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December 2010
The Gift of a Good day

Thank God for glacial till, so easy to dig. The ground’s been frozen for over a week now, even with daytime temps in the 40s-50s. I stick a shovel in the ground today and it slices through like it's chocolate mousse.

A warm, happy feeling comes over me as I dig in my garden again. Good soil, a balmy 50 degrees or so, and feeling toasty while tiny snowflakes fall around as I plant my long-waiting bulbs. I am happy in my own garden again.

Happy planting 184 bulbs in a couple hours on this December day: 100 Narcissus ‘Sound,’ 10 Allium ‘Purple Sensation,’, 60 Fritillaria bulgarica and 14 lily-shaped tulips. I planted perennials: Rodgersia ‘Chocolate Wing,’ bee balm, ligularia, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, aster, cardinal flower, chives. (I figure they’re deer-resistant and might help protect those that are not.)

There is reason for this late madness. When I began gardening for other people this summer, my own garden – dog pen-turned-veggie garden and the new garden down my hillside – took to the rumble seat. Too tired for thinking or doing anything after work (gardening all day is amazingly - to me - hard work and great exercise!), I often didn’t set foot outside.

Months have a way of creeping by and I became anxious about my own neglected landscape, but client projects beckoned.

I must confess right here that before my gardening biz, I knew very little about perennials and shrubs. My horticultural expertise lay in veggie gardens, tropicals (from 24-year stint as owner/operator of an indoor plantscaping company), and wild landscapes. Cultivated ornamentals is a new adventure that I embrace with my entire being. What an education this summer! I was exalted in the heat – at my best!

Then fall came with the rush of planting for clients. And so did my new bulbs, perennials and shrubs. My little hillside already contained the beginnings of a planted garden: one monster wisteria roughly 15 feet wide by 10 tall; one monster forsythia of the same dimensions (birds loved it) that sprouted new plants around the edges downslope where its arching branches touched the ground; my already begun terraced “memory garden” to those I’ve loved and lost (the only civilized piece of the slope); and an almost-monster mock-orange, which I must decide how to handle. Although the mock orange is a rangy shrub, I love its fragrance.

In mid-November, I brutally pruned the two giant gumdrops to skinnier fountain-like shrubs. It brought peace to the land.

It seemed best to plant the big (most important) stuff first so as not to work backwards. So I planted a few small shrubs that I couldn’t resist and a few deer-resistant perennials that I want to be the basis of the slope: hellebore, epimedium and ferns.

A Bloodgood-type Japanese maple given to me by Ken Druse is the rising star of the little memorial garden. Its almost-black trunk and dark leaves are exquisite. Fed with lots of bone meal, its trunk has thickened noticeably since June. This summer, dark basil, heliotrope and thyme grew around it and protected it from deer.

Nearby, Hydrangea ‘Pink Diamond’ has grown berserk. Covered in flowers this summer, its strong branches have spread about five feet wide. Maybe I better turn it into a standard before it becomes another big gumdrop. Must think about that.

Below the Japanese maple, is Rosa glauca, the red-leafed rose – the most beautiful rose plant I have ever seen. And next to that I gave a wonderful little daphne a try. It bloomed for several months during the summer’s drought, then one day after a rain storm it died – very sad. I will someday master the art of growing daphne –perhaps they like drier land. It was near the bottom of the slope – maybe higher up is best. Now a tiny jewel of a mini spirea takes the daphne’s place, with thyme and epimedium, hellebore and ferns around it.

I have so much more to do, but I am happy to have done this. Someone watched out for me and gave me this last chance the day before the snow fell and the ground freezes again.

Tonight, the light outside my front door shows the first snow of the season. It gives me joy to see it, for all is well in my garden.

by Mary Jasch

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