I’m a snowboarding, cozy nights, fireplace-loving, warm drinks kind of girl, but I’ll be honest, the realities of the last 13 years in New England have put a damper on my winter loving ways.
Back home (in Colorado) the snow comes and then it goes (over 300 days of sunshine, after all) – and then it comes again and it looks all pretty (again) and then it melts away. But here (outside of Boston) – it tends to stay, and it turns brown and gross. And the plowman that we have to hire due to the 100 yard-long driveway with the 5% grade at the end, just keeps pushing things around and the turning radius just gets smaller and smaller while the manky piles get bigger and bigger.
By the end of March I am begging for the straight up honestly of pure unadulterated mud.
I am sure you are thinking – plow guy = luxury – and you would be wrong. No doubt, he is as important as the fuel guy (as in, we couldn’t live here without him) and he has saved me (literally) on more than occasion (including last week). But plow guys have their limits and those generally involve not being able to put finer details on things. There is often a lot of mess to move around even after they are done. In our case we always have a pile right behind the cars at the garage door and due to the layout of the driveway, the biggest snow pile is always left on top of my biggest, most visible, and favorite flower bed. When things get really bad, that pile has persisted into May (which is totally unacceptable to me, and inevitably I find myself re-shoveling the snow back onto the driveway in April to get it to melt faster – there are bulbs in there after-all!).
If you could get away with shoveling less snow would you?
Of course you would; us too… so every time it snows, we lamely dig out just enough to get the cars out and pretended not to notice the rest. And 13 years later…Florida has never looked better.
As you know, if you’ve been around this site a while, I’ve worked with Troybilt on lots of projects over the years because I truly love their machines and their earnestness to constantly make better and better products. This year they asked me to test out one of their snowblowers – and having never owned one – I was eager to see what I’ve been missing all my life.
First off, I love that I can make clean lines and if I get tired of the dirty snow, I can cut new lines and move it elsewhere. The snow shoot sends the snow far (at least 12 ft) – and way farther than I can physically toss it. I find that deeply satisfying. But there are other great features too:
I’m not a fan of pull starts. I tend to not be coordinated enough or strong enough and there is some sort of skill to them that alludes me. While I had no problem starting this with the pull start, it also has an electric plug start. If it is really cold or the starter is giving me trouble, I can just plug it in and turn it on that way – then I can unplug and go. So. Much. Better.
It took me years to realize that the excessive amount of flat tires on everything from my work truck to the wheelbarrow were probably caused by cold winter temperatures. I thought I has some mysterious tire popping problem but actually cold weather causes tires to go flat. So I love that they have designed the snowblower tires so that they can’t go flat.
Being new to the snowblower thing, I thought it could only be used on certain surfaces, but no!
I can snowblow the grass (or even the flower beds if I cut everything back next fall). There is an easy adjustment to raise the height of the blades enough for these kinds of surfaces. My kids haven’t yet outgrown the joy of snow fort making and now we are scheming to strategically clear lawn areas into piles that allow for more epic constructions. We can’t wait. Bring on the big storms.
And lastly – as I tested out the over-the-grass capabilities I realized I could make new winter paths and start to enjoy the garden in ways I’ve done before. I don’t need to stand at the driveway edge and look in from afar (I have a big garden). I cleared a few winter trails and as storms come and go I think I will experiment with this more. After I was done, I took a walk in the garden with my camera and enjoyed capturing scenes that I haven’t before (because who wants to trudge through the deep stuff?). These are a few of the shots – I hope you enjoy them as much as I did taking them.
This woodpecker worked for hours and hours on this tree… and a couple of days later when I rechecked his (or her) progress, I found this tree had nearly a dozen more holes and sawdust covered the snow on the ground. I had no idea that woodpeckers were that industrious!
The ever-unfinished treehouse never fails to charm me in the winter.
Pierus (Andromeda) under a coat of snow.
We painted the house black over the summer… and I think it has never looked more charming in the winter… don’t you agree? Next project – upgrading that light fixture!
The barn (which needs a paint job too) and the Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Sons Tree) looked so pretty. I pruned it substantially in the fall, but in the winter, I can see that it probably needs a bit more.
Have you ever read The Language of Flowers? It is a sweet novel that will appeal to anyone who has ideas about living a charming life as a florist but who also loves a good story. I recommend it.
As valentines day approaches, and in the spirit of the book, I think it is fun to think of messages that can be sent with flowers. Maybe not traditional messages, but ones with a bit more nuance. Sending messages through flowers was a trend among Victorians but ever the rebel, I tend to feel inclined towards more modern messages. Something that would make your average priggish late-1800’s lady flush.
Here are some of my ideas… do you have any combos of your own?
4 Floral Combinations to Say What You Really Mean
Lilacs & Cleome (Spider flower).
Orange blossoms with holly.
Oleander and a daffodil.
Pink hyacinths and yellow chrysanthemums.
Do you find the terms associated with seeds a little confusing? What do open pollinated, hybrid, heirloom and organic mean and why do you care?
First let me start by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with any seed choice you make. But you might find you have a few preferences if you understand what these terms mean.
Open-pollinated means that the seeds were pollinated naturally. Insects, wind, birds, and even human hands can all help to pollinate plants naturally. So long as pollination occurs between plants of the same variety, the seeds that result from open pollinated plants will produce offspring that is like the parent (i.e. the plant remains true-to-type). Open pollination allows for genetic diversity because of natural mutations, adaptation and natural selection that occurs with time but open pollinated plants are stable and good for growers who want to collect seeds and encourage a natural process of seed and plant adaptation.
Heirloom seeds are, by definition, open pollinated. The term ‘heirloom’ refers to the fact that a plant has a known history. It was passed down across generations, in communities or families. Heirlooms have a story and a sense of history – the term is romantic and not scientific.
Hybridization means that the seed was created by crossing two different species of plant. This can happen naturally – but for commercial purposes, it is generally the result of humans purposely breeding plants for particular desirable traits. Hybridized seeds tend to grow better and have higher yields because they were bred to have these characteristics.
So what is wrong with hybrids? NOTHING – but if you want to collect seeds and replant the next year (without having to go back to the supplier and re-buy the seeds) you will not be successful. The seeds that you collect from hybrids will not breed true-to-type. The second generation plants from hybrids will not have the same traits as their parent, nor will they have the same vigor. Hybridized characteristics can however stabilize in a plant population over time if there is a concerted effort to consistently select and cross plants over many generations (of the plant). If a forced natural selection system is set up (which is what breeders do) then hybridized traits can normalize and become common in a plant population. But this takes time (years) and is the result of a lot of work and consistent selection.
I plant both open pollinated heirlooms and hybrids. Hybrids are fantastic for gardeners who are purely results oriented as the traits that are typically selected in hybrid varieties tend to guard against disease and pests and improve yield, but this isn’t the only reason to garden and grow your own. It is rare to hear of a hybrid that has been selected for enhanced flavor or nuance in taste, nutrition, or culinary usage. It isn’t that breeders can’t select and breed for these traits – it is just that they don’t (not to be cynical – but there isn’t as much money in it). These traits are found in the more diverse world of open pollinated plants. Open pollinated plants will regionalize and give character to the local food and products that they produce. Over generations they will adapt to the soil and conditions that they grow in and will evolve a certain terroir. Local character, uniqueness and individuality, and tradition are things that I value and cherish – not just in seeds but in people and culture. Seeds are history and their stories and diversity are a strength that will provide the keys to allow civilization adapt and live in an ever-changing climate. Making sure that this diversity persists is why I’ve put together this downloadable guide to open pollinated seed suppliers. There are millions of things you can grow and experiment with in the selections that these businesses offer – I hope you have fun exploring them all!
P.S. The ‘organic’ label refers to how something is grown (as opposed to how it is bred) and it means that the product has met the strict guidelines set forth by the USDA to qualify as organic. Non organic food is not necessarily bad – but it does mean that you don’t know something about how the product was grown. It could have been treated with pesticides or other things whose residues you don’t want to ingest, it could have been grown in contaminated soil, or maybe the growers used methods that hurt the wider ecosystem in some way. It is impossible to know. I garden (mostly) organically, so I try to buy organic seeds because then I know that the people who are selling to me have been certified to have similar standards for land care that I do.
Alternative title: How to Have an Orangerie Even if You Aren’t a Member of a Royal Family
Alternative Title #2 : Juicy Fruits – The Taste is Gonna Move Ya
Few indoor plants can combine so much value within a single pot as citrus trees. There are the obvious benefits – a lovely, small tree, often bedecked with colorful fruit which, to be honest, is so pretty that one feels a little guilty picking even a single orb that took half a year to ripen. But don’t be too enthralled with the citrus tree’s beauty, you will be denying yourself one of the greatest pleasures for the palate and soul because freshly picked citrus tastes nothing like the supermarket fruit. If you don’t believe me, just scratch the rind of any containerized citrus while it is still on the tree, and inhale the oil. The smell begins evaporating just hours after the fruit is picked, leaving most people with a completely different citrus experience.
I learned this once while visiting a farm in California. The proprietor took me over to an old, gnarly kumquat tree with its branches hanging heavy with brilliant orange fruit. “Go on, eat it but eat it whole,” he said.
“Eat it whole?” I thought. “Yuck, but…OK.”
Do you know that scene in the animated Disney film “Ratatouille” when the rat first experienced French cuisine? Yeah. It was kind of like that. I swear that I saw colored, swirling lights in my eyes. My mouth exploded first, and then my mind.
The sugars and oils in the skin of freshly-picked produce make all the difference in the world when it comes to their flavor profile. Kumquats are like the flavor of tangerine Life Savers with the flavor scent of orange blossoms, lemon blossoms and cotton candy. Really – heaven tastes like this. Perfume-y, tangy, sour and sweet. Boom.
Needless to say, I was very disappointed when I returned home to snowy New England and I picked up a pack of kumquats at the store. I popped one in my mouth and the taste was bitter and dry. I knew then that I just had to grow some myself.
In my first winter of raising a few small trees indoors and in the greenhouse, I discovered that by the middle of January, I had so much fruit, that I could not use it all.
Before you start, however, there are a few things you must know. First off – those little sprouted seeds that you found in the grapefruit this morning? Throw them away.
Forget any visions of raising your own clementines from a paper towel full of seeds. It’s just not going to happen for many botanical and agricultural reasons. If you want to try raising your own from seed, you may have the best luck with Key limes, but even with those, expect at least an 8-10 year lead time.
You will have practically a foolproof harvest if you buy your plants, either from your local nursery, or from a mail order source. Like many fruit trees, citrus are generally enhanced by grafting, especially with named cultivars. If you want to raise a mandarin orange (clementines to most of us) then buy an established grafted plant. The larger it is, the sooner you will have fruit. The benefits of grafted trees go far beyond the citrus farm, particularly with indoor culture, varieties are grafted to enhance early blooming and fruiting, and, most importantly, a smaller, more reasonably sized tree.
Finding the perfect citrus plant is not always as easy as one expects it to be. Citrus plants are highly regulated due to a long list of agricultural diseases which can be spread from one farm to the next. There is a reason why the Department of Agriculture has a check off box on your flight back from Hawaii. Citrus farming is big business. Don’t let this stop you however; regional sources can be found, or mail order sources which can sell inspected plants ready for you to place into a pot.
Good varieties of citrus are rarely inexpensive as the grafting process adds at least an additional year onto the growing cycle on the nursery side, but it you are going to bother with trying to raise your own fruit, the initial investment won’t be regrettable, especially after five years when you have a strong, healthy tree full of fruit while the snow flies outside. Plan on spending $30 or more for a proven indoor variety, one which has been carefully grafted.
In many ways, keeping citrus indoors is akin to keeping chickens. Invest in good stock, care for them well with food and water, fresh air in the summer and bright sunshine, and in mid winter, you start reaping the rewards. My two ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon trees provide my kitchen with nearly 150 lemons each winter. That supplies us with at least 2 lemons a day for drinks and tea, plus a few dozen left over for marmalade.
Although I keep my plants in a cool greenhouse in Massachusetts, before I built it the citrus were raised in two spare bedrooms which were kept cooler than the rest of the house. Really, all that is needed is a sunny window, and a room with a temperature shift from day to night, which will help keep the trees fresh and vibrant. Most citrus prefer indoor conditions, as long as your home isn’t too hot and dry. The easiest ones to grow are Kumquats, citrons, lemons and limes can be abundant enough that you would not have to buy any fruit for an entire winter.
Aside from the somewhat practical reasons of actually having fruit in abundance, don’t dismiss the holistic reward of fragrance. I mean, lemon blossoms? Really.
Speaking of flowers, good pollination is not always a sure thing when your plants do bloom, so set any blooming plants outdoors on a mild day to allow bees to do their job, or just hand pollinate with a soft watercolor brush. Small fruit will begin to form after the blossoms shatter, and should slowly grow throughout the summer. One of the best things one can do for a home grown citrus tree, however, is to set it outdoors for the summer. The benefits are many, but mostly, it gives you a vacation from watering it, and it will help the plant thrive.
Citrus raised in containers prefer a soil which is rather low in organic material. While an on-line search will uncover dozens of recommended soil mixes containing wood bark and commercial potting soil, I fear that many writers are simply repeating found cultural information which often isn’t accurate. Commercial growers know that citrus prefers a sandy or loamy soil, but container-raised plants will need additional drainage material, as nothing will kill a citrus as quickly as soggy roots.
Citrus also prefer to be under-potted, meaning that they prefer smaller pots rather than larger pots. The good news is that a citrus tree can remain in the same pot for 10 years or more, once they are large enough for a 12 or 14 inch pot. Weight can be a problem, but you are more likely to succeed if you use a clay pot, which is more forgiving when it comes to moisture retention.
Nutrition is perhaps the most perplexing skill to master. Basic multi-purpose formulas will only go so far, but all plants appreciate a higher dose of nitrogen when they are young, preferably in the spring and summer. Yellow leaves, are the most common problem which can seem problematic to home growers. One of the fastest way to kill a citrus tree is to over fertilize in an effort to remedy yellowing leaves. Iron deficiency is the most common diagnosis, and it is easy to remedy with a citrus fertilizer containing chelated zinc or iron. Your basic big box store may not carry such a blend, but it can almost always be found at a hydroponic supply store.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to prune your trees, taking care to not trim below any grafted parts. Citrus can handle rather harsh pruning, but don’t get crazy and try to create a topiary or a perfect form, citrus grow in spurts of only once or twice a year, so keep your most severe pruning to late winter before flowers form.
As I write this, it is undoubtedly wreath season (mid-December) – but I’ve always thought that beautiful decoration made from the gatherings of nature and the garden is something that could be done year round.
Of course, it is true – there are already wreaths for Easter, St. Patricks day, Fourth of July and just about any holiday we can imagine. But I am not drawn to these typically color-coded cartoon creations. Rather, I crave something less of the hallmark and instead using what is fresh and beautiful at that time. It is a seasonal challenge that I like to accept – to use what I find on walks in the woods in new and interesting ways.
A few years ago, my friend Roanne shared some inspiring wreath designs with me that she saw at an event in Cooperstown, New York. They were less wreath and more sculptural medallion. Running with the idea ourselves we created a class to make what we called mandala wreaths. We held the class in my barn and the creations of our students surpassed our wildest expectations. It is something we might do again at some point, but until then, I thought I share with you some of the works from the day as well as a tutorial to make your own.
Our class was held in December and at this time of year, seed heads, holiday greens and late fall garden cutting were our material sources. Making something at another time of year might include other elements. I am personally drawn to using bulbs and experimenting with them as they grow in the arrangement (I don’t know, can I even get them to grow well enough to be enjoyed?). Dried and fresh flowers – or flowers that can dry in the arrangement are also appealing to me as are the textures of bark, moss, mushrooms, lichen, feathers and leaves.
Here are some of my favorites from our class and I’ll share how we made them below:
Pine cones, seed heads and box wood combine to make this textural wreath.
Chestnuts, milkweed pods (with their insides painted gold), miscanthus seed heads, eucalyptus and mushrooms.
In order to create these wreaths we gathered as many interesting materials that we could find in our gardens and invited students to raid their own gardens and resources for additional materials to share. The results were amazing with an inspiring selection that far exceeded my imagination.
I recently made another version of this type of wreath, but in a slight different way than the originals. I’ll share both ways – but either option is great – however one of them might save you some time, if you want to rush.
Step 1 – Gather your materials
You will need a good selection. Look for textures and colors and items that will age well and do not need to be kept fresh in order to stay beautiful. For this demonstration, I used variegated holly, pepper berry (you can also use callicarpa for a similar, but purple, effect), eucalyptus flowers and leaves, string moss, and variegated boxwood. You will also need a floral foam disk (this is not the variety that hold water – just regular foam), hot glue, a cutting tool, and ribbon (if you are into bows and that kind of thing).
Step 2 – Begin a the middle
For this wreath, I started with creating a focal point with a cluster of small cones. It is important to cover the foam completely as you go. A variety of mosses can be used as a backdrop to your main materials and they will fill out the spaces in between.
There are two ways to attach items to your foam. The foam is made to hold florals whose stems you can poke into the structure. This will help to hold items that are bigger and need more support. You cannot however do this for every element or your foam will simply become too full of holes to hold anything. So for everything else, you can glue. I recommend this, so long as the items are not too heavy and you don’t use too much glue – particularly hot glue. The hot glue melts the foam a bit and too much of starts to make it difficult to poke items through.
If you are planning to use a lot of heavier items, then you might consider wrapping the disk loosely with some chicken wire and filling the gaps with moss. This will give you a secondary structure to attach elements with wire.
My next layers were added as I built out from the center. The variegated holly had stiff enough stems that I could fix it to the foam directly, but I used glue to fill in with individual leaves as I needed. The pepperberry did not however have strong stems so those were glued directly to the moss which was in turn glued to the foam.
Tip: When using hot glue for any project, It is easier to avoid all the little strings of glue in the first instance than have to try and remove them later. I find that putting the glue on individual pieces, away from the main piece, allows to me to control those inevitably irritating strings. The glue gun doesn’t go near my finished piece and the string issue (mostly) stays to the side.
Step 3 – Finishing the outer edge.
There are two ways to finish the edges – the quick way or the slow (but arguably more creative) way. The quick way is to fit your disk into an ready-made wreath. This one, made of variegated boxwood, was souped up with the addition of eucalyptus flowers and leaves. The disk and the diameter of the wreath need to be similar (but not an exact match). The foliage of the wreath will take up the slack and you should be able to firmly wedge the disk into the center of the wreath. In this instance the disk was about an inch less in diameter than the wreath hole, but that worked perfectly and fit tightly.
Push it in from the back and then fill in the gaps between the two pieces with extra materials.
Alternatively – you can do as we did for all the pieces above. Those wreaths were all built on to the disk directly and the greenery around the edge is fixed to the disk by shoving branches into the sides of the disk. This is certainly more time-consuming and it also helps to use some Elmer’s glue to prevent branches from falling out of loosening holes as you work. This way allows you to have a bit more control of the placement and selection of greens. I am big fan of the floppy bow – if any bow. The wires and all the tediousness of twisting glitter laden polyester just right to make these poofy concoctions is not something that please my eye or my temperament. To make floppy bows, I use a mix of at least three different widths of satin ribbon that are of the same, or similar, color. I love a two toned combination of red and burgundy at the holidays. This bow, of all burgundy, is made by making a bow with the widest ribbon and then tying additional bows with the narrower ribbons onto it. Leave the streamers long and in varied lengths for a wispy, I-didn’t-try-too-hard look.
This wreath was raffled off at a local garden event that I recently spoke at. The lovely winner had never been to any events with this group; which goes to prove that beginners luck even applies to attending garden club meetings.
Questions? I am happy to answer in the comments!
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Holly, mushrooms, acorns, boxwood, dried sedum and twigs make this hand wreath.
Wispy branches, conifers, spruce, pinecones, mushrooms and milkweed pods.
Moss, greens, St Johns, Wort, sumac, and, I am not sure what the blue was!
Dried Roses, walnuts, greens, rhododendron buds, and pinecones fill out this medallion.
Mushrooms, greenery, pinecones acorns and a variety of seedpods make this wreath.
Have you ever heard that bit about there being lots of Eskimo words for snow? Where Eskimos, because they deal with snow so much, supposedly have many more words to describe snow and its nuances. True or not, it is a fact that we more commonly use words for things we experience commonly. So I offer that as an explanation for why I (at least) haven’t really ever heard of hoar-frost. Frost has always just been frost for me. But I recently came across the term, and on further investigation, I learned that not only is there a special kind of frost called hoar-frost, but there are other types too.
Frost is the white crystals that form when the temperature drops enough to make the humidity in the air condense on to objects in the landscape. The more temperate the climate, the less likely and the less variety of frost you will see. But as a climate has colder temperatures, there is greater opportunity for different types of frost to form. Knowing the types of frost that you get where you live, is actually very important if you want to create a safe and magical winter garden.
Types of Frost
Hoar is a type of radiation frost that forms when the temperature drops quickly and water in the air forms crystals without going through a liquid phase. In order to get hoar-frost, there must be a relatively high level of humidity in the air. We don’t get hoar-frost very often in New England (presumably because despite our humid summers, winter is very dry). But when I lived in actual England, I noticed it relatively often. I also remember it to be a little more common back home in Colorado – and I suspect this due to pockets of humidity that can surround melting snow.
White frost and hoar-frost are very similar except that white frost is thicker and therefore whiter.
Designing For Hoar Frost and White Frost
If you get hoar-frost where you live with any regularity, it is worth considering it when planning your garden. Hoar frost is beautiful and it is best seen in the mornings before the sun melts the crystals. Sculptural plants that persist into the winter are stunning with a coat of hoar-frost. Consider grasses, plants with interesting seed heads and distinctive shapes (like clipped hedges and topiary). Plant them enmasse to heighten the effect.
Advection Frost (also called Wind Frost)
Advection frost happens when the cold air that forms the ice crystals moves across a surface in a horizontal direction. This type of frost can be damaging to crops but it also makes some interesting and pretty effects in the garden. Ice crystals tend to form on the edges of flowers and plant surfaces rather than over the whole leaf or petal and the crystals are often satisfyingly directional – pointing to where the air moved.
Designing with Wind Frost
If you have prevailing winds in your garden (as I do!) you might notice that trees and large shrubs might already be slightly lopsided – leaning away from the wind source. The wind in my garden comes up the hill and anything on that side of the garden is always blown to one side. I have considered planting a hedge or planted wind break and if you have this issue, you may want to consider that as well. A fence (which is a nice wind break and uses a lot less space) is providing that purpose in one area of my garden already. Or, you can embrace the wind, grow to appreciate the asymmetry it provides, and in the winter, watch for some beautiful and interesting shaped ice crystals.
Rime and Glaze Ice
Rime ice is a more substantial version of hoar that requires liquid water droplets in the air freeze onto a surface. This allows the ice to grow larger and heavier crystals that can be beautiful but often damage trees, plants and even structures. Similarly, Glaze ice forms when rain freezes and it creates shiny smooth ice that coats everything and builds up over the course of a storm. Both of these require a unique set of meteorological circumstances, but when it happens the beauty and the damage is quite dramatic.
Designing for Rime and Glaze Ice
If you get regular Rime ice, or ice storms (like in New England) it is wise to cut back (or not plant) pines and trees that overhang structures and power lines. Broken trees tend to bring down overhead power lines and sometimes buildings have been known to collapse under the weight. Preventing damage is hard, but some trees (like pines, for example) have a lot of winter surface area (think of all those needles) to hold the ice and can be especially prone to this type of damage. Think about using plants and trees that have strong natural structure and that do not have a lot of surfaces in the winter on which the ice can gather (ie. leaves are dropped and no needles)
Window Frost and Fern Frost
Window frost and fern frost, also called ice flowers, forms on surfaces like windows. Unfortunately, if you regularly get this type of ice on your windows, it means that they aren’t well insulated. The flowers and pretty winter patterns are the up-side of a bad energy situation. The patterns are caused by a difference in temperature on either side of the glass. Windows aren’t generally in the garden, but you can sometimes see this kind of ice on small ponds, puddles or water features.
Designing for Window Ice and Fern Frost
Fern Frost tends to be feathery or in swooping concentric shapes that indicate that there was a progression of cooling at different levels of the water. Also, other interesting patterns can be appreciated in ponds and streams and even fountains left to run in cold temps. As new layers of water freeze and then contract, water beneath fills in, freezes and caused new fissures and lines. These patterns can be quite spectacular. If you have a water feature in your garden the patterns tend to be most visible at the shallow edges.
Black Frost (or killing Frost)
Not really a frost at all, this term refers to when the temperature falls too low for frost to form and instead, plant tissues freeze, die, and subsequently turn black. This is common with many vegetable garden plants like tomatoes and other nightshades, beans, squashes, and peppers. This is a very normal thing to have happen when the first frost of the winter season occurs, but if the frost is very early, you might want to extend your season by protecting plants before the frost happens. This is done with frost blankets or cold frames.
Hoar frost turns a garden into a magical fairy land. Rime (which is a thicker and heavier) tends to rip gardens apart. The difference is dramatic.
We garden writers and designers have a tendency to go on and on about planning for four seasons of beauty, and I’m not knocking that. But if you don’t ever get hoar-frost, you might need to make different considerations for your winter garden. If you get a lot of rime, you should also make special considerations.
Gardens with regular hoar frosts, should plant and leave your grasses and sculptural plants untrimmed through the winter so that you can enjoy their beautiful frosty shapes. Focus on forms that persist through the winter – like trimmed hedges and other shapely plants. But if you don’t get the hoar, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter so much.
Alternatively, if you are prone getting rime ice, you should cut back on the weak limbed pines that will surely lose massive branches under the weight of the ice. Also, watch for any plants that might be near electrical or service lines as the weight of a tree or plant covered in ice will rip down wires and cables as they fail under the stress.
I am envious of places that get hoar-frost. Looking at my tattered and tired grasses that get knocked down by the first snow – and never stand pretty with frost – I have resolved to make myself a happier gardener by cutting down some of the most visible grasses back in the fall. These always greet me with messiness that annoys – but I do leave the rest for wildlife to use through the cold season.
I gave up my hoar-frost hopes years ago and instead I think about what will look “winter-good” with a pile of snow on it or what will look good with just nothing as we have our share of barren winters too. It is worth pointing out that while you are planning your winter garden, you should think about where your snow removal piles go. This is not a place to plant things that will easily be damaged under the cold dead weight. Plant shrubs that can be cut back hard in the spring or fall and perennials that die back to the ground. Midway through any winter I tend to start feeling defeated by ever-growing pile of snow at the end of my driveway. But I think that being realistic about a New England winter – or whatever kind of winter you get – will help you be more out of your garden in all the seasons that you really do enjoy it.
How about you, do you get hoar-frost where you live? Does it make sense for you to plan for a magical wonder land?
As the winter darkness continues to creep in and the days get painfully short here in Boston, I crave the light of southern climates. Sarah Sherman Samuel’s new garden in Palm springs is just where I’d like to be. This makeover transforms a manky and dark a-frame home in the desert of Palm Springs, CA to a light and fresh modern home for a growing family. My favorite elements are those giant wood blocks that make the paths and patio floors (a diamond in the rough gift from the renovation gods) and the cactus with the backdrop of the white-painted stone. I love that particular mix of textures in the garden. And did you see the painted white stock tank plunge pool? It is so sweet and fun and far better to look at than any blow up rubber job that you might pick up at the toy store.
Make sure you head over to Sarah’s blog to see more (and there is a lot more to see) of this fantastic makeover!
Before, the A-frame home was dark and garden was full of garbage, debris and dead trees.
After a fresh coat of white paint, a new roof and a-lot of garden cleanup.
Before – Despite being in the sunny desert, this garden looks dark and miserable.
After – A new fence, tree pruning, and distinctive white gravel makes the space much more attractive.
To make a winter garden of interest, I look for themes to let my planting design start to tell a story.
First came the planter found in the clearance section of Anthropologie. It's markings seemed tribal and recalled mud cloth patterns and fabrics, traditional in Mali, but often used in high fashion and homewares. Mudcloth, also called bogolan or bogolanfini, is cotton dyed with fermented mud. 'Bogo' means earth or mud, 'Lan' means with, and 'Fini' translates cloth. Its patterns tell cultural stories that I don't fully understand.
Inspired by these patterns and the intricate face paintings seen across tribal Africa, I chose plants for their contrasting tonal stripes, surprising leaf speckles and detailed patterns.
The result is a beautiful - if slightly challenging - winter container garden that you can plant indoors. All of these plants prefer indirect sun and high humidity. (With the exception of the sansevieria - but it is tough and it puts up with just about anything). Keep this combo moist and make sure the soil drains well - maybe even add a cloche over the top and don't insist that live in the sunniest window - it will not be happy there.
Fittonia verschaffeltii ’mini’
Also known as nerve plant, these small tropical houseplants are known for their beautiful leaves. They are great in areas of low light and high humidity. A terrarium is perfect.
Begonia ’My Special Angel’
Similar to the begonia maculata var. wightii, this begonia also develops speckled leaves. It has pink flowers and matching pink leaf undersides. It is also easier to grow and is much less temperamental.
Begonia maculata var. wightii
This begonia is festive and eye-catching with its bright white flowers and matching polka dot leaves. They are great gift plants. This is however a tricky plant to grow. It needs good drainage and good light - but I have found it prefers indirect light or partial sun rather that full sun. In the summer, it is very happy to move outside and grow in a container beneath other houseplants that shield and protect it.
Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Bantel‘s Sensation'
This unusual plant is indestructible. Sanseveria need little light and are very drought tolerant. This variety has distinctive while striping and the leaves are narrower than other varieties giving it a very elegant look.
Ken Marten is a Londoner who has been working in diverse creative pursuits since he was a child in the industrial town of Port Talbot, Wales. In 2012, after a decade of working in high fashion floristry for clients such as Mulberry, Christian Louboutin, and the Connaught Hotel, Ken created Hermetica where he now focuses on living, breathing plants and translating his creative vision into indoor gardens that challenge our ideas of what interior planting can be. His intriguingly artistic terrariums feature found objects and they recall the Victorian plant collector origins of terrarium making. Miniature ecosystems, contained within glass tables were once used to transport and study specimens. Like the Victorians, Ken frequently adds unique items such as skulls, chunks of crystal, fossils or other ancient or natural treasures to the mix. These materials hint at the passion and inquisitiveness of the collector that he is.
As I slip into the dark of winter, I crave projects like terrarium making. In particular I love the idea of making them as dark and moody as the days outside. I asked Ken to share some of his tips for making the most interesting and successful terraiums.
“My challenge is to encapsulate the ephemeral, like a genie in a bottle. I seek to capture a frozen moment and suggest a timeless otherworld tantalizingly held behind glass.”
- Ken Marten
Terrarium Artists Advice:
Use a minimum amount of soil. Start by placing plants in a base of gravel, and then fill with small amounts of soil and moss. This solves two common terrarium problems—slow the growth of plants by providing less than perfect growing conditions and control moisture and subsequent mold.
Ken's favorite tools include long handled wooden spoons and a litter picker (long handle with clamp on one end). The handle of the spoon can be used to move materials around, and two of them can operate like chopsticks. The litter picker is particularly useful for large terrariums where the neck of the bottle is long.
Wash soil from roots (particularly ferns) so that you can push plants through the opening of the terrarium without dirt smearing down the sides. Use tissue wrapped around the backside of a wooden spoon to clean the insides of a terrarium.
Prune plants hard for shape—much the same as you might a bonsai. (Don’t be afraid to cut a lot of foliage!)
Ken's favorite terrarium plant is Geranium robertanium (Herb Robert) which grows as a weed locally (so it is free!). It has a beautiful sculptural and open habit that lets lots of light through. Look for native plants, weeds and anything interesting for size texture and shape where you live to find new inspiration for your terrarium.