Icy, but not on the rocks

Last night’s snow turned to ice overnight, but fortunately, we only acquired about a quarter-inch. Enough to make everything look heavenly; not enough to cause major problems. Apart from one snapped pine tree in the neighbor’s yard, we’ve come through without incident.

If you should have a buildup of ice and snow on your garden plants, particularly on evergreens, don’t try to swat it off with a broom or shovel. You’ll only break the brittle branches or stems and have a poor-looking plant come springtime. Instead, wait until it thaws. It won’t be too long.

ice grass

icy balloons

Two icy balloons caught in the neighbor’s tree

icy grass

Ice on Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum

Ice on Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum

icy pine

icy stickerball

Two early-morning sledders

Two early-morning sledders


I love this plant: Northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium

I found this plant, Chasmanthium latifolium, growing under our magnolia tree, of all places. Magnolia grandiflora. Nothing grows under these trees.

And yet, here it was, quietly going about its business, seed heads waving and bobbing in the breeze. So I dug it up and moved it to where I could properly appreciate it: next to the spot where I park my car.

Northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium

As you might expect, given that it grows where no plant dares grow, it’s not fussy about location. In my garden, it grows well in sun or shade, with water (like this year) or without (like under the magnolia). Mine grows about two to three feet tall, depending on the light and water available (staying short when conditions are harsh). It reseeds a bit, but not aggressively. Just enough to make sure I have plenty of this graceful evergreen grass around.

Most of the year, it’s a bright, clear apple green. In the fall, the seed heads become tinged with rose.

Northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium seed head

Eventually, I plan to give it a more dignified spot, but it’s happy where it is for now, and I’m happy to see it every time I come home.

Spring pruning begins

Inspired by clear blue skies and a forecast of 61F, I grabbed the chance to get out in the garden for two hours this morning. I’m determined not to pay for it in stress later in the afternoon. Slowing down is important.

What I’ve been calling the blue slope garden is what I see when I approach my house from the street. It faces west and south, and is terribly hot and dry in the summer. It is backed by a medium-sized Magnolia grandiflora that could do with a bit of perking up, but that’s a post for another day. Because it’s so highly visible, naturally I want this garden to look good. I gathered soil samples for a much-needed soil test, and by the time I get the report it will probably be warm enough to start fertilizing.

I raked out all the fallen leaves (note to self: do this much earlier next year, as some of the plants you’re growing want excellent winter drainage, which is not exactly what mounds of wet leaves provide!) and cut back the Leymus ‘Blue Dune,’ the Perovskia atriplicifolia, and the straggly bits of Santolina that suffered from being smothered last summer by a particularly vigorous Ipomoea batatas. I trimmed back the Ruta graveolens, which is starting to show new growth. Mine tends to get rather leggy, but perhaps my soil test will guide me to better cultivation this year.

I have been reading about how to prune effectively for best displays of foliage, flowers, or fruit. According to Lee Reich, Callicarpa is one of the shrubs that benefits from pruning hard to the ground each spring. It blooms on new wood, the wood that grows in the current season, so cutting it back hard should produce very vigorous and lush new growth and loads of flowers and electric-purple berries in the fall.

I hope. Putting my faith in Mr. Reich, I took a deep breath and whacked my Callicarpas to the ground. I will be watching anxiously this spring to see whether my faith was properly invested. If not, I’ll have a ghastly hole in my planting and my nose will be firmly out of joint.

callicarpa before 2

Callicarpa ‘Issei’ before…

callicarpa after 2

Callicarpa ‘Issei’ after the whack. I need to clean up the cuts; a few are ragged. To do: sharpen my pruners!

New plants for 2012, part II

After I filled up  on Japanese painted fern, I made my way to the herb rows.

The terraced beds along the front steps by the street are hot and dry. In my mind I refer to this area as the scree garden, as that’s what it’s eventually going to be.  The vision is for these beds to be a mix of perennials and grasses, and a blend of textures, in yellow-green and silver-blue. The first-level terrace, which abuts the road, is covered with Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’, and is doing very well. The second level holds a mix of succulents, including Sedum rupestre ‘Blue Spruce,’ Sedum spurium ‘John Creech,’ and some Sempervivum whose variety I have long forgotten. (Another to-do: Add Sedum kamtschaticum into the mix.)

The third level, which had held lambs ears (Stachys byzantina), did not fare quite so well (when I planted them there, it was for the form and texture contrast but I hadn’t committed wholeheartedly to the scree garden plan. When I witnessed their demise, I converted to the scree plan entirely). This summer the stragglers are coming out and new, more resilient plants shall take their place. First on the list are thymes: lovely lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus ‘Variegata’), a bright lime green with yellow edging around the tiny leaves, and the common thyme, Thymus vulgaris. I have a large oregano plant that could probably do with dividing, and that may fill in some space later on in the spring or summer. I also planted a few ‘Avorio’ cardoons I raised from seed obtained from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. I adore cardoons for their tremendous, spiny, silvery foliage. I haven’t yet tried to harvest and cook them, but maybe one of these days I’ll get bold. I don’t think I’ll ever have a sunny garden without cardoons, though. They’re too dynamic to be without.

I also picked up a few basil, because I forgot to start any myself. Those haven’t gone into the garden yet. I did resist the scented pelargoniums, which I love but always seem to kill. I’ll pick up a few next time.

In the next greenhouse, full of tender perennials, annuals, and a selection of succulents, I picked up an Oxalis triangularis ‘Deep Purple’ for the pink-purple-and-yellow bed. I’m not sure whether this will turn out to be a good decision or not, so I thought to limit my exposure until I see how it behaves.

I grabbed two Dyckia on impulse. Grabbed, truthfully, is an inaccurate description. More accurate to say that I gingerly picked up two Dyckia and promptly dropped them into the wagon. They’re not so cuddly, Dyckia. They are supposed to be hardy here, and their bronzy-purple spiny foliage was irresistible. I hope that one of them will make itself very comfortable in the blue slope garden and will ward off either the youngest members of the household from the street, or the neighborhood dogs from the more appealing plantings in the slope. I keep plenty of bandages and a fine set of tweezers in the house, just in case. The other shall go into a big urn of various succulents.

I must find out more about these specific Dyckia; the tag fell out of the pot somewhere along the way.

Next shall be the shade plants, but that’s material for another post.

The view from the deck

Yet another morning of heavy rain. The garden is soupy. I know I shouldn’t muck around much in it when it is so wet, but who can help it when the sun comes out? I cannot wait to see what’s changed from yesterday.

Turns out, plenty is happening just off the deck, and I can limit the wading I do today. The sweet peas I planted in February are coming up. I have never had much success with them in the past, but I confess I never made much effort, either. I must get some netting in place for them to climb up.

Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ has put on about a foot of growth in the past week. She, too, needs something to climb on. I put one of those skinny pot trellises in place until I can get the sweet pea netting up. They can share after that; I hope they’ll play nicely together.

I grew a massive stand of Claytonia over the winter, only to find that the flavor is bland to me. Perhaps I simply have not found an adequate recipes that will let it perform to its potential.

I pruned the rue (Ruta graveolens ‘Jackman’s Blue’), which has taken off. Now that it is making itself comfortable where it is, I have found the perfect spot for it. It needs to be next to the osmanthus; the color and texture contrast will be magnificent. But there are bearded iris in that spot now, as well as plenty of tiny sprigs of Solomon’s seal that will require relocating, and I cannot do that until the iris have bloomed. If things keep the current pace, that should occur about next Tuesday.


I pinched back the Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) that I am coaching across the screen that is the backdrop to the blue-and-yellow garden. I know it gets too much shade to do well there, but I am a stubborn old goat. But so far it seems to be resigning itself to its site and making the best of it. Perhaps this year is the year it will become the glorious screen I envision. I have seen, however, the way it behaves at my mother’s house and should probably be careful what I wish for.