Spring and summer have been wet. It keeps the water bill down but it's a jungle out there. The mosquitos are in full force. The weeds are tall and choking... and my roses are just smacked down with black spot. Even the knock out rose.
On the plus side, the ferns look fabulous and all new plantings will have a good start for next year.
I'm longing to bring branches in for forcing... forsythia, quince, witch hazel, cherry blossom. Just a hint of spring. Right now, the house is perfumed by a delft blue hyacinth. It's a strange, gnarled plant. The bulb pushed out a half inch or so of greenery months ago and eventually a stubby, fat little bud popped. That fat little flower fills the room with fragrance - grazie dio. It's a subtle thing. After a few moments you become aware of this fresh, springtime scent in the air.
We actually had snow - twice so far. It's only a couple of inches, but the last snowfall managed to hang around. My window feeder is busy, busy. With the ground covered, the birds are all fighting for a spot at the feeder. I have a family of cardinals that live in my blue spruce. They are fierce creatures. I like watching them posture and claim territory.
I have not started garden planning this year... my yard is full. This year is about moving plants that are to tightly packed and reshaping a couple beds. Ah, for land... acres on which to play and design spaces!
Fall Clean Up
All my life, fall clean up in the garden was a time of raking leaves, cleaning up the beds and generally putting the garden to sleep. Over the years, I've discovered that much of what I learned about fall garden work was wrong. Dead wrong!
People seem to have an aversion to the natural world. We don't like dirt. We don't do bugs. We pay sheaves of money to make our outdoors as neat and predictable as our indoors. We forget that our outdoors is the kitchen, front room and bedroom for a number of creatures - some of them bugs.
We're taught to deadhead, cut back and remove all old stalks, leaves and litter from the beds before winter sets in. I know folks who pull down all the old vines, cut down all the phlox, hydrangeas, etc. There are many insects -- beneficial insects that need the leaf litter and plant stalks to overwinter their young. The last 10 years have seen a gradual decline in the population of fireflies, partially due to the overly manicured landscaping we have embraced. Not a leaf out of place. So, no home for the firefly, for the praying mantis, for the ladybug.
My yard is small but a riot of plants all closely packed. I leave my seedheads for the birds and bugs. Although I do rake leaves, I mow a portion of the leaves to toss back into the beds as cover for the plants and the critters. In early spring I do all my pruning and clean up, do a light mulching with compost/shredded bark and let the garden wake up and begin its year. Is my garden neat and orderly? No... its a garden. It's outside. Unexpected things happen... volunteers appear. Infestations take hold. Life happens and I enjoy watching it unfold.
This past summer a weedy, lance leaved thing appeared in one bed, close to the front neat my tarragon. In fact, at first, I thought it was my tarragon. It was far more hardy than my French friend and soon overshadowed it. But I was intrigued. The placement was poor. The leggy thing was far to big and gawky to be at the front of the bed... but I let it grow, interested to see what it would do. Now, in October it is a lovely aster-like thing covered in small daisy-like flowers, buzzing with honeybees and bumblebees. As soon as it fades I'm going to move it to the back of the bed behind the phlox. It will be a welcome native plant with autumn interest. And if the honeybees are happy, so am I.
Lazily Lounging Labor Day
The yard is humming with critters today... a catbird flitting in and out of the fig tree chowing down on the ripe figs. A cardinal is complaining loudly somewhere in the blue spruce. Hummingbirds are zooming about... and a fat groundhog scooted under the fence a little earlier. Cicadas are singing, and bees are buzzing through the sunlight from flower to flower. I do wish the yard was bigger so I'd see more. My geraniums are still in full flower, and the white rose (Darlow's Enigma) is reblooming over the fence... I bought lights for the deck railing that go up into the cedar trees - red, orange and yellow globe lights. Very festive. I'll try and leave them up through December. But I'm not sure they are year round lights... Guess I'll find out.
This is New Jersey, where they boast the state bird is the mosquito. Lately, I've seen a lot of the Thai tiger mosquitos.These suckers are frightful! They are out all day - completely disrespecting the mosquitos at dusk rule - and they leave a welt of a bite. Oh yeah, in this area they are West Nile carriers. Bastards.
So, I went out on line to find an organic solution to mosquitos. After trawling about and reading endless blogs, I bought a mosquito barrier made of concentrated garlic. Diluted with water and sprayed around the yard, the natural sulfurs are supposed to kill the beasts on contact and leave a stinky residue they run from. Luckily, that stinky residue is not apparent to people. The seller claims it lasts for 3-4 weeks and through a couple rainstorms. Here in NJ, that could mean respraying every week... or not for a month or more in a dry spell. Not bad.
I got a simple sprayer at Lowe's, mixed my death by garlic (3oz to 1 gallon) and set out into the yard wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks. The directions say to spray thoroughly, under bushes, on the undersides of leaves, in any standing water... I did the best I could and used one gallon for my whole yard. Seemed to work well... I sat out that next night on the deck with bare arms and legs and got maybe 2 bites. A few days later, I went out and resprayed, just to do a more thorough job under and around shrubs and the deck.
This could change summer for me. And reduce my reliance on bug sprays.
I also bought Neem oil to spray next year against bugs and mildew, in the hope my Persicaria will not resemble lace again. Also in my cart, milky spore to share with all the local neighbors to combat our Japanese beetles. It's only fitting. Around the turn of the century, Riverton was the home of Dreer's Nursery, infamous for introducing the Japanese beetle to this area.