Bee Friendly this Pollinator Week

Much has been written about the alarming threats to our bee populations and the benefits of adding natives to attract pollinators of all types to your habitat.  In honor of National Pollinator Week, I think I’ll try this fun-looking project to welcome more bees into our garden, courtesy of the Pollinator Partnership.

In honor of pollinator week, you don’t need to make a bee condo.  Just plant some flowers and see what you can attract to your little corner of the world.

Catching up

We recently celebrated the first year anniversary of living in our new home. If Year 1 was about improving our home’s infrastructure, Year 2 is about the garden.  And this has been a do-it-yourself season!  I’ll post the entire before-and-afters at some point.  Right now, take a tour through some early spring highlights. More soon!

    

    

Resilience

Winter and spring are wrestling.  The majority of our snow — and major storms — hit in March.

The bulbs can survive. The snowdrops below first appeared in March, and then were buried under nearly two feet of snow following a couple of n’oreasters. That’s resilience.

While there is barely a garden, some former occupant left us a gift of early spring bulbs, now appearing in abundance in the front woodland.  Bright blue Glory of the Snow, snowdrops, and a few crocus.

I added some daffodils. Seeing these flowers is enough to keep me going. And the anticipation of transforming plans to plantings soon.

Subtle shifting seasons

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

The varieties of this shrub bloom from February through early March, with tiny flowers – crinkled wisps.

We included a witch hazel in the front bed.  It has endured sustained sub-freezing temperatures and the regular stiff winds here on Windy Knoll. It seems to be on the cusp of blooming.  This was labeled as Arnold Promise, which would have had golden flowers. But they appear to be red.  The flowers contrast with the snow overnight, already melting toward what will be an unseasonably warm week ahead.

 

Tackling the basics

We tackled some big projects in the first six months, but only begun to get to the garden as the year came to a close.  There is more than enough for the year ahead, a lifetime, and probably beyond!

Here’s the garden part of the story, bit by bit.

We’ll fast forward to the spoiler.  We worked with a design-forward firm to help envision and plant the front foundation bed.  The design process 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’ll 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 and stuff gone amuck in the bordering areas.  Truly astounding how much there is around the wooded areas. We’re working to restore those areas so the woodlands can thrive.

Japanese stilt grass. Beggar’s lice (hackelia virginiana), elbowing out other plants in the area, with seeds that stick to everything you’re wearing and are nearly impossible to get out.  Small, very thorny black locust suckers from an ancient stump. Garlic mustard. These 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.  M spent some time forging a small path through the back forest, which is over-run with berberis, a landscape shrub that can be very invasive if it gets into the woodland ecosystem.

Below all of this, when the time comes to plant, are rocks, rocks and more rocks in a clay soil base.  It’s all in a day’s work and I’m 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 blog has been quiet over the first few months in our new home, since we’ve had our hands full with critical improvements.

The home: arts and crafts, three stories, 1910. On the top of a hill, with a view of distant hills from the front porch.  A descending woodland in the back.

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 installed 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.  Fixing decaying spots of the cedar siding.  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:  unearthing some of the early design choices.  The original cedar roof may have been painted dark green, though a neighbor said one of the original owners loved, loved, loved green (a photo from the historic society revealed the house, roof and shutters were all green at one time. I’m sure this wasn’t original, though the owner who did it was).  The green was still evident on the back of the shutters.

We chose a dark brown exterior stain that covers and smooths out the uneven brown stain that had been applied after the acid green exterior paint had been sandblasted away.  We changed the yellow trim to a soft, warm white. We hope the deep brick red color of the newly painted shutters are truer to 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 with the brown stain,)

This ad from the early 1900’s may provide a clue to what the original potential color scheme may have been. The design of the house is different, 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

Time flies and there’s nothing like moving to really drive that point home.

It’s bittersweet to read this blog and to recall our nearly 18 years in our first home, as we embark on a new adventure.  The love, care and improvements we made Building a garden that is now mature.  Love, friendship and good times.

Hopefully, in little more than a month, 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.

it’s a jungle out there

I’ve been enjoying the new location in the community garden.  Last season, we moved from the very front to the very back. It’s doing really well so far this year.  Maybe even a jungle, of sorts.

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. For example, I have established perennials, such as rhubarb and a variety of flowers (Montauk daisies, sun drops irises, day lilies, herbs, and others) that anchor the corners and sides of the plot.  On one side are two raised beds.  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.

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

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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 — as it always does when I’m outdoors or in the garden.

Dill 2016

Green bean in flower 2016