December 30, 2010

New year, new friends

A plant enjoyed alone is lovely. A lovely plant shared with a friend creates a pleasant memory. A pleasant memory of a plant-loving friend is priceless.

I’m sure someone has said this or something like it in the past. But I just recorded it in the words I’ve been thinking about all day. When I started this blog, I didn’t realize how much joy it would bring. Not just from the blogging, but also through interaction with fellow gardeners.

As I look ahead to 2011, I do so with hopeful anticipation. And a good portion of it is due to the new plant-loving, pleasant, lovely friends I’ve made through garden blogging. I’ve always known that gardeners are generous people. But I had no idea how many great people I’d meet through Blotanical and Good Garden Ideas and through reading and commenting on fellow bloggers’ posts.

It’s interesting, actually, how most of our blogs are not about people at all, but about our garden successes, failures, and tips and tricks. But it’s the sharing of these that makes the gardening and the blogging so very rewarding.

My wish for all gardening friends, near and far, is that you have a satisfying, successful 2011, full of lovely, pleasant gardening moments and priceless memories with plant-loving friends. Happy New Year!

December 27, 2010

Signs of life

I looked out my back window at
10:29 a.m. CST this morning and saw a dramatic play of low winter sun pouring through the Oak trees, over the hill, and into the white landscape of the back garden. (Believe it or not, this is a color photo, but my landscape is very black and white these days.)

Confession: I still had my robe and slippers on, which prevented my running outside to take this shot—so this is through the window. I took this picture with my camera phone. These are excuses, but honestly if I would have taken the time to go grab the better camera and get dressed, the shot would have been gone. At
10:31 a.m., I took a second shot and the light wasn’t nearly as dramatic. Just a little realization that we have to grab the moments while we have them.

Later in the day, I decided to break out the snowshoes and look for signs of life. There aren’t many of the plant variety. But with our recent “mild” December weather, the animals are a little more active than they were a couple weeks ago. I saw a squirrel scampering across the lot yesterday. And animal prints crisscross the white landscape and meander among the trees and branches.

The current top layer of snow is the white powdery variety, so the prints aren’t as distinct as they would be in heavier snow. But it’s fun to guess which animals created these prints.


Any ideas?

Various birds



Messy human

Garden blogging is a healthy activity. It’s getting me out into the fresh air and it’s fueling my creative muse. What to write about next?

December 23, 2010

White Christmas memories

“Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards...

“Always on Christmas night there was music...Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."

Excerpts from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by Dylan Thomas

Merry Christmas!

December 19, 2010

Dressed up for the holidays

We’ve had a bit of a warm-up in southern Wisconsin. Cold is relative, I guess. After suffering through days of bitter single-digit cold with below-zero wind chills, the high was a balmy 20°F today, with sunshine and next to no wind. It was warm enough for me to venture out with my camera for a quick jaunt around the garden. It was actually refreshing!

I thought I’d capture some shots of “festive” plants with red berries and seeds that really pop against the white snow.

Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), for example, sports particularly bright berries that are a popular food source for birds.

Cotoneaster (C. horizontalis) looks cozy, tucked under a canopy of fluffy snow. These branches are great additions to floral arrangements—particularly if you can catch them with green leaves intact and before they’re buried by snowdrifts.

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is another great addition to floral arrangements. It’s a striking companion to sprigs of Pine and Spruce, White Carnations, Pine cones and Red Twig Dogwood.

These are just a few examples of plants that provide nonstop beauty—even in the depths of winter.

December 16, 2010

They sleep, then creep, then leap

I’ve been in survival mode for the past few days. With highs in the single digits above zero Fahrenheit, the idea of venturing out into the garden has been the last thing on my mind. So I’m living vicariously through fellow bloggers' posts, and thoughts of warmer days.

Every year about this time, I seriously wonder why I live in this northern climate. Of course, the reason is that most of my family and friends are here. So every year, I muddle through, curse the cold and treacherous commutes, and live for those glorious days in late spring when zone 5 Midwestern gardens are among the most impressive in the world.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about garden sayings that help us remember little tips about plant care. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap (referring to ground cover perennials).
  • Pinch mums until the fourth of July.
  • Grow a large plant in a small pot.
  • God made rainy [and snowy and cold] days so gardeners could get their housework done.
  • Tickle the earth with a hoe, it will laugh a harvest.

I also ran across some excellent gardening quotes at Northern Gardening. Can you think of other garden sayings and quotes that help you cope with inclement weather and remember little wisdoms about plant care? Please share.

December 12, 2010

Color, texture, and growth patterns

I’ve decided to devote this blog to plants that overwinter in the zone 5 climate—perennials, bulbs, trees, and shrubs. But as a slight departure, I’d like to share a photo I recently snapped for a Good Garden Ideas story about holiday botanical garden displays.

Neither Poinsettia nor Amaryllis can overwinter in my climate. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America, and Amaryllis plants are native to South Africa. Both are tropical plants. But the rich and complimentary colors, textures, and growth patterns of these two plants was a good reminder to me to think about these characteristics when planning future plantings in my garden.

The veined, soft white, carpet-like texture of the white Poinsettias provides a lovely base for the spiking, dramatic Amaryillis. The colors, textures, and growth patterns of both plants are beautiful on their own, but especially striking when planted together.

Actually, this is somewhat similar to the effect of Lycoris, in my garden, rising up in late August out of a carpet of Hostas.

December 07, 2010

Snowbound ground cover

Well, I wasn’t completely honest about Pachysandra in my last post. You see, when the Pachysandra is covered with snow, like it is now, it’s hard to tell that it “looks great all year.”

I guess if you dig under the snow it’s still green, but I doubt I’ll actually see the Pachysandra again until a January or February thaw.

This is what our main garden bed, including Pachysandra, looks like in early summer:

The Pachysandra doesn't take center stage, but it does provide a warm carpet for other perennials growing with it. In our garden, that includes Ferns, Hostas, Bleeding Heart, and a host of other more showy perennials.

I’ve heard that Pachysandra can be invasive. But we haven’t had that problem. We simply mow around it and it stays contained within its boundaries.

December 04, 2010

Plant of the month: Pachysandra

I take Pachysandra (P. terminalis) for granted. It’s such an easy-care ground cover in my very shady garden. And because it’s so reliable, it deserves to be the plant of the month for December.

Pachysandra is an evergreen plant in the Boxwood family that grows to about six to 12 inches. The waxy leaves look great all year, even in northern climates. It grows in zones four to nine, according to Numerous sources report that it struggles if it gets too much sun, which explains why it’s thriving in my garden.

In the fall, short spikes of light green flower buds form and hold their shape all winter. They bloom in spring and create a dense carpet of small, white fluffy flowers atop bright, deep green leaves.

Honestly, I neglect Pachysandra in my garden. So many other plants require pampering and prodding and special treatment. Pachysandra obviously likes zone 5, shade, and Oak mulch. An added bonus: It’s rabbit- and deer-resistant.