Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Friday, October 20, 2017

Preparing for Winter

The love of gardening is a seed once sewn that never dies.
   -- Gertrude Jekyll

There are skeins of Canada geese flying in large Vs to the south at dawn and at dusk. Local Canada geese know there is something they should be doing but don't know what it is. So they fly up and circle and land on another field or playground or office park lawn, as in my photo below.

Winter is coming. It is inevitable as sunrise. If you have a garden of flowers, vegetables or both, you have to prepare it for those cold nights that will yield a killing frost, whether you like it or not.

Those who have plants they can ignore and pay someone else to take care of do not have this problem. Most of the shrubs and small ornamental trees in this area can withstand cold without being wrapped or otherwise protected. I, however, have always enjoyed growing flowering plants, and many of these have special needs.

So the first thing I had to do was to cut back all the perennials in the front and back yards that had flowered and then gone dormant. Then, after weeks of preparing myself mentally, I finally went down to our NJ county's mulch pile to fill five big buckets of free wood chips for a project in my front yard garden bed in front of the bay window. (Henceforth known as the Bay Garden.) I was forced to act by the weather forecast. After weeks of unusually warm weather in NJ during September and October, we were about to get overnight temperatures in the 30s. Many of the plants I keep outside are annuals that would die in the cold, especially if below the freezing mark, 32 degrees Fahrenheit. I persist in trying to keep these going for as long as I can rather than tossing living plants into compost just because the "experts" tell me to do so.

So I knew I'd have to bring my pots of annuals to the enclosed back porch to get them ready for being brought into my house. Same with my house plants already on this porch. But the Bay Garden was overgrown with ground ivy and Rose of Sharon seedlings and the shrubs needed pruning. This garden plot had, to be frank, gone to hell. It needed new fence posts, deer netting and a trench to keep the lawn grass and weeds from filling the area. I needed to dig this trench, pull out the weeds, cut the shrubs and then put down the mulch. Even with MH's great help the process took over eight hours and I just finished securing the netting before sundown.

The hardest part turned out to be pulling out the rabbit fencing, which was held down by garden staples I could not find and the grass and weeds that had grown through. It took MH and me all our combined strength to pull this out and we have been feeling the effects of our labor on our muscles for days now.

When you dig a trench, as I did in another area back in September, you have to attend to it every few years or the ground will fill and the problem will return. I did not do this on the Bay Garden. It had been at least 10 years, and it showed. As you will see below, the grass grew so high into the rabbit fencing you could not see the plants behind it.

I can tell you now that the job is done and I am happy. Later in the fall I will put a second, temporary layer of netting on to keep the deer thwarted over the winter, when there won't be much growing. I've learned the hard way a hungry deer determined to get to my leafy shrubs will split through one layer of netting quite easily.

My grandfather did not have this problem. I don't know if Pop gardened back in the Old Country but when he came to the U.S. thanks to his older brother he lived on the Lower East Side, which was far from a garden spot. When he and my grandmother moved to Brooklyn, he must've started planting things in the yard. When they moved to the house where I knew them, they had a big corner lot. Besides shrubs Pop grew vegetables and flowers. I do not remember them having house plants. He came to our house and planted roses, snowball bushes and a peach tree. I don't know who inspired him but my having any inclination towards gardening in a family of brown thumbs must've come from him.

This is my garden story. (All pictures are by me and the caption is beneath the picture.)

Above is a "before" picture. You can see that the grass has grown into the low rabbit fencing and the ground ivy is thick. From the street it was very hard to see the plants.

 Another "before" picture, this time from an angle.

The fence posts were removed, the netting taken down and the rabbit fencing removed, with great difficulty, by MH and me. He used the pitchfork to soften things up and I used the spade to start a trench between plants and the rest of the lawn.

A better view. After the trench was dug I had to go into the garden plot to pull out the weeds, hand to hand combat. The ground ivy was everywhere, even in the middle of the liriope, which is the plant in the lower right. Normally it would not have to be cut back until spring but I don't think the early haircut will hurt it.

One of the many ways in which MH helped me was shoveling the mulch I'd brought home (and dumped into a tarp in a corner of the driveway until I needed it) into the wheelbarrow and bringing it over to me. This was harder than you may think. Mulch in bulk is extremely heavy, and I had to bring home enough to cover the Bay Garden. Luckily, I guessed right and didn't need to go back for more. He wound up making three trips to and from the tarp and then we both dragged the tarp over - still heavy - to put the rest down.

Here we are after the mulch has been put down on the weeded garden. It was a shame to have to put the new fence posts in and the netting back up but that very afternoon a doe was grazing in the backyard grass, reminding me why I go through this nonsense.

The nearly finished product, done as the sun was setting. I realized after the fact that I'd have to put the rabbit fence along this netting, if only to keep larger critters such as the squirrels and rabbits out from where the fencing ends, under the bay window overhang you can see behind the shrubs.

This picture was taken the next day. Unlike before, the rabbit fence is not held down by stakes. It just sits next to the tacked down netting. From the street you can't see it. MH mowed recently and, for once, was able to get right up to the edge with out fear of tangling the mower in netting.

Gertrude Jekyll had the advantage of a large staff of men to help her in the massive effort of getting her estate's many garden beds ready for winter. If you read her books, you'll see what kind of effort that was. Makes what MH and I did look like nothing.

Still, we sure could've used that staff for our one problem bed.

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