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Winter Wonderings

Posted on 24 January 2011

Xtras image By Paige Patterson

I am an excellent dreamer. I am a girl filled with imagination. I can see how things will be and picture them with utter and complete believability. So for me winter is a time filled with reckless color, and swathes of possibilities. I see how it will look when I scatter dahlias throughout all my planting beds, huge heads of purple, pink, cream, maroon and orange rising through masses of daylilies and nodding over my fairy roses; pushing up and through and over the nepeta and blue phlox that surrounds the pear tree. I can almost taste the froth of the white Japanese asters I plan on planting in the back beds. I can flip through a magazine or a catalog or a book and see my own garden transformed by the ideas that call so seductively from the pages as I turn each one. Wouldn’t a sea of Eryngium Miss Wilmot’s Ghost work wonderfully under all those yellow roses I put in last year? And wouldn’t it be wonderful to transplant the black pussy willow away from the garage (one day soon to be transformed into a painting studio) where it’s exploded and replace it with more Let’s Dance Starlight Hydrangeas to keep company with the ones that followed me home from the nursery this year.

I am not a winter person. I would be happier only seeing the white stuff if I chose to go visit it, like an aunt whom I like but don’t long to see. If we had winters where I could still be puttering around in and amongst my plants I would be a significantly happier person, but since I didn’t love the winter I spent in the Pacific Northwest – way too much rain and my eyes hurt when the sun finally made a fleeting, blinding appearance – I’ve had to learn to rely on my imagination to get me through these months.

As I’ve said, I’m quite good, and luckily winter is the time when all the nurseries and growers tease us with the promise of new and exciting things appearing in the spring. I myself am quite over the moon re: two new shrubs. The first is a dwarf form of the fabulous Endless Summer Hydrangea called Mini Penny. Like the ES it’s a remontant hydrangea, which means it blooms on new wood as well as old which is important in an area like ours where next year’s buds are often damaged by tricky springs where the weather warms too early and fools them into opening right before the temperature plummets. Brilliant right? But even better is the fact that Mini Penny tops out at around 3-4’, which means it’s the right size to surround a deck and still be able to see over when sitting at the table eating the perfect tomato and basil salad.

The second plant I’m thrilled about is another dwarf, Little Lime, a smaller Limelight Hydrangea. Now the Limelight was a huge improvement on the ubiquitous Pee Gee Hydrangea, the same Carvel soft ice cream shaped flowers but on stems that are significantly stronger and so do not droop under the weight of such excessive blooms. It opens a fabulous chartreuse that works with any color scheme and slowly fades to white and then, much later to pink. To have that plant in a dwarf form (one third the size supposedly) means it’s going to be perfect in pots and pretty much anywhere I want to work it in. I have plans to buy this plant by the gross and use with reckless abandon.

I will confess that over the years, whether to weeding them up in the spring (I know for sure that I’ve done this with every single aster I’ve ever installed) or due to their being crowded out by other too robust bedmates, I’ve lost many, many, many flowers. I have a spreadsheet where I try, with a small degree of success, to write down which plants have become new additions and where they’ve found a home. It’s during the winter when I open that dreaded document up and wonder whatever happened to all those Japanese anemones? And where did all that phlox go? Did I really lose all 100 of those lilies? And I know I overwater but could I possibly have drowned all that coreopsis? And so on. I’d like to blame the deer for some of the plant disappearance, but the truth of the matter is that perennials take work and care and possibly, that dreaded word, planning. And I’m not good at planning. Imagining, yes, but truly working out the where and when of organized and synchronized planting – well that’s just not how I’m programmed. I can do it for other people, but I’m a girl who NEEDS a plant, just has to have it, and will figure out where it will go when I get home.
And I NEED phlox paniculata Tiara! A double flowering white phlox where each individual floret looks like a tiny white rose. I will confess I’ve only seen this plant in photos, but I lust after it. I don’t care that it’s the equivalent of deer crack, or that it may or may not be terribly susceptible to powdery mildew. I think it’s beautiful, and have fallen deeply in love. As soon as I find a source for it, I’m going to hog them all and bring them home by the truckload.

And finally I’ve found out about a lavender that is supposedly so vigorous that it flowers in its first year from seed, L. angustifolia Ellagance Purple. Now we all know that a girl with acidic, clay soil and an irrigation system set to meet the needs of her hydrangeas should run, not walk in the other direction from a lavender, but I’m going to try the trick I always tell everyone else. A generous helping of lime for each plant as it’s planted and lots of sand mixed in with the soil to help with drainage needs. I’m not going to start with seeds, I know my limitations, but I’ve already tracked down the plants and in my mind I can already see how in a few years from now the back acre and a half could, with a little work and a bit of money, become a billowing field of purple sweetness. My own little Provence.
A girl can dream right?

Paige Patterson has counted 13 species of birds on her feeder in the last ten minutes and 1 species of squirrel.

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