by Darcy Paige
I’ve been designing, installing, and tending gardens for 16 years. About two-thirds of my time each season is spent in gardens, with my trusty, dusty team. Each season has its own quirks and personality; like cream rising to the top of the milk, rich images separate themselves out from the jumbled memory of the season’s seemingly endless tasks.
Since I split my time between design and maintenance, I have two sets of experiences each season: horticultural and creative – with a lot of overlap in each group. Here are a few highlights from our 2012 season.
Part 1: Horticulture Notes
Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Daze
Weather sets the tone for the growing season, and this year was incredible in that department. March was warm, with very few nights below 32 degrees. If only I had scheduled that shoulder surgery earlier! Alas, by the time I got rolling, the gardens were growing like mad.
April continued the mild trend, May was lovely, and then June offered five days with temps above 90! While the beachgoers and the vacationers were enjoying themselves, we were suffering in the heat and humidity of hotter than average months of July and August.
Oh, the Biomass!
Because it has been a long, mild season, the amount of biomass produced during the 2012 growing season was remarkable. I and my team worked like mad during the summer months to keep up with pruning.
We frequently prune whole hedges by hand, carefully cutting deep into the shrubs to ensure that light gets into the interior. This kind of intensive handwork is necessarily more expensive for the client than shearing, but yields beautiful results both to the eye and the health of the plant. But, “Holy Felcos, Batman!” it was hard keeping up with the growth.
Fun with Containers
With a warm year, a fairly good supply of rain, more clients getting drip irrigation to their containers, and a talented team, we had a lot of fun with containers this season.
Note to myself: next season explore doing some containers with just native plants.
Watching Nature Do Its Thing
As a NOFA OLCP, I do not use pesticides, and through the years I’ve been lucky not to have many pest issues to confront. I do run into the occasional aphid outbreak and when able (i.e. I have a willing client), I leave them alone (aside from perhaps a blast from the hose) and let the ladybugs arrive to lay the eggs of what will be voracious aphid eaters: ladybug larvae. This year an outbreak occurred on some milkweed at my own garden, in a small rain garden that I installed to receive the runoff from my driveway. It was a heavy infestation, covering the top half of all the stems. We let it be and let the ladybugs take care of the infestation.
In another garden, we had to weed out some milkweed that had come in from the meadow on the other side of the fence. We found quite a few monarch larvae on the milkweed. I brought them home and raised them in the kitchen, feeding them fresh milkweed from my own garden.
Other Cool Things
Still to Go
With the waning days of fall, I have 2500 bulbs to plant (Thank the Garden Gnomes that I bought a power auger years ago!), a hurricane to clean up from, and many clients to convince that leaving leaf litter – or better yet grinding it up and putting it back down – is the very best way to do a fall ‘cleanup’. As I work in the fall gardens, I see the huge fat worms and their castings everywhere, loosening and enriching the soil. I have had some success with a few clients, but many prefer a cleaner look. Note to myself: try harder to gently nudge the remaining clients!
About the Author
Darcy Paige is the owner of Laurel Garden Design and has worked designing, installing, and maintaining gardens for over 16 years. A Certified Landscape Designer, Darcy is an accredited Organic Land Care Professional with Northeast Organic Farming Association. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With special thanks to Thomas Thiers who never misses a beat with the camera.