By PAULENE POPARAD
November is for ...... gardening on borrowed time.
It isn’t always we’ve been able do so much this late in the season in the
garden. This first taste of winter has me mentally beginning to adjust to
life without active gardening and trying to look on the bright side: I will
have more free time to do other fun things like paint the bathroom.
Nov. 13, 1997 we had that year’s first snow after 10 days of temperatures in
the 30s and the ground was already freezing. Two days later we had four
inches of snow and then 15 degrees! The third week of November, 2000 was
equally as cold.
Of course we’ve had warm spells, too, like 69 degrees Dec. 5, 2001 and in
the 60’s December’s second week in 1998. The point is now our weather can
turn drastically different overnight and we might get hit with a 12-inch
snowfall like we did Dec. 11, 2000 followed by below-zero temps.
My last bloomers were perennial and annual snapdragons and the rose/lavender
clematis “Cardinal Wysznski’ showing smaller flowers yet loads of buds
coming on. One of three hardy phlox ‘Natascha’ kept blooming as did knautia
macedonia’s deep reddish fringed button flowers on wiry stems, the latter
plant native to Romania.
One great thing about our good weather was it allowed me to enjoy the
‘Single Apricot’ Korean chrysanthemum, a knee-high late bloomer that usually
opens one week in late fall and is frost-killed the next. This cultivar
resembles a large fringed daisy and still looks fine despite the snow.
Given the extra working days in the garden I was able to plant the expanded
east border; this is a difficult area because it gets alternately early
morning sun, shade, sun at midday, shade and sunset sun in the summer. I
transplanted larger shrubs (a juniper, rhododendron and ‘Nikko Blue’
hydrangea) there to anchor the bed along with new or recycled plants from
other parts of the yard such as tricyrtis, cimicifugia, pulmonaria,
filipendula, daylilies, tulips and, of course, hostas.
It will be so exciting in the spring to see how I’ve done with the border.
“Designing” is never a word I use for how I plant, although I do pay great
attention to mature size and height. I know we’re told to plan on paper
first but thinking long-term is something I associate with life insurance.
I agree with Jim Scott of Alabama, one of the gardeners showcased on the
fine HGTV show “Gardener’s Diary” televised weekdays at the ungodly hour of
6 a.m. He said gardens should have a sense of mystery and make you wonder,
“What was he thinking about?” Jim also said it gives you great pleasure to
execute what you see in the mind’s eye; in my case, that execution is a
process of trial and error.
This is why I share British horticulturalist Alan Titchmarsh’s philosophy
that if a plant doesn’t work, just move it with no guilt involved. A weed,
he believes, is merely a plant in the wrong place.
Perhaps the most important thing to do this time of year is mulch any
recently planted/transplanted specimens or spring bulbs to lengthen the time
the roots have to get settled in their new home. A good three or four inches
of mulch is recommended. It’s the alternating cold/thaw that can heave these
plants right out of the soil so it’s necessary to keep an eye on them in the
coming months and tamp them back down if needed.
I am able to share the local weather history with you because after a
four-month search I finally found my gardening journal, a gift from my niece
Cindy for Christmas in 1995. I also misplaced with it nearly all our
property-tax records in a separate folder but I figured those I could
replace; the garden journal most certainly I never could reconstruct.
Both were found in a place that, if I had just looked a little closer, I
would have found them there sooner. My last 2004 garden-journal entry was
the third week of July when I complained about more than three inches of
rain. It was fun to read that in 1998 my future garden goals were to “clean
behind the garage, make a rose garden and widen the south borders.” All this
I have done with the newly reclaimed garage area still a work in progress.
I did not make the berm I planned in 1998 for the front yard; our experience
shows things like this will make the snow drift in our long, looping
driveway. The few days a year that snow is a serious problem gives me pause
about what to plant near the back door, prime real estate that in a bad
snowfall gets drifted and/or heaped with snow from the plow.
Right now there’s a very average ‘Anthony Waterer’ spirea planted there that
doesn’t give enough bang for the buck and is an aphid magnet in the spring.
A choice dwarf conifer, my preference, likely would be damaged in the
winter. Maybe the solution is to make the spot a dahlia bed, planted in
spring and the tubers removed over winter.
Last week I dug up my two dahlia clumps after their tops turned a nasty but
mandatory black/green, the sign the tubers can be taken out and dried in a
protected area before being packed away for the winter. These are the dahlia
plants that had a second growth spurt after a woodchuck ate them early in
the season, which makes me wonder if they recovered sufficiently to survive
winter storage and have enough energy to perform well next year.
Two of this year’s last yard projects were planting hyacinth bulbs from Dick
Bolinger and spraying the rhododendrons, azaleas and hollies with an
anti-transpirant like Wilt-Pruf that helps minimize moisture loss. You can
even use this stuff to prolong the life of indoor Christmas trees.
I did not know you also can spray or dip tubers and bulbs in the solution at
a diluted rate for winter storage, or use it any time during the growing
season, also diluted, when transplanting. I learned recently that it’s not
only the biting winter wind that damages plants but also the hot, dry summer
wind as much as the heat.
One thing I did this time last year that served me well in early 2004 was
getting the soil ready in areas where I know I will be planting next spring.
I am a regular at the Porter County compost site in Crocker loading over and
over again all my empty 40-pound tough plastic bags, about 24 now, saved
from previous purchases like topsoil. This last trip to Crocker, where the
compost was compacted rock-hard from the rain, I started at the top of the
mound and loosened it back into crumbled gardener’s gold with a narrow-tined
pitchfork making the job sooo much easier than trying to dig it straight out
with a shovel like I usually do.
The Crocker site closes Dec. 4 and I plan to load up all my bags one last
time so I can have the compost here when I need it in February and March
before the site opens again in April for 2005.
Area gardeners are buzzing about the 6:30 p.m. program Monday, Jan. 31 in
Merrillville to be given by Tracy DiSabato-Aust, author of the popular “The
Well-Tended Perennial Garden” and her most recent book “The Well-Designed
Mixed Garden,” a primer on building borders with trees, shrubs, perennials,
annuals and bulbs.
Sponsored by Lake County’s Gardens on the Prairie nursery, tickets are $25
and include refreshments and a book sale and signing. Seating is limited.
For more information, contact 219-690-0911. I’ll see you there. Let’s hope
we don’t have a blizzard.
Tucked in my garden journal were all sorts of goofy things I’ve saved (like
a list of all Fred Astaire’s movies and a ticket to a 1985 Buzztones dance),
and several scraps of paper on which I had written things. I am a great one
for jotting stuff down; perhaps it’s a holdover from my years of newspaper
reporting. My place at the kitchen table usually has at least one to-do list
for the next day.
I recently found a cryptic note I know I wrote this year because of its
distinctive blue ink from a pen Bernie brought home from a NASCAR race
sponsored by Sharpie. The small piece of paper simply said, “leave it
between the bricks.”
If anyone has a clue what this means, please let me know. I sure don’t.