Dallying With Dahlias

I’ve always seen the garden as a natural laboratory and the gardener as the chief scientist or principal investigator. In the making of a garden, we are but creating something of our own ideas and vision. Under certain given parameters of geography, climate and such, the gardener attempts to come up with something that fulfills a human need. These are contrived spaces where nature is manipulated. And when the hypothesis is realized, the work is deemed a success.

In truth, sowing a seed is nothing but an experiment.

A gardener will tweak, adjust, change and alter things all the time. Improving and trialing plants, colors, designs, shapes and always pushing boundaries both literal and metaphoric. No two gardens are ever alike because conditions are never identical even on plots sitting side by side. It’s always about experimenting.

Trying a rose in a seemingly unsuitable location in front of the air-conditioning compressor only to find success because nobody else accounted for the ideal combination of light, rich soil and the healthy air circulation resulting from the compressor hard at work cooling the house.

Or planting apple trees in the perfect location but ignoring the big cedar tree on the adjoining neighbor’s plot. Apples abound but all affected by cedar rust. The fruits taste fine but don’t look great. An experiment with mixed results. I have personal experience here and I’ve learned to live with blemished fruit. Keeps me humble but well fed.

We experiment with watering, light/shade requirements, new plants, new combinations of colors and/or plants, locations, styles – every effort is a mix of knowledge, hope, risk and curiosity. That last factor is the very essence of the mind of a scientist. Curiosity – the more we have it, the better the gardening experience. It’s not really about the successes at all. Success feels good but like a drug, one just keeps wanting more of it. Failures teach much more. There’s real growth from learning from mistakes. But curiosity is what drives the whole experiment, Every single time.

Curiosity makes us ask questions – What if? How about? Will this work? Why?

This year, my biggest experiment was all about growing dahlias. I tried them in pots and in ground. The pots got a head start because they went into the greenhouse as soon as it was vacated by all the over-wintering plants. The ground however had to wait till it was warm enough.

The spot I’d thought would be good for planting dahlias turned out to be smaller and not as sunny. Still, the plants grew and bloomed. It became crowded though. The asters nearby became thuggish and encroached on the newcomers. Clearly, my first mistake was in ordering too many dahlia tubers. That was sheer greed. And beginners optimism.

I ran out of big pots and crammed all the remaining tubers into a space that was inadequate. The lilac tree on one side cast more shade than I’d realized. So it is quite surprising that I got a fair number of beautiful flowers. The site however was not attractive at all. Despite the staking, it looked rather messy. Okay, ugly.

The pots did well. They started early, got moved outside and grew handsomely. A couple of them got attacked by some bug but appeared to overcome the problem on their own. I was too busy traveling so failed to be diligent. Pots were also watered regularly by a drip system set up for all pots in our absence while the dahlias in the ground were left to Nature’s mercy. In both cases, they came through well. I understand from dahlia veterans that this was a difficult year. Intense heat and lack of rain affected when the plants started blooming. Commercial growers were uncertain about the harvest. Last Christmas, I’d been given a dahlia subscription for this year and the weekly bouquets came with a fair amount of filler blooms which I’m pretty sure was not part of the deal. There simply weren’t as many dahlia flowers this year. I personally did not mind. The farmer is not responsible for the weather and did their best to please the subscribers.

Overall, I learned a lot and was quite happy with the whole experiment. Furthering the experiment, to store the bulbs through the winter, I’m following the traditional rules to pull up the tubers from the ground, clean and air dry, then store in cool, dry and dark location. Checking periodically to make sure they hadn’t gone moldy or desiccated. The tubers in pots however are going as is inside the unheated basement. The plants have been cut down of course. But I want to see how those tubers do compared to their naked cousins. I’m also experimenting similarly with the Canna, dwarf banana and Elephant ears. Other than all the big pots really crowding up the multi-purpose basement, the investment is very minimal. But the pay off could be good! Shall report on how it all goes.

Additionally, I’ve all together abandoned the idea of replanting dahlia tubers in the ground. I simply do not have a really suitable spot. Instead, I’m going to put them all in pots and keep them in the greenhouse throughout their growing season. It’ll be the dahlia cutting garden under glass (doors open of course). They’ll get enough light, regular watering, good air circulation. We shall see if this pampered set up yields an abundance of flowers.

Hot house beauties of a sort!

Note: I’m very pleased to be participating in the KMAA ‘Members Best’ Art Show at the Katonah Library all through November. Please visit this exhibit – creativity abounds!

My painting in the KMAA show’. Moon Shine’_watercolor

 

Dahlia in a pot

Dahlia plot looking unkempt

Dahlia in pot – ready for winter sojourn

Canna before being pulled up and prepared for storage.

Tropicals before being cut and moved into basement

Dahlia and Canna. Awaiting cleaning, drying and storage.

The meadow ready for bulb planting

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

November Norms

‘November Norms’

November is a minimalist

Simply clad in earthy dress

Giving thanks with quiet grace

Nothing more, nothing less.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Things To Do In November

1. First and foremost, put away all Halloween decorations. Set up Thanksgiving display – gourds, pumpkins, corn husks, ornamental kale and cabbages, chrysanthemums and asters.

2. Having cut back plants and cleared debris, mulch all plant beds with those recently raked leaves.

3. Hurry up and finish all pending tasks from last month!

4. Finish planting spring flowering bulbs.

5. Protect pots to be left outdoors, vulnerable plants such as boxwood, certain roses, and garden statuary.

6. Fill bird feeders. Regularly!

7. Be prepared for snow and ice. Keep snow shovels, grit or sand, firewood stocked and handy.

8. In case of power outage, have candles, flashlights, matches and batteries on the ready. A hand-cranked radio too – this has been a real asset when we’ve lost power and Wi-Fi for a length of time.

9. Finish raking leaves only where necessary. Let the leaves remain wherever possible. I clear walkways and paths and my tiny ‘lawn’ which receives too many leaves that if left in place, completely smother and snuff out all the growth beneath.

10. Clean and store tools. Get appropriate ones sharpened.

11. Start setting aside seed and plant catalogs. Soon you will be planning for next year!

12. While the weather is pleasant enough, keep on weed watch!

13. In the greenhouse, be sure the heater is doing its job. Ventilation is also important to keep plants healthy.

14. Start a routine for regular watering of plants indoors. Keep vigil for early signs of pests or disease.

15. Start growing amaryllis and paperwhites for seasonal cheer. Similarly, put bulbs such as hyacinths, muscari , crocus and tulips in for cooling. (I use my refrigerator). In about fourteen to eighteen weeks, you can start forcing them and pretend it is spring!

16. Enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving.

Note: I’m truly enjoying the earthy colors in the garden. Don’t miss the nasturtiums still blooming and a revival in a pot of primroses –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Fall Feelings

Last week, it really felt like Fall was happening. The leaves turned color in what seemed an overnight change. Not as brilliant but beautiful nevertheless. Temperatures came down significantly and concern grew that the show would soon be over with the trees simply dropping the remaining leaves. There was widespread worry about imminent frost. Happily this week, temperatures are back in the 60’s and I feel reassured that we will have more autumnal joys to experience. Now that’s more like it.

I really love a prolonged Fall. Mild days and cool nights, brisk walks in bright sunshine and cozy fireside chats, blushing apples and bold orange pumpkins, leaves in hues of ocher cascading down to meet earth ready with freshly sprung mushrooms, putting garden to bed and planning for spring, Halloween treats and Thanksgiving feasts, a season of gratitude.

In the garden, with the tender plants safe in the greenhouse, I’m delaying the general clean up and bulb planting. With the weather returning to milder temperatures, there is no great panic to rush. Instead, I’m going to use this week to be present for the simple pleasures – those aforementioned walks, appreciating the foliar colors and shapes, gathering with friends for conversation and hot cider (spiked and not) around fire-pits and heaters, fully enjoying every possible minute to be had in the pleasures of the season.

This past Saturday, we hosted a Diwali* party in the garden. The weather was just perfect and everyone was cognizant that this day was a precious gift – very soon, winter will be here and it’ll be much too cold to be enjoying a leisurely meal on the terrace. It’ll have to wait till Spring before we can do it again. Surrounded by the loveliness of the fall garden in senescence, we ate, drank and made merry. The evening ended with lighting the lamps and having some fun with (harmless) fireworks. Nothing like the joy of sparklers to bring out the child within us all. Truly, a befitting way to close out the outdoor partying season. To me, it felt particularly precious because we now live in a time when indoor gatherings are no longer easy. The holidays will certainly be celebrated but we will be in smaller groups, cautiously optimistic for brighter, merrier times to come.

On a more prosaic topic, I’m considering over-wintering my cannas and similar tropicals. In the past, they’ve been tossed on the compost heap as part of the clean up. It’s always felt wasteful So, this year, I’m going to cut back the elephant ears and cannas that are in pots and then move the pots into the garage/basement. An occasional splash of water to keep the tubers from drying out and making sure they are not exposed to extremely low temperatures is all I can offer – lets see if this works. Those plants in the garden will be dug up and the tubers stored much like the dahlias. Fingers crossed!

Yes, I’m definitely feeling the season. Are you?

*For those who may not know, Diwali is the biggest Indian holiday – it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light banishing dark, love triumphing over hate. This Festival Of Lights is a huge, joyous celebration of fellowship, food ( mostly delicious sweets) and fireworks. Lamps are lit and the whole world is set aglow. Magical!

Fall glory –

Party ready

Fireworks fun

Lit lamps

The tropicals I plan to save

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Performance Report

Going about the business of autumnal chores and putting the garden to bed, gives me time to review the growing season gone by. Even as we’re closing out the year, gardeners are planning and preparing for the next year. It’s a time of ending and beginning, the cycle of life in continuum.

I think about what plants did really well and what did not. Most importantly, I ask why. Often, the weather had a big part to play. A cold/warm spring, early arrival of summer, a lack of or too much rain, long spells of high heat – the garden responds to every shift and change. The consequent reduction in pollinators and/or increase in pests. Plants that thrived before may now be struggling as surroundings have changed – growing trees, new construction, trees coming down create a whole new environments. From sunny to shady or vice versa, the change demands a rethinking of the plantings.

And then, there is ones own part in the success or failure of the gardening season. This, for me, is the most humbling experience. Owning up to my mistakes and recognizing that the high points had less to do with me and more to do with the grace of Mother Nature or sometimes, pure dumb luck puts my role into perspective. I see this as a positive thing. Arrogance has no place in good gardening. The more I garden, I realize how little I know. Nature has been at the job since the beginning of time after all. She teaches well but does not tolerate big egos.

This year in the garden began well but then a cold snap affected the apple blossoms that were getting ready to bloom. No apple harvest. On the up side, the tulips lasted longer. Very hot, humid days with scarcely any rain marked the summer. The flowers of oakleaf hydrangea got roasted. Leafy green veggies bolted fast. Some plants like the native wisteria bloomed later. Others bloomed early and for a shorter period. The Concord grapes had been coming along really well but then they succumbed to the heat and drought and simply surrendered and dropped to the ground. Things were discernibly out of sync though in general, native plants not only fared better, they saved the summer garden.

Climate change underway.

I noticed fewer butterflies which was hugely upsetting. The diversity of bees observed lifted my spirits somewhat.

Then, by going away for half the summer, I left the garden to manage on its own. While we’d set up a watering system for the plants in pots, the rest of the garden had to deal with the temperamental weather and gross negligence. The garden actually coped rather well. But not the vegetables. Lack of due diligence put paid to them. I’m reconsidering the whole summer vegetable garden – what;s the point if I’m not going to be around. And I do like to get away for a good part of the summer – I realized just how much when travel was not possible the previous two summers.

Some plants did not do so well because yours truly had not divide them last year. Often, older plants do not bloom in abundance because they’ve grown too large. By dividing, there are not only more plants but they do better overall. Time constraints and laziness are my pathetic ‘excuses’.

The big success were the dahlias. To be fair, this being the first time I’ve grown them, there is no reference point to determine the degree of success. From all reports, the dahlia season was delayed due to the weather. Since my return from vacation in mid-September, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a daily crop of new and assorted blooms to display around the house. I’m desperately hoping they will keep blooming for a few more weeks. Weather Gods! I beseech you to prolong the season!

Fingers crossed I do right by the tubers so they’re in good shape for next year.

So, what is the final performance verdict?

Garden – an all-round good worker. Highly self-motivated, resilient and independent performer.

Gardener – Average worker with potential to do much better. Needs to improve time management skills. More focus and less distraction recommended.

Please indulge me as I proudly share some images of my dahlias –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Catching Up To October

It serves me right. I was away for a good part of the summer, neglecting routine garden chores. So now, I’m busy playing catch up. The fall chores are slowly getting done but my goodness, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. A great deal on the To-Do list remains. The need to press on is primarily because we’re racing with the clock – before it gets too cold.

The big focus this past week was to get the tender plants that are in pots into the greenhouse. First the greenhouse is given a thorough cleaning inside and out. The panes must be squeaky clean to let in the sunlight. Before the plants are taken indoors, they must be trimmed and cleaned, their pots washed to remove debris and stowaways. Hygiene is important so the greenhouse doesn’t become a breeding ground for disease and pests. I like taking the necessary time and effort to do this task properly. It can be quite meditative.

Typically, I begin this work in mid-September. This year, it waited till October. A couple of weeks makes all the difference. The greenhouse was washed and prepared last weekend. During the week, we began corralling the pots so I had a work station to trim and clean. Through the week and weekend, this chore went on. The greenhouse is small – just 8’x4’. It gets filled to the gills easily. Moving the large pots is a physically demanding job. Thankfully, but for the largest of bay trees, all the plants are now safely ensconced inside. Said bay will go in very soon. There will then be no more room in the horticultural inn.

Apart from making the plants more compact which is better for small space accommodations, a nice result of the trimming work are the cuttings of rosemary, bay and other herbs that I enjoy giving away to friends who love to cook. We ourselves use them to ways that will perk up winter dishes. Mint leaves are turned into an Indian chutney which is delicious in sandwiches as is or combined with cheese or chicken. Sage leaves are fried flat and stored in the fridge – laid over soups or salads, they look pretty and taste quite sublime. Curry leaves are sauteed with black mustard seeds and turmeric – they are essential for certain South Indian dishes. Kept in the refrigerator, they last a long while. We create little bundles of bouquet garnis with rosemary, bay, marjoram, oregano and lavender – perfect to flavor hearty winter stews and roasts.

Before tossing off annual plants on the compost heap, we save those that can be used in arrangements to decorate or transformed into delicious food. Nasturtium leaves are turned into pesto as are the last of the basil. Note: I use cashews instead of pine nuts to make the nasturtium pesto. I also skip the Parmesan.

Time permitting, I’m going to freeze fennel and nasturtium flowers in ice cubes – should be pretty in holiday cocktails.

A lot of other chores must be dealt with before the Big Bulb Planting marathon. Almost a 1000 bulbs will be arriving soon! Talk about overwhelming. But, I’m pausing, taking deep breaths , admiring the dahlias and all the fall flowers still going strong and, plugging away at my tasks. It will all get done. All hands on deck.That’s what family is for right?

Greenhouse filling up …

Topiaries to baby under lights in the house.

Ball of bay

Still life

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

October On Tap

Ah October! This month offers so much. Fall in full swing. Crisp, brisk weather, gorgeous burnished colors, the smell of wood smoke and pumpkin spice, bonfire gatherings, fireside reads, rain softened soil for new plantings. putting garden to bed days, pumpkin picking, apple tasting, soup simmering, Halloween decorating, long walks, reuniting with sweaters and fleece – yes, this month is full of blessings.

While there’s much to do in the garden, the weather makes it pleasant doesn’t it? Bug free, dry, cool air goes a long way in getting the chores done.

What To Do This Month –

1. Yes, weeding continues! Last call so be thorough.

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 re-planted as well.

3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest and to support animal life.

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 before relocating – minimizes pest infestation.

7. Plant bulbs as weather gets consistently cooler. Bulbs can be planted until soil freezes solid.

8. Rake leaves. Add to compost pile, existing beds or deposit in woods. This has become a controversial subject but, I believe there is a compromise.

I do not let the leaves remain over my tiny lawn because I’m surrounded by trees so, the leaf fall is heavy and tends to smother all the grass, clover and friendly ‘weeds’ that support insects in early spring. I let leaves remain in the various beds and all over the meadow. As a result, there is plenty of leaf litter for butterflies, squirrels, birds and other critters who depend on it for shelter and food.

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/cover-crop 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.

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 sheets of plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent. They end up looking like big, brown packages ordered by the wildlife.

17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria so as to protect from damage due to strong winds and ice/snow. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.

18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter.

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

20. Take time to enjoy the beauty of the season.

Let’s make it a great week!

A few seasonal glimpses from the garden and elsewhere:

Somewhere in Brooklyn

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Shared Wisdom

Gardeners are the best sharers don’t you agree? From produce and plants to cuttings and advice, we share generously. It’s no wonder then that we love being in each others company. And the longer I garden, the more there is to learn.

So this week, I’m passing on three things I learned recently.

#1 – As we well know, comfrey makes a most effective organic fertilizer. The usual method is to fill a bucket or other container with comfrey leaves, add water, cover tightly and let it sit for some weeks. Over that time, the leaves breakdown and the whole turns into rich, liquid plant food. Simple. The reason for that tight cover is to contain the odor – it stinks to high heaven. The final product is diluted as necessary to feed the plants.

I’ve just learned of another way to use comfrey. Dry the leaves, crumble them and sprinkle into pots to boost seedlings and plants. This past weekend, as I was putting the herb garden to bed, I cut back vast amounts of comfrey. I’m going to dry some of it. Towards the end of winter, the plants in the greenhouse will receive a generous serving of dry comfrey to get them ready for the move outdoors.

If there is a prolonged spell of rain during the growing season as it was this past summer, the dry comfrey will come in good use. A liquid feed on wet days would be useless.

#2 – Right after the last snowfall last winter, I sprinkled Shirley poppy seeds all over a snow covered area in the meadow where I wanted them to bloom. As the snow melted, the seeds would settle on the earth and take root. I’d heard that this very simple method worked well. Not for me. It was a total failure.

But last week, I learned of a better way. Mix the seeds in sand, sift this over the planting area. Tamp down with a brick or board. Give a misting of water. Seedlings should appear in about 3 weeks. Thin out as needed. I’m going to try this next year.

#3 – My Brugamansia did not put up a good show of flowers this year. I blamed the crazy weather. But, on reflection and remembering another tip I’d picked up a while back ( and forgotten), this plant needs very diligent feeding. So, starting next growing season, weekly doses of dry comfrey are in order. Will report back in a year!

I’d love to hear your tips – please share!

Mature common comfre

The lesser known blue flowered comfrey

Comfrey (by the sculpture) in early spring

 

Poppies

From my seedpod series – watercolor of poppy pods/heads

Watercolor of poppy

Brugamansia

My watercolor rendition

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

On A Wing And A Prayer

The great bulb planting effort continues. As the meadow got embedded with a vast mix of camassia, alliums, hyacinthoides and fritillaria, it struck me yet again how much optimism is required in the work of gardening. With no guarantee of success and so much left to the mercy of Nature, a gardener must go largely on hope and faith. One can do everything right but without the benevolence of the weather/climate gods, it can all go wrong.

Through setbacks and struggles, failure and fumbles, the true gardener persists. We learn something from every outcome, get better, get stronger and, trust that things will work out in the end. When they do, we are grateful. We don’t achieve anything alone. Our dependence on Nature is something we understand all too well.

The rotund bulbs encased in thin, papery layers look innocuous. One would hardly suspect that each will yield a plant that will transform the spring garden into a most beautiful celebration of the season. That is the promise the bulb holds within. The gardener fully believes in that promise just as she does in every seed and plant that is sowed. Both bulb and gardener, do their best and leave the rest up to the powers that be. That is pretty much all one can do. Simply do ones best and keep faith that it’ll be all right.

Hmm. It isn’t always easy to work hard when much is uncertain. Or stay positive when things go wrong. But, gardening has taught me repeatedly that if I work diligently with good intent and believe in a good outcome, most often it will. And when the results are less than ideal, to accept it with grace because all is not lost – a new opportunity to try again will come around next year. The garden keeps giving new chances.

I’ve also learned that sometimes, the fault lies within me. My expectations were unrealistic or, that I had not done my part as well as I ought. The next time around, I will do better.

That’s a life lesson well worth learning early.

Here are some images of bulbs in bloom this past spring and preparing for the spring to come:

Mix of bulbs waiting to be planted

A drill is very useful

Planting bulbs in the meadow

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bulb-Manic Season

My mania showed this past weekend as I unpacked the shipment of bulbs. Sorting and combining the bulbs for the assigned areas is easy. Looking at the quantity at the end is hugely intimidating. What was I thinking when I placed the order way back in summer?

I was dreaming of swathes of color in myriad shapes all through the spring. Old favorites and a good measure of new choices. A few deeply coveted but pricey ones. In my mind’s eye, I saw bursts of early, minor bulbs announcing the arrival of spring. Then a wild party of loud, happy daffodils and fritillaria seeming to rise and bob from a gurgling brook of blue scillas and hyacinthoides frothing with blue and white muscari. Followed by an impressive parade of alliums and camassia accompanied by ornithogalums and nectaroscordum (now classified as Allium siculum). And that was just the meadow.

In front, a riotous mix of tulips punctuated by the dark purple/plum beauty of precious F. Perica, will be the stars of the season. Later, the irises, alliums, camassia, nectarosordums will weave their magic with the emerging perennials. That’s what I was thinking.

Confronted now by about a thousand bulbs I did pause briefly (very briefly) to question my sanity. My family, severely guilt tripped into helping with bulb planting have actually come to terms with what they recognize as a mania in me. But being long-suffering sports and wanting to avoid any more guilt I might lay on them, they went to work.

The front garden has been completed. The meadow will wait till next weekend. I also potted up a slew of bulbs – covered securely they will spend most of the winter outside in a sheltered spot and safe from curious critters. In late winter, as the bulbs awaken and start emerging, the pots will be brought inside to jump start our spring. Just in time to revive our winter weary spirits.

I put in a bunch of hyacinth bulbs for cooling a month ago – they will be ready for forcing in January. The perfect antidote to the winter blues that start setting in post-holidays. This past week, I started a fair quantity of paperwhites and amaryllis. The former should be ready for Thanksgiving and the latter will enhance the holiday atmosphere through December.

With so much joy to offer, is it any wonder that I’m completely mad about bulbs?

Note:Enjoy the images below. I’m particularly pleased with the success of my all-natural witch and cat – neighbors walking by took photos and selfies, children thoroughly bought into the display and even stroked the cat repeatedly! On Halloween, many took their family pictures with witch and cat. I absolutely loved knowing that I was able to give my neighborhood some joy and fun. After the dismal holiday last year, we all deserved a very happy Halloween.

Said witch and her pet head to the compost heap in the woods today. The pumpkins will be split open to not only help with their decomposition but many woodland creatures will be able to feed on them.

I put in my watercolor rendering of some bulbs because at this time, bulbs are growing only in pictures and my mind.

Natural born witch and cat by day.

Sorting bulbs

Potting up

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Timely Tasks

It’s been a hectic pace in the garden. I spent the weekend entirely attending to seasonal demands. The tiny greenhouse is now packed to to the gills with the tender members of the garden. Taking advantage of the extended warm weather, I took my time to carefully trim and clean all the plants (and pots) before moving them into this prime space.

With some of the clippings, I started root cuttings. A nice variety of various geraniums both fancy leaved and scented, bay, rosemary, boxwood, myrtle, plumbago (an experiment) and Dichondra. Little bundles of bouquet garni were made with more clippings of bay, rosemary and thyme – they will be used through the winter to flavor hearty stews, soups and sauces. I made several batches of nasturtium pesto to freeze and some bottles of rose-geranium lemonade.

All the snakeroot was pulled out – this native is simply too aggressive. It had spread itself all over and was choking any plant that got in its way. A true thug. With the removal, I could feel the garden give a sigh of relief.

In comparison, the ornamental raspberry seemed almost shy. Almost. That got ruthlessly edited but not eliminated. A small bit was left in the meadow and will be monitored closely so as not to let it get unruly again. In the newly opened up space, I’ll add asters and other well-behaved natives.

A weed patrol was also conducted. They too take advantage of unseasonable warmth but I’m determined to prevent any of them setting seed. I know weeds are wily things yet hope springs eternal.

As other pots are relieved of their annual contents, they are washed, dried and stored away. It’s a lot of effort but so important for plant hygiene. Come spring, I’m always thankful for the work I did in the fall. With pots clean and ready, it is so pleasurable to get them planted whilst waiting for the plants in the ground to catch up.

All the discarded potting soil,clippings and fallen leaves mean the compost pile in the woods is well fed in autumn. Each spring, it is such pleasure to get rich compost from there. If you haven’t got a composter set up, this is a good time to begin.

Finally, for fun, a pumpkin witch and her cat took up residence in the front garden. Just in time for Halloween. Already they’ve become quite popular and the subject of many photographers as they pass by. Halloween was such a sorry affair last year that I wanted to do my part in making this year much better.

Made up of pumpkins/gourds and other garden materials, they will retire in total to the compost heap after the holiday. Win-win for all.

Full disclosure – I’m also hoping to set an example by demonstrating that using natural, compostable materials is environmentally responsible and can still be fun and creative.

Note : One week to go before my PHS talk! Don’t forget to sign up!

Natural born witch and cat by day.

By night

Clipping, cleaning and washing in progress

Awaiting propagation

A load of leaves headed to the compost

Bouquet garni ready for use

Rose-geranium lemon cordial and nasturtium pesto

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar