Fall, Glorious Fall

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IT’S BEEN REALLY HARD to tear myself away from the country these mid-autumn days, but return to the big city I must, sometimes. Even though my woodsy part of eastern Long Island, being mostly oaks, is not known for blazing fall color, and though my perennial garden disappointed me in late summer with a paucity of flowers, I’m ending the garden season on a satisfied note.

I’m pleased with the slightly staggered arrangement of my six new boxwoods, top, which I supplemented with a conical, five-foot Alberta spruce, named Alberta ($75 on sale and well worth it). It fills a gap and brings in some textural variety. The seven new shrubs are already effective in screening my exquisitely sensitive eyes from the sight of my neighbors’ car and propane tank, even though they’re not full-grown. I’ve been coddling them with compost, mulch, and water, and they’ll get a dose of Holly-tone on my next visit.

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The miscanthus, which my garden-designer friend Lula says is invasive, is indeed rather taking over the sunny bed near my front door, but I’m loving its red plumes. There are two of them there; I’ll move one out in the spring.

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Three cheers for chocolate eupatorium, a Brooklyn stoop sale purchase last spring. Very late-blooming (I thought it might never happen), and such a welcome sight right off the front deck.

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The wet summer did well by the lawn. It’s full of stuff other than turfgrass, but I don’t care — it’s green. The free-form island bed, which a couple of people suggested I lose in favor of a sweep of lawn, remains. I have planted it up with 54 liriope (yes, ML, the deer nibble it, but they don’t devour it entirely — I have it growing elsewhere — and it’s well-sprayed). My inspiration there is a bed in front of the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library — nothing but liriope, tidy and impressive.

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An inexpensive and successful solution to the contorted pine, which I never really liked: moving the three old scraggly azaleas that were situated to its left. They are now in another part of the yard and will be wrapped in burlap to keep the deer from eating them this winter. Meanwhile, the contorta is silhouetted nicely and you can see the newly planted bed of ornamental grasses beyond. I like it much better now.

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And the rhodies — lookin’ good! They are reveling in the increased air and light they’re receiving since their radical rejuvenation pruning in July, sending up lots of new growth. I’m going to give the overgrown pieris, which I’m guessing could be 40 years old, the same invigorating treatment next spring.

So gardening must come to an end soon, but next year promises to be even better. If that isn’t a raison d’etre, or at least a reason to get through the winter, I don’t know what is.

The Fall Planting Window is Open

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IT’S COOL, IT’S WET, IT’S FALL, as of this morning at 5:05AM — and it’s prime time for planting and moving things around. Now’s our big chance to improve on the design of beds and borders, without stressing plants in excessive heat. I’m out at my cottage in Springs (East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y.), doing just that. I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of color in my main perennial beds, but the lespedeza (bush clover), above, is trying to make up for that. Planted last year around this time, it’s a perennial that gets cut back to the ground each year, like butterfly bush. It was very late to come up in spring, and I was sure it was dead, and that I had killed it. But then it began to grow…and grow… four feet across in a single season, and it’s been in luxuriant purple bloom for the last two weeks.

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I moved the hakonechloa at the top of the photo above from another part of the garden to balance the group at right, which greets me at my front steps and always looks terrific.

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The boxwoods I bought for screening my next door neighbor’s driveway, above, are settled in nicely, and I consider their staggered placement an aesthetic success. Maybe I’ll even remove the red nursery tapes someday;-)

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Above, three types of ornamental grass brought from upstate: fountain grass, pampas grass, and switch grass, eventually to range from 2 to 5 feet tall. Inspired by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Monocot Border, I decided to group them all together in a relatively sunny area of the yard that was bare but mulched and ready to go.

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The idea is that this all-grass garden be visible from the blue chaises on my back deck, above, where I frequently perch to survey my domain.

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This is the view from the deck, with the grasses arrayed and ready to go. To the left of the contorted pine in the foreground are three old, never-blooming azaleas. I’m planning to move them to another part of the yard and redouble my efforts to protect their flower buds from deer. That will have the dual effect of silhouetting the specimen tree (which was there when I bought the house and with which I have a love-hate relationship) and opening up the view of the new grass bed from the house and deck.

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Above, 27 pots of grasses laid out with the taller ones to the rear and back, and the shorter, 18-24″ mounding fountain grass in front.

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Above, they’re in and being watered. Yes, it was a big job, fortunately accomplished yesterday before the rains came. In the foreground, another frontier — the free-form island bed being colonized by ajuga (bugleweed), which I plan to replace or supplement with liriope (lilyturf), after a bed I saw somewhere that looked spectacular. I’m on the hunt now for discounted liriope, and I’d better act quickly, because the perennial planting window closes in less than a month.

Boxwoods to the Rescue

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This one’s just for fun, above — it’s one of the more original examples of boxwood topiary I’ve seen in East Hampton

IT’S PLANTING TIME AGAIN, and sale time, too, in the nurseries here on Long Island. Forty percent off trees and shrubs…and I just happened to need a few.

For a long time, it’s bugged me that the first thing I see when I open my front door (which is actually on the side of my cottage) is my neighbor’s mint green propane tank, below, and, when they’re home, a black Volvo station wagon in their driveway. These are about 25 feet from my door, inadequately screened by the most pathetic privet hedge you ever did see. (The picture below was taken in April 2010, year 1 of my perennial garden.)

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Now I like my neighbors very much, and we’ve had several discussions about how to get that privet to regenerate. They are reluctant to do a radical pruning, which I advised, because then we’ll have nothing at all for two years; anyway, there’s not enough light for healthy privet. (Well, he is reluctant; she said, “Go ahead, chop it down, I don’t care!” and I do believe she meant it — but I couldn’t. After all, it’s not my privet.)

I also considered a fence and a trellis, with or without something on it. I tried a few nandina (heavenly bamboo) from Costco, which were supposed to grow to 4 feet but have remained for the past two years at 12 inches.

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Anyway, I’ve gone and invested this fall in six boxwoods, above — shade tolerant, deer-resistant, evergreen boxwoods, the little black dress of gardening. The three I bought last fall and put near the road are doing very well, so that’s encouraging.

I’ve got three new 48″ tall ones from Chas. Whitmore in East Hampton and three 36″ from Marder’s in Bridgehampton. I figure they’ll provide screening and also be a nice backdrop for my perennials (astilbes mainly, in that area). I had the larger three delivered, and picked up the smaller ones in my car, not realizing how massively heavy the little balled and burlapped mothers are (they were loaded in for me). But I managed to rassle them out of my car and onto a handtruck without calling a guy neighbor for help.

I’ve been tugging them around to work out the best arrangement. I don’t want to simply line them up in a row — that’s boring. I want a more naturalistic look (as if boxwoods could ever be naturalistic). I’ve been consulting books and magazines and even took The Boxwood Handbook from the library, but there ain’t much info out there on boxwood placement — only on cultivars, and pests and diseases, which I don’t want to think about.

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The folks above, also in East Hampton, have nothing but boxwoods in various sizes. They’ve clearly decided it’s the only practical solution in a deer-ridden neighborhood.

Tomorrow I’m expecting Dong, who helps me with landscaping, and they go in (it was supposed to be today, but…)  I spent yesterday moving stuff out of the way, transplanting ferns and ligularia to give the boxes some breathing room. I’ve settled on a 2 short-3 tall-1 short configuration, left to right, and overlapping each other a bit. I wish they could be as tall, once planted, as they are in their root balls and containers, but they’ll shrink a bit, just like me.

Lula’s Garden

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Four Alberta spruces and a boxwood hedge lead the way from driveway to front door

GOT ME A NEW CAMERA, but it’s not out of the box yet (I’m a little slow to adopt new technology, even when it’s sitting on my dining table). It’s a Canon S95, on the theory that the best camera for a blogger is the one you have with you, and this camera is light.

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Meanwhile, stalling for time, I hereby present some shots of 2-3 weeks ago, taken with a loaner camera, of a cottage and garden belonging to my friend Lula here in Springs, Long Island, N.Y.

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Lula is a professional garden designer who has worked on spaces both public and private, and she’s been working on her own piece of the planet for half a dozen years. I very much admire its variety, color, and organization.

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Curving beds around the edge of the lawn and a garden through the woods, traversed by a stepping-stone path, below, exploit all things shade-tolerant and deer-resistant, including pieris, bleeding hearts, brunnera, ferns, cranesbill, and much more. The red Japanese maple near the house is a show-stopper. As for the rhodies, Lula swears by Deer-Out.

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Fall Planting to Foil the Deer

IMG_4194THERE’S A GROUP OF FOUR — two does and two yearlings — that lives here, too. And they seem to feel my garden is their pantry. When I was kneeling out there today, putting in some of the supposedly deer-resistant perennials I just bought, I looked up to see a lithe brown creature eyeing me as if to say, “Planting something tasty? I’ll check it out later.”

These Hamptons deer, pressed as they are for grazing space, have been having a picnic here these last few weeks, chowing down on begonia, astilbe, caladium, cranesbill geranium, Japanese anemone and other things generally considered deer-resistant, reducing them to sticks. I haven’t been quick enough on the trigger — the pump on my bottle of “Deer Out,” that is. Anyway, it’s not very effective.

Yes, yes, I’ll get a deer fence in due course. Meanwhile, it’s fall, the nursery sales are on, and I’m determined to outwit the deer by planting only things they find absolutely inedible. There are a few.

I’ve been to three area nurseries: chic Marder’s in Bridgehampton, pedestrian Agway, and old-school Hren in East Hampton. At discounts from 30% to 75%, I bought the following, which my experience over the past year tells me should be OK (along with careful reading of labels and asking questions, though I’ve learned not to wholly trust the labels or the answers). The reason there’s only one or two of some things in the list below is because that’s all they had left — I would gladly have bought more at these prices.

I’m working the variations on things I’ve already got that have survived, with emphasis on colored and variegated foliage.

  • 3 Salvia ‘May Night’ – deer-proof stalwarts, easier to grow than lavender
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  • 2 Buxus sempervirens ‘Auero-Variegata’ – boxwoods edged in yellow – tiny now, 8′ at maturity
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  • 1 Berberis thunbergii – ‘Rose Glow’ Japanese barberry
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  • 2 Lonicera nitida ‘Lemon Beauty’ – never heard of these before – another variegated shrub that will eventually be 3-6′ tall
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  • 2 Pleioblastus viridistriat – dwarf bamboo – more yellow
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  • 1 feather reed grass
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  • 1 Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’ – my 4th type of ligularia – the slugs go for them, but the deer don’t
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  • 1 Stachys ‘Silver Carpet’ – lamb’s ear – a narrow-leafed variety I don’t have
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  • 1 Brunnera macrophylla – chartreuse heart-shaped leaves
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  • 1 Euphorbia ‘Glacier Blue’ spurge – blue-gray and Mediterranean-looking
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  • 1 Itea virginica ‘Sprich’ aka Sweetspire ‘Little Henry’
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  • 2 Bergenia cordifolia  – edging plant with glossy, red-rimmed leaves in fall
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I spent this first day of the Jewish new year in the garden instead of the synagogue. I worked from morning ’til night putting new plants in, moving others around, weeding as I went along, and finally spreading five bags of compost and mulch (no – finally taking Advil). More than once, I thought of something I read long ago in a gardening magazine. An elderly woman was asked the secret of her beautiful garden. She replied: “Work like mad in spring and fall, and you’ve got it made.”