I do believe Fall is the busiest season in the garden. There is plenty to do but the weather typically makes it very pleasant to do them.
As I’d mentioned last week, I’ve already taken care of some big tasks. But those were specific to my garden. The comprehensive list below is one that should generally serve all gardens. Get cracking!
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 out as well.
3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest and feeding wildlife.
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 until soil freezes solid.
8. Rake leaves where necessary. Add to compost pile or deposit in woods. Otherwise, let fallen leaves be to provide shelter to critters and protect soil. The leaves will eventually break down to enrich the soil.
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 such dahlias, cannas etc.,. Store in dry, frost-free place. If grown in pots, simply cut down the plant and move the pots into a sheltered space like a garage or basement – water occasionally through the winter just to prevent desiccation of the tubers. In spring, bring pots outside, feed them well and kick start the growth.
14. Drain and close all outdoor water faucets. Empty rain barrel and hoses. Store.
15 Clean all equipment and tools. Store neatly. Get blades and such sharpened.
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.
20. Bring in flowers like hydrangea, seed heads and foliage for seasonal themed arrangements.
21. Take time to enjoy the fall colors and beauty. This is a particularly lovely season.
Fall work in the garden is well underway. The mild weather last week belied the season change. But it actually helped me get a few big chores done – action items which can be onerous when performed in the cold. First, the espaliers of fruit trees got a good pruning. Looks much smarter now and the trees are ready to bear forth next spring. Fingers crossed.
The second big task was to completely redo the handkerchief front lawn. If you recall, this past spring, reseeding was done with Eco-Grass as a trial. This grass is hardy, sends down deep roots and expected to do better than the usual lawn grass. It is meant for slightly higher hardiness zones than mine. But, I wanted to see if I could make it work. The result was not a great success.
As you know, I am not after pristine, mono-cultured lawns. This small area needs, by design, to be a green foreground to the beds of spring bulbs and spring/summer perennials that make splashes of happy colors. ‘Weeds’ such as clover, buttercups. plantain etc., are welcome – they feed helpful creatures. However, the Eco-Grass struggled and looked ragged. So it was decided to remove all of the Eco-grass and other wild growth that had sprung up.
In order to be proper about it, a (rented) sod cutter was used to completely and thoroughly cut and lift up the grass by the roots. This is a big task but the machine really did a great job. Following this step, a good, thick layer of top soil was added on top of which was applied a healthy dose of compost. Finally, grass seeds were thickly applied to encourage a well knit growth that would give the space a lush look. A cover of straw (not hay) was applied to protect the seeds from marauding birds. We chose a blend of Fescue grasses suited to my zone and location specific conditions.
As luck would have it, the rains started just as work got completed. For three straight days it rained. By the following week, there was distinct growth visible. Now, the handkerchief sized area looks quite green and healthy. The ‘weeds’ will, I’m sure, move in soon enough. I welcome the diversity. There will be of course another seed application next spring to take care of winter damage and loss. Along with the other pertinent chores, it is so important to get the fall work done. It ensures success for the following spring.
Note: To reiterate, conventional lawns are terrible because they restrict strain biodiversity, deplete soil health, demand large amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticide/herbicides and support no pollinators. They need to be replaced with a selection of drought resistant, pollinator pleasing, low maintenance alternatives. At Cornell University, they are trialing types of oat grasses and other options to do just that. With opportunities to go up to Ithaca often, I intend to follow along closely on this project. Stay tuned!
Finally, the greenhouse has also been emptied of summer residents, given a thorough cleaning. It stands ready for the winter crowd. This week, I will be clipping, ‘power’ washing the tender plants (and their pots) and slowly start moving them into the greenhouse. I’d like it all completed before the first real frost. Too often we’ve lost some treasures due to our negligence in doing the seasonal tasks in a timely manner.
So many tasks await!
This is, in my opinion a far busier time than spring. Much has to get done before the hard stop of freezing temperatures. So it’s just as well, work in my garden has started. The big bulb planting marathon will be here before we know it! I’d like to think gardeners everywhere are preparing their gardens for the winter sleep and spring awakening. There’s much comfort in knowing we;re part of one of the best communities on earth. After all, we are the privileged custodians of earth itself.
Having thought about how every gardener or anyone who manages a piece of property must commit to doing their part in safeguarding the land and all who inhabits it, we arrive at what we can do and how to do it.
Typically, a gardener is advised to start with the soil. “ Get it tested!” is a commonly heard imperative. So lets begin with the soil in ones plot. In general, it’s good to know the state of the soil. Poor/rich, acidic/alkaline, clay/sandy, microbial content, are all factors that will affect what we choose to grow in it. Amending the soil to get it to be more supportive and nurturing of our desired plant selections is certainly a step to take. I however, and perhaps it is partially because I have a small garden area that is well delineated into smaller spaces, have never tested my soil. In the early years, I had the good intention of testing but never did. Then, over time I decided not to do so. Let me explain.
I believe the character of the soil in an area is a result of the general conditions it is in as well as how it has been managed. Management of the soil implies how it has been treated by humans – over fertilizing, use of pesticides, not providing mulch or groundcover, allowing soil erosion and/or mineral depletion etc., Hence, the basic soil will be what it is and sound practices can preserve and/or restore it to its natural state. I have observed that the general type of soil if amended say with clay to make it less sandy and slow water drainage, eventually, over time, reverts to its original state. Same with pH levels. Constant amending is needed. I would much rather grow plants that inherently thrive in those actual conditions. Adding a first round of top soil and a good measure of compost before getting started on the planting is a happy compromise.
Once planted up, mulch by way of something natural such as my preferred bark chips is commonly spread to keep the soil from drying up, protect against temperature extremes, suppress weeds and eventually break down to add to the soils nutrient content. I have since found that adding groundcover by way of low growing plants, reduces the amount of bark mulch required whilst still keeping weeds at bay and preventing rapid evaporation from the soil. Ground cover looks pretty and organically connects all the plantings so it looks less contrived. Soil erosion is also minimized. As a result of this practice, I have little need to keep feeding the beds with compost or water. The selected plants flourish when they’re well matched with the growing conditions.
This leads us to plant selection. As mentioned, they must be appropriate to the location. Soil, light exposure and whether they fit into the gardeners personal design vision are the main factors. However, the most important point here is that in order for a garden to support the ecosystem, at least 70% of the plants must be native to the region. The remaining 30% should not be invasive and should be beneficial to the native pollinators – think peonies, lilacs, spring bulbs, certain clematis, day lily, hosta. They’re non-native plants that have done well in that they enhance the garden and also provide food and shelter to the good insects.
Native plants are hardy, resilient and unfussy. However, some can be over-enthusiastic and take over the space by pushing out the meeker natives. Select wisely!
I’m going to say it upfront – I have never understood the need for large properties if it was not going to be used fully. I see time and time again, home buyers seeking substantial acreage but never utilizing most of the space. It’s one thing to buy land to preserve woodlands, natural water features, specimen trees or extensive gardens that they intend to care for. But that’s hardly ever the case. Most of the property is swathes of lawn with possibly a few trees and any garden or plantings to speak of is kept small and close to the house. I look at the vast, bland lawns and think “what a waste!”.
Large, pristine lawns are passé. Get over those golf course inspired ambitions. They guzzle water, demand copious fertilizers, pesticides and energy. They’re resource and time consuming features. And expensive. Instead, cut the lawns out drastically and whatever is left, let it be a mix of pollinator friendly, environment supporting diminutive workhorses. Plant native trees. Create new beds, Consider growing a meadow instead of lawn. Meadows enrich both the environment as well as our lives. They’re so full of life and movement – never boring!
Despite everything we know today that lawns are unsustainable, there is a deep seated reluctance to shrink those spaces and turn them into lively, thriving eco-friendly spaces. Originally inspired by English gardening trends, lawns became an ‘American’ must-have. There’s really nothing indigenous about them. Even the types of grass we use is not native. So what are we trying to prove? We can do better. Be better.
In general, plant native and pollinator friendly perennials. Keep things simple by staying away from plant divas. Add nesting boxes, bug motels and shelters such as dead wood and bramble. Let fallen leaves remain wherever possible.
Water has been slated to be a major problem in the climate change crisis. Globally. We’re already witnessing it. Too much or too little – it is causing significant damage. A gardener must work to lower the demand for water. By choosing those undemanding native plants and applying mulch and groundcovers one then simply relies on rain to do the necessary watering. This will inform you of the truly hardy plants and the better choices for a sustainable, environment supporting garden.
For plants in pots, watering frequently is required – so collect rain water. Water used to boil eggs and vegetables, once cooled, can also be used.
On the subject of water, immediately reusing that boiling hot water on hard-to-get-at weeds that show up between bricks and stones is a very effective way to kill them off. I’ve been doing this for years – it’s immensely simple and satisfying!
What weeds that show up despite everything ( and they will) are best taken care of manually and regularly. While not particularly a task I enjoy, it keeps me much more aware of how the garden is doing. I notice things that I could easily miss otherwise. The Columbines that pop up wherever they choose and make the place that much more charming. I see where the garden snakes likes to sunbathe. I observe the birds looking for worms ind other protein rich bugs to feed their young, the hidden flowers like lily-of-the-valley waft their perfume and give me pause to enjoy. See? Weeding has its positive points.
Instead of gas powered tools, use electric or manually operated ones. Cuts down on gas and minimizes noise pollution. A little more physical effort on our part will only keep us in better shape.
You get the idea, there is much each of us can do. Must do. This call of the climate cannot be ignored. In the final analysis, we custodians of our unique, sacred spaces must be able to say – “I did my best”.
Note: In the following weeks, I’ll get into things like those plastic pots we accumulate when buying plants and other actionable items towards gardening smarter.
A few environmentally friendly features in my garden –
Following up on my thoughts about how we can become better gardeners. As custodians of our precious parcels of earth, how can we best serve the environment as well as ourselves in a responsible, caring, kind manner and still express our creativity and personal style?
There is plenty out there that preaches about dire consequences if we don’t wholeheartedly embrace everything suggested by the extreme activists. It’s all or nothing for them. Personally, I find this aggressive approach unnecessary and somewhat bullying. It fosters guilt and resentment and frankly sucks the joy out of gardening.
On the other hand, the climate change deniers are at the other extreme and their attitude of not caring at all about the clear evidence on the climate crisis is maddening and can generate a feeling of ‘Why bother doing my part if others are not doing anything at all?’. This results in total inaction.
I believe there is a happy compromise. We can have our own unique gardens along with implementing good environmentally correct, eco-friendly, sustainable practices. But first, we gardeners must ask ourselves a few key questions.
The foremost thing is to ask ourselves why we garden at all. One gardens because one enjoys the outdoors, immersed in nature. Where, creating a beautiful, healthy garden to nurture both body and soul is vital. A space that soothes, inspires, informs and invigorates and also serves the greater good. Where artistic visions are expressed and simultaneously, the needs of flora and fauna supported. I garden because I must.
By its very nature, a garden is mans attempt at controlling the immediate environment. That area that we ‘own’ to do as we will. However, this cannot, must not, be at the cost of causing any negative impact. Do No Harm is not an oath restricted to physicians. It applies to every one of us. In the garden, it means we work in a manner that is useful, helpful, mindful and joyful. Creating any garden is hard work but by being thoughtful and caring, the labor is worthwhile, noble. A gardener worth her salt knows and embraces the fact that she does not own the garden at all. She is merely the custodian. This is a high honor and a great responsibility. The Earth is counting on us to do right. After all, a garden is not just about plants and their pretty flowers or tempting fruits. It’s about all the creatures who inhabit the garden and live in the ecosystem. This includes the gardener herself.
And that brings us to how we garden. If you believe that the gardener is a part of the garden itself, then surely the idea of best practice is implied. Nothing one implements can be harmful to the gardener and consequently, to any of the living beings in the garden. The solution then, is to go organic. It’s that simple.
As one who has always gardened organically, I know this method is not easy. Instead of spraying chemical pesticides and/or fertilizers and get instant results, organic applications take more diligence and vigilance. Organic products are to be used with prudence because even they, are broad in their action. If it is used to kill one kind of pest, say a tick, the product will affect a whole bunch of other bugs including the good ones. Organic or plant based does not automatically mean safe. Remember, tobacco is a plant product and grown organically or not it harms and can kill humans who smoke or consume it. In the context of the garden, think Round-Up and you’ll see what I mean. That powerful plant-derived chemical which acts swiftly and very effectively, is pure evil. There is plenty of data that proves my point. So, organic is our answer to the how.
Organic gardening comprises a number of aspects. It’s about the types of plants, the soil and how it is amended, water and how it is sourced and used, the tools we use, the wildlife and how everything is connected.
I will go into all those factors next week. For now, lets ponder over how we’re doing in the How department and what we can do better and what we can stop doing altogether.
Keep in mind, we’re trying to do our best but we’re only human. We make mistakes. So self-flagellation of any sort is not allowed. We’re growing better together.
September feels like a fresh start. A new year at school, a return to work after a break/vacation. One naturally looks at the garden anew. There’s still so much growing that it’s easy to think Fall is a long ways away. I think of September as a ‘tween month. It can feel like summer and autumn at the same time! I’ve learned to live like it’s summer but start thinking like its fall. Best to get ready for the upcoming season while one still has time on ones side. In that spirit, here’s my list of garden chores for September.
Things To Do This Month –
1. Continue weeding.
2. Deadhead. Cut back anything that looks ragged or done for.
3. Mow the lawn less frequently. Keep the blade at a height of at least 4 inches.
4. Water judiciously.
5. Get leaf rakes, leaf bags and keep ready. Fall cometh! Remember, leaving fallen leaves in place is an eco-friendly practice except if there is too much and the thick layer is likely to smother what’s beneath or can be a place to harbor plant pathogens. I let the leaves be in the meadow and beds but clear them from paths and my tiny lawn. All gathered leaves are composted.
A great deal of my waking hours are spent thinking about climate change. How could one possibly ignore it when every news cycle mentions climate related crises in practically every corner of the world! An all too short a monsoon in. western India. Too much rain in Pakistan. Unprecedented heat in Europe. A rare but dangerous deluge of rain in southern California. Devastating wildfires in Hawaii and Louisiana. Parts of the United States experiencing unrelenting high temperatures all summer. Storms and hurricanes doing their worst all over the globe. All of these events are happening at the same time and matters are not likely to improve anytime soon.
Needless to say, we are all going to see immediate impacts on our food supply. Grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, poultry and meat. Everything.
In India, because rice crops have been compromised, the export of rice has been suspended so as to have a sufficient supply for domestic consumption. In Europe, we already know the olive harvest will be quite reduced which will mean less production and higher cost of olive oil. In the US, we will see vegetable and fruit supplies affected. Temperature fluctuations directly influence egg production.
Climate change can increase the spread of diseases. Remember how the cost of eggs sky-rocketed earlier this year? The scarcity was due to Avian flu in the chicken population and so egg production came close to a stand still.
If, we, as a global collective don’t act with urgency, the situation will most certainly escalate and become untenable. I’m not trying to be an alarmist but I am calling for attention. And Action. Now.
In my own little garden I see the impact of seasons gone awry. Not as an anomaly of a single year but consistently and erratically. A winter too mild one year followed by a very wet spring. Or, an extremely cold winter but without any snow to speak off and then a warm, dry spring. A too wet summer or a too hot one. Too cold, too hot, not enough rain or too much of it. Nothing is as it used to be.
For the last four or five years. Our fruit trees (apples and pears) have yielded barely any fruit. They bloomed too early for the pollinators to jump into action or not at all (bud drop) when the temperatures soared unexpectedly as though it was already summer. Elsewhere in the garden, depending on the weather the flowers of some plants bloomed early/late. This affects the fauna that are dependent on them. There is the natural sequence of life in the wild (nature) that gets disrupted and the results are damaging and/or unhealthy all around.
With so much unpredictably, its hard to plan in the garden. What, how, why and when we plant are questions we must consider seriously. Whatever we do today has consequences in the near as well as the distant future.
If it all sounds depressing, I understand. It feels too overwhelming and out of our control. However, you and I know – we cannot throw our hands up in despair and give up. Nor can we push through like nothing is happening. There is plenty we can do. While governments try to reach consensus and scientists work on coming up with good solutions and alternatives, each and every one of us must do our part. Conserve, reduce, reuse, recycle, re-purpose, go organic, conserve some more. In every aspect of life.
Since this space is for matters related to gardens and gardening, lets restrict ourselves to just that. I’d like every one of us to carve out some time and then sit down to carefully consider their own gardens and gardening philosophy. What changes have you noticed in your corner? How are you responding to these changes in the short term? How does the long term look?
Over the next two weeks, I’d like us all to seriously think about our role as gardener. Caretakers of a precious piece of Earth. Lets be purposeful, truthful, mindful and thoughtful. Importantly, let’s cogitate from a position of hope and positivity Two weeks from now, I’ll present my own thoughts and plan of action (s). I’d really love to hear from any and all of you. You can either use the Comment space below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
We;re in this together and together we will overcome.
A double feature this week! I missed posting last week as I was in the throes of helping my daughter move into her apartment from where she will attend graduate school. She will be dearly missed. Living at home since the pandemic, she morphed into a very capable gardener and I’d come to rely on her assistance. Fingers crossed she will miss the garden and visit often enough to help out. It’s only a 3 hour 45 minute drive – surely a monthly trip is possible? I live in hope.
A couple of weeks ago, I placed my bulb order for fall planting. A few weeks later than usual due to all the traveling I was doing. As expected, a few of my choices tulips were sold out. Some other favorites were not being offered. I had to find alternatives and make design adjustments as I was placing my order on the phone.
Note: Being able to speak to an actual person is far better than ordering online or by mail. I could discuss alternatives that were suggested when my selections were not possible.
I found out that due to the horrid heat endured throughout Europe last year, the volumes of bulbs were smaller this year. The heat also put paid to certain longtime favorites.
Given this year’s unusually wet, cool summer will in all possibility impact next year’s bulb production. This is the direct result of changing climate. Similarly, other plants will also be affected. We must ready ourselves to shift how we garden and what we plant.
Just yesterday, I heard that the olive oil production this year will be 20% less than last year when it was already lower than usual. The excessive heat over the summer all across the olive growing regions in Europe has caused the olives to drop before its time. I’m bracing myself for a hike in cost.
So, if you haven’t as yet got around to ordering your bulbs, don’t waste any more time. The tulip selections have been seriously impacted. The alliums, camassia and such were not as affected but its only a matter of time that they too will. This is a gentle warning that global warming is happening and we as citizens of the world as well as our governments and corporations must take action before it gets worse. So much is at stake. We cannot ignore the writing on the wall. A reckoning is underway.
As gardeners we are generally so busy doing thing that we mostly miss out on the wondrous goings on in the garden. We see what is in bloom but don’t pay attention to the details of the flower. Similarly, we don’t notice the beautiful and brilliantly designed seedpods specific to a plant. We miss noting details of shapes, colors, interactions of the many critters with the plants and so much else all through the seasons. We think we notice but we don’t really. Mindfulness takes conscious effort and time.
This was made beautifully apparent when I attended a ‘mindful walk’ at the botanical gardens at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY this past Friday. Sarah and Kevin who work there, took our little group on a slow walk where they pointed to plants and trees and highlighted things we had to stop and look closely to truly understand and appreciate the details. Patterns, designs, textures and how they evolve and change over time. There’s always something you notice that you’d missed before. How flora and fauna work together, how colors complement or camouflage, how pollinators are attracted and guided to do their work… the list is endless! This kind of walking is meditative and so uplifting for body, mind and spirit.
Full disclosure – I do my best to be mindful in my garden but it is hard because I’m often distracted by to-do elements – weeds that need pulling, plants that need staking or trimming, what needs watering, who is attacking and munching on whom. It’s much easier for me to go to a public garden and do a really good mindful walk. Perhaps one day, I will be evolved enough to do the same in my own garden. To simply and purposefully observe is a goal.
I sincerely believe that in being mindful, truly present in the garden and in everything else in life is how we will stay aware of changes in the environment, our homes and in ourselves and act accordingly before matters get out of hand. Everything in Nature is connected and together we can overcome any challenge. Together we will thrive. We must.
Note: Some images from past years to get you motivated to order bulbs for fall planting –
No matter where we find ourselves, gardeners are always gardeners. We notice plants that are minding their own business by the side of a street, rush to examine what’s pushing its way through walls of ancient ruins, insist on stopping the car on busy roads to see exactly what flowers are blooming in the wild, quiz farmers and produce vendors at the local market about the hows and whats of growing fruits and vegetables, cajole chefs to share recipes of unusual, out of the box presentations of vegetables ( a mille-feuille or Napoleon using thin layers of crisp eggplant instead of pastry anyone?), going out of the way to visit both famous as well as secret gardens. I’m guilty of all of the aforementioned traits – curiosity of the natural world sustains me endlessly. I know I’m not alone.
That said, here are some things I’ve noticed/learned/enjoyed on this current visit to Provence. Which is by the way, a place very close to my heart. I’ve been coming here for over 25 years and I’m still always experiencing new stuff. This region never ceases to inspire.
Provence is famous for its lavender. All those beautiful pictures of swathes of lavender are true. It really is stunning to see the fields and fields of this herb in bloom. I’ve known that the type that grows in lower altitude is widely used in household products (soaps, detergents and such) and the higher altitude lavender is the fine variety that is used in the perfume industry. The former is pollinated by insects like the honey bee while the latter is wind pollinated. There is also a hybrid type. Even small changes in altitude will influence the quality of any of the varieties.
Last week, I learned that despite France being the luxury perfume capital of the world, lavender is the only product that is truly French. Other flowers and industry components were and still are from former French colonies. Iris from Egypt for example. The region of Grasse, where the top perfume houses have their headquarters was simply selected because of its location – a port easily accessed from other parts of the world serving the perfume industry. One might see an occasional field of roses or some other flower in Grasse but that is hardly what is supplying the industry. Lavender however is a pure homegrown product and yet, its mostly treated like the stepchild of the business. Go figure.
This years olive harvest is being watched closely. Olives are wind pollinated. So when the small white flowers bloom, they depend quite literally on how the wind blows. This year, Provence received an usual amount of ill-timed rains which caused many olive trees to drop a good amount of the flowers. Consequently, it is expected that the harvest will be lower than usual. Quel domage.
I noticed for the first time how well jasmine grows in this region. While I’d been here before in lavender season which extends over a few weeks, I’d not had the pleasure until now to see and inhale the jasmines in bloom. Many home gardens have these plants scrambling up sides of the stones walls to make rather fetching images. Old walls of local stone softened by bright green vines tracing their way around makes for easy design solutions.
On a walk along a nondescript road in the middle of an old village, I noticed a tree bearing fruit amidst a random group of overgrown weeds and shrubs. It was not immediately clear what sort of fruiting tree I was looking at. Starting out yellow and then turning a pink-orange, these almost heart shaped fruits were larger than cherries but much smaller than plums. I picked a ripe fruit, a dried up drupe and a set of leaves and brought them back to the house. The PlantSnap app was no help at all. I still don’t exactly know what it is but on cutting the fruit, the pit looks to me that it is a type of plum. My research continues. Maybe like crab apples, this is a ‘crab plum’.
I’ve also been enjoying interesting creations where vegetables are being used in desserts. Chocolate and cream of artichoke hearts gateaux, popsicles of sugar snap and vanilla bean ice cream covered in a coating of white chocolate blended with peas. And lets not forget that mille-feuille of eggplant instead of pastry. I’ve had sweet horseradish sorbet accompanying a main course. A beet infused potato sliced so fine that it is transparent and somehow made crisp and flecked with blue petals of chicory accompanying an amuse-bouche. Every single one of these and other such dishes was truly delicious. And visually beautiful to boot. I’m now inspired to try my hand at coming up with my own unusual creations. If I succeed in ‘inventing’ even one dish, I’ll be rather chuffed!
And so it goes, the world is a great big classroom and a gardener is its eternal student.
Note: No apologies for the many lavender images! I simply cannot get enough!
The best sort of travel is when one can take a proper break from routine to explore and soak in the surroundings, refresh the mind and fill the heart with a sense of awe and gratitude. That’s exactly what I’m doing here in Provence. I come here because its my happy place. All my senses are engaged and the joy I feel every time is pure bliss.
It is lavender season at the moment so this is when Provence shines at her brightest and looks her very best. Although, I’m told that the poppies gave strong competition till a few weeks ago. It has apparently been a particularly good year for them. They are well on their way out but what glimpses I’ve had of them, I can well imagine the stunning scenes I’ve just missed. Perhaps another year I’ll come in time for lescoquelicot.
To see fields and fields of purple rows of lavender is nothing short of breathtaking. Up close, the thrum of bees purposefully making their rounds of the flowers is almost deafening. The butterflies add further color and movement while the birds compete in song. It is simply marvelous.
Lavender aside, there are other wildflowers in bloom. Geraniums, Spanish broom, chicory, scabiosa, verbascum, poppies, oxeye daisies and several others, some of which that I’m yet to identify are running riot in the meadows, hill sides, along the roads and even amongst some of the lavender. And since they’ve had more rain than usual, there is a green lushness I haven’t seen before. I’m smitten.
I’m able to see how these plants grow naturally, the sort of conditions they like best, the surprising color combinations we don’t typically try in our gardens ( sulfur yellow and pale pink?) – so much inspiration. Simple, common flowers doing a bang up job in beautifying the countryside.
The gardens in my temporary home are also looking lovely. The jasmine is in bloom and sends out a heady fragrance in the afternoon after the sun has warmed the air sufficiently. The small lavender ‘field’ is getting ready to burst into bloom – soon. I’ll have my very own purple haze to enjoy. It should look quite stunning against the soft, gray-green of the olive grove alongside.
And so it goes. Travel opens the mind – to take in new pleasures and often, learn from the old.
Here are some images from my wanderings in Provence –
A lot rides on summer. A season so full of plans and expectations that it feels as plump and juicy as the fruit it bears. It’s time to switch to a lighter schedule so we can make the best of the long light filled hours. Reading lists, picnics, outdoor concerts, beach fun, pool time, ice cream tastings, hammock naps, freshly picked produce, crayon box colored flowers – we demand so much of summer. In our bid for simple, easy living, we expect to do a lot!
And then, there’s summer vacation. Where to go? For how long? With whom? To do what – chill out, sight see, find adventure, reunite with friends/family? It’s as exciting as it is stressful to plan that ideal getaway.
I’ve learned to pare down my own expectations and get very organized ahead. Mostly, I free up my schedule and create more space in my days for spontaneous activities. The to-do list is shortened to the bare minimum. Even in the garden. Weeding, watering, deadheading and lots of lounging to count butterflies and watch birds. Pure heaven. It’s the much awaited period when pleasure is prioritized over purpose. I believe I’ve earned it.
However, it’s what needs doing before going away on vacation that is invariably the challenge. How to best ensure the well-being of the garden when I’m away.
An intensive weeding is done right before. As is the mowing and tidying. I try to leave the garden looking as groomed as possible so on my return, it doesn’t look overly disheveled. Nothing like an unkempt garden to wash off the vacation glow.
Ensuring that the plants are well hydrated is a whole other matter. As I’ve mentioned before, plants in the ground are expected to hold their own – unless it’s been unduly hot, they are not watered routinely. It’s only the plants in pots that get regular quenching. And I have many pots.
In the past, I typically arranged for someone to come periodically to water the pots in various parts of the garden. It was a bit of a hit or miss as it depended wholly on the diligence of the person doing the watering.
This year, we’ve corralled all the pots in one place and set up an automatic system that turns on at a specific time of day for a specific length of time. There’s a moisture sensor attached so it does not turn on the water if it is raining or has done so recently. I just returned from being away for two weeks and the potted plants look lush and fine.
My nephew stopped by regularly to ensure everything was generally okay but most importantly, he cleaned and refilled the hummingbird feeders. I had made a quantity of the sugar solution and stored it in the refrigerator. A word of caution – the feeders must be refreshed more frequently during particularly hot spells because the water can start fermenting and this is unhealthy for the birds.
Overall, this new system, whilst requiring some effort to set up and move pots together, seems to be a better way to serve the plants. At the same time, it requires less of my nephew so he doesn’t feel too put upon by his garden obsessed aunt.
I’m going away again soon and it’s comforting to know that the care of the garden is in hand. So now, back to savoring the joys of the summer. Whats left of it.
Pots gathered together for watering:
The garden at present. I notice some hints of fall! –