Sunday
Feb122017

Pre-Spring in the Garden

Temperatures here have fluctuated from near freezing to shirt-sleeve warm. On warmer days I have enjoyed the chance to kick off 2017 gardening with clean-up and late winter pruning. Early bloomers are trying to push the season into spring a bit early. I know hard frosts are still likely; but as more blooms open daily, I am getting excited about spring. I won't say spring has arrived, but we are definitely into pre-spring!

Here is a look at some early blooms. Daffodils and forsythia:

Flowering quince (chaemoneles) with forsythia in the background:

Forsythia is an old-fashioned, common shrub, but who can resist its cheerful burst of blooms on a gray February day?

Daphne odora 'Marginata' has a pleasing fragrance and waxy blooms that contrast beautifully with its variegated foliage:

My pale pink camellia by the mailbox has smaller blooms than usual this year. I am amazed it has any blooms at all. We were 3 months into our drought last fall before I noticed its leaves wilting and finally gave it some supplemental water:This camellia began as a volunteer seedling. Its parent has red blooms.

Magnolia 'Jane' began blooming this weekend. It is often called a tulip tree because of its tulip-like blooms:

Hellebores are reliable late-winter bloomers:

Anise (Illicium parviflorum) 'Florida Sunshine' is not known for its inconspicuous blooms, but its chartreuse foliage and red stems light up the winter garden. The leaves have a wonderful licorice fragrance::

Finally, I came across these colorful little mushrooms while walking in the woodland garden. They were a nice surprise that came from all the rain we have been having:

Happy pre-spring!

You may also enjoy my previous post:  Are You a Plant Snob?

Sunday
Feb052017

What is Low Maintenance Gardening?

Some people would say a low maintenance plant is one that will grow and prosper with no supervision or care. I would say that is probably a weed. All garden plants, like children, require proper nourishment and training. Otherwise they may grow into thugs or else become sickly or even perish.

So even a "low maintenance" plant requires some maintenance. Shrubs and trees, when planted in the right place, generally require less than perennials and annuals. Groundcovers, when planted where their spreading habits are welcome, are also low maintenance. (Groundcovers planted in a garden bed with flowers can become nightmares.) Hellebores are an early blooming evergreen ground cover whose blooms last for months. I cut back the foliage in late winter as new growth begins. I consider them low maintenance.

If a plant needs little other than pruning once a year or less and some fertilizer in the spring, I consider it a low-maintenance plant. An occasional spray with an organic horticultural oil to kill pests, as well as watering in times of drought, is something that just comes with the territory. Mulching around plants in spring to minimize weeds, to conserve soil moisture, and to promote soil fertility is also standard care for all plants.

My low maintenance list includes shrubs such as camellias, chaenomeles, forsythia, spireas, fothergilla, viburnums, edgeworthia, azaleas, dystillium, and many more. Camellia japonica blooms in my late winter garden.

Camellia bud on an old, low maintenance camellia shrub, which delivers hundreds of blooms every year.

Dystillium is a low maintenance evergreen shrub in the woodland garden.

Forsythia is another low maintenance shrub with early blooms.My low maintenance list does not include roses. Even though most of my roses are easy-care varieties such as knock-out and drift roses, they do require some spraying to minimize disease and more pruning and fertilizing through the season. My yaupon hollies are extremely durable, and I have never fertilized them; I would almost call them low maintenance, except that they require pruning in late winter and late summer to maintain their size and shape. 

Annuals, perennials, and vegetables are not low maintenance. Most require regular fertilizing, dead-heading or pinching back, and spraying for disease and bugs. Did I mention weeding? Plants in pots require more watering. I have some of all of these, but only as accessories. Flowering shrubs and trees are the backbones of my huge garden; while many of my plants are low maintenance, I would not call my garden that, because of the size of it. You should plant a garden only as large as you have time and energy to maintain.Autumn fern in the foreground and Camellia japonica 'Gunsmoke' in the background are low maintenance plants in the woodland garden.

I love gardening. For me, garden maintenance is about maintaining my own well being. The lessons of birth and death and rebirth, and all the forces in-between, are revealed in a garden. The spiritual power at work in a garden can comfort a broken mind or refresh a tired body. I don't mind the maintenance.