February 28, 2013

Lessons learned: winter 2013

Another snowstorm, another layer of moisture. Good for the plants, and more interesting to view than gray and brown. We've had snow cover for most of the winter. The skiers, snowmobilers, and snowshoers are happy.

It certainly was a pretty winter! Of course, we're weeks away from the equinox and "official" spring, but March 1 marks the beginning of meteorological spring here in the northern hemisphere!


You'd never know it looking out my window. As happy as I am about the end of the drought, I'm ready for rain instead of snow.

Time for a rain dance! And time for the quarterly "Lessons Learned" meme.

I've actually learned some new things this winter. I've discovered some unique formations, and I've rediscovered several winter phenomena that I didn't notice during last year's mild winter.

New things:


1. You can keep goldfish (and Waterlilies!) alive in an above-ground pond all winter, even if you live in a cold climate. All four of our outdoor goldfish are still fat and sassy, even though we haven't fed them a thing since October! And the Waterlily we cut back before winter is starting to sprout! We have a small heater in the pond to keep the water from freezing. I'll share more specifics on the fishman's winter pond prep in a future post.


2. You can keep Ivy cuttings alive for months by encouraging roots and keeping them hydrated. I clipped these branches in December, and now new leaves are even starting to sprout! It's time to place these plants in a pot of soil, which they so richly deserve.

Unique formations:





3. The freeze/thaw cycle this winter has created some fascinating ice structures. I wasn't thrilled with the glare-ice driveway that didn't melt for weeks on end. But the crazy ice patterns on the patio, and the snow and ice melting on the crooks of tree branches are fun to see. Layers of snow, ice, and water dripping over the rock wall are spectacular.


4. Also fascinating is the Moss (growing under said ice and snow) that is thriving with the longer days and bright sunshine.

Relearned phenomena:


5. The lake is lovely on a snowy, bright day. If it's cold enough, but not too cold, you can safely walk on the ice, and join the ice fishers, hikers, and snowmobilers for some winter fun. Last winter was so mild, I didn't spend much time at the lake.




6. My garden is full of active wildlife--even when temperatures dip to subzero. One day when the high was -5F, and the windchill was double-digits below 0F, little juncos hovered under the bird feeder, capturing seed dispersed by the brutal wind. And the tracks of rabbits and squirrels have created the feeling of a winter wildlife carnival.


What have you learned or rediscovered this season? For those in the southern hemisphere, please share your growing-season lessons. We're ready for your advice!

Please join in the Lessons Learned meme by posting about your lessons or sharing a post you've already written. You can link in by clicking here, or on the "Lessons Learned" tab at the top of this blog. Or you can simply leave a comment to let me know.

Please also join in Donna's Seasonal Celebrations meme at Gardens Eye View. Both memes will be active until the equinox, when we'll post the wrap-ups. Happy Spring!


February 21, 2013

The pleasure of going home

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; the wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of nature, and to get rid of rust and disease."
~ John Muir, "Our National Parks," 1901

Isn't it fascinating that John Muir penned those words more than a century ago?

Numerous studies today report that more of us are feeling the need to "unplug," "de-stress," and "digitally detox." Hotels are setting up special programs to "leave your mobile devices at the check-in." Youth camps promote their lack of Internet connections. And numerous studies warn about the long-term ill effects of children spending too much time indoors.


Now, I'm not one to preach. When my kids were growing up, I let them watch TV and play video games. While I'm not really an early adopter, I tend to embrace new technologies before most people of my generation. And I find it hard to be away from my smart phone for more than a couple of hours. Here I am writing an Internet blog post about the importance of "unplugging."


So this is a wake-up call to myself as much as anyone else. I'm happy to have my smart phone along when I hike, ski, or garden. It offers a level of security. It helps me with navigation. And it's handy for capturing photos at moments when I don't feel like being tethered to a heavy camera...and then a beautiful image, scene, or memory appears out of nowhere.


But sometimes I need to remind myself to turn it off...to rest, recuperate, and reconnect with nature. Just as John Muir so eloquently recommended all those years ago.

February 16, 2013

Plant of the month:
Viola sororia

Or is it V. papilionacea? Apparently, either is correct (see the USDA classification and the comments on this post for more information). We're talking about the common Wood Violet here.


Now I realize this plant is one of the most common in North America, and it's considered by many to be a weed. But at this point, I can't wait to see the bright periwinkle blooms and lush green, heart-shaped leaves of this ubiquitous plant.


Also, part of the reason I'm keeping this blog and highlighting "plants of the month" is to document the plants that grow here...even if they have "issues."


In my garden, the Wood Violet isn't terribly invasive, although it is plentiful--especially at the edge of the woods.


The Wood Violet:
  • Is the state flower of several U.S. states, including Wisconsin;
  • Blooms here in mid-spring;
  • Spreads by vigorous runners and seeds;
  • Is a common flower featured in myths, paintings, and literature.


The American Violet Society offers a wealth of information about all types Violets. What I find most fascinating is the section about Native American folkloric, medicinal, and nutritional uses for Violets. For example, did you know that the Blackfoot used an infusion of Violet roots and leaves to treat asthma, or that the Cherokee soaked corn seeds in a solution made from Violet root to repel insects?


Plus, just looking at the tiny blooms improves my mood!

(Linking in with Dozens for Diana at Elephant's Eye on False Bay.)

February 12, 2013

Dancing on a winter breeze

Keeping the "No Winter Whining" meme in mind...

The other day, as I braced myself against the bitter cold and secretly cursed the snow and ice, I was in a crabby place.

Another day of winter!

After briefly heading outside to retrieve the mail, I turned back toward the house.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a solitary Oak leaf dancing on a gentle breeze from somewhere on high. It wasn't a quick drop, but rather one of those graceful, ballet-like movements--floating here and there, and seemingly travelling in slow motion. Kind of like the feather in the movie, "Forrest Gump."


All around me were snow and gray and lack of life.

And then, that Oak leaf--dead, yes, yet full of life bouncing on that gentle breeze--twisted and flipped and floated slowly toward the ground.

A simple thing--and of course no major meaning to it--but it reminded me that warm breezes, colorful blooms, and new life are just around the corner.


And the Oak leaf will still be there, supporting the next generation.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The theme for this last installment if No Winter Whining is "What I Love About Winter." I guess my favorite thing is the time it gives me to pause, reflect, and plan for the next growing season. Check out the other entries on Heather's blog!

February 07, 2013

Dreaming of Camellias

It's an interesting aspect of the human condition that we tend to desire most the things that are just beyond our reach...especially when those things are highly desirable to start with.

When we're talking plants and gardeners, the effects can be particularly powerful.

Here's the thing. My garden is located in the northern Midwest, in USDA zone 5. I like Camellias. Dang. They're hardy in zones 6 to 9. So I'm stuck drooling over them whenever I see them during my travels, or on other gardeners' blogs.



"But wait," you say. "There are a few cold-hardy varieties."

I wouldn't have really registered that thought until I found a few encouraging articles from:

The latter source makes the case for a particular group of Camellias--Winter's Charm, Winter's Beauty, and Winter's Star--rated to -15 F, which is about as cold as we get here. Carolyn at Carolyn's Shade Gardens also recently featured some excellent posts about cold-hardy Camellias.

But just because it's "possible" to do something, doesn't mean a person should. Just because I covet my southern neighbors' Camellia bounty doesn't mean I should try to push the zones and grow one here. Or should I try it? The warm microclimate near the rock wall would be near perfect for a Camellia, right?

What do you think? Should I be content to enjoy Camellias from afar, or should I act on my Camellia dreams?



(Note: The Camellias shown here, to my knowledge, are not cold-hardy. For more information on cold-hardy Camellias, visit Carolyn's blog or the U.S. National Arboretum website.)

February 03, 2013

Good news about the goldfish

Back in August, I reported on how the fishman had constructed an above-ground pond and stocked it with plants and goldfish. As winter approached, he trimmed the waterlily, inserted PVC pipes for the fish, and inserted a de-icer to keep the pond from freezing. He also slowly weaned the fish off food to prepare them for "hibernation."

I'm happy to share that the goldfish are still alive--even after three months of below-freezing temperatures, and several nighttime lows below 0 F (-18 C). The de-icer is doing its job.

Here's what the pond looked like after our first big snowfall in December:



The fishman occasionally checks on the fish, and on one recent occasion I snapped a quick shot when he opened the lid. We didn't want to keep it open very long, so I didn't get a very good capture. But you can see that the water, on this particular day, was completely unfrozen. And the fish appear to be using the PVC pipes for shelter:


A few days ago, he reported there was a thin layer of ice on top of the water. But apparently, if there's even a small bit of open water, they'll be fine. The goldfish go into a sort of torpor, and survive for months without food.

Today, the fishman checked again. While the outdoor air temperature was 18 F
(-8 C), the water temperature was 54 F (12 C), and the fish were swimming around. It appears his techniques are working. The de-icer; our bright, sunny days; and the greenhouse effect of the clear, insulating lid are keeping the water plenty warm. Here's what the pond looked like on a recent sunny day:


Next, the trick will be deciding when to start feeding again, and when to remove the insulating lid. Obviously, those decisions are many weeks into the future.