Clean-up Conundrum

The fall clean-up is underway. It always feels a little bit too early because the garden still looks as though it is not fully done with the season. Like a popular party girl reluctant to call it a night – hair now sexily disheveled, clothes sorta fetchingly rumpled, looking a bit tired but still enthusiastic and frankly, should be heading for bed before she embarrasses herself and passes out. I hold back on the drastic chop-down for as long as the weather will permit.

As much as I think it is nice to leave a good portion alone for winter visual interest and food for birds, I’ve found it to be a bit impractical. For access to plant the hundreds of bulbs amidst all the perennials, there needs to be serious cut back and clean up. Experience has shown that whatever is let to remain invariably gets smothered with the first snowfall.

At the end of it all, I’m left to bring everything to order in a hurry as the garden must get ready for Open Day in spring. It’s invariably a short window for planting and gussying up. Compelled to wait for the snow to melt, means the ground is too mushy and there’s danger of trampling over emerging growth. Besides, so much else needs doing and time is at a premium.

I do leave some ornamental grasses untouched just to ease my mind. In reality, the shrubs and trees around the property provide the birds with adequate shelter and whatever they enjoy foraging. The woods in the back are certainly a winter resort for all critters. The bird feeder merely supplements their diet. That is to say, the birds are well provided.

Visual interest in winter is actually provided by other elements in the garden. In the front, the perennial beds might be bare but the espalier owns the focus. Its geometrical design looks good throughout and a dusting of snow highlights it beautifully. The shadows that hit the ground in the low winter light is so extra – ephemeral art.

In the back, the grid design of the potager/herb garden looks fine at all times but it really steps up its game in the snow – especially as it is viewed from the house at a height. Ditto the checkerboard garden.

And in the meadow – this is a hub of avian layovers and flight paths. At any given time, there is some sort of activity going on – one just needs to slow down and watch.

The sculpture ‘Wind Song’ is a major presence all through the year but once the meadow has been given its annual clean up, it literally shines. The reflections and scattering of the sunlight and the shadows it casts make it a quiet performance art. I should have a camera set up to capture it throughout the cold months. Hmmm, this year, maybe I will.

Despite popular advice to keep plants untouched, I’m really quite comfortable to do the big clean-up in fall. There’s enough left in the garden for both birds and gardener to pass the winter peacefully. And, when springs comes around, I have a bit of a head start.

Note: The Untermyer Symposium ‘Restoring Historic Gardens’ is this Saturday, October 19. Hope you are coming!

The walkway
Note the shadows!
Herb garden
Checkerboard garden
“Wind Song”

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Coming To Grips

Last Sunday was all gardening. I already feel like I’m racing against the clock. The focus was on getting the pots of tender perennials and tropicals into the greenhouse. It’s a process. First, after the tomato plants are evicted, the greenhouse has to be cleaned thoroughly. Inside and outside. Then, once the glass panels are dry, the insulating sheets of clear bubble-wrap must be put up. Lastly, all the winter occupants are made ready for their move indoors.

Any weeds that have crept in are removed from the pots. Yellowing or unhealthy looking leaves and stems are removed. Plants such as boxwood, bay and myrtle must be given a proper trim. Finally, the plants and pots are ‘power-sprayed’ with water to wash off all dirt and any critters hiding around. Then, and only then, are they brought into the greenhouse. Doing everything possible to keep pests and disease away is critical.

Since space is at a premium and there must be good air circulation around the plants, there is a priority system. There are first class and second class residents. The citrus, bays, boxwoods, myrtles, hibiscus, agapanthus, rosemary, thymes and auriculas are first class. All the fancy leaved and scented geraniums as well as other herbs are second class – while I adore them, they are not as precious and can be easily replaced. So, what cannot be accommodated in the greenhouse will either be given an alternate place to spend the winter or handed off to willing recipients. C’est la vie.

This is an all day endeavor and how my body feels the next day proves it is more physical than it sounds. Hauling the big pots in is the hardest and for this, help arrived in the form of nephews. Young and strong, they were an enormous help. Twenty years ago, the task was done by just my husband and myself. Now, we dare not risk our backs by being foolhardy. Sigh. It’s not easy coming to terms with the reality of aging. After all, in my head I’m still twenty-five.

With the precious plants safely under cover, the attention is now on cleaning up, raking leaves, depositing the annuals on the compost pile, cutting back and such. The bulbs ordered with much hope and ambition in July have arrived. They will go in by the first week of November. I can’t wait to have all 700+ planted – my muscles are already cringing in fear of the aftermath. By that point, winter cannot come too soon. The very thought of rest is pure heaven.

Note: The Untermyer Symposium is on Saturday October 19. Should be quite informative, inspiring and, interesting. Get your tickets now!

Paperwhites coming along
The wall.
Getting the greenhouse insulated
Able bodied helpers
“Power-washing”
Herbs to dry
The last of the tomatoes. Green tomato cobbler on the menu!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Occupying October

October. Time to get busy in the garden. Even though temperatures are higher than usual and it feels so glorious, I know that failing to get cracking on the chores will only have me full of regrets should a sudden frost arrive or worse, snow. Best not to take any chances.

The Things To Do page provides a monthly list of garden tasks and I hope it is useful. However, being human, one forgets to check in a timely fashion. So, I thought I’d start giving a reminder at the start of each month. For this month, I’m providing the whole list below just so you can see that October demands a lot.

Things To Do In October

1. Yes, weeding continues!

2. Time to plant perennials and trees. Give a good dose of compost to each. Water regularly. Perennials already in place can be divided and planted as well.

3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest.

4. Collect seeds. Store in labeled envelopes in a cool, dry space.

5. Last call to root cuttings of geraniums, coleus, rosemary etc.,

6. Get all pots of tender perennials into clean greenhouse or other winter shelters. Wash plants and pots thoroughly first – minimizes pest infestation.

7. Plant bulbs as weather gets consistently cooler. Bulbs can be planted once soil temperature gets down to 55 degrees right up to the time the soil freezes solid.

8. Rake leaves. Add to compost pile or deposit in woods.

9. Give compost heap a good stir.

10 Clean out vegetable garden except for cool weather plants that are still producing. Apply several inches of compost on cleared beds. Plant green manure to enrich the soil – optional.

11. Clean and put away (or cover) outdoor furniture.

12. Check what needs repairing, repainting, replacing and get to it!

13. Lift tender bulbs, corms and tubers. Store in dry, frost-free place.

14. Drain and close all outdoor water faucets. Empty rain barrel and hoses. Store.

15 Clean all equipment and tools. Store neatly.

16. As temperatures plummet, protect tender shrubs and immovable  frost sensitive pots and statuary. I cover the former with burlap and for the latter, I first cover with sturdy plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent.

17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.

18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter. Put up nest boxes for the spring.

19. Get into the autumnal spirit – fill window boxes and urns with seasonal plants and produce.

Sincere gardeners never stop learning. On the 19th of this month, the Untermyer symposium is sure to instruct us all. Do sign up for it. While the topic is on restoring historic gardens, there will surely be plenty of ideas and advice to be picked up for ones own garden.

Join us for a symposium on different approaches to historic garden restoration. Suzanne Clary, President of the Jay Heritage Center, Howard Zar, Executive Director of Lyndhurst, and Timothy Tilghman, Head Gardener of Untermyer Gardens, will share their experiences in restoring great New York gardens and landscapes. A pictorial introduction to each garden will be followed by a discussion moderated by well-known garden blogger Shobha Vanchiswar and a tour of Untermyer Gardens by Timothy Tilghman.”

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar