Gardening

Chokeberry can be planted in most soil conditions including sandy soil. Stock photo

By Kyrnan Harvey

Single-digit overnight temperatures and daytime highs of 16 degrees with howling winds are as bad as it gets in winter on Long Island, unless your property is at sea level, in which case flooding makes the gardener yet more miserable. Port Jefferson locals were reminded by the Jan. 4 storm that their village was called Drowned Meadow. Elsewhere, “from swerve of shore to bend of bay,” and to varying degrees the blast of blizzard was dramatically exacerbated by saltwater flooding.

I had, for many years, such a garden on Manhasset Bay. Nor’easters and hurricanes coinciding with full moons were likely to inundate the garden, and it sure got ugly if it was a blizzard at that time of the month. The salinity of the water was resented most by rhododendrons and other broad-leaved evergreens that had no business growing there, but for the rest — the tulips and daffodils, the roses and forget-me-nots, the hydrangeas and crape myrtles and garden phlox — come May and June and hot summer, they were as happy as Larry, naturalized in their waterfront setting.

Of perhaps greater deleterious effect than the salt water from the coastal flooding was, on the one hand, the enormous deposits left in the garden — a thick layer of Phragmites seasoned with driftwood and plastic detritus, some of which I would add to my collection of ready-mades — and, on the other hand, the stripping of humus and mulch by the receding tide, leaving feeder roots exposed and begging for amelioration. In that case the gardener has no choice but to have a truckload of mulch — or better yet, compost — delivered as soon as possible. Inflate the tire of your wheelbarrow or call in a professional landscaper.

My garden on Manhasset Bay was not only right at sea level but it was entirely flat. There were many storms in which the salt water and flotsam reached into the garden some 20 or 30 feet, but there were also three or four times in 20 years that the entire acre of garden was inundated.

Of course, you could certainly leave such a plot to open lawn and the random privet and black locust. However, what if you want to garden on it, where coastal flooding is not an infrequent occurrence? What planting strategies are there?

Go with the flow and select a few native plants that are adapted to Long Island coastal and establish them in mass plantings. Use these to create a less exposed ecosystem, a cozier environment, a more distinctive sense of place and to minimize erosion. Of course, as always, there are the deer to consider, which unfortunately eliminates sumac (Rhus), eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and bayberry (Myrica), all of which fit the bill of desirable LI coastal natives. These can be tried in future years.

However, in order to establish a durable and dependable infrastructure impervious to saline and cervine, let’s select chokeberry (Aronia), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) and grasses, like switchgrass and panic grass (Panicum).

There is a superb source for all these and many more in Eastport (between Moriches and Westhampton), a grower and nursery called Long Island Natives. They may have suggestions unknown to me and firsthand experience that contradicts my own.

Very rarely is there coastal flooding in spring. September through December are the months when the coincidence of heavy storm and full moon will inundate the shorelines. Thus spring is the time to plant in gardens where there is coastal flooding. Let plants have a long season to establish in the soil. If you have established beds and plants that are not known to be adapted to this condition, and they were flooded in the storm of Jan. 4, you must immediately spread at least an inch of compost or mulch.

Email your horticultural questions to kyrnanh@yahoo.com for possible inclusion in this column.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Above, the flowering quince is one member of the rose family that deer avoid. Stock photo

By Kyrnan Harvey

Previously, I have suggested a good many options for plants that possess presence in the winter landscape, that can be fully relied on not to be browsed by deer, and that can thus be employed to establish the bones of a garden.

Come spring, what flowering shrubs likewise won’t be ruined by the unpredictable predations of the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus? What can be planted, without worry, that is fully exposed to their perambulations at dawn and at dusk?

First off, let’s appreciate our native spicebush, Lindera benzoin, the swelling flower buds of which are most conspicuous in the sunlight of the first warm days of March. As true a harbinger of spring as snowdrops (truer actually, because snowdrops often open on warm days in the dead of winter), these are large shrubs that populate the understory of our woods and will seed themselves into your propitious beds and borders. Swallowtail butterfly larvae feed on their leaves, which turn bright yellow in fall, and the berries on female plants are an important food source for migratory birds. Scratch the stem or crush the leaves and you will know it’s a spicebush by the delightful scent of grapefruit.

Now let us praise forsythia, very common, and for good reason: they survive neglect, drought and shade. Their long arching stems root in, and thus spread, as their tips reach the soil. Prune them soon after flowering and leave them to themselves for the next 12 months. In other words, don’t let the landscapers buzz them in August. April 1 is when forsythia typically start flowering. In 2017 they were nearly two weeks late, as winter lasted right through March. Their ubiquity detracts from their appeal, but they should be utilized for their strong color in a still-gray landscape, for their durability in tough locations and for being … reliably deer proof.

Flowering with the forsythias are the PJM rhododendrons, precociously in shades of lavender-pink. Their leaves, mahogany-plum in winter, are aromatic when crushed and thus avoided by deer, unlike the glorious rhodies of May. I planted three in the late fall of 2015. One was promptly browsed, but not at all the last two years so I can, not without reservations, recommend them. Their shock of hot pink is surely a highlight of the year.

Grow flowering quince, Chaenomeles, in an obscure corner, in a location that is sunny but not prominent. The stunning flower colors — unusual tints of orange, watermelon-pink and peachy coral-pink — present such a jolt of pleasure that their messy tangled mass of stems can be forgiven. It will light up a forsaken location and a single cut spray will transform a room. Flowering quince (or Japanese quince, as distinguished from the quince used for jellies, Cydonia) is a classic subject for ikebana and a recurring motif in Asian art. I saw ‘Double-Take Orange’ and Double-Take Pink at Home Depot last April and ‘Cameo’ has been available at garden centers in recent years.

Lastly, for the purposes of this article on early spring flowering shrubs that are deer proof, or at least nearly so, there are the lilacs. They are all delightfully perfumed, of course. There are many varieties of the old-fashioned lilacs (Syringa vulgaris and S. × hyacinthiflora), flowering around Mother’s Day and for many a Proustian madeleine to their childhoods. Less well known, but also readily available, is the later flowering, smaller-leaved, broader-than-tall, S. meyeri ‘Palibin.’ It does not get gaunt and leggy, nor is it prone to mildew. This is truly one of the 10-best flowering shrubs to include in a garden, deer or no deer.

By mid-May the bridalwreath spirea, the Koreanspice viburnum and the Warminster broom are in full bloom and are assiduously avoided by deer. But there is a long winter ahead. In the meantime, email horticultural questions to kyrnanh@yahoo.com for possible inclusion in this column.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

Plant heavenly bamboo (Nandina) for deer-proof cheer all winter.

By Kyrnan Harvey

A deer tragically impaled itself last month on the spears of a metal fence — way west in Glen Cove. But perhaps fences are not the best strategy to deter the white-tailed herbivores, especially if your fencing is that ubiquitous and regrettable closed-top black aluminum or only 4 feet high.

Nandina graces a front door all winter.

The first 25 years of gardening for me were mostly further west of Glen Cove, but even in my gardens in Oyster Bay and Huntington Bay deer were then not a problem. If your backyard is enclosed all around by 6-foot stockade fencing, then you can reliably garden with a fully free hand by planting aucubas, rhododendrons and azaleas; hostas, roses and hydrangeas; and tulips, daylilies and coralbells.

But, if you are like me and see fresh deer hoof prints and droppings every day, see deer gracefully browsing at dawn or dusk once a week, and can’t plant a tree without its trunk getting destroyed by rutting bucks, what deer-proof planting strategies can you employ if you really still want to have a garden?

Let’s begin with plants that establish the structure of the garden, plantings that, when all else is bare from November through March, articulate garden spaces and dictate how we walk through the garden and that enhance and enliven the winter landscape.

Privet for screening hedges: Only semievergreen at best, but privet is 100 percent deer proof, whereas arborvitae and yew and euonymus will be heavily browsed, Japanese holly moderately. Plant privet close (12 to 18 inches apart), and in a few years it will be dense enough to obviate penetration and tall enough to prevent jumping. Add gates where desired.

Boxwood, for low hedging, rhythm and winter green, is 100 percent deer proof. Avoid the dwarf English boxwood Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ of yesteryear, beautiful as old billowing plants can be, because of boxwood blight. There are numerous other options, and I will elaborate in a future column.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a fine, dark-green leaved alternative to Japanese holly, looser, less stiff and less dense, and thus more casual than boxwood too. Deer do not touch it.

American holly (Ilex opaca) is a tree, with the spiny leaves (don’t plant it poolside!) and red berries (on female plants only). These will self-seed, even in shade, and are, unlike other large-leaved hollies like the beautiful “blue” hollies and the English and Chinese hollies, 100 percent deer proof.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ is a deer-proof broad-leaf evergreen.

Osmanthus is in the olive family but is mistaken for holly because of its spiny leaves. There is a variegated Japanese cultivar called ‘Goshiki,’ which translates as “five colors” and which has recently become readily available. It is a useful broad-leaved evergreen, the gay coloration of which (creamy- gray- and yellow-green with new leaves of pink) is not as gaudy as it sounds and thus a welcome presence to any garden setting in all seasons — and unappetizing to buck and doe alike.

Clump-forming bamboo (Fargesia) by definition does not run and is not invasive. It is much less tall but with the distinctive evergreen bamboo leaves. These will, in just a few years, present a dense, substantial, voluminous mass of deer-proof greenery.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is a member of the barberry family, unrelated to the graminaceous bamboos. Its leaves only superficially resemble them, and it bears huge trusses of bright red berries. Birds do not touch them, and they last right through the winter.

Ornamental grasses do well where there is an abundance of sun. See my first article in this space (Sept. 12, 2017). Where there is shade, the wonderful Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa does well. Granted grasses are not evergreens, but they provide winter interest, so I don’t cut them down until March.

Well now, there are actually quite a few excellent deer-proof plants for the winter garden. Why do I complain?

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

fir

By JoAnn Canino

After the fall cleanup and the flower beds are prepared for winter, there isn’t much that has to be done, unless Mother Nature reminds us who is in control.

Thomas Jefferson began his record of the weather in 1776 while in Philadelphia attending a session of the Continental Congress. Wherever he was living, he collected weather and other data in order to compare it to the weather in his gardens at Monticello. He noted the arrival of bluebirds, blackbirds and robins; when he heard frogs for the first time; and the exact date the weeping willow began to leaf.

He diligently noted when the last killing frost occurred, the amount of rainfall, the severity of the winds and the range in temperature. On June 13, 1791, Jefferson traveled to Long Island as secretary of state under President George Washington, along with his friend and neighbor, James Madison. They rode across the island on horseback with William Floyd (notable as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence). One can only imagine what Long Island looked like to them. In fact, we can read the journals and letters of these early travelers to our island to find out.

In 1670 Daniel Denton (1626-1703) recorded observations while traveling across Long Island. He wrote of “mulberries, persimmons, plums, grapes, strawberries in such abundance in June that the Fields and Woods are ‘died’ red. Groves gleaming in spring with the white bloom of dogwood, glowing in fall with liquid amber and with sassafras and the yellow light of the smooth shafted tulip tree. An innumerable multitude of delightful flowers not only pleasing the eye, but smell … that it may be perceived at sea” (A Brief Description of New-York formerly called New-Netherlands [1670] London, England).

Early settlers discovered the Hempstead Plains. “Towards the middle of Long-Island lyeth a plain 16 miles long, 4 broad, upon which plain grows very fine grass that make exceedingly good hay and is very good pasture for sheep or other ‘cattel’; where you should find neither stick nor stone to hinder the horse heels,” Denton noted. Colonial settlers used it as common pasturage for their sheep and cattle.

Long Island was created about 20,000 years ago when the hills and plains were formed by huge glaciers. Shifting seas, pounding waves and severe weather continue to shape the landscape. From New York Harbor to Montauk Point, Long Island is 118 miles long. Situated between Long Island Sound to our north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, it is separated from the mainland by the East River, actually considered to be a tidal strait. At its widest, the island is 23 miles. Its highest point, at an elevation of 400.9 feet above sea level, is near Melville at Jayne’s Hill (also called West Hills).

Appreciating the shape of the land and its proximity to the sea, we can begin to understand the forces that shape the landscape today. Kettle lakes like Lake Ronkonkoma were formed when massive boulders of ice melted in the sandy soil and were filled by rising groundwater. Following the glacier, forests grew. Hemlocks and spruce trees gave way to pines and the great oaks. Woods of chestnuts and hickory trees flourished. Swamp lands filled with Atlantic white cedars and red maples. Lush bushes of blueberries, cranberries and huckleberries grew in abundance. The freshwater streams were laden with trout.

Today, less than 80 acres survive of the 60,000 acres that comprised the Hempstead Plains. Nineteen acres are part of Nassau Community College and 60 acres of the Hempstead Plains Preserve are protected by the Nassau County Department of Recreation and Parks.

All around Long Island, natural processes are reshaping the shoreline and the interior. Wind, tides and changing sea levels are eroding the coast, wearing away protective dunes. At the mouth of the Nissequogue River in Smithtown, the salt marshes that protected the freshwater wetlands have almost disappeared because of storm erosion and rising sea levels. On the south shore, the barrier islands are losing about 1 to 2 feet of oceanfront each year. Northeast winds moving west across the coast push large amounts of sand.

We derive a sense of place from these natural elements that shape the environment in which we live. But in many ways we have lost our connection to the land that sustained the early settlers. We tend our gardens and lawns, dropping weed killer and fertilizers that leach into our fragile underground water supply. We ignore the destruction of natural places.

This month as we tune in to Earth’s eternal rhythms on Dec. 21, the winter solstice marks the beginning of our winter. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin, solstitium, which means the sun stands still. Actually, the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Because of the Earth’s tilt, our hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun. It is the shortest day of the year. Winter ends on the March equinox, which is derived from the Latin for equal night and day. After Dec. 21, the sun starts moving northward again and spring will be on its way.

Plants and trees that remained green all year have had a special meaning for people in winter. Pine, spruce and fir boughs were placed over doors and windows as symbols of everlasting life. Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast in honor of the god of agriculture, Saturn.

Today we “deck the halls with boughs of holly” and mistletoe as the early Christians did. Holly wreaths were given as gifts. The Pennsylvania German settlements in 1747 had community trees often decorated with apples, nuts and marzipan cookies. The Christmas tree tradition of placing lighted trees in town squares began with the invention of electricity, allowing the glow to continue into the dark night. Festive homes, all decked out with holly, mistletoe and the evergreen tree offer a warm welcome inside.

This time between the winter solstice and the spring equinox can be useful journal time to review the seasons that have passed. Take time to note all the activities and projects in our gardens as well as in our individual journeys. For many of us our gardens are sacred spaces of peace and renewal. While the garden sleeps, we can still take time to meditate on the riches of the Earth and to celebrate the new beginnings of an abundant and prosperous New Year.

JoAnn Canino is an avid journal writer and gardener and a member of the Three Village Garden Club.

Euphorbia characias can be grown on Long Island with winter protection. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Alas, the allium are pretty well sold out, daffodils too I am afraid to report, from my mail-order sources like John Scheepers and Brent & Becky’s. However, if you still have the urge to invest some effort to procure some deer-proof color for spring, try the garden centers and the box stores. Possibly some choice varieties are still available, but be sure that they are not shriveled dry from a couple months of indoor heat.

With the leaves finally down, I make sure they are blown off the lawns. Lawn grasses thrive in cooler weather, so you don’t want to deprive them of a few weeks of prosperity with smothering damp leaf cover. Moreover, there is a modest pleasure derived from seeing your lawn all uniformly green again after gazing for weeks over the leafy litter, a refreshing counterpoint, more especially now, to the barren limbs of trees, the naked stems of deciduous shrubs and to the straw-colored ornamental grasses.

If you employ a lawn service, leaf blowers will typically trod over, through and onto eyes of Baptisia and peonies and Amsonia hubrichtii (commonly called blue star), blasting every scrap of humus and last May’s mulch out of the beds, exposing the naturalized and nestled-in forget-me-nots to killing exposure. In naturalistic and ecologically correct gardens it is preferable to leave fallen leaves in planted beds and where there is no lawn or paving. I even blow them into the beds, within reason, as nature’s natural mulch.

My diktat to clients, to pass onto their gardeners, is “Don’t blow the leaves in (else they will blow all of them in)” and “Don’t blow them out — of my plantings.” True, some leaves will be blown out by those arctic gusts into the lawns, and come spring cleanup you will have some work to do, removing leaves by hand where they have accumulated, but it beats the alternative of clodhoppers crushing the dormant crowns of coneflowers and columbines. I get many self-seeded perennials; but if you let your gardener blow out your beds, chances are they will blow out the baby with the bathwater.

Recently, my 10-year-old RedMax blower, a lightweight, handheld, gas-powered tool, developed carburetor issues. Rather than spend the money to have it fixed (or not), I bought a new Stihl, available at Ar-Jon Outdoor Power Equipment on Comsewogue Road in East Setauket. Very light, good power, $140.

While landscapers use the much heavier and noisier backpack blower, the Stihl is perfect for the homeowner, as indispensable to the lady gardener as to the lazy teen. If you have under a half-dozen oak trees, this is all you need. Gardeners should prefer control over leaf removal. If you have an incipient woodland garden, for example, blow all the leaves into it; they will prevent weed seeds from germinating and in two years will be earthworm-loving humus. Or blow them under the arching stems of the forsythia and into the hydrangeas.

Leaf mold is a most excellent compost. You could pile all your leaves in a hidden, out-of-the-way corner and start a large compost pile with which to annually amend your organic kitchen garden.

I have had, in a protected corner of a client’s garden, a Euphorbia characias. A common sight in sophisticated English gardens, it is an evergreen spurge native to the Mediterranean and thus not very hardy here. A year and a half ago I scattered its seeds in my home garden. Last spring they started germinating, albeit in an exposed location. The deer haven’t touched them because of the sticky sap. And this past month I have blown leaves into them, providing much needed insulation.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

A clump of wild onions is an easy target in the gardener’s off-season.

By Kyrnan Harvey

In the avid gardener’s off-season, from Thanksgiving through February, if the temperatures are above 40 and the ground is not frozen, nor too waterlogged, I like to layer-up and head outside to pull up onions.

Wild onion (Allium vineale), or wild garlic, disfigures beds and lawns, more especially at the end of winter before the landscape begins to green up. The bluish-green grasslike leaves emerge in fall and remain in view all winter, the more so when our lawns lose their verdure with the cold temps and our beds are bereft of show. An old clump can be a foot tall, growing from a tight-knit congregation of a hundred bulbs.

The forged-steel hand fork is the best weeding tool.

I use a hand fork, similar to a trowel, but with three tines instead of a blade, and I am not talking about the three-tined hand cultivator. This is a tool few gardeners seem to use, or even know, but along with the steel-shafted spade and the Felco bypass secateurs is one of the indispensables. Many years ago it was easy to find forged steel ones (the defunct Smith & Hawken), in which the tines did not get bent out of alignment in tree-rooty soil. Avoid these cheap ones. There is one from Holland (DeWit Forged Hand Fork) that costs 20 bucks.

This tool is ideal for lifting out small plants — or a clump of bulbs — and teasing out the roots from the soil. Obviously, if you pull up weeds without their roots, they will surely grow back, often with increased vengeance. Nor do you want to remove too much soil with the roots, else your five-gallon bucket will get heavy real quick. And don’t dump that bucket in your compost, the bulbs won’t rot.

In the case of wild onions, you must remove from the soil the miniature onion bulbs themselves. There is another, similar, bulbous weed called star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). Their leaves have a white midrib, and they lack the bluish tint — and, most obviously, the odor — of onions. Not native to North America, they have pretty flowers and an evocative common name, but they seed themselves everywhere and have become a major nuisance where once they were planted as an ornamental.

Bulbs — the lovely tulips and daffs and bluebells, as well as their weedy relatives — go dormant in summer, their leaves browning and melting into the soil. Many a time have I dug into soil to plant a shrub or perennials and have had the blade of my spade slice through daffodil or hyacinth bulbs.

Wild onions emerge in a newly graveled patio.

If you are digging in midsummer, colonizing a frontier of the garden, you might unearth a hidden clump of wild onion, or star of Bethlehem, now dormant without leaves visible. In this case you will, in effect, be dividing a compact clump of bulbs and “splintering it into a thousand pieces.”

Later, in fall, each of these bulbs will send up their monocotyledonous leaves in a now-wider area of your planting bed. Weeds are visual noise in an otherwise harmonious garden setting, an irritant to a conscientious green thumb because experience dictates that they will only increase exponentially. A window of opportunity to remove onions and Ornithogalum and other cool-season weeds presents itself in the balmier days of the long months of winter.

To reward yourself, if you have already gotten started on this meditative chore, or to incentivize yourself if you haven’t, order 25-50 deer-proof Allium ‘Gladiator’ to plant willy-nilly in and among your established — and, er, weed-free — plantings (provided they get enough sun). More on this next time.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

Our backyard gardens hold many secrets ready to be uncovered.

By JoAnn Canino

I’m looking out into my garden and find it hard to believe it is November. My yard is still green and the oak trees haven’t yet turned. It is a mystery I can solve. Making observations will naturally lead to asking questions. And by asking questions we can discover the mysteries in the garden. “Come forth into the light of things, Let nature be your teacher,” advised William Wordsworth (“The Tables Turned”).

This month we change the clocks, fall back one hour, and become more aware of the shifting light. Long before this, Nature has been “clocking” the subtly shifting light. The daisy was originally named “day’s eye” as its flower opens its petals in the morning and closes them at dusk. The sunflower turns to follow the sun. Plants detect the direction of the sun’s rays throughout the day to get maximum light for growth.

Why do the leaves of some trees, shrubs and vines turn colorful in the fall? What triggers this event? And why do the leaves fall off? We want to be dazzled by the beauty of the countryside and plan day trips north to catch the fall colors. So why is my garden still very green? I go to my bookshelf to find some answers. Two of my favorite books, “The Practical Botanist” by Rick Imes (Simon & Schuster, 1990) and “The Random House Book of How Nature Works” by Steve Parker (1992) provide some of the answers.

The process that we look forward to every fall is nature’s response to environmental changes. “Bright sunshine stimulates the leaves to continue producing sugars rapidly, and the cool nights (40°F) trap the sugar in the leaves. Dry weather diminishes the intensity of fall colors because parched leaves produce less sugar.” [“The Practical Botanist”]

Environmental changes such as length of day, light intensity, temperature and rainfall trigger an instinctive response — deciduous trees, shrubs and vines form an extra cell layer as a protection against the coming cold of winter. The sugar trapped in the leaf is converted into red and orange carotene. Blue and purple pigments combine with the yellow xanthophylls and green chlorophyll producing the colorful display of fall leaves: crimson and vivid yellow of maples, gold of hickories and bronze, russet and cinnamon of oaks.

But why do the leaves fall off? The specialized cells are easily broken by plant enzymes. Wind and rain sever the connection and the leaf falls.

Keeping a garden journal is a way of interacting with your surroundings. Making observations, asking questions and taking detailed notes give you data to compare in each season. Start by recording the weather conditions, wind direction, daily temperature, season of the year, expected rainfall, time of day and the date you made these observations.

Make lists, for example, of the birds and animals that visit the garden. Many birds migrate, come to our island, stay a while and then leave. Which birds stay? Which are only here for a season? How do they find their way over land and oceans? Before we draw any conclusions, we should make some observations, ask some questions, formulate hypotheses.

Record your observations and musings as you walk through the garden. Include sketches, note details and questions. Later, transfer these notes to a logbook or binder. Arranged by month, you can compare your observations with those you made last year. Expand your notes with research from field guides, magazine articles and internet research. For example, in your index card file, note the common name of a plant, its scientific name and a description.

Don’t limit your explorations to the backyard. Take your notebook out into the field as you walk. Note different habitats, the location and time of day. Take photographs to enhance your observations.

Remember, your garden and the habitat you are exploring are part of a larger system. Look for patterns and make comparisons. Visit the same location at different time of the day. What changes? What phase of the moon is in play? Native Americans and early settlers used moon phases and cycles to keep track of the seasons. Unique names were given to each full moon. “The most well-known names of the full moon came from the Algonquin tribes who lived in New England and westward to Lake Superior” (www.MoonConnection.com).

September’s Harvest Moon allowed farmers to work late into the night to harvest their crops. Not always in September, the Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox, which sometimes falls in October. The Hunter’s Moon (October) heralds the hunting season when the deer are fat and ready for eating and fox and other animals are easily spotted in the fields that have been cleared at harvest time. November’s full moon, the Beaver Moon, is so named because it was time to set beaver traps.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac continues to be a wealth of information (www.farmersalmanac.com). Data on frosts and growing seasons, schedules for planting by the moon’s phase, along with weather facts and forecasts for the current year are readily available. Check to see how accurate its forecast was for last year.

How do we fit into this ecosystem? Plants and animals coordinate their biorhythms and behavior patterns with changes in the environment. How do we humans respond to these environmental changes? Don’t forget to note your own feelings and responses to the changing seasons as you keep your garden journal up to date. This month we celebrate the abundance and blessings of the season as we gather together to enjoy a very happy Thanksgiving.

Garden chores for November

• Clean up the debris and leaves, and put the beds to sleep for the winter.

• Top dress each bed with at least one inch of compost and mulch to prolong the life of perennials, roses and berry bushes.

• Clean garden equipment and store for the winter. Brush shovels and spades free of caked on dirt. Dry metal tools and wrap in a cloth or old towel before storing.

JoAnn Canino is an avid journal writer and gardener and a member of the Three Village Garden Club.

The white petals of Large-Cupped N. 'Roulette' are a perfect foil for the orange and yellow frilled corona.

By Kyrnan Harvey

No need to panic, there’s plenty of time to order bulbs. True, some varieties might be sold out, but the importers ship through December and bulbs can be planted as long as the ground isn’t frozen. I have, in the past, gotten away with planting after New Year’s.

Above, fragrant Narcissus ‘Kedron’ (jonquilla class) naturalized with other daffodils and myrtle

 

I once had a garden with soil on the sandy side, enriched in the early years with wood-chip mulch, which eventually decomposes into humus. Here many kinds of tulips were naturalized. They need good drainage, and no excessive irrigation, in the summer months when they are dormant, or else they will rot. If I had planted five of one variety in 1998, by 2008 bulbs had increased with offsets that were flowering size. Tulips growing informally through forget-me-nots and among many other spring flowers and shrubs — as opposed to a stiffly formal throwaway mass display planting — are incomparably charming. But they are said to be caviar to deer.

Daffodils though are 100 percent deer proof. Nor do squirrels dig for them as they do for tulips. I like to plant them in a similar style: many different varieties, each segregated from other varieties. I don’t like daffodil “mixes” — five or 10 bulbs, spaced a few inches apart, randomly arranged (meaning asymmetrically, nongeometrically). In two or three years these bulbs will have a dozen or more flowers. Daffodils increase and naturalize far more reliably than tulips.

There are many more varieties of Narcissus than will be seen at Home Depot or a garden center. Thirty years ago, when I was employed as a gardener at Mrs. Whitney’s Manhasset estate, we participated in a flower show at Macy’s Herald Square. The head gardener, my boss, presented an instructional display with examples from each of the 13 divisions of daffodils, as established by the Royal Horticultural Society: trumpets, large-cupped and small-cupped N. triandrus, N. jonquilla, N. poeticus and so on.

Above, the charming Narcissus jonquilla ‘Kokopelli’

You can find, via numerous stateside bulb importers (Brent & Becky’s, John Scheepers, White Flower Farm), splendid cultivars from any and all of these classes. Moreover, within each division, there are many variations of form and diversity of color: white perianth (the petals) with yellow or orange or pink corona (the cup, or trumpet); yellow perianth/orange cup; white perianth/white cup. The rims of the cups can have different colors too and the cups and petals can have various forms.

It is easy to fill your garden with many different long-lived daffodils, each of which has its own distinctive charm and all of which, when viewed collectively in the vernal garden, harmonize with their compadres. You can do better than merely more ‘Mount Hood’ and ‘King Alfred.’ Many are delightfully scented, which is not, by the way, the cloying odor of the florists’ tender paperwhite narcissus. If you plant a dozen varieties this year, in five years you will be able to fill vases with bountiful, perfumed bouquets.

Daffodils tolerate full sun and part shade. The pink-cupped ones prefer the latter because it preserves their color. Deep shade and water-logged soil must be avoided. Cut the spent flowers but the leaves must be left uncut, unbent, and unbraided for weeks after flowering is finished. Finding companion perennials that disguise this unsightly phase of the growth cycle — and that won’t be chowed by deer! — is a finer aspect of horticulture best left to another day.

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

Japanese maple seedlings in a woodland setting have the best fall colors. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

“It’s fall, right?” my 7-year-old just asked. And I was like, “Um, yeah?” Notwithstanding a few weeks of unseasonably balmy, if not muggy, days, it is October and the first noticeable autumnal tints are seen in the American dogwoods that grow along the margins of the Laurel Ridge-Setauket Woods Nature Preserve on Belle Mead Road.

You needn’t be a gardener — nor ferry up to New England — to enjoy the weeks of glorious colors in the maples and the oaks in random woods and suburban roads: the yellow Norway maple, the red-orange of sugar and red maples, the russet-reds of the oaks.

There are many kinds of shrubs too, of course, that present fall color. These typically color up best in sunnier locations, but the native spicebush (Lindera benzoin), ubiquitous in our woods because the deer leave them alone, are beginning to yellow even in heavy shade. Last Saturday I was driving on Mt. Grey and West Meadow roads in Old Field, where homes are nestled into our native oak woods. Naturalized in the understory are the native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, and planted rhododendrons that had grown massive before the deer population exploded.

If you live under a high canopy of oak trees, but want some great fall color, Japanese maples are a superb understory tree: They prefer some shade and will color up well despite it. Japanese maples are not limited to the popular weeping lacy trees. They are primarily Acer palmatum, but they also refer to Acer japonicum and Acer shirasawanum.

Japanese maple seedlings flourish in a woodland setting. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

The grafted cut-leaf Japanese maple is justifiably popular but not inexpensive. These are propagated vegetatively, i.e., not by seed; they are called cultivated varieties (cultivars, in the trade), meaning they have specific genes; and they are identical to one another in leaf shape, size and color and also in rate of growth and habit, by which is meant the shape of the crown, whether pyramidal, weeping or columnar.

The spectacular cut-leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum), red-leafed or green, is better used singly, as a specimen. Mature tress will get to be 15 feet in diameter, so do not make the common mistake of planting it too close to your driveway or front path or up close to your house. It is always a shame to have to restrict with pruning the natural form of these.

If you have the opportunity to plant a grove of Japanese maples, maybe for screening or to start a woodland garden, then the most expedient way would be to find a source of random Acer palmatum seedlings. Young trees, cheap. Don’t overly favor the showy red-leaved ones; select if you can a mix of green and red. In Joe’s garden, a client, there were three or four mature Japanese maples. We had many dozens of seedlings, offspring from the mother trees, growing out of the compost of years of leaf-blowing.

Many years ago Joe and I potted up a few of the younger ones, from 3 to 7 years old, and on a sunny Saturday morning in late October loaded them into the 8-foot bed of my ’68 Chevy. We parked on 5th Avenue in Park Slope in Brooklyn and presented a sidewalk sale. They were gorgeous in their variety of fall reds, oranges and even yellows. Fifteen years later and there are many dozens more seedlings, I just can’t bring myself to pull them up and throw them in the compost pile.

True, the deer will nip them as long as they can reach the branches. It is worth the effort to spritz a little deer repellent, especially in April, May, and June, for the first couple years until the branches are up and out of their reach. There is a blight on them, a soil-borne fungus called Verticillium wilt, that causes branches to die. Cut them back to the trunk. Sometimes the whole tree dies. If you have a dozen or more trees, as I recommend, and they are seeding themselves around, then it’s easy-come-easy-go. You don’t have to mourn the loss of a tree if there are many more healthy ones about.

It’s okay to start with unnamed seedlings of Acer palmatum. They are always gorgeous, leafing out in spring with their iconic leaves, or changing color in fall, they are never out of scale in the garden and comport well with companion shrubs and perennials. You could order a dozen and supplement them with a few choice named cultivars that you gradually collect at the garden center or through mail-order sources; or you could start right off with the choice varieties.

It would be preferable to have some of these splendid cultivars because some of their offspring seedlings will carry their desirable traits. Japanese maples are prolific self-sowers, so you might want to plant two or three of the great, well-known varieties: Invest in a few large trees, sourced at a nursery. Have them planted in locations that establish the structure and articulate the paths of a new woodland garden, underplant them with perennials and start looking out for seedlings next year!

Kyrnan Harvey is a horticulturist and garden designer residing in East Setauket. For more information, visit www.boskygarden.com.

The informal gardens at Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm

By JoAnn Canino

Documenting your garden by keeping a garden journal not only creates a complete record but also allows you to make informed decisions to improve your garden from season to season. Now is a good time to start a garden journal. It is a way of extending the joy we get from our gardens well into the winter months.

Keeping a journal can be as simple as making notations in a notebook as you make your daily rounds in the garden. I use a lined composition notebook for observations and an unlined sketchbook to make drawings. To organize my notes, sketches and research I use a loose-leaf binder divided into sections. Setting up the binder, include a pocket to save plant tags, seed packets and receipts. Use graph paper for sketching layouts of each bed.

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Vita Sackville-West, a noted garden writer, and her husband, Harold Nelson, diplomat and journalist, designed the Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent, England. They suggested careful planning should begin with a detailed architectural drawing that includes plans for color and seasonal changes.

Make lists of plants you would like to try. Keep plant profiles: date planted, care instructions, watering and fertilizing schedules. Include sketches and photos. For the kitchen garden, keep a plant and seed tracker. Include seed sources, date planted and germination date. Note success rate and expected harvest yield. Details can be recorded in your notebook then transferred to index cards for easy reference. Track the weather from season to season: Note dates of frost this year as compared to last year. How many inches of rain actually fell? How many days of sunshine? Remember to add photos to document the changes.

Monticello vegetable garden

Thomas Jefferson, president, architect, scientist and gardener, kept detailed notes of his observations and activities in his “Garden Kalender.” He noted dates seeds were planted, harvest schedules and when the beds were manuered at his plantation in Monticello. His notes were as simple as, “Peas killed by frost. Oct. 23, 1809.” But Jefferson’s vegetable garden was set up for experimentation. He imported squashes and broccoli from Italy, beans and salsify collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition, figs from France and peppers from Mexico. Jefferson’s intention was to eliminate “inferior” varieties. “I am curious to select one or two of the best species or variety of every garden vegetable and to reject others from the garden to avoid the dangers of mixing and degeneracy,” he wrote.

Recording your experiences and observations will allow you to develop a greater awareness of the changes that occur from day to day and from season to season. Be open to discovery, use your senses to look closely at nature in your own backyard. Listen to sounds and look for patterns. Create a habitat for wintering wildlife. Put up a birdbath or a small pond. Plant native plants, mulch leaves and add bird feeders.

The Mount garden

If you are exploring different garden themes, it is helpful to have a section in the binder for pictures of gardens that inspire you as well as articles and research on the typical needs of each design. For example, a formal garden with groomed hedges and a balanced symmetry would follow an Italianate design. Edith Wharton’s garden, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts, follows this formal plan. Her gardens were a source of inspiration for her writing.

Beatrix Potter at Hill Top Farm in the Lake District, England, followed the philosophy of William Morris of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which celebrated fine craftsmanship. While she had a separate walled vegetable garden, her beds and borders were informal.

She mixed hardy flowers with bulbs and fruit shrubs. As an artist and naturalist, she made detailed studies of the plants and animals on her farm. Her much loved “Tales of Peter Rabbit” have entertained many readers. Illustrations for her books were painted in her garden.

Between 1883 and 1897, Potter studied and painted mushrooms and lichens. Her paper, “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricinae,” was based on these studies. Consider how you are a part of the ecosystem and let your garden be your inspiration for writing, drawing and discovery.

Autumn tips for your garden

•Take time to observe where the sunlight falls now.

• Fill any gaps in borders with autumn flowering plants such as sedum, asters and chrysanthemums.

• Continue to feed and deadhead the hanging baskets to extend the color.

• As the weather cools, bring indoor plants back inside.

• Refresh the soil and repot to avoid bringing insects inside.

• Select flowering bulbs: tulips, narcissi, hyacinths, iris, allium and fritillaries to plant as temperatures cool.

• Cut hydrangea flowers for fall table designs and wreaths.

JoAnn Canino is an avid journal writer and gardener and a member of the Three Village Garden Club.

Social

9,207FansLike
1,075FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe