Late Season Home Improvements

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WITH INDIAN SUMMER and its crazy beautiful sunsets stretching well into October, it was hard to tear myself away from the East End of Long Island. But mornings were getting chilly, as were evenings, in my unheated house — though I was more sanguine about it than I was last spring. “52 degrees!” I heard myself say, looking at the thermometer in my living room first thing in the morning. “Not bad!”

I’m back in Brooklyn, more or less, planning occasional forays to check on my two properties in Springs. I’ve given the listing on my original cottage there to Corcoran and wished them good luck.

In the last few weeks of the season, with the help of a friend, I painted the exterior of the house — and there was one other big project I needed to accomplish before letting go of summer ’13. That was repairing the 6′ stockade fence that surrounds my half-acre property and protects it again maurading deer. Or does it? Yes, they can jump six feet. But will they, if they can’t see over or through the opaque fence? My neighbor, who has a deer-control business, thinks not. We shall see. I purposely did not spray my hostas or my hydrangea, so it will be evident if they’ve trespassed.

I had Shane of The Deer Fence (highly recommended) raise the few existing 3′ and 4′ sections to a uniform 6′ all around. At the moment, I can’t afford the 3′ top extension with heavy-gauge wire mesh that would have absolutely assured the sanctity of my vegetation, but that’s OK — I haven’t planted much yet that needs protecting. And then — this is the exciting part — I had him change the configuration of the fencing at the front of the property, where the driveway was lined on both sides with stockade fence, one side of which met the corner of the house in a way that totally bugged me (see the ‘Before,’ below).

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Now, below, the driveway is shorter (but still long enough for 2-3 cars), the fence is halfway down it, the house seems to have more architectural integrity, and there is the beginning of an entry courtyard that will eventually be planted and may even get some sort of central (water?) feature.

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The view from inside the property toward the driveway, below, is much improved, too.

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I will sleep better this winter, knowing I have a painted house with an entry courtyard to go back to in the spring.

Also, in a late-season thrift-shop triumph, I found an 8-foot-long solid oak (?) table on a chrome base, marked made in Finland, at LVIS. Very late ’60s, or perhaps ’70s. Now I’m ready for a banquet, or at least a proper dinner party. All I need are the chairs.

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Garden Inspiration: Late-Season Lushness in Amagansett

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HERE, TO MANY, IS WHAT THE HAMPTONS is really about — not the ocean beaches but the native oak woods and the gardening that is possible within them, with the help of a sturdy deer fence.

This green and lovely 1-1/3-acre spread belongs to Paula Diamond, a self-taught gardener who learned much of what she knows working at The Bayberry, a nursery in Amagansett. To my surprise, Paula only started gardening here in earnest in the late ’90s, which goes to show how much can be accomplished in a mere decade-and-a-half.

Paula’s garden, around a classic cedar-shingled cottage, is very much a shade garden, cool and romantic. I can imagine how spectacular it is in spring, when hundreds of rhododendrons and white irises around the pool are in bloom, but even in early September, it is lush and inviting.

The free-form pool was conceived as a water feature as much as a swimming hole. Paula tells how “the plan” presented by the pool company consisted of a workman with a can of spray paint, who outlined the pool’s shape in one big sweep, and that’s how it remained.

Come along and have a look…

IMG_3927 All the hardscaping choices are simple and unpretentious, including pea gravel and river stones used for steps near the house, and bluestone in the pool area. Mulch paths, lined with branches and logs, wend through the woods at the rear of the long, narrow property.

One of two gates, below, leading to the backyard. The fragrant flowering shrub behind is clerodendron trichotomum fargesii. IMG_3928

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Above, ligularia in several varieties can be counted on for late-season color.

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Rear of the house, above

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The gunite pool, designed and installed by Rockwater, is surrounded by boulders and has a gray-toned interior.

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Carex Morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ used as a groundcover, above.

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Above, an existing six-foot stockade fence was topped with a couple feet of wire as reinforcement against hungry deer. (This is very interesting to me, as my property is surrounded by similar fencing. I especially love how the plantings have come to pretty much obscure it.)

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Views back toward the house, above, showing shade perennials (hostas, ferns, hakonechloa) as well as hydrangeas and Japanese maple.

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Much of the property remains wooded, with shrubs and perennials profusely planted in semi-cleared areas.

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A fiberglass cow in a bed of liriope surveys the back of the property.

My Verbascum Plantation

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LAST SUMMER, furry, bluish, flat-to-the-ground rosettes erupted in my backyard, creating a sort of lake effect in the sunniest section — a section that was then, and still remains, an untamed wilderness. I let the rosettes be, even though they are weeds, sort of, and easy to pull out. I wanted to see what would happen, and I had no other plans for that space.

I knew they were called mullein and recognized them from roadsides and other ‘waste places,’ as the Connecticut Botanical Society would have it, although I resent them for implying any part of my garden is a waste place.

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This summer, they’ve shot to a height of 6 feet or more, sending up flowering yellow spikes. They are, properly, verbascum thapsus, a snapdragon relative, and they are biennial, forming rosettes one year, flowering the next, then going to seed and dying off. They have a long history of being used for everything from medicinal teas, yellow dye, and lamp wicks to (since they can be slightly irritating to the skin), ‘Quaker rouge.’

Clearly, they’re sun-loving, and I’m watching where they spread to determine the sunniest part of the yard — which right now appears to be a diamond-shaped space about 20 feet across and equally long.

IMG_0455I recently thought of fencing in just that area and growing whatever I damn well please there, be it tomatoes and other veggies, or roses and all the sun-loving, deer-attracting flowers I haven’t been above to make happen elsewhere in the yard. I would love to have a cutting garden; and I wouldn’t have to fence in the whole half-acre, which was going to cost about $5,000. That was one strike against the deer fence concept I’ve been ruminating over for the past two years. The other was that I haven’t been able to come to terms with the prospect of losing my uninterrupted view into the woods and replacing it with a network of posts and wire mesh.

Whether my cutting garden is a workable idea remains to be seen. I’m starting to track the hours of sunlight on paper, and I’m not sure there are really more than 3 hours even there. Meanwhile, I’ve grown to appreciate the verbascum, and if a fenced cutting garden doesn’t come together by the summer of ’12, I’ll get to see what happens next.

Raking Leaves is a A Fool’s Errand

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THAT PHRASE POPPED INTO MY HEAD TODAY as I raked leaves. It’s an impossible task, because every night’s breezes bring a fresh layer. Yesterday I observed my next-door neighbor raking, raking, raking, making huge piles for the town pick-up. Today, I glanced into his yard and saw that they’d been replenished. But I happen to know he rakes for fun, so it’s OK.

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Daffodil bulbs ready to go in the ground at Bridge Gardens

Besides raking, I’ve been busy with other fall landscaping chores, inspired partly by a two-hour workshop I attended on Saturday at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton called “Putting Your Garden to Bed for the Winter.” At least half the discussion was about which hydrangeas bloom on old wood and which on new. I can’t have hydrangeas at all because of my deer friends, so I tuned out.

Below, transplanting clumps of hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ at Bridge Gardens
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I was reminded of how important it is to keep watering, especially after such a dry season as we’ve had. I’ve been moving hoses around from individual tree to tree so they get soaked in the root zone (particularly some of the big evergreens that look parched), pulling up spent annuals, planting three new aronia (chokeberries) as part of my ‘tapestry hedge’ in front, and moving other things from places where they’re not thriving to places where I hope they will.

Below, annual Japanese fountain grass, perennial geranium ‘Roxanne,’ and Saturday students at Bridge Gardens

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Just as I was coming to the end of today’s to-do list, the UPS truck pulled up with my bulb order from Scheeper’s. It’s not a big order — just 10 ‘Gladiator’ alliums, 10 gorgeous lilies I couldn’t resist, even though they need sun and deer like them (I’m going to plant them by the front deck and keep a spritz bottle of Deer-Off handy), and 100 Spanish bluebells for a wooded area in the backyard middle distance that I haven’t gotten around to doing anything with.

How Bridge Gardens deals with deer, below

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I’m feeling a bit of urgency, as I’m moving into my Brooklyn pied-a-terre next Monday. I won’t be around much in November, and I want to leave my East Hampton place in good shape — well-watered, nicely mulched, cozily tucked in for winter.

One of several unusual types of elephant ear at Bridge Gardens, below

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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.”