Late Summer Garden Challenges

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THIS IS NOT my East Hampton garden’s finest hour. I came back after two weeks in the Big City and a hurricane — no, a tropical storm, but still — to find it looking…well, shvach. That word comes to me from my grandmother: it’s Yiddish for ‘lacking, underwhelming, disappointing.’

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The only real color in the front perennial beds is the ligularia, which puts out rich yellow spiky flowers right about now. I was conscientious about my Deer-Out regimen in spring and early summer, but as the season progressed, “SPRAY!!!” moved farther and farther down my list of things to do. So the cranesbill geranium ‘Rozanne,’ for instance, which is supposed to bloom till frost, is bare of flowers.

One of the accomplishments of the season was the extension of my perennial border another 30, maybe 40 feet, to the left of the path below. It’s all mulched [thank you, Barbara!] and ready to go — if only I could think what to plant there. To the right of the path, the shadiest area is home to ferns, Korean boxwoods, pieris, epimedium…green, all green.

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It’s not unusual for gardens to lack color in late summer and fall. They needn’t; it’s just that people tend to start out all gung ho and buy out the nurseries in spring, then rest on their mountain laurels and more or less forget about planning for later in the season. That’s not entirely my problem — it’s more about the challenges of excessive shade and deer.

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On the plus side, the recently pruned rhodies, above, are happily sending out fresh new growth. Below, the miscanthus are satisfyingly full at the end of their second season. I’ll probably be dividing them before long.

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Perennials will be on sale in a few weeks, and I’ll try to pump up the late summer color quotient for next year.

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An old clump of chelone, or turtlehead, above, pre-dates my 2009 arrival. I moved it from under my about-to-be-built deck to a spot way at the back of the perennial border, where it is a  standout. Ought to get more of that stuff, come to think of it.

Below, still no decision on what to do with the amoeba-shaped island bed in the middle of the back lawn. Ajuga (bugleweed) is colonizing it, and I see no reason not to let that happen.

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Then there’s this vast empty area along the western property line, below, a fairly sunny spot where I might create a fenced cutting garden, or plant a variety of ornamental grasses. There’s an baby Eastern Redbud tree toward the back; I’m looking forward to it filling out and blooming pink next spring.

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Below, the wrath of Irene. A huge — no, I mean, huge— oak keeled over toward the back of my property. Actually, its trunk was on land belonging to the Town of East Hampton.The first five feet of it fell on Town land; the other 70 feet on my land. I’ve made the phone call and been told someone will “take a look.” Uh-huh.

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Trees and shrubs go on sale around here tomorrow. I’ll be exploring the local boxwood selection. Boxwoods are tidy, shade-tolerant, deer-resistant, evergreen, classic. They provide screening and structure. Yay, boxwoods. What could be bad?

Deck Day

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ALL HANDS ARE NOT YET ON DECK, but at least the wood was delivered yesterday for my backyard deck and shower platform. The builder will be here tomorrow to begin, and within 3 days, weather permitting, I’ll have a much improved situation behind my house.

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Above, the “before” in the area of the outdoor shower, where there will be a 6’x9′ raised platform, three steps up, with a bench and enclosure (it will be nice to have some privacy;-) The small bathroom window will be replaced with a glass door, which is on order.

Below, the “before” of the backyard itself, where my temporary covering of wood chips will be replaced with a separate 16’x24′ cedar platform one step up from the ground.

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I’ve moved a big old stand of chelone (turtlehead), below, as well as some ferns that will be affected by the new deck, to another spot in the yard. That was a three-afternoon undertaking (afternoons because I spent most of each day working myself up to the task, before finally heading out there around 3 o’clock).

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Didn’t want to lose these shade-loving, deer-resistant fall bloomers: chelone lyoni (pink turtlehead).

Late in the day, a local landscaper — one of several I’d put out feelers to — came with a worker to dig up an 18′ tall threadleaf false cypress, below, in a corner of the screened porch, which would have had to be cut down if I couldn’t find someone to give it away to. I guess it must be worth something, because one of them agreed to take it. Brutal job, and it’s not done yet. The root ball is enormous and has to be fully dug up today and carted away.

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This is the first major building project I’ve done here. Can’t count the new roof; that wasn’t any fun. A new roof hardly improved my quality of life, especially since the old one wasn’t even leaking (though I was assured it would if I didn’t replace it right away).

The deck, however, and the outdoor shower…Now those say ‘beach house.’ Yeah.

Pull, Plant, Move, Weed, Shear, Lop…it’s May

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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.

Guest Room Re-Do

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THIS COMING WEEK, I’M SLIPPING IN A RENOVATION PROJECT that wasn’t even on my priority list. The roofer remains elusive, and I can’t do the parking court until he’s done. I can’t do the deck/outdoor shower until April at least, because the area beneath which I plan to put the 400-square-foot deck is filled with ferns that were the most satisfying part of the landscape when I got here last May, as well as 75 daffodil bulbs, chelone (turtlehead), and astilbes. (I’ll move all that elsewhere, but can’t do it until the ground is good and unfrozen.)

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Like a shark, I’ve got to keep moving forward or else I’ll die. Or so it feels. So on Tuesday, a contractor is coming to fix up the 2nd bedroom, or guest room, in my East Hampton cottage. He’ll install a new window I happen to have in the basement, above (custom-made for another house and never used), along the longer wall, which I expect will make the 7-foot-wide room feel much more pleasant. He’ll remove cruddy molding, a damaged ceiling from a long-ago roof leak, and replace the old, wallpapered-over sheetrock and baseboard.

It will also make the house look a whole lot more interesting from the outside.

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I’m kind of dreading the whole operation, to tell ya the truth. It’ll last most of the week. It’s been very cold here, and the exterior wall in that room will be open for at least a few hours. And then there’s the dust. But hopefully the satisfaction of accomplishment will trump the inconvenience.

And now the roofer is saying he may also come this week. Chaos!