Monday, October 27, 2014

Need a Pep Talk? We Can Close Out Autumn Together!

Overwhelming.

Hectic.

Short on time.

These are the words that often describe gardening at the end of autumn for me. Everything that I put off during the entire growing season (um, can we just give a shout out to my husband for not endlessly reminding me there's still a pile of mulch in the driveway I need to move?) has piled up and I'm once again in a rush to get it all put away and tidy before the weather gets too cold. (Not that chilly weather has stopped me in the past. I've definitely gardened in the dark with my hands numb from the cold.)

Even though I have good intentions, I lack the discipline to do a little bit over time, as Sarah Bailey advised in a lecture last month.  Let's face it. Gardening while working can be a difficult task.

Forty eight tulips planted, 152 to go.
Which brings me to the current situation I brought upon myself. Why in the world did I think 100 tulips were possibly not enough? Perhaps it's because I checked last year's bulb order where I ordered 200 tulips last year. Surely I forgot about the misery that is involved in digging up large portions of the (very little remaining) lawn for bulbs? This evening I was able to get 48 in the ground. Yippee. Only 152 tulips to go. Don't ask me about the daffodils and the hyacinths.

This is the time of year that I really need a garden support group. I need people to tell me that it will be OK and the garden will be fine. (Instead of sassy dog-walking neighbors asking me what I'm burying in the front yard. Today's response? Ex-boyfriends. He walked a little faster away after that.)

So what is going well this fall? Well (most) of my garlic is planted. And 90 percent of the vegetable plants from this year have been pulled and put in the compost pile. I've kept up with raking leaves. I've been saving seeds. When I did renovate one garden bed, I removed all the plants that didn't belong, as Nancy DuBrule advised in her lecture. (Except I now have a holding area filled with irises, sedum and dayliles ... but I'll get to it.)

As the daylight hours wane and I find myself feeling in over my head, I try to remind myself that yes, I actually do enjoy gardening, and that in the spring, not only will all the bulbs I have to plant look awesome, but I will have a new growing season in which I can make my garden better than this year.

I suppose gardeners need to be optimists. There's always another tomorrow. There's always life waiting for spring.

Somehow, I will make it through autumn!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Make a Plan of Action to Correct Garden Design Problems

NORTHFORD, Conn. - Sometimes a take-no-prisoners approach is needed to tackle bad garden design.

Gardeners should take time to sit and consider a battle plan before taking a shovel to the yard. Flag what needs to go. Now is the time to move, divide or evict plants.

"You need to be absolutely ruthless," said Nancy DuBrule, owner and founder of Natureworks. "We have lived with our garden all season - it's fresh in our minds. If you wait til spring it will not work - you won't remember."

When dividing or removing plants from a preexisting garden bed, do not move them to another spot because you feel bad about discarding them. "You don't need to start another bed with leftover plants," she said.

"We renovate either cause it looks nasty or it doesn't work well for us," she said.

Gardeners have from now until the end of October or beginning of November to move plants in the garden. "Get the major players moved first," she said.

Grab a tarp and systematically evict all the plants from the garden bed in one pass. "Nothing gets put on a tarp without a label," she said. "Create a holding area. Get them all out if they are in the wrong place." Weed the garden bed. Amend the soil. Keep the holding area in the shade with soil and mulch.

Plants in the wrong place can be
moved now through early November.
"Our soil is warm and it will be for a while," she said. "The roots are growing even if the tops are not." (To read more on dividing perennials, click here.) Placing mulch on the soil will keep the soil warmer longer.

This practice also applies to dividing perennials. Do not just chip away at the mother plant. "Get the whole plant out and on a tarp to divide," she said. "Underground, you will discover your plants have their own little world ... We normally cut the tops off to offset the damage from moving," she said.

In a recent lecture, DuBrule discussed common design problems that lead to garden renovation. Here are some of the biggest offenders.

Color
A sign that there is not enough color built into the landscape is when the garden "grows green" because nothing is blooming.

"The most common gaps are August and now," said DuBrule. "You should have tons of color right now. You should be putting in fall bloomers now that will look great next year. Every plant I put in now comes back one hundred fold next year."

Wrong color combinations happen all the time, said DuBrule. If plants are too spread out and not concentrated in large color groupings, the overall color affect will be diluted. Even the gardener's color choices can change. (A garden that started out with a yellow palette may lose its attractiveness over time with a gardener starting to favor a new color instead.)

Lack of a color focal point occurs when plants are placed "wherever" in the garden.

"A lot of people think if they get [the color focal point] right they will have color all year - not true. You're going to have green spots all the time. Nobody notices green globs if you have a color focal point." In DuBrule's fall garden, she repeats blue-hued plants which are then accented by mammoth coral mums.

Lack of a color focal point "just happens over time, but you can correct it." (To read more about having color every month in the garden, click here.)

If left unchecked, anemones can self-seed
and ruin a garden's design.
Overgrown Plants
This category can really cause havoc in a garden's design. It includes scenarios such as invasive plants taking over in the garden (for DuBrule, this meant weeding out gooseneck loosestrife); having a large bed so filled with weeds that it is difficult to pull them out; and the plants you wanted are too crowded or self-sown plants "grown up willy nilly and ruin any sense of plan or continuity," according to the Natureworks handout.

"If I see babies coming up, I ruthlessly thin them out," she said. "The trick is not to be a bleeding heart gardener - your yard will be homogenous ... Your garden just gets clogged and you don't have any fun anymore."

"You tend to let [the plants] go because you're too tired," said DuBrule, citing examples such as anemone and Joe Pye Weed which will quickly take over garden beds if left unchecked. Daylilies are another plant that will lose its vigor if it hasn't been divided regularly. "If they are not showing any signs of wear, you don't have to divide them." Look for yellow leaves when the plant is blooming - this is a sign it needs to be divided.

In addition, DuBrule cautioned to find out a plant's growing habit before introducing it to the garden. "Be wary of what people give you - they give you the thugs," she said. Thinnings also make their way into many garden club plant sales at great prices.

Where's the Foliage?
"Foliage structure is the anchor that holds the garden together," said DuBrule. Beginning gardeners typically focus on the floral color and not what the plant looks like when it is not in bloom. "It's something that you learn over time - you want to know the whole plant," she said.

Remove seed heads from Joe Pye Weed to
discourage self-sowing.
For plants like poppies, bleeding hearts and yarrow - that look great in spring but lose their attractiveness and charm after blooming - the key is to place them in areas where other plants will hide them later in the season. "What you need to do is hide it and cut it back," she said.

Wrong Size 
Sometimes the garden you envision is too small for the yard. For example, tiny 2-foot beds rimming the yard filled with 6-foot-tall Joe Pye Weed just won't work. Plants need to be layered down; 6 foot tall plants need to be in the back, 4 foot in front of them, 2 foot in front of them, and so on. "Widening your beds is the secret to good garden design," she said. "Think less length, more width."

"I'm over it."
"I just don't like these plants." Really. It's OK to say that. "What's available will change and your tastes will change," she said. DuBrule said gardeners should be fussy when choosing plants. "The trend now is for more compact plants that don't get diseases as often and don't need pinching."

"Before you do renovations, do some brainstorming. Know what you want," she said. Sometimes the color of the plant is not what was expected due to mislabeling. Perhaps you thought you wanted a cottage garden style but changed your mind. Maybe the plant may require too much upkeep (think of that rose that looks pretty for one week every summer but is plagued by blackspot the rest of the year). "There are so many good choices nowadays," DuBrule said, so really, it's fine not to settle.

Right Plant, Wrong Place 
Maybe the light levels have changed: areas that once received sunlight are now shaded by growing trees. Or perhaps the shade garden is now scorched by full sun because a storm took out a tree. Gardens need to evolve with what Mother Nature changes.

Remember, correcting garden design will not happen overnight.

"It may take you two seasons, and that's OK," she said. "Take digital photos - print and make notes."

To read DuBrule's "Basic Principles of Perennial Garden Design" handout, click here

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Recipe: Kieffer Pear Pie


After harvesting 46.5 pounds (a new record!) of Kieffer pears in the last three weeks, it seems as if every dessert we make has some sort of pear thrown in. Of course, some of the pears made their way into the houses of friends and family, but the rest are either ripening on my counter until they turn a nice golden yellow or are in a chilled state in the fruit drawer of my refrigerator.

So it seemed like the perfect time to make pear pie! I modified my high-top apple pie recipe to work for Kieffer pears. It goes well with pie dough made from scratch, or if you need to save time you can buy a ready-made pie dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

Here is the filling:

8-9 large Kieffer pears (or 7 small Kieffer pears with 2 Granny Smith apples)
3 tbsp Minute instant tapioca
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp mace

You will also need:
2 pie crusts
milk
sanding sugar


Peel pears and slice them to roughly half inch thick pieces. I cut out any hard pieces near the core that may be too close to the seed. (If you leave it, it will make the pear slices gritty as they bake.) Add the instant tapioca, sugar, cinnamon, salt and mace. Stir well. Place into pie shell. Top with second pie shell. Pinch the edges and then lightly brush the milk on the top shell. Take sanding sugar and cover area brushed with milk. Use a knife to place slits in the pie crust so the pie can vent.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 55 minutes to an hour, or until bubbly.

Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or by itself warm.



To know when a Kieffer pear is ready for picking, click here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fall Cleanup is a Snap When You Take Your Time

COLCHESTER, Conn. - Autumn isn't only about cleaning up the garden in one long "wretched weekend."

"Don't say, 'Oh my! It's the autumnal equinox, I have to be all done!'" said Sarah Bailey, master gardener program coordinator for the University of Connecticut. "Mix it in with fun stuff. Mix it in with planting those perennials you bought at the half-price sale that you swore you weren't going to get but somehow or another they followed you home."

Bailey recently talked to the Colchester Garden Club about staying motivated during fall cleanup time. The key is stretching fall cleanup out throughout the season. "By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, you're pretty much done," she said.

Even with cooler temperatures, Bailey said it's important to keep watering throughout the fall, especially since the summer was especially dry in Connecticut. "Remember that while the air temperature is getting cold, the soil temperature is staying quite warm. Our soil is staying at that 45-degree temperature, for 5 inches down, until December."


Sedum 'Autumn Joy' earlier in fall.
An example of fall garden cleanup that can start as early as August is trimming back irises to "stubs"(except for reblooming irises), which can prevent iris borers from ruining plants.

"I can cut all that material back, and that's the first chore of the fall cleanup done. And by doing that, I have either removed the eggs or have removed the site the moth wants to lay those eggs on. I haven't had iris borers in 15 years," she said.

With cooler temperatures, it's easier on the gardener - and the plants - for plant division. "Fall is a very good time to do division," she said. "The rule of thumb is fall blooming, spring division, spring blooming, fall division. You can do either one of them any time, but you have less impact on the next season of bloom if you do them a season ahead of when they bloom."

Instead of feeling overwhelmed, keep in mind that "you're making more plants - next year they will be all over the place," she said.

It's not just about making the garden look good in the fall, but also the winter as well. Grasses provide wonderful movement and color with their seedheads. "Leave your grasses up during the winter," she said. "They are great winter interest." (In the spring, cut them back. If you don't cut them back, the new shoots compete with the older material.)

Two other perennials that will look good throughout the winter include sedum and stronger stem astibiles. "Yes, they turn brown, but they look wonderful in the snowy frost," she said. Bailey suggested lightly dusting sedum and astibiles with a matte silver or gold spray paint, a tip she learned from an artist friend. "In the frost, it's spectacular. It's magical. Just dust them. If you overdo it, it looks tacky."

Crocus in spring.
Get Motivated with Spring Bulbs
Bailey explained that fall is a combination of putting things in order as well as preparing for the next season.

"It's much more fun to think of fall prep as getting ready for the next season. Now is the time to think about spring bulbs."

"Bulbs like well-drained soil, generally full sun, but that full sun is spring sun and early summer sun," she said. Consider areas in the garden where there full sun is present before the trees leaf out. The bulbs will be entering dormancy by the time the dense shade comes in.

"Look at your yard in the spring to decide where those spots are that you may not think about now, when there's still shade in those areas," she said.

The earliest color in the spring belongs to the minor bulb category, such as crocus, snowdrops and winter aconites. "The earlier in the season they bloom, the closer to the ground they bloom," she said. "They don't want to waste time growing when there could be a frost."

For minor bulbs, the biggest impact comes when planting large groupings, but they usually cost less than daffodils and tulips. "Bulbs don't have to be in your flowerbed," said Bailey. Minor bulbs can be put in the lawn because they like to naturalize. To ensure many come back in future springs, delay the first two mowings of the spring season so the bulbs have a chance to photosynthesize and make food for the next growing season.

However, be aware of the other creatures that like those bulbs. Bailey advises that you may want to plant them a little deeper to ward off chipmunk, blue jay and crow raids.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Floral Friday - Pumpkins with Flowers

This year, I'm really into placing pumpkins among the plants in the front garden. I'm not sure how long they will hold up (we do have baby squirrels and a huge raccoon lurking about), but they sure are pretty. Here are the pumpkins, as well as other pretty flowers blooming this week. (As always, feel free to click on the photos to enlarge them.)

I really need to put sweet alyssum everywhere next year. What a workhorse!

Pumpkin and mum.

Mum with columbine leaves.

Late-blooming rose with anemone in the background.

'Miss Kim' lilac leaves change color now.

Calendula

Anemones with phlox in the background.

Asters

Callicarpa
What's blooming in your garden this week?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Stem is Key to Ripened Fruit


Kieffer pears can be tricky - take them off the tree too early and they won't ripen correctly. Take them off too late, and the skin will be mealy with the fruit ripening from the inside out.

The trick, then, is to remember "Goldilocks and the Three Bears:" You want to pick them when they are just right. And the tree itself shows you how that is done.

Kieffer pears that are ready to be picked will snap off the branch easily. If you are lifting the fruit from the branch and the tree isn't letting go, then come back in a few days.

My trees are ready beginning in late September and will be all done by Columbus Day. (Last year I waited until Columbus Day weekend to pick them all and they were overripe.)

Here's a quick video I made to show the difference in picking ripe and unripened pears.



This is the most bountiful year for Kieffer pears, with 44.5 pounds harvested so far (there are still a few left on the tree). For longtime storage, I keep the pears in my fruit drawer of my fridge. When I'm ready to use them, I take them out and let them sit on the counter for 5-7 days. 

Kieffer pears are great for canning, too. But if you need some instant recipes, try this delicious pear and cranberry crisp that I blogged about in the past, this pie recipe or try adding them to your scone recipe.

For more information on growing Kieffer pears, visit this link.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tune in to 'Back to My Garden'


I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dave Ledoux, the host of the Back to My Garden podcast. We chatted about geraniums, monarch butterflies and my arch nemesis ... the black walnut tree.

To learn a little more about me, listen to episode 27. And after you hear that, go back and listen to episodes 1 through 26 to hear interviews from other passionate gardeners!

You can also access the podcast via iTunes here.

Happy gardening!