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Archive for November, 2011


Roots and Rhizomes Bed Down for the Winter

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Tuesday, November 29th

My husband, an upstanding, energetic member of the Bethel United Methodist Church, is not generally given to rebuking his wife. However, lately there’s been more than a few grumbles at the state of our garage. It seems one whole bay is taken up with assorted dirt-encrusted tuberous plants.

Can’t be helped.  After 33 years, you’d think Jerry would understand that a mess in the garage is necessary in November.  By that time old man frost has finally blackened the foliage of tender cannas and dahlias, and it’s time to store them for winter. But first they have to dry a bit. Due to chubby rhizomes, these stalwarts do very well in our unpredictable summer weather, and I’d like to see their handsome faces next year. In fact, I’ve kept my dahlias and cannas going for decades by placing them in cold, dry winter storage in my garage, which never freezes nor rises above 50 degrees.

Here’s how I do it:  I gently dig the entire clump, making sure my spade is far enough away from the heart of the plant that I’m not damaging any tubers. I heave up the whole mass, shake off as much dirt as I can, and haul it to the garage. (my bay of the garage, it should be noted) There I place the mass where it can’t be run over by wheeled garbage cans or stepped on by careless kids.

I let the clusters dry for several days before I clip and compost the withered foliage, leaving several inches of stem protruding from the rhizomes. In the meantime the containers get prepped.  Back in the early days of my current garden, I’d plant hundreds of hardy bulbs each autumn and would save the ventilated cartons in which they arrived for use as winter storage. Once full, these cardboard cartons would be placed on a shelf. One memorable winter, however, I lost the whole kit ‘n caboodle when my husband inadvertently discarded them in a spate of garage cleaning.

Now I use plastic storage bins, which apparently don’t look as disreputable as dirty cardboard boxes. These I fill with ever-so-slightly damp peat moss. A layer of peat covers the bottom of the container, and on that goes a layer of rhizomes, carefully placed so they don’t jostle each other.  More peat, then more cannas, until all are situated and no sign of them is visible. I then cover the tub and mark in bold lettering the following:  “Colleen’s Bulbs!!  Do not open, disturb, remove, or discard, under threat of gardener’s wrath!”

They don’t get touched.

In mid-January I lift the lid and apply a little water. In March I exhume the contents, discarding the deceased and potting up the 75% remaining. These are hardened off prior to planting out.

That’s all there is to it. By wintering over, I save both my favorite cultivars and a few dollars. As of next week I’ll have finished snugging the dahlias and cannas into their winter quarters.

Then I can work on my marriage.




Book News

Monday, November 28th, 2011

November 27th, 2011


Mentors in the Garden of Life was not chosen as the best Memoir in the 2011 Connecticut Book of the Year competition last week. However, I’m honored to have been a Finalist, included among the illustrious and hard working authors I met at the Awards ceremony at the Hartford Library.   Many of the Finalists and Winners have published numerous books, and  were uniformly pleasant, enthusiastic and engaging individuals. We had a marvelous time at the reception, and all in all , the experience was a rewarding one.

Kat Lyons, who initiated the Connecticut Center for the Book was given a Lifetime Achievement Award,  as was Roxanne Coady, the proprietor of R.J. Julia Booksellers, in Madison. (if you’ve not visited that awesome bookstore, do yourself a favor and trot on over)


The business of successful writing is indeed an art and a science, with a bit of good old Lady Luck thrown in. I’ll continue with my column for Hearst Connecticut Media, my magazine articles, and of course, the next book!



It’s Not Too Late!!

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Saturday, November 19th, 2011



Botanical tulips



“Colleen, what do you think?” I peered into the yellow mesh bag holding an array of dusty, mushy bulbs, squeezed a few and sighed. “No good.  Better buy some new ones.”  I’d just finished walking my coaching client’s lovely garden when she’d asked me to take a look at some bulbs in her garage, left over from last year.  I hated to tell her they were unusable, but that was the truth.

Don’t let this happen to you!

Get your hardy tulip, daffodil, crocus, glory-of-the-snow, hyacinth, etc. bulbs planted pronto!  It’s not too late, but don’t dilly-dally.  Bulbs appreciate being planted when nighttime temperatures average between 40 and 50 degrees; we’re skirting that now. But they can be planted any time until the ground freezes, which for us is generally mid-December. Late November into December isn’t optimal, but certainly gives them a fighting chance; much better than languishing in a bag until they’re fit only for the compost pile.

I know what I’m talking about…like many of us, I was blindsided by the freak snowstorm of October 29 and the resulting cleanup. Consequently I too am behind in my bulb planting. My shipment of 550 (what was I thinking?!)  tidy specimens of spring beauty arrived on schedule in mid-October, but unfortunately  I didn’t follow the label directions and open the all the bags to let them air.  By the time I got ready to plant, some of the daffodils had rotted in their plastic bags and had to be discarded. Fortunately for my planting plan, there are still bulbs to be had at some local nurseries such as Hollandia in Bethel.

So grab your equipment and get out there! You’ll need the bulbs, a shovel, bucket, bulb fertilizer, and if you have voles, perhaps some crushed oyster shell. (disperse in the excavated area; voles don’t like to plow through gritty material)

Simply dig the hole to the depth indicated on the packet, (though deeper is often better for tulips). For the past few years I’ve kept things simple by ordering only tulips, daffodils, and chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow). I favor botanical tulips and Darwin hybrids, both of which tend to perennialize well. Daffodils favorites include the ‘Carleton’, ‘Barrett Browning’ and ‘Ice Follies’, old fashioned cultivars which also come back year after year. I also esteem the smaller ‘Tete-a-Tete’, which have several flowers per stem and multiply well. I adore chionodoxa, which the critters don’t bother, come in a pretty shade of blue, and cast themselves wantonly over my semi-shady garden.

To deter digging critters, I soak the tulips in Ropel for one minute then let dry on newspaper for several days prior to planting. Then I gather my armaments in the wheelbarrow and venture into the garden, where hopefully I’ve planned out where to place my bulbs.

I employ what I call the “bucket system”, whereby I dig enough dirt to fill a five gallon bucket.  The resulting hole can accommodate 5 or 6 tulip or daffodils or 10 to 12 chionodoxa, but first I scatter in a scant handful of Bulb-tone, mixing well so that the bottoms of the bulbs don’t touch the fertilizer.  I then replace half the soil on top of the bulbs, firm it, and dump on the rest. Sometimes, if I’ve excavated a large rock from the site, I’ll level off the area with some compost. And if the heavens don’t provide, out comes the watering can.

That’s all there is to it; repeat as many times as you like, for many spots of color.

But get it done soon!



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