Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Long Winter's...Rest?

Just a short post to wish those few friendly souls that occasionally check in here a very happy holiday. My December consists mainly of being chained to the keyboard at church, supervising hundreds of singing (?) children at school, preparing for the obligatory holiday observations among family and friends, and getting ready to visit Ron's family in Pittsburgh; as a result, very little gardening, other than necessary life support and maintenance, takes place here. In an hour yesterday, for instance, I watered the epiphytes in the greenhouse (potted things take much less water at this time of year), drained the hoses, unloaded several bags of pinestraw which I "liberated" from a neighbor's curb on the way home the other night, spread some of this over the remains of the crinum and hedychium foliage, gathered rhizomes from achimenes and gloxinias to store and give as Christmas presents to friends who probably will be appalled to receive them, and began the icky process of processing the berries of Arbutus unedo and Hamelia patens. This last involves crushing the berries into a container of water which will now be allowed to ferment over the next several days, being rinsed repeatedly during this time to separate the pulp from the seeds. Ron particularly appreciates waking up to find these containers of "gunk" lined up along the kitchen countertop. There's a special place in heaven for anyone who lives with a gardener (at least one like me) for almost twenty years!

Still, there's lots of life in the garden at this point, and during the hour or two I have to observe it, I really enjoy it. The Sasanqua camellias are still going strong, the hellebores are showing buds (and in the case of one H. x nigercors, an incredible display of early blooms), and arums are coming into their own as the summer perennials gradually clear the airspace above them. Lycoris, Cyclamen, and Ranunculus are all in great foliage, adding life, if not a riot of color, to the scene.

The palms are especially striking this year, having put on enough growth to begin making a real statement in the front garden. The five species of Trachycarpus look great, and I'm especially enjoying the impact that T. nana is beginning to make in the front bed. (This photo is a couple of months old.) Despite its name, it appears to grow much faster than some, such as T. wagnerianus. Using these temperate palms in beds is an interesting project, since they tend to shade out their neighbors in their "teen" years. Once the crown of the palm is above 10 feet or so, however, the shadows they cast are negligible. I'm not providing any winter protection to the established Trachys, Sabals, or Rhapidophyllums this year, other than a thick collar of pinestraw around the base of each. Chaemerops humilis tend to defoliate if the temps drop into the low teens, but it seems to return from the crown in any event. I did plant a small C. humilis var. cerifera this year, so I covered it with a "wall-o-water" yesterday, enduring great physical discomfort, as more water always gets on my clothes than goes into the narrow plastic channels of those things. It doesn't help that I invariably put off filling them until the temperature is in the 30's. This flat of Sabal minor has done extremely well (the seeds "fell" into my pocket last year from a planting in the parking lot at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk), but I may not live to see them attain any size to speak of, considering the growth rate of that species in general.
I have high hopes for two new members of the aralia tribe, a variegated Fatsia japonica and its hybrid, Fatshedera 'Annemieke', a cultivar with beautiful golden variegation which was a gift last spring from Pam Harper. Both are looking great among the wreckage of the frost-bitten garden. I can't decide whether to spray the Fatsia with Wilt-pruf to offer it a little protection. I don't think it will die outright, but the wide bands of white variegation could be damaged by a hard freeze, ruining the appearance for months to come.
Inside I'm dealing, as always, with severe space issues. I have literally hundred of seedlings and cuttings which need to be pricked out or potted on, but no place to put them once these tasks are accomplished. I'm not sure what the answer is, since there is absolutely no more space in the garage light garden (or "pot garden", as my sister-in-law dubbed it), the greenhouse, or any of the cold frames. I guess it's just as well that I don't have time to do any of these things. I read that Mike Kartuz, a California nurseryman and expert in gesneriads in particular, often holds hundreds of seedlings in small pots for months on end without feeding them, potting them on at his convenience and beginning fertilization to induce growth. It doesn't sound like the best horticultural practice, but I can certainly see the necessity for it, and that's exactly how I'm handling several containers of Bletillas, Sinningias, Begonias, and other things which produce hundreds of progeny from a dusting of seeds (these are Bletilla seedlings from a cross I made in April of 2007.)Interesting to note - the picture below revealed, upon being enlarged, something that I hadn't noticed with my less-than-xray vision - a couple of these crowded miniature Sinningias are actually blooming under these conditions!
I should be doing a lot more outside right now, but short of my giving up the five hours of sleep I allow myself now, that's not in the cards. Acceptance of a messy, but interesting garden seems to be the best alternative at this stage of my life. There'll be time for weeding, raking, and pruning later (I hope.)

Happy Holidays!