Thursday, January 24

Snow Reveal


We've been pretty lucky this winter so far; even during periods of cold temperatures, we have had pretty good snow cover. I like to feel as though Ma Nature has tucked in my plants with a layer of white, fluffy insulation to help keep them cozy in the ground.

The other nice thing about the snow is that it reveals things that you may not otherwise know or see. For example, these footprints lead directly from my mailbox to the neighbor's, right through my garden!!!

Now, I know that the snow is hiding a lot of my plants, and that others have died back to the ground entirely, but still... only someone who wants to pretend that they aren't walking through a garden could mistake this area for a lawn. And since I do not have a new mailperson, she knows what this looks like during the rest of the year. Grr.

Snow also reveals the "bones" of the garden, including the branching structure of some shrubs that are otherwise hidden beneath a leafy canopy.

This is my doublefile viburnum, and between its horizontal branching habit, the beautiful, leathery green of its leaves, and the way it looks against the snow... well, so far those pluses have outweighed the negative of it being a moisture-sensitive plant.

I am looking for a more drought-tolerant replacement for it, but until I find something to fill is rather large shoes in terms of year-round interest and... well, handsomeness, here it remains. (Anyone want to weigh in on the merits of replacing it with a larger oakleaf hydrangea? I have a dwarf one planted approx. 14ft away from this spot, and can't figure out if I would really like or really hate having two oakleafs in the same bed.)

The snow also reveals what a distressingly messy gardener I can be. I'm not terribly apologetic about this, to be honest, because I love seeing seedheads and frost-frazzled leaves from plants like yarrow, echinacea, and of course all of the grasses as well.

I may regret my decision not to clean up a few prolific self-seeders, like bronze fennel, atriplex hortensis, 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth, and these Northern Sea Oats... but I figure that doing a spring cleanup, and weeding out or transplanting a bunch of seedlings, will give me some "light duty" projects to do in a few months, when I'm itching to really dig in the dirt but know that I shouldn't!

Last but not least, when the snow has provided a ground of white for your plants, and flashy annual color is a distant memory, you can sometimes better assess your overall design where perennials and shrubs are concerned. I've always struggled a bit with identifying my own garden design style, but it's probably technically identified as "eclectic." That said, I like the way that Craig at Ellis Hollow described it to me not too long ago: controlled wildness.

I've been taking several looks at my new front yard garden this winter, and think that I have figured out a few things that I want to tweak in the coming year. (You can see what it looked like this fall, when newly planted, here.)

Right now, this garden seems to have a little too much "wildness," and not quite enough of it is "controlled!" A couple of the more formal elements that I had introduced, like planting the Japanese hollies in a row, and echoing that with a row of 'Hameln' pennisetum in the middle of the garden (above the golden yucca) really stand out now as places for your eye to rest.

I think that providing another formal but modern element, and providing the eye another place to rest, answers my question of what to do in the 18-inch strip in the foreground of this picture, in front of the yucca, caryopteris, and euphorbia.

In fact, I think that what I need is to have a straight line of shorter grasses there. Much as I have been enamored of my carex buchanii (left) of late, I think that something unfussy, in a medium green would be best. Something that is not usually used in a formal way. Maybe some prairie dropseed--which I've been trying to find a place for in my garden anyway--or maybe the 'Hameln,' but more of it, with the prairie dropseed planted in its current place instead.

Whatever the actual plant, I think that making this tweak will help tame this area and give it a little structure. Unless, of course, further viewing of the snowy pictures reveals another idea for me!

32 comments:

Layanee said...

Kim: It still looks great, even in the snow! I am happy that you have a 'Hoogendorn' Japanese holly. That nursery is in RI and someday, when you travel here, I can take you there! A bit more connection! I am sure that your new plans will look great when implemented. A garden is never 'done' is it!

Leslie said...

I always wonder what people are thinking (not thinking)when they walk right through plantings. Hopefully everything will be OK. I can't really name my garden style either, but I just keep doing what you're doing...putting things where they seem to be needed until an area "feels" right. Your front yard garden has come a long way and it is already looking good..I'm betting you get closer to feeling like it's right soon!

Stuart said...

You are fortunate to have this snow reveal the path of your postie - I just have dead plants.

After putting up with his scooter driving through one of my garden beds, I decided enough was enough. A few appropriately placed star pickets and he was re-educated in no time.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Layanee, really? I had assumed it was a Dutch cultivar imported across the pond, by the name! How long do you think it would take to get to your place from northern NJ? (My boyfriend's parents live there, and we go occasionally.)

Leslie, not thinking is right! It has come a long way, hasn't it? I was kind of surprised when I saw the old picture (from the "style" link) of it in 2006. Not just the fact that it was mostly grass and very little garden, but also that it "feels" so different than the garden that it's become. It does feel more right now, and hopefully will feel even more so soon.

Stuart, that's a really good idea! I happen to have trashpicked a short black metal gate (about 2ft. tall) some time back. I grew shorter peas on it one year, but right now it's just hanging out in the garage. Perhaps it would send a polite message to the mailperson... because I really don't want to call up to the post office and complain!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Kim I think your front garden looks great. That postman should know better. Sort of like Luna. She doesn't go through many of my flower beds during summer but during winter she thinks the entire back garden is fair game. I have to reeducate her from time to time with those little wire fences. Maybe they would work on your postman. Out of sight out of mind for most.

kate said...

Your garden looks good in winter, but then I loveblac the look of seedheads and grasses. They are like a reminder of what lives beneath.

Ah, thankfully you noticed the shortcut the letter carrier takes - I like the idea of the black metal gate. It's a good re-education project.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Oh, Lisa, I know how that works! Coco tramples around the backyard this winter at will, in areas where she doesn't dare go when plants are up and green. Maybe I ought to get some wire fences for both the dog AND the postwoman! :)

Kate, I agree... they are a wonderful reminder of what lives beneath. :) And I do believe that I'll be putting up my re-education tool tomorrow morning. (Bri thinks that she will simply walk around it, based on how she's treated our mail before--long story--but I'm hopeful it will help.)

Pam said...

I like all of the residues of summer - the stuff that people rush to clean up, that I too leave hanging around until new growth in the spring forces me to cut back. The birds enjoy it - and although we don't have snow to blanket it, sometimes we'll have a nice frost, and there's nothing quite as beautiful as frost on the hanging seedheads of the mexican sunflowers. (And as for two oakleaf's in the same bed - not a problem, I can't imagine ever having enough of them).

jodi said...

I'm with others--it all looks great, Kim, and I'm seriously not impressed at your mail carrier's lack of respect for your garden. Can't help with the oakleaf hydrangea--they're marginal here where I am although other parts of NS do fine with them, but I'm tempted to try one myself because of the awesome fall colours of the foliage. Maybe if you mulched the doublefile really well and put more organic matter into the soil around it, it would do better when things are dry?

Carol said...

Hi Kim, I had an Oakleaf Hydrangea at my 2nd garden and it is a "handsome" plant with big leaves and large panicles of creamy flowers. What I didn't like about it was that it was the first plant attacked by Japanese beetles each summer. That wasn't its fault, but because of that I've hesitated getting another one. Other than that it is a plant to have!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Meagan said...

Personally I'd make the education a little more severe. Some sharp rocks, random trenches, raised sticks (pointy?) trip wire (to grow viney things on of course) and maybe something shifty... like globes on semi-flat surfaces (un-flat enough to keep it in place until someone steps on it). Of course I'm now thinking less in terms of protecting your garden and more in terms of booby-trapping the area around your house in the least threatening LOOKing ways possible. Just for fun, you know?

Pam/Digging said...

Re: the mail carrier tromping through your plants, I feel your pain. We've had a succession of mail carriers over the years, and every single one cuts through a narrow strip along the driveway between my yard and the neighbors'. Which wouldn't be a problem except that strip has always been thoroughly and obviously planted.

So whenever we get a new carrier, I wait until I see him/her cutting through my plants, and I go out and nicely ask him not to. This last time, I put a potted agave in his path for good measure!

Nan Ondra said...

Sounds like you gained some great insights from your winter garden study, Kim. It's amazing how people think that it's ok to walk right through a garden if they can't see the plants (or even when they can). Our last snow here revealed some unwelcome visitors in my own garden: apparently several deer figured out that they could simply walk in the front gate (the only gap in hundreds of feet of fence). I guess I too will have to consider some deterrent measures before spring!

Kylee said...

I love the skeleton of your doublefile viburnum! My cotoneasters look much the same and for awhile, they had pretty red berries, too. Then the birds found them. ;-)

As for the mail carrier situation - shame on her! I'd be really irritated too. I hope your behavior modification methods work!

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Pam, that's kind of what I'm thinking, too, that you can't have too many oakleaf hydrangeas. But then on the other hand, I wonder if I would like having two in such a small space--or if I'd mind the opportunity cost of not trying something else that I would otherwise have no place for? (If my convoluted thinking makes sense.)

Jodi, thanks for the compliment! I actually have mulched the doublefile really well and have added lots of organic matter there... it just still looks very sad on most days when it's hot, and we haven't had rain in the past 24 hours. (Darn my sandy soil... *grin*)

I'm trying to figure out a way to get it to my parents' house (Mom, please disregard this sentence if you're reading my blog right now!) because I know it would be much happier there. I just have to figure out a good place for it, and then achieve buy-in. lol.

Carol, really? Japanese beetles? I haven't seen any of those on my dwarf one yet--knock on wood!

Meagan, have I ever told you that you might be my most diabolical friend ever?! LOL.

Pam/Digging, I actually had a rare day off yesterday and kept my eye out for the mail carrier in the hopes that I could talk with her... but she came while I was meeting my boyfriend for lunch! Argh. And yes, there were fresh footprints through the garden when I got home. *sigh*

Nan Ondra, yikes! Hopefully they weren't casing the garden for a future visit to come back and munch... admittedly, I would rather have a mailman walking through a single path than browsing deer. Good luck!

Kylee, I had a cotoneaster a couple of years back, but I couldn't keep it happy and it was the one plant in my garden that got the cottony mealybug thingies on it. I hated to do it, but I ripped it out and replaced it with something else.

That's another good thing about living in the country, isn't it? My parents may have to walk across the road to get to their mailbox, but their mail is delivered by vehicle and nobody's cutting through their gardens! :)

Ki said...

Gee, I guess you'll have to put up more fencing! As if fighting off deer, rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels, plant disease and pests are not enough. Unthinking neighbors would put me over the edge.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

Hi Kim,
What an interesting post. I have had to call my mailman before, you just have to figure out which PO they work at and call early.

I have been taking some pleasure in the winter garden this year. It is nice to have a blanket of snow during the cold temps. I have found that my perennial survival rate goes way up compared to bare ground.

I am not a fan of Doublefile in the small garden. They always seem to get to big and have found that they really need a lot of space to develop their full glory. Pruning just takes away from the natural shape. So I would swap it for the Hydrangea or try and get the smaller ‘Newport Beauty’ Doublefile.

I have been trying to follow Piet Oudolf’s New Wave planting style where you leave the perennials uncut. It is a little difficult since I was always trained to cut everything back and have it look tidy. I have enjoyed the seed heads on the perennials, grasses and even some of the annuals.

Finally, sorry about writing a book here ;), I think Epimedium would like for your front strip. If the regular type is too plain try one of the other rarer types. It makes an excellent and tough edge.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Ki, I know. The kids who cut through are one thing, and they're bad enough. But the adults who do it on purpose really get under my skin!

Digital Flower Pictures, you bring up some interesting things that I have wrestled with internally.

Some background: I saw a picture in a book once of a doublefile vibirnum that had been carefully pruned low to the ground--the gardener allowed it to get about 3ft. tall at the most, but still develop its usual horizontal structure. It was gorgeous, and because I see the doublefile when I come down the front porch stairs, I like the idea of looking down on something with such an interesting structure to it.

However, I admit that I have doubts as to whether I can manage the pruning artistry that this would involve. And I kind of waver on the wisdom of planning such an endeavor in what is supposed to be a relatively maintenance-free garden.

Hmm. I guess I really do need to think on this one for a while longer, no? :)

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Forgot to say that I do love the epimediums... but I have a few of those in the backyard already, under the dry shade of the grape arbor. I'm not sure whether they would take as much sun as they would get there (it's a western exposure, and that area gets no shade from the treelawn tree) but I can't stand the thought of the neighborhood dogs peeing on them. (Silly, I know, but clumps of grasses seem somehow more suitable to such abuse!)

Benjamin Vogt said...

A messy garden is a delightful winter garden--and fo rme, I'm trying to get things to self sow so I won't have to buy as many plants OR get too involved.

And last week our temps got down to -10, and so I went and scooped up snow from a drift on one side of the house and carried it around to plants I knew might like some insulation--i.e. pushing the zone. I hope my neighbors didn't see me--I always think they believe I'm crazy with some of the things they see me doing outside.

Kylee said...

Oh Ben, I did the same thing a couple of weeks ago. We'd gotten a bunch of snow, but the new Japanese Maples had none of it around them, so I was out shoveling snow around them. Our neighbor walked up about that time and said, "What are you DOING?" But he already thinks I'm nuts, so it's no big deal. LOL

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Why don't you try 1 of the small Oakleafs? Maybe 'Little Honey' would be different enough from your other plant during the growing season. In winter, they might look a bit too much alike, though.
I vote for planting the Prairie Dropseed in front of the Yucca. It is such a natural edger & its fountainy shape would be an interesting counterpoint to the Yucca.

Diana said...

And I thought it was bad that our mail carrier leaves packages on top of the mailbox out in the rain. Tromping through my garden would be far worse! Just found your blog and your "Tomato Thief" dog! He's adorable -- I have a tomato thief myself, and my next project it to fence off the veggie garden to keep him from eating and puking up my produce!!! Loved your winter pictures - it was 70 here in Austin, Texas this weekend ; /

chuck b. said...

We don't have Japanese beetles out west YET, and it's a subject of periodic concern.

It really does look like your plants are tucked in with a blanket! The snow makes everything look so clean. Because it's so white, I guess. Snow makes winter a good time for crisp lines. In my snowless garden, winter just makes everything feel weak and emaciated. But January is almost over, and spring is just around the corner!

Ottawa Gardener said...

We have that problem with dogs (and people) around here though thankfully there has been so much snow that most people (and dogs) have been staying to the shovelled pathes.

I'm erecting a fence next year around the front of my property because of the kids but with intentions on having gates to direct people to pathes.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Benjamin, they do think you're crazy, trust me! I always suspected the same myself, but last year my new neighbor called me on it when she caught me outside gardening in my front yard at 11:30pm. *grin* But hey, we give them something to talk about--and that extra insulation will be good for your plants. :)

Kylee, LOL!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter, oooh. You're right about the fountainy shape of the dropseed in contrast to the yucca. I was thinking color and texture--the form puts it right up at the top of the list! (I had also been considering eragrostis, or deschampsia flexuosa.)

Maybe what I need to do is just move the existing dwarf oakleaf over to that area, and find somethign else to put in its place. Hmm.

Diana, thanks so much for stopping by! Oh, I tell you--my mail carrier does that, too. Especially before we got the new box, and just had the slot that was literally in the side of the house. She apparently took that as license to shove things in just enough that they would stay there until she walked around the corner before falling out. *sigh*

chuck b., it does look very clean. Even with my messiness. And I can see what you mean about winter garden feeling weak and emaciated to you... except that I don't see those things when I visit your blog during the winter. :)

Ottawa Gardener, I feel your pain. Part of the reason the fence went up was to deter the people cutting through the backyard. Unfortunately, my next door neighbor still has that problem--and it's not just kids, it's adults, too! Argh.

On a related note, the very next day there were footprints up to the gate that then turned around and didn't walk any further. Hopefully the point has been taken?

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Snow covers a multitude of sin in the garden but also may bring some to life. It's clear that you're not the only one suffering from an annoying postperson, Kim. My parents had one too and they put a bit of barbed wire up (clearly visible) and problem solved!

Kerri said...

I'm sure you'll manage to get the point across to the mailperson in a polite way (through gritted teeth) :)
We've had pretty good snow cover here for most of the winter so far. I had to push a few newly planted small pieces of lilies back into the ground during that warm spell at the beginning of January, but since then the plants have been well insulated.
I left the seed heads intact for the birds this winter. I like the winter interest too.

nina said...

I think you need a mini fence for your garden--something to show people it's not a path--though, why isn't that understood without one?

Glad you left some seed heads--the birds thank you.

Diane said...

Kim, I've only taken time to read a few of the responses but I agree: how inconsiderate to walk across your front garden! That's completely direspectful. I like the look to be honest. Perhaps what you're missing that makes you _think_ it needs adjustment is a bit of height. Why not plant a few tall grasses? The height variances will make quite a difference and a sense of the exotic in summer too!

:-)
Diane
Alberta Postcards
Diane's Flickr photos

Annie in Austin said...

Kim - I was avoiding your Friend and Gardener post, until I finish the book - and stupidly missed this snow-track post.

My experience was years ago, but I can relate! Our last IL front garden was a 50-foot square with lawn in the center and curvy beds around the edges. First snowfall and wham! Specially purchased dwarf evergreens stomped, leafless shrubs hit by clumping feet, perennials ground under foot. The mail didn't do it in this case - it was people who stick rolled up ad papers, flyers and hangtags on your front door.

We eventually put up a low rail fence, interrupted with larger evergreens and shrubs, and for a few years we could look out the front window and see only tracks of birds and critters on the snow.

Good luck solving your 'invisible garden' problem.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Jane M. said...

Kim, i didn't read all of the comments, so i hope i'm not duplicating anything, but...

I had the same mailman issue in my old house. So when we moved here, before I planted a thing, I tracked the mailman's moves over the winter. In the spring, when I installed my new garden, I made the path follow his exactly. Of course, it's never been a problem since.

A couple of years later, I happened to bump into him outside and when he said how pretty the garden was, i thanked him and told him how I'd gone about designing the path. He was really touched...so moved I think he almost shed a tear.

Everyone wins!

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