Friday, November 19, 2010

The Garden in November

Foliage at Peak, October 31, 2010
For most people, autumn in New England means bright, vivid colors, falling leaves and jack o' lanterns, crisp temperatures, and Thanksgiving. For me it means that my garden has to be put to bed for the winter. I don't mind telling you that winter is not my favorite season, but the disruption in the normal cycling of the seasons has left my garden somewhat confused.

For the past three years our weather pattern has been very atypical. Back to back winter Nor'easters doused us with serious and sometimes catastrophic flooding and hurricane force winds sustained at 70-90 mph caused severe tree damage. Spring has come early and winter has skittered in at the last possible minute with frigid temperatures. Ice storms have been plentiful but snow, which is the best insulator for our gardens, has been scant and when we did get a substantial snowfall, rapidly rising temperatures melted it away quickly.

The summer drought has had a tremendous affect on our garden and on New England foliage overall. The fall colors were not as vibrant and the peak where we are on Cape Ann was three weeks later than usual.

Nothing takes a  toll on bulbs and perennials like the cyclical freezing and thawing that happens when daily temperatures rise into the 40's and 50's and bright sunshine heats the gardens but night time temperatures crash into the teens or twenties. Roots get torn and damaged and bulbs get pushed toward the surface. If they survive that indignity and the floods don't leave them exposed to freeze or wash them away completely, voles and squirrels may feed on them.

Buds ready to bloom cover the saucer magnolia
Saucer Magnolia ready to bloom

With a very early and long spring, tremendous flooding, and early budding followed by a deep freeze, our saucer magnolias did not bloom well this spring. That was followed by a severe summer drought. I was totally flabbergasted today to see that both our yellow Elizabeth and our burgundy and cream saucer are fully and heavily budded. I don't know to what degree they have taxed themselves and whether or not if will affect their ability to survive the winter. I also wonder if they will bloom in the next few days, given the chilly temperatures we are expecting, and if  they bloom now, will we have a poor showing of spring blooms again, (that is, if they survive the winter).

Elizabeth (yellow) Magnolia fully budded

Malva zebrina still blooming


Other surprises in the garden today include salvia, malva zebrina, and several roses still blooming.  The mock orange shrub has fresh blossoms as well.


Lavender L. augustifolia Munstead blooming in November
Alas, the season is over for the lavender. As recently as a week ago I was still picking fresh lavender bouquets and wood violets were blooming, also completely out of season. Today, I found a couple of  flower spikes with a few lavender blossoms still showing beautiful color. All of the rest are brown but pruning will wait until spring. The remaining wood violets have given in to the very cold night time temperatures and killing frosts.

Rave petunias are still blooming in the hypertufa trough

A surprise was the clump of  rave petunias still blooming along with some vinca in the trough in the tree grove. All of the vinca in our urns is still green and thriving and I am going to transplant it into the pot with the hydrangea tree which we are bringing in for the winter this weekend.

Seafoam in bloom with Social Climber blooming in the background

Climbing Blaze is another surprise bloomer
Paul McCartney Rose
 McCartney rose bud - beautiful carmine pink

Most of the perennials are dormant but a few are showing new growth, even blooming
The koi are sluggish and ready for winter
This year we winterized the koi pond much later than usual. Although we could keep the waterfall running all winter, if we have a particularly harsh ice storm, we get severe ice dams that totally obstruct the flow and this can develop overnight. Because it can be a nightmare during a Nor'easter, we have opted to have the experts at our favorite water garden store, Country Gardens, prepare the pond for winter. They  remove the pump and ozone light, and clear the pipes and spillway.

We use a bubbler with an air stone to aerate the water to meet the oxygen needs of the fish through the winter and early spring, which is minimal during hibernation. Once the water temperature drops below 55 degrees, the fish begin to get sluggish and when it goes below 50, they no longer digest food, so we stop feeding. We resume feeding once the water temperature remains steadily above 50-55 degrees in spring. They won't starve. They are plump from a summer of dining on koi pellets and algae and their nutritional needs are minimal during their hibernation. They will feed on algae in the spring until we resume their regular feedings.

Our koi, feeding in June, 2010
Our koi are seven years old, range from a 1.25 to 1.75 feet in length, and are quite socialized (for fish). They school and immediately surface and follow us if we walk around the pond. To us, they are like any other pet, each with his/her own unique personality and name.

The pond will freeze over except for a small area where we will place a small heating ring next to the bubbler. Our water garden occupies a foot wide shelf that is sculpted into the wall of the pond two feet below the surface of the water.  During the winter, we lower the pots to the bottom of the pond. This year, the plants are so large, we could not fit them all in the bottom of the pond and since the reeds, iris, and rushes have traditionally done poorly under five feet of water in the spring, we left them on the shelf, hoping they will winter over well.