Saturday, December 22, 2012

Transplanting the Violet Fern

Moving forward through the Winter Solstice to longer days. Looking forward to a winter's rest(?), the spring garden. Planning forward for new garden beds, expansion. I continue to make and scape the Violet Fern Garden and continue to journal the making of my garden.

After observing the site, evaluating its design, I've decided I need to rethink the layout going forward. I am digging up my blog with trepidation but determination. Ripping it out by its roots from the place it sprouted. Moving ground, giving it more light. I think it will have more room to grow in a new spot. Hopefully it will transplant well. It may take a little time to adjust, but isn't a garden always in transition? Yes, my garden is about growing. It gets bigger every year – the garden, the passing of knowledge, my ideas, future plans.

Please join me in this transition. My apologies for any inconvenience. Please continue to join me in the making of my garden. The Violet Fern blog has been transplanted to thevioletfern.com

Monday, December 10, 2012

What's Growing: Brussel Sprouts

Just this morning I trekked out to the Potager and snipped a few collard leaves for lunch. I sauteed them in oil with garlic, chopped walnuts and a spiced pepper blend. Then gently folded them into some quinoa with goat cheese crumbles.

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Kale and brussel sprouts in the Potager under our first snow 

I've also been enjoying brussel sprouts. I have one more delicious harvest left to savor. I harvest them from the ground up, clipping off the lower leaves as they grow, rather than pulling the whole stalk.

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One of several brussel sprout harvests

I am still harvesting kale although my supply is dwindling. I found a wonderful recipe for it - Northern Spy's Kale Salad. I made it for Thanksgiving dinner and several times after. I rarely follow a recipe exactly and finished off a blend of carrots, parsnips and delicata squash with a touch of maple syrup. I am still harvesting carrots from the garden and enjoy them prepared in what I call "bistro style" which is simply pan-roasted on the stovetop.

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"Bistro style" carrots, potatoes & onions

An honest confession: I am afraid to pull my parsnips. Every year I grow parsnips and they just do not seem big enough to pull by Fall so I leave them to over-winter but I never seem to find them again in the Spring. This year their leaves look large enough that there just may be a perfectly beautiful parsnip under there. I pulled one. It was pretty decent. I especially like them mashed, like potatoes, with garlic. My craving will overcome my fear and I will pull every last one next thaw. Any tips you might offer from your parsnip growing experiences would be greatly appreciated.

The cold frame is growing slowly. I have secondary leaves on most of the plants. I should have planted earlier (which I suspected when I finally did get around to planting), as I would now be able to enjoy some of the salad mixes. I could probably cut a little but I am trying to wait just a bit longer until the kales and collards that are growing openly in my garden are depleted. Maybe the Gourmet European Salad Mix (a blend of arugula, endive, radicchio) will have grown a few more inches by then. Hopefully, I will be eating from my cold frame experiment next month.

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Our snow has melted. This photo shows the Potager now seamlessly connecting to the Woodland Edge (in foreground) and to a new bed that will continue along our new fence on the northwest side of the garden after a bit of reworking this summer.

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By creating a little more space, I can plant an asparagus bed in the Spring – another new experiment – I hope you'll join me. For now, I will be planting sprouts - indoors.

Friday, November 30, 2012

November Observations: Bye Bye Blackbird

Wonderful, warm November - doesn't that sound odd? But it has been, was. This morning it is 12° F. The first few snowflakes swirled in our sky on November 24. By November 28 the ground is white. I found it unusual to see a Red-winged Blackbird at my feeder. They usually leave for warmer climates by now. Each year I try to record when I think they have finally migrated:

2009: Last Red-winged Blackbird sighting recorded on November 2
2010: Last Red-winged Blackbird sighting recorded on November 11
2011: Not recorded, but last Grackle sighting recorded on November 7 - the Redwings are usually not far behind
2012: Last Red-winged Blackbird sighting recorded on November 28

The first to leave are males in their prime followed by their ladies. The last to leave are usually the young males not quite matured into their full black feathers. Young males are what I have been seeing at the feeders this month.

November is typically described as drab, grey but this Fall it has been anything but.

Pin Oak Leaves Nov 2012
The red leaves of Pin Oak

Maple Seeds
Maple Seedlings

Switch Grass in Nov
Switch Grass

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Purple Prince Crabapples

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Winterberry 'Winter Gold'

The red Winterberries were eaten before I had a chance to photograph them! This year I've fenced in my young shrubs foregoing the chicken wire wrap. I read somewhere, and apologize for not remembering the source, that rabbits don't like to feel fenced in and a simple gate around your shrubs will deter them from dining. We'll find out if it works.

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Fenced in to deter rabbits

Snow on Sumac
First snow

Again, Garden Bloggers Bloom Day has snuck past me. Aside from berries and a few fading blooms of Coral Honeysuckle and Scabiosa, not much blooms for me in November with the exception of this surprise Daisy.

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Surprise Daisy bloom

And so "dull, grey" November fades into gleeful, glitzy December. I am thankful to take in its natural beauty before it goes.

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Bye bye blackbird. I look forward to your return in Spring.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Thankful Garden

Before we moved here I resold or gave away many holiday decorations. I kept only what was special to me. A way of living with less is something I strive for. Each year, instead of purchasing more decor, I try to turn to what I have and what won't be wasteful. I turn to my garden for many things; solitude, peace, retreat, nature, food, joy and celebration. The garden is always celebrating in season. Spring blooms, Summer blooms, its Fall display, all naturally, simply, breathtakingly beautiful.

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Yellow Twig Dogwood leaf in the garden

With a few cuttings brought into the house I feel in spirit with this holiday celebration and in spirit with my garden and the earth.

A butternut squash (which will be eaten) wrapped in grapevine adorns the table. The pumpkin vase is filled with the cuttings of Karl Forester grass blooms (which will be returned to the garden).

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A few colorful leaf cuttings from the Forsythia (strategic pruning) look pretty in this Roseville vase. My husband used to collect Roseville pottery. Its range of colors and style can match everyday or a holiday.

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Another Roseville vase filled with Birch branches (collected from the dump).

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More grapevine (there is plenty to prune) wraps a hurricane candle.

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I am so thankful for my garden. Its physical demands drain me of all living frustration. My garden thanks me. Its beauty forces me to be still and wonder. I bring its beauty indoors to celebrate. We also feast most evenings from the Potager which graces our table with the freshest and tastiest food. My garden celebrates and shares with me little moments each day and for that I am very thankful.

How does your garden thank you? What does it give to you? What elements of your garden do you bring indoors to decorate and celebrate?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Going Nativar: Gro Low Fragrant Sumac

I just learned of the term nativar, a phrase sometimes used to describe a cultivar selected from a native plant. Rhus aromatica 'Gro Low' is just that. It has been specially selected to clone a desired trait – in this case growing "low," or only upwards to 2 feet, from our true native Fragrant Sumac which typically reaches heights of up to 6-12 feet.

How do you know if a plant is a nativar or cultivar? Scientific botanical names should be written in italics with the genus name capitalized and the species name in lower case. The name of the cultivar should not be italicized but enclosed by single quotes following the species name. i.e Rhus (genus) aromatica (species) 'Gro Low' (cultivar). Another example is Betula nigra 'Heritage,' a familiar cultivar of the native river birch commonly available in nurseries. I also recently planted this "nativar" in my garden.

I admit, I have been careless in displaying cultivar names in some of my posts but now that I have a clear understanding of this naming system, I will make it a point to correctly display all cultivars and nativars. A good nursery will also make it a point to display plant names properly.

Are nativars the same as planting a native plant? I have heard yes and no. My experience is somewhat limited as my garden is still quite young. Nativars may be developed to produce less berries (less mess) which would defeat the purpose of planting a berry plant for me – the main reason I like to plant native is for wildlife value and berries are valuable! So, in that situation the answer would be no. But I will agree that sometimes a nativar is a better option for those of us with limited space as in the case of the Gro Low Fragrant Sumac. Its size in particular makes it a better choice to grow alongside my "Nice Driveway" as well as its preference for a well drained soil in full sun.

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And as for berries? Gro Low Sumac will produce fuzzy red berries attractive to birds. Interestingly, I've read some nativars of Gro Low are monoecious, having both male and female flowers on the same plant while most are more commonly dioecious, requiring a male plant to pollinate a female plant. The male flowers are small catkins and the female flowers appear in clusters which then form berries. All I observe on mine are catkins (male), so I think mine may be an all male plant and I am now on the lookout for a Gro Low plant that displays female flowers.

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Male Catkins

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Male Catkins

In Spring both male and female yellow flowers form a delicate eye-catching haze. Gro Low is also an accepted larval host of the Red-Banded Hairstreak Butterfly. It also makes a great alternative to the invasive Burning Bush - its Fall color is fantastic! You won't have to prune it into a "cupcake," either. Mine is still putting on a great show while all the Burning Bushes in the neighborhood are now bare. Consider using this shrub as a ground cover as well. It would be a great choice for an awkward slope. Mine softens the edge of our over-sized driveway nicely.

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Most of the plants selected for my garden have some type of wildlife value. Natives tend to offer the best wildlife value which is why I feature native plants in my "Going Native" posts for other gardeners to consider. Sumacs are highly valuable to wildlife but can be large or suckering so if you have a small garden, a nativar such as Gro Low Sumac offers a happy medium. I have another bird-planted (?) Sumac variety growing in my garden that I believe is truly native. It may not be the best choice for the space but hey, if it fell free from the sky, why not try. Once I'm confident that I've identified it correctly, I'll share it with you.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Project: Cold Frame

Late last Fall my husband, ever thoughtfully thinking of me, chanced upon some discarded windows on the side of the road. He picked them up knowing that I have been kicking the idea around of constructing some sort of cold frame – and that's exactly what we used them for.

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Although we started this project early in the Spring, we didn't finish until well into the growing season but it made me reconsider hinging the windows onto the frame so that I could still use the frame as a planting bed during the height of summer.

We built a simple frame out of 2x6 pine. The base is 6" high and the top is 12" high. The sides are a 2x6 cut on a diagonal. To build the frame we referred to a wonderful article in Fine Gardening on how to construct a cold frame (see video link here). We did not spend much. This cold frame is an experiment for me, much like all gardening in my view. I think you can read and learn from other sources, maybe even mimic them exactly, but it will be your experience and experimentation that will ultimately teach you the "zen of gardening."

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Making sure the windows fit the base.

During the summer I grew peppers in this windowless frame. Now that fall has arrived and the peppers are done, the windows top the frame. Even during cloudy days they steam. I hope to learn when to vent this cold frame instinctually, but automatic solar venting devices might prove to be a better option. I figure if I "take" to cold climate gardening I may invest a little more into my next cold frame which will be higher allowing for taller plants.

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I planted a variety of greens including spinach, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, curly and lacinato kale on October 18th. I thought I might have been too late in my planting but all six rows have already sprouted!

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I planted greens that I felt could grow in much colder weather but it will be interesting to see the actual results of this experiment – of course, I'll keep you "posted." Over the Winter I will also be studying Eliot Coleman's The Winter Harvest Handbook in depth. If you are not familiar with Eliot Coleman, he is an expert in year-round cold climate gardening. He resides in Maine!

So, while the leaves are turning and continuing to fall, I'm looking forward to some green!

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Wild Grapes

Come Spring I hope to start seeds in this cold frame but that's another experiment for another day.

Monday, October 22, 2012

October Observations: Transition to Frostism

This month I have been busy bringing in the potted plants, transplanting, cleaning up the Potager, bringing in anything that will not withstand freezing temperatures ... it's ongoing.

It took me a week to bring in all my potted plants. Years past I have overwintered most of my potted plants in the cellar but I am striving to achieve plant combinations that will make decent houseplants through the winter and then simply be moved outdoors to voila, become decorative summer containers. I have achieved this with a couple of my potted plants so far and have had great success with begonias. Succulents are also proving promising. I love the mossy patina on this pot that I have had for years. I hope the moss adjusts to the indoors. I could mist it now and then.

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This begonia is finding new life in a terrarium on my plant shelf. (For the history of the plant shelf from a previous post, click here.) I am attempting to root ferns and a few other things this way.

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My plant shelf has received a few upgrades like these beautiful bell jars.

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While planting some peony tubers I acquired from our local garden club (doubting they will make it but then the garden always surprises), I stumbled upon these Milkweed Bugs. They are most likely laying eggs in these pods for their nymphs to eat. I have faith there will be plenty for all of us; bug, plant, and gardener. These are large Milkweed Bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus. Not to be confused with a record number of Box Elder Bugs this year in our area which lack the triangular orange patches on the forewing.


We were frosted October 13th, the same exact day we received our first frost last year according to my calendar.

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After frost is when I usually plant my garlic. These are my biggest and best cloves from this year's harvest. Into the ground they went on October 14th.

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I completely worked through Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day which is something I rarely miss. I am currently enjoying the blooms of Calendula, Obedient Plant, Chocolate Joe Pye, Cimicifuga, and Honeysuckle. Here in the Northeast the Fall foliage outdoes the blooms at this time of year. We've had another surprisingly beautiful Autumn.

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The year-round outdoor containers get a little makeover before being remodeled with Winter evergreens.

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Exciting new bird sightings in the garden during this October's migration. Though not a new sighting, it was a thrill to witness a small flock of Golden Crowned Kinglets fly back and forth through my garden, among the Bird & Butterfly Garden, and between two opposite neighboring Maples just before dusk. Just last Sunday I made my pilgrimage to the Potager for some greens and interrupted a first time sighting of a Tufted Titmouse at the feeder. I save the best new sighting for last — Evening Grosbeaks! I have not seen these beautiful birds since I lived in Maine. I felt very honored that they would drop in to my small village garden to dine on black oil sunflowers seeds. They are still visiting and I will try to enjoy each moment that they are here.

So begins my transition to "frostism" where the garden tones down its palette to a variation of tan, beige, gold, orange, copper, cinnamon, and brown all frosted with white. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eight, Nine, Ten Picks for Diana!

I am really trying to join Diana of Elephant's Eye in choosing twelve months of my favorite garden plants. Since when does a month go by so fast? Not just one, but three and here it is Fall already. I expect our first frost any night. I think my garden shines in Fall and it is one of my favorite times to be in it. It could be that I have some excellent Fall plants that glow in the cooler days, dewy mornings and chilly nights. So, it would be some of these plants that I would choose for the following months.

August — Joe Pye Weeds. Nothing attracts butterflies and other pollinators like the Joe Pye. They are bold, tall, stately and beautiful in the garden. My Eupatorium Gateway looms over an impressive 6'. Its nodding billow of pink blooms are 8-10" across, maybe even larger! In August, it is its showiest but its spent blooms, turning a rustic brown, last well into fall. Eupatorium Rugosum or Chocolate Joe Pye blooms later in September, even into October. Its white heads of flowers light up against its dark, chocolatey foliage.

Joe Pye Gateway

Eupatorium Rugosum Chocolate

September — Rudbeckias. My favorites: Rudbeckia Laciniata or Green Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia Maxima or Giant Coneflower, and of course the staple of all Northeastern Fall gardens, Rudbeckia Hirta or Black-eyed Susans. I may also have Rudbeckia Triloba or Brown-eyed Susan, that popped up from some wildflower seed. I have to take a closer look to distinguish between the two. Either way, a drift of Susans is always the grand finale of Summer. Cutleaf Coneflowers are also big and bold in the garden. Their masses of smaller yellow sunflower-like blooms dance above their almost tropical-looking leaves. Birds and bees love them. I have several plants of Rudbeckia Maxima along the Nice Driveway which is drier. They are still establishing themselves, and have even reseeded in a few spots. I love their tall candle-like cones even after the yellow petals of their blooms have dropped off and their banana-like leaves in blue shades. I catch Chickadees and Gold Finches enjoying their seed.

 A drift of Black-eyed Susans with Joe-Pye in the Bird & Butterfly Garden


Rudbeckia Laciniata

Rudbeckia Laciniata

Rudbeckia Maxima

Rudbeckia Maxima

October — Asters. I admit, my garden needs more Asters! I wish the garden centers around here would sell/push Asters in the Fall instead of just Mums. I don't buy Mums anymore because most of them aren't truly hardy here and I hate to just throw them away come December. I have a few Asters at home in my garden: Woods Pink Aster Dumosus, Jim Crockett, and October Skies. October Skies is newly planted and is still establishing. Jim Crockett seems to bloom earlier than most. Woods Pink is now covered in blooms.

Woods Pink, Aster Dumosus

An Aster we came upon in a recent hike.
Possibly Aster drummondii (Drummond's Aster) or Aster saggitifolius (Arrow-leaved Aster).

Here is a list of my former picks for Diana. Only two more months to go ... I am sure they will go quickly.

January: Sunflowers
February: Wild Roses
March: Lady's Mantle
April: Poppies
May: Iris
June: Alliums
July: Bee Balm

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