Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from Arizona

It's in the 70's, the sun is shining, and my mom and I golfed in shirt sleeves--I know why all the snowbirds winter here!

I've had trouble finding time to blog, but here are a few shots from our gardens. First, some of my sister's whimsy: her lady bug next to some Coleus--

And a wrought iron snail on her patio--

Tacoma stans, or yellow bells, is still is full bloom here--and apparently this plant will grow in North Carlina--so maybe I can keep it going in Virginia--

And flowers more familar to me don't seem to realize it's almost January! My mom's roses and petunias look like mine do in June (and I learned there are no Japanese beetles in the Phoenix area).

Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and happy and safe. Best wishes for 2009! Cosmo

Friday, December 26, 2008

Skywatch: Arizona

Happy Holidays! Salix and I spend Christmas and New Years with my family in Arizona, where we never dream of white--unless it's the white of desert sands. We're enjoying temps in the 50's and sunshine--Christmas has a very different affect in the Valley of the Sun.

Of course, like most of you, I haven't had much time to spend at the computer. For Skywatch Friday, I thought I'd post on our first glimpses of Arizona skies. These first three were taken through the window of the plane on our descent into Phoenix, which is located in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains.

I think I've said this before: even though I grew up in the Phoenix area, after years in Virginia I'm always struck by the sheer hugeness of the sky. Our oaks and pines dwarf even the palms in Arizona--in our Virginia woods, we have to look straight up (as in head-all-the-way-back-until-it-strains your-neckup) to see more than a glimpse of sky. Here in Phoenix, you can see all the way to the horizon of mountains that bracket the city. We were up early the first morning (2 hour time change and all that), so I took a walk on the golf course at sunrise--which even here in the West is spectacular. This is the view from my mom's extended backyard.

Now that Christmas is over, we'll have time for a few side trips into some gardens! In the meantime, I wish you and yours the best of the season. Ho ho ho!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not-much-in-bloom Day, December 2008

The colder-than-normal temperatures have taken their toll--there's very little in bloom outside.This little coneflower--hardly a bloom--is nevertheless a surprise--the dark red of the seeds is still welcome color.

Normally the violas provide most of the color in winter, but when we (and most critically Ranunculus) were gone over Thanksgiving, well, I sort of forgot to spray the Liquid Fence--and without dog or deterrent, the deer had a lovely dinner of their own. As in just about every pansy in the garden. They left one tiny viola on the deck:

The strangest bloom is this Weigela bud, from a sale plant at a home improvement store. It was a late season sale, and the plant was seriously root bound--maybe the plant was so glad to be stretching its legs that it forgot the sub-30 temps.

There are still some tiny late season blooms on the tea olives (Osmanthus fragrans)--and if you're very close, some tiny fragrance.

And some early season promise as well--these buds on the sarcococca (which looks weirdly like the tea olive in these photos, except that the sarcococca at its tallest is ankle high, and the tea olive is about 7 feet)--will turn into flowers as fragrant as the tea olive's were in late summer.

Pieris japonica is my favorite plant. It's an evergreen that loves Virginia conditions--as much as azaleas, nandina, and Japanese maples do--but for some reason it doesn't seem to show up as much in commercial landscaping. I'll post more on this plant when it does its big show in the spring--it's in rehearsal now.

The oak leaf hydrangea are still spectacular, even with dried flowers and waning leaves.

What color there is in the garden is provided mainly by foliage--here, heuchera, holly fern, and ivy.

The hellebores are more prominent now that the trees and taller shrubs have lost their leaves. This is Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose):

And this is Helleborus foetidus--which doesn't really stink, and is a wonderful shade plant:

The only other "blooms" are after-blooms--the December berries. Most are red, like these on this cotoneaster(whose purple foliage provides its own winter color)

The pyracantha are still going strong--

--and the Burford Holly berries signal the holiday season--

--along with their native cousins, the American hollies:

(Well, I think these are American hollies--they're native and all over the property.)

Not nearly as showy, but lovely nonetheless, are the barberries on their naked stems.

And the bayberries are just coming out. These berries are fragrant in large clusters and are used for candles. People sometimes pull off the leaves and use the berry-covered stems in dried arrangements (warning to the non-crafty--pulling the leaves is kind of like plucking a turkey, or so I imagine, having never actually plucked anything feathered).

The true blooms these days are indoors. This is a contrary one--this bougainvillea bloomed once all summer. Since I brought it indoors, it's been budding like crazy. Maybe even with our dry summer, it was still too humid outside?

And one of my little holiday arrangements--some paperwhites and poinsettias--

And my stalwart Euphorbia lomi, everblooming in the sunshine through the back window. Ranunculus looks kind of like he's smelling the flowers, doesn't he?

Umm, he's not. This Euphorbia isn't fragrant. Actually, Ranunculus is at this moment mesmerized by the reflections from the disco ball Christmas ornament we hung on the plant.
Or maybe he's just tired from chasing them around.

Animal cruelty? I hope not. Human amusement? Oh, yes. Happy Bloom Day.

Oops, almost forgot the link love--to see what else is blooming this December, check out May Dreams Gardens--as always, thanks, Carol!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Skywatch: Perigee Moon

I'm a day late for Skywatch Friday, but for once I don't have to chalk it up to my organizational challenges. I waited a day on purpose--so I could catch the perigee moon.

It was as if Friday's clouds prepared for the event all day, urging us to keep eyes on the sky.

These are the woods to the back of the house--the area decimated by Hurricane Isabel. But we're literally seeing the silver lining. The heavy woods would have blocked most of these cloud formations from our view.

So I'll get to the perigree moon in a moment--as I move from nature's sublimity to, well, what I like to sublimate. We weren't the only ones watching the sky, it seems. When Salix, Ranunculus and I walked down to the river, we saw these local denizens sky-gazing as well.

Yeah, those are buzzards on the gate to the boat ramp--or, as they prefer to be called, Cathartes aura (which seems way to lovely a way to denominate turkey vultures). There are collective nouns for vultures, and some of them are brilliant--a looming, a wake, a volume--but I'll go with my favorite: a committee of vultures on a gate like this is a fairly rare sight. They congregate at night, in the tops of trees; otherwise, they're usually looking for a meal or eating one (and we saw no carcasses around). But I'll anthropomorphize and assume that they, too, were mesmerized by the sky--that is, until they caught a glimpse of Ranunculus and his petters.

But back to what these skies were forecasting. Perigee moons happen once a month--the "perigee" (as opposed to the "apogee") is the point at which a body in orbit is closest to what it orbits--in this case, the moon to the earth. But perigees are relative--in one month, the moon can be closer than it is in another month--and they can happen during any phase of the moon. Last night's perigee moon was special because it was a particularly close one and it occurred during a full moon, making it appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than it has since 1993 (that's according to NASA, so I'm sure they used their largeness- and brightness-measuring technology.

Me, I just had my camera. This is my much-photoshopped-and-nevertheless-still-lame attempt to shoot the moon late last night:

But this picture, taken at sunrise this morning, comes closer to capturing the impact. That bright light is the moon.

Happy skywatching--now I gotta get ready for Bloom Day (and prove I still have a garden . . .)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Book Boost and a little link love

So--if you're NOT interested in books, check out my friend Phillip's new blog, How It Grows. Phillip--whose blogonym on my blog has been the Curmudgeon--is a landscape designer, and he's done three postings on designing with native plants. Plus he has a link to his photos of the natural wreaths displayed in Colonial Williamsburg this holiday season.

So--if you ARE interested in books (or looking for gifts for someone who is), check out Sarah Laurence's Blogger Book Boost. This is my contribution, starting--since this is a garden blog--with the garden books on my Christmas list.

(Given the nature of Sarah's post, I need to say that although I use pictures below from an on-line source, support your local bookseller!--that way you can look at all the pictures in the garden books I don't mention . . .)

The Well-Designed Mixed Garden is by Tracy Disabato-Aust. Marnie at Roses and Lilacs has already posted on Disabato-Aust's The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, one of my favorite and most-(ab)used garden books. In the Mixed Garden, Disabato-Aust extends her expert advice to trees, shrubs, annuals, and bulbs, and provides 27 sample designs.

Another book I'd love is Making the Most of Shade by Larry Hodgson--lots of pictures, lots of suggestions, lots of design ideas.

And Tony Lord has published a follow up to Gardening at Sissinghurst called Planting Schemes from Sissinghurst. Not that my garden will ever look like Sissinghurst, but one can dream . . .
I've also added Tina's suggestions from In the Garden to my list. That ought to be enough garden reading to get me through January.

Salix has just picked up P.D. James' new novel, The Private Patient. I've been reading James's Adam Dalgliesh novels since I was a teenager (these are fabulous British murder mysteries; Dalgiesh is a poet as well as a detective). Word is, this one (the 14th) may be the last one. Anyway, I can't wait until Salix finishes it.

The book on my nightstand right now is John Dunning's The Bookwoman's Last Fling. Dunning's detective, Cliff Janeway, is a rare book dealer who moonlights as a detective--in this book, he's investigating forgeries he discovers in a dead woman's estate, and his investigation takes him to California racetracks, where he gets a job as a hotwalker to get behind-the-scene info. Books, murder, racing, horses--I couldn't pass this one up. (But as someone who once got a job as a hotwalker to get behind-the-scene info, I have to tell Janeway--the horses say almost nothing useful).

And on my Christmas list, Jane Smiley's latest novel, Ten Days in the Hills. Here's a blurb from the Washington Post:

"A violent war has begun, and a small group of family and friends has taken refuge in a secluded house high in the hills to escape the fighting. Actually, they are hoping to escape news of the fighting. They're in southern California. The fighting is in the Middle East. But most of them don't approve of the conflict, and, besides, the house where they've holed up has a pool and a terrific room in which to watch movies. It's March 2003, and the war in Iraq has just begun. Such is the backdrop for Jane Smiley's new novel, Ten Days in the Hills, a work modeled in part on Boccaccio's Decameron."

Smiley is one of my favorite authors--whether she's rewriting King Lear (A Thousand Acres), sending up academia (Moo), or writing about her love of horses and horse racing (Horse Heaven, A Year at the Races), she's consistently smart, funny, weird, ironic, and often eloquent.

So those are my recommendations. I haven't been doing much reading lately, but the cooler weather and some time in Arizona (and away from the garden) may give me time to catch up.