February 29, 2016

Garden Lessons Learned: This, Too, Shall Pass


She contemplated the idea of skipping winter for a year, or even skipping it for the rest of her life.

Her struggle with the cold, brutal beast had been a lifelong challenge--stretching over decades of "grinning and bearing" chills to the bone, frostbitten fingers, struggles to breathe.


But somewhere along the way, she realized she'd actually miss winter if she skipped it--even for one year.


Winter is raw and ravaging in a northern climate. When temperatures are subzero Fahrenheit (colder than -18C), faces hurt, even launching a meme for those coldest of days: "Why do I live where my face hurts when I go outside?"


Yes, indeed, good question.

She'd asked it every winter.

One year, after spending a month in Florida and returning in mid-March, she was never so happy to return home--where even the end of winter was too cold for fire ants and chiggers.

Ah, and the transitional March air was fresh and sweet and clean.


Springtime had begun assert itself. Daffodils and Crocuses were poking through the soil. Indoor plants were blooming. The sun was shining so intensely.

Ah, she thought, "I would miss this transition if I avoided it entirely. Experiencing winter gives me a huge appreciation for spring, summer, and fall. And winter affords time for dreams and rest and planning."

The four distinct seasons seemed OK, when she realized how much she would miss winter if she skipped it.


The thing is, she reflected, "There's a bittersweet feeling watching those last gentle, puffy snowflakes of the year twirl artfully from the heavens to melt on the warm earth ... or disappear after a day or two.

"And winter always ... always, ultimately loses its battle with spring."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

These reflections have been on my mind lately as I've begun to realize winter has a place in my heart. How about you? What garden inspirations and lessons have you learned or reflected on during the past season?

Contributions from both hemispheres and all continents are welcome! To join in the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme, simply write a post or share one you've already written about lessons you've learned during the past season. Then share your links or observations in the comments on this post. I'll keep this post up for a few days, and it will be available always under the "Lessons Learned" tab at the top of this blog. I'll share "lessons learned" posts on the PlantPostings Facebook Page closer to the equinox.

Please also join in Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View! Feel free to join in with a post that fits both memes, or separate posts for one or both of them.

Happy spring to friends in the Northern Hemisphere, and happy autumn to those in the Southern Hemisphere!

February 24, 2016

Plant of the Month: Purple Pitcher Plant

sarracenia 2

It's Wildflower Wednesday--a meme hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone on the fourth Wednesday of every month.

This month, I decided to highlight a carnivorous plant--The Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). When in bloom, its nodding, burgundy-colored flowers are pretty easy to spot in the wild, although its growing conditions are highly specialized.

This species is widespread throughout Canada, the Northeastern U.S., and in a few spots in the Appalachians and the Coastal Southeast. However, it's most likely to be found in bog habitats--highly acidic, waterlogged peatlands, in old lake basins or depressions. In bogs, there are few or no surface inflows, so they have low rates of decomposition.

bog plants

Sphagnum Moss, the dominant living matter, and accumulated peat lying just below the surface, release acids. Often the pH in bogs is as low as 3.0 to 4.0.

In areas where trails lead across bogs, the soil feels bouncy because of the accumulated organic matter and peat.


One very special place to experience healthy bog habitats is The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, Wis., where these photos were taken. At The Ridges, wetland habitats, including marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens (and other habitats) exist in close proximity.

The Ridges, which consists of about 30 narrow, crescent-shaped ridges along the Lake Michigan shoreline, is home to one of the greatest concentrations of rare plants in the Midwest. I posted about one of our trips to The Ridges in 2014.

sarracenia 1

If you catch sight of the burgundy flowers of the Purple Pitcher Plant, you're probably on or near a bog. The flowers are attractive, but you'll also want to look down.

sarracenia 3

At the base of the stems are the carnivorous leaves of the plant--forming an open, spreading rosette. Sometimes the foliage is tinged with burgundy or purple.

sarracenia 4

The Purple Pitcher Plant, found in USDA zones 4 to 8, is one of the few carnivorous plants in North America. Its hollow pitchers fill with water, and when flying and crawling insects land on the foliage they can crawl in but may have trouble getting out through the stiff, downward-pointing hairs. Trapped insects that fall into the water are then digested and absorbed by the plant. This provides nutrients to the plant, especially nitrogen, which is in short supply in the highly acidic bog soil.

Because of its specialized needs, Purple Pitcher Plant is best purchased from a reputable nursery, not extracted from the wild. It can be grown as a houseplant in a particular mix of peat moss and perlite. Regular garden or potting soil will kill the plant.

For more information on this unique wildflower plant and its specialized habitat, visit the source links for this post:

Be sure to visit Gail at Clay and Limestone for posts about other wildflowers from around the world. I'm also linking this post to Dozens for Diana, at Elephant's Eye on False Bay.

February 19, 2016

Winter in the Conservatory


Did I say conservatory?

I don't have a conservatory. But I do have a sunroom, with windows on three sides.

Outside its south-facing windows, the light casts long shadows through the Oak trees.


On bright, sunny days, the light illuminates many tracks from squirrels, rabbits, birds, raccoons, and humans.


Looking out from the inside, I can almost imagine the snow as a sandy beach.

Inside, the sun is bright enough to encourage plant growth.

Because it's closed off and only partially heated, the sunroom is cooler and more humid than the rest of the house, so scale insects and spider mites don't thrive here.


I've noticed as the days are getting longer, many of the rock garden plants are looking happy.


Unfortunately, some hens (Sempervivums) are elongating before forming chicks, although others are ready to fill in.


I saved a few Fuchsia plants before the first hard frost. They aren't flowering yet, but this should give me a head start on some hanging baskets.


The Meyer Lemon, which had some major issues in late fall and early winter, is sprouting new growth. I'll save that story for a future post.


The toad is watching over all the progress.


This was a happy accident: I plopped some variegated English Ivy (Hedera helix) in with Purple Shamrocks (Oxalis triangularis). I really like these two together.


The few strands of Ivy that I brought inside in the fall have tripled in volume, shown here with a Spike (Cordyline australis).


The Walking Iris (Neomarica longifolia), which grew two new "babies" this past summer, is showing signs of generating more.


My potted Cyclamen has survived several years now--going dormant on the back porch during the summer, and booming back to life during the winter. No blooms yet, but I expect them to start any day now.


I don't use grow lights, but I'm experimenting with some seeds in the sunroom. If they're successful, I think I'll try more.

What about you? Do you seed-start or overwinter plants inside during the winter? I'm finding it's a little addicting.

February 10, 2016

Life Under the Arctic Blast


Rabbits, rabbits, everwhere! Did you notice (above) the rabbit-sized impression at the base of the sled?


I'm thinking a rabbit was resting here on a warmer day when the snow was slushy.


Evidence is everywhere in the garden--rabbit tracks, scat, chewed branches, and telltale angular bite marks on the shrubs.


I had to cage the Dwarf Dogwoods (Cornus pumila), because rabbits were chewing them down to the ground.

But, enough about rabbits. Rabbits will always live here.

In other news, it's bitter cold this week in the Midwest, with highs and lows hovering near 0F/-18C. But before the Arctic blast, I wandered around the garden on a mild day, taking stock.


Fortunately, the Hellebores, Epimediums, Roses, and other plants in the stone wall garden are covered in a toasty blanket of snow. They'll be fine. They've survived much worse.


The toad sundial greets me as if to say, "Really? You left me out here all winter?"


Spotted Deadnettles (Lamium maculatum) are confused--alternately greening and browning with the waves of warm and cold weather. They'll bounce right back in a few days. They may even flower later this month if we get a dramatic thaw.


Among my favorite discoveries in the winter garden: areas where moss meets ice meets rock meets lichen. Interesting that rodents seem to choose these spots to store their winter food.


Apologies for this is a horribly bright photo of Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. trilobum) berries. The flash went off, and it's too cold today to venture out for a better image. Anyway, a few berries remain, although birds have eaten most of them by now.


The fishman roped up the Christmas tree in the woods, to serve as wildlife cover. I haven't noticed much activity here, but a few animal prints weave around the area. The tree looks pretty, and I'm sure birds fly in and out of it for cover, even if I can't see them from the house or through the binoculars.


However, I can see this chewed log from my kitchen window. On closer inspection, I'm wondering what animals have been gnawing here? Squirrels, raccoons? The elevation above the ground is a little too high for rabbits. Chipmunks are hibernating.


In some of the areas where the log is chewed and decaying, fungi are forming. They're so beautiful.


I noticed this one latched on the end of a small branch.


OK, so it's cold this week. So what? Miniature Daffodils (Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete') are waiting patiently for warmer weather. It's only a matter of time.

What's happening in your garden this week?