Seems like everyone in blogland has gone out to report on what's happening in their gardens this month with odd December weather happening in many parts of the world. We've been above normal in temps and rainfall and below normal in snowfall.
When you live someplace that gets quite cold and snowy every winter, a break like this is a pleasant respite. So nice not to have to shovel snow or drive on slippery streets.
From a gardening standpoint, however, it is a mixed blessing. I love looking out and seeing the green foliage of ferns, Hellebores (above) and Epimediums (top photo). But I am getting nervous about some of the other sights I am discovering in my garden. Here's a late December update from Zone 5 in Wisconsin.
We did have one heavy, wet snowfall of about five inches in late November. The weight of it flattened lots of things that are still green, but some like Carex sylvatica (above) and Lizula sylvatica 'Aurea' (below) continue to maintain their mounded silhouette.
A number of ferns are still standing but none look as fresh and sprightly as this ruffled hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium angustifolium). This has been growing in fairly dry shade for seven years but looks as happy as the ones I have growing in a much boggier spot.
This maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustum) looks as good in December as it has all year. So delicate looking and so tough in reality.
Arum italicum 'Ghost' goes dormant in the summer so spring and fall are its seasons. But I rarely get to see it like this: a clump full of marbled leaves and not hidden by other plants in the garden.
Heuchera villosa 'Caramel' just keeps on cookin'. I'm still picking Heuchera and Heucherella leaves for small foliage bouquets.
Now for the December down side: Newly planted Grape hyacinths and year-old 'Magnet' snowdrops (below) are visibly pushing up.Since these are early bulbs I am hoping it all works out.
Both my newest and oldest Hellebores have big buds fully above ground. They seem to be waiting to see what happens next and I am doing the same!
When I was growing up, holiday meals always took place at tables set with beautiful china. My mom, the grandmothers, the aunts — no matter who hosted the family dinner it was served on great dishes. As I've said many times before, those experiences turned me into a dish junkie. Today I have my grandmother's gold-bordered service, which I just used at Thanksgiving, as well as a set of antique dinner plates with a wide red band dripping with gold curliques. They are my usual go-to choices for December dinner parties.
Last December, when we hosted friends for dinner, I made Afro-Brazillian fish stew and it needed to be served in bowls. That necessitated re-thinking everything because my big soup bowls are blue and white. But I think I managed to create a holiday feel without going all red and green, which I try to avoid everywhere but in my red room.
I used little plexiglass napkin holders, that are actually vases, with a sprig of evergreens for a Christmassy touch and silky plaid napkins for a bit of glam. The placemats are some kind of straw which also has a bit of a sheen.
Our wooden Italian putti is in the corner shedding a little candlelight. More candles are on the table along with a big bowl of dried pomegranates, pomanders and assorted ornaments.
I won't be able to recreate this setting again this December because Mark never liked those napkins: too thin and too slippery according to him. So this fall they were relegated to my bin of supplies for textile projects. They definitely have a lot of potential in that area!
When I met a friend for coffee recently I was reading the book pictured below when she arrived at the shop. She asked what I was reading and I showed her the cover — which she stared at blankly, the usual response of non-gardeners. Though the title page of the book includes the phrase, "A Journey Through a Plantsman's Life," you'd be hard-pressed to find a serious gardener these days who doesn't recognize the name of Piet Oudolf, the most famous gardener working in the world today, and his equally famous home garden, Hummelo, in the Netherlands.
I'm not really sure when I first heard of Oudolf but I know I bought my first Oudolf book, "Gardening with Grasses", co-authored with Michael King, in 1998. But it was my first visit to the Lurie Garden in Chicago (next two pictures below) that made me understand just how differently Oudolf was thinking and planting than the rest of us. If you've been to that garden or the High Line in NYC, among other of Oudolf's creations, you know what I mean.
Over the years there have been a number of books that showcased Oudolf's designs or told us how to create our own version of them. But it's only now that we finally have a book about Piet, a man who says, "only footballers have books written about them." Noel Kingsbury, who has collaborated on design, research and writing with Oudolf, co-authored this book as well.
"Oudolf Hummelo" is a joy to read on any level. It's intelligent, amusing, educational, well-designed and stuffed with images. I would say it is a very Dutch book. It's certainly an un-American garden book when you compare it to the steady stream of coffee table books that fill the shelves at bookstores. First of all this is a small scale book in the garden publishing world, given its famous subject. It's only 7" x 9 and 1/4" in size, though it's a hefty 1 and 3/4" thick. The paper is matte rather than shiny and most photos do not have cutlines.
As well as giving us a history of Oudolf's career and his evolving design concepts, the book introduces us to many of the gardeners and nursery people who inspired Oudolf. I'm guessing that many of these names will be unfamiliar to you if you only know American and UK gardens and gardeners.
What I found particularly satisfying about the book is the way it is laid out with dozens of short pieces interspersed throughout the book. These cover everything from the gardeners I just mentioned, to the china the Oudolfs' collect, to Piet as a photographer and to various aspects of his planting styles (block, matrix etc.) All in all a book that belongs in your library and one you will pick up again and agin after your first reading. Well worth the hefty price tag of $50.00 in the U.S. It's published by the esteemed Monacelli Press and was printed in Slovenia.
One last thought: The picture above — taken by Piet Oudolf — shows dead flowers, including echinacea, in his own garden. This scene is so gorgeous it almost looks like a painting and is certainly proof that Oudolf's attention to using plants that "die" beautifully has a great deal of merit.
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Editor's note: I purchased this book on my own because I am a big Oudolf fan and did not receive any remuneration for this post.
Note: Locally the Sequoya Branch Library and the bookmobile have copies of this book.
It's not often that I can spend half an hour doing a bit more garden cleanup in the first week of December. But thanks to our continuing beautiful weather I did so yesterday, along with taking a few photos to show what's still looking good despite many frosty days and nights and more than four inches of heavy wet snow.
The other star of the winter garden is Arum italicum which is growing in a back corner of the garden where I can't see it unless I walk out there. I need to add one on the slope by our bamboo.
The big bamboo is still in recovery mode after two bad winters where it died completely back to the ground. This year it is providing a nice touch of green from the living room windows.
Most of the Epimediums bounced back from the snow and are still standing upright.
Across the path from the Epimediums, Autumn Brilliance fern never turned color this fall but it is the only fern that did not get flattened by the snow.
Lizulas and Carexes, like this Seersucker sedge, look good all year.
Geranium macrorrhizum is mostly green. I rarely cut this back. In fact, I can't remember the last time we mowed it down at the end of the season. Doesn't seen to hurt it.
Epimedium rubrum is scattered throughout the garden in big clumps. This is the only one of my Epimediums that really changes color in the fall. It always goes through gorgeous transitions and then stays a nice reddish brown until Spring.
Had to snap one more photo of my Thanksgiving Hellebore this afternoon before it's buried in snow. Looks pretty good having been beaten up by wind and rain earlier this week. Sunny, extremely windy and 34 degrees when I was bringing in the last of the pots and watering cans. Weather Bug said it felt like 27 degrees; definitely felt pretty brutal after the great weather we've been having. Mark cleaned up the garage this morning, transforming it from his woodworking shop back into a place with enough space to park the car. So one vehicle will be out of the wintry weather when it hits. Now I'm out to the kitchen to make Spicy Carrot Soup with Harissa.
Well, actually the last tree to turn color and retain its leaves into mid-November: Acer griseum x nikoense. This is a paperbark maple but because it's a hybrid cross it does not seem to get such fabulous peeling bark. But it does have a beautiful shape and great fall color. Some years it has turned at the same time as its neighbors creating quite a colorful picture. But this year it's on its own.
I took this photo Sunday morning standing at the back door. Note that the golden leaves on the lower left are on the bottom branch of the tree. It colors from the top down. By Monday morning the tree was completely red. It's supposed to rain today which could easily be the end of this display.
The recent frosty nights have ended some of the color in the garden but a few trees and shrubs continue to provide a smaller, though still bright, show. Our Acer griseum x nikoense remains fully leafed out and is just beginning to turn red. The apple tree, the curly willow and Forest Pansy Redbud all have most of their leaves as well. Also among the hangers-on are:
Cercidiphylum japonicum pendula with Metasequoia glyptostroboides in the background (Weeping Katsura and Dawn Redwood)
Euonymous elatus (Burning Bush) is bright red while Euonymous europaeus across the path is still green.