As the days get chilly I'm not quite ready to give up the garden. I'm always looking for ways to stretch the growing season and enjoy the tasty fruits of my labor just a little bit longer. Home Depot was thinking the same thing, so they've invited some of their favorite garden bloggers to share how they do it. Hey, The Garden Buzz is one of them!
I decided to share my deceptively simple veggie soup formula. I love to use my autumn harvest for delicious creamy soups made with all sort of fall veggies and fruits. They warm your tummy, and fill you up but not out. Just the thing we're all looking for between these "heavy-table" holidays.
Here's the link. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Yesterday I captured the sun glowing through my Swiss chard, illuminating the leaves like fire, or perhaps stained glass. Last night's frost has put an end to that, now they droop and flag, all the wind knocked out of their veiny sails. Today I must cut them down and try, really try, to find a recipe that makes me want to eat rather than simply adore them. Like wedding cake and lattice-top pie it falls into the almost too-pretty-to-eat category for me. Yet a little birdie might feel differently.
Earlier this year before the rest of the landscape was finished at our new home I was impatient and planted a fall garden in the kitchen beds, late even for Minnesota standards. Surprisingly those sad leftover veggies from the garden center rose to the occasion, especially the chard. But back when it was just a couple sprigs, the stonemason noticed a goldfinch sitting atop the leaves. He even managed a photo that identified the very culprit making holes in the leaves.
I thought back to a similar photo I had taken of a goldfinch sitting on chard plants at the University of Minnesota Demo Garden on the St. Paul campus. Hmmm, the goldfinches must sit on the sturdy leaves and eat insects I thought. What a coincidence. But of course, my curiosity was piqued.
I wondered how many innocent worms had been framed by these sweet little yellow birds?
Check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology, my favorite bird website and it will tell you that American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are almost exclusively seed eaters, connoisseurs of thistle seed. In fact it states they are strict vegetarians, any insect eaten is by accident. Nothing is said about consuming leafy greens.
Do a search on Flickr for goldfinch and chard and you'll see flocks of finches perched upon raggedy chard, including my photo. Some theorize the birds are sipping water from the deeply grooved foliage.
Go on the garden discussion boards and it's another story. Loads of anecdotal evidence that goldfinches are enjoying Swiss chard in lots of gardens around the country. You might say that pokes holes in this venerable institutuion's knowledge of goldfinch behavior.
Have you seen goldfinches on your chard? And while we're at it, how do you like to eat it? I'm considering the creamy greens recipe from this month's Martha.
(I can hear my kids sighing already, Mom's been listening to Daft Punk and now she's paraphrasing their lyrics in her blog posts. What next?)
Gamble gardens are usually associated with spring time. You play fast and loose with the last frost date, sow a few early peas or go big with tomatoes. You hope to harvest days or weeks sooner with little veggies lined up across your rows instead of three identical fruits across the slots.
If you've been following my late-in-the-season laments you know I have been garden-less up to now, watching other gardens grow while my post-construction dirt yard awaited its transformation.
Things are happening this week; trees and shrubs, paths, a modest amount of lawn, beds, rocky niches, woo-hoo! And just as exciting, my kitchen garden beds made of sleek Cor-Ten weathering steel are partially in place giving me a place to play.
Most late season veggie offerings at the garden centers are rough, ragged; kale and chard tangled together, a few herbs and some sad zinnias. No matter I planted some, but they stand stiff and unnatural in one bed like awkward latecomers to the party.
Lots of gardeners don't think of planting seeds mid-season, but there are actually lots of vegetables you can sow up until end of June in Minnesota, sometimes getting a better yield bypassing certain insect pest's life cycles. Beyond that you wait until August and the possibilities narrow, but never mind that September 15 first average frost date.
I decided that between this weird weather year, the urban zone bump and a sheltered microclimate I could risk a few seeds and my high hopes.
I sorted through my seed packets and selected anything that could mature in 55 days or less. So this week with some good weather, a few rains and the micro-spray sprinklers I have little babies; spinach, beets, carrots, mesclun, two kinds of leaf lettuce, bunching onions and radishes. In addition, Harris Seeds recently sent a trial packet of Mascotte Beans, an AAS 2014 Vegetable Award Winner with a 50-day maturity date. I'm anxous to see how things go.
I've been out there quite a bit leaning over the raised beds encouraging the tiny green sprouts to get busy and grow. And surely that lilting classical music the stonemasons play while they build the drystack wall in the garden can't hurt.
I've been wandering the streets again. All the while trying to maintain that "what you lookin' at?" glare/vacant stare encouraged for all social discourse and navigation on the mean streets of NYC.
I'm on the prowl for gardens.
While my daughter heads to Martha's in Manhattan everyday (she's doing the Everday Food Blog among other things), I am hanging out at her place for the next few days; a petite but charming fraction of a brownstone on the "Slope" near Prospect Park, in Brooklyn where all the cool kids live.
I've found that gardening is alive and well in NYC. Considering the logistics and space limitations, I'm in awe of the horticultural efforts I see.
In this part of Brooklyn along the rows of sturdy brownstones are stately courtyards with impressive urns filled with conifers, elephant ears or coleus. There are windowboxes trailing lovely flowers. Mums and pumpkins anticipate and celebrate autumn on the iconic stoops. All working within the rowhouse framework, all perfectly groomed and lovely.
And then I find it. A garden that makes me drop the scowl and just smile. And yet, it may not be to everyone's taste.
Notable and noble for the sheer quantity of vegetation as well as the design and arrangement, this garden knits gnarled vines with stairstepped pots and "found" wood to create a seamless vista across the lower facade. The container plants flow down the steps into one another. The effect is like a densely planted hillside or perhaps a fisherman's cottage in Maine.
To the side of the steps an ordinary flower bed is transformed with an unusual structure. I love this teetering thing that resembles an osprey nest or an eagle aerie. The higgledy-piggledy platform holds up a few potted plants and sticks that seem to float over the plants below.
But the best part is that small laminated sign peeking out from the honeysuckle...
"If you are troubled by this garden, please leave a note."
"If you must wield scissors"
"Consider your cuticles or other body parts"
So, almost a year ago to the day, I veered off the path of a corporate spouses outing to see The High Line in NYC. Designed by famed Dutch landscape artist Piet Oudolf, the High Line is urban/public gardening at its best, taking an abandoned elevated railway and turning it into a shining example of repurposing, native plantings and social promenade.
If you read last year's account, you know that no sooner had I stepped onto the first landing, than I had tripped and fell flat on my my back hitting my head. This visit has gone much better.
I'm back here in NYC helping my daughter settle in as she undertakes a fall internship at Martha Stewart Living Ominimedia, specifically working for their Everyday Food publication. Until she moves into her place in Brooklyn, we are staying in Chelsea just a literal stone's throw from The High Line.
It's interesting that there now stands in the crevice where I caught my foot, a statue of a man about 18 inches tall. I wonder if he has been placed there to alert people to the hazard? If only he had been there last year, I would have been saved the two subsequent MRIs and numerous strange symptoms that could be related to the fall. Oh well.
Here's a quick tour of what I've found so far.
WATCH YOUR STEP!!!
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds – November!”
I return to photograph these birches time and time again. They are at the edge of a development that stalled when the economy tanked.
I could photograph them every day and never make the same image. The light, the leaves, the undergrowth is always changing. In fall, they're not flashy like crimson maples, but more subtle with goldenrod and grasses at their feet. In winter they are a beautiful study in black and white, all the more striking in the absence of color.
This builder has included lots of environmentally friendly aspects in his plan. And I know that due to their position they won't be cut down. Once again, building has resumed and it's a matter of time before the lot in front of them displays those telltale orange-tipped stakes that mark the site of a new home.
When that happens, the birches will belong to new people, only visible to them. I hope they love them as much as I do.
Last year's quick blog on my "autumn equinox bouquet" consistently ranked as one of the popular posts of 2010. ( Click on the link to read the back story). This year I wasn't home for most of September and spent most of October catching up with my shadow. So here in November, the month of no, as in no more garden, I managed to eke out a "Better Late Than Never Bouquet".
These remaining days of cool autumn sun afforded me a pleasant trip around the garden gathering bits of foliage, pods, seed heads and such, enough to cobble together a decent ode to fall.
More somber in color than my traditional end of the season arrangements, I kinda like the deep purple tones and feathery shapes. it didn't photograph as well as last year's, but believe me is just as beautiful.
For some of you it may be too late to assemble a similar bouquet, but for many of you, the makings are just now taking on that mellow mood of autumn.
This year's ingredients:
I was tempted to include fennel seed clusters, the licorice-scent was wafting through the air as I clipped branches, but I try to avoid seed pods that will shatter and make a mess. Instead Greek oregano gave this a distinct spicy scent. What a nice sight every time I come in the back door.
Imagine what you can find in your own garden!
No matter where you fall on the issue of fall garden cleanup, you have to appreciate a recent tweet by Benjamin Vogt. He's a poet, gardener and author of Sleep, Creep, Leap, which recounts his adventures in prairie gardening.
"Just prepped my garden for winter by glancing out the office window and sighing. Seriously, why do people do fall clean-up? Nature doesn't."
I guess I fall somewhere close to this 140-characters or less, garden-maintenance manifesto. I don't do much. But I do a little.
I would venture that fall clean up routines are dependent upon gardening styles, weather and peer pressure. The more naturalistic setting can get away with less. While manicured and groomed gardens, like women of the same sort, demand more intense seasonal intervention.
Of course, those of us up north know that good snow cover hides a multitude of sins.
Raking leaves in the crisp autumn air is as much psychological marker as seasonal chore. In neighborhoods where pride of place is present, it's just what you do. I've been known to simply rearrange the leaves to cover the beds for what's known as "lazy (wo)man's mulch". However leaves can get matted and deprive soil of moisture and they create unhealthy conditions when left on lawns.
It's probably most important to remove leaves and other dead material from plants and trees suffering from any fungal issues. Disposing of that debris will help to stop the cycle of reinfection from year to year. Keep it out of your compost too.
Leaving some debris provides beneficial insects and other animals overwintering sites. However it gives all insects, some undesirable, a place too. There is never an easy answer.
Pulling up spent annuals even presents a dilemna. While some people welcome re-seeding plants, others will regret the thousands of descendants that pop up the following year. I compromise and deadhead the ones that are the most notorious propagators like fennel, nicotiana, jewels of Opar, and even then there will still be quite a few survivors.
I choose to leave perennials up over the winter unless they are already flopping before the first snow. I hate the cutting back in spring but find it a fair trade for feeding birds and critters. In addition to lovely seed heads like these...
Yesterday at the post office I came upon the prefect illustration of the fall cleanup quandary.
Across the street the parks crew were cutting down the Annabelle hydrangeas that flank the entry to a local park. I spoke with the head guy and he told me he would like to leave them up but just doesn't have the staff hours to deal with them come spring.
I leave all my Annabelles standing over winter. The chore of trimming them back is still waiting for me when the snow melts, but worth it for this sight.
Dried panicles of Hydrangea arborescens "Annabelle", note the lovely leaf pattern too.
And that's probably where the fall cleanup question splits; do we do it in fall so we can settle down into winter guilt free or do we leave it till spring when we are ready to get out and tackle anything, just to be outside.