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Garden Daze

By this time of year most of my gardens look like my favorite gardening clothes -- frayed, tattered, floppy, soft and supremely comfortable. My springtime strivings for garden perfection, frenetic, fretful craving for flowers, my love for unfurling greens, have mellowed into a quiet acceptance of the garden's seasoned beauty as she surrenders gracefully to the forces of entropy and decay.

This settled frame of mind gives me fertile ground for revisiting, revising, rethinking this year in the garden.

Observing my garden as she moves through the seasons, watching how she responds to wind and weather, insects and wildlife, mulches and prunings, I've learned so many things about which plants to encourage and keep, which to remove or not grow again, which new ones to try. I enjoy the process of reviewing the summer's successes and failures, and without my clipboard of records and notes, I'd be lost.

Since March 1992 when my husband and I started gardening here, I've kept an ongoing log of garden-related events concerning the weather, projects begun and completed, plant successes and failures. I can go back to the winter of 1994 to see that we rototilled in January, the bluebirds came early the first week in February, and the robins never left. My seed propagation records tell me I started 170 batches of seed this year, 60 of the batches were new plants, and the rest were repeats of saved seed from the garden or leftover seed packets. Without this system of ordering and recording information, the lessons of the year quickly fade from memory, lost forever.

I use a clipboard loaded with recycled paper (computer paper used on one side works well), and a ballpoint pen (pencil fades, felt tip pens bleed in the rain). Keep the clipboard where you will see it every day, on a table near the door that leads to the garden, next to your favorite reading chair, or next to your bed where you can jot a few things down before sleep as your brain processes the day's events. You need not record something every day, but with a few minutes of quick notes a week you'll be amazed when you go back to review your notes how just a few entries bring back past events in full living color.

The past few days I've been making notes on the highlights of this year's garden. Last January I sowed a mix of dahlia seed, nursed the seedlings along, and planted them in the garden in June. By July the blooms emerged, lovely single flowers, shaped like cosmos flowers but more elegant, the petals more substantial, the colors a mix of coral salmon, fiesta orange and butter yellow. Out of the choice mix of 12 plants, all sported the usual green dahlia foliage except for one, a striking plant with black leaves and blood-red flowers. Similar to the classic and well-known "Bishop of Llandaff" dahlia, a black-leaved peony form with double scarlet blooms, this hybrid seemed more elegant with its demure single flowers, carried high above the smoldering black foliage. I noted in my records that this plant's bulbs will be dug up, stored in peat moss in my frost-free crawl space, and propagated in pots next February in the greenhouse. Next summer I plan to have this hot plant's sexy progeny sending heat waves through our garden.

This fall the bronze, gold and ruby foliage on the trees and shrubs in the meadow gardens contrasted beautifully with the deep green conifers we planted this year. We're realizing how valuable evergreen plants become as design anchors in the garden, especially in Colorado where the fall and winter seasons are with us for seven months of the year.

Two ornamental grasses I transplanted to the meadow garden came into their own this year reaching a height of six feet and covered with flowering plumes. Of the roses, the best ones for fall color are Metis, a hybrid nitida with coppery orange highlights, Banshee for its red wine tints, and Rosa rubrifolia for its brilliant yellow leaves and scarlet hips.

On Oct. 5, 2000, my entry in the clipboard reads "Thursday: Awoke to clouds rolling in fast from the north. It's 40. I hear robins." October 3, 1999: "Sunday. Misty. Picked four McIntosh apples off our tree, sweet and tart, superb in salad with lettuce from the garden. Tim finished wedding arch to the rose garden." October 7, 1998: "Friday. 70 yesterday and today. Twenty degrees, the coldest night so far, has zapped most things, though there's still a bit of green. Hummers gone, robins passing through, juncos and Eastern Jays are back for the winter. Lost Downy lavender, potted up Goodwin Creek. One deer nibbled Pussy Willows and Rosa rubrifolia, but not Eglanteria rose." I'm shocked reading this last entry. I can't for the life of me remember the deer visiting our yard. Thankfully, she did not return.

-- You may e-mail Laura Spear at ForestEdge Gardens:

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