Halfway to spring

While leisurely strolling through the garden on a warm early February afternoon, I noted the appearance of allium and narcissus foliage, which is unsurprising with the mild temperatures of the past few weeks, and not anything to be concerned about. While foliage now peeks several inches through leaf clutter, a year ago growth was considerably more advanced (with color showing) by the last week of January, when it was then buried under a few feet of snow. With that far from ideal circumstance, little damage was done, though a few narcissus flowered meekly several weeks after the snow melted. Growth from the same sturdy bulbs is now poking up beside a stone path in the side garden (below), so as expected, there was no long term ill effect.img_0827

This recent mild spell has spurred a few scattered blooms on periwinkles (below) and an early flowering spirea, which is hardly unusual and also no cause for concern as long as growth doesn’t proceed much further. A year ago, it did, and the deep snow was somewhat of a blessing, insulating from the short period of cold that followed.Periwinkle

Hellebore

Flowers of hellebores (above), witch hazels, mahonias, Winter jasmine (below), and snowdrops are just about where the gardener expects they should be at the start of February. Some are flowering, with others just beginning, and I sympathize with the gardener who must wait out the last half of winter without the encouragement of at least a few scattered blooms. A few paperwhites, orchids, and forced branches of pussywillow brought into the kitchen are helpful, but they’re not nearly as satisfying as flowers in the garden. I’m not keen on strolling on a breezy, twenty-five degree afternoon, but happily, there have been few of those, and in recent weeks I’ve spent more time outdoors than usual, though little in labor preparing the garden for spring. That time will be here soon enough.Winter jasmine

Gardeners are very aware that long term weather forecasts are less than dependable, perhaps more reliable than ones made by large rodents, but a few degrees can be the difference between rain, and ice or snow, so daily and long term forecasts are watched closely, if only to reassure that no severe weather is in the works. Forecasts of mild weather seem too good to be true until they’re here, and here’s another one. If temperatures don’t turn too cold, this could be one of the rare late winters when Winter daphnes (below) and paperbushes are flowering before the end of February, which is as good as it gets in the winter garden.Winter daphne

Diane and Jelena

In this first week of February, ‘Diane’ (below) and ‘Jelena’ witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) are beginning to flower, and again I realize that I did not plant another ‘Arnold Promise’, as claimed, to replace an old timer lost a few years ago to ever increasing dampness along the southern border of the lower rear garden. Perhaps this newest witch hazel was unmarked, and certainly it was not flowering at the time, but whatever, I purchased the wrong plant, so now there is a second ‘Diane’ in the garden, which poses no problem except that space must absolutely be found for ‘Arnold Promise’.Diane witch hazel

While the Vernal witch hazel is a marvelous tall shrub with excellent fragrance, it is most distinguished by small flowers in January when little else is flowering besides the various mahonias (Mahonia x media) that are typically fading by mid month. Several attempts to purchase the late autumn flowering, native Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) have failed due to incorrect tagging, which is only occasionally a problem, but not unusual with confusion between Vernal and Common witch hazels that are similar in appearance.

Jelena witch hazel in late February

Jelena witch hazel in late February a year ago.

The hybrid witch hazels (‘Diane’ and ‘Jelena’ in this garden, with hopes that ‘Arnold Promise’ can soon be added) display much larger flowers than the Vernal witch hazel, and often blooms will carry from early February until the first warm spell in March. With a diminished sense of smell I am in no position to compare scents of one to the other, but on any still winter afternoon there is no mistaking the fragrance as I walk through the rear garden. While this might not be a big deal in April or May, in the winter months flowers and scents are greatly appreciated.

The first color showing on paperbush flower buds will arrive somewhere between late January and the first of March if buds are not damaged by cold.

The first color showing on paperbush flower buds will arrive somewhere between late January and the first of March if buds are not damaged by cold.

In this so far mild winter, I again look forward to early flowers on paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha), uncommon, but marvelous shrubs. After recent winters when temperatures dropped several times below zero, flower buds were lost and considerable dieback required severe pruning of branches. But today, I expect to see the first glimpse of color in the next week. Folks with keen senses note the pleasant fragrance of paperbush’s flowers, but this one escapes me. The flowers are more than enough to substantiate inclusion in the garden, though its wide spread will not work in many gardens. References note a tidy three by three (or four by four) feet spread and height, but several in this garden have grown to six feet tall with a spread of ten feet or more.

In this photo, paperbushes flower into early April, though in many years flowers first appear in February and are long gone by late March.

In this photo, paperbushes flower into early April, though in many years flowers first appear in February and are long gone by late March.

 

 

 

Final conclusions

This very unscientific research, based entirely upon casual observation, is concluding nicely, and perhaps the last phase to measure the reaction of squirrels to being shot in the hindquarters by BB’s will not be necessary. Time spent by neighborhood squirrels at our birdfeeder has steadily declined with a switch to sunflower seed treated with hot pepper sauce, and now to safflower seed, as suggested by a reader in Haymarket, a few miles up the road from here.

Redtailed hawk

The hawk is back, after a short absence. A few days earlier, one of our regular squirrels made repeated attempts to bypass the hawk to get to the feeder, without success.

While banging on windows and loudly shouted threats of violence did little, the pepper treated seed was moderately effective, discouraging several regulars, and shortening the time at the feeder for the few stubborn holdouts. While a redtailed hawk (above) proved most effective, warding away squirrels, but also birds, a more complete deterrent was desired, and after several days it appears the answer could be safflower seed.

Cardinal in weeping dogwood

A male cardinal waits for its turn at the feeder.

Yes, squirrels sampled the new seed, but seemingly found it undesirable, cutting short their stays at the feeder, and then not returning except one that partially dismantled the feeder in hopes that choicer seeds must be hidden within. The smaller safflower seeds tumbled from the open window of the feeder into a mound on the ground below. Now, cardinals inhabit the feeder while chickadees forage on the ground, and no squirrels have been seen on this pleasantly chilly afternoon. Somewhat curiously, no bluejays have been observed at the feeder since the change in seed, though they seem to come and go and very probably will return.

Hellebore

One of several hellebores flowering in late January.

In the surrounding garden, the effects of recent mild temperatures are readily apparent, with many early snowdrops and hellebores (above) coming into bloom, and buds of hybrid witch hazels beginning to open to join the earlier flowering Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, below). While cooler weather is forecast, the lack of extreme cold will encourage flowering to progress.Vernal witch hazel

Prospects for February are excellent. Without squirrels at the feeder, my wife will be happier, and possibly the  kitchen will be more peaceful without the banging and shouting. And, the gardener will be enthused further by the increasing numbers of blooms.

Modest plans for spring

In this second week of January, several seed catalogs and a few from mail order plant suppliers have arrived in the mailbox. Once, the box was stuffed with catalogs after the start of the new year, but today it is the email bin that overflows.

It’s been a while since I’ve grown anything from seed (so seed catalogs are discarded), mostly a matter of laziness than for any other reason, since this can be quite cost effective for many perennials (and vegetables) that are easily raised. This should not discourage more energetic folks, and yes, not much effort is required, but for better or worse I’m better off planting well rooted containers that will tolerate a bit of neglect.

Occasionally, I will grab a few ripe blueberries as I walk the garden, but if my timing is slightly off birds will harvest every ripe berry.

Occasionally, I will grab a few ripe blueberries as I walk the garden, but if my timing is slightly off, birds will harvest every ripe berry.

Long ago, I gave up on tomatoes or other veggies, and grow no edibles besides blueberries as shade from the garden’s many Japanese maples and dogwoods make finding a sunny spot difficult. Certainly, there are more trees and shrubs here that are marginally considered as edibles, but if there are any berries on the serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis), there are few enough not to be worth the effort to pick. Any berries, from any tree or shrub in this garden, go to the birds, even the blueberries for the most part which are quickly harvested as they ripen, with the few spoils going to Japanese beetles.

Flowers are plentiful, but berries scarce on the serviceberry.

Flowers are plentiful, but berries scarce on the serviceberry.

I’m considering the budget for a few additions to the garden, certainly a few small Japanese maples to add to the collection in pots that are arranged on the patios. With more than thirty maples planted in the garden, and room for no more, the collection in containers was begun last year. All are small now, so space is not yet a problem, and what I’ll do when the maples quickly grow to five and six, then some to eight feet tall, well, those details will be addressed when the time comes.

Orange Dream Japanese maple grew nicely last year in a container beside the koi pond. With maples grown in containers, the gardener can easily relocate the pots to best suit the needs of various maples.

Orange Dream Japanese maple grew nicely last year in a container in full sun on the patio beside the koi pond. With maples grown in containers, the gardener can easily relocate the pots to best suit the needs of various maples.

Recently, several large evergreens were removed that had become too shaded, and in the newly opened spaces there is an opportunity for planting several new hellebores and hostas, with varieties still to be determined as the mood strikes. Perhaps there will be enough sun to plant a few ground orchids (Bletilla striata), but if not in this space, there is some other spot that these can be shoehorned into.

Ground orchid in late May

Terrestrial orchids spread slowly, but dependably in sunny spots.

These are not ambitious plans, but with a garden in the works for three decades, there should be little to do besides adding a few goodies. No doubt, I’ll be further inspired by the first spring visits to the garden center.

Winter, and my dull prose

I regret that too often my dull prose does not adequately depict the beauty I see in the garden. I suspect that I am too literal, and certainly not inclined to romantic descriptions. Even as the eye witnesses extraordinary beauty, I am incapable of finding the proper words to express this. (Photos, I hope, minimize this failing.)

In the stillness of the winter garden, there is wonder in the leaf bud of the hornbeam, or in the swelling flower bud of Dorothy Wycoff pieris (below). While this hardly compares to any corner of the garden in mid spring, there is cause for joy in the garden through any day of winter.Pieris Dorothy Wycoff starting to flower in mid March

Form and structure become primary in the garden devoid of blooms except for remnants of late autumn flowering mahonias, or in a spell of winter warmth, the occasional bloom of a camellia. By mid January, there will be fragrant, ribbon-like flowers of the earliest of the witch hazels (below), and if the winter is not severe, snowdrops, hellebores, and paperbushes will flower not long into February. Now, the gardener must appreciate detail of buds and bark that are overlooked through much of the year.Arnold's Promise witch hazel in mid February

I have just begun to regularly fill the bird feeder, so squirrels no longer must fend for themselves. The feeder does not deter their frequent visits, so birds get their opportunity only after squirrels have had their fill. My wife objects to feeding squirrels, and how can I disagree, with damage that was done while they sheltered in our attic over several years. She bangs and yells from the kitchen window to shoo them away, which they do for minutes, until they scramble back along branches of a Japanese maple, to the pendulous dogwood, and back to the feeder that hangs on a lower branch of the tree lilac.Squirrel on the birdfeeder

I don’t mind the squirrels so much, as long as they stay out of the attic. I don’t believe that attracting them to the feeder will necessarily encourage them back into the attic. I hope not to go through that again, and since they are not easily discouraged from feasting on sunflower seeds, I might as well enjoy their antics.

Deer in the autumn garden

With a one acre garden chock full of flowers, berries, and leafy treasures, I am pleased to do my small part to feed the neighborhood wildlife. Like it or not, and I don’t, the koi pond should be mentioned for attracting a variety of herons and snakes looking to feast on frogs and small fish. While the gardener can plant to attract bees and butterflies, some wildlife is enticed to visit despite his best efforts, and in recent weeks there have been more than the usual visits from our local deer population.

Why? In the hot and dry late summer many of the garden’s hostas took a premature turn for the worse. So, in August I quit spraying the deer repellent that very successfully encourages them to go elsewhere to snack. The result has been predictable.

Halcyon hosta eaten by deer while Frances Williams has barely been touched. The last deer repellent was sprayed in early August, and with drought damage in late summer it did not seem worthwhile to spray again. Deer will eat their favored hostas, and all will be fine in the spring.

Halcyon hosta eaten by deer while Frances Williams was barely touched until a few weeks later. The last deer repellent was sprayed in late July, and with drought damage in late summer it did not seem worthwhile to spray again.

With the last repellent application in late July, it was about six or seven weeks before the first signs of grazing. First were small leafed hostas, while larger leafed Frances Williams and others were ignored. But, over several weeks deer became bolder, and perhaps less discriminating, munching on hostas along the front walk before moving on to larger leafed varieties. With winter dormancy imminent, this was not a bother, and the progression from one variety to another has been interesting. Until.

To my thinking, the roughly corrugated leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea should not be appetizing to deer, especially as they turn in autumn. Wrong again.

To my thinking, the roughly corrugated leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea should not be appetizing to deer, especially as they turn in autumn. Wrong again.

While there was no concern for the hostas this late in the season, one thing led to another, and a few nibbles of hydrangeas turned to defoliation of lower branches Oakleaf hydrangeas and azaleas. This will not matter much, but along with leaves a few too many branch tips have been chewed off, and spring flower buds of azaleas have been lost. The next thing, I’m certain, will be the aucubas and camellias,which are only bothered in mid winter if I’ve missed one in spraying. So finally, I was spurred to action.

The usual double dose of repellent was sprayed, and I suspect this will be the last of the problem until spring, when the decision must be made when to spray to catch new growth as it opens.

 

 

The morning after

This mild autumn has been abruptly interrupted by an inconvenient freeze. While not unexpected, and hardly unusual, the harsh result of temperatures in the low twenties after an early autumn with so many mild days is disappointing to the gardener. Flowers and lush foliage have melted overnight in the cold.

Encore Carnation has been the star bloomer of azaleas this November. While the bubblegum pink color is hardly a favorite, heavy flowering since mid September is appreciated.

Encore Carnation has been the star bloomer of azaleas this November. While the bubblegum pink color is hardly a favorite, heavy flowering since mid September is appreciated.

The morning after the freeze, the season for Encore Carnation's flowering is over.

The morning after the freeze, the season for Encore Carnation’s flowering is over.

A day ago, with only a light frost or two, hydrangeas and reblooming azaleas were at their autumn peak. But now, the gardener must make do with frost resistant, but fleeting flowers of long blooming daphnes (Daphne × transatlantica ‘Blafra’, ‘Eternal Fragrance’, below), and camellias that are only beginning their autumn flowering cycle.

'Eternal Fragrance' and 'Summer Ice' continue to flower through this first freeze.

‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’ continue to flower through this first freeze.

A bee finds this flower of 'Winter's Star' camellia on this sunny afternoon following the freeze.

A bee finds this flower of ‘Winter’s Star’ camellia on this sunny afternoon following the freeze.

Flower buds of hybrid mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, below) swell to show first signs of yellow that will persist through December, and often into early January. Colorful leaves of native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana and H. vernalis) are dropping, exposing buds that will open into small, ribbon-like flowers in the weeks ahead.

'Charity' and 'Winter Sun' mahonias will begin flowering by late November, with blooms persisting for many weeks. 'Arthur Menzies' has not set flower buds.

‘Charity’ and ‘Winter Sun’ mahonias will begin flowering by late November, with blooms persisting for many weeks. ‘Arthur Menzies’ has not set flower buds.

Leaves of the forest that borders the garden have fallen, exposing neighboring homes that have not been seen for months. Deep piles of leaves must be shredded in coming weeks or early flowers of hellebores will be buried, and a large branch of a maple that crashed down the forest’s edge must be removed, so there is plenty to occupy the gardener as the garden turns to winter.

Leaves have gone limp and fallen overnight on this white beautyberry.

Leaves have gone limp and fallen overnight on this white beautyberry.