March Wins "Cruelest Month 2012"


NARGS Annual/Western Study Meeting March 9-11 2012

On the road to the Bellevue Botanic Alpine Rock Garden
We arrived early for the NARGS Study Weekend entitled "Stop the Car", full of hope for mild spring weather on the tour of the pre-conference garden visits. First stop was Bellevue Botanic Garden. Clouds surrounded us but I thought the weather might be called hopeful. Granted, it did not take much to inspire me since home was covered with several inches of ice and snow as I left. And storm coats were shed!
Bellevue Botanic Alpine Garden
Alpine Rock Garden sign
My friend Anne had been following the progress of this Alpine Garden with great interest for many years. I remembered seeing the original plans back in the '90ies, but had not heard much about it recently. NARGS member Micheal Moshier had drawn up the plans and supervised the installation. (Remember Roy Davidson's splendid little book Lewisias ? Micheal was the illustrator.)

The Rock Garden -what a grand place! Though we beheld it a few weeks before the spring flush of growth, the winter bones were enough. We were thrilled. Things were opening...

Down the garden path
As I recall, the garden began as a rock outcropping, focusing on rare plants. It was quite unconventional for the rock gardening world. Sometime later, vertical additions were made, resembling more of a Kew like standard. Now it is a settled garden: shrubs and trees classically framed a half circle of paths meandering through reclining rocks. There are many vertical features.

Winter garden bones flanked by narcissus
There was plenty of color, albeit for the most part earth tones. Erica was everywhere, providing sustenance for the few bugs that were out. Bulbs were just up, dotting the landscape.
Buns softening the rock garden
By this stage in the garden's life, plantings are large enough to drape and flow. There were the usual suspects, mostly common ones to take the thrashing of the crowds. While it is very difficult to keep extra choice species in a public garden, the gardeners made up for it by superbly growing the what they had.

A variety of daphnes at the base
Lucky for Bellevue to have Rick Lupp (Mt Tahoma Nursery, who does amazing things propagating daphne) live so nearby. As one might expect, there were many, very nice daphne sprinkled about. We encountered the curator trimming them back as we progressed down the path.
Exit to the Perennial Garden
Bellevue WA has its own share of weather woes, as do we all. Many of the rhodies were out when they had killing temperatures. And it was funny to think of the season not to be late enough for the rock garden, but just right for the perennial garden show. But we took the curator's word and made an exit stage right. And yes, what I would have called a woodland garden was in progress. But more on that at another time.

Hard Freeze Tonight

Hepatica x transylvanica opened soon after my return, but did not last long in the heat
 Tonight, two weeks later back at home, we are about at the point of the Bellevue Garden. And we are expecting our first hard freeze in almost a month. After I flew back, I did not bother to unearth my storm coat - until today. My first job upon return was to cover the greenhouse with shade cloth - in March! All last week it was short sleeve weather. Rod started putting in the patio stone to finish off the crevice gardens and got a sunburn for his efforts.
Helleborus thibetanus opened later in the week
Everything sprouted simultaneously, from Corydalis solida to Helleborus thibetanus to the sax bed. And tonight they issued warnings for a hard freeze. At dinner it was already freezing outside. I guess this is what the Bellevue Garden lived through. Keep your fingers crossed!
Jeffersonia dubia seems prepared while J. diphylla 's head is not even out of bed
Saxes add some color to the gray days of March
Saxifraga oppositifolia - will it frost kill?

Year of the Black Water Dragon

Happy New Year to You!
Outdoor Nativity in Sharon CT
From Korea, Nam Hee writes that the Black Dragon sign comes only once in 60 years, this time on the 23rd of January via the lunar calendar for the Chinese/ Korean New Year. This year, 2012, is special and we may start all over again. Good news! As I write this on the last day of the year of the white rabbit, I see many benefits from a change. (To be fair I am just recuperating from a nasty virus, which does color my view, but does give me time to finally start blogging again.)

Rider enjoys the kachelofen
By the fall of last year, I thought perhaps to give up gardening, at the very least, vegetable gardening. The hurricane drowned any fire in my heart as I watched a bountiful plot of winter squash rot in the standing water. I still had not put the garden to bed when the October snowstorm dumped its load so I sank into the proverbial winter armchair for November. That is, when I had a chance to sit. Rod tore out the Helios, a masonry heater he is developing. In its place he constructed a tile kachelofen, complete with wrapping maple bench. Translation: I spent most spare moments cleaning up construction dust again and again. 

The weather then reverted, the snow disappeared, and the early bulbs shot up. So ok, I was a little inspired and worked in the garden. Yesterday, we finally had a little snow cover, but the forecast for tomorrow, Monday - the Chinese New Year - is rain. Yuk. Ok, probably zone 6/7 plants will survive outside this winter and last summer was a good year for green beans and garlic. But many exotic seedlings in the nursery did not make it through the fall. Germination was good in the spring, but they disappeared after the hurricane. The record 73 inches of rain for last year was definitely not to their liking. (Note- kept the seedpots as there may be germination again.) The crevice beds fared much better. Drainage is the key. All the acantholimons made it. There was even a rebloom on Iris mellita in the warmth of late November.

The beaver pond one the way to Sharon

During that black spell on the weather in the fall, I couldn't even bear to look at seed lists. There were some great plants mentioned, I found out later. My regret mounts as I check out Holubec's, truly stellar list this season. And the pictures of his travels are breathtaking. It was in the midst of the family Christmas holiday season when I saw his website, and quickly made a wish list on Pinterest.

Veltheimia bracteata

Do you know that site? It really fills the need for those of us who think visually. After you join you are given a little Pin button for your browser. Then you can grab webpage images and add them to your pin boards, hosted on their site. Most people use it like we as children did with an old Sears catalog, circling wants, or later on as we grew up, tearing out pages to keep in a folder of ideas. The main board feed is rarely of interest to me, but if you know where to look, there is great humor. And yes, it can be yet another addictive escape exit for middle of the night. Too, it's a great place to sort out one's emotions visually.
Alan Bradhsaw's Alplains list is again the best of the west. While I have quite a bit of seed to sow from my travels to Colorado last summer, there are a few items on his list I know are must-have. Of course, I need to order them first before I tell everyone about them! And don't forget the society lists of NARGS and APSChris Chadwell even is sending out a list this year. There is still time.  So I will use this day, where I am forced into bed by a cold, to catch up and order. It is a good year to start over again.
Finally some snow cover on the garden!
Blessings to your and your family! May all your seedlings make it through planting out.