A Gardener’s Dictionary

Any discussion of gardens should focus on using correct terminology. This Gardeners’ Dictionary is presented as a handy guide for novice and seasoned gardeners alike with the hope that it will clarify currently used vocabulary.

(Note 1: Since this is a scholarly piece, pictures do not accompany text.)

Annual – plant that dies as soon as you plant it, as opposed to Perennial, which is a plant that had it lived, would have come back next year

Catalog Offerings, first choice – For plants used in cottage gardens look for Code MESS

Catalog Offerings, second choice – For plants used in formal gardens look for Code STIF

Chemical – product used to eradicate undesirable plants but works best on desirable plants

Deadheading – time-consuming chore of removing spent blooms, but can be avoided with the usual life cycle of Annuals or Perennials

Deer – adorable large creature that destroys your favorite daylily

Eradication – the act of chemically removing plants that are growing well

Hedge – a series of heavily pruned shrubs in a row that create a striking visual effect, especially if one or two shrubs in the middle die out

Meatballs – usually a food; in gardening a shrub pruned to this shape. For example, some home landscape designs feature many meatballs of varying sizes lined up in a row. Also known as lollipops.

Mulch – organic or inorganic material used for decorative purposes and/or conserving water that provides optimum conditions for colonization by weeds

Perennial – plant that had it lived, it would have come back next year, as opposed to an Annual which dies soon after you plant it

Planting in Threes – aesthetic landscape design technique that insures at least one plant in the group will remain alive long enough for you to enjoy it

Pruning – the act of chopping off undesirable growth, chainsaw most efficient and preferred tool

Rabbit – adorable small creature that destroys your favorite hosta

Seeding In – what weeds do best (see definition of Weeds)

Shrub – woody plant susceptible to disease, drought, poor drainage, bugs, rabbits and deer

Soil, clay – type of soil that causes plants to drown and die

Soil, sand – type of soil that causes plants to dry up and die

Soil, superior – type of soil that causes plants to grow. Nobody has this soil

Thug – plant that grows so well it pushes out Annuals and Perennials and has to be eradicated (see definition). Especially nasty because thugs are often so attractive they are desired by uninitiated gardeners

Tidy Garden – garden that is best viewed at night

Tool Belt – if worn and used properly, effective for keeping track of trowels, pruners, etc.

Tree – tall, grown-up thug with heavy roots and deep shade with no consideration for smaller plants

Trowel – small hand tool usually buried in the last place it was used

Weed – happy plant

Weeding – the act of removing happy plants to uncover dying Annuals or Perennials

(Note 2: Please feel free to notify the editor about any errors or omissions in this Dictionary.)

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September Frolic in a Southern Garden

It’s playtime in our garden in September. Happy recess between hot and cold seasons. Plants are putting a finish on blooms and berries.

A spectacular year for a pyracantha that has struggled for about 20 years

Bees and butterflies follow the sun, attend progressive end-of-the-season nectar parties. Birds buzz, chirp, chip, while they scour the duff down below or commandeer berries from above.

Bees love Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) sister to Cardinal flower

The livin’ is easy, a time for fattening beneath a kindly sun: Gather your necessaries, but play a little, too.

Silver spotted skipper is not the only butterfly that frequents lantana ‘Miss Huff’

In the early days of spring, a long time back now, plants were in a frantic hurry-rush-hurry. Make an entrance, stand tall, strut your stuff, look beautiful, bask in oohs and aahs. Seize the day. Be a star.

Surprise lilies, Lycors radiata, are a fall bloomer but their strappy foliage pops up in spring to fill bare beds before a gardener can grab a shovel

Brush off insects, hide from rabbits, shrink from deer. Minor annoyances, these last, as the vaudeville act goes on. Life in spring is one glorious fast track.

Even this young box turtle is in a hurry!

Come summer, enthusiasm dribbles. The marvelous spring show is gone. Bugs invade. Heat and humidity smother. Fawns and rabbits seem ravenous. Plants in tatters, or prostrate, or weeding in like bullies, this was not supposed to happen.

Canyon Creek abelia manages to keep its cool in summer, though it really shines in fall

Now it’s not look at me, but leave me alone so I can droop and snooze. A drink of water is the highlight on droughty days. Let those warm-weather, molly-coddled, johnny-come-lately annuals do their stand-up routines and bask in oohs and aahs.

A closer look at Canyon Creek abelia, bees and butterflies methodically forage the white flowers surrounded by bright pink sepals

And what of the gardener? Rush-hurry-rush to clean up in spring. A chivalrous white knight in the garden makes sure star charges are displayed to perfection, basks in reflected glory. Doesn’t it look wonderful! And boy o boy, this is the best spring ever!

We don’t see the Palomedes Swallowtails (this one tired, missing its “tails”) until  summer and fall but larvae are just as busy as a gardener in spring, munching on our swamp red bay

Until bugs, heat, and humidity brandish their blades. Chivalry takes a back seat. The all-conquering white knight becomes a wimpy white potato reading magazines on a couch. The partially (only partially) guilt-ridden, fair-weather gardener says, Nature Must Take its Course Without Me.

Do ya’ think you could pay a little attention to us?

Maybe if I don’t look. . .Rainy days doubly bless the gardener: Less hose-work and legal, guilt-free couch days. There should be more of them.

Cooler weather, a little rain, happier now

Come play time in September, the gardener smiles along with the plants. Time to catch up and pick up and cut down and prune off in an ambling sort of way. Time to enjoy the garden without being a white knight.

The last of the ginger lily still has a sweet smell but is fast giving way to the heady scent of osmanthus fragrans

Time to savor rogue fragrances, delicate, carried by scant breezes that would barely register on any  man-made scale. Time to take pictures of a bright landscape under a bright afternoon sun before it all fades away.

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My Favorite Summer Garden

By the time August arrives here in the south the fresh-faced blooms of early summer are gone.

A long-tailed skipper looks for a last sip from a fading hydrangea bloom

Hydrangea blossoms begin to look like old lace and daylily scapes turn to disposable, dried-up stalks (unless a gardener refuses to deprive dragonflies of loafing pinnacles).

The landscape takes on a different look. Bold crepe myrtles hang over lawns and lanes. Lanky green-eyed coneflowers sway in light breezes. Ginger lily flashes white beacon-flowers with heady scent. Canna blooms on and on, taller and taller.

Crepe myrtle limbs droop gracefully from heavy blooms, will hang low after storms

But then heavy rains blast them all. Crepe myrtle detritus litters paths, and ginger lily and coneflowers lay about, too beat down to stand up tall in the heat.

Now is the time for me to become a time traveler. I turn the clock back to early summer. It’s easy. No hocus pocus. I hop a plane and go north to watch a brilliant summer come to life in New Hampshire, where, incidentally, I can enjoy clear skies, low humidity, and cool nights.

Canna stretches tall, exuberant coneflower behind, but just wait till the next storm

My destination is daughter Susan’s garden. It’s quintessential New England: white picket fence and arbor set off by storm-blue clapboard siding on a two-story colonial with farmer’s porch.

There’s a cottage garden with lovely peonies whose blooms in June number in the dozens on each bush.

There’s a Japanese red maple unfurled over Solomon’s seal and trillium and epimedium.

There’s a shade garden and a long mixed border of shrubs, small trees and perennials across the back.

And climbing the hill beyond, enclosing it all, is a forest of tall oaks where the deer and the chipmunks play.

I have yet to mention the summer show. It’s fresh and flamboyant, a pastiche of phlox, rudbeckia, red hot poker, pristine white bobo hydrangea, blue salvia and daylilies, daylilies, daylilies, and more that I can’t remember. A delight to wander in and occasionally pull a weed or two — if I can find any in the luscious growth.

Susan in her garden

I thought it was about time for me to share my joy at visiting, so here are some more pictures. This truly is my favorite summer garden, and I can say that without being even remotely biased.

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(Edible) Food Does not Grow in Refrigerators

Or, Are You Sure that Tomato You are eating is Organic?

Part I:  The Fridge and the Market

I stand in awe of my sister’s refrigerator. It’s a Sears Kenmore, 14 cubic feet. Once I asked her how old it was and she said “very old.” We’ve been visiting for forty-plus years, so I guess it is “very old.”

My sister Elsie and her daughter Linda

My sister lives in a lovely garden apartment in New York City, but the kitchen is so tiny and overhead cabinets hang so low, that contemplating change is like figuring out how to stuff a sow’s ear into a silk change purse.

What awes me is the strategy my sister has developed to pack food away, the finesse with which a random conglomeration of wrapped packages, glass jars, plastic containers and what-nots are deftly layered, pigeonholed, balanced with laser-like precision.

Being quick of mind, you may immediately conclude that, aha, my sister has to play musical crocks every time she needs to get something out of the fridge.

Norwich Meadows Farm booth at Union Square Green Market in New York City

Sorry, but you would be mistaken. On a recent visit, she fed me like a queen. Smoked salmon? Magically, a tray of salmon appeared.

Cream cheese, too? Out came a plate with slabs of cheese. Try some tomatoes, they’re excellent, and sliced onions.

Here’s some mesclun, and romaine, a few varieties of fresh lettuce slipped on the table before I realized it. Oh, I hard-boiled some eggs for us, too.

Butter for the rye bread? And there’s cream for your coffee. Do you mind bottled coffee? It’s so hot out, I thought I’d skip brewing. A large bottle of (good-tasting) strong coffee came out, along with cream and ice.

Handmade Farmstead Cheeses from CT, in high demand at the market

Now you are probably assuming, quite naturally, that there must have been lots of clunking and clanking in the kitchen, that my sister was continually fluttering back and forth like that battery-bunny.

Trust me, we are not a family of flutterers. Our batteries are the other brand.

Further, I am so cowed by the fine-tuning of these edible geologic layers that I rarely do more than move platters to way stations before they disappear seamlessly into that 14-cubic-foot mini-cavern.

Fresh Araucana eggs from Winfall Farms

But storage is only part of the story. Where does my sister find these delectables? At my request she and her daughter took me on a walk to her favorite place to shop, the Union Square Green Market on 17th Street.

Every Wednesday and Saturday (Mondays and Fridays on a smaller scale) an astounding farmers’ market rises from blank pavement, like a full-up movie set with a cast of thousands.

And a phalanx of trucks whose carrying capacity would dwarf a convoy of semis. Like a mirage, it all vanishes by evening.

Imagine the packing up, unpacking, packing for home, and unpacking yet again

The magnitude of the affair boggles the mind, but then, don’t forget, this is New York City, where everything is out-sized.

Surely, this has to be one of the top ten tourist attractions here.

Growers and producers arise before dawn to truck goods in from farms in outlying counties.

They set up canopies, unload equipment, arrange products, post signs (whew!) and put on smiles to land early-bird shoppers.

I’ll take one of everything on the table, thank you very much

The goal, of course, is buying and selling. Marketing produce, most of it organic, is what sustains these energetic entrepreneurs, keeps them coming week after week, year after year to this urban outpost.

Shoppers are serious in their pursuit of fine products, as are chefs who regularly pick up special orders.

But there is an air of holiday, too. Friends meet friends for coffee, families come for a taste of the outdoors, casual strollers bump into neighbors. My sister is a regular, hence her delectable refrigerator.

Keith’s produce stand is a favorite stop for visitors to the Green Market. Lots of variety and it’s all fresh and tasty

One of my sister’s favorite vendors is Keith. His last name is Stewart but she has only ever called him by his given name.

For more than two decades he has been selling organic produce that he grows on his farm in Orange County, New York. He is famous for his garlic, but he also offers about a hundred varieties of herbs, fruits and vegetables.

My sister has known Keith a long time, though probably not as long as she has known her refrigerator. One Christmas she gave me his book, It’s a Long Road to a Tomato, Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not So) Simple Life. It’s available from Amazon paperback new or on Kindle for about $15; used copies cost less.

Some pointed humor for urbanites

It’s a must-read for people like me who grew up in suburbia and chafe at standing in line at the super market or (in season) speed-stop for cantaloupe from the Melon Man. (Our Rocky Hock melons are second-to-none.)

But if you grew up in a rural area you will recognize the combination of romance and true grit Keith puts into his reflections on all things farming, from weeds to porcupines and dogs.

He is earnest when he talks about the nuts and bolts of running an organic farm, but good humor and deep love of nature are co-partners. Chores are never finished, yet there’s always time to marvel at the swallows nesting in his barn.

Part II: About that Tomato

Variety is key to success here. Fresh garlic and asparagus in the foreground but a healthy mix of products can help a farmer get by if a crop fails or prices tank

Truly, this kind of farming is not a simple life. Across the country there are about 25,000 organic growers competing with a megalopoly of Big Food.

These farmers follow strict federal standards to be certified organic. They must keep scrupulous records and pass annual inspections.

The other part of not-so-simple is figuring out what will work each year, making a hundred decisions before getting to the bottom line: How do costs balance against income?

An unexpected drop in prices — or bad weather — can wipe a farmer out. Small growers constantly teeter on the brink of a bad year. There are no subsidies.

Hey, I like what they have here

A quarter century ago, organic farming was a grass roots effort, loosely organized.

Enter the USDA to bring order to the meaning of organic. Enter Big Food to give its blessings to irradiation, GMOs and sewage sludge.

No way, said the newly born Organic Consumers Association (OCA). Their energetic campaign for high standards produced 200,000 letters opposing Big Food.

And they won. In 2000 Congress passed a pretty good law, the Organic Foods Products Act that called for a National Organic Standards Board to oversee compliance.

Who of us, unless we grow it, has seen fresh baby’s breath straight from the field?

But the challenges are daunting. All three presidents — Clinton, Bush and Obama – pushed to weaken standards. Today’s political climate is even more treacherous.

Big Food buzz-words like natural, all natural, and 100% natural are meant to confuse shoppers, create billions in profits that cut into sales of organic produce.

There’s also the matter of equity. On the face of it, organic food may seem to be more expensive than Big Food offerings, but is it really?

Tender and new, dug fresh from the field

A study done in 2005 by David Pimmentel on the hidden costs of using pesticides came up with an annual price tag of $10 billion.

Public health costs; livestock and crop losses; destruction of natural insect enemies; pesticide resistance; poor crop pollination; honeybee losses; bird, fish and wildlife losses.

All these costs need to be figured in to the growing of chemicalized food.

No. Big Food is not a bargain in the long run.

Wholesome ingredients whose names we could pronounce on tags labeling bake goods from eastern European recipes

And lately, Big Food has been buying up organic brands so it can gridlock federal oversight and kick the organic label down the road by introducing concepts like Factory Farm Organic and ingredients like GMOs.

Consider the tonnage of GMO corn and soybeans that are fed to cows and chickens every day.

Wouldn’t it be much more lucrative if Big Food could stamp the organic seal on GMOs? Ironically, a recent scam brings home the point.

Truly delectable!

The US regularly imports tons of non-organic GMO corn and soybeans from Romania and the Ukraine via Turkey. (What about pesticide oversight in those countries? Yet another issue.)

Mysteriously, some of those shipments came to be labeled organic.

Somebody made a tidy profit on the value-added organic label before the scam was discovered – too late for those producers who had unknowingly fed GMOs to their livestock.

Could I resist buying? A mini peace lily found its way into my luggage on the trip home

The Organic Consumers Association remains a David in this world of food Goliaths.

They’re the only US organization that focuses solely on concerns of consumers.

They’ve got a following of 850,000 people and 3,000 co-ops, natural food stores, and farmers markets.

They are a vibrant national grassroots network with a solid organization.

They’re strong on education and activism and follow through with lawsuits when appropriate. Recently they’ve published reports on glyphosate (Roundup) residues found in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. They are following this up with press events and protests in seven US cities.

Organic apples, anyone?

“Buy Local, Organic, and Fair Made” is their mantra. Check out their web site, www.organicconsumers.org . It’s impressive.

You can find news about what’s happening in your state and sign up for their newsletter and donate to a worthy cause.

I am grateful that they are there to advocate for us.

And I’m glad my sister keeps her old fridge and shops at Union Square.

I know her (Keith’s) tomatoes are organic – and tasty.

Photo by Keith Stewart shows mowing of cover crops, or green manure, planted in April to nourish the soil for planting in summer

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A Gardener’s Wish List

Vines romp
Rabbits chomp
I wish rabbits
Would adopt habits
Of dining on vinings.

Slugs chew
Slimy glue!
I wish slugs
Would eat bugs
Instead of fancying plantings.

Moles tunnel
Lumpy chunnels
I wish moles
Disliked holes
And would vacate my estate.

Goundhogs? Voracious!
Smart and audacious
I wish groundhogs
Were not plant hogs
And would settle for helpings of nettles.

Voles multiply
Armies of small fry
I wish voles
Put controls
On their dating and mating.

Tics like to suck
Any old pot-luck
I wish ticks
Limited picks
To moles or to voles.

Tree beetles burrow
In fissures and furrows
I wish tree bark
Was not such a mark
And beetles would choke on their oak.

Fawns nibble
On every tender green kibble
I wish fawns would show up
After they grow up
And feed on a diet of weeds

Would that I could
Yes, I think I should
Pack them off in a circus car
On a quick trip to Pixar
Where they can all star

In fake science flicks
That film rabbits and ticks
And slugs, deer, and moles
And beetles and voles
And groundhogs,
Those plant hogs,

Practicing tactics galactic,
Winning high-flown games,
And making high-blown claims
To own
Seats on some Great Garden Throne.

Maybe then they’d leave MY garden alone.

Sigh. . .

Until they send back their heirs new-grown.

Now here’s a rabbit that’s doing what he should be doing: dining on vinings — but wait — that’s MY clematis ‘Henryi’


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Daylily Amnesia

Wasn’t the daylily bloom spectacular this spring? Daylilies danced all over the garden. Some we greeted joyfully as old friends come back for a visit. Some we welcomed as prodigals gone awol for a time.

‘Monet,’ an all-time favorite of mine, so I can’t forget the name

Others were, what can I say, except, “Where did these come from?” Or, “Did I really plant these?”

What was it about this year? More sunshine from trees we’d removed?

Terribly rainy weather here that left us awash in muck? (I don’t think daylilies like drowning.)

Timid deer that kept to garden perimeters? (I’d sprayed Liquid Fence soon after most plants budded, since our deer seem to prefer crunchy buds to floppy petals. Did I actually nail it?)

Our “ditch lily,” not native but naturalized here, wanders round the garden

Probably none of the above. What’s canny about the luscious bloom is this: even gardeners who live in different latitudes with different weather and different growing conditions are crowing about their stellar daylily bloom.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It happens every year. Not necessarily daylilies.

One year it was hellebores. I was so proud I’d finally gotten them to grow well, then learned that gardeners up and down the coast had wonderful hellebores that spring. (Instant deflation.)

Wild and woolly, these bring color year after year

Ditto for hydrangeas across the miles, good and bad years. Bloom on viburnum, too, seems to wax and wane in harmony with distance. I chalk it up to one more garden mystery that eludes me — and keeps me humble.

Which brings me to the mystery of Daylily Amnesia. You ask me about any plant I grow, the barest of twigs, and I can locate it in the time it takes a mosquito to land and bite. Ask me about daylilies when they are not in bloom and I freeze.

How could I forget the name of these reliable, 18-inch sweeties? ‘Mini Pearl’

Each spring I say I will get them right. But the moment the last bloom falls, I’m lost in a haze of naked bloom scapes.

Was the yellow one over there, or was it the peach? And where was that nice red one?

I wander with camp shovel in hand, a glazed look in my eye, wondering where those favorites once were, the ones I was sure I wouldn’t forget, the ones I was going to divide, the ones I was going to combine to create indelible, memorable color combinations that I’ve already forgotten.

Scrumptious no-name yellow

I have tried to be smart about this. From my very first purchase I faithfully recorded names on plastic plant labels and started lists.

Yessir, I made lists and I duly filed them in safe places. Didn’t matter. I could never put the names with the colors.

Names like Tiffany or Shooting Star or Summer Ruffles don’t give much of a clue about colors.

Affectionately known as Double Orange, this strong grower wanders around our garden

I figured if I deepened my knowledge my memory would improve.

I took classes offered by nurseries and master gardeners.

I learned good stuff about fans and scapes, diploids and tetraploids, daylily trials and daylily medal-winners, big blooms and small blooms, early, mid, late bloomers, the tall and the short of them, strong stems (good, obviously), evergreen habit (best for the South).

Great classes, great teachers. Didn’t take.

Jazzed-up Double Orange  aka ‘Kwanso,’ surround a glass garden ornament by Linda

I bought the first daylily I saw that I liked. In the heat of swooning over the bloom, checking pedigree was the last thing on my mind. Strong stem, weak stem, who cared.

Mystery plant suddenly bloomed near the path. Turns out my daughter gave it to me last fall (at my request). ‘Frans Hal’, an oldtime and popular daylily 

I bought daylilies I liked from growers I liked, mostly local, and the growers would give me nice freebies, which of course required more memory work.

During a trip to New England many years ago, my daughter and I lapped up a couple dozen daylilies at a growers’ sale before we realized we had no cash.

Clutching our prizes, we must have looked pretty crestfallen. After a split second of indecision, the kindly grower took pity on us and told us to take them home and send him a check “when you have a chance.”

When you have a chance! I relate this incident merely to illustrate how acquiring daylilies was a happy, haphazard affair.

No-name apricot

Apparently growing them is a happy, haphazard affair for me, because I can’t remember where I’ve planted them the day after they stop blooming.

Most daylilies are pretty happy in most climate zones, but after our purchase, I learned that some daylilies grow best in the north, others prefer the south.

Wonder which ones we bought? And where they are in the garden. . . .

Twins, small and low

One day I had an epiphany. I wasn’t all that interested in remembering the names of daylilies. What was important to me were the colors. I decided to write colors, not names, on tags. Not basic colors like Red or Yellow. Too simple. Too vague.

I would write a little essay on each tag: “subtle pink, hint of orange; yellow throat w. greenish tint; tall; late; strong grower; large bloom.” To ensure my notes would endure, I used pencil, because pencil doesn’t fade like marker.

Yellows brighten a woodland nook with faded stokes aster and joepye weed and hydrangea in he backgound

I went one step further. I carried pencil and paper with me, tucked in my pocket at all times for taking notes about current plantings, possible divisions, and smashing combinations. Then I filed the paper in a safe place. The record keeping took hours, probably days.

And did I mention? I took copious photographs, particularly from angles that would illustrate garden locale. These I planned to use as cross-reference to my notes.

‘Brownie Boy’, a bonus gift, blooms up a storm and blends well in groupings

Sorry to say, all that work didn’t help my memory.

When I checked in spring, either I had no idea what my scribblings meant.

Or they had become an illegible scrawl caked in mud.

Or a squirrel had snagged the tags.

My VIF, or Very Important File had apparently rejected my crumpled notes, so photo cross-referencing was out.

‘Brownie Boy’ with roses

Then there were daylilies that were never tagged because the deer got to them before I did or stringy plants had such fleeting bloom they escaped my vigilance.

Sometimes my notes didn’t apply. If daylilies aren’t coddled with good sun, good soil, good moisture, they can get persnickity.

“Tall reds” grow short on dry ground, “strong bloomers” are stingy in shade, and “reliable plants”  faint away if our hard-pack is not laboriously enriched.

Sweet lavender, reliable but retiring, difficult to combine with other colors

You are beginning to wonder now, Why all the fuss?

You ask, Why not transplant daylilies while they are still blooming?

After all, you buy them in bloom. Just cut ‘em back (fans, that is) and plop ‘em in and hope they can stand up straight and finish blooming.

Then you wouldn’t have to decipher all that chicken scratching.

One has to recognize one’s limitations.

Tall red duking it out with wandery woodland sunflower

I happen to be an unbalanced high-stepper in the garden, and a simple but awkward lunge in a tight border (jungle) can bring on disaster.

Wish I could greet this one by name

I dread the sound of snap crackle pop as buds break off. Think what damage I could do if I were lunging and wielding a tool.

And all the more chance that stubborn, fleshy roots will break, especially if they embrace roots of shrubs or trees.

Good gardeners use spading forks to minimize root loss. I use a small camp shovel, inefficient, ineffective maybe, but it suits my size. Which may be why I wind up with five frilly yellows down the road when I am pretty sure I only planted one, which further addles my amnesia.

Volunteer phlox, along with rudbeckia in the background

Our daylily season will end around July 4.

Crepe myrtles will take on starring roles in the landscape at about the same time that daylilies in New England are coming on stage.

I hesitate to deadhead those last lonely blooms. It’s like a final curtain call.

All that’s left is cleaning up rangy, tattery, duly labeled but now anonymous plants while summer bows to autumn’s rolling pageant.

In the true spirit of hope-springs-eternal-in-the-gardener’s-breast, I am content that I have, this season, devised yet another cure for Daylily Amnesia.

An unnamed favorite

I will tell you about it next year, if it is successful.

A hint of skepticism behind my optimism reminds me that, after all these memory-challenged years, the new system might, just might, be deficient.

The surprises next spring will keep me humble – and happy.

Author’s Note: The unnamed daylilies in this post are the products of my record-keeping.

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Flip Flop Spring

A Chronicle in Three Parts

Part I: April Flowers

The saying goes: April Showers Bring May Flowers. It didn’t happen quite that way this year. One fine April day, Bob went round the garden taking pictures—of flowers, not showers. You’ll see serenity bathed in wan sun of an early spring. You’ll see favorite azaleas in bloom. You’ll see a quince, ‘Jet Trail,’ in bloom since January, lately festooned with native honeysuckle. You’ll see a bench inviting you to set a spell.

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Part II: May Showers

Here’s the switch, though not exactly showers. One misty day in early May, a 10-minute storm full of sound and fury barreled in from waters to the south. Hail and pine cones hurled themselves against the house like grenades. Rain swirled and sheeted till there was no world out there. Straight-line winds and tornadoes headed down the canal toward our little piece of Eden.

Garden beds near woods were strafed by shattered forest debris that would continue to drift down for a couple of weeks. Torn limbs, some pretty hefty, straddled shrubs, maybe mauled them, then slid down out of sight. It took us a while to figure out the damage.

You’ll see the hundred-year-old oak that lost its head. You’ll see a bank of uprooted and flattened trees. You’ll see a maple split in two and hanging over the slip. You’ll see a toppled arbor. You’ll see a mess. (The canoe is a remnant left from Hurricane Isabel.)

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Part III: Diesel Powers

A couple of weeks later James and his sons arrived with chain saw, tractor and grinder. They tackled the maple overhanging the slip first, then cleaned up massive limbs torn off the oak. Uprooted and fallen trees we left in place to protect the shoreline from erosion.

You’ll see the front loader snaking carefully through the woods hauling maple logs which would become edgers to paths. Oh, and that’s Bob meditating and then getting down to business. You’ll see the feeding of the grinder, though you won’t hear its sputtering and roaring. You’ll see a spray of chips, deceptively fine and powdery, emerging from the grinder. Then you’ll see the chips going straight into our garden beds to become mulch. The best kind of mulch there is.

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The trees live on.


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