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Garden Lifestyle

Winter Wait

For we northern gardeners, there is a waiting process this time every year.

  • garlic in the snow. click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
    Photo/Illustration: susan belsinger
  • the garden under a light blanket of snow
  • The hose is drained and disconnected--however it didn't get put in the shed for the winter.
  • Winter aconite in bloom--recent pass-along plant from gardener Pat Kenny.
  • yucca in the snow
  • Helleborus foetidus has been blooming since December; it freezes and thaws and keeps on blooming.
  • Old and worn, gardener's boots waiting for planting.
  • snow-covered rosemary
  • Spring bulbs are inching their way upwards.
  • lavender adorned with snow
  • Monarda didyma seed heads with crowns of snow.
  • Garlic doesn't seem to mind the snow or cold weather.

For we northern gardeners, there is a waiting process this time every year. Here are a few things to do while we await the spring… and for you southerners… here’s just a dusting of winter white.

Last week, we celebrated Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Imbolc. All of these events have something to do with the coming of spring—which isn’t really quite here yet—although it sure is in the air. We also had the Full Snow Moon on Tuesday and it has been gorgeous out there in the evening. Did you know that at the beginning of February our day length is just 10 hours and by the end of the month it will be over 11 hours long? (I just love the Old Farmer’s Almanac.)

We have had an extremely mild winter here in the Mid-Atlantic region. From what I hear across the northern states, it has been fairly mild for them. We have had only a handful of snows and they have not accumulated to much. I know some of my northernmost stalwart gardening friends are lamenting the lack of snow. After all, cold weather and snow is part of the cycle of the seasons. Snow covers and protects our plants, not to mention increases our water table. Freezing temps help to kill off some diseases as well as some of the bugs that eat our crops. 

I must admit that I haven’t minded the warmer winter weather, though I do like and celebrate the change of seasons. The snow is pretty when it covers the landscape. However, I don’t like it much, when I have to shovel deep snow, when we lose power because of fallen trees and limbs, or when I have to go somewhere and the roads are bad. I just stay at home… that’s the idea. Stay home, turn inward, hibernate a little, reflect by the warm stove, catch up on reading, peruse seed and plant catalogues, and putter as needed.

Well with this mild winter, I haven’t gotten to do much of that and it makes me feel slightly out of whack. And if I feel that way, no wonder the snowdrops are blooming and the daffodils are a few inches tall. We know that life is burgeoning under the soil level. I am just hoping that our fruit trees and bushes don’t set fruit too soon. It would be disastrous to lose our fruit crops across the nation. So I think good thoughts and hope that Mother Nature continues to provide for us.

Speaking of fruit, elder or elderberry will be Herb of the Year for 2012. So I have been gathering photographs, recipes and lore on Sambucus. Raintree Nursery has ten (!) different elderberries (Sambucus species) for sale (all with edible fruits) and I am having trouble deciding which to choose, since I can’t have them all… they are trees you know.  I definitely want the golden-leaved ‘Sutherland Gold’ (S. racemosa); ‘Goldbeere’ (S. nigra) which has golden fruits (!); “Caerulea’ (S. caerula) described as a northwest native with powder-blue berries; and then there is ‘Blacklace’ (S. nigra) with pink flowers atop red-purple foliage. www.raintreenursery.com  

I will note a few other catalogue intrigues here. Being the chilehead that I am, I was delighted to get a recent communication that Renee’s Garden Seeds is offering ‘Bhut Jolokia’, otherwise known as Ghost Pepper. This chile is a cross between Capsicum chinensis x C. frutescens and is purported to be the hottest chile ever—reaching 1 million-plus on the Scoville Heat Scale! She has limited quantities, so I placed my order right away for a couple of packs even though the warning says to “Use very, very sparingly.” www.reneesgarden.com

If you are in the market for organic seed potatoes, then check out Irish Eyes Garden Seeds catalogue. www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com It is practically impossible to choose from their large selection and they also offer collections from heat tolerant, fingerling and heirloom to those which can be grown in a cage. They have a great potato reference chart, which gives info on each potato including color of skin and flesh, days to maturity, heat tolerance, yield, storage, and more. Now, I just have to wade through the descriptions and limit myself to the number of seed potatoes I actually have room for!

I’ll share a few more garden catalogues next time—if you have any seeds or plant fantasies that are causing you to swoon—please share them!  In the meantime, enjoy the garden snow vignettes of winter in my Maryland garden and take a nap by the woodstove if you feel like it.

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