A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bulb Planting In My Own Gardens

We went from cold and windy yesterday to 70F (21C) today. Even though I have to go to work tonight, I wanted to take advantage of the warm weather and get some things done in the yard. Mowing the lawn was the most important chore. With all the cool, rainy weather we have been having, the grass is growing like it is spring. After mowing the lawn, I had hoped to get some bulbs planted. The leaves are finally falling so it is a good time to get them into the ground without the alerting the squirrels to a new food supply!

I spent so much time cleaning out beds and transplanting that I was only able to get a few bulbs planted. Among them was the Madonna lily. The Madonna lily I had planted last year sprouted, but didn't bloom. This is all it did:

I did a little research and discovered that Madonna lilies should be planted more shallowly than I normally plant my bulbs. I decided when the foliage died back, I would replant this bulb. The problem was that the foliage never died back completely before it sprouted new foliage which grew and grew and grew:

I took this picture today. Looks great, doesn't it? I don't know what to do. I don't dare disturb it while it has foliage. I had ordered another one which I had planned on planting less deeply. The package clearly states that it should be planted 6" (15 cm). So I compromised and planted it 3" (7.5 cm).

I am also concerned about my fritillaria. Knowing I was going to move it, I had marked its location after the foliage died back. Today when I dug up the bulb, I discovered that it was partially rotted. I am guessing all the rain we have had was responsible. I planted it anyways in its new bed and crossed my fingers. It won't be a complete loss if it doesn't come up again. I had ordered another one which I planted next to it.

I still have boxes and boxes of bulbs in the basement. I have vacation time left so I am hoping that the good weather will hold and taking next week off from work to finish all my planting.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bulb Planting at Rutgers Gardens

I joined the volunteer program at Rutgers Gardens back in September. I was taken on a wonderful orientation tour and then put on the email list that goes out weekly with the volunteer schedule. I helped set up for their annual Fall Foliage Festival on the first weekend of October but my work schedule and subsequent health issues prevented me from participating in other activities. The wonderful woman who manages the volunteer program even called me to make sure I was receiving the emails.

Today I was finally able to go back to the gardens. They had ordered $500 worth of bulbs to sell at the Festival. The weather was so bad that day (pouring rain) that not many people came and very few bulbs were sold. Our project for today was to plant the left over bulbs. It was a perfect autumn day. Maybe a little too chilly but we were all dressed in layers and digging hundreds of holes kept us warm. At first, I was pretty intimidated by all of the cartons of bulbs. I had never seen so many at once. Narcissi, snowdrops, grape hyacinths, glory of the snow and alliums. There were six of us working. We got everything planted in three hours.

Now I just have to remember to bring my camera with me next year whenever I am working in the gardens so I can take pictures of my handiwork!

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I finally have a chickadee. They are supposed to be terribly common but I have never seen one in my yard until this past week. Part of the reason I've discovered is that they only visit backyard feeders in the winter. I didn't have the type of feeder they prefer until last spring. True to their description, the chickadee that visits my feeder is so tame I was able to get close enough to almost reach out and touch him. And I frequently hear his distinctive "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" call. He is much too tiny to get a good picture of with my camera so here is a picture from enature.com :

If the appearance of a chickadee is a harbinger of winter, can the slate-colored juncos be far behind? It would also seem to be a little early for winter birds. I wonder if this is another sign of a bad winter to come?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Internet is a Gardener's Best Friend

I have found the internet incredibly useful for gardening. I can get all kinds of information, unusual plants and seeds, equipment, great prices, etc. Today I found a new use for it. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have postponed planting my bulbs until the leaves have dropped. In the meantime I have been planting iris, peonies, lilies and asters. The lilies and iris are a little iffy. I went around the yard collecting what few leaves were available to cover them with and hopefully keep the squirrels away. Then I had a happy thought. I could move my fritillaria bulb and plant the new one I had ordered. Fritillaria bulbs for anyone who has never grown them (that was me prior to last year!) have a terrible odor to them. That odor repels deer, squirrels and rabbits. I can plant those now with no problem. Um, there is a problem. No new fritillaria bulb.

I rechecked my boxes of bulbs in the basement. Nope. I checked around the back door and the front door in case the box had been delivered but somehow knocked off the porch. Nope. So I checked my spreadsheet to make sure I had actually ordered it. I was very organized with my ordering this year. I kept track of everything I ordered and where I ordered it from. I realized I had never received my entire order from Breck's. I checked my email. I never received an email notification that my order had shipped. Highly unusual. I have been ordering bulbs from Breck's for 20 years and never had a problem.

So I went to their website and that's when I made an astounding discovery. I could track my order! Literally from the point of origin to its current location (Edison, NJ). According to the website, the delivery should be four days from now. Why it will take the US Postal Service that long to get the package from Edison, NJ to Middlesex, NJ is beyond me. Just for fun, I Mapquested it to get the distance: 8.29 miles. I could walk there and back in less time.

I can't get over how much shopping has changed. Twenty years ago, mail order was the big breakthrough. Thanks to all the garden catalogs cluttering up my mailbox, I could choose from a much larger variety of bulbs, plants and seeds than at my local garden center. I could place my order by mail or phone. I could check on the status of my order with a simple phone call. During business hours, of course. Now there is an even larger selection and no time constraints. No paper, even. Everything can be done on my computer, from choosing and ordering to all of the record keeping.

I guess I'm showing my age, aren't I?

Note: The bulbs arrived the following day, October 21. It's raining, of course and expected to continue raining tomorrow so I won't be able to plant anything until next week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Vacation That Wasn't

This was supposed to be the week that I was off from work specifically to get all of the plants and bulbs I had ordered into the ground. I had big plans to enlarge beds, rearrange other beds and maybe even start a new bed. Fate seems to be conspiring against me. First there was the endless rain. Then I fell down the basement steps. Thank you everyone for all of your sympathy. I have to admit that gardening has kept me in pretty good shape because I didn't seem to have any secondary injuries or muscle sprains. I just limped a lot for a couple of days. There was no way that I could get much gardening done.

I did manage to get a good start on my ambitious program on Monday before I went to the endodontist. That's my new word. En-do-don-tist. As in root canal. It wasn't that bad. The worst part was the needle. Once I was numb I was fine. My tooth, however, wasn't. It was badly infected (did he HAVE to tell me pus was coming out of the tooth when he drilled???) and badly cracked. So badly that he didn't want to risk a second appointment and did the whole operation in one sitting. I was no good for anything the following day. I'm finally back on my feet today. And digging and planting like mad.

But I don't think I will finish everything I wanted to do. For one thing, bad things always happen in threes so I am waiting for the final catastrophe. And the other more important reason is a lack of leaves. The leaves really haven't started to fall in great numbers yet. I have hungry squirrels and now a rabbit who love to dig up and eat my bulbs after I plant them. I have learned to fool them by covering my newly planted bulbs with leaves. They mask the smell of the freshly dug earth which is what attracts squirrels and I presume the rabbit also. I had hoped that the high winds after the torrential rains would blow down lots of leaves. All I got was lots of sticks. So most of the plants are planted but the bulbs will have to wait.

While we are waiting, here are some final pictures of my gardens for this year:

The cosmos are still blooming like mad. These are the Picotee cosmos. Some of them are quite unusual:

Speaking of cosmos, remember the Bright Lights cosmos that got fertilized and grew so tall ? It's still going strong. Remember, it is only supposed to get 2' to 3' (61 cm to 91 cm) tall and the fence is 4' (122 cm) tall.

Unbelievably, they are now budded. Also in the unbelievable category are some asters that burst into bloom after all the rest had finished:

Finally, a hardy mum that is truly hardy. It comes back every year to brighten the front of my house with its cheery yellow flowers:

Friday, October 14, 2005

Water, water everywhere

The bulbs and plants that I ordered for fall planting have been arriving since early October. I didn't want to plant them then because it was still so warm. I like to wait until later in the month when the weather and the soil has cooled down. Now I can't plant them because it has been pouring rain for days.

Much like New Orleans, the state of New Jersey is slowing disappearing under flood waters. We are not below sea level. We are just overdeveloped and the water literally has nowhere to go. As more and more land is paved for roads and parking lots, there is less and less land to absorb the rains. Instead, it collects on the roadways making driving extremely hazardous. Communities that have been foresighted enough to provide adequate drainage are causing a different problem. All of those storm sewers empty into the local rivers which cannot handle the increased volume of water. The rivers overflow their banks higher and higher each year as more and more water is poured into them from the inceasing roads and parking lots. Communities that have existed peacefully on the riversides, sometimes for centuries, are flooded and in some cases destroyed.

And still it rains. It has been raining for a week now. Hopefully it will stop this weekend. Then we just have to wait for the rivers to crest. For the flood waters to finish draining into our swollen rivers and streams.

I have been fortunate. My town and my house are far enough away from the Raritan River that I don't have to worry. My basement will get a few inches of water in it when the ground has reached its maximum capacity to absorb water, but that is a small price to pay compared to my fellow New Jerseyans whose homes are completely underwater.

I have suffered only one casualty this week. Me. I have a tooth that has bothered me on and off for years. My dentist had been unable to figure out what the problem is or even which tooth it was. Tuesday night, it started to ache. I was fortunate enough to get into the dentist's office Thursday afternoon. It was obvious which tooth was hurting. What wasn't obvious what was causing the pain. After poking, squeezing (?), blowing air on it and applying cold, he determined that it is fractured and that I will need root canal. Thanks to his examination, what had been a minor, annoying ache had turned into a throbbing nightmare.

When I got home, I noticed a lot of birds around one of the feeders. I checked it and discovered it was nearly empty. I store my birdseed on my basement steps both for convenience and lack of storage space. In my haze of pain, I forgot that wet shoes and stairs are never a good mix. My feet flew out from under me and down the stairs I went. I managed to catch the banister about a third of the way down and stopped my fall. It's funny the things you think about when you are hanging from a banister in so much pain that you are nauseous. I kept thinking "I'm all alone. There is no one to call an ambulance. I have to get to the phone". Of course, once I made it back up the stairs I realized that if I could climb stairs, I didn't need an ambulance. I limped into the living room and laid down on the couch until the pain had subsided enough so that I could breathe. I kept moving the leg that I had landed on to make sure it wasn't broken. Then I stood on it, then walked on it, then noticed that I had completely forgotten about the pain in my tooth!

I filled the birdfeeder and went to bed. When I got up this morning it was still raining.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

I should have stayed in bed

I'm convinced that some days it's better not to get up in the morning. Today was one of those days. I should have seen it coming first thing this morning when I made my annual apple pie. The pie crust just wouldn't roll. I ended up with the ugliest pie I have ever made. Martha Stewart would have fired me on the spot. I've never actually seen her apprenctice show. Does she fire people like Donald Trump? I've never seen his apprentice show either.

It was a perfect day so I headed outside. After a little garden clean-up, I decided to get a start on my new garden plans. I am doing some major re-arranging. Today I tackled the shady garden. I moved some iris that was being overgrown by the daylilies and liatris. Then I dug up the liatris on one side of the birdbath. My plan was to move it forward and at an angle. I cleaned up all the weeds, cultivated and amended the soil and then dug a long trench instead of individual holes. I carefully sited each bunch of liatris in the trench, backfilled and stepped back to admire my work. That's when I discovered that I had planted it in almost the same spot where it had been growing initially only now instead of being nicely spread out, it was all bunched up.

What had started out as an overcast day had turned into a warm sunny day. I was too hot and too tired to start all over again. I got out the hose to give everything I had moved a good watering and filled the birdbath. The birdbath had also been adjusted. All season, it had been on a tilt because the ground it rested on is uneven. The saucer, which is separate, kept falling off. Once the iris and liatris had been removed, I had also taken out the birdbath, carefully levelled the ground and even dug a shallow hole for it to rest more securely in. I was feeling quite smug. Until I filled it and discovered that instead of leaning sideways, it was now leaning backwards. Unlike the liatris, I did redo the birdbath. After about three tries, it is now almost level.

I had one more garden chore planned. One of the classes at the Home Gardeners School had been on plant propogation. They had leftovers which they were giving away. Greed overruled common sense and I snagged one. I should have known that anything called "Cuban Oregano" would not be hardy. It's been sitting out in my backyard, in a peat pot, basking in the warmth since September. I finally bought a ceramic pot for it last week. My last chore for today was to pot up the oregano. The weather is supposed to turn colder in a day or so and my little plant will need to move inside. My house came with a nice bench in the basement, probably for the man of the house. It has a lovely pegboard for tools. My basement looks like most people's garages. Every inch of every surface is covered with stuff I can't bear to throw away. So what could have been a wonderful potting bench is, instead, storage. I re-pot in my kitchen which was a bad idea today. I think I can safely say without exagerating in the least, that there was more potting soil scattered around my kitchen than made it into the pot.

I'm ending my day the way it began. In the kitchen. I am trying two new recipes for dinner. The chicken is in the oven right now and smells heavenly. My cat is going crazy. He loves chicken. When it comes out of the oven, I am going to try, yet again, to make biscuits from scratch. I've never been successful. All my attempts over the years have been nearly inedible and some have been so hard they could probably be used for sports equipment. I perservere although today is probably not a great day to do so.

Hockey anyone?