Winter 2010 Newsletter

The other day the local red-tailed hawk swooped right into the neighbour’s spruce tree and picked off something in a lightning flash. A wee bird I’m afraid. I could have used one less rat around. But it does remind you that nature is moving forward even as we just want to curl up and read a good book.
There are so many birds flapping about (even a robin…..why isn’t he down south?) and they are all looking for something to eat. Now is the time to get pictures of the garden and see where you have empty spaces crying to be filled. And will also appease those appetites out there.
Never allow your winter garden to be boring. You need a graceful mix of evergreens, really sensuous bark, shapely shrubs and ornamental grasses to supply both sound and movement.
If you didn’t whack everything back in autumn you can now reap the benefits and so can the birds. The snow is a glorious background for showing off well-chosen trees and shrubs.
I’m enjoying the following:

Sciadopytis verticillata both the evergreen and the evergold forms. The Japanese umbrella plant defines shapely. In this climate it’s not going to get huge. On the west coast, watch out it could get to 20 feet or more. Here (Z6) probably about 10 to 12 feet. I love it with Japanese maples (any species, any cultivar). It’s one of those very still plants that can work with plants filled with movement such as ornament grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’ for instance.
Berberis thunbergii a species with a ton of great cultivars (cultivated variety) such as ‘Concorde’ an almost black-purple version; ‘Ring of Gold’ which has a ring of gold around its beauteous leaves and an incredible heap of berries for winter. (there’s a shot on the blog)
Stewartia pseudocamellia. What a pretty little tree. The winter bark is lovely striations of gray and when it matures it will exfoliate in a number of tones (which mine hasn’t yet since it needs a caliper of 3 in or so and mine’s a relative baby). The foliage comes out an amazing purple then unfurls into a deep green. The white camellia like blooms are gorgeous (if you search the blog you’ll find a shot of one).
Acer griseum: you may be sick of hearing about the paperbark maple tree but I’m not sick of talking it up. The cinnamon-coloured bark exfoliates right from early stages (though you should only buy a specimen if you see it starting to peel). It’s unbelievably enchanting to look at in winter. The shape is good: sort of rounded vase like a wine decanter.

Magnolias, any magnolias. There is something about the style of these plants that makes a gardener’s heart sing. The small ones are thick enough to form a screen; the tall ones are the most elegant of trees. In between is this one: I have no idea what it’s supposed to be. I bought it as a Magnolia stellata but it must be the biggest one around.

And of course the perennials that are thrilling right now are all the hellebores. What a fantastic sight: crisp leaves resting on the show the beginnings (even this early) of what will be early spring blossoms. This one is Helleborus ‘Silver Lace’ (it has a slightly more silvery effect and sharper edges than another great one H. ‘Ivory Prince’ is probably one of the best cultivars around. If you can find it. I got mine at Lost Horizons (this needs a link) and if you look at Larry Davidson’s catalogue you’ll be astounded by the wonderful plants he carries.

Occasionally some of you send me tips and here’s a terrific one from Janet Bryant of Brantford:

“I had a raccoon in my chimney, along with her babies. A friend advised me to put a box of moth balls down the chimney and sure enough, as it turned to dusk, out she came with her babies. I also sprinkled a $1 box of mothballs around my pond (the raccoons had been in it as well). At dusk I watched from my home and saw a raccoon on the top of my fence across from the pond – the raccoon stayed on the fence until she was about 30 or 40 feet from the pond and then she dropped down to the ground, and took off. Apparently raccoons have a strong sense of smell and cannot abide mothballs. Hope you find this interesting and helpful.”

Thanks Janet. I haven’t tried this at all. I know they don’t keep squirrels from vandalizing bulbs. However, I haven’t noticed as many raccoons (or skunks) in the past couple of years. I think it’s because that family of red-tailed hawks are such avid hunters and patrol the local gardens. There are lots of big trees so that they can land safely and make nests. It’s shocking to see them blitz another animal and quite wonderful as well.
Keep an eye on the garden all winter, it has much to teach us about design, about the ecology and about sheer pleasure.
If you need my services: email me.
Yours Marjorie