Garden In The Burrow

plants and rants by gardening diva Cheryl Monroe

  • Apr 9

    At the end of the gardening season last year I spent a number of hours clearing brambles  and cutting lower limbs of some of the trees out back to make one continuous path from the backyard  through the wooded area and back out to the street on the opposite side of the yard. I also had to rake and level mounds of composted grass clippings and sod we dug out when making the flower beds.

    After all the leveling and clearing Bill and I put down a deep layer of shredded leaves on the path to keep the weeds down , and now you can walk from one side of the yard to the other and when you step out onto the sidewalk see a little garden area that has been there forever but never gets any attention because of it’s isolation.

    Although the path makes me happy, it also presented the problem of deciding what to plant in the dry shady areas under the trees in the areas that now line the path.


    I have been pondering lots of solutions, and most of them bring me back to the same issue: the rabbits. Any plant left to fend for itself back there will certainly be foraged incessantly .Also,  dry shade, or rather just shade gardening in general ,is way out of my league as far as plant knowledge. Of course  I know what the horticulture writers suggest and what they show in books and magazines, but I have no direct experience with those plants and no way of knowing which of them Peter cottontail and company will be thrilled to have for dinner. A poor palnt decision could end up costly both in terms of work and money.

    I considered epimediums, which up until last year were not browsed by the bunnies, but then late in the season the few I had were eaten to the ground.

    I tried christmas ferns (polystichum acrostichoides) in an area near there before….instant bunny lunch.

    Hucheras, a favorite rabbit  snack. wouldn’t last a day.

    Solomon’s seal (polygonatum) is not browsed by bunnies but  the red  lily leaf beetles eat it

    Once I started considering plants I consider ugly and rangy like cottoneaster and mahonia I knew I was in trouble.

    I asked around to some gardener friends ,and after a few opinions was considering hay scented ferns (which they will not eat and thrives in dry shade )even knowing full well how aggressive it is and in a year or two from now it will have invaded my whole yard and I will curse the day I invited it here .

    Then  in a moment that in my mind’s eye  I saw as a giant light bulb appearing over my head, it occurred to me that the answer was right here in my backyard all along: geranium macrorrhizum.

    Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s Variety or Bigroot geranium ,’ is a plant I have grown here for quite some time. It has fuzzy leaves that form a very dense mat of neat foliage and is a veritable weed- proof mat. The foliage is highly scented, but like what I can not explain. I neither like nor dislike the fragrance, but I think the bunnies have a firm aversion to it as never, not even once, has a leave been so much as nibbled. It spreads out in a very mannerly fashion and is easy to divide and transplant when you want another little colony of it. In the late spring it will be covered in sweet little pink flowers.  In the fall the foliage turns color aging to a glowing red. The leaves also  remains on the plant through the winter and it just needs a little ruff and fluff to be at it’s best come springtime.

    The reason it never dawned on me that this would be the perfect plant for my new path is because everywhere I grow it here is in the full sun, but it will perform equally as well in shadier locations It is truly a very remarkable and adaptable plant !  As an added bonus I can use divisions from areas it already is growing here so it will be free!

    It makes me a little sad that this oh-so-useful plant did not spring to mind immediately , and even more sad to realize that although many thousands of photos have been taken in this garden, I could only find one of this little workhorse plant. 055


  • Mar 29

    Um, nothing.

    I am teaching a class on Perennial Culture 101 this week and one of the things I will cover is a favorite sub-hobby of my gardening; phenology. Phenology is defined by wikipedia as

    ” the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate as well as habitat factors”

    Essentially, for the lay person , it refers to the fact that all species of plant and animal life ( except most humans) use cues from the weather to know when to migrate, emerge, flower, hibernate, mate and depart to a Mexican resort for the winter. The cues are taken from available sunlight ( day length) temperature and precipitation.

    Many of you have heard phenological proverbs and sayings like” sow corn when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear” or “prune roses when the forsythia are in bloom”… these sayings  take advantage of what are called indicator plants , meaning that those particular plants have read the weather and are now in a specific life event ( bloom or leaf emergence) that gives us a clue as to how far advanced our growing season is, or as we are all well aware of around here, isn’t. “Sow peas when the daffodils begin to bloom ” is why my snap  peas still look like this002

    The extension service of The University of Massachusetts  tracks phenoligical data from several reporting sites throughout the state and you can sign up to receive the newsletter they distribute with the complied data. It includes Growing Degreee Days  which is complex but worth having a basic understanding of if you garden seriously, indicator plants ( what is blooming now) , insect and pest emergence, soil temperatures,  and general temperature and precipitation information.

    I just received this morning notice that the latest message had been posted so I went to check it out , talk about depressing. All 8 reporting scouts give soil temps at freezing, Growing Degree Days ( GDD) at zero, and indicator plants are all but non-existent. Bummer. Spring is taking a long time to arrive this year, a fact that I know all too well because I have yet to see a green tip of anything poking out of the soil, matter of fact  many places in my yard I can see no soil, just frozen crusty snow.

    If the weathermen are right, we should be seeing a minor warm-up accompanied by rain ..the kind that feels raw and chills you to the bone…but not freezing. Maybe, just maybe ,next week I will be taking photos of garden activity, but for now all I have accomplished is cutting back my ornamental grasses and type 3 clematis and pruning the fruit trees.

    PS if you would like participate in some citizen science  go to Project Bud Burst to either help log data about specific plants  in your area, or just read about what is going on in other parts of the US.


  • Mar 19

    Just when I was complaining about the length of this winter, the  first harbinger of Spring shows up right at my door!

    Every Spring, very early on, we get a visit to The Burrow  from Red-winged Blackbirds.  Red-Wings are usually found perched on cattails in marshes, wetlands  or the wet  areas along roadsides where  purple loosestrife runs amok. They are migratory and are just on their way back to their northern home to breed , and I am always happy to have them stop over for a bite to eat on the way.

    The flocks that arrive here in March are comprised of all males of various ages, the females follow later after the males have staked out their breeding ground.  The adult males are easily recognized by the bright red “epaulets” that appear on their shoulders when in flight , at rest all you can see usually is a yellow wing bar.755px-Agelaius_phoeniceus_0110_taxo006

    The 1 year old males( like this guy above) have wing feathers edged in a buff color and yellow epaulets. After this flock  finds it’s breeding ground I will only see solitary birds at the feeders occasionally.

    What I, and others ,have noticed, is that when in the flock they are very easy to spook ( and thus very difficult to photograph), even noises in the house will scare them back into the white pines out back to sing and call until all is quiet here again and they will again approach the feeders. When the solitary birds arrive later on in the spring they are very comfortable with human noise and will remain close to the house even if I am acting like the paparazzi.

    I have planted this garden to attract many species of birds and butterflies, but frequently wonder what it is that makes them stop by for the first time and  how they know to come back? I have a large hedge of willow, which is  a wetland shrub, and the Red-Wings will often build their nest in willows when they rest their destination and settle down( it defies explanation why I planted it and the other willows here and why they do so well in my dry sand).  I am guessing that it looks familiar to them and although they do not nest here it is cool to have them if only for a short time.

    Follow this link to hear a video of the racket  they were making while they were waiting for me to disappear.


  • Mar 17

    Here are a few  of  the sea of  things that are swarming around in my head today (which is single digit cold BTW)

    -As I looked through my garden journals last night reading March entries like :

    Blooming; snowdrops, crocus, winter hazel

    Buds showing on hyacinth and daffs

    Yard clean-up started

    magnolia buds HUGE

    Squill blooming and roses leafing out

    Planted new crab apple “Mrs. Robinson” and three new peonies

    I realized that yes, it is damn cold, and this winter is starting to drag on. I love winter, I love the change of the seasons here in New England, and I love snow too. But c’mon, it’s late March and there are inches of the stuff covering the snowdrops and the squill and a week ahead that is predicted to be staying below 10 and then maybe  low 20′s  at night later in the week and daytime temps not so warm either. We could even get some snow or icy rain. The snow pack is so frozen I can still walk on it .Enough. Be done already Old Man Winter. You may exit like a lamb now.

    I spent the weekend answering questions at the Hort info booth at the Boston Flower Show and if the questions I fielded are any indication of the season ahead, get thee to the hardware store and stock up on vole traps and bait and rabbit repellent. Every other question I had got answered “Well now, that sounds like vole damage, so here is what to do….”

    -The second  most asked question was what to do with the orchids  bought at ( insert big box store  name here) to make them bloom again. Sigh.

    -Other than the Amateur Horticulture area where people enter their beloved plants, photographs they took ,and floral arrangements they made for judging, the show was uninspiring. Hence the lack of photos. I took none. Zero. Zip.

    -I have to do a presentation this evening ( Monday) in Milford , MA. Last Monday I spoke in Milford, New Hampshire. I think that is a weird coincidence.

    -I hate hate hate getting my picture taken, but I finally broke down and had some professional shots done and I  am ever so happy I did. I am speaking at the Suburban Boston Home Show in Lowell in April and would not have been happy with the picture I was using before plastered all  over their promotional material. You can see it here, if you are on a smart phone you will need to click the link  that says” Featured at the Show” then “Local Specialists” to view it.

    -The third most asked  question, which is usually #1, is” Why won’t my hydrangea bloom?” I could recite the answer in my sleep ,that is how many times I have explained it and I wish that just once the nursery industry would work WITH gardeners instead of AGAINST us and only stock plants that  are reliable bloomers in the area in which they are sold Harumph.

    -I started seeds over 2 weeks ago of eight different plants, sweet peas, chinese love vine, 2 kinds of sangusorbia, daylily, petunia exseta, allium cernium and huechera. Only the petunias have sprouted. This does not bode well for the season ahead.

    On a happy note, the pussy willows are opening outside005


    -and Happy Saint Patrick’s day!005 (8)






  • Mar 12

    For those of you who were in attendance at the WGC meeting this afternoon here are the links I promised

    Perennial Culture Handout     (in case you did not receive one or need an extra)


    Home Horticulture Series Info

    Clcik away! and thanks for being such a super audience!

  • Mar 7

    Picture1This weekend on Saturday night at  precisely 2:00 am begins our Daylight Saving Time, initially proposed as  a way to save electricity used by incandescent lighting (it did not) , it’s new purpose is to provide us more daylight in the evening after we presumably get out of work and are looking to frolic outdoors.  Although it means an hour of lost sleep to us in Spring (I don’t know about you but every few years I miss something because I forgot about the time change) , it is a lift to the spirit to have it light out at 6:00 pm and does help me get over  my tendency to hibernate in the cold dark months of winter. Love it or hate it, it is also the signal to get going  on plans for the garden, and that is exactly what I have been up to.

    I am planning a complete overhaul of the side yard including the addition of three white pyramid tutuers I ordered from White Flower Farm,tutr planted with several new clematis hybrids and climbing roses. Pouring over rose catalogues and the clematis offerings of my favorite online nursery sources was one of the joys of winter and I have settled on two clematis ‘I am lady J’ ( in honor of my gram who was Jane)SONY DSCand ‘Wildfire’5CLEWILD and two roses, ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ and climbing’Iceberg’.  there will also be a hydrangea tree h.paniculata  ’Quickfire’  I am transplanting  from elsewhere in the garden, some little bluestem grasses  along with  the 5 different spirea cultivars that are currently in the area that will be rearranged . The planning has been a wonderful respite from the gloom of February, but now I am sort of dreading the execution which will involve bringing in new soil , lots of digging  and I am sure a few frustrating moments when the garden fails to meet the glorified pink purple and white plan in my head.

    I have also been ordering  a number of plants I saw on garden tours over the summer that I fell in love with including hydrangea serrataPreziosa’  and a knautia called’ Thunder and Lightening’ . I will stop the list there lest Wil actually reads the post through , does the math , and cancels the credit card I use for online ordering. Shhh. I am trusting you not to tell.010

    As always I am following my own advice and have stocked up on seeds of interesting annual vines for late season display ( morning glories, moonflower, cup and saucer vine, sweet peas, cypress vines, asarina species, nasturtiums and thunbergia alata …. I adore this one and I have many packets of seeds I saved from last year’s hyacinth bean vines, bottle gourds, pretzel beans etc. You should get on this same task  if you haven’t already. Make sure you add sweet pea lathyrus odoratus’Cupani’ to your orders/plans , it is a strong bloomer, divine  in color and scent, and heat tolerant. Happy Shopping!!!
    014 (5)

  • Feb 18

    Time to talk about forcing branches again. Let’s go back in time  and see what was up  here last year and then talk about what you can cut today……

    If you cut branches from crab apples, Japanese Maples, quince, Amelanchier ( service berry),  or pear trees today, within 15-20 days you will have their flowers gracing your mantel or table.

    If you have less patience ,then go for some Magnolia ( dreamy dreamy dreamy ), Fragrant Honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima) Andromeda , Cercis ( red bud) or any Prunus (cherry) tree and you can catch a little glimpse of Spring in your living room in less than two weeks.

    If you are dancing around the kitchen whining about spring  like a little kid who has to use the potty  then  cut some Red Maple, Cornus Mas ( Cornelian dogwood) ,Pussy Willows , or Forsythia and brighten up your day on Feb 28 or so.

    If you just can’t wait one second longer then I hope you have had the foresight to plant on your property one or more Hamamelis x intermedia, as they could possibly be in bloom now , and if not they will force in 1-3 days.

    I have already started and have red bud and forsythia blooming in the house now, and magnolias in bud ready and waiting. Tomorrow  I will brave the snow that is waist high to cut some crab apples, azaleas and callery pears , the latter of which smells horrible but looks awful pretty  and get them going as well. I am waiting much later this year to try viburnum carlesii and lilacs and hope for success with both.

    This week in MA we will have warm temps  of 40-50 degrees which is perfect for branch cutting. I cut them on an angle and immediately get them into a vase of cool water, then place them in indirect light until they bloom.  Because they will be in the vase for an extended period I  add floral preservative to help the water stay clear longer and change the water completely every 6 or 7 days.

    Once they are in bloom you can combine them with any flowers you get at the florist or market especially of you cut smaller branches,  or leave them standing alone if they are large branches. Either way it is an early dose of  Spring  that is guaranteed to lift your drab winter spirits.003

  • Spring Countdown

    Filed under Posts
    Feb 7

    As I went to add the Spring Countdown timer to the blog this morning, I thought wouldn’t it be dreamy to take a look back at Spring here in the Burrow ? We just got a fresh new “coating ” of 12 inches of snow, and although I adore winter, I also miss and long for the color and vibrancy of the spring garden. I am no psychology guru , but I believe that it is this very  longing for the next season to arrive that  may be the sole reason I never mind the one I am currently in!

    That said, I have also been updating some presentations with new photos, organizing the photo folders on my computer and backing them up which has caused me to stumble upon some that were to good not to share. So get a cup of cocoa and click the link below to the slideshow page, then literally scroll through the past few springs here . Enjoy!

    Spring Slide Show

  • Dogwoods

    Filed under Posts
    Feb 4

    Living in New England where gray skies and leafless trees dominate our winter landscape, a wonderful way to add much needed color to the garden is by using what are commonly referred to as Red Twig Dogwood shrubs (even though some are flame colored, orange-y or even yellow). There are a few different species , and many cultivars that will all do well in our USDA growing zone and require little care once established.

    Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (sometimes called ‘Winter Flame’) is the least common of the bunch. It will grow to about 5 ft x 5ft and sports showy yellow, orange and red, almost glowing stems in the winter. If you have ever visited Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston and seen their very well done winter garden, ‘Midwinter Fire’ is the  backbone and show stopper of the garden above the turtle fountain and pondaf

    Even smaller and perfectly suitable for container growing is cornus sanguinea ‘Arctic Sun’proven_winners_cornus_arctic_sun_red_twig_dogwood1

    Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ called tatarian dogwood, has lovely variegated leaves in the warmer months and very twiggy bright red stems in the winter. It can grow to be 8 feet tall.  A dwarf form Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo ‘is also available.032005








    Cornus alba ‘Silver and Gold’ had variegated leaves and brilliant yellow stems in winter. Cornus alba ‘Budd’s Yellow’ is another great  yellow twig dogwood, both will grow to be 5-7 ft. i have had a tricky time with my yellow twig dogwoods because they are bunny magnets. I tried caging them off , and last year I went so far as to add a thick planting of big leaf coreopsis all around the base of the shrubs inside the cage. That seems to have helped immensely and they now seem on the mend. The photo below was taken at Tower Hill Botanic Garden , look how the yellow dogwood stems play off the foliage of the chamaecyparis ( the evergreen) to the right, pure garden genius!011 (2)


    I cut and use lots of stems in my winter containers and inside arrangements too.016 (2)026

    All dogwood shrubs share the common characteristics of being tolerant of a wide range of soils including very wet and boggy ones, growing in sun to part shade and being easy to care for. They also will self layer, meaning stems low to the ground that touch the soil will send out roots so over time you can either separate and dig up the new baby shrubs  and give them away to happy gardening friends or start a thicket . I usually go for the thicket and/or relocating them somewhere here since I have so much space. ( But if you were here and asked me nicely I would not hesitate to get the shovel and share).

    The only suggested maintenance is renewal pruning; or removing 1/3 of the oldest stems to the ground annually. This will prompt the shrub to put out lots of new growth, and it is this  young bark that has the most vivid winter color.As dogwood stems age they become dark and gray in color and really, since our world is already dark and gray in color during winter it is best to try to remember to thin them in the spring so your color starved garden soul will have a treat.




  • Jan 19

    011Winter came back yesterday, it boy oh boy is it ever beautiful here. Wet snow fell throughout the day and is   falling lightly  again this morning  covering everything in the most picture perfect fluff…quintessential New England!024

    017The flock of robins that have been visiting to strip the berries off the hollies are now in the crab apple trees,and the feeders have all been very busy. Looking out at the gorgeous  view  and the show being put on by our feathered friends while enjoying my morning coffee in the warmth house on a lazy Sunday is just about my favorite way to start a day. Add in the fact that later there will be chili simmering and playoff football TV, does life get any better?014013 014 015

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Garden in the Burrow

Garden in the Burrow


April 2014
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