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Endings and Beginnings: GBBD, November 2021

November 17, 2021

frosty spireaAs November arrived, Maine’s spell of unseasonably warm fall weather finally ended with nighttime low temperatures down around 20F and heavy frost. This was the signal to go into winter dormancy for any plants that had not already done so.

Nevertheless, there are still a few flowers visible in my garden. These are not really in bloom; rather, they are frozen (literally) in a state of suspended animation, no longer developing but not yet withered.

last lavender 2021 last herbstsonne 2021

Color in my garden is being provided  by some still-colorful leaves of deciduous plants (like Viburnum acerifolium, below) and by berries like those on this cotoneaster.

fall foliage viburnum 2021 cotoneaster berries 2021

cactus november 2021But, right on cue, the houseplants that provide my winter flower fix have begun to bloom. The Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera) opened its first flowers this week, and buds are developing on the potted Cyclamen persica.

cactus 1st flower 2021 cyclamen buds november 2021

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a monthly celebration of flowers hosted by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her website to see November blooms being enjoyed by other gardeners.

Those Inspiring British Gardening Programs

October 29, 2021

Gardeners WorldIn the early 2000s, I enjoyed getting inspiration from gardening shows on HGTV (before that cable channel morphed into “real estate TV”). One of my favorites was a British program called The City Gardener, which featured garden designer Matt James helping city people to transform their back gardens into usable, beautiful spaces. I was sad when The City Gardener disappeared from American television, and I was never able to find anything else remotely like it – until this year.

During the pandemic, I treated myself to a subscription to the British streaming service, Britbox. At first, I indulged my love of BBC dramas.  Then, one night when I was having trouble falling asleep, I made myself comfortable on the living room sofa and watched the first hour of the BBC’s three-day coverage of the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2021 Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. It was both soothing and interesting, and I watched the remaining two episodes on subsequent evenings. When I got to the end of the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, I searched Britbox for other gardening programs and found my way to The Instant Gardener, a garden design series that reminded me very much of my old favorite, The City Gardener. When I came to the end of The Instant Gardener, I watched more BBC coverage of RHS flower shows and then decided to try out Carol Klein’s Life in a Cottage Garden. I quickly became addicted to this series, which, in six episodes, takes us through a year in Carol’s North Devon garden (two months per episode). When I got to the end of the sixth episode, I had all kinds of new ideas to try out in my own garden, but I also felt bereft.

Eventually, this fall, I found my way to the granddaddy of all British gardening shows, Gardeners’ World, a much-loved favorite that has been on the air for more than fifty years. Each weekly episode begins with the host (usually Monty Don) working in his own garden, seemingly unaware of the viewers, until he looks up and says, “Hello. Welcome to Gardeners’ World.” At the end of the program, we are given a list of “jobs for the weekend.” These bookends highlight the intimate feel of Gardeners’ World, where viewers are invited into the gardens of experts and given practical, helpful tutorials and advice.

When I first tuned into Gardeners’ World in September, two seasons were available on Britbox, 2020 and 2021, so I began with the first episode of the 2020 season. As the season began airing in early spring of 2020, the UK was in the throes of its first wave of Covid-19 and the country was in lockdown. The BBC gamely worked to produce a weekly television show under these circumstances. At first, Monty Don was fitted out with a stationary camera in his garden that he could position himself in front of to film. This was soon replaced by a set of motion-activated remote cameras that allowed him to move around in the garden. The early programs focused not only on early spring garden tasks, but also on practical advice about how to make do when garden centers were not open.

As Maine has struggled with a stubborn and discouraging surge of Delta variant infections in September and October, I’ve been both comforted and inspired by the way Brits dug into their gardens during their 2020 Covid lockdown. So avid were viewers for gardening information and inspiration that the BBC decided to expand Gardeners’ World from its long-standing thirty-minute format to sixty minutes each week. Each hour-long episode included footage of various BBC garden presenters in their own gardens; and, at a time when British gardens that would normally be open to the public were closed, the show aired archived footage of visits to famous gardens. When, one week, Monty Don invited viewers to send in short videos of their own gardens, the response was immediate and enthusiastic. Thousands of videos arrived, and the program began to feature several of them each week. These home videos ranged from experienced gardeners sharing both their gardens and gardening tips to new gardeners sharing their first attempts. The range of gardens was amazing: There were home gardens and allotments, ornamental gardens and vegetable gardens, gardens created entirely of houseplants inside high-rise urban flats, balcony gardens, and even a vegetable garden grown entirely in containers on the roof of a houseboat. The videos of kids showing off their gardening efforts were especially charming. Taken as a whole, the viewers’ videos emanated an inspiring “we’re all in this together,” can-do spirit, and provided a sense of community that enhanced the feelings of connectedness already created by Gardeners’ World.

This weekend, I will watch the last episode of the 2020 Gardeners’ World season, originally aired about a year ago as gardens were going into winter dormancy. As my own garden enters the dreary month of November, I’ll turn the clock back to spring and look to the 2021 season of Gardeners’ World for winter warmth and inspiration.

Frostless Fall: GBBD, October 2021

October 16, 2021

Hamamelis 2021In my Maine garden, October has been weirdly warm, with daytime high temperatures 10-20 degrees (Fahrenheit) above normal and with no overnight lows even close to freezing and, therefore, no frost. Plants are not fooled by these summery temperatures; the shorter hours of daylight tell them that it is time to stop putting on new growth and go into dormancy. The leaves of deciduous trees are losing their chlorophyll and dropping to the ground. Whatever the temperature, this is a sure sign of autumn, as are the fringy yellow flowers of our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) peeking out between leaves of a similar color.

But the lack of frost has made it possible for flowers on many plants to continue to bloom. Shrubs of Spiraea bumalda x ‘Neon Flash,’ which began blooming in late June in the entrance garden and on the front slope just below the retaining wall, are still showing off more than a few hot pink flowers against their blue-green foliage.

October spirea entrance garden October spirea front slope

iron butterfly last flowersFurther down the front slope, Vernonia lettermanii (narrow-leaved ironweed) ‘Iron Butterfly,’ which usually struggles to open any of its buds before the first frost, has almost finished blooming. Although I stopped deadheading purple poppy mallows (Callirhoe involucrata) and varieties of coreopsis several weeks ago, they still have buds flowering.

October poppy mallow October coreopsis Sunkist
At the top of the slope, lavender (Lavandula augustifolia ‘Hidcote’) is enjoying a second flush of blooms. The flowers of Sedum ‘Neon’ have turned a deep burgundy as they begin to turn to seedheads, and the flowers of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Pinky Winky’ have also deepened their color. October lavender
October sedum neon October Pinky Winky

In the front border, long-blooming stalwarts Tradescantia virginiana ‘Osprey’ and Geranium x oxonianum continue to flower.

October osprey October oxonianum

Much fuller and more brilliant displays can be found on perennials that normally flower in fall. These include the tall Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ and smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird.’ The latter grows in a protected spot by the foundation of the house, where it often escapes the first frosts and can sometimes continue flowering into November.

October herbstsonne October Bluebird 2021

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a monthly celebration of flowers hosted by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her website to see October blooms from gardens in a variety of climates.

New Front Garden, Year 7: The Woodland Border

October 1, 2021

front garden diagram w woodland borderAt the beginning of September, only two years behind schedule, I finally finished creating the last piece of my new front garden, the Woodland Border. This is a small flower bed (about 120 square feet) on the far side of the grassy path, bordering the woods between the shrubbery and the rain garden.

woodland border site1

I worked on a design for this during the winter and revised it in the spring. The plan called for a mostly native planting, including some plants (e.g., Geranium maculatum) that were in my nursery bed awaiting new homes,many purchased for this planting from Prairie Moon Nursery and local nurseries (e.g., Thalictrum diocum and Phlox divaricata), and a few (e.g., Fragaria virginiana and Viola blanda) that grow wild on my property and could be transplanted here. I also included some non-native stalwarts (Hemerocallis citrina, Iris sibirica, Hosta) that grow well in my garden; I had divisions of these on hand, and I thought they would thrive in this partly shady location.

imageMy original plan was to prepare the soil during the month of June and get plants installed by the end of that month, but June 2021 turned out to be exceptionally hot in Maine – too hot for the kind of heavy work needed for this job (which included cutting down some stray tree saplings and digging out their roots). The result was that I didn’t get to work on the Woodland Border until early August.

woodland border site2I amended my native loamy sand with organic matter (compost and dehydrated cow manure), doing 12 square feet at a time, throughout the month of August. Amending 12 square feet typically took me 2-3 hours of work time, and I did this an average of three days a week throughout the month. I let the amended soil settle a bit while I went away for a week at the end of August, and then put plants in the ground the first week in September. Early September is a good time to plant in my climate; it is usually cool enough not to stress plants, but there is still enough time for new transplants to grow their roots before frost.

woodland border plants spottedIn my world, a planting in the ground never ends up exactly the same as a planting on paper; the realities of three-dimensional space require adjustments to the two-dimensional design. When it was time to plant, I first set out nursery plants in pots, measuring the space between them in my plan and making adjustments as needed. Then I added some divisions dug from my holding area. At this point, it was clear that the planting would not hold all the plants in my design, so I put the spotted plants in the ground and then saw where I could fill in gaps with non-native plants from the nursery bed. I ended up including one daylily and two Siberian irises, but left out spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana). Finally, I finished the front edge of the border by transplanting wild strawberries and violets growing elsewhere on my property.

woodland border planted

This finished planting looked even more bedraggled than is usually the case. But in the weeks since I put these plants in the ground, almost all of them have sent up some new growth, boding well for their health in the  year ahead.

After seven years of work, it is a relief to have all the beds and borders of my new front garden in place. There are still some finishing touches to work on next year, including adding grass seed to the (not very) grassy path and finding a replacement for the decrepit faux-wishing-well cover over the well pump. Then it will be time to get back to work on my seriously neglected back garden.