Friday, March 31, 2023

As March Roars Out

A day of storm: intermittent torrential rain pounding on the metal roof, streaming down the windowpanes. Around noon the electricity jolted off and on several times before staying off for about 45 minutes. I filled two teakettles and set them on the wood stove, found a book and settled close to the grey-green light of an east window. 
It has been a month of fractious weather, not unusual for March and April here, but frustrating, humbling perhaps as we realize yet again that we are at the mercy of whatever comes, be it the unseasonable warmth of early March when magnolias bloomed, rose bushes unfolded crinkled new leaves, or the run of frosty nights that nipped and blighted the new growth.

Determined to save my budding clematis I trudged out on chilly evenings to wrap the trellises in old sheets and towels, using clothes pegs to snug the fabric around the vines. Predictably 'Candida' and 'Duchess of Edinburgh' are showing shriveled buds, while the later blooming shorter varieties appear nearly undamaged.
As for the roses, I may as well wait several weeks and then prune again. Looking over my blog journals for the past several years I note that we've had heavy frost and even light snow in mid-April well into May. It takes only one such brief spell of cold spring weather to undo the effort toward an early garden.

Looking west during a break in the rain around 6 p.m.
With a stint of cooking/baking finished, I slipped on wellies and a rain jacket to trudge out with the little bucket of kitchen scraps. The rain held off long enough for me to stomp up the lane to the mailbox, only to find that the mailman did not make his route today. Mail tucked into the box yesterday afternoon, flag raised; out-going mail still there, the envelopes looking wilted. I tucked them under my coat, brought them back in to flatten on the edge of my desk.
Any threat of inclement weather here closes school, halts mail delivery, postpones scheduled events. We suppose the excuse is the narrow secondary roads that lunge along the ridges and cross the creeks which can so quickly overflow.
I was back inside long enough to kick off my boots and shed my raincoat before the next burst of rain belted down.
With the kitchen tidied I leaned against the front door sampling a small slice of blueberry pie, enjoying the close-up view of a pair of titmice bouncing about on the wet porch, picking bits of kibble from the outdoor cats' dish. 
The titmice are cocky little things, often jigging along the edge of the raised bed or landing on the porch railing, seemingly unfazed by lurking felines.

On warm afternoons I've continued a half-hearted weeding of the south/east wall garden. At the far end you can see the hybrid magnolia, 'Jane' stripped of blossoms first by wind and then by frost. She is making a feeble effort to come into leaf. Beyond are two lilacs; being accustomed to the rigors of a New England spring they have calmly gone about putting out leaves undaunted by frost.

Early morning frost melting away as the sun hits the meadow.

Mayapple unfurling crinkled umbrellas after the frost.

A clump of bloodroot discovered on the half-cleared upper slope of the north ravine.

A few moments of strange green darkness before an early dusk.
Sally and Willis have plodded through soaked grass and then sensibly taken to the wall--coming to inquire if I need their help.
As I type, thunder is rolling in again bringing the threat of another power blip.
The forecast for the night is an uneasy one. 
Lightning is flashing in purple-white streaks through the bare trees across the south ridge.
I'm out of here for now!


Monday, March 6, 2023

After the Storm Passed Through

 I was awake before 6 this Monday morning and too restless to consider trying for another hour of sleep. The nearly full moon was sliding down the western horizon, visible from my window, while through my half open bedroom door I could see the first light of day slanting through the blinds, splaying out in streaks across the floor.

I dressed quietly and tip-toed to the kitchen followed by the inevitable retinue of cats. 
Sunday had been warm--still 56 F at 10 p.m. so the wood fire was allowed to go out, with the mini-split set to counter early morning chill. 
Interestingly, the outside temp  at 7 a.m. when I thought to look, was 57 F. 
I opened the door for several cats to amble out and was captivated by the flush of color that heralded the sun's appearance.

We were blessed to have very minimal damage from Friday's horrendous wind that left many without electrical power. 
It was a strange day, a time when one is thoroughly at the mercy of the elements.
Rain fell fitfully through Thursday night and thunder rattled about just before Friday daybreak. Jim kept watch of the doplar map and it appeared the predicted high winds might move north of us. I had an early afternoon errand in neighboring Russell Springs and noted fast-moving dark clouds at noon. Jim wasn't busy and offered to drive. He tuned the car radio to a local station which kept interrupting programing with storm warnings. Errands hurriedly done, we headed back through torrents of lashing rain, yet as we approached home the sun burst through a patch of blue while in the other direction black clouds boiled.

The wind continued to increase, roaring through the bare trees bordering the ravines on the north and south of our property. I stood at the east windows fretting as the wind ripped fresh pink blossoms from my hybrid magnolia trees. A panel from our small lean-to greenhouse was flung onto the ground. I ran out to salvage it, attempting to wrestle it inside the woodshed. The force of the wind was astonishing.
Just before dark I noticed that it had been tossed out again. J. battled his way out and over-turned his wheelbarrow on the panel; by morning the panel had been borne away, as J. ruefully stated, probably into the next county.
Although our electricity flickered several times, it didn't go out. By morning we would learn of power outages throughout the area with many homes and  businesses reconnected late today, others still without. Property damage has been severe in some areas. Such forces of nature seem mindlessly random--quite beyond human resources to prevent.

 At intervals during Friday evening the howling of the wind paused for a few seconds only to resume with manic force until nearly midnight.

Next morning all was serene, the sky deeply blue, a few white clouds hovering benignly. The air was still, birds chirped and flittered. Except for a scattering of small tree limbs along the lane--and the missing greenhouse panel--at least at our homestead there was little to suggest the violent weather of the preceding day.

We had word that church was cancelled, checked in with family and friends. Many were without electricity. Howard was dealing with downed trees and water over the bridge that crosses the 
mis-named Dry Creek that flows between their property and the road.
We walked our boundary lines, noting the limbs that would need to be cleared away. I found magnolia petals had been plastered into the rough grass beyond the veg garden and even past the bend of the lane. 

During the years in our native Vermont, power outages were not uncommon, usually a feature of winter ice and snow. We take electricity for granted--the flick of a switch creating light; the hum of the fridge; the micro-wave, toaster, electric range. 
In Vermont we had a propane range, here, although an electric range is the economical choice, we have our woodstove for heat. We have an old-fashioned percolator, a teakettle, a pantry stocked with food that could be heated on the wood stove.  
As the song says, 'Country Folks Can Survive!'
We are blessed to have come through the storm unscathed. My heart goes out to those who are dealing with leaking roofs, trees down on vehicles or crashed into houses.

I spent much of today working outside, lured by what may prove to be a deceptively false spring.
Trees are budding. 

Clematis 'Candida' is rampaging up the trellis. I had to snip away some tendrils that had been blasted by the wind. It is interesting to notice that several of my clematis are in active growth while others are just breaking dormancy.

I worked in the back garden for hours. This sage plant is showing new growth. Below it the white-flowered buddleia is alive, a few shoots poking out at the base of the shrub. No signs of life on the usually exuberant purple one. I gave it another pruning but have little hope that it survived the brutal cold between Christmas and the New Year.

I tackled the mounds of thyme planted at the base of the large trellis; a tangle of dead stems, a few sprigs of lemon thyme showing life, a mat of English thyme which may revive.

Of my three David Austin roses, 'The Poet's Wife' nearest the house wall, is putting out fresh leaves. 'Queen of Denmark' has two stalks showing life but dead wood that needed cutting back.
At the outer-most edge of the planting is Roald Dahl, looking poorly. This is a rose that sprawls untidily, needing pruning several times during the summer. It has been the most floriferous of the three, recovering quickly when the dreaded Japanese beetles have subsided for another season. The rose/peach blooms are semi-double with silky petals and a warmly sweet scent. I will be pleased if there is enough life for the bush to revive--but I am not optimistic. 

I worked on, past the point where my body was suggesting I quit. I cleaned up the crowns of foxglove, pleased to find new growth on one which had played dead. I gouged out weeds, moved a coneflower that had popped up where it didn't belong, salvaged a phlox from the rough strip along the lane. 
I admit that by this time I was wandering from one garden spot to another, inwardly groaning that even this early in the season the encroaching weeds are beyond me. 
Monarda has spread from the rough strip into the grass--where it will be ruthlessly mowed by J. if I don't rehome it. The shrub roses hastily interred there when we moved from the farm are in need of attention. A clump of Michaelmas daisies are ready to divide. 

I don't anticipate conquering the weeds or creating tidy well-planned gardens, but there it is--flowers are a necessity of my life, so I will likely keep pruning and digging.
It is truly a losing battle, one that increasingly I lack the stamina to win.

The day of the storm.

Hybrid magnolia, 'Jane.'

Although labeled 'Jane' this one is more likely 'Susan.'

Pansies near the front steps.

'The Poet's Wife' surrounded by foxglove, nepeta, pinks--and of course, weeds.


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

March 1, 2023

First to blossom, hybrid magnolia.

Although this one is only a few yards farther down the slope, it is slower each year to bloom. Both were labeled 'Jane' when purchased, but you can see there is variation in color.
Several days of warm weather have forced them into early bloom. 
If this spring runs true to past years we will have several bouts of cold weather with frosts, possibly sleet or snow which will punish plants and shrubs which have blossomed in haste.

This bowl of miniature pansies spent the winter outside. Most of the plants were volunteers that sprang up in the turf along the raised bed. Pansies are the first plants I buy every spring. My favorite nursery opened for the season on 15 February and I must soon make a visit there to bring home more pansies.

Nigella self-sows in abundance, sprinkling its tiny black seeds in the raised bed and all along the edges.
For such a delicate-appearing dainty plant it is remarkable hardy; the seedlings remain green throughout the winter.

Achillea in the raised bed under the kitchen window. Willis-cat supervised the pruning of dried stems last week.

A wild variety of 'lamium' locally called 'hen-bit' is our most invasive ground covering weed. 
Whole fields will shortly appear purple with its small flowers.
Poppy 'Lauren's Grape' shed seeds along the edge of the raised bed and the small plants are entangled with the weeds. There is nothing judicious about a poppy when the brittle seed pods break open. Small plants germinate in clumps, the thread-like roots so fragile that it is nearly impossible to transplant. 
I lifted a clump of inch high plants with their surrounding soil and moved them to the west wall garden. I will keep watch to see if the roots 'take.'

Blackberry lilies in the bed under the kitchen window. Thyme planted here as edging didn't survive into the winter. Already the Michaelmas daisies/New England asters have pushed through. The small struggling Nandina shrub appears to have succumbed to the Christmas freeze.

Heirloom clematis 'Candida' rushing the season--as usual. I will no doubt be swathing it in old sheets and towels when cold weather returns.

Sage plant showing fresh leaves. I don't regularly use sage as a seasoning, but find the plants interesting with their pebbly leaves and pungently distinctive scent. Some years the plant is covered with blue flowers. 
I'm waiting to see if this is a flowering spring--if not it will be pruned.
Oregano shows a mat of new growth just below the sage. 

None of my lavenders survived the winter; they are finicky plants, often with me for several years either in containers or set into the ground, then they are gone and I have to start over.
I have two new packets of lavender seed--lavender vera and Munstead. Starting some either indoors under lights or in the greenhouse is on my list of things to do. I will no doubt be unable to resist a few lavenders from the greenhouse.
I feared that the thyme planted around the clematis trellis in the west garden had died, but there are a few green sprigs--another thing to prune and cosset. The fantastically twisted thyme plant which has grown for several seasons at the edge of the front steps is another victim of winter. I'm having a think about whether or not to replace it. 

Tending plants directly in the ground is not a comfortable process--my knees are no longer amenable to kneeling, yet I continue to plan as though I can miraculously create gardens.

Heavily pruned roses are showing signs of new growth, coneflowers are emerging, lemon balm has proliferated. I fear I've lost two clumps of foxglove in the back garden and all but one of those planted near the Knock-Out roses. The plants were all grown from several varieties of seed, some apparently hardier than others. I have several foxglove plants that wintered in the large black planters and noted tiny seedlings along the west wall which can be potted to grown on in the greenhouse. 

'Jane'--or not. In the warm, almost humid air this afternoon I realized the magnolias have a light scent--one I perceive as 'spicy/citrus.'

Plants under the light strip in the back area of the walk-out level.
Today I brought the tub of amaryllis upstairs, shuffled smaller plants from the sunroom table to give the amaryllis pride of place.

There are several bulbs in this tub. They sulked until friend Ellen suggested a spell under the lights. 
A second bulb is forming a flower stalk. 

The 'Christmas Cactus' which bloomed in late November/early December has rested, half hidden in the ranks of rosemary and geranium on the sunroom table.

[Blogger arbitrarily posted clematis Candida twice!]