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Pleasant Hill Ramblings

Updated: 2017-12-03T06:25:14.561-05:00


header photo


Even though it's now almost winter on the hill, and there is snow covering the bare branches of the lilacs, I am going to leave the header photo as is for the foreseeable future. Lilacs were B's favorite flower.

I say "were" because Bill died on August 30th of complications from prostate cancer. 55 years old, too, too young, my dear sweetheart. He was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer right after his 52nd birthday in 2013. He endured antihormone therapy, multiple hospitalizations, reversible kidney failure, double nephrostomy tubes when the cancer invaded his bladder, seven months of chemotherapy, and then a very fast, very painful decline over the last month he was alive. When he died on August 30th at home with me right beside him, I was almost relieved, because his pain and the indignity of his disease were finally over. But my pain has really only begun. I miss him so much.

Lilacs were Bill's favorite flower. We bought lilac bushes for birthdays and anniversaries even as we sought to rehabilitate the lilacs already on the property here. He considered them his flower. I consider them our flower, too.

I am going to try to begin to post more to this blog that I've neglected for so long. I think writing about our garden, and now writing about Bill, too, will be healing for me at some point. At this juncture, almost three months from his death, I am almost overwhelmed with grief. This, apparently, is normal in the grieving process. I think I was operating on adrenaline for the first 8 weeks, and almost convinced myself that maybe Bill was away on a short vacation, but would return soon.

With Thanksgiving looming (our favorite holiday) and Christmas right on top of it, I realize that he will not be back. Funny, isn't it, that it has taken this long for this hard fact to sink in.

More later, but for the time being, here's a photo of my sweet William, taken by me when we were out to dinner at a little inn in Vermont on his 50th birthday. What a handsome man he was. The poem is one I learned only about a week before he died. I read it to him a few times over that last week. He loved it as much as I do.


[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

dahlias some planted


Nothing like putting a few tubers into some dirt to engender hope for lengthening, warming days. Planted on the last day of April and the fifth of May:

Saturday, April 30 (from Frey's Dahlias in Oregon)
  • Chee
  • Kaiser Wilhelm
  • Luttwichen
  • White Fawn
Wednesday, May 5 (from Old House Gardens in Michigan)
  • Bishop of Llandaff
  • Gerrie Hoek
  • Old Gold
  • Prince Noir
Next up (tomorrow?) are the dahlias stored in boxes of peat moss in the basement. Ahh.

iris chrysographes fail


Joe adding insult to injury.
Sad rotten little Iris chrysographes, who sits in his pot of free-draining soil.

The rhizome looked a little sketchy to me when it arrived from White Flower Farm last week, and I saw no evidence of growth, but I potted it up and set it out on the fire escape anyway.

This week there is nothing happening still, so I wrote a note to the nice folks in customer service, had a response within the day from Diane, and have been promised a replacement.

We just want these things to work.

On Callaway Road


Callaway Road (about a mile north of Pleasant Hill) is beautiful all year round. It's a dirt road through farm fields bordered by sumac in the foreground with the Adirondacks to the west and the Green Mountains of Vermont to the east. But it's especially lovely once the sumac has fruited and the leaves have turned.

The view from Callaway Road, October 2013.

Abutilon theophrasti or velvetweed


A few years ago, B and I paid good money for a load of compost delivered by a local farmer. He dumped it at the top of the driveway, and we spent the next few months spreading it over all the gardens. As the summer progressed I saw all sorts of plants I'd never seen before. The compost was full of uncooked seeds, and we ended up pulling luscious, gigantic weeds by the thousands over the next two summers.

One of the new weeds took a liking to the bed down by the road. I let it go to seed a few times, the first time out of laziness, the second because I thought the seedpods were beautiful. I called it witchweed until I did a little research and determined it's Abutilon theophrasti. Kind of a nondescript plant when it's green and flowering (although the leaves really do feel velvety), but once the flowers go and the seeds develop: Wow.

Dehiscent velvetweed.

killing frost


Not having actually been at the house during the week, I'm going on what my neighbors tell me: We had a killing frost Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, October 16, 2013. Just for the record, and all that.

And, yes, it was a glorious bunch of dahlias.

start me up


new labelmaker + new labels = happy gardener

late winter odds and ends


Found a few ninebark labels in the garage
  • Physocarpus opulifolius 'Monio' or Diabolo Ninebark (planted closest to the house)
  • Physocarpus opulifolius 'Coppertina' (planted farthest from the house)
Map of Slate Hill Farm daylilies wintering in the vegetable garden:

Bit = 'Bitsy'; FH = 'Frans Hals'; GT = 'Gold Thimble'; KL = 'Kindly Light'; LN = 'Lady Neva'; PI = 'Princess Irene'

Happy to see our new Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' testing the bloomin' waters:

Dahlia tubers in basement:
  • 'Andries Orange'
  • 'Bloodstone'
  • 'Crazy Legs'
  • 'Duet'
  • 'Florinoor'
  • 'Golden Cloud'
  • 'Kelvin Floodlight'
  • 'Kogane Fubuki' 
  • 'Little Beeswings'
  • 'Lucky Number'
  • Sorensensii
  • 'Star Child'
  • 'Winsome'
Need to order 'Clair de Lune,' 'Giraffe,' 'Kaiser Wilhelm'



The first real snow of the season fell Christmas day, two days after Christmas, and again two days after that. There isn't a ton of it (probably seven inches or so), but even a little makes every branch and stalk in the garden look like an old Japanese brush painting.

(image) The pot-bound red osier dogwood Alan sent north with B and me a few years ago has settled into its new home in the garden that edges the patio. I cut it back hard every spring (to within about four inches of the ground; I said hard, didn't I?), and it sends up lots of new growth through the spring and summer. During the growing season, the branches are just as plain as can be, but come autumn, they begin to color up, and when the leaves drop, there they are in all their fine redness.

After reading about winterberries on Margaret Roach's A Way to Garden
for the past few years, B and I decided we needed to add a few to our yard. We're not following Margaret's lead— she sites them in the distance where they "'read' as brilliant landscape elements when [she] is tucked indoors" (although we may do that, too, eventually). Instead, the two shrubs we bought and planted this summer form part of an arc, along with three Physocarpus 'Coppertina,' at the top of the driveway, separating it from the garden. These two little shrubs have already set some berries, "as red as any blood." The birds will love them, when they eventually find them.

(image) Finally, what's a catalog of winter red on our hill without a view of the barn dressed up in its star? Putting it up (B and I aim for the second Sunday of Advent) always is, shall we say, a little bit of a challenge (I keep vowing to make it easier on ourselves by mounting the two pieces on a frame and hoisting the assembly via a pulley system to the side of the barn; maybe this summer), but seeing it shine from the early-winter darkness inspires and anchors us through Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Happy new year!

nice combos


 Self-sown Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' (bronze fennel)
with Helenium autumnale  'Moorheim Beauty' behind.

Cleome hassleriana 'Pink Queen' against
a backlit wall of Cotinus coggyria 'Golden Spirit.'

Verbena bonariensis doing its perky, cute thing
in front of Phlox paniculata 'David.'

garden timeline: aster 'october skies'


I pinched back my clump of three plants twice or three times this summer so that now I have what looks like a two-foot high shrub about three feet across. First bloom (with thousands more buds just beginning to develop): 19 August 2012.

garden timeline: clematis paniculata


First bloom on sweet autumn clematis: 25 August 2012.

most-asked-about plants in margaret roach's garden last weekend


I love listening to "A Way to Garden" on WHDD radio. I hook up to it via an app called Stitcher on my iPhone and listen to it, along with BBC Radio's "Gardeners' Question Time," WGLT's "Gardening with the Dean of Green," and NCPR's "Gardening Conversations" with Martha Foley and Amy Ivy (which isn't on Stitcher, but is available as a podcast), on my drives north from the city. These are my favorites, because I don't feel as if they are advertisements for a particular agenda or product, and they seem most focused on presenting useful information in a way that isn't pretentious or precious or jokey or dumbed down. I wish there were more programs like this, but I'm just not finding them. Any suggestions?But I digress.In Margaret Roach's most recent podcast, she listed out the plants that visitors asked about most during her recent garden tour, which was last weekend during the annual Copake Falls Day. Here they are: Abies concolor (concolor fir) Aesculus paviaAesculus parviflora (bottlebrush buckeye)Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Pendula’ (Alaska weeping cedar) Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eye'Salix elaeagnos (rosemary willow)I'm particularly interested in Aesculus pavia, which has red blossoms during the spring. Unusual. [...]

daylilies for james


James, here are a few daylilies I took note of at Slate Hill Farm last weekend. They're all in bloom now. Fiery, but fiery red, rather than fiery orange, most of them. 'Ruby My Dear': Red with a yellow throat, late, 28 inches (Craig and Mary Barnes, 2011)'Augie Lombard': Red blend, very late, 31 inches (Bell, 1991)'Caroline No': Red-orange with a red band above a yellow-green throat, late, 36 inches (Craig and Mary Barnes 2008)'Challenger': Warm brick red with gold midribs, late midseason to late, 72 inches (Stout, 1949); Mary Barnes noted that it was blooming beautifully in an area with half sun'Poinsettia': Orange-red spider, mid-season to late, 36 inches (Stout, 1953)I know you already have 'Autumn Minaret." Did yours come into bloom a few weeks ago like mine did? It's already over six feet tall. Just beautiful.'Princess Irene' is a great orange (see my previous post), and it was in bloom at Slate Hill Farm last weekend, too.Old House Gardens is selling two other beautiful late daylilies, 'August Pioneer' and 'Black Friar.' Have you seen them? Good luck! I think I may go back and buy a 'Challenger' this weekend. It really stood out to me. I'll also be on the lookout for more fiery orange daylilies for you . . . [...]

slate hill farm, the 2012 edition


Gracious, more daylilies! After church last Sunday, I had a choice: Turn left and go home to weed. Hmmmm. Turn right and visit Slate Hill Farm, just to look around a bit and see what's blooming . . . What do you think I did? What would you do?Craig and Mary Barnes took time out from their weeding to walk me through their late-blooming daylilies, all of which I wanted to buy. I somehow managed to limit myself to fewer than 10. But just barely. I'll pick them up on Saturday.The information below is from Slate Hill Farm and other sites (including Bloomingfields Farm and Oakes Daylilies):'Kindly Light' Classic spider, glowing yellow, very narrow petals recurved, blooming from mid-summer for about five weeks, 30 inches (Bechtold, 1950)'Princess Irene' Rich, clear orange, blooming from mid-summer until frost, 36 inches (Zager, 1952)'Poinsettia' (for some reason this one isn't in the online catalog, so I'm linking to Google images): Orange-red spider, mid-season to late, 36 inches (Stout, 1953)'Frans Hals' (ditto on this one, too): Bright rust and orange bicolor, creamy orange midrib on petals, very long blooming from midseason, 28 inches (Flory, 1955)'Bitsy' Grassy foliage, small yellow flowers, reblooms, extra-early, 20 inches (Warner, 1963) 'Gold Thimble' Tiny, tiny, tiny! Beautiful little cup-shaped gold blossom (Hughes, 1966)'Lady Neva' Soft yellow semi-spider with rose eye, fragrant, early-midseason, 42 inches (Alexander/Moody, 1970)'Scarlet Orbit' Red with chartreuse throat, reblooms, fragrant, early, 22 inches (Gates, 1984)'Easter Monday' Pale yellow trumpet, fragrant(!), mid-season to late, 52 inches (Craig and Mary Barnes, 2006)Notice the Barnes's hybrid, 'Easter Monday'? It's a large trumpet and fragrant. Say no more. And the color is wonderful. All right, stop. And did you notice how tall it is? That's it: I love it.I seem to be partial to older varieties, traditional shapes, and traditional colors, although I did kind of a double-take on an almost white daylily that the Barnes are trialing now. I bet that would look great among brighter colors.The last daylily I want to buy this year is Sydney Eddison's favorite, 'Painted Lady.' I've found it at Lakeview Daylily Farm, and nowhere else, so before it gets too much later in the season, I need to put a last order in . . .[...]

upstate new york hosta society plant sale


Yesterday morning, I tagged along with my hosta-loving friend Pam to the annual hosta sale sponsored by the Upstate New York Hosta Society at Faddegon's Nursery in Latham, New York. We decided to go a little early after she told me about last year's sale: She and her friend Diane arrived at 8:45 for what had been advertised as a 9:00 opening. When they got there, they were almost run over by all the early birds pulling carts piled high with hostas back to their cars. The sale had opened early.

The injustice!

So this year, we arrived at 8:30. Who knows but that other hosta lovers cried foul last year, because the sale began at 9:00 on the dot.

Our strategy was to grab the plants we might want and then review our finds later, which worked really well for us. We bought for three gardens—Pam's, Diane's, and B's and mine—so our two-tiered cart was jammed. Between the three of us, we ended up with something like 20 beautiful plants and spent a grand total of $103. Here are my purchases:

(left to right) 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd,' 'Christmas Tree,' 'August Moon,' 'Green and Gold,' and 'Sum and Substance'
    All healthy plants, and we had the opportunity to talk to a bunch of other people who love hostas, too (they're a congenial crowd). What a happy morning!

    welcome morning, by anne sexton


    There is joy
    in all:
    in the hair I brush each morning,
    in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
    that I rub my body with each morning,
    in the chapel of eggs I cook
    each morning,
    in the outcry from the kettle
    that heats my coffee
    each morning,
    in the spoon and the chair
    that cry "hello there, Anne"
    each morning,
    in the godhead of the table
    that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
    each morning.

    All this is God,
    right here in my pea-green house
    each morning
    and I mean,
    though often forget,
    to give thanks,
    to faint down by the kitchen table
    in a prayer of rejoicing
    as the holy birds at the kitchen window
    peck into their marriage of seeds.

    So while I think of it,
    let me paint a thank-you on my palm
    for this God, this laughter of the morning,
    lest it go unspoken.

    The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
    dies young.

    centaurea montana


    My mom grew this in a partly shady garden next to the stone wall on the south side of our yard, and I remember vases of the blooms on our dining room table when I was growing up. The flower always seemed a little odd to me, a little vulnerable, vague, and sparse. I wanted more petals. They're such an intense blue, but I thought there were too few of them. It's a pretty flower, but not in any usual way.

    Mom must have moved the plant to her garden at the lake house where she and my dad spend most of their summers these days, because she still cuts it for her flower arrangements. And I have remained ambivalent toward it.

    This means that I've never asked my mother for a piece of her plant to put in my garden, and when I've seen it or its gold-leaved cousin at nurseries, I've thought, Oh, I should buy that because it reminds me of home, but I never have.

    Then last summer, my friend Pam offered me a piece of her plant, and I thought, Oh, all right, let's try it. She told me not to be sad when the leaves disappeared after I put it in the ground. "It'll do that, and you'll think it's a goner. But then it will send up new leaves and maybe a bloom or two, and you will be happy." Well, it did send up a bunch of leaves last summer, but it didn't flower until this spring. And when it did, all my ambivalence disappeared.

    The sparseness of the petals seems delicate and elegant to me now. The plant is huge and has been in continuous bloom since May, a real plus in my gardening book. The blue is gorgeous, and by happy accident my Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' is planted right next door, so that the interplay of these two odd birds is kind of wonderful. I'm such a fan that I'm considering buying the gold-leaved version, too, and, in fact, I did buy another centaurea this spring, Centaurea macrocephala. It has a yellow, thistle-like flower that makes it look like C. montana's football-playing older brother.

    I'm glad I got over my reservation about this wonderful plant. I don't know why it took me so long to decide to grow it up here on the hill, but I'm happy I finally came around. I feel like I should tell my mom that I get it now.

    And thank you, Pam!

    a million little stars


    The other night, after I watered all the squash I just transplanted (transplanted! in midsummer! so dry! what was I thinking!), I took a rest in the vegetable garden and noticed how sweet the flower bed in the middle looks. B has planted thyme and more thyme and yet more, and it is in bloom.

    midsummer triptych


    In spite of the dry summer we've had so far (note crispy Heuchera in the header), the garden looks lush; even 'Rozanne' is hanging in there, and she's in full sun!

    Foxglove with a backdrop of 'Blue Angel' hosta.
    Fern, astilbe, pachysandra.
    Geranium 'Rozanne' and Cotinus coggyria 'Royal Purple.'

    finally . . . an update and some fall-blooming crocus ordered


    How embarrassing not to have checked in since the days this spring when the poet's narcissus were in bloom! The garden continues to grow, however, and much is the same (while much is different). Spring has turned to summer, and with summer have come thoughts of autumn in general, and thoughts of fall-blooming crocus in particular. I'm always late to the party where ordering special bulbs is concerned, but this year, THIS YEAR, I've gotten my ducks in a row now and have just placed an order with Brent and Becky's Bulbs for the following:
    A few years back somehow I got my hands on some lovely pale-purple fall-blooming crocus that I planted in the perennial garden in September when space was at a real premium, which means that I tucked them between a raft of Stachys byzantina and a cloud of Anemone 'Honorine Jobert,' way over on the end where I never go. (I wonder if every gardener has a spot in the garden that's filled with plants that don't fit anywhere else.)

    The crocus got a little lost there, as you can imagine.

    I noticed and dug them this spring (never saw them bloom last fall), locating the bulbs by looking for their fading, threadlike foliage, and planted them throughout a bed of Vinca minor at the top of the driveway. Doing this has several advantages: the dark foliage of the vinca will be a nice backdrop to the flowers; the ripening foliage won't be a distraction in spring, and B and I will actually be able to see them when we drive up the driveway! I'll plant the new additions to the family in this bed, too.

    Very excited.

    poet's narcissus for betty


    Narcissus poeticus is a very old daffodil associated with the Greek legend of Narcissus. I think it's one of the prettiest: clean, white petals and small yellow corona ringed with intense red. We have some variants that have the same white petals and corona, but are ringed with orange or salmon.

    Normally, they're among the last daffodils to bloom, usually late in May, but all bets are off this year, because they're blooming now. They're also very fragrant, and Wikipedia says that the essential oil derived from it is one of the most popular fragrances used in perfume. I did not know that!

    Have you ever noticed that the later daffodils are the ones that smell the best? I wonder if that's because when they bloom they have to compete with a lot of other flowers, whereas the earlier ones more or less have the place to themselves.

    Narcissus poeticus, though the red ring on the corona is not as intense as some I've seen.
    (Photo by Jean-Jacques Milan, via Wikimedia Commons.)

    it had to happen: second and third plant orders


    After a glorious day of digging and raking and dragging and thinking, I went online last night and spent the rest of my birthday money on a few more little items for the garden:Dahlias!Much as I love Old House Gardens, I took the advice of Kris from Blithewold in Rhode Island and checked out Swan Island Dahlias in Canby, Oregon. Amazing number of dahlia tubers available, but I was most interested in finding one that B noticed at Blithewold last summer: 'Willie Willie.' I know, I know.But anyway.I got my hands on that one (oh, stop), and then found a few others that looked equally as lovely: 'Crazy Legs' and 'Star Child.' Then, because we must never forget our origins, I ordered Dahlia sorensenii, one of the very first dahlias taken from Mexico to England to hybridize, according to the Swan Island Dahlias website. It's a very clear, light purple.And who wants more hostas? I do! I do!So then I trundled over to the New Hampshire Hostas website where I dropped a few selections into my shopping cart, including 'Empress Wu,' because I am not feeling very hopeful about the two plants Pam scored for me last fall (a possible casualty of the snowless winter?), and another 'June' and 'Spilt Milk,' and then, despite the really horrible name, what is supposed to be a very fragrant variety, 'Fried Green Tomatoes.'I am lousy with dahlias and hostas. And that's an enviable position to be in.[...]

    soil temperature


    Even with the all-over-the-map temperatures we've had this spring, and the early appearance of the daffodils, and the possibility that the ground didn't freeze as deeply as it normally does (I planted daffodils the second day of January, for crying out loud!), it is still early spring here on the hill. As I weeded yesterday, I realized how cold the ground is (conversely, the ground stayed warm pretty late into the fall last year).

    Other than the daffodils and the ramps in the woods and the grass (Scott mowed for the first time of the season on Thursday) and, of course, the Euphorbia polychroma in the header above, the garden is taking its time waking up. Good thing, too, because we've had frost the past two nights (27.7 degrees on Friday night, 29.8 degrees last night). The baptisia is about six inches tall, the noses of the hostas are three inches out of the ground, and there are some other early risers (helianthus, nepeta, geranium), but most seem to be holding back. They know when the time is right.

    actually accomplished on saturday


    As of 10:15 am
    • Weeded dahlia bed
    • Weeded new bed by barn
    • Dug and replanted some autumn crocus (more to replant this afternoon)
    10:20 am: Off to town to pick up mail and visit hardware store to buy digging fork, replacement blade for cutters, oil for lawnmower

    By 7:00 pm
    • Dug, divided and moved one clump of daffodils that were too close to an aruncus (it's a start, after all!)
    • Dug, divided, and replanted  'Blue Angel' hosta, numerous astilbes, and ostrich ferns; raked out and weeded astilbe bed
    • Cut down old grass in perennial bed; used new digging fork to dig up dandelions, too
    • Cut back Rosa rugosa on slope and piled branches as neatly as I could for Ted to take away
    • Replanted rest of autumn crocus
    • Began weeding between boxes in vegetable garden
    What a glorious day and what a nice sleep I'll have tonight!