Articles for the Month of December 2010

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for December 2010

Camellia Sasanqua frozen in place

Well it is indeed another opportunity to check the progress of the garden and to search for flowering survivors against the cold weather of December.  I bundled up yesterday and went into the subfreezing cold to look for the hardiest remnants of our garden.  The Camellia shown above sits against sheltering wall but has only the one bloom hanging on and, truthfully, that bloom has seen better days.  There are many other buds hoping for a January thaw since there are not many signs that the temps are coming back up again in December.  I looked back to last year’s posting and see that this very same Camellia is the lead flower for that edition of GBBD as well.  Note to self:  A White Camellia Sasanqua should be on the shopping list.

Now I rather expected the Camellia to be flowering.  What I did not expect was to see a Chrysanthemum  bloom still hanging on long after its compadres had packed their bags and planted their seeds for next year.

Last vestige of Chrysanthemum

A bit bedraggled yes.  But we who are in the begging profession (as all North Eastern gardeners must be at this time of year) can not afford to be too picky.

What did strike me — in addition to the freezing winds yesterday — was the number of plants that still make a beautiful green contribution to the landscape.  There are lots of plants that we assume will come to the fore at this season — like Yews or Boxwood — but there are others like the Hellebores and Epimediums that seem be contributing above and beyond the call of duty.  Given that they both will put of lovely flowers in the springtime.

Epimediums defy the cold

Epimediums, in particular, seem so delicate but are at the core just as sturdy and determined a ground cover as you can imagine.  Like ferns they are much more reliable than their appearance would seem to call for.

And the Hellebores are becoming one of my favorite flowering plants.

Hellebore x sternii 'Hot Flash'

They are incredibly hardy, reliably deer-proof, and increasingly the hybridizers are bringing new colors and styles to the market.  The above ‘Hot Flash’ has a silvery cast and interesting markings to the leaves as well as pretty green flowers in the spring.

As far as plants still doing their thing despite the 20 degree temperatures I need to take note of the Swiss Chard in the garden.

Swiss Chard still surviving

What a great vegetable!  Thanks to son Josh, we now stir fry this with maple syrup — yum.

And yet another survivor, though nearly done, is the last of the lettuce.

Buttercrunch in the cold

I somehow never realized that the lettuce could tolerate such low temperatures.  Needless to say, I will take fall gardening more seriously in the future.  I only really planted the fall garden this year because the drought killed off our summer production so badly.  There is a world of discovery right there in the backyard…

To see other gardens on this GBBD please go to May Dreams Gardens where the event is hosted by the originator.

The December Drearies

Flowering Coleus

It has been a dreary start to December with temperatures 12 degrees below normal on average and a number of cloudy days.  It even snowed briefly last Friday with just enough slickness to it that cars careened off the road all over the city.  We live on a hill so that getting down or up on such days can be a dicey proposition.  In such conditions it’s nice to see flowers wherever you can and the coleus that Beth took a cutting from more than a month ago has obliged by putting up lovely lilac flowers.  If coleus were difficult to grow or expensive to acquire I’m sure we would go overboard trying to acquire it from exotic nurseries.  However, it is ridiculously easy to grow from seed and widely available in nurseries so I confess we often fail to give it full coverage in describing its impact in the house and garden.

Coleus was one of the first plants we ever intentionally grew back in our student housing days at UC Riverside.  We were fascinated by the different variations in leaf color and propagated a great many of them.  As time went on, we moved to more challenging plants and neglected the coleus as too common.  The last few years, however, we’ve been rediscovering the impact of coleus in the garden.  As an annual it grows quickly to 2 – 3 feet tall and can be kept thick and bushy in containers or in the soil.  The cut leaves last a very long time in indoor arrangements, sometimes to spectacular effect.  Perhaps if we thought of them in terms of their new botanical moniker, Solenostemon hybrids, we would give them more respect.

As I was working at the computer on a particularly rainy afternoon yesterday, I looked out to see a good-sized hawk sitting on the fence outside my window.

Worm-eating Hawk

I apologize for the poor quality image which was taken in poor light and through a rain spattered window, but what I found remarkable as I followed this hawk about the yard is that the hawk had no interest in the hundred or so birds and many squirrels that were flitting about our feeders.  Instead, he was actively harvesting the worms that were surfacing because of the water in ground.  It was very much like a robin on steroids.  Perhaps worms are seen as epicurial delights in the world of raptor dining.  Note to self — the camera should be kept in bird picture ready mode at all times, not left as though one had just taken multi-second timed exposures of coleus flowers in the house.

December is when we tend to review our donations for the year and, like Santa Claus, decide which charities have been naughty and nice.  Sometimes charities, the Nature Conservancy comes to mind, get tangled up in their own misplaced executive extravagances, and we have to punish them by withholding our giving for a while.  One place that we have never felt the slightest reservation about recommending is Able and Willing International Education Foundation.  We know the founders, Puma Mbuyu Wa Mbuyu and Ruth Snyder, who began this effort in the Congo with their own time and money in 1995.  Beginning from scratch they have built schools in two villages that now serve 661 students over all grades.


In the process they’ve brought electricity and an ethic of self-reliance to the area.  In Puma’s words, “More than simply constructing the buildings, AWIEF helps to establish the programs that enable schools to support to themselves.  In doing so, the organization seeks to model a healthy process of development that promotes self-reliance and helps to break the cycle of dependency on foreign aid.”  Nowhere else have we seen such a dramatic impact of our contributions put to effective use.