Garden Notes : Bugs, books, and flowerbeds
Despite all the bowed-down perennials and branches, didn't you love the rain? The deeper, more humus-rich your soil, the more moisture stays with it, soaking in, going straight down. The harder and tighter your soil, the more the rainfall runs off, like off a roadway. Sandy soils are like a sieve for moisture - think of the beach. By mulching and adding organic matter, work to create those soils that catch and hold moisture.
After Caribbean-style rainstorms, like those that accompanied the recent thunderstorms, comes a lot of repair. This year has been such a bountiful season - there could not have been one with more abundant bloom and foliage to come crashing down to ground level under the weight of all that rain! It all catches and holds moisture and creates much more surface area, the foil for the force of those tropical size raindrops.
We all know this but it bears repeating over and over again: staking before disaster occurs is always better than rearguard actions. Propping up ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, and hibiscus (rose-of-Sharon and herbaceous ones alike) is not that easy once they have been beaten down; but sometimes they will eventually lift themselves if given some assistance. (Turning lemons into lemonade is cutting big bouquets, while the flower heads are still in good condition.) Phlox come back up with staking, and modern daylilies have stout stems and generally do not need staking at all. Just remove the "used-Kleenex" passé flowers.
Bed work consists primarily of weeding, deadheading and staking. Deadleaf daylilies - that is, remove the yellowed outer foliage from the clumps to improve plants' appearance. When daylilies have bloomed out and gone by, cut the stalks out entirely. Crabgrass patrol is critical before the plants "crab" into weedy vampires that suck the life out of the desirable victim/plant. Those interested in seed saving can prepare to collect seed from spring and early summer annuals, biennials and perennials. Cut back nepeta by one third and watch it flush with new life for the August garden. Deadhead and shape lavender. Put recently planted shrubs and trees on a watering schedule to cover any more dry spells. Touch up mulch cover.
Tasha Tudor, the popular author and artist of children's books, recently died at home in Vermont at the age of 92. Her oeuvre includes art and books, possibly as many as one hundred, for children and illustrations of the work of others. While known publicly a successful commercial artist, Ms. Tudor's art and its subjects - animals, children, themes from nature, gardens, and home life - were actually the means for her ends, those of living a very particular and eccentric lifestyle. Called by someone "the Martha Stewart of the 19th century," she influenced American gardeners everywhere.
Very early in her long life Tasha Tudor was attracted to living a simplified, nineteenth-century lifestyle, and she made it happen: by the age of 15 she had used money saved from teaching nursery school to buy a cow! She used the proceeds from her first best-selling book to buy a 17-room antique brick farmhouse in New Hampshire, which had neither electricity nor running water, and she raised four children in it.
Tasha Tudor apparently drove for the goal of living a life of peace and self-sufficiency consistently throughout her life. She used the images generated by this lifestyle to fuel her very successful art. Ms. Tudor continued to heed old-fashioned mores and belonged to a group dedicated to nineteenth-century living called "Stillwater." She told Angela Taylor in The New York Times, "We are great venerators of nature, believe in peaceful living, in live and let live, and discipline for children."
In a number of seemingly-quaint coffee table books by Richard Brown and Tovah Martin, Ms. Tudor illustrated the knowledge, techniques, and equipment of her rural lifestyle: living by the seasons, keeping milking goats, extensive gardens for food and pleasure, scything, spinning, weaving, and much more. I say "seemingly quaint" because that is the way I used to think of them. Her son said she took as her watchwords the phrase attributed to the Italian architect and scholar Fra Giovanni Giocondo: "The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy." Now that Tasha Tudor is gone I think her work and life are a blueprint for at least some people to follow, to live rich and satisfying lives, joyfully.
Annoyances in the garden: Oriental beetles
This year has seen a bumper crop of Oriental beetles in Island gardens. Adult Anomala orientalis syn. Exomala orientalis is a scarab beetle that was first introduced into Connecticut in the early 20th century. As of October 2007 it has been found in Indiana. It appears to be a first-cousin look-alike to the Japanese beetle, has the same sort of feeding habits, and is about as welcome. How much damage attributed to Japanese beetles is actually caused by Oriental beetles is a good question for the beetle fairness commission, but how to control the damage is the question on most gardeners' minds.
These beetles are among the group with white grubs, which includes Japanese and Asiatic garden beetles. The grubs in the soil cause significant damage to the roots of turf and perennials, over-wintering to emerge as adults about June. The adult beetles may be trapped using pheromone-specific traps. However, there is vigorous debate about the wisdom and efficacy of attracting beetles to your garden zone: no matter how many beetles end up in the trap, how much mating might they have first accomplished?
Contact sprays and pesticides seem to exert little control. For me the question of control comes down to: who eats this insect? Parasitic nematodes for white grub control at umassturf.org/mangement_updates/management_updates.html supplies one approach. Not much eats the adult, which leaves us grubs as the vulnerable stage. We know that grub-infested lawns, irrespective of what kind of grubs, are prime feeding for skunks. Skunks rummaging in the lawn are not an option for some, but for me that would be okay. Having chickens free-ranging on the lawn this year seems to have had little impact on the Oriental beetle numbers. I try to catch them when I can.