Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Balmy Breezes, Shivery Freezes and Rainy Days

The magnificent flowers of Tulip Magnolia (magnolia soulangeana) are sometimes lost to a late frost--but not this year!
March never can seem to make up it's mind. It starts out in the morning shivering in a winter coat, and by noon it's shorts and a tee shirt. Two hours later and you're drenched in a sudden downpour, mixed with 3 inches of pea-sized hail and wind that litters the ground with thousands of tiny twigs and branches, usually just after you've just picked  up all of the debris from the last weather snit.Then the sun peeks out; Mother Nature laughing at her own perverse sense of humor (Not Funny, Mom!) and warms your body and soul , kissing you with fresh breezes and hugging you with the delicious scents of fresh flowers and moist earth.

Miniature daffodils
Tritellia, one of my favorite small spring bulbs
Peppermint stick (clusiana) tulips
The next day, you wake up to a skin of frost all over everything, the daffodils are shivering and the rhododendron leaves are curled up into slim fingers that makes you want to fit them out with mittens!  There's a promise of 70 degrees by Sunday, but.....are the promises going to be kept?

Butterbur (petasites) flowers come up before the leaves
Vinca minor atropurpurea with white grape hyacinth

Spores on moss

Woodland walk
Hosta montana aureomarginata
Lots of promises to keep.

"And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hi, My Name is Sandy and I'm a Hostamaniac

"There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.
One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues."
- Hal Borland

I wonder what Mr. Borland would have had to say about the proliferation of catalogs on the internet, which; of course, didn't even exist in his day.  I well remember anticipating the mail with Wayside Gardens, Jung, Henry Field's, Gurney's, Park's, Stark Bro's and a handful of others, all arriving in early January when the winter was the bleakest. I don't recall exactly when they started coming in December before the Christmas tree was even up, I just remember piling them on my desk until after the New Year when I could properly give them the attention they deserved, pouring over the riches of plants in them like a kid in a candy store, making lists, dreaming of spring.
These days, I still get Jung, Gurney's, Stark Bro's, Thompson Morgan and a small handful of the same others, scattered from early December until late January, but sadly, print catalogs seem to be vanishing from the gardener's landscape.

My particular addiction (well, one of them, any way) isn't in those wonderful catalogs that try their best to tempt me with beautiful colors and descriptions of new and startling garden wonders; many of which I don't even recognize these days with the proliferation of  "designer" plants that have been introduced in the last 20 years or many echinacea cultivars that somehow all look alike do we really need, anyway?

It starts so small, just one little bed

I confess, I  too now turn to the internet for my hosta fix. This year, it started early when  the Naylor Creek hosta list arrived in full color print in my mailbox in November (!!!!) to whet my appetite. These ain't Granny's hostas any more! Not so many years ago, there were 300 or so varieties. Now there are thousands, in plural colors and sizes; golds, greens, blues, streaky ones, multi-colored, changeable and a whole language coined just to describe them. They are from barely 2" tall to monster plants over 9' wide, they grow fast, they grow slowly, they "sport", they are "tissue culture", "originator stock". Individual, unique, newly introduced plants have been known to sell for thousands of dollars in their first year of release. Gardeners collect them like Beanie Babies, showcasing their gardens in hosta conventions,  competing to have the most, the newest, the best, the biggest, the showiest, the most unique, the streakiest, the reddest. Oh yes, red, the race is on to hybridize the first entirely red-leafed hosta! A red hosta may prove to be the blue rose of the hosta world; always just out of reach, but I'm not taking any bets on that. And I want one. The current rage is for the streakiest, most stable leaf. Gorgeous! And of course, I want those too. As my Dear Husband says, I have wantin' ways!


There are whole gardens devoted to just these plants; dedicated garden forums on the internet; hosta societies all over the world. An encyclopedia of hostas was published last year, the Hostapedia, which costs more than I've ever spent for a book in my life, and is thousands of pages thick (and no, I don't have it. I would rather spend the money on plants...). There are also thousands of plant nurseries on the internet selling hostas, some exclusively, some with "companion plants" a term that just means shade perennials.

Left, Guacamole:  Right, Abiqua Drinking Gourd
And who can blame gardeners for wanting to grow these wonderful plants? They are the ideal shade tolerant garden plants; mostly easy to grow, pretty much trouble free, tolerant of most soil conditions--one variety will even grow in water; and some like the sun--and hardy as weeds except in the south, where they tend to languish in the heat. Even there, they are adaptable to growing in pots.

Brenda's Beauty

It starts small.  One catches your eye at the nursery when you're buying perennials. Sure, why not? It would be pretty under the shade tree with the ferns and astilbes. Pretty soon, you have a whole border of them, easy care and beautiful, after all, they don't cost much, $5. or so each,  for all the beauty you add to your garden. Maybe a few more. So you dig up some more of your lawn. You didn't much care for that scraggly grass, anyway and you had to mow it. You could divide up the ones you have, but they are just getting so gorgeous...and you heard about a nursery that had some different ones. Maybe one or two of those. Hah! That's where they get you hooked! Before you know it -and you don't even know how it happened- you've found (just looking up one or two to see how they grow, how big it might get--yeah, right, there are thousands of pictures on there to feed your addiction) and oh, look, links on there for a catalog or two! Once you've discovered "designer" hostas, there is no going back. No more $5 hostas either, soon $20 doesn't seem too much to pay for a really pretty one. The "want" list grows expotentially.

Cathedral Windows

But not me! I can quit soon as I finish my hosta orders for spring. I'll quit then! I think.

Journey's End

Well, it's been nice chatting, but I have to go now. I need to talk with my group of enablers--oops, I mean, fellow hosta gardeners--over there on Somebody over there might be talking about a hosta that I don't have!

   "A garden makes the most hungry who most it satisfies"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Look Back: What a Difference a Month Makes!

It's about time for the "January thaw" by the calendar, and by the looks of the weather forecast, too, at least for the Ozarks. Though we have already had a thaw or two; our weather patterns have been swooping up and down like a berserk carnival roller coaster for a couple of months now, one day 50F and two days later 0F then back up into the teens with a few inches of snow. It goes from bleak and cold to chilly and muddy with occasional flashes of some yellow thing in the sky, but that doesn't stay long enough to know for sure just what it is. Crowds of finches, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, titmice and siskins flutter in the dogwood tree like so many vari-colored leaves, fighting over space on the sunflower feeders, with occasional punctuation by jays, woodpeckers and cardinals that send the whole flock of smaller birds momentarily scattering to shelter in the forsythia.  Birds don't seem to mind what the weather is, as long as there is a full buffet!

On those days when there is a sun-kissed breeze, I love making forays into the winter garden world to see who's awake!

Arum Italicum "Pictum"
I love these green variegated leaves in the winter. Arum Italicam is reputed to be invasive but it has not been proved so in my garden.

Colchicum (autumn crocus) is eager and ready to go, growing leaves to store food for fall's blooms

Early daffodils will be blooming in a couple of weeks, in mid-February

The succulent garden is a rainbow of  color!

sedums flaunt bright red

Who's hiding in here? It looks like a tarantula, all curled up under the leaves, but it is a sleeping fern, fronds all coiled to spring with the first balmy April weather!

Bright red heuchera makes a splash against brown oak leaves

Peek-a-boo! A hellebore bud will soon be sticking her pretty head out to greet the February sun. This plant will be crowned with hundreds of mauvy-pink flowers.
Asian ginger, asarum splendens, flashes bright silver in the  hosta bed

Columbines are get-ready-set-grow eager
Bright red nandina berries spark up the shrub border.

Who said January was bleak?
Come on, Spring!
"January opens
The box of the year
And brings out days
That are bright and clear
And brings out days
That are cold and grey
And shouts, "Come see
What I brought today!"
-  Leland B. Jacobs, January

Monday, January 24, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Ah, January! That longest of months, when the lengthening of days seems so gradual as to drag on forever, and the cold insinuates icy fingers under the edges of even the most insulating garments, frosting digits and  turning noses to icicles.  Summer vacation seems a long, long ways back and the heat brings a nostalgic longing..........

It was a long, hot, dry summer in the Ozarks, the heat rising from the city sidewalks like a living thing, wafting up legs, turning skin to dry scaley crepe paper and inciting the pour of perspiration that plastered hair and clothing damply to bodies and skulls, only increasing the feeling of heat instead of coolness. The sharp, hot, acrid smell of dust assailed sinus cavities, carrying with it grains of sweet pollen that caused sneezing fits to add to the general summer discomfort. In the garden, hoses lay like sinuous green snakes along paths, slithering among plants to rear their yellow, cobra-like sprinkler heads that ran non-stop, causing the water meter to whirr at a dizzying pace and dollar bills to fly out of checking accounts.. If there was a bit of shade, it too was hot, just providing a bit of respite from the unrelenting sun that scorched the earth.

Too hot to garden, except for the most necessary weeds and keeping things in pots watered; but even cold beer and good books only entertain just so long before ennui sets in and  restlessness goes looking for projects.

Projects are things that never go wanting in a Chaotic Garden. There is always a new one, usually piled on top of other notions, ideas and actual physical objects that have "someday" promises in the gleam of the mind's eye. It began innocently enough, wandering idly and somewhat dispiritedly along the paths, when I noticed that the vintage metal lawn chairs looked as if they could use a sprucing up. Dirty they were, too, and any excuse to fling water around with a hose was a good one. So out came the scrub brushes, the bucket, and a can of car wax, and an hour or so of light labor in the shade later, the "patinaed" finish of chipped paint and rust was softly gleaming. (I wasn't about to paint 14 chairs, I did that once before and it took me a couple of weeks to finish them.) Now I like the weathered look; it goes with the old rock house and my casual garden style. Besides, it's a good excuse not to have to paint them. 

And  while I was out there fooling around with the chairs, my eye happened to fall on a low vintage metal garden table that I purchased at a yard sale years ago, painted blue, and made plans for a mosaic top. Rummaging around in the basement among my saved "I can do something with this" treasures, I found a bucket of small black and white ceramic tiles that someone who was remodeling a bathroom had given me. Now I had another "no sweat" project that I could do sitting in the shade on the deck! But I had to have more components, so a trip to the big box home improvement store was in order, for tile cement, grout and sealer.  Three days later, voila!

Now I was on a roll. An old birdbath pedestal base, a hexagonal concrete stepping stone left over from another project, more of those tiny black and white tiles, the remains of the grout and sealer, and I had a small matching table for a back patio.

Then what? I had been "gifted" with a stack of used bricks that had to go somewhere (and yes, it was a gift that I gladly accepted, one can never have enough bricks!) For years I had been wanting to pave over a 10' circular patio area that had been in gravel, and now I had enough bricks to do it; so that was next.

Since I was dealiing with used, cut and broken bricks of odd shapes and sizes, the pattern kind of fell apart at the center and it became a challenging jigsaw puzzle to make them fit.
A half-century old wire fence that went along the propery line at the edge of the woods needed some definition behind the lower pond, and gathered branches tucked into the ancient rusty wire made a rustic barrier next to a gate we made from an old lichen-covered bench back.

I feel so much warmer now! 

Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments,
embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour."- John Boswell