Category Archives: Rabbits

the best fall garden ever…container plantings

Before I start with this weeks installation, can I just telll you ARGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

We have a few baby bunnies in the garden and they are destroying everything, So far an enitrie 4 ft.  mallow, two mint family plants ( a salvia and luecospermum) which is a bad sign, several epimediums, an entire astrantia , it is enough to make  a gal  want to give up and cry.

To add to the mayhem a mouse family wanted to move into a whiskey barrel planter so it chewed through the stem of a very large mexican sunflower. I killed one of the buggers , but know the rest are still there. Yet another family of chipmunks is out back jettisoning plant after  plant out of the places they want to burrow, and the weather has been hot with an ever present dessicating wind. Not one drop of rain has fallen, every storm passes us by. Watering is my life.

There, I vented and now I feel a little bit better knowing you may be feeling some of my pain.

Onward  to container plantings!

There are many ways to go about using containers in the garden. Here, I plant many pots  with things that need rabbit protection( not usually mints!), I plant a few with long blooming annuals, and a few are left to plant for fall interest.

Many magazines and books will direct you to pot up something for early season ( late spring and early summer) and then instruct you to take out the “tired looking” plants and re-pot up with mums etc for late season . Well, you know that is not where I am gonna go, it is very unlike me to follow the rules.

The pots are I am going to tell you about are cheap, easy and very natural looking…..and they are started in the earliest part of summer.

First off,  get  large pots, I am talking knee to thigh high and very wide. They will cost you a bit, but the time you will save watering is worth the investment. I use both self watering and regular pots depending on the location. these from Mayne are perfect.Mayne Fairfield 20-Inch x 20-Inch Patio Planter in Black

The pots you are planting are destined to hold only late season plants so don’t even think about putting early bloomers in them, there won’t be time or space.

I think a spring garden is pretty darn easy. So many shrubs and trees in these parts naturally bloom then, daffodils are beyond simple to grow, and many of our native spring ephemeral plants are in flower as well. With loads already going on in the garden, having a large pot or two that is basically empty  will hardly be noticed when glancing into the garden.

Now, get several packets of seeds ( I order mine online in the winter when I have time to really think about it) maybe a few late blooming plants like mums  bought in plugs ( which are small and cheap) peacock orchid bulbs and dahlia tubers and then scout the garden for late blooming or foliar interest plants you can steal a bit of.

Plant the dahlia tubers and any small plants and divisions first. This year I used a perennial  called Red Birds in a treee, and cardoon, both of which I started from seed under lights inside but you could buy small plants of both on ebay for a few dollars apiece and mums, asters and sedums.   You will  need to cater your selection for where the container is sited. Mine will be baking in the hot sun all day,  these plants can all tolerate heat drought very well ( with the exception of the mums).

Sedums of all types are great plants for containers , and many of them will tolerate a little shade too. If you grow any, the late spring is the perfect  time to go around to your plants and divide off little chunks of them and stick them in your  fall container. They will be huge before you know it.

Asters and mums  , are another perennial you can steal a piece off exisiting plants and stick in there, as well as ornamental grasses ( just use a soil knife to carve away a small segment near the edge of the clump) , hosta if you get it early enough so you won’t ruin the shape of the plant in the garden, lirope, japanese forest grass, really just look at what you have and try to use it. After you have the tubers and little plant sections in there, now add any seeds. I use nasturtiums which will fill out much earlier and help the container look good longer, tiger paw asters, tons of cosmos,species petunias, annual salvias, amaranth varieities, and usually an annual vine or two depending on the container.Now, tuck it in the garden and just remember to water it .

If you cover the bare soil with rice hulls AFTER the seeds have sprouted you will need to water much less.DSC_0001

By late July your container should be pretty full, and any annuals you planted will probably have started to flower. Viloia! Perfect fall containers for almost nothing money wise, and very little effort time wise.

Now, we move on to  one of the most important things I have gleaned from my stalking of all things Great Dixter: Back-up plants. As the season goes on , try to at least twice start some more seeds. I keep a tray of pots near the hose and in late June and the again in mid to late July  throw in some more seeds.  The garden tries it’s best to throw every curve ball it can to me to see how I handle it…..rabbits take down entire plants, things bloom and then die or never bloom at all, voles and chipmunks dig plants  up, a testy irrigation system refuses to water an entire area when no rain has fallen in weeks. Be prepared.

Just a few days ago I seeded  purple basil which is a stunning foliage plant, more amaranth, more cosmos, tucked in more nasturtiums seeds to those containers in which they are growing, and a few yellow hyacinth beans. The heat will get these babies huge in no time at all and they will await the latest disaster  that will dictate their new home.DSC_0002 DSC_0004

DSC_0003Now. let’s talk further benefits of starting late container gardens like this.

a.) if you put in more seeds than you need to ensure germination, any extras that sprout can be taken out of the container once they are big enough and planted in the garden or given away to friends. I have loads of coral amaranth in the gardens because I overseeded the pots .

b.) when frost threatens in October , your pots can be moved into a garage or shed if they are light  ( i use a small hand truck to move some bigger ones) or easily covered with frost cloth or even a sheet . Then you pop them back out where they will continue to thrive in the glorious autumn sun after other gardeners have given up.

c.) critters are easier to control. Chipmunks may try to dig in some pots but gravel on top can deter this, or I sometimes use a cloche for stuff I really would hate to lose to them. Rabbits can’t reach tasty treats ie your valuable plants, and slugs appear at a level that requires no bending to pick them off.

d.) if you have crappy soil  like I do , potting soil is much easier to grow many things in. For example, dahlias in pots here are flourishing, those planted in the ground get off to a much slower start.

e.) with pots you can grow things you may usually not be able to . For example, if you have a shady garden and a sunny driveway, pots are perfect for growing the summer flowers you dream of  ( just make sure no cars will hit them) Here it is really sunny and much of the shade involves competing with tree roots, so again, pots solve the problem, allowing me to grow things I normally can’t

f.) if I am going away, I can put all the pots stacked right next to the hose for whoever is watering for me. A little secret…..I often do this anyway so I can keep them watered easily during dry spells and only place them in the garden when I need to.

Since it is only July, this year pots are in their teenage years so to speak. The annual seedlings are awkward but filling out, the dahilas are just starting to flower, the mums are still quite small, but the sedums always look good.

In the big pot with the cardoon and Red Birds in a tree ( scrophularia macranta) everything is getting quite large and I went out to snap a few photos and caught this juvenille hummingbird hanging out and snacking. He was on happy camper.DSC_0006 DSC_0010 DSC_0011 DSC_0007 DSC_0009This container from last year is divisions of aster and sedum, self seeded verbena bonariensis and petunias

This one was planted in June and the coral amaranth has gotten huge , I will be cutting it for vases as time goes on, and the  daucus carrota and dahlia are still pretty small. By  September it will be overfull.DSC_0016This tall red tom pot has a single dahlia and both love in a puff and ipomea lobata or firecracker vine climbing the tripod in it. Once it gets going only frost will stop it.DSC_0018this is sedum with yet another vine, purple bell flowerDSC_0017

and yet another sedum, this time Purple Emporer , agastache and a just starting to bloom perennial mum. ( photo from 2015)DSC_0014This crazy container has two dahlias, tri-color amaranth, petunias,more daucus carrota, creeping jenny and a vine that has just started to grow up the birch branch I stuck in there. (excuse the craptastic photos , the light was bad when  I was trying to get them) the vine is a late blooming clematis, the dahlias are both reddish varities and by late August the creeping jenny will be draped down the front …it lives there permanently and I trim it back to stubs in the springtime.

DSC_0003 (2) DSC_0004 (2) There are so very many easy options to fill containers for late season interest that don’t involve pincushion mums from the store. Put your thinking cap on and get to it!

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A weird plant profile: Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’

It seems strange to write a profile of a plant I would never encourage you to add to your  garden, but I think we all have those that we are grateful to have, even if they are not the best behaved

Penstemon digitalis  ’Husker Red” is truly a self-seeding thug.You let those flower stalks stay one mili-second past the their bloom time and several million seeds will find their way to all corners of the garden and you will be weeding it forever plus one day. Once it has seeded and started to grow it requires more than a tiny pull to evacuate, and will often nestle right in at the base of other plants forcing you to work very hard indeed to extricate it,DSC_0006

BUT , ( there is always a but , huh?) It is 100% rabbit  proof. They never touch the stuff and I am pretty sure it has to do with the reddish leavesDSC_0004 (2).I have been diligently  reading  what little research is out there on anthocyanins,, a chemical  present in plants in part responsible for the reddish pigmentation. It comes into play in New England’s spectacular Fall color, and will also appear in green leaved plants when they are exceptionally dry. It is clearly prominent in Husker Red in the leaf coloring and there is work being done to see if there is an olfactory component ( in other words can it be detected by smell/taste ) that make it a deterrent for herbivores and insects. The research is so far scarce and the questions being raised show it is a very complex subject , but  I have noticed that plants that either emerge with red leaves or have them season long suffer far less predation than their green counterparts. That is anecdotal evidence  at best, but if it means that I can have asters if I plant “Lady in Black” instead of ” Alma Potschke’. I am a believer.

This penstemon , like all others, is also a pollinator magnet ,attracting all sorts of bees and that long tubular shaped flower along the dramatic red stalks tell you the hummingbirds will adore it ( and they do)DSC_0003.It brightens up the areas of the garden I let it seed in, and is one of the very few things that is planted in drifts here because I love the long delicate wands of white tinged with lavender  bringing color and life to the garden over a long period of time.  and the leaves remain through the winter  providing some interest when the ground is bare of snow and many of the other perennials are completely devoid of vegetation.DSC_0001 (2) DSC_0005

if left un-dead- headed , the seed heads are very cool  for texture later in the season, but they come with a price of more weeding out. They also smell like dirty feet , but in an arrangement that is placed out of the way , they look great.

On a rainy day like today it is a joy to look at at the garden and see  the Husker Red flowers bringing such a spark of life , via color and pollinator action. It is certainly not the only Penstemon I grow, or even close to my favorite, but it certainly has it’s place in the great scheme of things over here.DSC_0001

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just in case you thought this looked easy…..

Looking at gardening magazines, blogs, and websites it is easy to believe that there are those “green thumbs ” out there that are just kickin it better than you , and causing you intense feelings of inferiority and failure.

But , upon closer inspection I belive you may find that it ain’t all easy street over yonder and the failures mount up as fast as the successes, some of us  just know how to aim the camera right  or downplay the mess with clever distractions  and handy container plantings.

This week I thought for a little reality check  as well as a well deserved humbling, I would post some photos of some mighty bad gardening going on here in the Burrow.

We start with a scented geranium that is obviously getting the wrong treatment as it has been suffering yellow leaves no matter how I adjust it’s watering schedule. It sits on the steps with 9 others, all green leaved and blooming.Sigh, you just can’t make everyone happy.

Right next to the geranium pots lives a rose who for some reason this year got affected by black spot so horribly it is entirely leafless. Four other roses are within 10 feet, all fine.

On to the clematis whose ugly brown lower  leaves( that typically appear on this cultivar) should be hidden by a bluebery bush growing next to it, but obviously are not , the blueberry looks like crap.

Next to the blueberries and clematis lives an azalea that is finally happy after several moves, but the loosestrife planted beneath it has been attacked by the biggest slugs you have ever seen, apparantly I need to pay better attention to this front garden. Suprisingly , this loosetrife which is variegated ( and now very holey) will only stay variegated here in slugville. Elsewhere in the garden it has reverted back to green and remains intact and slug free. Harumph.

Moving toward the new border you can see  this array of annuals on which some leaves appear to have gone missing making a very ugly display.

Over by the fence this poor mallow had so many leaves and stalks missing and broken down to the ground for easier eating that it is now caged and will hopefully recover (unlike the rabbit who was snacking on it “insert evil laugh here”)

Next you can feast your eyes on what should be a stunning display of clematis’Dr. Ruppel’ and pink threadleaf coreopsis. Where is the clematis? you ask…. it got wilt ..I answer …with a supressed sob.

Moving on to more foliar diseases we can discover a clump of bee balm (monarda’Marshalls Pink’) that has powdery mildew like no ones business, although all other clumps of the same variety are chugging along mildew free…

then this very large very old mallow that has suffered two years in a row from whatever this is (could be a fungus could be possibly mites.. I am not sure). It has been cut back and will be shovel pruned later this week. Sad goodbye to an old friend.

It would not be a typical garden year here without some loss to the dreaded Japanese Beetle. This Cpt, Sam Holland Rose is getting the brunt of their muching this year. Someday some bird is going to figure out they make good eating and save us all from their destruction

And now a christmas fern who,like it’s broithers can’t seem to grow enough for the rabbits to ever leave it alone

new this year, the Japanese Beetles are also  eating my ferns? Say what?

This new rhodie is part of a group of plants that are in terrible shape because unbeknownst to me, the fence installers broke an irrigation  line, and the plants in that area  have been getting zero water. I got that fixed last week but they will all need to time to recover.

This clematis durandii has been around for 7 years and only bloomed a handful a times. I should be able to solve this one, yet despite my best efforts, nada.
And to wrap it up Mother Nature has escalated the season all over the yard , as demonstrated by this caryopteris that should provide LATE summer and early fall bloom, but is blooming now along with a few Rose of Sharons. Waaaaay out of line my friends!

There it is , the garden in all it’s non-glory. There is no more frustrating , humbling place than a garden, but also no place I would rather be :)

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All that Glitters is Silver (and Burgandy)

Now that I have had ample time to assess my unfortunate rabbit situation, my gardening direction has become clear.

Here are the facts Jack:

A.) The rabbits love to death all the new green growth that pops out of the ground in spring. Anything that emerges green will be eaten to within a millimeter of it’s life , even if they would never touch it after it matures. Rolled hosta leaves waiting to unfurl, the first head poke of a clematis vine, the asparagus like tips of my lilies, all have fallen victim and many do not recover enough to grow and survive.

B.)They will leave vitually untouched any plant that emerges silver or burgandy like artemesia, peony, random clematis vines, etc. It is clearly a useful strategy on the plants part to avoid consumption by simple color confusion.

C. )It’s not easy being green

So I have adapted the way Iam planning and protecting my spring garden.

 I am covering all clematis vines with the grow tubes commercial tree growers use to protect saplings from animal damage. They are ug-ug-ugly , but are serving the purpose quite effectively

I am caging all plants who if they are nibbled upon emergence  can’t recover (like lily stalks)

I am spraying  a few others that seem to get hit hard, like asters, which if left unprotected will all be chewed voraciously and daily

I have kept careful track of what they will always eat, sometimes eat, and never eat and am only planting those species that fall in the “never” category in any new beds and as replacemensts for those poor babies who did not survive last year’s onslaught.

Under the “never eat” category falls peony, penstemon’husker red’,artemesia,ladies mantle (too fuzzy I think), huchera cultivars with any variation of purple/burgandy leaves,ajuga,lavendar (mostly but not always avoided), iris, hydrangea, stachys,rosa glauca, nepata, yarrow ‘coronation gold”,  many salvias, thymes and threadleaf coreposis.

So more and more the garden will change to adapt to our new rabbit reality, I sincerely hope they do not adapt to it and all of a sudden feel like burgandy is the ‘NEW’ green and silver is the tasty treat gold once was.

(just in case you think I am exaggerating..check out what they did to this azalea- chewing  as the snow cover piled up leaving only the very bottom and very top leaves, sadness for him and his kind as they were all similarly treated. renewal pruning after bloom is their only hope now)

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Back to the Bunnies

Well, I must say , this has been the most ridiculous year in the garden yet. We are still running around here like lunatics chasing rabbits, me with my long bamboo stick to flush’em out, Bill with his long black stick to finish’em off. There has been some noticeable improvement including sightings of predators (hawks and foxes) that may help alleviate the overpopulation somewhat. So what have I learned from this you wonder?

Well for starters, bunnies aren’t cute. They smell, they crap everywhere and they eat voraciously and do not do much else. I will never understand the bunnies as pets phenomenon. They just sit there , where is the fun in that? Anyway…

I also would like to dispel some myths I had heard. First , that bunnies eat at dawn and dusk , or even night, but never during the day. False, they eat 24/7 and could care less what the sun is doing or who is standing next to them for that matter.

Secondly, they will avoid herbs and fuzzy foliage. Wrong again. They liked my lavender and germander  just fine, ate rudbeckia leaves, and even thorns.

Third, bunnies will freeze when you startle them. Depends. Babies and young’uns are more apt to freeze, leaving you time for a clean shot. The older ones flee at record speed. That is why they are still alive. They are also not afraid of dogs, dog barking and frequently dine right next to where the dog has done it’s business. This I saw over and over, have no explanation for it either.

Although they would dine on just about anything, they definitely had favorites. Top of the list is a tie between asters and clematis. No asters survived their foraging  and the clematis are all caged off now for their own safety (thankfully they will re-grow from their roots ). Then in no particular order, they feasted on sedums (autumn joy and the other taller cultivars first, lower growers second), poppy flowers, ferns,euonymous, and purple sand cherry bushes (eating all lower leaves as soon as they grow).

Surprising things (to me) they ate are: any climbing rose canes in their reach no matter how thorny, the sedum, germander, lavendar, and daylily leaves.

Things they never touched: artemesia (‘silver king’ which is , ahem, silver, and lemon and lime which is guess what color combination??), coreopsis graniflora, ajuga, (they were welcome to whatever they wanted of this, guess they are plant snobs), bee balm , one happy surprise ,peony and one frustrating one , clover. There are about 40 or so peony plants scattered over the entire acre and not one leave  was touched even once. Go figure. And as for the clover, someone suggested to plant this and many sources said bunnies love this above all else. I planted some out back and let two patches invade the lawn and there they remain, un-nibbled and happily overtaking the grass that has taken me years to get into a good lawn.

In other craptastic news, the voles have been breeding like there is no tomorrow , and I took a photo of the back rock wall where they apparently decided all the sand that made up the base of the wall was in their way….. so they excavated it. Thank you voles.

And as if we needed even more craptastic thoughts….what was YOUR water bill like this year?… the money I spent on mine could have sent me to a place with frosty umbrella drinks and white sand…….sigh.

euonymous remains a bunny fav

cages as garden art?

all clematis are now caged and many are recovering, let’s see if this c.orientalis blooms, fingers crossed!

these sedums are very happy to be saved from the onerous critters

the lovely sand excavation done by the voles, why? I have no idea. I am going to wait until spring to re-build the wall. Grrrrrr…

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Down the Rabbit Hole

Like Alice, my fall into the rabbit hole keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. Take this article in Sunday’s paper.

Apparantly there are fewer than 100 cottontails in NH, less than 300 in Maine. Well I say  pat on the back to you my northern neighbors. Granted they are refering to the New England cottontail, not the Eastern Cottontail(  Sylvilagus floidanus, which I believe is the one plaguing us here). But who really cares. I remember when I thought bunnies were cute too, and I also appreciate the whole food chain, bio-diversity and endangered species arguments, but  BLAH BLAH BLAH!

Honestly, seeing it  I felt the same way I would have if the headline read ” Smallpox  Eradicated: Science to re-introduce to preserve viral diversity”    My hostility runs that deep.

And then there is this puzzlement:

It is yet another repellent I ordered online called Shake Away. Note the full name of the product is “Shake Away Fox Urine Granules”

Now scan your eyeballs down to the active ingredient list (get your glasses on )  It reads : active ingredient….coyote urine

I guess common sense would obviously tell you that the active ingredient in fox urine granules would  be    ….er…coyote urine? 

Lastly ..if you want to need to sometimes click on “continue reading” below to see the comment box. Why? I do not know.I will ask my IT guy. Wait I don’t have an IT guy, just click it and comment on the post not my inabilty to manage my site. And if you click on subscribe to RSS above you will get an e-mail when I post something new!

I’m off to find the Chesire Cat, not to catch the rabbits silly, Bill is highly allergic to all things feline, but to score some of the drugs he is peddling to help me cope ;)


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