Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.  As a child, my parents made sure Halloween was a special time. Mom crafted homemade costumes every year.  Dad helped us carve spooky faces in pumpkins.  And we plastered the downstairs windows with Hallmark cardboard ghosts and witches.

These days, I don't don a costume every year, but do still decorate my Hamptons house and garden.  This year,  I found this concrete-looking Jack-o'-lantern.  It's actually a terracotta shell covered with a stone/concrete plaster on the outer surfaces.  It has a wonderful aged appearance, looking like it has been sitting in my garden for years.  The inside terracotta walls produce an orange glow when illuminated by a candle.

Thought is was a perfect garden "statue" to ward off evil spirits (and maybe a few voles) on this All Hallow's Eve.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New Wheels!

I was thrilled when my new set of wheels arrived Tuesday afternoon.  It wasn't a new car, but a shiny-green lawn mower.  Received only 24 hours after ordering from,  my Steele Products battery-operated, self-propelled grass cutter was here to save the day.

My new "green" machine

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me start from the beginning and explain why I needed to buy a lawn mower this late in the season and with the intent to mow my own lawn.  As I mentioned earlier this summer, mowing is one of the few gardening projects I hire out.  But every spring, my "mow and blow" group arrives with a larger mower than the year before.  Clearly a way to get their job done with less work in less time.  This year's massive contraption could barely make the turns in some areas of my garden without tearing up turf.  I put up with this all season.

Last week, after several rainstorms, they came to mow while I was away.  When I returned, my lawn looked like the site after a monster tractor pull.  Huge tracks embedded deep into the grass.  To borrow a popular Popeye quote, "That's all I can stand, I can't stands no more!" Bye-bye lazy mowers.  Hello quiet, exhaust-free "green" machine.

The online description said it would take 12 hours to charge so I didn't expect instant gratification.  But, like a kid with a new toy,  I ripped the mower from its box and started to assemble without reading the instructions.  It was fairly easy.  As I was playing with the controls, I discovered that the battery had some juice.  Wow, now I could take it for a test run.  Before I knew it,  I had mown the whole front lawn and was headed to the back.  I finished the back, but the charge died before I could do the lawn surrounding the pool.  Here's hoping that after a full 12-hour charge I get a longer session next time.

Skeptical Charlie
Overall, it performed well, but the self-propel makes sharp turns and backing up a bit of work.  It cut fine, but didn't pick up debris as well as past gas mowers I have had.  (Steele Products should partner with Dyson to develop a stronger suctioning, ball-steering machine.)

Normally my dogs ignore me as I garden, but as I mowed today,  my younger Schnauzer frequently stood  in my pathway staring at me as if to say, "Man, what are you doing? You don't know how to mow?"

It was fun to mow my own lawn again, but I could tell it might get tiring after a few weeks, especially if I had other gardening projects to do as well.  But I think I can justify this impulse purchase.  Dividing the mower price by the weekly expense of the tractor gang,  I will need to mow only eight times (seven more) to compensate for the new machine's expense.  Or maybe I can hire myself out for a day and write the mower off as a business expense.  I'll call the accountant tomorrow after I mow the pool area.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Fall Flush

'Basye's Blueberry'
The cooler weather has reenergized my roses.  Before dormancy, they are reminding me of their beautiful colors and intoxicating scents that filled my garden all summer long.

I have a passion for roses, but my Hamptons garden has limited sun.  So wherever I can find a little sun, I try to plant at least one rose bush.  This past year, a large tree near the house died and was cut down.  I was sad about losing the tree, but happy to have the new sunny spot to add more roses.

When it comes to choosing rose cultivars, I tend to look for those with less formal blooms.  I feel this allows them to blend better into my natural planting style.  But sometimes I throw in a more formal bloomer if its color or scent seduces my addiction.

With a long winter ahead,  I'm so happy for this autumn rose retrospective.  Thanks for the memories!

'Joe Woodard'
'The Mayflower'
'New Dawn' on the backdoor arbor

Beautiful, but unknown, rambler mailed by mistake and now taking over 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Autumn Stars

Asters flanking dwarf fountain grasses
Nothing accents a fall garden like asters.  Performing a supporting role all summer with crisp, green vegetation, asters move to center stage in autumn when most other perennials have stopped blooming.

My favorite fall aster is Aster oblongifolius 'Raydon's Favorite'.  It has the most beautiful blue-purple daisy-like flowers that start blooming in early October and continue for many weeks.

I have two patches of 'Raydon's Favorite' planted in my garden.  The original collection edges the perennial garden adjacent to the pool. Since I spend little time by the pool in the fall, I added another grouping of these beauties in the garden across from the front door.

'Raydon's Favorite' will grow to about 36 inches left alone.  However, I prune twice during the summer to get shorter, bushier plants that don't need staking.  I prune the plants by 1/2 at the end of May and then again by 1/3 at the end of June.  Don't prune past July 4th or you may not get blooms that year.

Blooming across from the front door
This aster cultivar divides easily in the spring.  This past spring I split the current grouping by the pool into many divisions and spread them out to fill an expanded perennial bed.  I mixed them with summer-blooming perennials and dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln').  The fountain grass is now blooming along side the asters.

A simple arrangement
I was told by some local gardeners that asters are generally plagued with powdery mildew.  Fortunately, 'Raydon's Favorite' has been mildew-proof in my garden.

With all the rain here lately, I brought a few sprigs of 'Raydon's Favorite' indoors to admire.  I mixed them with a few stems of River oat grass (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Little Henry') in a small Victorian vase.  A simple autumn arrangement.

Asters get their name from an ancient Greek work that means stars. Very fitting, not only for their star-shaped flowers, but also for their starring role in my autumn garden.
Star-shaped beauties