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Archive for January, 2012

What’s Up With Flowers in January?

Monday, January 30th, 2012

January 29th, 2012


Winter has certainly come in fits and starts this year in New England, commencing with the horrendous storm of October 29th.  Since then, of course, we’ve had little snow until last week, though temperatures have see-sawed.  My confused garden doesn’t know how to cope. Several of the Lenten roses (helleborus orientalis) bloomed already, which means I won’t see their pretty purple faces come April. Intermittent, sprightly Johnny-jump-ups appear in the front garden and then retreat. And the witch hazels, those that survived being flattened in the October onslaught, are in bloom right now.

The witch hazels we tend to grow nowadays are hybrids, not the old-fashioned ones known for the soothing lotion they produce in abundance.  Witch hazels also were the source of dowsing branches, used by old-timers in faded overalls to search for hidden water. And the term “witch” hazel, you need to know, has nothing to do with Beelzebub and brimstone, but rather comes from the Old English word, wyche.

These plants generally are large, deciduous, vase-shaped shrubs which grow agreeably in half-shade. They possess a short trunk with a cluster of stems arising from the base. There are many types, from the native, Hamamelis virginiana, (which tends to bloom in late fall) to delectable hybrids such as ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Jelena’, and ‘Diane’. The easy-breezy bushes appreciate a neutral soil and will grow to 12’ high, with as wide a spread, depending on cultivar. Witch hazel is noted for its early flowers, (but not generally this early!) joyous color and often alluring scent. It does need room to spread, however, and relishes a place of honor in a large shrub border; as a screen or tall hedge, or at the woods’ edge. I grow mine in my White Pine Garden, accompanied by leucothoe, azalea, hydrangea, oakleaf hydrangea, fothergilla; and underplanted with hosta and heuchera.

‘Arnold Promise’ is the namesake of the Arnold Arboretum outside Boston. Its cheery yellow blossoms are reminiscent of forsythia. ‘Jelena’ bears clusters of coppery-orange flowers.  And the fragrance!  It wafts over the front yard as I step out to replenish the bird feeders.  ‘Diane’ is a newer cultivar who has ruby-red flowers and significant late-season color of yellow, orange and red displayed simultaneously on autumn leaves.

These cultivars all lend themselves well to forcing right about now. Simply clip some branches and plunge them into a vase of water. Place in a cool area of your home, out of direct sunlight. Within a few days you’ll be favored with lively colors and delicious scent. A true harbinger of spring.

Witch hazel has no serious disease or pest issues, and is fairly deer-resistant, (though I apply my pungent repellent, just in case). It bears broad oval green leaves up to 6” long, often with vibrant fall color. The blossoms, early as they are, last for several weeks, but if the weather turns frigid, it’ll hunker down, retract its merry petals and wait for more clement days.

Old Man Winter has been erratic this year, but it’s only another seven weeks until Spring. I think we gardeners can take anything the old guy dishes out.



Gleaning the Garden Blogs

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012content

January 18th, 2012

Soon to come....Snowdrops!

It’s the depths of January……are you suffering from garden withdrawal? Do you long to plunge your hands into warm moist April dirt, sniff the intense fragrance of May lilacs and savor the sharp, crisp taste of spring radishes?  Well, my friends, it may be way too soon to garden with any practicality here in the Northeast, but there’s a substitute…garden blogs!

The best of the blogs carry content that is useful for our New England plots, with clear pictures, informative articles and tidbits concerning the gardening life. It doesn’t hurt if they’re funny, or even a bit outrageous. Oh, and one more thing, friendships have been known to burgeon from following blogs.

Here’s a few of my favorite web logs:

Kathy Purdy’s Cold Climate Gardening, Hardy Plants for Hardy Souls, ( ) aims at those of us who relish the challenge of growing plants in treacherous northern climes.  Kathy resides in the Southern Tier of New York State, at least a zone colder than my garden. Yet her photos, advice and vivid prose are Johnny-on-the-spot in terms of hardiness, interest and beauty. One of the pioneers of garden bloggers, she’s experienced in the  ways of web logging, and freely admits that her 9-year old blog contains not only information on plants she’s grown, but also knowledge distilled from others. Her specialties are narcissus, colchicum, cottage gardening, native plants and gardening with children. This is a real “get your hands dirty” type of blog; nothing highfalutin about it. But if you’re up to the challenge of growing in unpredictable winter temperatures, check out Cold Climate Gardening. And for further adventures in blogging, be sure to peruse her blog directory.


Garden Rant (  is one of the best known garden blogs out there, written by four well-known professional horticulturalists from different regions of the USA. Elizabeth Licata is from Buffalo, Amy Stewart resides in Northern California, Susan Harris hails from the greater Washington, DC area and Michele Owens lives in upstate New York. Their enormously popular blog, Garden Rant, is a fast-paced, irreverent look at aspects of the gardening world. Don’t miss their Manifesto on the Homepage, where they profess their love for “real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens”.  Sound like any plots you know?


Barbara Pintozzi gardens at her suburban Chicago, aptly named Squirrelhaven. The area boasts a climate similar to ours, and her rapid-fire blog, Mr. McGregor’s Daughter, ( encompasses many gardening viewpoints which resonate with those of us who garden in the northeast. She leavens her writings with wit (don’t miss Involuntary Plantslaughter). Always well-written, Mr. Mcgregor’s Daughter was recently awarded a gold medal for photography by Gardening Gone Wild, (,  another fabulous blog.


Margaret Roach  ( )  spent years in Martha Stewart’s employ, initially as the garden editor of Martha Stewart Living, then as its editorial director.  She retired (at a young age) to her farm on the New York/ Massachusetts line where she gardens on ample acres and can indulge her plant lust while educating the rest of us via her edifying blog. Complete with podcasts, gardening FAQ’s and photos of Jack the Demon Cat, A Way to Garden is replete with information, advice and gobs of horticultural lore suitable for onlooker, amateur, or professional gardener.


Despite the fact that the average American now needs tech support to run the living room, these blogs are easy to find, simple to navigate, and will teach, entertain and enlighten us gardeners  until the gentle breezes of Spring waft our way once more.




Gardening Resolutions…..

Monday, January 9th, 2012jobs

this first ran a couple of years ago in my column, but alas! It’s still pertinent.


It’s that time of year again, when we gardeners make heartfelt resolutions to do better by our patch of Mother Earth. We may fall by the wayside come May, but a spanking-new January lures us in. Here’s my list for 2010


1.      I won’t dig up any new gardens. Been there, done that, way too many times. And since I already have more yard space under cultivation that I can handle, and my husband won’t help me dig anymore, this should be an easy one. We’ll see.

2.      I won’t wear my good jeans in the garden. This means I’ll take time to change into work gear before I leap into the pond to excavate the slime. This means I won’t wear my Sunday-go-to-meeting blouse when I prune the roses or turn the compost. But darn it, I get distracted on the way to the mailbox or driving into the driveway. There are chores that have to be done with no time to change clothes!

3.      I will sharpen my tools this winter while I have time to do this necessary but boring chore.

4.      I will use up those old bags of fertilizer in the shed. But what kind of fertilizer are they? I thought I was being so clever by putting them in varmint-proof containers. I should have labeled them. Too late now; they’ll probably end up being used in the compost pile.

5.      This is the year to organize the gardening books!  I must have hundreds, and I use them for research, relaxation and remedies.  But they’re helter-skelter on the shelves. In 2012 I’ll put them into categories, so I can find what I’m looking for.

6.      I won’t insist on extracting garden compliments from my kids when they visit. Sure, I may think the azalea bloom is the best since 1997, and the grass paths have filled in beautifully, but I betcha my 20-something children will just roll their eyes. (Some blissful day the tables may be turned and they’ll want compliments from ME on their gardens).

7.      I will do more garden shopping locally. Most everything my garden needs and wants can be purchased at Danbury area nurseries and it makes sense fiscally and ecologically to support them. This includes going to the Farmer’s Markets and local produce purveyors.  (made progress w/ this one)

8.      I will not get so lost in my garden work that dinnertime passes and I forget (once again) to feed my long-suffering husband. Enough with the cereal for supper.

9.      I will grow at least one new perennial.  (success, here!)

10.  I will learn to identify at least one new seedling and one new wildflower. (ditto)

11.  I will think about using the color red. (nah, scratch that)

12.  I will finally take my friend Paul Young’s advice and properly label all my hosta.

13.  Pruning will be done by March this year, before real growth starts. (See resolution #3, above)

14.  I’ll keep on with my bittersweet-destroying campaign, on my property, of course, but up and down the street, as well, where permitted.

15.   Ditto on the Japanese knotweed.

16.  I’ll take some time each day to either sit in the gazebo or laze in the hammock. All work and no play makes for a dull gardener.



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