December in the garden

– Posted in: Garden chores
1 comment

I always laugh when I read those articles: “Color in your winter garden”. That would be . . .white. And really, all the plants need to be tall. Otherwise they look exactly like the hayfield, which is developing pressure ridges from drifting.

One lovely thing about winter in the north is that there is no weeding to be ignored. There’s loads of weeds out there but they are frozen solid & knee deep in snow. Isn’t that a nice thought?

The seed catalogs come in a steady stream now–Chiltern’s came today. An evening on the couch with a blanket, a cat, a cup of tea and a stack of seed catalogs–bliss.
And welcome after a rough autumn featuring greenhouse damage from monster windstorms, daily snowfall and more plowing already than all of last winter. And the solstice was just a week ago!
But there are stirrings of spring: seed packets arriving weekly and a friend today brought me violets from England. The shipper evidently didn’t think of the weather on this end, shipping them to her now, and some look pretty sorry. Yet some others look like they are ok and after all, violets are pretty tough. They’ll get a 1/4 strength dash of kelp tonight and a nice re-potting tomorrow. I particularly hope the double white violets make it, but we will be very happy if any do.
I’ve been sowing seeds that need the freeze-thaw cycle to germinate, penstemons mostly and other alpines, plus roses and peonies. I finally am starting Paeonia brownii, the (nearly) local species which is native to the western states. I have an inkling that it will be happy here in the steppe conditions on the farm; my dream is to naturalize it.
My brother and sister-in-law gave me a 3-d computer landscaping program for Christmas which should be fun to experiment with–I plan to install a pseudo-bog for my Primulas and I can while away some darkness deciding how things should look and thinking of all that color.

Addendum: There may be others in similar situations. Luckily I have North Dakota experience and here is the method I came up with for patching a poly house when it is below freezing:
1) You need real poly greenhouse patching tape. Nothing else will do. It is supremely sticky and very strong.
2) you need inner pockets on your coat to keep the tape warm.
3) you need either a large stoneware mug with boiling water in it or a rice bag heated in the microwave to ‘foot toasty’.
3) Brush the snow & ice off. Apply the tape from the side you can use the most pressure on.
4) Dry the area with paper towels or cotton cloth.
5). warm the area with the rice bag & re-dry.
6). apply the tape and iron it on with the rice bag or the mug. In -40F weather a pint stoneware jug of boiling water will do 2 6″ patches; in 10F weather a 2-cup ricebag heated 3 minutes in the ‘wave will do 2 5-foot patches.
A month later the tape is adhering well and barely visible.

About the Author

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5aLocation: rural; just south of British Columbia/Idaho borderGeographic type: foot of Black & Clifty Mountains (foothills of Rockies–the Wet Columbia Mountains in BC climate- speak)Soil type:acid sand (glacial lake bed)/coniferous forestExperience level: intermediate/professionalParticular interests: fragrant & edible plants, hardy bulbs, cottage gardening, alpines, peonies, penstemons & other blue flowers, primulas, antique & species roses & iris; nocturnal flowers Also: owner of Paradise Gardens Rare Plant Nursery

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Kathleen December 28, 2003, 9:08 am

I thought you all might like to know that I found you through Blogwise. I live in the mountains of Maryland (Zone 4 or 5, depending – or colder) and share many of the same gardening challenges. Look forward to reading your exploits in the future!