Breaking Dormancy

winter cleaning 004Though the shop garden is very much frozen in time, there is work under way, under ground, in anticipation of spring.  We planted 2600 tulips in this garden last fall.  Each and every one of those bulbs is programmed to wake up and grow, come the spring thaw.  Everything needed to grow and bloom is stored and waiting inside that bulb for that moment when the switch flips.  Though it seems hard to believe, tulip bulbs do not freeze solid through and through.  Planted some 8″ below the surface, they spend the winter chilled to right around 32 degrees.  They need that hibernation time to properly spring forth.

table top 017Inside the shop, it takes plenty to get ready for spring. We do a spring cleaning in February; once spring actually comes, there is no time for that.  I do not mind that I have missed this part at all.  Steve took every book off the library shelves, dusted them, cleaned the entire space, repainted the room, and put it all back together-all I had to do was choose the colors.  Green for the walls of course-but a very light green this time.  The room looks light and airy now.  For the shelves and trim-what I call Belgian chocolate.

table top 018The floor of my office is courtesy of Flor-the company that makes carpet tiles in all kinds of colors and textures.  This series is called house pet-it is so easy to pull up a stained square, and replace it with a new one.  Gardening being the dirty business that it is, I think I am due for all new squares.  Having a project indoors helps the winter fly by. 

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We repainted most of the shop as well.  The room with the greenhouse roof got its first redo in 14 years.  As I had originally faux-finished it with mossy water stains and dirt marks, it never did look its age.  I repainted the walls a medium stone brown; the greenhouse ceiling is darker yet.  The limestone colored shelves stuck out like a sore thumb, until they were covered with things.   

winter cleaning 018The auricula theatres got new outfits as well.  The best fun was finishing the terra cotta pots.  Each pot was primed in UGL basement waterproofing paint.  This gave the pots a substantial gritty texture. This also keeps the top coat of paint from peeling off, once the pot is a home for wet soil.  Each pot got a jute knot or bow. With the finish coat of ivory paint we soaked the bows in thinned paint; I like the look.  I could see these pots planted with small growing herbs-or succulents-or even miniature ferns.   

table top 019They layout table was handy for painting the pots.  I could never again do without a table at a height comfortable for me to stand and work.  This we made with a 4 by 8 foot sheet of exterior grade plywood.  The top is held up by a pair of shelves four feet deep.  These shelves hold long blueprints that I need to store.

winter cleaning 019The little pots look great.  Machine made terra cotta pots can be finished in so many ways, when you tire of that orange clay.  This shape is called a rose pot-they are taller than standard terra cotta pots. They are great for growing plants with long root runs.  Bareroot roses that are potted up for sale at nurseries are generally on the tall side.  Large rose pots are also great for growing tomatoes. Rose pot and long tom are interchangeable common names for pots taller than they are wide. 

winter cleaning 021One of the plant theatres got a coat of Belgian chocolate paint. 

winter cleaning 002Pam has been making small topiary sculptures from preserved eucalyptus and other preserved greens.  The trunks are made from cedar whips, kiwi vine, and fresh blacktwig dogwood.  They are great for spots indoors asking for something soft, that will not support plant life.  As I have no interest in house plants, these suit me fine. 

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The newly painted rooms are ready for the arrival of our spring collection.  When gardeners break their dormancy has nothing to do with the weather or temperature.  One day it is winter, and the next, gardening people are out prowling around, wanting some sign that spring is not far behind.  We’ll be ready, come March 1.

Sunday Opinion: Smitten

The timing of Valentine’s Day could not be better for this cake and candy girl. What do I mean exactly by “cake and candy girl”?  I like my garden lush, my soil warm and rich with the texture and unforgettable fragrance of on-going composting.  I like rain in almost any form, also hot sun and cool shade.  Puffy clouds moved along by a good breeze-excellent.  I like the sweet smell of hyacinth, tulip, mown grass, petunia, rose, and phlox.  I like the sun-warmed taste of tomatoes.  If there is a better perfume than basil, or rosemary, please let me know.  I like my clay pots cooly dark and saturated with water.  The process of evaporation-symphonic.  I likewise look forward to my gravel crunching under my feet.  I like a garden good enough to eat. 

However, my thermometer has been glued on 24 degrees for days; the fogged sky is that color that ought to be known as Michigan miasma grey.  Once in a while a dispirited snowflake falls like a lead sinker out the window. Restless doesn’t begin to describe that itch of mine that cannot be scratched.  If you are a gardener, you will not think me excessively dramatic-just pitifully righteous.  The dawn of Valentine’s Day-I am so ready.  I am up at 5am, wondering what Buck has planned to dispell the winter gloom. 

 I must confess that I have certain preconceived notions,  about which you should be advised. In my opinion, women have a sap gene that opens and rises every day and month, every year, regularly, predictably and reliably.  Everyone they love gets caregiving, encouragement, nurturing, time, attention, genuine interest-pets regular as rain.  In spite of this notion, these ideas do not wholly apply to my life.  Buck is a man caregiver extraordinaire-he knows in an instant if my breathing changes; he goes on to ask what’s up.  Likewise my landscape superintendent Steve-he notices everything, and better yet, he addresses everything.  Sometimes with words, more regularly with deeds.  So take my bluster about women with a grain of salt-there are more than a few good men out there. 

But back to my day.  I realized by 10 am that Valentine’s Day had never crossed Buck’s mind.  In all fairness, he has been pretty busy looking after me.  I know now why lots of people who get a knee replaced go to a rehab facility for a week or two.  It is a lot of work, enabling the day for an injured person. He has taken time off, and committed to being spot on.  He is available-he helps me-day in and day out.  I see this all the time-in my community, in my country-but I have this at home now.  Wow. He is busy, looking after me. I do not remember how Valentine’s day came up, but the shock on his face was clear for a moment before it disappeared.

He asked me what valentine would most make me happy-I could tell he was ready to deliver.  This was easy-caramel ice cream and caramel sauce.  A treat for this cake and candy girl.  He came home some time later, hauling the caramel upstairs-but in his left hand, a dozen pink and white bicolor roses wrapped in waxed green tissue.  I took a deep breath.  My winter world is hard-oak flooring, plaster walls, porcelain sinks, stone counter tops, paint on canvas-you get the idea.  Those roses, fresh and fragrant-they made my heart pound.  Buck made me recut the stems myself.  This is a good thing-no matter whatever knocks you over, any gesture to get back up and going is a good idea.  I am back on my feet-sort of. These gorgeous roses now drinking in a vase in my office-divine.

Buck told me our local little florist some 4 blocks away was jammed today.  Harry opened his shop on Valentine’s Sunday.  The place was jammed with men, thinking at the last minute to rise to the occasion.  Harry had chocolates, cards, and stuffed animals, in addition to his roses.  Hilarious; Buck says he was doing a land office business today. Buck confessed he was just one of many men who were out today, shopping.  For once, it amused him, and engaged him, to be in line to check out. He had company and community.

Aside from Buck’s floral shop experience, I am the delighted recipient.  My dozen roses smell delicious, and are beautiful to look at.  The buds are just opening; burgeoning.  The foliage is glossy-live to the touch.  These roses are so beautiful, I could weep. They are very different than the roses I grow in my garden.  They hail from  South America; it is a variety that grows well and blooms reliably under glass.    No matter my skill as a gardener, I am grateful for my community florist. That entire industry made it possible for Buck to bring roses home to me-mid winter. 

When Buck brings flowers home for me, I get animated. He is not the least bit discouraged by my gardening history. He has no problem bringing flowers home from the florist-why should he? I so love that he does this.  Some friends are afraid to send me flowers-as I grow them. Though I live eat and breathe the flower world, one could never have too many.  Please note-I love flowers.  Any time.  Any occasion.  Did I say, for any reason?    

Smitten I am, today.  By flowers. By beautiful landscapes.  By gardens.  By gorgeous garden ornament.  By Buck.  By my hope for spring. Spring-soon.   I so love my Valentine’s day roses; thank you Buck. The gardens-my garden-six weeks out.  Spring-only six weeks away. Like I say, the timing of Valentine’s Day is good.  I’ve had a little mid-winter thaw.

At A Glance: Come To The Table, Please

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house bound 026What does winter mean?  Housebound.  Even Howard gets stir crazy. The cold, the snow, the blustery winds-these things force me inside.  My house, which usually seems large enough to live in, and more than large enough to clean, is the moral equivalent of a hamster cage in winter.   I take three steps, and a wall looms.  In self-defense, I am studying my views from inside out.  I pace from one room to the next-this a condition from which there is little relief.  But today I am not only pacing, but thinking about the views from my rooms. Placing a container that is good looking piled high with snow improves this view.

house bound 020I am happy that my rose and perennial garden I thought to spare a full fall cut back.  I like seeing the frail brown sticks out my window. My winter view has texture, mass, light and dark.  I like a congested, visually lively, winter perennial landscape.  I could write on like a fool about this.  But suffice it to say, from indoors, I like to see something going on.    

house bound 023Lady Miss Bunny, my steel and moss sculpture patterned after a breed of English cow, stands out my bedroom window. She weathers.  Every morning and every night I check her out-some winter days I wonder how she manages.  I like seeing her there, on duty.  Never mind the rain, the wind, the snow, the sleet-I see her the last before I climb into bed, and the first thing when I get up.    

house bound 034My kitchen door is full length glass- the largest uninterrupted view I have from indoors.   A yew hedge is faced down with the thatched remains of some large clumps of panic grass, and not much else.  This view could definitely stand some improvement. I am equally at ease choosing something that has great appeal, with no location in mind, as I am able to keep a spot in mind that needs something.  Something center of interest that works well in the summer in this spot no doubt will improve my winter.     

house bound 028The pattern of the window panes figures in the view.  What I see standing up is different than what I see sitting down. But what I see as the biggest issue-designing the views out such that privacy is maintained.  I have been in homes with lots of windows, where the drapes are always drawn.  Those drapes work to insure privacy inside, but they also keep people unnecessarily cooped up.  I have designed my landscape such that I am able to see out, without being the object of someone’s attention from the street. 

house bound 030My enclosed front porch is almost entirely glass.  One has to come through the porch door, to get to the front door.  This architectural feature provides for privacy from the outside to the inside.  In addition, my five foot tall yew hedge runs along the entire north and south side of my corner lot some 11 feet out from the house foundation.  The hedge is the backdrop for the public presentation of the landscape from the street.  It is likewise a backdrop for my view out.  No one outdoors can see me standing in the window, nose pressed to the glass; this is a good thing.

house bound 040My office at home has windows on three sides; the space can be very chilly on a cold day.  But I more value being able to see out.  The landscape here is layers of yew, grasses, and rhododendron through which I can see.  They screen my window from the outside.  I am incidentally able to tell fairly well what the outside temperature is, based on the degree of droop of the rhododendron leaves.   

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If it is not clear whether your views screen from one side, and permit views out from the other, photograph them.  The lens of a camera has no emotional investment or judgment about what you have-it is a machine that records what is there.  You will be able to tell what is not there.  Now might be the best time to be planning for better views from your rooms.