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December 2010

Heroic winter horticulture

I’m off to the airport to fly back to England for the holidays in, what, two hours. But something in the garden has been bugging me and I just can’t leave without fixing it – even if it is 14F/-10C with an icy wind out there.
Hamamelis,witch hazel,old leaves. Image ©
We have a witch hazel in the front, near the gate. One of the winter and spring flowering Asian types, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’. It’s grown well, in just a few years it’s made more than 6ft/1.8m high and across with fragrant yellow spring flowers and buttery fall color. But. Once the fall color has faded to brown most of the leaves stay on! – especially those round the flower buds (above, click to enlarge). So in the spring, when the flowers open, most of them are hidden by that brown foliage.

So I’ve been cutting off the leaves, you can’t just pull them off as if you do then the flower buds come off too. So, one by one, with the pruners – off they’re snipped. Even in these freezing temperatures the buds are starting to show color so it needs doing now. When we come back it may be too late.

I’ve done about half, then I just had to come in for a break and write this. I’m going back out in a minute to finish off. Gulp. Then off to the airport.

Note to burglars: My in-laws are staying in the house while we’re away – and you don’t want to mess with David...

Eagles, woodpeckers and the price of bird seed

Pileated,woodpecker,suet,birdfeeder. Image © Time for a wildlife update, I think, here in Pennsylvania, especially as today we’ve had the pileated woodpecker back on the suet feeder (left, click to enlarge). What a splendid fellow! [The female does not have the red chin stripe.]

In the last week or two we’ve also had both an adult Bald Eagle (below, click to enlarge) and a youngster hunting over the lake plus a Cooper’s Hawk has been here a few times. I’ve been leaving the mice I’ve been catching in the attic out on a rock in the woods, perhaps Mr/Ms Cooper has been enjoying the snacks as the mice – fourteen so far, I think - usually disappear in just a couple of hours.

The pair of Hooded Mergansers amongst the Canada Geese on the lake Bald,eagle,adult. Image © got a bit of a shock when the eagle went over – they dived down and were never seen again, must have come up far far away. The much larger geese, of course, didn’t care. And we also had a pair of Common Mergansers, like their smaller hooded relations, pausing on their southerly migration.

The smaller birds have been getting stuck in to the black oil sunflower seed, especially now it’s getting colder, 20F (-7C) when I put the feeders out this morning. I bought 40lb (18kg) on 2 September, another 50lb (23kg) on 15 October and we'd run out by 30 November. That’s 90lb (41kg) in 90 days. A pound a day – turns out simpler in old measures, doesn’t it. Works out at 58 cents (37 pence) a day. And there’s suet, and also nyjer seed for the goldfinches as well.

Worth every penny. And the mouse I put out four hours ago has gone.

Both pictures, by the way, taken through the kitchen window.

My recent online articles

Latest Award of Garden Merit winner Here’s another update of my work that has appeared online in the last month. Just click the link to go to the page.

Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit plants
Continuing my choices from plants awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit (AGM):

Ten traditional winter vegetables which have received the AGM..

Be sure to take a look at all my selections of AGM plants.

And continuing my choices of plants recently award the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

Sweet pea ‘Cherub Crimson’

Ipomoea lobata (above, click to go to the page)

Be sure to take a look at all the recent AGM winners I've written up.

Royal Horticultural Society NewPlants blog
Over on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog I’ve posted about these new plants:

Tradescantia ‘Sunshine Charm’

Sweet pea ‘Villa Roma Scarlet’

Hemerocallis ‘Black Stockings’

Malus (crab apple) Jelly King (‘Mattfru’)

Delphinium Highlander Series

Rose Pomponella (‘Korpompan’)

Transatlantic Plantsman blog
And here on my Transatlantic Plantsman blog, these are my recent posts:

Choisya Sundance - origins and abuses

Summer and fall meet winter and spring

Was the lobelia washed away?

Britain's top garden media folks get their awards

Britain's top garden media folks get their awards

The British garden writers - and other media garden people - had their annual Garden Media Guild bash in London this week and judging by the tweets from the pub afterwards it was quite an event. The next day, the tweets were all about going back to the pub to retrieve phones, coats, and underwear thoughtlessly forgotten in the fun the night before. I really missed it, this year - I'm on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

ThinkinGardens, Anne WarehamBut, for gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic, the awards point to books, websites and other outlets for the expression of garden writing and horticulural insight of all kinds of which we should all take note. So here’s a few winners and finalists that my transatlantic readership in particular will find interesting or amusing.

The Website of the Year award went to Thinking Gardens (left, click on the image to go to the site). Quite right too. Anne Wareham, who runs the site, is committed to realistic garden criticism and campaigns against the platitudinous puffs that fill so many garden magazines or, as Anne puts it more effectively, are “caught in a fixed tradition of relentless admiration”. Why don’t writers about gardens write about them in the same way film critics write about films?

Blog of The year went to Midnight brambling, from Lia Leendertz. I like MidnightBramblingit because Lia brings together domestic life and garden life – and in particular because  it’s well written. She doesn’t post very often, but her blog is always worth reading. Amongst the finalists, Mark Dianco’s Otter Farm blog may bewilder some Americans but they'll certainly find it intrigung. Described as “a window into what's happening at the UK's only climate change farm - where we're planting olives, peaches, pecans, persimmons, apricots, szechuan pepper, vines” but lurching off into his entertaining asides. It’s very English. And all the better for that.

Of the award winning books, for Transatlantic readers I’d pick out The Kew Plant Glossary: An Illustrated Dictionary of Plant Identification Terms. As the judges said: “Thrill to the fact that not only will technical terms from abaxial to zygomorphous be at your fingertips, but that you will understand them.”!! This is an issue whose complexities befuddle many gardeners around the world – trust me, this book will help.

Of the journalism awards finalist Victoria Summerley of The Independent should have appeal beyond Britain’s shores especially in highlighting the idiosyncrasies of Britain’s gardens - not to mention its gardeners - as in this piece on colour. Sparky writing, and always a sense of fun. But: please will her newspaper’s website banish those huge and horrid pop up ads that blot out everything just as you're startibng to read? You can always check her Victoria's Backyard blog as well.

Andrew Lawson And finally, every year the members of the British Garden Media Guild votes for a Lifetime Achievement Award. This year, the award to photographer Andrew Lawson. If you’ve opened a garden book or magazine you’ve seen his work. Crucially, it seems to me, he trained as a painter and looking at plants and gardens as an artist seems to infuse everything he does.

OK… That’s just a few. You can check out the whole list of awards here. People not mentioned - don’t be offended, no room here for all fine work that was honoured. And, sorry, but there’s not much interest in broadcasting awards for shows never seen over in California and Nebraska. And anyway... if I go on too long, everyone will click off somewhere else. Congratulations, everyone. [And I lied about the underwear - I hope...]

Was the lobelia washed away?

[Updated at the end...]
Over 2in/5cm of rain yesterday… And the site of our local wild population of the cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is getting a clear out from the flood waters rushing down the creek. It’s no wonder that those brilliant red flowers appear in a different place each year.


It'll be interesting to see if the white turtlehead, Chelone glabra, the monkey flower, Mimulus ringens, and the very rare native gentian Frasera caroliniensis - known as American Columbo! -  that I saw there a few years back will re-appear next summer. That water really was roaring. Next season I’ll also be looking for the plant of the Russian skunk cabbage Lysichiton camtschatcensis, the white version of the yellow US native form, which I set a few years ago at the creek’s edge. It’s flowered well this year.

Today, with temperatures down from 60F/15C yesterday to 22F/-5C this morning, as the water returns closer to its usual level the creek will soon be frozen solid. Plants put up with a lot.  Let’s hope they're not washed away.

UPDATE Checking the following day, when much of the flood had subsided but the creek was still rushing... There's the lobelia, under the water, the dead flower stems trailing in the water and the mass of creamy white fibrous roots almost completely exposed after the water had washed them free of whatever sediment they gripped in the bed of the little creek. [Point-and-shoot picture through rushing water...]