Sunday, January 27, 2013

Making a List...

January is almost over and I'm already itching to get out in the garden again.  In a way I'm relieved.  Most years I'm chomping at the bit relatively early but every so often I come out of the winter with little interest in gardening.  Fortunately years like those are few and far between and once I start seeing green again I always snap out of it.

What scares me is when I think about what would happen if I decided I no longer wanted to garden or if something happened to me that would prevent me from gardening.  Most likely only a matter of months would pass before my entire property would become an impenetrable jungle, a poster property for blight ordinance enforcement.  Does anybody else ever worry about this?

For the past week it's been colder than a witches...brew around here.  Even with sunny blue skies daytime highs have been struggling to get to the mid 20s F and nights have been hovering in the single digits to low teens.  An ever present wind chill is making it feel 10-20 degrees colder crushing any plans I have to get out and get the stink off. 

So...since I can't actually get out and work in the garden, I started making lists.  On one of my lists are plants that, for a variety of reasons need to be moved.  I make a list like this every year.  Some years the list is longer than others.  Rarely do I actually move every plant on the list.  Either the window of opportunity for moving plants closes, I get side tracked with other projects or I just get lazy.  Still, the list gets me thinking about areas of my garden that need work and where I might have openings for some of the new acquisitions I've been lusting after on websites and in catalogs.

Until I get outside for a walk around, the list will not be complete.  In fact, it will never be complete.  At some point when the perennials begin to emerge, I may just start the big shuffle and disregard the list completely.  Aren't lists made to be ignored?  Ideally I prefer to move perennials in the fall when the siting and/or design problems are fresh in my mind and I can judge sizes better but as you can see from the list that doesn't always happen.  In my experience shrubs move better in late winter or early spring while they're still dormant.

Notice I have a section for plants to be removed.  That move would be to the big nursery in the sky.  For now I've decided to put only woody plants on that list even though I have a plethora of perennials that likely won't live to languish through the 2013 season.  Until recently I rarely hoicked a plant.  Usually if something wasn't working I would just move it to a less visible part of the garden.  But in the past few years, with limited garden space and a desire to spend less time on maintenance and more on having a life, I've become more ruthless.  If my choices surprise you, allow me to explain.

Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic'

Honestly I hate to have to get rid of this shrub.  If sited correctly it's got a winning combination of colorful foliage and winter interest.  However I didn't site it well and now it's too big to move.  It grew much larger and faster than I expected and I didn't give it enough room.  In an attempt to make it work in the space I've been pruning it for the past few years which has ruined the form.  Last year some of the branches on the north side and underneath started dying out.  I'm not sure if that is due to too little sun or some weakness.  I guess it doesn't matter.  Negatives include suckering  from below the graft and occasional Japanese beetle damage.  If I ever get a larger, sunnier garden this shrub will be at the top of the list.

Viburnum opulus 'Nana'

One of the oldest shrubs in my garden.  Despite living in the deep shade of the nasty front yard Sycamore it was always a reliable bloomer and heavy producer of berries.  A few years ago the leaves started getting some sort of fungus causing them to dry up and drop off in late summer.  Maybe anthracnose from the Sycamore?  Could be but it's now a moot point.  During the freak snow storm in October 2011, the entire shrub was crushed under the weight of a falling Sycamore branch.  Last spring I pruned it back to the ground but it never really recovered.  It will be replaced with an Eleutherococcus sieboldianus 'Variegatus' currently planted too close to the property line.  Variegated foliage will brighten up the spot and my neighbor will no longer get raked with thorns when mowing his lawn.

Rosa 'Carefree Sunshine'

Over the years I've shovel pruned more roses than I care to count.  Shadows from buildings, mature trees and other plants allow for few of the true full sun opportunities in my garden that roses prefer.  Toss in my zero tolerance for blackspot with my reluctance to fuss with sprays and other nonsense and you find very few roses making their way to my garden.  'Carefree Sunshine' has always made the cut.  A few years ago I moved it from too much shade to what I thought was a better spot in the patio garden.  Since then it has languished and produced few flowers.  If I can find a spot where I think it will flourish again, I'll move it.  Otherwise it's sayonara baby!

Although I haven't indicated it on the list, one of plants to be moved may end up also being removed.

Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace'

For a foliage nut, Sambucus appears to have it all-texture, color, dramatic presence and for us northern gardeners, hardiness.  Unfortunately for me it's been a dud.  Every spring it taunts and seduces me with dark ferny new growth.  Oh how I love purple foliage plants!  Within a month or two though all of those new shoots wilt away and die.  I've had the same issue with Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold' and it's frustrating to say the least.  'Black Lace' has been languishing out of sight in a poor soil area of my garden for years.  Last year I read a post on Karla Dalley's blog, Gardendaze indicating that Sambucus wilt is caused by borers.  A hard prune in early spring is recommended to rid the stems of the overwintering little buggers.  Usually I do hard prune mine but this spring I'm going to prune it down to nothing, move it to a more hospitable spot and cross my fingers and toes.  If that doesn't work, I will sadly bid it farewell.

So there you have it.  If you've gotten this far without having your eyes glaze over, I applaud your stamina.  If you have experience with any of the plants on my list I'd love to hear about it.  In the meantime, hang in there northern gardeners-spring is right around the corner!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hooved Minions of Satan!

Yesterday morning I was standing at my kitchen sink looking out the window when I noticed the Arborvitae trio (an unknown variety of Thuja occidentalis) planted as a back drop for my 'Arnold Promise' witch hazel was looking somewhat thin.  At first I thought the thinned out spots might be places on the plants that were not getting enough sun.  Certainly that could be the case.  After all they are planted behind a fairly good sized witch hazel and under a large oak tree-not the most ideal light conditions for evergreens.  But why am I just noticing it now?

But then I looked a little closer.

Curiosity got the better of me so I grabbed some shoes and a coat and headed outside.

Yikes!  What the H E double toothpicks is going on here?    Could that be @#$%& deer damage?  Unfortunately yes, it appears hungry deer have launched an attack on my garden.

Now I know all of you who battle deer on a regular basis are thinking something along the lines of, "Welcome to my world." or "I can feel for you but I can't reach you." and I don't blame you at all.  For the most part, I don't have a deer problem.  Usually I get a stray one here and there in the summer and they usually concentrate their efforts in the gardens along my driveway eliminating Hosta or nibbling on deciduous shrubs in the reclamation area.  Nothing a quick dash outside in your underwear yelling at the top of your lungs at five in the morning can't fix.  However, never have I seen a deer or had any damage from them at all in the winter.

Satan's minions leave a calling card.

Despite living in a heavily populated suburban location directly behind a commercial shopping plaza and less than a mile from our capitol city limits, I get quite a bit of wildlife at my house.   Most people are surprised when in addition to the usual stories of rabbits, possums, and raccoons I recount sightings of fox, deer, coyote and once a snapping turtle.

Deer browsing damage on some Thuja occidentalis in my reclamation area

Less than half a mile from my house is Hartford's famous Cedar Hill Cemetery, final resting place of many notable people including Kathryn Hepburn and J.P.  Morgan.  Cedar Hill encompasses 270 park like acres.  In addition to housing the remains of the dearly departed, Cedar Hill is also home to a herd of Satan's hooved minions.

Using my amateur tracking skills, I followed the hoof prints to the end of a row of Thuja plicata 'Green Giant'.  'Green Giant' is reportedly deer resistant and I couldn't find any evidence of browsing but maybe the deer had already set their sights on the T. occidentalis.  With any luck I won't have multiple incidences to compare and contrast.

Here's a closer shot of area behind my property to the northwest.  You can see the roof of the shopping plaza.  Directly above the roof line are headstones located in a smaller cemetery adjacent to Cedar Hill.  When I photograph my garden I'm usually very careful to shoot from angles that omit the plaza.  During the growing season it's not as obvious but in the winter it looms large.  Eventually I plan to do a "truth in gardening" blog post which will expose my surroundings and perhaps generate some new screening ideas.

So I guess I'd better get over to the local garden center and get a bottle of Plantskyd.  A few years ago (pre cat) I discovered it when I was looking for something to repel the herds of rabbits decimating my garden every night.  Initially I was using the granular form but the active ingredient is dried blood so although it repelled the rabbits, it attracted the dog who would then spend hours hoovering around the garden eating it.  Since dog browsing reduced the effectiveness, I switched to the liquid spray bottle.

To be honest, the liquid form is disgusting.  If you don't have dogs and are trying to repel small animals only, I recommend the granules.  Not only does the liquid emit an indescribable stench, it looks like blood.  After spraying it on your plants, you may feel compelled to assure guests to your garden that your nightly routine really doesn't involve beheading chickens and sacrificing sheep.  They may or may not believe you.

But it works, at least for the occasional deer infestations I deal with in my garden.  Please feel free to share your deer experience with me.  Do you have a problem?  If so how have you dealt with it?  What about my Arborvitae trio?  Will they recover or will I be sharpening my shovel and removing them come spring?


Friday, January 18, 2013

Beach Walk Sunday Stages a Comeback


For the second weekend in a row, central CT was gifted with unseasonably mild weather.  Since we don't often see temperatures that begin with fives (or even fours) in January, once again it was time to get out and get the stink off!

A few years ago a friend and I got into the habit of taking off season Sunday afternoon trips to the beach for a sunset hike and dinner at a local restaurant.  I dubbed the excursions Beach Walk Sunday.  Eventually as it often tends to do, life got in the way and the visits fell by the wayside.

Last Sunday when the thermometer hit 50, I decided it was time to clear the schedule of mundane tasks and resurrect the beach trips.  So we jumped in the car and headed to Hammonasset State Park in Madison.

Nature's garden

Due to a late start we didn't get down to the shore until four in the afternoon, half an hour before the park closed.  Sunset was at 4:45 so I knew we'd have at least an hour before park rangers came around with bull horns to chase us out.  If we didn't dilly dally that would be plenty of time to grab a few pictures and take a quick hike.

Conditions were overcast and foggy.  Not the greatest day for picture taking but I gave it my best shot.  The ocean was incredibly calm and uncharacteristically silent.

Because I'm not a fan of mob scenes I've never been to Hammonasset in the summer.  From what I've heard and occasionally seen on the news I don't appear to be missing anything.  Most of the CT shoreline is privately owned so people seeking a beach experience have few options.  I'll gladly take the sunset walks in the off season and pass on the traffic jams, even if it means passing on the cheeseburgers, hot dogs and ice cream.

No food today

My definition of a crowded beach

No sunset to enjoy this trip.  Below is a picture I took at Hammonasset a couple of years ago.  I never get tired of watching sunsets over the ocean.  One of the rituals I have at the beach house I rent every summer is to plant my butt on a lounge chair in the sand every night with a glass of wine and watch the sun set.

From the beach we made a bee line to Bill's Seafood in Westbrook.  Bill's is a shoreline institution of part clam shack, part sports bar and part Irish Pub.  During NFL playoff season, especially when the New England Patriots are Super Bowl contenders, Bill's is definitely a sports bar.

At this time of the year I enjoy Bill's for the same reason I enjoy the beach.  Last Sunday it was relatively quiet-busy but not crazy.  In warmer weather, I prefer sitting on the outdoor deck overlooking a tidal river, but in January a table by the window in the bar works just fine.

As far as the food goes, it's nothing fancy but it's good and the fish is fresh.  When I'm in the mood to throw caution to the wind, I go with something fried.  On this visit I chose the blackened swordfish special with wild rice and string beans.  Comfort food extraordinaire.

After another weekend in the 40s we're supposedly heading into the first extended deep freeze of the winter next week with daytime highs in the teens and nightime lows in the single digits.  One more opportunity to get out and get the stink off before hunkering down.  Where should I go?

A few months ago, Jack at Hartford Daily Photo asked me to do some occasional guest photography for him while he winters in Florida.  On Wednesday, Jack used one of my photos from this trip on his blog HERE.  Thanks Jack!

Stay warm!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January Bloom Day-Yes I Said January!

January Bloom Day?  Count me in! 

OK so I'm pushing the envelope a bit here but cut me some slack.  After all it's January in New England.  Most years my garden is covered with snow and the plants are all playing dead.  So far, 2013 has graced us with unusually mild weather.  Normally our average daily temperature for this time in January is 34 F,  Yesterday we hit the mid to upper 50s.  Although I enjoy the warmer temps, I'm aware of the potential negative impact on the garden.  But let's face it-every year it's something. 

I believe the party is over as of tonight.  As usual though, the weather people don't seem to have a clue.  So far the crystal ball has gone from snow changing to rain to 1-2" and now up to 4" of the fluffy white stuff.  Halfway through the storm tomorrow they'll all look out the window and update the totals then crow about how accurate they were.  Don't get me started. 

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Garden for hosting this monthly (sort of) event.  Usually my Arnold Promise witch hazel blooms around Valentine's Day so with any luck I'll make a legitimate return in February.

Pay no attention to the ratty foliage and just look at the buds on this Helleborus foetidus.  It won't be long now!

If you look REALLY close (and have a very vivid imagination) you can still see some life in the flowers of Allium thunbergii 'Ozawa'

Although this variegated Pieris is only in bud, it certainly LOOKS like it's blooming to me.  Plus I think the foliage contrast with Microbiota decussata is a winner

Unfortunately, even with stretching things a bit that was about all I could find.  Not even the old reliable Daphne x transatlantica 'Summer Ice' had any flowers.  Better luck next month!

Stay warm!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Getting The January Stink Off at Tower Hill

January can be a cruel month in central CT.  If you're lucky average daytime highs hover around freezing.  The ground is typically snow covered and prevailing wind chills are cold enough to freeze your thoughts.  For most of the month the sun rises well after 7 and sets before 5.  No doubt there are worse places to spend January, and if you live in one of them you not only have my sympathy but my promise that you will never have to worry that I may become one of your neighbors.

My patio in January 2011.  Not a January Nick (or my back for that matter) cares to repeat anytime soon.

Every so often January tosses a curve ball though and behaves more like late February or early March.  By no means am I an advocate for global warming.  But I have to admit I feel positively giddy over the prospect of the forty and fifty degree weather we are currently experiencing.  Somebody pinch me!  Anybody but Al Gore.

Last Sunday morning as I sat swilling coffee while watching Meet The Press I came to the conclusion that the day needed to hold more for me than laundry and cleaning.  Why not a trip to Tower Hill Botanical Garden in West Boylston, MA?  Not only do they have cool plants but they serve food.  Although it was short notice, I tossed out an invitation on Facebook and was able to get two friends to meet me there.

Tower Hill is a horticultural gem hidden away in suburban central Massachusetts, about an hour and fifteen minute drive from my house.  In addition to the outdoor gardens and indoor Orangerie and Limonaia, there is also a library, a cafe and miles of nature and hiking trails.  During the growing season, many of the display gardens are creatively planted with unusual tropical and annuals.  If I were to make a list of places in Southern New England where you could most likely get rid of the January stink, Tower Hill would be at the top.   

No we're not in Kansas anymore, we're in Massachusetts

All of the plants are in containers

Roses bloom in January in the Orangerie at Tower Hill

Oranges in the Orangerie

View of the Systematic Garden from inside.  Check out what it will look like in a few months HERE

After touring the Orangerie, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the cafe then moved on to the Limonaia.

Lisa daydreaming about a tropical paradise

This Bromeliad tree was way cool!

Bird of Paradise in bloom in the Limonaia

Lemon tree very pretty

Believe it or not but the tree is a Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire'

It was such a nice day that we decided to take a stroll through the lawn gardens.

A pair of Paperbark Maples (Acer griseum) flanking a large Pieris

What are they looking at?

I love the reflecting pool and turtle fountain located in the winter garden between the Orangerie and Limonaia. 

View of the Orangerie from Domitian's pool in the winter garden.  The turtles are named Castor and Pollux.

Don't ask

What do you think?  Is a visit to Tower Hill a great way to spend a sunny forty degree day in early January or what?  If the weather gurus are correct, we are being led to believe that temperatures in the fifties can be expected this coming weekend.  If anybody has suggestions as to where I can go or what I can do, I'm open.