Subtle shifting seasons

One beacon for the slow, subtle shift from winter to spring  is witch hazel (hamamelis).

This shrub begins to bloom in February through early March, with flowers that are diminutive, twisty wisps.

The new foundation planting at the front of the house has a solitary witch hazel.  It has been a stalwart, enduring sustained sub-freezing temperatures and the legendary winds here on Windy Knoll. It seems to be on the cusp of blooming and I couldn’t be happier. Our variety,  Arnold Promise, will bear golden flowers emerging from reddish buds.  It stands in contrast to the snow overnight, already melting toward what will be an unseasonably warm week ahead.

It brings hope of the gardening season ahead. It’s been a long time since I’ve had something to design from scratch, so this year should be fun, especially with our mix of challenging terrain, trees (the juglone-bearing black walnuts in particular) and large-scale opportunity (wide sunny yards, expansive woodlands).


The first year- tackling the basics

We accomplished so much in the first six months. Everyone told us it was astounding.  But in terms of the garden, there is more than enough to be done for a lifetime, and beyond.

Here’s the story, bit by bit.

We’ll fast forward to the spoiler that we obtained a design-forward company to help plant the front foundation bed of the house.  The design was a good discussion and offered some new information for me on the use of natives.  Through a series of issues, some on their side and another on ours (the 100+ year-old water main to the main road had corroded to the point of leaking and needed to be replaced in November — a big, ugly scar up the middle of the yard that will remain until we can replant in the Spring), this part of the garden went in on the cusp of winter.  We will have to see how that fares when spring comes around given the extremely cold winter we’ve had this year. More on the front bed in a future post.

The other gardening endeavor was tackling the seemingly endless litany of invasive plants in the bordering areas.  Astounding how much there is, and we are working to restore those areas so the woodlands can thrive.

Japanese stilt grass, dame’s rocket, black locust suckers, garlic mustard are just a few of the gifts that awaited us.  Lots of hand pulling and lots of cutting involved.  They will most certainly come back again given that seeds live on for years in the soil.

Below all of this, when the time comes to plant, are rocks, rocks and more rocks in a clay soil base. But I am up for the challenge!

I’ve been ordering native shade perennials that do well under black walnuts in quantities that go well beyond the tiny garden in our old suburban house.  “Scale” is the key to planning when it comes to our new home.

I could literally garden every weekend of Spring, Summer and Fall and there will be much left. But I look forward to it, as only a gardener could.  The progress so far has been satisfying anyway!

The gardenless garden

This space has been quiet for a while because the first few months in our new home have been fully focused on improvements. It has been quite a journey.

The home: arts and crafts, three stories, 1910. Top of a hill with a view of the hills in the distance.

What we faced:  cedar shake siding needing some serious TLC — definitely in need of some protective stain, spot replacement for cracked and deteriorated spots (house and garage).  A roof that may have been replaced last in the 1970s — who knows when. Green.  With the original cedar roof underneath  The operation of taking down and putting a new roof on the house and barn/garage took the roofing guys a full two weeks.  They were able to keep the classic “sweep” of the roof, and now we’re on to installing the gutters (bronze half-rounds).  Gutting two of the three fireplaces so they are usable and up to code. All this took the better part of the summer.  And no gardener in their right mind would put in foundation plantings amidst that chaos and falling debris.

The fun part:  seeing some of the early design choices.  It seems the original cedar roof had been painted dark green. Whomever painted the shutters last never painted the back, so the original green paint was still visible.  We understood that the woman who owned the house originally, or a subsequent  family member (the house had stayed in the family) had painted the entire house acid green, which was evident when gutters were removed.  We’d have to guess that may have been in the 70s, too.

We chose a dark brown exterior stain as it covered and smoothed out the uneven brown stain that someone had applied after the green paint was sandblasted away.  We changed the yellow trim to a soft, warm white. And a deep brick red for the shutters seems to be in line with the arts and crafts heritage of this lovely home. (We tried two shades of green to keep with the original design, but it didn’t work,)

This ad from the early 1900’s probably gives a clue to what the original potential color scheme may have been… as well as the original design in part of the back of the house, another mystery we are trying to solve. The design of the house is not really like this, but elements are very similar, down to the shed dormers.

There are no foundation plantings, save some boxwoods on one side of the house. Next step:  putting a foundation planting at the front. And our continued adventures taming overgrown expanse areas of the property. Busy summer!

A New Chapter

I’ve said before that time flies, but there’s nothing like moving to really drive that point home.

It’s bittersweet to read this blog and to think back on the 17+ years in this home as we embark on a new adventure.  The love, care and improvements we made… building a garden that is now mature… the love, friendship and good times we’ve had here.

Packing is hard — hopefully, in just over a month from now, we will have landed in our new home. Moving from in-town living and a walkable community to a more “rural” environment. A grand old house and a couple of acres.  A clean slate, a place with no gardens — yet.  A new chapter.

Welcome to the jungle

I’ve been blessed with the new community garden plot.  Last season, we moved from the very front to the very back. It’s doing really well so far this year.  In fact, it’s a bit of a jungle!

I can’t help but feel a bit of pride, but I’m sure it’s luck (and some learning).  First, I’m not one of those folks who plants in rigid schemes. I’m more of a “tuck in” kind gardener. What does this mean?  For example, I have established perennial items, such as rhubarb and a variety of flowers (Montauk daisies, sun drops irises, daylilies, herbs, and others) that are anchors in corners and sides of the plot.  On on side are two raised beds, floating within the larger plot.  So some things get planted in rows, while many others, including annual flowers, get tucked into empty spots.

This year, things are packed pretty closely, which actually also helps with weed control.  Tomatoes are elbow-to-elbow with Borage and cucumbers, which are next to the pole beans.  And the mixed packet of sunflowers I planted are massive!


Remember my lamentation about the straw as a weed suppressant? So far, it has worked out just fine.  Yay!


There is nothing that beats the fragrance of fresh carrots right out of the warm ground.  Picked the last of them today (at least until the Fall). What an amazing treat.  The basil was a close second.

Here’s what we harvested this week:

  • Beets – a couple were still left. This year, I planted a mix of golden, red and chioggia.  It was the best year for beets I’ve had so far
  • Carrots (multiple colors — so pretty to roast)
  • Lacinto Kale – I like the flat leaves
  • Swiss chard — rainbow, which means some have pink stems, some white, some red, and some yellow
  • Green beans
  • Herbs: Sorrel, thyme, basil, dill
  • Rhubarb
  • The first tomato of the season. Black Krim — sweet and delicious

Left the peppers on the plant to mature a bit more this week.

A bit of the harvest was donated to the food bank. There’s a collection area right in the garden!

At 90 degrees, it was hotter than I usually care for, but the time flew — it’s so pleasant being in the garden.

What a blessing.

Dill 2016

Green bean in flower 2016

We’ve Got the Beet(s)

Summer sure is busy. So much going on, the garden is just one of them!

The community garden has been doing well so far. This year, we’ve got beets — no nibbling critters (so far). And a bounty of chard and kale. The carrots are finally maturing.

So many pretty, subtle jewel tones between the beets, chard and carrots.

Community Garden

Because I only get to there a few times a week, there’s sometimes a slight feeling of dread when I head to the community garden. I’m never quite sure how weedy things have become in just a few days, or whether something has gone pear-shaped and will require more attention than I have time for.

But inevitably, most times, the apprehension seems to melt away once I arrive and dig in.  There’s a calm that takes over that defies logic.

I was alarmed when I arrived last weekend to birdhouse had toppled and crashed into ground.  The house landed on a large rhubarb plant and I dreaded what I might find.

The contents had spilled out and I fished under the rhubarb to assess the damage.  Bird nests are not necessarily a cute array of straw and grasses.  Sure, there was some straw, but there was also aqua-colored plastic twine, small pieces of clear plastic sheeting, small bits of broken  plastic odds and ends, black string, large feathers.  Not attractive to us, but apparently what’s appealing for the tenants.  I held my breath as I looked to see if there was a bird. Relieved, none seemed to be around.

I righted the pole and the house. As I walked back from bringing some of my harvest to the community food bank cooler we keep onsite, it seemed the tenants — or some new ones — were already looking to move back in.  (This was taken at a distance with my iPhone, so a bit blurry).


This calamity aside, it was exciting to bring home a delicius array of greens this week.  Lettuces, chard, kale and pak choi were in full swing.  So much goodness from a handful of seeds.

Get Planting Greens 2016

Rhubarb and radishes

I have three or four posts worth of content, but have been treating the blog a little lazily this long holiday weekend.  That’s not to imply I’ve been lazy about gardening. In fact, I’m somewhat nicely exhausted from it — or  perhaps it’s just  the near-90 degree heat. Or both.

Saturday: A Cautionary Tale
Saturday at the community garden is marked by an epic fail that confirms experienced gardeners do stupid things.  This is one I’ll be paying for all season, and possibly well beyond.  Let’s just say I generally use landscape fabric there for weed control, but for some reason I decided I’d use salt hay this year. Which was, of course, sold out from every garden center by the time I got around to looking for it  (I do in fact, have a day job!).  One of my trusted local centers insisted straw would be fine. So I looked it up on the interweb, and read that by definition, straw should have no seed heads.  Imagine my surprise when I get to the garden, unpack the straw, pull some out from the bale, and there it is:  Seed heads everywhere. I should have thrown it out on the spot. But I didn’t.  I put it down, and at some point in the future, the weed suppressant will be the weed source.  And of course, all this happened after the hay blew all over my car, which is another mess –and another story!

Sunday: Lazy Day Enjoying the Garden and Nature
On to more encouraging topics. Today, I’d like to give a shout out to my partner in crime and intrepid photographer: My husband.  He’s a photo contributor on this site. Creative director, musician and all-around talented guy, he’s also  an amazing photographer.  Check out some of his stuff on Instagram.  I’m always grateful for how he’s quick to hop outside to photograph some random plant or scheme on a moment’s notice, without complaint.

At the home garden, everything’s coming into bloom at once. We can thank the sun and heat for that.  A few weeks later than usual, peonies are in full swing.  Cut several vases full, and will be giving some to friends.

Dad_s Peony 2 2016

My dad gave me these two peony plants. Each year, they remind me of him when they come into bloom. The white is a favorite, with its beautiful fragrance.


Early in my gardening adventures, I was a bit rose obsessed. Not  just any rose, but antique garden roses.  The two that have remained have earned their place — they’re beautiful, tough survivors and sweetly fragrant:  The Quatre Saisons and Felicia.  Felicia is one of Pemberton’s hybrid musks.  I love the delicate blooms and the way it can be trained as a small climber.  It has survived being dug up and replanting when we built our addition.  It can also be seen inside our back room, backlit by the sun.  The Quatre Saisons similarly has survived multiple moves around the garden.

Rosa Felicia 2016

Sunday Supper

From community garden, I brought home a respectable haul of rhubarb, French breakfast radishes (so pretty, and tasty), and gorgeous greens:  pak choi, lacinto kale, so many lettuces, tiny chard. The rhubarb made a delightful dessert in this delicious recipe by David Lebowitz.  His is yet another inspiring recipe site I like, and this one didn’t disappoint!  I made just a few small tweaks — like using a splash of Lakka, a Finnish  cloudberry liqueur, instead of Kirsch (which I didn’t have on hand) and cutting the sugar and honey, and using a bit less wine.  A little whipped cream melted into the warm compote as a topping.

(Incidentally Kirsch reminds me of a wonderful Black Forest cake my mother used to make.That’s another story. Hers was perfection, and elegant. It started with a dark chocolate cake and contained dark cherry filling flavored with kirsch, topped with a very simple and elegant whipped cream, and embellished simply with dark chocolate shavings. I’ll have to ask mom for the recipe).

Dinner was a great pak choi (bok choy) recipe from The New York Times, except I added sesame seeds and tofu (which had been pressed and seasoned).  All in all, a very light and quick summer dinner.

BachelorButton 2016

Daylily Dilemma

I spent a good part of the weekend battling a formidble enemy.  They look so innocent, even attractive.  Neighbors share them freely. They appear on roadsides across the northeast, a happy sign of summer.  The orange daylily.

A friend gave me some from her garden who knows how many years ago.  And somehow they have multiplied in a crazy-quilt way, in places totally unexpected!  And seemingly exponentially this year.

Ruthlessness is important.  I think I got the roots of many, but I’m sure they’ll rear their pretty heads again.  They’re tenacious. And the garden does look better without them — their random appearances were squeezing out  neighbors throughout the bed.

Have I banished them for good? Hardly. I still have some at the community garden and a small patch at the back of the garden.

A good part of the rest of the weekend was spent doing the many tasks that have been building up. Planting annuals and mulching the front beds.  Pruning. Planting some climbing annuals strategically — hyacinth vine and antique sweet peas.  Separating and transplanting coneflowers, lady’s mantle and astilbe to a bed at the entrance of our property, under the pear tree.

Despite all that got done, there is so much more. But I’m not complaining, It’s a pleasure that there’s just not enough time for most weekends.

This weekend’s highlights in photos below.

Jacobs Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder adds a delicate touch to the front of a border.

Peony wiegela

Peonies are late to bloom this year. This one’s just about ready and is tucked next to a Wiegela.


Centaurea, sometimes called Bachelor’s Button, adds a vivid blue for a few weeks in Spring.