Autumn 2016 Color. This year’s autumn season in Northern Virginia has been very colorful with gorgeous cool weather. We had a bit of a drought period in the late summer. Fall brought us a lot of rain to catch up to our usual rainfall amounts. The leaves changed to beautiful colors prior to their eventual drop by mid-December.

The view down our driveway

The colors from my oakleaf hydrangeas have been spectacular this year. I always love their giant leaves. The deer don’t tend to browse the oakleaf hydrangeas so they are a great option for deer-prone gardens and landscapes.

Oakleaf hydrangeas have gorgeous colorful fall leaves

It took quite a while for all of the leaves to change and then subsequently fall to the ground. During that time we were treated to such beauty.

Fall color in my front yard

As expected, my Japanese maples were spectacular this year. Starting out as some yellows and oranges, they all turned bright to deep reds over the Fall season.

My stunning bright red Japanese maple with its many Fall hues

Hot red Japanese maples fade to a lovely cinnabar color in the Fall

My home office has a lovely view of our front property as well as the neighbors’ horse pastures. My Bloodgood Japanese maple tree turns deep blood red in the Spring, then morphs to a bright green in summer, and to a stunning apricot color in Fall. I love that tree!

The view of Fall colors from my home office

My blood good maple turns apricot in the Fall

Further back on our property, we were treated to a very golden show of beech trees, maples, and oaks. Our dog loves to go on nature walks through our back property.

Our back property near the creek in its Fall color splendor

Our dog Atticus looks for deer and foxes in our back woods

This colorful and stately beech tree houses a family of raccoons in its center

My overall favorite tree on our property is our giant hickory tree. We only have a few hickory trees and this one is the most colorful. It starts out as a sunny bright yellow and morphs to a deep orange before dropping its leaves.

My gorgeous hickory tree in sunny bright yellow

The hickory tree changes to a golden orange before dropping its leaves

My bright yellow hickory is beginning to change to golden orange while the oakleaf hydrangeas boast their own reddish purple color

Gorgeous bright hickory tree stands out every single Fall

And by mid-December, most of the leaves have fallen. Leaves are a wonderful cover for plants for the winter by acting as a “free” mulch. We try to do very little leaf clean up. I wish my neighbors would do the same. Those constantly running leaf blowers are not only providing noise pollution but also kicking up dirt and allergens into the air. I’m all for a “quiet” leaf blower. Fingers crossed that someone will invent one someday.

Mid-December and most of the colorful leaves have fallen

And as a final comment on this odd weather that we’ve been having…The Fairy rose is blooming in my backyard. I guess she doesn’t care about the freezing to warm and back to freezing temperatures. The Fairy is a very old rose bush that I purchased even before we moved to this house.

The Fairy rose isn’t sure that winter is coming so she’s blooming in early December

Yesterday marked the first day of Winter. We will have a lot to see in the garden this upcoming winter. What was colorful in YOUR garden this Fall season? Leave a comment and tell everyone!!

Plow & Hearth

Raised Bed Garden. It was last year that we endured Slug City even on our raised wooden decks. It rained and rained all Spring and the first part of Summer. I was outside almost daily picking up to 50 slugs off my potted herb and flowering plants. Slug bait, unless it’s organic, isn’t my favorite control since I also have fish ponds located downhill from the deck area.

This year's potted herb garden on the upper deck in its infancy

This year’s potted herb garden on the upper deck in its infancy

Last year, I set out a pot saucer filled with water and some rubbing alcohol for a quick slug death chamber. I’d pick off each slug and dunk it into the saucer. Vaseline was smeared in a continuous circle around each pot. Supposedly, the slugs would not cross the Vaseline and continue slithering up the pots to their plant buffets. Totally inaccurate, as my slugs happily zoomed right over the Vaseline smears.

Earlier this year, I was looking at various raised beds. I’ve been wanting to turn a messy area inside our driveway circle into a vegetable and herb garden. Right now, it’s planted with two wild dogwood trees, a volunteer wild dogwood tree that finally bloomed this year (yay!!), a crabapple tree that only seems to attract bagworms, four butterfly bushes in lavender and white hues, one Otto Luyken laurel bush, several volunteer barberry bushes, some juniper bushes, wild blackberry bushes, a lot of pachysandra groundcover and numerous volunteer tree saplings.

This is the first bloom for a 3-year-old volunteer wild dogwood

This is the first bloom for a 3-year-old volunteer wild dogwood

Since we have a lot of deer browsing around, I’ll need to fence the area with some sort of plastic mesh or maybe chicken wire. Until I can get that area cleared and move the pachysandra, this project is on hold. I’ll likely keep the Otto Lukyen laurel bush, the junipers, and the wild dogwoods where they are since they are living on the edges of the circle. We’ve lost most of our wild dogwoods to anthracnose so I’d like to keep them around. The butterfly bushes can be moved elsewhere. The rest of it can go.

Until that time, I was complaining to my husband about the slug issue, and wanting to buy a raised bed planter for my herbs and baby lettuces this year. The raised bed garden that I was looking at was several hundred dollars. My husband is a pretty good carpenter in his spare time. He surprised me with a raised bed garden that he built to put on our back deck! It’s made of hardwood and even has wheels for movability.

The raised bed planter that my husband built for me

The raised bed planter that my husband built for me

Although my husband is not a gardener per se, he realized that the raised bed needs adequate drainage. He didn’t build a bottom for the raised bed, yet instead added some Trex boards that are movable and provide plenty of drainage.

Movable Trex slats allow for great drainage

Movable Trex slats allow for great drainage

I lined the raised bed with landscape fabric and secured the fabric with metal staples from a hand-held staple gun. I trimmed the edges of the fabric that were too long. It doesn’t look stellar, but I wanted to keep the liner longer in case I needed to repair it. I’ll probably clean up the edges a bit next year.

Lined and then taped down the liner before trimming

Lined and then taped down the liner before trimming

Once the weather warmed up in Spring, I added about 10 bags of organic potting soil and spread some organic seed starting medium on the top.

Organic potting soil

Organic potting soil

Planter filled with soil

Planter filled with soil

When there was no danger of frost, I planted several kinds of basil seeds. Also, cilantro, Italian parsley, and various baby lettuce seeds went into the raised bed. I wanted trailing plants on the edges to soften the planter’s hard edges. Nasturtiums have edible leaves and flowers and would go great in homegrown salads so I planted two of them. Next year I’ll plant a few other trailing plants because I like the look.

Salad greens and basil seeds with a nasturtium plant

Salad greens and basil seeds with a nasturtium plant

Nasturtium and Cilantro and Parsley seeds

Nasturtium and Cilantro and Parsley seeds

Seeds and nasturtium are planted

Seeds and nasturtium are planted

Herb seeds are planted

Herb seeds are planted

So what grew nicely in the raised bed planter? My baby lettuces came up and matured nicely. I was able to make quite a few salads with the greens until the cabbage loopers started to lay their eggs. Then I used BT powder to get rid of their caterpillars. For whatever reason, those caterpillars LOVE arugula. Also my Italian parsley did great.

Baby arugula sprouts peek through the soil

Baby arugula sprouts peek through the soil

Seeds starting to come up

Seeds starting to come up

Seeds starting to come up

Seeds starting to come up

A Bowl of Salad Greens

A Bowl of Salad Greens

The basil is overtaking the raised planter bed

The basil is overtaking the raised planter bed

What didn’t do well? My cilantro grew up very nicely. Just as I was about to start harvesting it, a bacterial wilt took down all of the cilantro. I haven’t had great luck growing cilantro in pots either. My purple basil grew up to about two inches and stopped! Not sure what happened to stunt it like that. I’ve had that happen before with basil in pots that grows about two inches and stops. Probably some sort of bacterial issue in the soil. The Genovese basil next to it is about two feet tall now. Go figure.

My stunted purple basil next to Genovese basil that is going gangbusters

My stunted purple basil next to Genovese basil that is going gangbusters

And most importantly…did the slugs stay out of the raised bed planter? YES!! I didn’t find one slug on any of my plants in the raised bed planter even in our earlier rainy weather this Spring. I’m very pleased with the look of the planter and its performance this summer so far.

This is the VegTrug raised garden bed planter that I wanted to buy before my husband built one for me. It’s from Gardener’s Supply which is a great gardening supply business:

VegTrug also comes with covers to keep pests out and allow rain in:

Additionally, you can purchase a liner if you don’t want to make your own from landscaping fabric:

If you don’t have a lot of space, the VegTrug is available in a compact size with a cover in Robin’s Egg Blue:

This is a pretty fancy VegTrug made of cedar and cast aluminum:

Get the supplies you need to succeed with your raised bed garden:

Landscape fabric:

Stapler:

Staples:

Have you tried raised bed gardening? Leave a comment and let us know!

Gardener's Supply Company

Spring had been very slow to arrive here in Virginia this year and now today is the Summer Solstice. We were all waiting patiently for the weather to remain constant instead of the temperature fluctuations all Spring. And finally, at least by the calendar, Summer is here! Hoping for some more consistent weather.

This spirea has chartreuse leaves in the early Spring and then lovely hot pink flowers

This spirea has chartreuse leaves in the early Spring and then lovely hot pink flowers

We had a few 80 degree days in March which popped open many buds prematurely. Then, the night temperatures dropped down to the mid-20s on two nights in April. Some of my more tender perennials and bushes had freeze-burned leaves but happily recovered. Even some of the mature trees on the property lost some of their very early leaves and have sparse branches here and there. My front Bloodgood maple lost a number of early leaves yet the leaves have since resprouted. You can see the “new” growth is a bright red as compared to the deeper red on the slightly older leaves.

Bright red leaves replace the frost-damaged early leaf buds on my Bloodgood maple

Bright red leaves replace the frost-damaged early leaf buds on my Bloodgood maple

My more “finicky” hydrangeas such as Nikko Blue had brown leaves that were freeze-burned and won’t likely bloom this year. They’re sending up leaves from the lower portion of the plants. The hardy oakleaf hydrangeas are just fine though and are now in full spectacular bloom. If I had to select a plant that has survived very well in my landscape — it’s the oakleaf hydrangea.

Massive oakleaf hydrangea blossoms make a gorgeous cut flower arrangement

Massive oakleaf hydrangea blossoms make a gorgeous cut flower arrangement

Gorgeous oakleaf hydrangeas putting on a spectacular show this year

Gorgeous oakleaf hydrangeas putting on a spectacular show this year

Once the weather warmed up, the larger mature trees leafed out very quickly within three or four days. It’s a dense forest now and hard to see through the leaves. Shade can be a good thing — I love my shady backyard. I have some hostas that are yet unidentifed that popped up a few years ago. They have huge dark green leaves. I tend to favor the variegated hostas or the solid blue-gray hostas. I’m pretty sure I didn’t purchase these very hardy performers. Perhaps they are a hybrid from other hosta plants.

These two hosta plants popped up in my landscape a few years ago

These two hosta plants popped up in my landscape a few years ago

This hosta has huge cupped leaves

This hosta has huge cupped leaves

My Lady in Red hydrangea is living up to her name. She’s become very prolific in her offspring which are peppered throughout the boulders around the ponds and even growing INSIDE one of the ponds. She’s so large now, that I have to prune her back as soon as she flowers even if I sacrifice some flowers for next season.

A view from the deck to the backyard ponds -- Lady in Red hydrangea is blocking the view of the top pond

A view from the deck to the backyard ponds — Lady in Red hydrangea is blocking the view of the top pond

My peonies were a bit sparse this year. Last year, I had loads of blooms. This year, the blooms that I didn’t cut for my table arrangements just turned brown rather quickly. I’m hearing similar comments from others in the area. I think the late cold snap really took its toll on the unopened buds.

My peonies all bloomed and turned brown fairly quickly this year

My peonies all bloomed and turned brown fairly quickly this year

My bleeding hearts came up very quickly this year — almost a foot tall overnight! They were very prolific in their flowering which is exciting.

Early bleeding hearts this year

Early bleeding hearts this year

Last year, we had a terrible onslaught of slugs’ attacking my planted herb pots due to all the rain in the Spring. This year, to help combat that slug problem, my husband surprised me with a raised bed planter that he hand-built for my birthday. I am very pleased so far with the solid construction and its utility. And, I don’t have to bend over to take care of my plants! I’ve planted baby lettuces, assorted herbs, and trailing nasturtiums in my raised bed planter. More on the raised bed planter in an upcoming posting.

Nasturtium, baby lettuces and baby basil are planted in the potted herb garden and raised planter bed

Nasturtium, baby lettuces and baby basil are planted in the potted herb garden and raised planter bed

My two Cherokee Brave dogwoods were just gorgeous this year. Their lovely pink color definitely signals Spring.

Cherokee Brave Dogwood in its full glory this Spring

Cherokee Brave Dogwood in its full glory this Spring

Most of my early azaleas’ buds froze on the plants. Additionally, Bambi and his friends ate quite a number of buds on my oldest pink azaleas that they rarely touch! See the difference between last year’s spectacular flowers…and this year’s paltry display.

This year's sad display of pink azaleas due to Bambi's nibbles

This year’s sad display of pink azaleas due to Bambi’s nibbles

And last year's gorgeous blooms on the pink azaleas

And last year’s gorgeous blooms on the pink azaleas

The rest of my azaleas and my rhododendrons were gorgeous this year. That cold snap froze the lavender-colored flower buds on my deciduous azaleas which are usually first to bloom. Yet even so, my red azaleas were prolific this year. The white ones really stood out, especially at night.

This rhododendron was stricken with borers. I treated it and look how gorgeous it became!

This rhododendron was stricken with borers. I treated it and look how gorgeous it became!

A view of the back yard

A view of the back yard

White Azaleas were gorgeous this year

White Azaleas were gorgeous this year

This cinnabar azalea is grown for its foliage, not for its unique flowers -- I like the flowers, too!

This cinnabar azalea is grown for its foliage, not for its unique flowers — I like the flowers, too!

Cinnabar Azalea and Oakleaf Hydrangea

Cinnabar Azalea and Oakleaf Hydrangea

This clematis vine was so happy in its new location. Previously, its planter had been up against a brick wall. I moved it so it would get more sunlight and I was rewarded with tons of blooms!

This clematis vine went gangbusters this year!

This clematis vine went gangbusters this year!

Some of my favorite blooms this year are still my oakleaf hydrangeas.

My lovely oak leaf hydrangeas helped celebrate Flag Day -- just like soldiers at attention

My lovely oak leaf hydrangeas helped celebrate Flag Day — just like soldiers at attention

And of course, what’s a garden without some critters? I found a cute garter snake that watched me from afar and continues to pop up where I’m not looking.

Friendly garter snake in the leaves

Friendly garter snake in the leaves

And what happens when you find a totally BLACK woolly bear? What does THAT mean??

So what happens when you find a solid BLACK woolly bear?

So what happens when you find a solid BLACK woolly bear?

What’s happening in YOUR garden? Please leave a comment and let us know.