Saturday, December 19, 2015

The December Garden: Winter Weather Deferred

I pause in my busyness to enjoy the December garden during this unusual weather event: El Nino brought the warmest month on record to the Poconos. Although it is cold today, the atypical high temperatures will return for Christmas. For the first time, I had a couple of plants blooming for Bloom Day which gardeners around the world celebrate on the 15th of every month at May Dreams Gardens. I wish that like our lovely host, Carol, I had hellebores and snowdrops, but I'm thankful for the blooms of my little vinca and tattered primrose. I was delighted, also, to find buds on my favorite hellebore. Normally hidden under the snow at this time of year, they hold the promise of spring.

Tattered but colorful primrose blooms

Hellebore foliage in the Woodland Walk
Lucious, pink hellebore buds

I have fabulous foliage in every garden, so I am linking with Pam at Digging for her December 'Foliage Follow-up' meme.

Sedum 'Angelina' in the perennial border of the Cottage Garden
Rose campion, lamium and creeping Jenny in the Horseshoe Garden
Fabulous ferns in the Shade Garden
Hydrangea 'Pinky Winky' with graceful zebra grass beyond.

With the unusual weather the fish were active up until this weekend, so we closed the pond only a few days ago. That was the last of the chores for the gardening year, apart from putting away a few lingering items. We always forget something until we are warned of an upcoming snowstorm. No such warning on the horizon.

The fish were still active earlier this week -- can you see them bottom right?
This frog doesn't know he should have hibernated by now.
We switched off the waterfalls and closed the pond at last.

I even worked outside on the fuschia and coleus I propagated a few weeks ago. Of course, I brought them into the house where they will spend the rest of the winter in a sunny window.

 Dude has his thick, winter coat ready for when the real winter arrives.

Dude, are those dreadlocks around your face?

In the kitchen garden I continue to harvest carrots and parsnips as well as various herbs.

Parsley in the herb garden
Parsnips taste better after a hard frost. Yes, we did have one or two.

Parsnips are my family's favorite winter vegetable and a symbol of our Christmas dinner. I cut parsnips into two-inch pieces, sprinkle with garlic, rosemary, and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil and roast them in the oven. I wrote an article about parsnips here. I am choosing the parsnip as my December 'must-have plant' for my garden, linking to Diana's meme 'A Dozen for Diana' at Elephant's Eye on False Bay.

Rosemary for the roasted parsnips.

With so much to do before the family arrive for our traditional Boxing Day celebration, and before we leave to spend the New Year with my children in Arizona, it's difficult to stop for even a moment and consider the reason for it all. In addition, the dreadful times we are living in defy contemplation. Fran Sorenson at Gardening Gone Wild found the perfect poem, by Dr. Maya Angelou, called Amazing Peace: a Christmas Poem. It's hard to choose a favorite part, but here is a snippet:

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.  
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.  
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.  
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,  
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light  
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
-- Dr. Maya Angelou.

To read the entire poem I urge you to click on the link to Fran's excellent posting here.  Thank you Fran for this! I am using Angelou's perfect poem for Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Garden's Eye View as we 'beckon this good season to wait a while with us.'

Wishing peace to all my gardening friends,

Pamela x 

Sled's ready; where's the snow?
Hoe, hoe, hoe.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

O Christmas Tree

Each ornament on the tree is a memory: of the one who gifted it, of the place where we purchased it, or of the child who made it. As my grandson and I lovingly hung each decorative item, with Christmas music playing in the background, I recalled the stories. A beautiful tradition. It began earlier in the day with a visit to Old Homestead Tree Farm, our favorite Christmas tree place. There you can choose from a variety of fresh pre-cut trees or cut your own from their large selection of Douglas Fir, Concolor Fir, Blue Spruce, Fraser Fir or Canaan Fir. We checked the appearance of each type of tree on display.

'The best Christmas trees come very close to exceeding nature.' ~Andy Rooney

We decided to stick with our favorite, the Fraser Fir, having chosen this type for the past several years. As stated on the Old Homestead website:

'Also known as "Southern Balsam," this stately fir, native to the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, is closely related to its northern counterpart.  Its soft, emerald-green needles with silvery undersides are about three-quarters of an inch in length.  Its bottlebrush texture, sturdy branching, and outstanding needle retention make it a superb Christmas tree whose popularity has grown rapidly in recent years.'

 We climbed the hill to the area where the Fraser Firs grow and began our search.

Jonathan found the perfect tree, measuring it to make sure it wasn't too tall. Pappy sawed it down then pulled it back to the barn on the tree cart. The tree farm provided the measuring stick, saw and cart.

'Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.'  
~Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas

 'The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!' 
 ~Charles N. Barnard

Back at the barn, they shook and baled the tree ...

                             ... then drilled it, making it ready for use in our pin tree stand.

We hurried home to decorate it. The tree looks lovely in its Christmas finery. Now all it needs are some presents underneath.

'He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.' 
~Roy L. Smith

Each year, when Christmas is over and it is time to remove the tree we turn it into an outdoor bird feeder. We roll pine cones in peanut butter and hang them on the tree. We attach fruit rind and whole oranges to the branches. We thread peanuts with twine to make garlands. Sometimes we add suet balls and seed cakes.

 Then we sit back and watch the birds (and squirrels) enjoy the feast!

In my December article for the Pocono Record newspaper I give hints on how to choose, set up, care for and dispose of a real Christmas tree. Also, I show how to plant a live tree. The article, published on December 12, is entitled 'The Real Thing.'

Today, H.H. and I drive to Philadelphia for the reception at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that I wrote about in my last posting, My Award Winning Garden.  (I haven't quite gotten over the shock yet.) We will return to little more than two weeks in which to finish all the holiday preparations -- its coming quickly this year. When Jon stayed with us last week, however, we not only worked on the Christmas tree, but also baked the plum/Christmas pudding, made mincemeat for the pies, and made the traditional English Christmas cake ready for our family celebration here on Boxing Day. Still lots to do, though.

'The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.' ~Burton Hillis

I hope you like the quotations I found for this posting. What is your favorite tradition this holiday season?

Pamela x

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Award Winning Garden

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded my garden the blue ribbon in the 2015 Garden and Greening Contest!! I was selected from over 250 entries this year in three states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.  This contest invites backyard gardeners, community gardeners, and anyone passionate about greening our public spaces to enter. I am grateful to my friend, Pat, who persuaded me to submit an application. A few years ago Pat, along with her Women's Club, received an award for a local community flower garden they maintain. She visits my garden often, and one day last spring, she arrived with literature from the Horticultural Society, assuring me my garden was worthy -- I guess only the gardener sees the warts. I submitted the application online by the deadline in June.  Of course, I hoped for some recognition, but never dreamed of attaining the blue ribbon.

I filled out  a simple form having determined which category I should enter: Combination Garden- Any size garden with both vegetables and flowers where both have significant impact. I wrote a brief narrative and submitted some photographs. This is what I wrote:
My gardens are ten years in the making and continue to evolve. Born and raised in England, I am trying to create an English cottage garden in the Poconos, facing such challenges as rocky ground, numerous deer and a short growing season. I designed five distinct areas: a pond surrounded by cottage garden borders, a shade-garden retreat, a container garden, a Woodland Walk, and a kitchen garden with a unique potting shed. I grow a wide variety of perennials, annuals, shrubs and vegetables. My many native plants attract pollinators in this certified wildlife habitat and pollinator friendly garden. I practice sustainable gardening: making compost and collecting rainwater in five water barrels. I am a Penn State master gardener volunteer who retired to indulge my gardening passion.

The judge (and his sister) arrived in the middle of August. My garden was passed peak, but when we learned the judging date, H.H. and I tidied the beds, added new mulch, refreshed the containers with new plants, cleaned up the fish pond and did whatever else was necessary to make the gardens sparkle inspite of the heat and lack of blooms.

It was a long wait until I heard from the Society a few days ago. I received a beautiful letter and a certificate. The letter says they will honor my accomplishments at a reception hosted at PHS in Philadelphia in December. I may bring one guest to the reception. Of course, my guest must be the wonderful Undergardener, H.H., who does so much of the grunt work. One tiny disappointment: the PHS sometimes holds the reception at the Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg, but not this year. I don't know if this is because our governor is not living there in his attempt to save taxpayers' money.

Photographs of the winning gardens will be shown at the reception. (The photographs in this posting are some of my favorites taken spring through fall this year. They are in no particular order.) In addition to a certificate they will present me with two tickets to the 2016 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show to be held next March.

 At a meeting of my master gardener group last night, I shared this information in the hope of encouraging some of them to enter in future. Individual gardeners may enter in-ground gardens or gardens grown exclusively in containers. Community gardeners may enter vegetable and flower gardens, garden blocks and public-space plantings and parks. I hope some of my blogger friends in the three state area will consider entering this contest, too.

 It was a wonderful year in my garden, and my blue ribbon award is the icing on the cake!

Happy Gardening, dear friends,
Pamela x

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