Anne Horrigan Geary: Putting unruly plants to bed for winter

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DALTON — Anyone involved with putting toddlers to bed understands the concept of "chaos" Maurice Sendak's classic, "Where the Wild Things Are," perfectly captures the situation of a "wild rumpus." Sleep follows utter exhaustion, for both adults and children.

Humans aren't the only creatures loath to get to sleep. The plants in my several garden beds have been fighting the end of the growing season and mostly winning. Even the early-season pansies are greening up and blossoming. I have given up trying to rule the potted plants. Two of my hanging baskets are so full of buds and blooms that I have reluctantly moved them into the cool pantry and put them in the sunny window along with the laundry detergent. Odd bedfellows to be sure.

Outside on the patio there are two large containers of dahlias, which got a late start because I can't resist the end-of-season sales. These tall beauties are now budded, so I moved them into the most protected corner, with full sun, and hope to keep them going for a few more weeks. We tried putting them into the shed when the first frost was upon us, but it's too difficult to keep moving the pots in and out, so they will stay in the garden's version of "time out" until the temperatures are constantly below freezing.

Then there's the pink geranium. The original plant was used in a cemetery planter two years ago. I took cuttings when the pot came back home and enjoyed the foliage and flowers on the windowsill in the sewing room all winter. Next spring, it went outside on the deck, and flourished. The shaded blossoms are dainty, but the plant is as sturdy as cast iron.

The then-leggy plant came back inside last fall because it looked like it had another of its catlike nine lives to go.

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This past spring it was still a lush green, so I slipped it into a large planter with a few other, shorter flowers to hide its legginess. It must have liked the company because it filled one side of the pot with many new stalks and many, many blossoms. It is still thriving in the cool weather. I just can't let go of a plant that works harder than "The Little Engine That Could." It will take a trip on the hand truck into the shed when the snowflakes threaten. Meanwhile, I will take a few cuttings to grace the windowsill.

Herbs are also sturdy additions to the landscape. This year I put thyme, rosemary, basil(green and purple), parsley, and tarragon into patio planters. We have a grow light and a sunny kitchen windowsill to keep the herbs producing all winter. One parsley plant was brought in with a visitor. A swallowtail butterfly caterpillar was still munching the leaves when the plant was moved, and when I noticed, it was returned to the patio for a few more weeks. I kept watch, and when the caterpillar had his fill of greens and crawled off to hang his chrysalis somewhere else in the yard, I returned the parsley to the house.

I have two young shrubs, bought on sale, and spending this year in pots to be set out next year when they are larger. The butterfly bush and hydrangea will be heeled into the border garden and mulched with shredded leaves. Soon, I will be singing them their first lullaby.

After four decades of gardening, I have given up the idea that I am in charge of the garden. I am more like the second assistant groundskeeper, bowing to the whims of the rampant greenery. Still, I keep putting the garden beds to sleep, and when my back is turned, the plants do whatever they want — just like most three-year-olds.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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