Winter's essence in the garden

The essence of winter is in its shapes and its textures, in its stripped down bareness and honesty. It is in its monochromes and its contrasts, dark against light, warm hearth, frozen water. It is the slap to our senses as we inhale the sharp air or feel the icy hand of the wind push against us.

Winter has come to Alabama, with temperatures dropping into the teens this week. The sky on Sunday morning was cold blue, with rows of clouds marching forward, and the trees raised their dark branches to salute the day.

Walking through the garden, I was aware of some things I may have overlooked in another season. 

A large piece of driftwood has been in the yard since we moved here in 1985.  I like the curving shape of it, and I will miss it when it finally rots away.

I admired the colors of a rock, patterned with lichens.

A bird house in a dogwood tree awaits spring tenants. One summer this bird house had a green lizard as its occupant.

The dried heads of 'Limelight' hydrangea will provide winter interest until spring.

The peeling bark of Betula nigra, river birch is amazing.

Not everything is bare. There are many evergreens. I featured some of them in my post, Evergreens, the regents of winter. A few others, shown below, include:

upper left - 'Saybrook gold' spreading juniper. This beautiful plant is planted on a hillside to take advantage of its weeping branches. I love its golden color.

upper right - Spreading yew grows twice as wide as it is tall. It has deep green needles.

lower left - Osmanthus fragrans, tea olive, is a shrub growing to about ten feet. Even now its fragrant flowers are beginning to bloom. 

lower right -Autumn fern. This is a tough, evergreen fern, which survives with minimal care in the woodland garden. New growth has copper highlights, which gives it its name.

There is another evergreen that I don't own yet, but I have been looking for a place for one in my garden ever since last year when I visited Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. This weeping blue atlas cedar captured my heart with its form and color. A plant like this has to be put in the right place. This one is sited perfectly. It echos the curve of the tree limb above it, and the smaller plant below it echos that shape again. Notice, also, how the curve is repeated in the walkway and how the tree's blue color is repeated in the bench on the right. Fabulous!

Stay warm, everybody, and may you enjoy the essence of winter.  Deborah



A New Year's resolution

You are hungry. You have lots of work to do. You sit down at the table, and the cook brings the plate and sets it before you. 

"What's this?" you gasp, as you look at the white china plate with three vitamin tablets in the middle.

"Here, wash them down with this," the cook says as he hands you a glass of blue liquid. "These megavitamins and energy drink have everything you need."

"But, but, but..." You cry, but the cook has already gone.

Now, imagine you are a starving plant, and the gardener sprays you with a high nitrogen fertilizer that also has phosphorus and potassium. It is said to be the best. It has all the nutrients a plant needs. Does it?This 'Tropicana' canna lily needs lots of nutrients to produce its colorful leaves.

Plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for photosynthesis (which converts carbon dioxide in the air to sugars and starches), for growth, and for the healthy development of leaves, flowers, seed, and fruit. Plants use large amounts of these nutrients, so soil is often lacking. Chemical fertilizers usually supply these minerals, and some may contain small amounts of other minerals such as iron or magnesium. 

However, the list of soil minerals needed for growth and disease resistance also includes: calcium, sulfur, boron, copper, chlorine, zinc, and molybdenum. The fact is that chemical fertilizers, while they may work quickly, often contain too much nitrogen and little or none of the other important nutrients. 

Organisms that make up natural fertilizers inherently contain large amounts of the minerals that plants need. In my last two posts, "Down in the dirt" and "How I spent my Christmas making mortar", I explained how compost and natural fertilizers improve soil structure and promote the normal ecosystem of underground organisms. Artificial chemicals are not able to do this and, in fact, can destroy the natural order that plants depend upon for life and growth. 

So here is my New Year's resolution, in which I hope you will join me:  I confess I have sometimes grabbed that blue chemical to give my plants a boost, but no more. I resolve to always feed my plants natural, healthy food. I know in my yard all the creatures of the underworld are going to party tonight.

Here are a few images taken of my yard, the last day of 2009. 

the side yard, early morning

the parking court out frontlooking across the front lawn, late afternoonNight is falling.Goodbye 2009. Happy New Year!

Wishing all of you the best - Deborah