Marty's Garden, December 21st, 2018


Winter; a word that strikes fear into a gardener’s heart. Well, that is a bit of a dramatization although it is not my favorite time of the year. However, starting today the days will be getting longer and while I will be hard pressed to see the difference early in the season, give it another month and it will be noticeable.  


This year has been one of the wettest on record and last night we had more rain. According to the weatherman we had rain 40% of the time of the year which equates to 146 rainy days out of (almost) 365 days! Most of the time we had torrential downpours and I am actually surprised my garden coped with the continued wet conditions as well as it did. Of course, putting willows in wet clay soil was a no brainer; they like wet feet and the roots bust clay soil. Others were planted “high”, meaning in a slightly raised bed with a gentle slope away from the trunk of the plant. I also added plants which can handle wet conditions and it will be interesting to see how well my garden will do in the foreseeable future (as in a drier year!).


After last night’s rain I checked the window wells in the basement for frogs. It’s a bit late in the season, but since temperatures were balmy (50s for the past few days and in the 60s today) the occasional frog might have been hopping around in the garden. Good thing I looked as I found the biggest frog in the window well yet. This goliath happily posed to have its picture taken before I put it back in the pond and it swam off.


While the gardening year has pretty much come to an end I still walk around the garden on nice days and observe bulbs (grape hyacinths and Dutch irises) planted over a month ago pushing greenery up through the soil. Already, the promise of spring can be observed all over, from these green shoots to the bright red eyes of peonies waiting for spring weather or the buds on both my Magnolia tree as well as the Witch hazels.


My ‘Dancing Butterfly’ peony, bought many years ago from K-mart for $4 eventually turned into a large plant. With bright pink flowers and equally bright yellow stamens it was a show stopper in my New Jersey garden next to the Japanese maple (see below). Before we even moved, I dug up a small piece and stuck it in a pot. It sat in that pot for a year, not doing much. That winter it was waterlogged when the soil froze, followed by heavy rains. I did not think it would live, but it did. The following spring we moved and several months later the plant got to stretch its roots in my garden and in 2017 it bloomed. This spring it bloomed with abandon but much to my chagrin the color combination of Pepto Bismol pink among the yellow-green evergreen shrubs was awful. “Thankfully”, peony flowers are not long lived so after 7-10 days of cringing at the color combination, the petals fell; my peony blended in once more. This fall I dug up this, now much larger plant, divided it into two and moved it to the pink bed where it will live in harmony with its neighbors.

Dancing Butterfly peony in NJ garden


Another peony found its way home after visiting Costco where Itoh peonies could be had for next to nothing. The Itoh peony is a cross between tree peonies and herbaceous peonies and it will turn into a larger plant than a regular, herbaceous peony. Like a regular peony, once fall rolls around, the plant collapses and it can be cut back. If you look closely, both the Itoh and regular peony will have bright red eyes poking up out of the soil, waiting for spring weather to unfurl its stems once more. But unlike regular peonies, the Itoh peony also has bright red buds along some of its older stems, which I hope will give me more flowers come spring. Plant care for Itoh peonies calls for cutting back the plant down to the ground in fall, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Next spring will show if my moderate pruning will give me more flowers on a bigger plant. If not, come fall 2019 it will be cut back to a few inches off the ground with hopes of many more flowers in spring 2020. For now, I bide my time indoors, dreaming of flowers to come.