Don’t Panic

Hedgerow at Hayefield March 2012

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.

Hedgerow at Hayefield March 2012

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.

Pennisetum alopecuroides volunteer in meadow at Hayefield Fall 2011

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.

Courtyard, pasture, and meadow at Hayefield October 2005

By 2007, I’d thinned them out a good bit, and they they were starting to stick up above the rest of the meadow.

Juniperus virginiana in meadow at Hayefield Oct 2007

Juniperus virginiana and Schizachyrium scoparium in meadow at Hayefield Aug 16 07

Juniperus virginiana and Schizachyrium scoparium in meadow at Hayefield Sept 21 07

By the end of 2009, they were taller than even the tallest grasses.

Juniperus virginiana in meadow at Hayefield 2009

And by last summer, they were tall and bushy enough to start providing a nice bit of privacy.

Juniperus virginiana in meadow at Hayefield August 2011

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.

Juniperus virginiana in meadow at Hayefield April 2012

Juniperus virginiana in meadow at Hayefield April 2012

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:

Brush pile at Hayefield 2011

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.

Brush pile at Hayefield March 2012

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…

Sunbathing alpacas at Hayefield March 2012

Oh, it’s okay…they’re up again!

Daniel and Duncan at Hayefield March 2012

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.

Alpaca fleece from Daniel and Duncan at Hayefield

Going back to the cedars…a more worrying situation is the dramatic proliferation of bagworms.

Bagworm bags on Juniperus virginiana at Hayefield April 2012

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.

Bagworm bags on Juniperus virginiana at Hayefield April 2012

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.

Juniperus virginiana tunnel at Hayefield April 2012

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.

Juniperus virginiana tunnel at Hayefield April 2012

Plus, compared to my pathetic attempt at creating an allée by planting baby cedars in line with older ones…

Juniperus virginiana allée in progress at Hayefield April 2011

…the almost immediate results make this project much more interesting.

Juniperus virginiana tunnel at Hayefield April 2012

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.

Perennial Meadow at Hayefield Sept 3 2011

I can already see that their emerging shoots are plump and vigorous, so the planting should look even better this season.

Perennial meadow at Hayefield early April 2012

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!

Front garden at Hayefield March 2012

20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ycunnington on April 4, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Oh, Nan, I can imagine your back ache and sore hands just from reading this post. Do you do all this all by yourself? Hats off to you, you remind me of my younger self.

    Hi Yvonne! Yes, I got myself into the hedgerow project, and I’m going to have to get myself out of it too. But, I will definitely take more precautions against the poison ivy when I tackle the remainder of it. I should have been more careful last time, but it’s so easy to forget when everything is dormant.
    -Nan

  2. Cedar paths look great! I’ll check out his first e-book. Have to say you have the best garden blog of all!

    Hello, Ruth. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a note. Happy spring!
    -Nan

  3. Posted by Linda Wells on April 5, 2012 at 12:17 am

    Just hold onto your towel, it’ll all turn out fine. Thanks for continually inspiring us.

    I will never look at towels the same way again, Linda. Or mattresses.
    -Nan

  4. Posted by Kerry Sanders on April 5, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Nice to see you’re well and feeling rejuvenated after your winter hibernation. Such a lot of energy you must have! I know what it’s like tackling the daunting tasks. There’s no glamour in it and like me you’ve got a huge area to deal to. I am inspired!

    I cannot wait to see all the spring loveliness exploding in your garden.

    PS. I left my precious Hayefield seeds for the spring although I may sow some burnet now and see how it goes.

    You’re so right about the “no glamour” part, Kerry. In the garden, at least, you can enjoy the look of a freshly weeded or planted area. But cutting invasives out of an area that no one really sees up close anyway teeters on the edge of pointlessness from an aesthetic standpoint.

    I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful fall season.
    -Nan

  5. Normally I am not a fan of Junipers because if I even brush against one I break into hives. But there is a big wonky shaped one in my side yard that was full of robins the other day eating the fruit and now I have a whole new appreciation for them. You look like you have enough to feed a lot of robins!

    Love the formal shaped beds with the informal meadow plantings too. Looking forward to see how they have grown in this year.

    Oh my, yes, I have loads of robins – way too many, I think. They are not happy about me working out among the cedars when they are trying to settle in for the evening. But then, I find them annoying in return, because they’re so ridiculously noisy about expressing their displeasure with me.
    -Nan

  6. Its always something when you have land. We too have been clearing out more brush in our back field to have more useable acreage. Its rewarding to see how far we have come. Everything is looking good.

    Good for you, Brooke! It’s so great to have plenty of space to work with, but until you have to figure out how to care for it effectively, it’s hard to imagine how much time it really takes.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on April 5, 2012 at 5:26 am

    500′ of shrubby border to clean…I will forever think of you as Iron Woman. What a project. I would panic just having that before me. I like your cedar glade too. I had some self sown cedars in the garden. They grow so fast. I decided to use them to give some privacy from the busy road I live on. It worked. I have been thinking about giving them a cut like Mr Pearl might use to give them some definition. Your idea of cutting an arbor through which to walk sounds like fun too. I love the look. So much to do and so little time at this time of year. The “boys” look so healthy and happy. Your birds are spoiled no doubt with the fleece to line their nests. Lucky birds. Happy Spring.

    Hi Lisa! For sure, having attempted to “do the right thing” by removing all of those invasives, I’m now far more tempted to take a live-and-let-live attitude toward them. They’re just going to grow back anyway, since I only cut them down; it’s not like I actually killed them. Considering how vigorously the shrubs in the garden come back after a hard pruning, I’ve probably just made for way more work in the long run.

    It’s neat that you decided to work with your cedars too. They may not be the prettiest trees, but they do have a knack for coming up in useful places and (usually) thriving without much care.
    -Nan

  8. Posted by Brenda Rose on April 5, 2012 at 6:48 am

    You’re a woman after my own heart! Our house is in the middle of a giant field (meadow) and when I first moved in 10 years ago I planted over 1000 tiny tree seedlings around the perimeter in rows, hoping to eventually have privacy from the road. For years you would only see them when you were in the meadow standing right next to them. But now I can see them from the house. Some are getting good-sized, some are still small, your photos of the cedars in the meadow looks familiar. Another 10 years and I will have that privacy!

    You planted over 1000 trees, Brenda? Bless your heart! That is truly a worthy lifetime accomplishment. It does take a lot of patience when you start with the little guys, but watching them grow up is a great experience. I found some really nice things coming up on their own in the meadow (besides the cedars), including flowering dogwood, sassafras, crabapples, and white pine. I don’t like to think about how many more baby trees I’ve mowed down when I do the yearly winter cut. For the past few years, I’ve been walking through the area in the fall, looking for the seedlings once their leaves have turned color for fall and tagging them with a bit of marking paint so I know to mow around them.
    -Nan

    • Posted by Brenda Rose on April 5, 2012 at 6:55 am

      (continued) “cutting invasives out of an area that no one really sees up close anyway teeters on the edge of pointlessness” Sometimes I wonder why I still go after that horrible rosa multiflora, but I realize, I’m doing it for ME, not for visitors or appearances. I have a fabulous new tool which helps; a new weed-whacker head ($15) with short spinning blades that makes short work of cutting rosa and even thick grasses. I can’t believe I’ve gardened this long without knowing about it, a HUGE improvement over the lowly weed whacker.

      I love reading about your garden in installments, I feel like I know the place. Nice to know other people struggle behind the scenes with invasives, pests, weather. Just looking at the gorgeous photos, one would think it was all peaches and cream.

      Your new tool sounds great, Brenda. I quite enjoy running over the multiflora roses with my brush mower, but hand-to-hand combat is also satisfying. Either way, of course, they manage to fight back, and I rarely come away from a skirmish with them unbloodied, even when wearing my heaviest clothes and gloves. They’ve also come up with a sneaky new trick recently: emerging right at the base of a cedar so they don’t get mowed, winding their way up through the branches, and then popping out at head level. Running into those is definitely no fun. One even managed to snatch my glasses right off my face, which I suppose it thought very funny. I got the last laugh on that one, though – snip!
      -Nan

  9. Posted by Karen Schulz on April 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Hi Nan,

    I can sure relate to your struggles with poison ivy! Last year I decided to clear a 150′ x 50′ area of buckthorn, nasty thornbushes, garlic mustard and virginia creeper. I was watching for poison ivy but ended up with a really bad case of it. I only finished about 1/2 of it and now, thanks to you, I think I’ll be motivated to get back at it. My goal is to replace all this nasty stuff with native trees and shrubs. Just wanted to let you know that you are an inspiration. Keep up the good work; love your blog!

    Karen

    Best of luck to you, Karen! I don’t know if you’ve ever tried using Tecnu as a hand wash after being around poison ivy, but I find it really helps to prevent a skin reaction – if I remember to use it.
    -Nan

  10. Posted by Chris Nicholson on April 5, 2012 at 9:58 am

    What a joy to read about your projects and to realize if I am crazy
    like my garden club friends think then there are other crazy folks–even
    some “professionals”. We keep watch over and partially tend 14 acres
    which are the remnant of a 140+ acre farm developed over the years into streets, lots and houses at the edge of a 38,000 population city.
    Our immediate area (14 a.) is in historic preservation–an 1830s house which is OLD out here in Indiana. Forty two acres are in Whitewater
    Valley Land Trust as a nature preserve with bluffs, creek, a little old woods, 3 fens, etc. The land is too rough to ever have been a really
    productive farm but it is gorgeous. We’ve owned the property since
    1977 and now are just involved in some developed lots that are not
    selling very fast. The building business went under during the downslide of the last years.

    I identified with the self-sown cedars, the 1000′s of tree seedlings (ours
    were oaks, sweet gum, various evergreens, etc. etc. from the state
    forest projects for rural folks), the multiflora rose.

    This week it has been digging out garlic mustard (get 100 before you stop for coffee) and poison hemlock (not so many since I took out 1000
    with my spade one spring long ago) with chickweed and ground ivy just
    hauled off as I go.

    Worth it? I’m looking out my window at the long view down to the creek
    where there is a glorious redbud that I spent a full afternoon last summer
    freeing from incredible overgrowth of wild grape vines.

    Best thing that’s happened to us two folks in their 80s who live here is
    renting our basement apartment to folks who love to live in the “country”
    and work off their rent mowing the yard part, doing the weed eating,
    tilling the veggie garden, and keeping the mowers in condition.

    I love your blog and I love Bloom Days.

    Chris Nicholson

    Hi there, Chris. Your property sounds like a dream location. How wonderful that you now have some help, and that your tenants are having the opportunity to enjoy some outside work. I love the idea of setting weeding goals. I’m finding that listening to audiobooks really entices me to get outside, and to keep working longer. I’m very grateful that I don’t have any poison hemlock here, and not much garlic mustard (yet). The boys do a really good job clearing some weeds and brush (no multiflora roses or brambles are left in their pastures, and dandelions, chickweed, wild garlic, and garlic mustard don’t stand a chance there either).

    I probably will decide that the brush clearing was worth the effort when things begin to leaf out. I’m already looking forward to having easier access to the linden trees in the hedgerow, because I like to harvest their flowers for tea.
    -Nan

    -Nan

  11. Wow, I was exhausted from reading about your projects! So much work!

    We’re in France right now, but I’m enjoying having my computer along this time and I can keep up with what’s going on.

    Oh, Freda – you’re in France, but you’re sitting at a computer reading this post – really? I hope you find something more exciting to do this evening. Have a wonderful time on your travels!
    -Nan

    • We had a HUGE lunch today with a group of American friends living in Paris. We’re partying with them tomorrow night, too! We spent last week in Antibes, so we’ve been in France for over a week. A friend of ours decided today that he MUST join us here (after my husband taunted him with photos), so he booked a flight for tomorrow and will be here Saturday! Crazy! :-) This next week in Paris is more about socializing than sightseeing (since we come to France every year).

      Ok, it definitely sounds like you’re having a terrific time, so I won’t tease you for being on your computer. In fact, I’m all the more honored that you took the time to read and comment. Thanks, Freda!
      -Nan

  12. You’re my hero Nan! I thought I had too big a space to plant my herbs and vegetables but after reading and seeing what you’re up against, my space is pea size.

    Well, keep in mind that the “real” garden is just a fraction of the total space here, Debra! I do understand now why some folks choose to have a lawn instead of a meadow: mowing every week or so takes a lot less thought and worry than trying to be a good steward of a more diverse environment.
    -Nan

  13. You are a dynamo. I so love your philosophy to not worry about those things that you cannot change. Just keep moving forward.

    I do try not to worry too much, or at least to be realistic about what I can and can’t control here. As long as Duncan and Daniel are happy and healthy, everything else is not a big deal. I hope you’re having a superb spring, Layanee!
    -Nan

  14. Posted by Kate Patrick on April 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    I live on the edge of cedar glade country, a unique habitat here in middle TN, so have come to love and appreciate the cedar trees. I have one on my property that must be a good 5 feet in diameter. We’ve had the larger branches cabled by an arborist to prevent splitting although it lost a few in a close encounter with a recent F4 tornado. However, I do not encourage them to spring up in flower beds and what we laughingly refer to as the lawn.(a mown couple of acres that I am slowly but surely re-foresting with various hardwood and ornamentals. My biggest invasive woodies are the privet and honeysuckle. If you stand still for a couple of minutes one or the other will grow up between your toes.

    Wow – I wonder how old that huge cedar is? I get what you’re saying about them coming up in the garden and even mowed areas too; they look so cute even tiny that it takes some determination to pull them out. I don’t have much privet here yet but expect to be fighting it soon; a while back, my neighbor planted a hedge of it all along one side of the meadow (to block the view of my “ugly weeds” from his carefully mowed side, I guess), and it’s now starting to fruit; sigh.
    -Nan

  15. If I really think about all the work there is to do at once then I do start to panic. I have gotten pretty good at compartmentalizing and the mantra Progress Not Perfection. You will be happy to know that I now have two very large and beautiful blue glass bottles in my garden because of your post. A customer asked why one was there (can you imagine?), and I told her I had two children in college and was hoping customers would slip rolled up hundreds into them.

    I know you have a lot of space to take care of too, Carolyn, as well as your nursery to look after. I love the idea of your glass doing double duty as garden art and tip jars. Maybe you should toss in a few bills yourself (a bit of “seed money,” so to speak) to give people the idea?
    -Nan

  16. Posted by crabtreegardens on April 9, 2012 at 7:54 am

    You are my inspiration. I maintain all of the gardens here at Crabtree Gardens with the occasional help of my husband on the cutting of the miscanthus grasses and I sometimes get so overwhelmed that I wonder if it’s all worth it.

    But then, something great happens and I know why I do it. It’s a labor of love that only a true gardener can understand. I too have started to learn how to not worry about things that can’t be changed and figure that my garden visitors will appreciate the fact that the work can be done by one person and a paid crew of helpers isn’t mandatory.

    Hopefully it will also inspire them to get motivated and maintain their own gardens for the physical and mental health benefits it provides.

    I think you’re quite right, Sandi. We tend to see everything that *isn’t* done in our gardens, but visitors just see and enjoy what *is*.
    -Nan

  17. Oy! What a ton of work! Breathe deep and just keeping chugging ahead. It’s what I do and it seems to work. :) Do you thing voles might be eating the juniper roots?

    Now that you mention it, I did notice that some of the dead ones were undermined with vole holes. They didn’t all have evident damage, but that certainly could be the case underground. There are a *lot* of voles out there! I’d prefer to attribute the deaths to them rather than to some sort of disease. I suppose I could try mowing in early November instead of in January, but then, there’s still loads of thatch for them to hide in, and burning isn’t an option. Hmmm.
    -Nan

  18. Having spent the day tearing my hair out whilst tearing my garden apart after the ravages of winter here in SW France, it was such a relief to read your blog. I too will not panic…

    Good luck with your resolution, Gail, and with your garden cleanup!
    -Nan

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