Does our hot tropical summer keep us out of the garden like a cold Minnesota winter? I do like to think so, but then comes our glorious winter and I learn something profound about myself: As it turns out, it’s not the heat that kept me out of the garden in summer, because I find the same reluctance on some of the most glorious days one could want. Nope, it’s laziness.
Don’t judge. Don’t you dare judge.
Suzie mentioned the New Guinea impatiens around the office were not growing. We have seen three bouts of sub-40-degree temperatures this winter; many winters have zero days below 40 degrees. Plants are in a stupor. How do we garden with the sorts of weather we are seeing? What do we do different?
■ Discourage growth. The last thing we want is new growth on our plants. Hold back on the water and do not fertilize. Apply sufficient water to discourage wilting. Plants are under stress. They do not need fertilizers.
■ Don’t prune, either. Parts of my little acre quite get away from me for years at a time, and that’s what has happened with several fruit trees. Two were enveloped quickly by air potato before I noticed them. Another was capped by clerodendrum and while I saw it, I didn’t get to it. Another … well, they need work.
When is the best time to prune, actually? After the fruit, and before the blooms, with one important point: Pruning will encourage new growth, obviously, and new growth is susceptible to frost. So, while these glorious January days seem perfect for pruning, not to worry, because these wonderful days are also perfectly made for planning ahead.
Go back to making plans. Envision just what branches you’ll cut, how you will distribute the tree, how to bundle the cuttings. Plan away until mid-February or so.
And now, as promised, a look to January flowers.
First, a worthy repetition: Glory Bower (Clerodendrum thompsoniae) continues a profuse show this year, dominating my pergola with huge flowers and profuse growth.
Several of our commonly seen plants are also flowering in January, including Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) and Firebush (Hamelia patens). Do notice the tree-form Jatropha (Jatropha integerrima) in the U.S. 41 medians north of Pine Ridge Road, which are in fine form. A few more: Allamanda (Allamanda nerifolia), Passion Vine (Passiflora spp.), Oleander (Nerium oleander), and of course Rosa spp., the Knock Out Roses.
A little more unusual: Consider the Tropical Hydrangea, or Dombeya x Seminole, a 6- to 10-foot, twiggy plant grown mostly for the wondrous, pendant red or pinkish flowers. The Chinese Hat Plant (Holmskioldia sanguine), usually around 4-6 feet, is heaven to hummingbirds and butterflies, and available as “Citrinia” with yellow flowers or the more common orange. And more butterfly plants: Don’t forget Pentas (Pentas lanceolata), available in white, red, pink, and lavender; and there is Mexican senna, an important larval plant (Senna mexicana v. Chapmanii) for butterflies with charming, profuse yellow flowers.
For the votaries amongst us, a few natives: Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides), Beauty Berry (Callicarpa americana), Varnish Leaf (Dodonea viscosa), White Stopper (Eugenia axillaris) Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum coriaceum) are all, in the manner of natives, showing flowers at least partially dependent on the imagination of the viewer.
Your design pundit has been to the malls in America and has observed that far too few people are actually concerned with good taste. I mention this because my Adult Ed classes have started.
Planting design classes begin by asking students: Can design be “good” or “bad”? Is design an opinion? Invariably the answers are what you would expect: that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Here the careful reader is reminded of the aforementioned comment about taste, knowingly realizing that these responses reflect a fully opaque view of the world of design.
There is an enchanting foot bridge over this River of Supposition, though. Is it not magical to walk in the moccasins of experts? To learn that an endeavor, once thought superficial, contains the stuff of philosophy?
In class, students acquire a vocabulary allowing a dispassionate assessment. The “L” word is missing: Liking or not liking is immaterial. What works? What doesn’t? Why not?
Some readers recognize that art principles are the tools these students are learning, and that, even hugely condensed, these powerful tools are gripping. I know well the feeling because the same happened to me in school. I began to see the world as a richer place as my design sense — and design eyes — became ever more wary of illusion.
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