At the end of every summer, I photograph my front garden. As I look at my photos of gardens past, I'm amazed at how much things have changed, and I get a good sense of where the garden is headed. Those photos helped convince me that a cute little English holly that came with the house was becoming an unruly monster; I cut it down. Another photo showed me that my asphalt driveway was too dominant visually; I solved the problem by lining it with birch bark cherries, which stole the show. Some gardeners get 8- by 10-inch color prints and draw in proposed new trees and shrubs right on the photos.
In my garden, fall is a labor-intensive season. I yank out spent summer vegetables, grind up woody plant waste, prepare beds for fall planting, and paint fences and outdoor furniture before winter sets in. To protect my hands, I wear leather gloves for all these jobs. For comfort and durability, I prefer gloves made of elk skin, but supple, tough goatskin gloves are a good choice, too. Keep in mind that leather gloves with a smooth finish (as opposed to suede-finished split leather) shed water better and don't catch thorns as easily. I pay $15 to $20 for a pair of good gloves, and usually get one or two years of hard wear out of them.
Running bamboos are beautiful and often hardy, but if you don't contain them, they can take over the whole garden. These aggressive and herbicide-tolerant plants spread by underground rhizomes that are hard to dig out.
One way to contain running bamboos is to use 30-inch-wide, 40-mil plastic to form an underground barrier. You can order this material by mail for about $1.50 per running foot from Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery, 28446 Hunter Creek Loop, Gold Beach, OR 97444; (541) 247-0835; email@example.com; price list is free.
Or do as my friend Phoebe Hibbard does: grow running bamboo in a half-barrel. This looks beautiful aboveground, but it also works sunk into the ground. A few of the bamboo roots may creep out, but they're easier to find, nip off, and strip out than the roots of an uncontained plant.
Horse manure is a cheap, widely available soil amendment, but if it hasn't been thoroughly composted, it may be loaded with viable weed seeds. Although sellers usually offer "composted" horse manure, as far as I can tell, that just means that at some point it was heaped into a pile. To make sure the manure is well rotted when you apply it, buy it now and pile it on an empty garden bed until spring.
THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION
Q: Can clumping palm trees be divided? If so, how do you do it?
- Maria Eugenia Barraza Rubio, Mazatlan, Mexico
A: Many clumping palms (like Caryota, Chamaedorea, Chamaerops, Ptychosperma, and Rhapis) can be divided. Smaller, younger palms are easier to divide than older ones. The best way to start new plants is to divide the suckers from the mother plant. As soon as new fronds appear on the suckers, they are usually well rooted and ready to cut and replant.