Monday, December 26, 2016

Thoughts on Boxing Day

My husband claims it's the day the Brits burn their Christmas boxes.  Makes sense, but likely isn't the case.  It is a fine excuse for a winter bonfire, and far safer than stuffing emptied cartons into the parlor fireplace.

Never managing to locate a unified explanation as to why the day following Christmas is coined "Boxing Day," it seems that December 26th is a day of "fill in your blank" celebration--sorely needed after the stress and bustle of the preceding high holiday. 

In England it generally involves horses and fox hunting, but as most urban dwellers no longer have steeds, it has evolved to a day of rest (and maybe some bloodsport shopping) after a
robust celebration of Christmas.

In Ireland and Wales folks honor the feast day of the first Christian martyr St. Stephen, a teacher, historian and orator, who perished in a painful manner.
Legend has it that the term "boxing" evolved from the practice of sending home servants the day following Christmas laden with boxes of food and drink for a hard earned post Christmas celebration.  Back in the Downton days, the help had to work on the 25th so the gentry could enjoy the holiday undistracted by the chores of living. 

In the Mitten, the day following Christmas is best spent outdoors, taking in the wonder and beauty of winter.  After a deep snow, and protracted cold temperatures, a sudden warm snap produced translucent ponds and ethereal fog. 

Thus we have the mist in common.

The evergreen boughs and dried hydrangea heads in window boxes and stone containers still cling to a light icing of snow.  Dried grasses and tall perennials  glow golden in the moisture rich air.  Deep burgundy and bronzed stemmed shrubs balance the evergreens and darkly moist green grass emerging along the frilled edge of the snow covered lawn.

The sun never reared her pretty head, but cool nature had her own warmth.

What makes this muddy time of year so magical for me?  I can't get enough of the moist coldness of the garden and the restful
muted colors of early winter. 

Not a horse in sight, but plenty of deer tracks in the receding snow.

A sort of "outside the box" day, shoring up for the upcoming new year.. Best spent taking in fresh air in zone five, or in the Lake District, on a hillside in Wales, or just outside Chappaqua ...

but always with a loved one nearby.


For the fireside...

Winter Porch Pots ~ Greenery Containers

Winter Weeds and Good Deeds

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pine Needle Drop

They're everywhere this year.  Why are the needles on my pine trees turning brown or yellow? 

There's a thick carpet of discarded needles over the yard.  Does this mean the end for my pine tree?

Not at all.  In most cases, needle drop is a natural part of tree growth and maturity.  Each year evergreens cast off twenty to thirty percent of needle growth.  As the tree expands, its drop becomes larger--to be replaced with fresh growth in the spring.

Newer needles should be at the end of the branch, and older (browning) needles at the crown.  If primarily the tips of evergreen branch needles are brown, the culprit could be disease or insects.  In that case, call an arborist for a consult.

Spruce trees hang onto their needles almost twice as long as pines--five to seven years as compared to two to four.

Needle drop can also signify the tree's reaction to weather patterns which took place during distant prior seasons. Beginning in 2014 there was a noticeable increase in yellow needle drop from white pines located in New England.  The suspected cause was an extremely wet spring the year before, which may have infected new needles with fungal spores, resulting in the drop of needles in the second year.  Most healthy trees will survive such an infection without intervention.

Evidence of tip blight, cankers, or a purple cast to needles warrants a call to the local tree expert.  Most of these diseases can be treated.

More serious is the white pine decline noted in the northeastern United States. This progressive decline is potentially attributable to warming trends. 

Don't get the blower out!  Fallen needles make an attractive mulch, and the price is right-- compliments of Mother Nature.

Here in the land of the giant conifer, a blanket of orange-gold needles hides all blemishes--just like a clean layer of snow.

I don't remove fallen quills from flower beds until spring.  They provide a layer of insulation for tender plants whose roots may be heaved to the surface and damaged by a "freeze and thaw" cycle.  Partial decomposition sends healthy organic matter into the soil in early spring.  As the weather begins to warm, rake away what remains

I reuse this natural mulch in areas that are not immediately adjacent to the house, around the base of trees, or as an alternative to woodchips for pathways.  Its thick consistency is an effective barrier to weeds--and the needles cast a lovely scent when tread upon.

Assuming your pine has healthy green tips and shows no sign of decline or disease, then the thick carpet of needles represents an ever-rotating parade of growth.

More on conifers:

Colorado Pine Beetle-Bad News Bugs

Witch's Broom -- What's That Spooky Bump on my Pine?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Zone Five and a Half: Planting Bulbs: Pay it Forward

Zone Five and a Half: Planting Bulbs: Pay it Forward:
If you can yet poke a shovel into the ground, there's still time to
plant bulbs.  With a few short steps, a bag of bulbs can be quick...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zone Five and a Half: Hosta la Vista!

Zone Five and a Half: Hosta la Vista!: I really resisted these leafy staples of the garden.  Hosta was just a plant grown in my elderly aunt's garden.   Yet when I had t...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cottage Garden ~~ Best Cottage Plants and Design

Cottage gardening began in England in the early 1800's.  Villagers collected native plants in the wild or sowed seeds and cuttings from neighboring yards.  Upstarts were planted around the front pathway, along fences or hedges, packed in a dense and chaotic beauty.

Flowers became the currency of kindness for those unable to purchase gifts.  If that currency came with roots, the gift became a legacy.

Mid-century folks didn't have time to tend gardens, which often included edible herbs and flowers.  Gardens were expected to be self sufficient. Plants weren't thinned and grew in thick masses, acting as a support, flopping against one another.

Inspiration can occur without warning, in odd places.  (This one in the ladies' room of a nearby greenhouse.)

Design may start with a single idea, object or inspiration.  A friend planned her living room renovation around a small blue porcelain egg, toting it in her handbag to paint stores, furniture showrooms and carpet sellers.

At the local greenhouse, "opening day" typically occurs on a chilly, drizzly April morning, when gardening without a pickax and layer of fleece is difficult to imagine.  The only warm spot in the garden center at that time of year is the water closet.

On the wall of the ladies' lounge hung an inexpensive print of a weathered bench centered in a garden reminiscent of England.  The print wasn't of unusually high quality, which, given its location was to be expected, but there was something about the peaceful scene, and that worn bench, which urged me to reconsider an overgrown and distant portion of the yard.  I snapped a fuzzy picture of the poster.

While I adore British cottage gardens, (and Englishmen) for that matter, I'd never considered planting one of my own.   Must be their "unruly" nature.  (The garden, not the husband.)

Yet, I couldn't shake the nagging inspiration.  Once faced with those spilling blooms in that grainy poster, I was besotted--and obsessed.

I already had the bench.

There's always an abundance of healthy plants in the wrong places--lilacs now overshadowed by extended shade and leafy hydrangea shrubs no longer inclined to bloom. Toss in clumps of lilies, iris, and hosta along with the rest of the usual suspects. 

With proper planning, a root ball precutting would've been ideal, but advance notice is rare in the garden. Thus, we cleared the space--no easy task.  Using an iron pitchfork to loosen the ground, most roots were coaxed out by hand. 

Next, the outline was defined.  The garden hose was too stiff in the cold to offer much assistance.  Historically, cottage gardens follow the outline of a wall, hedge or path.  The chaotic nature of these gardens require a frame.  Ours was a concave boulder wall. 

Loosen the soil and rake smooth.

Cut a botanical edge to limit intrusion by grass and weeds.

The real fun begins with the choice and placement of heirloom flowers.

These classics do best with morning sunlight:
Add structure with shrubbery:
Plant specimen largest to the back, mounding in the front.

Fill in each inch!

To give perennials the opportunity to fill in, for immediate impact intersperse with vintage annuals:

There are no rules.  Add a focal point or two--yet don't overdo.  Outline with a woodchip or crushed gravel path.

Then, take a well-deserved seat. 


Related articles:

How to Create a Natural Edge (for free!)

The Gardens of Downton Abbey -- Plant Your Own English Garden

Vintage Gardens ~~ Spider Plants and Fancy Pants

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Zone Five and a Half: The Garden Potting Bench

Zone Five and a Half: The Garden Potting Bench:   How to build the best potting bench?  The most important element is height.  When six and a half foot Kenny built my garden bench--the...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pansy Burn ~ Will Cold Harm Pansies?

Easter weekend was lovely.  The five dollar pansy vendor saw a brisk business at the county market.  Per usual, the resolution to go easy was overruled by the impulse to spread color.
In May and June I'll be moving those bright beauties to a cooler place, but for now--they rule.

Then the Midwest winter returned with a vengeance.  Ten days of cold and snow surely meant an untimely demise for the jonnie jump ups?  Not so.

Pretty and tough pansies are surprisingly hardy in the spring.  All survived the snowstorm.  Some lost their blooms, many leaf edges are crisp--but a few weeks of warmth will restore their brightness.

Pinch chilled pansies back by removing the damaged blooms with fingertips while anchoring the plant in the soil.  Pluck out leaves that are more than fifty percent damaged. 

Go Tigers!
The remaining plant will come back fuller than its earlier hothouse version

Opening Day was brisk, but extra layers abated the chill.

This past weekend saw temps in the eighties and nineties but no precipitation.  Lack of moisture causes far more damage to pansies than icy winds. 

Water well.

Now about those deer hungry for bright pansy salad?

Apparently Bambi likes his greens chilled.

Try these:

Urbane Wildlife

Lafayette Greens ~ Detroit Grows Up!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Impatiens 2016 ~~ The Blight is Back

Impatiens 2017 are a "no-go" once again
This year's not looking hopeful for Bizzy Lizzies.  Last season, buoyed by the passage of time and abundant presence of these colorful lovelies in the garden center, beds were again filled with impatiens. 

All appeared positive for the first warm months, as the yard had been clear of downy mildew for over three years.  Sadly, by mid summer, the lizzies were looking less busy.  Within weeks the mildew blight had returned. 

In 2016 it's back to the reliable replacements of begonia and coleus in place of impatiens.

No worries! There are fabulous alternatives to impatiens for color in the shade garden:

What To Plant Instead of Impatiens?

Begonias Are the New Impatiens

Coleus Revisited Should I Plant Coleus Instead of Impatiens?

Impatiens Blight Disease -- Trouble In the Landscape

Bye Bye Bizzie Lizzies

It'll be a long while before impatiens should be considered for the Midwest garden.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Zone Five and a Half: Winter Interest in the Garden

Zone Five and a Half: Winter Interest in the Garden: Winter interest, the best excuse a gardener ever had. What should I NOT do in the garden this fall?  Taking a cue from Madame Nature, in s...

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Shrubbery Flubbery -- Will Heavy Snow Harm Shrubs, Bushes and other Plants?

Wintry wonderings. Will the heavy snow harm shrubs and bushes? Should I remove or brush snow from the hedge?  Will snow or ice damage shrubs?  Evergreens and icy snow have a complicated relationship.  Nature can be harmful at times. 

The tall arbor vitae outside the kitchen window have taken an interesting "twist."  The unending snow this winter has bowed them over under the collective weight of pesky flakes.  During morning coffee in the warm kitchen, a debate ensued over the urgency of wading out in order to rescue the arching branches.  Coffee and warmth won out--for now, as the weather predicted is somewhat mild (by recent standards) and devoid of rain. 

Under best circumstances, the branches are loosely tied together in the late fall, which normally helps to avoid debate, and potential damage.  Last fall, life got in the way, so nature is currently getting the better of our greenery.