Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Garden in October: Taking Stock After the First Year

Rosa 'Abraham Darby' by David Austin--a repeat bloomer with a lovely light scent.
I'm growing it to ramble along the white picket fence that surrounds our herb and patio gardens.

I can't wait any longer.  I must give you a few peeks at the garden this fall.  I know I haven't shared much of what has been going on around here in the house and garden this year, but that's because we've just been so focused on doing the work that I often don't pause to take photos or jot down notes. 

Sweet Drift Rose.  This one is a fantastic ground cover shrub that blooms constantly.  The tiny blossoms are pale pink when they first open, and then deepen to this rich cherry as they age.  I've noticed that the cooler the nights get, the deeper pink these little beauties get.  I have two Sweet Drifts thriving in part sun.

Well, I finally paused long enough to snap a few shots while I was out working in the garden one late afternoon last week.  As I wandered through the gardens, I was struck by how many flowers were still blooming this late in the season.  It's easy to think of Maine as a place where the growing season is over by the end of September, but fortunately that simply isn't true.

Iceberg Rose.  A very strong repeat bloomer with creamy white petals.  I'm training it to climb up our sunporch.
An unusual, partly green radicchio.  Radicchio are perennials, and this one is forming its third head of the season.  Each time you cut off a head, another one grows.  What a fantastic plant!

Not only are the flowers still blooming, the vegetables and herbs are still producing.  

I'm praying that the first frost holds off until the end of the month so these sweet cherry tomatoes will have time to ripen on the vine.  Tomatoes came late this year, but they've been incredibly sweet, especially the full-sized 'lemon boys.'

A corner of the herb garden as the sun begins to set.  Chives, sage, green and purple basils, rosemary, and parsley are all giving one last beautiful show before the frost.

One of the raised beds.  On the left is part of a rustic arbor we're building as an entrance to the patio gardens.  We'll be smothering it with honeysuckle, clematis, and roses, of course!  To the far right is a teepee covered with scarlet runner beans and sweet peas.  

Sage is one of my favorite plants.  I love to cook sage leaves in butter to top fall dishes.

Italian parsley

Everbearing strawberries and alyssum make wonderful partners in the raised beds.

The sweetest smelling sweet peas I've ever grown!
Pine needles from our GIANT white pine have made a natural table cloth.

I love capturing that moment before the flower has completely unfurled.

Coleus in a yard sale urn.

The new Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea is just beginning to blush.

A corner of the patio garden where hydrangeas are tumbling into gooseneck loosestrife, chocolate eupatorium, acidanthera, and lots of other lovelies.

Our feeders are frequented by chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, cardinals, sparrows (of all sorts), and lots of other birds.  The doves and squirrels eat whatever drops to the ground, plus we scatter corn. In the garden we've been seeing lots of hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and even my favorite cedar waxwings coming to feast on the hawthorn berries.

Joey Chestnut

We leave the chipmunks cracked corn in a clamshell on our garden shed stoop.  Here Joey Chestnut fills up his cheeks until he looks like a cartoon, then he scurries off to store the booty in the incredibly cool chipmunk condo (old stone retaining wall) where they live at the edge of our lawn.

Perhaps the most wonderful surprise this fall has been just how well the dahlias have thrived.  I know some people detest these fireworks of the flower world, but I adore them.  It's worth all the work of having to dig them up every fall and replant in the spring.  They bloom for months and months, providing uninterrupted color and drama to the border.  Mine started blooming in August and they are showing no signs of stopping.  

This white dahlia is larger than my handspan, and each flower blooms for two to three weeks.  As old blooms fade, they are quickly replaced by fresh, frothy neighbors.

The beauty above is a true dinner plate dahlia.  I haven't measured it, but I would guess that it's about 8" across.  Each blossom on this one plant has emerged in a different pattern of fuchsias, yellows, pinks, and oranges.  I'm in love.

New blooms emerge on this dahlia nearly every day!

And then there are the standbys, like Russian Sage and Pink Phlox.  I think the phlox below has re-bloomed at least four times this summer.  I was expecting the show to be over by now, but a whole new set of blooms has appeared.

foxgloves, agastache, and dahlias
A sweet pale yellow sunflower

Petunias in the garden shed window 
Gathering blossoms to take inside

This first year of gardening here at the new house has been full of adventure and surprises.  I have loads more photos to share and plans to discuss with you.  We've only begun, really!  There were very few things planted here when we moved in, so we planted almost everything you see.  We created several new beds, including a large privacy border, the hobbit garden, and some smaller beds out front. As we've worked, we've come to depend on a few key principles:
  • Amend, amend, amend.  We are gradually making our own compost and leaf mold, but since our piles weren't ready for the gardens earlier this year, we brought in tons (literally) of organic matter, topsoil, mushroom compost, manure, and other good stuff.  We are just this fall beginning to add our own compost to the gardens.
  • Go organic.  Completely.  No excuses.
  • In the vegetable and herb gardens, stick with the principles of companion planting to help make going organic much easier.
  • Focus on the textures and colors of foliage as you build the garden.  I know most of these photos are of the beautiful blooms, but I will share a series soon that illustrates how important leaf color and shape is to creating a strong foundation for the overall feel of the garden.  One of my favorite new shrubs we planted this year was a ninebark 'diablo,' which we chose for its bronze leaves and gorgeous bark that reddens and peels in the winter, providing much needed color and texture year round.  It has sweet blossoms in late spring, too, but I'd still love it if it didn't.
  • Create focal points and plenty of mystery (thank you, Alan Titchmarsh).  Remember that rustic arbor I mentioned above?  That is giving us a bit of both, especially since as you approach it, you catch sight of the gorgeous vanilla strawberry hydrangea just beyond it.  It catches my eye every time and makes me want to go exploring.
  • Trust your instinct when it comes to color.  If you love a color, use a lot of it, and repeat it throughout the border to create rhythm and flow.  Our house is white with a red front door and red shutters.  I'm not a huge fan of red flowers, but I do love deep pinks and fuchsias, so I used them liberally to connect the garden with the house.  I also added whites, purple/blues, and soft yellows.  To contrast with these, we've used several plants with bronze and silvery leaves as well as a few, like creeping jenny, that are chartreuse.  The lime-greens provide a great backdrop to almost every color and they keep the garden lively.  
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat--shapes, colors, single types of plants.  If you love one plant, create large swaths of it, or use it again and again throughout the garden.  I am gradually transplanting clumps of gorgeous 3-foot tall daisies throughout the garden, so that its blooms can create a sense of unity and flow all midsummer long.  I'll do the same with other plants I love, like brown-eyed Susans, Russian sage, drift roses, and catmint.  
  • Use evergreens for year round architecture and color.  I used to ignore evergreens too often in planting schemes.  Now I am learning to use them (especially dwarf varieties in interesting colors) more and more.  
  • Finally, buy plants from local nurseries and spring fundraising plant sales, or swap them with friends.  I am no longer buying plants from large chain stores for many reasons, including the fact that they use pesticides that are killing the bees and butterflies.  I plant my garden in large part to help support wildlife, so why should I go to all this effort to garden organically, only to bring in plants that are poisonous to the very creatures I want to help.
I hope this peek into my fall garden has been fun.  I promise more soon, including some shots of whole beds from above, to show some of the planting schemes I've been working on.  

And I haven't forgotten that I promised one more England post.  It's coming together!  Life has been full of travel and work all fall, which is a very fine thing, indeed. 

Happy October, my friends.  Thanks so much for your visits, comments, and emails.  They truly make my day.  I apologize for not always answering emails right away.  I can't always stay caught up, but you know how much I appreciate hearing from you.

xo Gigi


  1. Your garden is absolutely beautiful, Gigi! I know the long hours and love you must have put into it! I used to work at a landscaping nursery in San Francisco when I was in my early twenties and it was such a fun and fulfilling job, but it was hard work and I slept very well after a days work. Enjoy your labor of love, my friend! xxoo

  2. Loving your garden. I have been struck by the beauty of the iceberg rose this year, just gorgeous. Just noticed the vanilla strawberry hydrangea at the nursery and told my husband I want that in the garden next year. Always, always love each and every dahlia. Sweet sunflower. Oh my, it is all just lovely.

  3. So lovely Gigi... The herbs, the lowers... the combinations... More photographs please... :)
    And that still life.... so beautiful... xv

  4. Simply stunning. Your Dahlias look like they are super sized! Beautiful!! It is such a feast for the eyes. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Gigi, all so very beautiful. Your love of color is so refreshing. The dahlia's look amazing.

    I, too, found out just how valuable evergreens are to the whole garden scheme. When my last child was born 4 years ago & I had so little time to work in the flower beds, I was so grateful for the order & structure every single evergreen brought to what could have become very disheveled spaces.

    I happened to see your last photo in this post featured today on Yahoo Homes from their Flickr Group. How cool is that?!


  6. Your photos and your garden are exquisite. And the sunflower - I keep coming back to that one. Do you know the name?
    Thanks for sharing your process with us. I finally put in a raised bed well composted garden and now I know what an incredible difference it makes. Next year I'm going for more flowers. I look forward to seeing more photos from your well tended piece of the world.

  7. Oh what a beautiful old-fashioned garden! What a delight! I can almost smell the wonderful scents.

    I don't know why but my gardening mojo and motivation has been dwindling as the trees in the yard have grown and caused too much shade. It seems I am only growing moss and weeds lately. Now I need to think about planting some dahlias.

  8. Such beauty, I am bowled over. Hard to choose a favourite but the white jug of flowers is just amazing.


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