Monday, December 22, 2008

To mulch, or not to mulch?


mulch  (mlch)
n.
A protective covering, usually of organic matter such as leaves, straw, or peat, placed around plants to prevent the evaporation of moisture, the freezing of roots, and the growth of weeds.

A Sonnet for Seasons
Naked mounds of summer, exposed and cold,
Their sultry display now a memory.
A modest shawl too soon could not be sold
To cover a promise so savory.

The weight of winter falls dark upon them.
Subterranean now, the stage is set 
To keep awake many a gentle gem
With the simple act of a coverlet.

A hidden sleep until the sun comes back;
If I could, I would make the clock tick quick.
Precious they are kept under the dark black 
Until soil swells warm and roots become thick.

Before the spring dew can be rolled away
Let those stirring gems see the light of day!
- Erika Hanson
 
Because Shakespeare gardened--I'm convinced all inspired people do--I'll bet he mulched too.  

Here in the New York, we got our first great snow dump.  Near 12" which ain't too shabby this time of year.  Even though an arctic chill has settled in, I am warm and toasty in the thoughts of my garden beds.  

Each year in December, I do a little something special for garden function and aesthetics.  After cutting back perennials and cleaning up, I place upside-down spruce boughs over my plants, making sure to cover and layer the boughs over the soil as well. The boughs are my winter mulch offering my dormant plants moderate insulation, an effective wind-break, and a very festive winter blanket. When the snow falls, as it did this past weekend, the garden beds are now perfectly insulated from any drop/raise in temperature. A temperature-controlled cocoon is created that keep the bulbs from heaving, or the less-established perennials from freezing, and generally keeps everybody happy. While this practice is just short of epiphany, I find it absolutely essential. 

Now, the definition of WINTER MULCH: it's a mulch that is applied after the first frost.  This moderates the soil temperature, and keeps the soil from freezing and thawing.  This freeze/thaw is what causes perennials and newly planted bulbs to heave out of their planted spots. The mulch is applied thickly but does not cover the crowns of perennials, nor does it cover the lowest stems of shrubs or the bark of trees.  

Feel free to use "regular" mulch if you feel a heavy winter mulch is something you need to do. If you planted some marginally hardy bulbs or perennials, this is where a thick, heavy mulch would be appropriate. But here's the catch (and why I use spruce boughs): winter mulch should be removed in very early spring (and spruce boughs are really easy to pick up). Because  mulch is so good at keeping the soil at a consistent temperature, if the mulch is not removed, it will keep the soil cooler for a longer time come spring. As a result, bulbs and perennials alike will take much longer to emerge. If you are like me, I can't wait for my gardens to warm up in the spring.

If it isn't too late to put down a winter mulch where you garden, I suggest you try it.  If anything, the spruce boughs will give you a little lift instead of staring out at a sea of desolate frozen soil. There's nothing more depressing than a garden-turned-tundra.  On a lighter note, it's almost January, and spring is not reeeaaallly that far away.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Farewell Martha . . .

So much to say . . . aaah, so much I am not legally permitted to say.

But this must be said:  it's over.  

Working for Martha Stewart over the past 3 years has been the most serendipitous trajectory of my young career. I remember the many hours spent in the student room of the School of Professional Horticulture searching, searching for 6-month internships. I had one set up with the Royal Botanic Garden in Scotland, but then my School's Director slipped me a piece of paper. Martha's head gardener was looking for an intern, and I had been recommended. 

So began my time at Martha Stewart's garden-estate in Bedford,  NY. Ambitious, energetic, conscientious, and willing to raise my standards beyond her bar, I spent April through September absorbing it all. Greenhouse plant collections, organic vegetable growing, propagation, woody plant collections; it was a veritable botanic garden in the making, and the perfect setting for me to stretch my skills after being cooped up in school. 

Eventually I was asked by MS herself to continue working for her beyond the timeframe of my internship.  Dry humor intact, I told her I would consider it.  Who would have suggested that in the next 3 years I would be featured on 8 television gardening segments, many Sirius 112 radio interviews, the Martha blog, and styling props and floral arrangements for MSL photos shoots?  
The experiences and lessons learned have been invaluable, and memorable.  Best of all are the relationships I have founded on boundless laughter, endless humor, and tireless hard work. My love and thanks to Andrew, John, Jodi, Kim, and George.  And Laura, for her cappuccino's.

And what now? I am blessed to have lots of support, blazing ambition, buoyant energy, and white-hot optimism. Kinda like having rocket fuel coursing your veins. My company, Living Colors Landscape and Gardens,  has officially launched and is orbiting an atmosphere near you. All I can do is honor my roots, my education, and my experiences and pass that on to the public with services that are horticulturally correct, that support organics and biology, and are ├╝ber creative.

Carpe diem!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If they ain't in by now, just wait till next week!

Well, our weather is wacky, for sure.  

Just as I finished the last of my bulb-planting, and slipped under the deep-freeze in a roll-tuck-007 move, I hear its gonna be lovely and warm, and isn't spring is eternal.

Um, thanks. Now this screws up not only me, but my bulbs as well. Overly optimistic leaves push up through the cold-cracked soil, the party in their pants will go from a wild spring burst to a brown and frost-bitten disappointed false start.  

It's ugly, but not entirely devastating. Don't mind me, it's my Scandinavian genes that are screaming for more sunlight. That's what's responsible for the general malaise in my "voice".

Really though, bulbs are tough jewels. Think diamonds. Can scratch glass and still shine. Bulbs are similar. I have planted Narcissus in the depths of December, and they forgave me willingly.

I finishing my frenetic planting last Saturday and pondered the kind of obvious euphemism of 'buried treasure'. I thought of how dogs, and squirrels bury their most treasured items underground. We do too: the people we love the most, most of them, we lay gingerly under soil. Just interesting, that's all.  

I used to get very impatient with bulbs. Planting, not knowing exactly how or where they will mix with their neighbors. Ya just wanna clean up the garden and go back inside where the tea kettle is warm. But now, it's different. I love setting these dense promises into the dark, burying them alive. They vibrate with excitement for me, keeping me in suspense, just can't wait to meet the individuals inside.

And then of course, the physical geophytes themselves are just fascinating. Their shapes, colors, their clothes, their smells! Oooohh, the scent of Fritillaria is enough to make my eyelids shut with the deepest inhale I can muster. Haha, I remember a couple Fritillaria maxima rolling around my truck (Hey, Feleppa, can you confirm the status of my vehicle?), and it smelled like a combo of pounds of dank trees and a road-killed skunk. I prefer the smell of skunk.

I have so much anticipation for my bulb combo's this spring. I can't wait to see what happens!