February 1st…there will be 10 hours of daylight today, Virginia time, giving me 51 more minutes of daylight than on January 1st.
CELEBRATE…This morning I wrap up and enjoy everything that is best about this time of year. The day is crisp and clear, time to appreciate the subtle beauties that winter has to offer…native birds fluttering around the feeders, leafless trees creating intricate patterns against the sky, an empty bench along the garden path nestled between fragrant rosemary bushes, browned grasses rustling with every breeze, the ochre traceries of vegetation in its winter stages against the glint of the blue sky.
Today as I walk the dogs, I carry a thermos of hot herb tea with honey and spices. Enjoying the simple pleasure of kicking through piles of dry leaves along the path through the woods we find a perfect spot to sit for a while sipping the warm tea…sighing as the cold releases its hold…it feels so good to be here.
It’s not too soon to work off any horticultural urges…winter ends when you feel it should when one of those bright crystalline days comes along and all you want to do is get outside and get your hands dirty again.
ORDER IN THE SHED…Today I set aside time to organize my garden tools and supplies.
I keep any broken clay potshards in a container near the potting bench. These are ideal for placing at the bottom of container garden pots to prevent soil from washing out along with allowing better drainage.
I’ll find time to visit garden centers or feed stores soon and stock up with supplies…liquid seaweed and fish emulsion, worm castings, corn gluten meal, rock phosphate, and mosquito dunks for all my water barrels. I make sure the handheld and pump-up sprayers are clean and working and ready to go again. Checking my working gloves I keep in a covered box so I don’t have visitors…I have some good leather ones for basic dry work and a mesh pair for wet planting and weeding, but my gauntlet gloves for trimming roses are shot…time to invest in another pair.
Stock the shed wisely…and you’ll always have the right tool for the job. Settle for half a dozen basic implements that are well-made and comfortable to use. Choose carefully…you don’t even have to buy everything NEW. Second-hand tools, handed down through the family or bought at auctions, can be well worth having.
I’ve been collecting hand forks for many years and have used them in the garden and on my bookshelves as decorative accents mixed with my gardening books.
RAKES…I have several rakes for garden work and collecting leaves…heavy iron to light wide spread for general raking.
SECATEURS…or hand trimmers…the most popular are bypass types and I prefer FELCO’s over any others. They are well made, easy to clean and have replaceable blades…I have 5 different blade types and sizes I purchased in 1993 and am still using them. I clean and oil them after every use.
SHEARS and LOPPERS…these are good for light clipping jobs as well as basic pruning on shrubs and small trees.
HOES…I have two kinds…one to slice through soil and weeds as you walk backwards and the other kind that has an angled blade that you use walking forward chopping the soil and drawing it around the plants.
HAND TROWELS AND FORKS…I use these all the time so I only choose the best made types with good wooden handles.
SHOVELS…I have a round end, square end and a sharpshooter and that’s all I need.
I’ll check the handles of all my shovels and digging forks for any cracks, then oil the wooden handles and sharpen the spade edges. Since I always store my small hand tools in a bucket of sand mixed with clean mineral oil to prevent rust…they’re in good shape. Now on to the garden cart and wheelbarrow…
IT Takes 48 hours for sore muscles to recover from overexertion, so plan chores accordingly…
I like to get as many odd jobs such as replacing window screens, repairing fences, arbors and trellis’, painting, washing windows and cleaning out gutters done before plants start sprouting. In other words, any chores that would require standing in or pulling ladders or other equipment through the gardens since most plants are still sleeping. February usually has plenty of days for these kinds of jobs.
February…a week after Ground Hog Day…absolutely perfect days and nights are clear, misty and warmish. Since no freeze is in the forecast I dug up and moved my August Beauty gardenia to the front yard near
the corner of the path to the porch…can’t wait for the blooms this summer…also moved my Gertrude Jekyll rose into a more sunny spot.
In my yard the bloom starts early, particularly so this year when the hellebores began to flower this week, followed soon after by a large DAPHNE odorata, ‘Carol Mackie’…the scent of which stops visitors in their tracks as they walk down the path to the front door.
Memory Tip…I don’t always have time for making notes in
my journal of things to do in the garden, especially if I’m hard at work and a thought or idea pops up. So here’s my tip: write on a good flat stone or pot shard, with a carpenter’s pencil or permanent marker, what to do such as, ‘prune me’… ‘move’…’divide’…’too big’…’take out’ or whatever…I place the stone next to the plant as a reminder to act sometime during the season…Which reminds me, I need to move the fig tree…
VALENTINE’S DAY…Family and friends coming over today for dinner and celebrating our 25TH anniversary…I’m out in the garden gathering fresh herbs. I’ll put them in small pitchers and mix them with candles on the table. Um…m…m… pretty, green and fragrant plus… everyone loves to ‘smell them with their fingers’ while having food and good conversation, especially the calming lavender!
Mid-February…The days may be short and the weather on occasion rather dreary, but gray skies and blustery winds make me appreciate my garden all the more. I planned and planted for cold weather and I have lots of color and greenery
to ‘brighten each day’…especially now…by the front porch extremely fragrant Daphne is budded out along with the deep pink and white blooms of hellebores, and tips of many golden daffodils getting ready to open.
On my calendar…Down in the south of France in mid-February, the town of Bormes les Mimosa will hold its annual celebration of the mimosa blossoms. The morning consists of music and dancing in the streets. After lunch in a local bistro, you can sit and watch the procession of decorated floats laden with branches cut from some of the thousands of local trees… reveling in the fragrance that permeates everywhere. I won’t be able to get there this year but, I have ordered some mimosa candles from Monsieur Canovas. Tonight I’m going to light the candles, plan my trip to Provence with Jeanine for next year, and watch my SPRING tape from A YEAR IN PROVENCE, and dream…
Scents of well-being…In times of stress, I close my eyes and conjure up the first time I saw fields of fragrant lavender growing in Provence…then, I grab my lavender sachet and inhale. I am once again walking thru those fields of lavender in France.
Since learning of lavender’s extraordinary therapeutic power, I’ve carried lavender buds in a small bag along with a bottle of essential oil.
The oil will soothe and heal minor burns, bug bites, rashes, cuts and scars…and is the only essential oil that can be applied NEAT!
Also, a hot steamy cloth dipped in lavender water…will moisten and warm the skin while allowing one to inhale the fragrance and relax.
Sooner than Later…Time to transplant my Brown Turkey fig tree. It’s gotten huge and tends to block the sunlight from some roses planted nearby. But the main reason to move it is that the figs didn’t get enough hours of full sun to ripen last year so I had hundreds of figs that never grew up. With a sharp shooter I dig a big circle trench around the fig’s drip line. I’ve already dug the new hole where I plan to move the fig…so with a little work, I’ll get it dug up and out and replanted before dark and the potential rain shower in the forecast.
Chir-up…part of the joy of gardening is observing the birds that visit…soaring in for a treat, especially in winter. Even on the most brutally cold days those
tiny bundles of bones and feathers flit about quite happily gathering seeds and berries. I love to feed the birds that flock to my garden…I think
they’ve become dependent on me for food and water during cold and freezing conditions. So once I start, I can’t stop till the season changes…I just vary the menu!
What’s for dinner? Sunflower seeds, thistle, peanuts and safflower seeds all attract many different birds and suet mixes add necessary protein to their diet for the winter months.
I place feeders near shrubs and hanging in trees at different
heights where birds can take cover if needed, but I keep them away from undergrowth where predators might hide.
Birds are efficient insect eaters that belong in the garden.
Be kind; provide water, seeds, and suet for cold weather.
Hanging or placing feeders at different heights will attract more varieties of birds.
I like to make several very simple feeders, one of which is a half coconut filled with a scoop of peanut butter and lots of seeds suspended in a cradle of garden string.
For birds to feed and find winter shelter, I plant trees and shrubs with seeds or berries such as: yaupon, vitex,
southern wax myrtle, rough leaf dogwood, viburnum, possumhaw, beautyberry, nandina domestica, pines, white honeysuckle, coralberry, cherry laurel, Savannah holly, Washington hawthorn and a few rugosa roses for their hips.
Musings…English gardening legend and queen of attitude, Vita Sackville-West, created the fabulous White Garden from the ruins of what had once been Sissinghurst Castle. During the mid 1930s, and to date, this shimmering glittering garden quickly became the standard by which all white gardens WERE and HAVE been measured.
Actually, Vita’s passion was old-fashioned roses which she collected and grew in an informal profusion. She boldly mixed all types of plants with her roses, from ornamental trees and shrubs to herbs and even the simplest of perennials, dianthus…which at the time was pure innovation.
She also started the fashion of growing plant treasures in old stone sinks or troughs, copper wash pots and other such heretofore ‘never been done’ containers. And in the summer, she would pot up and place containers of exotic flowers around the gardens and patios of her home…a habit from the Mediterranean she adored and so borrowed.
Rose gardens during the Victorian era had become very formal and austere, but at Sissinghurst, Vita returned excitement to the garden. Her look was wildly romantically overgrown, combined with sophisticated architectural structure and generous planting. She enjoyed taking risks!
I love her near perfect combination of the classical and romantic style…and often refer to her gardens for inspiration.
Late February…Warm winter weather…Sunlit tree trunks and a filigree of twigs and bare branches against a clear blue sky, grape hyacinths and crocus hugging the ground nestled among the tree roots, sturdy little snowdrops and early daffodils brave enough to stand up to the last of winter’s skirmishes peek through the mulch. Spring itself is still several weeks away, and cold spells of unfriendly weather are still likely to blow through… keeping me out of the garden just when I’m impatient to get started.
I find it smart to have a season-by-season plan prepared by now. Write down in your journal the flowers, herbs and vegetables of your choice; when to plant; their growing needs; suggested companions; when they bloom or produce vegetables. This is a big job, but once completed, you’re on your way to being well organized.
Carry on, the sap of spring fever runs high…Plant trees and shrubs, especially live trees purchased in containers for the holidays, but never in wet soggy ground. Water faithfully as the warming soil encourages the growth of strong new roots. If the end of the month is windy and dry, water the root system well and foliar spray with seaweed the stems, branches and trunks on warmish mornings to prevent water loss by transpiration.
Plants that flower on the ends of the current year’s growth need cutting back now: for example…buddleia, plumbago, caryopteris, vitex, salvia and late flowering spirea. Always water well after trimming and top dress with compost.
On shrubby roses, thin out dead wood, canes growing towards the center of the bush and any over crowded growth. Climbers need just a little pruning to remove dead wood or crossed and rubbing branches. I also clear away scraggly growth at the base of climbing roses leaving a framework of only the strongest healthiest canes.
Dead vegetation that has provided winter protection can now be cut back to the ground to make room for new growth. Gather up dead leaves and other debris…all of this can be shredded and added to the compost pile. If any of this material is diseased or pest infested…I soak it in soapy water first. Apply good compost around the plants, water and mulch as needed.
OH, the compost pile, chances are that the bottom half of the compost heap is more than ready for use now. I’ll use it to enrich vegetable garden areas, spread around trees, flowerbeds, shrubs and any bare spots in the lawn…Mother Nature provides, with just a little help.
COMFORT FOOD…something we can eat that makes us feel better. Homemade chicken soup and fresh made custard are two of the things I remember from decades ago. For anyone with congestion or cold, chicken soup was the cure and for all other problems, custard with freshly grated nutmeg…
The base for all good chicken soup is the stock, here’s my favorite recipe:
5lbs. chicken wings or necks and thighs
2 large yellow onions, studded with a few cloves
3-4 big celery stalks
4-5 carrots, cleaned and cut
2 leeks cut up
6 garlic cloves
Put chicken in stock pot and add enough water to cover or to top of pot…add other ingredients and simmer on low heat for 2-3 hours, partially covered…add salt and pepper to taste at this point. Strain twice, the last time using cheesecloth in the sieve. When stock is cool, degrease. It is now ready to make soup or you can store in the fridge for up to a week.
*To make, use a garni cheesecloth bag or make your own, then add: a few white peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme. parsley, and a slice of ginger.
In Good Health…boost your well-being the natural way.
Nourish hair from without and within. For great hair, eat a diet of healthy foods, it’s that simple…foods such as garlic and onions, vitamin E, fresh raw nuts, whole grains, B-complex plus A & C vitamins from brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Hair is nourished through the blood stream so health problems, as well as stress, will take nutrients away from the hair roots to where they are more urgently needed. Severe stress and unhealthy eating habits can be devastating to hair!
Try not to shampoo everyday but if you do, wash with organic products that are free of oils, artificial colors, all those un-pronounceables …especially sodium laurel sulfates & parabeans.
I like to make herbal tea blends to rinse hair after washing…rosemary rinse will help keep away the gray and lavender will give strength to aging hair.
There are many great organic hair care products available, and yes, some are more expensive than SUAVE…but well worth the cost and results.
Love yourself, love your hair!
Know it…Grow it…
Cyclamen have flowers of beauty and delicacy above numerous, thick, heart-shaped waxy leaves. Each of the five petals on a stem is flung backwards from a narrow mouth, covered in a lipstick smile that is directed demurely toward the ground. The overall effect of their blooms is like brightly colored moths fluttering just above the ground.
Cyclamen grow from corms that need loose well-drained loamy soil, consistently moist, but not wet…they will not survive in wet clay soil. I often put them in pots and tuck them into shady or partly shady spots about the garden for winter delight. They prefer cool weather but can’t take an icy or very extended hard freeze so on those occasions I put them in the garage to preserve the delicate blooms.
Snowdrops or Galanthus…they appear deceptively delicate in appearance, bursting forth intrepidly from the cold ground…while most of the garden is still asleep. Their immaculate white flowers have three large outer petals and
three smaller inner petals tipped with green. Their dainty flowers hang from slender foliage stems and dance beautifully with the slightest breeze.
These intriguing snowdrops are easy to grow, but to thrive they need moist soil during the growing season and while foliage is maturing after bloom.
By experimenting, I’ve found that they grow best planted with an eastern exposure and near plants that also prefer consistent moisture, yet well drained soil, such as hellebores or ferns.
A few days ago I noticed a clump near my ‘Prosperity’ rose that was already peeking through the heavy mulch. Three years ago, in late fall, these were planted from bulbs while in other spots I put in container grown plants when they became available. Now that they have
prospered and grown so thick, I think this may be the year to lift and divide after flowering. They have multiplied quite nicely into large clumps, but, I know they really dislike being overcrowded. Not far behind the snowdrops
will be my golden, fragrant daffodils, narcissus and then hyacinths…and, oh my, is that a bud on the…?
AFTER FOUR YEARS…some of my garden is looking the way I want it to, but there is still much to be done. I am enjoying the slow evolution…So, why do I garden? I love plants, I enjoy the fresh air and exercise and, with my hands in the soil…I am “earthed”. I can go outside feeling worried and out of sorts and return refreshed and reinvigorated. I know there are tasks left undone…spring will be here soon, so I can start afresh. I revel in my garden’s glorious imperfection
Jeanne Moreau once said about
her face: “Each time I look at
the wrinkles, I remember the
men who put them there.”