Thursday, December 30, 2010

Herbs in Winter

We love love love to cook.  The husband has culinary experience and over the past (almost) fifteen years of marriage, he has managed to teach me to cook.  And we haven't killed each other.  Yet.  This year I bought him a rice cooker for Christmas and we've already broken it in.  He's not necessarily a big cooking gadget person, although we do own and use a fish poacher and a mandoline.  For example, he's in the midst of the Bread Project which involves various sourdough starts and lots of bowls of mystery dough in the fridge.  It makes amazing bread, though, and without a bread machine. 

One thing we struggle with is growing herbs indoors.  We just don't have a south facing window with any sort of ledge or good access to sun.  Over the past few years, we have greatly expanded the range of herbs we grow and use, so it's a bit frustrating to have to buy fresh when I can walk out the back door in the summer and snip away.  This is the fennel.  Last year's winter was fairly mild, so it came back - much to my surprise! It got about six feet high before keeling over under the weight of the seeds.  It's also a host plant for butterfly larvae, so I let it reseed. 

This year, we are again trying to keep the rosemary going.  It is toughing it out on the dining room table in afternoon sun.  It isn't happy, but it has grown!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Elegant Alliums in Winter

As designers and horticulturists we go on at length about creating winter interest.  Here in the Chicago area, our winters can be pretty long and bleak, so we need to be creative in the garden to keep from going completely round the bend.  One of those tricks knowing gardeners do, is leave perennials up for the winter.  They provide structure, seeds, and interesting silhouettes. 

This is a fall blooming allium or ornamental onion

See how lovely this is in a fresh snowfall?  The seeds feed the birds and the delicate dried petals give you a glimpse of the flower that bloomed months ago.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tree Man

Today we are celebrating my father's 70th birthday.  It'll be a big party with lots of family and friends.  One thing my father taught me was a love of trees.  I come by this horticulture bug quite naturally.  Dad would take the family and the dog out on hikes at the local forest preserves and the arboretum most weekends.  We lived only a few blocks from a large forest with extensive trails for hiking and biking.  Dad worked in construction and would often tote home logs for the fireplace if the project required tree removal.  In our own yard, he's planted many many trees through the almost 40 years in the house.  The parkway trees have changed from a lone large ash to a maple and a pear, both of which are looking dodgy.  The front yard is graced by a crimson maple the folks planted when they first moved in.  As a kid we had a huge crabapple on the corner of the house right outside my bedroom window.  I adored it.  It had white fragrant flowers and apples big enough that Mom made jelly out of them now and again.  Of course it eventually succumbed to apple scab and so Dad replaced it with a hedge maple. 

The backyard trees are doing their best to kill the lawn.  These are his pride and joy.  There's the American elm that was planted when they moved in and has toughed it out through Dutch elm disease all over the village.  The spruces offer cover for birds and screening from the neighbors. The katsura is coming along nicely, now that an ash is gone.  There's even a swamp white oak sapling in the back corner that he started.  However, above all of these is Dad's pride and joy - the shagbark hickory he raised from a nut.  Now it hasn't quite started to shag yet, but it does produce a handful of nuts much to the squirrels' delight.  It also gets a couple of hickory pests and diseases, so, well, it's a little wonky.  The trunk has some kinks from losing the leader, but the tree still grows like crazy.  I think Dad calls the Morton Arboretum plant clinic each year with an update on what attacks it.  The shagbark just shrugs it off and keeps on going.  My brother and I think it might be his third child.

So today, I remember climbing all the trees on our block I could get into.  I remember Dad pointing out the magnificent oaks in the forest preserves.  I remember him planting a bur oak at grandma's house and an Accolade elm because she needed some trees on her rather barren patch.  My uncles have trees from Dad as well as neighbors and friends.  We have discussions on pruning and this Thanksgiving we spent an hour with the ladder and the pruning saw, taking the katsura off the garage roof. The latest challenge is finding a home for a black walnut sapling that appeared in the compost pile.  It's already survived some rabbit pruning and I think I may have found someone who will plant it and love it, just not as much as Dad.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beautiful Beech Buds

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii' aka stunning!

This is one of the new kids in the yard - my purple leaf beech!  I have loved beech trees for close to forever, just after I fell in love with elms.  The smooth grey bark, the deep purple leaves, and most of all the buds.  What could be more elegant than the pointed buds of beech?  These are not fast growing trees, but beeches are worth the patience.  They are extremely long lived and there are specimens hundreds of years old.  They are forest trees, especially in Europe. Beech forests occupy our earliest imaginings.  Red Riding Hood fled from the wolf in a beech forest.  Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch into the beech trees.  Couldn't those buds be claws or fingernails? I've sited this so we can see it daily from the back windows and it will eventually shade the patio.  Now, I visit it daily, just to touch those long pointed buds and dream a little fairy tale.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On a Snowy Evening

I love winter sunsets.  They are the cool, crisp pastels that remind me of watercolor paintings.  A couple of days ago I drove out to DeKalb for a delivery and was delighted to watch the sun set over the cornfields.  Of course, going 80 odd miles an hour means no picture taking.  I did stop on the back porch tonight, though, and managed to take this...

That's a sliver of moon in the left corner.  It's about 15 degrees out, which is pretty cold for December, but gives us a crystalline night sky.  Put your long underwear on and go for a walk.  The snow makes the world quiet and serene.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Planting for Screening

So, the spruce that lived between us and the neighbors came down this year.  It's a tight long space to fill under power lines between two driveways in full sun.  It's called The Hell Strip.  We love our neighbors, but we don't necessarily want to see them constantly, so trees to the rescue!  After a lot of thinking...I went with Hetz juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Hetzii Columnar').  Junipers are tough, tolerant plants and Hetz is green, feathery, and a heavy berry setter.  They shouldn't get much taller than the bottom power line and be around five to six feet wide at maturity.  I also added a Sensation lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation') for a splash of color and because my husband's grandmother had one at her house in New Hampshire.  Yes, I'm a sentimental gardener.

Laying out the plants.

Tools for the job - the hatchet is for tree roots.

This is my soil.  The spade goes through it like butter!  I am spoiled.

These are pretty root bound, so I made four cuts to encourage the roots to grow out, not around.

And with a little digging (and maneuvering around tree roots) they are in!

And Molly the cat supervised.

Everything managed to survive the hot summer and the dry fall.  There's an extra heavy crop of berries on the junipers!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snow Flurries?

Yes, I know it's December tomorrow.  I have some catching up to do with this blog.  Today we saw the first snow flurries and it reminded me of two of my favorite crabapples.  I don't know the variety, I'm afraid, but they are old, grand, gracious ladies.

The homeowners have elected to let them grow pretty much to the ground.  How wonderful to live in this fragrant bower!  I suspect that they are elderly, so this year I pulled over a took a picture.  I don't know how long these trees will be around to enjoy, but they seem to be fairly apple scap resistant.  This picture was taken on April 20, which is nearly a month earlier than they should be blooming.  It's been a record warm year for us. I drive by this house almost every day, so I'm keeping an eye out to see what happens.  In the meantime, I take great pleasure in the flurry of silvery pink and white petals that appears every year.  Now, the leaves are gone and you can enjoy the layered architecture and flaky bark.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Lake Marmo
It's the end of November and winter is definitely coming.  Snow flurries are in the forecast. Highs in the 30s.  However, this is an image from October.  We had a lovely warm autumn with minimal rainfall.  Frustrating for the gardener, but nice for everyone else.  The lake was almost glass still on this day.

The blog has had a hiatus, but I hope to do better about posting from this point forward.  Call it a Thanksgiving resolution.  And though the gardener's year never really ends, I think as the vegetative world slows down and goes dormant, it's a good time to reflect on the triumphs and tragedies of the 2010 year in the garden.
  • Spring bulbs will travel.  The snowdrops have reseeded themselves.
  • Nope, strawberries grown in a pot do not come back.
  • Cutting down the Dr. Seuss Spruce between the driveways was totally worth it, even if the crew did not come back for the brush like they promised.
  • Fennel, in a mild winter, does return.  And reseeds.  And gets six feet tall.
  • Peely bark trees are lovely in all seasons.
  • Lots of rain plus 80 degree temps in April and May means the trees grow at least three feet.
  • Mint is tasty, but not your friend.
  • Just because you think you know what you're doing, you add beds and completely rearrange stuff in early July.  Mother Nature rewards you with little to no rain for the next two months.  I think I killed a barberry. Sigh.  The chamaecyparis doesn't look good either.
  • The municipal mulch pile is a girl's best friend.
  • You don't know who your friends are until you host a bridal shower tea in the garden.  Thank you again to all the volunteer weeders!!
  • It was a magnificent year for butterflies, and I am developing a butterfly garden, although not really purpose.
  • The juncos were early and the sandhill cranes are still migrating.  This does not bode well for winter.
Thanks to all the transplanting, new beds, and moving around, the place should look pretty gorgeous next year.  If I can find it among the weeds.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Landscape Challenges: Puttering in Friends' Yards

Yesterday, we visited dear friends of ours who have a new house in the suburbs.  They have maybe been there six months, but with a new baby and a toddler, have been pretty busy.  My friends have long realized that I love to putter around their property and will pretty much help garden in any way possible.  They understand that I can talk plants for days, weeks, months, etc. 

I spent a happy hour or two wandering around and looking at all the plants in the yard and talking ideas.  The house was built in the 60s and still retains a lot of the landscape characteristics, as you can see.

My friend (let's call her Sally) isn't crazy about the very horizontal look to the front bed under the windows.  The good news is that the two crabapples are healthy and well pruned.  They will be gorgeous this spring.

They have already had three big yews taken out along the front walk and the rest are not long for this world. 

They aren't crazy about the two huge burning bushes framing the windows either.  The downspout by the front door empties into the bed, so it's going to need to be buried before planting too much there.

The boxwoods are very very healthy!  I think we're going to move them around the yard and let them be their natural shape.  Sally prefers a more naturalistic look and really hates manicured bushes.  At this point, she'll pull the bed out and give it a more curvy shape, keeping the stone edging.  It's a mix of sun and shade as the house faces east, but the crabs and the parkway tree will shade it somewhat during the growing season.  We are playing with perennial ideas.

What you can't see so well on that pear tree in the left corner is that it is planted too high.  The soil has been mounded up over the root ball, and after a little digging I found the root flare six inches below the soil line.  I also found the wire basket!!  It is coming up through the soil and the loops are a major tripping hazard for an active toddler.  So, we know that pear tree will not be a forever tree, which is OK as the flowers smell like dog urine to most folks.

Sally has a wedge shape backyard, but what is going to come down this year is this diseased and dying crabapple.  It's also dropping fruit on the roof of the sun room, which the homeowners don't like. 

The other fab 60s landscape features are this dynamite red rock mulch and the incredibly healthy wintercreeper groundcover, not to mention more yews!  This corner has the potential to be sunny enough for veggies once the tree and the bushes are gone since it faces the southwest.  Removing rock mulch is a back breaking process, though.  They will keep the rest of the wintercreeper as the dog can romp through it with minimal damage.  The six hydrangeas, however, will get redistributed through the backyard. 

Sally and I only pruned a little bit off the pear and a boxwood.  I can happily prune any and everything, so believe me, I was showing great restraint.  This yard has delightful possibilities and it will be lots of fun to see how Sally and her family build their garden through the next few years. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Siren Songs of Spring

The birds are returning and the frogs have thawed out.

Skeins of sandhill cranes have been flying overhead for almost two weeks.  Sometimes they are so low, you can swear you can see the red of their heads.  Other days all you can hear is their distinctive cry and a scattering of tiny dots moving swiftly between the clouds.  It's one of my favorite sounds of spring and the heart lifts to hear them.  They are huge, graceful, amazing birds and you can hear some of their calls at the International Crane Foundation site.

Now we are treated to bird-loud mornings.  No longer the edged quiet of winter snow and ice.  The weather has warmed and it's quite the avian singles bar out there.  The robins have arrived and are busy scarfing down the neighbors crabapples.  They aren't flying so straight, and I suspect the crabapples have become tinged with apple jack from freezing and thawing.  Nothing says spring like drunken robins on the prowl.

More than birds, though, another signifier of spring are frogs.  The spring peepers and chorus frogs are singing lustily in the wetlands and ephemeral ponds at the Arboretum.  It is one of my spring rituals to hike to as many as possible on a sunny March day and fill my ears with amphibian love. 

Can't you feel the sap rising?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring is in the Air!


It smells like spring.  The fragrances of soil, leaf mold, and waking plants are in the air.  Gone is the crisp knife edge of snow and the hard tang of frost.  The air is like wine and I'm prowling the garden daily to see what's happening.

Plants are awakening and one of the first are snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis).  I have them dotted throughout the beds, but one patch in particular always blooms first. These self-seeded from a clump across the way, and every year they save my sanity.  You'll also notice the wee rabbit turd. They are everywhere and although I hate the bunnies, they do produce nice fertilizer.

The witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) buds are just cracking open.  Hopefully they will fully unfurl in the next couple of days.  It will be in the 50s this week, but with steady rain.  The early daffodils are up and the early crocus.  I can see the geraniums and the heucheras popping up tiny leaves and the sedum are hard clusters of buds.  Even Gladys the rhubarb is starting to make an appearance.

What's starting to appear in your garden?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Gardeners Do in Winter: Part 3

We go on vacation.

In our case, it was Old San Juan, Puerto Rico for some sun, heat, and maybe a fruity drink with an umbrella in it.  We aren't beach people.  We're museum, gallery, historic sites, funky shop people.  And botanic gardens.  It isn't a trip without a garden included.  My husband is very patient and understanding about this.  I am patient and understanding about climbing around old forts with tons of stairs in 85 degrees and 100% humidity.  It's a good marriage.

So, off we go to the botanic garden of the University of Puerto Rico armed with a backpack filled with water, cameras, and Deep Woods Off wipes.  I've never been to Puerto Rico before, they might have huge jungle bugs, you never know.  At any rate, no bug repellent required and we only saw a handful of people.  The gardens are a fair piece out of town proper and being university property, are pretty limited in services.  For example, both the Visitor Center and the cafe were closed.  In fact, we're still not sure if the cafe is ever in operation as it seems to be converted into a daycare center.  Oh, well.  I was here for plants.

And there were plants!  None of them really labeled, but heck, it's warm, and there are flowers and palm trees.  I must say my regular trips to the conservatories came in handy as I could at least recognize some things.  We also met some very lively turtles, ducks, egrets, lizards, and a couple of very large iguanas.  The fauna rather outshown the flora. 

Norfolk pine (Araucaria heterophylla) when left to grow in its appropriate climate.

Isn't it lovely?

Huge bamboo stands dotted everywhere.

Bamboo graffiti

That humble clump of tall grass in the distance is sugar cane here at the Bacardi distillery.  It was all in the interest of research, honest.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Delicious Indecision

We finally did it.  The Dr. Seuss spruce is gone.  Well, almost gone.  When we bought the house, we inherited a Colorado spruce (Picea pungens) planted strategically between us and the neighbors for privacy.  Unfortunately it is directly under power lines and it wanted to be a 60 foot tree.  The poor thing has been topped by ComEd many times so it was pretty much as wide as it was high.  It looked ridiculous.  Yet, it was winter roosting for birds and a great screen between us and our very nice neighbors.  They had a company out recently do so some pruning and the foreman and I made a deal.  So, no more spruce.

This leads to a rather lovely bit of indecision - what to plant in its place.  We love our neighbors, but we don't exactly want to wave at each other through our respective kitchen windows.  Whatever goes in will need to top out at 15 feet tall, be relatively narrow to fit between driveways, handle full sun and pretty alkaline soil, and be dense enough to screen.  Working at a nursery means I have tons and tons of ideas.  I have a soft spot for junipers.  I like their texture and the berries feed the birds.  I'm growing attached to Western arborvitae (Thuja plicata) because it has a more feathery texture and maybe even Techny arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Techny') because I like its purply winter color.  Then there are columnar trees and shrubs.  So many possibilities!! 

What are some of your favorite screening plants?

No more spruce!  Almost 30 feet of space to fill.

The remains of the dearly departed.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Gardeners Do in Winter: Part 2

I'm just home from my annual winter foray to a couple of our wonderful conservatories - Garfield Park and Oak Park.  We are also spoiled in Chicago with Lincoln Park conservatory and a teensy, very cute Wilder Park conservatory in Elmhurst near the college.  There's even the Mitchell Park Conservatory, or in my family the Milwaukee Domes.  

It was a bustling crowd at Garfield Park on this sunny January day.  We have long ago figured out to leave the coats in the car and make a mad dash for the door.  It's too much of a burden to lug our big winter parkas along and we tough Northerners can handle a few minutes of frozen air.  My husband and I love to take pictures, so it always takes a few minutes for the cameras to adjust to the wonderful moist air of the Palm Room.  Walking into the huge haystacks of glass and breathing all that hyper-oxygenated air is a beautiful thing!  I can feel my skin relax in the dense humidity.  Not to mention the incredible plants.

I will be the first person to tell you I specialize in zone 5 outdoor flora.  Don't ask me about how to care for your houseplants.  I can give you a general answer.  Ask me about the differences between all the hydrangeas, and I'm yours for an hour.  Yet, come January/February, I need to be in a conservatory.  It reminds me that there are bright flowers, green leaves, and growing things somewhere.  I can plop myself down in the Fern Room and pretend it's Brazil.  The Oak Park conservatory has live birds and the most extraordinary Ponderosa lemon tree.  It also has a coat rack!

Here are a few pictures from the couple hundred I took today.

The Palm Room at Garfield Park

The azalea show just started.

The Fern Room at Garfield Park and some of the folks hanging out on the steps.

Oak Park Conservatory.

Datura in full bloom.

The Ponderosa lemon is flowering and fruiting.  The lemons are about the size of softballs, but I understand from the staff that they don't taste like much.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sustainable Gardening?

I'm fresh back from the Mid-Am Horticultural Trade Show and it was a great experience!  I managed to sit in on quite a few classes, which was helpful for the 'Going Green in the Garden' class I just taught at the park district.

'Sustainable' seems to be the catch word for anything environmental or 'green' nowadays.  I think it is quickly getting overused.  However, the Green Industry (growers, landscapers, garden centers, tree companies, etc.) isn't exactly a 'green' industry.  It changing slowly, though.  Big box retailers are putting pressure on suppliers to use more eco-friendly pots and materials.  Customers are more and more concerned about plants that are grown locally. It does make me ponder, how do we become more conscious of our carbon footprint and yet still maintain profitable business practices? 

Education seems to be the biggest opportunity and biggest hurdle.  The Chicago area is ahead of the rest of the country on sustainable landscapes.  Why?  Because we have so little of our original ecosystems.  Daniel Burnham's plan called for saving the lakeshore for the people.  We have the forest preserves, parks, and natural areas but only a few hundred acres of original prairie and savannah.  People here are working to restore our native ecosystems on public and private lands.  Yet, I come across folks who insist on spraying for any and every insect pest.  Plants should be clean, perfect, and colorful.  Well, folks, plants are certainly NOT perfect. Neither are people or animals.  You can't have a butterfly garden without caterpillars eating your leaves. 

I urge you to get to know your plants, both the ones in your yard and the ones in your neighborhood or workplace.  Is it worth the headache of planting a rhododendron if you have to fertilize, water, screen it from winter winds, and prune it year after year?  Wouldn't a native viburnum be happier there?  So what if there's a few holes in the leaves or you get little red galls on the maple?  Insects feed birds.  One red oak tree feeds 525 species.  Norway maples, not nearly as many.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter Protection for Precious Plants

As you can see here, this little tree has a collar.  It's not particularly dashing, but it does the trick.  There's a few things to know about this tree and why it has its lovely plastic accessory.  First, it's a laceleaf lilac (Syringa lacinata) on a standard.  Normally, it likes to be a mid-size shrub and has finely cut leaves, with fragrant lavendar flowers in May.  We got these in by mistake at the nursery, so they ended up being freebies.  My boss is curious to know how it survives this winter.  No one wanted them, really, so I have one as well as my parents and in-laws.  They are all in very different sites and soils, so it will be a good experiment. 

Because this tree is thin barked, it needs protection from the bunnies.  They already snacked on it back in early November!  You might wonder why it isn't covered all the way to the graft union.  Well, this tree is on the north side of the garage, so it doesn't get the harsh winter sun that say, the lilac, does.  It just needs the rabbit protection.  White plastic or even tan tree wrap is best for this type of use because it reflects sunlight.  Never use black plastic or wrap because it will absorb the sunlight and create a warm area on the bark.  This thaws out the cells and makes them turgid, only to freeze again when the sun goes down, causing cracks in the bark tissue.  Not good! 

The little tree is loaded with buds for spring and so far is hanging in.  I'll report back on its progress! 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Gardeners Do in Winter: Part 1

Not only do we gardeners contemplate the winter landscape, admiring the patterns of branches or the way shadows fall on the snow.  No, we do get out occasionally.

Today I attended Cantigny's first Home Gardening Symposium in partnership with Chicagoland Gardening magazine.  It was a lovely day of two keynote speakers and two multi-session blocks.  The day kicked off with a keynote presentation by Craig Bergmann of Craig Bergmann Landscape Design.  You may have heard of him.  Craig has done more than 600 projects in his 30 years as a landscape architect including many public sites.  He emphasized a practical approach to your landscape including knowing your site, light, soil, and for us in the business, really getting to know your customers.  Craig also firmly advocated for the right plant in the right place and to use elements of your home in the design such as tracing the pattern of the front door's sidelights in boxwood hedges.  It was really lovely to be able to just soak up ideas and get some big picture thinking.

The other keynote speaker was Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennials.  You may have seen Roy's work at the Lurie Garden in Millenium Park.  Roy is a champion of native plants and xeriscaping, that is, using drought tolerant and drought loving plants in challenging spaces.  Roy's designs have the feel of an Impressionist painting with flowing masses of a handful of shapes and textures repeating through the space.  He believes strongly in intermingling plants for an almost meadow-like quality so that weeds don't have a chance.  It creates a soft, wind-rippled effect. Roy emphasized what you can do with a palette of just 20 plants to create thousands of combinations.  My challenge with Roy is that I don't have a full sun dry situation.  I'm spoiled by rich clay loam soil that grows pretty much anything.  My prairie plants tend to be twice their usual size.  No, I'm not necessarily complaining, but it means I'm still learning how plants behave in my garden.

I also attended brief talks on roses and veggie gardening in small spaces.  It was a very nice collection of topics and it meant I got to get out and enjoy some of Cantigny's wonderful big trees in winter.  There is a weeping beech right off the new restaurant space that is stunning in every season.  If you get a chance, there are a number of opportunities for classes and symposia in the coming months.  It's a great way to get out and look at pretty pictures and learn more about our favorite passion.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Landscaping in Winter

As you might have noticed, plant people can have a much different attitude about weather than regular folk, especially winter weather.  One of the things I find rather wonderful about snow is its ability to give you a clean slate.  This is a picture of the view from the study window.  We spend a lot of time at the desk on the computer, so this view is a daily one.  I've arranged trees and shrubs on purpose for this view.  However, snow lets me see not only the architecture of the plants, but erases the bedlines.  It lets me think about what I need to add, move, or take away to create a winter garden with multiple elements.  Obviously, we have a ways to go with some things.  I'd like to add more evergreen to the beds, but my sun/shade mixture and wind patterns make it a challenge.  That's another handy thing about snow.  You can easily find the wind patterns in your yard by the snow patterns.  We have a wind tunnel down the neighbor's fence, so needless to say, I'm running a risk of the bitty boxwood that is covered in snow not making it.  I'll never pull off rhododendrons or azaleas there, either.  You can also see my new baby lilac tree on a standard.  It's not my usual form for a tree (I tend to multi-stemmed), but it was free and has the possibility of being lovely.  It might crap out completely, too, but sometimes you just have to be fearless!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cold, Colder, Coldest - Bring On the Negative Temps!

It's January!  I'm waiting for it to get really cold, like negative numbers cold.  Yes, I love winter and I'm one of the crazy people that actually enjoys shoveling snow.  However, I'm watching the thermometer because it makes a big impact on the garden.

In January and February of 2009 we had a number of nights dip into the negative digits.  As a result, we experienced lower populations of some damaging insects.  The cool wet spring made fungus flourish.  Yet, we saw dramatic decreases in the populations of bagworms, for example.  I haven't spotted them on trees that last year were covered in little bundles of brown needles about as big as your thumb.  There was also a decrease in Japanese beetles.  Maybe not quite so dramatic as the bagworms, but there were less of them around than the year before.  I only plucked a handful or two off the roses.

So, bundle up!  Dig out that alpaca sweater your mother brought you from Bolivia and the wool socks.  A little shivering now can pay big dividends this spring.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Gardener's Resolutions for a New Year

I think I begin each new year with hope, especially in the garden.  I hope that the snow will protect the tender roots and bulbs sleeping in the soil.  I hope that rodents won't prey upon bark and stems.  I hope that January will be cold enough to reduce populations of ravaging insects. 

I find one of the biggest rewards to gardening, is the resiliance of plants.  These trees, shrubs, and flowers, desperately want to grow and thrive.  We've all seen trees grow around barriers and survive storms, insects, disease, and perhaps most damaging, people.  How wondrous that life will prevail?  The tiniest seed holds such a gift. 

So, I begin this year once again astounded at the green growing things in my world.  I urge you to take the time to stop and appreciate them.  Take a moment to study how the ridges of bark channel the rain, how the delicate papery sheath wraps the pine needles.  Stop and smell the roses, but also look at how the petals are arranged in a whorl and how the delicate thorns reflex downwards.  Feel the roughness of a viburnum leaf or the velvet of lamb's ears.  This world is a feast for the senses.  I invite you to dine.