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EVERYONE SEEMS TO HAVE LOVED The Outsider last Sunday (41 comments!) It’s one a member of the Brownstoner community sent in — simple, family-friendly, and on a shoestring budget. To take a look at the befores and afters, go here.

THIS PRACTICALLY ZERO-BUDGET vegetable garden was created in a neglected Brooklyn lot this spring by resourceful architect Andrea Solk and friends.

Everything was salvaged and improvised; most veggies were started from seed.

Read all about it on Brownstoner today.

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MY NEW EVERY-THURSDAY SERIES for Brownstoner.com continues today in a new, easier-to-read format, with a garden floor-through in the heart of Cobble Hill by interior designer Julia Mack.

These are rented digs, colorful and cost-conscious, with lots of Brooklyn-based sources and interesting ideas.

Hie on over here to see many more photos and read all about it.

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I WAS VERY CONTENT in my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre this past winter and felt I had made the right move in taking the Brooklyn apartment. But when I went out to Springs, which I did occasionally from November through March, though the house was cozy and the atmosphere relaxing, I wasn’t particularly inspired, and wondered why I had so badly wanted a country home. Now it’s spring, and I remember.

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After six long months, I’m back at work in the garden. Things are popping up all over, and it’s like greeting old friends. Hakonechloa, right on schedule! Yay, brunnera, you made it through the winter! Irises, don’t you look nice! Good to see you…thing that begins with L!

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I spent much of the past week adding compost to my beds (making two trips to the East Hampton dump to load up on free compost and mulch), holding my breath and cutting back things that ‘flower on new wood,’ like the books say (Rose of Sharon, now reduced to sticks, below), worrying over deer-devoured hollies that don’t seem to be regenerating, and attempting damage control by spraying, spraying, spraying Deer-Out in the absence, so far, of a fence.

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Most of all, I’ve been appreciating the changes unfolding daily and just observing — the unfurling ferns, daffodils blooming even under the new deck, a hummingbird nest in a tree, below. I thought it was garbage, longtime NYC dweller that I am — forgive me, hummingbird — but a knowledgeable friend said it’s a hummingbird’s nest (and it may even be good luck).

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I’m also taking in what’s happening locally: the creative window boxes at stores and restaurants in town, lawns filled with daffodils, the pink-purple plum trees flowering in my next-door neighbor’s backyard.

Below, the biggest, prettiest cherry tree on my road

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Whitmore’s Nursery made good on its word and replaced an enormous round ilex crennata they planted for me in December ’09. It started to fail last year and by this spring was dead. Poof — it’s like getting a new car, same model as the one that was totaled.

New ilex, below

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I thought my abelia ‘Little Richard’ was dead, too. In fact, I dug it up, put it in a bucket, and drove to Spielberg’s Nursery in Amagansett. I didn’t expect them to refund my money or replace it, just wanted to ask what they thought had gone wrong. The woman looked at me in horror. “It’s in your car? Let me have a look…” And don’t ya know, she said it wasn’t dead, just late to leaf out, and that I should hurry home and stick it back in the ground pronto with fertilizer and water. So I did; it was out of the ground less than an hour and I’ve coddled it since. But does this look right to you?

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Somehow the question of how long I’m going to stay in this house, and consequently how much I should invest, has faded from consciousness. I’m here for as long as I’m here, and I’m gardening.

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I HAVEN’T POSTED in a few days because I got home from Spain and was hit with a bad case of ‘What now?’ I walked into my lovely Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, now fully furnished, decorated, and organized, and had nothing much to do. It would be different if I had a job, say, or children at home. Then my next steps would be clear.

I felt empty, lost. My apartment was silent, except for the raindrops and NPR. I usually crash a bit when I come home from a trip, physically and emotionally. This wasn’t a total crash, just a malaise, exacerbated by jet lag, gloomy weather, and a low-grade fever. I watched two seasons of Californication in 3 days.

This morning, though, dawned sunny and cold. I drove out from Brooklyn to my cottage in Springs in the company of a friend, which made the trip fly. I arrived to find my garden, especially the four beds around the front door, covered with brown leaves, looking wintry. Brooklyn’s daffs and forsythia are starting to bloom; here at the end of the Long Island, we’re weeks behind.

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One thing that is blooming spectacularly: an old pieris

I made some lunch, procrastinated a bit, and then, for the first time since last fall, got my work clothes and rubber boots on. I went down to the basement and brought up the wheelbarrow, two rakes, a trowel for digging frost-heaved (deer-heaved?) perennials back into place, a pruner, and a grass shears.

Then I spent a couple of hours doing early spring chores: chopping dried four-foot-tall miscanthus (ornamental grass) down to the ground, cutting last season’s shriveled foliage away from salvia, catmint, and other perennials, raking fall leaves off the beds and carting them to the compost heap in the woods. The deer had done a lot of the cutting back for me, saving me the trouble altogether with the liriope (lilyturf).

I took note of casualties. There have been a few in the shrub department, for reasons unknown, including an abelia ‘Little Richard’ I really liked. My memory is another casualty, apparently. I can’t recall what was where and what things are called. For this garden, I haven’t kept obsessive records, though I do have a Zip-loc bag of plant labels which I will consult as the season progresses.

On the bright side, I discovered underneath the shriveled foliage, the tiny green leaves of emerging catmint, ladies mantle, ligularia, and other things the deer find completely unpalatable. A sign that things are happening as they should.

Below: Catmint, ladies mantle, pulmonaria

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As I worked, the sun moved across the sky and into the woods. I kept going until it dropped behind  the fence of the neighbors next door and my fingers were frozen. At which point I noticed I had gone from enervated to exhilarated, and had stopped worrying about my ‘next step.’

Garden therapy does it again. I’m happy to be in Springs, happy it’s finally spring.

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