Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'Tis the Season!

The sleeping garden in early winter here at Blooming Hill.
Holly, lovely holly. Just in time for December!
"Silly gardener! Summer goes and winter comes with pinching toes..." And, so the English poet, R.L. Stevenson continues to paint December in harsh terms, "When in the garden bare and brown, you must lay your barrow down."  This is a good description of  the gardens, roadsides and rolling pastures   that surround Blooming Hill as December approaches fast and furiously. Yet there are hints of deep winter greens in stalwart beauties such as boxwood, holly and ivy, pine trees and evergreens and even tender rosemarys.

P. Lorenz, in his "Christmas tree creating zone."
A choir of angels, caroling along in the kitchen.
Snowmen bearing garden gifts.
 Yule Tonkas dressed for Scandinavian weather. 
While any thought of summer into fall has all but faded completely from my memory, inside, December comes to life in the bright lights, glittered ornaments and all the trimmings of the Christmas Season. Glad tidings bloom in poinsettias and glow in the soft candlelight.  Angels pose serenely while snowmen never need worry about melting, even in the warmth of the kitchen and mischievous Yule Tonkas (Swedish Christmas Elves) make celebratory plans of their own.

Winter white repose in the dining room.
The living room Christmas Tree in all of it's indoor splendor.
Homespun family room theme complete with tiny reindeer.
Wishing you peace this December.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November's Bittersweetness

November is widely considered to be one of the most drab and colorless months of the year.  The golden harvest has been gathered and the peak colors of fall have long since fluttered to the ground and wind-swept away. Yet, autumn's last breaths cling to the gnarled branches of tall oaks and stately maples in the burnt oranges and reds of the Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatis) vines, hanging, twisted and tangled in tinsel-like fashion.  Oriental Bittersweet grows carefree, not caring that it is no longer welcome wherever it appears.

The roadside vignettes feature this colorful vine overtaking blackboard fences and twisting around tree trunks affording the grey days of November their own faded charm. Even though this vine is invasive and can easily choke out precious native plants and the strongest of trees, I love to see it growing like witches hair, tossing and swinging in the chilly, dry air.  It defies the onset of darkness as winter approaches fast and furiously.

Did you know that there is also an American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)?  Yet, as far as the Oriental variety is invasive, the American variety is not and is even a protected plant species.  It does not germinate as easily as its Oriental cousin and it's berries only form at the end of each branch of the vine, not along the entire vine.  American Bittersweet has been virtually overtaken by it's aggressive cousin that was introduced to North America, back in the 1860's, ironically, to help combat soil erosion along roadsides.  It now grows freely along the Eastern Seaboard and reaches as far west as the Rocky Mountains.  And, as we know, all too well, it is very hard to eradicate.  Even more surprising is that both of these vines are really false bittersweet.  The real bittersweet is actually a plant called Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) that looks markedly different and is a member of the potato family.

In the language of flowers, bittersweet  represents truth.  Perhaps because truth can hurt sometimes, but in the end, truth becomes a satisfying closure and, perhaps, even sweet.  It is a poisonous plant to humans in as far as it will make you quite sick if you eat it.  However, bittersweet is the survival winter food for many birds, especially Eastern bluebirds, grouse and pheasants.  Even those pesky squirrels who may have misplaced their stash of nuts will dine on bittersweet.

So, as fall gives way to winter, bittersweet tempts us to decorate our fall tables and doorways, reminding us that November will not go quietly into the night.  Bittersweet vines will decorate this month and climb,like Jack on the   beanstalk, into the sky and wave good-by, carefree and colorful.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Cold Frame

Plants in the very crowded greenhouse.  Everybody needs a little breathing room.
Assembling the frame for the new cold frame.
What do you do when you run  out of every available space in the pretty petite greenhouse, fully stocked,  in the backyard? Why, you build a ten foot by ten foot cold frame, of course!  It's a place to help keep my happy place (a.k.a. the overflowing greenhouse) well--happy.

Placement of the cold frame is out in the back of the property, close to a water spigot.  Just because it's winter doesn't mean that plants, especially in cold frames, don't need an occasional drink of water.
The plastic covering  being positioned over the frame.
As the lavender cuttings root well enough to transfer from peat plugs under grow lights and close to sunny windows in the house, to 3 inch pots and spend a little time hardening off in the greenhouse, they can now go out and live happily in the cold frame, along with any other cold loving perennial that is spending this winter not firmly planted in the ground.  We covered the ground with a nice soft bed of pine needles for all of these little lavender lovelies to nestle down into and stay cozy and warm.  Soon, this cold frame will be much fuller as the days and weeks pass.

Placing plants out in the 10 ft. by 10 ft. frame that can be raised on warm days.  Don't worry-- a lot more lavender plants will be going in and filling up the space.
A floor of pine needles keeps everything dry and snug.
Ready for winter 2012!
That's what we did over this past weekend as we buttoned the gardens up and prepared for a much colder winter than it was last year.  At least, that is what the weathermen and the Farmer's Almanac are predicting for the Mid-Atlantic Area.  We will be ready!