I really thought I was going to allow this blog to die quietly; life became too busy in October and I really lost the necessary steam to keep up with the writing and photo taking. But I find that I really miss the interaction with gardeners and photographers from other locales. So here I am , deep in the cold heart of winter, starting my yearly garden journal once again.
Although I say deep into winter, as with last year, we’re having a fairly mild one by North Country standards. December was snowy and cold, but so far January has been rather tame. We have a layer of ice on the ground right now, but no snow. Temperatures this week are heading into the high 30s and low 40s with overnights in the 30s. The hens, ducks and sheep think it’s the beginning of spring. Wow, will they be in for a rude awakening when February hits!
So, as you may imagine, there is not much in the way of gardening happening at this time of year. We’ve been tucked in for winter since mid-November. But my seeds have been ordered and have arrived. Despite my determined intentions to scale back the veggie garden this season to allow more time in the flower garden, I couldn’t say no to certain favorite vegetables, herbs and annuals. So, once again, it appears I will have twenty 25′ rows to tend. As an aside, I can’t believe I’m heading into my 7th year of tending a vegetable garden up here and my 6th year of flower gardening! Do you all find that time seems to move at a considerably more rapid pace as we get older?
Back to the veggie garden — just planting the usual array of squashes, lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, onions and shallots, garlic, kale, chard, green beans (pole and bush varieties), carrots, beets, rutabaga and edamame. I will also plant my usual row of zinnia, half of which are transplanted early in the summer to borders throughout the garden, and two rows of sunflowers (the Giants stand sentry at the top of the vegetable garden). I’ve decided not to plant potatoes this season and will use the freed up rows as my “nursery.” I grew some annuals and perennials from seed last year (salvia, nasturtium, pinks, campanula, sweet rocket (Hesperis Matronalis for the non-U.S. folks reading this), but want to add to the list this year and will leave 3 rows of perennials to winter-over before transplanting them elsewhere in the mixed borders. And of course, I have the separate, ever expanding pumpkin patch. Growing pumpkins “is my one weakness,” as Dorcas would say from the series Larkrise to Candleford (for anyone who has not watched that marvelous series, you should).
In addition to the vegetable garden, I have many plans for the rest of the garden. Of course I’ll be lucky if I find time for half of them, but “go big” – at least in theory – I always say. There are two priority jobs that will take place. First, we want to enclose the immediate backyard “living space” with fencing, so that the dogs can join us for evenings in front of the fire and they can be outside with me while I garden. This is particularly important for Tilly, our corgi, as she is really not happy unless she’s glued to either my side or Nora’s at all time. I think I’ve come up with a layout and fencing style that will blend into the country garden, and I’m hoping as I train the climbing roses, ramblers and clematis over the fence, it will become even less jarring. The fenced in area will encompass the circle garden, patio/gazebo area, rose garden, peony border, spring border and hollyhock border (another border I plan on expanding this year). I suspect the installation of the fence will require some relocation of the roses in the peony border and perhaps a little widening; I will definitely have to relocate the hardy geraniums that line the driveway side of the border – likely to the new rose garden area.
In addition to that little project, it’s time for a major overhaul of the front yard. I’ve really worked within the framework established by my mother since we’ve moved here; flower beds immediately in front of the two porches and a small island border between two very large, old maples. The maples, unfortunately, had to be brought down the year we moved up here. A huge branch fell off one of them and did some significant damage to my brother’s car and scraped Nora’s. The trees towered over the house and N was petrified that a limb would come crashing through the roof at some point. The two trees were likely as old as our 1850s farm house, so it was with great sadness that I agreed. Turns out they both were being hollowed out by rot, and it was a good call on N’s part. Still a sad day however.
Anyway, other than changing the perennials in the existing borders, adding a few trellises and planting some lilacs, I really haven’t done much in front. Despite what the back of our property looks like (lovely gardens and woods), we sit on a busy and loud (by North Country standards) highway. It’s not relaxing working in the front yard, so for the most part, I haven’t. As a result, the front garden is, well, boring. So time for a major re-design.
Above is my very rough sketch of some of the changes I have in mind. First, the fencing is coming down from all sides but the 18′ stretch on the driveway side (to the right of the drawing above). The stumps from the two maples will be ground out, the island border removed and that stretch of yard leveled to some extent with some additional top soil. My goal is to create a relatively low maintenance mixed shrub hedge along the southern edge (where two youngish maples already exist) and underplant with naturalizing bulbs. I’m thinking a couple of Japanese willows, perhaps a cedar and/or yew and some short, sprawling evergreens in front along with a patch of perennial grasses for movement and all season interest.
I’ve ordered two pagoda dogwoods – a small, ornamental tree that maxes out at 25′ or so. At least one will go into the front yard, possibly both. I’ll probably add a juniper on either side of the front steps. With the clematis covered trellises on the porch, I think they would add some nice vertical interest to the front of the house. One of the borders that abuts the house (center above) will be widened. It’s barely 2′ deep in some locations, which is a big old “why bother.” And the bed that currently sits next to the driveway (from archway down to the road) will be substantially enlarged from its meager 2′ x 12′ space to a curving 8′-10′ deep x 18′ long border. Lastly, I want to extend the flagstone walkway front the front steps, over to the steps leading into the screened porch and then over to the gate of the trellised bridge.
I’m not wedded to the ilex hedge across the road side of the front yard. I may leave that space unplanted for this year and mull it over for a bit.
I’m not sure I’ll get all the borders in the front planted out as I want this season, but I hope to at least get a good jump on the transformation.