A race to first bloom

On days like today, as the temperature and wind chill remain at unfriendly levels, it’s easy to drift into thoughts of a new growing season. The anticipation is especially pronounced this year, as I eagerly await the season’s first bloom. In years past, the witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) along the back fence has been the harbinger of warm weather. It is promising once again to grace us with its spidery, rusty yellow blooms near the end of February. This week (pictured above), its flower buds hang like small fruit along the shrub’s grey branches.

But this year, planted at the witch hazel’s feet are two hellebores which promise to bring even earlier color to the garden. I can’t wait to see who wins the race to first bloom.

Art from the gutters

In the winter garden, sometimes you have to find beauty from unusual sources. Our home is nearing 20 years old, and one of the things it sorely needs is a new roof and gutters. I’m not sure if any of our gutters slopes in the direction of the downspouts anymore, and as a result we end up with a lot of water collecting in and overflowing from the gutters.

Continue reading Art from the gutters

Decorating winter’s blanket

Early this morning, as the thermometer clung stingily to zero, I stepped out our patio doors onto the snow-covered deck to deliver some leftover grapes and salad greens to our resident Eastern Cottontail and the other animals that frequent our property. The snow underfoot let out a loud, squeaky scream with every step through its icy crust. The air was still, but cold — a cold that fills your lungs immediately with the shock of winter.

Continue reading Decorating winter’s blanket

A new year in the garden

As I open the drapes this New Year’s Day morning, I am greeted with a clear blue sky that we only get on the coldest days of winter. The bright sun casts a deceptive warmth that the thermometer betrays at a frigid five degrees. A light blanket of snow from earlier in the week still covers the yard, crosscut by a ceaseless highway of animal tracks. It’s all Mother Nature’s work so far, and she’s created another masterpiece. The red cast of the dogwood and willow and orange-yellow of witch hazel buds break an otherwise muted display of browns and gray from the dormant garden.

Continue reading A new year in the garden

The gift of something that matters

A short while ago, as my seven-year-old son and I were talking in bed one weekday morning, I asked him what he was most looking forward to about Christmas. Without a moment of hesitation, he answered “grandma and grandpa.” A few weeks earlier, he had added “good luck for my family” to the end of his wish list to send to Santa. In fact, his list of things that he wanted was so short, we had to encourage him to look through some toy catalogs to lengthen it some. He seemed entirely content with receiving a couple of toys, as long as he could spend the holiday time with family.

I have always adored the giving of gifts. The pleasure of finding a gift that the recipient will truly enjoy or find useful is eminently satisfying to me. For me, giving a gift is one of those opportunities where you can demonstrate that you truly have listened to and understood the needs and interests of the recipient. The old phrase — “It’s the thought that counts” — only partially captures this sentiment. For me, it’s never been enough to give a gift of something. I’ve always tried to give the gift of something that matters.

Continue reading The gift of something that matters

Wanting to know who I am

I walked out of the office tonight to perhaps my least favorite kind of weather. The temperature hovered just above freezing. Sheets of large, heavy raindrops marched through the illumination of street lights, buffeted on an increasingly strong wind. My lack of umbrella was practically inconsequential. This was the kind of weather that comes at you from all angles, mocking protection from above.


My path from the front door of my office building to the parking garage can’t be more than a few hundred yards, but by the time I arrived at my truck, my shoulders were hunched, my hair glistening with nearly frozen moisture. I hopped in the driver’s seat, plugged my iPhone into the truck’s stereo system and hit shuffle.

Continue reading Wanting to know who I am

Bringing the garden in for winter with holiday wreaths

Last weekend as I was lamenting the end of the growing season, I picked up the most recent copy of BBC Gardeners World (December 2009). The first article (‘Festive foraging’) includes an excellent primer on making holiday wreaths from materials gathered in the garden. I’m not generally a “crafty” person, but thought making a few wreaths would be a good way to bring the garden indoors during a winter that promises to arrive on schedule in just a few weeks.

Yesterday morning, even before the sun had the chance to dispose of the frost from our first night under 20 degrees, I grabbed my hand pruners and headed out into the garden looking for branches that could be used as the base of the wreath. A few snips here an there, careful not to take too much of any one shrub, I ended up with armfuls of dogwood, crab apple, birch, willow, and honeysuckle. A hike in the woods later in the day netted a variety of wildflower seed heads, rose hips and drying crabapple fruit.

Continue reading Bringing the garden in for winter with holiday wreaths