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 …..
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.
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.
To stop and look closely at flowers is to see another world: beyond foliage, grand layouts or the allure of scents, is that of the detail arrangement of a flower. Look long enough and the insects and spiders will appear too. These photos I took some years back: In sequence, at Oxford Botanical Gardens, at home, at home, garden in Cornwall UK, again Cornwall UK, the last one at home. I had a conservatory back them, which really helps with photography since it keeps the wind at bay.
An unexpected bonus of the snowy weather of late has been to illustrate just how important foliage can be. This is a native fern growing in my wild forest area at home, set off by where some snow made it through the canopy. How those leaflets attach to the stem is as wonderful as any orchid flower. I shall not name it (likely Dryopteris species, but then taxonomy of ferns can be complicated, and I apologize if completely deluded in my off-the-cuff naming).
I have just made this photo my new logo for accounting etc. In marketing-speak it should carry a message, and my message is Structure with a Organic Feel. Just made that up.
When the wind is not blowing the Pacific storms directly into the face or down the neck – November and December being fine times for such events – we can take the opportunity to stand back and review the garden space: look at where all that water goes (or not), then take in the overall composition of the surroundings as well as the details in the garden….. perhaps take notes for a task list. I like to take a camera and record the bare bones of the garden that hold everything together throughout the year.
Also, those colder frosty mornings are particularly good for discovering a whole new winter garden: the photo above shows the wonder of local sandstone bordering an entry pathway, with moss, leaf litter and Sedum succulents, all dusted with frost. Now to my mind it would be at the very least overly tidy to have brushed it with suds or in this age of power tools to pressure wash it clean to bare rock (there are such rare but necessary instances). While admiring the chilled world around, again take that camera and record the long deep shadows where the sun does not melt the frost, or where there are other areas (frost pockets) where some types of plants do not thrive.
Finally, keep your eyes open for the first bulbs that herald the coming of spring: winter aconites, snowdrops, crocus flowers, early daffodils, and so on. We do not want to step on those. Come the joys of spring and summer those flirty plants will likely confuse us with distracting temporary shows, and we will be glad to have taken the time to step out this winter and opened our eyes to another dimension of gardening, one that is more permanent and mature, and the framework in which to hang our changing floral displays.