Chesterton Tribune

October: Gardeners are looking ahead

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October is for .... looking ahead to next year.

One of the things that sustains me through the endless gloomy days, bitter cold and howling winds of a Duneland winter is knowing in the spring I’ll finally get to see a part of the garden that I replanted in the fall.

Last week I spent many hours making a new border in the front yard; right now it doesn’t look like much, but I’m hoping next June it will be beautiful. Not too crowded. No competing colors. A variety of leaf textures, bloom times and heights. In short, perfection.

All but six of the 30 plants in the new border I divided or moved from other parts of the yard. When we bought the house 26 years ago, this area was a 10-foot diameter circle of -- dare I speak it -- orange ditch lilies. There had been a tree in the middle of them at one time, but it blew down in a storm. The stump decayed, and we always mowed around the lilies, attacking those that marched too far into the grass.

Last year I dug around in the lily bed and found for some reason (the decayed stump?) the area had incredibly good dirt. That did it. The ditch lilies were doomed. My nephews dug them out last fall, and I used Round-up on the few survivors this spring.

Like a Mother knows her children, I know my own yard’s dirt.

The topsoil, not particularly rich, varies in depth from about five to eight inches. Below it is a shovel-blade deep layer of rock-hard, sometimes slimey clay that I dig out and truck to a friend’s who wants clean fill. Under that layer is a lighter clay that crumbles easily, so I crush it into the topsoil, amending the mix with dry peat and the great compost from the Porter County Solid Waste District, adding sterilized bagged topsoil if necessary.

For roses, I also add mushroom compost, and for plants that like good drainage, some sand.

When planting the new partly sunny border, I followed The Rules, often using three or five of one variety. I moved there the azaelas that apparently were in too much shade and wouldn’t bloom. Because their roots are shallow and the azaelas are top-heavy, I put a large decorative rock in the middle of the trio to anchor them down. Next month I’ll erect a burlap windbreak to help protect them even more.

Speaking of dirt, Saturday my dear husband of 34 years, who sometimes indulges me in my gardening whims, drove us 90 miles to get one gallon of soil. Let me explain.

Last month Dave Yeager, Porter County’s long-time horticultural extension educator, retired. Before he did we talked about moving my seven-foot tricolor beech, what should be a stunning, small tree like the fine specimen on the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Porter Avenue.

Mine is apparently too close to the dreaded root-toxic walnut tree; the beech is stunted and lacks vigor. Move it when its leaves begin to fall, said Dave, and throw some soil from another beech tree in the planting hole, he added.

Never having heard this, I emailed rare tree and dwarf conifer expert Rich Eyre of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery in Woodstock, IL, where I visited this summer. Rich emailed back, “You are welcome to come up and get Beech soil from us. We have never heard of this with Beech but we know mychorriza is necessary in certain other trees (i.e. Pinyon Pine.)”

I didn’t know what mychoriza was, but it sounded serious, so I figured my beech needed all the help it can get and I should get some.

Accompanying our bucket of tricolor beech soil on the way home from Woodstock was a Pseudolarix or Golden Larch, a deciduous conifer whose long chartreuse needles turn yellow in the fall. Now how did that get in the truck?

This week I need to get the hardy mum Chuck Burger surprised me with into the ground so its roots can take hold before the soil freezes. I also have to plant my bulb order, all 113 less the seven I gave to Dick Bolinger, who in turn gave me a lily bulb this spring.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, we gardeners are a generous lot, always willing to break off a stem of this or share a potted division of that with a friend or visitor, knowing a little bit of our garden will be growing in theirs. The bulbs I ordered from White Flower Farm with a gift certificate (keep ‘em coming, kids) include three tulips: the tall “Pink Impression;” rose-dappled “Scintillation;” and the late-blooming large “Dordogne,” a blend of raspberry and tangerine. The Asiatic lily is “Sorbet,” a white-centered dark burgundy with burgundy freckles.

Two other bulbs are new, and a third I so far haven’t been able to grow.

I chose Camassia quamash “Blue Melody,” with white-variegated strap leaves and starry dark blue flowers along tall spikes; it’s said to thrive in heavy clay soil. I also ordered dwarf rock garden iris histrioides “George,” only six inches tall. It’s early, plum purple and fragrant. “George” likes dry summer soil, which I have plenty of.

The bulb box is on the enclosed east porch because of the stench from the Fritillaria Imperialis or crown imperial. The skunky odor persists underground and is said to deter rodents. This “Rubra Maxima” variety is heirloom and the species was grown in 1665. In spring from the sturdy 30-inch stem hangs an umbrella of burnt orange flowers topped by a tuft of leaves. I have planted these bulbs twice before but they never bloom; I’m hoping the third time’s a charm.

What is reliable as well as beautiful is the open-face daffodil “Cassata,” which blooms lemon yellow and matures to a cream color. Showy and about five inches wide, the flowers have no trumpet like ordinary narcissus; they somewhat resemble a small recurved daylily.

I learned a lesson where I planted “Cassata.” On the north side of the screen porch, which faces north, they pull toward the light -- away from the house -- so I only see the backs of the flowers.

I have to move “Cassata” next year before the Burns Harbor sanitary sewer comes down our street and we tap on. In fact, I’ve already started moving the tall summer phlox, sedum “Autumn Joy,” yellow/white Siberian iris “Butter and Sugar,” and long-blooming scarlet centranthus ruber (Jupiter’s Beard) out of the way, some of it going into the new front border.

Although I’ll have to tolerate a five-foot wide, 12-foot long swath of naked dirt for one season, I’m already planning in my mind’s eye how to replant where the sewer line will go, reveling in the opportunity to try new plants.

Won’t it be great that first winter to wonder and anticipate how it will look, and finally to see it the following spring? And if I blew it, I’ll just do it over. That’s why they make shovels.

Editor's Note: According to Amazon and "Mycorrhiza Manual" by editor Ajit Varma, mycorrhiza is the symbiotic associations between plant roots and fungi. Mycorrhiza plays a major role in mineral nutrition and plant stress resistance.


Posted 10/10/2001