Monday, October 25, 2010

Keeping at Bay

The first frost of the season "came-a-visiting" here at Blooming Hill this past Friday night so the weekend turned into the "big dig." In other words, I spent much of my time digging out and potting up or making cuttings of  what is left of my favorite plants in the garden beds to store and tend in the greenhouse.  Okay...it's now getting a little crowded in there and I've still not moved the biggest of the pots yet.  However, that day is coming very soon.  It's not that I've decided to play chicken with the weather, using the beautiful standards as pawns in the game of "Who can outlast the next big chill."  It is just that the next week or so will bring warm days and nights again, and even the most easy going of plants get a little "touchy" and can turn into plant divas when it comes to having plenty of space and fresh air to breath.  If I'm not careful and time things just right, fungus and powdery mildew could get the upper hand in the greenhouse even before the really cold weather has set in.  So I continue to straddle that fine line of decision-making as to when to pull in the rest of the big potted plant standards.

While digging and cutting away in the garden this past Saturday, I got to thinking about this past August, just before Kevin left for school, and  how the three of us spent a Sunday afternoon trans-potting two huge bay (laurus nobilis) standards from big pots into much bigger pots in order to keep them happy and healthy and to have plenty of time to adjust and grow new roots while still outside enjoying the late summer weather.

These two standards are over six feet tall--my pride and joys--shhhh! Don't tell the lavender plants!  I remember, seven years ago when I started these as cuttings along with at least a dozen other bay cuttings and got lucky with about half of them eventually deciding to take root and send up new leaf shoots just like tiny white surrender flags.  Bay is one of those persnickety, woody, herbaceous plants that decides if, when and how they are going to grow and it's on their time table--no one else--thank you very much!  In the years since, I've cut and grown several more bay standards all with varying degrees of not so much success, but I do manage to eek out one to three cuttings a year and have sold them along the way when they have reached the height of about two feet.  Some grow quickly while others grow slowly through the years, keeping me guessing all of the way.

I have two other bay standards I started from cuttings that are about ten years old and also stand in pots placed in the lavender knot garden.  Although they are full and perfectly lollipop shaped, they reach only about 3 feet in height.  Hence, my reasoning that bays decide for themselves how they will live their lives while in the captivity of a garden--go figure!  Each bay seems to have it's own personality and all I can do is just go with their flow.  So far, this strange relationship I have with these lovely little specimen trees seems to work and keeps them happy.  In the twelve or so years of growing and standardizing everything from scented geraniums to rosemary's,  growing a bay standard is, by far, a fancy little challenge in and of itself.

So, that is why we spent an afternoon at what began as a careful trans-potting of the two six-foot beauties that led to an all out tug of war between the old pots and Peter, who threw his back out in the process, which then led to Kevin joining in the battle of wills.  The process was not at all how it should have gone--gently pull from the bay from it's pot and then even more gently and with great care shave an inch or so off of the root ball with a very sharp knife to encourage new root growth before gently placing it in its new pot.  Yet, over two months later, the bays have moved on to their new and larger bases, looking no worse the wear.  However, the same can probably not be said of Peter who still walks a bit crooked and groans every morning since that fateful August Sunday afternoon.  We then made the decision to trans-pot the other large standards this coming spring in order to mentally prepare for that ordeal.

None the less, my home-grown bay standards are the "apples of my eye" and have "most favored nation (plant) status" in my gardens.  So, as in years past, I continue the annual fall tradition of making bay cuttings along with annual lavender, rosemary and myrtle cuttings.  And, with a lot of coaxing and babying along the way, a few seem to make it through their greenhouse winter, thrive and grow into lovely standards.  I have found over the years and through a lot of experimentation that the experts are right--use three percent rooting compound, nothing stronger, and scrape the cutting's stems gently with your fingernail, nothing sharper to encourage roots, tent your cuttings with some kind of plastic to create a mini greenhouse for these babies and then, above all, be patient. I have found, unlike rosemary's, myrtles and lavenders, it can take up to a year to get a bay cutting to root itself.  Yet, when it finally takes hold, the tiny bay cuttings actually will grow, and let me repeat myself here, in their own time and on their own terms.


Few things dress up a summer patio or garden path better than a clipped bay standard posing straight and proud in a pretty pot. They love full Sun and are fairly drought tolerant  and, as we all know, Bay is used in cooking meats, fish, and used in in sauces and condiments where it's pungent, sweet aroma really comes through. Bay is native to southeast Asia and can grow there up to sixty feet.  Oh, what I would give to have a bay, planted in my yard, that size.  Even in the southern United States, bay can grow to be as high as thirty feet.

In plant legend and lore, bay has always been held in high regard, especially by the Greeks who dedicated it to Apollo.  Deemed  a symbol of triumph and "the tree of heroes," bay's leaves were once used to crown the victorious athletes of the Olympic games.  Those noble (nobilis) athletes had literally won their laurels (laurus).  So, I ask myself, it is truly worth continuing the journey of growing bays rather than just go and buy a few of them from the local nursery?  Is it truly worth all of the time and angst and energy just to try to get a persnickety bay plant to grow on my terms?!?  I think so and, I will continue attempting to tame every persnickety bay I start as each one will continue to train me in the process.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Breezing Through October

Goodness me!  Has it been two weeks since my last visit with you?  October has been a whirlwind of activity here at Blooming Hill--moving steadily onward toward Halloween and beyond.  Whoever thinks that things slow down in the garden for the devoted gardener is probably not a devoted gardener.  Weeds do not stop even though the annuals and perennials have decided to take a well deserved rest after a very hot and dry summer and there is always fall planting and transplanting that needs to take place since the rain and cool, dewy mornings have returned.  This, in turn, invites some last minute pruning of overgrown bushes like boxwood and also awkwardly hanging tree limbs hoping to snag my shirt as I drive by on the lawn mower.  And, then of course, there are all of the fall fairs that this devoted gardener has gotten herself into...

The first weekend of October found Peter and me out rearranging lavender beds and even adding two that now accommodate the fifteen lavender plants I bought at the Pennsylvania Lavender Festival that I went to way back in June.  Due to the lack of rain this summer they spent the last few months in a temporary holding bed close to the house where they could be watered easily while we waited out the dry months and debated how many new beds of lavender should we be challenging ourselves with.  In the end, Saturday, October 2 became a day devoted to the care and reorganization of lavender here at Blooming Hill.

Now, all of the pretty little "Martha Roderick"  lavender bushes, which had found themselves this past summer feeling a bit claustrophobic squeezed in between the "Sara's,"  "Jennifer's" and "Nana Atropurpurea's" can easily branch out with their new neighbors that go by names like "Madeline Marie" and  "French Fields"  and "Two Amy's," to name a few.  I love the poetic names they've been given even though the work they required that Saturday was not so poetic.  By the end of the day, every bush had room to breathe and plenty of time to prepare for winter.  Much needed rains came during the week which also helped them along.   All that day, the curious devil deer kept vigil out in the back forty and, I think, hoping we were planting a little lettuce or something they might enjoy as well.

The next day was deemed "Pack the Greenhouse Before a Fall Frost Sneaks Up and Surprises Me Without Warning Sunday."  As much as this day was all about work, it's a day I look forward to every year since everything coming  in and taking up winter residence here is happy and healthy and the greenhouse, once a gain, looks like a proper greenhouse, all green and glowing, smelling of freshly dug earth and scented geraniums with the tingly scents of a little lavender and rich rosemary mixed in for good measure and to assure the plants they are home.  It is such a lovely place to spend an hour or two, at this time of year, all neat and tidy--before the really cold and sun-starved days set in to torment the plants while they struggle to make it through and see another spring.  The greenhouse is heated but it can still get a bit chilly on bleak winter days and freezing nights so, I snuggle the plants together as much as possible while still allowing for good air circulation to keep molds and fungus's from taking hold.  There is still much to be brought in, like the large potted bays and myrtles as well as several rosemary's, annual lavenders and hibiscus waiting patiently to take their rightful space, but they also enjoy these cooler days and nights and can even tolerate a light frost or two, if worse comes to worse.  However, I will have to bring them in soon as I do not want to experience one of those  "Oh no!  I didn't Know It Was Going To Be a Hard Freeze Night With a Bitterly Cold Couple of Days to Follow" kind of surprise that I have, regretfully, experienced before."

Columbus Day weekend came along, last week and we spent our Sunday selling our crafts and wares at the Clifton Day Fair.  We decorated our little 10 foot by 10 foot tent with as much as we could and, I think, it was one of our loveliest booths yet. I know...I always say that but I just can't help myself...I think it's true!  Packed from floor to ceiling, it invited curious shoppers, dressed in everything from colonial day garb to redskins jerseys, into our "little piece of paradise for the day" where they found something to take home and enjoy.


My friend Tami, once again, joined Peter and me there as well to sell her handmade purses.  It was so crowded in our booth, we found ourselves taking refuge outside of it where we soaked in the sun and watched the shoppers peruse to their heart's content.


Down the road, a bit, my friends, Kim and Jo Ellen had their own  booths set up.  This is Kim's booth where she demonstrated the art of lavender wand making while Jo Ellen looked on.  Kim had a lovely spot on a shady piece of grass near the center of the town where she had a 3-D view of all of the comings and goings as well as all of the fair visitors from the past and the present.

In the midst of this very busy Columbus Day weekend, Kevin came home from college for a few days during his fall break.  Tucker was all too pleased to have that much more attention.  Two of my favorite boys, together again, and we were all a happy family.  Then, just like he breezed in, Kevin was gone in a flash and back to school and I was back to my typical work week of preparing for yet another fair...
Here we are in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania at the Herb Society of America's Mid-Atlantic Symposium where they spoke about and featured "Useful Herbs During the Civil War."  Although I am an HSA member-at -large, Peter and I went as vendors and this time were treated  to an indoor space where we weren't limited to just a 10 foot by 10 foot booth Here at the conference center, we could spread out along a lovely hallway just outside of the conference rooms that had, dare I say it, indoor bathrooms.   Ahhhhh, almost heaven, protected from wind and rain, although this weekend was glorious indeed weather wise as well as everything else.

Those that had come to participate in this herbal symposium are highly educated in the uses and delights of herbs. They range from well known writers and nurserymen and women to scientists and teachers as well as housewives and gardeners all with a passion for expanding and sharing their herbal knowledge.  A few, like the "general" and his "wife" were dressed for the parts they played in a reenactment of the Civil War period in the Gettysburg area.  In fact, I found them to be pretty savvy shoppers, too.

My friend Kim was a vendor there as well.  This is a picture of her booth, above. She also was a symposium attendee since she is a member of the Potomac Unit of the HSA and spent a lot of her time in the presentations as opposed to her booth.  So, to accommodate her customers, she left a sign that said "If you would like to buy something, please leave your money in the money box here and take your purchase with you.  Thank you very much!"  All "herbies" are very honorable people and she had nothing to worry about.

Well, that was our Saturday, this past weekend, and me being me, a glutton for fall fairs and events, spent Sunday at one last event--The Fall Color Tour which is an annual event here in Loudoun County Virginia.  Where was I, you ask with bated breath?  Well, I set up shop one more time at the Philomont General Store enjoying the sunny fall day but also braving the gusty winds which threatened to blow down everything from lavender pomanders to fluffy pillows.  It was so windy at one point I turned to Peter and asked if he knew whether a front was blowing through.  He looked at me, a bit perplexed and said, "It's October Cyndie." What a day!  What a weekend!

So, that brings me up to date with you...phew!  No more fairs for a few weeks and that, in the words of Martha Stewart, "Is a good thing," as much as I hate to say it.   However, now I have time to catch my breath and regroup for the holidays.  Most importantly, I'll have time to spend in the gardens and greenhouse and take stock in what still needs to be accomplished here during these remaining October days. It's also time to stop and smell the rosemary and lavender a few more breaths, savor the autumn sparkle and shine and be thankful for all things garden and garden-related in my life from husband, son and dog to friends and fairs who help me make gardening possible and enjoyable everyday, not just in October, but also throughout the year.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dallying with Dahlias

The beginning of October, here at Blooming Hill, shows that the gardens are turning the corner from summer's exuberant fresh herbs and flowers transitioning to a relaxed and vibrant glow of changing autumn leaves and burnished berries and rose hips clinging to their brown twigged vines.  Even though the gardens are looking a bit ragged and coarse there is still some pomp and circumstance being flaunted by the dahlias, now the darlings of the garden. Known as the flower of August, they steadfastly gain more beauty as the the hot summer days give way to cooler and finally, wetter weather

In my mind, dahlias are purely social creatures inviting willing participants to stop and gaze at their loveliness.  Growing alone or in clusters, they are here solely for our enjoyment and help to take our minds off of the severe weather yet to come. Their dizzy array of color promises beauty and frivolity, theirs to flaunt, while continuously teasing the humming birds, until the first hard frost.



If there was ever a flower that spoke to the beauty that variety contributes to the depth of the garden, it is the dahlia. The cornucopia of colors dahlias provide, from stark white to deep reds and purples and even pale creams and burnt oranges all the while boasting versatility in solid and variegated forms, is beguiling.  In fact, there is such a vast assortment of dahlia shapes and sizes that they are grouped into six different categories of sizes from the "Giants" that are about 10 inches in diameter all the way down to the  "Mignons" that are 2 inches or less in diameter.  From there, dahlias are further divided into 11 more categories ranging from "Decorative" to "Novelty."  My head is spinning so let me just concentrate on the graceful majesty the dahlias in my gardens are currently displaying like proud peacocks.  To me, each dahlia petal, plain or frilly, mammoth or minuscule, is a thing to savor during these early autumn days.

Promising delight and and personality to the eye of the beholder, dahlias hold several meanings in the language of flowers.  They  express gratitude, dignity, pomp and, sometimes, misrepresentation, probably because of their "frillyness" and bold presence in the garden when everything else is fading away during the final stages of the growing season.

To take it even further, dahlias, a favorite flower of Victorian gardeners, were given deeper meanings with almost as much variety as their different varieties. Double-petaled dahlias emphasize one's active participation and involvement in something--perhaps a love affair?  Single dahlias convey good taste while intricately  variegated dahlias refer to someone thinking of another constantly.  Pure white dahlias nod to loving gratitude for one's parents and yellow dahlias express one's happiness that they, too, are loved by someone.  So many meanings for so many different and lovely dahlias.  Would one have it any other way? Never!
Now, back to basics...Dahlias can be grown from seed however, the most common and easier way to grow them is from their tubers that multiply under the ground during the growing season.   To create more of these beauties in garden borders, dahlias can easily be divided after a killing frost or early in the spring. Of course, to add to your assortment of color and type of dahlia, don't forget you favorite garden nursery in early spring where a plethora of tubers can be bought.

Most gardeners will tell you to preserve them by digging them up and storing them away during the cold winters. Maybe I've been lucky.  I don't dig them up and their rich green foliage deli-gently appears in my garden borders each spring, encouraging their ruffled blooms from mid-summer until well into autumn.  And, for that, I am truly grateful, for their presence in my garden beds as well as gracing my summer and autumn tables, year after year. I love dahlias!