A Time to Rest

"For everything there is a season."

I was busy with meetings today, but by three o'clock I was free to explore my garden. I almost didn't do it. I was tired. I had worked hard the last two days and I have to work all weekend, as well. I looked at my garden with its bare branches and piles of dead leaves. Was there anything out there worth seeing, anything at all to perk up my weary spirit? I have a new book to read, and I was tempted to curl up with that for the afternoon.

But my garden always surprises me. If I look, I can always find something to make me smile. So I grabbed my camera and headed out, thinking a quick tour wouldn't hurt, and the book would still be waiting.

The first thing I noticed was the mistletoe! Hanging in clumps at the tops of trees, one can only see it after the leaves have fallen. It's a parasite but not a bad one, for it increases biodiversity. I read that in an encyclopedia. I prefer to remember its more romantic reputation as the kissing plant.

Outside my kitchen, near the herb bed, I smiled at the dried seed heads of garlic chives. Oh, no. These are likely to produce a thousand babies next spring. Rule #1: Cut garlic chive flowers before they go to seed. But they are so pretty.

Then I walked to the front garden, and I was struck by the colors still there:  the yellowing foliage of forsythia, the red nandina berries, and my stalwart rosa mutabilis, its pastel blossoms resting against the fresh green of a white pine.

Also in the front garden is a huge viburnum 'augustifolium'. It is evergreen, but its leaves are taking on pink and gold hues as December's cool air arrives.

This plant has been a mystery to me. Despite its clearly marked label when Lou bought it for me, it doesn't really look like the 'augustifolium' pictures I have seen in books, and it's lacy, dull white flowers are unremarkable. It does have nice leaves. It's about twenty feet tall, and growing.


I thought the woodland garden would look sad, for all the deciduous trees have lost their leaves. But, really, the openness allows a good overview.

The form of an ancient muscadine vine caught my attention. Lou once asked me if I wanted him to cut it down. I'm glad I told him no.

The black locust 'twisty baby' also has striking form, more evident now that it has lost its leaves.



The evergreen tree in the background is a southern magnolia. My son Josh once climbed it when he was a small boy. That was years ago, but it was still quite tall at the time. I almost had a heart attack when I saw him perched up high in its branches.






There is a hillside in the woodland garden covered with an assortment of shrubs, including goldmound spirea. This plant is beautiful when it blooms, but it is known for its golden leaves. Even now the fading foliage is lovely, especially seen against a weeping blue cedar.

Some other scenes from my woodland garden today:

A mossy footstone 





A viburnum still wearing its fall colors














And the red stems and spotty gold leaves of a 'lady in red' hydrangea

I am reminded that a garden needs rest; it needs to store energy for the next year's work.

I have decided that tonight I am going to bed early and get some good sleep. (Unless I stay up late blogging!)

Sweet rest to all  - Deborah


Have a happy holly day

This past weekend, like people have done for thousands of years before me, I decorated my home with holly. The botanical name is ilex aquifoliaceae. The genus ilex, as far as I can determine, refers to oak. I'm not sure about that - maybe because the shape of the leaf resembles an oak leaf? The family aquifoliaceae means wet foliage, no doubt referring to the appearance of its shiny leaves.The berries of this burford holly were still turning when I took this photo a few weeks ago.

The evergreen holly symbolizes eternal life. Early Christians wove its branches into wreaths. The spiny leaves represented the crown of thorns that Christ wore during his crucifixion, and the red berries represented drops of his blood. Even before the time of Christ, however, ancient peoples gave special meaning to holly. The Celts hung holly above their windows and doors during winter time to offer woodland fairies  protection from the bitter weather, and in return, the fairies would bring good fortune to the inhabitants of the house. People also used holly for medicinal purposes, using it to treat ailments such as fever, arthritis, and kidney stones. Native Americans used holly to make a tea for purification prior to religious ceremonies.  

There are hundreds of species of holly. They grow all over the world in zones 3 through 11, depending on the variety. Some are tiny shrubs, and some are trees growing to seventy feet. There was a large American holly tree, ilex opaca, growing behind our house when we moved to Helena in 1985. Sadly, it was severely twisted and damaged during our tornado in 1990, and we had to cut it down.

Most hollies are evergreen, but some are deciduous. One is ilex decidua, or possumhaw holly. This tree grows to twenty or thirty feet and may have red or yellow berries, depending on the variety. Another deciduous holly is common winterberry, ilex verticillata. It has spectacular fruit and grows three to ten feet.I took this photo last year at Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Winterberries grow in front of possumhaw.

Hollies usually are either male or female, and only the females produce berries. There needs to be at least one male in the neighborhood to fertilize nearby females for fruit production. Some hollies are self-fertile. This is why I planted ilex cornuta 'burfordii'. I have the dwarf form of burford holly, and it has grown about eight feet in a decade. It has produced abundant berries each year.

Birds tend to leave holly berries untouched until late winter. We have a weeping yaupon holly (ilex vomitoria) growing outside the glass doors of our breakfast room. Its tiny red berries remain until February or March, when the entire plant is stripped of its fruit in a single weekend. I look forward to the event each year, when mockingbirds flutter in and out of its branches as they gorge themselves. I think the berries have to ripen, and the birds know the exact moment when their flavor reaches its peak.

I am not an expert, and I have common, easy-to-grow varieties of holly. I am fortunate to have plenty of space to indulge my plant whims, but I think surely there is a species of holly for almost every garden. 

Happy holly-days to you all - Deborah