November 1st, 2013 by Kristin Green
The great thing about tulips is that no matter what, they make us happy when they bloom. Even if they’re planted in a jellybean mix of reds, pinks, and yellows. — Maybe especially then because it’s spring and after the dreariness of winter, anything goes. But even so, Gail, Betsy and I put a lot of thought into our bulb order, making sure that our combinations will not only be happy-making but also really beautiful. And with that done, placing them should be the easy part. And it usually is as long as we don’t overthink it. First we had have a look back at the catalog to remember what we ordered way back in August…
The Cutting Garden is always the easiest to place. We ordered 20 bulbs each of a few varieties to try out new combinations and just had to row those out in our grids recently emptied of annuals. Same thing for last year’s trials that were still big enough to bother replanting (most tulips only put on a decent show for 2 or 3 years). For those we closed our eyes and blindly chose 3 or 4 varieties to group together. Fun.
The North Garden is pretty easy too because, again, we don’t have to think about where they go because we place them in the soft soil where the annuals have come out. But this year we made an extra effort to spread them out in swaths rather than round clusters… We gave ourselves an extra challenge in the Rose Garden by choosing two combinations of similar colors – one threesome to bloom early, the other late. Those we placed in mingling groups, swaths again, that will run and blend together as long as the squirrels leave them alone.
The biggest challenge this year came in planting the bulbs. It has been so dry lately that wherever the soil was loose we couldn’t dig a hole without it filling right in again like beach sand. And wherever the soil wasn’t loose – in the Rose Garden particularly, the dryness plus compaction had rendered it cement-like. Impossible to dig with a trowel. Should have rented a jackhammer… Now that all 1500 or so tulips are in – a huge round of applause to our amazing volunteers! – we only have to keep our eyes out for critters that might rob the stash. This year we’re going to try putting out trays of the oldest tiniest bulbs for the squirrels. Fingers crossed they take those rather than digging up the big juicy ones.
Difficult digging this past week was at least rewarded with an eyeful of fall blaze. It has gotten so pretty that I can’t let another week go by without posting a gratuitous picture or two (or three). I took these in the Enclosed Garden.
Have you planted tulips or other bulbs yet? Any particular challenges this year?
October 25th, 2013 by Kristin Green
Temperatures dipped into the 30s last night but if only it would frost we’d feel justified in having taken the gardens apart this week. The Rose Garden might have the hardest to let go of, it was still so pretty. One of the volunteers called it “Slaughter Day” (which this time of year will henceforth be known as) and said she might have stayed under the covers if only she knew what we’d have to do. But as hard as it was, we were as soft-hearted as possible. We left a few salvias and ageratum for the bees — even though removal of most of those plants revealed that the roses are still blooming away.
In the North Garden we took all the tender plants out including every dahlia but one that was covered stem to stern in bumble bees, poor things. Even though dahlias can stay in the ground until a killing frost signals their tubers to shut down and prepare for winter storage, they seem to do just fine pulled out a little early.
We stuffed the truck with the Cutting Garden saving buckets of flowers to give away. And along the way we stuffed the greenhouse with stock plants.
It’s kind of like the ark in here. We pulled keepers, one by one and two by two (our very favorites), out of each garden to pot up and winter over. Right now they’re all going through transplant shock and most look pretty tough. (I wonder if that’s why more people don’t save their tender perennials?) We want them to keep blooming for our display inside so rather than cutting them way back like we should to help them recover, we put them in as much shade as we could find and have crossed our fingers that they’ll perk up. Some, like our enormous porterweeds (Stachytarpheta spp.), went right up on their benches because they won’t fit anywhere else. If only it were cloudy… but because we’ve tortured them this way for years now, we know they’ll be gloriously worthy of their space in another few days.
I’m still debating about taking in stock plants at home. I’m in no hurry to dig out my dahlias yet but I haven’t taken cuttings from my velvet sage, Plectranthus ciliatus, or Cuphea ‘David Verity’. No doubt, if I babied those through the shock of un-planting, they’d keep blooming inside for awhile for me too. Do you have any keepers you dig up and overwinter inside?
October 18th, 2013 by Kristin Green
Physical labor was one of the first things that drew me to gardening. — Back when I was 18 and restless from so much sitting in school and studying. (Do most people take up jogging or playing team sports?) And while I do still find the drop-dead exhaustion of a long day’s work outside exquisitely gratifying, in recent years I have started to feel a little creakiness creep in along with the weariness. These past couple of weeks spent taking gardens apart and moving back into the greenhouse have been especially… gratifying… and I didn’t even have to do the heaviest lifting.
Before we could commit to moving much into the greenhouse, we had to get our biggest beast out. A few years ago we planted a good-sized Agave americana out in the garden where it became really huge and happy. Before bringing it back inside that winter, we potted it in the largest pot we had and asked the guys to heft it onto a bench in the greenhouse. There it sat, increasing in girth and taking up precious bench real estate through summers and winters ever since. We needed the space but couldn’t bear to compost it. We held out until a new home could be found (who could possibly want a dangerously spiny houseplant the size of an armchair?) and we’re thrilled to see it finally go to the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. We worried that it wouldn’t make it out the door in one piece — we were prepared to saw the pot apart and cut off all the pups — but Fred and Dan managed to drag (?) it out the door with minimal injury (none to it, some to them). And today Gail and I said our goodbyes as Stefan and Guario lifted it into their truck and drove away looking happy. We’ll have to make a visit soon…
Meanwhile, we had another agave growing in the ground. Over the summer our second largest became huge and more beautiful than ever. Gail and I used every muscle to get it out and packed into the back of a station wagon on its way to live with another good friend of Blithewold.
With those beloved beasts out of the way, and other behemoths like the Calamondin orange and orchid cactus tucked in their traditional places inside, we spent the last few days getting everything back in around them. I appreciate any weight bearing exercise that might help stave off the onset of osteoporosis but this year we borrowed the handiest tool — a cart that fits through the door — and were able to deliver plants right to their benches instead of lugging them in arms one by one inside. Genius.
We had aimed to get everything in by the end of this week and aside from having to dig a few more stock plants (tender perennials) out of the gardens next week, I think we did it. And I have to say, sore muscles and all, it feels pretty good!
Do like doing the heavy lifting? Have you moved any of your garden back inside yet?
October 11th, 2013 by Kristin Green
This weekend is the gardens’ final huzzah and I can hardly believe it. The season went by so quickly and it’s quite possible that the gardens have never been prettier than they are right this minute. It will break our hearts to have to start taking annuals out next week. But after Monday’s holiday the mansion will be closed (until the day after Thanksgiving) and we, as usual, have to keep to a schedule. This week the most important task on the to-do list was to enjoy. To get in the gardens just enough to weed and to deadhead lightly – leaving plenty for the bees – and to observe and celebrate the activity. Bees – mostly bumbles – have been all over the asters in the North Garden and every going-by and pollen-heavy dahlia. (Can’t deadhead those until they’re completely done.) And yesterday Gail and Betsy spotted a traveling hummingbird wobbling in exhaustion on the weeping pear tree in the herb garden, which happens to be right next to a pineapple sage in full glorious bloom. Thank goodness for the salvias, nicotiana, and 4 o’clocks because when I caught a glimpse this morning, s/he was zinging around looking well fed and rested.
Thank goodness for the seedheads in the garden too. Gail and I have both been trying to get a picture of the tufted titmouse (titmice?) tearing the cardoon fluff out to get at the seeds. Too cute – but don’t they see us coming! This was the best I could do…
I know I have already gone on a tear about chrysanthemums – I do love them, maybe especially our new one, ‘Matchsticks’ (below, left) – but I wish there was more to autumn in the wider world outside our gates than potted mums and pumpkins. Why aren’t dahlias and this gorgeous Coreopsis ‘Red Shift’ (below, right) as ubiquitous? But then would I become bored of them too? Perish the thought.
I hope these pictures inspire you to make a visit this weekend or to go out and appreciate the frenzied activity and color in your own garden. And don’t forget, Blithewold’s gardens and grounds are open year-round even while the mansion is closed, and if you visit in the next few weeks you’ll get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our preparations for next year.
Is your garden popping in a grand finale? When will you – or have you? – start to prepare for winter and next year’s gardens?
October 4th, 2013 by Kristin Green
This whole glorious summer-like week I have been in raptures over the light. How it slides in sideways through the morning and afternoon… (Are you stuck inside then? Shame.) How it would be blinding if not for the brim of my hat and the contrast is high — the shadows are extra dark — but the bright spots don’t glare…
I can’t help wondering though if I would have thought the light was nearly so sublime – or noticed it at all – if the gardens didn’t catch it like stained glass. A lot of people have told me that their gardens are pretty much done by now. Perish the thought! Here are some of our favorite fall sun catchers:
Grasses, of course. I’m particularly smitten with switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’). This picture (below, top left) does not do it justice — the clump positively glows like fire. The feathers of the fountain grasses, Pennisetum setaceum and ‘Rubrum’ are more like spark plugs. The light shimmers and slides off the blades my new favorite grass, orange New Zealand sedge (Carex testacea). It’s hardy zones 6-10, wants moist soil and has much more color in the sun (shown here in a container) than in the partially shady place we planted it. And incidentally, we grew it from seed purchased from Chiltern. (There are several plants in the container and they’re 2 years old now.)
It’s been taking a while for the morning sun to make it over the trees but the dew is also lingering just long enough to get lit like diamonds. Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’, planted in the Cutting Garden, wears the prettiest bling. We still don’t have exactly the right bog to plant our pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.) but even if we did, I’d want a bowlful to remain spotlit center stage in the Idea Garden. Salvia leucantha ‘Cislano’ only just started to bloom but aren’t its translucent velvet spires worth the wait? And the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) has been blooming for a few weeks already but is never as luminous as when the leaves start turning too.
What’s catching the sun in your garden?