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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.


The first year- 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.

Welcome to the jungle

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.


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


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

Can’t beet this

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

Since I only get to there a few times a week, I’m not sure what I will find at the community garden. Inevitably, most times, any apprehension melts away once I arrive and dig in.

However, last weekend, I was alarmed to find a surprise.  Our birdhouse had fallen and landed on a large rhubarb plant. I dreaded what I might find.

The contents had spilled out and I carefully peered 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.  Apparently it’s perfect for the tenants.  Apprehensively, I searched to see if there were signs of any birds among the debris. 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 residents — or some new ones — were already moving back in.  This was taken at a distance, so a bit blurry:


Aside from the birdhouse, it was a good harvest this week, including lettuces, chard, kale and pak choi.  So much goodness from a handful of seeds.

Get Planting Greens 2016

Rhubarb and radishes

I have three or four posts worth of content this long holiday weekend.

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!).  A trusted local garden center 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
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 subtle fragrance.


Early in my gardening adventures, I was obsessed with antique garden roses. The two that have remained have earned their place — they’re beautiful, tough survivors and ]fragrant:  The Quatre Saisons and Felicia.  Felicia is one of Pemberton’s hybrid musks.  I love the delicate blossoms 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.

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.