Late December Odds and Ends

Photo of yellow and blue birdhouses


As we come into the new year, it’s the right time to put out birdhouses. You can buy unfinished ones and paint them as you like, a fun project for the nongardening season. Birds are more likely to nest if they get accustomed to seeing them well in advance of spring. I noticed woodpeckers always make holes on the west-facing side of my front yard maple. I assume that’s because afternoon sun warms the nest for nighttime, while the morning sun’s warmth would dissipate long before it was really needed. My garage wall faces the same way, so with luck my houses are in just the right place



Photo of pretty hen and chick plant


I didn’t know I had a “hen” as pretty as the red and gold one, and also a little cobweb style. They were part of a variety pack I bought last summer. In early winter, despite bomb cyclones, we should rake off our bearded iris, our peonies, and our hardy succulents, like hens and chicks, also groundcovers. A light topping of dry leaves is good, but a heavy weight of soggy leaves will harm them, especially the iris.



Photo of aloe flower


My aloe decided to bloom once it came indoors for the winter. No hummingbirds to pollinate it available! My Strobilanthes are blooming, too, with their pretty, penstemon-like lavender flowers. I recommend bringing them in, because they have a better chance of wintering over than you may think, and the indoor temps seem to trigger a bloom that’s definitely worth seeing. I’m trying to carry my rex begonias through winter, by keeping them in the garage, where it doesn’t get too dry. I think they die indoors because central heat doesn’t suit them.



Photo of limb from tree stuck in ground


I took my cat Ed out for his walk, and something odd caught the corner of my eye. This “fencepost” fell from one of the oaks, and planted itself perfectly upright.


Foliage Combos


Under one of the oak trees I have this colorful arrangement, with New Guinea impatiens, wax begonia, strobilanthes, hypoestes, hosta, heuchera, and astilbe. I’ve been having difficulties with a mother deer, who recently defoliated some heuchera and hosta, pulled off my new apple trees’ new leaves, and also took things I didn’t spray, like coneflower buds, rudbeckia, and sumac.

This story offers a good point about life cycles in nature. While she’s nursing, while her baby is too young to forage, the mother deer eats things she doesn’t like, because she needs the energy. She will do less damage when the baby is (by now it should be) able to forage for itself. The netting above is pretty effective…she can’t see it at night, and it moves, so if she noses into it, it noses back, and discourages her.

Another life cycle issue has been spider mites, eating my foxgloves pretty badly. The ladybugs got a late start because of unusual cold weather in March. Through April we had a pattern of that weather, freezing midweek, warming up, etc., until the midweek dips turned mild, and gave way to a summery pattern. Now the foxgloves leaves in their second flush are not being bothered, thanks to the ladybug larvae.

When we seek to garden harmlessly, we benefit by understanding how damage from pests waxes and wanes, that it isn’t all one thing. Deer are worse when raising young, insects worse when their populations peak (think of late summer cicadas) and many will go away with or without predators.




A mix of foliage plants and houseplants. I’ve seen houseplants used as summer garden plants, but I wasn’t planning to try it this year. I got started because I bought the cordyline at the upper right, thinking it was a canna. It has broad red/green leaves, while the only cordylines I knew of looked like ornamental grasses.

Since I couldn’t use this in my bog tub, I decided to use it in the bed…and then (plant shopping excuse) I needed some complimentary exotics, so I added a Boston fern, rex begonias, a philodendron, and a money plant (pilea).




An earlier view, with daffodil foliage still out, and some of the painted stick frame I’m growing Cobaea on.




This is what I had in mind. I only found cannas in pots at our local Tractor Supply store. If you can get them this way, you can put the pot directly in your tub or pond. If all you can get are tubers, you’ll have to get them well started before putting them in water. 




Last year, I mentioned the trouble with lonely alliums. This year, by serendipity, not plan, I discovered that this Globemaster type of allium blooms in sync with Dutch Iris. So that’s one answer.




I found this great speckled aqua, midcentury modern-style pot at Walmart. I’m using it here in a collection of containers I put together to let a pair of ferns get some growth on. Being near the bird feeders, they were bothered a lot by passing deer. The pots surrounding them give them protection. (And the “thriller” of this grouping is another of the cordylines.)