Around the Island

Gardening with Galligan: A change of seasons

I write this in the midst of a burst of summer, not fall, weather. It’s true that it gets darker earlier, but that really is little help to a plant trying to go dormant. That plant needs cooling breezes and there aren’t any. And none due for a week or more. Global warming seems to have arrived.

I’ve finished my bulb order and mailed it in, and you should be close to doing that as well. And adding to your garden book any further thought about next year, i.e., what you’re glad about because it was successful and what you’re sorry about because it missed the mark. 

Let’s consider briefly, since this is the time of year when it’s relevant, the question of when to cut plants back. Most books will tell you that the plant must run its full course, so not to cut back until it’s lost its leaves and turned, if not brown, at least tan. I followed this instruction for many years until my daughter and I had an experience that forced reconsideration.

She called me quite upset; her yard crew had cut everything back even though the whole garden was still green. When she called them to account, quite upset, they informed her that it didn’t matter. She then informed them that it certainly did. When they asked her who told her that, she was, understandably, reluctant to reply, “My mother.” After appropriate sympathy, I pointed out (my degree is in science, after all) that we now had the opportunity for a controlled experiment. I would carefully follow the rules, she of course was already forced not to, and next spring we could note any differences. Long story short? The following spring, there weren’t any. Her yard crew was right. Since then I’ve cut back at my convenience. And feel free to advise anyone else to do the same.

Let’s turn now to tulips, probably the most ordered bulb. You can choose early, late, Triumph and so on, and perhaps a few of each to stretch out the spring. What you choose is mostly a matter of taste, and colors available. With, perhaps, one exception. That is, if you’re a weekender, you should avoid the “doubles.” A sudden spring downpour simply smashes them and if you’re not here to protect them, they’ll be toast. Nothing worse on a Friday night, as discoveries go. And of course, they must be planted in a protected area. Low fences won’t count. So, unless you have a really fenced-in or otherwise protected spot, choose something else. 

By next column, the season will be history. And we won’t have anything to do but sit down, put our feet up by the fire and have a glass of cold, white wine. I can’t wait.