Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Wishes

Let me in, let me in!  It's getting cold out here!

I hope all of you and your families have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  
Stay safe out there!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear Garden, You Might be in Trouble..

Sorry to break it to you, dear future Garden, but some possible, uh, challenges have been spotted...

I have spotted Bunnies nibbling away at the wildflowers in the yard on several occasions.  The reason this particular Bunny looks so happy?  He knows a Garden is coming.

Yep, that would be a Deer.  Right in the back yard.  Eating something. (Please let it not be the blueberry bushes I planted back there!)

And the neighbor has seen a Groundhog on several occasions.
That might explain all those large holes in the ground back there.   

She's also found a 4 foot long Snake skin.  In a tree.  
(Yes, I know that the snake is actually not harmful to you, dear Garden, but it's still a challenge.  Have you ever wanted to know how little gardening gets done when the now fearful Gardener is constantly looking up?)

Just what we needed.  More Rodents.  This one seems to be of the Chipmunk variety.

oh, no, could it be?


Aaahhhhhh!  It's the New England division of Squirrels!!!  

We're in trouble..

(for more information about these seemingly innocent Squirrels, please read my Mission Impossible: Squirrel Division post.)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All the Dirt on Sassafras

In 1603 the first Europeans sailed up the Piscataqua River, exploring what is now the border between New Hampshire and Maine.  This was a commercial venture, as they were specifically searching for something they knew they could sell for a lot of money...
Sassafras leaves turning color for fall
Back when, Sassafras root extract was considered to have great medicinal value as a cure for fevers, rheumatism, and STD's such as gonorrhea and syphilis (you don't often think of people back in the 1600's having these problems, do you?).  Several Native American tribes used Sassafras medicinally, and when colonial Americans brought this knowledge back to Europe, it became quite the medicinal fad.  For a short time Sassafras was the second largest export from colonial America, behind tobacco.

I have several of these native Sassafras trees in my backyard.  Anyone want to pay some big bucks for them?
Sassafras has been found to have some analgesic and antiseptic properties.  Some people still drink sassafras tea for such things as gastrointestinal problems and for use as a diuretic, and some also use it topically to sooth skin irritation.  However, the research from the 1960's found that very large amounts of safrole, which sassafras oil is largely made up of, caused cancer and permanent liver damage in laboratory rats.   So don't ever be a laboratory rat.  (Oh, and you might want to drink that tea in moderate amounts..)

The Sassafras tree is also interesting in that it has three different shaped leaves on the same tree!
(photo source - Augusta, GA government website)
High doses of safrole are also hallucinogenic, which is probably why it is used in the making of the drug MDMA, more widely known as 'Ecstasy' and 'molly' (thank you, Miley Cyrus, for bringing that to my attention).  Thus the transportation of safrole is closely monitored internationally.

The Sassafras trees in my yard are just for ornamental use, really!
Sassafras root used to also be the main flavoring for root beer before its ban by the FDA.  Root beer affectionados still make it themselves from natural Sassafras extract that has all dreaded safrole removed.  Or they make it from scratch from Sassafras roots.  (You can find a recipe here.) Sassafras is also used in Creole cooking.  Filé powder, which is made up from the dried, ground up Sassafras leaves and doesn't contain very much safrole, is used as a thickening seasoning for gumbo.  

Makes you want to go out and smell some Sassafras, doesn't it?

While I admire the Sassafras for its rich history, its varied uses, and its fragrant leaves and wood, I have to admit that as a gardener I really love these native trees for a totally different reason.

They're just really pretty trees.

the interestingly contorted branches of a Sassafras tree

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Designing a Northeastern Garden

When we finally moved into our new house in Massachusetts three months ago, it didn't seem much like a home at all.  One of the problems was that the yard was completely bare in the front.  No foundation plantings, no grass, nothing.  On the positive side, I got to design my garden from scratch!

Ack, my house is naked!!  Quick, throw a few shrubs over its foundation!
Step 1:  Trees, Shrubs, and Hardscaping

The first step in designing a garden is to put in what is called the 'bones' of the garden - the main structures that really anchor all the other smaller plantings.  That usually means trees, shrubs, and hardscaping.  

In addition to trees and shrubs, I have two light posts and a few boulders in my garden.  One great thing about the Northeast - boulders are plentiful!  (Farmers would probably disagree about this being a great thing.)
I designed this garden with the winter season in mind.  It's easy to make a garden look good in the summer up here in the Northeast when everything is blooming, not so easy to make a winter garden look good - and all I hear from people up here is how long the winter is going to be!  So I focused on plantings that would look good all year long, such as... 


On one side of our yard we put a Blue spruce.  The silvery blue of the needles match our house perfectly, and the birds love it!

Vanderwolf's Pyramid Limber Pine and a Blue Atlas Cedar are planted on the other side of my house.  I love how these two evergreens have totally different looks.

...and Foundation Plants with Winter Interest:

Deciduous trees and shrubs going in my yard needed to have either interesting bark or winter berries that would look good in winter!

Winterberry Hollies were planted on either side of my porch, and a River Birch tree with its fabulous light-colored, peeling bark was planted at the corner.

I also planted some Variegated Red Twig Dogwood shrubs.  In summer they have variegated, gray-green colored leaves that look quite pretty with our house color.  The leaves then turn a fabulous pink in autumn before dropping off to reveal bright red stems for winter!

Step 2:  Deciding on Color and Gardening Style

After putting in the main landscaping, it was time to take advantage of the end-of-the-season sales and get some smaller shrubs and perennials for the garden.  But what color scheme should I go with?  My previous Red House perfectly set the stage for a cheerful front garden filled with lots of yellow blooms accented by oranges, reds, whites, and purples.  

But my new house is a subdued grayish green with a hint of blue (yeah, I have no idea what color to describe it as).   However, it really lends itself to a.... pastel-colored English-cottage theme!

We're going pink and pastel here, very different for my garden!
For this theme I had to have roses, of course, though being the lazy gardener that I am, they had to be very hardy and non-fussy.   I found several 'The Fairy' Roses on sale, which are impressively still blooming despite our recent cold snap!  I also picked up several 'Magnus' Purple Coneflowers, several different shades of Salvia (I'm a sucker for salvia), Gaura, and some Great Blue Lobelia, among others.

The Great Blue Lobelia is perfect for a wet spot in the yard.
Step 3:  Plant what you love!

I know I had a pastel theme decided on, but I just couldn't resist putting some cheerful, bright yellow flowers somewhere in the garden.  Next to the garage side door I planted a little clump of Willow Leaf Sunflowers, which are fabulously supposed to get around 6 to 8 feet tall.  I can't wait.

I have big dreams for you, baby clump!
Step 4:  The fun has only just begun!

I still have a lot to fill in.  Bulb planting has started, and I'm already thinking about what plants to start from seed for next year.  Ah, such planning!  Hopefully it will carry me through the long, cold winter that everyone keeps warning me about!

But I must say, with the new beds and the landscaping 'bones' of the garden put in, my new house looks much more like a home!

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