Signs of Fall

We got out early this morning to water the baby trees, and found cottonwood tree leaves in the lawn. Okay–let’s call it what passes for lawn at my house.

The cottonwoods lose about half their leaves between mid-July and mid-August. Maybe more if it’s been a dry year. For me, it’s the start of Autumn.

According to the “old” calendar, Autumn begins on August 2, cross-quarter between the Solstice (June 21) and the Equinox (September 21), when the days shorten perceptibly. Just as February 2 is the start of Spring, when the days lengthen perceptibly.

Of course, it depends on where you live.

And here, thriving in the ashes of the burn pile, are morning glories. Glorious this morning.

If you’re gardening today, I hope the weeds are few and the rain is just right.

Apple Rust

This year, for the first time, we decided to spray our apple trees for fungus and insects. Hope triumphing over experience, we wanted to bite into a worm-free apple of our own.

So, really ironic, this is the first year we’ve had apple leaf rust.

Rust has affected all varieties of apples except the honey crisps–which are supposed to be difficult to grow. Go figure.

Thinking about my apple orchard led me to remember my mom’s orchard in New Jersey. There, a sapling in the ground grows into a tree, no muss, no fuss. At least it used to be that way. Here in Kansas, everything, and especially fruit trees, need a lot of tender loving care.

Even then, it’s a crap shoot.

Looking for information on leaf rust led me to the University of Illinois Extension. There I learned that the problem probably had to do with my red cedars, scientific name Juniperus virginiana, The cedars have galls, especially during rainy weather. The galls swell up and produce telial horns (nasty description including the word gelatinous). These release spores that attack susceptible trees. Rainy weather seems to be the key, and we’ve had twice as much rain as average.

This little lovely is a red cedar. It volunteered several years ago, and grows within feet of my apple trees, forming part of the apple allee. My first thought, after reading the University of Illinois article was to cut this tree down. But no, it won’t make a difference. Looks like those spores can travel up to fourteen miles. Our area is loaded with Juniperus virginiana.

Spraying for fungus, evidently, offers only partial success. On a year like the one we’re having, leaf rust is the guarantee.

Maybe next year will be better.

Daylilies

A few years back, I discovered Smokey’s Gardens and went a little nuts buying different daylilies. My favorite is the one in the photo–Mauna Loa–a bright orange. Sadly, it isn’t an ever-bloomer or even a rebloomer. I get to see this splash of tangerine for about three weeks, and then it’s gone till next year.

When we moved here, our front garden included five Stella De Oro lilies–and I hated them. I didn’t like the way the flowers died and dropped off the plant. The dead leaves were plain nasty. Anyway, I didn’t much care for the dandelion-yellow color, and maybe should’ve cheered when, after about three years, the plants stopped blooming. Instead, it made me mad. Just a bunch of uninspiring green spikey leaves. Yuck.

I knew nothing about the care and feeding of daylilies, and yes, they take a bit of work. After yanking those poor Stella’s out of the ground and donating them to a sister-in-law, I spent about five years planting a variety of things in that space. All did well in year one and died by year two.

“Plant daylilies,” said a master gardener friend. My response was to grumble about the Stella’s. But then, out and about, I saw some amazing red and yellow spider daylilies. Had to have them. That’s when I took the time to learn about daylily care and feeding.

They need daily deadheading while blooming. The name says it all. DAY LILY, meaning the flower blooms and dies within about 24 hours. Every morning, I walk around the yard with a bucket and pick off dead lilies. Sometimes I have to fight the bees for them.

The spikey leaves turn a nasty brown as the plant begins to die back. Keeping the plant free of dead leaves is also a daily chore.

Finally, about every three years, the plants need to be dug up and divided. If the daylily gets too big, it will stop blooming.

The good news about daylilies? They grow in just about any soil, can take quite a bit of drought without watering, they’re difficult to kill, and way low on the deer’s list of favorite munchies. They come in a variety of colors, bloom times, and sizes. Usually hardy in planting zones 4 through 9, Latin name Hemerocallis.

Try one.

Purslane

About ten years ago, I bought a hanging planter that included purslane. My first mistake.

Back then, my powers of identification were poor at best. When I started seeing this not-horrible plant in my garden beds, I let it go. My second mistake.

Now, I’m overrun by purslane. I’ll walk away after clearing a bed, come back half an hour later, and tiny purslane weeds have taken over. A fast grower, purslane can throw seeds a fair distance from the mother plant. It also re-roots from stems and leaves. Purslane also loves most herbicides.

As you’ve guessed by not, this plant–like most invasive plants–is a super-survivor. I suppose that’s a good thing if you want to eat purslane. It is edible, and Europeans use it in salads–young stems, leaves, and flower buds are especially delicious if you like salty-sour. I’ve tried it, and find the mucilaginous leaves–think succulent–off-putting.

What it absolutely needs is sunlight to germinate, so the key is to weed by hand as fast as possible, and cover bare areas with mulch, black plastic, newspaper. Of course, the minute I uncover an area, here comes the purslane.

My third and final mistake has been to throw the pulled plants into my burn pile without burning immediately. Most of the gardening sites recommend bagging purslane weeds to prevent spreading.

That’s what I’m doing. Starting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, here are some pics of my neighbor’s un-mowed field. Pretty, right? I wonder if he’s got purslane growing in there.

Gardening Doldrums

Tomorrow is the first day of summer. From now until August 2, gardening is all about weeding and watering.

We’ll have to see about watering, which may not be necessary this year. We’re already a foot above average for rainfall, and the forecast calls for more rain. Or at least more thunderstorms. Frankly, I’d be happy not to haul hose around the yard.

But the weeding has already started. There’s no keeping up with it. I finish one bed, move onto the next, and by the time that one’s done, I have to go back and weed all over again in the first. A bit like revising and editing. Never really done.

This is also the start of lily and daylily season. I’ve added photos of today’s blooms, including one of my favorites. I found this bicolored lily several years ago at Flower Farm. It’s done very well, although this year is being crowded out by an inappropriately planted sedum Brilliant. I can see I’ll be moving things around this Fall.

I planted most of the daylilies about four years ago, although I’ve added new plants here and there every year since. Back then, I carefully labeled each one, only to discover the permanent ink was not quite permanent. One of these days I’ll go back through my orders and try to match up names to plants. Not today.

Garlic

Every fall, I plant garlic. I’ve been successful twice–maybe. Most years, some wild animal comes along and digs up the bed. Or it’s too dry and the bulbs don’t develop. Or–like this year–it’s too wet and the bulbs turn to mush in the ground.

But Samuel Johnson might well have written “the triumph of hope over experience” about gardening and marriage. And this year, hope won.

I was amazed that the garlic turned green in early March. The temperatures stayed firmly in the 30 to 40 degree Fahrenheit range. Way too cold for most of my garden. Nevertheless, the garlic persisted.

In April, the plants turned yellow. Uh-oh, mush alert ahead. But I left them through May despite my urge to rip them out of the ground. Right on schedule at the beginning of June, scapes formed. After clipping them, I crossed my fingers. The plants still didn’t look right.

But last Friday, the plants had just about died back. Again, right on schedule. I dug them up and hung them in the barn. They need to hang for about a month before they’re ready for cooking.

I ended up with six bunches of six or seven bulbs each–or about forty garlic bulbs. That’s a winter’s worth of cooking.

Gardening Ugly: Weeds

I planted a bed of asparagus in 2012. It takes three years for asparagus to establish—like most things in the garden, the rule of thumb is year one sleep, year two creep, and year three leap. And that’s exactly what happened. In 2015, we had amazing asparagus for three weeks, fresh out of the garden delicious.

According to everything I’ve read, an established asparagus garden lasts about ten years, although I’ve also heard of thirty-year beds still producing. Last year, a very dry year, we had a somewhat sparse crop. This year, a very wet year, was amazing. We ate asparagus for two full months, about every day. In fact, we’re sort of sick of asparagus.

But. The photo shows yellowish grass in the bed. That is nut grass, also known as nut sedge, formal name Cyperus esculentus and one of the most difficult weeds to control. How’d it get there? I’ve never had it in this or any other bed before now.

I suspect that nut grass seeds were a toxic bonus from the bags of compost/manure I bought at one of the Big Box Stores. What I should have done was opened the bags onto a tarp and let them sit for a year, covered in plastic to bake in the sun. Instead, I simply spread the bag contents onto my asparagus bed.

I tried hand weeding and ended up with hand cramps. Nut grass roots are tangled and deep. I tried weeding with a variety of tools, including my favorite Cape Cod Weeder. No dice. The bare spot in the photo is what I was able to weed by hand.

Researching a herbicide compatible with asparagus, I ended up on the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resource site, and actually found an herbicide that might work, called halosulfuron. Very expensive. Too expensive for an eight-year-old asparagus bed when it will cost less than fifty dollars–and three years–to replace it.

Sedge grass spreads like wildfire and I never want to see it anywhere else in my yard. So I’m—probably—sacrificing my asparagus to keep this highly invasive weed from spreading.

We spayed this morning when the wind was practically nil. I’ve checked, some six hours later, and things in the asparagus bed look yellow. Not the ferns, though. The ferns are still green and I still have hope.

Time will tell.  

Asymmetrical Parterre: Part 3

The new garden is about as finished as it’s going to be. This year.

We moved the bench from a side garden and laid a path from the front of the garden to the pond, and then to the bench. Jim and I talked about creating a small shelter around the bench. It won’t be this year. We need to think about setting posts in concrete, maybe using lattice or horizontal fencing around it. And what about a roof? Maybe next year …

I’ve planted irises and one Ms. Wilmott’s Ghost (eryngium giganteum) that I saw on Big Dreams, Small Spaces. I just knew it would look terrific in this garden if I could get it to grow. The problem? Too wet with serious lack of drainage when it rains. And it’s been raining most days this spring.

Taking a tip from Monty Don, I dug an enormous hole–way wider and deeper than needed for my little plant–and added a mix of peat moss and pea pebbles. Hopefully, that will keep the plant happy and well-drained until it matures.

I already had the large pot, one of a pair that I used on my front stoop. Except this year, I decided to use only one in front. The hibiscus was a lucky find, in line with my #Learning2bLucky lifestyle. One of the local groceries discounted their spring plants 75 percent, so I snatched up a $30 plant for $6. Yay.

My one extravagance was the Buddha. I went to Classic Statuary looking for a pair of Foo Dogs. And they had a gigantic pair–too big for my little garden, and really much more than I wanted to spend. I saw the Buddha sitting way in the back, in a corner, and just knew he should be meditating in my rockery parterre.

I don’t know what else I’d add other than more, possibly bigger, rocks. Cleaning the pond is going to be an issue come fall, and I’m not sure my water lily is going to make it. Time will tell.

Updates to follow.

Asymmetrical Parterre Part 2: The Pond

Five or six years ago, I bought a solar bubbler on one of those online auction sites. It costs $2 (free shipping) and I had a vague idea of using it in a birdbath.

When the idea of a parterre came to me I knew I wanted a “water feature.” Maybe a fountain, maybe a mini-pond.

During a visit to Iris, Daylilies, Perennials, I noticed a plastic tub, dug into the ground, filled with water. That was exactly what I wanted. One plastic tub later–purchased at our local Orschlens–it was a simple matter of digging it into the ground.

Well, not so simple. The rocks that supported the 500-gallon gas tank had sunk deep into the ground, forcing a dig through rocky clay soil. But we persisted.

Jim, of course, brought out his level. Assured that the tub wouldn’t dip more on one side than the other, we filled it with water and brought out the $2 bubbler. Amazingly, it worked. Will it continue to work? Time will tell.

I bought water plants–someday I may have a red water lily–and planted a few irises around the “pond.” With as much rain as we’ve had, the site is mostly mud and the pond is overfull.

But next week: the bench, the path, and–who knows–maybe more plantings. Or some pots. Or a statue.

Suggestions welcome!

Sleep, Creep, Leap

Gardening and writing. Amazing how similar they are in process. Writing seems to also follow the old adage when planting a new perennial (a plant that returns, year after year).

In the first year, the plant sleeps. Most of the process is happening below the surface of the soil, putting in roots, establishing itself in space. The second year, the plant creeps. Slowly, new growth appears. And finally, year three, the plant leaps into the glorious beauty it is meant to be.

Writing is a lot like that. First draft, getting ideas on paper (on screen). For a while, it may seem like nothing’s happening. Words and ideas get tried and tossed. The product at the end of that first draft may read ugly. Onto the revision—maybe one, maybe more. Ideas coalesce. The right words appear as if by magic. And finally, editing polishes the whole until the manuscript is ready for publication.

Sleep, creep, leap. Gardeners and writers require the same character qualities: patience, tenacity, and enough fortitude to not rip things or discard a draft too early in the process.

Still waiting for replies to the queries I’ve sent out. Meanwhile, a new WIP is far enough along to be in the “dirty middle” of the process. The character milestones and outline are done. I’m ready to start writing chapter seven.