Forget what the calendar says: Like many of you, I’m already thinking about spring. The fall spectacle is over, I have almost everything cut down, and there’s a whole box of seeds holding treasures for the upcoming growing season. In a “normal” year (whatever that is), we’d have likely been stuck inside for weeks by now, dealing with below-freezing temperatures and spells of snow and ice as well. This year, however, the seasons have been turned upside down: Our temperatures have been well above average for the last six weeks, feeling more like April and May than December. It was tempting to call this a Bloom Day post, but I don’t have any open blooms to share at the moment. There are still some nice-looking things, though.
Nearly all of the seeds from last month’s giveaway are on their way to new homes; I’m just waiting for the last few SASEs to arrive. If you asked for seeds and they still haven’t arrived, please don’t hesitate to leave a note here or email me directly (nan at hayefield dot com). I really want to make sure everyone gets their seeds before the end of December.
As of January 1, I’ll be officially licensed as a Seed Dealer in Pennsylvania, so I’ll be able to start selling seeds in my Etsy shop. There won’t be a huge amount, seeing as how I’ve already given away a lot of what I collected this fall, but I do have some nice things left and have collected more of some favorites over the last two weeks, and I’ll be adding them to the shop as I get them packed and labeled. This doesn’t mean the end of my giveaways; in fact, I’m hoping that the seed sales will cover the expenses of the seed envelopes and stamps, so I’ll be able to cover the postage as well next year and we won’t have the hassle of SASEs to deal with.
In my “free” time this fall, I’ve been working on two new projects as well: One will likely be the topic of my next post, and the other is learning how to make felt from alpaca fiber. It’s taken me long enough to get around to it, but now I’m very much regretting having spread previous years’ shearings on my garden paths (even though it looked neat and was a treat to walk on with bare feet).
Fortunately, I still have the last two years’ worth of fiber to play with. Felting is actually the fun part; learning how to clean and card the fleece (pulling it between two brushes to align the fibers) is a lot like cleaning seeds, requiring a fair bit of time and patience.
Even more interesting than making flat felt has been learning how to make felted soap. Basically, it’s like having a washcloth permanently wrapped around a bar of soap, helping the soap last longer, making it easier to hang onto, and providing a gentle scrubbing action.
Daniel’s fleece is so soft that it’s working out well for a shower or bath soap, while Duncan’s slightly coarser fleece has been fantastic for a hand soap for post-gardening cleanup. The challenging part has been finding the right soaps to work with. Once I do, I may be offering some of my best results for sale: finally, a way for the boys to earn their alfalfa! (Besides looking cute, and taking me for regular walks, and providing a steady supply of wonderful manure, of course.)
The freakishly warm weather has provided a fantastic opportunity for tackling garden projects that have been on my to-do list for ages. First was reworking the path to the barn, to provide a more direct route. It doesn’t look all that different, I guess, but shifting many of the stones just a few inches one way or the other and removing some of the plants along the edges have made it much easier to negotiate the path in the dark and carry out buckets of warm water for the boys. So, that’s something I’m appreciating already.
Since I was moving plants out anyway, I decided to clear out some of the older things that the weeds and voles had gotten into, to make way for some new plants. I’d been happy having the courtyard be primarily perennials and grasses for many years, but gradually, I realized that it would be a great place for higher-maintenance plants, as it’s one of the few areas I can easily reach with hoses if watering is needed. Keeping all of my tender bulbs in this one area makes it much easier to maintain them and to dig them up in the fall, and adding some annuals has made the view from my office window much more colorful. Thanks to unexpected seed gifts from many of you, I’m going to have a lot of new plants to grow out this coming year, and now I’ll have a space where I can keep a close eye on them and pamper them as needed.
I’m already really enjoying the winter look of the front and side garden, thanks to the grass paths I planted last spring. As much as I liked the bark paths, the overall “blank slate” effect in the off season was kind of boring.
The green paths make the whole area look a lot more garden-y and less of an all-brown expanse. Now that they’re starting to fill in and look less spotty, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the effect in spring.
Admittedly, in my rush to get the grass seed sown last spring, I didn’t do a very good job on making sure the edges of the paths were straight. One major problem area was the diagonal path between the corner of the house and the Japanese emperor oak. So, another recent project involved marking out the edges and digging out the ajuga, lamb’s ears, and other perennials that had crept into what was supposed to be path.
While working on the oak end, I got carried away digging some large patches of orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida). I appreciated the way they filled in those areas with easy-care color for many years, but they were getting a bit out of hand, and they weren’t flowering all that well now that the oak is large enough to cast a good bit of shade. I moved some of the plants from the courtyard project into the newly opened spaces, then filled in around them with a few dozen Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus), and some divisions of epimediums, and a bunch of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) that were starting to pop up in various areas. Mind you, I’d never recommend moving or dividing perennials in December (in Pennsylvania, anyway), but needs must. If even half the plants make it through the next three months, I’ll have made a big step toward adding more spring interest out front.
Yet another bit of progress on that front: While clearing the edges of the courtyard path, I discovered some huge clumps of daffodils that I’d forgotten about. You know that sickening sound you hear when you drive a spading fork into a clump of dormant bulbs–and then you see the white gleam of sliced-through bulb when you lift the tines? Awful, isn’t it? Fortunately, I was able to salvage many of the bulbs and divide them into dozens of smaller bunches. The only place I could think of inside the fence that didn’t have any bulbs yet was the Aster Path in the side garden, so that’s where they ended up. And while I was doing that, I figured I’d clear out some of those rudbeckias as well, and mark the straight edges of the path so I could sow more grass seed there when the time is right. There are going to be a lot more photo opportunities for Bloom Day posts this coming spring!
After all that, well…the last week or so has been kind of a blur. I do remember tackling the troublesome steps in the side and back garden: filling in next to the former to create a bit of a slope, and completely removing the timber steps out back. Those two renovations have already made life much easier when zooming around with a wheelbarrow. Beyond that, I recall transplanting and dividing loads more things, to the point where I lost track of what went where. So, I fully expect to be surprised at the new combinations that show up next year.
While the weather outside may be delightful, winter still needs to arrive and depart before the plants start doing their thing. Before then, I have two more things to be excited about: the release of my two new books: Container Theme Gardens, which will be out in January, and The Perennial Matchmaker, which will be out in March.
Though they have close print dates, I didn’t write them simultaneously. The containers book, which is published by Storey, took two years of writing and photography (once again by Rob Cardillo) and spent over a year in the production process. The original concept called for 52 containers, so I had to spread them over two growing seasons; even two dozen containers a year is a lot to handle, particularly when you’re trying to keep them all looking lush and lovely.
Staying within the original mandate of five plants per container, and fitting them into containers that were still of a size that Rob and I could move for him to photograph, added an extra level of challenge to the project. Advance copies of the book arrived earlier this month and are very colorful. As in Five Plant Gardens, each container includes a shopping list, planting plan, and seasonal care calendar.
The Perennial Matchmaker, published by Rodale, had a much speedier production schedule: writing from last September to this April, then production from May into January. Though the schedule was intense, the writing process went quickly because I’ve been making notes and gathering photographs for many years, ever since I came up with the idea for the book and started looking for a publisher. Advance copies won’t arrive until late January, but the final pages I saw in October looked fantastic, so I have high hopes for the finished book. I’m particularly pleased with the nearly 400 photographs of perennial combinations. Those of you who regularly read garden blogs will see lots of familiar names in the list of photographers! If you’re interested in a sneak preview, you can see a couple of spreads on my Pinterest board for the book and even more with the “Look Inside” feature on the book’s Amazon listing.
Though they’re not out yet, both books are available for pre-order from major booksellers. I also plan to have them in my Etsy shop once they’re released, since I’ve had a number of requests for signed copies (woohoo!).
Well, that’s enough rambling for now; there’s still plenty of puttering around to do in the garden before it gets too cold. I have a long list of blog topics I’ve been saving up for winter proper, so I look forward to posting more frequently over the next few months. Until then, all the best to you, my friends!