To dahlia or not to dahlia?

So beautiful, but such a lot of work. That’s dahlias. What’s great about them? Besides sheer beauty and variety, they bloom late in the year and keep on blooming generously until frost. The downside? We have to dig them in the fall, store them properly, and replant them properly in the spring. For some this might seem easy, but I have not yet got this process down. Another downside is that, while dahlias are native to Mexico, they are not really native here, don’t provide a lot of insect or bird or critter food. That is added to the problem (for pollinators) that we have cultivated huge full double blooms that pollinators have a hard time getting into.  Still, there are single varieties out there, and I’ve planted a few of them this year. Oh, and another downside is that half the time my dahlias don’t start blooming until just before frost. grr. This year I have a single that just started blooming. I forgot the name of it, sorry!

My favorite color for dahlias is deep red. One of these is blooming beautifully this year in the square garden. I got this one from Swan Island Dahlias. I love their catalog and can’t ever resist ordering a few. Several others of theirs are doing well but just now starting to bud. We’ll see! In past years I’ve had mixed success with dahlias. Mostly unsatisfactory, really. Often they are not stored properly and rot or dry out. My fault. I’ll keep working on it.

from 2010

from 2012

this is from 2013, when I covered over the last of the lawn in the back yard. This is a whole bunch of dahlias, carefully staked, that I planted in the back yard.  Most of them didn’t bloom very much before frost! erg.


You can see why dahlias are difficult to resist! They make such great cut flowers when they do bloom. 

So, overall I think dahlias are worth the bother–hopefully this coming winter I’ll get the process right!

How is that white garden doing?

I started a white garden in a less than perfect spot: under a massive black walnut tree, and built on top of a thick layer of added sand put there years ago to fill in a dip. This means it is extremely well-drained–i.e. dry as all get out. Even daylilies struggle there if I don’t pay attention. This year we had so much rain so frequently that I didn’t have to water. But normally I would need to mulch and keep adding composted manure to help preserve moisture. Here’s how it’s looking these days:

the view from the back yard. You can see the black walnut looming over the bed, and the smaller maple tree also.

Here is a closer view from the same direction. The back half of the bed is shaded much of the day. Now a cimicifuga and a white phlox are blooming there, and in the sunny front half garlic chives and white echinachea and a few last white day lilies.

this is the garden from the southwestern direction. I planted a few white or white-ish annuals: flowering tobacco, annual sage, and small bedding dahlias. At the edge of the garden there’s a white spirea. The two painted metal ducks greet people. I bought a dark-leaved eupatorium that supposedly blooms white and it looks good but hasn’t budded yet. 

I recently straightened this path edge and added more manure. Next year I can plant some drought-tolerant white annuals there.

I planted some from this patch of  gooseneck loosestrife in the white garden and I’m confident they will spread. I also planted some woodland anemonies and a few more hostas. Hopefully these will all thrive and fill in the bed. It still looks a little sparse and doesn’t have a coherent pleasing shape. 

woodland anemone–these are also amazing spreaders. 

When David was mowing the other day he saw two foot-long garter snakes, and I have seen a few as well. We have plenty of chipmunks and red squirrels too. Skunks and raccoons make their rounds at night. We see the little holes all over the gardens where they’ve nosed around for bugs and worms. Hummingbird moths and hosts of other insects fill the garden these days. The bees especially love the tall lanceleaf rudbeckia and the hydrangea.

Later on the goldfinches will go after these rudbeckia seedheads. Well, I’d better get ready for my next class. More later! Next post  I will focus on my efforts to grow dahlias.

honeybee leaving a dahlia blossom


Late August garden report

I have not posted much this summer since I’ve been away from the office where the computer I use is located. Today classes started again and I’m back at it, so posting should be more regular. Some things about the garden are the same as ever–one is that the cats love to hang around near us when we’re out in the gardens. Here is Mr Fluff enjoying the Canadian white cedar bench in the back yard:cat and bench

It’s the season of berries now. The spotted-wing fruit fly is decimating our red raspberry patch but I picked a lot of wild blackberries and in the garden the viburnum are doing their thing:arrowwood vibernum berries

Yesterday I saw two fledgling catbirds trying to eat my red glass bead decoration–which I decided to take down in case they actually eat one! Bird population in the garden is very high this year. The most common ones are house wren, hummingbirds, catbirds, phoebes, goldfinches, cedar waxwings, and robins–at least these are the ones we see most often. dahlia

I’m off to class now, will post again soon!



Garden Tour July 23

Let’s start where we usually do on our morning garden tour, at the bottom of the driveway outside the back yard deer fence, to admire the clematis that climbs the fence. There are two kinds, one dark purple and another more fancy. purple clamatisclematis and monardaThen we will visit the “overflow bed #2”, located downhill of the wood pile.  overflow garden 2This bed was not actually ever planted. I set clumps of extras here right on the lawn, and piled a little rotting hay around them, that’s it. Now it has daylilies, bleeding heart, volunteer phlox, and spiderwort.

Next we will turn to the white garden, still filling in but getting more shaped up every year. white gardenWe will follow the path through this garden, under the spreading arms of a magnificent black walnut tree. 001 path white gardenIf you look carefully you can see the black metal chair in front of a small maple tree on the right. You can sit for a while in this comfy chair, admiring white echinacea, hostas, and white daylilies. white daylilyIf you sit there quietly for five minutes (that means you have bug spray on of course) you’ll see house wrens, catbirds, goldfinches, and cedar waxwings in the tree and on the ground searching for insects. From this chair you can also see the riot of color that is the annual bed just outside the white garden. annual riotThe path continues past our compost bin and into what we call the square garden. It takes you to an Aldo Leopold bench placed under a pine tree.  You’ll have to duck under the branches of my “sculpture”, a bunch of tree branches stuck into a chimney tile. This is a favorite perch for wrens, catbirds, and phoebes. 002 path square gardenYou’ll want to sit on that bench for some time, because there is usually a breeze in that spot.  003 path to leopold benchNext we will cross the driveway to the front yard, but before that, take a look at overflow garden #1. This spot has sandy, poor soil and slopes so it gets very dry. I started putting plants there that I couldn’t fit in the garden proper, because there were some that needed to be divided or moved, but were too nice to just toss over the bank. Recently I went in and hand weeded the area and now it seems I’ve got another garden. The other day I added some orphan beebalm, and phlox. overflow garden 1 We will continue on now to the front yard. Right now the main flowers are beebalm, echinacea, phlox, and daylilies. front yard edge lowerViburnum, winterberry,  and hydrangea bushes add some height.  front yard edge midWe will start this walk at the bottom of the yard near the road. 004 path bottom of front yardThe path is lined with hostas, gooseneck loostrife, sweet woodruff, turtlehead (chelone, Solomon’s Seal,  and cimicifuga, among others.  gooseneck loosestrife005 path near pottingshed

The path aims first toward the potting shed, then angles up through the middle of the garden to a stump sporting our little caterpillar garden sculpture given to us by Prairie. The caterpillar is chewing on a copper leaf. 006 path mid front yardthe caterpillar.JPGThe path then takes you up to the front porch, where you’ll smell garlic–we pulled it yesterday and it’s very fragrant! 007 path to front porchdrying garlicUp on the porch you’ll also see the vase my niece made with some meadow flowers in it. Rachels vase w wildflowersFrom the front yard we turn the corner to the path that goes along the south side of the house. 009 path southsideLet’s follow Euclid, our neighbor’s cat who also hangs around here now and then, through the gate of the deer fence, to the patio area.  010 path patio with catThe patio is just outside the south door of the house and it’s our favorite spot for coffee breaks and lunches. The path leads on from the patio toward the meditation garden. This path used to be very narrow, until I got tired of squeezing through the plants worried about what I would step on. Now it is wide and feels more spacious. It requires a lot of work, because we cover these paths with wood chips, and they are all hauled tub by tub in my Subaru Impreza hatchback, then carried in and dumped and spread. It takes time but it lasts well and looks good. I line the paths with low stone walls or with branches I find in the woods. 011 path sunporchFrom here, let’s continue into the meditation garden. stones meditation gardenIt is especially lush this year because it got a major renovation this Spring and I added many wheelbarrows full of composted horse manure. Add that to all the rain we’ve had and it’s spectacular. 012 path meditation gardenThis small garden is home to a very big daylily, which I just call Big Yellow. You can see one of the blossoms in the picture below. 013 path to back yardI have already divided it umpteen times, either to put elsewhere or to give to friends. But it will need to be divided again soon. The blossoms are huge, and also fragrant. It has quite a personality. big yellow From the meditation garden let’s keep going into the back yard. 014 path entering back yardThis garden is protected by the deer fence, so the plants don’t get pruned by them, but I do miss the way the deer used to come and clean up all the apples that the tree drops on the ground in the late fall. This garden is also protected from strong winds by the house on one side and a tall row of lilacs and a huge Norway spruce. It gets full sun and just about any sun-loving plant will grow happily here.  015 path back to cedar benchLet’s go sit in our new white cedar bench located at the northwest top corner of the garden. From here we can see the whole garden. Sitting on this bench, facing southeast, you can have your morning coffee and watch the sun rise. In the late morning the apple tree shades it, so it’s not too hot. From mid-afternoon until evening the sun is blocked by the house, but still shines on most of the garden, so you can sit in shade and still enjoy sunshine.

Three paths converge on the bench. One follows the outside of the garden along the deer fence. It cuts through tall beebalm, phlox, false sunflower, echinacea, yarrow, and others. 016 path back yard north From this path you can always see honeybees and bumble bees, hummingbird moths and many many other flies, bees, wasps, beetles and other insects among the flowers. back yard riotThe back yard is also a favorite spot of chipmunks and red squirrels, and birds. The tiny house wrens dominate the space with their amazing torrents of song all day long. Other frequent visitors are catbirds and robins.white phloxA second path cuts diagonally through the middle of the garden. This path is lined with peonies and delphinium, as well as bee balm, phlox and daylilies. 017 path backyard middleA third path goes under the apple tree back to the meditation garden. If you leave the bench and take this path you’ll see the shade garden to your right under the apple tree. under the apple treeThis garden has some native wildflowers like foam flower and wild ginger, as well as hosta, brunnera, violets, geranium, bleeding heart, and coral bells. This path connects to a path that runs parallel to the south side of the back yard. 021 path back yard back to meditation gardenOne of the highlights of this path at the moment is the cloud of cleome that are just starting to bloom. cleome and friendsThese are self-seeded from last year’s planting. The bees love them.

So, we have finished our tour of the flower garden. This morning I walked the garden with my camera and snapped pictures every few yards, so if you missed the garden party yesterday you can still see what’s going on around here!white coneflower and white daylily

garden tour in photographs, May 3

starting in the back yard

back yard and under the apple tree

entrance to the meditation garden

meditation garden

front yard

bottom of the front yard, the corner near the potting shed, otherwise known as the red squirrel delux winter condo

the square garden (it’s no longer square but can’t shake the name) and the view out over the barnyard field

part of a bigger history

Right now the garden is awash in blossoms originating in Turkey; at least as far as I remember from my reading, tulips and narcissus from Central Asia, cultivated in Europe and now part of a thriving garden industry, making themselves comfortable in my northern New York garden. In the latest issue of the National Wildlife Federation magazine is an article about using native plants. It says that non-native plants can change the soil chemistry, and make things harder for local plants and soil life. *sigh* Three of my staple garden plants are narcissus, peonies, and Daylilies. None of them native. Daffodils start off the year in April and May. Peonies flower in June and Daylilies dominate in July and early August. No, I don’t plan to dig these all up and plant natives exclusively. But I will probably limit new plants to natives from here on out. I plan to visit a native-plant nursery in Fort Ann, New York as soon as I get the chance. It’s called fiddlehead Creek and the website is This is the back yard on April 28.

What I meant about being part of a bigger history is that what I plant and how I garden is part of national and even global trends. I guess that should be obvious, but somehow I used to think of gardening as a private pastime, outside of politics and worldly concerns, a personal hobby. Scientists, environmentalists and writers like Doug Tallamy in his Bringing Nature Home have changed that attitude. Tallamy points out that what we do in our gardens impacts songbirds, insects, pollinators, amphibians, etc. I can’t go back to blissful ignorance, after that. And of course knowing what’s a native and what’s not is not easy. As I have mentioned in previous posts, some non-natives have naturalized and act like they’ve always been here! It will take patient study to learn this new information about the garden plants: flower catalogs tell us the scientific name, sunlight requirements, soil requirements, zones, height and so on, but often do not tell us native, non-native, invasive, and so on. The solomon’s seal in the photo above, I believe I am safe in saying, is a native. But this lovely little yellow primrose, which I just checked on, turns out to be native of Turkey.I promised a report on the Cooperative Extension Workshop, and I’ll do that soon.

Cornell Cooperative Extension workshop coming up!

mid-April meadow with brambles

Here is the description posted on the website of the SLC Cornell Cooperative Extension: “Young Forest Habitat Management Workshop to be held in Canton, Saturday, April 29th, 2017. Location: Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, Learning Farm classroom- 2043B State Highway 68, Canton, NY 13617. Program and lunch: 9:00 am – 12:30 pm. Young forest habitat walk: 12:30 – 2:30 pm. The Saint Lawrence Valley provides a patchwork landscape of forests, wetlands, and grassland essential to the survival of at-risk bird species such as Golden-winged Warbler, American Woodcock, Brown Thrasher, and many others. Individual and family land owners are encouraged to attend and learn about habitat needs of songbirds, game species, and other wildlife. Resources are available to help you manage your land for young forest. Expert Presentations From: Audubon New York, USDA – NRCS, NYS DEC, Clarkson University, and local land trusts. For more info, visit:

I’ll have to leave early to attend the Climate Change rally in Potsdam, but I’m excited to attend the morning part of the workshop. It sounds perfect for my interests related to our property.  We have brown thrashers and woodcocks around here and I didn’t know they were at risk. I’ll take notes and report back!