violation of Federal law. Mind you, I don’t want to advertise that this horrid mistake has been made. But I want, at least, to alert other dog walkers like me to keep their pets away!

What A Difference A Year Makes!

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See these mushrooms? They’re all over in my lawn. They’re all over in everyone’s lawns!

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Here are some more. You know what this means. It means it’s been raining. And this is a wonderful thing. For the last two and a half years, it wasn’t raining–or snowing much–or even sleeting or hailing.

For the last 2 1/2 years, our lawns were like tinder, our trees lost their leaves, our gardens dried out, I lost many, many established perennials and shrubs, our evergreens died, or got diseased so that we had to remove them–it’s been a really tough time here in the Northeast and it’s not over yet.

And while we haven’t had a plague of locusts, we have had a plague of gypsy moths that threaten to kill many of our large deciduous trees.

You may think that I am harping on the drought and its after effects. But many, many folks come to New England for the fall foliage. And in many places. our landscape is going to be forever changed by these years of drought.

The backdrop of evergreens that set off our blazing fall colors is slowly being killed by disease caused by drought.

The oaks and maples that cause those beautiful colors are being ravaged by the gypsy moths. Fall tourism may never be the same in places, particularly in parts of Massachusetts. It will remain to be seen.

Have any of you heard about any of this in the news? I doubt it.

And I doubt my neighbors have heard–or seen–that it’s raining. On days when it’s raining–even on days when we get an inch or more of rain–they run their lawn sprinklers. One neighbor runs his twice a day, and the second time is at 1:30 in the afternoon! Talk about a colossal waste of water!

But that’s why I put the pictures of the mushrooms up. You know that I don’t irrigate my lawn so you can tell how much rain we’ve had just by the presence of mushrooms all over my yard.

Some of my neighbors have larger mushrooms than I do but somehow it didn’t seem wise to go around photographing them, particularly while I am walking the dog. That could just lead to catastrophe, in more ways than one. So you’ll have to take my word that the mushrooms are larger on other properties (which I guess is something like the grass being greener….)

In any event, with all these mushrooms around, it seems to me that some of these irrigation systems could be given a rest. You know, encourage the grass to develop deep roots for the next drought. But why be forward thinking, I guess?

Patented Plants–Take 2

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I have talked before,  less so here, but definitely at garden club lectures quite a bit,  about patented plants.

I caution that the clubs need to know about the parentage of their plants before they propagate them for sale at their  plant sales. And I always get push back from someone who says something like “but we’re really a nonprofit,” or ” this can’t mean that I can’t divide this plant and give it to my friend,  right?”

Hello, folks, read my latest enclosure slip that I received with 2 roses last week.

These plants aren’t even patented yet–the patents are pending. And what does it say, right there, literally,  in black and white? “patent pending,” and “cannot be propagated.”

Could the growers be any clearer?

Wordless Wednesday–Accidental Pollinator Habitats

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There’s a lot of talk these days about “post-wild” planting. And while I haven’t read that particular book, I have read Larry Weaner’s books and been to a couple of his talks on habitat plantings and succession plantings. From what I can glean from interviews with the “post-wild” author, he has made habitat and succession planting just a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be! But maybe I need to read his book–perhaps I do him a disservice.

Take a look here. These are two native plants that have sprung up under my star magnolia. The Spoiler keeps wanting to “pull out the weeds.” I keep telling him that he’d better not, on pain of death (besides, good luck getting out the goldenrod. Its roots are incredibly deep!)

The taller, darker one on the end with the lance shaped leaves is goldenrod. The one in the foreground is a shorter lived succession plant called either white snakeroot, or boneset, depending on which common name you prefer. It actually migrated here from the edge of our woodlands. There is still a little bit there, but it obviously prefers this sunnier spot. Both of these are pollinator magnets, as I will show you later this summer.

What’s left in the woods? White wood aster, also a pollinator magnet.

And what was under this tree? Nothing. We keep limbing it up to let the plants grow in.

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Here’s another “accidental” habitat that most people never see because they use 4-step programs and those programs kill clover. Clover is prime habitat for butterflies and bees. I am always amazed when I see folks walking barefoot on their lawns. I wouldn’t dare–and not because I’ve poisoned it with pesticides either!  I don’t want to accidentally step on all my precious bees!

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Finally, don’t over look habitat in the most unlikely places. This is an overly broad crack between the slates on my walk. Yes, there are too many weeds here that I need to address. But there’s lovely moss, a fern and some violets. Those get to stay.

If nature is doing your “planting” for you, why fight it?