Today is Simon’s second birthday. In honor of our resident mascot goose, I shall do what I used to do with my children on their birthdays–tell you the special story of her life. Simon was born on our farm three years after we had re-goosed the flock at MacKenzie-Childs. When I first began gardening here there was a motley flock of geese that were very unfriendly. Some were quite old and ragged looking. I did some research and found that the geese we had were excellent watch geese, but not very personable. Other breeds of geese were recommended for kinder, gentler personalities. We offered the older geese to employees and ordered 6 American Buff and 6 Tufted Roman Goslings from a mail order poultry specialist. The geese arrived just before Memorial Day, when I picked them up at the post office they made the most enchanting fluting sound. We raised them in a cattle tank in our garage until they were too large for the space and old enough to be without supplemental heat, They imprinted on my daughter and me. When I first moved them to Mackenzie-Childs, I was able to take them for walks as they would follow me everywhere. They would not, however, be herded into the Chicken Palace at night and our grounds keeper would chase them around and around the building trying to put them in at night. This activity made them much less tractable and soon they, too, became less friendly. A skewed male/female ratio further alienated the geese when breeding season came around the next spring. The nine ganders were very protective of the three geese when they began sitting on eggs. Subsequent goslings that hatched out were un touchable. So many people would want to hold the adorable balls of chartreuse fluff when goslings hatched, Corinne and I would risk life and limb to catch them. Then came the year Simon hatched. We hypothesize that Simon’s mother may have been a very low status goose since she began sitting so late in the season and had not been allowed in the chicken palace by the other sitting mothers. By the time Simon and her siblings broke free from their shells, all of the other goslings were nearly indistinguishable from the adults. We came in on the morning that Simon hatched only to find that the other geese had destroyed the nest and all the babies, Simon was saved from the carnage because she had slipped through the fence and was wandering around forlornly calling her mother. We scooped her up and made the split second decision to adopt her. Simon imprinted on us and spent her early days in my office. Word of advice–geese and small spaces are not ideal matches. She would sit at my feet as I did desk work and was everyone’s darling. As Simon has grown, she and Corinne have become inseparable. Corinne is so very patient and often comes in on her days off to care for Simon because “no one else understands her”. Simon has graced the Barn Sale T-shirts, has an ornament, is the star of our children’s enamelware, is featured on the new Aurora Dinnerware, and is very much a fashion model in the catalogs. So next time you visit, make sure you say hello to Simon–she is the goose who lives with the sheep. She does not think she is a goose!
Corinne was convinced lambing season was never happening. It is probably incorrect to say we have had a strange spring. I think the weather is never “normal”. Last spring was incredibly early, this spring seems late but may just be normal. Anyway, since last year we had lambs on Mother’s Day- Corinne has been antsy since Mother’s Day passed this year. I checked the calendar and with the fellow who boarded our girls for their “Date Month” and confirmed that the earliest possible date would be May 17. Apparently, Brothaigh checked the calendar and delivered Sunday morning.
Poor Corinne- the townie- was left to serve as midwife. She and Jodie had remote assistance as I talked them through some of the specifics of lambing. Most of the time, the ewes do just fine without help. My involvement was mostly reassuring Corinne that , “that is normal” and, “if nothing has progressed, call me in 30 minutes”. Post delivery there were also phone calls and even a stop in to reassure Corinne that, “yes, everything is fine”.
Monday we moved mum and baby out into the end cap so they could have both alone time and our co-workers and visitors could see the new baby. I sent out an all company email and Corinne and the girls allowed supervised visits on breaks. The employees not on campus clamored for picture! Pictures! Pictures! Having been chastised in the past for sending an all company email with a big file attachment (I think lambs were involved) I knew better. So, here are pictures for all the cute deprived peoples of the world. Meet Dolly.
This week I am starting the first entry in my winter project: create a plant profile for each garden plant we feature in the various MacKenzie Childs gardens. My hope is to create a property personal data base of everything I have planted. This feature should provide visitors who are interested in knowing more about the specific choices I have made, what each plant’s care needs are, and in what gardens that plant can be found.
Acanthus mollis, common name, Bear’s Breeches, is an ancient plant that originated in Southern Europe. The leaves of Acanthus have been immortalized in the sculpted designs of Greek Corinthian columns as far back as the fifth century B.C. The 10 inch leaves have been featured in carvings and artwork for centuries.
It is a large, statuesque plant that spreads three feet and has flowering stalks shooting up to four feet. According to Armitage, who calls the spiky flowers lovely, and somewhat unnerving, it thrives in moist, rich soil but is drought tolerant once established. It is one of those amenable plants that will grow in partial sun and full sun. The glossy leaves are said to be evergreen but they will get quite tattered in a cold climate like ours (USDA zone 5).
Around here, acanthus is a bit hard to find. I have had plant envy since my undergrad days at Cornell where the Plantations had the stunning (and sharp) A. spinosus as part of the groundcover collection. I was able to buy a plant for my home garden twenty years ago and nurtured it into a presentable colony before I moved. The leaves are reminiscent of Scotch Thistle, our emblem; since the plants are much more desirable and much less invasive that Scotch thistle, I have been on a plant quest since I began designing the property gardens. I was not able to find it in MacKenzie-Childs quantities until last spring. We planted 50 plugs into the was black hole that is the white garden with hopes that it would believe it was in a zone 6 garden and would survive. I will update this spring.
Some time ago, in November, Crystal commented to the blog with the following question” What do you do around the fall and winter months? What important tasks are there for gardeners to tend to during this time when the flowers are not blooming? Are you also the one who does the beekeeping? I read briefly about it on the blog but not much, is that project still ongoing?”
This fall we, and by we- I mean the people inside who actually know how to work the internet and things more complicated than a trowel, revamped the blog and moved its address. In that process, Crystal’s question got missed. In the dead of the winter, I work a lot from home- this is when I unearthed her comment and decided it would be a great blog post! It may take even more than one posting to answer her.
Firstly- In November, when she asked the question, I still had a huge number of garden jobs to complete before the “year end”. We were in the thick of Holiday decorating, in the middle on garden clean up, and not even started on the 16,000 plus bulbs I had ordered for fall planting. We had a long way to go before we would have the leisure to read seed catalogs next to a wood fire. So, where to begin; should I start from when the flowers stopped blooming or chronicle by calendar sequence? For organizational ease, I will start in January. If I am a good blogger, this will be a monthly feature.
- Take down Holiday wreaths, trees, garlands. Compost plant components, store away bows, cones, test lights, organize, inventory, and store until next November
- If gardens are free from snow cover, continue applying 2-3 inches of compost, taking care not to bury crowns
- If heavy snows, knock snow off evergreens, especially arborvitae and boxwood, to avoid splitting damage
- Pick through fleeces, removing tags and vegetative debris to prep for sending off to wool mill for cleaning, carding and spinning
- Check vet records of cows, sheep and cats to schedule annual vet checks and shot boosters
- Check bee hives on warm days, add nutrient patties toward end of January to encourage queen to begin laying
- Arrange for Libby, Brothaigh, and Dulcie to return from their “breeding holiday” with Odin
- Keep drives, parking lots, walks clear of snow and ice
- Scrape and prep greenhouse
- Re-install cold frame sashes
- Wash and sanitize pots for plants
- Extract and bottle fall harvested honey
Armchair Gardening Jobs
- Review 2012 garden purchases, projects. Sort out the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
- Plan 2013 projects
- Review 2012 bulb planting, assemble lists, by garden
- Plan and order seeds and plants for gardens 2013
- Compose plant profile for every plant in gardens since 2007- this is my big goal for this year
- Create a year beekeeping plan- order supplies as needed
- Work with creative director and marketing director planning estate events for the year.
Well, this is a start. I can be kept quite busy with strictly administrative and planning type work in the “non-growing” portion of the year. With as estate as large and as diverse as MacKenzie-Childs, there is always something that needs doing. If I were only gardening for myself, likely I would not have quite so many tasks- that said, this list is much like the list we had as I was growing up on the farm. Clean and sharpen your tools, fix what is broken, plan for a better year, and hibernate a little.
A New Year. I start every January full of optimism and plans for the coming season; I think most of us do. For me there is always the need to make a list, improve the things I did not quite like, make big plans, and do a spring cleaning (early in winter!).
On the farm, we start the year with a jobs list. Our wreaths, garlands, lights, and trees that have been up since right before Thanksgiving are usually taken down after the first full week of January. I like to leave evergreens and a few white lights through the dark winter days (we are in a snowy climate) but the overtly Holiday trimmings get tucked away for another year. The past few winters have been- in an old farming term- open winters. Maybe a little warmer than usual (a lot warmer last year) and no snow; the winds off the lake and over the fields can be biting and raw with no moisture. This year we have had some lovely (or pesky- if you have to plow and shovel it) snow. Not just a dusting but honest-to-goodness-snowman-building-let’s-sled snow. The evergreen and white lights look appropriate against the whiteness.
I will be making my seed and plant shopping lists. This year is really the year I want to do some amazing things in the production garden. The Barnsale Barn got a fresh coat of paint this fall- I want the herb squares and vegetable beds to hold up their end of the bargain. We get so many visitors; I really want that area to shine this year.
I was lucky enough to lunch with Josh and Brent of the Fabulous Beekman Boys before Christmas when they visited for a book signing. They are truly fabulous; I had a wonderful time talking shop with them about plants, bees, gardens, animals, and cheese. I was especially keen to meet them; they hail from my home county, Schoharie, in a very rural area of upstate New York. The people there have had some pretty tough breaks in recent years so it was heartening to hear how they have created a place of warmth and prosperity for the hard working folk in the area. Stay tuned, we discussed the possibility of collaborating on a special project.
So, here at the start of another year I have my clean pads of paper, my favorite pens, seed and plant catalogs, and a head full of plans to list off and begin implementation. I love the idea of the whole season ahead.
It has been a long time since I have taken the time to post anything on the blog. A busy fall with many tasks kept me away form my computer for anything but administrative duties. With the dual challenges of planting over 17,000 bulbs (whose idea was it to order that many!?) and getting the property appropriately decked out for the holidays, I just could not wrap my brain around a good garden story. I had this film in the wings, waiting to be made into a post.
Way back in August we were privileged to host master beekeeper Peter Loring Borst, who just may be one of the coolest beekeepers alive, as is demonstrated here. Peter checked over our four hives with us at midday on one of the 90 degree days (remember those?) we had last summer. We sweated up a storm but the bees were busy and content.
Katie, our super talented in house photographer and video queen, filmed our hive check with Peter. We got a unique opportunity to assess our hive care with a master. I am hoping our implementation of his suggestions will help carry our four colonies over the winter. So enjoy the video with my carefully time narration!
Last week I wrote about my top tulip picks. This week, I give you my top Narcissi selections. I confess, in my bulb catalogs, usually the tulips come before the narcissi. Sometimes I find myself so worn out by all the decisions I have made in selecting the tulips that I give the narcissi short shrift. It is really unfair since narcissi work so much better for creating a predictable display. They are better perennializers, rarely asking for more than an occasional dividing; with attention to selecting varieties, it is possible to have six weeks of bloom; their foliage is very tolerable as it ripens, blending into the landscape; and, most importantly, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, and voles do not eat them.
A simple glance at any bulb catalog or website provides a plethora of choices. Years ago, to help sort it all out, I bought the fantastic Daffodils for North American Gardens by Brent and Becky Heath. This book helped me venture beyond Trumpets and paperwhites. Here are a few of my favorites.
Large Cupped Audubon
Large Cupped Raspberry Ring
Jonquilla Beautiful Eyes
Large Cupped Suada
This list, as with my Tulip list, is a combination of the narcissi that strike my fancy today and, sadly, what I have pictures of. I am sure next spring I will have a new “Oh, that is my favorite” on a daily basis. As with tulips, my favorite go to sources are here and here. I also pick up a few here and here- they tend to carry the more unusual varieties.
Finally, a nice, long, rainy day. We have been so busy for so long trying to keep up with the weeds and the deadheading and the harvesting and the panting (yes, still!) that gloomy, overcast day- the kind you leave your desk light on all day for- is just what we needed. I have spent the morning compiling my list of bulbs I have ordered so that we can put their images in my annual planting album- more about that later. A little lunchtime blog reading got me thinking I should post.
The greatest percentage of my selections is tulips. We treat our tulips as annuals, preferring to dig them immediately after bloom rather than allowing the foliage to ripen in place. We give the spent bulbs to our fellow employees. The reason we do this is threefold. 1). Tulips look best the first year they are planted 2). I do not label the bulbs; it would be difficult to supplement the existing bulbs either to pump up the planting or replace missing/eaten bulbs and 3). Tulip foliage is ugly and big as it ripens down.
Because I plant new bulbs every fall, I have an opportunity to change up or vary the selection. Some tulips are mainstays, necessary every year to the look of the garden, and of course, the bulb companies introduce, or reintroduce new varieties every year. Here are my top ten (This year- always subject to change)
Salmon Parrot Tulip
Single Late Tulip Bleu Aimable
Hot Colored Parrot Tulips
Single Late Tulip Dordogne
Peony Tulip Cretaceous
Darwin Tulip Akebono
Peony Tulip Creme Upstar
Single Late Tulips Cum Laude, Queen of the Night, and Lily Flowered China Pink
Oh, the challenge to narrow my choices to my top picks! I order between 50 and 70 different varieties every year but these are some of my must haves.
I placed my bulb orders in July but there is still lots of time to make selections. Some of my favorite sources are here, here, and here. Corinne, Ashlee, Sam, and I are now waiting for the crates and boxes to show up. What would you pick?
Locally, as in many parts of the United States, we have been experiencing very dry weather. I have been gardening for 18 years and my experience has been that this happens nearly every year. In the days before many of my gardens had irrigation systems, there was very little gardening that could be done in August.
Here at MacKenzie-Childs we are very fortunate to have an extensive system that, when all is working well, keeps the lawns and gardens well supplied with water. We have a pond that serves as the reservoir for water we draw up from the lake. From the pond, a system of pipes and sprinklers distribute the water to most areas around the estate.
From my perspective, it seems like these sprinklers were mainly designed to ensure the grass stayed green, not to water the gardens completely. In the summer, an important part of our workload is to water the spots that were inadequately watered by the irrigation system. This means hauling hoses, setting cell phone timers to move systems, and trying to avoid watering the visitors. The rest on our time is spent removing the weeds that grew so well because they got watered. However, all of the hoses and irrigation systems in the world cannot replicate a good soaking rain.
It is always a relief when September comes in with the promise of shorter, cooler, and wetter days. Last weekend was our first taste of the lovely, soul renewing autumn days to come. Ellie, one of my garden helpers and photographer extraordinaire, shot some pictures of the rain as it approached.
Last fall, I made the decision to shoot for a later lambing season than we had in 2011. Additionally, I felt since our lamb opperation is more about cuteness than production, I really only wanted to have Libby and Annick have lambs this year. Our 2011 lamb ewes, technically, could have had lambs but I thought it wise to give them another year’s growth before motherhood. Small ewes are more likely to have problems at lambing. With that in mind and only one space housing all my sheep, I send Libby and Annick off to the farm we bought them from for a “date”.
My calculations gave me May 9th for earliest likely lambing date. May 11th Annick gave birth to two ram lambs.
Libby, remember, the Drama Queen, made sure she got her share of attention by having her ram and ewe lamb on Mother’s Day. So BAM! we got it over with. Now we just get to enjoy the lamb races.
Simon seems to feel like day old bread (it is all in her very little brain)
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