Archives for March 2013

Monday Opinion: What Time Is It?

Daylight savings time means that Sunday March 10th was a day with only 23 hours.  One would think that anything planned for the day could easily be accomplished in 23 hours instead of 24, but you decide.  Howard showed up bedside at 5am like he always does, but it really was 6 am.  He and Milo usually have breakfast at 6, but 6 had already come and gone. By 7, which was now 8, I was late for work, and the corgis still had not had breakfast.  If you are confused, you know exactly how I felt (or am I still feeling it?).  I usually have lunch at 11:30, which, but the new 11:30 is actually 10:30.  So Sunday brunch.  By this time I had at least remembered to feed the corgis.  I was half way to a landscape appointment until I realized I would be an hour early.  In looking at my watch, I see that the second hand is only moving every 20 seconds or so.  What?  I circle back, and spent 40 minutes sitting in my office trying to figure it out.  Why really do we spring ahead, and then fall back?  I knowing children walking to the bus stop has something to do with it.  The other reasons seem unconvincing and arbitrary.  Now there will be more time after work to stand in the garden and be able to do nothing.  I will have more evening daylight to contemplate the frozen ground.  I still have mountains of snow, even though it was 62 degrees yesterday.  I am a day late expressing the opinion that a day with only 23 hours felt like a day that was out of reach from start to finish.  Today I was late for work, and cranky.

The days are getting longer.  Who knows exactly what day the sun will finally make up that lost hour.  At least it will be months before that 25 hour day arrives in November.  In the meantime, that out of sorts feeling can be diminished by just one thing.  The sure signs of spring.  It was just a few days ago that I heard birds singing when I woke up.  The magnolia stellata, even though it is heavily mulched with snow, looks like the buds are ready to burst.  Yesterday it was 62 degrees.  Today it is pouring rain.  It is muddy and icy, everywhere.  Milo’s footprints all over the shop make it look like we have not mopped for months.  What he doesn’t deposit on the shop floor is now in my office.  These are sure signs of spring.  The watch I have had for years is not running right.  It will take 10 days to send it out for evaluation.  However, I am sure I already know what is wrong. Even my watch can’t figure out what time it is.

At A Glance: Another Walk Through

I did have requests for more pictures of the shop as it looks right now.




















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We’ve had a few warmer days-how great it will be to finally get outside to work.

Winter Green


The color green has not nearly so much significance to a gardener as living green does.  I have never taken the time to record how many different plants I have on my property, but suffice it to say that there are lots.  Each of the plants have a certain shade of green associated with them.  Taken as a whole, a garden is a green tapestry.  Only a fraction of the possible colors of green represent in my garden today.  A good portion of the garden is still dormant.  My roses, shrubs and trees are bare.  The perennials are buried under snow whose crust has frozen solid.  My isotoma fluvialitis is entirely brown.  What’s to look at?  The living green in winter is a certain kind of green we call evergreen.  Given that our winter is still holding on in March, this is the perfect time to be thinking about evergreens, and how they endow the winter landscape.


That group of plants that manage to stay green over our winter-not such a big range, but impressive in their delivery.  The ability for spruce,  douglas fir, white pine, boxwood, and rhododendron to stay green over the winter is an extraordinary story of adaptation.  Evergreen trees and shrubs do not shed their needles and leaves at the end of the season.  They shed interior needles on species specific schedules during the growing season-but definitely not during the winter.  Evergreen trees has evolved such that the individual needles have very little in the way of surface area.  Those needles are vastly better adapted to resist the drying from winter winds, and survive without photosynthesis going on, than a big fat juicy leaf of a hydrangea.  Hydrangeas, and many other deciduous plants, shed that juicy liability in the fall.  The needled and broadleaved evergreens-they tough it out.


My urban property has but one large spruce.  I am sure it has been here at least 40 years.  Maybe 60 years.  This tree is green, winter and summer.  The winter green is moody and dark, unlike the summer emerald green.  I am never more appreciative of that green than I am right now.  I barely notice this tree in the summer.  In the winter, I see it coming from blocks away.  The evergreens that define my winter garden-I could not be more appreciative.


Yews are needle leaved evergreen shrubs.  Their dense and dark forest green needles provide such beautiful structure to a garden.   In the spring, the new growth is lime green.  In the depths of the winter, the color is almost black.  Watching the change in color given the season is to understand how plants deal with stress.  A yew floating in much too much water-the needles will be yellow.  A yew that dies makes a spectacular issue of that demise.  Orange needled yews-I am sure you have seen them.  Yews in the thick of enduring the winter-the needles are almost black.  The color green teaches, should you be watching.


Evergreens provide a stalwart backdrop in the winter for the snow covered branches, and the wispy tufts and remains of the perennial garden.  This black green backdrop of hedged yews brings a magnolia into clear focus.  Were this view open to the street, the delicate tracery of the branches and the overall shape of this tree would be lost.  Specimen evergreens need ample space around them-appreciative space.  Hedging evergreens whose repetition defines spaces help to create winter interest.


Broad leaved evergreens are a glutton for punishment.  Rhododendrons feature broad leaves with big surfaces that suffer much more damage than needled evergreens.  Those big leaves react to winter weather graphically.  Those big leaves are sitting ducks for serious cold and vicious wind.  The rhododendron outside my home office window tell me whether the day is cold.  In cold weather, rhododendron leaves curl and drop down.  In very cold weather, the droopy outline of the leaf is rolled in on itself- much like a pencil.  In much the same way as I curl up on a cold day, their curling and dropping mechanism helps protect them from extreme cold.  In the picture above, the leaves are hanging, dangling, from the stems.  This is a winter profile, generated by adaptation.  Once the leaves fan out, I know the temperature has moderated.  Rhododendrons prosper far better in warmer zones than mine, but my few plants grace my garden with green all winter.


Boxwood-no other evergreen shrub describes a landscape better.  Most of our suppliers winter their boxwood in tunnel houses.  How so?  A boxwood out of the ground, in a pot, is an evergreen needing protection from the winter.  Boxwood in containers require special care, as their roots winter above ground.  Lots of water prior to the freeze is a good idea.  A wilt pruf spray- not a a bad idea.  Evergreens in pots at the front door is a very good winter look.


Boxwood in the ground prospers in my yard. The evergreens, both big and small, both needled and broad leaved, define a landscape both summer and winter.


If a winter season is unavoidable, the evergreens help to make it a little easier to bear.  They organize a space when snow has all but obliterated any of the details.  Once established, evergreens are long lived, and low maintenance.

snowy-day.jpgThis day would have been ever so much more bleak, without the evergreens.

Sunday Opinion: March Madness

March madness has a meaning in popular culture that dates back to the 1940’s.  For those of you who do not follow basketball, March madness refers specifically to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college basketball championships.  Most of these championship games are played in March, and followed with astonishingly reverential and lively interest.  Steve, my landscape superintendent, does not look kindly on any activity which interferes with a March NCAA game.  He likes his March to himelf.  Gardeners host championships every month of the year-but at least in my zone, not in March.  March is the next to the last of the tail end of winter.  This is a polite way of saying that March 1 does not necessarily mean spring.  My need for spring is always early.  Once March arrives, winter stocism starts giving way in a big way for a longing for spring.

Am I longing for spring?  No doubt.  A high temperature with snow showers today is disheartening at best, and really aggrevating at worst.  Our last heavy wet snow, so gorgeous as it fell,  is now glued into place, and has an annoying and treacherous crust.  This state of affairs-courtesy of recent temperatures significantly below freezing.  Everwhere, the landscape is represented by ice.  Dirty ice.  Gray skies.  Snow showers.  As for a gardener’s version of March madness, I think I might be afflicted.  I don’t want to be out, nor do I want to be in.  That cooped up feeling has intensified like a storm exactly on track.  My winter coat feels like a soft walled version of jail.  I am tired of that chilly and speechless state of affairs.

Henry V Porter was a high school teacher and coach in Athens, Illinois.  In 1942, he wrote this essay in which he coined the phrase-  March Madness.  At that time, basketball was a only a statewide event. His essay, though it is obviously dated, expresses in plain terms what it means to have a sincere passion.

March Madness,  by Henry V Porter
Homo sapiens of the Hardwood Court is a hardy specie. There are millions of him. He exists through summer and fall, shows signs of animation through the winter and lives to the utmost during March when a hundred thousand pairs of rubber soled shoes slap the hardwood in a whirlwind of stops and pivots and dashes on the trail to the state basketball championships. He is a glutton for punishment. When the March madness is on him, midnight jaunts of a hundred miles on successive nights make him even more alert the next day. He will polish his pants on sixteen inches of bleacher seat through two games or three and take offense if asked to leave during the intermission between sessions. He is happy only when the floor shimmers with reflections of fast moving streaks of color, when the players swarm at each end and the air is full of leather. For the duration of the endemic he is a statistical expert who knows the record of each contender, a game strategist who spots the weak points in a given system of offense or defense, a rules technician who instructs the officials without cost or request. Every basketball canine has his day and this is the  month.

He is a doodler who, while conversing, scribbles free throw lanes with a hundred radiating alleys. In May the three symbols of the New York Fair will take on their intended meaning but in March the helicline is a ramp to the balcony, the trylon is the pyramid of hundreds of teams being narrowed down to the one at the state championship pinnacle and the perisphere has the traditional four panel basketball markings.

In everyday life he is a sane and serious individual trying to earn enough to pay his taxes. But he does a Jekyll-Hyde act when the spell is on him. He likes his coffee black and his basketball highly spiced. He despises the stall unless his team is ahead. It is a major crime for the official to call a foul on the dribbler unless the opponent was dribbling. His moods are as changeable as the March wind. He flies into a frenzy at some trivial happening on the court and before his vocal expression of disapproval is half completed he howls in delight at the humorous twist of a comment from a bleacher wit. He is part of the mass mind and is subject to its whims. He berates the center for attempting a long shot and lauds him when it goes in the basket. He is consistent only in his inconsistencies.

The thud of the ball on the floor, the slap of hands on leather, the swish of the net are music in his ears. He is a connoisseur in matters pertaining to team coordination and artistry in action. The shifting zone, the screen and the spot pass are an open book to him. He speaks the language.

He is biased, noisy, fidgety, boastful and unreasonable but we love him for his imperfections. His lack of inhibitions adds a spontaneity that colors the tournaments. Without darkness there would be no light. A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.
The writer’s temperature is rising. The thing is catching. It’s got me! Gimme that playing schedule!

I did edit Henry’s essay, to the tune of two words. Does Henry’s essay not equally describe a passionate gardener? March Madness-I am sure I have contracted it.