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October in My Maine Garden

October 9, 2011

This weekend I got home to Maine for the first time since mid-August, when I returned to Gettysburg for the beginning of the school year. I usually get home for a weekend in late September; but this year, my planned trip was aborted when heavy rain in Gettysburg caused a flash flood, which inundated my car in the parking lot at work and kept me from getting to the airport for my flight north. (Really; I’m not making this up!)

the screenhouse and deck furniture were blown askew by Hurricane Irene (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)My visit home each year in October is an intensive four-day trip to prepare my property for winter. The two cords of firewood dumped in the driveway must be stacked before I leave on Tuesday. The screenhouse and furniture on the deck, all of which were left somewhat askew by the winds of Hurricane Irene in late August, must be taken down and put away. All the soaker hoses need to be lifted from the flower beds, cleaned, rolled up, and stored in the basement for winter. If I have time, I’ll also take planters and plant supports in; but those can wait until Thanksgiving if need be. Getting reflectors in the ground to mark the edges of the driveway for the snow plow can’t wait; the ground will be frozen by the time I get home again.

I got in too late Friday night to see what was happening in the garden; but I went out with my first mug of tea on Saturday morning to take a good look around. I could see a few plants here and there that had been blown down by Hurricane Irene, but it had done amazingly little damage. I could also see a few places in the garden (but surprisingly few) that had been touched by frost. The morning glories on the fence and the tall Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ growing beside it at the south end of the fence border are both brown and withered.

One of many hostas eaten by deer in fall (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)Many plants that had not been harmed by wind or by frost, however, had been damaged by deer. As usual, once I had departed in August, deer moved into the garden to browse unmolested and fatten up for winter. The blue and yellow border and the new serenity garden, both of which back up to the woods, had been particularly hard hit. In both these flower beds, hostas (a deer favorite) had all their leaves eaten off, leaving just stems sticking up out of the ground. I was expecting the hosta damage; I was not expecting to see most of the leaves eaten from variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’) or from Astrantia. I had hoped to find flowers on the fall blooming Anemone hupehensis ‘Prinz Heinrich,’ but instead I found a plant whose top half, including any flowers or buds, had been eaten.  The shrubs in the serenity garden fared better. The boxwood (Buxus sempiverens) ‘Green Mountain’ was untouched, as was the Pieris x ‘Brower’s Beauty.’ These plants are generally not considered attractive to deer. But the “deer-resistant” Viburnum cassanoides did not resist as much as I might have hoped.

Deer-resistant boxwood (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Not-so-deer-resistant viburnum (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Geranium x cantabrigiense and Heuchera plants along the front of this flower bed are thriving, but the Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ seem to be dead, with just brown sticks and a few withered leaves showing. This doesn’t look like deer damage, but I don’t know what else might have caused the problem. If these plants don’t appear in the spring, I’ll replace them and hope for a better outcome.

Late-blooming Phlox paniculata 'David' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) I don’t want to leave the impression that all was death and destruction in my garden. There are also many sources of delight in the fall garden. In the fence border, I arrived just in time to see the last flower fading on the fall-blooming daylily (Hemerocallis) ‘Sandra Elizabeth,’ and I was surprised to find one unopened bud still remaining on Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Minaret.’ I also found a few white flowers on the tall Phlox paniculata ‘David.’

Fading last bloom of Hemerocallis 'Sandra Elizabeth' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Late season bud on Hemerocallis 'Autumn Minaret' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
In the blue and yellow border, Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ is still blooming happily, and the bees were buzzing around the lavender flowers of aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird.’ I also found a few deep blue flowers blooming on Delphinium ‘Royal Aspirations.’ October blooms on Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Aster 'Bluebird' with bees (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) October bloom of Delphinium 'Royal Aspirations' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

In the deck border, Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ is living up to its name. About halfway in their transition from pale pink to burgundy, these flowers are currently an intense deep pink that glows in the sunlight. This color is echoed by an annual geranium (Pelargonium) blooming in a protected corner of the deck.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' glowing in October sunlight (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Pelargonium blooming on deck in October (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Any day now, overnight lows will dip down into the twenties (F), bringing a freeze that will send even the hardiest fall bloomers into dormancy. I am so pleased that I got to spend some time here before that happens, enjoying the last flowers of fall.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2011 5:00 pm

    I share your relief that Irene was kind to your garden.

    Did your car recover from flooding? Or was it only that you couldn’t get to it?

    • October 15, 2011 8:13 pm

      Diana, I think my car has recovered from the flooding. They kept it in the shop for over a week, drying it out and checking it out. It seems to be working fine since I got it back, but I’m nervous about it. Since it’s a hybrid (basically a computer on wheels), this was sort of like dropping your laptop in the bathtub; I keep waiting for electronics to start doing weird things.

      On the day of the flood, I got to my car by taking off my shoes, rolling up my pants legs, and wading through the water to it. When I got there, the water had receded from the height of the flooding and was about 3/4 of the way up the wheels; but when I got in, I could see standing water on the floor in the back seat. Amazingly, the car started fine. I drove out of the water onto dry pavement and it seemed to be running fine. I had gone more than 30 miles (about halfway to the airport) when all the lights on the dashboard suddenly came on (including an icon the shape of a car with a big red exclamation point in it!) and the car died. Quite an adventure.

  2. October 9, 2011 6:59 pm

    HI Jean: Your Gardens are lucky to have a gardener like you to care for them. It looks like they reward you with many enjoyable and rewarding experiences in your gardens.

    Gardens are funny, they do things their way even though you think you have control of them. You don’t you are just the assistant. You can guide them, help them and they let you think you have control. Do You? Your post today shows how Gardens and Mother Nature do their thing. They are a visitor in your world as you are too there’s. As you learn to blend with them they do the same with you and all is great. Good post shows that you and your gardens love each other.
    Have a wonderful day,

    • October 15, 2011 8:15 pm

      John, Occasionally I harbor illusions of being in charge of my gardens — but weather and local wildlife usually set me straight. 😐

  3. October 9, 2011 7:56 pm

    I wish I were in Maine. Japanese anemones are on the top of the deer gourmet list in my garden. They also love my heuchera. Irene really wasn’t that bad in Maine–I was there.

    • October 15, 2011 8:20 pm

      Carolyn, In my neighborhood, there were a lot of trees brought down by Irene and most of the local roads were blocked, but our little dirt road somehow escaped. My neighbor thought the woods behind us served as a buffer. I noticed one small birch that was uprooted and is now leaning precariously over the serenity garden, with its top hung up in one of the white pines. I’m hoping it will stay hung up until next spring when I can cut it down (very carefully).

      I’ll have to see if the anemone continues to be a deer favorite. They didn’t seem to be very interested in the heuchera; the one on the end had a few of its leaves nibbled, but then they seem to have gotten bored with it. It may be because they are interplanted with Geranium x cant. ‘Biokovo’ which deer are not fond of at all.

  4. October 9, 2011 9:20 pm

    Jean how wonderful to see your fall garden in Maine…it is amazing how many plants continue to bloom. Thinking of weather in the 20s and a freeze is to much for me right now…I am not hoping to see those temps until November.

  5. October 9, 2011 10:23 pm

    What a wonderful weekend to be back in Maine. I took a vacation week from work expecting to have fall-like weather to work comfortably in the garden, instead we are starting out with 80+ degrees this weekend. I enjoyed wearing shorts one more time 🙂

    We woke up to a light frost on both Thursday and Friday mornings. Took down the remaining pepper plants in the vegetable garden, but the perennials are still ok. I have never had many problems with deer until this year. They seem really hungry this fall. I wonder if they know something about the upcoming winter.

    • October 15, 2011 8:34 pm

      Donna, It was amazing that so much was still in bloom; I was grateful that the serious frost held off until after I could get home.

      GrafixMuse, Wasn’t that weather amazing? It was actually a bit too warm for stacking firewood. I don’t think I have noticed more deer this year; the always move in after I leave in August, and I knew that new flower bed at the edge of the woods would be vulnerable. We’ll see if they are telling us that a long winter is coming.

  6. October 10, 2011 3:07 am

    I am constantly overwhelmed by the adaptability North Americans need to show when it comes to the weather and the climate. My idea of preparing for winter – until now, having a frost-free greenhouse will change that – has been to not plant anything expensive during the year that will have no chance of surviving the cold. And remembering to see to anti-freeze in the radiators of vehicles… Even fountains and water features will continue – I think. And as for nasty weather, bad hailstorms are our worst threat, unless you want to include the nightmare of losing all to fire.

  7. October 10, 2011 6:20 am

    Jean, it’s so interesting to read about your preparations for winter – it’s like reading about another world. I’m sorry about al the deer damage, though.

    • October 15, 2011 8:39 pm

      Jack, New England is a region of North America with a wide amplitude of temperatures and weather conditions. Because I grew up there, I experience this as “normal” and really love the four distinct seasons. A number of years ago, an American historian, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, published an award-winning book (A Midwife’s Tale) based on a diary kept by an 18th century Maine midwife; weather conditions were often central to her diary entries. We have it easy now with central heating, snow blowers, and snow plows!

      Lyn, I often have that same experience with your blog. Some of it seems so familiar, and then you’ll write about something that reminds me how different our gardening worlds are.

  8. October 11, 2011 4:30 pm

    I’m happy to see that Irene left your garden mostly unscathed. The deer however, I feel your pain. I’m actually surprised your Rudbeckia is still blooming. Our deer marched up to one Rudbeckia I had planted outside the deer fence, and promptly nipped every single bloom off of the plant. They left the leaves, and the stems standing erect, as if to say ‘the flowers were scrumptious, the leaves and stems need seasoning’. I’m sorry they were so destructive in your garden though. It really is amazing just how much they can consume, and often not predictable what they’ll eat, and what they’ll leave alone. It’s encouraging to see that you still have some beautiful fall blooms though, and I’m glad you had a chance to see them before the hard freezes set in.

  9. October 11, 2011 5:41 pm

    Jean, I’m not surprized to read that deer browsed your Solomon’s Seal and late-blooming anemone. You are so lucky they did not also eat your tall sedum, asters and phlox!

    Deer are particularly destructive in Connecticut this year. There are not nearly as many acorns this year as in the last two years so deer are eating all kinds of greenery previously left alone. As in Maine, deer have yet to start browsing boxwood and pieris … for now.

    I think late-bloooming flowers touch the hearts of northern gardeners since we understand how quickly frost can take the lovlies away.

    • October 15, 2011 8:46 pm

      Clare and Joene, I think both of you have much worse deer problems than I do. I never see herds of deer; at most, a doe with a couple of fawns — and they mostly keep away when I’m in residence. They always move in when I leave in August and nibble all the leaves off the hostas. I knew this new flower bed would be vulnerable, but I didn’t want to wait until spring to plant. How I feel about that decision will depend on the condition of the plants next May.

  10. October 12, 2011 12:34 am

    Jean, you had so much to do this weekend… I feel terrible that I am just getting to read your post now. Had I read it earlier, we could have driven up for a day and lent a hand. Please put it on your calendar next year to let us know what weekend you’ll be doing the winter chores. We usually take a day this time of year to drive north and see the foliage, and Maine is one of our favorite destinations. Stacking wood goes so much faster when you have an extra pair or hands or two!

    • October 15, 2011 8:49 pm

      Cathy, That is so sweet! I didn’t mind spending time outside doing the chores; it was a gorgeous weekend, and my alternative activity was 90 papers that needed to be graded. The chores won hands down. (There may be some teachers somewhere who love to grade papers, but I’ve never met one!) Still, I’ll keep your offer in mind next year; it would be really delightful to get to meet the two of you (and we’ll hope for better fall foliage weather than we’ve had this year).

  11. October 12, 2011 12:54 pm

    Goodness Jean, you pack a lot into those four days. I just spent four days at home and in the garden and don’t think I did near as much work. Sorry to hear about the deer damage. I have gotten used to disregarding the label ‘deer resistant’. Deer can’t read it seems.

  12. October 12, 2011 2:22 pm

    You have a lot of work to do…it must be exhausting. And I am sorry so many of your plants were damaged. It has been a year of disasters. I hope next year is a bit calmer. I really like the way your sedum lays out and then the blooms reach up to the sky…beautiful!

    • October 15, 2011 8:55 pm

      Marguerite, LOL, I didn’t even mention the crocus and iris reticulata bulbs I brought with me to plant in the serenity garden. Actually, planting in my sandy soil is very easy, so the 40 bulbs only took about 30 minutes. I confess that I didn’t finish all the other chores. As my visit wore on and I began to feel more and more guilty about the papers that weren’t getting graded, I decided to use my credit on Southwest Airlines from my cancelled ticket in September to get back home for a weekend in early November and finish the chores then (mostly bring all the hoses in).

      Michelle, Compared with how things have been at work this fall, this felt like a vacation. I actually got 7-8 hour sleep every night and it was wonderful weather for working outdoors. Some years, I end up out stacking wood for four days in the pouring rain; yuck! But I, too, hope next year is calmer.

  13. October 14, 2011 6:53 pm

    I was wiping sweat off my eyebrow at the mention of stacking 2 cords of wood! Your garden still has some bloomers which is nice. Love that Phlox and Sedum is always so gorgeous. Have a great weekend.

    • October 15, 2011 8:58 pm

      Grace, I was wiping sweat off, too, because it was hot for Maine in October! Happily, the last night I was there, the temps went down into the 30s. I got out at first light the next morning and watched a gorgeous sunrise as I stacked the last of the wood in the cool, crisp fall air.

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