winter honeysuckle

garage roof, shingles, ladder, apple tree in bloom

Roofing

The title of the post just before this one is “Rooting,” so it’s a piece of luck that this one is appropriately titled “Roofing.” Sometimes things work out perfectly.

After twenty years, the shingles on our roof looked a bit eroded, so we arranged to have them removed and replaced. The job took about a week, and the company we hired did a fine job. So did the fellow who came afterward to install new eavestroughs and downspouts. No complaints there.

But…

A few things for gardeners to think about before workers arrive:

  1. Not everyone cares about plants the way you do. That includes spouses.
  2. In order to get the job done promptly, heavy equipment and men in size 12 steel-toed boots may be stomping on your green babies that have just pushed their tender shoots above the ground.
  3. Plants growing close to a work zone will be perceived as obstacles.

After the house was roofed and downspouted, the professionals departed, and work began on re-shingling the garage. My husband was keen on doing that job himself. I didn’t share his enthusiasm, but was dragooned to assist nevertheless. So I’ve spent a good portion of the past week lugging shingles up ladders and moving said ladders from one spot to another, and then back again. A certain amount of shouting and muttering has occurred, especially following the radical pruning of a winter-blooming honeysuckle (Lonicera X purpusii or possibly Lonicera fragrantissima) that was declared an obstacle. The plant has shown a fair bit of vigor after previous butcherings prunings, as well as last winter’s icy winds, so I hope it will recover.

January 27, 2014

Winter Honeysuckle

In the meantime, the garden carried on with spring.

IMG_2350

Tulipa batalinii and forget-me-nots

IMG_2352

Unidentified double tulip

IMG_2348

Primula and Chinese egg jar

Indoors, I continue to beat out the first draft of my work-in-progress, a novel to follow the Herbert West Series. Every month since January, I have committed to my critique group to send out another 6,000 words. That self-imposed deadline has worked so far; by mid-May I expect to hit — or at least get within hailing distance of — the 30,000 word mark. I’m finding this a tough job, tougher than writing my other novels, but so far I’ve managed to keep at it. Sort of like getting the roof done, shingle by shingle.

IMG_2354

The manuscript

 

Advertisements

January Flowers

I used to garden in a place with real winters. The ground froze and the garden was sealed under a foot or more of snow for several months. It was closed for the season. There was no question of any garden work during those months. The only thing to do was look at seed and plant catalogues and dream.

Here, winter is just a pause, not a shutdown. Today it’s 10 C (50 F). The only snow is on distant mountain peaks and the grass is green and wet. Everything is wet, and in fact there’s about as much garden work to do as in the frozen, snow-covered situation. I can’t even mow the grass, never mind dig or edge. Pruning may be done, but that’s about all. And starting seeds in the house, of course, but that’s not really a garden job, since it’s done inside.

But things are blooming — in January, one of the longest, coldest, darkest months of the year. When I moved back to the coast more than twenty years ago I couldn’t wait to install shrubs and other plants that would bloom in January.

First among them was a Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis). Unfortunately, the plant I ended up with, and possibly its location (in dry sandy soil, shaded by maples and an ailanthus much of the summer when the buds would be forming) has resulted in almost no bloom. Very disappointing. There have been only three years out of those twenty when it has produced any flowers at all. This is one of those years, why I’m not sure, because the conditions under which the plant is growing haven’t changed. Maybe last summer was perfect in some way. In any case, the little tree is in full bloom right now — not spectacularly, compared to better plants in happier situations, but better than no bloom at all.

Chinese Witch Hazel

Chinese Witch Hazel

The individual flowers are just thready wisps of yellow; you have to see hundreds of them at once to get the full effect, and they don’t photograph well when there are relatively few, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. There is a nice fragrance too, when there are enough flowers.

The winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is also blooming well. It’s a semi-evergreen shrub that shoots out new branches all summer long. They quite often die inexplicably, so a good deal of pruning is needed to keep the plant looking tidy. The flowers are by no means showy, but the fragrance, especially in the evening, is something special — a lemony sweetness.

Winter Honeysuckle

Winter Honeysuckle

Winter Honeysuckle Shrub

Winter Honeysuckle Shrub

Another January-blooming plant that sends out an alluring fragrance at night is really a weed — the spurge laurel, Daphne laureola. It’s a tough, drought-tolerant shrub that self-seeds generously, so has become an invasive pest in woodlands here. I have a few of them around the edges of the garden, and as long as I pull up the dozens of seedlings they produce, I can enjoy the haunting perfume on damp winter evenings.

Spurge laurel (Daphne laureola)

Spurge laurel (Daphne laureola)

Then there’s the Algerian iris (I. unguicularis). The foliage is messy, but the flowers are improbably gorgeous in January.

Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis)

Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis)

The Corsican hellebores are among the winter-blooming stalwarts in this garden, totally reliable, as are snowdrops.

Corsican hellebore

Corsican hellebore

Hellebore and Snowdrops

Hellebore and Snowdrops

My scraggly rosemary plant, which has put up with shade for twenty years of summers, blooms defiantly in January. I guess the absence of leaves on the maples in autumn enables it to set buds. The flowers are little pale blue things that would go unnoticed in summer.

Rosemary in bloom

Rosemary in bloom

And finally, another weedy plant with fragrant flowers — the modest violet. The perfume sneaks up and delivers a pleasant surprise when I’m standing around contemplating the garden on a January day.

Sweet Violets

Sweet Violets

 

 

 

 

Witch hazel, Winter honeysuckle, Spurge laurel, Hellebore, Snowdrops, Rosemary, Violets, Yellow crocuses, Iris unguicularis.

The (Abandoned) Garden in January and Early February.

All right, so in January and the first part of February I was too preoccupied with the writing side of my life, re-launching the Herbert West Series, to pay attention to the garden. Moreover, for the past week we have been in the deep freeze here (that’s -5 C or 23 F) and I didn’t want to look at the sad, collapsed mess that many of my “winter interest” plants have become. The bergenias flopped, the hellebores and their emerging flower buds looked like someone had let the air out of them. Today, finally, the cold snap has ended (8 C or 47 F this afternoon) and the plants seem to have recovered.

Just before the cold episode began, I managed to do this year’s quota of magnolia pruning. This magnolia (whose name I am too lazy to look up) is a lily-flowered variety with dark pink, rather floppy flowers. It does look quite impressive in full bloom and exudes a rose-like perfume, but it’s a huge shrub with a tendency to grow sideways. Therefore, I have been judiciously removing two or three major branches every year to reduce the bulk and heaviness that result when the plant is carrying its full load of leaves in late summer. Having read that magnolias are susceptible to diseases that enter through large pruning wounds, I paint any cut larger than 1/2 inch with green wound paint.

Magnolia after pruning

Magnolia after pruning

Another thing I managed to do just before the descent into minus temperatures was prepare a small pot with seed-starter mix and scatter seeds of Meconopsis, produced last summer, over the dampened medium. I left it on the hot water tank for three days, then put it outside to experience freeze/thaw cycles for the next couple of months. This has resulted in good germination in past years. It has certainly gone through one such cycle now.

Otherwise, my observations have been pretty skimpy. One night I noticed the wonderful, deceptively spring-like perfume of winter honeysuckle, and possibly that of the little green flowers of the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola). Neither plant is much to look at, and the spurge laurel is an invasive alien here, but they certainly add a hint of glamour to winter nights, triggering feelings of longing and nostalgia (at least in this gardener).

Winter Honeysuckle

Winter Honeysuckle

Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola)

Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola)