Monthly Archives: February 2009

Garden Journals … Suggestions?

I’ve tried many methods for journaling my gardening successes and failures, but have yet to devise one that I’m willing to reuse without revision.  Store bought versions of garden journals are too generic for my taste and needs.  I want a 3-ring binder type of set up that houses monthly pages for tracking seed purchases, planting dates, and how well each variety grows; diagrams of planting beds to track what is planted where; tags and labels from perennial plants, shrubs, and trees; and a place to keep any printed photos.  I had been keeping a version of this until last year when opted to try keeping track of my seed planting in a database.  I entered all my seeds, pertinent growing information, and where each was purchased; when planted indoors and out; and included sections to fill in the progress of each.  That’s where it all fell apart.  During the outdoor growing season I’m too anxious to get away from my computer to spend the time needed to type in the progress of each tomato, pepper, bean, lettuce, herb, etc. seedling … and their growth, plus track every flower, bulb, and shrub purchase.  So I had to rely on memory to fill in the data over less busy winter months.  The problem, of course, is the accuracy of recall, and the fact that I had no printed record of the 2008 growing season to add to previous years’ records for comparison.


So this year, I’m back to the 3-ring binder, but this method still needs some tweaking.  I’m in the process of revising my calendar pages and my method for storing plant/shrub tags and keeping track of the growth or death of each.  I’m no longer printing photos for my garden journal, as I keep an annual digital photo file in my computer that I can easily cross reference.


I’ll try to upload a photo of my calendar pages once they are completed, printed, and housed in the binder.


While I’m in the process of revision, I’d love to hear your suggestions.  Do you keep a journal? What has and has not worked for you?


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Let moss “green” your yard

A lot of people spend an inordinate amount of time and $$ trying to keep moss from growing into their lawn … I do not.  While appreciating settings where a golf-course type weed-free lawn, perfectly edged along well manicured woods, is the epitome of style … this simply does not work in my yard.  Here I strive for a more subtle, tranquil progression between manicured and natural areas.  So rather than fight moss, I encourage it to take over where grass chooses not to grow – which has proven to be a most environmentally friendly way to ‘green’ my yard.


As I sit at my computer on this chilly, late February day, I can glance out at a currently unattractive lawn still holding onto tidbits of snow and ice, and not yet sending up new green blades … or I can focus beyond the brown sod to the areas where lawn meets woods.  Local mosses cover large expanses of ground that, had I chosen to not only purchase, but plant and nurture more “cultivated” greens, would have required both greater attention and greater resources during busy growing periods.  Instead, I opted to help existing, native mosses highlight these spots.  So instead of seeing only the dead, tan blades of last year’s grass, my eyes are drawn to the many patches of chartreuse and light green and reddish mosses … all aglow in the late winter sun.

February moss

February moss


As warmer air moves in, these mosses bloom into spectacularly vibrant colors of yellow-green and mahogany red, that accents the edges of my greening lawn grass.


Encouraging these natural beauties takes minimal time.  Simply keep autumn leaves from matting down on the mosses, rake lightly in spring to clear off debris such as sticks and acorns, and occasionally pull any wayward weeds seeking to establish their presence in the ever spreading carpet.  And if there’s no time to pull, weeds can be carefully controlled with a push mower while cutting nearby lawn grass – taking heed not to dig the mower wheels into the moss when turning, as these shallow-rooted plants are easily disturbed.  If you divot some moss, just press it back in place and give it a quick drink.  Otherwise, no fertilizer, no pruning, no thinning; mosses are about the easiest care plants around.


In addition to the lawn edges, I allow mosses to rule the sheltered ground under copper beech, along the bases of stone walls, and between stepping stones denoting a shady path.  “Letting” mosses reign frees my time for other gardening pursuits, and keeps my little patch of earth anchored to its woodland surroundings … all without costing me a dime.


Filed under Gardening, General, Perennials & Annuals

Laissez les bon temp rouler

I hold a special place in my heart for the people of New Orleans and the south coast … a beautiful locale filled with warmth, ease, hospitality and a most unique history.  My family had a fantastic vacation in New Orleans one August before Katrina… yes it was hot but the food, drink, atmosphere, and history made up for the steamy weather.  I haven’t had the pleasure of returning, but try to stay abreast (ahem … no intended reference to risqué Mardi Gras celebrations) of developments there via the web.


As you would expect, New Orleans Botanical Garden, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but the gardens have made a remarkable comeback.  Take a break from the New England cold and tour the gardens, before and after Katrina, here, and marvel at the regenerative power of gardens.  I, for one, will raise a glass and enjoy some shrimp tonight in honor of our neighbors to the south … laissez les bon temp rouler!


24 days till spring!

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Winter pruning

To fight off late winter doldrums – much needed in late February – I try to scoot outside to scrutinize the impact the last few months of cold, snow and ice had on my shrubs.  It may be too early to remove leaves and winter mulch from planting beds and the soil is still too stubbornly frozen to accept a shovel, but likely there are plants that could use some tender loving care or a good winter pruning.


My recent inspections revealed some a broken stems on the latest shrub to join my menagerie … a small pieris japonica shrub. pieris-japonica-2-2009 I pruned smallest to bring inside.  After making a clean angled cut on the stem, and removing any lower leaves, the cutting went into a vase of water on a window sill that receives bright, indirect light.  If it sprouts roots I may end up with a new pieris bush.  The larger broken branch can be addressed on a warmer, less windy day.  The damage to this bush occurred, no doubt, from the weight of shoveled snow … probably should have placed a protective cage around the pieris to prevent it being weighted down by piled snow … ah well … live and learn. Now the bush will need some first aid pruning to encourage regrowth and fill the void. 


My boxwoods are also showing winter damage – note the white tips in the photo below.


This time of year is also good for cutting back red and yellow twig dogwood.  Some recommend cutting these to about 6 inches or so from the base every year, but my red twigs are still relatively small and play a main role in the foundation beds so I tend to leave the red-tinted branches intact through most of the winter.  Closer to spring, I cut back the older, less colorful stalks, those that detract from the shape of the bush, and any brown tips.  The cuttings holding some color go into an urn or small barrel as a front porch accent that can remain till replaced by spring flowers.


Generally, any winter damage should be pruned out of bushes and small trees, regardless of type or time they bloom.  Doing so during late winter will allow the plant to heal itself as soon as the warm weather juices begin to flow.

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Filed under Gardening, Pruning, Seasons

February … BLAH!

We’re into the last week of February … can see March at the end of the tunnel … but as far as I’m concerned, and with apologies to those who have birthdays and other treasured celebrations this week, this month cannot end fast enough. I don’t know another southern New England gardener who doesn’t feel the same. In spite of the sun’s beams warming the frozen ground; the clear, sharp-blue morning sky, and the promise of rising daytime temperatures, February’s gloom remains. Under the same conditions next week, the outlook will be completely different … it will be March … MARCH – the month spring starts! It can’t happen soon enough.

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CT Flower & Garden Show

The New England adage goes “if you don’t like the weather just wait a few minutes,” and this could not have been more true today.  Except the spring-like features – bushes in bloom, bulbs a-flower, fountains a-flow – were nestled inside at the CT flower and garden show (  Outside, temps fell from a damp 40’s to cold enough for snow … which it did.  My friend and I try to make an annual pilgrimage to this flower show.  It provides a nice respite from February dreariness, we enjoy the chance to look over other people’s ideas for creating outdoor spaces, and … let’s face it … as gardening junkies we need the flowering plant fix, even when the fix comes in the form of false ‘outdoor’ spaces created inside a very large hall.


Having moved tons of stone, block, mulch, and plant material in my life, I appreciate the amount of work that goes into building these “outdoor” spaces, but I’m also nagged by questions concerning the environmental friendliness of this and any other indoor garden show.  How much time, energy and resource goes into trucking in tons of stone, block and mulch, supporting structures, pond and fountain supplies, sheds, plants, trees and shrubs, and in some cases cars and farm vehicles?  Beyond that, how much energy goes into forcing so many plants into an un-natural early bloom in preparation for these shows?  I don’t know the answers, but I do wonder how ‘green’ these “green industry” shows really are.


Still, as a true plant junkie, I enjoy walking through these created spaces to discover unique hardscape or plant combinations useable in my own gardens.  This year’s displays included a pleasing depiction of how a small country homestead can incorporate welcoming front yard planting beds, a rain barrel water collection system, and a side yard fenced-in vegetable garden, complete with compost piles.  There was a well-balanced period depiction of an 18th century home, front walkway, and side yard; and a most interesting stone wall creation by Pondering Creations ( that creatively used small, flat stones stacked on edge to desing round and starburst shapes within their fieldstone walls.  They had done similar wall creations at the 2008 show and this year added round lights as center focal points within these designs.  Unfortunately, their website does not offer any photos, but here are two photos of their 2009 display.





Another interesting retaining wall application involved the use of square concrete planters to replace the top course of wall of manufactured block.  The six-inch tall concrete planters were about the same length as and replaced some of the cap blocks.  The planters, filled with sedum and other low-growing plants with minimal water needs, created an interesting visual break in the top portion of the wall.


The Federated Garden Club’s floral design competition always proves interesting and highlights the creativity of the entrants … many of whom devised truly unique and engaging displays.  On the other hand I was disappointed by the generally standard arrangements on display at the Connecticut Florist Association’s tables.  Of the numerous flower arrangements, all from professional florists, I found only three remarkable – a tall vase of white flowers with minimal greens, a low white and green bouquet combination in a rectangular glass vase, and a tall, thin peach colored grouping.  You should know, however, that I am pretty picky about my flower arranging after honing my skills with one of the best (thank you Nancy Ellen).


Aisles and aisles of vendors offering tools, design services, flowering plants, herbs and herb products, sheds, outdoor furniture, clothing, jewelry, silk flowers and greenery, and a plethora of indoor and outdoor chotchkies fill the bulk of the convention center.  While we tend to shy away from most of the wares hawked here, we had a good laugh when we came upon an iron arch covered … and I mean covered … with garden ornaments, wall plaques, wind chimes, etc.  But hanging at the top of this arch, above all the STUFF, was a painted wooden sign that said “SIMPLIFY.”


On the other hand, our stroll through the vendor booths did allow us to find high quality silk flowers from SunRise Corner (, great herb sauces from Bittersweet Herb Farm (, and really cool birdhouses at the Birdhouse Brokerage and Dawn’s Early Bird booths.  And, as always, we enjoyed the wares of Ballek’s Garden Center ( and our visit with their staff.

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Filed under Conferences/Shows, Gardening, Techniques, Uncategorized

Deer resistance

My earlier post on deer grazing in the front yard hints at the challenges posed by gardening in deer country, particularly for those who have not or are unable to fence in their entire yard.  In my case fencing is not an easy option, so I’ve learned to live with the deer.  This does not mean I’m above chasing them away, especially when my gardens are in full bloom … and I do regularly spread deer repellants during heavy feeding periods.  But anyone who plants in unfenced areas somehow tied to open fields or forests frequented by deer knows first hand that repellants only work occasionally.  So, through trial and error, I’ve come up with a list of plants the deer simply leave alone … at least in my yard … and at least so far.


Ornamental grasses top this list.  The taller varieties include miscanthus variegatus (see photo in previous post and below), the ‘heavy metal’ variety of panicum, and a taller still porcupine grass (miscanthus sinensis ‘Strictus’).  For mid-sized grasses I use pennisetum alopecuroides for their fuzzy-rabbits foot like seed heads, and the steel-blue helictotrichon, blue oat grass.  I further edge many of my gardens with shorter grasses, such as various carex and dwarf sedge, and use the lower growing festuca in particularly sunny dry areas, where its tendency to self seed provides welcome replacement plants.


To complement the edging grasses, I use both flowering and non-flowering types of lamb’s ear.  The fuzzy, low to the ground leaves of these plants create an eye catching edging that deer dislike.  The leaves of non-flowering Stachys tend to be greener than the silvery leaves of the flowering types, but the flowering types (I think mine is the purple flowering Stachys byzantina) produce vast numbers of 12-24 inch tall flower-spikes that can look rather unruly when left untended.  Since I relish these flowers – and the deer don’t –  I leave them until the wind or a heavy rain knocks them askew.  Once flowers have passed, I cut the stalks back to prevent seed production and further allow the plants to focus energy on leaf production.

miscanthus, coneflowers with lamb's ear edging

miscanthus, coneflowers with lamb's ear edging


Deer tend to recoil from chomping fuzzy or hairy leaves, which may also explain their dislike of foxglove, mullein or verbascum, echinops (globe thistle), yarrow, and artemisia, all which grow chomp-free in my gardens.  Don’t be fooled by the hairy leaf rule, however, as coneflowers and bee balm both cover their tall stalks with hairy, and frequently irritating leaves, yet the deer relish the tender, ready-to-bloom flower heads of these plants.  My family can attest to my frustration at watching and waiting for coneflowers to open, only to find they have become a midnight snack to marauding deer.


Still these four-legged foragers rarely munch on strong smelling plants such as lavender, sage, thyme, santolina, hyssop, rue, oregano, savory, and mints – except during long periods of snow cover when deer will hoof at any remnants of these plants in search of sustenance.  Fortunately, winter browsing does not cause seriously damage.  However, in the early spring, when deer are craving anything green, they will nibble on other strong scented plants such as chives, likely because chives are some of the earliest green sprouts to peek out of the ground.  Deer have also grabbed an early spring snack, albeit infrequently, from my cranesbill, and during later months they have occasionally pruned back lemon balm planted in low traffic areas.  But none of this browsing causes serious damage.


Other prized perennials that so far have not been sought out by my doe-eyed pillagers include peonies,



lady’s mantle, veronica, solidago, rose campion, astilbe, lower growing campanula



and sedum (not fall blooming sedum such as Autumn Joy which they will eat), anemone, columbine, ferns, amsonia, and most iris, of which I have many. 



chives, foxglove and iris

chives, foxglove and iris


And, in spite of the juiciness of ground-cover sedums, my deer leave them alone.

sedum in bloom

sedum in bloom

Daffodils and narcissi have likewise been safe … but crocus bulbs and miniature iris planted in open areas rarely reach full flower, so I tuck these away in more protected spots.  And if the crocus manage to remain hidden from underground marauders in a very short time they will look like this.



thankful for crocus

thankful for crocus



The bottom line is it’s not impossible to plant vibrant, blooming gardens in locales heavily infested with deer … as long as you choose plants deer are less likely to devour.

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Filed under Creatures, Gardening, Perennials & Annuals, Uncategorized