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.

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?

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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Cheap Sam’s

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YESTERDAY I FINALLY GOT THERE: Cheap Sam’s Plant Bargains in Holtsville, N.Y., right off the Long Island Expressway at Exit 62. It’s an hour-and-a-half from East Hampton, but everyone around here seems to know it: “Oh, sure, Cheap Sam’s. Of course.” So I had to go.

I still don’t have deer fencing, but now I’m thinking a new bathroom might be the priority. I can’t stand the ’70s Formica vanity and vinyl floor much longer. I also found out I need a new roof.

So I’m toying with the idea of letting the deer have one more winter of ravaging my backyard. The night before my Cheap Sam’s expedition, I studied up on deer-resistant plants that also tolerate shade. Yes, I just had several humongous trees cut down, but I’m still in the woods. The sunlight is dappled at best.

The list of suitable shrubs is depressingly short.

When I got to Cheap Sam’s, a sprawling nursery that does indeed seem cheap, I found them fresh out of mountain laurel and fothergilla. I had to content myself with three leucothoe (common name leucothoe, and don’t ask me how to pronounce it) and five pieris (that is, andromeda — floribunda, japonica, and a variegated type). I actually got kind of excited when I saw all the varieties, thinking I might just become a specialist in leucothoe and pieris.

They’re of good size and seem healthy. For $20 each, I can’t complain.

As if to remind me why I restricted my purchases to those few plants, a family of five deer was on hand to greet me when I got home.