Cover-Ups, Concealment And Cutbacks

Yeah, it’s not what you think. Get your mind back into the garden! Winter has arrived – a little too early. Fall is not quite done! On Halloween night, the temperature was in the low 70’s and by the following night, we had a hard frost.

With the tender perennials already ensconced in the greenhouse, I wasn’t too worried about the sudden cold. However, the greenhouse heater is being cantankerous and is yet to kick in. The engineer in residence needs to get it working soon. Or else.

The great bulb cover-upping happened on Sunday. All 700 plus bulbs. With snow expected on Thursday, I didn’t want to take the risk of doing the project in stages. It’s all done now. The assortment of little brown packages are now under their winter blankets of earth and mulch. In my mind’s eye I can see them in splendiferous bloom. Spring cannot come soon enough. Wait, I take that back. Given how erratic the weather/seasons have been, I’m willing to be patient and wait till the appropriate time for spring.

The fallen leaves in the meadow are let to remain to give some cover to the plants and also enrich the soil subsequently. This area does not receive any additional fertilizer so Mother Nature’s free-falling bounty is the one we depend upon. Similarly, other shrubs and all the roses are provided a pile of leaves at their feet to keep cozy. In time, the roses will also acquire a windbreak of burlap for additional protection.

The large pots that stay outdoors all through the year are shielded in the winter. First, they get fully concealed in plastic and then given a more aesthetic looking wrapping of burlap. Throughout the winter they look like big packages left by some careless delivery person.

The perennials have been cut back and it always makes me a bit sad to see the garden so bare. Despite the lingering colors of autumn, the long, dark days of winter loom ahead.

To combat the seasonal sadness, I’ve started setting aside all those gardening magazines I hadn’t got around to reading in the busy months. Soon, the seed and plant catalogs will begin to arrive and they too will join the pile. Since October, the refrigerator has been cooling bulbs for forcing – they’re sure to cheer up January and February nicely. For now, paperwhites are coming up and I’m counting on them to pretty up Thanksgiving. Firewood has been stacked, fresh candles placed in the candlesticks, snuggly blankets rest temptingly on all the couches, jars of pesto, tomato sauce and jellies await impromptu gatherings for board-games and Charades, the list of shows to binge watch is on hand as are novels picked up throughout the year. Winter is suddenly looking mighty attractive.

Note: Be sure to look at the list of garden tasks for November.

The ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show is on till the end of this month. Do visit!

Getting ready for bulb planting.
Rain barrel upturned and left to empty itself before being put away
Ferns from the vertical garden take up residence in the vegetable bed for winter. They too will be covered with a blanket of burlap shortly.
The perennial beds all cut back, bulbs planted and awaiting a layer of mulch.
Fall color still going strong

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Endings And Beginnings

Fall in the garden is such a time of contradiction. It is as much about endings as it is about beginnings. Hope and despair. Plants are in senescence or going into dormancy – but they do so with panache. The colors of autumn are unparalleled.

The gardening season is coming to a close – the frenzied activity is winding down. Outdoor furnishings are getting put away and the retreat to the indoors has become final.

Yet, this is the time to look ahead, plan for the future. New trees are planted. Perennials are divided and replanted for fuller or new beds and borders next year. Hundreds of bulbs are planted with the intent to make a brighter, more beautiful spring. Fallen leaves are gathered to make new mulch to enrich the soil in times ahead. The spent plants pulled up and tossed return as compost to feed the garden a few seasons later.

It’s a time of farewells so we can we say hello again.

Last weekend, the big cut back and clearing commenced in my garden. I always feel a bit sad at this time as I recall the the joy of the spring and summer just passed. The high expectations with which I greeted the new growth. The celebrations held amidst the beauty of the garden. The bounty that graced the table. Sweet memories were made. It feels bittersweet.

But very quickly, with a sense of deep gratitude, I’m planning madly for the next year. In the myriad bulbs I plant and the new plants I select to add to the perennial beds. The fresh resolve to be more dutiful in my care and stewardship, stay on top of chores and make even more time to simply enjoy the garden. Already, I’m giddy with anticipation.

That’s the very heart and soul of the garden – it unfailingly provides us with so many life lessons. To stay optimistic, take chances, own failures, be responsible, work is its own reward, forgiveness is important and so much more. But right at this moment, the big take home is this – we get yet another chance to do better next year. Everybody deserves that.

Note: I have two paintings in the ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show at the Blue Door Gallery. You are invited!

Cycle of life:

(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

Midsummer Musings

The slow, sultry sway of summer has taken over and it is sweeeet. I’ve taken my cues from the season and slowed my pace, lightened my load and simplified my days. I get work done but no new projects are started. Meals focus on fresh, easy to put together ingredients. Garden chores are limited to only what is needed – weekly weeding, watering as required and deadheading only what’s obvious. The garden seems to be enjoying doing its own thing – free-spirited, alive and lush. Kinda bohemian. I appreciate that. Heck, I aspire to it.

I finally got around to cutting back the asters and other fall blooming perennials by one-third and more so they will be fuller and less leggy at that time. During the cut back, I noticed that the Sanguisorba was under attack by Japanese beetles and there was also a general over-presence of slugs. All the beetles I could see were picked off and dumped into a hot soap solution and then a neem oil spray treatment was applied to the plants right after. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to deal with Japanese beetles. Let’s hope the neem does the trick.

An unexpected positive outcome – the allium sphaerocephalon were completely hidden until the asters were cut back. Now, their deep maroon-purple heads lend bursts of color amidst an otherwise overwhelmingly green bed.

Speaking of color, that maroon-purple hue is having a moment in the front perennial beds. The echinacea, alliums, acanthus, butterfly bushes and geraniums are all in variations of that shade. Soon the Eupatorium will join in. It looks like I planned it that way but no, I cannot take that credit. One of those happy accidents of nature that I’ve come to rely on.

The Swiss chard is showing up frequently at meals. Easy to cook and so delicious. The first cherry tomatoes and figs have been savored and now I’m impatient for a regular supply. Zucchini blossoms are the current favorite. Stuffed with mildly seasoned ricotta and fried tempura style, they are just soooo good. Using the flowers also prevents having the inevitable surplus of zucchini to contend with later in the season. We leave only a small number to reach fruition. Just enough for a few ratatouille meals and several loaves of tasty breads to sweeten winter mornings (the bread freezes well).

I made a big batch of arugula pesto last week. There was an abundance of the leaves and it seemed a good thing to make. I froze a large portion and refrigerated some of the pesto to use this week in pasta and also in sandwiches. With all the outdoor concerts and plays we’re attending, picnic meals need to be put together. Sandwiches of arugula or basil pesto with sun-dried tomatoes with or without fresh mozzarella elevate the repast.

And yes, the mojito mint is thriving and being put to good use! FYI – the leaves also make for an appetizing Indian chutney that we use in sandwiches and as a condiment to pair with crackers, samosas and such.

Watching the butterflies and bees make their rounds has become my go-to method for decompressing. It’s very effective – I highly recommend it. Ditto for spending some time taking in the show of fireflies at night.

Before you get lulled into taking it too easy, this is the time to order bulbs for fall planting. It might feel strange to think about next spring right now but take my word – you will miss out on bagging some special and/or unusual bulbs if you wait too long. It’s a nice thing to do when you’re indoors in air-conditioned comfort on a sweltering hot day. You will only be charged when the bulbs are shipped in the fall at the appropriate planting time for your zone. So just get it done!

Now, back to my summer reading and a tall glass of lemonade …

Note: I’m participating in two upcoming art shows in August and September. Do please mark your calendars to check them out.

Enjoy the images of my summer thus far –

Keeping it fresh and light.
Acanthus
Eupatorium getting ready to bloom
Echinacea
Arugula salad with shavings of black truffle.
Swiss chard.
Allium sphaerocephalon
The wall garden. Don’t miss that lone sunflower – a true maverick.
Young pears
Butterfly bush
Ricotta stuffed zucchini fritters with baby courgette attached.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar