February 28, 2014

Garden lessons learned: winter 2014

The snow/ice is so crunchy, I can walk on top of it without snowshoes.

It's time once again to share garden lessons learned in the season just ending--winter for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, and summer for gardeners in the Southern Hemisphere.

Lots of snow to melt before "spring."

We'll have to wait a while before the winter weather ends here in the Northern U.S., though, and I have to admit: I haven't learned much in the garden during the past three months.

Notice I said "IN the garden."

Icy patches on the patio and the driveway are making even short walks treacherous.

Oh, I've learned plenty "about gardening" and "about plants." But it has been too cold and too treacherous to spend much time actually in the garden. There's even a Wikipedia entry now for the "Early 2014 North American Cold Wave."

So, what have I learned? Here are a few items:

The start of some new garden plans.

Excel is a great tool for plotting a garden plan. I've always hand-drawn sloppy plans in the past--plans that only I could understand. So it's fun to try this new (for me) way of doing it.

Success with reblooming a Cyclamen plant!

I'm not an expert on florists' Cyclamen plants, but now I know what works for me to keep them alive through the summer and bloom again the next spring. (Maybe I'll write a post about it.)

The snow has accumulated, melted, refrozen, and accumulated again.
Meanwhile, I forgot to pull out the yardstick at the beginning of the winter.

Next winter, I'll have to remember to pull the yardstick out of the snow before several layers of ice form around it. Oops.

Four little goldfish are still alive and kicking in this heated pond.
I'd show you, but it's too cold to lift up the lid!

Goldfish in a heated pond can survive even the coldest winters--as long as the heater keeps working. So far, so good--two winters now!

Wow, look at all that great "poor man's (woman's) fertilizer"!

I'm learning to accept the mess of dirty snow--realizing it's full of nutrients for the plants underneath it.

Lots of evidence of wildlife here (birds, squirrels, rabbits, etc.).
Will we see some new perennials poking through the Hostas?

There may be a lesson in the snow under the bird feeders. I placed Echinacea and Rudbeckia seed heads here for the birds. I wonder if I'll have any new perennials here later this spring?

What about you? What garden lessons have you learned during the past three months?

To join the Lessons Learned meme, share a new or a previous post you've written regarding your own lessons during the past season. No Linkys necessary: Simply add your link to your comment. And please also join Donna at Gardens Eye View for her Seasonal Celebrations meme. Posts that cover both memes offer a chance to reflect on the past season and look ahead to the next at the same time. Both memes will be active until the equinox, when we'll post the wrap-ups.

I was surprised to see berries still on the Viburnum bush.
Maybe they're too frozen solid even for the birds to enjoy?!

February 25, 2014

Plant of the Month: Cushion Spurge


I've been meaning to feature this one as "plant of the month" for a while, but the time never seemed right.

With this week's return of the polar vortex, I'm yearning for bright, warm colors, so here they are.




Euphorbia polychroma (synonym, E. epithymoides), commonly called Cushion Spurge, adds a bit of reliable, bright spring color to my garden. Depending on the weather, it commonly begins blooming here in April or May, and the blooms last for a few weeks. Like its relative, Poinsettia (E. pulcherrima), Cushion Spurge forms bracts that are actually showier than its inconspicuous flowers.


The perennial forms a mound, with a height and spread of about 12-24 inches.

This plant has been a stalwart in my garden since we moved here more than 14 years ago. I take it for granted, but I was surprised to learn from the Missouri Botanical Garden and other sources that it prefers full sun and dry soil!

Well ... my garden is shady and the soil is moist (except during drought), and this Euphorbia is very happy here.


As you can see, its chartreuse color is a good companion to burgundy and magenta garden accents. A showy plant, it also:

  • Thrives in zones 4 to 8;
  • Repels rabbits and deer;
  • Tolerates poor soils and drought; and
  • Requires low maintenance.

One notable characteristic is that its stems exude a toxic, milky sap when cut. I've never cut my plant, it hasn't spread beyond its original location, and it's perfect where it was planted by the previous owners.

For me, today, the memory and image of Cushion Spurge add a little sunshine to another brutally cold winter day.


February 21, 2014

Tree Following: Shagbark Hickories

Do you know what type of bud this is?

hickory bud

If you guessed Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), you are right! No, this photo wasn't taken in my garden recently. Actually, it was from early May of last year.

So much promise in a bud of any type, but Hickory buds are particularly fun.

hicory buds

Lucy at Loose and Leafy is hosting a "tree following" meme, and I've decided to participate this year. I'll include at least one post a month featuring the Shagbark Hickories in our garden, which are so fun to watch throughout the seasons.

hickory collage

To learn more about Shagbark Hickories, check out my "plant of the month" post here.

To learn about other trees people are following from around the world, visit Lucy at Loose and Leafy.

February 14, 2014

Hey, we're almost blooming over here


Do you see it?


How about now? No?


Getting closer ...


Yes! We almost have Cyclamen blooms! Lovely bud, don't you think?


And what do you see here?


Do you see them now?


Aren't they sweet?


Yes! Tiny Lemon flower buds!

Of course these aren't terribly impressive.
But at least something is (almost) blooming on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!

To see what else is blooming around the world,
visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

February 10, 2014

Focusing beyond the plants


Do you ever see a beautiful plant, and then notice there's a mammal, reptile, amphibian, insect, or other creature that adds extra interest to the scene? For example, when I first approached the scene above, I focused on the plants in the foreground and didn't even notice the cat sleeping on the porch.

Sometimes, I don't even realize a critter is on a plant or in the scene until I get back home and review the photos.



rose ant





Cropping makes them more obvious.

Other times, it's the creature/plant combination that attracts my attention in the first place.







When that happens, and the light and composition are good, getting a decent shot of the grouping is the goal.

Since I'm an amateur, I often miss the window of opportunity--especially with fast-moving critters.




But sometimes I luck out and capture them before they slither, glide, jump, or fly away.

The scene isn't always "pleasant" in a conventional, garden magazine kind of way.




But they're always fascinating studies of nature in action.