Monday, December 29, 2014

The Year in Retrospect

As gardeners, each season is met with hopeful enthusiasm, enjoyed in its fleeting passage as we await another garden phase. In winter the above-ground garden rests, however below ground it is busily preparing for the life-spring which will arrive as the days lengthen and the soil awakens. For this reason the winter season requires watering on occasional warm days for despite the sprinkling of snow last Saturday the garden is quite dry; snow simply does not supply the required moisture. Remember to turn off the water before the evening temperature drops; we once forgot and found a horrifying frozen waterfall covering the entire garden the next morning.

In retrospect the past year was most interesting, highlighted by the welcome break in our drought. The blessed rains which arrived in surprising intervals during the course of the entire year helped restore our countryside… native grasses which are usually spent in the dry heat of July, remained a vibrant green until frost. This year wildflowers were able to complete their life cycle, spilling rain-soaked seeds of future flowers on moist ground rather than dust… thus giving the promise of a lovely spring. The trees were washed clean, the streams were filled, and minnows once again appeared in the creeks. It was a restoration… the kind of year we will joyfully recall when more difficult years arrive.

The temperature fluctuations were unusual as well. It was hot/cold, hot/cold… as though Mother Nature was perhaps a bit menopausal. The spring-like conditions occurring weekly until mid-December, fooled many tree who began to prematurely bud only to be jolted into reality by the sudden freeze. With the deep-freeze which arrived last Monday, they will truly become dormant while waiting for spring. And the freeze is exactly what we needed to thoroughly kill many pests who were warmly relaxing in the debris left behind in the garden.

Dreary days may continue for several months, however the gardener may look forward to gardening catalogues which will begin arriving January first. They are porn for gardeners… tattered and dog eared, they are read over and over with longing and lust. As a surprise to yourself, plan on ordering something totally outrageous in the coming year then just enjoy the experience of watching it grow! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Amazing Amaryllis

The afternoon of the past dreary Sunday was punctuated by the Winter Solstice… that moment in time when the promise of Spring emerges as each day becomes longer. Our question for December may well be “Sun, Sun, where art thou?”

The Queen of all bulbs, the exquisite Amaryllis, is now making an appearance everywhere. She is traditionally a guest at Christmas celebrations, and with good reason for historically speaking she has quite a colorful reputation.

As serious exploration began in the 16th and 17th centuries, botanical specimens were among the most coveted acquisitions brought home to Europe. Consequently even today there remains controversy over exactly who discovered the Amaryllis and from which continent it originated. Botanical debate claimed it was from Africa while other botanists insisted it came from South America. Regardless of origin, this exquisite flower had an immediate cult following and legend arose to explain her deep scarlet color.

As with so many of our flowers, Amaryllis has both Greek and Roman lore attached to her and the poets Theocritus (3rd century BC) and Virgil (70 BC) both wrote she was a shy nymph of great resolve. Amaryllis fell in love with a popular shepherd reputed to be as handsome as Apollo and as strong as Hercules; he was a rock star of the day and unimpressed by her attentions. Hoping to quell her embarrassing adoration, he gave her the impossible task of finding him a flower that never before existed. Amaryllis consulted the Oracle at Delphi and was instructed to walk to his home and pierce her heart with a golden arrow, allowing her blood to flow. For thirty nights she did so and from her spilled blood the flower with crimson petals appeared.

And once again Napoleon’s Josephine made a flower famous by commissioning a painting of one and the English Poet Laureate, Lord Alfred Tennyson, included her in a poem. Our own Thomas Jefferson mentioned an Amaryllis in his diary in 1811... All of which are quite illustrious mentions for a flower!

These precious bulbs, once available to only wealthy elitist, through time and progress are now affordable. Available in a wide array of colors which include not only the traditional scarlet, but white, deep pink, orange, shades of salmon, pink, and rose, Amaryllis makes a welcome guest at every celebration. Rather than forcing your own, perhaps purchase one that has already sprouted and needs a loving home. Merry Christmas!