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Gardening

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

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.

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.

Cerise mum, second year.

By Kyrnan Harvey

This year the deer have left our chrysanthemums alone. So far. This is our third year in the Three Villages, and the assumption originally was that aromatic plants are passed over by the white-tailed browsers. Wishful thinking.

 

Old-fashioned Korean mums naturalized

Last year, the mums were left alone all summer, until the buds formed on the flower stems, which apparently are a delicacy for discerning deer in the know. This year, we sprayed deer repellent once on the cerise mum near the driveway entrance but none on the ‘Dark Bronze Daisy’ or the unnamed Home Depot orange mum. And who knew? These latter two are a square yard untouched and flowering beautifully for a month already and the cerise one is just now popping.

This morning, while pulling up unwanted goldenrod volunteers, I became reacquainted with a gorgeous white one, very tall and promising in bud now, that I had plucked last year from the florist shelves at the market.

As a garden designer favoring naturalistic plantings, I generally eschew the seasonal mum installations. But I do love the colors; who doesn’t? There are many varieties grown, often two apparently identical colors are actually merely similar colors, subtly different varieties. Usually you will find a small label with a cultivar name on it, like ‘Plumberry Purple’ or ‘Flamingo Pineapple’. Every year one or two colors at Home Depot or Stop&Shop or my myriad wholesale sources catches my fancy. I am often asked “Are they perennial?” “How do you know which ones will come back next year?”

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’

In years past I would answer that the “old-fashioned” single ones, formerly called Korean mums and rarely seen in garden centers, are reliably hardy and perennial. There is a charming single pale apricot must-have called ‘Sheffield Pink’ that is absolutely perennial and that flowers very late. But I am now convinced that the brilliantly colored doubles will naturalize too and need not be regarded as throwaways. I buy just one piece (as the nurserymen say) and find a suitable location for that color.

I cannot account for the gustatory vagaries or the culinary whimsies of our graceful quadripeds, but here is how to get “dem” mums to survive the winter and to increase in girth. Don’t plant them too late and don’t let them dry out.

Don’t buy a pot in September for your front door, neglect to water it three straight sunny 75 degree days, and then not plant it outside until Thanksgiving.

Typically chrysanthemums are root-bound in those green plastic pots. Root-bound means they dry out quickly and watering can’t penetrate the density of roots. The good independent garden centers have staff that know how and how often to water them to keep them from drying out — not so at the box stores. There is a point of no return, if left unwatered for too long. Haven’t we all seen inventories of mums fried and roasting at the edge of the parking lot, wilted to a crisp? It’s okay to decorate the porch for a couple weeks, but put saucers under them and if they’re in the sun err on the side of too much water.

Chrysanthemum ‘Dark Bronze Daisy’ third year

Another common pitfall is to assume that once it is planted and you have thoroughly drenched it, you are done. Not necessarily the case, never more so than the past few weeks when it has been unseasonably warm and it hasn’t rained. We did a large mum installation at a client’s temple for the holidays. No automatic irrigation, and we watered by hose two times a week for a couple weeks. Checked in after a long weekend and sure enough a few of the 70 were wilting. Even where there is automatic irrigation, hand water if there are no good soakings from mother nature.

When planting out your mums, they will want, like most daisies, a sunny spot if your intention is for them to perennialize. Also needed is good, loose soil that’s been dug free of tree roots and soil compaction. Water in well at planting and as necessary for a few weeks, so that they will root in to their new soil. This is the key; this is what determines whether they survive through to next year: Are they established in the garden well before the hard frosts of January? I usually leave the unsightly spent flowers uncut until March. My sense is that these provide insulation from winds to the basal foliage, visible even in a flowering plant, upon which the plants’ future depends.

Of course, you can still plant mums with no expectation that they will provide perennial pleasures. You still have to keep them watered, but you can cram them into crummy builders’ fill under oak trees — as we did at the temple — and do it again next year. But it is really delightful and gratifying to see drifts of sprays of that superb color year in, year out. They actually are carefree and drought tolerant once established. And if the deer one year take a fancy to that color? You’ll live, and next year you will enjoy the show more.

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

All photos by Kyrnan Harvey

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Ornamental grasses add unique texture to the landscape. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

By Kyrnan Harvey

Ornamental grasses add unique texture to the landscape. Photo by Kyrnan Harvey

Do you have some part of your property that is all hot and dry in full sun? Maybe at some remove from the house, in the backyard or out at the road, where the lawn grasses perennially compete with crabgrasses and other weeds over poor soil and there is nothing to look out at through your windows?

The next two or three months would be a great time to dramatically transform your homescape with a matrix of ornamental grasses throughout which you could, in time, introduce many different flowers. Now through December is their season to glow, especially in the late summer and autumn sun.

Many landscapers cut down grasses as part of their fall cleanups, but we cut down ours at the very end of winter.

There are cool-season ones (feather-reed grass, blue fescue) that start growth soon after winter and warm-season ones (switchgrass, Miscanthus, fountain grass) that are delayed until the heat of May.

The former bring beauty starting in late spring, the latter from late summer; but all of them bring texture and form that endure for many months, often right through winter. Flowers of grasses are not colorful, of course, but they provide a dreamy complement and contrast to flowers. They catch early and late rays, they rustle with the wind, they glisten with dew, and they are sculptural with frost and snow. The leaves of some grasses are bluish or silvery gray and some have reddish tints. And, most importantly, all ornamental grasses are 100 percent deer proof.

I believe that to achieve the desired effect, a minimum of 400 square feet of garden space is needed, preferably more. One important proviso is that the flopping of these grasses must be prevented. Many prefer lean soil, not too fertile and not too much water. If you have automatic irrigation, create separate zones for the beds. Withhold overhead watering from these beds overnight, which would cause the top-heavy flowers to flop. If you have poor soil or builder’s fill, this could actually work in your favor.

Panicum virgatum

In my garden I have heavy clayish loam and no automatic irrigation. I hand-water with a hose, soaking certain plants, including grasses, if and when they most need it. This is easy and relaxing work, and you know your plants are loving it. Cool-season grasses benefit from extra water in the heat of summer, but many of the best grasses thrive on absolute neglect.

What handful of grasses should you look for and how might you obtain them? There are numerous wholesale nurseries that grow many different grasses here on Long Island, and any independent garden center would be happy to order them.

You will find one- or two-gallon containers at local garden centers, ready for planting; whereas mail order would be much smaller plants. Nowadays it is so easy to go into your phone or computer and see what’s what.

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’

For a hot, dry, sunny location, I can highly recommend first and foremost Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ (feather-reed grass) and any of a growing number of Panicum (switchgrass) varieties. Let these two, with their height and verticality, establish structural continuity throughout the planting. Get seven of the ‘Karl Foerster’ and three of the switchgrass per 400 square feet. Plant ‘Karl Foerster’ in drifts or blocks.

It will be highly unlikely you will find a ‘Karl Foerster’ at this time of year without its seed heads cut down. This great plant flowers in June; growers’ daily overhead irrigation causes the flowers to flop, so they cut them down. Plant them anyway and look forward to next year. Scatter the switchgrass, randomly.

 

Scatter or drift Muhlenbergia (muhly grass) in the same proportion as the feather-reed grass. Again, grasses should usually be planted en masse, to create the naturalistic mood, but they don’t necessarily need to be planted as a block.

At this point, minus the feather-reed grass that has been cut down, you will have a significant show already. Instant gratification. Now, if you have the space, you can supplement with a couple more: Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) and Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), best used as scatter plants. You could even drop in a specimen grass, like Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens,’ though it would want that hose in the dry weeks of July.

Although these grasses are very drought-tolerant do not make the mistake of not watering them thoroughly until they are established. Typically they are pot-bound, and these can dry out if they are left unwatered for two or three days. Sometimes if I plant drought-tolerant grasses in June or July, I will keep hand-watering them through August.

When laying out your grasses be sure to leave plenty of room for other perennials and bulbs and even naturalizing biennials and annuals, all of which together will enhance and compliment your new dreamscape of grasses.

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

Ellen Barcel. File photo by Elana Glowatz

South Setauket resident, local gardening columnist and former Arts & Lifestyles editor Ellen Barcel, 72, died after a battle with cancer July 16.

Her friend Judy Hallock said the writer and editor died peacefully in her home and was happy to spend her last days with her dog Teddy Bear, cat Daisy and friends.

Hallock said Barcel retired from teaching social studies in the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District in 1996 and was an avid follower of gardening, quilting, having afternoon tea with friends and playing the dominoes game Mexican Train. Barcel was involved for decades, even serving on the board of trustees for a period, with the Southold Indian Museum, which is dedicated to the study and education surrounding archaeology and natural history. She was a Master Gardener through Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Hallock said Barcel was an only child and moved to Long Island with her family in her late teen years and attended Stony Brook University. While Barcel leaves behind no husband or children, Hallock said the former TBR employee “grew a family around her” with her friends.

“She earned it by being who she was,” Hallock said. “She was always a great friend.”

Hallock remembers Barcel as always being there for others and providing a shoulder to cry on and will always remember her smile, good nature, kindness and enthusiasm.

Barcel began as a freelance writer for Times Beacon Record Newspapers after retiring from teaching, and July 15, 1999, became the editor of the Arts & Lifestyles section.

Jane O’Sullivan, a former editor of a few TBR Newspapers, said she remembers Barcel’s love for animals and gardening.

“She was interested in so many things,” O’Sullivan said. “I can’t think of anything that bored her.”

Both O’Sullivan and Marie Murtagh, former executive editor of TBR Newspapers, remember Barcel as always being fun to work with during the years they worked together in the office.

“She used to say she loved her job because there were so many good things going on,” Murtagh said.

Murtagh said the A&L editor always did a great job in gathering information about local events.

“She was somebody who enjoyed all the things that Long Island had to offer and other people finding out about them and enjoying them as well,” she said.

This year Barcel received an honorable mention from the New York Press Association in the Best Special Section/Niche Publications category for her freelance work on the 40th anniversary supplement for TBR Newspapers. “Stiff competition is the only reason this pub did not place,” judges wrote. “Beautifully done.”

Donations in Barcel’s memory can be made to the Southold Indian Museum, 1080 Main Bayview Road, Southold, NY 11971.


With heavy hearts, the staff of Times Beacon Record News Media say goodbye to a beloved colleague.

Leah Dunaief, publisher

“Ellen Barcel was a totally professional journalist and a pleasure to work with,” Dunaief said. “She was a fine writer, committed to her work and to the community. Her world was made more beautiful by the flowers she loved and surrounded herself with, and she tended her responsibilities with the same care that she gave her garden. Ellen was a loyal and gentle friend, and we will miss her greatly.”

Johness Kuisel, general manager

“She was a beautiful and talented writer who composed her column in her head after reviewing pictures she had taken, and the words just flowed,” Kuisel said. “Her Times Beacon Record family will miss her talent and good nature.”

File photo by Ellen Barcel

Heidi Sutton, editor of Arts & Lifestyles

“I met Ellen in June of 2013 when I started working for the paper,” Sutton said. “I had read her gardening column for years and was a big fan. When she decided to retire from the paper as the Arts & Lifestyles editor in 2013, I had big shoes to fill. She continued to write her gardening column and freelance but most of all became a good friend. Ellen often spoke of spending time in her garden. That’s how I’ll remember her — walking through her garden admiring the flowers, gently scolding her dog Teddy for eating all the tomatoes and smiling.”

Kathryn Mandracchia, advertising director

“I absolutely loved working with her,” Mandracchia said. “She was kind, always smiling, and a joy to be around. I am saddened by her loss, and I will miss sharing pet and plant stories with her.”

Ellen Segal, director of classified advertising

“Ellen Barcel was a smart and very sweet lady,” Segal said. “When I first came to TBR Newspapers, editorial was on the main floor near my new office, and I was impressed by her work ethic and her community knowledge. She reached out and welcomed me and, of course, we both exclaimed we didn’t know too many people with the name we both shared, Ellen, derived from the same Greek root — which means light, torch or bright.”

Meg Malangone, office coordinator

“Ellen was a beautiful, sweet individual, inside and out,” Malangone said. “Once you got to know her, you were graced with a wonderful, sometimes sassy personality. She loved her gardening and her pets. She bloomed wherever she was planted. Ellen was sunshine, and those who knew and loved her, were warmed by her smile and the light she brought to others’ lives.”

Don't cut your lawn shorter than 3 inches or you'll damage it. Stock Photo
A baker’s dozen lawn tips

By Ellen Barcel

Well, winter is over and it’s time to think about spring and gardening and that includes your lawn. If you followed recommendations, you fertilized your lawn last October and patched bare spots. You removed fallen leaves. Now, what should you be doing?

1. Remove any leaves from the lawn that may have accumulated over the winter. These can be composted, but leaves do take longer to break down than greenery so it’s best to shred them. The more surface exposed, the faster the composting process will happen.

2. Gather up any broken branches that came down during the winter’s storms. I use this wood for my fireplace, but each wood has a different scent. Apple wood is wonderful but weeping willow wood is definitely not. If you have a chipper you can turn downed wood into mulch.

3. If you had a lot of weeds in your lawn last year, consider applying pre-emergent weed killer. Personally, I just mow them over since they’re green, but if it’s a problem for you, spread the weed killer.

4. If you haven’t patched bare spots or new ones developed, spring is the ideal time to do that. Most of the lawn grasses we grow on Long Island are cool weather grasses and grow best in spring and fall.

Don’t plant grass right up against tree trunks as the bark can be damaged during mowing. Photo by Ellen Barcel

5. In general, grass won’t grow well in very shady areas. The plants need sun, but fescue tolerates some shade. So, when patching, look for mixes that note that they do well in some shade.

6. Turn on (and repair as needed) any irrigation system you have once the danger of frost has passed.

7. You can spread fertilizer after the beginning of April. (Suffolk County law prohibits spreading it before that time to prevent chemicals from polluting the groundwater. Lawns just don’t take up fertilizer from November through March.) Don’t apply fertilizer to zoyzia grass until it has greened up, however, since it is a warm weather grass.

8. When mowing, don’t cut the lawn shorter than 3 inches. Remember these are plants and if you “scalp” them, you can kill them. They need a certain amount of greenery to thrive. While it’s tempting to cut the lawn really short so you don’t have to do it that often, you’ll damage the lawn.

9. Leave the clippings on the lawn as they will break down and return nutrients to the soil. If you must gather them up, then compost them.

10. Don’t walk on the grass, for the same reason. You wouldn’t walk on your tomato plants or bean plants, so don’t walk on the grass. Install some sort of walkways for frequently trodden paths.

11. If your soil is substantially below a pH of 6.0 to 7, you need to periodically add lime to sweeten the soil. So, test your soil, then follow the manufacturer’s direction on quantity and frequency of application.

12. Generally, on Long Island, your lawn needs 1 inch of water per week. On average, Long Island gets 4 inches of rain per month. During spring and fall, and with cooler temperatures, rain frequently takes care of this need, but come the heat of summer you will probably have to supplement the rain. However, be on the lookout for periods of drought like we’ve had the last two years. Remember that two inches of rain all at once, quickly drains from the soil.

13. Don’t plant grass close up to the base of trees. If you do, the trees may be damaged as you mow each week. Instead, put mulch and/or annuals or perennials around the base of trees. That way, a “weed wacker” won’t damage the tree bark.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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