December 24, 2012

Warm holiday wishes to you and yours

Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given--when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.

~ Joan Winmill Brown

(Dear gardening friends: I'm taking a short break from posting, but I'll be visiting my favorite blogs in the interim. My next post will be in the new year. Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year to all!)

December 21, 2012

Definitely a new season around here...

Once again, it's time to wrap up the season with the quarterly "Lessons Learned" meme. And around here, there's no question we've moved from autumn to winter.


On Thursday, we awoke to seven inches of fresh snow, with another seven or so added throughout the day--along with blustery winds gusting up to 50 mph. We're still digging out, but there's no doubt now we'll have a white Christmas.


So, autumn is long-gone for me. But I'm thankful for the folks who participated in the meme. All of our lessons from the past season will be helpful as we prepare for the next growing season.


Thanks to:

Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys, who says she hasn't been using evergreens to their full potential in her garden. After reading a book about a garden of many evergreens, she describes that type of garden as one that "doesn't wait for the cocktail hour of winter" to show off its finery. Holley's planning to plant a bed in her garden devoted primarily to evergreens.

Jason at Gardinacity takes us on a tour of his fall garden--through Asters, Rosebuds, berries, and "way too many" seedheads. Jason reminds us to savor mild days while they last (and I'm thinking I didn't follow his advice very well, myself--now it's too late).


Karin at Southern Meadows shares several practical and thoughtful lessons--like making sure you keep your hummingbird feeder up all winter (if you live in Georgia, that is). Karin is fortunate to have a hummer overwintering in her garden. She offers detailed instructions on keeping the feeders from freezing, and keeping the hummers happy.

Diana at Elephant's Eye also also offers practical lessons: Agapanthus flowers for Christmas need watering as the buds emerge--especially in South Africa, where Christmas occurs during the summer. Diana shares her "Dozen for Diana"--12 particularly favorite plants. And a simple tip that Artemisia afra smells of licorice or anise when you brush against it.


Donna at Gardens Eye View discusses how nothing seemed normal in her garden this past spring and summer. But she suggests stepping back to watch nature and the signs it provides. When you do that, says Donna, you're likely to be a more successful gardener. She quotes Vita Sackville-West: "The more one gardens, the more one learns; and the more one learns, the more one realizes how little one knows." So true!

Thanks, everyone. If I forgot anyone, please let me know in the comments. See you again after I finish shoveling. ;-)


December 17, 2012

Plant of the month: Alcea rosea

One of my New Year's resolutions (a little premature, I know) for this blog is to be more specific with my "plant of the month" choices. If I know the species, variety, and/or cultivar, I will share them here. If not, I'll attempt to identify them and ask for your help to confirm.


This month, I'm taking a little break from the holiday decorations to highlight a plant that in its full glory elicits a mood opposite that of snow, winter, and cold: the Hollyhock (Alcea rosea). Fortunately, I still have the tag for this one, and the cultivar listed is 'Chater's Double Pink.'

This next photo shows what my Hollyhocks look like in my garden today, in mid-December in the cold, northern state of Wisconsin.


I know, I was surprised, too. But they're planted adjacent to the house foundation on the sunny west side of the house. I'm pretty sure this microclimate is a tad warmer than the typical USDA zone 5 garden plot. In any case, these babies are about to be covered in six to 12 inches of snow, if the meteorologists' forecasts are correct.


In mid- to late-summer, Hollyhocks of all varieties are towering extroverts in the garden. You can't ignore them, but why would you want to? 'Chater's Double Pink' grows to six feet tall, and like most Hollyhocks, prefers full sun. It's a biennial or short-lived perennial, but it reseeds. I think I've had this beauty in my garden for at least six years, probably longer.


I first fell in love with Hollyhocks when I saw them leaning romantically against my neighbor's white picket fence many years ago. If I had a tall picket fence and more sun, that's where they would go. And I understand now why I fell in love with Hibiscus moscheutos, highlighted in a previous post: The two have a similar style and belong to the Malvaceae family.


Hollyhocks, in their earliest form, were native to China, according to Cornell University's Growing Guide. They are noninvasive, hardy in zones 3-9, and available in a variety of colors and shades. 'Chater's Double Pink,' in particular, takes my breath away. My only problem with it: The Japanese beetles love it, too. But we'll save that story for another post.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Jen, at Muddy Boot Dreams, mentioned that many bloggers are designating Tuesday, Dec. 18, a day of silence and support for the community of Newtown, Conn. If you would like to donate to the Newtown Family Youth and Family Services, follow the link to their site. All money will go directly to those affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Please note that Friday, Dec. 21, is the December solstice. I will be wrapping up the "Lessons Learned" meme, and my friend, Donna, at Gardens Eye View will wrap up the "Seasonal Celebrations" meme. Please share your garden lessons by clicking here or on the tab at the top of the page, or simply share your link in the comments. Even links to past posts about your techniques, joys, and challenges are welcome. Thank you.

December 06, 2012

Persistence pays

When you hang on, fight the odds, find a way to survive...people notice. As I join in Donna's Seasonal Celebrations meme, I acknowledge a very tough plant that has survived in my front porch planters through early December.


This Ivy, planted in the spring, is still alive--even though I've neglected it and failed to water it, and even though we've had numerous frosts and hard freezes. The other annuals in the planters shriveled weeks ago, but these guys keep going.


I've planted Ivy before, but I don't remember it surviving this late into the season. It's convenient, though, because it's perfect for holiday decorating.


Thinking about one of my favorite Christmas carols, I found these modest sprigs of Holly at the garden center.


The store associate said to keep them lightly misted and they should last through the holidays.


They look fantastic and festive together, don't they?


I plopped the ends of the Ivy stems into a floral water tube...


And wound the Holly and the Ivy through the stems of a dried Grapevine wreath. Instant, inexpensive Christmas decoration!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One of my favorite Christmas carols is "The Holly and the Ivy." Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit more than hearing it sung by a choir in a cathedral, like this:

Join my friend, Donna, at Gardens Eye View for her "Seasonal Celebrations" meme! And please join the "Lessons Learned" meme by clicking here or on the tab at the top of the page, or simply share your link in the comments. Even links to past posts about your techniques, joys, and challenges are welcome.

Both memes will be active until the solstice, when Donna and I will post wrap-ups. Feel free to combine the two memes in one post!

November 30, 2012

Lessons Learned: Autumn 2012


I joined the ranks of the self-employed in September. Like all work arrangements, there are benefits and drawbacks. One of the biggest benefits is that I have a little more time to devote to garden blogging. That makes me happy.

With the change, I've noticed a lot of my "lessons learned" this autumn have paralleled life and career lessons. Most aren't new, but are more like personal reminders. So, my entry for this season's meme is a little less practical than usual, and a little more introspective. For example:


No use crying over [fill in the blank] ... spilled milk, garden potpourri, you name it. When life takes you in unexpected directions, particularly pleasant ones, don't lament the road you previously expected to take. Just enjoy the new path. Life is too short to look back.


Really simple pleasures are absolutely the best. Why am I so pleased when I observe a brown, plain Echinacea seed head? Well, who isn't? But beyond that, I've learned to enjoy the simplest miracles--they never let me down.


Diversity is a good thing--whether we're talking potpourri, people, or special projects. I'm pleased to be working on several extremely diverse assignments. And they're keeping life fascinating and challenging.


Sometimes a dormant dream is nothing more than a promise waiting for the right time and opportunity to blossom. (Do you think this Cosmos seed head will germinate and grow if I plant it in the spring?)


Planning ahead is helpful, but be open to new experiences. If you approach life with a spirit of curiosity and hopefulness, you're more likely to be at peace with the peaks and valleys.


Take time to simply appreciate what you have, and share your joy and blessings with others.


Sometimes the seasoned, faded [fill in the blank] is just as pleasant as the first blush.


And one very practical, but sweet, new discovery: Dried seed heads from my garden create a lovely potpourri.

What lessons did you learn this autumn? Please share them by joining in this "Lessons Learned" meme. You can click here or on the tab at the top of the page, or simply share your link in the comments. Even links to past posts about your techniques, joys, and challenges are welcome.

To gardeners in the Southern Hemisphere: Happy summer!

This meme will be active until the solstice, when I'll post a wrap-up. Please also join my friend, Donna, at Gardens Eye View for her "Seasonal Celebrations" meme! And feel free to combine the two memes in one post.

November 26, 2012

It all depends on your perspective

Inspired by a post by Frances at Fairegarden about the view out her window onto her beautiful garden, I decided to show you what I see when I look into my house from my garden. (Apologies for the messy, damaged screens that I must replace next spring! But this is what I actually see.)

In the photo above, doesn't it look like Ginger is eyeing a tasty treat of miniature squashes?

But when you pull back a bit, you see that Ginger is sitting in the window, and the table with squashes is in the background.

Pulling back even further makes the true perspective clearer. (Oreo, get off that table!)

No, you can't come outside and join me in the garden. I know you're licking your chops thinking about flying and crawling critters, but you will always be an indoor cat.

Sorry, guys. The garden is for the birds, the plants, the wild animals, my guests, and me to enjoy. But you can watch! And I'll feed you when I come inside.

November 20, 2012

Plant of the month: Hibiscus

You know a plant is destined to be in your garden someday when it keeps showing up on your camera's memory card.
  • A plant you didn't think you particularly cared for, but it keeps catching your eye.
  • A plant you notice on the way to photograph another plant, but you just can't ignore it.
  • Oh, and it's photogenic.

Obviously I don't have any Hibiscus growing in my garden right now. Not much is growing in my garden right now. And actually I've never planted or tended Hibiscus. But for some reason, I can't ignore them anymore. No better time to celebrate a flamboyant plant than when the garden outside is drab and dull. These golden beauties planted near a park bench in New Orleans were an afterthought. I was snapping photos of other plants, while these guys were screaming, "Look at us! Take our picture!"

I didn't know much about Hibiscus before writing this post, since I've been trying to ignore them all these years. Why? I don't know. Maybe because I considered them too showy and bright. But now I'm surrendering and admitting they're simply...spectacular.

According to American Meadows, there are two main types of Hibiscus--tropical and hardy varieties. The tropicals are native to Asia and the Pacific islands, and can be grown in some areas of the U.S. as shrubs or annuals. The hardy varieties, on the other hand, survive as perennials in climates as cold as USDA zone 4!

There are hundreds of species of Hibiscus, according to an article about Hawaiian tropical flowers.

I believe this vibrant showstopper is a tropical variety of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, commonly known as Chinese Hibiscus.

It was growing as a hedge between the sidewalk and a stately home in New Orleans' garden district.

This graceful beauty looks to be a variety of the hardy Hibiscus moscheutos, commonly called Swamp Mallow or Rose Mallow. Although it can be grown as a perennial in cold climates, it also tolerates extreme heat. I photographed these Hibiscus blooms on one of the hottest days of the summer in Branson, Mo. I believe the high temperature was 107 that day, and these shots were taken in the late morning.

All Hibiscus plants prefer sunny locations--in short supply in my garden. But maybe I can find a spot with dappled sunlight. Or maybe a sunny spot in my next garden...

I'm linking in with Dozen for Diana at Elephant's Eye. Check out her blog for plant recommendation from gardeners around the world.


Happy Thanksgiving!

November 15, 2012

November: more vibrant than I remember

If I had to rank the months in my Wisconsin garden, generally November would be toward the bottom of the list. But sometimes I'm bowled over when I set low expectations.

For example, the sun glinting through the layers of an ornamental Kale (Brassica oleracea) caught me by surprise the other day. This is the first year I've planted it, but I'm thinking this will be a recurring late-autumn choice from here on out. The colder weather brings out the more vibrant colors of the Kale. And I've seen these beauties around town through December in previous years--brightening up the landscape until the subzero weather hits.

Surprisingly, I still had enough Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) blooming the other day to pick a small bouquet. They're not at their prettiest, but they're nice enough in a small bud vase. We've had a lot of overnight frosts and freezes, but these beauties are planted near the house on the west side--where the afternoon sun bakes the soil and sustains life even under the winter snow.

If you live in a cool climate but want blooms for most of the year, Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) is a sure bet. I probably should stop mentioning this plant in my Bloom Day posts. But it's among the very few plants in my garden that actually flower nine months out of the year.

As the more exposed foliage of Lamium meets the frozen wind, it shifts to interesting shades of burgundy and brown.

Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) pleases the eye even in the depths of November. Its delectable wine-colored flower heads complement the golden and fading stems and foliage underneath.

Another Stonecrop (Sedum kamtschaticum) shifts from green to shades of gold, peach, and pink before taking a winter rest.

I have no Rose buds or blooms to offer, but this healthy branch of foliage is stunning in its simplicity.

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) and Lupines (Lupinus polyphyllus)--residing with the Snapdragons in the warm western microclimate--appear confused. Should they go to sleep, or stretch out with new growth?

Bishop's Weed (Aegopodium podagraria) is still green, blanketed in the embrace of fallen Oak leaves.

Dwarf Forsythia (Forsythia viridissima) and Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum) are tinged with frost damage and losing their battles with the cold. But their golden hues are brilliant in the afternoon light.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) has lost most of its leaves, although a few still cling stubbornly to delight the eye.

Rockspray Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) is at its loveliest--with bright red fruits adorning its multicolored branches.

Evergreen Iris fans anticipate a warm blanket of snow.

And the glorious Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), that I probably should dig out because of its invasive reputation, seems to plead for its place in my garden. No other plant is more brilliant in this November landscape.

I guess November is more vibrant than I remember. I might have to move it up in the rankings.

Special thanks--particularly appropriate this month--goes to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow Up.