Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Not Throw The Shovel Down?

When I was gardening just over the city line, my plot was filled with questionable soil, the neighbors were packed tightly around me, and my small plot was quickly planted to the gills so that any new addition had to be shoe-horned in. But I look back at pictures of our .12 acre, and, oh, what a garden with borders bright and lush!
I left that behind almost two years ago and started work on my greatly expanded plot in the burbs -- sure, a former Victorian rail stop at the Northern terminus of the great Charles Street, which runs from the Southern tip of Baltimore North through the center of the city and some of its most scenic areas, but Lutherville is definitely where the burbs begin. Now I have a third of an acre complete with woodland and streams!
But, and this is a big but, I have far more deterrents than I could have ever imagined at my old house. And that is probably why I have written little of my new land. Gardening here is a constant battle with deer, pine and columbine eating caterpillars, shade and an end of summer bombardment of walnuts ripping my plants to shreds. From late August to early October I seriously thought, what's the use? All of the plans and dreams I had for the garden last winter were laid to waste by summer's end.
But after buying a few half-off end of the season plants -- what's the risk of losing a few quarts of $3.00 perennials? -- I went back into the yard and I kind of liked what I saw (the clear water of the revitalised stream flowing through beautiful Autumn colors of dogwoods and spice trees and my collection of salvias finally exploding into bloom) and more important, I liked how I felt. So lets go back for a few more quarts and maybe it's not too late to get a bulb order in before the first freeze.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Gifts From The Lutherville Spring

It’s officially spring, the 2008 growing season is well under way, and I’m doing something I feared I wouldn’t be able to do this year after moving — enjoying a spring garden. Leaving the Overbrook garden behind at the start of winter, I thought I would also be leaving behind all of my seasonal markers and harbingers of spring – no more witch hazel to brighten the cold eternal stretches of February, no intoxicating scent of daphne to drink in late warm days of winter.
And while I did miss many of my old garden’s first blooms of the year, the grounds surrounding our new home have provided many gifts of spring and growth.

About a month ago, while following a stream along an easement in back of our property, I came upon naturalized drifts of Galanthus nivalis. Since the Lutherville garden showed no signs of early season growth at that point, I dug up some clumps and transplanted them “in the green” along the main path down to our stream and along our front walk. The transplants took wonderfully, and a few weeks later skirts of white revealed inner petals striped with green. The last of their blooms have just fallen and I’m considering going back to easement to transplant more for a stronger showing next year.
Along with the drifts of snowdrops in the back woods was some naturalized winter aconite, which I lassoed into the confines of my garden. While planting this on the hill above the stream, I discovered a small stand of crocus at the edge of the stream and stalks of daffodils rising from the sea of ivy and pachysandra. I now have at least five varieties of daffodils blooming in my garden. I was disappointed when I thought I would have to pass a spring without their blooms, their scent embodies all of the hope of spring. Just these little bits of early spring blooms have made all the difference and make me feel like I have a new garden of my own just four months after abandoning the old one.

I also started digging in the first transplants from Overbrook and planted the butcher’s broom, Ruscus aculeatus, under a spruce along with some sacred lilies, Rohdea japonica, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbie, and a cast iron plant, Apidistra elatior, in the upper back yard, which appears to be my driest patch of land. The variegated Buddleia 'Santana', went in a newly dug front border that I hope will provide enough sun.
And why stop with transplants? Time to spend some cash…some good looking and cheap specimens of Rhododendrons from the local big box store went in among the pachysandra on the hill above the stream and I found an $8 pot of my lost favorite, Daphne odora ‘Aureo-Marginata’ and placed that along the front steps. It’s small, but I’m hoping for just one bloom with its intoxicating fragrance next year. But for now I am grateful to be a gardener in Lutherville this spring.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I Hate Forsythia

I hate forsythia. Always have. Swear I always will. Its big draw, gaudy yellow flowers, last a couple of weeks in the spring, then drop, leaving a non-descript shag of shrub – no distinct leaves, no autumn color, scraggles of artless twigs in winter. Why have it?
And just as my luck would have it, I’ve inherited a backyard full of the stuff, right where the sunny spot of the yard is. So it has to go. I start hacking it from the ground. My sister stops by during this undertaking and laments, “But how could you? It’s about to bloom in another couple of weeks. Can’t you wait and tear it out after that?”
No. By then my transplants from the sunny Overbrook garden will need to sink their roots into their new home. I need to have it ready for them. So I continue to hack. There’s so much of it, I unfortunately have to space the job out.
We then plan a “Welcome Spring” party, and I get to thinking, isn’t that hideous, gaudy yellow a symbol of spring in these parts? So I cut a few branches and take them inside – for the irony. Four days later, just in time for the party, the twigs burst forth in bloom. Maybe it’s the inside light, but the shade of yellow isn’t as harsh as I thought it would be. The blooms kinda resemble jasmine, one of my favorites. And maybe it’s because the blooms are the only show going in the final bleak days of winter. Reluctantly, I enjoy the blooms.
A few days later, I return to yard to finish off my forsythia clearing. While ripping a huge scraggle of the stuff from the ground, a smaller root ball breaks free. I look down at it, then look around to make sure no one is watching, and take the renegade root ball to a far, less prime part of the yard and throw it in a hole. Maybe it will die, maybe it won’t. But if it doesn’t, I guess some of its forced blooms might come in handy this time next year.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Quick End To My First Garden

Just a month after bidding farewell to the Overbrook Garden, my first true attempt at a garden, a tragedy has befallen it and half of it is already laid to waste. I expected to do occasional drive-bys and watch the garden slowly change and possibly fade under the stewardship of new and inexperienced hands. Perhaps the new owners would maintain the enthusiasm they showed for the garden at the time of purchase and it would grow into their own.

But their real-estate agent called this week and asked if we failed to disclose any problems with the sewer line. It seems that the drains in the house started spewing dirt. The whole line would have to be excavated and re-laid, which means a good deal of the front beds in the path of destruction.
I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if we had stayed and the failed sewer line had been our curse. I would have tried to rescue as many plants as possible, but such an undertaking at this time of the year would most certainly have led to many casualties. I can’t imagine the new owners even attempted to save the Salvias, Hellebores, Spegillias, Geraniums and numerous other perennials that were just starting to look established.
I drove by today and the front yard was a wreck of uplifted roots and ugly orange clay brought up from the trenches. I wonder if it will just be seeded with lawn in the spring. Well, as I previously stated (with thanks to Joan Didion), Goodbye To All That…Pictured: The Overbrook Garden in happier, infancy years, with Ms. Mama to Be and Baby Belly E.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

From Scratch: The Lutherville Garden

I begin, alone, staring out on some despicable forsythia, a few pines (or are they spruces? I’ve had little experience with such evergreens), and a whole lot of bamboo, pachysandra, and ivy. I rake fallen leaves from a weedy silver maple into outlines for beds and kick rotted green walnuts into the stream. As I play with the shapes of these tentative beds, deer peer out from the woods and survey my handy work, salivating with anticipation of spring’s fresh, tender young shoots.
The beds I have outlined are expansive – silly, really, since I now have diminished energies and finances and should probably stick to a front bed of inpatients and dusty miller. Gone are the well established Hellebores, sages, and shrubs thriving in a Bambi-free zone. I am embarking into futility. But even the simple act of creating beds from fallen leaves, impermanent and wind-blown as they may be, sustains and carries over the feeling that I am creating. I am beginning. And I am in love with the water, branches, and earth.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Goodbye To All That...

The first post in an eternity, and for many reasons…
While not the main reason for my lapse, this was in general a very bad year for gardening – overall the worst since I began eight years ago. What started off as an incredibly mild and kind winter came to a close with temperatures nose-diving after many plants broke dormancy. And the warmth never really returned until May. Plants cut back by the late winter freeze languished for weeks in a suspended state, with many tropicals and sages that previously sailed through colder winters still struggling to push up new growth well into April.
Then, just as everything was making a comeback and starting to thrive, came the drought. Summer sun and no moisture turned the soil into dull terracotta and continuous watering from the tap just couldn’t supplement summer thunderstorms or a drenching from a tropical depression.
And at the end of summer came the possibility that we would be moving and I would have to bid farewell to my first real garden. The growth of the family could no longer be contained in a single story, two-bedroom cottage and we started searching for a larger house. My gardening stalled, or, more honestly, came to a complete stop. Divide and rearrange plants, or start to dig them out of the ground in preparation for a move? And there wasn’t any sense in investing in new plants to fill out or complete beds.
Instead of getting my hands into the soil, I walked around the beds and debated which plants should and could take a move. And when to start digging them up? If we ended up not moving, plants would be left in pots to survive the unpredictable winter for no reason at all.
Well, the move is happening, in just two weeks at the start of December. And a fair number of plants have been yanked from the ground and put into pots where they will have to survive against the long winter. But many of my most favorite plants will stay behind – the established sub-tropicals that have thrived in my garden, such as the pomegranate, “State Fair,” the Eucalyptus neglecta, and my beloved needle palm, Rhapidophyllum histrix Rhapidophyllum hystrix – plants with roots that need to be well established in the soil to get them through the winter. All of these plants would probably perish with a late autumn relocation.
And then there are all of the plants that are now too large to dig up. I will feel lost with no brightly blossomed witch hazel to keep hope alive in the late winter snows, no intoxicatingly scented daphne to announce that winter’s worst is in the past and wonderful spring days of warmth and lushness are just ahead.
And what now is ahead? Well, for starters, the plot of land we are moving to is over double the size we are now on. That will give me a chance to spread out and breath a bit more. There is also a stream with a simple arced bridge crossing it, leading to a grove of mature bamboo on the other side. Yes, a defiant, greedy bamboo wearing boxing gloves and steel tipped boots…but I do love the look of it, and with the bridge it inspires visions of a marvelous Asian garden.
For the front, I want to develop a backdrop of native shrubs – especially some oak-leaved hydrangeas with another witch hazel. And I need to have another Magnolia grandiflora, my most favored tree of all. And I’ll have to etch out a sun bed from the prevalent shade for my sages.
So it’s time to start from scratch. Perhaps exercise a little more discipline this time around and create a cohesive whole. With sadness I say good-bye and with excitement look forward to breaking my back breaking in new soil.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Spring's Promise & Winter's Victims

Such an odd spring. Just when you think you are high and safe on a wave of warmth, another northern front rolls in that plunges nights into the forties with some days barely climbing out of the fifties. Everything got off to such a slow start, but at last some lushness is starting to fill the yard.
And amid the lushness of late spring, a final tally of the casualties of winter. Now barren spots in the greenery make it clear which plants did not survive this past winter, which, ironically enough, was for the most part a warmer than normal one. But that warmth, which caused hellebores, witch hazels, quince and camellias to bloom in early January, must have also fooled other less stout garden members into breaking dormancy early in the year. And then came the bitter, colder than average late February that cut them down to death. Particularly affected were many fleshy bulbs of tropical descent that previously had no trouble surviving the past seven years in my garden – the Hedychium ginger, Sauromatum venosum voodoo lilies, and Eucomis pineapple lilies are all gone. Even the Musa basjoo banana tree, which previously had been growing and spreading like a weed and would have been a four feet high by four feet wide shrub by now, seems like it barley pulled through; it is just now sending some thin sickly shoots up from the earth.
All of these fatalities correspond with a report from Sherwood Gardens, an expanse of azaleas and spring bulbs in the otherwise sterile north Baltimore Gucci neighborhood of Guilford, that about 30% of the planted tulip bulbs did not flower. When the failed beds were dug up, mushy rotted bulbs were found – victims of a warm winter with a freezing finale.
I even had to say farewell to some work horse salvias that for many years had been staples of the garden, particularly Greggii “Watermelon” and “Royal Raspberry,” which revealed green signs of life when their bare branches were scraped with a finger nail, but failed to sprout any new growing points from the old wood.
But there was virtually no damage with the larger shrubs and trees. The pomegranate, Punica granatum “State Fair,” had insignificant die back and has jumped to vigorous life and is larger than ever this year. The brown turkey fig, which usually needs its tips pruned back to green wood in the spring, had no die back this year.
But at last the warmth is here and on we go. Just too bad that we’re ultimately headed back to winter in a mere five months…