It doesn’t seem possible that almost 365 days have gone by since I took this picture in January of 2012. I recollect that we had almost nothing in the way of snow cover last winter; this modest January snow was a welcome relief from the winter grays. But what interested me most was how the snow illustrated the pruning practices of this particular gardener. This privet hedge has been sheared flat, and just above the previous year’s growth, for at least the past 3 years. It is a paradox, or at the least ironic, that pruning a branch results in a proliferation of growth via multiple shoots at the site of the cut. Eventually this yearly shearing will result in a mass of shoots on top so dense that light and air cannot penetrate to the interior. A hedge deprived of light and air to the interior will decline. I try to prune my deciduous hedges to look like a slice of swiss cheese. In and out, low and high-plenty of places for light to penetrate. Although I shouldn’t presume a gardener is in charge here, even the most experienced gardener makes pruning cuts that they wish they hadn’t. A slight snow in January will tell all.
February is typically a very snowy month in my zone. That snow cover is insulation against temperature extremes that can heave plants out of the ground . A February with no snow is a worry. Plants go dormant for the winter, in order to avoid injury. A cover of snow keeps my plants snugly dormant. No unwanted mid winter wake up. Given how brutal our winters can be, I favor plants that are tolerant of a wide range of winter conditions. I save my lust for plants not hardy in my zone for my containers-so much less heartbreak.
This March I did some major pruning. Jack from Guardian Tree in Ann Arbor headed back my out of control Princeton Gold maples. He topped my arborvitae at 14 feet. And he removed an old maple in serious decline from girdling roots. Years ago I planted parrotias and magnolias around this maple, knowing the day would come when it would no longer be viable. I was glad not to have to watch large portions of the the tree fail to leaf out. The understory trees will thrive, given more light, and better access to water and nutrients.
April is all about the spring light. Not so warm, this light, but there is the promise of the gardening season to come. The maples leafed out with abandon. Jack had cut the maples back so hard I was worried it would be years before they looked good. My worries were unfounded. He will be back this coming March. The maintenance of a hedge of trees requires a regular commitment. In April I was glad I had gone ahead and had the trees pruned.
Late April belongs to the magnolias. The bark, the sculptural habit, and large glossy leaves would be enough to include them in any small garden, but the flowers are swoon worthy. This April day, the green maple flowers and magnolia petals peppered the driveway. I parked in the street. This was a perfect early spring moment.
In May, the garden sings. Every plant is covered with fresh new growth. The grass is green beyond green. A pair of old Palabin lilacs on standard flower as if they were young bucks. The gorgeous shades of green is the story of the May garden. There is no garden marvel quite like the spring. All of that will to grow that results in so much fresh growth is energizing. Spring is the best tonic any gardener could hope for. Late May-the peony buds swell and open-operatic.
June is the time that the roses hold forth. I would not do without them, no matter how small my garden. Some years are better than others, but they always enchant me. The color and the perfume-heavenly. My roses have grown in this spot for 15 years or better. The most I do is to prune in April, and July, and I dead head until mid-August. I do not mind the fussing. They reward me many times over. My little urban garden-infused with romance in mid June.
In July, the roses are still representing. The big pot has been planted, and the boxwood has been pruned. Every day the four of us go to the rose garden. The corgis know exactly what I mean when I say “Let’s go see the roses”. They get there long before I do. I treasure the late day in this garden. The temperature has cooled off. The arborvitae shield the hot summer sun. I am done working for the day. This is my idea of a garden which is a sanctuary.
In late July, the Limelight hydrangeas come into bloom. Though we had a cold and rainy summer that was not so friendly to my container plantings, the hydrangeas were stellar. They were laden with flowers. The foliage was a very healthy green. The herniaria carpeting the ground plane of this garden loved the cool and rainy summer.
August was notable for the street trees that were cut down by the city. They were rotted and hollow-I worried they would fall and hurt someone. As sure as I was that they needed to come down, I regretted their demise. Big trees are a treasure-their loss is not to be taken lightly.
October-one realizes the garden is waning. The season will come to a close. Parting from the garden is hard.. Buck shut down the fountain in mid October-over my protests. I did not want to let go. He knows when it is time to say goodby. How the moss grew in the still water!
Early December-an ice storm. The ice coating every surface is beautiful, and alarming. There was nothing to be done, except to hope for the best, and endure. No matter my worries, plants do a good job of protecting themselves from harm. They have lots of coping mechanisms for which I am grateful. So many things that govern a garden are out of my hands. But in the end, the will to live and prosper is a powerful force indeed.
Thank heavens that the garden has gone to sleep. What I have had to do this year to keep my perennials happy-lots of time and effort. I have old maples with girdling roots, and Princeton Gold maples, arborvitae, and boxwood that need yearly pruning. Big branches of my clematis succumbed to wilt. The roses-I have not looked at them in weeks. The fall anemones-so so. The taxus has trouble. My annual pots were the worst ever this summer. I wholly blame my choices, but the rainy and cold summer weather did not much help me out. The coming of the fall was welcome-who wants to spend more than five minutes looking at the results of a lost summer? Fall-I could not wait. My fall season was brief and unremarkable. Do I need to redesign?? Fall came abruptly to an end-many weeks ago.
Our recent work in anticipation of winter involved chopping frozen soil out of lots of pots. No matter how warmly I dressed, the bone chilling cold took my breath away. None of the pictures of the work tell the story of the cold. What a relief that I have been at this winter work long enough to have engineered a method by which most of the work gets done indoors. The ability to work indoors means the work gets done with dispatch. But no matter what we do in the shop, the installation happens outdoors. My crews are troupers to the last. They know how to break the ice, and warm up the winter gardening season.
Planting spring flowering bulbs was a challenge this fall. Nature saw fit to go to the cold very early. Planting bulbs involved chopping into fearsomely cold soil. I am not sorry that all of the bulbs are safely entrenched below ground. What is usually an easy exercise was this year a study in persistence. The fall color this year-not so swell. I only have one word to explain this phenomena-nature. Every year there is some unanticipated phenomena. That would be best described as nature, naturally. We have had 6 inches of snow today. Not that it wasn’t beautiful. But 6 inches in mid December?
I regularly read a blog from Kansas-oh yes. He doesn’t post so much, but what he does post is of great value. http://myeducationofagardener.wordpress.com/ I read every word, sometimes twice. He once said that nature bats last. No kidding. I am within 3 projects of being done for this season. Once we have closed out the landscape work for the season, I will decorate at home, for the holiday, and the winter. Today, I was too weary to do much of anything. But tomorrow I am sure I will be better rested. Nature is an ally, a foe, a mystery, a phenomena, a wonder, a treasure, a challenge, a friend, an exasperation, a respite – but above all, a way of life. More tomorrow, Deborah
Thanksgiving dinner at our house always means lots of leftovers. Buck’s style of cooking has its roots in his Texan background. When he cooks, he cooks for the many. That is his idea of hospitality-more than plenty to eat. Though our dinner was limited to the two of us, he cooked a huge pan chock full of short ribs, a pot brimming with brussel sprouts, and an endless store of mashed potatoes and stuffing. To accompany said potaoes and stuffing – gallons of gravy. The cranberry relish would have been enough for 8, with several servings in reserve. No matter all of this leftover food. He had leftovers for breakfast and lunch on Friday. Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast the day after? He chowed down. He persuaded me that the Thanksgiving dinner leftovers would provide a perfect day after dinner. This holiday dinner fueled the both of us through Saturday.
I went along, although leftovers are not my favorite. I rarely am faced with the second round of a dinner idea-he sees to that. Buck would never dream of oatmeal or eggs or cereal for breakfast, though this menu would be my first choice. Whatever we had left over from the previous night’s dinner is his breakfast of choice. I would not be interested in last night’s pork chop with a side of last night’s field peas first thing the following morning. But I am interested that he eats our leftovers with gusto. This means I don’t have to. We have an arrangement regarding leftovers that works. By this I mean, we do not throw food away.
Though I am not a big fan of leftover food, I have a tough time throwing away any leftover materials. This may mean half bunches of eucalyptus, a few stems of curly willow, a glass garland with a broken bulb, a cracked pot, a feathered bird with a broken clip, a cattail wreath with a stain, an acorn stem that is missing some acorns. I have an astonishing collection of those materials though perfect, have gone unloved. Why do I keep them? I like the challenge.
Years ago, I did weekly flower arrangements for a client. She has a company which purchased cut flowers for events. I would arrive on her doorstep every week, with boxes full of flowers waiting for me. She did not choose them, nor did I. But my job was to take those stems not of my choosing or hers, and make something of them that she would like. There would be no rhyme or reason to the contents of the box. Perhaps her supplier packaged up the weekly leftovers, and sent them along. Perhaps whomever packed the boxes was not so focused on enabling an end result. Did I call the office with a long list of complaints? Absolutely not. I loved the challenge of making much of a group of flowers that seemed to have no relationship whatsoever sing together. Week after week, I did flower arrangements from the flowers sent to me.
My winter pots at home will be constructed from the leftovers at the shop. Do I feel slighted? Not in the least. Any leftover material can be arranged in a beautiful way. Creating something beautiful is not about the materials. It is always about the imagination, the thought, and the effort. Those leftovers, the perennial stems still standing, the branches from the field down the street, the damaged picks, the browned hydrangea blooms, the leftover string, the broken bits from last year, the materials from the field next door, the fresh cuttings from the garden-materials you can use. The most beautiful materials on the planet does not demand so much from you. The leftovers ask for the best you have to give to them, and to yourself.
I like the idea that the leftovers available to me might spark my best work ever. There is so much to be thankful for – including that client who was confident that I could make something of anything.