enjoying the november garden

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One of our big maples out back 

The November garden is spectacular in her own right.  The bright blooms of summer might be gone, but the fiery glory of late autumn waiting for winter is a magnificent display all on her own.

Years ago when I discovered the late Suzy Bales’ books Down to Earth Gardener and The Garden in Winter it was like having a gardening epiphany.  I had been gardening my whole life and she just inspired me to see things differently.  Like many gardeners, for years and years I gardened for two seasons: spring and summer.  She opened my eyes to four season beauty.  I have learned over the past few years the sheer beauty of each season if you let it happen.

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A flower on my Sochi Tea Plant!

This year I added Jenny Rose Carey’s book Glorious Shade to my garden library and she sort of picked up where Suzy Bales’ had left off because I was new to such serious shade gardening and woodland gardening in our current garden.  Through this book and one belonging to my late mother-in-law my eyes have been opened to the possibilities of the shade and woodland garden.  In these gardens, fall I think is one of their best seasons because you completely see the amazing range of fall colors getting ready to make way for the winter garden, which is different yet again.

In addition this year I discovered British gardener Monty Don when I realized through streaming services like BritBox I could get Gardener’s World, the long running and can I say amazing BBC gardening show.  I also acquired Monty’s Book Down To Earth Gardener recently.  Monty Don is a true inspiration to the home gardener and his show is the best I have ever seen.  It’s actual gardening and learning about plants and gardens and gardening, not just some DIY or HGTV hack show where people  blow in over a few days and create unrealistic outside gardening spaces with about as much charm as a McMansion wrapped in Tyvec.  Sorry not sorry but for all of the brilliant U.S. gardeners and gardens it blows my mind the U.S. television is unable or unwilling to produce a quality program along the lines of BBC’s Gardener’s World.

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One of my little blue birds of happiness

This morning the first thing I saw when I looked out the window was blue birds.  Not just a pair, but at least six fluttering around and checking out the bird boxes! Last year we had two.  They have returned and bought others. We think it is last year’s mating pair and perhaps some grown chicks.

I am telling you there are few sights as happy as seeing blue birds flittering and fluttering around the back gardens.  They are shy and hard for me to capture in photographs, so the photo is small and grainy.

Also a happy discovery today was a flower newly opened on my Sochi Tea Plant (tea camellia) and that witch hazels I forgot were in a woodland bed on the edge of the woods were blooming!

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Common Witch Hazel H. virginiana. This is the variety the atringent witch hazel is made from.  This was purchased from Yellow Springs Farm in Chester Springs, PA

Witch hazels are a wonderful often overlooked shrub. The first person to introduce me to them as a wonderful native plant was Catherine Renzi who along with her husband Al  is the owner of Yellow Springs Nursery in Chester Springs PA.  (Al Renzi is the one who finally got me to try a Chicago Hardy fig this summer so we shall see how it over-winters!)

Witch Hazels like moist, well-drained somewhat acidic soil.  They grow in full sun to partial shade, but are an understory plant so I do not recommend full sun although people do grow it in full sun.

Witch Hazels also might like moist soil and flood plains but they don’t like heavy, wet soil.  Have a care on their mature heights and width.  Mine are in a spot that will require regular pruning on my part because I did not pay close enough attention to their mature dimensions, yet I do not wish to move them as they are really happy where they are. Prune before summer but after flowering.  Since these are blooming now, I could technically prune them any time after they are finished.

Gardener’s World has a great piece on witch hazels.  I am not sure if all cultivars are available outside the U.K. but it gives you an idea of variety available. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a great article about them on their website too. Fine Gardening is fond of witch hazels as well!  Catherine Renzi introduced me to them originally, but it was in fact Jenny Rose Carey who made me look at them again.  She talked about them at a spring garden lecture I attended and she has several varieties in her own gardens at Northview. I am really lucky to know some fine gardening folks!

I have several trees to plant yet this year, along with a few shrubs and ferns.  Chestnut and Burr Oak , Amish Walnut, baby umbrella magnolias, more witch hazel, dogwood shrub, native azaleas, and a couple of ferns.  And more leaf mulch to be shredded as well. I have planted all of my bulbs though!

I also have hydrangeas to prune.  Yes, you CAN prune hydrangeas and you SHOULD.  It just depends on your type of hydrangea and if blooms on new or old wood. It is one of the most often asked questions in my gardening group.  This link to Gardener’s World will help you, other tips from Gardener’s World, and the one I have used in the past— help from Fine Gardening Magazine.

Enjoy the photos at the bottom of this post.  The garden in November is so lovely. Afinal note is if you are a Chester County resident or live in close proximity to Chester County, one of my favorite growers, Applied Climatology is having their end of season clearence sale at the West Chester Growers Marke on Saturday morning, September 10th.  Check out their event listing on Facebook for more details.

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adventures of a meandering gardener

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Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I saw that on a bench yesterday at Jenkins Arboretum.

I also fell in love with an oak tree named Quercus montana, the chestnut oak. I am going to add it to my woods. Jenkins had no seedlings available, so I will source elsewhere.

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 Quercus montana, the chestnut oak. 

As a gardener, I like to learn. Part of the learning is opening your eyes and heart to the experience of local arboretums. Jenkins Arboretum is my personal favorite. I belong to it and it is so easy to join – and the fees are quite modest!

I joined Jenkins because of my current garden. This is a spectacular natural property.  The history is as equally lovely.  It was created as a love story, and because of that love, became a public garden:

The home and twenty acres on which the Arboretum was first planned were formerly the property of H. Lawrence and Elisabeth Phillippe Jenkins, given to them in 1928 as a wedding gift by Mrs. Jenkins’ father, B. Pemberton Phillippe.

The groundwork for Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens was laid in 1965 when H. Lawrence Jenkins established the Elisabeth Phillippe Jenkins Foundation forever preserving his property as a living memorial to his wife, an avid gardener and wildlife enthusiast…In 1972, Mrs. Louisa P. Browning, owner of the adjoining property, donated her 26 acres, expanding the size of the Arboretum to 46 acres. The Browning property, including a house designed by the renowned Main Line architect R. Brognard Okie, is currently in a private area of the Arboretum. The private areas will continue to be developed and may one day be open for public visitation.

(Another perk of membership is a lovely book about the history of Jenkins!)

But the plant addict in me loves something else at Jenkins: their garden shop!  Open daily 9 am to 4 pm it is a comprehensive selection of native beauties, many from their own gardens.  Sun and shade loving plants. I have purchased several of the Jenkins plants every year for the past few years.  I have planted some of their azaleas (some deciduous), discovered really fun perennials like Chelone or turtlehead.

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Garden Shop selections at Jenkins Arboretum

Jenkins is open to the public 8 A.M. to sunset. Plants are available for sale in season, and they have a marvelously curated gardening book shop inside the John J Willaman Education Center. Yesterday I treated myself to two books:

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I chose The Wild Garden Expanded Edition by William Robinson and Rick Darke because so much of my gardens bleed to the woods.  This book, remarkably, was first out in 1870. This new edition, contains the original text and modern chapters courtesy of Rick Darke. It was through this book shop I also discovered  David Culp’s The Layered Garden a few  years ago. They also sell Jenny Rose Carey’s Glorious Shade which I previously wrote about and think everyone should have who has any shade gardens or wants to learn.

Now, I bought the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region Adam Levine, Rob Cardillo on a whim, and am glad I did. It is a great guide to go garden exploring with!

Plants I bought yesterday at Jenkins were several cultivars of Mountain Mint – great in dappled to shady areas, natives…and deer do not like things in the mint family so it helps protect my gardens. I also bought a couple different kinds of sedges – Ssersucker and Silver Sedge. They are also fun natives that add interest and have a lovely mounding habit.

(Did I mention that as a member you get a 10% discount on already reasonably priced plants??)

Jenkins Arboretum is a happy place for me.  A lot of people use their trails for exercise too.  But it is a marvelous property to meander and I see something new every time I am there.  They have been quite inspirational to me with planting my current garden, too.  Every time I go, I find ideas and inspiration. My one wish for them is I wish they sold more tree seedlings. They have the most amazing trees!

If you have small children there are also things to do all summer long – check their calendars and Facebook events for events and story times! (Pre-registration is required for a lot of things.)

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While I was garden meandering I did also visit the Barn at Valley Forge Flowers.  They are selling among other things, my favorite garden spade – the spear headed spade – in several sizes!  They are totally worth having.  They cut through a lot and make dividing and digging in difficult areas a breeze!

Happy Gardening!

the evolving gardener

One of my gardening heroes (and friends), Gene Bush had sent me a note to check in and say hello. He said in part:

I was hoping that I could convince you to write the story of your surgery and how it affected your gardening.

Well I hadn’t thought about it, but it has most definitely affected my gardening. I will note it is not necessarily bad, however it makes the game different now.

My travails with my right knee started in the winter. At the bitter end of February and first couple of days in March, one day, something went pop. It was so loud a sound, literally a “pop”.

That pop was my meniscus. The day it happened I was in the house alone and the pop sent me to the floor, where I stayed for a while, in considerable pain not able to get up and afraid to move.

Eventually I pulled myself up by using the low, heavy bureau I crumpled in front of and hobbled to the bed. This was how I spent the next couple of months – hobbling in pain within my home . It was my right leg, so that also meant no driving….and no walking….and worst of all, no gardening.

I pretty much spent weeks and weeks with my leg elevated and supported in bed as I went through the process of our healthcare system. Getting a surgeon, let alone getting approved for a surgeon by health insurance companies is NOT a speedy process any longer.

As I the days stretched into weeks, I realized that I would not be doing my late winter/early spring clean-up in my garden myself. That meant I also wasn’t going to be putting down all of the mulch I put down every spring.

I am a hands on gardener. I am used to doing for myself. So now I had to find some qualified gardening help.

For a while I had toyed around with using someone I had used in the past, but decided against that person. They were not inexpensive and when I had used them last, quite a few actual plants were removed with weeds. And the plants weren’t, say little clumps of mint or something, one of the plants was my white currant bush and I have been looking for about three years for another one.

I received a referral from a friend for a local landscaper. He spread most of the mulch and God bless him, dug out a 40 year old patch of forsythia so I could have another flower bed. Forsythia is miserable to remove as I removed a lot last summer. Forsythia is why I invested in a spearheaded spade, truthfully.

I paid the landscaper for the work I had initially contracted with him about, and scheduled some more, including driveway edging. The problem is he never returned. He kept making and breaking appointments so eventually I gave up. I will note that I have since done my own driveway edging, I just had to do it standing with more movement of my arms and shoulders then my knees.

By this point we are into May and I had finally had my surgery. Yes, it took that long. Between dealing with insurance company nonsense and the busy schedules of competent surgeons and all the pre-procedure minutia, it was May before I had my surgery.

If you are a gardener you know that a surgery like knee surgery can put you tremendously behind the eight ball. I did my best to find other garden help, but to no avail.

The irony is, I would never hire anyone to do something I was not willing to do myself or generally speaking usually did do myself. But I had people show up, look at my garden which is the rather good shape truthfully, tell me what they might charge… and then they just disappeared.

I can’t tell you how frustrating this has been. So it has made me rethink how I garden. Here I am, offering to pay someone to assist me, and basically they don’t want to do the work.

I am also frustrated by those I interviewed who wanted to tell me how my garden should be. That wasn’t why I was trying to contract with them for garden help. I have my vision, I just need a little help now and again executing it. It’s hardly impossible, it just requires thought and effort. But the difference is, I have an actual garden and in today’s society a lot of people do not. They live in developments where associations within that development make the gardening decisions and often contract out for all of the residents. Everything is the samey- same from house to house.

I will admit I found recovering from breast cancer surgery and other surgeries I have had over the past few years easier than knee surgery. A lot of that had to do with the length of time I was basically forced to sit still and rest prior to my surgery. My muscles went kerplunk along with endurance.

When I first started physical therapy I never thought I was going to be able to do it. I was as weak as a kitten quite literally, except a kitten could move much faster than I could.

But I was lucky to get an amazing therapist through my surgeon. His background before physical therapy was in sports training so he has been and an enormous help, and I discovered his physical therapy practice has a lot of gardeners in it! (Yes I am still doing physical therapy. I actually only started driving by myself a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still not driving long distances. )

I am back in the garden but it’s different than it used to be. One thing that is different is I broke down and bought myself a good garden seat on wheels with a little rack on the back of it. That way I can sit and weed and not bend over or have to kneel. It takes longer, but it saves the strain on my knee. The seat pivots, and there is a little basket on the back for my hand tools. At the bottom of this post is a picture that is close to what mine looks like as I can find.

I bought my wheelie garden seat from a member of my gardening group actually. People don’t realize the good gardening tools do not have to be brand spanking new to be good. As a matter of fact (and it’s somewhat a topic for another post), I search out gently used gardening tools at times.

From pruners that can be sharpened and are built in a more sturdy fashion in the vintage variety, to having back ups for the things I occasionally kill like gardening spades large and small, I am not adverse to garage sale hunting of garden tools.

But back to post surgical gardening. I have learned I have to accept that at least for the near term, there are things I can’t do unless of course I want to end up with an entire knee replacement next time. It’s hard for me to ask for help, but like it or not I know I have to at times now.

Post surgical gardening also means I can’t just do giant guerrilla sessions of gardening any longer. I have to pace myself. I tend now to go out in spurts of an hour to 90 minutes tops. I have to ice my knee every time I have gardened. I also have discovered I can’t garden multiple days in a row, or at least not yet.

Thanks to my physical therapist and tips he has given me I am also learning better posture for gardening for lack of a better description.

Having to adjust my mindset also means my garden has some adjustment. It is not as perfectly weeded as it once was. And I have to be more accepting of that, which I am the first one to admit is incredibly hard. Some people who have come to look at my garden this summer I think are surprised by that in particular, because I’m a little obsessive about my gardening beds. But I have to pace myself or I will literally become a cripple. And if I become a cripple I won’t enjoy my garden or anyone else’s garden.

I have learned this summer that knee injuries in particular are a very common complaint for rabid gardeners. When I had to let the hosta society know I would not be coming to their summer function because my knee wasn’t up to it yet post surgery, one of the event organizers laughed and said there was a lot of that going around this summer with gardeners that they know.

Is it frustrating to have to reset the pace of my gardening? Yes it is and incredibly so. The garden I have now established is a layered garden, so the work is pretty much on going in it.

But now post knee surgery, I have to slow the pace. It has also made me start to seek out some plants that may have lower maintenance – it’s a garden I will let you know ha ha ha when I’ve discovered that for sure.

However, all that being said, my garden is my truly happy place and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I still love it and love to take care of it… only now I have to be a grown-up and do it at a slower pace.

Thanks for stopping by!

trying something new in the garden


I’m trying something new in my garden. Not a plant, but food for plants. It’s called. Irish Organics Microbial Premix Soil and Sea.

It is completely organic, and yes it is from Ireland. I’m a test garden and so far so fabulous. It will be available for sale in the US soon on a limited basis. Basically it’s things from the bog and things from the sea – kelp seaweed and so forth.

I love Irish and English gardens, so when I had the opportunity to try this I jumped on it. You add this concentrate to your watering can. And when you first add the water it really does smell like a bog after the rain that damp dankness and peat smell.  When you water your plants – and it’s great for foliage too – The odor changes slightly and it smells like seaweed and kelp.

It’s even better than seaweed extract which I have used for years. And a plant that loves being watered with this are your household orchids. Don’t forget your Japanese maple trees – this is a food they will love! Actually everything including your vegetable garden will love being watered with this stuff!