Bejeweled

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Bejeweled, bedazzled,

Cased in glittering ice;

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Every leaf and stem ornamented

With shimmering bagatelles.

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Buds magnified

Through clear coats of cold;

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April’s promises preserved,

Protected,

Perfectly presented.

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Icy prisms deflect the light;

Reflecting, not refracting;

A frigid glow on wintery  fog.

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Crystal clear coating coagulates

Out of misty air.

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Like dipping a candle, icicles grow

Thicker, longer, bumpier with each passing hour.

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Tinkling bells echo from garden to garden

As branches sway in the biting breeze,

And great ripping groans answer from the ravine.

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Symphony of sirens in the distance tell of travelers

Who have lost their way on glassy streets.

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A wicked wonderland, this ice coated world.

Weird and wonderful at once,

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Dazzlingly devious,

Dangerously delightful.

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Bejeweled and bedazzled,

Winter has dressed to thrill-

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Winter Storm

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“ice contains no future,  just the past, sealed away.

As if they’re alive, everything in the world

is sealed up inside, clear and distinct.

Ice can preserve all kinds of things that way- cleanly, clearly.

That’s the essence of ice, the role it plays.”

 

Haruki Murakami

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“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields,

that it kisses them so gently?

And then it covers them up snug, you know,

with a white quilt; and perhaps it says,

“Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”

Lewis Carroll

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“There are adventures of the spirit

and one can travel in books

and interest oneself in people and affairs.

One need never be dull

as long as one has friends to help,

gardens to enjoy and books in the long winter evenings.”

D.E. Stevenson

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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Winter’s “Flowers”

Ornamental Kale

Ornamental Kale

 

Look at what is “blooming” in our garden! 

We are just past the Winter Solstice, and the coldest weeks of winter stretch before us.  Our days may be growing almost imperceptibly longer, but frigid Arctic air sweeps across the country, dipping down to bring frosty days and nights well to our south.

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Lichens

Shelf fungus

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Our garden looks a very different place at the moment, mostly withered and brown.  But even now, we enjoy bright spots of color and healthy green leaves.

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Some we planned for, some are a gift of nature.

All are infinitely appreciated and enjoyed!

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Ornamental Kale with Violas and dusty miller

Ornamental kale with Violas and dusty miller

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We garden in Zone 7b, here in coastal Virginia.  We are just a little too far north and a little too far inland to enjoy the balmy 8a of Virginia Beach and Carolina’s Outer Banks.  We will have nights in the teens and days which never go above freezing… likely later this week!

But there are still many plants which not only survive our winters, but will grow and bloom right through them!

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Camellia, "Jingle Bells" begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.

Camellia, “Jingle Bells” begins blooming in mid-December each year, just in time to bloom for Christmas.

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I saw the first scape of Hellebore rising above its crown of leaves yesterday, topped with a cluster of tight little buds.  Our Hellebores will open their first buds later this month.

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Hellebore with a new leaf emerging.  Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.

Hellebore with a new leaf emerging. Bloom scapes have emerged on some plants in the garden.

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Snowdrops are also poking above the soil line now in several pots.  Snowdrops, named for their ability to grow right up through the snow as they come into bloom, open the season of “spring” bulbs for us each year.

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Camellias and Violas remain in bloom, and our Mahonia shrubs have crowned themselves in golden flowers, just beginning to open.

There are several other shrubs which will bloom here in January and February.  Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is on my wishlist, and I hope to add it to our garden this season.

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Mahonia

Mahonia

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Our Forsythia are covered in tight yellow buds, ready to open in February.  Our Edgeworthia chrysantha has tight silvery white buds dangling from every tiny branch.

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Edgeworthia

Edgeworthia

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They look like white wrapped Hershey’s kisses, or tiny ornaments left from Christmas.  These will open in  early March into large, fragrant flowers before the shrub’s leaves appear.

Although many of our garden plants are hibernating under ground, or are just enduring these weeks of cold until warmth wakes them up to fresh growth, we have a few hardy souls who take the weather in their stride.

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This is their time to shine. 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014-2015

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Male flowers have appeared on our Hazel nut trees.  We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.

Male pollen bearing “flowers”  have appeared on our native  Hazel nut trees. We will enjoy their beauty for the next several months.

 

 

“Leave It Be”

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“Leave it be.”  Words I heard with some frequency growing up….

And this simple bit of advice is often just the wisdom needed whether baking, navigating relationships, or preparing the garden for winter.

“Leave it be” insists that we quiet our strong urge to interfere with the already unfolding process.  It asks us to step back and observe; to allow for a a solution other than our own.

 

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My mother’s pound cake recipe includes the instruction to leave the oven door closed for the first 75 minutes of baking.  Opening the door too early changes the texture and rise of the cake.  Once in the oven, you must leave the cake be until the very last few minutes of its total cooking time.  You have to trust the process, and resist the urge to constantly check on it or admire it.

First time mothers soon learn the value of this wisdom, too.  When a baby is sleeping, you leave them alone to rest while you enjoy those few minutes of peace.  When a toddler is happily (and safely) playing, it is best to observe without interrupting the flow of play.

And so it is with a garden at the onset of winter. 

The urge is strong for some to tidy up the leaves as they fall, to cut back perennials as soon as they fade, to pull out the annuals as soon as they freeze, and maybe even prune back shrubby trees as soon as their leaves are gone.

And while some neighbors and neighborhoods might expect this level of neatness, it isn’t Nature’s Way. 

 

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

Autumn fern remains green all winter in our garden.

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Letting our gardens take their time to die back and settle into winter allows nature to recycle and re-purpose in interesting ways.

Leaving organic materials in place also helps insulate our marginal plants to give them a better chance to survive the winter ahead.

It isn’t so much that you avoid the fall clean up chores, just that you strategically tweak the timing of when you do them….

Here are some of those things we intend to “Leave be” for the time being, and why:

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HIbiscus seeds.  I'll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.

HIbiscus seeds pods. I’ll finally cut these back to the ground once the seeds are gone.  These look especially pretty coated in snow.

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Seed Heads provide important food for birds and other wild things.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks.  This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

What remains of the African Blue Basil will feed our birds for many weeks. This patch also provides shelter for the birds.

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Basil and Echinacea seeds always attract goldfinches.  None of those seeds will be wasted when left in the garden.  So I delay pulling out frozen Basil plants as long as possible into late winter.

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Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

Echinacea, Purple Coneflower

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I won’t cut back any of the seed bearing perennial stems until I’m fairly satisfied they’ve been picked clean.  When I do finally clear up, the plant skeletons will get tossed into the ravine where they can decompose, enriching the soil.

Fallen leaves serve many useful purposes.  Blown into piles at the bases of shrubs they serve as insulation from the cold.  They help conserve moisture as a natural mulch.  As they decompose they add nitrogen and many other nutrients back into the soil.  How often have you seen someone bag their leaves for the trash, then buy bags of mulch and fertilizer for their garden?

Chopped or shredded leaves offer one of the best ammendments to improve the health and texture of the soil.  Leaf mulch attracts earthworms.  Earthworms enrich the soil wherever they burrow.

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Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves.  I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.

Oregon Grape Holly appreciates winter mulch of shredded leaves. I also sprinkle spent coffee grounds around the base from time to time.  These new fallen leaves will get shredded one day soon.

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Leaf mulch also encourages the growth of mycelium,.  Mycelium, which is the permanent part of a fungus,  decompose organic matter in the soil, thus  freeing up the nutrients for use by plants.

They improve the texture of soil, and help nearby plants absorb water and nutrients more efficiently.  You might have noticed white threadlike structures growing in soil, or under a pile of leaves.  These are mycellium, and are always a good sign of healthy soil.

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We rake our leaves only enough to make them accessible for the lawn mower or leaf vacuum.   Once shredded, we pour them onto the ground wherever we need some winter insulation or want to improve the soil.  I always pour shredded leaves around our Mountain Laurels, Azaleas,  and around newly planted shrubs.

Marginal tropicals, like Canna and ginger lily, and our Colocasias,  react very quickly to freezing temperatures.  All of the above ground herbaceous stems and leave immediately die back.  What a mess!

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What remains of the Cannas

What remains of the Cannas

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But the tubers are still alive underground.  Cutting the stem now leaves a gaping wound where cold and moisture can enter, potentially killing the tubers before spring.

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Elephant ears, Colocasia, can't survive freezing weather.  But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

Elephant ears, Colocasia, can’t survive freezing weather. But the tubers remain hardy in Zone 7, particularly when protected and mulched.

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Allowing the plants to remain uncut, eventually falling back to the ground, provides insulation for the tubers and protects them from ice and cold rain.

The frozen stalks must be cleaned up by the time new growth begins, but I believe leaving them in place over the winter helps protect the plants.

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The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.  Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

The Lantana is gone for another season after several nights in the 20s.   Birds take shelter here all winter, scavenging for seeds and bugs.

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Another marginal perennial, Lantana, isn’t reliably hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  Further south, these plants grow into large shrubs.  Most Virginia gardeners treat them like annuals.

We’ve learned that left alone, Lantana regularly survive winter in our garden.  Cutting back their woody branches too early allows cold to penetrate to the roots, killing the plant.

Leaving these woody plants standing after the flowers and leave are killed by frost gives the roots an opportunity to survive.  The roots grow very deep, and generally will survive if the plant was able to establish during the previous summer.

Although we cut back Lantana in late March or early April, new growth often won’t appear until the first week of May.

Even perennial herbs, like lavender and rosemary survive winter with less damage when left alone.

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Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

Rosemary with Black Eyed Susan seed heads.

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Prune lavender now and it will probably be dead by April.  Leave it be now, prune  lightly in March, and the plant will throw out abundant new growth.

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Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter.  Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

Crepe Myrtle seeds feed many species of birds through the winter. Prune in mid-spring, before the leaves break in April.

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Trees and shrubs which need pruning will potentially suffer more winter “die back” when pruned too early.  For one thing, pruning stimulates growth.

 

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Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring.  Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

Deadheading a spent flower a week or so ago stimulated this new growth, which likely will die back before spring. Roses will lose a few leaves over winter, but generally survive in our garden without much damage.

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Roses pruned hard in fall will likely start growing again too soon, and that new growth is tender and likely to freeze.

Pruning flowering shrubs like Buddleia and Rose of Sharon in early winter leaves wounds, which will be affected by the cold more easily than a hardened stem.

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Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds.  These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

Rose of Sharon shrubs, covered in seeds. These need thinning and shaping, but wait until spring.

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Leave pruning chores, even on fruit trees and other woody trees or shrubs until after the first of the year.  Allow the plant to go fully dormant before removing wood.  I prefer to leave pruning until February.

Our gardens depend on a rich web of relationships between bacteria, fungus, insects, worms, and decaying organic matter in the soil for their vitality.   Plants grow best in soil which supports a vibrant ecosystem of microbes and invertebrates.

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The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice "growing" out of our Pineapple Sage stems.  The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

The butterfly garden this morning revealed ice “growing” out of our Pineapple Sage stems. The temperature dropped so rapidly into the 20s last night that water in the stem froze, exploding the wood.

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I believe that “leaving the soil be” is one of the smartest things a gardener can do.  Pile on the organic matter, but resist the urge to dig and turn the soil.  Spread mulch, but disturb the structure of the soil only when absolutely necessary to plant.

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Here are a few tasks, for those who want to get out and work in the garden, which you can enjoy this time of year:

1.  Shred and spread the leaves which fall near the house.  We have to sweep  copious piles of leaves which gather on our deck and patio and catch in the gutters.  Sweeping and shredding these a few times each season provides lots of free mulch.

2.  Cut the grass a final time after the leaves are falling.  The green grass clippings mix nicely with the brown leaves to speed along composting.  We catch the trimmings in a bag and spread it where needed.

3.  Plant bulbs until the ground is frozen.  Bulbs have gone on sale in many shops and can be had for a fraction of their September price.    Plant a wide variety for many weeks of spring flowers.

4.  Remodel those pots which will stay outside all winter. 

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November 12, 2014 golden day 168

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Pull out the annuals as they freeze and either plant hardy plants in their place, or make arrangements with branches, pine cones, and moss to keep those pots pretty.

5.  Pick up nuts, acorns, pine cones and fallen branches for winter arrangements and wreathes.  Cut overgrown grape or honeysuckle vines and weave them into wreath bases.    Cut and condition evergreen branches for use on wreathes and in arrangements.

6.  Sow seeds which need winter’s cold to germinate.  Broadcast the seeds where you intend for them to grow, or sow in flats which remain outside all winter.  Columbine and many other wildflowers require this winter stratification to germinate well.

7.  Take photos of the garden.  Photograph everything, and then review the photos over the winter as you make plans for spring purchases, plantings, and renovations.

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8.  Prepare new garden beds with “sheet composting.”  Mark where a new vegetable, flower, or shrub bed  will be planted next spring, and cover the entire area with sheets of newspaper or brown paper bags to kill any grass and weeds there now.

Pile shredded leaves, grass clippings, twigs and wood chips, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, banana peels, and shredded shredded newspaper on the area all winter long.  These materials will slowly decompose.  Cover the whole area with a few inches of good compost or top soil a few weeks before you plan to plant.

Add edging around the bed, and it is ready for spring planting.  The materials in your “sheet compost” will continue decomposing over the next year or so, feeding your new garden bed.

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Working with nature always proves easier than working at cross purposes with her. 

She can make our chores lighter and our gardens more abundant when we understand her ways.

When you understand the wisdom of, ‘Let it be,” you will find that nature does much of the heavy work for you, if just given enough time and space.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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The Robins’ Promise

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I stepped outside late this afternoon to check the mail, and found the front garden aflutter with a flock of robins;

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happily hopping around in search of food, their happy society was startled by my unexpected presence.

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They thought they had the garden to themselves on this uncomfortably cold day.  Thank goodness for day long golden sunshine.  This last day of February has been our coldest day for several weeks.  Bundled in hat and coat, I still shivered while walking briskly up the drive to collect the mail.  And the robins scattered, looking for cover as I passed.

Edgeworthia blossoms have begun to open.

Edgeworthia blossoms have begun to open.

Bright sun has been pouring in through the windows all day; the sky clear and deeply blue.  A lovely day, but seeing the wind, and knowing the temperature, had kept me indoors.  But out I went to the mailbox, enjoying the happy robins, and looking for any little change to show the progress of spring.

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The bulbs are still shivering, petals closed tightly against the cold.  It is as if the whole world is still waiting for warmth before daring to progress any further into the season.

Mahonia

Mahonia

But I wanted to show you these happy robins, their very presence evidence that the season is turning, despite the frigid air.

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So the mail came in, and I headed back out, camera in hand, to take portraits of the robins.  Crafty little ones, they are so fast!  Several flew off just before I clicked the photo.  The ones on the ground were a little more patient, perhaps distracted by listening for worms below their feet.

Where the robin was.... only a second before....

Where the robin was…. only a second before….

I wandered the garden in search of them, and in search of an opening daffodil, or some new sign of spring’s unfolding.  My fingers went from cold to numb, and the chill wind became more persistent in seeking its way in past my jacket.

A Columbine beginning to emerge from the frozen Earth.

A Columbine beginning to emerge from the frozen Earth.

But looking to the trees, glowing in the afternoon sunlight, I saw the sign I sought. 

Look closely at the tips of the branches… the reddening tips.

Buds on our trees are swelling, finally; and preparing to open with their early flowers and leaves.  That misty red glow around the trees’ crown is as much a promise of spring as the flock of robins gathering in the garden this afternoon.

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The robins seem impervious to the cold.  This stoicism in the face of wind, rain, sleet, snow and ice commands my respect for these fragile beings. 

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They carry on, chattering to one another, from early until late.  They know, even when I doubt, that spring will follow, and provide perfectly for their every need.

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Their chirping and hopping, shy flights from shrub to shrub, and determined hunting for food warms my heart; even as my fingers stiffen in the cold afternoon wind.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Planning That Happy New (Gardening) Year

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Spring gardening catalogs started showing up in my mailbox this week.  In fact, I believe the first arrived on Christmas Eve.  The new Burpee catalog features a huge; I mean pumpkin sized, beefsteak tomato lovingly cradled in the gardener’s hands.

Our Lantana bed remains full of hungry birds much of the day.

Our Lantana bed remains full of hungry birds much of the day.

It is Saturday, and I’m itching to work on my garden, even if the temperature is still hovering in the low 40s out there.  Actually, my partner just changed to mucking shoes and headed out the door.

Here we sit firmly between Christmas and the New Year.  The tree is still up, but I’m definitely feeling the fresh breeze of welcoming in a new year, and a new gardening season.

The cane Begonias, and even some Caladiums, are quite happy with their spot inside.

The cane Begonias, and even some Caladiums, are quite happy with their spot inside.

Even as I gather the last of the wrappings and packaging for the recycling bin my eye is on that little stack of catalogs.  My mind is turning to what will soon fill the pots emptied by our frosts and freezes.

This morning we took time to water all of the plants living inside and gather up the fallen leaves.  We’re happy to see the Bouganvillea, which first dropped its rose pink flowers, and then dropped most of its leaves on the living room floor, breaking out with a new crop of leaves to carry it into the spring.  As they grow out its sharp spines look extra dangerous, and it commands tremendous respect.

Jewel orchid ready to burst into bloom

Jewel orchid ready to burst into bloom

There are at least three orchids throwing out flower buds.  The Jewel Orchid, with its burgundy, silver, and striped leaves will soon cover itself in long spikes covered in creamy white flowers.

Several of moth orchids have buds swelling and will give us many weeks of their delicate lavender and pink flowers in late winter.

Moth orchid

Moth orchid

Many of our cane Begonias are in full bloom.  We are fortunate to get light from many directions, and so keep the plants happy most of the time.  Caladiums are in leaf, ferns throwing out new fronds, and the Philodendrons all have new leaves emerging.  So far so good on keeping everyone alive through the winter!

But, winter it is.  And will be, here, for many weeks to come.  Our local garden centers are enjoying a long break now, and have only the barest bit of leftover stock.  We can look forward to freezing nights for at least another 15 weeks.

Our very happy Christmas cactus, and an olive tree surviving its first winter.

Our very happy Christmas cactus, and an olive tree surviving its first winter.

So, what is a gardener to do while waiting for spring?

Here is a bit of a beginning of a list.  It isn’t all inclusive.  My mind is still in recovery from the holidays.  But here are a few reminders to carry us through January, at the least.

1.  Keep the houseplants groomed and watered.  Wipe off leaves when they get dusty and remove those old ragged looking leaves.  New ones will soon follow to replace them. Deadhead faithfully after flowering to encourage new blooms.  Give those which will bloom all winter a drink of dilute fertilizer every other week, and turn the pots from time to time to encourage even growth.

This poor geranium won't come back after our hard freezes.  It is time to cut it back, along with all other frost damaged foliage.

This poor geranium won’t come back after our hard freezes. It is time to cut it back, along with all other frost damaged foliage.

2.  Cut back and remove the remains of any frozen herbs and annuals.  It’s time now to tidy up.  Perennials destroyed by frost can be left a few more weeks to give food and shelter to the garden birds and to protect the plants’ roots.

3.  Take a good look around and plan changes to the garden.  Now that you can really see the bones, plan any new spring projects.  Will there be new raised beds?  Any changes in the lines of existing beds?  Will there be new pathways, arbors, walls, ponds, or patios to build?  January is a good time to take photos, make sketches, read gardening books, read articles online, and plan out purchases for the necessary materials.

This cane Begonia lives happily inside, just a few feet from where it summered on the deck.

This cane Begonia lives happily inside, just a few feet from where it summered on the deck.

4.  At the same time, plan what you want to grow in the year ahead.  Will you focus on vegetables, fruit, flowers, herbs, or shrubs?  Do you want to add any trees to the garden?  Will you repeat your 2013 garden, or try some new crops?  Are you growing enough of your own food?  Do you want to attract more wild life?  Do you need more areas of shrubs and perennials which look after themselves?

Now  we get to enjoy the catalogs.  There is a lot to learn about new introductions, cultivars of old favorites, and cultural requirements of unusual plants in the nursery catalogs.  I always learn useful things by reading them carefully.  I’m also inspired to try new combinations of plants, and perhaps shift to new colors in the new season.

5.  Develop shopping lists for new purchases.  This is where self-discipline is required.  I have spent dozens of winters reading gardening catalogs, making lists of what I want to grow.  This can be a very expensive hobby, and I’ve learned to let those lists sit for days, if not weeks, before ever making an order.

I waited months between wanting an Edgeworthia and finally planting this one.  After several trees fell in summer storms, I had the right spot to plant it.

I waited months between wanting an Edgeworthia and finally planting this one. After several trees fell in summer storms, we  finally had the right spot to plant it.

Truth is, there just isn’t the right spot for a lot of the plants on my “want” list.  Especially after working with a garden for a few years, there isn’t room for many new plants.  One also learns what not to plant in a particular garden because the conditions aren’t suitable.

So the wish list made in January needs serious editing before purchases are made closer to spring.  Another reason to love January, when everything seems possible.

6.  Build and improve the soil.

Although Camellias grow well in our garden, it is a constant struggle to protect new plantings from the deer.  Daffodils have begun to peak out of the soil at the base of this little shrub, and it is ready for a topdressing of fresh compost..

Although Camellias grow well in our garden, it is a constant struggle to protect new plantings from the deer. Daffodils have begun to peak out of the soil at the base of this little shrub, and it is ready for a topdressing of fresh compost.

If you’ve been gardening more than a season you know good soil makes the difference in the vitality of your plants.  Plant in poor or compacted soil and your plant will struggle and eventually die.  Plant in a well prepared bed, and the same plant will grow huge and productive.

Good gardeners feed their soil.  Spread all of those coffee grounds and tea leaves on your garden beds.  Dilute left over brewed coffee or tea and use it to water, or pour over frozen beds.  Rinse and crush egg shells to use as mulch where slugs are a problem, or where more calcium is needed.  Continue to chop up fallen leaves and spread them under shrubs or on perennial beds.  Save cardboard and newspaper to spread on the ground where you plan to create new beds this spring.  Not only will they kill the grass underneath, but they will attract earthworms, and enrich the soil as they decompose.

This crepe myrtle, which sent out lots of new growth after getting flattened by our fallen oaks, needs pruning now.  We will remove most of these new branches, sending the plant's energy into a few strong leaders which will form the new structure of the tree.

This crepe myrtle, which sent out lots of new growth after getting flattened by our fallen oaks, needs pruning now. We will remove most of these new branches, sending the plant’s energy into a few strong leaders which will form the new structure of the tree.

7.  Prune hardwood shrubs and trees.  Now that you can see the plant’s structure, remove extra branches.  Limb the plant up to reveal its trunk.  Head back laterals to encourage branching, especially on fruit bearing trees.  Remove any crossed limbs, and prune deciduous shrubs to control their size.  I’ll be working on my Rose of Sharon and Crepe Myrtle shrubs soon.  It is still a little early to work the roses, as they will try to send out new growth during warm spells; but I’ll tackle them by early February.

A final word of caution: If you are a gardening addict, as am I; the growing pile of glossy garden catalogs is heady temptation.  The photos are just exquisite, the plants so healthy and alluring.  I want to grow them all.

A favorite Begonia, which bloomed all summer, continues on into the winter indoors.  Fertilize to keep winter blooms coming.

A favorite Begonia, which bloomed all summer, continues on into the winter indoors. Fertilize to keep winter blooms coming.

But, I’ve learned, that what comes in the mail once you’ve ordered bears little resemblance to the photo.   Although some companies now send living starts, plugs as they’re called, many others still send “bare root” plants, bulbs, seeds, or tubers.

If you are patient, and skilled, you can eventually grow this pitiful beginning into a lovely plant.

Ajuga, commonly offered in winter plant catalogs, is always sold at garden centers in spring.  By waiting, you'll get a healthy clump of living plants ready to grow and bloom, at a similiar, or lower, price.

Ajuga, commonly offered in winter plant catalogs, is always sold at garden centers in spring. By waiting, you’ll get a healthy clump of living plants ready to grow and bloom, at a similiar, or lower, price.

Please notice the “if.”  I’ve done it, you may have done it.  But why go through the effort if you can buy a healthy, similarly priced plant at your local garden center later into the spring?

In fact, I’ve found better, bigger plants of the same variety, at a lower price, at the correct time for planting; by waiting to shop my garden center.

Which brings us to my last suggestion for winter gardening:

Violas are a specialty of the Homestead Garden Center here in Williamsburg.  They grow thousands of plants each autumn.

Violas are a specialty of the Homestead Garden Center here in Williamsburg. They grow thousands of plants each autumn.

8.  Shop your local garden center.  I’m not talking “big box store” here.  The locally owned, family run garden centers aren’t getting much business between Christmas and Easter.  It is a slim time for them, and your business means a lot.  Even if you just stock up on some fertilizer, a few new tools, maybe some fresh pots or baskets; buy something.

It is also a great time to shop for deals and establish a relationship.  If you take the time to chat with the folks who run your local garden center you will learn a great deal.  They are experts at gardening in your area.  Then, later, when you want to ask whether or not they will carry that particular variety you’re shopping for, you will know who to ask.  And chances are good that they know you, and will do their best to order it.

Ivy shines on winter days.  Remember to walk around and enjoy the winter garden.

Ivy shines on winter days. Remember to walk around and enjoy the winter garden.

So please pour another glass of Eggnog, if you enjoy it; or a more inspiring beverage if you don’t.  Settle into that warm and cozy chair with a stack of gardening books and catalogs as the sun sets in late afternoon for a few more frozen weeks.

It’s time to dream that New Year’s garden into reality.

December 28, 2013 garden 029My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.  H. Fred Dale

In every gardener there is a child who believes in The Seed Fairy.  Robert Brault

Gardens are a form of autobiography.  Sydney Eddison, Horticulture magazine, August/September 1993

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

December 28, 2013 garden 021

Edgeworthia in the Garden

Our Edgeworthia in February, its first spring in the garden.

Our Edgeworthia in February, its first spring in the garden.

Early in the spring of 2013, friends invited me over to see their Hellebores in bloom.  We had discovered our common interest in these beautiful winter blooming perennials.

This was a special treat since they had just redone their garden, and they gave me a complete tour.  As we walked around, an unusually beautiful shrub, in full bloom, drew my attention.  “What is that? I’ve never seen anything quite like it!”

Our Edgeworthia in late February.

Our Edgeworthia in late February.

Elegant smooth branches glowed in the afternoon light, each holding clusters of tiny creamy flowers.  This large, sculptural shrub commanded attention in the center of a network of pathways.

Our Edgeworthia open and fragrant, now, on March 15.

Our Edgeworthia open and fragrant, now, on March 15.

This was the day I fell in love with Edgeworthia chrysantha We encountered one another again, only a few weeks later, at Homestead Garden Center.  They helped me find the Edgeworthia among the huge variety of shrubs in the nursery.

As much as I wanted to grow one, I hesitated.  I couldn’t visualize where it would have the correct growing conditions and place of honor it deserved in my garden.

September 14 Edgeworthia 015

Our newly planted Edgeworthia in mid September.

It is a very good thing I hesitated back in April.  Little did I know then how completely a June storm would transform my front “woods”, or that I would soon have heavy equipment rolling through my yard day after day disassembling our forest.  Now the work is finished, and I”m getting used to the changes, including the change in light.

Which brings us back to Edgeworthia.

September 14 Edgeworthia 002 - Copy

It likes a mix of sun and shade, and now it can grow well in any number of spots along the edges of the big, sunny open space where my Afghan figs will soon be growing.

September 14 Edgeworthia 001

Back at Homestead on Friday, when Dustin and I were looking at shrubs for the pot garden, we found three Edgeworthia left in stock.  Even better, these shrubs were grown locally  by the Patton family, and all three were healthy and beautifully shaped. September 14 Edgeworthia 003 - Copy

We chose one for the pot I was planting for This Century Art Gallery, and one for me to plant in our garden.

Sept 3 2013 hydrangea 004

Oakleaf Hydrangea growing with Black Eyed Susans.

When I plant a shrub out in the garden, I generally plant it as the centerpiece of a new little garden bed.

Like constructing a quilt, I expect that one day these little islands of beauty will flow into one another to make something grand and beautiful.  It is also a pragmatic approach.

Once I learned that every part of a daffodil is poisonous, including the roots, I began planting them around every new shrub.

Daffodil bulbs, ready to be planted in a ring around the Edgeworthia.

Daffodil bulbs, ready to be planted in a ring around the Edgeworthia.

The garden has been infested with voles since at least the day I planted the first anything in the ground here.  I’ve lost too many new plants down their tunnels, and had too many shrubs stunted by voracious gnawing on their roots to put anything in the ground without protection.  Daffodils are my insurance policy.  I plant a ring of them around everything these days.

So once deciding where the new Edworthia would be most admired and enjoyed, near the drive, and shifting that spot several times to avoid major roots, I dug a hole large enough to accommodate the shrub and a ring of daffodils.

September 14 Edgeworthia 004

There are so many different views on how to prepare a planting hole.  When I first began gardening, I learned, “Dig a $5 hole for a $1 plant”.  Advice was to dig an area at least twice the size of the root ball, half again as deep, and generously amend the soil with compost and fertilizer.

September 14 Edgeworthia 007

Lately I’ve read experts who say that is unnecessary, and in some cases harmful.  They recommend digging a hole just the right size, using the same soil taken out as back fill, and going lightly on the fertilizer.  I think it depends a lot on the growing conditions in your own particular garden, and also on what you are planting.

For bare root roses, I dig a huge hole, tinker with the soil quite a bit, and do all sorts of interesting things.   It can take half a day!

The many roots in this garden settle the question for me.  I dig the biggest hole I can, remove the fewest established roots I can get by with, build up a little hill of compost on top of the ground around the root ball, which is generally high, and hope for the best.   Somehow it works out.

September 14 Edgeworthia 005

This Edgeworthia got lucky.  The spot I finally found allowed me to dig a hole 4″-5″ deeper than the root ball, and a bit wider.  After cutting out the displaced roots, I poured in a generous serving of pea gravel, to greet the voles’ little hungry mouths, and a generous serving of Plant Tone.

All of this got mixed into the loose soil at the bottom of the hole, and then mixed again with a good bit of compost.  Just like planting a pot, I smoothed this amended soil up the sides of the planting hole, and adjusted the depth so the root ball sat level with the surrounding ground.

September 14 Edgeworthia 008

This Edgeworthia had more root growth than the one which went in the pot, and a lot of roots were showing on top of the root ball.  Since the weather is still warm, and its buds are forming, I didn’t want to shock it by pruning the roots back, but I did lift them gently away from the ball with the tip of my pocket knife.

Roots on the sides and bottom of the root ball need to be loosened before planting.

Roots on the sides and bottom of the root ball need to be loosened before planting.

“Roughing them up” a bit is actually a good thing as it encourages new growth out into the surrounding soil.  Breaking up the roots on the bottom of the ball is as important as loosening the roots on the sides.  All of this is done in the shade, of course, and just before planting.

Gravel and Plant Tone ready to be mixed into the bottom of the planting hole.

Gravel and Plant Tone ready to be mixed into the bottom of the planting hole.

Once the shrub was set in the hole, I added a little more gravel, and then began back-filling.

The soil that came out of the hole was surprisingly good:  a nice mix of loose clay and dark rich dirt.  I layered the soil with gravel and compost to a depth of about 6″ from the top, and then planted the first ring of bulbs.

Daffodil bulbs planted at a depth of 8", and about 6" apart all around the root ball to protect it from voles.

Daffodil bulbs planted at a depth of 8″, and about 6″ apart all around the root ball to protect it from voles.

Their bottoms need to be about 8″ deep, and so each was pushed down into the loose back fill.  Once they were planted and covered, I watered the hole well to allow this much of the soil to settle and wash out any air pockets.

When the water drains, the rest of the hole can be filled, again in layers, ending with a light layer of compost covering the exposed roots on top of the root ball.  A shrub should be planted at the level it grew in the pot, but when the roots are exposed, I put a light covering of compost over them as a mulch.

September 14 Edgeworthia 014

Next, I circled this initial hole with a second ring of daffodil bulbs; an Autumn Fern ready to move from the pot its grown in for a year to a more spacious accommodation in the ground; and the ground cover Creeping Jenny growing with it.

I dug a fairly large hole beside the shrub for the first two bulbs and the fern, backfilling with compost and the original soil.  Then I spaced additional bulbs wherever I could dig a large enough hole, about every 8″ around the entire shrub.  All of those lovely poisonous daffodil roots will grow together to make a protective ring around the shrub’s roots while it establishes.

Edworthia, surrounded by two rows of daffodil bulbs, an Autumn Fern, and Creeping Jenny, will settle in for a few weeks before I add Violas and more spring bulbs around this planting.

Edworthia, surrounded by two rows of daffodil bulbs, an Autumn Fern, and Creeping Jenny, will settle in for a few weeks before I add Violas and more spring bulbs around this planting.

 Finally, I broke up the remaining root ball of Creeping Jenny,  put hunks of it on top of the outer ring of bulbs, and covered the whole outer ring with additional compost.

Now,  this is a totally unorthodox planting method- planting on top of the ground.  But it works.  Creeping Jenny are very tough.  They root from every leaf node along the stem.  I’ll keep this watered until they take hold, and soon they will form a beautiful chartreuse ground cover around this entire area.

After watering everything well one more time, I left the new planting to settle.  In a few weeks, I’ll come back with 6 packs of violas and small bulbs of Grape Hyacinths, Crocuses, perhaps some Siberian Squill; and develop the area around the shrub a bit more.  By the end of October, this entire area along the drive will be planted in violas ready to bloom their hearts out all winter and into next spring.

All photos by Woodland Gnome, 2013-2014

 

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