Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Winter Cleaning?

Not in my garden. I garden organically and that means, among other things, a live and let live attitude. There used to be a time when gardeners would clean up their garden around October time. Out would come all the annuals and perennials, and the shrubs and rose bushes would be cut down to the ground. All the leaves would be removed from the lawn and borders and thrown away. In short, a kind of scorched earth policy would be implemented and the end result would be a vast stretch of bare earth where once the flowers were blooming and the bees buzzing.
Well, as I said, not in my garden. Why not? For various reasons actually. First and foremost if the gardener removes just about everything from the garden and cuts down the rest, where would all the beneficial insects such as ladybirds shelter during the cold winter? Where would our other garden friends such as frogs, toads and hedgehogs find a warm place to overwinter?
And the birds, especially the ones that eat mostly insects, where would they find food? The vast stretches of bare earth do not cater to the needs of our feathered garden friends at all; no insects, no seeds, no berries etc. My borders provide the birds with ample opportunities to find insects, seeds and berries during winter, and to make doubly sure that my feathered friends have enough to eat I also provide them with bird feeders and water and they love it! I love it too because in the dull winter months the birds make my garden come alive. I love watching birds and so do all the members of the Bliss team.

The second reason why I do not winter clean my garden is that by cutting everything down to the ground you expose your plants and shrubs to frost and run the risk of losing them due to frost damage over winter. I do not remove annuals, nor do I cut down or tidy up my borders. I let things be. The only thing I do is remove a branch that's in the way, or one that is overly long and could get wind damaged during the autumn storms. That's it!

I do, however, remove the fallen leaves from my lawn but I do not throw them away. The majority is put into plastic garbage bags. I just stuff the leaves into the bags, add a liter of water, tie the bag up and punch a few holes in it here and there. Then I leave the bags for months and months, sometimes checking to see if they need some more water to help the decomposing process along, and in the end I'm left with glorious leaf mould that I can use in the garden.
The leaves that don't go into the bin bags, I put on my borders to protect the plants against the cold and frost. It is not a good idea to prune your plants back hard in autumn because that's a good way of losing them to frost damage. When the frost hits the stems freeze up, if the stems are long only the upper part will be frozen but not the rest. If the stems are very short, they will be frozen completely and killed and the heart of the plant will get frozen and die too.

If you want your garden to provide you with some interest in winter too, then don't cut everything down to the ground. There are many plants that have lovely seed heads that will look good in the coming months. Others produce berries that will cheer your winter garden up. Ornamental grasses looks great in wintertime so don't cut them down.
Let their beauty gladden your heart in the depths of winter. And if there's snow it will turn your garden into something magical like this.
Do you really think a bare patch of earth covered with snow would even look half as good as this?

So you see, gardening organically actually saves on time and labour. ;-) Of course there are still a lot of things to do in my organic garden this time of year: collecting leaves for making leaf mould and spreading the rest of the leaves around my borders, cleaning garden paths to make sure they won't be slippery in the coming months, weeding, putting the pots with tender plants into the conservatory and greenhouse, planting up the pots that stay outside and putting several hundreds of bulbs into the ground.

Come Spring all I have to do is clean my borders up a bit when the earth has warmed up enough and the air is nice and warm. A very light task as most of it has decomposed over winter and the very little that is left is easily cut and thrown into the compost bins.

Gardening with nature is so much easier than gardening against it.
copyright 2007: Y.E.W. Heuzen

Summer, you old Indian Summer
You're the tear that comes after June-time's laughter
You see so many dreams that don't come true
Dreams we fashioned when Summertime was new.
written by Al Dubin, sung by Frank Sinatra
'Indian Summer', 1939

Friday, October 26, 2007

Feline Friday - Dolly

Today it's Dolly's birthday. Ten years ago Dolly was born together with her 4 sisters, Jolly, Molly, Polly and Holly and her brother called Ollie. Unfortunately after a few days poor Ollie died from a lung infection. So we were left with a litter of 5 cute little Maine Coon girls. Maine Coon cats are known for their gentle disposition but our Dolly stood out from the rest because of her extreme sweetness of character. She is such a gentle soul.
When the kittens were 12 weeks old they all went to live in their new homes. Dolly went to live with a dear friend of mine. My friend already had another cat and thought that Dolly and her Muisje would become great friends but it was not to be. Muis did not accept sweet little Dolly and refused to eat for days on end. So, with great sorrow in their hearts my friend and her hubby returned Dolly to us after one week.

Dolly was very welcome of course and after her return we quickly decided to keep her on as she was so very sweet and we felt we couldn't live without her anymore. It's a decision we have never regretted, Dolly is such a great companion and lots of fun too because, although she is very sweet and gentle, she can be very naughty from time to time and she amuses us with her funny antics.
Dolly has several nicknames among which is Giant Squirrel for obvious reasons.
Have you ever seen a cat with such a long and fluffy tail? And Dolly lives up to her nickname in more ways than one, see for yourself.
Of all our cats Dolly is the one who likes the outdoors the most. She loves playing in the garden, running around in it chasing butterflies and leaves and overseeing the head gardener and under-gardener.
Dolly is great friends with all the other cats at Bliss and they like to have lunch together in the conservatory.
Anti clock-wise: Dolly, Merlijn, Surprise, Dolly's mother Vita and Kadootje. Surprise and Kadootje are also mother and daughter. It's very difficult to take a pic of all the 8 cats together as some finish their lunch quite quickly.
The conservatory is one of Dolly's favorite places to be, especially when the sun is shining! Here she is with her mum Vita on the left and Ruskie friend Bebop on the right.
My Russian Blue boy Merlijn is totally in love with Dolly, he always wants to snuggle up close to her but his love and devotion is not returned, Dolly merely tolerates him. She always boxes his ears first before he is allowed to snuggle up close. Well, we always knew that redheads were temperamental. ;-)
As a kitten Dolly loved to climb trees and she still does now that she's 10 years old. Here she is climbing down the walnut tree and jumping on the tree bench. The first time she climbed the walnut tree I had to get a ladder to get her out. She was so high up I almost couldn't reach her. She has this great trust in me because when I grabbed her with one arm (with the other I hung on for dear life to the ladder, I'm afraid of depths, remember?) Dolly put both her front paws on my shoulder and allowed me to lift her from the tree. And with Dolly clinging on to me while I held her with one arm, we safely reached terra firma. Never a dull moment with Dolly around!

Happy birthday my darling Dolly Daisy long may you live to enrich my life with your presence!
copyright 2007 : Y.E.W. Heuzen

When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her?
Michel de Montaigne 1533-1592

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Organically Grown Roses at Bliss

Rosa Sombreuil

Even as a very young girl I liked roses, my dad grew them in his garden and so did his mum, my paternal grandmother. And what's not to like about roses? They look great and smell great too. For me a real rose is one that has a scent. A rose without a nice fragrance is like an apple pie without the apples, not much fun at all.
I enjoy coming home and walking underneath my pergola that's covered with Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere and Guirlande d'Amour. The scent is unbelievable and being showered with rose petals, well, that's just a bonus, isn't it?
Close up of Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere, a scented climber.

Many roses are also long flowering. My roses have been flowering from the end of April and are still going strong now. Sure, their blooms are not as prolific anymore as earlier in the year but there are still more than enough blooms to gladden the heart.

Rosa Guirlande d'Amour in full glory earlier this year.
Rosa Moonlight

Many people like roses but many a gardener is afraid to grow them, thinking that roses need to be pampered and require being sprayed every other week or so. Fortunately that's not the case at all. Let me tell you how I bought and grow my roses and how little trouble they actually are.
Rosa Calypso, a climber.

Last year in June I bought my roses at a very reputable rose nursery to be sure to get healthy and strong roses. When I got my roses home I put them in a bucket of water and started digging the holes. I garden on heavy clay so I dug big holes and put lots of organic material in them. Then I planted my roses and gave them a good watering in. After that I sat on my garden bench to enjoy the view.

Rosa Magenta, a standard rose.

The roses I bought were: Madame Alfred Carriere, Guirlande d'Amour, Sombreuil (all scented climbers) and Rosa Blanc Double de Coubert, not a real climber but one that still grows to quite a respectable height.
Rosa Blanc Double de Coubert

In early July I gave all my climbers a very light trim and that was pretty much all I did that first year. Well, except for enjoying them and cutting blooms for the vase.
Rosa Guirlande d'Amour flowering like there's no tomorrow!

This year in early March I gave them all a light trim again, removed dead wood and very thin and straggly branches. Then I gave them a good feed with an organic rose fertilizer and that was that. As I said before they started flowering in April (Moonlight) and all the others in May. They flowered their little hearts out with gay abandon and all I did was admire my roses and drink in their lovely scent. In July I gave them another very light prune and another helping of organic fertilizer and that was all that was needed to have them flower even now at the end of October.
Rosa Magenta

So no spraying, not even with water, was needed to keep my roses healthy and happy. If you buy healthy and strong roses that are disease resistant you don't have to spray at all. Just make sure that the air can circulate around them, give them a good feed twice a year and give climbers a light trim twice yearly too in March and July and you're home and dry.
A close up of Rosa Guirlande d'Amour

But, but, but don't you have any pests, I hear you sputter? Sure, take a look at these babies. Yikes!
But they're not really a problem at all. Why not? Well, because I have good garden friends who like to munch on them. Here's one of them and see, no aphids left! Birds are also very keen on eating the aphids, especially the blue tits.
So there you have it, growing roses in a blissful way, with hardly any maintenance and enormous enjoyment.

Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere flowering on the pergola, trying to climb the roof as well.
copyright 2007: Y.E.W. Heuzen

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown,
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
Emily Dickinson

The rose is most certainly not out of town at Bliss!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Crowded House Brussels

On Friday 19 October I went abroad to Brussels in Belgium to see my favorite band Crowded House. I had a ball as the concert was fantastic. Thanks guys!

Here's a blissful tribute to Crowded House and one of my favorite songs, written by Neil Finn:

Can you imagine that?
An itch too sensitive to scratch?
A light that falls through the cracks,
An insect too delicate to catch
I hear the endless murmer,
Every blade of grass that shivers in the breeze
And the sound that comes to carry me
Across the land and over the sea

And I can't look up
Fingers of love move down
And I can't look back
Fingers of love move down

Colour is its own reward
Colour is its own reward

The chiming of a perfect chord
Let's go jumping over board
Into waves of joy and clarity
Your hands come out to rescue me
And I'm playing in the shallow water
Laughing while the mad dog sleeps

And I can't look up
Fingers of love move down
And I won't be hit
Fingers of love move everywhere

And there is time yet
To fall by the way
From the craddle to the grave
From a palace to the gutter
From beneath the dying waves
To the sun like fingers of love

And I'm playing in the shallow water
Laughing while the mad dog sleeps

And I can't look up
Fingers of love move down
And I can't look back
Fingers of love move everywhere

And there is time yet
For you to find me
And all I want
Fingers of love move down
copyright pictures 2007: Y.E.W. Heuzen

There's sure no passion in the human soul,
But finds its food in music.
George Lillo 1693-1739