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Catching Up Time

November 2, 2011 by Blue Ridge Leader filed under Virginia Gardening No Comments

By Donna Williamson

While the stinkbugs have become tiresome and I heard they were worse in Philomont, I prefer to focus on the moments of grace that recharge my spirit in the garden.

I was listening to the song “A Sleeping Bee” by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen and remembering the fat bees that sleep on my big dahlias this time of year. They are just big, I guess, not really fat, carpenter bees and in the cool mornings just cannot get going very early. Like to nestle into those silky petals and relax.

Today I turned over a container full of water to find four sleeping salamanders resting in the cool temperatures beneath, thinking they had found a good spot to overwinter. They were chilly, and it took the sun a few minutes to warm them enough so they could scamper away.

Tonight there are freeze warnings so the scorching summer is over. Wasn’t a good year for tomatoes and my glads were sparse. Next year, next year. I went out late in the afternoon to cover the clivia, the unripe cotton bolls, the dahlias, and the basil.

If it does freeze, the basil will be ruined, even under the sheets, but I attempt protection. Boldness (or recklessness) comes from living on an east-facing hill and usually the frost rolls down to the flatlands. My Buck roses will continue to bloom I hope until Thanksgiving day, but each day is a gift with roses.

Found several nice dogwoods to try this year including Cornus racemosa – the gray dogwood, and Cornus drummondii – a native from eastern Texas. Both are shrubby and provide white berries in the fall for birds. Eager to see if they will do well here.

While I will miss the growing season once winter has solidly arrived, I have many new books to read. Having developed an interest in wildlife plantings and native plants gives me lots to learn. Of course, those delectable plant catalogs will be coming along with new and old plants to lust after when it snows! Last year I bought a nice goldenrod from Plants Delights that’s 5 feet tall with lemony flowers. A tall beauty.

The low afternoon winter sun will create many sundogs, and they are always a gift.

Looking ahead, I realize that we are closer to the release of wasps that hunt stinkbugs and that will make a big difference. In the meantime, I am using an organic spray from St. Gabriel’s that David at Abernethy & Spencer told me about. Better than the many very toxic compounds being advertised. Seems to kill them. Our horticulture society will be hosting Dr. Tracy Lesky, noted stinkbug expert, in February and she will have the latest info. (www.pbrhs.org)

While I hate to see October go, November heralds shorter days but more light with the leaves down. The structure of the bare trees is elegant and I love to see the sycamore fingers reach into a bright blue sky. There is still time to get lingering bulbs into the ground and move a few more woody plants around. They will knit in nicely with the still warm soil.

This year I will leave as much leaf litter as possible so the critters can overwinter with ease. Many butterflies overwinter in the litter. I can share the space and then marvel at their colors, variety, and beauty. Fall garden clean-up is highly over-rated.

The garlic and shallots have already started up and will grow all winter. And then there will be another spring and we can revisit the daffodils – our old friends and perhaps a few new ones in the garden.

Gardening doesn’t stop once you’ve been bitten – you just get to rest a little in December and January – and dream of May.

Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. Author, The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low-Maintenance Gardening in Virginia, dwfinegardening.com, 540-877-2002.

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