Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review - Reading about Garden Pleasures

One Man's Garden by Henry Mitchell

In the middle of winter, how many of us can honestly say we relish the thoughts of  next Spring’s clean-ups let alone prospective overwintering concerns; including early bulb causalities, potential hardscape modifications,  starting seeds, new plant combinations  and the simplicity of gardening  just for the sake of watching new plants and vegetables  emerge for their season?  As Rocky Mountain gardeners, we’re already faced with so many time honored rules and guidelines to help us get through our short growing season and weather anomalies, we frequently need the winter to just rest up & recharge our batteries for the next season.  Whether it’s at 5,000’ or 9,000’, we face every challenge there is and frequently get too caught up in the expert’s advice of what we should and should not be doing.  This review is about a small book that reminds us all - gardens aren't just about the plants.   Let’s not lose track of the surprises our landscapes and growing treasures can bring to us, regardless of the time of year.

In this magical little book, One Man’s Garden,  Houghton- Miflin Company, 1992, 254 pages, writer Henry Mitchell shares and explores  the changing elements and plants  in his garden on a monthly basis; in addition to including notes on historical garden visits, reader questions, plants and general observations.  During his lifetime,  he wrote the weekly gardening column ’ Earthman’, for the Washington Post , and was a frequent contributor to Southern Living garden articles as well as Horticulture magazine.  What a joy to read of someone’s vast and knowledgeable encounters … mistakes and successes alike!!  He advises to remember to stay calm when thinking “we first must get through April snows” before we persist through May and June; wise guidance especially for rain & hail season in our state.

When was the last time you made the effort to look at the heights of your trees and shrubs and what additional elements might provide the opportunities for a new focus such as windbreaks; thus creating a small microclimate, perfect for a plant you’ve been longing to try?  Look for those opportunities to make your yard sparkle.    For those of us with our own pines, consider trimming boughs and using them tepee style around perennials for wind protection with mulch.   Have you thought about the leaves or needles on trees – their shape and changing color and how they can enhance an area that may need a tweak??  Looking at branches and leaves against a winter sky or bank of snow may help create your own garden art, especially if there are seed pods still to be seen??  It’s okay to move things in your garden to try for something new, as Mitchell states, “tastes change” over seasons and years.  Tired of colorful annuals tempting you w/low prices at the grocery or big box store?  Reflect on colorful variations or leaf combinations in containers that can be moved around to border beds, a deck or pathway.

Our warm weather months from June through August provide the most consistent colors in our gardens. Don’t forget that we have butterflies that are still searching our gardens for safe havens and nourishment to carry on their life cycles as summer progresses.  Those late blooming flowers can help them along. Certainly the extended Indian summer weather this past Fall has helped root development
and lingering color on our favorite perennials; allowing us the time to enjoy a few star performers that may often get overlooked.  I’m thinking of the Barberry I now have along some garden steps.  It’s the perfect accidental accent that Mitchell frequently points out in his book.  Actually, it’s a volunteer from the original location but it’s still wildly alive with several red and scarlet leaves remaining through the cold.

Perhaps a water element in your yard next spring & summer might provide added hours of serenity??  Yes, the neighborhood raccoon or fox may be really delighted especially if fish are involved, but be brave and realistic about what you think you may like to do.  In writing on water, Mitchell reminds us it’s important to move any plants out before the hard freeze sets in and winter has taken a toll but it’s all doable with planning.  After all, this is Colorado and while we may be plagued by rabbits, gophers, voles, deer and elk, that’s all part of the reason we enjoy living here – so relax and enjoy it!!  Just don’t put the expensive plantings out with the welcome mat.

Arguably, Mr. Mitchell’s combined books & columns have an east coast and southern slant, however I honestly felt he captured the satisfaction of thinking outside the box and seeing how gardens and gardeners evolve,   even as he shares stories of friend’s passions and struggles in the world of horticulture.  I doubt if any cypress, wisteria, azalea or camellia, even Jefferson’s beloved fig trees & tomato varieties will make a permanent presence in our arid growing zones, but it certainly is fun reading about them!  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Natural Holiday Decorations by Irene Shonle

Frost has long since withered most things outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still use natural decorations to cheer up your home for the holidays and bring life to the winter.

Evergreen branches are of course a mainstay, and we are blessed with many options and a lot of opportunity up here.  I like using Douglas fir branches, because they are soft, lay flat, and smell good.  It can also look great to mix a variety, including spruce, lodgepole, and ponderosa.  These can be used in swags, wreaths, or arranged in large planter pots by the door where the weather may add some natural “flocking.”

Consider increasing interest by incorporating some lesser-used evergreens.  Kinnickinnick has leathery green leaves that withstand frost, and bright red berries to boot!  Creeping Mahonia has holly-shaped leaves that turn reddish in the winter; it’s the closest thing we’ll find to holly in Colorado.

For touches of color, look for wild rose hips.  After a moist summer like this last one, they are plentiful.  Put them outside after you are done to give the wild birds a snack, or make rose hip tea.

Pinecones have endless decorative uses – you can spray paint them silver or gold or with flocking, string them in garlands to grace a mantel or door, attach pinecones to a cone-shaped floral foam base to create a miniature tree, attach them to gifts, artfully arrange them around a candle as a centerpiece, and more.    If you become really inspired, next year make a mental note to gather pine cones in the fall, before the snow covers them.

You’ll need a trip to the supermarket rather than the great outdoors for this one, but I am enchanted with orange slice ornaments.   They are simple to make, thrifty and stunning.  Take a nice orange (you’ll probably need about 3-4), slice it into many thin (1/4”) slices on “the equator” (not end-to-end).  Then either dry them for a week or more on cooling racks (for airflow), or if you are in a hurry, you can place them in a 170° oven for 3 hours directly on the oven racks.  Put a ribbon through it, and enjoy the way the sun lights them up like little stained glass windows.  For best effect, place your tree (or ornaments) by a window.

A final fun natural decoration is to make ice lanterns for a special event.  Fill balloons with water and place outside in below-freezing weather.   When the outside has frozen solid (about an inch or more thick) but the center is still liquid, pop the balloon, pour out the water, and place a candle in the hollow.  How long you need to let it freeze will depend on how cold it is, so keep checking them.