Tag Archives: Winter

New To Me: Winter Aconite

Three days in the 40s, three days in the 50s, and spring has burst onto the scene in Philadelphia. (Can’t you just hear the Halleluiah Chorus? C’mon, sing it with me – hal-lejuiah, hal-leluiah!)

I spent the afternoon with my two little guys at Morris Arboretum. I basked in the sun and took pictures; the 4-year-old and 5-year-old threw rocks in the creek and ran and ran and ran.  It was a visit enjoyed by all.  The photo ops started at the parking lot, where I had to squeeze in next to a left0ver snow drift because it was so darn crowded. Under a pine tree were loads of these sunny little buttercupish flowers.  They were crocus sized and fabulous. And incredibly intoxicating to the first bees I’ve seen in months.

Winter Aconite (eranthis hyemalis) is a native of Asia Minor and Europe ranging from southern France to Bosnia (southern france?!?! – no wonder they exude sunshine.) They show up in the very very early spring – around the same time as the snowdrops and before the crocuses. They’re blooming here now with the crocuses because of all the snow we’ve  had.  They bloom for a couple of weeks, welcome in the spring, and then disappear until next year. They like lots of water.  I read quite a few rants about their invasiveness, although because they bloom and go dormant so early, they don’t make too much of a nuisance of themselves. Highly poisonous though – I guess that’s a downside. The University of Wisconsin warns that the tuber can “cause nausea, vomiting, colic attacks and visual disturbances.” Visual disturbances? Are we talking hallucinations? Blurred vision? Near sitedness? Not to take the warning lightly: don’t eat winter aconite.

Don’t eat them, but do admire them when they drift:

And if you want them in your garden, sow seeds in the fall or divide clumps in the spring. I’ll be doing it. They’re too good to resist. I guess I’ll only have to have one child vomit, contract colic and experience visual disturbances once before they learn that lesson.

Besides the Winter Aconite, here’s why today was a perfect day out of doors. A few weeks from now, Morris Arboretum will be so chock full of blooming beauties that I won’t know where to look . It will be stimulating. It will be overwhelming. It will be wonderful. But in a few weeks, will I be stopping the horticulturalist to ask about a buttercup the size of a quarter? Will I look it up and learn about its habits and identify its native growing area? I must admit probably not. Winter (and yes, it is still winter),  gives me a wonderful excuse to focus. To focus on the five things that were blooming today, to appreciate them for their special attributes, to plan to add them to my garden.  Someone remind me of this in the fall when I’m exhausted by all the stimulation, the overwhelming, the wonderful.

Here are today’s other beauties:

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Bookmark and Share


Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

Roses in January? Outside?

Roses in bloom in January? (taken 1/21/2010, Philadelphia)

Rose petals should not still be clinging to the plant now, should they? It’s January for goodness sake. There’s nothing out there that remotely resembles a flower, and yet, these rose petals hang on.  And it’s not just one either – it’s all the flowers on the whole darn plant.

And buds too!

I have to admit I was a bit surprised to find these in my neighbor’s yard. All my roses are dried up, thorny stick bushes. Without color. What did this fellow gardener do right (or wrong) when preparing this rose for the winter? Surely some trick exists to replicate these freeze dried roses in real life.

So I did a bit of cursory research on how to prepare roses for winter including a quick primer on deadheading. Turns out that everything I was ever taught about roses was wrong.

I grew up in the shade. My mom has no roses in her garden. I probably wouldn’t have listened to her advice if she did have roses (I’m kind of a pain that way). My first introduction to roses came when I got married. We were young and poor and homeless, and a lovely couple took us in as caretakers for their turn-of-the-century mansion in St. Louis. I do not exaggerate when I say mansion:

May I present the "John A. Holmes Mansion". Newlywed suite: 3rd floor.

12,000 square feet of house takes a long time to vacuum, I assure you. Part of our job was to help take care of the yard, which included a nice little rose garden. Mrs. G loved those roses and taught me everything she knew. Ever year since then, I’ve applied these lessons to the roses that have grown in my own garden around my exponentially smaller house.  Only water them in the morning. Take care not to wet the leaves. Water them every day. Deadhead them by pruning at an angle above the first healthy five-leaflet leaf. Prune the canes down to about a foot tall and mulch them for winter.

Okay, except it turns out you’re not supposed to cut them down for the winter.  And you’re not supposed to dead head them after September.  (And some say you should deadhead them right below the bloom, not at the five-leaflet leaf, but that really has nothing to do with this story. See Frances Ballentine’s intriguing article on this subject for more detail.)

According to the University of Illinois extension (seems like a reliable source, right?), the right thing to do is coax them into complete dormancy. This means no fertilizing after August 15. No deadheading after September – which should cause the rose to form hips. Then there’s a whole process of mounding and mulching and covering that seems like a lot of work to me. But they are very clear: “Pruning, however, at this point should be kept to a minimum. The majority of the pruning will be done in the spring to remove dead and diseased canes.”

So my neighbor did it right. He or she did not prune the canes prior to winter. But, I think my neighbor might also have done it wrong. Instead of letting the hips form, my guess is that this avid rosarian kept deadheading, so the plant kept producing more flowers. And in some twisted confluence of rose production and winter’s onset, the first hard freeze came when this rose was in full bloom. Hah! And the result was freeze dried roses for his garden all winter long.

Should we try to duplicate these very cool results despite the risky methods hypothesized above? I suppose only time will tell if this rose survived it’s beautiful winter.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

<a href="mailto:?subject=&body=Check this out!%0A%0A”>Email this Post

Why we should love January

Birch Tree in January

I knew that sooner or later I would have to start talking about bark. I was hoping that I would find at least a few more colorful specimens to raise my winter spirits before I had to resort to bark, but alas, bark it is.  But maybe it’s not such a consolation prize after all. Look at this photo of the birch tree in the woods near my house. I think surely this should count as winter color. White is what happens when all the colors blend together, right? I’d be thrilled with a white rose in my garden in May. A dogwood blanketed in white blossoms defines spring in my opinion. All the gardening books tell you to plant white flowers in your “night garden” because they reflect whatever light is around and brighten up the space. Okay, I’m convinced. The white bark of this towering birch is as beautiful as a blooming rose.

Here’s the thing though. This tree is this beautiful all year round. I’m sure that if I stumbled upon it during a summer hike through the same woods, I would appreciate it. Its leaves would shade, its bark shimmer, its grandeur impress.  But I might not single it out as the one plant that wins the prize as most beautiful of the day. In the spring and summer, this birch would compete with scores of other plants and flowers, all claiming their own share of my fascination. In winter, the birch gets to be the star. Especially set, as it is, among its gray-barked brethren, it stands out. Washed in the low light of the winter sun, which makes pictures shot at 2pm as beautiful as those shot at dawn, it shines. If not for January, I would have missed the scope of its beauty. Thank God for January.

Do I really mean that? I guess I do.



Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

3 remedies: Winterberry, Beautyberry, Wendell Berry

The quest: to find naturally occurring color outside in the middle of January.
The location: my little neighborhood near Philadelphia.
The result: berries!

Certainly, I enjoy paging through glossy gardening magazines to see lush fields of lavender that bloomed in France in some long-passed August.  Sure, I score a bit of a color fix with my annual attempt at orchids. (Here’s a quick rundown of my orchid calendar. Jan & Feb: enjoy delightful blooms. March thru May: try to remember to water. June thru August: remove leaves that died because I forgot to water. September thru November: remove more leaves that died because I over-watered. December: neglect completely, hide behind poinsettia. January: start again).

But magazines don’t quite do it, and my house plant casualty list keeps growing. This all begs the question: is anything alive out there? Anything at all? Given my new resolve not to be brought low by winter this year, I took the only logical first step. I went outside and started looking. I know in my head that life is teeming under the surface – tulip bulbs put down roots, lilacs gather their energy in tiny branch-tip buds, giant oaks rest before shooting out an army of leaves. In my heart, though, I’d rather have some immediate gratification, thank you very much. So I looked. I looked as I drove my kids to school. I looked as I walked to the library. I looked, and amazingly, I found!

Winterberry, a deciduous holly wins double points for being a native plant, as does beautyberry. Not only do they cheer up a dreary winter day, they were made to grow in this soil and to feed the birds and insects that just happen to live near by. Both drop their leaves in the fall to show off their lovely little berries, encouraging birds to eat and deposit their seed far and wide (and encouraging me with bright color in January!) And they’re both growing in right around the corner and they’re both gorgeous! I’ll add “plant winterberry and beautyberry shrubs” to the long list entitled, “Things I would do if I had a bigger yard.” Oh well – at least my neighbors have seen fit to help me out.

What to do, however, if your fellow gardeners don’t take care of you quite so well as mine do? Read a book by Wendell Berry. This man is an artist. His books define life out-of-doors. He loves the land. His characters are real and deep and humble and loving. He will make you want to move to a farm. I bet even January is warmer in Port William.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine