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ONE MORE OUTDOOR SHOWER for the road…and before the plumber comes to turn off the water to the outside spigots. I tear myself away with regret from three glorious November weeks (who woulda thunk?) spent at my Long Island cottage, an attempt to make up to myself for the weeks I missed in August, when the place was rented out, and October, when I had a load of commitments in the city.
I spent my last day in the country wrapping shrubs in burlap, Christo-like, to protect them from ravenous deer. When I ran out of twine, I resorted to my sewing kit, my gift wrapping drawer, my office supply cabinet (those black binder clips work great, as do clothespins).
I spent hours raking leaves off the lawn, which I’ve come to consider a Zen pursuit — ephemeral, never finished.
And then I took that last outdoor shower, a few deep breaths of country air, and some photographs to remember it by.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
Perennials will be on sale in a few weeks, and I’ll try to pump up the late summer color quotient for next year.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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