Thursday, January 31, 2019

This Month in the Garden: January 2019

This month came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. No, it is not March yet, but the saying is relevant. January began cold but calm and with (almost) a promise of spring. It ended with a snow storm and the arrival of a Polar vortex, plunging temperatures to -4°F (-20°C) in my garden last night. The first week of the year I found daffodil shoots and other signs that the winter wouldn't last forever. Now it is a different story as you can see from this month in pictures:

Clear, cold days at the beginning of January were perfect for taking a walk around our farm fields.
 Froggy Pond froze over but there was color in my gardens from evergreen trees and shrubs.

Buds on rhododendron. Leaf rosettes on sedum growing in the crevice of a rock.

The tree stump --remaining from the silver maple tree that was felled a couple of years ago-- had an interesting fungus growing out of it.

Gnomes play on the tree stump where an interesting fungus grows

There was a dusting of snow earlier in the month.

Daffodil shoots made an appearance in early January -- photograph January 9.

I haven't peeked inside the cold frame since the Polar vortex arrived because now the kitchen garden is covered with ice. It is too treacherous for walking. When I last checked, about a week ago, the cabbages and Brussel sprouts where looking great.

In the middle of the month brassicas were surviving in the cold frame even with the intense cold.
Japanese andromeda Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire' in the Woodland Walk

January 20 saw a dramatic ice storm. The garden was magical.

An ice storm brought a different beauty to the garden.
Ice glittered on every plant and shrub

Ice storms are beautiful but as you know they can be deadly in the garden. Two years ago we lost our last remaining white birch tree when the weight of the ice snapped its trunk. This time several shrubs were damaged including three biotas that were dashed to the ground. I think they will recover.

A slight warm-up enabled the biotas (Thuja orientalis) to begin making a recovery but they have a lot of brown leaves.

Then the snow storm arrived:

It was a steady snow for most of the day resulting in a total of four or five inches.
The Serenity Garden took on a new beauty.
Doodles, the Nigerian dwarf goat, ventures outside before and after the snowfall. Billy Goat will not
leave the barn when there is snow on the ground. He doesn't have a thick coat like Doodles.

As I said, the snowstorm was followed by a severe drop in temperature. Parts of the country, however, are experiencing much colder weather than here, so I'm trying not to complain too much. Hopefully, February should be a little warmer. The weather man says it will be all the way up to 20°F (-6°C) in my corner of the Poconos tomorrow.

This is the first of a series that I plan to publish at the end of each month to document my garden throughout the year.  Looking back at my photographs I find that some months I take more pictures than others. I take lots during the gardening season unless it becomes too hot and humid. I sometimes go weeks before getting out the camera. I love photography and shouldn't let the weather deter me. Knowing that I am planning this series should motive me to take more pictures. At the end of the year, I will have a more comprehensive record of the changes and challenges at Astolat. Maybe some of you would like to join me. Link to me and I would be glad to provide links to your postings of This Month in the Garden. The next one is due February 28.

(I now realize that Lee at A Guide To Northeastern Gardening has a monthly posting of the same name. Lee's is quite different, however, as she highlights a specific topic each month. I'll try to think of a different name for mine. Check Lee's December posting HERE.)

Stay safe in whatever weather conditions you are experiencing, dear gardening friends.

Pamela x

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Little Vegetative Propagation

Who doesn't love free plants? I know I do. I was excited, therefore, when I noticed my snake plant (Sansevierias) had two babies at its base. I purchased the plant at the end of last summer from one of the big-box stores. Like many of my plant acquisitions, it was an impulse buy. It reminded me of my mother's collection when I was a child. She called hers mother-in-law's tongue. I remember she would have me wipe each stiff leaf with a damp cloth to remove dust and make it shine.

Sansevierias in the middle of the back row

Clump forming plants such as snake plant, hens and chics, and bromeliads develop plantlets or, to use the correct term, offsets. It is very easy to propagate these plants by division. Propagating means to create new plants.

Offset on the right at the base of the plant

When you are considering propagation by division, make sure your plant is free of disease, insects, and stress. As you can see, my snake plant seems to be quite happy. I began by assembling the materials I would be using. It was too cold to work in my potting shed, so I spread newspaper on the kitchen island and used a special tray to contain the mess; it's the tray I use when starting seeds. I gathered together the plant, some empty plant pots with drainage holes, a sharp knife (not shown), trowel, and gloves. For Sansevierias I prefer an organic cactus potting mix.

I began by collecting the materials I needed for propagating my plant

I gently pulled, cuting apart the offsets from the parent plant. It is important that the plantlets have roots.

Two offsets with roots.

I soon realized that one of the pots I had chosen was not big enough. Fortunately, I had a bigger one.

Realizing one of the pots wasn't big enough, I picked another

I covered the drainage hole of each plant pot with a small rock then added the potting mix. I quickly replanted each new plant. I watered without saturating them. Sansevierias needs indirect light and a temperature between 75° - 80°F. I placed them in the garden room, near a window.

New snake plants (Sansevierias) with silver lace fern (Pteris ensiformis)

The new Sansevierias plants should have some humidity so I put them next to my silver lace fern that is sitting on a dish of small rocks covered with water. I do mist the fern from time to time, but the pebble-and-water method is more consistent. Actually, I am quite pleased with my humidity tray: I bought a footed-dish made of recycled glass from Home Goods, filled it with small rocks from the Dollar Store, and added water. It looks more attractive than the plastic humidity trays that you can buy.

Plant sitting on a dish of small rocks with water added

With the fast-approaching snow and ice storm, it was so much fun to have an indoor gardening activity. I love my new little babies.

Happy Gardening (even if, like me, you are experiencing winter where you live.)

Pamela x

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Friday, January 11, 2019

The Year in Review

Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis in the Serenity Garden in April.

Spring was late. When the pretty white-petaled and gold-centered blooms of bloodroot appeared, I knew that it had arrived at last. After a mild winter, three March-through-April nor'easters battered the Poconos. We began to think spring would never come. How joyfully I welcomed those bloodroot blooms. They were quickly followed by an abundance of hellebores, snowdrops, crocuses, primroses, violets, lily of the valley, and daffodils. Spring has to be my favorite season -- especially after a prolonged winter.

Cheeky Blue Jay braved the March Nor'easters

Narcissus cyclamineus, the all-yellow daffodil with the swept-back petals, is one of the earliest to bloom: 

Daffodil Narcissus cyclamineus with its swept back petals


It seemed to rain a lot in May but the garden began to recover from the winter damage. We didn't realize then that rain would be the pattern for the year. In the Cottage Garden the alliums and peonies had buds ready to burst. Some alliums were already in bloom in Pollinator Heaven.

Froggy Pond and the Cottage Garden in May
The first allium blooms in May in Pollinator Heaven garden

I was thrilled to find dwarf crested iris flowers on the edge of Serenity.  I planted them the previous fall.
Dwarf crested iris Iris cristrata blooming for the first time
Grape hyacinth Muscari armeniacum in Serenity Garden

Along Bluebell Creek in the Woodland Walk there was a tapestry of spring flowers. Unfortunately, by the end of the year this area was inundated with Japanese stilt grass. I believe this invasive weed will be my biggest challenge in 2019.
English bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta, sweet woodruff, and hellebores
A major reason spring is my most loved season: the beautiful viburnum blossoms. Also, I delight in bridal veil spirea, mock orange, azalea, and rhododendron.

Maries' Viburnum Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesii' and Jonathan
White on White: Azaleas and Bridal Veil Spirea


The biggest winter damage was to the roses. Their stalks were black with no sign of life. I was tempted to pull them out, but resisted, and pruned them back vigorously to a couple of inches. I'm so glad I did this because they started to recover. Although I had few blooms, there was still hope. The climbing rose, sheltered against the south-facing garage wall, was less damaged. Other plants were not so fortunate and I lost some butterfly weed in Pollinator Heaven and several newly planted ground covers in the Woodland Walk.

Rose garden -- no June roses
Water iris in Froggy Pond

June is red and purple in the Cottage Garden. Peony spp. and Allium 'Globemaster'
Climbing rose and clematis -- perfect together


Summer arrived with excessive heat, rain, and humidity.  My summer garden was so disappointing. Take a look at the two pictures below and compare 2017 and 2018.  Last year the garden failed to peak in early July as it did in 2017 and all previous years. There are always compensations though -- the beautiful delphiniums were a plus.

Cottage Garden
July 2018
July 2017

Abundance Garden was a tangles mess all season. It was too hot and humid on rain-free days for me to do the necessary maintenance. But I took great pleasure in the sea holly. Over the years I planted four of these and this was the first to bloom. 

Sea holly Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Wilmott's Ghost'


Pond garden and patio with hydrangea 'Pinkie winkie' spilling over the fence

August was not pleasant - weatherwise. I had some successes in the Kitchen Garden, but didn't enter anything in the West End Fair because I traveled much of the month. You can read my Kitchen Garden evaluation HERE.

Fading cottage garden


There were a couple of plant highlights in September with the Serenity Garden probably the best venue.

Sweet Autumn Clematis Clematis ternifolia

Pink blooms of Sedum 'Autumn joy' and
Turtle head, Chelone 'Hot lips'


The trees around our farm had little fall color this autumn. 

Dwarf cutleaf maple Acer palmatum in it fall colors

Most of the fall color was provided by zinnias and marigolds in the kitchen garden

We now know that the Poconos had record setting rainfalls with precipitation 20 inches above normal. It was the warmest May through September. I wrote an article, 'How too much rain affects your gardens and what to do about it', to be published in the Pocono Record on Saturday, January 19, 2019.  I fear these new weather patterns will continue. Every year is an adventure, but despite the challenges I look forward with hope to the next gardening season. Can't wait for spring!

How was your 2018 garden?

Pamela x

Twelve spotted skimmer Libellula pulchella on my pond

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