Tag: winter

  • Garden Herbs for Stovetop Humidifiers

    December 03, 2012
    Snoqualmie Falls Frozen in December 2009

    Cold winter weather like the snap that caused much of powerful Snoqualmie Falls to freeze solid briefly in 2009 can also dry out your skin. Humidifiers help abate the dry!

    Try picking aromatherapy herbs directly from the garden to avoid winter dryness and to add safe, non-toxic fragrances to your home. We simmer pots of water filled with freshly-picked sprigs, spices and fruits on the stove. This is a fantastic way to keep your house smelling great, your skin from chapping, and you can do it without spending a penny. All it takes is a quick trip to the garden, a few cups of water, and a heat source.

    From Christmas-y fragrances to clarifying and calming blends, we’ve put together a few mixture ideas to get you started.

    Read on for more from our post from Decembers-past…

    (Original post from December 19, 2008 follows)

    As my friend Kim wrote elsewhere, I’m preparing for day 4 of my captivity. Between a nasty head cold, frigid temps, and frozen icy roads, I’m pretty well home bound these days. And with outdoor temps staying well below freezing as dry, cold arctic winds rage in from the north, our furnace is running nearly non-stop. Result: indoor humidity is dropping, which doesn’t help my sinuses (or skin or hair or lips or attitude) at all. And, the Christmas tree seems to dry out just a little faster when the indoor air humidity is low despite how full we keep the water reservoir.

    Frosty Enjoying Frigid Temps

    Frosty Enjoying Frigid Temps

    I spent many of my growing-up years in a woodstove-heated farmhouse in Virginia. The heat was toasty, but we always battled dry heat. To remedy this we kept a heavy kettle filled with water on each of the stoves. The kettle produced steam that helped humidify the air. We had to be vigilant about refilling the kettle regularly, but depending on how high the stove was running, we generally only had to refill it a couple of times a day.

    These days I don’t have a wood stove, but I do have a kitchen stove where I keep a small pot of water going all winter. I have tried commercial humidifiers in the past, but I’m not sold on them. To add interest and fragrance to the house, there are a few things we add to our makeshift humidifier. Spice blends add holiday aromas. Herb blends add relaxing and healing fragrances that help keep a closed up, stale house a bit more fresh. Consider trying out a blend one of the following blends in your own home. If you’re missing one of the ingredients, try the remaining ones or mix-it-up yourself. The worst thing that can happen is you dump it out in the compost and start over.

    Christmas Spice Blend

    • 1 T whole cloves
    • 1 tangerine, orange or other citrus peel
    • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
    • 1 slice fresh or candied ginger

    Garden Herb Blends: Even if your plants are frozen, dust off the snow and ice to take a few cuttings. They don’t need to look lovely to do the trick. Keep in mind, some herb combos like rosemary + sage may make it smell like you’re cooking dinner. Recipes follow. (more…)

  • What a Bee Wants – Cotoneaster

    July 09, 2012
    Honeybee foraging from Cotoneaster

    Honeybee foraging from Cotoneaster

    Bees of all kinds are feasting on the billowing, off-white blossoms of Cotoneaster lacteus right now. Honeybees, yellow jackets, tiny black bees, flies, wasps and more can’t resist the bountiful nectar and pollen this easy-to-grow, rose-family evergreen shrub provides this time of year.

    Later, all of these pollinated flowers will ripen into orange-red fruits that will feed wild birds late in winter. The fruits must not be the birds’ very favorite, but after they’ve fermented and once most other food sources are long gone, the Parney cotoneaster berries will be a last-ditch meal for hungry garden wildlife. And, until the robins and starlings finally munch them down, these reddish fruits will add colorful interest in the garden well into the dark days of winter. Popping against the deep evergreen leaves, this red really helps chase away the dreary winter blues.

    Need a small evergreen tree or shrub for your garden? If you’re in zones 6-8, this may be the tree for you. Keep in mind that it can get weedy by producing lots of seedlings, but they’re easy to pull. If you have a particularly early or late harsh winter, this plant can see significant tip dieback, but usually it will bounce back beautifully. Just cut out the dead! Too, be sure to train it while it is relatively young. These shrubs put on growth at a rapid clip and can get gangly. A bit of strategic clipping while they’re developing can help you create a fantastically formed shrub that provides wildlife forage, evergreen foliage and year-round interest for the garden.

    Oh, and on the toe-may-toe/toe-mah-toe line of thought…avoid giggles from the horty world by pronouncing Cotoneaster Ca-tone-E-aster, not Coton-Easter.

  • Camellia Sasanqua: When Will it Really Bloom?

    February 27, 2012
    Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

    Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' Blooming for Valentine's Day

    Camellia sasanqua is known as a fall or winter-blooming Camellia. But, mine seems to want to wait until closer to spring to strut its stuff.

    Years ago, I was given a tiny but beautiful Yuletide camellia as a Christmas gift. When I received it, it had a few lingering blooms still on it.

    That’s the thing, growers push these young’ns all to bloom in fall. This gets them looking their best just in time for those doing last autumn installations to snap them up and pop them into the garden before everything comes to a screeching halt for winter. And with a name like Yuletide, we’re all expecting these gorgeous evergreens to bloom in time for Christmas, right?


    After that first year, my potted Camellia continued to bloom sometime in winter — usually right after Christmas. Never at Christmas. So much for being a entry decoration for the holidays.

    Then, the time came to plant it in the ground. And guess what happened then?

    Freeze blasted & ruined: This Camellia blossom will never open

    Freeze blasted & ruined Camellia bud

    Yes, it grew larger. But, it also began to bloom later and later each year.

    That is, if it bloomed at all.

    Those tough blossoms definitely don’t care for a hard winter freeze, and if they get hit hard enough. They turn black & fall off the bush. Last year that happened to mine, and I got only a measly handful of pretty blooms.

    This year was mild. We did have one icy blast that hit just as the Camellia was getting ready to bloom. I assumed it would drop its buds, but despite getting frozen and a late start opening, it is putting on its showiest display ever.

    I’m reminded that these shrubs are definitely worth growing in the Pacific Northwest. Evergreen. Colorful. And kinda consistently bloom during the “off season”.

    But guess what? These beautiful 2012 blooms started opening right around Valentine’s day.

    So who’s with me? I propose we rename this one: Camellia sasanqua ‘Valentine’.

    It sure as hell isn’t opening any gifts for us during the Yuletide anymore.

  • Shear Not! But Still Keep that Hedge in Check

    December 14, 2011
    House in the 1920s or 1930s

    Historical Photo of Our Home - Lots of Lawn and Sheared Plants

    Inherited a garden filled with prior inhabitants’  bizarre choices intact? Yeah, me too.

    Our house is rapidly approaching its 1ooth birthday. Back in the day, they thought 12-18″ wide, straight-lined paths slammed within two feet of the house itself made sense. They don’t.

    Rather than walk so close to the house that it feels as if the giant structure may bump into you, most homeowners with paths like this end up walking on adjacent lawns. It’s a personal space thing, I suppose. I got rid of that awful pathway years ago, replacing it with wider, meandering walkways made of permeable gravel and flagstone. Whew, much better. And, yeah, we got rid of all that lawn, too.

    These brilliant designers also had a habit of building front garden retaining walls with a small, 8-12″ deep, planting beds at their foot. This creates a very difficult space to fill with the right plant. When we bought the house, our strip was filled with a toupee of lawn (h/t to my friend Cath for dubbing tiny, stupid lawns with the toupee appellation.). When we began eradicating lawn, this stuff had to go.

    Hedge Encroaching on Sidewalk

    Hedge Encroaching on Sidewalk Needs a Trim

    First, I filled the space with cheap primula. At the time, I thought colorful polka dots looked cute. They really didn’t, but what did I know?

    Then, I tried dividing and transplanting mixed perennials in the space. That was a big fat failure. And, as the wall continued to age and my gardening skills grew, I resolved to grow something to hide the ugly concrete. The problem though:  what’s evergreen, drought tolerant, dog-pee tolerant, cold tolerant, grows to 3′ tall and no wider than 1′. Answer: Not much.

    First, I tried a hedge of Hebe buxifolia. I knew this lovely evergreen would tolerate the full sun and any drought. Plus, it blooms beautifully and withstands shearing. Unfortunately, every third plant would die each year (or a part of a plant would die from dog pee or weather or “just because”), and the hedge looked like plant mange had gone on the attack.

    Then, knowing the plant could exceed my space parameters but also tolerate heavy pruning, I installed several inexpensive David Viburnum. With broad, evergreen leaves, this plant isn’t a good choice for shearing. Why? Slice a big leaf in half and it looks chopped up. (If you slice tiny leaves, it doesn’t show as readily.)

    Fortunately, the Viburnum worked out fairly well. It took a few years to fill out the space, and then it began to overtake the adjoining sidewalk. But, with a good pruning at the right time of year, this hedge is in check. It requires very little supplemental watering in the dry season while tolerating hot, baking sun. And, it withstands winter just fine.

    Pruned Hedge

    Hand-Pruned Hedge Finished (Somebody needs to sweep though)

    Here’s how and when we did the pruning:

    • Timing: Prune the viburnum as it is blooming or right after. You may lose out on some of the pretty blue berries, but only where you cut. We pruned ours in late May. Do not do your pruning in fall.
    • Tools for the job: Have a pair of bypass shears and folding handsaw for your plant cuts. A pair of loppers may come in handy for chopping up larger branches into the compost or yard waste container.
    • How to cut: Remove all the dead material on the plant first. Then, work like a mechanic, removing lower, longer branches first — assuming you want your “hedge” to look taller rather than wider. Make your cuts at points where branches meet other branches. Or, if your goal is to get an otherwise bare area to fill out, make cuts just above a strong, sprouting bud; cut incorrectly, you may seriously damage your plant. And, do not remove more than 1/3 of the living material from each plant.
    • How Often: How often you prune will come down to your plants’ needs. Our hedge was pruned in May 2010 and may require a small supplemental pruning by May 2012.
  • Keeping it Hip & Rosy in the Autumn Garden

    November 09, 2011
    Wild Rose Hips Brightening a Duck Pond Thicket

    Wild Rose Hips Brightening a Duck Pond Thicket

    About a week ago I met with a new-to-me client. As we walked through her garden discussing what was what, she apologized (to me? to the plants) for having not cut all the rose hips off her rose bushes. Like so many novice gardeners out there, she was under the impression that rose hips were actually bad to leave on her rose bushes.

    She was very pleased to learn that leaving her roses a little hippy for winter is actually a good thing!

    Rose hips are the rose’s fruit. Even if you don’t choose to harvest the hips to make tea or sachets, they make for some lovely fall color on your plants. True, some roses don’t produce showy hips, but many do. So leaving them in place will help add interest to your garden as the plant puts less energy into producing blossoms come autumn.

    And, while removing spent flowers during spring and early summer is just fine, removing the fruit that follows those flowers later in the season can actually be detrimental to your roses. The formation of fruits and ripening of them as the flower season wanes helps the plant prepare for dormancy. As the fruits ripen, the plant spends more energy on them than on additional flowers. Sure, more late flowers sound like a treat for the eyes and nose, but if they get hit by cold temps, the plant may suffer significantly. But, if a rose hip gets hit with frost, the plant should be just fine. Those hips are made to protect!

    So, keep your rose garden hip for winter. Leave those colorful, little pretties intact to savor the beauty of the rose far into fall. And, when they’re fully ripe, pluck a few for a blast of homegrown vitamin C! Don’t worry, removing a few that are fully ripe won’t harm the plant. By spring, the plant would have let them go anyway to spread the seed stored in those lovely little pods.

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