Getting Older.

Friday, December 6, 1996

The Winter Garden.

s the Spring-planted Garden passes through the months and years, it gets more and more beautiful. But it ages, too. Plants that you had initially installed as quarts or gallon sizes, have (hopefully) spread rapidly and grown lush during the season. They quickly reach specimen grade and then begin a decline as they pass maturity. Even just-installed plant material ages quickly, especially with all the moisture we've had this year. Looking closely, the wise Garden Manager can see that some plants need immediate attention, while others are fine for another year or two.
At this point in time, all plants should be dormant, 'browned-off', cut back, and heavily mulched for Winter. The mulch will help protect the plants' root crown from being pitched or heaved out of the ground, as alternating freezes and thaws occur in the coming months. If there is no snow cover to act as a thermal blanket, mulch will suffice. Use a good quality mulch; don't short-cut that step in your Planted Garden. Read my ad, called Winter Over for the salient details of what to do.
Hopefully, all the garden debris you collected this year went into that new compost pile you started this past summer. Congratulations for getting it done! The dividends to be paid to your garden in the coming months and years will be handsome indeed. It's 'Pure Mother Nature"; a perfect 1-1-1 slow release fertilizer. Spread it as thickly (2-3") as you can use it instead of mulch. Every time it rains, the garden plants are fed. We have several thousand tons to spread on the Display Gardens and onto our growing fields in the Spring. Properly-made compost smells sweet, very, very sweet. Not at all like what you'd think. It's pure Black Gold.
If you own any variegated or golden conifers such as aureas or luteas that burn easily in Winter wind and cold, consider using an anti-dessicant, such as Wilt-Pruf®. Its fine misting spray adds extra strength oils to the trees' and shrubs' needles as additional protection against drying conditions. It's price is well worth the fresh, Spring look after Winter recedes. If you have many of those conifers, buy Wilt-Pruf in the gallon size (concentrate) and use a portable pump-sprayer, either the 3gal backpack or 1.5gal cylinder model will do nicely.
If your garden's plants are 3-4 years old expect that some will require attention sooner than that they're good candidates for digging, dividing and replanting in the early Spring. Daylillies (hemerocallis), Shasta Daisy (chrysanthemum superbum), Black Eyed Susans (rudbeckia), Silver Mound (artemesia) and dozens of other perennials benefit from a Spring digging and division. Not quite sure how to divide them?
Simple. An English Border Fork (four-pronged), a tarp and sharp knife or small hatchet are all you'll need. Dig a circle around the plant, gently rocking the plant lose each time the border fork is in the ground. Lift the clump out onto the tarp. Cut or hack into equal pieces at logical intervals; on daylilies, there are eyes, or joints for natural division. Same for iris. On other plants, you'll have to guess where to make the cut, depending upon the plant's architecture. Once the clump is out of the ground and on the tarp, you'll be better able to see what you're doing. Replant the pieces in other parts of your garden to repeat the theme, or give some of the new clumps away to friends. Simply pot them up, keep in the shade for a week or so and water frequently. Never let the new pieces dry out. Mulch well.
Other perennials will require Fall division; best to check which specific varieties you have as candidates, and ask the local garden center or nursery that sold them to you for advice. If they can't get it right, send me some mail and I'll get the dig-and-divide schedule organized for you. I'll need your list of plants (botannic names, please) and the USDA Hardiness Zone that you live in.
The one thing to keep in mind about all perennials is that without care and assistance in some sort of propagative affair between gardener and plant they're good for 5-6 years at best; beyond that they have a tendency to "disappear", unless a bountiful re-seeding takes place each gardening season. One day, you'll walk through the garden and wonder where all the perennials went. A garden requires frequent replacements and replanting as the years go on. The very same plants can be kept for many, many years if the above "dig-and-divide" techniques are followed.
Over the Winter, send me some mail with a list of your perennials (botannic names, please), and I'll put together a dig-and-divide schedule for the entire garden. I've already planned the Garden Center's Display Garden schedule out for 1997, and I have an easy, foolproof (hey, it works for me) way of doing it.

Forty Seven.

There was a time in my life when I thought I'd never get any older, that I'd be the same age forever and ever. (Amen.) As a child, time just seemed to stand still. Then, it felt as if I'd never get to where all the other people were. But as an adult, time hurries right along. The reason is simple: as a child, we have too much time ahead; as adults, we have too little ahead.The unrelenting passage of time changes all that juvenile thinking into reality. Once we're faced with our own mortality, things are never quite the same. Heck, I hope this isn't just a guy thing.
I hit the 47 mark on Monday the 2nd, but it wasn't as traumatic as the 40th was. I knew this one was coming I hadn't even thought about it until some friends so kindly reminded me so there was no inherent shock value as there was with the big 4-0. Anyway, 40 seems like a thousand years ago now. 50 seems uncomfortably close, all of a sudden. Many thanks to all my relatives, friends and the many people who sent cards, email and gifts for their kind thoughts. I was kind of hoping that no one would remember and this one would pass quietly...
Lately, I can feel my biological clock ticking. I always thought I'd make an effort to age gracefully, but I find I'm fighting it a little on the way by making conscious adjustments for the changes wrought by time. It's strange that I don't feel any different; maybe the changes are so subtle that I don't readily recognize them until I'm well into the new cycle.
What to do about all this? Nothing, actually. Not a darn thing. Oh well, there's lots one could do if one was so inclined. But I'm not: acceptance is all there is. Coping with all the differences is intriguing; those who are here know what I mean. The others, who aren't just yet, will be soon. It's another of life's little trips to deal with.


I still get many questions from relatives and friends about whether I'll get married again, whether I'll have another co-pilot in life. How the hell do I know at this point in time? I just got divorced less than two years ago; I'm still getting used to being single again. Maybe down the road I'll find the right person and have the time for it once more. Right now, things are fine as is. The concept is sound, though it's pretty lame on a cold Winter's night or a warm Spring evening.
I've had my "fair share" of marriage, kids and the like; now, I'm very comfortable and happy. I actually enjoy what I'm doing and plan to continue on this path for many, many years to come. Unless, of course, something or someone comes along to change all that.

Quiet Thoughts.

Sitting in my office, watching the snow drift down gently outside the window, I see everything dormant and quiet under a pervasive blanket of white for the Winter, except the dozens of small birds hunting for food. It reminds me that life is much different and a great deal harder for some than for others. Here's something that just crossed my mind...

Winter Cardinal.

Window panes
look on window panes,
and the warmth of rooms
he knows
goes out across the ash
limbs of freezing winter
teaching lessons
he has yet
to learn.

Reading glasses
rest on books not read.
The authors whisper
amongst themselves,
short paragraphs
in the time they have left
to reflect.
Darkness comes
a last time, forever,
and yet the work remains,

My heart pounds at the
coming of night
as I await the reward I seek
as I reflect on the words I've
as I retrace the steps I took
as I reconcile my legacy
as I thank you
as I praise you
as I speak your name.

Beyond the window panes
an open doorway,
lends the aroma of
and home,
work, pleasure, sleep.

Reading glasses
lie atop the books not read.
Authors rest a moment
at the entrance of a friend.

The Birds.

There are many, many bird nests in our Greenhouses this year. Even more than last year. They build the nests in the Fall, maintain them over the Winter and, come Spring, produce babies to replace themselves. The chirping in the Spring after the eggs hatch is tenderly musical. I help feed them seed, peanut asser, suet and whatever is appropriate and available to help them survive. Birds are one of the most fragile of all creatures, yet one of the most rewarding to have on anyone's property and gardens. I do all I can to help out.
Last Winter, I used to buy worms (nightcrawler fishing bait in little plastic containers) at a local store, pick out the worms from the dirt and leave them on plates by each nest for the birds to dine on. Yum. I'll be doing that this year if they carry fishing bait again. Otherwise, it'll just be seed, peanut asser and suet as dining fare for the birds.
You should have heard the shit they gave me at the Rutter's convenience store in Stewartstown, where I bought the worms. Just to f*ck their heads up, I'd buy some bread and catsup or mayonnaise too. I told them I could get three good sandwiches from one tin of live worms. Everyone was stunned and shut up quickly. Hey, it's a small Pennsylvania town. Heh, heh, heh...
I often usually a minimum of twice per day have to wade through 3-4ft of snow to get to the Greenhouses to replenish their food supplies and back to the Main Complex. That journey through the snow sucks, but it's a nice feeling to help those creatures. Under so much snow, birds can't find enough to eat and readily starve to death. They must eat twice their weight in food each day to survive. I leave the Greenhouse doors open during the day so the birds may come and go, but the doors are secured at night and the birds are in for the duration. In really bad weather, I also have to take the food to them several times each day. We go through 100+lbs of seed and many jars of peanut asser each season. It'll soon be time for a feeding before I lock up and leave tonight.
This Winter, help out the birds living near or at your property: feed them. Use a good quality seed blend, a seed and peanut asser mixture for super protein, and some occasional suet (fat) there are many ways to keep them alive over the Winter. And keep their water supply free of ice; I use a small floating heater that any farm supply store carries. (We carry the same item for fish ponds and water gardens.) Then you have their company for the rest of the year at your residence and in your gardens. They are a very fragile animal. They depend upon you to help them out in the Winter. Don't fail them. Then, they're your friends for the rest of the year; keeping insect populations under control, adding beauty and song to your gardens.
For some very good birding care links, visit Dr. Deb, (at Florida State University) at The Armchair Gardener, and get the information you need to care for the birds this Winter.

Expansion Plans Underway.

After meeting with my landscape foreman and the sales rep from a Maryland pole-building company, I've signed the contract for another 30' x 60' Storage Building to be installed during January 1997, if Winter doesn't set-in too early. We're doing the excavation and grading ourselves; they'll come in a erect the structure in 2 days so that it'll be ready for Spring use.
Meanwhile, we're re-ordering the entire site's layout so that the increased amounts of nursery stock can more easily be accessed by us and by customers. We've outgrown the physical layout that's served us so well for the past seven years. Tempus fugit. Over the Winter, my primary crew will continue weather permitting to work on this massive undertaking, so that Spring's arrival won't catch us unaware of the shortcomings that have developed in the last year or two of operation. A large CAT bulldozer and front-end loader will be arriving in two weeks to start the process. My foreman has already laid out most of the grades with the transit.
The original 20' x 30' Storage Building that we installed seven years ago will soon be fully-converted into the Landscape Design Office and Foreman's Offices. It's gotten kind of cramped recently with way too much stuff being 'stored' there, while it is primarily needed for other activities.

Wrong Tradition.

Every year, The City of New York gets a 90ft-plus evergreen donated to the cause: the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.
It's quite a spectacle. When I worked right next door at a very famous ad agency in Mid-Town Manhattan years ago, a group of us from the agency would spend the evening along with 100,000 or so other people waiting for the once-stately tree-lighting ceremony to begin. Workmen for the city would have spent 2-3 days preparing the tree: securing it upright, installing 26,000 or more lights, handling miles of wire, cables and switches, and finally, making sure the lights worked for the ceremony, as the world watched.
I guess they haven't read my ad about Dead Trees v Live Trees, or they'd cancel the cut-dead tree and plant a magnificent live tree just once and let the world enjoy it for the next hundred years. Maybe one day they'll wise-up and stop Killing a 60-year old specimen tree like that for a paltry two or three weeks useage. Rockefeller should have thought of that before NYC made it a repugnant tradition. But it is beautiful and awesome; if only it were still alive.
Buy only live trees and plant them on your property. If a live tree is too much to handle, buy an artifical tree and save the money you would have foolishly spent on a worthless, cut-dead tree. Then buy one in the Spring, plant it and enjoy the living tree for many years to come. Cut, dead Christmas Trees are a terrible tradition. Maybe the scummy, mercenary street vendors will cut down and bring fewer dead trees to sell if fewer people stop to buy. Start a trend: buy only living Christmas Trees. That's all we've ever sold.

J o h nS h e l l e y

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Photography by Janice