One of my many pleasures from gardening is watching the garden develop and change over the course of a season. It never ceases to amaze me how stark, yet beautiful the landscape is in its winter rest. With the leaves gone, the beautiful bark and limb structure of the trees and shrubs is completely exposed, becoming the garden’s prominent feature. All else is a study in brown aside from an occasional splash of green from the various evergreens.
Hard to believe but the median date for the first frost is just around the corner, and I still have lots to do in the garden.
This is the second time of the year when the jungle needs the most weeding…the first being early spring. But unlike spring, it’s now hot and the mosquitoes are in abundance, not to mention the humidity makes the simplest task a chore. The weeding needs to continue though or the undesirables will reign supreme. So on really hot days, in addition to my normal insulated water bottle, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, gloves, weed prong, hand pruners, basket and iTunes, I have added a 100’ outdoor extension cord and a 20” industrial floor fan.
Past mistakes seem to come back and bite you. When I started planting my garden nearly 19 years ago, I didn’t think to keep a master list of my plants mainly because I didn’t know then how much I would come to rely on it for accurately identified photo images. For the first five years, I just labeled my plants with a handheld label maker, with no connection to a database. Then I finally wised-up and started logging my plants in an Excel file and printing labels with a label maker that could print from a merge file.
I often have people tell me they don’t grow iris because the bloom just doesn’t last long enough. Since I have had a lifelong affair with iris, my jungle includes quite a collection of iris and they do have a rather short window. Regardless, I decided long ago I preferred to savor their ephemeral beautiful rather than foregoing them all together. With that in mind though, I have to work all the harder to balance a sea of green swords after the blooms have all faded...another good reason to acquire more plants!
It’s not until their dainty little blooms appear that I can more easily differentiate a patch of Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucularia) from a patch of squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis). The flowers of Dutchman’s breeches are often described as looking like “a pair of white pants hanging by their legs on a clothesline”…but to me, they look like upside down, yellow-waisted M.C Hammer parachute pants. And when the wind makes them dance, even more so. Squirrel corn looks like traditional little white hearts, oftentimes touched by pink.
My pink dawn viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’) took a hit this past February when low temperatures dropped to minus zero for several days, just as it was budding out. I thought for sure all the blooms were toast, but upon inspection, I see some surviving petals still making a show. That isn’t to say the reproductive components of the surviving flowers weren’t damaged, so time will tell whether berries are in the making for this year…but at the very least there won’t be as many.
When it’s below freezing outside, I have the option of just coming inside where it’s warm. Plants on the other hand can’t, so instead have evolved amazing adaptations over millennia to survive prolonged sub-freezing temperatures. Plants definitely differ in how much cold they can take, so ratings based on the USDA cold hardiness zone map are a good resource to avoid planting a species that won’t survive the winter.
Recently I noticed some of my winter-blooming hellebores (Helleborus spp.) are already adorned with flower buds, which is about a month early for my garden site. I don’t think I have ever had a “Christmas Rose” in bloom by Christmas? If Mother Nature doesn’t freeze them out, a winter bouquet may just be in my future.
It’s that time of year when eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) start dropping older needles, resulting in a new layer of sound-cancelling padding under trees. The sight of so many browning needles can be alarming though if you are not wise to the true meaning of evergreen. In general, evergreen refers to plants whose leaves (broadleaf, needle-like, scale-like or awl-like) last more than one year before falling. Deciduous plants on the other hand drop all of their leaves, leaving the plant completely devoid of leaves for part of the year.
There are just some native plants you just don’t want to cultivate near well-traveled paths, and most especially if you have a dog. I ’m talking about native plants that have developed a seed dispersal method that involves hitching a ride on any animal passing by. Just a few that I regularly encounter include begger-ticks (Bidens sp.), sandbur (Cenchrus longispinus), stick-tight (Desmodium sp.), snakeroots (Sanicula sp.) and stickseed (Hackelia virgiianum).
Not all the garden plants in my jungle are polite.
Hellebores with their leathery palmate leaves add a much needed touch of green to the winter garden, but by spring the older leaves are starting to look rather rough around the edges, distracting from the floral display. As soon as new growth begins to appear in late winter or early spring, hellebores can be trimmed to improve the plant’s overall appearance and reduce the incidence of botrytis blight through improved airflow. The majority of older leaves can be found in a ring around the base of the plant like a ballerina’s tutu, whereas the new growth tends to grow straight up out of the
Who doesn’t recognize a daffodil on sight, even with their myriad of forms and colors? ‘February Silver’ is always the first to bloom in my jungle, and it never fails to elicit that thrill of excitement that spring is definitely on its way! I drove by a motivational sign recently that read “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” That could apply to so many activities, but for right now, I’m applying it to planting bulbs. Every year I place my bulb orders early, because I know that if left to later, none would ever get planted. By the end of the growing season, I