Monday, December 20, 2010

Community Building - Progress Report

An instant community from a spring plug planting

Eupatorium coelestinum sorting itself out from the mix to form a nice stand

Aster cordifolius 'Avondale' looking especially blue and floriferous in the late fall

As many of my previous entries have indicated I am working in my garden to better understand the practice of developing more-or-less self-sustaining plant communities as gardens. I have what I call my meadow that is several years old now and fully planted, but I continue to introduce new things, especially when I can insert ornamental interest into an otherwise down time of year. I have another similar garden in which I have a very minimal palate of plants on about half of the designated site. I am watching how these self-seed and interact with each other while experimenting with various weed control techniques. Weeds seem to be the biggest impediment to success.

Today I want to report on my newest efforts. In the spring of 2010 I purchased flats of plugs of five species of shade growing native perennials that I thought might get along in an attractive self-sustaining community. (Aster cordifolius 'Avondale', Eupatorium coelestinum, Solidago caesia, Stylophorum diphyllum and Polemonium reptans) I chose three seemingly similar shady locations and planted a mix of the five selections in each spot. After one growing season the plants' response to each of the three sites was vastly different, which is what I regularly find. It is a bit early to make conclusions, but one of the three sites grew some excellent stands of most of the five selections. The three images show a collective image of the aster, eupatorium and solidago growing nicely together but perhaps looking a bit rough. The other two images are of particularly nice stands of the aster and the eupatorium considering they are only one growing season from relatively neglected, newly planted plugs.

I will monitor to see if the polemonium, the weakest performer, does better next year; whether one or more of the selections tends to dominate (my bet is on the eupatorium); and whether the other two sites improve or have elements of the planting die out. Of course, I am especially eager to see if they can dominate the weeds and look good while doing it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Clothes Make the Gardener (Update)

On December 4th in 2008 I posted a bit on clothing for gardening and how integral it can be for making gardening a pleasurable experience. I described my favorite inclement weather clothing while asserting that the proper clothing can make gardening fun not only in spite of but sometimes even because of nasty weather.

I have a couple of new favorites. I am aware of how silly this may seem to some, but these cloths really do make an enormous difference. My first new favorite is a case in point. They are lightly insulated Gore-Tex bib overalls. They offer warmth in all but the coldest weather while not being too hot in temperatures as high as the upper 50s, but what I like the most about these overalls is that they are waterproof, and they breath. I can get down on my knees on cold wet ground and stay dry and warm. That is invaluable. They are perfect for late bulb plantings, cutting back dormant perennials in the fall or spring, cutting firewood in the winter, or any of the innumerable garden and yard jobs that involve getting down on your knees on cold and/or wet ground. I have tried rain pants, knee pads,and Carhartt overalls, but nothing is as satisfactory as these for protecting against cold wetness. I bought them from Cabela's where they are marketed for hunters.

My other new favorite is a brand-name boot called Muck Boots. In my previous log I described my L.L. Bean rubber bottomed leather topped boots as my favorite. Their shortcomings were their tendency to become clammy with prolonged wear and the tedious process of lacing and unlacing to put them on and take them off. The Muck Boots do everything the insulated Bean boots do and they slip on and off easily while not making your feet clammy. They help keep my wife happy too by minimizing the dirt I track in by making it easy for me to take them off before coming in. I used to have generic high topped rubber boots styled after the famous Wellington brand. They were satisfactory for warm weather but not the cold, and they were less comfortable. Muck Boots can be purchased directly from

Good work cloths are like having just the right tool for the job.