Lurid, violet flowers have sprouted in the wood chip mulch beneath my row of dwarf pear trees. The flowers are autumn crocuses, the first part of the two-part flowery show that takes place each autumn in that piece of ground.
The second part of that flowery show, soon to follow, will be autumn crocuses. “But,” you exclaim, “autumn crocuses were the first part of the show!” Let me explain.
This first show is from a flower called autumn crocus but which is botanically a Colchicum species. It’s not really a crocus, not even related. Colchicum flowers resemble true crocus flowers, on steroids. The second show will be from true crocuses (that is, Crocus species) that happen to bloom in autumn. The Crocus autumn crocuses are dainty and in colors like our spring crocuses.
What’s really unique about the colchicum flowers, and what makes them so striking, is that, first, they emerge from …
“Some men there are who never shave (if they are so absurd as ever to shave), except when they go abroad, and who do not take care to wear polished boots in the bosoms of their families. I like a man who shaves (next to one who doesn’t shave) to satisfy his own conscience, and not for display, and who dresses as neatly at home as he does anywhere. Such a man will be likely to put his garden in complete order before the snow comes, so that its last days shall not present a scene of melancholy ruin and decay.” So wrote Charles Dudley Warner in his wonderful little book (much more than a gardening book) My Summer in a Garden (1898). I gave up shaving a few months ago, but I am putting my garden in order for autumn.
About a month ago the greenhouse was looking messy as oxalis, grasses, chickweed, and other weeds were starting to carpet the mostly bare ground. An unacceptable situation, considering that a month hence — now — I would need the space for planting in preparation for fall and winter.
The first step back in August was, obviously, to clear away the weeds, pulling almost each and every one out, roots and all. As long as weeds aren’t too overgrown or too abundant, the job is pleasantly satisfying. Moist soil also helps.
Pulling out weeds differs from the usual approach of preparing the soil by tilling it to discombobulate and bury weeds. I avoid tillage because it exposes buried weed seeds to light, which is just what new weeds need to germinate and grow. Tillage also burns up valuable humus and discombobulates not only the soil, but also resident fungi, earthworms, and other …
Whew! Just made it under the wire. Sowing cover crops, that is. (Cover crops are plants grown solely to improve the soil.)
With the vegetable garden still filled to the brim, now overflowing with cabbage, kale, mustard, arugula, lettuce, Chinese cabbages, and radishes, with even corn and peppers still yielding well, where am I going to find room to plant a cover crop? Despite the cornucopia, some plants — the corn, peppers, and other warmth-loving vegetables — are on their way out. As they peter out, it’s too late in the season to sow any more radishes, lettuce, or any of the other cool season crops; there’s not enough time or sunlight for them to mature.
No reason to leave a recently cleared bed of early corn, early beans, or okra bare, so I planted those beds to a cover crop. Problem is that after a certain time of year, …
“The poor farmer grows weeds, the mediorcre farmer grows crops, the good farmer grows soil.” How true, when I think of the good farmers and gardeners I’ve visited over the years. I aspire to be a good farmdener and spend a lot of time trying to grow soil.
Growing soil isn’t all that complicated. (You do need to start with good drainage of water.)
First, keep the ground covered. Organic mulches, such as leaves, straw, and wood shavings, keep rain from pounding the surface. The pounding drives small soil particles into pores, sealing the soil surface so water can’t percolate in. Bacteria, fungi, worms, and other soil organisms gobble up organic mulches, releasing nutrients and forming humus, which improves percolation and moisture retention, and makes room also for air in the soil. In my gardens, I never want to see bare …
The Liberty Bell was not the goal of my recent visit to Philadelphia. Instead, I made a bee-line for Chanticleer (http://www.chanticleergarden.org), a public garden in Wayne, just outside Philly. It’s one of America’s great (as in fabulous, exceptional, matchless) gardens. Like other great gardens — the ones that I consider great, at least — flowers are not the main attraction at Chanticleer.
The beauty of Chanticleer rests, in large part, in its “structure.” That is, the enduring qualities of the views, the shape of the land, the large trees, the paving that leads your eyes and your feet, and the walls.
One special structural feature of Chanticleer is its ruins. Yes, ruins! Not actual ruins, but a stone mansion, roofless and apparently falling apart — all built to look that way. Why? Because ruins add a romantic air to a garden. Dilapidation. Plants re-enveloping the decrepitude, much …