Thursday, January 31, 2013

Get On With It: Winter in the Garden

I feel like I got my ass kicked this morning, after reading an article in today's Post by garden writer Adrian Higgins.  Instead of lamenting the fact that we've had such a lousy winter, he wrote about how we should count our blessings and use our mild winter to "get stuff done" and start preparing the garden for spring plantings.  I particularly loved his description of his own temperature activity table for winter gardening:

"In the teens, don't get out of bed. Twenties: Fuss with seeds indoors. Thirties: Bundle up and and do what you must in the garden. Forties: Bundle up and go get 'em. Fifties: You're in clover; make a day of it."

Because our ground is not frozen, there is a lot we can do in the garden, including pruning shrubs and trees, weeding, edging, cleaning up and straightening paths, reworking a bed to prepare for new plantings. The more we can do now the easier our spring chores will be. I need to be reminded that every time I pull a weed now that is one less weed to pull in the spring.  And as I sit here looking out the window I can see lots of things I can do, so maybe I better forget about that winter hiatus and get back out in the garden.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Amaryllis Blooms

I am always so amazed when my amaryllis actually wakes up from its dormant state and starts to show signs of life. Mine first started to show some growth the second week of January and the photos below all took place within the space of a week. I shot the first photo on January 24 and the last one was this  morning, January 30. Amaryllis are really fascinating to watch, you can almost see things happening by  the minute. I most love the day when the buds are so plump and just beginning to open. And then, voila, pure spectacular-ness.

Last year my amaryllis fully opened on February 24, a whole month later than this year. I think I was pretty much on the same time frame with bringing it in and putting it in the dark basement, but it took so much longer last year for the bulb to wake up.  This is the third year of bloom for this one amaryllis and I feel pretty good about the $20 I paid for the bulb. I do think it is a little shorter than past years and the blooms are not quite as large. Well instead of admiring my beautiful blooms during the cold days of winter, I am admiring  them today on a 70 degree day. Yes this weather is stifling and it's driving me crazy. I went for a walk yesterday and didn't even need a sweatshirt. I took a walk around my garden and felt like I should be starting to pull some weeds, clear out some leaves.  I'm not ready yet for the garden. I like the winter hiatus. I guess I am going to have to think about moving further north.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wintry Mix Morning

Is there anything better than snow on evergreens? I don't think so.  I  love the look of drooping limbs, heavy with snow. Well,  that's not the case here, but at least they do have a dusting of snow. We have a little wintry mix this morning, enough to delay school openings 2 hours and make for a pleasant morning sitting here with my tea and a gray and icy drizzle outside my window. I go into work at noon, so I shouldn't have any problem as it will be mostly rain by then.  No worries, though, as it's going to get up to 60 later in the week before it gets cold again over the weekend. This was a nice weekend, beginning on Friday afternoon with a delicious French bistro lunch with Eileen and Prudy at Lyon Hall in Arlington to celebrate Prudy's and my birthdays. On Saturday, Gillian and I drove out to Leesburg and Purcellville to check a few places out, and then on Sunday Walt and I went to the movies in the afternoon to see Zero Dark Thirty. We both liked it a lot, especially after the first 20 minutes with my eyes closed (torture scenes). We both thought it was really well done, and I am totally in awe of our military and the people who can plan and carry off a mission like that one.

Friday, January 25, 2013


I am a fan of Richard Russo's books, so I happily picked up his little memoir, Elsewhere. I knew it was about his mother, and growing up in upstate New York, and that he and his mother did not have a typical mother/son relationship. Russo grew up with his single mother Jean in Gloversville, NY, which amazingly enough used to be the "dress glove" capital of the United States. Well you can imagine what happened to that town. It comes back to life in the fictional down-and-out towns of Russo's novels, but for the young boy Russo, growing up there in the 1950s, he was "happy as a clam."

Russo escaped the town when he left for college in Arizona, and his mother never thought twice about coming with him--without a job, without a place to live. And so begins the rest of Russo's life, becoming a college professor and eventually a successful writer, and with his mother pretty much always attached to him. He is her primary caretaker for the rest of her life, moving her around the country with him and his family, finding her apartment after apartment because she is never satisfied, always moving 'elsewhere,' always chasing an elusive happiness. It's exhausting just reading about it, and a little frustrating, because he never says no to her,  never says 'that's enough, ' never admits to himself that she might be a little bit crazy. He never seems to resent her and it isn't until after her death (and she lived a long life) that he finally figures out her diagnosis, and then he feels guilty because he didn't know earlier, and didn't find her the help she needed.

While interesting to read I would have liked more details about other parts of his life, in particular his wife, who as one reviewer said, is clearly a saint.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

First Snow 2013

I've been complaining so much this winter about our lack of snow, so you know I'm posting pictures of our first snowfall. I woke up about 4 am hearing a snowplow, so I was pretty darn excited!  (Don't laugh, Ohio and NY family.)  Not a lot of snow, but enough to make the garden look pretty.  It's still snowing lightly right now and we may get some more tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Poinsettia Dilemma

Every year comes the problem, how long do I keep my poinsettias? I know this is a huge dilemma I face, but I have a lot of houseplants, and I don't need another five or six plants to take care of.  I used to keep them around for months, but I always ended up throwing them away at some point, so why even bother?  They get long and leggy, and I have never had one re-bloom. So my rule is to keep them through the month of January and then out they go.  I usually take them outside, dump them in a corner of the garden, and use a shovel to chop them up a little bit. Poinsettias are for Christmas in my book. Now Christmas cactus are another matter...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Winter Is the Best Time

Winter 2010

Winter Is the Best Time,
     by David Budbill

Winter is the best time
to find out who you are.

Quiet, contemplation time,
away from the rushing world,

cold time, dark time, holed-up
pulled-in time and space

to see that inner landscape,
that place hidden and within.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sunday at Solomon's Island

Solomon's Island Marina

Yesterday Walt and I escaped the Inaugural rush in the DC area and drove about an hour south to the waterfront town of Solomon's Island, where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay. We've been there before and like a restaurant there, so it seemed like a good day to take a drive and get on the water for some crab cakes. After lunch we walked along the water for awhile and stopped by the marina to admire the boats. There were a lot of people out and about, enjoying the sunny day, but in the summer this place is really hopping.

Solomon's Pier


Cute little town church

Oyster shells everywhere

Before heading home we stopped at Annmarie Gardens in Solomons, a sculpture garden in the woods that my friend Mary had told me about. There is about a half-mile trail through the woods and there are sculptures placed among the trees and in the grass, about 30 of them which are on loan from the Smithsonian.  I particularly loved these stone benches that were themed with various flowers or trees. We'll have to come back in the spring when the trees are out and the wildflowers are blooming--I'm sure it's really beautiful then.

Tulip tree bench

Columbine bench

Cool carved tree


Pawpaw bench

Friday, January 18, 2013

Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees

I came across this book in the library the other day and just seeing the gingko leaves on the cover had me hooked. And then when I started looking through it I was totally wowed by the beautiful photographs of the components of trees--the buds, flowers, fruit, leaves, bark, twigs, leaf scars. In the Introduction, we learn that the photographs were created with software developed for work with microscopes, "creating incredibly sharp  images by stitching together eight to forty-five images of each subject, each shot a a different point of focus." Not sure what that means, but the photographs are really amazing.

The photographs are cool enough, but there's lots of interesting information too. The author talks about the traits of trees and invites you to watch trees with the same care and sensitivity that you might watch birds. She gives you things to look for and strategies for watching trees: Pick one tree and follow it all year. Look down, not up--you'll find a lot of treasures in the detritus at the bottom of the tree. Find a good guide--a naturalist or an arborist can point out many interesting tree traits to you. Learn the names of trees. Draw and photograph trees. Keep a record of your observations. And don't make the mistake of viewing trees only from afar. Get close, right under it.

"The real tree, with its enormous trunk and impossibly weighty limbs, can be experienced and understood only by standing under it, with your feet firmly planted under its canopy.  Only then can you appreciate its massive bulk, its presence, and its ineffable relationship to you---small, short-lived life form that you are."

The author writes in depth about ten species of trees--American Beech, American Sycamore, Black Walnut, Eastern Red Cedar, Ginkgo, Red Maple, Southern Magnolia, Tulip Poplar, White Oak, and White Pine-- focusing on the life cycle of the trees throughout the year. She shows you how to recognize these trees and understand their most interesting features. As one reviewer said, "this is a book to turn us all into unabashed tree worshipers."

Reading this beautiful book only reinforced my desire to keep better records of the trees in my yard. I usually keep track of when certain trees bloom, or leaf out, but I will be paying more attention to some of the other characteristics of my trees throughout the year. I will become a tree worshipper.

Red Maple leaves

Thursday, January 17, 2013

First Hellebores

As I looked out my kitchen window early this morning,  I was excited to see a few hellebore blooms peeking out. They are such frustrating blooms, though, because they hang down and so aren't always easy to see (or photograph). There is still a lot of old foliage on them, so as soon as I start to see more buds, I will go out and cut off the old leaves. That encourages new growth and really lets the flowers show better. And so I walked around the yard, looking for anything of interest, and not finding much.

 I've always liked winter,  appreciating the respite from garden chores and having the time to read new gardening books and to think about and plan my spring garden. I have been reading the Rosemary Verey biography and am really enjoying it.  But this winter has been kind of confusing, with so many warm days that I almost feel like I should be outside doing something.

It's another gray morning, but it's cold today and we might even get some snow later this afternoon, although it sounds like we'll be lucky if we get an inch. I had to laugh last night on the news, they were already advising people what they should stock up on at the store. Seriously? Maybe tomorrow I'll have a picture of some snow...

Of course the birds bring some interest to the winter garden. I have been seeing so many cardinals!  Yesterday I saw five cardinals together (a family?), all poking around in the garden debris. Of course by the time I got my camera,  they were gone.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Books On My Nightstand

Here's a sampling of what I'm reading these days.
  • The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman. Great pictures, yummy recipes, good blog too.
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple. Have heard good things about this novel.
  • Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. Have had this one on hold forever since my nephew Pat said it was the best book he's read in a long time.
  • Winter Journal, by Paul Auster. A memoir by the author--reflections on aging, memory, the homes he's lived in, and his mother.
  • Elsewhere, by Richard Russo. Another memoir,  about Russo's life with his mother. Just finished, will review soon.
  • The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, by Stanley Kunitz. A collection of poems by Stanley Kunitz, a favorite poet.
  • My Ideal Bookshelf,  by Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount. Love this book with its great graphics depicting the favorite books of selected writers, artists, chefs, musicians. It makes you think about your own ideal bookshelf.