Happy Winter Solstice!

It’s the shortest day of the year, but I am happy in the knowledge that every day from here on out will bring more and more sunshine!

I hope you enjoy the winter solstice and celebrate it in a festive fashion!

I have a confession–

Lettuce, radicchio and basil starts under lights, Winter Solstice 2011

I have baby-sized basil, lettuce and radicchio growing under lights in the basement.  This gardening stuff is like an addiction, is it not?  Ever the gardening optimist am I.  I’ve already re-potted it up into four inch pots, and from there they’ll go into one-gallon-size pots.  We’ll see what comes of it–hopefully some useable comestables in the bleak winter months.

I’ve already got my eye on early spring as well . . .

Pelargonium hanging out under lights, Winter Solstice 2011

Pink and green will figure prominently after the Winter holidays around the house.  They will spend the winter and spring indoors under lights and in good natural light throughout the house, and then come May they will go back to their rightful spot in my hanging baskets and containers out in the garden.  These are the Energizer Bunny of flowers–they bloom all year long if you water and fertilize them.

If you like, leave a comment.

Winter Decorations 2011

I like to use greens from the garden to decorate for the winter holidays.  I have a large bay tree, and so I pruned some branches that were sticking out, and used the prunings as part of the greenery for the house and around the front door in containers.  Our neighbors also have tons of English laurel shrubs on their property, and they allowed me to prune some of that to use in decorating as well.  I came up with a mix of greens with more Christmas-y items, just things that I like that we’ve collected over the years.  Enjoy!

A wreath for the front door made of English laurel, a little bay leaf, and a few pine cones.

 
 

Fireplace mantle, 2011 version

The centerpiece of this arrangement is a pretty red and green dwarf bamboo that really comes into its own in December.  I put some in a tallish vase, and surrounded it with bay leaves, and the red ribbon strung through the top curlicues of the wire basket.  Some red-curled sticks coming out of the top.  Little things that I like that might not survive cat examination go up here safely for the season.  For the same reason, my favorite ornaments get hung up on the picture rail all around the living room, rather than on a tree where they would be irresistible to curious cats.
 
 

Sideboard with English laurel clippings, gold pointsetta flower and gold ribbon, and a little drum basket holding cards

 

The top of a bookcase got in the holiday spirit

 

Ornaments on the chandelier

 

China cabinet with holiday decor.

 

A festive table centerpiece. I have collected the plates and dishes over time from Goodwill. The red plate is a favorite from Johnson Brothers, an English manufacturer from the turn of last century, and the cabbage-leaf bowl is a newer addition to my small collection. Good old bamboo and bay leaves do their holiday job in a simple vase.

 
One new item I made over the weekend . . .
 
 

An ornament wreath inspired by Eddie Ross

 
This indoor wreath was pretty inexpensive to make, because most of it came from Dollar Tree–the ornaments, ribbon and wreath hanger.  The base is just a wire hanger that you shape into a circle, then hot-glue the caps onto each ornament and string them on the wire hanger.  When it’s all filled–it takes about 70-80 ornaments for this–you (carefully–it’s easy to break ornaments at this stage) twist the wire ends shut, leaving the cupped part of the hanger still in shape.  I made a loop from wire and used it to attach the wreath to the wreath hanger, and then covered the hanger with the ribbon, which I tied at the top.  I haven’t made any ornaments or decorations in years–got pretty burned out from times past–but I saw this at Eddie Ross’ site and was inspired!  Except for this, I didn’t really buy anything new, but I reused what I had on hand in different ways to give them a new look this year.
 
Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule and all of the other winter holidays and festivals found at this time of year!

Mulch For Garden Beds And A Pretty Winter Plant Combination

Over the weekend, our across-the-street neighbor was raking up the many Japanese Maple leaves from his gorgeous tree, and so I ran out and asked him if I could take the leaves for my garden beds, pretty please?  He said yes (not the first time for this same reason, I might add), and so away we hauled a bunch of beautiful tiny orange and gold leaves to dress our flower and vegetable beds.  Some photos to illustrate:

Bulb bed mulched, Dec. 2011

A little bulb bed, tucked in for the winter with a couple of inches of Japanese Maple leaves for mulch.

Another flower bed mulched, Dec. 2011

 
 
In this bed I’ve left room around the rose on the left and daylilies on the right, and mulched over the top of where I have lots of bulbs planted.  From garden writer Ann Lovejoy, I learned to mulch the bulb beds, because it helps to keep the upcoming spring flowers from getting mud splashed on them from incessant spring rain that we get here.
 

Fruit trees mulched for the winter. My fruit tree row, weeded (and I was aided in this by the neighbor's chickens who like to come over and visit--there must have been bugs that they were excited to eat there) and mulched with a couple of inches of leaf mulch. Dec. 2011

 
 

Vegetable bed mulched with Japanese Maple leaves, December 2011

 
 
It’s also a good idea to cover bare soil in your vegetable beds as well, and the leaves work great for this.  In the upper left corner there are some bright green garlic leaves–I planted them several years ago, and even though they get pulled up every year, they keep coming back, and not a bad thing I might add.  They are much more pungent than garlic from the grocery store.
 
 

Japanese Maple leaf mulch

 
Japanese Maples grow readily in the Pacific Northwest.   They are gorgeous, there are many in smaller sizes, and they tend to grow unaffected by disease or pests, making them a winner for the garden.  I like to use Japanese Maple leaves in my garden for several reasons:
  • They are already naturally small, so I do not have to chop them up like would have to do with full-sized maple leaves
  • They are free
  • They are amply available when I need them

In our climate, it tends to be best to use about a two-inch layer of leaves for mulching your flower and vegetable beds.  Leave room around the plant crowns; don’t cover them with mulch.  If you put more than two inches, it can sometimes become a haven for mice and other pests that like to live in the leaves if given the chance.  I also like the small leaves better than large maple leaves, because the large leaves, if they are not chopped up fine, tend to stick together in our rainy climate and don’t break down very readily over the course of the winter, and they also become a haven for slugs, which will winter over and eat the plants that you have so carefully covered nearby.

 

Another type of “mulch”:

  

Outdoor containers covered in plastic, Dec. 2011

I just grouped my containers on the garage roof together, and covered them with several layers of clear plastic.  Old clear shower curtains also work great for this, and are made from heavier plastic, which is better.  Although it occasionally goes down as low as 18 degrees here, it is pretty rare, and this in times past has been enough protection to keep containers from splitting, and plants from dying in the containers.  (Fingers crossed.) 

Now here is a pretty plant combination (or two):

 

Gorgeous early winter foliage, December 2011

 
The yellow leaves are on a red-flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, that I plan to begin shaping into an espaliered form on the wall.  The brilliant red leaves adorn a Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry.  This is a perfect plant if you are looking for a low-maintenance shrub to fill a tight and narrow spot in the garden.  It reaches five feet tall but only two feet wide, and is great in a small garden.  It’s deciduous, and it has semi-glossy burgundy leaves that turn green as they age, but still keep a burgundy undertone.  It also gets bright orange and red seeds in the fall as well.  I need to take a few more pictures of it, and will then present it in a “Through The Seasons” post. 
 
 

Viola and feverfew, December 2011

 
As you can see, I haven’t gotten around to emptying the hanging baskets yet, (wanted to leave them til the last minute for the hummingbirds, because they had nasturtiums in them), but there are still some purple violas along with chartreuse feverfew.  I may pull those out and transplant them in a protected spot in containers at the front of the house.
 
Some more plant hangers-on:
 
 

Snapdragons in December

 
 

Roses flying high in the sky, December 2011

 
 

A lone, bright pink 'Zephrin Drouhin' rose, Dec. 2011

 
And some winter-flowering plants:
 

Yellow forsythia and white viburnum, viburnum=hummingbird food, December 2011

 
I’ll do a post soon of holiday decorations!
 
Enjoy a break from gardening.  I still have a couple of little chores left to do, but nothing major.  The temperatures have definitely dropped–it’s ranging from the low to mid-40s during the days and down to low 30s at night, so I am on winter hummingbird patrol, putting the feeder out in the morning and bringing it in right after dark.  Sun shining through the bright blue sky today–I love it!
 
Leave a comment if you like!