These snow-capped beauties are called February Gold. They missed the month they are named after by a couple weeks, but they were still the first daffodils to bloom.
Yes, according to the calendar, it is officially spring, despite the inch of snow blanketing the world this morning, and the sleet-storm raging outside as I type. It has been mostly in the 40s and 50s, definitely late March weather, but a few days ago it almost hit 80! Seasons change rather erratically around here, and since I’ve never lived anywhere else (yes, I’m boring) I don’t know if that’s true everywhere else, too.
These snow-capped beauties are called February Gold. They missed the month they are named after by a couple weeks, but they were still the first daffodils to bloom.
And here, finally, is my one, lonely winter aconite. Isn’t it such a cheery flower, like a buttercup with a spiky green lion’s mane? I don’t know what happened to the rest, although I am forced to suspect those doggone voles! (grumble grumble) I guess I will try again in the fall, planting a little deeper, this time!
I have planted a few seeds inside – stock, lettuce, and an attempt at sweet peas and larkspur. They aren't supposed to transplant well, but I have sowed them in peat pots, which will eliminate the need for removing them from the pots and disturbing the roots, which is what they really hate. I decided to try, just in case those I sow outside don’t do well again, like last year. The sweet peas went in the ground a few weeks ago, but the larkspur and other early seeds will have to wait until next week – this week is supposed to be a wash out. But SOON we’ll be surrounded by color and light again! Maybe that’s another reason I love gardening so much – it is an exercise in hope.
These late winter beauties are called iris reticulata "Harmony" and are filling my heart with the "warm and fuzzies"! I’m easily cheered by flowers and color. Yes, we’ve had quite a few unseasonably warm days, intermixed with chills to remind us it’s not quite spring yet. But when the birds are twittering like crazy, the sun is shining, and my earliest bulbs begin to blossom, I am easily fooled!
Below is a poem my 16-year-old wrote as an assignment – to imitate the rhythm and rhyme scheme of Ode to the West Wind, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. You can tell it was written in the depths of winter, but the hope at the end makes it appropriate for this season. Enjoy!
By Teresa Williams
O how viciously you tighten your grasp.
You steal from me my senses and my life.
The dull and edgeless ache my heart does clasp.
Black and gray and brown and soaked with strife;
Sickness and doom impede upon my soul.
Earth’s bitter tears hang thick and cut like a knife.
As I wander through a much-loved knoll,
My heart is straining for color and for rays,
For any sign this bitterness fails control.
My mind is frayed, my mood reflects the grays
And, like a ghost of who I used to be,
I float and flit within the colorless haze
Out of my coma with birdsong I wake to see
On flitting wings and pastel-colored hues
My joy, my life, my living return to me.
My crocus are blooming! They officially opened in the last couple days of February, when the snow melted and we began a string of unseasonally warm days. How lovely they are! They are called Blue Pearl snow crocus, and are very early blooming. I’m so happy! I am awaiting my winter aconite, a lovely yellow flower that I would think should have bloomed by now – unless the nasty voles got them! Last winter was the first season for my winter blooming bulbs, and they bloomed nicely. I will be very upset if those cute fuzzy little vermin ate them. They have destroyed several other favorite plants of mine in the past.
And just in the past two weeks, as soon as the weather warmed up a little, the hungry critters discovered my beautiful purple heuchera and started snipping off the leaves and carrying them off! I had to put netting over it to protect it. Grrr!
Today I went out and planted some sweet peas, in the hopes that this year, finally, I will have them in the ground early enough to grow. But I am worried they will be eaten by voles or bunnies as soon as they emerge, just as they were last year. Hopefully I’ll have them out early enough before the bunnies get too active, and in a spot the voles won’t notice them. But just in case, I saved a few seeds to grow in peat pots and try to transplant in April, although they don’t especially appreciate transplanting. Sigh.
Gardening would be such a pleasure if it weren’t for the uncontrollable factors of animal pests and bad weather. Oh, and harmful bugs. And diseases. And noxious weeds. Well, OK, gardening has lots of factors out of our control, and our hard work can be eaten or destroyed within days. Yet, hope springs eternal, and every year, we gardeners, gluttons for punishment, eternally hopeful, head out to our gardens, tools in hand, ready again to do battle with the forces of nature to bring forth beauty and healthy food. Growing Goodness.
And to be greeted by the cheery upturned faces of tiny crocus in February is like a pep talk before the battle begins.
Every year this time I have to face the grape vines. Conventional wisdom says they should be cut before George Washington’s birthday, at least in our zone. It’s important to cut them before the sap begins to run. So, every year I have to get out there in the cold wind, bundled up like a clown (the kids laugh at me), and try to turn our ancient, ugly grape vines into something manageable. Now, if any of you readers know something about grapes, you will probably look at ours and say, "Gads! Put those poor plants out of their misery!" But I can’t. When I was a young, ignorant home owner I hacked down two other grape vines and have been doing penance ever since. They’ve probably been here a hundred years, neglected for so long that they are beyond hope for nice, attractive form, but they still produce grapes. The grapes have big seeds and thick skins and I don’t even use them. They get a nasty disease that causes most of the fruit to shrivel up like hard raisins. But they’re grapes! The young children love to eat them in the fall, when they’re just right, and I always hope, every year, to get around to making grape juice (I did once, and it was delicious.) So, for sentimental reasons, they live on in my yard.
Now, I would very much love to hear from any experienced vine-dressers! I have had to figure this all out myself, and would love some advice. I am still under-confident. But when I first get out there each year I hack away all the long stuff, so I can see what I’m up against before I make my first, hesitant cuts. Once I can see where the branches are coming from, I try to determine which are the second year vines. They say the grapes grow from the second year growth, but from my observation that’s not completely accurate; they grow from the first-year growth growing FROM second year branches.
Second year growth looks brown, but not yet shaggy. (see branch pointing up in picture) It was new last summer, and should grow first year growth on it this year, from which the grapes will come, at least in my varieties. Third year growth begins to get a thicker gray bark. Older vines get shaggy. Here is a picture of 4th year or older vine with what I believe is 2nd year growth, from which I will get grapes.
Here it is after I pruned, leaving a few buds on the 2nd year growth and trimming off the old vine that was pointing in the wrong direction. I tied yarn on it, so that I can see if I guessed right as the summer progresses!
Several baby plants have grown from an old neglected mother, her drooping branches long ago rooting themselves along the ground. A couple are quite messy looking, but this one I believe has terrific form: a strong central branch that Y’s at the top, with healthy branches coming from it. So I clipped off everything coming out of the trunk and thinned out its crown,
and voila! A success!
By now I was feeling more confident in my pruning, and I bravely approached the mother. Oddly shaped and twisted, she still produces long and lanky vines and abundant grapes. But feeling emboldened, I hacked off several old and gnarly branches and gave her a significant haircut, resulting in this. Quite a change from the first picture in this post!
With building confidence, and my mind's eye finally accustomed to imagining how the plant would look by mid-summer, I approached my other vine and boldly hacked off ancient branches that refused to grow young shoots closer to the ground, and shaped its long shaggy hairdo into a neat crewcut.
Every year, before I head out, I have to reread an article from a thirty-year-old copy of Fine Gardening and review my notes from previous years. But after a while outside, I remember what I’m doing and have a great time molding my spider-like bonsai plants. And best of all? The day was not too cold, there was no wind… and I heard BIRDS!
Ah, well, the cold weather’s back. Thank you, Lord, for a week of spring to keep us hoping!
I just ordered my seeds. Now, I’m sure most avid gardeners have their favorite catalogs, and I’m no different. I peruse many before making my choices, but because I’m thrifty out of necessity, I make lists from each catalog, compare prices and shipping costs, then go with the cheapest combination. And over the years, I have found that the best deals and the speediest service come from Johnny’s and Pinetree Garden.
What’s great about Johnny’s is the amount of information they give about the plant. It’s like a mini gardening reference book. And they generally show how the plant actually grows. I hate it when catalogs lump a bunch of blossoms together to get you to fall in love and buy it, only to end up disappointed because each plant only produces a few spikes for a few weeks. Johnny’s usually tells you all that. Handy and honest. And I get my orders within a few days! Just amazing. Thompson and Morgan is a great catalog to look at, and often has unusual seeds, but last year my $160 order from Johnny’s arrived three days later, but the two packets I ordered from T&M the same day took three weeks! So they do not have my business any more.
My other favorite is Pinetree. I like this one because they are frugal, with a non-shiny catalog and simpler pictures, so it feels more like a small business (which Johnny’s is, too, just a bigger small business!) and they seem to cater to the smaller grower. If you only want to grow a few plants, you have to pay $3.95 for a whole packet at most places. Pinetree will offer you 25 seeds for $1.25, or 50 seeds for $1.50. And their shipping is so cheap! I wish I could have ordered more from them and less from Johnny’s, but there were some specific varieties they didn’t carry, darn it.
However, I advise you to check your local Agway or supermarket before ordering from anywhere. Wherever they sell packets of seeds, you may find what you need at the same price or better, and best of all, no shipping! After spending happy weeks gazing longingly at catalogs full of color, I took my handy dandy list to the Agway and got half my seeds there, and a much better bang for my buck. For instance, I wanted Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy, a lovely red version of Black Eyed Susan. Johnny’s offered 100 seeds for $4.70, but Pinetree offered 20 for $1.50. Since my needs are small, Pinetree looked like a real deal. But then I went to the Agway and found a packet of 250mg for $1.39. Well, it sure felt like more than 20 seeds! In fact, I sat down at home and counted them– over 270! Yes, I’m that silly when I want to make a point. Hare’s Tail Grass? Pinetree had 50 seeds for $1.35, but the 300mg packet from Agway had over 300 seeds for $1.99! Love-in-a-Mist, Bachelor Buttons, Love-Lies-Bleeding, all over 400 seeds for under $2. I won’t bore you with my other great deals for which I patted myself on the back (although more than one child walked through the kitchen thinking Mom was absolutely loony to count tiny seeds just to make sure she'd actually saved a few dollars. "You’re doing what?" But how else would I know how many seeds are in 250 mg?) Anyway, point is, usually picking up packets by weight is a better deal, except for really large seeds like sunflowers, borage, and hyacinth bean. Most of the seeds I bought were by Botanical Interests, which has a lovely website.
I am so excited to be thinking about starting seeds in a few weeks! I’ll save my thoughts on my little flower business for another blog entry, but ogling flower catalogs and rereading my gardening books help me get through the cold gray months. I am SO glad I don’t live any farther north!
Now this is more like it! For the past week we have had weather in the forties, even up over fifty. The 2+ feet of snow on the ground has begun to give way. In past years, when we rarely got snow, the first sign of flurries drew children to the windows in crowds, with cheerful cries of "Snow? Snow, snow, snow!" But yesterday, when I looked out the window and wistfully sighed, "Ah, grass," Anna-Grace came running. "Grass? Grass, grass, grass!" What a laugh I had!
But seriously, in a little more than a week, this plant has gone from this,
For a color-starved gardener, it’s a real relief.
I have been intending to do some evaluations of plants through the four seasons (please forgive the delay), but as a precursor, I thought I’d show you how well several low-growing, so-called evergreens have survived two months of a thick snow blanket.
Happily, my heuchera didn't mind the snow at all! Its leaves stand tall and confident in the cool air.
Liriope had mixed feelings. It generally looks ragged by the end of the winter anyway. Though many of the leaves are tinged brown, there's enough green to make me smile, and some black berries cling to its stalks.
Here was a nice surprise! The oregano I planted last summer came through the deep-freeze virtually unscathed. I went out looking for it last week, as a recipe called for fresh oregano, but it was still so smothered I couldn't even tell where it was. Now, I'll be ready for the next recipe!
Bergenia... well, the leaves look lovely and undamaged, but tired and limp. Nice color, less-than-desirable form.
Ice plant certainly lives up to its name,
And lamb's ears is hardier than a weed.
But, Ah! The best surprise of all! My winter bulbs are arising! Soon I will have winter aconite, iris reticulata, February Gold daffodils, and Blue Pearl snow crocus to cheer me. What a joy that will be! That is, if we don't get another foot of snow...
There is only one positive side to an ice storm, and that is the unexpected beauty. Branches coated with ice create a wonderland of crystal structures, which sparkle like diamonds when the sun comes back out.
Unfortunately, the sun never came out after this ice storm, but the land was still transformed. My crabapples kept their lovely red berries with frozen drips at the bottom, and the branches were twice as thick with ice...
And while my decorative birdy carried quite a burden on its back, the russian sage and madonna lily stems next to it looked lovely.
Our Lady's statue, still half-covered by some of the 39 inches we've already gotten this winter, was flanked by crystal sculptures bearing red and orange rose hips...
And our red oak turned pink.
One tender young Japanese maple wore a diamond studded cloak, while a hardier one wore a silver crown.
Everything was transformed into something new, as the sleet continued to fall and coat the world.
Finally, it stopped, and perhaps for the first time in more than two months, the thermometer made it all the way up to 40 degrees, and I stepped out into a truly noisy world. The air was filled with loud and raucous crackling, ironically much like the sound of a huge blazing fire. The cracking and popping proceeded from the melting of the ice, loosening its hold on branches and roofs everywhere, and falling in great noisy chunks all around. It was so unusual, and unexpectedly exhilarating! Children have the ability to be thrilled by every little thing, because everything is so new to them. But those of us who have seen decades of seasons come and go are rarely as thrilled by the events of the natural world around us. Then, something happens that doesn’t happen often in our lives – maybe a cicada summer, when the air is loud with the ceaseless buzzing of invisible musicians who can’t even hear their own song, or a sudden sunshower, with rain pouring down while the sun shines brightly – or an ice storm, coating the world in crystal, then filling the air with loud syncopated rhythms as it all comes crashing down. I am thankful for the occasional reminder I receive to see the world anew, and to stand in awe of it again, and of its Maker.
Well, another weird winter is upon us. It seems it snows every three days, and stays freezing in between. For those of you not local, this is not typical S. E. Pennsylvania weather. We get an accumulation so rarely that children run to the window with excitement at the first cry of "snow!" and adults in a panic run to the store, filling their shopping carts with milk and bread. Schools close and events are cancelled even with just a couple inches, first because people really don’t know how to drive in snow, (guilty as charged) and second, because our local governments do not budget for snow removal, therefore it is handled very poorly. So on years like this, travel is very tough.
Last year was ridiculously snowy as well… to which I say, "so much for global warming." "But," so the man-made global warming people say, "this is proof that the planet is warming!" So several years in a row of the coldest winters all over the country can "prove" that the world is getting hotter? Hmmm. Now, do I doubt the world is or at least WAS going through a warming trend? No, actually, I don’t. I just reject the idea that it is man-made. Too much evidence has come out now that the "scientists" rigged their experiments to make them say what they wanted, so that we cannot trust any "evidence" they have gathered. The research needs to be started over again, with honest, non-biased scientists. But I think by the time they collect new evidence, the planet will be in an official cooling trend. Yes, folks, for those who do not know, the earth’s temperature fluctuates in trends.
Does anyone else remember that in the 70’s many world-renowned scientists were warning us that we were headed into a mini ice-age? And I own the proof – a book, written in 1986, called A Creed for the Third Millenium, by Colleen McCullough. Set in the beginning of the 21st century, so about NOW, the world had cooled so much that much of the United States had become uninhabitable, government had applied a strict "one child per couple" policy unless a woman won a lottery to have a second child, and the entire nation was suffering from depression. The government sought out a new "messiah", some great motivational speaker who could help people learn how to live in this new, frozen world. It was fun fluff that I read as a teenager, but it indicates the real fear that existed at the time. Fast-forward 25 years, and now we are being convinced of the opposite.
Nonetheless, there is historic proof that the world constantly fluctuates in temperature, controlled primarily by sunspots, but certainly NOT by man. Consider the Vikings. Geological and historical evidence seems to suggest that the Vikings got on the move because of warm, wet winters that caused their food supply to fail. They were used to a certain lifestyle, and their plants were used to a certain weather, and when the weather changed, they needed to find new lands and new food. We all know what a scourge they were upon Europe, but they also traveled as far as the Atlantic coast of North America, and created thriving settlements in Greenland and Iceland. Interestingly, Greenland at the time was quite habitable. There was enough arable land along the coast and the weather was warm enough that a large settlement of Vikings grew up there around 1000 AD. However, within a couple centuries, the world cooled again, making Greenland unfit for farming, and the Vikings finally abandoned their villages there. Consider also that, during the time of Charles Dickens, England was enduring a "mini ice-age" of its own. Winters were cold and snowy, unusual for England nowadays, but the main setting for many of Dickens’ most heart-wrenching stories of the suffering poor.
Long story short, the earth’s temperature fluctuates naturally. I don’t personally like freezing weather any more than I like it boiling. But the world does not revolve around me. It revolves around a rather capricious sun, with hot spots and flares that affect us, and since I have no choice but to stay on this planet, I’m just going to have to get used to it, I guess!
Happy Snowball fighting!
Why do I love gardening so much? My niece asked me that in the spring. She’s from "the city" and we’re from "the country." Actually, neither is true, technically we’re both suburbs, but she’s about 2 miles from the Philly border, and we’re in farm country. So she thinks soil is dirty. Poor child.
But you know, I don’t think I could give her an answer that really deep down tells why I love gardening. Yes, I love color. Yes, I love planning things. Yes, I love life, beauty, texture, etc. And I love soil. But it is endless work, and I constantly give myself more. Why?
I don’t know. But I think deep down it’s a childhood image. My father’s parents had such a wonderful little plot. I thought of it as a small farm, but I was very small. In reality, it was only half an acre. But I thought it was a mile when I was little and would race across their back yard with my cousins at some party, or swing on the swing in the apple tree, up over the back fence "til I could see so wide," just as in Robert Louis Stephenson’s poem. I had so many happy times there. Poppop had the most wonderful vegetable garden, and he had an old greenhouse to explore, and a woodshop, and a spot where they used to keep ducks and geese when my father was young. Poppop had a woodshop, too, with a faded picture of St. Joseph sawing on a board, and young Jesus looking up at him with love. My husband the cabinetmaker now has that picture in his shop. It’s so faded you can hardly see the picture any more, but there it is. And Poppop had climbing roses and fabulous flowering trees. His grounds were to me a wonderland, a place where fairies hid in the shadows under his ornamentals, and in the great stone jars on the stone wall along his shaded stone patio. Oh, how I loved those times! And while Poppop was the king of the outdoors, Grandmom ruled inside – with unconditional love and a never-ending smile, where there was a pantry with every shape of pasta in varying shaped glass jars, and I could make a seascape picture out of noodles, and Grandmom would hang it on the wall, and there it would stay, for 25 years, and my children would see it and remember it, until both my beloved grandparents were gone and the wall full of cards and pictures from their grandchildren was finally taken down.
It was a magic place, full of love.
I think I love gardening because of my grandparents. And that’s the heart of it.
Yesterday I took a walk around my gardens. We had been hit with freezing weather almost every day since Thanksgiving and a snow storm the day after Christmas, so I had been hybernating: a friend commented to a recent post that she would call me ‘hothouse naturalist’! Well, that’s half true. I neither like to go out when it’s under 45 (which rules out quite a few months!) nor when it’s over 90 (which is most of the summer, so I garden VERY early or VERY late in the day). That only leaves me a small temperature range in which I go out and play! One must wonder why gardening is my passion…
Nonetheless, although it was not much above 30, there was no breeze and the sun was shining, so I toured my gardens to take my monthly notes, bundled head to toe in long coat, large purple cape thrown garrishly around my neck and shoulders, gloves, boots – and camera. I decided visual notes would be much quicker than struggling with a clipboard and pencil in my be-mittened fingers.
And what pleasant sights I saw through my camera lens! I have been attempting to expand my inventory of evergreen plants and was happy to find quite a few newly acquired herbs and Stepables seemingly un-phased by the frigid weather. Small, still, but quite happy! Several bare bushes showed red-tinged branches, red and orange rosehips clung to bare stems, shades of silver and rust, maroon and purple appeared here and there in the leaves of hardier plants, my butterfly bush, towering above my head, still held its silvery leaves, and attractive seedheads of aster and sedum and coreopsis clung to their dormant plants. My crab apples cheered me with their deep red fruit, and the interesting bark of my okame cherry and the twisting trunk of my japanese maple created an attractive picture.
The photos I took this month and those I will take in February and March will give me a clear picture of my gardens through the winter months, so that I can continue to improve them, making them more appealing, and more satisfying to my craving for color. I hope to post many entries evaluating different plants, so that you can benefit from my research. But I enjoyed my walk in the brisk sunshine yesterday. Squatting down next to a small but green thyme or zooming in on deep red rosehips made me focus on the positive, literally, in an otherwise dreary world. And that’s a life lesson we should all take to heart.
Welcome to Growing Goodness! This website is dedicated to growing good things, both plants and children. It's a gardening blog with maternal overtones, as I discuss the goodness and value of plants, both wild and domestic. In the process I hope to help you pass a love of nature on to your children. Happy Gardening!