The past couple of days I've been spending a good bit of time in the Storybook Garden, trying to bring order to chaos. I need to rethink that space. When I started that garden, it was full sun. It is on a west/south facing gentle slope and the soil is tricky to work with, mostly heavy subsoil clay with a couple inches of relatively recent topsoil. (The original topsoil was virtually gone after decades of overcropping as farmland; in the years before we bought the property, it was a commercial apple orchard and subject to a LOT of chemical sprays. So the soil was not just low in organic matter, but also pretty much sterilized by chemicals.) I spent a lot of time and effort applying tons of organic stuff over that entire big area: at one point early on, after the apple trees had died off and been taken down, I covered the entire area with the dead branches, stomped on and broken down then topped with whatever I could lay hands on: bags of leaves, old corn stalks, weeds, grass clippings, cardboard you name it. It looked like Holy Hell for a couple of years but that laid down the foundation for rebuilding the topsoil.
In a way (but a good way!) I think all that effort sort of "shot myself in the foot." The trees and shrubs that I put up there are now growing luxuriously and things like yucca, daylilies, thyme, and iris (the only "cast iron" plants that would agree to live there once) are rampant. I did a good bit of moving things around last fall, put in a new path, etc. and I thought that would do the trick, but ... Frankly, it's a jungle up there. I had it pretty nicely weeded early spring, turned my back on it for about a minute and it's like the Amazon jungle. It's also a good bit shadier, with only the central area now in full sun. And (I know you all hate to hear this broken record) that Monster Grass is still a big problem in some areas. The lovely purple leaved plum tree is dying; plum pox. It's going to have to come out this fall. The couple of Knockout roses are struggling as are the peonies; the Shasta daisies, hollyhocks, etc. have given up the ghost. The original plan for this space was to have a garden like in a storybook, filled with friendly, colorful blooms.
I'm considering a total re-think. Instead of this being a "feature" garden, with lots of lovely stuff in it, I'm wondering if I might do better to make this a sort of "gateway" garden, leading up to the Folly Wall and the (planned) Dark Garden above. (The Dark Garden was conceived as a sort of "mirror image" of the Storybook garden, a place filled with odd and unusual, slightly sinister plants.) I'm just toying with ideas here, but I was thinking what if I concentrate on only some hardy shrubs and a couple of no-fail perennials? Along the north (shadier) side of the path, that would mean removing all the iris, asters, thyme, sedums, peonies, etc. and putting in a row of Annabelle Hydrangea (which do very well for me no matter where I put them), interspersed with clipped boxwood balls and possibly the "wild" orange daylilies (H. fulva). I saw a stunning combination of Annabelle and H. fulva not far from here and it's something I think I'd like to duplicate.
The south side of the path is a steeper slope and I've been clearing it off and planting it to nothing but iris. Mostly because I can't think of anything else to do with it. I'd sort of hate to now have to dig out all those newly planted iris, but I will if I can think of something better. The bottom of the slope on the south side of the path is now complete shade; there are some Bradford pears there and I went ahead and put in some ferns a few years back. It doesn't look too bad but it's overgrown with weeds as well. The whole place is just a mess.
I think that no matter what I decide to do, it's going to be a long hard slog. It's a much bigger area than it looks at first glance and it needs a lot of attention (which I admit it doesn't get). The "front" of this area is marked by the big (huge) forsythia hedge and right there you know it's always hard to keep neat; the forsythia throw out long whips and branches that, if you don't keep after them, can swamp anything growing within 4 feet of the hedge. Many is the time I went up there fully intending to "do something" with the garden itself (weed, transplant, etc) and ended up instead spending the whole day just trimming the hedge.
It might be time to drag out the box of old magazines and start looking at ideas.
I am not a big fan of growing peas. It always seems like so much work for so little return, and face it, frozen peas are cheap and pretty much as good as fresh. I don't know anybody who's a pea conniseur (heck, I grew up eating them out of a can). This spring I put in a long row just to use up the seeds I had from previous years. (Last year my entire effort at pea growing was a bust because the plants got covered in aphids; total bust.) This years row came up good, grew well, and i can't believe how many peas I got! A total of let's say 5 quarts from one row. They are finished for the year, I pulled up the plants and harvested everything that was left. No more blossoms and the heat is getting intense so I know that's it for peas. I was so surprised and pleased. It did take a about an hour to shell out the last 3 quarts but in a way, it's relaxing work if you don't have anything else pressing to do. Very tasty too.
Put in my nicely grown zucchini plants. I started them from fresh seed in pots and this is definitely the way I want to go in the future. The pole beans and cucumbers that I "re-started" from fresh seeds in pots are also booming along. No transplant shock, no setback. I had been brought up in the old tradition that things like corn, cukes, squash, beans, etc. were not good candidates for transplanting but this is not true. I believe the trick is in the soil the seeds are started in. It's important to FIRM the soil into the pot before you plant the seeds. It should be pressed very firmly in so that when the seeds germinate and form roots, the roots have a good solid mass to grow into. Then, when you tip the grown plant out of the pot, the rootball stays intact and the plant doesn't even notice it's been moved.
A couple of my early cabbage are large enough to harvest, but I've still got a couple heads in the freezer from last year so I think I'll make stuffed cabbage this week (holupki or gawompki to my Eastern European friends...and if you cook yours in tomato sauce I'm not sure we can be friends ) and use them up.
First thing I saw upon waking yesterday morning was a groundhog sniffing around the garden shed. I've got a baited hav-a-heart trap set as we speak. I vowed last year that I would harden my heart and remove every groundhog I could that came anywhere near the veg. I have no problem with them up on the top of the property munching away on the many many native plants that I've introduced and allowed to grow there, but my veg is MY patch; too much work, tears, blood and sweat to see it destroyed.
Rainy again today. I am not complaining. I have plenty of "finish up" work to do in here on the editing projects. AND I just accepted a HUGE project that will keep me busy all through July and August. If I even THINK about taking on anything else, I hope somebody gives me a good swift kick in the patoot. (The book is over 2300 pages about Pathopsychology. Oooo boy *rubs hands in delight*. I just love learning about crazy! (sorry sorry, not pc.)
In a world where it seems "excitement" is constantly slapping one in the face, I'm glad to report that pretty much nuthin' is happening here. The veg garden is growing, the flowers are blooming, the rain is coming down, the summer heat is with us. I'm far busier with my editing work than I want to be, but that's ok. I think I'll take the month of August or September off completely. I find myself not really bothering much about things like mildew in the hedges and brown patches on the lawn. I think one reason for this more laid-back attitude is that I've been working on a series of books about Palliative Care at the end of life. Let me tell you, reading reams about the problems and suffering of people with terminal illness makes me appreciate my own good health and good life very much. I realize how important it is to savor each and every day, every experience, in the full knowledge that someday it could all be taken away.
Well, I see it is raining again so I may just go ahead and move furniture and put down my summer rug in the living room. We had very heavy rain yesterday and overnight (about 1/2 inch I think!) so there's nothing doing outside today.
I dont ever remember seeing such wide swings in the weather before. We went from sultry high heat and humidity last week, very "close," very sticky hot weather to this week, suddenly very cool, very dry, very sunny, no rain in sight. And it's June. Normally (what is "normal" anymore?) our temps should hover in the high 70s, moderate rainfall. This year, June was "August" and now "October".
The veg is coming along a better than I hoped. I picked a big "mess" of peas yesterday: froze 3 quarts. Also got about a pint of Snow Peas to use in Chinese dishes. I think I have a couple of potato plants that came up "wild" on their own that I might dig out and see if I can get some baby new potatoes. In my opinion, there are few things you can cook that are better than newly dug potatoes, boiled, served with salt and butter.
I made rhubarb crumble yesterday and ended up eating the whole thing myself it was so good: breakfast, lunch and dinner! I have a good recipe for crumble topping that works with any fruit. 1 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 5 Tablespoons soft butter, pinch salt, dash vanilla. Rub the stuff together with your fingers until it forms coarse crumbs (looks like granola). Sprinkle over fruit in a baking dish, bake 30 min at 375F. Very nice served warm by itself, even better served over vanilla pudding or with whipped cream. I've used this topping with apples, peaches, even pineapple.Very quick and easy for dessert or coffee.
Daylilies are just starting to bloom. I have some of the H. fulva brightening up the Below the Deck garden and this morning the lovely Lemon Lilies opened. I am so glad I have those heirloom daylilies; a friend sent them to me. He lived in Virginia, but he got his Lemon Lilies from his grandfather's home in Alabama.
I don't think I'll get many if any cherries from my young tree this year. I got enough to bake a pie last year and had high hopes for this year, but most of the immature fruit fell off and there are only a handful of ripening cherries. I think cherries can be "alternate year" trees, bearing heavily one year, scantily the next, so I'm not worried. Plus, a friend said I am welcome to pick all her cherries, so that should be fun.
Nursing an inflamed hip. Hurts like the devil to walk uphill or sit. I have some exercises to do and I'm taking tylenol on schedule and using a TENS pad to try to get the muscles to un-cramp. I've had this before, usually it bothers me for a month then gradually goes away and I have no problems for sometimes years and then *Bing* back it comes. I think I'm prone to tendinitis; I've had that in my wrists, elbows, and knees over the course of a lifetime.
I am hoping that although the veg got off to a very rocky, slow start this spring, things might be looking up. I planted FRESH seeds in pots for Cucumbers, zucchini, winter squash (butternut and acorn), okra, and pole beans. So far, everything is up and growing like mad in the pots. I think I'll wait until tomorrow morning to plant them out in the garden; it's supposed to be a good bit cooler tomorrow. I also bought fresh seed for bush beans ('Jade') and planted out two more rows. I'm hoping these will germinate rapidly. Today (all this week) has been very warm and humid, with rain every day, even though sometimes only for a few minutes. We had a few big thunderstorms roll thru but most of the "sturm und drang" missed us; all we got was a lightshow and rain.
In the Gardens, I'm trying to make note of what is in bloom now. I like to get plants on discount tables, from friends, etc. and just pop them into the border along the outside of the Veg garden...it's sort of my "laboratory." If the plants survive there, I get to see what they look like, when they bloom, color, etc. Then I can make plans to spread them around elsewhere. This spring for the first time I have Canterbury Bells in white and purple in bloom. I LOVE THEM. I had no idea...never ever saw these beauties before. I will definitely be propagating more and using them in other spots. Also for the first time, I have ....oh poop...the name went right out of my head. It's a silvery, furry leaved plant with tall flower stems and small, intensely magenta flowers. I got seeds from a friend up the road. Definitely want those scattered around too. Also for the first time, Honesty or Moneyplant...very "wildflower" like in early spring and those coin-like seed pods are very interesting. I think I'll try to get that going down along the Pine Gap. Something odd I noticed, and this is purely coincidence: most of the things I don't know what they color they are. Nine times out of ten, plants of very similar color end up next to each other *HA*! I've got those little intense magenta flowers right in front of a butterfly bush that has almost identically colored blooms. It's the same way that an unknown peony bloomed the exact shade of the Rosa Rugosa it was planted next to. This is ok because as I said, this is my "laboratory" bed and I'll be moving things in and out of it.
The more I stare out the window at that South Border, the more I am itching to expand it outward and fill it up. I really would like to have flowering shrubs and possibly some archways over the path that leads from the lawn thru Casey's Cave area and up into the Storybook Garden. I think I mentioned before that corner is a bit of a "trouble spot" for me in a number of ways and maybe this would be a good spur to get me doing something about it.
Today without fail I am taking some rose cuttings to root. I've had fairly good success rooting cuttings in water (the trick seems to be to put the cuttings in a tall quart jar, but only about a 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. The tall sides of the jar maintain good humidity for the cuttings.
The "English" or "Green" peas are ready to pick, and the snow peas need to be picked and frozen. I had a very nice crop of strawberries from my new bed this year. I think I might try to expand that bed. We do love berries!
My poor Ghost cat. He had a badly inflamed eye earlier this month (which has since cleared up beautifully), and then on Weds morning he came limping and draggled into the house after having been missing all night. He was wet and looked miserable and my first panicked thought was that he had been "touched" by a car. After I calmed down, I realized he either had a sprained hindleg or some other kind of injury. Turned out to be a nasty abscess, which opened and is now draining. He's on antibiotics and doing well. Cats are prone to these infections; their skin doesn't attach firmly to their bodies like ours does. If they get a puncture wound, even a very tiny one, it can sometimes cause a pocket of infection between the skin and the body. Usually these things will open and drain of themselves, but they can't be neglected or they could spread or even cause sepsis. I usually deal with them here at home (cleaning, antibiotics etc.), but I've had to have veterinary treatment for a couple of cats over the years.
(I think Ghost really enjoys being fussed over. At one point on Weds he was very reluctant to walk at all, so R and I had to go out and get him from the back lawn and bring him indoors. We used a soft, cushy old comforter to make a sort of hammock and carried him in that way. He loved it. Emperor Ghosty, tremble and obey. )