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.


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