Articles for the Month of February 2009

After the PRESSure, the Winter Aconite Arrives

Yesterday was a dePRESSing day trying to figure out why my WordPRESS would not let me login to MacGardens.  If you should find yourself in a similar circumstance you might try replacing the wp-login.php file which is what finally got me running again.  On the good side the weather has been fantastic.  68 degrees today and things are starting to pop.  According to the weather projections we are supposed to stay above 40 degrees in the daytime for the next week.

 

Winter Aconite is Ready

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is Ready

I scraped away some leaves and found the Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) poking out of the ground.  They’ve made a nice little colony out of the original 10 tubers.  They have even managed to migrate to a totally different area of the yard.  How, I wonder?

 

Winter Aconite Emerging

Winter Aconite Emerging

And in the backyard the Snowdrops (Galanthus) are fully underway.

 

Snowdrops are Happening

Snowdrops are Happening

They look really delightful when you get down and see them close up

 

Snowdrop (Galanthus)

Snowdrop (Galanthus)

And not to far behind, the Hellebores are on the way.

 

Hellebore in Bud

Hellebore in Bud

And even the Tulips are surprisingly out of the ground

 

Tulips are a coming in...

Tulips are a coming in...

Haircuts, Trimmings, and a Brushpile

 

Limbing up the White Pine

Limbing up the White Pine

For a long time I resisted the notion that we should alter the natural growth pattern of the trees in the yard.  My better half made many good points about how much more sun we would have if we simply raised the level of the trees around the yard.  At the very least we could mow under them.  Gradually I observed that in many older neighborhoods that is exactly what people do.  But you must understand that when we started here there was a Dogwood, a small Red Maple, and a Cherry Tree in the yard.  Everything else we planted. 

Anyway Beth finally gave me a chainsaw as a hint, and I’ve since graduated to an even better chain saw (a Stihl).  The last couple of days I’ve taken advantage of some really nice 60 degree weather to give many of the trees a shave and a haircut .  

 

Pruning a Dolgo Crabapple

Pruning a Dolgo Crabapple

As it turns out the actually cutting process goes really quickly with a chainsaw.  But once you are done the real work is getting rid of what you cut down.  For the hardwoods some of the cuttings can be saved for the fireplace.

 

Hardwood Trimmings

Hardwood Trimmings

But for a lot of the evergreens and dead wood it’s back to the forest to join the large brush pile that we have accumulated over the years.  This has been going on long enough that at the bottom of the brush pile is some really nice mulch.  I moved part of the brush pile with the tractor and we used a batch of the nice stuff on the bottom in constructing one of the new gardens a little over a year ago.  I suspect in the meantime that this is probably a haven for the forest creatures with all its nooks and crannies.

 

The Brush Pile

The Brush Pile

I also took advantage of the chainsaw in hand to eliminate the dwarf Canadian Hemlock by the deck that has been infested with Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, a pest affecting Hemlocks across the Eastern U.S.  We now have an empty spot or a planting opportunity, depending upon your point of view.  I’m thinking this very moment of a Japanese Flowering Quince (Chamoneles speciosa ‘Toyo-nishiki’) that I just happen to have in pot lined out in the garden waiting for such an opportunity.

 

The Absence of Hemlock

The Absence of Hemlock

A Crabby Nesting Story

 

Our Emblematic Frogs in the Triangle Bed

Our Emblematic Frogs in the Triangle Bed

The triangle bed is at the entryway to our house and it’s name goes back to the original formulation when the house was two additions back from the bed.  Our scheme created a triangle formed by two Sargent’s Crabs (Malus sargentii) and red Japanese Maple (Acer japonica) flanked by a mixture of annuals, perennials, box, and azaleas.  This garden has evolved in time as the aforementioned grew and Beth has kept it looking interesting every year by giving our patient frogs in the above picture new companions of the horticultural persuasion.  She also has kept the Crabs within bounds by giving them an annual haircut.  In the process she has more than once managed to disturb Robins nesting in the Crabs and for one period of time invoked their wrath in the  form of bird droppings on her car.  Every morning we would come out to find a particularly large pile of bird droppings on the car as if they were sending her a message.

I thought of these goings-on yesterday as I noticed how, in this season you can see the nests in the Crabs.  There are actually two nests in the one Crab.  They are not easily noticed unless you go up close.  The Robin’s nest is on the upper right and to the lower left is likely a Carolina Wren nest.

 

Sargent's Crab in Winter

Sargent's Crab in Winter

The Robins are said to be year round in Maryland but we never see them until Spring is well underway.  In fact for us the first Robin is a sign of Spring.

 

Robin's Nest

Robin's Nest

The smaller, more delicate Wren’s nest uses a variety of materials.  They are equally incensed when we work in the garden although the first evidence is usually a burst of wings much like a quail when you come too close.  Last year they also put a nest in the fuschia basket hanging by the front door.  The nest was almost tunnel-like and it was difficult to see inside.  And the Wrens have also made use of Beth’s Christmas wreath hanging on the front door as a place to sleep.  More than once we’ve come late at night to a whoosh of feathers as we open the door.  Once the Wren flew into the house by mistake and it took a couple of hours to find and net her and get her back outside.  Thanks to my days of raising parakeets long ago we do have a bird net…:)

 

Carolina Wren's Nest

Carolina Wren's Nest

 

Closer View of Carolina Wren's Nest

Closer View of Carolina Wren's Nest

The Sargent’s Crab does make a great year-round tree with it’s pretty white apple blossoms in the spring, apartment house for birds in the summer, and berries that hang through fall and winter.  It’s very dwarfing — ours is more than thirty years old and still within bounds.

 

Sargent's Crab Fruit in Winter

Sargent's Crab Fruit in Winter

A Woodpecker kind of a Day

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

I’ve noticed this Red-bellied Woodpecker working away at our old Tulip Poplar in the mornings but he also seems not averse to sampling the suet feeder on a regular basis.  As our landscape is increasingly one of older trees we seem to have a regular population of Woodpeckers eating the insects that must be feasting on our trees.  I’m pretty sure that this is our Woodpecker’s tongue showing in the following picture…

 

Red-bellied Woodpecker with Tongue

Red-bellied Woodpecker with Tongue

The most common Woodpecker that we have on the hill is the little Downy Woodpeckers.  They frequent the trees, the seed feeders, and the suet feeders.  

 

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The big daddy of Woodpeckers hereabouts is the Pileated Woodpecker.  I caught him working on the Kwanzan Cherry last summer.  It may be a bad sign of things to come for the cherry.  When you hear this guy hammering on a tree there is no mistaking the power of his stroke.

 

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker (Summer 08)

Now I like to think that we do a good job of providing for the birds both with our store-bought offerings and the things that we are growing, but it may just be the magic of having inherited St. Francis from Beth’s mother.  St. Francis sits just outside my window underneath the suet feeder…

 

Statute of St. Francis

Statute of St. Francis

Heavenly Diamonds

 

Nandina domestica 'Compacta' with Water Diamonds

Nandina domestica 'Compacta' with Water Diamonds

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica) is one of those plants, like Lady’s Mantle (Achemilla), that can manufacture little jewels when it rains.  In fact it is an uncommonly attractive plant in those regions where (sort of around the Mason-Dixon line) it can be grown without going wild.  In Florida it has been labeled an invasive species and in Texas people complain about how difficult it is to remove, but for us it provides wonderful four season interest.  There are panicles of pretty white flowers that can lead to bright red berries that hang on into the wintertime.  Lacy leaves that change color through the seasons and an overall plant habit that resembles bamboo.  We opted for the ‘Compacta’ version for the limited space where we put it at the back of the herb garden.  And so far the flowers have been numerous and the berries very limited — nothing like what we have seen on the full-size varieties in town.  

What I had not appreciated until this year is that the beautiful red foliage of the Fall has a life of its own.  Beth picked some small branches for the downstairs bath in mid-December and they have been emulating dried flowers.  They are an attractive addition to all the greens that Beth brings in for the Christmas season and seem to last longer than any of the ‘greens’.

 

Nandian Winter Foliage in a Pot

Nandina Winter Foliage in a Pot

 

Nandina domestica close-up

Nandina domestica close-up

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday it got up to 61 degrees in Frederick.  This is after multiple weeks in which getting over 30 degrees was a minor triumph.  It seems that the plants had a lot of pent up energy in the process.  Although the ground is still frozen, a lot the snow melted off and we got the first glimpse of flower from the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis).

 

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) beginning to flower

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) beginning to flower

I am actually not certain whether this is a Chinese or American Witch Hazel.  I’m going to try to pay more attention to the tree this year to see if I can ascertain the difference — the Chinese is said to be less hardy, more fragrant and with larger flowers but it’s hard to compare when you only have one.  This one is about 25 years old and I value it more every year as it generally has the center stage when it is ready to flower.  I think one or two back in the woods would be nice…

I also broke into the mulch pile to create an instant garden for the plants that I bought at the NARGS sale on Sunday.  They had all been in a cold greenhouse and I didn’t want to spoil them with the warmth of inside the house any longer than necessary.

 

Instant Garden

Instant Garden

Winter Plant Buying Spree

 

Helleborus x hybridus white

Helleborus x hybridus white

The Potomac Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society is holding a meeting in nearby Reston, Va this weekend.  In addition to the meeting itself (the registration price exceeded my budget for such things) they also offered a plant sale open to the public with some very interesting vendors.  So I found myself driving over to Reston this afternoon and came away with several shopping bags of plants that will fit in well with our endeavors here.  

 

Rock Garden Society Plant Sale

Rock Garden Society Plant Sale

The number of worthwhile plants far exceeded what I could purchase today.  In particular, Pine Knot Farms was there with a full array of Hellebores in bloom.  We have a set of 9 Hellebores that we planted out in the garden last spring after seeing the impact they have in English gardens.  Most of them came from Pine Knot Farms.  But I haven’t seen them bloom yet.  So it was easy for these blooming Hellebores to jump right into my shopping bag — 7 of them — to add to our collection.  I was especially taken by the Helleborus niger ‘Double Fantasy’.  The tiny leaves and flowers stand out from the other Hellebores.  This is the first flower of the season and Dick Tyler of Pine Knot Farms said it will get more symmetrical later in the season.

 

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy'

Helleborus niger 'Double Fantasy'

Also coming home with me were seedlings of the a double flowered green variety and an English double strain.  And then some Helleborus x hybridus for the woods.

 

 

Helleborus x hybridus chocolate

Helleborus x hybridus chocolate

Another vendor with a variety of offerings was Rick’s Custom Nursery from Lexington, Va.  They had brought a variegated East Indian Holly Fern (Arachniodes simplicior ‘Variegata’) that has strikingly beautiful foliage.  Since ferns seem to be one of the deer resistant plant items they are always on my shopping list.

 

East Indian Holly Fern (Arachniodes simplicior 'Variegata')

East Indian Holly Fern (Arachniodes simplicior 'Variegata')

We had been discussing Heaths and Heathers with a friend last week and I was immediately struck by the beauty of the foliage on some Heather cultivars — Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’.  We will find a place for these.  It’s been a while since we gave a true Heather a try.

 

Heather (Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly')

Heather (Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly')

I also found another vendor selling Crinums and I couldn’t resist the pictures of the plants that these huge bulbs grow into.  Essentially lily-like flowers growing from Amaryllis-like bulbs and flowering in late summer; these should be an interesting experiment.  A couple of small plants, wintergreen and Phylliopsis ‘Sugar Plum’ round out the list.  Altogether not a bad haul from a mid-winter’s day…