Winter wonderland

Blankets of snow protect birds and small animals.

Photo by Susie Safford

That was fun! All those snow days — yippee! (For a while, anyhow.) The winter-wonderland weather and storms are insuring that some of us get “a long winter’s nap,” while others, perforce, must work long hours to keep lives and essential services ticking along and operational. Thanks, and appreciation to all.

Winter storm Juno’s snow was dry and light, so fortunately it did not provide a particularly good example of dealing with winter damage to trees and shrubs; the aftermath, though, has been heavy on treacherous freezing rain and slush.

The time to clear snow accumulation from plantings is during the window of opportunity while the plants are still pliable, before the typical temperature plunges in the wake of low-pressure storms. Once it is frigid, it is almost impossible to avoid breaking twigs and branches; better to let them bend than to create more damage. If damage has occurred, attempt to clean up breaks with loppers or pruning saws, and stake up bent limbs later on. Beware of how brittle and heavy wood can become when cold.

When conifers are covered in snow, the snow blankets make valuable shelter for birds and small animals, enclosing a microclimate and a bit of open ground inside.

Island woods are full of standing dead timber that was toppled by Juno’s high winds. Many of these are hung up on surrounding trees, and present one of the more dangerous of situations: they are not called “widow makers” for nothing! Patience, and a couple more windstorms, may see them on the ground by gravity and rot.

I am hypothesizing here, but I suspect this may be a bad winter for deer damage, and that snow cover, if available, may provide some protection for plants that would otherwise become browse. The acorn crop seemed smaller in 2014, and deer herds may be wintering over in an undernourished state.

2015 award winners

Each year, various panels and trials of seeds and plants evaluate the season’s new offerings. Fleuroselect (, National Garden Bureau (, All-America Selections (, Perennial Plant of the Year (, and others have announced their 2015 results. Lengthy press releases and images are to be found at these web sites. Those who are online may have a fuller look there at what to expect for highlighted annuals, perennials, and vegetables this season.

Formerly pretty much taboo, hot apricot/orange color ranges figure in a number of selections. National Garden Bureau has chosen gaillardia as one of its Plants of the Year. Fleuroselect has named 2015 the Year of the Sunflower, which is good news for Island gardeners and cut-flower sellers. Sunflowers do well here, and are totally in sync with Island style. Furthermore, as an edible crop, usually from strains bred for large-size seed, they are not only for the birds. Sprouted sunflower seeds and sunflower microgreens are among the most nutritious things you can sprout on your kitchen counter. Start sunflower transplants in root trainers, for they resent disturbance.

My daughter gave me a birthday present of garden seeds, including a strain of sunflower seed, ‘Autumn Beauty,’ from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, whose color range sounds lovely. The pollenless kinds are useful for cut flowers, but for garden use, it is the pollen that is prized by beneficial insects. Other longtime sunflower favorites of mine are ‘Italian White,’ and another — not a Helianthus sunflower — tithonia, the flame-colored Mexican sunflower.

Members of the Garden Writers Association, to which I belong, receive many promotional press releases and free samples. A recently arrived complementary sample, a packet of MiniClover, a Trifolium repens product that is ready-inoculated with crop-specific rhizobia, interests me. According to the handout: “Use MiniClover for an environmentally friendly lawn alternative. Less fertilizer, less water, less or no mowing, and less herbicides characterize the remarkable traits of this new, small-leaf clover.” Go for a look at the rest of the interesting offerings of this Oregon company, including seed for cover crops, pastures, ornamental and native grasses, flowers, and much more.

Orchid orphans

Many Islanders have acquired orchids from Wendy Oliver of Frosty Hollow Orchids, but most of mine have fallen into my hands because they are orphans from jobs. They have been left behind to expire at the end of their owners’ period of residence; most have no pot tags.

I have bought one or two supermarket orchids, but otherwise that is how I have come to possess this small collection of orchids I know little about; luckily, since this is the age of the Internet, I can glean some information online, enough to keep the plants mostly alive and flowering. An informative web site is

Plants like Cymbidium, Odontoglossum, Miltonias, and some Paphiopedilum and Dendrobium prefer the cool 55° to 70°F temperature range, and would be ideal for conditions I have here, although the typical orphan is a phalaenopsis, or “moth” orchid. Phalaenopsis prefer warmer temperatures, but can tolerate the conditions I have.

All I knew about orchids when the first ones — they were Oncidiums Sweet Sugar ‘Kalendar’ — came into my possession was that they are mostly epiphytic and are grown in chunks of free-draining bark. Ha ha, there is a bit more to it than that, but it was sufficient to have kept those plants alive for more than 20 years! Now I know enough to see that repotting will help some, and that some may do better affixed to bark plaques and suspended from wires, which I intend to try.

Winter walk at Polly Hill Arboretum

PHA ( offers free guided walks that encourage visitors to enjoy the spare elegance of winter interest that such an extensive collection provides. Naturally, in winter it is evergreens, both coniferous and broad-leaved, and bark effects that predominate, but the walkers will see precocious bloom too. Walks are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7, and Saturday, Feb. 14, at 10:00 am.


Homegrown will meet at Agricultural Hall Sunday, Feb. 15, at 3 pm to finalize onion and potato orders.