Imagining Spring

Now that we’re about at the halfway point of Winter, I start to imagine Springtime.  The days are just starting to lengthen, and the sun is just beginning to feel a bit stronger.  By Valentine’s Day, the sun begins to heat up the car again.

I’ve been AWOL for awhile, so may I wish you a Happy New Year, belatedly.  My desktop computer is on its last leg (a new laptop has been ordered); my camera bit the dust (I got a new one); and we’re working on a new website and blog design.  Those will debut this Spring.   So I’ve been busy with the help of my trusty computer guy, Jason; my brilliant web/blog designer, Peter; and my smart partner, Steve, who chose my new camera for me (it’s the bomb!).  We’ve got to update this blog–the spam is absolutely awful, frustrating and a pain in the you-know-what.

I’ve been on lots of fun trips this Winter already:  the Chihuly exhibit in Richmond, VA, as well as a visit to the holiday-lit Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden; and yesterday, a trip over to a bald cypress swamp in Southern Maryland.  I love swamps.  I guess it’s that liminal space between land and water, and I love the mysterious blur between the two.

Last week, we got down to a low of about 15F, the lowest so far this Winter.  We had a couple of light snow events, and an icy morning yesterday, followed by the Spring-like weather today.  A couple more days of this nice weather and then it’s back to cold, as I’d expect this time of year.

I let the water run over the waterfall until just a trickle was flowing, then I turned it off so the pump wouldn’t burn up.  Here’s what it looked like, frozen.  It’s thawed out amazingly today.  [you can enlarge the photos by double-clicking on them, I think.]

Frozen waterfall at Woodland Cottage

Frozen waterfall at Woodland Cottage

And a few palms in the snow…these are Windmill Palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) and yes, they are hardy–down to about OF, or the bottom of zone 7A.  I have some Needle Palms, too–they’ll survive even lower temps–down to about -5F or -10F, or zone 6a/b.

I walked around the yard today and, so far, it seems like most everything has escaped Winter damage.

Last week, just before the snow, I had two young red foxes bound into the back yard, a male and female.  Happily, I was able to grab the camera and get a few shots.  They hung around much of the day.  They are beautiful and healthy.

Just before the freeze, I went out in the yard and picked the few Camellias still in bloom.  I’m glad I picked them because I’ve been enjoying them inside for over a week.  They help me imagine Spring!  I float them in shallow saucers and bowls–“Camellia bowls”.  Many of the bowls are very old and were made for just this purpose.

I’m leaving in a few days for my annual time in Wilmington, NC, and I’m really looking forward to spending time with Steve.  We’ll be touring lots of gardens in the Lowcountry this year, so I’ll have lots to share with you.

Photos by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.  Thanks.

Posted under Animals in the Garden, Flowers in the House, Garden Travel, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Winter Garden, Water in the Garden

Rain Days–Some Garden Potpourri

Everything is washed clean from the rains.

Everything is washed clean from the rains.

Lover of sunshine that I am, it sure was nice to get a couple of true rain days.  My little world here at Woodland Cottage is washed fresh and clean.  It’s sparkling in the intermittent sunshine this morning after heavy rain overnight.  This is rain day #2.  I’m getting lots accomplished.  I realized yesterday that it was the first rain day we’ve had this long Spring that simply didn’t allow us to work outside.  We’ve sloshed through all the showery others.

We’re now in that “in-between” time here in the magical Mid-Atlantic–between the flowers of full Spring and the first flowers of early Summer.  It is almost Hydrangea Time.

'Nikko Blue' Hydrangea budding up

'Nikko Blue' Hydrangea budding up

'Annabelle' Hydrangea in a pot.  They make great container plants.

'Annabelle' Hydrangea in a pot. They make great container plants.

Rain days allow me to:  Write my Spring newsletter (I’m tardy by two months :/–and yes, I did get it written and to my talented friend, Peter, who does the layout ).  Vacuum the floor.  Write a blog post.  Catch up on billing and paperwork.  Get started on some magazine articles (the deadlines loom).  Delete the junk from my e-mail inbox.  Clean off my desk.

It's clean!  I can even see my favorite picture of Steve!

It's clean! I can even see my favorite picture of Steve!

Sunday, I spent a day in my own garden.  I got most of the pots and the windowboxes planted (and fertilized), all the rest of the houseplants outside and organized, and some planting and transplanting accomplished–just before the rain.  In my brain, I feel like I’m so late this year because the gardens are so advanced compared to the usual mid-May.  The reality is I’m finishing some things earlier–I usually don’t get around to the pots and annuals until after Memorial Day.  Some things will wait until after Memorial Day–I want to pick up a few favorites in Wilmington that weekend–but it feels good to be this much ahead.

I have some new additions this year in my front yard:  giant, white Alliums (flowering onions).  The variety is ‘White Giant’.  I love them.  I’m astounded, also, that they all stood up to the heavy rains last night.  That surprises me.

Look closely, and you'll see the Allium 'White Giant'.

Look closely, and you'll see the Allium 'White Giant'.

One of my clients was cleaning out their pond earlier this Spring and had a huge crop of tadpoles.  I brought home a couple dozen and put them in the lower pond.  I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to check and see how they’re doing.  Sunday, I took a look and saw a few–they seem fatter and happy.  Then during a water break in the kitchen, I looked out the window and saw this guy/gal sunning him/herself on a mossy rock by the upper pond. Because my friend Mike Ferrara and I are working our way through the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series on Sunday nights (and because I name just about everything), I’ve decided to call him/her Frodo.

"Frodo" the Frog

"Frodo" the Frog

My friend Ronn Payne gave me some gourd birdhouses this Spring.  I’d admired them at his mother’s place in the Virginia countryside, where he grows the gourds.  He surprised me with three.  I hung them immediately: one in a Live Oak out front (I can see it from the dining room); one in a Crapemyrtle on the side (I can see it from where I’m typing right now); and one in a Darlington Oak in the back (which I can see from my downstairs desk and bedroom).  Very quickly, a tiny little bird with the most wonderful song (very garbled, happy and sing-songy) moved in, the same kind of bird in all three.  They are very energetic, and so fun to watch and listen to.  You cannot imagine the joy I get from “my” birds, all types.

It's blurry, but here's one of the gourd birdhouses.

It's blurry, but here's one of the gourd birdhouses.

Everything is sparkling and happy from this morning's rains.

Everything is sparkling and happy from this morning's rains.

What a Spring.


Posted under Animals in the Garden, Container Gardens, Random garden thoughts, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, The Summer Garden, Water in the Garden

Often, I Don’t See the Forest for the Trees

I work outside, in Nature, almost every day of my life, either in my own gardens, in Arlington or Wilmington, or in other’s gardens.  Yet I miss so much of the beautiful detail because I am so caught up in the “doing” versus the “being”.  I’ll bet a lot of my landscaping co-horts can sympathize with this realization.  How many times have you gotten to June 1st and thought, “I missed [experiencing] Spring…again”?

April 2007, Woodland Cottage

April 2007, Woodland Cottage

My wonderful friend H/D once observed that I notice so many details in gardens/Nature.  It’s true, to a point–that’s my job.  It’s my job to notice if a plant looks a bit off, or the soil in a particular spot is washing away…if a spot is sunny or shady, or what is growing natively in an area.  These are all clues.  I constantly look for clues.  I try to solve the mysteries of insect/disease invasion, nutrient/soil deficiencies, water imbalances…that’s my job.  That’s the horticulturist Jeff, the scientist Jeff.  But what about what’s beyond my job?  What about the birdsong?  What about noticing that exact day in June when the lightning bugs appear?  Or the exact moment at dusk, in Mid-Summer, when the deafening sound of the cicadas suddenly dies and the chirps of the katydids instantly take over the chorus? What about that exact, glorious day in Spring when the fat, beside-themselves buds burst into chartreuse leaf?  In these moments, I swell and burst myself, with a knowing deep inside me.

For me, Nature calls on me to sit up and take notice in many ways.  She’s in my face to make me notice.  With a fragrance, too strong to ignore, leading me to the source of the scent.  I stop.  And let the flood of sense-memories draws me back in time.  A hummingbird, buzzing inches from my face.  I stop, in delight, and say hello to these lovely creatures that exude energy, and a renewed energy flows into me.  The songs of the birds, at dawn and dusk, calling to me, “Who am I?”  The sudden visits of the birds and squirrels outside the windows where I sit.  The fox.  The raccoon lumbering up my woodland pathways, headed for a morning constitutional dip in my pond.  The blue heron searching my pond for fish.  The rushing sound of my waterfalls.  And the trees.  The trees.  The old, all-knowing trees.

Yesterday, after intensely concentrating on the layout of a new walk we began building, and satisfying myself that it was the way I wanted it, I relaxed and stood back a ways to observe.  Suddenly, a large flock of birds swept up out of a nearby tree, swooped down over us in murmuration, looped around in unison several times and then landed back in the tree they’d left.  It was a stunning, brief performance that stopped the crew and me.  A moment in time.  Nature saying, “Pay attention to the beauty that I have to offer you, the beauty that is always here, if you’ll only look and see.”

What are the ways that Nature tries to make you sit up and notice?

Photo by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Animals in the Garden, Fragrance in the garden, Insects in the Garden, Random garden thoughts

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 10, 2012

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A Way to Celebrate the Season of Peace

Here is a wonderful video of the murmuration, or gathering, of starlings, captured in Ireland.  When you need a minute in this Season of Crazy to just stop, stop…sit and watch this video.  It is beautifully calming.


Shared via the wonderful blog A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach

Posted under Animals in the Garden, Holidays

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on December 15, 2011

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The Birds are Returning

I’m just as stunned at the remarkable turn-around in the weather these last ten days as I was about the record snowfall this winter. Overnight, spring has returned to Virginia. Things are flying out of the ground at an amazing rate. I am cleaning up the garden here at Woodland Cottage as quickly as possible! Partly, to give the newly-emerged plants some light and air, and partly from sheer excitement!

The seasonal birds are returning, too. A mourning dove wakes me daily. Every day and night over the past week, I’ve heard flocks of Canadian geese overhead, honking away, all heading north for the season. I love the flock of chickadees flying–darting, really–around the yard. They seem so happy to see spring! Can’t blame them, after enduring this winter. We have a flock of robins all winter, so they are here, as well as bluejays, Carolina wrens, sparrows and cardinals (“Redbirds”, as my grandmother used to say, and Mom still does). I can hear their songs.

I am still waiting for those other familiar songs: towhees, catbirds, etc. Sometimes, I hear songs I can’t identify. I went online and found this cool website: You can hear sample bird songs and it has helped me identify many birds by song and photo.

Around the first week of May, the warblers come through on their way north. I start looking out my kitchen window at the pond in late April–suddenly, one day, they are there, in all their glorious colors. They are so fun to watch. I have an upper pond; the water rushes from there down a flat rock to a big waterfall, which flows into a lower pond. The warblers love to stand in the rushing water and get an easy bath. About two weeks later, they are gone. I wait for their appearance every year, kind of like I wait for the forsythia to bloom. It’s a fleeting sighting, but I know true spring is here. I keep my bird book–one of my prized possessions from a friend who is no longer with us–on the kitchen table by the window, easily accessible. Each year, I record the comings and goings of the different birds, and their consistency is really remarkable.

Birds are such a necessary and sensory part of the garden. I can watch them for hours. They bring me great joy.

Posted under Animals in the Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on March 11, 2010

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The Red Fox Pranced Across the Road

It was 20F degrees Monday night and I fired up the grill at my Arlington, VA, home, Woodland Cottage.  I stepped out the door a few minutes later to put the chicken on and I heard the most awful, primal noise.  At first, I thought it might be two cats mating; then I realized that on many a spring and fall night, when the windows are open, I’ve heard that racket.  And as you know, it is very distinct!  This sounded like another type of animal, maybe hurt…or even a child in trouble…I almost called 911.  But when I came out a few minutes later, to turn the meat, it was quiet again.  That dead, muffled quiet of winter.  Very strange.

Yesterday, the owner of the landscape installation company I use, Tom, dropped by to visit some jobs with me.  We walked around the yard and heard a hawk screeching.  We looked up and there it was–a big’un.  I told Tom the story of the strange noises from the night before.  “Hmmm…maybe an owl caught something?”  “I’ve never once heard or seen an owl in the 12 years I’ve been here,” I said, and he said, “Well, I bet you have owls in these woods.”  We stood there a minute, silently, and I can tell you I still haven’t figured out what caused that awful noise.

We have lots of wildlife around my house.  The house is perched on the top of a hillside and the garden drops downhill in the back.  I live only 10 minutes from Washington, DC, and still we are loaded with animals.  Racoons. Gray and black squirrels.  Possums (Gramma used to say “Opossums”).  Lots and lots and lots of deer (they are so hungry and destructive to my garden that I put up a deer fence around my property about five years ago).  The occasional snake and lizard.  The most wonderful variety of birds, year ’round.  A jungle of loud insects in summer.  And yesterday, when I was taking some recyclables out to the can, a big–BIG!–red fox came out from a neighbor’s yard a couple of houses down, stopped, looked at me and pranced (no other word describes it better) across my street.  Not a care in the world.  He was gorgeous.  Of course, the Piedmont of Virginia is known for its fox hunting–think Middleburg–yet it is a fact that quite a few live right here close to the city.  I’m waiting to see some pups at some point.

I seem to hear the animals so distinctly now, in the winter quiet.  In the summer, all the sounds blend together into a loud blur.  It’s hard to distinguish one from the other.  Not so at this time of year.  We’ve had quite a bit of snow this winter so far and I’ve seen all kinds of animal tracks.  Some I can identify and some I don’t have a clue.  It’s also interesting to see the animals eating the snow and licking the frozen pond water for their liquid sustenance.  All I can think of right now is get me South of here for some warmth!

Posted under Animals in the Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 12, 2010

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