Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
Now that it’s October and everyone senses winter lurking around the corner, my neighborhood is buzzing with people who are painting their houses, cleaning windows and generally hustling around their house and yard.
All summer long, I had walked by a tall, tipping trellis that sagged under the weight of an overgrown rose. Over the weekend, I finally grabbed my little chain saw and pruners and tackled the unwelcome job of reining in “William Baffin.”
The trellis had stood tall for over 20 years, until high winds ripped the overburdened frame off the side of the house last summer.
“William Baffin,” which bears masses of bright pink flowers in June, was a novelty when it was released in 1983. It was a hardy Canadian Explorer rose, meaning Minnesota finally had a climbing rose that didn’t need to be babied to survive. I drove a long way to buy my rose when it was still new to the market. After it was lovingly planted, “William Baffin” grew a little bit the first year, a bit more in the second year, and then took off.
And the battle began.
There was good reason the rose was so hardy. “William Baffin” grows like a maniac, in frantic surges that send canes shooting 15 feet high. Each March, I’d arm myself with leather gloves and a pruning saw and try to contain the rose, cutting out old canes and bending and tieing the young, limber canes to the trellis. When I was done my forearms looked like I’d been attacked by a cat.
The rose liked to drape a cane strategically over the water tap. By August, each time I bent to turn on the water, giant thorns would pierce my back, neck or arm.
So I have sort of had it with “William Baffin.” When I went out on Sunday I intended to saw him to the ground.
I had second thoughts when I considered the base of the plant, which was a good foot in diameter. Removing those roots was a bigger job than I wanted on this day. So instead of chopping the rose to the ground I sawed off the canes that reached into the yard, cut the trellis into pieces and wrestled it off the rose. I left the canes that were growing against the side of house.
When I finished, my arms were scratched but “William Baffin” looked more like the sedate climbing rose of year two than a wild thing about to take over the yard.
I know the rose’s enthusiasm will be unleashed next year, assuming it bounces back from such late-season butchery. I violated all the rules about pruning climbing roses so late in the season. But these days, what I do in the garden fits my schedule.
I may add a trellis next spring. Or maybe, if the rose starts to flop all over the place and grab me when I walk by, I will tackle those roots and finally get rid of “William Baffin.”
Ah well. That’s a decision for next year!
Do you have a job you have to get done before winter? Or something in the garden that’s been bugging you, but never seems to get done?
Everything is winding down in the garden. The bee balm is spent, the cardinal flowers are drooping, the tomato plants have withered to spindly stalks.
But I just got an October surprise: morning glories -- beautiful, blue blooms bursting forth on the vine I planted from seed back in late May.
The vine had grown big and vigorous, engulfing my trellis and twining upward to the house. But I hadn't gotten a single flower. I asked some master gardeners about my less-than-glorious morning glories, and they agreed in their assessment that I probably didn't have enough sunlight.
So I checked my vines at mid-day. They seemed to be in full, bright sun, but maybe there weren't enough hours of it to coax the plant into flowering.
I had given up on seeing flowers, at least this growing season. But, lo and behold, they finally made their appearance. Morning glories are supposed to produce flowers about 60 days after planting from seed, but they have been known to take up to 120, according to several gardening websites I checked this morning.
Mine are definitely in the late-bloomer category, but they were worth the wait -- even if I can enjoy them for only a week or two.
What's going on in your garden? Any late-summer -- or fall -- surprises?
That’s the feeling I get in fall, when the heads of the black-eyed Susans and coneflowers turn black, the sun-scalded hosta look tattered and the tomatoes begin to sulk in the cold.
But it’s not over.
The U of M mums are blooming, some of them in mounds as big as a shrub. And sweet autumn clematis, which has spent all summer crawling up and over the garden fence, creeping up the arbovitae and reaching with grasping tendrils into nearby perennials, has finally exploded in a mass of tiny white flowers.
I reexamine the garden in autumn. This year I see issues everywhere. Even after a summer of renovation, I have some major reworking to do next spring. But I won’t forget the fall flowers when I begin tearing things out. They remind us that autumn in the garden isn’t an end at all, but a beautiful bridge to a new gardening year.
Do you have a favorite autumn plant?
Gardens are perpetual. This time of year I find myself thinking about what to do and not to do in my garden. I dig out the dusty note pad at the bottom of my garden bag and start making notes.
Cannas - out. They were supposed to be an exotic, elegant wall of foliage and bloom against the back drop of my garage wall. Results were, eh, OK. I will go through the effort to dig out the bulbs, but they will be placed behind my peonies in a different part of the yard.
Roses - In. I know they're a hassle -- spraying, pruning, tipping. But when I saw the Honey Perfume rose at the MN Landscape Arboretum, I had to have it. As a beekeeper I truly enjoyed that three honeybees were digging their way into the nectar of this lovely rose.
Tomatoes – diversify. I planted Brandywine tomatoes from seed and with the exception of one cherry tomato plant, that’s all I planted. Although they were listed as indeterminate (not all coming ripe at the same time), due to our super-hot summer and my planting time, they all started turning red at the same time. I had to take a day off work to make sure all of the fruit from the 12 plants didn’t go to waste. Then, there was blight. I planted 8 plants up at my cabin garden. When they were exceeding 5 feet, I thought I better bring the cages from home. Well, I didn’t clean my cages with bleach like they recommend and in one week, the poor plants were wilting, brown and yucky. Add another note to the book. Blight – Bad, sterilize cages, use disease resistant plants.
Pond – re-do! Two winters ago, we had a very dry Fall, and virtually no snowfall. So in Spring of this year, my pond
barely held any water. The water lilies died, the marsh marigolds died, I didn’t plant Josephine’s lotus flower right and the pond grew a green slime in the water instead of roots. Come spring. All will be tossed and replaced with new plants and new beginnings.
What’s on your list? What worked for you and what did not?
As much as I love coming home with a new plant for the garden, I really appreciate plants that stay bought, especially if they do so with little effort on my part.
I was reminded of that recently by these lilies, which have been faithfully putting on a summer show with their pink blooms since 1996. I had stuck them in a pot with some tuberose, which were supposed to be the star of the show, and certainly looked -- and smelled -- spectacular, while they lasted. But they petered out early in the season, and only a few tried to come back the next season.
Admittedly, I didn't do much to help them. I just dragged their heavy terra cotta home inside to the basement for the winter, tucked them away where they got little light and a little water, and never got around to digging them up for the season. Given how little effort I'd made toward their preservation, I was surprised to see the lilies sending up shoots in the dim basement corner the following spring. And the next spring, and the next one. Since they seem OK with their treatment, I've just repeated the process ever since, with their only attention being a bit more amended soil when the soil level dropped from years of watering.
I don't know how long the fairy lilies will continue to reward my negligence, but I'm grateful to them. They may not be quite as long-lived as Grandma's peonies, but they're off to a good start.
It reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons where a shopper at a garden center looks over the annual and perennial sections and asks about the eternals.You never know unless you ask, and in gardening, as so many things, you never know until you try.
What's your favorite candidate for "eternals"?
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