Some thoughts for for a new gardener:
Keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I received a wonderful garden journal as a gift, and it has provided insights, occasional entertainment, and perspective. I go through spells when I use it, and long stretches where I don’t. But it can be helpful to read about past gardening challenges, weather patterns and their effect, or which plants flourished and which failed. It also helps keep an inventory of what you planted, when, and where.
Journaling can be done with photos. Compare the photos below from two summers: 2005 and 2015. This was a bed I would tweak endlessly in the early years, when I was a new gardner. Straight lines evolved to curves. Time can help, or it can get away from you — then you realize how much things have grown and certain plants are “taking over” and getting a run of the place. Photos can show you the plain truth.
Another great piece of advice I received: Start with good foundation plants — these are plants that add “bones” to your garden, winter, spring, summer and fall. It’s harder to retrofit them later. These sometimes tend to be larger items within your planting scheme — shrubs, or small trees — so plan enough space for them to grow.
And don’t forget fences and hardscaping as a key part of your design.
Last, but not least: take time to smell the flowers!
Annual tradition. Our little corner of the world.
Natural beauty. Mountains meet lakes.
We’ve been fortunate to have a community garden plot up near the Frelinghuysen Arborteum through the Morris County Parks System. Even though there’s now a community garden within walking distance of our home in town, we don’t want to leave the wonderful community where we’ve been tending our little organic plot for more than a decade.
This year, we were given the opportunity to move to a sunnier location within the garden. Moving a 20 x 20 plot full of plants was a project — especially in the cold, damp early April weather. But we were greeted with a welcome gift, a nice surprise from the former gardener, who had moved to California over the winter– some asparagus. Not too shabby.
Last weekend, we took home quite a harvest, including carrots and yellow squash Neither were any larger than a lady’s finger. It made for a really nice breakfast this morning. I simply washed the greens and gently scrubbed the carrots – no peeling necessary. After some fine slicing, these were sauteed with the squash and a bit of olive oil and fresh herbs. On the other side of the pan, eggs. Grated some pepper on top, and there was a simple, delicious, one-pan meal. You could grate a little cheese and add toast, if you wished.
What could be an easier, prettier dish on a Saturday morning? Colorful, fresh, flavorful… and maybe even healthy. You could exchange other fresh green for the carrot fronds – spinach, kale, chard or beet greens. Why not give it a try?
Speaking of great food, there are so many inspiring sites! Turntable Kitchen is a recent fave. Food and music, what could be better? Their savory rye waffles are the great base for a Sunday morning breakfast. I have also long been a fan of Zoe Francois. Zoe Bakes is always inspiring. And Will Cook for Friends is both yummy and gorgeous — her food photography is amazing.
Better half is working late (NYC agency life), so what better way to pass the time than take in the garden — and a glass of wine — from our porch? Took a quick walk around with hose in hand, and noticed some promising, yet not-so-typical things:
The oak leaf hydrangea, which had grown large over the years, suffered an unusual dieback this past winter. I’ve seen this with the macrophylla variety, but not with something woody like this. I did a dramatic pruning in late spring and it has finally done something I had only read about: grown shoots all around the main plant. Nothing to look at, so no photos, but it gave me hope! Pruning directed the energy to the good stems and this renewal.
The inkberry hollies, which are kind of loose looking by nature, have become huge this year. This is also kind of unusual, especially as they’ve taken a beating under snow and ice these past two years. I don’t think they can be shaped, so turning around what to do with them in my head. When all else fails, leave as-is.
My stepdad shared an old gardening adage with me long ago that has proven to be a gardening truth: The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.
The hollies have been in for donkey’s ages, but they’ve finally leaped.
This blog is dedicated to people who are interested in gardening, so I really must provide some inspiring and practical advice. Next time! Happy gardening, L.
Okay, just in case you think this is all about putting a bunch of stuff in the ground and seeing what happens, it’s not. It’s not about digging in the dirt, buying a carload of annuals from the garden center (inspired by those ads that promise “lots of color!”), or adding everything you see or want.
It’s about design.
It’s what makes this fun – or a big part of it. What other creative endeavor grows and changes with time? How the planting relates to the structures around it — and the ways in which you use the space — makes it even more interesting.
Plants made an impression on me from the start. I recall bright purple pansies with yellow faces in a place where we lived when I was just three years old. But one of my fondest, earliest garden memories involves my mother and a little gardening project.
We had moved to a large, old house with a a big piece of property. Young and full of energy, our family established a vegetable garden — it seemed massive to me!
My mother, prompted either by my prodding (I’m tenacious), or perhaps hoping to have a project to do together (there was always something creative going on), decided to set aside a few rows for me, where we planted a variety of flower seeds together: bachelor’s buttons, marigolds, painted daisies.
I waited what seemed like forever, but flowers were nowhere to be seen. Then one day, they appeared… but where were those painted daisies? Nevertheless, I was enchanted. The seeds of garden love were planted.
Only years later did I learn that my little garden had received a little bit of “divine intervention” behind the scenes. That year, there was storm that caused a historic flood. There was no chance the seeds we had planted would germinate. My mother kindly sought out each variety at a local greenhouse and planted them one evening, as to not destroy the enchantment of that first experience. This truly reflects her personality — kind, loving and always looking to build others up.
Some may say it would have toughened me up to start again — an early life lesson. But for a five-year-old, sometimes you need a little magic. I’m convinced it fostered my love of gardening today. Thanks, mom.
I’m traveling on business to San Francisco this week, quite fortuitously avoiding the East Coast blizzard of 2015.
It’s been several years since I’d last been here, so I took a walk to clear my head and get a little bit of fresh air. It’s struck me how a city can look so different each time you visit, whether it’s a place you’ve known for years or have only visited a couple of times. The paths and edges you remember may have been completely transformed, or is it one’s perspective that has changed? In any event, it reminded me of one of my first undergraduate reading assignments, Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City.
What does this have to do with gardening, you might ask? Our built environment is an interconnected whole — indoors and outdoors blur, intentionally or not. Urban, suburban or rural, the landscape is just one element of the fabric of our environment. We move through these spaces and interact in them, and with them. How many other elements can you spot?
Who says the warm months are when the garden is the most interesting? I was perusing our photo archives of the garden, this photo of one of our roses reminded me of the beauty around us at other times of the year. Even in the late fall, winter or early spring garden, there are lovely things happening.
The leaves are turning late this year in our neck of the woods, and I’m awaiting the magnificent colors of the Shishigashira Japanese Maple in our backyard. It’s known as the Lion’s Mane maple — perhaps you can see why!
Part of the fun of the garden when you have an older home is trying to imagine what the former owners created. The grounds of our post-war colonial house were very much a clean slate when we arrived. We had learned from the sellers that when they bought it, the house had an incredible, if overgrown, garden, which they largely removed.
There are so many reasons people take things out — whether they don’t know how to manage rejuvenating an old and overgrown garden, to needing room for children to play, to wanting the quick fix. Bringing a garden back to its former beauty takes time, for sure. In any event, it provided us with an opportunity to build something anew.
In the process of creating a back bed in an especially shady part of our yard where little could grow — save the pachysandra and hostas I have since planted, and now many more plants over the years — I dug up an old plant tag. Amazingly, it had a date on it — 1954! Nearly a decade after the house was built. It was for “Cinderella” impatiens, and the close-up photo of the red bloom cheerfully peeked out, preserved by years of soil and darkness. I researched the variety, but to no avail. It got me thinking about what the planting scheme may have been. Clearly, they liked to annuals in hot colors. What a gift to find this piece of history.
There are remnants of these former owners, if you look carefully. Thankfully, nobody has cut down the viburnums at the back, which I believe are something like a “Snowflake” variety — who knows for sure? The savable ones were absolutely lovely, but growing wild and the best they could at the back of this shady border. I’ve carefully removed dead wood and opened up areas for new growth over the years, while trying to maintain their graceful habit. It seems to be working, but it takes time.
It is a joy in the spring with its while flowers, as well as in the fall, with its red leaves and berries.
There is a certain joy in putting together a fall planter. Here is my first this year. I like the size for a mixed planting, such as this.