Checking In To The Grumpery

DSC_8800The month of March in Michigan always manages to test the good nature of the most graceful and exuberantly positive gardener. The bitter last of the winter is still firmly entrenched. It is 20 degrees, with snow flurries today.  It will be 14 degrees over night. I don’t know why these buckets of cheerfully fake red poinsettias irritate me so much.  If I didn’t know it was March, I would think it was Christmas time.

DSC_8788The north side of every cranny on my property has dirty snow and dead leaves on top of ice. The night temperatures regularly sink below freezing.  Dead tree branches litter the garden. The cold winds come and bring paper and plastic trash. Burned orange evergreen needles jump out at me. The south side of every Alberta spruce in my neighborhood is burned.

espalier damage

Tree trunks of espaliers whose bark has been gnawed off by rabbits-I fear for the lives of these plants.

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Boxwood tips turning from cream to tan-I see the signs that signal winter kill. Never mind the bare boxwood branches courtesy of the winter of 2014.

DSC_8789My snowdrops that have just emerged will be subjected to 14 degree temperature over night. These should be named frozen through and through drops. I do not see any signs of the crocus-that is a good thing.

DSC_8798Some patches of my hellebores are still smothered in icy snow.  I am thinking of shoveling the last of the winter off of them, but I probably would take the crown of the plant with it.

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The dead fern heads and cold singed European ginger laid flat out-I am more than ready for this phase of the year to be over. If you are a gardener, this is what March Madness really means.

DSC_8767My yard is dirty.  I have a big love for dirt-but not this kind of dead grass and compacted muck dirt. The dirt just outside the doorways is salt saturated. This dirt is in my car, and on my kitchen floor.  When it dries, it dries white.  A dirty white, that is.

DSC_8793Potholes, gaping and deep potholes, open up in the neighborhood streets. I believe a neighbor, out of desperation, filled this with dirt. A water main broke here in late January. A huge disk of ice sat here until a few weeks ago, when the pavement seemed to disintegrate over night. The skies are the same color as this road.

DSC_8784  Even the dogs had that accusatory look on their faces-can’t you do something about the endless winter?

DSC_8782We are still stuck indoors and moping. Why I went outside to see the dead leaves on the ivy – I am not sure. Maybe just to verify that we are truly living the misery.

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I have talked to Buck at great length about all of this. On a number of occasions. Finally last night he advises me to go to the grumpery, and leave him be. I do not fault him for his exasperation. We have an understanding about the grumpery.  The grumpery is a place for any gardener who is so over the winter that they need to be quarantined.  I am hoping I do not need to spend too many more days there.

Sunday Opinion: The Peaceable Kingdom

Blossom and FriendsWe have had quite a run of unseasonably cold weather the past week – night temperatures in the 20’s. The ornamental kales and cabbages that often persist without a blemish into December look wilted. I have reluctantly put away my tee shirts, and stacked up wool sweaters and fleeces in their place. The evergreens in my landscape have begun to change color.  The winter color is a darker, or more bronze green.  I can see that the winter and holiday container work will be more difficult than usual. I would work with any kind of soil rather than frozen soil. I am pleased our methods of construction have evolved such that only the final installation takes place in the field. Even so, our garage space is a chilly place now. I have traded sneakers for warm boots.

old unknown sheep breedNonetheless, there is much to look forward to.  The garden going quiet means there will be time to reflect on the season just past.  What not only worked, but worked peaceably.  For instance, elements of  garden design that contrast can be interesting.  Elements of design that out and out fight with one another can make a space disquieting and uncomfortable.  Simple landscapes where the relationships are subtly detailed and modest are liveable and restorative. High energy landscapes are certainly dramatic and exhilarating, but even the most devoted eye needs an occasional place to rest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI do value evergreens, as they can make a sleeping garden feel warmer, and more visually inviting in the winter months. They make a landscape feel substantial.  Even though they have gone dormant too, the green is a sure reference to life.  As for the leafless trees and shrubs, and the remains of the perennials, there is an opportunity there to appreciate the subtle textures and colors of bark.  The landscape may be gray and brown, but there are infinite variations of those colors.  The variation in the overall shapes of plants, and their appearance in winter weather is an invitation to appreciate the sculptural forms in nature.

american_blackbelly (2)So warm and woolly is and will be the order of the day for months to come.  But there’s no sense worrying about the months to come part.  Only a few small bits and pieces of the landscape work remains-the weather turning has a lot to do with that.  We have our winter and holiday containers and outdoor lighting season immediately ahead.  This late season work makes it possible to enjoy the holidays and the winter season over a longer period of time than most. So why all of the pictures of the sheep today? The moment I start thinking winter and holiday, I think peaceable.  As in the peaceable kingdom.  Though the rams generally have horns, and some with multiple horns, a flock of sheep has a very peaceful aura about it.   They are also an incredibly beautiful group of creatures. Though I am sure this American blackbelly sheep could be an adversary to be reckoned with, he has an affable and dignified expression.

e4a2f2e86b475a34-ValaisBlacknosesheepFrom sheep101.com: There are more breeds of sheep than breeds of any other livestock species. Worldwide, there are more than one thousand distinct sheep breeds. There are more than 40 breeds in the United States alone. Sheep come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors. Their wool is prized for its warmth.  This Valais blacknose sheep is native to Switzerland.

awassi ramawassi sheep

breeds-of-sheepunknown breed of sheep

Dreadlocked_sheepunknown breed of sheep

cheviot sheepcheviot sheep

 

manx loaghtan sheep in the UKmanx loaghtan sheep

East-Friesian-sheepEast Freesian sheep

jacob's four horned sheepJacob four horned sheep

blue faced leicesterblue faced Leicester longwool sheep

cheviot

Cheviot sheep

Barbados Blackbelly sheepbarbados blackbelly sheep

dorsethornsheepdorset horn sheep

boreray sheepboreray sheep

booroola merino rammerino sheep

hebridean sheephebridean sheep

Leicester-Long-wool-Sheepleicester longwool sheep

Lundysheepheaddetaillundy sheep

Norweigan sheep breedNorwegian sheep breed

Romney sheepRomney sheep

sheepsheep face

TexasDallSheepTexas Dahl sheep

slovakian sheepSlovakian sheep

YearlingEwesWensleydaleWensleydale sheep

shetland sheepshetland sheep

rare-breeds-childrenHerdwick sheep

Texel sheepTexel sheep

sheep1

sheep

Flock of sheep, New Zealand, Pacificflock of sheep

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfour horned sheep

lincoln-sheepLincoln sheep

 

Capone RS 12-01Jacob’s four horned sheep.

black wensleydaleblack Wensleydale sheep

So why all the loosely connected thoughts about landscape design, the peaceable kingdom, the holidays ahead, the garden season just past, and the beauty and diversity of nature?  That is what a Sunday in November can do for a gardener.

Sunday Opinion: Aging Trees

A good client has lost 6 very big and very old trees in the terrible storms we have had this season. The damage to her landscape is considerable.  The remaining old trees in the same proximity look lonely, and off center. She is asking me what to do.  I haven’t answered her yet, but she will most likely need to start over. Just yesterday we had a storm, wind driven and rain laden, blow through such that Detroit Edison counts it as their 10th worst storm on record.  Luckily my neighborhood was spared.  At the shop, a giant limb of a willow sheared off, and landed on our neighbor’s roof.  Lots of people lost their power in the greater Detroit area. The big winds and the big rain took down trees in a wide range of communities.  Big trees.  As in, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.  Miraculously, no person was injured.

Big storms are the plague of the weak and the big old trees. A sapling can gracefully bend under the duress of a straight line wind.  No harm done. Old trees whose wood is stiff with age do not bend-they break. The canopy of a big tree is like a a giant sail. A wind that is too strong can stress that trunk beyond reason. For certain, large caliper trees that are snapped off above the ground, or uprooted in the height of a storm are victims of the unpredictable direction and incredible strength of that force we call nature. If you have ever seen a big tree uprooted or snapped off you understand the meaning of the word “force”.

Other trees in poor condition go over or shed big limbs without much in the way of protest. A lack of health, or a lack of regular maintenance makes them a target for the effects of severe weather.  There are a lot of limbs on the ground now.  The pruning that violent nature does is extreme. No judicious or clean cuts. I suppose storm pruning is effective.  Any limb that is weak, or growing at an unsustainable angle gets a haircut in a matter of seconds. There is no time for a second opinion.

Our trees are our biggest plants. Old trees are up there, dealing with the brunt of the weather. All kinds of issues challenge their health.  As they age, they need care.  Maples in the tree lawn develop girdling roots.  Sun loving deciduous trees in too much shade grow towards the light.  Lots of our evergreens are being threatened by needle cast disease. I could go on and on about the illnesses of trees, but that is not my point.  Trees need a gardener in charge to look after them, routinely-unless being at the mercy of nature is a place you don’t mind being.

My city does no pruning or maintenance on the street trees. I would guess this is a budget issue.  So the three trees in the tree lawn on my corner lot that they finally took down this spring – I had to make a case that not to take them down would expose people to serious danger.  They finally agreed. They were all maples, more than 2/3rds dead, suffering from girdling roots and seriously weakened by fungus.  The maples were a poor choice to begin with. Their roots need room.  They are much too large growing to restrict to the space in an urban tree lawn.  Years of neglect made them a disaster waiting to happen. One giant limb at a just about horizontal angle arcing over my street featured a home trunk entirely rotted on the interior. That tree worried me to no end.  I am glad it is gone now, before it collapsed under its own weight.  In my next life I would like to be in charge of street tree plantings.  Not that I have an agenda proud of the history of street trees in my urban community.  I just have a big love for trees, and want to see them take hold and thrive.  Old trees ask for some care.  Loosing one – grievous. Certain neighborhoods in Royal Oak have incredibly gorgeous and substantial London Plane trees, thriving.  These trees have been looked after all along the way.

An landscape asks for a regular hand.  An aging landscape asks for a better than regular hand.  There is no substitute for regular care.  This is not to say that regular care will insure you will never have storm related damage to your trees.  But it will provide them a fighting chance.

As for my dead maples, I have had the stumps ground down 24 inches. I had to transplant all of the hosta planted around them like skirts.  I raked and seeded each 6′ diameter circle of bare dirt.  Now it’s time to think about how I will replant that tree lawn.  All living plants have a life span. Long and short.  Expected, and unexpected. Looking after a property also means starting over.

Monday Opinion: When I’m 64

When I am 64-that would be yesterday.  How is being 64 going so far?  Sunday had to be one of the most beautiful June days in recent memory. 78 degrees, and breezy.  Delightful.  I put my feet up, whenever I could.  No worries-I took the time to enjoy the day.  I have sketchy plans for the work this week-sketchy is good enough.  What was I studying on, having turned 64?   Orange geraniums, and roses.

Many years ago a client in the fashion industry was miffed that I planted orange geraniums in her pots.  She thought they were too pedestrian.  I have been planting container gardens since 1987.  I have seen a lot of plants come and go.  I have passed on a lot of plants that couldn’t stick out a summer season in a container, start to finish.  Ordinary plants are ordinary for very good reasons.  They deliver. The dandelions bloom and prosper, no matter every effort that is made to eradicate them.  Queen Anne’s Lace prospers and blooms in every field, and every crack in the highway.  Pachysandra is a green mulch that covers the ground in almost every condition.  As for orange geraniums, I love their color and robust habit.  They bloom profusely. My client who felt she was getting pedestrian  was mistaken. I appreciate any plant that is willing.  They are a sensational shade of orange.  Orange flowers and ordinary plants did not interest me much, 30 years ago.  What did interest me was too embarassing to to repeat.  I was a young person, endowed with all those ideas that reeked of  babyhood.  As for that planting of orange geraniums for my client- I switched her plants out, and took the orange geraniums home.

I was thinking yesterday  that my fascination for orange geraniums might be a function of my age.  I worry about that. Too much history can smell musty.  I have been at planting containers a very long time. I  like to think that every year my choices get better, my eye gets sharper.  In an orderly scheme of things, my ability to compose gets better at the same rate that my knowledge of horticulture gets better.  But maybe my love of orange geraniums, picotee petunias, yellow variegated foliage and purple sweat shirts may be a sign of my age.  I have a memory of my Mom in her sixties-how old fashioned she was!  It could be I am following in her footsteps. What would a young client think about picotee petunias?  They might be appalled. At 64, I am thinking much about how I can continue to be relevant to my clients.That said, I think it is important at any age to put aside fashion, and think independently.  Plants go in and out of fashion.  Fashion is a concept that applies only given permission. An old windbreaker from the seventies may suit you just fine.  My Chevy suburban with 110,000 miles-I am still quite happy with it.    So even if a love of orange geraniums is a function of my 64th year, I will go ahead and plant them.

As for the roses, on the occasion of my 64th birthday, I have this to say.  I was sure that every one of my 26 roses were dead this spring.  I have not touched them for two months, as I have not had time to touch them. Given my neglect,  25 of my roses have come back strong from the root.  I was not in any way patient about the trouble they suffered from our winter.  I have ignored them, as I had to.  I have been so busy, working.  They had time to do what they would do, without interference from me.  The spring is a very busy time for me.  A late spring is all about work day and night.  I was not expecting them to burst forth and grow from underground.  The day I saw new growth from the bottom shocked me.  I was so sure they were dead.  Not so.  Many of them are going on 5 feet tall now.  Five feet of growth in 6 weeks?  Astonishing.  I have not taken any of the dead climbing rose canes off the wall.  Those dead canes still have dead leaves attached to them.  The few canes that are blooming are surrounded by dead rose leaves from last fall.

I have never seen anything like this, even though I am 64.  I thought about cutting all of the dead canes of the wall, but I decided not to interfere.  This decision was pure instinct.  I will just tie the new canes to the old.  This seems fitting.

I have just about driven Buck crazy, wanting to go see the dead roses every night after work.  He is such a good sport about touring the garden, every day.  But even he has gotten caught up in the rose drama.  The roses are roaring back.  I am thinking I might need to hard prune my shrub roses every 2 or 3 years.  To force basil growth.  Truth be told, my roses were rangy and overgrown. I did not prune them back hard.  Maybe I was too old to be tough on them.   Our past winter was decisive. Nature may have done for my roses what I needed to do, and didn’t.

A the dawn of the age of 64, I am learning so much I never knew about nature, roses, and the color orange.