Bulb Planting Time!

Fall is often the best time for planting many hardy plants, including most bulbs, and this includes dividing and replanting. Lately we’ve been busy planting spring and summer flowering bulbs, daffodils, squill, snowdrops, grape hyacinth, fritillaria, flowering onions, lilies, tulips, crocus, camassia, and the like. In my opinion, the biggest mistake one can make when planting bulbs is pussy-footing around and dabbling with them. Ten daffodils won’t make much of a statement (unless they’re in a pot) and in March and April, when winter blight has us thinking about a little stroll on the third rail, what we need is a big, splashy, exuberant visual statement. When you read garden books and they advise planting bulbs in drifts, they mean 150 or more daffodils in a 4′ x 10′ space, or 300 squill in a similarly sized area. I have no idea what a prescription of Prozac costs or how many dosages are included in the vial but I do know that 300 squill (scilla) bulbs cost about $80. and when in flower, create an ethereal, inspiring, vibrant, blue carpet that is indescribably stimulating (thus, all the previous adjectives) with almost no side effects, if you plan the plantings right. (Yes, you’ll want something to follow behind the squill to create another visual event. That’s easily done and likely the subject for a future post). Meanwhile, back at the ranch, for those of us sado-masochistic gardeners who treat dahlias and gladiolas and cannas as if they were members of the family, no matter how many of them there are or how unexceptional that may have turned out to be, we dig them up, now, and store them in a frost free place, nestled  in sawdust or peat moss or some other neutral and dryish and softish packing material (not marshmallows or Lucky Charms) to spend the winter, albeit, in the basement.  There’s still time to order bulbs and get them in the ground but don’t dawdle. Do it now, quick as a bunny, if you want the rewards that spring will give you.

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Fall Planting

Right now we’re planting the ‘dessert’ garden. Yes, we’re recommitting the Liberty Garden from an additional kitchen / cutting garden to one dedicated to fruits and berries. This garden, enclosed by espaliered apples and a pear fan,  will be dedicated to strawberries, currants (red and black), blueberries, grapes, raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries (there you see Andrew’s British heritage coming through). Yes, there is the asparagus patch, a recent perennial installation that we coddle and therefore will leave be, but the rest, the annuals; the zinnias, cosmos, calendulas, sunflowers, larkspur, Bells of Ireland, cutting marigolds, morning glories, dahlias, gladiolas, artichokes, cardoons, leeks, florence fennel, kale…, all will be deported and we’ll have to find a new home for them.

The “dessert” garden isn’t happening in a vacuum.  We are trialing a number of plants for the USDA. and we’re interested in finding out if these are suitable candidates for broader, commercial cultivation in the State of Connecticut than they presently are. With cuttings provided by the USDA, we have rooted and nurtured 15 currant bushes, all of which are varieties that date as far back as 1850, one gooseberry (most of the gooseberry cuttings failed) and 56 willows ( of which, the latter address an entirely different environmental and artistic objective and a subject on which I’ve previously posted).

Meanwhile, Andrew Pighills, horticulturist , has struck roughly 15 cuttings of ‘vitis vinifera’, grapes from stock provided by the Killingworth Lion’s Club,presumably ‘Marechal”(as I remember). We shall see.

Finding a mate for Mr. Big

Mr. Big is a very large Muscovy duck that lives on Falls River in Essex , Connecticut. We have had the pleasure of transforming a clients’ property there for much of the summer and, admiring the river views, noticed that, despite the ample companionship of a dozen or so Canada geese, he was a single white male with beautiful black carruncles, but no love interest. Over cocktails with our clients, now friends, we inquired about his winter status. Sad news. The Canadian companions fly south leaving him all alone.  We just happen to have a lot of Muscovy ducks and, after conferring, we all decided that Mr. Big needed a mate. Out of a fairly large pool of candidates, Mochachina, a brown and cream colored female, seemed like the most well-suited. She is independant, energetic, and likes the great outdoors more than most of the ducks who prefer to go into the henhouse/shelter at night.

Today was the big event. We brought Mochachina to Falls River for her date with fate. Mr Big, desultory, bored, and perhaps, even, depressed was sharing his throne, a large, broad, smooth rock that juts out of the current, with Mr. Tortoise. Ms. Mocha, traumatized, no doubt, by the forced disenfranchisement from her clan and the fear of the unknown that Falls River is (am I anthropomorphizing? yes, of course), leaped from Andrew’s arms into the drink and paddled off upstream, definitely not in the direction of Mr. Big. Hours went by. Andrew beat a trail upstream through the brush, hugging the riverbank, watching her closely and attempting to cajole her into moving in the other direction. Perched on the bank with a pair of binoculars, I observed, waiting, expecting for Mr. Big to make a move or, at least, show an interest. Nothing doing. We began to really worry. This doesn’t look like its in the cards.

Amazingly, surprisingly, Mochachina paddled towards the center of the river. Clearly Mr. Big could see her. Why is he stone still, or worse, seemingly uninterested? Mocha paddled back to her safe haven, alone, frightened, disenfranchised; 20 minutes passed. Andrew trailed her and more cajoling ensued. What happened next is magic. I don’t know how it happened or what changed but Mochachina boldly swan across the river to make her presence known. Mr. Big had left the rock and ambled up onto the grassy lawn of the “neighbor who feeds him’. Assuming a sort of petrified stance for a long time, he watched her.  She flirted a bit, paddling back and forth and , when that didn’t get his attention in a way that satisfied her, she flew up on the embankment and introduced herself, face to face. They were tentative and awkward with one another. It was strange, but then, Mr. Big started wagging his tail (Muscovies are like dogs in this way, they wag their tails to express satisfaction). Mocha approached and stood near him. We all watched in amazement. Mission accomplished. There will be more to post about this. We will need to see how they get along with one another but Bette, our client, called me to say that Mochachina was comfortably sitting and preening herself, ( a sure sign of feeling safe) six feet behind Mr. Big, where he faced the river in a protective stance. That sounds pretty good to me. May they be well  together. More later.

I beg you pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

One evening, a couple of months ago, I went on-line to my favorite purveyor of roses to select and order bare root plants for a client.  (I buy from these folks because they are in a climate that is comparatively chilly to ours ( Zone 5- Ontario, Canada) and, therefore, does not harbor the same diseases that you might find in a warmer climate, like Texas or North Carolina…..). Anyway, while I was at it, I noticed that this rose nursery, world renowned for its selection of historic and heirloom roses, was discontinuing several classic, important varieties that I’ve always longed for. I’m no rose aficionado and so what I mean when I say ‘important’ is heirloom, late 18th and early 19th century roses. Their importance, to me, resides in their longevity and my thinking that these old cultivars ought to be preserved . The threat of discontinuation came as a shock and I acted upon it, immediately. A volley of urgent emails between Andrew and I ensued, (me in the studio at my laptop, he, in the house watching BBC news on TV, and shopping for roses on his smart phone).  The ‘Final Offer’ roses were keenly researched. Together, and separately, we came up with a list and ordered them, along with our client’s roses.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. It was around Oct. 23rd or so and I’d received confirmation of my rose order. I was exiting the house, walking across the lawn, headed to my studio, Andrew had just returned from somewhere and was approaching me, when it suddenly struck me. Oh dear God! I threw my arms around him, gave him a kiss, and said “Happy 10th Anniversary”! He responded in-kind, but equally shocked, and we both nearly fell down laughing. “When was it?”, he asked. “I don’t know, maybe last week,” I said. Of course, most married couples don’t experience the same ambiguity about their anniversary date but, in our case ,it’s justified. We were married on Oct. 18th, 2001 but we (and I’m using the ‘royal ‘we’ here) forgot to bring the marriage certificate to the church, and so, had to return the next day to have it signed, which, technically, bumps our actual marriage to the 19th of October.

Later that evening, after the belated champagne, I returned, dizzily, to my studio and Andrew to watching BBC news on TV, and checking his email on his smart phone) another volley of emails between Andrew and I ensued. This time, it went like this. “We’ve order six heirloom roses. We get three each. Two each for our birthdays and one each for our anniversary. Here’s the list of what we ordered, You go first. Select your anniversary rose, then I’ll select mine, then you your first birthday rose, then me, …….” Amazingly, our personal selections mirrored our favorite personal choices. More amazing is that I’m writing about it, because, after all, Andrew and I, through thorns and dis-ease, lush, floral display or the disfiguring and disheartening effect of deer predation, we share the same rose garden, and, I beg your pardon, I never expected or even dreamed that I would ever have such a garden to share with such an impeccable man.