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E-Garden Almanac: September 2007

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

A fall border

The herbaceous border on the east side of my house has been a landscaping debacle for a good ten seasons. I chastized its condition when we moved into the house 11 years ago, especially that following spring when its one dimensional design buffeted the senses with gaudy orange poppies and sky blue irises. What's more is that this loud incarnation did not pervade beyond the end of May. June gave way to a dismal palette of foliage and July to an unsavory burnt appearance. My futile attempts to install new plant material were superceded by other pressing (and appeasing) parts of the yard. But I finally got around to it this summer, for good.

Yet my solution was not wholly inventive or well planned. Serendipitous and eclectic, the leftovers of spring planting found a home in the east herbaceous border. Two catmints (Nepeta x faassenii 'Walker's Low' and N. subsessilis 'Sweet Dreams'), charming bedding plants (read: petunias), Eupatorium altissimum 'Prairie Jewel', Lespedeza thunbergii 'Samindare', and red pincushion flower (Knautia macedonica 'Mars Midget') joined the existing poppies and irises. The summer's drought meant regular watering at first, tapering to irregular (read: never) sessions when the gardener tired of those chores that incurred no net hydration for himself. Persisted they did; thrived in fact. The plantings this spring had been joined over the summer by other odds and ends, too. A home-raised Helianthus maximiliani found a home near the peonies on the north end. Now at its feet, a humble troupe of crocus called the spot home for a season already. My mother remarked delightfully on the phone this evening at home stunning this bed looked; thanks to a recent rain the border had been enlivened.

And it's now that the show has really begun, even in its maiden year. Silvery and tawny mounds of catmint cool the eyes set on fire by the profusion of the Maximilian sunflower. No gentle respite is meant to be had with this entourage, however. The crimson flowers of the lespedeza jump inward and amongst the eupatorium's foamy inflorescences. My favorite part of the whole gig has to be the saffron crocus that are readying for their culinary display in a few short weeks. Just imagine!

My observations of this bed parallel my recent enthusiasm about taking advantage of the garden in all four seasons. What was once a uni-season element of our landscape became a three-season showstopper simply by the addition of leftovers. How simple, right? I must reiterate, as I admitted earlier, that this was not the product of some clever scheme. Rather, a serendipitous occasion of leftover plants made for a dynamite opportunity that rectified an 11 season problem. I have only to watch what winter will bring for this border. I could imagine not much seeing that its not something I've planned for. But then again, I didn't plan for three seasons either. It just kind of happened. I'm far from suggesting that the four season garden is a carefree fop who'll just show up when you ask him to. Imaginative logic might suggest though that a four season garden is simply a result of the plants which compose it, even if they are just leftovers from spring planting. Here's to winter and next spring, when I'll get to enjoy an entire gardening season of brooding expectancy and botanical anticipation. It's going to be great.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Recent reading

As Ethne Clark as so aptly observed, autumn is the forgotten season in the garden. Recent reading has found me investigating the importance of all of our seasons in our dyadic garden. Aesthetically, fall is visually rewarding and hard to beat. Rich drupes adorn shrubbery. Golden coins dangle from tall trees. Sunsets blaze from canopies along the highways and byways. But the garden also rewards us with sustenance. Bountiful bevies of apples, pears, and grapes colorfully grace the table and offer delicious rewards for a season's tending.

Here's what has been in the stack recently:
Autumn Gardens (republished as The Garden in Autumn) by Ethne Clarke, Johnathan Buckley
Wonders of the Winter Landscape: Shrubs and Trees to Brighten the Cold-Weather Garden by Vincent Simeone
The Winter Garden: Planning and Planting for the Southeast by Peter Loewer & Larry Mellichamp
Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Douglas Tallamy
The Education Of A Gardener by Russell Page
Jewels of the Plains by Claude Barr

Spend some time raking leaves, enjoying fall-blooming crocus or colchicums, or watching the migrating birds feast on the fruits of your yard in the next few weeks.