Story last updated at 2:48 p.m. Thursday, September 26, 2002

Absence leaves pile of gardening chores
John and I took the most amazing trip to the Arctic Circle via the Dempster Highway. Fall was in full swing, the colors of the tundra were absolutely spectacular. Toss in thousands of caribou, thousands of sandhill cranes, northern lights from horizon to horizon and black and brown bears, and you have the makings for a satisfying trip. Although the Dempster is a gravel road, the Canadians keep it in excellent condition, and their immaculate campgrounds stay open, no gates shutting them down to late-comers.

If you have never done this please put it on next year's agenda. It is too late this year to make the trip -- we were chased away by nasty weather. I think the timing is perfect if you wait until our colors are just thinking about turning. Dawson City's ferry across the Yukon River runs 24 hours until Sept. 21, which is another deciding factor.

We were gone for nine days, which may not seem like much but to a gardener. Nine days can make a huge difference: the weeds and grass keep growing.

I am a die-hard list person, in all aspects of my life except my garden. There is something about a garden that defies a list. I head out there thinking I am going to do this and that and find myself doing something altogether different. You just never know until you take a walk through it, and then one thing just leads to another.

After nine days, the lawn, in need of a mowing, was the most obvious issue. Then I went straight to the weeds. Yes, it may be fall, but the weeds are still out there and going to seed as fast as they possibly can.

Sounds simple enough so far, right? Wrong.

Then I decide that now is as good a time as any to remove the nepeta from in front of, behind and among the delphiniums. I must say that nepeta was beautiful when I didn't have anything else here to look at, but, my goodness, do I ever want to get rid of it now.

And I am going to have a tough time doing just that. The root system on this is extensive and stubborn. I used the heavy fork and started digging. A garden is a work in progress, and I hope some progress was made today.

While I was at it, I removed the light blue forget-me-not. I have the darker blue and want to encourage that one to fill in the empty spaces here and there. In about an hour's time, I had three wheelbarrows full of nepeta, weeds and forlorn forget-me-nots in the burn pit. I have a long ways to go and am loving every minute of it.

Another surprise, this one pleasant, was the broccoli harvest. There they were, just waiting for my return. I am proud to announce that none of my broccoli flowered this year. I managed to harvest every bit of it at its peak of perfection. This is also the very first year this has ever happened.

If you still have carrots in the ground, get them out. They will just start to split. Besides, the bigger the carrot the less flavor (in my opinion).

If you have any of the hold-over plants, you had best be reverse hardening them off. I may be late in letting those of you in the higher elevations in on this. Elevation 396 is making me complacent. Deliciously so.

But the bright red geraniums, that I have Ern Dierich to thank for, are in their fourth great year and spending the night in the greenhouse, safe from potential frost. I will bring these lovelies into the house in the next week or two, and they will winter in the entry.

They will look good through the holidays, still blooming. After that they tend to get a little ratty and will go downstairs to the guest room with a big window. I won't have to look at them every day, and they will be ever so happy in that environment.

If you have fuchsias (I don't. They are too much work, so there.), you may consider having them stored by the Wagon Wheel on Ocean Drive. This way they will be ready to bloom come spring and will look just stunning.

Or you can attempt to store them yourself, which involves far more than I am willing to deal with, but here is the gist of it: cut it back into a pyramid shape, store in a cool, dark place (a crawl space is ideal). Water a few times throughout the winter and cross your fingers.

I pulled my rannunculus from the pots and let them dry out in the greenhouse, these will go into paper bags and will be repotted next year. Same goes for tuber begonias. Let a light frost take down the foliage first, and then remove them from the pots, allow to dry thoroughly, store in paper bags in a cool location. There are those who store them in the pot they spent the summer in. That's right, just move the pot inside, allow to dry out and store above freezing. Start over again come spring.

I am disappointed but not surprised by the performance of the artichokes. This being "The Year of the Puppy," I chose not to use floating row covers on anything at all. I had visions of Paris, our now 6-month-old terrier, having a great deal of fun with floating row covers. Like with the children, I decided to pick my fights, and row covers were not going to be one of them.

I am just now harvesting artichokes, and I don't think I am going to get any pumpkins. But I do have a very well-adjusted, well-behaved puppy. Thank goodness there is always next year.

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