Letting Go of Your Garden

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I have been tending my Personal Eden for 24 years. It started as a brand new lot on 1/3 of an acre in a subdivision in Cary, NC. It was a flat, nondescript corner lot. There were a few skinny pines in the front yard and a wooded area in back with pines and sweet gums. A few “builder bushes” lined the front foundation, but that was it. Not much to look at, but I saw potential.

I started with a few beds around the side and back foundation, and right away I learned that my soil was very poor. So each new bed was mounded with added topsoil and compost. I started small, but soon I began to work about half the property. I left woods in back and along the road as a buffer, and as a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. I left a side lawn for my kids at first, but beds soon began to encroach there too.

Our whole family loves to be outdoors, so I added entertaining spaces in the form of outdoor rooms. I’m a fan of out-buildings and structural landscaping elements, so we transformed a kids’ fort into an outdoor bar/potting shed, added a pergola over the dining patio (one of two patios we built), an entry arbor, and an arbor swing. The fire pit became the center of evening activity. My son Jack helped design a waterfall and small pond that added sound and attracted more wildlife. A rain garden was added to absorb run-off. And stone walls – lots of stone walls! My son Tim added a flagstone path around the side of the house that wound through the vegetable beds. But those beds did not provide nearly enough room for all the edibles I wanted, so I began incorporating edibles in my ornamental beds. Because we spent so much time around the fire pit, we hired Southern Lights to add landscape lighting to the back yard.

The pines and sweet gums did not provide nearly the tree diversity I sought, so I added a ‘Little Gem’ Magnolia, a few Crepe Myrtles, 2 Beech Trees, a weeping Styrax, a ‘Silver Cloud’ Redbud, a Vitex, a Dawn Redwood, a Skylands Oriental Spruce, a Red Maple, an Okame Cherry and 9 Japanese Maples. (I think that’s all, but maybe not…) I won’t overwhelm you by naming every shrub, perennial, herb and vegetable I grow, but suffice it to say I could fund a long trip to Europe with the money spent on plants.

And now, after all this work, all this love and care, I have said goodbye to my Personal Eden. We have decided to downsize and invite my aging parents to come live with us. We don’t have a downstairs bedroom, so we are building a new home that meets our needs. Financially, it makes good sense. But it is hard to leave the home and garden I have tended for 24 years. Two beloved family cats are buried in the garden. Countless parties and family gatherings have been hosted here. I have shaped each Japanese Maple and pruned each rose bush over 20 times. I hope the new homeowner will love it as much as I have, but my fear is that they will tear everything out and cut down the trees. The birds will leave, as will the rabbits and the squirrels. When I drive past as I visit friends in the neighborhood, I fear my heart will break. My real estate agent has told me a buyer could see the landscape as an asset or a liability. I can only hope it’s the former.

But I have to let go. Transitions are a part of life. I know I can take on another landscape and make it thrive. At my age, I may not see as much growth in the trees, but I will enjoy each year’s growth.

To the new owner of my Personal Eden, I hope you will see the beauty and the value in your new garden, and take loving care of it. I hope your family has parties around the fire pit and your children climb the trees. I hope you take time to swing under the arbor, and cut Edgeworthia and Viburnum to bring their heady fragrance inside. I wish you a lifetime of happy memories. I know I will cherish mine. Forgive me if I dig up a couple Japanese Maples before I leave. And my mother’s Irises. And some Comfrey from the medicinal garden. And…

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Visiting Helen’s Haven

Gardeners love visiting the Personal Edens of other gardeners. They provide insight into the style of the gardener, as well as the whims and impulses that make each of us unique.

Helen's Garden Art

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to be invited to visit the Personal Eden of one of Raleigh’s most well-known garden writers, Helen Yoest. Helen calls her garden “Helen’s Haven”, and what an apt description. Not only is it a haven for Helen, her family and friends, but for birds, bees, chickens and other wildlife fortunate enough to enter. On a small city lot, she has created a living, breathing, blooming and buzzing environment, with just enough structure balanced with just enough exuberance. Art is everywhere – some in prominent spaces and some in hidden nooks. And honey bee hives are supplemented by bee boxes for mason bees and other pollinators. Outbuildings (oh how I love outbuildings!) provide shelter for chickens and people, and her small greenhouse is just perfect!  I made the rounds three or more times, and saw something new on each pass. (And I must admit, I may be stealing an idea or 3 or 4…)

Helen’s new non-profit project is a Go Fund Me called Bee Better https://www.gofundme.com/pyt2cc9g, and I hope to have my Personal Eden on the Bee Better Fall Pollinator Garden Tour. Stay tuned…

Feral Cat “Zenith” Joins the Crew at Super-Sod

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Everyone loves a friendly kitten. They are cute, fun, energetic, bouncy, cuddly…did I mention cute? And friendly adult cats are almost as adoptable as kittens. But the overlooked cats in shelters all over the country are the feral cats brought in by animal control officers. Feral cats are different from strays. Strays are domestic cats who have been lost or abandoned, but who still want to interact with humans. Feral cats were usually born wild, and have not had much if any positive interaction with humans. They are nearly impossible to place because they are so fearful.  They will likely never cuddle with a human. Giving a feral cat a second chance is not about our needs, it’s about their needs – a purely altruistic gesture.

One solution is TNR (Trap Neuter Return). If you see a feral cat with a notched ear, that is the indication that they have been neutered and vaccinated through one of these programs. But many were taken from locations where they are not welcome to return. So the sad reality is that many feral cats captured by animal control officers are euthanized. But at the Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, NC, staff have come up with a creative solution – a program they are calling Feral Farm Friends (check out their Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/Feral-Farm-Friends-1721076118136119/?hc_location=ufi ). They are reaching out to farms, garden centers and storage facilities and encouraging them to adopt feral cats.

And what does this have to do with gardening? Farms, large gardens, and garden centers are great placements for feral cats. They can keep the rodent population down without using poisons (organic pest management), they will have outbuildings for shelter, and their lives are saved! The Super-Sod team in Cary (my workplace) thought this was such a good idea, we have adopted a feral cat for our store through Wake County’s Feral Farm Friends! Daniel is cleaning out the shed and turning it into a cat house with a cat door for access. I’ve set up the transition crate with a warm nest out of a milk crate, cardboard, wheat straw and a blanket, as well as a temporary litter box and food and water dishes. Our cat will stay in the transition crate for several days, getting used to the fact that we are a good food source, before being released to the property. The crate will start out in my office, and then be moved to the shed.

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We have named our Feral Farm Friend “Zenith”, after our best-selling Zenith Zoysia, hoping she will be as resilient as this beautiful, adaptable turf grass. www.supersod.com/sod/zoysia-sod/zenith-zoysia-sod.html So far Zenith is very shy and quiet. We are giving her space and time to learn that she can trust us, and that we are her food source. So keep checking back in to Personal Edens to follow the adventures of Zenith. Better yet, come by the store and meet her! If you would like more information on adding a couple Feral Farm Friends from your local shelter to your farm, garden or store, just ask. I’ll help in any way I can.

Groundhog Day Starts the Garden Season

If you have seen the movie Groundhog Day, you know the theme: if something really matters, keep repeating it until you get it right. As a gardener in NC, this hits home every February when it’s time to venture out into the garden and begin again, repeating the annual gardeners’ rites of Spring – cleaning, pruning, composting, mulching, re-designing – all in an attempt to get it right this year. I’ve ordered my organic vegetable seeds, and my Big Yellow Bag of Soil3 compost. It’s time to put on the gloves, pick up my tools and get to work.

Task List:

Cut back perennials and ornamental grasses

Prune shrubs that bloom on new wood – particularly my roses

Prune fruit trees and Japanese Maples

Identify hops rhizomes to share with beer brewing friends (mmmmm, beer!)

Muck out the water garden

Edge the beds to create that clean line between beds and turf

Top-dress perennial, annual and vegetable beds with compost (I love Super-Sod’s Soil3!)

Clean out containers and add more compost in preparation for new plants (mmmmm, new plants!)

Clean outdoor furniture and yard art

Check landscape lighting and add new bulbs as needed

Pruning Roses Groundhog Day 1 BYB

Have I forgotten anything? I know I have! Will my garden be perfect this year? Of course not, but is that really the point? Every gardener knows the process is more meaningful than the end result. My nails are short, my hands are calloused and scarred, I have lots of sensible shoes and I know my way around tools. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. So out I go to try to get it right…I’ll do the same next year with a smile on my face. Happy Groundhog Day!

 

 

Snow Is Good For Your Landscape! (with caveats, of course)

From South Carolina to New York and points further North, this weekend was full of winter precipitation. Rain, snow, sleet and … well, you know the saying. Monday morning, the questions came rolling in from concerned gardeners – will the snow and ice hurt my garden? my lawn? what should I do? The simple answer is “relax”, and I’ll tell you why.

Snow 2016 Sign

Nitrogen: There are two old sayings worth mentioning here, the first being, “Year of Snow, Crops Will Grow.” The second calls snow “Poor man’s Fertilizer.” Precipitation captures atmospheric Nitrogen molecules, and studies show that snow does a better job of this than rain. The Nitrogen comes from many sources, but the most prevalent is industrial output. This map shows the concentration of atmospheric Nitrogen and its concentration in industrial areas of the United States. http://nadp.isws.illinois.edu/lib/brochures/nitrogen.pdf

Nitrogen Map

Another major source of atmospheric Nitrogen is lightning activity. The Nitrogen added to the soil by precipitation is not as concentrated as one would find in a chemical fertilizer, but it helps. Now I am not an advocate of pollution, but precipitation does, in fact, clean the air, and contributes Nitrogen, Carbon and trace minerals to our soil.

Insulation: A layer of snow protects the plants in much the same way as a layer of mulch. The soil temperature is stabilized, protecting tender roots from radical temperature changes like deep freezing or abrupt thawing. Deep freezing can inhibit the activities of earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms that are still active in the Winter, breaking leaf litter down into compost. Quick thawing can heave the soil, damaging roots. Plants covered by snow are protected from the drying winds of Winter. But here’s one of the aforementioned caveats – heavy accumulations of snow and ice can damage shrubs and tree branches, so, if possible, gently remove heavy snow to avoid splitting and breaking. Snow covered ground can also act as an insulation system for irrigation pipes, protecting them from cracking and bursting.

Snow 2016 Iris Snow 2016 Lawn

Nature’s Drip Irrigation: Rain soaks into the ground to the point of saturation and then runs off. Snow melts slowly, allowing the moisture to be absorbed more deeply into the soil before it starts to run off. The actual depth of moisture penetration is dependent upon the depth of the snow, the permeability of the soil, and the pace of the temperature change. Deeper moisture penetration means deeper penetration of the Nitrogen found in the precipitation as well. Caveat number two – snow treated with salt or chemical ice melt products can be harmful to gardens and lawns. Avoid piling treated snow on your landscape.

Snow as a Pesticide: Warm Winters mean buggy Summers. Snow, ice, and cold temperatures may kill off some of last year’s insects, leaving us to deal with newly hatched bugs, but not with as many over-wintering bugs – specifically Emerald Ash Borers and Japanese Beetles. Mosquitos, unfortunately, seem immune to cold Winters. This is an important part of the balance of Nature – organic pest management. Low Winter temperatures can kill off fungi and some bacterial diseases as well.

So rest assured that the recent precipitation is good for your Personal Eden! Now where did I put my seed catalogs?

 

 

Cold Day, Warm Memories of Italy

18 degrees this morning, and for North Carolina, that is stupid cold. I’ve been colder – I grew up in Massachusetts and went to college in Middlebury, Vermont – but after 23 years in the South, I’ve grown older and less inclined to take pride in braving the cold. So this morning I am turning my thoughts to a warmer time in a warmer clime – my trip to Italy in 2014, the most memorable of my garden travels. Of course the art and history were unparalleled; and the food! I could spend hours on the food. But today my focus is on the vibrant flora of the Amalfi Coast.

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Bougainvillea, Lantana, Cupressus, it is no accident that the words are Latin in origin. What better language to describe the plants that thrive in the Mediterranean climate? On the Amalfi Coast, the village of Positano is vertical, with every road winding and climbing. The lush plantings do the same, with cascades of plants tumbling down the hillside in a riot of pinks, yellows and oranges – hot colors in a hot climate. Lemon trees are ubiquitous, with their fruit hanging temptingly over the heads of astonished tourists. Scent is everywhere, stopping me in my tracks to locate the source.

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Cats roam free, oblivious to the foot traffic, wild but mellow, they allow you to pet them but remain aloof at the same time. This is their town, their region, their Personal Eden. They are proud, as they should be. Color is everywhere – in the buildings, the clothing, the food, and above all, the flora.

I took this trip with dear friends from my college days – a promise we made to each other at the naive age of 18 to meet in Italy to celebrate our 50th birthdays. So many promises like that are broken. I thank my friends Amy, Leily, Barbara and Ginny for keeping that promise. On a cold day like today, when my own soil is frozen and I am too cold to venture out into my own garden, I have my memories to keep me warm. Ciao, bellas!

Capri

Nothing Tastes Better Than Home Grown

           Collards 1 Collards 2 Collards 3

Edible Landscaping is near and dear to my heart because I love to garden, and I love to eat fresh fruits and vegetables – who doesn’t? This year I got a very late start on my Winter vegetable planting. But here in NC,nature provided an unexpected warm-up in December, and 8″ of rain, resulting in a bumper crop of greens. It helps that they were planted in pure Soil3 from Super-Sod. Soil3 is my favorite compost http://www.soil3.com and I use it in my vegetable gardens, as a top-dressing for all my perennial gardens, and on my Emerald Zoysia lawn. As a disclaimer, I work for Super-Sod, but if I lost my job tomorrow, I would still use this compost.

Yesterday afternoon, I headed out to the raised vegetable beds and cut Cabbage Collards and Curly Kale. I added them to some organic bok choi, onions, homemade ham stock, bacon fat (yum), turmeric, salt and pepper. This mix simmered for about an hour and a half. I served the greens with back beans and a perfectly cooked steak (thanks to Gary the Grill Master). If you grow your own food, you know it always tastes better because it doesn’t get any fresher than picked that day; and the personal satisfaction of saying “I grew that” is pretty tasty too!

What grows in your Winter Garden? If you don’t have one, start one in your Personal Eden! Need advice? Just ask! I will be offering a Vegetable Gardening class in March so stay tuned…