Already looking forward to spring gardening, in winter

Weird but true: Covid and gardening go together. 2020 has been the year of home gardening. With all of us spending more time at home, many have taken up gardening or expanded our existing gardening habits. The unusual marriage of Covid pandemic and gardening continues into 2021, so now is the best time to cultivate that interest and sow new memories! I am already looking forward to gardening in 2021 even as I sit on the couch admiring our artificial Christmas tree that has yet to be taken down and packed up for the next Christmas season.

Winter, for me, is actually the best time to plan for our home garden. It is an opportune time to imagine what’s to come, and to plan for the reality of what we imagine. It’s also a moment of looking forward to the first sights of the garden once frost has finally disappeared from the blades of grass and from the budding evergreens. It’s a time to witness the first signs of activity in the flower beds and flower pots as greenish “thumbs” claw out of the once-hardened earth.

As I make a leisurely but detailed survey of my sleeping garden, my heart jumps when I see the little signs of tulips and daffodils and crocuses inching out of the soil and the deciduous trees and shrubs showing little creamy bumps. In couple of weeks these bumps will unfurl into tiny leaves if caressed by a steady stream of warm air and a daily dose of sunshine. They will be frost-bitten and will darken to their untimely death if another one of those freak snowfall sweeps in like that one last week-end.

I turn into a little treasure hunt in my home garden this early in the year. I search for perennial plants that start poking up from the soil; and still more that are just barely clearing past the hard soil.

I check and double-check the little buds of the winter witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) by our carport, and wished I could make them open up a tad earlier. I know it’s not even the middle of winter yet, but I just want spring to hurry up in marching in.

EARLY PERFUME. Buds of our yellow witch hazel by the carport will soon burst into very fragrant pompoms of wiry petals.

Spring marching in always brings the dormant deciduous perennials to wakeful presence with new shoots and baby leaves. Tiny fresh blades of the ornamental grasses start stretching up from their winter hibernation. And I am ready with my spade, shovel, and trowel to divide plants for our planned plant sale by Mother’s Day if the Covid-19 virus cooperates instead of mutates and be more virulent.

And in my little treasure hunt in our garden, I notice the oh so many surprises of transient plants opening residences in odd places. I see a few tulip leaves poking through the lawn, yet I didn’t plant the bulbs there. So the poor squirrels must have forgotten — again — where they hid part of their autumn harvest.

I feel the angst as I notice some broken branches of my treasured Japanese maples, magnolia stellatas, southern magnolias, and the fig tree that all got pommeled by the freak snow in mid November and again just a weekend ago. But that’s how nature works — or destroys — and people say nature is the best gardener. I sometimes doubt that.

FILLER UPPER. Purple, pink, and pastel primulas next to the budding heather will give the front roadside some floral presence in a week or two.

I quickly console my soul when I notice the winter heathers (Erica x darleyensis or could be Erica Carnea) are up to a good start, hints of their floral colors already welcoming passers-by at the corner patch in front and down the walkway towards the bus stop at our back. Soon, clouds of magenta, pink and white will cover the corner patch as the winter heathers display their many mini bell-shaped flowers. I imagine them ringing in spring. Then they’ll be followed by the spring and the early summer heathers. The heathers hold the floral show until the daffodils will come marching in, waving their sunshiny yellow flowers, and eventually will overshadow the evergreen heathers by mid March. Then promptly thereafter, the various colors of the tulips will make our garden really look like a colorful tiny paradise in this part of town. And the rest of the floral parade sweeps in to add to the colors and varieties of blooms…

I plant two dozens or so more primulas to the front roadside flower bed, to give it some semblance of floral display. Next to the budding heather, they would look good in a few weeks.

But for now, at the edge of the heath heap, the snowdrops are also emerging. These snowdrops are the first bulbs in our garden to flower (starting mid February), heralding the end of winter. Their white nodding flowers, a week before they open, remind me of the heads of white swans atop slender necks. Although snowdrops are tiny (at not even a foot tall), they look prominent since not many flowers are around yet.

EARLY BLOOMERS. The snowdrops are the first bulbs to bloom, even when snow is still on the ground, thus its name.

Wait, I see some unusual-looking shoots by the front driveway next to a clump of non-edible fungal growths. Drat, the doo-doo of a neighbor’s dog must have induced that clump of fungi, but at least my attention gets directed to that mystery plant (just shoots at this point) by the UFO-like toadstool. If we can’t harvest the toadstool at least we can pretend Snow White’s miniaturized seven dwarfs used to cavort among those toadstool as the white flakes that humans call snow came down from fairy heaven. It doesn’t hurt to have some wild imaginations — Covid stay-at-home restrictions have driven me insane already.

Then there’s our hellebores. Even before their blooms add much-welcome to the winter garden, the evergreen leaves break the monotony of expanse of brown dirt and browned leaves of ornamental grasses and crocosmia covering the other sleeping perennials. The crisp, glossy green leaves of the hellebores grab my attention. We planted a generous stand of hellebores by our carport so when we step out of our car we get that feel of greenness in spite of and amidst the snow (when the white fluffs do come down) or the sad-looking lawn and even-more-sad-looking garden beds of sleeping deciduous plants. Another patch of hellebores perks up the near end of our driveway. We purposely planted the hellebores there. This way, pretending that the garden is still awake does not become very hard to imagine since hellebores show much-alive shiny leaves and the hellebores bloom months earlier than most perennials. Actually they are blooming now.

HELLEBORUS niger or the Christmas rose is the first hellebore to bloom

Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, the ones by the proximal end of the carport, is the first of the hellebores to flower, usually in January but occasionally as early as Christmas (not this Christmas though). It bears large, round, white flat-faced flowers above low-growing mounds of leathery, deep green foliage.

Yes, just when winter seems to be holding on too long and we are all growing weary of our gray days and cold rains, our hellebores come into bloom.

Daphnes are another spirit-lifter in winter. These colourful shrubs usually bloom as early as late winter to early spring in warmer areas. But in this colder part of the world, our single daphne (Daphne odora “Aureomarginata”) bush is merely showing signs of budding. Soon its pale pink flowers will start oozing fragrance by mid February. I must admit, I made a mistake in planting this precious perfumery right underneath our bedroom window, hoping to get a waft of its sweet fragrance when in full bloom. Too bad, late February temperatures in our area barely breach low teens in degree Celsius. So it’s either we bring in the sweet smell through our bedroom windows or brave an almost frigid bedroom if we open our windows in February. I guess the alternative is to squirt in our bedroom some daphne-scented air freshener instead? Might work…I should work on this.

Now is also a great time to evaluate our landscape, especially for winter interest. Maybe new landscape or landscape upgrade will be in the works come spring break. It’s invaluable to see how inspiring (or uninspiring) our landscape is during the winter months. Right now I can tell I need to clear a wider pathway in the front walkway. Poor mail-lady, newspaper delivery girl, and Amazon delivery guy, they have to zigzag as they navigate through the walkway to avoid the over-extended limbs of shrubs and creeping swaths of ornamental grasses and hostas that seem to ambush these dedicated delivery people. Yes, I need to replace that fountain (by the front steps) that cracked when the water in its basin froze and expanded. Time to scour the thrift stores and garage sales pretty soon for a decent water fountain. Or should I just sink my budget again and head to the local nursery stores? Tsk, tsk, tsk, no money, not in the budget…

It’s time to re-view our landscape in winter when there seems nothing of interest to be seen. I think if my landscape (or garden) is half as inspiring in the winter as it is with a flush of summer blooms, then I am happy. But it’s far from it. I need to redesign. Hmmm, I can add berms here and a pretty and useful depression there. Or, maybe I should add some hardscape elements. I know — make it I’m sure — that I need to replace that cracked water fountain pronto. And maybe I can squeeze in a small raised seating or viewing area underneath our neighbor’s old pine tree. Perhaps a swing from the pine tree’s lowest branch might suffice. Hmmm, I’ll chat with the neighbor when I see her or the adult son suntan on their backyard deck. I need to create a landscape that’s interesting, even when it’s too cold to venture outside.

Hmmm, is it still pruning time? I already did some pruning in late fall. With the foliage down, it’s easier to see what I’m doing. I’m less likely to damage perennials now that they are dormant and it’s a good time to make a mess in the garden. We haven’t really cleaned up our garden that much last fall, so it’s already a mess as it is.

The pruning of astray branches of our shrubs, of our neighbor’s over-reaching pine branches, of the topiaries that now look more like mini trees requires something beyond mere planning. With my secateurs and bolo (smuggled all the way from the Dumaguete public market) and pole clipper, I proceed to cut the snow-damaged branches, the lanky branches, and the out-of-place branches and side-branches. Without the leaves on the deciduous mini trees and shrubs, I can easily spot where cuts and trims ought to be made. But I’ll leave the shaping of the topiaries later when I have enough time and inspiration to do a decent job. I already almost fell twice from that rickety A-frame ladder while reaching the mid-level parts of the first topiary. Darn, Covid-19 might not get me, but falling off from that ladder might be as disastrous. Instead, while I’m still at this pruning project, I might as well shear the tips of the low boxwoods running along the outside of the S-shaped garden close to the house. I need to shape them into ala-Silliman Portal orbs… Work it, man, work it.

Photos of my garden taken at various times of the year help me in my armchair planning. I tend to go through all my garden photos — and there’s aplenty! I weed out (pun intended) the blurry and repetitive photos, and I study the remaining to see where I can add more color, structure or a variation in heights and textures in a given section of our garden.

Oh, I’m so excited to create my plant and gardening shopping list. If I could only be as excited when bills of my credit cards come in the mail, then I’m set for life as a gardener. Sometimes reality sucks!

Winter can be a bit of a drag for gardeners. But it doesn’t have to be. While many of our plants are in winter hibernation, there are ways we can enjoy our gardening life, even in the depths of winter, and ironically even more so during this Covid pandemic. That’s precisely what I’m doing. At least I have to do something to bring a bit of much needed cheer and hope to this Covid-induced home-staycation and beyond-winter hibernation.

Gardening/landscaping it is, I’ve decided.

Weird but true: Covid and gardening go together. 2020 has been the year of home gardening. With all of us spending more time at home, many have taken up gardening or expanded our existing gardening habits. The unusual marriage of Covid pandemic and gardening continues into 2021, so now is the best time to cultivate […]

Weird but true: Covid and gardening go together. 2020 has been the year of home gardening. With all of us spending more time at home, many have taken up gardening or expanded our existing gardening habits. The unusual marriage of Covid pandemic and gardening continues into 2021, so now is the best time to cultivate that interest and sow new memories! I am already looking forward to gardening in 2021 even as I sit on the couch admiring our artificial Christmas tree that has yet to be taken down and packed up for the next Christmas season.

Winter, for me, is actually the best time to plan for our home garden. It is an opportune time to imagine what’s to come, and to plan for the reality of what we imagine. It’s also a moment of looking forward to the first sights of the garden once frost has finally disappeared from the blades of grass and from the budding evergreens. It’s a time to witness the first signs of activity in the flower beds and flower pots as greenish “thumbs” claw out of the once-hardened earth.

As I make a leisurely but detailed survey of my sleeping garden, my heart jumps when I see the little signs of tulips and daffodils and crocuses inching out of the soil and the deciduous trees and shrubs showing little creamy bumps. In couple of weeks these bumps will unfurl into tiny leaves if caressed by a steady stream of warm air and a daily dose of sunshine. They will be frost-bitten and will darken to their untimely death if another one of those freak snowfall sweeps in like that one last week-end.

I turn into a little treasure hunt in my home garden this early in the year. I search for perennial plants that start poking up from the soil; and still more that are just barely clearing past the hard soil.

I check and double-check the little buds of the winter witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) by our carport, and wished I could make them open up a tad earlier. I know it’s not even the middle of winter yet, but I just want spring to hurry up in marching in.

EARLY PERFUME. Buds of our yellow witch hazel by the carport will soon burst into very fragrant pompoms of wiry petals.

Spring marching in always brings the dormant deciduous perennials to wakeful presence with new shoots and baby leaves. Tiny fresh blades of the ornamental grasses start stretching up from their winter hibernation. And I am ready with my spade, shovel, and trowel to divide plants for our planned plant sale by Mother’s Day if the Covid-19 virus cooperates instead of mutates and be more virulent.

And in my little treasure hunt in our garden, I notice the oh so many surprises of transient plants opening residences in odd places. I see a few tulip leaves poking through the lawn, yet I didn’t plant the bulbs there. So the poor squirrels must have forgotten — again — where they hid part of their autumn harvest.

I feel the angst as I notice some broken branches of my treasured Japanese maples, magnolia stellatas, southern magnolias, and the fig tree that all got pommeled by the freak snow in mid November and again just a weekend ago. But that’s how nature works — or destroys — and people say nature is the best gardener. I sometimes doubt that.

FILLER UPPER. Purple, pink, and pastel primulas next to the budding heather will give the front roadside some floral presence in a week or two.

I quickly console my soul when I notice the winter heathers (Erica x darleyensis or could be Erica Carnea) are up to a good start, hints of their floral colors already welcoming passers-by at the corner patch in front and down the walkway towards the bus stop at our back. Soon, clouds of magenta, pink and white will cover the corner patch as the winter heathers display their many mini bell-shaped flowers. I imagine them ringing in spring. Then they’ll be followed by the spring and the early summer heathers. The heathers hold the floral show until the daffodils will come marching in, waving their sunshiny yellow flowers, and eventually will overshadow the evergreen heathers by mid March. Then promptly thereafter, the various colors of the tulips will make our garden really look like a colorful tiny paradise in this part of town. And the rest of the floral parade sweeps in to add to the colors and varieties of blooms…

I plant two dozens or so more primulas to the front roadside flower bed, to give it some semblance of floral display. Next to the budding heather, they would look good in a few weeks.

But for now, at the edge of the heath heap, the snowdrops are also emerging. These snowdrops are the first bulbs in our garden to flower (starting mid February), heralding the end of winter. Their white nodding flowers, a week before they open, remind me of the heads of white swans atop slender necks. Although snowdrops are tiny (at not even a foot tall), they look prominent since not many flowers are around yet.

EARLY BLOOMERS. The snowdrops are the first bulbs to bloom, even when snow is still on the ground, thus its name.

Wait, I see some unusual-looking shoots by the front driveway next to a clump of non-edible fungal growths. Drat, the doo-doo of a neighbor’s dog must have induced that clump of fungi, but at least my attention gets directed to that mystery plant (just shoots at this point) by the UFO-like toadstool. If we can’t harvest the toadstool at least we can pretend Snow White’s miniaturized seven dwarfs used to cavort among those toadstool as the white flakes that humans call snow came down from fairy heaven. It doesn’t hurt to have some wild imaginations — Covid stay-at-home restrictions have driven me insane already.

Then there’s our hellebores. Even before their blooms add much-welcome to the winter garden, the evergreen leaves break the monotony of expanse of brown dirt and browned leaves of ornamental grasses and crocosmia covering the other sleeping perennials. The crisp, glossy green leaves of the hellebores grab my attention. We planted a generous stand of hellebores by our carport so when we step out of our car we get that feel of greenness in spite of and amidst the snow (when the white fluffs do come down) or the sad-looking lawn and even-more-sad-looking garden beds of sleeping deciduous plants. Another patch of hellebores perks up the near end of our driveway. We purposely planted the hellebores there. This way, pretending that the garden is still awake does not become very hard to imagine since hellebores show much-alive shiny leaves and the hellebores bloom months earlier than most perennials. Actually they are blooming now.

HELLEBORUS niger or the Christmas rose is the first hellebore to bloom

Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, the ones by the proximal end of the carport, is the first of the hellebores to flower, usually in January but occasionally as early as Christmas (not this Christmas though). It bears large, round, white flat-faced flowers above low-growing mounds of leathery, deep green foliage.

Yes, just when winter seems to be holding on too long and we are all growing weary of our gray days and cold rains, our hellebores come into bloom.

Daphnes are another spirit-lifter in winter. These colourful shrubs usually bloom as early as late winter to early spring in warmer areas. But in this colder part of the world, our single daphne (Daphne odora “Aureomarginata”) bush is merely showing signs of budding. Soon its pale pink flowers will start oozing fragrance by mid February. I must admit, I made a mistake in planting this precious perfumery right underneath our bedroom window, hoping to get a waft of its sweet fragrance when in full bloom. Too bad, late February temperatures in our area barely breach low teens in degree Celsius. So it’s either we bring in the sweet smell through our bedroom windows or brave an almost frigid bedroom if we open our windows in February. I guess the alternative is to squirt in our bedroom some daphne-scented air freshener instead? Might work…I should work on this.

Now is also a great time to evaluate our landscape, especially for winter interest. Maybe new landscape or landscape upgrade will be in the works come spring break. It’s invaluable to see how inspiring (or uninspiring) our landscape is during the winter months. Right now I can tell I need to clear a wider pathway in the front walkway. Poor mail-lady, newspaper delivery girl, and Amazon delivery guy, they have to zigzag as they navigate through the walkway to avoid the over-extended limbs of shrubs and creeping swaths of ornamental grasses and hostas that seem to ambush these dedicated delivery people. Yes, I need to replace that fountain (by the front steps) that cracked when the water in its basin froze and expanded. Time to scour the thrift stores and garage sales pretty soon for a decent water fountain. Or should I just sink my budget again and head to the local nursery stores? Tsk, tsk, tsk, no money, not in the budget…

It’s time to re-view our landscape in winter when there seems nothing of interest to be seen. I think if my landscape (or garden) is half as inspiring in the winter as it is with a flush of summer blooms, then I am happy. But it’s far from it. I need to redesign. Hmmm, I can add berms here and a pretty and useful depression there. Or, maybe I should add some hardscape elements. I know — make it I’m sure — that I need to replace that cracked water fountain pronto. And maybe I can squeeze in a small raised seating or viewing area underneath our neighbor’s old pine tree. Perhaps a swing from the pine tree’s lowest branch might suffice. Hmmm, I’ll chat with the neighbor when I see her or the adult son suntan on their backyard deck. I need to create a landscape that’s interesting, even when it’s too cold to venture outside.

Hmmm, is it still pruning time? I already did some pruning in late fall. With the foliage down, it’s easier to see what I’m doing. I’m less likely to damage perennials now that they are dormant and it’s a good time to make a mess in the garden. We haven’t really cleaned up our garden that much last fall, so it’s already a mess as it is.

The pruning of astray branches of our shrubs, of our neighbor’s over-reaching pine branches, of the topiaries that now look more like mini trees requires something beyond mere planning. With my secateurs and bolo (smuggled all the way from the Dumaguete public market) and pole clipper, I proceed to cut the snow-damaged branches, the lanky branches, and the out-of-place branches and side-branches. Without the leaves on the deciduous mini trees and shrubs, I can easily spot where cuts and trims ought to be made. But I’ll leave the shaping of the topiaries later when I have enough time and inspiration to do a decent job. I already almost fell twice from that rickety A-frame ladder while reaching the mid-level parts of the first topiary. Darn, Covid-19 might not get me, but falling off from that ladder might be as disastrous. Instead, while I’m still at this pruning project, I might as well shear the tips of the low boxwoods running along the outside of the S-shaped garden close to the house. I need to shape them into ala-Silliman Portal orbs… Work it, man, work it.

Photos of my garden taken at various times of the year help me in my armchair planning. I tend to go through all my garden photos — and there’s aplenty! I weed out (pun intended) the blurry and repetitive photos, and I study the remaining to see where I can add more color, structure or a variation in heights and textures in a given section of our garden.

Oh, I’m so excited to create my plant and gardening shopping list. If I could only be as excited when bills of my credit cards come in the mail, then I’m set for life as a gardener. Sometimes reality sucks!

Winter can be a bit of a drag for gardeners. But it doesn’t have to be. While many of our plants are in winter hibernation, there are ways we can enjoy our gardening life, even in the depths of winter, and ironically even more so during this Covid pandemic. That’s precisely what I’m doing. At least I have to do something to bring a bit of much needed cheer and hope to this Covid-induced home-staycation and beyond-winter hibernation.

Gardening/landscaping it is, I’ve decided.

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