Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Mini Jungle: Terrariums

Here in the winter-bound Midwest, I get a little twitchy by the end of January or so. We're still locked down under snow and ice, or in the case of this odd winter, brown grass and mud. I start longing for green and growing things besides the rosemary (which is still alive, sort of). About this time of year the husband and I start hitting conservatories. However, this year I decided after a series of discussions at work, to build my own little conservatory - a terrarium.

I'm not a big miniature gardener. As a die hard tree geek, I like my plants huge and preferably climbable. There is, though, a charm in gardening on the small scale. A recent visit to my friend's lovely home gave me lots of inspiration. Joannie Rocchi is the Perennial Manager at The Growing Place in Aurora and a passionate plantswoman. Her house is filled with terrariums, luxuriant houseplants, and herbs. It was a glorious chance to satisfy my plant-deprived senses.

Joannie's newest endeavor is the water garden terrarium. In the giant jar she has duckweed and frog bit floating among pretty glass bubbles. A scattering of activated charcoal on the bottom keeps the little ecosystem healthy.

I loved this tiny clay house with its little clay stones and seed pods. This miniature moss garden lives under a glass cloche. Under the glass, it becomes a misty mystery.

Joannie prefers clear glass containers. Looking for a use for that old punch bowl? Why not fill it with plants? Add a ceramic mushroom or two, and you have your own personal jungle.

There are many resources for terrarium ideas. Here's my step by step process for my own little garden. I like Tovah Martin's book, The New Terrarium, in particular. I also found a nifty blog, The Fern & Mossery for all things terrarium that's packed with information and inspiration.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snow Day

Ah, at last! We've got eight inches of powder on the ground after yesterday's snowy day.   The air is so calm that the spruce branches seem to just hover under their white flocking, waiting to be launched.

This morning we got the shoveling done and I'm happy that it really is a light powdery snow.  Much easier to fling. Also, it won't weigh down the twigs of the bushes and make them split. We had some serious breakage in last February's blizzard.

I can now confidently gaze out the windows and see all that 'winter interest'! Boy, do I need more evergreen shrubs. There's a lot of naked bark out there! The most popular place has been the herb bed as I left the basil, fennel, marjoram, and assorted others to go to seed. The chickadees and sparrows have been busy, so it's pretty cleaned out. I refilled the bird feeder and flung some under the lilac tree for the ground feeding juncos.

This is the front flower bed (with the damn gas meter). So pretty in a fresh snow.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflections on Life, Death, and Renewal Pruning

The snowdrops are early this year.

This week I attended the wake of my brother-in-law's grandmother, who passed away at the advanced age of 99. It was one of the nicest wakes I've been to because her life was celebrated. Family and friends told stories and caught up with each other. It got me thinking.

As the snowdrops pop out of the ground with the recent warm weather I am reminded of resilience. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) manufacture their own antifreeze. We're due to get snow and below freezing temperatures, but they'll be just fine. Plants are tough buggers. They want to survive and many go to extraordinary lengths to do so. Remember that tree with a phone wire growing through it? We've all seen one.

Perhaps because we work with living things that gardeners may have a different perspective on death. We've all killed a plant, many times for no discernible reason. Many of us compost, seeing firsthand the wonder of dead plant material transform into nutrients for the living. Perhaps since we've had our share of loss, I see the ending of life as a natural state. We don't have children because after several miscarriages, we decided we had given it our best shot and stopped. I went on a lot of walks on my lunch hours during that time and I really began to stop and take notice. I really do smell the roses. And the witchhazel, sweet bay magnolia, violets and the bruised foliage of spicebush. Why? Because it's a feast for the senses. They are living, growing things of such beauty that by soaking it in, I, in turn am renewed.

Speaking of renewal, I am reminded of pruning, the art of cutting away. We often use two terms when we refer to pruning - rejuvenation and renewal. To rejuvenate a shrub you cut all of it back to within a few inches of the soil. Some plants thrive when you prune this way and others so resent it that they die. Renewal pruning is where you thin a plant by about a third, again cutting the branches at the base. This allows sprightly new growth, opens up the structure, and shapes the plant.

I could have come up with a list of resolutions for 2012. However, I think instead I will do a bit of renewal pruning. What kind of clutter can I cut away to open up my life and allow for new growth?  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Eyes: Seeing the Landscape

I'm sorry. I've been down with the Evil Head Cold of Doom and so haven't had the brain power to string two sentences together until now. Pass me a hankie!

It's January in Chicagoland and this year we have not been graced with measurable snow. It looks a lot like this:

Pretty bleak, eh? Well, maybe. What catches my eye in winter is what is left when the ordinary greenery is stripped away. This is a typical intersection in my town. I was sitting at the stoplight and so had a chance to snap a quick picture. What leaps out at me this time of year are the grand old evergreens. Here we have Norway spruce, Austrian pine and white pine among others. Their quiet dark dignity really shows up this time of year. And that splash of deep red over on the left? That's a crabapple loaded with berries. Isn't it pretty?

This winter, take a few moments to stop and look around your landscape. What kinds of trees, shrubs, grasses, etc. stand out? Enjoy those big old evegreens now before they steal back into the background in spring.