2018: Four Days Left and Finally a Sunny Day

The title may be an exaggeration, but it sure feels like the truth this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually all in favor of a well watered growing season, but this endless gloom is really wearing me down this year.  Fortunately the colder weather seems to have dried the air out a bit and although there are still plenty of storm systems creeping across the States it’s only tomorrow which seems to be a complete wash-out.  With that on the way I made a point of taking advantage of yesterday’s dry skies and sunny weather (and a Christmas holiday!) to labour outside a bit, and hopefully work off a few cookie-calories.

garden path stones

Stones were hauled out of the construction site next door and put to use in expanding a planting bed.

The hard work was hauling stones.  For those who garden on rocky mountainsides the idea of intentionally adding rocks to a yard might seem like nonsense but I love having them scattered around.  Big enough to sit on is perfect, flat enough to step on is also good enough.  This line of stepping stones will hopefully be ideal for muddy spring mornings spent looking too closely at sprouting snowdrops.

snowdrop noses galanthus

Speaking of snowdrops here are a few of the earliest sprouts.  Depending on how the winter goes we could have blooms coming on these by January, February, or March….  Earlier sounds nice, but the stress of later, damaging cold snaps is sometimes not worth it.

Even with a little sunshine, most everything is the garden is dull and bleak ‘winter interest’, and I guess if you’re taking a winter vow of poverty that’s fine but I prefer to see a little more interesting in my winter interest.  A move further south is out of the question, a massive greenhouse is out of the budget, but maybe a few fall blooming snowdrops will fit the bill.  This summer I finally planted my ‘Potter’s Prelude’ out in the open garden, and will now see how they take a full blown, in the garden winter.  Many have re-assured me they’ll be fine, but for now I’m committed to covering them ever time the weather sinks into the low 20’s.

galanthus potters prelude

Galanthus ‘Potters Prelude’.  This year they’re about a month late, undoubtedly I wasn’t the only one waiting for all the rain to stop.

We will see if much else still gets done during these lulls in winter.  I tried to warm up to the winter garden in the garage last week but maybe it’s still just too early and I’m still not quite as desperate as I will be when the snow flies, so for now I’ll still putter around outside.  In the meantime I hope the holidays are being enjoyed by all.  The countdown to 2019 has begun and I wish all of you nothing but the best for the new year!

Shock and Awe

As is my luck, just a few months after moving in it was announced construction would begin on an industrial park behind the new house.  Worse things could happen since the barren acreage was home to little else than mine tailings and stunted birch, but it was open land and I still prefer open land to warehouses and truck parking.  In any case all the trees were gone within a few months.

construction site as my view

Baby pictures of a garden.  The two green shrubs would go on to become the aspen which now dominate the meadow garden, and the wisp of chartreuse surrounded by a mulch ring is now a 20 foot high dawn redwood.

I still miss the large white oak which sat directly behind our yard but over the intervening years new saplings and seedlings have come up to protect us from whatever eyesore progress put in our way.  “Things will be fine” I told my neighbors as we trudged along through the bulldozing, blasting, dumping, uncertainty, and endless windblown dirt as the on again off again construction continued…. for eight years….

summer potager

Last summer’s view, with a respectable wall of trees coming up to shield us from the construction.

Earlier this month the final addition to our end of the park was completed, and the lights went on and the trucks moved in.  The neighbors complained.  The township was involved.  Agreements were reached.  I knew nothing.  One evening I got the text that “they cut down all the trees” and that night when I got home it was quite the shock to find the industrial park had moved right in to our kitchen.

industrial park lights

Looking out onto the deck.  Adios sunsets.

We have a new view now, the scene off the deck just isn’t quite as sorta suburbia as it used to be.  The trees and scrub are gone and with the fence down we’re just a few steps away from barbed wire, chainlink, and tractor trailers.

industrial park construction

I guess it’s better than a highway next door, or a power plant or something…

The tree removal is part of what the industrial park has agreed to do in order to block the light and noise of the development.  The trees came down, dirt is going in and new trees will be planted. I have faith that it will all work out but for now I miss the aspen and sumac and all the other surprises (and nuisances) which had shown up on their own.  They, as well as milkweed and coneflowers and a bunch of other interesting things are now buried under about eight feet of fill.

industrial park construction

The pines which were almost blocking the lights have already been moved to behind my house where they now mostly just block the mountain view.  At least they’re far enough back and not looming right over the fence.  

Word is that over the next few weeks several 30ft Norway spruce will be lifted from another site via giant tree spade and trucked down to take up new homes between us and the lights.  They’re not my favorite tree but beggars can’t be choosers and hopefully they’ll be planted far enough away that they don’t suck up 100% of the winter light which comes from that direction.

industrial park construction

Just a few weeks ago I was back here admiring how well the aspen had returned and planning the work I still needed to do.  Now it’s all changed, tons of dirt has been dumped, and this is where “we’re going to plant a forest”.  

The quote I’m going with has been “you don’t want to see us and we don’t want to see you”, and I’m hoping that works out to be the case.  I liked the wide open but maybe a nearby forest won’t be the worst thing, and in any case finally being done with all the uncertainty of what the future holds might be a relief after all these years.  Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving

The thermometer sits at 13F (-10C) this morning and the low for tonight is forecast to be 7F(-14C).  Of course it’s much warmer on this side of the windowpane, and even if I took off my cozy sweatshirt I’d still be comfortable so I guess there’s plenty of reasons to be thankful.  Even last weekend’s snowfall was just a minor inconvenience, although it came as a surprise and the fall decorations look a little out of place now.

October snowfall

Admiring the mums one week, shoveling snow the next.  So much for gardening!

All garden projects are on hold, and things like cleaning playrooms and painting bedrooms and moving furniture are back on the list, for which I’m 100% excited for.  It would be a shame for the weather to just keep me inside, stuck on a couch and eating and drinking all day…

October snowfall

The snowdrop walk next to the unshoveled driveway.  If you look closely you’ll notice the neighbors have cleared driveways and walks.  This year the kids discovered that other people will give them money in exchange for snow shoveling, unlike their father who thinks he should get an ‘all those times I took you to the Chinese buffet’ discount.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today I wish you all the best for a wonderful day.  In spite of all the complaining about weather and time, pests and circumstance, I realized I’ve been blessed with more than I deserve.   Fire, famine, war and walls are in the news each morning and today I’m Thankful my biggest complaint is the temperature.

 

That Wasn’t Smart 8.0

In hindsight this is the time of year when winter interest should take center stage, and the addition of conifers to the winter garden is probably the best way to keep the yard attractive during the bleakest of winter months.  I’ve heard that and have seen it in print as well, and even the most reluctant gardener will throw a few evergreens around the house as the first step in crafting an attractive landscape.   The message is out, and the majority of houses around here have a sensible foundation planting filled with neatly trimmed yews and junipers and whatever else can snuggle up to the house for year round appeal.

foundation border

Our own slightly less neat foundation plantings, with respectable holly, juniper, and chamaecyparis plantings lined up along the foundation. 

Why this gardener would chose December to remove a large juniper from a prominent front-of-the-house location is foolish enough, but to replace it with a small ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Amber Jubilee) is over into the not so smart category.  Reliable evergreen replaced with small clump of deciduous twigs… maybe you can understand that ‘uh-oh’ feeling I had as I stood there holding the saw and staring at a pile of juniper branches.

foundation border

If you look closely you might be able to see the newest addition to this foundation planting.  It’s right there at the center of the gaping hole which was created when the juniper was removed. 

In all honesty I never liked the juniper.  It made me itch and bored me and even though there were a thousand better things which I could be doing I suddenly needed to plant that ninebark at that minute even though I was right in the middle of putting up the Christmas lights.  As long as we’re opening up here, the Christmas lights were turning into a whole other project in themselves.

Christmas porch decoration

A Longwood inspired twig archway with lights.  Lots of lights.  

The reason I had the saw out in the first place was because I needed to take a walk in the woods and cut down and drag back enough birch trees to make a decent arch leading onto the porch.  I’m pretty sure a twig archway was what our holiday decorations have been lacking.

Speaking of things lacking, this blog has been lacking a snowdrop photo for months and since so many of you have been asking how the snowdrops are doing I guess it’s time to jump back into that world.  Here’s a batch of fall bloomers which my friend Paula shared with me a couple years ago.  They’re out on the driveway for this photo but have since moved into the garage in anticipation for the approaching cold… lows for next week show numbers around 10F (-12C) and that’s just not appropriate for such an innocent little flower… or for the box of tulip bulbs which just showed up on the doorstep this afternoon.

fall snowdrops

Fall blooming giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) with a nice green pattern to the inners.  

If pushed I’d have to admit that no one has actually asked about the snowdrops, but I’m sure they were wondering and I didn’t want to rudely ignore that.

Now I’m off to check out something I can’t even ignore for a minute.  Pamela at Pam’s English Garden has put up the post detailing her own recent visit to Longwood Gardens.  I knew she was there within a few days of my own visit and I’ve been looking forward to seeing her own impressions of the decorations.  I hope she doesn’t point out a bunch of cool things which I missed!

A Longwood Christmas

A few years ago we almost gave up on holiday visits to Longwood Gardens.  We’re lingerers after all and the crowds and hustle bustle of hundreds of visitors can put a lot of pressure on ‘that guy’ who’s holding up the line because he wants to give all the gardenia flowers a sniff.  We kept at it though because for as nice as Christmas and good cheer are, a few whiffs of the tropics can also go a long way bringing some jolly to a cold winter night… and these are the long nights and stressful days which can really use some tropical relief.

longwood christmas

The orangery decked out for the holidays.  Warmth, humidity, and sunshine made the display even better.

Who would have thought the answer to our crowded visits could be as simple as going on a less crowded day?  For the second year in a row we visited on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Christmas diehards that might be inappropriately early, but for us it’s been working perfectly.  The weather was beautiful and we nearly had the place to ourselves (relatively speaking of course).

longwood christmas

This year the apples are back, this time keeping company with thousands of floating red cranberries.

The conservatories are always perfectly decorated with the colors and sounds of the season.  I think my favorite part this year was the bright sunshine streaming in through the glass when we first arrived.  Walking through the doors and into the sunny, humid warmth was an instant escape from weeks of static and dry skin.

longwood christmas

Walls of windows, tree ferns, and fountains… I could get used to this 🙂

Flowers, greenery, and holiday decorations.  You can imagine I took plenty of pictures but since they’re not snowdrop photos I’ll spare you from the bulk of it.  Click >here< for last Christmas or >here< for last summer if you need more, or better yet visit the Longwood website for the real stuff!

longwood christmas

My favorite view this year, a courtyard scene off the back of the music room.

Since the kids ditched us this year there was plenty of time to admire the boring flowers without anyone tugging a coat sleeve.  Longwood always has orchids and I suddenly had the time to admire them… although I’m still far from being an orchid person (mostly due to their habit of dying on me).

I won’t go on and on about every conservatory flower but I did find something which I thought was even more special than their regular.  In one of the back greenhouse passages was a display of a few of their ‘on trial’ poinsettia, and I thought is was an interesting glimpse into some of the variety which this humble plant from Central America has been bred into.  This is also where I met some of the ‘golden’ poinsettias which carry names such as ‘Autumn Leaves, and ‘Gold Rush’, and came in colors more traditionally associated with the end of summer.  What do you think?  At least there’s no blue dye or glitter in sight!

…and then night fell.  We grabbed a bite to eat, toured the grounds, enjoyed the fountains (not the main fountains, they’re off for the winter), took in some Christmas songs around the organ, warmed up around the fire, and then closed the place down with one last tour of the conservatory.  It was holiday-magical in the late evening, with most visitors having already headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

A Longwood Christmas with a French feel.  The symmetry and apple-cranberry patterns surrounded by box are chateau parterre inspired.

Then we were the ones headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

The stroll back out to the car.  A two hour drive home awaits 😉

As usual we enjoyed our visit, and it must have been somewhat inspiring since I spent a few hours this weekend out in the cold putting up our own lights.  So far the reviews have been less than flattering, and there’s no talk of admission tickets, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you decide to make your way to Longwood this year for the displays be sure to buy your tickets online before you go, just to make sure they’re available.  Also if you want to take in a quieter visit, try to avoid Saturdays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Those might be the nights when you’re better off hitting the eggnog at home.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 11.21.17

It’s been three weeks since my last Tuesday View with Cathy so I guess it’s about time to check in again.  Winter is getting real and to sum up the passing weeks, the days are shorter, the first freeze has hit, winter cleanup has begun (and been finished), and we even woke up to our first inch of snow yesterday.  I hate the gloominess of this time of year but miraculously the sun came out just enough to capture a highlighted Tuesday view of the border.  And then it was gone again.

front border

The Tuesday view.  Nice enough but I already miss the flowers of summer.  A keen eye will pick out the mushy, frozen lump of my precious cardoon about mid border….

It could look worse.  Right now there’s still some contrast between dead-brown, dead-black, and dead-grey and the different forms and textures could be considered ‘winter interest’ to the more optimistic.  My opinion on winter interest leans more towards the warm shores of a tropical beach so I’ll have to trust others on that.

mailbox planting

The sunflower skeletons have finally been cut down, but that’s as far as the winter cleanup will go

Maybe evergreens are the way to go.  I of course love the too-bright yellows, but I’m sure there’s something more refined for those of better taste.

winter interest

The pink muhly grass has faded so now it’s up to this juniper to carry on for the winter.  I believe the juniper is ‘Old Gold’.

Coniferous color could carry the border through the lean months but for now (and hopefully the next  few weeks) the healthy green hellebore foliage is making the inner parts of the border look healthy and full.  During the heat of summer the taller perennials and shrubs shelter the hellebore leaves.  Now that they’ve died back again the hellebores can shine.

hellebore foliage

The giant reed grass (Arundo donax) has been trimmed back for the winter and the ten foot tall canes lugged away to the compost.  Without the grassy mess the red twigged dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ and the green of hellebores are back on stage.

I saw that this week Cathy has devoted her post to a recap of the year’s views.  I love it.  Being able to follow the whole year in just a few minutes is a fun way to spend these waning days of 2017… even if it does mean you’ll miss the garden and maybe get a little excited already for 2018!

Have a great week 🙂

Welcome to Winter

There are still a bunch of things to clean up in the garden but now that the first serious frost has hit I’m officially announcing an end of autumn in my garden and the beginning of a very early winter.  The cannas were blackened last night, tomorrow’s high might not rise above freezing, and Friday’s low is predicted at 18F.  For those of you on a Celsius scale that converts to pretty damn cold, especially for very early winter.  Fortunately I was able to run around like a total fool at the last minute in a cold drizzle with freezing fingers, and bring the bulk of the non-hardy plants in before the frost.  Obviously it did occur to me that I could have done this much more comfortably on a warm and dry October weekend, but….

overwinter plants

I ran out of space in the winter garden so these tropical leftovers have taken over the garage and pushed the car out into the driveway.  Who needs a warm, frost-free car in the morning anyway?   

Hopefully over the next few days all these irreplaceable goodies will find a longer-term spot which gives them a little light, a warm-enough temperature, and also gives the car enough room to get back in.  The garage has been cleaned after all, and it would be a shame to not use it for the two cars it was meant for.

overwinter rosemary

Non-hardy to the left for when the door is closed, semi-hardy things like rosemary to the right to cozy up to the shelter of the garage, yet still get some outdoor air and sunshine.  I’ll drag them all in when it drops below the mid 20’s.  

Two of the shop lights are already in use back in the winter garden.  Against better judgement I’ve brought in a bunch of potted geraniums (pelargoniums) rather than the smaller, less bulky cuttings I normally do.  Hopefully there aren’t a billion pillbugs and slugs hiding within the pots.

overwinter pelargoniums

Geraniums under the growlights of the winter garden.  Rest assured they will soon be joined by a few dozen snowdrops and cyclamen… and whatever else finds its way in 😉

This newfound love of geraniums (or pelargoniums if you prefer the official name) makes me 95% sure I’m well on my way to becoming my grandmother.  I’m not sure what my wife thinks of this but I’m sure my grandmother would approve, and I’m sure she would also approve of some of the more interesting flower types which are now safely blooming under cover.

pelargonium flower

A closeup of ‘Fireworks bicolor’… nice enough flower but the name?  I think they could have done better than ‘bicolor’ to describe the bloom….

I’m fine with moving things indoors.  The winter garden seems to fire up earlier and earlier each year and it’s a nice quiet spot to just putter around in… assuming I can still get back there once all the garage plants are stuffed into their winter accommodations.  We’ll see how it goes.  Seeds need cleaning and packaging, a new plant order needs planting, and there’s a strong possibility 100 snowdrops are on their way to our doorstep.  We won’t even mention the temptation of a Brent and Becky clearance sale.  I already feel weak.