Garden Diary - February 2003

Winter seems endless, spoiled as we were by last year's milder weather. This year, cold weather in the single digits, and snow, lots of it, gave BelleWood Gardens a different look. Consider: in January 2002 I'd already begun garden clean-up - picking up winter debris, moving branches to the brush pile, and cleaning leaves from various of the smaller channels that lead to the drainage creek. There were flowers. By early February lots of snowdrops were in bloom, and hellebores well budded. By month's end the display included winter aconites and Cyclamen coum.This year, though the earliest snowdrops were in flower by January 9th, I have not seen them for weeks, buried as they are in snow. On Fenruary 16th snow began at 3:00 p.m. and kept up for 30 hours. At times snow fell at an inch per hour, for a final accumulation of 20 inches. It was higher than the door sills. Where it piled up on the roof over the firewood storage area snow peered in adjacent window . Though followed a few days later by torrential rains, the snow blanket remains, its icy crust resistant to dissolution.

Winter provides vignettes and opportunities - early one Saturday morning as I was coming down the stairs I looked out the landing window to see a magnifiecent red fox sauntering through the snow off the upper edge of the driveway. He paused, tilted his head with prick-eared intentness, then gave a stiff-legged pounce through the snow. And came up with a little gray vole in his mouth. A quick breakfast, and off he strolled.

Winter is the best time to take down trees. Sap is down, and, since deciduous trees are leafless, there is less debris to cope with. Also, the intense cold weather that had frozen the ground so deeply provided ideal conditions for removal of the gnarly old mis-shapen maple down by the drainage creek. Though the cost was raised significantly by my demand that heavy branch sections be roped and lowered rather than just dropped, it is still better to have frozen ground - less easily damaged by the impact. Mike Grombir of C & M Landscape Services sent a crew of 3, Climbing trees is a young man's game, and 25-year-old Wesley is already a skilled expert. He neatly and carefully roped in, cleared the top, dropped major limbs and lastly, cut through and dropped the 30-inch diameter main trunk. A major project, I'm glad to have the tree down. And, as rot at the heart of some of the biggest limbs revealed, this maple was reaching the end of its life. Now that part of the garden will receive much more light, and we have a good start on next winter's supply of firewood.

There were occasional signs of Spring, or should I say just an easing of winter's grip. In mid-January I looked out my study window to see two gray squirrels mating in the tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, at the edge of the woods. Many feet up the trunk, she must have had a firm grip on the furrowed bark to hold them both in place, as the activity was vigorous. Lately I've seen her whisking into the nesting cavity, a neatly folded strip of cedar bark in her mouth. No doubt it will be shredded to make a soft nest for her pups when they are born.

When I was teaching at Holly House on February 22nd (so named for the numerous American hollies, Ilex opaca, that surround it) at Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick (NJ) I was delighted to see a large flock of robins dining on the berries. The males - distinguishable by their black heads from the females that are slate gray on both head and body - are early arrivals from down south, eager to lay claim nesting territory before the females arrive.

My greenhouse has been even more of a joy and a delight this winter. A couple of pots of white cyclamen have been in bloom for two and a half months, since mid-December. Likewise, the camellias have been flowering for an extended period. But the real treasures have been several pots of freesias that I potted up in late September and easly October. Whatever the reason, and regardless of when they were potted, all of them began flowering in late February. As always, I find the yellow ones much more fragrant than the white and lavender cultivars. No matter, all are beautiful. Gawky plants with floppy foliage that requires a corset of stakes and twine to hold them up, I'm enjoying small bouquets of cut freesias here and there indoors. Yellow in the kitchen, and white mixed with lavender on my study windowsill, so easy to appreciate as I glace up from the computer. I also potted up hyacinths, close to a dozen in each of four oval plastic containers, like a small window box. 'City of Haarlem', yellow to go with my yellow kitchen. Violet-flowered 'Splendid Cornelia', an excellent variety for forcing or in the garden. 'Delft Blue', another good choice to show against the kitchen walls, which I'd base-coated in Behr Day Lily, a soft buttery yellow, then sponged over with Washed Lemon and Lemon Chill, two very close tints of cooler yellow.

But the best, most marvelous "flowering" in February is the publication of my most recent book. "Consider the Leaf: Foliage for Garden Design," which has just been released by Timber Press.

Foliage is the workhorse of garden design, useful in sun or shade, and throughout the year. While perennials flower for a relatively brief portion of the growing season, foliage endures. Using long-lasting foliage as the foundation provides a simple, easy way to enhance your garden's design. "Consider the Leaf" explores the diversity of leaf shapes, size, textures and colors, and how best to combine them to create attractive gardens. An increased awareness and understanding of foliage allows you to add interest to the garden month after month, as you discover the many ways foliage can be used to create a variety of effects from subtle to dramatic. More than 100 photographs provide illustrative examples. Gardeners and landscape designers alike will find this a lively, information-rich, and above all, a useful book.

"A substantial read for serious gardeners." - Bookseller, January 17, 2003

"Writing in an engaging style that should inspire gardeners regardless of skill level, . . . Glattstein shows her value as an instructor." - Booklist, January 9, 2003

The days are definately longer, and the sun is higher in the sky. I doubt we'll be able to plant peas on St. Patrick's Day, but have no doubt that spring will come again, along with flowers in BelleWood's gardens.

Back to the main Diary Page