Though I start every new garden project with the same sense of enthusiasm, each one seems to end up with a different theme, depending on how it progresses. I still think of the big border out front as the “I’m Going to Die Border” (it was really hot the week I dug and planted it), and beds in The Shrubbery, which involved a whole lot of quality time with a manual sod cutter, as the “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at The Time Project.” This year, the mild weather allowed for an extra-early start on outdoor work, so I finally decided to tackle a project I’ve been putting off: removing the invasive vines and woody plants from the hedgerow out back.
The first 100 feet or so was quite satisfying: fun, even, with the accompaniment of the audio version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Those of you familiar with the Guide may remember that, because it appeared so dauntingly complex, “the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON’T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters.” Those words ended up becoming my mantra for the remaining 400 feet of this project, as I looked back on the growing piles of Tartarian and Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, Japanese barberry, and autumn olive – all mixed with poison ivy – and realized that I was then going to have to drag them all up to the brush pile at the far end of the hedgerow. Unfortunately, the piles are still sitting there, because, by the time my hands recovered from the poison ivy, there were loads of other projects needing attention. So, that project has moved to “Panic Later” status for now.
Come to think of it, for an area that I’d expected to be pretty casual and fuss-free compared to a regular garden, the meadow has been pretty dependable at providing things to be somewhat worried about. Last fall, for instance, I noticed that the ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) that I love so much is now seeding into the part of the meadow that’s downwind from the garden.
It obviously started several years ago, but it wasn’t until the plants started producing seedheads and developing fall foliage color that I noticed them. So now, do I try to find and dig them all out (I know of about a dozen clumps that are flowering size, but who knows how many more there are); do I decide firmly to not worry about them; or do I continue to dither between the two options for another year, at least? Yeah, the last one, most likely.
The Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) have been another source of continuing concern. I’m very fond of them, having watched all of them grow from self-sown seedlings over the last decade, once the meadow was no longer cut for hay each summer. For the first five years, they were hardly noticeable unless I was out in the meadow, because the summer grasses covered them up, or unless I looked down from the upstairs windows.
By 2007, I’d thinned them out a good bit, and they they were starting to stick up above the rest of the meadow.
By the end of 2009, they were taller than even the tallest grasses.
And by last summer, they were tall and bushy enough to start providing a nice bit of privacy.
Unfortunately, after each of the last few winters, a dozen or more of the hundreds of trees have died off suddenly, for no apparent reason. They’re all the same age, and growing in the same conditions, but one will die and the others right next to it are fine.
Not much point in getting into a panic about that, I guess, because I doubt that there’s anything I can do about it, other than cutting down the dead ones and using them to build brush piles for wildlife cover. The results of last year’s cleanup:
By this winter, the pile had settled a good bit, but that’ll change once I get time to tackle the hedgerow-cleanout cleanup. At the moment, the pile looks like an alpaca (or two) exploded on top of it.
That certainly could induce panic, if I didn’t know that the boys are safe and still fluffy in their pasture. Uh, wait…this doesn’t look too good…
Oh, it’s okay…they’re up again!
I’d found a couple of old bags of their fleece when I was cleaning out the basement, and since it smelled a bit musty, I figured I’d spread it out and see if the birds wanted it. Nothing but the best for the baby birds of Hayefield: nests lined with the finest alpaca fleece that Daniel and Duncan can produce.
Going back to the cedars…a more worrying situation is the dramatic proliferation of bagworms.
I didn’t really notice the bags last fall, but the gray-brown cases, made from bits of leaves and berries, are very noticeable now. Most of the trees have a dozen or more cases, and each case holds hundreds of eggs; multiply that by many hundreds of trees, and that could qualify as a panic-worthy situation when the eggs hatch in early summer. But then, short of clipping off and destroying every single bag, there’s not much I can do about that, either. So, no point in panicking about that – yet.
I’ve had plenty of time to look at the cedars close up as I’m doing some more work on a project I started last year: cutting tunnels through the patches where the trees have come up very close together.
This has turned out to be one of my favorite projects. It’s fun deciding where to make the paths and thinking about the focal points I’d eventually like to create.
Plus, compared to my pathetic attempt at creating an allée by planting baby cedars in line with older ones…
…the almost immediate results make this project much more interesting.
Moments like this make up for many of the vague worries that the meadow inspires at other times.
Speaking of meadows, I’m very much looking forward to watching the first full year of the perennial meadow project I planted last spring, inspired by Michael King’s blog posts and books on the idea. (I bought the Perennial Meadows: Introduction to Naturalistic Planting for Garden Landscapes e-book and referred to it frequently as I was planning and planting the squares.) The weather was brutally dry right after I finished planting, and the perennials had a hard time getting established, but they still looked pretty good by fall.
I can already see that their emerging shoots are plump and vigorous, so the planting should look even better this season.
I was glad to notice that Michael’s blogging again after a winter break (his blog is called, not surprisingly, Perennial Meadows), and he’s released a new e-book set specifically on ornamental grasses, called Grass King. I had the opportunity to review a free download of Volume 1, which includes a brief introduction to incorporating grasses into gardens and then covers some of his favorite short, medium-sized, and tall species and selections. Volume 2, which I haven’t bought yet, apparently focuses more on planting grasses and pairing them with other plants in the garden. Both have lots of pictures of grasses in combinations and gardens, along with growing and design tips based on Michael’s own observations, so if you’re looking for design inspiration, it’s worth checking them out. They’re available through Michael’s site at this link.
Well, that’s enough about meadows for a while, I think. It’ll be time for Bloom Day soon, and in the meantime, there’s a whole lot of weeding, planting, and pruning to get done. “Don’t Panic,” indeed!