Recently an old(ish) friend shared this photograph – and so for a change I am not using my own image – of a woodland garden sculpture, from a place in North Devon, England, called Broomhill Sculpture Park. It could be quite a shock to the system if unexpected, but a great example how off-season interest can be introduced into a garden. I will not add any more, except if I knew the artist, I would name them. It is a wonderful photograph too.
Photo: Sharon Murray. Broomhill Sculpture Park.
This garden sculpture theme ties in nicely with a current experiment of mine to make moss hanging baskets to provide winter greenery in our locally cool temperate and very wet winter climate. For the hanging baskets, then the plan is for a spring surprise of bright vivid tulips that are hanging high and out of the reach of the deer (who no doubt have also been waiting all winter for their spring candy snacks).
For background, the next photos are of the initial hanging tulips surprise: It was accidental as the bulbs were in-passing shoved into a hanging basket to keep them alive and then forgotten about. The result should I hope be improved upon this coming spring, with wire baskets and cascading ferny mosses instead of plastic providing the winter interest. The tulip colours planned are also more volcanic.
There is not much to say regarding verdant garden exploits, as the sun sinks lower on the horizon: upon rising it seems to have trouble climbing into the sky during the day – at least in the northern hemisphere at the latitude of Vancouver Island – resulting in dark cold pockets in the garden for the next several months. However, if you have just rescued your potted plants from outside and put them indoors for shelter, the low sun can penetrate deeper indoors and provide some much needed light.
The good news is that now the bones of the garden, in the form of trees, rocks, and edgings, come into their own and yet another season in the garden arrives. This is also a great time to plan and scheme, as Spring is not far away. In the meantime cold conditions and clear skies are good for pruning many dormant trees – fruit trees especially – and so we can still enjoy some outdoors exercise and bracing fresh air.
Oddly the first snow arrived several days ago (about a month early), so maybe there may be an early Spring too? Myself, I am reminded of the dried shrivelled brown root I rescued, then dumped in a bucket in the garage (plus bark and water), and left alone in weak light. Green leaves appeared, followed 3 or 4 months later by flower buds. Right now it is coming into full bloom. Just like the seasons, life is born anew. Here we go…. what a surprise… (I would welcome a firm identification, email firstname.lastname@example.org);
This saffron-tinted variety of the usually yellow Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis cambrica), is so vivid that I resorted to using indirect light – rather than direct sun – to allow the silky delicate details of the petals to be captured. The same happens with some human faces, something well-known in portraiture. Although they can be difficult to get established, the Welsh Poppy will self-seed if happy in their situation. This is one of the few Meconopsis poppies that is not from Asia, where those stunning blue species can be found. A quick identification tip for Meconopsis poppies: look at the shape of the green centre that becomes the seed pod, and it will be tapered as opposed to flattened like in other orange poppy species.
Well, these willow trees – photographed in April – are doing a good job at summarizing most of spring, 2017. When the sun pops out and the soil starts to dry, then there is a lot of work to be done in a short time. However, in a few weeks time summer may pay a visit and hot dry days descend upon us. This April and May there is much greenery, so let us enjoy it for what it is: soon we may be surrounded by brown grasses and hot dry winds.
The clear cool days of winter are ideal times to see to the structure of the woody plants, from small shrubs and up in size to trees. However, the main tasks in the northern areas where February is cold and dry, are usually focused on fruit trees: they are deciduous, and therefore currently dormant in most areas.
Coincidentally I was reading a garden column from an auspicious newspaper in a big city on the US east coast, and just could not fault the short and pithy advice from:Gardening columnist, Washington Post :
“This is the season for pruning shrubs and small trees, when they are dormant and the absence of leaves gives a clear view of what needs to be done. Fine pruning is like grooming a show dog — it makes for a fine beast — though it is done for the benefit of the plant, not the viewer. If you prune to make a woody plant conform to an idea of shape or structure, rather than help its biological needs, the results can be disastrous. In a month or so, “landscapers” will be going around dismembering crape myrtles, for payment.
Competent pruning, on the other hand, lifts both the shrub (or small tree) and the spirits of the gardener. The more neglected a specimen, the more it can be improved, though the rule of thumb is not to remove more than one-third of its mass annually for fear of traumatizing the plant. This means taking the long view. When I see an old, neglected and congested weeping Japanese maple, I know I could spend hours, days, bringing back its sculptural qualities but incrementally over several winters.”
Note: I did once have a crape myrtle tree growing in a sheltered spot, outside here in BC, but it perished one cold winter.
What better time to get outside and get some sunlight. Next thing we know, it will be spring blossoms …..
Simple and elegant, the plant usually sits in a pot above the stair well, where just the cats seem to pay any attention to it: that is until Mid-December, when it may throw out a pleasant surprise during the wintery weather outside.
Many Vancouver Island grocery stores and other outlets were full of this fabulous grass over the 2016 summer, but it is not widely known that although a perennial grass, it is not hardy enough to survive freezing weather: therefore with our local conditions it should be treated as a tender perennial (so bring it indoors during winter) or like an annual which is replaced every year.
A potted specimen can be cut back to a few inches in the autumn and placed in a frost-free, cool and dry place with some light, with occasional water. Ideally the plant can be overwintered in a heated greenhouse, conservatory, or cool frost-free greenhouse.
Once the crickets start chirping away in earnest, there is a fair chance that hot dry conditions have finished off a lot of the flowers in the garden, and by September things are looking a bit fazed. The colour and texture of foliage helps – a cool green fern say, or golden grasses swaying in the wind – but splash of colour can be in short supply.
There are those perennials that we call on: Rudbeckias, Echinacea, late-flowering Crocosmia, and so on, but they can seem a bit vivid to those of timid colour choice. I suggest that after a year of careful co-ordination and scheming, it is the time of year to throw caution to the wind and plant that floozy crimson thingy-whats-it next to the fiery spikey thing, and let down the proverbial hair.
If getting new plants, buying them in flower should dispel any doubt about where to place it, since choosing an ideal focal point where it’s brazen cheek can be appreciated will take some trial and error before the planting.
Come autumn we will be into brazen colours too, as the cool blues of frosty mornings and soft mists creeps in.
Connoisseurs of soft and fragrant soil additives may appreciate my response to my special mix (used to plant some new roses) being described as horses***. Well yes, as the horses will be happy to confirm, but in this image-conscious world:
“It would be fairer to acknowledge the components as having been custom-modified by an Arabian beauty and a swarthy swift-footed hunk from the Eurasian steppes: think jasmine-scented Arabian nights and long strong hair blowing in the rushing wind.” Switch to slow-motion, low-angle panoramic cinematic vistas and dramatic tinted skies, as per the usual life-style adverts. I might add that the horse-modified hay, mixed with soiled barn bedding, has been matured in a special sylvian glade and immersed in the music of the trees, but that would be getting carried away, a bit.
OK, enough of the excessive hyperbole: Soil is not just inert dirt, and with our local free-draining and young soils, adding organic matter (whatever you call it) is not just about nutrients and root/microbe relationships, but water retention as well. Wood ash is something I use a lot too, but not on acid-loving plants like Rhododendrons. And that horses*** must be composted properly, at which point it is no longer wet dung but loose and friable brown gold.