Sunday, January 24, 2010

Trends from the Mid Am Show

I spent two days last week attending the Mid Am Horticultural Trade Show at McCormick Place in Chicago. The show was much smaller than in prior years, and it was obvious that most vendors who focus on the garden center trade had left the show in favor of the Independent Garden Center (IGC) Show. So in terms of seeing hot new trends for the home gardener, there was not much new. But I did spend some time scrutinizing the offerings of the various plant vendors that were in attendance.

Heucheras (yes, I'm a sucker for Heucheras!) still are arriving in new colors. It makes me feel like a fashion writer to say this, but the trend for 2010 in Heucheras is pastel colors. Peach, pale strawberry and soft gold are the colors that were on display.

The other trend that really is picking up steam is succulents. Just about every plant vendor had some sort of succulent display. Here's my favorite:

This is a slightly grainy cell phone photo, but you get the idea: mini succulents arranged in a real bird's nest. Lots of people took photos of this one!

The mood among vendors and attendees was more positive than it had been last year. While no one was turning handsprings in the aisles, most people that I spoke with were cautiously optimistic.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A January Thaw

We're experiencing a bit of a January thaw, but it's a very slow process. We were promised temperatures above freezing over the weekend, but we never quite got there. It did get warm enough that the snow began to sublimate, slowly disappearing into the fog.

Sunday morning, we awoke to one of the most extensive hoar frosts that I've seen in a long time. It would have been wonderful if we had some sunshine along with the spectacular frost, but of course that would have hastened the demise of the frost. I did manage to capture some of the beauty even with the low light.

This is the skeletal panicle of Panicum 'Northwind'. Despite an ice storm and heavy snows, this grass is still upright and here it is etched in frost.

I also liked the look of my witch hazel. The long needles of frost on the bare branches echo the shapes of the long-gone flowers.

I trudged through the snow to the white garden in hopes that the hydrangeas looked awesome, but in fact they were somewhat messy and uninspiring. But then I looked up, and saw the ghost shapes on the ridge, silhouetted against a glowering sky.

Perhaps it was because of the lack of sun, but the frost lasted most of the day. This morning we had a bit more, but it was not as lovely as yesterday's. I'm just a little sad that the weather report keeps referring to the phenomenon as "freezing fog"; I have to say I love the old-fashioned term of hoar frost.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The End of a Tree

The river birch came to us as a five foot tall bare root tree. Our new house was under construction, and when the tree arrived there still was a lot of serious grading work being done, and other heavy equipment was moving around what was to be our yard. Of course, when we ordered the tree late in the previous year, the plan was that this heavy work was to be done by then, but you know how construction goes.

So I proposed that we “heel in” the tree for a few weeks until the site seemed safer. We dug a shallow trench well away from the action, laid the tree somewhat on its side and covered the roots loosely with dirt. I’ll admit that I was surprised later to find out that the tree survived this experience just fine.

As the years went by, the tree grew taller and more attractive. There was only one fly in the ointment. Along the way, it developed a large side branch that was growing almost like a second trunk. Hugh kept arguing that this branch needed to be removed, and I kept insisting that the surgery would be too radical and that the tree would be just fine. Words that would come back to haunt me.

December 23rd was a snowy day here that only proceeded to get worse as the day warmed up. The snow turned to sleet off and on, with a little hail thrown in for grins. That night it progressed into light rain, quite an unpleasant combination.

We woke up on Christmas Eve to find everything coated in ice.

And the river birch was split in two.

It looked as if some giant had come by and hewn the tree in half with an enormous ax.

There is a sad grace to the broken tree. Even today, almost two weeks later and with the ice long gone, the two halves still almost touch the ground.

And I have admitted that I was wrong to not let the tree be pruned.

Good bye, friend.