Harvest Proceeds

b tomatoesNo sign of the woodchuck the whole last month. Was it the repellent spray? The tunnel flood? The vinegar? Maybe all of them? There’s no more havoc in the garden, and damage outside it is clearly the work of deer, who leave a ragged edge on anything they chomp. Woodchuck and rabbit  teeth cut cleanly.

b garlic chivesThe harvest, unmolested, continues to roll in, but there’s at least one change I’m making for next year. The garlic chives have been pretty effective at keeping deer from eating the phlox, but have spread so much they seem to have choked out the shastas. And they are currently going to seed. I need to pull some of those. Soon.

b gourd vineThe mini pumpkins and gourds are fun, because after their slow start they leap out of the raised beds and travel in a most amusing fashion. The blueberries are all gone by the time random gourds barricade the nets, so no conflict there.

b marigolds 1One of the things I loved about marigolds as a child was harvesting their seeds. This is a task especially suited to small children’s hands.

b marigolds 2Once the flower has dried on the stem, the whole seedhead breaks off cleanly with a satisfying snap.

b marigolds 3Pull off the bits of dried orangey brown petals, and the fluff that comes with them leaves a nice clump of feathered seeds. I used to just put them in a paper envelope, but now I use an empty spice jar, since I usually have some around. But the envelope worked fine.

b green poinsettiasGardeners in Ann Arbor used to bring their tender plants indoors over the Labor Day weekend and some still do out of habit, but average first frost here is now October 15, with a spread from 10% on September 30 to 10% on October 30. My poinsettia plants, moribund indoors by last May, have flourished once again on my deck this summer; the geraniums and jasmine, too. All of them need to come in before a frost, which means I need to clear out a lot of floorspace indoors, in front of windows for them. I’m working on it.

Bounty

b tomaotesAugust is a very rewarding time in my garden. The tomatoes, yellow squash, cosmos, and zinnias are rolling in, the weeds have slowed down, and the little pumpkins that seemed so reluctant to emerge are finally showing themselves.

b punkins too

Diseases have been dealt with, win or lose, and by the end of the month – now – anything that wants to die can go right ahead. Too late to agonize. I really never understood the “we made it!” joy of harvest festivals until I started growing food.

b cosmosWe had a big, windy storm a few days ago, which knocked my tall flowers over. Sunny days followed, and the cosmos needed only one day’s sunshine to right themselves to a jaunty angle. They nod gracefully in my flower arrangements.

b vase flowers

The cosmos and zinnias are beautiful in the garden, but the reason I grow them is to make my flower arrangements.

b more flowers

 

There’s a Dutch tradition of flower paintings in which the brief lives of blossoms are meant as a reminder of mortality.

b flowersBut to me zinnias and cosmos in September, budding even to the last morning before frost, are signposts of strength and  beauty persisting into age. Fear not, and persevere.

All in the Same Barrel

b zinnias variedOne of the best bloomers for late summer is the zinnia. Beloved by bees and hummingbirds, it blooms right up to frost, and the more flowers you cut the more new flowers it grows. Also – so far – it is not eaten by any of the visiting varmints in my garden. Excuse me while I knock on wood.

b zinnia stripe blobZinnias come in many colors (everything but blue – what is it about blue?) and sizes, but one of the most interesting to grow is the Peppermint Stripe. It’s of medium height for a zinnia – about two feet tall – and looks hand painted. Stripes can be regular or eccentric,

b zinnia fat stripesbalanced or unbalanced

b zinnia pale stripesevenly pale

b zinnia white w flecslightly marked with sprinkles

b zinnia large blobor wild and crazy.

b stripeysThese are all from one packet of seeds planted together in the same pot where, as they grew, each one opened into its own design. They coexist in glory, the pot made gorgeous by all those different ideas of zinnia beauty. Clearly, it wouldn’t be nearly so interesting if they were all the same.

 

Woodchuck Measures

b squashI have taken various measures against the woodchuck’s break-in, and so far they are working. I sprayed all the plants inside the garden with animal repellent. I ran a hose out and flooded the tunnel. A woodchuck tunnel usually connects to other woodchuck tunnels, so my hope was to make a mess in there and precipitate a woodchuck crisis. I imagined Mama Woodchuck furiously walling off Junior’s unauthorized expansion unit, scolding him as water poured into her previously tidy home: “You opened it where?? Are you crazy?? Go to your room!” When the water level went down I poured vinegar in after it. I sprinkled mole repellent around the garden perimeter. I smoothed the dirt at the tunnel exit so it would show footprints, and watched for two days. No footprints, and no more damaged plants. I shovelled the dirt back into the tunnel.

b yellow squashSince I wasn’t patient enough to try these one at a time I can’t be sure which ones were effective, but so far the tunnel hasn’t been dug out again, and the squash plants are flourishing. I like to grow yellow squash so I have a fighting chance to spot them under the leaves before they get too big, the way zucchini does.

b zinniasThe zinnias, while blooming, keep getting taller. I strung twine between stakes – it’s in there crosswise as well as on the perimeter – to keep them from flopping over.

b zinnsThese are for cutting, for bouquets, so I want straight stems. I like to mix salmon, rose, and pink zinnias with white cosmos, like this.

b gladsMy yellow gladiolus were flourishing outside the fenced area, looking gorgeous against the purple of Russian sage, and I was just about to tell you they were deer proof. Then I went out and found the yellow blooms in the backyard all nipped off with the telltale ragged edges of deer munching. Why? The deer ignored the purple glads as they bloomed and faded, and the yellow ones in the front yard are still intact. Was it the work of one of those foolish fawns? Did it give him a bellyache? Am I wrong to hope so?

Invasion

b hole twoWell, look at this. For ten years the fence has protected the garden, with the occasional bunny break-ins where the chicken wire let go or rusted through. Then last week after a short absence, I walked out to enjoy communion with nature and found this. Aaaaaah! The woodchuck! I heard a rustling in the squash bed and saw him – one of this year’s babies, maybe half size but clearly prodigious in digging. We had the chicken wire six inches deep, thinking of bunnies. Clearly not enough for a woodchuck. When he saw me he ran up and back along the fence in panic, till he finally found the place where he could dive under and out the other side. So – he had both a tunnel and an underpass. I don’t know if he came in that way and dug the tunnel to get out, or tunneled in and dug the underpass to get out.

b damageIn the two days when I wasn’t looking he had removed an impressive amount of dirt. My yard has good soil where I’ve enriched it, but a few inches down, and under the raised beds, it’s all sand. Which was now piled on top of my pathway and strewn heedlessly about. The other damage was to my squash plants, the biggest leaves in the garden. This guy put the hog in groundhog. I put some repellent in the hole and filled it back in, but he dug it right out again the next day. I wasn’t expecting this level of industry from the local furry brigands. I am currently trying a variety of repellents, both on the plants and around the tunnel. Will let you know what, if anything, works.

b gladiol and r sageI am, though, getting a lot better at understanding what I can plant outside the garden, where woodchucks, deer, and rabbits maraud daily. They don’t eat gladiolus or Russian sage. They don’t eat culinary sage or any of my other herbs – mint, basil, oregano, marjoram, or lavender. The garlic chives will impede – but not totally prevent – their wading through to munch on the phlox.

b veronica and ceratostigmaThey don’t eat Veronica or ceratostigma, two useful groundcovers. Veronica has the nice purple flowers; ceratostigma is really useful for covering the wilting leaves of spent daffodils. It will have a blue flower later in the summer, and red leaves in the fall.

b nigellaThey shun the nigella, which self-seeds itself every year, even in pots. Nigella is also known as love-in-a-mist. In the upper lefthand area you can see its seed pods developing – as they dry they make great Halloween decorations.

One of my better anti-critter landscaping feats is this shade garden: andromeda (pieris), coral bells (heuchera), sweet woodruff, lamium, bleeding heart, wild ginger, and goatsbeard play well with each other while not feeding the fauna. Sometimes the astilbe prospers, and sometimes critters much on it.

b shade deerproffContrary to what I’ve been told, something out there does eat rudbeckias and shasta daisies. This sadly impacts my ability to cut them off myself and carry them into the house for vases. Nature, however, provides a pretty good substitute in the ox-eyed daisies that self-sow vigorously every year. A weed, so called by those with a pejorative bent; invasive, a foreigner, and therefore unknown to the menu choices of northamerican deer, rabbits, and marmots of all kinds. Smaller than shastas, but profuse. Persevering. I’ve written a poem about them (first published in Potomac Review).

b oxeye daisyOx-Eyed Daisy

A simple ring of white petals
point inward, a map, a chart,
a drawing of a flower,
schematic and clear to
the pollinating world,
an icon of sunlight, its
whole agenda is to make
new things grow from
its golden heart, the center
where desire is not a place for
souls to vanish but a place
to start building the next bright
petalled, swirling thing.

Birdbath

b tomatoesIt’s lucky the weather has been beautiful, because the news has been so disheartening. I have great need of the garden, to recharge my ability to deal with my fellow humans. Pure summer has arrived, blue skied, clear, and breezy, so I stepped away from websites and media feeds, took my kneeling pad, my weeder, and my tubtrug and went out to the garden. Hello tomatoes. Let me help you out by getting these iniquitous weeds out from under your feet.

b globeIt was satisfying. I liberated the tomatoes and went on to the cosmos and zinnias. You can never have too many flowers, so when the available raised beds were full I found  a place for more: a circle of zinnia seeds around my garden globe. In my garden I can grow what I want, where I want, in as many raised beds as I like, or in low dirt where I think that’s a better idea, No one argues with me about it. Other people grow other things, but gardeners don’t go around forcing their beans and watermelon seeds on those with other plans.

b deck stepsI added a row of pots down the deck steps – more flowers, and then some chocolate mint. Mint grows fast and will take over the world if not confined to pots. Someone once argued with me that mint couldn’t possibly taste like chocolate, because they didn’t believe chocolate came from a plant. They became very invested in this position, causing a force field to rise around their ears, blocking facts. I like to think this happens more outside of gardens than in them, but our first recorded instance of it was in a garden, long ago.

b robinbathOnce I had the pots on the deck I continued around the house to the front yard, where I checked the water in the birdbath. There was water. There was also a bird. Robins are my totem bird, of course, so when they hang out around my house it feels like a kind word from the cosmos, and makes me happy.

b pathI fill the birdbath from a hose at the end of the house. I’ve been wanting a nice clear path to it, so I cut up some cardboard boxes, laid them out across the grass, layered mulch over them, and lined up stepping stones on top. When I turn on the water, my thumb on the end of the hose sends a strong enough spray to the birdbath to clean out any fallen leaves, dirt, stray feathers, whatever muck the has been left behind. A slight change of pressure makes the spray gentler, filling the birdbath up again, clean, sparkling, ready for the future. It takes the right effort in the right place, repeated often, to keep the situation from getting out of hand.

Hot Day

b flowersThey say it’s really going to be hot today in Michigan. This weather forecast made me excited. Hot! Languid, delightful, relaxing heat, soother of achy muscles, consoler of tiny infants. Yay! That’s me talking. Unfortunately, it makes Doug cranky. He will want to turn on the air conditioner, and I will want to sit by an open window. I won’t do yardwork in the sun, but I will happily wander outside with my iced tea in hand, checking on the plants. They are well watered from the huge downpour we had two days ago, but pots do dry out. A thumb in the dirt of these told me they’re doing fine, but at some point Doug will bring a bucket of water up from the dehumidifier, and I’ll give them another drink.

b chivesThe plants in the ground won’t need extra help. Here are the chives in my herb garden, along with some of the sage, looking happy. Their friends the thyme and oregano are happy too, but the chives get the photo op while they’re in bloom.

b indoor tomatoesThe outdoor tomatoes are blooming now, too, and a few fruits have set. Tomatoes like it fairly hot, but if it goes over 90 degrees for a couple of days, they won’t set fruit. Meanwhile the indoor tomatoes, which have been producing since Memorial Day, are rolling right along. They have a sunny window, but they’re also downstairs in a two story house, so they’ll stay cool enough.

b birdbathSitting by that window, writing this, I was thinking of the birdbath and scrolling through my phone for a recent photo, when I glanced out the window and saw this. They hopped out, of course, as soon as I picked up my phone. I also saw that the level of water has decreased since this morning. It’s 1:30 clock time now, which is our Solar Noon (one hour for the clocks being on Daylight Savings Time, and half an hour for our location within our time zone). I will monitor the water level, and fill it back up when needed.

b hot catZerlina is often very interested in birdbath activity, but not today. We’re officially at 92 degrees, so she’s with the garden tomatoes on the question of temperature limits. I think Doug is taking a nap. I promised him I wouldn’t go out in the noonday sun, but in a couple of hours I will make the rounds, slowly, with iced tea and bare feet, amazed again at the warmth welling up from the same place where, just weeks ago, I walked in the snow.

Peonies and Iris

b pink peonyI love peonies for their wanton blowsiness. They swoop, they dangle, they lean out crazily into their neighbors like uninvited gossips. They burst out in bright colors but change into pastels when your back is turned. They are named for Paean, physician to the Greek gods, and for a song of praise.

b white peonyThis season marks the 100th anniversary of the Peony Garden at the UM Arboretum in Ann Arbor. It marks the 10thanniversary of my personal peony gardening. These are some of mine. I don’t have close to 10 percent of what they do so I guess I’ve fallen behind, but it’s not the fault of the peonies. When Doug and I moved into this house there were three peony bushes struggling in a spot that had clearly grown more shady over the years. Come fall, I carefully dug them out and moved them to a sunnier location. I thought I’d moved them all, so next spring I was surprised to find I had peony bushes in both places. The peonies are definitely going for divide and conquer. The hitch is, they depend on me to clear out more lawn for them. This summer I plan to smother another swath of grass with cardboard, newsprint, and cedar mulch, and come fall divided peonies will take it over.

b paler irisIn keeping with the theme of Greek gods, though totally by accident, my peonies keep company with iris, a flower named for the rainbow and the gods’ messenger. Iris does come in many colors, often two or three on a single flower, but a bearded iris looks more like a supplicant than a messenger – those uplifted hands. Yes, there are three of them, but still.

b irisSiberian iris grow in clumps, so you get a big, dramatic display right away. A perennial, like peonies, they can be divided every few years to yield more and more gorgeous blue waves. But last time I did it, I noticed it was not easy to dig up the clump. Strange, that didn’t used to be true. Something tells me it’s on its way to be truer and truer every year. Peonies and bearded iris are shallow rooted and easy to dig, but I believe next time the Siberian iris need dividing, I will be calling on the Rent-a-Rowers.

b groundcoverMeanwhile, I do have one place where the perennials cooperate without my intervention. Creeping plumbago (ceratostigma plumbaginoides) gets started late in the spring, which annoys people looking for green where the brown was, but makes a perfect groundcover for faded daffodils: the plumbago only leafs out when the daffs are gone and their leaves start to flop and look bad. Creeping plumbago then clambers in and climbs over them, tidying up the garden all on its own. Later in the summer it has lovely blue flowers, and in the fall its leaves turn bright red. Then it dies down and gets politely out of the way, so the daffodils can burst into full glory come spring, and the cycle repeats. A very cooperative plant.

b garden chairsThe creeping plumbago was so busy taking care of the front yard, I was able to do some weeding in the back. Then I set out my chairs among the aggressive ferns and volunteer Dame’s Rocket, for both of which I am grateful, and sat, contemplating the view: flowers; weeds; birdsong; the world.

 

Flowering

b tulipsBecause the deer and rabbits don’t eat daffodils, I consider daffs part of my landscaping and rarely bring them into the house for bouquets. Tulips are a different story. They need to be protected from critters, so I plant them inside the fenced garden, which clearly means they are a crop. I gather them, and with early and late varieties I have tulip bouquets for many weeks. An interesting thing about tulips is, when the flowers are spent, they – well, they explode, into a colorful chaos. I love that. We went away for a few days, and when we got back yesterday there was just such an explosion awaiting us. The rest of that bouquet blew itself up this morning.

b tulipsA trip to the garden revealed a new tulip crew ready to go, but this may be the last of them. It’s perfect timing, because the raised beds they’ve been frolicking in are soon to host the tomato plants currently beating against the glass in the upstairs window.

b jacob's ladderMy Green Lady, now next to the new garden bench, has acquired a skirt, and though it’s hard to tell here she’s developing sleeves of lamium, which I hope will ultimately reach her hands. But my attempt to give her a crown of hellebore didn’t take. It was coming along nicely, but must have been just far enough under the eave of the house that it was out of the rain. The pot dried out. The Jacob’s ladder alongside her needs no help from me to flourish, but neither do the hellebore in the front yard. They’re in-ground. So I have a choice to make here: give her a hat of something very drought resistant; remember to water her in spring even when it rains; or, what I usually do, plant her hat with summer annuals, because I’m used to watering summer annuals.

b lilacsLast year in May the crabapple trees were flowering in glory and the lilacs pouted. This year it’s the reverse – nothing worth a photo from the crabapples, but the lilacs look wonderful and smell even better. Why? Weather? Law of averages? I’m told there are crabapple varieties that only flower every other year, but mine seem to skip years randomly. It’s happened before, but not regularly. I tend to record these events even more randomly than they happen. Sometimes, in a moment of enthusiasm, I tell myself to keep a detailed garden journal with dates and comments for everything in the yard, to compare year to year and nail these things down. Moments of enthusiasm pass.

b dogwoodThe dogwood, though, bloom reliably: mid-May. There’s a poem by Edna St.Vincent Millay where she describes dogwoods as having “ivory bowls that bear no fruit.” I loved that poem as a kid growing up, but knew from observation that dogwoods do indeed bear fruit – red berries, in the fall. We don’t eat them but they are berries nonetheless, and many critters appreciate them. So she was wrong about the fruit, but “ivory bowls” is perfect, and I always think of it when the dogwood blooms. Ivory bowls will make you see dogwood, while red berries never would. The point of her poem wasn’t botany. The point was that the magically beautiful persists, returns, and is there to be found with or without a detailed journal.

Hello, May

forsythiaThings have brightened up considerably in the last two weeks. The forsythia have thickened up, and though temperatures are still skidding around like Olympic slalom wipeouts, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. The sun is up and working before I am in the morning, and didn’t set last night till about 8:30.  Brightness rules.

b daffsThe early daffodils finally shook themselves out, and the less-early pink ones have joined them. Once again the flower buds of the grape hyacinths were nearly all nipped off before they could get an inch off the ground. This is apparently a rabbit delicacy. Since it’s only the flower bud, the plants come back every year. Alas, so do the rabbits. Although yesterday morning the neighbor’s outdoor cat, Mac, went sauntering across my backyard with a very young bunny in his mouth. Whenever Mac ventures into Zerlina’s sightlines, she throws a hissy fit. Cats, you know, invented hissy fits. But she was sleeping by the front window this time, so he escaped being chastised for poaching.

b robinMac mostly sticks to the back yard. Meanwhile in the front yard, the birdbath sits near Zerlina’s window. She and I both like to watch it. Either I have lots of robins that like to bathe, or I have one robin that really, really likes to bathe. Here he is all puffed up from just having hopped out and taken a good shake. The cardinal, the mourning dove, the goldfinches, house finches, and chickadees also drink and bathe, but I’d say there’s a proportion of at least four or five robin-baths to each non-robin bath.

weeping cherryFollowing the daffodils, the weeping cherry’s blooming now, too. This is the tree with the giant scar down the whole trunk, from a lightning strike before our time here. Every winter it loses another chunk of branch and we think, that’s it; every spring it comes back. It’s a favorite of bees, and the natural pruning process has given it many twisty angles that are popular sites for bird nests.

tomato windowYou can see it again in the tomato photo. The seedlings are doing much better than they did last year, for no reason I can come up with. It’s still going to be two or three weeks before our last frost means they can go outside, so Doug cut some dowels for me and I staked them. They also have a better than average survival rate, so I will be giving some away. Not too many, though. I can never have enough tomatoes.