Memories Chase This Gardener’s Brown Blues

Nothing like February to bring on a gardener’s Brown Blues. Brown leaves, brown stems, brown grasses, brown scruffy seed heads (broken-down brown) and, incidentally, gray days.

A rogue fog sweeps a wan winter sun away

A rogue fog sweeps a wan winter sun away

Not to mention that all this brown has to be cleaned up before spring. It’s enough to make a body want to give up and move south to greener pastures. (Oops, we already live in the South.)

Oh quitchyer belly-achin’. Camellias are starting to bloom, quince is popping, daffodils are poking, hellebores are dressing up, and nothing could be growing faster or greener than the weeds.

Thanks for that cheer-up. Next you’ll be telling me how great weeds are as a groundcover. Now you’ve given me the Brown-Green Blues.

Don’t be such a curmudgeon. Spare us the whining. Be still and hibernate with your memories. You’ve got about 30 years worth. Bring them center stage.

All of them? Please. No. Seven or eight will do quite nicely. All right but I’m going to talk about it all — the good and the bad, the happy and the sad.

Okay Okay, just quit singin’ those Brown Blues.

memcrabbloomThe old crabapple is no more. It was a hero during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, blocking pine trees that would have fallen on our house. But it never truly recovered from the battering. It kept blooming its heart out, until, after twenty-five years, what a crotchety, shrivel-berried shell of a tree bumping hard against the house it had become.

Remember Newton’s old action-reaction theory? Now the sun lasers the camellias and their knickers stand deep in puddles once routinely sucked up by crabapple roots. Maybe the crepe myrtle (maximum height 10-12 feet) we planted to replace the crabapple will kindly moderate. One garden saga played out, another just beginning.

memcrabbackThis crabapple behind the house is managing old age with style. It was flattened under a fallen pine during Hurricane Isabel and had to be helped up without tearing its trunk, then roped up to a maple tree until it could remain upright on its own.

memswalLast monarch butterfly of the season. This female hovered here for a couple of weeks in November along with two sisters, teetering on wiry stems and sipping from long, tubular flowers of pineapple sage, sharing small pools of nectar with honeybees in honey-warm sunshine. What joy they gave us! We worried, too. Would they be wise enough to escape before the first frost?

memswaldedOne cold morning we found a monarch butterfly nestled amid rusty leaves blown under a step. Immobilized. Small and fragile among the detritus of autumn. Where have the others gone?

memhydOur favorite picture of hydrangeas. They used to cascade with hostas and ferns down to the dock in the benign shade of pines, sweet gum and maples. We could never take much credit for the show. They were happy with no help from us. When trees toppled during storms, king sun presided and hydrangeas needed rescuing.

memdockbedThey’re replaced today by a new look: a jostly mix of Joepye weed, St. Johnswort, New York ironweed, boltonia and perennial sunflowers. Exotic cafes for insects on brilliant summer days.
memplntsaleThe last garden open house and plant sale. For a few hours every year on a Sunday in May, our street would be lined with cars and trucks. Visitors could stroll paths and see the parents of our potted plants growing in a garden. It was a time for meeting new gardeners and connecting with dear gardening friends. But once that “opening bell” rang, lollygagging turned into a mad dash to buy. Gardeners would leave with wheel barrows full of new plants to try.

This annual event supported environmental causes like creating brochures on wetlands and offering scholarships to high school seniors. But all good things must end, and we wanted to move on from planning, propagating, potting, fertilizing, weeding, watering, labeling, and photographing (whew!) our newbies to blogging about them.

mempartyThere was always a happy gathering at the end of the day, good food and good fun. We liked the gatherings so much that at some point, we shortened the plant sale so we could have more time to socialize (even in the rain.) We may have eliminated the sale but not the festivities.

memevgfrogs2Contented visitors to our postage-stamp pond years back. The two pictured here obviously didn’t have any interest in us. But one summer a frog took up residence who would talk with us. Really! But only during lunches in the gazebo and he always stayed hidden.

memfroglilyWe chatted. He croaked. We chatted. He croaked. If we paused too long before answering his croak, he would prompt us with a few more croaks. Impatient? We would reply, but once we headed off to do chores, he would turn silent. There’s nothing quite as intellectually stimulating as chatting with an invisible frog.

memmessbtGrandpa and Tommy drag the remains of hollies into our brush pile. These dwarf Burfords were the first plants we put in thirty years ago, one on either side of the front steps. We loved them. Each spring when we stepped out the front door, we would smell their tiny but sweet-scented blooms and hear that particular buzz that comes from contented honeybees. Fifteen years later,  spring was silent. Truly wild honeybees were gone.

memburfMeanwhile, the “dwarf” hollies grew and grew and we chopped and chopped, and they liked our chopping and turned into big lumps. We said, we needed something classier next to the front door. We limbed them up into elegant small trees with elegant round crowns. In a year the elegance was buried under overblown growth that threatened our very entry. Chop. Chop. Chop down.

memhollytrukHere is a Burford holly planted that has plenty of space. This “dwarf” has been limbed up to create a handsome small tree that now dwarfs our truck, Ranger. We prune it when storms deform its crown or when growth becomes too exuberant.

memberriesIts berries are sumptuous even under a winter jacket of pine needles.

Last spring this Burford holly was sweet and buzzing.

memyuletidesnowWisps of snow on ‘Yuletide’ camellia. This is one of Bob’s first successful air layers. Air layering is a spring and fall ritual here that has seen the birth of new plants and new friendships. (For more on this, See Air Layering Camellias in the sidebar.)

This photo comes from friends who managed to catch blooms still fresh from a capricious snowfall on Christmas day. The blooms will shrivel and turn brown from the frosty cold, but my what a transitory treasure they are.

memmgtourMaster Gardeners visit in the rain. They’re hardy fellows. It’s another annual tradition. They pile in a van to come see the spring show, have lunch, and while away the afternoon in the tranquillity of our garden.

But wait, half the group has disappeared to drier terrain on the porch. I guess, today, lunch is more a draw than the garden.

memchrysChrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ was a surprise. It came as a single-stemmed stowaway hidden among a thorny old rose bush being cast away by a good friend. Rambling and rambunctious, you can pull Sheffield, tromp it, whack it back when its bodacious spirit momentarily vexes you.

memchrysglobIt blooms reliably, but you must be patient. Buds fatten and gleam in sunlight for days until you are sure they will burst. When they come round in late fall, they brighten the garden and offer caches of food-on-the-fly to late insect visitors. I love to give Sheffield away because I know it will come back to me next spring. (The original rose, alas, was not quite so hardy.)

membobsoilMy favorite memory of all. Master Digger Bob working in the garden to make it grand. Here he is removing the remains of an old root ball from a toppled pine. We’ll use the composted soil in more “formal” areas.

The sun has broken through the fog. The day has warmed. My Brown Blues are almost gone.  I’ll have a go at whacking away at last year’s leftovers.

This entry was posted in Creating a Garden, garden maintenance, Master Gardeners, plant sale, propagation, Winter and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Memories Chase This Gardener’s Brown Blues

  1. Linda says:

    What fond memories. … and pictures of friends. I never thought to limb up Burford holly! Delightful. Always something new to learn through your blog. Many thanks.

  2. A great picture of you, too! Your enthusiasm sure helped to make those open houses successful.

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