4 THINGS TO DO NOW FOR A GREAT GARDEN NEXT YEAR

The garden is looking remarkably good for this time of year, but things will change quickly, so now is the time to take care of a few jobs to prepare for next year. Here are four things you can do right now to have a great garden next year.

I cleared out the half of the patio garden that I will be redoing. I incorporated a good amount of compost and raked it out and now the area is ready for planting either this fall or, more likely, next spring. Photos of the area from a variety of angles will help me plan this winter. 

1. TAKE PICTURES
They don't have to be pretty, but if you haven't been taking photos of your garden all summer, now is the time to whip out your camera or your phone and take a lot of pictures from different angles. Trust me. You think you're going remember what your garden looks like, but come February you'll be wondering what plants are lurking out there. And knowing what's out there will make it that much easier and that much more fun to do a little mid-winter garden planning.

2. TAKE NOTES
If you have a memory better than mine, mental notes should do just fine, but otherwise write down a few notes about what you want to change or reassess next year. I've printed out pictures in the past and written right on them, but even a list in the "Notes" app on my phone has come through in a pinch.


3. KEEP UP ON THE WATERING
Personal experience (and common sense) has taught me that plants that go into their winter hibernation happy instead of stressed fair much better through whatever winter can throw at them. The only thing that's less fun than dragging a hose around the garden is dragging a hose around the garden while you're wearing a parka, but it will be so worth it come spring.

4. PLANT A FEW BULBS
Even if you don't go hog wild on the bulbs, at least plant a few. The joy they bring after a long, gray winter is immeasurable. I've gone years without planting any new bulbs and have regretted it every time. 

A BLOOMIN' SURPRISE

It's no secret that I love clematis. I absolutely cannot get enough of them. Last time I counted I think I had 22 different varieties growing in the garden. A few of them are not doing well, so that number may go down, but it's far more likely that by next summer the number will go up. Having maxed out my options for trellises, obelisks and other structures to grow them up, I started growing them up trees and shrubs. It's now my favorite way to grow them.

Want to know why? It's because they bring renewed life to another plant. And this weekend a little clematis surprise reminded me of that.

Clematis 'Gravetye beauty'

I planted 'Gravetye beauty' about three years ago at the base of the Serviceberry tree, where it grew a bit, despite the shade, but never flowered. This year it grew long enough for me to train it up the trunk of the tree and tuck it around a lower branch and, having done that, I promptly forgot about it.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the Serviceberry was blooming. In September. And the flowers were red! Of course it wasn't the tree, it was 'Gravetye,' finally showing its stuff. Frankly, it has no business blooming right now, but I suspect it is so happy that it finally saw some decent sun that it couldn't help but show its gratitude with a few blooms.

The Serviceberry itself doesn't look so hot at this time of year. It's a bit sparse at the bottom and it doesn't do much in the way of fall color. But now that it has beautiful maroon flowers growing from its branches, suddenly it has fall interest.

Well done, clematis. Well done. 

FRIDAY FINDS

Yep ... another post today! Truth be told, the today's first post was supposed to run on Wednesday, and then Thursday, but I didn't get back to it until late Thursday night.

Anyway, it's time for some Friday Finds.

The complete guide to shiplap. Because as I told you, there is going to be some serious shiplap happening in my basement this winter.

New House New Home photo

I love Heather's cork memo board. It occurs to me that if saved every cork from every bottle of wine we've consumed, I could have covered the basement walls in cork. Probably would have served as great insulation!

I'm definitely going to try kale pesto. Yum.

Loi does fall perfectly. Toned down and fresh. I'm not a wreath person except during the winter holidays, but I love his fall wreath).

This is a pretty great kitchen. When we redid ours, I'll never forget how amazing it was when we took the cabinets off the wall to replace them, but I knew our kitchen was way too small to skip the uppers (plus I would have wanted to rip out an entire wall and add windows, which would have change the look of the house from the outside in a not-great way).

What's on your agenda this weekend? I'm due to get my new phone any second now (I have been checking the tracking on it all day waiting for it to say "Delivered") so I think my goal for the weekend will be to still have an intact phone come Monday. My Instagram account is about to see some serious action!

STAYING POSITIVE ABOUT THE END OF SUMMER

The first day of autumn was this week. This depresses me more than it should, and facing winter gets more difficult with each passing year. However, I'm making a concerted effort to be a more positive person, so I give you my list of things to look forward to in fall.

Acer japonicum 'Acontifolium' at its peak color.

1. The world, especially the tiny bit I inhabit, truly is stunningly beautiful in autumn. Ablaze in gold, crimson and orange against a dark blue sky, even a true summer lover like myself can admit it might not ever be more beautiful than when the trees are at their peak color.


Give it a few months and those chopped up leaves with be garden goodness.


2. Leaf mold. Those beautiful leaves only last for a few weeks, but after that they become the key ingredient of my favorite garden amendments.

A bit of inspiration for the DIY basement project I'm hoping to take when the weather gets colder and the garden is put away.
3. It's a good excuse to come inside to work on projects and not feel guilty about missing precious outdoor time. And we can go back to seeing movies for the same reason. Here in the north, no one wastes a day doing anything inside that they don't have to from about June through October because summer weather is just too fleeting.

4. Relarning how to cook. I forget how to cook every summer because it's very easy to just throw together goodies from the garden with some olive oil and balsamic.

5. Football. I love my Badgers and my Packers but I can't really get into football until the leaves are crunching under my feet and a pot of chili is on the stove.

How do you feel about autumn?

STAKING MY CLAIM AS A GARDENER WHO NEVER LEARNS

I have learned a lot of lessons about gardening over the years (case in point: don't buy one of everything!) but I'm starting to think there are some lessons I will never really learn.

One of them is the lesson of staking. Plants that need staking need to be staked before they need staking. And even though I know full well that they will need to be staked, I watch them grow tall and long and think, "Wow, that plant doesn't even need staking."


And then it rains, or a big wind blows through, or the plant grows a millimeter beyond the point where the center of gravity shifts from the bottom to the top. And I look in the garden and my once-stunning plant is reduced to a heap. And I know full well that any attempt to stand it back up again will probably fail.

I could be forgiven for not staking things earlier if I didn't know better. But I do. And yet, all over the garden, there are plants laying on the ground, looking like the smoke monster from "Lost" trudged through the yard late at night.

The list of plants that have suffered for my lack of staking attention this year is long. A variety of particularly tall-growing sedums, a few dahlias that were forgotten along the way, some hydrangeas that got a little floppier than I anticipated (although that's more a case of tying up rather than staking, to get technical), all but one of the many castor bean plants spread around the garden and the 'Redbor' kale that should be the star of the fall garden but instead is impeding any sort of movement through the circle garden.

Horrible quality kale selfie. That's some big kale.
The kale is a mishmosh of still-standing stalwarts and flopped-over Suessian cruciferous purple goodness.

The 'Redbor' kale counts among the great successes in this year's garden. Grown from seed, the plants have flourished and defined the circle garden. When a few of them started listing several weeks ago, I dutifully staked them with 3-foot stakes. But the kale, which was rapidly approaching gargantuan size, laughed at my lame staking attempt. Even the staked kales toppled. Before one of the largest started tipping over, it was a good foot over my head.

This one was one of the lucky ones who was staked early on, but I didn't continue tying it in, so it flopped over anyway.

I have no explanation for my lack of staking other than optimism. Every year I convince myself that my plants will defy gravity and not need any support.

Have I learned my lesson finally? Stay tuned until next year, but I wouldn't bet on it.

What garden lesson do you just never really learn?

ANNUALS TO GROW FROM SEED

The end of the growing season might seem like a strange time to be talking about growing things from seed, but I find it to be a time to take stock in the garden. I've had a whole summer to figure out what worked and what didn't and yes, I'm already making mental lists about what I'll start from seed next year.

First, I'll just say that I feel like there are parts of the garden that look better this year than they ever have. I credit that to all of the annuals I grew from seed (for the first time). I was able to fill holes cheaply and easily and annuals just keep giving and giving. 

So here are some of the annuals you can bet I'll be growing from seed again next year.


1. SIGNET MARIGOLD

I knew I liked this little sweetheart of a plant because I'd purchased plants at our master gardener plant sale before. But growing it en masse made me fall even more in love with it. This is by far the most hands-off annual I think I've ever grown. In the areas where I kept it well watered, it needed no deadheading and when it got a little floppy, I cut if off by half and it just bloomed more. These plants are still covered in flowers and have been nonstop since sometime in June. Even better, they have a citrusy smell that makes them lovely to brush up against and unsavory to critters. And the feathery foliage is a great texture accent all on its own. It comes in yellow, orange and red and I'll grow all three next year.

2. GOMPHRENA
Gomphrena (aka globe amaranth) is that little pink lollipop-looking plant. I love how it punctuates a garden bed.

This one was tricky to start. I bet I lost more than half of the plants I started, but the ones that pulled through have me enamored enough to add this one to next year's list. This is another easy-going plant (once you get it going). The flower last all season and I've not had to deadhead a one. What I love about it is that the adorable little balls are like little punctuation marks in the garden. The one change I would make is that this year I grew a lavender colored one and it's a bit wishy-washy for me. Next year I'll look for something a little brighter.

3. NASTURTIUM
Nasturtium 'Vesuvius'

I have shouted from the rooftops about my love affair with nasturtiums before and they'll probably always be on my must-grow list. The highlight this year for me was 'Vesuvius', which has small leaves and holds its many flowers well above the foliage. You know, so you can actually see them, unlike a few of the varieties I grew this year.

4. SWEET PEAS

This was my first year growing sweet peas and I'll admit, they have diva tendencies. Frankly, anything that smells this good and looks that beautiful, probably has earned the right to be a little picky. I'll put them in the same spot as well, right off the path from the garage where they were nose and eye level for anyone passing by. I also grew a dwarf, non-climbing variety that was beautiful in containers but pretty short lived so I'm not sure if that will be on next year's list.

5. CASTOR BEAN

 No annual in my garden has made as much of a statement as castor bean. I learned a few lessons in growing it, not the least of which was the stake it early, but now that I know that, I don't think I'll be without its bold good looks.

6. NICOTIANA ALATA 'LIME GREEN'

This plant combines well with just about everything, brings a much-needed cooling effect to the garden and just keeps going and going. I love it and it was well worth the space it took up in my seed-starting scheme.


And here's an annual I'd like to try growing: Stipa tenuissima, aka Mexican feather grass (it's that lovely feathery number up in the gomphrena photo). I bought a dozen of these plants this year and I love the look of them in the garden. I'll grow it again, but I'd love to be able to save a little by starting it myself. Since it reseeds readily in warmer zones (it's listed as an invasive plant in some places), I'm thinking it may not be too difficult to start from seed.

Verbena bonariensis
One annual I won't bother to grow from seed next year, at least not by starting it inside, is Verbena bonariensis. I did two sowings and both were complete failures. A nice reader gave me a tip to try winter sowing it in a milk jug, so I may give that a shot, but I had enough reseeders in the garden last year that I should be able to spread them around if I'm careful.

Do you already know what you'll grow from seed next year?


FRIDAY FINDS


We're still enjoying the bounty of the garden here (it's really just beginning, actually), and last weekend I made one of my favorite summer treats, but fancied it up. Usually I just chop everything up in big pieces and toss it in a bowl, but it was a special occasion so I stacked thick slices of home-grown tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers from the garden and a bit of basil. Top it with a little feta, pepper, salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you've got summer on a plate. Yum.

Tone on Tone photo
Don't miss Loi's amazing kitchen renovation. It's amazing for a lot of reasons, but primarily because they didn't replace the cabinets. And also because of that Calacutta gold marble. I must have it.

I've been doing a few GardenFork radio podcasts with Eric, who I met through our mutual relationship with Troy-Bilt. Eric is an ex-Midwesterner and although our podcast chats seem to run off on tangents, I'm having a blast with them, so make sure to check out GardenFork radio. Also worth taking a look at is Eric's latest video in which he visits his neighbor's vegetable garden, which is thriving thanks to heavy duty nursery fabric. I'm anti landscape fabrics in general, but in a true vegetable garden I think they make a lot of sense and its certainly working here.


Forgive me for showing my inner geekdom, but I am a gadget freak and an admitted Apple enthusiast (you may prefer the term snob). I know there are lots of phones out there and I suspect there are some that are much better than an iPhone, but I love my Apple stuff and I really love it when my Apple stuff talks to one another. I have my home laptop, work computer, iPhone and iPad all linked up and let me tell you, it is handy as heck. You may recall I dropped my phone in Lake Michigan in July and I've been getting by with a borrowed iPhone 4 since then. Suffice to say I'm just a teeny bit excited about the new iPhone and I'm planning on pre-ordering it tonight the moment it goes on sale. My Instagram game will get seriously stepped up when I get a good phone again. With all of the various ways to get a phone now and with Apple getting into the phone leasing business, it's very difficult to figure what sort of plan to get. Here's a good site to compare the options.

Lauren Leiss is probably my favorite interior design blogger and she just bought a new house. I can't wait to see what she does with it.

Have an excellent weekend everyone! I'm still waiting for the winner of the Troy-Bilt garden tool set, Mary M., to claim her prize, and if I don't hear from her soon, I'll pick a new winner so stay tuned.

BE BRAVE, BE BRUTAL WHEN IT COMES TO LATE-SEASON TOMATO GROWING

Yikes, it seems I took an inadvertent break last week (and, um, half of this week). Sorry about that; it turns out that the "end of summer" (somebody else's term that I refuse to use) is an awfully busy time. On top of all sorts of things going on a work, an event I've been helping organize (that ended up not happening because of weather), a family picnic and more, I spent a good part of last weekend painting a wall at the office that desperately needed it (over wallpaper, gasp!) and Mr. Much More Patient and I did a massive cleanup around the house. Few things in this world bring the kind of pleasure provided by a pressure washer. The exterior of our house and the deck are gleaming!

First off, I have to announce the winner of the set of Troy-Bilt garden tools! And that lucky person is Mary M. Congrats, Mary, check your email!

Onto a bit of gardening. Whether I (or you) like it or not, summer is drawing to a close. We can hope that it is a very slow close, but it's time to start cutting my losses on the tomatoes, which have not been great again this year.

I've grown entirely heirloom varieties for several years and I think I'm going to change that up next year. I need better and earlier production. Let's be honest, there is probably nothing better than a deliciously ripe heirloom tomato, but ANY home grown tomato is better than the imposters they sell at the grocery store. I guess I'd rather have more home-grown tomatoes that taste pretty damn good than a handful of tomatoes that taste amazing.

Regardless of the kind of tomatoes you grow, you can follow the same steps to make the most of the end of season fruit. And the trick is to be relentless.


My tomato vines are pretty well stocked with tomatoes, but they are very, very green. So I need those vines to focus all their energy on ripening the tomatoes that are there, rather than making more tomatoes. So the first thing I did was to cut off the vine above the top of the highest branch with fruit on it. Just chop that sucker clean off.


Then it's time to get really brutal. Tomatoes don't need leaves on the plant to ripen. What they need is the most sun they can possibly get, so I went through and cut off most of the leaves to really open up the vines.


When you're trimming, you have to be really careful because it's easy to accidentally snip off a branch with fruit on it. I also try to keep the branches off the ground because the slugs are getting relentless and it is really disgusting to cut into a tomato and find a slug staring back at you.

I know it's hard, but the goal now is to get those babies to ripen. The world only needs so many green tomatoes.