Articles for the Month of January 2012

Washington Gardener Magazine Photo Contest

Saturday afternoon found me at Brookside Gardens in Rockville, Maryland at the seed exchange sponsored by Washington Gardener’s Magazine.  I was there not for the seed exchange but for the results of the photo contest which I had entered a few weeks ago.  The challenge was to submit your best pictures from 2011 in four categories with the resultant winners to be published in the magazine.  As it turned out I won first place in the Garden Vignette category for my photo of an illuminated watering can

Watering Can First Prize Winner

And in addition I picked up an honorable mention in the Garden Creatures category for my photo of a blue-winged wasp from last July.

Blue-winged Wasp Honorable Mention

Actually the most rewarding part was reviewing all my gardening pictures for the year and thereby whetting my appetite for all those flowers and associated creatures that will be arriving in 2012.  In addition to appearing in the magazine the photos will also be on display in Silver Spring for a couple of months and I’ll share that information when it becomes available.

I took advantage of the trip down Rockville to do a little garden exploring at Brookside.  They have a lot of snowdrops in bloom right now (some in an interesting green and white ivy) and a few early daffodils.  Unfortunately they still have a lot of trees and bushes wrapped in Christmas lights which detracts from wanting to photograph the winter forms of the bushes and trees.  However, I did see a lovely little Japanese Flowering Apricot in bloom.

Japanese Flowering Apricot (Prunus mume) 'Kobai'

The flowers are small but very pretty up close.  There was also a spectacular hybrid Witchhazel with vivid orange coloring to the petals.

Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) 'Orange Peel'

As I walked around this small (about 50 acres) but well cared for garden I was reminded once again how much this is a community garden, one which strives to inspire and be a part of the surrounding neighborhood.  There are many walkers and joggers who look like they use the garden on a regular basis.  And for those of us who are less often there, the pathways and views provide ample reason to return again…

Brookside Gardens


Jan 27 is First Crocus Day

First Crocus of 2012

In keeping with this incredibly warm winter weather we’ve I spied the first crocus poking through the grass today.  We have many spots in the grass where the little species crocus have been tucked so I’ve no idea which one this is.  In any case they provide a little flashy color to kick the year off right.  They are certainly a little bedraggled but I think that goes with being the first flowers ready to risk the elements.

A couple of bedraggled species crocus

Along with the crocus, and certainly much more surprising, I found the first of the Primulas in bloom.

Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

We began planting these little springtime jewels after an April trip to England where we saw them growing everywhere in the wild.  EverMay nursery in Maine had them in good supply and within a week of getting home we had our own little yellow and white Primrose in the yard.  But that was April, not January.  I’m really surprised to see these primrose getting such an early start.

We looked for seedlings last year but it seems these guys just like to bunch up into little rosettes and maybe that’s the only way to propagate them short of collecting their seeds.

Primrose rosettes

As a little addendum to the day let me share a picture of the Anemone coronaria ‘Governor’ which I mentioned on Thursday…

Anemone coronaria 'Governor' bud remnant

And such is life for the gardener…

Mid-Winter Transitions

Beth tilling our new garden in 1976

This winter is cause to take note of this old photo of a very pregnant Beth demonstrating her best one handed tilling technique with what was our most expensive purchase at the time, outside of car and house.  In the background is our neighbor’s house and along the fence line he had grapevines against a wire fence with metal posts.  And the pine trees in the picture were our neighbor’s as well — there was very little planted on our part of the hill, though you can see the deep trench where I was putting in asparagus.

Moving forward 35 years to last spring and you can see that a substantial crop of weed trees and vines grew up over time in addition to our garden crops.

Garlic row with Weedy boundary fence

Strawberry bed with boundary weeds in the background

When our neighbor’s husband passed away, the vines and trees simply flourished and the grapes went wild.  I had put in a deer fence with double height T-bar posts and they ended up falling over into my neighbor’s grapes.  Some of the weed trees were 15-20 feet tall and were the only thing holding up the fence.  With the collapsing fence it no longer stopped the deer and I was getting really discouraged about the deer situation in general.  They started eating our 35 year old blueberry bushes for the first time in Nov and Dec and for several years they have frustrated my attempts to start a new orchard.  This week I discovered the biggest of the new trees has just about been girdled by deer.

Deer damage on Apple tree

We have finally come to the conclusion that the years of coexistence on the hill are at an end.  The only way to garden here is to exclude the deer.  And to exclude the deer we had to begin with the mess on the side of the garden.  Fortunately a few things conspired to help.  We found two willing and able workers who have greatly magnified my effectiveness, the weather has been great,  and we’ve finally come up with a concept that will at least give us a start at excluding the deer from a lot of the area where grow valuable plants. When done (hopefully within the next month) we will have about 3/4 of an acre fenced in protecting the blueberries, the lilies, the azaleas, the tulips, etc. while still leaving the orchard protection as a future task.  In just the last week and a half we now have a totally cleared boundary for the garden with split rail fencing installed, deer posts in, and weed fabric laid down.  It’s been a really satisfying way to start the season.

New split rail and deer fence

They even preserved my neighbor’s grape vines

Neighboring 35 year-old grape vines

In fact it went so well that we decided to eliminate some additional sources of vines and extend the split rail/deer fence concept up the side yard.

Continuing the split rail

Others might enjoy skiing but I’m finding this a really delightful way to spend the winter.

It’s partly been made possible by sunny weather that is also moving the plants along ahead of schedule.  The Winter Aconite are just about ready to pop.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) ready to open

The Anemone Coronaria, which has not flowered since it was planted in 2009, is looking beautiful in bud.

Anemone coronaria 'Governor' in bud

Heck, the bud is so pretty I will make do with that…

And the Lungwort is already showing color.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) in bud

Hey, life is good…

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for January 2012

Hellebore viridis

Well it’s time to report on the flowering plants around our hillside for Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day.  I briefly thought about just giving in and sharing indoor plants as I looked at the thermometer this morning.  It was a very cold 32 degrees and the ground crunched under my feet no matter where I walked.  We’ve had more warm days than we deserve for this time of year so it was hard to complain and I figured it was at least worth checking to see what had survived the last few nights of sub 20 degrees.  As it happens the plants are continuing to make progress toward spring independent of what the weatherman may have in mind.  All of the Hellebores are putting out buds and some are beginning to open flowers such as the pretty green viridis above.  The overnight cold had made the flower stems limp but they prefer to look downward anyway so it’s not unusual for me to have to hold them up for the camera.  Hellebores are on our purchase list for the next year — there are so many color variations, the flowers last forever, and green foliage to boot.

I did find our first daffodil in bloom looking a little beaten down by the cold but hey! a daffodil in January beats most years I can recall.

First Daffodil

I don’t know the variety.  This one came as part of a mixture but it is our first daffodil every year, beating out some that I know are February Gold.

I’m afraid I have to share our red Camellia sasanqua again.

Camellia sasanqua continues in bloom

This fall blooming Camellia has been non-stop in bloom for us since late October.  Since we can see it from the kitchen window it gets a special prize for persistent beauty around here.

We have a number of snowdrops in bloom

A snowdrop clump

I don’t know of a definitive way to tell whether these are Galanthus elwesii or nivalis, particularly when the flowers are closed.  But a newcomer arrived on the scene this year.

Galanthus nivalis 'Viridi-apice'

It’s pretty green tips are very distinctive.

The other items outside are mainly promises of things to come.  The Ogon Spirea is actually showing some flowers though it’s reserving the main show for later.

Spireae thunbergii ' Ogon'

The Winter Aconite are showing color and all it will take is a week of warmer weather for them to really pop out (not likely tonight – headed down to 14 degrees).

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) peeking out

Similarly the Adonis are beginning to show color but have the good sense to stay under ground while the weather is still in the extreme.

Adonis amurensis first color

It’s kind of like they are peeking out of the foxhole to see if winter’s icy fingers are done probing the soil.

Lastly I noticed the Muscari macrocarpum is putting up little flower heads.

Muscari macrocarpum 'Golden Fragrance'

I was very unimpressed with this plant last year, but it survived my neglect to try again.  The idea of a yellow muscari was very intriguing.  I remember it sort of flowering half-heartedly and then flopping over.  Maybe it’s because it comes out very early in a climate quite unlike it’s Mediterranean roots.  Just think how many plants we ask to grow outside the zones they are comfortable with and then toss in climate change just to shake things up…


Beginning the New Year

Mardi Gras Apricot Hellebore showing first gorgeous buds

And so the year begins — with a flush of color and many green things poking up through the winter landscape.  Our New Years day was in the fifties, following a pretty warm December.  The Daffodils are waking up all over the yard and presenting their promise of blooms.

Daffodils on the rise

And Trout Lilies have begun to show their tips in the leaves.

Trout lilies rising up

The Japanese Quince is covered in blossoms and buds.

Japanese Quince in early spring attire

The Camellias (both Fall and Spring bloomers) have never really ceased blooming.  Our double Flowered Pink is a japonica but seems to be intent on finishing its spring bloom early.

Double Pink Camellia

There’s even an Anemone coronaria that is proving why they don’t seem to last here on Ball Rd.  It’s way early for this plant.

Anemone coronaria in bud

By the end of New Years Day the sun set in glorious fashion against the horizon leaving a promise of interesting things to come.

Sunset for 1st Day 2012

But all of this growth seems not to have paid much attention to the weatherman.  As I sit today, there have been snow flurries, the daytime max is going to be around 31 degrees with a prediction of 16 degrees for tonight.  It’s like a quick slap across the face for the plants that have forgotten about winter and then like a tease the temps should go up to the fifties again by the end of the week.

In a post script I should mention that we had a curious visitor last week.  A small Cooper’s Hawk was in the garden sitting on the ground.

Cooper's Hawk all fluffed out

When we approached him he was very loath to be disturbed by us.  We wondered whether he was sick.  Then after posing in very hawk-like fashion he lifted off into the air with all his capabilities seemingly in place.

Cooper's Hawk (immature)

It did give me a chance to try out my new camera… 🙂