It’s that time of year when it’s interesting to look back and review all that’s happened in the past 12 months. Even in gardening and landscaping, a lot goes on.
Now, I’m one of those people who embraces seasonality. I love to witness nature slowly turning -- the changes each season brings to the landscape and all the living things in it. I, like a lot of gardeners, deeply sense the cycles of nature – the rebirth of spring, the growth and vitality of summer, the maturing of autumn, and the quiet slumber of winter. Each season brings its demands and rewards for gardeners and lovers of nature.
What has made me so happy about gardening in 2017 is that we really did seem to rebound from two devastating drought years. It didn't seem possible at the end of 2016 that we could recover so well from the damage of drought. But I think we did. Plants were thriving all over the landscape. Roses and hydrangea bloomed with abandon. Perennials, groundcovers, and annuals put on a fantastic show. Fruits and seeds abounded post-bloom -- especially the winterberries. This happy native plant is now in full, glorious display. You will notice them bursting with red throughout landscapes wild and managed. Maybe you have some in your gardens -- if you don't, you should.
The spring of 2017 was slow – beautifully, wonderfully slow. The cool, wet weather enabled plants to emerge at a measured pace, allowing them to take their time to fully develop without stress. It was by far one of the very best springs for flowering bulbs. The cool temps and predictable rain -- that was thoughtful enough to come only after the full day of gardening was finished -- kept the bulbs in bloom longer than we are used to enjoying. Magnolias, cherries and crabapples hung on for weeks of splendid color. I'll take a spring like that any year.
Spring flowering bulbs are totally worth the fall planting effort!
Just as suddenly as the spigot was turned on, it was turned off. While the summer was not hot, it certainly became dry. Fortunately, the rain persisted enough in the early summer, even into midsummer, to be a huge help for all things green and growing. The vegetative growth this year was robust. Perennials and annuals were so happy. Everything flowering lasted as long as possible, including weeds, requiring constant vigilance to stay ahead of them.
As the summer wore on and the heat finally arrived in August, the weeds exploded for a secondtime, followed by a quick flash of drought conditions that taxed irrigation systems. But before the drought could settle in for too long, the rain returned.
A puzzling autumn
The autumn of 2017 will go down as the Fall That Wasn’t. It was notable for its utter lack of colorful foliage, thanks to cooler summer and warmer fall conditions. It seemed like the green foliage hung on forever, through October and well into November. Great news for garden-makes and tenders. The season presented outstanding growing conditions for newly-seeded lawns. It was by far one of the best lawn-seeding seasons I can remember.
And then came that flash freeze. Leaves just died on their branches and oddly clung on. The area of separation between the leaf and branch, called the abscission zone, never had a chance to go through the normal dying-off process, so the leaves became stubbornly stuck in place. Dogwoods, Japanese Maples, and Stewartia leaves just went from green, red, and gold to dead and gray. They appeared glued to the branches and refused to drop off. Even now, many of my ornamental trees are still clinging to their leaves. I think my Parrotia may hold its frozen gray leaves well into the New Year. They'll eventually fall, but right now, I must say, it is a little weird-looking.
Hopefully not with the dread and doom associated with Game of Thrones, but with the joy and singular beauty of a landscape encased in sparkling ice and snow. After all, this is New England, and winter cannot be denied, so we should embrace the frigid beauty it brings.
Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite' (Winterberry) is exploding with red berries making a gorgeous show under the first snow.
Fortunately, the early snow cover we received is an effective insulator. It's been years since we've had snow cover like this -- snow that will stick and stay -- so early in December. The soil biology and microbes are working overtime in the ground under this beautiful blanket of snow. If we keep the cover, we keep protection and insulation, and that’s a good thing. I can't say what winter will bring for snow or temperatures, you'll need the 2018 Farmer's Almanac for that. I am hopeful that whatever the winter brings, our beloved plants have entered winter healthy and strong. My hope is that they all manage well and that a gentle spring will bring forth a new beginning for the gardens and gardeners alike.
The leaves of my Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' (Japanese maple) froze in place and may hang on for another month.
As for me, I'm ready for a restful winter to restore my mind and body. The winter is such a blessing. While I'm not a fan of cold or snow sports, I am a fan of my wood stove, of sleeping in, and of rekindling the creative embers needed to garden. I love to walk my landscape in the winter and dream about my spring and summer projects. There are always more ideas than I can put into place, so it's a good time to make lists and prioritize. And so with that, I sign off for the winter, wishing you a great season. The TGC Gardening Blog will be back in the spring of 2018.