Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Blooming Witch Hazel

It's snowing outside.  If 2010 brings familiar seasons, we won't see spring for a couple more months, and most of the garden sleeps.  Yet, tucked back into the understory there now occurs an elegant bloom.  Jelena (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'), a Witch Hazel with coppery-red twisted, papery flowers, is awake.  You can smell the crisp, spicy scent before you see the lady herself.  Witch Hazels rely heavily on scent to attract the few pollinators that are about this time of year.  They're small of stature (10-15' tall x wide) and grow with an open habit.  The crinkled, papery leaves turn a brilliant orange-scarlet in Fall.  Organic gardeners will appreciate their relative lack of pests and diseases.  The ladies are tolerant of full sun, but if you can provide a half day (of dappled or direct), you'll find they make an excellent addition to the small urban garden, and to organic gardens of all sizes.     

Pear Tree in the Night Snow

After pruning and in the dark the trunk is barely visible, giving the impression that what exists is not in fact a rooted tree, but an autonomous configuration of floating branches...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter Pond Cleaning


We lucked out.  The weather held, and now our little pond is winterized - empty and clean.  We call it the pond; it's a constructed stainless steel cattle trough that's sold in a range of sizes.  The smallest of them can easily accomodate a balcony garden.  Ours is laid out on a brick patio near the back porch, where over the summer it held Elephant Ears, Canna Lilies, hardy water lilies, Fairy Moss, and a prize Lotus.  Before the season brought a hard freeze, these were removed and prepared for an indoors over-wintering.  All that was really left in the pond were leaves that fell from nearby Pear and Maples trees, and some fertilizer that had leached from the planted containers into the pond water.  We used a regular pond pump with an attached hose adaptor to pump the water out onto our grass.  It took only 15 minutes for the pump to remove all the water.  After that, all I had to do was rinse out the inside & dump out the leaves.  The leafy debris went into the compost pile and nothing was wasted.  The trough will sit empty until spring.    

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Christmas Wow

Garden-wise, was really that Portland had 3 days of clear, bright skies.  But I'll admit it wasn't until today that we got out into the yard to take advantage of one.  In winter, as we're bringing the gardening indoors with seasonal decorations of evergreen boughs, ferns, berries, forced bulbs, and our marginal specimens, it's easy to put the outdoors maintenance out of mind.  Our small pond clean-up and winter tree pruning chores were on hold.  So today we went out and pruned our Bartlett Pear.  The tree had been pruned twice prior to our ownership of the property, each time in a way that resulted in irreparable structural disadvantages.  The first pruning was a topping that resulted in 8-10' tall water sprouts.  The second one was a uniform "haircut" that caused the tree to send out even more of them.  The weak branching returned in density, to the delight of neighborhood Finches and BlueJays alike.  When leafed out, this tree structure provides lots of cover for the birds.  We love the birds so we don't mind the aesthetics much, but with our Northwest winter winds, we anticipate some limbs will fall.  There's no recovering the tree from this growth habit now, so we just went in for some damage control, removing several feet from the tops of the thickest of the water sprouts; thinning out smaller sprouts, crossed & dead branches and relieving the weaker branches from some top weight.  The final cut looks a little rough, but come spring it'll fill in nicely.  The cut branches are stacked in the yard, waiting for me to go out and cut them up for next summer's kindling.  Here's hoping that the sun holds for one more day...