REALLY, I CLAIM VERY LITTLE CREDIT for my half-acre garden on the East End of Long Island. I may feel like I’m working hard, schlepping compost from the dump and seaweed from the beach and dragging hoses around by the hour when my prayers for rain go unanswered. But when I look at photos from even a year ago, I realize that the plants are pretty much doing it by themselves.
This year, I can’t say I’ve “put my garden to bed” for the winter. I decamped for the city a few days ago, when it got cold, and closed up the house for the season. I shut the fireplace flue, emptied the fridge, stripped the beds, the whole routine. But the garden, I just sort of left.
No point raking now. The dozens of trees — oak, hickory, maple — haven’t yet shed the bulk of their leaves. As for applying that protective winter layer of mulch, “they say” you need to wait until the ground freezes. (Why? That they never say.) Anyway, I didn’t do it.
In the past few weeks, I have added plants, of course: the fab pink muhly grass (top), glistening in the morning sun. Some Montauk daisies (gotta have those for local color; Montauk is 12 miles away). Several shrubs and some perennials from a wonderful wholesale nursery a friend in the business took me to. A couple more shrubs from a local couple who have a nursery of sorts in their suburban backyard. And a few dozen exotic lilies, mail-ordered from Van Engelen, the bulb company, which seem to do very well in my sandy soil.
So I dug and planted and watered in October, and only afterwards was astonished to look, for comparison’s sake, at photos from last October, and see how things filled in of their own accord, when I was hardly paying attention.
Two views of same area. Top, a thriving stand of Solomon’s seal in the foreground. Bottom, left to right: mystery shrub purchased from local couple (“like an azalea”); viburnum from last year showing fall color; new hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’; $5 white hydrangea from local couple that blooms for months and months
View of same area, above, with fewer and smaller shrubs, about a year ago.
Purple berries on new beautybush (callicarpa ‘Issai’), and a beauty it is.
Beds near deck filled out, especially considering what they looked like a year ago, below
Above, left to right in a corner of the deck: dusty miller that began as annuals bought for containers two years ago but have persisted in the ground and formed a large stand; new agastache ‘Kudos Mandarin,’ love the coral color; Montauk daisies in bloom
Above, how I left things along the front walk. Impressive compared to last fall’s view of the same area from a different angle, below
Two views of my raised beds, below, which are kind of experimental holding pens for things I don’t quite know what to do with. They were butterfly magnets this past summer.
The catmint has gone wild. There’s some purple agastache, two Miss Kim lilacs, a potentilla, a physocarpus, a blueberry plant, and some orange cosmos that self-seeded from last year.
I cleaned up the raised beds about a month ago, cutting back verbena bonariensis and phlox that had gotten mildewed and out of control, and shearing some other country perennials like obedient plant and coneflower, which I expect to return robustly next summer.
I need to add more soil to these beds. These things are growing in just a few inches, but it’s as rich as it is scanty. I used these beds as my compost bins, dumping all my kitchen scraps in there, for the first couple of years I lived here. I’ve since been adding seaweed from the beach and leaf mold from my own copious piles of leaves…but I really need to lift everything, fill the beds to the top and replant. Next spring for that.
Below, where I savor my garden accomplishments — or rather, nature’s — of an autumn evening.