Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

From the Publisher: Directory 2019

by janem on January 23, 2019

Jane Milliman with lilies in Mumbai, India, courtesy Reynolds Kelly

I’m rounding out the first year in my new garden, and it looks terrible. Actually, as I write this it’s blanketed in snow, so it looks ok. But in general—awful. There are a lot of weedy roses of Sharon, and I can’t decide if I want to try to “make my peace” with them or to go with my first instinct, total eradication.

Obviously I have no such qualms about the abundant swallowwort, and I also have no idea how to get rid of it.

The first winter in my last [real] garden, I noticed the postman’s tracks in the snow and decided to build paths there (since he clearly was going to walk that way regardless, and it felt polite). It was probably the best design decision I made in that front yard. It was definitely a better decision than planting dwarf Alberta spruce and other supposedly diminutive evergreens.

That garden produced many happy accidents, however. Certain plants self-sowed with exuberance: ‘Confetti’ hardy geranium; pulmonaria; beautiful, dark-purple spurge; hellebore; corydalis, European wild ginger, Digitalis lutea…the list goes on. (And out back, it’s a totally different list.)

I dug up a lot of those plants—the offspring—and planted them in the new garden this summer. Most of them won’t survive, and there are several I’ll probably try again. But there are some things I’ll try and try again that will simply never take in this new space, so close to the old one and yet so different. I could never grow dogwoods or gaura in the limey, loamy, typically “Honeoye” soil of Caledonia, but I bet I’ll have no trouble with them in the new stuff (city east), which appears to be close to pure sand.

So I’ll take the advice I’ve given coutless others over the past twenty-odd years—when planning a new garden, walk around the neighboorhood and see what is efortlessly thriving in your neighbors’ plots.

And don’t forget about the postal carrier!


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