Sunday, December 18, 2016

Falling into Winter

The last few days have been a roller coaster weather-wise.  We got a blast of arctic air, then rain that became a coating of ice yesterday morning, followed by 65 degrees this morning (balmy for December) and now, this afternoon, it's twenty degrees cooler and blustery.  What's next?  Well, the possibility of snow tonight.  

I took these pictures about a week ago before the dive in temperature.  The garden was decidedly in senescent mode with seed heads splintering, grasses going gold, and leaves mostly fallen. Some things remain green, but much is in a state of browning decay. Perennials are still standing, for the most part, as I embrace the various stages of decomposition.  It is a process worth watching just as it is seeing the garden re-emerge in spring.    

Twisting Baptisia in the foreground against the gold leaves of Amsonia hubrichtii.  Helenium 'Ruby Tuesday' is still blooming near the pot.
Leaving the perennials until late winter or early spring means there is still some mass, some weightiness, in the garden instead of empty space.  A decaying garden is dynamic scenery in my view, and, at the very least, something to look at through the winter until I chop everything back some time in February.  Garden designers Wolfgang Oehme and James Van Sweden taught many American gardeners to do this, and, as I took care of one of their gardens more than 20 years ago while working at the U.S. National Arboretum, I decided I liked the look. It's not to everyone's taste; I have clients who don't want to look at spent plants, but many see the appeal. There's a horticultural reason too: some perennials seem to benefit from being left untouched through the winter, returning more vigorously the following season than had they been cut back in the fall. Of course, whatever wildlife we have -- mostly birds, squirrels, and fox -- seem to appreciate the plant litter too.

I stood on the roof to take this aerial view.  I was getting ready to shred some of our leaves with the lawnmower; hence the pile on the tarp.  The mini-meadow is two years old, as is the rock/scree garden in front of it just behind the wall. Weird combination?  Well, I wanted both and this was really the only place for either one as it's the sunniest spot.
Sporobolus (Prairie Dropseed) turns a coppery

Surprisingly, a few things were still blooming last week, this Helenium because I bought them from a grower in early October and planted them soon after. Since they were propagated later in the season, they bloomed later.   I doubt they will be blooming at this time next year. 

Asian Aster ageratoides 'Ezo Murasaki' is a later bloomer.  This is its last gasp.

Standing behind the meadow looking down the grass path, now our only lawn.  3 'Twombly Red Sentinel' Japanese Maples recently shed their red  fall leaves. Deschampsia 'Goldtau' in the foreground by the steps is looking very green because it is a a newish planting and didn't have a chance to flower. 

The same path looking in the opposite direction. Molinia caerulia ssp arundinacea 'Skyracer' is the gold grass on the right

The other side of the grass path that loops around the mini-meadow.  I'm standing on a small elevated flagstone patio at the very back of the garden-- the Oak overview.  It really is the best place to appreciate the two towering White Oaks behind our house.  The cedar fence will eventually weather to silvery grey.

Hanging out a second story window provides another aerial view

Sometimes I wish I had a viewing platform to see the garden from above.  Gardens are usually designed in plan view,  yet they are rarely experienced that way.  In my case, I think the circle motif in my front garden is often lost on visitors unless it is pointed out or they happen to see the plan.

The brick circle in the flagstone (next to our front stoop) is fairly obvious, but there are two more: one is a pea gravel sitting area to the right of the front walk next to the big boulder (you can just make out the steel edging surrounding it) though the leaf pile and gravel color (I'm going to change that one day, it's too orange) make it hard to see.  The other is in the picture below--a dark green circle of mondo grass, Ophiopogon 'Nana' with a white stripe of a variegated form running through it. Circle visibility would be considerably better if I had taken photos after tidying up, but that was not to be. I was still in the throes of collecting leaves, most of which I compost or shred and return to the garden as mulch.

The circles?  They were intended to help unify the garden, feel enveloped by the plants surrounding the spheres. (There are Bottle Brush Buckeye planted on the outside edges of the front garden, which are mostly invisible because they've lost their leaves.)   As I write this, I'm already thinking of ways to emphasize the circles, make them more readable.  I'd love to hear from anyone out there with an opinion....
Hanging out a second story window and shooting through the branches of a Cornus alternifolia
Back to the plants in winter....

Evergreens help keep the garden looking vibrant through the winter, so it's not all bare stems, crumbling seed pods, and frayed leaves. They are a satisfying contrast to the procession of decay, provide a good backdrop for fall color, and keep the garden from visually disappearing.

Hakonechloa along the south side of the house turns a lovely gold and stands out against the evergreen Magnolia virginiana

Blackeyed Susans and Hakonechloa

The Agave salmiana to the right of the table is now covered by Remay fabric and a tarp to keep it warm
This scene will inevitably become less green and golden as winter progresses, but for now I'll take it. (Although the fence sure could use a vine or two to cover it up.)  The ice of yesterday morning added and a magical otherworldly dimension to this part of the garden.  I will post some of the photographs soon.  And, who knows, snow may be the next layer of invention.


1 comment:

  1. Love these pix and your descriptions. Maybe we are so close to the design of our gardens that that's why features seem obvious. I am always surprised when other gardeners who have been to my garden many times notice a form, feature, major planting that they've never noticed before even though it's always been there. Nothing like views from above to make it all clear!