aspenhill's blog

Still too cold to garden today
Posted on Mar 17, 2018 12:06 PM

Earlier in the week, the forecast for this weekend was promising - high 50s/low 60s and sunny. I really thought this would be a good weekend to get outside and dig in, literally. It sure hasn't panned out. Two days ago the forecast for the weekend changed back to more of the same cold and cloudy weather that we've been experiencing all week. Drat. The only thing that I'm doing outside today is to go looking for plastic flat trays over in the pot ghetto. The plants I purchased in Lancaster on Tuesday are being staged in the mini greenhouse shelving units that I picked up on sale at Aldi, but I just left them in the cardboard flat boxes that the nursery packed them in. I knew they would only hold up for a few waterings, but I was hoping to get them planted out this weekend. Looks like that won't be happening. I'll get a bit of a gardening fix though by watching Episode 2 that aired yesterday of the 2018 season of BBC's Gardener's World on YouTube. I thoroughly enjoy the host Monty Don. I wonder how many people in the U.S. even know about such a wonderful gardening show. The Brits definitely have a way with gardening.

I had a good belly laugh this St Patrick's Day. I know a gnome isn't exactly a leprechaun, but close enough for some fun today. Mike's brother Richard's wife Karen thinks that Mike resembles garden gnomes and for several years has made a game of leaving them around the property. The first one that I ever noticed was hanging on our Aspen Hill entrance sign. Another one was in Mike's Harley Davidson motorcycle saddle bag. It was dressed in hot pink and the perfect prank for such a macho location. There have been others and we never know where we'll discover them. It has been a source of amusement for all of us. Anyway, I couldn't pass up a reclining and smiling gnome statue that Jill and I saw at the Flower Show. I convinced Mike to actually let me take his picture this morning while he was reclining on the chaise in the conservatory. Afterwards I took a picture of the gnome statue and was laughing so hard at the resemblance. Mike is a really good sport about it, but he just shakes his head at the things that I find hilarious.
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Battling the Deer
Posted on Mar 15, 2018 11:55 AM

I have a deer problem, plain and simple. I live in the woods and although there have been deer around since we built our house in the early 1990s, they only became extremely overpopulated and started mercilessly foraging my gardens about 8 or 9 years ago. Mike and I don't hunt, but we allow and encourage friends and family who do hunt to come each year and try to thin them out. Even though a few dozen are eliminated, it doesn't seem to make a dent in the population nor does it deter them from the gardens. The overpopulation is a big problem throughout the state of Virginia, there are no natural predators, and the deer have easily adapted to all kinds of conditions. They are as much of a problem in the suburbs as they are here in the woods.

I have been steadily learning which plants in my gardens that they find irresistible and which plants they don't. There are quite a few plants that I can collect to my heart's content knowing that they will be left alone and that is what I focus on these days. I still want to have a few things in my gardens that I need to battle the deer for though. However, after years of being stubborn and trying to save some of my favorite plants that are obviously deer candy, I finally gave up last summer on my spectacular line of hostas bordering the front walkway and the tall phlox paniculata that filled the front yard island bed. I've tried deer repellant foliar spray and systemic capsules to no avail. Both of these garden beds were planted more than twenty years ago and had reached that wonderful stage of maturity that only time can bring. They were in such a prominent position in the landscaping though, and I just couldn't bear the sad remains of the inevitable decimation that occurred by early summer.

In the heat and humidity of July, I went to work digging. My original 25 hostas were huge, and as I dug, I split each one into at least five or six sections, some even more than that. I gave as many of them away as I could to anyone interested. The clumps that weren't taken are piled up out of sight in the woods by the well. Who knows, maybe they actually made it through the winter. Hostas are tough. If any survived, I'll be peddling them to friends again this spring. It took me 3 back breaking days, sweating profusely as I worked, to dig all of them up. The phlox was much easier. My original 7 had grown to fill in an area about 12 feet long by 4 feet wide. I dug up clumps that filled gallon nursery pots and gave those away too.

Deciding what to replace them with was easy. I wanted something similar in height and form, but with the must have criteria of being able to hold up against the deer problem. I liked the design look of mass singular planting in those two areas too, so I only had to decide on two or three plants. For the front island bed, I chose Monarda 'Purple Rooster' and purchased 7 soon after I dug up the phlox. Looking similar in height and form to the phlox, the monarda that I chose will get about 3 or 4 feet tall, get purple flowers in the summer, is mildew resistant, grows fast and spreads easily, and most of all, the deer don't like them. For the front walkway bed, I chose Pulmonaria 'Raspberry Splash'. Pulmonaria looks similar in height and form to hosta, but with the rough leaves, the deer leave them alone. Since I was looking for 25 of them and I wanted to get them at the reasonable price that is offered at a favorite greenhouse in Lancaster, I had to wait until they replenished their stock for the 2018 season. I made the 2 1/2 hour trip up there on Tuesday to get them. As I was driving, I got the bright idea of companion planting them with Polemonium 'Bressingham Purple' if the greenhouse had a quantity of them in stock too. I had seen that combination in a photo years ago that a fellow gardener in the Mid Atlantic region had posted, and it has stayed in my mind ever since. Getting the row of pulmonaria and polemonium planted will be one of the first gardening tasks I tackle as soon as the weather warms up. The forecast for this weekend is a bit milder, so I'm keeping fingers crossed!

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Gathering thoughts for the 2018 season
Posted on Mar 14, 2018 9:43 AM

This is the time of year when I am tired of inside tasks and more than ready to get outside and start the gardening year. I am always teased by a few spring like days with mild temperatures and lots of sunshine, but then winter reasserts itself with a vengeance. Somehow it doesn't seem fair. I am much too much of a wimp to spend time outside in 30 or 40 degree weather even though I'm anxious to start. My mind is full of to do lists and ideas, and unlike most other areas of my life, gardening has always been something that I remain hopelessly optimistic about. Even though I didn't accomplish most of what I had planned last year, I did accomplish some of it. I really thought that I would get a lot more done with all the time I have on my hands now that I am retired. It has been a full year already! I stayed busy last season, but I also spent time resting by reading and taking naps out on the porch during the heat of the day. For the first time after decades of horrific commuting and long work hours, I can honestly say that I am no longer in a constant state of fatigue. That in and of itself is a wonder.

I wish I had kept up with posting last season, but after each day of yardening, I just couldn't muster the oomph to write about it. Such a shame because it is fun to go back and re-read about the daily pursuits from previous years. I'll try to keep up this year for sure.

My to do lists and ideas for the 2018 season are running rampant, all jumbled up. My mind keeps flitting from one thing to the next without much rhyme or reason, certainly no organized train of thought, and certainly no priority either. I'm just going to start listing them here, rearranging for organization and prioritization as I go and editing the post for additions as I think of them.

Priority 1 - cleanup existing gardens
At this point, I have 28 garden areas. For priority, I've grouped them by areas closest to the house (11), areas just beyond the house (9), and the outlying property areas (8). Cleanup entails raking and hauling fall leaves to the compost pile, weeding, putting down a fresh layer of compost, topping off with new mulch, taking inventory of what is still alive, and making notes on design aspects to change or add to. I attempted to get this accomplished last season, but with years and years of hit or miss getting to each area, it was a monumental task. If this is the ONLY thing that I actually manage to accomplish this season, it will be one of the most successful years that I've ever had.

Priority 2 - finish the back patio project
Last summer, we finally got to the back patio project. It had been part of the plans when we built this house in 1991, but money at the time of original construction was tight and a patio was something that could always be done later. Well, I didn't think it would be more than 25 years later with the backyard being in a "temporary" state all that time, but that is how it goes around here. In keeping with our bad habit of never actually finishing anything, the back patio is nearly finished but not quite. The stone perimeter walls and columns are done and there is a base coat of gravel on the flooring area, but final flooring material needs to be installed, a large stepping stone for each of the two entrances needs to be installed, and final grading around the outside needs to be finished before I can put in the garden beds and/or sod to tidy the whole thing up.

Priority 3 - miscellaneous low level of effort projects
- Repair/replace the irrigation system pump and get it back to working condition early in the season
- Make the stenciled plaque to hang above the La Brezza statue in the cottage garden
- Paint the collection of mismatched clay pots my signature purple color
- Paint the odds and ends of shepherds hooks and metal plant stands a rust resistant semi gloss black
- Build a simple firepit with big box store curved pavers
- Hang the new 3 tiered slat planters purchased at the Philadelphia Flower Show
- Install small rectangular or square flagstones in the Hillside Shade Garden area from the sidewalk to the seated arbor
- Install small rectangular flagstones to use as steps down to the irrigation control panel under the dock
- Cleanup, organize, and store all the plastic pots in the pot ghetto area
- Paint the pressure treated posts under the side deck balcony white to match the railing
- Paint the exposed concrete foundation under the conservatory grey to match the siding
- Add boards to add height to the raised beds in the vegetable garden

Priority 4 - new gardens
- Stumpery across from the Turtle Garden, with a Japanese style raised walkway to stroll above the bog
- Rose Garden in the side yard, with a pillared pergola, meandering curved beds, sod paths
- Woodland Walk similar to the one at Mt Cuba, but on a much smaller scale, utilizing the existing path loop between the pond dock and the backyard
- Start the propogation of large quantities of Siberian and Japanese iris to border a significant portion of the pond edge; it will take years but will look so much nicer and will be easier to maintain than weed wacking the so called "grass" that is there now

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Posted on Mar 12, 2017 7:56 PM

When the weather has been too rainy or too cold to get outside in the gardens lately, I've been amusing myself by rearranging some indoor spaces.

Working on the project to eliminate hardcopy paperwork made me realize that the office area in the turret of the master bedroom needed some rethinking. I was using the enamel top table that my great grandmother used to make her bread, at least that is how my dad remembered it, but it was only 24" x 41" - not much room for spreading out with the computer, scanner, and speakers on it. Also, Mike and I kept jockeying our laptops back and forth because there wasn't enough room for both of them at the same time. I thought our original kitchen table that has been stored away in the basement for years would probably work. Mike poo-pooed the idea, saying that it would be too big, but I measured and convinced him and Lowell to carry it upstairs. This table is 41" x 65", so I had to move out some things to make it fit. The smaller table was up against the wall, but I have this bigger table in the middle. The dresser drawers hold office supplies and I was able to fit the reading chair back in, but not the matching ottoman. I'm pleased with the arrangement and Mike reluctantly admitted that he likes it as well.

This is what it looks like now
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And the view of the pond from where I sit
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Open turret ceiling
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I'm also spending more time sitting at the dining table in the conservatory and noticed that there wasn't much height to the plant arrangements along the left wall. With $s from a retirement Amazon gift card, I ordered two simple 30" tall plant stands and a tiered 45" tall plant stand. After a few hours of pleasant rearranging the day they arrived, I think it is a bit more visually appealing.

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Turtle Garden Cleanup
Posted on Mar 10, 2017 3:34 PM

With two sunny days and spring like temperatures but knowing a ten day wintery forecast is coming our way, I got myself outside to tackle winter cleanup in the turtle garden Wednesday and Thursday while the weather was warm.

What a mess. Last year some kind of grassy weed overtook the whole area. I don't know exactly which weed it is, all I know is it is hard to pull up and even harder to rake out the fall leaves that are stuck in it. Lots of briars in there too. I just didn't have the time to keep up the maintenance on it last season. I'm making progress though. I must have spent at least 10 hours raking and hauling leaves off to the compost area.

There is another whole section of leaves that aren't in the weed infested area that I plan to suck up and shred with the Cyclone leaf vacuum. Then I'll double shred by dumping them out on the grass below the pond dam and mowing over them with the lawn tractor. The Cyclone leaf vacuum shreds as it is sucking up the leaves, but not as fine as a second shred with the lawn tractor. I'll spread them as mulch over the naturalized fern area between the turtle and the creek.

A big tree fell in one of the recent wind storms, so that needed to be cleaned up too. Mike cut it up with the chain saw, and then I loaded the top branches into the dump truck. Mike dumped them in the burn pile and hauled the trunk sections up to the log pile.

River and Riley spent both days outside with me. Riley stayed by my side but River was constantly running everywhere. The turtle garden is below the pond dam so I can't see the water, but that is where River was often running off to. I could tell because every so often the pair of Canadian geese that are nesting there would raise holy heck. A few minutes later River would come racing down the dam looking very pleased with himself Rolling on the floor laughing

I was surprised that I was physically able to spend that many hours at it - probably 7 to 8 hours each day. My body was tired, but not as achy as I thought it would be Thumbs up

This is what it looked like before I started. I don't know how well it depicts the magnitude of the grass like weeds, but it does show the size of the downed tree. Still a lot of work to do, but it will likely be a few weeks before the weather cooperates enough for me to get back out there.

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