Winter Gardening – Yay!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I keep growing Panolas and may never go back to true pansies. Here’s why: they grow madly all winter, only taking a break when it’s really frigid, and then rebounding very quickly. Last week, the pots were covered in purple, gold, white, burgundy, and apricot flowers and then we had 2 nights in the upper 20’s with cloudy days. The flowers shriveled, but as I was out deadheading them today, I noticed new buds opening already. This habit of continuous bloom charms me, and I reward them with fertilizer to keep the show coming. I know from experience that it will, and they’ll still be blooming for months after the tulips come up in March and bloom their hearts out in a week. It’s the perfect balance for me – long term love and a flash or six of mad passion. Piling up leaves takes up a lot of my time in winter, but few other things need tending. Even so, every bed on the acre+ stays covered with leaves in a year like this one. I have a strategy that works sometimes, but my trees create a pile of leaves as big as a small car, so it’s a work in process. The red oak trees drop theirs in waves and it looks like they have at least one third to go, which means I’ll be moving piles of leaves for weeks to come. This year, it’s not working. There are so many leaves that as soon as I gather up a pile, the wind blows them back into the bed or more fall before I can pick up the pile and add it to the mountain out back. If you have ever read that wonderful children’s book called If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, you understand. If I blow leaves into a pile in the middle of the courtyard, I’ll need to rake all the way down the side of the house. If I rake down the side of the house, I’ll want to fill the empty tree stump with the debris. No wonder every bed is ‘mulched’ with oak leaves and the neighbor’s pine straw. I like my neighbor, but I detest his remaining pine trees. They were originally surrounded by azaleas, I think, since there are some still there. Because the trees were planted too close together, and my neighbor never prunes, weeds, or rakes the pine straw, there is a thicket in between those pines. It is so dense and unattended that I would hesitate to wander into in, even though it sits street side on the major thoroughfare outside our doors. Worse, the pine straw and wind combine to cover my shrubs with random pine needles that I have to pull off or ignore. I try hard to ignore it, since to do otherwise would mean I’d have to pluck off each one, getting angrier by the second and completely destroying the power of gardening to lower my blood pressure. Besides, it’s winter and I want to be doing more interesting tasks. Rethinking empty spots and reviewing the ‘bones’ of the garden is best done in winter. Granted, my garden is never as barren as those romantic winter scenes in books, but its exuberance does abate and its greens grow less garish in winter. I’m about to cut the vitex down because its winter profile does not thrill me even though it keeps the bees coming in summer. I’m replacing it with Abelia, neater to grow, simply prettier, and equally effective in attracting bees all summer. And what about the rose that I’ve transplanted twice with deep roots? It keeps coming up, so maybe I need to think about another trellis. I can see it in my mind, it would work, but the rose doesn’t. Ah, winter, the time to think and the weather to do – that’s good gardening to me.
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