Warm Winter Morning in the Garden
Sunday morning found me drinking coffee in my garden. I was up early enough to hear the first planes taking off from Reagan National and to watch the sky lighten. The remarkable thing was not that it was so early on a Sunday. What was remarkable was that I was sitting in the garden in a light sweater with a cup of coffee on the first day of winter. It was a balmy 72 degrees!
The best part was that there is still so much to enjoy in the garden, small as it is. I have always disliked looking at bare beds in winter. Gardens need ‘winter interest’ and this year, the winter interest takes the form of perennials and even spring bulbs as well as shrubs. The first shoots of my hastily and haphazardly planted bulbs are starting to appear, confirmation I didn’t get them in too late. I cut it pretty close, though, when I planted them around Thanksgiving.
There is also some very pretty foliage that has endured our recent cold spells. I planted three kinds of heuchera last spring with the intention ofhaving something to see in the garden during winter and I’m not disappointed. The one called ‘Green Spice’ is especially pretty, because the leaves have green edges and white centers and maroon spidery veins creating a delicate lacy pattern throughout. Small as the plants are, having been in residence for just six months, I can’t help noticing these details each time I walk past them. They will be really beautiful when they are larger. I have sung the praises of heuchera’s before and now am even more convinced that they are indispensible.
The hellebores look great, too. I planted three kinds of these as well, two of which are already blooming. One is the appropriately named Christmas Rose, (Helleborus niger ‘Jacob’), which has responded to the warm weather by pushing out its white flowers practically while you watch. The other is a great favorite, the stinking hellebore for its faintly icky smell (do not cut this one and bring it inside!), which stands tall with vermillion blooms. This will bloom longer than the Christmas Rose, and in spring will be a smashing combination with the various spring bulbs I planted at its feet.
The third hellebore I planted, ‘Helleborus x hybridus ‘Golden Strain’, is new to me. I was beguiled by the promise of a yellow star shaped inflorescence with multiple light yellow petals. At the moment it is showing promising buds but I can’t tell if they are leaves, which hellebores push up in late fall, or the flowers. I can’t wait to find out.
The Christmas roses are planted in two small clumps, both next to deeply colored leaves. One is planted next
to a red leafed heuchera called ‘Palace Purple’, and the other is planted next to Bergenia cordifolia ‘Alba’. The common name, I’ve heard is Pig Squeak so I stick to the Latin. Bergenias, which bears a 12” stalk with a cluster of pink or white flowers at the top in late spring, sport broad waxy leaves that are a perfect glossy green in summer. Their real garden moment is in winter, however, when the same leaves turn deep pinkish red that emphasize the hellebores’ pure white flowers. The combination is visible from my dining room window.
The grasses are cheery, too. There are two. The first was already in the garden and has been moved several times, but seems tough as nails. I am not sure which one it is, but I believe it may be Golden Variegated Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’). It looks just as fresh in high summer as it does right now. It, too, looks fabulous against the red heucheras. The Japanese Forest Grass, (Hakonechloa macra‘Aureola’)on the other hand, has turned a light straw color. I love this effect because it contrasts prettily against the dark green ivy covered walls and camellias. Crazy as it is, the combination always reminds me of a ‘60’s vintage bottle green MGB with tan leather seats. Go figure! I may plant more of both grasses in the spring. Full disclosure: My cats love eating the Forest Grass, so be prepared if you have felines.
I mentioned camellias, yes? A previous gardener planted them along the walls of the garden in an apparent attempt at espaliering them, but they were never consistently pruned correctly so they are very uneven. I’m going to shape them into a narrow hedge instead by pruning them in late winter, before they set their buds. They started blooming profusely in November and there are still a few that made it through the frosts of the
past several weeks. While I love the white flowers, (I think they are Camellia x‘Winter’s Snowman’) I’m determined to plant the orange/red ones (Camellia sasanqua) in the front of my house next year. I first fell in love with them in Williamsburg, and then was completely dazzled by them in their native Japan on a trip to Mount Fuji. They were planted in a hedge in the median of a four lane high way. The hedge was perfectly pruned and was miles long. That late Japanese fall day they were in full bloom, miles of reddish orange blossoms – incredible.
Pulling it all together are the pots that I’ve placed around the garden. I usually planted them with white kale and pansies – so predictable! I found myself at the nursery as Christmas greenery had overtaken fall planting, though, and the selection was at a bare minimum. Fortunately, however, there were enough purple Kale and blue pansies to fill my containers, and I snapped them up. It is a pretty combination and I’m quite satisfied with the effect. I tossed some tulips in beneath the pansies and am curious to see how that will look. I have not planted tulips for years because I lived in deer country but I have always wanted to try this trick. Stay tuned.
By the time this goes to press (can one really say that with an online publication?) the weather will have turned colder and wetter, and it will be back to fleece lined boots, warm coats, and holiday madness. I wish my readers Happy Holidays and a Blooming 2014.