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GARDEN THERAPY. It works like nothing else. Fall is prime time for planting — cool weather, no chiggers — and I am at it again, doing my bit to beautify my little corner of the planet.

I check periodically on the house I’m in the process of buying, above, to make sure it’s still there. While I wait for it to become mine, my landscaping-on-a-budget efforts at my present cottage continue.

On Saturday I visited my friend Debre in Shelter Island and watched her dig up enormous clumps of a tenacious, fast-spreading broadleaf sedge she calls ‘tribbles,’ after the small rodents that multiplied like crazy in an old episode of Star Trek. She burned all the calories, while I stood there and gave her an occasional tool, bucket, or encouraging word. My job came later, when I further divided the huge clumps into about 50 smaller ones, and put them in at the foot of my back deck, above and below.

It was two afternoons of work, and well worth it. Since I haven’t fenced, I’m finally getting real about deer-resistant gardening. My focus now is exclusively on things they can’t or won’t eat, including ornamental grasses like tribble (so much easier to say than Carex siderosticha ‘Variegata,’ its real name).

That includes cimicifuga, above, whose very late-season blooms are most welcome.

And three new crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia ‘Acoma’), bought on sale at Lynch’s, a nursery in Southampton I visited for the first time recently and certainly not the last. It had several things I’d failed to find elsewhere, including spicebush (Lindera benzoin), below, which Rick Darke’s The American Woodland Garden calls “unpalatable to deer” and “routinely passed by.” Doesn’t look like much now, but I have hopes it will eventually look like the specimen in the book, six to ten feet tall and equally wide.

Then there’s the foot-tall Sunjoy Gold Beret, below, otherwise known as Berberis thunbergii ‘Talago,’ a $12 Home Depot special. This is a new offering from a grower called Proven Winners, clearly bred to wow all comers with its fall color.

That’s what I’ve been up to these spectacular October days, along with cable news-watching, Scramble-playing, and walking down to the bay. Not at all a bad life.

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THE FALL BULB CATALOGUES have started to arrive, and with them a certain annoyance, as in ‘Who wants to think about summer ending already?’ Still, they are seductive, and paging through them is a pleasant way to spend a July evening.

Sadly, John Scheepers list of deer-proof naturalizers (bulbs that spread year after year) is short, consisting mostly of small early bulbs like snowdrops (of which I have plenty, thanks to some long-ago gardener) and Siberian squill. Anyway, my experience hasn’t borne out their suggestions. My deer did gobble up the muscari (grape hyacinths) and the Spanish bluebell foliage.

But waking up to a few new Turk’s Cap lilies, top, as I did yesterday, makes up for a lot. These are by my front door, and I have kept a spritz bottle of Deer-Out handy these past two weeks,  practically spraying each bud individually to insure their safe passage into bloom.

I’ll probably order some more bulbs. Alliums, surely, and a few other things I have circled…because hope springs eternal.

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Above, a new hanging basket: ‘Saturn’ coleus, Lysimachia ‘Outback Sunset,’ and, in back, some purple-leaved wandering Jew.

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SO TODAY I’M OUT IN THE GARDEN, following a nice morning rain, yanking out white-flowering, foot-tall garlic mustard before it seeds, and I uncover this fellow, above, with the pretty yellow markings. I’m not much for wildlife photography — deer and wild turkeys tend to move off by the time I get my camera focused — but in this case, I was able to run all the way into the house for the camera and find him right where I left him.

The warm weather has brought out tons of weeds, most of whose names I don’t know. Wisteria, bane of last year, is in evidence, but much reduced. There’s going to be some intensive hand-labor around here in the weed department.

If anybody can identify the weedy groundcover, below, please tell me. And how to get rid of it.

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Last night, I made a list of garden chores for the week:

  • Pull garlic mustard.
  • Plant grasses from Steph (my friend brought over three hefty miscanthus clumps, which went in today).
  • Plant four nandina ‘Gulfstream’ (heavenly bamboo) and two ilex glabra (a type of holly) from Costco; they were $13 each and very healthy-looking. Which I did – but before doing it, I had to move 5 rhamnus frangula (alder buckthorn) bought last year from White Flower Farm at great expense and still only a few inches tall. Bah. They’re not going to serve as screening between myself and my next-door neighbors, so I put them in a sunny spot in the far reaches of the backyard, where I can forget about them instead of being aggravated every time I open the front door and see how pitifully small they are.
  • Plant remaining things from upstate — threadleaf coreopsis, 1 kerria japonica, 1 viburnum. All done this afternoon. Check!

But the list went on, with things un-done.

  • Move chelone (turtlehead) and Japanese silver ferns up front.
  • Pull crabgrass and other weeds from “lawn” area.
  • Shear grass in “lawn” area. I use the term advisedly — it’s increasingly more weeds and less turfgrass. Notice I don’t say “mow.” I don’t have a mower.
  • Cut down browning, unattractive juniper.
  • Lop Rose of Sharon scattered about the property (that which I didn’t get around to earlier in the season).
  • Pick up branches and winter storm damage throughout.
  • Plant more flowering trees.
  • Get a handle on nameless invasive weedy groundcover.
  • Collect more rocks for path edging.
  • Mulch.

Suddenly I sat up in bed with my list and scribbled one last item:

  • “Call help?!?”

I’ve got a flyer here for “Spring Yard Clean-Up Specials.” That’s what I need: a spring clean-up special.

My garden labors today were eased by the example of a woman my friend Caren and I met last night on our evening constitutional down to Maidstone Beach. We were admiring the plantings in front of a tidy cottage — they reminded me of my own baby beds, with many of the same things I’ve planted, edged with similar rocks — when a woman came forth with a watering can. We complimented her handiwork and got a tour. She’s fully exploited everything deer-proof — irises, peonies, weigela, ferns, grasses, and on and on; set things on pedestals made of found stone; positioned everything in the right place so all is thriving and green; made the yard welcoming to birds with a bird bath and feeders.

Her name is Lois, and she must be well into her 70’s. Lois has something I don’t have, but am trying to cultivate: patience. She’s planted a wisp of red barberry here, a tiny fern there, and she’s clearly OK with waiting for it all to happen in its own good time. Whereas I want the lush, billowing effect immediately, if not sooner. Here’s Lois, not worrying that the garden better happen quickly because she may not have that much time left to enjoy it, but enjoying it as it is right now.

With Lois as inspiration, my four hours in the garden today were more relaxed than usual. I’m doing it. It’s happening. In its own time.

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