February 2018, What to do in the garden

Forcing Witch Hazel

One of the great things about some plants is that you can trick them into thinking that it’s time to bloom weeks ahead of their natural blooming schedule. This is called forcing. Nurseries that grow flowers for flower shows do it on a grand scale, even forcing trees so that they will be in blossom early. It’s complicated if you get into it that seriously, but a few plants are so easy to force that anyone can do it.

The timing is important. You can’t cut any old branch at any old time and expect it to do something. Most plants need a certain number of weeks of cold in order to flower. So you need to know approximately when that particular plant will be ready. In the Northeast, the late winter / early spring-blooming Witch Hazels are ready in early February. (See last week’s blog post for descriptions of the various types of Witch Hazels.) By this time the buds have begun to swell, and you can sometimes see the tiniest bit of color showing where the new petals are about to emerge from.

At that time, all you need are some sharp pruners, a vase of water, and a warm room. Cut several branches, put them in the vase of water, and wait. In a few hours to a few days the room will be full of sweetly scented blossoms. Tada!

Life is good.

 

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Cut a branch of Witch Hazel with a slanted cut, like in the picture, and put it in the water.
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A day or two later, the buds will begin to break open.
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A week later, it’s a party!

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Witch Hazel

January 2018, What to do in the garden

What to do with your Christmas tree?

Christmas is over, and by now most of us have taken down our trees. They have served us well, but now what? Some towns have recycling programs, but what if you want to recycle them at home? Here are a few ideas. Let us know what you do with yours!

1.Strip off the branches. Some perennials, like Lavender, for example, like a little protection in the winter. Christmas tree boughs are just the thing. They have enough body to them to hold the snow off the plants a little bit and create a cocoon around them, while allowing air to flow.

2. Use the trunk as support. A stout Christmas tree trunk can be used in all sorts of ways – as a support for beans or clematis or other climbing plant (the little nubs left from where the branches were really help them get started climbing) or cut up and used as a decorative border around a plant. I even knew someone once who had an entire fence made of Christmas trees!

3. Let the trees be a winter home for wildlife. Like plants, many animals and birds need shelter from the harsh winter winds. By laying your tree somewhere protected, you can create a much needed escape for them.

Chickadee

 

IMG_0359Photo by Ben Rowland c. 2017

IMG_0363Photo by Ben Rowland c. 2017

2017, Design ideas, What to do in the garden

The Power of Potential

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Christmas Eve. A magical day, even more so than Christmas, in some ways. Christmas Eve is all about potential. Christmas itself is still ahead, in its entirety, and none of it has been used up yet. It’s rather like the last few hours of work just before you stop and go on vacation. The possibilities are endless, with the thing that you have been looking forward to lying there in the near future, whole and untouched, ready to be enjoyed. if you have done your preparations right, you will soon reap your reward.

The winter ahead is a little like Christmas Eve, in that it is the preamble to celebration that will eventually come. Spring gives us a fresh start in the garden. The weeds we never got around to pulling up, the flowers we never deadheaded, and all the other chores that we put off have been forgiven. The garden can now be anything. Under the snow, the plants are storing up their energy for the season ahead, and while they rest, we can prune and tame them so that they will wake up looking better than ever. We can sharpen our pruners, look through the gardening magazines that we were too busy to open over the summer, and dream. By the time spring starts to stir, we will be poised to act.

Winter, while it can be a trying time for the gardener, can be a gift if you use it to rest and let your mind wander through the garden while it is free from the distractions of jobs that need to be done. Enjoy the blank slate… it is nothing but potential.

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