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Garden Diary

Michael L McClain
St James, NY

Click here to see additional information about plants in my garden

Minimal Maintenence

July 20, 2017
It has been more than a year since I made an entry into this garden diary. I spent the better part of last year preparing notes and slides for my ethics classes, which took up almost the same amount of time and photo editing that the garden blog would have consumed. I am committed to getting back to the blog if for no other reason than keeping track of what I planted, not to mention the need to maintain my html skills, which have eroded.

In the interim both William and Alice got married and Will and Verena got pregnant.

flower
During the past year, I have done considerable work on the back yard gardens at the Red House while woefully neglecting the vegetable garden and plantings in St. James. I continued work on the oasis in the back yard on Shelter Island. Despite the deer, the sand cherries filled out nicely. The winterberries were relatively sparce, but they are looking promising for this season, as are the beautyberries. A couple of the roses, which I planted near the cottage flat died - don't know why, but they did. Most of the roses around the pool are flourishing.

We had the best ever crop of cherries; there were enough for us and the birds. I tried a new system for starting plants using cells and seed starter from Home Depot. It did not work for me. Back to the old tried and true next year.

Fish Emulsion Day

June 6, 2016
Two weeks ago, while Wendy was in Greece, I celebrated Fish Emulsion Day by spraying all the plants at the Red House. I donned my rattiest clothes, dialed the dilution rate up to the max and doused everything. The plants seemed appreciative.

The grass seed is sprouting thanks to some rainy weather and a few days under the sprinkler. The kousa dogwood is blooming modestly; the rose of Sharon is leafing out; the cryptomeria is sending out bright green buds; lavender is about to flower; and the the nepeta is in full bloom.

Meanwhile back in St. James, the garden is growing apace. I am harvesting lettuce, spinach, cilantro and chives. The tomatoes are starting to flower and peas are forming. The cherry trees are showing a relatively sparse crop. The daffodils, tulips, lilacs, sage and iris have come and gone. The roses and thyme are in full bloom and the lavender is about to flower.

The back yard is filled with flowers: a tall red daisy with a yellow center, which I think is a Pyrethrum Daisy, known variously as Painted Daisy, Tanacetum coccineum, Pyrethrum roseum, Chrysanthemum roseum, and Chyrsanthemum coccineum; Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) in pretty pink, red and white; a gigantic hollyhock (I think) growing in the side yard, perhaps ready to bloom; Bachelor buttons (blue cornflower, Centaurea cyanus); coreopsis; Japanese iris; spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) and love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), a pale blue flower on feathery stalks.

Sharon and I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden last Thursday, June 2. The roses were spectacular in full bloom. We traversed the entire garden looking for inspiration. I was impressed by a bed of dianthus, Rainbow Loveliness Mix and a plant called Old Man's Beard. Yesterday, when we were in Sag Harbor, we saw pale pink and pale yellow roses planted together so that the flowers were intermixed as they peeked through a picket fence. I think I will try to duplicate this effect in the corner of our front yard in St. James. Last week Wendy saw a planting of pink petunias in front of a stand of Japanese iris (Iris ensata). I will try to duplicate it in the side yard next spring. I need to dig up the Japanese iris anyway since the grass has invaded them.

The Three Amigos Have Returned
(though not quite so shapely and tall)

May 22, 2016
The three amigos (or at least their cousins) are back at the head of the drive. They are not as shapely or tall as the originals, but they are alive. The three Alberta spruce we transplanted a year ago died in the great drought of 2015. This year I will put them on an automatic soaker system. While they were transplanting the trees, Natural Images Landscape spread a half truck-load of topsoil on the lawn, raked it in and sowed grass seed in the sections rank with weeds. We had rain the next day and I gave it a good soaking with the sprinkler. We will see what happens

It has been a busy month in both gardens. At Shelter Island, I planted two six packs of spreading wave petunias from Bloomin Haus in the garden isle, three aucuba plants, which I started from offshoots, next to the back fence, three "sunpatiens" from Home Depot in the side yard at the feet of the lilacs, a geranium and violet that I picked up from Kerz Nursery in the rock garden, a few more bugleweeds (Ajuga reptans) and a couple of euonymus under the amigos. I dug the euonymus from the side yard in St. James.

The Worst Soil on Long Island

April 22, 2016
Our back yard has the worst soil I have ever seen. In some parts the weeds have completely taken over. In others, even the weeds cannot thrive. I spent the day planting flowers and shrubs in an effort to compensate for the lack of a lawn. I figure that if I cover enough territory with plantings, maybe no one will notice how punk the lawn looks.

I am relying on topsoil from the town recycling center (dump) combined with my own compost to give the plants an even chance of survival. Today I planted two azaleas (Azalea Rosa de Girard) in the side yard. I bought them at BB&GG for $20 each. I am trying to create an island of garden (let's call it the garden isle) in the back yard that will include two winterberry bushes, two sand cherries and a Pink Fountain Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri Walgauph) which I planted today. I bought it at Lowe's for $6.99. The winterberry held its berries until early spring and I am hoping that they will form this year. I also planted a few bugleweeds (Ajuga reptans) transplanted from St. James where they are ubiquitous; a half dozen Calla lilies, also transplants; and a few euonymus plants.

The daffodils are in full bloom, and the cherry is about ready to pop. The little sand cherry is blooming brightly. The magnolia was burned by the late cold snap and looks a bit peaked. The kousa dogwood is budding (hurray!) and the trees throughout the property are beginning to leaf.

My compost bummed me out. I anticipated harvesting two or three tubs of it, but it is not ready. The material in the east bin is well along, except the bottom quarter. The west bin is at about the same stage, but neither is ready for use. Alas.

A Cold Spring on Shelter Island

April 10, 2016
The temperatures on Shelter Island have ranged from 32° to the high forties, with clouds and rain most of the time. Not an ideal week for gardening. Nevertheless I did manage to plant a Mediterranean Pink (Erica x darleyensis) with the lavender next to the patio. I bought it for $12.99 from Lowe's.

Patricia Piotrowski from Bartlett Tree in Southampton suggested that I create a hedge of Rose of Sharon along the fence that fronts West Neck Rd. I transplanted four bushes of various sizes that were growing next to the larger tree behind the cottage. I also transplanted a barberry from the driveway, adding it to the hedge outside the fence.

The seeds I sowed in late March sprouted nicely. I started more seeds today: Ice plant (Mesembryanthemum criniflorum), marigold, Greek basil, both kinds of parsley, hollyhock and snapdragon. I left them in the back room with four tiny azalea bushes that Wendy bought in a single pot from the grocery store. I felt so sorry for them —their roots were so dense that I had to cut them apart. Wonder if they will survive?

What The Hell Is That?

April 3, 2016
This time of year we gardeners find ourselves playing the what-is-it game. Plants that we started or transplanted last fall in the full confidence that we would remember them in the spring are now strangers to us. I have a few around the yard, plus a few tags from plants whose locations are equally lost in the fog of failed memory.

Currently in St. James gardening is on hold pending the departure of a cold snap that has sent temperatures below freezing for the past few days. Most of the indoor seedlings are up and doing well. I transplanted the tomatoes into deeper pots with the intention of stimulating more robust root systems, a tip I took from Jeff Cox's 100 Greatest Garden Ideas. The seeds I planted outdoors on March 8 have sprouted and seem to be enduring the cold. As I predicted, a neighborhood cat is playing havoc with them —using the garden as a cat pan.

The forsythia is in full bloom and the daffodils are beginning to come out (interestingly, trailing their cousins on Shelter Island). The lilacs are budding; the privet, maples and cherries are beginning to leaf. The roses, which I cut back two weeks ago, are breaking dormancy. Periwinkle is in flower and the phlox will be in a few days. The rosemary did not fare well; it may or may not survive.

Seeding on Shelter Island

March 25, 2016
Today I began a new venture—starting seeds on Shelter Island. My plan is to leave the seed trays on the table in the back room until the seedlings are ready to be hardened off, avoiding the use of fluorescent lights. It is a bit of a gamble because of the fluctuations in temperature and light. It might be too bright (or not).

I planted fours rows of seeds from Select Seeds: Creeping Thyme Thymus serpyllum, Viola 'King Henry' (free), Viola 'Bowles Black', and Snow on the Mountain Euphorbia marginata. I saw Snow on the Mountain when I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and loved it. I am a bit concerned that its sap is poisonous. Not quite sure how to warn people (including myself) off from it.

On Shelter Island, the daffodils are popping up, the magnolia tree and forsythia bushes are about to bloom, the trees, lilacs and roses are budding and the nepeta is sprouting. I'm busy removing leaves and cleaning up the gardens. I cut all the dead wood out of the roses and gave them a moderate pruning. The roses got some rose food and the bulbs some bulb food. Everybody should be happy.

Crocus Sites

March 16, 2016
Comparing the few crocuses growing around the house on Shelter Island to the spans of crocuses popping up on other properties around the island set me to thinking that we need to plant a couple hundred bulbs this fall. A quick tour around the property revealed several spots where they would add beauty and interest to an otherwise bleak early spring.
Front porch
Front porch
West Side
Side Tree
Fern Garden
Spirea
Back corner
Fairy ring
Cottage
I saw a mix of 250 species crocus bulbs listed in the Van Engelen catalogue for about $25.00, which seems about the right amount to start with. I'm not sure what planting 250 bulbs (in addition to the new daffodils Wendy will surely want) might mean, but we will give it a go.

Peas before St. Patrick's Day

March 8, 2016
It is sunny and sixty outside, so I leapt at the chance to get the peas in the ground before St. Patrick's Day. While I was at it, I planted lettuce, spinach, arugula, cilantro and Greek (miniature) basil. Couldn't help but think how many dangers lurk for the poor seeds: rabbits, cats, birds, to name a few. I started the seeds in the basement on Sunday (March 6) setting the timer for 12 hours of light. Keep your fingers crossed.

Hens and Chicks

February 29, 2016
Last week, my sister Colleen sent me a charm from Grandma McClain's bracelet, my name in script etched on one side, my birthdate on the other. Today, in anticipation of spring, I found myself tidying up the hens and chicks that grow along the drive. Grandma McClain loved the hens and chicks that grew by her front steps. She never failed to point them out to us. I think they represented herself surrounded by her offspring.

The Latin name for the plant is Sempervivum, ever-living. Certainly Grandma's chicks live on, perhaps not at her house on Hume Ave, but in her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and in the memories she created.

2015 The Year in Review

February 13 — 24, 2016
Almost a year since my last entry. I have no excuse, unless you count laziness. While I cannot hope to recreate the unfolding of the 2015 gardens I will try to hit as many of the highlights as memory allows.

I started seeds in the basement as usual. Most came up, except the chives and (as usual) spinach. I don't know why, but I cannot grow spinach (or radishes).

Many of the plants in St. James, including the boxwood and hydrangea, were battered by the severe winter. The cherry trees in the side yard produced a few cherries, but not enough to make a pie. The tree in the back yard yielded a good crop. I tried to coax the grape vine into production with minimal success. It set only one real cluster of grapes. Next season will be better.

Meanwhile on Shelter Island the nepeta kept me busy throughout the season; Linda Misa's catmint pouches were well supplied. The new daffodils bloomed at the same time as the cherry tree in back. The magnolia was beautiful. In May, I planted an azalea ('Joanna') in a hole I had dug out of the rock pile that is our side yard. It was advertized as "very hardy." I was also attracted by its claim to show winter foliage, which it does. The roses ('The Fairy') around the pool did well. I cut them back severely, pruning out the dead wood. The few I transplanted limped along. I planted ivy and five–leaved akebia along the perimeter in hopes of gaining some privacy. We will see what this summer brings for them. The spirea were prolific, needing severe pruning just to keep them from taking over the pool.

We paid Natural Images Landscaping $3,000 to recover the driveway ($1,500), prune the barberry plants and transplant three Alberta spruce from the back yard to the head of the drive. They were my three amigos — but they did not survive the two–month drought while we rented the house. The kousa dogwood and the cryptomeria suffered as well, but they survived (barely). The contorted filbert remained intact, as did four of the five lavender plants. (The fifth succumbed to the drought along with the hanging plants; for some reason, the renters neglected to water any of the plants.) The privet along the front of the house were infested with leaf miners, so I cut them back severely. I pruned all the plants around the perimeter of the house to prevent any of them from touching it. I spread a big pile of wood chips, supplemented by mulch from the dump, around all the plantings.

Back in St. James, we had a good crop of tomatoes. Big Boy, Best Boy and Roma all did well. The Red Currant cherry tomatoes were prolific, but too small to satisfy. We had ample supplies of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, along with basil and borage. We had jalapeno and red peppers in abundance, but they were not particularly hot. Four kale plants provided much more than we could eat throughout the season. The Swiss chard hung around all summer, with only modest infestations of leaf miners. Arugula came in late.

I was particularly proud of the patch of creeping jenny outside the fence. Next summer I plan to concentrate on patches of ground cover. The rose garden did very well in 2015. I cut the roses back severely and added a few new plants. The All Star roses outside the fence were adequate, but far from spectacular. I planted four more All Star roses along the path to the cottage in Shelter Island. The marigolds and day lilies outside the fence in St. James did well. Nasturtiums looked promising, but were destroyed by black aphids. One of the gardening blogs described nasturtiums as "trap plants" that protect other plants by offering aphids something more desirable to eat. A post in Dave's Garden suggests spraying them with 2 cloves of garlic soaked in a quart of water.
To my delight I discovered that the ferns under the cherry tree in Shelter Island were left over from a defunct garden. The soil was almost arable. Compost, manure and top soil (from the town dump) provided a suitable planting medium for miscellaneous plants (rudbeckia, germander, lemon balm, etc.). I interspersed random stones from around the property and ringed it with white rocks collected at local beaches. Can't wait to see it this summer.

Continuing our quest for large swaths of daffodils, I planted 100 new bulbs, 50 each of Narcissus Goblet and Narcissus Tahiti, which I purchased for $69.20 from Van Engelen Flower Bulbs.

Near the end of the season I planted a Winterberry bush (Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite') in the back yard. I purchased it at the Peconic River Herb Farm in Riverhead. When I got it home, I discovered that it needs a companion male holly plant to set berries. When I complained, the lady at the herb farm gave me a 'Jim Dandy' holly, which she averred would "do its duty" when the time came. I also planted a purpleleaf sand cherry bush (Prunus x cistena) nearby as part of an incipient cluster garden. The Winterberry plant is just beginning to drop its berries. It looked wonderful throughout the fall and into the winter, especially against the snow.

Now, like every gardener, I look at the winter garden and see spring. As I clear away the debris left by the falling leaves and winter storms, I see sprouts and buds emerging along with the inevitable and not so welcome weeds.

Winter Finally Turns to Spring

May 8, 2015
When Hazel visited in late March, she was delighted to see snow. (She was probably the only one on Long Island.) The week before Easter, we were out on Shell Beach "crunching ice," but by mid-April the snows were gone and hints of spring began to appear.

I started my seeds in the basement in late March and early April, using leftovers or Burpee seeds I bought at Home Depot or the nursery. Eventually everything came up except the chives.

The daffodils that I planted in the fall came up in force both in St. James and Shelter Island. Wendy was very pleased with them and suggested that we plant more. The kousa dogwood and cryptomeria that we bought last summer survived the long winter (and the hungry deer). The forsythia was scraggly so I am cutting it back severely.

Ready for Spring

March 6, 2015
Having lived with nothing but snow and ice for the past two months, I am ready (in the sense of yearning) for spring. In the sense of having ordered my seeds or gotten ready to start them, I am not.

Last summer I planted two Double Knock Out roses outside the fence where the daylilies used to be and a Red Drift rose and a Sunny Knock Out rose in the rose garden. They were modest in their growth through the latter part of the summer, so I am anxious to see if they live up to their reputation as a hearty carefree variety.

Bulbs Galore!

November 28, 2014
Wendy has always wanted large mounds of daffodils like the ones that bloom along the road approaching Sag Harbor from the north. So this year, when a catalog from Van Engelen arrived in the mail uninvited, I ordered 250 King Alfred narcissus bulbs (for $78.75), plus 100 Glorious Chionodoxa ($14.50) and 100 Gladiolus Communis Byzantinus ($18.00). I dug two beds in the back yard at the Red House, added several bags of composted manure and peat moss and planted the narcissus in three clumps of 60 with a ring of gladiolus behind them. I planted the remainder of the bulbs, plus a bag of daffodils that I bought at Home Depot, outside the fence near the front in St. James. We should have mounds of daffodils in the fall.
Last week I was excited to harvest the first compost from the bins I built on Shelter Island in May of last year. Rather than use the compost for planting, I mixed it back into the composting material, including two bins of leaves that I constructed out of deer fencing, in the hope that next spring, when I need compost for planting, I will have it in abundance. God knows the soil can use all the organic matter I can feed it.

It's Been a Long Time

November 2, 2014
It's late fall, more than seven months since my last entry. My time seems to evaporate, at least the time that I should be spending documenting the garden. It was a good year in the St. James garden. Unlike last summer, when everything went to hell because we spend all summer in the pool on Shelter Island, I was able to tend the garden this year because we rented the red house during July and August.

The tomatoes were great. Five plants yielded cherry, plum and beefsteak all summer long. They are still going strong with no sign of the blight that afflicted them in summers past.

The lettuce and arugula were good, as were the beets.

Out east we bought a kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) for the back yard to replace a flowering dogwood which had died, a cryptomeria for the front yard and a flowering tree/shrub (whose name I will try to find on an invoice) for the pool area. We purchased them from Christian Clark, who put the cryptomeria in the wrong place then left for Idaho to go elk hunting or some such.

Contorted on the Rock

March 29, 2014
It's a long story. Two and a half years ago, as I was walking Hektor in Amagansett, I spotted the remains of a contorted shrub that had been sawed off and discarded. I dragged it home where it remained on the back porch until Christmas when we brought it in and decorated it as our Christmas tree. It stayed in the hallway throughout the next year, until we sold the house. During the estate sale, I sold the tree and the stand for $25.00 to a woman who admired it. When the sale was over, Wendy chided me for letting the tree get out of our hands. She has not let me forget it, to this day.

Yesterday, I stopped by Kunz Nursery to buy some soil builder and spotted a contorted bush, similar but smaller than our Christmas tree, for sale for $39.99. It turned out to be a Corylus avellana 'Contorta' commonly called Harry Lauder's walking stick (I see a research project in my future). I brought it with me to Shelter Island and this morning decided to plant it at the corner of the patio.



I had in mind a circle, six feet in diameter at the corner of the patio, with the plant (represented by the star) in the center, with rectangular beds lining the sides of the patio. With rain in the forecast, I blithely laid out a circle only to find that the soil was hard-packed rock, clay and sand. I spent the better part of the day in the rain, digging out the circle, segregating soil, crabgrass and stones; adding tons of compost (from St. James), soil builder, peat moss and fertilizer; burying a vinyl border and planting the contorted Corylus avellana. Fairly early in the process, I discovered three lines running through the circle, presumably on their way to a cess pool or dry well. I will need to take care whenever I put a spade into the area. Next step is to plant a circle of germander, then take on the rectangles.

What Fools We Gardeners Be

March 24, 2014
A few days ago, following an ancient ritual, I planted a row of spinach seeds even though I have not harvested a successful crop of spinach in 10 years. I don't know why my spinach is unsuccessful. It pops up, then disappears. Perhaps the Easter Bunny eats it. Nor do I know why I continue to plant it, but I do. Perhaps I cannot imagine a vegetable garden without it.

I also sowed lettuce — some harvested from last year's crop and some from left–over seed packets — plus arugula and corn salad in what used to be the cold frame. I used Master Nursery bumper crop soil booster, mixed with a bit of Plantone fertilizer, then covered the patch with dried blood and finely ground pepper, in hopes of keeping the Easter Bunny at bay.

As has been my custom for the past three years, I erected a trellis for the peas. This involves a fairly elaborate process of digging holes in the soil and planting the poles in them, threading string though quarter–inch holes in the poles using a bent coat hanger, and pounding pegs in the holes to hold the string in place. With soil preparation and planting, the endeavor can take an hour or more — a small price to pay for a bowl of freshly picked peas.

Yesterday, I cut the roses back severely, unlike last year when I trimmed them only modestly. They did not do well and I may have lost some of them. I also dug out the Montauk daisies, dandelions, and various ground covers which had invaded the rose garden and covered the whole thing with Long Island Compost mulch.

My fears that the garlic planted last fall had been eaten were unfounded. Tiny sprouts are poking up through the mulch.

My Poor Garden (Blog)

March 6, 2014
Nine full months have passed since I made an entry into this journal. My neglect of the blog is matched only by my neglect of the summer garden in St. James. We spent every weekend on Shelter Island, where we were busy swimming and golfing and trimming the roses.

Back in St. James, the garden got only the meager measure of attention I could muster after a day at work. I did manage to pull in a respectable batch of peppers, which I shared with the CPEP staff. We had good arugula late into the autumn. Morning glory, marigold, borage and zinnia bloomed nicely.

On October 8, I cleared a large section outside the back fence, digging out the day lilies (and attendant grasses and weeds) which had been there for many years. I have in mind two dark red knock out roses that will bloom all summer interplanted with three yellow day lilies that Stephanie gave me. On the other side of the fence, I dug a bed for garlic. Since I haven't seen any sprouts, I fear that something ate them soon after I planted them. Tomatoes lasted well into October. This photo, while not pretty, shows edible tomatoes on the vine on October 26.
The summer and fall on Shelter Island involved constant trimming of the roses surrounding the pool. They bloomed all year, even late into the fall. On the hottest day of the summer, I trimmed the hedge around the pool with my new Ryobi Cordless Electric Hedge Trimmer. At the very end of the season, I cut back the spirea by hand. Who knows what the spring will bring.

Today I organized my seeds for 2014. Since I have so many left over from prior years, plus seeds that Alice grew at Oz Farm and homegrown seeds from my garden, I did not place an order this year. I will see what I can get going on Shelter Island as well. The soil will certainly need amendment.

Third Year

June 7, 2013
This is the garden diary's third season. In years past, I documented my garden activities and described the current state of each of the species around the yard. I thought this would be help me plan from year to year and enable me to learn what works (or not) in my garden. I have succeeded to some extent, but not in the manner I anticipated. I imagined myself spending the winter reading entries from the prior year, trolling the web for gardening tips and making plans for the next gardening season. It hasn't happened. What I have learned from the diary comes from occasionally photographing everything, tagging the photos and writing about the past month's activities.
After writing the previous paragraph, I scanned entries from the past two years. I discovered that I have been using the diary as a vehicle for developing my skills in web design and writing, as a repository of information about plants and suppliers and as an historical record that ties each years activities to those that precede and succeed it. [Here is another instance of craziness in the English language. Why is "precede" spelled with "...ede" and "succeed" with ...eed"?] The writing is least boring when it is leanest. Its interest increases in proportion to its wit.

Gardening on the Rock

May 19, 2013
All of a sudden, I have two gardens, one in St. James and one on the Rock (Shelter Island). When we bought the house in January, I was dimly aware that gardening would be involved, but it wasn't until things started sprouting and blooming that it became apparent whose responsibility they would be. We hired Walter Richards to mow the grass and help with the heavy stuff (i.e., whatever requires a pickup truck, which turns out is a lot on Shelter Island) but at least for the initial time through, I feel the need to be the gardener.
Rather than detail a chronology, I will try to introduce the garden as it is today. The soil is terrible — dry sandy clay, infested with ants and crabgrass — except where the "gardens" have been planted around the house, the guest cottage and pool. These are very nicely planted with a variety of shrubs and perennials, which I will introduce as I get to know them. Prominent are nepeta (catmint), Russian olive, spirea, pachysandra, box, daffodils, forsythia, lily of the valley, and a variety of weeds and insects. There is a lilac bush — syringa meyeri — which Wendy adores, an andromeda plant, ferns, a gorgeous pink cherry tree and a magnolia tree, both of which have already bloomed and faded. I planted my first plant — a perennial bachelor button (centaurea) — next to the pool. We bought it at Sang Lee farm in Southold. I planted it in two bags of Long Island Compost topsoil.
Early in our adventure in homeownership, we had several trees trimmed as the result of storm damage, including a large maple that fell on our sun room. Fred Hyatt of Peconic Plant Care trimmed them up. At my request, he left me the wood chips, which I have been laboriously carting up the drive to mulch the plants next to the fence.
Equally exciting is the new compost bin I installed today. Jerry Siler of Grady Riley Gardens graciously volunteered to deliver 7 pallets free of charge. I worried that the compost would seep through the back and ruin the fence, so I nailed boards to the back pallets and painted them with a tar-like roof and foundation sealant. Hope it doesn't leach horrible carcinogens into the compost. There is so much work to be done amending the soil, that it feels good to have the engine in place.
Meanwhile back at St. James life goes on. Most of the seeds I planted in March came up and are now outside being hardened off. A few days ago (don't try to pin me down) I set out a mix of 15 hot pepper plants. Last week I set out a Roma and and a Big Boy tomato plant in the main garden. The peas are a foot high; garlic two; forsythia, tulips, daffodils, phlox and lilacs have come and gone; wisteria, azalea, lily of the valley, bleeding heart, periwinkle, iris and columbine are blooming. The cherries look like they are forming well this year. Bee balm, lilies, butterfly weed, chrysanthemum and mint are sprouting. I dug up 6 lilac sprouts and potted them to move to Shelter Island. I sowed lettuce and spinach in flats (in the basement) and in the garden. We will have a contest to see which does better. Both are sprouting. The outdoor sprouts are heartier; the indoor more plentiful and free of weeds.

Preparing for Peas

April 7, 2013
Spring is slow coming this year. Since the soil was frozen in mid-March, I couldn't follow the tradition of planting peas on St. Patrick's Day, but I got them into the ground yesterday. The trellis I made and stowed away so carefully last year worked perfectly.

Not much is going on — at least not on the surface. The trees are beginning to bud, but the gestalt is more brown than green. The crocus, periwinkle and violets are out; forsythia and daffodils look ready to bloom; shoots are popping up under the leaves.

I planted two flats of seeds on March 11. See chart. I followed the instructions on the seed packets, not planting any that said to sow outdoors. I hope that is not a mistake. Most of the seedlings are up. The cosmos shot up the first week, outpacing the others by so far that I had to take them out of the flat and put them in the window. Yesterday I transplanted the Big Boy and Roma tomatoes into larger pots and sowed the Sweet tomatoes I got from Burpee. I also sowed another six pack of vinca.

I spent several hours today harvesting the compost from the west bin and rebuilding it. My back and I wish Will were here. I suspect that there is abundant compost under the east bin but I did not have the energy to dig deep enough to find it.

Starting from Seed

March 7, 2013
This year's snow and freezing temperatures stirred a longing for spring that induced me to order many more seeds than I can possibly manage. Ten packets of vegetable and flower seeds from Turtle Tree Seeds arrived yesterday just ahead of yet another snowfall. Seeds from Burpee should arrive today. I prefer to order from Turtle Tree because they charge less for their seeds and procure them from biodynamic farms, including Kimberton. Burpee, though, has a broader selection and a catalog that I find hard to resist.
A huge blizzard hit Long Island on February 8 burying us in 30 inches of snow. Wendy and I were at our new house on Shelter Island. We asked our neighbor Matt to shovel our drive in St. James. When the snow finally melted, we saw the damage it inflicted on the boxwood hedge next to the drive.

Sandy, Snowy and Cold

November 12, 2012
Superstorm Sandy swept across Long Island October 29, bringing down huge trees and knocking out power for more than a week. The storm was followed by a nor'easter on Wendy's birthday that brought snow and freezing temperatures. The garden survived without ill effects, though the delicate flowers succumbed to the freeze. The arugula, kale and Swiss chard are still going. The Brussels sprouts are still alive, but I don't know if we will harvest sprouts this year. I harvested hot peppers just ahead of the freeze and took them in to CPEP. They were eggplant purple turning to bright red and very hot. Next year I should plant a variety of peppers.

I dug up the gladiolus this weekend. The 16 bulbs I planted in March were miraculously transformed into 28. I snipped off the stalks just above the bulb, washed them in warm water and laid them out to cure on the desk in the garage. I gave the same treatment to the dahlia tubers. I pried them apart, washed them and set them to cure in the garage.

The wind from Sandy took down mammoth trees. Two cedars were blown into Bill and Stephanie's driveway — just after Bill had moved the cars out of the way. The storm ripped off the gutter on the east side of our house and blew out a section of the fence. One of the top branches of the young maple on the west side of the house snapped off, but the tree survived.

As the leaves fall, I am trying to get the compost emptied and the frame repaired to receive the autumn leaves. I spread the compost we harvested in July on the beds in the back yard. Next I need to empty the western bin. Too bad Will isn't here.

A Long, Languid Autumn

October 24, 2012
The long autumn has allowed me — lazy and distracted as I have been this year — to bring this year's garden to a respectable close and begin preparations for next year. I picked the last of the tomatoes on Sunday, rescuing them from the encroaching blight. I packed up the supports I so carefully made in the spring and stored them in the garage. The giant kale plant from last year finally succumbed to a grey mold, which also infected some of the Brussels sprouts. The beans are long gone, but Swiss chard, new kale, and arugula are still going strong.

A dahlia outside the bathroom window is blooming beautifully. Not sure where I got it — perhaps at the Hitherbrook sale. The chrysanthemums are a mixed lot this year. Those that overwintered from last year did well while three plants I bought from BB & GG wilted quickly. (I suspect they were overfertilized at the nursery.) The New England asters are fading. A few roses are blooming. Marigolds, rudbeckia, vinca are still in full bloom.

I hope to get off to a better start next year. I planted daffodil bulbs outside the fence (between the cherry trees)

A Subtle Change in the Air

September 3, 2012
There comes a time in early September when gardening is as much about the next season as it is about the current one. The sun is lower in the sky. Plants approach the end of their cycles. The gardener's thoughts turn to seed.

Continuing my season-long neglect of this diary, I have a long way to look back. William was of immense help in the last few weeks of July. Not only did he paint the fence and help me fix the garden shed, but he dug out the chameleon plants that were getting out of hand, dug out the money plants outside the fence and helped me turn the compost. The compost was a major effort. We emptied what was left in the garbage cans onto garden plots, refilled them with freshly dug compost (which we took from the eastern-most bin), rebuilt the bins and cleaned up the entire back area.

The roses were good this year — especially the two on the front fence which produced beautiful dark red flowers all summer. Annual flowers and vegetables were slow this year because of my procrastination. Three volunteer tomato plants produced some fruit in the plot next to the hedge outside the bathroom window. The main crop, next to the back fence, is just now forming fruit and about to turn red. The Italian green beans were a success. Though they were overplanted and crowded for space, they produced (and are still producing) an abundance of fat beany beans. The Swiss chard is elegant and insect-free. The new kale is just beginning to produce leaves large enough to eat, but the plant from last year, which went to seed, miraculously sprouted tender new leaves. Four Brussels sprouts plants, which I planted too close together, are elbowing one another for room, but so far look fit. I harvested 28 garlic bulbs in mid August, but made the mistake of not washing them right away. A couple of parsley plants, a large basil and a row of Fino Verde basil are doing well. The cucumber plants produced several fat white cucumbers. They were seedy, but tasted good. The plants wilted a few weeks ago. Odd.

The hydrangea bushes bloomed well. So did the coreopsis, cleomes, and vinca (though they went in late). Actually, I think there may be something to be said about planting vinca, zinnia, and snapdragon late. They are just coming into full bloom at a time when new color is welcome. And speaking of new color, the crepe myrtle in the front yard is full of flowers, much to Wendy's delight, though she prefers the darker variety.

Now it is almost time to store away the gladiolus bulbs for next year's planting; plant next spring's daffodils, tulips and garlic; and harvest kale seeds and dried beans for next year's crop. The gardener's thoughts have indeed gone to seed.

Neglectful

July 15, 2012
I can't believe that it has been two months since my last entry — especially with so much going on in the garden. I admit to being lazy this year, but I've been more neglectful of my garden blog than of my garden. Whenever I had a choice between working in the garden or updating the blog, I chose the former.

Sweet William came up outside the fence this year. William had given me seeds for my birthday last year, which I planted in the spring. When they came up this year, I didn't know what they were until they bloomed. If I can get my act together, I will try to get some started this year for next year's bloom.

I covered the plot outside the bathroom window with compost because I planned to grow tomatoes in it, but before the seedlings were ready to transplant, a full crop of cleomes had grown up. They were so enthusiastic that I didn't have the heart to pull them up. So I planted the tomatoes (two each Roma and Big Boy) inside the back fence instead. Three tomato plants volunteered this spring. They appear to be Roma type. They are growing alongside the little hedge next to the garage. I made supports using rectangular poles and twine, similar to what I did last year. This year, however, I painted the poles sagebrush green (Benjamin Moore 0807), made the holes bigger (11/32 inch), used stronger twine, and used pegs cut from dowels to hold the string.
Looking back over the photos for the last two months, I see lovely Japanese irises, day lilies (both outside the fence and in the corners of the front yard), coreopsis and veronica in bloom. We had abundant cherries on the tree in back — enough to make a pie and a batch of jelly — but none on the trees on the side of the house. Lavender, rue, butterfly weed and germander did well in the herb garden. Bachelor buttons sprang up unplanted outside the bathroom window. We had such a beautiful show of bee balm next to the trellis that I did not have room to sow the usual morning glories. The hydrangea in the back was beautiful this year, though the one outside the fence was uneven. Especially impressive were the gladiolus, which I planted outside the fence and in the back. I will plan to dig them up and replant them in the spring. Stakes would be in order. The lily behind the barn looked a bit peaked this spring, but it bloomed nicely.

In the vegetable garden, the Italian flat beans came up in abundance (they have not produced fruit yet) and the bush beans from yesteryear produced a modest crop. The Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard and cucumber came up nicely. We have been eating lettuce started inside from seed.

Cleaning up is hard to do, but it feels good when it is done. The old box/shed from Nucletron, where I stow all the old pots and flats, was sagging badly, so William and I dragged it out into the yard, revealing a bushel of slugs eating away at its base. I hosed it, scraped it, restored it, and sprayed it with a tar-like solution. I threw away about half of what was in it, then cleaned and sorted what was left. We (William and I) also washed, scraped and painted parts of the fence. We (Wendy and I) had the house power washed, stained and the trim repainted ($8,000) and the driveway resealed ($145).

Starting from Seed

May 20, 2012
Yesterday, despite the mosquitos, I brought half the garden into submission, cutting back the grass, digging out the weeds, turning the soil and digging in some Master Nursery bumper crop soil booster. I planted Italian pole beans (Aunt Ada from Turtle Tree) around a string tent; plus a short row each of Burpee Tendercrop and Burpee Blue Lake bush beans; two short rows of Burpee Long Island Improved Brussels sprouts from last year; White Wonder cucumber from last year along the fence; and Fordhook Swiss chard from 2009 in front of the cucumbers.
We bought two Adirondack chairs from Land's End so we can sit and watch the flowers bloom. The irises, chives, sage, columbine, bleeding heart and dianthus are in full bloom. Roses are starting to open. The rose bush by the fence in the front is stunning this year. Cherries are starting to form on the tree in the back yard, but the trees by the street have very few on them. The lilies, bee balm and gladiolus are coming up, the lavender is budding and we harvested our first few strawberries. The lettuce that I started in the cold frame is doing okay, but insects ate all the bok choy and the spinach looks peaked.

The seedlings are doing okay as well, but since I was so slow getting started, they are small for the time of year. I put them out under the cherry tree to harden off. Everything came up except the Bloomsdale spinach and some of the Berriwinkle vinca.

I built a trellis for the clematis, only to discover that the clematis was dead. (I worried about it last August) Fran Himelfarb advised not to plant another in the same spot because whatever disease killed the last one would probably kill the next. Fortunately, Stephanie from across the street came to the rescue, bringing over a five-leaved akebia plant (Akebia quinata). She says I will be pleased with it.
We visited Anselm, Joan and Hazel in Los Angeles two weeks ago. The flowers there are stunning. They grow everywhere: outside stores, in vacant lots, along the street. The scents are intoxicating. (Am I too trite?) Birds of Paradise are common as geraniums. Rosemary is used to make hedges. Jasmine abounds. Here is Wendy taking a photo of an angel's trumpet plant outside our motel.

April Flowers, May Showers

May 1, 2012
This year's warm dry April reversed the April-showers-bring-May-flowers adage. After a very dry April, we got some rain at the end of the month. Every gardener I talked to remarked on how early the flowering season was this year. We visited Fran Himelfarb's garden last weekend to find her azalea and rhododendron in full bloom.

Here at home, the peas and indoor seedlings (most of them) are sprouting. I worry about how they will fare while we are away for three days at the end of the week.

I transplanted lettuce, spinach and bok choy from the cold frame to a little patch inside the back fence next to the peas. So far so good, but I fear that the insects or rabbits will find them soon enough. The garlic is doing exceptionally well. The kale from last year is in full bloom.

I transplanted a sprout from the aucuba plant into a pot outside the bathroom window — and tried to coax a few more branches to put down roots. The clematis vine died. Fran said it was probably disease and suggested that I not plant another clematis at the same place. Alas.

April in Bloom

April 19, 2012
After the warmest March on record, April exploded into bloom. Phlox, azalea, wisteria, daffodils, tulips, periwinkle, lilacs and cherries are in full bloom, while the maples are just beginning to bud.

April stirred the gladiolus roots to send up tender shoots. The peas (most of them) have popped up. The seedlings are spouting in the basement under fluorescent lights. I added a second set of lights over the table next to the oil tank, using sunlight bulbs.

The swiss chard I planted in July overwintered nicely. We had some for dinner. Its age gives it a distinctively strong flavor. The kale which I planted at the same time provided leaves throughout the winter. Now it is gone to seed. The garlic continues to look good. I have a few lettuce, spinach and bok choy seedlings in the cold frame that look like they are ready to transplant into the garden.
All three cherry trees are in full bloom. Last year we had very few cherries, while the year before they were in abundance. What will this year bring?

Seeds in Under the Wire

April 6, 2012
It would have been an embarrassment had April arrived with my seeds unplanted. Fortunately, I was able to get them in soil on the 31st of March.

I sowed four flats of seeds and put them under fluorescent lamps in the basement. I planted them in Jiffy-Mix, which I bought at Kunz Greenhouse for $10.99. I have not used Jiffy-Mix before, but I like its fine texture. Several of the seeds have already sprouted.

The next day, April Fools Day, I sowed peas in the back yard, inside the fence. The bed was overgrown with weeds from the compost I had spread at the end of last summer. I dug them out, double dug the bed, spread a couple wheelbarrows of compost mixed with Plantone fertilizer and ground limestone, rigged up a trellis for support, and planted two 10-foot rows of peas.

I devised a fairly elaborate trellis made from 2x2x6 boards with 8 holes drilled in each and painted with sage green exterior paint from Aboffs. I strung twine secured with a loop at one end and a peg at the other. We will see how they fare. It seemed like a lot of fuss for a couple of bowls of peas, but if the trellis works as planned, it can be used for several plantings.

In the Cold Frame

March 31, 2012
Last week I finally got around to putting a few seeds in the ground. I cleaned out the cold frame and planted a short row of Burpee Organic Bloomsdale spinach along the north edge, various lettuce seeds to the west and a row each of Butterflay spinach from Turtle Tree and bok choy from years past.

I've been faithfully watering for the past five days, but no signs of life yet.

Gladiolus

March 26, 2012
Wendy expressed an interest in gladiolus when she saw some blooming last summer. I bought 16 bulbs from Burpee (Fordhook Ruffled Pastel Mix) and planted them yesterday. Ten went outside the fence and six in the back yard outside the bathroom window. I dug in some compost and Master Nursery bumper crop soil booster, topped with a bit of Plantone fertilizer.
The forsythia, periwinkle and daffodils are in full bloom. All sorts of things are popping up through the leaves, signalling work to do. They say it may freeze tonight.

Lazy

March 21, 2012
Where have I been since early December? What have I done?

It is past mid-March and I've done next to nothing until last week when I harvested the compost. I put it off for months, procrastinating. We've had a remarkably warm winter with little snow and few freezes. Perhaps I couldn't be ready for spring without having endured a winter. I filled six trash cans with compost from the west side of the bin. There is plenty more buried under the east side.

Garlic sprouting
I did manage to get most of the leaves raked up and the lawnmower and tools sharpened. I cut back the lilacs in the side yard severely. The experiment with parsley in the basement worked for a while, but fizzled. The plants survived, but didn't grow. The garlic I planted October came up nicely.

I ordered seeds today (finally!). Another example of procrastination. I will list them when they arrive.

In early March I visited Anselm, Joan and Hazel in Los Angeles, where it was in the mid-80's. The scent of jasmine filled the air. We took a steep walk up to the Griffith Observatory where we saw a beautiful bird of paradise. We visited Descanso Gardens where camellias and lilac were in bloom.

Late Bloomers

December 6, 2011

This year we had an exceptionally warm spell in late November which fooled several species into thinking it was spring. Islip Airport recorded highs of 66 ° on November 28 and 29.

Marigold
Phlox
Phlox
Forsythia
Rudbeckia
Stonecrop
??
Periwinkle
Alyssum
Rose
Rape
Rugosa

Slithering toward winter

November 19, 2011
I'm not sure why I've let five weeks pass without making an entry into this diary. Perhaps I feel the same way the plants feel.

Here's a picture of a worm that was slithering across the back yard (at about 80 mph worm-speed) in late October. I almost ran over it with the lawn mower. This has been an exceptionally good year for fat juicy worms. I suspect it has to do with the Long Island Compost mulch I've been using for the past several years, although it might also be associated with the Master Nursery bumper crop soil booster I started using this year. The worms love to hang out on the edges of the gardens under the grass or weeds. I've noticed a lot of worm castings.

The first frost hit on October 31, while I was in St. Louis. When I came home, the morning glories and basil were dead. Within ten days or so, the zinnias, vinca, Mexican heather and impatiens had been killed by cold as well. (By the way, the Islip Airport weather station posts a record of past weather reports.)

The New England asters and marigolds have gone to seed. I pulled out the pepper plants last week. The roses are still showing a few blooms, as are the rudbeckia. The herbs are still intact: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives. I am still harvesting swiss chard and kale. A few arugula plants are still alive, but bugs ate them.

The seeds I planted in the cold frame last month were eaten as soon as they sprouted, leaving me with nothing. I think I'll try the basement. The garlic sprouted and is now about four inches high.

Columbus Day

October 10, 2011
This year's garden is coming to an end. I harvested the last of the green beans and pulled up the plants. I took down the last of the tomatoes and cucumbers. The basil, cleomes, marigolds and asters are fading. The fall crops—kale, swiss chard, arugula—are thriving, waiting for the first frost.

Fall clean-up has a certain sadness about it, but it is also a time to prepare for next year's plantings. Every spring I wonder what I was doing last fall. Why didn't you pull the weeds, rake the leaves, turn the compost? Next spring will probably be no different, though I am here to testify that I am trying to get the garden ready.

I sowed lettuce, arugula, spinach and cilantro in a flat, which I will keep in the cold frame until I bring it inside. This year I am going to try to keep some herbs and greens going in the basement under florescent lights.

I planted 28 garlic cloves today. Twenty-one of them are at the south end of the vegetable garden and the other seven are on the east side, across from the garage window. The soil was rich with long fat worms whose droppings were plainly visible. I take that as a very positive portent.

Late September

September 24, 2011
The garden came through beautifully last weekend when Anselm, Joan, Hazel, Paul and Homer joined us for dinner. We had sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, kale, and green beans from the garden. The green beans (Burpee's Tendercrop bush bean) were especially good this year—prolific, upright (even after Hurricane Irene), free of disease or pests, with straight, tender and delicious beans—which came in over about two weeks, allowing for multiple servings without waste. Next year I will try for two or three plantings.
This weekend we are in Amagansett. The herb garden which I planted on May 8 was well tended by the renters and produced a nice crop.

Still Here

September 22, 2011
I've been neglectful of my garden diary (indeed my entire website) for almost a month. Hurricane Irene came and went shattering trees as it blew through. While it caused havoc around the neighborhood, it did only minor damage to our yard and garden. The tree in the side yard lost a branch and the tree in front expressed its displeasure by dropping 10% of its leaves. The cleomes were blown down and the zucchini was broken into pieces, but otherwise we survived without harm (and without power for five days).
September brought late summer blooms. The rosemary produced delicate white flowers at its tips. The garlic chives made a brilliant display of white umbrellas for a few days. The roses sent up fashionable dark purplish red shoots, matched by the purple basil that sprouted here and there. The morning glories (at least those on the trellis) are in bloom as are the New England asters we rescued from the church field.
The crepe myrtle is still in full bloom, as are the marigolds, vinca, rudbeckia, germander, box basil, some of the roses, Mexican heather and zinnias. I planted two chrysanthemums outside the bathroom window and one outside the fence. I bought them at BB & GG for $18.00.
Meanwhile the garden continues to produce. The Roma and cherry tomatoes are shot, but the Big Boy plants are still going, albeit with multiple signs of disease. The two hot red pepper plants yielded a nice crop, most of which I gave to James at University Hospital. I should plant more and different varieties next year. The lettuce went to seed (I should plant more) but the arugula is in its prime. The kale is doing splendidly. The chard looked burned when we returned from vacation, but the newer leaves look fine. The bok choy sprouted fast. Some were eaten by bugs and one went into flower, but I managed to save a few for dinner. The basil is doing well.

Note: You may have noticed the phrase "dark purplish red" in my description of the roses. I found it in an on-line dictionary of color names that is well worth bookmarking.

Waiting for Irene

August 27, 2011
Hurricane Irene is due to hit Long Island in about 18 hours. Who knows what the damage will be. We stowed everything in the garage and stocked up on charcoal, batteries, and liquor.

We were away all last week—first to Lake George, then to Cheshire Massachusetts. While we were gone, most of the tomatoes went bad, though a few endured. The bok choy grew to eating size; the zucchini plant produced a squash the size of a small Zeppelin; the beans and cucumbers matured nicely. The swiss chard looks anemic and burned. The pepper plants, though producing fruit, seem perpetually thirsty.

We have been eating kale all summer. It grows easily, without any hint of disease, insect damage or dryness. Alice taught me the technique of cutting the lower leaves, producing what looks like a miniature palm tree. The lettuce and arugula are producing a sufficient supply to keep us in salads and sandwich toppings. There was enough basil to make a big batch of pesto sauce.
The roses in the back yard are putting on a late summer show. Marigolds, zinnias, vinca, cleome, and germander are in full bloom. The crepe myrtle from Ventryce in the front yard bloomed for the first time. Unfortunately it is a pink variety, not the dark red that Wendy likes. The morning glories, asters and chrysanthemums have grown up, but not yet blossomed. Bachelor buttons, bee balm, echinacea, and coreopsis are about done. Most of the rudbeckia is spent.

Tomato Week

August 17, 2011
This week was tomato week. I made three batches of sauce so far, and the harvest seems far from over. Only problem: we are going away for a week. Who knows what we will find when we get back. I grew three varieties from Burpee 2010 seeds. The Big Boy Bush Hybrid did well, especially the plant in the east side of the garden. The only problem so far is their tendency to fall off the vine while still green. The Honeybunch Hybrid is prolific in all locations. Excellent taste, but they tend to split just as they ripen. The Roma did well, though some of them tend toward hollow.
We had a lot of rain this past week, keeping the flowers in bloom. I have been impressed by the vinca in the side yard which has withstood direct sun all summer without fading or burning. The marigolds remain in bloom, as do the cleomes and rudbeckias, though some of the latter have burned out. I transplanted a few vinca and gomphrena seedlings to the plot outside the bathroom window. The chrysanthemum there are filling out and showing signs of budding.
Both kinds of basil have done well this year—prolific and relatively free of insects. I am disappointed by not having parsley this year. The seeds did not come up or I did not get them into the ground in time. The one plant I bought and transplanted died suddenly.

I harvested one small, half-eaten zucchini. The plant looks healthy enough: just have to fight off the slugs and bugs eating the fruit. I planted zucchini seeds last week. They are just popping up. The peppers are starting to set fruit. We are eating kale, chard, and lettuce from the garden—and, of course, tomatoes.

New Camera, Not Much to Shoot

August 7, 2011
I bought a new camera today—a Canon G11—for $400. It looks like a great camera. Not too much around to shoot. If these photos are any indication, it definitely looks like an upgrade in image quality. The roses in the front yard bloomed again this week. The tomatoes are beginning to ripen in earnest, and the transplants are doing well.
The clematis is completely brown and dry. Will it come back next year? The volunteer potato plants are ready to dig up, though I worry about damaging the nearby tomato roots. We went to Brooklyn yesterday. A man was selling bunches of purslane for $2:00 a bunch. I could be a millionaire.

A Trip to the Fair

August 5, 2011
Last week Wendy and I visited the Broome County Fair in Whitney Point NY with Paul and Mary. We were too late to see the garden entries, but we got a good view of the animals and crafts. I was pleased to see that the 4H Clubs are still active. The highlight of the visit was the pig races -- not as thrilling as Saratoga, but entertaining in their way.
Meanwhile back at home the weeds were growing. The beans, bok choy and cucumbers that I sowed on July 26 were already up. The kale, chard and bok choy I transplanted survived. The tomatoes are beginning to turn red. We are taking in bits of lettuce, arugula and kale. The roses are blooming again. The lilies and day lilies are spent. The Pasque flower expired as did the ice plant. Too much direct sun.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

July 26, 2011
Temperatures have been in the 90s, hitting 100° on Friday. Too hot to do much in the garden.

The lily behind the garage bloomed and faded, but it was spectacular while it lasted. The vinca outside the fence is thriving, as is the germander. I must set out more of both next year. The boxwood basil, bee balm and marigolds are doing well beneath the trellis and the morning glory plants are beginning to wind their way up. I harvested 27 beautiful big garlics, washed them and set them out to dry. We are cutting the lettuce, arugula and cilantro that I sowed on June 14. The mesclun from 2007 did not come up. The tomatoes are just beginning to turn red. We've had a few cherry tomatoes.

Yesterday I transplanted kale, bok choy, swiss chard and zinnias that I sowed on July 2. Since only three peas from June 28 came up, I sowed cucumber seeds (Burpee Straight Eight, 2010) in their place. I sowed a row each of beans (Burpee Tenderpod, 2011) and bok choy in the plot next to the hedge outside the bathroom.

My camera is acting up. Hopefully Wendy will get it fixed today. I finally set up the template for individual plants and created a few. Check them out.

Moving Things Around

July 10, 2011
Mid-July is the beginning of Long Island's hot dry season. Crabgrass establishes a death grip; purslane flourishes; container plants wilt.

The hotter it gets, the less willing I am to take on the big dirty jobs, like moving plants around, but this weekend there were some things that had to be done. I planted the echinacea, veronica and parsley I bought at Hitherbrook, plus a purple pepper plant I bought at half price at Olsen's Discount Nursery. It appears that all the St. James Nurseries are following Hitherbrook's lead this year.

The section outside the fence in the front was a mess. A section in the middle of the creeping phlox had died. Lavender was struggling to survive in front of the loosestrife; yellow sedum was mixed in with the dianthus. An invasive plant with purple flowers, whose name I cannot find (see photo at left), is mixed in with everything and spreading fast.

I found a place for the lavender by digging out the wild rose bush that was intertwined with the fence (a nasty job), consolidating the irises, and cutting back the day lilies. What appeared to be one clump of lavender separated into ten small pieces, which I duly transplanted.

I dug up the center section of phlox and planted a few clumps of it outside the fence at the end of the driveway. I dug out the dianthus/sedum mix and separated the two (a dusty chore), buried a few strips of plastic landscape border to keep them apart (dream on!), planted the sedum in front of the loosestrife, and the dianthus between the remaining clumps of phlox.

Today, I fixed up the rose garden, pulling weeds, cutting back the invasion of grass and clover, and deadheading the roses. Only a few leaves have turned yellow.

The seeds I planted on July 2 are sprouting, though something is eating the zinnia sprouts. Only three of the peas I planted on June 28 have sprouted to date. I put the sprinkler on them in the hope that water will do the trick. The Brussels sprouts seeds from July 2 have yet to make an appearance. Green tomatoes are getting larger. The garlic is about ready to harvest. Bachelor buttons are in bloom.

Half-price Sale

July 9, 2011
Every year for the past thirty years, on the Saturday after the 4th of July, Hitherbrook Nursery holds its annual half-price sale. A couple hundred local gardeners line up for the 8:00 bell. Some arrive in the pre-dawn, just to be sure they get what they want.

I arrived a little after 7:00, having scouted the place the afternoon before. Perhaps fifty people were ahead of me. I had my eye on a couple echinacea plants, which I hoped were shorter and redder than the ones growing outside the fence, and a veronica, which would go well with the eryngium I bought last year. I got both, plus a parsley plant, a hanging basket of ivy geranium, a bag of Plantone fertilizer, and grass seed. I was back home before 9:00 ready for a day in the garden.

Fourth of July (Almost)

July 2, 2011
The Fourth of July weekend is going to be a hot one. I transplanted volunteer cleomes outside the fence, next to the lilac bush.

I started a flat of seeds, hoping to have a nice crop of flowers and vegetables in the August and September.

1Sweet WilliamDemeter09
2ScabiosaBotanical Interests10
3VincaBurpee11
4GomphrenaBurpee11
5Swiss ChardHome grown10
6Bok Choy Botanical Interests10
7ParsleyBurpee07
8KaleTurtle Tree11
9ZinniaBurpee11

This may not look like Brussels sprouts but they are underground in the form of seeds. I planted four of them next to the driveway in the hope that we will be eating them in October.

No Cherries! Brown Rot!

June 28, 2011
Last year we had more cherries than we could pick. This year nothing. The trees in the side yard blossomed and produced a few incipient cherries, but none came to fruition. The tree in the back (pictured here) developed a moderate number of cherries, but they developed brown rot and withered away. The small purplish brown remains are called mummies and carry the disease from one year to the next. I need to get them off the tree and clean up under it.
On a cheerier note, the butterfly weed has bloomed, bringing a shock of orange to the back yard. Coreopsis, clematis, marigolds, vinca, ice plant, eryngium, thyme, lavender, bachelor buttons, snap dragons, rudbeckia, and day lilies are in bloom. Cleome and hydrangea are soon to follow. Wendy is getting a good crop of lavender for her bouquets.

The seeds I planted on June 14 are sprouting nicely. We got a good harvest of peas, which is now finished. Today I planted a second crop of peas inside the fence in the back yard, using Master Nursery bumper crop soil amendment.

A couple of weeks ago I planted a few bush beans (Burpee Tenderpod 2011) and a few summer squash seeds. They have popped up along with the morning glory seeds. Blackberries and grapes are forming on the few bushes at the back of the garden. We are bringing in basil, lettuce, endive, swiss chard and kale.

A Week of Chores

June 20, 2011
Mid-June is a busy time in the garden -- mowing, weeding, pruning, harvesting. I trimmed the hedges and staked the tomatoes yesterday. I used 2x2 stakes from Lowe's ($1.97 each). A similar approach failed last year, but this year I used heavy duty twine and threaded it through holes I drilled in the stakes. Eight tomato plants are probably too many.
We are harvesting kale, peas, arugula and lettuce. The day lilies have bloomed along with the lavender and coreopsis. The eryngium looks great. The vinca and ice plant I started from seed are starting to bloom. There will be very few cherries this year - none from the trees in the side yard. I suppose they shot their wad last year and need a year to recuperate.

An Abundant Spring

June 14, 2011
When we returned from a week out west, the yard and garden looked a bit disheveled, but four days of weeding, clipping and transplanting, coupled with two or three rain showers, have restored it to some semblance of order.

Before we left, I quickly planted out anything that was still in flats - two Roma tomato plants inside the back fence, a few peppers and a parsley plant in the garden, and a row of box basil under the trellis next to the drive.

Irises and sage are spent but the day lilies, butterfly weeds and lavender are poised to bloom. Coreopsis is blooming as are the two other (as yet unnamed) yellow plants outside the fence. The roses are past their prime, but will have a second flush. Marigolds and clematis are blooming.

Sunday, I sowed morning glory seeds under the trellis and yesterday I sowed cilantro (Turtle Tree 2011), Victoria lettuce (Turtle Tree 2011), arugula (Burpee 2006), mesclun (Burpee 2007), Tenderpod bush beans (Burpee 2011) and summer squash (Burpee 2006) in the garden. I transplanted volunteer cleome next to the bachelor buttons outside the bathroom window. I am harvesting lettuce, bok choy, basil and arugula. The peas are ready to pick and shell.

Gardens in the West

June 13, 2011
Last week, Wendy and I flew to Boulder Colorado to visit Alice, and thence to Los Angeles California to visit William, Anselm, Joan and Hazel. While there, we visited several gardens, including the one pictured at the left -- Frog Belly Farms, where Alice works occasionally in exchange for goat milk and fresh vegetables. The farm is located just east of the mountains in what appears to be reclaimed desert. A mountain stream is channelled through it to provide irrigation and water for the cows, goats and chickens.

The farm is an outgrowth of the international Camp Hill community and is supported by a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Seeds and seedlings are nurtured in greenhouses and cold frames, then planted out by interns and volunteers into the outdoor gardens. The inhospitable clay soil is made fertile by compost from the farm animals.

In California, we visited the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. I found the desert garden fascinating, perhaps because it was so different from what we usually see in the East.

We also visited the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens (pictured at left), which is less a formal garden and more a walk through the woods on the side of a mountain. Here too, the mountains form a beautiful backdrop to the rough landscape.

Meanwhile back home the weeds are growing, several plantings have gone to seed and the lawn needs mowing.

You Say Tomato, I Say Potato

May 29, 2011
A nice mix of rain and sun has everything, including the gardener, hopping. All those carefully tended seedlings demand transplanting; the lawn wants mowing; the weeds need pulling. Spent lilacs and irises, together with the rapidly growing New England asters, should be trimmed.

I transplanted three more tomato plants (one of each variety). Three potato plants - left over from last year - popped up on their own. I planted red and white impatiens from BB & GG.

The roses are beginning to flower. We are harvesting lettuce and spinach. It is that time of year when the spring rains and the mild sun do their best work. Ahead lies the summer with its drought and scorching sun.

A Master Gardener

May 29, 2011
Last Saturday, I accompanied Linda Misa and her friend Carol as they visited Fran Himelfarb in her garden. Linda and Carol were coming out east for a garden tour, and Fran invited them to see her garden, of which she is justly proud.

Fran specializes in deciduous plants that grow in acidic soil under filtered sun -- Japanese maples, conifers, rhododendrons and azaleas (which Fran pointed out are a species of rhododendron).

I had seen the garden many times, but never in May. The rhododendrons were in full color, beautifully set off by background greens. Fran's garden is laid out like a Japanese garden, each turn bringing the visitor to a new vista.

As an added treat, we met Fran's son David, here from California for a visit. He has taken the garden tour many times, but has carefully avoided taking an interest, despairing of ever approaching his mother's degree of garden wisdom.

Rain Out

May 18, 2011
Nothing but rain for the past four days! At first the rain seemed benevolent, helping the spinach, lettuce and Chinese cabbage swell and relieving me of watering-can duties. But after a while, as rain eventually does, it begins to get on one's nerves. The azalea is in full bloom, but soggy. The picture is from last year, meant to cheer us up.

On a related note, I learned today that azalea is spelled with an 'a', not an 'e'. I used to think that I was not a good speller through some fault of my own, but as I have come to pay closer attention to the English language, I am beginning to think that the fault lies in the language, not with me. I saw a sign in a tavern window the other day that said "Guiness Draught", which is pronounced like "Draft", as in 'laughter'. Most 'aught' words -- caught, taught, daughter, slaughter, -- sound like 'ought', though. Tough language.

Paradise Ends in the Garden

May 15, 2011
The garden is no longer an Eden but a battleground. Aphids have attacked the rosebuds, threatening total destruction. Just-about-ready-to-harvest lettuce and spinach plants are withering in place, their stems chewed near the soil. Something - slugs? loopers? - continues to eat the spinach and swiss chard. Yesterday I sprayed the roses with Safer © soap (more correctly, Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap) and sprinkled diatomaceous earth around the chard and spinach. Last night it rained. We'll see what happens.
On a cheerier note, I planted yellow and orange marigolds amid the periwinkle, creating a neat effect. I set out the bachelor buttons outside the bathroom window, where the bee balm used to be. I also set out the second seeding of spinach, lettuce and Chinese cabbage.

The wisteria is in full bloom and the irises are just about ready.

I transformed the Garden Diary blog this morning into the new standard format - no easy feat. I had to do it, however, because Larry said he got lost looking through the website.

Planting Amagansett

May 8, 2011
Each spring we get the garden ready for the renters - and for our September selves - by planting marigolds in a whiskey barrel, impatiens in boxes on the front porch, and geraniums in a planter next to the flagpole. This year was no exception. Larry and I went shopping for the plants at Agway. I used Master Nursery potting mix from Whitmore Nursery in Amagansett.
You might recall the image of the Amagansett herb garden from March 6. It is now - as promised - a vibrant herb garden. The French tarragon, sage, chives, mint and rue survived the winter, which I supplemented with basil, parsley and marigolds. What will it look like in the fall?

Poppin'

May 6, 2011
Seedlings are popping out of the ground, trees are popping their leaves, and flowers are popping out all over.

The basil and pepper seeds I planted in March are finally showing, as are the spinach and arugula I started a few weeks later. Ice plant, vinca and cosmos are ready to transplant. The orange lilies Stephanie gave me last year, which I planted next to the sewer, and the white lily behind the garage are a foot high. Cherries, azaleas and lilacs bloomed this week; wisteria and irises are loading up. Periwinkle, phlox and bleeding heart are still in full bloom. Even the crepe myrtle in the front yard is starting to show signs of life.

I transplanted lettuce, bok choy, and kale from flats into the vegetable using garden Master Nursery bumper crop soil booster. I dug out the bee balm (bergamot) outside the bathroom window and transplanted individual plants next to the morning glory trellis, along with marigolds I started from seed.

It has been warm enough to leave all the seedlings, including the tomatoes, outside. I took the top off the cold frame.

Unfortunately, the warm weather has brought insects. Something is gnawing on my swiss chard. (I say 'my swiss chard' because it is growing in my garden, but truth be told, it popped up without any help from me.) I'm going to try some diatomaceous earth.

April Is the Busiest Month

April 28, 2011
So many projects to keep up with! The seedlings are sprouting in the basement. A few days ago I transplanted the tomato sprouts into larger containers using the Master Nursery potting mix. I planted six snap dragons outside the fence, next to the Jacob's Ladder and Pasque flower. The peas are at about three inches and the garlic is almost mature. Both are looking good.
I spread a couple inches of compost over the vegetable garden and transplanted lettuce, cilantro and bok choy from the cold frame, digging in some Master Nursery bumper crop soil booster under them.

There has been plenty of rain, so everything is lush. The cherries, azaleas, lilacs, chives, Jacob's ladder, Pulsatilla and dianthus are starting to bloom. The roses, hydrangea and maples are budding. Lilies and mint are sprouting. Tulips, bleeding hearts, periwinkle and phlox are in full bloom.

I even managed to harvest a lettuce plant and leaves from an arugula which had overwintered in the cold frame. This fall, I will see if I can tuck a few more away.

Farewell Old Maple, Hello Spring

April 22, 2011
Yesterday we — more precisely Reliable Tree Service — took down the maple tree that had been our front yard since we moved in. All that was left of it was a pile of wood chips and bits of branches scattered around the yard.
The tree, which overhung the driveway, was clearly dying. Branches were falling off — some onto the car. The birds used the bare branches as a latrine, much to my consternation. So, when I bought a new car, it was time for the tree to go. Here is where the tree used to be.

Frank from Reliable pointed out that the young maple in the middle of the yard was growing unevenly: fuller to the west and sparser to the east. He said that with the morning sun, it would 'pop' and the eastern side would fill out.

I used the wood chips from the maple to mulch the lilacs and privet hedge. I worry that I'll be sorry when the lilacs yellow and the chips clog the lawnmower.
The periwinkle is starting to bloom. It has been especially prolific and flowerful this year. The phlox is flowering; tulips are beginning to show; tiny lilac blooms are forming; daffodils are in full bloom. The grass is green. I cut it for the first time last weekend. The peas are up. I transplanted lettuce and spinach to the little garden outside the bathroom window. Some swiss chard overwintered; six or eight of them are in the vegetable garden, which has been dug up and deweeded.

Busy Day in the Garden

April 10, 2011
Today was a busy day in the garden. Inspired by a set-up I saw in John Meyer's basement, I created a new site for growing plants in the basement using a 48-inch table, which I bought at Target for $30, and a 48-inch fluorescent light fixture and bulbs. I used GE Sunshine 40 bulbs. I started two flats of flowers and vegetables: bok choy, endive, kale, pepper, scabiosa, bachelor button, sweet William, and more box basil, using Master Nursery Potting Soil.
I started the day with a visit to Kunz Greenhouse in Port Jefferson. They carry a full like of organic products, including the Master Nursery line. I bought two-pound bags of the potting soil and Bumper Crop soil booster for $15.99 each. I have not tried the soil booster, but am anxious to see how well it works. While I was there, I bought a Jacob's ladder (polemonium) plant for $5.99 which I planted outside the fence next to the Pasque flower (Pulsatilla), which started to sprout.
Swiss Chard
The vegetable garden is almost ready to plant. I still need to dig up some weeds and dig in some compost. Six Swiss chard plants survived the winter. I planted them along with an onion that I happened to stick in the soil last fall.
I also dug up five columbine sprouts I found in various places and planted them among the bulbs under the cherry trees.

Yellow Week

April 9, 2011
This week the daffodils and forsythia bloomed, spraying yellow across St.. James. Every year I resolve to clump the daffodils together for a more impressive display, and every year I fail to do so. Perhaps this year will be different.
Yesterday I dug out the little red maple growing next to the back fence. It threatened to crowd the magnificent white lily that Stephanie loves so much. I potted it with the ivy outside the bathroom window, replacing the blackberry bush that was there. (The photo on the left was taken three weeks later.)

In the process I used the last of the Gardener's Gold potting soil I have been using. After a search, I found it at Kunz Greenhouse in Port Jefferson.

After the Funeral

April 4, 2011
While I was in St. Louis for Danny McClain's funeral, Sharon and I visited the Missouri Botanical Garden. The cherry blossoms in the Japanese garden were in bloom, as were the daffodils and some tulips. We strolled the garden and went through the climatron and Schoenberg Temperate House, which neither of us had seen before. I was struck by the fact that the roses, which were pruned way back and starting to bud, were mounded with wood chip mulch. I have always avoided mulching the stems of my roses, but this year I will give it a try.

While we were there I couldn't help buying a few seeds. I got a packet each of Bok Choy (White Stem), Brussels Sprout (Long Island Improved), and Scabiosa (Isaac House Blend), all from Botanical Interests.

Two More Flats

March 27, 2011
Since it was too cold to do much outside, and since I am probably already late getting my spring flower and vegetable seeds into the soil, I planted two more flats. I put one under lights in the basement and the other in the cold frame. I created a PDF file listing the plants.

I used the Burpee seeds I ordered last week plus some homegrown pepper seeds. I also planted tobacco seeds that Bo sent me with his home made cigars.

Seedlings Under Glass

March 27, 2011
With the temperatures hovering just above freezing, these seedlings in the cold frame are taking their time coming up. Who can blame them? I wouldn't be anxious to come into such a cold world myself.

The spinach, lettuce (Turtle Tree, 2011), Chinese cabbage (2008) and green ice lettuce (2010) are up from the March 6 planting. The cilantro (2011), arugula (2006), spinach (Burpee 2008), and lettuce (Hart 2009) are not up yet.

Late Snow

March 24, 2011
After the first few warm days of spring, I cannot resist the urge to remove last fall's leaves from the garden beds. My aim is to get rid of everything brown in favor of everything green, to replace reminders of death with signs of new life. As I uncover the tender sprouts I wonder if I am doing the right thing, exposing such seemingly fragile life to the harsh realities of March.
This year, the sprouts had barely four days in the sun before the snow blanketed them. My guess is they will survive as they do every year.

What's Up?

March 23, 2011
On March 6, I planted a flat of seeds and put them under grow lights in the basement. All the tomato seeds sprouted (Burpee's Big Boy, Roma, and Honeybunch, 2010) as did the snapdragons (Turtle Tree Seeds, 2011). Two of six cosmos (Sonata, 2010) have come up so far. One curled parsley (2007) has sprouted. Zinnia from 2008, basil from 2007 and parsley from 2007 have not sprouted yet.

Planting Peas

March 18, 2011
Planting peas on St. Patrick's Day is a gardening tradition. The week leading up to St. Patrick's Day was warm and pleasant enough to generate an urge to plant outdoors. I had pea seeds from Turtle Tree Seeds, and an hour or so to spend preparing the garden. Now they are in the ground.

Two days later it was snowing. I imagine that the moisture will help them germinate, but the cold will probably put them off.

Pruning the Roses

March 17, 2011
Last Sunday, I cut all the roses back severely, as I do each year. It takes an act of faith to imagine that this helps them, but it seems to work.

I would like to have a better understanding of how climbing roses work. I think the roses in the front yard are climbers, but they don't seem to climb.

I fertilized the roses with Espoma RoseTone -- about three quarters of a cup for each plant.

While I was at Hitherbrook buying fertilizer, I picked up a bag of grass seed (Greenview Fairway Sun and Shade mix) to address some of the weak spots in the yard.

More Seeds

March 12, 2011
Because I couldn't do without boxwood basil or those beautiful blue morning glories, I ordered seeds from Burpee: plus gomphrena, cosmos, bush beans, and ice plant. I bought vinca seed after seeing the plants at Sharon's house last summer. I knew vinca only as periwinkle, which is all over the yard, but Sharon pointed out that there are many varieties. I got Burpee's Berriwinkle mix, whatever that is.

I hope to create a page for each plant and follow it through from year to year. An ambitious goal.

I have been trying to get African violets to stay in bloom under glass - so far unsuccessfully. A gardener at the nursery in East Hampton suggested African violet plant food, which I am trying. Stay tuned.

First Bloom of Spring

March 12, 2011
Saturday felt like spring. The piles of dirty snow in the front yard had melted away, the Christmas tree and the clipping from the privet hedge were finally gone from the curb, and the periwinkle presented the first bloom in our yard.

It was a good day for raking the leaves and rooting out the weeds that overwintered -- though I did not get more than half of either.

Starting from Seed

March 6, 2011
I planted two flats of seeds today. I used the new Turtle Tree spinach, lettuce, cilantro, and snapdragon seeds. The rest were from years past -- some as for back as 2006. I planted them in Master Nursery Gardener's Gold Organic Potting Soil.

In one flat, which I put outside under a makeshift cold frame, I planted spinach, cilantro, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, and arugula, thinking that they can tolerate a little cold. In the other, I planted three varieties of tomatoes, basil, zinnias, cosmos, snapdragons, and parsley. I put them under grow lights in the basement.

It turns out that creating a webpage from scratch, using HTMLX and CSS is not as easy as it seems. I seem to be doing too much fudging for it to be right although it comes out okay on the page.

Herbs of the Future

March 6, 2011
It is hard to believe that this patch will ever resemble a vibrant herb garden, but I am confident that it will.

We will follow it over time to see how it turns out.

Hope in a Seed

March 1, 2011
I ordered eight packets of biodynamic seeds today from Turtle Tree Seeds, a biodynamic seed initiative that operates out of Camphill Village USA in Copakee New York. Alice told me about them. I ordered spinach, kale, peas, cilantro, and an assortment of flowers. The cost was $3.00 per packet. Shipping was $6.00.

Ordering seeds, like planting them, is an act of hope.

Cutting Back

February 27, 2011
When our neighbors installed a stockade fence last summer, I saw an opportunity to highlight the privet hedge, which had, until then, served merely as the visual barrier between our back yards. The new fence created a nice backdrop against which to display the hedge. Problem was it was too high and unruly to shape. Yesterday, before it budded, I cut it way back, hoping that over the summer, I can tame it into something attractive.

Spring Sprouts

February 26, 2011
The first warm day. Snow is finally melting, revealing the wet dirty leaves tossed up with the snow. Next to the tree in the front yard, a clump of daffodils bravely poke their heads through the leaves. The website is starting to develop. I can now type paragraphs of any length, which cause the others to float down, but I still have a way to go.

Amagansett Beach in Winter

February 20, 2011
A wintery beach may have little to do with the garden, but not much is happening in the garden to write about. I have been making progress in developing this web page, however. I managed to get the pictures of uniform size and aspect ratio, and I am able to get the text to line up with the pictures as I want it, though not if the entry is too long. More work to do. This entry is probably too wordy to maintain interest, but I am interested in seeing what happens if I make a long entry, especially one with multiple paragraphs.

Wisteria Waiting for Spring

February 19, 2011
Last spring I potted a sucker from the wisteria in our front yard. I planted it out back in Amagansett in the fall. Now the snow is melting around it. The deer haven't eaten it.