Tuesday Opinion: Longing For Snow?

I would never had imagined that I would be longing for snow, much less writing about it-but here I am.  Frankly, I feel cheated that the season which I dread the most vaporized.  Picture me sputtering!  The bitter cold and snow is inconvenient and irritating, but it can be beautiful.  I have not one picture of a snowy landscape this winter-much less a picture I liked well enough to save.  As it turns out, Better Homes and Gardens is coming back to photograph winter containers of mine-not today, but the very next time it snows.  They want snow.   We have a dusting of snow now, but that should be gone in just a few days.  No snow is forecast in my immediate future.  Might they not be able to come at all?  The past 6 weeks of near 40 degree temperatures has been unnerving.  It is not at all what I am accustomed to.  What I am accustomed to in my conscious gardening life-this would be 26 years worth of weather at best.  Understand that I have not lived nearly long enough to experience all of the possible variations in weather for my zone.  Perhaps we had a winter like this when I was 19-had I any investment or interest in the weather then?  No.  Or maybe the winter was warm when I was 7.  Just because I have no memory of it, it does not mean it didn’t happen.  Weather cycles outlast most lifetimes.  Weather cycles can unexpectedly vary strikingly more than the norm.    This is ordinary, not particularly newsworthy. 

Not so many years ago- maybe 8- we had a dramatic and long lived late cold snap which killed the emerging leaves on lots of trees.  Old established trees were affected.  A client for whom I had planted 21 alders the previous year was very unhappy that his trees were not leafing out.  Attributing the death of the newly emerging shoots on his trees on the weather read for all the world like I was handing off trouble to a source that did not take complaints.  My client was right-nature does not have a complaint box.  There is no number to call, no customer service department in the sky.  Some trees recovered-it took 2 years.  Others, we replaced.  Eventually, we sorted everything out.  At the neighborhood gas station, I still see the effect of that late spring hard freeze some 8 years later.  No one took an active role in dealing with the damage.  Dead branches are still overhead, and lots of branches shooting at the bottom of the main trunk is how those trees represent today.  Needless to say, those trees look besieged-not beautiful.  They have terrible scars no amount of time will erase.  My quick aside?  If you don’t mind a few scars, your gardening life will be richly experienced.  Should you terribly mind the trouble, your experience will be bumpy, disconcerting-anxious.  How silly would this be? Gardening should be fun, challenging, relaxing, and enriching.  Nature is not always so friendly or accomodating, but nature is invariably interesting, compelling, and satisfying..  Sign up.  Get on the bus.  In my opinion, your life will take a turn for the better-even if your magnolia blooms freeze before they open.

I was on the phone with my very good friend Michael today, listening as he chose his words carefully.  Will it feel like spring, if we have had no winter?, he asks.    He was tentative-quite unlike him.  I did want to laugh-no one hates the close of the gardening season more than he does.  No one could possibly lament the endless cold, grey and snow more eloquently, and more emphatically than he does.  But like me, he was fretting that an utterly bland winter would somehow compromise his joy when spring finally announced itself.  Or that what he expects to see in the spring might not happen.  Could we have 40 degree weather every day until the 4th of July??  OK, I am exxagerating, so let’s address the issue directly.  Should nature dish out a warm winter, does this mean there will be no spring game?  If there isn’t, will we unhappy enough to quit gardening? I think not.

  Whatever nature dishes out in the form of a winter, every true gardener has the ability to shift and adapt.  Michael, I have no idea what this winter will mean for the plants in our zone this spring.  This I am sure of.  What we both worry about does not necessarily affect the trees.  How most gardeners worry about may not affect much of anything. Nature deals the cards, and determines the outcomes.  This said,  I can safely say that really great gardening is about serious relationships between people, who are not afraid to come face to face with nature. The face to face with nature- Ordinary, for gardeners like you.  Just like this winter that is not really a winter.  It is more ordinary than we think.  I also think we both will welcome and enjoy whatever spring comes our way- whether we have 20 degrees and snow, or 40 degrees and no snow the month before.

At A Glance: No Snow

 

It has snowed twice this winter.  One furiously windy and brief snow the end of January.  And four inches, a couple of days ago.  Do I miss this?  The lack of snow, and the warm weather has been great-but unnerving.  If I ever experienced a winter like this, it was too long ago to remember. 

The snow does a great job of insulating garden plants.  A thick blanket of white keeps the ground evenly frozen, and all the plants in place.  Last week the buds on the espaliers we are wintering in the garage were showing green.  This alarms me.  It is not time yet to wake up.

 

We have been able to work outdoors this winter-that is unprecedented. The ability to install 2 pergolas, 2 fences, and 3 gates last week means we have a jump on finishing a project that did not get done last fall.  In a way, I felt deserving of the mild January.  Much of September and almost all of October was so wet we could hardly work.   

The new USDA hardiness zone map makes my garden out to be a zone 6a. I can remember staying away from perennials and roses that were not at least a zone 4, and I have subsequently felt like I was cheating planting zone 5 plants. And that sooner or later ,y cheating would be discovered, and the plants would die.  I guess all of that worry was misplaced.  But I am still uneasy about the lack of snow cover.  At least the very cold temperatures we have had lately were accompanied by 4 inches of snow. 

Snow on a garden can be beautiful.  If the design is sound, any weather in a landscape makes it look all the better. Gardens in northern climates ask for some structure, though a perennial bed awash in snow can be visually haunting.  

Snow means I have an idea about who comes to visit in the night on little cat feet. 

Containers can be quite beautiful with snow on them, especially if some provision for lighting them is in place.

But do I miss this?  Hauling my tripod and camera out to the bottom of these steps was a nuisance.  Most of the garden was buried in snow throughout January and February of last year. 

Winter does have its beautiful moments.  I hate to miss even one of them.

Spring Thaw

My March issue of Better Homes and Gardens arrived yesterday-as did the most bitter cold, windy, and snowy weather that we have had all winter.  Things even out, don’t they?  In early May of last year, the magazine send a crew out to Detroit Garden Works to shoot pictures of our spring container plantings-for this March 2012 issue.   

Rob and I both took plenty of time to get ready for their visit.  Who knew what would strike their fancy.  We did we do, and hoped for the best. 

The spring season-that season when the garden wakes up-is rightly and greatly prized by gardeners everywhere.  Though we will never agree on the best slicing tomato variety, or the best tree planting technique, or the best way to prune roses, or the must have perennials, we all agree that the coming of the spring is a perfect moment. 

The Better Homes and Gardens film crew was very easy to work with.  An art director, a photographer, and a photographers assistant were focused and professional-all three of them. They also happened to be very personal-this means they took the time to introduce themselves, shoot the breeze, play with the dogs, ask questions, tour-it took them all of an hour to fit in, and dial down our worry about a visit from a publication with a huge history, and an equally huge readership.   

 

We plant pots for spring as we can’t help ourselves.  What gardener doesn’t anticipate that first spring moment when they can put their hands in the soil?  We are no different than most. 

It may be we plant more pots in the spring than the summer.  The winter months can be very long.  The grey is endless.  This means the spring is just cause for celebration.  A big celebration. 

We did plant pots specifically for this photo shoot.  But they took to what interested them.  I was pleased we had lots from which to choose.  The subject of gardening is a big one; that umbrella is big enough to accomodate all different points of view.  

These simple plantings proved to be among their favorites-check out the article.  What I learned?  A very simple and modest container planting represents the garden as well as the most elaborate landscape design and installation.        

We spent two days moving pots and and all else associated with them around.  Yesterday’s issue was their take on what they saw-this I respect. They gravitated towards small and simple spring plants.  They liked a wide range of materials.  It was an education, watching them see, select, and work.  What they gravitated towards is of interest to me.  When I plant for clients, it is always with the idea that what they see might better encourage them to garden. And garden more.   

 

 I do so enjoy planting those first pots of the season.  I routinely plant them too early-hoping that spring will somehow come sooner than usually scheduled. These containers I planted, and moved to the south side of the building-hoping for some extra sun, and some extra heat.    

In retrospect, I am pleased with all of the color. The green months are but half of my year; no wonder I treasure them.    I can hardly wait for that day to come that looks like this one.

 We are every bit of 6 weeks, maybe 12 weeks in advance of the day this picture was taken.  This is longer than I would like.  But the March issue of Better Homes and Gardens is a sure sign that spring is on the way.

A Particular Planting

A friend much more tuned into the 21st century than I let me know that this container planting of mine from 2005 was getting considerable interest via Pinterest.  Pinterest?  I was curious.  Based on my recent research, Pinterest is an on line venue by which anyone, any invited anyone, can post images they fancy, in personal albums organized by subject matter of their own choosing.  As for who posted this collection of photographs from my blog that had been pinned by lots of different people, I have no idea-it was not me.  http://pinterest.com/source/deborahsilver.com/   This picture of a container planting I did in 2005 has gotten a lot of interest.  Though the Wedding White zinnias from Burpee, the petunias and the lime licorice are easy to identify, I am embarassed to say I have no idea what the center plant is.  I am almost certain it came from Landcraft Nursery.  For several years we bought unusual and exotic tropical plants from them.  A quick scan of their plant list did not ring a bell.  If you can identify this plant, will you please write me?    

I am very pleased to see an annual container planting generate some interest.  Gardeners are happy to share-I am no different.  This was a new house, with a landscape design and installation imagined by my clients and I from start to finish.  Once I was close to that finish, there was the matter of selecting and planting containers.  The pool terrace was an obvious choice for containers.  My clients planned to spend a lot of time there.  The pool deck of concrete aggregate with bluestone detail was part of the original landscape plan.  My client chose the furniture all on her own-and did a great job of it.  The French flavor of the landscape asked for simple and spare choices in plant material, lots of pleasingly simple geometry, and a largely green palette for the plants in the pots.   

This pair of tall Belgian zinc planters in contrasting heights are kept company by one low simple English lead square.  The star of the show in the tallest pot-datura metel “Belle Blanche”.  In the shorter, melianthus.  The low lead box features a fistful of white geraniums.  I like green plants.  Datura, melianthus and geranium are eminently attractive in leaf.  The flowers are welcome, when they come.  

In keeping with what I would call a landscape with a French flavor, the plant choices are simple, and edited.  Lavender, white and shades of green.  Simple, elegant, spare. 

Dahlias do not come into their own much until September and October.  But during the summer, the dahlia plant has significant stature, great texture, and presence.  A little in the way of Verbena bonariensis and scaevola, and tufts of a grass whose name I cannot remember makes for a container planting that is much about form and mass-stature-, and not so much about flowers. 

Simple and serene, this.  The containers stand proud, but not too proud.   

My favorite part?  A border of Panicum Virgatum, faced down with a tall salvia and verbena bonariensis.  A rhythmic and subtle planting that spills over the edge of the pool terrace. 

A good landscape does a lot of things.  Trees get planted, where there were none.  Spaces get created that are friendly to people.  Plants of visual interest to people and of vital interest to butterflies and birds get added.  Everywhere you look, there is green.   

 In April I will have been been posting essays about gardens, landscape, and the design thereof for three years.  As a matter of course, I post lots of my own pictures in support of what I write.  Generating those images takes every bit as much time as the writing.  An image can no doubt be very powerful, and compelling.   This is what is interesting me so much about Pinterest.  What we see matters much.  An image speaks in a way all its own.