Even in dead of winter some wildflowers (what are often called weeds…) have an entrancing architectural form, such as the Evening Primrose shown above. I love how it echoes the strong vertical lines of the trees in the background and how the stems curve inwards at the top, as if trying to grasp any patches of blue sky it can reach. Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace can’t compare to this Oenothera biennis in the winter, although I do love the form of several more traditional perennials, such as this Sedum, and the tall dead sunflower stalks.
I have a neighbour who generally heads south for two or more months every winter. This year his departure was delayed a bit and every sentence that came from his mouth during those weeks was a variation on “I hate winter.” He hates the cold, he hates the snow, he hates the ice, he hates the dark days, he hates the wind howling off the lake, he hates having to bundle up in multiple layers just to take out the garbage and he hates how gray and brown everything is.
This despite being a self proclaimed “Gardener,” living on 15 acres of land that has woods, marsh, stream and fields.
I’ve learned to bite my tongue and nod sympathetically, but my inside voice is cringing. With age, my neighbour has grown to hate the Canadian seasons. I have grown to, if not love, then at least embrace them. For me, this means seeking out small pleasures in my daily activities and in my garden. I look for the subtle splash of colour; unexpected green foliage; textures; shapes revealed when leaves are gone. Here are a few examples I revel in this time of year.
Winter has sort of arrived in Prince Edward County. The past few months have seen temperatures hover around zero Celsius – one day snow, the next day rain…. the 14 day forecast says nothing above freezing but who knows!
The good news is that sump pumps everywhere are going non stop and water is once again running over the top of the Consecon Mill dam. I’m hoping this means the official end of the 2016 drought, and our well is back to normal. Most people here want a lot of snow this year so that the water table gets back to normal. The number one lesson I learned from the drought is not to plant things that clearly require moist soil. I lost a few small trees – Larch in particular – and even the native red Osier dogwood seems in many places to have died – I’ll only know for sure come spring.
What would have died if I hadn’t made a lot of trips to the lake to bring back buckets of irrigation water? The cucumber and umbrella Magnolias I started from seed 15 years ago; yellow twig dogwoods I planted in the spring; perennials I transplanted or started from seed; my new Pennsylvania Maple; various other shrubs and perennial planted in spring before I knew how dry it would be.
What did all right with no watering? Various Spireas; garlic started the previous fall in a well-mulched raised bed; Paperbark Maple; Foxglove started from seed; Junipers; Smoke Tree.
The photo at the top is what an artichoke looks like if left to flower then left on the stalk. I grew them from seed and had a half dozen plants send up stalks. Another dozen plants produced gigantic leaves but no stalks. Not too sure why…
I was gven a few seeds for unusual (to Southern Ontario) Magnolia seeds; I scarified them, potted them, planted the seedlings in a holding garden then transplanted them to Prince Edward County. Now, about 12 years later, I get flowers every year from these trees.
I really love these bulbs. They come in a handful of varieties – white or pink or purple flowers. I love this one – I had it in my Toronto backyard for about 10 years and it kept getting bigger and bigger. Transplanted it this past spring and here it is in The County garden, under a Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) that I also had in Toronto, started from seed. In the spring large strap like leaves emerge and last for several months. I planted eight or nine last fall – those are just starting to emerge, and another 10 this week which should come up by the end of the month. I intend to keep top dressing with compost to ensure the soil stays nice and loose.
One of the many reasons I love Autumn is the Asters that suddenly make a colourful appearance. It’s weird, because they’ve been there all year, sending green stalks up through the meadow or at the edge of the field and sometimes even in the middle of the garden. Yet come September when the blues and purples and whites start to appear…. they are a perfect antidote to the masses of bright goldenrod, and the perfect side dish to the tree and shrub leaves that are starting to turn yellow and brown. Here are three of my favourites from the garden – Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England Aster), Symphyotrichum oolentangiense (Sky Blue Aster) and Symphyotrichum ericoides (Heath Aster).