Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Pathetic Pink Dogwoods Anyone?

******If you have stumbled onto my site by googling “why won’t my dogwood bloom,” or something like that, welcome. My best guess, if you’re in the northeast or midatlantic, is TOO MUCH WATER. If that’s enough info, thanks for stopping by. If you want more of a story and some truly pathetic pictures, read on!*****

Four years ago, my husband, my realtor and I visited a house for sale outside of Philadelphia. You could barely see the house through the two huge trees in the small front yard. To get to the front door, we had to push our way through a hedge of overgrown yews and azaleas. (Don’t even get me started about what we saw when we managed to get into the house. Ever seen dalmation spotted shag carpet? Up the stairs? Not pretty). We bought the house.

I happily oversaw the yews being ripped out; I was a bit conflicted about the azaleas. But I could walk to my front door unimpeded. Both my realtor and contractor suggested that we cut down the trees in front and start our landscaping from scratch. A two story Japanese maple and a towering pink dogwood tree. I am seriously opposed to cutting down trees, especially two trees that had been on my wish list for years. My contractor preached doom and gloom regarding the dogwood. “Look at this bark. This tree’s got a fungus. It’s done for.” Hmmm….let me think. No thank you. The trees will stay.

So now, four years later, the garden is in, installed with the two lovely trees as key design elements. I have gloated every spring as my dogwood put on a fabulous show, loaded with blooms.

Those blooms were my assurance that I was right and my contractor was wrong, confirmation that mature trees do not mean sick trees. So imagine my horror this year when I realized that my beloved tree looked completely pathetic.

Where blooms cascaded last year, I count eight blossoms. Where hundreds of pink flowers waved in the breeze, I see only baby leaves. Argh!!! Was he right? Is it sick? What will happen to my garden design if I have to take it down???

I was slightly reassured when I began driving around my neighborhood spying on the state of my neighbor’s pink dogwoods. Theirs aren’t so great either. True, there are some that look pretty good, but for the most part, the pink dogwoods of Philadelphia are underwhelming at best. None are fully covered. Most have some blooms to show, but lots more foliage. The white ones are great, but the pink ones, not so much. If it isn’t just my tree, what’s going on?

I have no definitive answers, but here’s a list of reasons dogwoods don’t bloom:

1. Too much nitrogen. Trees planted in fertilized lawns suck up too much nitrogen which causes great leaf growth but isn’t good for flowers. Two strikes. My tree is not in the yard. My yard is not fertilized.
2. Too much or too little sunlight. Dogwoods were made to grow on the edges of forests where they get dappled shade. They don’t like full sun or deep shade. Strike. My front yard is the perfect example of dappled shade, with a shady maple next door and a house that blocks the afternoon sun.

3. Improper Pruning.
Prune dogwoods in late winter and you lop off the baby buds. Thus, no blooms. Strike. I’ve never pruned mine except to cut out dead wood. I love the abstract, japanesish shape they have on their own.
4. Lack of water. Not enough H2O inhibits blooms. Strike, strike, strike. During the second half of 2009, we received 31” of rain when we usually get only 17”. This winter’s 70” of snow buried our normal tally of around 20”. Too much water, maybe. But please. Not lack of water. Not this year.
5. Cold Snaps and Temperature. If you get some really cold temps in the early spring, that can zap your buds.  We had a though winter, but despite all the snow, the temperature was never ridiculously low. And spring came at the beginning of March with great temperatures in the 60s and 70s, way above normal.

So you tell me. What has caused this year’s anemic performance? I would really love to know. In the meantime, I’m going to give my dogwood the same stern talking to that my lilac got last spring when it gave me a meager 4 blooms. The lilac has shaped up significantly. All I ask is that you limit the doom and gloom and keep the dang chainsaws out of my garden.

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Bloom Day and 18th Century Herbal Remedies

My garden is looking a bit sparse for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in March. I surely was hoping for more. I’m limited to not enough crocuses (never enough!) and some hopeful tulip foliage. I’ve been consoling myself by hacking away at an old stump with an axe. Excellent exercise and a great way to work out any frustration or tension you might be harboring.

So, with not much to report in the garden, I’ll tell you a little story. Last week I visited America’s very first hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital opened its doors in 1751 to much fanfare in Philadelphia. (4th grade field trip chaperone if you must know). Fascinating. And the hospital is still in business which is kind of cool.

The tour guide educated about colonial medical philosophies. Laxatives got a rise out of the kids. Folk remedies made them laugh. Leaches had them howling.  Conversation about herbal remedies bored the 4th graders but left me wishing I knew which plants healed what, what herbs to take for a headache, how to stew a rosemary stem until it was just right for making your stomach feel better. (Does stewed rosemary stem make your stomach feel better? See, I don’t even know!)  Colonists had recipe books for herbal remedies – many brought on their long voyage across the sea, many scribbled down from memories of mothers’ brews, many compiled from knowledge gathered from Native Americans. It is an art that has been lost to me, at least. Sure, there’s google, but somehow it’s not the same. Generations of women (and men, but mostly women) knew what to do when their family got sick. All I know is children’s Tylenol.

So there I was pining for a simpler time when we were in touch with the land, gardened for more than just our own pleasure, passed knowledge from one generation to the next. Clearly, I was missing the point. While herbal remedies had their place, they didn’t quite cover all the necessary medical treatments of the day. Echinacea and mint tea only went so far when you were facing something like, say, 18th century surgery. The three choices for anesthesia when the hospital opened were rum (lots and lots of rum), opium (which got you good and relaxed, but just until the scalpel hit), or a sharp tap on the skull with a wooden mallet (hard, but not too hard!). Oh, and you had to schedule your drunken, high, or major-head-injury surgery between the hours of 11am and 2pm because that’s when there was enough sunlight in the operating room. On sunny days.

But you’ve got to love a field trip that ends with your kid asking, “Can we plant lemon balm in our garden this year?” At the end, the tour guide had each of the children make a sachet of dried herbs like the ones 18th century Philadelphians held to their noses just to make their way through town. Apparently, colonial times stank. Bad. Buckets of lavender, lemon balm, rose petals, cloves, cinnamon, jasmine, and allspice turned into 23 little bags of yummy.

We rode home thankful for children’s Tylenol. And anesthesia. And surgeons who wash their hands BEFORE surgery. And delicious sachets that ignited the imagination and took the edge off of that school bus smell.

p.s. Thanks to Carol at May Dream’s Garden for hosting Garden Blogger Bloom Day!

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Winter Light

My front garden is still buried in at least 18″ of snow. And that’s the yard. I won’t even try to describe the 4 foot mountains (plural)  by the sidewalk and driveway where we shoveled loads of it. Those I shall have until May, I’m sure.

crepe myrtle showing off at sunset

I went to take some pictures this afternoon to show some before and after shots. Before = spring,  when my garden was lush and green and my shrubs & perennials sported hundreds of blooms. After = now, when my shrubs and perennials look like avalanche victims who desperately and futilely stick one arm out of the snow in the hopes that someone, anyone, will notice and come to their rescue.  Too depressing. Plus, the sun wasn’t shining in my front garden, which makes everything look gray. And depressing.

coast luecothoe: "Where are my 4 brothers? Wait, where is the rest of ME?"

azalea screaming "save me!"

goldflame spirea says "mercy!"

My back garden, on the other hand, faces southwest and was filled with the most lovely late afternoon light. I grabbed these shots during the last moments before I lost the rays for the day – and decided that all was not lost.  True, we’ve had many feet of snow on the ground for two full weeks (unusual in Philadelphia). Also true that there is absolutely no street parking in the entire Delaware Valley. If someone has made the time and effort to dig out their car and clear their space, you can be darn sure that they’ve filled said spot with outdoor furniture of some kind. “Mine!” those aluminum lawn chairs scream. “Don’t you dare park here!”

Last year's garden phlox

virginia sweetspire

A third truth, though. We’ve had the most beautiful blue skies almost every day since the second big dump a week and a half ago. The snow is on the ground, but the sun is in the sky. And when snow is on the ground, the sun is brighter, the sky is bluer, the shadows are sharper.

swamp milkweed

So I guess I’ll turn a blind eye for the time being to the casualties that certainly lie beneath. I could rework my budget for the spring to include replacements for a bunch of azaleas and leucothoe and boxwoods which didn’t survive the sheer weight of the snow. But who wants to do that? I’ve got a few more weeks of ignorance before these 40 degree days melt enough snow for me to take inventory. I’ll keep hoping that they all made it through (couldn’t possibly be true) and that I can spend my budget on all the fun new things I’ve been wanting to add to my garden all winter (helebores, clematis, witch hazel). I’ll turn a blind eye and enjoy the show the light provides on a daily basis.

I take a risk in saying the following, as I know that quoting John Denver may cause you to label me forever as a complete cheeseball. But here goes: Sunshine almost always makes me smile.

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48″ of snow? Why to love it.

Pink Dogwood

I have two choices today as I watch inches 28 through 48 fall outside my window here in Philadelphia.  I could whine and complain and lament the fact that I’m stuck inside with my four kids out of school.  I could wish I were digging in my garden.  I could wish tulips were blooming. I could wish my toes were warm.

But instead, I will choose to love the snow. Here are my reasons.

My 4 year old arctic explorer

#1 If it were 32 degrees and sunny on this February day, no one would be outside. But, on this 32 degree snowy day, I see neighbors talking and laughing as they shovel and shovel and shovel. I see children playing, sledding, building forts. I see enterprising young men walking the streets with their snow shovels, looking to make some extra money. Even though the snow approaches waist high – my children happily don their gear and head out to look for adventure.

#2 Snow shows off my garden’s architecture. Snow paints the trees, tops the dried flower heads, perches atop bird feeders and fence posts. I knew there was a reason I didn’t trim back those coneflowers in the fall.

Goldflame Spirea


Pink Coneflowers

#3 After the snow stops, the sun will come out. They sky will turn blue. The icicles will shimmer.  Then the real show begins. (I took these photos between the storm on Saturday and the one today, on my lovely hike in knee-high snow).

See what all you deep south, west coast and desert gardeners are missing? I know your sun is shinning and your tropicals are blooming. But eat your heart out: we’ve got snow.

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Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, January 15

I’m a week in to my little blogging project, and I just experienced my first wave of complete overwhelmedness (is that a word?).

Did you know there are THOUSANDS of garden blogs out there? They are gorgeous and the writers are real writers and the gardeners are real gardeners. There’s even a garden blog directory (and if there’s one there are probably a hundred). 997 garden blogs currently registered on just this one.

Did you know that there is a conference every year for garden bloggers? This year’s meeting in Buffalo will be the third annual. According to their website, “during the day, we’ll hit the highlights of Western New York’s most beautiful and interesting gardens (public and private); during the evening we’ll eat, talk and hang out.” Sign me up!

Did you know that today is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day? Who knew? Actually, every 15th of the month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day  – bloggers from all over post descriptions and photos of what’s blooming in their gardens that day. It’s like a little botanical journey ‘round the world! And, let me tell you, it makes me feel a bit inferior. Lots of orchids out there, and, hey, its January so I do have one orchid bloom on my brand new purchase. But lots of real blooms – actual flowers that are growing and blooming OUTSIDE on the 15th of January. I really do need to move to California.

Did you know that I had to rip off another berry picture from a neighbor’s garden even to participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day? Nothing blooming at the old homestead this year. I think I’m going to have to appropriate the entire village of Penn Wynne, Pennsylvania as “my garden.” (The sign erected by the county on our main road actually reads “Village of Penn Wynne.” A village 15 minutes from downtown Philly. How great is that?) I think I’ll do that. My yard is miniscule as are those of my neighbors. We must stick together.

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Can roses cause the winter blues?

The offending specimen

It will be 35 degrees today. Balmy compared to the last two days – maybe we should break out the t-shirts and shorts. The sun is shining. At least we’ve got that going for us. Days are getting infinitesimally longer since the sun made its turn at the solstice and I no longer desire to sit by my fire and look at the Christmas tree and read tales of idyllic English villages covered in blankets of snow. I wish I were still content to do that; I would be much happier. I enjoyed December. I enjoyed the rest, the coziness, the dark evenings that forced us all inside to string popcorn and to watch Jimmy Stewart realize his worth. Now all of a sudden, I’m restless. I’m buying orchids. I’m kicking the snow off my garden to see if I could possibly dig. I’m visiting the local nursery just to stand in their greenhouse and pretend I’m actually warm.  I want spring. Maybe it is the turning of the sun that winds me up again. Slight changes in the amount of light received can cause poinsettias to turn red or Christmas cactuses to bloom; could those few extra minutes of daytime ignite my overwhelming, almost physical need to see things bloom?

Here’s the problem, though: Nothing blooms in January in southeastern Pennsylvania, and nothing will bloom for weeks and weeks and weeks. C’mon, Kelly, you say. Buy some tropical house plants, enjoy some central American flowers in a vase. Certainly those could help take the edge off? Somehow, they seem only to make things worse. I made the mistake of buying myself a few sprigs of salmon colored roses the other day. They’re lovely, no doubt about it. Sitting on my kitchen counter, all cheerful and flouncey, they do make me smile. That is until my gaze wanders to the view out my window. Gray trees growing next to stone houses sitting under a steely sky look even more gray compared to those little show-offs. Thus, the winter blues begin.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I just might need some resolve in this case. So instead of moping around and feeling sorry for myself and counting down the days until the Philadelphia Flower Show opens (48), I resolve to be a bit more constructive about my self-diagnosed seasonal affective disorder. (My husband Eric will certainly cheer this news. By the end of February every year, he’s ready to cash in the 401K and seek out serious professional help for his sad, sad wife).  I will seek out a remedy. I will read great books about the earth blooming. I will try to appreciate one thing about creation every day – even if it is neither bloom nor bud. I will look for beauty and take pictures even if I have to trespass. I will write down my plans for the growing season instead of letting them fester in my depressed head. I will look for a job in a nursery. I will take a class on turning my tiny yard into a wildlife habitat. I will wear brighter colors.  I will ….well, we will see, won’t we?

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