Friday, November 20, 2009

St. Edmund's Day to potting Privet

Happy Saint Edmund's Day! "Who is he?" you ask. According to some garden lore and legends, Edmund, a 9th century king of England, is the patron saint of farmers and gardeners and today, November 20, is the day to remember him. I always thought Saint Fiacre, an Irish Monk from about the same time period and, who went to Italy and took up gardening at a monastery there (thus, the Italian name,) is the patron saint of gardeners. Oh well, it's all in the legends and the beliefs you favor. (Just so you know--My gardening alliance is with Fiacre, so here is a picture of him standing tall in my garden this past summer.)

On a different subject, thought I'd show what I'm up to this week after rooting some Southern Privet shoots from a shrub we bought in the late summer and put into the garden for the purpose of growing a different type of standard that will grow to a couple or even several feet like the bays and myrtles I have. This shrub is still only about 18 inches tall in these pictures, but you get a good idea of how pretty the foliage is. Privet, when mature, can produce white musty-scented flowers in the spring and even berries in the fall making it a beautiful ornamental shrub for the garden.

You can see from the photo that I made cuttings, about 6-8 inches long in late September. Since it was so late in the growing season, I thought I"d try a little experiment. I put them in a glass filled with water and a touch of rooting hormone and set the glass on my kitchen windowsill which gets bright but not direct sunlight. By this past week, roots formed and I was able to pot them up. Is this beginner's luck or Saint Edmund/Fiacre doing his thing?

Southern Privet, (Ligustrum), and it's companion varieties originated in Japan and China and has been traditionally used as a nice flowering ornamental shrub for hedging purposes. It's elegant, upright form and vibrant green waxy leaves, seemed to me, to lend itself to being cut and shaped into some sort of standard for a large pot in the garden or on the patio. We'll see, come next spring.

Until then, these lovely little cuttings will take up residence in the greenhouse. Oh yeah, once again, happy Saint Edmund's Day to you farmers and gardeners out there. There's much to do before spring comes so don't get too comfortable because Edmund (Fiacre, too) is waiting and watching over your garden beds, even in winter. There's no rest for the weary.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oak Trees

Today, I could not help but notice the beautiful Pin Oak Tree out in the back field holding on to it's golden leaves on this beautiful Monday. Long ago, the Druids revered this tree and believed it to be holy and a symbol of truth. They saw the oak as giving peace and shelter to those who rested under it. Maybe because oak trees hold on to their leaves through the winter until new leaves begin to emerge the following spring. However, I've never found it to be good shelter on a windy fall day when it seems to be raining sharp and, oh yes, very hard acorns on my head...ouch!

Oaks are very recognizable because of their shape and especially by their leaves and those acorns they produce in the fall. I remember being a newlywed nearly 30 years ago and taking walks with Peter when he was out and about labeling trees and collecting specimens of leaves and bark for Landscape Architecture classes at Purdue University. He would always say you can recognize a Pin Oak because it is as straight as a pin. It never delves from this. When you look at an oak tree, especially a very old and tall one, you may think it is wise and mighty. In fact it is often referred to in literature as the "mighty oak," when compared to other trees, standing stalwart against the pressures of time as well as the forces of nature.

There are many old superstitions in garden lore concerning the oak tree. One says that you can make a charm of acorns by carrying three with you in your pocket. It is said that these three acorns will help you preserve your youthfulness and beauty and also help you to attain your life goals. Another superstition says that if you keep at least one acorn in your pocket at all times, you will never get lost, be caught in a storm and, in general, keep evil away. And, if you paint a smiling face on your acorn, you will make it an even stronger charm by bringing out it's personality. Wow, that's a lot of responsibility for one little acorn. Unfortunately, for me, I waited far too long into the fall season to hunt for these little gems just for these purposes because the squirrels have gathered up all there is to gather up. I'll just have to hold on to the few I've found and hope these charms work! If you find some acorns to keep in your pocket, let me know how they work for you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mid-November Brilliance

Here it is, smack-dab in the middle of November and even after four straight days of gloomy Nor'easter weather, we still have some autumn brilliance hanging on...
The Kousa Dogwoods and an ornamental cherry tree still boast their beauty all around the perimeter of our house. Even the spindly and still very young Franklinia Tree (first picture) defies the laws of nature and holds on to it's leaves a few days more.

Fothergilla is planted down at the entry of our driveway. It is a beautiful deciduous shrub of medium size known for it's white, spikey yet frothy flowers in the spring and it's long-lasting, brilliant autumn color, not to mention it's lovely shape all year round.

This stand of Bradford Pear Trees line my neighbor's driveway and provide a cheery and vibrant welcome to visitors. These particular trees seem to be late in turning color and losing their leaves this year...lucky neighbors! Their color may still be around on Thanksgiving Day.

Although fog and dreariness can often render November to be thought of as a "cheerless" month, I find this particular day to be full of glory. I love the golden fountain grass, layered over tall Pussy Willow and oak tree branches, all lit up against the blue-grey lavender shrubs.

I came across this most awesome tangle of bittersweet on the side of the road and had to pull over and take a couple of pictures of it. If I had a pair of garden snippers with me, I would have been tempted to cut a lot of it down and bring it home to use for crafts. It must be handled very carefully since it is extremely invasive and, other than crafters, deer are probably the only other mammals on earth that see this plant for it's beauty and bounty. Beware, once it takes hold in your yard it doesn't leave kindly so better to just leave it along the road and admire it's beauty from afar. Still plenty of beauty to be thankful for.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Let the Clean-up Begin

Last month, when a repairman came to my house for a fall check-up on the heating and air conditioning units, he said to me as he was leaving, "By the way, Mrs. Rinek, I just have to ask...What is the deal with all of the dinner dishes in your gardens?" Clearly, he was a bit perplexed by the whole thing and did not appreciate what I think is the quaint charm and whimsy these dishes and curiosities lend to the appearance of the beds. After all, dishes in the garden really bring forth the true meaning of a kitchen garden, right!? Each boot, rabbit and chicken have a rightful place in my garden beds during the spring and summer seasons and all wait patiently on gathering day for their fall bath before their winter rest inside.

However, standing out here this past 'nippy' Sunday afternoon, once again, gave me a new perspective on the amount of work we gardeners choose to put into our gardens. And, washing the dishes that are displayed in my gardens is definitely not a one man job. Nor is it a job for the "faint of heart."

Kicking off November's garden "to-do" list this month by gathering up and washing all of the dishes outside always seems a bit overwhelming. My collection of blue and white plates, rabbits, chickens and balls suddenly seems more work than what it is worth. But, that feeling lasts for only the few hours it takes to hose them down, dip and wash them before washing them again in the kitchen dishwasher and finally storing them away in plastic boxes in the attic for the 6 or so months of the cold, outdoor weather yet to come.

While getting this chore done can be vexing, I try to remind myself how it feels like gifts when I open the boxes and start laying out the plates along the garden paths and tucking them next to various plants throughout the beds. The beauty and dimension they bring to the new plants bursting forth in April is charming and unique. These pieces of April and memories of summer help me through these bleak months of slumbering gardens until the catalogs begin to arrive in January and I can start planning where all of this blue and white whimsy will sprout in my garden beds next.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Today is November 2 and the leaves that are left on the trees have passed their peak and are now beginning to hang on for dear life here in Northern Virginia. There are still rich hues of autumnal color to be enjoyed but the colors are turning into more burnished, coppery tones on what is left of the vibrantly painted leaves from the last few weeks. Such is the month of November. Although it may start out colorful, the leaves themselves will, in the end, reluctantly dwindle away, taking their beauty with them and we will turn our minds and activities to, remembering the sparkling days of early fall and planning for the winter ahead.

Thanks to leaf collecting, an ongoing habit of mine, I still have pieces of October to savor. I was even able to pull Peter and his mother, Lynn, into the act when we were visiting her in Connecticut last week. I grew up appreciating sunny, autumn days that are meant for collecting leaves and enjoying the changing of seasons with family.

I remember collecting leaves with my mother and sister when I was very young. We would take long walks together on fall get-away weekends in Wisconsin gathering the prettiest leaves we could find. Sometimes, my father and brother would come along and it would be a total family affair. We would then bring them home where my mother would press the leaves between two sheets of waxed paper using her iron. My sister and I would then place the leaves for safe keeping in large magazines like "Life Magazine or The Saturday Evening Post"--okay I've just dated myself, here. My mother was an artist as well as an elementary school teacher and she was very particular about what kinds of leaves to save. Although my sister and I could pick up any we liked, only a few would be chosen at home to save for keepsakes that we could carefully preserve and bring to school for show and tell and art projects. Our collections were both beautiful and delicate and never the same from year to year.

I started collecting leaves again just a few years ago while walking Tucker along the country roads near and around my home. Taking the time to really savor not only the striking colors the leaves as they turn but also the interesting shapes and textures they boast and add to the fall scenery. Who doesn't love a pinkish red sugar maple leaf or a multi-colored oak leaf not to mention the crimson red of sugar gum leaves and the golden amber of tulip poplars or even the burgundy tone of dogwood leaves, just to name a few?!

Each time I go foraging for leaves, I tell myself that, this time, I'll only gather a few on my walk but some days, I just can't help myself and I bring home handfuls to press and store in my own books and magazines. Tucker has learned to patiently wait while I pluck leaves from branches or even scour the ground because, sometimes, some of the best specimens have just fallen. I have also been known to store leaves in my golf bag, only to discover them a few days too late for saving. Leaf collecting is wonderfully nostalgic, transporting me back to happy times spent with my mother and sister on many a fall Saturday afternoon.

I'm still collecting colorful leaves for this year and still bringing them home to tuck away and press in books and magazines. I'll pull them out next year for crafts and displays in the fall and even sell a few in September and October at the fairs. You wouldn't believe what a conversation starter a few colorful leaves can be in stirring up old and new memories with friends and acquaintances. As Martha Stewart might say, leaf collecting "is a good thing."