Chesterton Tribune

November: All good gardening must come to an end sometime

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Of Wonders and Weeds


November is for .... accepting the inevitable.

There’s still a few gardening chores to be done, like removing dead foliage, top-dressing with compost, cleaning tools, putting up windbreaks, mapping or photographing what’s in the beds and listing what needs to be changed. But the weather certainly won’t permit us to do any serious gardening.

Most years by this time I’ve frankly had it with gardening and am happy to have an excuse to stop for a few months, mentally to recharge my enthusiasm and physically to stop abusing this aging body. Yet this year I could have kept on going indefinitely and it’s really frustrating to be anxious to get things done and blocked from doing so by 30-degree daytime temperatures and 30 mph wind gusts.

Part of the reason I wanted to keep gardening is because I screwed up so many things and missed so many opportunities this year. So here is a list in no particular order of my what-was-I-thinking, I’ll-never-do-THAT-again blunders for 2005.

The worst was I never wrote an entry in my garden journal between February and Nov. 16. I did write on the calendar when a particular heat wave or odd gardening thing happened, and I’ll need to transpose those notes into the journal, but it’s just not the same thing as knowing that in late June, 2000 I already was getting black spot on the roses.

I always wrote the day each year the first hybrid tea rose opened and which one it was. In 1996 that happened June 17 and ‘Sonia’ and ‘Garden Party’ were the winners. ‘Garden Party’ is long since gone from the rose bed but ‘Sonia,’ although losing vigor, is still there and I’m debating whether to replace her.

One thing I notice going over the journal is the number of plants that have come and gone. Some I miss; some I didn’t even remember I had. The daphne ‘Carol Mackie,’ a lovely small shrub with variegated leaves, grew for two years until it just died unexpectedly.

Sometimes, like the new smokey lavender poppy ‘Patty’s Plum,’ I quickly replace a plant that didn’t survive its first winter --- if I’m lucky enough to find it again. I got a new ‘Patty’ this spring and wasn’t too concerned when it shriveled in the heat of summer, as poppies do. I kept looking for the typical fall regrowth and it did, so I’m hoping this winter it will make it and I can see what the catalogs are raving about in the late spring.

Another dead 2004 plant I replaced but wasn’t able to find until Oct. 29 was the sedge ‘Beatlemania.’ Sedge, or carex, as a group is a valuable garden filler or groundcover. They’re basically small grasses (about 10 inches tall) but are being hybridized so much they’re interesting plants. My first experience was with green-and-white striped ‘Ice Dance,’ which thrives in dry shade.

Last year I found ‘Seersucker,’ its long, slender chartreuse leaves puckered like the fabric for which it’s named. That, also planted in dry shade, wintered over well, but the ‘Beatlemania’ planted next to it was deader than a doornail this spring. After doing some Internet investigation, I think I found out why.

Sources said ‘Beatlemania’ (which I bought because of my daughter, who is a Beatles fan) loves wet soil. Now that’s something I don’t have a lot of around here, especially in part-shade. I still haven’t figured out where I’ll plant it, but somewhere near a gutter downspout comes to mind. ‘Beatlemania’ is so named because it has extremely skinny leaves in great numbers radiating from a center like the band’s infamous mop-top hairdos.

For now I’ll give the sedge extra water in its temporary winter home, which is another big missed opportunity of this past season: my planter box. The last few years I’ve wanted to dabble in planting open-pollinated (which means the bees do it, not me) daylily and hosta seeds but had no special place where they would be protected and not disturbed.

This spring Bernie built me a sturdy, raised planter box with a cantilevered roof covered with narrow slats for sun/shade but not too much of either. I never got one seed planted, but the box did prove very valuable in getting newly potted-up or tempermental plants off to a great start. Next year I definitely will get some seeds going and it will be great fun to watch what they turn out to be.

Another dumb thing I did this year was buy a huge box of Preen, which helps prevent weeds in flower beds and walkways, and NEVER PUT IT DOWN. The real insult was when I moved it to the shed, knowing it was too late in the year to apply it, I found another box of Preen from the previous year. Since this stuff must have some sort of effective shelf life after which it doesn’t work, both boxes may end up in the household hazardous waste collection next year.

I made the same mistake I make every year and cleared one area of weeds and moved on to another before I mulched and Preen-ed the first site. The result? Having to weed again (sometimes twice) where you’ve already weeded. The very last big gardening thing I did this year was get a final pick-up truck load of mulch, my third, so I can start 2006 with more areas than ever virtually weed-free.

One experiment that failed was taking out the shredded hardwood mulch under the roses (16 are grouped in one area) and replacing it with medium chunks of hardwood. The chunks made voids where weeds poked through and got a strong foothold, making them even harder to pull.

Also, aesthetically I didn’t like the look of the chunks, so out they come next year. I have thought of trying that recycled rubber mulch, but it’s probably pricey and hard to find. My goal is to find a mulch that will inhibit black spot as much as possible; if I maintained a rigid rather than haphazard spraying program, that most likely would help, too.

Being a lifelong procrastinator led to yet another disappointment this gardening season.

My favorite plant labels are 3 1/2-inch by 1 3/4-inch galvanized metal heads on 24-inch tall stakes that don’t get raked out or overgrown. I found them two years ago at Heinz Brothers Greenhouse in St. Charles, Ill. If I couldn’t visit there to buy them I’d call, they’d bill the labels to my charge card and ship them right out. I kept meaning to call all summer and didn’t. When I did in September I was told the labels have been discontinued.

They sold me the last 19 they had, which were supposed to be a gift for someone but I bought her a book instead and kept the labels. The Heinz people said they called their supplier and they were sold out, too. I briefly tried an Internet search but over the winter have to seriously track down more of these labels, if possible. I have seven labels left and it will be a tough decision which seven plants get them.

The last regret I have this garden season is that I was so tardy in getting these columns done.

The worst part about being a procrastinator is you keep telling yourself you’ve really got to stop being a procrastinator.


Posted 11/30/2005