Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

In the Garden: A Season's Review

By Cindy Murphy


Tags: vegetable gardening, perennial gardening, fall clean up, bulbs, Cindy Murphy,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgWhenever I see an article for no maintenance gardening or an advertisement for maintenance-free plants, I alternate between laughing and rolling my eyes.  I think anyone who has ever gardened will agree that the words “maintenance-free” and “gardening” when used in combination is nothing but an oxymoron.  My gardens are about as low-maintenance as they can be, but still require a good deal of work, especially in fall.   

It’s a good thing autumn days are my favorite days to spend working outside, and even better that these past two weekends have been sunny and warm.  I got the canna tubers dug and stored in the basement. The ceramic and clay annual pots have been emptied, and stored in the shed, along with both the ceramic and the concrete bird baths.  Keith emptied the rain barrel, and stored it away; we had so much rain this summer, it was used only a handful of times.   

The vegetable gardens are cleaned out, and the perennial beds cut back.  It was especially pleasant cleaning up the herb garden; the marigolds still smelled marigoldy; the chives smelled oniony, the winter savory smelled savory, and the parsley…smelled parsleyesque(?)  Let’s just say it all was a banquet of olfactory delights. 

That’s one of the many things I love about fall – the smells.  There’s the smell of fallen leaves, the earthy, slightly decaying scent of foliage starting to decompose.  What other time of year does decay smell so good?     

I pruned the blackberries, roses, and the big ‘Pink Diamond’ hydrangea.  Keith pruned the grapevine; I had already pruned the grapevine.  He got a little carried away.  Once, up and over the arbor, now the vine is just a trunk, barely reaching to the top of the structure.  From this point forth, Keith, the grapevine is off limits!  Your pruning technique is better suited for use elsewhere! 

While I sent him off to hack down the butterfly bush and elderberries, (which are supposed to be cut nearly to the ground), I netted the low-bush blueberries so the rabbits don’t gnaw off every new bud in spring when the tender growth is too tempting for them to resist.

Speaking of rabbits….

 

Bunnies in the strawberries 

 

This spring, there was a nest of baby rabbits in the strawberries.  Summer brought blight to the tomato bushes, and tiny, green inchworm-like caterpillars devoured the greens in the fall garden.  The parsley also had caterpillars – Shannon and I counted more than a dozen of these beautiful guys at one time. 

 

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar 

 

It was exciting for her to watch one grow from tiny to big and fat until it formed a chrysalis, then emerged a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.     

Fall is a great time to take stock in the gardens:  what worked, and what didn’t; what needs to be done next year; what would you like to do next year.  In the vegetable gardens, the spring green onions didn’t do very well; heavy rains made it too wet.  They’ve done well in the past though, and I’m definitely planting them again next year.  The spinach was a bust in both the spring and fall garden, but again, it’s done well in the past, so we’ll see about next year.  Arugula did great, but I won’t be planting it again; no one but me ate it. 

Peppers, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, and blackberries we had in abundance.  And the tomatoes!  Despite the blight, (which could have been avoided if I’d remembered to move the pots under the porch eve during a week of heavy thunderstorms and extreme heat), the heirloom tomatoes were awesome.  I’m not taking any chances on missing out next year – I’m ordering ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’, ‘Black Krim’, and ‘German Johnson’ seedlings well in advance to be sure we’ll have them again.  I also plan on ordering pepper seedlings instead of trying to find what I want in garden centers.  I searched this spring for poblanos, and Hungarian Wax pepper seedlings.  I finally found Hungarians at the grocery store, but was disappointed when three out of the four plants turned out to be jalapenos.  I want to try growing leeks next year too; a friend gave me some he grew from seed, and they were a wonderful addition to soup, or sauteed in butter and used as a casserole topping.    

Raking, of course, is a ritual of fall.  Leaves have been heaped into the compost pile until it’s overflowing, mulched and added to the vegetable gardens, and raked to the curb for the leaf-sucker-upper truck to vacuum up and haul away to rot on the huge town compost pile. I have a fascination with the leaf-sucker-upper truck; I want to drive that Cat-in-the-Hat-like truck…just once!

 

Leaf sucker truck 

 

Can you imagine the fun, moving the arm to suck up huge mounds of leaves, and everything else in its path.  Ooops, there goes a football, a baseball mitt, a tricycle; kids should learn to put their things back where they belong. A tiny hybrid car....you're not supposed to park on the street this time of year anyway; snow lanes, and I just saved the owner a ticket. 

 It's probably a good thing I'm resigned to the other side of the leaf pile.  

There’s still so much to do.  Some things will get done; others I won’t get to until spring.  One thing though, that definitely needs to be done is to plant the Virginia bluebell bulbs my dental hygienist (I suddenly feel the urge to floss) gave me a couple of months ago.  There’s still time….bulbs can be planted through December, as long as the ground can be worked; some years, I’ve even planted them in the snow.   

Do you plant bulbs?  Do you want to plant bulbs?  If so, leave a comment here and you may win 2 dozen crocus bulbs of mixed colors, and a dozen Dutch Master daffodil bulbs.  I’ll draw a name and announce the winner this weekend.  

Enjoy the rest of this glorious season! 

Bulbs were grown in the Netherlands for Vandenberg Bulb Company, and provided courtesy of my ever-lovely boss, Jan.   

 

cindy murphy
12/4/2011 8:56:31 AM

"It’s a fungal disease that does mostly cosmic damage...." Oops, that's supposed to be "cosmetic damage". Darned typos!


cindy murphy
12/4/2011 8:54:27 AM

Hi, Mary and Michelle. Mary, I wish I could use all our leaves in my gardens – with five full grown maples and a number of other trees and bushes, we’ve got plenty, and our soil is either heavy clay or nearly beach sand. A lot of the leaves that fall in the gardens get left there, and others I rake into the gardens. The maples though, mostly the two big Norways, get tar spot. It’s a fungal disease that does mostly cosmic damage, but it does overwinter, and I don’t want it spreading any by using the affected leaves as compost. Good thing about tar spot though – it’s an indicator of clean, unpolluted air. Definitely stay off that knee so it’s healed by spring – if there’s a season other than fall in which there’s a ton of work to do in a garden, it’s gotta be spring! Michelle, I wanna play too! That sounds like such fun!


michelle house
12/3/2011 11:15:23 PM

Cindy, last week before our cold front, my oldest granddaughter was out back, taking handfuls of leaves, tossing them in the air, and running into the fallout, she had a blast. :)


mary carton
12/2/2011 8:19:46 AM

I ride around with a pitchfork in the back of my truck. I never have enough leaves to improve this red clay we have. Knee surgery a few weeks back put a damper on my leaf collection. I wanted to be healed up in time for next spring's gardening chores. Merry Christmas


cindy murphy
11/23/2011 8:37:16 AM

When it comes to a pile of leaves, you definitely have more restraint than me, Michelle. Neighbor's or not, a pile just has to be walked through, and I really can't blame the the little girl. She was just so cute too, jumping off her bike like that to take full advantage of being a kid. Sometimes, I think, we'd all do well to follow children's examples, and be just a little more carefree, worrying less what people might think.


michelle house
11/20/2011 9:49:43 PM

lol, Cindy, if the leaves are in a pile in someone elses yard, I am tempted, but can usually contain myself. Thankfully, the winds, blow them around enough, I can indulge myself, on the sidewalk, and those that blow up against the curb. :D lol, at the little girl, how free and secure she must feel, to do that. :)


cindy murphy
11/20/2011 7:40:09 AM

Now’s the time you’ve all been waiting for… The hand reaches into the hat. A name is drawn… Rat-a-tat-tat-tat… (that’s supposed to be a drum roll) And the winner of the bulb giveaway is… Jason! Congratulations, Jason. And a Happy Thanksgiving to all.


cindy murphy
11/20/2011 7:26:07 AM

I agree, Michelle! Tromping through leave piles is most definitely fall! Even the dog can't resist those piles, (which makes for a whole lot more work for us). It's kinda funny actually....a week ago, we'd just finished raking (again), and were taking a break on the side porch. A little girl came down the sidewalk riding her bike. When she saw the pile, she jumped off her bike, and started wading through the leaves, and kicking them up in front of her. I started to grumble to myself until Keith reminded me that I'd done the same thing earlier that week to someone else's pile. I high-stepped it through the pile I walked through so I wouldn't disturb it too much, but still...I couldn't resist. A pile of leaves just begs for some attention! Hugs to you too!


cindy murphy
11/20/2011 7:06:15 AM

Stepper, you're right about the black swallowtail caterpillars becoming a photography project - Shannon must have taken 3,480 photos of them, which is only a slight exaggeration. She has a whole file on my computer with nothing but insect photos...caterpillars and butterflies have the starring roles, but there's also praying mantas, a walking stick, spiders, and grasshoppers. Insects, it seems, are her favorite photography subject, (she took the caterpillar photo in this blog). Here's a hint: if you have black swallowtail butterflies in your area of the country, plant some parsley. They love it; some people even call the caterpillars "parsley caterpillars". Thanks for the comment; you're counted in for the drawing.


cindy murphy
11/20/2011 6:54:17 AM

Hi, Mountain Woman. I've been wishing for fall to linger too. Many times, I've thought we saw the last of it, and then a string of bright, sunny, warm days would come along. A week ago we had four days of cold rain; the rain changed to flurries, sleet, and hail during one of them. I thought surely that was it; fall was done. Then last weekend it got nice with temperatures near sixty. It turned cold again during the week, and I'm pretty sure we're near the end. I'll miss it, of course, but winter brings with it a different set of things to enjoy. Thanks for stopping in, and have a happy Thanksgiving.


michelle house
11/19/2011 6:51:10 PM

Hi Cindy, lovely article, as always. I love the smell of fall, scuffing your feet through leaf piles,and that smell comes wafting up. Ahhh, that is fall. I bought some paper whites through a fun raiser at the grands school, and planted them, in little bowls with some glass marble things, and water, and those things actually grew. They look pretty too. lol, I am quite proud of myself. ((hugs for you and Keith))


chris davis
11/18/2011 8:50:38 PM

Bulbs? Oh yeah! Count me in Cindy. 8> It's great when they start popping up 'cause you know winter is over - or at least on its last legs. And driving one of those leaf trucks sounds like fun. They only had the street sweeper kind where I grew up and they don't inspire kids to think "Man, I can't wait till I get old enough to drive one of those!" Of course, there's no chance of sucking up a forgotten pumpkin, a vampire, or a Smart For Two vehicle with a street sweeper. And you're right of course about gardens requiring attention, even smaller ones will need maintenance or they won't do well at all. But I've never had a black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar in mine - and I suspect it'd become a photography project. Good luck with your winter projects, what ever they may be.


mountain woman
11/18/2011 3:33:11 PM

Cindy, I also love fall and ours has been warm and lovely and very unusual with sunshine almost every day. And now that snow is falling today, I realize how much I wanted fall to linger. I enjoyed your post. I love your baby rabbits! Glad there are none in our immediate yard or the dogs would have eaten them. I couldn't garden much this year but what I did went well, no blight etc. Your photo of the leaf vacuum brought back memories of living in the city. Raking leaves to the curb was so much a ritual of fall back then. Anyway, I so enjoyed reading your post. We're not sure if we are moving or not so I won't through my name into the contest but if I knew we were staying put, I'd love the bulb. Happy Thanksgiving!


cindy murphy
11/18/2011 8:43:21 AM

Jason, thanks for commenting. Your name’s in the hat for the giveaway. Yours too, Dave, and you’re somewhat right; I do very much love winter. Fall, is my absolute favorite season by far. I finished work at the nursery yesterday; it’s a good thing, I think, because my fingertips have been constantly tingling for about a week now from overuse. HA! At least now I’ve got a reason for all those typos I make! I agree; I’m not making any big changes to next year’s garden based on what did well and what didn’t this year. The weather was too funky; some things that normally thrive didn’t due to too much rain here. The opposite is true too; some things that normally struggle in our typically droughty summers, burst forth this year. Looking forward to reading about your seed starting station, although I have no plans to start starting seeds indoors. Too much work for me, and for a couple of reasons too expensive an endeavor. The seeds I would start indoors rather than sow directly in the ground (tomatoes and peppers mainly) I don’t have enough space in the garden to use. What am I gonna do with hundreds of those tomato and pepper seedlings! Ok, that’s probably a slight exaggeration, but rather than buy seed starting equipment, it’s just more cost-effective for me to purchase seedlings instead of seed packets. Oh, and along with the leaf-sucker truck, I’ve always wanted to operate the mechanical arm on the trash truck that picks up the trash cans, and drive the ice rink zamboni too! Our ice rink opens Thanksgiving weekend. It’s hard for me to believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving already! A happy one to you too!


nebraska dave
11/17/2011 8:32:31 AM

Cindy, I agree. Fall is a wonderful time of the year. I know it come right before your favorite season. Doesn't it? I thought part of why we have gardens is to be able to work in the gardens. Maintenance is part of the fun of having a garden. Don't you think? The Mesclun salad mix is still hanging in there despite the 24 degree temperature of last night. It did warm up in the 50s today but the forecast is for 40 degree high temperature days over the weekend. The carrots are not going to get much bigger than my little finger. I will have to plant them a little earlier in the fall next year. I don't think that this year would be a good year to base any big garden changes because the weirdness of the year. The only thing I'm changing next year is the potatoes. I've tried Yukon Gold two years and have only gotten back about the amount I planted. The weather conditions and soil must not be the best for growing them here in Nebraksa. Maybe I'll plant Red Pontiacs next year and see how they do. I really like the Rutgers tomatoes and the California Wonder bell peppers. I could be just a tad early but I've already ordered and received most of my seeds for next years planting. I'm not getting caught seedless again. Now if I can remember where I stashed them when spring rolls around, I'll be in good shape. Hopefully my seed starting station will be operational by then.


nebraska dave
11/17/2011 8:31:14 AM

Yeah, well you've been reading my blog long enough to know that I get side tracked easily and some times it takes awhile to finish up an idea that pops out of my head. :0) It only took two years for the garden watering system but this year was flawlessly awesome. I just put it together, turned it on, and it functioned all summer without a hitch. Of course I have improvements to make for next year. Wow, I'm with you on driving the leaf sucker upper truck. We have to bag our leaves in paper lawn bags and set them out by the curb. It really does look like something the cat in the hat would come up with. Doesn't it? Have a great Thanksgiving.


jason
11/17/2011 5:53:50 AM

I would love to plant some of those bulbs. I enjoyed your pictures also.


cindy murphy
11/17/2011 5:52:18 AM

Hi, Carolyn. I wish the squirrels would leave my crocus and daffodils alone. They don't actually eat them, but have to taste-test just when the buds begin to open, leaving them strewn throughout the yard as evidence (or just to frustrate me!). At least by the time the late-season daffodils bloom, the pesky critters have finally figured out they don't taste good.


carolynt
11/16/2011 4:03:39 PM

I would love to plant some bulbs! I love seeing crocus bloom especially because they are usually the first in the garden to pop through and daffodils because the squirrels don't bother them so much.