Antisthenes says…

… that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer.  ~Plutarch, Moralia

The forecast is for temperatures in the single digits over the weekend. We knew it was coming – we’ve had a very mild season so far and we knew it wouldn’t last. But now the snow that fell in fluffy drifts last week and blew everywhere like dust has been rained on a frozen, sculpted into odd patterns and compacted into concrete. This weekend we will be that faraway land where winter is silent and sounds thaw in spring.  I need a reminder of what is under that featureless layer of white, all over the garden.

Campenula and PinksCampenula  growing between seedum and dianthus in the alpine bed.

midwinter astilble and gunneraAstilbe and gunnera growing in the lower garden, near the swamp.

elecampne tree peonyElecampne growing on the stairs, over a tree peony.

“Our fear of death . .

. . . is like our fear that summer will be short, but when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit,
and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day.

–   John Donne, 1620

This evening I had to come in at 7:30 because it was so dark and cold. Just a month ago I was sweltering in full sun at that time of night. It is mid-September, and time to drink good vodka with a dish of pears and elderberries, and think about filling the wood bin tomorrow.

The Cimicifuga R. was beautiful today, and full of bees. Ligularia “Othello” is in bloom like a beacon at the back of the garden.

autumn-garden ligularia

Cephalanthus occidentalis, Buttonbush


This is a wonderful plant. It has an interesting shape in every season, the “nutlets” make a terrific cut flower and the deer don’t like it one bit. Below is the description from Fedco Trees, which is one of the only places I could find information on this lovely plant.

6-10′ x 8′ Loose rounded branchy shrub with bright green foliage and masses of highly attractive unusual spherical fragrant white flowers. Suitable for the garden, the stream or pond, or even an old floating log. Don’t be surprised if you come across buttonbush growing in the river next time you head out in the canoe. But this is no invasive plant. Flowers appear for 4-6 weeks in summer, a magnet for honey bees. They also make interesting dried flowers. The seeds (nutlets) make good fodder for the ducks in the fall. Prefers moist soils! Recommended for naturalizing. Native to eastern U.S., west to New Mexico. Z4.

I haven’t tried growing it on a floating log, but it does very well in the culvert next to the driveway.


Scenes from today’s Garden

Just went out and took garden pictures in the rain. Here are: Blue Angel Hosta with “finger-pruned” white spruce. Pinching the spruce buds half-way back with the fingers every spring, just as they are about to lose their papery brown “cap”, creates a soft, feathery look and keeps the tree’s size within bounds of the garden.  It is generally a bonsai technique but works just as well in the field.


On the other side of the hosta are the Japanese Iris, Nehretsubane.


And, on the other side of the garden, the pale pink dwarf Campenula is in bloom . .


. . next to the Rose Campion.


Little bells

campenula-iThe Campenula are in bloom, and we had a sunny day! This variety has a lustrous blossom, the petals are almost reflective, and a beautiful color in the sunlight.

campenula-iiThis photo shows the starry, silvered dwarf campenula, as well as the dwarf variety with huge, pendulous white blooms. Not for the first time, I swear Ill be better about recording what variety I plant somewhere permanent and easily referenced.

Inadvertent Gardening

juxposition-3Generally, the best plant combinations in my garden are unplanned. Not the plants, but the size, texture and color of the picture they make together, which is something I don’t see until they have grown together in a way that one day, has become exciting and attracted my attention.

The harsh climate here has encouraged me to grow vigorous plants. Specimens which the Thompson and Morgan catalogue coyly terms “enthusiastic” or even “reliable”, which is code for rampant and immortal, have at least a chance of surviving here. Autumn blooming clematis must be faithfully deadheaded in Connecticut lest the seed heads explode and cover the entire garden with next year’s vines, but here it dies back completely every year to grow to about 15′ and the seeds find no foothold on the stony ground in the early frost. I can grow honeysuckle, grapes, mullien and woad without fear that one day I won’t be able to leave the house for the biomass blocking the door. Where I grew up, on the Connecticut River, one had to cut the vegetation back from the mailbox  with shears or risk the box being overgrown with morning glories and poppies over the course of an afternoon. Or maybe it just seemed that way to me at seven, with a pair of shears.

In this Maine garden, plants seem to incorporate each other nicely, showing each other off to good advantage.



Sumer is icumen in

The tree peonies are in bloom.  There are 22 buds on the larger one this year – still some time before it grows to 100 blooms and is fit for the Emperor’s gardens. The specimen below is “Yoshino Gawa” – my other tree peony is anonymous. I bought it at Marden’s, our local salvage operation for $2.00. The box said it would be yellow, and it’s a deep pink, which is why it ended up in salvage I suppose.

peony-1The fragrance is wonderful. I have a still-life set up in the hoop house of three of these in a vase and I can’t keep the hummingbird and bee-moths out of there.


Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Weather post

It’s been raining for three days. The forecast is for partial clearing tomorrow, and then rain through Wednesday. This never happens here. I remember years when we had our last rain as April showers and then no relief at all until early September, when the land began to cool and the warmer ocean water made for thunderstorms each afternoon. I took pictures while it poured today, shielding the camera under my coat, because the garden is much more Connecticut than Maine right now. It’s as if I had topsoil! Lovely, loamy stuff that held water and the finest root hairs and nurtured earthworms. I guess if it rains every day even this meagre, stony ground will make heaps of daylilies, dense banks of strawberry plants and tender redleaf. Maybe this is what would happen if I were the type of person who watered her garden, maybe.

Looking south

Looking south

The picture below is the random assortment of plants growing in the warm permaculture of the dooryard, occasionally splashed with dishwater in true cottage garden fashion are: woad, lupine, columbine, lady’s mantle, autumn blooming clematis and the ever-present forget-me-nots.


The bean bunker is doing well, too. Those light spots are all the lovely brown eggshells in the top layer of compost.


Second hive installed

The nuc box after the frames have been removed to the hive. Note how many workers are already carrying pollen!

The nuc box after the frames have been removed to the hive. Note how many workers are already carrying pollen!

The packaged bees arrived Friday and were installed in Hive #1 (Not Two Bee). On Saturday morning, Andrew came by in his pick-up loaded with nuc boxes and we picked out a likely candidate for Hive #2 (Two Bee).  Andrew had Italian, Carniolan and “other” and I suspect these are Other. They are too dark to be Italian (like Not Two Bee) and too short to be Carniolan.  They were active on Saturday’s sunny afternoon and when I set the nuc box atop the hive and ripped the duct tape off the entrance they poured out into the air in a steady stream.

I waited two days before moving the frames from the nuc to the hive, to give the bees a chance to locate and begin foraging. Monday, at around 10 a.m. it was still and sunny. I opened the box (3″ screws – they weren’t going to get loose during transit!), opened the hive and lowered the frames full of bees into their new home. I added a styrene hive-top feeder with about 2 gallons of light sugar syrup and closed them up. I left the nuc on top of the hive for stragglers, and to extend the mapping process.

It’s cold tonight, 44 and dropping. When I checked on the hives as the sun was setting (around 8 p.m. this close to midsommer) no one was flying. The upper entrance on each hive was crowded with bees shifting and pawing the raw wood around the entrance. Everything seemed peaceful, all right with the world.

Empty nuc box on top of Hive #2.

Empty nuc box on top of Hive #2.

Iberis (Candytuft) in bloom.

Iberis (Candytuft) in bloom.

Invasion of the Cynoglossum

chinese-forget-me-notsAlso known as “Chinese Forget Me Not”, these are all over the garden (see below). Every time my mother comes by in the Spring she looks around and says, “They never spread like this at our house”. True, that. My mother and father gave me a tiny clump of this plant when my garden was brand new, 18 years ago now, and I have acres of it while their place in Vermont has a few well-behaved speciments: one pink, one blue and one white. It’s an interesting commentary on soil type and plant preference. I have to weed these out of the driveway, for heaven’s sake. And the strawberries. And the iris. Oy.