A Belated Valentine

cut-flowers.jpgI did have Valentines flowers to arrange and deliver Friday, most of which got away from me before I could photograph them.  But the process of arranging gave me some time to think about them-the flowers, that is.  In the dead center of February, in the middle of a too cold snowy and icy winter, I had tulips, roses, alstromeria, waxflower, ranunculus, lisianthus, tracelium, white button pomps, black red carnations and godetia in my hands.  Just the smell of all of that fresh and living was pretty exciting.  Like most gardeners, I am used to the dirt that nature dishes out.  But this winter came early, and shows no sign of letting up, months later. I have to admit I am ready for a change of seasons.  No wonder Valentine’s Day comes at this time of year.

flowers.jpgThis winter began for us in November.  By Thanksgiving, the ground was well on its way to freezing, and we had snow.  We are closing in on three months in which we have had snow entirely covering the ground, and cold that penetrates to the bone in a matter of minutes.  Of course I am dreaming in color.  And thinking about flowers.  Nothing in my environment is green now, much less flowering.  The work I am doing now revolves around design.  This means black lines on white paper.  Ideas. Representations of places.  All of this work is abstract.  I am not standing on a patch of dirt, with the sky overhead.  I am not digging holes.  I have not one patch of green, anywhere.

pink-alstromeria.jpgThis is as good a time as any to talk about flowers.  Did I evolve from a person to a person of gardening inclination from exposure to flowers?  It could be.  I am not a botanist, but my quick take is that flowers make the process of pollination and seeding a visually sexy affair.  Some flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds or bees, or moths.  That flowers might be attractive to me is not nature’s intent.  Some hybrid flowers are sterile.  Though they are beautiful beyond compare, there will be no babies.  Just me-I have been reduced to a baby state by the length and ferocious nature of this winter. I understand completely that plants do not flower to make my gardening life more beautiful.  But they do.   What they do for this garden starved person in February-enormous.

Hollywood rose 002There are many things about gardening that satisfy, beyond the flowers.  I am interested in outdoor spaces designed to embrace people.  I like grass to lay down on, after a long day.  I am awed by trees of age.  I am interested in texture, mass, motion, rhythm, line, color, and form-in the landscape.  There is a fondness and respect for every  green plant.  Is one better than another?  Not really.  I may like peonies better than delphiniums, but that is a matter of taste, not worth.

May 2 2013 (33)There are some years when the flowering trees enchant.  Last spring was the first spring in two seasons that this magnolia bloomed.  The previous year, every bud was frosted off by a long late spring cold snap.  I was so ready for those flowers to emerge.   Other years, I feel like flowers on trees look silly.  How could any tree as sculptural and majestic as a magnolia go the frivolous route of tarting themselves up with big blowsy pink flowers?  Are the big glossy leaves and pale gray bark not enough?  The magnolia stellata outside my window this morning is  making ready for spring.  How can I tell?  The snow this morning is accumulating on the enlarged buds.  The snowbuds tell me March is not so far away.

4284263358_538beec025White flowers are not tough to love.  They have a fresh and pristine look so unlike the dirt they came from.  The white of this double flowered hellebore is all the more striking, given the pale yellow stamens and green flares.  I like single flowered hellebores, but I would grow this double without hesitation. Why?  I like flowers.  Ugly flowers-could those two words ever be side by side?  The flowers of butterburrs, Dutchman’s pipe and American ginger are not exactly what I would call lovely, but they are flowers none the less.

July 28, 2011 028
Roses fall in and out of favor so fast a gardener can hardly keep up. They can be easy to dismiss, given their ungainly habit of growth, their affinity for disease and Japanese beetles.  Not to mention that they are so, well, girly.  This overblown pink Carefree Beauty flower is not to everyone’s taste.  I grow this rose in spite of all the work they require because I like the flowers.

Aug 25 2013 (4)There are lots of other roses I cannot grow, that are only available to me as cut flowers, grown by someone else.  My Carefree Beauty roses would never be available as a cut flower.  They last no longer than a day or two when cut.  The history of the romance of the rose aside, a flower which can last for a week or better in water is especially welcome in mid February.

Mother's Day 2012 011I like cut flowers in season. When the tulips are in bloom, arrangements with cut tulips have that extra from the garden cache.  But there are no flowers of any description in season in my February.  How great it is to have the opportunity to put vegetables and flowers in a grocery cart in February. Tulips, Dutch iris, delphinium and sweet peas in February?  Bring them on.  Buck brought me a dozen Confetti roses for Valentines.  As much as I love the yellow flowers whose petals are edged in orangy red, I am most fond of how willing they are to open wide and flat – this a memory of the roses in my garden.  They look so beautiful this morning.

valentineOf course everyone has their own idea of what tugs at their heart strings, come February 14.

 

 

At A Glance: Leaf Deprived

 

Sept 1b 2012 006The Michigan landscape has a decidedly arctic look to it right now.  I thought these pictures might be a comfort to leaf deprived northern gardeners, myself included.  Strobilanthes is commonly known as Persian shield.

Sept 1b 2012 003asclepias incarnata, orange sedge, and verbena bonariensis

Annuals 2006_09_19 (7)calocasia, coleus, creeping jenny and scotch moss (sagina)

Sept 15, 2013 (65)plectranthus, dusty miller, and barbed wire plant

dgw c (2)hosta, lime green selaginella, and clear sky primrose pansies

DGW 2006_07_26 (31)
blue green and red-violet- Persian shield, perfume purple nicotiana, red bor kale, senecio “blue chalk”, lavender star verbena, silver falls dichondra, petunia

Aug 9, 2011 027caladiums

Sept 15, 2013 (78)caladiums and polka dot plant

dieffenbachiadieffenbachia and company

Sept 15, 2013 (68)red bore kale and variegated scented geranium

audi 027Can’t wait for the coming of the leaves.

 

Freezing

 

February 9, 2014 (1)

Freezing is a state (presumably,  a transitory state) to which I am reluctantly becoming accustomed.  Freezing temperatures are the order of the day.   Freezing-what is that, exactly?  Water which is subjected to temperatures below 32 degrees transforms from a liquid state to a solid.  We commonly call frozen water ice.  We have ice just about everywhere.  Icy is an adjective that describes relationships gone bad, cold color schemes, the mini stalactites hanging from my gutters, the surface of my driveway, my windshield, and just about every street surface between me and work.  Icy means I need to dress in multiple layers-this takes a lot of time, and doesn’t always work so well. Well  below zero ice means I need to cover my face, lest my eyelashes freeze.   As I am a gardener, and not a scientist, I would define freezing as that state when the world more or less comes to an end.

ice.jpgThis section of the roof is always in shade, and the gutter stops up with little or no provocation.  Snow fills the gutter, and when subjected to extreme cold, we have ice filled gutters.  Once it overflows, icicles form.  Understanding the process makes it no less aggravating.  The lower part of the roof is laced with heat tape-no matter.  The snow has been heavy, the freezing has been severe, and long standing.

ice.jpgPlants have a mechanism for dealing with freezing that is much more efficient than mine.  Spring flowering hardy bulbs, for example, cannot be frozen through and through.  The usual cause for the failure of potted spring bulbs is a complete freeze.  The soil temperature is always higher than the air temperature.  Soil which is insulated with a thick layer of snow is less likely to freeze deep.

February 9, 2014 (11)Cold winter temperatures trigger a biochemical response in the bulb, which converts the starch in the bulb to glucose (sugar).  That glucose lowers the temperature at which the cells of the bulb will freeze.  Salting a walk does just about the same thing.  Salty water requires temperatures below freezing to freeze.  The ice on my street is a result of air temperatures that have been so low that even the salty water and snow freezes solid.

February 9, 2014 (13)Even small bulbs that are only planted a few inches below the soil surface are rarely bothered by extremely low temperatures.  When they are completely frozen and rot, there is usually a lack of snow cover.  The frost can penetrate the soil in Michigan as deep as 4 feet, but in a year with lots of snow, the frost is not near that deep.  Down below the frost line, the soil is a uniform 55 degrees, year round.

icicles.jpgThe technology exists to harness the ambient heat in the ground to heat cold buildings in the winter, and and cool hot buildings in the summer. Such a system transfers heat and cold, rather than producing it. 50 degree air on a below zero day is a lot of heat.  50 degree air on a 95 degree day is a lot of cooling.  The upfront cost of such a system is considerable.  I am sure someday that the technology will be simpler, and less expensive to install.

February-snow-in-Michigan.jpgIn the meantime, a 6 foot tall person walking down my sidewalk today would be completely hidden from view.  This frozen snow will need warmer air temperatures to melt.  A good bit of it will sublime, meaning it will pass from a solid to a gas without that intermediary melting stage.

old-and-new-snow.jpgThe snow plow did heave a lot of dirty frozen snow up over the curb. At least last night’s new snow freshened up the look.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgI am sure all of the tulips are safe and sound underneath our mountains of frozen snow.  It’s February, through and through.

 

Boxwood Obliteration Warning

heavy-snow.jpgMy friend Michael wrote me yesterday that the National Weather Service should have issued a “boxwood obliteration warning” along with all of their other communiques on our endless string of winter storms.  I perfectly understand his irritation. We have had storm after storm, layered between bouts of very cold temperatures.  This means the snow is piling up.  The piles along my sidewalks are easily 6′ tall.  Thick layers of snow are extremely heavy.  My boxwood hedges are very densely twiggy, and seemed to be handling the weight with relative ease.  But some select spots of those boxwood hedges are beginning to look alarmingly splayed open from the weight of the snow.  Am I worrying-oh yes.  Other shrubby plants are beginning to get that smothered and half strangled look.  This observation having been made, I have always been a member of the do not touch group.  Am I recommending that you do not touch a shrub going down from a load of snow?  No.  How you handle your garden is your business.  What is to follow is a discussion of my experience.  Do with that what you will.

snow.jpgMy PJM rhododendrons have broad leaves, arranged in tufts atop slender branches.  Heavy wet snow in 28 degree weather that sticks to those tufts usually slides off.  But if the temps take a sudden dive, those wet greasy snowballs can harden and stick.  A weighty iceball on the end of a long slender branch can prove very destructive.  Every gardener in a northerly climate has seen damage to trees and shrubs from ice.  I have a substantial dogwood branch that broke close to the main trunk last spring.  The weight of the ice on the branches was enough to snap the branch, almost through.  As for these PJMs, warmer weather will tell the tale.  I feel quite sure if I were to try to dislodge this caked icy snow, I would damage the plants.

azaleas-in-winter.jpgWhen snow buries both evergreen and deciduous shrubs, I have no worries.  Snow is an insulator, a winter packing material of sorts.  Most snow is light, and infills all of the spaces between the branches.   But when heavy snow collects, freezes hard, and glues itself to the ends of branches that are not so hefty, an alarm goes off.  Shall I brush the heavy snow off of the tips of my shrubs, or leave that snow be?  Plants are tough, but maybe not tough enough in their already stressed circumstances to withstand a broom.

rhododendrons-under-the-snow.jpg

I do not plant even arborvitaes when the weather is right around freezing.  The needles will surely brown wherever I touch them.  I do not brush the snow off of any plant-especially when the temperature is really cold.  I have always thought that my efforts to clear snow from my plants may do more harm than good.  I am more inclined to back off, and wring my hands in private.  Plants have an incredible will to live.  I have a substantial broken dogwood branch that has been hanging on by a one inch wide piece of bark for better than a year.  It is loaded with buds for spring.  No matter how terrible the winter weather is, my inclination is to not intervene.

buried-yews.jpgSnow cover which is frozen through and through is a tough coating to remove.  Just tonight I was chopping ice on my deck with a shovel.  I do not want to slip and fall-nor do I want my corgis to slip and strain a muscle.  I am not a fan of ice anywhere in the travelled landscape, except as a last resort.  Chopping the ice on a deck is a vastly different issue that brooming wet frozen snow from my yews. The densiformis yews pictured above have arms bent to the ground.  I have no idea if those branches are bent to the breaking point.  Branches are subject to all manner of insults from weather.  Wind, sun scald-the scraping from my staking, the scale-branches endure assault year round. Should I broom the snow off of them?  Could I damage the branches even more, if I interfere?

heavy-snow.jpgMost of my boxwoods are buried in snow.  Once a too heavy snow load falls to one side, and splits open a shrub, I am alarmed.  Snow can be heavy enough to crack branches open.  There can be fresh hell to pay in the spring.  Cracked branches are an invitation to disease. A beloved boxwood hedge with a big dead section is enough to make any gardener weep.  My advice?  Do not intervene in the natural order of events, unless the need for intervention wakes you up in the middle of the night.  If you must intervene, use a long bamboo pole-gently.  Wait until the weather is close to, or above freezing.  A branch frozen through and through is brittle.  If you must remove excessive snow, tickle it off.

buried-boxwood.jpgThere are those that favor removing snow from shrubs.  There are those that favor letting nature take its course.  For the moment, I am standing pat.  A good bit of my reason-I cannot really reach them anymore.

hydrangeas-in-winter.jpgNo matter the work that I do in my garden, I feel sure that each and every plant comes equipped with all the survival gear it needs.  Nature has never needed much from me.  I am believing these densiformis yews will spring back, once we have a decent melt.  But there are those moments in a garden that warrant intervention. The trick is to judge the right time and circumstance.

February-snow.jpgThough I am not entertaining, planting, weeding, or watering right now, my garden is on my mind.  Like the corgis, my garden cannot tell me where it hurts.  I observe, and make my best call.

hydrangeas-in-February.jpgMy winter weary shrubs – it is a worry.  And we have more snow on the way.