Thursday, April 30, 2015

APRIL LIVES UP TO ITS NAME


  
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

-T.S. Eliot

As a child growing up in rural Alabama one of my fondest memories was sleeping to the sound of rain on our tin roof. It was also one of my greatest fears that the rain would change into a terrible thunderstorm or tornado, as it often did in April and May. I can't even begin to guess how many sleepless  nights we spent in a storm cellar during tornado season.



                         April in the Sweet Garden


This April has lived up to its reputation " April showers bring May flowers. "  It rained heavily everyday for an entire week.  I was astonished at the huge volume of water that poured from the sky during a very heavy downpour.  I wish that I could pipe some of it out to California .


                    Birds have set up a nest in my birdhouse.  There is food and water nearby for the parents when the babies hatch.

Despite the many rainy days we had I managed to add quite a few new shrubs to the woodland garden :  Aronia, Red Buckeye, kerria japonica, 2  'celestial ' dogwoods, a kousa hybrid and 'appalachian snow. '   I spread one large bag of butterfly and hummingbird wildflower seeds in the roadside wildflower garden.  So many plants from last year have returned, much to my surprise and delight, given the harsh winter we had. 


                One of my favorite natives, red buckeye.

It is my goal to have drifts of sweet woodruff, autumn ferns, woodland phlox, lily of the valley, ferns, barrenwort, astilibe, bergenia, mullien, cranesbill geranium, hellebores, pulmonaria, brunnera , jacob's ladder, and columbines in the woodland garden that fronts my house.  Planting them requires a lot of work as its not possible to dig very deep in the hard pan soil that is rock and clay so I must prepare all the areas with good topsoil mixed with compost and manure.


   The boulder garden in back has sprung to life with iris, catmint, daffodils, lamb's ear, dianthus, ajuga and soapwort in bloom.

Since I haven't put up a fence in my backyard yet I've only planted tomatoes and green onions which I keep sprayed with deer and rabbit repellent.  I'm hoping to break ground on a new fence sometime within the next month or so.  So far I have an orchard of 2 Asian pears, persimmon, pawpaw tree, and a nectarine.


     Spring onions and Better boy tomatoes in raised bed.

Because of my intensive purchasing and planting my daughter asked me if I there would ever come a time when I wouldn't have anything left to plant to which I replied a gardener's work is never done.  I do however look forward to the day when I can enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Now April draws to a close and so does my 70th year.  Tomorrow I shall be a year older and hopefully, wiser.




Wednesday, April 1, 2015

DEAR MARCH -COME IN AND BRING SPRING WITH YOU

Dear March - Come in - 
How glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat - 
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are - 
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well - 
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me -
I have so much to tell -

I got your Letter, and the Birds - 
The Maples never knew that you were coming -
I declare - how Red their Faces grew -         
But March, forgive me - 
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue - 
There was no Purple suitable - 
You took it all with you -         
  
Who knocks? That April -
Lock the Door -
I will not be pursued -
He stayed away a Year to call 
When I am occupied -         
But trifles look so trivial 
As soon as you have come
 
That blame is just as dear as Praise 
And Praise as mere as Blame -

-Emily Dickinson
March was a fickle month of wild swings in temperatures -some warm and inviting and others with the sharp biting winds that she is known for. The daffodils and violas enjoyed the cool brisk days and the birds were busy gathering nesting materials and food.
On warm sunny days I ventured to the garden center and selected a curly Japanese corkscrew willow, more lily of the valley, sweet woodruff, bleeding heart, bergenia, foamy bells, cranesbill, ferns, rosemary, lavender, rose campion, monards, and mullein, to name a few. I started my fragrance garden in the front near the porch so that when I walk out I can smell the aroma.
I planted a 'bees jublilee' in the urn and added a twig trellis for it to climb on. All the plants in this area are fragrant herbs or perennials, with the exception of the evergreens.
In the front woodland garden my plan is to grow drifts of sweet woodruff, woodland phlox, lily of th valley, cranesbill, and ferns. Below is the area that fronts my property. The woods are a little sparce so I will plant more dogwood, viburnum, mahonia and nandina to fill it in.
The little blue chair is where my granddaughter Lea likes to sit and look in the small pond for tadpoles. As you can see I keep a layer of mother nature's mulch -leaves which I've shredded and pine straw, to protect my new plants and to enrich the soil.
I used to just tolerate March when I lived in Chicago but I feel differently about it now. It really does bring us Spring here - even if just for a day or a week. And while I know that April 15 is our last hard freeze date I have gambled by planting many things this month and so far they've all survived.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

FEBRUARY AND WINTER UNLEASHES ITS WRATH UPON US





"In winter's cold and sparkling snow,
The garden in my mind does grow.

I look outside to blinding white,
And see my tulips blooming bright.
And over there a sweet carnation,
Softly scents my imagination.

On this cold and freezing day,
The Russian sage does gently sway,
And miniature roses perfume the air,
I can see them blooming there.
Though days are short, my vision's clear.
And through the snow, the buds appear.

In my mind, clematis climbs,
And morning glories do entwine.
Woodland phlox and scarlet pinks,
Replace the frost, if I just blink.
My inner eye sees past the snow.
And in my mind, my garden grows."
-  Cynthia Adams, Winter Garden.




A few warm days in early February and I was enticed to visit the garden center and browse.  I came home with  2 'celestial' dogwoods  ( large white flowering mix of the Florida and Kousa dogwoods ), an Edgeworthia,  American wisteria, prunus mume and a 'Little Gem' magnolia.   I still pinch myself to think that I'm planting in February.

Just when I thought that February would continue to bring us days of 60 degrees without end old man winter came roaring in on the Siberian express to remind us that we were not forgotten.  We had days of freezing, cold rain that turned to dangerous ice, followed by slushy wet heavy snow.  Our total snowfall was at least 7 or 8 inches, almost unheard of here.

The temperatures reached lows of near zero and I covered my camellia with a warm row cover which helped, along with the anti-dessicant spray that I applied before winter set in.  It seemed to have helped keep the broadleaf evergreens from freezing.   My newly planted magnolia lost a few limbs to the heavy snow .  Lesson learned.  Next time I will protect it by wrapping it in burlap or creating a snow tent around it.

In my back woodlands I saw a cheerie sight - daffodils in bloom.


A most welcome sign of Spring despite winter's brief visit.  During my confinement indoors I enjoyed watching the birds gather at the feeders.  Blue birds, my favorites, cardinals, woodpeckers, bluejays, robins, Carolina wren and mourning doves filled their bellies with suet and seeds.


Two weeks of this shortest month were spent indoors because of the dangers of driving on icy roads. Unlike in the big cities, everything comes to a standstill here.  

Now comes the last day of February and March has just announced that Spring will arrive on the 4th with temperatures in the 70's.  I don't know how long it will last but I will promise that I'll enjoy it even for a day.   The garden in my mind does grow .


Saturday, January 31, 2015

JANUARY THE FIRST MONTH OF 2015 IN THE SWEET GARDEN




Another new year has dawned. This is the eighth year of my writing this blog and much has changed in the blogging world, a lot of it due to facebook, twitter and other social media. People don't read blogs the way they used to . Back in the beginning it was customary to blog whenever you felt like it -daily, weekly, or monthly. Now I've resorted to blogging just once a month and have decided that I will make my posts a diary of my home and garden life.  

At this point in my life it matters not whether I have a vast audience or no audience at all. My blog is now my personal gardening journal. I am a passionate gardener and am never happier than when I'm busy at it .  My late Aunt Nell lived to be 95 and kept a house and garden until the day she passed.  I want to be like her.  I want folks in the neighborhood to pass my house and garden and say that's where the gardening-crazy woman lives. Not that they don't do it already as I am out in the garden almost everyday that is agreeable.


The snow scene above was last winter .This January passed without any measurable snowfall or ice storms and actually had some days when I was able to get out and garden.

I was able to find enough rock to line our 100-plus feet of driveway and hauled them from all over to their final resting place.  Quite a chore as the drive is long and two sides required a border. And, the old body is now 70 Springs old so keeping it in gardening shape is a chore in itself. 

I started preparing the beds for Spring planting. No surprise the soil is rocky and hardpan clay.  When it rains the water puddles but slowly sinks down into the ground. The soil has to be amended . The area in front of the house was left until last due to the rehabbing of our house, thus the reason for its bareness.



This bed will be ready for Spring planting by adding compost, manure and new top soil to form a berm.  

My plan is to add several white-flowering dogwoods and underplant them with perennials and naturalizing ground cover such as lily-of-the-valley,ferns, hellebores,sweet woodruff, and the like.  

I started a sedum garden in front last summer but have decided to replace it with an herb garden which makes more sense to me as it is hardier and less fussy. I dislike bringing plants inside to overwinter as I don't have the room or the necessary sunlight.

One nice January day I added a little whimsical color of my own by painting my dead tree red . I'm going to use it for a mini-birdhouse collection. I like bottle trees but everyone has them and I want something different. Can't help it - I'm a middle child.




I also want to have something in bloom for every month of the year, which can be a challenge. I planted a white-flowering Camellia japonica which has big fat buds that are near opening.  The night temperatures went down to the low '20's so I wrapped them in a row cover to keep them from freezing.  My violas and pansies are still blooming and the reddish-purple leaves of the coral bells add much needed color to the winter garden.

Although January was not a bad month weatherwise, I'm always happy to see it whizz by because it means we're one month closer to Spring.  I saw a Robin the other day and my daffodils have emerged.

I am enjoying feeding the birds and supplying much needed water. The large pair of woodpeckers that use to play the drums on my house are now content with the suet I provide them.  Bluebirds, chickadees, Carolina wrens, cardinals and turtle doves are frequent diners.




I just stuck these birdhouses/feeders in the ground but this Spring I will make a 4 x 4 wood post for them. This is the roadside garden that I planted with wildflowers last Spring.  There's an old saying " Don't expect to get compliments on a wildflower garden within 3 years of planting " but I guess I was an exception to the rule because I planted the seeds early and by summer there were a lot of blooms. 

 Yesterday a gentle breeze was blowing and I looked up into the pines swaying to and fro.  It took me back to my childhood in Alabama and I realized how happy and lucky I was to be back in my beloved South again, to be doing what I love and to be able to help grow the most precious flower of all-my beloved granddaughter, a sweet, precocious child that is the center of our happiness.

Looking forward to a new year filled with many adventures in gardening.











Tuesday, December 30, 2014

DECEMBER IN THE SWEET HOME AND GARDEN


   
     This shady woodland bed is planted with Autumn brilliance fern, violas, Japanese iris, and hellebores.



November was cold by North Carolina standards but December more than made up for it with mild, sunny days and plenty of rainfall. I had 5 yards of a custom blend of topsoil  ( compost, manure and gray sand ) delivered and spread some on the various flower beds and created berms as well.  Spent a great deal of time shredding and incorporating leaves into the existing soil in the beds.

It was warm enough to plant so I visited the garden center and selected a gorgeous Mahonia, White 'japonica ' camellia and 'christmas jewel ' holly.   I planted them near the large picture window which has a lovely view of the bird feeders and houses.

I finally had to cut back the ginormous elephant ears that I planted in the Spring.


I dug up and divided the bulbs which I spread around the shady areas of the rock garden.  I also planted a lot of daffodils and alliums in the roadside garden beds so Spring should be quite colorful.  

Since my front garden is not fenced in I plant only what the deer are not supposed to like.  As extra insurance I have been spraying faithfully with Liquid Fence which stinks to high heaven until it dries, which can take about a day.  I've found it very effective in keeping the deer away, but winter will be the real test.  


    My roadside wildflower garden, started with seeds, looked good through late Fall.



Christmas snuck up on me and it was time to retire the trowel for awhile.  Lea's grandparents arrived from Cork, Ireland for the holidays and I've spent time visiting with them as well. They were impressed with the garden I've created thus far, having seen the blank slate it was during their visit last year.


This was a very special Christmas for Lea as she gets to share it with her paternal grandparents.

As the year draws to an end I'm already looking 
forward to my plans for the garden. My first priority is a fenced-in backyard so that I can garden without worrying about deer . I want to naturalize lily of the valley, hellebores, sweet woodruff and ferns in the woodland areas.  I want to create a privacy buffer near the main entrance to our property but I don't want it to be hedges in a row -something mixed with both deciduous and evergreen shrubs.

I wish all of you good health and happiness in the coming New Year.  







Wednesday, December 3, 2014

NOVEMBER IN THE SWEET HOME AND GARDEN



November marks the first year in our new home and garden.  We have not been idle.  When we bought our little cottage in the woods we knew we had lots of work to do.  We had to put on a new roof, replace the front porch, replace HVAC in the crawlspace, re-do two bathrooms and add a third, gut the kitchen and install a new one, update the lighting system, install new water heater, build a carport and add a new addition for a guest room and small deck .  Whew!  



Outside we had water problems when it rained - our neighbor up the hill had two drain pipes gushing water to our property and there was a huge mountain of dirt that a contractor had left and was untouched for many years.  We plugged and re-directed the drain pipes and had a contractor level the mound.  We uncovered a ton of boulders under it and viola! I had an instant boulder garden.   I love the look of the boulders and I'm developing a garden with them.

In the wooded area in my front yard which borders a busy highway, I removed all the grass and spread wildflower seeds.  I added birdhouses , baths and feeders.  The wildflowers grew very well and I added butterfly weed, lantana, asters, mums, sage and grasses which attracted many butterflies, bees and birds. I planted lots of ferns, hollies, mahonia, violas, daffodils, crape myrtle, hellebores ,osmanthus and climbing hydrangeas in the wooded area fronting our house.  On the side of the house near the large picture window I planted a Korean maple in the bird sanctuary.




In my boulder garden in back I planted catmint, yucca, verbena, asters, japanese iris, elephant ears, ajuga, scarlet sage, red buckeye, ornamental grasses, pyracantha, forest pansy redbud and a nectarine tree.




In my future vegetable garden I planted two Asian pears and an herb garden.  I am waiting to get the backyard fenced in before I start a larger vegetable plot.

My younger sister Linda came down for a two week visit and got to see all the progress we had made since she was here last year when we first moved in and she was amazed.

I added two  new tools to my garden collection that I had never had before :  a leaf blower and shredder.  I have so many leaves and instead of raking and bagging, I shred them so they can easily compost into the soil.  

My future plan is to make this little half acre into a bird sanctuary by adding more birdbaths, feeders and birdhouses.  It's wonderful to be awakened by the sound of birds singing in the morning and to watch them as they enjoy the suet, birdseed and water  put out for them.

November also marks my third year in North Carolina and my granddaughter Lea's sixth birthday.  She chose a farm venue to celebrate.  She's a natural on a horse !    As my one and only I think that God smiled down on me and embodied everything -beauty, brains and sweetness into one little girl who is our constant joy and pleasure.







Friday, October 31, 2014

OCTOBER IN THE SWEET GARDEN




October may become one of my favorite months of the year.  The air is cooler, the rain is plentiful and the trees begin their colorful displays.



I planted hundreds of daffodils and alliums , added some perennial mums, including an unusual one  -the japonica, which is white.  The leaves on it are very striking.  Pansies are a popular Fall flower around this town but I prefer the more woodland viola variety that will spread and return again in the Spring.

I added several 'provence' lavender to the wildflower roadside garden so that when they are mature I will have something to see in winter.  Planted rosemary, another popular plant seen everywhere, and which grows very tall and robust here.  I laugh when I think of the lenghts I went to in Chicago to just keep it alive under grow lights in the winter.


Added more ferns to the woodland garden -Korean rock fern and Autumn brilliance, two evergreens. Planted more 'Miss Huff' lantana which adds up to about 6 or more.  Can't wait to see them blooming all next summer.



Being diligent in spritzing the garden with deer repellent has worked so far.  I observed a whole herd passing my property boundary and keep right on going.  I am getting bids on putting up a fence in the back so that I can garden without worrying about them and rabbits.



Created a driveway vignette with the stash of boulders and large stones left from an old stone wall.  It's planted with grasses, dianthus, veronica, lavender , japanese rock garden juniper, bear's britches and ferns.


The rock garden in my backyard is filling in nicely.  The catmint I planted in the Spring bloomed almost all summer and spread to three times its size.  I've added some Spring blooming bulbs, asters, veronica and Japanese iris.

This month marks the first year of my garden and thus far I have planted seven different garden beds, all with my own two hands.  I've worn out and broke two hoes on the hardpan I had to break up to add compost and manure to.   The wildflower roadside garden, started from seed, did very well for its first season and I will continue adding more perennials for Fall and Winter interest.  When my fence is installed I plan to develop a real veggie garden , plant more trees and shrubs and of course, some fragrant 'sweet autumn' clematis on it.


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