October 25, 2011
There’s a definite crispness to most mornings and a certain golden quality to the afternoon light that can only mean one thing-that the long slide into winter has begun. And while many people don’t greet this descent with an open heart, here at Restoration Gardens, we’re all in a frenzy of activity. Unsold plants must be snugly put away until next spring, bulbs must be potted for forcing and most importantly, the garden center and gift shops must be decorated and bedazzled.
A major portion of that glitter and ribbon goes to our famous wreath workshop. The crew is made up of garden center employees and a special wreath task force that returns to our barn every year, much like swallows to Capistrano. And we believe that this comradery shows in each and every wreath we create. All of our makers have their own signature, be it a particular twist to grapevine loops, a deft hand with decorations or an exuberance of natural accents.
But we aren’t content with making wreaths alone. We’ll custom size your garland, clothe a dress-maker’s form in birch bark, build grapevine trees. Why, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination-yours and ours. And as a special offer to followers of our blog, we’ll take $5.00 off the price of any Classic or Designer wreath that is pre-ordered by November 12th.
So stop into garden center and place your order for your own holiday bling. Or to be inspired by this season’s creations. We’re happy to chat, give you a demonstration or tie a bow. And if you’re especially lucky, there will be baked goods.
October 6, 2011
Even though autumn may seem like a time of decline, it happens to be my favorite season. There is something comforting about putting your gardening projects to bed for the coming winter. And it works for life’s projects, too. I appreciate the chance of a break to breathe before the holiday madness begins.
Here at Restoration Gardens, and at the farm, this means deciding what winter preparations need to made. What trees will we up-pot? When will we cut back the perennial grasses? Which bulbs will we save to force? Where will we plant next year’s garlic? I could easily list another dozen tasks. Your list might be similar, or completely different. But all of these jobs can be described as ‘general fall clean-up’.
The first job that we tackle is cutting back-pots of perennials for over-wintering, plants on the berms, annuals and vegetables in the raised beds. So the big question, both physically and philosophically, is “What should I cut back and what should I leave?” Cleaning up spent perennials in the fall can give you a leg up on next year’s busy spring, as well as prevent the spread of fungus and other diseases. So go ahead and cut most of those plants as they die back, especially really leafy ones like hostas, daylilies, iris and peonies. But many plants can provide lots of interest to a winter landscape. Grass seed-heads and hydrangea blossoms are just two that are very popular. If you like the lovely quality that those plants add, you should mark your calendar with a note to schedule some very early spring maintenance for optimum performance next season. You’ll want to cut the grasses and other perennials back before they show signs of spring growth. Any fruit or spent flowers that are left on woody branches should be pruned for shape once the buds begin to expand.
I prefer to separate pruning from cutting back as there is technique and timing involved. Some woody plants can handle fall pruning and some cannot. Evergreens, for instance, are best trimmed as the new growth begins to harden, generally the first part of June. Pruning right now can open the plant to disease and winter injury. And the general rule for flowering trees and shrubs is to prune any that flower on old growth as soon as the flowers are spent, and those that flower on new growth while the plant is dormant. Lilacs, crabapples and magnolias should be trimmed by mid June and hydrangea, spirea and potentilla can be cut back any time the leaves are off and the plant is dormant.
Roses are an exception to that rule. Unless you have old-fashioned hydrid teas and grandifloras that are going to spend the cold season under rose cones, I recommend spring pruning. The very popular shrub roses are able to withstand our winters without much dieback. Wait until next spring’s buds swell for any trimming. Then you can shape the plant and remove old or damaged canes.
And as long as we’re on the subject of pruning out damaged wood, that can be done anytime for most plants. Make clean cuts with sharp pruning shears or saws. But if you are working on a plant that is susceptible to vascular diseases, only make those cuts during dormancy. These diseases are carried by insects that are attracted to the oozing sap that pruning often causes, so take care with oaks, ash and if you are lucky enough to have one, any native elms.
As for raking, your spring lawn will be much healthier if it isn’t covered by a layer of old foliage all winter. But what can you do with all of those leaves? Many gardeners like to save their leaves to use as a winter mulch on their beds and borders and that’s fine as long as it isn’t mounded deeper that 2 or 3 inches. It will break down a bit over the winter and it’s free. In the spring, topdress the beds with an inch or two of shredded bark. You should use clean straw for plants like roses and butterfly bushes that require deeper mulch for more protection. Leaves also make an excellent soil amendment for new planting areas and raised beds. Chopping them with a lawn mower on a dry day will hasten their decomposition. You can then spread the pieces evenly, digging in now or next spring. And if you use a composter, these smaller bits will speed the process.
Harvesting and foraging are activities that the staff Restoration Gardens spends a lot time on. Any of you who purchase our hand-made wreaths, holiday or not, might be intrigued to know that many of the decorative materials are growth right on the Kohler and Plymouth properties. We use everything from fountain grass seed-heads and curly willow branches to dried hydrangea blossoms and iris pods in container arrangements, wreaths and baskets. Last week would have found us foraging for bracket fungus moss tufts for spooky Halloween pots and hanging bright violet sea holly flowers to dry. Just use your imagination. Many gardeners have access to red twigged dogwood which can be renewal pruned in a month or so for holiday pots, leaving room in your decoration budget for some exotic berried juniper or coned incense-cedar.
Finally, I’ll write a few words on fall planting. There is a reason that landscapers plant into November. They know that autumn often provides the perfect conditions for plant establishment. Temperatures are cooler, rainfall is more regular and plants are concentrating their efforts rootward. You can feel free to take advantage of the fall sales at trusted garden centers. We’ll point you in the direction of trees, shrubs and perennials that are able to handle late planting. So celebrate the Autumnal Equinox with a little work in the garden tempered by some fall reflection.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the beauty of fall!