Look ahead, look down, and look after plants and animals


Farewell to the old year and its accomplishments and woes, and greetings to the new one with its challenges and hopes. I offer resolutions, anonymously authored, that I have carried around with me for decades, trusting that little by little I could live accordingly:

• No one will ever get out of this world alive. Resolve therefore to maintain a reasonable sense of values.

• Take care of yourself. Good health is everyone’s major source of wealth. Without it, happiness is almost impossible.

• Resolve to be cheerful and helpful. People will repay you in kind.

• Avoid angry, abrasive persons. They are generally vengeful.

• Avoid zealots. They are generally humorless.

• Resolve to listen more and talk less. No one ever learns anything by talking.

• Be chary of giving advice. The wise don’t need it and fools won’t heed it.

• Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.

• Do not equate money with success. There are many successful moneymakers who are miserable failures as human beings. What counts most about success is how a person achieves it.

Since the nature of gardening columns involves the giving of advice, continually, I must absolve myself of disregarding being chary of giving advice. It is, however, an accurate observation, in that gardeners who know what they are doing seldom need to know what I think.

By its nature, gardening is a great learning experience and feedback loop. It gives us all the opportunity to learn more about life, in all forms, every day. To those who are inexperienced, I hope that what I think is at least sometimes useful. My thanks go out to those who have troubled themselves to tell me that Garden Notes is helpful or enjoyable.

There is a dearth of garden activity when the wind slices in from the northwest, the temperatures are in the low 20s, and there is half a foot of snow upon the ground. Nevertheless, we need to attend to our walkways, to clear shrubs that have trapped snowfall, and be aware of ice dams. Take it easy and dress warmly.

In the wake of the typical snowstorm, once the barometer begins to rise and the temperature falls, the snow will be frozen onto the shrubs or branches. Clearing before freezing minimizes damage to fine twigs and foliage, especially boxwood and other broad-leaved evergreens. Use a broom, and brush upward in a sweeping, supporting kind of stroke. If snow is already frozen onto the plant, it is better to desist and hope for a slight temperature rise later in the day, for the cold makes branches and twigs super brittle.

It is worth repeating that ashes, sand, sawdust, and shavings make footing less slippery, while avoiding the harm that salting does to living tissue of plants in the landscape. Even in paved environments, where there is seemingly nothing to be burned by applying salt, please pause to think a minute about where that salty run-off heads when it leaves your premises — “everything goes somewhere.”

If you are feeding birds or wildlife, this is the time to keep an eye on the feeders, as the levels seem to drop before your very eyes. These creatures are hungry and thirsty and have come to depend very much upon the food you are putting out.

A happy thought is that the interval between now and “last spring frost date” could be shorter than we expect. The seed catalogues have been coming in at a great rate since before Thanksgiving. If the Island experiences another early spring like that of 2010 we need to focus and order soon, as interest in home gardening is at an all-time high. Many would-be garlic growers already experienced this in 2010: Seed garlic supplies were sold out before many even sent in their orders!

Holiday plants, such as the popular tabletop cyclamens, poinsettias, Christmas cacti, and paperwhite narcissi, have individual care preferences. Check for a pot tag and follow its recommendations. In general, place the plant out of direct sunlight, avoid draughty locations, and let the root ball dry — pick up the pot to see if it feels light — before watering again. Help plants breathe and transpire properly by spraying in the kitchen sink or misting the foliage with a spray bottle.

Cyclamen can be a long-lived plant. However, their tubers rot easily. Only water from the bottom, by filling a saucer with tepid water and setting the plant in it. Do not allow prolonged sitting in water (good advice for most houseplants).

Paperwhite narcissi are a one-time only plant in this climate, but for any readers who are in the South, it is worth lining out the spent bulbs in the cutting or vegetable garden — if for no other reason than just to see what happens.

From Timber Press comes Allan Armitage’s latest, “Armitage’s Vines and Climbers.” Climbing plants are a largely untapped resource for today’s gardeners. Because their habit of growth is primarily vertical, they can be used to provide privacy, screen eyesores, and draw the eye upward to create the illusion of space. In “Armitage’s Vines and Climbers,” the renowned horticulturist selects and profiles the most useful and attractive climbing plants for a wide variety of sites and conditions. The choices include both woody and herbaceous plants, both annuals and perennials. Profiles for more than 115 plants include a general description, hardiness, plant family, best method of propagation, method of climbing, and the etymology of botanical and common names. Climbing plants add an extra dimension to gardening — literally.