Ice on the Pond

Here in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s been a mild Winter.  Before I left for the New Year in Wilmington, I turned off my waterfall here at Woodland Cottage since I heard a freeze was on the way.  When I got home yesterday, there was a thin coating of ice on the pond–first of the season.

What a difference a year (or two) makes!  Here’s the pond and waterfall after the just-before-Christmas snow of 2009:

And here’s how the waterfall looks, normally, in January:

Today, it’s warming up again, so I’ll probably turn the waterfall back on.  The night temperatures over the next few days are supposed to be just below freezing, if that.  I like to keep the water moving, if at all possible…keeps it from getting stagnant and stinky.  It was warm enough late last Fall that I could give the pond a good cleaning.  Some years, like the last two, it gets cold suddenly, and the fallen leaves and brush get frozen before I can get them out of the water.  Makes for a very unpleasant clean-up when I return North in March!!

Elsewhere in my garden, the usually late-Winter bloomers are showing up much earlier this year (maybe the earliest I’ve ever seen them appear, in my garden).  One of my favorite shrubs, Mahonia bealei, the Leatherleaf Mahonia, is showing its lemon-yellow buds.  The bumblebees love these…I hope the flowers hang in suspended animation until late Winter, when the bumblebees are active again and can enjoy the flowers.  To me, this is just another example of how climate change has things out-of-whack in the natural world.  Gardeners know how interconnected it all is, and if you know your own piece of land, you notice details like this.

Mahonia bealei

Mahonia bealei

Late last Winter, while in Wilmington, NC, where I spend a good part of my Winter with my partner, we were driving home from visiting friends in Carolina Beach and spotted loads of tropical plants for sale at a small nursery.  Turns out they had been used as props for filming a movie–not sure which one.  (Did you know Wilmington has the largest film studio East of Los Angeles?)  We stopped and I picked up a Bird of Paradise and a few other items.  I planted the Bird of Paradise in a large pot in front of my house here in Arlington.  It got so big (and was so inexpensive) that I decided not to bring it into the utility room for the Winter, like I do with so many of the smaller tropicals I use in pots in the Summer.  Believe it or not, it looked great until we had our first hard freeze this weekend.  Leaving it out to see how long it would last has been an interesting experiment.  Here it is today:

Notice the Sprengeri Asparagus Ferns?  They’ve withstood the freeze so far.  Here are some more of them today in windowboxes on the front of my house:

Hellebores are starting up:

Helleborus foetidus, the Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus foetidus, the Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus argustifolius, the Corsican Hellebore

Helleborus argustifolius, the Corsican Hellebore

The Lenten Roses, Helleborus x orientalis, haven’t really started to push their buds yet, but I do see some activity when I look at their crowns.

Snapdragons have become good Winter annuals in the South in the last several years, as Pansies have been for years.  I have some pretty red ones in pots by my front door.  They are looking good right now, if a little wilted–from the cold or lack of water?  Not sure, so I gave them a drink this morning.

And, of course, Snowdrops, and yes, these are blooming earlier than normal, too.  My neighbor, Mr. Jimmy, has them blooming in a sunny spot in his front yard.

Thank goodness the Winter Daphne has not yet burst into bloom.  It would be a major bummer if I lost that glorious harbinger of Spring–absolutely the most heady, powerful scent in my garden.  I’ve got lots of fragrant flowers, yet this one tops them all here, in my opinion.

What’s blooming in your garden this early January of 2012?

Wishing you and yours a joyful, healthy, creative, and prosperous 2012.  I’m optimistic (like most gardeners–it runs in our DNA).  Are you?

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

Posted under Climate Change, The Winter Garden, Tropical Plants, Water in the Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 5, 2012

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Sometimes, things just work out for the best. Like last Thursday. Steve and I got in the car in Wilmington, on a rainy, nasty, cold morning at 7am. We were headed to Montrose in Hillsborough, NC, to tour the gardens. Hillsborough is northwest of Durham, so we went through Raleigh on the way. It’s really a straight shot up I-40 from Wilmington. When we got close to Raleigh, it started to snow…the snow was covering everything but the road…and I started to fret that I wouldn’t be able to see anything in this garden we were traveling almost three hours to see. But then, on the other side of Raleigh, things opened up and the snow magically just disappeared.

We got to Montrose at the stroke of 10, right on time. Our hostess (and owner of the property), Nancy Goodwin, was just then swinging open the gate (I almost ran into her, I was so excited to get in there!). She said, “I was almost ready to give up on you all. Everyone else canceled.” Lucky us! We got a private, almost two hour tour with this delightful, energetic, and amazingly knowledgeable plantswoman. To say I was in heaven is an understatement. What a treat.

In late February, Montrose is loaded with hardy cyclamen, hellebores (Lenten Roses), and snowdrops (Galanthus)–all of which are Nancy’s passion and favorites. She has and does breed them all. As much as I hate winter, I really do love the late winter/early spring crossover for all these same plants. There is nothing like walking through the garden and seeing these signs of life suddenly appear amidst all the dead leaves and bare branches, and despite the cold. So cheerful and hopeful.

Looking through the woodland at Montrose

Through the woodland at Montrose

I had vaguely heard of Montrose, and Nancy Goodwin, and I am ashamed to say the horticulturist in me didn’t put two and two together when I read about her in Frances Mayes’ blog. Frances (who wrote Under the Tuscan Sun and sequels) lives in Hillsborough, also, when she is not in Tuscany. She recommended Nancy’s book, Montrose: Life in a Garden (Duke University Press). I ordered it right away, of course, and then sat down and read it in Wilmington the week before we went to visit the garden. It is a wonderful intro to the garden, and Nancy, and I felt like I was visiting an old friend as I walked around the gardens at Montrose.

I later found out from Nancy that she and Frances are now friends. I wrote to Frances, via her blog, to thank her for her recommendation and tell her we had visited Montrose. She responded back that we should definitely go back and see the gardens when the roses are in bloom and “see [them] arching into the trees.” She said she had “fantastical dreams for a week” after visiting the garden. She’s oh so right.

If you are ever in the Triangle area of NC (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), you must visit Montrose. It is open for tours by appointment. For more information, check out this link.

Posted under Garden Tours

Baby Steps

After the glorious spring-thaw weather last week, we have stepped back slowly into winter.  February can be either brutal or a one-step-forward, one-step-back type of month.  I think February is the worst month…you can finally feel the sun again, yet the air just will not let go of winter.  And it is often the snowiest time, too.

Yet the garden is taking its baby steps toward spring.  We are so lucky here in the upper South–we really do have the opportunity to have a four-season garden.  There is always something of interest going on.  Here in my garden, the Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, have just started blooming.  The Hellebores (Lenten Roses, Helleborus x orientalis, Stinking Hellebore, H. foetidus, and Christmas Rose, H. niger) are all pushing up their flower buds.  Before we know it, they will be in bloom.  I’ve seen Daffodils and Crocus pushing up.  The Leatherleaf Mahonia, Mahonia bealei, is just about to break into bloom.  I love its fragrant, cheerful, long-lasting flowers.

Actually, almost all of the early bloomers have a powerful fragrance.  Winter Honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima; Winter Daphne, Daphne odora; Sweetbox, Sarcoccocca hookeriana…you can smell all of these half a block away.  And they will all be in bloom very soon here in growing zone 7.

Once the Forsythia and Camellias start to bloom in a few weeks, it’s all over but the cryin’ (or should I say laughin’ since it will be SPRING!) :-)   It’s time to start getting outside, walking around your own garden, and seeing what is beginning to stir.  I think you will be surprised.

Winter Daphne

Winter Daphne

Posted under The Winter Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 23, 2010

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