Saturday, October 30, 2010

Don’t you just love compost?

Start with a mess -

One of the easiest jobs in the garden – making compost.

I received a compost bin several years ago when I attended a class by Lehigh/Northampton County Master Gardner’s. It was free with the class.

Penn State University Fact Sheet “Home Composting” provides all the details for making compost.

I don’t obsess about the process. I add plant clippings, weeds, vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. I’m not sure the bin ever gets hot enough to kill seeds so I try not to get weed seeds in there. I cut large stems into one or two inch pieces. It would take too long to decompose thick stems.

In fall we run over the fallen leaves with the mower. I fill the bin with the chopped leaves and save a pile to add all year. Every once in a while, I turn the top one third of the debris in the bin. I add water periodically.
Before I had the bin, I made a pile in an out-of-the-way part of the garden. That worked just as well.

I spread the finished compost around plants. I don’t use much fertilizer - only a bit for the acid loving plants – azalea, hydrangea, rhododendron, etc - and sometimes some for the roses. Since I can’t make enough for the entire garden, I also get compost from the city recycling center. I get free mulch there too.

Over the years the garden soil has become rich and loamy – good for the garden, good for the environment, good for the gardener. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

- end with black gold.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Canna Again

I’ve been going on and on about Cannas for a long time in this blog. The oldest post is August 6, 2006. I’ve been planting in spring and digging out in fall for more years than that.
Every time I dig them out I think I should seek psychological help. Maybe I can get an appointment with Carol’s Dr. Hortfreud at May Dreams Garden.

Anyway, even though we haven’t had frost, I had to dig out the tropical canna rhizomes to store them for the winter. We have had beautiful gardening weather and I had time this weekend. Make hay while the sun shines as they say.

I loosened and dug them out with a garden fork. They were huge once again – reminding me of large yams and making me hungry for roast turkey.
I set them on the patio to dry. Then cleaned off most of the soil. I Put them in a plastic tub and covered them with peat moss. I’ll store them in the garage where they will stay cool but not freeze. In spring, I’ll cut apart the tubers with a sharp knife. I’ll replant pieces with at least 2 eyes.

They seem to multiply exponentially. I made a pact with myself not to keep more rhizomes than fit in one container. I filled my container and one box to give away. I did the same last fall.
This pile remains.

I will most likely throw the rest away if I can’t find anyone interested in planting them. If I find several people willing to plant and unplant, maybe we can get a group rate with Dr. Hortfreud.

More information about Canna from Washington State University here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Good Bye Potted Plants

The potted plants looked a little ragged - a product of a long, hot summer and end-of-summer neglect. Time to face the sad fact that summer is over. So, I lined up the pots and started deconstruction.

By this time of the year, the plants are pot bound. The soil is a thick mass of roots. I used a CobraHead Weeder to cut through the mass then pulled out the plants.

Sometimes I just roll the pot to the dirt pile near the compost bin, cut off the plants and dump the pot. I discard the empty aluminum cans I used as filler. (I remember that I enjoyed emptying some of those cans during the hot planting days of May.)

Then toss the plants into the compost bin.
All that was left was to store the pots, canna tubers and plant caddies in the garage for the winter –

and dream of next year’s combinations.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Planting Bulbs

I planted 5 bulbs, “Fragrant Hyacinth Mixture” Hyacinthus orientalis, last weekend. At 2 inches, they are not the largest hyacinth bulbs I ever bought. I bought them at a fund raiser. I kept telling myself it was for a good cause.

It’s easy to see which end is up on hyacinths - pointy end up. You can even see some dried roots in the one upside down bulb in the picture below.

I wanted to plant them with other hyacinths already in my garden. I can’t be certain exactly where the other hyacinths are. All signs of hyacinths are long gone. I didn’t want to dig up the old bulbs or worse, chop them into pieces with my shovel.

Years ago when I started planting spring blooming bulbs, I used tongue depressors in spring to mark the spots where I wanted to add more bulbs. It was easy to see where the empty spots were when the bulbs bloomed. Then in fall I knew where to dig. This year I didn’t plan to plant more hyacinths. The fund raiser changed that.

So I had to take a guess.

I knew the spot I wanted would be somewhere in the mass of sweet alyssum. The alyssum self sows every year and camouflages the hyacinth leaves as they fade. I love the sweet scent of alyssum in the warm sun. I hated to pull them out before frost but I had to clean out a spot to plant the new bulbs.

Then I dug a hole about 6 inches deep. I placed the bulbs closer than the 4 to 6 inches apart recommended because I like to have a clump of blooms.

After covering the bulbs, I watered well to settle the soil around the bulbs and dissipate the bulb odor from bulb eating critters. As a little insurance from marauding squirrels, I sprinkled the ground with cayenne pepper. It may not help but it can’t hurt.

For some expert advice and interesting facts on planting spring blooming bulbs from Doug Green, click here and here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – October 2010

October has been a month to enjoy the garden. With rain, sunshine and mild temperatures, the garden has come back to life – the greens are greener and the colors are brighter. Annuals brighten the darkest spots. But mums are the big story this month.

Over the years I’ve added mums and some mums have appeared by magic. I really appreciate the colors in the fall.

Yellow mums

‘Sheffield Pink’mums

Orange mums

and yellow and pink mums

Aster ‘Purple Dome’ – the deep color is pretty despite the mildew problem.

White Japanese anemone - one of my favorites in the front garden

As always, ‘Don Juan’ on the arbor is the last rose of summer.
This tiny bloom on Daphne ‘Carol Macke’ reminds me of Horton’s Whos. Planted last year, it won’t be forgotten. I can almost hear the tiny, “I’m here, I’m here.”
Soon it will be time to put the garden to bed. Pennsylvania’s fall frost date here zone in 6 is usually between October 18 to November 2. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

Visit GBBD host Carol at May Dreams Gardens to connect with other bloggers and see what’s blooming in their gardens in October.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


We went to watch the kids play soccer in Forty Fort, PA near Wilkes Barre last weekend. I looked up the steep hill from the soccer fields and wondered what was on the other side. Of course I climbed the hill. On the other side I was surprised by the beautiful Susquehanna River.

The Susquehanna is 444 miles long and stretches from New York through Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

In 1936 St. Patrick’s Day flood brought construction funding from Washington. Levees were built to protect the valley from up to a 36 foot flood stage.

Eighteen inches of rain from Hurricane Agnes in 1972 caused the Susquehanna to burst through the levees. The flood killed 6 people and destroyed 25,000 homes. It washed away a cemetery and left caskets floating in local yards. Signs along the trail commemerate the devastation of the flood and the suffering of the residents. It wasn’t until the spring of 1996 the new levee system was started. It was completed in January 2003.

The Forty Fort Levee is 2.7 miles of a 12 mile River Common Walk trail system. It was a beautiful day for soccer or a walk along the river. The peaceful surroundings belie the awesome power of the river.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Secret Gardens

Historic Bethlehem Partnership Secret Garden Tour

I’ve watched this Center Street property transform over the last 9 years from an over-grown assisted living home to the elegant and formal residence. As it stands today, I find it hard to remember its nondescript appearance 10 years ago.

The antique fence with posts found in New Orleans replaced a privet hedge.

A front yard urn stands as a formal welcome.

A tiered fountain is surrounded by colorful caladium.

A young winterberry adds its color to the many hydrangeas, azaleas, mums and annuals that fill the yard. It is an elegant transformation.

Another recently redone home and garden on the busy corner of Center and Church Streets was originally built in 1890 and has been lovingly restored in the last 5 years.

From the front gate…

through the side yard…

down the shady garden path at the edge of the property…

to the formal fountain in the center of the large yard - this garden is perfection.

There is a lot to see in this Church Street home. At least 28 hydrangeas nestle with grasses, shrubs and evergreens. In the garden’s evolution since 2004, perennials, shrubs and trees were artfully placed to combine with original plantings. The garden looks mature.

A straw horse in the front yard sets the tone for a garden with a bit of whimsy.

The shady side entry with hosta and a large pot of passion flower at the back door make a soft and welcoming entrance to the garden.

Originally planned as a chicken coop, the garden shed is made of recycled material. The metal dog at the right totes a basket of eggs.

A small bubbling pond adds the sound of water to this exciting garden.

All the gardens hidden behind the charming homes in downtown Bethlehem presented an individual beauty. My personal thanks goes out to the homeowners for sharing that beauty. What a wonderful way to spend a fall day!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Secret Gardens

Ever peek through a fence and wonder what kind of garden is on the other side? I had a chance to find out on the Historic Bethlehem Partnership Secret Garden Tour. Seven beautiful gardens opened their gates on a sunny October day.

The wide inviting brick path on West Market leads through the side yard with old roses, ten foot tall hyacinth beans, trees and evergreens.

The back garden is neatly and fully packed with vegetables and herbs. The vegetable yield per square foot is amazing. Vertical gardening, succession gardening, companion planting fill the organic Italian garden from early spring to late fall.

A fig tree’s last fruit of the season is ripening. Soon the fig will be laid over and covered for the winter to be lifted again in spring.

Hidden behind a 1762 Colonial home on W. Market Street is an elegant and comfortable paradise.

Tall hydrangeas, mums, asters, anemone, roses, pine, spruce, hemlock and boxwood fill the garden with color and structure.

The tidy fa├žade fronts this West Market Street home.

Vases of brightly colored dahlias dot the pocket gardens.

Tall dahlias shine in the sun.

A 200 year o
ld magnolia tree is a living testament to Bethlehem’s history. The garden creates a serene and restful place in the city

Open and airy, this West Market Street home could be a place in the country.

It reminds me of yards I played in as a child. Liriope and hosta surround a bench in the side garden under large old tree.
Filled with evergreens and flowers, it is a place that stirs the imagination for childhood games or a shady place to sit and read.

Next time I’ll continue my tour of Bethlehem’s secret gardens and travel down Center and Church Streets.