February 21, 2015

First Little Spring Flowers

We are enjoying an early spring this year, and the hellebores and first crocuses are already open.
This 'Golden Lotus' hellebore (Lenten Rose) is the earliest plant to flower, and one of the prettiest in my garden.
'Berry Swirl' is about to open on the east side of the house. 
'Golden Bunch' crocuses are blooming in clusters around the front and west yards.  The clusters grow in size each year since they are happy in well drained soil and plenty of sun. 
Their vivid color makes up for their small size.  The first buds appeared three weeks ago at the beginning of February, and now they're nearly done blooming for the year.
'Firefly' crocuses popped up a couple of weeks ago in the backyard.  Their pale color blends in to the ground unless the sun comes out, and then they open widely to make a cheerful show.
These should continue to increase in number each year as well, so eventually they'll make a thick swathe of lilac across the front of the main sunny backyard bed.
Afternoon temperatures reached the 50's last week, which made spring garden chores much more pleasant.  The next week should be colder, which is probably good so plants don't leaf out too far and then be killed back by hard frost.  And it will give me more time to complete my garden 'To Do' list a little at a time.

February 12, 2015

Willow Heart Valentine's Floral

The happiest part of Valentine's Day is giving pretty flowers to someone you appreciate (although I always like to receive chocolate, hint hint, LOL).  This year I was in charge of flowers for 43 staff members at my children's school in addition to a dozen other gifts that my girls and I like to bring to friends who might not otherwise get flowers.
With no roses blooming in my garden for several more months, I had to make do with store-bought flowers, but our mild winter meant that the evergreen and semi-evergreen plants in my yard had greenery that looked good enough to use instead of buying filler.
Last year I crafted hearts from the stems of my dwarf Arctic willow shrub, and I did the same this year.  I simply held two stems together, bent the tops around to create a heart, and wired them in place at the base of the heart. 

Sprigs of wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) added texture to a background of larger 'Otto Luyken' laurel leaves and purple 'Hall's Purple' honeysuckle stems.
The greenery wasn't quite as fresh as it would have been in summer, but sometimes you have to settle for good enough, especially when you've already spent three times your budget!
Although I looked in stores and online, I couldn't find any vases for less than $2.  Target had some glass cups on sale for $1 each, so I used those for most of the arrangements.  The willow heart at back held the little arrangement upright despite the wider opening on the cups.

After making a dozen or two arrangements, I finally figured out that the best way to assemble them was to lay the heart down, set the greenery and rose on top, then lay the ribbon (tied onto a wire) on top of the pile.  Finally I tied the stems together with a length of raffia, clipped the bottoms to even them out, and dropped the whole thing into the cup or vase.  It made a Big Mess in my dining room.
The shape of these arrangements made it easy to balance them together in boxes to transport to the school.  It was fun to see some of the smiles of the women teachers (the men just got bags of mixed popcorn).  After my girls get home from school, we'll deliver the rest of the arrangements along with a hug.  Happy Valentine's Day!

February 2, 2015

Beauty in the Winter Garden

Finding beauty in the winter garden requires a closer look, but the muted colors and contrasting forms have a quiet loveliness of their own.  A 'Blue Dart' rush (Juncus) above still holds its green-blue color near the end of winter, with interesting brown seed heads attached near the top.  This plant is late to awaken, so I don't cut it back to the ground until early spring.

'Blue Star' junipers hold their steel-blue color all year, which makes a nice contrast to the 'Green Tower' boxwood nearby.

The curving edges of the beds can be appreciated all year long, and of course the large stones are a welcome presence in winter and summer.

'Wee Willie' boxwoods stay green better than any of the other varieties of boxwood in my garden.  The basalt column is lovely with or without a dusting of snow.

It is harder to find beauty in the younger backyard landscape since the evergreens are still so small.  But these little 'Thumbelina Leigh' lavender shrubs have filled out their space in front of a boulder, and the limber stems of the vigorous dwarf Arctic willow make a nice backdrop. 

My two 'Scallywag' holly shrubs lost a lot of lower leaves last year as they struggled to get established, but they have held up well to winter weather. 

I find myself wishing for more boulders in winter.  They are the ultimate low maintenance addition to the garden! 

It has been a pleasant surprise to find that 'Peach Sorbet' blueberries are nearly evergreen, with interesting shades of red and maroon and green on the leaves all winter.

Our winter has been milder than normal and spring seems near, especially as a flock of twenty robins has come to play around our backyard throughout the past week.  Some sort of black bird and little finches join in the fun.  We have delighted in watching them hop and flutter all over, chasing each other and squawking just as my children do when they play.  They drink and play in the birdbaths, munch on some tiny crabapples from the 'Royal Raindrops' trees, then play some more. 

Just yesterday the number of birds swelled to the hundreds.  We were amazed and gave up counting.  You can see a few birds in the photo above, and there were many, many more perched in the other trees around our yard and in the tall aspens that grow next to our fence in the neighbor's yard.  Two weeks ago these trees were covered with thousands of tiny crabapples, and now they are stripped bare.  I hope some of the birds stick around for the spring and summer, too.  But at least they have been a beautiful addition to the winter garden.