Sunday, October 18, 2020

Fall Tasks in the Garden: Your Questions Answered

Eastern Bluebird greets me each morning near the potting shed

As the beautiful Pocono mountains take on their legendary colors following the arrival of the first frost, home gardeners ask me questions about fall tasks. Here are my answers to three concerns that I hear year-after-year. I will answer more of these questions in my next post. My goal is to make 'putting the garden to bed' easier and pave the way for an early start on next year's garden.

Autumn in my Pocono garden at Astolat Farm

Do I have to cut down everything?

Answer: Some plants should be left standing. After the first killing frost, pull out annuals and plant debris from the kitchen garden. Throw plants on the compost, except for any diseased material which should bagged and placed in the trash. I don't cut down perennials that add interest to the winter landscape, such as ornamental grasses with tall plumes. Some plants provide seeds for birds, so I leave them standing. For example, goldfinches love the seed heads of purple cone flower. Many perennials help beneficial insects in winter by providing shelter from their predators. Don't cut back marginally hardy plants like garden mums (Chrysanthemum spp.) as their tops help them survive the cold of winter. There is no need to cut back low-growing evergreen or semi-evergreen perennials such as hardy geraniums, heucheras, hellebores, and moss phlox. You must cut down diseased plants such as bee balm (Monarda) with powdery mildew. Remember to destroy, not compost, diseased stems and leaves.

American Goldfinch eating seeds of purple cone flower in my cottage garden

My favorite ornamental grass picture. I'm glad I didn't cut it down in autumn.

I don't cut back hardy mum (Chrysanthemum 'Sheffield Pink')

How do I prevent tender plants from dying in the winter?

Answer: You know you need to bring your houseplants indoors. Dig up tender bulbs such as cannas, caladiums, dahlias, elephants ears, gladiolus, calla lily, and tuberous begonias and store them where they will not freeze. Pack them in boxes of sawdust or peat moss. You may want to save seeds from your favorite non-hybrid plants. See my post about heirloom seeds HERE. Find a place in the garage or basement for shrubs or trees that you are growing in pots, especially Japanese maples (Acer spp.) Sometimes I have plants in their nursery pots, still unplanted, in the fall. For these I dig holes in the empty vegetable garden beds and heel them in. I protect roses and newly planted shrubs with burlab windbreaks. You can spray the leaves of broadleaf evergreen shrubs with an anti-desiccant to prevent moisture-loss caused by cold weather conditions because when the ground is frozen, evergreens can't replace moisture loss through their leaves. Use mulch, such as three to five inches of straw, to insulate plant roots from severe winter temperatures.

Dig up tender bulbs such as dahlias. Picture taken in Jenny Rose Carey's garden.

Dahlia 'Mikayla Miranda'

Must I rake all the leaves?

Answer: Ecologically speaking you do not need to rake leaves, but a heavy layer can smother your lawn grass and prevent new growth in the spring. Compacted leaves can promote snow mold diseases that damage turf grass. The easiest way to treat leaves on your lawn is to pass over them with a mower a few times to shred them into small pieces. This method will return nitrogen to the soil as the clipped leaves decompose. In the garden, you can leave them where they fall, so they help insulate plant roots. If you want to remove leaves from your garden, add them to your compost pile rather than bagging them and hauling them away.

You don't have to remove leaves from your garden. Leave them where they fall to insulate roots.


I receive many more question: Can I plant anything in the fall? What is a cover crop? How do I winterize the pond? I don't need to weed in the fall, do I? I will answer these questions in part two of this blog posting.

I am wondering how you are all doing as these stressful times continue? I hope you are well, as we are. I do have some more sad news for you, though. My gentle goat, Billy, passed away peacefully in his sleep last week. He was the faithful companion of my first mini horse, Dude. He was 15 years old. I miss him so much. 


Billy and Dude napping in the sun on a snowy day.

If you live where it is autumn now and the leaves change color, enjoy the beautiful fall foliage as you 'put your garden to bed.' You can look forward to a rest from gardening tasks this winter knowing that you have made a good start to the next growing season.

Stay safe and healthy!

Love, Pamela x 


Billy Goat as a Baby

A brave foxglove continues to bloom sheltered by a smoke bush.


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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

This Month in the Cottage Garden: September 2020

The Stumpery

September's highlights included a major event and a new project. The event was the wedding of a dear friend's daughter for which I agreed to provide the flowers. The project was the design and installation of a stumpery in my garden. For both of these ventures I was blessed with the help of my talented grandson, Jonathan. 

 First the stumpery: Stumperies have been found in England since Victorian times. They are similar to rockeries, but with logs, roots, and bark instead of rocks. Artist and gardener, Edward Williams Cooke, created the first stumpery at Bidulph Grange, England, in 1856. They quickly became popular across Britain. Prince Charles built one at Highgrove House in 1980 using sweet chestnut roots. The largest in the world can be found at Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, Washington, USA. My desire to have my own stumpery took root (pardon the pun) when our beloved catalpa tree was felled. I thought it would be a great way to continue the 'life' of the tree a bit longer. So one weekend when two of my grandsons were visiting, I asked them to help their Pappy move logs. I first chose a location and cleared it of weeds. As you can see above, I sited it next to the outhouse that Duane commissioned his friend George to make for me. I decided to put down landscape fabric as the area was infested with Japanese stilt grass. I wisely asked Jonathan, with his experience of creating miniature gardens, to select the best logs and come up with a design. I would be in charge of the plantings. Duane purchased bags of pine nuggets for the finishing touch.

Jon selected the logs and instructed Duane and Harry on their placement. (Sorry Harry, I didn't take a  picture of you.)

When the logs were in place, I transplanted hellebores from the woodland walk. Stumperies usually have ferns, but the deer often eat mine. This area is frequented by deer, so hellebores seemed the best bet. Then Jon sprinkled pine nuggets around to hide the landscape fabric.

As you can see, we didn't use only catalpa logs. Jon added a door to this interesting stump.

I told Jon about the stumpery at my friend Jenny Rose Carey's garden, Northview. It is very much larger than mine and is the home to gnomes. At Jon's suggestion, we browsed Amazon to find some suitably scaled-down gnomes for my little stumpery. Jon had fun placing them in their new home.

The gnome house, bottom right, was made by George who constructed the outhouse

On the other side we made a chicken garden. The new gardens anchor the outhouse nicely

The wedding: I felt honored to be asked to make the bouquets for the wedding of my friend's daughter, using flowers from my garden. I was nervous because I had never done this before, but Jon reassured me that we could do this. It was to be a very small affair, due to Covid, with just parents and siblings instead of the large number of guests previously invited to attend. The bride had no attendants, just two little flower girls - the bride's niece and the groom's niece. I made the bride's bouquet and a posy for each little girl. I added a boutonniere for the groom. Jon's help was invaluable.

We were limited by the small number of early September blooms. These are some we chose. I wish there had been roses, but we only had a couple of buds.

We gathered flowers very early in the morning, picking far more than we would use to give us plenty of choice. I decided to make hydrangea 'Limelight' the focus of the bride's bouquet. We chose tiny zinnias and the like for the little girls -- matching them to the color of their dresses. Carnations plus yarrow 'The pearl' would work for the groom.

A few weeks earlier, Jon and I practiced by following a U-tube video. We learned how to use floral tape, covering it with ribbon, and securing with a pearl-headed pin. There were more blooms available that day.

The final result: hydrangeas 'Limelight', sedum 'Autumn Joy', pale pink zinnias, a rose bud, and sweet autumn clematis.

The flower girls' posies and the groom's boutonniere. I wrapped the posies in paper doilies.

The beautiful bride, handsome groom, and adorable flower girls. It was a perfect day.

Autumn arrived on the 22nd. Right on cue, my garden began to look very fall-like. I am not ready for this, but I've started cutting back dead plants and Duane is tuning up the leaf blower.

Hydrangea 'Limelight' in its autumn colors

The path to the front porch -- and I haven't even decorated for fall yet

Since I took the previous picture, I changed the wreath on the door and put pumpkins on the bench. But, as I said, I don't feel ready for the end of the growing season. Where did summer go?

I am linking with Sarah at Down by the Sea in Dorset, England. Let's go through her garden gate to see her beautiful September garden. 

I wish you a happy change-of-season wherever you grow.

Love, Pamela x 

Goldenrod, Solidego

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day: September 2020 -- Plus Announcement of Winners

'Glorious gleam' nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Gardeners know that ever year is different. The plant that failed last year is magnificent this one, and vice versa. The 2020 gardening season is true to form: with nasturtiums that made a poor show in 2019 full of leaves and flowers now, roses performing better than usual, and tomatoes having their first good year for ages. On the other hand, my milkweed failed to appear, the sunflowers got the sunflower stem borer and, as many of you know, I lost my Turks' cap lilies to the red lily beetle. These are minor setbacks, however, in a year full of horrors. I am just thankful for all that I have blooming on this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Thank you Carol of May Dreams Gardens for bringing some welcome flowers and sunshine into our lives at this troublesome time.  Here are a few of my blooms, today.

Top left: Trailing nasturtium; top right: Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi); bottom right: 'Glorious gleam' nasturium; bottom left: Tithonia 'Torch Red'

Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is a noxious weed popping up all over the place. It is native to this area. I love its pretty white flowers and don't remove the plant unless I find it growing near the goats' pasture -- it is very toxic to grazing animals.  There is a nice clump in the kitchen garden at the end of the cutting bed. Most of the vegetables are finished now. I still have flowers on the zucchini plant, but they aren't developing into fruit. I don't expect any more squash because the weather is quite cold. The chilly temperatures are due to smoke in the upper atmosphere from the terrible wildfires out West. I pray for those who have lost their homes and their loved ones, and for the brave firefighters. Also, for those in the path of Hurricane Sally. As I said, 2020 is full of horrors, beginning with the pandemic. I am so blessed, so thankful, to be safe in my beautiful gardens.

The Kitchen Garden

White asters in a container near the potting shed

I was hoping the helianthus would be blooming by now at the entrance to the kitchen garden. It isn't, so I put pots of mums each side of the arbor. As compensation for no helianthus, a volunteer morning glory appeared this week. It's color is stunning.


Arbor into the kitchen garden with budding helianthus, tubs of mums, and a stunning morning glory.

As I said, my roses are especially lovely this year. Rosa 'Peace' is attracting those bees that brave the cooler weather.

Sweet Autumn Clematis

Purples and Blues

It is officially autumn in one week; my garden is changing rapidly with leaves turning to brown, red, and gold. There is leaf litter on all grassy surfaces.

The leaves of the vibernum (left) have already changed color

The pond has been particularly beautiful all season with constant water lilies.

 Lots blooming in the Serenity Garden: Turtlehead (Chelone 'Hotlips'), sedum 'Autumn Glory',  foxgloves, and hydrangea:

The Serenity Garden's flowers

Surprise! A miniature hosta blooming in one of Jon's gardens.


I am happy to announce the winners in my website-launch event. There were a total of 14 friends in the U.S.A who left comments on my Facebook page and on this blog after reading my new website,

 The winner of the book, Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden by Adrian Higgins, is Ellen who tends Bryant Gardens that I wrote about last time. Katharine, of Stroudsburg PA, won the gift voucher. The Country Gardens Magazine: Summer 2020 issue containing the article about my gardens, goes to Alana who blogs at Ramblin' with AM.

Thank you to everyone who left lovely comments and expressed support for my efforts. Congratulations to all the winners! 

Wishing you a Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, everyone!


Pamela x

Goldfinches are flocking to the seeds of the cone flowers

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I look forward to visiting your blog in return.

Monday, August 31, 2020

This Month in the Garden, Big News, and GIVEAWAYS!

August in my gardens saw the bright colors of summer mellowing to more autumnal hues. Between the rain storms, I spent hours tying up plants, deadheading, removing spent annuals, and planting fall flowers. I decided to leave the chore of dividing perennials to the spring, because I have been busy with an exciting project: I made an impressive (I think) website to launch the expansion of my garden-coaching business. I would love you to check it out and enter for some great prizes that I describe below. I am illustrating this special posting with photographs that I took at Bryant Park in Stroudsburg, PA earlier this month, beginning with a view of their gazebo above.  Bryant Park is a charming, neighborhood pocket garden that I believe is Monroe County's best kept secret. Enjoy the tour, then check out my giveaways. 

Approaching the park you see a young 'Pinky Winky' peeping over the fence

There are some beautiful trees in the park including this native fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Some of the lovely plantings in Bryant Park

This is a true community garden with its free library

A few personal favorites of mine at the park

The park is manned entirely by neighborhood volunteers. A couple of years ago, I worked with Ellen, the main volunteer, to design a pollinator garden for the park. Unfortunately, the money for plants and supplies was not forthcoming and that particular garden was never installed. The activity did reinforce my desire, however, to spend more time advising home gardeners on the best plants to use and how to install them, on using environmentally friendly practices, and on solving their specific garden problems.  I love visiting all types of gardens, walking with the gardener, and helping them achieve their dreams. What is nice about this activity is that it can be accomplished even during the pandemic: just two people, out-of-doors, socially distanced, and wearing masks. In case you are wondering why I would launch my website near the end of the gardening season, I do believe that fall is a great time to plant. It is the best time to assess and make plans. 

 A few pictures of my gardens at the end of this month:

I planted tall black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia maxima) each side of the arbor into the Kitchen Garden
The foxgloves are enjoying a late rebloom
Turtlehead (Chelone 'Bright Eyes') is blooming - a sure sign that autumn is near

 Now for the big reveal: Go to to view my new website. Take a look at the various pages. (I've included a page of 'My Gardens' where you can look at some pictures of the gardens here at Astolat Farm. I plan on adding more photos.) Then leave a comment about the website -- on my blog or on Facebook; your name will be placed in a drawing for some fabulous prizes:

I am giving away a copy of the book Chanticleer: A Pleasure Garden by Adrian Higgins. The photographs are by Rob Cardillo who took the pictures of my gardens for Country Gardens Magazine.

For a local gardener I am awarding a $25 gift certificate to Chestnuthill Nursery in Brodheadsville.

To another winner I will give a copy of Country Gardens Magazine: Summer 2020. This edition contains the article about my gardens.

I am sorry that I can only extend this offer to U.S.A residents. 


Ellen relaxes in the gazebo after a hard day's work at Bryant Garden

The eye-catching hell strip, filled with colorful zinnias, planted by Bryant Garden volunteers

I am linking with Sarah's meme 'Through the Garden Gate' -- check it out; it is lovely.

I hope you enjoyed the photographic tour. I look forward to reading your comments about my website. 

Stay safe and healthy,

Pamela x