Monday, January 23, 2012


            “Midwinter” doesn’t exactly conjure cheery mental images. Usual adjectival accompaniers run to “gloomy,” “bleak,” “bitter,” “dark,” “frozen,” “hopeless,” “dead.” This is the time of year when not getting an audition invitation after taking the “Jeopardy!” online test can precipitate a downward spiral. It’s a time of snow-smothered landscapes, short grey days, long black nights, seasonal affective disorder, hypothermia, hibernation.

New Bed arbor, stripped of vines
            Except not everywhere, and not all the time. Here in SENC, for instance, January presented its mild side. Sure, I don long-sleeved shirts and shoes to work outside, but my ancient, ratty work-jacket doesn’t usually last more than ten minutes. Humming tunelessly, I cut back brown and crunchy top-growth of plants that one of our three frosts finally got to. The beds tidied, I meander over to the south side of the house, looking for likely candidates to stick in the ground.

            For all my frozen-precipitation-blitzed friends in the Chicago and Seattle areas, here’s a horticultural report from chez Fitz.

            Bulbs: Great swaths of my small yard look quite warlike, with clumps of dagger-like daffodil, bearded iris and Leucojum aestivum (summer snowflake) foliage protruding from leafy mulch. Floppy tangles of Lycoris radiata (spider lily) and Ipheion uniflorum (starflower) soften the bellicose look, while strappy, bright green leaves of Scilla peruviana grab the eye. Scrabbling around on my hands and knees in the back garden last Saturday, I found evidence of Tulipa turkestanica to come under the Southern crabapple (Malus angustifolia). Yee-haw!

Scilla peruviana, daffodil and Leucojum
    foliage emerging (front to back)
Floppy Lycoris foliage

            Edibles: On the advice of Pender County Extension agent Charlotte Glen, the first batch of peas went in the ground last week, more than a month earlier than last year. Miss Charlotte suggested soaking the pea seeds for six to eight hours to aid germination, so I did. Fingers crossed! 
Packets of 'Wando' & 'Alaska' pea seeds
I heard back from Irish Eyes Garden Seeds farmer Greg Lutovsky, who patiently and in words of one syllable initiated me to the mysteries of growing potatoes. Did you know, for instance, that potato tubers grow up from the seed piece, not down (making the necessity of hilling crystal clear)? Or that crowding the seed eyes at planting may result in more tubers, but they’ll be small? Or that not all potato plants flower, because pollination isn’t necessary to tuber formation? (In response to this question, Mr. Greg somewhat tersely responded, “You don’t eat flowers.”) All this was news to me, despite all the books and articles on the subject I’d read. 

Puny collards 
& flourishing parsley
The strawberries—especially the ‘Fragola d’Bos’—look great. My lettuces and flat-leaved parsley are going strong. The front-garden blueberries show some signs of life, and the potting-bench trio never even lost their leaves.  The best I can say for collards, however, is they’re still alive. There’s probably an arcane secret to getting them to grow larger, too, that I have yet to run across in print.

Eleagnus berries, almost ripe
Ugly Agnes (Eleagnus x ebbingii), whose tiny flowers perfumed the whole yard October through December, has set fruit. The sandpaper-textured berries are tartly delightful when fully ripe and red, but will pucker your kisser if you pluck ’em too early or too orange. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

(Somebody oughta write a book, to put all this pertinent information together in one place, don’t you think? Oh, wait! Somebody has! If only some other somebody would publish it.)

            Other: The ornamental apricot (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’) continues to produce its button-shaped, intensely pink blooms, punctuating the pervasive green and brown. Under the clothesline-turned-wisteria-support, Edgeworthia chysantha’s tight white buds continue to avoid squirrel depredations. They don’t look like much, not even open (the buds, not the squirrels), but their fragrance puts them in the same class of winter sweeteners as Daphne odora, tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) and winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragratissima).

Edgeworthia chrysantha buds
Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke'
 Hollyhock foliage,
January 21, 2012
            It’s the hollyhocks that surprised me most. Despite three frosts, they’re perky as young Goldie Hawn. These same hollyhocks were the leaffooted bugs’ nursery last spring, so I have mixed feelings about their survival. Still, that sturdy green anchoring the mostly brown-hued New Bed is optimistic… and now I know enough to spritz any wiener-bugs I spy with insecticidal soap. Early and often.

           As always, playing in the yard generates cheerfulness, something in rather short supply on my part inside the house these short, nippy—one might say “snippy”—days. Paying attention to the natural world invariably raises spirits, even for depressives like me, whose “Jeopardy!”-dependent retirement plans just got put off for another few years.


My-my-my-my my Orion (1-21-12)
            In celestial news, Globe at Night wrapped up its first citizen-scientist project of 2012 on the 23rd. Sorry I didn’t alert you sooner, but Sky-Guy kinda fell down on the job: he didn’t mention it until his post of the 18th, and I didn’t read it until the 19th. Fortunately, we had an achingly clear sky that night, and all of our neighbors’ outside lights were off, so my view of Orion and his companions was superb. For the first time ever, I could make out the arc of his bow, pointing directly at poor ol’ Taurus’ triangular head. I stood outside in the middle of the street in my pajamas and aforementioned ratty work-jacket until my neck insisted I look somewhere else, preferably down. It was glorious.

            Not to worry—Globe at Night has three more projects on tap for February 12-21 (Orion again), March 13-22 (Orion and Leo), and April 11-20 (Leo). This time I won’t wait for Sky-Guy to provide details, so if you’d like to exercise your scientist chops and chip in your two-cents worth about world-wide light pollution, watch this space. Or go to the website linked above.

            And thanks for dropping by.