Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Different Kind of Winter

Because it's been so mild, I'm still working in my garden, although it's almost January. So, I'm doing things that go undone in a normal year; deadheading all the hydrangeas, adding mulch to the shrub borders, removing more and more fallen leaves, cutting back Siberian Iris, weeding, and thinning this year's crop of Verbena bonariensis seedlings and other volunteers.

All this time in the garden has given me a chance to watch closely as the different varieties of hellebores came into bloom, starting with the green-flowered H. foetidus, or Stinking Hellebore, then pure white H. niger, or Christmas Rose, and the many colors of the common H. x hybridus (aka H. orientalis) or Lenten Rose - still no sign of blooms on Corsican Hellebore, H. argutifolia. I saw Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) forming flower buds, seemingly at the very start of cold weather, and have watched it blooming for several weeks. The heath (Erica carnea) is almost too brilliant in its shades of pink and purple, though the demure Springwood White variety tones things down a bit. While the new plants come into flower, a few die-hards are still blooming. Fairy Rose is still loaded with pink flowers, a single, low-growing campanula is still going strong. The last of the snapdragon volunteers has just finally given out, after months and months of bloom.

I'm also seeing things about certain plants that I didn't know before, mostly good, some not so good. The persistent, tough, dry leaves of Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) are an unsightly surprise. The more pleasant sights include the wonderful dark burgundy of the few remaining leaves on Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia), the dainty early growth of Columbine (Aquilegia species) and Sedum Spectabile Autumn Joy, and the way the fallen leaves of my seedless sweetgum (Liquidambar rotundiloba) retain their wonderful glaucous burgundy color and shine for weeks.

It's been fantastic to be able to spend whole days outdoors, and I wonder if my garden will be different next year because of this added attention.

I'm sure there will be fewer volunteers and weeds to deal with next spring, and that's good. And there may be more time for the fun parts of gardening because more chores were taken care of during the winter. But I wonder if there will be plants that don't do as well because they didn't really like being cut back, or deadheaded, or raked clean of protective leaves.

And, maybe, I will be a slightly different gardener next year, because of my new appreciation of my garden in winter.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Better than pills

Some friends from the New England forum over at GardenWeb are collaborating on a calendar of events for New England gardeners. We named it NewEnglandGardenEvents - clever, no? This is a shameless plug for the new site, but also a testimonial on how gratifying its creation has been.

I'm really amazed at the number of interesting courses, lectures,and field workshops being offered during winter. The Arnold Arboretum is tops, but there are fantastic speakers at other less-well-known places, like the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Great Barrington, MA and Blithwold in Bristol, RI.

Working on the calendar has been a great way to find out about what's going on, and, as one of the calendar team members said recently, it's "better than pills" for getting through the cold dark season without getting depressed. We've found that some of the super-stars of the horticultural world will be appearing in New England this winter.

Please take a look at the site, at And, if you know of an upcoming event that would be of interest to gardeners in the region, please add it by leaving a comment on the calendar site.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Almost Over

December 3, and it still feels like early fall. The neighbors have their Christmas decorations up, but this girl is in no way ready for that - still have leaves to rake; some trees are still holding their leaves, in fact.

Today is the end, I'm afraid, as tonight we are expecting snow and real cold. The large pots are all in the unheated garage, more to protect the terra cotta from cracking than to save the temperennials growing in them. The fall chores are not really done, of course, there are still so many plants to be moved that will have to wait for next October. The tree peonies along the edge of the pool, which have been shaded out over the years by other shrubs, the herbaceous peonies that are being infiltrated by nearby bayberry, and the many small trees that are waiting for permanent placement, slowly taking over the area referred to as the vegetable garden.

Then there's this fall's major project, building a paved area outside the back door. It's all excavated, most of the base has been laid, but the bricks need to be set in sand. Something to do during the Jnauary thaw, maybe; in the meantime it's quite a sight, covered with sheets of plywood to keep the digging dog from excavating the carefully prepped area.

Instead of thinking aobut the undone work, I'm just enjoying the wonderful mild and sunny weather, and the beauty of my own little slice of barely controlled mayhem. It's rare to have snapdragons, salvia, nicotiana, and osteospermum (blue-eyed daisy) blooming at the same time as winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), heath, and stinking hellebores (H. foetidus), but that's life in the northeast, I guess.

This fall has truly been a gift, I'm just not sure who to thank.