Winter Drags On…


THE IDES OF MARCH are almost upon us, and what a pain. I’m up in the Hudson Valley now, cat-sitting for a few days, and if ever I thought I was going to do some gardening, which I foolishly did, I’ve had to let go of that notion. The snow was thick on the ground when I got here, and now, after two days of rain, what’s not snow-covered is mushy and boggy and muddy (here’s how it looked this morning, above). True, I did manage to shovel some compost into bags for my garden in East Hampton, and cut down some of last season’s zebra grass before the rains came.


But my hope was to dig and divide some of the cottagey perennials that are here in abundance, all deer-resistant, planted mostly between 2002 and 2006 when I spent a lot of time gardening up here in Zone 5 northern Dutchess. (See one of the beds to be pillaged as it looks in mid-summer, above.) That was, it turns out, a ridiculous hope. With temperatures here in the 40’s recently, I figured the ground would be un-frozen, and I could get some rudbeckia, bee balm, catmint, ladies mantle, coral bells, lamb’s ear, astilbe, bleeding heart, and any number of other things into plastic pots, ready to be transplanted into my newly prepared Zone 7 Long Island garden beds, below, next week.

Waaaaayyyyyy premature. I shall have to sit tight, along with gardeners throughout the Northeast, and wait for the winter to finish up in its own good time.


It’s good to know, however, that the curved beds at the front of my property back in East Hampton — about 400 square feet of them, leading from my new parking court to the front door of my cottage, are pretty much ready to go. Last fall, I laid them out by raking piles of fallen oak leaves into the desired shapes. Through the winter, I woke up more than once in the middle of the night wondering how I was going to turn piles of leaves into plantable soil, quickly.

The answer came in the form of a delivery truck from Whitmores last Wednesday, containing 7 cubic yards of topsoil and compost (cost: about $400). It was shoveled, spread, and raked smooth for me right on top of those leaves, ready to be planted up as soon as the time is right.


I haven’t ordered anything from those tempting catalogues; I don’t have the patience to wait for tiny specimens to grow. I’ll buy shrubs and perennials from wholesale nurseries, and places like Lowe’s and Home Depot, which may not have anything exotic, but in recent years seem to have gotten their act together to at least provide healthy plants. I’ll divide what’s here upstate, beg divisions from other gardeners I know, and take whatever can be spared from the backyard of one of my buildings in Brooklyn, above.

My goal: curb appeal, fast. It’s going to be a happy round robin of plant-moving and schlepping, and I can hardly wait.

Still Planting…

Cotoneaster dammeri 'Coral Beauty'

HERE IT IS DECEMBER, and I thought I was done planting weeks ago. In mid-November, I put in two cotoneasters and four inkberries, in keeping with my new philosophy: skip the expensive, unsightly deer fence and plant only that which the deer won’t eat.

I always thought Thanksgiving was the very last possible date for planting, but apparently that’s not true here on the East End of Long Island, in balmy Zone 7.

It’s been mild, with no sign of frost, and the nurseries are still selling shrubs and trees at 50% off and guaranteeing them for a year — if they put them in, which I’m only too glad to have them do (my lower back is important to me).

Ilex glabra 'Shamrock'

So I’m not done yet.

Next week, I’m having three more shrubs/trees planted by Whitmores tree farm:

  • A Thuja ‘Green Giant,’ 8′ tall as we speak
  • A white pine, 6′ tall
  • My favorite, an Ilex crenata ‘Suspensum’ – a 4′ wide, perfectly round shrub resembling boxwood

I had to choose from what was left at this late date, so they’re all rather common and likely to get too big eventually (and they’re not entirely deer-resistant, either). But right now I’m anxious to get some evergreens in as a buffer between my house and the road. However quiet it is now compared to summer traffic levels, I still don’t want to see or hear motor vehicles of any sort if I can help it.