By Rea Hamilton Seeger
Last month I wrote to you about the tricks to successfully dividing and moving plants in your garden. I was thinking of you all when I noticed a dreadful mistake in front of a small local mall. The grasses had all been cut back to two feet in height! And then I got to thinking about why would someone choose to plant what would become such lovely tall grasses and then right as they are getting ready to bloom, chop them down?
I think if you plant grasses then you will understand that they are at their best in August through to October and beyond. Their vibrant colours and assorted small and large plume-like blooms dry in the autumn air and emit lovely sounds with the wind during the winter months. I think landscapers choose them for their low maintenance not realizing that not everyone understands the virtues of ornamental grass.
I have only two varieties in our garden; one that hits the twelve-foot mark, and a medium grass that reaches the five-foot mark. Both are well behaved in that they are not invasive but grow at a normal rate and can be divided when they become too big for their space. The larger grass is dying out in the centre, a good indicator that it should be lifted and divided.
So the first plant on my list of wrong plants or wrong places is grasses. Another example is in a local municipal garden where the grasses are systematically cut down the first of October. I have not figured out why. They do not appear to be blocking any lines of sight for traffic, and if it’s due to the grasses creating a snow load problem then the municipality would be wise to substitute another plant to replace the grasses. Any gardener seeing this chopping of the grasses would weep or like me simply gawk at the absurdity of it all.
The next plant on my list is a favourite of many and that is the hosta. I simply cringe when I see hostas planted in full hot sunny spots. They bleach out and curl at the edges of their lovely leaves when exposed to intense heat. Yes there are some varieties that are bred for the sun but far more flourish when offered a bit of respite from the hot afternoon heat.
Last week I saw a south facing foundation planted with bleached out hostas, brown on the edges and wilty looking. Not a happy spot. The homeowner obviously loved the plants they had seen elsewhere and wanted to duplicate the look without doing the research.
Plants suffer greatly when gardeners fail to understand their basic needs. Light is primary. Too much or too little can certainly change the look of your new plant in a few short days. Some plants will struggle along, not really flourishing. Sometimes we don’t notice this struggle until we see the same variety happy in another garden. I came along this when I saw a wonderful monster of a heuchera or coral bell. I have some lime-green leafed ones that are wonderful and then in another garden I have some that are simply ho hum. I was walking in a friend’s garden and could not help but notice how large and healthy her coral bells were. “What are you doing,” I asked, and she simply said she prepared the new sites with plenty of well-rotted compost and mulched them well. I also noticed that her garden was sunnier than mine. Obviously my coral bells were in too shady a spot and needed more light and when I move them in the spring I too will amend the soil to keep them well nurtured.
This is also part of the joy, or struggle with gardening, paying attention to the details that create a healthy garden. By simply observing we can learn a lot about what a plant needs. There is also the obvious way of simply reading the tag or an even better way is often talking to another gardener. Horticultural Societies are invaluable sources of wonderfully talented gardeners so happy to share information or compare notes.
And on that happy note I must tell you of the great gang that formed the landscape crew for the IPM in Walton last month. Under the leadership of Karen Redmond, we hauled plants, corn bundles, pumpkins and gourds, mulch, tools and whatever we could handle to the sites we were responsible for in Tent City, IPM. We also managed the disbursement of plants and mulch that was ordered much earlier in the summer by exhibitors. It was hard work, but made so much more memorable with the laughter and teasing.
Earlier in the summer, a crew of volunteers planted five acres of pumpkins, sunflowers and gourds on land generously donated by Barb Terpstra of Cranbook Farms. Weeding in our own gardens is a challenge but there were a few valiant volunteers who managed to weed and keep an eye on the crop. The next call was for pickers, and not just one day but over several days. Then there was the challenge of getting the harvest to the Match. Hubbards of Blyth came through with large pumpkin boxes. We even took private trailers and, at one point, a hay wagon.
In the opposite direction Janet and Brian Keys donated corn and also planted Indian corn along one of their fields at their farm just south of Winthrop. Again a crew of us learned how to cut, bundle and transport corn bundles that looked stunning around the IPM site, some with bright bows on them. I found the extra touch of peeling back the cornhusks to let the golden kernels shine out was the best. I also learned a lot about Indian corn too. The corn was just beautiful looking and you never knew what colour would pop out when the husks were peeled back.
While I am happy to have been a part of this experience, I think I can safely say we are glad it does not happen every year! ◊
Rhea Hamilton-Seeger and her husband live near Auburn. She is a skilled cook and gardener.