Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Editor Edits Her Garden

A chance encounter on an Amtrak train led me to a small village and Carrie Tuhy’s enchanted cottage and garden.  The conversation was of nothing more consequential than the proximity of rail service from Manhattan to the Hudson River Valley, where Carrie spends whatever time she can carve out away from the city. “Do you think it’s possible,” I asked, “to find a modest house in a small village on a street with sidewalks and neighbors?”  “I just did that,” she replied,“ and invited me to tea that afternoon.

Carrie is a former magazine editor (Real Simple, Instyle) who is now the co-founder of Second Lives Club, a blog for women who are jumpstarting the next phase of their lives, which she did with a retreat from the corporate world and the purchase of her house.  It is a picture-perfect, 1940’s Cape with three rooms down, two rooms up and a bath-and-a-half.  On a corner lot, it has a front yard, a side yard, a back yard, a picket fence, and a very ambitious, aging garden.
The Cottage in Spring

Carrie bought the house from a couple in their eighties who were reluctantly leaving to mover closer to their children.  The wife was a passionate gardener, and left all her tools behind with Carrie.  “I had never had a garden, and I didn’t drive when I first came here,” Carrie said.  “It didn’t matter, because the house was in walking distance to everything. “  For someone used to Tribeca this was a calm transition, and a car didn’t appear until later.  Probably when she realized you can’t garden without one.

Viburnum Anchoring the Front Door
The house is located at the improbably-named corner of Mulberry and Chestnut Streets.  I walk by often, since as a result of that chance encounter I am now renting a small apartment nearby.  It’s allowed me to take photographs in the garden’s moment of tidiness in early spring, to the fullness of late spring, through the over-blown summer, and into the fall and winter. 

The Side Yard
“The garden is the work of the three women who lived here over a long period of time – 60 years -- and it’s taken me five years to begin to understand it,” Carrie reports. A tidy picket fence surrounds the house, with a few ornamental trees planted inside the fence.  They are almost crowded out now by the trees outside the fence, installed by a zealous village street tree planting program. 

The long border lining the walk to the front door is a fine example of why such borders should always be perpendicular to the house rather than parallel.  While looking down the length of the border from the house to the street you see none of the empty spaces that are inevitable in a mixed border.  Only when you are parallel to the border do you have an opportunity to examine all your mistakes.

The Long Border
Carrie’s long border covers the seasons from early spring bulbs, through peonies and iris in late spring, to phlox and its companions in the summer.  The hefty viburnum anchoring the corner of the front steps is replicated in the long border by baptisia and a few sub-shrubs that serve the same purpose.

Alongside the house is a crowded group of spirea ready for division, leading to a trellised alcove, the first of a number of garden “rooms.”  Directly off the sunroom, the trellis is graced by an apple tree, espaliered by Carrie.  About 9 x12, this small room is perfect for a morning coffee, or afternoon tea and a nap.

The Sunroom Terrace

The Shed's Interior
The aforementioned sunroom is ideal for a writer, but it is a shed in the garden that has captured the writer’s heart in Carrie.  “I thought I would be able to write there, like Virginia Wolfe did at her writing lodge at Monk House in East Sussex.   It has become instead a theatre of memory, filled with souvenirs of travel and sentimental objects considered too personal for the more public rooms.  

The Shed's Exterior
The shed is added onto periodically, but still remains unused. Two windows were given as a birthday gift from an admirer long and sadly gone.  A daughter’s desk occupies one end of the shed; a bench sits outside the door for contemplating the garden and the passage of time, which is unavoidable while sitting on a garden bench.

And so the editor steps in.  Gardens are not static, and for every gardener there is a moment when just enough becomes too much.  The small ornamental trees are battling with the street trees.  Perhaps the formal herb garden in the middle of the rear garden should be replaced with a calm lawn.  Perhaps the vines, if thinned, would let a little air in.  Isn’t the once-sheltering clematis now a shroud?  Have the roses on the trellis stopped blooming?

The editor begins to edit, but it requires learning a new vocabulary and a new language.  Plants are not as orderly as words and sentences, but that is what second lives are all about, isn’t it?

Carrie in the Garden

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August Calendar

              The past two months have been virtually bone-dry.  The last week in July had a few old-fashioned gray and rainy days, but not often enough to mitigate the damage.  The most drought-resistant strongest flowers in our perennial border are my least favorite  -- Monarda and Filipendula. 
Monarda and Filipendula: Evicted
We’ve removed them all, I hope, and now I’m stepping back to look at how the garden is planned, and the lessons to be learned from bad times:
 1.    Group your plants according to their moisture needs.  Don’t mix drought-resistant plants with those happy to have their feet wet, no matter how artistic the combination.
2.    Keep plants that require watering close to the house where it is easier to give them what they need.  Plants further towards the perimeters and slightly out of sight can be left on their own with hope for the best.
3.    Be careful of knee-jerk reactions to a drought.  If you plant only dry-soil plants, chances are next year will bring steady rains.

Pumpkin Patch on Chestnut Street, Village of Rhinebeck
We are making some changes, moving our ever-thirsty hydrangeas, the temperamental Nikko Blues, to a cluster close to the house.  This way a single sprinkler will cover them, rather than the laborious coiling and uncoiling of multiple hoses and their connectors.  The picture below is a hot weather whimsy, a pumpkin patch happily sprawing along the front yard of an elegant Victorian village house.

Week One

August is a peak month for garden lilies, but they will need staking if they are to look their best. Now is the time to select yours for fall planting.
Examine your borders and pay the price for the penalty for not thinning early in the season. Phlox in particular suffered from mildew this summer.     
Cut off the browned foliage of bleeding hearts.                                                                                       
Ferns will also begin to brown out abou tnow. You can leave them alone, or if the aesthetics bother you, trim off the dieback. 
Rudbeckia and Helenium: Survivors

Make note of which plants survived the drought and add them to your plans next year.                         

Replenish mulch. It will decompose in the heat of August.                                                                    
Keep a watchful eye on containers. By now they will have filled up with roots and will require a more frequent watering schedule than when the roots were surrounded by an ample amount of moist soil.                                        
 Evaluate the shade in your borders. Branches may have grown and are now shading beds that used to be in full sun. The reverse is also true. If you have taken down tress your formerly shaded plants may now by frying.                                       

Week Two

Bearded Iris. Order Now.

Order iris, poppies, and peonies for late summer planting.                                               
This is the last moment to fertilize perennials, lawns and woody plants. If you do this any later, new growth won't survive the autumn chill ahead. 

Week Three

Garden sales should be underway by now. Take advantage of the opportunity to buy container-grown plants, as they will continue to drop in price. 
If you are gardening on a rooftop, think about installing a simple irrigation system. One or two days away will result in the loss of almost everything.   
Sweet Autumn Clematis Running Riot 

Agressive vines will have made a spectacle of themselves by now. Thin excessive growth on autumn clematis, trumpet vines and wisteria.                                                                                  

Week Four

Begin harvesting raspberries. Cut back old canes after blooming, but leave the new. Next year's crop will come from this year's new canes. Mine are so out-of-control it would take concrete posts and suspension cables to hold them in place. 
Every group of plants will present some candidates with damaged foliage this summer. Try and sort out insect damage from fungus, scorching, or mildew and treat accordingly.  
Lantana on a NYC Terrace

Terrace and roof gardens will need some fillers now as summer annuals begin to peter out. Look for annual asters and mums in garden centers. Add new geraniums as the old will likely suffer in the August heat. Lantana will hold up nicely until first frost.                                                                                 

Once again, note which plants have performed poorly and ruthlessly eliminate them. Life is short.