Gardening begins in January

Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January with the dream. – Josephine Nuese. This quote, which I first saw on a Hudson Valley Seed Library Facebook post, speaks to me. Like other gardeners in northern regions, gardening in my Zone 6b south-central Connecticut region begins in January.

Actually, for me, gardening never ends. Though I let my gardening brain rest a bit through the end-of-year holidays, ideas and designs for the upcoming year are never buried so deeply that they are suspended until spring. Serious review of the frozen landscape commences when dawn breaks on the New Year.

As I peruse the views from inside our home, I note which outdoor features become highlights in the winter landscape. The less favorable go onto a needs attention list, later prioritized as higher- and lower-level projects for the upcoming months. Views of neighboring property always become a high priority on this list; I continuously plan plantings to increase our winter privacy.

As viewed from the front windows, the house nearest to ours is somewhat blocked by existing native shrubs and trees plus those we’ve added over the years. Two existing mountain laurels are fenced to prevent deer browsing. Both beech trees – the forward one plus the one partially blocking the nearest house – are existing native plantings we’ve encouraged to grow. The use of existing native trees and shrubs makes sense for environmental, design, and budgetary reasons in that native plantings suite native insects, birds and soils, native trees and shrubs help match the gardens and property to surrounding woodlands, and existing natives are free – they are perfect ‘right plant, right place’ plantings.

To compliment the existing natives we’ve added a pink dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’), a juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Blue Point’) hidden by the larger laurel in this photo, and two very small American holly (Ilex opaca) transplants (position noted by blue arrows but not view-able in the photo) that I hope will eventually grow into stately evergreen trees.

Mountain laurel circled in green, American holly locations noted by blue arrows, dogwood by red arrow, globe picea circled in blue, leucothoe circled in yellow, leatherleaf circled in orange, pieris circled in white, picea 'Sanders Blue' circled in pink

Mountain laurel circled in green, American holly locations noted by blue arrows, dogwood by red arrow, globe picea circled in blue, leucothoe circled in yellow, leatherleaf circled in orange, pieris circled in white, picea ‘Sanders Blue’ circled in pink

To bring more greenery into this winter view I’ve added a globe spruce (Picea pungens glauca globosa, circled in blue) that is still not sure it likes this setting, a leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum circled in orange), Leucothoe axillaris (circled in yellow), a Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ (circled in white) and, most recently, two slow-growing pyramidal spruce (Picea glauca ‘Sanders Blue’ circled in pink) to the mix.

A closer-up view from a slightly different angle better shows  the still small evergreens. Though leatherleaf viburnum and leucothoe carry deer-resistant claims, the deer browsing our yard browse both during winter months. But both plants bounce back pretty easily each spring, so I tend to leave them unprotected. Also, since the taller ornamental grasses have outlived their usefulness in this location, crowding many of the deciduous shrubs and trees, I plan to move them to a different location this spring.

One view of the front yard from inside.

One view of the front yard from inside.

As the native and new plantings continue to grow, this portion of the front will be amply ‘greened’ for winter viewing.

By contrast, the opposite side of the front yard view still lacks winter greenery. Because of the upward slope there is no need to block views of distant neighbors, but a few low-growing conifers or other evergreen foliage would compliment the existing beech trees and ground-level moss.

The view of the opposite side of the front yard from inside.

The view of the opposite side of the front yard from inside.

The main issue in this area is ledge running very close to the surface, which makes digging adequate planting holes difficult. Still, how and where to incorporate winter greenery to this side of the front yard is worth some winter pondering, and this is one of the best aspects of winter gardening.

…For gardening begins in January with the dream …

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A tale of two feeders and bluebirds

Bluebirds joined us for breakfast this morning … not at the table, but outside at the feeder … the new feeder that comes with a tale.

Bluebirds waiting their turn at the suet.

Bluebirds waiting their turn at the suet.

The pole – complete with squirrel baffle – upon which the new feeder rests, spent years in a front yard garden holding a different wooden feeder where winter birds visited for a cold-weather snack. It stood in a spot far enough from trees to keep leaping squirrels away, but too far for us to easily watch its visitors from the house. Its location made it difficult to fill during times of deep snow, and it was near an area of the yard where we found bear tracks and scat. (I’m convinced that my use of thistle seed, instead of sunflower seed, is what kept any bear from trashing the feeder.)

Last autumn I decided to move the pole feeder into the fenced back yard where we could easily watch it from a nearby breakfast nook; a spot also far enough from the house and trees to keep leaping squirrels at bay. After positioning the pole for optimal viewing from inside, I planned to remount the original wooded feeder  – which had become covered with moss and oozed old-world charm – to a new board to accommodate hanging the three suet feeders.

Much to my disappointment, moisture and moss had so softened the wood of the old feeder that it nearly fell apart when I removed it from atop the pole. Not ready to say good by to the aged feeder and its tales of winters past, of blizzards and ice storms, of generations of birds that visited to feed on its contents, I hung it in a new spot where it is less taxed by its life’s work, and is still visited by an occasional bird.

Old, weathered bird feeder

Old, weathered bird feeder

The quest began for a new wooden feeder that could begin to weather into the charming progeny of the old one … and here it rests, attracting birds to within our view.

Bluebirds sharing suet.

Bluebirds sharing suet.

It’s fresh and new, and does a great job of enticing all kinds of winter birds. So far we’ve seen pairs of downy and hairy woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker and a yellow-bellied sapsucker, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, mourning doves, a pair of cardinals, blue jays, an adorable little winter wren, and now bluebirds.

Bluebirds, woodpecker, juncos at a feeding station.

Bluebirds, woodpecker, juncos at a feeding station.

With time this feeder will weather through winter storms; its wood will darken with the dust of years gone by and age from generations of birds stopping to partake of its contents. It may even mature with the same old-world charm of its predecessor and, after years gone by, whisper a tale of the morning bluebirds stopped by for breakfast … and life goes on.

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Finally … winter snow

Snow has been rare in my south-central Connecticut garden so far this winter so I more than welcome this morning’s measly three inch snowfall. Finally … winter snow has arrived.

At this time last year we already had good snow cover and I was checking animal tracks to see which creatures were active around the house and gardens. More animal track observations may be possible if the wind remains still and the snow cover doesn’t melt away due to one of the broad temperature swings that, so far, have highlighted our 2014-2015 winter.

But, this morning’s creature watching was all about birds. A junco perched for a photo atop the branch of a white lilac and, on the main trunk, a downy woodpecker seems to be listening for insect activity.

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Junco and downy woodpecker in a January 2015 snow

Both await their turn at the nearby feeder, but the woodpecker’s actions capture more of my interest. This lilac was host to some sort of borer last year. I pruned out damaged trunks and branches, and dug out as much of the damaged root section as possible, then waited and watched for new insect holes in the woody branches. If woodpeckers remain interested in the trunk sections of this shrub I know to keep watching it closely for further borer damage.

In the meantime, activity at the feeder shows it’s time to refill the suet and thistle seed.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

Juncos and downy woodpeckers on a snowy morning.

They’ll get their wish later, when it’s time clear the walkways. For now, I’ll just continue to enjoy the view, and hope my woodpecker friends visit the lilac as a resting spot, rather than a place for food.

 

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