The winter solstice is one sign of the seasons beginning to turn, but the sign I watch for comes about a month later: the rise of the “normal” temperatures, after they’ve hit bottom. This year, the turn came on January 23. (This day ought to have a name and a festival.) After sitting at -8/-19 for what seemed like weeks, the “normal” nudged up to -8/-18, and it’s now already up to -7/-18.
This is the perennial border, if I can call it that, a small chunk of garden cornered by the lilac, the cherry tree (left) and the willow (right). (Click photo to enlarge.) Down in front, alliums are in full flower. Behind them are wild strawberries, lilies, Iceland poppies, a trollius, a nepeta (too big, will have to go), delphinium, aquilegia, and yarrow. The purple nodding onion is a great plant, easy from seed, quick to form a big clump and very interesting to watch (the flowers appear to “hatch” from transparent “eggs”).
Now, this is the Jardin de Refusés, formerly a patch of grass and weeds that required a special trip out behind the garage with the weed-whacker, now a south-facing perennial border, about six metres long and less than a metre deep, along one side of the parking pad off the back alley. It is crammed with plants pulled from the garden because they’d grown too big or prolific. I dug this bed rather than throw them in the compost bin, but soon they will outgrow this space, too. The picture was taken when the bearded irises were in bloom. These are the common, very rapidly increasing varieties (the purple/white and yellow/brown, seen everywhere). There are also tall, bushy geranium (cranesbill), delphinium, ligularia, hollyhocks, daylilies, and a Hansa rose. These are perfect back-alley plants, because if someone digs them up or picks the flowers — good! The Jardin has been a spectacular success, and reached its peak this year (its second full summer). Next year, some of the plants will have to be dug and divided and the whole thing given a heavy feed of compost. The addition of some oriental poppies would take advantage of the full sun and make some big noise before the irises come out.
I never thought much of pelargoniums (filler colour for institutional plots) until two years ago I discovered how easy they are to grow from seed. Easy as beans. They sprout a few days after planting (indoors in late February/early March) and grow without trouble in a semi-sunny window until they can go out into a cold frame or unheated greenhouse in April. In summer, paintbrush-pollinate the flowers, and collect the seed when the feathery tails appear. (If they haven’t appeared by autumn frost, bring the seedheads indoors to finish ripening.) The professionals tell us to deadhead pelargoniums, but this is (conspiracy theory) to keep us dependent on the pelargonium industry. If everyone knew how easy it was to collect seed and grow new plants (their own eye-searing cross-bred colours), the dealers would be out of business.
This is a three-year-old ornamental rhubarb that flowered for the first time last year. The first picture shows a new leaf, and the second shows the flower stalks. It grows in a fairly sunny spot, not too sunny, and likes to be fed and watered. It has reached dividing size, and I will have to think about where to put another one.
And now, three pictures of two flowering potted sempervivums. The first flowered in 2011 and the second last year. (The yellow flower poking up between the pots is a sedum.) Semps are nice enough pot plants when they’re not in flower, but when they bloom, stand back. (The blooming rosette then dies, and the neighbouring offsets move in and take their turn.) This winter, I’m keeping the pots (semps, saxifrages, lewisias, androsaces, fritillarias, and a couple primulas) in a garage window over winter and throwing snow on them for insulation. Previous winters, I’ve kept them in boxes of leaves in the (unheated) garage or a pit dug in the garden and filled with leaves. I could probably leave them out on the picnic table and they’d be fine. I’m thinking in the garage window they may get an earlier start in the spring.