Monday, December 28, 2009

Holiday winter wonderland

The sun is low in the sky and the popple trees cast long shadows over the "courtyard." With the temperatures dropping, it's nice to have a thick blanket of snow.

The snow has ended, the cold is settling in (it's 11 degrees as I write this) and the sun is revealing a world of shadows, texture, pattern and contrast. All told, we got somewhere around 2 feet of snow in the Christmas storm that began Christmas Eve Day and ended the day after Christmas.

On Christmas Eve Day, you could still see the junipers in the front bed.

This was taken about noon and the short junipers were still showing green through the snow.

By the same time Christmas Day, they were covered.

This was taken through the window; the blotches are from the wind-driven rain. Trust me, there really are junipers under the snow in the center of this photo.

We seemed to have a little of everything Christmas Day: snow, wind, rain, freezing rain. We spent much of the afternoon trying to get a head start on digging out.

The silly dog found it hard to navigate except where snow had been cleared.  

Part of digging out means raking the drifts off the roof and checking vents.

Fortunately, there was plenty of warning about the storm. So we were prepared.
The bird feeders were filled. And we had lots of birds even in the thick of snow and wind.

Goldfinches were among the most frequent visitors.

The wreath was finished and hung days earlier.

I like simple wreaths that don't scream Christmas so I can leave them up through January or longer. This is a balsam base in which I tucked a bundle of Russian cypress and black-tip wheat.

Jars of homemade jam were decorated and ready for gift-giving. A few will have to be given out later.

The spoons were a great find at IKEA. I made the tags.

The yule log was decorated and ready to illuminate our Christmas Eve dinner: rack of lamb with mustard glaze and potato and parsnip gratin (with vegetables from the garden, of course). Brian even dug through the snow to snip some fresh thyme.

Joe gave us the birch yule log years ago. This Christmas I nestled it in a bed of balsam, Russian cypress and black-tip wheat.

We treated ourselves to a really good Cabernet Sauvignon purchased years ago and held for a holiday such as this.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Marking the winter solstice

We marked the shortest day of the year (yesterday) with a fire in the back yard. Looking forward to the days getting longer again.

More about the solstice from National Geographic.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The great black walnut experiment is under way

Walnuts with their husks (hulls) are at top. They're about the size of a tennis ball. The hulled walnuts are at bottom.

I obviously have a lot to learn about black walnuts. For example, take this passage from the Minnesota State Extension Service: "Take care when hulling or shelling walnuts. The practice of driving over nuts with an automobile can be a dangerous one. Nuts and broken shells may be thrown into the air by the tires, possibly causing bodily injury or property damage."

Huh? Driving over walnuts with a car?!

Apparently, this is a fairly routine procedure for hulling if a quick google search is any indication of how prevalent the practice is. Walnuts deserve a lot more respect than I realized.

Nut trees have always seemed a little mysterious to me. Trees grown for fruit or shade were a part of my childhood, but nuts -- when we had them -- always came in a bag or a can from the grocery.

So I was excited when a package containing black walnut seeds arrived in the mail in October. Chrissy sent us black walnuts harvested in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And it was a revelation to me that black walnuts had a husk that had to be removed. The husk can be used in making dye and there are lots of warnings to use heavy rubber gloves when handling them or risk stained hands for a long time.

Lucky for us, Chrissy sent us both hulled and unhulled nuts so we didn't have to back the Honda over the nuts and risk "bodily injury."

Checking for damage to the seed. The two floating at left were discarded.

But we did need to check the hulled nuts for insect damage or other injury before planting. That meant plunging them into a bucket of water. Floaters were no good and needed to be tossed (but not in the compost; walnuts contain juglone which can kill or stunt other plants). Those that sank were viable and good for planting.

The good seeds were planted in soilless mix in one-gallon nursery pots.

That gave us 14 nuts to pot and place in the cold frame. Walnuts need stratification (cold treatment) to germinate; we're going the natural route and just leaving them outside all winter.

Even though its nuts have good flavor, black walnut (Juglans nigra) is grown more for its lumber than for its nuts; English walnut (Juglans regia) is the one that's grown for commercial nut production because it's easier to harvest and crack.
The walnuts went into their pots Nov. 4. I'll report back in the spring.

The seeds were covered with a couple of inches of soilless mix, tagged and placed in the cold frame. Information from the Extension Service suggests we can expect maybe half to germinate. (These pots since have been covered with snow.) 

Details on growing and harvesting black walnut can be found here and here and here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Favorite plant of the day: Hydrangea 'Tardiva'

Frost glitters on 'Tardiva'.
As I was cruising the garden last Monday for the Seventh Day Project (see gallery at top right), I was reminded of how much I like Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'. It's at its showiest in late August/early September when it's in bloom, but I also like it when the blossoms are dried and brown like they are now. The lacy flowers are the color of weak tea and look so fragile that one wonders how they could possibly still be held on the shrub.

This is 'Tardiva' in early September. Notice the flush of pale pink.

This plant has stood the test of time here having been planted a number of years ago. We bought it in a five-gallon pot from Edelweiss Nursery and it has thrived on the north side of the house; it's now 5 feet high, give or take a few inches. The deer have occasionally browsed on it, but because flowers occur on new growth that's not a huge problem. A late winter pruning is recommended anyway.

Fine Gardening has more about the care of 'Tardiva' here.

'Tardiva' catches some afternoon sun in its location on the north side of the house. The flowers glow against the dark conifers; it's underplanted with lingonberry and Johnson's blue geranium. (The geranium probably should be moved now that the hydrangea has grown.)

In December, the stems of 'Tardiva' create a pattern against the house.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wheat, revisited

 I can only wish I was talented enough (and had the patience) to create a woven-wheat wreath like this.

Apparently, I'm not the only one with a fondness for wheat and how it can be used to create art as well as bread. Thanks to a reader (see Thankful for Wheat post below) for suggesting I check out The examples are lovely and the care tips helpful (use a soft brush for dusting and a misting of water to preserve) as I look around the house for a place to hang this woven-wheat wreath. I bought it a lifetime ago on a trip from Illinois to the West Coast with a stopover in Nebraska. At the time I thought I paid too much; now I think it was a huge bargain. I know it was made by a Nebraska artisan, but for the life of me I don't know where I put the tag with her name.

I'll never be able to do anything this fine or detailed, but I still hope to use some of my wheat in Christmas decorations -- I am capable of bundling stems and tying with a ribbon. Meanwhile, this baby will get a brushing and a spritzing and a place of honor -- just as soon as I figure out where.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winter rises

Winter is asserting itself at sillydoggarden. It turned cold this week -- not unreasonably so but after a mild November these days with highs in the teens are a little hard to get used to. And there is the snow. It's not much but even a thin layer of white is a dramatic change from the quiet buffs and browns and greens of the past few weeks.

Fortunately, we were mostly ready.

The last of the parsnips (a variety called 'Gladiator') were harvested from the vegetable garden earlier this week and taken to the stream for a quick wash to remove the big chunks of soil. Our vegetable gardening season opened with a parsnip harvest and ended with a parsnip harvest. The circle is complete.

Brian finished caging the trees and shrubs that are especially susceptible to winter browsing. The yard is dotted with these contraptions of wire fencing and bamboo.

The 'Skyrocket' junipers at the herb garden entrance are wrapped in burlap to guard against sunscald.

This bird feeder will need to be filled almost daily. (We go through lots of sunflower seeds.)

Fresh snow means it's easy to see who's been out and about overnight.

And the sillydog seizes the day, savoring the flavor of winter.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Festival of the trees

We love trees at sillydoggarden. The trees in the foreground (this side of the road) were all planted by us. This photo was taken in early October. 

Trees have been on my mind lately -- especially black walnut (more about that in a post to come) and the conifers screening the road. So I was happy to find this link to a blog carnival devoted to all things arboreal. Posts about witch hazel and larch especially caught my eye.