Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Small Hosta Garden

Our Small Hosta garden is looking very good this year.  The little hostas planted three and four years ago have matured into very pleasing clumps and those planted more recently are growing well.   But is was hard work this year because locally the weather played lots of tricks on us.

The winter was a very mild one by Buffalo standards and we got very little snow.   For many weeks, between heavy snows, the ground was not snow covered and the blanket that it normally supplies to cover dormant plants was not available.  We worried about the effect of this mild season on plants like hostas that need a cold dormant period.   In March the thermometer rose to record highs and our little plants decided that winter was over for another year and it was time to wake up and start work.  There were tiny shoots everywhere and although that is always a thrill, it was a concern too.    

Then in April, just as a few of those shoots were beginning to unfurl, we had warnings of heavy frosts.  The tightly-bound cone of leaves in those little pips when they first emerge are fairly frost proof but as soon as the leaves unfurl the cold can destroy leaf cells and the damaged area will not recover.   We needed to protect those growing tips as best we could.   The solution was to place an up-turned flowerpot over each emerging plant.  Each day the pots were removed to give the plants some light and most nights they were re-placed as another frost threatened.   As more and more little hostas emerged, more and more pots were added.  And then it snowed. 

Eventually the weather pattern calmed down.  The snow left, the pots were removed and the little hostas began to emerge normally and vigorously. Today, in late May they are looking really good and the hard work has been worth it.

Mike and Anita Sheehan visit the small hosta garden.

We have two fairly large, slightly raised beds of little hostas and a shade rock garden where we grow hostas like alpine plants.   Nearly all the hostas chosen are those that grow less than 12 inches tall and the plan is to keep the spread to less than 12 inches too.  There are a couple of larger plants to the edge of the beds because we want a comparison to show that some of the miniatures are really tiny.  There are just a few small companion plants like violets and lily of the valley, two small Japanese maples and some moss covered stones, but mostly the garden is a sea of miniature hostas and, as Kathy says in her ‘Book of Little Hostas’, there are little hostas that mimic, in color and form, all of the bigger varieties so you can have it all and in a much smaller space.             
The hosta rock garden

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Creek Called Smug

When Kathy and I found this amazing piece of property in 2002 the feature that really caught our eye was that there was a creek running right under the house.  It is not a very big creek, although when the snow melts or after a really heavy rain it can be pretty impressive, but the fact that it disappeared behind the house and re-emerged under the deck at the front was a little unusual to say the least.

If that were not enough the house was built (in 1974) exactly where the topography of the creek changes completely.

The view from the back of our house shows a wide, very shallow creek coming toward us forming a staircase of low waterfalls as it tumbles over a series of steps formed by the underlying shale rocks.  On both sides of the creek there are gentle wooded slopes inviting us to both wander and... later garden.

To the front of the house the creek emerges into a steep, sometimes narrow ravine and the water is restricted to a much more confined path as it plunges out of sight down the hillside.

 Accessing the creek at the rear of the house is easy but to the front the steepness of the ravine make it almost impossible. Very early on Kathy and I agreed that we would only walk in the creek rarely so as not to hasten any erosion that nature might be steadily working upon.  Having said that, I have on occasions found Kathy ‘sweeping the creek’ and sometimes we need to remove fallen branches and accumulating leaves.

Luckily we are near the top of our hill and the drainage basin of the creek is fairly small. The overflow from a neighbor’s large pond and two roadside drainage ditches further up the hill are the three sources of our creek.  In summer, water is often just a trickle and algae can be a problem but for most of the year the water flow is just perfect. We can see the light dancing on the waterfalls and we can hear the tinkle of the water and passes through our gardens. A few times each year the flow is an exciting torrent that washes and cleans, sending everything towards an ocean somewhere.  
The question we are asked most often by visitors is “Aren’t you worried that the house will wash away?” Well, for awhile we were, but then we realized that it had been here for thirty years and if it was to be swept down the hill it would have happened by now.

A year or so after we moved we were able to get our dear friend, Ran Lydell of Eagle Bay Gardens. to bring in his small backhoe and shape the gentle slope at the back of the house and to the right of the creek so that we could later terrace it. We also took down four of five of the larger beech trees to give us light.

I built stonewalls and we brought in topsoil and compost to mix with the underlying shale and clay. Kathy began to creatively plant and out gardens began to take shape. We were very content.   

So content indeed that we began to privately call ourselves the Smugracks rather than the Shadracks. It was no huge step to refer to our little unnamed creek as Smug Creek and by osmosis the gardens we were building became Smug Creek Gardens.