Its getting close to that time of year when I have to decide what I’m going to do for vegetable gardens. (Planting for my area is traditionally Memorial weekend) Last summer we had a horrible drought and I spent way too many hot, humid days dragging a heavy garden hose from bed to bed. At some point I found myself swearing through my dripping sweat that I was done with vegetable gardening for good. I reasoned that we have several veggie stands nearby and our town does a nice little farmer’s market every Saturday morning. I even visited the farmer’s market once to see what they might have and I discovered they sell most of what I usually plant. So I know I can get fresh veggies without having to invest in all those hot, buggy hours of toil.
Easier said than done! I love watching things grow. For some reason that whole process from seed to produce never fails to trip my trigger. So I say I might forego the vegetable garden this year, but the truth of that statement remains to be seen. The lure of our local nursery might call to me and I may cave, but I’m seriously kicking some alternative ideas around. I think this might be the summer to shake things up and do the opposite. It just might be a better fit!
It’s easy to tell it’s almost full-fledged fall. I get three distinct reminders:
- The horses start shedding their summer coats
- The dinner plate-size hibiscus burst into bloom
- The skunks make their dusk or dawn presence known
Twice in the last week I’ve been jarred out of sleep by the pungent scent of Peppy LePew wafting through my open bedroom window. The first time it happened I could hear the low rumble of Gus growling in his crate. Gus typically doesn’t make a peep during the night, but his highly tuned nose put him on full alert. The scent wasn’t too horribly strong, but there was no mistaking that a skunk had wandered across our property. When this happens in the spring it’s usually the young skunks who don’t have full control over their scent glands yet. But when it happens in the fall it’s more likely a full-fledged adult, which is a little more worrisome. It’s been years since I’ve had a dog get skunked, but it’s something you never forget. The smell that you usually associate with a skunk meandering through the area is nothing like the full force stench of them using their smell for defense. It’s got to be one of the most gagging, God-awful, eye-watering smells on earth. And it’s dangerous too. The dog who got skunked took a close-range shot to the face and I’m still not convinced that didn’t contribute to his blindness just a year or two later. With that episode in mind I’m not taking any chances. At the first indication that a skunk might be nearby the dogs get leashed and walked and there’s no running about freely until we’re sure the coast is clear. The pups are a little put out by that, but it’s far better than the alternative!
There are other signs of the approaching fall. The hummingbird feeder has transitioned from a dull roar to the occasional passer-by. We’re on the migration route so I’ll continue to fill the feeder until a couple of days pass with no visitors. The cardinals are getting very vocal. I’m not sure why because they’re here all summer, but every fall they become more active and noticeable. Could it be one of their food staples has come into season and they get more competitive over that? I don’t know, but I enjoy seeing the colorful pairs. Crickets are louder. I always end up with a few that get into my basement looking for what, I’m not sure! And the days have grown noticeably shorter. Our mornings stay dark now until almost 6:30 and the late afternoon sun slips over the ridge across the road by a little after 7 PM. The changing of seasons happens so fast that if I didn’t have nature to remind me I might miss it altogether.
Every spring I think I need to split and move a bunch of perennials that have outgrown their beds. Since this is a huge undertaking I go check my resources before I begin, only to discover that they say split & move them in the fall. Well, not all of them, but most. OK, that’s easy enough! But then in the fall when I’m getting ready to do a major relocation project I recheck my resources again and I swear to God they say split and move them in the spring! If this keeps up I’m gonna need napalm!
Well over a decade ago I started a flower garden in front of the wooden fence that runs along one edge of our pasture. At the time I wasn’t overly creative because to be truthful, the soil was marginal and the land sloping. So I threw in a dozen or so common daylilies and called it a day. Much to my surprise, the next year they sprouted and blossomed! And multiplied. Again and again. I was pretty stoked. I mean, eventually I got a huge payback for very little effort.
Fast forward some fifteen years or more. The daylily bed is badly overcrowded and sadly, I’ve grown tired of it’s monochrome design. I’m a better gardener than I was back when I started this flower bed and I have higher expectations. I still love daylilies, but I’m no longer content to play host to the the common, orange lily one sees along the back roads of my state. No, I want different colors, mixed sizes and the occasional exotic! So it’s time to bite the bullet, take shovel in hand and dig up the old daylilies. Normally I get a little depressed when I have to discard any perennial, but I’m letting my mind focus on what I’ll do to replace them. I have lots of plants to pick from since most of my bigger, established perennials are ready to be split. But I have some headaches to get rid of first.
Ferns. They are the bane of this property. I know most people would love to have ferns growing in their gardens, but here they are an intrusive menace. Especially the Sensitive Fern, whose roots are nearly impossible to eradicate. They send underground runners into the surrounding area and they have started to invade my flower beds in several places. I should have done something to stop them when I first saw them, but I had no idea they were as invasive as they are. Now I’m paying for that mistake and it’s created a lot of extra work.
I spent two days removing a ton of old daylilies and those nasty ferns wherever I encountered them. It was dirty, tedious, back-breaking work, but now I’m getting to the fun part: planting! I’ve almost finished replanting one smallish lily bed in the front yard and I’m getting ready to tackle a second flower bed. Some of the new transplants might not do much next spring, but I’ve found daylilies incredibly forgiving and rewarding. I’ve got a bunch of really pretty and different size varieties to plant and I suspect next summer I’m going to feel like a kid in a candy shop when they start coming up. I’m already excited!
I have two wonderful old garden rose bushes that burst into blossom every spring. The interesting thing is that I haven’t done a single thing to deserve such a glorious and fragrant display of beauty. In fact, I often wonder why these bushes have been so dependable and stunning for the last thirty years since I’ve probably done just about everything to kill them? When I’ve pruned them too late in the season they’ve rebounded with even more blossoms than the year before. When I’ve failed to fertilize or water them during the dry summer months they’ve respond with vigorous new growth. When I’ve ignored various pests or unfavorable growing conditions they’ve rallied and pulled through on their own. In short, I’ve been terribly negligent with these rose bushes, yet every year my reward has been an amazing floral display.
Thinking I’ve been blessed with a mysterious talent for growing roses, I planted several more rose bushes. After all, my theory about gardening is do more of whatever works. So over the years I’ve bought more rose bushes and, thinking I needed to be more attentive, I carefully tended them. Some years I even followed a strict protocol for feeding, watering and pruning the newer shrubs. And I’ve been rewarded with less than stellar results. Meanwhile, the old garden roses (that I still completely ignore) continue to blossom profusely every spring.
Obviously, I don’t have half the talent for growing roses that I thought I had. And as I’ve come to suspect all along, the old garden roses are simply so well established that they’re practically impossible to kill. It seems they’re impervious to my negligence and lack of gardening skills … thank goodness!
I’m a big dalylily fan. Daylilies were one of the first flowers I mastered growing when we bought our farm back in the mid ’80s. My veterinarian swapped a dozen or so of his daylily seedlings for some of my Siberian Iris and the rest is history. Daylilies are hardy, prolific perennials that require very little maintenance and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and blooming seasons. They’re so common in this area that in early summer you can find waves of orange daylilies growing wild along country roads and open fields. In fact most homes have at least one or two gardens where the common orange daylily resides.
Eventually, I was so impressed with my daylily success that I decided to explore some new varieties. I went to a local nursery that grows some unusual, native types of flowers and I chose a few pink and plum colored daylilies. I planted these flowers along a fence, and in a year or two I had another lovely garden full of flowers. Inspired by this success, I’ve vowed to add a few new daylilies to my gardens every summer. If I select carefully, the colors and heights should create some interesting contrasts and extend my blooming season well into the fall. Oh, and did I mention that daylilies reproduce? Yeah. Like bunnies! I may have to join a garden club so I can pawn my excess plants off on others!
This summer I added Dragon’s Beard (above) and Ruby Sentinel (below). These are tall, stately daylilies that bloom a little later in the season. I’ve been very happy with this addition and I’m already starting to think about what will go well with them next spring!
It was a great summer for some of my flowers. This balloon flower is now several seasons old and it produced an abundance of beautiful purple-blue blossoms. This is the first year I’ve noticed that it’s starting to spread a bit by casting seeds. That excites me! I look forward to moving some of the new plants to fill in a gap here or there in other gardens. I have other perennials that have fully matured and need to be split and relocated. Not an easy task, but it keeps me on my toes. Thinking about what can be moved where and fantasizing about how things will look in the future is something all gardening geeks do!
Not only are the butterflies visiting in droves, the re-blooming lilac is living up to it’s name! That’s a win-win for them and me!
I wasn’t trying to photograph a hummingbird, but one decided to show up anyway! My shutter speed wasn’t set to catch it very clearly, but it’s better than nothing. This little pollinator was pretty fearless and several times it hovered only a few feet away and stared right at my camera. I think it was trying to figure out if I was a friend or foe! I’m finding the longer I stand in one place at the garden’s edge the more nature just accepts me and carries on.
It’s that time of year again when I drag out the macro lens and try to shoot stuff in and around the property. It’s so humid outdoors now that I have to give the camera and lens about fifteen minutes to de-fog before I can shoot anything. Meanwhile, the bugs attack like I’m fresh meat. It isn’t the best of conditions for taking macro shots today. There’s a pretty good breeze and the light isn’t the best. But I’m getting antsy waiting for the conditions to improve, so I decided to take some photos in spite of it being against my better judgement. The way things are going, the gardens will have gone by before the weather starts to cooperate. It’s been that kind of year so far. It’s been so miserable that I’d like to just up and fly away myself: some place where it’s cooler and a lot less humid. I simply don’t know how people live in the south during the summer. I’m thinking mid-seventies would be just about perfect for me right now.
Gus has grown up. I seriously doubt he’ll get any bigger, though I suspect he’ll continue to fill out. But for now he’s just a lean, mean bunny killing machine. That’s right, he finds and kills baby bunnies. Now before you go all ewwwww or awwwww on me, I should remind you why we got Gus. To kill yard, farm and garden varmints. Bunnies are a menace to your yard and garden. They do immeasurable damage and make off with the cream of my crop every summer. Yes, I could fence my garden off, but that creates more cost, time and effort than I’m willing to spend. Besides, a fence is unsightly. And dead bunnies aren’t, you ask? Well yeah, they are. And every time one bites the dust I feel a little heart pang for it and the short life it led. But I also did a little research and found out that the average female wild bunny has something like 8 or 9 litters per summer and out of the 65 or so babies they produce each year, something like 4 or 5 are expected to reach a year old. Yeah, those are not good odds. So basically, the rest are destined to be little more than a cog on the wheel of the food chain anyway. Gus is just helping speed up the process. Besides, Gus kills them in an instant, which I’d much prefer to them being swallowed (alive) by a black snake. And boy, do we have a TON of snakes. And hawks. And owls. I listened to an owl eat a nest of baby bunnies one night. The next day I went down to the spot where the nest had been and there was nothing left but an odd discarded leg (or three) and a few tufts of fur. That was much worse than knowing Gus might kill an occasional baby bunny every now and then.