Whether it roars in like a lion, or tiptoes like a lamb, in the Mid-Atlantic, March brings Spring with it. Slowly, the earth softens, and things get green. Clumps of bulbs – snowdrops, crocus, daffodils – push up through the mulch. Evergreens relax, their leaves uncurling. Buds broaden with potential. Early bloomers burst like fireworks, presaging the months of color to come.
Last week, we got our first big frost at the farm, and overnight, our garden was dead. The dahlias drooped, the tomatoes shriveled, the hasta turned to mush. A few plants are struggling to stay alive, like this hydrangea that clearly doesn’t know it’s supposed to have died back!
But for all of that, there is still beauty in the garden.
We have hundreds of dahlias and they are cut back and their roots, or tubers are saved to be replanted next year.
At the end of August, we planted some cold weather crops like the kale and chard that are so good and so healthy. Our rainbow chard has the most beautiful stems which really do come in a variety of colors.
If you have a small property, espaliering trees, or growing them against a flat surface, is a great way to have fruit trees without them taking up a lot of space. Ladew Gardens has some spectacular examples of this, including an apple tree trained into diamond shapes.
Now comes the hard work. Everything is dug up and put into the compost heap to make “black gold” or super-enriched dirt for next year’s gardens. Before the ground freezes, we’ll turn over the gardens to refresh the soil and aerate it.
We prune back the espaliered apple trees, to prevent both breakage during the winter, and airborne diseases which can affect fruit trees. Although there were apples, we didn’t get as many as we had anticipated.
We will turn the garden over again in the spring, either by digging in by hand, or with the roto-tiller, which is much easier.
Even as we’re putting the garden to bed, we’re thinking about next year and planting our bulbs. We will plant several hundred tulip and daffodil bulbs and be delighted when they pop up next spring. We made the investment of a deer fence to surround the gardens after they feasted on all of our plantings one year. We know that we can plant pretty much anything and the deer won’t eat it – it’s worth the peace of mind.
The fountains are turned off so the lines don’t freeze, and then they are drained. We keep them covered with screens because of the herons who like to eat our fish. It also keeps the leaves and other debris out of the water.
Every garden has its bones, the framework upon which the design is built, and with everything dead and leafless, the bones of the garden shine through. While the plants are still in place, it’s the time to make notes about which worked and which were duds. There are always some of each when you have a garden.
We are lucky enough to have a greenhouse where we can over-winter many of our plants, including our huge citrus trees, which keep us in limes for gin and tonics all summer long. We move the trees inside before there’s any chance of frost.
We dig up the figs, having learned a lesson last year when they were left outside for the winter, barely lived, and didn’t produce any fruit. We will let them go dormant, and then ball-and-burlap the root-ball for the winter.
Speaking of leaves, rake them up! Don’t leave them to blow into your neighbors’ yards. It’s great exercise and you can pile the leaves onto the compost heap. If you can run the lawn mower over them to break them into pieces, they’ll decompose more quickly and make better compost. You might mow the lawn one final time and collect all of the grass to add to the compost heap, too.
While it is sad to see the demise of the garden, we temper the sadness by searching all of the gorgeous garden catalogues to choose what we’ll have in the garden next spring.
Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll have our tips for Thanksgiving!
It’s finally fall here at Halcyon and we’ve already had our first frost. In fact, it was more than two weeks ago! As the season changes, we look at what needs to be done to get ready for when the days draw in and winter comes on with a vengeance. If it’s anything like last winter, we need to be well prepared.
In the gardens. We are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, so we bring all of our huge citrus trees, gardenias and other fragile plants inside where they can over-winter. And we always pull up all of the dead plants – you really don’t want your garden looking like a plant graveyard all winter, do you?
By this time of year, you know whether you have a green thumb or not. Still plucking juicy red tomatoes off the vine? Getting your fall beds ready? Everything still looking robust and non-bug-eaten out in the garden? Or, failing that, does everything at least still show some sign of life? If the answer to most of these questions is “no” you may be more well suited to gardening that decidedly less-killable genre of plant: the cactus. And its extended family, the succulents.
Bob Farmer, owner of Gristmill Landscaping, considers more than color, shape and texture when he’s selecting plants for a garden. “Sounds, scents and shadows can really tie a garden together,” he says. The sounds of water in a water feature soothe and add ambiance. Water draws nature to the garden, particularly birds whose calls then fill the garden. The trees that the birds use also contribute sound in the form of the rustling leaves on deciduous trees and the whispering of pines. “Yes,” says Farmer. “Conifers do add sound.”
Later in summer crickets add their symphony. Garden sounds even distract from the cacophony of traffic sounds on busy streets. The combined sounds in a garden help human inhabitants enjoy the space, sit and relax and have moments of reverie and reflection.
“Scent is the most vital of all your senses,” says Farmer. Besides the most obvious scents, Farmer likes the smell of dew on the grass and plants, the smell of rain, even the smell of snow. In summer the smell of cut grass fills a garden after mowing. When planting and weeding, the loamy smell of earth arises.
The smells of all elements – earth, wind, water and fire – are present in the garden if the garden has a fire pit or outdoor fireplace. In three seasons, spring to fall, the sweet smells of daffodils, hyacinths, viburnums, daphne bushes, lilacs, roses, lavender, monarda, lilies (especially ‘Stargazers’) and autumn clematis. “And don’t forget Styrax japonicus,” Farmer says of the elegant, compact tree that blooms in spring.
“Shadows play such a part in the landscape too,” says Farmer. “Morning shadows are different than any other shadows.” First thing in the morning, he explains, the shadows are more intense. With the sun at noon, shadows begin to lengthen. Open plant material further elongates the shadows. “The same plants you plant for texture also create rewarding shadows,” Farmer says giving hinoki cypress as an example. “The whole plant is laced with shadows at any given time, because of the fan-shaped foliage that casts off unusual shadows.”
The day ends with softer light and deeper shadows. “The dark becomes darker, and the light becomes lighter,” says Farmer. He likes white flowers to brighten the garden at dusk, moonflowers especially. Each large white trumpet unfurls in evening and stays open until sunrise. For an added bonus some moonflowers are fragrant.
Sounds, scents and shadows not only tie a garden together, but they also carry through the garden, creating movement and adding sensory dimension to enrich the experience of working in and living with a garden.
1532 Jarrettsville Road | Jarrettsville, MD, 21084 | 410-557-4213
Spring is simply the best time of year for those of us who love plants. With leaves unfurling and flowers in bloom, one just can’t get enough time in the garden—or enough space for all of those plants we love to take care of. Feed your inner botanist with a shopping spree at the Cylburn Arboretum’s 46th annual Market Day plant sale. You can get your hands on a huge variety of annuals, perennials, native plants, and even vegetables. Whether you’ve got a certified green thumb, or have yet to successfully keep a house plant alive, this plant sale has something for everyone—particularly because the arboretum’s own garden professionals will be on hand to offer expert advice on how to incorporate plants into your space, and then how to keep them healthy and beautiful. Read More →
Last week Margot Shaw, founding editor of flower magazine, was the 25th anniversary lecturer during Art Blooms at the Walters Art Museum. She spoke about a year in the life of flower, not a plant, but her magazine. A fellow Hollins graduate, I felt lucky to be included in a dinner with her. Read More →
It may still be too early to fully visualize how gorgeous your garden will be in a couple of months, but it’s exactly the right time to sign up for any (or all) of Butterbee Farm’s Flower School offerings. The series of classes begins in June, but space is extremely limited, so early registration is a must. Each class covers a different subject—from “Getting an Early Start” to “Growing Edible Flowers” to “Your Autumn Garden.” Even for experienced gardeners, the folks at Butterbee probably have something to teach about gardening. After all, they’ve been named Baltimore’s Prettiest CSA by the City Paper, and its 2014 CSA is already completely sold out. But that just means you’ll have to grow your own flowers this season—which they’re happy to help you learn how to do. Read More →
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