A very good year

I’m generally not one to reminisce about the goings-on of the year past. Gardeners are well served possessing a short memory, better to forget the minor disasters that occur with regularity, but we mustn’t forget the why’s and why-not’s, the how-to’s that prevent complete failure. My wife will confirm that my memory is selective, the unpleasant or inconvenient quickly dismissed.

There are plentiful memories from this year worthy of reflection.

Blooms from February to December

Perhaps there was a stray blossom from ‘Winter’s Interlude’ camellia in January, though the up-and-down temperatures were not conducive to mid-winter flowering and many buds were injured and fell. There were few other disappointments, from late-winter blooming bulbs and Helleborus, to the bright yellow December flowers of Winter Sun mahonia.

Helleborus bloom in late winter

Spring blooms were delayed a bit by cool temperatures in March, but once the flowering season began the cool, rainy weather encouraged blossoms to remain longer. Through summer, moderate conditions, with only a brief drought in August, kept the garden looking fresh.

The Autumn garden

While my addiction to planting is unbounded by the seasons, I exerted some effort to increase the number of late season bloomers, adding coneflowers, asters, sunflowers, and toad lilies, some new purchases, others divided. This first year was a success, and I look forward to larger plants with more abundant blooms in the coming autumn.

Toad lily in October

Though the least conspicuous of September flowers, the toad lilies (Tricyrtis) have captured my eye, and my collection continues to grow. Fortunately, they grow to a modest size that fit’s comfortably into any nook or cranny, in sun or shade.

A September garden wedding

Not in our garden, thank goodness! Though we hosted friends and family for our eldest son’s wedding, and invited a crowd back to the house after the rehearsal dinner, the event was held in the formal garden of a local Colonial era conference center.

Our sons, groom and best man, and groomsmen in the lower garden

The weather was ideal, as late September often is in northern Virginia. One week later began a progression of weekend monsoons that would have doomed an outdoor event for the following month. Luckily, not ours.

This wedding brings back only the happiest memories.


Merry berries

The garden is covered by a blanket of snow, but today the sun is shining and birds are darting to and fro. Our bird feeder has long been abandoned, a victim of relentless tree rats. No doubt there are feeders resistant to tree rats (okay, squirrels), but I’ve become satisfied to provide natural feed and shelter for our bird neighbors, and in this garden there’s plenty of both.

The large hollies are thickly branched and full of red berries (above and below) that will be plucked before winter is gone. There are ten or more varieties, some with prolific numbers of berries, and others less.

More preferred by the birds are the small, grape-like fruits of ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia (in bloom in December, below) that will follow as the bright yellow blooms fade in the next week or two. The fruits are consumed so quickly in January that I have never seen one ripened on the bush. I am determined to visit daily through the next weeks to confirm that they truly exist.

The spring blooming Mahonia beali (below) produces larger and more abundant fruits, but at a time when food is more readily available. Still, birds strip it bare in short order.

Each year the large nandinas (Nandina domestica, below) have plentiful clusters of berries, so many that the tall stems weep from their weight. They are greatly attractive, but birds do not find the berries irresistable, and often most are wasted, falling to the ground in spring.

Perhaps there is such an abundant supply of berries that birds can afford to be picky eaters.

The year in bloom – early spring

The drive has been shoveled, several times. Nearly two feet of snow have fallen today, and spring seems far away.

Days such as this bring back wonderful memories, of the storm of ’66 when as a kid I delivered the morning newspaper, wading through chest high drifts. Later in the day jumping from the second story deck into snow drifted taller than my brothers and I.

While clearing the drive earlier today I was careful to avoid piling snow on the low hanging branches of the large Japanese maple that intrudes on the drive. This weeping maple stands eight feet or more, is at least as wide, and will continue to grow. At some point it will require pruning so that the drive remains passable, but that is not my concern today, and I prefer that the pruning not be done by an avalanche of snow.

There is no harm to the perennials and spring bulbs buried beneath these mounds of snow. They are safe, snugly insulated from the cold, so long as this is melted by March.

On this snowy Saturday in December the February blooms of hellebores (above) and witch hazel (below) seem so far away, but what better time, now that the darkness has hidden winter’s beauty, to recall delights that are no more than two months ahead.

I am anxious to see if the Edgeworthias (below) planted in early spring will survive the winter, for they are marginal for this zone. The blanket of snow will help so long as it covers the ground through the worst cold this winter offers. I doubt that will be the case.

The nodding flower buds are evident, and I’m certain that I’ll be visiting to check them many days in the months to come. I will happily report when they are beginning to bloom in early March.

A certainty is that the andromeda (Pieris japonica, above) will survive the winter, and bloom in late winter. Already the buds are attractive, but today, hidden beneath the snow.

Pieris is one of the evergreens in the garden that could be brittle under the weight of this amount of snow, but we’ll see what comes of it in the days ahead. Probably in the weeks ahead, since the forecast is for extended cold and it’s doubtful we’ll see much melting.

Slob proof!

Today a thoughtful home and garden marketing firm that I deal with sent me a paperback version of an interior decorating book titled Slob Proof! Real-Life Design Solutions. I’ll pass it along to my wife. I’m eagerly awaiting the garden version. I need help!

In my garden an obelisk lies on its side, wrapped in a tangle of clematis vine. The vine has been dead longer than a year. I can’t recall if it died, or I killed it, but this fast growing clematis (Clematis montana rubens, below) had leapt from the obelisk into the overhanging Burgundy Lace Japanese maple, threatening to engulf it like kudzu. I remember thinking that this arrangement wasn’t working as well as I envisioned, but have no further recollection.

The stakes for the cedar obelisk have rotted, so there is no means to support it. A time or two I have set it upright, which lasts until the next puff of breeze. Eventually I will get around to cleaning up the mess, but there it sits for now. It’s not in the way of anything, and I don’t venture to that corner so often, so there should be no great rush to drop more important matters.

There is little point in arguing if this, and many other minor horrors evident in this garden, are unique to a man’s garden, or just to overburdened gardeners in general.

When the wife complains that the stone path up the hill beside the house has disappeared beneath hostas and nandinas flopping about, I’m rather pleased that they have grown more rampant than intended. After all, a path can still be negotiated through the Plum yews (Cephalotaxus), slipping between the large barberries, around a sharp spined Dragon Lady holly, stepping over the non-fruiting blackberry groundcover while avoiding the Encore azalea to one side and the low branches of Butterfly Japanese maple to the other.

And the small spot of open ground between the barberries and holly tends to get weedy or muddy, depending on whether the weeds have been pulled or allowed to grow into a nice mat that makes for cleaner passage, though the seeds catapulting around your ankles and into your boot can be a bit tiresome.

Much of the garden is quite wonderful. There are blooms from February to December, tropical leaves as large as a riding mower, aggressive vines, and delicate ones winding discreetly through the tall nandinas (above), waterlilies (below) and iris blooming in deep, dark koi ponds.

In fact, most of the lingering disasters and piles of rubble are disguised by abundant growth.

Any week, there is no shortage of tasks requiring attention, but some days are spent in relaxation, or deliberate laziness, and others lost strolling, appreciating, entranced by flora and fauna. In some manner, most of the chores are accomplished in time, and the undone are rationalized as inconsequential, or out of the way, or some other such nonsense.

If the book is published that makes short work of this large garden I hope that someone will be so kind as to forward a copy in my direction.

I knew it all along

The southeast is not always sunny and warm

I’ve just returned from a week touring nurseries in the “sunny” southeast. After four days of rain the sun made a brief appearance,  a respite from the monsoon. I flew out Friday evening in a sweatshirt with temperatures in the mid-thirties.

Back home in Virginia, I awakened Saturday morning to large, wet snowflakes. A delightful sight from our warm kitchen, but too wet and cold to venture out into the garden, even to knock the wet snow off the evergreens (Globosa blue spruce above). By midday I summoned enough courage to take a true winter photo of  ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia (below), which didn’t mind the cold and snow at all.

Rub some mud on it

I don’t know if this is a old-time homeopathic treatment, or just some idiotic notion that I’ve had for as long as I can recall, but whenever I suffer a cut or scrape (anything short of severing a limb) I rub dirt on the wound. Of course it’s stupid, but thus far I haven’t lost any major body parts to infection.

Now, researchers at UC San Diego are suggesting that bacteria found in dirt might prevent infections ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/6630394/Children-should-be-allowed-to-play-in-the-dirt-new-research-suggests.html ). I don’t expect that mothers will believe a word of it.

Encore azaleas are resistant to lacebug

I’ve been clear that I’m not a fan of azaleas, with their aversion to clay soils and susceptibility to bugs. Early in my gardening career I killed more than a few.

I was enticed to test Encores (azaleas that bloom spring and fall in the mid-Atlantic) with an offer of free plants. Now, they’re making a convert of me. A handful of varieties bloomed in my northern Virginia garden from late September into mid-November, when a freeze melted the blossoms, then more buds opened until the next sub freezing night a few weeks later.

Now word comes from the USDA horticultural research facility in Mississippi that some varieties of Encore azaleas are lacebug resistant. I checked, and sure enough, there’s no evidence of injury on any of the azaleas in my garden.

No wonder that I’m learning to love azaleas again.