Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Winter Interest

Living in warmer climates I payed attention to Winter Interest plants.  There were things like Scabiosa and pansies that would bloom all winter, parsley would stay green and perky, and the days would often be warm enough to go and wander through the winter garden.

Now I live in New England.

Now I understand that Winter Interest means plants that look good in November, when the leaves have fallen but the temperatures are still tolerable, and March when the snow has started to melt but you can't get into the garden to do anything but plan.

Plants like this

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea'

and this

Pieris japonica

and this

Santolina chamaecyparissus (lavender cotton)

and this

Thyme either Archer's Gold or Aureus

and even this.

Sedum Autumn Fire

But when the thermometer looks like this

my gardening interests turn inside and my idea of Winter Interest includes plants like this

and this

Narcissus tazetta, forgottus varietus

and this

Begonia grocerystorus
and this

Amaryllis Picotee

and this

Cyclamen - once again blogger insists on posting an image sideways!

and the best part of Winter Interest is this

Eventually I will start posting about my houseplants (I have over 50 pots inside including wintering herbs and the forced bulbs).  You are forewarned.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Tale of Gardeneezer Scrooge

Twas the night before Christmas.  no, wait, wrong story to parody.

Once upon a time there was a Gardener who didn't like Christmas.  Bah Humbug, she'd say.  Scrooge was right before he was so brutally brainwashed, she'd say.  She got tired of the same dozen Christmas songs being played in every store she went into, except the garden center which no longer held anything interesting, having given over most of its indoor space to Poinsettias.  She grew tired of the commercials that suggested that a new car (usually one with poor gas mileage and a high carbon output) or a diamond (is that a Conflict Diamond on your finger or are you just... no that joke doesn't work here) or a bottle of perfume would be the perfect Christmas gift, one that would make her life complete.  None of these appealed to her.  And don't let her get started on the commercials with off-key singing of Christmas carols or changed lyrics to encourage people to shop!

Gardening season is over for the year, she groused, and I've only gotten one 2010 plant catalog!

Then, one night after watching HgTV in a desperate attempt to avoid "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 25th time this year, the Gardener who didn't like Christmas fell asleep in front of the TV and was visited by a Ghost.

OK.  So this was the ghost of Kitchen Remodels but it was the one who was available.

"Gardeneezer" said the ghost "you will be visited by three Ghosts tonight."

The Gardener scoffed, but inside she wondered if she was dreaming (she was prone to weird dreams), hallucinating from too much H and not enough G on the TV, or maybe she had lost her mind completely due to lack of contact with the soil for so long.  She decided that whatever was going on she might was well roll with it.

A bright light appeared and a voice spoke "We are the Ghosts of Christmas Past."  She squinted into the light and spotted boxes of Christmas lights.  "We represent wasteful Christmases past."

The Gardner replied "Yes, I know.  That is why I have replaced all the lights on my tree with new, energy efficient lights.  They use less power and therefore produce fewer pollutants."

"Oh, darn" replied the boxes of lights "I guess you've already learned the lessons of Christmases past."

The boxes of lights vanished, to be replaced by a beautifully decorated live Christmas tree "I am the Ghost of Christmas Present."  The Gardener admired the traditional Solstice Flamingo ornaments, the Squidmas Octopi, the Hanukkah Whale, all topped by the traditional Christmoose.

"Oh Ghost of Christmas Present" cried the Gardener "I love the way you smell but I feel guilty having a live tree - is that really the right way to go?"

"I smell good because I am a live tree" said the Ghost of Christmas Present "I was grown for this purpose, I have lived for years on a tree farm, providing home for birds and shelters for young rabbits and when you are done with me you will place me outside to shelter your local birds until Spring when you will compost what you can and use the rest to form a nice brush pile for the local wildlife, eventually returning me to Nature, unlike an artificial tree that will last longer in a landfill than your lifetime. But in the future you should drive the 20 minutes to the place that sells organically grown trees, they're better for the environment than I."

"Oh, Ghost of Christas Present I am grateful for your lesson.  An evergreen tree in the house reminds us that even in the midst of winter there is life."

"You have learned the lesson of Christmas Present" said the tree.

The beautiful tree vanished to be replaced by a small, nearly insignificant plant in a cheap pot.  "I am the Ghost of Christmas Future" said the plant "I am small but I carry the last messages you must learn about Christmas."

"And what could those messages be?"  asked the Gardener.

The Plant replied "the first message is that even though you are unable to get outside you can still get your hands dirty by working with indoor plants."

"Yes, of course!" cried the Gardener "I forget about house plants during the summer but their green, growing, blooming majesty helps me get through the indoor season doldrums.  What is the other message?"

"That this is just the beginning of your time at the Garden on the Edge" said the plant "for as I am small I will grow larger and bloom, so your garden is small but it will grown and the garden catalogs will soon arrive in the mail, filled with delightful possibilities to fill your winter dreams.  Do not despair but instead think of Christmas as a time of the year that Good Gardeners can rest up before the big planning and ordering season of January and February."

"Oh, Christmas Cactus" (for that's what the plant was) "I will remember your lessons and pay close attention to my indoor garden this season and spend my spare hours planning where to put new plants next year" cried the Gardener with joy.

The Christmas Cactus smiled and vanished in warm glow and the Gardener smiled and signed up for Netflix so she wouldn't have to suffer through Christmas commercials or New Years Get-Fit commercials.

And the Gardener made her list:

For the Husband a trip to the St. Lawrence Seaway to kayak with the whales.

For the Best Friend from Grad School a job for her husband and a pregnancy resulting in a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

For The Zack an Eagle Badge.

For all the Good Gardeners out there Healthy Soil, rich in Organic Matter and just the right amount of Rainfall.

And for myself?  A strong climate treaty in Copenhagen to help reduce Global Climate Change.

Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukah
Joyous Winter Solstice
Merry Squidmas
And a Peaceful 2010

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Snow Pictures

Here are some more pictures from the Winter Solstice Eve Snow.

The Husband shoveling off the sidewalk.  On the right is an Aster (Symphotricium) oblongifolis.  This plant is about 3 feet tall.

My poor Rosemary Arp - see earlier post to get an idea of how much more snow we got today, the total was between 10 and 12 inches.

More Holly Blue Something in the Snow

This little Azalea (Mother's Day) is nearly buried

 Another out of place plant one of my Salvias (with a Panicum in the background)

This area of roof gets snow piled up whenever there's wind.  Really good when you realize this is our main entrance and the gutters right here don't work.  Leads to real icy conditions when the sun warms the roof.  Good thing we got it fixed before winter hits.  Uh...  Oops.

Happy Winter Solstice Eve

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year.  After tomorrow the days should start getting longer and the night's shorter.  For those of you who follow nature based religions - Happy Winter Solstice.  For those of you who like longer days - Happy Winter Solstice.

I think I'll spend the shortest day of the year in contemplation.  Maybe I'll sit outside on the deck.

Or maybe not.

The snow is still coming down up here.  This morning at 7 am I measured the snow depth at 6 inches.  It's still coming down steady (I measure weather for CoCoRaHS - somewhere there is a post about this).

Fortunately The Husband and I got the heated birdbath set up last weekend.  The birds really appreciate water during the winter.  For most people setting up one of these is easy - plug it in.  But we don't have an outdoor outlet.  Not one.  So we had to fix the outlet in the garage (I did the electrical work), drill a hole in the garage wall (the windows are long since painted shut) and run an extension cord.  Not the best solution but it should do for this year.

The Dogs appreciate the fresh snow fall.  Jasper thinks it's edible and Piper thinks it is the best thing she has ever seen.  She's a Keshound mix.  She's been running and jumping and even rolling in the snow.

I managed to beat the snowplows this morning so I was able to get this shot of my Sedum.  It's planted in the hell strip so it is now buried under the plowed snow.

My Mexican Feather Grass (Nassella tenuissima aka Stipa tenuissima) is also now buried but it's just under the fresh fallen snow. 

This is Rosemary Arp.  It's supposed to be winter hardy.  This just looks wrong.

This, however, looks just right. 

While my garden is mostly new and not that mature my neighbor's Miscanthus probablyis looks fantastic under the snow.

Here's dreaming of a white Winter Solstice.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Moths

When I first saw the mass of moths attracted to the lights beside the garage I thought it was an interesting phenomenon.

Then I heard someone say they were winter moths.  That made me think they would make a good blog subject.  I had read something about winter moths in Bernd Heinrich's Winter World.  So I started doing some research.  An insect that flies during the winter, they must have some really cool adaptations.

Then I found out that these winter moths are Operophtera brumata, an invasive species.    That's not so cool.

Winter moths are a European species introduced to this continent last century.  They started showing up in New England early this century and are already becoming a major problem.  Winter moth males fly during November to as late as January, the females are wingless and wait on trees and shrubs for the males to find them.  They lay their eggs under the bark.

In the spring the eggs hatch and the larvae begin feeding on the unopened buds.  As the untouched buds start to open the larvae will move to nearby branches or leaves and continue munching.  They can easily defoliate whole trees, with a preference for fruit trees.  In springs like our last spring with cool weather and delayed bud opening the damage can be intense. 

Not surprisingly the defoliation process is harmful to trees, it can even be fatal if repeated over several years.  On the plus side the spring migrating birds (especially warblers) have plenty to eat at a critical time in their life cycle.  They subsequently arrive relatively plump and ready to go on their nesting grounds.

Our street tree, an American Linden (or Basswood), was heavily infested this past year.  With this massive fall flight I predict it will be heavily infested again this year.  I'm not going to do anything to fight the moths (winter moths are hard to control and professionals should be consulted.  I was unable to find information on an organic option that actually works) at least in part because I think that is the wrong tree for that spot and that spot is really, really bad (directly in front of our front door so people who park on the street have to go around the tree to get to our front walk).  If the tree doesn't survive I'll quietly replace it with something a little more appropriate to the spot and off center from our front door.  Probably not a fruit tree, though.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Ok.  Let's see if I can post images from my new computer (sadly I haven't found the disc copy of my photo manipulation software so I had to use the old computer to mess with... but you didn't come here to listen to be complain about computer stuff.  You came here to look at pictures!)

Woo-hoo!  An actual flower in my garden in December in New England.  This tough little viola managed to stick a bloom up over the leaf litter by the fireplace just in time for GBBD

Pansies are a reliable winter bloomer in some regions.  I still have some holding on here but I doubt they'll still be here for next month's GBBD.  Then you'll get to see my blooming houseplants.

My Scabiosa were blooming last week but it's just been too cold and the blooms and buds are all bent over.  I think they've given up for the year.

This Helenium Mardi Gras tried to get one more bloom but the freeze got here first

These Pieris japonica buds will survive all winter long, providing some interest in the garden, but they won't bloom until spring.  Still, it's a reminder that spring will come again.

My male Ilex bluesomethingus seems to be confused and has put out some new growth recently.  Since this plant is doomed to be replaced (it was planted WAY too close to the house and is actually snuggled right up to the siding) I won't worry.  Next year when we get the siding repaired and painted I'll have to remove it and buy a new male to put somewhere further from the house.  Poor guy.  It wasn't his fault some landscaper didn't take his adult size into account.

Grasses like this Miscanthus zebra grass can provide nice late fall interest.

Here's another interesting seed head.  It's retaining some of the purple color of the blooms.

So that's it for this month.  I'm sure by next month's GBBD my garden will be under a good snow cover and I'll be taking pictures of my houseplants.  I'm hoping some of my forced bulbs will be in bloom for then.  And I'll be drooling over the catalogs, dreaming and planning for Spring.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Please Stand By

Please Stand By.

We are Experiencing Technical Difficulties.  

I haven't posted in about a week and it will probably be several more days before I post again.  The good news is that we bought a new computer.  The bad news is that I have to dig out all the software for my camera and load it onto the new machine.  In the meantime here are some miscellaneous notes from the Garden.

Winter has hit hard here this week.  The plants have finally frozen and my Pieris japonica is turning colors (the leaves stay on the plant all winter but they do get a yellowish and/or reddish color to the outer leaves). 

Imagine colorful Pieris here.

I clipped a few branches off my Christmas tree and laid them over the borderline hardy Salvias to add some winter protection.  I'll add more after the holidays.

Imagine Christmas tree branches with Salvias sticking out.

You'll notice I didn't prune the Salvias.  They are one of many plants that does better if they aren't pruned until spring.

My Artemesia nana has died back but I'd be willing to bet it comes back in the spring.  It's done quite well in the Hell Strip so far.

Imagine some gray foliage but mostly brown (tan) and curled.

The winds have been blowing strong all week.  It makes for challenging photography.

Imagine some really bad image of dried grasses blowing in the wind.

Coming soon - birding in the winter garden and my adaptation of A Christmas Carol (with apologies to Dickens).  As soon as I can find the software I need....  I know those discs are somewhere in the office closet...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Today in the Garden - UPDATED

Today is a two post day - be sure to scroll down to see the post about the December Surprise I found in the garden on Thursday.

I definately am not in my typical habitat today.  Being a hot-house flower I usually live in warm climates.  But now I'm in New England and today there is snow!

We got about 2.75 inches of snow overnight, the first plowable snow of the year.  I'm sure it won't be the last but the first snow is always the prettiest.  So turn up the heat, light a fire in the fireplace and enjoy.  This is what my garden looks like today.

Poor Rosemary.  I'll have to bring her into the garage this afternoon to try and get her to survive the winter.  My smaller pot of Rosemary is inside on my desk.

Contorted Filbert.  Looking very contorted.

Hmmm.   I don't have as many good images as I thought.  I'd better pull on the boots and go outside with the camera for another photo shoot.
Well, I had to wait a while until some of the snow either melted or compacted so that I could see anything besides bumps where my perennials are hiding.  This is my first major effort to photograph in snow so please be patient.  I clearly could use more practice.  I'm afraid I'll get plenty this winter.

Scabiosa Butterfly Blue (I know it looks pinkish in this photo).  This is one long-blooming plant!  If it doesn't get completely covered with snow by the 15th I should have at least one outdoor plant for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

African Blue Basil.  The only reason it's sticking up through the snow is because I haven't brought in all of my plant supports yet.  I left these plants in place to hold the leaves in the bed as free mulch.

Gold Thread-leaf Cypress and unknown Azalea

Italian Parsley by the plowed driveway.  I only put annuals near the driveway so that I don't have to worry about damage to plants during the plowing season.

Sedum 'Autumn Fire'  Not so hot now, huh?

Miscanthus Zebra and Holly Blue Something.  I didn't get the Miscanthus in the ground this year but since it's in a (cheap) plastic pot I left it over the winter.  In the spring (if it survives) it will go in the ground basically where it's currently sitting.  It provides a strong contrast to the dark green holly leaves.

Mexican Feather Grass.  I'm really pushing this plant.  It's planted right up by the house, between the driveway, the garage and the walk to the front door.  I'm hoping the microclimate there will be warm enough for it to survive the winter.  If not I'll buy more next year.  I really like this little grass (and it's not invasive here).