A Winter surprise

pieris 1
My temple bells are loaded with blooms this year.

Today is Friday, but it has that stay-at-home-and-hibernate feel, like a dreary Saturday, where all you want to do is pick up that good book you’ve already started and wrap up in a blanket by the fire.

Yesterday I drove into work, as a wintry-mix was forecast for both today and Monday. The day turned out better than I expected, leaving me to chores and relaxation today, as I prepare for the actual weekend.

I had in mind a few things to get done today, including cooking and baking (nice, plus it would warm the house), putting in some aerobic time at the gym (enjoyable, since I had my nose in a good book as I pedaled the miles away), and vacuuming and dishes (ugh).

When I took out the trash, noting with interest the crunchy, frozen earth we don’t see too often around here, a flash of white caught my eye.

pieris 2
It’s bloomin’ mid-February already!

It’s February, but that graceful cascade of blooms still caught me by surprise. Startled, I walked around to the front of the bush, where I saw dozens of tiny white bells standing out against the dark green foliage.

That particular flowerbed has already graced me with a tiny yellow crocus bloom – always my first sign of Spring. When the fragile yellow flowers fade limply onto the soil, they are replaced by pretty purple ones. But I hadn’t thought to look closely at my temple bells, until today.

It’s been so mild this year, it feels like Winter has only just started. And, it’s making up for lost time. My early flowers are already making a showing, though, so I can’t complain too much about Winter this year.

pieris 3
There are more blooms where these came from.





Summer garden, a remake

These Indian feathers turned out to be one of the highlights of my summer garden.
These Indian feathers turned out to be one of the highlights of my summer garden.

Sometime in the last few years, probably inspired by the chopping up of a huge red oak tree whose roots had mutilated our driveway, I decided to create a small flower garden around the mailbox out front. The first year, I dug around a bit, added Miracle-Gro soil and ringed the area with rocks. If I planted anything, it wasn’t very memorable.

This spring, though, some of the grand kids and I took up the rocks and created a nice wall with preformed bricks from a local big box store. Then we made a visit to a local high school whose FFA group holds a terrific plant sale each year. I made several rounds inside the greenhouse, on the hunt for eye-catching perennials, preferably those with a long blooming season. I chose a number of specimens, putting my favorites in a cardboard box before returning some to the shelves when I found something I liked better.

I made it home with two Black-eyed Susans, various zinnias, a few flowers memorable only because they dried up before summer really showed itself, and some whimsical plants called Indian feathers. I dug through more clay in the hard-packed earth, added more Miracle-Gro, and buried each plant, careful to leave each one room to spread out and grow.

The Black-eyed Susans, which I planted near the back of the flower bed, bloomed profusely, but were not as tall as expected. A coreopsis I had planted was also covered in flowers, but it ended up being short and bushy, and therefore upstaged by the surprisingly huge Indian feathers.

These tall, airy Indian feathers sported pink and white blooms all summer.
These tall, airy Indian feathers sported pink and white blooms all summer.

Last week, we had several cool days in a row, and I figured it was time to do some rearranging. I carefully pulled everything up, including a few Irises scattered around the back yard that my husband has refused to give up on. Then I dug, and dug some more, as there was still a lot of hard-packed clay underneath the flowers, which probably is the reason some of the plants didn’t quite make it into fall.

While I had hoped all the flowers would survive my travels over the summer, the Black-eyed Susans didn’t fare too well, due to high temperatures and lack of rain. I salvaged what was left of them and planted them in front, by the mailbox. I’ve watered everything well, a few times since then, but I also saved a few seeds, just in case.

The zinnias’ performance was so-so. I probably should have deadheaded them, like I did the coreopsis, but I mostly just let them be. They’re kind of nice, but not my favorites. I may find something to replace them with next year.

The Indian feathers, their leaves now a nice shade of red, are in the middle of the flowerbed, flanking a homemade birdbath I placed there after I noticed the robins’, goldfinches’ and dragonflies’ tendency to show up each time I watered the flowers. I put some compost in with each plant I replaced, so hopefully everything will be off to a good start in the spring.

In the meantime, I’ll let the garden rest, and keep an eye out for good prices on spring bulbs. I’m sure the garden has room for a tulip or two.



Havoc in the flower garden

Black-eyed Susans

I like to garden; I do, but mostly, I just dabble. Sort of a grown-up’s version of playing in the dirt.

I’ve wanted flowers in my yard since I bought this house. I had visions of fragrant, flowering vines, bushes with gorgeous blooms, summer perfume that filled the air as I walked outside.

That was more than a decade ago, and it didn’t take long to realize that most flowers are kind of allergic to shade. Their stalks turn yellow; they refuse to bloom, and they die. Early on, I dug up a front flower bed (shaded by a huge oak tree and a few spindly pecan trees, added some potting soil, and planted a variety of flowers. Some mildewed, some rotted, and others refused to grow. All died. It didn’t matter that they basked in a few hours of hot, evening sun. It was just too little, too late.

I bought a bush. A pieris japonica, which I planted close to the front door. It is a slow-grower, but it thrived, apparently not minding an abundance of shade, and eventually, I bought two more. They now take up most of that flower bed. This summer, I had to trim them back a little.

The other front flower bed – nearly all shade, all the time – was trickier. I planted a hydrangea. It protested. I moved it out back, where it eventually died. I tried a rhododendron. I moved it around, tried to make it happy, but it refused to grow, or bloom, or do anything nice that plants and bushes are supposed to do. A few years ago, I looked up shade plants online, and I found a cute little dirt-hugging one called heuchera.

I took a chance on one. It was appealing; had a nice umbrella shape and a pretty bronze color, but just sort of sat there for two years. Then, BOOM. It got huge. And bloomed. So I bought two more, from a local high school plant sale. These two are a pretty green color, and they are thriving, too. So that flower bed is doing well.

Seasoned gardeners will tell you that there are no mistakes in gardening. That you can always pull something up and start over if it doesn’t work. And that’s true. Just this week I realized that my newest flower bed down by the mailbox – the one in the sun, with flowers that actually bloom – is planted all wrong.

I tried to follow the directions: plant this one x amount of inches from the next; this one will get xx inches high, etc. But a few of the flowers have exceeded expectations.

The Indian feathers turned out to be delightfully whimsical, but I planted them in front, and they are stealing the show from my black-eyed Susans.

The black-eyed Susans apparently don’t like that, and have leaned over into the Indian feathers, giving neither plant enough breathing room.

My coreopsis, which I thought was going to be nice and willowy, instead ended up short and stout. It’s in the middle of the bed, so you can’t see it unless you’re right on top of it.

My finicky low-lying gardenia, which I have moved all over the place, should be in the front, not the back, and there’s a huge something crowding out my rosemary, which is finally doing well. I haven’t pulled this mystery plant up, in hopes it is a sunflower.

My newest flower garden is quite attractive, but in all the wrong places, sort of like a child playing dress-up in clothes that don’t quite fit. I watered it again tonight, and thought about where I should move what, but with “real feel” temps already in the low 100s, I think I should let things be. There will be time this fall to do some rearranging. It may be a little crowded, but I’ve finally got some flowers. And, that makes me smile.