Thursday, May 31, 2012

Theory of Grass.

5-31-12 SHORT HILLS: Tuesday was in the nineties with high humidity, followed by T-storms at night, very Julyish. There was 0.25 inches of rain. We got to try out the AC for the first time this year.

I haven’t done much of anything in the garden since getting back here except spraying a gray and white moldy/fungoid growth at the base of a red maple and mildewed pulmonaria. The spray is mostly sulfur which seems harmless enough for those without sulfur allergies.

Our lawn looks better than it has for years. Now understand, Dear Reader, that I am not talking about a monoculture of bluegrass, but a melange of short greenery that does include a variety of grasses as well as other things covering the ground that some would refer to as ‘weeds’. The list contains the usual suspects—dandelion, plantain, sorrel, gill-over-the-ground, wild strawberry, clover and twice that many more whose names I don’t know. Anyway, it looks good, if you don’t look too closely.

Now everything looks good this year, but the lawn has been looking a bit better each year since my decision to leave the leaves where they fall in the fall. No raking, blowing, or piling them in the street, just clear the terraces, walkways and driveways and leave them in the yard. The point is that the soil needs the organic matter generated by the crumbling of the old leaves.

We live on the side of a hill. Years ago it was forest with a stable soil column and trees to soak up the runoff from storms. Now it is suburban with roads, driveways, patios, houses and many less trees. The storm runoff, without an absorbent forest to sop it up, now erodes the organic, top layer of the soil leaving it less fertile. If you look at forest soil, the top is a thick layer of dark, loamy, rich growth media. The top of our yard’s soil column was brown clay, before we let the organic layer begin to re-constitute itself.

New blooms: clematis, privet, Siberian iris, elderberry, Asian holly.
Clematis, growing on wisteria.
Another St Johns wort, with a much bigger flower.
The lawn actually contains some grass.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Memories.

5-28-12 VERMONT: Another good one. Memorial Day to me is a memory of storms, cold rain, overcast skies as a kid at the Jersey Shore. Later in life there were Memorial Day weekend sailboat races on Long Island Sound from Larchmont to Block Is. and back, with stormy weather and rough seas, or no wind and being becalmed for hours, usually both. I don’t remember hot, mid-summer weather this early in the season, especially in Vermont.

Sorry, Dear Reader, to put you to sleep with stories of ‘back when’. Today I did the mowing around the barns with the string trimmer and also mowed around the veggie garden and the roses and blueberries and zapped a lots stinging nettle, burdock and one thistle. Then did a little pond work, the algae problem seems controlled, before we had dinner with Anna in Hanover.

Judy bought her table at the auction. NJ tomorrow.

New blooms: hesperis, iris, golden alexander.
Purple Finch??

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eggstrordinary Day.

5-27-12 VERMONT: Another beautiful day, perfect—except for black flies and mosquitoes. In the morning I used the string trimmer in the front garden by the porch to clear the grass-choked walkways and then cleared the culvert.

At midday we went to the William Smith auction preview. Judy saw a couple things she liked and will go back for the auction action tomorrow.

In the afternoon, I wanted to use the DR Trimmer in the pasture, but I had no gas, so I pruned honeysuckle bushes, roses and cut down a dead Japanese maple.

While hauling away all the prunings, I saw an eggshell, half-opened on the ground in the woods. It is the size of a chicken egg, light brown with dark brown freckles. After a bit of research, we’re calling it a turkey egg.

New blooms: pagoda dogwood, baneberry, Jacobs ladder.

Turkey egg, used, I think, anyone?
Centaurea, bachelor button.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cows, Herbs, Flowers.

5-26-12 VERMONT: I forgot to mention in the last post that we have three cows in the pasture. They belong to Josh, who does the lawn and is a neighbor, and are heifers, young ladies awaiting their coming out parties. It will be a bullish affair. Afterwards they will have a career in the dairy business. Two of them are chocolate and the other vanilla.

Yesterday was rainy, 0.1 inch, and we ran errands, including a trip to Longacres for plants and MoleMax, a mole and vole repellent. Something, voles, moles or chipmunks, ate some of the lily bulbs. If the repellent gets rid of them, I’ll plant something new. Between showers, I cleaned and replanted the herb bed. I saved some iris, columbine and Jacobs ladder volunteers for a flower bed. The thyme and oregano which usually over-winter are mostly gone this spring. The bed now has: curly parsley, rosemary, dill, tarragon, basil, oregano and thyme.

Today I did the perennials. I put three violets in the bed below the new wall, Viola cornuta ‘Sorbet Babyface Purple’, ‘Etain’ and ‘Rebecca’. In the porch bed, I put two coneflowers, Echinacea ‘B’s Knees’. In the lowest north terrace bed, I put two cardinal flowers where blue ones have done well, one red, Lobelia ‘Red Beauty’ and one white, Lobelia ‘Gladys Lindley’. I put one yarrow, Achillea ‘Pomegranate’ and one thrift, Armeria maritima, in the bed on top of the new wall, and a sweet William, Dianthus barbatus ‘Indian Carpet’ in the north pond-side bed. Add in some weeding and pruning and it’s a day.

New blooms: epimedium, centaurea, first hybrid daylily.

Pasture ornaments.
Mama robin at work. The daddies don't have that dark tip on the beak.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vermont Report.

5-24-12 VERMONT: We arrived yesterday and found large rafts of floating algae on the pond. We have had this problem before, but not for years. Usually one bag of barley straw pellets controls it for the season. I skimmed off as much as I could reach with a swimming pool net and then, spread a bag of pelletized lime around the periphery. Today I got the rest of the floating stuff just before the lawn mowers arrived and left grass cuttings on the water. I can probably skim them off tomorrow.

Today I planted the tomato seedlings and the corn seeds. They are all from Johnny’s Seeds, the corn is Hybrid, Bicolor Super Sweet Xtra-Tender Brand 270A F1 [sh2]. The tomatoes are: Hybrids—Sun Gold, Red Grape, Big Beef, Defiant, and Heirloom Moskvich.

Birds are nesting in the barns, every time I walk into one or the other, birds fly out. A robin, perhaps the same one, is nesting again on the light outside the back door of the old mudroom. It is sheltered from rain and wind, but the bird flies away every time we go by.

All the pond creatures are accounted for, I saw three turtles sunning on the bank today.

The mild winter and early warmth are still having a influence on the garden. The apple trees always peak on Memorial Day, but this year they are already finished. The lilacs are also nearly finished.

New blooms [since early May]: lilac, azalea, viburnums, honeysuckle, burning bush, blueberry, apple [done], yellow lamium, columbine, geranium, alkanet, veronica, false solomons seal, spurge, tiarella, celandine, jack-in-the-pulpit, lily-of-the-valley, sweet woodruff, creeping phlox.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Heading North.

5-22-12 SHORT HILLS: We ended up with 2.25 inches of rain and everything is sopping even if the sun is out now. We are off to VT tomorrow.

New blooms: peony.
St. Johns wort. Feel less depressed?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Carnegie Beach.

5-21-12 SHORT HILLS: No more Mr. Nice Weather—yesterday a front came up from the south while we were visiting Bob and Chris in Lavalette on the Jersey shore. A sunny day turned overcast in a matter of minutes and the wind off the ocean picked up enough to blow sand up the beach. Last night and today we’ve had 1.5 inches of rain and more coming.

Saturday we were at Carnegie Hall for The Metropolitan Youth Orchestra concert. Lily plays in the Nassau Principal Orchestra, they did Symphonic Dances form West Side Story and Carmina Burana and did them quite well. Carnegie, a beautiful space, was full.

New blooms: St Johns wort, Japanese snowbell.
Carnegie Sell-Out.
Change in the Weather.
But the birds don't mind.

Friday, May 18, 2012


5-18-12 SHORT HILLS: A Xerox of yesterday. I did pruning, weeding, transplanted a bunch of viburnum volunteers and transplanted some bishops weed. Then I watered all the new plantings and transplants, and that’s a day, especially when you work at my snails pace.

New blooms: tree peony, jack-in-the-pulpit.
Tree Peony.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day of Days.

5-17-12 SHORT HILLS: Today was the kind of day you want to pre-order for your next summer function. Dry, low humidity, seventies, sunny, gentle zephyr—perfect. I don’t have a lot to add, but couldn’t let the day go by without recognition and credit.

Actually, I can say that this season, so far, seems to agree with pretty much all the plants from grass to trees. [Except our dying red oak.] Is it the mild winter, the early heat wave, a nice balance of rain and sun?

I cleaned up the weeded piles from yesterday and did a bit of pruning, but mostly admired the day. 

New blooms: tulip tree, mock orange.
Tulip Tree.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Weeding in the Mud.

5-15-12 SHORT HILLS: More rain, 0.85 inches worth over the past two days with L & T last night that had the dogs upset.

Today, with the ground nice and wet, I weeded the area around the spruce stumps and a bunch of new plantings from last spring. It took about three hours, generated several piles to gather up tomorrow and left me muddy enough to need a shower.

I forgot to mention that we saw ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ last week—we both loved it, many good puns.

New blooms: first spirea, tutsan, English holly.
Hypericum androsaemum, commonly known as tutsan, or St. John's wort.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers Day.

5-13-12 SHORT HILLS: Happy Mom’s Day to all the mothers out there. On Saturday, we had a small gathering at Val’s in Brooklyn Heights, a magnificent buffet brunch, with Mimosas, followed by a tour of the new recreational piers on the waterfront. Alison, Dan, Maggie, Lily and Lucy rounded out the group.

The weekend was summery and sunny. I did nothing here but repair a broken window in the garage door.

In this yard and in the Heights, we have noticed loads of butterflies this year, which everyone thought was unusual. Here we have a dozen or more Red Admirals and a few Painted Ladys fluttering about the flowering shrubs, mostly leucothoe (lu-KO-thway). [I think it’s hard to say too.] Anyone else seen butterflies?
Red Admiral warming on flagstone.
Painted Lady upside down on leucothoe flowers.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Chores.

5-10-12 SHORT HILLS: The weather gods have been acting with civility lately. We have had 0.25 inches of rain each of the last two nights, without electricity and noise, and today another 0.1 inch in a brief afternoon shower.

Yesterday I was able to finish, for the moment, pulling grass tufts out of flower and shrub beds, and plugging them into holes in the lawn. I pulled lamium out of the lawn, and put it into the beds. I also moved a couple more viburnum volunteers to a spot in front of the pool.

Today I did the May fertilizing of shrubs and flowers, mostly ones that looked tired, sad or hungry. After lunch, theirs, not mine, I did some pruning of the walkways. In the afternoon it got quite windy. Every time it does so, we get more dead branches shaken out of trees, all from that disastrous snow storm last October.

New blooms: black chokeberry.
Star-of-Bethlehem, six petals makes it a monocot.
Black Chokeberry gets red berries in the fall, remember them? Four petals on each flower means it's a dicot.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Spring in Full Swing.

5-8-12 SHORT HILLS: Quick trip to NJ yesterday. We had 0.75 inches in the rain gauge, and everything looks happy.

Today I did some pruning and weeding. I pulled grass tufts out of beds where it’s a ‘weed’ and moved it to bare spots in the lawn where it’s the desired plant. Is that considered rehab?

New blooms: bearded iris, purple rhododendron, red-twig dogwood, star-of-Bethlehem, wild cherry.
Bearded Iris.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Spring Sing.

5-6-12 VERMONT: This whirlwind trip to Vermont winds up with two partly sunny days in the sixties. Today I weeded a couple of beds before we went to the Dartmouth Glee Club Spring Sing. They were great, especially doing ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Deep River’. As usual, much stuff in the garden is undone, but there’s more to do in NJ.

New blooms: white trillium, Virginia blue bells, forget-me-not.

White Trillium, three sets of threes.
Quince, also comes in red, and is an apple relative.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Sam's Stone.

5-4-12 VERMONT: We have had rain the last two nights, the frogs seem to love it. Everything is soaked in the morning. It gets to about sixty in mid-afternoon.

Yesterday I worked on the pond which has a lot of algae this year. I scooped a lot of it out with a pool skimmer and threw in a bag of barley straw pellets. The pellets disintegrate releasing small amounts of peroxide which clears the algae, but it isn’t harmful to the rest of the pond life. I also did some weeding and put up the supports for peony, delphinium, meadow rue, and baptisia.

Today I moved the bed barrier outward for the bed at the base of the new steps to allow for the spread of beebalm, campanula and jacobs ladder. Then I planted three foxglove, Digitalis purpurea ‘Candy Mountain’, Camelot Lavender’, and ‘Giant Shirley’ in the rock garden part of that bed.

Judy and I took the dog’s memorial stone to Fairley Granite to have Sam’s name added, and we buried her ashes on the hillside behind the pond and under the big pine tree. We found a black and white stone to mark the spot.

New blooms: bleeding heart.
White Throated Sparrow.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


5-2-12 VERMONT: We had an uneventful trip north through the rain in NJ and NY. Vermont is quite wet, after being very dry in April. There are puddles in the pasture, the area above the pond is a swamp.

Today is dark, overcast, damp, windy, in one word—raw. The trees are beginning to leaf out. The conditions are seasonal, unlike April which was so warm.

In bloom: star magnolia, forsythia, quince, service berry, daffodil, primrose, blood root, red trillium, pulmonaria, hellebore, dandelion, wild strawberry, wild ginger, vinca, viola, packysandra, lamium-purple and pink.
Hellebore, near the ground and hard to see.
Wild Ginger, on the ground and really hard to see. Who pollinates these flowers?

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Roses and Spireas.

5-1-12 SHORT HILLS: It actually did rain last night, 0.65 inches, with a little thunder. Everything is wet and dewy.

After it stopped this morning, I planted the four spireas that I bought yesterday to complete the new shrub bed, at least for now. They are ‘Double Play Artist’, ‘Neon Flash’, ‘Little Princess’, and ‘Anthony Waterer’. After the spireas, I transplanted the last of the lamium to the same area.

New blooms: roses.

Vermont tomorrow.
First Rose of the season should be a National Holiday.
Here are all the new shrubs, the chestnut tree and the lamium transplants, all looking quite happy.