It is mid-February, and we have experienced temperature swings from the high 20s F to the low 70s F in less than two weeks! We’ve also had a LOT of rain. My garden is so confused, as are all the gardens in my neighborhood. Winter blossoms are still flowering (hellebores, mahonias, winter annuals like violas, pansies, dianthus, sweet alyssum), spring bulbs are opening (hello, daffodils!), and confused vines, shrubs, and trees that normally flower in March have decided to start blossoming early (Coral Bells azaleas, Clematis armandii, and Magnolia soulangeana).
Of them all, the only ones that I fear will suffer from the upcoming frost are the saucer magnolias, whose fragrant pink flowers will likely turn brown and drop. So sad, as they are one of my favorite trees and they scent the air with an incomparable fragrance! I hope some of the magnolias in my neighborhood will hold off long enough to provide abundant blossoms after next weekend, when we expect another frost. I don’t (yet) have a saucer magnolia in my own garden, but if/when I plant one, I will try to choose a later-blooming variety as well as a more compact one. Any suggestions?
You know all those wonderful photos of beautiful gardens made even more beautiful by a fretwork of silver frost, or a blanket of white snow? That’s not my garden right now. We are in the midst of record-breaking cold, but here it has been a very dry cold, the worst kind for plants. Temperatures in the mid-teens (stop laughing, Chicago, New England and upstate New York friends!) and not even an insulating covering of snow. We’re doing the best we can with frost cloths, and I know my pathetic, drooping pansies and snapdragons will recover when it gets warmer again.
Thank you for reading my occasional garden posts; I will try to post more often in 2018, and not about the weather.
We have lived in our house for 23 years. It is in the middle of a city, though our neighborhood is park-like, and over 100 years old. We have tall trees and small lots, but my garden and those of my neighbors are a decent size, ranging from one quarter of an acre to a full acre.
Tonight, for the first time in those 23 years, we distinctly heard an owl calling. More than once — in fact, for several minutes. I think it was a barred owl; it had the distinctive rhythm sometimes described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?”. And it sounded just like my father.
My father was a bird lover and bird-watcher. During my childhood, he developed a fascination with owls of all kinds, and he learned how to call them from the elevated deck on the back of our house, which faced several acres of New England woods. Hoo hoo hoo-hoo, he would call; and the owls would call back to him.
I taught my youngest child this trick some years ago, when we spent a week in Yorkshire at a wonderful, isolated location surrounded by woods on two sides and looking out over the moors on another. I cherish the memories of playing on a swingset with my little boy, stopping to listen to owls calling to each other in the woods, and teaching him to call back to them from the old walled garden, across an ancient ha-ha.
Although my father never took me out into the woods at night to call owls, I used to read the book “Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen to my children. So in honor of tonight’s owl, here is a video snippet from that lovely book: Owl Moon.
Ashwood Nurseries are world-famous for their Hellebores and the range of hybrids they create is quite remarkable for their breadth and beauty. My timing for this visit was perfect as I was travelling down from Manchester to London, and this was an excellent stopover, just to the west of Wolverhampton (for them, close to a big population base but in quite secluded rural location). And as I knew, there was an Open Day, with behind the scenes tours around the glasshouses where the breeding program happens. Marvellous.
The colours range from pure white to deep plum and slate, passing through pale lemons, deeper golds, pinks, peaches, ruby and claret red, jade greens – with spots and dots, stripes, blotches and contrasting veins, picotee edging (a fine line at the edge of the tepals) while the inner ring of nectaries (the petals, really) provide further interest, in green, gold, purple, red…
While I wait for real spring to arrive in my garden (as distinct from the false spring we had in December!), this post is a lovely reminder of January’s own beauty. Thank you, Susan Rushton, for more gorgeous photographs!
In honor of this January weekend’s blizzards and storms, and feet of snow in much of the Northeastern United States, as well as the new season of Downton Abbey airing this month, this week’s Saturday Snippet is from “The Head Gardeners; Forgotten Heroes of Agriculture”, by Toby Musgrave.
Ornate conservatories or winter gardens were an adjunct of any garden that claimed to be of note. They were sometimes attached to the house or detached and set in the pleasure grounds. These great glass structures were home to many exotic and tender new arrivals brought from jungles and tropical regions across the world. Indeed, be they tendder, half-hardy or hardy, the wealth of new plants brought to Britain by the plant hunters excited botanists and garden-owners, and provided head gardeners with a constant onslaught of challenges. These expensive treasures required careful and skilled nurturing to survive. Often in the vanguard of those attempting to cultivate such tricksy rarities, the head gardener had to rely on his experience, a modicum of experimentation and an ability to learn fast.
It has been so unseasonably warm here that temperatures have regularly reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit all December. As the New York Times points out, gardens and gardeners are confused: December Heat Tricks Flowers Into Putting On Spring Display. Today’s Saturday Snippet is from Rosemary Verey’s classic, The Garden in Winter.
To teach yourself to ‘see’ your own garden in winter, look first at the trees and shrubs planted for their spring or summer flowers, their handsome leaves, their autumn colours. In their winter guise they will have a different allure. Each has its own winter character, with buds of varying shape, size and texture… The one thing they all have in common is that they are waiting for spring’s warmer days.
This year, those warmer days arrived in December. Blooming in my garden right now are: mahonia, camellias, roses (David Austin’s lovely yellow Teasing Georgia), hellebores, chrysanthemum, winter daphne and Japanese apricot. Dozens of confused narcissus have sent up green shoots. My containers are still blooming with pansies, snapdragons, begonias and oxalis triangularis. The brilliant red twigs of the coral bark Japanese maple, whose lower branches I twined with Christmas fairy lights, shine in today’s sunlight against the dark evergreen leaves of the southern magnolias. It is as if summer and fall never really ended, except for the autumn leaves, but winter and early spring have joined them.
I am behind in my Saturday Snippets because I have been able to do actual gardening the last two weekends! We have had unseasonably warm weather and the ground is still quite warm, so I went and stocked up on dozens of marked-down spring bulbs. Mostly narcissus of various kinds, but also some winter aconites, grape hyacinths, and Dutch hyacinths for forcing (those are in the fridge, cooling).
One of my favorite bloggers, The Teddington Gardener, posted this “Gardener’s Prayer” with some gorgeous photos of hellebores and snowdrops, so it is my Saturday Snippet:
O Lord, grant that in some way
it may rain every day,
Say from about midnight until three o’clock
in the morning,
But, You see, it must be gentle and warm
so that it can soak in;
Grant that at the same time it would not rain on
campion, alyssum, helianthus, lavendar, and others which
You in Your infinite wisdom know
are drought-loving plants-
I will write their names on a bit of paper
if you like-
And grant that the sun may shine
the whole day long,
But not everywhere (not, for instance, on the
gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron)
and not too much;
That there may be plenty of dew and little wind,
enough worms, no lice and snails, or mildew,
and that once a week thin liquid manure and guano
may fall from heaven.
I am half English and when I was a child, my English relatives often sent me and my siblings classic English storybooks as gifts. So I grew up on Arthur Rackham, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Goudge, Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton. J.M. Barrie — and Cicely Mary Barker, author and illustrator of the Flower Fairies series of little books. They helped inspire and sustain my love of flowers and gardening, as I could imagine the fairies while my parents taught me how to plant perennials, weed flowerbeds and pot up bulbs.
Today, I will be planting winter aconite tubers, as well as various narcissus, and ajuga reptans to fill in among the flagstones of a new, small patio and pathway. Today’s Saturday Snippet:
The Winter Aconite Fairy
Deep in the Earth
I woke, I stirred.
I said: “Was that Spring I heard?
For something called!”
“No, no,” they said:
“Go back to sleep. Go back to bed.”
“You’re far too soon;
The world’s too cold
For you, so small.” So I was told.
But how could I
Go back to sleep?
I could not wait; I had to peep!
Up, up, I climbed,
And here am I.
How wide the earth! How great the sky!
O wintry world,
See me, awake!
Spring calls, and comes; ’tis no mistake.
Cicely Mary Barker
Illustration: Cicely Mary Barker (copyright The Estate of Cicely Mary Barker).