Monday, November 06, 2006

Planning Gardens, Rethinking Thoughts

Yesterday was another one of those fall days that made the gardener in me push onward against a still too long list of things to do before sleet and snowflakes become serious around here. It was a nice day to work outside and there was a quiet peace in the air. The rural newspaper delivery person once again failed to meet my expectation that the Sunday paper should be delivered on Sunday so I loaded up Karl the wonder dog and my camera and headed for the village.

A few days earlier I had come home over the Lanesboro Road and noticed lots of beaver activity along the way. The Lanesboro Road is actually the railroad bed of the old Montpelier to Wells River railway system. The tracks were thrown up in the fifties and since then the road has become frequently traveled by hunters and fishermen, ATVs and snowmobilers, hikers and bicyclers, paddlers and llama day trippers. I liked it a lot more twenty years ago but it points out that people do like to get out of the city and into nature. This road can be accessed by turning near Rainbow Sweets in Marshfield (coming into town from Plainfield). During fall and early spring the road is open almost to Rickers Pond but from Memorial Day through Labor Day a portion is blocked off.

All along this route there is a lot of water, adjacent swamps and plenty of alders and mixed hardwood and softwood. At different times over the past twenty years we've seen lots of beaver activity and then almost none. This year someone passed out beaver calendars and when they all turned the page to November, there must have been some notation about "Cut, float and submerge lots of trees and brush for winter". During the past week there has been a flurry of beaver activity and I kind of hoped I could enjoy a little while still wondering where my newspaper was.

I made the turn across from Owl's Head on Route 232 South onto Ethan Allen Corners/Lanesboro Road, stopping for a moment on the culvert to look at the sun casting a beautiful first light on the swamp grass. I've taken many pictures here and it really is a place to stop and enjoy. The road is narrow though and getting out of the way can mean bad news so be careful.

As I neared the railroad bed I could see the thick frost from the night before. I could tell immediately that my friend Eric from Massachusetts hadn't made it up this weekend. He has a camp in Groton but part of his joy of weekends in Vermont is making an early morning "moose run" over the Lanesboro Road and other surrounding roads. He is a very knowledgeable birder, great gardener, and has keen sight for moose, bear, beavers, deer and you-name-it birds.

Being the first on the road means you have a clean palette to look for tracks. A few hundred yards down I noticed a new beaver house right next to the road (1st photo above). It was difficult to see and as I rolled down the truck window to take a picture, the beaver floating flat in the water next to it escaped my vision until it slapped its tail and showered me with perfumed swamp water. The location of the new house had considered availability of building materials, water supply, predators and distance from neighbors. The new homeowners were good at planning just like a good gardener plans and replans his gardens from year to year.

I headed down the road, first crossing a couple bear tracks, a large moose track and then arriving at Bailey Pond. The beaver house at Bailey Pond has been there for years but this year it is growing. The house is a good 15 feet in diameter and currently has the makings of a good supply of winter food on the right. Since this kettle pond is quite shallow, it's important for the beavers to pile in their food by mid November else the brush can't be accessed from under water.

If you ever have a chance to watch beavers work, it's worth the time. They are not always the best of neighbors and they have persistence that has tested backhoes and chainsaws and led some to traps and guns just to keep roads open. But beavers always have a plan and that's what good gardener should think about having this time of year too.

At Vermont Flower Farm, Gail and I walk the gardens until the snow gets deep. Passers by share their comments and questions but gardening is a passion to us which is not always easy for others to comprehend. When we walk, we observe what we have accomplished and we plan for the things we have missed or forgotten.

Taking pictures of your gardens after the frost has leveled everything won't provide pretty summer memories or photos for gift cards. Fall pictures will help your memory and help you plan for next year. You can scribble some notes on the back, add a few measurements, even a few "atta-boys" or "atta-girls" if you're especially pleased with what you've done so far. A few garden pictures of frost curled, browned leaves and stalks still serves as ample reminder to what you need to plan for. "Remove the Pacific Giant Delphiniums and hollyhocks . Replant with helenium, rudbeckia and Tetrinas Daughter, Alice in Wonderland and Miss Amelia daylilies."

Pictures are worth a lot and they'll give you time over the winter to consider height, color and texture, shade and sun, and what you want to promote in certain areas of your landscape.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where the moon is shinning through some clouds, and a barred owl calls from the red pines.

Gardening thoughts and wishes,

George Africa

PS One of my favorite magazines is Northern Woodlands: A New Way of Looking At The Forest. The autumn issue has an article entitled "Living with Beavers". It's written by Madelin Bodin. Worth the read.

1 comment:

ericat said...

It was a treat to read your blog. To imagine nature so different from what I am used to. Wish I could be there. I heard a lot of stories about bears so I would not feel comfortable with the bear tracks around.
thank you for the trip.