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Oct 05, 2017

Garden Club R.F.D. Happenings

Join the Garden Club R.F.D. at Middletown Arts Center (MAC), 36 Church Street in Middletown, at 11:00 a.m. on November 21 to welcome Dean Norton, the director of horticulture at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. For more than 150 years, people have studied, researched, and dug in the earth for clues that have helped to make the Virginia home of George Washington one of the most accurately restored 18th-century estates in America, and Mr. Norton has tales to tell. He started his work at Mount Vernon on June 23, 1969 and never left. His job has been to be at the helm of a staff whose mission is to preserve, protect, and represent the landscape and gardens at Mount Vernon as accurately as possible, with reference to the life and times of George and Martha Washington. The same types of plants that Washington and his gardeners grew in 1799 (the year of his death) are still grown and the world of 18th-century gardening has been maintained.

Parking is available in the lot directly across the street from the Middletown Arts Center. Call Nancy Canade at (973) 452-4846 for further information about this program and Garden Club R.F.D. Tickets for the program are $20 per person, with light refreshments provided before and/or after the presentation.

In the meantime, this is what still needs to be done to our gardens this season. It is time to take care of your perennials!  Certain perennials will need to be cut back, while others are to be left alone. For clarity, let’s say that a perennial must be a plant that returns each spring. But, as there are really three types of perennials, the plot thickens.

The most common perennial is herbaceous; they die down to the ground and overwinter by way of their roots. Examples include hostas, daisies, coneflowers, astilbes, veronicas, daylilies, and asters. Herbaceous perennials may be cut down to ground level every fall for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that the dead foliage is an eyesore throughout the off-season and becomes a cozy haven in which insects and diseases can spend their winter days. Or you might want to clear this foliage because of winter’s freezing temperatures and thaws that allow the soil to thaw during warm days and refreeze at night. This cycle wreaks havoc with foliage that has been left attached to the plant, pulling the plant’s crown out of the soil. Finally, if you leave perennials with parts protruding from the soil, permanent damage can occur as you rake and step through the garden during the off months.

The next type of perennial is a woody perennial that acts more like a mini shrub, overwintering not only through its roots but by way of its branches from last season’s growth. Come spring, leaves will emerge on last year’s branches. Don’t prune until these plants, like lavender, Russian sage, and Montauk daisy, break dormancy. You can then trim to shape and remove the winter-damaged branches.

The last category is the semi-evergreen perennial. They keep their foliage all winter; some plants turn an autumn color while others remain natural. Creeping phlox, candytuft, perennial alyssum, and others prefer to be cut back about a third, right after they bloom, deterring seed formation and ensuring a robust, compact plant. Others, like lamb’s ear, perennial statice, and coral bells, would like their foliage intact until spring, when you can remove the old as soon as new leaves appear.

The club welcomes all inquiries and is open to accepting members who want to learn about the captivating world of gardening and flower design in the past, the present, and the future.