November 21, 2008

Winter's Cure

Fall and winter are not the gardener's favorite seasons. Nothing in the plant world grows in fall and winter except underground, out of sight. While the autumn rainy season and winter's deep snowfalls are welcome for the replenishing water supply they bring to the lakes, rivers, streams and plants, their cloud cover and ever-diminishing daily hours of sunshine do put a crimp in the spirit. A surfeit of backache-inducing snow shoveling looms in the immediate future. Hunters with lethal firearms are abroad around the hiking trails. Death and dormancy are the dominant themes.

When the choleric of the overcast skies and cabin-fever inactivity start to shrivel hope and laughter, it's time to lace up the hiking boots and head out in search of nature's cure for the winter blues. In northwest Michigan, each of the four seasons plays out in full fettle. Even in an era of global warming, winter here will be long, lasting at a minimum from November through March, it will be cold. Watching all the leaves disappear from the woods and denuded branches replace swaths of greens and golds, it always seems at first as if winter means months to be lived in gloomy, monochromatic blacks and greys. Taking afoot to the woodland and shoreline trails, however, reveals again, every year, winter's sweetly muted, dappled and multifarious palette of colors.

Along the beaches and dunes, multitudes of marram grass drape clouds of burnt-gold blades and seed heads across the tawny sands. The speckled white bodies of beech trees stand out in bright relief against the tumbled, bruised pewter of the sky. Whimsical milkweed pods fold open to release Santa Claus whiskers in delicate fans. Cherry tree and dogwood branches blush barn red.

On trails across dune meadows and moraines, color abounds in the wild, tomato-red rosehips (as pictured above), sumac, chokecherries, honeysuckle and cottoneaster and bittersweet berries. The characterful, wizened bark of the wolf maple, the shagbark hickory and the willow are on display, the velvet grey elephant-hide trunks of the beeches emerge.

Wherever conifers grow, dozens of variations of green march tall and vibrant across the landscape. The first snowfalls of the season came in off Lake Michigan this week, bringing not much more than a few inches of accumulation but laying a downy white blanket on the fields and hills. The snow backdrop makes the greens, golds, ochre, reds, purples and other tints of winter stand up and shout. Pine green, forest green, kelly green, mint, olive, the seaglass green of the hemlocks, these all intensify and grow prouder against the subdued light of winter. And the cornhusk gold of the beach sand and dunes, faceted here and there with hoarfrost, draws and holds the eye softly, warmly.

It gets very quiet in the forest and on the sands. Maybe it is the muffling effect of the snow, partly it is the reduction in traffic and people, dogs and birds larking about. A sacred kind of stillness hovers in the air. The soughing of the wind in the treetops, the rare call of a hawk or crow, the purl of the waves beseeching the shore, the ancient creaking of a fallen tree against the trunks of its brothers and sisters, every sound speaks with more clarity and meaning.

As long as the temperature stays above 20 degrees, as it usually does in this moderate strip of climate bordering the lake shore, one doesn't get chilled when out and about and moving. Whether skating, skiing, hiking, sledding, shoveling or otherwise keeping the limbs pumping and the blood coursing, on a still or gently snowing winter's day even mild exercise keeps the body plenty warm. As an added bonus, it sends happy chemicals swimming into the mind and spirit, washing away the cobwebs of melancholia. Hush a minute, look around you, discover everywhere plentiful and beautiful reminders of the palpable gifts nature presents to us, even in her season of hibernation and sleep.

November 15, 2008

Talking Flowers

One day last week, three feet of snow fell in the northern Great Plains. In Michigan, it was 68 degrees, blue sky, and tempting to go swimming, but that the big lake temperature now hovers in the mid-fifties after successive frosty nights. What happens weather-wise in the Great Plains today will course into Chicago tomorrow, skate across the slippery surface of Lake Michigan and shower upon Michigan's western coast the day after tomorrow. As the first snowfall of the season heads this way, let's put winter on hold for just a little longer and talk flowers.

After getting the garden framework of trees and shrubs planted, the next phase entailed laying in the seeds, seedling plants and bulbs for the flowering beds. These would go across the front wall of the house and much of the front yard, across the back wall of the garage facing the rear of the house, and into a big circular bed middle-left in the back yard. Except for the bulbs that needed to wait for late fall planting, all the starters of the flower patches went into the ground in July. Most have come along famously in size and bloom over the five years since the garden began, others could not seem to get a rooted, lasting grip on the sunny, sandy plot.

For the most part and increasingly over the years, plants chosen must be of a perennial nature. Gardens fitted out with perennials do not require complete planting afresh every year, saving lots of repetitive labor to plant the same space. Cost outlay for plants occurs mainly at the start of a garden and hard-earned dollars don't get invested in flowers that disappear after a single season. Unless a gardener has more money than sense, it seems foolhardy to buy lots of expensive, doomed annuals year after year when there are thousands of perennial options that repay the outlay of sweat equity and greenbacks for years to come.

Of course, sometimes a particular plant that just happens to be an annual holds a special spot in the gardener's favor. Even in my largely perennial garden, some irresistible annuals get re-installed spring after spring. Gomphrena globe amaranth, cosmos, alyssum and bachelor buttons are the ones that invariably get reseeded every year, just because of their exceptional good looks and because my summer garden would seem incomplete without their lovely colors. All of these except the gomphrena (a temperamental Miss) are very easy to grow and want only regular drinks of water to flourish. Cosmos and bachelor buttons will self-seed to a limited extend, not necessarily where originally planted but as surprise shoots scattered hither and yon. Alyssum are supposed to self-seed, and often do for a year or so, but not reliably and pretty much not at all after a very hot, dry August and September.

Sowing seeds directly into the garden is another economizing measure that costs lots less than purchasing already-sprouted seedlings, but the results are often mixed, with maybe a third of seeds never yielding plants. The seed-sowing gardener must water the seeded plots vigilantly and daily for several weeks after planting to have any hope of success, and even then some seeds just lie lifeless in the soil, suggesting that a portion of every batch of seed just doesn't carry the power of germination, for whatever reason.

The perennial flowers and herbs that form the meat on the bones of my garden, and get bigger and more flush with blossoms by the year, include peonies, hollyhocks, columbine, lily of the valley, Russian sage, lavender, roses, lilies, mums, yarrow, dianthus, baby's breath, thyme, phlox, chives, daisies, bleeding hearts, snow-on-the-mountain and snow-in-summer, veronica, primroses, Siberian iris, lupines, and poppies. Narcissus and daffodil, windflower (anemone), and alliums are the most successful bulbs.

Foxgloves have not worked very well, whether in a sunny spot where they seem to wilt away if not watered constantly, or in a dappled shade where they seem to languish for lack of sunshine, so I've pretty much given up on them and trying to satisfy their unfathomable needs. Old-fashioned flowering stocks beget one of the most beautiful and possibly the most heavenly scented of flowers ( photo at top of this entry), but two summers of seeding stocks gave me not one bloom. Stocks have a multi-budded flower on a tall stalk, similar to a delphinium but with the flower buds more closely nestled together. It took a hunt to find stock seeds, even though this flower is a staple in every florist shop, seed packets for it are rarely found at garden centers and it seems to be slipping into the category of a heritage plant rather than a popular contemporary. First seeded two summers ago, the stocks put up really strong, emerald-green stalks and felty leaves, and kept growing all summer without flowering. This past summer, seeding and watering religiously didn’t even result in any sprouting. Next summer they will get one last try (we live in hope).

Delphiniums also have proven somewhat tough to establish for a multi-year reappearance, but because of their gorgeous flowers, they do get replenished with new seedlings each spring. Smaller butterfly delphiniums, on the contrary, grow and increase their bright cornflower-blue flowers dependably, summer after summer.

The garden also enjoys a couple stands of grasses, one in the front yard and one in the back. Alongside the Russian sage, nice, dense clumps of blue oat grass, miscanthus silver grass, miscanthus fountain grass, pennisetum orientale karly rose, and panicum vergatum switchgrass rise and extend their circumference and height each year. With grasses, experience has shown they like to be watered well at least weekly for the first year or two, thereafter becoming fairly tolerant of periods of drought. The grasses are slow starters each season, not really getting up to speed with new greenery until into late June or July, but then they take off in happy spurts of growth, and wave their feathery arms and seed heads all through late summer and autumn. If left untrimmed, these charmers provide stalks of interesting structure in the garden throughout winter. All get cut back to four-to-six inches height come late March, making way for the next summer's burgeoning. Variegated porcupine and zebra grasses, handsome though they be, failed to become permanent residents in my garden. Variegated grasses do prefer a damp and loamy soil and perhaps are best suited to pond banks, marshy areas and riversides.

All in all, what has been coaxed forth on the sandy lot is a sprawling, spreading, old-fashioned cottage garden. Each type of flower is planted in groupings together with others of its kind to maximize impact. Plants for spring, summer and fall blooming have been purposely incorporated into the staples of the garden so as to have flowers unfolding from April through October. Every garden is forever an incomplete work in progress, and every year around this time, notes get jotted and catalogs scoured for the additions to existing species and the desirable newcomers to be acquired for next spring's sowing season. There is no such thing in the cottage garden as too many plants or no room for more.

November 14, 2008

Looking Forward in Autumn

Come the autumn, garden writers often put forth columns of advice on “putting the garden to bed” for the approaching dormant winter season, sometimes giving the impression this is a task that can be done in one fell swoop. In fact, the bedding down of existing plantings, sowing of bulbs for the next spring, clearing and cleaning up which comprise autumn's garden tasks happen progressively, over a period of months, as the diverse trees, shrubs and plants each reach their own varied apexes, and become ready for the long winter sleep.

At mid-October, when garden magazines might be promoting the cutting down and discarding of perennials, a big, healthy sweep of cosmos were finally just bursting into bloom in my garden. The coreopsis sweet dreams and limerick dreams were both displaying a second, happy round of sienna and apricot-colored flowers, the chrysanthemums had at last attained the flowering stage. Even some of the lavender plants were offering up a second, smaller spray of blooms to be collected and dried into fragrant bundles to decorate a pitcher or vase all winter long.

Raking leaves is never necessary in my garden, thanks to the winds off Lake Michigan which careen through the big, open-field layout of this neighborhood in a notch between high dune bluffs. All debris and leaves which hit the ground promptly get blown away, tumbling down the streets and across yards until they hit the wild fields of the rising hills to the east. If raking were needed, however, it would have to be done repeatedly over many weeks, as the trees also shed their summer growth at disparate, individual rates. The apple trees drop their leaves first in this garden, then the maple, then the cherry, then the aspen, none of them all at once but rather bit by bit. The birch, red oak and pear hold on longest, and lovely it is to have their yallery-russet foliage to gaze upon in November and even December, when otherwise there are but brown and grey empty branches across the hillsides and woods.

At the end of my street, two blocks away, a three-block long stand of northern white pine traces the western terminus of the neighborhood. Beneath these mighty, 40- to 50-foot seniors, a broad and deep carpet of freshly fallen pine needles can be found each autumn. This is the source for an endless supply of free, local, native, excellent mulch for the trees, shrubs and perennials in the garden, as they become ready for blanketing against the freezes and thaws of the coming months. Many a trip is made to the end of the block with the empty wheelbarrow, returning heaped with sweet-scented pine needles, interspersed with a sprinkling of attractive pine cones which will be scattered randomly around the yard to add visual interest. How satisfying it is to tuck handfuls of the pine needles all round and about the chrysanthemums and other flowers, the hydrangeas, forsythia and virburnums, as well as the tree trunks. Like tucking in a child with a thick, warm comforter on a chilly night, the fall mulching with pine needle blankets makes one feel like a good, caring and wise plant nanny, securing the garden family against the cold.

This fall, the intention was to order lots more drumstick and stars of Persia alliums, daffodils, tulips, narcissus, hyacinths, wind flowers and so on, a big, fresh bounty of bulbs to supplement those already in the ground and prepare for a profuse spring. Fate and the dire Michigan economy intervened, however, and the gardener received, in early October, an unanticipated, no-notice-given layoff from gainful employment. Because this meant the only income in the foreseeable future would be bare-bones unemployment benefit, until new employment could be secured in a very bleak market, orders for bulbs had to be forfeited along with all other unnecessary expenditure.

In such circumstances, one tries to remain hopeful and optimistic, to face forward and expect and pursue better opportunity, the old “when one door closes, another opens” attitude. The walking papers came, though, from a job that had been held and glowingly reviewed for some two years, with no raises during the job tenure but promises of a big, year-end bonus due to come just a couple months from now. Further, the professional office that cut the job was actually doing quite well, having quadrupled income over the course of recent months. The owners apparently decided that more of this income could safely be deposited in their own pockets if the position of a decently remunerated staff member was replaced with a novice who could be paid substantially less, and the payment of one year-end bonus rendered moot.

It's challenging not to succumb to bitterness, anger, continual backward gazing, and cursing of the owner-class in such circumstances. It's difficult to comprehend why an employer would not give a productive, successful employee the benefit of advance notice of termination, and every possible opportunity to replace the disappearing paycheck with new employment, before they are shown the door and an indeterminate period of angst and penury. It's not hard to understand why the owner-manager class wishes to keep all the money and all the say-so, to quote W.E.B. DuBois, but the managerial class behaves stupidly and contrary to its own best interest when it treats those who produce for them in such a shabby, dishonest, ill-will generating fashion.

Walking on a balmy autumn afternoon along the lake shore, trying to just hear the whisper of the waves and contemplate the pearly blue horizon, trying not to panic or fall prey to debilitating emotions of self pity and fear, the gardener happened upon another hiker, a lady of a certain age and fellow village resident. She is an exceptionally kind and gentle lady, who started her own craft enterprise of making Peace Bears. This entails claiming discarded and unwanted stuffed animals from yard sales, friends and thrift shops, cleaning and repairing them, embroidering a peace symbol on their chests, and then selling them for a small fee at the farmer's market. After saying hello, the lady explained that she wasn't at her usual weekday post of reception in a local dental clinic because she, too, had been permanently laid off, after the solo-practice dentist suddenly decided to retire. Her job tenure numbered 18 years of service. Her advance notice of termination was 11 days. She was self-effacing and mild-mannered about her stark situation, and the painful conundrum of trying to make mortgage, utility, car note, grocery and other bill payments on a subsistence unemployment benefit.

Maybe these days you have to make your own employment, she hazarded, find ways to generate income working entreprenurially, independent of others, keeping your destiny in your own hands. She went on to tell me about a line of health and beauty products she's trying to sell as a franchisee, and discussed how she wants to take this period of unemployment to work on and develop her artisanal crafts.

Strolling on down the beach, the gardener stopped casting glances backward over her shoulder, stopped revisiting and worrying at and rewriting the endgame and termination meeting at the old job. The late-autumn Indian summer weather means the soil is pliable and ripe for receiving bulbs. The local garden center, because November is upon us, has cut bulb prices in half. With a bit of make-do and thrift, it was doable that at least a swath of snowdrops, perhaps two new congeries of daffodils, and mayhaps another half-dozen alliums could, in fact, be purchased. Gardeners by nature must be hopeful creatures, able to envision the yield in the future for the labor and investment of the present. A garden is nothing if not a work of optimism and sunny expectation. When autumn, or the slings and arrows of bad fortune, bring foreshadowing of diminution and decline, the wise gardener rolls up her sleeves, sticks her hands into breathing earth, encourages the plenty the future will bring, given a bit of elbow grease, and looks steadily forward.

November 12, 2008


First the gardener must decide, which species of the thousands of trees to plant? Three factors held the most sway in my choices – appearance, including color, shape, and what fruits, nuts or flowers might be borne; durability, including expected lifespan, how rapidly growth and thus shade occur; and finally, suitability for the temperatures, moisture and other elements of the northern Michigan coastal four seasons. Whether to plant trees was never a question, given the tremendous beauty and shelter from Mother Nature's occasional fits and furies which trees provide, and the inimitable good they confer upon the environment by cleaning the air of toxins and creating oxygen. One mature oak tree, for instance, creates all the oxygen needed by 10 humans.

The only tree in this garden that didn't measure up to all the selection criteria was a cedar, which needed a lot more water and less wind than the site or the gardener could offer, and which segued into the great forest in the sky after a painful struggle of just two years. The best performers to date, on the other hand, are the Cleveland ornamental pear and the white spire river birch.

Everyone knows how pretty birch trees are (see photo at top of this entry), which their shaggy white bark, sharp green leaves that slowly transform to butter yellow in autumn, and graceful, pendulous branches. It's a source of amazement that the river birch in the front yard went from a five-foot sapling with the trunk span of a stout walking stick to a 30-foot high lush shade-maker with a strapping, foot-and-a-half trunk span, in just five years. The Cleveland pear, maybe a little less familiar, gets covered in lovely, fragrant white blossoms every May, has a fetching natural triangular shape and very dense, full leaf development. It bears tiny little ornamental pears about the size of a dime, which the birds love but require not one whit of harvesting or cleaning up. Its other great feature is its ability to hold onto leaves and kelly green color right into November, even in a climate where Jack Frost usually pays his first visits early in October. When the color shift comes, the leaves gradually progress in a gorgeous pageant from shiny bright green to lime, to lemon yellow, to russet, and finally into a dark, burgundy red. Baring gale-force windstorms, most of the leaves stay on the branches into early- to mid-December, well after every other tree is winter naked.

Just this year, an article unveiled the unhappy information that ornamental pears, because all the branches grow from a single (non-branching) trunk, are vulnerable to the trunk splitting from the top downwards, if strong winds pull at the dense leafage. Which strong winds certainly do in this garden, and alas and alack, this spring when admiring the tree's growth and giving it's trunk an affectionate pat or two, indeed a newly developed split in the trunk was discovered. The split starts at the top of the trunk (about six feet from the ground), and extends downward about a foot and a half, so not yet into the lower core of the trunk. The pear is such a favorite, and with its branches now stands about 20 feet high, so it was a heart breaker to descry the breach that could mean the beginning of the end for this five-year old.

Unwilling to accept such a sad fate for one of the garden's inaugural trees, a stint with the thinking cap in place determined two courses of remedial action. First, a tough rubber brace was secured slightly loosely, with room for a little play, breath, and growth, around the trunk just at the mid-point of the split. The hope is that the brace will support the trunk against the tugging of the wind and keep the split from proceeding further down the trunk. The brace is about the length and a little thicker than a bungee cord, made of very hard black rubber, and was among the garden stuff in the garage, though what it is really for or what it is called are pieces of information lost to the mists of time.

Second, about a dozen whole garlic cloves were planted around the base of the tree. Garlic is an almost miraculous herb, with very robust viral and fungal healing powers (not to mention that it wards off grazing deer even better than it spooks vampires, and it makes roses flourish). Once in another garden, a young plum tree fell sick with a fungus called “Witch's Finger,” which basically strangles new branches with a sticky, black, gnarled-finger-looking growth. Reasoning, or hoping, that the garlic cure which can halt Montezuma's revenge, cure cold sores, fight cancers and knock down colds in humans might also be beneficial to a tree, the affected branches were loped off the plum and garlic planted all around its base. It healed, survived and took to growing again. Thus it seemed that a dose of garlic for the pear might help the raw, vulnerable edges of the split in the trunk to heal over, as well. These two treatments (or maybe more accurately, experiments), were effected in May of this year, and as of this writing in November, the split has not progressed further down the trunk, and the split's edges do seem to be hardening off. Time will tell, as with all things in the garden, if it's sufficient to preserve the Cleveland pear.

The rest of the trees planted the first year all grace the backyard, spaced around its perimeter, with the conifers in the back westerly corner. The October glory maple lives up to its name by turning a brilliant, flame red each fall, and has grown pretty well, now standing some 15 feet high after five years.

Nut-bearing trees seem to grow more slowly than other deciduous types. This has definitely been true for the red oak, which has branched out fairly nicely, but gained only maybe a foot of height and half-a-foot of trunk span across five years. The white pines and Colorado spruce followed the old cliché of plant growth, to wit, “first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap,” and didn't increase very measurably in height or width till their third or even fourth year, but as of this summer took to leaping up and out very nicely. Probably took them awhile to decide they could put up with the rackety, ever-recurring winds that swoop through the yard in all seasons, especially from their northwest back corner. Maybe one day they will actually achieve enough mass to block some of the fierce winter winds that charge up from that corner on a regular basis to dump snow loads on my back sidewalk.

The crab apple tree grows well and is a pink picture of blossoms every May, as well as a fall treat for the birds with its claret red fruits. Some of the latter even survive to throw a handful of bright color into the winter-white landscape of snow and ice. Because spring blossoms just finish in delight the view of any landscape, two additional trees put into the garden are a Fuji apple tree in the back, frilly in white each spring, and a self-pollinating (hooray!) Tartarian black cherry tree in the easement out front. The apple is two years old now, and has produced one apple each year -- watching this space for more productivity as maturity ripens! The cherry was planted this summer, one has sky-high hopes of someday plucking that most favored fruit from it.

Lastly, two years ago a quaking aspen was placed, stripling of twig size, in the front yard, and true to its eager nature, now reaches 15 feet in height with a hand-span, palest mint green, sturdy trunk. It, like the birch, transforms its grass-green, heart-shaped leaves over a long month or more, October into November, to a golden yellow. This tree takes its name from the way the leaves flip back and forth in the wind, giving the appearance of “quaking” and raising a soft, shuffling kind of sound, so it talks as good as it looks.

Trees frame-up the garden, draw the eye toward vistas, cosset the spirit with their robust handsomeness and several bounties of fruit, nuts, canopy, solid wooden bones. They seem calm, they reassure, they seem wise. Unlike many other garden dwellers, with a modicum of nurturing they live and reward their stewards for a long, long time. They'll harbor a tree fort and allow swings to sway from their arms. To climb one and sit hidden, daydreaming upon a branch, is to thumb one's nose at gravity and to soar just a little. Trees are nature's crowning glory.

November 11, 2008

Starting from Scratch in a Sandlot

The move-in date for the new-built house was mid-July 2003. The house is a simple two-story, wood frame, unembellished square with a steeply pitched roof, kind of resembling the line drawing of a house which children sometimes do. It enjoys small, square front and back decks, and sits upon a south-facing lot that is 50 feet wide and 150 feet deep, located about 6 blocks from the northwest shore of Lake Michigan, in a small rural village with a year-round population of some 450 people.

After subtracting the footprint of the house and that of the one-car garage built on the alley behind the house, the area to be landscaped in the yard added up to about 6,400 square feet. Every single square foot of it covered in soil that was at best 10 percent topsoil, 90 percent sand blown in from the lakeshore and surrounding Sleeping Bear Dunes. Here's what grew in the yard when the builders departed and the movers unloaded the last box of worldly goods: nothing.

Prior to the commencement of construction on this new neighborhood in the village, the land had known two primary former incarnations in modern times. First, it was part of the cultivated land belonging to a farm. The original farmhouse and barn still stand about 3 blocks or so away, now enjoying new use as a bed-and-breakfast lodging. Rumor has it the farmers raised some cattle and some pigs, grew some crops, but that all ceased back around 1990, and if the soil at that time boasted the richness of livestock manure, it no longer does so.

Once the farming phase ended (with the kind of mysterious, kind of creepy disappearance and/or demise of the three reclusive bachelor-brother farmers) the land reverted to a natural dune meadow, replete with wild daisies, spotted knapweed, native grasses and shrubs such as honeysuckle, stands of wild cherry, red and white pine, walnut, maples and other volunteers. My lot had nary a tree upon it, and the grasses and weeds it supported were entirely demolished by the building of the house. Thus, on move-in day, the whole yard, front to back, offered only a long, barren lot of sand, topped up by the builder with a few inches of trucked-in topsoil.

From the get-go, my plan for the yard was to create a landscape of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and flowers, with wood mulch covering the empty spaces. No lawn. Having previously lived with a yard that was mostly manicured grass, the concept was to have a yard which would never require mowing, would not need regular watering over every square inch, and would instead boast a pretty, shady, low-maintenance, bird- and earth-friendly environment.

The day before the house furnishings arrived, a willing worker from a local nursery pulled up to the sandlot with a pick-up truck loaded to the gills with the nine trees and fifteen shrubs I'd chosen as the starting core of the lot's landscaping. The trees we planted that day in the front yard were a Cleveland ornamental pear and a white spire river birch, one centered on either side of the sidewalk to the front door. In the back yard, the trees were a Robinson crab apple, an October Glory maple, a Colorado spruce, a cedar, two northern white pines and a red oak. Not one of the trees stood above five feet in height, once planted, and all were in the sapling or toddler phase of their existence, this size tree being all the budget could achieve.

The shrubs planted that day in 2003 included white and dark purple lilacs, close to the front windows of the house where someday, when grown up, their wonderful scent would float indoors on the spring breezes; shasta and onondaga viburnums; American high bush cranberry; Chicago lustre viburnums; snowmound and blue mist spirea; forsythia; honeysuckle gold flame; hydrangeas; wine and roses wiegela; dark purple butterfly bush; diablo ninebark; blue girl and blue boy hollies planted side by side so as to achieve pollination and berries; and one red-bark dogwood.

Garden afficionados warn against planting trees or shrubs in high summer, sensibly, because the heat and scant rainfall do impose struggles on tender youngsters. However, when an absolutely empty yard confronts a gardener, and the sun is falling completely unshielded upon roof, walls and windows, and there arises a longing to get this party started! before another month or season of potential growth goes by, then with pluck and dedication, successful installation of trees and shrubs can be achieved in mid-summer.

Every tree got planted in about half a 40-pound sack of composted cow manure, every shrub got about a quarter-sack of same. Let the writer just say right here and now and for all time, composted cow manure is the black gold of the garden. While horse, chicken or possibly other farmyard manures can burn young plants or, reputedly, give them too much of certain elements, composted cow manure seems to be the perfect soil base and fertilizer for every plant I've ever put in the ground. The holes were filled with water before planting, and the water allowed to seep into the soil before tree or shrub was inserted. After planting, each newby got a further two or three gallons of water to drink. Shredded cypress mulch was layered about two inches thick and about a foot to two feet in diameter around each planting, keeping the mulch a couple inches away from the trunks of the trees and shrubs as the garden masters keep nagging to do. The mulch helps shade the soil and retain moisture, but apparently, tree-bark eating and infecting rodents and insects will set up shop in it if it's too close to the trunks.

Then followed weeks and months in which every tree and shrub got a visit from a very slowly running hose for about half an hour or more, twice weekly (except when Mother Nature gave the hose a day off by providing rain). This period of watering would soak the area around tree or shrub out past the circumference of the roots, and was undertaken just to ensure that this expensive and already beloved congregation of plantings did not die of thirst. The only fertilizing done in supplement to the compost entailed a couple tablespoons of Dr. Schultz's liquid fertilizer (highly recommended) in a couple gallons of water, once after the plantings had been in the ground a month or so, and again in early fall.

The aggressive watering schedule was kept up for at least the first two years, starting each spring in May and continuing up to the first hard frost of fall. Unless you live in a very rainy climate, my experience suggests that watering trees and shrubs well, twice weekly, is the best bet to foster their survival and growth. All my trees and shrubs survived with one exception, most are doing very well (more individual details in a later entry), and the birch and Cleveland pear, in five years' time, have grown to heights of about 30 feet and 20 feet, respectively, with thick, solid trunks and dense foliage. The one tree that did not make it was the cedar, browned to its needles tips and killed after two years by, I suspect, a combination of the high wind factor on my lot, straight off Lake Michigan and not infrequently in the 15 to 30 miles per hour range (like once a week or so), and its exorbitant thirstiness, a characteristic known only after it had been purchased.

On a day shortly after the big tree planting, the writer happened to be on hands and knees in the front yard, introducing a lavender plant into the ground next to the front walk. A gawker (of which far too many cruised the streets of the neighborhood in those early days, checking out the newcomers and building sites), pulled to the curb and yelled a couple questions to me about the houses going up. Mine happened to be the first built and occupied, the second neighbor wouldn't move in for four months. Questions answered, this gentleman went on to observe something to the effect of how pointless it seemed to him to be putting a plant in a big, sun-baked, mostly empty yard. My only response was, well, one has to start somewhere, which was really obvious to me and is as well, I'm certain, to every gardener who ever daydreamed even a pot of pansies or a bed of rangy bee balm, rising to soften and accessorize an otherwise blank space.